An immigrant Muslim finds his model of empowerment in Black American Islam

One in a new series of interviews with contemporary faith-based leaders reinventing American faith.

(RNS) — Rami Nashashibi, who founded the Inner-City Muslim Action Network on Chicago’s South Side 25 years ago, is a community builder, a teacher and a recipient of a MacArthur Foundation “Genius” award. Georgetown University has called him one of the world’s 500 most-influential Muslims.

What he is not is an imam. He is part of a rising generation of lay leaders blending ancient tradition with modern activism to mobilize their faith communities. Leaders such as Nashashibi are not replacing traditional institutions or houses of worship, but they bring an immediacy to their faith-based work that is re-energizing American religion. 

Born in Jordan to Palestinian parents, Nashashibi founded IMAN in 1997 with his friend Abdul-Malik Ryan, a lawyer and Muslim convert, in Chicago Lawn, a traditionally Black neighborhood that was rapidly becoming a hub for Arab Americans. The two had the goal of providing a place where first-, second- and third-generation Muslim Americans, converts and non-Muslims would all feel included.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS SERVICE

US Muslim advocates weigh in on abortion rights battle

By Dalia Hatuqa

Forty-nine years ago, the US Supreme Court issued a ruling that changed the lives of American women, formally legalising the right to abortion across the United States.

Now, as Roe v Wade faces its most serious threat in decades, Muslim Americans, like many others across the US, have been contemplating what overturning that decision could mean for women’s reproductive rights and access to safe abortions.

Aliza Kazmi, co-executive director of HEART, a national organisation that focuses on sex education in the Muslim community, said reproductive access and choice – including safe abortion care – is already limited or non-existent for many in the US, namely people of colour and low-income people.

“We know that many Muslim women are already being pushed away given how health inequities impeding abortion access exist and persist including due to Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, homophobia, transphobia, heteropatriarchy, Christian supremacy, etc. within the provision of health services,” Kazmi told Al Jazeera in an email.

“Should Roe v. Wade be overturned, this narrowing would devastate a majority of people in this country,” she said.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA

My journey in Islam and learning more about religion

Growing up, I distinctly remember that I rarely saw a face in my neighborhood that looked like mine. When Christmas came around every year, I would see beautiful trees adorned with unique ornaments from our neighbors’ windows. Large presents lined their floors, and iridescent lights glowed from within their living rooms. 

Our house was always the only one on the block without an ounce of decoration during the holiday season. As the neighborhood celebrated, my parents and I sat mindlessly throughout the day. Sometimes when I was young, we played a CD of nasheeds, songs performed according to Islamic tradition, to pass the time. I sat on the floor; despite not understanding anything, I sang along. 

Homogeneity characterized my childhood. Among a sea of white and Christian students, there were only a handful of other students that looked like me in my classes. I made my first Muslim friend when I was six. She was one of four other Muslims in that school, and the only one remotely close to my age. Back then, neither one of us really knew what it meant to be Muslim, but just knowing that we shared something was enough for me. Two years later, I moved to a different school, and I didn’t make another Muslim friend until I was 14.

My parents wanted me to assimilate more than anything else. As immigrants, their priority was making sure that I didn’t experience the ostracism they did when they first arrived in the U.S. When it came down to enrolling me in a Sunday school, they decided that playing sports or learning an instrument, activities that other kids around me pursued, were probably more valuable ways to use my time. 

Aside from a very occasional trip to the masjid, place of worship for Muslims, or being forced to pray with my grandmother or a family member, I had no concept of what it meant to be a Muslim. According to my family’s beliefs, I ate zabiha meat, slaughtered in accordance with Islamic guidelines, but didn’t completely know how to pray and read the Quran. I didn’t know much about Islamic history or various traditions either, and I successfully got away with being a Muslim who didn’t actually know anything about Islam.

My extended family was always religious. While they pushed my parents to enroll me in Sunday school from an early age like their own children, my parents assured them that if I wanted, I could enroll myself in Islamic school much later in life and faithfully adhere to the Five Pillars of Islam. 

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE EMORY WHEEL

Jamil Jan Kochai on Americans’ Fear of Islam

The author discusses “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak,” his story from the latest issue of the magazine.

n “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak,” your story in this week’s issue, someone—presumably an F.B.I. agent—is surveilling the home of an Afghan family in West Sacramento, California. How did this scenario come to you?

A blackandwhite photograph of the author Jamil Jan Kochai in front of a bookshelf.
Photograph by Jalil Kochai

Like many of my stories, “The Haunting” was inspired by a joke. I had read an Onion article titled “FBI Counterterrorism Agent Wistfully Recalls Watching 20-Year-Old Muslim-American Grow Up,” which I found hilarious but also oddly plausible. I could imagine an F.B.I. agent growing to feel a disturbing sense of affection for some Muslim family he was surveilling. This figure sort of fascinated me. I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with federal agents myself. When I was in fourth grade, a few weeks after 9/11, I opened the door one day to find two F.B.I. agents standing on our front porch. I remember they spoke with my father for a short time and, fortunately, seemed to disappear afterward. And yet their presence still sort of lingered in our home. In our daily lives. We became very careful about what we discussed on the phone or online or at school. We lived with an odd sense of paranoia, which we often joked about in group chats, but this feeling of being surveilled did weigh on me. The agents had left, but they continued to exist in our lives like spectres. We felt haunted. We still feel haunted. But now, at least, I can write about the ghosts.

Why not tell the family’s story directly? Why see it through the eyes of a spying outsider?

The story started with the agent. I figured out his voice and perspective before I actually knew whom he would be surveilling. It was only after I began watching this family through the eyes of the agent that their characters and relationships and conflicts became apparent to me. I discovered this version of this family through the outsider himself. He was absolutely essential.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORKER

Muslim community grows, matures in New Hampshire following ‘terrifying’ aftermath of 9-11

As news reports fixated on images of crumbling towers and Osama bin Laden 20 years ago, Muslims living in New Hampshire and across the country became the focus — and in some cases, the target of scorn — of their neighbors.

Muslims suffered taunts — “go back to your country” — from motorists as they left the mosque in Manchester, which at the time was hidden away in an office building just across the street from the future police station.

In schools, children endured insults and in some cases assaults from fellow students.

When they left their homes, adults had to weigh whether traditional garments that would identify them, such as a hijab, were worth the risk to their safety.

“It was terrifying,” said Salaam Odeh, a Manchester resident and Muslim activist.

Odeh was the first victim in a hate crime case against Muslims following 9/11, after an apartment neighbor elbowed her while uttering racist slurs. The incident took place about a month after 9/11.

“We were already being mistreated, and then when this happened, people found a reason to bully us and mistreat us even more,” Odeh said.

“A label was put on you. You got the sense of having to explain yourself,” said Sheraz Rashid, who was in the seventh grade in Salem on 9/11.

A software engineer, Rashid is now the secretary of the Islamic Society of New Hampshire, which is building a mosque in Manchester.

Through the struggles, Muslims said they found comfort, too. Odeh said her host family — Vivian McDonald of Manchester and her daughter — doubled down and were very protective.

Rashid said teachers kept an eye on him.

“There was a lot of bad, but also a lot of good,” Rashid said. “People out and said, ‘No one is blaming you.’ A lot of people wanted to learn and understand.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE UNION LEADER (NEW HAMPSHIRE)

Two decades after 9/11, American Muslims still fighting bias

Mistrust of Muslims didn’t start on 9/11, but it dramatically intensified with the attacks.

NEW YORK–As the 20th anniversary of the September 11 terror attacks approaches, Shahana Hanif still recalls her confusion over how anyone could look at her, a child, and see a threat.

She remembers when a car passed, the driver’s window rolled down and the man spat an epithet at two little girls wearing their hijabs: “Terrorist!”

It was 2001, mere weeks after the World Trade Centre fell, and ten-year-old Hanif and her younger sister were walking to the local mosque from their Brooklyn home.

“It’s not a nice, kind word. It means violence, it means dangerous. It is meant to shock whoever … is on the receiving end of it,” she says.

But the incident also spurred a determination to speak out for herself and others. She’s become a community organiser and is strongly favoured to win a seat on the New York City Council in an upcoming election.

Like Hanif, other young American Muslims have grown up under the shadow of 9/11. Many have faced hostility, suspicion, questions about their faith, doubts over their Americanness.

They have also found ways to fight back against bias, to organise, to craft nuanced personal narratives about their identities. In the process, they have built bridges and challenged stereotypes.

There is “this sense of being Muslim as a kind of important identity marker, regardless of your relationship with Islam as a faith,” says Eman Abdelhadi, a University of Chicago sociologist.

Mistrust of Muslims didn’t start on 9/11, but it dramatically intensified with the attacks.

America’s diverse Muslim communities were foisted into the spotlight, says Youssef Chouhoud, a political scientist at Virginia’s Christopher Newport University.

“Your sense of who you were was becoming more formed, not just Muslim but American Muslim,” he says. “What distinguished you as an American Muslim? Could you be fully both, or did you have to choose? There was a lot of grappling with what that meant.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ARAB WEEKLY

Muslims are a growing presence in U.S., but still face negative views from the public

Muslim woman in a scarf holding American flag during fireworks at night.

An unprecedented amount of public attention focused on Muslim Americans in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The U.S. Muslim population has grown in the two decades since, but it is still the case that many Americans know little about Islam or Muslims, and views toward Muslims have become increasingly polarized along political lines.

A chart showing that in the U.S., the Muslim population has been growing steadily

There were about 2.35 million Muslim adults and children living in the United States in 2007 – accounting for 0.8% of the U.S. population – when Pew Research Center began measuring this group’s size, demographic characteristics and views. Since then, growth has been driven primarily by two factors: the continued flow of Muslim immigrants into the U.S., and Muslims’ tendency to have more children than Americans of other faiths.

In 2015, the Center projected that Muslims could number 3.85 million in the U.S. by 2020 – roughly 1.1% of the total population. However, Muslim population growth from immigration may have slowed recently due to changes in federal immigration policy.

The number of Muslim houses of worship in the U.S. also has increased over the last 20 years. A study conducted in 2000 by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership identified 1,209 mosques in the U.S. that year. Their follow-up study in 2011 found that the number of mosques had grown to 2,106, and the 2020 version found 2,769 mosques – more than double the number from two decades earlier.

FULL ARTICLE FROM PEW RESEARCH CENTER

America’s Muslims come from many traditions and cultures

Kalpana Jain, The ConversationAug. 30, 2021 Comments

(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)

Kalpana Jain, The Conversation

Journalists and scholars have pointed out how Muslims in the U.S. are often cast simplistically either as good or bad: The good ones are raising their voices against terrorism and the bad ones are violent, or likely to be.

This view blocks out an “otherwise fascinating spectrum” of American Muslims, writes scholar Abbas Barzegar. “Outside of Mecca itself,” he says, “there exists no other Muslim population that displays the theological, ideological, class and ethnic diversity as that which resides here” in the U.S.

So, what are the different ways of being a Muslim?

Many American Muslims belong to one of the two main sects in Islam – Sunni and Shiite. Each draws its faith and practice from the Quran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad. The two agree on most of the fundamentals of Islam.

But the two groups split after the death of Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632, when issues over leadership emerged, writes religion scholar Ken Chitwood. The majority of the Muslim community sided with Abu Bakr, one of the prophet’s closest companions. A minority, however, opted for the prophet’s cousin – Ali.

Muslims who rallied around Abu Bakr came to be called Sunni – meaning those who follow the Sunna, or sayings, deeds and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HOUR

Study finds US ‘Muslim ban’ led to decrease in healthcare access

When the controversial US ‘Muslim Ban’ was signed in 2017, Muslim visits to emergency departments and appointments decreased – highlighting a connection between immigration rhetoric and healthcare access

When it comes to immigration policy, the rhetoric around a minority targeted by the change can also impact those who are already citizens in the US. Non-citizens and citizens who were harmed by the ‘Muslim ban’ are both equally important, but in this Minneapolis-based study researchers looked at how openly negative representation of a group can lead to that community fearing interactions with authorities. Even healthcare professionals.

In 2017, healthcare visits from Muslims with heritage in the countries banned from entering the US by Executive Order decreased. This included people from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. The decrease in healthcare access ranged from primary care appointments to emergency room trips.

This decreased notably followed an already marked increase in visits, which began in November 2016 following an election season characterised by significant anti-immigrant rhetoric.

‘Immigration policies’ impact ‘people living here in the US’

“It’s clear that U.S. immigration policies can have significant effects on the health of people living here in the U.S.,” said Dr Elizabeth Samuels, corresponding author of the study and an assistant professor of emergency medicine at Brown University’s Warren Alpert Medical School.

“In this case, we saw a rise in emergency department visits among people from nations targeted in the ban as well as a rise in missed appointments from people from Muslim majority countries not named in the ban. I think that that’s indicative of the kind of rippling health effects these types of policies can have.”

The authors believe that changes in healthcare access reflect elevated stress levels, due to an increasingly anti-Muslim climate in the US.

FULL ARTICLE FROM OPENACCESSGOV.ORG

Supreme Court to rule on FBI’s move to block Muslim civil rights suit

The case involves the FBI’s use of an informant who posed as a convert to Islam after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and attended mosques in California.

June 7, 2021, 12:25 PM EDTBy Pete Williams

The Supreme Court agreed Monday to take up the federal government’s claim that allowing a civil rights lawsuit filed by Muslims in California to proceed would reveal secrets that could damage national security.

The case involves the FBI’s use of an informant who posed as a convert to Islam after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and attended mosques for more than a year in Orange County. According to the lawsuit, he struck up conversations and attended meetings and lectures, sometimes secretly recording them.

The effort “explicitly targeted Muslims because of their religion,” violating their religious freedom, a lawyer for the Muslims told the Supreme Court.

“The explicit purpose of this operation was to gather information on Muslims in Orange County — not terrorists, spies, or even ordinary criminals, but Muslims,” they said.

Pete’s primer: Breaking down the 3 major upcoming SCOTUS decisions

MAY 28, 202103:23

The Justice Department moved to block the suit in federal court by asserting the state secrets privilege, which courts have recognized for more than a hundred years. Revealing evidence about whether any particular person was the subject of an FBI counter-terrorism investigation, “the reasons for any such investigation, and the particular sources and methods used” would harm national security, government lawyers said in their Supreme Court submission.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NBC NEWS