Disgraced, Ayad Akhtar’s Pulitzer Prize–winning play now running at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre, captures the essence of racial profiling: the belief that what we look like is more important than what we really are. Pakistani-American lawyer Amir Kapoor is a kaleidoscope of identities, but he is not a practicing Muslim, having eschewed Islam long ago. Still, because he looks like he could be Muslim, he is frequently treated with suspicion, which has caused him to become alienated. During the the play, he and his wife throw a dinner party where he learns he has been passed over for a promotion that was given to someone less qualified, and his resentment and rage spills out with a shocking admission—that he felt a “blush of pride” when the twin towers fell. He spits in the face of his guest, whose grim retort reveals his own prejudice when he says, “There’s a reason they call you people animals.” It’s an intense evening of theater, with frequent sharp intakes of breath audible in the audience.
Last week’s arrest of Ahmed Mohamed, the 14-year-old Texas high-school student who brought a homemade clock to school, serves as a reminder of the racial profiling many American Muslims have experienced since 9/11. The titles below have been selected from the growing body of literature that addresses Islamophobia and challenges to the cultural identity of American Muslims. Readers who want to know about the lives of American Muslims today can do no better than start with Ayad Akhtar’s fictional American Dervish, which explores some of the themes in Disgraced: religious questioning and cultural identity. More valuable supplemental reading, both fiction and nonfiction, is below.
American Dervish, by Ayad Akhtar
Blue-eyed Devil, by Michael Muhammad Knight
The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, by Mohja Kahf
A Map of Home, by Randa Jarrar
The Reluctant Fundamentalist, by Mohsin Hamid
White Teeth, by Zadie Smith
How Does It Feel to Be a Problem? Being Young and Arab in America, by Moustafa Bayoumi
This Muslim American Life: Dispatches from the War on Terror, by Moustafa Bayoumi
Rebel Music: Race, Empire and the New Muslim Youth Culture, by Hisham D. Aidi
Zeitoun, by Dave Eggers