Islam in America: Madeeha's journey| April 2, 2009
The United States is the best place to be a Muslim, according to William and Mary senior Madeeha Hameed (’09). Here, she said, there is freedom to worship as one chooses.
Hameed based her assessment on observations made during her recent tour of the United States as part of the “Journey into America” team that is documenting the Muslim experience. Having helped conduct interviews in more than 30 cities, Hameed said that stereotyped views of U.S. Muslims continue to shape the daily relationships among citizens. However, she said, “So many Muslims told me that there is no country they rather live in than America. … They believe you can be the truest Muslim in this country.”
Hameed found the cities of Detroit and New York to be the most oppressive for Muslims. “The moment you step foot into New York City, you could just feel the tension in that Muslim community to this day due to 9/11.” Even as the team, led by Akbar Ahmed, a celebrated Islamic scholar, entered mosques, they were questioned, “Are you from the CIA,” Hameed said.
As the only Muslim woman on the team, Hameed discovered that “in the field” her participation in discussion often was received through the filter of gender. For many of the individuals encountered, she was the first Muslim woman they had met. Although their reactions varied, Madeeha delighted in situations where she could serve as bridge spanning cultural gaps.
That ability, according to her William and Mary professor Tamara Sonn, the William R. Kenan Professor of Humanities, puts Hameed on the front lines of a more tolerant society. “Religious intolerance is a major problem,” Sonn said. “Intolerance often comes from fear. By learning about the religious other, the fear dissipates. It’s replaced by knowledge and understanding.” As tolerance is sought, Hameed serves an example that there are willing helpers in all religious communities, Sonn said.
Hameed's video footage already has helped people come to a greater appreciation of their Islamic neighbors as it has appeared on CNN. It also is likely to be used in upcoming documentaries being prodcued for the BBC and PBS.