Some authors write for posterity. I write for obsolescence. As an activist, my aim is to make my work irrelevant as soon as possible by helping end the injustices that incite me to write. But as a Muslim-American woman living in North Carolina at the outset of 2017, this goal is looking less and less attainable.
Ten years ago, I wrote my first book, War on Error: Real Stories of American Muslims, in an effort to humanize Muslims through storytelling. My premise was simple: it's harder to hate people when you get to know them. So I wrote about a dozen Muslims-Americans whom my readers could get to know. I was 27, fresh out of law school, idealistic, and painfully naïve. I genuinely believed that there would be no need for such a book in 2017. I assumed that by now people would have evolved to accept my glaringly obvious claim that Muslims are human beings, just as deserving of basic human dignity and respect as anyone else. I was wrong.
Now, a decade on, Islamophobia is actually worse, in no small part thanks to a dangerously insecure, yet highly strategic, reality television star who lost the popular vote and won the U.S. presidential election by blaming Muslims, Blacks, Latinxs, women, immigrants and other marginalized groups for a less-than-great (meaning, of course, less-than-white) America.
My 27-year-old self could scarcely imagine such a future. But here it is.
The political circumstances of this past year--the overt suggestions that Muslims ought to be put on registries, that women ought to be punished for exercising their basic civil rights, that the lives of people of color ought not count, and that anyone who isn't a straight white male is somehow less than human--have weighed heavily on my heart. My primary solace has come from two sources: an ancient Muslim poet who couldn't be any more relevant today and a modern Muslim community that would make said poet proud. More than seven centuries ago, the famed Persian mystic, Rumi, advised (and I translate now): "Become the sky and the clouds that create the rain, not the gutter that carries it to the drain."
Today, a dynamic, modern Muslim community is doing exactly that. Through innovative ideas expressed via art, politics, music, sport, media and more, we are sharing our stories en masse, and we are refusing to be silenced. While I am no longer that same naïve rookie author and attorney, I am still an idealist who genuinely believes in the power of stories to change hearts and minds. And I am not alone.
Meet Muslim comedians Zahra Noorbakhsh, Azhar Usman, Maysoon Zayid, Salaam Bhatti, Maz Jobrani, Hasan Minhaj, Negin Farsad, Aasif Mandvi, and Ahmed Ahmed, all of whom have contributed more than they will ever know to the general mental health of Muslims worldwide simply by keeping us laughing when it's so much easier to cry.
Meet Muslim human rights activist, Malala Yousafzai, who has given Muslims the world over a reason to hold our heads high. The youngest person to ever win a Nobel Peace Prize, Malala remains a tireless advocate for female education and children's rights in her native Pakistan and beyond.
And meet Muslim writer and filmmaker, Parvez Sharma, whose films "A Jihad for Love" and "A Sinner in Mecca" have given voice and hope to countless LGBTQ Muslims around the world and no doubt saved God-knows-how-many lives in the process. Meet fellow Muslim filmmakers Beena Sarwar, Justin Mashouf, Qasim Basir, Lena Khan, Nsenga Knight, and film critic, Zaki Hasan--all of whom are helping entertain and challenge us as global citizens, Muslim and non-Muslim alike.
And if you're still not sufficiently challenged or impressed, meet Muslim media mogul, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, whose Muslim Girl empire--including her new memoir, Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age--has shattered stereotypes about Muslim girls and women by creating a powerful outlet for our vastly diverse voices and experiences.
Then meet a tiny handful of Amani's fellow Muslim authors: Cihan Kaan, Aisha Saeed, Michael Muhammad Knight, Deonna Kelli Seyed, Moustafa Bayoumi, Alexis York Lumbard, Dalia Mogahed, Eboo Patel, Jennifer Zobair, Mustafa Akyol, G. Willow Wilson, Ilyasah Shabazz, Omid Safi, Krista Bremer, Azeem Ibrahim, Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Rafia Zakaria, Mona Eltahawy, Qasim Rashid, Rabia Chaudry, Haroon Moghul, Randa Abdel-Fattah, Reza Aslan, Saadia Faruqi, Arsalan Iftikhar, Sajida K. Ali, Saladin Ahmed, Asra Nomani, Sheba Karim, Souad Mekhennet, Raheel Raza, Yasmine Hafiz, Zainab Salbi, and me, among many others. As authors and as Muslims, we share opinions as varied as our names and backgrounds. But together--most of us wearing many different hats at once--we all serve as a reminder that Muslims are not only multifaceted, but multitalented. Like Islam, we are no monolith.
You can't package us all into one tidy box and say, "This is Islam." For one, we are not Islams; we are Muslims. Islam is a faith. Muslims are humans who attempt to practice that faith, the vast majority of whom were born into the faith in highly different cultural and historical contexts that have influenced their interpretations of Islam far more than any religious text. We represent nearly a quarter of the human race, and like the other three-quarters, we have our fair share of issues, sometimes failing to follow the most central teachings of our faith in an inane effort to follow its most archaic and peripheral pseudo-teachings. And none of this, by the way, makes us all that different from the followers of any other faith or philosophy--nor does it make us any less inherently human or worthy of love and respect. Of course, this should go without saying, but sadly, in 2017, it can't.
Even so, I still believe in the power of storytelling to combat discrimination and bigotry: that the more of our stories you hear, the harder it will become to fear or hate us. This is why I'm kicking off 2017 by introducing you to some Muslims I respect with a tweetstorm (Sunday, January 8th starting at 8pm ET) that includes this list of 217 #Muslims2Follow in 2017. Not because you will get to know us fully through our 140-character tweets, but because you will get to know us better. And in a time as divisive as ours, maybe better is enough.