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Interview With Roqayah Chamseddine About Her New Project, ‘Islam In America’

Shadowproof columnist Roqayah Chamseddine’s Islam In America project will document the voices and views of American Muslims from many different walks of life. Using video, audio recordings, and the written word, Chamseddine will profile ten American Muslims to dismantle the caricatures of them too often presented by news media, entertainment, and politicians.

Chamseddine plans to publish her first profile next week. However, to cover the costs to conduct and publish all of the wonderful profiles she has planned, we need your help to reach our $4,000 fundraiser goal. Please make a donation of $20 or more to help us reach that goal and make this important project a reality.

Below is a brief interview with Chamseddine on her plans for the project:

What are some of the subjects you hope to explore through this project?

The subjects I’ve chosen to profile have diverse backgrounds and will speak on a variety of issues. I’m going to speak with a Muslim American worker in the food industry about “service with a smile”-type labor, and how it impacts workers emotionally. I’m going to speak with someone about the impact of diversifying the gaming and film industry and what effect negative stereotypes and racism in games and films have materially.

Another profile I’m working on will explore how Muslims have started to challenge media narratives not just by speaking out, but by creating their own publications and amplifying their own voices. Another will examine the status of labor organizing in the U.S. and how queer Muslims organize in spaces that are hostile towards both their identities.

I’m also planning a profile centered around the refugee experience and the influence of single motherhood on activist work, as well as one that discusses art as a means of resisting stigmatization, and how poetry and photography work to combat mental illness.

Why is this project important to you?

That Muslims continue to be spoken for and spoken of is what drives this project for me.

Rarely do we hear of the Muslim experience outside the confines of Islamophobia. There’s more to Muslims than how they combat anti-Muslim bigotry, and they often struggle with a multitude of issues that go beyond Islamophobia.

For those who don’t know Muslims, or those who only hear of Muslims in times of conflict, this project will leave an impression, and hopefully it will challenge their conception of what a Muslim looks like.

Since we announced Islam In America, we’ve received comments from people condemning Muslims for having particular beliefs. How does is project respond to those kinds of views?

The perpetuation of bigotry against Muslims has layers to it, but one of those layers has to do with the view that Muslims are not human to the same extent as everyone else. Once you’re able to dehumanize someone, violence against them becomes easier to accept. Once violence is accepted, the likelihood of this violence being normalized increases.

Mainstream depictions of Muslims, be it in film or the rhetoric espoused by lawmakers, has shaped and gone on to define what makes a Muslim. There can’t be change without challenging these depictions, and the only way to do it is to have Muslims, on their own terms, respond.

This is why “Islam In America” is vital, and why I hope people will help support this project.

You can watch an animated preview video here.

Brian Nam-Sonenstein

Brian Nam-Sonenstein

Publishing Editor at Shadowproof and columnist at Prison Protest.