First, what didn’t make the list.
Nor were we shocked by The Intercept’s July investigation into FBI and NSA surveillance of Muslim American leaders.
But here’s what did turn our collective heads.
For those of us who weren’t closely tracking the issue, the terrorist group known as the Islamic State (a.k.a ISIS, ISIL or Daesh) seemed to suddenly appear out of nowhere.
This group has been around in various forms since the start of the century, but it emerged from the shambles of the war on Iraq and came into international focus this past summer with its horrific tales of beheadings, mass executions and sexual violence – and a declaration of caliphate by insurgent leader Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi.
Besides the non-revelation that American dollars funded ISIS weaponry, ISIS sparked discussions on the dangers of sectarianism and youth desperate for an identity. It also ignited two major debates among Muslims: the meaning of the Islamic caliphate, and the need for a #NotInMyName “condemnation-marathon” against extremism.
The fledgling institutions of Islam in America were formed by African Americans, and blacks are and have always been the biggest demographic in Muslim America. But few Muslim leaders spoke up against racial profiling until Sept. 11 – and even then, Muslim civil rights efforts typically exclude black Muslims.
It’s not just about solidarity. Take a few minutes to read (or re-read) Khalid Beydoun’s crucial open letter in the Islamic Monthly, which propelled this discussion alongside the larger #BlackLivesMatter hashtag.
As Mehreen Kasana tweeted, “That letter needs to be read aloud as a khutba [sermon] this Friday in all mosques everywhere.”
Soon after, Nashwa Khan’s letter to non-black Muslims carried the discussion further, pinpointing non-black people of color as accomplices in derailing the conversation surrounding the subjugation of black bodies.
Kamala Khan – or Ms. Marvel – is a Pakistani-American Muslim girl with shape-shifting powers and a mild case of teen angst. The chart-topping brainchild of fantasy writer G. Wilson Willow is the first Muslim superhero to headline a series. (For more on Muslim women in comics, read Jehanzeb Dar’s essay here.) She was born “of a desire to explore the Muslim-American diaspora from an authentic perspective,” according to editor Sana Amanat.
The superheroine isn’t your typical attempt at diversity that falls flat beyond its niche. Esther Kim, manager of Fantom Comics in D.C., told me Ms. Marvel is by far their bestselling book – partly because of the new young female, South Asian and Muslim demographics Kamala taps into, as well as the traditional comic book audience.
White House Iftar
During last summer’s 50-day war between Israel and Gaza, Muslims took their usual stance, but what to do when invited to the annual White House Iftar – where the president proceeded to slap Muslims in the face by inviting Israel’s ambassador, and defending Israel’s “Operation: Protective Edge”?
“Would the President ever dare invite a representative from Hamas to a White House Passover Seder dinner? Or was this kind of disgrace reserved only for the American Muslim community?” asked Tarik Takkesh. For some groups, it was simple: boycott the iftar.
But Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison said in a statement, “If the boycott was successful and no Muslims showed up, then no one would talk about the issues on behalf of our community.” And Muhammed Chaudhry said he took the opportunity to follow the Prophet by continuing dialogue in the face of injustice.
Imam Ben Affleck
So this was a pretty weird thing that happened in the history of pop culture. Four names: Islamophobic comedian Bill Maher, “The End of Faith” author Sam Harris, actor Ben Affleck and religious scholar Reza Aslan.
The first three men debated radical Islam on Maher’s show (Maher and Harris: “Islam is the motherlode of bad ideas” vs. Affleck: “That’s gross and racist”) in an exchange that exploded the Internet. Aslan then took to CNN to call Maher “not very sophisticated” for painting 1.5 billion Muslims with the same brush.
Seventeen-year-old Malala Yousufzai, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in October, is the youngest Nobel laureate ever. Her rise to global fame launched a renewed push for girls’ education and galvanized many Muslims against the Taliban. On the other hand, Malala’s win also prompted criticism of her as a “Western puppet.”
Sure, maybe she won the same award that Barack ‘Drone-Dropper’ Obama did, but this year she’s been vocal in her anti-capitalist politics, anti-drone agenda and pro-Gaza stance, much to the consternation of American media.
Terrorism and religious intolerance have been twin threats in Pakistan in the past several decades. The murder of an Ahmadi cardiologist from Ohio in May awoke many Pakistani Americans to sectarianism in their home country, but there was little traction in the larger Muslim community.
The shocking murder of 132 children in Peshawar at the hands of the Taliban – along with mobs burning alive a Christian couple in November and an Ahmadi family in July – might be the wake up call against extremism that Pakistan needs.
“The scenes in Peshawar – bloodied classrooms, described by a Dawn reporter as a ‘crawl through a nightmare’, and dozens of coffins – have united people on this much at least: there is no justification for killing children,” wrote Saba Imtiaz. Still, the realist in us all isn’t sure this condemnation will translate into action.
Rebuilding the Mosque
It’s no secret that American mosques today need massive overhaul. The new crowd-funded documentary film “UnMosqued” takes a close-up look at issues millennials face at the mosque – atmospheres of judgment, ethnically segregated mosques – as well as efforts for reform.
— Azam Zafar (@azamzafar) March 24, 2014
One major focus? Hostile, pathetic and non-existent spaces for women at the mosque. This became a major conversation starter with Side Entrance, Hind Makki’s growing microblog on the sorry state of women’s prayer facilities. It also spawned @EqualEntrance this year, a showcase of inspirational accommodations for women.
Between Yuna and Noor Tagouri, the stylish young hijabi is on the rise. Remember that video of super-cool hijabi girls skateboarding and flashing expensive watches as Jay-Z rapped “Somewhere in America” in the background? Yeah, you remember correctly, that was 2013.
But the ensuing discussion on Islamic feminism and privilege in the Muslim American community spilled well over into this year, and is worth a re-visit.
Is this stereotype-breaking actually “textbook objectification,” as Sana Saeed argues? Are attempts to show Muslims in a positive light just appeasement of the Western mainstream? The same questions cropped up again in April when a video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell’s infectious “Happy” went viral.
In 2015, we hope to see continued conversation on the new American mosque, allying with the black civil rights movement, and combating extremism and sectarianism. We’re also looking forward to vibrant and honest discussion on the issue of sexual assault in the Muslim community, with the upcoming release of crowdfunded documentary “Breaking Silence.”
Comment below on what you think we missed in our year-end round-up.
Aysha Khan studies multiplatform journalism and Middle Eastern affairs at the University of Maryland. She writes about diversity and the Asian and Muslim diaspora.