Thursday, August 26, 2010

Guide to Mosque near Ground Zero Controversy

Here is a good timeline to get started.

Rachel Maddow shows how conservative media personalities worked with the Imam for the mosque near Ground Zero and praised him as a moderate Muslim even though they now represent him as a radical supporter of terrorism:

1st blogpost against NYC mosque near Ground Zero

2nd blogpost: "This is territorial. This is Islamic domination and expansionism. The location is no accident. Just as Al-Aqsa was built on top of the Temple in Jerusalem. And what about the Hagia Sophia, the ancient cathedral of the church of Constantinople, one of the great buildings of the world, the grandest church in Christendom at that time and for 1000 years thereafter -- and now a mosque? The Aya Sofya mosque -- they didn't change the name, just Islamified it."

Since critics of the community center invoke its proximity to the sacred ground of the WTC, it's worth noting that 9/11 victims' family members have different views on the mosque near ground zero.

Here are links to mosque controversies in other states, which shows that opposition to building mosques is not just about Ground Zero, but rather a national phenomenon that spans coasts and urban/rural areas:

Kentucky mosque





Staten Island

Others blame Muslims in the US for how certain Muslim majority countries treat Christian minorities. Newt Gingrich, for example, claims that no mosque should be built near Ground Zero until churches are allowed in Saudi Arabia

While opposition has mostly consisted of protests and speeches, a Bangladeshi Muslim cab driver was stabbed by a white American male who had recently made a documentary while embedded with US soldiers in Afghanistan. The Muslim cab driver has met with NYC mayor Bloomberg to call for the anti-Islamic rhetoric to stop, as part of a call to end violence.

Keith Olbermann provided on overview of Islamophobia here:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

CNN Article on Chicago's Muslim Takin it to the Streets Festival

I will devote my posts this week to my observations and video footage of last weekend's Muslim Arts and Music Festival on Chicago's South Side. Here is a CNN blog article on the event:

Editor's Note: Maytha Alhassen is a Ph.D. student studing Muslim American identity at the University of Southern California.

By Maytha Alhassen, Special to CNN

Some have facetiously referred to it as the Muslim Woodstock.

But for all the differences between 1969’s three days of peace and music and Saturday’s Takin' it to the Streets festival in Chicago—a daylong Muslim-led arts and music festival—there is some truth to the comparison.

The differences: high on drugs vs. high on dkihr—a prayer that involves reciting the names of God—and free love vs. free tai chi lessons.

The similarity: As Woodstock defined the hippie generation, so might Takin' it to the Streets 2010, organized by the Chicago-based group Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN), define a generation of Muslim Americans.

For those in attendance it was clear that spiritually fueled, socially concerned and politically minded art aimed at serving and inspiring will be at the center of defining our Muslim American experience.

The event crystallized what our generation is becoming: one that acts locally and thinks globally through politics, the arts, spirituality, community service and social justice organizing. The festival, a biannual event for the last 13 years, featured health and wellness booths, hip hop and world music stages, live mural painting stations, and rows of halal food.

It showed that Muslim Americans are tied to both the U.S. and our diapora experience, that we acknowledge our transnational connectedness while working with our local communities.

Examples of our domestic and global action include providing free health care clinics—including IMAN’s in Chicago —protesting Arizona’s immigration bill, as the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Council on American-Islamic Relations did, and praying for a solution to the Gulf oil spill.

At Takin' it to the Streets, the local/global dynamic saw us rocking out to Malian desert blues group Tinariwen after listening to Reverend Jesse Jackson explain the significance of Marquette Park in the history of the civil rights movement (Martin Luther King, Jr. led a march against an all-white house area there in 1966).

As the transnational aspect of the Muslim American experience was celebrated, we were reminded of our domestic ties and internal Muslim American struggles. Imam Zaid Shakir addressed the oversaturation of Muslim-owned liquor stores in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods.

U.S. Congressman Keith Ellison, meanwhile, shared his thoughts about the significance of the day to Muslim Americans. “What this day says to the Muslim community is that Islam is not just a list of ‘don’ts,’—things you can’t do,” he told me. “It is a way of life that includes joy, happiness, love, fun, appreciation and this is what’s going on. This is the safest place in Chicago right now.”

What message would non-Muslims take from the event? “We are your friends, neighbors and family members,” Ellison said. “There is more to these Muslims than not eating mama’s ham.”
A professor of mine once said that crisis is not necessarily a bad thing—it signals an opportunity.

For me, 9/11 was a crisis that signaled an opportunity. As Muslim Americans were catapulted into the center of a new national discourse on terrorism and forcibly removed from cocoons of invisibility to answer questions of “why” and “who,” we were subjected to pointed fingers and heightened profiling.
And yet there was also an opportunity for us to speak with studied precision and heart.

This year’s Takin' it to the Streets signaled an expressive culmination of the response taken by Muslim Americans to transform crisis into opportunity, to make sense of our multi-faceted identities and to deliver to our local communities the wonderful fruits of our faith in action.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Maytha Alhassen

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Anti-Mosque Protest and Arabic-speaking Christians

This past weekend the SIAO (Stop the Islamization of America Organization) led a rally against the construction of an Islamic community center within a few blocks of Ground Zero. Left-wing media spokespersons (bloggers, journalists, pundits, etc.) have called attention to an incedent of intolerance at the event, in which police rescued 2 Egyptian Christians who were surrounded and heckled by other protesters for speaking Arabic. Keith Olberman featured this story in his 'Worst Person in the World' segment last night.

The print media source for the story comes from an article on

"At one point, a portion of the crowd menacingly surrounded two Egyptian men who were speaking Arabic and were thought to be Muslims.
"Go home," several shouted from the crowd.

"Get out," others shouted.

In fact, the two men – Joseph Nassralla and Karam El Masry — were not Muslims at all. They turned out to be Egyptian Coptic Christians who work for a California-based Christian satellite TV station called "The Way." Both said they had come to protest the mosque.

"I'm a Christian," Nassralla shouted to the crowd, his eyes bulging and beads of sweat rolling down his face.

But it was no use. The protesters had become so angry at what they thought were Muslims that New York City police officers had to rush in and pull Nassralla and El Masry to safety.

"I flew nine hours in an airplane to come here," a frustrated Nassralla said afterward.

The incident underscores how contentious — and, perhaps, how irrational — the debate over the mosque has become."

Notice that the quoted jeers from the crowd were anti-immigrant slogans: get out, go home. So, speaking Arabic at this event is comparable to speaking Spanish at an anti-Immigration rally. We must not forget that the anti-Muslim rhetoric post-9/11 is linked to the rise in anti-immigrant rhetoric, as well. Now, according to the AAI (Arab-American Institute) the majority of Americans whose families are originally from Arabic-speaking countries are mostly Christian and not Muslim, despite the common sense association of Arabic as being unmistakably Muslim. For Arabic-speaking Christians, speaking the language does not mean that they are ethnically Arab, even though in the US speaking Arabic or having an Arabic name is how someone would be identified as Arab. It is much easier to have this more nuanced discussion of confusing identity issues online than it would be standing in a protest full of people congregating to express sloganeering anger about Muslims in America, in which speaking Arabic would immediately arouse suspicion. I would not expect nuanced conversations
in such a context, and I wouldn't expect people's sentiments to convey much nuance either.

It seems to me that the media coverage of this issue is mistaken because you cannot criticize people for being intolerant when the people who were agressors (group who harassed Egyptians) and victims (Egyptian Copts speaking Arabic) were both there to espouse intolerance. Let's just be glad that the police were there to protect the Egyptians from their ideological allies, because those whom they sided with on this issue viewed them to be on the other side of the ethnic/linguistic/religious/political/ideological fence. When dealing with populist anger you never know where that anger might turn, and it can just as easily turn against those who support it because you never know where others in the crowd are going to draw the line so as to identify someone else as a target of the angry crowd.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Unraveling Muslim Media Stereotypes: Arab-Muslim Miss USA and Comedian Aziz Ansari

Mona Eltahawy is a talented Egyptian journalist based in the US. I include her piece, What Does a Muslim Look Like?, in my first lecture to my university course on Islam because she shows that the media typically limits representations of Muslims to the angry bearded man and the oppressed covered in black woman. Well, this video is Mona's response that young Muslims are attracting media coverage that completely undermines the standard stereotypical representations of Muslims in the media. Miss USA, Rima Fakih, happens to be an Arab Lebanese-born Muslim raised in the US, and she certainly is not your silenced and oppressed veiled Muslim woman that the media puts on tv so often. Likewise, Muslim comedians such as Aziz Ansari are definitely nothing like the bearded Muslim man paraded on the nightly news burning an American flag. Perhaps a shift in media representation is underway precisely because Muslim-Americans are quite visibly breaking down stereotypes in ways that have been going on for years, except that now they cannot be ignored because of the high tv ratings they attract.      

Muslim Demographic Threat Video

This video presents a typical anti-Muslim argument by political and/or religious camps in various countries. The argument proposes that since Muslim families generally tend to have more kids, they are a threat because even though they are generally poorer than the larger society they will eventually become the majority. For those who hold this position, they assert that Muslims are basically just waiting until they have the numbers to revolt and create Islamic governments in all corners of the globe. Yet, they overlook the fact that many Muslims strongly oppose forming Islamic states, and that most Muslims are quite assimilated culturally, economically, and politically into their country of residence/nationality. Similar arguments have been made by whites in California and Texas where Hispanics are now the majority population, even though there has been no radical political shift to take over power in any dramatic form. On the contrary, in most instances when various groups bring up the Muslim demographic threat they do not use it as a call for their own ethnic, religious, or linguistic groups to reproduce more. No, usually the suggestion is that the countries need to consider removing Muslims by deportation, exile, or even outright mass murder (for example, Serbian genocide of Bosnian Muslims on basis of demographic threat). This video calls for better missionary work to overcome the demographic discrepancy, even though the most obvious case would simply be to call on members of their group to have more kids. So, no matter the group making the case for the Muslim demographic threat (see: Israel, France, UK, Germany, among others), the point is always the same: we need to somehow push back against this conspiratorial plan by Muslims to take over the world. When all is said and done, Muslims or Mexicans come out like some evil comic book character, when they are usually well-assimilated, hard-working, and good-natured people. Apparently that is just part of their secret beware!           

Same Building Serves as Synagogue & Mosque

This is an older piece of news, but one that is worth the extra attention to show that Jews and Muslims are not always at odds.
clipped from

RESTON: On Friday afternoons, the people coming to pray at this building take off their shoes, unfurl rugs to kneel on and pray in Arabic. The ones that come Friday evenings put on yarmulkes, light candles and pray in Hebrew.

The building is a synagogue on a tree-lined street in suburban Virginia, but for the past few weeks — during the Muslim holy month of Ramazan — it has also been doubling daily as a mosque. Synagogue members suggested their building after hearing the Muslim congregation was looking to rent a place for overflow crowds.
Both groups say the relationship won’t be over when Ramazan ends in North America over the weekend. The rabbi and imam are talking about possibly even making a joint trip to the Middle East, and Friday prayers will still be held at the synagogue.
 blog it

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Afghan Women Banned from Shrine

Here is a good article on a recent ban on women visiting a shrine in western Afghanistan. Shrines in Islam have been more historically open to women since in many times and places mosques were men's only sacred spaces. Shrines have thus served for ages as places for women to worship, congregate, and seek spiritual and physical health for themselves and their families. Shrines have also been one of the most controversial issues in the modern era (18th century-present) because reformist Muslim groups (similar to Protestants) have opposed belief in saints and the spiritual powers associated with their tombs. However, saint shrines were often the primary source for conversion in places beyond the Arab world, such as West Africa, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Southeastern Europe.  

Monday, May 17, 2010

Origins of Islam: Interview with Historian Fred Donner

The Boston Globe recently published a good interview with Fred Donner (here), an early Islamic history professor from the University of Chicago (my alma mater). In the study of religion scholars who study the origins of any religion encounter a few problems. There is often very little information from that historical period which leaves scholars searching for sources of information (texts and archeological artifacts) that can help to verify or challenge the narrative developed by the religious community later in time but projected back on to the past so as to make the origins appear concrete when there is usually very little evidence to legitimize such certain claims to truth or history. However, for most religions the earliest historical material is their own texts and scholars have developed very technical modes of interpreting and comparing data contained within any religion's earliest scriptures. Some scholars accept the self-narrative of religious communities as factual (naive), while others refuse to accept any premises upheld by a religious community (ultra-skeptical). Then, someone like Fred Donner takes up a revisionist position which accepts certain elements from the religion and is less skeptical, while also drawing different conclusions than the uncritical and overly critical scholarly camps. Donner is the at the forefront of major debates about the origins and early history of Islam and his conclusions seem to be the most well-reasoned and moderate view within academia. For that reason I usually draw off of his material while teaching and I highly recommend his work for anyone interested in the subject.    

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sculpture of Muhammad in Supreme Court

See this link about Karamah, a Muslim legal firm, which has recently represented various Muslim organizations in the US about a sculpture of Muhammad in the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Obama Administration Reaching out to Muslim-Americans

The New York Times published an interesting article on Monday about how the Obama Administration is reaching out to the Muslim community in the US on a variety of issues and causes (here).

Monday, April 19, 2010

Planet of the Arabs

Here is a video on yotube that has mashup clips from American cinema about Arabs/Muslims:


Muslim Community Center near Ground Zero

NPR recently conducted an interview about the development of a YMCA type community center for Muslims near Ground Zero, as a symbolic gesture of Muslim-American solidarity against terrorism and in support of enhancing community bonds through recreation and worship.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

UK Internet Surveillance of Muslims (Part 2)

Last week the UK Guardian newspaper published an article (here) on police training internet cafe owners to conduct surveillance on Muslims who could be using the anonymity of such spaces to conduct illegal activities (i.e. terrorist plots). This comes just weeks after a report was released about police surveillance of bloggers on islam-related issues in order to classify them as pro- or anti-Islamic. It is clear that public safety and security is teh basis for such activities, but it also raises questions about the specific practices of security professionals in their attempts to identify and assess security threats. See my previous post for context and questions concerning this issue.     

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Islamic Art Pieces

Muslim Matters blog has published some interesting pieces of Islamic art. It's nice to see cultural products that fall outside of discussions on Islam and politics/warfare.

Islamic Arts Feature: Pick of the Week 4/3/10: "

Welcome to the another edition of’s regular Islamic Art feature. If you want to see your work on MM, then either email us your images to art[@]muslimmatters[.]org or submit them to our Flickr group.

Click on the images below to view the original.

The kalima (Islamic profession of faith) written on a paper fan in Chinese. The calligraphist was one of the Imams of the Great Mosque. By nabil.s

The kalima (Islamic profession of faith) written on a paper fan in Chinese. The calligraphist was one of the Imams of the Great Mosque. By nabil.s

In my heart, by Fouad EA

In my heart, by Fouad EA. Calligraphy Style Diwani. Translation - Your name is on my lips, your image is in my eyes, your memory is in my heart. To whom thus did I write? - Al Hallaj

Medina Masjid Nabawi, by a2portfolio

Medina Masjid Nabawi, by a2portfolio

Cartoon, by Abu Ilyas

Cartoon, by Abu Ilyas

Visit the MuslimMatters Flickr group to view the other entries…

Note: all the images presented in our Islamic Art feature are copyrighted to the original producers. Do not reproduce them without seeking their prior consent."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Sufi women showcased in Tunisian ballet

Below is an interesting piece on an upcoming Ballet in Montreal about hitsorical Sufi Arab Muslim women.

Sufi women showcased in Tunisian ballet: "
'Ballet showcases gallery of outstanding Arab women personalities' (original title), published in Tunisia Online News

TUNISIAONLINENEWS- In order to change the image of Arab-Muslim women as passive recipients of history, Leila Aziz , a young woman from a Tunisian father and a French mother has endeavored by dint of an arduous research carried out in Tunisia and in France to carve out a “manifesto” in tribute of 9 well known Arab-Muslim women, including “Khansa” the famous poet, “Rabiaa al Adawiya”, a Sufi who was able to enter the temple of “Waly” ,the Egyptian “Nefissa” and the Tunisian “Mannoubiya” one of the few women to be found in the Sufi hierarchy.

However, unlike other manifestos this one is presented as a ballet, gathering nine exceptional Arab –Muslim women, reunited through the centuries by the creative craft of the young Tunisian choreographer.

Leila Aziz’s gallery also comprises “Fatima Al Fihria”, a woman from Kairouan known for her wisdom and who built with his sister a Mosque and the “Karawan of Fez” University, as well as the Yemeni “Arwa”, also known as the “Little Queen of Sheba” who ruled Yemen in the 11th century, in addition to the Andalusian “Wallada”.

“Razia Sultana” from Delhi and “Roxelane” from Turkey complete this unique artistic gallery signed by the French choreographer Magalie Lesueur.
The ballet was selected at the “Montreal Arab World Festival” which is due to be held from October 30 to November 15, 2010. The festival is the only event of its kind in North America, dedicated to Arabic culture. With its three components, Arts de la scène (stage art), Salon de la culture (Cultural meeting place) and Cinéma, the festival aims at throwing bridges between the arts in Québec (Canada) and the Arab world through various forms of artistic expression.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Halal Sex Shop

Here is an interesting article on sex toys within a Muslim halal context: Halal Sex Shop. This would have made for a good installment in Mohja Kahf's Sex and the Umma Column.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Surveillance of Islamic Bloggers in the UK

Here is an interesting piece on government surveillance of bloggers who are pro- and anti-Islamic. If the government is trying to identify possible violent threats, then couldn't a pro-Islamic blogger be anti-violence against non-Muslims and an anti-Islamic one be pro-violence against Muslims? How good of a gauge is the pro vs. anti classification at deciphering threats of violence, in your opinion?

Government names most influential 'pro-Islamic' bloggers: "

Counter-terrorism research reveals network of pro-Islamic bloggers is smaller and less cohesive than anti-jihadist community

The Home Office's counter-terrorism communications unit has named its top 20 most influential 'pro-Islamic' political bloggers.

The list forms part of a mapping exercise carried out on behalf of the Home Office to estimate and track the scale and influence of Islamic bloggers in Britain.

The results of the exercise, which was carried out in 2008 but only published today, show that a network of Islamic bloggers who post on British politics does exist but is still relatively small and draws its information overwhelmingly from mainstream media, mainly the Guardian and the BBC.

The research was carried out by the Home Office research, information and communications unit (RICU) to see if there were new ways of ensuring the government's counter-terrorism messages reached people in the Muslim community who did not read or watch mainstream media.

It pinpointed 140 'pro-leaning Islamic' blogs when it was carried out in 2008 by David Stevens of Nottingham University.

'Compared with other political blogging communities this is not terribly high,' the study says. 'As suspected, any pro-Islamic blogging community is likely to be still in its early stages of development in quantitive terms. However the existence of Islamic blog-feed sites (that list recent posts across Islamic blogs in one place) indicates that the community is reaching something of a critical mass.'

The project is primarily concerned with how 'radical Islamic messages' are disseminated in Britain, yet it notes that many blogs are not overtly or mainly political in this sense, but contain such messages or references to them.

It says a large anti-jihadist and anti-Islamic blogging community exists which is far larger and more cohesive than the pro-Islamic blogging community.

The top 20 list compiled as a 'snapshot' in 2008 includes several based outside Britain but posting on UK politics in English. The top five sites listed are Ali Eteraz, Islam in Europe, the Angry Arab News Service, Indigo Jo Blogs/Blogistan and Daily Terror. Ali Eteraz is the author of Children of Dust – a memoir of Pakistan that was named on the New Statesman 2009 books of the year list – and has been a regular poster on Comment is Free.

The list only covers blogs published in English. Some, such as Angry Arab, which publish news articles in full from various sources draw heavily on the New York Times, al-Akhbar and Ha'aretz. But once these are excluded much UK-related material is drawn from the Guardian, the BBC and the Times. Very little material is drawn fromal-Jazeera, Islam Online or other Islamic-focused media.

A Home Office spokeswoman said that after the research was undertaken it was decided to focus on sending the government's counter-terrorism messages to Muslim communities through national mainstream media, including publications such as the Muslim Weekly and Daily Jang. © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010


Monday, March 22, 2010

Cyber Censorship and Muslim Info-Wars

Followers of all religions openly and passionately debate their views in numerous online forums, from chat rooms to e-zines. Despite heated differences that can become even more exaggerated online by anonymous voices, there is still a general consensus that people have the right to freely articulate themselves online. Some countries do monitor their citizens online, and censorship of certain websites is also more common than many would expect.

However, few would expect that private individuals and groups would deploy various censorship tactics against their ideological opponents. In 2004 Muslim hacktivists hijacked the socially and politically progressive MWU! (Muslim Wake Up) website, changed their logo to Murtad (Heretic) Wake Up, deleted much of their site content, and even made death threats against the site's owners and well-known writers. But despite the e-violence the website was able to recover its content and restore the site without permanent damage.

Yet, in 2008 the site crashed again and when it was restored it lacked much of its previous content. By 2009 the site was out of commission and the loss of access to its archives is arguably the greatest blow to the diversity of alternative Muslim perspectives online in the 21st century. MWU! was an international networking and publishing hub for journalists, activists, literati, musicians, intellectuals, teachers, and cultural commentators that represented a wide range of views on issues that other Muslim websites and e-zines would not even touch. MWU! had a Hug-a-Jew campaign to promote peace, was open to the LGBT Muslims, and was renowned for its women contributors--especially Mohja Kahf's series called 'Sex and the Umma' on sexuality in Muslim women's lives.

With the vast e-vaccuum left in MWU!'s wake, it is even more disturbing that censorship is now being deployed at the corporate level by the moderate and fairly open (though not the liberal and progressive hub that was MWU!) website based out of Qatar. Islam Online's employees in Egypt have since gone on strike. There are reports that the website's board may be in the process of deleting content by journalists from various countries who represent views not in-line with the board's perspectives. Also, check out the following report about the Islam Online situation (here). 

These bleak prospects for alternative Muslim news media undermines the freedom of information platform that the internet is supposed to embody and iconically represent. 

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Everyday Hindu-Muslim Pluralism in India

Check out these intriguing blog posts on Hindu-Muslim pluralism in India:

1) a Muslim street vendor's Hindu icon and Islamic calligraphy.

2) brief description of religious billboards.

3) Muslim mechanic, Hindu motorcycle.

4) Hindu & Muslim hug before joining their families upon release from jail.

5) Hindus observe Muharram festival of Ashura, which commemorates the martyrdom of Husayn who was the grandson of Muhammad and the 3rd Shi'i Imam. 

6) Hindu / Muslim mystics meet at park every week.

7) Hindu-Muslim ascetic clothing as identity boundary blurring.

Alternative Muslim Women's Stories

Take a look at a set of interesting stories on Muslim women's voices of empowerment on altmuslimah's blog.

Monday, March 15, 2010

American Muslims and E-Media

Here is a good article on a recent academic conference at Berkeley on American Muslims and social media/networking. This is an emerging field that I find very interesting and hope to contribute to in the near future.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Muslims in Western Europe

When talking to students about the situation of Muslims in Europe, I compare it to a combination of widespread American disdain for the poor (i.e. welfare freeloaders), prisoners (i.e. free room and board), racism (i.e. anti-Black), immigration (anti-Hispanic and Spanish language), and fears about terrorism (i.e. Muslims in our midst). If you roll all of these fears and dislikes into one big ball you get a better idea of what is going on in Europe. That said, it is great that there was recently a debate from representatives of Muslim and anti-Muslim interests. 

"Debate: Is Europe Failing its Muslims?: "Debate: Is Europe Failing its Muslims?

Has Europe fallen into an 'us vs them' mindset? Have Europeans nurtured the perception that Islam is alien to the continent? Do they know what to make of people who don't conform to their Enlightenment values?

Or do Europeans have good reason to associate Muslims with violence? Perhaps it's opposition to fundamentalist Islam which is really anti-fascist. Perhaps Islamophobia is just a constructed model designed to protect Islam from criticism, rather than individuals from discrimination.

The debate 'Europe is failing its Muslims' took place on February 23rd at Cadogan Hall in London, in association with BBC World News and the British Council. Arguing in favour of the motion were Tariq Ramadan and Petra Stienen; against the motion were Douglas Murray and Flemming Rose.

The debate is available at Intelligence Squared and on YouTube (intro 1, questions, intro 2, Q&A 1, Q&A 2, closing statements)


The original title of the debate is not a question, it's a statement: 'Europe is failing its Muslims'. According to a pre-poll of the audience, there was a virtual tie between those supporting the motion, opposing it and undecideds. It seemed to me that the 'for' crowd was much more vocal (cheering and booing appropriately), but in the final result, the 'against' side won with 'For' supported by 37%, 'Against' by 51% and 12% undecided.

As one viewer from the floor summed up - the fact that this discussion is taking place shows Europe is not failing its Muslims.

I summarize the positions of the participants below:

Tariq Ramadan
Professor of Islamic Studies, Oxford University

The perception is that Muslims are bad and violent. That they're not European citizens. People ignore the Eastern European native Muslims. Muslims are facing class racism. They are accused of not wanting to integrate, but by being visibly Muslims, they are showing they're at home and thereby integrating.

The media doesn't talk about contributions of Muslims to their host country.

There are problems, but things are evolving. There's a silent revolution, constructive and positive changes on the grassroots level which are not seen on the political-media level.

Asked what he would say to a girl forced to wear the veil, Ramadan said he had given such a girl advice to resist her parents.

Muslims are here to stay. Muslims feel at home. They're past integration, they are now contributing. And we need to work together to change the perception and reality.

Murray to Ramadan: If you claim you are European, why do you call Muslims your 'brothers'? Ramadan: All humans are my brothers.

Petra Stienen
Former Dutch Diplomat; Human Rights Campaigner

There's lack of freedom in Muslim countries, but is it linked to Islam? What to do with Muslims who do not want to follow European norms? The one-sided debate is failing Muslims. There is true curiosity among Europeans to know more about Muslims, and not to take the Geert Wilders' stance as-is.

We're not enlightened if we only accept people who are like us. Having people who think differently and don't want to change their religion is also a universal human right. We should have compassion for others.

Douglas Murray
Director, Centre for Social Cohesion

Muslims are more violent, and they're the ones who committed terror attacks.

Western European societies managed to deal with immigration better than other places, and Muslims enjoy many more rights than they do in Muslim countries. The problem is Muslim intolerance, Muslims have let down Europe, and Islam has let down Muslims.

There is discrimination and racism, but this should not be mixed up with the right of people to voice their criticism of Islam.

The Koran might have given women advanced rights compared to 7th century Arabia, but not compared to 21st century Britain. Muslims teach hatred against other minorities, and that is not tolerable from anybody.

Flemming Rose
Danish Newspaper Jyllands-Posten

Every Muslim is first and foremost an individual, with rights and obligations. In many European Muslims communities they are not able to exercise those rights. Humans enjoy human rights, not religions. Muslims enjoy more rights in Europe than in Muslim countries. Who is failing the Muslims?

Islam is a set of ideas, not a race, and people should be able to change their minds.

There is a racism of lower expectations, people apply different standards to Muslims. By publishing the cartoons, they were saying that Muslims are European and should face the same expectations as everybody else.

Rose was asked whether he would mind if one of his children converted to Islam, but his point wasn't that people 'mind'. His children would never think they might be killed for converting. It's a shame that Ramadan wasn't asked the same question.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Taqwacore SXSW Showing

For those of you who have not read the Taqwacores by Michael Muhammad Knight, please add it to your Spring reading list. If you are not very familiar with Islam, then start with Blue-Eyed Devil, which is a great personalized and street level view of Muslims in contemporary America. Then you can move on to the Taqwacores. A film has been made about Taqwacore Muslim punk music and individual lifestyles, which I hope to incorporate into teaching over the next year. Below is an article on the film showing in Austin, TX.

A defining moment for punk Islam? | Basim Usmani:

"The Taqwacores is really a film about individualism – but attention is likely to focus on the music and its sexual content. The Taqwacores, a film directed by Eyad Zahra based on the novel of the same name by Michael Muhammad Knight, is playing at the media and music extravaganza South by South West (SXSW) in Austin this March. It's exciting to imagine who will be watching at a festival that features guests such as Spike Lee, Chuck D and Devo.

I had the pleasure of seeing the film at a sold-out screening at the Sundance Film Festival in Utah last month.
Author and screenplay writer Michael Muhammad Knight and I first began communicating in 2005, when he originally reached out to me to play the character of Jehanghir in an adaptation he was scripting with a Brooklyn-based film-maker named Cihan Kaan. Budgeting issues proved fatal for that iteration, and Mike went through a few other directors before I left our fledging Taqwacore scene in America for Lahore.
It's been surreal to come back to the US three years later to a complete film and cast. In an interview, the celebrated director of Night of the Living Dead George Romero mentioned how Hollywood vetoed his first script for Diary of the Dead because it had a non-white lead.

I was reminded of Romero's words when I saw the vibrant, all-minority cast of Eyad's film. In many ways the book The Taqwacores should have been an impossible adaption to produce, with no major white characters, and its heavy ruminations on Islamic theology. In America and the UK, white audiences are not only unresponsive to minority leads, but overexposed to Muslims in particular.

The odds are stacked against the film. Eyad has taken Knight's book and trimmed it into a clearer narrative – one that begins and ends with the main character Yusef, played faithfully by Bobby Naderi. The movie follows Yusef on his safari through punk rock in America, which will likely surprise audiences. Yes, there are Muslims along the way, but the main subject in this film is Yusef's flirtation and growing disillusionment as he tries to navigate through both punk and religion. If there is a message to take from Zahra's film, it is that only you can only take what you can from the world around you. This is played out by each of the characters in their own way: burqa-cloaked Rabyah, reimagined by Naureen DeWulf, crosses out verses from the Qur'an that she finds problematic.

During the question-and-answer session after the screening, an elderly Muslim man asked the cast and crew how an unmarried woman who is obviously pious enough to wear a burqa could perform oral sex on a man. One of the crew members said that women are complicated, and dress is not a determinant in how she acts. The man said: 'Muslim women do not act like this.' There was a tense moment where the crew member responded: 'Are you trying to tell me you know more than I do, a Muslim woman, about myself?'

This movie is likely to be seen as the defining moment for Taqwacore, the way Wild Style was the defining moment for hip-hop. Many think that it was a unique feature of the Taqwacore music scene to have been inspired by a book, but so much English punk owes its own 'ultraviolence' to a fiction as well. Academics will eat up the self-referential elements of the subculture as some evidence of Generation Twitter, or whatever we've been touted as. But this relationship between people is as old as artists of different mediums being inspired by each other. In some ways, hearing my band's music open and close the movie was a testament to my enduring friendship with Knight over the past half a decade.

For other people, I anticipate The Taqwacores will be polarising. Many responded to the Muslim punk angle, which accounts for its uniqueness. But these elements are only a shrink wrap, and Eyad's adaption is not a Muslim-punk film any more than Kubrick's adaption of A Clockwork Orange is a Slavic-punk film. The film is about individualism, and how even the most rigid dogmas are, in effect, ideas we've come up with on our own. For those who are curious, the documentary Taqwacore is also being screened at SXSW.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Gender Jihad: Muslim Women's Rights

Gender Jihad is a phrase coined by Amina Wadud, an African-American female Muslim legal scholar and activist, to describe the activities of Muslim women worldwide who are attempting to improve the lives of fellow Muslim women in respect to their faith as well as work and family. 

Margot Badran has written about how women have also struggled for equal access in mosques because they often have to pray in less than ideal spaces since the women's section is often behind, above, or sometimes below (such as in a basement) the main men's hall. This makes it harder for women to hear the prayer leader during prayer, and also to hear the sermon after the prayer service. As more and more women have sought to pray publicly in mosques (to which some religious leaders object) over the last century they also want to have equal access to perform this most central religious observance.

Badran also mentions that Saudi Arabia even attempted to exclude women from praying inside the main mosque in Mecca, even though they have a special section for women inside the mosque. In 2006 Muslim women worldwide protested this attempt and thwarted Saudi efforts. Who says Muslim women are voiceless victims who cannot stand up for change?

Mohja Kahf (Univ. of Arkansas scholar, poet, and novelist) has written Little Mosque Poems to point out such discrepancies that make women feel unwelcome at mosques in the US, as a call on Muslim mosque leaders to address their needs. Muslim women in America have been heard because the first female president of ISNA (Islamic Society of North America), Ingrid Mattson, held a series of mosque meetings to show men how women felt by having them sit in the women's section and try to listen to her speak. Other organizations have followed suit and reports on the issue have been published in the attempt to address the issue in Canada and the US. See more on this topic in Altmuslimah's pray-in blog post.     

Also, UC-Berkeley anthropologist, Saba Mahmood, writes on page 72 of her work on Muslim women's religious activities in Cairo, Egypt (Politics of Piety (Princeton, 2005)) that as of 1996 there were more women preachers enrolled for certification than men. Take a look at  this youtube video for more: Muslim Women Preachers.

The pew Foundation today had a link to an article on how women activists, teachers, artists, and doctors are working to improve the general well-being of Muslim women throughout South Asia.

I view my role as a researcher and educator to focus more on what Muslims are actually doing, rather than taking part in the well-worn debates about oppressed Muslim women. People who generally make that argument seem to know very little about actual Muslim women's lives. Like most things, we need to talk in concrete terms, and when issues of oppression arise they should not be avoided, but neither should this stereotypical issue blind us to the efforts and achievements of women worldwide.

In conclusion, we should not think that all Muslim men oppose these efforts either. Actually, the renowned 10th century Qur'an commentator, historian, and legal scholar, Muhammad Ibn Jarir al-Tabari founded the now extinct Jariri legal school, which held that Muslim women could lead men in prayer if they were the most knowledgeable in the community. Khaled Abou El Fadl, UCLA Law professor and seminary trained specialist in Islamic law, currently stands in al-Tabari's footsteps by siding with him on this issue, based on the argument that intellect trumps gender.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Causes of Sectarian Violence: Resources or Religion?

I have long contemplated the issue of religious sectarian violence. I am glad to see a journalist taking issue with the subject, while all too often journalists and politicians accept religious sectarianism to be the self-evident cause of violence. Sectarianism certainly exists, but the level at which it operates as a cause of violence can vary greatly. It seems to me that religion plays the biggest role in organizing and then mobilizing violence whenever sectarianism is a real issue, but rarely are we informed about how religious leaders use rhetoric and rituals to motivate and mobilize their followers. As noted below, discussions of religious sectarian violence more often than not impede investigations into what resources are being fought over or for, such as land, water, political/military control, etc. This is something that we should always keep in mind whenever we read the code word: sectarian violence.

Here are some excerpts from the article, Violence in Nigeria: resources, not religion | Peter Cunliffe-Jones:

"Calling the killings in Jos sectarian is wrong. Resources, not religion, are the cause – made worse by bad government

Even by Nigerian standards, the city of Jos, which was the scene of hundreds of killings this weekend, is a disputatious place.

In a country where bloodshed is all too frequent, the Tin City, set in among the hills of Nigeria's central Plateau region, has gained an unenviable reputation for bloody violence in recent years – a symbol to the outside world of the supposed enmity between the country's Muslim and Christian populations.

Many hundreds – some say, up to 2,000 – died there in fighting between Muslims and Christians in 2001, when I was reporting on Nigeria for the AFP news agency. Hundreds more died in new fighting in 2008, and hundreds again died in January and this weekend.

In Jos, as elsewhere, the cause of fighting has, more often been the struggle for resources than it has religion. In Jos, my AFP colleague Aminu Abubakar reports that the original cause of the latest clash was the alleged theft of cattle, blamed by a group of settler-farmers on a group of cattle herders. Often the fighting in the north is between the semi-nomadic cattle herders (who happen to be mostly Muslim) and settler-farmers (who happen to be mostly Christian), fighting about the diminishing access to land.

'For all those who will go out and fight their Muslim or Christian brothers on the streets, there are many more (Nigerians) who will take them into their home to protect them, when fighting breaks out,' a Nigerian Islamic law student once told me, attending an animist festival in the south.

The reason these conflicts turn deadly in Nigeria is not any greater degree of religious animosity there than elsewhere, however much exists. The reason is poor government: one that fails to send in troops early enough to quell trouble when it flares and never jails those responsible when it is over. Mediation of disputes is too often left to others, too.

Religion may indeed be a dividing line in Nigeria. But politics, problem-solving and resource management hold the key to peace in Nigeria © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010 | Use of this content is subject to our Terms & Conditions | More Feeds "

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Studying Islam: Initiation through Interrogation

Everyone is by now aware of the issues surrounding security interrogations of Muslims post-9/11. The Iraqi-Canadian hip hop artist, The Narcicyst, has a relatively recent song and youtube video about this issue (PHATWA).

Also, organizations such as CAIR (Council on American Islamic Relations) document civil rights abuses against Muslims, and scholars such as Katherine Ewing and Moustafa Bayoumi have published books on this and other related issues.

So, before bombarding the blog with news headlines and commentary, let me introduce myself by way of an anecdote. Although I am not Muslim, my academic study of the religion has often confused security agents due either to my appearance or objects in my possession.

I finished my bachelor's degree in the winter of 2001 and studied intensive Arabic in Morocco in 2002. Oddly enough, I had decided to grow a beard in June 2001 while I was living in the mountainous region of northern Arizona, as I was really into hiking and being the outdoors type. After 9/11 I decided that I should keep the beard as an experiment in gauging people's reactions.

As I left the US for Morocco I was briefly detained and interrogated by a FBI agent regarding my destination, funding, and reasons for studying Arabic. But he was mostly trying to see if I became nervous in response to his rapid-fire questions. When I arrived in Morocco word on the street was that anyone with a beard was under government surveillance. I never noticed anyone following me or the like, but many people did believe that home wire-tapping was common.

Upon leaving Morocco in the summer of 2002 I was surprised that the military airport security guard did not search my carry-on bags simply because he was impressed with my Arabic as we exchanged polite conversation. However, the customs agent was very suspicious of my beard, combined with my choice to wear the traditional Moroccan jalaba robe. He interrogated me for about half an hour about my residence in the religious capital of Morocco (Fes), my contacts, funding, reasons for studying, etc. Finally, the customs agent asked me why I had a chrome hookah piece in my bag because good Muslims should not smoke. I quickly stated that although I respected Islam and Muslims I was not a Muslim myself, but only a student. He looked very puzzled and then sent me on my way as he no longer viewed me as a possible security threat. Yet, when I boarded the KLM flight to Amsterdam a flight attendant literally ran up behind me and tugged on my bag. She said that my chrome hooka piece was a potential weapon and that I must check it in, which I found to be a direct correlation between the assumption that my Muslim appearance and carrying a metal object could equal a security threat.

FYI, I am simply repeating the events and I can actually see where they were coming from despite my views on the issue.

This happened again in Austin, TX in 2008 when I missed my flight because airport security was suspicious of a metal scroll that my brother (former Army tank mechanic) had welded for me with our last name transliterated into Arabic. After explaining the story I was released with my Arabic metal scroll, but then had to wait a few hours before the next available flight.

But none of those experiences came close to a 2004 summer run-in with the police of Mathis, TX on hwy 666: bad omen anyone? I no longer had the beard, but I was taking a Mexican citizen friend to the border as he was preparing to return home with a load a vehicles he sells in southern Mexico. When we were pulled over with no explanation the chief of police searched the truck and found an Arabic book in the console. His demeanor immediately hardened and you could see the connection forming in his mind that he had found the first case of a Muslim terrorist near the Tex-Mex border, which was truly a major concern among federal politicians and law enforcement agents at the time.

After much debate I finally quoted this line from the book: sharibna 'ala dhikr il-habib mudamatan, sakkirna biha min qabla an khuliqa al-karmu (we drank to the memory of the beloved constantly, we were intoxicated with her before the creation of wine's vine). I finally got his attention and convinced him that the book was not a terrorist manual, but a centuries old collection of Sufi mystical poetry. But instead of backing off he then chose to accuse us of stealing property to sell in Mexico, and he then went so far as to accuse me of being a coyote (border smuggler). What he did not realize was that my friend was in the US legally and since the chicano police officer couldn't speak Spanish that well I ended up having to correct his understanding on several key points and ultimately translated for him. He did not even know that most other countries reverse the month and day on passports, which is what caused his confusion about the legal visa status of my friend. After disproving all of his attempts to make us out to be national security threats, he finally settled on giving me a speeding ticket.

Lesson learned: confusion often leads to heightened anxiety among security professionals, and if you can't be pinned down as a security threat then you just might get fined for the time they mistakenly wasted on you.

Well, that's my interrogation initiation story related to my ventures in the study of Islam.

Up next: world news headlines and blog commentaries.

Islam Analyst Blog: Anecdotes and Analysis

My name is Garrison Doreck and I am an adjunct university instructor in the study of Islam. I've created this blog for a few reasons:

1) to provide web links to current events involving Muslims around the globe

2) to provide analysis of issues related to Islam and Muslims for educational purposes

3) to reflect on humorous and informative anecdotes about my experience and education in the study of Islam/Muslims

On this site you will see everything from news headlines to commentary on other blogs related to Islam to stories about Muslims and those of us who study the Islamic faith and its adherents. I look forward to your feedback and hope to link up with others pursuing similar endeavors.