“Every time we make assumptions about what other people feel, do or think, we imprison them and us in a separate reality. When we believe in those assumptions and act accordingly, this separate reality becomes an existential torture chamber for them and ultimately for us. All the terror and pain that we experience or see in the world is the result of our assumptions. Assumptions are the greatest crime in human consciousness. Hence let’s start to create an assumption-free world.”
― Franco Santoro
Limiting Liberty: The Recurring Collision of Free Speech and Religion
For more than a decade, I have been a public speaker and author who’s written for the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Engage Minnesota, MinnPost, and Counterpunch, and others, as well as serving as a community columnist for the Pioneer Press and community blogger for the Star Tribune. Facts and commentary have their place, and I remain interested in the issues that have always animated my work: the effects of racism, gender discrimination, sexual harassment, and oppression. But I want to move beyond socio-political explanations and take my work in a more artful, creative direction.
I am particularly interested in re-telling the stories of the prophets from a Muslim perspective. I don’t want to re-tell these stories in order to highlight legal points or fatwas or religious edicts but to show the prophets as fully dimensional people who interacted with others and ultimately nurtured growth in their families and societies. These human and humane stories bypass rationalizations and stereotypes, speaking to the heart and helping us to re-see our ideas about love, projection, truth, loyalty, wisdom, guidance, gratitude, repentance and many other aspects of our shared humanity.
Stories, after all, can be shared and enjoyed across cultures in a way that facts cannot. I want to craft the prophets’ stories into a complex, multilayered art. Instead of framing stories about the prophets that are about the rules and laws of religion, I want these tales to be about understanding, connectivity, and self-knowledge. The Muslim prophets have mostly been looked at in a negative, controlling way. I want to change that view, to present them in a nurturing, empathetic light, and to bring the reader closer to their lives.
The stories of Adam, from the Qur’an and beyond, can help us ask questions about repentance and forgiveness. The prophet Abraham, for his part, sheds light on what we mean when we talk about “truth,” while Moses’s stories raise questions about power and oppression. The Qur’anic stories about Solomon and David help us think through the nature of gratitude, and Joseph’s stories raise important issues about sexual harassment, projection, and love.
Generally, we don’t look to the Qur’an—or the lives of the prophets—when we think about the contemporary-feeling issue of sexual harassment. But I want to bring these prophets into the contemporary world, and to let them shed their light, and their questions, on concepts such as a woman’s autonomy and her right to refuse a man. I intend to highlight the prophets’ stories in a way that doesn’t belittle readers, or make us feel we’re not good enough, but rather helps us move into our autonomy and independence.
Although these stories are important, they aren’t meant to be easy or inspirational in any straightforward way. As Prof. Benjamin Bratton discussed in his talk, “What’s Wrong with TED Talks,” a placebo politics can work much like placebo medicine. Inspiration, hope, and positive thinking can make us feel good in the moment. But true transformation is about facing the hard stuff, which is something we can do through stories that raise questions instead of giving easy answers.
By sharing stories of prophets in an interconnected way, I hope to illuminate the core of faith, which is mercy, compassion, and coexistence. To do this, all the stories of the prophets must fit together, helping us see ourselves afresh, layer by layer.
As a writer, it’s hard when you’re doing something about which you feel passionately, but you don’t have a community of writers who are also passionate. If you do, you can energize each other as you walk down similar paths.
In the short term, the writings will be mainly by myself, Fedwa Wazwaz.
In the long term, I hope to turn this project into a think tank fostering scholarly research for the intellectual development of the Muslim American experience. At this point in time, Engage Minnesota will only invite people as guest writers to submit articles or share their views.
Long-term, Engage Minnesota hopes to function as a literary platform for Muslim Americans living in Minnesota. One of our primary focuses is geared to countering Islamophobia by featuring the productive lives and works of Muslim Americans shaping their communities.
Muslims are portrayed disproportionately in the media by trends that encourage susceptibility to extremism. At Engage Minnesota, I hope to share narratives that establish our shared communal interconnectivity in ways where Muslim Americans can contribute cultural enrichment to the American experience.
Areas of Focus:
• Facilitation of Lectures
• Publication of Stories of Muslim Americans
• Organization of Campaigns against Extremism & Islamophobia
• Development of Muslim American Literature
• Furtherance of Communal Literacy Programs for Muslim Americans