An Arab in Arab, Alabama

By Craig Considine – We stopped in Huntsville, Alabama (Jonathan’s hometown) after staying in Atlanta for four very busy days.  About 45 minutes south of Huntsville is a town called Arab.  We had to be in Nashville, Tennessee by Sunday night, but we figured we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to visit, considering we are studying Islam in America.  We ended up driving one hour in the opposite direction from Nashville just to visit this town.  Watch the video and you can see why it was well worth it.  

Jonathan told us that Arab is stereotyped as unfriendly to non-whites.  Automatically, we thought about what their response would be towards Muslims.  So, we decided to make an experiment out of our visit.  Hailey dressed in traditional Arab (Middle Eastern) attire before we stopped at Son’s BBQ for a quick lunch.  When we first walked in, thirty people literally stopped in their tracks and stared.  But within a few minutes, everyone was back to eating in a cordial manner (except for one little girl that couldn’t stop asking her mother what was ‘wrong’ with her).  When we were outside in the parking lot after we ate, we stopped and spoke with three locals that had no idea what Hailey was wearing.  They thought she was part of some ‘Middle Eastern religion’ but really didn’t know much about Islam.  All in all though, the response from the Arab (Alabama) community was welcoming and friendly, contrary to popular belief. I spoke with Jonathan afterwords and he was proud and happy that the response was positive as he thought it would be.

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35 responses to “An Arab in Arab, Alabama

  1. I lived in Arab, AL for 5 years and graduated from high school there. I have to say that I am somewhat surprised at the way Hailey and the group was received. It definitely has a reputation of non-tolerance, even within the community. I must say, though, that I am so glad the visit turned out the way it did. It fave me hope that even if we still have some work to do towards education, we as a country have come a long with with regards to tolerance of people from all backgrounds.

  2. I live in Huntsville, AL and, with the exception of a year in India, have lived in Alabama most of my life. I am constantly baffled by Alabamians’ responses and reactions to “outsiders.” I certainly think Alabama has gotten a bad rap when it comes to being backwards. I’ve traveled lots, and seen lots. Alabama is backwards. So is a large part of our country. When it comes to racism, I think there are so few Muslims in most parts of AL, there would be very little racism from locals. People might be uncertain, and some might respond with fear or condemnation, but the majority would mind their own business and most likely be polite and helpful if approached. This is just how it is done in the south. If there is suspicion, it is hidden and replaced by a gracious host, a loving handshake, and lots of good, home cooked food for any guests. An aside…I have a friend who is very much into the spiritual side of the Muslim religion who actually is from Arab, AL. He posted this on his facebook profile. Thanks for including us so we may view your experiment.

  3. It is amazing that the only prejudiced seem to come from the ones conducting the research on prejudice. Just because men are dressed in camaflouge and have scruffy beards does not make them “survivalists.” They probably like to hunt but, that didn’t seem obvious to the team. Imagine, thinking something negative about someone just because they are different!

  4. I live in Alabama and have found both ends of the spectrum. I wish people would understand that we are all fundamentally the same in what we want and need. Imagine the accomplishments we are capable of if we would learn to work together and accept each other for what we have to offer. Not our religion or color. If we could see each other as we would like to be seen by others, it could be a much better place!

  5. Melissa: if they jumped to a conclusion and considered folks in camouflage to be survivalists, that is just being misinformed, not racist or prejudiced. I hope you aren’t under the impression there is something wrong with survivalists. It’s a fun recreational activity. Also a fair amount of us do wear camouflage, for what it’s worth.

  6. Hmmm… So we are to believe that Alabama is now “tolerant” of diversity?? Yeah, right. I would like to see the reaction of Alabamians to… let’s say, an open gay couple. The red states of the south are so intolerant of diversity, it’s downright dangerous for those who are the most “diverse” in our society to live openly. For example, on a episode last year of “Top Gear”, a British automotive program which occasionally features fun “chalenges”, the Top Gear team drove 3 vehicles from Florida to Texas, in cars painted in a way that would “raise eyebrows”. One was painted pink and had “Gay Pride” stenciled on the side. At a stop at a gas sation in Al, the female owner of the station yelled insults at the drivers and told them that there were “no queers in Alabama” and they better leave before she called her “friends” who would “take care” of them. Before gassing up, a truckload of local young men showed up, at least 6 in the open bed of the truck itself, throwing rocks at the car and the drivers, yelling homophobic obscenities, and threatening to kill them. As they jumped out of the truck, the Top Gear team hustled out of the station, avoiding certain injury or death. While this “study” may have suggested a level of “religious diversity”, to say that Alabama society in general is somehow open and tolerant of differences is like saying wolves are open and tolerant of chickens. Ridiculous.

  7. You have chosen the wrong girl, choose a real arab and send her along with bunch of arab guys and then measure the response, you will be surprised. There is a fundemental flaw in your study.Myselves being a Hindu I experience what you are trying to simulate every minute, hour and day,depending on the type of crowd I am in. There are lot of Arabs in US,ask their experience,they will give you the real experience.

  8. I couldn’t help but laugh a little when Arab was described as being predominantly white and not to kind to those who are not. I know someone who lives in Arab, but he (and his whole family) are Mexican.

  9. I have lived in Arab for all of my 54 years. We are no more or no less racist than any other city. For the most part, we are good people with southern hospitality. However, as in any community, we have the normal percentage of idiots. Give me one place that doesn’t and we will all move there!
    As for stereotyping, much of the south is viewed as poor, dirty and ignorant. NOT so! We DO have rocket scientists in Huntsville, great universities throughout the state, nice homes, doctors, lawyers. etc. Plus, friendly people and great southern cooking gives us our own little slice of Heaven!

  10. It’s fashionable to assume that people from the South, particularly those from Alabama, are inferior in most any way to everyone else. I’m originally from a small town near Arab, Alabama, and I find this assumption disturbing and degrading. The video regarding this social experiment may as well have been entitled “Whoa . . . People From Alabama Are Fractionally Less Stupid Than We Thought.” The only bigotry I saw in this piece was the double-standard-bearing, smug, socially accepted form of bigotry: the pre-judgment of persons from the rural South. That a town in Alabama was chosen for this piece is an ambient form of this beloved stereotype. Make no mistake, the U.S. has a long, long way to go towards cultural tolerance and harmony. One step along that journey is for those who fancy themselves free of transgression to take the lens of judgment they so often aim at Southerners—and use it to examine their own “pet” prejudices.

  11. To don hijab for a day or two does not give one insight to what is is like to be Muslim in America. As an African-American Muslim women, I can tell you that discrimination exists in small towns like Arab, AL and big cities alike. I am of African-American descent, a women and a Muslim and I have been discriminated against because of any one or all of those factors. Although I must say that the worst discrimination that I have experienced is the discrimination that South East Asian, Continental Africans and Arabs Muslims prefer against African-American Muslims. My family has been Muslim for four generations. We are the descendants of Africans, many of whom were most likely Muslim, who were enslaved in the Americas. Muslims from the above mentioned geographic regions have often asked me when I converted to Islam or if I am a member of the NOI. Imagine is I asked a Muslim of Arab descent about their conversion. Although my family was never affiliated with the NOI, certain assumptions are made about my authenticity. We as Muslims must first improve intra-Muslim relationships in an attempt to stop the discrimination that exists within the community before we can expect others to treat us accordingly.

  12. Dan D.,
    Perhaps you should read the news or try a google search related to attacks on gay people. You may be surprised to find that the majority of attacks against gays are in blue states like California. Remember the young man who was beaten and then tied to a fence where he then died of exposure? It was in the north as well. Then google attacks on synagogues. And once again you will discover that blue states have the majority. I’m admit that the south has plenty of work to do but for you to pigeon hole the south as worse in regards to being intolerant is laughable. Before writing this comment I contacted my three closest openly gay relatives and asked them if they have any fear as a result of being openly gay and living here in Texas. They all laughed at the question with the answer being a resounding no. It’s also the same with racial attacks. A quick google search and the results don’t show a disproportional amount of racially motivated attacks in the south. The way I see it, even one attack on anyone anywhere is one to many and we all have work to do. Take a look at the facts and you’ll see that this includes all states and countries, not just “RED” states and not just the US.

  13. What’s amazing to me is that the creators of this video/site are the ones who are stereotyping and ignorant of other people. Is it any worse to stereotype or be derogatory toward Muslims than to do likewise to southerners?

    I would also like to point out that your preconceived notions of the places you visit do little to advance your “experiment”. Of course, it’s not an experiment at all, it’s anecdotal. It would just be far more interesting if you didn’t malign the people you are about to meet. To be honest, it makes you look like pretty horrible people. Maybe your video was meant to make a statement about pompous academics?

    Whatever – it’s no skin off my nose. I’m from Ohio, which is quite northern. I just think it’s kind of sad that you feel compelled to rip on southerners, guys wearing camo, and the like. It’s pretty clear that your crew are the ones with misconstrued and rather nasty preconceptions about people you don’t actually know.

  14. As a Texan, I’m disheartened to see once again a program trying to paint all Southerners as racists. If someone were to do a program like this trying to paint all Arabs as racist against Jews, there would be an outcry. No, instead, we seek to understand Muslims. But why won’t you give the South the same credit?

  15. Let’s be brutally honest here – the bottom line is that even though you might find examples of bias against Muslims in the United States, it’s generally not a crime punishable by death. Contrast that with what happens in Muslim countries such as Pakistan, where yesterday they cut a Polish guy’s head off. Imagine the outrage if some Christians in the United States had done the same to a Muslim.

    My belief is that when the day comes that Muslims are a majority in this country, that will be the day when Christians are much less welcome in this country than Muslims have ever been. In other words, in maybe 20-30 years, I can see Christians attempting to film a similar documentary in a Muslim community, only not being met with indifference. Imagine in 30 years a white Christian female going into a restaurant in Dearborn, Michigan. Will the locals insist that she cover her head? Yeah, I’m betting “most likely”.

  16. Now someone just needs to try this experiment, but instead go to Mecca dressed as a Christian. Any takers?

  17. I have to say, at first I was highly offended by this little “experiment.” I now have decided to mark it down to just plain ignorance. I grew up 30 miles from Arab. Yes, there are racist and homophobic people there. However, I would rather walk the streets of downtown Birmingham, Alabama in a turban or abaya, than wear a Bush/Cheney (or Palin), t-shirt in downtown San Francisco. How about dressing someone up as a priest and dumping him in Afghanistan? How do you think that would turn out? I live in Atlanta, Ga, now. I am well-educated, have 2 degrees, live in a very affluent area. However, I’ll bet if you met me at the local BBQ, and spoke to me, with my heavy Southern accent, you would assume I was backward and uneducated. I own a business that imports steel from around the world. I deal with people of every stripe, everyday. People are people, no matter where they reside. Good luck with your project, I hope you are enlightened to the sterotypical labels that are undeservedly given to a whole swath of people.

  18. Christ loves ALL, muslims included.

    The world is a violent sinful place, full of sinful people. Whether muslims or “christians”, ALL are sinners. It is these evils committed by otherwise ordinary (and extra-ordinary) people that is taking america and the rest of the world down.

  19. I find it funny that the people running this “experiment” enter it with their own prejudices and ignorance. First, they don’t know the REAL name of the town (lack of research) and it appears they expected the worst—-kind of like when some classify Arabs as terrorists.

    It is really laughable. What a bunch of morons. Guess the only acceptable hatred is towards white, Christians people from the South. Or is it just against Christians? Or just Southerners? Sorry, it’s so confusing trying to distinguish the stereotypes these idiots were trying to get the unsuspecting citizens of Arab (or is it Arad) to perform.

  20. Two main things that I find particularly puzzling about this video:

    1. If a staffer grew up nearby, shouldn’t he know the origin of the particularly peculiar town name. I grew up in an adjacent county and did not spend any significant amount of time in Arab, but I knew that the name had absolutely nothing to do with an ethnic group.
    2. Would survivalists really have a leisurely lunch together in a BBQ joint?

  21. To the “Dan” above who referenced the “Top Gear” program. You mischacterized that stunt. What they did was drive through the South with the express intent of insulting and offending the people who lived there, who they are, the things they like, their culture etc. And the woman at the gas station had their number from the get go. The first thing she said to them was something along the lines of: “Ya’ll come here trying to get a reaction from us bunch of ‘hicks?’” Yes, that’s exactly what they were trying to achieve. Perhaps the a-hole who hosts the show missed the irony that one of his dupes was smarter than he.

  22. I wanted also to add that I was born and raised in the San Fran area. I’m 40 now and live in Central Texas. My children attend a fairly rural public Texas high school. And it amazes me how tolerant the kids are of their gay and lesbian classmates. Far more tolerant than my school was 20-25 years ago 20 miles outside of San Fran.

  23. The whole point of an experiment is to learn from it. And what this team has learned is just because a town (or the South in general) has a reputation of being racist does not make it so. I’m from Arab and I can honestly say I’m glad I’ve been raised here. It’s comfortable in this small of a community.

    I’m curious to know if this same experiment could be applied in a Saudi or Palestinian town.

    Just like you can’t generalize about Southerners being bigots you can’t do the same with Muslim culture.

  24. Alec, it’s illegal to openly practice Christianity in Saudi Arabia. I don’t think it’s legal to even bring a Bible into the country. And, unless I’m mistaken, the penalty for proselytizing a non-muslim faith is death.

  25. I’m not saying experiment by openly practicing Christianity. Just like this girl dressed in a hijab what would happen if someone walked through a Middle Eastern town in Western clothes.
    Just as the Southern stereotype was proven wrong does the same go for Muslim nations.

  26. Pingback: Responses to CNN article « Journey Into America

  27. I find it highly amusing you took the young “Arab” lady to a barbecue restaurant. If someone looked at you abnormally, maybe that was why.

  28. From looking at the video, it seemed to me that the lady being questioned did know about Islam but was very diplomatic for the sake of not offending anyone. Most times people will not publicly declare their prejudices. Now I will not assume that the couple in the video are prejudiced, it is impossible to tell from such superficial interaction, just as it is impossible to judge the town given such little interaction with its population. I agree with “tester” that your methodology is flawed. And, people will stare at anyone who is different, but a stare can mean many different things – interest, intrigue, anger, admiration. What is most striking in this report is the honesty of innocence, the honesty of the little girl, and I am extremely curious to know what was the reply of her mother.

  29. It always amazes me how people who claim to be open-minded and tolerant of diversity themselves are just as prejudiced as those they claim to be superior to.

    Why doesn’t your group journey out of America, to more tolerant parts of the world, perhaps somewhere in the Umma.

  30. I was raised in Arab, Alabama and never cease to be amazed at the ignorance and intolerance of those pronouncing judgement on people from small southern towns as if they themselves are somehow superior. I would say approximately half of the parents of my classmates were NASA scientists or engineers. Get a clue and get a life. If only you could be as fortunate to live in a place this balanced.

  31. The most laughable thing of the whole video is that they took the “Arab” woman to a barbecue restaurant. While I’m not sure of the restaurant the “experiment” visited, I’d imagine it would serve PORK barbecue. My Shi’a Muslim friend would definitely not willingly commit “haram” (eating meat considered unclean). I can’t imagine her going to a restaurant whose menu is based so heavily on pork.

    For the record, I live in the same county as Arab, AL.

    Also, while I’ve heard the stories about the racism and bigotry in Arab, I’m not really sure if it’s true. I think overall the area is quite religious, western european, and “conservative”; however, there’re always a wide range of ideologies to be found—even if not so outwardly expressed.

    • Arab racism against non-Arab muslims is huge, the tragic example of the genocide in Sudan is the bloody example.

      Then we have the Pakistani & Malysian Muslim brothers & sisters as slaves under the boot of the gulf & Lebanese racist Arabs…

      Or the anti Jewish racism by the entire Arab world, What else is the Palestinian-Arab conflict really all about, the Arabs can’t stand the better group in its midts (especially how Arabs live in free Israel, much better than in ANY Arab country – since all of them are oppressive), so they invent each season a new libel and (commit crimes against humanity, like) push the palestinian kids to die as human shields so that their hatred can have a “reason” of fake “war crimes”.

      Is one a better Muslim beacuse he/she buys Arab Palestinian propaganda as if they are “natives” in Israeli/Palestine?
      What about the peaceful Muslims inside Israel, shouldn’t they be protected from Arab “brotherly” terrorism?

      Just take a look at the “queers for palestine” example, how is this a “dignity” or an honor for Islam?

      Did this entire anti-Jewish Arab genocide campaign for so many years bring any honor to Islam’s name? on the contrary! How many westerners do not link Islam with hatred today?

      Why does Islam’s image have to suffer because of palestinian Arab self inflicting wounds (and due to buying racist Arabism’s propaganda)?

      Why do we have to believe each and every lie the Arabs tell, just because they have the lobby oil power over the media (check out how much of US media Saudi billioniare Bin-Talal owns…) & the United Nations???

  32. I was born and raised in Arab Alabama, Growing up, my parents instructed me on how important it is not to jude others, if you travel right outside of arab to huntsville guntersville or albertville, there are many many many different races and cultures. None are judged by me. Everywhere you go in life there are going to be people who will judge, but you can not take a whole community and say that they all are racist or not friendly with othere cultures. Thats being judgemental. In this video i see you only showed the smallest and oldest parts of our town, while we do have a very nice up-kept community. Its small and theres not much to do here but its a comforting town. And to “Dan D” I can not even tell you the amount of bisexuals or gays we have in this county, no alot of us dont agree with it, but more than half of the arab community are people in there early or late sixties. We have many old people who have lived here for forever, but still there not all racist nor homophobic. Every town has there hand-full of disrespectful people, so yes have some who are that way. Im only sixteen years but I do know whats right and wrong and im going to defend my community, bc there are some amazing people in this area who do so much good but only got ridicule from this video.I hope you can understand that this has offended the people who arent racist as it would offend someone of a different culture if they were looked at funny or treated differentlyin our area. thank you.

  33. ok so all of u went from arab alabama to all the way to muslim…middle east and so on to politics.
    if i know about my religin i will not talk bad about any religin because iam sure my religin is not allowing me and that will be mentioned somewhere in holy book..as far as palestinian thats there land they will take it back anyway…the rich will never stay rich forever and so dose the powerful. then whatever iseal did to them good or bad they will do the same to them. thats why i me myself trying to do good…why the out come will be good.

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