AMERICAN MUSLIMS: A HISTORY REVEALED
AMERICAN MUSLIMS is a landmark series of short documentary films that reveal and explore the untold histories of Muslims in the United States.
Over the course of 12 x 15-minute episodes, AMERICAN MUSLIMS will highlight the little-known story of Muslims in America.
Starting in the 16th century, with the first Muslims to arrive in America as part of the Spanish conquests, the project will trace the waves of migration and conversion that have created the diverse Muslim communities that exist across the nation today.
The first series of six films is in production and scheduled for release in March 2024 by PBS Digital Studios across PBS’ digital platforms and on PBS’ flagship YouTube channel.
Designed to appeal to a young, diverse audience, each episode will focus on a defining moment in US history; revealing Muslim characters and connections and bringing them vividly to life thought location shooting, archival material, and motion graphics.
Taken together, the project will highlight the many strands that make up this little-known story and reveal how American Muslims have both shaped and been shaped by life in the United States. The films will explore how:
- Tens of thousands of enslaved African Muslims were brought to America in the 17th and 18th centuries and left a profound legacy that is still with us today.
- Popular perceptions of Muslims and Islam played an important role in debates about religious freedom at the founding of the nation.
- Muslim ideas about enslavement were invoked by abolitionists in the mid-1800s. At the same time, individual Muslims played an active role in helping the Union win the Civil War.
- Muslim immigrants began arriving from the Middle East and South Asia during the Gilded Age and immediately began to create new, American expressions of their faith.
- The 1920s witnessed a resurgence of Islam among Black Americans fleeing the South as part of the Great Migration.
- In the 1930s, cities like Detroit saw the rapid growth of diverse Muslim communities and the development of important American Muslim institutions.
- In the 1940s and 50s, Muslim musicians played a key role in the development of jazz – just one of many contributions Muslims have made to American culture.
- Muslims have played a vital role in the Black Freedom Struggle, with Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali, and the Nation of Islam leaving an enduring legacy.
- Immigration reform in the 1960s opened the US up to Muslims from around the world and encouraged an influx of Muslim professionals including doctors, engineers, and scientists.
- From the 1970s onwards, Americans of Muslim faith have experienced conditional citizenship, been impacted by American foreign policy, and built new institutions in the reality of a post-9/11 United States.
Produced by an experienced team of filmmakers and storytellers, these short films are intended for digital distribution before being combined into a single, feature-length for broadcast and screenings. An accompanying podcast will create opportunities for a deeper discussion of the stories we tell and the issues they raise.
Project partners will support our distribution. These include a range of organizations committed to improving understanding between Muslim and non-Muslim communities and between different Muslim communities who may not know their shared histories.
Working with these organizations, we will produce educational materials for middle- and high-school use, college students, and adult education, including anti-racism and diversity training programs. We are also developing an outreach campaign that can share content across multiple platforms.
AMERICAN MUSLIMS is designed to promote further inquiry. To round out the project, a dedicated website will house or link to our short films, use creative techniques to visualize history, and provide easy access to primary sources, academic work, and other pieces of journalism in this area. It will also allow members of the public to add their own stories. Social media links to the website will ensure the project lives beyond conventional distribution and continues to serve as an effective educational resource for anyone wanting to learn more about these rich histories.
For many people, the story of Muslims in America begins on 9/11. But Muslims have been part of the fabric of American life since before the nation was founded. Losing this vital history has helped create space for bitter narratives that position Muslims as permanent outsiders whose belief system threatens the American way of life.
By questioning these stereotypes, and the knowledge gap that helps sustain them, this series will strengthen public understanding of the American Muslim experience at a critical moment in the political and cultural life of the country. With its intersecting themes of race, religion, and citizenship, this series couldn’t be more timely or relevant.
In the next 20 years, Muslims are likely to become the second-largest faith group in the United States. Ignorance of who Muslims are, what Muslims believe, and how central Muslims are to the American story is no longer tenable.
This rigorously researched, nonpartisan series is intended to fill a dangerous knowledge vacuum that allows some people to claim that American and Muslim identities are antithetical. Looking at history, these films challenge that claim. They reveal how American Muslims have always been a part of the American experiment and offer what many young Americans are longing for — a more inclusive version of America’s past.
Our vision for this project results from several years of research, story development, community engagement, and partnership building. Due to the pandemic, we were forced to take an extended break, but have since re-started production. We will complete the first six short films by the end of 2023 with release scheduled for March 2024. Funds permitting, we’ll produce the second season of six shorts in late 2024 and will create the documentary series later that year. We are earmarking 2025 as a year of intensive educational and community outreach.
Graham Judd, ProducerSEE MEMBER PROFILE