The Burka Challenge 

What’s it like to be a Muslim in the U.S.? Here’s one way to find out for yourself.


One need not look far to find articles or social media posts decrying and criticizing the United States for  being a pushover nation on immigration. Recently, critics have demanded harsher limits, stricter vetting, or even all-out cessation of processing immigrants or refugees from Syria. The reasoning is usually that ISIS, ISIL, the Islamic State, or other terrorist organizations are using the immigration process to sneak terrorists into the U.S.  

The website hosts a petition to "Stop Syrian Refugees From Invading America." CNN reports that "More than half the nation's governors say Syrian refugees not welcome." In a November 19th, article, The Guardian reported New Jersey governor Chris Christie as saying that New Jersey "will not take in any refugees — not even orphans under the age of 5." I would hate to be a 4-year-old Syrian refugee with a ticket stamped Hoboken.

This week, I was surprised to read the following post (verbatim) in a Facebook group: "Between 2000 and 2012, the number of mosques in the U.S. jumped from around 1,200 to 2,000. Muslims reported Americans are friendly to them. This indicates all the 'hoopla' from the Muslim community that they fear they will be 'unliked' was not necessary."    

While I was once related by marriage to a Muslim, I cannot claim any expertise in either the religion itself or in various cultures of the Middle East, Africa, or Asia. Even without expertise, it seems odd to me that any American believes that Muslims' fear of being disliked by Americans is "hoopla."  

Well, how about it? Is a Muslim's fear of being disliked just hoopla? Are Muslims liked in the U.S., as the aforesaid Facebook poster believes? Do they enjoy unlimited handouts from the U.S. government, as many social media posters believe? Are terrorist cells sneaking in through lax immigration processing, as many other denizens of social media believe?  

I do not have definitive answers to the preceding three questions, but I doubt the answer to any of the questions is yes. Just to be safe, though, let us tackle item No. 1, whether Muslims, on an everyday basis, are generally well-regarded in the U.S.

How does one determine whether Muslims are liked or well-tolerated in the U.S.? A full-out scientific study seems a bit lofty for a man of my means, but I believe there may be an effective anecdotal way to make the determination. 

Remember the television show where a CEO or other high-ranking corporate figure goes undercover and works in entry-level positions of the company to get a better idea of the business, customers, and employees? Such a show makes me think of the often-quoted saying "You can't really understand another person until you walk a mile in their shoes."  

And this brings me to my response to the above-referenced Facebook post. I rarely reply to such posts, but gave in last night and wrote to that author, a woman, suggesting, "Why not take an immigration attorney to lunch and ask whether their Middle Eastern and Muslim clients are fawned over, and whether their Middle Eastern and Muslim clients are treated the same as other immigrants or refugees?" Somewhat impishly, I went further, "Better yet, why not don a burka and see for yourself what it's like?"  

The person who made the original post did not agree to take the matter up with an immigration attorney, because, in her words, attorneys "are not known for being insightful, compassionate, empathetic, or even truthful." Instead, she suggested that she would speak with — wait for it — a pharmacist, "who understands even more of [Muslims'] daily lives" and would "have more insight than an immigration attorney." Somewhat surprisingly, however, the Facebook poster did agree to consider wearing a full burka for one week. The trick now is to find one for her.

Meanwhile, I issue a similar challenge to all who have an interest in knowing the truth about what it's like to be a Muslim in Memphis. And although such a study would only address the limited issue of what the feedback is for someone going about in apparent Muslim garb, it would certainly be a start to understanding the larger issue of just how Muslims are regarded overall in the U.S. Maybe one of our news organizations would agree to sponsor such a test, and follow the matter up with a clandestine camera crew. I hope so.

David Pool is a Memphis attorney.

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