Reclaiming Muslim Identity In The 21st Century Western Society

While bigots are in the picture trying to draw their prophet, Muslims on the Internet are struggling to draw a better, empowering image of their faith, their community, but mostly themselves. Giving themselves the human face, which western society deliberately keeps erasing.

Post 9/11 And Muslim Millennials In The West
In the wake of the dehumanization of Muslims in Europe and the United States, young Muslim people face strong challenges. Alongside the dealing with racism and insults that exclude them from the society they are growing up in, they are also being attacked by xenophobic anti-Islam. Many Muslims who live in the west are dealing with the usual “growing up between two cultures”, where seeking validation and acceptance from both traditional family and western society is part of the daily routine. Being out and open about your faith as a Muslim is something you’ll think twice of before doing it. This insecurity has been heavily intensified since the 21st century. Post 9/11 times have been shaking up the world with xenophobia and islamophobia, which were followed by many other external effects like the spreading of fear and a hate culture which has been targeting Muslims. Muslim women wearing hijabs and other forms of veils have not been safe from racist attacks by individuals, and neither were they from law enforcement. This spreading of fear among western citizens has lead to a climate of hate directed at Muslim (looking) people, which on their turn had to deal with a double sense fear: the one caused by the socio political tensions of “terror attacks” and the one that is caused by islamophobic hate crimes. This sentiment lead to many Muslims being afraid to be outgoing about their faith. This varied from political conversations with co-workers to Muslim women who stop wearing the hijab and Muslim men who shave their beards. One fear created another one, and the latter one is hardly talked about. The fear of being a Muslim in a western society. Muslims have been living in fear of being followed, tapped or even convicted while innocent. Most Muslims didn’t feel comfortable or safe wearing their hijabs and beards, because they were walking threats: a menace to western society and its norms and standards. Factors that enforce this alienation from religious and cultural identity are stigmatizing and negative stereotypes in Hollywood movies and the framing of Muslims in mainstream mass media. Usually drawn as evil and angry brown people who are very dangerous. Post 9/11 films destroyed what was left of a positive image of Muslims. Women, who generally suffer representation, would only be portrayed as the “oppressed Muslim woman”. None of these stereotypes are emancipating for the young generation that is trapped between two cultures and struggles with a lot of uncertainty. The stigmas are in fact a force of double dynamics where the knife cuts both ways: giving a face to the racialization of Islam, but also the erasure of black Muslims. Then there are also many other minorities that don’t fit the stigmatized frame of reference, such as women who don’t cover themselves according the generally assumed traditions, LGBT Muslims, etc. Groups that constantly get questions thrown at them like “how can you be a Muslim if-“. All these trials and tribulations form the battlefield for young people with a Muslim background. While carefree peers go on a trip to the orient to find their true self, Muslims try to find their place and themselves in a western society. The term “self love” has become prior in the debate on how young people in marginalized groups of society can reclaim their position by empowering themselves and each other. One of the means that is been used nowadays is the internet. On the internet there are massive global online communities where young Muslims all over the world interact with each other, discuss things that they usually wouldn’t do with peers in real life and lift debates up higher to excelling levels. A diaspora of western Muslims that exchanges thoughts, opinions, experiences and anecdotes, that work in an empowering way.

The Internet Ummah
On microblogging service Twitter, there have been various hashtags acknowledging annual Muslim holidays. Muslims and non-Muslims have been using these hashtags in their tweets to express their wishes and greetings to other Muslims, but Muslims also used the opportunity to share with the world how they practice their religion. The way Twitter hangtags usually trigger users to being open, frank but also witty and creative, was also widely applicable to hangtags dedicated to the holy month of Ramadan, the holy night Leilat-ul-Qadr and Eid ul-Fitr. Sharing personal stories such as experiences and encounters one can have during these holidays: unheard and often ignored voices of young people in the western world who are dealing with awkward but sometimes hilarious situations while fasting. But also the posting selfies of their Muslim selves and their loved ones, in their most exquisite attires, which has something empowering about it because it humanizes the demonized in a self-emancipation way.
Mobile chatting service Snapchat offered their users filters which they could use to add a religious signature to selfies and videos in order to share them with others. These were a success as they were widely used by Muslims all over the world. There also have been Snapchat-stories from the holy city of Mecca and a global one on Eid ul-Fitr, broadcasting collections of random videos made by Muslims themselves. This sparked a lot of positive attention from various sides on the internet, something rare when it comes Muslim representation. This form of civil journalism offered Muslims a possibility to tell their own stories, offer a peek into their worlds and their lives, and put an accurate face to non-stop discussed phenomenon in the west: Islam. They were able to invite people all over the world, including non-Muslims, who usually get a biased view of Islam and Muslims, to tell them who they really actually are. People who rely on mainstream western mass media, now had the opportunity to see a side that wasn’t framed or erased in a negative, polarizing way.

Black Lives Matter And The Effect it Left Within the Muslim Society
Following the untimely demise of African American teenager Michael Brown, the Black folks of Ferguson took to the streets and protested against police brutality. This, unfortunately yet unsurprisingly, resulted in backlash from the police, using unnecessary force and violence towards the peaceful protestors. These events sparked many conversations between Black communities throughout America, thus creating the monumental hashtag “Black Lives Matter” (#BlackLivesMatter). There has been a viral claim that a Black life is taken every 28 hours, and more people have become aware of the systematic oppression that plagues America. The significance of this hashtag was that it represented not only Black males, but all kinds of Black people.

Specifically, I want to focus on how the Black Muslim community contributed to Black Lives Matter; the media has always portrayed all Muslims in a negative way, but the actions of one Muslim woman contradict any negative stereotypes made about Muslims. Just last month, in the wake of burned Churches and the Charleston shooting, Muslim charities have been aiding and donating to churches, exercising one of their pillars of Islam which is to give charity. They claimed that “all houses of worship are sanctuaries, a place where all should feel safe, a place we can seek refuge when the world is too much to bear”, emphasizing positive and generous portrayal of Muslims which has been absent for many years. Despite the fact that many, many Muslim communities have anti-blackness within, it is important to highlight that Islam is a religion that represents every race, not discriminating between any of them. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said “O people! Your God is one and your forefather (Adam) is one. An Arab is not better than a non-Arab and a non-Arab is not better than an Arab, and a red (i.e. white tinged with red) person is not better than a black person and a black person is not better than a red person, except in piety”. Essentially, this example of Black Muslims and (non Black Muslims alike) donating to these churches sheds a different light onto Islam, which is viewed through a unfavorable perspective till this day.

By Any Means Necessary
One could argue that these social networking platforms are just trying to capitalize on, and profit off a given opportunity. But what should not be ignored is the positive effects that have lead out of the widely spreading and sharing under young Muslims in the west. They were offered a way on the internet, an alternate but not less real universe, to empower each other and empower themselves and be confident with who they are. loving yourself, while identifying as one of the most hated people in the world, be it black, Muslim or black AND Muslim, is not a 1–2–3 process, but the internet as a tool is definitely helpful in that process. It’s something they should be doing themselves because seeking pity or validation is not the purpose. To do so, social media are proving to be very useful in this day and age.