Wajahat Ali & Mona Haydar Are Muslim Next Door At SXSW 2018

admin@qs3 | March 26, 2018

By Sumaiya Malik

On March 11 at the SXSW Interactive 2018 Katie Couric and Brian Goldsmith, co-hosts of the new National Geographic Channel show, America Inside Out, interviewed New York Times writer, lawyer and playwright,

Wajahat Ali and Muslim rapper Mona Haydar. The foursome discussed what Muslims are like in front of an engrossed audience of 2000 guests in Ballroom D at the Convention Center.

Some background:

Journalist and author, Katie Couric, decided to host a 6-episode podcast about subjects that matter to the American people. She looked at the Pew survey and found out that 65% of the American population had no idea what Muslims were like as they had never come across even a single one. Brian Goldsmith , had worked with her at Yahoo and is also an investor joined Ms. Couric to co-host the show.

She spoke to her comedian friend, Aasif Mandvi, who guided her and helped her reach out to American Musli,ms in the news who were making a difference in acting like cultural ambassadors for the Muslims in the Trump era.

On stage at SXSW:

Ms. Couric stated, “President Trump gives us plenty to talk about and I feel that we are paying attention to the wrong thing…. By 2044 there will be a minority/majority population in this country. There is a misunderstanding [about what people are like]… People should have opinions but I want to help people form their own opinion. “ That is why she chose Muslims as a subject of one of the episodes.

Questions asked:

What are the Muslims like?
Why do Muslim women cover their hair?
How was the perception of Muslims before 9/11? After 9/11?
What do Muslims think about the anti-Semitic comments of Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam?
How should the media perceive Muslims?

Arab American rapper Mona Haydar, “Its great to be here as a Muslim American woman.” Haydar who is getting her masters in Christian Theology is a mother of two and a rapper. Her first video, ”Wrap,u Hijab”, ”went public when she was 8 months pregnant.

Mona: A lot of women [cover their head] for modesty. For me it is religious reason… recognition that I am not a body. I am not using my hair to invite people to know me. Covering my hair [Hijab] is an act of resistance. My body is not up for consumption. Hijab is a tool for liberation. But non-Muslim friends still thought that her hijab was a sign of suppression. Some asked if she needed liberation.

Mona: Look at Muslims as friends, neighbors, partners, co-protagonists of American narrative. Let me carry your water and you carry mine.

Wajahat Ali called himself the walking and talking Muslim explainer. He put on the funny accent and called himself the Muslim next door. He was twenty when 9/11 happened. He said that before 9/11 if anyone wanted to compare him with anyone else, it was Gandhi (which is a compliment).

After 9/11, people became anxious about Muslims. Without realizing it, he became a cultural ambassador of Islam when “our history was questioned by a nameless judge.” He also felt that he had to answer heavy questions for the Muslim community at large, something he was not prepared for. But the responsibility came his way because he knew how to deal with the subject with humor.

When answering questions about Farrakhan, Mona Haydar found herself incapable of taking sides. She felt that there is no need to judge anyone especially when that person was doing good work for people in distress. Let those who have knowledge about the subject judge while she who does not will refrain from it.

On the other hand, Wajahat Ali said he was seriously offended by the anti-Semitic comments. He criticized Farrakhan, but added that if people raise their voice against anti-Semitic comments, they should also raise their voice against derogatory comments against African Americans and Islamophobia.

Ali spent much time about why the media is sympathetic towards a white male terrorist as compared to a Muslim or an Africa American one. He said that no one is questioning whites when they commit a crime. Brian Goldsmith added that there are three times more white extremist crimes than colored ones since 9/11.

The more the conversation progressed, the more light-hearted and friendly it got. Mr. Ali joked about how food is of great importance to Muslims and if you want to eat well, it is only the best idea to befriend a Muslim. “Let us eat together and make American delicious!” said Ali amid loud cheering.

Couric who seemed at ease with the Muslims called them her friends, to which Mr. Ali joked that if Katie can make friends with Muslims, so can everyone else in the US.

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