Future of Islam
The Power of Storytelling: Creating a New Future for American Muslims
Around the world, the clichéd story also paints America and all Americans as the "bad guys" who arrogantly stroll into town and violently bully anyone who opposes their might.
If these stories persist with such simplistic, one-dimensional caricatures and formulaic narratives, then the predictable third act can only end in tragedy.
Indeed, several Muslim Americans feel humiliated and under siege living in such a politically loaded, accusatory climate. They resort to angry victimization and reactionary rhetoric, becoming cultural consumers of TV news and media sound bites instead of participating as proactive cultural creators.
And, yet, history has repeatedly proven that pain and love, the most powerful of human feelings, are usually the most potent ingredients to inspire communities with an artistic renaissance. It is not surprising that African Americans and Jewish Americans, two groups who have suffered tremendously in past centuries, have arguably been some of America's most influential cultural creators. Both groups created stories drawing upon their unique experiences, tragedies, languages, and histories, which eventually became infused with the larger American narrative. If Muslim Americans can learn from the struggles of minority groups before them, we will realize the best ways to escape "our shadow" is by finally telling our own stories in our own voices and using art and storytelling as a means of healing and education.
The future of Islam in America has to be written by Muslim Americans who boldly grab hold of the conch and become heroes of our own narratives. We can no longer exist in culturally isolated cocoons or bury our heads under the sand waiting for the tide to subside on its own. We must follow the traditions and values of Islam and America by being generous and inviting with our narratives. We must tell stories that are "by us, for everyone," thus accurately reflecting the spectrum of shared common values that exist simultaneously within the Muslim and American spirit.
These stories will ultimately influence the greater American narrative reminding fellow citizens that no group is a cultural monolith worthy of being painted with only black and white colors, and that even Islam is capable of benefitting America with its unique spiritual and cultural gifts.
Thankfully, a few storytellers have already heard the call and picked up the conch. Among them is G. Willow Wilson, a white, American-born convert to Islam, who cites Islam and the West as critical foundations of her spiritual journey in her new memoir, The Butterfly Mosque. Her story is living proof that an individual can maintain fidelity both to one's American and Muslim roots without mutual exclusivity or an "internal" clash of civilizations.
The Taqwacore movement, inspired by Muslim American convert Michael Muhammad's fictional novel of the same name, shows us punk, suburban, American-born Muslim kids who are just as comfortable citing hadiths of the Prophet as they are reciting Sex Pistol lyrics -- all while styling their mohawks.
Meanwhile, Eva Ensler's influential Vagina Monologues inspired American-born Muslim Sahar Ullah to write and perform her own Hijabi Monologues, featuring complex female characters equipped with unique and powerful voices that deconstruct and defuse lazy stereotypes. As Ullah mentions on the group's Facebook page, "Through the power of storytelling, generalizations and categories are challenged. Through stories, strangers touch and connect. Through stories, the story-teller and listener are humanized."