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An Important Conversation about “American Muslim” By Matthew Valerie

by August 23, 2021 0

The documentary, “American Muslims” showcases the struggles Muslims in America have faced as a result of then-President Donald Trump’s election and his ban on majority-Muslim countries, with a particular focus on four Muslims in their everyday lives and how they contribute to their communities. The struggles they face didn’t just start with Trump’s election, as 9-11 brought a surge in Islamaphobic rhetoric and hatred. That being said, as shown in the documentary, Trump’s election and his policies were devastating to Muslim Communities, leading to drastic changes in the personal lives, by tearing apart families, and leaving people fearful for their lives.

As a result of these challenges, many Muslims in America were galvanized to become more politically active in ways they may have not been before, as even in heavily Muslim populated neighborhoods, Islamaphobia can still be seen. There is also a strong desire amongst American Muslims to want to integrate better in the communities they live in, to show the diversity among Muslims, and to counter some of the misconceptions of Muslims and Arabs, such as the fact that not all Arabs are Muslims, and not all Muslims are Arabs. The film ends on a high note, by showing that the work done by Muslims and allies to counter misconceptions have worked, leading to their support by President Joe Biden. 

Following the film’s screening, a rich discussion took place among the moderators and viewers that lasted over an hour. There was great diversity among the speakers, each expressing their own views and experiences as Muslims in America. The film’s director Adam Zucker was also a moderator. He stated that Trump’s election made him want to do something, to be active in some way. Even though he already had an interest in religions because of his Jewish heritage, and had prior knowledge of Islam, he wanted to meet Muslims since he didn’t know anyone in the Muslim community before. In making this film, he learned that each cultural community within the faith was diverse in their own ways. He also noted the similarities between Islam and Judaism, such as community service and doing good to others.

Another moderator, Aneelah Afzali of the American Muslim Empowerment Network, stated that given the current events in Afghanistan and Haiti, these types of conversations are even more important. 

Following this, other moderators were asked how they felt about the film. The film was well-received, and each of the speakers made note of certain scenes that really moved them, such as people showing up at JFK airport to protest the Muslim ban, and another scene of the Supreme Court being in favor of this ban. Other speakers were glad to see the diversity of the Muslim community shown in the film which depicted Muslims from different ethnic backgrounds. The film was emotional for others, as moderator Zahid Chaudhry said this was like reliving the past 20 years for him, following 9-11. Duha Mohammed said the film brought back difficult emotions for her as well, as she was a college student during the Trump administration and she was also having to deal with issues of being Black and Muslim during this time. 

Following this, a question from the audience was raised, asking if the Mulism community will continue to be politically active, even with Joe Biden as President. There was general consensus that work still needs to be done. Zahid had pointed out that extreme venting is still an issue after 911 and needs to be gone. Duha said that as a Black Muslim, there will always be a need to be active and engage. Moderator Jaminah Shannon said she was hopeful in seeing how different generations of people are seeing the effects of this Muslim ban.

The question that followed was about identity, and if there were issues in prioritizing identities. Most of the speakers mentioned the importance of education and engaging with others. Duha said there were times when she found that she couldn’t feel like herself as a Black woman, within Muslim circles, as the Muslim identity has to come first within the Islamic community.

The following question was if the film tried too hard to prove how “American” Muslims really were. Speaker Ryan Welton said he thinks the film can be seen that way at times, but said people just want to live their lives. Moderator Rokaih Vansot stated American Muslims share the same values, and are engaged with their communities like anybody else would be.

Film director Adam then asked the moderators if people’s efforts to be allies is always helpful, or whether those efforts can be uncomfortable at times, and even problematic. Rokaih expressed gratitude for the support of allies and a feeling that the more allies there are, the better. She said that this can be a sign of strength and unity, and recalled that she felt that sense of unity after 911. 

The panelists were then asked how the non-Muslim community can support the Muslim community. Jaminhah stated that it is important for everyone to engage in more self-education and conversations, and to also understand historical contexts and build community engagement in order to have a sense of accountability and a willingness to take action.

The next question that was asked was whether there is a tension amongst people who may not want to support the Muslim ban here, but who may look the other way in regards to oppressive regimes elsewhere. Ryan stated that some of the negative rhetoric about Muslims goes back to George Bush following 911. He suggested that there needs to be an understanding  of everything that’s going on in the world, and social media, in his opinion, has led to some of this understanding. Jaminah stated that it’s important to understand where our money is going to in relation to businesses and their policies towards Muslims, as it leads to a better understanding of their impacts, as seen in Haiti and Afghanistan for example.

The final question that was raised, was if there were key takeaways for any community. Jaminah stated it’s important to knowing yourself and history, to build and connect with others and she reiterated the importance of paying attention to where our money goes.

In closing, each moderator was asked to give a one word reaction after the film was over. For Ryan, it was ‘inspired, ’ For Rokaih ‘exemplified,’ for Jaminah ‘solidarity.’ Duha said, ‘keep going,’ Zahid said ‘keep love alive,’ Alaa said, ‘relieved and inspired,’  and finally, Aneelah said, ‘resilience.’

Following the question and answer segment from the moderators, Terry Kyllo of Paths to Understanding spoke. He took note of the dehumanization

of Jews during his seminary class, and this was what strove him towards his activism. He stressed that what is going on is causing our democracy to be imperilled, and he stated if something similar happens again, he wanted to take action. This dehumanization was taking place from people, corporations, general society,

as this hate comes from not wanting to see the humanity in others. This anti-Muslim bigotry leads to other forms of bigotry, and times like this, we can unite and hold on to our own traditions while recognizing the humanity in others.

Tara Miller from the Faith Action Network spoke. During the Trump era, they

did work on social media and with legislators, and we can’t assume that it’s

over with Biden being in office now. 

Lastly, Mustafa Mohamedali from the Olympia Islamic Muslim Center of Olympia spoke. He said the organization has had challenges, such as threats and a window being shot. He stated that prejudice towards Muslims is not always talked about due to cultural differences, or the differences of bigotry faced from their home country as compared to here in the States. Parents who are first-generation immigrants may not

take the bigotry their children faced seriously. It is important because the kids are our future. He has started a program named “Meet a Muslim”, which has had positive feedback, with the objective to unite people, and exchange the common values we have among each other.

The discussion following the film screening ended on an optimistic note. Many of the speakers stressed the importance of education, engagement, and involvement. While there is a general sense of relief now that Trump is out of office, most would agree that much work still needs to be done. To find more more information about these issues, and how you can be involved, the following sources are provided below:


CAIR, the Council on American-Islamic Relations

Yemeni American Merchants Association

Interfaith Works

Maps-Amen, American Muslim Empowerment Network

The Meaningful Movies Project

Faith Action Network

Masjid al-nur Islamic Center of Olmypia

Paths to Understanding

Interfaith Community Sanctuary



Zahid also mentioned the movie, “The Mouretanian” for perspective during the discussion 


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