I recently attended a lecture about Islamophobia and the war on terror. There were three panelists who spoke about different subjects; the depiction of Arabs and Muslims in the media, the legal aspects of the war on terror and one Muslim professor who talked about being a Muslim after 9/11. Overall I thought the lecture was useful and informative. I definitely learned some things. However, as time went on I noticed that the discussion turned towards the perceptions that Muslims in predominately Muslim countries have of Americans and vice versa (with immigrant Muslims acting as a kind of broker between the two groups). I just knew that someone (anyone) would put an end to this kind of binary, black and white conversation that was taking place. (After all, how could Muslims in predominately Muslim countries speak for those of us who actually live in America)? Unfortunately, the event came to a close with only a passing comment about the diversity that exists in the Muslim community. I left feeling a little upset; like I didn’t exist. Like an entire group of Muslims- African-American, African, Caucasian, Chicano/Latino, or West Indian- did not exist.
I started asking myself why there was no mention of African-American Muslims (who make up 50% of the Muslim community by some estimates). Why did no one mention the long history America has with Islam (including the voyages of Muslims to America before Columbus or that by some estimates 30% of the slaves who brought to America were Muslim?) There we were, at an American university, at an event co-sponsored by CAIR (the Council on American Islamic Relations), at the beginning of Black history month and no one even mentioned American Muslims. Eventually, my shock turned to anger. Once again, the Muslim immigrant perspective dominated the discussion. It became the only perspective.
When I was in the hallway I overheard two African-American brothers speaking. One of the brothers was asking, “How can you ignore an entire group of people?” I couldn’t resist. I walked over to them and told them that I didn’t mean to intrude but I was feeling the same way! We talked for a bit and I left feeling slightly better. At least I wasn’t alone in my thinking. I kept hearing the brother’s parting words in echoing in my head, “maybe next time sis.” I had my doubts but I smiled and said yes, “insha’allah, next time.” But I’m doubtful.