I’m Muslim, and I’m Tired of Proving My Humanity

BuzzFeed recently released a video that has racked up over 15 million views.

15 million views is a lot, it must be pretty interesting, right? Well…

The video consists of a few Americans listing things they like (rap music, Thanksgiving, dancing), and describing what they aren’t (angry, prejudiced, homophobic).

If you’re thinking this sounds pretty boring, I don’t blame you. But wait, here’s the catch, all the people in the video are MUSLIMS.

Suddenly, otherwise boring sentences transform into supposedly fascinating anecdotes.

On the surface, there’s nothing wrong with this video (except the corny music), as it’s just a quick glance into the lives of a small group of people.

But the entire video is predicated on the idea that, somehow, Muslims are different from other people, and the Muslims displayed defy the trend by actually being “normal.”

The people who made the video (and a series of others like it) are billing it as an attempt to defy stereotypes, so they would likely argue that they’re just responding to existing Islamophobic sentiment, with the theme of the video being no different than any other in the series.

They’re right, of course, but it doesn’t matter. This video functions in a different way than some of the other BuzzFeed videos (like the Christian one) because of the systemic oppression Muslims face in the United States, thus serving little purpose besides further demeaning Muslims. As such, the video has the exact opposite effect of its intention.

The video doesn’t dispel any stereotypes because the participants do very little to actually show why the stereotypes are wrong. Hypothetically, were the video a real face-to-face conversation, the Islamophobe would say, “Muslims are terrorists,” and the video participants would say, “Muslims aren’t terrorists.”

This sort of discourse is not going to change anyone’s mind, and more importantly, it’s not worth spending time on. There is no excuse for believing in these ignorant stereotypes, and there is no shortage of means to cure said belief. Muslims should stop wasting time defensively trying to prove their humanity to people who will never change their minds.

The video’s ineffectiveness at breaking stereotypes is largely because it attempts to find exceptions to the stereotype, instead of addressing the problematic nature of the stereotype at its core. For example, the video begins with a man proclaiming, “I’m Muslim, but I’m not angry!” Is it a stereotype that all Muslims are angry? Yes. Is the man an exception? Yes. But that’s not relevant here. What should instead be challenged is the idea that it’s wrong for Muslims to be angry, or that Muslims have no reason to be angry. I’m Muslim, I’m angry, and no one can tell me that’s unjustified.

Of course, despite the millions of views, this video on its own can’t shift the way Muslims talk about themselves and are discussed by others. So, if this video was unique, it wouldn’t be that much of an issue. Unfortunately, these sorts of videos and arguments have permeated the way many Muslims engage with non-Muslims over the years.

For example, when I was in Quebec in 2014, segments of the population were trying to prevent public employees from wearing religious symbols, which would directly affect women who wore headscarves. Many of the arguments from Muslims against the ban sounded something like, “We’re just like you! We watch the Montreal Canadiens and eat poutine! Don’t fear us!”

I don’t doubt these people were being sincere, but an argument for equality should not depend on conforming to aspects of the society in which that equality is sought. This video, in effect, if not in purpose, makes the same mistake, and it’s damaging because it leaves many Muslims, who don’t fit in as nicely, out of the conversation.

As an Italian Muslim, I recognize my own privilege in making this argument. I don’t have to deal with the same level of suspicion that racialized Muslims face, and so I’ll never fully understand what makes people succumb to feeling like they must prove their humanity to others.

Regardless, my argument is not intended as a condemnation of the individual Muslims in the video. Rather, it’s a call to stop engaging in these base level debates intended to prove to a hostile audience that we aren’t monsters and instead focus on crafting our own narrative that can address the serious issues we face.

  • Most Viewed This Week on TIM

  • Latest comments on TIM

  • About the autor
    Davide Mastracci

    Davide Mastracci is an associate editor at The Islamic Monthly. He has contributed to a range of publications including Al Jazeera America, AlterNet, Electronic Intifada and The Globe and Mail. He can be found on Twitter @DavideMastracci.

    Latest at tim

    See our Current issue

    Join our Newsletter

    Enter your e-mail address below to receive periodic updates from The Islamic Monthly.

  • Follow us on

    • O. Locke

      “systemic oppression”

      – this is ridiculous on its face. Shame on the author for
      writing it.

      “This sort of discourse is not going to change anyone’s mind,
      and more importantly, it’s not worth spending time on. There is no excuse for
      believing in these ignorant stereotypes”

      – It is worth spending time on. There are gay muslims,
      muslims that follow none of the five pillars, muslims that eat pork, drink
      beer, and have sex outside marriage. SOME muslims are normal people. just
      because they won’t subscribe to your dogmatic ideas doesn’t mean they shouldn’t
      attempt to live their chosen narrative. This author is a disgusting bigot!

      What should instead be challenged is the idea that it’s wrong
      for Muslims to be angry, or that Muslims have no reason to be angry. I’m
      Muslim, I’m angry, and no one can tell me that’s unjustified.

      -muslims in the west have absolutely NO reason to be “angry”
      about anything. If muslims aren’t gloating about 9/11, then theyre playing the
      victim card like this author just did. It’s sickening!

      “a call to stop engaging in these base level debates intended
      to prove to a hostile audience that we aren’t monsters”

      -and here is the choice. Debate and tell the rest of the 5
      billion people on this planet where you stand or face confrontation with us. we
      will not be practicing your death cult. We will live, engage, in some cases
      care, and love you but we will not live under the yolk of your man made
      religion. LIVE WITH THAT.

      Or don’t and be a monster and be precisely what you say you’re

      • Observer1337

        You are such an idiot. People like you are a cancer to the Earth.

        It’s not ridiculous on it’s farce because it statistically proven that Muslims are at a disadvantage systemically due to the factors stemming from their ‘Islamness’.

        Those Muslims are poor Muslims. There is not bigotry. Why focus on the exceptiln when you won’t accept the majority?

        We have absolutely every reason to be angry. The Ummah is One Body and we will feel the pain for our Muslim brothers and sisters facing the oppression of the West and other nations across the globe. Not to mention the bullshit that Muslims have been facing for the last decade or so from both the media and government.

        “We will not be practising your death cult”… You are an absolute idiot with as much bigotry to match your lack of intellect.

        Sincerely, one justified angrily muslim.

        • O. Locke

          look, pal.

          not only do muslims have nothing to be angry about. the rest of the planet has everything to be angry at THEM about.

          I can only guess it was your humanity, nay! It was your “islamness” that allowed you to verbally abuse me because you disagree with my comment!? people in the west have a say when you impose your ridiculous religion on them. no one ever flew to heaven on a winged horse.

          muslims in the west have already reformed islam. they don’t follow any of the five pillars (not formally or religiously), they eat pork, and they live regular lives. some of them are even gay. you don’t get to impose on them.

          there is not “one ummah”. there are people who call themselves muslim that don’t venerate a pederast. you’re going to have to learn to live with those facts and then you won’t be so angry, pal.

          thanks for your input and allowing me to educate you, pal.

          • Samir Kabir

            and you get your information where?

            • O. Locke

              what does that matter.

              facts are facts.

              thanks for the question and the attempt to de-legitimize my comment, pal.

        • Helmholtz Wattson

          Dude, Saudi Arabia and Iran would love a cutie like you: brainwashed and sensitive … have a good trip.

    • Helmholtz Wattson

      I am tired of hearing regular people and academics talking about this religion as a religion of peace, etc, etc, etc … I want to hear from the Ayatollahs, Sheiks, Emirs, all Clerics … for Holymen, gosh, they are the troublemakers of Islam … Yet, the believers are afraid of going to the Mosque, dragging this guys asses out in front of the camera, time and time again, and have them hand out FATWAHS ( a la Rushdie) to all the murderers on YouTube and across the Web … There’s my challenge for you !!!

      • Firham Abdat

        And I’m tired of people like you acting like scholars of Islam haven’t clarify what Islam is and what Islam isn’t. And I’m tired of people like you who despite access to knowledge about Islam still manage to remain ignorant about it. Tell me this – have you actually ever read any of the authoritative explanation of the Quran ? If you can’t find a bookshop near you which sells one, you can actually read it online. This is my challenge to you. Ignorance in a time of information is not an excuse.