Education: What Muslim students can teach Christians

REFLECTING on more than a decade’s sociological research into religion on university campuses, I am increasingly unsettled by the question of inclusivity. Who belongs on campus, and who does not? Who is made to feel marginal, strange, or “other”?

Despite their reputation as guardians of wokeness, universities are not always experienced as inclusive by their students. Recent academic studies have alerted us to some worrying patterns of discrimination and exclusion.

Racism and misogyny are no longer assumed to stop at the campus gates, and universities across the country have had to reflect on the extent to which they uphold rather than challenge embedded prejudices. On this matter, religion plays an ambiguous part.

On the one hand, there is a persistent assumption that higher education unsettles or even undermines faith, through dislocation from established communities, exposure to moral permissiveness, or the acquisition of knowledge that proves incompatible with religious beliefs.

There is some truth in this, and there are university employees who take religion to be not only incompatible with serious learning, but as having no legitimate place on the university campus. These “hard secularists” have their equivalents in the student body, and variations on the humanist/secular/atheist society have made impassioned, public attacks on religion on a range of campuses in recent years.

On the other hand, universities have maintained cultures of religious inclusivity to a degree that would be difficult to find elsewhere in British society. Pockets of anti-religious zealotry are the exception rather than the norm.

Most now seem to accept that matters of faith form part of the cultural diversity that enriches the university campus. This has certainly been reflected in the empirical research that I’ve conducted, alongside various colleagues, among university staff and students across the UK higher-education sector.


Trump is gone, but Muslim federal workers say reforms are still needed

Muslim Americans in Public Service has published a set of 12 recommendations to improve working conditions for Muslims in public service.

(RNS) — Muslim federal employees who say they felt discriminated against under President Trump are advocating for new federal policies to prevent workplace bias, with many backing a new initiative from Muslim Americans in Public Service aimed at getting the Biden administration to adopt measures that reflect the needs of Muslim Americans who work for government agencies.

Earlier this year, President Biden signed Executive Order 14035, launching a “government-wide initiative to advance diversity, equity, inclusion, and accessibility in all parts of the Federal workforce,” according to a White House statement. The Biden administration has also announced policies to root out far-right extremists in the military, the Department of Homeland Security, and other agencies.

While Trump’s executive order preventing citizens of certain Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States attracted media attention, Muslim federal employees faced various forms of discrimination, harassment and unwarranted investigation from the Trump administration.

“You had people at USAID who publicly hated Muslims. Can you imagine this being tolerated if this was a member of a different minority group?” asked Ahmad Maaty, an economist for the Department of Transportation and chair of Muslim Americans in Public Service, which was founded in response to their treatment. 

An internal State Department report released in 2019 found that the Trump administration had discriminated against a diplomat of Iranian heritage.


The Taliban’s Ideology Has Surprising Roots In British-Ruled India

DEOBAND, India — Hundreds of young men in crisp white tunics and skullcaps sit cross-legged in classrooms ringed with porticoes, poring over Islamic texts. From a marble minaret above them, a dozen voices wail Quranic verse in unison.

They start and stop in rounds, echoing like a canon across an otherwise scruffy landscape of rickshaws, tea stalls and open sewers.

This is where the Taliban’s ideology was founded. It’s not Afghanistan; nor is it the Middle East. It’s not even a Muslim-majority country. It’s a small town in India about 100 miles north of the capital, New Delhi.

More than 150 years ago, this is where Muslim scholars started a seminary that also became entwined in the politics of that era. The Darul Uloom Deoband seminary, founded in 1866, taught that by returning to the core principles of Islam, Indian Muslims could resist British colonial rule. Less than a decade earlier, the British crown had taken control of India from the East India Company. The previous Mughal — Muslim — rulers had been vanquished.

“The British have taken over. The Muslim glory has faded away. So there comes a kind of state of despondency within the Muslims,” says Luv Puri, a researcher, author and columnist. “Then they decide it’s time to get back the glory of Islam. And let’s start a movement.”Article continues after sponsor message

The movement they started became known as Deobandi Islam. Adherents later joined Mahatma Gandhi’s freedom struggle. After the partition of India, they fanned out across South Asia and set up seminaries, or madrassas, teaching an austere version of Islam — particularly along the Pakistan-Afghanistan border.

And that is where they educated their most infamous students: the Taliban.


Muslim leaders and activists tackle opposition to COVID-19 vaccines

Outreach programs to dispel COVID-19 vaccine disinformation are having an impact on vaccination rates within some Muslim communities.

Shaikh Rahman, a business systems analyst in Chicago, was not a proponent of COVID-19 vaccines because he did not feel that credible information about them was being disseminated effectively and the distribution seemed rushed.

“Our faith says to investigate a matter before passing it off as truth,” he says.

But Rahman’s sentiment changed after his local imam, Shaykh Jamal Said of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Illinois, began to suggest that those who were not vaccinated may be prohibited entry to the mosque.

Rahman was concerned about this potential restriction for prayer services and he considered getting vaccinated. He had tested positive for the virus prior to this potential restriction. So he decided to get the shot to build up his immunity after the Mosque Foundation held a Pfizer vaccination drive.

“With the country reopening, I don’t want my family or my loved ones to be at risk of exposure through me,” Rahman says.

While vaccine hesitancy trends continue to evolve across the United States, a shift also is underway within some Muslim communities. Vaccine rates among Muslims had been among the lowest in the nation in the early months of the pandemic.  But outreach programs from mosques, community organizations, and cultural centers that work with immigrant communities are helping to dispel disinformation and promote vaccination.

As they hear from trusted figures, such as imams, some Muslims are now opting to get the shot.


Church criticizes Austrian government’s ‘Islam Map’

VIENNA: The Austrian Catholic church on Friday became the latest religious group to criticize a government-backed, online map of hundreds of Muslim organization which sparked violence against the Muslim minority.
The highly controversial map shows details of more than 600 Muslim associations — from youth groups to mosques — including details on their location and photos of members.

The map was first presented by a government-funded group monitoring Muslim extremism and by Austria’s Integration Minister Susanne Raab, a member of conservative, anti-migration Austrian People’s Party (OeVP), who called it a tool to “fight political Islam as a breeding ground for extremism.”

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the head of the Austrian Catholic church, wrote in an op-ed Friday that it was “dangerous to give the impression that one of the religious community is under general suspicion,” and asked why one of the country’s many religious communities was singled out.

Umit Vural, head of the Islamic Religious Community of Austria, described the map as a “massive security threat” to Muslims, while the Muslim Youth Austria organization said several Muslims had already been attacked and a mosque has been defaced since that map went online in late May.


Muslims and Christians should learn from their shared history

For the last couple of years, billions of Muslims and Christians have been enjoying religious holidays that fall at roughly the same time of year. The end of Easter has coincided with the beginning of Ramadan, and this should not surprise us at all since both great religions emerged from the same historic region and share a common Abrahamic history and culture. However, a cursory glance at social media reveals that few Muslims and Christians realize they are celebrating their holy days concurrently. It is a shame that, instead of seeking commonalities, the relationship between Christians and Muslims has often been characterized by mistrust and misunderstanding.

As the month-long Ramadan festivities near their midpoint, we ask whether it is time for a new era of peaceful coexistence and understanding between all the Abrahamic faith communities. If the answer is “yes,” the path forward should begin by gaining a better appreciation of our shared Abrahamic history and culture. Our stories are intertwined and at crucial moments we are indebted to one another for existing as faith groups to this day.


Keeping COVID in mind, area Muslims plan for a safe but more communal Ramadan

Many area Muslims are preparing for their second Ramadan of the pandemic, with hope that the month of dawn-to-dusk fasting will be filled with the communal prayers and family gatherings they went without last year, as COVID-19 began to sweep the state.

Last year, there was no prayer [in the mosque],” said Ali Suleiman Ali, the imam of the Muslim Community of the Western Suburbs of Detroit in Canton. “Everybody [came to] understand the importance of community, the importance [of] coming together.”Imam Ali Suleiman Ali of the Muslim Community of the Western Suburbs of Detroit said the mosque will discontinue its socially-distanced prayers if necessary during Ramadan.

This year, he said, the mosque will allow congregants to partake in the optional nighttime worship that is part of Ramadan tradition, but, instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder, there will be a divide of six feet between each person. Ali said the mosque will not host the evening meal that marks the end of the fast or offer additional lectures and activities as it did before the pandemic.

“All we are going to do is to pray,” he said. “After the prayer, everybody goes home.”

Even with the limited offerings, Ali said that the community would remain vigilant about the current surge in COVID-19 infections in the region, and cancel in-person gatherings if necessary.


Sri Lanka to ban burqas and shut Islamic schools for ‘national security’

(a good subtitle for this article would be: “When Paranoia Becomes Public Policy.”)

Sri Lanka will ban the wearing of the burqa and shut more than 1,000 Islamic schools in the latest actions affecting the country’s minority Muslim population.A burqa is a garment worn by some Muslim women that covers the entire body, including the face, with mesh over the eyes.Sarath Weerasekera, the country’s minister for public security, signed a paper on Friday for cabinet approval to ban burqas on “national security” grounds.”In our early days Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa,” he said in a news conference on Saturday. “It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We are definitely going to ban it.”The wearing of the burqa in the majority-Buddhist nation was temporarily banned in 2019, after a series of bombings on Easter Sunday that killed more than 270 people and injured 500 in churches and hotels.


Arabs, Muslims report hundreds of discrimination claims each year. Here’s one NJ story

Essma Bengabsia was proud to be one of the first hijab-wearing women on the New York trading floor for BlackRock Inc., the world’s biggest asset manager.

Hired in 2018 as an analyst, the North Bergen resident was ready to make her mark on the financial world, after graduating from the prestigious NYU Stern School of Business.

“When I came into the company, I was the only person who looked the way I looked on the trading floor,” Bengabsia, 23, said in a recent interview. “I recognized I was very much charting new territory and trailblazing for women who look like me.”

But Bengabsia said her workplace turned hostile, as she faced repeated instances of discrimination for being Muslim, Arab and female. She detailed allegations in a first-person essay, “#MeToo at BlackRock,” published on last month. 

BlackRock, a Wall Street behemoth that manages $8.7 trillion in assets, said in a statement that it investigated Bengabsia’s claims but did not find she had been the subject of discrimination or harassment.