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.”



How One Massachusetts Lawyer — Muslim, Female And Black — Manages Identity And Bias


In her day job, Chicopee, Massachusetts, attorney Tahirah Amatul-Wadud does family law — divorce, custody, child support. But on her own time, she’s filed civil rights lawsuits on behalf of Muslim communities who feel threatened, especially African-American Muslims like herself.

In recent years, as the rhetoric against Muslims has intensified, so has Wadud’s activism. She’s on the board of CAIR — a national Muslim civil liberties organization — and the Massachusetts Commission on the Status of Women.

Wadud, a mother of seven, said she used to want people to see her as a lawyer first, with her faith and personal identity deep in the background.

Tahirah Amatul-Wadud: I didn’t want to be identified as a Muslim lawyer, as an African-American lawyer, as a woman lawyer. I really just wanted to be a good lawyer.

For a while, I would never even disclose that I was working on some of these cases for the Muslim community, because I felt: one, self-conscious. I felt that people would say, “What are you doing? Why are you associating with people [rumored to be involved] with terror?… Why would you do that to yourself?”

So I’ve evolved from being a little bit more self-conscious about that work, to openly embracing it, because there’s nothing for me to be ashamed of.



A Muslim American’s Homecoming: Cowboys, Country Music, Chapatis

01homecoming1-superJumboThe conversion took place on Honky-Tonk Row, my baptism a glaze of midsummer Tennessee sweat anointing my forehead. Nashville’s Wildhorse Saloon is a tabernacle for line-dancing disciples, and I was in communion with the gyrating congregation.

“Shuffle, shuffle, turn to your left.”

“Right, left, right — there ya go!”

I have a strong respect for choreographed mass dancing; I grew up with the understanding that seminal moments in Bollywood films must be commemorated with synchronized hip shaking. The Wildhorse was a divine revelation — white people, they’re just like us!

There I was, a Yankee of Indian extraction who had always dismissed country music without a second listen, tearing through Nashville’s Lower Broadway — swaying along to cover bands at Tootsie’s and Robert’s Western World and perusing star-spangled cowboy gear at Boot Country.

My visit to the South was long overdue. I’ve lived in five countries on three continents, but the United States has always been the unifying thread; my America is diverse and dynamic and molded by immigrants. But how well did I really know it? Last fall, when I returned from a four-year stint as an expat in South Africa, I deplaned into unfamiliar territory. There was an acrid, unseen fog looming: two weeks later came Election Day.

President Trump began his term with a travel ban on certain Muslim-majority countries; this week he’s expanding that diktat, and in what’s become the hallmark of a turbulent presidency, no one has any clue what’s next. As a Muslim American immigrant, am I just a few 140-character proclamations away from having my citizenship revoked? But fear also sparked curiosity. To me, “Wyoming” sounds foreign and peculiar, spilling lazily off the tongue like a yawn and evoking in my mind the wild terrain someone else might associate with a Zimbabwe or Mozambique. What’s exotic to me isn’t food gilded with turmeric and six-day weddings — it’s grits and rodeos. How much time did I have left to experience them?

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Lower Broadway, Nashville. CreditRobert Rausch for The New York Times

I wondered if, given Mr. Trump’s rhetoric, I would feel like a foreigner in my own home. So I hit the road over the Fourth of July to see how much of an outsider I really was.



‘The new Obama’: will Abdul El-Sayed be America’s first Muslim governor?

3916At seven years old, Abdul El-Sayed sat in the eye of Hurricane Andrew, the most destructive hurricane in US history until Katrina. Living near Miami, El-Sayed drank juice while swaddled under mattresses between his father and stepmother, who was holding El-Sayed’s newborn baby brother just home from the hospital.

The 1992 storm had taken an unexpected turn southward, and the El-Sayeds could not be evacuated. The wind made an awful rattling sound on the screens.

El-Sayed’s father, Mohamed, crawled on his stomach to shut the door, the rain whipping his face, the wind beating his body. The eye of the storm passed directly over them and The National Guard eventually evacuated them.

At the moment, American politics feels a bit like being in the eye a hurricane. Donald Trump has stated America’s nuclear arsenal is “locked and loaded”, should North Korea make any false movesand neo-Nazis are openly parading in the streets bearing torches, resulting in a young woman, Heather Heyer, being murdered in Charlottesville, Virginia.

No one man can stop the hurricane. But in Michigan, a grown up El-Sayed is now having a go, trying to keep the storm at bay in a state that is having some of the hardest times in the union. He’s still a year out from the primary, but in his attempt at running for governor of the state, he is trying not just to win, but to change American politics itself.

If El Sayed wins, he will be the first Muslim governor in US history.



Iraqi American Receives Humanitarian Award

Haneen-AwardMeet Haneen Alsafi, recipient of a humanitarian award from the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA and quite an inspiration.

Raised in al-Hillah, in Babil, Iraq, she is the daughter of an Arab Shia father who grew up in Baghdad and a Turkmen Sunni mother who grew up in Erbil. As Alsafi explains in an interview, although they belonged to different ethnic and religious groups, “My parents never disagreed with each other’s sects or beliefs, just like the others, we all shared one country and lived in peace.”

She grew up in a small, very conservative city, but Alsafi also spent enough time in Erbil, a city of over 1.5 million people, to develop a connection. There, she was exposed to an ethnically diverse population consisting of Kurds, Assyrians, Arabs, Armenians, Turcomans, Yezidis, Shabakis and Mandeans, and a religiously rich community with believers in Sunni, Sufi and Shia Islam, as well as Christianity, Yezidism, Yarsan, Shabakism and Mandeanism. Her experience in Erbil was eye-opening.

My family would take us every year to visit my mother’s family in Erbil. I was exposed to a diverse population. Although the culture was very similar, the traditions and the languages were different. I think this exposure definitely prepared me to become the person I am today and played a major role in my path and passion in life. We have Kurdish, Turkmen and Christian friends in the north of Iraq. We still maintain friendship with them. It never was an issue for people from different religions and/or ethnicities to become friends.

Like most Iraqis, the people of Hillah were not spared the ravages of war, death and destruction. The city was the scene of heavy fighting during the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq. Although the city was relatively peaceful after the initial invasion, it soon became the scene of numerous terrorist attacks.

Hillah was targeted by terrorist groups through a series of car bombs and suicide bombers. I lost one of my dearest friends in a car bomb in 2006 at the graduation party for the engineering college graduates. Many other bombings followed: in the local market, at the police academy graduation ceremony and at the retirement center. Hundreds of people were killed each time since, as you can imagine, those attacks targeted huge groups of people. We have been close to bombings but luckily not too close to get injured.