“At Daily Kos, the Equity Council works to build a better organization and community by focusing on issues of diversity, equity, and inclusion at Kos Media. The Equity Council issues this statement as a commitment to these ideals, and to encourage Daily Kos to take action internally and externally to support the movement.”
Our work in July 2022 is no less urgent than it was in the summer of 2020. Two years ago, we were reeling from the disproportionately deadly impact of COVID-19 on BIPOC communities. The pandemic added one more intolerable burden to the systemic bias against Black and brown people, and all people marginalized on the basis of their religious affiliation, citizenship status, gender identification, or sexual orientation, already endemic to this country.
We cannot afford to continue the status quo in any area; a return to pre-pandemic “normal” is the antithesis of the healing we need. Hence our original initiative has grown. Lauren Sue, a current co-chair, describes the aims of the Equity Council:
We don’t discard people here. We celebrate each other. We laugh with each other, and we respect and support each other. We want that work to continue every day and to expand to the larger site community until it’s no longer work, until respecting each other and valuing each other is innate.
On July 20, 2021, Rep. Karen Bass (D-CA) and 22 co-sponsors introduced House Resolution 541, “Expressing support for the recognition of July as ‘Muslim-American Heritage Month’ and celebrating the heritage and culture of Muslim Americans in the United States.”
In calling for a special national observance, the resolution acknowledges the groundbreaking accomplishments of many Muslim Americans in fields ranging from sports to medicine to entrepreneurship to politics. It also refers to the great racial and ethnic diversity among Muslim Americans, who can claim roots in nearly half the countries of the world and who include people identifying as Black, Asian, Latino, and white. Indeed, the history of Muslims in America goes back at least 400 years if not longer, since a sizable proportion of Africans kidnapped and forced into chattel slavery in the U.S. were Muslim.
Wherever in the U.S. Muslim Americans have established a presence, they have been active in the communal life of this country. To fulfill a tenet of their faith, Muslim charitable organizations offer aid to all in need, helping to fill in the gaps of the threadbare social safety net we endure here.
Despite Muslims being an integral part of American culture for centuries, HR 541 also notes that “nearly 50% of Muslim Americans have reported experiencing religious discrimination, with that number rising to 64% for Muslim Americans whose appearance identifies them as Muslim, such as women who wear the hijab, or headscarf.”
As one of the most profound signifiers of Islam, a hijab carries
weight: Intertwined within its threads are the expectations of what it means to be a Muslim woman. In time, to so many—to peers, to teachers, to neighbors—I, too, will become discernible first and foremost by my religion, perceived by what I seem to be rather than what I am. I am afraid. I am afraid of all I have to lose.
But my mother owns a wicker basket overflowing with scarves. Scarves from every corner of the world.
Scarves waiting to be worn by me.
Sarah R. Akaaboune, “At 18, I’m facing a choice that will define my adulthood: Should I wear hijab?”
A resolution of this nature may seem anodyne, completely in keeping with dozens of similar resolutions—but it has not yet moved out of committee. For most of us paying attention to this political moment, such inaction comes as no surprise.
Religious intolerance has deep roots in American culture and history. Like other religious minorities (read: non-Christians), Muslim Americans have too often been the targets of xenophobia and bigotry. Many parts of the country have had long established Muslim communities, some dating back to the 1800s. But starting in the early 1920s—and continuing for two full generations until modest reforms were implemented in 1965—exclusionary, racist immigration laws restricted immigration of Muslims from most regions of the world. At the beginning of the 21st century, white Christian nationalists and those who were susceptible to their arguments pounced on the terror attacks of 9/11 to rationalize increased hostility toward all Muslims, including their fellow citizens. Islamophobia has also played a major role in the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in general has negatively influenced U.S. foreign policy toward Middle Eastern and North African nations.
The very first abhorrent campaign promise Donald Trump fulfilled after his inauguration in January 2017 was the issuance of an Executive Order banning the entry of citizens of seven majority-Muslim countries to the U.S. While millions of Americans of all backgrounds took to the streets and airports in protest and legal challenges were immediately raised to forestall the order, the immediate damage was significant and durable. Overt hostility toward Muslim people and Muslim cultural and religious practices was legitimized and hate crimes skyrocketed. The malfeasance of the Trump administration being so comprehensive, unfortunately, allowed the impact of the travel ban to fade from the general public’s awareness.
Although the Trump Administration was forced to modify the original ban, the reactionary members of the Supreme Court eventually ruled in the administration’s favor in Trump v. Hawaii, downplaying the religious bias still present in the slightly milder version of the ban and undermining the protections offered by the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. That travel/immigration ban is still in effect.
While the federal government may be slow to accord Muslim Americans their full protections under the U.S. Constitution, Muslim Americans have persevered. As has often been the case for other people coping with marginalization and systemic bias from the white Christian supremacist social and political infrastructure in the United States, Muslim Americans find strength and validation, joy and sustenance in community.
Both intra- and inter-community-building efforts have begun to bear fruit, particularly in electoral politics. Three current members of the U.S. House of Representatives are Muslim, down from four following the departure in 2019 of Keith Ellison (D-MN), the first Muslim Congressperson who was first elected in 2006. These three—André Carson (D-IN), Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI)—are all Midwesterners besides being Muslim, but their different backgrounds help represent the broad range of the American Muslim experience. Carson, an adult convert to Islam, is an African American whose family has been in the U.S. for many generations; Omar is a Somali American immigrant who arrived in the U.S. as a teenager; Tlaib is a first-generation American born to Palestinian immigrant parents.
On the state and local level as well, Muslim candidates achieved remarkable success in 2020 and 2021. In November 2020, five Muslim candidates won their races and thus became the first Muslims to hold a seat in their respective state legislatures of Colorado, Delaware, Florida, Oklahoma and Wisconsin. Their victories almost doubled the number of Muslims serving in state legislatures, which demonstrates just how much more representation is needed.
Then in November 2021, the small city of Hamtramck, Michigan, became the first U.S. city with an all-Muslim city council. Once a Polish Catholic enclave, the city has experienced major demographic changes in the past few years. Now the composition of its council, which includes six Muslims of varying backgrounds (three Yemeni Americans, two Bangladeshi Americans, and one Polish American who converted to Islam), represents the city’s current communities more appropriately.
A Detroit Free Press article on the landmark win quotes Rummi Khan, chief operating officer for the Muslim Public Affairs Council: “We are pleased to see our community vibrantly engaged in the foundation of American democracy: our elections. This representation is a wonderful step toward realizing the promise of a government for the people, of the people, by the people for all Americans.”
In the face of the worsening threat posed by American Christian theocrats to a healthy civil society in this country, the successes of American Muslims in the public arena are indeed cause for gratitude and appreciation.
No single individual can encompass the range of experiences and perspectives; being Muslim in America may indicate some commonalities but the population is not at all monolithic. The links provided below offer only a tiny sample of perspectives and commentary on the vast, complex, and ever-evolving lived experiences of Muslim Americans.
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