At Muslim Sunday school, learning about Islam — and correcting misconceptions

muslim_sunday_school-2-mansoorOff a highway in central Connecticut is the mosque with a 400-student Muslim Sunday school.

More guards are on patrol these days. And for the older students in the transition class, talking about Islamophobia is not only welcomed, but encouraged. The teenagers are in their final years of high school and will be heading off to college soon.

So before they head out into the “real world,” they aren’t just learning the tenets of Islam, said Dr. Reza Mansoor, their teacher on a recent Sunday. He’s coaching them on how to defend their faith from misconceptions.

“By the way, As-Salaam-Alaikum,” Mansoor greeted them. “If you use an Arabic term and you don’t translate, dinged one point, OK? So As-Salaam-Alaikum means God’s peace be with you all.”

Mansoor is president of the mosque, called Islamic Association of Greater Hartford, and he is big on translating Islamic phrases and words. Take jihad, for instance. It means a struggle — usually a personal, spiritual one — but if you hear jihad in the media, he said, it’s almost always associated with extremists who commit violence in the name of Islam, like the 9/11 terrorists.

“If you use jihadist for terrorist, you unfortunately give the terrorists… a position much higher than what they are,” Mansoor told his students.

People tend to fear what they don’t know. And when Islam is viewed as a threat, that makes Muslims a target.

“Just imagine someone calling you a terrorist and telling you to go home,” Aissa Bensalem, 17, said during the class. “I had one of my friends say that they were scared to come to the masjid because they were afraid that they were going to be shot on.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM CTMIRROR.ORG

9th Circuit revives Muslims’ lawsuit charging FBI with spying at mosques

la-1551386386-xctei62fw0-snap-imageA federal appeals court decided unanimously Thursday to revive much of a proposed class-action lawsuit brought by Southern California Muslims against the FBI that claims they were subjected to surveillance because of their religion.

The decision by the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals will return the case to a district court for further review.

The lawsuit, filed by the ACLU of Southern California, alleges that for at least 14 months in 2006 and 2007, the FBI paid a confidential informant to spy on Muslims in Southern California’s mosques and elsewhere.

A federal judge dismissed the bulk of the lawsuit in 2012 after the government argued it could not defend itself without disclosing state secrets.

In a 103-page decision, the 9th Circuit said the district court should not have dismissed claims without more careful review and consideration of ways to continue the case without jeopardizing national security.

In other cases, that has included redacted documents, prepared summaries of the evidence and limited disclosure to lawyers.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE LOS ANGELES TIMES

Arkansas High School Students Use Art to Learn Islamic Faith

191102170_WC-FHS-ISLAM-003_ORIG_t800BY DAVE PEROZEK, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. (AP) — A high school art project helped students gain a new perspective by connecting them with people of the Islamic faith.

 

Fayetteville High School students in Ashley Grisso’s advanced placement world history classes worked in groups of two or three. They interviewed Muslims in the community, then told their stories through art.

The students’ work was on display recently at the University of Arkansas‘ Kittrell Art Gallery. Each piece of the “Putting a Face on Islam” exhibit was accompanied by a one-page artist statement about the work. Students and their subjects gathered one evening for a reception at the gallery.

 

“It’s really great to be able to understand a person from a different culture, because you might see stuff on the news and read about stuff, but there’s like, a person right there,” Peter Herman, a Fayetteville High School junior, said to the Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette.

Herman worked with classmates Robert Benafield and Grady Cape. They interviewed a man identified in the statement as only Amel. He was born and raised in the Comoro Islands, off the east coast of Africa. Amel is pursuing a master’s degree in public health at the university.

 

The boys’ piece of art is a collage on paper, divided in halves. The left half, with a purple background, depicts some of the negativity Muslims feel from America. A quote from Amel — “I was so scared to show my religion to America” — is at the center of that half.

The other half, with a white background, was meant to showcase Amel’s jolly personality. It includes a picture of him with a broad smile standing on the university campus.

The high school students met their subjects during an event arranged by Cynthia Smith, assistant director of outreach programs in the university’s department of International Students and Scholars.

Religious freedom is for Muslims too

133623_w_700Religious freedom must be for everyone, or we all suffer.

Last week, a Muslim on death row requested the presence of an imam at his execution. The state of Alabama denied this request even though it had allowed it for executed inmates who requested a Christian pastor. We add our voice to the Christian leaders who have condemned this act.

Domineque Ray was executed Feb. 7 for murdering a teen girl after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to review his request for a religious accommodation. The court’s conservatives, Samuel Alito, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, John Roberts and Clarence Thomas, who ostensibly were nominated partly due to their support for religious freedom, denied the request, while the court’s liberals, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elana Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, dissented.

In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled in Oregon v. Smith against a member of the Native American Church who sought a religious accommodation regarding his use of peyote, a banned hallucinogenic, as part of a religious ritual. A law that is neutral with regard to religion — banned people of all religions, not just the Native American Church, from using peyote — didn’t violate the free exercise of religion, the Court reasoned at the time.

Both conservatives and liberals united in opposition to that court’s “neutrality principle” and passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. They recognized that all of us were in danger of losing our religious freedom if the state could infringe upon our religious practice as long as its actions applied to all religious groups.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIAN POST 

Enslaved African Muslims Helped Build America

8cd605f0-814b-4ca7-92ba-d6f9fd9b5856_cx0_cy19_cw0_w1023_r1_sIn the year 1807, a wealthy scholar was captured in West Africa, brought to the United States and sold into slavery. His name was Omar Ibn Said. He was 37 years old at the time, and he spent the rest of his life enslaved.

Said was one of many enslaved Muslims in early U.S. history. Up to 40 percent of Africans captured and brought to the U.S. were from mostly Muslim countries in West Africa.

Said’s story might have been forgotten, but he wrote about it in a book called The Life of Omar Ibn Said. The U.S. Library of Congress recently received the book, which was written in Arabic.

The book is one of only a few personal stories written by a slave in America. It is also one of the first intimate reports of the early history of Muslims in the United States.

The book challenges the idea that the U.S. is a Christian nation, says Zaheer Ali. He is a historian at the Brooklyn Historical Society in New York. Ali adds: the book “opens us up to the understanding” that people who were not Christian helped build the United States.

What records did enslaved Muslims leave?

Most enslaved African Muslims did not leave written records. But we can learn about their lives from public evidence and the memories of their families.

How long Muslim slaves practiced their faith is unknown. Some became Christians. Others acted as if they did to better deal with their captors.

But there is evidence that some remained Muslim.

FULL ARTICLE FROM VOA 

Black Muslims account for a fifth of all U.S. Muslims, and about half are converts to Islam

US-RELIGION-ISLAM-EID

This is one of an occasional series of posts on black Americans and religion.

Even in the early 20th century, when Islam had little presence in most parts of the United States, the religion had a foothold in many black urban communities. Today, black people (not including those of Hispanic descent or mixed race) make up 20% of the country’s overall Muslim population, according to a 2017 Pew Research Center survey.

Still, Muslims make up only a small portion of the overall black population in the United States. The vast majority of black Americans are either Christian (79%) or religiously unaffiliated (18%), while about 2% of black Americans are Muslim.ft_19.01.09_blackmuslims_converts

About half of black Muslims (49%) are converts to Islam, a relatively high level of conversion. By contrast, only 15% of nonblack Muslims are converts to Islam, and just 6% of black Christians are converts to Christianity.

Black Muslims are like black Americans overall in that they have high levels of religious commitment. For instance, large majorities of both black Muslims and black Christians say religion is very important to them (75% and 84% respectively). This is a higher level of commitment than for nonblack Muslims (62%). Black Muslims are also more likely than other Muslims in the U.S. to perform the five daily prayers (55% vs. 39%).

FULL ARTICLE FROM PEW RESEARCH 

Thanksgiving Prayers For Dinner 2018: Christian, Jewish, Muslims Words To Offer Thanks

35277-cc_tgiving_5_2016.1100w.tnEvery year on the fourth Thursday of November, millions of Americans nationwide gather for a Thanksgiving Day filled with feasting and celebrations. An important part of the day is gathering around the tables for dinner with loved ones.

Several people choose to say their prayers and share what they are thankful for. While some prayers are improvised, most major religions have standard or suggested words and phrases for blessing a meal. Here are suggested Catholics, Protestant, Jews and Muslims prayers gathered from faith-based organizations.

Catholic prayer:

Today we give thanks for our many blessings as we pray for those in need. We give thanks for our family and friends as we pray for those who are lonely. We give thanks for our freedoms as we pray for those who are oppressed. We give thanks for our good health as we pray for those who are ill. We give thanks for our comfort and prosperity as we share our blessings with others. On this day of Thanksgiving, May the love of God enfold us, the peace of God dwell within us, and the joy of God uplift us. Amen.

Protestant prayer:

Heavenly Father, on Thanksgiving Day, we bow our hearts to you and pray. We give you thanks for all you’ve done, especially for the gift of Jesus, Your Son. For beauty in nature, your glory we see, for joy and health, friends and family. For daily provision, your mercy and care, these are the blessings you graciously share. So today we offer this response of praise, with a promise to follow you all of our days. Amen.

Jewish prayer:  

For the laughter of the children, for my own life breath, for the abundance of food on this table, for the ones who prepared this sumptuous feast, for the roof over our heads, the clothes on our backs, for our health, and our wealth of blessings, for this opportunity to celebrate with family and friends, for the freedom to pray these words, without fear, in any language, on any faith, in this great country, whose landscape is as vast and beautiful as her inhabitants. Thank You, God, for giving us all these.  Amen.

thanksgivingCentral American immigrants and their families pray before Thanksgiving dinner on Nov. 24, 2016 in Stamford, Connecticut. Photo: Getty Images/John Moore

Muslim prayer:

Thank You, Allah T’aala is all that I can say. For who knows whether we’ll make it, with grit, come what may, and without Allah’s Mercy we may try all night and day forgetting what we’re worth, a clot of blood, just clay. However, with His Mercy a mountain can we move with ease and no great effort, just hope in Him, just love. So, Thank You Allah T’aala is all that I can say. Just help me share this blessing with all who come my way. Bless Muhammad and his sacred Household inconsequential me.

Arabic: “Allahomma barik lana fima razaqtana waqina athaban-nar. Bismillah.”

English: “Oh Allah! Bless the food You have provided us and save us from the punishment of the hellfire. In the name of Allah.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM INTERNATIONAL BUSINESS TIMES