What are discourse communities? In his essay The Concept of Discourse Community, John Swales describes them as groups that have goals or purposes, and use communication to achieve these goals. Swales also includes a set of six characteristics that assists the individual in being able to identify a discourse community. Those six characteristics include: common goals, intercommunication between members, provision of information, utilization of genres, specified lexis, and a set system to distinguish new members from old members. People can find many examples of discourse communities in their daily lives.
For example, a dance team, a football team, students taking an English class, religious groups, and an acapella group can all be considered discourse communities. A discourse community must satisfy the six characteristics in order to be viewed as a discourse community. I have taken a certain interest in a very particular discourse community. This group that I am so fortunate to be a part of is called 901 Ummah. This specific discourse community is important because it revolves around the local Muslim community of Memphis, Tennessee, hence the 901.
The world we live in today is divided. People have different beliefs and understandings of what goes on in our daily lives. One of the most controversial topics would be the religion of Islam. Due to many attempts of terrorism, people began questioning the safety and credibility of the religion. Those same people have the ability to influence others around them, including the very susceptible youth. This is where 901 Ummah comes in. The very purpose of this group was to educate and inform the local Memphians and youth of the true nature of Islam.
To Meet the Needs of a Growing Community (Mission).
That is the the mission statement of the Memphis Islamic Center, also known as M.I.C. M.I.C has served as the basis for the Muslim community and 901 Ummah. Long before 901 Ummah became a non-profit organization, M.I.C was used as the foundation for lectures and activities for the youth. Local Imams, or Islamic scholars, held lectures to remind the youth and their families about what Islam was about and strengthen their faith in the religion. Older college students began activities for the whole community to attract the youth back to M.I.C. Basically before 901 Ummah became a thing, a small part of the community began educating Memphians on what Islam is. This special community grew into the group known as 901 Ummah.
A discourse community has a broadly agreed set of common public goals (Swales 471). In conjunction with M.I.C, 901 Ummah started a revolution in Memphis. The construction for M.I.C began around 2010. The project leaders purchased a plot of land that just so happened to be across the street from a church. An interview was conducted with the church pastor to see how he reacted to this news. He said that he sat for hours in his office wondering what he should do. Eventually, he put up a sign that said Heartsong Church welcomes the Memphis Islamic Center to the neighborhood. This little action sparked a great friendship. Since many Muslims didn’t have a place to pray, the Church allowed them to use their facility until their building had been finished. Since this story was covered by Starbucks, the whole community soon heard of this friendship (The Mosque).
The people of Heartsong Church accepted the Muslims despite what the media displayed of them. This was the basis for 901 Ummahr’s purpose, to educate Memphians, not just Muslims, on the meaning of Islam. After the building was built and 901 Ummah was established, both 901 Ummah and Heartsong Church held events and lectures at both venues. Ever since then, their friendship grew strong. 901 Ummah brought out famous Imams from around the world to talk about different issues Muslims faced. Topics varied from what Islam was and how it came to be through history to how Muslims should react to media portrayal of Islam. The leaders of 901 Ummah also held sports events, art competitions, and potlucks to create a fun environment to draw out the youth who would be reluctant to come. 901 Ummah has done a great job so far in advocating Islam towards the whole 901 community.
A discourse community has mechanisms of intercommunication among its members (Swales 471). There are three main types of intercommunication in 901 Ummah. The first and most important is social media. 901 Ummah has accounts and pages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. While all play an important role, the main hub of information would be Facebook. The other social medias act as a supplement to Facebook. Social media is used for both people in the discourse community and those looking to join a discourse community. The second type of intercommunication would be through fliers and posters seen throughout M.I.C.
This communication focuses on the people who regularly come to the the Masjid, or place of worship. Another form of communication is the announcements. After any of our daily prayers, one of the members from 901 Ummah would come up to the microphone and announce events coming up.
A discourse community uses its participatory mechanisms primarily to provide information and feedback (Swales 472). 901 Ummah has its own page on Facebook. On this page you can find pictures of different events, what events will take place, and when & where these events will happen. Facebook plays an important role because it quickly allows the group leaders to reach the whole community. It also allows people to leave comments, give reviews, post their own statuses on the page, and RSVP for any events. 901 Ummah also utilizes Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. Through these, 901 Ummah can give small, fun glimpses of things that go on during lectures & activities and get the word out to reach people who dont use Facebook. Through holding fliers and looking at posters, those who come to M.I.C can be reminded of upcoming events and activities. Announcements also follow the same purpose. After any of the five daily prayers, announcements are given to inform people when events will occur.
A discourse community utilizes and hence possesses one or more genres in the communicative furtherance of its aims (Swales 472). In order to advocate the peace of Islam and strengthen the youthr’s faith in Islam, people need to be present. These forms of communication serve as a way to attract more people to be a part of the discourse community. Sporting events, picnics, and competitions attract all types of people. Once people hear about these events through social media, they are more likely to come, take part in events, and learn more about the Muslim community. Also people in the discourse community share information with their friends and family, bringing more to attention to 901 Ummah and its cause. These communications allow more people to get the opportunity of learning about Islam.
In addition to owning genres, a discourse community has acquired some specific lexis (Swales 473). Being Islamic-centered, the discourse community lexis involves Arabic terms. Surprisingly, the discourse community title is a lexi. Ummah means a group of people bound together by the religion of Islam.
So basically the group is called the Muslims of 901. Also, the acronym M.I.C is used a lot in our discourse community because it is our main place of worship. Another important lexi is the Islamic greeting, As-Salam wa Alaikum. Every time we meet someone else in the Masjid, we say this phrase. The phrase means peace be upon you. Another phrase that our youth advisor or anyone else usually says before giving a lecture is Bismillah ar-Rahman ar-Rahim. It means In the name of god, the most gracious, the most merciful. It is usually said in the beginning of many actions to remind people of the importance of God. A really common phrase youd hear during lectures would be Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam. This phrase is to be said after the Prophet Muhammadr’s name is uttered, out of respect for him. A lot of of Arabic phrases can be seen on posters and fliers also. This lexi allows people to be able to understand the Arabic religion and be accustomed to its meaning.
A discourse community has a threshold level of members with a suitable degree of relevant content and discoursal expertise (Swales 473). 901 Ummah is open to anyone who is willing to learn. During any activity or lecture, we always to tend notice familiar faces who have been to many different events. It is easy to distinguish between the old timers and newcomers because the newcomers tend to be sitting alone in the corner. After we see them at more events, we tend to include them in conversations and introduce ourselves to them. The old timers appear at almost every event. These people have been known to be apart of 901 Ummah ever since it was established, including me. Among the old timers include the leaders who devote their time volunteering and planning each event that 901 Ummah holds. By sitting in on lectures and having conversations with the old members, the newcomers begin to learn the groupr’s lexis and understand the purpose our discourse community serves. People who attend many events and take part in activities are considered to be a part of the group.
This discourse community was easy to study and observe because I have been a part of it for so long. My first course of action was to study a Q & A during a lecture on the origin of Islam. People asked the speaker questions by raising their hands and being acknowledged by the speaker. One of the young people in the audience asked, How do we know this is all true and that God is real? The speaker responded with an Arabic phrase, Allahu Aalam, meaning God knows best. The speaker said his beliefs were so strong in the evidences of Islam that he didnt question them. After the Q & A was over, a paper was passed around to leave comments on how the session went. My second course of action was to interview the speaker, our new youth advisor, Safi Khan.
Safi happened to be one of the earliest members of 901 Ummah, before it became official. He had just received a degree in teaching, so he was offered a job as 901 Ummah’s new youth advisor. He was the type of person a lot of people knew and could come to. Anyone who didn’t know him would get to hear him at his weekly lectures. After receiving his degree, he married a Muslim convert. His reason for involvement was to strengthen the youthr’s faith in Islam due to his own past disbeliefs with the religion. He knew most of the Arabic phrases used in the group because he studied Arabic during his free time in college. His communications included his own personal Instagram which he used to post upcoming events. Everyone who followed Safi would get event information and a glimpse into his personal life (Khan). My last course of action was to study the details written on a flier for a picnic happening in the gazebo area of M.I.C. The flier displayed 901 Ummahr’s logo and when & where the event would happen.
901 Ummah was a very unique group, especially in the area it was established. Through the hard work and determination of its group members, 901 Ummah’s goal is being accomplished (Khan). The discourse community is a learning group, with fun activities being a priority as well. I believe this is a fundamental aspect to achieving the groupr’s goals. Todayr’s youth seem more interested in spending time with friends than having to learn things. 901 Ummah incredibly joins both together. Their goal is an admirable one. With all of the negative criticisms towards Islam, groups like 901 Ummah are needed to shed some light on the true meaning of Islam.
Swales, John. The Concept of Discourse Community. Writing About Writing. Ed. Elizabeth Wardle and Doug Downs. New York: Bedford/St. Martinr’s, 2011. 466- 480. Print.
“The Mosque Across the Street.” Memphis Islamic Center RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 04 Oct. 2016.
“Mission.” Memphis Islamic Center RSS. N.p., n.d. Web. 05 Oct. 2016.
Khan, Safi. Personal Interview. 30 Sep. 2016.
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