Over a decade after 9/11, Muslims in America continue to face more hostility, discrimination and bigotry than almost any other social group in the United States. Although prejudice toward minorities has generally declined in recent decades, Muslims are seen through a double lens as both religious and cultural minorities. It is not yet clear that Americans truly accept Muslims as a part of the great American “melting pot.”
For example, a 2011 public opinion poll found that nearly half of Americans are uncomfortable with a woman wearing a burqa, a mosque being built in their neighborhood or Muslim men praying at an airport. And, despite the fact that a majority of respondents agreed that religious diversity is a foundational American value, nearly 50% of those surveyed said that Islam is fundamentally incompatible with American values. This pervasive and dangerous discourse is further perpetuated every day by intolerant politicians and pundits, and reinforced by lopsided, negative portrayals of Islam and Muslims by the mainstream media.
Surprisingly, although there are over 3 million Muslims living in America today, a 2010 TIME magazine poll found that 62% of Americans say that they don’t personally know a Muslim American. Yet, as social scientists (and common sense!) suggest, knowing a Muslim has a strong, positive effect on attitudes.
So how do we create a space for non-Muslim Americans to get better acquainted with their fellow citizens who are Muslim?
In an effort to provide a space to show Muslims as they truly are — as neighbors, as colleagues, as boyfriends and girlfriends, as Americans — my proposed solution is to develop and launch an online platform that highlights and celebrates real American Muslims.
My project seeks to leverage digital media and the social web to produce, aggregate and disseminate compelling, curated content related to American Muslims. Content will be both about and produced by Muslims, and won’t be limited to “Islamophobia” exclusively. Content will range from Muslim mommy blogs and hijabi street style posts to essays reflecting on the human rights crisis in Syria — and everything in between. The site will also feature American Muslims, ranging from figures like Congressman Keith Ellison — the first Muslim elected to Congress, to Mahmood a.k.a “Tito” — the halal food cart owner on my corner who greets me every morning and night, and sends home the majority of his paychecks to his parents and six siblings back in Egypt.
My idea grew out of another project of mine (www.MyBestFriendIsMuslim.com), where I invited my friends to share a photo or story about their friendship with a Muslim. Within one week, the Facebook page had over a thousand followers, and the site received thousands of visits and dozens of user-submitted stories. This experience taught me that sometimes complex problems can be fought with simple solutions, like putting stories (and pictures) online and letting people form their own opinions.