Projecting an Identity

Muslims praying at the Muslim Day Parade

As a class, we read an article titled “New York City’s World Muslim Day Parade”, by Susan Slymovics.  In this description of the Muslim Day Parade, Susan Slymovics introduces an interesting concept; she suggests that the parade is a way to “reconfigure religion into an ethnicity”.  While the parade is a way that the Muslims try to gain understanding and inclusion within the community, it is also a congregation of the many ethnicities that make up this one religion of Islam.  However, this congregation of varied ethnicities does not segregate the Muslims into separate groups depending on their backgrounds.  Rather, they are all bound together by the religion and culture that they share.

When our group visited the Muslim Center of New York, we found that this same factor of religion being configured into ethnicity remained.  When speaking to the director, we learned that the congregants of this mosque came from many different areas of the world.  Despite their different backgrounds, they are all united through their religion and the culture that they share based upon their religion.  They speak different languages and dialects yet they all understand the universal Quran.  Services are in English, a language that can unite the congregants.  We felt that the dynamic among the congregants was very welcoming and accepting.  We did not feel that there was any exclusiveness among members who may have been from different homelands.   While there are many religious institutions that are designated for people from a certain area of the world, it is interesting to see how the Muslims from all over can feel so united through their religion.  Maybe the religion of Islam is also serving as an ethnicity as Susan Slymovics suggests.

American Muslim girl participating in the 2010 Muslim Day Parade

In her article, Susan Slymovics discusses the Muslim Day Parade in great detail. She argues that one of the salient goals of the Muslim Day Parade is to present the face of the Muslim self to New Yorkers. The Parade is the self assertion of the Muslims, which on the one hand acquaints the onlookers with Muslim ritual and tradition, and on the other is an expression of their collective participation in American civil society. Even the fact that the event is conducted by way of a parade emphasizes the American cultural aspect of it.

Most New Yorkers are accustomed to viewing parades as a manifestation of ethnic pride, and according to Slymovics, the Muslims use this to their advantage and exude this image through use of signs, music bands, floats, and other festivities. However, the communal prayer at the onset of the parade and the feast at its conclusion provide a religious framework for the event, highlighting the religious significance of the parade and emphasizing the importance of the prayer which is recited by Muslims everyday at certain times of the day, no matter where one may be found.

Slymovics mentioned one decision in particular that was involved in the organization of the parade, whether to include the takbir or not, which hints to an underlying current of the parade. The takbir is the call to say God is great, made by any one of the marchers,  which is followed by the mass response, Allahu akbar (God is great.) The issue of whether to include the takbir or not was debated at length, since in the minds of some New Yorkers the call is associated with anti-American demonstrations in the Middle East as depicted on television. Many of the parade’s organizers felt that Americans foster anti-Muslim sentiments that are largely due to the media’s influence on society, and did not want to offend any non-Muslim Americans by including the call. They decided not to eliminate the call but to ensure that participants act in a way that wouldn’t cause New Yorkers to perceive the call as an act of Islamic anger.

The conflict surrounding this decision illuminates the quandary that Muslims face when trying to project their image to the American public. Especially since 9/11, there is a general feeling among the Muslim community that they are looked upon with opposition and suspicion by other American. The Muslim Day parade is one way in which Muslims attempt to inform New Yorkers about their religion and emphasize that it is a peaceful religion, whose members are no less American than anyone else.

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