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The Case of Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf

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This lesson, drawing on the story of NBA basketball player Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf who refused to stand for the U.S. national anthem in 1996, gives participants the opportunity to hear diverse Muslim perspectives within a U.S. context.

Participants watch clips from By the Dawn’s Early Light, a documentary produced by Zareena Grewal. They learn that Abdul-Rauf received both derision and support from the public-at-large for his action, reflecting broader cultural contests about patriotism, race, and history. Abdul-Rauf shares how his experiences with race and wealth inequality, and managing Tourette Syndrome, paved the way to both Islam and activism.

Within the Muslim community in particular, Abdul-Rauf’s protest prompted a divisive debate about whether his refusal to stand for the anthem was “Islamic” or “un-Islamic.” The deeper inquiry sparked by the debate showed how race, ethnicity, and immigration played more significant roles in shaping Muslim reactions to Abdul-Rauf’s protest than Islamic law. This case study gives participants the opportunity to hear diverse Muslim perspectives within a U.S. context, challenging stereotypes of Muslims as foreign, monolithic, and un-American.

Muslims comprise one of the most diverse religious communities in the United States; no racial or ethnic group makes up more than 40 percent of the Muslim American community. However, this diversity does not inoculate Muslims from difficult conversations about what it means to be American. As participants write an interior monologue in the final part of the lesson, they are invited to think deeply about factors that shape individuals’ perspectives and reactions..

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