One thing I can say about being a Muslim American: We’re good at building mosques. I’ve visited mosques of every shape and size, sometimes multi-million-dollar facilities that cater to form as well as function. Well-executed fundraising drives have made it possible to build outstanding facilities, even in localities where Muslims are few and far between. In many parts of the country, they’re not just our houses of worship, they double as cultural hubs and, often, as refuges from the derision many Muslim Americans have sensed in the years since 9/11.
In the different places I’ve lived, I’ve been grateful to have access to mosques as a canopy of self-protection, but I’ve also worried that they can become bubbles of self-segregation. Our political engagement is often defensive, not proactive or strategic, and it isn’t very effective.
If Muslim Americans want politicians to take us seriously as a constituency — if we want policy outcomes that reflect our priorities and an end to scapegoating and harassment — we need to start building political capital the way other minority and immigrant groups do.
Nearly every immigrant or minority group has had to overcome some form of oppression or scrutiny while fighting for acceptance and equality — Italian Americans, Jewish Americans, Chinese Americans and Mexican Americans all have their immigrant narrative. African Americans still contend with the legacy of slavery and American Indians with colonialism. In some ways, for immigrant and minority groups, it’s less a story of the American Dream and more the story of the ability of different groups to sink, float or swim, and Muslim Americans are taking our turn trying to overcome this hurdle.