Zareena Grewal writes: “I chose to make my first foreign visit a trip to the heart of the Muslim world,” President Trump said in Riyadh on Sunday, in a speech billed as a call to Muslims to promote a peaceful understanding of Islam and to unite against terrorists.
Riyadh is the capital of Saudi Arabia, but it is not the capital of the Muslim world. In fact, it’s worth remembering that “the Muslim world” is not actually a place. It’s a Western idea built on the faulty racial logic that Muslims live in a world of their own—that Islam is an eastern, foreign religion that properly belongs in a distant, faraway, dusty place. (This is arguably the logic that underlies Trump’s Muslim travel ban, currently held up in the courts: Islam is foreign, “Islam hates us,” Islam cannot possibly be a real American religion and that is why we can ban its adherents. Stephen Miller, an architect of the travel ban, was also reportedly among the writers of Trump’s Islam speech.)
If the Muslim world were the modern equivalent of the premodern concept of “Islamdom” (lands ruled by Muslims), it would refer only to Muslim-majority countries; countries where Muslims are national minorities, such as China and India, would be left out. If the Muslim world is a euphemism for the Middle East (sometimes Afghanistan and Pakistan are mistakenly lumped in, too), what to make of the fact that 80 percent of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims live outside the Middle East, including American Muslims like me?
Trump will also visit Jerusalem and the Vatican on his Abrahamic religions world tour, but we certainly do not imagine him addressing all Jews or all Christians from those cities. We understand Israel to be a modern, Zionist nation-state, not the representative of all Jews worldwide. Similarly, we understand the Vatican as the institutional center of a global Catholic network, not the heart of Christendom. [Continue reading…]