New opportunities and challenges are emerging from the growing religious diversity in America. Among our most diverse religious communities are American Muslims who have been a vibrant part of our national fabric for generations, but often find themselves and their religion poorly understood by the larger public. In light of this, the Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative of the Center for American Progress launched a project last week with young Muslim American leaders to lessen the gap between public misperceptions and the rich diversity of their lives.
The “Young Muslim American Voices Project,” made possible by a grant from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, emerged after several months of research and interviews with young Muslim American leaders across the country. Last week, these leaders came to Washington for a roundtable meeting to discuss the challenges and opportunities they identified as most pressing.
They considered questions such as: How do we broaden the involvement and expertise of young Muslim Americans in public policy, media, community service, politics, and advocacy? How can we increase the visibility and effectiveness of these efforts? How can we improve public understanding, familiarity, and acceptance of young Muslim Americans to decrease media and gender stereotypes and hate crimes? What efforts work? What efforts need to be improved?
As part of the day, participants met with CAP policy experts to share information and brainstorm ideas on issues such as health care, international rights and responsibilities, the Middle East, and blogging and communication. They also had an informal lunch with several Capitol Hill staffers.
Participants came from California, Chicago, New Jersey, and points in between. They were lawyers, youth workers, environmentalists, bloggers, playwrights, musicians, college chaplains, entrepreneurs, media consultants, civic activists, community organizers, poets, and venture capitalists. They represent only a fraction of the 2.35 million Muslims in the United States, who are the most ethnically and racially diverse religious group in our country. Furthermore, Muslim American women constitute one of the most highly educated female religious groups, second only to Jewish American women. Another fact: Pew and Gallup polls demonstrate that Muslim Americans are more highly integrated into their country, better educated, and more economically successful than their Muslim peers in Europe.
Nevertheless, the Muslim American community faces a variety of challenges—both those that are common to immigrants and that are particular to their community because of the complications of religion and international conflicts.
Over the next year the Faith and Progressive Policy team will produce a report based on the roundtable discussion and findings, a video highlighting young Muslim American voices, and follow-up activities and collaborations to more deeply examine many of the issues raised.
The roundtable was an important piece of the crucial work that needs to be done to provide counternarratives to those who would use religion as a weapon to divide Americans and to strengthen the voices, visibility, and leadership of this generation’s promising leaders.
For more on this topic see:
- Young Muslim American Voices Call for Inclusion and Respect by Sally Steenland
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Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite
Director, Faith and Progressive Policy Initiative