White and Muslim: Words with Elon Iman Shane Atkinson
Updated: Jul 31, 2019
The predominantly white crowd listened as Elon’s own Iman Shane Atkinsonshowed his short film, “Redneck Muslim.” The film was shown at Elon Universities Turner Theatre at 7pm on Thursday.
The film followed the southern Muslim in his job as the Duke Hospital Chaplain, his role as father to his two young sons, his southern Baptist family in Mississippi and his interactions in racially diverse Muslim communities in the south. The film highlighted his search to honor his southern heritage while challenging white supremacy.
Converting to Islam at age 29, Atkinson said he became interested in the faith ten years prior to reading the Koran and diving into Sunni poetry.
Atkinson spoke about how the film took place in 2016 and the political climate has changed dramatically since then.
“Since the rise of trump, people feel like they have permission to let it all out,” explained Atkinson, referring to an event where his wife was yelled at from across the street while wearing her hijab.
“Just the idea that something could potentially happen to my family while they are out… it’s terrifying,” expressed Atkinson.
He explained that he often times scans parking lots in hometown, Burlington, N.C., for Confederate flags and if he feels threatened he takes off his kufi.
“I’m white, so if I feel scared, I can take the hat off, but my family can’t,” said Atkinson.
When asked about raising his two children, he expressed his concern that he will never be fully equipped to give advice on living life as a person of color.
He said that it bothers him every day to think that his own children could potentially be racially profiled by community members or police officers. Atkinson struggles with the fact that he would have no trouble coexisting with the southern community that he readily identifies with from his childhood, while his family feels constantly stereotyped and at risk.
Elon Professor Sana Haq said that Atkinson’s film proved the critics that say you can’t be American and Muslim wrong and that she was grateful to have witnessed his experiences raising Muslim children in such a politically charged time.
Elon Chaplain Jane Fuller asked what a movie about his life at Elon would look like now that he is finished with his residency at Duke Hospital. Atkinson responded that he would love to show a lot of “organic” conversations happening in the Truitt Center where he works on Elon’s campus.
“Those conversations give me hope,” explained Atkinson. “For people to see that it is possible to engage humans like that without having to change them would be huge.”
Prompted by a student in the audience, Atkinson explained what he wants to accomplish during his time at Elon, boiling it down to,“I just want to comfort people.”
The main goal in his work at Elon is to keep building relationships with students and have everyone know that regardless of their religion, he is a resource for them in hard times, in times of joy and anytime in between.
Atkinson hopes to use his southern heritage to continue to educate people on Elon's campus and those in his community about Muslim groups and culture. He explained that once people get to know Muslims as a human being, it's harder to demonize them, ultimately reaching his goal of initiating coexistence between religious groups.