It has taken me years to heal from the hate I’ve experienced. But I share my story to help build a better world for my children — all our children.
My son is named Jibreel, which is Arabic for Gabriel. I wanted him to have a strong name, one he could draw inspiration from. A line was drawn in the sand for him before he was born. He sits on one side of it and doesn’t know the line is there because he’s only 2 years old. Baby J is consumed with his garbage trucks, cement mixers and kicking his soccer ball around the house.
Meesha is 10 and plays soccer, like a boss. We joke that she’ll have only her first name on the back of her jersey, like a Brazilian. Meesha is a Farsi word meaning “always springtime, always in bloom.” I’m glad my baby plays soccer, and I am more grateful that soccer builds strength and courage. If she ever gets shoved, Meesha will know how to hold her own. My daughter already knows a line is there.
As a parent, I cringe knowing I cannot protect my children from hate. They will walk into it like a glass door, painfully, jarred into reality. I hope I can equip them with the tools to see the glass door for what it is, but also to have the strength to find the catch and throw the door wide open. But I still worry, because it took me years to come to terms with how to deal with hate.
The various groups that were drawn (or in some cases, dragged) to the United States have themselves been made up of a variety of smaller identity groups: Italian Catholics and Irish Catholics; Polish Jews and German Jews; Latinos from Guatemala and Latinos from Brazil. If, to paraphrase Walt Whitman, the poetical nature of the United States is determined by the dynamics of engagement between those identity communities, then there is also American poetry to be drawn from such dynamics within those communities.
No nation has a Muslim community that is more ethnically, racially, or theologically diverse than the United States. For many years, these various Muslim groups created separate spaces, such as mosques, schools, and community centers. Those who were less ritually observant often found no space at all. But the era of Islamophobia has forced them all together and raised fascinating questions about what it means to be American, what it means to be Muslim, and who gets to define the identity of American Muslims.
Ansari offered lessons in the science of prejudice through a set of humorous stories about Muslims. He reminded his audience that Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews. If you just changed the music on Homeland, he joked, we wouldn’t look so scary.
In a New York Times op-ed published a few months earlier, Ansari wrote on several of the same themes, but this time through the poignant story of instructing his parents not to go to the mosque for prayer lest they wind up the victims of an Islamophobic attack.
Sylvia Chan-Malik never expected to become Muslim, let alone an expert on Islam in America.
A scholar of American and gender studies at Rutgers University, she was raised in California by Chinese immigrants who were culturally Buddhist but not religious. In high school, she was nearly baptized but decided against it. (The pastor said she couldn’t attend a Madonna concert). When she began working on her doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley in 2001, shortly after the Los Angeles riots, she wanted to explore the intersections between Asian- and African-American communities.
Then the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened.
She soon began collaborating on anti-racism initiatives with Muslim and Arab activist groups in the Bay Area. “I quickly realized that the same racial dynamics that I was studying between African-Americans and Asian-Americans were all present within Muslim communities,”Chan-Malik said.
She began documenting the ways U.S. Muslims were trying to constitute their identities and grapple with cultural differences to find a political voice. In the course of her research, she found herself drawn to the faith and converted in 2004.
It turns out that (American) Islam is losing Muslims at a pretty high rate. About a quarter of adults raised Muslim deconvert.
The problem is, from a secularist’s point of view, is that just as many convert to the religion. It has a high conversion rate, especially when compared to Christianity. Islam is growing by about 100,000 per year.
Per Research recently released a report that said:
Like Americans in many other religious groups, a substantial share of adults who were raised Muslim no longer identify as members of the faith. But, unlike some other faiths, Islam gains about as many converts as it loses.
About a quarter of adults who were raised Muslim (23%) no longer identify as members of the faith, roughly on par with the share of Americans who were raised Christian and no longer identify with Christianity (22%), according to a new analysis of the 2014 Religious Landscape Study. But while the share of American Muslim adults who are converts to Islam also is about one-quarter (23%), a much smaller share of current Christians (6%) are converts. In other words, Christianity as a whole loses more people than it gains from religious switching (conversions in both directions) in the U.S., while the net effect on Islam in America is a wash.
When I look in the mirror, I see short dark hair, brown skin, big eyes and probably a leather jacket. I’m pretty impressed with that woman.
But you know what a lot of other people see? A terrorist. Someone to be feared. Someone uneducated. Someone oppressed. Someone who can’t be trusted.
They see … a Muslim.
The sad fact is that many Americans are afraid of Muslims. After the terror attacks that have been associated with Muslims ― 9/11, the Boston Marathon, San Bernardino, to name a few ― it’s no surprise that Muslims are seen as bomb-hugging monsters. In movies, on TV, in the media, we are the bad guys. And if you are presented with the same image over and over again, it’s bound to stick.
Is it fair to blame all Muslims for the acts of a few bad people? No, of course not. Muslims in America are just as American as everyone else. We have the same hopes and dreams, the same fears and worries. To be brutally honest, we actually have more to worry about than other Americans.
Why? Because along with having the same fears as everyone else, we have the added fear of being Muslim in America.
Do Christians, Jews and Muslims worship the same God?
That question became the center of a Facebook-fueled controversy after Elgin-area U46 School Board member Jeanette Ward commented on social media when her daughter’s 6th-grade language arts class was assigned to read, “Despite differences, Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God.”
Ward called the article, written by Philip Almond, emeritus professor in the History of Religious Thought at the University of Queensland in Australia, “utterly incorrect and false on many levels.”
Local faith leaders have a variety of views on the matter, as well as concern with how discourse on the topic was conducted.
Agreeing with Daubert’s point were Rabbi Margaret Frisch Klein of Congregation Kneseth Israel, Haroon Qureshi of the Islamic Center of Kane County and Pastor Katie Shaw Thompson of the Highland Church of the Brethren, who recently met with the Courier-News to talk about the question and the aftermath of the assignment.
Allah, the name used by Muslims for God, and El, one of the names for God in the Jewish faith, are similar in sound, have the same root and refer to the same entity, Klein and Qureshi said.
As but one commonality, Qureshi said that his faith’s word for God is Allah, while Klein noted El is one of the names used for God in the Jewish faith.
As my colleagues at Vox have pointed out, Trump’s retweets fit with a pattern: He feels that the whole of Islam, collectively, is a threat to the United States and the West. He treats Muslims as a monolith, a group of millions who deserve to be banned from the United States. There’s a psychological theory that helps explain this tendency: “collective blame,” when we punish the whole for the actions of a few.
In some ways, Trump is channeling how many people in America feel about Muslims. We see collective blame rear its head after an act of terror committed by a member of the Islamic faith. “Maybe most [Muslims are] peaceful, but until they recognize and destroy their growing jihadist cancer they must be held responsible,” Rupert Murdoch tweeted after the 2015 terrorist attack in France. A similar sentiment often repeats on Murdoch’s Fox News.
There’s nothing logical about condemning millions of people — who are spread across the globe and are unrelated to each other except by religious tradition — for the actions of a few. You wouldn’t blame all white people for the actions of Dylann Roof, who walked into a church in Charleston, South Carolina, and killed nine African-American worshippers. You wouldn’t blame all Christians for the meanness of the Westboro Baptist Church.
Yet collective blame happens, with ugly consequences.
The sun has set, the hiking, swimming and prayers are over and a group of kids are goofing off, taking turns telling corny jokes in the woods.
“Why did the cow cross the road?” a kindergartner yells into a megaphone in front of his fellow campers. “Because the chicken was on vacation!”
It’s a typical summer camp in Northern California, except at this camp all the kids are Muslim.
Every summer for 55 years, Muslim kids, teens, young adults and parents gather in these woods to learn about faith and have fun. It is the oldest camp of its kind for young Muslims in America. But today the camp has a different meaning for this new generation. It’s a momentary respite for the campers in a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is rising sharply.
The late Marghoob Quraishi and his wife, Renae “Iffat” Quraishi, founded it, to help new American Muslims find a sense of community.
Originally Indo-Pakistani, Marghoob ended up at Stanford University in California. His daughters say he looked around and realized that new American Muslims, like himself, needed a place to teach their kids about being American Muslims. His wife is an American Caucasian woman who converted to Islam from Methodism and grew up going to Methodist summer camp. So the couple modeled it on that.
Religion comes in countless forms, depending either on the soil from which that religion arose or the soil in which it was planted. What we call Christianity in America is not what Guatemalans call Christianity. It’s not what Iraqis call Christianity. What we call Islam in the United States is vastly different from Islam in Iran or Saudi Arabia or Nigeria or Indonesia.
The notion that religion clashes with a culture is a misunderstanding of what religion is, but, more specifically, the idea that Islam clashes with American culture is just foolishness, naiveté, and lies. There is no clash between Islam and American culture. In fact, there is no clash between any religion and any culture because religions are inextricably linked to culture.
Think of it this way: Culture is like a vessel, and religion is like water — it simply takes the shape of whatever vessel you pour it into. And this is why the prosperity gospel — the notion that what Jesus really wants for you is to drive a Bentley — can exist in the United States, and why the liberation gospel — the notion that Jesus was a warrior who fought oppression and poverty — exists in El Salvador. Both versions of Christianity are equally valid. They’re just dependent on the culture of the community to which they belong.
When you look at Islam in the United States what you see is an overwhelmingly moderate version of Islam, but more interestingly what you see is a highly individualistic form of the religion. Islam is a religion that often advantages the community over the individual, but in the United States, where the culture is rooted in radical individualism, you see a radically individualistic Islam forming. An Islam that, in America, is not beholden to traditions or to the consensus of Muslim scholars and Islamic trains of thought that came before — it is an Islam that is innovative. You have a version of Islam that is vibrantly feminist. You have a version of Islam that promotes gay and lesbian spirituality. You have versions of Islam that are quite pluralistic and democratic. And in every one of these cases, what you see is a religion that has married itself fully into culture.
Two weeks after Donald Trump was elected president, Nora decided to remove her headscarf – for good. Weighing on the mind of the 23-year-old were recent assaults against conspicuous Muslims like herself. State suspicion and private violence would only get worse under Trump, she feared. So she hid part of her identity from the world.
Many Muslim men and women, like Nora, choose to conceal their Muslim identity – or express it in a way that is less “threatening” to others. Some take things one step further: they undertake the extreme measure of erasing their Muslim identity altogether by passing as non-Muslim in public.
While this phenomenon predates Trump, he has certainly intensified it. Acting Muslim, today, is especially dangerous.
This is illustrated by the scores of Muslim women “afraid to wear the headscarf” after Trump claimed the presidency, men shaving their beards to diminish detection that they are in fact Muslims, job-seekers changing their Muslim names on résumés to increase the prospect of a job interview, and the known and unknown stories of Muslims passing as non-Muslims at school, work, or the public sphere at large.
This process is also prevalent in Europe, where Islamophobia is more pronounced than it is in the US and fully enshrined into law. The European Union recently broadened France’s 2004 “headscarf ban”, which prohibits Muslim women from wearing the hijab in public schools, to restrict it within the workplace in EU member states.
These policies, combined with the rise of Islamophobic populism throughout the continent, have had a collateral effect on Muslims men and women – pushing many to remove conspicuous markers of religious identity in the public sphere in order to dodge punitive action from the state or bigots on the street.