State of Muslims in America: One-Session Webinar
The webinar “The State of Muslims in America: Reflections on the 10th Anniversary of September 11th, 2001,” featured a presentation by Hussein Rashid of Hofstra University, welcomed participants from Miami, Washington D.C., and California among other location in the United States and beyond. The session was moderated by Outreach Center Curriculum Coordinator Anna Mudd. This webinar was the second in a series of programming on the 10th Anniversary of September 11th, 2001, including webinars for educators, lesson plans, and a campus wide panel discussion. See more information here.
Dr. Rashid began by situating the topic of Muslims in American within a broader historical context, emphasizing that the first Muslims arrived well before the establishment of the nation, most of them as part of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Bookending this in the 10th century, Rashid discussed the large numbers of South Asia Muslims who arrived following the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. Noting parallels within communities of Jewish and Catholic immigrants, he discussed the ways in which ethnic diversity within religious groups plays a role in the project of defining a unified sense of American identity.
In the contemporary context, Dr. Rashid spoke as well about the role of pop culture and media, including television sit-coms, music, and comedy (examples included the "Axis of Evil Comedy Tour" and the hip hop artist Lupe Fiasco among others), and the ways in which these have historically functioned as a normalizing force for marginalized communities in the U.S. Participants in the webinar opened discussion about the notion of "Muslim culture" in this context, reflecting on the relationship between unity and diversity within a community that contains a multiplicity of backgrounds and cultural contexts within the U.S. Rashid noted that the most significant forms of normalizing visibility often come with characters who present markers such as self-identified Muslim identity but are not defined by them.
There were several k-12 educators present and, voicing a common concern, one participant asked how he, as a teacher, can approach this material while feeling uncertain of his own content knowledge. Anna Mudd spoke then about the American Academy of Religion Guidelines for Teaching About Religion in k-12 Classrooms in the United States, a resources on the Outreach Center website, as well as the “cultural studies” approach to teaching about religion that it describes. Within this method teaching about religion, any religion, importance is placed on the larger nature and purpose of “religious literacy” in the classroom.
Rashid gave an example from his own teaching, saying that when students pose questions about Islam, he often begins by asking them to reflect on how they would answer such a question about their own religious or cultural background. Asking them to consider what sources they feel would accurately represent this aspect of their identity, he pushes them to reflect on what issues might arise from the assumption that any one voice or representation would be sufficient.
Dr. Rashid is an academic, activist, and lecturer. He received his MA and PhD from Harvard’s Near Eastern Languages and Cultures where his dissertation focused on the role of music as a means of integration amongst South Asian immigrants to the US and the UK. His larger research interest is the representation and self-representation of Muslims in America. Learn more about Dr. Rashid's work here. Dr. Rashid, a native of New York City, is also engaged with "Prepare New York," a coalition of interfaith organizations promoting interactive community engagement and unity during the approaching anniversary of the attacks of 2001.