Jamil Jan Kochai on Americans’ Fear of Islam

The author discusses “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak,” his story from the latest issue of the magazine.

n “The Haunting of Hajji Hotak,” your story in this week’s issue, someone—presumably an F.B.I. agent—is surveilling the home of an Afghan family in West Sacramento, California. How did this scenario come to you?

A blackandwhite photograph of the author Jamil Jan Kochai in front of a bookshelf.
Photograph by Jalil Kochai

Like many of my stories, “The Haunting” was inspired by a joke. I had read an Onion article titled “FBI Counterterrorism Agent Wistfully Recalls Watching 20-Year-Old Muslim-American Grow Up,” which I found hilarious but also oddly plausible. I could imagine an F.B.I. agent growing to feel a disturbing sense of affection for some Muslim family he was surveilling. This figure sort of fascinated me. I wasn’t totally unfamiliar with federal agents myself. When I was in fourth grade, a few weeks after 9/11, I opened the door one day to find two F.B.I. agents standing on our front porch. I remember they spoke with my father for a short time and, fortunately, seemed to disappear afterward. And yet their presence still sort of lingered in our home. In our daily lives. We became very careful about what we discussed on the phone or online or at school. We lived with an odd sense of paranoia, which we often joked about in group chats, but this feeling of being surveilled did weigh on me. The agents had left, but they continued to exist in our lives like spectres. We felt haunted. We still feel haunted. But now, at least, I can write about the ghosts.

Why not tell the family’s story directly? Why see it through the eyes of a spying outsider?

The story started with the agent. I figured out his voice and perspective before I actually knew whom he would be surveilling. It was only after I began watching this family through the eyes of the agent that their characters and relationships and conflicts became apparent to me. I discovered this version of this family through the outsider himself. He was absolutely essential.


Christian, Muslim leaders launch appeal to protect places of worship

AMMAN, Jordan (CNS) — Spearheaded by Jordan’s Prince El Hassan Bin Talal, a group of Arab and international scholars, thinkers and religious figures — Muslim and Christian — have launched a global appeal to protect worshippers and places of worship.

“In the face of what we see as the continuation of repeated attacks on places of worship and on the souls of safe worshipers in several places in this world, and based on a common human and moral responsibility, we call upon a group of religious leaders, scholars and thinkers … to urge all people to reject all forms of extremism, hatred and painful practices against the spirit of faith and human dignity,” the more than 40 signatories said in their Nov. 2 appeal.

They stressed that “hate speech and polarization that provokes hatred and justifies bloodshed continues to escalate” and is accompanied by some who resort to “the misuse of religions and beliefs as a pretext for violence, exclusion and discrimination.”

The Muslim and Christian signatories continued: “These abhorrent targets also include historical and archaeological sites and architectural heritage, including museums, libraries and manuscripts, which is an erasure of the memory that preserves the civilizations of peoples and their value core from extinction.”

“There is no doubt that the attack on places of worship and their sanctity at a time when worshippers perform prayer and religious rites in their premises is the culmination of these atrocities. This leads us to a legitimate question: Isn’t it time to consider the issue of freedom of worship as an integral part of the right to life and to consider the value of human heritage in relation to culture and identity?” they stated.


Salafis, Sufis, and the Contest for the Future of African Islam

For centuries, most African Muslims observed their faith according to Sufi practices. Syncretic, mystical, and emphasizing experiencing God, Sufism was well suited to thrive on a continent where traditional religions often had a flexible cosmology that emphasized the supernatural. The fact that illiteracy or a lack of formal theological training was no barrier to fully participating in, or even leading, Sufi rites likely contributed to the practice’s popularity as well.

With its insistence on adherence to the written precepts of certain Islamic holy texts, its ultra-exclusivist worldview, and its strong association with foreign cultures and traditions, Salafism appears as ill-suited for the African context as Sufism is well-suited. Yet today, Salafism dominates the practice of Islam in parts of the continent. In some cases, it has displaced the centuries-long observance of Sufi rites in the span of a few decades.

A confluence of local dynamics that made parts of Africa amenable to Salafi appeals, and the rise of a global Salafi movement supported by wealthy Arab benefactors, explains much of the phenomenon. Those dynamics remain largely the same today, suggesting that Salafism will continue to grow, often at the expense of Sufism. Its expansion will likely follow the same pattern it has followed so far: irregular, falling well short of dominance in many areas, and at times taking on the flavor of the surrounding culture even while the core ideology remains exclusivist and Islamist.

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This is notwithstanding the tentative episodes of Salafi-Sufi toleration and even cooperation that in a few communities has interrupted the hostility that usually exists between the two groups. Those episodes becoming more than an occasional exception would require an unlikely rethinking by Salafis of foundational beliefs that reject any deviation from a narrowly defined conception of correct Islamic practice, and that view correction of those deviations as imperative.


Will Islam soon be the world’s largest religion?

Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art in Tehran, Iran

A Pew Research poll predicts that, based on current trends, the number of Muslims worldwide will be nearly equal to the number of Christians by 2050. In conversations, you might hear this statement as proof that Islam is growing and other religions (such as Christianity) are quickly declining. But such a conclusion is misleading and does not take into consideration a number of realities happening throughout the Muslim world.

Research reveals the cultural tendencies in Muslim families, not the attractiveness of Islam itself, explains the demographic surge. The growing number of Muslims is not primarily caused by conversion but is due instead to Muslim families producing more children. The higher relative birthrate occurs for various social and religious reasons, including the fact that, in most Muslim-dominant societies, women have few opportunities outside the home.

Of course, some converts are choosing Islam—but we should acknowledge recent research demonstrating that conversion works in two directions.

Consider the Muslim population in the United States. In January 2018, a Pew Research study declared that the number of converts to Islam almost equaled the number who abandoned the faith. Thus, there was virtually no net growth at all. This study also found that about 25 percent of adult Muslims raised in the United States no longer identified as Muslims.

What about the Arab world, especially the heartland of Islam? What are the patterns there?

On June 24, 2019, The Guardian reported a study—conducted by a Princeton University-based research group—that suggested Arab Muslims are quitting Islam in unprecedented numbers. The study compares the numbers of “non-religious” people between roughly 2014 and 2019. The numbers went from 11 percent to 18 percent.

Such a statistic is stunning because the Arab world is the stronghold of Islam. This study occurred during the rise of ISIS when militant Islamist groups were committing atrocities. Many Muslims, it appears, questioned their former beliefs. If more Muslims felt comfortable answering the study’s questions openly, the numbers might be even greater.


Report finds bullying of Muslims is disproportionate in US schools

Muslim students in California schools are disproportionally bullied, a new report by the California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations found.

The report released Thursday said roughly half of Muslim students in grades 5 through 12 experienced faith-based bullying, which is more than twice the rate of national statistics, in which 20% of U.S. children face bullying.

It’s also the highest reported level of students feeling unsafe, unwelcome or uncomfortable at school because of their Muslim identity since CAIR-CA began its biennial surveys in 2013.

“Islamophobic harassment discrimination and bullying continue to be real issues that Muslim students face on a daily basis,” said CAIR-California CEO Hussam Ayloush.

The survey titled “CAIR-California’s 2021 Bullying Report: Examining Islamophobia in California Schools,” is based on findings from a statewide survey of 708 Muslim students between the ages of 11 and 18 from mid-2018 until the end of 2020.

In the year and a half period before the pandemic, 47% of Muslim students reported faith-based bulling — a 7% increase from the 2016 to 2018.

A third of students who wear the Muslim headscarf, known as a hijab, also reported having their hijab tugged, pulled or offensively touched.

And nearly 1 of every 4 Muslim students reported they had a teacher, administrator, or other adult at their school make offensive comments about Islam or Muslims.

“This is particularly alarming,” said Amr Shabaik, the author of the report, considering the relationship and responsibility teachers have to their students.

Ayloush called these figures disturbing.

“This form of hatred and harassment does not occur in a vacuum, and it’s certainly not restricted to California,” Ayloush said.


How this women’s interfaith group in Middle GA is making ‘the world a better place’

A group of women met for the first time a decade ago at an open house event at the Islamic Center of Middle Georgia. Christian women attended the event in hopes of meeting some Muslim women to learn about their faith. They met. They talked, and they decided they needed to meet regularly to discuss their faith and how its impact on the Middle Georgia community. Starting with 10-15 women around a table, the group shared meals together as they had intentional conversations about their faiths. As the group grew, they became known as the Women’s Interfaith Alliance of Central Georgia, which has around 500 members on its Facebook group.

“We live in a global community that is increasingly becoming more connected. So, learning about each other, learning to form relationships with each other, learning to coexist in appreciative, intimate ways is very important for the peace and harmony of human societies in general, especially so here in the South,” said Eman Abdulla, one of the founding members of the group.


Muslims for the Pope

Pope Francis has shown understanding many moderate Muslims lack a voice and are in fact the first victims of extremists

Despite much of the popular alarmist talk, Islam is arguably in a deeper crisis than the Christian world, and this is the problem.

Islam has little or no structured unified organization independent from a single state, unlike the Christian world, where the Catholic church is the largest unitary religion, and there are vastly organized Orthodox and Episcopalian churches.

There is no longer a caliph and a publicly recognized caliphate able to muster the faithful of the world.https://d3f71db5a4a064e2a6e289b5f9409def.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html?n=0

There is no Islamic superpower. There are many countries where Islam is important – Indonesia, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco – but they cannot band together. They have very different agendas that have little to do with their religious beliefs.

None can rise to the rank of superpower, challenging the United States, China, Russia, the European Union or even Japan or India.

Unlike in the first Cold War, there is no superpower supporting the Islamic world per se, fighting Israel, portrayed as a puppet of the United States.

There is no longer a strategic asset like oil, which since the 1970s gave the Islamic world clout and influence through blackmail on prices and inflation. Oil is no longer a rare commodity. Gas and oil are plentiful, and new shale technology is revolutionizing the market, taking away the hedge these Islamic countries had in the past.

They do not even have blackmail through the export of terrorism. In the past three decades, some rich Islamic countries paid off radical extremists to wage war on infidels in foreign countries. This policy exported abroad an internal threat and at the same time lent legitimacy to the existing authoritarian regimes.


Biden’s envoy for religious freedom

As a Muslim growing up in Dallas, Rashad Hussain learned how the freedom to worship can be a force for world peace.

October 28, 2021

  • By the Monitor’s Editorial Board

Growing up in Dallas as a devout Muslim decades ago, Rashad Hussain noticed only a few mosques in his Texas city. Now there are dozens, an affirmation, he says, of the American freedom to worship. On Tuesday, a Senate panel welcomed him as the president’s nominee to be ambassador-at-large for international religious freedom. If approved by the full Senate as expected, he would be the first Muslim to hold the position, marking a strong break from past bigotry against Islam in the United States.

Major Christian and Jewish leaders endorsed the nomination, noting Mr. Hussain’s work under two previous presidents in seeking religious harmony in troubled countries and finding ways to prevent young Muslims from joining terrorist groups. As he said in his testimony, “In an era of vigorous partisan debates, Americans continue to be largely of one mind regarding the importance of defending international religious freedom.”

His appointment would affirm a recent finding by the Institute for Economics and Peace. In a global survey, the think tank found that religious plurality in countries can have a pacifying effect, countering the notion that religion is a driver of violence and the main cause of conflicts.About these ads

The post of envoy for religious freedom, created by Congress in 1998, reflects both a basic right in the U.S. and the country’s long and hard struggle to protect it. “Our own experience, our own example, is what compels us to advocate for the rights of the marginalized, vulnerable, and underrepresented peoples the world over,” said Mr. Hussain.

His past work includes working with Middle East religious leaders on a 2016 document, known as the Marrakesh Declaration, that laid out Islamic principles for protecting the rights of minority religious groups. As someone who memorized the Quran and earned a Yale law degree, he relies on positive ways to end religious discrimination.


New poll reveals how much we presume about Muslim Americans’ politics

October 15, 2021By Simran Jeet SinghShareTweetShare

(RNS) — Twenty years ago, Americans hardly gave their Muslim neighbors a thought. Then came 9/11, and our opinions suddenly blossomed. Two decades later we may be past assuming that Muslims want to topple the American government, but other supposed givens — that Muslims tend to be conservative, for instance — have been challenged in a new poll that shows how rudimentary our understanding of American Muslims can be. 

Start with the finding in a new poll, commissioned by Emgage and Muslim Public Affairs Council, that Muslim Americans voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden in 2020, with 86% support. Only 6% voted for Donald Trump.

These numbers should not surprise those who have followed Trump’s multiple negative comments about Muslims, his hotly debated travel bans that disproportionately targeted Muslim countries and the spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes under his leadership.

But the survey of more than 500 Muslim Americans also gives us a picture beyond the vote into how Muslim Americans view the Biden administration and key domestic and foreign policies.

RELATED: America and US Muslims have come a long way since 9/11. We have a long way to go.

It’s not surprising that a majority of Muslim Americans want the administration to combat white supremacy, Islamophobia and hate-violence, which have direct, negative consequences for Muslim Americans. Their interest in addressing inequalities and enhancing access to health care, however, is more counterintuitive for a group we think of as first-generation immigrants. More than three in four American Muslims support Medicare for All, and 78% of Muslim voters believe the tax system is too generous to the rich."Hate Crimes, White Supremacy, Other Issues" Graphic courtesy of Change Research

“Hate Crimes, White Supremacy, Other Issues” Graphic courtesy of Change Research

These progressive stances are easier to understand if one is familiar with the justice orientation of Islam, as well as the demographic makeup of the American Muslim community. One-third of Muslim households in America are at or below the poverty line, making Muslims the most likely faith community to report low income levels.


Christian, Muslims unite against climate injustice

As part of the global outcry against climate injustice in Nigeria, Christians Association of Nigeria and Islamic Society of Nigeria have called on government and other institutions to act immediately in addressing the climate emergency in Nigeria.

This was stated at a walk and a forum put together under the banner of Faith for Climate Justice by Green Faith. The event which was a follow up to prayers and meditation vigils was peaceful as the group noisily made their demands known outside the office of the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu.

Participants sounded the alarm by beating drums, waving hand signs and holding prayers.

The participants displayed placards with different inscriptions including: ‘God created the earth, do not let your greed destroy it’, ‘Pollution is the enemy to a healthy life, embrace recycling for a better society’, ‘Faith for Climate justice.’

Speaking at the event, the founder LUFASI Park, Mr. Desmond Majekodunmi lamented that Nigeria as a nation blindly follow other developed nations, by using energy that came from burning fossil fuel, and as a result, contributed to galvanising the atmosphere which has made climate change a looming disaster.

He said: “For the love of God, our neighbor, all vulnerable communities around us, we call on the government to solidarity with the global demands for climate finance from wealthy countries to countries from Africa. Exert pressure on the federal government of Nigeria to intensify the cleanup of Ogoniland and stop the gas flaring as stated in the NDC.”

On his part, The Pastor in Charge of River of Life Parish, Redeemed Christian Church of Church, Pastor Iyiola Olayori, said that no religion or tradition says we should destroy the planet. “Yes, this is exactly what governments, financial institutions and major corporations are either doing or allowing. It’s morally inexcusable.”