An Inside Look at the Religions Texas Archive: Muslim Voices Collection

Hello! My name is Eva McNabb, and I am the spring intern here at IDCL. Today’s blog post is dedicated to showcasing the Religions Texas Archive and specifically the Muslim Voices collection. I had the opportunity to speak with some of IDCL’s staff members about the process of interviewing, transcribing, and curating the collection, and today you’ll get an inside look at their perspective on that process. We have posts dedicated to our other collections coming soon, so stay tuned!

Religions Texas is a community archive and public humanities initiative that explores Texas as a site of religious encounters and a meeting place for people and communities from diverse religious and cultural backgrounds. It’s rooted in practices of oral history, storytelling, and community-based research. The initiative has been in the works for several years now, beginning with a collaboration with the UT Austin Department of Religious Studies and a pilot cohort of student participants in the spring of 2019. Since then the project has grown under the guidance of IDCL’s team of oral historians and archivists. Our team is excited to launch the archive this spring, and encourage you to check back in as the project develops.  

The Muslim Voices collection is an ongoing community-based oral history project that records stories of the multifaceted lives of Muslims in Texas. The purpose of this collection is to highlight the histories of an important yet often invisible Texan population. Islam is the second largest religion in the world with over 1 billion adherents spread out across the globe. And Texas is home to one of the largest Muslim populations in the country, along with many national and global centers of contemporary Muslim thought. Muslim communities are an important part of the landscape of Texas, and yet they often go under-represented if not misrepresented. As our Program Coordinator, Rimsha Syed, reflects:

Texas is home to Muslims of all backgrounds and identities, yet it’s rare that our communities are portrayed in a manner that does justice to the complexities and beauty of Islam. Not to mention the rampant Islamophobia that affects Muslims or even endangers them across Texas, but also globally.The Muslim Voices in Texas oral history projects aims to highlight the lived experience of Muslims while simultaneously teaching others through storytelling. This collection amplifies underrepresented voices and holds a special place in my heart.

With this purpose in mind, this collection chronicles the multidimensional lives of Muslims in Texas across cultures, ethnicities, generations, genders, branches, and sects. Our Archive Coordinator, Aysha Moneer, speaks to this approach: “We tried considering racial, cultural, and geographical diversity in this collection. It was important to the team that we focused on all kinds of Muslims, not just overrepresented groups.” Aysha even hypes up her colleague, saying “Our Program Coordinator, Rimsha, did a great job finding a good mix of narrators.”

Rimsha speaks to this herself, reflecting on her own background and how it informed her approach to the curation of this project: 

It’s common for people to lump “Muslims” into this monolith category, but in reality, there are so many types of people who identify with Islam. As someone who grew up in the Sunni community, I’ve noticed how we’re kept in the center of attention, often diminishing other sects or minority Muslim communities. For this collection, I wanted to hear from Muslims from all walks of life and maybe even communities that people are generally less informed about – Queer Muslims, Shia Muslims, Bhori Muslims, Ahmadi Muslims, Sufi Muslims, etc.

And that’s exactly what they did. Check out these stories from the Muslim Voices collection participants Miqdaad Bhuriwala and Duriba Khan. 

Miqdaad Bhuriwala, a current masters student in urban planning and a member of the Dawoodi Bhora Muslim community:

I consider myself Pakistani, but as years have gone on, when people ask where I’m from, my first thought 90% of the time is Houston, Texas because that’s where I spent most of my life. Sometimes the other percent, I just don’t feel like explaining the whole backstory, the origin story. I consider myself Pakistani, but at the same time, if I go to Pakistan and talk to my cousins, I don’t think I would just be like “Yeah, I’m Pakistani.” It’s a little bit more like, “Okay, I’m understanding that there’s more nuance to it.” It is a confusing state to be in sometimes, where you just don’t know. (7:31)

Duriba Khan, a Pakistani-Indian Muslim and recent graduate from the University of Texas at Austin:

I think the beauty of being Muslim in America is that a lot of people will prescribe to this idea that they’re a Muslim, but there’s no concrete definition for what that means. And I think it’s best that way because everybody defines religiosity on their own levels. For me in particular, I just frankly believe that if you take Allah (SWT) as your God, you believe in the five pillars of Islam, four pillars of Amman, then congrats, you’re Muslim. And regardless of whether or not you can manifest that in your daily life in your practice – because there are a lot of my really close Muslim friends that they drink or they eat pork, but that doesn’t make them any more or less Muslim to me. (6:20)

In creating this collection, our team worked to create a space where narrators could tell their stories on their own terms. As Aysha shares, “I learned how important it is to be an impartial listener as an oral historian. When interviewing for oral history, it’s important to let the narrator have the power in the direction of their story.” The team wanted participants to feel comfortable documenting not only their struggles and sorrow, but also their joy and triumph. IDCL Oral History Fellow Eleonora Anedda reflects on a particularly joyful moment that stood out to her: 

I remember asking Sarah during the interview if she remembered the first day she wore hijab – she smiled and told me this wholesome story about her cousin coming to her house with flowers and biscuits, cheering her on and supporting her. I’m so glad I asked her this question because she really lit up. I felt so grateful when she shared this memory with me.

Eleonora shares another final reflection that highlights how ultimately, by gathering these varied stories of Muslims from around the state, the collection explores not only what it means to Muslim but what it means to be Texan:

I believe this collection is important because it is a testament to religious diversity in Texas. As an outsider, I can tell you that I have often thought about Texas as this cowboy-populated state, with no diversity to offer. I think this collection, along with the Religions Texas project as a whole, seeks to change this narrative.

If you’re interested in exploring this yourself, we welcome you to check out the Muslim Voice collection.

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