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RAMADAN BEHIND BARS | ISLAM FOR THE BLIND
Good Tarbiyah Counts
ISLAMIC HORIZONS | VOL. 49 NO. 2 MARCH/APRIL 2020 | VISIT ISNA ONLINE AT: WWW.ISNA.NET
18 Good Tarbiyah Counts 20 Parenting in a Digital World Imparting Sex Education 22
44 Incorporating Religion into the Health Disparities Narrative 46 Obesity is Curable
8 Good Deeds Done Regularly 8 MSA West 10 Leadership that Matters
48 Grow Your Own and Eat Safe
Making A Difference
52 Ramadan Behind Bars
24 Friends Like Family 26 A Universal Message
Opinion 28 Muslim Americans Need a Cyber Presence
Ramadan 38 here Professional Development, W Self-Care and Spiritual Growth Meet
55 The Origin of the Strongman in Egypt Can Chinguetti’s Ancient 57 Libraries be Preserved?
Service to Humanity
58 58 59 59
31 Islam for the Blind
Management 34 It’s Time To Act
Mazhar Jalil Aziz Ahmad Siddiqi Iman Jasim Murad Wilfried Hoffman
Islam in America 36 The Mother of Toronto Mosques
Education 40 Supporting Education in Muslim Societies by Fostering Knowledge 42 Small Steps Toward a Greater Purpose
The Muslim World
6 12 60 62
Editorial Community Matters Food for the Spirit New Releases
DESIGN & LAYOUT BY: Gamal Abdelaziz, A-Ztype COPYEDITOR: Jay Willoughby. The views expressed in Islamic Horizons are not necessarily the views of its editors nor of the Islamic Society of North America. Islamic Horizons does not accept unsolicitated articles or submissions. All references to the Quran made are from The Holy Quran: Text, Translation and Commentary, Abdullah Yusuf Ali, Amana, Brentwood, MD.
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 5
Time to Share the Blessings
s most of our readers will see this issue of Islamic Horizons about seven weeks before Ramadan, we decided to inform you of several worthy causes that deserve our support as we seek God’s blessings during this sacred month. This year, “Earth Day” coincides with Ramadan. This is also the sixth year of ISNA’s Green Ramadan campaign, which enlists mosques/Islamic centers nationwide to remember and protect our planet that, through God’s grace, produces that which nourishes our bodies and our community spirit. Interacting mindfully with our environment manifests our faith. Sara Swetzoff introduces us to Nadir and Yadira Thabatah, a Texas-based blind couple whose inspiring Islam by Touch organization is producing and distributing English-language braille Quran translations for free. It is truly a blessing to be reminded that the Book, which began its descent during this month, was meant for everyone, not just the sighted. The young couple points out the dearth of appropriate Islamic material. Even the Quran mentioned this specific community: A blind man once asked the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) a question but received no answer, because the Prophet was talking with Makka’s leaders. And so God reprimanded him: “How could you know? Perhaps he [the blind man] would cleanse himself, or he might be mindful and good counsel might avail him (80:3-4). In other words guidance is open to everyone, regardless of their abilities. Certainly, more than a few of our readers must have met those who, like Hajj Malik al-Shabazz (Malcolm X), were able to learn about and ultimately embrace Islam while incarcerated. But as Peace House DC and Vaughn 17 state, another group of incarcerated people, namely, those who cannot make their pretrial bail, qualify for zakat under the category of “freeing someone in captivity.” In fact, 6 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
those who pay these unfortunate people’s bail are fulfilling an essential religious obligation: “And do you realize what is the steep road? It is the freeing of a human being from bondage” (90:12-13). Khalid Iqbal, founder and director of Rahmaa Institute and former ISNA vice president (1990-2000), reminds us parents that we are responsible for our children staying healthy and following the “straight path” that leads to success and happiness in both worlds. Thus, we must remain involved and connected with them at all ages and do our best to instill good habits and character in them. Although it’s a little late, this issue includes an article on Muslim Canadians’ December 2019 celebration of the 50th anniversary of Toronto’s landmark Jami Mosque, the city’s second oldest Islamic center and first formal mosque. It is fondly known as Ummul Masajid — the mother of all the mosques — due to its production of many imams and mosques in the Greater Toronto Area since 1969. North American Muslims continue to build an Islamic entity in this continent, and institutions such as Toronto’s Jami Masjid are part of this heritage. Not only do we need to protect them, but we also have to advance their mission, which includes sensitizing our future generations about their centrality to Muslim life here. Therefore, here we mention the advice offered by the poet-philosopher Muhammad Iqbal: “Kareñge ahl-e-nazar taaza bastiyāñ ābād /mirī nigāh nahīñ sū-e-Kūfa-o-Baġhdād” (People of vision will create new horizons and not confine themselves to traditional mindsets, such as looking only as far as the cities [like the then-traditional centers of learning] of Kufa and Baghdad). Muslim Americans and Canadians have made their home in this continent, and it behooves us to become an integral part of its landscape. May God enrich us all with the blessings of Ramadan. Ameen. ih
PUBLISHER The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) PRESIDENT Sayyid Muhammad Syeed EDITOR Omer Bin Abdullah EDITORIAL ADVISORY BOARD Iqbal Unus, Chair: M. Ahmadullah Siddiqi, Milia Islam-Majeed ISLAMIC HORIZONS is a bimonthly publication of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) P.O. Box 38 Plainfield, IN 46168‑0038 Copyright @2020 All rights reserved Reproduction, in whole or in part, of this material in mechanical or electronic form without written permission is strictly prohibited. Islamic Horizons magazine is available electronically on ProQuest’s Ethnic NewsWatch, Questia.com LexisNexis, and EBSCO Discovery Service, and is indexed by Readers’ Guide to Periodical Literature. Please see your librarian for access. The name “Islamic Horizons” is protected through trademark registration ISSN 8756‑2367 POSTMASTER Send address changes to Islamic Horizons, P.O. Box 38 Plainfield, IN 46168‑0038 SUBSCRIPTIONS Annual, domestic – $24 Canada – US$30 Overseas airmail – US$60 TO SUBSCRIBE Contact Islamic Horizons at (317) 839‑8157 / (317) 204-0187 Fax (317) 839‑1840 E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org ADVERTISING For rates contact Islamic Horizons at (703) 742‑8108, E-mail email@example.com, www.isna.net To subscribe, please e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org CORRESPONDENCE Send all correspondence and/or Letters to the Editor at: Islamic Horizons P.O. Box 38 • Plainfield, IN 46168‑0038 Email: email@example.com
GOOD DEEDS MSA WEST CHARTS THE DONE REGULARLY PRESENT AND FUTURE BY SAIYID MASROOR SHAH Nonprofit religious and service organizations can only benefit others through the continued financial support and generosity of their members and well-wishers. Permanent staff and operational expenses, not to mention the individual members’ resources, support and donations, determine the number, scope and level of services that these organizations can provide. ISNA is no exception to this rule. Without large-scale grassroots financial support, its nationwide programs — youth camps, the annual education forums, interfaith activities, the annual convention, regional conferences, reaching out to mosques, intergovernmental activities and so on — the organization becomes less able to promote and advocate for our community’s interests and for those of Muslims at large at the public and governmental levels. As conducting these various youth, advocacy, educational and outreach programs require financial and human resources, the need for grassroots support and personal involvement in strengthening its financial base remains ongoing. ISNA has initiated two initiatives to meet this goal: the easy and convenient “Sustainer” and the “Thousand Cub” programs. All you need to do to sign up is to enroll in EFT (Electronic Fund Transfer) to make regular hassle-free donations via credit card or your bank account. For a monthly pledge of $10.00 or more, you become a “Sustainer.” For a monthly pledge of $85.00 or more, you become a “Thousand Club” member who is entitled to a free invitation ($200.00 value) to the Community Service Recognition Lunch luncheon at ISNA’s annual convention. Both memberships also come with a free ISNA membership. The pledge, which has no upper limit, depends solely upon your own comfort level. This regular good deed not only offers you convenience, but also enables ISNA to plan its future service projects realistically. Your pledge to join either program will enable us to invest in projects that benefit our youth and communities as well as to cover operational costs. As a longtime ISNA volunteer, I appeal to you to go to www.isna.net and do your good deed. ih Saiyid Masroor Shah, member, ISNA Founders Committee and chairperson, ISNA Green Initiative.
8 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
A dedicated team of West Coast Muslims continues to strive for excellence and to build a pipeline of leaders and innovators BY MSA WEST TEAM Planting seeds is, admittedly, not a particular norm for building Muslim organizations. However, plants, trees and other assorted flora so often fill their logos that a stranger could be forgiven for mistaking a typical pamphlet list of Muslim sponsors for a passionate convention of horticulturalists. Nevertheless, the profound understanding of this effort as being akin to planting seeds — with all of the related connotations of gentleness, patience, effort, vision and hope that doing so innately holds — is in full bloom with every student-led event. From the spiritual Tajdeed Retreats nestled high in California’s mountains to the annual MSA Leadership retreats and packed conferences held on college campuses, each program and initiative helps produce a crop of new Muslim student servant-leaders. We use this tradition of youth community building to provide resources that empower students who, in turn, help mentor the next generation of students unlock their own potential. For over two decades, this undertaking has been at the core of MSA West’s vision. We see a future in which our youth’s faith nurtures them to be today’s and tomorrow’s servant-leaders. We believe in a future in which the tradition of patiently and lovingly planting seeds is passed down and built upon by successive generations. And we work toward a future in which these new fruits can be used to better not just our community, but the world at large.
CONFERENCE RECAP At this year’s 22nd Annual MSA West Conference, hosted at the University of California, Davis, speakers and scholars spoke on the importance of serving for the sake of God. They, along with sponsors and vendors from across the nation, collaborated in creating a spiritually illuminating conference space. From emphasizing the tradition of seeking knowledge and serving
Bassam ElKarra conducts session on Prophetic Activism
the community to networking and building suhba (companionship), this conference endeavored to help plant a scattering of seeds — of love for each other, of submission to our Lord, and of service to God.
ISPU REPORT The various MSA chapters are often an integral space for Muslim Americans’ social, spiritual and political development. Until this point, there has been little to no data specific to Muslim American collegiate experiences. To better understand the perspectives of Muslim students in California, MSA West partnered with the Institute of Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU; https://www.ispu.org) to administer a survey during our 2019 annual conference at the University of California, Irvine. Its results provide a compelling snapshot of their unique strengths and struggles. MSA West and ISPU developed a survey of 55 questions on a range of topics about Muslim college students’ wellbeing and collected 516 responses. Topics included professional aspirations, community engagement, the significance of religion, political activism, experiences of discrimination, mental health and general demographics. The full report can be accessed at http://www.msawest.org/ispu. Some key takeaways from the study include: • In brief, 76 percent of female respondents and 75 percent of male respondents reported that they strongly agree that their faith identity is an asset in their life. • Poor respondents report greater mental health challenges than those who have fair, good or excellent family
financial situations. Specifically, they report being twice as likely as other respondents to have attempted suicide (25 percent vs. 10-13 percent). In November 2019, we convened a group of over 40 students, community leaders and experts in a facilitated design session to discuss the research findings as well as identify solutions and potential collaborations to address some of our youth’s most pressing needs.
building, story-telling, base building, power mapping, the foundations of Islam that relate to social justice and organizing, understanding the contemporary liberalism-secularism paradigm and more. We are currently in the cohort’s second annual iteration, with 25 new students in the pipeline who are being immersed in the curriculum. They will directly apply their experiences to a statewide campaign focused on countering CVE and surveillance
WE SEE A FUTURE IN WHICH OUR YOUTH’S FAITH NURTURES THEM TO BE TODAY’S AND TOMORROW’S SERVANT-LEADERS. WE BELIEVE IN A FUTURE IN WHICH THE TRADITION OF PATIENTLY AND LOVINGLY PLANTING SEEDS IS PASSED DOWN AND BUILT UPON BY SUCCESSIVE GENERATIONS. AND WE WORK TOWARD A FUTURE IN WHICH THESE NEW FRUITS CAN BE USED TO BETTER NOT JUST OUR COMMUNITY, BUT THE WORLD AT LARGE. Leaders representing organizations across the spectrum of community needs — imams, chaplains, researchers, mental-health practitioners, activists and more — shared their expertise on ways to build stronger holistic support structures. We plan to use this research and the subsequent discussions to develop comprehensive community-driven solutions that can amplify our West Coast college students’ strengths and address their challenges.
ADVOCACY MSA West has a proud, long-standing history of student-led organizing, which includes speaking out against unjust policies, both at home and abroad, such as the PATRIOT Act and the national Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program. In 2019, we launched the pilot of the Islamic Sacred Activism Cohort (ISA; https:// msawest.org/isa-cohort), which comprised five months of weekly online training centered on faith-based organizing, and an in-person two-day organizing summit. Participating students built connections and learned directly from experienced community organizers like Dr. Rami Nashishibi, who leads the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN; https://www.imancentral.org). In the ISA process, we developed a comprehensive curriculum on a range of organizing topics relevant to the Muslim student experience — for example, an introduction to faith-based organizing, relationship
on their campuses, as well as of their local communities. MSA West’s advocacy platform prioritizes addressing CVE and similar surveillance programs. These programs, which have been manifesting themselves in various forms nationally, severely impact our community’s most vulnerable members: the youth, refugees and those from low-income families. We have been actively involved in national, state and local coalitions to challenge CVE for over five years. In addition, we have taken a leadership role in opposing it on college campuses across the West Coast, partnering with organizations such as Vigilant Love (https:// www.vigilantlove.org), the Palestinian Youth Movement (https://www.pymusa.com), Stop LAPD Spying (https://stoplapdspying.org), the Muslim Justice League (https://www. muslimjusticeleague.org) and others. In January 2020, we launched a college student toolkit to educate them on CVE and its sweeping impact. We also seek to launch a webinar series with our partners in the coming months to disseminate key information about these programs and mobilize student power. With 2020 being an integral year for civic engagement, we are also partnering with CAIR-California to engage students in Census outreach. Through this collaboration, we will be working with CAIR-CA to hire 30 college students to do a critical outreach statewide to the Muslim community in order to ensure
that every person is counted. We will also be working on Get Out the Vote initiatives to ensure that college students are registered and vote in these critical upcoming elections.
LOOKING TOWARD THE FUTURE In 2018, we hired our very first full-time staff person, who provided organizational infrastructure support, launched the ISA Cohort and built key on-the-ground relationships with student leaders and community partners. We are proud of what we have accomplished over the years, thanks to the thousands of volunteer hours contributed by our student leaders, board of trustees and alumni each year. With a limited budget and a single staff-person, we have nevertheless managed to reach more than 3,000 students each year and build leadership pipelines over the past 20 years. These pipelines have developed some of the most accomplished community-driven leaders across California and the nation. To continue upgrading our critical programs and initiatives that work to support some of our community’s most vulnerable members, we need to expand our organizational capacity. This will enable us to hire staff, strengthen existing programs and create new initiatives and resources that can consistently serve thousands of students annually. During the next year, we plan to work with community partners to increase access to mental health resources for college students and thereby address a critical need that was identified in the ISPU research study. We plan to hire a second full-time staff member to focus on developing pipelines of Muslim professionals across generations of MSA West alumni. This will facilitate the creation of immense professional development and mentorship opportunities for students and new graduates, as well as expand our community-supported donor base through engagement with the decades of alumni and families who have a vested interest in the wellbeing of Muslim college students across the West Coast. To scale our programs and expand our impact, we need the community to invest in these critical Muslim student-leadership pipelines by supporting MSA West through one-time, monthly or company-matching donations. Please visit www.msawest.org/ to donate. If you have any questions, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. ih MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 9
MYNA youth enjoy canoeing during recreation at camp in North Carolina
MYNA campers create lasting friendships and bonds at camp in California
LEADERSHIP THAT MATTERS MYNA 2019 winter camps helped attendees uncover their leadership potential BY ALAA ABDELDAIEM Everyone seeks to embody “leadership,” but very few really know what this concept entails. Seeking to fill this gap in their knowledge, during Dec. 22-28, 2019, more than 275 campers from across the country gathered at MYNA’s regional winter retreats in Illinois, California and North Carolina to uncover their leadership potential by studying the sira of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and his Companions. The programs included empowering lectures, hands-on workshops, hours of icebreakers, ziplining, canoeing, hiking, archery, bonfires and more. This year, Illinois had a sold-out camp with more than 120 attendees, and North Carolina hosted its first-ever MYNA camp. “My very first moments at the camp itself, I knew something was different,” camper Amina Edavalath said. “There was warmth, love, and joy in the air. I was getting smiles from people all around me. However they weren’t just doing it because it was a polite act they felt obligated to do, but because they wanted to welcome me into their MYNA family.” “You’re a part of history,” said Illinois camp advisor Yousef Abdeldaiem, noting its record-breaking number of attendees. North Carolina campers received a similar introduction before Safiah Chowdhury 10 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
IN THE OPEN SPACES AND COMMUNITY ORGANIZING SESSION, GROUPS OF CAMPERS WERE ENCOURAGED TO NAVIGATE THEIR COMMUNITIES’ VARIOUS ISSUES BY FOCUSING ON A PROBLEM AND DEVELOPING UNIQUE AND CREATIVE SOLUTIONS TO RESOLVE IT. (member, Majlis Youth Committee) set the tone by speaking on intentions and leadership. Her session helped them understand the need for having a firm intention while serving in any leadership position: doing it for God’s sake. The camps’ early days featured workshops and recreation options. In the “Puzzling Personalities” workshop, campers in California worked to assemble an eight-piece
puzzle by acquiring different pieces from counselors, who were each assigned a different personality trait, by negotiating and working with them to learn first-hand the importance of being able to work with different types of people. In the open spaces and community organizing session, groups of campers were encouraged to navigate their communities’ various issues by focusing on a problem and developing unique and creative solutions to resolve it. The workshop furthered MYNA’s goal of empowering youth to become engaged and active leaders while giving them the relevant platform and skills. The week included valuable lessons, many of which were delivered by Dr. Jawad Shah (neurosurgeon; member, Majlis Youth Committee member), Hadia Zarzour (mental health specialist), Amaarah DeCuir (professor, American University), Sheikh Rami Nsour (founder, Tayba Foundation), Hazel Gómez (community organizer, Dream of Detroit) and Shaykha Raania Jawad (clinical director, Khalil Center). Campers were taught the importance of trusting in God as well as humility, the difference between winning and succeeding, how we should treat our leaders and other topics. “For a long time I hid from the title of being a leader,” camper and MYNA officer Salimah Hagmagid said. “I knew I held certain ‘leadership positions’ in school and clubs, and eventually MYNA as well, but … it felt like being a ‘leader’ meant that I was somehow above my peers, and that made me really uncomfortable. But this camp taught me that being a leader is an element of Islam. … So I began to understand again why being a leader isn’t a title, but rather a
First Ramadan Fast: April 24 The Fiqh Council of North America recognizes astronomical calculation as an acceptable Shar’i method for determining the beginning of lunar months including the months of Ramadan and Shawwal. On the basis of this method the dates of Ramadan and Eidul Fitr for the year 1441 AH/2020 CE are established as follows:
21st ISNA-CISNA Education Forum
RAMADAN: The astronomical new moon is on Thursday, April 23. Therefore, first day of Ramadan 1441 is on Friday, April 24, 2020. Tarawih prayer will start on Thursday night. Eidul-Fitr 1441 AH: The astronomical new moon is on Friday, May 22. On that day there is no place on earth where at sunset the elongation is 8 degrees and moon is 5 degrees above the sun. Therefore, Shawwal 1441 cannot start the next day. Thus, first day of Shawwal, Eid-al Fitr, is on Sunday, May 24, 2020. humbling attribute I should really always be working at, so I can make sure I’m not only leading others, but mostly myself, down the straight path.” The youth were often at the center of a spiritual, enlightened environment. Every group of campers delivered inspiring khatirahs (short reminders) after one of the daily prayers. In Illinois, a five-camper committee spent the night talking about the Quran and its importance in everyday life. Two campers closed it by reciting verses describing the bliss of paradise before opening it up to a group supplication, during which they shared their own supplications. “The week we spent together in Illinois touched my heart and brought me closer to Allah,” said counselor Dina Fahmi. “I will forever be thankful for MYNA and everything that this organization has given me, because weeks like that are the most life-changing parts of my life.” North Carolina’s camp featured activities like power poling, V-swinging, capture the flag and a low-course challenge competition. Every camp ended with a bonfire featuring halal s’mores and an entertainment night that let them showcase their talents and bond with fellow campers. Many of them performed spoken word and poetry or created videos with their cabin groups. “You know those moments that you live through and you know you’re gonna miss when they’re gone? That’s what I was feeling all during this camp,” Dina Hussein remarked. “Almost one month later, I’m still thinking about all the connections I made, all the laughs I had and all the impactful lectures I sat through. Winter camp was like a breath of fresh air that I so desperately needed.” ih Alaa Abdeldaiem is regional coordinator, ISNA Youth Programs and Services Department.
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 11
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April 10 – 12, 2020 Contact Email: email@example.com or Call: (317) 839-1825
Brown University Advisers Vote for BDS
According to its website, on Dec. 2, 2019, Brown University’s Advisory Committee on Corporate Responsibility in Investment Policies (ACCRIP) voted on resolutions surrounding “ethical and moral issues or issues of alleged social harm with respect to the activities of corporations in which the University is an investor.” The board comprises faculty, students, staff and alumni. However, the university clarified that it did not pass a motion approving such an action. Six ACCRIP members voted in favor, two alumni opposed it, and one abstained. In effect, ACCRIP had joined the Boycott,
Canada voted in favor of a UN General Assembly (UNGA) resolution on Dec. 18, 2109, supporting the Palestinians’ right to self-determination. It was adopted by 167 votes to 5, with 11 abstentions, and opposed only by Israel, the U.S., and the U.S.-dependent Pacific island states of the Marshall Islands, Micronesia and Nauru. 12 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to financially pressure Israel into ending the occupation of the Palestinian territories and allow full equality for its Palestinian citizens. The vote followed the non-binding referendum of March 2019, when 69 percent of Brown undergraduates supported the same motion. This recent vote came after eight months of consultation and activism pushing the university to “divest from companies that profit from Israeli human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories.” ih The resolution, which reaffirmed “the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination, including to their independent State of Palestine,” urged states and UN agencies “to continue to support and assist Palestinians in the early realization of their right to self-determination,” stated the UN press release. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau reversed the course set in 2006 by former Conservative prime minister Stephen Harper, under whom Canada regularly voted against or abstained from the 16 recurrent UNGA resolutions on Palestinian issues every year, including on East Jerusalem, sovereignty over natural resources and Israeli settlements. “Although it was a slow process … I am delighted,” said Riyad Mansour, Palestinian envoy to the UN, as quoted by CBC, adding that the vote was “very significant, very positive.” The Third National Muslim Boy Scouts Jamboree will be held during July 12-18, 2020, at Camp Turrell, Cuddebackville, N.Y.,
under the cooperation of the National Islamic Committee on Scouting and the Boy Scouts of America. Located in the heart of the Catatonic Mountains, the 1,200-acre Camp Turrell on the shores of the 314-acre Crystal Mine Lake has hosted Scouts for more than 65 years. The camp is easily accessible from most major metropolitan areas, including New York City and Philadelphia. The program includes 45 BSA merit badge classes, high adventure options and special BSA religious emblem award workshops. Daily and Friday prayers will be offered at the camp mosque, and halal food will be provided. Participants are expected from across the nation and around the world. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has issued new national guidelines to its 142 federal prisons. These recommend accommodating group prayers for Muslim prisoners after inmate William Doyle sued the United States Penitentiary McCreary, a Kentucky high-security federal prison, in 2018 for restricting congregational prayer to groups of three or fewer prisoners and requiring them to request staff permission before praying, reported Aysha Khan of the Religion News Service, Dec.18, 2019. The agency has recommended that all federal prisons accommodate this worship service unless there is a security concern, after Muslim Advocates appealed a court decision upholding a federal prison’s right to limit such services to three people. “This new group prayer guidance sends a clear signal to all prisons that the right to pray should not be denied, regardless of faith,” said Muslim Advocates staff attorney Matt Callahan. After representing Doyle in his March appeal of the district court’s decision, the prison revoked its policy and the Bureau of Prisons revised its recommendations on Muslim group prayer. These recommendations are sent to all federal prisons in its Religious Beliefs and Practices manual. The new guidelines replace previous recommendations of limiting group prayer to two or three inmates, which McCreary had been following. Now, the agency said, inmates’ requests for group prayer should be handled just like all requests for group activities. Staff should accommodate these requests unless they would jeopardize the facility’s security or order.
U.S. District Court Judge John Tunheim awarded Aida Shyef AlKadi, 57, of Minneapolis $120,000 in compensation for being forced by Ramsey County jailers to remove her hijab and strip after being arrested for a traffic offense in August 2013. Al-Kadi, born and raised in Ohio, moved to Minnesota in 2005 so her daughter could receive specialized medical care. She said that in June 2013 she had taken her daughter to the hospital for an emergency, which caused her to miss a court hearing in Ramsey County for driving without her driver’s license. The judge issued a warrant for her arrest. Along with the payout, the settlement includes having the jail put specific rules in place on how to accommodate inmates with religious headwear during the booking photo process. Speaking at CAIR-Minneapolis office, Al-Kadi said, “It was one of the most humiliating and harmful experiences of my life. I knew that I did not want any other Muslim woman to experience what I did.” Caitlinrose Fisher, one of the attorneys who represented Al-Kadi, said it was a case that “had the potential to strengthen the protections for detained women that are Muslim across Ramsey County, Minnesota and the United States.” The county, while not required to admit wrongdoing, agreed to destroy all hard copies and delete any electronic versions of Al-Kadi’s booking photo. Also, the sheriff ’s office must train its corrections officers on policies concerning inmates and the religious accommodations they require. ih
On Dec. 6, 2019, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit overruled a lower court’s 2018 order that Virginia’s Red Onion State Prison could prevent Alfonza Greenhill, an observant Muslim prisoner, from participating in a group prayer session via closed-circuit television. Muslim Advocates (https://muslimadvocates.org), the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association (http://therra.org) and Interfaith Alliance (https://interfaithalliance.org) filed an amicus brief in his support. Greenhill was placed in a disciplinary program that restricted his ability to speak to other prisoners or access certain benefits. However, the prison not only restricted his access to entertainment and socializing, but also prevented him from attending and even watching Jum’ah on a closed-circuit television, although it was readily available. Further, due to prison restrictions on facial hair, prison officials refused to let him attend Jum’ah services. The lawsuit challenged the prison’s actions, claiming that federal law required it to accommodate religious practices even while he was in a disciplinary program. Muslim Advocates staff attorney Matt Callahan said, “The Fourth Circuit’s ruling makes clear that courts and prison officials need to respect the high bar that federal law sets for restrictions of religious practice,” adding that the judgment “provides an important precedent for other people of all faiths who are fighting for their religious freedom.”
organizations that have dedicated time and resources or have supported it. More than 200 guests attended. Founded in 2015 by Chama Ibrahim and Fakiha Khan, NFS seeks to “help strengthen and foster healthy families and promote a shifting of cultural norms that can be misused to perpetuate domestic violence” and to “fill a need in the community for confidential, culturally-sensitive services and assistance to immigrant/refugee communities experiencing crises due to family violence and abuse.” Staff members’ linguistic and cultural knowledge has enabled them to help over 300 clients. Co-founder attorney Fakiha Khan highlighted the organization’s client services, such as back-to-school drives and Eid gift collections for children. She also touched on their intensive Grief Recovery program, which allows survivors to deal with their trauma in a manner similar to those who have lost a loved one. Executive director Ibrahim and Board Member Zareen Hassan recognized and presented gifts to NFS’s community partners, volunteers and staff for their dedication towards “ending the cycle of violence” and “expanding [the] reach and strengthening [the] programs and services.” Judge Traci Carson delivered the keynote speech.
CAIR-MN executive director Jaylani Hussein and the mothers of the teenage boys involved in the 2018 incident announce a settlement has been reached with the Minneapolis Park Police.
The Atlanta-based Noor Family Service (NFS; https://noorfamilyservices.org) held its “Gratitude Gala” on Nov. 11, 2019, to recognize and give back to individuals and
Families of four Somali-American teenagers who said they feared for their lives when they were detained by Minneapolis Park Police officers in July 2018 reached a $170,000 settlement with the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board announced on Jan. 22, which was facilitated by CAIRMinneapolis. Each family will get $40,000 to settle MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 13
COMMUNITY MATTERS ACHIEVERS
Nike launched its Nike Victory Swim Collection on Feb. 1 for women who prefer to wear modest swimwear. The company says that its collection — the Nike Victory Full-Coverage Swimsuit (with swim separate options), the Nike Victory Swim Hijab, the Nike Victory Swim Tunic Top and the Nike Victory Swim Leggings — brings performance innovation to modest swimwear: “Nike Victory Swim revolutionizes modest swimwear with an innovative head-totoe system for seamless water flow and lightweight, quick-dry material with UPF 40+ sun protection.” In its press release, Creative Director and Vice President Martha Moore pointed out that “Inspiration for the collection began with athletes’ passionate responses to the Nike Pro Hijab the discrimination complaint filed with the state Department of Human Rights. The rest of the settlement funds will cover attorneys' fees. The July 10, 2018, incident at Minnehaha Park drew widespread attention after a bystander recorded part of it and posted the video online. The teens were handcuffed, and at one point an officer drew his gun and pointed it in the direction of the teens. The teens have said they were just having fun with friends when they were detained. The officers were responding to a female 911 caller who falsely reported that four teens were following her boyfriend and wielding knives and sticks. Park police released the four teens after finding they were unarmed. 14 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
— and Nike designers’ determination to continue innovating for athletes of all backgrounds, body types, abilities and aspirations. As designers continued to observe athletes, they noticed a striking lack of apparel for water sports — specifically for female athletes who don’t want to choose between modesty and comfortable and confident movement. Athletes told Nike that existing products lacked either coverage or functionality, which made them feel weighted down by baggy garments, battling drag instead of striving toward personal bests or worrying about whether their hijabs and coverings would remain in place. Too often, athletes said, swimwear presented a barrier, rather than a conduit, to enjoying the water. ih Witness accounts also contradicted the 911 caller's story. Selaedin Maksut was appointed executive director of the New Jersey CAIR chapter, on Dec. 27, 2019. Maksut, who received his BA from New York University (Middle Eastern and Islamic studies) and his MA from Columbia University (religious studies), has traveled to Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Kosovo and other countries to study Islam and Muslim societies in academic and traditional settings. He also gained community leadership and nonprofit experience while volunteering as the vice president of the New Jersey-based Muslim Network (https://www.themuslimnetwork.org/about-us). ih
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) were voted newsmakers of the year in the 2019 Religion Newsmakers of the Year for 2019. The Democrats, who took office in Jan. 2019 as the first Muslim congresswomen, immediately became the center of bitter controversies challenging the bipartisan consensus on U.S. aid to Israel. The votes were cast by members of the Religion News Association in its annual Top 10 Religion Stories and Newsmaker of the Year Poll.
Rouhy Shalabi (Northern Illinois University ‘81) became Cook County’s (Ill.) first elected Muslim Palestinian American associate judge. Prior to being elected on Dec. 9, 2019, he spent 35 years as a sole practitioner of his eponymous law firm, where he litigated civil and criminal trials, personal injury matters, divorce matters and closed on residential and commercial properties. Shalabi has been active in the community for decades. In 2002, Mayor Richard M. Daley appointed him as the first Arab-American Commissioner to the City of Chicago Park District. He eventually became one of the city’s longest-standing commissioners. In addition to being the first Arab-American appointed to the Board of Commissioners, Chicago Commission on Human Relations, Shalabi has held numerous other positions: first president of the City of Chicago Advisory Council on Arab Affairs, a founding member and former president of the Arab-American Bar Association, a member of the Cook County Circuit Court’s Racial
Sumbul Siddiqui’s swearing in (Photo © Marjorie Decker)
Sumbul Siddiqui, who has earned a BA in public policy and American institutions (Brown University; with honors) and a doctor of law degree (JD) (Northwestern Pritzker School of Law) became Massachusetts’ first Muslim mayor on Jan. 6, when she was elected by her fellow city councilors. A long-time Cambridge resident, Siddiqui, who has served on the council since 2018, told the Cambridge Chronicle, “To me, [my parents’] effort is heroic, and there are countless stories like it here in Cambridge.” Her top priority is affordable housing in “a city that everyone wants to live in, and it’s very difficult,” Siddiqui said. Her activism in Cambridge earned her a Cambridge Peace and Justice Award. ih
and Ethnic Committee, the State Attorney’s Hate Crimes Commission, the Multi-Cultural Advisory Committee on the Media, the Family Violence Prevention Council and president of two Chicago local school councils. Shalabi has been interviewed and appeared on numerous media outlets regarding his legal expertise.
Attorney Varisha Khan was elected to Washington State’s Redmond City Council (2020-21) by a margin of 66 votes to become one of its seven members and as well as one of the state’s first-ever Muslim women elected to a city council. Celebrating her victory on Dec. 6, 2019, Khan told her town newspaper, The Cascadia Advocate, “If we learned anything, it’s that every single vote matters. One vote matters.
One vote would have kept us out of recount. 66 votes put us over the edge. More to come. For now, I’m going to eat breakfast and get ready for Friday prayers.” On her way to victory, her opponents attempted to smear her for alleged “extreme socialist and anti-Semitic beliefs.” In 2016 she served as a presidential elector for Washington State, casting the official vote for the 1st Congressional District. Khan is also founder and director of the University of Washington’s Middle Eastern Student Commission.
Dr. Letitia Plummer was sworn in on Jan. 2 as the Houston City Council’s member at-large — the first Muslim woman elected to the post.
She said, “I am proud to be the first Muslim woman on the Houston City Council. I come from a mixed-faith family, and because of that I have always appreciated the many different faiths in Houston. I am a believer in breaking down barriers, celebrating our similarities and working through our differences. Thanks to my upbringing, I have learned to fight for justice for everyone. I will always be an advocate for interfaith coalitions for the betterment of our society.” Plummer has a rich family history in Houston. Her grandfather was at the forefront of the civil rights movement in Houston and became the first African-American judge in Texas. Her father made a home there with his Yemeni-born wife, became a dentist and provided health care for the underserved — a practice that she continues today.
Yasyf Mohamedali (MIT ‘17), the son of physicians practicing in rural Canada, was named among Inc.’s Rising Stars of 2019. He met his business partner through the Dorm Room Fund pre-seed investment fund and co-founded Karuna Health, which makes it easier for care managers to help their patients deal with the complexity and frustration of patient management. He was named among the 15 Incredibly Impressive Students at MIT. As an MIT student, he became part of the startup Foxtrot, which helps execute deliveries for companies of all sizes. He helped architect, search, engineer and build the company from scratch. He built and maintained MIT Textbooks, a search engine for college classes and marketplace for books used by half of MIT’s undergraduates, as well as tens of thousands of other books each month. The site allows users to search, plan and schedule classes as well as integrates with MIT’s registration services, Google calendar and Amazon. While participating in MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 15
COMMUNITY MATTERS hackathons, he developed a way to control your computer by text messages or phone calls as well as a service that turns email into physical letters. He has volunteered on the Ismaili Council for Canada’s communications and publications team.
Abdul-Munim Jitmoud receives the award from Dr. Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Malaysian minister for Islamic affairs.
Ahmed M. Beshry (University of Alberta, ‘15, computer science and chemistry), was listed among the Forbes 30 Under 30 2020 in the retail and e-commerce sector, and Inc’s 30 Under 30. He is a cofounder and chief technology officer of Caper, which delivers AI-powered shopping carts for grab-and-go retail. The technology not only streamlines checkout, but also interfaces with shoppers through its screens on the cart to deliver product details, recipes and tailored recommendations as they shop. To date, Caper has raised more than $13 million in funding with backing from investors. Beshry said his company’s smart carts, which Canadian-based Sobeys, one of North America’s largest grocery chains, started using last year, go “a step further” than the Amazon system, since they both recommend food and locate items.
Aprar Hassan, 17, has won national championships in karate for two consecutive years. According to NBC News (Nov. 23, 2019), she has her sights set on qualifying for the 2024 Olympics after gaining more experience in international competitions. 16 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
Abdul-Munim Sombat Jitmoud, the father who two years ago forgave Trey Alexander Relford for his role in killing his son, was chosen as Compassionate Icon (Rahmatan Lil Alamin Icon) for his exemplary compassion to global societies, reported Bernama.com, on Dec. 20, 2109. Jitmoud, a former teacher and principal in several U.S. Islamic schools, says that when asked how he had the strength to be so compassionate, he replies that he hoped his son’s killer would have the chance to know Islam. His forgiveness of Reford on Nov. 7, 2017, shocked everyone in court, including Judge Kimberly Bunnell, who could not hold back her tears. His son Salahuddin was stabbed while delivering pizzas on April 19, 2015, in Lexington, Ky. Relford is currently serving a 31-year prison sentence. Dr. Mujahid Yusof Rawa, Malaysia’s minister for Islamic affairs, who presented the inaugural award on Dec. 20, 2019, at Kuala Lumpur’s Putrajaya Islamic Complex, stated that his ministry was planning to appoint Jitmoud as “compassionate ambassador” to help the government’s effort to promote its Compassionate Icon policy in the country. Jitmoud, originally from Thailand, also gave talks at several institutions, including the International Islamic University Malaysia. ih Karate makes its Olympic debut at this year’s summer games in Tokyo. In addition to her Olympic aspirations, this soon-to-be college student would like to be the first Muslim woman to represent Nike’s Pro Hijab in karate. Currently, Olympic fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad and five-time Berlin boxing champion Zeina Nassar are the faces of Nike’s ad campaign. The World Karate Federation approved the use of hijabs in competitions within the last five years. Before that, no head coverings were allowed during such events. The hijab-clad Brooklynite is also a trailblazer: the first Muslim teenager to compete on the Amateur Athletic Union’s USA National Karate Team. The only girl among three brothers, Hassan had also competed in the girl’s 15-to-17 age division. Her father Yasser Salama, an Egyptian immigrant who arrived in 1996, had competed with the Egyptian national karate team and is a full-time karate teacher with his own dojo.
She tried her first karate class at the Muslim American Society (MAS) Youth Center when she was three. Two years later, she was competing in the U.S. national championships. Hassan won her first national title in 2017. Karate competitors can score points throughout a round, until someone reaches six points. She won her final championship round 6-5, knocking her opponent to the ground after just 2 1/2 minutes. Hassan often has to inform judges and fellow competitors why she wears additional clothing — an athletic cap and a white turtleneck underneath her robe — while competing. A judge at the 2018 World Karate Championships in Scotland nearly disqualified her on the grounds that competitors are not allowed to wear a white shirt under their robe. While Hassan was ultimately allowed to compete after explaining that her modified attire was for religious purposes, other Mus-
lim female athletes have not been so fortunate. In Oct. 2019, 16-year-old Noor Abukaram was disqualified from a track meet because she competed in her hijab without getting prior approval from the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
Dr. Seema Imam, board chair, Islamic Schools League of America (https://theisla. org), was recognized and celebrated with a lifetime achievement award by the nonprofit A Continuous Charity on Nov. 23, 2019. The organization provides interest-free loans to Muslims in the U.S. Thus far, it has supported over 170 students. However, this is only a fraction of what our community needs. The beneficiaries, many of whom are from Chicago, have had life-changing experiences.
designed to help dispel misconceptions about Islam. Mohamed said, “As our nation witnesses a rise in hatred and discrimination targeting people of different faiths and backgrounds, I am proud to be joining CAIR to protect civil rights and religious freedom.”
S aleha Jabeen (left) signs recruitment paperwork after her commissioning ceremony Dec. 18, 2019, at the Catholic Theological Union, Chicago ( (c) U.S. Air Force photo/ Tech. Sgt. Armando A. Schwier-Morales)
Saleha Jabeen, who was endorsed by ISNA, was commissioned as a second lieutenant in Chicago at the Catholic Theological Union by the U.S. Air Force chief of chaplains, Dec. 18, 2019, becoming the first female Muslim chaplain in the Department of the Defense, said a USAF press release. While in the Army Medical Corps, Jabeen received opportunities to work alongside chaplains and help out her fellow soldiers.
Her journey in the Air Force chaplaincy has just begun. She is scheduled to complete training and will then be assigned to a duty station where she will support airfare personnel. Along the way, she hopes to continue inspiring people and breaking barriers. Military chaplains are religious ministry professionals who support the spiritual needs of military personnel around the world. The Department of Defense has service members of many faiths and those of no faith, but the DoD didn’t have a female Muslim chaplain. “Any time we advance religious freedoms, it’s a win for all persons of faith,” said Maj. Gen. Steven Schaick, Air Force chief of chaplains. “The fact is America is a place where the Constitution guarantees your freedom to embrace or abstain from religious ideals, and the Chaplain Corps, which Jabeen just entered, exists to ensure every Airman has a religious freedom advocate. This is a big day not just for Muslims, but for persons of all faiths. I could not be more proud of our Air Force for being willing to commission and embrace the first female [Muslim chaplain] in the Department of Defense.” Jabeen said, “When other people look at what I have done, I want them to know that God has a plan for you and to go out there and be the best version of yourself and accomplish the mission you were specifically designed to complete. Don’t let anyone or anything stop you and when they try — be kind, be generous, be resilient and don’t quit.” ih
Christine Mohamed took charge as CAIR-Pittsburgh’s executive director on Dec. 12, 2019. Before joining, she had spent more than 20 years in the advertising and business development industry and, in her capacity as her mosque’s program director, managed a “Help for the Convert” support group. She also taught “Lions, Tigers and Muslims ... Oh My” at Carnegie Mellon University as an Osher instructor. The class was MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 17
Good Tarbiyah Counts Instilling good habits and character in your children BY KHALID IQBAL
y parents always reminded us to be environmentally friendly. We were told, “Turn off the lights and fan when no one’s in the room” or asked “Why is the TV on when no one’s watching it?” My father especially reminded us of the hadith, “Do not waste water, even if you were at a running stream” (“Sunan Ibn Majah,” 425), when we would brush our teeth, make wudu’ or take a bath. We never liked these constant reminders, and so I always thought I’d be free of them when I became older. Until one day when I read the story of a young man with a similar situation ... He became extremely happy when he got a job interview in a different city, for he was excited about the possibility of getting his first job. But he was even more excited that he didn’t have to tolerate his nagging parents’ constant reminders.
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As he was about to leave for the interview, his father advised him to “answer the questions without hesitation. Even if you don’t know the answer, mention that confidently.” His father then gave him more money than he actually needed to take the interview and to celebrate his new job, as if he was certain of his son’s success. When they young man arrived for the interview, he noticed that there were no security guards at the gate. The door was open, but its latch was sticking out and could potentially hit and hurt the applicants going inside. He fixed the latch, closed the door and went inside. On both sides of the pathway he saw beautiful plants. The gardener had kept the water running in the hose. But he had gone somewhere, and now the water was overflowing onto the pathway. So he picked the hose up and placed it near a plant before he proceeded.
There was no one in the reception area, only a notice saying that the interview would be held on the second floor. He slowly climbed the stairs. Noticing a light that may have been turned on last night was still on at 10 a.m., he remembered his father’s admonition, “Why are you leaving the room without turning off the light?” Even though his usual irritation arose, he turned it off. Upstairs in a large hall he saw many fellow aspirants sitting on chairs, waiting for their turn. He looked at them and wondered if he even had a chance. Entering the hall with some trepidation and stepping on the welcome mat placed near the door, he noticed that it was upside down. He straightened it out feeling the same irritation. Old habits die hard. He could see the young people going into the office and coming out immediately from another door. There was thus no way anyone could guess what the interviewers were asking. When it was his turn, he went and stood before an interviewer with some concern. The man took his papers and, without looking at them, asked, “When can you start?” Startled by the question, he thought, “Is this really true, or is it a trick question?” Confused, he said nothing. “What are you thinking?” the interviewer asked. When he expressed his surprise at being hired without being asked any questions, the interviewer responded, “We don't ask questions here, for that doesn’t help us assess anyone’s skills. So we decided to
assess the candidates’ attitude. We designed certain tests and observed their behavior through closed circuit television. Today, you were the only applicant who did anything
EVERY PARENT WOULD LIKE TO SEE THEIR CHILDREN STAY HEALTHY AND TAKE THE RIGHT PATH THAT WILL LEAD THEM TO SUCCESS AND HAPPINESS IN BOTH WORLDS. BUT TO DO SO, THEY MUST BECOME MORE INVOLVED AND CONNECTED WITH THEIR CHILDREN AT ALL AGES AND DO THEIR BEST TO INSTILL GOOD HABITS AND CHARACTER IN THEM.
about the latch, the hose, the welcome mat and the uselessly running fans or lights. And that’s why we’ve decided to hire you.” The young man had always been irritated by his father’s discipline and advice. Upon reflection, he realized that his father had, in effect, gotten him his job. He felt his irritation and anger vanish instantly and completely. He felt proud of what his father had taught him and went home happily. Our children today are growing up in a different environment than we did, one that is confronting them with many problems that we never faced. Their parents and elders are obliged to teach them how to navigate the tremendous pressures and make the choices that are right for them, of course within the Islamic parameters. A good reminder delivered in a friendly way is worth repeating often, even if doing so initially irritates our children. Parents should be aware of the issues their children are facing, listen to them with an open mind and be willing to understand their viewpoint. Every parent would like to see their children stay healthy and take the right path that will lead them to success and happiness in both worlds. But to do so, they must become more involved and connected with their children at all ages and do their best to instill good habits and character in them. As Muslims, we need to instill good tarbiyah (increase, nurture, rearing, growth or loftiness) into them so that they can make good decisions while growing up in an open society. Sometimes our children need to be reminded and pushed to excel and reach their full potential. Parents are responsible for providing such guidance, for this will help their children resist the temptations of today’s world and follow the sirat al-mustaqeem, the straight path of Islam that leads one to success in both worlds. Remember, a rock doesn’t become a beautiful sculpture if it resists the pain of the chisel that is chipping parts of it away. For our children to become good human beings, they need to accept the parental discipline that “chisels” out their bad habits and behavior. ih Khalid Iqbal, founder and director of Rahmaa Institute (www.rahmaa.org) and the author of “Anger and Domestic Violence Prevention Guide for Muslims,” conducts an anger management course based on the Quran and Sunna, has developed a premarital training course for Muslims and was ISNA vice president from 1990-2000. Please email your comments on this article to Rahmaa.Institute@gmail.com.
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 19
Parenting in a Digital World Keeping your children properly centered BY MADIHA TAHSEEN
li (not his real name) comes home from school one day and storms into his room. Throwing his phone aside, he yells, “I’m sick of this — I don’t get why they’re doing this to me!” After much persuading, he tells his mother that he’s being bullied online and that, as he’s always using his phone, he can’t escape it. Sound familiar? Teens spend nine hours on average on social media, compared to seven hours of sleep (V. Rideout and M. B. Robb, “Social Media, Social Life: Teens Reveal Their Experiences,” 2018). But exactly what are our children being exposed to? Just like many other things we encounter daily, digital media use does have its beneficial and negative aspects. A 2006 Kaspersky Lab Consumer Security Risks Survey found that 41 percent of children were exposed to online threats — inappropriate content, cyberbullying, dangerous strangers and more — in the past year (Family Online Safety Institute, Nov. 7, 2016). As one 13-year old boy states, “[Social media] gives people a bigger audience to speak and teach hate and belittle each other” (Pew Research Center, “Teens, Media, & Technology 2018”). 20 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
It’s no longer about “if ” our children use social media — it’s about “how.” And this means that we must shift our perspective to teaching them how to use this technology responsibly. How can we do this? The Family & Youth Institute (www.TheFYI. org), a research and education institute that seeks to empower Muslim American
IT’S NO LONGER ABOUT “IF” OUR CHILDREN USE SOCIAL MEDIA — IT’S ABOUT “HOW.” AND THIS MEANS THAT WE MUST SHIFT OUR PERSPECTIVE TO TEACHING THEM HOW TO USE THIS TECHNOLOGY RESPONSIBLY.
families and individuals, has developed a digital parenting toolkit to help parents better direct and guide their children’s media usage: http://www.thefyi.org/toolkits/ the-fyi-digital-parenting-toolkit/. As a parent, how can you help them navigate the digital world safely and responsibly? • Talk about it. Start and revisit the conversation about social media often to keep your family mindful about their digital media usage. Raise their awareness about the potential dangers they may face and explain that digital media is a resource like any other — it can lead to harm or yield great benefits. • Listen to your children. Try to understand how they perceive and experience the social media sphere and who they’re engaging with. Ask them about how they’ve seen others use media, as well as the associated challenges and benefits. • Be a digital mentor. Involve yourself in their digital media experience by following them on social media and talking with them about things you’ve seen or shared or posts they’ve liked or created. Share and discuss content that they may find interesting. And, remind them about who they should keep in mind while browsing and sharing: God and then family and friends whom they look up to and respect. • Familiarize yourself with the landscape. How do your children spend their time online? Download the apps they use and do your own research to understand what they experience. Explore, install and use parental controls to monitor their activity. • Model good digital citizenship. Your children will do what you do, not what you say. Therefore, be the model. Reach and then keep mutually acceptable agreements with them. Be aware of how many hours you spend online. And always practice what you preach, for your children are watching. Utilizing these guidelines will help you to develop intentionality, ownership and Godconsciousness in your children. Explore the Family and Youth Institute’s Digital Parenting Toolkit for more resources on proactive digital parenting. You can reach us at www.thefyi.org or firstname.lastname@example.org. ih Madiha Tahseen, Ph.D., research and translation manager, The Family and Youth Institute.
Imparting Sex Education is a Parental Prerogative Are Muslim parents taking charge of their children’s sex education before public schools give them their value-free dose? BY M. BASHEER AHMED
s a psychiatrist, I’ve been treating individuals and families with emotional problems for over 50 years. In the last two decades, I’ve seen more and more families under stress due to their children’s promiscuous sexual behavior. Perhaps one reason for this is the widespread taboo on talking about sex. Yes, the talk about the lack of sex education in the Muslim community is an oft-repeated complaint, but we need to keep reminding ourselves about it for the sake of our children’s future. In my own practice, teenaged and young women have shared stories about being sexually abused by close relatives or sexually exploited by friends. None of them had shared their experiences with their parents. I’ve seen depressed female patients in their 40s who were sexually abused as little girls by their uncles or older cousins. They also never shared these experiences with anybody due to feelings of guilt, shame and that nobody would believe them. Thus they ended up living with chronic depression for years. Now in a more sexually permissive environment, young girls are even more vulnerable. 22 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
Most boys never talked about their sexual experiences, and even if they are sexually active they never experience the same shame and guilt as girls. In reality, rules are often bent to benefit males of all ages. For example, Muslim women who have premarital sex are widely believed to bring shame on themselves and their families, which can lead to “honor killings.” No such shame or consequences attaches to sexually active unmarried men, despite the clear fact that the Quran itself makes no such distinction (Q. 24:2). And yet unmarried men don’t face the same consequences as unmarried women, for the rules are bent to inflict more shame and harsher penalties on women, as well as potential losses up to and including their lives. The general view is that girls are supposed to have higher control against their desires for the opposite gender. Good girls shouldn’t get sexual thoughts. Muslims need to acknowledge that women and men experience the same sexual thoughts and desires, and both should be taught to control them. In most Western countries, sexuality has come to be regarded as an individual civil right and consensual sex has become socially and legally acceptable. The recent reported cases of sexual harassment indicate that in
male-dominated societies, men think they can gratify their desires and needs whenever they wish, regardless of whether the women agree or not. The social gathering, meeting or mixing of men and women in society is natural, but some general guidelines must be observed, among them wearing appropriate clothing, avoiding seductive make-up and abiding by Islamic behavioral norms. In most of these situations, attention is normally directed to women because men are powerfully sexually attracted to them. This fundamental change in the sexual code of behavior is mainly due to society’s focus on individual rights, as opposed to the individual’s obligations towards society. It’s important to realize that sexual desire in and of itself is not a bad thing, provided that it is not abnormal (e.g., predatory, rape, incest, pedophilia and so on). In fact, Muslim scholars have discussed sexuality as a normal, positive part of life and proclaimed sexual pleasure a blessing from God. The goal of marriage is to create a bond between two human individuals and to satisfy the human need for companionship: “And of His signs is that He created for you from yourselves mates that you may find tranquility in
COVER STORY them; and He placed between you affection and mercy. Indeed in that are signs for a people who give thought” (Q. 30-21). Islam prohibits all forms of extramarital sex. However, in the U.S. many children are being born outside marriage, same-sex marriage is now legal, and most single mothers never complete their education and therefore cannot support their child or children. Men who make babies and disappear never learn familial responsibility, and as a result we now have yet another entire generation of children who have never known a stable home or received an adequate education.
Teens’ Sexual Activity?” https://www.rand. org/pubs/research_briefs/RB9068.html). Explaining how one’s body changes during puberty is essential for helping young people grow up with a healthy self-image. Unfortunately, many Western students are taught sex education without the accompanying framework of moral values or the importance of controlling or disciplining their desires. If students aren’t informed about such matters, they may accept that mutual consent is normal and acceptable. In a sense, young people are left to decide for themselves. While children deserve to understand the changes in
UNFORTUNATELY, MANY WESTERN STUDENTS ARE TAUGHT SEX EDUCATION WITHOUT THE ACCOMPANYING FRAMEWORK OF MORAL VALUES OR THE IMPORTANCE OF CONTROLLING OR DISCIPLINING THEIR DESIRES. IF STUDENTS AREN’T INFORMED ABOUT SUCH MATTERS, THEY MAY ACCEPT THAT MUTUAL CONSENT IS NORMAL AND ACCEPTABLE. Sexually risky behavior among U.S. adolescents remains a major public health problem. Approximately one million young women aged 15-19 years become pregnant each year, 50 percent of high school students have had sexual intercourse and 40 percent remain sexually active. Earlier findings from a RAND study linked television exposure to sexual behavior; now the Internet is causing even worse problems due to user privacy and the lack of parental control. Those who have access to Internet-connected computers and don’t share it with others are more likely to pursue sex-related matters on the Internet than are those who share such access. Nearly 90 percent of Americans use mobile phones, and the majority of adolescents and young children now have cellphones. The Internet enables one to meet others while playing the same game or watching the same video. Youth who are becoming interested in sex may encounter others like themselves while viewing sexual media online. A great majority of them watch pornography and manifest more sexually permissive behavior. Studies have also found that those who used chat rooms, such as WhatsApp and similar groups, to connect with others are more likely to engage in risky behaviors, including posting sexually explicit photographs and initiating promiscuous dialogues (“Does Watching Sex on Television Influence
their bodies and how to avoid pregnancy, their natural desires can encourage a promiscuous lifestyle, which makes it harder to resist sexual behavior and one’s own impulses. Hormones, plus a false sense of security, can also hinder their comprehension of the deep moral implications of premarital sex and its lasting consequences. Since so many adults have abdicated parenting, many school systems have had to devise programs to reduce teen pregnancy and the spread of AIDS. As these programs aren’t designed to teach right and wrong according to anyone’s culture, both boys and girls need to be taught the importance and beauty of having sexual relations only within marriage. Nowadays, sexual activity in many countries begins at an early age. Therefore, Muslim adolescents must be taught and shown how to overcome peer pressure. Sex education can be taught in a way that informs young people about sexuality in scientific and moral terms. In most Western countries with diverse populations, developing sex education curricula, particularly in public schools, is hard because there is no single universally acceptable moral position. Therefore, young people are given facts and information and are advised on how to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. But they need more than that to become
morally conscious persons capable of forming mature moral judgments based on their perception of morals and values. Therefore, the foundations for sex education and much of what determines adolescents’ knowledge, attitudes and behavior regarding sex should be taught at home by their parents or guardians. But, given that many parents underestimate their role in educating their children about sex, many of the latter report little or no communication about sex with them. Parents can assess their child’s physical, emotional and psychological development and tailor the relevant conversations to their needs and developmental level. When parents express clear values about sex, children are more likely to adhere to those values (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/ blog/evidence-based-living/201812/sexeducation-and-parenting-what-we-know). Generally, our Islamic full-time and Sunday schools are not giving adequate education on ethics and morals either. Therefore, parents need to step forward to talk about sex and morality from the age of 11 onward. These lessons often need to be implanted before the school system initiates its sex education program. Young people, regardless of location, social class or gender, must be informed and educated about avoiding sex before marriage. And so Muslim parents are obliged to provide accurate Islamic teachings to their children, especially boys — teachings that emphasize gender equality and responsible sexual behavior. While the issues being discussed here are common knowledge, we are nevertheless seeing more young people with problems. Therefore, we need to repeat the message. ih M. Basheer Ahmed, a former professor of psychiatry at South Western Medical School, Dallas, is chairman emeritus of MCC for Human Services.
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MAKING A DIFFERENCE
Friends Like Family A chat with Necva Ozgur, an educator who keeps growing in her service to Islamic education BY SUSAN LABADI
ike many Muslims in America, Necva Ozgur came from afar to start a new adventure. My work with Islamic schools, especially the ISNACISNA Education Forum, has introduced me to some of the wonderful people who have developed our fine Islamic schools that build a strong, positive Muslim identity in our youth, cultivate their leadership skills and create sustainable communities. I consider Necva a mentor. Necva arrived as the bride of a medical student, Mehmet, from Turkey. An Istanbuli educated as a pharmacist, her husband was from Gaziantep, located near the Syrian border. Together, they started their lives in Chicago and Washington, D.C., as Mehmet completed his education in neurosurgery, before settling down in southern California.
IN THE BEGINNING When it was time to educate their five children in Islam, Necva acknowledged God’s blessing by shifting her priority to becoming a good mother. She started educating herself by taking courses in child development, child psychology and pedagogy, having no idea that God was preparing her for a new career. While she developed intellectually, she also sought to grow spiritually by volunteering at the Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC), where she met people who became lifelong friends, mentors, teachers and role models. And they, in turn,
A NEW ISLAMIC SCHOOL
became like her children’s aunts, uncles and friends. Desiring to learn, understand and apply the Quran to life, instead of depending on translations, she found a Quran teacher and started studying. One day, her teacher explained that she had to cancel next week’s lesson because she was making umrah and then said jokingly, “Why don’t you come with us?” Necva shared the conversation with her husband, because she felt God was inviting her. He asked, “What about the children?” The
was a turning point and that God would start preparing her for her next journey. Upon returning to California, she was asked to join the ICSC board. The most challenging topic was how to educate children while keeping their Islamic identity. One day a fellow board member asked, “Sister, why don’t you take a lead and start an Islamic school for us?” She replied, “Brother, I’m not qualified, and I have five children. Who will take care of them?” He said, “If you take care of Allah’s project, He will take care of your children.” The voice in her head said, “If Allah will take care of my children, He will definitely do a better job than me.” On the following day she began searching for a university, soon found one, enrolled and eventually graduated with a Master’s degree in Leadership in Education.
youngest was only two-years old. The next day, she called a friend who agreed to take care of all of them. On the plane, her teacher explained the rituals and said that since she would be seeing the Ka‘bah for the first time, God would accept whatever she asked. But while making tawaf, she forgot her list and cried, “Oh God, You invited me, and I came. I don’t know how best to serve You. Please guide me, direct me and help me serve Your cause.” She didn’t know that this du‘a
New Horizon School-Pasadena, which opened in 1984, was the first of four New Horizon schools that Necva and her friends would start. Necva shadowed the head of school of one of the best American schools for six months, during which she learned every step of accreditation and brought these ideas to her school. New Horizon was the first Islamic school to be accredited by CAIS (the California Association of Independent Schools) and WASC (the Western Association of Schools and Colleges). She stated that for the next five
NECVA, WHO HAS VISITED MANY SCHOOLS DURING THE PAST 15 YEARS, SEES A CONSISTENT VACUUM IN SCHOOL BOARDS’ UNDERSTANDING AND PREPARATION TO BE EFFECTIVE AGENTS. GIVEN THAT THE BOARD, SHE CAUTIONS, CAN UNDERMINE ITS SCHOOL’S BEST EFFORTS, SHE DECIDED TO BECOME AN EXPERT IN BOARD TRAINING.
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Necva’s Advice years her small group studied strategic planning, which they divided into annual operational plans and school evaluations. The results were not long in coming. In 2005, New HorizonPasadena became the nation’s only Islamic school to earn the U.S. Department of Education’s Blue Ribbon designation. This signifies that students score in the top 10 percent of the nation in terms of reading and math. In addition, her school was judged on its lengthy application form that described its mission, curriculum, instructional methods and professional development. Necva is a firm believer in administrators, teachers and staff attending training sessions, conferences and seminars. In fact, one of those events led her to apply for Blue Ribbon status. Over the years, New Horizon organized a performing arts club that has been recognized by the Valley Interfaith Council, the California State Senate and the City of Los Angeles for its outreach to community organizations of all faiths. The school also received the Pasadena Human Rights Commission’s Model of Unity Award for its local interfaith activities. New Horizon Pasadena has a consistent record of winning the Los Angeles County and State Science Fairs each year.
NECVA AND THE ISNA EDUCATION FORUM About 22 years ago, Necva recalls, a dedicated educator and former ISNA president named Sheikh Abdulla Idris invited her and about 100 other Islamic school principals to a meeting. She stated that this was the first time that she didn’t feel like she was the only one doing what she was doing. The meeting’s objective was to network and learn from each other. Necva asks God’s blessings upon Abdulla Idris because this event was the start of an annual
HEN ASKED FOR HER ADVICE FOR NEW PRINCIPALS, she states, “Alhamullilah, during my journey Allah has blessed me with great mentors.” In terms of devising an effective and realistic growth plan, she offers the following pointers: Always pray for God’s guidance • Develop a clear and shared mission with your school community • Find a mentor(s) • Build a strong leadership team • Invest in quality teachers and teaching • Set high goals • Get accredited and challenge yourself with high standards and competitions • Always move with a strategic plan-annual operational plan • Insist on continuous improvement from board members to administrators and teachers • Establish an accountability system for them as well. ih
gathering that allows her and others to share their knowledge. Having built lifetime friendships through these meetings, she feels blessed to be part of this great network, which now holds an annual January event in California as well as the main April forum in Chicago. After her 12-year journey with New Horizon, she retired and began working on a succession plan. At her retirement party, one of her administrators said, “It is time for you to move new mountains.” And so began her next undertaking: creating a resource center for Islamic schools, for New Horizon’s success story was generating a lot of attention. In 2005, Necva started the Muslim Educators’ Resource, Information and Training Center (MERIT), a nonprofit organization that plays a vital role in raising future generations of Muslims by strengthening and serving Muslim American schools. It provides professional growth opportunities to boards of directors, administrators and faculty; develops professional
and educational resources; and provides opportunities for cooperation and networking among, as well as functions as a collective voice for, Muslim educators. Necva, who has visited many schools during the past 15 years, sees a consistent vacuum in school boards’ understanding and preparation to be effective agents. Given that the board, she cautions, can undermine its school’s best efforts, she decided to become an expert in board training. She insists that a high performing school board is the product of both a high-impact governing board and a high-impact head of school who work together as a cohesive strategic leadership team. In addition, she strongly advises all nonprofit board members to really understand their roles and responsibilities, provide financial sustainability and guidance and, finally, support and nurture the school head. Based on her experience, she contends that all board members need comprehensive training so that they can understand
the following areas accurately: Nonprofit board governance • Their roles and responsibilities • Effective board and committee structure • Effective board and principal partnership • Financial sustainability • Managing meetings • Create a positive board culture • Ensure strategic and operational planning. Necva has seen many well-intentioned board members and highly motivated principals run afoul in areas that could have been avoided with merely two days of appropriate board training.
THE NEXT CHAPTER: BAYAN CLAREMONT Bayan Claremont College (https://www.bayanclaremont. org), established in 2011, is a division of the Claremont School of Theology (est. 1885). An accredited graduate program, it educates Muslim American scholars and religious leaders. Necva has served as board chair for two terms and teaches nonprofit leadership and management classes. The importance of God’s guidance, friendship and collaboration has always been a factor in her journey: “I am thankful to Allah for giving me opportunities to serve Him and His cause. I am thankful to meet great mentors and friends. I am thankful for the success, but nothing happened on my own. Success is from Allah and lots of people’s efforts. While I am grateful to Allah for trusting me and giving me an amana (trust), I also knew that this is my test. Thank you to all of you for being part of my journey.” Necva will be speaking at the April 10 Chicago ISNA-CISNA Education Forum pre-conference event. ih Susan Labadi, Genius School, Inc.; boards of the American Muslim Consumer Consortium and CISNA; advisor/trainer for Consultants for Islamic School Excellence (CISE) and character coach for Define360.
ISLAMIC HORIZONS 25
A Universal Message Author Linda Barto hopes to publish a translation of the Quran fit for a fifth-grade reading level to benefit children and adults alike BY HABEEBA HUSAIN
or the past eight years, author and self-proclaimed “Hillbilly Muslim” Linda Barto has been working on a massive project — rendering the Quran into a kid-friendly translation. “If I had any sense, I’d stay home and stay in my rocking chair,” the 70-year-old says. Instead, the North Carolina native has used her senses in a different way — to translate the Quran for a very important audience: children, the future torchbearers of Islam. “There are over forty English translations of the Quran, but none that are simple enough for a child to read,” Barto says. “I felt that this audience was being overlooked.” Barto has had plenty of experience writing for young audiences: a two-year degree in children’s literature and published books, among them “Ramadan Rhapsody: A Daily 26 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
Celebration” (amana publications, 2009), “Where the Ghost Camel Grins: Muslim Fables for Families of All Faiths” and “Memoirs of a Hillbilly Muslim.” She has sought to construct short, simple sentences with common words to make her final translation suitable for a fifth-grade reading level. Barto says that her translation, “A Universal Message Inspired by the Quran for Young Readers and Youthful Minds,” is not only for kids, but also for adults with a limited command of English. “The majority of Americans only have a sixth-grade reading level,” she notes. “This [translation] is for everybody who wants to be able to enjoy their Quran in very simple English that’s easy to understand.” In fact, according to the 2013 Program for the International Assessment of Adult
Competencies (https://nces.ed.gov/surveys/ piaac), only 12 percent of Americans can read at a high-school level; 34 percent can read at a fourth or fifth grade level; and 36 percent fall into the sixth through eighth grade level. These numbers back up Barto’s statement and highlight the existence of an audience for her translation. The nearly decade-long project has consisted of a great deal of research and reading, consulting and translating, editing and fine-tuning, for “I wanted to perfect it as much as humanly possible.” To achieve this, Barto turned to many resources, including imams, scholars like the South African Shaykh Dr. Ahmed Pandor and even Rabbi Ben Abrahamson, who is advanced in the study of the Quran and associated with the Al-Sadiqin Institute, which supports research into the shared heritage of Islam and Judaism. “Sometimes we’d discuss a single word for over two hours to decide on the best translation for it,” she recalls. “We used the original Arabic and made sure it was accurate.” These scholars wrote multiple footnotes to help the reader understand how to apply the Quran’s message in today’s world. Barto
MAKING A DIFFERENCE says, “It was a joint effort” — one that continues today, as there is still one final step: publishing. This task has been the most frustrating step of all. At the time of writing this article, she has yet to secure a publisher. The author first reached out to universities, but to no avail. While many have praised her project, none have committed to funding it. “I’ve probably gotten the nicest rejection letters in the world,” Barto says. “But so far, nobody has said, ‘Yes, we’ll publish it.’” She then contacted — and usually never heard back from — Muslim publishers both at home and abroad. “That makes it hard when they don’t even respond one way or another,” she states. “I feel like the least they could do is send me a rejection letter!”
THERE ARE OVER FORTY ENGLISH TRANSLATIONS OF THE QURAN, BUT NONE THAT ARE SIMPLE ENOUGH FOR A CHILD TO READ,” BARTO SAYS. “I FELT THAT THIS AUDIENCE WAS BEING OVERLOOKED.” Self-publishing, which had proven successful in the past, was another option. However, she cannot finance the entire project on her own. Now, Barto is planning to reach out to children’s publishers. Having had five books published in the past, she recognizes that the writing field is very competitive and “has always been a struggle.” But despite this hardship, Barto is thoroughly grateful for every minute of the last eight years she spent on her rendering, for “I [always] learn so much from doing the research,” she said. “Research is always the most rewarding because I gain so much more knowledge and understanding for myself. I just want to be able to pass that onto my readers.” Imam Khalil Akbar, resident imam of Masjid Ash Shaheed, Charlotte, N.C., had nothing but good things to say after reading her work. “Imam [Khalil] read it, and he said, ‘Linda this is excellent. It’s not just for children, it’s for adults too,’” Barto says. She knows that her manuscript is valuable, and right now she’s simply waiting until that lightbulb turns on in a publisher’s head too. But until that day comes, Barto is enjoying her time in the South with husband Tom, “boomerang children” who always find their way back home, and grandchildren. Aside from writing, she keeps busy by engaging in da‘wa, teaching martial arts at the local recreation center and training for her fourth-degree black belt. “I’ve always had an interest in the martial arts,” she states. “I never actually thought I could become a black belt. I kept training, and all of a sudden now I’m a third-degree black belt. I’m especially grateful that I am 70-years-old and can still kick head on.” Between her writing, martial arts training and teaching, it seems like Linda Barto’s rocking chair will have to wait a little bit longer until she finally sits down in it to relax. ih Habeeba Husain, a freelance journalist based in New York/New Jersey, contributes to SLAM Magazine, blogs for Why-Islam and is social media manager for WuduGear. Her work has also appeared in Narrative.ly and MuslimGirl.com, among other online and print publications.
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 27
(57th Annual ISNA Convention)
September 4 – 7, 2020 Chicago, IL Contact Email: email@example.com or Call: (317) 839-1825
Muslim Americans Need a Cyber Presence The importance of a systematic, effective and informative online presence is beyond dispute BY RASHEED RABBI
ince the 2016 presidential election, deep divisions and destructive tensions toward Islam and Muslim Americans have risen to a peak. AntiMuslim assaults increased 17 percent in that year alone (https://www.pewresearch.org, Nov. 15, 2017), and a steady discrimination rate of 82 percent has prevailed since then (https://www.washingtonpost.com, July 26, 2017; https://www.pewresearch.org, May 17, 2019). The media’s coverage of Muslims has gone up, but 80 percent of it remains negative (ISPU 2013). Spreading Islamophobia and demeaning Muslims have become a million-dollar industry (Shakir, “REPORT: $42 Million From Seven Foundations Helped Fuel the Rise of Islamophobia in America,” 2011). It seems that everyone, from President Trump, pundits and pollsters to lay people, speaks about Muslim Americans, but stresses only the sensational images and hostile rhetoric of radicals. In reality, however, this 4 to 6-million member community’s faith is reinforced through America’s more than 2,700 mosques in the form of celebrating births and weddings, funerals, personal events, communal prayers, weekend schools and civic engagements (Akbar S. Ahmed, “Journey into America,” 2010). Unfortunately, these “deeply religious and politically disassociated” Muslim Americans (Grewal, “Islam Is a Foreign Country,” 2010) are not readily visible to non-Muslims, who may not know a practicing Muslim. As a result, the community’s attitudes remain mostly unknown (www.cnn. com/2015/12/08), although we’re living in the Digital Age, when the Internet has vastly reduced physical visits and personal associations. Most people spend 10 hours a day online in their quest for knowledge (www.cnn.com/2016/06/30). To help their cyber aptitude, vast spaces of the physical world have been electronically imitated in 28 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
the virtual sphere, and the virtual realm, likewise, has a basis in reality. Thus, the Internet ubiquitously offers a “mirror and shadow” of the offline world (L. A. Dawson, “Religion Online,” 2004). But not for this country’s Muslim communities, which have yet to establish a safe online haven. The diverse expressions and embracing of spirituality within mosques are largely missing online. Approximately half of the mosques and Muslim communities have no websites, whereas many that do are often poorly designed and seldom updated. Thus, the congregants’ observance of core
APPROXIMATELY HALF OF THE MOSQUES AND MUSLIM COMMUNITIES HAVE NO WEBSITES, WHEREAS MANY THAT DO ARE OFTEN POORLY DESIGNED AND SELDOM UPDATED. THUS, THE CONGREGANTS’ OBSERVANCE OF CORE FAITH-RELATED LIFE EVENTS REMAIN UNSEEN. SOME INTERPRET SUCH INVISIBILITY AS AN ATTITUDE OF “RIGHTEOUS EXILE” FROM CYBERSPACE IN AN AGE OF RAMPANT SOCIAL EXPLORATION, AS WELL AS BEING AN “OUTSIDER.”
faith-related life events remain unseen. Some interpret such invisibility as an attitude of “righteous exile” from cyberspace in an age of rampant social exploration, as well as being an “outsider.” This problem has often been overshadowed by countless blogs, forums and Islamic video channels on the Internet. Many of these presentations, which remain perfunctory, focus on theological, spiritual, Islamic, historical or Arabic linguistic discourses for audiences whose members are already active online and often in an advanced stage of religious pursuit. However, the perspectives of the 74 percent mosque-going population remain unnoticed. Such an absence inhibits both the potential progress of their communities and the dissemination of their accurate global image. While uninformed political rhetoric and recent tragedies are causing a great uproar against western Muslims, this online invisibility is a primary factor of the nation’s friction, tension, confusion, ignorance and inconsistency.
MOSQUE WEBSITES ARE VITAL Despite the widespread anti-Muslim rhetoric, mosque participation recorded a 75 percent rise from 2008 to 2013 (Juliane Hammer and Omid Safi, “The Cambridge Companion to American Islam,” 2013, p. 110), which aptly confirms what Tariq Ramadan (“Western Muslims and the Future of Islam,” 2004) conceptualized as a silent diasporic Muslim reformation that births an impetus to actively adopt Islam into their daily lives while integrating into American society. This movement’s essentially religious motivation is cultivated within the mosque, which satisfies a wide array of moral and socio-political responsibilities for peace-loving, law-abiding, and non-political Muslims’ integration. A detailed digital disclosure of
their religious activities, theological motivations and practiced cultures will make this silent diasporic reformation salient for both the greater American society and the inner Muslim community. Mosques’ pervasive online presence can elaborate how Muslims’ perception of freedom, justice, unity, equality and other American values are cultivated in every ritual and spiritual practice, and also the institutionalization of nurturing righteous citizens. These websites will portray mosques as moral custodians, but dressed in American culture and definitely rooted in non-Islamic Western societies. Such an informative digital representation can effectively convey the common ground and shared social concerns, which will also demystify this growing mosque participation despite anti-Muslim negativism. Non-Muslims will be able to see that nothing going on in the mosque violates the common sentiment of “One nation under God,” and act as antithesis to the current hostile policies directed toward Muslims. Shadowing this movement will also make the diasporic Muslims’ integration too pronounced to exclude them. Additionally, a sound attempt to increase the American mainstream’s awareness in this regard demands a natural and unforced dissemination of information. Hence, the traditional approach of discussing religious doctrine should be replaced with one of exploring the “artefactual” information, like everyday rituals (Alan Lu, in “Advancing Digital Humanities,” 2005) that previously made Islam explanatory. For instance, refusing pork and alcohol dignified them during the dark days of slavery (Michael A. Gomez, in Journal of Southern History, 60, no. 4, 1994). In the late 20th century, academia acknowledged the deep compatibility of Muslims’ practices and principles with
American democratic values like freedom, the importance of family, commitment to the community, individual prosperity and other typical mainstream ideals. An effective and informative website can show how these virtues are embedded in all mosque services and programs to embody the Founding Fathers’ dream of “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” through a commitment to God’s will. Nonetheless, such “artefactual” information is more suitable for inquisitive and yet impatient digital readers overwhelmed by the countless choices available online. The Internet’s non-sequential writing style (i.e., hypertext) easily opens up space for competition and interactive conversations. Thus, setting up an easy-to-use informational website to capture the mosque’s activities and portray ad hoc Muslim Americans images is the best choice. Mosque websites can help Americans learn about Muslim traditions, eliminate their congregants’ anonymity and thereby encourage peaceful co-existence and harness the radiant hope of “One [tolerant] nation under God” for which the U.S. stands (Bruce B. Lawrence, “New Faiths, Old Fears, 2002).
MAKING MOSQUE WEBSITES RELEVANT On behalf of e-Dawah (www.edawah.net), I’ve surveyed mosques’ websites and analyzed their transition to cyberspace for over a decade. While flashy websites with intricate features and cutting-edge technologies abound, two shortcomings persist: an absence of core mosque dynamics and a cohesive demonstration of Muslim American identities. Today, the primary challenge is to highlight these dynamics and explain how they persuade Muslims to adjust faith and institutionalize religious practices in this country. Every mosque’s milestones and social expansion indicates their theological maturity, which collectively motivates 89 percent of all Muslim Americans to be loyal, proud and optimistic about their American identity, despite the prevailing discrimination (https://www.pewresearch.org/wp-content/ uploads). But this fact is hardly portrayed on their websites, for none of their practices or narratives are linked together to depict digitally the organic process of a maturing theology within American society. All mosques are unique in their cultures, practices and theological priorities. Their cumulative contributions construct the
macro view of Muslim Americans as more educated (Bailey, “Pew Research,” 2011), more family oriented and more civically engaged than other religious communities. However, their websites ignore this progressive picture by merely listing services or programs, or simply informing visitors of what they do, when the latter are more interested in learning “how” these activities have changed mosque cultures over time. Every website should connect the individual mosque with a macro picture of the greater Muslim community. Additionally, presenting and allocating this information must be appealing enough to entice an audience within the first 15 seconds, which is often the maximum time spent visiting a website (https://time. com/12933/what-you-think-you-knowabout-the-web-is-wrong). Such a comprehensive representation, which can be descriptive, requires a systematic display; however, many mosques, even those with a formal “Media and Networking team,” comprising highly technical professionals, mostly focus on implementing robust websites; establishing secure, durable and consistent databases for members; and leveraging a reusable platform. Ironically, their overattention on technical aspects defeats the website’s original purpose: portraying the community comprehensively and cohesively to reveal its distinct identity. To solve this problem, split the multimedia and networking team into (1) those responsible for defining and making the content appealing for all visitors and (2) those who decide the technology stack and develop the website as a state-of-the-art software. Several resources like e-Dawah and the Hartford Institute for Religious Research (http://hartfordinstitute.org) are available for free to facilitate a disciplined approach. In addition, being isolated from the technical details will help the first group present information more intuitively to address all types of mosque audiences, which is another common mosque website struggle.
THE DIFFERENT TYPES OF MOSQUE AUDIENCES Not all mosque visitors are the same when it comes to personal devoutness and frequency of attending its activities. American mosques can be largely divided into four categories, as seen below. • Regular members. Most mosques don’t have paid memberships like traditional MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 29
OPINION churches that enable eligible congregants to elect their leaders. Regular members usually attend as many of the daily prayers as they can, in addition to weekly congregational Friday prayers. Equally concerned about their personal spirituality and their mosque’s wellbeing, they participate in its programs and voluntarily fulfill some administrative or operational responsibilities. In general, mosque website administrators care more about these members, for they can largely be kept happy by postings of correct information and timely announcements. • Occasional visitors. These irregular attendees often participate in the same programs and services; however, they are usually more judgmental in their involvement, mosque practices and the website’s features and disclosures. Thus, extra care needs to be taken when allocating information, announcing events, designing navigation, appending images and embedding visuals, as they are often picky as regards mosque attendance. Periodical online surveys and open feedback can help resolve their concerns. • Potential visitors. These people are searching for a new community due to dissatisfaction with their current mosque — stagnant growth, poor leadership, arbitrary programs, unorganized services, lack of opportunities and so on. Although they might seek specific settings, they’re open to negotiating while settling for something in close proximity. As mosque culture and contextual engagements are important to them, a vibrant digital reflection of how the services and programs are impacting its culture is vital. • New Muslim or non-Muslim spectators. Primarily the mosque’s non-Muslim neighbors and guests, as well as outsiders and coverts, who are all looking for a fresh reorientation to their religion. The prevailing Islamophobia now obliges each mosque to state its primary tenets and practiced doctrine online. These often cynical audiences require more descriptive information and visuals to become credible visitors. In reality, every American mosque offers many routine services and programs for all audiences, and yet their virtual pages showcase none of that cohesively systematic base of all-engaging welfare efforts. Many mosques prefer social media to engage their audiences more connectedly, but they need to be aware of the possible tradeoff. Social media provides excellent interactive tools to both engage audiences and 30 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
receive and assess their responses in real time. But these platforms are not the same as a cyber presence for the following reasons: • Unprofessional “look and feel” fails to situate the first impression. Rigid templates and restrictions on visuals for social media commonly defeat the all-important aesthetic appeal and situate the lasting first impression as one of fully equipped moral custodians. No community can be portrayed distinctively in 50 milliseconds or 0.05 seconds (https://cxl.com/blog/first-impressions-matter-the-importance-of-great-visual-design), the maximum time spent to form an initial opinion that Google analyses even quote only 17 milliseconds. • Sequential display on timeline obscures diasporic vigor. The exponential rise of mosque attendance, an outcome of all audiences’ collective participation, cannot be represented in parallel with equal attention on social media for its chronological display option. The ensuing lack of a parallel discourse and simultaneous representations of all participants obscures the true vigor of mosque leaders. A website, on the other hand, can portray all audiences multifaceted engagements and contributions in parallel. • A fixed layout undermines versatile mosque dynamics. A webpage, unlike social media, can customize and signify a mosque’s lifeline, history, service and program descriptions, corresponding theological significances and changes over time. Thus, a more personalized and intimate community can be presented. • No control on content limits proper articulation. Social media face many platform-specific constraints (e.g., word counts and image size limitations) that prevent articulating a creative and lengthy content. This is further exacerbated by the limitation of external tools like Google AdWords campaigns or associating other forums for member blogs. A website faces none of these problems. • Platform specific dependency limits outreach strategy. Social media reserves the right to remove any features, redesign their looks or reverse their algorithms at random. In the first quarter of 2018 alone, Facebook made more than a dozen changes and increased its marketing expenses (https://www.socialmediatoday.com/news/ the-biggest-social-media-changes-so-farin-2018-and-how-to-keep-up/521154/). Recently Facebook and Youtube changed their outreach algorithm, which allows only
2 percent of their followers to see any content that was prepared for hours (https://blog. hubspot.com/marketing/facebook-organic-reach-declining). Such changes require revising their entire digital strategy, which is never a case for websites that offer full administrative controls. • Lack of ownership questions the credibility. Mosques don’t own their social media profiles, as these contain promotions, advertisements and other unintentional contents arbitrarily placed by specific platforms. This reality raises questions about credibility. On the other hand, a website’s personal domain name represents and strengthens the sense of ownership and customer credibility, and works very well with search engine optimizations. • Higher commitment for upkeep. Social media thrives on constant posting of witty content and visually appealing comments that mosques can hardly keep up with, due to its ideological priority and dependency on volunteers. Recent changes like organic search algorithms, marketing strategies and privacy constraints require too much time commitment to engage and advance mosque culture and theology on social media. Although some mosques do establish a social media page that is free and requires no technical knowledge, it should ideally be an extension of the website. Social media can engage audiences and extend a mosque’s energy far and wide, but only after making an initial impression on the community’s website. Displaying the commonality of ethical principles among disaporic Muslims and lay Americans can provide additional momentum to these endeavors. A systematic development approach will transform these websites into viable platforms to correct the Muslims’ distorted image. Now involved in another election year, the community’s cyber presence must function as an effective and informative portal to educate mainstream Americans about their contributions and compatibilities in an effort to erase any existing ideological barriers and truly come together as one informed nation under God. ih Rasheed Rabbi, an IT professional, who earned an MA in religious studies (2016) and a graduate certificate in Islamic chaplaincy from Hartford Seminary, is also founder of e-Dawah (www.edawah.net); secretary of the Association of Muslim Scientists, Engineers & Technology Professionals; serves as a khateeb and leads the Friday prayers at ADAMS Center; and works as a chaplain at iNova Fairfax, iNova Loudoun, and Virginia’s Alexandria and Loudoun Adult Detention Centers.
SERVICE TO HUMANITY
Islam for the Blind
this momentous occasion through photos and videos. “We weren’t sure how people would receive us. We just wanted to let people know that we’re here and that we exist, and bring some info to people who might be curious,” Nadir recounted. “We didn’t expect to get such an awesome, amazing reaction... BY SARA SWETZOFF Almost every person who came to the booth was so enthusiastic…” adir and Yadira Thabatah He told me about one attendee who, after reading Sura al-Fatiha started with producing the braille Quran in 2016. Now in braille, immediately downloaded the Islam By Touch app. A couple of they’re branching into da’wa days later, she returned to ask about and dreaming big. Nadir does the math out loud additional ayat she had read. She said over the phone, as I type quickly: “So she realized that many verses, especially about conflict, are taken out of there’s 3.45 million Muslims in the context to misrepresent Islam. “That U.S. About 1.1 percent of the general population in North America is blind, was a real breakthrough,” commented but that’s a low figure by the way. So Nadir. let’s say 100,000 blind Muslims in Islam By Touch ultimately distribNorth America, plus another 10 uted over 550 books and booklets million blind people who don’t even and facilitated countless downloads LET ORGANIZATIONS know about our materials…” of their app, which provides voice, THAT ARE LEGITIMATELY large text and adjustable contrast feaNadir’s numbers check out. The National Federation for the Blind’s tures. Only about ten other Muslims DOING SOMETHING website, https://www.nfb.org, states attended, so the vast majority who IMPORTANT, SOMETHING that as of 2016, about 7,675,600 visuengaged with them were respondUNIQUE, BRINGING SOMETHING ally disabled people — 2.4 percent ing to da’wa. Twenty-five attendees of the general population — lived requested braille Qurans. Since TO A COMMUNITY THAT HAS in the U.S. Islam By Touch wants to 2017, Islam By Touch has been the BEEN IGNORED… LET THEM IN reach them. world’s leading provider of EnglishAND LET YOUR MEMBERSHIP When we talked in September language braille translations of the Quran. last year, he had just returned from GET INVOLVED. IT’S PAINFUL their first major da’wa effort at the A couple months later, Nadir and TO WATCH SO MANY MASJIDS National Federation for the Blind’s Yadira were still filling the orders. In annual convention in Las Vegas, OFFER REDUNDANT SERVICES IN their Texas garage workshop, Nadir which over 3,000 blind people works the braille embosser machine THE SAME VICINITY OR SPEND attended. and Yadira proofreads every page. EXORBITANT FUNDS ON NEW “Islam by Touch has been around A single 10-volume translation — for four years, and from the beginadapted from Sahih International FACILITIES WHEN THE BASIC ning we really wanted to make at — takes six or seven hours to print NEEDS OF DISABLED MUSLIMS least half of our work a da’wa effort. and costs about $250 to produce. ARE STILL UNMET.” When my wife Yadira converted They usually print two or three sets per week and spend the rest more than a decade ago, we couldn’t find accessible materials for her. But we saw hundreds of hours editing, formatting and of their working hours visiting mosques, braille Bibles in every version for free. If printing braille booklets, large-print pam- corresponding with advocacy organizations other religious groups have their scripture phlets and reverse-contrast print pamphlets and fundraising — all while homeschooling available, then why don’t we?” based on documents provided by “Why four kids aged between two and ten. Nadir states that Methodist and Baptist Islam?” Despite their shoestring budget, As of 2020, Islam By Touch had sent organizations have been distributing free Islam by Touch (https://islambytouch.com) more than 300 sets around the world. This Bibles at blind conventions for decades. But paid for all of the materials, shipping, regis- past year they also achieved international according to Nadir’s knowledge, this was the tration, travel and hotel. Two friends — one certification as the official braille “English first time ever that a Muslim organization a well-known blind public speaker named Meanings of the Quran.” A few other has done outreach with accessible literature Abu Hafsa Abdul Malik Clare — donated English translations do exist, but these verat such an event in North America. their time to run the da’wa table, while sions were found to have flaws in printing, In preparation, Nadir and Yadira spent another friend volunteered to document English and formatting. After scrutinizing
The Islam by Touch organization is leading the charge for accessibility in the Muslim American community
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 31
SERVICE TO HUMANITY Islam By Touch’s product, the 17 national member organizations of the International Union of Braille Quran Services voted it the best translation. This official certification indicates that its quality texts are on a par with the world’s best-funded braille printers, such as Boston’s National Braille Press. “If someone sends us a request from Nigeria, Kenya, England… we will pay the expensive shipping just to get it there. This is a global service,” said Nadir. Some people ask, “Why not sell them?” As a blind person, Nadir explains, “I know that the blind community doesn’t really have resources like that.” Statistics show that Americans with disabilities face many barriers to employment and professional advancement due to widespread discrimination. Another common question was on braille versus voice technology. On their website, Yadira explains that “As helpful as my fellow Muslims were attempting to be [in suggesting audio recordings], they didn’t seem to comprehend the importance of offering literature … to the blind Muslim community.” She initially gave up — until she decided to homeschool and Nadir lost his longtime job when the company changed over to visually inaccessible software and his sales numbers suffered. And so they decided to follow their dream: producing their own braille Quran. In an article published by Religion News Service, Yadira describes the first time she read the Quran independently. Proofreading the pages that she had just brailled, “I actually cried,” she says in the interview. “I’m a reader by nature. Going from being Muslim for about a decade and never having read the Quran, the word of Allah, to actually giving this amazing opportunity to other blind people. I can’t put it into words.” Now that they have certified their braille Quran production and established da’wa resources, they intend to reach out to the broader Muslim community. Most blind children are born into sighted families and spend much of their waking hours around 32 ISLAMIC HORIZONS
SO WHO EXACTLY IS BLIND? We’ve all heard people with strong corrective vision prescriptions call themselves “legally blind” without their glasses. We might also assume that those who identify as “blind” have no vision at all. So how exactly is blindness defined, and how does the blind community identify itself? The blind community is, in fact, very diverse. Whether people refer to themselves as visually impaired, visually disabled or blind, the term evokes a range of vision loss. Some people do have profound blindness, meaning that their vision is almost zero. Others have close vision, low vision, a constricted visual field and/or unique point of focus. Their experiences differ, but they all have the need for and the right to accommodation. If someone requires special adapted materials (braille, large print, inverted colors, voice technology etc.) to access content, then the National Federation for the Blind considers them visually disabled.
WHAT IS BRAILLE? / SPONSOR A BRAILLE QURAN Braille, a tactile writing system invented about 200 years ago in France, consists of patterns of dots created by embossing special paper with a braille printer. The combinations of dots represent letters, numbers and symbols. The raised dots are “read” by touch via one’s fingers. Many languages have braille writing systems. For example, Turkey published an Arabic-language braille Quran in the 1980s. Selahattin Aydin, a blind Turkish Muslim, founded the International Union of Braille Quran Services (https://www.facebook.com/braillequranservices) in 2013. Thanks to it, braille Qurans are now widely available internationally. However, braille translations are harder to find. Issues with quality control also arise. A printing facility that doesn’t employ braille-reading staff might use a conversion program without manually fixing the formatting, so that separate sections, headers and page numbers all run together. Or, mistakes are reproduced because the proofreader isn’t fluent in braille. Islam By Touch does its own braille printing to ensure complete accuracy and quality. This Ramadan, Nadir and Yadira call upon Muslims to consider donating to their organization. Nadir says, “Imagine you sponsor a complete set, and a blind person picks it up and Allah guides them. They get married and have children, and their children have children. And then on that day you stand in front of Allah looking for every good deed you possibly can have, this lineage of people comes up behind you to witness that your donation is one reason why they were guided.” Yadira adds, “We want to provide every blind Muslim and every individual searching for information on Islam the choice to be able to read for themselves. We all know that seeking knowledge is a God-given right, and we want to offer blind individuals an option as to how they can do this. Allah blessed all human beings with the right to dignity, respect, equality and validation, and we want to help ensure that blind individuals feel that the Muslim community fully acknowledges this fact.” ih
loved ones who often don’t understand their needs. Nadir has met fellow blind Muslims who know little about their deen, although they were raised in a religious household; they became alienated and sought elsewhere for meaning. Even with partial vision, Nadir recalls, “My family sent me to Islamic Sunday school but I never learned how to read Arabic because they didn’t know how to teach a blind kid.” The Quran class had no idea how to provide standard adapted visual texts (such as large print and inverted colors); today, this is exactly the type of resource that Islam By Touch can provide Additional stigmas relate to mobility. Nadir recounts a story from MASICNA 2018: “A lady walking around with her blind daughter came up, and alhamdulillah I offered them a braille Quran. The girl was so happy. But during our conversation, I learned that her mom didn’t want her to use the white cane in public.” He struggled to express his frustration. “Blind people need an identifier. It’s safer and it’s empowering at the same time.” The stigma is even more pronounced when it comes to guide dogs. Nadir laments, “My wife is a seeing-eye dog user who can go into any church, but doesn’t go to the masjid because she can’t take her dog inside with her. [If she does,] she’s treated as an absolute invalid or criticized for everything she does.” Nadir dreams of bringing The Seeing Eye (https://www.seeingeye. org) — the world’s number one guide dog training organization — to the exhibition hall of ICNA. “We need to break down this way of thinking… It’s cultural, has nothing to do with Islam. Literally there is an account of dogs coming in and out of the Prophet’s masjid in Madina, salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam. … no one says anything [about it].” Nadir also debunks one unhelpful solution: “Sometimes people suggest tying up their guide dog outside the masjid. But the dog could have a panic attack. It could fail its owner. That’s not how guide dogs are trained. That’s not how they work.” Clearly Islam By Touch has their
work cut out for them — they address the immediate material needs of blind Muslims and the larger blind community while simultaneously educating the Muslim American community about the rights and accessibility needs of their blind co-religionists. While they plan to offer kids’ books, sira and other texts, “Our overall goal is to become the hub for blind people in Islam — not just for literature, but also for learning life skills,” Nadir says. Islam By Touch hopes to inspire more young Muslims to become Orientation & Mobility Specialists, those who train blind people to navigate their environment and achieve independent living via the white cane, guide dogs and technology. Nadir pointed out that Muslimahs in particular need to work with their blind sisters as O&M specialists. “We also need a blind parents’ group and matrimonial support for blind Muslims seeking to marry,” he says. “There are misconceptions that they can’t get married, can’t have a family.” As our conversation veers to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and other disability law topics, Nadir’s voice rises with his characteristic enthusiasm. “We need to do an accessible Islamic conference — address all these issues in one place, get everyone together!” He notes, “Without the Muslim community, without an influx of funds, we’ll never get there. Right now we’re just scraping by.” Constant fundraising is “the hardest thing I’ve ever done… I can leave ten voicemails and write emails asking to give a presentation at a masjid, and not one person will respond. Or I’ll get a one-line email saying ‘We’re not interested, period.’” Although Islam By Touch serves braille readers nationwide, sometimes masjids tell Nadir they cannot host his organization because he’s located outside their region. Nadir emphasizes that most of the time Islam By Touch isn’t even asking for money — they just want to use their platform. “Let organizations that are legitimately doing something important, something unique, bringing something to a community that has been ignored… let them in and let your membership get involved. It’s painful to watch so many masjids offer redundant services in the same vicinity or spend exorbitant funds on new facilities when the basic needs of disabled Muslims are still unmet.” From this perspective, Islam By Touch is making a vital contribution. Nadir explains, “I take pride in this work… when I give a khutba, I’m not just telling you what blind people need from you. I’m telling you what we, as blind people, offer to the entire Muslim community.” ih
The world we live in is constantly evolving and ISNA is committed to being a positive driver of change. ISNA has long recognized the importance of engaging with other faith communities as a fundamental part of its mission, and therefore, we continuously host and participate in interfaith events, meetings and webinars to educate our friends, partners, officials and activists about Islam. These interreligious initiatives have helped break down barriers of misunderstanding, formed genuine partnerships of faith and ethics, and established a platform to advocate for social justice issues for the common good. We aim to work together to fight Islamophobia and share knowledge about the true teachings and understanding of our religion in all sectors. The gift of education has a ripple effect—it creates change locally, nationally and globally. Ignorance is our enemy, and with your support we can make a difference. Please donate to ISNA today.
Visit www.IslamByTouch.com to make a donation! Sara Swetzoff is a doctoral researcher at Howard University and mother to a DeafBlind child. Her family uses tactile sign language and large-print digital texts to meet their daughter’s accessibility needs.
P.O. Box 808 • Plainfield, IN 46168 • (317) 839-8157 www.isna.net •
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 33
It’s Time To Act
Taking corrective action to turn underperforming Muslim nonprofits around BY OUSSAMA MEZOUI
n recent weeks, more than a few Muslim nonprofits on both sides of the Atlantic have featured in media headlines and social media controversies. A number of international aid charities, social service organizations and religious seminaries have found themselves embroiled in issues related to accusations of mismanagement, financial misconduct and board cover-ups. It’s time for all of us to step up and play a role in securing the future of the Muslim nonprofit sector by fixing its systemic ills. My goal isn’t to undermine or condemn this sector, but to create one that is thriving, sustainable, confident and irreproachable so that our nonprofits can continue to benefit the lives of millions of people both here and overseas. Having managed humanitarian programs in many countries, I have seen firsthand the amazing work Muslim relief and development agencies do worldwide. On the spiritual front, no one can deny the essential role that mosques, schools and seminaries play in the lives of their local populations. On the political front, civil and human rights 34 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
organizations have raised awareness of rights violations and exposed examples of injustice and discrimination. These organizations and institutions have impacted society positively, and we should be interested in seeing them succeed. However, for many of those working in the field, accusations of mismanagement and misconduct are unsurprising and somewhat expected. To ensure our nonprofit entities improve and thrive, it’s time to be honest about their flaws. Issues of nepotism, incompetence, racial discrimination, misogyny, ageism and religious intolerance plague too many of our organizations. During these past 12 years, I have witnessed behavior that falls far short of industry best practices and undercuts the very ethics we strive for as a religious community — founders and senior executives placing family members on governing boards, the hiring of unqualified family members and the humiliation and/or disrespecting of brilliant employees because they were “too young” or “too female.” I have even intervened in cases involving sexual misconduct.
Of course it’s not all bad. I’m honored to sit on the boards of two nonprofits doing important work to empower Muslim Americans. These boards are professionally, religiously and ethnically diverse and also have a healthy gender balance. Most board members give up their time and money to serve missions and causes in which they passionately believe. However, too many of our boards don’t meet the fiduciary and ethical thresholds required of their positions. If we are to improve our nonprofits, we must first improve the quality of our board members. The title “Board Director” or “Board Trustee” isn’t an honorary one. Board members have serious roles that come with core responsibilities. As legal fiduciaries, they must steer their organizations toward sustainable futures. They must put in place comprehensive multi-year strategies and must adopt sound ethical and legal governance as well as introduce sound and comprehensive financial management policies. Finally, they must ensure that their nonprofits have adequate resources to advance their various missions. Second, boards must consist of diverse individuals who represent our community’s best and brightest members — in terms of their respective talents and merit — irrespective of gender, race or ethnicity. Choosing board members simply because they roomed with us in college or share our DNA is unacceptable. This calls for an unbiased and thorough board member selection process.
If you are a board member, a few simple questions will help you gauge your board’s health. Is it ethnically and professionally diverse? Does it have a good gender balance? Do your governing documents include clauses that cover the appointment, dismissal, and terms of service of board members? To be effective, nonprofits also have to be guided by competent and experienced executive leaders. This job can indeed seem
can achieve such goals. As leaders, our job is to create the conditions conducive to organizational growth and success. We must have the confidence to hire and then supply talented people with the resources they need to succeed. This approach not only ensures organizational growth and competence, but also secures our sector’s future by cultivating the next generation of leaders. Hiring yes-men leads to mediocre
DURING THESE PAST 12 YEARS, I HAVE WITNESSED BEHAVIOR THAT FALLS FAR SHORT OF INDUSTRY BEST PRACTICES AND UNDERCUTS THE VERY ETHICS WE STRIVE FOR AS A RELIGIOUS COMMUNITY — FOUNDERS AND SENIOR EXECUTIVES PLACING FAMILY MEMBERS ON GOVERNING BOARDS, HIRING UNQUALIFIED FAMILY MEMBERS AND HUMILIATING AND/OR DISRESPECTING BRILLIANT EMPLOYEES BECAUSE THEY WERE “TOO YOUNG” OR “TOO FEMALE.” impossible at times. At some point all nonprofit leaders face a chronic lack of resources, the responsibility of hiring and retaining good talent and dealing with the ongoing barrage of external pressures. While brilliant Muslim nonprofit leaders do exist, too many of our EDs and CEOs have not been up to the task. Those who work in this space can easily recollect countless examples of bad leadership and its ensuing adverse impact on the organization. The lack of realistic planning, poor communication, failure to make difficult decisions and a penchant for micromanagement are but a few of the traits seen in many of our current leaders. The first step to tackling this problem is changing how we hire these executives in the first place. Instead of conducting comprehensive searches focused on finding the best qualified person, too many of our leaders are often hired based on factors that have nothing to do with their ability to perform: gender, race, ethnicity or, frankly, friendship status. All of these should be ignored, because the relevant qualifications are the candidate’s requisite experience, skills and knowledge. Organizational leaders are entrusted with pursuing the stated mission(s) effectively and efficiently. Only teams composed of the best and brightest, not to mention those who possess the relevant expertise
organizational performance, internal office politics and organizational stagnation which ultimately benefits no one. A lack of succession planning and “founder’s syndrome” are among the deadliest factors that cause our nonprofits to stagnate and fail. We should be grateful to our predecessors who established these organizations and institutions; however, we need to find a way to respectfully let them know that it’s time to turn over the reins to the next generation. Many board members and employees find themselves stifled by founding members who refuse to step aside or continue to wield a disproportionate amount of power. Decades after launching these organizations, too many founders continue to play the role of “decision makers in chief ” with disastrous consequences. If our organizations are to continue improving and growing, they must step aside. It’s not all the board members and organizational leaders’ fault, however. North America’s Muslims are exceptionally generous, and it’s generally agreed that every year the community spends hundreds of millions of dollars on mosques, schools and other charitable activities. But if we are to see real change, we must change how we view and interact with nonprofit organizations. We have an obligation
to learn how nonprofits work and must commit ourselves to supporting best-practice organizations. First, donors must stop thinking of charities, especially humanitarian ones, as providing some type of remittance service — taking funds from us and sending them to the beneficiaries as goods or services. In fact, nonprofits exist to support causes or solve problems that are often complex and large-scale. Second, we must stop judging nonprofits solely on the percentage they spend on administrative and fundraising costs. It’s now accepted that overhead costs alone are a poor measure of an organization’s performance (Claire Knowlton, “Why Funding Overhead Is Not the Real Issue: The Case to Cover Full Costs,” Nonprofit Quarterly, 2019). To maintain a strong infrastructure, nonprofits need to implement good governance, have legal oversight and conduct impact assessments of their work. All of this requires financial investment. In fact, too many of our nonprofits struggle precisely because they don’t invest enough money in non-programmatic areas. As a result, they fail to attract talented people and struggle to do basic but essential things such as managing data and monitoring finances. I know humanitarian nonprofits that are so afraid of overhead expenses that they resort to ethically dubious behavior, such as exaggerating the dollar value of their in-kind donations. For impactful programs to exist, organizations need qualified people and an effective operational infrastructure. Underinvesting in administrative costs, therefore, leads to poor organizational performance and ultimately proves far costlier for donors and beneficiaries alike. Thus we have a duty to support transparent organizations with a record of good governance and strong effective leadership, as these are the organizations that stand the best chance of realizing their mission(s). Sustainable change of any kind must start at the individual level. If a community is nothing more than a collective of its individuals, community organizations can only be as competent, professional and ethical as the members of the community. ih Oussama Mezoui is the president & CEO of Penny Appeal USA. He is also the board secretary of Our Three Winners Foundation and a board director of the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He also sits on the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Council of Advisors for the Muslim Philanthropy Institute at Indiana University.
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 35
ISLAM IN AMERICA
The Mother of Toronto Mosques The Jami Masjid laid the foundations of community kinship half a century ago BY IBRAHIM MALABARI, AMJAD SYED AND MURRAY HOGBIN
High Park Presbyterian Church, Boustead Avenue, April 11, 1930. (Photo (c) City of Toronto Archives)
Hajj Malik el-Shahbazz (Malcolm X) visiting the Jami Mosque in 1964
he passage of the last half-century also marked the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the founding of Toronto’s landmark Jami Mosque, the city’s second oldest Islamic center and first formal mosque, on Dec 28, 2019. It is fondly known as Ummul Masajid — the mother of all the mosques — as it has produced many imams and mosques in the Greater Toronto Area since 1969. The mosque has also played a major role in maintaining and promoting Islam in Canada. Its graduates, those who grew up attending it, have now spread nationwide and are teaching and preaching Islam. The celebration was attended by prominent Toronto Muslims, including Dr. Thabit Mahdi (a pioneer of its youth activities), Dr. Kathy Bullock (lecturer in the Department of Political Science, University of Toronto at Mississauga), Haroon Siddiqui (former editor, The Toronto Star), Shaikh Ahmad Kutty (prominent North American Islamic scholar), Shaikh Abdullah Idris Ali (a committed educator and former ISNA president), Dr. Iqbal M. Nadvi (ICNA-Canada president), Dr. El-Tantawi Attia (a public member of The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Ontario and a member of the college’s Discipline Committee), and Imam 36 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
Abdul Hai Patel (former Canadian Council of Imams coordinator). All of them emphasized the Jami Mosque’s role in the community’s growth and expansion. For the record, the Jami Mosque was the second home of the initial Muslim Society of Toronto (MST). Its origins, in turn, stemmed from the arrival of Regep Assim, who had fled Albania with his brothers after participating in a failed pre-WWI independence movement. Hindered by anti-Muslim sentiment and unable to find proper jobs, they settled into candy making and eventually operated the High Park Sweets restaurant. Assim was involved in setting up the Albanian Muslim Society of Toronto in the early 1950s, which eventually dropped “Albanian” as the community diversified and needed a place for prayers. In 1961 a relative handful of active Muslims, with the financial support of the established Albanian business community, scraped together $10,000 and bought a twostory former leatherworker’s shop at 3047 Dundas St. West, with an apartment rented out above it. They cleaned it up and began Sunday meetings followed by dhuhr prayers. They also held other Islamic events. Later, a sign in the window announced: “Islamic Centre, Muslim Society of Toronto.”
In late 1964, Hajj Malik el-Shahbazz (Malcolm X) was in Toronto to appear as a mystery guest on the CBC-TV program “Front Page Challenge.” Secretary Murray Hogben invited him to address the MST members if he ever returned. Upon returning at the end of the year, he stopped by and fulfilled their request. This occurred only months before his assassination in February 1965. Amjad R. M. Syed, recalls, “I came to Toronto from Bangalore, India, in 1965. I was a volunteer in the Islamic Centre of Toronto masjid in those days. This was before the present Jami mosque was bought in Feb. 1969.” He recaptured that spirit while talking
IMAM WANTED Masjid Bilal Celebrating the 50th anniversary
with the Toronto Star: “We had all left our families to come here. We were all alone, and we saw another person from the same faith. We took them as our brothers and sisters, and we became one family.” “There is a lot of sentimental attachment to Jami,” Imtiaz Uddin told the Village Gleaner in 2005. “It gave some people finan-
Dr Kathrine Bullock
In the early 1970s, a conflict split the community, and in January 1973 the court asked the predominantly Pakistani group to buy out the Albanian group to help set up their own center. Later on, the Jami Mosque was transferred to ISNA-Canada. The mosque initiated a full-time Islamic school project and soon became the area’s
IN 1961 A RELATIVE HANDFUL OF ACTIVE MUSLIMS, WITH THE FINANCIAL SUPPORT OF THE ESTABLISHED ALBANIAN BUSINESS COMMUNITY, SCRAPED TOGETHER $10,000 AND BOUGHT A TWO-STORY FORMER LEATHERWORKER’S SHOP AT 3047 DUNDAS ST. WEST, WITH AN APARTMENT RENTED OUT ABOVE IT. cial help, and sometimes mental help. It was the cement and glue that kept us together and gave us the goodness of the country.” According to original member Noor Javed, the former leather store still smelled of cowhide (“Humble beginning for great faith,” The Toronto Star, Nov. 7, 2009). Over the next seven years, the Dundas Street center became the closest thing to a home for the Muslim community. Today, it is a restaurant. By 1968, as the community grew rapidly, the MST decided to move to a larger building. With support from Saudi Arabia’s King Faisal (d. 1975), the result of a personal appeal by Dr. Mirza Qadeer Baig, MST president and University of Toronto Islamic studies instructor, the community purchased the former High Park Presbyterian church at 56 Boustead Avenue for Can$125,000. Renamed the Jami Mosque, the building opened in February 1969 after it had been refurbished, the pews removed and the carpeting added. MST allowed the former congregation to remove a couple of stainedglass windows for their new church. The MST also purchased a 1,000-grave lot in Glendale Memorial Gardens to serve as a cemetery.
prominent center of Islamic learning. Now known as the ISNA Islamic School, its graduates have scattered and are playing major roles in their own local Muslim communities. Memories of the original MST mosque have been captured in Tessellate Institute’s multimedia video, “Mosque One: Oral Histories of Toronto’s First Mosque (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Vm6OaXwGM8k). The earliest presence of Muslims in Canada was recorded in the 1871 federal census, when 13 people self-identified as Muslim. ih Ibrahim Malabari, a veteran MSA and ISNA worker who has served as Jami Masjid’s director for 17 years and as founder and president of Messenger of Mercy Foundation International, was a founding member of the Islamic Circle of North America-Canada, the International Union of Muslim Scholars and the Council of Imams, Canada,
1545 Russell Cave Rd., Lexington, KY 40505 Masjid Bilal is a very diverse, inclusive community, which is active in interfaith and community service. We are looking for an Imam who has the prerequisite Imam skills and knowledge, but most importantly the ability to work with young adults and youth. Qualifications include: ➠ Formal degree in Islamic Studies. ➠ Superior knowledge Quran, Hadith, Fiqh and Tajwid. ➠ Communication skills in English and the ability to deliver inspiring and relevant khutbahs and talks. ➠ Priority in hiring is focused on the ability to communicate with young adults and youth in order to teach and guide them. Preference will be given to candidates raised in the U.S. or Canada. ➠ Ability to work in an interfaith setting. Compensation package will depend on skills and experience. Send your resume to Ihsan Bagby: firstname.lastname@example.org
Amjad Syed, a long-standing active volunteer of ISNA Canada, authored “Islamic Perspectives on Prayers & Coping with Sickness” and “Muslim Funerals in the West.” Murray Hogbin [along with his wife Alia] was very involved and responsible during the Islamic Centre of Toronto’s early years on Dundas Street. He has a doctorate in history (University of Toronto), worked for the CBC, taught at the Royal Military College and was secretary of the Islamic Society of Kingston. He spent 20 years writing for the Kingston Whig-Standard and has volunteered for at least 30 years with a Muslim children’s summer camp, now called Camp Deen.
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 37
Where Professional Development, Self-Care and Spiritual Growth Meet Islamic school administrators and educators gather to learn and share BY SHAZA KHAN
ISLA Board prepares for the Leadership Retreat. (L-R) Dr. Fawzia Tung, secretary; Dr. Seema Imam, president; Mussarut Jabeen, program chair; Matthew Moes, social media chair; Dr. Patricia Salahuddin, retreat chair; Rasha El-Haggan, professional development chair; Dr. Shaza Khan, executive director.
ome 75 Islamic school administrators and educators from across the nation gathered in Parrish, Fla., during Dec. 6-8, 2019, for the eighth Annual ISLA Leadership Retreat. Representing 30 Islamic schools from 17 states, which collectively educate more than 7,000 students in Pre-K through 12th grade, they engaged in various interactive workshops, reflection activities, micro-practices and networking to explore the theme of “Mindful Leadership: Cultivating SocialEmotional Learning Schoolwide.” The theme was a continuation of the 2018 retreat, entitled “Beyond Academics: The Unspoken Challenges Facing Students Today.” From exploring the rising tide of mental health issues in teens to preventing bullying and suicide to developing crisis response plans, that retreat hit on many serious topics. The 2018 retreat’s resident 38 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
scholar, Dr. Madiha Tahseen, a psychologist and researcher at The Family & Youth Institute (https://www.thefyi.org), provided tools for successfully handling many of these issues with children and adolescents. In response to the participants’ view that the issues required greater attention, the 2019 retreat focused on more methods
for supporting Muslim youth’s positive development, especially considering the multifaceted challenges they face in today’s fast-paced and distracting world. In this vein, a theme focused on mindful leadership and social emotional learning was chosen. The 2019 resident scholar, Wadud Hassan, a nationally renowned mindfulness coach and founder of Define360 (https:// define360.online), accompanied by co-instructor Susan Labadi, a national leader in Islamic education, led three interactive workshops on mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Specifically, they uncovered “The Why and How of Mindfulness,” thereby establishing a scientific explanation for how mindfulness has been proven to positively affect individuals’ ability to deal with stressful situations. They also provided information on “Emotional Self-awareness and Strategies for Successful Self-regulation,” which included tools that both professionals and students can use in their daily life. The culminating presentation highlighted how Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) integrated mindfulness into his own life and spiritual practice, as participants were encouraged to develop their own philosophy of “mindful leadership.” They practiced mindfulness techniques throughout the weekend. One technique, “The Body Scan,” involved sitting in a circle on the grass, closing their eyes and focusing on different bodily parts, paying special attention to both their breathing and to the smells and sensations affiliated with being in nature. During this powerful moment, they focused on their individual selves while gaining a sense of unity by performing the body scan in unison. Many other opportunities were provided to facilitate collaboration, networking and bonding. On both Friday and Saturday, for example, participants were given the choice
IN RESPONSE TO THE PARTICIPANTS’ VIEW THAT THE ISSUES REQUIRED GREATER ATTENTION, THE 2019 RETREAT FOCUSED ON MORE METHODS FOR SUPPORTING MUSLIM YOUTH’S POSITIVE DEVELOPMENT, ESPECIALLY CONSIDERING THE MULTIFACETED CHALLENGES THEY FACE IN TODAY’S FAST-PACED AND DISTRACTING WORLD.
of canoeing, archery or tai chi. ISLA board member Dr. Fawzia Tung, who led the tai chi session, explained how flowing movement helps one develop focus and mind-body harmonization. The archers worked on hand-eye coordination and some lighthearted fun. The canoeists, many of them first-timers, stepped out of their comfort zones and experienced something new, which gave them a sense of accomplishment and pride. The ISLA Retreat purposefully integrates such opportunities into the program to facilitate personal growth and reflection. Furthermore, these activities allow participants to remove themselves from the distractions of daily life and immerse themselves in the tranquility that often only nature can provide. Other school leaders facilitated workshops. Jelena Naim, principal of Atlanta’s Al-Falah Academy, led an interactive session that reflected on social emotional learning in their schools to help participants learn best practices from one another. In another workshop, Imam Jihad Saafir, director of South Los Angeles’ Islah Academy, led participants through Talking Circles (https://www.talkingcircles.co/), an approach to social emotional learning grounded in restorative justice. He had participants engage in a mock Talking Circle to demonstrate its healing potential, in contrast to punitive disciplinary approaches. Rasha El-Haggan, ISLA board member and dean of academics at a prestigious Maryland private school, talked about creating effective change in one’s school setting. She shared research on the development phases through which schools move and their impact on stakeholders’ responses to change. To help them formulate how they might bring the new ideas they have acquired back to their schools, she encouraged them to identify where their schools fall on the spectrum. At the retreat’s conclusion, participants were guided through an action planning session. This gave them the opportunity to work with colleagues on implementing actual initiatives or ideas related to mindful leadership and social emotional learning. They considered their schools’ current resources, strengths and weaknesses in order to formulate a more realistic approach to implementing what they had learned. They then developed specific, time-bound goals designed to measure progress throughout the year. The participants were invited to participate in a webinar with their 2019 Retreat cohort in a few months to check in on how their action plans were coming together. While the weekend was full of informative workshops and engaging outdoor activities, participants also spent time getting to know one another through such fun activities as bonfire discussions and staying overnight in cabins at the retreat center. The rustic environment obliged them to leave behind modern comforts in exchange for the chance to connect with one another and engross themselves in nature and the theme of mindfulness and social emotional learning. As a central program offered by ISLA, the annual retreat is a unique professional development effort that seeks to integrate research-based practices that work with opportunities for spiritual and personal growth. As a professional organization dedicated to providing God-centered leadership, ISLA views the retreats as an essential program for Islamic school professionals. The next ISLA Leadership Retreat is expected to take place in October 2020 at the Diyanet Center of America in Lanham, Md. More information can be found at www.theisla.org/retreat. ih Shaza Khan, PhD, is executive director of the Islamic Schools League of America.
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 39
9th Annual ISNA-CISNA West Coast Education Forum
October 9 – 10, 2020 Santa Ana, CA Contact Email:
email@example.com or Call:
Supporting Education in Muslim Societies by Fostering Knowledge The International Institute of Islamic Thought is pursuing the Advancing Education in Muslim Societies initiative BY SHARIQ SIDDIQUI
he International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT) partnered with Indiana University’s Lilly Family School of Philanthropy to host a track on Islamic education during the annual Symposium on Muslim Philanthropy and Civil Society, held on November 4-5, 2019, at Indiana University in Indianapolis. This track, a part of IIIT’s Advancing Education in Muslim Societies (AEMS; https://iiit.org/en/research) program, brought together scholars from several countries to examine research interests at the intersection of education, Islam and Muslim populations worldwide. Currently, such education reform movements tend to focus on a top-down approach. Education-reform conversations focus heavily on developing individual and collective human capital and frame 40 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
education as investing in national and regional economic development. Reformers have pushed privatization, standardization, accountability, school choice and testing. It is unclear if local communities embrace these reforms or if the reforms have delivered as promised. AEMS seeks to go beyond the tired, tested and failed education reform initiatives that are seen as being imposed on local communities. IIIT aims to show that education can be both utilitarian and transformative — not transformative in terms of economic benefit, but in terms of how it can lead to meaningful lives and a better world. Partnering with the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy’s Muslim Philanthropy Initiative helps further this ambitious agenda. Several education scholars met to explore how education in Muslim societies
can be furthered through interdisciplinary research questions designed to help develop important models and theories that can be tested and further human development. Dr. Ilham Nasser (senior researcher, IIIT) opened the symposium by presenting AEMS’s groundbreaking 2018-19 study, “Mapping the Terrain,” which included over 25,000 participants from 15 countries. It explored how secondary school and university students, parents, teachers and administrators value skills such as empathy, forgiveness, moral reasoning and community-mindedness. The study, which was approved by Indiana University’s Institutional Review Board, provided valuable new data as well as important possibilities for theory and practice development. This was followed by a panel of 14 scholars who provided interdisciplinary
EDUCATION research that will support the AMES initiative. Several of these peer reviewed papers will be published in the second issue of the Journal on Education in Muslim Societies (JEMS), IIIT’s new journal published by Indiana University Press. Prof. Manjuma Akhtar Mousumi’s (BRAC University, Bangladesh) research on the determinants of Muslim parents’ private school choice, examined the public/private decision-making about school choice in Delhi, India. She also analyzed their understanding of public/private schooling and whether faith and values play any role in this process. This is particularly important, now that this community is facing challenges related to its religious civic identity.
shaping female Jordanian and Syrian refugee students in Amman’s public schools. Dean Timothy Reagan (University of Maine) examined how education institutions protect and empower Muslim students in Muslimminority societies. At a time of heightened Islamophobia, this research is both critical for these Muslim students and particularly important due to Kubow’s leadership role within academia. Prof. Dilmurat Mahmut (McGill University), who shed light on Beijing’s policies against the Uyghurs, examined Xinjiang’s reeducation camps and asked whether they actually dispense antireligious education instead of counter religious extremism. Dr. Elisheva Leah Cohen
AEMS SEEKS TO GO BEYOND THE TIRED, TESTED AND FAILED EDUCATION REFORM INITIATIVES THAT ARE SEEN AS BEING IMPOSED ON LOCAL COMMUNITIES. IIIT AIMS TO SHOW THAT EDUCATION CAN BE BOTH UTILITARIAN AND TRANSFORMATIVE — NOT TRANSFORMATIVE IN TERMS OF ECONOMIC BENEFIT, BUT IN TERMS OF HOW IT CAN LEAD TO MEANINGFUL LIVES AND A BETTER WORLD. Prof. Sarfaraz Niyozov (University of Toronto), who investigated knowledge production and educational research in post-colonial and post-Soviet Muslim contexts, specifically focused on case studies in Pakistan and Tajikistan. He asked “How can education reform be tailored to the local context when the framing of research and knowledge production do not take into consider local customs, culture, norms and practice?” Dr. Sandy Zook (University of Colorado), who studied the role of nonprofit organizations and philanthropy in Muslim education in Ghana, built upon critical research that she has developed in partnership with local Ghanaian academics by digitizing nonprofit organization data. Rafeel Wasif (University of Washington) presented research detailing why Pakistan’s madrasas resist government reforms, an undertaking that builds upon his prior scholarly work on the role of philanthropy and madrasas in that country. Prof. Patricia Kubow (Indiana University) discussed research on citizen identities
(Indiana University) considered inclusion and navigating exclusion in the non-formal education curriculum for Syrian refugees in Jordan. Natasha Mansur’s (Columbia University) research took us to Cox Bazaar, Bangladesh, where she explored notions of belonging in adversity through her research on child labor among the Rohingya
refugee boys living there. Zulkipli Lessy of (Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University Yogyakarta, Indonesia), analyzed how that country’s community charities for the disadvantaged can create change. Sher Afgan Tareen (Florida State University), who examined Muslims in Virginia, explored professional Muslim urban families and studied their philanthropic practices as Muslim American educators. Dr. Tavis Jules (Loyola University, Chicago), who studies the government’s role in education, specifically focused on what he terms “state philanthropy” to educate the next generation and build democracy in Muslim societies. Derya Dogan (doctoral student, Indiana University), presented her research on the concerns of contemporary Islamic schooling practices in the U.S. IIIT promotes the advancement of education in Muslim societies by fostering the production of knowledge that honors grassroots culture, practice and social norms. The symposium is an important illustration of knowledge development when highlighting pluralism and equity for grassroots causes. Grassroots communities are more likely to embrace education reform if it respects and reflects their important role in advancing their society. AEMS’s embrace of the symposium and the launching of the Indiana University Press’ new Journal on Education in Muslim Societies (JEMS) are critical investments for human development in Muslim societies. ih Dr Shariq Siddiqui, director of the Muslim Philanthropy Initiative and assistant professor of philanthropic studies, the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy, Indiana University, is also a senior research fellow at the Center for Global Politics and IIIT and co-editor of JEMS.
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 41
Small Steps Toward a Greater Purpose
(PHOTO © NOHA ELFARRA, PARENT AT ISLAMIC SCHOOL OF LOUISVILLE)
Students from the three Abrahamic faiths come together to learn and grow in understanding
BY WILLIAM WHITE
n Jan. 19, students at the Islamic School of Louisville collaborated on a joint charity project with over 100 Christian and Jewish upper elementary and middle school students from Louisville, Ky. This was the first such event with youth from the city’s largest faith communities. For reasons familiar to many schools, this long-intended event had been delayed due to issues involving logistics, time and community sensitivities to the mere mention of interfaith or engaging with other faith groups. Hopefully, sharing this experience will benefit other schools and organizations that face similar concerns. Many Muslim educators understand the need to connect their Islamic school students with those who belong to other faith communities. While numerous strategies do exist, such as community service projects, Open House events or interfaith dialogues, it is easy to become overwhelmed and not participate in any of them. Moreover, there is the ongoing widespread debate among Muslims as to whether such outreach activities should be limited to simple meet-and-greet events or move beyond what is often referred to as “feel-good superficial discussions.” While there are certainly pros and cons to each approach, Islamic schools must begin planning such events within the scope of their unique vision. Our schools need to prepare our students to promote a positive image of Islam and Muslims in and beyond their communities. With this goal in mind, we contacted other faith group leaders until we found some who were enthusiastic and ready to collaborate. The first responders were two Jewish Sunday schools that were interested in a joint 42 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
OUR SCHOOLS NEED TO PREPARE OUR STUDENTS TO PROMOTE A POSITIVE IMAGE OF ISLAM AND MUSLIMS IN AND BEYOND THEIR COMMUNITIES. field trip to visit our students. Our community has never opposed collaborating with others, especially with our Christian neighbors. However, while many were intrigued with the idea of larger community engagement, there was some hesitation for reasons that may be familiar to many of us with large Palestinian communities. These concerns are legitimate and cannot be ignored. Nonetheless, we still saw a great opportunity to bring together youth and adults to build a better understanding of each other in a safe environment. And so we decided to organize an event during which students would collaborate with their Jewish and Christian peers in a way that emphasized our shared dedication to service and helping those in need. The following strategies were essential to helping us organize and conduct the event: • Hosting a meeting at our mosque and school campus • Planning a shared charity project that involved collecting items for the homeless • Involving a Christian school with which we had collaborated previously • Seeking input and involvement from parents and community members who may be hesitant to participate • Establishing two clear goals: (1) emphasize our faiths’ shared belief in helping the poor and (2) focus on what our students have in common as youth • Emphasizing best practices and expectations
in community engagement, as outlined in accrediting organizations such as the Council of Islamic Schools in North America (CISNA; https://www.cisnausa.org), with our governing body. Our program, which was easy to plan and execute, began with group introductions in which one representative from each organization spoke for 2-3 minutes about our shared purpose and beliefs. This was followed by a group icebreaker activity, during which students paired with those from other groups and shared interesting information about each other. After this, students and adults from all groups ate together. Next, students were split into groups to sort the items that all of our organizations had collected. They then helped load these into cars, and volunteers from each group helped deliver and distribute the items to over 400 homeless people at a downtown distribution center. This activity benefitted all of the participants. Our school’s students glowed with pride that they were able to display their faith in action and promote their beliefs to others. They also greatly appreciated being able to engage with the local homeless population and enthusiastically shared the lessons they learned about patience, humility and kindness reflected in the activity. A Facebook post on our school’s page (https://w w w.faceb o ok.com/ IslamicSchoolofLouisville) is also highly indicative of how our community received this event — it has been shared nearly 200 times and viewed, at the time of writing (Jan. 24), by nearly 22,000 people. While we feel that this event was successful, we still have a long way to go in developing our community engagement programs. As with everything, it takes a lot of time, patience and collaboration to make progress. In addition to engaging our youth, much work remains to be done with our adults in order to deepen the impact and meaning of future community endeavors. For this reason, our school is already planning a joint interfaith leadership workshop at which faith community leaders can come together in the spirit of professional growth and shared understanding of our respective communities’ strengths and challenges. ih William White, principal of the Islamic School of Louisville, is CISNA’s board secretary and a certified facilitator in the Leadership Challenge framework.
Incorporating Religion into the Health Disparities Narrative The University of Chicago hosts a conference on Advancing Muslim American Health Priorities BY NOREEN SYED, STEPHEN HALL, AASIM I. PADELA, CHRISTINA JAREMA, ADEL SYED, FATEMA MIRZA AND YASSER AMAN
or far too long, Muslim as additional forms of disease treatAmerican health disparities ment (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/ have been placed on the national pmc/articles/PMC4428580). Thus, for agenda’s backburner. With a popmany Muslims, health is more holistic and religious practices are a means for ulation predicted to double by 2050, the scattered projects on their health healing beyond the biomedical model. outcomes must be properly aligned for Beyond different ideas about healing, Muslim values of modpositive impact (https://www.pewreesty also impact health-seeking search.org/fact-tank/2018/01/03). behavior, screening practices and According to the National Institute patient-physician communication of Minority Health and Health (https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/ Disparities, interventions on the individual, community and population abs/10.1300/J013v28n03_04). A study levels are key to eliminating health of mosque-attending Muslim women disparities among minority groups in Chicago found more than half of (https://nimhd.nih.gov/about/overthe participants reported delaying view/mission-vision.html). Despite seeking care due to a perceived lack this, neither the National Institutes of of female physicians (https://www. Health nor the Agency for Healthcare ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26890129). Research and Quality (AHRQ) conAdditionally, Islamic law and ethics impact Muslim behaviors and attisider Muslim Americans a health dis Rami Nashashibi delivering the keynote address at A-MAP parities population, and thus federal tudes toward biomedical interventions Health Disparities Strategic Plans and fund- the social, economic and racial factors such as vaccines, organ transplantation and ing opportunities don’t study of this popu- that impact health differences between end-of-life care (http://www.sjkdt.org/artithese Americans and other U.S. groups, cle.asp?issn=1319-2442;year=1996;vollation’s religion-related health differences. Demographically, the 2017 Pew Research and fewer studies examine how religion ume=7;issue=2;spage=109;epage=114;auPoll found that Muslim American population influences these disparities (https://www. last=Albar; https://www.ncbi.nlm. is diverse: roughly 41 percent are of Arab or pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/01/03). nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3319889; Middle Eastern descent, 28 percent are Asian, Tellingly, a systematic literature review found https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/ 20 percent are black or African American, that between 1970-2009, only 171 empirical abs/10.1177/1526924819893933?journaland 8 percent are Hispanic (https://www. studies focused on Muslim American health Code=pitb; https://www.sciencedirect.com/ pewforum.org/2017/07/26). The Institute for disparities, and only a handful of these con- science/article/pii/S0264410X14000504). Social Policy and Understanding’s American sidered religious factors to impact Muslim To address these knowledge gaps and Muslim Poll, conducted in 2018, reported health outcomes (https://digitalscholarship. bring Muslim American health into the that 56 percent of Muslim Americans are unlv.edu/jhdrp/vol8/iss1/1). broader health disparities narrative, in 2017 immigrants, and despite commonly being However, research suggests that Muslims and with support from the Patient-Centered pulled into the “model-minority” narrative, share certain beliefs, values and experiences Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI), the one-third of them live at or below the fed- that can shape health behaviors across racial University of Chicago’s Initiative on Islam eral poverty line (https://www.academia. and ethnic lines (https://www.research- and Medicine, the UMMA Community edu/3754608). gate.net/publication/225086292). Muslim Clinic, the Whitestone Foundation and But even though the Muslim American Americans have been found to have a God- the Worry Free Community launched the community numbers almost 4 million, centric view of healing, with many using Engaging Muslim Americans for Research little existing empirical research explores supplication and recitation of the Quran on Community Health (E-MARCH) project. 44 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
This two-year endeavor had two goals: (1) to build community capacity for research by addressing knowledge as well as network gaps among motivated stakeholders and (2) to identify health priorities for mosquebased, patient-centered outcomes research. In conjunction with a carefully recruited cohort of 16 Muslim community leaders and healthcare stakeholders, the E-MARCH project settled on mental, reproductive and sexual health as key priorities among Muslim Americans. These themes set the agenda for the Advancing Muslim American Health Priorities (A-MAP) conference held in 2019.
through round table discussions and panel presentations. Conference presenters also offered fresh perspectives on topics ranging from cancer screening to cardiovascular disease prevention programs. Many also noted that focus groups, crisis response teams and a diverse Community Advisement Board could enhance community involvement in PCOR and bring about larger-scale changes. The novel Shark Tank sessions featured presentations of projects developed by the E-MARCH cohort members to a distinguished panel of experts (“sharks”): Aminah
BUT EVEN THOUGH THE MUSLIM AMERICAN COMMUNITY NUMBERS ALMOST 4 MILLION, LITTLE EXISTING EMPIRICAL RESEARCH EXPLORES THE SOCIAL, ECONOMIC AND RACIAL FACTORS THAT IMPACT HEALTH DIFFERENCES BETWEEN THESE AMERICANS AND OTHER U.S. GROUPS, AND FEWER STUDIES EXAMINE HOW RELIGION INFLUENCES THESE DISPARITIES. Last October, the A-MAP conference was convened to (1) draw attention to Muslim American health challenges, broadly speaking; (2) develop mosque community-based PCOR approaches to mental, reproductive and sexual health disparities; and (3) build out a network of leaders and stakeholders who are conversant with the inner workings of mosques, as well as PCOR and community-engaged research. This multi-pronged effort would better position Muslim community members to participate in health research, interventions and programs that tackle pressing issues of relevance to our community. The two-day conference, which hosted 94 policymakers, community activists, patients, physicians, psychologists, scholars and health professionals from across the country, included round table discussions that focused on (1) engaging mosque communities, (2) mental health, and (3) reproductive and sexual health. Researchers at various stages of their work were also offered the chance to present their findings to community stakeholders during a Health Research Shark Tank. Candid conversations about the unique health challenges faced by Muslim women, social stigma and the need for intersectionality in research emerged
Abdullah (Susan G. Komen FoundationChicago), Dr. Doriane Miller (University of Chicago Center for Community Health and Vitality), Courtney Clyatt (PCORI), Dr. Aziz Sheikh (University of Edinburgh Usher Institute) and Dr. Tariq Cheema (The World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists). Both the presenters and the audience received feedback on research methodology as well as advice on how to prepare their projects for submission to local and national funding opportunities. The two keynote speeches centered on the interplay among research, policy and national priorities. Dr. Rami Nashashibi of the Inner-City Muslim Action Network shared lessons learned from his organization’s work with underserved communities, stating, “There is a symbiotic relationship between research, reflection and meditation. The larger premise is that our community should be poised and ready to wrestle with evidence-based research, practical implications, and sustainability of practice.” The second keynote speaker, Prof. Aziz Sheikh, echoed this remark, stressing that “there is a critical need for better data to effectively identify and address Muslim health issues. The emphasis lies in data — it makes us objective, keeps the discussion
moving, and gets us to the table… We are trying to find where the data takes us, because the data is a means to the end.” Themes emerging from the discussions at the conference emphasized the need for Muslim health research to be patient-centered, and for community health programs to be data-focused and holistic so they can effectively address the spectrum of social and structural issues that affect Muslim American health outcomes. Attendees agreed that open discussion, collaborations and community engagement are key to empowering the community to address its own health challenges. They also agreed that future research should utilize empirical methods, as well as theological resources to address health disparities. Furthermore, researchers should work to create inclusive and religiously tailored community messaging around mental, reproductive and sexual health. Since the A-MAP Conference, the E-MARCH team has developed a comprehensive Mosque-Based PCOR Toolkit, which will be disseminated to mosques nationwide and serve as a template for addressing Muslim American health disparities. The Toolkit’s detailed Stakeholder Engagement Plan will equip community leaders to design research projects informed by patients, caregivers, clinicians, researchers, policymakers, health systems, hospitals and other stakeholders. With many Muslim households facing economic instability, social pressures in the form of Islamophobia and limited healthcare due to socio-economic barriers, it is vital that PCOR be adopted collectively, especially as it offers counter-narratives about Muslim Americans’ health practices and outcomes. Visit the University of Chicago’s Initiative on Islam and Medicine, https://voices.uchicago.edu/islamandmedicine/emarch-overview, to learn more about E-MARCH’s contributions to religiously focused and culturally relevant patient centered outcomes research. Keynote lectures from the conference were video-recorded and are available on the collaborating organization’s websites and YouTube channels. ih Noreen Syed and Adel Syed are associated with the University Muslim Medical Association Community Clinic, Los Angeles; Stephen Hall and Aasim I. Padela are associated with the Initiative on Islam and Medicine, University of Chicago; Christina Jarema and Fatema Mirza are associated with the Worry Free Community, Glendale Heights, IL; and Yasser Aman is associated with the Los Angeles County Martin Luther King Outpatient Center.
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 45
Obesity is Curable Do people make the effort before surrendering their health and even their lives to obesity-related complications? BY SHEIKH A. RAHMAN
person is considered obese when his or her weight is 20% higher than it should be according to their height and weight. Scientists have developed charts that determine appropriate weight levels, and even being a few pounds over is not okay. If people aren’t careful, every pound that they put on eventually will add up and make them a member of the “obese” category. Obesity has nothing to do with one’s race, religion, ethnicity or financial status. In general, poor people are obese because they live on carbohydrates (sugar) and oil or fat, for such cheaper foods are less nutritious. Another factor is ignorance, not even knowing what “nutritious” means. Common sense dictates that a person’s calorie intake should match the type of his or her work. Someone with a desk job does not need to consume as many calories as one whose job involves active physical labor, like farmers or construction workers. Regrettably, people don’t become educated about their diets and, in addition to their regular three meals, consume snacks, usually junk food, throughout the day. In addition to looking fat and sometimes unhealthy, obese people also have a greater chance of developing physical problems (e.g., diabetes, high blood pressure, heart problems, strokes, and arthritis in their hips and knees) and emotional disorders (e.g., social isolation and public humiliation). Sometimes they get so fed up with their weight that they try dieting and exercising. And if they still do not lose weight, they may fall into depression and, if they remain in that state, may end up committing suicide. These people also have social problems and may even have slim chances of getting married. Obesity can occur at any age. Newborn babies usually weigh between six to eight pounds; however, some infants, depending upon their race and ethnicity, are now being born weighing anywhere from 12 to 15 pounds. Overweight to begin with, they demand more nutrition than an average 46 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
infant. Given that parents are always concerned that the baby isn’t getting enough nutrition, they might sometimes stuff it with food to make it stop crying. But they seem not to realize that babies cry for a host of other reasons as well. The rule of thumb is that your body should consume what you eat and burn off all of the unnecessary calories. A normal meal should be followed with a physical activity like walking, jogging, weightlifting or using the treadmill. If you can’t walk, sit in a chair and move your arms and lift your legs. Balancing what your intake and what your body burns is very important. Fats and sugars that don’t leave your body form deposits and make your entire body appear fat. God gave our tongues taste buds to ensure that we would eat normal tasty foods instead of foods that are stale or unhealthy. Sometimes people who feel full keep on gorging themselves just to satisfy their taste buds’ demands — even going to the extent of making themselves throw up so they can continue eating and drinking. This is sad and wasteful. God said: “Eat and drink, but do not waste it” (Q. 7:31). Waste happens in three ways: spending more money on buying more food, eating too much and not exercising, as well as people who need food but cannot getting it. Fasting is the fourth pillar of Islam. But fasting during the day and then feasting at night, which is a rather common practice, causes many Muslims to gain weight during Ramadan. Miqdam ibn Ma’d reported: The Messenger of Allah (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) said, “The son of Adam cannot fill a vessel worse than his stomach, as it is enough for him to take a few bites to straighten his back. If he cannot do it, then he may fill it with a third of his food, a third of his drink, and a third of his breath” (“Sunan al-Tirmidhi,” hadith no. 2380). One day when he was speaking in Makka, a doctor came to start his business. After hearing this advice, he went on his way, for
“If they do as he advises, nobody here will get sick.” This preventative approach is better than seeking a cure and applies to all walks of life. Given that He created humanity in the best mold and doesn’t want anyone to enter the Fire, He sent the prophets and messengers to inform the people that their fate is the result of their choices, not of predestination. Therefore, maintaining a healthy weight should be a part of our children’s education, and we parents, as their natural role models, should reinforce such behavior by eating only healthy foods in proper quantities and then exercising. A common misconception is that pregnant and nursing women have to “eat for two.” For example, pregnant women who are diabetic, have high blood pressure and remain overweight postpartum risk acquiring permanent high blood pressure. Also, they may experience a difficult labor. After the baby is born, the OB-GYN staff should instruct the new mother about her and the baby’s diet, recommend regular checkups and advise her not to stuff her baby with food whenever it cries. As soon as the new-born can walk, let him or her walk as much as he or she can run and play. Watch his caloric intake so that he or she doesn’t
fish, and avoid side dishes like French fries as much as possible. Walk, jog or use the treadmill consistently, be determined and, above all, make du’a. Losing one to two pounds a week means that you will lose 50-100 lbs. a year. But remember that it’s normal to sometimes not lose weight for a week or two, so don’t get discouraged and give up. Making people lose weight is a trillion-dollar business. There are fitness centers and a lot of companies that sell special meals and shakes. However, these all are scams, for what they sell you for $100 to $200 you can do on your own for just one-tenth their price. Also, you can find a fitness center and get a personal trainer to teach you quickly what you need to do.
A NORMAL MEAL SHOULD BE FOLLOWED WITH A PHYSICAL ACTIVITY LIKE WALKING, JOGGING, WEIGHTLIFTING OR USING THE TREADMILL. IF YOU CAN’T WALK, SIT IN A CHAIR AND MOVE YOUR ARMS AND LIFT YOUR LEGS. BALANCING WHAT YOUR INTAKE AND WHAT YOUR BODY BURNS IS VERY IMPORTANT. consume too many carbohydrates and fats, but instead foods as they have different kinds of sugar and avoid as much candy as possible. Islam calls upon everyone to become educated and keep an eye on their weight so that they may remain physically and emotionally healthy. Following our Prophet’s example, we should strive to keep ourselves fit and healthy by watching our diet and exercising. God advises people to be sturdy, firm and healthy so that they can take care of themselves, their families and the community.
TREATMENTS Being obese is not the end of the world, for there are many simple and practical ways to lose weight. First of all, accept that you have
a problem and then get a medical checkup. This should include a BMI (Basal Metabolic Index), as well as a blood test to check for thyroid, diabetes, cholesterol and similar conditions. The physician will then determine the proper number of calories for you to consume, depending upon your level of physical activity. The best thing is to divide your calories into three parts. Breakfast, the most important meal of the day, could comprise about one-third of your calories. During the afternoon, consume about 100-200 calories by eating a fruit and some snacks like peanuts or oatmeal. Have a proper dinner that contains the remaining number of calories. Try to eat chicken, lean meat and baked
Both non-invasive and invasive methods are available. The non-invasive method now in vogue, called “coolsculpting,” involves freezing the fat, which melts away inside. Such procedures aren’t covered by insurance, but if you are obese you might think about having it done for your health, for you can lose 100-200 lbs. that way and without any complications. This will give you an incentive to reach to your normal weight and then maintain it. Ask your insurer if your policy covers bariatric surgery. This involves cutting the stomach to one-third or one-half its normal size to reduce its capacity, so you will feel full after eating only a little food. God has told us simple remedies, which are always applicable. At the Battle of the Trench in 627, the Prophet and his Companions were digging a trench around Medina to protect. They had scant water and food, even though the sun was blazing. A Companion pulled up his shirt up and showed the Prophet that he had a stone tied around his stomach to control his appetite. The Prophet lifted up his shirt and revealed that he had tied two stones. Perhaps one day research may lead to inventing a blood pressure cuff that ties around the stomach with a balloon that you can inflate before you eat and will deflate as you feel full. Obesity can be treated with a wellplanned strategy, determination and persistence without complications — and without too much expense. ih Dr. Sheikh A. Rahman is a family medicine doctor in Aurora, Ind.
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 47
Grow Your Own and Eat Safe Is our insistence on out-of-season produce healthy? BY MOHAMMAD ABDULLAH
nyone who keeps up with the news should be concerned when official notices appear that this or that eatable is being withdrawn due to contamination concerns. Fresh fruits and vegetables are an important part of a healthy diet, for they are low in calories and high in essential vitamins, minerals, fiber and other nutrients. However, fresh produce grown in open fields, treated with soil amendments and irrigated with low-quality water has the potential to become contaminated with pathogens such as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella and Listeria monocytogenes, all of which make people sick when eaten raw. Lately, the major food safety topic has been the recall of leafy greens, especially of the romaine lettuce grown in the open fields of “America’s Salad Bowl” — the Salinas region of California. New cases have been reported for the third consecutive year, and this outbreak has now been listed as one of last year’s top ten food safety stories. A concerned consumer’s letter to the editor stated, “We know that water is contaminated — we know what must be done — just do it” (Food Safety News, Dec. 5, 2019), and another posted on LinkedIn asked, “Why are we like a third world country? Why is this lettuce constantly being recalled?” Indeed, this recall has become an on-going problem, and in the future food safety agencies should do more to ensure that such recalls are given the attention they deserve. But the romaine lettuce recall is just one of the several recent recalls. Trader Joe’s, a neighborhood grocery store, voluntarily recalled several types of ready-to-eat salads for potential contamination with Listeria (USA Today, Dec. 3, 2019) and, according to another report (Food Safety News, Dec. 21, 2019), fresh-cut fruit that was recalled on Dec. 7, 2019, continued to be consumed at schools and health care facilities, 48 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
thereby sickening many more people with Salmonella. Having served in the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service (USDA, FSIS) as a field epidemiology officer, I know that government agencies use available technology to identify, track and contain outbreaks. However, this undertaking can sometimes be a lengthy
IN THE PAST, FRESH PRODUCE USED TO BE A SEASONAL THING. BUT TODAY’S CONSUMERS WANT FRESH FRUITS AND VEGETABLES THE YEAR ROUND. TO ENSURE THEIR AVAILABILITY, FRESH PRODUCE WHOLESALERS BASED IN SEVERAL COUNTRIES CONTRACT GROWERS IN DIFFERENT REGIONS OF THE WORLD. WORLDWIDE, ABOUT 865 MILLION METRIC TONS OF FRUIT AND 1.1 BILLION METRIC TONS OF VEGETABLE AND MELON CROPS ARE PRODUCED EACH YEAR.
process because some products are recalled more than once when additional product variations, lot numbers or retail locations are identified. But it could also be due to coordination problems between the growers and retailers on the one hand, and among the federal food safety agencies, especially the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), USDA and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), on the other hand. These agencies must take a hard look at what tools they need to conduct speedy investigations while maintaining consumer trust. In the past, fresh produce used to be a seasonal thing. But today’s consumers want fresh fruits and vegetables the year round. To ensure their availability, fresh produce wholesalers based in several countries contract growers in different regions of the world. Worldwide, about 865 million metric tons of fruit and 1.1 billion metric tons of vegetable and melon crops are produced each year (according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations). Advances in controlled atmosphere and preservation technology have made it easy to transport fresh produce to far-off places. For example, wax is often applied to apples, cucumbers, oranges, bell peppers, eggplants and potatoes to slow down shrinkage and spoilage. Lettuce may be treated with preservatives and stored in Modified Atmosphere Packs to slow deterioration and to prolong shelf life (Digesting the Food System: A Produce Supply Chain Breakdown, Medium, Dec. 22, 2017). Fresh produce is defined as perishable products that require coordinated activity by growers, storage operators, processors and retailers to maintain quality and reduce the risk of contamination at every point in the complex and fragmented global fresh produce supply chain.
Soil amendments (materials added to the soil to improve its physical or chemical properties), irrigation water, animal manure and organic fertilizers are major sources of contamination. Manure should be properly composted to reduce pathogens to safe levels. There is increasing evidence of irrigation water’s contribution to contaminating produce, which leads to subsequent outbreaks of foodborne illnesses. This is a particular risk in the production of leafy vegetables that will be eaten raw (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov). Therefore, the guidelines on testing irrigation water and soil, along with biological amendments, should be followed. When contamination is detected, irradiation, UV, ozone or chlorine dioxide may be used for decontaminating fresh produce. However, there may not be a one-type-fits-all technology, given the diverse nature of fresh produce, because some interventions may be more suitable to certain types of fruit and vegetables than others. Post-harvest washing will remove some contamination; however, it wouldn’t kill pathogens and, in some situations, may even spread them. In addition to food outbreaks, fresh produce issues include the use of chemical sprays for pest control and plastic for packaging and labeling. Most foodborne illnesses are associated with consuming fresh-cut produce, which is generally packed in plastic. Almost all conventionally grown fruit and vegetables are sprayed with pesticides and fungicides to control such pests as insects, rodents, weeds, bacteria, mold and fungus. The EPA regulates every pesticide for safety before registration when used according to the label’s direction. Still, some produce may be more contaminated with pesticides than others, and some of these chemicals may leach into the ground. Even
most organic produce is also sprayed with pesticides derived from plants. Conventional or organic, in either case a dose can make a spray poisonous. Hydroponic gardening requires little, if any, pesticide use. The use of plastic often provides a better surface area on which labels can be applied. The labels can then provide more information about the produce’s source. Packaging in plastic also results in less spoilage and waste, such as in the case of grapes and berries. Without a wrap, cucumbers may last for only a few days, while with the plastic wrap they can last up to two weeks. Packaging fresh produce in thin sheets of plastic also protects against the pathogenic bacteria that may be transferred from multiple hands and vehicles. Even with these good reasons, however, plastic packaging impacts Earth’s ecosystems. Today it’s like a global cancer that not only pollutes our water and air, but also our land, in which it remains forever. According to the EPA, the U.S. generates more than 4 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps each year, of which only about 13 percent is recycled (Petition asks Target to ban plastic bags, Kansas City Star, Dec. 27, 2019). Just imagine the situation in those countries that don’t recycle. We need to find more ways to buy products that have less plastic packaging than others, or at least have a better recycling system than just sending plastic to landfills. Luckily, we do have a couple of options: • Find a local source: Local farmers use less plastic, their fruits and vegetables have less chance of contamination, they ensure that their fruit is picked at peak ripeness and provide fun for the family by letting you pick the produce yourself. • Better yet, grow your own fresh produce: It’s less expensive, tastier, and even
more nutritious. Supermarket produce, such as tomatoes, are frequently picked green before they have a chance to fully develop their flavor. Later on, they are artificially ripened with ethylene gas that plants produce naturally (Health Benefits of Home-Grown Produce, U.S. News, July 30, 2010). It would be a good idea to check your refrigerator for the implicated product when a food recall is announced and, if you have any, to throw it away or return it to the place of purchase. Moreover, it’s easier to grow fresh produce than you think. My friend, an avid gardener says, “You don’t need a farm, a single-family house, a townhouse or even a municipal allotment to grow your own produce — you can even grow vegetables in flower pots.” For instance, the Wall Street Journal (June 12, 2014) reported that luxury homeowners living in urban penthouses and terraces were installing bespoke greenscapes as carefully curated — and sometimes just as costly — as art collections. It cited a dweller on the 35th story above New York Harbor strolling through his groves of Japanese maple, spruce and pine trees and then sitting under a pergola hung with grape vines, where wild strawberries and thyme were growing between the paving stones. He also has a hidden alpine garden; an orchard of plum, peach and heirloom apple trees, as well as espaliered pear trees, growing on copper screens. So, make a great start by growing your own fruits and vegetables with all of the qualities that you desire. And please sacrifice by not consuming out-of-season produce. ih Dr. Mohammad Abdullah retired after serving for 29 years with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food Safety and Inspection Service, which regulates the meat industry. He is the author of “A Closer Look at Halal Meat from Farm to Fork” (2016), which is available at Amazon.com.
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 49
While consuming less and conserving our resources, let’s focus more on our own spiritual development and contributing to the larger social good BY ISNA GREEN INITIATIVE TEAM
amadan, the month of mercy and blessings, is also the time for coming together as a community for taraweeh prayers and iftars (2:183). Such events have become Ramadan traditions in North America. Unfortunately, a considerable amount of food and water is wasted due to the lack of effective conservation and recycling efforts despite “And do not waste [God’s bounties]: Verily, He does not love the wasteful” (6:141) and “Never waste water, even you are at a running stream (“Sunan Ibn Majah,” 425). In line with “He is the one Who made you guardians/inheritors of Earth” (35:39), ISNA’s Green Initiative Team has been promoting environmentally friendly practices to fulfill this responsibility. The Green Ramadan Campaign, a spiritually and socially rewarding part of this initiative, is about becoming more environmentally conscious, socially responsible and compassionate to those around us as we emulate Prophet Muhammad’s (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) deeds. This is our sixth year of enlisting mosques/ Islamic centers nationwide to remember and protect our planet that, through God’s grace, 50 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
produces that which nourishes our bodies and our community spirit. Interacting mindfully with our environment manifests our faith. As we fast during this blessed month, let’s reaffirm our sense of self-restraint and accountability to the Creator, the Provider of Sustenance. An FAO study says, “Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (222 million metric tonnes [245 tons]) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (230 million metric tonnes [255 tons])” (www.fao.org/save-food/resources/ keyfindings/en). A 2012 Natural Resources Defense Council paper estimated that as much as 40 percent of America’s food supply ends up in dumpsters. Let’s also remember that less consumption means less waste. Islam teaches us that protecting the environment is an expression of worship. May God help us seek His pleasure by having a better and greener Ramadan this year. Our social responsibility also demands that we strive to eradicate injustice and discrimination and that we portray, though our words and actions, the right image of our religion. This is a good time to become involved
in civic activities in the broader community. Invite non-Muslims to your iftars so they can get to know us better. Donate food to local homeless shelters. Provide food, other materials and support to Muslim inmates in your area, for they have the least facilities and resources to observe Ramadan. Let’s modify our habits, adopt environmentally friendly practices and work for the greater social good for everyone from now on. Let’s make this blessed month a better and greener one by doing all or at least some of the following actions individually and collectively: • Reduce food waste and overconsumption. Eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat. Remember that the Prophet ate mostly grains, dates, water, milk, honey, vegetables and fruits. Take only what you can finish, eat moderately and don’t waste food, for, as Miqdam ibn Ma’d reported, “The Prophet said, ‘The son of Adam cannot fill a vessel worse than his stomach, as it is enough for him to take a few bites to straighten his back. If he cannot do it, then he may fill it with a third of his food, a third of his drink, and a third of his breath” (“Sunan al-Tirmidhi,” 2380). • Reduce and recycle. Recycle material, especially plastic water bottles. Plastics now take up 25-30 percent of our landfills. In the U.S., about 1,500 plastic water bottles are used every second (Washington Post, Sept. 23, 2014). Minimize your use of plastic, because it’s impacting both climate change and our health negatively. Most plastics end up in a landfill and take a very long time to
decompose. Replace them with quick degradable/paper products and start bringing your own utensils. Avoid all Styrofoam products for, being non-recyclable and non-biodegradable, they’ll still be around a 1,000 years from now! • Adopt a reusable water bottle/mug. Always avoid using plastic disposable bottles, for an estimated 80 percent of them are not recycled! Bring your own reusable bottle to all iftar and taraweeh events. • Save energy and water. Replace light bulbs with energy-saver bulbs. Schedule your facility for an energy-efficiency audit. Consider installing solar panels to reduce the use of fossil fuels. Conserve water even while making wudu’. • Khutbah. Ask your khateeb to at least deliver one Friday khutbah during Ramadan on the Islamic imperative to conserve and protect the environment and the significance of contributing to the greater social good.
THIS IS OUR SIXTH YEAR OF ENLISTING MOSQUES/ISLAMIC CENTERS NATIONWIDE TO REMEMBER AND PROTECT OUR PLANET THAT, THROUGH GOD’S GRACE, PRODUCES THAT WHICH NOURISHES OUR BODIES AND OUR COMMUNITY SPIRIT. INTERACTING MINDFULLY WITH OUR ENVIRONMENT MANIFESTS OUR FAITH. • Plant or expand a garden. Ramadan is a good time to plant trees and vegetable gardens at home and the mosque. Start growing at least some of your own food, and remember that planting a tree is a charity. • Social good and outreach. Celebrate this month by joining civic activities. Contribute to the larger social good by volunteering at homeless shelters, collecting food for food pantries, joining community social projects, inviting non-Muslims to community and home dinners and taking care of Muslim inmates in the nearby jails. • Involve children. Children need to learn these values, so find ways for them to participate in age-appropriate Ramadan activities. For example, they can act as Green ambassadors during community dinners. This year, “Earth Day” coincides with Ramadan. ISNA’s Green Initiative Team is partnering with Interfaith Power & Light (https:// www.interfaithpowerandlight.org), a national organization striving for a better environment, to observe Earth Week. The Green Ramadan Campaign is part of it. Register your mosque/Islamic center as a “Green Ramadan Campaign” participant at www.isna.net/greenramadan. After Ramadan, tell us about your efforts and achievements. The mosque/Islamic center that achieved the most goals will be recognized as the winner, and each participant will receive a certificate of participation. Through the courtesy of the Pen and Ink Foundation (http://ain.foundation/), the Arbor Day Foundation (https://www.arborday.org) will plant a tree sapling on behalf of each registrant in an area that needs forestation. Make sure to register so we know that you participated! ih ISNA Green Initiative Team members Huda Alkaff, Saffet Catovic, Nana Firman, Uzma Mirza and Saiyid Masroor Shah (chair).
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 51
Ramadan Behind Bars How America’s mass incarceration system impacts Muslims, and what some community organizers are doing about it BY PEACE HOUSE DC AND VAUGHN 17
iven that the U.S. has the world’s highest per capita prison population, it should come as no surprise that a significant number of Muslims are impacted by mass incarceration. In 2013, about 8.4 percent of federal prisoners self-identified as Muslim. As of 2019, about 9 percent of the country’s state prison population was Muslim. In the Mid-Atlantic states such as Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland, the number of Muslims is higher than 20 percent (MuslimAdvocates.org). Muslims are also the fastest-growing religious group behind bars. According to a 2012 Pew Research Center survey of prison chaplains, incarcerated people are most likely to embrace Islam. Finally, Muslims are the demographic most likely to have their constitutional religious rights violated while incarcerated. A report by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights and Religious Freedom found that from 1997 to 52 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
2008, Muslims in federal prison filed more administrative requests to remedy obstructions to their religious observance than any other faith group. And these violations remain ongoing. A 2016 New York Times article details a long history of anti-Muslim policies in New York state facilities, from placing a Muslim man in solitary confinement for 77 days for refusing to drink water during fasting hours (the facility demanded a urine sample), to arbitrarily limiting access to showers and stopping Ramadan meals during an extended lockdown. In 2018, four Washington State Reformatory prisoners successfully sued, with CAIR’s support, the Washington Department of Corrections for denying them an extra meal outside of regular cafeteria hours during Ramadan. In 2019, two Virginia state prisons were reported to be denying prisoners suhoor and making them wait more than an hour
for iftar. Earlier that same year, Muslim Advocates sued a Florida county jail and Immigration and Customs Enforcement for restricting access to copies of the Quran and spaces to gather for communal prayer. While larger Islamic organizations like CAIR (https://www.cair.com) and Muslim Advocates (https://muslimadvocates.org) provide the essential legal aid described above, Muslimah-led grassroots efforts are building a community movement dedicated to transforming the entire carceral system from the ground up. Fariha Huriya is a cofounder and longtime resident of DC Peace House (https:// www.facebook.com/thepeacehousedc), a collective seeking to “transform individual lives and communities for those working for positive social change and a world free from oppression.” Her leadership has frequently led the house to be a hub for the Muslim community; for example, after the Christchurch, New Zealand, massacre, she and another Muslimah hosted an event during which people came together to remember those killed and hold space for Muslim grief and healing. Fariha is also the point person in the Peace House’s solidarity campaign with the “Vaughn 17” — a group of incarcerated men unjustly accused of starting a riot in a Delaware state facility in 2017. Throughout their trials and sentencing, she maintained close contact with the men and their friends and families. A number of the defendants are Muslim, and their experiences behind bars gave Fariha an intimate window into their struggles to practice their faith in prison. “The Vaughn 17 were accused of rioting when they staged a protest, when they stood up for their human rights and the human rights of all prisoners… such as asking for better wages and clean living conditions,” Fariha explained. “Some of those prisoners were guided by their Muslim faith, their belief that all Allah’s creation deserves to live with dignity. After the protests they were punished for their faith. We got reports that guards attacked prisoners while they were praying and took away Qurans.” Last Ramadan, Fariha and the Peace House hosted their first annual iftar in honor of incarcerated Muslims. Doubling as a letter-writing prisoner solidarity event, they compiled names and addresses so that attendees could pen Ramadan cards to them. Open to people of all faiths, it encouraged everyone to “fast this day in
remembrance of all the prisoners suffering behind bars, far away from home, their friends, and their families.” Though small in scale, the event significantly impacted both the attendees and the recipients. “It was uplifting to tell more people about these incredible brothers who are currently undergoing torture in prisons, working for social justice and shedding light on the abuses under incarceration … It’s not just young brothers like the Vaughn defendants. Some of these brothers have been locked up for a very long time, and we need to remember them too. Death row defendant Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan is still being targeted for his role in the Lucasville uprising almost 30 years ago… there was overcrowding, guard violence, problems with sanitation, and the State of Ohio forcibly injected Muslim prisoners with an alcohol-based TB test even though they knew it was against their religious beliefs.” “Imam Siddique was one of those who helped negotiate a peace agreement between the uprising and the Ohio National Guard, but he did not get any mercy. Instead, he and three other Lucasville defendants have been held in solitary confinement continuously since 1993. A few years ago, the prison administration made up stories that he was involved in a terrorism plot. Being Muslim makes these brothers extra vulnerable to retaliation from guards and administrators.” Over in Chicago, another Muslimah-led initiative is using iftars to raise awareness and funds in support of incarcerated community members. The idea for Believers Bail Out (BBO; https://believersbailout.org) arose during a conference at Smith College in Feb. 2018. During this event, scholars Kecia Ali (Boston University), Su’ad Abdul Khabeer (University of Michigan) and Maytha Alhassen (Pop Culture Collaborative, senior fellow) brainstormed an Islamic approach to prison justice after student panelists raised the topic. The result was an offshoot of the National Bail Out collective that centers on zakat. BBO asserts that people in pretrial incarceration who cannot afford bail qualify for zakat under the category of freeing someone in captivity, and that those who pay their bail are fulfilling their essential religious obligations, for “And do you realize what is the steep road? It is the freeing of a human being from bondage” (90:12-13). BBO has established an impressive coalition of Chicago-based community
Imam Siddique Abdullah Hasan
BOTH BBO AND PEACE HOUSE ALIGN THEIR WORK WITH THE LARGER MOVEMENT FOR “PRISON ABOLITION,” A MOVEMENT CHARACTERIZED BY ITS LONG-TERM GOAL OF ENDING THE NEED FOR PRISONS BY TRANSFORMING SOCIETY THROUGH PUBLIC INVESTMENT IN JOBS, EDUCATION, HOUSING, HEALTH CARE AND EVERY OTHER VITAL SYSTEM OF COMMUNITY SUPPORT THAT ENCOURAGES HEALTHY AND PEACEFUL LIVING.
organizations: Sapelo Square (https:// sapelosquare.com), a writing platform for African American Muslims run by Khabeer, leads BBO in partnership with MPower Change (https://www.facebook.com/ MPowerChange), the Chicago Community Bond Fund (https://chicagobond.org), Sirat Chicago (https://siratchicago.org), Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN; https:// www.imancentral.org) and Masjid al-Rabia (https://masjidalrabia.org/about-us). BBO collects online donations directly on their website and helps supporters plan their own fundraiser suhoor and iftar events. However, BBO makes it clear that their project is as much about political education as fundraising. The detailed website outlines and defines three areas of concern: the prison industrial complex, anti-Muslim racism and anti-Blackness. The “learn” section explains why mass incarceration is ineffective and how “racism is foundational” to the disproportionate incarceration of Black, Latino, Native American and Muslim prisoners. BBO emphasizes that non-Black Muslims need to stand in solidarity with those community members who are most criminalized and critically examine our own role in structural racism. They are, in effect, providing the roadmap for a community movement that is much bigger than paying bail during Ramadan. In an interview last year with Teen Vogue, Khabeer stated that “the end goal is the abolishment of monied bail. The end is prison abolition” (“This Ramadan ‘Believers Bail Out’ Wants Muslims to Address Prison Abolition,” June 11, 2018). His use of abolition is intentional and noteworthy. Both BBO and Peace House align their work with the larger movement for “prison abolition,” a movement characterized by its long-term goal of ending the need for prisons by transforming society through public investment in jobs, education, housing, health care and every other vital system of community support that encourages healthy and peaceful living. This past fall, Peace House became one of the founding organizations of the DC Abolition Coalition, a grassroots collective that seeks to strengthen the capital’s abolition movement and build its connections with similar community initiatives nationwide. Prison abolitionists contend that the system cannot be remedied by making a few isolated changes. In a New York Times magazine feature, famous abolitionist and MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 53
“What is Money Bail?” In the “learn” section of its website, BBO offers an infographic explaining how money bail works. During the gap between being arrested and charged and when they actually go to trial, many states hold the accused until they can pay for their release. Bail is designed to guarantee that people show up to court, because then their money will be returned. However, districts that have changed to no-bail release systems paired with case managers have reported a higher rate of hearing attendance.
accomplished geography professor Ruth Wilson Gilmore explained that instead of trying to “fix” a fundamentally flawed system, abolitionists advocate for policies that stop new prisons from being built, close existing prisons and jails one by one and redirect state funding to services that “benefit, rather than punish, vulnerable communities” (Apr. 17, 2019). In recent years, Christian and Jewish scholars have published theological explorations of prison abolition, such as Rev. Nikia Smith Robert’s piece outlining “a liberation theology for lockdown America” (Graduate Journal of Harvard Divinity School, Feb. 17, 2017). Fariha argues that it is time for Muslims to make the same connections: “The idea that we can imagine a world without
54 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
The immigration detention bond system is particularly egregious, with ICE holding over $204 million in bond money that should legally be returned to those who showed up for trial. Those who can’t afford bond often work for as little as one dollar a day in both private and public facilities. Clearly, keeping pretrial defendants in prison is a huge money-maker for companies like Geo Corp and Corrections Corporation of America, two publicly traded companies that dominate the for-profit prison industry. ih
prisons and then it’s possible for us to build that world resonates with the teachings of Islam.” Indeed, the scope of the abolitionist vision, the magnitude of its goals and its belief in the inherent goodness of creation all evoke the highest spiritual values present in most of the world’s religious traditions. This year, Peace House plans to repeat its successful iftar event and expand the number of incarcerated Muslims to whom it extends its support and solidarity, for “And feed with food the needy, the orphan and the prisoner, for love of Him” (76:8). “Like last year, we will encourage our allies to fast with us to honor those who are fasting beyond those prison bars, and we will provide cards to bring in a bit of light into the dark prison cells,” she said. Based
on feedback from those they contacted last year, they will also focus more on raising funds: “Last year we were not able to send any financial contribution, so hopefully this year we can… it’s not legal, but in some facilities the brothers still have to pay for the special iftar meals, so they need our support with that to make their fast easier.” What are the conditions like in your closest jail, state prison or federal prison? As advocates “on the outside,” it is essential that we reach out and stay vigilant on prisoners’ legal rights. We encourage all readers to contact incarcerated Muslims in their respective state and contribute to grassroots Muslim initiatives to support those fasting behind bars. In addition to local events like the Peace House iftar and BBO fundraisers, there are also nationwide networks. In 2018, the Islamic Council of North America founded the Muslim Prisoners Support Project (https://icnacsj.org/muslim-prisoner-support-project) in order to offer these Muslims a variety of religious resources from prayer services and educational materials to Ramadan care packages. Muslims need to open their hearts and minds to learn more about the prison abolition movement from the Muslim perspective espoused by BBO and Peace House. Incarcerated Muslims will continue to suffer and compromise their faith until we profoundly transform the U.S. prison system. ih Peace House DC is a community resilience collective located in the Deanwood neighborhood of Washington, D.C. Vaughn 17 is a solidarity movement in support of prisoners at the Vaughn Correctional Center in Delaware.
THE MUSLIM WORLD
The Origin of the Strongman in Egypt Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, President Trump’s “favorite dictator,” is hardly an “accident of history” BY OSMAN AHMED
Gamal Abdel Nasser
nside a room of the ornately decorated Hotel du Palais during last year’s Group of Seven summit in Biarritz, France, President Trump, who awaited a meeting with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi, is reported to have said in a loud voice, “Where’s my favorite dictator?” Several people who were in the room confirmed this to the Wall Street Journal (Sept. 13, 2019). Since 1953, a continuum of Egyptian dictators has reduced the once proud nation to this ignominy. In the postwar era, independent Egypt has known only military dictators: Gen. Mohamed Naguib (1953-54), Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954-70), Gen. Muhammad Anwar el-Sadat (1970-81), Hosni Mubarak (1981-2011), and now Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (2014-??). There has been only one very short democratic interlude: Mohamed Morsi (2012-13). Twentieth-century Egypt experienced four popular anti-colonial revolutions. The first one, which broke out in 1919, was due to Britain’s failure to meet the people’s hope that they would be rewarded for their help during WW1. The ensuing disappointment led to the establishment of the nation’s first constitution as well as a constitutional monarchy with an elected Parliament. The occupation continued. The second one, in 1936, officially ended Britain’s 54 years of occupation via the Anglo-Egyptian Treaty. But there was a
catch: British forces would remain to protect the Suez Canal until the Egyptians forces were able to do so. The advent of WW2 rendered this understanding obsolete. The third one, in 1946, was ignited by the breakdown of the renewed discussions on how to apply the 1936 treaty and reward Egypt for its support. Britain responded by deploying its forces in Cairo and Alexandria to the cities along the Suez Canal. The spark for the fourth, popular and historically “forgotten” revolution, the one against King Farouk (d. 1965), was set off when thousands of Wafd Party members received Prime Minster Mostafa el-Nahhas Pasha, who had held that post several times, at Alexandria to welcome him back from his 1951 summer vacation in Capri. In a bid for popularity amid rumors that King Farouk was planning to dismiss him, he announced that he would abrogate the treaty — he had been one of its original signers — during the Parliament’s October session. His unilateral abrogation of it on Oct. 17 with the Parliament’s support made him the hero of the hour. He declared: “It was for Egypt that I signed the 1936 treaty, and it is for Egypt that I call on you to abrogate it” (William Stadiem, “Too Rich: The High Life and Tragic Death of King Farouk,” 1991). This deed set off daily demonstrations by mainly high school and university students primarily in Cairo and Alexandria. At that time, I was a high school senior and a demonstration leader at school. On
every school day I and three other leaders would gather students for the mostly antiKing Farouk and anti-British protests that would last from the first day of the school year until Jan. 24, 1952. As the British refused to leave their Suez Canal base, Cairo cut off their water supply, prevented food from reaching it, announced a boycott of British products, forbade Egyptian workers to enter the base and encouraged daily guerrilla attacks by the workers belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, Misr al-Fatah, the Wafd and other parties. The goal was to turn the surrounding area into a low-level war zone. On Jan. 24, 1952, Egyptian guerrillas supported by the Egyptian Auxiliary Police attacked the British forces stationed there. The next day commander Gen. Sir George Erskine surrounded Ismailia’s auxiliary police station with tanks and infantry and, alleging that those inside were arming the guerrillas, gave them one hour to surrender. The police station’s commander called Interior Minister Fouad Serageddin, el-Nahas’ right-hand man, who reportedly was lazing in his bathtub with a cigar. He ordered them to fight “to the last man and the last bullet.” The resulting battle leveled the station; 43 policemen were killed and about 100 were wounded. Three British soldiers were killed. Outraged by this uneven battle, on Jan. 26 — known as Black Saturday — an anti-British riot broke out. Much of downtown Cairo, MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 55
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, King Salman of Saudi Arabia, Melania Trump, and Donald Trump, May 2017.
rebuilt by Khedive Ismail (d. 1895) in the style of Paris, was burned down. The king, celebrating the birth of what would turn out to be his only son, had invited all senior police and army officers for lunch at his Abdeen Palace. Although located only five kilometers from the fire, he instructed them not to interfere and to go directly home after the party. The next day, Farouk blamed the Wafd for the riot and dismissed el-Nahhas. The same day saw more demonstrations by students, factory workers and even civilians in cities from Aswan to Alexandria — so many, in fact, that Cairo declared an emergency and closed all schools and universities for two weeks. During this break, the students’ activities were reviewed in order to identify and punish the leaders. My school expelled and arrested all Marxist students and suspended all Wafd and Muslim Brotherhood students for the rest of the academic year. I was suspended for 30 days.
Naguib, wanted to replace him with one of his relatives. Like other young civilians, especially the Muslim Brotherhood and others who were involved in the anti-British attacks in the Canal Zone, they also opposed the king. Farouk, an inveterate gambler who knew that the Free Officers and many Egyptians hated him, would joke that the world would have five kings: the one in England and the four kings in each deck of cards. For the sake of his son, he claimed, he was ready to become a figurehead king so he could continue gambling and enjoying the company of women. The 1952 revolution, also known as the
IN ANY CASE, BOTH LONDON AND WASHINGTON HAD ALREADY CONCLUDED THAT DEMOCRACY WASN’T A GOOD EXPORT AND THAT ONLY INDIGENOUS DICTATORS COULD HELP REPRESS THE MIDDLE EAST’S NATIONAL AND SOCIAL MASS MOVEMENTS, ESPECIALLY DUE TO THE WIDESPREAD PALESTINIAN PROBLEM. AND WHO DID THEY CHOOSE TO SUPPORT BUT THE “THE FREE OFFICERS,” THE YOUNG MILITARY OFFICERS LED BY COL. NASSER. Britain and the U.S. gave Farouk their complete support. On Aug. 4, 1952, The New York Times compared Egypt to Iran and pointed out that Cairo “had no need of catering to public opinion.” In any case, both London and Washington had already concluded that democracy wasn’t a good export and that only indigenous dictators could help repress the Middle East’s national and social mass movements, especially due to the widespread Palestinian problem. And who did they choose to support but the “The Free Officers,” the young military officers led by Col. Nasser. Listening to the advice dispensed by American and British diplomats — select a higher-ranking officer to join them to gain the public’s acceptance — they picked Gen. Mohamed Naguib, then president of the Army Officers Club. Farouk, who didn’t like 56 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
1952 coup d’état or the 23 July revolution, began on July 23. Led by Naguib and Nasser, it initially sought only Farouk’s overthrow. The British army didn’t interfere, for it could be moved to Cairo or Alexandria within a few hours. Farouk and his immediate family, then in Alexandria, were ready to move from the Montaza Palace to the Ras-Elteen Palace, which was close to the harbor in which his royal yacht was anchored. As he left, he was given an honor guard and a 21-gun salute. Naguib, along with one of the Free Officers and U.S. Ambassador Jefferson Thomas Caffery, saluted him. Britain, trying to save whatever it could and win over Naguib, handed the Suez Canal Zone’s Friedan port over to the Egyptian army on Aug. 24. At the end of the month, London declared that it was prepared to resume deliveries of war materials.
Naguib and his officers, however, were far from being a real leadership. As his main goal had been to curb the royal prerogative, Naguib retained the constitution and opened the doors of the Abdeen Palace to three regents, one of them a royal family member. There was talk of careful constitutional reform through a future Constituent Assembly entrusted with curbing the king’s right to dissolve Parliament and recall governments. But all of that would come later. What was certain was that the foundations would remain unaltered. Prime Minister Ali Maher declared: “Revision will not change its [the constitution’s] fundamental principles, which are not only intangible but immortal” (see Stadiem). Even Naguib had said in the beginning: “We have no intention of transforming Egypt into a republic. The state form will remain exactly the same as in the past: a constitutional monarchy” (al-Misri, July 31, 1952). Moreover, Naguib had no revolutionary intentions toward the clergy, as seen in his remarks when visiting al-Azhar University: “The most important task is to raise the moral level. That can only be done by adhering strictly to religion. Toward this end, al-Azhar should be supported in its mission. The army and al-Azhar have one aim for which they are orienting in common” (al-Misri, Aug. 10, 1952). The coup d’état cannot be considered a revolution, for the old institutions were retained. If Naguib was limiting their functions here or there, it was because they could no longer preserve the existing social structure. His objective was to show the ruling classes, landed proprietors, big merchants and capitalists that a military dictatorship could maintain this structure. Actually, Naguib’s rule was short because he envisaged the military returning to its barracks and leaving a civilian government in charge. But, as history shows, the Free Officers, London and Washington had other ideas. Now for almost 68 years of military rule, Egypt has lost its prestigious position in the Middle East and is controlled by some oil rich mini-states. Even during Farouk’s time these mini states used to beg for food from Egypt. El-Sisi is not just the "favorite dictator" of President Trump, but also of these Gulf oildoms. ih Dr. Osman Ahmed, ex-officio president of the Islamic Society of Essex County and professor emeritus of engineering, is among the pioneers of the Muslim Students Association of the U.S. Canada (now MSA National).
THE MUSLIM WORLD
Can Chinguetti’s Ancient Libraries be Preserved? Modern technology might be able to help a centuries-old tradition survive BY ABDULKADIR ADEN
he ancient city of Chinguetti, which archeologists believe has been inhabited since the eighth century, lies in the northwest African country of Mauritania. At one time it was among the Islamic world’s most important cities due to its centers of learning that taught medicine, mathematics and religion. But today, not much is left of what used to be a city of 20,000 people. It is just another deserted town gradually being buried under the rubble of the Moorish Empire. Scientists believe that in a matter of decades, this ghost town may be completely gone, swallowed up by the desert sands. Chinguetti is located on northern Mauritania’s Adrar Plateau. Known centuries ago as a vital link on the trans-Saharan trade route, it served as a resting point for the Saharan trade routes crisscrossing present-day Morocco, Mauritania and Mali. Caravans used it as an oasis, stopping there to sell their wares and let their camels rest. But what was once a thriving Berber trading center and home to thousands is now home to less than 1,000 people who survive primarily on the tourist industry. The city was also a gathering place for Maghreb pilgrims on their way to Makka, which is why it was considered the Islamic world’s seventh holiest city. A gathering place for scholars of Islamic law, astronomy, medicine and mathematics, it also became the site of probably the largest number of libraries in West Africa, a veritable treasure trove of important medieval manuscripts. At its peak, Chinguetti is said to have had as many as 30 libraries housing collections of manuscripts on the subjects listed above, as Cheikh Anta Diop documented in his “Civilization or Barbarism? An Authentic Anthropology” (Lawrence Hill Books; 3rd ed., 1991). Most of them, some dating as far back as the 11th century, have been passed down for generations. Today, only a few are left, for most have either been destroyed or buried. The ancient books are collecting dust on the remaining shelves in this now almost desolate city.
FROM TRADITION TO DESTRUCTION
A UNESCO PRESERVATION SURVEY CONDUCTED IN THE 1990S FOUND THAT 3,450 VOLUMES WERE STILL IN THE CITY, BUT THAT 90 PERCENT OF THEM WERE IN ADVANCED STAGES OF DECAY DUE TO CLIMATE DAMAGE AND MISHANDLING. However, residents have vehemently resisted archeologists’ suggestions of moving them to a safer place in order to preserve them on the grounds that doing so would contribute to breaking with tradition. Although the libraries are in a critical condition, visitors are still allowed in after getting the necessary permission. Nowadays, many Islamic scholars are requesting permission to visit the libraries because of their holdings of fundamental scientific knowledge. Nina Strochlic (The Daily Beast, Apr. 14, 2017) observed, “…generations of families have been guarding ancient books — some perhaps 1,000 years old — and with them, the reputation of a once-legendary, enlightened city. These libraries — mostly simple, mud-packed shelves stacked high with bound manuscripts in ancient huts —are what remain of a place that in better times was the epicenter of Islamic learning and medieval trading in northern Africa.”
Recognizing its place in world history, in 1996 UNESCO granted Chinguetti and four other nearby trading posts official status as World Heritage sites. But despite serious and diverse efforts to preserve the surviving libraries, little success has been attained due to the county’s unstable government. This has been a cause of serious concerns among archeologists, who believe that these libraries may disappear soon if nothing substantial, immediate and effective is done to rehabilitate the critical conditions of their dilapidated structures, prevent human destruction and protect them against environmental vulnerability. A UNESCO preservation survey conducted in the 1990s found that 3,450 volumes were still in the city, but that 90 percent of them were in advanced stages of decay due to climate damage and mishandling. The government of Mauritania has been attempting to preserve the delicate manuscripts, but their owners don’t want to part with them. Given this reality, the most effective measure would be to try and persuade the locals to understand that preserving these treasures is at the core of preserving their tradition. Since they oppose moving these manuscripts to a safer environment, funds should be made available to digitize them to make them accessible to scholars worldwide. Eventually, moving them to more secure libraries would be important both for their preservation and the preservation of the city’s rich tradition and the global scholarly community. If presented compassionately and convincingly, many residents might change their minds. Preferably, the residents could be trained to master digital archiving and help digitalize and translate the manuscripts for the benefit of humanity as a whole. ih Abdulkadir Aden is associate professor, Collection, Development & Electronic Resources Librarian at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 57
IN MEMORIAM Mazhar Jalil A Passion for Interfaith Understanding 1938-2019
r. Mazhar Jalil, one of the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio’s founding fathers, passed away in Columbus on Nov. 15, 2019. When he arrived in 1968, he was one of five families that made up the city’s organized Muslim community — he helped it grow into an interconnected network of mosques and organizations for what would become the state’s 116,000 Muslims. His legacy includes The Islamic Day of Ohio, The Islamic Center of Central Ohio and the Interfaith Association of Central Ohio. Jalil, who made it his life’s mission to get an education, overcame health and financial challenges to obtain a BS and two MS degrees from the University of Nottingham, a PhD from the University of Waterloo (Ontario) and a post-doctoral degree at the University of Kentucky. He then spent over 36 years working as an entomologist for the Ohio Department of Health, where he evaluated lab standards and contributed efforts toward HIV testing. His passion for interfaith relations led him to co-author “The Abrahamic Encounter: Local Initiatives, Large Implications“ (2017) with Dr. Paul D. Numrich (professor of religion, Trinity Lutheran Seminary, Ohio, and Loyola University, Chicago) and Dr. Norman Hosansky (lay leader, Congregation Tifereth Israel) and “Muslims and Jews: Building a Hopeful Future” also with Rabbi Hosansky. These works won the Ohio Martin Luther King Holiday commission’s Community Building Award and the Anti-Defamation League’s Jack Resler award. Dr. Jalil devoted his life to promoting harmony among all people and always stressing their similarities over their differences. In recognition of this, the “Mazhar Jalil Interfaith Harmony Award” was established. Upon receiving the University of Waterloo’s distinguished Alumni of Honor Award, he read a beloved quote: “You see things, and you say ‘Why?’ But I dream things that never were, and I say ‘Why not?’ — George Bernard Shaw. He lived his life this way. No barrier was too big or idea too grand — as long as it served others. He truly was the American Dream. 58 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
His wife Betty, his children Tariq, Khalid and Aisha, and his granddaughter Safeeya survive him. ih
Aziz Ahmad Siddiqi A pioneer of Muslim Civic Engagement 1941-2019
ziz Ahmad Siddiqi, a former president of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, passed away on Dec. 19, 2019. Siddiqi, who had a Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the Imperial College of London, was president and CEO at Resochem Corporation, which he founded in 1985. He also served as faculty at the University of Houston (1972-85). He was a distinguished scientist, community servant, pioneer of Muslim civic engagement and strong advocate of building harmonious and educational relationships with interfaith organizations, media, government agencies and elected officials. In his statement, ISNA president Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed called him a “trailblazer and visionary leader.” In 2017, Rep. Al Green awarded him a certificate of Special Congressional Recognition, stating, “On behalf of the constituents of the ninth congressional district of Texas, I salute your unwavering 40 years of commitment to bridging communities through cultural exchange as well as promoting friendship across the Greater Houston Area.’’ Siddiqi’s journey in the U.S. began when a University of Houston official offered him a job in the late 1960s for his groundbreaking research in chemical engineering as a young doctoral candidate at the Imperial College of London. Upon completing his PhD in 1970, he began his career as a University of Houston tenured professor. In 1973, he guided the development of a curriculum to help the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) carry out its new mission: to enforce the Clean Air Act. He used his research on how to monitor pollution from smokestacks and other commonly used industrial practices to train the EPA, its scientists and its partner regulating agencies. He also authored the training materials used to teach its scientists how to sample ambient air and develop pollution controls. After becoming a national authority, he
lectured widely and wrote articles that became part of the industry’s literature canon. In time, he used his contacts, expertise, passion and background to start his own environmental consulting firm and also served as chair of the South Texas chapter of the American Institute of Chemical Engineers. Along the way, he met young Muslim professionals who were settling in Houston, and together they planted the foundation upon which today’s Muslim community in the Greater Houston Area was built. In the 1970s, Siddiqi served as editor-in-chief of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston’s newsletter “Voice of Islam,” and starting in the 1980s he served as chairperson of Houston’s All American Muslim Political Action Committee (AAMPAC), one of the country’s first Muslim PACs, guiding others across the country to engage in similar work. “He mentored me and gave me the primer in informing our organization. Learning from AAMPAC in Houston we formed MPAC Los Angeles,” stated Salam Al-Marayati, president and co-founder of Muslim Public Affairs Council. In the 2000s, Siddiqi served one term as ISGH secretary and three terms as its president. During his tenure, funeral services expanded and he was instrumental in helping elected officials understand the community’s needs. A strong supporter of youth empowerment, leadership and education, he helped the Muslim Interscholastic Tournament get off the ground and participated in hosting the first Houstonarea Deen Intensive programs with Imam Zaid Shakir and Shaykh Hamza Yusuf. The beloved friend, husband and father of four children, Nadia, Shazia, Faisal, and Faraz, he was also a culinary artist and a musician. ih
Iman Jasim Mother of the Orphans 1961-2019
man Jasim, also known as Umm Omar, once told the Detroit Metro Times that her mission was to help orphans, a quality she
learned from her father. Indeed, she is remembered as “Mother of the Orphans,” in honor of her unrelenting dedication to meet their needs and spread the word about their cause. Thousands attended her funeral in Dearborn. This Iraqi immigrant, who passed away on Dec. 18, 2019, in Dearborn Heights, Mich., was a teacher, leader, author, humanitarian, mother of six and, most importantly, a pillar of the Muslim community. She arrived in 1982 with her husband and two children. Before moving to Dearborn Heights, she founded a Quran school in Ohio that is still functioning. In addition to the indelible mark she made in her community, Jasmin was also a regular and much-admired exhibitor at Islamic conferences across North America, including the annual ISNA/CISNA Education Forum. Seated at her booth in the bazaar, her radiant smile and warm personality drew a constant stream of individuals inquiring about the products on her display table. Laid out in a beautiful, colorful spread, Jasim showcased the artwork, creativity and passion and potential of the Muslim youth she so lovingly mentored. Under her supervision, young Muslims in her community wrote, illustrated and published “A Cup of Mint Tea,” a collection of “short stories to warm the heart.” The first volume was published in 2012. With her team of youth writers, six volumes of these inspirational stories were eventually published in English and Arabic. All of them are designed to serve as gentle reminders for their readers, in particular young Muslims. Covering topics ranging from charity to compassion and brotherhood and sisterhood, these stories include Quranic verses and hadiths and end with a summary of “lessons learned” to help readers maximize the benefits obtained from reading them. She didn’t limit herself to inspirational content, for her purpose was to engage youth in concrete efforts that would also benefit orphans. She achieved this by donating all of the proceeds from these books and the other products they created to charities that supported orphans. In the acknowledgement of the fourth volume, Jasim wrote, “I want to acknowledge all of the orphans of the world, to whom I dedicate my efforts. They are the brilliant lanterns that illuminate my heart and spark the fire in me to continue this project. God has blessed this project for them.” Indeed, serving orphans was her life’s
passion. She seemed to do everything she could to make a difference in their lives. From making du‘a to raising funds to educating others about the cause, she stopped short of nothing. In 2017, she traveled to Jordan and Iraq to hand deliver aid to those in need. In 2019, when her popular youtuber son Abdallah surprised her with an offer to take her on an all-expense-paid umra, the youtube video shows her responding with her signature radiant smile, high-fiving her son in genuine excitement. But her tone shifts quickly, as she requests him to go without her and donate her share of the cost to orphans. Her son appears visually disappointed at first, asking her why she would want to forgo this experience. She replies, “I can’t have fun with you (on umra), knowing that there are orphans who need help... If I can help these orphans, I can feel at ease for a whole year.” Jasim is survived by her husband Raad and six children, Omar, Shaymaa, Afraa, Doaa, Fedaa and Abdullah, as well as thousands of orphans worldwide whom she loved like her own children and to whom she dedicated her life. She leaves behind a legacy of service, spreading knowledge and helping orphans who can be supported at The Iman Jasim Foundation (www.imanjasim.org). ih (From Shaza Khan, PhD, executive director, Islamic Schools League of America.)
Murad Wilfried Hoffman Diplomat, Scholar and Teacher 1931-2020
erman diplomat Murad Hof mann passed away on Jan. 13, 2020 in Bonn, Germany, at the age of 88. Although educated and trained as a lawyer, Dr. Hoffman decided to enter the German diplomatic corps (1961-94) because “When I came out of the Munich University Law School with a doctorate in jurisprudence in 1954, I found there was a pressing need to rebuild the image of my country, which was badly mauled by the Second World War … By entering the foreign service of Germany, I felt I could help in providing proper representation in the comity of nations that had emerged after the war” (M. M. Ali,
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, October 1996, pp. 65, 109). He remarked that his unaccented American English was perfected at Union College in New York and Harvard Law School. Dr. Hofmann, who held a senior position in the government, caused a bit of a controversy when he left Catholicism for Islam in 1980, a decision triggered by the contradictions he saw in Paulist Christian doctrine while witnessing Algeria’s War of Independence and his fondness for Islamic art. The Harvard-educated scholar first served in Algeria as a specialist on nuclear defense issues. As his career progressed, he went on to serve as director of information for NATO at Brussels (1983-87) as well as ambassador to Algeria (1987-90) and Morocco (1990-94). Addressing Muslim North Americans, he once said, “Muslims all over the world are looking with high expectations toward the ummah community in the United States and Canada. Its dynamism, fresh approach, enlightened scholarship and sheer growth is their hope for an Islamic renaissance worldwide” and advised them that “the best way to safeguard children is not by totally isolating them from external influences, but by building strong family values built on the principles of Islam.” He even asserted that Islam is a universal religion meant for all peoples, for all times and doesn’t adhere to geopolitical boundaries: “I perhaps can safely assert that prospects for the further expansion of Islam in the 21st century are brighter than they have been ever before.” During his career, he took the time to write several books in German and English, including “Religion on the Rise: Islam in the Third Millennium,” “Islam: The Alternative,” “Islam 2000” and “Journey to Makkah.” He also contributed to The American Journal of Islamic Social Sciences and other journals and, in 1996, presented two papers at the annual ISNA convention in Columbus, Ohio. He was one of the signatories of A Common Word Between Us and You, which was a follow up to a shorter letter, sent in 2006 as a response to Pope Benedict XVI’s lecture at the University of Regensburg on Sept. 12, 2006. An honorary member and advisor to the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, he earned several honors, among them the Federal Cross of Merit, Germany; Commander of the Order of Merit, Italy; Order of Merit in the Arts and Sciences, 1st Class, Egypt; and the Grand Cordon of the Order of the Rising Sun, Japan. His wife, Neeuz Bulben, is Turkish. ih MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 59
FOOD FOR THE SPIRIT
Live Life as if You Have Made Eye Contact with God Becoming a virtuous community BY MUQTEDAR KHAN
ttempts to unify the Muslim American community — basically a community of extremely diverse communities in term of race, national origin, sect, class and ideology — so that it can be a force for good in the U.S. has always been a challenge. In recent years, the rise of Islamophobia has ironically provided the common purpose of opposing prejudice to both local and national Muslim activists. The challenges in the Muslim world, especially the need for aid and advocacy on behalf of the Rohingyas, Uyghurs, Kashmiris, Syrians, and Palestinians among others, have also provided Muslim Americans avenues to unite and help. Over time we have become good at facing adversity and crisis management; however, that skill cannot serve as a guiding philosophy. What we need is a principle that can both inspire and galvanize us to become a virtuous community that benefits everyone. I submit that we embrace the worldview of ihsan and become a community of muhsins. My recent book, Islam and Good Governance: A Political Philosophy of Ihsan (Palgrave, 2019), analyzes this concept’s manifold meanings and provides a few principles that can help us achieve this goal. I also develop the concept of the state of ihsan, a virtuous democracy based on various elements of ihsan that Muslims in Muslim-majority states can adopt. The 60 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2020
worldview of ihsan is undoubtedly the most beautiful and demanding interpretation of Islam, and no community on Earth today is better prepared to aspire to it than the American Muslim one. Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) defined this concept as “worshipping or serving Allah as if you see him, and if you cannot see him, then be cognizant that Allah is seeing you.” According to some, during his Night Journey he actually may have seen God. At least he saw His greatest sign (53:18), which made serving and worshiping Him in this way easy for him. As for the rest of us, all we can do is recite
the prayer of Moses (‘alayhi as salaam): O Lord, show Yourself so that we may gaze upon You (7:143). But that is not enough. God has so tantalizingly invited us to become muhsins, and in return has promised us His love. As we read in 2:195: “Do ihsan, for indeed Allah loves the muhsins. The Prophet turns this invitation into a command when he says that Allah has commanded ihsan in all things (“Sahih Muslim,” 1955). In order to live such a life, however, we need to understand how it can be operationalized. Sufi masters tell us that living ihsan is both a state of being (haal) and a destination (maqaam). We are in this state when we live a muhsins, and we have reached the destination when we have earned His love and can see him (with the eyes of our heart). Over the centuries, these same Sufi masters have prescribed zikr (remembrance) regimens, which makes those who seek this state more ascetic and removed from day-to-day life. But this contradicts the Prophet’s command to find ihsan in everything that we do, not just in religious rituals or spiritual practices. My book examines nearly every discourse that our tradition has produced about ihsan and concludes that it is a composite of several virtues: mushahada (witnessing), muraqaba (vigilance) and muhasaba (reflection),
muhabba (love), husn (aesthetics), rahma and sadaqa (mercy), ma‘rifah (epistemology) and fanaa (self-annihilation). As explaining each of these virtues fully would require an encyclopedia, I touch only upon one aspect here: fanaa.
regarding behavior and a little less “self-interested” politics will go a long way in making us a community of muhsins. The Prophet taught us to “wish for our brothers what we wish for ourselves.” A true muhsin includes all of humanity in “our brothers.” We may never get there, but we can widen the term to include all of our immediate neighbors both in our sermons and while distributing zakat, sadaqa and other serTHE PROPHET TAUGHT US TO “WISH FOR OUR vices. The journey of fanaa begins with BROTHERS WHAT WE WISH FOR OURSELVES.” A thinking more about others and less about TRUE MUHSIN INCLUDES ALL OF HUMANITY IN “OUR self, whereas the journey of identity is often the exact opposite. BROTHERS.” WE MAY NEVER GET THERE, BUT WE I close with a couplet by the famous CAN WIDEN THE TERM TO INCLUDE ALL OF OUR Indian poet Mirza Ghalib: IMMEDIATE NEIGHBORS BOTH IN OUR SERMONS Ishrat-e-qatra hai dariyā meñ fanā ho jaanā Dard kā had se guzarnā hai davā AND WHILE DISTRIBUTING ZAKAT, SADAQA AND ho jaanā OTHER SERVICES. THE JOURNEY OF FANAA BEGINS Every drop desires to self-annihilate WITH THINKING MORE ABOUT OTHERS AND LESS (fanaa) in the ocean. When pain begins to exceed every ABOUT SELF, WHEREAS THE JOURNEY OF IDENTITY boundary, the cure begins. IS OFTEN THE EXACT OPPOSITE. Ghalib is describing the pain of sacrificing the self for the greater cause. If you wish to live as a muhsin, then bear the pain of fanaa. ih This spiritual and mystical concept says that to truly become one with the One (be united with God), one must annihilate oneself Muqtedar Khan is professor of Islam, governance and global affairs at the University of and a senior fellow at the Center for Global Policy. His website is www.ijtihad. (submit to God by sacrificing one’s ego and identity). The concept Delaware, org. He contact information is @MuqtedarKhan and email@example.com. is strongly associated with Sufi music and practices, and many traditional Muslims don’t even talk about it. And yet our dear Prophet once said: “Die before you die,” which implies the necessity of spiritual death before physical death. As one cannot reach higher spiritual stations while carrying the baggage of a personal identity and ego, we must achieve fanaa to reach ihsan. Everything’s ultimate destiny, except God’s countenance, is fanaa (55:26-27). This is ihsan in its ultimate cosmological form, meaning that everything will submit to Him via self-annihilation. If one wishes to achieve this ultimate state during this life, then one has to pursue a spiritual self-erasure. So how do we non-ascetic American Muslims do this? The biggest challenge we face is diversity. Like most nations, we suffer from the negative consequences of identity politics. While identity can be a driving force, it can also be a divisive one. The Muslim world’s sectarianism and geopolitics is setting Muslim American leaders against each other. Our country’s racial and class struggles also impact our community. So far, an external force — Islamophobia — is forcing us to act cohesively, despite these fault lines’ persistence. But if we allow the desire for fanaa to shape our socio-political actions, the ensuing identity politics could allow us to witness the emergence of a seamless community rather than a coalition of communities. Identity has paradoxical consequences. It can mobilize but also cause dysfunctionalities. A touch of self-restraint motivated by a desire to achieve fanaa can help Muslims look beyond their identity cages and act in line with more global and more inclusive interests. I do not expect them to fully annihilate their sources of identity, which for some may also be the basis of their success. But a little more emphasis on “us” and little less on “me,” a little more “other” MARCH/APRIL 2020 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 61
NEW RELEASES Muslim American Politics and the Future of US Democracy Edward E. Curtis IV 2019. Pp. 200. HB. $89.99, PB. $26.00, Kindle $26.00 New York University Press, New York, N.Y. urtis argues that since the 1950s, and especially post9/11, Muslim Americans have played outsized roles in U.S. politics, both as political dissidents and as political insiders. However, more than at any other moment in history, they now stand at the symbolic center of U.S. politics and public life. The future of American democracy, he argues, depends on whether members of this community can exercise their political rights as citizens and find acceptance as social equals. Many believe that, over time, they will be accepted just as other religious minorities have been. Curtis offers that this belief overlooks the real barrier to full citizenship, which is political rather than cultural. The dominant form of American liberalism has prevented their political assimilation of even while presidents from Eisenhower to Obama have offered rhetorical support for it. Drawing on examples ranging from the Nation of Islam’s political rhetoric in the 1950s and 1960s to the symbolic use of fallen Muslim American service members in the 2016 election cycle, Curtis shows that this community’s efforts to be regarded as full Americans remains ongoing. He contends that policies, laws and political rhetoric concerning them are quintessential American political questions. Debates about freedom of speech and religion, equal justice under the law and the war on terrorism have placed this community at the center of public discourse. How non-Muslim Americans decide to view and make policy regarding its members will play a large role in what kind of country the U.S. will become and whether it chooses freedom over fear and justice over prejudice.
We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders: A Memoir of Love and Resistance Linda Sarsour 2020. Pp. 272. HB. $26.00, Kindle $13.99, Audio CD $39.99 37INK/Simon & Schuster, New York, N.Y. inda Sarsour, known to many Americans as an award-winning co-organizer of the 2017 Women’s March, shares how growing up as an unapologetic [as she stresses] Palestinian Muslim American, feminist and empowered woman moved her to become a globally recognized activist on behalf of marginalized American communities. From her father’s Brooklyn bodega, where she learned the real meaning of intersectionality, to protests in the streets of the nation’s capital, the author’s experience as a daughter of Palestinian immigrants is a moving portrayal of what it means to find one’s voice and use it for the greater good. True to her life mission, throughout her text she inspires readers to take action as she reaffirms that “we are not here to be bystanders.” Sarsour’s account of growing up in a neighborhood where, by default, she had many grandparents, aunts and uncles, also point to the benefits of raising children in extended families.
Islam and Muslims in the West: Major Issues and Debates Adis Duderija and Halim Rane 2019. Pp. 259. HB. $66.27, PB. $68.30, Kindle $80.74 Springer International Publishing AG, Cham, Switzerland his book examines the major issues and debates concerning Islam and Muslim communities in the West. Its focus extends to the manifestations of Islam in Western Muslim-minority contexts of the late-20th and early-21st centuries. The authors intend to provide insights into the development of Islam as part of the lived experiences of Muslims in the West in response to developments in the broader Muslim world as well as the challenges and opportunities associated with various Western societies, primarily Australia, Europe and North America.
Slavery and Islam Jonathan A.C. Brown 2019. Pp. 448. HB. $40.00 Oneworld Academic, London, U.K. rown argues that every major religion and philosophy once condoned or approved of slavery, but that in modern times nothing is seen as more evil. Americans confront this crisis of authority when they erect statues of Founding Fathers who slept with their slaves. Muslims, he says, faced it when ISIS revived sex-slavery, justifying it with Quranic verses and the Prophet’s (salla Allahu ‘alayhi was sallam) sunna. In exploring this moral and ultimately theological problem, Brown traces how the Abrahamic traditions have tried to reconcile modern moral certainties with the infallibility of God’s message. He highlights how Islam viewed slavery in theory and how it was practiced in reality across Islamic civilization, as well as discusses arguments offered by Muslims for its abolition.
Rethinking Islam & the West: A New Narrative for the Age of Crises Ahmed Paul Keeler 2019. Pp. 186. PB. $14.97 Equilibra Press, Cambridge, U.K. eeler argues that Islam and the West (i.e., Europe) have been neighbors for 1,400 years. Europe grew up under Islamic
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civilization’s shadow, and then, in a dramatic post-Renaissance role reversal, conquered and subdued all non-Western cultures and civilizations. This transformation ushered in a previously unknown type of civilization: the modern world. All nations, he says, are now judged according to their scientific progress, technological development and economic growth. And yet humanity is now experiencing multiple existence-threatening crises, and our world is witnessing a dangerous escalation in the polarization between the Islamic and Western civilizations. By viewing both of these realities through a different lens, Keeler proposes that the true yardstick for measuring success should be the balance achieved among humanity’s spiritual, social and material needs, a balance that enables humanity to live in harmony with nature. He contends that viewing the world from this perspective causes a completely different picture of these civilizations to emerge. A Woven Truth: Volume 1: The Big Bang to Jesus Loretta J. Poisson 2019. Pp. 396. PB. $27.00 Sheridan Books, Chelsea, Mich. et to write a supplement for the history section of a textbook supplied to an Islamic school by a mainstream publisher, Poisson found that in their texts millenniums of history had gone missing — there was nothing on Adam and Eve (‘alayhuma as salaam) and the earlier Prophets. Thus, she compiled a book that fills this gap with the history of the 25 prophets in the Quran from Adam to Jesus (‘alayhum as salaam). Poisson, who also writes plays for Islamic schools, has produced a textbook that teaches students who are taught about the Big Bang that there is more to history than what their textbooks are telling them. Islamic schools should welcome this source.
From Harlem to Mecca: A Latino’s Journey in Islam Yusef Maisonet 2019. Pp. 203. PB. $25.00 Yusef Maisonet, Mobile, Ala. his New York City-born Muslim Latino pioneer relates that after much of his childhood spent in an orphanage, his life changed when he picked up a copy of the Quran. In addition to working as an imam for 12 years in Mobile, Ala., the author is also a chaplain for the state’s death row inmates and the regular prison population, as well as an active member of the Latino Muslim community’s efforts to spread Islam’s message. With insights on prayer, life as a Muslim and his Latino identity, From Harlem to Mecca is a powerful and inspirational account of faith, worship and this specific American community. This unique book, a story of experiencing Islamic kinship in many lands, also contains a Spanish translation of the text.
Finding W.D. Fard: Unveiling the Identity of the Founder of the Nation of Islam John Andrew Morrow 2019. Pp. 510. HB. $119.95 Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Newcastle-Upon-Tyne, U.K. .D. Fard, also known as Wallace Fard Muhammad and by more than 50 other aliases, claimed that he was both the Messiah and the Mahdi. His disciple Elijah Muhammad identified him as God in Person, who reportedly appointed him as his Final Messenger. Those who met him and the scholars who studied him have suggested various origins for him: African American to Bosnian, Mexican, Greek or Jew. To determine his origins, most scholars have relied on his teachings as passed down, and perhaps modified, by Elijah Muhammad. Similarly, they have suggested various associations from the Moorish Science Temple of America to the Druze or Shia. Morrow offers a detailed study of any and all subjects who fit Fard’s profile and provides the most detailed information regarding his life to date. He also presents an overview of turn-of-the-20th-century Islam in Oregon, showing how much this man learned about Islam while residing in the Pacific Northwest.
Muslims of Central Asia: An Introduction Galina M. Yemelianova 2019. Pp. 240 + 25 b&w illustrations. HB. £80.00, PB £24.99, eBook (ePub)i £24.99, eBook (PDF) £80.00 Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh, U.K. emelianova offers a history-based integrated overview of Islam and Muslims in present-day Central Asia. She argues that throughout history and up to the present, this region’s Tajiks, Uzbeks, Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, Turkmen and other Muslim peoples have developed their own unique understanding and practice of Islam, which has shaped their national identities and particular social and political evolution. These special characteristics, she states, ensured Islam’s survival during seven decades of Soviet rule, while in the post-Soviet period it has been integrated into nation-building projects in constitutionally secular Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan and Turkmenistan. ih
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