What does it mean to be a protagonist? How has the Muslim protagonist been transformed in the American landscape? Is there a collective Muslim narrative taking shape?
This weekend, organizers from the Muslim Students Association hope to delve into these questions with their second annual symposium, “The Muslim Protagonist: a Synthesis of Journeys.”
Haris Durrani, SEAS ’15 and co-chair of the Symposium, said that one of the goals of the weekend’s events is to encourage the audience to ask their own questions.
“There are so many other questions that can be asked,” he said. “We’re trying to get the audience themselves to form their own questions by challenging and presenting an eclectic range of speakers.”
The three-day symposium will feature panels and writers’ workshops with renowned writers and artists including Ibrahim Abdul-Matin, Saladin Ahmed, and Zareena Grewal. While the events themselves are centered on the Muslim narrative, Durrani emphasized that the writers and artists invited come from diverse backgrounds, and the weekend is very much an opportunity to examine multiple minority experiences in America.
One of the popular guests featured this year is G. Willow Wilson, a journalist and graphic novel writer who recently wrote the new Ms. Marvel series for Marvel Comics. The series, which tells the story of 16-year-old Muslim superhero Kamala Khan, has already sold out since its release on Feb. 5. After the success of last year’s symposium, Durrani said that MSA organizers were able to narrow the scope of their theme this year to specifically deal with the Muslim-American journey. They were also more selective with the writers they invited this time around.
At the same time, Durrani said, this symposium is not meant to be the authority on Muslim narratives.
“We’re approaching literature and art as an agent of social change. ... We’re not saying this is the narrative about Muslims or Muslim-Americans. This is a narrative,” he said.
The symposium is expected to draw over 300 attendees. For the organizers, panels such as “American and ‘Othered’?” and “The Female Protagonist” are an opportunity for students to explore narratives often left out of Columbia’s Core Curriculum.
“Especially with the Core Curriculum, you’re reading about a lot of Western civilization—which is fine, but that’s not the only kind of literature or the only kind of humanities out there,” Durrani said.
“I personally think that the only sign that we’ve really solved the problem is if the names on the top of Butler get changed, and we have some women up there and some people of color,” he added.
Mariam Elnozahy, BC ’16 and co-chair of the event, said that the symposium is about minorities being able to proclaim and secure authority over their own stories, against the ubiquity of the Western literary canon.
“We’re making noise. We’re speaking up,” she said. “We want to establish our own narrative. We don’t want anyone else to do it for us anymore.”
The organizers are also publishing a zine called Protag, following the symposium. Elnozahy said that the zine will be another space for minority writers to write and produce their own narratives. The dream, Elnozahy said, is to start a literary publication for minority writers that recreates the canon on their own terms.
“The Western canon is deeply embedded in everything we do, every dialogue, every discourse we have, so we’re trying to puncture that a little bit,” she said. “We’re trying to reignite our past and establish our present.”
Tickets are now available online for the main event on Feb. 22, and more info about the speakers and symposium can be found at muslimprotagonist.com.