Al Bayan - Winter 2010

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On the quest for the perfect mate, converts face unforseen challenges

winter 2010


contents 003

letter from the editor contributors challenging ignorance fashion and femininity in the arab world

crash course: islamic architecture cover: conversion + marriage = confusion

when islam and hip hop collide eating zabiha...on the cheap! in the shadow of terror coming to amreeka privacy? what’s that? citywide connections islam in the news || things we like

Image courtesy of David Pham on Flickr, licensed under the Creative Commons.

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letter from the editor

In the past year, Muslims impacted nearly every corner of the globe. Beyond the negative examples that often made front page news, there appeared awesome individuals, like Iran’s first female Winter Olympian Marjan Kalhor, a 21-yearold who had the honor of leading her country at the Opening Ceremony. No matter what light Muslims shone in, it is undeniable that the presence of Islam is inescapable in today’s world. As students, we entered Northwestern in hopes of exploring academia and gaining a more sophisticated worldview. As we learn more, we must challenge ourselves to help others do the same. And I don’t just mean that we should build schools in undeveloped nations or work for Teach for America—although we should do those things, too. No, what I’m saying is that we need to teach each other as much as we can on an individual level. We can do it as journalists, by writing about issues that concern us. We can do it as leaders, by joining groups on campus. And we can do it as role models, by reaching out to those younger than us. But the best, and ultimately most important, way that we can teach each other is by talking. Communicating. Even arguing. Muslims commiserating about the perceived biased coverage they see in the media with each other is misplaced. Instead of complaining to each other, we should be talking to others—perhaps even those who perpetuate misconceptions about us. It’s not enough to say we’re not terrorists. Most educated people already know that. We need to tell them—and show them— how good we are as a people, and how normal. We need to highlight our achievements and acknowledge our faults. Most of all, we need to talk about these things. Not all education comes with a degree, and if we can realize Muslims’ global presence and use our ability to make an individual impact as well, we can educate the world. Amina Elahi

editor in chief amina elahi Managing editors noreen nasir nadine shabeeb photo editor asma ahmad DESIGN editor amina elahi Contributors nazihah adil farhan arshad aubrey blanche heba hasan hasan haq blake sobczak nathalie tadena rujman zaman CoVER Illustrator kenan ali

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Contributors A Weinberg junior majoring in psychology, Rujman is a pre-medicine student who has a thing for writing and food. Contributing to Al Bayan has allowed him to enjoy two of his favorite activities at the same time.

Heba Hasan


Rujman Zaman An economics major, Hasan is an active member of campus finance mentorship groups, a Northwestern basketball fan and an avid reader. This is his third article for Al Bayan and second movie review.

This Medill freshman from Long Island, NY, cosmically shares a birthday with Christian Dior and Cristobal Balenciaga. She enjoys reading, collecting fashion photography books and vintage shopping.

Hasan Haq

Blake Sobczak

A Medill sophomore born and raised in tiny Sanibel Island, Fla., he developed a passion for wildlife photography from a young age. When Blake’s not taking pictures, chances are he’s either writing, playing piano or eating spicy food.

A friend once mentioned her name in a conversation and someone replied, “She’s the crazy journalism major who’s obsessed with the Middle East, right?” Exactly. The Middle Eastern studies major spent last summer in Jordan.

Aubrey Blanche

Nazihah Adil

A grad of Emory University and Comedy Central’s Summer School, Farhan is now earning a Master of Fine Arts in screenwriting. In May, he will direct a TV pilot entitled “Prison Boat,” which he co-wrote.

In her free time, this art history and economics double major can be found gazing in wonderment at artistic masterpieces and daydreaming about her summer days lounging by the banks of the Seine.

Farhan Arshad

Nathalie Tadena

A junior journalism and political science major. Originally from Ossining, NY, Nathalie loves traveling, writing and sharing stories. She is the editor-in-chief of NU Asian magazine and the city editor for the Daily Northwestern.

Challenging ignorance If Islamophobia is the problem, what is the answer? Northwestern students and professors say it’s education. By Blake Sobczak

A Muslim man sits in prayer. Photo courtesy of Flickr user susanne anette, licensed under the Creative Commons.

Whenever Fatima Khan left home, she became a target. “Growing up in Chicago was tough,” says the 29-year-old lecturer of Arabic at Northwestern University. “I remember being at the mall as a teenager and constantly getting comments. I was harassed, told to go back to Iraq. It’s because I stick out as a Muslim, because I wear the hijab [head covering].” Khan was a victim to Islamophobia, an irrational fear or prejudice toward Islam. Since September 11, many Americans have made the religion a scapegoat for violent acts around the world, generalizing that Muslims are all vicious or reactionary. Western media outlets, which tend to stress the role of Islam in cases such as November’s Fort Hood shooting or the Christmas Day attempted plane bombing, only reinforce the stereotypes. “For many people, the only source of knowledge about Islam is the media,” explains Weinberg senior Dulce Acosta-Licea, 21. “And the media can be the worst in terms of giving you good information.” Acosta-Licea was raised as a Roman Catholic in Yorba Linda, Calif., but converted to Islam during her junior year at Northwestern. Mexican native AcostaLicea recently started wearing hijab like Khan, wrapping fabric around her head to cover her hair. Her conversion brought several unpleasant encounters with Islamophobia. “I lost a friend once I converted,” Acosta-Licea says. “Since [the conversion], she can’t even look at me or talk to me.” Several of her relatives cried upon hearing the news and one uncle blamed the conversion on Acosta-Licea’s parents. Just what is it about Islam that is so averse to these people? Nothing, really—a recent Pew poll found that the more people know about Islam, the

less likely they are to view it negatively. Islamophobes fear the religion out of ignorance. “The term phobia comes from lack of knowledge, lack of familiarity,” explains Dr. Wei-Jen Huang, psychologist and assistant clinical professor Feinberg School of Medicine. “If we’re able to educate people to respect and learn from other cultures, then we can understand each other better, appreciate our shared humanness as well as differences, and form deeper connections.” Acosta-Licea hopes to help educate her fellow Northwestern students about Islam. She is currently vice president of External Relations for the Muslimcultural Students Association and chairs the Islamic Studies Program committee. By starting an Islamic Studies program, she argues, Northwestern would better prepare its students for a world where Muslims represent nearly a quarter of the population. “Given that we go to such a prestigious university, it should be the obligation of Northwestern to make sure we have a correct understanding of Islam,” she says. The push for an Islamic Studies program began in 2008 but has been stymied by a lack of strong faculty support. “You cannot start with a large institutional structure and then fill in the blanks,” explains Assistant Professor of Religion Ruediger Seesemann. “I’m very open to [the Islamic Studies program], but I’m also realistic about the resources that we have.” Khan agrees that an Islamic Studies program would be an asset for Northwestern and could even help counter Islamophobia. “People would have the ability to educate themselves,” she says. “They would have a better idea as to what Islam really is.”


Fashion and femininity in the Arab world Meet three high fashion designers from the United Arab Emirates, one of the up-andcoming fashion centers of the world. By Heba Hasan


Photo courtesy of Rami Al Ali

In Muslim societies, fashion is an aspect of culture that has been traditionally overlooked. The donning of a hijab or slipping into a modest outfit has often been viewed as a perfunctory task, a means of cloaking oneself in inconspicuousness rather than displaying individuality. In the last few years a burst of sartorial innovation has arisen from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), transforming it from a mere importer of Western design to a major fashion capital in its own right. Dubai Fashion Week debuted its Spring/Summer 2010 line this October, attracting fashion buyers, international media and a handful of new and established talent. The event was host to several wellknown designers such as Salma Khan, Reem Ali and Walid Atallah, according to the Dubai Fashion Week website. UAE fashion has also taken definitive steps to foster new and coming talent with programs such as the Emerging Talent Competition, which gives new designers the opportunity to showcase their designs on an internationally recognized platform. Perhaps the most promising aspect of UAE fashion is the amount of international attention it is receiving. Arabian Fashion World, an event specifically created to promote Middle Eastern designers, was held in London this past April. The event, which showcased the likes of Rabia Z. and Samira Haddouchi brought in a bevy of fashion insiders, socialites and international press, with Vogue UK covering shows. With progressive fashion, UAE has become more than just a compound of fashion malls; the little black dress has become more than just a plain black jilbaab and most importantly, women’s outlook on fashion has become a balance of cultural pride and personal identity. Here you can learn about three prominent designers hot on the UAE fashion scene.

Rami Al Ali designs for a woman who “knows what she wants and tries to achieve it,” according to his design team. “Young,” “jetsetter” and “well-traveled” are just some ways to describe the type of woman Al Ali wants to dress. Rami Al Ali was born and raised in Syria. In 2001 he launched Rami Al Ali Couture in Dubai, immediately attracting recognition from Dubai’s high society. Since then Al Ali has expanded his designs to include a ready-to-wear collection as well as a selection of finely-crafted wedding gowns. Ali’s collections have garnered much international praise. His Spring/Summer collection was showcased at Alta Roma Fashion Week this January in Italy, and was met with positive feedback from viewers and critics alike. The designs featured in that line were based on a woman with a wild and impulsive personality, according to a press release. Layers of organza, taffeta and chiffon cloaked his models, who strutted down the runway decked in strong prints and vibrant hues. Al Ali blends Western silhouettes with Arabic details, crossing cultural borders and staying true to his philosophy that “design has no religion.”

Photo courtesy of Hijab Style

Photo courtesy of Amal Murad

Watching Amal Murad’s runway video of models stomping down the catwalk, it’s hard to decipher which country the fashion show is taking place in. The sleek black abayas trimmed in tartan, cloaking the models in wash of fluidity and femininity, could have just as easily be featured in a Lanvin’s runway show in Paris than in Dubai. Perhaps this is the reason why Murad’s clothing line REDAA is one the leading lines of abayas in the Arab world, because it comes across first and foremost as a collection of finely crafted clothes, only then does one realize it is a line of abayas. Citing western influences like Yves Saint Laurent and Marc Jacobs, Murad seamlessly incorporates western aesthetics with Islamic practicality, proving that style and modesty do not have to be mutually exclusive.

After studying business and fashion design in the US while donning hijab Rabia Zargarpur began to see a gap in the market for stylish, Islam-conscious clothing for women. She saw the lack of sartorial options for hijabi women as a barrier, preventing Muslim women from truly expressing their identity. From this point on, Rabia Zargarpur took on the challenge of creating clothes that were in her words “conservative chic.” Showcasing her first collection, Rabia Z., in the 2007 Dubai International Fashion week, Zargarpur’s designs were met with an onslaught of praise, prompting her to launch two new lines labeled DEMURE Couture and RUBY. Rabia Z.’s Spring/Summer 2010 shows comprised of graceful harem pants and asymmetrical tunics, seem to have finally overcome the “conservative chic” challenge that modern Muslim women are faced with every time they open their closets.


Crash course: Islamic Architecture Many American mosques appear to be distinctly Eastern. Find out what influenced them to look that way. By Asma Ahmad Islamic architecture is often associated with lavish palaces and tombs such as the Taj Mahal—or in the case of Switzerland’s recent ban on minarets —terrorism. In reality, the most recognizable elements of Islamic architecture are actually tied to the mosque, or Muslim house of worship. As Islam spread across the world, so did the architecture associated with the mosque. The beauty of Islamic architecture was quickly incorporated and adapted by local cultures. Soon, the Ottoman needle minaret could easily be distinguished from the spiral minarets of Samarra. With time, as in the case of the Taj Mahal, the architecture was disconnected from its original source —the mosque. Now, as an increasing number of Muslim immigrants leave their Islamic homelands,

America is experiencing a surge of local Islamic architecture. Elements of this style are present in modern-day mosques, just as they were during the early Islamic period. However, due to local noise ordinances and building restrictions, the architectural elements found in American mosques serve as aesthetic ornaments rather than functional objects according to Khatija Hashmy, architect with the Chicago Park District Planning Department. “The domes aren’t really needed,” says Hashmy, who was an architect for the latest addition to the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park, Ill.“They’re there more for sentimental purposes.” Here’s a quick history lesson on three of the most recognizable elements of Islamic architecture.

THE DOME A traditional symbol in Islamic countries across the globe, the dome signifies the openness of the Islamic faith. It is usually constructed as the ceiling for the main prayer hall and its great height is meant to elate followers’ feelings of connection to God and Heaven.



Perfected by the Spanish and Moroccans, the use of arches in Islamic architecture had a practical beginning: it was the easiest way to create a load-bearing doorway. Like the dome, the height of arches is meant to create a feeling of connection with God and Heaven.

All photos by Asma Ahmad. Background image courtesy of Flickr user, licensed under the Creative Commons.

THE MINARET According to Markus Hattstein and Peter Delius, authors of Islam: Art and Architecture, the minaret came from the Prophet Muhammad’s house in Medina where there was a raised area for the adhan (call to prayer). Its height serves to orient Muslims towards the nearest mosque.







Finding love is tough enough as it is. Add in being a convert to Islam and the equation gets even more complicated. So what’s the solution? By Noreen Nasir Before converting to Islam, religion never played a major part in Carey Clifford’s life—she grew up an atheist and occasionally attended a Unitarian Church with her aunts. But in 2005, after discovering Sufi prayer circles through some of her friends and researching more about Islam on her own, Clifford says her life took a drastic turn. “[Islam has] really grounded my life in a way that probably wouldn’t have happened had I not converted,” she says. “I’m a different person now. It was like a light turned on and there’s nothing in this world that can really turn in it off.” For Clifford, Islam has helped shape her life in almost every way. She proudly dons the hijab, or headscarf, and mentions a sense of “God-consciousness” whenever she prays—something she had never experienced prior to converting. But one aspect of Clifford’s life is not yet fulfilled, and perhaps became even more complicated after she accepted Islam—her search for a soul mate.

Convert Complications

Clifford is just one of many who have discovered the road to Islam in recent years. The American Religious Identification Survey conducted by the City University of New York reports that Islam has grown at a rate of 109 percent from 1990 to 2000. This is partially due to an influx of immigrants arriving from Muslim countries, but also increasingly because of the number of people converting to Islam from different religious backgrounds. With the population of Muslims in the United States only growing, finding a potential mate seems like it should be a simple task. But Clifford is going through what many Muslims report as a major problem—when it comes to marriage and finding the right spouse, the usual pressures are heightened by cultural and religious standards of conduct. For people like her, the search is only made more difficult by her

status as a convert. Not only is the quest to find a mate already limited to Muslims, oftentimes those who are born into the faith are hesitant to commit to those new to it. What’s the reasoning behind the issue? Dr. Abdel Azim Elsiddig, a certified Life Coach of Scream Free Living and a sheikh, or Islamic scholar, says that for many Muslims who are born into the religion, marrying a convert is hard because of challenges that arise in cultural gaps. Because those who are born Muslim are usually children of immigrants, he says, the values associated with ethnicity that their parents hold often remain with the children as well. Dr. Elsiddig calls it the “small-village mentality.” “Muslims who come to the United States from different countries bring their cultures and their national pride with them,” Dr. Elsiddig says. “An Egyptian will tell you that he is an Egyptian first, then Muslim. That same small-minded mentality is preserved to some extent in the children too.” Dr. Elsiddig also stresses the importance of the idea that in Islam, a marriage is not only between the bride and groom, but rather between two families. Complications then arise when members of one family—usually the parents—hold traditional

Caucasian or African American, this makes the search for a spouse all the more difficult.

Differences in Marriage Traditions

The process of actually converting to Islam is very simple—once a person has studied the religion and decided to fully commit to it, he or she simply needs to recite the shahada, or declaration of faith, with another person serving as a witness. But the idea of getting to know someone before marriage, while still maintaining a distance—both physically and emotionally—and then gaining the approval of family members on both sides can be a bit overwhelming for converts, including Clifford. “It’s been pretty hard for me,” Clifford says. “I was never really good at normal, Western-mode dating and I’m definitely not good at Islamic dating.” She says the Islamic method she has used to find a spouse is extremely “sterile.” At the same time, though, Clifford says that the Western style of dating she has experienced can be extremely dangerous. “You get your heart broken all the time,” she says. But converts don’t only have to deal with the differences in the method of marriage. Oftentimes, the biggest obstacle is getting

“I was never really good at normal, Western -mode dating and I’m definitely not good at Islamic dating.” – Carey Clifford

cultural values and are unwilling to compromise the ethnic background of their child’s potential husband or wife. Unfortunately for many American converts, who are often

past the barriers that come along with this union of two families. Some Muslim parents simply do not like the idea of their son or daughter marrying someone who was not born into Islam. But


Dr. Elsiddig says that there is no basis for this refusal in Islam. “There is absolutely no right to reject someone on that point,” he says. “If the young man or woman is a good, practicing Muslim, it no longer becomes an issue of Islam. It is then a question of whether this person’s personality and life goals are compatible with the other.” Dr. Elsiddig also mentions that if others notice that a convert is having trouble in his or her pursuit of a mate, it becomes the responsibility of the elders in the Muslim community to help him or her in the search.

Fifty-eight percent of those surveyed converted for religious beliefs or practices, versus 18 percent for marriage or family. Source: 2007 Pew study

Ibrahim Hooper, the National Communications Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), believes that the Muslim community is heading toward greater acceptance and getting away from strictly ethnicbased marriage. “People are looking more at issues of religiosity rather than issues of ethnicity,” he says. “Muslims are forbidden to make decisions for or against something based on race or ethnicity, and that includes marriage. The attitude of marrying only within one’s race— we’re definitely moving away from that.” Fresh off the heels of breaking off his engagement to a Muslimborn Afghani-American, convert Andres Betzer* disagrees. The 25-year-old government liaison for the Muslim Public *Subjects’ names changed to protect their privacy


Affairs Council in Washington, D.C., converted to Islam seven years ago and, like Clifford, describes it as the best decision of his life. The product of a truly multicultural family—his father is an Italian Jew and his mother a Hispanic Catholic—Betzer says converting to Islam shaped his beliefs and identity more completely than any other life experience. He met his now exfiancé, Deena Hassan* in 2007. Everything seemed to be going well until it was time to meet the parents. Hassan’s parents, who are from Afghanistan, don’t speak English very well and Betzer says they haven’t integrated well into mainstream society because of it. “There were definitely some significant cultural differences between our families,” Betzer says. “Some of these differences presented major barriers in terms of culture and the parents, which is what eventually led to the end of our relationship.” The two decided they wanted to get married four months after meeting each other, and brought the parents into the picture just a few months after that. According to Betzer, it was extremely difficult to win over the parents. “It was really hard to win their trust,” he says. “I had to meet with them twice with two different imams [Muslim spiritual leaders] for them to finally be convinced and alright with the situation.” Betzer says he agrees with Hooper that his fiancé’s family had no religious grounds to oppose the marriage. “They might have had cultural reasons for doing it, but as Muslims they should have come to terms with the fact that our shared beliefs come before anything like culture or ethnicity.” The main problem Betzer describes in trying to get to know Deena’s parents was that he felt as though they never fully accepted him. For example, they called him Ali instead of Andres, against his wishes. Along with the pressure of trying to fit into a family and community so different from his own, Betzer felt an added pressure in trying to win the

support of his own family. “A lot of converts face a lack of support from their families at home. That was something I definitely had to deal with after converting,” Betzer explains. “After almost seven years, my parents have finally just come to fully accept the fact that I am now a Muslim.”

There are Happy Endings

Alyssa Teddy is a Southern Californian agnostic engaged to a Muslim-born Algerian man. The 22-year-old says she feels she can relate to converts to Islam in some ways after facing some difficulties in gaining the support of her family for her decision to marry a Muslim. She mentions the stereotypes some of her family and friends held about Muslims, and their concerns about the way Muslim men supposedly treat women. “I think it was more insulting to me than to him,” she says. “More than anything, I felt bad that he had to go through that. But he’s so understanding and forgiving. He doesn’t blame them for acting like that, but it still infuriates me.”

Almost a quarter of American Muslims are converts, the majority of whom come from Christian backgrounds. Source: 2007 Pew study

Teddy got a chance to meet with her fiancé’s family in Algeria as well, which she says was an amazing experience. At first, she worried that she would be rejected by her fiancé’s family. She was surprised to find, however, that they welcomed her with open arms. “I think they would probably prefer that I was Muslim—Islam is really important to them. But they’re really open-minded,”

Teddy says. “I didn’t feel out of place at all.” The road isn’t totally bleak for converts either. Rahma Bavelaar, a graduate student at Northwestern University from the Netherlands and a Muslim convert, has been happily married to Tarek Ghanem, a Muslim-born Egyptian man, for six years. She describes her marriage as very successful, and says the process of getting married went smoothly as well. Ghanem’s family lives in Kuwait, and Bavelaar describes them as practicing Muslims who are very open-minded and accepting. Her own mother liked Ghanem as soon as she met him as well, which Bavelaar says made things much easier. Bavelaar says that cultural differences are not really a big deal for them. Growing up, she was friends with many Arabs, and he always had a very diverse group of friends as well. “I think when cross-cultural marriages work, it’s because of similar educational backgrounds,” Bavelaar says, who met Ghanem in Cairo, where they both worked as editors for Bavelaar stresses that there are many happily-married converts out there. The cultural barriers do make it harder for some new Muslims, she admits, but finding someone based on the same spiritual and educational level makes things easier.

aid in the marriage process]. And I’ve explored so many different ethnicities,” she says. Clifford met some South Asian men, or desis, that she potentially considered for marriage, but those connections did not work out in the end. “I’ve noticed that some desis are very fearful of what their families think. And that mystifies me. That ticks me off,” Clifford says. “If our hearts are inclining toward each other, then it says in the religion’s teachings that we should get married.” After meeting desi men who cared more about her ethnicity than her Convert Carey Clifford finds the search for a mate to be frustrating, citing cultural differences and as a person, Clifford her convert status as obstacles. Photo courtesy of Carey Clifford. decided to stay Elsiddig says. away from them Some Muslims are also looking altogether. to matrimonial websites to find But there is hope. Dr. Elsiddig potential mates and increase mentions that it is the duty of their chances of finding the right the Muslim community to aid converts and those having trouble person. While there are not many websites designed specifically for getting married in finding a converts, many new Muslims use spouse, and imams are just some the regular sites geared toward of the community members that mainstream Muslims to search for others like them. Convertstoislam. com is one place where many converts have posted information about themselves through profiles, looking for matches. Carey says her search is “Some [cultural] differences presented major improving now that she knows barriers...which is what eventually led to the end what she’s looking for. After of our relationship.” – Andres Betzer “trying it all,” she says she would be most comfortable with someone with a similar background—a Caucasian convert would be ideal, she says. “I really think people just end up being more comfortable with The Typical Struggle are there to help. He also stresses people more like themselves,” Clifford says. “With every mistake But Carey’s story is more the importance of premarital I’ve made, and every person that complicated than that. training workshops, especially in has come and gone, I’ve been “I’ve tried it all. Everything the case of converts, in order to able to do it better the next time” from getting set up through avoid problems arising later on in Clifford says. And God willing, it friends to using a Wali [a the relationship. will work out.” knowledgeable Muslim elder to “Communication is key,” Dr.


When hip hop and

Islam collide

Award-winning documentary “Slingshot Hip Hop,” which tells the stories of various Palestian rappers, turns out to be about more than just good music. By Farhan Arshad The jarring images of destruction in Gaza shown on CNN are hard to forget. Lost in the debate over the conflict is the effect that war has had on the youth. For the younger generation, the travel restrictions enforced in Gaza have made it nearly impossible for them to meet each other. Due to border controls, a fifteen-mile commute suddenly turns into a five-hour ordeal. Yet, surprisingly, hip hop has become a vehicle for the youth in Palestine to unite. Hip hop and Islam collide in Jackie Reem Salloum’s documentary Slingshot Hip Hop. After its debut at the 2008 Sundance Film Festival, Slingshot has won a slew of international awards. Filmed in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel, Slingshot is—on the surface—a film about the Palestinian rap scene. In reality, it portrays the struggle of the Palestinians and how their youth have gathered to make their voices heard. Salloum follows several hip hop groups as they try to find salvation through their music. She be-


This page: Da Arabian MCs. Opposite page: Mohammed Al Farra of the Palestinian Rapperz. Photos courtesy of Ferris Odeh.

gins by introducing Da Arabian MCs (DAM), who are credited with being the first Palestinian rap group. Formed in 1999 and based in Lyd, the group cites Tupac Shakur and Public Enemy as inspiration. In one of the more gripping moments of the documentary, Salloum follows rapper Mahmoud Shalabi as he enters a local bus in Tel Aviv. During their journey, Shalabi admits that he used to have a fear of speaking Arabic on an Israeli bus because other passengers would look at him suspiciously. “It makes you feel dirty,” he explains to Salloum.

His fear was so crippling that for many years he’d only speak Hebrew in public. Later that day, he is stopped by a police officer on the street and questioned for speaking Arabic—moments like this one serve as inspiration for Shalabi’s raps. On the other end of the spectrum is the emerging hip hop group known as The Palestinian Rapperz (PR), which was formed in 2003 by Mohammed Al Farra and his friends. Their music is an amalgam of fresh beats, aggressive lyrics and fiery passion. Palestinian hip hop has all the elements that you would want in a rap song. But there’s a key thematic difference: among the beats, you’ll hear mention of blaring missiles, a steel separation wall and liberation. “I was raised in an atmosphere of war,” Al Farra says. “You feel like a caged dog.” Suddenly verses about bling and self-proclaimed greatness lose their edge. You can see that Al Farra feels like a stranger in his own land, but you never get the impression that he wants revenge. On the contrary, there is an overwhelming desire for peace and coexistence. Al Farra longs for a normalcy that most in the West take for

granted, so he uses songs to express his frustration. His lyrics allow him to metaphorically escape the wall of Gaza and give him a sense of freedom. “Nobody liked it at first,” he admits. “But that changed when they realized we were doing it for our country.” Soon, his community began to see the positive impact of hip hop. Music became a peaceful way to articulate discontent. It empowered him in a way that violence never could. In reaching out to Palestinian youth through their music, DAM and PR also spread the message of peace—this summer, DAM and other Palestinian rappers will be accompanies by American hip hope artists in a tour throughout Palestine. They plan to hold workshops about the importance of different types of hip hop, ranging from poetry and breakdancing to graffiti art and rapping. Instead of leaving behind food or supplies, the groups will provide multimedia equipment for locals to use to gain their own sense of empowerment. Though music alone cannot resolve the conflict facing the Palestinians, it does give their youth a constructive outlet for their frustrations. For a group of people that has been exposed to so much destruction, music is a step in the right direction.

Suddenly verses about bling and self-proclaimed greatness lose their edge.


Eating zabiha...

on the cheap!

Reviews of the best affordable zabiha eats in the area. By Rujman Zaman

2253 W. Devon Ave. (773) 262-1900

Go to Usmania with a group of friends and order a variety of things to sample a lot of food cheaply. The nihari, a spicy curry with pieces of tender beef shank, is one of my favorites. Littered with slices of green peppers and thin strips of ginger (among much else), each bite is a little different from the last. The chicken makhni (AKA “butter chicken”), is a tamer dish that wins people over with its butteriness. It’s full of soft pieces of boneless chicken wading in a thick sauce, a combination of various spices and butter that is reminiscent of tomato soup. Chicken makhni is a safe dish because it’s devoid of the two most common pitfalls of Indian food: being too spicy and having too many bones. It’s a great starter dish for those not accustomed to Indian cuisine. These two dishes are best with the naan (flatbread) that Usmania bakes in-house. The gigantic slices have to be folded over to fit on a plate and their crispy outside and fluffy insides strike a perfect balance. A weak point of Usmania’s cuisine is the biryani’s inconsistency. Sometimes, the chicken biryani comes with some unwelcome bones. On an off day, the mutton biryani could be light on meat. The biryani shouldn’t always be avoided, but it is definitely not on par with the rest of Usmania’s dishes. Because Usmania is a sit-down restaurant that serves familystyle traditional food, expect to spend around $15 for a meal.


made seafood when they mix vats of mayonnaise with canned tuna isn’t so appetizing. I’m here to wipe those tears from your eyes. I’ve combed through many North Shore zabiha restaurants and come up with a diverse list of some of the best ones, keeping in mind price, location and type of food. So tuck that napkin in, zabster friend, and get ready to chow down. One of the most popular zabiha restaurants among college Muslims in the Chicago area, Italian Express is best known for its Greek-Indian fusion dish, the gyros sandwich. Instead of the conventional pita pocket, Italian Express stacks the gyros onto a traditional Indian flatbread called naan. A word of warning: don’t try to eat it like a sandwich. Italian Express has a habit of turning the sandwich into a clown car – it’s stacked with a ridiculous, almost dangerous amount of gyro meat. If you try to eat it with your hands, the naan will succumb to the laws of physics and tear in half. Try a fork and knife instead. You can order it normal, spicy or with cheese. The spicy version definitely has Indian influence, but (another warning) it can make even seasoned veterans tear up. Unless you are blessed with a steel stomach, take caution. The gyro itself is amazing – it’s savory and even the normal sandwich has a slight kick to it. The meat is tender, with an occasional crispy piece that adds some texture. You can simmer it down with some light cucumber sauce. For seven dollars, you also get a side of tasty fries. Another popular item is the gyros pizza, which you can also order spicy if you prefer it. An extra-large comes out to about $20 and easily feeds four. Whether you order a sandwich or pizza, Italian Express is a great place to get your gyros fix at a reasonable price.

Italian Express 2307 W. Devon Ave. (773) 761-7700

Photo by Asma Ahmad


Photo courtesy of

Being away from home can be a challenge for those who stick to a strict zabiha (pronounced zuhBEE-hah) diet. It means only eating certain meats (no pork for zabsters, as they are fondly called), and specifically those that have been slaughtered according to Islamic tradition. Day after day of the same old vegetarian food can bore a man to tears. Sometimes there’s seafood, but the fact that most places think they’ve

Pita Inn 3901 Dempster St. (847) 677-0211

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A pleasant break from the spiciness of the food on Devon Avenue, Pita Inn offers Arab food at a really affordable price (a platter and a small hummus runs for about $12). The delicious chicken shawarma platter, which is a plate of juicy slices of chicken, rice pilaf and salad, is a great choice. Add hot sauce and white tahini sauce to enhance the flavor of any dish. Pita Inn’s hummus comes with pita bread that is made fresh everyday at the bakery next door. The hummus is so delicious that whenever I’m at Pita Inn and I see a customer forgo it, I pinch myself to make sure that what I’m witnessing is indeed reality. This place also makes a mean falafel. In fact, before Pita Inn, I never really liked falafel because I always found it dry and bland. But Pita Inn’s boasts a crunchy exterior with a moist and flavor-rich interior (it’s best paired with the tahini, and it’s so good). Unlike most restaurants, the food at Pita Inn doesn’t force you into a food coma. As impossible as it sounds, the food is very filling yet pleasantly light. It’s an edible contradiction, a delicious paradox.

Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) offers fast food options from the American South. Because I eat strictly zabiha meat, I never knew how delicious KFC was before I went to the one on Western Avenue. Of course, because we’re dealing with fast food here, you have to realize that you won’t feel like a million bucks after indulging in a bucket of chicken. Then again, you’re not shelling out much money for the meal, so I guess you get what you pay for. If you are health-conscious or you just don’t want to use industrialstrength soap to get grease off your fingers, there are still options for you. One of the burgers, aptly named the “Halal Burger” (halal is nearly synonymous with zabiha), contains a piece of fried chicken with a hint of red pepper inside. It takes two of these to fill me up, but I’m a pretty heavy eater. On the upside, since it’s a sandwich instead of a bucket of chicken, it’s a lighter meal. As at any KFC location, you can expect to spend somewhere between eight and 10 dollars for a satisfying meal.

KFC 3901 Dempster St. (847) 677-0211

A friend recently introduced me to this restaurant and based on my single dining experience here, I would love to go again. Turkish Cuisine is a sit-down restaurant with a nice atmosphere, so it is a little expensive. Meals come with crispy-on-the-outside-soft-on-the-inside bread that has a subtle butter flavoring. My friends and I destroyed several baskets of this bread before even getting our entrees. I ate the Yogurtlu Adana, which features several kabobs served over a piece of bread heavily soaked in yogurt. The yogurt-bread combination plays the same role that rice would at most restaurants. At first, this seemed a bit odd, but it actually worked very well. The yogurt not only augments the savory taste of the kabobs, but it also provides a balance to an otherwise meaty dish. I have one gripe, though: “Turkish Cuisine” is probably the most uninspired name for a restaurant. It is as if the owners expended every ounce of their energy on making the food, atmosphere and service great, but were left without enough creative juice to come up with a proper name.

Turkish Cuisine 5605 N. Clark St. (771) 878-8930

Photo courtesy of Turkish Cuisine

Photo by Amina Elahi


In the shadow of terror How one family struggles to survive the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A review of Dave Eggers’ 2009 novel “Zeitoun.” By Nazihah Adil

“Zeitoun” author Dave Eggers signs copies of the novel at Books, Inc., in San Francisco last July. Photo courtesy of Flickr user Steve Rhodes, licensed under the Creative Commons.

“On moonless nights the men and boys of Jableh, a dusty fishing town on the coast of Syria, would gather their lanterns and set out in their quietest boats.”


So begins the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, the Syrian-American owner of an established contracting business in New Orleans, whose childhood memories from the coastal town of Jableh inform his experiences in the wake of Hurricane Katrina. In this masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, author Dave Eggers uses the story of a single family, the Zeitouns, to encapsulate the dystopic aftermath of the disastrous hurricane. In “Zeitoun,” the title character stays behind to watch over his home and properties as the hurricane approaches, even as his wife and four children prepare to evacuate and urge him to do the same. When the levees burst and waters flood vast portions of New Orleans, Zeitoun paddles his old canoe around the submerged streets of his neighborhood, performing rescue missions. In his mind, his choice to remain behind is validated. New Orleans is his city, and his city needs him. But the sense of purpose Zeitoun felt up to this point meets a fateful end with his unexplained arrest. What follows is an exploration of two critical government policies that intertwine in the wake of the disaster – the response to Hurricane Katrina and the War on Terror. While Eggers explores the horrific impact of these policies on a single family, the story comes to represent the genuine dangers that con-

tinue to exist for all Arab- and Muslim-Americans in the aftermath of September 11, 2001. The idealistic Zeitoun achieved his share of the American Dream through hard work and diligence, and he found a new sense of purpose in the aftermath of the hurricane. However, Zeitoun comes to the realization that his expectations had been too high, because the same institutions that were “meant to protect people like him,” Eggers writes, “were devouring anyone who got too close.” Eggers masterfully retells a story that leaves the reader no choice but to empathize with Zeitoun in the context of these egregious policies, so that the reader also comes to terms with the brokenness of the system. In the end, “Zeitoun” strikes a deep chord with the reader because Eggers does not dramatize the events, but simply employs a plain, unembellished style to recount one family’s experience after Hurricane Katrina. It sparks emotions that range from outrage to compassion, disdain to empathy, and effectively provides a detailed look at the problems of the political and justice systems in the context of two Bush-administration policies. In particular, the Arab- or Muslim-American reader is left to grapple with the unanswered question: If such a misfortune can befall a hardworking, innocent man such as Zeitoun, what lies in store for the rest of us?

Coming to Amreeka

Nisreen Faour and Melkar Muallem as Muna and Fadi. Courtesy of official site.

Despite strong acting, Amreeka fails to challenge the viewer to think differently about Arab Americans. By Hasan Haq

Regardless of your cultural background, growing up in an immigrant family in America can feel like a clash of civilizations. “Amreeka,” written and directed by Palestinian independent filmmaker Cherien Dabis explores the experience of an Arab family in post-September 11 America. The film, which premiered at Sundance Film Festival, has received much critical acclaim, including the FIPRESCI Prize at Cannes Film Festival. While the performances and screenplay make for a bittersweet drama that Muslims and non-Muslims can relate to, the movie’s effort to make a political statement on race relations is feeble at best. The plot of the film involves a Palestinian mother and son, Muna and Fadi, trying to make it in America. Muna and Fadi, living with their family in Illinois who have been in the country for 15 years, have to deal with the same issues that any immigrant family would. Muna struggles to earn a living, eventually resorting to a job at White Castle, while Fadi confronts racism at school and the temptations that face most American teenagers. Thankfully, the film is mostly devoid of the tired clichés that plague most Muslim-related blockbusters. There are no exotic shots of Mecca or men in white robes bowing in prayer. Dabis focuses on the human aspect of the immigrant experience and the culture clash to which families of all cultural backgrounds can relate. The director’s Palestinian heritage and the stellar performances account for this fresh look at Arabs in America. In playing Muna, actress Nisreen Faour convinc-

ingly performs at a very wide range. We find Muna smiling as she bonds with a blue-haired, piercedlipped co-worker at White Castle, then getting angry at racist teenagers in the store, and then becoming scared for her life as she trips and injures her back. Faour portrays all these emotions in a manner typical of any immigrant “auntie” that one may know. Alia Shawkat (“Arrested Development”) plays Salma, Fadi’s cousin who helps him get accustomed to the high school they both attend. Salma is a stereotypical bleeding-heart teenager eager to rebel against societal norms. She smokes marijuana with her African-American boyfriend and plays pranks on the jocks who tease Fadi for being Arab. There is very little in this thread of the story that cannot be found in a Disney Channel original movie. Fortunately, the realistic conflicts at home between the children and their immigrant parents redeem this trite high school storyline. From a filmmaking standpoint, “Amreeka” deserves its widespread critical acclaim. The convincing performances and authentic look at Arab culture from the human perspective make for a fresh take on Muslims in America. However, Dabis portrays the Arab family constantly at odds with American society, implicitly likening Muna to her ostracized blue-haired teenage co-worker, with little resolution between cultures at the end. Well-made movies like this have the potential to affect an entire nation’s opinions regarding sociopolitical issues, but “Amreeka” does little to push the envelope.


Privacy? What’s that? Most people expect studying abroad to come with a level of culture shock, but for one Northwestern junior, there were some other surprises as well. By Aubrey Blanche


View of Amman at night. Photo courtesy of Flickr user paalia, licensed under the Creative Commons.


I got on a plane and flew to a country where I knew no one. Well, actually, I was pretty sure I knew no one in the entire region. I stepped off the plane and prayed that a family that had received my picture a few weeks earlier would be waiting for me outside security. They were. They took me home and showed me where I would be living. I was too nervous to ask whether I was staying with a Muslim or Christian family, so I just waited to see if I could figure it out. It didn’t take long, just until my first family dinner. Little kids running around screaming, adults arguing over something, and me: staring at the enormous pile of food in front of me. It was my second day with my host family in Amman, Jordan, and I had already been introduced to my closest 60 new “relatives.” The enormous piles of food sitting in front of me were a little overwhelming, but then again we were feeding a small army. I felt like everything was so stereotypically “Middle Eastern”: hummus, pita, olive oil, tomatoes, olives, feta cheese. In an area where family and tribal traditions are older than Islam, the idea of the family crowding around a few dishes of food made me feel like a part of the family, if only in a small way. I have spent the last three years learning Arabic, or so I had thought. I have been learning Modern Standard Arabic, or Al-Fus’ha, which is pretty much like saying someone has been learning Shakespearean English and then expecting them to have a conversation. I understood about every third or fifth word of the conversation buzzing around me, but mostly things roughly the equivalent of “Oh my God!” and “Eat” (a word I never stopped hearing). The din only dipped once during the entire meal, and that was when the adhan started. As the call to prayer sounded from the mosque behind my new grandmother’s house, the adults in the room fell silent. They all stood up

and turned slowly toward what I assumed was East—toward the Muslim holy city of Mecca. I was still sitting at the table, completely unAubrey in Salt, a city north of Amman. Photo able to decide courtesy of the author. what I should be doing. I eventually chose to bow my head and act like I was praying. After about five minutes, the family concluded prayer and went back to the (only slightly comprehensible) conversation they were having before. A few days later, after I had become an old pro at pushing off the admonitions of third and fourth helpings of dinner and being silently respectful of evening prayer, the questions began. It’s common practice in Jordan to not ask questions of any visitor, no matter how unexpected, until the second or third day after they have arrived. “Are you enjoying Jordan?” “Do you enjoy being with our family?” “Are you a virgin?” That last word required a bit of translation from my host brother, and I certainly wasn’t prepared for the depth of inquiry about my life. In Jordanian society, private information, or a private life, just isn’t something that’s highlyvalued or something to be desired. Most intimate details of a person’s life are prime dinnertime conversation. There was no “getting to know you” period. We were simply family after sharing a few meals and a few nights under the same roof. Eventually, this was probably one of my favorite things about Jordan: I always felt welcome, because from almost the very beginning I had a Jordanian family.


Citywide connections A new organization seeks to unite Muslim students all over the Chicago area. By Nathalie Tadena While cultural groups on campus allow many students to find a niche among their classmates, one regional organization aims to build an even larger community among Muslim college students in the Northern Illinois area. As its name suggests, MSA Chicago strives to connect Muslim Student Associations (MSA) at different universities in the Chicago area together. According to the group’s working mission statement, the organization works to provide “an enriching reciprocal exchange of resources, experiences and ideas, as well as a coordination of common efforts, thus making a greater impact on the individual lives of Illinois’ Muslim college students.” MSA Chicago is the product of an idea first developed in fall 2007 by Amal Ali, the youth development coordinator of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago (CIOGC). Ali met with MSA representatives from Loyola University Chicago, DePaul University, Columbia College and the University of Chicago to help launch the organization. Ali said MSA Chicago aims to enrich the network among MSA students while maintaining the autonomy of each chapter. “Ideally MSA Chicago will be the tool to empower and build up the capabilities of individual MSAs to be where they want to be,” she says. Though Ali facilitates the organization in a professional role, it is the MSA students who shape and decide the organization’s direction. “We noticed that some MSAs have a lot of resources so it may be easier for them to throw events, but then there were other MSAs who had less funding and manpower, so it might be a lot harder for them to put on those same kinds of events,” says Nadia Ismail, a third-year student at the University of Chicago who has been involved with MSA Chicago since its inception. “With MSA Chicago, we wanted to strike a balance, bring everyone together and support one another.” Though Ali says MSA Chicago is still in its “embryonic stage,” it has already grown to include students from schools such as Northwestern University, Benedictine University, University of Illinois at Chicago and College of DuPage, with more than 200 students on the group’s e-mail listserv. Three community mentors who were involved in their schools’ MSAs when they were students also aid the group. The first MSA Chicago Summit was held at Northwestern in January 2008. Aamna Anwer, a 2009 Northwestern graduate, says she fell in love with the idea of bridging several different communities


that are right next to each other after attending the summit and interacting with the people who led it. “There are so many MSAs just in the Chicagoland area,” says Anwer, the group’s interim ameera, or leader. “We share many resources, especially when it comes to contacting speakers and planning events, it made sense for us to get together.” MSA Chicago’s biggest project right now, Anwer says, is the creation of an MSA Chicago shura council that would bring together and provide leadership training for members from different MSA chapters’ executive boards. Currently, MSA Chicago members have relationship-building meetings with different executive boards to gauge the challenges and successes of specific chapters. The shura council is expected to have its first meeting this spring. Now, the organization is recruiting volunteers to plan MSA Olympics, an inter-MSA chapter sports event, and others to organize a collaborative service project called MSA Serves. Additionally, MSA Chicago plans to develop a resource committee to provide event-planning information for MSAs. Anwer and the other members of MSA Chicago’s coordinating council are working to develop a longterm strategic plan for the organization. Among the group’s challenges are getting more students involved, increasing publicity and addressing leadership turnover when students graduate. Anwer says she is confident in the organization’s sustainability, noting the support from the CIOGC to promote youth programming and the success of planning a Ramadan Unity event held last year. “We’re the next generation of leaders in the Muslim community,” Anwer says. “This community is so important to all of us, it’s like our family.”

Northwestern sophomore Abdullah Malik listens to a speaker at last spring’s MSA Chicago Summit at the Norris University Center. Photo courtesy of Omar Bin Khalid.

“For [some] Iraqi women, the hunt for a husband is like, as Carrie Bradshaw and her clan might say, an expedition for a valuable treasure sunk deep within the depths of a murky sea.”

The New York TiMES

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Foreign Policy

“I’m as American as anyone else, I watch movies, I read celebrity gossip, I shop at Victoria’s Secret, I work outside the home, I’m pursuing my dreams, the only difference is that little piece of fabric I wrap around my head. Big whoop.”

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“Freedom of expression is considered sacrosanct and inviolable in Europe, but at the same time, the continent has of late practised double standards when it comes to granting the same right to Muslims, whether it’s in the form of the Swiss ban or the ban on burqas in France.”

“[T]here is a strong security imperative to prevent the consolidation of a narrative in which America is engaged in a clash of civilizations with Islam, and instead to nurture a narrative in which al-Qaeda and its affiliates represent a marginal fringe to be jointly combatted.”

Boingboing. net


“‘To have an American citizen that has risen to this kind of a rank in a terrorist organization — we have not seen that before,’ a senior American law-enforcement official said.”

“The far right Swiss People’s Party claims the minarets symbolize a politicized Islam. Opponents say the measure is a thinly veiled attack against the country’s law-abiding Muslim citizens.”

Qatar’s the peninsula


The editors dish about why they get up in the morning

Amina likes cooking, playing around in InDesign, talking in funny voices and Barney Stintson.

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David Pham describes Turkey’s famous Hagia Sophia, the Church of Holy Wisdom, as, “a central dome rendered weightless by the unbroken arcade of arched windows under it, which help flood the colorful interior with light.” In this piece and his rendering of the Mezquita (Spanish for “mosque”) that can be found in the Table of Contents, as in many of his other works, Pham takes a photograph and molds it until it truly becomes a piece of art. Image courtesy of David Pham on Flickr, licensed under the Creative Commons.