Coverage of Muslim men in the American media is almost completely limited to three narrow situations: Middle Eastern politics, violent extremist movements, or oppression of women. All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim provides a glimpse into the lives of the other 99% of Muslim men in the U.S. Initiated largely by well-educated, young Muslim Americans, this book is the latest in an intentional strategy to reshape American attitudes about Muslims and Islam through personal stories.
As a follow-up to I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim, All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim gives voice to a diverse set of Muslim Americanon a variety of topics. Contributors range from well-known artists and activists to Army officers and Republican strategists. Many of the writers included have also been highlighted in past Inside Islam posts and radio shows.
I recently spoke with one of the book’s co-contributors, Rashid Dar, a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a community organizer in New York City. You can listen to the interview below.[audio:https://insideislam.webhosting.cals.wisc.edu/audio/dStory/rashid.mp3]
In the interview, Dar discussed the reasoning behind the title of his chapter, Parrot on My Shoulder. He talked about how the parrot, constantly squawking on his shoulder, represents the distinctness of his Muslim identity living in an American context. He reflected on the challenges of living one’s faith, and how they present distinct difference depending upon where Muslims live. Dar, a Pakistani-American from Wisconsin, described two ways in which many Muslims experience a parrot on their shoulder.
First, growing up around many Muslims in a community, at times it is quite easy to fall into the trap of never questioning Islam and conforming to the beliefs and practices of older Muslims. If Dar had grown up in Pakistan like his parents, he believes that his outlook would have been similar to this. He would have been proud of his parrot and thought to himself, “Everyone has a parrot like me [Islam], and it is the best and only way to live one’s life.”
Conversely, when a Muslim is the only one in a group of friends, in class, or at work, they face a desire to be rid of the squawking parrot, or their public appearance as Muslim. Dar equated this to “putting the parrot in a cage.” Dar also likened the squawking parrot to skin color or other differences that make someone stand out as a minority in a particular context.
In our conversation, Dar told me that he has made an intentional effort to “peel back the layers” of his own identity. He openly identifies as a Muslim, practices Islam, and embraces his parrot, but not because embracing Islam is what Muslims do to feel a sense of group identity. Dar’s religious life is a personal choice completely independent of anything but his love and connection to God. His “Muslim-ness,” as he says, is not a sociological identity, but a “theological reality.”
The more spiritually advanced a Muslim gets, he acts for God, and by God and that’s … his sole motivator in life. Nothing else really should push him, because then you run into that problem again of ‘why am I doing this, am I ascribing an equal or a partner to God in my motivations?’
What do you think of Dar’s framing of the challenges Muslims face in relation to their religious identity? Have you experienced a similar feeling as a member of a group? What impact do you think that Dar’s contribution and the book itself will have on the views of Muslim-American men? Please share your thoughts below.