Editor’s Note: Charles Turner is Altmuslim’s newest columnist. His columns will be appearing in the third week of every month.
By Charles M. Turner
I took my seat at the end of the table and introduced myself to my hospitable hosts. I had lost count long ago of all the times I had spoken about Islam to a local Christian congregation. I knew the questions they would ask, the concerns they had and the narratives they had heard. This being a more progressive church that was accustomed to interacting with their Muslim neighbors, I had little to fear.
Simply answer the same questions they had asked for the past fifteen years: What about terrorism and islamophobia.
Concerns about the Islamic State and the rise of bigotry in America are nothing new to the Muslim community. ISIS is yet another product of a nasty combination of religion, politics and post-colonial experiences. As a group, they are just another sibling in a family that includes Hamas, al-Qaeda and the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization). And for American Muslims, it’s just another group we have to explain.
Likewise, the recent rise in Islamophobia on the part of Republican presidential presumptive candidate Donald Trump’s right-wing politics is new only in its current intensity. The accusations and stereotypes of a violent, intolerant, woman-hating Islam are as old as the faith itself. So when the questions are posed by my Christian neighbors, my answers are well rehearsed.
This particular Sunday however, I’m surprised one comment. A grief-stricken woman towards the back of the classroom calls out towards the end of our session, “It must get old constantly having to deal with the same problems all the time.”
It gets old trying to get others to understand that the stereotypes are grossly inaccurate. It’s tiresome having to put a vastly complex set of political issues in another part of the world in layman’s terms to convince my countrymen it has nothing to do with me and my community. It exhausting preaching the same anti-terror sermon numerous weeks in a row as a sense of appeasement to a society that refuses to believe we’re peaceful.
But the most upsetting consequence of these tumultuous times has nothing to do with American society. It wholly affects to Muslim community itself.
Times in which the Muslim community is under greater scrutiny than usual produce a strong rallying affect. There’s no time in which unity is stronger in the Muslim community than when we feel we’re under attack. And while most would agree that feelings of unity are a positive effect, there are drawbacks that are often overlooked.
With the timing of recent surges in Islamophobia, progress within the Muslim community has been the price of our unity. Prior to the rise of Trump, the Muslim community was of the path to addressing issues related to gender inequalities, generational dissonance and racism. Celebrity speakers were beginning to speak out against the sidelining of women in mosques.
Some scholars even began to tackle the highly volatile issue of forced marriages. It finally seemed as though the Muslim community was starting down the long and arduous road of change and progress.
However, those internal debates became more tabled as Trump called for a “complete and total ban” of Muslims entering the U.S. and eventually the Nazi-style identification of Muslim minorities. Of course these developments had to be addressed, and the result do seem positive.
Muslims are united in the fight against bigotry, and our allies extend farther and wider than ever. However, as Donald Trump seeks to moderate his tone and views to capture median voters, will the Unmosqued movement return to its campaign for a more inclusive community? Will the younger generation continue to fight for a voice in the decisions and future of Muslim America? Will other internal and necessary debates resume?
Personally, speaking about Islam at churches and in classrooms has often felt internally polarizing. While the audience is concerned about terrorism, Sharia law or the inner workings of Middle Eastern politics, my own mind is racked with the internal issues of youth disenfranchisement, the displacement of women from houses of worship and the lack of Muslim intellectual development.
It almost seems disingenuous, but then I remember that each religious community is fighting its own internal battles. Christians often joke about board members arguing over the color of carpet, and the Muslim community is no different. It just so happens that we have never been able to pick the color of our carpets because we’re too often fighting other battles.
So, as the pendulum of bigotry begins to slowly swing back to the middle, I’m left wondering if our progress continues or we’re left in the same frustrating situations as before: Empty mosques and heavy hearts.
Charles M. Turner is a graduate student of Political Science at George Mason University. A convert to Islam, Charles has served in numerous organizations including the Muslim Chaplain Services of Virginia, the Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs, and the Islamic Center of Virginia. He currently works as a teacher at the Tawheed Prep School, the only Muslim middle and high school in the Richmond area. Charles plans to continue his education in political science with a focus on Islam and Politics and one day teach at a university.