The sun has set, the hiking, swimming and prayers are over and a group of kids are goofing off, taking turns telling corny jokes in the woods.
“Why did the cow cross the road?” a kindergartner yells into a megaphone in front of his fellow campers. “Because the chicken was on vacation!”
It’s a typical summer camp in Northern California, except at this camp all the kids are Muslim.
Every summer for 55 years, Muslim kids, teens, young adults and parents gather in these woods to learn about faith and have fun. It is the oldest camp of its kind for young Muslims in America. But today the camp has a different meaning for this new generation. It’s a momentary respite for the campers in a country where anti-Muslim sentiment is rising sharply.
The late Marghoob Quraishi and his wife, Renae “Iffat” Quraishi, founded it, to help new American Muslims find a sense of community.
Originally Indo-Pakistani, Marghoob ended up at Stanford University in California. His daughters say he looked around and realized that new American Muslims, like himself, needed a place to teach their kids about being American Muslims. His wife is an American Caucasian woman who converted to Islam from Methodism and grew up going to Methodist summer camp. So the couple modeled it on that.
Only days after the end of Ramadan and just before the July Fourth holiday, thousands of people gathered at a Chicago convention center for the 54th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America. Activists, scholars, religious leaders, booksellers, food vendors, and families of many backgrounds speaking many languages attended panels about topics as varied as religion, relationships, politics, cybersecurity and climate change. Despite their diverse backgrounds, many in attendance had two things in common: They were American, and they were Muslim.
Speaking at a panel on political views after the 2016 election, Besheer Mohamed, a senior researcher at the Pew Research Center, suggested that an upcoming report would put numbers to the diversity that could be observed at the conference. That survey, released Wednesday morning, is the third in a series of Pew surveys of Muslims in the U.S. taken over the past 10 years.1 It is also a window into the changing attitudes of American Muslims — who make up about 1 percent of the U.S. population2 — on issues such as politics and homosexuality.3
“The key theme that we see regarding U.S. Muslims is diversity,” Mohamed told reporters on Tuesday, ahead of the report’s release. “Among immigrants, no single ethnic group has a majority. … Among U.S.-born Muslims, no racial group has a majority.”
Before departing for my recent trip to Jordan in the Middle East, I was repeatedly asked if I feared for my safety. Such questions are not new to me. Since my daughter has lived in Jordan for the past three years, I have repeatedly been asked variations of, “How do you sleep at night when your daughter lives in such an unsafe [usually meant “Muslim”] country?”
These questions, however, sadly misunderstand both Jordan and Islam. The biggest threat to my safety in Jordan’s capital city, as in any big city in which traffic overwhelm roads, was drivers! Although I had some near scrapes, I survived my many dicey encounters with Jordan’s erratic drivers unscathed.
While surrounded by countries in civil upheaval or civil war or just plain war, Jordan itself is a remarkable oasis of peace. When you think of Jordan, you should think of tranquility, beauty, Roman and Greek antiquity (and older), Islam, and Christianity. And—have I made my point?—peace.
Think, instead, of Wadi Rum, Jordan’s severely romantic desert landscape (where Matt Damon’s “The Martian” was filmed).
Think of Petra, the towering and sprawling remains of one of the ancient world’s most amazing cities (and you don’t need to just think of Petra, you saw it in “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”).
Think of the Dead Sea, in which you can magically float, if not walk, on water. Think of Jordan’s verdant and craggy north, replete with pine trees and hot springs and Roman ruins. Think likewise of rich Roman mosaics preserved for two thousand years under the floors of some of the earliest Christian churches. And think of centuries and thousands of Christians pilgrimaging to the sites of Jesus’s baptism, the beheading of John the Baptist, and the valley where Moses died.
All of this movie’s main characters are Muslims. In fact, the screenplay’s deepest wisdom is spoken in a mosque by a passionate imam. But when I showed it to a room full of Christian writers, what followed was one of the most memorable experiences I’ve had at the movies.
Last January, at a conference center on Whidbey Island, The Chrysostom Societyretreat organizers asked me to share movies with the group of writers that had gathered together. This year, Timbuktu lifted us from our soggy Pacific Northwest surroundings and set us down at the edge of the Sahara. When the movie was over, we sat in a heavy hush, reflecting on what we had seen.
Consider this: A 99% positive rating at Rotten Tomatoes. A Cannes Film Festival Ecumenical Jury prize. An Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Language Film. Top honors from the Africa Movie Academy Awards.
Yet, like so many world-class films, Timbuktu remains almost unknown to American moviegoers. It’s subtitled, after all. It’s foreign. It doesn’t star familiar names and faces.
In a recent promotional video, a Christian filmmaker declared with confidence that he would give Christians what they want to see:
A Christian worldview on the screen (not somebody else’s).
Two hours without any risk of being offended.
Christians gave him a lot of money, and his film was widely distributed.
Some months ago, I gave a reading from my most recent novel in Scottsdale, Ariz. During the discussion that followed, a woman asked me to talk about my upbringing in Morocco. It’s natural for readers to be curious about a writer they’ve come to hear, I told myself. I continued to tell myself this even after the conversation drifted to Islam, and then to ISIS. Eventually, another woman raised her hand and said that the only Muslims she saw when she turned on the television were extremists. “Why aren’t we hearing more from people like you?” she asked me.
“You are,” I said with a nervous laugh. “Right now.” I wanted to tell her that there were plenty of ordinary Muslims in this country. We come in all races and ethnicities. Some of us are more visible by virtue of beards or head scarves. Others are less conspicuous, unless they give book talks and it becomes clear that they, too, identify as Muslims.
To be fair, I’m not a very good Muslim. I don’t perform daily prayers anymore. I have never been on a pilgrimage to Mecca. I partake of the forbidden drink. I do give to charity whenever I can, but I imagine that this would not be enough to save me were I to have the misfortune, through an accident of birth or migration, to live in a place like Raqqa, Syria, where in the last two years, the group variously known as Daesh, ISIL or ISIS has established a caliphate: a successor to past Islamic empires. Life in Raqqa reportedly follows rules that range from the horrifying to the absurd: The heads of people who have been executed are posted on spikes in the town’s main square; women must wear a niqab and be accompanied by a male companion when they go out; smoking and swearing are not allowed; chemistry is no longer taught in schools and traffic police are not permitted to have whistles because ISIS considers them un-Islamic.
As part of its efforts to spread its message outside the territory it controls, ISIS puts out an English-language magazine, Dabiq, which can be found online. In February, Dabiq featured a 12-page article, complete with high-resolution photos and multiple footnotes, cheering the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 and claiming that they made manifest for the world two camps: the camp of Islam under the caliphate and the camp of the West under the crusaders. The article ran under the title “The Extinction of the Grayzone.” The gray zone is the space inhabited by any Muslim who has not joined the ranks of either ISIS or the crusaders. Throughout the article, these Muslims are called “the grayish,” “the hypocrites” and, for variety, “the grayish hypocrites.”
SALT LAKE – The Wall Street journal called Professor John L. Esposito “American’s foremost authority and interpreter of Islam.” With over 40 years devoted to the field of Islamic studies, Esposito is well known as one of the world’s most influential bridge builders of understanding between the East and the West.
In this interview, Professor Esposito talks to OnIslam.net about his new center, appropriately titled Bridges, the media and public perceptions, as well as the latest controversies surrounding Bill Carson’s recent comments.
You are one of the world’s leading experts on Christian-Muslim Relations, so what do you think is the greatest theological misconception that Christians have about Muslims?
Well, it depends on which Christians. Your really hard liners, Franklin Graham, would wind up saying things like, Islam is evil or they might say the God of Christianity is not the God of Islam. But you also get people who do not go out of their way to bring it up, but who, with an almost matter of fact presumption, believe that Islam is a particularly violent religion relative to other religions. It’s ironic because it’s almost as if they never bothered to read the Old Testament or looked at Christian history post Constantine, when Christianity became imperial.
A Californian mother’s rant about Islam being taught in schools has gone viral in yet another embarrassing display of the rampant ignorance that plagues so many of our friends across the pond, desperate to protect America’s non-existent Christian heritage.
Tara Cali of Bakersfield, California, posted a photo online of her son’s homework assignment which asked students to name the five pillars of Islam and summarise Islamic beliefs and practices.
“My son will not be a part of this in any sort of way. This is bad teaching material. He will NOT partake. If you have a problem with it, call our lawyer,” Cali wrote over the homework sheet, listing six Bible verses instead.
“How about Christian practices? That sheet has never came home, this year or last! [sic]” she added. Under a QR code that students were invited to scan to hear the call to prayer from a Mosque in Istanbul, Cali simply wrote, “Seriously?”
It’s the kind of response that you’d hope would be laughed at and ignored, but Cali’s Facebook post has been liked 38,000 times, and shared by more than 123,000 people. Some of the comments below accuse the government of brainwashing children and implying that Christianity is being pushed out of schools, while Islam is actively encouraged.