Muslims have been a part of the American fabric for generations. Yet, it was not until the terrorist attacks on 9/11 that many Americans became aware of their presence. Since then, there has been mistrust and misinformation about the Muslim community and their religion.
An effort is under way to increase knowledge about Muslim Americans and Islam. A National Endowment for the Humanities grant to four DeKalb County Public Library branches will provide a range of materials to enhance public knowledge about Muslims in America.
The Decatur, Clarkston, Northlake-Barbara Loar and Stonecrest branches are among the more than 800 libraries and state humanities councils across the nation that received the grant.
Through this funding, the four DeKalb branches will make available to residents 25 books, three films and other resources that provide a reliable source of information about Islam, Muslim culture and the history of Muslims in the United States. All the materials will be available for checkout at the libraries beginning March 1.
According to a Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life survey, 55 percent of Americans say they know nothing or very little about Islam. About one-third said they knew some things about the religion and 9 percent said they knew a great deal about the faith. Less than half of Americans (41 percent) said they are personally acquainted with a Muslim.
“I’m pleased that several DeKalb libraries received this NEH grant to help foster greater knowledge and understanding of the rich history and culture of Muslims in the United States and around the world,” U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson (GA-4) said in a DeKalb Public Library statement. “It’s through education that we foster bonds of unity between and among people of diverse backgrounds, leading to a more peaceful society.”
Since the 9/11 attacks, Muslims have become the subjects of suspicion because of their religion or country of origin. Ten years after the attacks, more than half (55 percent) of the Muslims Americans surveyed said that life has become more difficult, Pew reported.
They highlighted being looked at with suspicion (28 percent) and being called insulting names (22 percent). Their religion has made them the targets of airport security and law enforcement, they reported to researchers.
Abdullahi An-Na’im, a professor at Emory Law School and a scholar of Islam and human rights, said Muslim Americans need to share their stories with the broader American culture to shed stereotypes. He plans to tell these stories in a book length project to be published by the Oxford University Press.
In the aftermath of 9/11, he said that, globally, Muslims are the primary victims of radical Islamists, in places like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq. And while extremism represents an element in the Muslim community, it does not reflect the ideology of the entire community.
“Being a Muslim does not mean being monolithic or uniform, because there are Muslims who are conservative, or who are liberal,” he said. “We should not insist on a single identity as exclusive of everything else. We should live by all the identities we have, each as and when most relevant. That’s the idea of being an American Muslim.”
Kitty Wilson, the library system’s grant facilitator, said all four branches will present programs this year to promote the new materials on Muslim Americans.
The library highlighted three book titles in its announcement. Acts of Faith: the Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation by Eboo Patel is the author’s personal story of growing up Muslim in America. Amitav Ghosh’s In an Antique Land is a historic fictional account of 800 years of Egyptian history. And Minaret by Leila Aboulela is a novel about a young, secular Muslim woman who comes to embrace orthodox Islam after immigrating to the West.