Yes, there is a danger here and it is very obvious to anyone who has observed how this movement led by Muslim activists has evolved over the years. And I am not saying that we shouldn’t organize against anti-Muslim sentiment and overt government action against Muslims. Of course we should. But there is one thing to be very careful about.

In our haste to “normalize” Muslims in the public eye and make Muslims look like everyone else, as if to say, “Hey, Muslims are no different from anyone else!” we have in many ways neutralized what is supposed to make Muslims unique, namely our devotion to Islam, the Prophet ﷺ, and Allah. This is a major failing on our parts. Muslims are supposed to be outspoken and exemplary in our following of the truth and standing for what is just in the holistic sense of that word. We cannot do that if we just blend into the background and melt into the melting pot.

A good example of this comes from 10 years ago when Imam Zaid Shakir was organizing a march protesting liquor stores in Oakland, California. There was an uproar with a certain segment of the Muslim community, denouncing Imam Zaid, telling him he should mind his own business, that America is a free country and people drink here and who are we as Muslims to express disapproval of that, blah blah blah. But then somehow word got out that the protest was actually for a social cause against predatory liquor stores preying on poor black communities. Now the bourgeoisie, ivory tower Muslims ate their words. Imam Zaid was doing a great service and we should all protest such liquor stores, etc., etc.

It’s obvious what happened. There are certain moral causes Muslims are comfortable aligning themselves with. There are certain uncontroversial stances that are acceptable and others that are unseemly and “low class.” Obviously, Muslims should absolutely stand against businesses that prey on poor communities, whether liquor stores, payday loan shops, etc. But they should also speak out against other problems that are not as popular with the American middle-class mainstream. Gay marriage is one recent example. Muslims don’t have to sign themselves up for everything right-wing Christians are doing on that front, but there are other ways for us to be a moral voice and express our perspective on these issues. And we might be surprised at how many people out there are thirsty for the message we can and must deliver. Sometimes, the best strategy is not to blend in with the crowd.

Another example is cartoons of the Prophet ﷺ. When these cartoons came out at various points, the same group of high brow Western Muslims looked down on the protests that happened in the Muslim world in Pakistan and elsewhere. “How silly that these third world Muslims would show raw emotion at the Prophet being insulted.” But if the issue is positioned as Islamophobia and Muslims being stigmatized and racialized by these cartoons, then the Muslim elite are ok wagging a finger at Charlie Hebdo, et al. Being outraged because of racism is acceptable. Being outraged because of Rasul Allah ﷺ being disrespected, not so much. What a travesty.