There is an idea of “Islam,” as a signifier of something foreign and threatening, that continues to plague American discussion of the religion. It is part of the shooting in Chattanooga, and it part of the debate around the Iran nuclear deal.
The idea of writing about the future of Islam in America is more than daunting. At nearly 2 percent of the U.S. population, covering all fifty states, with histories stretching back hundreds of years, and representing nearly every Muslim community in the world, there does not seem to be a unified future. And that there is no one future is in fact a blessing and a potential, which perhaps should be the future to be celebrated.
The report, called (Re)Presenting American Muslims: Broadening the Conversation, seeks to move beyond inclusion as simply referring to sexual orientation. Instead, it aims to revive a broader ethos of pluralism and cosmopolitanism, grounded in Muslim traditions, that has historically been the hallmark of healthy, thriving Muslim societies. In many ways, it sets the stage for and goes beyond the open letter to American Muslims published by Reza Aslan and Hassan Minhaj here on RD.
My first piece for the Foreign Policy Association blog.
The recent attack against Ismaili Muslims in Karachi, Pakistan, will be read by most as part of a simple narrative of an ongoing Sunni-Shi’ah conflict. Unfortunately, as consistent fear-mongering has demonstrated with Sharia, bandying about non-English words conveys a facade of knowledge without any guarantee of any actual understanding. As is the case with most political violence, here is more to this attack than a simple retelling of a religious clash. There is a deeper history that is masked by using inappropriate vocabulary, and misusing it is allowing the most extreme voices to set the agenda.
Hussein Rashid, a professor of religion at Hofstra University, says that many qawwaliartists working in South Asia today have limited themselves. He believes this American group is bringing the music back to its roots.
"You know, I think there's been so much concern about what is Islam, and what isn't, politically speaking and artistically speaking," Rashid says, "that there's been a push in modern qawwali to actually sanitize it and make it very sterile — and almost rule-bound — rather than ecstatic and devotional. For me, I think what Riyaaz Qawwali is doing is trying to go back to that very exciting, innovative space that qawwali was."
And so to Rashid, it's totally logical that such a burst of inspiration would come from deep in the heart of Texas. "In fact," he says, "it seems natural that we would get a new flourishing of Muslim devotionals in a place like America, where we do have this freedom of religion."