‘Radical Muslims’ clothing line aims to shatter stereotypes

Unknown1(RNS) Radical Muslims. The phrase elicits images of ISIS militants and terror in the desert, perhaps grainy YouTube videos, Kalashnikovs, and raised fists.

What about a man in an ankle-length garment and cotton headscarf carving the air with his skateboard?

Along with shirts bearing the “Radical Muslims” image and a Nike-like swoosh saying “Just Dua It” (dua being nonobligatory Muslim prayer, or supplications), Boston-based Munir Hassan has created an entire line of stereotype-shattering clothing for American Muslims.

In an explicit attempt to flip the script on popular images of Muslims and Islamic symbols, Hassan’s own Sidikii Clothing Co. merges cultures in fashion-forward, Muslim inspired designs.

“I’m Muslim, I’m American; I was born both,” Hassan said. “I wanted to design clothing that showcased different pieces of my culture inclusively.”

Hassan started screen-printing his own shirts a few years ago. When friends, family, and people on the street started asking questions about his T-shirts, he launched Sidikii Clothing Co.

In aiming to proclaim “a positive message in a negative space”—the company’s motto—Hassan and his customers are part of a wider stream of media resistance against popular, too often stereotypical, conceptions of Muslims in America. Increasingly, individuals and communities are using billboards, graffiti, music, dancing, and clothing to express irony, anger, humor, and resistance to the status quo.

Clothing can prove to be a powerful communicator of inner convictions, said David Morgan, chair of the department of religious studies at Duke University.

“That is because it is a kind of second skin, the skin you opt for, display openly and use to fit into a social body, a collective reality, that matters to you,” he said.


Who is Allah? Understanding God in Islam

mosqueAccording to the Islamic statement of witness, or shahada, “There is no god but Allah”. Muslims believe he created the world in six days and sent prophets such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Jesus, and lastly Muhammad, who called people to worship only him, rejecting idolatry and polytheism.

The word islam, which means submission, was not at first the name of a religion founded by Muhammad. It referred, rather, to the original religion of all mankind – and even of the universe itself which, like us, was created to serve Allah.

Earlier prophets and their followers were all Muslims (submitters to Allah), though Muslims do tend to conflate the general and specific meanings of the words Islam and Muslim.

The names and character of Allah

The Qur’an refers to Allah as the Lord of the Worlds. Unlike the biblical Yahweh (sometimes misread as Jehovah), he has no personal name, and his traditional 99 names are really epithets.

These include the Creator, the King, the Almighty, and the All-Seer. Two important titles of Allah occur in a phrase that typically prefaces texts: Bismillah, al-Rahman, al-Rahim (In the name of Allah, the Compassionate, the Merciful).

Allah is also the Master of the Day of Judgment, when the good, especially believers, will be sent to their heavenly reward, and the wicked, especially unbelievers, will be dispatched to hellfire. Muslims claim to reject anthropomorphic descriptions of Allah, yet the Qur’an describes him as speaking, sitting on a throne, and having a face, eyes and hands.

Some prophets received scriptures from Allah, notably the Torah of Moses, the Psalms of David, and the Gospel of Jesus. Their messages and books, however, became corrupted or were lost.

Miraculously, the Qur’an (“recitation”) revealed to Muhammad – the very word of Allah – will not suffer this fate, so there is no need for further prophets or revelations.


Muslim scholar Focuses on Holocaust Studies

Mehnaz AfridiIn a sane world, there would be nothing in any way eyebrow-raising about a Muslim scholar teaching a course about the Holocaust at a Roman Catholic college.

No, no, scratch that. In a sane world, there would not have been a Holocaust.

But suppose that after the war ended and the camps were liberated, the world came to its collective senses, recoiled in horror from what it saw, and decided that such evil never could happen again. In that world, there would be nothing at all surprising about a Muslim scholar teaching a course about the Holocaust at a Roman Catholic college.

We do not live in such a world. So it is both a surprise and an ongoing act of courage that Dr. Mehnaz Afridi, who is the director of the Holocaust, Genocide, and Interfaith Education Center at Manhattan College in Riverdale — and who will give the keynote address at the Interfaith Holocaust Memorial Service in Ridgewood, New Jersey this year  has chosen to devote her life to it.

She lived in Pakistan, Dubai, London, and Geneva. Later, she moved to Scarsdale, N.Y., where she finished high school.

Dr. Afridi speaks an unaccented, colloquial English — occasionally she will come up with usages that are not entirely familiar here, but that is rare. “I feel very native in English, but I learned it when I was 9,” she said. “I worked at not having an accent, because as a teacher, you don’t want to sound like a foreigner.” But the language she spoke at home when she was growing up was Urdu, she had a tutor who taught her classical Arabic, and she “is comfortable in four or five languages,” she said.


The Christian Case for Nigeria’s New Muslim President

2014123192216857734_20Nigeria’s newest president is Muhammadu Buhari, a Muslim endorsed by Christian leaders who hope he can combat corruption and sectarian terrorism.

A former general who ruled Nigeria for a short time after a military coup in the 1980s, Buhari beat out incumbent Goodluck Jonathan by nearly 2 million votes. It is the first time in Nigerian history that an opposition candidate won the presidential election, according to The Economist. Buhari had finished as a runner-up in three previous elections.

“Despite the enormous tension and apprehension that preceded the election, Nigerians have demonstrated political maturity that elections can be won and lost without recourse to violence or acrimony,” said the president of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ayo Oritsejafor, in a statement.

His colleague, Shuaibu Byel, who leads CAN’s northeast branch, praised Jonathan for accepting defeat and congratulating Buhari, calling him “a man of peace.”

Catholic bishops, among other religious leaders, see Buhari as “a man of integrityand decency who can fight corruption and Boko Haram,” John Bakeni, secretary of the Catholic diocese in Maiduguri, told RNS.


Real Muslims don’t terrorize

Islam-against-terrorism1By Huma Munir

Nearly 150 people were killed in Kenya in a brutal attack on a university by a terrorist organization called al-Shabab. Reports claim that the militants specifically singled out Christian students.

Al-Shabab and other extremist groups, who claim to be working for Islam, fail to recognize the very meaning of being a Muslim. Not only is this act of barbarity a complete departure from the Islamic teachings, it is against the very nature of humans to be so violent and barbaric. Such lack of empathy suggests extreme abnormalities in the minds of those who willingly carry out these atrocities. To refer to these people as “religious” would be a mistake. To call them psychopaths would be appropriate. In fact, the Islamic scripture, the Quran, refers to such people as “diseased” (chapter 2: verse 10).

In the last couple of months, extremist groups in the Middle East, Pakistan and even Africa have increasingly targeted Christian populations in the name of Islam. As a Muslim, I can tell you that nothing is further from the teachings of Islam than taking innocent lives. The Quran says killing one person is like killing the entire mankind (5:32). In this verse, the Quran does not address a single faith or race. In fact, if you study the rhetoric, the verse clearly suggests that all life is sacred — regardless of faith, ethnicity or race.

As Muslims, Islam commands us to show love and respect to people of all faiths — including Christians. Jesus is mentioned by name in the Quran five times more often than the Prophet Muhammad. In fact, there is an entire chapter in the Quran named after Jesus’ mother, Mary.


France Presents “Islam a la Francaise”

7-4-15_France-Presents-Islam-a-la-FrancaiseCAIRO – In a bid to combat extremist ideas, the French city of Lyon has launched an interfaith program that aims to build mutual respect and promote the French concepts of secularism and religious tolerance among the country faith groups.

“If things are going to change, they need to change in all directions,” Michel Younes, co-director of the initiative at Lyon’s Catholic University, told the Washington Post.

“That means not only training imams about secularity, but also civil servants — because the subject of religion in public spaces has almost become a taboo.”

The program comes as hundreds of French youth have reportedly traveled to fight in the conflict zones. It aims to address the soaring number of Islamophobic attacks following Paris attacks last January.Co-organized by two Lyon universities and the city’s Grand Mosque, the national campaign, “Islam a la Francaise”, brings together Muslim and non-Muslim civil servants from all walks of life.

The six-month program is a part of the government’s efforts to combat extremism by reaching out to the vulnerable Muslim youth.

“We need French chaplains and imams. Who learn French, who love France and who adhere to its values,” Prime Minister Manuel Valls said in March.


The Future of the Middle East

imagesWhen I’m watching videos of ISIS destroying ancient statues or news coverage of the wars in Yemen, Libya, Syria, and Iraq, I’m thinking about other “victims” of the current turmoil in the Middle East–my students at the American University of Beirut. Every day, their futures are being mapped out by bullets and bombs, and their hopes and dreams hijacked by widespread violence, rampant corruption, and the appallingfailure of the international community to put an end to the Syrian war.

Being in college is hard enough, but imagine studying for a bachelors degree and living away from home for the first time with violence breaking out in all directions. ISIS and the army exchanging gunfire on the border with Syria. Deadly shells detonating on the border with Israel. Suicide bombers exploding in the heart of Beirut. Political deadlock that has left Lebanon without a president for almost a year. No wonder it’s hard for so many students to focus in class.

Some of my students are Syrian refugees–whose trauma from the war back home is magnified by the unwelcome treatment they receive in Beirut. Others are Palestinian refugees, who have known nothing but displacement since birth. The majority are Lebanese, whose parents not so long ago were embroiled in a brutal civil war–that many believe never really ended.

ISIS fighters make regular guest appearances in my students’ creative assignments, and close friends who died in bomb blasts in Beirut cry out for peace from beyond the grave. When my students and I read Plato’s Republic, I invite them to imagine themselves as philosopher kings of Lebanon–and ask them what their first order of business would be. A common response? “Burn it to the ground!” And after that? “Walk away,” they say.