It’s been a long year. The Muslim American community has seen more than its fair share of controversies and dramas, each one more strangely relevant to the current state of national affairs than the next. The party lines were drawn in the sand, lines that quickly shifted once the next issue flooded social media timelines and newsfeeds. There was Abu Eesa and his denouncement of the F word, Mipsters “Somewhere in America” and “Happy Muslims.” You saw the explosion of conversation around Side Entrance and being Unmosqued, and the online Muslim American community quickly crippled the problematic pilot episode of Alice in Arabia. There were the usual (and unusual) boycotts of ISNA convention and the White House Iftar, along with a smattering of hashtags: #Hijab4Men, #NotinMyName, #NotYourStockMuslim and #BreaktheSilence.
Amidst these new issues, however, was a repeat of the annual conversations. It was as regular as though the community kept them stacked carefully in the back of the mosque broom closet, dusty and worn. Every year, on cue, the subjects were brought out, dusted off, and thrown into the ring for discussion. This year was no different.
In the weeks leading up to Eid Al-Fitr, all anyone could talk about was how the moon sighting would be calculated. Muslims in America couldn’t come to a consensus: was the decision to be made by Saudi Arabia, an American organization or by in-person viewings? Then there were the annual national Muslim American conventions, during which the quintessential topic of halal meat was brought up and pounded to a finely ground pulp. As national holidays rolled around, Halloween and then Christmas were fiercely debated. Should Muslim children be allowed to trick or treat? Should Christmas trees be set up – and what about wishing someone “Merry Christmas”? Would that take people to hell? Conveniently timed fatwas were pulled out, social media friendships were severed, and consensus of any kind failed to be reached.
Growing up, I remember the same conversations taking place. Sure, it might not have been happening over social media, but it was the topic of the week at the mosque, and the one that all my mother’s friends hotly debated as they waited for their children to emerge from Saturday School. There were never any sorts of resolutions that were reached years back, and yet the Muslim American community insists on continuing to engage the topics, en masse, on an annual basis.
Why do we keep repeating the same conversations every year? Let’s be real – nobody is going to change their opinions, regardless of how many times you comment on their Halloween-themed Facebook status about how wrong they are. Yet there is a continued insistence on pulling these conversations out time and again.
I have a sneaking suspicion that the same conversations are repeated, year after year, because they’re what’s constant among the Muslim American community. Amidst all of the divided groups, factions and differing opinions, the same old controversy around celebrating Halloween is a topic to be expected and embraced. Particularly in the micro-focus of social media, it’s become increasingly exhausting to be Muslim in America, each day a new controversy or drama filling up the newsfeed. Simpler, then, for individuals to quibble over intricacies of when Eid Al-Fitr will happen, followed by collective groans over having to celebrate it on such drastically different days.
We can rapture endlessly about how these topics, held constant over time, happen simply because Muslims are still finding their place in America, or how, if people simply lived “back home,” things would be easier and more linear. Frankly speaking, I believe that’s hogwash. In looking at other American religious communities, only one religious community shows similarities with the Muslim American one: Jewish Americans. Two “top ten” lists of issues affecting the Jewish American community reveal a need for discussion around Zionism, and declining rates of anti-Semitism. Interestingly, the issues they seem to combat are directly facing the religious community from the outside, representative in part of the community’s position within the nation these days: more mature and settled. On the other hand, the Muslim American community is still developing and figuring out its place in that nation, for better or for worse.
The fact of the matter is that the world unites over two extremes: joy and anger. The third, less recognized factor? Complaining. Given that the international community regularly complains about topics, year after year, it’s only natural that the Muslim American community joins those ranks. It’s the security blanket amidst all the daily, unprecedented insanity, anger and joy. It’s the symbol of world citizenship, and Muslim Americans wear that symbol, loud and proud, albeit with a heavy dose of fatwas.
And so, with the start of 2015, I am going to save Muslim Americans’ time by going ahead and laying out all the arguments we will likely talk about in the coming year. Coming soon to online publications near you: “Whose Eid Prediction Should We Trust?” and “Halloween: A Fitna or a Fard?” You’ll find the majority of the real conversation in the comment sections – but I, for one, won’t be found there.