In new book, Muslim doctor encourages Christians to ‘love thy neighbor’

(RNS) — Ayaz Virji had a well-paying position at a Pennsylvania hospital when he decided to uproot his family in 2013 and move to Dawson, Minn., a town with about 1,500 residents and the distinction of being “Gnometown, USA.”

Virji’s Muslim faith and values inspired him to look for a job that was more than just lucrative. In Dawson, he said, he felt he could provide what he called “dignified medicine,” spending time getting to know his patients in an underserved rural community.

Then came the 2016 election.

Most Dawson residents had voted for President Trump. And many of Virji’s patients — stirred by Trump’s insistence that “Islam hates us,” his suggestion of a Muslim registry and his promise of a Muslim ban — began to question his family’s presence. As far as anybody knew, they were the first Muslim family to live in Dawson.

That’s when Virji discovered another vocation: speaking to Christian audiences about his faith in order to dispel myths about Islam.


Undoing Stereotypical Representations in Arab and Muslim Cinemas: Challenges, Interruptions, and Possibilities

3995455868_28104750a4_b-660x330Troubled by a history of misconceptions on Western silver screens, Arab and Muslim filmmakers have kept their cinematic productions thematically close to the reality of their postcolonial cultural and social conditions, while trying to represent their communities in complex ways. In many efforts of artistic excellence, the films they make aim to reverse the frisson of alterity upon which the conception of their disgraced images have been historically predicated; in the process, the films aspire to alter these images and representations. Rarely however does the work of these Arab and Muslim filmmakers reach a global audience. This article locates themes and creative forms in many cinematic narratives of representation, and recommends their interpretation and mediation to a global audience. The article responds to a recent “intellectual turn” in contemporary debate on Arab and Muslim films, calling for the invention of a category called “Muslim Cinema”. The article contextualizes this turn within the contours of Western institutions as sites of epistemological authority and examines its epistemological, racial, and ideological implications and underpinnings in connection to representation.


Like most Third Cinemas’ post-independence era productions, Arab/Muslim films are known for the cultivation of a realist aesthetic and a commitment to national struggles and identity discourses. Historically, however, filmmakers in Arab and Muslim societies have addressed domestic issues and censored themes often considered too sensitive and beyond national meta-narratives. Civil wars, Shi’a/Sunni entanglements in proxy wars, religious fanaticism and terrorism, irregular migration, the heterogeneous composition which characterizes Arab and other identities in the region, gender politics, and the haunting verisimilitude of the Palestinian suffering under Israeli occupation, have all been persistent themes for filmmakers and audiences. Never have these filmmakers been unified over a particular configuration of alterity, or collectively endorsed one specific representation of otherness in the same manner that Hollywood had their disfigured images molded and frozen over time as villains and terrorists. Aware that their identity has been “represented by others, mediated by Hollywood, Dan Rather, or The New York Times… [deploying misconceptions of] lazy Mexicans, shifty Arabs, savage Africans, and exotic Asiatics…” (Stam 1984: 51) on their movie screens, Arab/Muslim cinematic productions have been consistently exploring different strategies to speak for themselves.


Can religious tolerance help an aspiring Muslim power?

By Taylor Luck Correspondent


Indian women in saris carefully place candles at an outdoor grotto of the Virgin Mary and kneel in prayer as couples from Uganda and Nigeria pour into the nearby chapel.

Arab Chaldeans, Maronites, and Latin Catholics laugh together as they enter a unified Arabic-language Catholic church service; Egyptian and Sudanese families gather in front of the next-door Coptic church; and English expats head into the Anglican church.

Pakistani bus drivers snap pictures with their phones as 15 Filipino brides and grooms pose for wedding photos outside St. Joseph’s Church ahead of their mass wedding.

This is not an international festival; it’s a Sunday in Abu Dhabi.

Owing to the arrival of migrants from across the world, the collection of tiny Arab Emirates at the tip of the Persian Gulf – an international financial powerhouse and a growing diplomatic and military power in the Arab world – has become a seamless meeting place of faiths and cultures.

The United Arab Emirates is also billing itself as an interfaith leader, having declared 2019 to be a national “year of tolerance” that was headlined with a visit by Pope Francis in Abu Dhabi in February – the first-ever papal visit to the Gulf in the history of the Roman Catholic Church.


How a Muslim refugee practises his faith in one of Spain’s pork meccas

880x495_cmsv2_d11c0273-5af2-5db2-bd90-3ccfccbd2068-3946206In the town of Zamora, once known as Samurah when Spain was under Muslim rule, Holy Week is the most important festival of the year and almost always carried with it typically pork-based dishes as part of the festivities.

Majad El Din, a Syrian Muslim refugee, has lived in this Castilian-Leonese city for almost three years.

In the front of the food market of Zamora, located in the centre of the city, there is an old souvenir shop full of crockery made of clay, such as the traditional bowl to serve garlic soups, one of the typical local dishes. As its name ‘sopa de boda’ suggests, the soup is served with bits of ham and sausages, a lot of garlic with bread, paprika and sometimes chorizo and butter.

Despite having been here for almost three years, Majad, originally from Zabadani (a town near Damascus), has never tried them because of his religion. This dish, like many others in Zamora, contains pork products, meat the Qu’ran forbids.

“In addition to religious reasons, I do not eat pork for health reasons. Pigs often get diseases, and it is not by chance that people with little hygiene are told they are pigs!”, he says laughing, as we walk down the central street of Santa Clara, where many people recognise and greet him.

There are many local recipes that this young Syrian can’t taste, such as arroz a la zamorana or the famous pinchos morunos from El Lobo bar. But in reality, this is not a problem for the Syrian.

“When I go out with my co-workers, they sometimes tease me and tell me that all tapas have pork, but in reality, if for example, we go to a restaurant, they always ask for a special dish for me. Deep down they respect me a lot”, he says.


At Muslim Sunday school, learning about Islam — and correcting misconceptions

muslim_sunday_school-2-mansoorOff a highway in central Connecticut is the mosque with a 400-student Muslim Sunday school.

More guards are on patrol these days. And for the older students in the transition class, talking about Islamophobia is not only welcomed, but encouraged. The teenagers are in their final years of high school and will be heading off to college soon.

So before they head out into the “real world,” they aren’t just learning the tenets of Islam, said Dr. Reza Mansoor, their teacher on a recent Sunday. He’s coaching them on how to defend their faith from misconceptions.

“By the way, As-Salaam-Alaikum,” Mansoor greeted them. “If you use an Arabic term and you don’t translate, dinged one point, OK? So As-Salaam-Alaikum means God’s peace be with you all.”

Mansoor is president of the mosque, called Islamic Association of Greater Hartford, and he is big on translating Islamic phrases and words. Take jihad, for instance. It means a struggle — usually a personal, spiritual one — but if you hear jihad in the media, he said, it’s almost always associated with extremists who commit violence in the name of Islam, like the 9/11 terrorists.

“If you use jihadist for terrorist, you unfortunately give the terrorists… a position much higher than what they are,” Mansoor told his students.

People tend to fear what they don’t know. And when Islam is viewed as a threat, that makes Muslims a target.

“Just imagine someone calling you a terrorist and telling you to go home,” Aissa Bensalem, 17, said during the class. “I had one of my friends say that they were scared to come to the masjid because they were afraid that they were going to be shot on.”


Hostility to Islam has disguised a host of other prejudices

Erhard_Reuwich_Sarazenen_1486.pngIn 2011, when the editor of Charlie Hebdo put Muhammad on the cover, he did so as the heir to more than 200 years of a peculiarly French brand of anti-clericalism. Just as radicals in the Revolution had desecrated churches and smashed icons, so did cartoonists at France’s most scabrous magazine delight in satirising religion. Although Catholicism was their principal target, they were perfectly happy to ridicule Islam too. If Jesus could be caricatured, then why not Muhammad?

Sure enough, one year after the prophet’s first appearance on the cover of Charlie Hebdo, he was portrayed again, this time crouching on all fours and with his genitals bared. The mockery would not cease, so the magazine’s editor vowed, until ‘Islam has been rendered as banal as Catholicism’. This would be, in a secular society, for Muslims to be treated as equals.

Except that they were not being treated as equals. The scorning of Islam was a tradition in France that reached back far beyond the time of Voltaire and Diderot. The earliest European caricature of Muhammad served to illustrate a work by Peter the Venerable, a 12th-century abbot in Burgundy. Peter’s Summa totius haeresis Saracenorum — ‘A Summary of the Entire Heresy of the Saracens’ — did what it said on the tin. Islam was a monstrous perversion of Christian teachings. Not merely a heresy, it was the sump of all heresies. Muhammad, its founder, was ‘the chosen disciple of the Devil’. The caricature of him which accompanied Peter’s text duly showed him as a siren: a monstrous compound of the human and the bestial, luring the unwary to their doom.

This portrayal of Muhammad as a heresiarch, a charlatan who had thrived by twisting the truths of Christianity to his own pestilential ends, was in turn heir to an even older tradition. As John Tolan points out in his new book, condemnation of Islam as a heresy did at least derive from a recognition on the part of Latin Christians that it was not an entirely alien faith: that it honoured the biblical prophets; that it laid claim to a divine law; that it was monotheistic.


Peace be upon you

Lakad-sa-Kapayapaan-Iwaksi-ang-Karahasan-Solidarity-Walk-February-3-2019-004So why are we, a predominantly Christian nation where 86 percent of the population professes to be Catholic, celebrating a Muslim holiday today?

Last week, President Duterte signed Proclamation No. 729 declaring Eid al-Fitr a national holiday, to give “the entire Filipino nation… the full opportunity to join their Muslim brothers and sisters in peace and harmony in the observance and celebration of Eid al-Fitr… and bring [its] religious and cultural significance to the fore of national consciousness.”

Eid al-Fitr means the “festival of breaking the fast,” a Muslim holiday that marks the end of the month of Ramadan when believers of the faith refrain from eating, drinking and intimacy with their spouses from sunrise to sunset. The evening, when fasting gives way to enjoying a communal repast, is also reserved for prayers in the mosque.

Muslims believe that, having felt what it was like to go without food or drink for 12 hours, people who fast are bound to become more sympathetic to those less fortunate than them. Such voluntary deprivation, in turn, should cause people to be more generous to help end hunger among the poor.

Aside from fasting, many Muslims spend Ramadan in sincere devotion—giving to charity, refraining from evil thoughts and performing good deeds as a way to draw themselves closer to Allah. As these acts of devotion are done collectively for a whole month, Ramadan is often considered a high-intensity period of expressing the faith, much like the Christian Lenten week when sacrifice and prayers concentrated within a few days are expected of the faithful.