Islam and American Jazz

the_dreamer_yusef_lateef_album-294x300The passing of Al-Hajj Dr. Yusef Abdul Lateef on December 23 in Massachusetts brings to mind the exotic, semi-forgotten influence of Islam on the American music scene in the 1950s, when Islam, and specifically Ahmadiyya Islam, was cool.

Lateef was born William Emanuel Huddleston on October 9, 1920, in Chattanooga and grew up in Detroit, where his father changed the family name to Evans. He began as a saxophonist in 1946, then went on to play the flute, oboe, bassoon, and many other instruments. In a very long and important career, he made music with such renowned figures as Cannonball Adderley, Donald Byrd, Dizzy Gillespie, and Charles Mingus.

He become one of the first black jazz musicians to associate with Islam, converting in 1948 and changing his name at that time, then twice going on the pilgrimage to Mecca and writing a Ph.D. dissertation in 1975 titled “An Overview of Western and Islamic Education.” As an implicit indication of his piety, from 1980 on he banned alcohol from his performances.

Missionaries of the small Ahmadiyya movement out of Pakistan had eye-popping success among leading jazz musicians of the 1950s, converting in addition to Lateef such luminaries as Nuh Alahi, Art Blakey (Abdullah Ibn Buhaina), Fard Daleel, Mustafa Daleel (Oliver Mesheux), Talib Daoud, Ahmad Jamal (Fritz Jones), Muhammad Sadiq, Sahib Shihab (Edmund Gregory), Dakota Staton (Aliya Rabia), and McCoy Tyner (Sulaiman Saud). Superstars whispered to have converted included John Coltrane (who first married a Muslim), Dizzy Gillespie (whose band included several Muslims), Charlie Parker (Abdul Karim), and Pharaoh Sanders (whose work contains Muslim themes). One listing of Muslim jazz players contains about 125 names. These musicians preferred to perform at clubs owned by fellow Muslims, many of whom hailed from the Caribbean.


Joint Christmas celebrations for Muslims and Christians in strife-torn Nigerian state

Nigeria is often depicted as being split between Muslims and Christians. But in Adamawa, where a state of emergency was declared to 0,,17304963_303,00counter an Islamist insurgency, members of both faiths celebrate Christmas together.

Phinear Padio hears the sound of the big iron gate opening. His neighbor Muhammad Sani drives into the yard they share. Padio

is eager to greet him. The two meet frequently to discuss everyday life in northern Nigeria. They talk about their families and politics. But today Padio has a particular request.

“You really must celebrate Christmas with us. You are most cordially invited,” Padio tells his neighbor. Sani nods. “The past two years, I wasn’t in Yola over Christmas so we couldn’t celebrate together. I’m glad it will work out this year,” he said.

Muslim faithfuls kneeling in prayer on a mat in a public place.
Adamawa is one of Nigeria’s predominantly Muslim states

Yola is the capital of Adamawa state in north-eastern Nigeria. It is one of the three states in which a state of emergency was declared in May 2013. This is because the state is at the focus of terrorist activities by the militant Islamist sect Boko Haram. They attack villages and kill Christians or students of “western” schools.

Sharing the Christmas cookies

Muhammad Sani and his entire family are Muslim. Nevertheless, he thinks it is important to join his Christian neighbors and friends when they celebrate Christmas. “We enjoy celebrating together,” Sani said. “On Christmas Day, my neighbors always give me food – cookies, chicken and rice,” he added with a chuckle. “During the Muslim festivals, we also do the same and invite the Christians,” he explained.


Central African Republic (CAR) Muslims, Christians Sow Peace Hopes

CAR-Muslims,-Christians-Sow-Coexistence-HopesBANGUI – As sectarian violence rips Central Africa Republic, some regions in the capital Bangui remain as oases for coexistence and hope for an inclusive future for Muslims and Christians in the war-torn country.

“Here, we have a mixture of populations that do not exist in other areas,” Bash, a 28-year-old Muslim resident who wished to be identified only by his nickname for security reasons, told France 24 on Tuesday, December 17.

“This diversity has prevented us from sinking into violence.”


As Bangui descends into chaos with the recent wave of religious conflict, areas Boulata and Ramandji neighborhoods were still save from divisions.

The neighborhoods, where a mixed population of Christians and Muslims co-habit, have remained calm over the past months.

“We grew up together, people have intermarried,” Bash explained.

“Here, you can find a child with a Muslim name in a Christian home because the father is Muslim,” he added.

At least 450 have been killed and hundreds more injured since the beginning of December when Christian militias, loyal to the CAR’s ousted President Francois Bozize, launched multiple attacks from the north, according to the UN humanitarian office.

The country has been thrown into violence after President Michel Djotodia declared himself the country’s first Muslim leader after ousting Bozize on March 24.

Taking the helms of power, Djotodia has struggled to rein in members of the now-dissolved Seleka group that swept him to power nine months ago.

According to news reports, rogue former rebels turned warlords have set up little fiefdoms and sown terror in villages.


Lots of atheists, more Muslims, fewer Christians and Jews: this is the new America

The Washington Post has produced six massively detailed maps showing the religious make-up of America. The main map is aboveScreen-Shot-2013-12-15-at-15.59.04 – if you want to enlarge it you’ll have to click through to the Post’s report here. The author/analyst, Niraj Chokshi, has uncovered some fascinating material – most of it lurking in the 2010 US Religion Census (data submitted by congregations, not the official US Census) but so much more surprising set out in map form. And here’s an example.

Did you know there are – possibly – now more religious Muslims than religious Jews in Florida? I know, it seems incredible. Miami Beach has had 15 Jewish mayors, there are getting on for 200 synagogues in South Florida – and, of course, it was the hunting ground of the despicable Bernie Madoff. But here’s a section from the map of Eastern states, grouped by region:



Pope Meets With Head of International Islamic Organization

Pope_Francis_in_March_2013-300x200ROME – The pope met with the head of an international Islamic organization on Friday, a meeting that was characterized as the first-ever for the group.

Ekmeleddin Ihsanoglu, the secretary general of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), sat down with Pope Francis at the Vatican in an effort to create dialogue between the Muslim and Roman Catholic worlds. A news release from OIC outlined that the presence of Muslims has increased in “historically Christian countries.”

“In this context, the discussions expressed the need for greater efforts to foster respect for religious pluralism and cultural diversity, and to counter the spread of bigotry and prejudices,” the group explained. “It was stressed that interreligious dialogue is a necessary condition for peace in the world, and as such it is a duty for adherents of all faith traditions.”

OIC also advised that Ihsanoglu discussed with the Pope “his vision regarding the need for a ‘historic reconciliation’ between Islam and Christianity based on the common Abrahamic roots and in order to support multiculturalism and harmonious societies.”

According to Rome Reports, the two exchanged gifts following the talks, with Ihsanoglu donating a 14th century publication–presumably Islamic–to the Vatican library, and Pope Francis giving Ihsanoglu and his entourage his papal medallion. The pope then asked the men for their prayers and posed for photographs.

Muslims help rebuild Catholic church in the Philippines

christ-the-king-chapel-in-zamboanga-philippines-2ZAMBOANGA CITY – Christian residents of this city’s Santa Catalina district found nothing unusual about Muslims bearing carpenters’ tools — until they realized the Muslims had volunteered to help rebuild a Catholic chapel.

“We thought they were just looking for damaged mosques to rebuild,” said Jimmy Villaflores, Santa Catalina barangay (village) head.

But to the surprise of the mostly Christian residents, the Muslims, a number of them residents Zamboanga City who returned home from abroad recently, announced they had come to Santa Catalina to rebuild the Christ the King chapel.

Built in the early 1980′s, the chapel on Martha Drive was razed by one of many fires t6hat broke out during a three-week battle between government forces and a band of Moro National Liberation Front guerrillas loyal to MNLF founder Nur Misuari last September.

When the fighting ended, only the chapel’s back wall and altar were left. The 100-year-old wooden image of the Christ the King, which was regularly used in major religious processions here, did not survive the flames.

“We have not heard of any Muslim helping build a chapel before,” Villaflores said.

But before the Christians could say anything to the Muslims, they went to work, sawing lumber, driving in nails and doing other things to rebuild the chapel.

“We are very happy about it. Santa Catalina residents are deeply touched by their efforts. We really appreciate how our Muslim brothers and sisters are helping us,” Villaflores said.

He said that the help extended by Zamboanga’s Muslim residents, who suffered equally during the three-week siege, hastgened the rebuilding of the chapel.

“Barely a month since the work began our chapel is about 90 percent completed already,” he said.

Father Michael Ufana of the Saint Joseph parish said he was overwhelmed by what the Muslims had shown.


Follow us: @inquirerdotnet on Twitter | inquirerdotnet on Facebook

Angola denies ‘Islam ban’ but mosques remain closed

mosqueThe government of Angola has denied that it is engaged in the process of ‘banning’ Islam from within its borders.

“There is no war in Angola against Islam or any other religion,” said Manuel Fernando, director of the National Institute for Religious Affairs, a division of the ministry of culture.

This despite an earlier reported quote from the Minister of Culture Rosa Cruz e Silva, who is reported to have said: “The legalisation of Islam has not been approved by the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights… Their mosques will be closed until further notice.”

There has been some confusion over the original breaking of the news story, specifically, the central quote from President José Eduardo dos Santos proclaiming “the end of Islamic influence in Angola”. The President was allegedly out of the country when the quote was reported.

A photograph supposedly depicting the destruction of a mosque somewhere in Angola has been debunked, after being found elsewhere cited as the destruction of Bedoin houses in Israel in 2008 and as a Moroccan mosque and houses in 2003.


The Prophet of Islam and the Monks of Christendom

st-catherines-monastery-sharmby Reza Shah-Kazemi

My starting point for the reflections which I intend to share with you in this talk is a personal experience—a deeply moving period of spiritual retreat at the monastery of St Catherine at Sinai earlier this year. This monastery has the distinction of being the oldest continually inhabited monastic establishment in Christendom. It not only bears witness to the continuing dynamism of the contemplative ideal in our days; it is also concrete evidence of the inter-religious co-existence—indeed harmony—that has permitted it to remain unmolested in its overwhelmingly Muslim environment for close to fourteen centuries.

Two vivid symbols of this harmony are to be found within the walls of the monastery: the first is a mosque, built by the monks for the Bedouins; and the second is the famous charter of protection granted by the Prophet to the monastery. The monks themselves are convinced that this charter, sealed with an imprint of the Prophet’s own hand, was instrumental in maintaining the safety and security of the monastery. The original document was written in Kufic script by Imam ‘Ali, and taken by the Ottoman Sultan Selim back to Istanbul in the 16th century. I was shown the Ottoman copy of this original

It is indeed a precious and remarkable document. Historians are somewhat divided over its authenticity, some claiming that it was in fact composed by the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim (ruled 996-1021). For my part, I agree with the opinion of the Greek historian, Amantos, who writes: ‘The monastery of Sinai could not possibly have survived without the protection afforded by Mohammed and his successors … Moreover, the great number of decrees which the Mohammedan [sic.] rulers of Egypt issued confirming the protected status of the monastery must have resulted from the fact that Mohammed himself had granted protection to Sinai.’  1

When a Christian and Muslim met in Paris

Women of faith face extra challenges – within our religious communities and outside of them – to have our voices heardVirgin-Mary-007

It’s the season when nearly a third of the global population is preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus. I am a Christian and I love this time of year, but not necessarily because of the focus on the Christ child. Don’t get me wrong, I am awed by the doctrine of the Incarnation, but to be honest, I get much more excited about Easter, the resurrection and the idea of a God that can redeem even death.

Rather, what I love about the current season is the spotlight, however brief, it shines on a poor, courageous young girl named Mary. Maybe it’s because I love any excuse to give a platform to any woman typically regulated to the margins of socio-political, ethno-cultural and religious narratives. We gloss over the significance that for at least a few chapters of the traditional Judeo-Christian narrative Mary, a second-class citizen as a woman in her historical period, is given a voice. And her voice is one that not only converses with the divine, but sings of God’s remembrance and provision for the marginalized.

Whether we choose to admit it or not, the reality is that women are still marginalized in religious traditions centuries later. Women of the Abrahamic faiths are still working, not only to speak aloud, but to have their voices heard and recognized as valuable and necessary. I wonder what it would look like if women across faith traditions began talking together about this shared challenge.

In my own recent personal experience, a young woman walked up to me while I was greeting folks during the church coffee hour after a discussion in Paris about women of faith telling their difficult stories.

I stared for a second too long at the dichotomy, she, a Muslim woman in her 20s wearing a turquoise colored hijab holding my book titled, Talking Taboo: American Christian Women Get Frank About Faith. I asked her name and signed the book. Then I asked if she was a member of this church. I knew the answer but didn’t want to make any assumptions. I am too familiar with being on the receiving end of rash judgments.


CAIR: U.S. Muslim Group Calls Nelson Mandela’s Death a Loss for All Humanity

Nelson_Mandela_2526841b-460x288WASHINGTON, Dec. 5, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, today said that the death of Nelson Mandela is a loss for all humanity and that the South African leader will remain an example to those fighting for human rights.

In a statement reacting to news of Mandela’s death, CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said:

“Throughout his life, Nelson Mandela served as an example of strength in adversity to all those fighting for freedom and justice. His legacy of uncompromising perseverance in the face of bigotry and injustice will live on for generations to come.

“He was a unique historic figure. From his jail cell, he demonstrated vision and courage, and taught the world the true meaning of steadfastness. Outside his cell, he demonstrated statesmanship, reconciliation and pragmatism.

“As the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: ‘For every day on which the sun rises, there is a (reward) for the one who establishes justice among people.'”