“Would I love to get more people to this exhibit and get them to understand that Muslims are human beings with desires and passions and artistic creativity in ways that maybe they haven’t thought about before? Absolutely,” Mr. Rashid said.
Questioning whether Islam is a religion is not, in and of itself, a new idea. Dr. Hussein Rashid, a professor of religion at Barnard College, told me that it was a dynamic that began in Europe and has a “centuries-long pedigree.” “We are seeing a particularly American manifestation of it now,” he added. He continued, “This administration is playing into all of these themes very clearly: They are trying to say that Muslims are not human and that they are not American.”
Baldanzi is not alone in her research. Dr. Hussein Rashid, professor of religion at Hofstra University, has been co-editing papers alongside Baldanzi and is now teaching at Barnard College. The two are working on a collection of scholarly essays called Ms. Marvel in America.
Those same voices who engage in this idle worship now hold the reins of power in the U.S. government. And they seek to exterminate Muslims. There are concerns of a Muslim registry and internment camps. More extreme fears consider other types of camps, imagining a return of the Holocaust. These fears are not unfounded, nor are they out of character with what President Trump’s advisers and appointees have said.
“This protest is the first one in a long time that I can recall when so many Muslims gathered to protest something,” said Hussein Rashid, founder of islamicate, a consultancy focusing on religious literacy.
In the days after Donald Trump took office and his speeches and policies encouraged a distrust or fear of Muslims, religion professor Hussein Rashid appeared in the media to debunk some common misconceptions and call for increased familiarity with the world’s second-largest religion.
The demands that Muslims in this country meet certain expectations of "normalcy" are not new. Hussein Rashid, professor of religion at Barnard College and a Truman National Security Fellow, and Jerusha Lamptey, professor at Union Theological Seminary and author of the book "Never Wholly Other," discuss that sentiment, and how Muslim immigrants meet and adjust to certain expectations of "normalcy" in America.
The azan is meant to remind the listener of God’s majesty. Revealed to prophet Muhammad, it puts the believer in a state of awe and humility. For every claim that we may understand God, we are reminded that God is greater than anything we may conceive. That moment of being lost in the transcendence of God, in the tradition of prophet Muhammad, is an ecstatic one. It is not about bells or dancing. It is about exercising the gifts God has created in us, the voice, to be reflective and pleased with God’s presence within us.
It is also a direct link to our history, and the promise of anti-racism in the Islamic ethos. The first person to have the official role to call people to prayer was Bilal ibn Rabah, who was given the position because of the beauty of his voice and the commitment to his faith. He was a black man, who was held as a slave by the non-Muslims of 7th century Arabia. As a punishment for converting to Islam, his owners did not feed him to the lions, but placed heavy stones on him to crush him to death. As he called out God’s name, and thought, “I can’t breathe,” prophet Muhammad bought his freedom, and elevated him to one of the most important roles in the community.
Muslims have been part of this country since its founding. Since nearly a third of all slaves were Muslim, this country literally was built on the backs of Muslims. We have remained important contributors to American history, serving to defend our nation and contributing culturally to what it means to be American. Thomas Jefferson’s copy of the Qur’an sits in the Library of Congress as a testament to how important Muslim thought was to the founding of this country.