October 25, 2020

VIDEO: Hip-Hop Activist Amer Ahmed Speaks at Webster University About Islam in America

Amer Ahmed grabbed the mic from the podium, stepped out into the audience and began to rap before beginning his presentation on Islam in America. “I stand poisoned by religion/ the decisions of sin/ while television spins the lies of white men/ I see no friends as the media sends/ the myth of the truth to fear my brown skin..”

Amer Ahmed acknowledged the significance of the 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to his topic, Islam in America, and focused the first half of his presentation on giving a factual explanation of the religion of Islam. Ahmed, a hip hop activist and scholar from the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, spoke at Webster University on Thursday, September 8th.


Myths and misunderstandings of Islam

Motivated by his belief that the American mass media has done a poor job of giving a realistic portrayal of Muslims and what they believe, Ahmed identified the negative opinions that are usually associated with Islam. Ahmed said the idea that Islam promotes misogyny, violence, or anti-Semitic beliefs are all myths, unsupported by the majority of Muslims and the 5 pillars of Islam.

“Islam as a religion gave rights to women over 1,400 years ago that have only come into Western civilization in the last 100 years, at best,” Ahmed said.”In early Islamic civilization, women had the right to vote … women were business owners, were property owners, and the best example of that is the Prophet Muhammad’s first wife Khadija, who was the richest woman in all of Mecca.”
[pullquote]You get this question, ‘Where are you from?’ … I’ll say I’m from Springfield, Ohio and then the response is ‘No, No. Where are you really from? … Its like, ‘How long do we have to be here before we’re actually perceived to be Americans?’[/pullquote]

Diverse culture among Muslims

Ahmed also explained how difficult it is to “pin down” the beliefs of over 1.25 billion people, which was the estimated number of Muslims worldwide in 2005 (source: wolframalpha.com). Ahmed gave examples to show the diversity of Muslim culture across the world and the difference between religion and culture.

“A lot of people think a Christmas tree is a religious symbol. A Christmas tree is a cultural symbol — there are many places in the world in which there are Christians and they don’t have pine trees there,” Ahmed said. “Yes, it is connected to a religious experience, but it is a cultural symbol.”

Christianity and Islam: more alike than different

Even though this diversity among Muslims has led to many different interpretations of the Qur’an, the core values of Islam remain very similar to Christianity.

“The defining difference between Islam and most forms of Christianity is the conception of Jesus,” Ahmed said. “Muslims view Jesus as a prophet and not a divine figure, like not the son of God, and there is not a belief of the trinity in Islamic tradition.”

Being the “constant foreigner”

Ahmed used media from the web to accent his presentation, including this music video by the country singer Kareem Salama which Ahmed said “gets at the experiences that Muslims in America are going through.”
Even though Muslims have been growing up in the United States for generations, Ahmed identified a common feeling among American Muslims of being “a constant foreigner.”

“You get this question, ‘Where are you from?’ … I’ll say I’m from Springfield, Ohio and then the response is ‘No, No. Where are you really from?’ ” Ahmed said. “Its this lack of acceptance that you’re really from America … my nieces and nephews experience this same thing, and they are a few generations in, and its like, ‘How long do we have to be here before we’re actually perceived to be Americans?’ ”

Muslims as part of the community

To demonstrate how Muslims are acting as community builders in the United States he showed this video which features Mos Def and other members of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) of Chicago, a group that Ahmed is “heavily invested in.”
“My desire is for us (American Muslims) to be an accepted part of society and there to be a distinction between who we are as members and positive contributors to society and somebody who might not be,” Ahmed said. “I look forward to the day that a Muslim person does something that is against the law and them being Muslim is not the first thing that’s mentioned.”

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