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American Muslims ‘just as American as anyone else’

By Asma Uddin/Religion News Service
On July 7, 2016

Donald Trump says American Muslims have a hard time “assimilating” to America. In the aftermath of the Orlando shooting, he told Sean Hannity: “Assimilation has been very hard. It’s almost – I won’t say nonexistent, but it gets to be pretty close. And I’m talking about second and third generation. They come – they don’t – for some reason, there’s no real assimilation.”

Trump clearly doesn’t know about the unique American-Muslim culture that has been developing since the country’s inception.

In recent years, young American-Muslim entertainers and entrepreneurs have contributed to this culture in ways that are fully American and fully Muslim.

Just last week, comedian Aziz Ansari spoke about his Muslim roots in a recent editorial in The New York Times. While he himself is not religious, his family is. In his piece, he describes how political rhetoric like Trump’s causes him to fear for his Muslim parents. “DON’T go anywhere near a mosque” he texts his mom. “Do all your prayer at home. O.K.?”

Ansari is not alone in the space of American-Muslim comedians. Allah Made Me Funny was an American stand-up comedy troupe produced by well-assimilated American Muslim Dave Chappelle. Described by one newspaper as “one of the funniest Muslim cultural acts in the world,” Allah Made Me Funny also carried the responsibility of showing Muslim culture to those less familiar with it.

Outside of comedy, Marvel Comics a few years ago introduced its first American Muslim character, Kamala – or, Ms. Marvel – a Pakistani American. Ms. Marvel’s creator, Sana Amanat, explained to Entertainment Weekly: “We knew we wanted to have a Muslim-American character, we knew we wanted it to be her own solo series. … The idea was, how do we create a character that wasn’t about that?”

Her answer was to focus on bigger themes, ones that transcended identity and embraced human issues.

“You can call a Muslim South-Asian woman a hero, but I think the ultimate ideal for her is being good and helping people,” said Amanat. “That’s such a simple and beautiful concept, and I think that supersedes any label, any category, and that’s ultimately what Kamala wants – she wants to help people, and she wants to do it on her own terms.”

Elsewhere in literature, American Muslim characters continue to crop up. Hena Khan, a children’s book author, has written “Night of the Moon: A Muslim Holiday Story,” “Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns” and most recently “It’s Ramadan, Curious George.”

Each of these books offers young American-Muslim readers the opportunity to see themselves in the main characters.

George has celebrated holidays such as Christmas, Hanukkah and Easter. Now, for the first time, the iconic monkey and his friend in the yellow hat have become curious about Islam. The book follows George’s friend, Kareem, during his first time fasting. In the book, the pair breaks the daily fast by eating both pizza and kebobs.

“I wanted to reinforce the message that American Muslims are just as American as anyone else,” said Khan. “Some of us are descended from immigrants and have other cultures and other food we embrace. We still love pizza and burgers as much as the next person.”

Although Khan said the idea of working with such an iconic character was intimidating at first, she knew it was an opportunity for greater inclusion of Muslim children in American literature.

Khan told altMuslimah.com: “I wanted my books to reflect the American -Muslim community as diverse and colorful, but also distinctly American. Lots of kids’ books present Muslims as foreign rather than as making up part of the great American tapestry and sharing universal values.”

Like Amanat, the comedians behind Allah Made Me Funny and a host of other American-Muslim culture creators, Khan’s book allows for a seamless interaction between the “American” and the “Muslim” components of the American Muslim identity. These innovative cultural creations help Muslims not just “assimilate” – to use Trump’s word – but to forge something uniquely valuable.

Asma Uddin is the founding editor-in-chief of altMuslimah.com and the director of strategy for the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom. Kaitlin Montgomery contributed to this piece.

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