Why an ISIS Propagandist Abandoned Islam

“Seeing individuals dedicate themselves to tyrannical death cults led by suicidal maniacs is bad enough. Knowing that I may have contributed to their choices is terrible.”

By Graeme Wood

About the author: Graeme Wood is a staff writer at The Atlantic and the author of The Way of the Strangers: Encounters With the Islamic State.

On February 7, 2016, Musa Cerantonio told a friend that his fame as Australia’s best-known ISIS supporter had become a burden. Fellow ISIS supporters felt mysteriously compelled to email or call him before committing crimes. “Why,” Cerantonio lamented, “does everyone, before they do stupid shit, get in contact with me?” In this case, the doer of stupid shit was Alo-Bridget Namoa, the “Bonnie” half of the terror couple she herself had dubbed “the jihadi Bonnie and Clyde.” She and Clyde, a.k.a. Sameh Bayda, were both later convicted of terror offenses. Namoa had contacted Cerantonio, the Australian authorities tapping his phone later revealed, because she needed to know where to get an ISIS flag in Sydney. ISIS supporters were treating him like a jihadist help desk. If you see her, Cerantonio told his friend, “slap her for me.” Later that year, Cerantonio was arrested for trying to travel by boat from Australia to ISIS territory in the southern Philippines. He has been in prison ever since, and he has 13 months left on his sentence.

But if you try dialing the help desk in 13 months, you might not get the encouragement you’d expect. Last year, Cerantonio wrote to me from Port Phillip Prison, in Melbourne, and told me that he had renounced ISIS.

In block letters—the Arabic transcriptions neatly bedecked with diacritical marks, all in the right places—he explained his journey back from jihad. “I have been wrong these last 17 years,” he wrote. “Seeing individuals dedicate themselves to tyrannical death cults led by suicidal maniacs is bad enough. Knowing that I may have contributed to their choices is terrible.” Perhaps he should be returned to the help desk before his sentence is up. “I hope that my experiences may be of help in drawing others away from the same mistakes.”


‘No More War’: Religious Leaders in Jerusalem Hold Interfaith Prayer for Ukraine (with VIDEO)

Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Druze leaders call on Russian patriarch to push Putin towards peace

Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and Druze leaders gathered in Jerusalem on Monday to publicly call for peace in Ukraine and an end to the ongoing war.

The religious leaders came from around the Holy Land to take part in the interfaith gathering, which was held at Moscow Square near the Russian Orthodox Cathedral. Speakers included His Beatitude the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem Pierbattista Pizzaballa, Sheikh Hassan Abu Galion, and Rabbi David Rosen.

“The main purpose of this event is to express our solidarity, prayer, and unity with the people of Ukraine,” Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, related to The Media Line. “We are not against anyone, but the images that we are seeing from the media are terrible and not justifiable. We have to express our solidarity. I hope and pray that all the religious leaders in Ukraine and Russia will contribute to the solution of this terrible situation.”

After giving speeches, religious leaders held an inter-religious prayer and called on the Russian Patriarch Kirill to leverage his position as the head of the Russian Orthodox Church to help bring peace.

Jewish, Christian, Muslim and Druze leaders attended the interfaith gathering in Jerusalem’s Moscow Square on Monday, March 21, 2022. (Maya Margit/The Media Line)

“We came to the holiest place in the world where all religions are present and coexist in peace,” Sheikh Hassan Abu Galion of Rahat told The Media Line. “We call on global powers to make peace for the sake of children and women.”

“We recite a holy call on behalf of hundreds of millions of believers around the world to stop the killing in Ukraine,” said Rabbi Rasson Arousi, speaking on behalf of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war anymore.”

Once the gathering ended, the group posted a letter addressed to the Patriarch Kirill on the wall of the nearby Russian Orthodox Church, known as the Holy Trinity Cathedral.


A new test looks at the way Muslim women are portrayed onscreen

There are not a lot of Muslim women in American television shows or movies. For many people in the U.S., the first Muslim woman character that comes to mind is probably Princess Jasmine from the animated Disney film, Aladdin. And that’s a bit of a problem.

“I see Jasmine as the Muslim version of the woman who needs saving, who’s constantly the victim or the runaway,” says actor and founder of Muslim Casting Serena Rasoul. “We see these particular stereotypes and tropes being used over and over and over when it comes to Muslim women…and then it still persists in media today.”

“It does present itself to be a negative view and negative messaging that we’re giving to young girls. Not just Muslim girls, but…brown girls in general.”

Rasoul wanted to do something about this, so she worked with Pillars Fund and the Geena Davis Institute on Gender in Media to develop the Muslim Women On-Screen Test, which assesses onscreen representation of Muslim women. She spoke with NPR’s Juana Summers about the test, how it works and how she hopes it will change the way Muslim women are represented in the United States.


Islam, Muslims, and the Secular State in Singapore

The city-state offers a good example of how Islam can flourish in the context of a secular state.

As a philosophy, secularism seeks to interpret life based solely on principles derived from the material world. As a political system, secularism is commonly defined as the separation of religion from the state. Arguably, this is diametrically opposed to Islam,  which maintains that religion regulates and instructs all aspects of a person’s life.

However, on a practical level, secularism does not necessarily mean the complete exclusion of religion from the public life of a society. Instead, it will be more productive to discuss secularism as it is actually understood and experienced by different societies, each in its own unique context.

Certainly, due to Islam’s outlook as a way of life, minority Muslims are bound to experience a number of challenges with regards to their relations with the secular state. In this respect, where and how should they get their religious guidance from? In return, what is the nature of the existing secular system? Some states limit the role of religion in its affairs, due to historical reasons. In other states, religion is recognized and valued within a more accommodative secular state.

In this respect, how does Singapore measure up?

Singapore is a young secular state where religion is not accorded any effective role or position in the political administration of the state. Yet, it provides people with the right to follow any religion or not to follow any. Hence, the state acknowledges the importance of religion to Singaporean society, while asserting its responsibility to maintain neutrality in the matters of religion.


Submission, Freedom and Resistance: How Muslims View Hijab

Much is being written by serious commentators about the ongoing Hijab controversy. Insightful articles have highlighted various important intersections related to the issue, such as that between constitutional ideals and the law, and between minority rights and equity. Useful observations have been made about the intensifying marginalization of India’s Muslims, and relentless drive to construct and consolidate a gullible, excitable majority, all set against a larger backdrop of growing widespread disempowerment.

Instead of elaborating further on these important issues, as a Muslim and an advanced student of Islam I will instead try to shed some light for the curious readers on three of the most important, yet neglected, ways in which Muslims themselves relate to Hijab.

At the outset, a clarification about the term “Hijab” is in order. It’s an Arabic word that means “covering” or “barrier”. It is not, as some have come to believe, the name of a specific item of clothing, even though this word may sometimes be used in this way. In Muslim culture, “Hijab” is often used to refer to the body of inter-related Islamic teachings that encourage all humans to cover their bodies in modesty, albeit in different ways that are tuned to the differences between genders and cultures. To practice Hijab is to follow these teachings.

With the establishment of the modern-traditional binary following the European Enlightenment, and in the context of modernity’s own prescriptions about women’s clothing and behaviour, Hijab teachings, for women, in particular, have occasionally become a topic of debate, and in some cases, controversy too. Viewed through the coloured lens of modernity, a woman’s practice of hijab is at best a benign sign of quaint traditionalism, and at worst, an existential threat to humanity. Consequently, this article too will focus primarily on the hijab for women.


Americans overestimate the size of minority groups and underestimate the size of most majority groups

Estimated proportions are calculated by averaging weighted responses (ranging from 0% to 100%, rounded to the nearest whole percentage) to the question “If you had to guess, what percentage of American adults…” True proportions were drawn from a variety of sources, including the U.S. Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and polls by YouGov and other polling firms.

A parallel pattern emerges when we look at estimates of majority groups: People tend to underestimate rather than overestimate their size relative to their actual share of the adult population. For instance, we find that people underestimate the proportion of American adults who are Christian (estimate: 58%, true: 70%) and the proportion who have at least a high school degree (estimate: 65%, true: 89%). 

The most accurate estimates involved groups whose real proportion fell right around 50%, including the percentage of American adults who are married (estimate: 55%, true: 51%) and have at least one child (estimate: 58%, true: 57%).

Misperceptions of the size of minority groups have been identified in prior surveys, which observers have often attributed to social causes: fear of out-groupslack of personal exposure, or portrayals in the media. Yet consistent with prior research, we find that the tendency to misestimate the size of demographic groups is actually one instance of a broader tendency to overestimate small proportions and underestimate large ones, regardless of the topic. 

If exaggerated perceptions of minority groups’ share of the American population are due to fear, we would expect estimates of those groups’ share that are made by the groups’ members to be more accurate than those made by others. We tested this theory on minority groups that were represented by at least 100 respondents within our sample and found that they were no better (and often worse) than non-group members at guessing the relative size of the minority group they belong to. 

Black Americans estimate that, on average, Black people make up 52% of the U.S. adult population; non-Black Americans estimate the proportion is roughly 39%, closer to the real figure of 12%. First-generation immigrants we surveyed estimate that first-generation immigrants account for 40% of U.S. adults, while non-immigrants guess it is around 31%, closer to the actual figure of 14%.

Although there is some question-by-question variability, the results from our survey show that inaccurate perceptions of group size are not limited to the types of socially charged group divisions typically explored in similar studies: race, religion, sexuality, education, and income. Americans are equally likely to misestimate the size of less widely discussed groups, such as adults who are left-handed. While respondents estimated that 34% of U.S. adults are left-handed, the real estimate lies closer to 10-12%. Similar misperceptions are found regarding the proportion of American adults who own a pet, have read a book in the past year, or reside in various cities or states. This suggests that errors in judgment are not due to the specific context surrounding a certain group.


Islam has a rich tradition around finance. Crypto is prompting new questions.

Religious Muslims are debating over what their faith has to say about bitcoin, dogecoin and the rest of the crypto universe

Mu’aawiyah Tucker is a religious man. Because the Koran forbids the practice of earning interest on loans, Tucker has for years tried to avoid traditional banks. For a while, he became a self-described “gold bug,” putting savings into the precious metal. But then, Tucker, 40, discovered bitcoin.

Today, the London-based programmer and Web designer runs a YouTube channel trying to dispel concerns other Muslims may have about cryptocurrencies and arguing that they actually have benefits for those seeking to live faithfully. In his view, the traditional Islamic principle of delayed gratification lines up well with the “hodl” movement — a belief among crypto investors that ignoring naysayers and holding onto their investment will ultimately pay off.

“The whole ‘hodl’ mentality is actually in essence the same thing. We’re holding on to the thing and we’re waiting until the reward later on,” Tucker says.


Ohio Muslims Celebrate Passage of Bill Allowing Hijab in Sports

Around the world, Muslim women are defying cultural barriers and stereotypes to compete and excel at the highest levels of sports — in football, fencing, weightlifting, basketball, ice hockey and more.

Following years of campaigning, Muslim students in Ohio have celebrated the passage of a new bill requiring high schools to accommodate religious needs, specifically regarding clothing and head coverings during sports competitions.

Senate Bill 181, which was also backed by Christian and Muslim groups and the American Civil Liberties Union, had unanimous support in the state legislature, passing in the House 89-0 and the in Senate 33-0.

📚 Read Also: Disqualified for Donning Hijab, Muslim Teen Becomes Change Maker

“To see the acceptance and growth that we have in 2022. It’s amazing, because my school is so accepting,” Nasreen Shakur, a member of the rowing team at Laurel School in Shaker Heights, told Cleveland 19.

The new legislation aims at ending discrimination against religious expression for student-athletes and was passed in the state Senate earlier this month.


Christians, Jews And Muslims Experience Workplace Discrimination Differently

Two-thirds of Muslims, half of Jews and more than a third of evangelical Protestant Christians experience workplace discrimination, albeit in different ways, according to a new study from Rice University’s Religion and Public Life Program (RPLP). 

“When we conducted interviews, we were able to get much deeper into how people are experiencing religious discrimination,” said Rachel Schneider, a postdoctoral research fellow in RPLP and lead author of “How Religious Discrimination is Perceived in the Workplace: Expanding the View.” “We found that it’s not just about hiring, firing and promotion, which are the things that people usually think about.”

While Muslims, Jews and Christians each said they experienced negative or harmful comments, stereotyping and social exclusion, Muslims and Jews felt targeted by anti-Islamic and antisemitic rhetoric tied to being seen as part of a larger group. Evangelical Christians, meanwhile, felt singled out when taking an individual stand based on their moral views.

“Sometimes they were called ‘Ms. Holy’ or ‘Holy Roller,’ and many evangelical Christians felt like they were perceived as being judgmental, narrow-minded and/or right wing,” Schneider said. 

In addition, co-author Denise Daniels, the study’s co-principal investigator and the Hudson T. Harrison Professor of Entrepreneurship at Wheaton College, said many of the Christians surveyed gave examples of feeling isolated at work.

“This was due to their co-workers’ presumptions about the kinds of conversations or outside-of-work events they would want to participate in,” she said. 

All three groups — but especially Muslims and Jews — described feeling uncomfortable asking to observe religious holidays or wearing religious attire at work and mentioned negative experiences they’d had with supervisors and co-workers. Muslims and Jews were most likely to feel they needed to downplay or hide their religion in the workplace. 

“Identity concealment is often used by people who are part of stigmatized groups,” said co-author Deidra Coleman, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “It’s a proactive way to ‘manage’ anticipated religious discrimination, but it can have negative impacts on one’s mental health.”


Muslims are fighting on both sides in Ukraine

The war, which has divided Muslim clerics, threatens to destabilize the Caucasus and Central Asia

As Russian troops pushed in the first days of the war toward Kyiv, Kharkiv and other Ukrainian cities, and Ukrainians resisted, families in the Russian North Caucasus began to bury sons killed in the fighting. At one funeral in the Kurchaloyevsky district of Chechnya, a Muslim cleric announced that the families of Abdulbek Taramov and Tamirlan Isaev would each receive 1 million rubles (about $6,400) and a cow. Just days before, on Feb. 27, an Islamic scholar based in the Chechen capital of Grozny, Salakh Mezhiev, had declared the Russian invasion a “jihad.” Chechen soldiers, he explained, were fighting “for the Koran, for God” and to save both Russia and Islam from “filth” spread by NATO.

Pro-Kremlin propagandists have cast the Russian invasion as a war for what Putin has called the “spiritual unity” of Orthodox Christian Russians and Ukrainians. Yet an overlooked aspect of this war is the fact that Muslims of diverse national and ethnic backgrounds аre playing a central role. Muslim clerics in Russia have backed Vladimir Putin’s offensive and tried to rally the support of Russia’s estimated 20 million or more Muslims (at least 14 percent of the country’s population). On the front lines, Russian Muslims find themselves pitted against fellow Muslims defending Ukraine. Chechens are fighting on both sides. More Islamic burials are anticipated in both countries in the days to come.

These deaths could have significant geopolitical implications. Ukrainians are obviously bearing the brunt of Putin’s fury, but the war threatens to ignite other kinds of conflict within Russia and, via its Muslim diaspora communities, throughout the Caucasus and Central Asia. The Russian clerics’ support of Putin could also backfire: Their support of Putin’s venture could discredit them in the eyes of their followers, who may come to question the legitimacy of the war and its religious validation — a development that would unsettle Russian Islam.