RECAP: Incl(YOU)sion Pt. II: Voices of Underrepresented Muslim Identities

(Left to Right) Mandela Fellow Lesego Thwale, Aaron Siebert-Llera Esq, Zaynub Shahar, Diana Cruz

(Left to Right) Mandela Fellow Lesego Thwale, Aaron Siebert-Llera Esq, Zaynub Shahar, Diana Cruz


Yesterday, September 10, 2018, in the CAIR-Chicago Azima Center we held a conversation about Muslim identities and the voices within this huge group that are oftentimes overlooked by our community.

Lesego Thwale, our Mandela Fellow from Cape Town, South Africa, engaged with the audience and panelists Diana Cruz, Aaron Siebert-Llera, and Zaynub Shahar discussed the complexities of being Muslim inside and outside of our own community.

“You can’t ignore whats happening in your backyard and cry about islamophobia. Until the Muslim community realizes their own racism they can’t talk about the dsicriation they face outside of it.” Aaron Siebert-Llera explained. Aaron, along with our other panelists, described the difficulty of not fitting the “traditional Muslim” mold, and why it is important that we reshape the narrative of what a “traditional Muslim” actually looks like.


Zaynub Shahar also pointed out how being a black, queer, Muslim woman has affected her credibility to speak on certain experiences despite her academic background. “They find out that I converted to Islam and they go, ‘do you really know what you’re talking about?’ Eventually, I just stopped telling them.” Zaynub has a M.A in Religious Studies in 2016 from Chicago Theological Seminary, with an emphasis in Jewish and Islamic Gender Studies, and philosophy of religion.


Another important point in the conversation was made by Diana Cruz who detailed her experience as a Muslim woman wearing hijab after the 9/11 attacks. “I had only converted to Islam two years before in 1999. I was fired from my job for being Muslim and I came to the unfortunate realization, I now know how it feels to be discriminated against.” Cruz explained it was her experiences inside and outside of the Muslim community that made her so passionate about working with Latin(a) Muslims and making sure they have the resources they need to be Muslim and Latin(a) without sacrificing their rights or their identities.

The conversation touched many facets of being Muslim in America and the complex identities that fall under the umbrella of Islam. You can find more photos of the event here and we encourage discourse on the topic on social media or in the comments.