An A-Z Guide for Being a Good Muslim Ally

Given the recent rhetoric spewing from the political pandemonium sometimes referred to as the United States Presidential Election, as well a spike in hate crimes and alarming attacks on our communities, it feels increasingly difficult and dangerous to be a Muslim in this country. Intolerance is on the rise, and any shred of logic once remaining in so much ignorant discourse has dissolved. Frankly speaking, it’s impossible to diagnose “where exactly so much has gone so wrong,” but it’s beyond certain that we’ve hit a point past which Muslim simply cannot endure so much Islamophobia alone.

“Ally” is a delicate term, and further, one quite hard to indefinitely define. While the role of an ally can specifically differ in regards to different groups or movements, there are some foundational principles that perpetually apply, perhaps even facilitate, throughout one’s fluid evolution as an ally.

As this search for “where exactly so much went so wrong,” grows more fuzzy and frightening–and thus more futile–perhaps it is best to call upon those who wish to stand with Muslim-Americans by considering allyship via the most basic of building blocks: the ABCs.


I never thought I’d have to imagine, let alone write, such a list–and while this is by no means serves as an absolute set of rules and regulations, I hope it at least inaugurates more clarifying conversations for those who want to help.

1. Articles

Here’s a hint: not Fox news.

Social media has consolidated the sharing of an entire story, report, or event into a few thumb taps–if even that many. Use these, and use them well. Your own absorption of these pieces is, yes, critical, but don’t curb the impact of powerful writing at yourself. Consume, but also assume–responsibility, that is. Reach beyond your radius. Chances are your approval or recommendation of a piece will encourage people who may otherwise retain previously narrow or uninformed ideas.

2. Bullshit

Call it and kill it. Don’t stand for it. This applies especially to halting hate-talk by people within your own racial sphere and realm of privilege. Read: white allies, shut shit DOWN. Please. There is so much utter intolerance spewing from so many kinds of people on so many kinds of platforms. Your objection and denouncement could hold a very serious hand in halting much of this hate.

3. Culture vs. Religion

There’s a difference. Also culture vs. cultural baggage– the latter specifically is an issue in the Muslim community, especially given the natural, but staggering percentage of immigrants in a population– and it often can be traced as the source to problems like discrimination against women. Please don’t conflate culture and and religion: it’s a blurry line that many Muslims even have a hard time discerning, but just be mindful of it. Even if you’re not exactly sure how to define it, just know it’s there and acknowledge it if someone references it, especially in regards to something you are doing (whether right) or trying to correct (if wrong).

4. Don’t try to rescue us from this oppressive, regressive religion

We’re not here to be saved from this evil spawn of a religion people like to imagine in their heads. That’s not the reality. Honestly, I’m just trying to save myself from bigots and Islamophobes. I don’t see any purpose, positivity, or productivity in your white or Western-saving. Please get over it.

5. Educate (yourself AND others)

Learn some facts. And spread the word: some other letters in this alph here will dish you some tips in terms of articles, social media, and thoughtful Muslim leaders to follow. Trustworthy, straight facts can also help debunk a decent chunk of whatever all this “Islam” stuff is. Not all Muslims are Arabs! Not all Arabs are Muslims! There are 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, and around 12 million in America–about less than 1% of the US population, actually. There are five pillars, like fasting and praying. Not all women cover. Not all men have beards. Muslims compose a significant amount of leaders and luminaries in American advancements and history! Wow, facts!

But seriously, educate yourself, and others, too. It’s highly fatiguing for Muslims to be constantly interrogated or defensive of their identity; allies can really help by facilitating such conversations. Muslims have bigger systems to be fighting than dumb trolls on the internet, or even in real life. That is a crucial item with which allies can help.

6. Feel your privilege

This applies to many allies, but specifically white allies–feel your identity. Feel your privilege. Understand what your privilege entails and what that shared privilege with others has enabled. White privilege has catalyzed a disproportionate about of unhealthy mindsets–think, white supremacy–and a lot of the hate, crimes, and hate crimes that have precipitated as a result. As many posts over the Internet has begun to so precisely point out: Donald Trump in a white people problem. He is a consequence of white supremacy, and–given that every other race is held accountable for even the unthinkable actions of its bizarrest few– others of his race bear responsibility to own up and meditate this problem. I have to feel my race everyday. Feel yours, and feel and unpack the privilege and accompanies it.

7. Graduate of Facebook University of Religious Studies, PhD.

Believe it or not, this title doesn’t exist! Yes, social media is highly influential is spreading the word, and yes you should not shy away from the bountiful useful information out there. But watching an attempting-to-bust-stereotypes playlist of “NowThis” or “Buzzfeed” videos on Facebook does not translate into a doctorate in Islamic Studies–which, I cannot stress enough, is not needed to participate in these discussions. However, unequally unnecessary is a self-righteous attitude predicated on five random three-minutes clips on “Muh-zlums.”

8. Human-to-Human

So again, I’m not here to slam social media as a platform–in fact, it is beyond powerful. I use it, and I believe it helps those who undergoing struggles voice in the first-person, AKA something a minority account is rarely afforded. That being said, discourse with a real Muslims who is *gasp!* an actual human might just be unparalleled. Such interactions can even be held through social media–as well as books and meetings. Following prominent, powerful voices in the Muslim community is a great place to begin: Wajahat Ali, Reza Aslan, Tahera Ahmad, Nabeeja Syed. Everyone may have slightly different views, again, because humans are unique *wow!*–but these is a solid, stellar group of minds and hearts.

9. Impact, not intent

A huge ingredient in being an ally comes with understanding that the impact of your words trumps (ha.) the intent. But don’t let this possibility disway or discourage you. A simply apology and edit of your future words and ways will likely be enough if something you say is perceived in not the way you intended. This simply goes along the same lines of registering that, as an ally, there are things you must learn, unlearn, and tackle, and comprehending that these realizations will only make help you progress in supporting Muslims around you. When you slip up, own up to your actions and incorporate the lessons going forward. No one is going to rag on you for trying to grow as an ally.

10. Jokes

Sometimes the most immediate reaction to coping with racial slurs or Trump rhetoric comes in the form of humor–and fairly so, since some of these ideas are simply that ridiculous. But there must come a point of assuming responsibility past a snarky retweet or “LOLOLOL”– apply these reactions to call things out. I don’t get to go home at the end of the day and tuck these jokes to bed for the night. I have no choice but to let them fester in my brain and pick at who I am as I try to doze off and take a break from what has begun to feel like an unraveling reality of my world.

11. Keep an eye out – safety.

Especially in public, and yes, even (especially?!) with people you may not know. If you see people being harassed, say something. Do something. Exercise kindness to hijabi women–and stand up for them when people act inappropriately. Touch base with your Muslim peers, colleagues, neighbors, relatives, bosses, employees, doctors. Let them know you are there–chances are a lot of them have encountered hate. Don’t interrogate them to a point of discomfort, but let them know you support them. Ask them if and/or how you can help.

12. Listen

I wish “L” came first in the alphabet, but alas, so be it. You are here to speak UP, not OVER–but before you even know what to say, you need to absorb what actual Muslims are you are trying to get at. There’s a bad track record of Muslims voices being hushed and silenced–ESPECIALLY women’s. Just listen. It is the foundation of allyship, and you cannot adhere to any of the other letters without this basis. Enough said.

You are here to speak UP, not OVER.

13. Mistakes

You’re going to make them. Apologize, be accountable, apply the lessons to revise your future attitude and actions, and move on. Don’t get mad at yourself or even (especially!!!) at a Muslim for pointing it out. It’s part of it.

14. News and Nonsense

The media manipulates news into nonsense. It is both impossible and despotic for me to concretely classify which publications or sources are trustworthy and fair–but I just urge you to remember who is writing what you read. Allowing people the authority to speak FOR themselves, as opposed to relying on a some outside source to frame it sensationally, highlights both a good strategy and a good reminder: social media, despite its ability to facilitate some not-so-positives (read: trolls), is so critical in situations like these. It ultimately allows everyone a voice, even the historically disenfranchised–so, please exercise logical discernment in honoring which of these are “good” to make the most of this platform.

15. Opinions *Yours matter*

Your opinion likely influences others,’ so help spread the word beyond the web. Write to your local paper, contact your local government official to encourage support of Muslims around you, and educate kids in community. Facilitate understanding. Breed compassion. Teach love, not hate. Never underestimate the power of an oped. Never underestimate the power your opinions can have on strangers, representatives, and children.

16. Plurality

Muslims are working on this whole solidarity thing–trust me. But that doesn’t mean that all of us are going to agree on all issues. The crucial principle still stands–Muslims are a minority bound by self-affiliation to an identity, but that by no means equates all of our views, backgrounds, or opinions. The monolith myth is dangerous, reducing, and frankly, false. Respect varying values and allow others to exercise and celebrate plurality. There isn’t the extremist on one end, the token American-Muslim in the gray middle, and the non-Muslim on the other side. Smash the gray-zone rhetoric and realize Islam is more like a rainbow you can’t just put on an x-axis in relation to ISIS.

17. Qur’an feat. Questions

Plurality though? But what about the Qur’an, you ask? Doesn’t it serve as some infallible resource of answers? Well, yes and no. The thing is that the Qur’an was revealed during seventh-century Arabia, in quite nuanced and loaded Arabic–further layered with and framed by cultural references specific to the time. Human discernment facilitating interpretation is a highlighted component in Islam, but where exactly people begin drawing lines, translating certain phrases, and applying understood meanings simply leaves a substantial vacuum for questions, debate, and differences. It’s important to note that historically, Qur’anic interpretation was left solely up to certain spheres of educated men in specific societies. Today, developments have shown a gradual shift in allowing people beyond old Arab men in long beards and flowy white robes to read and regard verses from themselves. Of course, some people think that violates tradition, while others only see it as fair that a diverse lens approach such an integrally guiding force of the religion. That’s just the beginning of what produces so much of the range and plurality in beliefs and thoughts.

Phew, okay, that was a lot, but see just asking a *Question,* even on something as loaded at the Qur’an can go such a long way.

18. Religious differences amongst

Plurality has been mentioned, but let’s emphasize some key points again. People exercise their faith differently, and your judgment of these variations does not license your evaluation of who are the “right” Muslims to whom you should listen. Hijab (head covering) isn’t a correlating indicator of piety and religious knowledge, nor is it an emblem of extremism or oppression. Some Muslims might not align with your cookie cutter image of one, but that doesn’t disqualify their opinions or thoughts altogether. Or at all, really.

19. Sympathize, Don’t Empathize

Your support is key, but in your sympathy, please don’t pretend to be exercising empathy. It’s really simple: if you’re not Muslim, you don’t know how it feels to be Muslim. Sass aside, acting like you completely get the issues at hand may illustrate you as trivializing or narcissistic, and thus alienate you in ways. Just avoid it. It’s hard to be any minority, yes, but some challenges remain unique to certain groups. Understand Muslims own a decent chunk of these localized issues. There are so many ways to show sympathy without fabricating your version of empathy into the equation.

20. Take time to say sorry!

Being a Muslim right now, frankly, is stressful. I try to keep a lot of this to myself–not because I consider my feelings unwelcomed or even illegitimate–but mostly because to constantly talk about this all the damn time is exhausting. Along the lines of “mistakes,” there may definitely be times when you, as an ally, upset or further fatigue a Muslim. Just please, apologize. Sorry JBiebs, but it’s NEVER too late to say sorry. A lot of Muslims are dealing with having to so outwardly discuss their faith in new spheres and personally unchartered territory, along with the aforementioned internalized struggles–so any support, kindness, and patience would be highly appreciated. A lot of that entails “Sorry” when you perhaps say or do something that sets someone off kilter–be is a family, friend, or stranger.

21. Unlearning is part of it

There’s a solid chance you yourself currently hold some misconceptions about Islam and Muslims–THAT’S OKAY. Be willing to learn, unlearn, and grow from the knowledge you encounter. Don’t back away just because you feel unequipped or unqualified–if you’re willing to put in the effort and evolve from the new things you discover, Muslims will embrace you. Trust me–we have way bigger problems than someone making a mistake, owning up to it, and moving on along with us.

22. VERB

“Ally” is not a cute noun or hip label–it is a status predicated on deliberate action. ~A Verb~ So work through this alphabet and do all that you can: attend rallies, makes yourself a known ally and supporter, contact your government officials and reps, teach the children in your life, do your research, write and speak to your community.

23. Within: Layers, not a License

Back toward the genre of plurality and religious differences–despite all this chaos outside, Muslims are still dealing with inter-community issues. It’s impossible to tackle every detail of every problem at once, but please remain mindful that there exists a decent amount of work to tackle within. I’ll be the first to say that right now is NOT the time to quit addressing women’s issues, like leadership, representation, and assault, just because of the external attacks we face; nor is my criticism of gender dynamics within the layers of my religious sphere a licensing example for you to exploit as a tarnishing example of my community. Like any other, we’re not perfect, and we are combatting issues on several different territories at the moment. Your support, not retort, is appreciated.

24. “Xenophobia”

When you call people out for xenophobia, don’t shy away from this lexicon. This term reflects both accuracy in the situation, as well as gravity in reminding people how intolerant and ludicrous this racism is.

25. Yesterday is not today (#logic)

Muslims don’t get to take a break from being Muslim, so please don’t take a break from being an ally. It’s simply not fair to pat yourself on the back from that one time you spoke up the other day and reclassify yourself as #ally4life–it doesn’t work like that. Not only must “ally” be a verb, but it must be a consistent, continuous one.

26. Zero tolerance

We’ve gotten to a scary point–the one at which “but it’s just a joke” or “it’ll blow over” don’t hold much meaning anymore. “Fear” as a word doesn’t seem to cut it at this point.

This morning in class, for the first time, my mind simply could not focus and began mentally narrating what a 2016 Trump America would look like for me–or better yet, that it wouldn’t look like much. Don’t tolerate any more of this hate. Don’t make me think through the end of the story–otherwise the story might end me.

Image: Flickr