Many people have now remarked on how turbulent a year 2016 was for the world as a whole. For Muslims in particular, the year presented us with more challenges and potential sources of worry. From the escalation of ongoing conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Iraq, to the election of a man who is poised to move the U.S. in an increasingly Islamophobic direction, it can certainly feel like there are difficulties ahead. However, there are many individuals and communities who are standing up and being counted, having their voices heard in support of us. There have been many beautiful individuals who have made the choice to stand in our corner as we weather this storm. This list is by no means comprehensive but features some of those shining lights.
Primala made history this year as being the first Indian-American woman to be elected to serve in the U.S. House of Representatives, representing Washington’s 7th Congressional District. Born in the Indian province of Chennai, Primala has been a resident of the U.S. since 1982, earning degrees from Georgetown and Northwestern University. Primala responded to the staunch increase in Islamophobia in the aftermath of 9/11 by establishing the non-profit, Hate Free Zone, (now called OneAmerica). Primala wasted no time in getting to work, setting up the non-profit 5 days after 9/11. She has continued to defend the rights of Muslims and other minorities in the Washington State Senate, where she has resided this year. However, her services are going to where they’re needed next year; the Republican dominated House of Representatives. Working in tune with President Donald Trump, the House is going to present huge challenges to many minority groups in the U.S.. Primala will likely be a valuable defender of Muslim Rights in this largely hostile climate.
France’s Conseil d’État
In the midst of this summer’s moral panic about the Burkini, the equivalent of France’s Supreme Court on Administrative matters, the Conseil d’Etat, ruled on the Burkini ban as being in breach of an individual’s freedoms. The burkini was initially banned by the city of Cannes, but many other French cities and regions had signaled their intention to follow suit. Images of armed police forcing women to remove the item of clothing were shared around the world, with the madness peaking with politician Christian Estrosi, threatening to sue any social media users who shared photos of the police enforcing the ban, presumably as he realised how much damage it was doing to France’s image worldwide, as well as the sheer contradiction between espousing individual freedom, and dictating what women could and could not wear. The court’s decision reminded us of the best of Europe, by way of a judiciary keeping executive power in check, allowing for individual freedom and minority rights to trump the will of populist politicians seeking to cash-in on xenophobic attitudes.
Bill De Blasio
The ever-impressive Bill De Blasio continues to show the world how a city can take significant steps towards promoting pluralistic harmony and combatting Islamophobia. De Blasio oversaw a range of measures that were designed to tackle Islamophobia, such as the introduction of the “I am Muslim, I am NYC” ad campaign. As well as this campaign, De Blasio and his team developed community safety and fair treatment forums, a cultural competency workshop (with the input of Muslims) and increased public outreach and awareness efforts on religious protections. The Mayor also hosted his London counterpart Sadiq Khan for a “Building Inclusive and Progressive Cities” forum. Speaking shortly after Trump’s election victory, with people wondering and fearing what the future might hold, De Blasio showed reassuring leadership when he said, “Here’s my promise to you as your mayor; we will use all the tools at our disposal to stand up for our people. If all Muslims are required to register, we will take legal action to block it…if Jews or Muslims or members of the LGBT community, or any community are victimized or attacked, we will find their attackers, we will arrest them, we will prosecute them.”
Oscar winning director Michael Moore was one of the leading voices of the #WeAreAllMuslims campaign, when non-Muslims pledged to register if Trump followed through with his election promise of making a registry of Muslims. Moore wrote, “We are all Muslim. Just as we are all Mexican, we are all Catholic and Jewish and white and black and every shade in between. We are all children of God (or nature or whatever you believe in), part of the human family, and nothing you say or do can change that fact one iota. If you don’t like living by these American rules, then you need to go to the time-out room in any one of your Towers, sit there, and think about what you’ve said.”
Dr. Craig Considine
Irish American Dr Craig obtained his Ph.D. from Trinity College Dublin, having examined experiences of young Pakistani men living in Dublin and Boston, and currently holds a teaching position at Rice University in Houston Texas. Followers of Dr Craig regularly enjoy his social media posts, as well as his articles, publishing regularly on his personal site as well as for publications such as the Huffington Post. It is always humbling witnessing this devout catholic defending Islam in such an impassioned and affectionate way. His advocacy for the religion goes well beyond promoting tolerance; his love for the religion comes through readily and he really is a great friend to Islam and Muslims.
Nathan Lean is an American writer and scholar, specialized in the Middle East, Islamophobia and religious pluralism. His articles have been published in a wide range of mainstream outlets, such as the Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Christian Science Monitor, Salon, CNN, Religion Dispatches, and the Huffington Post. Nathan’s 2012 book, The Islamophobia Industry, is a must read for all interested in contemporary Muslim affairs, and he is a regular battler against the Maajid Nawazs, Ayaan Hirsi Alis and Bill Mahers of this world. If his fine body of work isn’t enough to convince you of his credentials, the sources of the attacks that are directed towards him and his person should be an indication of his value as an advocate of the truth.
The Canadian Parliament
Canada has been a shining light for Muslims this year in a few significant ways, not least of which, the way in which it’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau personally welcomed some Syrian refugees as the arrived into the country on their way to their new homes. As incidents of Islamophobia have risen significantly within many developed countries, Canada’s passing of this motion served as an important symbol of what the countries lawmakers thought of this brand of racism, as well as being a move to reassure Canada’s Muslim minority.
Former governor of Maryland Martin O’Malley was the third democratic candidate in the race to win the party nomination for the Presidential Run. While his campaign faltered, leaving Bernie Sanders and Hilary Clinton in a two-horse race, his strong stand with America’s Muslims left a lasting impression on hearts and minds. While the Republican candidates were falling over each other to prove themselves as being the most effective force to operate against Islam in the U.S., O’Malley was literally and figuratively standing with the Muslim community in solidarity. He was the first presidential candidate to visit a mosque after the San Bernandino terrorist attack, telling the Muslim congregation there that, “[In] these times I suppose that where fear and division is in the air, it is easy for unscrupulous politicians, for hate preachers…to turn us upon ourselves…but that sort of language is not the language of America’s future…Together, in sha Allah, we shall overcome these challenges…my Muslim neighbours make America strong”. Bernie Sanders had visited a mosque earlier that year, while perhaps unsurprisingly, Hillary Clinton did not visit any mosques during her campaign.
Jordan Denari Duffner
Jordan Denari Duffner is a writer and speaker on interfaith dialogue, Muslim-Christian relations and Islamophobia. She has published articles in TIME, America, National Catholic Reporter, Commonweal, Sojourners, and the Huffington Post. A practicing Catholic, Jordan has spent time in the Middle East as both a student and a researcher. She is active on social media in defense of Islam and Muslims, bringing light to an often dark sphere of discussion. Her articles are just as impressive, displaying a deep understanding of the spirit of Islam and the biases impacting on Muslims in today’s discourse.