As a 20-year-old Muslim American with Syrian and Danish roots, culture and ethnicity has influenced my life drastically. Throughout my life, my Arab acquaintances informed me that I wasn’t “Arab enough”, while my American ones saw me as “too different.” So, when I found my academic passion in Anthropology, I decided to uncover the diversity of Muslim Americans through my role with Coming of Faith.
Cultural and ethnic divides have long prevailed within the Muslim American community due to a lack of awareness from the community itself. Coming of Faith is a non-profit organization with the main focus of redefining the narrative of Muslim American women. Through in-person events and online submissions, Coming of Faith aims to empower Muslim American women to speak about their identity while challenging them to show the world the diversity of Muslim Americans. The potential within this initiative is profound, as it bring awareness to the plethora of experiences while weaving a narrative enriched with various cultures and ethnicities.
In an interview email, we asked this outstanding community leader, who will be turning 22 on August 30th the following questions:
Q: How do you identify ethnically?
A: Bangladeshi, South Asian.
Q: What has been your involvement or leadership in the Muslim community?
A: I have been a youth educator and community organizer for the past 6 years in New York City. I have been involved with organizations that have served South Asian and Muslim populations - I joined South Asian Youth Action! as a youth, the Council on American Islamic Relations, and later learning from great organizations like Desis Rising Up & Moving (DRUM). I work alongside a collective of South Asian activists through East Coast Solidarity Summer (formerly known as DC Desi Summer) to educate and organize young South Asians to be committed to social justice movements. I have supported solidarity work against Palestinian occupation, with Students for Justice in Palestine, the war(s) in Iraq, Afghanistan, through the University at Albany Muslim Student Association, and fundraising for the victims of the Rana Plaza collapse in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Growing up as a Muslimah in Queens, Muslim community has been an intricate part of the social groups I have been working with - to organize, educate and create alternative models of social justice. I have created and facilitated many workshops throughout New York City against Islamophobia, anti-black racism, and historical dialogue unpacking the war on terror. Many of the youth attending political education program at the Ya-Ya Network, where I work as an organizer to train youth activists are Muslim, and I am both a mentor and ally to their resistance stories.
Q: What are your thoughts on the future Muslim inter-ethnic relations? What would you like to see? What are some possible solutions?
A: The Islamic community (like many communities) a lot of internal work to do, in unlearning the ways classism, anti-Black racism, white supremacy and Arab supremacy have worked together to create schisms and divides in our communities. The silence around the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims in Burma, while Ethiopian migrants are being slaughtered at rates unseen, are all interconnected with the supremacy of the Arab (Saudi, Qatar, United Arab Emirates) Empire and the complacency in the violence against Muslims who are marginalized in the war for oil and global domination. Inter-ethnic relations are related to the legacy of colonialism in the Muslim world, and the ways that powerful governments facilitate ethnic divide and cleansing - whether it be the victims of the Sahara being violently repressed by Algerian/Moroccan borders, or the silence around the violence faced by Bangladeshi migrants being exploited by the Arab capitalist project. I would like to see more intergenerational, anti-sexist approaches to building unity within the ummah. Addressing the ways capitalism and white supremacist heteropatriarchy have dominated the social and political paradigms in Muslim communities is integral, if we want to truly decolonize a history that has potential to liberate and unify. I would like to see more female imams leading mixed gender prayer, and more breaking down of hierarchy and complacency in political silence. In our Muslim communities, we must learn the ways our struggles are all interconnected to the ideas of Empire and colonization, in order to stand in solidarity with non-Muslim populations, non-Arab communities, and communities of gender non conforming trans* and gay people - who are also a part of our community, yet oftentimes invisibilized. In order to begin addressing these issues, we must begin to address the ways our differences have alienated us, while doing the intricate work to become allies and comrades with Black, Native, trans and migrant communities who are different from us. We should do more political education work, to creatively participate in social movements that are breaking down the norms of capitalism and model minority myths.
I am 20 years old. I am an Afro-Arab, Sudanese-American. While attending American University, I became the president of the MSA. Previously, the events and services provided by the MSA reflected the interests and concerns of one or two ethnic groups at the expense of the other communities on campus. As outreach coordinator and then president, I helped the organization become more responsive to the Muslim student community as a whole. We began partnering with organizations such as the African Student Organization, Black Student Alliance, and the Dominican Student Association, among others. In the interest of furthering inter-cultural engagement and combating racism within Muslim communities on a national level, I joined the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative (MuslimARC). I now serve as the chair of the Outreach Committee. I have also begun work on initiatives to combat mental health stigma within the Muslim community as well as provide resources and support for those who suffer from mental illnesses.
Hearing the stories of others has made me acutely aware of the community’s failure to address these issues in a comprehensive way. I work to partner with organizations to create a buffer between the mentally ill and law enforcement, combat stigma, raise awareness and train community leaders to recognize signs of mental illness and refer people to the appropriate care. Muslim American discourse is dominated and shaped by Arab and South Asian communities, often leaving out Black, Indigenous, Latino and other minorities. Our task is to amplify the voices of marginalized communities, and to ensure that the issues that matter most to them are comprehensively addressed. Additionally, we must work to promote inter-cultural engagement and break down the barriers erected by increasingly insular communities. More collaboration between mosques that represent people of different ethnicities and socio-economic backgrounds is vital in breaking down stereotypes. There needs to be a concerted effort to engage all segments of the Muslim community, and ensure that the Muslim American narrative is accepting of a plurality of views. Follow her on twitter.
Nafisah Tung is a 24-year old Chinese Muslim from San Diego, CA. She’s a prominent artist online and is currently working on video games professionally. Ever since starting her online identity in 2006, she’s maintained an active role in communicating with her peers through self expression and story-telling with a focus on body diversity, identity, and self love. Her audience is generally non-Muslim, so most efforts and artistic endeavors seek to educate about the religion when applicable. Her blog serves as a part-time advice column and she also helps moderate I am not Haraam, an online resource and safe space for Muslims who identify on the LGBTQIA+ spectrum. http://www.nahfeesawh.com/
Liban Yousuf is a 23 year old CAIR-AZ Civil Rights Director. He’s been an active member of the Arizona Muslim community since he moved to Arizona from San Jose, California in 2006. Since then, he has been active with various Muslim organizations in the valley including Arizona State University’s Muslim Students’ Association, MAS, and Why Islam. Liban served as the former legal intern at CAIR Arizona since May 2013. Follow this rising leader on twitter.