“Ask A Muslim” is a new internet video series that “showcases the current face of Black Islam in America today.” With its light, upbeat tone, its soundtrack of soulful grooves, and perpetually smiling faces gleaming with professionally whitened teeth, it’s designed to present an easygoing, non-threatening setting in which Americans can get the reassuring truth about the Religion of Peace.™ Unfortunately, you won’t find straight answers here. Nor will you find, at least thus far in the series, enough of the most pointed questions that Americans who are legitimately alarmed about Islam truly want addressed. What you will find is a lot of obfuscation and condescension.
Produced by the Black Public Media Network, two episodes of the series have been released so far (the first is just under seven minutes, the second just under nine). It uses man-on-the-street-style questions directed to a recurring handful of black Muslim artists, writers, imams, and “cultural observers.” Random (presumably) individuals are filmed asking their questions with the world-famous LOVE sculpture in Philadelphia prominently displayed over the questioner’s shoulder.
Episode one eases viewers into the series with superficial questions about Muslim “otherness” like, “Why do Muslim people have gigantic, bushy beards?” and “Why do Muslim women cover themselves to varying degrees, even their faces?” To the latter question, Dr. Su’ad Abdul Khabeer, an assistant professor of Anthropology and African American Studies at Purdue, replies that Muslim dress for women is “about modesty, but it doesn’t prevent you from sort of expressing yourself personally or feeling beautiful.” Except in regions oppressed by sharia, where women express themselves and their physical beauty at risk of their lives. “Muslim women just wear the clothes that they wanna wear!” exclaims comedian Omar Regan. Try telling that to the morality police in Iran, who drag women off to jail for sporting western haircuts or jeans, or to the enforcers of the Committee for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice in Saudi Arabia. For that matter, try telling it to the victims of honor killings in America who simply wanted to be like their non-Muslim friends.
“What do real Muslims think about fake Muslims?” one young man asks in episode two. Huh? You get a shot at asking a “real Muslim” for the truth about Islam and that’s your question? In any case, the respondents ramble vaguely but pleasantly, eventually acknowledging that “fake Muslims make our religion look bad.” But without a definition of “fake,” this answer is meaningless. Next question.
“Why do people convert to Islam in jail?” Good question. Most of the respondents softpedal about people in jail having time for self-reflection and finding “fulfilling answers” in Islam. A couple of others surprisingly and correctly note that attaching oneself to the prison Muslim population helps ensure your protection there. Dr. Khabeer steers her answer toward black Americans who “find themselves incarcerated unjustly,” which would seem to have nothing to do with Islam per se. There’s no mention of the fact that Muslim prisoners now benefit from special dietary and other privileges, or that there is very purposeful, aggressive Muslim recruitment going on among violent criminals whose brutal anger can now be channeled against the infidel society whose illegitimate laws are not Allah’s laws.
Halfway through episode two, we come to a critical question: “What is sharia law?” Singer/actress Sumayya Ali smilingly replies, “Sharia law is a loaded word these days.” No kidding. Why might that be? Congressman Keith Ellison, a friend to the Muslim Brotherhood, vaguely suggests that people are scared unnecessarily because “some Muslims have promoted a false understanding of the idea.” He doesn’t specify whom or what’s false about it. “The purpose of it is just to promote human dignity, fairness, and justice.” Sounds great! Except that Islamic definitions of “human dignity, fairness, and justice” are not the same as western ones.