To some extent, these biases can be found among American Muslims as well, particularly those who insist on self-ghettoization, which in turn positions them against or in contrast to the American majority rather than comfortably integrated within it. Even among the relatively better integrated members of the community, the biggest challenge when it comes to religious freedom is the articulation of proper strategies to overcome Islamophobia. Too often, Muslims resort to advocating legal sanctions on, for example, hate speech, rather than trying to understand approaches that are in the community's strategic interests. The result is that Muslims continue to be leveled with accusations of being anti-free speech and anti-religious freedom.
As a religious freedom attorney, especially one regularly involved in media, I am very aware of the need to address the issues facing the international and domestic Muslim community by helping Muslims understand both the international human rights framework and the American constitutional framework. There is a need to translate these frameworks into terms that make sense culturally and theologically for Muslims.
While barriers to understanding and implementing human rights are the biggest challenge facing the community from within, particularly in the international context, from without, Islamophobia is a huge problem. The Danish cartoon controversy is a prominent case in which there was a marked failure of communication. An undoubtedly offensive portrayal of the Prophet led to an international fiasco as the Muslim community struggled to express the hurt and offense the cartoons had caused. However, language failed, and a segment of the international Muslim community turned to violence to express its anger.
The Muslim community often fails to successfully articulate to a non-Muslim audience its understanding of common norms. For example, it remains alienated largely on questions related to gender, whether it be veiling, women's rights, gender roles, and so on. At the same time, the community struggles within when it comes to realizing true gender equality. With forums such as my web magazine, Altmuslimah.com, it is possible to strive to fill that communication gap by fostering meaningful, compelling dialogue that is illuminating not just for Muslims, but also non-Muslims seeking to learn more about gender issues in Islam.
Altmuslimah's contributors argue passionately for what they believe and the comments section is always alive with constructive feedback and sincere attempts at dealing with tough issues and finding workable solutions. Altmuslimah is, in this sense, uniquely probing. Its readers and contributors rarely engage in identity politics, instead focusing on a clear articulation of Muslim beliefs and socio-spiritual experiences. By taking control of their own narratives, Altmuslimah's writers make it less likely that others may attribute motives to them. They are sincere, but not apologetic, and are ultimately comfortable with disagreement.
In the coming century, the Muslim community in the U.S. and abroad will be faced with challenges that require a concerted and critical response. There is a great burden on community leaders to meet these challenges with an eye to the future, rather than simply predicating current behavior on past examples. A burden of proof has been placed on the Muslim community to prove that its religious tenets stand up to the scrutiny of international human rights standards. In addition to a general mistrust of the perceived heritage of such standards, variant interpretations of Islam and conflicting cultural identities complicate such a task. To adequately meet the challenges ahead, the Muslim community must be willing to actively and openly engage both its members as well as outside communities. The Muslim community must not be afraid to ask the question, "What does it mean to be a Muslim today?"
Disclaimer: The views represented here are the author's alone and do not represent the views of The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty or www.altmuslimah.com.
Asma T. Uddin is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of altmuslimah.com. She is also an international law attorney with The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a non-profit, non-partisan, public interest law firm based in Washington, D.C. Asma's writing has appeared in Muslim Girl Magazine, altmuslim, beliefnet, and in the Guardian's Comment is Free. She is also an expert panelist for the Washington Post/Newsweek blog, On Faith, and a contributor to Huffington Post Religion, CNN's Belief Blog, and Common Ground News. Her more scholarly work has been published in the Rutgers Journal of Law and Religion, The Review of Faith & International Affairs, and the St. Thomas University Law Journal.