Common media representations and political rhetoric would have us believe that the roughly 1.7 billion Muslims on the globe are a homogenous, monolithic group. And this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In the latest episode of “The Secret Life of Muslims,” a web series directed by Joshua Seftel and featured on Vox, 15 prominent Muslim Americans explain why no single definition of what it means to be Muslim can account for all 1.7 billion faithful.
The episode features Aman Ali, Wajahat Ali, Amani Al-Khatahtbeh, Reza Aslan, Negin Farsad, Mona Haydar, Maz Jobrani, Ibtihaj Muhammad, Zahra Noorbakhsh, Omar Regan, Sebastian Robins, Linda Sarsour, Layla Shaikley, Dena Takruri, and Iqbal Theba.
“I found it so interesting to hear the array of answers we got from this amazing and very funny group of people,” Seftel said in an email to The Huffington Post.
At its most basic, the term “Muslim” applies to anyone who follows the Islamic religion, says author and entrepreneur Amani Al-Khatahtbeh in the video. Even more stripped down, author Reza Aslan puts forth: “A Muslim is anyone who says he’s a Muslim.”
In Arabic, the word “Muslim” means “one who submits.” Many take that to mean submission to Allah or to the faith, but some define it more broadly.
“According to my father, a Muslim is any person who submits to a force greater than himself,” Zahra Noorbakhsh says in the video. When she introduced her father to her white, atheist boyfriend, Noorbakhsh continues, he had a clever reaction: “’Does he believe in gravity?’”
What it means to b a Muslim can be defined both broadly and narrowly, depending on who you ask and what the context is.
“I think the question of what is a Muslim 100 percent cannot be answered,” says comedian Negin Farsad. “We’re talking about over a billion people.”
For some, being Muslim involves things like daily prayer and abstinence from alcohol and pork. Some Muslim women wear a hijab or another form of veiling, while others do not. Within the faith, there are countless nuances.
“There are some that are very devout and practicing and there are some that are not,” explains journalist Dena Takruri, “just like with every other faith.”
Watch the full episode above.