True Islam teaches gender equity and empowerment of women

womenBy Samantha Issam

As a feminist, one reason I chose Islam as a religion is because true Islam teaches gender equity and empowerment of women.

Before I converted to Islam, I, like many Americans, believed Islam was a religion that degraded women. News stories of child brides, honor killings and punishment for rape victims make it easy to interpret Islam’s treatment of women as terrible if we solely rely on these monstrous anecdotes. Our newsfeeds are filled with stories about extremists who treat women as less than human, leaving room for critics such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali to state that Islam is “especially bigoted against women.”

In my path toward Islam, I discovered that if all Muslim men actually practiced what Prophet Muhammad taught, they would be gentle, kind and equitable toward women. Instead, extremists are the brutes who lead to the question recently featured in The New York Times: “What is the Future of Women in Islam?”

Based on my experience, the answer is best left to the women of Islam — not the critics.

Not until I interacted directly with Muslim women did I find genuine understanding of the extent to which Islam empowers women to be educated, productive members of society. I attended an all-women’s event in a mosque, where I participated in women-led workshops and seminars on Islamic knowledge.

I was impressed with the scholarly knowledge of the women but was even more surprised by the Muslim men at the event. I was struck to learn that there were dozens of men in the kitchen cooking for the hundreds of women. Since then, I’ve seen how Muslim men in my community extend themselves for the comfort of Muslim women, whom they respect. This is far from the Islam you see in the news.


The Other Al-Andalus — When Muslims and Christians Flourished Side By Side in Sicily

1280px-Arabo-NormanArchitectureI sometimes think about the glories of “Islamic Spain,” or Al-Andalus. Starting around 711 and ending in 1492, Muslim rulers maintained a spirit of convivencia, a Spanish term meaning “living in togetherness” or “coexistence”, which allowed for an unprecedented level of interfaith engagement on the European continent. While Al-Andalus may represent the pinnacle of cooperation among Muslims, Christians and Jews, there is also a brilliant history – too often ignored and still inadequately assessed – coming out of Sicily, an island belonging to modern-day Italy.

The unique society that developed in Sicily is hardly mentioned by historians of Europe, Christianity or Islam. Over the course of several centuries, interfaith exchanges in cultural, religious and scientific fields led to a hybrid culture stemming from Norman, Arab and Byzantine influences. For a time, Sicily was truly the crossroads between East and West, Islam and Christianity. The island was one of the rare bright spots of the Middle Ages.


Muslims, Christians and Mozart: Seeking Harmony at the Met Opera

24TURK1-master768-v2When the curtain goes up on Mozart’s “Die Entführung aus dem Serail” (“The Abduction From the Seraglio”), we are on the Mediterranean coast in the Ottoman Empire, at a palace where European captives are being held as slaves by a Muslim pasha. When the Ottoman Turkish overseer, Osmin, enters and sings about his rage against the Christian prisoners, he fantasizes about hanging them, impaling them on hot stakes and beheading them.

Mozart and his librettists wrote a comedy. But it is hard to listen to Osmin’s aria today and not think about contemporary nightmare scenarios of hostages and global conflict. An evening with “Abduction From the Seraglio” — first presented in Vienna in 1782 and opening Friday, April 22 at the Metropolitan Opera in a revival conducted by James Levine — reminds us that in the 18th century, when the vast Ottoman Empire was governed by the Turkish sultans in Istanbul, Mozart was one of many European composers fascinated by the relations, encounters and conflicts between Christians and Muslims.

It was an age of warfare against the Turks, full of the tensions between the Muslim and Western worlds. But “Abduction” may be an opera for our own times, too: an intriguing if disturbing model of how to understand — through the structure of music — the anger of an enemy and how to explore harmoniously the reconciliation of cultural difference.


New Montana Group Embraces American Muslims

MissoulaBy Martin Kidston/MISSOULA CURRENT

When residents in the Bitterroot Valley rallied to persuade Ravalli County commissioners to approve a letter opposing the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the surrounding areas, the wheels began turning at a synagogue back in Missoula.

Around that time, Soft Landing was also working with the U.S State Department to reopen a refugee resettlement office in Missoula. The regional talk of refugees and the off chance that some of them might be Muslim fanned the fires of controversy and saw its share of hateful rhetoric.

“Laurie Franklin, the rabbi at Har Shalom, had picked up on a lot of the anti-Muslim sentiment and decided to send out an email,” said Clem Work. “With that – in addition to the national anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail – she suggested we get together to form a group to see what we could do to combat this Islamophobia.”

Standing Alongside America’s Muslims, or SALAM, was born.

The Missoula-based group, of which Work is a member, has grown over the past few months by launching a Facebook page and incorporating a cross-section of religions. Later this month, the group will host its first “Celebrate Islam Week” in an effort to do what its acronym suggests by standing with the community’s Muslim residents.

“We want to push back against what we perceive as a rising tide of Islamophobia and counter it through conversation, and by projecting an image of what is undoubtedly the majority belief and the majority support of Islam as a religion,” Work said on Tuesday.

Work proudly notes the group’s composition, describing it as a little bit of everything. In that sense, he said, it represents America itself. He’s a self-proclaimed Episcopalian while Franklin is Jewish. Some members are Catholic and some are agnostic. SALAM also claims several Muslims, including Jameel Chaudhry and Samir Bitar.


Muslim, Christian faiths teach care for our planet

IMG_2116Whether Christian or Muslim, faith leaders agree that working as a careful steward of our planet is all part of God’s will.

That’s the message of faith and environmentalism that will be shared at 6:30 tonight at the Spirituality Center at Assisi Heights.

“Our Common Call to Care for Creation: A Muslim and A Christian Response,” will feature insights to the shared Christian and Muslim belief in caring for our resources, from Sr. Kathy Warren, co-director of the Office of Franciscan Life in Mission at Assisi Heights, and Dr. Muhamad Elrashidi, assistant professor of medicine at Mayo Clinic and a member of the Rochester Muslim Community Circle.

“Humankind is created to serve as a vicegerent and just steward of creation,” said Elrashidi. He explained the Quran is full of examples of God placing humanity in a special position to care for His creation. “And not to despoil it, but to maintain it even as humankind is able to benefit from it,” he said.

The Biblical creation story, Warren said, is the beginning of God’s call to care for the planet. “The creation accounts suggest that human life is grounded in three fundamental relationships: with God, with our neighbor and with the earth,” she said.

El-Rashidi and Warren both listed a litany of verses from their respective holy books admonishing the faithful to care for creation. “The earth is God’s,” reads Psalm 24. “We have not created the heavens and the earth and all that is between them carelessly. We have not created them but for truth,” says, the Qu’ran (44:38-39).

Dr. Elrashidi said it is Mohammad, the Prophet, who stands as an example of how Muslims must live their lives. A translation of a famous quote from the Prophet reads, “The world is beautiful and verdant and God, who is exalted, has made you as his stewards in it, and he sees how you acquit yourselves.”


Muslims in America: voters share views on the US presidential candidates

4794In 2008, 89% of US Muslims voted for Democrat Barack Obama, according to a poll by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. In a 2011 survey by the Pew Research Center, some 48% of Muslims living in America said they felt the Republican party was unfriendly towards them. Just 7% said the same of the Democratic party.

This year’s US election has been marked by a serious upsurge in anti-Muslim rhetoric among Republican candidates – particularly from frontrunner Donald Trump, who has called for a ban on foreign Muslims coming into the country until “until our country’s representatives can figure out what is going on” with extremism. To find out more about how American Muslims felt about the presidential race this year, we asked them to share their views using an online callout, telephone and email interviews. Here are some of the results.

Among those voting in this year’s election is 18-year-old Aamir Khan, a Muslim man from North Carolina, who supported Obama in 2008, even though he was not eligible to vote, age 10. He believes Obama has done a good job fighting for Muslim rights despite disagreeing with some of his foreign policies, particularly in the Middle East. But this time around, Khan is finding it difficult to put his full support behind any of the presidential nominees – Republican or Democrat. But what he is certain about is that if either Trump or Ted Cruz – the two leading Republican candidates – win the presidency, he would seriously consider leaving the country.

“With Cruz and Trump holding so much hate in their hearts, I can’t risk staying in this nation if they really do what they say they will. I would probably flee to Canada. I feel that their anti-Muslim rhetoric will echo through our nation and put Muslims in even more danger than they are right now.”


ISIS singled out these American Muslims. So did this Ted Cruz adviser.

FrankGaffneyThe latest issue of Dabiq, the Islamic State’s propaganda magazine, publicized a hit list of prominent Muslims living in the West that it wants its proxies to target. The terrorist organization’s writers described these people as “politically active apostates,” a charge deserving of death in the minds of the extremists.

The list, says the SITE Intelligence Group, which monitors jihadist activity online, includes figures in the United States, Australia, Britain and Canada. Many are moderate clerics who have taken part in interfaith outreach and championed a peaceful Islam. Others are leading political strategists or advisers, who work or have worked within Western governments.

Some of the Americans in the Islamic State’s crosshairs include Huma Abedin, a senior aide to Hillary Clinton, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and diplomat Rashad Hussain.

The sad irony of this particular roll call is that it’s not just the jihadists who have it in for such respected Muslim Americans. A controversial foreign policy adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz, a potential Republican nominee for president, does, too.

Frank Gaffney has not called for the death of his domestic enemies. But as WorldViews noted last month, he has spent the better part of decade propagating conspiracy theories about an Islamist fifth column within the United States, poised to seize government institutions and bend the nation toward Islam.

These include attacks on Abedin, whom Gaffney has described as a “ticking time bomb” and repeatedly accused of having ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, an organization that Gaffney is convinced is primed to unleash “civilization jihad” in the United States through its well-heeled proxies.

Gaffney’s critics label him a bigot and an Islamophobe.

Speaking on MSNBC last month, Ellison described Gaffney as “one of the foremost haters,” who is nevertheless “treated like a legitimate political adviser.”

Hamza Yusuf, an influential cleric and scholar described in the latest Dabiq issue as “the pinnacle of apostasy in Americanist Islam,” went to the White House to consult with President George W. Bush in the days after the attacks on 9/11 and was mocked by some on the left as “Bush’s pet Muslim.”

An article in the New Republic in November 2001 reported that Gaffney, during a meeting of other conservatives, “questioned the presence of terrorist sympathizers at the White House.” He wrote an article highlighting the supposedly troubling ties between the Bush  administration and leading Muslim clerics, including Yusuf.


Bridge Building Between Christians and Muslims

timthumbWith nearly one billion followers each, Islam and Christianity are major religions that influence the thinking and values of over 40 percent of the World population. While there are theological differences, some of which might be significant, there are nonetheless other important areas of belief that are shared by both communities: belief in Allah, or God; belief in revelation, in prophets, in the Holy Books of Allah; in the life hereafter and in a divinely inspired moral code organizing and regulating human life during our earthly journey to eternity.


For the Muslim, constructive dialogue is not only permitted, it is commendable. In the Qur’an we read, ‘Say, ‘O people of the book’ (a term which particularly refers to Jews and Christians) ‘come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but Allah; that we associate no partners with Him (in His powers and divine attributes); that we erect not from among ourselves lords and patrons other than Allah.’ If then they turn back say you ‘Bear witness that we are Muslims.’ (Bowing) to the will of God.” (al-i-Imran;3:64)

The methodology of that dialogue is also explained in the Qur’an; “Invite (all) to the way of your Lord with wisdom and beautiful exhortation, and argue with them in ways that are best.’ (al-Nahl; 16,125) A prerequisite for any constructive dialogue is that both communities should not learn about each other through sources that are unsympathetic, critical, or even hostile: they should rather try to formulate an honest idea as to how the other faith is seen in its own authentic scriptures and as practiced by those who are truly committed to it. This need is even more significant in the case of the Muslim-Christian dialogue. The average Christian has heard of or has read about Islam mostly through writers who have had colonial or missionary motives, which might have given a certain slant to their interpretation of Islam to the western mind. While I admit that my own practice of Islam is far from perfect, I at least speak from the vantage point of someone who wants to think of himself as a committed, practicing Muslim. Now I’d like to share with you five basic areas, consideration of which is imperative in any Christian-Muslim understanding: the meaning of the term “Islam”; the meaning of the term “Allah”; the nature of the human; the relationship between the human and Allah; the question of accountability, and finally, some conclusions pertaining to bridgebudding between Muslims and Christians.


Taking the term “Islam,” it is important to emphasize that it is not derived from the name of any particular person, race, or locality. A Muslim considers the term used by some writers, “Mohammedanism,” to be an offensive violation of the very spirit of Islamic teaching. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, is not worshipped, nor is he regarded as either the founder of Islam or the author of its Holy Book, the Qur’an. The term “Islam” is given in more than one place in the Qur’an itself. It is derived from the Arabic root (SLM) which connotes “peace” or “submission.” Indeed, the proper meaning of “Islam” is the attainment of peace, both inner and outer peace, by submission of oneself to the will of Allah. And when we say submit, we are talking about conscious, loving and trusting submission to the will of Allah, the acceptance of His grace and the following of His path. In that sense the Muslim regards the term Islam, not as an innovation that came in the 7th Century, Christian era, with the advent of the Prophet Muhammad, but as the basic mission of all the prophets throughout history. That universal mission was finally culminated and perfected in the last of these prophets, Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon them all.


Muslim, Christian women build friendships, community in Michigan

muslim christian

Muslim and Christian women will work together sprucing up the dining room at First Step’s domestic abuse shelter this month.

They’ll clean, polish, buff and redecorate the space from ceiling to floor Friday-Saturday, April 29-30, in Wayne, Michigan, while also strengthening friendships and furthering the mission of their group, Common Ground Gathering.

“At this point, it’s to make a difference in the community,” Hasina Abdu explained their goal as a combined Muslim-Christian gathering. “We are building bridges while making a difference. The Canton-Plymouth community can only get stronger if we work together, if we work in collaboration.”

Nancy Sullivan of Plymouth, another member, looks forward to rolling up her sleeves and working with her Christian and Muslim friends.

“I’m really excited about it. When you’re scrubbing cabinets side by side, what better way to get to know someone,” she said.

Abdu, a Canton resident, is the outreach director for the Muslim Community of Western Suburbs in Canton and Sullivan is a longtime member of First Presbyterian Church of Plymouth. Common Ground Gathering is a loosely-organized group of approximately 50 women from all backgrounds and of all ages who attend the mosque and the church.

“Initially the mosque held an open invitation for people to attend a forum after the shootings a year ago in North Carolina of three Muslim students,” said Sullivan, who attended the event with her husband. “Hasina happened to be this lovely woman seated behind me. She and I exchanged contact information. We made a commitment that we would develop a relationship. That led to lunch.”


Inshallah Is Good for Everyone

inshallahA COLLEGE student was recently escorted off a Southwest Airlines flight after a fellow passenger said she heard him making comments in Arabic that were “potentially threatening.”

In a statement, Southwest Airlines said that the student, Khairuldeen Makhzoomi, who came to the United States as a refugee from Iraq, was removed for the “content of the passenger’s conversation” and not his language choice.

Mr. Makhzoomi wasn’t ranting about death, terror, Trump or artisanal mayonnaise — any of which might warrant such a drastic response.

No. What he said on the phone right before the passenger expressed concern, he later explained, was the Arabic phrase “inshallah,” which translates as “God willing.”

This trisyllabic, Semitic weapon of mass destruction is a hallmark of the Arabic vernacular. Some anti-Muslim bigots in recent years have argued Arabic is “the spearhead of an ideological project that is deeply opposed to the United States,” one that seeks to replace the United States Constitution with a halal cart menu. Most sane individuals, however, believe Arabic is simply a language that millions of people around the world speak.

But now Arabic has become a nightmare that terrorizes passengers at 30,000 feet. In November, two men said they were questioned before boarding a Southwest flight because a few passengers heard them speak Arabic and were afraid to fly with them. Several years ago, six imams were kicked off a plane for what fellow passengers deemed suspicious behavior, including praying in Arabic near the gate.