I’m writing an author Q&A with Arsalan Iftikhar (The Muslim Guy) on the occasion of the release of his new book, Scapegoats: How Islamophobia Helps Our Enemies and Threatens Our Freedoms. In the first paragraphs he write about becoming the Muslim Guy shortly after September 11, 2001. He writes that:
“…suddenly after 9/11, I immediately became “the Muslim Guy” – one of the go-to pundits that the American media turned to in its fumbling effort to understand the more than one-and-a-half…believers in Islam.”
Of course my resume isn’t comparable to Iftikhar’s, given his esteemed background, education and professional life, but the idea of becoming a “go-to” resource recalled the time when I served in a similar capacity on a local level. When I started doing interfaith work locally I was often invited to serve on panel discussions and at community events. After a few years, in 2008, I opened Light of Islam, a nonprofit bookstore and educational center, which closed its doors in 2011 but during its brief life I was looked to as someone who could similarly “explain” Islam and Muslims. After the bookstore closed I went into a kind of social “hiding,” mostly because of my sense of failure, and I have continued to mostly lay low except while working with CAIR, which became the media go-to while I was there.
Since I’ve left CAIR I’ve struggled with that continued feeling of being the person who hides in her office, mute, unproductive, unworthy, procrastinating. I have been suffering with this feeling for years now and I have to get back to doing what I did for so many years: share a message.