US growth of Islam creates need for religious scholars

RTX3Z4ML-e1572281662504DEARBORN HEIGHTS, Mich. (AP) — “Brothers and sisters,” the seminary instructor tells his class, don’t believe in God because of your parents’ beliefs but because “you know why God exists.”

The challenge spurs a discussion about beliefs. But more than Imam Mohammad Qazwini’s interesting delivery, deep understanding of Islam and his formal training at a seminary in the holy city of Qom, Iran, have drawn them to this suburban Detroit classroom just off the large prayer room of a mosque.

He speaks their language — literally.

An increasing number of U.S. Muslims want guidance from religious instructors who they can understand linguistically and culturally. The Quran, Islam’s holy book, is written in classical Arabic, but many of the students aren’t well-versed in the language. Qazwini navigates the intricacies of Arabic effortlessly — in the everyday English they use, opening a door for many of the students and meeting an increasing need.

Traditional imams and scholars who once came from the Middle East or were educated in schools there are having more difficulty entering the United States. The Trump administration imposed a travel ban in January 2017 on people from several Muslim majority countries, and the government has made it harder to enter the U.S. entirely, with more rigorous interviews and background checks.

“In many other states there are mosques with no … functional imam, who can assume the responsibilities of the religious leader or even speak,” said Islamic Institute of America leader Imam Hassan Qazwini, who started the seminary with his son. “I thought maybe a long-term solution for facing this shortage is to have our own Shiite Islamic seminary in the U.S., instead of waiting for imams to come.”

Al-Hujjah is the newest of several seminaries focused on the Shiite branch of Islam in the United States and Canada working to address a shortage of leaders.

The seminary started in fall 2017 with about 35 registered students. Now it has nearly 400, with some attending in-person, others watching live and still more watching recorded videos online. In addition to the Qazwinis, there are four other instructors.

Although there are students in 25 countries the emphasis is on North America because of the desire to deepen the bench of U.S.-trained imams, scholars and speakers, according to the elder Qazwini, a native of Iraq.

In a class on a recent evening, the younger Qazwini led an intense session on faith, proposing case studies, playing devil’s advocate and prompting a philosophical back-and-forth with his students. His execution is informal but authoritative. The students understand him.

“I need to make sure he speaks the language, he’s knowledgeable, he’s respectful, he’s truly caring and he’s trying to adapt to the country we live in,” said Alia Bazzi, 32, a graphic designer and seminary student. “Why would my imam speak Arabic if we live in America and the main language we speak is English? … I want to know he’s up to date, he knows what’s going on.”

About an hour’s drive south, in Toledo, Ohio, the Ahlul Bayt Center mosque has been running for about four years without a full-time imam. Imam Mohammad Qazwini and other clerics travel there for services and special events.

Dr. Ali Nawras, a board member of the Toledo mosque, said the arrangement works for day-to-day needs because of its proximity to the Detroit area — a longtime hub for Islam in America. But the center seeks a permanent imam to meet its broader, long-term objectives: Having a strong understanding of challenges within their own community, particularly among youth, and forging stronger bonds between the Muslim and non-Muslim populations.

“On one hand, you can find an imam who is very knowledgeable, very strong background in theology, but that person might not speak English or might have lived most of his life outside the country,” Nawras said. “On the other hand, you might find someone who is born here and educated here, but they don’t have a good or strong theology background.”

“To have a combination of both, that is where the challenge comes,” he added.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS 

What ‘Hala’ gets right and wrong about growing up Muslim in America

c5709340-98b6-4391-ac0c-d04c21af442e-Hala_Unit_Photo_06Disclaimer: I don’t speak for all Muslim-Americans, but I can say that at least a good amount of us are tired of seeing the stereotypical Muslim girl portrayed over and over again.

And that’s exactly what “Hala” does.

Minhal Baig’s new film (in theaters Friday in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Columbus, Ohio, and Louisville, Kentucky; streaming Dec. 6 on Apple TV+) focuses on a first-generation, 17-year-old Pakistani-American girl of the same name (played by Geraldine Viswanathan) whose conservative parents expect her to marry a nice Muslim boy. Her parents had an arranged marriage, don’t want her hanging out with boys because reputation, her mom practically forces her to pray, but Hala is a “rebel.” She falls for the white boy in her class, goes out at all hours of the night with him and eats non-halal meat (halal meat is prepared according to Islamic law, kind of like kosher).

Surprise.

FULL ARTICLE FROM USA TODAY 

Muslim professor devotes his life to bringing Jews, Muslims together to find common ground

 

In the anti-Semitic and secular town in southeastern Turkey where Abdullah Antepli grew up, no one expected him to work in interfaith Jewish-Muslim relations one day. They were proven wrong.

In August, the now 46-year-old was ranked among the NonProfit Times Power and Influence Top 50, in honor of his work co-founding the Muslim Leadership Initiative, also known as MLI.

The MLI recruits engaged, pro-Palestine American Muslims, ranging from scholars to journalists. These participants are connected with a credible Zionist institution, the Shalom Hartman Institute (SHI), whose stated mission is to help “strengthen Jewish peoplehood.” During the program, members learn to critically understand the complex religious, political and socioeconomic issues of people in Israel and Palestine, Antepli said.

“I am extremely proud of this cutting edge social and educational experiment that we were able to initiate,” Antepli said.

In his brand-new office in Rubenstein Hall, the Sanford School of Public Policy’s new associate professor of the practice and long-standing associate professor of interfaith relations at the Divinity School apologizes for “the mess” in his perfectly tidy bureau. His office does, however, overflow with books, most of which are religion-themed.

“I never go anywhere without a book,” Antepli said. His gem at the moment is “White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism by Robin DiAngelo.

Dressed in a grey shirt tucked in black pants with sleeves rolled up, Antepli first gives off the impression of a restless businessman. But the father of two’s hearty “salaam—meaning “peace,” a common greeting in Arabic—immediately lets those who walk through his door know that he will gladly share his time.

A resentful child

Antepli, the University’s first Muslim chaplain and inaugural director of Muslim life at Duke from 2008-2014, grew up during a critical time in southeastern Turkey when religion was despised.

Although his parents were not religious, they were anti-Semitic, he said. His upbringing quickly led him on a path of resentment toward the Israelis. He recalled as a child scapegoating the Jewish community for the grievances of Muslim everyday life.

“The seductive thing about hate is that it gives simple black and white answers to complicated questions,” Antepli said.

Muslim friends and teachers introduced Antepli into the world of Islam and he promptly came to devour the religion. His religiosity just happened to emerge simultaneously with the Israeli-Palestine conflicts.

FULL ARTICLE FROM DUKE CHRONICLE

Who is a ‘Muslim American?’

49fcc0f92e234e50b33d2d4c96c3e719_18I am a Muslim. I am also a US citizen. Am I a ‘Muslim American?’

I recently read two very informed and informative pieces on Al Jazeera on the situation of “Muslim Americans.” One was very critical and the other, quite complimentary. Both authors of these two short essays were making important and cogent points. I did not think I had to take side with one or the other. They were both making valid points.

In one of those articles, I read about “the political impotence of the Muslim American community,” in which Ali Al-Arian argued: “Today prominent Muslim American figures and organisations stifle the spirit of political resistance in our community.” In the other, Abbas Barzegar countered: “Actually, American Muslims are at the centre of the resistance,” further telling us: “Despite challenges inside and outside the community, Muslim Americans have stood up to Islamophobia and the far right.”

I always read these pieces with obvious interest and a bit of curiosity for I wonder who gets to be this thing they keep calling “Muslim American?” In between their learned exchanges I kept asking myself a question they were both taking for granted.

Who is a “Muslim American?” I am a Muslim. I am also a US citizen. Am I a “Muslim American?” Yes, no, maybe – and if so in what particular sense? When they say “our community” who exactly is the member of this community? Are they all Americans who profess to be Muslims, or those who congregate at certain types of mosques? The question at some point becomes quite existential. 

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA

4 Ways Muslims’ Religious Freedom Fight Now Sounds Familiar to Evangelicals

92050Religious freedom for Muslims in America has become a significant issue in recent years, as Asma Uddin details in her book When Islam Is Not a ReligionWe have seen campaigns in various communities to block the construction of mosques, and spikes in vandalism and harassment against Muslims. (Read CT’s interview with Uddin here.)

The campaigns rest on claims that American Muslims incubate terrorism or plan to impose Sharia law, and that globally “Islam hates us,” as President Trump has said. Evangelical Christians help lead these campaigns. Anti-mosque rallies have featured sermons by pastors and hymn singing by demonstrators. Polls show white evangelicals “are more likely than any other Christian group to have low respect for Muslims,” reports Fuller Seminary professor Matthew Kaemingk.

I have written on religious liberty and advocated it in courts and legislatures for 25 years. The majority of my cases have involved Christian individuals or organizations. I want to explain why evangelical Christians have a stake in protecting the religious freedom of Muslims.

Above all, Christians should affirm everyone’s religious freedom as an aspect of human dignity: Every soul must be free to seek and respond to God. To affirm that, you do not have to say that all beliefs are true. You simply affirm that true faith can come only from God convicting the heart, not from government pressure. And the prerogative to judge souls belongs to God, not government.

Religious freedom for everyone rests also in the second great commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves. We must treat others as we would wish to be treated. Jesus’s moral call is to identify with the neighbor.

FULL ARTICLE FROM CHRISTIANITY TODAY

9/11 and the Challenge of Jesus

love your enemies

As an American Muslim, I felt the tension experienced by all Americans after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, yet all Muslims were and still are suspects. The media put Muslims on the defense, and we are still trying to prove our innocence. Explaining Islam became an urgent necessity especially in view of the hatred preached by Islamophobia.

During that infamous morning, my wife was in our house in Fairfax, VA, with my two boys who were attending George Mason University. I was in Saudi Arabia doing a project for a Saudi prince. My wife suddenly called and asked if I was watching TV. I said, “No, I’m busy working on a business plan for a client.” But with a horrified voice she said, “Oh my God, a plane hit the World Trade tower and another plane is going to hit the second tower!” She sounded horrified, and she asked again, “Are you watching?!” Moved by the urgency of her voice, I turned to CNN to see the most horrifying event I witnessed ever. A plane hit the second tower as I watched the screen. Suddenly it dawned on me this is not an accident, but a disaster of colossal dimension was taking place in front of my eyes. Additional disastrous events took place that day to make it one of the darkest days ever for the U.S. and for American Muslims.

My wife and I spoke several times that day. We were confused, angry, and scared. That evening my wife called to tell me that she was afraid and worried about the boys’ safety. A friend suggested that she join other friends for a prayer meeting and to bring the boys with her. This was a first for my wife, but she and my boys were welcomed and felt among friends. The group started praying for the President and other government officials, and then my wife was in for the surprise of her life when the group started praying for Osama bin Laden’s forgiveness.

This was the first time this Muslim woman was exposed to the concept of loving your enemies. I remember the long conversation I had with my wife about that concept and about Jesus. Jesus was well known to us through the Qur’an, where his miracles are stated in details. Culture teaches us to hate our enemies while, Jesus teaches us to love them. Talking about Jesus and his teachings seemed to take our minds away from the tragedy that surrounded us to another dimension of love. While 9/11 was a disaster for many, it was my first exposure to love, Jesus-style. I was challenged to start reading the Qur’an with fresh eyes looking for the concept of loving your enemy. It says, “Good and evil are never equal. Repel evil with good, until your enemy becomes like an intimate friend” (41: 34). Muslims often read this verse, but the principle of loving one’s enemies is not a part of our consciousness and it should be.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HUFFINGTON POST 

A Muslim teen builds bridges, one conversation at a time

aminaillustrationAs one of the few Muslims in Gig Harbor, I am aware of the need for understanding among different religions. I realize that many people in my community do not know much about Muslims.

A person once voiced a misconception to me about my religion being terrible to women: “Islam doesn’t give any respect to women.” This really hurt me.

It was just one of many comments and statements of ignorance I have faced while being a minority Muslim in America today. That’s why I set out to promote understanding and greater dialogue in my community.

When I was younger, I had my own misconceptions, including some about the Catholic faith; for instance, how could humans eat Jesus’ body and blood? In my mind it sounded a bit like cannibalism.

However, as I grew older, and thanks to my religion classes, I came to see it as symbolic rather than literal.

We all have our misconceptions, but it’s how we choose to seek out knowledge and use it to correct ourselves that matters.

In today’s political climate, understanding within our community is needed more than ever. With that in mind, I decided to host an event to promote understanding across faiths.

The discussion took place Aug. 30 at the Lakewood public library and involved eight women of faith. What they said surprised me.

The participants were three Muslims from The Islamic Center of Tacoma, three Christians from The United Church of Christ on Fox Island, one Catholic from St. Charles Borromeo parish and one Jehovah’s Witness.

Each woman was very friendly and genuinely interested in authentic, meaningful conversations.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NEWS TRIBUNE