The Shoe Is On the Other Foot: Pluralism and the Qur’an

lead_960The raging fires of the immigration debates in the U.S. illuminate what Muslim immigrants have known for a long time — America is not and really never has been a melting pot. The ugly rhetoric surrounding the plan for a mosque and community center near Ground Zero, and recent assaults such as those on the Bridgeport, CT mosque in my neighborhood, illustrate well the difficulties Muslims face on a regular basis. Nonetheless, Muslims have actually managed to survive quite well in the West and have even succeeded in persuading many American citizens of the right of Islam to exist as a legitimate partner in the complex balance of religious life in this country.

For many Muslims the shoe is now slipping onto the other foot. The issue is becoming not only whether they and their religion are accepted by other Americans, but whether Islam itself can find a way to live out the pluralism that many are persuaded is at the heart of the Qur’an’s message. Studies now show that while early generations of Muslims tried to honor that pluralism in relation to other religious groups, more exclusivist views came to prevail and communities such as Christians and Jews found themselves increasingly discriminated against by Islam. Exegetes turned from verses of the Qur’an that insist that God willed different religious communities rather than a single one, and emphasized those verses that affirm that the only true religion in the eyes of God is Islam.

Immanent Frame Forum on Islam and the Founding Fathers

tj-quran-195x300The other day I was Skyping with a colonial America class at another college.  One of the students asked me what the founding fathers would have thought about Islam.  I answered the question, but after I got done with the class I realized I should have also recommended Denise Spellberg’s 2013 book Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders.

Check out the recently announced forum at Immanent Frame on Spellberg’s book.

Here is what you can expect:

Denise Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an was released in 2013, in the middle of Barack Obama’s second term as president of the United States. As we were reminded during the 2016 election season, both of President Obama’s campaigns for presidency were marked by accusations that he was a practicing Muslim and debates as to the legitimacy of a president with such a religious identity. Spellberg’s book was published as a timely history of the religious freedom debates during the founding of the United States, emphasizing the choice that the Founding Fathers made to create a new nation open to all religions. As Spellberg describes in her historical account, Thomas Jefferson argued for the inclusion of Muslims without knowing a Muslim individual; his theoretical sense of welcome toward them extended hospitality and legal protection to other religious minority groups at the time, including Jews and Catholics.

FULL ARTICLE AND LINKS TO FORUM HERE 

Faith Perspectives: Dispelling myths about American Muslims

542ef5f73eefa.imageI have been in America for the last 37 years.

Initially when people learned I’m Muslim it would trigger curiosity about Islam and eastern cultures. Sometimes I would encounter misinformation in the mainstream media, but mostly Muslims in America were under the radar.

Since 9/11, I’ve found more interest in learning about Islam and at the same time seen spike in misinformation and hate groups. Myths are behind the misunderstanding. I’d like to tackle a few of those here:

Myth: Muslims are relatively newcomers in America. • Historians trace first Muslims in America towards the end of 15th century. African-American Muslims, who have been here for centuries, make about quarter of the total U.S. Muslim population. A recent estimate in 2016 placed the nation’s Muslim population at over 3.3 million.

Most of the American Muslims who immigrated in last century probably came from
South Asia, Middle East, and Africa in 1960s, when The Hart-Celler Act of 1965 was enacted. This law changed the immigration policies from being nation-based formula to one that lifted restrictions against immigrants from Asia and Africa. It gave priority for relatives of U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.566b29e21fd78.image

It also gave preference to professionals and other skilled workers. Most of Muslims came here for the same reason that brought the majority of non-Muslim Americans: opportunity.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ST LOUIS POST DISPATCH 

American Muslims Are Young, Politically Liberal, and Scared

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Muslims may be the religious group that’s most talked about and least understood in the U.S. President Trump has put Islam at the center of his policymaking, making shaky claims about how assimilated Muslims are into American life. And yet, in part because the group is so small, actual data about their religiosity, political leanings, and engagement with American culture is relatively scarce.

A new survey from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, or ISPU, offers a rare look at this changing community. The report covers interviews with nearly 2,400 American residents from diverse religious backgrounds, including roughly 800 Muslims. The data suggest that this rapidly growing group is strongly shaped by a few factors. U.S. Muslims are younger and more liberal than their neighbors. They tend to be fairly religious. And they are extremely anxious about what’s happening in America.

Over the past decade, the Muslim community has grown significantly. According to the Pew Research Center, their share of the U.S. population more than doubled between 2007 and 2014. The group now makes up roughly 1 percent of the populace.

Muslim identity has evolved along with their population size. George W. Bush-era conventional wisdom held that Muslims were a natural constituency for the Republican Party. By the 2016 election, that had radically changed: ISPU found that only 15 percent of Muslims in their survey wanted Trump to win over Hillary Clinton in November, including those who are not eligible to vote.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE ATLANTIC 

Islam in America

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Lynsey Addario made a name for herself photographing conflict in the Muslim world: women living under Taliban rule in pre-9/11 Afghanistan; the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; the civil war in Libya; the genocide in Darfur; the ongoing refugee crisis. Some of those images earned her a MacArthur “genius grant” and a share in a Pulitzer Prize, and her experiences—she’s been kidnapped twice, in Iraq and in Libya—gave her plenty of fodder for a recent memoir (soon to be a movie directed by Steven Spielberg and starring Jennifer Lawrence).

Lately, though, the Norwalk, Connecticut–born, London-based photographer, who has lived abroad for years, has been more and more interested in training her lens on her own country. “It’s a very important time to be working in America,” she says. “We see this rise in hate. People seem to be governing by fear. In my time abroad, I’ve realized that so many people look to America for guidance, to be the country to fall back on. People are confused about what’s going on.”

When Vogue sent Addario to the Baltimore area to follow a handful of American Muslim women for a week, photographing their daily routines, it was early January: Donald Trump had been elected but not inaugurated; the Islamophobic rhetoric of his campaign was fresh in people’s minds, but his outrageous, ill-conceived “Muslim ban,” and the wave of protests that it sparked, were not yet a reality. There’s a sense, looking at these images, of the calm before the storm.

There’s also a sense of how individually each woman wears her faith. “We’re not a monolith,” says Zainab Chaudry, a Baltimore-born Muslim of Pakistani descent and a spokeswoman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. “There’s this idea that we’re all cookie-cutter versions of one another. The fact is, we come from very diverse backgrounds. We all have unique experiences that define who we are.”

If there’s one experience many share, it’s that of having their hijab misunderstood. In this country, Muslim women—many of whom choose to cover their heads—are often the most public, visible symbol of Islam. Their head scarves make them targets, not only for Islamophobes but also for misinformed non-Muslims, who see the practice as a marker of oppression. “I could probably write a book,” Chaudry says, laughing. “The condescending statements. The sympathetic looks. The Oh, you poor thing. It’s like: No, no, you’ve just never been inside a Muslim household. In many cases the woman is the one who calls the shots.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM VOGUE MAGAZINE

Instead of Pitying American Muslims, Work With Them

US-VOTE-MUSLIMSDr. Robbins is the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations – Massachusetts.

by John Robbins

In the weeks since the election, the American Muslim community has seen a massive outpouring of support. As a community advocate, I’ve personally received hundreds of e-mails and calls from people asking how they can help, and letting me know that they’re with us and will do everything that they can to aid us during this time. People across the political, religious and political spectrums have reached out to their Muslim neighbors like never before and have offered to aid us in any way needed.

But the tone, the tenor, of these messages of support concerns me.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m extremely moved and grateful for this outpouring. But in the rush of people lining up to help the American Muslim community, many are motivated by an urge to protect those who are weaker, those who can’t help themselves.

Right now, Muslims in America are pitied. And an object of pity is not respected, valued or recognized as having strength.

Too often, the giver of aid is positioned above the receiver, so that the movement of anything of value is purely a one-directional interchange between those who have and those who don’t. When we accept this support (and I’m not saying we shouldn’t), it reinforces the idea that Muslims are in need, and that the wider—usually white—community has something to offer, but doesn’t need anything in return.

FULL ARTICLE FROM TIME MAGAZINE 

An Idiot’s Guide to Islam in America

US-POLITICS-RELIGION-OBAMAIslam hates us.” That was a recurring theme of your campaign, Mr. President-elect.

And who can blame you? After all, your top advisors on Muslim affairs — Ann Coulter, Frank Gaffney, and Walid Phares — are card-carrying Islamophobes. Your incoming national security advisor, retired Army Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, wants Muslim leaders to “declare their Islamic ideology sick,” and your special advisor, Steve Bannon, has been accused of using his Breitbart News Daily radio show to instigate “fear and loathing of Muslims in America.”

But now that you’ve announced it’s time for America to “bind the wounds of division,” it might be useful for you to learn a little bit more about one of the most alienated segments of the nation you now lead: American citizens who also happen to be Muslims.

I get that you’re worried about what you call “radical Islamic terrorism.” I’ve been reporting on extremists who claim to represent Islam since I covered the first anti-American suicide bombings in Beirut in the early 1980s, so I share your concern. I’ve seen friends die and others waste away in captivity at their hands. And I’ve come awfully close to being a victim myself a few times. But I’ve also learned that Muslims come in many colors — literally and figuratively — and my doctorate in Islamic studies helped me understand that the religion itself is interpreted in many different ways. In fact, America’s 3.3 million Muslims, the other 1 percent, are developing their own take on what it means to follow Islam.

The jihadis are already rejoicing at your election because — their words here, not mine — it “reveals the true mentality of the Americans and their racism toward Muslims and Arabs and everything.” But what do they know?

When Bill O’Reilly asked you whether you thought American Muslims fear you, you replied, “I hope not. I want to straighten things out.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM FOREIGN POLICY MAGAZINE