Hasan Minhaj and Omar Metwally are part of a new generation of Muslim Americans in the pop culture spotlight
Sick of stereotypes, Muslim Americans are fighting back with pop culture.
Even as anti-Muslim rhetoric has escalated, Muslim Americans have begun claim their spot in pop culture. That’s true in children’s books, standup comedy and Hollywood films.
Muslim Americans who’ve been increasingly making their presence felt include “The Affair” actor Omar Metwally and “Daily Show” correspondent Hasan Minhaj. Publisher Simon and Schuster created Salaam Reads, a Muslim children’s imprint that debuted with Hena Khan’s “Amina’s Voice” this month. Wajahat Ali, who wrote the critically acclaimed “Domestic Crusaders,” a play about Muslim Americans after 9/11 has since become a regular CNN talking head, opining on everything from Islamic American affairs to Russian diplomacy. The most prominent poster from the Women’s March? A Shepard Fairey image of a veiled woman wearing an American flag hijab.
Their increased visibility is due in part to the election of Donald Trump, who previously called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” This newfound political relevance has led mass media, which have tended to portray Muslim Americans in a mono-dimensional way, seeking out stories from the sidelines.
For years, Ali had been struggling with author Dave Eggers on “MJ,” a cop drama with a Muslim American hero. They were ready to give it up, but got a call this week from an interested agent. “Thank you Donald Trump,” he says.“Your presidency has resuscitated MJ, literally.”
To hear him tell it, his generation was galvanized to combat negative depictions of their community as “antagonists, sidekicks or footnotes.” “There is so much misunderstanding about who we are,” says Khan, who authored “It’s Ramadan, Curious George.” “I thought it was important that the story is told from within the community.”
“Amina’s Voice” for instance, revolves around a Pakistani-American sixth grader dealing with challenges at school, while also introducing readers to her family and imam. “I wanted to write a story with a character people can know and root for,” the writer says.
The hope is that an underserved, but fast growing population will snap up media that depicts them positively. According to the Pew Research Center, there are approximately 3.3 million Muslims in America, a figure that is expected to double by 2050. The American Islamic Congress estimates that Muslim Americans spend up to $200 billion annually.
But is there a risk that Muslim Americans marginalize themselves by congregating within specialty publishers? According to Zareen Jaffery, executive editor of Salaam, her imprint publishes stories with universal appeal. “The central character is Muslim, but there’s an emotional truth at the heart of the stories that are very relatable,” she says, adding that the 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide are hardly homogenous.
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