Culturally Muslim in a Christian society 

I’ve always wondered why Americans put pork in everything. Bacon’s too fatty and greasy. Pork chops literally taste like rotten chicken. And pepperoni only serve as mini edible bowls on top of pizza that accumulate oil. 

I was told from a young age to avoid pork like the plague. I never really knew why — just that my family was Muslim and Muslims don’t eat pork. It made me feel cool and unique at times. My friends would have to order cheese pizza for me at sleepovers. Teachers would have to check during lunchtime to make sure that the sandwiches didn’t have any bacon in them. None of my classmates had a perversion to such an American staple, and I honestly liked the attention of having some real culture in comparison to the community around me.

In reality, I’ve never been a religious person. I’ve watched my babaanne, my dad’s mom, pray countless times on her rug. I would even try to mimic her as a child. It was more of a fun game to me, standing up, sitting down, bending into child’s pose, standing again. I had the same attitude towards Ramadan as well. How long could I go without eating or drinking? I never made it too far, but I would watch in admiration as my baba did so effortlessly day after day for a month.

Interestingly, I come from quite the dichotomy of belief systems. My mom, born and raised in Istanbul, Turkey, is an atheist to the core. She can’t take religion seriously if her life depended on it. My dad, on the other hand, is from Antalya, Turkey, and is pretty dedicated to Allah. He used to go to camii — mosque — every Friday (the Muslim holy day) when I was younger. His parents have both completed their pilgrimage to Mecca. My babaanne and dede pray five times a day, every day. My babaanne wears a başörtü — head covering. Both grandparents read the Quran every day. This was my normal, at least whenever I traveled to Turkey to visit family.

I asked my parents at one point why they didn’t push religion on to me like many other parents do. My mom responded that she didn’t think it was fair to force me to believe one thing or another. She explained that they did their best to raise me with Muslim-ish beliefs (basically just no pork and one prayer in Arabic), but that ultimately they wanted me to make my own decision as to what I wanted to pursue. I subsequently pursued atheism. 

I am forever grateful to my parents for allowing me autonomy in terms of religious beliefs. Too many times I witness children indoctrinated into a belief system at such a young age that they never know anything different. 


Modern Islam and the West

Khurram Hussain, associate professor of religion studies, takes a human-centered approach to reimagine where modern Islam belongs in the West. 

According to Gallup, 52% of Americans agree the West does not respect Muslim societies, and studies show negative public opinion of Muslims continues to increase in the United States. Can Islam be compatible with the West? Are we paying attention to the fundamental humanity that people share? These are questions that prompted Khurram Hussain, associate professor of religion studies and director of Lehigh’s Humanities Center, to write The Muslim Speaks, published by Zed Books. 

Hussain takes a human-centered approach in his research and finds modern Islam and the West intertwined in more ways than one. With nearly 2 billion Muslims in the world with different experiences and views, Hussain sees Islam as an integral extension of the West and not an isolated identity or concern. 

An interdisciplinary background, Hussain’s research involves subjects and scholars from areas such as religion studies, international relations, philosophy and sociology. 

History has shown that sharing different cultural, ethical and philosophical perspectives is how the modern world started, and the movement of the modern mind comes from a certain kind of curiosity, says Hussain. In this work, he expands on the importance of recognizing the way humans change and evolve, and not reducing society to a stagnant, “perfect culture.” 

Identifying the way the West talks about Islam through themes of freedom talk, culture talk, and reason talk, Hussain makes an appeal to “let the Muslim speak,” and listen to different perspectives, with the goal of generating new ideas. 

The point isn’t to support or reject Islam, says Hussain, but to build community between Muslims and the West. Hussain stresses the importance of figuring out the parameters of our common existence–something that is easier said than done, he adds. 


Expanding outreach to Islam, Vatican establishes diplomatic ties with Oman

ROME – In yet another sign of Pope Francis’s consistent outreach to Islam, the Vatican announced Thursday that it had established full diplomatic relations with Oman, further extending the Holy See’s relations with the Arab and Muslim worlds.

In a joint statement published Feb. 23, both sides said the move was born of a desire to promote “mutual understanding and further strengthening friendship and cooperation,” and voiced confidence that the decision serves the interests of both nations.

They said that a Vatican apostolic nunciature in Oman and an Omani embassy to the Holy See would soon be established, and envoys named to fill the new posts.

With Thursday’s announcement, the Holy See now enjoys diplomatic relations with every country on the Arabian Peninsula apart from Saudi Arabia. In total, the Vatican now has diplomatic relations with 184 of the 195 nations recognized by the UN, which includes 193 member states and two observers, the State of Palestine and the Holy See.

Beyond Saudi Arabia, the nations with which the Vatican does not yet have full diplomatic relations include China, North Korea, Vietnam and Afghanistan.

Oman, a Sultanate, is bordered by the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia, and Yemen, as well as the Gulf of Oman and the Arabian Sea.

Pope Francis has made outreach to the Arabian Peninsula a priority, having visited the United Arab Emirates in 2019 and the Kingdom of Bahrain last November. In both places, he participated in high-level interfaith meetings aimed at promoting dialogue among religions.


The Ideology of Anti-Muslim Racism

Anti-Muslim racism has become a central theme for right-wing demagogues in Europe and the US. Islamophobia isn’t just a bad set of ideas: it’s a product of imperialism and the destructive wars waged by the US and its allies in the Middle East.

ver the last twenty years, hostility to Muslims has become one of the central themes in political discourse throughout Europe and North America. From Donald Trump to Marine Le Pen, far-right politicians have made Islamophobia into a central plank of their campaigning platforms.

At the same time, the United States and its allies have engaged in a series of wars throughout North Africa and the Middle East. The catastrophic fallout from those wars has further strengthened anti-Muslim racism.

Deepa Kumar is a professor of journalism and media studies at Rutgers University and the author of Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire, a book that explores the relationship between imperial militarism abroad and Islamophobic bigotry on the home front. This is an edited transcript from Jacobin’s Long Reads podcast. You can listen to the two-part episode here and here.

The Ideology of Anti-Muslim Racism


You argue in your book that we should understand Islamophobia as a form of racism rather than as a form of religious bigotry or discrimination. Why is that distinction important, in your view?


I think that distinction is important because if you want to end Islamophobia or anti-Muslim racism, you have to understand where it comes from. I try to push back against the liberal understanding of Islamophobia, which sees it as a set of bad ideas in one’s head or a misunderstanding of Islam. Of course, it’s true that people do have bad ideas. But the central argument in my book is that empire is what produces, sustains, and is in turn fed by anti-Muslim racism.Empire is what produces, sustains, and is in turn fed by anti-Muslim racism.

That can seem a little bit abstract, so let me concretize this a little more. Since 9/11, Muslims have been targeted by the US national security apparatus. They are seen as a “suspect population.” That is why we have the mass, intrusive surveillance that has been developed. It has a longer history: surveillance and racial profiling of Muslims goes back, in the United States at least, to the late ’60s and the early ’70s. But it was very much bolstered after 9/11.

The logic here is that Muslim communities produce terrorists and therefore the New York City Police Department (NYPD) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have to go in and watch these people. These organizations go into schools, kindergartens, mosques, bookstores, and other spaces. To some people, this is just smart security policy. But you have to think about the logic of it.

Neo-Nazis and white supremacists are also responsible for political violence, just like the political violence of the perpetrators of 9/11. However, you don’t have the same corresponding systems of surveillance whereby white communities are infiltrated to gather information because those communities produce white supremacists.

Whether it’s the FBI’s model of radicalization or that of the NYPD, it’s all based on the racialization of the Muslim population and the assumption that Muslims are prone to violence. This logic is racist at the structural level. It doesn’t come from a few “bad apples.”

Races are produced at certain moments for certain goals tied to the political economy of empire. Barbara and Karen Fields describe the process of producing races as “racecraft.” Races have to be produced — they don’t simply exist in an ethereal fashion or in any objective way.


Catholic leaders open new church in UAE’s interfaith Abrahamic Family House

Denver, Colo., Feb 21, 2023 / 09:35 am

The three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity, and Islam — now share a common place to worship in the predominantly Muslim United Arab Emirates with the opening of the Abrahamic Family House in Abu Dhabi.

Such was the dream of Pope Francis and Grand Imam Ahmed Al-Tayeb, who in 2019 signed a historic pledge calling for peace and brotherhood between religions and nations. Four years later a synagogue, church, and mosque sit opposite a secular visitor pavilion in an interfaith complex meant to encourage goodwill and understanding.

Representing the pope for the first prayer service at the new St. Francis of Assisi Church was Cardinal Michael L. Fitzgerald, a past president of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue.

“The place of prayer should also be a place of joy, and I hope that this will be true for all of us here present,” Fitzgerald said at the Sunday prayer service at the new church.

Fitzgerald conveyed the pope’s greetings. He said Pope Francis would encourage all those gathered “to continue in the culture of dialogue as our path; to adopt mutual cooperation as our code of conduct; and to endeavor to make reciprocal understanding the constant method of our undertakings.”


Muslims Rush to Aid Turkey, Syria

As the number of people killed by the February 6 earthquake in Turkey and Syria keeps rising, so do the funding and donations from different parts of the world aimed at assisting survivors.

An online donation campaign launched by Saudi Arabia has raised more than $100 million from over 1.6 million individuals and companies in just over a week.

The Saudi government has also delivered planes loaded with food, medicine and shelter supplies, and has deployed search and rescue teams, according to the kingdom’s relief agency.

Other wealthy Arab kingdoms responded similarly. Only a day after the quake, the United Arab Emirates announced $100 million in humanitarian assistance for some of the millions of people displaced in Turkey and Syria amid punishing low temperatures.

United Arab Emirates Urban Search and Rescue Team with the rescue equipment they gifted to their Syrian counterparts in response to a deadly earthquake, in Jableh, Syria, Feb. 16, 2023.
United Arab Emirates Urban Search and Rescue Team with the rescue equipment they gifted to their Syrian counterparts in response to a deadly earthquake, in Jableh, Syria, Feb. 16, 2023.

Qatar has announced it will deliver 10,000 portable cabins and trailers that the oil-rich kingdom used during the 2022 World Cup in Doha, on top of food and medical aid.

Aid, even in small amounts, has poured in from every Muslim-majority country. Even Afghanistan, which faces nearly universal poverty under the repressive Taliban regime, has donated about $200,000 in cash.

Maryam Zarnegar Deloffre, director of the Humanitarian Action Initiative at George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Affairs, said there is a diplomatic as well as a humanitarian element to the largesse.

“What we’re seeing is a normalization of relations between these states and Syria and Turkey,” Deloffre told VOA, adding that the Saudi royals and their allies are trying to reestablish ties with the Syrian regime in a bid to diminish Iran’s influence in the region.

The Gulf region’s Sunni monarchies accuse the Shia regime in Iran of trying to reshape regional power dynamics, a charge Tehran denies.

Iran also has sent aid supplies to Turkey and Syria.


Discrimination Is Pushing French Muslim Professionals to Jobs Abroad

Natasa Jevtovic, 38, left Paris for London in 2020 suspecting she would get better job opportunities as a young Muslim woman there. Her bet paid off.

Since moving to London, the finance project manager has flourished. She’s been promoted multiple times and now earns twice as much as she did in Paris. She believes none of that would’ve happened if she’d stayed in France, where she said she often experienced Islamophobia while working at a leading French bank.

“People would use racist terms and then I would ask them to stop. The whole team would ignore me,” Jevtovic said. On at least one instance, her manager intervened and threatened her position at the company if she continued to accuse her colleagues of discrimination, she said.

relates to Discrimination Is Pushing French Muslim Professionals to Jobs Abroad
Natasa Jevtovic in London, on Feb. 1.Photographer: Betty Laura Zapata/Bloomberg

Jevtovic is part of a wave of educated Muslims who no longer feel welcome in France, especially at work, and are taking their skills where they feel they’ll be valued.

A new study by University of Lille professor Olivier Esteves reveals that a number of Muslims — mostly highly-educated white collar employees — are leaving France, contributing to a brain drain that’s increasingly plaguing the euro zone’s second largest economy. Esteves surveyed 1,074 Muslims who left France. More than two-thirds said they relocated to practice their religion more freely, while 70% said they left to face less frequent incidents of racism and discrimination.

Islamophobic attitudes have become more pervasive across the country, which is home to Europe’s largest Muslim population. The 2015 terror attacks in Paris, claimed by ISIS, fueled animosity toward the Muslim population, further fanned by far-right groups. Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government has since passed a series of policies it claims are to curb radical Islamic terrorism, that critics say has created a culture of hostility. Around 42% of Muslims say they have encountered religious discrimination in the country, according to a 2019 poll by market research firm 


Solidarity Stories #7: Muslims Save Serb Orthodox Church from Destruction

The majority-Muslim town of Gracanica was heavily shelled by Bosnian Serb forces during the 1992-95 war, but Bosniak officials ensured that the local Serbian Orthodox church and Catholic religious sites were protected.

This post is also available in this language: Shqip Bos/Hrv/Srp

“Thanks to all the Muslims who saved the church during the 1992-95 war,” said the message on a sign that was installed in the front yard of the Orthodox Church of the Holy Ascension of the Lord in the town of Gracanica in November 2021.

The sign was quickly removed by the church administration because it was put there without a permit. Nevertheless, it revived memories of wartime and the solidarity that existed between the residents of this small town in north-east Bosnia.

At the end of war in 1995, the last shell that hit Gracanica struck the city mosque and destroyed its minaret. While collapsing, the minaret destroyed the rest of the mosque, causing rage among some locals. The shell was fired from a Bosnian Serb Army position on Mount Ozren.

“A small group of citizens came to my office asking for revenge and for the [Serbian Orthodox] church to be destroyed,” Halid Hadzihasanovic, who was head of the Gracanica municipal council from 1994 until 1998, told BIRN.

“I took them to the office, we had a coffee, and I told them that if we do it, we would be the same as them,” Hadzihasanovic added.

According to Hadzihasanovic, the conversation was enough to calm the angry locals down, and they left to go home. But just in case, civilian police were sent to guard the church.

“Right after that meeting, I called the police chief and asked him to increase the checks in that area, to which he replied that patrols had already been sent there,” Hadzihasanovic added.

“Not even a single stone was thrown at the church,” he proudly said.

Although he initially agreed to speak to BIRN, the Orthodox priest who works at the church in Gracanica did not receive approval from the church administration and declined to give a statement.



‘Make us unshaken in our commitment to one another’ | Houstonians hold interfaith prayer service for Turkey, Syria earthquake victims

HOUSTON, Texas — Many in Houston with ties to Turkey and Syria on Thursday held a prayer vigil for those impacted by this week’s massive earthquake.

Members of multiple religions stood by their side as the death toll continues to climb.

They gathered Thursday for a vigil organized by the Raindrop Foundation at the Turkish Cultural Center.

“Make us unshaken in our commitment to one another,” said one minister.

More than 20,000 people are now confirmed dead from an earthquake that struck parts of Turkey and Syria as crews from some 23 countries try to locate any survivors amid mountains of debris.

“Thousands of lives have been lost,” said Orhan Osman during the prayer vigil.

Osman is president of the Texas Turkish American Chamber of Commerce and survived a devastating earthquake himself in Turkey back in 1999.

“But this time it’s way worse than that because it’s happened in 10 different cities,” said Osman.


The politics of blasphemy: Why Pakistan and some other Muslim countries are passing new blasphemy laws

On Jan. 17, 2023, Pakistan’s National Assembly unanimously voted to expand the country’s laws on blasphemy, which carries the death penalty for insulting the Prophet Muhammad. The new law now extends the punishment to those deemed to have insulted the prophet’s companions, which could include thousands of early Muslims, with 10 years in prison or life imprisonment.

Human rights activists are concerned that the expanded laws could target minorities, particularly Shiite Muslims who are critical of many leading early Muslims.

Pakistan has the world’s second-strictest blasphemy laws after Iran. About 1,500 Pakistanis have been charged with blasphemy over the past three decades. In a case covered by the international media, Junaid Hafeez, a university lecturer, was sentenced to death on the charge of insulting the prophet on Facebook in 2019. His sentence has been under appeal.

Although no executions have ever taken place, extrajudicial killings related to blasphemy have occurred in Pakistan. Since 1990, more than 70 people have been murdered by mobs and vigilantes over allegations of insulting Islam.