To paraphrase the title of Zareena Grewal’s Islam Is A Foreign Country, the title of this post reflects the observation I made of a recent video which has us following actor Morgan Freeman traveling about the world asking, Who Is God? My observations come ironically on the heels (ok, twenty-five years ago, but close enough) of Freeman’s (comical/abysmal) portrayal of the Moorish Azeem, in 1991’s Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.
So … Morgan Freeman wants to know about Islam, huh? I know everyone wants to celebrate and feel good about themselves these days given Donald Trump’s apparent “victory” but there’s all kinds of wrong with this “encounter”.
- Morgan Freeman, an American, in order to find out about Islam, has to enlist National Geographic! and traipse off to some foreign country to encounter “real Islam”, as if the millions of Muslims living in America could not assist him with this project.
- Equally amazing in this project is that in order for Mr. Freeman to “understand who God is”, he has to go through a translator! As if the scrolls and secrets to Islam are only capable of being expressed through an ancient and inaccessible tongue. His encounter also emphatically, if subtly, suggests that he has now gone to the “real Muslims”, an imam from Egypt as if he couldn’t find plenty of imams right here in America (black, white, Asian, etc.), who are just as capable—if maybe not more so!—to explain what or who God is in Islam. And they might just look and talk like Mr. Freeman, too!
Which brings me to this: there is a concerted effort, on the part of certain non-Muslims (well intending and not), in partnership with elements of the non-indigenous American Muslim community (yes, immigrant Muslims and their progeny) to exclude those whom they do not deem to be real, authentic, knowledgeable, and capable (indigenous) Muslims.
For me, this is a sad day when one of America’s most celebrated actors has to journey off into the unknown—in favor of the familiar!—to know what Islam is and who Muslims are. If we do not come to see this as fundamentally undermining our existence here then there’s little hope that Islam will ever be able to sufficiently take root in this country, and will be successfully labeled as a foreign, hostile, enterprise.