Several years ago, Dalia Mogahed , then Gallup’s executive director of Muslim studies, co-authored a seminal book with Georgetown University Professor John Eposito – Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think. Based upon the largest Gallup study of global Muslims of its time, the book presented fascinating and sobering findings, addressing (among many other things) what the actual views of the Muslim publics were in contrast to this question: “Are the growing violence and negative perceptions on all sides only a prelude to an inevitable all-out war between the West and 1.3 billion Muslims?”
According to the Amazon review of the book:
Amid the rhetoric of hate and growing violence, both anti-Americanism in the Muslim world and Islamophobia — discrimination against or hostility toward Islam or Muslims — have increased precipitously. In the aftermath of 9/11, President George W. Bush emphasized that America was waging war against global terrorism, not against Islam. However, the continued acts of a terrorist minority, coupled with statements by preachers of hate (Muslim and Christian) as well as anti-Muslim talk show hosts and political commentators have inflamed our emotions and distorted our views. The religion of Islam and the mainstream Muslim majority have been conflated with the beliefs and actions of an extremist minority. The result was reflected in a USA Today/Gallup poll, which found substantial minorities of Americans admitting to negative feelings or prejudice against Muslims and favoring heightened security measures with Muslims to help prevent terrorism. Nearly one-quarter of Americans, 22%, say they would not want a Muslim as a neighbor; fewer than half believe U.S. Muslims are loyal to the United States; and 44% say Muslims are too extreme in their religious beliefs.
Now, nine years later, as hard as vast segment of the American Muslim populations are working to own our own narratives, to dispel myths and stereotypes, to stand up for our rights and delve deeper into systemic problems that plague our own communities as well as the our nation at large, the going only seems tougher, the suspicion towards us only more deep and the anti-Muslim rhetoric ringing louder and louder.
And so we dig deeper and work harder. Dalia, now the director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, has never let up in this work, increasingly becoming the voice of intelligent, thoughtful discourse from the American Muslim community. It might be reaching to say that if you are to ask now “Who speaks for Islam?” many Muslims would answer Dalia. Of course we’re not a monolith, and I’m sure that question could be answered a thousand different ways. So let me rephrase: If I were to pick a person in this time and place, I’d say Dalia.
Dalia recently gave an inspiring TED talk that I urge all of you to watch. Muslim or not, in fact more so for anyone who is of another faith (or non-faith) and has any sort of curiosity about Muslims and Islam – give this a watch. It’s titled – What Do You Think of When You Look at Me?
Trust me. Do it.