New film highlights the life and work of Elon's Imam Shane Atkinson

A film screening of "Redneck Muslim" at Turner Theater brought the audience on a journey through Imam Shane Atkinson's life as a chaplain at UNC Medical Center and as a white Muslim in the South.

Students eager to know more about Imam Shane Atkinson, Muslim life coordinator at Elon, filled Turner Theater on Thursday, Feb. 15, for a film screening and panel discussion that offered insights into Atkinson's experience as a white man from Mississippi who converted to Islam when he was young.

"Redneck Muslim," a film directed by award-winning director Jennifer Maytorena Taylor, explores Atkinson’s life as a chaplain at UNC Medical Center, before he came to Elon.

The film depicts Atkinson’s struggle to harmonize his southern heritage with Islam. When the film was made, Atkinson had founded a Facebook group called “Redneck Muslims.” In the film, he travels to a national Islamic conference in New Jersey to ask other Muslims from various ethnic and racial backgrounds what they think about his organization and its name. Since filming was completed, he has renamed his group the “Southern Hospitality Islamic Center.”

In a panel discussion followed the film screening, Assistant Professors Ahmed Fadaam and Sana Haq of the School of Communications talked with Atkinson about his background and what it means to be white and Muslim in 2018. Atkinson discussed in detail things not shown in the 16-minute film, including the tensions his conversion caused in his conservative family and how becoming Muslim has helped him to stay connected with them despite their differences. “If I wasn’t Muslim, I probably wouldn’t talk to my parents. That’s part of Islam: to try and reconcile with family, to keep family ties,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson talked about the challenges his multiracial family faces. His wife, who wears a hijab, and children, one of whom has darker skin, cannot always escape the prejudice religious that minorities face.

“Redneck Muslim” will air on PBS in the coming weeks. To see video clips from the discussion, visit the Elon Center for the Study of Religion, Culture, and Society on Facebook.