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How To Make It in America: Manifesto by the Average American-Muslim | The Nation

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How To Make It in America: Manifesto by the Average American-Muslim

With the nation’s Islamophobia industry cresting at an acme, The Crescent Directive couldn’t have come at a better time.

Like other American-Muslims, law student and author Khurram Dara understands why critical and constructive dialogue bettering the image of Islam locally and globally is a necessity. “It’s important to have educated, articulate individuals to be able to provide that information. These group of people are important to have for people who genuinely want information on Islam,” Dara says.

But his own tactics - which he outlines in a style close to a 'How To Save Face for Muslims Living in America for Dummies' handbook - are a touch different from other American-Muslims working to better the image of Islam in America. Where others stage rallies, panel discussions and events, Dara advocates making Muslim religious holiday Eid a grand affair, in the spirit of “good old American commercialism." And where others form organizations, Dara proposes throwing it down with your non-Muslim coworkers at a holiday party.

And what of the plenty and passionate defenders of Islam in the media? Dara simply doesn’t find them be all that effective -- well, at least not as effective as say, engaging in the “American way”. 

A month after 9/11 the Dara family were featured in a news story “Mom, Apple Pie, and Islam.” Dara, then a twelve year old, would tell the reporter “We’re just like average American people”. Today the twenty-three year old Columbia law student better understands what he expressed more than a decade ago.

In the opening of his essay he (humorously) delineates his average Americanness noting his naturally occurring, perpetual tan yet lack of a diverse background. “For me, this is the only country I’ve ever lived in, and the only one I ever want to live in”, Dara points out.  Growing up in Amherst, New York, Dara an ex-Boy Scout, is fluent in English only. Despite being a religious minority in America, his closest friends are people outside his faith and ethnicity. And when spending time with his law school roommates it's not religious dialogue on the table but sports, movies, and girls that are up for discussion.

For Dara, fostering these relationships is what has helped humanize Islam for those in his circle. “They knew the things being said about Islam were untrue, not because they had studied it thoroughly, but because they knew me” he writes in his book which reached the number one spot on Amazon’s Best Books of Islam list on the day of its release. 

As I perused through the advance copy Dara sent me, I found myself searching for the familiar strategies, themes, and defenses, created and frequently employed by those working in the anti-Islamophobia sphere.  Instead, what I found was entirely different from the usual defenses articulated by the Islamic community’s passionate and progressive scholars, writers, thinkers, and leaders. The Crescent Directive is a nicely packaged story, stratagem, and vision of "how PTA meetings, Thanksgiving dinners, and Little League baseball can save the image of Islam in America".

The Crescent Directive
opposes the complete shedding away of one’s identity. It does not condone leaving behind one’s traditions and customs. But it does urge ordinary American-Muslim to drop the isolationist-antagonist stance that has become common in the wake of 9/11. Essentially, what the essay proposes is that the display of investment in the American way (through community involvement, loving thy neighbor, giving of charity - a concept,  fundamentally reconcilable with the Islamic way - having your kid pick up a musical instrument, and parental involvement in school) will go a lot farther and deeper in establishing inclusiveness.

But one domain in which Dara declares American-Muslims must continue to remain vociferously vocal, is the battle against the “perception that we are soft on radicalism and don’t clearly condemn terrorism. The solution is not easy, but I think a good step forward would be really making an effort to eradicate radicalism within our faith. Actions speak louder than words.”

I find myself buying what Dara’s selling.

It may very well be true that those with a deep-rooted hatred of Islam are not looking to be taught, moved, or changed by any religious discourse. And, no doubt, personal connections and a display of one's investment in the American way, would be a healthy existence both for the individual and the community.

But what to make of those, I ask Dara, who despite the American-Muslim’s attempt at integration and cohesion, will continue to view Islam as a threat?

“Sometimes people send me messages telling me to “go back to where I came from”...I’m just honest with them about it. I don’t want to go back to Houston. It’s too hot there,” he responds.

Follow Khurram Dara at @KhurramDara and catch him hosting the @minorityreport this spring. 

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