Look, politics is a heavy word. I get it.
There is so much stress, hostility, judgement, and investment in the politics. Understandably, people might feel nervous to jump into the world of political engagement.
Maybe you’re scared you won’t be able to contribute anything of worth. Maybe you crave the approval and esteem of everyone and are afraid to alienate anyone because of your beliefs. Maybe you feel you’re too busy. Maybe you think you need to ‘stay in your lane.’ Maybe you think nothing political really affects you.
But I need to tell you something. Being Muslim in America is political.
This question and subsequent discussion about the role of Muslims in the political arena is something I’ve been experiencing a lot lately. Reading and listening to discourse Muslim leaders today has often centered around one sentiment that our faith has been politicized, and that couldn’t be more true.
You might not be politically engaged, but if you’re Muslim, you cannot be nonpolitical, because your faith is politicized. Something innate to your identity has become a consistent bureaucratic topic of discussion. Your religion gets depicted and debated all over television, newspapers, and overheard conversations.
I was born and raised in this nation, and I grew up seeing my religion be mispronounced and misrepresented in the media. I don’t remember my parents sitting me down and having a specific conversation about it, but I grew up knowing there was a significant number of people in this country who would hate me simply on the basis of my religion.
Almost every Muslim I know has had an experience with bullying, or some kind of hateful encounter. A stranger in New York City once abruptly approached me and called me a “sick jihadist.”
And this narrative only gets more common and more aggressive in today’s climate. An FBI report showed that hate crimes against Muslims climbed to 67% in 2015. In 2016, there was a rise in hate groups across the United States with anti-Muslim hate groups nearly tripling from 2015 to 2016. In 2015, three Muslim students in Chapel Hill were killed and their murders were frequently reported as a ‘parking dispute.’ In New York, in 2016, an Imam and his assistant were shot to death in broad daylight. A 60 year old Muslim woman who was the aunt of an NYPD officer was stabbed to death in September 2016. A Moroccan cab driver was shot and the jury acquitted the shooter of all charges. A bigoted women punched two Muslim women in the face while they were pushing their babies in strollers, and tried to rip off their hijabs (headscarves). A Muslim store owner was physically assaulted in his shop in Queens. A mosque in Victoria, Texas, was set on fire and while federal investigators ruled in arson, they said there was not evidence of a hate crime. A mosque in Davis, California, was vandalized. A Muslim woman’s shirt was set on fire in New York in September 2016. Muslim students on university campuses are being targeted by racist and bigoted campaigns. The Huffington Post tracked 385 anti-Muslim acts in 2016.
Elected officials and political candidates throw Islam around in press conferences, speeches, and statements like it’s not a religion 20 percent of the world believes in and follows. Like Islam is nothing more than a political tool and problem.
They’re not even subtle about it, guys. Profiling. Surveillance. Immigration. Nobody’s pretending that these conversations and policies aren’t about us, however uninformed they are.
There’s no escaping it. Islam is politicized in America. It’s a fact. Unfortunate, but true.
So, considering all this, what do we do? Is there a right and wrong way to be active in our communities? Are we even obligated to get involved?
I don’t know the right answer.
For some, the answer is to keep their faith kind of hidden, and that’s fine. Everybody needs to take care of themselves and their safety first and foremost. Self-care looks different everybody and nobody else can impose their customs on anyone else. Everyone has different approaches to life.
But for everyone else who can’t hide their faith, or doesn’t want to, at the very least, understand your existence is now politically charged.
I can’t tell you what you do with that information.
Personally, yeah, I do think it’s our responsibility to be proactive in our communities. I don’t want to allow others to step on me and my beliefs, and my community, because they think we’re weak, quiet, and isolated. I think the answer is to get organized and to work with other communities, particularly other marginalized groups.
We need to build a network of fierce individuals who don’t just get together when something terrible has happened, but continue demanding, united, for the rights and representation they deserve the whole time.
We should at least recognize that acknowledgement of our politicized faith is not a commitment to a particular political party or a partisan candidate or cause. Involvement and engagement in the political and social arena are still forms of claiming agency over your narrative and your existence, no matter where on the spectrum you fall.
We don’t all have to be doing the same things. Not everyone has to be attending rallies and protests (though, I totally recommend it). You can get involved in your local governments. Run for office! Ask your neighbor what you can do to support them. Smile at somebody. Volunteer in community-based organizations.
I can’t dictate how you live your life – whether you call your politicians, support candidates, publicly advocate for your community, or educate yourself and others on important causes.
That choice is up to you.