‘America has changed Islam’: A woman runs for the board of Houston’s largest Muslim organization

houstonIn a front room of the Masjid at Taqwa, a Sugar Land mosque, Sarah Alikhan watched M.J. Khan film a Facebook video endorsing her.

Khan, 68, isn’t super-fluent with Facebook, but as a former member of Houston City Council and the president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, he’s arguably the most powerful political figure in Houston’s Muslim community. It was Khan who recruited Alikhan, who’s in her early 40s, to become the first woman ever to run for the shura, or governing board, of ISGH, one of the largest Muslim organizations in the U.S.

If elected director of Southwest Zone on Sunday,Dec. 9 she’d be the first woman to have a vote on the 50-year-old organization’s board — and thus, a direct say in the big-picture strategic decisions that can involve millions of dollars. Amid the fierce campaign, Alikhan’s headscarfed presence is a very visible sign of change.

“Here,” she said, after Khan joined her at a table. She took his cell phone and, smiling — she always seems to be smiling — handled a Facebook friend request for him.

Faizan Atiq, the incumbent director of ISGH’s Southwest Zone: “We are still far from where we want to see our organization – BUT on the right track.”

Across the U.S., women have been moving into spots with actual power in Muslim organizations such as ISGH, not just working behind the scenes. In 2006, Ingrid Mattson became the first woman to serve as president — the very top leader — of the Islamic Society of North America, an umbrella group that includes ISGH.



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

The-demographics-of-ImmigrationBy Jane Smith

The 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.

It seems to me that the future of Islam, at least as I understand it in the American context, has much to do with the way that Muslims figure out how they are going to position themselves on the question of pluralism. That we all live in a religiously differentiated society is a given. But is that a good thing in the Muslim perspective? While Muslims struggle to be truly accepted by Christians, Jews, and other groups in America, can they promise the same in return? And if so, at what level?


California City proclaims August ‘Muslim American Appreciation and Awareness Month’

5b6b05ec362ac.imageAMERICAN CANYON — Following similar declarations by the state legislature and other California cities, the American Canyon City Council has proclaimed August as Muslim American Appreciation and Awareness Month.

The proclamation represents the first time American Canyon has honored Muslims through an official decree, according to residents and leaders.


“I think this was a huge milestone for the Muslim community,” said Councilmember Mariam Aboudamous in an interview. “At a time when there is a lot of negativity at immigrants in general, and Muslims especially, it’s important to recognize immigrants because that’s what the county is made of.”

“We’re all products of immigrants, and it’s important to appreciate them,” said Aboudamous, a Muslim whose parents emigrated from the Middle East and settled in American Canyon decades ago.

Other local Muslims heralded the City Council’s proclamation, saying it represents a positive step toward acceptance of worshipers of Islam.

Najim Khan, who accepted the proclamation on behalf of the local Muslim community, called the decree “a great honor.”

“I think it’s an excellent idea,” Khan said following the council meeting. “I think more cities and counties should do that.”


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 in America: Separating fact from fiction


The words “I think Islam hates us,” “True hatred among Muslims is too great,” “Over 80 percent of mosques in this country are controlled by radical imams,” “Sharia is incompatible with Western civilization” from prominent U.S. politicians, brand Muslims as un-American, unassimilable, and potential societal and security threats to the United States.

In the minds of the likes of President Donald Trump, Representative Peter King, and former Speaker of the House of Representatives Newt Gingrich, Muslims have an utter indifference to human life as well as to “American values.” Clearly, the relationship between Islam, Muslims and American national identity has reached a boiling point. Separating fact from fiction is more important than ever.

The facts surrounding Muslims in America present a drastically different picture than the aforementioned claims by U.S. politicians. Muslims have lived on American soil before the United States even existed. The Founding Fathers of the United States welcomed the migration of Muslims to U.S. soil. American Muslims are far from monolithic and represent one of the most diverse religious populations in the country. Muslims are among the most educated populations in American society. Islamic organizations in the United States regularly participate in interfaith dialogue and civic national projects. Muslims are not responsible for the majority of terrorist attacks in America. U.S. Muslims do not prefer to be governed by Islamic law (Sharia). All of the preceding statements are facts. These facts are verified by the actions of U.S. Muslims as well as by research carried out by leading academic units and advocacy organizations across the country.


‘Being Muslim’ offers an alternative history of Islam in America

2JMJEQC7OJHWZO2SWSZLGXSK4ESylvia Chan-Malik never expected to become Muslim, let alone an expert on Islam in America.

A scholar of American and gender studies at Rutgers University, she was raised in California by Chinese immigrants who were culturally Buddhist but not religious. In high school, she was nearly baptized but decided against it. (The pastor said she couldn’t attend a Madonna concert). When she began working on her doctorate at the University of California at Berkeley in 2001, shortly after the Los Angeles riots, she wanted to explore the intersections between Asian- and African-American communities.

Then the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, happened.

She soon began collaborating on anti-racism initiatives with Muslim and Arab activist groups in the Bay Area. “I quickly realized that the same racial dynamics that I was studying between African-Americans and Asian-Americans were all present within Muslim communities,”Chan-Malik said.

She began documenting the ways U.S. Muslims were trying to constitute their identities and grapple with cultural differences to find a political voice. In the course of her research, she found herself drawn to the faith and converted in 2004.


Religion News Foundation launches educational podcast on Islam


COLUMBIA, Mo. – The Religion News Foundation (“RNF”) is pleased to announce the launch of an educational podcast on Islam titled, Re-Sight Islam™, to be hosted by Qasim Rashid. Re-Sight Islam aims to illuminate and introduce to a largely Western audience the Islamic faith and its traditions from the Islamic perspective. Qasim Rashid is a best-selling and critically acclaimed author, former visiting fellow at Harvard University’s Islamic Studies Program, and Executive Director of The Peace Project, a nonprofit organization dedicated to building a youth-led movement against hate groups.

“One of the Religion News Foundation’s primary goals is increasing religious literacy in pursuit of creating a more peaceful world based on mutual understanding,” said Tom Gallagher, President and CEO of the Religion News Foundation and CEO and Publisher of the foundation’s subsidiary, Religion News Service.

“A recent Pew Research Center survey found that 65% of immigrant Muslims in the U.S. and 91% of U.S. born Muslims believe there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims,” he said. “There is a lot of misunderstanding about Islam and Muslims and this podcast is a step in the direction of educating the public about both,” said Gallagher. “Qasim Rashid is an important voice that deserves a larger audience,” he said.

“I’m excited to work with RNF on building a truly unique and exciting conversation on Islam for an external and non-Muslim audience,” said Qasim Rashid, co-creator of the Re-Sight Islam Podcast. The podcast was conceptualized early in 2018 and has been under development since then. The recent U.S. Supreme Court decision in Trump v. Hawaii accelerated our decision to launch later this month.