On May 18th, the Desmond Tutu Center for Peace, Reconciliation and Global Justice, The Islamic Society of North America, Butler University Muslim Student Association and IUPUI Muslim Student Association hosted #NotInMyName, a conversation in which local Muslim-Americans responded to the rising rhetoric of racism associated with their identity. The speakers included Salam Al-Marayati, President of the Muslim Affairs Council; Ahmed Young, Director with the Office of Mayor Hogsett; and Dania Saltagi, Butler University student. The conversation began with an introduction of the speakers by the evening’s moderator, Waseema Ali, Managing Director of the DTC.
President Obama stated that “ignorance is not a virtue.” This quote opened the door to begin exploring the rise of racism associated with Muslim-Americans starting in 2008. Following the introduction, a short video highlighted the #NotInMyName movement and what it represents. Created by young British Muslims at The Active Change Foundation of East London, members of the #NotInMyName movement showed their solidarity against ISIS by tweeting that ISIS does not represent their Muslim identity and how ISIS is misrepresenting Islam. The video was an empowering story that attempted to reclaim the true peaceful roots of Islam.
A brief dialogue provided background information about the acts of terrorism in the U.S. and worldwide related to Muslims. Despite how the media would like to portray those of Muslim identity and Islamic faith, the truth is the Quran states that terrorism is an act of hypocrisy and only six percent of terrorist attacks are carried out by Islamic groups while the majority of hate crimes are targeted at Muslims.
Following the video, Salam Al-Marayati, an expert on Islam in the West, provided insight regarding the current struggle of Muslim-Americans to take back their identity. He stated that the message of Muslim-Americans is both intellectual and grounded in fact. Al-Marayati argued that the video shown had underrepresented both of these aspects of the Muslim message. He stated that this misrepresentation often comes from modern media. “Soundbites” he said, are what win presidential elections in the 21st century, and the message of the Muslim-American is missing this media attention. Al-Marayati said that a first step to change is that the Muslim-American community needs to go beyond standard conditions and be seen as part of the solution to the problem of terrorism and violence rather than the problem itself.
The reality is that less than .00002% of americans killed in the US are killed by Muslims, yet 82-92% of Muslims are killed or injured in terrorist attacks worldwide. The second speaker Ahmed Young, commented honestly, stating that in this moment, he felt scared for the future. He felt concerned for the future of his daughters and his country, but he has taken this sense of fear and has used it as an avenue for optimism. Young stated that he often feels like a representative for his identity; being a black man in America with Islamic faith puts him in a position where he is constantly asked questions. Young went on to discuss and analyze his beliefs and how he portrays his faith to the world, using questions as a stepping stone for critical conversations with individuals who don’t always understand his identity. Working for the Mayor of Indianapolis, Young prides himself in the progression of the city. He doted on the diversity currently in Mayor Hogsett’s cabinet and the individuals he works with that actively strive to create social change related to injustice and diversity. Young believes that in some ways the Muslim-American population has become complacent in relation to their societal duties. He believes he leads a comfortable lifestyle in a socio-economic sector that does not require him to fight for what he needs. However, he firmly believes that being an active community member will create the change needed to combat harmful stereotypes.
Dania Saltagi also had similar beliefs. Dania stated that she is Muslim and she is American and there is no difference between the two. Often times Dania feels that people try to separate the two identities, pulling them apart to mean different things; however in her eyes they are synonymous. The contradictions lie in those individuals that cannot understand that her Muslim faith taught her the very things that America is founded upon. Dania grew up valuing honesty, loyalty and freedom, recognizing that those values are used in both her American identity and her Muslim faith to describe an upstanding citizen. Refusing to be apologetic for her identity, Dania spoke about her experiences in the community related to her identity, saying her hijab empowered her to be confident in herself. This empowerment also came with responsibility as she chose to symbolize her faith in an outward fashion bringing questions and judgement into her life. Not being apologetic about who she was also encouraged Dania to stand up and proclaim that there is no difference between being American and being a Muslim. During the ISIS attacks on Paris, Dania decided to take back her faith. She used Twitter to publicly defend her faith saying that ISIS is not only hurting individuals, but also creating false perceptions about Islamic faith. The tweet went viral and Dania got her “five minutes of fame,” she said, as CNN contacted her for an interview.
Following the panel discussion, Ali opened up the conversation for questions. The questions asked were related to the extremist faith structures within ISIS, personal experiences living in Indianapolis, educational programs on islamophobia and the role of Muslim-Americans in progressing social movements like Black Lives Matter. These questions allowed for deeper analysis of the Indianapolis area creating a more distinct understanding for individuals within our community. The #NotInMyName event was empowering and informative as it created a platform for Muslim-Americans to not only speak out against the hateful rhetoric plaguing their identity but defend and proactively educate community members on their beliefs and culture.
By: Ellie Rowley