My journey in Islam and learning more about religion

Growing up, I distinctly remember that I rarely saw a face in my neighborhood that looked like mine. When Christmas came around every year, I would see beautiful trees adorned with unique ornaments from our neighbors’ windows. Large presents lined their floors, and iridescent lights glowed from within their living rooms. 

Our house was always the only one on the block without an ounce of decoration during the holiday season. As the neighborhood celebrated, my parents and I sat mindlessly throughout the day. Sometimes when I was young, we played a CD of nasheeds, songs performed according to Islamic tradition, to pass the time. I sat on the floor; despite not understanding anything, I sang along. 

Homogeneity characterized my childhood. Among a sea of white and Christian students, there were only a handful of other students that looked like me in my classes. I made my first Muslim friend when I was six. She was one of four other Muslims in that school, and the only one remotely close to my age. Back then, neither one of us really knew what it meant to be Muslim, but just knowing that we shared something was enough for me. Two years later, I moved to a different school, and I didn’t make another Muslim friend until I was 14.

My parents wanted me to assimilate more than anything else. As immigrants, their priority was making sure that I didn’t experience the ostracism they did when they first arrived in the U.S. When it came down to enrolling me in a Sunday school, they decided that playing sports or learning an instrument, activities that other kids around me pursued, were probably more valuable ways to use my time. 

Aside from a very occasional trip to the masjid, place of worship for Muslims, or being forced to pray with my grandmother or a family member, I had no concept of what it meant to be a Muslim. According to my family’s beliefs, I ate zabiha meat, slaughtered in accordance with Islamic guidelines, but didn’t completely know how to pray and read the Quran. I didn’t know much about Islamic history or various traditions either, and I successfully got away with being a Muslim who didn’t actually know anything about Islam.

My extended family was always religious. While they pushed my parents to enroll me in Sunday school from an early age like their own children, my parents assured them that if I wanted, I could enroll myself in Islamic school much later in life and faithfully adhere to the Five Pillars of Islam. 

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE EMORY WHEEL

Their ‘Ask a Muslim’ project went viral. Now they have a travel show about Islam in the U.S.

Rapper-activist Mona Haydar and husband Sebastian Robins star in ‘The Great Muslim American Road Trip’ for PBS

Mona Haydar and Sebastian Robins felt they had a deep understanding of Islam. But filming “The Great Muslim American Road Trip,” a docuseries that will air on PBS this summer, made the married couple realize how much more they had to learn.

Haydar, a Syrian American rapper and activist whose music videos boast millions of views on YouTube, grew up Muslim. Robins, a writer and educator, converted to Islam after they met. The show follows the couple as they traveled from Chicago to Los Angeles via historic Route 66 in September. Along the way, they learned about Islam’s roots in America, explored nearby Muslim communities and took in the sights. In Chicago, they met with Muhammad Ali’s daughter Maryum Ali and toured the Willis Tower (formerly Sears Tower) to learn about structural engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan, known for his work on the innovative tubular design for high-rises. On more than a dozen stops, Haydar and Robins visited with restaurateurs, doctors and authors.

“This is a deep passion of ours; it’s our faith and our practice,” Haydar said. “And it really felt like this epic quest of learning and finding the clues and piecing them together.”

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The couple garnered widespread attention for their “Ask a Muslim” project, following terrorist attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., in 2015. Outside a Cambridge Mass., library, they set up signs that invited passersby to “talk to a Muslim” and ask them questions over free doughnuts and coffee. Haydar’s song “Hijabi (Wrap My Hijab)” was also named one of 2017’s best protest songs by Billboard.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST

US Muslims call for action as ‘spying’ incidents shake community

Council on American-Islamic Relations says it uncovered a ‘mole’ within its organisation and a ‘spy’ at a US mosque.

Washington, DC – First, the major Muslim-American advocacy group reported that a “mole” had infiltrated the leadership of one of its state branches. Then, only days later, the organisation said a “spy” at a US mosque had passed information on to an “anti-Muslim” group.

The two incidents, revealed earlier this month by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), have shaken Muslim advocates in the United States and renewed longstanding concerns about spying on the community.

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“Community members were shocked and saddened to learn about this specific situation, but a lot of people were also not surprised that an anti-Muslim hate group was targeting CAIR and spying this way,” said Whitney Siddiqi, community affairs director at CAIR-Ohio.

The CAIR chapter said on December 15 that it had sacked Romin Iqbal, its executive and legal director in the Columbus-Cincinnati area, for “egregious ethical and professional violations”.

FULL ARTICLE FROM AL JAZEERA

New Initiative Aims to Change How Movies Portray Muslims

An advocacy group has created a worker database with help from Disney to bring more Muslims into the filmmaking process.

A scene from “Ali’s Wedding” (2017), which was cited in a report about Muslims in movies as having “the only present-day Muslim lead.”Credit…Netflix

A new initiative to promote the inclusion of Muslims in filmmaking has been created by an advocacy group with the support of the Walt Disney Company — following a report issued this year that found that Muslims are rarely depicted in popular films and that many Muslim characters are linked to violence.

The project, the Pillars Muslim Artist Database, was announced on Tuesday by the Pillars Fund, an advocacy group in Chicago. It produced the earlier report on depiction along with the University of Southern California Annenberg Inclusion Initiative and others.

Kashif Shaikh, a co-founder of Pillars and its president, said that when the group discussed the findings, those in the industry often said they did not know where to find Muslim writers or actors.

The database, Shaikh said, aims to give Muslim actors, directors, cinematographers, sound technicians and others, who could help create more nuanced portrayals, the chance to compose online profiles that can be reviewed by those hiring for film, television and streaming productions.

That way, “Muslims around the country would be able to opt in and talk about their talents, talk about their expertise,” Shaikh said. “It was really meant to be a resource for studios, for the film industry.”

The report on depiction, “Missing & Maligned,” was issued in June and analyzed 200 top-grossing movies released between 2017 and 2019 across the United States, Britain, Australia and New Zealand.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE NEW YORK TIMES

New poll reveals how much we presume about Muslim Americans’ politics

October 15, 2021By Simran Jeet SinghShareTweetShare

(RNS) — Twenty years ago, Americans hardly gave their Muslim neighbors a thought. Then came 9/11, and our opinions suddenly blossomed. Two decades later we may be past assuming that Muslims want to topple the American government, but other supposed givens — that Muslims tend to be conservative, for instance — have been challenged in a new poll that shows how rudimentary our understanding of American Muslims can be. 

Start with the finding in a new poll, commissioned by Emgage and Muslim Public Affairs Council, that Muslim Americans voted overwhelmingly for Joe Biden in 2020, with 86% support. Only 6% voted for Donald Trump.

These numbers should not surprise those who have followed Trump’s multiple negative comments about Muslims, his hotly debated travel bans that disproportionately targeted Muslim countries and the spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes under his leadership.

But the survey of more than 500 Muslim Americans also gives us a picture beyond the vote into how Muslim Americans view the Biden administration and key domestic and foreign policies.


RELATED: America and US Muslims have come a long way since 9/11. We have a long way to go.


It’s not surprising that a majority of Muslim Americans want the administration to combat white supremacy, Islamophobia and hate-violence, which have direct, negative consequences for Muslim Americans. Their interest in addressing inequalities and enhancing access to health care, however, is more counterintuitive for a group we think of as first-generation immigrants. More than three in four American Muslims support Medicare for All, and 78% of Muslim voters believe the tax system is too generous to the rich."Hate Crimes, White Supremacy, Other Issues" Graphic courtesy of Change Research

“Hate Crimes, White Supremacy, Other Issues” Graphic courtesy of Change Research

These progressive stances are easier to understand if one is familiar with the justice orientation of Islam, as well as the demographic makeup of the American Muslim community. One-third of Muslim households in America are at or below the poverty line, making Muslims the most likely faith community to report low income levels.

FULL ARTICLE FROM RELIGION NEWS

‘Those people are not me’

US Muslims reflect on how 9/11 changed their lives and what the future holds for them

By Alaa Elassar, CNN

Updated 10:53 AM ET, Fri September 10, 2021Watch CNN’s “Shine A Light,” a commercial-free 9/11 20th anniversary tribute, hosted by Jake Tapper and featuring musical performances by Maroon 5, H.E.R., Brad Paisley, and Common on Saturday, September 11 at 8 p.m. ET.(CNN) — Many Muslims in the United States point to September 11, 2001, as the day their relationship with the country changed.Islamophobia had always existed, but the terrorist attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia seemingly made it worse — much worse.Muslims of all stripes — citizens, immigrants and refugees — faced backlash. Many were ostracized and harassed, some physically assaulted and even killed. Charged rhetoric, successive wars and attacks further inflamed the situation.Feeling condemned for crimes they didn’t commit, some Muslims changed their names and clothing to conceal their identities, while others clung even tighter to their faith. A few became outspoken advocates for the community.Every Muslim in America has a story to tell. Here are some of them.

Ruwa Romman

Ruwa Romman, 28, is a Palestinian American community organizer and policy analyst living in Duluth, Georgia.When the terrorists attacked, she was 8 years old and had just recently immigrated to the US with her parents. But the dream she had of building a new life in America quickly turned into a nightmare.Ruwa Romman and her husband Shahzaib Jiwani. Ruwa Romman and her husband Shahzaib Jiwani.”I remember the hallways and the day seemed darker even though I remember it was sunny outside,” Romman told CNN about her experience in school that day. “I don’t think I fully understood what was happening since I barely spoke English.”

FULL ARTICLE FROM CNN

Muslims are a growing presence in U.S., but still face negative views from the public

Muslim woman in a scarf holding American flag during fireworks at night.

An unprecedented amount of public attention focused on Muslim Americans in the wake of the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The U.S. Muslim population has grown in the two decades since, but it is still the case that many Americans know little about Islam or Muslims, and views toward Muslims have become increasingly polarized along political lines.

A chart showing that in the U.S., the Muslim population has been growing steadily

There were about 2.35 million Muslim adults and children living in the United States in 2007 – accounting for 0.8% of the U.S. population – when Pew Research Center began measuring this group’s size, demographic characteristics and views. Since then, growth has been driven primarily by two factors: the continued flow of Muslim immigrants into the U.S., and Muslims’ tendency to have more children than Americans of other faiths.

In 2015, the Center projected that Muslims could number 3.85 million in the U.S. by 2020 – roughly 1.1% of the total population. However, Muslim population growth from immigration may have slowed recently due to changes in federal immigration policy.

The number of Muslim houses of worship in the U.S. also has increased over the last 20 years. A study conducted in 2000 by the Cooperative Congregational Studies Partnership identified 1,209 mosques in the U.S. that year. Their follow-up study in 2011 found that the number of mosques had grown to 2,106, and the 2020 version found 2,769 mosques – more than double the number from two decades earlier.

FULL ARTICLE FROM PEW RESEARCH CENTER

America’s Muslims come from many traditions and cultures

Kalpana Jain, The ConversationAug. 30, 2021 Comments

(The Conversation is an independent and nonprofit source of news, analysis and commentary from academic experts.)

Kalpana Jain, The Conversation

Journalists and scholars have pointed out how Muslims in the U.S. are often cast simplistically either as good or bad: The good ones are raising their voices against terrorism and the bad ones are violent, or likely to be.

This view blocks out an “otherwise fascinating spectrum” of American Muslims, writes scholar Abbas Barzegar. “Outside of Mecca itself,” he says, “there exists no other Muslim population that displays the theological, ideological, class and ethnic diversity as that which resides here” in the U.S.

So, what are the different ways of being a Muslim?

Many American Muslims belong to one of the two main sects in Islam – Sunni and Shiite. Each draws its faith and practice from the Quran and the life of the Prophet Muhammad. The two agree on most of the fundamentals of Islam.

But the two groups split after the death of Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632, when issues over leadership emerged, writes religion scholar Ken Chitwood. The majority of the Muslim community sided with Abu Bakr, one of the prophet’s closest companions. A minority, however, opted for the prophet’s cousin – Ali.

Muslims who rallied around Abu Bakr came to be called Sunni – meaning those who follow the Sunna, or sayings, deeds and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad.

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE HOUR

Study finds the American mosque increasingly a melting pot of Islamic traditions

(RNS) — The American mosque is becoming more American. At least according to Ihsan Bagby, who has authored a report for the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding based on a a new survey of American mosques. The report, conducted every 10 years, found American Sunni mosques are increasingly a melting pot of traditions, blending various schools of Islamic jurisprudence or madhabs.

In many ways this pluralistic approach indicates a return to tradition. Even, for example, in regard to the roles of men and women. Findings in the report suggest the American mosque is reviving certain leadership positions for women in the mosque that, while common in the earliest days of Islam, have fallen out of practice.

RELATED: New initiative seeks to get Muslims to the golf course

“American mosque leaders lean toward an understanding of Islam that adheres to the foundational, textual sources of Islam (Qur’an and Sunnah) but are open to interpretations that look to the purposes of Islamic law (i.e., looking to the spirit and wisdom of the law) and modern circumstances,” the report said.ADVERTISING

The ISPU study builds on direct interviews and a standardized questionnaire. The authors of the report spoke directly with hundreds of mosque leaders in conducting the research for the report. 

In many countries in the Islamic world, a single madhab dominates and while American immigrants from those countries maintain those practices, their mosques often mix traditions in order to appeal to a wide potential pool of congregants. 

FULL ARTICLE FROM THE WASHINGTON POST

Muslim Americans on finding love as third-culture-kids-turned-adults

“Some Muslims are looking for that magical middle. How can you … find that halal love and have everything our society tells us — that it’s full of passion and you’ll find your soulmate?” one chaplain said.

By Sakshi Venkatraman

When Mariam Mokhtar, 21, started taking karate classes for fun with her little brothers, she expected to get exercise and learn self-defense, not to meet her future husband. Mokhtar and Rai Shaw were both in high school at the time, and they became friends through the class.

“We were doing karate for years,” she said. “We’d see each other like every week, and, you know, it starts off as nothing, and then you become friends because you see them all the time. And then yeah, things just developed from there.”

A year after they met, he knew he wanted to marry her. She wasn’t so sure. 

“One day he was like, ‘I love you,’” Mokhtar said. “And I was like, ‘Uhhhh.’”

As a young woman hoping to find a partner one day, Mokhtar said she had always been searching for a middle ground between the traditions of their parents’ Muslim culture and the world of her non-Muslim peers. Western media and even Bollywood portray romance one way, but Muslim American couples and chaplains say the way they often meet, fall in love and eventually decide to get married are usually misunderstood or not told at all. 

“A lot of young Muslims are trying to navigate their story of love between traditional cultures that their parents may come from and their newly found American culture,” Imam Sohaib Sultan, a longtime chaplain at Princeton University who died in April, told NBC Asian America in February.

That made it hard for Mokhtar to be sure of what she wanted. Though she loved him too, they were so young and still had college ahead of them. And because of her faith, she didn’t really want to date in the way her non-Muslim peers did. 

“There’s a challenge navigating what social expectations are, what family expectations are and what a person’s own expectations are.”

“I was like, I would not marry this guy right now,” she said, laughing. “But then over the years, I saw him grow.”

So they waited, stayed friends, and eventually the time was right. The two got married last summer in an intimate ceremony with just the couple and their immediate family. Four years of waiting came to a head during a pandemic. But Mokhtar could not be happier. 

Navigating love wasn’t always easy for Mokhtar, who is Egyptian American. Growing up, she felt everyone around her had different ideas about what partnership and marriage were supposed to look like.

FULL ARTICLE FROM NBC NEWS