This map gathers “humanizing” work into one broad category (represented on the map by green dots)—activities that seek to or have the effect of humanizing American Muslims for the broader American public—and compares it with political activity and outreach undertaken by American Muslims (represented on the map by red and purple dots). Please spend a few moments considering what the data visualization suggests about the relative frequency of these kinds of activities, and then scroll below the map to see our analysis.
The green dots on the map above represent a variety of activities, a good number of which have the express purpose of humanizing American Muslims for the broader American public. This includes open mosque events, “ask a Muslim” events, interfaith initiatives, and public presentations about Islam. Sometimes community outreach efforts also consist of activities that American Muslims do simply because they are striving to be good people—distributing water in Flint, Michigan; opening mosques to shelter people after natural disasters; operating soup kitchens—but by virtue of today’s climate these efforts also signify something more than that. We have lumped all of this work into one category on this map so that we can illustrate the disparity between the amount of humanizing work and political activity in which American Muslims engage. We do not think this disparity is a coincidence.
We think it is an effect of anti-Muslim hostility in public life. American Muslims are spending an incredible amount of time and energy doing humanizing community outreach, and we cannot help but wonder if this makes it less possible to engage in public life in different ways, like running for office and participating in policy debates around our most pressing domestic and international issues. A good number of the red dots on the map, which represent American Muslims running for office, reflects the efforts of individuals running for office multiple times, making the disparity between green (humanizing work) and red/purple (political activity and outreach) even more notable. The number of American Muslims running for political office is on the rise, though it is still well below the numbers seen in the years leading up to 2001.
This is of course just one possible effect of anti-Muslim hostility in public life. The fear that results from the threat of routine harm is clear enough in first-person accounts of American Muslim life in the contemporary United States. Yet in important ways the disparity we see in the data we present in this map likely grows out of such fear, motivating people to pursue certain kinds of public activities over others. In a society that prides itself on voluntary and free participation in public life, this strikes us a tragic feature of contemporary American life.