American Muslims need to tell their stories, says An-Na'im

By Elaine Justice | Spirited Thinking | Jan. 22, 2013

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"What is an American Muslim?" asks Emory law professor Abdullahi An-Na'im.

What is an American Muslim?

The question is personal to Abdullahi An-Na’im and it arises from stories of people he knows, friends, family members, students, colleagues—and from his own experiences. Here is one story he tells frequently:

“The grieving mother of the deceased woman stood in a tight circle of her close women friends, away from the crowd of men who were engaged in the serious religious ritual of burial. Of all of us there at the cemetery, the mother was the one who most deserved to participate in the burial ritual, and to lead it if she wished.


An-Nai'm is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of Law at Emory and a renowned scholar of Islam and human rights.

For more than 40 years, every day and night, she had taken loving care of her daughter, who had a severe case of Down syndrome and needed total care for mundane functions.

“Yet the mother was prevented from participating in the final rites for her beloved daughter. A man, I was told, had shouted in her face: 'Women are not allowed!' The women complied, because from childhood on, they had been socialized into certain social/religious expectations for gender roles. They had long ago internalized and accepted their exclusion.

“My shame is that I stood among the crowd of men, passively observing the whole scene, instead of intervening to try to correct the cruel injustice that was being perpetrated in the name of Islam and ‘Muslim culture.' I failed to act—to uphold, in practice, the equality and justice for women that I claim to support. By that failure to act on what I preach, I earned the wrath of God. 61:2 and 3 of the Qur’an can be translated as follows: ‘Oh, believers, why do you say what you do not do? It is most hateful to God that you say what you do not do.'"

An-Na’im believes it’s time for American Muslims to tell these stories, to talk about who they are on their own terms, and who they are as American citizens.

Full story in Spirited Thinking »