Dalia Mogahed is the director of the Research Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, and the #WCW of Muslim Girls worldwide. Renowned for her eloquence and tenacity, Mogahed consistently champions interfaith efforts and the education of the non-Muslim American public about who Muslims truly are.
In a recent CBS special on Religion and Democracy, Mogahed and others break down the sinister practice of an industry and a political machine that actively promotes misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Muslims, creating a cancerous Islamophobia that demonizes the entire Muslim community and places Muslim Americans in real danger.
Says Mogahed: “It opens the psychological space for hate crimes.”
Islamophobia as an industry and a political practice is a complicated beast, but the essence is simple: Dehumanizing and disenfranchising Muslims. From media propaganda to political agendas, the tactics vary widely but the message is the same. The message is simple, easily digestible by the ill-educated and suggestible, and based entirely in the fear that Muslims are the new boogeyman that are out to get you.
This irrational fear that Islam is a silent menace to American society is not only fundamentally dangerous to Muslims in America, but to the basic structures of American democracy. Mogahed and others in the CBS documentary assert that as Muslims are consistently disenfranchised and mistreated in politics and are denied legal due process and constitutional rights, Islamophobia is a direct attack on such basic American principles as freedom and equality. When these foundations erode, we not only leave Muslims on shaky ground, we leave all Americans, with our many diversities, staring down the barrel of fascism, as “Islamophobia is a threat to any American who believes in freedom.”
How do we counteract this widespread injustice? Thankfully, this short doc is not a briefing on the latest doom and gloom. Education, many agree, is the start. The series profiles the Modesto school district, the ONLY district in the country that requires a high school class on world religions. While most Americans get their “education” about Islam and Muslims from the media, real education that includes the narrative of Muslims in America, as well as basic history of Islam (as told by Muslims, and not Donald Trump) could be instrumental in tackling the ignorance that creates Islamophobia.
While most Americans get their “education” about Islam and Muslims from the media, real education that includes the narrative of Muslims in America, as well as basic history of Islam (as told by Muslims, and not Donald Trump) could be instrumental in tackling the ignorance that creates Islamophobia.
Another avenue towards battling Islamophobia is very familiar to Muslims, as it is what we are REALLY taught in our masajid: Civic engagement. While people think Imams are rising to the pulpits to espouse violence and condone murder, studies show the opposite. “People are not being radicalized in Mosques,” says Mogahed. “They are being radicalized on the Internet.”
People who attend the mosque regularly are actually more likely to become community-minded members of their society.
People who attend the mosque are far less likely to look like a masked Daesh fighter, and are far more likely to look like Ilhan Omar.
Ilhan Omar is a young Somali-American Muslim running for state representative in my home state of Minnesota, where much of the Muslim community are from Somalia. Ilhan is only one of many millions of African American Muslims in our history, because as this doc points out, Muslims have been in America since the beginning, when their lives and their narratives were hijacked by the trans-Atlantic slave trade. Now, people like Ilhan Omar are taking it back. With a strong dedication to both the Muslim community and American democracy (which Omar and others insist are two sides of the same coin) people like Omar are reminding the world of our place in society as American Muslims.
Also worth mentioning are the many allies featured in this documentary, from native Minnesotans endorsing Ilhan Omar, to religious studies professors fighting Islamophobia in their classrooms, to a featured rabbi who declares that being a Jew in America and having faced discrimination, it is his duty to #StandUp and fight Islamophobia.
As Muslims, we have been part of the American tapestry since this country’s inception. Fearmongers may try and bring us down, try to dehumanize and “other” us in attempts to make us easier to hate and attack, but we will always fight back. With education, civic engagement, our many allies behind us, and our heroes like Dalia Mogahed and Ilhan Omar in front of us, the only place we have to go is…well, anywhere we can dream of.