In December of 2012, the MAS-ICNA convention brought roughly ten thousand attendees to Chicago. There, they listened to high-profile speakers like Tariq Ramadan talk about the year’s theme of “Renaissance.” Hussein Sheikh-Aden, LSA sophomore, recalls his experience below.
I’m chit-chatting with my friend to my right. We are choosing between places we wanted to check out in downtown Chicago. This small lapse in concentration during a lecture by the ever-insightful Tariq Ramadan is quickly cut short by something that sparks my interest.
“So, if you look at the example of Zinedine Zidane, we see how his background, race, and creed were rendered irrelevant after he won the World Cup with France in 1998.”
I am at full attention. Somewhat rudely, I tune out my friend’s musings on where we should go after the lecture to listen closer to what Dr. Ramadan is saying. For when one talks about anything related to football, one has my complete attention.
He goes on. “The fact that Zidane was an active part of the narrative made his compatriots see him as being 100% French regardless of his odd name and immigrant parents. If we want to be part of American culture and to be accepted as being American, we must be part of its narrative.”
My friend shakes my forearm and asks if I am listening. I apologize and we settle on heading to the Cheesecake Factory by cab after Dr. Ramadan finishes. As we walk out of the filled-to-capacity convention hall, I scribble down some key ideas on the inside of my wrist.
Dr. Ramadan, in this lecture entitled The New “We” Redefined, offered this wonderfully simple yet complex advice to the burgeoning Muslim American population. Simple in the sense that it can be summarized in a sentence: “if you want to be part of something, go out and be part of it.” Still, it is deep because the application may not be so straightforward. We often times complain about how Muslim Americans are treated as aliens from outside of American culture. Yet, the reason for this may be that we collectively fail to apply what Dr. Ramadan is speaking on.
If we as Muslims in America are to be parts of something larger than us―i.e., the society we live in―we have to participate in it while shaping its narrative. The longer that we live isolated in our own mosques and communities, the more space things such as Islamophobia and xenophobia have to exist. When we shape something with our hands and hard work, we have ownership over it. A type of ownership that dissuades anybody from telling us, “Well, you didn’t help do so and so, therefore it’s not yours and you’re not really part of us.”
To me, what Dr. Ramadan is saying is to venture into our local communities and build ties with the people around us regardless of their faith. The common ground here is that both parties are American, and that really should be enough. We should be the ones extending our hands and getting to know our neighbors. Muslim Americans need to be active in their communities, shaping our collective futures.
We arrive at our destination and indulge in some dessert. We get up and leave after some time and hail a cab to return to the convention hall. Our cab driver gets the conversation started.
“Where are you guys from? What brought you to town?” the driver asks, fairly sure of the fact that we are tourists.
“Yeah, we’re from Michigan. Here for this thing called the MAS convention.” I reply.
“Where are you guys really from?” he asks again, in a more assertive, probing tone.
“We’re from Somalia.” my friend quickly replies.
“I would’ve guessed that! I’m from Nepal, just got here a year and a half ago. So hard to live here, but man, America’s nice.” he goes on.
“Yeah, it is.” I reply, ending our pleasantries as we step back out onto the cityscape.