5. The Limits of Muslim Cool

From: Muslim Cool

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178 5 The Limits of Muslim Cool After settling into my economy-class seat for the long haul flight to London in April 2014, I opened up my iPad to peruse, with a fair bit of chagrin, a recently released 104-page U.S. Department of State digital publication entitled American Muslims. The design quality of the colorand photo-filled report was impressive. Beyond its design, one of the first things that struck me about the report was how it represented the racial and ethnic diversity of U.S. American Muslim communities. Specifically, the booklet included U.S. Black Muslim narratives. This jumped out at me from the photos used, including one of Ibtihaj Muhammad, a member of the U.S. national fencing team, to the individuals profiled, such as magazine editor Tayyibah Taylor. Likewise, a U.S. Black American, the Harvard-trained historian Precious Muhammad, had penned one of the reflective autobiographical articles in the publication. Although she was the sole Black Muslim who had written for the booklet (and whose other publications were cited in the “Want to know more?” reference section), this remains a significant inclusion that stands in stark contrast to the many ways in which Blackness is marginalized or rendered invisible in U.S. Muslim communities and the broader U.S. discourse about Muslims. Another remarkable characteristic of the report—and this was the source of my chagrin—was that it explicitly highlighted Chicago and indirectly appropriated Muslim Cool. While the organizations and individuals profiled in the report came from across the United States, Chicago was the only city that was specifically highlighted as a symbol of American exceptionalism. For example, echoing the celebration of the United States as a multicultural nation, the report quoted a local Chicago Muslim leader heralding the city: “There is no other place where Muslims from different parts of the world have established one community with so much diversity”(2014, 38).1 The booklet and the four short videos that accompanied it online (U.S. Department of State 2014) also The Limits of Muslim Cool | 179 prominently feature IMAN, IMAN’s Executive Director, Dr. Rami Nashashibi , and Muslim hip hop artists, citing their contributions to U.S. American society as symbols of successful Muslim integration in the multicultural fabric of the United States.2 In this report, then, the figures , institutions, and movements that I had identified as the vanguard of Muslim Cool—because they engage Blackness to offer a counternarrative to hegemonies that produce unequal power relations—were strategically deployed to reinforce the hegemonic power of the state. This booklet was not designed for domestic consumption but for U.S. embassies abroad, yet I first found out about it through postings on my Facebook timeline. Friends and colleagues, some of whom contributed to the publication, were celebrating the report as a symbol of inclusion and recognition by the U.S. government. The fortuitous timing of my reading of the report, on the eve of my U.K. trip, and its explicit and subtle references to my field sites and to Muslim Cool, gave fresh urgency to the questions that had led me to the United Kingdom. I was on my way to follow a multicity tour of U.S. American artists, six of whom were Muslim, which was sponsored by the U.S. embassy in the United Kingdom. I decided to follow these U.S. American Muslim artists to a different context, that of the United Kingdom, in order to explore how Muslim Cool travels beyond the United States. My interest in the circulation of Muslim Cool outside the United States was sparked by my interactions with non-U.S. Muslim artists who performed and participated in IMAN’s arts and culture work while I was in the field. I found that although they were from different contexts, including the United Kingdom, they were still doing Muslim Cool; their identities as Muslims were being forged through the loop of hip hop, Islam, and Blackness. I also met the U.S. American artists on tour in the United Kingdom through my relationship with IMAN. Each of these artists had an individual music career, but they were on tour as members of the FEW Collective, a group of artists that had expanded in membership since the 2007 ISNA convention mentioned earlier. These artists were politically conscious and had multiple motivations for participating in the tour—none of which was to endorse U.S. foreign policies. The tour was an opportunity to...


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Subject Headings

  • African Americans -- Relations with Muslims.
  • Muslims -- United States -- Social conditions.
  • African American Muslims -- Social conditions.
  • African Americans -- Race identity.
  • Hip-hop -- Social aspects -- United States.
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