Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Tuesday, December 04, 2007
Monday, December 03, 2007
It does not envy, it does not boast,
It is not proud.
It is not rude, it is not self-seeking,
It is not easily angered,
It keeps no record of wrongs.
Love does not delight in evil
But rejoices with the truth.
It always protects, always trusts,
Always hopes, always perseveres.
– Corinthians 13: 4-7
Monday, November 19, 2007
Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Saturday, November 03, 2007
Back in the 20th century, most Western politicians and intellectuals (and even some clerics) assumed religion was becoming marginal to public life; faith was largely treated as an irrelevance in foreign policy. Symptomatically, State Department diaries ignored Muslim holidays until the 1990s. In the 21st century, by contrast, religion is playing a central role. From Nigeria to Sri Lanka, from Chechnya to Baghdad, people have been slain in God's name; and money and volunteers have poured into these regions. Once again, one of the world's great religions has a bloody divide (this time it is Sunnis and Shias, not Catholics and Protestants). And once again zealotry seems all too relevant to foreign policy: America would surely not have invaded Iraq and Afghanistan (and be thinking so actively of striking Iran) had 19 young Muslims not attacked New York and Washington.
Thursday, August 30, 2007
Zero-interest financing, a familiar sales incentive at car dealerships and furniture stores, has found its way to another big-ticket consumer market: doctors’ and dentists’ offices.
For $3,500 laser eye surgery, $6,000 ceramic tooth implants or other procedures not typically covered by insurance, millions of consumers have arranged financing through more than 100,000 doctors and dentists that offer a year or more of interest-free monthly payments.
Of course, going into debt to pay for medical procedures is nothing new for many people. And this type of financing is still only a fraction of the nation’s $900 billion market for consumer revolving credit.
But as the price of health care continues to rise and big lenders pursue new areas for growth, this type of medical financing has become one of the fastest-growing parts of consumer credit, led by lending giants like Capital One and Citigroup and the CareCredit unit of General Electric.
Big insurers, too, are devising new financing plans with various payback options. Upstart players have also aggressively cut deals with doctors.
The room for expansion looks ample, as rising deductibles, co-payments and other costs may force more of the nation’s 250 million people with health insurance to finance out-of-pocket expenses for even basic medical care.
“As more and more of the costs of care are shifted to consumers, people are going to need more credit,” said Red Gillen, a senior analyst at Celent, an insurance and banking research firm. “They are still going to need health care.”
The zero-interest plans are not for everyone. In fact, they are available only to the creditworthy — meaning they offer no help to those among the nation’s 47 million uninsured who are in difficult financial situations.
Sunday, August 12, 2007
I think the emphasis on the ummah as a national body is a bit overdone leading to a type of nationalist Islam that is more focused on political ills rather than spiritual diseases. I feel the suhba of many Muslims is filled with discussions of politics rather than spiritual states and refinement of the self. I think my spiritual journey and the journey of many others would be helped if politics was not always the main issue for our Muslim gatherings, but rather how to help ourselves become better people. We focus too much on saving the world rather than ourselves.
And I don't mean that to be selfish, but I genuinely believe that we can't change significantly what's out there until we change what is in our heart of hearts first. And it's not that our religious gatherings don't involve the invocation of God and His remembrance, but it seems a formality rather than a genuine commune with the truest Reality. I need to be surrounded by people who are intoxicated with God's love rather than the news. And don't get me wrong. Politics and social activism are needed. We must be engaged participants in our societies to change them for the better. But politics is an outward struggle. We need some inward struggle as well. There must be a balance struck between the inner and outward; a synthesis that draws on the material means (asbab) and the inner ocean of perfection, majesty and subtlety that is He and has no shores.
Saturday, August 04, 2007
Often, the best way to learn about the mystery of faith is to hit the road and go see for yourself. That's a timeless spiritual truth and it's precisely what nine young Midwestern journalists, ages 12 to 18, did last week in their quest to explore Islam in the United States.
Five were from Indianapolis and four were from Marquette in northern Michigan. They met in the middle for several days of reporting in Wayne and Oakland counties.
"This is a good place, because you've got very tightly knit Muslim communities in Dearborn and then we also could talk to people who live more as a minority in other areas," Mallory St. Claire, 16, of Indianapolis told me during a visit to the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn.
The team of nine fanned out, visiting Muslim centers in Detroit and several suburbs. They also interviewed people attending the Lebanese Festival in Birmingham on July 25. By the end of last week, their appraisal of Muslim-American life was remarkably savvy.
"Overall, this is a very friendly area, but I did find more people talking about discrimination here than I expected," said Amber Carter, 17, of Indianapolis.
The reporters are not Muslims and they tried to approach their journalistic challenge as objective, outside observers.
Tuesday, June 19, 2007
STOCKTON - Mohammad Saeed fits the profile of the average Muslim American.
He was born in Pakistan, immigrated to the United States in 1968, married and raised a family here. Now semiretired from working as a plant supervisor for a steel manufacturing company and fixing up rental properties around town, Saeed, 59, is in decent financial shape.
"Mainstream Muslims are a peaceful people working for their own families and for the country," said Saeed, vice president of the Stockton Islamic Center. "We don't want to be lumped in with extremists."
His lifestyle and attitudes about American culture mirror much of a national survey of Muslim Americans released last month by the Pew Research Center, based in Washington.
Pew pollsters found Muslim Americans to be a diverse group that has integrated into the larger society, become mostly contented with their lives here and formed moderate opinions on many religious and cultural issues. Researchers say the 108-page report, "Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mainstream," is the country's first major study of adherents of the Islamic faith.
Tuesday, May 22, 2007
To provide some background, the idea for this piece came from Danya Shakfeh of the blog Sufistication who actually wrote much of this essay. Please remember this is only a rough draft and we pray by God's grace this will eventually turn into a booklet that will positively add to the current discussion surrounding Muslim American identity formation and cultural production, particularly among youth in relation to Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah's essay "Islam and the Cultural Imperative." As many young Muslim Americans continue to discuss the importance of youth being able to engage critical issues related to culture and personal development, a few concerned individuals wanted to create this essay in order to provide some direction for whatever conversation youth find pertinent and cathartic to relieving the currently tense condition found in some communities regarding what a future "American Islamic tradition" will look like. Please note this is directed more to youth 15-years-old and older insha'Allah.
In the 1970s and 1980s, many Muslims immigrated to North America seeking broader educational and economic opportunities. Many of them had the intention of returning to their home countries upon completion of their education or other respective goals. But, as we know, though we plan, God is the best of Planners and as the years and decades rolled along, many young Muslims from all around the world settled in North America and began to raise families. Before long, these young families found it impractical to return to their respective countries. Their children grew up, made friends, created social, cultural and economic networks and established themselves with a seemingly irreversible permanence. No longer were their goals solely focused on creating better economic and social opportunities. Rather, this generation, we being amongst them, seek to sew a seamless patch of peace adorned by our religious sensibilities into the fabric of America.
One of the advantages we have as a religious minority is that we have an easier time distinguishing between between cultural values and legal rulings. On the other hand, many Muslims, being raised in Muslim households in Muslim-majority countries, take for granted that their lifestyles are shaped and informed by Islamic values. They have few examples with which to compare their cultural experience.
However, as an Arab Muslim raised in the United States, for example, I can compare my lifestyle with members of the Hispanic, South Asian, Turkish and African American Muslim communities, and further to the local Anglo-American culture, which includes Muslims and non-Muslims. I can compare and contrast between what is a cultural creation and what is Divinely ordained. For example, I can recognize that the abaya is an Arab dress for women. Yet, the Shari’a does not require that women wear the abaya specifically, but that they simply cover their bodies with loose clothing and conduct themselves modestly. As such, I can use this criterion to determine what clothing from the local culture is acceptable for Muslims without being restricted to a particular cultural dress. Being able to differentiate between cultural values and legal rulings is the first step in adapting to a new environment.
No longer are we as Muslim Americans bound by only Arab, Asian, or African norms. We can take the legal rulings that make up the Sacred Law and determine what is acceptable culturally and what is not. And this is our challenge.
With the above in mind, the purpose of this booklet is to start a discussion on integration. We seek to recognize the needs of Muslim youth and bring forth possible solutions to the various cultural and social questions we face. By engaging all parts of the Muslim American community including activists, scholars and youth, we hope to create a framework of cultural identity formation that both addresses our needs as Muslims living in America and as Americans living Islam. Not only does this require us to create unique models of identity formation and cultural production, but also to look to those who have found intelligent ways of incorporating religious sensibilities into their local culture, including African Americans and American converts.
By remaining within the dynamic framework of the Shari’a, we allow Muslims and non-Muslims alike to recognize that Islam's Sacred Law is vast, vibrant and accommodating. This is important because not only are we presenting an authentic picture of our Sacred Law as it has been lived for over a thousand years free of political and social deviation, we also as Muslims believe any endeavor that ignores the Divine command falls short of receiving the full blessings of success and continuity.
Therefore, we have raised a few issues below that have become hot topics for discussion in our communities. We have addressed them by presenting our opinions accompanied by what we hope are clear explanations of our thinking. These answers, though, are by no means final but rather a humble starting point of what we hope is to become a larger discussion about how we all can help create a healthy American Islamic framework that allows Muslims to positively contribute to the betterment of American society.
We ask God to bless us in this endeavor, to make this effort a means of drawing closer to His Majesty and a great source of benefit for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Ameen.
Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah writes in his essay “Islam and the Cultural Imperative”:
“In history, Islam showed itself to be culturally friendly and, in that regard, has been likened to a crystal clear river. Its waters (Islam) are pure, sweet, and life-giving but—having no color of their own—reflect the bedrock (indigenous culture) over which they flow. In China, Islam looked Chinese; in Mali, it looked African. Sustained cultural relevance to distinct peoples, diverse places, and different times underlay Islam’s long success as a global civilization.”
It’s easy to get caught up in the seemingly continuous tumble of life’s complications. Family members, friends and school each compete for our limited time and resources. With so much demand and responsibility piling up, it becomes increasingly difficult for us all to effectively fit these competing interests into a single, manageable schedule. But as we continue to grow into the different roles and phases of our lives, it becomes all the more important for each of us to figure out who we are as individuals in the different roles we play in society — be it as a son, daughter, sibling, friend or student. With the world continuing to change and we as Muslims reflecting these changes, we find ourselves at one moment more deeply rooted in American society, but in the next one unsure of what it means to be rooted in this culture. As this occurs, it becomes essential that we as youth take a moment to reflect on and begin the process of community and self-definition.
As Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah continues in his essay “Islam and the Cultural Imperative”:
“By setting the boundaries of the self and impart-ing a strong, unified sense of identity, a sound Muslim American culture would allow for dynamic engage-ment with ourselves and the world around us. It would also cultivate the ability to cope with complex social realities and negotiate productively the various roles which life in modern society require us to play, while maintaining a unified, dignified, and self-assured sense of who we are and a consistent commitment to the val-ues for which we stand.”
To help us all find our places in American society and feel more comfortable with our existence here as Muslim Americans, the following prompts have been developed to give us some direction and guidance. And as we develop this discussion, it might be helpful to keep in mind that "home" is not where our grandparents are buried, but where our grandchildren will be raised.
“American” is a difficult term to define. But most, if not all, would agree that it is a term that refers to a society, culture and set of shared values that are tolerant, pluralistic and democratic making almost anything "American," including curry and shwarma. American can refer to First Amendment freedoms, southern hospitality, African American heritage, or a slice of New York City pizza. It is a melting pot of cultures and narratives that is elastic and can include our religious culture without strain. It is important to remember that there is nothing inherent in the idea of “American” or "American-ness" that clashes with basic Islamic values; rather many American values such as tolerance and civic activism are actually Islamic. This is why we must recognize that we are apart of this country and therefore have a great responsibility in making it the best it can be by protecting it intellectually and spiritually. Furthermore, it is a testament to the tolerant nature of American values that Muslims have thrived and continue to thrive unhindered in their ability to believe what they want and turn these beliefs into action.
Or both? Our generation needs to get out of the habit of interchanging non-Muslim for American. This is important considering the large number of American converts to Islam and second-generation Muslims born in this country. We can no longer make comments like “the Americans do this” and “the Muslims do that.” Every time we think of Americaness as kufr, or unbelief, and something distinct from Islam, we perpetuate a negative frame-of-mind that hinders our ability to make our religion one that is deeply entrenched in this culture and relatable to all different types of people, be they of European descent, African-American or Hispanic. Confining Islam and Islamic values to the “Islamic World” limits us all because Islam is not a religion of the East or West, but of everywhere. We have to remember, a person can be both Muslim and American and that is who we are today. Recall that the beloved Messenger of God (peace be upon him) is a “Mercy to all the worlds” and that Islam is a religion for all places and times. By excluding anyone, be it Americans or otherwise, we are only affirming the false idea some people believe that Islam is not compatible with the West or modern living.
There are many different levels of American culture that Muslims can participate in. Some people like to portray all Americans as individuals only concerned with lewdness. But surely we should think better of our neighbors? Americans participate in beneficial activities such as community service, sports, academic research, educational forums, helping the environment and much, much more. These are areas in which Muslims should tap into and make our presence visible. Unlike how some people like to portray us, there is nothing wrong with interacting with non-Muslims at large. We should maintain good conduct and leave other people’s affairs to God, Most High.
While MSA’s and other Muslim organizations are valuable vehicles for social organizing, motivation and mobilization, it should be noted that there is more to being active than inviting people to the way of God and reminding those around us that we are not terrorists. Rather, we as Muslims should create ways to effectively plug-in the individuals that make up our communities to fully benefit from our diverse resources and talents. By allowing our youth and elders to develop their unique capacities of service, we will be better prepared and able to serve the members of our local community be they Muslim or not. By this kind of concerted organizing, Muslim Americans will be able to speak through their actions rather than through the confines of simplistic slogans and media statements. Organizing canned food drives, feeding the homeless and arranging discussion panels with other organizations are all avenues of reaching out to the greater community. But this isn’t the whole list. With this in mind, we should consider what more can Muslims do in their individual communities to utilize local resources in order to be more prominent in the mainstream public square and follow through on our beloved Messenger’s words that praise those who serve mankind.
It’s no doubt difficult keeping faith alive, no matter where we live. But it’s especially difficult living among people who don’t give a lot of thought to God-consciousness. So how do we keep the faith alive? How do we make Islam relevant to our daily lives and to the lives of those around us? This is our challenge and it is a huge challenge that none of us can figure out alone and none of us should ever feel it is ours alone to shoulder. We shouldn't navigate this question divided into tiny boats paddling along, but create a large ship where everyone feels they have a place to contribute something beneficial. We need all the help we can get in plotting a course that revives and maintains our spirituality and the spiritual needs of our friends, family, community and country.
Everyone says “Islamic clothing,” but does anyone really know what it means? Depending on whom you might talk to, be it an Arab or a Desi, somehow “Islamic clothing” is either a thobe or a shalwar kameez. But is this correct? Islam’s Sacred Law commands nothing more than to dress modestly. But you might ask “didn’t the beloved of God (pbuh) wear certain types of clothing?” Sure, but this does not mean that we are required to wear long robes and turbans to school, as beautiful as his example (pbuh) and this dress is. In fact, he did wear other peoples’ garments to demonstrate that Islamic dress is not limited to one culture. Furthermore, Muslim clothing throughout the centuries has been shaped by local culture and has become a rich tradition filled with robes, thobes, saris, tunics, slacks, blues, blacks, oranges, greens and other styles and colors representing the incredible diversity of Muslims from Senegal to Singapore. Muslim Americans should create a mode of dress that is both reflective of the local culture and true to the principle of modesty. Rather than being “thugged out” or wearing super tight clothing, we should wear loose-fitting dress that protects our modesty but at the same time beautifies not only ourselves, but also our environments and sets a positive standard for those around us.
The Sacred Law has several opinions regarding the permissibility of music. The strongest and best-known opinions state that although singing about permissible things is allowed, instruments, with the exception of the drum, are not permissible because of the possibly damaging effects they have on the human soul and its spiritual refinement (mujahadat an-nafs). However, there are minority opinions that state, under certain conditions (where there is no use of foul language or discussions of vulgar concepts), that instrumental music is permissible. Living in the United States, where we encounter music constantly because it is deeply woven into the fabric of local cultures, it is difficult to totally avoid music with instrumental accompaniment. Although the authors of this piece do not listen to music with instrumental accompaniment because of the reasons mentioned above, they recognize that perhaps some contemporary opinions regarding the lawfulness of it do not address the relatively unique historical, cultural and social contexts of the contemporary Muslim American community. Further, it is important to establish a middle position on instrumental music that doesn’t condemn or alienate individuals who take one position or the other in order prevent extremism where members in our community either ban music all together or listen to all of it, the good and the bad. With the above in mind, it is important for the Muslims of America to arrive at a more sophisticated understanding of the music dilemma and find appropriate alternatives to the contemporary corporate-driven music industry that is seriously lacking. One way we can to do this, for example, is by promoting artists who respect and try to follow Islamic moral principles and at the same time provide listeners with a true expression of the beauty and wonder of the human experience.
Islam’s Sacred Law is not categorically against men and women interacting with each other. Rather, our scholars merely stipulate that whatever interaction does occur, it is done with proper etiquette and modesty. This is especially important to keep in mind because as Muslims are a minority in North America, our numbers are limited and the only other Muslim one might see is one of the opposite gender. Because of this reality, it may be better to support one another by giving each other the Islamic greeting of As-Salamu ‘Alaykum and checking up on one another.
One may be familiar with the Prophetic tradition (hadith) that the best place for a woman is in her house. The Prophetic wisdom recognizes that commanding or even encouraging women to pray at the mosque would be a source of hardship for her, especially if she is caring for the home or raising children at the time. However, we should remember that this saying of our beloved Messenger, peace and blessings be upon him, does not state that women should be prevented from going to the mosque. Neither is there a verb in this hadith instructing woman to “pray in one’s house.” We should also remind ourselves that the Prophet (peace be upon him) instructed his community not to prevent a woman from entering the mosque. In North America, mosques hold our communities together because they are the glue of our communities. There are individuals who would never see or know other Muslims if they did not attend the local mosque. Furthermore, mosques not only serve as places for worship, but also as a place for education. Muslim women are the spiritual mothers of our community and if they are neglected in their spiritual education and upliftment, so too is the whole community. With this in mind, how can women be provided appropriate space so that they are accommodated and have a place in the mosque that facilitates and caters to their spiritual needs?
Many Muslims have developed a dislike for using the word God because they mistakenly believe that it is not an acceptable term for the Divine. But just as Arab Christians and Arab Jews use the word Allah and South Asian Muslims refer to God as “Khuda” (such as in Khuda Hafiz), Muslims in North America should not shy from using the English word God to invoke the greatness of the Lord of all creation because it is a fact that the word “God” is not defined in the English language in the Christian Trinitarian sense, but as “the Supreme or Ultimate Reality." This is an important issue because many non-Muslims in the English-speaking world mistakenly assert that the God of the Bible is not the God of the Qur’an. This further deepens the divide between some ignorant individuals in our country who wish to see that Muslims are viewed as outsiders with nothing in common to share with their neighbors.
As Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah writes in his essay, “One God, Many Names”:
“For some, even despite honest efforts to remain open-minded, “Allah” continues to evoke a wide range of deeply ingrained cultural prejudices and negative associations, conscious or subconscious. On the other hand, “God” creates an immediate associative response in most non-Muslim native speakers of English that would be virtually impossible for “Allah” to evoke even after years of positive exposure.”
Keep in mind also that English-speaking Jews, who do not believe in the Christian Trinity and have a conception of monotheism similar to ours, use the word “God.” There is nothing inherently implicit in the term “God” that decreases the Majesty and Beauty of Divine Unity. Though Allah refers to Himself as such, we should also consider the context in which we speak when choosing our terms.
The identity formation process is an inevitable one. Over the next few generations, Muslims will be apart of this society as peers, colleagues, neighbors, leaders, and activists. Rather than letting some of the important issues get out of hand or go in a way that misleads future generations, we should take control of the situation so that we do not lose sight of the main reason of our existence. With this booklet as a humble starting point, we hope you continue the discussion on what it means to be a Muslim American and be avid in helping to shape a healthy Muslim culture in America that both embraces the diversity of creation and the unity of the Creator.
Wednesday, May 16, 2007
From the German newspaper Der Spiegel
Editor's Note: Industrialized nations spend billions to subsidize their high-tech farming industries. Surplus crops often end up being sold at rock-bottom prices in the markets of developing countries, making it impossible for local farmers to sell their products. Even the American food aid being sent to famine-plagued regions creates more suffering than it alleviates, because many governments prefer to wait for handouts than buy up their farmers' harvests. The lack of options is forcing thousands of Africans to risk the life-threatening journey to Europe...
Monday, May 07, 2007
And neither is it good for Muslims when so much of the world is alight with anti-imperial opposition. Over an over, it is the Muslim bogeyman or woman that accompanies some sinister music on CNN or a frightening photo on the front page of the New York Times with some links to violence or anti-American sentiment. Very few articles portray Muslims in a positive light, especially now in our sleepless news cycle culture. And as Muslim Americans attempt to socially integrate, create a new and dynamic culture and figure out identity, they are overshadowed by identity politics plaguing the Middle East and political events they have no control over. It is in this climate, therefore, that Muslim Americans, like African Americans once did, must create a vigorous and independent press whose journalists are not only “fighting partisans” but a window for America’s dominant culture to peer into to understand its peers in citizenship.
This Muslim fourth estate, as the African American press was in the 1960s, must be organic, provide “voice and visibility,” but also provide a forum for structured internal community introspection. It cannot be meticulously micromanaged, superficial, or serendipitous, but must be independent and ready to challenge and question not only the dominant culture’s view of Muslim America, but the Muslim’s view of Muslim America. But how did the African American press engage white America in the 1960s? How did it act as a platform for community introspection but also act as an ardent advocate when so much confusion reigned — Vietnam, Watts? I’m not quite sure. But I do know why do we Muslim Americans need this. The answer is clear. As non-Muslim America grapples with its Muslim population as white America did with its black population in the 1960s, it needs a viable medium to engage intellectually and culturally that is defined by those within the Muslim community and not from without. This press is necessary and its necessity can be summed by the founders of the African American press, “We wish to plead our own cause.”
For this paper, I will use three articles from major black newspapers and magazines and three from mainstream newspapers and magazines from the 1960s to illustrate how the African American newspaper acted as a forum for community introspection and an advocate for black social integration. I don’t have the articles yet, but am busy scurrying around trying to locate them. From what I imagine, these journalistic pieces will be editorials, newspaper stories and magazine features that discuss the African American press’ role in creating a place for engagement and also pieces that are of pure coverage of controversial events and topics from the African American perspective and white dominant cultural perspective to show how newspapers and magazines framed stories and provided a way for readers to better understand why certain things were taking place among Blackamericans and the African American community in the 1960s.
The founder of alt.muslim Shahed Amanullah wrote a piece for his Web magazine called "Western Muslims Need a Fourth Estate." I want to build on this call, but provide examples from the development of the African American community to show the great parallels and amazing success the African American community had because of an independent black press. I would like to then analyze the current place of the Muslim American community in its development to argue that it is in desperate need of an independent press that can provide a forum for intellectuals, scholars and lay Muslims as well to discuss where the Muslim American community is and where it should go. This independent press, however, does not look like it will develop until money is fed into it. With recent articles coming out in the New York Times and Adweek Magazine discussing the estimated $170 billion of American Muslim disposable income, the impossible it seems might just take a while. Myself and others have argued that Muslims are paving the road, but not sure where its leading toward and most importantly the destination in terms of integration, identity and cultural production.
The Muslim blogosphere as has actually flourished partly because of the lack of an independent Muslim press. But as it expands and anyone with computer access and an Internet connection can join, the discussion has become less structured. Although I appreciate everyone's opinion, there is no overarching agenda and structure that an independent media can provide in which to provide context and a vision for Muslim Americans to build something bigger than themselves and their families that will provide a foundation for future American Muslim generations. So I guess this is the comparison; the African American press’ place in the 1960s in facilitating greater awareness of African American grievances and providing “voice and visibility” to outsiders and insiders alike and how the Muslim American press can learn from the African American press to empower the Muslim American community and provided a means for positive growth and development.
Sunday, May 06, 2007
SARAJEVO (Reuters) - Film director Aida Begic, a Bosnian Muslim, rediscovered religion when she was trying to rebuild her life after the country's devastating war.
"I was raised in total freedom, not burdened by tradition," said the 30-year old. She is the first woman in her family to wear the headscarf since her great-grandmother.
Although most Muslim girls in Bosnia follow fashion, drink alcohol, smoke and socialize freely, they also increasingly observe fasts and religious holidays. Some, like Begic, choose to wear the headscarf over their Western brand clothes.
"People were surprised, commented, asked questions. Some found it totally unacceptable. But it is absolutely my own choice," she said while waiting for the start of an avant-garde theatre play in Sarajevo.
Bosnian Muslims are Europe's only indigenous Muslim population, Slavs who adopted Islam during Ottoman rule starting in the 15th century. They traditionally practiced a tolerant, "gentle" form of Islam that adapted official doctrine to local customs.
Friday, May 04, 2007
1. There is no U.S. Census data on the number of Muslims in the U.S., but several estimates put the figure at 6-8 million. Assuming a minimum of 6.3 million Muslims (a 2006 figure from the International Strategy and Policy Institute), and estimating the disposable income of each at the national average of $27,243, and their aggregate disposable income totals more than $170 billion. That is roughly equivalent to the buying power of Indiana (6.3 million population) or Massachusetts (6.4 million).
2. There is no single "Muslim community" in the U.S., just as there is no homogeneous "Christian community." Muslims come from many ethnic backgrounds, traditions and cultures. The only things all American Muslims have in common are the broad outlines of their faith and the fact that they are American.
3. Muslims in America comprise not only immigrants from the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, Africa and the Balkans, along with their American-born descendants, but also many African Americans and others who have adopted Islam.
The Don Imus scandal led to debates concerning, sexism, racism, rap lyrics and media responsibility. What has unfortunately been ignored and what I found most glaring from this fiasco, is that the African American community has a voice. Immediately after Don Imus made his comments, an all out media blitz ensued with several prominent members of the African American community receiving television and radio air time to discuss Imus and his ignorant comments. Within a week, Imus had been turned into an American villain, as well as lost his television and radio show.
Obviously African Americans having a voice in society is a positive step towards racial equality, but I can’t help but focus on the groups that do not have a voice. I wonder if Imus had made similar remarks about Mexican Americans, Asian Americans or Muslim Americans, would he still have his job? It is likely that the comments concerning those groups would never had made it farther than his loyal listeners.
If Don Imus type comments are not considered acceptable by public standards, which I agree with, than that means all similar comments made against all minority groups are unacceptable. This reasoning I’m sure most people would agree with, but yet it does not resonate in society.
By no means I am saying that the African American community no longer experiences racial inequality that can not be easily remedied, but at least their voice is often heard. Can we say that about any other minority group in this country?
- Raise the issue
- Don’t assume the group is always right
- Don’t assume the boss is always right
- Don’t assume the expert is always right
- Don’t just point it out
- Offer suggestions as to why you think you have a problem
- Identify how the problem could have arisen
- Place the problem in context of the three reasons for moral reasoning in journalism (philosophy, politics, and economics)
- Offer alternatives
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
For years, few advertisers in the United States have dared to reach out to Muslims
Either they did not see much potential for sales or they feared a political backlash. And there were practical reasons: American Muslims come from so many ethnic backgrounds that their only common ground is their religion, a subject most marketers avoid.
That is beginning to change. Consumer companies and advertising executives are focusing on ways to use the cultural aspects of the Muslim religion to help sell their products.
Monday, April 30, 2007
Over the past year, we've become acutely aware that most brands and marketers are turning a blind eye to the multibillion- dollar American Muslim market. Maybe they don't recognize that there is an opportunity. Maybe they harbor some of the anti- Muslim fears and prejudices that are so apparent in American media and public life. Maybe they are scared of offending American Muslims, or they fear that by embracing Muslim consumers, they will alienate non-Muslims. Whatever the reason, they are failing to connect with consumers whose combined disposable income is well in excess of $170 billion a year in the U.S. alone.
Marketers are consummate opportunists, constantly looking for new angles, new ways to sell products and new target markets to address. The best among them have an intuition for identifying significant shifts in societies. The marketing industry was the first to recognize "teenage" as a life stage, in the 1950s, and has helped popularize notions of social segments ever since, from yuppies, empty nesters and boomers to Gen Xers, metrosexuals and singletons, not to mention dinks (dual income, no kids) and skis (spending the kids' inheritance). More often than not, the labels they come up with seem familiar even before they are explained. They are intuitively right, sometimes to the point of being blindingly obvious with hindsight.
So it's all the more mysterious that global marketers have overlooked a social segment of truly global proportions. Around the world, well over 1 billion people identify as Muslim. Islam shapes their sense of identity, their beliefs and values, and their behavior. From a marketing perspective, it's unthinkable that Islam would not influence them as consumers, too. Yet there is a gaping void in the global marketing industry's knowledge of Muslims. Where do global marketers turn for guidance about Muslim consumers? At the moment, there is no single resource.
Wednesday, April 25, 2007
Hip-hop has been making enemies for as long as it has been winning fans. It has been dismissed as noise, blamed for concert riots, accused of glorifying crime and sexism and greed and Ebonics. From Run-D.M.C. to Sister Souljah to Tupac Shakur to Young Jeezy, the story of hip-hop is partly the story of those who have been irritated, even horrified, by it.
Even so, the anti-hip-hop fervor of the last few weeks has been extraordinary, if not quite unprecedented. Somehow Don Imus’s ill-considered characterization of the Rutgers women’s basketball team — “some nappy-headed hos” — led not only to his firing but also to a discussion of the crude language some rappers use. Mr. Imus and the Rev. Al Sharpton traded words on Mr. Sharpton’s radio show and on “Today,” and soon the hip-hop industry had been pulled into the fray.
Unlike previous hip-hop controversies, this one doesn’t have a villain, or even a villainous song. The current state of hip-hop seems almost irrelevant to the current discussion. The genre has already acquired (and it’s fair to say earned) a reputation for bad language and bad behavior. Soon after Mr. Imus’s firing, The Daily News had Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York, splashed on its cover alongside the hip-hop producer Timbaland, whose oeuvre includes some Imusian language. He had helped arrange a fund-raiser for her and apparently was now a liability. Oprah Winfrey organized a two-show “town meeting” on what’s wrong with hip-hop — starting with the ubiquity of the word “ho” and its slipperier cousin, “bitch” — and how to fix it. The hip-hop impresario Russell Simmons, who appeared on the show, promised to take action, but last Thursday a planned press conference with hip-hop record label executives was canceled at the last minute, with scant explanation.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
BELTSVILLE, Md., April 23 — What is happening to the bees?
More than a quarter of the country’s 2.4 million bee colonies have been lost — tens of billions of bees, according to an estimate from the Apiary Inspectors of America, a national group that tracks beekeeping. So far, no one can say what is causing the bees to become disoriented and fail to return to their hives.
As with any great mystery, a number of theories have been posed, and many seem to researchers to be more science fiction than science. People have blamed genetically modified crops, cellular phone towers and high-voltage transmission lines for the disappearances. Or was it a secret plot by Russia or Osama bin Laden to bring down American agriculture? Or, as some blogs have asserted, the rapture of the bees, in which God recalled them to heaven? Researchers have heard it all.
Sufism is a knowledge through which one knows the states of the human soul, praiseworthy or blameworthy, how to purify it from the blameworthy and ennoble it by acquiring the praiseworthy, and to journey and proceed to Allah Most High, fleeing unto Him. Its fruits are the heart’s development, knowledge of God through direct experience and ecstasy, salvation in the next world, triumph through gaining Allah’s pleasure, the attainment of eternal happiness, and illuminating and purifying the heart so that noble matters disclose themselves, extraordinary states are revealed, and one perceives what the insight of others is blind to
— Muhammad Amin Kurdi
The way of Sufism is based on five principles: having godfearingness privately and publicly, living according to the sunna in word and deed, indifference to whether others accept or reject one, satisfaction with Allah Most High in dearth and plenty, and returning to Allah in happiness or affliction. The principles of treating the illnesses of the should are also five: lightening the stomach by diminishing one’s food and drink, taking refuge in Allah Most High from the unforeseen when it befalls, shunning situations involving what one fears to fall victim to, continually asking for Allah’s forgiveness and His blessings upon the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) night and day with full presence of mind, and keeping the company of him who guides one to Allah
— Imam Nawawi
Aspects of Sufism, defined, delineated, and explained, amount to nearly two thousand, all of them reducible to sincerity in turning to Allah Most High, something of which they are only facets, and Allah knows best. The necessary condition of sincerity of approach is that it be what the Truth Most High accepts, and by the means He accepts. Now something lacking its necessary condition cannot exists, “And He does not accept unbelief for His servants” (Koran 39:7), so one must realize true faith (iman), “and if you show gratitude, He will accept it of you” (Koran 39:7), which entails applying Islam. So there is no Sufism except through comprehension of Sacred Law, for the outward rules of Allah Most High are not known save through it, and there is no comprehension of Sacred Law without Sufism, for works are nothing without sincerity of approach.
— Ahmad Zarruq
PERHAPS the best description of the path of Sufism, certainly one of the most frequently cited among its scholars, is the hadith of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace):
Allah Most High says:
“Whomever is hostile to a friend of Mine I declare war against. My slave approaches Me with nothing more beloved to Me than what I have made obligatory upon him, and My slave keeps drawing nearer to Me with voluntary works until I love him. And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his sight with which he sees, his hand with which he seizes, and his foot with which he walks. If he asks Me, I will surely give to him, and if he seeks refuge in Me, I will surely protect him. I do not hesitate from anything I shall do more than My hesitation to take the soul of the believer who dislikes death; for I dislike displeasing him” (Bukhari, 8.131: 6502. S).
This hadith describes the means to the change that is central to spiritual realization, in conformity with the teaching of the sheikhs of the path who define a Sufi as “a scholar of religious learning (faqih) who practiced what he knew, so Allah bequeathed him knowledge of what he did not know.” While people differ in their capacity both to learn the religion and to attain the consummate awareness of tawhid or ‘divine unity’ expressed in the above hadith, everyone who travels the Shadhili path (tariqa) must know the works needed to “practice what one knows.” If one is great in them, one will be great in spiritual attainment, and if one is weak in them, one will be weak in spiritual attainment, unable to pass from transitory experiences (ahwal) to permanent realization (tahqiq).
Sunday, April 15, 2007
In a 1937 Gallup poll, 47 percent of Americans said they would not support a Jewish candidate for President, regardless of a candidate's qualifications. During the past 70 years that number has dropped to a low of 15 percent, even prompting a Vice-Presidential hopeful in 2000 (Joe Lieberman).
The zenith of that anti-Semitic era was the "Red Scare" of 1919-1920. Mitchell Palmer, the US Attorney General of the time, accused Jewish Americans of being "foreign-born" subversives, claiming that in their midst they had 60,000 organized agitators of the Trotsky doctrine (much like today's "Green Scare", which claims that Muslim sleeper cells hide in every mosque).
Leon Trotsky was a Ukrainian-born revolutionary who lived in New York before leaving to lead the Red Army against communist opponents, including American troops.
Two decades later, half of all Americans said that they would never vote for a Jewish president; and in a subsequent poll (1944), one-quarter accused them of being "less patriotic".
So, why rehash this dark chapter in our history? Because, in truth, bigotry never dies, it merely blends in to its chronometric background; like a chameleon stepping from yesterday's narrative into today's, seeking a modern antagonist.
Monday, April 09, 2007
The editors of altmuslim.com are approached by the news media on a weekly - and sometimes even daily - basis for our insight into affairs in the Muslim world. As a result, we've come to know the reporters on the "Islam beat" at many major US and UK newspapers, as well as several radio and TV journalists, and have become familiar with their individual mastery of issues regarding Islam and the Muslim world. And over the years, we've come to some well-founded conclusions regarding Islam and the media.
First, while there are some very knowledgeable journalists that have done their homework and do a fair and responsible job, there are many other reporters assigned to write about our religion and community that have no business doing so. (Case in point: Any reporter that asks me, as one did a few weeks ago, the definition of "Assalamu alaikum" after four years of all-Islam-all-the-time media coverage is better off writing about something else.) Second, there are far too many columnists who have made it their mission to degrade Islam and dehumanize Muslims, often asking rhetorical questions challenging Muslim ideas and views, betting that the silence that follows will validate their points. Third, the agenda that defines how Islam is treated in the media is not based on our interests, nor is it based in the interests of reducing tensions between Muslims and others. It is driven by sensationalism and eyeballs, blood and guts, and creating a bogeyman on which frustrations ranging from the Iraq war to economic malaise can be pinned. Fourth, and most significantly, the collective Muslim response to the media's coverage of Islam has been anemic at best, relegated to organization spokespeople that limit their insight to defensive bumper-sticker "talking points" and lay Muslims who are no match for aggressive reporters that have an agenda and who have done their homework.
Though Muslims have a stake in how our community is framed and discussed by the media, we have ceded that responsibility to others who have agendas that are not in our interest. We have allowed ourselves to be defined by others in the worst possible way - and too many well-meaning media consumers are buying it. What is needed in the face of this onslaught is a professional, independent Muslim press that can engage the media at large in a professional manner, helping to burst the alternate-reality bubble that has been allowed to grow so large. Dynamic, independent, and professional Muslim voices, free of restrictions based on organizational affiliation yet intimately connected to the mainstream Muslim community, can make a difference even if their numbers are small. We know this firsthand - our mere presence in major media outlets constantly changes the direction of the discourse away from "us vs. them" towards a more nuanced look at the issues facing our community. In other words, Muslims in the West need their own fourth estate.
But the value of an independent Muslim media is greater than simply being a more effective PR machine. These voices are needed to ask tough questions and spur critical thinking within Muslim communities, and take us beyond the defensiveness, dismissiveness, whitewashing, and self-promotion that we have become so used to in our internal dialogue. Muslims in the West are savvy and voracious consumers of the Western media. So why then should the Muslim media be afraid to rise to that same level of professionalism and open inquiry? It is inexcusable that a Western Muslim population of over 30 million has only a handful of folks analytical and objective enough to challenge both the sensationalism against Muslims in the Western media and the echo chambers of dialogue between Muslims that is addicted only to the obvious (i.e., support for the Palestinians, opposition to the Iraq occupation) to the detriment of honest internal critique and a meaningful engagement with a critical non-Muslim audience.
The current state of the Muslim press in the West has a number of unique characteristics which contribute this mess. Many press outlets are linked (explicitly or otherwise) to an organization or other agent with a vested interest that conflicts with a truly free press. Full-time, university-trained journalists are both scarce and tend to take mainstream media jobs, leading to a lack of professionalism in the Muslim media. Those that wish to make a career in the Muslim media will find only a handful of full-time positions available (in our estimates, there are probably less than 25 full-time journalist positions in the US Muslim media). As businesses, the Western Muslim press is advertiser-dependent, and fear of controversial opinions that would drive away readership leads to self-censorship. What is left is only feel-good coverage that infers that our collective communities are passive, undynamic, and devoid of confidence.
An English-language Muslim press that reaches out to English-speaking Muslims and non-Muslims needs to be proficient and effective in its use of the language. And, in general, we have a press that engages in a sort of intellectual tribalism, refusing to question or criticise actions by Muslims simply because they're Muslim. This is an understandable response to external pressure, of course, as these journalists see themselves on the front lines of defending our community against unfair attacks. The problem, however, is that the defense of the Muslim community in such an arena is best served by open and honest debate and inquiry, not in knee-jerk defensiveness. It is seen by many professional journalists, Muslim and otherwise, as proof that the Muslim media does not understand the power of a free press or how to best use it to serve the interests of the Muslim community. The Muslim community is best served by the truth, and a free press works best when used in the pursuit of truth rather than a building public relations facade. Here's a tip for Muslims who have put themselves forward as spokespersons for the media: Many reporters that I have come to know can tell when they are being fed talking points rather than genuine insight, and they resent it - even the ones who are naturally inclined to support us.
In our opinion, however, the greatest need for an independent Muslim media is to engage inward, not outward. For too long, we have not cultivated a sophisticated dialogue within the Muslim community that we believe is needed in order to confront the challenges facing us. (There are some hopeful signs of such a dialogue in the Muslim blogosphere, but this is irrelevant and/or inaccessible for the vast majority of Muslims in the West.) An aggressively independent and professional Muslim media can explore the religious, cultural, and political plurality within the Muslim community, hold Muslim advocacy groups, businesses, and institutions accountable for their actions, present a forum for the civilized discussion of underrepresented or even controversial opinions, and increase the ability of ordinary Muslims to defend their faith beyond bumper-sticker platitudes. Without such a media at their disposal, ordinary Muslims are both blind to the sophistication of anti-Muslim forces that use the media and virtually unarmed against their attacks on our community.
How do we get to this promised land of a free and vigorous Muslim press? Muslim media organizations, even those that are not independent, should insist on universally-accepted journalistic standards. Take chances with subject matter - we think you'll be surprised at how accepting most Muslims are of controversy that serves a higher purpose. Promote journalism as a professional career among young Muslims in the West. Spin off organizational media to be stand-alone, self-sufficient publications. Build and/or grow press associations for Muslim journals/journalists to promote professionalism. For Muslim journalists, professional or otherwise: create networks with mainstream journalists and use them to help hone your craft. Tap into the emerging talent and independent voices in the Muslim blogosphere to ensure journalistic transparency. And most importantly, subscribe to or otherwise support the independent Muslim media - outlets like Islamica Magazine, Azizah, Q-News, Illume, Radio Islam, Bridges TV, and others are on the vanguard of building healthy Muslim media sector, and they should be more widely supported.
We started altmuslim.com because we could no longer tolerate the damage being done to our community in the absence of an independent Muslim media. We would be happy if the emergence of one made us redundant.
Wednesday, April 04, 2007
Cambridge, Mass. - Kareem Salama – the main act on this evening's Muslim Student Association program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology – nervously sips a bottle of water backstage as his guitarist/producer tunes a 12-string guitar.
The crowd buzz softens to a deferential hush as a bearded student takes the stage to start the evening with readings from the Koran in an Arabic melody that sounds like a medieval hymn.
It's Koranic recitations like these that inspired Mr. Salama, the son of Eygptian immigrants, to become a musician. But it's the peculiarly American circumstances of his life that drove this devout Muslim with a Southern drawl to his musical passion – country.
And so on this evening Koranic verse dissolves into the main act: the upbeat twang of what is perhaps the first Muslim country singer. In a down-home sound that seems at total odds with his look – an elegantly built man with a goatee style popular with young Arabs in his parents' Middle Eastern homeland – Salama croons to the enthusiastic audience. "Baby, I'm a soldier and I hear those trumpets calling again ... It's time for this simple man to be one of the few good men," go his original lyrics to a war ballad about the shared humanity of two soldiers on opposing sides.
As any musician emerging at the grassroots level, Salama performs mostly at smaller, niche events like this one. But he clearly has a growing following. Mariam Kandil, an MIT brain and cognitive sciences major who first heard him at another Muslim conference, says that Salama "got me to like country music."
But further, adds Ms. Kandil, a Muslim who wears hijab, the traditional Muslim head scarf, "What really caught my attention was his voice. But also the lyrics of the songs ... cater not only to the Muslim population but to a more universal group of people because of their meaning."
Sunday, April 01, 2007
But being an amazing girl often doesn’t feel like enough these days when you’re competing with all the other amazing girls around the country who are applying to the same elite colleges that you have been encouraged to aspire to practically all your life.
An athlete, after all, is one of the few things Esther isn’t. A few of the things she is: a standout in Advanced Placement Latin and honors philosophy/literature who can expound on the beauty of the subjunctive mood in Catullus and on Kierkegaard’s existential choices. A writer whose junior thesis for Advanced Placement history won Newton North’s top prize. An actress. President of her church youth group.
To spend several months in a pressure cooker like Newton North is to see what a girl can be — what any young person can be — when encouraged by committed teachers and by engaged parents who can give them wide-ranging opportunities.
It is also to see these girls struggle to navigate the conflicting messages they have been absorbing, if not from their parents then from the culture, since elementary school. The first message: Bring home A’s. Do everything. Get into a top college — which doesn’t have to be in the Ivy League, or one of the other elites like Williams, Tufts or Bowdoin, but should be a “name” school.
Friday, March 30, 2007
Addressed by God with exaltation,
a unique subject in heavenly syntax
In this way you attained the Station of Arrival
Veiled from gaze of onlookers, a secret sealed in silence.
Thus you gathered every honor without peer,
And traversed every station in solitude.
What preeminence you have been entrusted with!
Past counting are all the blessings granted you!
"Poem of the Cloak"
— Imam Al-Busiri
Thursday, March 29, 2007
From Wayfarer's Rest
With a whisper of the wind appears the first new leaf
And the trees tremble as life returns anew
Like a gentle breeze that grows to a tempest
A new song enters in my heart,
And lifts me on its wings.
Spring is here again.
The birds have begun to sing again. Looking out, I see tiny buds beginning to poke their way through the soil; branches bare all winter have dared to send forth their first green shoots. The wind blows warmer, the rain feels somehow fresher. It is unmistakeable – spring is here again.
How fitting that, as we approach the month of lights, the blessed month of mawlid, we should find ourselves entering the season of spring. For what more fitting time could there have been for the one whose birth signified the dawning of new hope for mankind, a new spring of tauhid after the dark and cold winter of disbelief; for the one who loved all things green and who revived dead hearts to life, than the month of Rabi’ al-Awwal (lit: the first spring)?
Shaykh Hamza Yusuf mentioned that the Prophet (s) was born in spring and loved green. He continued that green was the first colour that the eye could perceive, and the last that it could make out; the middle of the spectrum of light. Green is also the colour of chlorophyll, which mediates photosynthesis in plants – the conversion of pure light into energy and nourishment that ultimately allows our continued existence. The parallels are manifest but beautiful nonetheless: he (s) is from the light of Allah, the first Prophet and the last, the moderate and median way, neither too harsh nor too lenient; he is the source of all nourishment and the means of continuation for all spiritual life. He (s) is, as the commentaries of the Quran mention, the solitary flowering tree in the midst of a barren desert – from whose fruits all men feast, and beneath whose boughs all find shade and rest.
The advent of spring fills one with gladness – a joy that the believer cannot but feel when he or she contemplates the arrival of the best and most beloved of all creation (s). Allah says in the Holy Quran: ‘In the blessings of Allah and in His mercy – in that let them rejoice,’ and, ‘make remembrance of the Days of Allah.’ al-Bayhaqi relates that the Prophet (s) said, ‘the Days of Allah are Allah’s Blessings and Signs, and the Prophet’s birth is a great bliss.’ For almost a millennium, Muslims have joyfully commemorated the arrival of our spiritual Spring with the celebration of mawlid.
Mawlid has three meanings: the time of the Beloved’s (s) birth, the place of his birth and the fact of his birth. However, for hundreds of years, the word mawlid has been used to signify the celebration of the Prophet’s (s) birth. Mawalid have been – and still are – held wherever there are Muslims; from the Islamic heartlands of Arabia, Egypt and Syro-Palestine to the very borders of the traditional Islamic lands such as Indonesia, the Caucasus and Western Africa. In the 20th century, the globalization of the Ummah and mass migration has seen mawlid celebrated in the most unlikely of places – from the rain-swept streets of the UK to the snowy mountains of Canada to the tip of Southern Africa.
It is beloved of the common folk of the community and cherished by the elect. Kings and rulers have used mawlid to connect to their followers; scholars have used it to educate the people. Such has been its popularity among the learned and the unlearned – so deeply has it touched the hearts of Muslims from every walk of life – that one would struggle to find a place that has not been graced by the celebration of the Beloved of Allah (s).
Rabi` al-Awwal Mubarak, dear friends. May Allah enlighten all our hearts with the love of his Beloved (s), ennoble our eyes with his (s) vision in this world and the next, and fill our limbs with the strength to follow his blessed way.
Oh Cherishing Lord! Through the honour of Sayyidina Muhammad in Your eyes, purify our hearts from every evil quality that distances us from Your witnessing, Your love and Your mercy, let us die as members of his (s) community and under his banner of praise, yearning for the encounter with You, Oh Lord of Majesty and Grace! Then peace and blessings upon the elect of creation, the Master of the children of Adam, the Beloved of the Lord of the Worlds, Sayyidina wa Habibina Muhammad, his family, companions, and all who light their hearts from his blessed lamp.
I found this at HAhmed.com.
It's from the Austin-American Statesman
It was the twang that threw me. I'm talking serious cowboy voice. The kind that can only come from out on the range. The kind that still startles my New England ears.
"Miss Fleeeeynn?" he said. "This is Kareem Salama. I understand you're trying to reach me." OK, hold it. I happened to have this man's Web site up for a story I was researching. And I knew that Salama was a Muslim, a law student, and a country and western singer. And, of course, I had read his biography on his site, where he detailed his multicultural upbringing. His parents, who now live in Richmond, southwest of Houston, took him to Native American powwows and the county fairs and rodeos and made trips to Branson, Mo., and Opryland in Nashville, Tenn.
As I listened to him, I couldn't reconcile the twang with the chiseled Egyptian face on the Web site. Most of the Muslims I know have foreign accents. But why should I be so jolted by a thoroughly American Muslim?
Or should I say: A Muslim who, at least on the surface, seems to fit another American stereotype? More on that later.
Salama graciously answered all my questions and pulled back the curtain on an unexpectedly American portrait. It's probably safe to say your average Oklahoma boy isn't memorizing classical Arabic poetry and composing a melody for John Donne's "A Valediction Forbidding Mourning." And I'm guessing you don't see too many Muslims in 10-gallon hats at the Grand Ole Opry.
Salama acknowledged that "the vast majority of us (Muslims) don't fit the image of people have in their head."
"Although, I understand why people have that image in their head," he added.
Salama pushes past that. After he earns his degree at the University of Iowa, he hopes to pursue his law career in — where else? — Nashville. Maybe he'll give Toby Keith a run for his money, but Salama seems more interested in sharing a musical message he believes will resonate with people of all faiths.
Monday, March 26, 2007
As-Salamu alaykum. We hope this message finds you well. In November 2004, King Abdullah II bin Al-Hussein of Jordan launched the Amman Message, a declaration aimed at clarifying the true nature of Islam and the nature of true Islam to the world. It is a message of devotion to God, love of the neighbor, goodwill, moderation and peace. Since then, the Amman Message has come to be epitomized in three major juridical and doctrinal points, each crucial to addressing the problems the Islamic world faces today.
1. The great traditional schools of jurisprudence, theology, and spirituality are valid from the point of view of Islam, and the followers of these schools, which include both Sunni and Shi‘i denominations, are all Muslims. Islam has fundamental tenets but is also diverse.
2. It is impermissible to declare any Muslim so defined as an unbeliever/apostate (a practice called takfir).
3. Only those with the proper moral and intellectual qualifications, and the proper methodology, may issue fatwas (religious edicts).
Since they were first introduced, these three points have been recognized and ratified universally, through fatwas and official statements, in meetings of the highest and most recognized authorities and scholars in Islamic law, from all denominations and schools of thought all over the world. This is a unique historical event. The statements and signatures from these religious leaders can be see on www.ammanmessage.com.
These three points are vital for the future of the Islamic world. We suffer from disunity and discord, and must reaffirm our unity as an Islamic ummah. We suffer from wounds and ignorant prejudice which would take us into conflict with many of those who would live at peace with us. We must denounce the practice of takfir (accusing Muslims of apostasy for interpretations and opinions different from ours), which too often opens the door to terrible crimes against our own brothers and sisters. Moreover, all such atrocities committed in the name of Islam are traceable to the fatwa of men totally unqualified, morally and intellectually, to issue one. It is thus imperative that the ummah speak with one voice in reaffirming true Islam.
We invite you to add your voice to this unique and historic international Islamic consensus. Please visit www.ammanmessage.com, where you can read more about the Amman Message and find many useful documents and links. Under ENDORSE you can add your name to the list of Muslims worldwide who have endorsed and supported the three points. Your endorsement is important for all our futures.
The Amman Message Committee,
Sunday, March 25, 2007
As the editor of altmuslim.com, I try to focus our articles on items of interest to Muslims and others alike, in a manner geared towards open discourse and critical inquiry. And even though altmuslim.com is part of a larger Web endeavor through our parent company, Halalfire Media LLC, I don't usually write about the various other web projects that we work on. But I want make an exception, and give you an early look at a website that I hope will do a lot of good for both the Muslim community and the larger communities in which we live.
After two years of conceptual planning and two months of feverish coding, I'm proud to present unitedmuslims.org - a website designed to aggregate the energy and talent of the Muslim community and actively put it to use in making the world a better place. This week, unitedmuslims.org is launching simultaneously in the US, UK, and Canada, with more countries coming online soon.
There are many things that we as Muslims can do to head off a "clash of civilizations", but the most effective and dignified way, in my opinion, to "win the hearts and minds" of our fellow citizens is to show that we care about causes important to everyone, not just ourselves. This site was meant to introduce Muslims to causes in their community, and bring a visible Muslim presence to local community efforts.
Thursday, March 15, 2007
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Sometimes dumb sounds cute: Sixty percent of Americans can't name five of the Ten Commandments, and 50% of high school seniors think Sodom and Gomorrah were married.
Stephen Prothero, chairman of the religion department at Boston University, isn't laughing. Americans' deep ignorance of world religions - their own, their neighbors' or the combatants in Iraq, Darfur or Kashmir - is dangerous, he says.
His new book, Religious Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know - and Doesn't, argues that everyone needs to grasp Bible basics, as well as the core beliefs, stories, symbols and heroes of other faiths.
Belief is not his business, says Prothero, who grew up Episcopalian and now says he's a spiritually "confused Christian." He says his argument is for empowered citizenship.
"More and more of our national and international questions are religiously inflected," he says, citing President Bush's speeches laden with biblical references and the furor when the first Muslim member of Congress chose to be sworn in with his right hand on Thomas Jefferson's Quran.
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Occasionally we’re surprised into laughing at something funny, but most laughter has little to do with humor. It’s an instinctual survival tool for social animals, not an intellectual response to wit. It’s not about getting the joke. It’s about getting along.
When Robert R. Provine tried applying his training in neuroscience to laughter 20 years ago, he naïvely began by dragging people into his laboratory at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, to watch episodes of “Saturday Night Live” and a George Carlin routine. They didn’t laugh much. It was what a stand-up comic would call a bad room.
So he went out into natural habitats — city sidewalks, suburban malls — and carefully observed thousands of “laugh episodes.” He found that 80 percent to 90 percent of them came after straight lines like “I know” or “I’ll see you guys later.” The witticisms that induced laughter rarely rose above the level of “You smell like you had a good workout.”
“Most prelaugh dialogue,” Professor Provine concluded in “Laughter,” his 2000 book, “is like that of an interminable television situation comedy scripted by an extremely ungifted writer.”
Monday, March 12, 2007
This can be explained by understanding History, with a capital "H," or the official account, as a product of interpretation and point of reference of the offical "accounter" codifying History. For example, as some individuals in this country say that all Mexicans are immigrants to this country, one Mexican-American woman said she did not immigrate to the United States, rather the United States came to her when the US government annexed Mexican territory to create the state of Texas.
Furthermore, if one were to read Howard Zinn's A People's History of the United States, the historical narrative absorbed would be much different than the one found in many contemporary history textbooks. This is because Zinn looks at history from the eye of the downtrodden and explains it via the discourses of class, racism, sexism and imperialism whereas other historians see America in a trimumphant light that is filled with benevolence and innocence. These "eyes" and "discourses" are the burial shrouds that allow us to embalm the very fragments of our collective pasts because no matter how far removed I am from Chinese history, it is very much apart of my collective identity because the US is an amalgamation of multiple national and ethnic narratives that coalesce into a political and social consciousness that has helped to create what some call "Americaness."
And this is why so many individuals are concerned with what a certain history is and how it is portrayed. Contemporary Iraqis, Syrians, Lebanese and others, for example, consistently bring up the accomplishments of their Arab predecessors such as the invention of Algebra and the creation of one of the first universities (Al-Azhar) in the world in order to contrast the current political, social and cultural instability gripping the Arabic-speaking world.
So what happens when an individual's historical consciousness is fluid? What about "histories" that are not tied to language and direct cultural experience, but rather religious in nature that encompass whole groups and nations? Is there then such a thing as "Islamic history" as one history or is it a collection of histories of multiple groups of people who happened to find spiritual orientation from the Islamic tradition and ethos?
Hmmm...I'm lost here, does anyone know where I'm going with this?
The Nawawi Foundation invites you to take part in an open discussion with Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Dr. Umar F. Abd-Allah on “What Is the Islamic Tradition?” at Oakton Community College on Saturday, March 17, 2007, from 10:00am to 5:00pm.
We often hear Muslims described today as Traditionalist, neo-Traditionalist, as against the Tradition or neutral toward it. The word, “Islamic Tradition,” is familiar to us all and frequently part of our discourse about who we are and what we ought to be as American Muslims. But what exactly is this tradition, and how should we relate to it? Is it truly relevant to our present situation? Are we bound to follow a particular aspect of it? How can we negotiate the Tradition to discover authority without authoritarianism? It is often said that religious extremism—whether Jewish, Christian, Hindu, or Islamic—is partly predicated on a “selective” retrieval of tradition that exploits it to support alien agendas. Is that a danger for us also, and, if so, how do we avoid it?
Please join us in this important discussion, and we welcome your insights and participation.
The central tenet of the argument is that during the cold war an understanding of human nature as suspicious, distrustful and always operating out of self-interest came to dominate political thinking. From that emerged a narrow definition of freedom as "giving people the ability to get whatever they wanted". This kind of freedom has become the central political idea of the past 25 years, but it's a corrosive form of pessimism rooted in a bleak, simplistic view of human nature.
It all goes back to the bizarre world of cold-war strategists in America developing sophisticated ways to achieve the "delicate balance of terror". They seized upon game theory that originated in poker playing as a way of rationally calculating your opponent's moves and therefore your own. How many Soviet cities would you have to nuke to deter the Soviets from nuking New York? The theory was that the suspicious distrustfulness of both sides in the cold war created a kind of stability.