Exploring Islam in America

Portrait_of_Ayuba_Suleiman_Diallo_1050x700Islam, as many African Americans remind me, is an important part of African American culture and there are many African American Muslims today who feel they have “reverted” to the religion of their ancestors

Last October, Mrs Cornelia Bailey, a leading member of a tiny community of African Americans living on Sapelo Island off the Georgia coast, passed away.This remarkable woman was aspokeswoman, storyteller, historian and preserver of her people’s unique culture known as Gullah-Geechee.

The community’s roots go back to the time of slavery, when the area was owned by Thomas Spalding, a planter and US congressman from Georgia who grew cotton, sugarcane and rice using African slave labor.

Following the abolishment of slavery after the US Civil War, the people of Sapelo remained, but their number steadily grew smaller.Akbar-Ahmed-sketch

What made Bailey and the community even more unique was their Muslim background. Bailey herself was a direct eleventh-generation descendant of Bilali Muhammad, a Muslim slave originally from West Africa who was taken first to the Caribbean and then to Sapelo in the early nineteenth century, where he became the head “enforcer” over the other slaves.

Bilali Muhammad left us a document known as the “Bilali Diary”, a manuscript he wrote entirely in Arabic characters, although the language he used is not standard Arabic. His manuscript reveals a scholarly, pious, and intelligent man who clung to his identity and dignity.

Fascinated by this background, I set out with my team of researchers to meet MrsBailey and stay with her community while conducting research for my book on Islam in America, Journey into America:The Challenge of Islam (2010).


Muslims of America: the photo project showcasing the diversity of Islam

A photographer decided to put America in the picture about Muslims – by snapping them in all 50 states of the country

CKG-MuslimsofAmerica-AlaIt is easy enough to be angry. But it takes real courage to do something about that anger. In 2015, a young photography student in Brooklyn called Carlos Khalil Guzman decided he could no longer stand idly by as physical and verbal attacks on people of Muslim faith increased across the Unites States.

Guzman felt that this was, in part, because elements of the media – emboldened by the rise of Donald Trump – were unfairly representing Muslims. Key to this was the repeated call for them to apologise for every act of terror.

“As Muslims, we know that terrorist attacks have nothing to do with our religion,” says Guzman, 29, who converted to Islam in 2012 after engaging with Middle Eastern politics at college. “I thought, you know what, we should be proactive about this. It’s time to reclaim the narrative that the media hijacked.”

Guzman began working on an ambitious photography project called Muslims of America. His aim is to take 114 portraits – the number of chapters in the Quran – of Muslims from all of America’s 50 states, in order to illustrate the astonishing range of people who identify as Muslim. He has so far taken 73 portraits and hopes to complete his undertaking by the end of the year. It has been a remarkable, life-affirming experience.


CA Coffee Shop Refused to Serve Christian Man Who Harassed Muslim Woman

A Christian man yelled at and harassed a Muslim woman while they were in line at a coffee shop in Riverside, Calif., and the barista and her supervisor stepped in.

Kathleen “Amina” Deady was wearing a niqab, a traditional Muslim head dress symbolizing modesty, when a still-unidentified man standing in front of her said, “Is this Halloween or something?” That would ultimately lead to the man yelling aggressively that he doesn’t “like” her religion, and then being denied service by staff at the Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf.

The video can be found here:

CJ Werleman


“I’m a Muslim [woman].”

“I know your religion and I don’t want to be killed by you.”

This took place at a cafe in California yesterday.

The video of the interaction has gone viral, but in case you haven’t seen it, here’s what happened.


Don’t Mess With This Muslim From Texas—He Just Got Elected!


Something truly wonderful happened in Texas on Saturday night. In between a rodeo championship in Fort Worth, a country music festival in Austin and people honky tonkin’ from Amarillo to San Antonio, history was being made in the mid-size city of Euless, Texas.

In this north Texas city that boasts a population of a little over 50,000, the good people there elected the first minority ever to the Euless City Council. And not only that, the person they elected by a 37-vote margin was both a Muslim and a Pakistani immigrant by the name of Salman Bhojani.

A Muslim immigrant winning an election in Trump’s America, where he’s made anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant bigotry a cornerstone of his campaign, is truly inspiring—especially in a red state like Texas. While Bhojani was subject to anti-Muslim attacks during the campaign, his win truly represents a victory of American values over Trump’s un-American views.

But this wasn’t an easy win for Bhojani, who possesses all the qualifications of someone who should easily win a local race. He’s a Boy Scout leader, a family man, has served on the city’s parks board for four years and is a lawyer practicing in the area. If he were Christian and white, I bet the GOP would’ve loved to recruit Bhojani.

But he’s not. Bhojani is a brown, Muslim Pakistani immigrant who came to America in 1999. And while the election was non-partisan, that didn’t stop a Republican state representative—who was not even a candidate in the race—from trying to gin up anti-Muslim animus. So there was Texas representative and Trump wannabe Jonathan Strickland doing his best to scare local voters about the dangers of a Muslim American seeking elected office.


How America Is Transforming Islam

MUSLIM WOMANBeing young and Muslim in the U.S. means navigating multiple identities. Nothing shows that more than falling in love.

Taz Ahmed is 38, single, Muslim, and Bengali. She describes herself as spiritual, but not particularly religious. When she was growing up, her immigrant parents hoped she would marry an I.T. worker they found for her in Oklahoma. “I’m like, ‘I don’t even know who this person is, what do you even know about him?’” Ahmed recently told me. “They’re like, ‘You’re asking too many questions. You don’t need to know this much information.’”

Like other U.S. Muslims of her generation, Ahmed has spent a lifetime toggling between various aspects of her identity. She got to prom night by promising her mother she’d go with a gay guy. She swapped marriage in her 20s for a master’s degree. She even followed a band as it toured the country—a coming-of-age story straight out of Hollywood, except that it was a Muslim punk group called the Kominas.


“It would have been so much easier if I would have just gotten an arranged marriage,” she said. “But my parents were really half-hearted about it.”

Certain big life moments tend to force a reckoning with cultural identities. And there’s nothing that invites more questions about identity and values than figuring out who to date and marry.

American culture often presents two opposing paths for young Muslims. On one side are people like President Donald Trump, who retweets unverified videos purporting to show Muslim violence; says things like “I think Islam hate us”; and claims there’s “no real assimilation” among even second- and third-generation Muslims in the U.S. On the other are movies like The Big Sick, which depicts the autobiographical love story of Kumail Nanjiani, a Muslim comedian who rejects religion and falls in love with a white woman, devastating his immigrant family.


He’s faced death threats for being Muslim. Now he’s taking on Trump


Khizr Khan: the patriotic American Muslim who called out Donald Trump

5109It remains a defining image of last year’s US presidential election. Khizr Khan, speaking at the Democratic national convention with his wife, Ghazala, by his side, produced a copy of the constitution from his jacket pocket, held it up for all to see, and offered to lend it to the then Republican candidate Donald Trump. It also remains the most eloquent response to Trump’s bigotry.

Khan, who grew up in a small village in Pakistan, was talking about the sacrifice his son Humayun had made for his country – America. Humayun was killed aged 27 in Iraq 13 years ago, protecting his men from suicide bombers. He is buried at Arlington cemetery, Virginia, alongside so many other war heroes, and was posthumously awarded the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.

“We are honoured to stand here as parents of Captain Humayun Khan and as patriotic American Muslims,” Khan began. He continued: “Donald Trump, you’re asking Americans to trust you with their future. Let me ask you, have you even read the United States constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy. In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law’.” Still addressing Trump, he asked: “Have you ever been to Arlington cemetery? Go look at the graves of brave patriots who died defending the United States of America. You will see all faiths, genders and ethnicities. You have sacrificed nothing – and no one.”