I want you all to please get comfortable because we are going to use our imaginations for a bit. Okay?
I want you to imagine the following story as a book that has yet to be published. Picture it as a draft of sorts. When I am finished in ten minutes, perhaps all of us, collectively, can figure out if this book is worth publishing.
So please get loose. Open the mind. Breathe in and breathe out. Are we ready?
The story starts something like this …
A 19 year old young man, who has never met a Muslim in his life and knows practically nothing about Islamic traditions, enrolls in an Islam101 college course with the hope of being an intelligence officer. The young man is not a complete Islamophobe, but let’s just say he has some pretty questionable thoughts and ideas.
On the first day of Islam101, the young man enters the classroom to see an older professor, a brown man, an immigrant, and someone who identifies himself as a Muslim.
Remember, this was effectively the first Muslim that the young men has ever met in his life.
As Islam101 proceeds, the Muslim professor starts to rock the young man’s heart, mind, and soul by showing him a side of Islam and Muslims that is never seen in the media. As the months and years progress, the Muslim professor welcomes the young man into his small circle of researchers, and over the years, the Muslim professor continues to influence the young man’s personal, professional, and spiritual growth.
The Muslim professor even takes the young man on countless journey’s across their beautiful country, the United States, in order to improve relations between all people who call this place “home.”
Throughout their travels together, the professor and his student travel together to the homes, places of worship, schools, businesses, and neighborhoods of Americans of all walks of life. The Muslim professor even introduces the young man to some of the best minds in this country, including Noam Chomsky and Hamza Yusuf.
The young man would have never been able to participate in any of these travels if it were not for a generous $15,000 grant from a Muslim organization in the middle of a desert in New Mexico. That was certainly a generous gift, and the young man was thankful.
But the journey’s of the young man and the Muslim professor were not always smooth sailing.
One time, the young man was assaulted in Washington, DC. He was smashed in the face with a pint glass and suffered severe facial injuries that requires two surgeries, which were followed by another plastic surgery. The doctor who put the young man’s face back together just happened to be Muslim.
The young man had another life threatening experience on a journey, in Hollywood. He was at the home of a Muslim businessman to screen parts of his documentary. Within five minutes of the screening, an unexpected allergic reaction occurred, and the young man had to be rushed to the hospital.
And guess who took care of the young man in the hospital?
A Muslim doctor.
At this time in his life, as a 22 year old living off a small grant, the young man has no health insurance. As you know, having astronomical health care bills and no health insurance is a recipe for disaster.
What happens next is a beautiful act of charity. The host of the film screening, the Muslim businessman, covers the bills of the young man because he believes in helping those most in need.
Eventually, the young man clips his wings and journey’s throughout the world by himself, without a guide.
The young man decides to continue his studies, so he reaches out to Muslim communities of all backgrounds, in the hope that he could meet with them for research purposes. They end up welcoming him with open arms.
Over the years, the young man dines with Muslims, prays with them, dialogues with them, laughs with them, cries with him, marches with them, studies with them, and travels with them. Together, they collectively experience the joys and struggles that are so common among all human beings.
One Muslim family, in particular, becomes like family to the young man. He spends countless hours in their restaurant and mosque. He learns about the dynamics of their culture and their unique Islamic practices, which remind him of his own ethnic and religious traditions.
The young man does not see these Muslims as mere research objects or participants, but rather as fellow human beings who have a wealth of knowledge about our Creator, and ideas on how to contribute to the betterment of our communities.
Upon his return to the United States, the young man takes up a position at a university, where he decides to teach a course called “Muslims in American Society.”
In this course, the man brings to class countless number of Muslims, from community leaders, to activists, to imams, to athletes, and so on.
The students in the course interact with the Muslim communities around them, and these students introduce the man to many more Muslims who further enrich his own lived experience.
The draft of this book stops there, at least for now.
Perhaps you have figured it out by now, but if not, the young man in the story is me.
These stories, believe it or not, really did happen, and the Muslims discussed here have actual names, faces, and stories of their own.
You see, my work as an educator, scholar, public intellectual, or however you see me, is simply not possible – and nor were my previous experiences possible – without the selfless contributions of Muslims.
Think about it…
If it were not for the Muslim professor, I would have never fallen in love with knowledge.
If it were not for the Islamic organization in New Mexico, I would have never travelled throughout my country to learn about Islam and U.S. national identity.
If it were not for the Muslim businessman in Hollywood who paid my hospital bills, I could be buried in debt.
If it were not for the Muslim family in Europe, I would have never competed my studies.
If it were not for the Muslim surgeon in Washington, DC, I could have a mangled face.
And if it were not for the Muslim doctor in Hollywood who dealt with my allergic reaction, well, I may not even be here.
Quite simply, Muslims are part of who I am and who I wish to be. They are my past and they are my future. They are my family, my mentors, my role models, my friends, and most importantly – my brothers and sisters in humanity.
And for all of us here tonight, Muslims may be our school teachers, professors, doctors, lawyers, philanthropists, students, community activists, entrepreneurs, bus drivers, cab drivers, secretaries, social problems workers, psychiatrists, athletes, artists, musicians, bankers, public intellectuals, political figures, representatives, and so on.
In short, Muslims in the United States contribute everywhere, to everyone, and to every realm, of American society. They truly make our country go round.
Now that you have heard about these personal experiences and views, let me point out that they do not stand in isolation from my scholarship.
When I see polls that say U.S. Muslims are highly educated, I think of all the Muslim teachers and scholars who guide me and inspire me to gain more knowledge.
When I see statistics that reveal how U.S. Muslims believe in freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of conscience, I think about my friends who speak about their appreciation of the U.S. Constitution and the rights that it offers.
When I see books that highlight Prophet Muhammad’s love of humanity and his vision for a pluralist world, I reflect on the panel events that I have sat on with Muslims who also speak about the Prophet’s greatness.
And when I see news stories on interfaith relations or Muslims standing arm-in-arm with communities facing difficult circumstances, I am reminded of the times that I locked arm and arm with Muslims on the streets.
The findings and conclusions of various academic sources do not merely exist as theories or abstract ideas – they are real life. They are facts.
People like me, and so many others, recognize the contributions of Muslims because they have experienced them at the interfaith gatherings, the vigils, the hospitals, the schools, the businesses, the community centers, the grocery stores, the places of worship, and so on.
People in this country feel the contributions of Muslims in the lovely emails or texts messages, the hugs, the collective tears, the social media posts of solidarity, and even the common greetings of peace that we offer so often on a daily basis.
When we consider our lived experiences, we see stories of humanity, compassion, tolerance, pluralism, civic values, mercy, thoughtfulness, solidarity, belonging, inclusion, and community building.
These are the kinds of values that can transform our very existence here on earth.
And these are the stories worth telling, and, as such, they are certainly the stories worth publishing.
Don’t you agree?