Two Muslim women are headed for Congress

20180915_usp503IN HIS first presidential campaign, George W. Bush received 42% of the Muslim-American vote, compared with 31% for Al Gore. The 9/11 attacks, and the wars that followed, changed that affiliation. Eight years later, Muslim-Americans overwhelmingly backed Barack Obama. This was a big change for a religious minority that tended to have conservative views: traditionalist Muslims and LBGT advocates are strange bedfellows. Donald Trump’s election, though, has brought a clutch of progressive Muslims into politics. Some are now heading to Congress.

America has 3.5m Muslims, around 1% of the population. Some say the number is closer to 5m and rising; the Census Bureau has not asked questions about religion since the 1950s, so it is hard to know for sure. Only about 100 Muslims filed papers this year to run for office. These few attract a disproportionate amount of attention, largely because of America’s views of their faith. Polling by the Pew Research Centre in April 2017 found that 44% of eligible voters think there is a “natural conflict” between Islam and democracy.



The Shoe Is On the Other Foot: Pluralism and the Qur’an

The-demographics-of-ImmigrationBy Jane Smith

The raging fires of the immigration debates in the U.S. illuminate what Muslim immigrants have known for a long time — America is not and really never has been a melting pot. The ugly rhetoric surrounding the plan for a mosque and community center near Ground Zero, and recent assaults such as those on the Bridgeport, CT mosque in my neighborhood, illustrate well the difficulties Muslims face on a regular basis. Nonetheless, Muslims have actually managed to survive quite well in the West and have even succeeded in persuading many American citizens of the right of Islam to exist as a legitimate partner in the complex balance of religious life in this country.

For many Muslims the shoe is now slipping onto the other foot. The issue is becoming not only whether they and their religion are accepted by other Americans, but whether Islam itself can find a way to live out the pluralism that many are persuaded is at the heart of the Qur’an’s message. Studies now show that while early generations of Muslims tried to honor that pluralism in relation to other religious groups, more exclusivist views came to prevail and communities such as Christians and Jews found themselves increasingly discriminated against by Islam. Exegetes turned from verses of the Qur’an that insist that God willed different religious communities rather than a single one, and emphasized those verses that affirm that the only true religion in the eyes of God is Islam.

It seems to me that the future of Islam, at least as I understand it in the American context, has much to do with the way that Muslims figure out how they are going to position themselves on the question of pluralism. That we all live in a religiously differentiated society is a given. But is that a good thing in the Muslim perspective? While Muslims struggle to be truly accepted by Christians, Jews, and other groups in America, can they promise the same in return? And if so, at what level?


California City proclaims August ‘Muslim American Appreciation and Awareness Month’

5b6b05ec362ac.imageAMERICAN CANYON — Following similar declarations by the state legislature and other California cities, the American Canyon City Council has proclaimed August as Muslim American Appreciation and Awareness Month.

The proclamation represents the first time American Canyon has honored Muslims through an official decree, according to residents and leaders.


“I think this was a huge milestone for the Muslim community,” said Councilmember Mariam Aboudamous in an interview. “At a time when there is a lot of negativity at immigrants in general, and Muslims especially, it’s important to recognize immigrants because that’s what the county is made of.”

“We’re all products of immigrants, and it’s important to appreciate them,” said Aboudamous, a Muslim whose parents emigrated from the Middle East and settled in American Canyon decades ago.

Other local Muslims heralded the City Council’s proclamation, saying it represents a positive step toward acceptance of worshipers of Islam.

Najim Khan, who accepted the proclamation on behalf of the local Muslim community, called the decree “a great honor.”

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Khan said following the council meeting. “I think more cities and counties should do that.”


Who gets to define American Muslim identity?

muslim_men_praying_jeansThe various groups that were drawn (or in some cases, dragged) to the United States have themselves been made up of a variety of smaller identity groups: Italian Catholics and Irish Catholics; Polish Jews and German Jews; Latinos from Guatemala and Latinos from Brazil. If, to paraphrase Walt Whitman, the poetical nature of the United States is determined by the dynamics of engagement between those identity communities, then there is also American poetry to be drawn from such dynamics within those communities.

No nation has a Muslim community that is more ethnically, racially, or theologically diverse than the United States. For many years, these various Muslim groups created separate spaces, such as mosques, schools, and community centers. Those who were less ritually observant often found no space at all. But the era of Islamophobia has forced them all together and raised fascinating questions about what it means to be American, what it means to be Muslim, and who gets to define the identity of American Muslims.

Ansari offered lessons in the science of prejudice through a set of humorous stories about Muslims. He reminded his audience that Muslims worship the same God as Christians and Jews. If you just changed the music on Homeland, he joked, we wouldn’t look so scary.

In a New York Times op-ed published a few months earlier, Ansari wrote on several of the same themes, but this time through the poignant story of instructing his parents not to go to the mosque for prayer lest they wind up the victims of an Islamophobic attack.


Intimate portraits show the diversity of America’s Muslims

portraitsWhen you look at my series,” said photographer Carlos Khalil Guzman, “the stereotype that Muslims can be identified based on appearance becomes null.”
Guzman’s statement is borne out by “Muslims of America,” a photo series portraying everyday subjects as diverse and modern US citizens. The images depict college students, mental health counselors and activists, in places from Illinois to Kentucky and Louisiana.
The photographer and activist hopes that his ambitious project can help tackle stereotypes of Muslims in the United States today. Featuring people of various different ethnicities, ages, backgrounds and branches of Islam, the series comprises 73 portraits from 26 US states. Guzman’s goal is to take 114 portraits across all 50 states, symbolizing the 114 chapters of the Quran.
“Muslim Americans come in all shapes and colors,” he said in an email interview. “We are diverse, not only ethnically but culturally, professionally (and) linguistically.”

Capturing diversity

The photo series comes amid growing anti-Muslim sentiment in the country. A study published by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in April reported 300 recorded cases of hate crimes against Muslims in 2017, a rise of 15 percent on the previous year.
The group also found a marked increase in “anti-Muslim bias,” directly attributing 18% of such incidents to the Trump administration’s travel ban, which restricted entry to the US from seven Muslim-majority countries.
“Islam continues to be associated with terrorism,” said Guzman, explaining why he embarked on the project. “It is the scapegoat used by politicians, white supremacists and some media outlets to falsely claim that Muslims support acts of violence and the erosion of democracy.portrait
“The series, as a whole, is a microcosm that reflects the macrocosm of diversity that exists all across the country,” he added. “I wanted to show that the US is not — and has never been — a white nation. Rather it is colonized indigenous land where a variety of cultures coexist.”
An activist for human and animal rights since his teens, 29-year-old Guzman said that his portraits often depict those who don’t conform to stereotypical notions of Muslim conservatism — such as people with tattoos and women without headscarves.

American Islamophobia’s fake facts

anti-mosque-racism-protest_usa_300515-2Anti-Muslim activists in the United States were operating in a “post-truth era” and putting out “alternative facts” long before those phrases entered the language. For the last decade they have been spreading provable falsehoods through their well-organized network of publications and websites.

A major theme of those falsehoods is telling the U.S. public that Islam is inherently dangerous and that American Muslims, even if they do not embrace extremist religious beliefs or violent actions, are still a threat to national security. To back up that conclusion, the well-funded Islamophobia publicity machine incessantly repeats two specific assertions.

The first is that Muslims in this country have been engaged in a “stealth” or “civilizational jihad” — a long-term, far-reaching conspiracy to infiltrate the U.S. legal system and other public institutions and bring America under Islamic law. The companion claim is that mainstream Muslim-American organizations are effectively “fronts” for the Muslim Brotherhood and so secretly controlled by international terrorists. In fact, the Brotherhood has not been designated as a terror organization by the U.S. government, and there are not the slightest grounds for thinking it, or any other secret force, controls any national Muslim-American group.

The Islamophobes offer only two pieces of supporting “evidence,” one for each of those claims. Exhibit A is a document falsely called the Brotherhood’s “master plan” for the clandestine effort to establish Muslim dominance in the United States. Exhibit B is a list of several hundred “unindicted co-conspirators,” including the Council on American Islamic Relations and other mainstream national Muslim organizations, that federal prosecutors put into the record during a 2007 terrorism-financing trial in Texas.

If you look at the exhibits themselves, instead of the descriptions of them by anti-Muslim groups, it’s obvious that neither is what the Islamophobes say it is or proves what they allege it proves.


Exploring Islam in America

Portrait_of_Ayuba_Suleiman_Diallo_1050x700Islam, as many African Americans remind me, is an important part of African American culture and there are many African American Muslims today who feel they have “reverted” to the religion of their ancestors

Last October, Mrs Cornelia Bailey, a leading member of a tiny community of African Americans living on Sapelo Island off the Georgia coast, passed away.This remarkable woman was aspokeswoman, storyteller, historian and preserver of her people’s unique culture known as Gullah-Geechee.

The community’s roots go back to the time of slavery, when the area was owned by Thomas Spalding, a planter and US congressman from Georgia who grew cotton, sugarcane and rice using African slave labor.

Following the abolishment of slavery after the US Civil War, the people of Sapelo remained, but their number steadily grew smaller.Akbar-Ahmed-sketch

What made Bailey and the community even more unique was their Muslim background. Bailey herself was a direct eleventh-generation descendant of Bilali Muhammad, a Muslim slave originally from West Africa who was taken first to the Caribbean and then to Sapelo in the early nineteenth century, where he became the head “enforcer” over the other slaves.

Bilali Muhammad left us a document known as the “Bilali Diary”, a manuscript he wrote entirely in Arabic characters, although the language he used is not standard Arabic. His manuscript reveals a scholarly, pious, and intelligent man who clung to his identity and dignity.

Fascinated by this background, I set out with my team of researchers to meet MrsBailey and stay with her community while conducting research for my book on Islam in America, Journey into America:The Challenge of Islam (2010).