Inside a Millennial Women’s Quran Study Group

women-across-america-road-trip-ashburn-virginia-halaqa-01A few minutes past 3 p.m., after Henna Qureshi and Adeela Khan take a moment to pray, they settle on a living room rug with two more friends to talk. It’s a drizzly July afternoon, and Qureshi, Khan and Freshta Mohammad have gathered in Nafisa Isa’s family home in Ashburn, Va., for their monthly halaqa, an Islamic study group. Isa tucks her feet beneath her knees as she spreads colored pens across the floor for all to share. The topic of the day is “Nice for What?” — title inspired by the Drake song — a theme that women of all backgrounds can relate to.

“As ambitious Muslim women, we have to hold ourselves to high standards of conduct in our lives — whether it’s in the workplace or in community settings — prioritizing being kind, helpful and compassionate above all else,” Isa begins, reading the prompt they’ve each pondered in preparation for this meeting. “How do we react when people aren’t kind to us? How do we assert ourselves and express our emotions in a way that doesn’t stifle us or contradict our values?”

The four women, along with a few other friends, been meeting regularly since 2016, when Isa decided to create a dedicated setting for her peers to discuss Islam and their experiences as Muslim American women. There are halaqa groups across the country, but theirs is uniquely Millennial, Isa says — while they study the Quran, they also draw upon pop culture for discussion topics and add activities like visiting museums and crafting to their agendas. “We have these conversations about faith, personal growth, philosophy, theology, all the stuff that you would expect,” Isa says. “But then we’ll also paint unicorns.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM TIME MAGAZINE

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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?

FULL ARTICLE FROM PATHEOS

Thomas Jefferson’s vision of American Islam

jeffersons_quranThe month of Ramadan marks the time when Prophet Muhammad is believed to have first received revelations from God and has been celebrated at the White House since 1996. It was Hillary Clinton who started the tradition as first lady. However, last year, the Trump White House did not host the traditional reception. Neither did the State Department under Secretary Rex Tillerson, even though the holiday has been commemorated there since 1999.

Despite the relatively recent nature of these formal celebrations, the fact is that Islam’s presence in North America dates to the founding of the nation, and even earlier, as my book, “Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders,” demonstrates.

Islam, an American religion

Muslims arrived in North America as early as the 17th century, eventually composing 15 to 30 percent of the enslaved West African population of British America. Muslims from the Middle East did not begin to immigrate to the United States as free citizens until the late 19th century. Key American Founding Fathers demonstrated a marked interest in the faith and its practitioners, most notably Thomas Jefferson.

As a 22-year-old law student in Williamsburg, Virginia, Jefferson bought a Qur’an – 11 years before drafting the Declaration of Independence.

The purchase is symbolic of a longer historical connection between American and Islamic worlds, and a more inclusive view of the nation’s early, robust view of religious pluralism.

Although Jefferson did not leave any notes on his immediate reaction to the Qur’an, he did criticize Islam as “stifling free enquiry” in his early political debates in Virginia, a charge he also leveled against Catholicism. He thought both religions fused religion and the state at a time he wished to separate them in his commonwealth.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION  NEWS 

Muslims Recoil at a French Proposal to Change the Quran

Some of France’s most prominent figures, concerned about anti-Semitism, have signed a shocking manifesto aimed at curbing it.

Palestinian girls read the Koran as they attend a Koran memorisation lesson during summer vacation inside a mosque in Gaza Citymanifesto published in the French daily Le Parisien on April 21—signed by some 300 prominent intellectuals and politicians, including former President Nicolas Sarkozy and former Prime Minister Manuel Valls—made a shocking demand. Arguing that the Quran incites violence, it insisted that “the verses of the Quran calling for murder and punishment of Jews, Christians, and nonbelievers be struck to obsolescence by religious authorities,” so that “no believer can refer to a sacred text to commit a crime.”

Although it’s not entirely clear whether “struck to obsolescence” means wholesale deletion of verses, the manifesto was perceived as a call to abrogate Muslims’ holiest text. And although pushing for a theological reform of Islam in France is nothing new—everyone from leading imams to President Emmanuel Macron have made plans to restructure Islam—demanding that scriptural verses be deleted is another thing altogether. In Islam, the Quran is considered divinely revealed; because it’s deemed to be the word of God, altering or deleting any part of the text would be blasphemous.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ATLANTIC 

The Female Quran Experts Fighting Radical Islam in Morocco

lead_960“The women scholars here are even more important than men.”

Morocco is in a region vulnerable to terrorist recruitment, but it hasn’t had a significant attack on its own soil since 2011, when terrorists bombed a Marrakesh café. Yet ethnic Moroccans have been at the center of ISIS attacks in Europe. The only alleged survivor of the 2015 Paris rampage is a Frenchman of Moroccan origin; his trial began last week. The men behind the Brussels airport and tram bombings that happened months later were also ethnic Moroccans. The suspected driver of the van that mowed down shoppers in Barcelona was Moroccan-born.

Some 1,600 Moroccans are thought to have joined extremist groups, mainly ISIS, since 2012, with some 300 still fighting with ISIS, according to Moroccan Interior Ministry figures. Although these figures are low compared to, say, Tunisia’s—some 7,000 Tunisians joined the group over the same period—the death toll in Europe has brought into focus the need for prevention and Morocco has come to play an outsized role in the debate over how, exactly, young people can be stopped from embracing radical Islam.

It’s one of many countries around the world experimenting with various “countering violent extremism” (CVE) or de-radicalization programs. As Maddy Crowell noted in The Atlantic, “Germany, Britain, and Belgium have developed programs that focus on further integrating radicals into their community. Saudi Arabia, on the other hand, focuses on finding jobs and wives for recruited jihadists.” But programs that reach people once they’ve already been radicalized might come too late. “The most effective kind of rehabilitation and reintegration is the rehab and reintegration that doesn’t have to happen, because the person was afforded an off-ramp before they got to the point of no return,” Nathan Sales, the coordinator for counterterrorism at the U.S. State Department, told me. “What does that look like? It looks like early intervention and not necessarily and maybe not ideally by government officials.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ATLANTIC 

WHAT MUSLIMS AND THE QURAN SAY ABOUT JESUS, CHRISTMAS AND THE VIRGIN BIRTH

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When people think about Christmas, the first thing that comes to mind probably isn’t the Quran, the central religious text of Islam.

Many people assume that the world’s major monotheistic religions differ greatly. But Islam and Christianity share some very basic ideas about who Jesus was and how he lived. The name Jesus is mentioned at least 25 times in the Quran, and many other references are made to the son of Mary or Christ the messenger of Allah.

Meanwhile, many details about the birth of Jesus match those found in the New Testament. Muslims, for example, believe in the Virgin Birth, and the Quran also calls Jesus the Messiah.

The earliest texts of the New Testament are believed to have been written between 50 and 62 A.D. by Saint Paul. Muslims believe the Quran was revealed by God to Muhammad verbally through the angel Gabriel beginning in 609 A.D.

Similar to the Gospel of Luke, the Quran describes the conversation between the Angel Gabriel and the Virgin Mary, in which Gabriel tells Mary that she will have a child.

“O Mary! Allah gives thee glad tidings of a Word from Him: His name will be Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, held in honor in this world and the Hereafter and of those nearest to Allah,” reads the Quran 3:45.

“Christ Jesus, the son of Mary, was an apostle of Allah,” adds the Quran 4:171.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NEWSWEEK MAGAZINE 

The Muslim Jesus provides common ground for Christianity, Islam

Iraqi man carrying cross and Quran attends Mass  in BaghdadAs the country sits transfixed with one of the strangest, divisive and most unpredictable presidencies in the history of the United States, lost in the madness has been the increase in Islamophobia since Donald Trump was elected president.

Islamophobia, defined as “unfounded hostility towards Muslims and therefore fear or dislike of all or most Muslims” has become frighteningly commonplace in the U.S. and this hatred and misinformation has found fertile soil in the past eight months of the Trump presidency.

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The Council on American-Islamic Relations has documented 451 incidents that stemmed from anti-Muslim bias between April 1 and June 30, 2017, 15 percent of which were acts of violence against Muslims. This represents a 91 percent increase in anti-Muslim hate crimes during that time compared to the same time period in 2016.

These crimes occur in a conducive environment. A Pew Research Center survey in 2017 rated Muslims at 48 degrees, the lowest on a 0-100 “feeling thermometer” out of nine religious groups in the United States, two points lower than atheists. Particularly negative feelings towards Muslims were harbored by Republicans and those who were Republican-leaning.

The irony here is that most Americans really have no idea what is in the Quran, the Muslim equivalent of the Bible, beyond the mostly negative and out of context soundbites they hear on talk radio, cable TV or the internet. They have no idea that the three monotheistic religions that follow the same Abrahamic tradition, namely that Abraham was the first prophet of God, are Judaism, Christianity and yes, the third sibling, Islam.

All three religions were born in the Middle East and are inextricably linked to each another. While Christianity was born from within the Jewish tradition, Islam developed from both Christianity and Judaism. In fact, Islam sees itself as the culmination of the Abrahamic faiths, the final revelation by God in the monotheistic tradition.

The Quran specifically protects Jews and Christians as Peoples of the Book, the “Book” meaning revelations from God to Jews and Christians which gives them a spiritual connection to Islam.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NATIONAL CATHOLIC REPORTER