Published by Aslan Media, Inc. in three parts from September 21 to October 2, 2012

Aminah Galal counted 100 audience members at the presentation on Shariah law. It was a good turnout, and most, she noted, weren’t members of University of California – Irvine’s Muslim Student Union (MSU), which hosted the event.

But as Galal, vice president of the MSU, finished counting, the Q&A turned confrontational. Five of the six who asked questions were from a Christian ministry called Truth Defenders, and to them, true Muslims wouldn’t accept the speaker’s flexible interpretation of Shariah.

“You are misrepresenting the religion that you say to profess,” said Louis Lionheart, the group’s leader.

From her perch at back of the auditorium, Galal shrugged her shoulders, covered by a long black dress. A green and blue patterned hijab framed her round face. “I’m used to it,” she said, her eyes tired under thin-rimmed glasses.

Since 9/11, the Muslim American community has struggled to respond to the perception of Islam as a threat. Muslim leaders frequently are questioned for their beliefs and affiliations. In the most noteworthy recent case, Michele Bachmann and four other Republicans in Congress accused Huma Abedin, aide to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other Muslims in the government of being disloyal to the United States.

While other Republican leaders defended Abedin’s integrity, young Muslims such as Galal have grown to expect an Islamophobic reaction when they step into the public sphere. And the UC-Irvine MSU is not afraid of expressing opinions; it is entering its last quarter of university probation for its role in a protest that got some of its members convicted of two misdemeanors one year ago this month.

Though most Muslim Americans might not risk arrest for their beliefs, the groups’ answer to Islamophobia suggests a potential path for the community: embracing activism as essential to their identities as both Muslims and Americans. Over three parts, this article will look at one day in the life the MSU to explain what the MSU is, how the group shapes its members, and how activism helps them respond to Islamophobia. …


Part 1

Part II

Part III

Photo Caption: Muslims at the University of California-Irvine pray and protest on behalf of those fighting for freedom in Syria. By embracing activism, they identify as Muslim and American and counter Islamophobic images of the group.