February 11, 2022 | NEWS | By Star Goudriaan
On Thursday, Feb. 3, Yale professor Zareena Grewal presented a talk entitled “Islam is a foreign country: Race, Religion, and U.S. empire.” Grewal’s areas of expertise lie in intersecting points of identity which constitute the American Muslim experience: including but not limited to religion, gender, and race. She is also an anthropologist and filmmaker.
In the talk, Grewal spoke about her first book, “Islam is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority.” This work explores complex conversations about the relationship between finding a sense of place in the United States as an American and having historic-religious ties to nations like Egypt, Syria, and Jordan.
Much of Grewal’s work asks what it means to be Muslim and American, a complicated question predicated on two different but unifying identity categories – society and religion. Her first film, “By the Dawn’s Early Light: Chris Jackson’s Journey to Islam,” asks similar questions about Muslim-American patriotism.
Her most recent project centers around the Quran post-9/11, as a symbol not only of Islam but of Muslims at large. In her talk, Grewal spoke about YouTube videos of white men shooting the Quran. Contrastingly, she spoke about counter-protests which hold the Quran in reverence, pointing to the deep meaning the text has taken on in American consciousness.
The Quran’s representation of Muslim people for non-Muslim Americans was demonstrated by the holy book becoming a best seller following 9/11. Grewal spoke about her attempts at reconciling the people who turned to the text instead of socio-historical books on al-Qaeda, and those who posted videos of its destruction. She imagined two people, one of each group, meeting at the same aisle in the bookstore as they reach for the Quran.
Grewal reminded us that to begin to understand the processes of racialization, we have to look at histories of nations, immigration, religion, capitalism, and transnationalism. She explained her preference for the term “anti-Muslim racism” over “Islamophobia” to highlight the racialization of the Muslim identity.
At the start of the talk, Grewal took a moment to recognize the bomb threats recently posed against Historically Black Colleges and Universities and the 339% increase in anti-Asian hate crimes nationwide last year as a sign of solidarity.