In western Minnesota town of Dawson, a Muslim doctor tries to understand his neighbors who backed Trump

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Dr. Ayaz Virji and his daughter Maya Virji, 9, walk back to their car after making a stop to buy popcorn from a stand after his lecture on Islam at the Granite Falls, Minn., City Hall.

DAWSON, MINN. — The doctor was getting ready. Must look respectable, he told himself. Must be calm. He changed into a dark suit, blue shirt and tie and came down the wooden staircase of the stately Victorian house at Seventh and Pine that had always been occupied by the town’s most prominent citizens.

That was him: prominent citizen, town doctor, 42-year-old father of three, and as far as anyone knew, the first Muslim to ever live in Dawson, a farming town of 1,400 people in the rural western part of the state.

 “Does this look OK?” Ayaz Virji asked his wife, Musarrat, 36.

In two hours, he was supposed to give his third lecture on Islam, and he was sure it would be his last. A local Lutheran pastor had talked him into giving the first one in Dawson three months before, when people had asked questions such as whether Muslims who kill in the name of the prophet Mohammed are rewarded in death with virgins, which had bothered him a bit. Two months later, he gave a second talk in a neighboring town, which had ended with several men calling him the Antichrist.

Now a librarian had asked him to speak in Granite Falls, a town half an hour away, and he wasn’t sure at all what might happen. So many of the comforting certainties of his life had fallen away since the presidential election, when the people who had welcomed his family to Dawson had voted for Donald Trump, who had proposed banning Muslims from entering the United States, toyed with the idea of a Muslim registry and said among other things, “Islam hates us.”

Trump had won Lac qui Parle County, where Dawson was the second-largest town, with nearly 60 percent of the vote. He had won neighboring Yellow Medicine County, where Granite Falls was the county seat, with 64 percent. Nearly all of Minnesota outside the Twin Cities had voted for Trump, a surprising turn in a state known for producing some of the Democratic Party’s most progressive leaders, including the nation’s first Muslim congressman.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE MINNEAPOLIS STAR TRIBUNE 

What was Trump’s speech on Islam missing? American Muslims.

1060x600-93172dac1665d855104936ea9bdb1b0ePresident Trump, like his predecessors before him, has discovered the potent language of religious tolerance and interfaith unity when discussing Islam, as he demonstrated in his speech in Saudi Arabia to leaders of some 50 Muslim nations. But unlike previous presidents, he has not linked that rhetoric with recognition of the large, vibrant Muslim community in the United States.

As a historian who has studied efforts in the past to build acceptance of religious pluralism in the United States, I am concerned by Trump’s departure from historical precedent.

Can a message of tolerance to Islam abroad be persuasive without a corresponding affirmation of American Muslims at home?

In his widely anticipated remarks on Islam and terrorism,  Trump avoided many of the missteps his critics feared. He notably abandoned the harsh rhetoric that characterized descriptions of Islam during his 2016 campaign. Trump has set aside his insistence on the use of the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism.” He has also rejected the broad generalizations of Islam that marked his demand for a “total and complete shutdown” of Muslim immigration because their hatred was “beyond comprehension.”

With the exception of one apparent reference to “Islamic terror” — present in his spoken words but not in the written text of the speech — Trump struck a tolerant, inclusive tone. In his declaration that he was “not here to lecture” was the promise that the United States would not tell others “how to worship.”

More notable than the language of tolerance was Trump’s new emphasis on interfaith commonality. He declared the campaign against terrorism not “a battle between different faiths” but rather a fight that encompassed them all. He noted that a terrorist who “falsely invokes the name of God” should be considered “an insult to every person of faith.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST 

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