CFP AAA 2016: Western Muslims, the Common Good, and New Evidence of Civic Engagement

Call for Papers for the 115th Meeting of the American Anthropological Association, Nov 16-20, 2016 Minneapolis. Session Theme: Evidence, Accident, Discovery.

CFP AAA 2016 Panel: Western Muslims, the Common Good, and New Evidence of Civic Engagement

Organizer: Alisa Perkins (Western Michigan University)

Orientalist notions of an essentialized Muslim other gain currency by perpetually constructing new forms of “evidence” that something is wrong with Islam. Nativist strategies of exclusion based on these ideas capitalize on supposed incompatibilities between Islamic practice and “western” values to fuel vitriolic rhetoric, lending cultural sanction to new laws with grave implications for Muslim and non-Muslim citizens alike. These include laws restricting various religious practices, freedoms of expression, and freedoms of association. They also include new regulations authorizing the detainment and deportation of citizens based upon religious affiliation, and the normalization of surveillance regimes.

In light of deeply inured systems of stigmatizing knowledge production, this panel devotes itself to exploring how Muslims in North America and Europe creatively elaborate a new ethics of citizenship and new epistemologies of belonging through discursive, material, and practical means in a way that challenges the “us/them” divisions upheld by essentializing, nativist positions. By taking part in various social justice movements, civic engagement projects, community uplift initiatives, and knowledge-production and dissemination projects hinging around the idea of the “common good” (maslaha), Muslims change the tenor of conversations about belonging and inclusion, leading to new forms of discovery and appreciation for shared values and the will to act on these between Muslims and non-Muslims. Whether implicitly or explicitly engaged, the theologically-based maslaha concept has been articulated and elaborated in a variety of ways across different Muslim societies over time (e.g. the sulh-i kull, or “absolute civility” concept in Mughal-era India) to signal Islamic(ate) ideas about public welfare or regard for all. Maslaha-based projects, whether local, national, or international in scope, bring Muslims together around initiatives that seek to improve conditions of the larger society in ways that respectfully take into account the well being of Muslims and non-Muslims at the same time.

These efforts, and the ways in which they are represented, are especially important for the production of alternative narratives by and about Islam and Muslims in the West, given that countering Orientalist “knowledge” on its own terms has not constituted an effective strategy for Muslims to “prove” their humanity. Muslim leaders and ordinary citizens in Europe and North America are continually called upon to examine hollow and demeaning displays of “evidence” that purport to demonstrate an ontic correspondence between Islam and violence. Muslim leaders and others are urged to try and disprove this link via sound bites, using terms that the dominant society can understand. At the same time, they are expected to apologize for crimes as if these acts had anything to do with Islam as practiced by the overwhelming majority of Muslims. These contradictions result in fatigue and frustration. On the other hand, expressive, intellectual, and activist movements engaging the meeting place between belief, practice, and ethical engagement can revitalize and strengthen beleaguered populations.

Papers may engage the following questions, or related themes: How do local interfaith movements welcoming refugees and other immigrants create new interfaces between Muslim and non-Muslim citizens? How do Western Muslims work across racial and religious lines to fight against exclusionary laws? How do they draw upon their own experiences with unwarranted incrimination to fuel support for ethnicity or race-based movements such as Black Lives Matter? How have Muslim and non-Muslim women worked together to ensure rights to veil or have access to alternative arbitration that may offer them desired rights and protections available under various interpretations of Muslim family law? How does shared concern for schools and creating a moral environment for children lead Muslim and non-Muslim parents to seek each other out for mutual support? How do Western Muslims express ideas about the common good via creative means such as visual and performed art, literature, and music? How are acts of cooperation between Muslims and non-Muslims to enhance the common good represented at different scales, from tropes related in casual exchanges to images circulated in mainstream media? How may these new portrayals work to change local, national, and international dialogues about Muslims in Europe and North America?

Please send a 250-word abstract plus a title for your proposed presentation to by Friday, April 1, 2016. Please circulate widely.