Muslim candidate responds to hateful message with kindness

Stafford, Virginia — When you’re Muslim and running for U.S. Congress, as Qasim Rashid is in Virginia’s first, you expect vitriol.

“Just some of the most grotesque things that you could ever say to anybody,” Qasim said.

Here’s one example: “We do not need you(r) ilk in our nation.  Let alone in any seat of office above street sweeper.”

“I didn’t believe there was a place for them in our government,” said Oz Dillon, who was hoping to rile a response with his comment — and boy, did he get one.

“I stared at the screen just reading it over and over and over,” Oz said. “He reached across that gap and took my hand.” Qasim Rashid et al. posing for the camera: oz-and-qasim-front-lawn-2.jpg © CBS News 

When Qasim looked at Oz’s old Facebook posts, he found lots of offensive comments — but he also learned he had crushing medical debt, to the point where he even set up a GoFundMe account.  And that’s when Qasim knew how he had to respond.

He posted this note to his 400,000 followers: “My faith teaches me to serve all humanity. So I’ve donated $55 to his GoFundMe. Please donate if you can.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM MSN NEWS

What U.S. Religious Liberty Means — Especially When It Comes To Islam

RTX3Z4ML-e1572281662504NPR’s Audie Cornish speaks with Asma Uddin about the state of religious liberty in the United States. Uddin is author of When Islam Is Not a Religion: Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom.

 

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

The Trump administration has made religious liberty a central theme of this presidency. For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services now has a Conscience and Religious Freedom Division. The president has championed judges who have ruled in favor of people seeking religious exemptions to laws. And just last month, the White House strengthened protections for kids who want to pray at school. Asma Uddin is part – Asma Uddin is part of the Inclusive America Project at the Aspen Institute. She is also the author of a book on religious liberty called “When Islam Is Not A Religion.” She told me that President Trump’s focus marks a change from previous administrations.

ASMA UDDIN: There has been just a more pronounced public affirmation of the positive role of religion in American society, the need to protect it. Often, we hear from various government officials – whether it be Mike Pompeo or President Trump or U.S. Attorney General Bill Barr or even Jeff Sessions when he announced a religious liberty task force of the Department of Justice – is this constant refrain about religion is under threat by secularization, threatening forces on the left. So the protection of religion and the protection of our religious freedom – that has become a constant refrain.

CORNISH: What communities have benefited from the administration’s attention to the issue? Are there religious communities that have, essentially, been left out?

UDDIN: Yeah. So, you know, then-candidate Ted Cruz said that it was – he called it the religious liberty election, and he said that it was ultimately about, like, the person who would be able to defend religious liberty the best. And President Trump and Ben Carson and Rick Santorum all got on that bandwagon and said absolutely, this is about religious liberty, and we’re going to protect religious liberty if we’re elected president. But at the same time as they were making these statements, they were also competing with each other to determine who could be the most discriminatory against Muslims, whether it be President Trump’s suggestions about creating a Muslim registry or about banning Muslims from the U.S. – which, as we know, he has moved forward with that as well – or it be Ted Cruz’s suggestion that we surveil Muslim neighborhoods in the aftermath – he brought that up in the aftermath of a terrorist incident – or Rick Santorum saying that Islam absolutely was different from Christianity. He said that it’s not as protected under the First Amendment as Christianity is. And so there was, like, this obvious hypocrisy.

FULL ARTICLE (AND AUDIO CLIP) FROM NPR

How to survive Christmas as a Muslim

L5N5LEVFKQPB7GE4L55NNWOEAII grew up trying to avoid the American Christmas celebrations all around me.

Celebrating Christmas wasn’t allowed in my house. My family is Muslim, the kind that thought saying “Merry Christmas” meant accepting Jesus Christ as your lord and savior. So when we got together as a family during those precious days off from school and work, finding things to do that didn’t involve that fat burglar with the beard was the mission.

My parents had both immigrated from Egypt in the 1970s, where, I should note, Christmas is very much a thing, except Egyptians celebrate it on Jan. 7, as Eastern Orthodox Christians do, with the big trees and everything. But in raising their American kids, they were deathly afraid that they would fail to pass down their own Muslim traditions. They went all out. They enrolled us in an Islamic school where we had days off for the Islamic holidays, too. They enrolled me in Islamic karate classes. And when Christmas time rolled around, they taught me to make the most of my days off by doing absolutely anything except celebrate the reason for them.

It turned into a kind of game. When we watched TV, we’d strategically change channels to avoid Christmas commercials. When we strung lights in the house, back when Ramadan and Eid were around Christmastime, we avoided the green and red combo. When Christmas carolers would show up to our front door … just kidding, there were never carolers in my tough Newark, N.J., neighborhood. But had there been, we’d have shut off the lights and pretended no one was home.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE DALLAS NEWS

 

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