With July 4th, Americans all around the country can feel a sense of celebration; however, when you are Muslim and American, there are fewer options to couch both the religious and cultural identity together. For Reem Sayes, her solution has been to create Days of Eid. She wanted to create a company where the products represent a celebration of who Muslims are regardless of the occasion. Fortunately, Days of Eid has the primary goal “to help embolden the Muslim identity of our children and help them embrace their uniqueness,” Reem explains.
Using a business model that is direct-to-consumer through their website, Reem designs and creates home and holiday decor products in-house that celebrate and reflect Islamic traditions.
“We believe that your home should tell your story, who you are, what you love, what your beliefs and values consist of. When people walk in your home they should get a sense of those things. And for me and many other American Muslims that was hard to do and that compelled us to start Days of Eid,” Reem adds.
When thinking about her childhood, Reem recalls how it was often a struggle to find herself in a sea of negativity and misconceptions about Islam and Muslims. She wanted to fill the void of mothers and their children questioning their religious identities and wanted to find a solution as she understood the issues of feeling pride in one’s identity. For quite some time, Reem thought about her own children’s struggle with who they are; consequently, she made it her mission to highlight Muslim Americans through Days of Eid.
American Muslims, Black and non-Black, are having raw conversations as they grapple with questions of racial equity, tensions and representation in their own faith communities.
By Associated Press
As a young student, Hind Makki recalls, she would call out others at the Islamic school she attended when some casually used an Arabic word meaning “slaves” to refer to Black people.
“Maybe 85% of the time, the response that I would get from people … is, ‘Oh, we don’t mean you, we mean the Americans,’” Makki said during a virtual panel discussion on race, one of many organized in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“That’s a whole other situation about anti-Blackness, particularly against African Americans,” said Makki, who identifies as a Black Arab Muslim.
In recent weeks, many Muslims in the U.S. have joined racial justice rallies across the country and denounced racism in sermons, statements and webinars. American Muslims, Black and non-Black, are also having raw conversations like Makki’s as they grapple with questions of racial equity, tensions and representation in their own faith communities.
“Everyone is talking about this, like from the uncle who’s been here since the early ’70s, was a retired doctor somewhere, a retired board member of a mosque to … a high school student in the suburbs,” Makki, an anti-racism and interfaith educator, said in an interview. “The question needs to be pushed further than what words, what slurs you’re using, which you shouldn’t be using. How can we reach equity … in the spaces that we actually can change?”
A Religious Studies student brought a dish to her mother at work one day. She and a friend had been visiting a local mosque. The dish consisted of goat meat, rice, and cheese. Everyone working the shift that night sampled it. We all agreed it was delicious. She talked about how hospitable the Muslim community was. She and her friend had a good experience and intended to return.
When Was This?
This took place during the year 1997. Up till then, most of us had negative views about Islam and Muslim countries. All of us were old enough to remember the hostage crisis involving the US embassy in Iran. We remembered the 1991 Gulf War. We forgot that most Muslim countries were allied with the US. The first attempt on the World Trade Center had been made in 1993. And some of our coworkers remembered the Black Muslim movement.
We knew the Oil Producing and Exporting Countries (OPEC) kept raising the price of oil causing gas prices to soar. Since we lived in the southeastern US, we heard about how Israel was always under threat from “Arabs.” We knew very little if anything about Arab Christians.
The 1995 bombing was first blamed on “Islamic terrorists” before it was learned that it was done by neo-Nazi terrorists. The primary suspect Timothy McVeigh was a Gulf War veteran. He murdered 168 people.
A Convenient Scapegoat
September 11, 2001 brought about more scapegoating of Muslims. President George W. Bush attempted to differentiate between “radical Muslims” such as Osama bin Laden’s Al Queda network and Muslims who wanted nothing to do with such groups. And then in 2003, President Bush initiated the War with Iraq as an extension of “The War on Terror.” All of his attempts to differentiate between Muslims evaporated in people’s minds.
Muslims are a minority in America. Islamic culture is definitely foreign. European history is rife with stories of conflicts with Muslims. The Song of Roland begins with a description of Muslim leaders in Spain as the real enemy. Muslims have played the role of “the other” in the minds of Americans due to this heritage from Europe.
Government officials try to make distinctions between Muslims that are neighbors and Muslims that are enemies. It is not working. The reason for that is very simple. The problem is fundamentalist Christianity.
The scapegoat is the person who takes the blame but doesn’t deserve it. In our usage it is synonymous with the “fall guy” in scandals. Leviticus 16 mandates a dual sacrifice for the Day of Atonement. Two goats are chosen. One is slaughtered as a “sin offering.” The next goat is the sins of the people and driven into the wilderness “for Azazel.” The latter is called “the scapegoat” in early English translations of the Bible.https://9f3de2b157f5773035d07814e8d39e24.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlDriving the animal into the wilderness is supposed to be mean it has no place in the community. By being run off, the goat takes the sins away. What’s more is the goat doesn’t belong to the community either.
Fundamentalist Christianity looks for a clearly defined manifestation of the Enemy (Satan). It developed looking for enemies. There were no shortages of enemies. Evolution, Communism, Labor Unions, Feminism, Women Suffragists, and alcoholic beverages took their places in Hell’s kingdom. Why is Islam viewed as an enemy?
The experts on the Zoom call were there to discuss the five before five. That’s a belief that goes back to Muhammad, who said: “Take advantage of five before five: your youth before your old age, your health before your illness, your riches before your poverty, your free time before your work, and your life before your death.” Margari Hill, co-director of National Black Muslim COVID Coalition, which hosted this talk Saturday afternoon, explained that at a time like this, it can be hard to plan for one’s wellness.
“Yet at the same time we know that preparing for the unknown helps put ourselves and our families at ease,” she said.
They’d cover physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual wellness during the 90-minute talk, spiritual wellness the first topic, as panelist Imam Johari Abdul-Malik, of Washington, D.C., spoke on the significance of spending this month of Ramadan in isolation.
“I would invite us, while we are in [this] kind of self-quarantine seclusion to take that time to ask Allah to give us the things that we need,” the imam shared on the Zoom call. “So that when we come out of this cave, and we will, it’s with something that will be able to benefit us in our society.”
The National Black Muslim COVID Coalition hosts conversations like this at least weekly. Through digital organizing, the coalition steers and supports myriad initiatives looking for the concerns and experiences of black Muslim experiences during the pandemic. The coalition, which has multiple key organizers in Philadelphia, is leading a survey, a cultural preservation project that collects the oral histories of their elders, and producing a series of digital panels raising issues regarding medical racism, communal grief, and the need to provide culturally sensitive, faith-sensitive care as the community faces distressing racial disparities in the pandemic’s death toll. Through its national scope, the coalition serves black Muslim communities that not only have regional differences, but roots around the diaspora.
That’s why the Muslim community in Dearborn, Michigan, decided to start a new tradition this year, one that could be done while still abiding by social distancing guidelines.
The community is hosting a Ramadan lights competition in hopes of spreading joy and bringing back some of the holiday spirit.
While many Muslims decorate their homes during the month, a similar tradition to hanging Christmas lights, this year, the Dearborn community has turned the custom into a challenge.
Residents are invited to nominate their own houses, or their neighbor’s, by sharing their address and a photo of their decorated home by May 11. The photos will be shared on social media and the public can vote on their 10 favorite houses from each district. Judges will then pick the best lit-up homes in the city.
Documentary filmmaker Razi Jafri, who works for the Center for Arab American Studies at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, launched the challenge in collaboration with the Michigan Muslim Community Council and the city’s annual Ramadan Suhoor Festival.
The competition is also a part of Halal Metropolis, a project Jafri works on at the center to document the lives of Muslims in Southeast Michigan.
“This will help raise spirits by providing a positive, pro-social project for the community to get involved with,” Jafri told CNN. “It’s amazing because both Muslims and non-Muslims in the community are getting so excited about it. There’s been so much positive energy that has come out of this already. “
Shaista Shiraz, 34, doesn’t have many friends in Westchester county, north of Manhattan. She left her hometown of Atlanta, Georgia, five years ago after her divorce to settle in New York, the only other place she had family.
Between settling in a new city and raising her two children, Shiraz didn’t have many friends. During Ramadan, the lack of companionship always hit the hardest. This year will be even more difficult for her.
With Ramadan starting on 23 April, Muslims around the world will refrain from food and drink every day from sunrise to sunset during the holiest month in Islam. But this year, Covid-19 will rob millions of Muslims across the US from congregating for prayers, iftar and other Ramadan customs.
Mosques don’t just host daily free iftar (the meal eaten after sunset). They host fundraisers, mixers and lectures, all an integral part of the celebration. Following most iftars, Muslims go to the mosque for a communal prayer that can only be done during Ramadan, tarawih.
This year, Muslims will have to go the virtual route.
‘It is a test from God and we have a lot of lessons to learn’
The Islamic Center of Central Missouri hosts upwards of 1,000 people at its weekly Friday service. Now, only 20 to 40 people are logging in to online events. Mosque leaders hope the turnout will increase as Ramadan starts
Samuel Albaugh just picked up two boxes of chicken sandwiches and snacks from a meal pick-up site, to deliver it to a family with five children.
Albaugh has never met the family. He’s helping them out because he signed up to be a volunteer for the Michigan Muslim Community Grocery Service, a grassroots project started by Riyah Basha and Sumaiya Ahmed Sheikh.
“I just started a new job and we’re not able to work. A lot of good things were happening and then it kind of just stopped with the virus.” — Amy Stewart, resident
Sheikh says when COVID-19 hit she was worried about how high-risk people would be able to safely get their groceries.
“And I honestly started with just posting a Facebook status to see what was going on in the community,” Sheikh says. “Very quickly, Riyah reached out and said, ‘Hey, I think it would be really great to start something locally in the Troy and Rochester area at our local mosque.’”
While the project is called the Michigan Muslim Community Grocery Service, the volunteers and community members served come from a variety of faith, beliefs and backgrounds. Sheikh says in just their first week and a half of operation more than 300 volunteers signed up to be a part of the project and 40 people have received food.
Click on the player above to listen to a local volunteer deliver groceries to a family in metro Detroit.
The women partnered with the Amity Foundation and quickly expanded into a well-oiled machine serving anyone in need of getting food on their doorstep in more than 12 cities across Southeast Michigan. The current list includes Ann Arbor, Canton, Dearborn, Dearborn Heights, Detroit, Flint, Grand Blanc, Northville, Rochester, Saginaw, Sterling Heights, Troy and Warren.
Even before he arrived at his job at Fort Dix one recent morning, Army Sgt. Syed Farhaj Hassan had already been bombarded by a Michael Bloomberg ad about gun control on television, and a radio piece about Bloomberg’s tenure as mayor of New York City.
Bloomberg seems to be everywhere, as he invests heavily in advertising during his campaign for president. But for Hassan and other Muslim Americans, the former New York mayor’s political resurgence is a painful reminder of a sweeping, yearslong surveillance program that Bloomberg supported and defended as mayor.
“Do I think Michael Bloomberg should apologize for causing terror for a group of people up and down the Northeast? Yes, I do,” said Hassan, a resident of Helmetta, in Middlesex County, and the lead plaintiff in a settled lawsuit against the New York City police over the secret surveillance program.
“His actions are still causing issues between Muslim communities and law enforcement,” Hassan said in an interview with NorthJersey.com and the USA TODAY NETWORK New Jersey. “The chilling effect exists, and it exists because of Michael Bloomberg’s actions to go ahead and surveil peaceful Muslims in New Jersey and New York.”
During Bloomberg’s administration, the New York Police Department secretly mapped ethnic communities, placed informants at mosques and infiltrated schools, businesses and restaurants in New York and New Jersey in the name of counterterrorism. While Bloomberg has apologized for controversial stop-and-frisk policies targeting black and Hispanic New Yorkers, he has not done the same for the Muslim surveillance program that critics say was also rooted in profiling a minority group.
NPR’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.