On June 4, 2009, President Obama gave a speech at Cairo University. The President said he had come to Cairo “to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based on mutual interest and mutual respect, and one based upon the truth that America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in competition. Instead, they overlap, and share common principles — principles of justice and progress; tolerance and the dignity of all human beings.” One year after Cairo, some commentators are saying that the President has not yet fulfilled the promise of this remarkable speech, though progress has been made.
The criticism and the praise are too limited. No one individual, even if that person is the President of the United States, can be that new beginning alone. Only the millions of people around the world, and in the United States, who choose to live out of ‘mutual interest and mutual respect’ and who in their daily lives, their work, their faith and their civic engagement, practice tolerance and promote justice can be that new beginning.
Some remarkable young Muslim Americans are doing just that. For the past year, the Center for American Progress has been working with emerging young Muslim American leaders to highlight their diversity and their efforts to engage American cultural and civic life in proactive and constructive ways. From the environment to issues of incarceration, education and equal rights, these outstanding young Americans are lawyers and poets, environmentalists and educators, playwrights and civic leaders, and beyond. They are remarkably diverse, remarkably gifted and they are very much needed in a rapidly pluralizing American religious landscape.
The general American population may not realize how young the Muslim American community is as a group. A comprehensive Gallup report, Muslim Americans: A National Portrait reveals that 36 percent of Muslims in the U.S. are between the ages of eighteen to twenty-nine, compared to 18 percent of the general population.
Thus the work of these young Muslim Americans in giving voice to their generation is absolutely crucial. Forming an identity as a young person who is both Muslim and American post 9/11 is an enormous challenge. Hadia Mubarak, the first female elected president of the National Muslim Students Association, comments, in the Gallup report, on the challenge of being young and Muslim in the U.S. “In the subliminal consciousness of the American public, Islam is still equated with a foreign culture, and thus, any manifestation of Islam is perceived as an attempt to hold on to a foreign tradition. This is one of the greatest dilemmas facing my generation of Muslim Americans. How do we demonstrate our commitment to Islam is integral to our American identity?”
One of the ways the young Muslim Americans represented in our video, and in our larger project, address this dilemma of identity is through doing. They are all working, in very varied ways, on being pro-active about their identity as Muslim Americans, and, indeed as Americans who are Muslim and who work to improve their society. They blog, they tweet, they create music and drama, and work for community-based organizations that seek to improve the lives of Muslims in America, and help their fellow citizens. For example, IMAN,The Inner-City Muslim Action Network, is a community-based nonprofit that works for social justice that delivers a range of direct services, and cultivates the arts in urban communities. The Interfaith Youth Core builds respect and religious understanding with young people of diverse faiths by involving them in service projects. The Muslim Public Affairs Council works for American Muslim civil rights and the integration of Islam into American religious pluralism. DC Green Muslims works to improve the environment in the greater Washington DC area.
A common thread in all these organizations, and in many others in which they are involved, as well as the blogging and tweeting, is the vibrant online presence of these individuals and their groups. While many of the participants in our video and in the larger group are active in their mosques, these organizations represent an expansion of their Muslim values into public sphere through the Internet. It is impossible to overstate the importance of this kind of work for capturing the imagination and energy of other young Muslim Americans who are struggling to find their own identity. The Gallup study also reveals that American Muslims, especially the young, report experiencing social alienation. They are less likely overall to feel optimistic about the future.
In giving voice to their generation, especially online, these young Muslim Americans and many like them counter a pessimistic and alienated narrative, not with naiveté, but with concrete efforts to help improve their society. They do this work because true patriots always try to help their country be its best self. These young Muslim Americans, and those who support their work, are making the new beginning that President Obama called for in Cairo; as always, the change we want to see begins with us.
Here is a list of those who spoke in the video:
JAMIAH ANIECE ADAMS connects policy and grassroots activism through her media training with nonprofit organizations and is currently a communications specialist for Service Employees International Union (SEIU) in Washington, DC. As a media producer and consultant for Nubian Sisters Media in Los Angeles, California, Jamiah assisted with labor union videos during the 2008 presidential campaign. She has also produced and directed for SmogTV and Brave New Foundation in California. Jamiah’s first production, “Aida’s Awakening,” pays tribute to her family’s Louisiana roots and her interest in the African Diaspora.
WAJAHAT ALI is an artist, activist and attorney. His play The Domestic Crusaders is the one of the first major plays about Muslims living in a post 9/11 America. Ms. Judgements, his first movie, was a LinkTV finalist. Wajahat is an associate editor of Altmuslim and GoatMilk, his personal blog, and a frequent contributor of The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, The Guardian, and Counterpunch. Wajahat currently practices law in the Bay Area, California.
HAZAMI BARMADA is a Public and Cultural Diplomacy professional, focusing on international collaborative development and interreligious and cross-cultural exchange. She is actively engaged in grassroots organizing and community development and is frequently invited to speak on issues of women and youth empowerment, civic engagement, and diversity, appearing as a TV guest on media stations including CNN International, BBC World, BBC, Saudi TV, Alhurra and VOA. Hazami is the co-Founder and President of the American Muslim Interactive Network (AMIN). She currently serves as an advisor and board member of several interfaith and grassroots organizations in the DC vicinity.
SHAHID BUTTAR is an attorney, artist, and community organizer. He is currently the executive director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee. As a hip-hop and electronic music MC and poet, Shahid connects music and public advocacy through his grassroots organizing. He has previously worked with The American Constitution Society for Law and Policy, Muslim Advocates, and at a Washington D.C. private law firm where he organized litigation seeking marriage equality for same sex couples in the State of New York.
MOHAMAD A. CHAKAKI is a doctoral student in the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT and a senior fellow of the university’s Environmental Leadership Program. He received a Master’s Degree in Urban Ecology and Environmental Design from Yale University. Mohamad has worked in parks and gardens throughout the country, as well as with the Peace Corps in Cameroon and the United Nations in Syria. Most recently, he has consulted on environment and community development projects in the Arab Middle East.
FAISAL GHORI is a principal at Middle East Ventures, a strategy consultancy focused on the greater Middle East and North Africa. Also, as Director of Research at the Rehman Institute, Faisal researches capital inflows to the Gulf Cooperation Council. Faisal founded MUPPIES, a mentoring association for young Muslim professionals in business school and the workplace. During the 2008 Obama Presidential campaign, Faisal organized South Asia Leadership for the Democratic National Committee.
SAFIYA GHORI-AHMAD began work this August at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. Prior to that, Safiya served three years as Government Relations Director at the Muslim Public Affairs Council where she created the National Young Leaders Summit and initiated “Activate 08,” a nationwide Muslim voter campaign. She was the Equal Justice Works Fellow and worked at the Tahirih Justice Center in Falls Church, Virginia. Safiya also has researched and administered the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and asylum cases for Muslim victims of domestic violence.
ZEBA KHAN is an independent social media consultant for nonprofit advocacy organizations. She has established online grassroots communities as the founder of Muslim-Americans for Obama in the 2008 presidential campaign and as strategic initiatives coordinator of The List Project. She has recently consulted with Ashoka’s Youth Venture to establish a worldwide young social entrepreneurs’ network. A Fulbright Scholar, Zeba has traveled and lived throughout the Middle East, most recently in Yemen as a recipient of the U.S. State Department Critical Language Scholarship. She was also a fellow with the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Office of Terrorist Finance.
EDINA LEKOVIC is the Communication Director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council. She founded Elev8, an arts-based youth program which has a mission to identify, train, and develop youth community leaders rooted in awareness, responsibility and action. Edina has made many public appearances on CNN, MSNBC, BBC, and the History Channel. She was the managing editor of Al-Talib and the Editor-in-Chief of The Daily Bruin. She has participated in numerous interfaith conferences and dialogues.
RAMI NASHASHIBI has served as the Executive Director of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) since its incorporation as a nonprofit in January 1997. After receiving his undergraduate degree at DePaul University, Rami has been actively engaged in African-American, Latino, and Muslim student organizing through direct community work. The author of “Ghetto Cosmopolitanism: Making Theory at the Margins,” Rami has also been an adjunct professor at Columbia College in Chicago, Robert Morris College, Daley Community College, and St. Xavier University.
ZEENAT RAHMAN is the Director for Strategic Partnerships at the Interfaith Youth Core, where she oversees policy initiatives and international programs for the organization. She frequently travels abroad to speak about the importance of interfaith youth work in promoting civic engagement and healthy integration among youth. Zeenat received her Master’s Degree at the University of Chicago, where her thesis focused on Muslim youth identity in America. Prior to working at IFYC, Zeenat worked at Chicago Public Radio on a pilot program about immigrants and diaspora communities. She is also the co-creator of “Hijabi Monologues,” a play based on the real-life experiences of Muslim women.
SOHAIB SULTAN is the first full-time Muslim Life Coordinator at Princeton University. Sohaib studied at Hartford Theological Seminary, pursuing a Master’s Degree in Islamic Studies and Christian-Muslim Relations, and Islamic Chaplaincy. Sohaib is a public lecturer on Islam, Muslim Culture, and Muslim-Western Relations in the U.S. and abroad, and the author of Koran for Dummies and The Qu’ran and Sayings of Prophet Muhammad: Selections Annotated and Explained.
ASMA T. UDDIN is an attorney, writer, and editor. After several years’ experience practicing commercial litigation, Asma currently works in Washington D.C. with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty on matters of international religious freedom. Assam is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Altmuslimah, as well as the former associate editor and legal columnist for Islamica Magazine, where she addressed the transformations of the social position of American Muslims within the American legal framework. In May of 2008, Asma participated in the U.S. State Department’s delegation to Norway, Belgium,