(Re)Presenting American Muslims: Broadening the Conversation

by Prince Yusadolat


 The Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program at Harvard

Cambridge, MA –The Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program at Harvard (AISP) and the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) released(Re)Presenting American Muslims: Broadening the Conversation today. The report cites the findings of a jointly-organized workshop on American Muslim identities and challenges held at Harvard in April, 2014.

As American Muslims begin inward reflection during Ramadan, this report focuses on insights and recommendations from a diverse slate of American Muslim academics, activists, artists and advocates on how American Muslims can start to address key challenges in their own communities.

“This convening brought together a diverse brain trust of American Muslims for a much needed constructive and forward thinking dialogue,” said Meira Neggaz, Executive Director of ISPU.  “While far too often the American Muslim community is talked about, this convening catalyzed discussion and problem solving among the community.  We hope that this was the start of a conversation that will inspire future dialogue, research and action.”

Encouraging a broader view of the communities that constitute the category of “American Muslims,” the report examines the ways in which American Muslims define themselves, and are defined, in the twenty-first century. By drawing on the experience and expertise of the workshop participants, the report discusses the roles that American Muslim organizations, public servants and storytellers can play in countering negative stereotypes and advancing a positive image of American Muslims.

The report identifies several key findings, which include:

  • American Muslim-led organizations face critical issues regarding structural sustainability and infrastructure, and continuity and relevance to younger generations. In order to flourish and serve American Muslims, they need to develop leadership curricula and training programs, pursue multi-pronged and inclusive approaches, and partnering opportunities to increase bandwidth.
  • Irresistible, true and complex stories told from diverse perspectives are key to changing the ways that American Muslims are perceived by the wider American society; American Muslims need to encourage and empower cross-generational storytelling through scholarships, fundraising and patronage. “Communicating through the arts, including storytelling is very important, and a wonderful way to humanize and highlight the Muslim experience without diluting it.”
  • As more American Muslims enter government (elected and appointed) careers, American Muslim communities must demonstrate their support of this vital public service through increased contributions of time and money.
  • Creating inclusive spaces and communities starts with strong leaders who are willing to meet people ‘where they are at’ not ‘where they should be.’ Promoting active engagement through making space for women, being more inclusive of the poor, and developing a theological framework of inclusion are important for making sacred and safe places for American Muslims to learn, worship, and grow.
  • To move towards more inclusion and plurality in American Muslim communities, third spaces and social media can provide the necessary room for dialogue, opening up conversations and pushing questions and ideas.

The report (Re)presenting American Muslims: Broadening the Conversation captures the rich and thought-provoking discussions held during this two-day collaborative workshop. “The Alwaleed Program is delighted to have sponsored this unique workshop,” said Professor Ali Asani, Director of the Alwaleed Program and  Professor of Indo-Muslim and Islamic Religion and Cultures.  “The event leveraged the role that the University as a civil society institution can play in facilitating fruitful exchanges between scholars, community leaders and practitioners and fostering the generation and dissemination of knowledge beneficial to communities and policymakers.”

The report is available for download at the following link:

http://www.ispu.org/pdfs/Harvard_Representing_American_Muslims_Report_Final.pdf

 

The Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Islamic Studies Program (AISP) is a university-wide, interfaculty initiative at Harvard University, dedicated to improving understanding of Islam and Muslim societies and cultures through excellence in scholarship, teaching, and educational programming. Through its college, graduate and professional schools, Harvard’s faculty and scholars offers coursework in multiple disciplines such as history of art and architecture, anthropology and sociology, languages and literatures, international relations, law, the study of religion, and gender and sexuality studies. Outside the classroom, AISP’s lecture series, conferences, workshops, arts performances and other events encourage an understanding of the broader Islamic world in its global and transnational context and advances interdisciplinary studies that are cross-national and comparative.

The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding is an independent, nonpartisan applied research organization specializing in addressing the most pressing challenges facing the American Muslim community and in bridging the information gap between the American Muslim community and the wider society.  ISPU conducts objective, empirical research on some of the most pressing issues facing the United States and offers actionable recommendations and expert policy analysis to inform community change agents, the media, and policy makers alike.  In addition, ISPU has assembled a network of leading experts across multiple disciplines, building a solid reputation as a trusted source for information for and about American Muslims.

 

For more information, contact:

Kathryn M Coughlin, Executive Director

Alwaleed Islamic Studies Program at Harvard

8 Story Street, First Floor

Cambridge, MA 02138

coughlin@fas.harvard.edu  +1 617 495 3347

 

Meira Neggaz, Executive Director

Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

1110 Vermont Ave., NW

Suite 500

Washington, DC 20005

mneggaz@ispu.org  +1 202 768 8750

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