Author: slatif1213

Counter-Appropriation: A Precondition to Muslim Autonomy and Power

Recently, there was an event in which two male panelists discussed the question: Do Muslim women need feminism?

Muslim women all over social media were naturally outraged. How dare men say what women need or don’t need? Of course Muslim women need feminism! Debating this is like debating whether “fish need water!” This is just another misogynist attempt to maintain control over women.

feminism

I am by no means endorsing the event but I would like to play devil’s advocate for a minute. The question “does Islam need feminism” on its own reveals an important assumption about Islam. Most Muslims believe that Islam is not simply a religion, culture, or tradition. Rather, it is an all-encompassing, totalizing, meaningful way of life. It is perfect and timeless and will always satiate and fulfill human beings, regardless of context. If we say that Islam needs X (read: feminism), then we are implying that Islam is deficient, lacking, and incomplete. We are saying Islam is unable to better the lives of women on its own unless we ascribe to it a project and ideology that originated totally outside the realm of Islam.

This is understandably disconcerting and problematic for many Muslims, both men and women.

Feminism has been implicated and entangled in White colonial and imperialist history. A derivative of the enlightenment project, Western feminism has devastated and destroyed the lives of Muslim women through military might and violence. It has radically disturbed the indigenous Islamic system of checks and balances that made “the status of women in premodern Islam comprehensible and in fact impressive when compared to any contemporaneous legal and cultural system, especially the European.”

As a response to this, postcolonial and Third World Feminisms, like Islamic feminism arose to do away with the imperialism, ethnocentrism, and racism inherent to these feminist projects.

But this still does not change the fact that feminism originated in and was brought about by an environment radically different from that of Islam. European history and its historical treatment of women is not the same as Islamic history and its historical treatment of women.

Most importantly, postcolonial feminisms do not change the fact that when we say “Islamic feminism” or “feminist Islam,” we are essentially saying that Islam is deficient and imperfect unless we attach a foreign object to it.

Thus, in my opinion, a more productive approach and a necessary means to developing Muslim autonomy and power is to counter-appropriate. What I mean by this is that rather than throwing the baby out with the bathwater, we ought to identify the positive aspects of feminism (being very careful with what values and ideals we select) and then appropriate those elements for ourselves. As S. Sayyid advocates in his thought-provoking new book, Recalling the Caliphate: Decolonization and World Order, we should not seek to reject those elements that the “West” considers beneficial, but rather we should “radically reject the association between those elements and Western identity.” In other words, we need to dislocate those ideas and values in feminism that might be beneficial to Muslim women and then claim those things for ourselves. Just as the “West” appropriates from us, we need to counter-appropriate such that we reach a point where the term Islam, by itself, will be inextricably associated with women’s rights, education, and scholarship; such that when someone says “Islam”, one will immediately think, “oh that religion that is all about women’s empowerment.”

Like those two male speakers who – their problematic views aside – might have felt discomfort at the absurd idea of Islam being in need of feminism, I too, feel discomfort. I am uneasy with the popular idea amongst many Muslim women today that Islam cannot fulfill them without feminism.

Muslims would do well to think beyond mere platitudes and reflexive postures that propagate the colonial image of a disempowered and deficient Islam and instead, work towards a decolonial project in which Islam, and nothing else, is the blueprint for justice and equality.

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Muslim Celebrity Scholars

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This article was originally published at: http://www.theislamicmonthly.com/celebrity-scholars/

Today, a new set of Muslim scholars have emerged—on the red carpet. They are decorated in traditional pious garb: long flowing gowns and trendsetting scarves. They stride elegantly down the crimson walkway where they are met by follower-fans who eagerly praise and lionize them. In this Hollywood reality, celebrity scholars are exalted for their religious knowledge.

In his account of America’s first Muslim college Scott Korb observes that “celebrity follows knowledge in American Islam.” Korb is surprised by Muslim students’ fervent veneration of their religious teachers. In Islam sacred knowledge demands reverence, a concept best reflected in one’s adab or respectful comportment towards his or her teacher. Here, however, Korb hits on the more peculiar phenomenon of Muslim celebrity culture.

This culture is most prevalent in the social media realm where Muslim scholars maintain carefully crafted public profiles on sites like Facebook and Twitter. These scholars diligently offer 140-character smidgens of religious wisdom. They also post personal anecdotes, self-help advice, and the occasional political grievance. Sometimes, they even share scholarly “selfies,” oblivious to the narcissism inherent in such a practice. Although many of their posts are vague, if not shallow in nature, thousands of followers evince gushing admiration through “likes,” “favorites,” and “retweets.” The lionization of scholars for their down-to-earth religious swag is reminiscent of the devotion of millions of followers to popular personalities like Oprah or the Kardashians. The game is the same. The names are different.

A troubling symptom of this increasing online phenomenon is the perpetuation of an identity politics. “My shaykh is better than your shaykh” is the motto in contemporary American Islam. Many celebrity scholars hail from different popular Islamic institutions like AlMaghrib, Bayyinah, Zaytuna, and SeekersGuidance. Posting in tandem with their institutions, these scholars act as plugs for their specific brand of Islam. Muslims, in turn, identify themselves with one or more of these institutions. They adopt their ideologies and characteristics. A wholly modern form of identity is fashioned characterized by one’s dogmatic attachment to his or her own Muslim camp. Critical thinking and engagement fall out the window as each Muslim camp claims monopoly over the “true” meaning of Islam. We would do well to heed the warning of Shabbir Akhtar, who wisely states that dogmatism in any camp is the common enemy.

In my use of dogmatism, I am not referring to the notion of submitting to authority and the precedent of the past. There is a significant place for this in our tradition. Rather, I am speaking of a “servile conformism,” a specific form of dogmatism that even al-Ghazali criticized during his time, which is anti-intellectual and overtly ideological rather than truth-seeking.

Perhaps one of the biggest threats celebrity scholar culture poses to the Muslim community is a dramatic rise in anti-intellectualism. Scholars peddling a feel-good Islam post short cookie-cutter comments on religious matters (see Fig. 1). Instead of reading a book, followers can learn all they need to know about Islam by merely scrolling through a string of instructive “tweets.” In reality, no actual learning takes place. The unique engagement one has with a book invites one into a unique dialogue with the author. It inspires critical thinking skills and sustained learning. This is radically different from reading a brief “tweet” or Facebook post, which are more often than not, simplistic fleeting thoughts. These Islamic sound bites in no way sufficiently explain complex religious issues that scholars of the past discussed over the course of centuries.

Even more unsettling is the fact that social media induces a strange form of complacency within Muslim religiosity. A scholar may request a du’a for a specific occasion, but rather than immediately dropping technology to make supplication, Muslims hasten to “like,” or “favorite” the post. By acknowledging a scholar’s pious comment, Muslims feel they have completed their religious duty for the day (though they’ve failed to make the journey from the computer screen to the prayer mat).

This same culture of complacency characterizes celebrity scholars’ social and political posts. To take a more recent example, the Boko Haram scandal produced no shortage of scholars joining the hashtag #BringBackOurGirls campaign. Though they were certainly well-intentioned, their posts were ineffective insofar as they merely accumulated a few hundred “likes” and did not in any way galvanize practical action. It seems that Muslim scholars simply wanted to show the world that they too were aware of an issue that everyone else was talking about. In condemning the Boko Haram, they felt they’d made a difference. This is emblematic of a larger online phenomenon wherein everyone shows solidarity for one single issue (one they were probably ignorant of before) and subsequently feels satiated by their noble social activism. Celebrity scholars and follower-fans must challenge the superficial satisfaction gained by the click of a button in both religious and sociopolitical matters. Instead, scholars can use international events to comment on related taboo issues in their own communities.

Diving deeper into the psychology, it would not be absurd to suggest that online followership may lead to toxic levels of self-conceit. In his blog “Muslimology,” Dawud Israel questions the febrile adulation of religious scholars. After Muslim followers heap piles of praise on their shuyukh after a khutba, Dawud wonders, “Who wouldn’t go on an ego trip?” It is no different in the social media world where Muslims engage in unrelenting flattery of their scholars’ posts and pictures. Are scholars immune to inordinate dosages of flattery? It may well be that none of us are. Promotion of the self is not a regrettable byproduct of social media, it is inherent to the institution itself! We seek validation and praise by publicizing our lives, careers, goals, interests, and talents. We all teeter on the brink of hubris. Should scholars be held to a different standard?

On a flight to San Francisco I ran into Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, arguably one of the most influential Muslim scholars in the West. In a classy black suit and round horn-rimmed glasses, he addressed the flight attendant with an air of gravitas. Resisting the pestilent urge to pull out my phone and Snapchat him, I asked for his thoughts on Muslim celebrity scholar culture. Yusuf had an overall pessimistic outlook on social media. “People tell me to get a Twitter,” he said, “but you know I won’t do it.” While skeptical of the intellectually nullifying reality of social media including the concept of blogging, Yusuf took a conciliatory tone. He conceded that at least Muslims were following religious scholars instead of frivolous famous personalities. “It’s human nature,” he admitted, “to follow who you love.”

It’s true. We love our Muslim scholars so much so that we jump at the first chance to follow their lives; and they indubitably mean well in their efforts to reach and relate to a tech-savvy generation. But we must question the psychological and sociological impact of this culture on our collective Muslim ethos. Out of this very human and sincere love, celebrity scholars and follower-fans must ask themselves these hard-hitting questions.

The Carriers

The souq was noisy and bustling. Sultry, sweltering, sun-stained women picked at gorging produce stands. Bananas. Mangoes. Guavas. Tomatoes. Potatoes. Zucchini.

It was her first time in a souq. She was a Foreigner. More like an interloper. An alien. As her image reflected in the people’s eyes told her. Confusion coupled with curiosity said their eyes. But she skipped to the beat of the bustle in the souq. She blended in as best she could. Their eyes followed her.

A bag of onions in one hand and a bag of tomatoes in the other. She balanced her scales like a seesaw. She wobbled through the streets teetering to this side then that. Women shoved passed the Foreigner. Nudging her into conical, knobby eggplants. Little shayal clamored to catch her bags.

These were little Carriers. Young boys tall and short, skinny and plump, ranging the various stages of boyhood. They worked in the souq. They picked fruits and vegetables, secured them in bags, placed them on their trolleys, and shuffled everything back to your house for a paltry sum. Little helpers, little elves working all day in the sun. Working and playing because for them, the two were interchangeable.

Poor miskeen little creatures she thought. Yes she would take one. The first to have caught her bags and her eye was a small prepubescent boy with a face caked in dirt. He had a red snub nose that sat squarely in the center of his baby face. His eyes. Emerald. Peeked through a forest of dark lashes. Yes. He would be her little Carrier.

The little Carrier took orders from the big Foreigner. He packed each plastic bag with its designated plant and stacked them high on his rusted steely trolley. He pushed his cart, weaving in and out unnoticed between legs of people. Like a mouse. Soon the mountain on his trolley towered over him. Another older Carrier took advantage. Kicked him in the gut and tried to commandeer his trolley. The boys struggled and wrestled as boys do.

“Stop it!” yelled the Foreigner in foreign Arabic. People stared with their ears. Both boys fell silent and straight, heads lowered in obeisance. Older Carrier gave little Carrier a residual pinch to the shoulder before scuttling away.

Little Carrier gathered an ample two week supply of fruits and vegetables. He finished, tying a sack of grapes and placing it atop the leaning tower of pisa. Yalla. Time to go. The Foreigner led her little Carrier down a narrow, winding street past tall, peeling buildings.

He lagged behind her tripping on the ends of his oversized pants. He labored under the weight of his trolley. Prodding and pushing, he pleaded with the produce. Don’t fall. She could see his exasperation float into the air like clouds above her head. Perhaps she should help him.

Why didn’t they push the trolley together in unison? It was much too cumbersome for a boy no older than six. He puffed out his chest and told her he was nine. He declined the help. Afraid she would reduce his pay.

She ignored his puerile pride and dispelled his fears. Let’s play a game. Let’s push the trolley together as fast as we can. Little Carrier forgot he was at work. Slid seamlessly into play. They pushed the bulky cart down the bumpy road, slowly gaining momentum. Faster and faster they ran, trolley first. Scarcely avoiding potholes. Taxis screamed their horns at them. They paid no mind. The wind lifted and rushed past their ears. The fruits and vegetables quivered inside their bags. Almost falling. Run. Run. Run. The Foreigner and her little Carrier ran. Onlookers cheered or shook their heads disapprovingly.

Suddenly stop. Back to reality. Her apartment building loomed overhead. The bawab stood puzzled by the entrance.

Little Carrier looked down at the ground expectantly. The Foreigner wanted to give him her wallet. Her entire purse. She wanted to give him her heart as a mother would her son. She wanted to clean him up and take him to school. Read him bedtime stories at night.

She reached into the cave of her bag and pulled out an appropriate sum. Then she added a little more. She instructed him to buy a coke. A bag of chipsy. Some helwayat.

He looked at her like she was stupid. A smile flashed across his face revealing two missing front teeth. He took the money. Sauntered down the road. Turned around the corner, trolley in tow.

An Empire in Decline

In their book, Days of Destruction Days of Revolt, Chris Hedges and Joe Sacco take us to the streets of America where they explore the gruesome realities of an empire in decline. Poverty and its concomitant perverse friends—criminality, drugs, violence, and death—run rampant in places like Pine Ridge, South Dakota and Camden, New Jersey. These are some of the nation’s “sacrifice zones” where human life and the environment have been offered up as fodder for the corporate marketplace.

Like a genuine belief in divinity, precious democratic values are becoming hallmarks of a bygone golden age. Corporate forces rule without precedent, wielding a disproportionate amount of power, wealth, and influence over how society is run and culture is shaped. The objective of the corporate state is self-serving: make as much profit as you can as fast as you can. Everything and everyone is commodified for the maximization of profit. The result is lives of meaninglessness, despair, and destruction. This will continue, Hedges argues, until systemic collapse. Our only option as a people is to mobilize and exercise our sacred right of dissent.

But is civil disobedience the only solution to corporate corruption or can we work within the system?

The trite argument I hear from American Muslims is: if you’re not at the dinner table, then you’re on the menu. In other words, if you’re not actively participating in shaping public policy, then you risk falling prey to the dominant political agenda. But what if the dinner guests—with their fancy tailored suits and politically correct pleasantries—make for fruitless conversation? What if due to my dietary restrictions I can’t consume what’s on the menu? What if I’d rather eat with my hands than use eating utensils? What if—you guessed it—the entire dinner party is a farce?

If the dinner party is ultimately futile, then we must assume that the system we had hoped to work within is dead. In fact, the system perished a long time ago when our political leaders succumbed to the demands of Wall Street, the fossil fuel industry, the military-industrial complex and the security and surveillance state. Signs of rigor mortis continue to emerge as with the recent ruling in the case of McCutcheon v. Federal Election Commission. This Supreme Court decision effectively allows for corporate powers to make vast campaign contributions to federal candidates and political parties. Now a wealthy few (.000042 percent to be exact) dictate policy to the detriment of the American citizenry.

American Muslims would do well to question the powers that be. This starts with questioning more than just the corporate state, itself a symptom of a greater pathology: the onslaught of secular-modernity. Liberal secular forces that have relegated moral religious values to “a recognisable ghetto for traditional religion” prop up the oligarchic structures we see today. American Muslims seeking to cultivate an indigenous Islam in America need to seriously question the health of this country because, whether we like it or not, our future is inextricably wrapped up in the future of the West. Thus, the larger and most apt question we need to be asking ourselves is the Qur’anic one:

فأين تذهبون؟

Where then are you going?

A’isha bint Abi-Bakr: A Legacy Partially Told

Tradition has it that once the Prophet Muhammad had intended to marry a beautiful tribal woman. A’isha along with Hafsa prepared the bride for her wedding night, combing her hair and reddening her hands with henna. A’isha was consumed with jealousy. Her beloved husband was about to marry another woman, whose beauty threatened her intimate and privileged connection with him. Thus, A’isha hatched a plan to sabotage the marriage. She advised the unknowing bride to proclaim, “I seek refuge with God from thee,” on her wedding night. This, A’isha explained, would win the Prophet’s favor.

When the Prophet approached his new bride to consummate the marriage, she quickly uttered this formula of refuge, but to her surprise, the Prophet turned away. He interpreted her words as request for divorce. The next morning she was quietly sent back to her tribe.

This anecdote captures more than just the domestic intrigues of the Prophet’s wives. It demonstrates the relevance of A’isha, Mother of the Believers, for all ages. A’isha, although a woman of unparalleled piety, was not above the jealous vagaries of the human heart. Neither was she submissive to the customs of her time like polygamy which she often struggled to accept. Of all her co-wives, A’isha is arguably the most fascinating to the modern mind for she fails to fit the popular Western caricature of the docile Muslim wife. Her various interests spanned the domestic, social, political, and religious realms. She was a wife, mother, friend, teacher, politician, and military leader.

This portrait of A’isha’s complex and colorful nature, however, is strikingly different from the one consistently painted by contemporary Islamic piety. Today A’isha is known only in relation to the great men in her life—her father, Abu Bakr, and her husband, the Prophet Muhammad. In a recent online video Shaykh Omar Suleiman attempts to deliver a 14-minute account of A’isha’s life. Unsurprisingly, he ends A’isha’s saga with the iconic story of the Prophet’s head in her lap, breathing his last. Though A’isha outlived the Prophet by 46 years—indeed she lived more than half of her life without her husband—Suleiman makes no mention of her activities during this time. We only know she was a wellspring of hadith, transmitting over 2,210 narrations. So what else did A’isha do besides narrate hadith?

The Prophet is reported to have said, “Draw a part of your religion from little al-humayra.Al-humayra or “the radiant one” was the Prophet’s pet name for A’isha, given to her because of her fair skin. The Prophet never specified which segment of A’isha’s life was worth learning. That said, selectively remembering her life to omit her human frailties does little al-humayra a grave disservice.

After the Prophet’s death and her father’s two years later, A’isha saw to the financial affairs of her family. She narrated hadith and disputed other companions on their narrations. Her contribution as a source of prophetic knowledge was so great that the 14th century scholar, Imam Zarkashi, decided to devote an entire book to her hadith criticism. His book, aptly titled Collection of A’isha’s Corrections to the Statements of the Companions, explored the points on which she disagreed with religious scholars of her time.

A’isha was witty and articulate and used these talents to further her goals. She was an outspoken social critic: when she observed the third caliph of Islam, ‘Uthman ibn ‘Affan, appointing corrupt family members to public office, she took to the streets, brandishing the Prophet’s sandal and reproaching ‘Uthman for his misconduct so soon after the Prophet’s death. Her move was politically astute and awakened a beleaguered population to rebellion. A’isha bypassed the sedition by going on the pilgrimage to Mecca. ‘Uthman is known to have said of her before his death, “And Qais set the country afire against me, and then, when it was ablaze, he ran away.”

A’isha would go on to challenge the fourth caliph’s claim to power in the infamous Battle of the Camel. Here she played a central role not only as political agitator but also as shrewd military leader soliciting political alliances in her cause against ‘Ali ibn Abi Talib. She rode her camel in the thick of battle screaming customary war cries and inspiring her men to acts of bravery. At last A’isha’s camel was shot down; she had lost the war. ‘Ali gallantly strove to help her from her mount and offer her reprieve.

Some of these stories are buried under heaps of Sunni shame. To disinter them, to hold them up to the light for reflection and even closure, is to stir the pot of controversy. But A’isha, best beloved of the Prophet, demands we look at her whole life, from her mundane jealousies to her political engagements. Her tale is one of imperfections and strength of character—a tale perhaps we can all relate to. Most importantly, her tale is one of profound piety and love for God and His Prophet. Indeed A’isha spent the remainder of her days teaching the men and women of Islam the Prophet’s sunnah.

On her deathbed, fearful as anyone might be of their impending fate, she mournfully wished she had been, “a grass, a leaf, a tree, a stone, a clump of mud…not a thing remembered.” Unfortunately for A’isha, this was at least one request God would not grant. Her memory is firmly anchored in popular Muslim imagination. Even as politics blot out specific scenes of her life, her complete legacy persists intact for those who dare to submerge themselves in her sea of stories.

*For more detailed accounts on the life of A’isha including her romantic history with the Prophet and her camaraderie with her co-wives, see Nabia Abbott, Aisha: The Beloved of Mohammed. Also see Fatima Mernissi, The Veil and the Male Elite: A Feminist Interpretation of Women’s Rights in Islam and Barbara Stowasser, Women in the Quran, Traditions, and Interpretation.

**I do not attach the honorifics sallallahu ‘alayhi wasallam and radi allahu ‘anha/hu/hum for continuity in reading. I hope Muslim readers will say the appropriate titles of respect.

Is Yasmin Mogahed a Sexist?

In a recent article, a blogger by the pseudonym “Muslim Feminist” takes Yasmin Mogahed to task by exposing the subtle “sexism” in her online personality. “Muslim Feminist” claims that Mogahed deliberately reposted a “sexist” joke and wrote an article with a hidden “sexist” agenda — all of which provides ample ammunition to pierce the religious leader’s moral credibility.

“Muslim Feminist” is not off the mark in suggesting that a Muslim woman can promote gender inequality. Any person, regardless of sexual and religious orientation, can be a sexist. I would hesitate, however, to accuse Yasmin Mogahed of willfully propagating underlying sexist messages and religious beliefs. Labelling her work as “sexist” fails to comprehend Mogahed’s complex sensibilities and attachments that make up her worldview.

Mogahed would be regarded by many in the Muslim community as a da`iya or religious teacher who is either self-taught or has received some formal training. She instructs both women and men on proper Islamic conduct and urges them to greater piety. Her “self-help” book and articles are laced throughout with exhortations to developing a primary relationship with God.

The internal critique by “Muslim Feminist” is necessary. Religious public figures are not exempt from criticism as they engage the public discourse. In fact, they may be subjected to an even higher standard of scrutiny given their claim to religious authority. Constructive and meaningful criticism however, does not overshadow a person’s good works. Popular academic critique tends to entirely obliterate a person by exposing errors in a way that permanently taints the bulk of his or her work. This genre of critique dangerously impels us to forget the truth and good in another’s labor. What I mean to say is: Mogahed may have posted an indiscreet joke but by no means should this color her integrity as a Muslim woman role model and mentor.

In Mogahed’s view, traditional gender roles do not indicate inequality. Women and men are celebrated for their uniqueness. She criticizes women who emulate men in superficial ways like physical appearance and behavior. Notice she never says that women shouldn’t participate in the public sphere and pursue careers in politics, education, finance, and healthcare, etc. I highly doubt whether Mogahed, who spends much of her time empowering and uplifting Muslim women, would advocate less rights for her own sex. Moreover, some Muslim men are uncomfortable with Mogahed’s emergence in the public spotlight. Their particular religious view maintains that women should remain within the confines and seclusion of their own home. Mogahed disregards these religious gender boundaries, contradicting her supposed sexist ideology.

My point however, is not to ascertain Mogahed’s level of feminism. Mogahed appears to derive her gender notions from a deep sense of religious belief wherein women are equal, but not similar to men. Her rhetoric might appear outwardly inimical to our own ideals and values but a closer look reveals a similar desire for liberation and empowerment. This demands we show reluctance in labeling her with incisive antifeminist terms, lest we run the risk of projecting our own ideas and misinterpreting her intentions and sensibilities. In other words, this warrants an act of humility on our part.

Saba Mahmood, while researching the women’s mosque movement in Egypt, arrived at a similar conclusion. She eloquently writes:

“Rather what I mean to gesture at is a mode of encountering the Other which does not assume that in the process of culturally translating other lifeworlds one’s own certainty about how the world should process can remain stable. This attitude requires the virtue of humility: a sense that one does not always know what one opposes…”

After immersing herself within the rich and multilayered lives of Egyptian women, Mahmood was able to dismantle her own subjectivities. She recognized a religious force incapable of being translated into limiting definitions. There is a strong reflex in feminist discourses to mock a worldview like Mogahed’s. We consider it backwards and outmoded. We project our own assumptions which prevent us from critically engaging a work on its own merit.

I believe as Muslims first and foremost, we should exercise a degree of caution in deconstructing another’s worldview. We should critique with the hefty realization that we are not always experts in what we purport to know. This requires that we objectively interrogate our own assumptions and then proceed with circumspect and nuanced arguments. Our goal is not to obliterate a person nor is it to tiptoe nicely around his or her obvious errors in judgment. Rather, it is to modestly impart a balanced critique, always mindful of the sacred trope, “And Allah knows best.”

Diversity for Profit: Coca-Cola’s Super Bowl Ad

The recent Coca-Cola Super Bowl ad spawned a deluge of tweets, Facebook comments, and articles expressing both praise and outrage. The short one-minute ad features people of multiple backgrounds and apparent religious affiliations singing “America the Beautiful” in different languages. There are people of all colors. There are yarmulkes. There are also hijabs.

Now I’m not here to talk about the bigots. Should we really be shocked that racist retrogrades and right-wing pundits are uncomfortable watching this commercial when it aggravates their white homogenous perception of American language and culture? No we shouldn’t.

What should surprise us are those who laud Coca-Cola and its proclaimed ingenuous attempt to portray America’s rich diversity. Coco-Cola’s appropriation of diversity as a prop for corporate sales is an affront to the hard work, pain, and suffering of minority and immigrant groups in this country. Coca-Cola is a multibillion dollar corporate giant that like most massive conglomerates has contributed to critical health issues and ruthless environmental devastation. It has also employed unfair labor practices. We must remember that for corporations humanity is a mere detour on the roadmap to unlimited profits.

Adding insult to injury, Coca-Cola feasts on our naiveté to skyrocket corporate sales. No doubt, this advertisement works as a clever marketing scheme. It dips the company in the limelight just long enough to increase profit. Does this mean we should give Coca-Cola a pat on the back for using the songs of patriotism to make a mockery of our nation’s waning beauty? More importantly, do we really need Coca-Cola to tell us how diverse we are and legitimize our “Americanness”?

Here, I turn my attention, particularly, to my fellow Muslims. A couple of hijabis appear in a national Coca-Cola advertisement and suddenly we’re applauding the beverage company for representing us? Perhaps the advertisement dismantles stereotypes by presenting us Muslims as unequivocally American. Perhaps we feel a little triumphant by finally being accepted into a society and culture we belong to and identify with.

But we seem to be missing the larger point.

Impeded by our own insecurities, we have trouble understanding how problematic it is to feel valorized by a corporate company that, let’s be honest, goes against the grain of our Islamic ethics and values. In 2013, Gap featured a Sikh model in its “Make Love” holiday ad campaign. Many members of the South Asian community beamed with pride at having a Sikh man’s face plastered on billboards throughout the U.S. It seems we, as minority groups, look to multicultural marketing techniques as the benchmark for our arrival into society and in so doing, we divest our inherent beliefs and values of meaning.  

I don’t intend to underestimate the effect mainstream media can have in confronting racism and intolerance. But we don’t need capitalist corporations like Coca-Cola to recognize or reinforce our Muslim American identity. If anything, the beverage company’s exploitation of our identity should leave a sour taste in our mouths.

To support or boycott Coca-Cola is not necessarily the question. The question is: who do we seek to validate us?