MARCH/APRIL 2021/1442 | $4.00 | WWW.ISNA.NET
THE RENEWAL OF ISLAMIC EDUCATION | FASTING AS ONE NATION
SYED ALI SHAH GEELANI
THE HEART OF KASHMIRI RESOLVE
ISLAMIC HORIZONS | VOL. 50 NO. 2 MARCH/APRIL 2021 | VISIT ISNA ONLINE AT: WWW.ISNA.NET
Cover Story 20 22 24 27
46 The Reality of Muslim Children in Public Schools 48 The Renewal of Islamic Education
The Man Behind the Armor On How Corpses Resist in Kashmir Syed Ali Shah Geelani An Unwavering Commitment
Finance 50 Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency in Islamic Law
ISNA Matters 8 Green Ramadan 10 Young Muslimas Growing in Faith Together
Ramadan 18 Fasting as One Nation
Muslims Living As Minorities
In Memoriam 51 Ann Paxton El-Moslimany
30 P olitical Scams Under the Muslim Cover and How to Avoid Them
28 This Land is Mine
58 Iconic Muslim University Marks Centennial
32 Muslim Americans in Government 34 The Muslim Vote Comes of Age 36 Capitol Chaos in Retrospect
Islam in America
38 On Becoming Muslim American
6 Editorial 12 Community Matters 62 New Releases
Education 42 Young Adult Books for Muslim Teens 45 Rising with Resilience
52 Human Rights: All of us are Partners in Crime 54 Are Muslims Free of Racism? 56 How Converts can Oppose Islamophobia
40 L eaders Paving the Way for the Post-Covid-19 New Normal
Cover Design: Mir Suhail Qadiri
DESIGN & LAYOUT BY: Gamal Abdelaziz 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 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 5
Kashmir — The Stricken Paradise
ughal Emperor Jehangir (d.1627) described his visit to Kashmir by saying, “Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast” (“If there’s a heaven on Earth/ this is it! this is it! this is it!”). But as we all know, things change. Kashmir’s current era of pain and suffering started on March 16, 1846, when its British occupiers sold its 85,800 square miles and nearly 3 million overwhelmingly Muslim inhabitants for a pittance to the Dogra warlord Gulab Singh, a despot whom they later entitled “Maharaja.” For instance, he ordered the flaying — skinning alive! — of 14 notables of Poonch (now a district in Azad [Free] Kashmir), thereby igniting that generation’s freedom struggle. Over time, as their imposed rulers kept treating them worse than cattle, their resentment grew. The mutually agreed upon terms for India’s 1947 partition, which stated that the Muslim-majority areas would form the new country of Pakistan, made Kashmir a natural for membership. However, India invaded on Oct. 27, 1947, citing an alleged “article of succession” in its favor from Hari Singh, the despot’s great-grandson. In a blatant display of treachery, India soon rewarded Hari Singh’s own treachery by abolishing his rule. Consequently, bands of volunteers rushed from Pakistan to help the Kashmiris resist. They managed to wrest 5,134 sq. miles from the invaders to form Azad [Free] Kashmir, which remains under Pakistani assurance. In response to India’s request for its intervention, on April 21, 1948, the UN engineered a ceasefire and passed UN Security Council Resolution 47, which stated that the Kashmiris will determine their national affiliation through a UN-administered plebiscite. Since then, India has refused to honor its pledge and has turned the erstwhile paradise into a living hell for its Muslims. India’s colonial occupation is effectively a heinous extension of Dogra
inhumanity. And yet the Kashmiris continue to resist, led by committed stalwarts such as Syed Ali Shah Geelani, now 92. Ignoring its own constitution, on Aug. 5, 2019, India unilaterally terminated Kashmir’s special status by declaring it just another state. The world, ruled by greed and the lust for power, has closed its eyes to India’s terror and human rights violations. But the Kashmiris, still undeterred, stand firm in their resolve for justice. Despite Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s reign of Hindutva-inspired terror, former President Trump and several Muslim-majority countries have unashamedly bestowed their highest civil awards upon him. On Dec. 20, 2020, The New York Times cautioned its readers that President Biden, citing China as the driving force, would expand U.S.-India relations. Muslim Americans and all people of conscience must impress upon the new administration the centrality of human rights in all U.S. foreign relations. It’s long past time to reject the inhumane mindset that refuses to accept the “other,” like President Emmanuel Macron’s Jan. 20 declaration that France refuses to repent for its colonial-era abuses in Algeria. France’s 1830 invasion and subsequent killing of 825,000 Algerians over the next 45 years reduced the indigenous population by one-third. Irshad Abdal-Haqq recalls the momentous Ramadan of 1975, when Imam W.D. Mohammed (d.2008) guided his community to observe the real Ramadan instead of the December observance introduced by his father, the Honorable Elijah Muhammad (d.1975). The ISNA West Coast Education Forum was held Jan. 16-17. but virtually. as necessitated by Covid-19 restrictions. The ISNA Green Initiative Team reminds us to commit ourselves to enact environmentally friendly practices in our institutions and daily life to reduce our carbon footprint, become responsible stewards of Earth and earn rewards in the afterlife. ih
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PUBLISHER The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) PRESIDENT Safaa Zarzour EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR Basharat Saleem 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
Green Ramadan The roadmap of God’s vicegerents begins at home BY ISNA GREEN INITIATIVE TEAM Since 2015, the ISNA Green Initiative Team (https://isna.net/isna-green-initiative/) has been organizing “Greening Our Ramadan” campaign to encourage environmentally friendly practices in our mosques and Islamic centers, as well as in our schools and homes, to reduce our community’s carbon footprint and become responsible stewards. Once again, sadly due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, Ramadan 2021 will be observed at home. Ramadan is a month of merciful divine blessings, the month when the Quran began to be revealed. It is a month of submission for spiritual uplifting, balance and control of physical desires; of fasting and remembering the needs of the less fortunate; of focusing on charity and self-control so we can better reflect upon our stewardship and ask: “What are we doing to our environment and ourselves? Where are we going? And why?” Let’s take this opportunity to reflect upon our duty to uphold the trust given to humanity by God as stewards: “And it is He who has made you successors upon Earth and has raised some of you above others in degrees (of rank) that He may try you through what He has given you…” (6:165). Simply stated, humanity as a whole is responsible for safeguarding the environment, its resources and ecosystems, as well as all of its various communities: “And there is no creature on (or within) the ground or bird that flies with its wings except (that they are) communities like you. We have not neglected anything in the Register. Then unto their Lord they will be gathered” (6:38). A hadith reminds us, “Earth has been made a mosque for me, and a thing to purify (to perform tayammum)” (“Sahih al-Bukhari,” book 8, hadith no. 87). Therefore, we must preserve our planet and learn to cohabitate with other communities in a balanced way so that we can become an ecofriendly umma. Last year, the team introduced an ISNA Green Home Guide rubric as a tool for establishing a baraka-based (praising of God)
rating system that quantifies your “greening of Ramadan” through various types of praise (tasbih, tahmid, tahlil and takbir). As this Ramadan will again be more challenging, we will release informational updates on www.isna.net. All participants will receive a certificate, and the environmental
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advocacy Pen and Inkpot Foundation will plant a tree on behalf of your mosque/Islamic center or your home. As the hadith says: “Every Muslim who plants a tree or sows seeds, and then a bird, a person or an animal eats from it, is regarded as having performed a charitable deed” (“Sahih al-Bukhari,” book 41, hadith no. 1). Unfortunately, during Ramadan a considerable amount of food and water is wasted because recycling efforts are few and far between. And yet a new global Muslim tradition is slowly arising, one that aligns with the well-known verse: “For it is He who has brought into being gardens — [both] the cultivated ones and those growing wild — the date-palm, fields bearing multiform produce, the olive tree and the pomegranate: [all] resembling one another and yet so different! Eat of their fruit when it comes to fruition and give [the poor] their due on harvest day. Do not waste [God’s bounties]: Verily, He does not love the wasteful!” (6:141). Abdullah ibn Amr reported that one day the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) passed by Sa‘d while he was performing ablution and asked, “What is this excess?” Sa‘d said, “Is there excess with water in ablution?” The Prophet replied, “Yes, even if you were on the banks of a flowing river” (“Sunan Ibn Majah,” hadith no. 425). Therefore, let’s pledge to make Ramadan more environmentally conscious, socially responsible and compassionate for those around us. Every year, consumers in rich countries waste almost as much food (248 million tons) as the entire net food production of sub-Saharan Africa (254 million tons) (http://www.fao.org/; May 11, 2011). Feeding America reports that 72 billion pounds of food is wasted, while 50 million people may have struggled with hunger in 2020. It adds that a further 52 billion pounds from manufacturers, grocery stores and restaurants end up in landfills rather than on kitchen tables (https://www.feedingamerica.org/). The total generation of municipal solid waste in 2018 was 292.4 million tons. Of this, plastics amounted to 35 million tons (12.2%), reported the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (epa.gov). As we fast, let’s reaffirm our sense of self-restraint and accountability to God, the Creator, the Provider of Sustenance, and adopt green practices for all times by doing at least some of the following actions.
THINGS YOU CAN DO
Reduce food waste and overconsumption. Eat more fruit 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, all the while remembering that the Prophet advised us that one “cannot fill a vessel worse than his/her stomach” and that he/she should fill one-third of it with food, one-third with drink and one-third with air (“Sunan al-Tirmidhi,” hadith no. 2380). Recycle material, especially plastic
nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3447072/). Buy fair-trade products. Get a daily dose of vitamin D by walking during the day. Consume less. Drink a lot of water and eat nutritious food. Join civic activities and/or community social projects, volunteer at homeless shelters, collect food for food pantries, invite non-Muslims to community and home dinners, and take care of Muslim inmates in nearby jails. Involve children and youth in age-appropriate Ramadan activities, such as serving as Green ambassadors during community dinners.
LAST YEAR, THE TEAM INTRODUCED AN ISNA GREEN HOME GUIDE RUBRIC AS A TOOL FOR ESTABLISHING A BARAKA-BASED (PRAISING OF GOD) RATING SYSTEM THAT QUANTIFIES YOUR “GREENING OF RAMADAN” THROUGH VARIOUS TYPES OF PRAISE (TASBIH, TAHMID, TAHLIL AND TAKBIR). water bottles. Plastics now take up 25-30% of our landfills. In the U.S., 1,500 plastic water bottles are used every second; of these, 70% never make it to a recycling bin (https:// drinkopenwater.com/). Minimize the use of plastic to help preserve the climate and our health. Most plastics have a long decomposition life, so replace them with rapidly biodegradable/paper products or bring your own utensils. Avoid all Styrofoam, a brand name for polystyrene foam, which is non-biodegradable and thus can remain intact for over a million years (https://sciencing.com/longstyrofoam-break-down-5407877.html). Bring your own reusable water bottles and mugs to iftar and tarawih events, because 80% of plastic bottles are not recycled. Replace light bulbs with energy-saver LED bulbs. Consider an Energy Star certification for your facility, installing solar panels and using light sensors. Reduce your use of water, even when making wudu’. Use low flow, Energy Star plumbing fixtures and sensors. Think about planting a garden or a potted plant. Maybe try growing some of your own food. Plant a tree, which is considered a charitable act. Read about the Prophet’s medicine and natural herbal remedies (https://www.ncbi.
This year, since “Earth Day” falls during Ramadan, ask your khateeb to deliver at least one Friday khutba on the Quranic imperative to conserve and protect the environment and its social good. Conduct Energy Star training and appoint/elect a community green coordinator.
OUR ONGOING ACTIVITIES
The team recently collaborated with the Environmental Protection Agency and compiled the “First Energy Star Booklet for Muslim Communities” (https://www.energystar.gov/buildings/owners_and_managers/congregations and https://isna.net/ isna-green-initiative/). These documents explain how to make mosques, Islamic schools and centers more energy efficient. This collaboration was announced at ISNA’s 57th annual convention. Over the years, the Green Initiative Team has conducted many webinars; given awards for community participation; participated in Earth Week; and worked with IMANA, MANA, ICSJ, Green Faith of Southern New Jersey, Interfaith Power & Light, and similar organizations. We have made presentations at ISNA conventions, conferences and forums to promote environmental conservation and preservation among Muslims.
ISNA encourages all communities to form a local Green Initiative Team and have a Green Ramadan.
Ramadan is a roadmap to achieving balance with the environment. Let’s use this month to reflect and act upon our stewardship, refresh our tawakkul and make our outward actions reflect the envisioned balance. Let’s save Earth’s resources and communities from the waste, mass pollution, global climate change, species extinction, habitat loss, ecosystem degradation, unsustainable farming and rising zoonotic diseases caused by our negligent actions. Let’s do our best to reduce the negative impacts that fall on the most vulnerable, many of whom live in the inner cities. Although they are the least responsible, they pay a disproportionate price in terms of the ensuing harm and negative health impacts. May God help us to celebrate a greener Ramadan this year. We ask you to join us and thank all mosques and households who have participated in previous Green Ramadan campaigns. To receive your ISNA Home and/or Masjid Rubric, please register at www.isna.net. ih ISNA Green Initiative Team: Huda Alkaff, Saffet Catovic, Nana Firman, Uzma Mirza, and Saiyid Masroor Shah (chair)
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MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 9
Young Muslimas Growing in Faith Together MYNA’s initiative ISRAA brings together young Muslimas who seek knowledge and spiritual growth BY KHADEEJAH RYAN The year 2020 was indeed a test for all of us, but it was My term as ISRAA secretary has already been an experience also a time for personal growth and strengthening our Deen by that I will never forget. I absolutely love creating and helping to getting closer to God. organize the class, and receiving the students’ positive feedback is We thank God for the opportunities we have, despite all of the immensely rewarding. challenges the Covid-19 year brought. God is always with us, and This class has grown my love for Islam, something that I also there is so much comfort in turning to Him in times of happiness saw happening with my fellow Muslimas. and gratitude, as well as in moments of weakness and desperation. One ISRAA student reflected on the class experience, “I feel more Taking that first step forward, no matter how small, is crucial. spiritual, mentally and physically connected to Allah (subhanahu wa MYNA’s latest initiative, ISRAA: Secrets of Supplication (myna. ta‘ala) than ever before!” We are discovering parts of our identity org/israa), helped many students, including myself, increase our daily and strengthening our Deen while taking in this new informaworship and conversation with God. tion and experiences. Each week, the EACH WEEK, THE PERSONAL I have the privilege of being ISRAA personal challenges gave everyone the secretary for 2020-21. Our classes are extra push to incorporate the lessons we CHALLENGES GAVE EVERYONE organized by young Muslimas aged learned into our lives, and thus helped THE EXTRA PUSH TO us strive to better our connection with 12-18 to best suit the class participants, INCORPORATE THE LESSONS who are of the same ages. This creates an God and make it our goal to be in a effective and welcoming learning enviconstant state of remembrance. ISRAA WE LEARNED INTO OUR LIVES, ronment in which we can gain knowlreminds us that our purpose in life is AND THUS HELPED US STRIVE TO to do everything for our Lord and that edge and experience spiritual growth. The class showed the truth in that BETTER OUR CONNECTION WITH Islam truly is a beautiful way of life. statement. For eight weeks, this hourAnother component that I loved GOD AND MAKE IT OUR GOAL long Sunday-night class was the highwas the group du‘a that wrapped up TO BE IN A CONSTANT STATE OF the class. It perfectly portrayed the light of my week. In this time of staying beauty of God’s forgiveness and the six feet apart, our hearts were coming REMEMBRANCE. together. And although we were gathgreat reward for the smallest actions, ering virtually, that did not hinder our such as the mere uttering of words of remembrance like Subhan Allah (May learning and bonding in the least. Quite the opposite! The ambiance of a group He Be Exalted), Al hamdu lillah (Praise of young Muslimas gathering for the be to God), Allahu Akbar (God is the sake of God was undeniably beautiful. Greatest) and Astagfirullah (I seek forThe topic of supplication enabled giveness in God). Together, we learned us to build and then implement good to incorporate supplication into our habits in our daily lives. The content we daily routines and to immerse ourlearned together showed us the beauty selves in a state of remembrance that and vastness of our Lord’s mercy. The will influence our actions and choices. class’ social aspect allowed us to conThrough these quick yet extremely nect with fellow Muslimas of similar beneficial eight weeks, I learned that ages, create a safe space in which we we can implement small changes in our lives that have the potential to could ask our questions and acquire new information to help us expand our impact our faith greatly and to bring knowledge of Islam and how we should us closer to God. I am looking forward live our lives. to the future ISRAA classes in hopes of As a committee, we were always increasing my love for Islam and drive to become a better Muslima. looking for ways to improve the class while simultaneously making it fun I hope many more young women and engaging. Every session was a new decide to join me on this journey of chance to form bonds of sisterhood self-growth and of strengthening our via interactive games, whether it was Deen and sisterhood for the sake of creating virtual poster boards, breakout God. ih room discussions and reflections or fun Khadeejah Ryan is a high school senior from Illinois and secretary of the ISRAA committee (2020-21). review games. 10 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
Physician Wipes Away $650,000 in Debt From 200 Cancer Patients’ Bills Dr. Omar T. Atiq, MD, FACP, an oncologist who founded a cancer treatment center in Pine Bluff, Ark., wiped away $650,000 in debt for nearly 200 cancer patients. In his greeting card sent to them before Christmas, he stated: “I hope this note finds you well. The Arkansas Cancer Clinic was proud to serve you as a patient. Although various health insurers pay most of the bills for [the] majority of patients, even the deductibles and copays can be burdensome. “The clinic has decided to forego all balances owed to the clinic by its patients. Happy Holidays.” The clinic, which provided treatments ranging from chemotherapy and radiation therapy to diagnostics, closed in late February 2020 due to staffing shortages. Atiq, a member of ISNA’s Founders Club, is a professor of medicine and otolaryngology-head and neck (University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, College of Medicine)
and chair of the American College of Physicians’ board of governors. Cancer treatment is notoriously expensive, as all patients and their families can testify. In a 2013 study, Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center reported that those diagnosed with cancer are more than 2.5 times more as likely to declare bankruptcy than those without cancer. “Being sick is hard, having cancer is harder and having cancer in this pandemic is devastating.” Atiq, who is also the Arkansas Medical Society’s president, told NBC-affiliated KARK-TV, “I am just a regular physician — a regular person that they have in the neighborhood — just so happens to be me standing here. The ones struggling couldn’t pay, so we thought we could just write off the debt.” He said his clinic amassed the outstanding debt in part because “we have never refused to see a patient. Not for lack of health insurance or
Public School Boards Add Eid Holidays The 2021-22 Loudoun County (Va.) schools calendar includes days off for students and staff on Sept. 16, Nov. 4 and May 3: Yom Kippur, Diwali and Eid alFitr, respectively. This decision reflects the county’s increasingly diverse population. The Prince William County School Board voted unanimously for a new 2021-22 school year
calendar that reflects the community’s diversity. It now includes Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Diwali and Eid al-Fitr. On Jan. 10, Superintendent Jake Langlais announced that Lewiston, Maine’s second-largest city and home to a large number of Somali residents, had added Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha to the school calendar. ih
The Islamic Society of Essex County Opens Its New Headquarters The Islamic Society of Essex County (ISEC) moved to a 9-story building in downtown Newark, N.J., located directly across from its City Hall and just two blocks from its former headquarters. Envisioned as a hub for the locals, ISEC plans to fill the $7 million building with a wide array of service providers who support its charitable vision. ISEC’s new home will be a significant upgrade from its past headquarters. The first floor will contain a prayer hall, and its basement will have a cafeteria and hospitality area that can feed the needy and host gatherings.
The eight other floors will be used for activities that support ISEC’s envisioned doctor offices, legal assistance, classrooms, daycare, rehabilitation facilities, a food bank and more. Outside, there are tree-lined grounds and a unique rooftop play area. Dr. Attia Sweillam (chairman, ISEC board of trustees; Islamic advisor to the Organization of Islamic Capitals and Cities, an UN-affiliated NGO that advises many American mosques) said the move was necessary because maintaining the old 84,000-square-foot building had become too costly. The buyer paid more than the $6.05 million appraised value. ih
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funds nor for any other reason.” He added, “I’ve always considered it a high honor and privilege to be someone’s physician — more important than anything else.” Atiq and his family helped establish the Atiq Family/JRMC Educational Fund at the Pine Bluff Community Foundation to benefit deserving children in the Pine Bluff school district. ih The Zakat Foundation of America arranged a set of food distributions nationwide in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Chicago — where it is headquartered — as well as Greensboro (N.C.); Durham and Rock Hill (S.C.); San Bernardino (Calif.); New Castle, Wilmington and Newark (Del.); and Seattle. The foundation has given nearly 3 million pounds of fresh produce, meat and dairy products to Americans during the Covid-19 pandemic. The Al-Huda Islamic Center of the Finger Lakes (Tompkins County, N.Y.) is located in a lightly populated place with a tiny local Muslim community, reported The Ithaca Voice on Jan. 18, 2020. In addition to about 50 local families, a sizable contingent of Cornell and Ithaca college students also attend the prayers and other events there. A typical weekly pre-pandemic service would draw 200+ attendees. For some 50 or so years, the community met in Cornell’s Anabel Taylor Hall, courtesy of the university. Now, some 20 years later, their efforts to obtain their own space have finally paid off. The present building is being used; however, they are raising $150,000 for basic improvements. The second phase, to be designed by an architect, will optimize the building’s functionality. The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association (TSSAA), which oversees high school and junior high school sporting activities, voted unanimously on Dec. 10, 2020, to allow athletes who wear religious headwear to play without seeking a waiver. The amended bylaws went into effect immediately. The new rule comes three months after HuffPost reported that Najah Aqeel, a Nashville ninth-grader, was disqualified from playing in school volleyball games after a referee said her hijab violated the rules.
Aqeel had told HuffPost that neither she nor her coaches knew anything about the requirement and that she had played previous games without a problem. Reacting to the vote, she said, “I have no idea why God chose me for this mission, but I am honored to have been part of a change that will affect so many people in the world. I want to thank the TSSAA for their part in taking such a huge step in making everyone feel included in the sports arena.” In a statement, CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper said, “All Americans should stand with those seeking to remove barriers to a just society that rejects racism, respects diversity and promotes inclusion.” Policies affecting athletes who wear religious headwear have been revisited in recent years, both at the local and global levels. After being disqualified for wearing a hijab during her local school district’s cross-country meet in 2019, teenager Noor Alexandria Abukaram successfully lobbied the Ohio Senate to pass a bill to prohibit such rules being made by schools and interscholastic organizations. The bill has stalled in the state House, however. In 2017, the International Basketball Federation overturned its long-criticized ban after much scrutiny. Following a lawsuit, in 2019, the International Boxing Association announced that hijab-wearing Muslimas would be allowed to compete. North Smithfield’s (R.I.) Planning Board voted to approve the Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement’s Masjid Al-Islam application for a 10,000-square-foot addition on Dec. 3, 2020. The expansion will add several floors to the existing two-story structure, which was built in 1995, increasing its total area to 34,000+ square feet. This will meet the growing community’s needs, particularly during Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha, when the number of attendees can swell to 1,000. The zoning board and conservation commission had approved the project. Project representatives are still securing permits from the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. A major piece will be the addition of a parking lot behind the mosque, which will increase its capacity to 300 spaces. A federal court ruled on Dec. 7, 2020, that Devion Gentry — a Muslim incarcerated in Burkeville, Va. — can continue his lawsuit challenging a Virginia prisons’ requirement that he shave his beard, although doing so violates his right to practice his faith. Muslim Advocates had previously filed an amicus curiae brief urging the court to do just that on the grounds that federal law is intended to protect religious practitioners like Gentry. Gentry, like many Muslims, believes that he is obliged to grow a beard. The Virginia Department of Corrections segregated bearded prisoners in a restricted unit and refused to permit Gentry to rejoin the prison’s general population until he shaved. Furthermore, prison officials had not forcibly shaved the beards of prisoners who had grown them for non-religious reasons. The district court dismissed the case for failing to state claims under the First Amendment’s Free Exercise Clause, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment. On appeal, Gentry won a reversal of that ruling. His case may now proceed in the trial court. “Prisons are required to respect the religious rights of all people they house,” said Muslim Advocates senior staff attorney Matt Callahan. “We are glad the Fourth Circuit took this step to protect the rights of Muslims
Supreme Court Rules for Muslims in No-Fly List Case
The U.S. Supreme Court issued a unanimous ruling in the case of Tanzin v. Tanvir on Dec. 10, 2020, in favor of Muslims who are suing those FBI agents who tried to coerce them to spy on their own community. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) was enacted in the wake of Employment Div., Dept. of Human Resources of Ore. v. Smith, 494 U. S. 872, to provide a remedy to redress Federal Government violations of the right to free exercise under the First Amendment. The court ruled that the respondents, who are practicing Muslims suing under RFRA, claiming that federal agents placed them on the No-Fly List for refusing to act as informants. They sought injunctive relief against the agents in their official capacities and monetary damages against them in their individual capacities. While the District Court found that RFRA does not permit monetary relief and dismissed their individual-capacity claims, the Second Circuit held that RFRA’s remedies provision encompasses monetary damages against Government officials. The Supreme Court held that RFRA’s express remedies provision permits litigants, when appropriate, to obtain monetary damages against federal officials in their individual capacities. The court decided that because damage claims have always been available under §1983 for clearly established violations of the First Amendment, that means that RFRA provides, as one avenue for relief, a right to seek damages against Government employees. Muslim Advocates filed a brief in support of the plaintiffs. Muslim Advocates senior staff attorney Matthew Callahan, commented, “This ruling also clearly shows how our government has targeted and hurt Muslims. It is plainly outrageous that the FBI would try and force Muslims to spy on their own community by placing them on the No-Fly List. For decades now, government surveillance and anti-Muslim policies have been an unavoidable fact of life for American Muslims. Because of this ruling, American Muslims now know that they can speak out and fight back in court against injustice.” ih
MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 13
COMMUNITY MATTERS and other religious practitioners. Mr. Gentry will now have his day in court to fight these discriminatory policies.” Dr. Naqeeb Khalid (president, Toronto-based Biodata Research) has introduced an instant Covid-19 diagnostic test using a smartphone. The platform, which displays the result instantly on any smartphone, can also communicate or store the results, along with the time and the GPS information. He says instant, accurate and low-cost testing that doesn’t rely on a laboratory is essential for containing the pandemic, adding, “Together with vaccines, we can control the Covid-19 outbreak and return our lives and economies to normal.” Khalid, a 1983 graduate from Lahore’s King Edward Medical University, hopes that such a quick, hassle-free, accessible and affordable invention will become a great asset in helping humanity overcome the current pandemic and fight those viruses that cause dengue and other tropical diseases. The innovation’s clinical trials still need to prove its efficacy for the Covid-19 test and pave the way for necessary approvals before being used at the mass level. A smartphone application will soon be available at the AppStore. Tabassum Haleem assumed charge as the Islamic Networks Group’s (ING) new chief executive officer on Jan. 4. Among her qualifications was her very successful eight-year effort to establish and then run ING’s Chicago affiliate and her leadership of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, which serves 400,000 Muslim Americans, for nearly two years after that. She started her career by working in the for-profit corporate world for more than a decade. In 2001, she entered the nonprofit sector by working at an ING affiliate in Chicago. Haleem also holds several leadership positions in Chicago, including advisory committee member of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She is a licensed CPA and chartered global management accountant, holds a master’s degree (public policy and Middle Eastern studies, University of Chicago), and speaks Urdu, Arabic and Spanish. Maha Elgenaidi, founder and ING’s first executive director, will lead new initiatives at ING as chief innovation officer. Manal Fakhoury heads its new Board of Trustees. ih
Zakat Foundation of America’s executive director Halil Demir and its health advisor Donna Demir, RN, were presented with ARISE Chicago’s highest annual honor, the 2020 Arise Chicago Faithful Leadership Award, for their exemplary service in “fighting workplace injustice through education, organizing, and advocating for public policy changes.” ARISE Chicago is a workers and faith-community alliance for workplace justice. Presenting the award on Nov. 19, 2020, board member Rev. Marshall Hatch of New Mount Pilgrim Church, located in Chicago’s historic South Side Bronzeville neighborhood, said, “We need people like you, Halil and Donna, to help feed the hungry and to give shelter to refugees. But we also need you to help transform our city and our world into places of compassion.” This virtual ceremony took place at a time when the couple was helping orphaned Syrian refugee children on the Turkish-Syrian border. “With the struggle of ARISE, who raised the banner of social justice for the working class, and then Zakat Foundation — with us all the way here in Turkey close to the Syrian border to take care of orphans — I thought, what a great combination we are, and what unique unity of humanitarian spirit this brings together!” said Halil upon accepting the award. Ahmed Rehab (director, CAIR Chicago), who delivered the award program’s keynote address, said, “Halil and Donna are extraordinary human beings — ever joyful, ever hopeful, ever ready to pour compassion out to those in dire need. For 20 years, Zakat Foundation has served humanity by giving direct aid — food, water, shelter, clothing — in 50 countries and 220 U.S. cities.” Halil said that his reflection upon winning the award helped him “figure out” the real, mutual vision of the two charities: “Share love. Give love. Live
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love. And that’s why we at Zakat Foundation are part of the struggle of ARISE Chicago.” Kalimah H. Ahmad was sworn in as Hudson County’s (N.J.) first Muslim judge on Dec. 22, 2020. She formerly served as legal advisor to the county correction facility and as the county’s assistant county counsel. In 2011, Mayor Jerramiah Healy appointed her Jersey City councilwoman-at-large. A former board member and regional director of the Garden State Bar Association, Ahmad currently is a board trustee for the Educational Arts Team. She received her JD in 2005 from Seton Hall University School of Law, where she was a three-time recipient of the Hudson County Bar Association’s Scholarship Award (2002, 2003 and 2004). A recipient of the Garden State Bar Association’s 2011 Young Lawyer Award and Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity’s 2011 Woman of the Year Award, Ahmad is a member of various professional bodies and organizations In June 2009 she participated in the Franklin Lakes New Jersey Annual Triathlon to benefit the Leukemia Lymphoma Society. Imam Mohammad Yasir Khan made history by becoming the state legislature’s first Muslim chaplain. He was appointed to the post by California State Assembly Speaker Anthony Rendon on Dec. 7, 2020, for the 2021-22 session. The chaplain’s main role is to say a prayer at the beginning of each session. Khan hopes that his presence will bring the community closer together. For the past six years, Khan has worked as a chaplain at local county jails, sheriff ’s offices and hospitals. He is also the founder and president of Al-Misbaah, a nonprofit that collaborates with the Sacramento Food Bank to distribute food citywide and helps provide low-income families with vehicles for increased mobility. Basim Elkarra (executive director, CAIR-Sacramento Valley) told CNN,
COMMUNITY MATTERS “Imam Yasir Khan is an incredible, selfless individual who helps support and feed thousands of families each month through al-Misbaah. This appointment sends a message of inclusion — that American Muslims are an integral part of our society. Despite all the hate Muslims have faced during four years under Trump’s administration, our community is resilient and continues to help and play critical roles in all aspects of society.” On Feb. 2 Saima Mohsin, a career prosecutor with significant case experience, became the acting U.S. attorney for Michigan’s Eastern District — the state’s and the country’s first Muslim U.S. attorney. This is a step up from her former position as the first assistant U.S. attorney for eastern Michigan, which she had held since 2018. During her decades-long career as a federal prosecutor, since 2002 she has worked in the U.S. Attorney’s Office Violent and Organized Crime Unit, the Drug Task Force and the General Crimes Unit, and the Department of Justice. Armed with a bachelor’s degree and a law degree, this Rutgers University graduate became an assistant district attorney in New York City and then worked for the state of New Jersey’s Division of Criminal Justice as a deputy attorney general in organized crime and racketeering. She started working for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Michigan in 2002. Nabil Shike (D) assumed office as a member of the Fort Bend County Constable, representing Precinct 4 in Texas, on Jan. 1, 2021. The Houston-born Shike, who won the general election on Nov. 3, 2020, has a bachelor’s degree (criminal justice, Lamar University) and experience that includes working as a police officer. He has been affiliated with the Texas Democratic Party, the Fort Bend Tejano Democrats, the Texas Coalition of Black Democrats, the AFL-CIO, the Texas Municipal Police Association, the Fort Bend Young Democrats and the Houston Muslim Democrats. He was awarded the 2017 Community Service of the Year award.
Dean Eric Boerwinkle announced that The University of Texas School of Public Health has established the Dr. Umair Ali Shah $25,000 student scholarship fund for public health practice to help offset a student’s annual costs. Responding to the news, Shah said, “This is a big deal for me, as our parents valued education so much as immigrants. They always said, ‘They can take away everything, but not your education.’ I plan to honor them with this scholarship, as they instilled these values in us.” Shah, who assumed office as Washington State’s health secretary in December 2020, spent 17 years as Harris County’s (Texas) public health executive director. DePaul University senior Bushra Amiwala, 22, serves on the board of education for Skokie School District 73.5. She is the youngest Muslim American elected official. First running while in college, her campaign was recognized by TIME Magazine, Teen Vogue and The New York Times. Amiwala was named Glamour Magazine’s College Woman of the Year for her first campaign, which she lost. She helped coach Niles North High School’s debate team at and worked with the program I Cook After School, which involved her and a team of volunteers visiting underfunded public schools in Chicago to teach their students how to make lowcost healthy meals. Her public speaking gigs and the three boards she currently serves on, including the Skokie Board of Education, did not cool her down over winter break – she established The Amiwala Foundation for “supporting, uplifting and inspiring young people.” High-school senior Maryam Tsegaye, 17, of Fort McMurray, Alberta, became the first Canadian to win the $500,000 Cdn international Breakthrough Junior Challenge. The prize includes a $250,000 Cdn scholarship and $100,000 Cdn toward a new science lab for her school, reported Jamie Malbeuf, CBC News, Dec. 6, 2020. The teacher who inspired her will receive $50,000 Cdn in cash.
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Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tweeted, “You’re making us all proud. I know you’ll continue to do great things in the years ahead, and I hope you know that we’ll all be rooting for you.” The competition asks students to create a video that explains a scientific principle to the public. Tsegaye entered a three-minute video comparing quantum tunneling to rolling dice and playing video games. About 5,600 students in total entered. The big prize came with a big surprise. Considering the Covid-19 restrictions, Principal Scott Barr launched a creative ruse to get her and a few friends into the school. They were told to sit in a classroom and watch a video on the board, looking interested and acting like they were learning from home. Then a video of astronaut Scott Kelly and Sal Khan (founder, the Khan Academy), one of the partners in the prize, appeared on the screen. Until they actually said her name, Tsegaye had no idea that she had won. She recruited a friend to help her edit the video and did the rest on her laptop — “Held together by binder clips and half the keyboard doesn’t work,” she said. She’s hoping to study physics at a university abroad. But right now, she’s planning to buy a new laptop. ih
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Fasting as One Nation
Ramadan 1975 (1395 AH): A turning point in Muslim Americans’ quest for unity BY IRSHAD ABDAL-HAQQ
n 1975, the month of Ramadan arrived on Sept. 7 with great anticipation among members of the original LostFound Nation of Islam (NOI). Only in retrospect, however, can we fully appreciate that blessed day’s transformative impact on this country’s entire Muslim community. At the behest of their leader, Imam W. Deen Mohammed (radiy Allahu ‘anhu), then known as Chief Minister Wallace D. Muhammad, the NOI’s national network of over 100 temples began their annual fast during the authentic month of Ramadan for the very first time. By doing so, one of the largest contingents of Americans self-identifying as mainstream Muslims further demonstrated their genuine embrace of Islam’s universal principles over their former proto-Islamic doctrine. “Brothers and Sisters, henceforth the Lost-Found Nation of Islam in America will be observing the month of Ramadan fast in the proper month and will be celebrating the victorious completion of this fast with our Muslim Brothers and Sisters the world over,” proclaimed the imam in a full-page article (Muhammad Speaks, Aug. 29, 1975, p.15). This declaration was one of the numerous authentic Islamic practices he had begun implementing after his father’s death in February 1975. During the decades of the Honorable Elijah Muhammad’s leadership, the NOI had observed its annual monthlong abstinence from daytime eating and drinking every December. This was not predicated on a transcendent phenomenon such as the advent of the Quranic revelation, nor did it conclude with festive activities comparative to those of Eid ul-Fitr. And only reluctantly was it labeled “Ramadan” or even considered a legitimate “fast,” since NOI members had always been encouraged to eat only one meal per day throughout the year. Rather, the NOI’s December daytime “Ramadan fast” was essentially a social reform method for disengaging its members from identifying with and participating in Christmasrelated activities.
“We are about to enter our annual fast that is called ‘Ramadan’ in Arabic. This is not the actual month taken by the Arab Muslims; however, it comes in this month every few years. But ours remain in this month every year,” read Elijah Muhammad’s instructional guidelines and an annually published news column entitled “Ramadan” (Muhammad Speaks, Dec. 13, 1974, p.3. Also see Elijah Muhammad’s dietary guide, “How to Eat to Live, Book Number 2,” 1972, pp.48-52). Thus, the NOI constituency that Imam WD Mohammed inherited from his father
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already was accustomed to abstaining from daytime eating, perhaps more extensively than the mainstream umma. So in the summer of 1975 when he announced the transition from his father’s modified December “Ramadan” to the authentic Ramadan, by all accounts the community did not resist or consider it a challenge. If there was any apprehension, it was connected with the longer period from dawn to sunset in September, as compared to December. The more pertinent question regarding this historic transition probably should focus not so much on the ability of
the NOI’s members — a particularly resolute people at the time — to fast, but rather on how the greater umma reacted to them entering the fold of mainstream [Sunni] Islam. In some Muslim quarters, the NOI’s rapid transition from primarily a social reform movement that had espoused several major tenets antithetical to Islam to one suddenly shedding those tenets and adopting the full measure of Islam’s mainstream tenets, was met with skepticism by some, but with full
and brotherhood that so affected Malcolm’s heart: “…he dropped on me something whose logic never would get out of my head. He said, ‘No man has believed perfectly until he wishes for his brother what he wishes for himself.’” This expression is, of course, derived from Prophet Muhammad’s (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) hadith that all Muslims are not merely to hope for, but must actually strive to achieve this goal (“Sahih al-Bukhari,” Book
UNITY AND HARMONY BETWEEN MUSLIMS IN AMERICA DEPENDS ON MUSLIM AMERICANS’ ACTIVE OUTREACH TO ONE ANOTHER. MUSLIM AMERICANS MUST ACQUAINT OURSELVES WITH EACH OTHER’S PROBLEMS, ASPIRATIONS, AND HOPES.” acceptance by others (See examples of both dispositions in Bilalian News, Nov. 14, 1975, pp.19, 22). For those who welcomed the NOI’s evolution, it seems as if they had been waiting for it eagerly. They readily celebrated and encouraged this event by lending moral and material support. Their reaction was reflective of the sentiment expressed in the prescient 1964 Eid ul-Fitr message of Dr. Mahmoud Yousef Shawarbi, then director of the Federation of the Islamic Association in the United States and Canada: “Unity and harmony between Muslims in America depends on Muslim Americans’ active outreach to one another. Muslim Americans must acquaint ourselves with each other’s problems, aspirations, and hopes” (“Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History,” 2010, p.251). Significantly, it is Shawarbi and El-Hajj Malik El-Shabazz’s (aka Malcolm X) 1965 relationship that stands as a metaphor for Imam Mohammed and the NOI’s 1975 transition and acceptance. Even though Malcolm was not acquainted with Islam’s specific rituals, including salat, Shawarbi perceived in him a sincerity to embrace all aspects of the Deen. So, he was trustful and patient with Malcolm. In fact, he was the one who provided the required hajj approval letter endorsing Malcolm’s 1964 visa application (“The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” chap. 17, 1965). And it was his recitation of the expression of unity, love
of Faith; “Sahih Muslim,” Book of Faith, chap. 24, “Deen is Sincerity”). In chapter 16 of his autobiography, Malcolm writes that he and Wallace (i.e., Imam Mohammed) shared an exceptional closeness and trust. In the next chapter he says that “Wallace” earlier had expressed to him his conviction that the NOI would survive only if it accepted a better understanding of Orthodox [Sunni] Islam. This was at least ten years before Imam Mohammed assumed leadership of the NOI. Thus, outsiders doubting the sincerity of the imam’s intention of guiding the organization toward mainstream [Sunni] Islam in 1975 were probably being impatient or overly idealistic regarding the pace of his strategy. In the months leading up to Ramadan 1975, the imam prepared the NOI’s membership for the traditional fast and other aspects of the Deen. He conducted hourslong instructional telephone conferences that included all NOI temples. He arranged for the distribution of free books about the proper practice of Islam, among them Muhammad Hamidullah’s “Introduction to Islam” (1957) and Hammudah Abdalati “Islam in Focus” (1975). Moreover, the NOI’s national newspaper, Muhammad Speaks, often published transcripts of the guidance the imam had disseminated earlier via conference calls or internal memoranda. Perhaps the two most notable Muhammad Speaks articles on the topic of
Ramadan included the imam’s “Ramadan” (Aug. 29, 1975, p.15), in which he quotes from Hamidullah’s “Introduction to Islam” and mandates the observance of the fast during the proper month, and “Ramadan Fasting and Zakat” (Oct. 3, 1975, p.18), an authorized reprint of a Muslim Student Association (MSA) pamphlet. The imam’s comprehensive article on God’s unity and oneness, “God is One,” perhaps best summarizes his motivation for directing his followers to observe Ramadan in 1975 along with the greater national and international umma. Further, that article also portended his lifelong focus on interfaith outreach and understanding: “Brothers and Sisters, the Religion of Islam is the only religion that can bring the peoples of the world into unity because it is the only religion which correctly expresses the natural concept of unity which pervades all of creation” (“God is One,” Muhammad Speaks, Oct. 3, 1975, pp.20-23). Ultimately Imam Mohammed’s efforts succeeded. On Oct. 7, 1975, the Central Eid Committee of Greater Chicago sponsored an Eid ul-Fitr service for 10,000 Muslims at McCormick Place (Muhammad Speaks, Oct. 24, 1975, pp.3, 22). Imam Mohammed and thousands of those in his Chicagobased association attended. The (late) Dr. Eltigani Abugideiri, a former MSA president, delivered the Eid khutba. During his tenure, he worked informally with Imam Mohammed to transition the NOI into the World Community of Islam in the West (WCIW) in 1976 (Islamic Horizons, May/ June 2011, p.54) The imam’s viewpoint on unity, as expressed in his lectures, literature and activities, are rooted in the very essence of Islam’s founding principles: “The believers are but a single brotherhood, so make peace and reconciliation between your brothers” (49:10) and “Know for certain that every Muslim is a brother of another Muslim, and that all Muslims are brethren” (Prophet Muhammad’s Last Sermon). Until the ideal of unity rooted in mutual affection is achieved, Islam cannot be fully realized. And though our struggle may seem daunting at times, we are slowly but surely on the path to fulfilling it. Consequently, we should cherish the impact of Ramadan 1975 (1395 AH) as a major historical turning point toward our quest for unity. ih Irshad Abdal-Haqq is an intercultural writer. Visit “Irshad’s Blog” (Abdal-Haqq.com) for further information on this topic.
MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 19
The Man Behind the Armor Syed Ali Shah Geelani — the moving spirit of the Kashmiri freedom struggle
BY GHULAM NABI MIR
first met Syed Ali Shah Geelani (b. first post-occupation elected prime minis- GEELANI THE MAN 1929) in 1963 as a college freshman Geelani has never been a big talker in Sopore, the famous north-central and almost never resorted to public Kashmiri college town. rhetoric and argument. But when he Sopore, the bustling center of the came on the public stage, he was prostate’s apple industry and regional comlific, thoughtful and thunderous. His merce, was then — and for decades has speeches were pieces of art, a flowery been — the epicenter of the Kashmiri mix of Kashmiri and Urdu phraseology freedom struggle. It has always stood — interspersed with Quranic verses, out for its defiance against India’s coloexamples from the Hadith and couplets nialist occupation. of the great poet-philosophers — Iqbal Geelani’s character, personality, and Rumi. demeanor and, above all, his spectacuHis speeches would start softly with lar oratory in Kashmiri and Urdu made his hands humbly folded below his an impression on youth and adults chest. His voice would gradually rise to alike. I was no exception. By the time a crescendo, and his hands would start I met him, he was already becoming moving rhythmically with the cadence an iconic political and religious figure of his speech. He was a master of his among college students. own solo orchestra, for the audience Later on, during my medical college swayed and sobbed, sometimes audibly years in Srinagar, the summer capital and nearly always with eyes welling up of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), I met with tears. Then his voice would slowly him several times. de-crescendo, as if to gently land his In 1971, Geelani was elected to the audience because it would be time to go home. There would often be calls of [Indian-occupied] J&K Legislative Assembly on the Jamaat-e-Islami “Encore! Encore!” and he would oblige, J&K ticket (banned by India in 2019). only because his beloved youth always By then he had matured as a political wanted more. GEELANI’S CHARACTER, leader with an increasingly crystallized Geelani was never audacious, view of Kashmir’s destiny. He wanted pompous, or pungent. Just the oppoPERSONALITY, DEMEANOR AND, to settle for nothing less than the right site. Even at the peak of his political to self-determination enshrined in the ABOVE ALL, HIS SPECTACULAR career and vibrancy, he was always UN Security Council’s Resolution 47, gentle and humble. Like many other ORATORY IN KASHMIRI AND adopted on April 21, 1948, and on Jan. students, I also recall once walking with URDU MADE AN IMPRESSION him for a few hundred yards in Sopore’s 5, 1949, “The question of the accession of the State of Jammu and Kashmir ON YOUTH AND ADULTS ALIKE. bazaar. People would stop him, and to India or Pakistan will be decided he would oblige, hug them, and shake I WAS NO EXCEPTION. through the democratic method of a their hands. I remember that he would free and impartial plebiscite:”. pointedly walk toward Hindu and Sikh Unfortunately, Shaikh Mohammad shopkeepers, and how they would rise and rush to hug him and shake hands Abdullah (1905-82) essentially abandoned this cause after spending 11 years in ter. A strong opponent of Hari Singh’s rule — as if they were bosom brothers or friends. Indian prisons. Known as “Sher-e-Kashmir” and an outspoken advocate of self-rule, he Geelani is not a worldly man, but a man (the Lion of Kashmir), Abdullah was one was eventually broken by 11 years of harsh of tremendous civility, sophistication and of the founding leaders of the All Jammu prison treatment. That would be the first finesse. He is a remarkable blend of resis& Kashmir Muslim Conference which he act of decapitation of political leadership of tance, resilience and accommodation. When left, then founding the Jammu and Kashmir those Kashmiris living under Indian rule. it comes to principles, he is uncompromisNational Conference, and the princely state’s ing, but on matters of personal need he is 20 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
very accommodating. In 1981, some of us had the privilege of hosting him in Ohio when he came to the U.S. to address the ISNA Convention. The man, who I saw up close, was selfless and void of all worldly ambition or greed. Geelani is a profound scholar, an intellectual, a writer and, above all, a political leader who will not compromise on the Kashmiris’ right of self-determination. A fearless warrior for peace, justice and equity who has never been intimidated by the force of arms, he has never picked up a gun or promoted wanton violence. He defends the rights of all illegally occupied nations to take all necessary measures allowed within international law and norms, to free themselves from their oppressors. Everything he has ever written — his 30 books, including his autobiography (Wular Kinaray [On the Banks of River Wular], Millat Publications, 2012), which he penned during his internment in Indian prisons — gives a great insight into his view of humanity. He was imprisoned for more than 12 years in aggregate since his first arrest in 1962. He repeatedly addressed his Hindu Indian tormentors with dignity and respect while they humiliated him as if he were a hardened criminal. His political outlook is simply one of not just ending the world’s many conflicts—ranging from Kashmir to Palestine and beyond, but also of eliminating their underlying causes. He believes that violence will end only when tyranny ends. But he also believes that the innocent should never be targeted, no matter how sacred the cause. In the case of Kashmir, Geelani believes that the people of J&K must be allowed to exercise their UN-mandated right of self-determination. He frequently invokes the solemn pledge of India’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru (1889-1964), to let the Kashmiris determine their own political future through a free and fair plebiscite. While he is not against bilateral dialogue between India and Pakistan, he maintains that dialogue should be a means to set the stage for the rightful representatives of J&K to determine their fate. Neither India nor Pakistan, or any single political grouping in J&K, should be given the right to decide the now-divided state’s future.
THE FIRM COURSE
Changing the course or the narrative of the
Wular Kinaray [On the Banks of River Wular]
Kashmiri freedom struggle 73 years on does not guarantee any better results. The UNSC resolutions provide a critical international justification for waging the Kashmiri struggle. Although the struggle has been so long, the cause is finally attracting more attention, and the world is more aware of the cause that Geelani and his people are struggling for. Moreover, Geelani’s decision to not give up on the UN has been right all along. Pro-Indian client politicians like those in the People’s Alliance for Gupkar Declaration (PAGD; formerly known as Gupkar Declaration) founded by the dynastic politicians Farooq Abdullah (Jammu & Kashmir National Conference) and Mehbooba Mufti (People’s Democratic Party) last year, have no credibility among the masses. They have always been a sideshow of the real freedom struggle, beneficiaries of the political system imposed or tolerated by the Indian government at the expense of the Kashmiris’ legitimate aspirations. What makes Geelani the bulwark of Kashmiri resistance is his vision, faith, courage and constancy — his lifelong sacrifice for the cherished cause of Kashmir. He does not entertain fear of India. Nor do hurdles deter him, and age has not diminished his charisma. Kashmiris are praying that he lives even longer than he already has so that he can keep on guiding them against the odds.
I vividly remember him whispering in my ear during a hug in 1965 at a bus stand in Sopore — soon after I had entered medical college — “We badly need the youth.” I was then 18. I am sure thousands of youth have heard that whisper. This is the message that I would like to share with my beloved youth of Kashmir everywhere. The leadership of the World Kashmir Awareness Forum (https://kashmirawareness.org) has a long history of advocating for the Kashmir cause on the international stage. Its goal aligns with the Kashmiris’ known wishes and aspirations — empowering them to achieve the right of self-determination. Since India’s unilateral revocation of J&K’s limited autonomy on Aug. 5, 2019 — enshrined in Article 370 of the Indian Constitution in 1949 — this cause has gained more support, and the Kashmiri diaspora has become actively involved on several levels. Thus, the awareness and advocacy campaign has — and continues to — pick up speed. ih Ghulam Nabi Mir, MD, FACG, is founder and president of the World Kashmir Awareness Forum.
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MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 21
On How Corpses Resist in Kashmir Every struggle for freedom is beset by both poison and cure BY FARHAN MUJAHID CHAK
hat is it to die? Is it not contingent on how one lives? To either melt in His eternal warmth — that infinitely loving, tender embrace, or to wallow in the icy depths of unsightly darkness and frightening isolation. As for those who kill others unjustly, do they not forfeit their life? And what shall we make of the corpses of those murdered? Seize their breath if you will, but in death their everlasting words soothe us. Suffocate their voices in life, yet in death they shall indeed sing. You may have taken out their eyes, but it is you who are blind. So even as the ground adoringly welcomes their twisted, contorted bodies back, they are now dancing. And how does this reflect on you? The martyr’s death is a symbol of your end and the beginning of their reign. That is why corpses terrify you. You cannot even bear to look upon their bodies. Or is it that their faces seem wicked, since it is you who are unwanted?
Your covetousness, misery and unrequited obsession — all causes for cringeworthy lashing out. You desecrate their corpses and secretly bury them in unmarked graves without allowing the presence of their families or the performance of their final rites. As for the depraved weakling who throws acid in response to spurned desire, “If not me, then no one,” this cruel, unusual form of punishment is a reflection of you. Thus as the Indian government, led by the fascist Bharatiya Janata Party, revels in the monstrosity of snatching the bodies of innocent Kashmiris and burying them in forlorn graves, it is you and your ilk who are alone. Worse, know this: The unseen mourning leads to the riot you fear in the hearts of millions. This is how corpses resist. The dead have awoken the living. You may have spread poison in Kashmir, but you have also caused the cure. Truly, revolutions are fought in the heart; the battlefield is for the untrained warrior.
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The disputed territory of Jammu and Kashmir remains the longest unresolved conflict on the UN agenda. It is also the planet’s most militarized space. Even worse, this international conflict — certainly not bilateral, since it involves Kashmir, Pakistan, India and China — has the atrocious appellation of being a nuclear flashpoint. In illegally Indian-occupied Kashmir, Reuters reports that over the last 30 years alone the Indian occupation forces killed nearly 100,000 people. According to kashmircivitas.com, they have also raped/ molested 11,000+ women, dug over 6,500 unmarked graves and created over 90,000 orphans. And as if this were not enough, the Washington Post reported that thousands of political prisoners, including children, were being held without charge when, on Aug. 5, 2019, India unlawfully abrogated Article 370 and 35A of its own Constitution, with credible reports of their sexual abuse. Over 600 habeas corpus petitions are pending in
Indian courts. Millions of Kashmiris are suffering due to the government’s lack of health preparedness for the coronavirus pandemic. Not only does New Delhi ignore their inalienable, UN-mandated rights, it has made the situation even worse by passing the “Jammu and Kashmir Reorganization Order 2020,” which makes it possible to change the disputed territory’s demographics. The reputable NGO Genocide Watch (https://
needs to be a thorough cleansing — of body, mind and spirit — to prepare an occupied people for emancipation. It is as if the whole of society needs to be put through the wringer. Treachery, betrayal and turncoats flourish. Kashmir is no different. It took the Algerians 132 years to free themselves from French colonization. Freedom comes not with roses, but with bullets and graveyards. And it is from the graveyards that corpses call out and legends
FREEDOM COMES NOT WITH ROSES, BUT WITH BULLETS AND GRAVEYARDS. AND IT IS FROM THE GRAVEYARDS THAT CORPSES CALL OUT AND LEGENDS EMERGE. THOSE TOWERING PERSONALITIES ARE THE CURE THEIR PEOPLE HAVE BEEN WAITING FOR. JUST AS THE SUNLIGHT THAT COMES AFTER THE DARKEST PART OF THE NIGHT, THEY ARE BEACONS OF FREEDOM. www.genocidewatch.com/india) has gone so far as to issue two “Genocide Alerts” over these machinations in Kashmir (Aug. 15, 2019 and Dec. 23, 2020). With all of this pain and suffering, many lament, “All this poison and no resolution in sight!” Untrue. Every struggle for freedom is beset by both poison and cure. The hegemon uses gross, cruel violence and torture to take the bodies and pummel the peoples’ fighting spirit. Then it sanitizes the language and uses false/mythical histories and discordant narratives to control their minds. Worse, it uses perversion, sexual deviance and drug/ alcohol abuse to crush the rebellion’s moral foundations, to hoodwink the oppressed into turning on one another and mislead them into believing in their own exceptionalism. Yet with all the overwhelming. firepower, violence, discourse and drug peddling, the oppressor is still puny and afraid. His atrocious carnage — all the poison that India spreads in Kashmir — is what compels the corpses to ring the death knell that continues to resonate defiance throughout the land. And it is this way in every revolutionary society, for it must be made ready to receive the preciousness of freedom. As the poison spreads people are stirred, and then comes the purge. Society — even people — must be mutilated, torn asunder and ripped apart. There
emerge. Those towering personalities are the cure their people have been waiting for. Just as the sunlight that comes after the darkest part of the night, they are beacons of freedom. Algeria had Larbi Ben Mhidi (executed by the French in 1957), Libya had Omar Mukhtar (executed by the Italians in 1931), Pakistan had Muhammad Ali Jinnah (d.1948) and Kashmir has Syed Ali Shah Geelani (b.1929). The beloved Peer Sahib (Saintly Person) is no ordinary person. He hears the corpses. He has given his people the clarity of vision, shown immeasurable courage and displayed an unconquerable will, all of which has kept Kashmir’s quest for liberty unwavering. In other words, he has led the resistance in a decisive threefold way: vision, fearlessness and continuity. First, the most essential facet of any revolutionary, anti-colonial struggle requires clarity of vision. Geelani has presented Kashmir not as separatist movement, since it has never been part of India, but as a legitimate struggle for self-determination. No matter what the Indian state has offered him, he has never accepted Indian citizenship. Notwithstanding his genuine, well-considered proclivities for Pakistan, he has promised to abide by the results of any free, fair plebiscite. Moreover, he has never
conceded an inch of discourse, knowing very well how the Indian state has deliberately poisoned the Kashmiris’ culture, history, identity and, most importantly, will. Yet as much as the delusional Hindutva state alters, incapacitates or misdirects the will of this oppressed populace and world opinion, its control of the discordant narratives is collapsing. This is precipitated by the sheer strength of character of Peer Sahib, whose sharp, unambiguous and inclusionary narrative has been unyielding. His vision, whether praised or loathed, has remained unchanged. His principled approach to the right of self-determination that safeguards minorities, without undermining the primary religious and ethnic demographics, is a testament to his charisma. Only those who find themselves can lead others. Second, the nature of resistance necessitates fearlessness in the face of eventual death. At present, Kashmir suffers from military occupation and the unbearable presence of nearly a million soldiers/paramilitaries. In front of this, Geelani, more than anyone else, has displayed exemplary courage. In the heart of New Delhi, he has called out Indian atrocities regardless of death threats. Undeterred, he stood his ground and protested fake encounters, false imprisonment and the everyday indignities endured by his people. He does not take the easy path, and his valor awakens bravery in others. This is the characteristic of true, revolutionary leadership — confronting one’s enemy without a thought of losing one’s life, trusting that death can neither be delayed nor hurried. No one has continuously impacted the entirety of the Kashmiri freedom movement as Geelani. Among the ebbs and flows of resistance, and the push and pull of all kinds of traitors, he alone has stood as an immovable rock. His unshakeable principles, unrelenting will and uncompromising commitment to his people’s well-being is acknowledged by friend and foe. He has never changed his tune, switched loyalties, been accused of doublespeak or sought personal gain. While all revolutionary movements suffer setbacks and many revolutionaries capitulate after becoming disheartened, he has proven entirely resolute. In fact, this is his most memorable and lasting legacy — continuity. ih Farhan Mujahid Chak, secretary-general of Kashmir Civitas (a registered Canadian NGO), is also an associate professor of political science at Qatar University.
MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 23
Syed Ali Shah Geelani with the author, Ruwa Shah, his granddaughter [Photo courtesy of Ruwa Shah]
Syed Ali Shah Geelani
A life dedicated to Kashmir and its people BY RUWA SHAH
t was a frosty February afternoon in the Turkish city of Kayseri. I had just finished my exams, and was hoping to have a rare moment of respite after submitting all my assignments. But before I could heave a sigh of relief and relax, I got a text: “Just heard about your grandfather. I am so sorry.” My [maternal] grandfather, my “Aba”, is Syed Ali Shah Geelani, one of the most prominent figures in the Kashmiri resistance movement and the leader of Tehreek-e-Hurriyat. He is 91 years old, and his health is ailing. I have been away from home, studying towards a master’s degree in Turkey, since 2018. Due to the restrictions the [Indian] central government regularly puts on local communications in Indianoccupied Kashmir, I often spend days without talking to my family and getting updates about the health of my grandfather. So that text terrified me. When I finally managed to get my mother on the phone and ask her about my Aba, she confirmed that his condition was worsening and told me that he wants to be surrounded by family. 24 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
COVER STORY At that very moment, I decided to return home. “So far the cellphones are working. But we do not know when they (the state) will shut it, if anything happens to Geelani,” I overheard a woman say as I made my way towards the next plane to Kashmir at the [New] Delhi airport. Clearly, the rumors about my grandfather’s health were spreading rapidly across the community. When I landed in Srinagar a few hours later, my heart was racing – I had not been home for over 17 months and I was eager to see my family, and especially my “Aba,” as soon as possible. The weather was very cold in Srinagar, too. But unlike Turkey, everything looked colorless and dusty — like a scene from a dystopian movie. My brother, Anees, was waiting for me at the airport. We quickly
I saw Ame, my mother, first as I entered the house. Most of my cousins, aunts and uncles were also there, and everyone was talking in hushed voices. I wanted to see Aba right away, but there was a team of doctors in his room. Usually, women do not enter Aba’s room when he has male guests there who are not from our immediate family. So I sat near Ame and waited for the doctors to leave. After almost an hour, I walked inside Aba’s room. He was surrounded by his daughters, his sons, his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. The man who once roared like a lion and inspired thousands was now struggling to comprehend the most mundane things going on around him. He could not even recognize the faces of his own family members.
OPPRESSION DOES NOT LAST,” MY GRANDFATHER — NOW 91 AND IN AILING HEALTH — TELLS ME AS POLICE LINE THE ROADS OUTSIDE.
got in his car and started driving towards Aba’s house in Hyderpora. The roads leading to his house were lined up with armored vehicles and I saw men setting up CCTV cameras on electricity poles near his house. Authorities were clearly getting ready for my grandfather’s passing and the unrest they expected his funeral to cause. A police vehicle was blocking the entrance of the house, but this did not surprise me. That police vehicle has been a permanent fixture at Aba’s gate since he was put under house arrest for the first time in 2008. Aba has barely left his home in the past decade. The Indian authorities allowed him to make a few public appearances in 2014, but since then he has only stepped beyond that police vehicle at his gate a couple of times to visit the hospital. Aba suffers from several medical conditions. He developed renal cancer in a jail in the Indian city of Ranchi in 2003. He had one of his kidneys removed as a result. He has a pacemaker in his heart. He suffers from an acute chest infection that makes it difficult for him to breathe. On the day of my visit, the infection was so bad that Aba was on oxygen support.
He fell into a deep depression, and for good reason — since that day, almost all members of his party are behind bars. He is sad and lonely. I walked towards Aba. He was barely visible under a pile of blankets. I reached out and held his hand. It felt like a skeleton with his skin hanging loose. He did not immediately recognize me. I told him I was his granddaughter. “Which one?” he asked. “Are you the one who used to bring me gifts? You went to Turkey, didn’t you?” he said softly. It made me smile. I was still in his remaining memories. We managed to speak a little bit that day. It was heartbreaking to see Aba struggle to speak, to remember things, but even in this condition he surprised us. He asked me if I had seen my father, Altaf Ahmad Shah, who along with many other leaders from my grandfather’s party, has been imprisoned in New Delhi since 2017. “You should meet the prisoners. Tell them that I pray for them and their sacrifice will not be wasted,” he told me. My father worked with Aba for more than 35 years. He was a student activist when he joined the resistance
movement. Aba was so impressed with my father that he eventually arranged for him to marry his daughter, my mother, and become part of his family. “Do not stop me here. It is time I go,” he said in a hushed voice when we once again gathered around him. “You should not be selfish. I am in pain.” And then he closed his eyes and started reciting verses from the Holy Quran. As he was humming “La Ilaha illhala…” (There is only One God) he suddenly stopped, raised his hand, and feebly shouted “Allah-u-Akbar!” Aba dedicated his life to Islam and Kashmir’s freedom struggle. For him, the two have always been inseparable. This is why, even when he barely had the energy to breathe, he was either reciting from the Quran or talking about Kashmir. “Do not give up on freedom. Zulm chu ne poshaan! Oppression does not last!” Aba kept repeating as I spoon-fed him. He kept reciting it to himself, as if he was trying to etch those words to his memory so that he would not forget what he had stood for all his life. He was, after all, receiving very good care. A team of doctors sent by the authorities was visiting Aba on a daily basis. The Indian authorities are not normally known for their compassion and care for members of the Kashmiri resistance. However, after their move to revoke Kashmir’s partial autonomy [on Aug. 5, 2019] and the unrest that followed, they are careful to prevent any episode that could trigger a mass gathering. And they know my grandfather’s passing would cause many Kashmiris to take to the streets. That evening, I went to my parents’ house to spend the night. When I returned to my grandfather’s house the next morning, I saw that the security outside the gate has been beefed up. Now, only close family members are allowed to enter, and people in the house are banned from using their phones. Fearing that I may not be able to return if I ventured out, I decided not to leave the house until things calmed down. That evening, two of the three people working in Aba’s house were also removed by the police. All this was because a video of Aba, depicting his deteriorating state of health, was posted on social media. The video had gone viral, triggering panic among the people and alarming the authorities. The rumors that my grandfather is on his deathbed reached such levels that day that government officials inquired about my family’s plans for Aba’s burial and last rites.
MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 25
COVER STORY “They will not let us do anything piece of chicken, a small bowl of in case anything happens. They soup without spices, and a small want to handle all of it,” my elder portion of rice. And for dinner, a uncle, Naim Geelani, said. single piece of flatbread with some Aba wishes to be buried in the vegetables. This was his routine Martyr’s Graveyard in Eidgah, for years. Srinagar. How his burial is hanAs I tried to spoon-feed him dled is important for us, because fluids, I thought of all this and he is the head of our family. It is broke down in tears. important for the state, because All my life, I had thought of his death can lead to an outburst him as someone unbreakable — of anger. But most importantly, it is the epitome of strength and conimportant for the Kashmiri people, viction in the face of difficulty and because they love him, respect him strife. But now, he was crumbling. and look up to him. Syed Ali Shah Geelani, who Between all the discussions has spent a lifetime fighting for Pakistani President Arif Alvi presents Nishan-i Pakistan, the country's Kashmir and stood tall in the about the funeral, the fear of the highest civil award to Syed Geelani -- received on his behalf by his unknown, and the acute sadness face of endless persecution and party representatives in Islamabad. (Photo (c) Press Inf Dept Pakistan) of knowing Aba is unlikely to get abuse, is now fighting physical pain. And, for the first time in better, the health of my uncle, who has a heart condition, started to deterio- Aba who finally convinced my father to allow his life, he knows he is in a battle he has no rate. Just like his brother and my cousins, me to follow my passion. Aba is much more way of winning. he was not only trying to come to terms progressive than anyone who only knows I spent three unforgettable days with my with the looming demise of the head of our him as an orthodox leader would assume. grandfather in Kashmir before returning to “Your father was very young and ener- Turkey. On my way back, as Aba wished, I household, but also mentally preparing to get arrested. The number of officers outside getic when I saw him for the first time … spent a day in New Delhi and visited my was constantly increasing, and we all knew He was sharp because he was from the old father in the Tihar jail. Now, I am back in any one of us could be taken into custody city (in Srinagar),” he said. Turkey and I do not know when I will get at any second. We felt practically jailed in Before the house in Hyderpora, Aba lived to see my grandfather again. I am trying to live my life and follow my our grandfather’s house. in Dooru, Sopore, a village in north Kashmir. Somehow, I managed to send a message “It was your father who asked me to move dreams, because I know that is what Aba to a few journalists and tell them we had been to Srinagar … He always gave good advice,” would have wanted for me. But I still tremble locked in — it made me feel a bit better to Aba added after a long pause. “Give him my when I receive a text at an unexpected time, know that people outside, people who know Salaam when you see him … Do see him fearing it could be from someone informing my grandfather, are aware of our plight. before you go back.” me that Aba is no longer with us. To cope with the tension, we all stayed My father is Aba’s only son-in-law, among I, of course, know Aba is never really up, watched some old videos, laughed and five others, who is an active part of the free- going to leave us. Even when he is no longer talked about how our lives have been shaped dom struggle. In one of his letters to me from physically with us, his devotion to Kashmir by politics. the prison, my father told me how Aba’s char- and the suffering he has endured for our Aba’s situation improved the next day, acter and dedication to the freedom struggle freedom will be remembered and honored by generations of Kashmiris to come. and the siege was relaxed. But he was clearly drove him to work with him. still in pain. As he laid restlessly, his eyes As Aba continued to talk fondly of his I cannot help but think how similar remained open and moved repeatedly from memories with my father, I thought of the Aba’s life has been to the Kashmiri freedom side to side. times Aba, my father and I had spent in struggle itself — an honorable journey full Not sure what to do or how to help, we that very room across the years. When I was of seemingly insurmountable obstacles, a took turns sitting by his bed. younger, I spent many hours watching Aba battered dream hoping to come true. So, Throughout my life, I only had the oppor- read, write, pray, exercise and passionately it is no surprise that even today, when he tunity to be alone with Aba a few times. But talk to my father and his other colleagues cannot remember much, he remembers during these few days in February, I spent about Kashmir in that room. Kashmir and the longing its people have more time with him alone than any other Every move Aba made, every word he for freedom – a dream that he knows will member of our family. uttered was indicative of his strong and dis- be realized one day. ih I jumped at every opportunity to be in his ciplined character. In spite of all his illnesses, Ruwa Shah is a student of cinema and TV in Turkey. She room because I knew that our time together he followed a strict schedule until the very previously worked as a journalist in India with organiwas limited, and I wanted to talk to him as end. He woke up before morning prayers zations including the Hindustan Times, IANS and the much as I could while he is still with us. He and exercised for an hour. He also had a very Indian Express. has always been an important force in my limited diet, and never indulged in “fancy” [Editor’s Note: Reprinted with the author’s permislife. A few years ago, in 2013, my parents food. He would have one yolk-less egg in the sion. Al Jazeera, Dec. 4, 2020; https://www.aljazeera. refused to let me study journalism. It was morning with a glass of milk. For lunch, one com/author/ruwa_shah_190903084722796] 26 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
An Unwavering Commitment The real man behind the resolute freedom icon BY ISLAMIC HORIZONS STAFF
everal interesting aspects of Syed Ali Shah Insisting upon Geelani’s honesty and sincerity to his people Geelani’s personality emerge from an interview with his has caused the Kashmiris to respect him for being incorruptible. In the decades of strife, he is the only one whose influence and personal physician, oncologist Dr. Sameer Kaul, a Kashmiri [Hindu high-caste] Pandit (and self-described Sufi), con- respect among them has increased [the on-going freedom campaign ducted ten-years ago by Rediff.com’s Krishnakumar Padmanabhan. had a recharge in 1989]. Kaul said, “I think a major reason for that is that he is not conKaul says that Geelani, who was diagnosed with cancer many years ago, survives on three-fourths of a kidney. cerned with petty politicking and doesn’t get down to the nitty-gritty. As someone who has interacted with Geelani regularly, Kaul is He keeps reading and writing books, and is busy translating probably better placed than anyone else to observe the real man Islamic texts. “He lives in a spartan home. A lot of people put up spartan extebehind the unwavering freedom icon. Geelani, the doctor says, is not corrupt. Rather, he’s an upright riors, but are quite different on the inside. But in his case, having man of conviction, a disciplined individual been close to him for two decades, he is who eats very little, never having followed nothing like that. And you can’t hide those the philosophy of consumption in life. Kaul things forever… believes that Geelani has always been sat“To top that, he is extremely humble isfied with the basic things, which must and not greedy. He is not into dynastics [many South have helped him become incorruptible. Kaul only met Geelani when he was Asian politicians pass on party leadership called to operate on him. He recalls that as to their children] and does not seek any a child, whenever he would ask his father favors for his children or sons-in-law. about Geelani, he received the reply that Neither is he into shady deals, nor does he is the man who says “Kashmir banega he have any secret benami [registered in Kashmir Under Siege special postage stamp issued [will be part of] Pakistan.” someone else’s name] property. by Pakistan Post, Aug. 5, 2020 Of course, such a man was anathema “In reality he is quite a soft guy. I do for this Hindu family. not agree with the picture that is being Kaul recalled that he began to respect painted about him.” Geelani because he had not altered his Geelani, Kaul says, has been totally THE PHYSICIAN SAYS THAT stand even after 20 years. He once mendemonized, especially because there “is THERE ARE VERY FEW THINGS also the angle that he is the only one who tioned this to Geelani. During the same ONE CAN HIDE FROM YOUR did not bend and dance to your (New conversation he also informed his patient that he disagreed with his philosophy. DOCTOR; AND HE CAN VOUCH Delhi’s) tunes.” Geelani, he says, accepted it with a Kaul recalled that he and his patient THAT GEELANI AND HIS smile and silence. disagreed only once — about his freFAMILY LIVE SIMPLE LIVES. Kaul remembers when Geelani was quent visits to a [late] Sufi saint. “Once called for an interview at the U.S. embassy he (Geelani) tried to tell me that it was in New Delhi for his visit visa. When asked not right. I told him it was my philosophy about his political beliefs, he told them point blank that he disagreed and was best left alone. After that, not once did he ever touch that topic [again].” with American policies. Among Geelani’s greatest strengths are that he is humble, sober, Kaul exclaimed, “What does that tell you? He didn’t lie for the incorruptible and a man of principles, convictions and discipline, sake of going to the U.S. He is beyond that.” This physician, who says that patients can hide very few things says Kaul. Referring to India’s propaganda that Kashmiris are intolerant of from their doctor, can vouch for the fact that Geelani and his family live simple lives. non-Muslims, Kaul states that he can safely conduct medical camps For example, when he discovered that Geelani was staying in in Kashmir because “I do not believe Kashmiris are fundamentalists.” cramped housing with his daughter in New Delhi after his surgery, The ever unrelenting Geelani’s desire to be buried in Mazar-ehe warned him that such living conditions might cause him to Shahuda, the martyrs’ graveyard in old Srinagar, has flustered the get an infection. Geelani responded that moving elsewhere might Indian colonial rulers. ih break his daughter’s heart, for she might think that it wasn’t good [Editor’s note: Source: “The Kashmiri Pandit who saved Geelani’s life”; https:// enough for him. www.rediff.com/news/special/special-kashmiri-pandit-who-saved-separatist-leader-geelanis-life/20101011.htm; Oct. 11, 2010) Kaul exclaims, “Such a fellow has to be humane.” MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 27
MUSLIMS LIVING AS MINORITIES
This Land is Mine Is the world’s largest democracy, the secular and humanist Republic of India, on its deathbed? BY HARSH MANDER
nder constant siege, weather-beaten and broken, the edifice of India’s constitution founded on the ideals of equal citizenship for people of all faiths and castes has endured — at least so far. And it continues to do so, despite the numerous onslaughts and rapidly mounting tension that have occurred, especially since the mandate given to the Narendra Modi government in 2014 and the even more emphatic mandate of 2019. However, the Indian Parliament’s passing of the Constitutional Amendment Act (CAA) in December 2019 had put India’s constitutional structure in danger of caving in. Make no mistake. This act does not require that the Constitution be rewritten; rather, its passage and the creation of a National Register of Citizens (NRC) threatens this document’s very soul with annihilation, for a new nation is now struggling to emerge from its rubble — one that is wrathful, muscular, majoritarian and inhospitable to its minorities. This law is the result of tangled contestations of belonging and rights. Who belongs to India, and on what terms? And indeed, to whom does India belong? As the young Bengali-origin Assamese poet Kazi Neel laments, “This land is mine. But I am not of this land.” He loves India, but India refuses to claim him. Citizenship ultimately is the right to have rights. Who in this country should have rights, and from whom should they be withheld? The answer to these fraught questions was settled within the Constitution’s humanist and inclusive framework. Its iridescent central premise was that religious faith has no bearing on eligibility for citizenship, for the country belongs equally to its Muslim, Christian and Zoroastrian residents, just as much as it does to its Hindu, Sikh, Buddhist and Jain residents. And yet it was these very questions of belonging and religion as politics that tore India apart. The All-India Muslim League (1906-47; https://www.britannica.com/
topic/Muslim-League) regarded religion as key to citizenship; therefore, India was not one but two nations — Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan. Vinayak Damodar Savarkar (1883-1962), founder of the right-wing Hindu Mahasabha (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hindu_ Mahasabha) asserted that India belonged only to its Hindu majority. However, the Constituent Assembly steadfastly rejected this idea. Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister, declared, “We accept as Indian anyone who calls himself a citizen of India.” By introducing the CAA, the BJP-led government has deliberately reopened old wounds, thereby reviving the old fears, anxieties and hatreds of [the 1947] Partition. In effect, this law endorses the two-nation theory by creating a hierarchy of citizenship based on religious faith — a hierarchy from which Muslims are deliberately excluded. The moral fig leaf offered is that this law will provide refuge to Hindus allegedly suffering religious persecution in the neighboring countries of Pakistan, Bangladesh [which India helped create in 1971 through direct military intervention] and Afghanistan. If religious persecution were truly to become the yardstick for becoming eligible for citizenship, then few neighbors would be more entitled to it than the tormented Rohingya battling genocide in Myanmar and Xinjiang’s interned Uyghur Muslims. Until 1987, the only criterion for securing Indian citizenship was to be born in India. However, spurred by populist movements alleging massive illegal migration from Bangladesh, the citizenship law was amended to require that at least one parent be a citizen of India. It was further amended in 2004 to prescribe that not only must one parent be a citizen, but also that the other should not be an illegal immigrant. Supported and led by the Supreme Court, the Indian state undertook a massive program that required all residents of Assam, a northeastern state that shares two borders with Bangladesh, to prove that they
28 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
Assamese Muslims pour over National Register of Citizens paperwork (Photo © countercurrents.org)
were Indian citizens based on a complex maze of documents. The BJP-led federal government of India and state government of Assam became uneasy when the final NRC revealed a surprising fact: Far more Bengali-origin Hindus had been excluded than Muslims. If they were to be classified as illegal immigrants, the 2004 amendment would make not only them, but also their offspring, illegal immigrants. Only the CAA can rescue the BJP from this political conundrum. In short, it will treat Bengali Hindus as refugees and Bengali-origin Muslims and their descendants as illegal immigrants, even if they were born in India and know no other country as their home. Treating Bengali-origin Hindus excluded from Assam’s NRC as persecuted refugees from Bangladesh, however, requires multiple extraordinary leaps of official faith. For example, none of them would have claimed on any official forum — NRC offices, Foreigners’ Tribunals or police stations – to be illegal Bangladeshi immigrants; rather, they would have strenuously tried to establish the exact opposite. But now that the CAA has been passed,
BY INTRODUCING THE CAA, THE BJP-LED GOVERNMENT HAS DELIBERATELY REOPENED OLD WOUNDS, THEREBY REVIVING THE OLD FEARS, ANXIETIES AND HATREDS OF [THE 1947] PARTITION.
they will also have to claim to be foreigners in order to become eligible for Indian citizenship! And then there will be questions of the evidence they will have to submit. How will they prove that they were citizens of the above-mentioned neighboring countries and suffered persecution? The truth is that most of them have not crossed any border and thus will be unable to produce any documents that will “prove” to officials that they are really Indian citizens. The CAA is the harbinger of a national NRC. By passing it, New Delhi is effectively messaging that if any non-Muslim individual cannot produce the required documents, then he/she will nevertheless be accepted as a refugee and given Indian citizenship. In other words, only Muslims are actually required to prove their citizenship, because only they are in danger of being declared stateless.
While most Indians would find it impossible to collect the required documents to prove their citizenship, only document-less Muslims will face the prospect of being sent to detention centers or stripped of their citizenship rights. And then, since this imaginary foreign citizenship is all vested in documents, which documents will prove one’s religion? At present, the only official evidence of one’s religious persuasion is his/her declaration of it on the relevant decadal census form. But I can be born into a religion and reject it when I become an adult, or I can be born to parents who claim no religion. So if religion becomes the principal fulcrum of whether or not one is a citizen, which document will the state rely upon to decide if I am a refugee or should be thrown into a detention center? For a republic built on guarantees of
equality and non-discrimination on the basis of religion, using religious identity as the sole criterion for creating a class of potentially stateless persons would decisively mark the demise of India as a secular republic. A political opposition emptied of its moral and political convictions would share the responsibility for bringing about this catastrophic collapse of our Constitution’s very edifice. When the CAA was passed, I announced my form of civil disobedience: If the CAA were passed and then followed by a national NRC, I would — in solidarity with those whose citizenship would be contested — declare myself a Muslim on all official records, despite being an agnostic and humanist who believes in according equal respect and rights to people of all faiths. I realize that doing so will change nothing, but at least it would show my opposition to those who would give lesser citizenship rights to Muslims. When the NRC is organized, I will boycott it by refusing to produce any documents. And then I will demand to be given the same punishment meted out to my undocumented Muslim sisters and brothers, be it detention or the extinguishing of my citizenship rights. A nationwide civil disobedience movement has fought the CAA-NRC from the beginning, fully recognizing that it poses the gravest threat to India’s secular democratic Constitution since our country became a republic. For 100 days people of every faith, caste and identity, led by students and working-class Muslim women, joined hands to peacefully resist the passage of this law. But the union [federal] government used the Covid-19 health emergency pandemic to crush the movement — at least for the present. The Delhi Police, controlled by the union government, claims that this peaceful protest was in fact the cover for a violent terrorist insurgency and thus has jailed many young people on charges of treason and terror. Police charge-sheets mention several others, including myself, as hatemongers and conspirators. But the voices of those people who believe in the humane, equal and just nation pledged in India’s freedom struggle and Constitution will not be crushed. They will rise again, with peace, nonviolence and courage, to defend the soul of India. ih Harsh Mander, an Indian author, columnist, researcher, teacher and social activist, is the director of the New Delhibased Centre for Equity Studies.
MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 29
Political Scams Under the Muslim Cover and How to Avoid Them Beware that your goodwill can be abused and that your faith in people will often be misplaced BY AHMED SHAIKH
he U.S. political system relies on money and the control of complex political party machinery. Those who have even a nodding familiarity with the country’s politics over the past four years should know by now the political system has a nearly bottomless capacity for corruption — and relatively few checks to prevent it. Despite this, many Muslims have found success at all levels of this machinery as elected officials, community and civic organizers, and donors. Some of this has been beneficial, and some of it has been perilous. While Muslim engagement in the political sphere is often regarded as a self-evident good, it’s also essential that our community understands the hazards of such involvement.
MUSLIMS PRACTICE ISLAM
That Muslims follow the religion of Islam may sound obvious. However, this is not evident in American politics. The political world treats Muslims as a group defined by “identity” rather than a shared adherence to Islam. In other words, being a Muslim in many political spaces doesn’t require belief in God, His prophets, books or much of anything. There are no boundaries with which practicing Muslims may be familiar. It is just not how American politics works. However, if you are Muslim, believe in God, pray, go to the mosque and have values not dictated by what is popular with one political party or another, you may still want to participate in politics. Perhaps you want more justice, more peace for all people or to help elect the best individuals with the most integrity. But you also need to understand that your goodwill can be abused and that your faith in people will often be misplaced.
THE DIRECTION YOU RUN
In general, two different kinds of people are active in politics. The first one comprises the “centers of influence” — politicians, fundraisers, community leaders, influence merchants, business leaders and others who have a wide influence over groups of people — who will offer the voters’ loyalty or provide the large sums of cash needed for campaigning. This group is the political machinery. The second group consists of the ordinary voters and uninfluential donors. As a Muslim, if you are in either group, you have an amana (trust). Everything in the heavens and Earth belongs to God (2:225). Whatever you have has been entrusted to you. Having money to give, running a mosque or another community organization attended by politicians and political organizations or promoting an organization with your prestige are other types of trusts. Try not to mess this up. When donating to political causes, we are often running toward something (e.g., single-payer health care) or running away from something (say, Islamophobia). Often, we’re just following a crowd and doing what everyone else is doing. The latter is what happens most often. Clearly, it is no accident that advocacy groups and politicians focus on specific demographics when crafting their messages. Entire social circles, groups of friends, professional organizations or masjid leaderships might support a politician. In exchange, they may receive no more than gauzy platitudes focused on those same demographics. American politics has engendered corruption and grift among many groups, including white Christians (https://www.theatlantic. com/politics/archive/2020/09/trump-secretly-mocks-his-christian-support-
30 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
ers/616522/), Black Christians (https://www. nydailynews.com/news/politics/black-clergy-support-trump-prostitutes-pastor-article-1.2451584), Native Americans (https:// www.opensecrets.org/industries/indus. php?ind=G6550), unions (https://www.npr. org/2019/09/12/760264386/fiat-chryslerkickback-scandal-widens-fbi-raids-uawheads-home) and others. It’s starting to look like Muslims, as relative newcomers to political activity, are merely next on the list. As Muslims think about how they can use their influence and money, they should consider the following hazards:
Several Muslims involved in politics are agents of foreign governments. While the term “foreign agent” is not intended to be a slur, and representing foreign governments here is not in and of itself illegal or immoral, such people should register with the United States Department of Justice. A foreign government, person or organization does not need to pay an agent or have any kind of formal agreement. For example, Nisar Ahmed Chaudhry was convicted of being a foreign agent because he communicated with the Pakistani government and tried to influence U.S. policy. His failure to register landed him in serious trouble (https://www.reuters.com/article/ us-usa-justice-foreign-agent/pakistanipleads-guilty-failed-to-register-as-u-s-foreign-agent-idUSKBN1I82H4). Los Angeles-based political fundraiser Imaad Zuberi, who had the ear of top Democrats and Republicans alike, was
© LEAGUE OF WOMEN VOTERS
response to pressure from activists (https:// uscmo.org/2020/10/08/official-uscmo-statement-regarding-emgage/), had expelled Emgage from the membership it was granted only months before (https://mondoweiss. net/2020/09/call-to-muslim-leaders-to-dropemgage-usa/). Emgage claimed it resigned (https://emgageaction.org/emgage-actionresponse-to-false-allegations-by-uscmo/). And yet other Muslim organizations continued to welcome Emgage, whose main selling point is its close ties to the Democratic Party and the new Biden administration. Unfortunately, other such organizations are still operating in Muslim spaces. Muslim leaders should carefully scrutinize all political organizing efforts, because the incentives to hijack the Muslim voice in politics are quite strong.
POLITICS CAN BE A MEANS OF IMPROVING THE CONDITIONS OF PEOPLE’S IMMEDIATE LIVES, OR ACHIEVING GREATER JUSTICE IN A SOCIETY. IT’S ALSO AN EXCELLENT WAY FOR THE UNSCRUPULOUS TO GAIN WEALTH, POWER AND INFLUENCE. MUSLIM AMERICAN NONPROFITS AND LEADERS SHOULD BE MORE CAREFUL ABOUT VETTING EACH OTHER. convicted in 2019 for his unregistered activities as a foreign agent for various countries. He reportedly kept much of the money he raised for himself (https://www.courthousenews.com/trump-donor-pleads-guilty-toacting-as-foreign-agent/). Turkey and the United Arab Emirates have likely done the most to cultivate relationships with Muslim American leaders who spend time in politics and government (https://muslimmatters.org/2019/11/11/aguide-for-american-muslim-leaders-whoare-also-foreign-agents/). A significant risk with supporting or donating to foreign agents is the possibility that the agenda your funds are serving may bolster values that are antithetical to your own. They might scam you.
Astroturf organizing in the political world is like “grassroots” organizing, only it’s fake. This is less of an issue for political donors, at least at first, and more of a problem for Muslims who hold positions of trust within
the community. Astroturfing can often leverage misplaced trust. Moneyed interests outside the community in the U.S. would like to create the impression that Muslims support or oppose things. In 2020, Emgage was at the center of an astroturfing scandal after reports emerged about it being a muzzle for Muslim Americans that ultimately discouraged genuine political participation (https://www. middleeasteye.net/big-story/joe-bidenemgage-muslim-america-us-elections). Its policy positions were mainly restatements of Democratic Party orthodoxy. The organization’s abundant funding mostly came from non-Muslim sources. In reality, it was little more than a service provider for funders. Emgage’s founders also had connections to military contractors (https://ehsan.substack. com/p/review-of-emgage). Although mosques in Florida had banned Emgage for years — it was known as a badfaith actor — it took a long time for Muslims elsewhere to become wise to this. The U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations, mostly in
Both progressives and conservatives have use for people who “identify” as Muslims. Right-wing groups have long had a cottage industry of “native informants,” people purporting to be Muslims who use their platforms to spew blatant hatred of Islam and Muslims. These are people like Asra Nomani and Zuhdi Jasser, who Republicans have called to testify before Congress to promote Islamophobic tropes. Muslims are not a significant intended audience here, and so this has less impact in our spaces. In the past two decades, most Muslims in politics have found it hard to imagine being anywhere but inside the Democratic Party. This is largely because progressive groups within that party’s political machinery have welcomed them as a “marginalized group.” Although demonstrating that the inclusion of Muslims matters to the Democratic political machinery, genuine input from Muslims tends to matter very little when it comes to controversial issues. But in the progressive world, identity entrepreneurs can scam Muslim leaders more easily. In 2019, CAIR Oklahoma admitted to being duped into signing a brief before the U.S. Supreme Court by a group that was actively hostile to Islam and did not appear to have any meaningful support or funding from within the community (https://muslimmatters.org/2019/07/31/were-muslimgroups-duped-into-supporting-an-lgbtqrights-petition-at-the-us-supreme-court/). Mosques nationwide unwittingly hosted various grifters who came to Muslim spaces to promote Countering Violent
MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 31
POLITICS Extremism (CVE), a program predicated on the notion that Muslims are more dangerous to society than other people (https://ehsan.substack.com/p/mpacslong-con-cve-and-gaslighting). There was serious money (https://www.dhs.gov/ news/2016/07/06/dhs-announces-countering-violent-extremism-grant-program) behind this effort before it eventually fizzled in Muslim spaces. One character in this scene was Hedieh Mirhamadi, who moved from speaking at Islamic centers (https://www.startribune. com/what-maryland-s-test-lab-can-teachminnesota-about-thwarting-radical-recruiters/379484141/), while secretly working for the FBI (https://www.politico.com/ magazine/story/2016/03/fbi-muslim-outreach-terrorism-213765) to entering the world of Trump supporters (https://www. fox6now.com/news/i-was-duped-davidclarke-says-ex-business-partner-was-amuslim-brotherhood-operative) to starting her own Christian ministry to trade on her former Muslim status (https://resurrectministry.com), which has marketing power on its own. It’s depressingly easy to scam Muslim leaders. Of course, Muslims will consider the overall benefit and harm when it comes to supporting politicians. They may donate, campaign and vote for those with whom they disagree on specific issues. However, this is different from people who are not Muslim or, in some cases, are actively hostile to Islam taking advantage of our influence and money to cause harm.
DOING POLITICS BETTER
Politics can be a means of improving the conditions of people’s immediate lives or achieving greater justice in a society. It’s also an excellent way for the unscrupulous to gain wealth, power and influence unjustly. Muslim American nonprofits and leaders should be more careful about vetting each other. The community, nationally and locally, has many grifters and bad-faith actors. Buyer beware! Do politics like you pray, with ihsan (excellence). You know that you cannot pray on a filthy carpet. Your politics should be no different. ih Ahmed Shaikh is an attorney, former ISNA Executive Council member and co-author of “Estate Planning for the Muslim Client” (ABA Publishing 2019). He also writes a newsletter evaluating Muslim nonprofits (ehsan. substack.com).
32 ISLAMIC HORIZONS
Muslim Americans in Government COMPILED BY ISLAMIC HORIZONS STAFF
he Associated Press exit polls of Nov. 6, 2020, revealed that 35% of Muslims voted for Donald Trump and 64% for Joe Biden. A separate poll from CAIR found that 17% of Muslims voted for Trump — up by 4 percentage points from its poll in 2016 (“2020 Muslim Voters Presidential Election Exit Poll,” Nov. 3, 2020; www.cair.com). However, Biden’s White House team includes very few Muslim Americans, and those only primarily in junior- and mid-level positions. Uzra Zeya, a 1989 graduate of Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service, has served in the State Department for nearly three decades. She is now Undersecretary of State for arms control, democracy and human rights. Her previous job experience includes working as CEO and president of the Alliance for Peacebuilding (www.allianceforpeacebuilding.org), a nonprofit that seeks to end violent conflict and promotes peace globally. Among her former postings are chargé d’affaires and deputy chief of mission at the U.S. Embassy in Paris (2014-17); acting assistant secretary and principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor (201214); and chief of staff to the deputy Secretary of State (2011-12). She has served as a U.S. diplomat in New Delhi, Muscat, Damascus, Cairo, Kingston and other capitals. She left the State Department in the summer 2018, alleging that the Trump administration was bent on reversing decades of gains made by minorities and women. Since then, Zeya has served as deputy executive secretary to the Secretary of State, director of the Executive Secretariat Staff, UN General Assembly Coordinator, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and a senior advisor at Albright Stonebridge Group. At Georgetown, her alma mater, she serves on the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy’s board of advisors. Zeya, an Indian Muslim who speaks French, Arabic and Spanish, was awarded France’s highest civilian honor: the Légion d’honneur. Maher Bitar, a Palestinian-American (JD, Georgetown University) who has served as the general counsel for House Intelligence Committee Democrats since 2017 and played a key role, as Rep. Adam Schiff ’s (D-Calif.) top legal adviser, during former President Trump’s first impeachment, has a new job: National Security Council senior director for intelligence programs. This position serves as the day-to-day
connective tissue between the intelligence community and the White House. During the Obama administration, he served as the NSC’s director for Israeli and Palestinian affairs and also as a foreign affairs officer at the State Department. A 2006 graduate of Georgetown University’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service, as a Marshall Scholar, he received a M.S. in Forced Migration from Oxford University’s Refugee Studies Center. In addition, he has worked with the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Malaysia and the UN Relief and Works Agency in Jerusalem. Bitar is fluent in Arabic, French, and German. Salman Ahmed, head of strategic planning in Obama’s National Security Council, joined the State Department as director policy planning. Ahmed was chief of staff of the U.S. Mission to the UN and senior policy adviser to the US Permanent Representative to the United Nations. Before joining the Department of State in 2009, Ahmed (BS, New York University, Stern School of Business; MA, University of Cambridge) was a visiting professor and research scholar at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs and worked for almost 15 years at the UN, including the post of chief of staff for the head of UN Peacekeeping Operations. Ali Zaidi (BA, Harvard; JD, Georgetown University), who was a Stanford adjunct professor and Precourt Energy Scholar, is now the deputy national climate adviser under special envoy for the climate, former Secretary of State John Kerry. Zaidi, the highest-ranking Pakistani American in the Biden administration, played a key role in drafting and implementing the Obama administration’s climate action plan and helped negotiate the Paris Climate Agreement — which Trump terminated and Biden restored on Jan. 20. The former New York deputy secretary for energy and environment, he now serves under Gina McCarthy, former head of the Environmental Protection Agency. She was appointed as national climate advisor. Prior to this appointment, Zaidi helped draft the Obama administration’s climate change plan and negotiate the Paris Climate Agreement. He has also served as an adjunct professor at Stanford and editor of the The Georgetown Law Journal. Zayn Siddique, White House deputy chief of staff, originally from Bangladesh but raised in New York, is a graduate of Princeton University and Yale Law School. Among his previous positions are deputy policy director for Beto O’Rourke’s presidential campaign, as well as a senior policy adviser to his senate campaign, and a law clerk to Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan, Judge David Tatel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Washington, D.C. Circuit, and Judge Dean Pregerson of the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.
In between his clerkships, Siddique practiced law as an associate at Orrick Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP. Reema Dodin, Sen. Richard Durbin’s former floor counsel, research director and aide to his Judiciary Subcommittee on Human Rights and the Law, now serves as deputy director of the White House Office of Legislative Affairs. Born in North Carolina to JordanianPalestinian immigrants, she was the first Arab-American to receive an appointment to the Biden administration. She also co-authored “Inside Congress: A Guide for Navigating the Politics of the House and Senate Floors” (2017). A graduate of the University of California at Berkeley (‘02) and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign College of Law (‘06), she is also a Truman National Security Fellow, a New Leaders Council Fellow, an Aspen Socrates alum, a former term member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a member of the Jenkins Hill Society — a consortium of women in politics supporting female politicians. Biden’s economic team contains two officials with experience in working to close the country’s racial wealth gap: Sameera Fazili (Yale Law School; BA, Harvard College), whose physician parents migrated from illegally Indian-occupied Kashmir, was appointed deputy director of the National Economic Council (NEC). The council focuses on manufacturing, innovation and domestic competition. She comes to the White House from the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta, where she was director of engagement for the Community and Economic Development Department. During the Obama administration, she was a senior adviser at the NEC and at the Treasury Department, where she spent time in the offices of Domestic Finance and International Affairs. Before her government job, Fazili was a lecturer at Yale Law School’s Community and Economic Development clinic, where she helped start a community development financial institution (CDFI) bank and a local anti-foreclosure initiative. In addition, she expanded the clinic’s work to international microfinance. She also worked at ShoreBank, the nation’s first CDFI bank. Her work in finance has spanned consumer, housing, small business and microfinance. Aisha Shah (born in illegally Indianoccupied Kashmir) is now a partnerships manager in the White House Office of Digital Strategy. Raised in Louisiana, Shah previously worked as an advancement specialist for the Smithsonian Institution and as digital partnerships manager in the Biden-Harris campaign. Prior to this role, she worked as an assistant manager on the corporate fund of the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, supporting the first-ever expansion of a presidential memorial. Shah also served as a strategic communications specialist at Buoy, an integrated marketing firm that specializes in social impact communications, as well as spitfire strategies, where she enabled nonprofits to use pop culture as a tool for social change. ih MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 33
The Muslim Vote Comes of Age Both political parties can benefit from courting the Muslim vote BY NAFEES ASGHAR
Nehls with his taskforce members (l-r) M. Nihad, Asim Nasir, Z. Gire, Saleema Gul, Troy Nehls, and Nafees Asghar
Muslim American taskforce formed after a few community leaders in Texas District 22 found out that the Democratic nominee Sri Preston Kulkarni was being backed by U.S.-based supporters and financiers seemingly aligned to the Indian fascist RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh), to support the Republican candidate, Troy Nehls. This led them to join Troy Nehls’ Muslim Task Force, comprised of young Muslim volunteers. The challenge they faced was massive: Emgage (https://emgageusa.org), which claims to represent Muslims, had endorsed the Democratic candidate in 2018, and the Democrats had registered many new voters. Moreover, they were doing their best conducting a massive campaign to tie Nehls to every one of Trump’s anti-Muslim statements made during his 2016 election campaign and as president, as well as the Muslim travel ban and the belief that a Blue “wave” was coming. As a result, Nehls aggressively reached out to Muslims and started visiting mosques. His task force’s dedicated members spent a lot of time on social media, phone banking and block walking to chip away at Kulkarni’s votes. Almost 80% of the district’s 25,000+ registered Muslims voted. A vast majority of them voted for Nehls, who won by around 29,000 votes. Interestingly, most of these Muslims had voted Democratic in 2018. According to Associated Press exit polls (Nov. 6, 2020) Trump’s support among 34 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
Muslim American appears to have increased: 35% for Trump and 64% for Biden. CAIR’s poll found that 17% of Muslims voted Republican, up by 4% from its 2016 poll (https://apnews.com/article/votecast-trump-wins-white-evangelicals-d0cb249ea7eae29187a21a702dc84706). There are several estimates of the Muslim American population; however, a realistic estimate indicates that there are over 7.5 million Muslims living in the U.S. Republicans realized the importance of this community’s vote when George W. Bush first ran for president in 2000, for the Muslim vote delivered Florida to him. But even though the Republican Party quickly realized the potential of this hidden vote, they decided to ignore it. Fast-forward 20 years, and this vote has multiplied many times over. For instance, in 2018, from Houston Beaumont alone, Muslim Americans raised about $4 million for Hillary Clinton. Muslim voters and their grassroots volunteers flipped Texas’ 7th Congressional
District for Lizzie Fletcher (D) and almost flipped District 22 against Pete Olson (R) in 2018. They, along with Muslim children, were Beto O’Rourke’s (D) army that almost got him elected in 2018 after junior U.S. Senator Ted Cruz’s (R) anti-Muslim remarks. In return for all this work, the Obama administration appointed exactly zero Muslim Americans to federal posts. On foreign policy, the administration engaged in the endless wars that have cost so much American blood and treasure, thereby creating budget deficits, and made boat people out of respectable middle-class and other Libyan, Syrian and other families.
have had far-reaching consequences in terms of stabilizing those countries destabilized by the Obama administration. Some argue that Muslims, along with Republicans, are generally pro-life, pro-marriage and fiscally conservative and thus that party’s fiscally conservative policies resonate better with them. Republicans believe that this is especially true for health care, an area they believe needs more competition at every level. In fact, Trump was the first president to ask Big Pharma to ensure that our country gets the same low price they give to other countries. Candidate Trump’s negative rhetoric leading up to the 2016 election, as well as his subsequent Muslim Ban once in office, alienated Muslim voters. In fact, their departure may have cost him the election in battleground states, even though more Muslims voted for him in 2020 than in 2016 (“Majority Of Muslims Voted For Biden, But Trump Got More Support Than He Did In 2016,” NPR, Dec. 4, 2020). Biden’s constant wooing of the Muslim vote helped him narrowly creep to victory in those same states. Immediately after EVEN THOUGH A LARGE PERCENTAGE OF the elections, some Muslim leaders went on national TV, claiming that 1 million MUSLIMS VOTED FOR BIDEN, ONLY TIME WILL Muslims in 12 states had voted early, thereby TELL IF ANY OF THEM WILL BE INCLUDED IN HIS grossly understating the total Muslim ADMINISTRATION. ALSO, WE STILL DON’T KNOW vote. It is estimated that more than 2 million Muslims cast their votes in Arizona, WHAT DOMESTIC OR FOREIGN POLICIES HE Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Michigan, New North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, WILL DIRECT TOWARD MUSLIMS AND MUSLIM- York, Texas, Ohio and Wisconsin. MAJORITY COUNTRIES. When we look at the total number of Muslim votes cast after adding those 40 other states, especially those with large Muslim populations, such as California, one can Their policies, especially those specifically designed safely say that the actual number of votes cast was a multiple of 2 million. for the Muslim world, destabilized vast swaths of it. In 2020, 169 Muslims ran for office, 22 of them for Congress. The three already For example, the regular drone attacks on Pakistan, in Congress were reelected — there were no new faces. Organizations such as not to mention the almost daily bomb blasts in its Emgage, played a role in driving the 2020 vote to Biden, but it seems to have territory orchestrated primarily from Afghanistan, gotten nothing in return. An analysis of which party Muslims voting patterns voted for in 2020 reveals resulted in some 70,000 dead Pakistanis. Besides this, there were consistent destabilization efforts in Turkey, that whichever party received it benefited. A case in point is Texas, home to 500,000 Muslims. In 2018, the Muslim vote all in the name of promoting “democracy.” Trump campaigned on ending these endless wars went to Fletcher and helped defeat incumbent John Culberson (R) in district and, once in office, started talking about carrying out 7 and to Kulkarni, who almost defeated Pete Olson (R) in district 22. In 2020, his promise. He was criticized for saying top Defense an estimated 18,000 Muslim votes helped Fletcher survive the onslaught from Department leaders want to keep waging wars in order Wesley Hunt (R) and the Republican Party in district 7. to keep defense contractors “happy” (https://abcnews. District 22 was a totally different story in 2020. Democrats spent millions go.com/Politics/wireStory/trump-pentagon-lead- trying to flip the seat, which they had been trying to do for over three years. In summary, both Fletcher and Nehls managed to win with the Muslim vote. ers-war-contractors-happy-72870085). The year 2020 shows that there are a several million Muslim voters in the U.S. The reality is that so far the U.S. has spent more than $8 trillion fighting endless wars without win- The percentage of eligible Muslim voters in Texas, who actually vote appears to ning any of them. This brings to mind the rhetorical be 80%; however, their turnout in primaries — around 20% — still appears to phrase “light at the end of the tunnel” used by so many be rather low. political and military figures during Washington’s war In the 2020 elections, Muslim voters in Texas and other states showed that in Vietnam. For half a trillion dollars, every house they can help win elections or flip seats for either party. Even though a large percentage of Muslims voted for Biden, only time will tell in Afghanistan would have been flying an American flag in thanks. if any of them will be included in his administration. Also, we still don’t know While the U.S. was fighting wars in what some what domestic or foreign policies he will direct toward Muslims and Muslimpeople consider Stone Age countries, other nations like majority countries. ih Russia and China were modernizing their weaponry Nafees Asghar is co-chair of Troy Nehls Muslim American Task Force, which helped swing the Muslim vote and improving their military forces. towards Nehls. He is an account manager with a Texas oil and fuel distributor. This desire to end these endless wars, modernize He would like to thank Z. Gire, M. Nihad, Saleema Gul, Baseer Pirzada, Rizwan Khaja and Shakeib Mashood the military and improve veterans’ conditions would for their assistance. MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 35
Capitol Chaos in Retrospect The necessity of courage in politics BY MD. MAHMUDUL HASAN
lthough we are often cynical For years, most of them were scared of a media establishments have been complicit about politicians in general, they are populist leader who many considered ridic- with the demonization of Muslims, Blacks the ones who formulate the laws and ulous. Apparently, many GOP politicians and other minorities for a very long time. policies that affect us all in various viewed their attempt to retain power at all The ongoing flare-up of Islamophobia and ways and degrees. Although many of us may costs as more important than being honest racism is just one upshot of this toxic brew. not wish to engage in politics, we cannot and brave enough to challenge Trump’s popAgain, if the police had remained neutral dispense with it altogether. toward the BLM demonstrators, In an increasingly interconTrump’s white supremacist supnected world, what happens in porters would have had second one country may have a bearing thoughts about taking the law into on others. This is especially true their own hands and storming the if the country in question is a Capitol. superpower. Indeed, eventually, many The January 6 chaos in the Republican politicians distanced heart of the U.S. shocked us all. themselves from a weak Trump. Although the U.S. now has a new During the last few days of his president, President Joseph Biden, presidency, some even resigned the huge military presence that from his cabinet – but only after dominated his swearing-in cereCongress finally recognized Biden’s victory and upheld his mony indicates that the repercussions of the Trumpist mob attack right to assume the presidency. are far from over. But such last-minute actions only Previously, the procedure used NO, COWARDLY POLITICIANS DON’T revealed their political opportunby the Congress to certify the presism and hypocrisy, not necessarily EXIST ONLY IN THE REPUBLICAN ident’s election or reelection was any principled and courageous PARTY. POLITICIANS IN THE always an uneventful and purely stance on their part. ceremonial event. But not this For years, during and before U.S. AND GLOBALLY WEAR THE time. The seizure of the Capitol his presidency, Trump had been MASK OF POWER AND HIDE IN to stop the certification process making irresponsible statements, tells us more than it says about POLITICAL PARTIES. PERHAPS THEIR glorifying violence and inciting Donald Trump, his incendiary hatred and enmity based on race COWARDICE AND OPPORTUNISM tweets and political support base. and religion. However, on all preIn fact, it points to a deep vious occasions GOP politicians AWAIT THE RIGHT MOMENT TO malaise in politics in the U.S. and lawmakers had remained MANIFEST THEMSELVES. largely silent. January 6, which and beyond and makes us rethink its trajectory worldwide. The has been variously described as mayhem we all witnessed that an “insurrection’” and a “terrorist day is just the tip of the iceberg of a much ulist rhetoric. Their failure to speak their attack,” was partly a result of this unjustified larger problem, one that is common to most conscience and hold Trump to account silence and cowardice. No, cowardly politicians don’t exist only political systems across the globe. only encouraged him and his supporters Trump’s refusal to concede may not have to behave even more grotesquely. in the Republican Party. Politicians in the influenced the vast majority’s opinion about If Republican leaders could have sum- U.S. and globally wear the mask of power him. Some believe that not many took him moned the courage to stand up to Trump’s and hide in political parties. Perhaps their seriously and that those who did had to give racist rants and inflammatory invectives cowardice and opportunism await the right forced meanings to his words. However, the levied against Muslims, ethnic minorities moment to manifest themselves. Republican politicians who refrained from and the demonstrators who marched in We often dismiss politicians and those in telling the truth about the election and from support of the Black Lives Matter (BLM) power and consider it fashionable to dencongratulating Biden for so long (and some movement, perhaps none of the January 6 igrate them. However, politicians who are even until now) made their inexcusable cow- havoc would have happened. true to their calling deserve respect. Many of ardice unmistakably clear. Unfortunately, the U.S. political and them venture into their preferred profession 36 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
countries oppress their own people often with the blessing of their masters in metropolitan as well as regional sub-imperial power centers. On the other hand, falsehearted politicians in powerful nations extend their political clout far beyond their national borders and exploit countries in the periphery. They deceive their own citizens by crafting artificial excuses for their neo-colonial behavior and by spreading concocted stories through the media outlets they control. The coercive rule as well as the numerous vulnerabilities of oppressive governments in the so-called Third World countries is common knowledge. Their cowardice and insecurity become evident when they are toppled by popular uprisings and/or the loss of their foreign masters’ patronage. Conversely, the cowardice of politicians in the world’s powerful nations remains strikingly unspoken and under-analyzed. In some way, Trump deserves our special thanks for unmasking the many faces of Republican politicians. In recent history, the need for courage in U.S. politics was most pronounced at the height of his populism,
and the GOP leaders failed to demonstrate it. The preponderance of corrupt practices and the high degree of cowardice in politics augur badly for now and for the future. This should worry us all, because when the center of power is vitiated, the consequences are felt far and wide. As the character Antonio Bologna in John Webster’s play The Duchess of Malfi (1614) states, “[A] prince’s court / Is like a common fountain, whence should flow / Pure silver drops in general, but if ‘t chance / Some cursed example poison ‘t near the head, / Death and diseases through the whole land spread” (I.i.11-5). The Qur’an says: “And fear a trial which will strike not only those who have wronged among you…” (8:25). As corruption at the center affects us all, the responsibility to root it out also rests with all good people. As the great parliamentarian and political philosopher Edmund Burke (1729-97) once said, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men [and women] to do nothing.” ih Md. Mahmudul Hasan, PhD, is with the department of English Language and Literature at International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM).
SPACE DONATED BY THE ISLAMIC SOCIETY OF NORTH AMERICA
purely for altruistic reasons. Mainly concerned with the public interest, they use their political acumen and power to fight inequality and promote social justice, as well as to serve their immediate human community and beyond. Such a noble pursuit requires them to don the armor of patience and hold the reins of courage in their hands. Regrettably, such selﬂess politicians who are also great leaders and for whom the common good of people is a real motivation are now a minority. Deceit and sycophancy pervade the world of contemporary politics. Fraudulent and sleazy political leaders use this noble vocation to embezzle public funds, deceive those they represent and persecute those who oppose their wrongdoing and abuse of power. Moved by self-interest, they serve themselves in the name of serving others and at the expense of everyone else. They often use race, religion and partisan politics to further their own interests. Actually, cowardice, corruption and economic crimes have no racial, religious or political identity. The character of corrupt politicians is their identity. Undemocratic rulers in developing
MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 37
ISLAM IN AMERICA
On Becoming Muslim American There’s no room for any “superiority” complex in Islam BY BASIMAH ABDULLAH
The ever enthusiastic Basimah Abdullah took lessons in sailing (Photo © Basimah Abdullah)
very person has an interesting life, and I’m no different. For more than 20 years I’ve been the principal at Milwaukee’s Clara Mohammed School (CMS). My study and life have been under Imam W.D. Mohammed’s leadership. I confess that my scriptural logic and perspective stem from that leadership. As an educator, I am often asked how I became Muslim, even, “You seem like an intelligent woman.” I explain it was my intelligence that brought me here. But actually, it was my mother. My single teenage mother never forgave herself for being unable to marry my father. Back in the fifties, you needed parental consent to marry. Their parents wouldn’t allow it, and thus my father joined the Navy, for once he was in it they wouldn’t need permission. But my mother’s shame grew with her expanding waist and, after a fashion, she went to live with her dad and his family in Los Angeles. I remember going to night school with her so she could graduate from high school. Throughout my childhood, my mother attended church and many of the prominent “tent revivals.” I was baptized several times. She was seeking forgiveness and a way of life to bring her peace — Apostolic, Baptist, Presbyterian and even Fahame, a mixture of Moorish Science Temple, Christianity and Islam. And as warped as it may have been, it was our first introduction to the wonderful world of Al Islam. During my freshman year at college, she started putting “With the Name, Allah” on her letters. I thought, “Here we go again.” I was mostly prepared when I returned home sporting my Angela Davis afro, shorts and a tank top. By the time I woke up the next morning, however, she had replaced all of my clothes 38 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
with ugly “Goodwill” dresses, for “We’re Muslims now. That means we don’t drink, smoke or eat pork.” She had met a person in the old Nation of Islam and was she excited! I was just a wee bit skeptical. This was the summer of 1975, when the Nation’s leadership was passed on to Imam W.D. Mohammed. The first time I heard him speak about the Bible, I was hooked. Loving scripture was ingrained in me from childhood. But I grew up with Aesop’s fables, and so I was always listening to and seeking a story’s underlying meaning. The imam’s understanding of the Quran and our beloved Prophet’s (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) teachings — I was totally gone. My mother finally found peace. Some may have a difficult time living as a Muslim, but it’s been my salvation. I often joke when asked if I feel others are prejudiced against me because of my religion. I state that I’m also African American and female, so that they can just pick one. Islam teaches us a logic. Once you understand it, no one can make you feel inferior. The CMS, housed on the site of Masjid Sultan Muhammad, Milwaukee’s first mosque, was named after Elijah Muhammad’s wife Sister Clara Mohammed. Her initial homeschooling effort with her own children eventually developed into a school program and later on into an educational institution. Our branch in Milwaukee serves families of all faiths from the Harambee neighborhood – which since the 1930s, has been a hub for African American culture and heritage — and surrounding areas. Living and working in Milwaukee, I have faced only one incident of ignorance regarding my faith. I had been working with several independent school administrators for about five years before Salaam School (this school is predominantly immigrant Muslims) began to participate. The other Muslim administrator and I were at a meeting, and another principal said that she had been wanting to ask a question about Islam for a while. The Muslim sister looked at her, then me and asked what the question was. It was such a simple question. Somewhat confused, the sister asked her why she had never asked me. The woman blushed and began
stuttering. So, I answered for her that most Caucasian Americans don’t consider African American Muslims to be “real Muslims.” We all laughed, but the embarrassed questioner admitted that is what she had thought. She wasn’t trying to be insulting; she was just operating under a stereotype. Other than that, when I am invited to be on a panel or a board it’s because they feel comfortable with me. Besides, I fill two diversity quotas simultaneously! One reason I fell in love with Islam is that there’s no separation between religious and work life. If what you do in life isn’t aligned with your faith, then you’re either living a lie or don’t really believe. I had wanted to teach ever since I saw the  movie the “Miracle Worker” with Patty Duke, to work in a setting that recognizes that all knowledge is from the Creator. Teaching and reminding students that they are indebted to God, their parents and the community is crucial, for the surrounding culture teaches our children that the world revolves around them.
However, my problem is with educating instructors, for they need to be properly prepared. The greatest influence the refugee students have had is to give my American students the permission to not know everything. All teachers have a “we don’t laugh at each other” policy. The new immigrants, believing that education is a treasure, keep asking until they understand. They struggle with their reading and, regardless of how long it takes them, are always eager to try. Those African American children, who normally would hide their poor reading skills by acting up, now struggle together because they don’t fear being teased. Unable to understand the Creator, we don’t understand ourselves. Not knowing enough about what we are, we don’t know what shapes us. In short, we’re ignorant yet think we know, follow foolishness and think it’s cool, think it’s okay to insult our human dignified names unless someone outside the race does it, and believe we’re free when what we have is a form of culturally produced enslavement of the mind. Everything is connected under the Creator; however, our poor perception of Him makes everything else “off.” How you perceive the Creator defines how you perceive yourself, your family and neighbors. Our relationships are unhealthy because our thinking is unhealthy. We involve students in community efforts and, as a learning community, are big on being good citizens. Thus we discuss local, national and world political and human situations. We have worked with the Wisconsin Chess program, ONE REASON I FELL IN LOVE WITH AL ISLAM Ocean Bowl, and the Mock United Nations programs IS THAT THERE’S NO SEPARATION BETWEEN out of UW-Milwaukee. However, we recently changed administrations and are establishing other connecRELIGIOUS AND WORK LIFE. IF WHAT YOU tions. More than two years ago, we started working with organizations that screen students for vision and DO IN LIFE ISN’T ALIGNED WITH YOUR dental problems. FAITH, THEN YOU’RE EITHER LIVING A LIE OR Regrettably, we don’t see the expected camaraderie from the city’s Muslim Arab community. Their children DON’T REALLY BELIEVE. play and run around during ritual programs; ours are not allowed. At the end of their programs, Arab speakers socialize loudly so that we can’t hear the translation. Most Milwaukeeans don’t know how the CMS’s Given such rudeness, we no longer participate as a community. And so, unforstaff perceives Islam. We are more than aware that tunately, we don’t grow closer. But as long as there are people who behave as they traditions and rituals are a large part of its practice. do, this won’t change. On a deeper level, we “feel” that they “think” they know Islam and the only Most are content to assume that only those who came before us can understand God’s Word. We try to have way we can come together is if we acknowledge their “superiority.” Coming into a Arabic and Islamic studies, but many outsiders feel religion that is the opposite of the one that sanctioned our ancestors’ enslavement, that only “true Muslims” can teach Islam. we will not accept another master. We infuse Islamic reasoning throughout our curWe must come together as equals under this way of life. This is not to say they riculum instead of confining it to religious studies. don’t have something we could benefit from, but we’ll reject it if they come to us Those of us who converted as adults are well grounded as the “white man” did. Been there, done that! My hope for the city’s future, regarding people of color and the Muslim comin the Bible and can see both its beauty and how the Quran is a natural progression from the previ- munity, is that we raise the next generation to model true Islam: “Let there rise ous scriptures. Many in the Muslim world behave as out from among a band of those enjoining what is right and forbidding what is though God doesn’t recognize other faiths. This will wrong” (3:104). While this is the best country in which to practice Islam because of our great be their downfall. Our understanding of Islam enables us to help Constitution, Milwaukee is the worst city in which to practice it because of the our Christian staff become better Christians and dominant culture’s race to savagery. This influence is so great that I know believers show our children how different people can work of all faiths who often ask, “When comes the help of God and His victory?” That together and get along. Being small and poor, we is not the question, though. The question is when are we going to look in the struggle to find the resources we need. At least 70% mirror and realize that we are the heroes we’ve been waiting for... ih of our students are refugees. We defused an early Basimah Abdullah is principal at Clara Mohammed School, Milwaukee, Wisc. problem with the Somali and Somali (Bantu) students by modeling proper Islamic behavior toward each [Editor’s note: This article is based on the author’s interview with the Wisconsin Muslim Journal of July 6, 2018, entitled “Basimah Abdullah: On Faith, Race, and Education in Harambee.”] other and others. MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 39
Leaders Paving the Way for the Post-Covid-19 New Normal Are schools planning and ready for some semblance of the pre-pandemic situation? BY AZRA NAQVI Adaptive change, as opposed to technical change, requires a shift in an organization’s belief system, habits or priorities (see R. A. Heifetz, A. Grashow, & M. Linsky, “The practice of adaptive leadership,” Boston: Harvard Business Press, Boston, 2009). The pandemic has left us with many uncertainties, for there were no experienced teachers to guide novice teachers in setting up the new online and hybrid learning system. We were all in uncharted territory. When faced with such an unprecedented situation, an effective leader finds a way to preserve and take the best from the traditions, identities and history to the future; analyze the actions needed to revive what we have lost; and critically examine our former practices.
SOCIAL AND EMOTIONAL LEARNING
s it holds the world hostage in its traumatizing grip, Covid-19 has delivered all kinds of challenges to our doorstep. The number of lives lost and impacted is remarkable on its own; the situation, however, has been exacerbated due to the multifaceted nature of its results. Industries, institutions, establishments and even traditions have been impacted and, in some ways, changed forever. According to the World Health Organization (https://www.who. int/), as of January 2021, 82 million people have been infected and over 1.8 million of them have died. The education system, globally and nationally, has failed to escape its clutches. According to Lee, Covid-19 has negatively impacted over 91% of school and college students nationwide (“Mental health effects of school closures during COVID-19,”
thelancet.com/child-adolescent, April 17, 2020). Looking closely at the research report released by The Islamic School League of America by Brifkani and Khan (“The impact of Covid-19 on enrollment in full-time Islamic schools for the 2020-21 academic year,” ISLA Research Report, p. 28, IH Jan./Feb. 2021), 79% of North America’s Islamic schools lost students, primarily in the younger grades. Thus, we must collaborate and educate ourselves to make informed decisions about our students’ well-being. Now that the vaccine is available, hope arises that things might finally normalize to an extent. As we reflect on our past and contemplate the new normal to navigate change, an adaptive leader must assess the school’s landscape and help people experiment with new things. Such a period is known as adaptive change — a problem isn’t always apparent, and the solution is unknown.
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Teachers must look hard at their students’ emotional situation before expecting them to learn in this stressful environment. First, children cannot learn if they are under stress, especially toxic stress — prolonged exposure to stress that they cannot handle without any support or coping mechanisms. Second, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (https://www.cdc.gov/), 2 in 3 American children experience traumatic events by age 16 — Covid-19 has exacerbated those numbers. Teachers may not fully comprehend the children’s home situation — they may have a sick family member or one who has died, or maybe their parents are facing financial hardship and cannot fully attend to their children’s needs. The pandemic has taught us to be extremely sensitive to and prioritize the child’s social and emotional needs. A large body of evidence suggests that positive, reciprocal and responsive human relationships have a profound impact, especially during the child’s early years (Paul Tough, “Helping Children Succeed,” New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016).
Educators must acknowledge that children are born with the potential to become successful if their developmental needs are met. One component of this is developing the foundational skills, behaviors and attitudes that are essential for a successful life. Not all of the children entering school have these foundational skills. Therefore, school leaders must find a way to ensure that students’ cognitive and noncognitive skills develop as they pass through their grades.
learning model of instruction that allows students to develop at their own pace. This can be accomplished by applying a formative assessment approach to teaching. This approach should be used frequently to identify gaps in knowledge and provide rapid feedback to clarify misconceptions in learning. NWEA MAP (https://sso.mapnwea.org) testing can be used as an interim assessment to make benchmarks and recognize student progress during the year.
TEACHERS MUST LOOK HARD AT THEIR STUDENTS’ EMOTIONAL SITUATION BEFORE EXPECTING THEM TO LEARN IN THIS STRESSFUL ENVIRONMENT. One research-based strategy is to provide a consistent, nurturing and supportive environment that fosters their noncognitive skills by better preparing teachers to conduct a robust, systematic one-on-one mentoring program with their students. A program that welcomes, accepts and values each student will enable both parties to build a relationship of trust and support. A teacher’s consistent interaction with his/ her students will help increase the students’ desire to persevere and develop motivation and grit, a skill that is a known predictor of long-term success A. Duckworth, "Grit: The Power and Passion of Perseverance," San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2018).
LESS STANDARDIZED TESTING AND MORE PERSONALIZED LEARNING
Last spring, state and local governments decided to cancel testing due to schools closing nationwide. Thus, teachers could focus on the child’s needs and teach for mastery. Many private schools, which administer standardized tests from private vendors, also suspended them. In short, all students had to get better at self-directed learning, a skill that no standardized test can assess or measure. Madeline Will states that “students are getting more opportunities to work independently and at their own pace — and in the process, they are becoming better problem-solvers” (www. edweek.org/technology/6-lessons-learnedabout-better-teaching-during-the-pandemic/2020/11). Once the pandemic ends, the first priority is to play catch-up by using a personalized
Even with all forms of formative evaluation in place, academically, we are going to see significant gaps. But before we can address those, we have to get our heads around where the pandemic has left us and then prepare the healing process with more compassion, humility and sensitivity to our student’ social and emotional situations.
TECHNOLOGY IN THE CLASSROOM
While the pandemic may leave behind damaging ramifications on schooling, it has had a few positive outcomes, such as an opportunity to rethink how to use digital technologies to support teaching and learning in schools and what “digital education” might look like in the future. Teachers and educators have found creative ways to deliver instructions online with relatively simple technologies. New tech tools have made differentiated instruction more manageable in the classroom than it was just a few years ago. Many educators have now fully explored the technology resources available online and are confident enough to try them out and benefit from using technology to guide instructions. Technology has not replaced the traditional pencil-and-paper approach, but it has given teachers a new resource: their ability to use its tools to formatively assess students, pinpoint learning targets and create instructional groups to deliver partial group presentations and seminar-type instructions. Technology can give students more voice and choice for demonstrating their knowledge creatively — making video recordings of their responses on Flipgrid;
creating an online petition on a global platform for change to stand against injustice; or writing blogs about current issues using Wix, Bloggers and other online platforms.
COLLABORATION ACROSS THE GLOBE
Collaboration among educators and school leaders worldwide has never been so vital. All school leaders are facing high demands to run schools in the absence of any set direction for them to follow. The perfect analogy, one that resonates with me, is comparing a school leader’s job to rebuilding an airplane “while you are flying it” (T. Wagner et al., “Change Leadership,” San Francisco: JosseyBass, 2006, p.xv). School leaders are being asked to initiate high-quality instructions by implementing initiatives and system changes, and rebuilding our schools while they are filled with students. Therefore, they are considered visionary change agents and adaptive leaders who can drive the organizational and institutional changes necessary to improve student outcomes. Such experiences give them unique insights that can be shared with other leaders worldwide. The key lesson we have learned is to connect school leaders around the world via peer groups to share best practices rapidly — a proactiveness that should remain long after the crisis is over. Specifically, many Islamic schools have joined organizations such as the Council of Islamic Schools in North America (CISNA; https://www.cisnausa.org) and the Islamic Schools League of America (ISLA; https://theisla.org) to utilize their services. These organizations provide a platform for meaningful collaboration among educators, online webinars and professional development opportunities, and other services to ensure institutional effectiveness leading to student success. I have attended more online webinars and leaders’ discussion-groups in the past few months than I ever did in the past. In fact, I have seen and learned from inspiring school leaders acting to ensure their children’s safety and well-being and minimizing disruption in education due to online learning. Covid-19 pushed us all out of our comfort zone and forced us to make decisions that can positively impact the coming generations. Our children’s future is forever changed, and thus we need to lay down the new foundation. ih Azra Naqvi is principal of the Hadi School of Excellence, Schaumburg, Ill.
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Young Adult Books for Muslim Teens Teachers and parents should help Muslim teens select Islamic-themed Young Adult (YA) publications BY FREDA SHAMMA
eachers and parents looking for novels that portray Islamic values have always had a hard time. For example, only a few small books were available in 1969, but they were written for Muslims in South Asia and in the cheapest edition possible with no illustrations. The content was Islamic, but the style was not suitable for or appealing to American children. By the mid-1970s, the MSA and the Islamic Foundation in the U.K. began publishing a few fiction books. However, mainstream presses had no interest in publishing any books by Muslim authors. Fast-forward to today. There are several Muslim publishers (and of course mainstream publishers) and a gradual shift from books written by knowledgeable authors
with little or no writing talent to confident, talented writings by authors in their teens
or early 30s, some of whom have little or no Islamic knowledge.
WHILE WE WELCOME THE OUTPOURING OF LITERATURE FOR AND BY SKILLED YOUNG AMERICAN, BRITISH AND AUSTRALIAN WRITERS, WE ALSO NOTE A SERIOUS DILEMMA — MAINSTREAM PRESSES ARE NOW EAGER TO PUBLISH MUSLIM AUTHORS, ESPECIALLY WHEN THEY INCLUDE GLIMPSES INTO MUSLIM CULTURE, BUT LOOK FOR BOOKS THAT PORTRAY ISLAM AND/OR MUSLIM CULTURES NEGATIVELY.
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While we welcome the outpouring of literature for and by skilled young American, British and Australian writers, we also note a serious dilemma — mainstream presses are now eager to publish Muslim authors, especially when they include glimpses into Muslim culture, but look for books that portray Islam and/or Muslim cultures negatively. In short, they tend to feature Muslims who have a problem with practicing Islam. Of the 60 books I reviewed for this article, 26 are romance novels where “love” is the dominant feature — 21 feature a Muslim girl with a non-Muslim boyfriend. The title “All American Muslim Girl” specifically talks of the need for “wiggle” room to decide which Islamic practices to do fully or partially. This one ends with her declaring, “I am a practicing Muslim, but I’m keeping my (non-Muslim) boyfriend.” The Islamic Schools League of America (ISLA; https://theisla.org/) has an online forum where principals and teachers can share their needs and advice. A recurring topic is what good books can we suggest for our teens. Some of the responses given over the years have been: Goodreads has many Muslim YA books, with some emphasis on history and current events. • Afoma Umesi has a blog for this demographic • It’s been hard to find quality fiction since 2000. Screen any book before using it in class • Have characters true to life, including dealing with secular issues • An all-or-nothing false dichotomy between the need to be the ideal Muslim or to leave Islam stresses out young Muslims. Show diversity among the character’s levels of Islam. Our youth don’t like “goody-goody” characters who do no wrong. Other responses include: “Does My Head Look Big In This?” is not an Islamic book. If anything, it might make a young woman doubt that wearing a hijab is fard • Review any book first because some titles are very misleading. For example, “Bestest Ramadan Ever” has a character who doesn’t want to fast or go to the mosque, and wants to date a non-Muslim boy • Letting a teen read a certain book on his/her own may be problematic; however, it might be a good book to teach in a literature class. Using critical reading skills and analysis of the book’s various elements can be a good learning experience. Indeed, Muslim youth want and need to see characters like themselves in interesting books. This is one of two important reasons for giving them books to read. The other
Muslim Young Adults Booklist The majority of these authors are second- or third-generation North American Muslims. Authors from other countries or in other countries are noted. [NOTE: * Islamic School Librarian (ISL); ** Good Reads (GR)] 1. Aboulela, Leila. “The Translator.” Proper Islamic ethics, including Muslim and non-Muslim love story. Sudanese in England 2. Abdel-Fattah, Randa. “Does My Head Look Big in This?” Not recommended by Muslim teachers. Australian author 3. Abdel-Fattah, Randa. “The Lines We Cross.” Dating, lying, alcohol, clubbing (ISL*). 4. Abdel-Magied, Yassmin. “You Must Be Leila.” Main character is gay (ISL). 5. Abdulaziz, Sahar. “Unlikely Friends.” Parents are drug addicts (ISL). 6. Ahmed, Samira. “Mad, Bad, & Dangerous to Know.” Lots of kissing, implied concubine activities with a Pasha and his lover. 7. Ahmed, Samira. “Love, Hate, and Other Filters.” Stifling parents who won’t let her do what she wants, non-Muslim boyfriend, dates a Hindu, lying, gay character, Islam mentioned but not followed (ISL). 8. Ahmed, Samira. “Internment.” Boyfriend, kisses, former President Trump as dictator, gay couple mentioned. 9. Ali, S. K. “Love from A to Z.” Both Muslims don’t cross the line, “Islamophobic teacher” (ISL). 10. Ali, S. K. “Saints and Misfits.” Romance, sexual attack, lying, bullying (ISL). 11. Arafat, Zaina. “You Exist Too Much.” Main character is a gay Muslim. 12. Barakat, Ibtisam. “Tasting the Sky.” Memory of author growing up in Palestine, war (ISL). 13. Courtney, Nadine. “All American Muslim Girl.” Non-Islamic behavior, dating, a main character is gay, she wants Islam to have “wiggle room” (ISL). 14. Dumas, Firoozeh. “It Ain’t So Awful, Falafel.” Iranian, funny (ISL). 15. Faruqui, Saadia. “A Thousand Questions.”Two girls, one American Pakistani and the other the daughter of a servant in Pakistan, share their cultures with each other. Clean (ISL). 16. Gratz, Allan. “Allies.” WWII, D-Day, Muslim Algerian French girl and her mother spy for the French resistance (ISL); non-Muslim American author. 17. Gratz, Allan. “Refugees.” Syrian boy fleeing violence, trying to get to Germany (ISL); non-Muslim American. 18. Husain, Aliya. “Neither This Nor That.” Good Muslima in a good family (ISL). 19. Hiranandani, Veera. “The Night Journey.” Indian Hindu author, but fair and accurate about the partition of India, character is half-Hindu, half-Muslim (ISL). 20. Hussain, Nadiya. “The Secret Lives of the Amir Sisters.” The four sisters each have their own problems and interests; clean. Author is British bake-off winner. 21. Jaigirdar, Adiba. “The Henna Wars.” Gay main character, romance. 22. Janmohamed, Shelina Zahra. “Love in a Headscarf.” English Muslim trying for an arranged marriage. 23. Javid, Mohammed. “Walk to Freedom.” The partition of India.” Fictionalized version of author’s parents’ story as refugees during the Partition. 24. Joukhadar, Zeyn. “The Map of Salt and Stars.” Excellent historical novel of two girls living 800 years apart who take parallel journeys. One is a modern-day Syrian refugee seeking safety and the other is an apprentice to map maker Idrisi who leaves Sicily to return to Morocco by land during the Crusades. 25. Karim, Sheba. “Skunk Girl.” Romance with a crush on a non-Muslim. She realizes that it won’t work and that she’s happy to be a practicing Muslim (GR**). 26. Karim, Sheba. “That Thing We Call A Heart.” Character is Muslim in name only, sexual activity. 27. Kessler, Christine. “Trouble in Timbuktu.” Two Malian siblings help protect ancient manuscripts, some hazardous travel. 28 Khan, Sabina. “Zara Hossain is Here.” Pakistani immigrant deals with Islamophobia. 29. Khanani, Intisar. “Thorn.” Retelling of a fairy tale, the wise heroine refuses to marry the prince, attempted sexual assault (ISL).
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30. Kullab, Samya. “Escape from Syria.” Accurate account about the ongoing violence, etc. (ISL). 31. La Valley, Josanne. “The Vine Basket.” Muslim Uyghurs, village under Chinese control, accurate information (ISL). 32. Lum, Melati. “Ayesha Dean – The Istanbul Intrigue.” Mystery infused with history (ISL). 33. Lumbard, Rabiah Y. “No True Believers.” Non-practicing family, girl with Muslim boyfriend, kissing, marijuana, cursing, lesbian, Islamophobia. 34. Malherbe, Shereen. “The Tower.” Syrian refugee living in a tower block almost destroyed by fire in London. 35. Malek, Afshan. “Pieces.” Syrian family living in Texas, father has PTSD, mental problems. 36. Marsh, Katherine. “Nowhere Boy.” Refugee in Belgium, lying, middle-school level (ISL). 37. Masood, M. Syed. “More Than Just A Pretty Face.” Romance By a male and main character is male who wants a Muslim girlfriend. Good. 38. Mills, Wendy. “All We Have Left.” 9/11. Story told from the point of view of a girl in the tower and many years later a girl who’s brother had died in the tower. 39. Mir, Saira. “Muslim Girls Rise.” Nonfiction, contemporary. 40. Muhammad, Ibtihaj.“Proud: Living My American Dream.”Autobiography (ISL), inspiring. 41. Nelson, Colleen. “Sadia.” Likes a boy, but clean (ISL, GR). 42. Next Wave Muslim Initiative. “I Am the Night Sky.”Ten practicing Muslim teens share their thoughts and skills in art and various writing genres. Good. 43. Papademetriou, Lisa. “A Tale of Highly Unusual Magic.”The only magic is a book (ISL). 44. Paterson, Katherine. “The Day of the Pelican.” Historical novel, starts with the horrors in Kosovo during the late 1990s and concludes with 9/11 (ISL). 45. Riazi, Karuna. “The Gauntlet.” Muslim take on Jumaji (ISL). 46. Robert, Na’ima B. “She Wore Red Trainers.” Muslim halal romance. 47. Saeed, Aisha. “Amal Unbound.” Leaves Islam out, but overall tame (ISL). 48. Saeed, Aisha. “Written in the Stars.” Leaves Islam out (ISL). 49. Safi, Aminah Mae. “Not the Girls You’re Looking For.” Sex, drugs, alcohol, lying, cheating, lesbian, and no good relationships (ISL). 50. Senzai, N. H. “Ticket to India.” Partition of India (ISL). Information about the partition is interwoven with the story about a contemporary family visit to Pakistan. 51. Sharafeddine, Fatima. “The Servant.” War-torn Lebanon. 52. Sharif, Medeia. “Bestest. Ramadan. Ever.” Anti-Islamic practices by main character and non-Muslim boyfriend. 53. Jaigirdar, Adiba. “The Henna Wars.” Gay main character, romance. Author is Bangladeshi living in Ireland 54. Wilson W. G. “Ms. Marvel,” Vol. 1: “No Normal.” One of three Ms. Marvel graphic novels. Ms. Marvel has superpowers and is also practicing Muslim. 55. Warga, Jasmine. “Other Words for Home.” Syrian refugee facing life in America (ISL, GR). 56. Yousafzai, Malala. “I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl who Stood up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.” Nobel Peace Prize winner Malala’s own story 57. Zia, Farhana. “The Garden of My Imaan.”Teen-aged Muslima wonders how she fits in while attending an American school, writes a series of letters to Allah hoping that her faith will grow in the garden of her imaan. 58. Zoboi, Ibi and Yusef Salaam. “Punching the air” a young, black, Muslim teen writes his truth in powerful verse. (ISL)
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reason is to help them deal with their doubts and problems according to Islamic guidelines. The Quran deals with and gives the wisest advice for all kinds of conflicts a person may encounter. We may not like learning that doing the right thing might be very hard, but we will eventually discover that He knows what is best for us. I prefer books that help our youth deal with their conflicts constructively; however, it’s really up to the parents and teachers to choose what books their children and teachers should read. In addition, librarians usually have a list of well written and interesting books for children of all ages, as does www.goodreads.com although they do not evaluate ethics A non-Muslim, Umasi’s blog at www.afomaumesi.com says that there are many good books for Muslim teens and recommends 15 books for them. However, most of these are romances, and many of them feature Muslim girls with non-Muslim boyfriends. In my review of books, I have indicated which of the books on my list both Umasi and goodreads have recommended. The only site I found that takes ethics into consideration is librarian and mother Karin Nabi’s www. Islamicschoollibrarian.wordpress.com. Her reviews give the book’s complete summary, her personal reaction, why she likes it, flags for what’s not Islamic and tools for leading the discussion in a Muslim youth book club. Among the problems with many of the YA books, and especially those published by mainstream presses, are dysfunctional and or non-practicing Muslim families; rebellious youth vs. strict parents; teens lying in order to go out with their non-Muslim friends and or boyfriend; main characters who ignore one or more of the Five Pillars; some stories that are “Islamic” because they are advertised as being for Muslims; and featuring alcohol, drugs, clubbing, bad language and violence and gay individuals, sometimes just mentioned in passing and occasionally as the main Muslim character, and often the phrase “They are born that way.” Not all romance books are bad, and there are many good non-romance books as well as several books that are half romance but contain something Muslims should know and think about. Samira Ahmed’s “Internment” has a lot of teenage romance, but the background is a dictator who sounds a lot like Donald Trump (his actual words) and puts Muslims into internment camps. Another one is Syed Masood’s “More Than Just A Pretty Face.” A long essay that the main character is required to write about Winston Churchill brings out the British government’s racist attitude that resulted in millions of Bengalis starving to death. In Randa Abdel-Fattah’s “The Lines We Cross,” the non-Muslim boyfriend’s family is involved with an anti-immigrant group. His parents are good to their son but truly believe, as many racists do, that they are only thinking of their country’s good when they resist immigration and refugees. If you need more than my short comments on a book, then please see the reviews at www.Islamicschoollibrarian. wordpress.com. ih Freda Shamma, Ed.D., is director, Foundation for the Advancement and Development of Education and Learning.
The Renewal of Islamic Education Educators explain how difficulties often lead to opportunities BY LEILA SHATARA, AZRA NAQVI AND THOURAYA BOUBETRA
he Ninth West Coast ISNA Education Forum (WCIEF), hosted by ISNA in collaboration with the Council of Islamic Schools of North America (CISNA; www.cisnausa.org) and the Aldeen Foundation (aldeenfoundation. org), was held on Jan. 16-17 — Martin Luther King Jr. Day weekend. The theme of its first virtual forum was “The Renewal of Islamic Education: With Difficulty Comes Opportunity.” While working with schools and educators at home and abroad, ISNA witnessed creativity and initiative as Islamic schools adapted creative policies to deal with the pandemic. They networked, attended webinars and sessions convened by organizations such as ISNA and found creative ways to meet their students’ needs in a remote learning environment. This inspired the WCIEF committee and its chairperson, Necva Ozgur, who has chaired or co-chaired it since its inception, to choose this theme. This year’s event featured three tracks: Islamic Studies, Arabic/Quran, and Cur riculum and Instruction (https://isna. net/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/9thWest-Coast-ISNA-Education-ForumProgram-2021.pdf). A total of 530 domestic
and foreign participants registered for this ISNA-provided virtual conference. The Islamic Studies track included topics such as “From Memorization to Understanding” and “Teacher’s Effect on Self-Esteem,” “Legal Issues for Islamic Schools: Prevalent Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity Issues” (attorney Muhammad Lakhani), “Social Emotional Learning (SEL) in Islamic Studies” (Fawzia Tung, Tung Education Resources; Islamic Schools League of America board member), “Maintaining Student Spirituality in a Remote/Hybrid Schooling” (Habeeb Quadri and Saad Quadri), “Contemporary Issues for Islamic Schools: LGBTQ+ (Shaykh Yasir Fazaga, director, mental health department, Access California Social Services Agency, Anaheim, Orange County Islamic Foundation, and Shaykh Abdallah Idris Ali, a former ISNA president). They helped attendees better understand how to meet their students’ social, emotional, psychological and spiritual needs. One of our times’ most pressing concerns is the LGBTQ+ issue and how we can provide healthy gender identity and sexual orientation teachings in an environment that contradicts Islamic principles. Fazaga explained that the Quran provides guidance in how
these matters can be positive and healthy when practiced within Islam’s framework. Idris Ali stressed that our communities need to handle these issues with compassion and understanding because our youth are struggling and need guidance and support. Attorney Muhammad Lakhani, who discussed Islamic schools’ rights as private religious educational institutions, emphasized that the Constitution and religious freedom laws protect our schools when it comes to LGBTQ+ matters and that they have the right to fulfill their missions. He also stressed that our schools must know their rights and their state’s laws regarding this and other issues. He encouraged Islamic schools to handle any LGBTQ+ issues that arise with care and consideration for all parties involved. Tung provided practical methods for a schoolwide Social Emotional Learning (SEL) program. She showed how Islamic studies teachers in particular can be the core of SEL support by merging an Islamic approach to character-building with SEL’s elements and embed it into the curriculum and classroom activities. Sadiq’s two sessions on children’s holistic development focused on deep understanding, rather than memorizing, especially in regard to religious matters. Habeeb Quadri and Saad Quadri showcased some of the ideas they use in their school to help maintain a high level of spirituality even in the remote/hybrid models, like assemblies and competitions that engage and motivate students to remain attached to their deen and to one another. Some ideas were continuing with the morning assembly and having khatm teams compete to read the entire Quran. Such creative ideas allowed students to compete in rendering good and encouraging each other to increase their good deeds. This track’s presentations reminded us that living and learning in the West requires us to be creative in how we teach Islam. Islamic schools and our community’s expertise must help our children and families navigate this culture’s distractions, all of which pull them away from God. In fact,
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our schools’ core mission is to guide our children and provide them with resources to strengthen their faith. The Arabic/Quran track, which had six presentations from seven distinguished presenters, spoke on how, like everyone else, educators had to adjust their private lives while meeting their job requirements. These teachers soon realized that they needed more adaptivity skills because teaching a foreign language requires a certain amount and quality of efforts when there is no eye contact, body language and a face to face connection.
After mentioning how Arabs and converts always want to understand Islam from its main source, she presented a collection of helpful resources for achieving these goals. Lina Kholaki (Arabic language consultant, Los Angeles Unified district) and Nacheda Tizani (New Horizons School, Pasadena, Calif.) delivered several free websites and resources for teachers to use as well as innovative ideas and activities that increase their students’ engagements and maximize their use of time. Dalia El Deeb (director, Ahlul Qur’an
THIS YEAR’S EVENT FEATURED THREE TRACKS: ISLAMIC STUDIES, ARABIC/QURAN, AND CURRICULUM AND INSTRUCTION. A TOTAL OF 530 DOMESTIC AND FOREIGN PARTICIPANTS REGISTERED FOR THIS VIRTUAL CONFERENCE.
This track’s presenters addressed the main current and recurrent challenges confronting these teachers. One presentation addressed general interest in the field; others were more specific, ranging from the importance of being accredited and acquiring a solid background in teaching to appreciating Arabic’s increasing recognition as an international language — it is the third or fourth language of interest at the international level — and connecting it to the Quran. The main focus of most presentations was helping teachers transition to virtual teaching by using technology. The first presentation’s thought provoking title, “Arabic Varieties: Which One to Teach?” allowed Ahmed Khorshid, who has taught at the American University in Cairo for over 30 years, to talk about Modern Standard Arabic, classical Arabic and the numerous colloquial varieties/dialects. His intent was to highlight the need to “avoid unintentional mixing of the varieties.” Most Islamic schools choose Fusha (classical Arabic), and so “it is important for teachers not to let their ‘ammiya (dialect) affect their teaching.” Amal Elhoseiny (New Horizons School, Pasadena, Calif.) reminded teachers about the goal of teaching Fuhsa-style Arabic in Islamic schools so their students can master Arabic gradually and thus connect with the Qur’an and learn how to read it correctly.
Academy) drew attention with her vibrant presentation and videos. She also shared hands-on activities that help keep students engaged in her Arabic virtual classroom while challenging them with rigorous tasks and questions to maintain their interest. Nada Shaath (World Languages and Cultures Specialist, Los Angeles Unified School District), who has helped and coached many Arabic teachers, explained how Islamic school teachers can become accredited. Basmah T. Al Saleem (founder, e-Turn Training & Consulting) spoke about the ECRIF (Encounter, Clarify, Remember, Internalize, Fluency) strategy on how to set up an Arabic class to achieve the lesson’s goals, starting from warmup time to getting the best of the lesson’s prime time, when students can still focus and absorb new material, and ending with the best ways to wrap up an Arabic class. She tackled the ways and means of teaching all receptive and productive language skills, and urged teachers to remain positive and enthusiastic: “Remember that change is hard at first, messy in the middle and gorgeous at the end.” The Curriculum and Instruction track presented opportunities to advance knowledge and its practical application in education. Amaarah DeCuire (president, Paragon Education Consulting) and Rehenuma Asmi (executive board member, Center for Islam in the Contemporary World, Shenandoah
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University) spoke on “Prophetic Pedagogy.” Shaikh Hasib Noor (founder and president,The Legacy Institute) discussed “Educating Modern Muslims.” Douglas Reeves (founder, DouglasReeves.com) addressed “Social and Emotional Learning/ Motivating Students” and Tony Wagner (senior research fellow, Learning Policy Institute) talked about “Preparing Young People to Bring the Skills of Innovation.” DeCuire and Asmi explored how the Prophet humanized his students and approached them as individuals with unique cultures and personalities. Noor analyzed how Islam and secularism impact our youth and their worldview and asked Islamic schools to use the Quranic teaching guidance, and not the public school’s paradigm, to shape their students’ structure, content, pedagogy and culture. During her brief summary of the seven essential elements/concepts in Islamic education, she urged Islamic schools to foster a collective mindset in students, where they become aware and invested in the collective good and can act responsibly toward the umma and the world. Reeves’ highly interactive dialogue about the various strategies for igniting students’ motivation emphasized the implementation of effective grading practices to provide the accurate, specific and timely feedback required to improve student performance. Wagner discussed how knowledge is now a free commodity and how the ability to innovate will guarantee students and our country a prosperous future. He overviewed the five outliers in teachers’ practice that cultivate creative problem-solving in innovative schools, which enables them to break away from traditional schooling methods, and provided valuable online resources. Each session was followed by a Q&A session and a rich discussion of the topics presented. Overall, this track was a great success. This year’s WCEF’s inspiring and informative program attracted unprecedented attendance. Due to the online platform, we even attracted educators from abroad.The positive feedback was very refreshing. The recorded sessions are available at https:// isna.net/education-forums/. ih Leila Shatara is president, CISNA, and head of school, Noor-Ul-Iman School; Azra Naqvi is principal, Hadi School of Excellence; and Thouraya Boubetra, an executive committee member in the Arabic Teacher Council of Southern California, is a former online Arabic education director of the Aldeen Foundation.
Rising with Resilience A retreat for teachers designed to provide professional and spiritual development to full-time Islamic school leaders across the nation BY SHAZA KHAN
he challenges of 2020 gave all of us the opportunity to prove that necessity is the mother of invention. The pandemic created multilayered problems that caused Islamic organizations and schools to rethink their “normal” and reinvent how they would go about delivering their core programs and services— or enhance them to meet the new needs of their constituents. The work that the Islamic Schools League of America (ISLA; www.theisla.org) does is no different. With the new set of challenges presented by Covid-19, ISLA had to rethink how they deliver on an annual tradition, the ISLA Leadership Retreat, designed to provide professional and spiritual development to full-time Islamic school leaders across the nation. This year’s 9th annual ISLA Leadership Retreat was planned to take place right before the presidential elections in the last weeks of October 2020 at the Diyanet Center of America (https://diyanetamerica.org), only a 30-minute drive from Washington,
D.C. ISLA’s executive director had visited the location, planned out the lodging and conference logistics and was working with the program committee to integrate elements of nature-based excursions, team-building activities and a “field trip” to the Capitol and the Nation’s Mosque in the heart of the city. The theme of the retreat would be related
IF THERE WAS ANY ONE WORD THAT COULD CAPTURE THE SPIRIT OF OUR ISLAMIC SCHOOL EDUCATORS AMIDST ALL OF THE CHAOS AND CRISIS CREATED BY COVID-19, IT WAS “RESILIENCE.”
to fostering diversity, equity and inclusion in Islamic schools. Yet, in March 2020 when WHO officially declared Covid-19 a pandemic, ISLA indefinitely postponed the event. They refocused their energies on providing immediate support to Islamic school leaders and teachers to help them transition to remote and hybrid learning, fundraising during a pandemic, accessing federal emergency funding and exploring their own role and responsibility around racism in the United States and within our Islamic institutions. There was little time to reconsider the ISLA Leadership Retreat, which has been a tradition for nine years. However, as things started to quiet down (relatively speaking) by November, the organization reconvened its program committee and explored how it could create an event that could help Islamic school educators reflect on, appreciate and celebrate the challenges they faced and overcame in this historic year. If there was any one word that could capture the spirit of our Islamic school educators amidst all of the chaos and crisis created by Covid-19, it was “Resilience.” In spite of everything else happening in the world, Islamic school teachers and leaders showed up every day to provide young people with consistency, community and social and emotional support to help them navigate through these difficult times. For several months at the start of the new academic year, administrators participated in weekly meetings hosted by ISLA to connect and learn from one another, and teachers attended weekly “Teach with Tech” workshops. Their persistent efforts to meet the needs of their students were remarkable, even as many struggled with personal health concerns and anxieties experienced by the broader public. While typically the ISLA Leadership Retreat takes place in a natural setting, away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life, and occurs over an entire weekend with physical activities and team building opportunities, there was no such option for the ISLA Leadership Retreat 2020; it had to be virtual. Given the “Zoom fatigue” that everyone was experiencing, ISLA decided to host a 2-hour event in place of its traditional retreat that would be upbeat and fun. Over 75 participants attended the virtual retreat. The program theme was “Rising with Resilience.” Towards this end, educators were requested to send in a brief video to reflect on what helped them remain resilient in 2020.
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EDUCATION These videos were compiled into a “video hug,” that weaved together the participants’ segments into an uplifting and inspirational testimony of their collective resolve (https:// tinyurl.com/isla-resilience). Additionally, the retreat included raffles and giveaways with gift cards to their vendor of choice, a gift card to all participants to The ISLA Bookstore (www.theislabookstore. org), courtesy of partnering organization, Al-Furqaan Foundation, and some free professional development workshops for winning schools. While the virtual event was only two hours long, the program included a variety of interactive activities. It began with a beautiful recitation of Surah Duha (Chap. 93), connected to the theme of “rising with resilience” by IANT Quranic Academy’s (www.myiqa. org) Shaykh Muhammad Khan. Participants were guided through a mindfulness practice led by Wadud Hassan, founder of Define 360 (www.define360.online), reflecting upon some of Allah’s names and attributes. Kathy Jamil, former ISLA board chair and founding principal of Universal School in Buffalo, N.Y., and current educational consultant (http://litconsulting.org), led a breakout session highlighting the importance of leading with clarity. ISLA executive director Shaza Khan concluded the event by sharing ISLA’s growth over the past year and upcoming programs and services that will help to support Islamic schools in 2021. The event was remarkably close in spirit to the physical event, despite the many constraints of being held virtually and for such a short duration. There was a feeling of community, excitement and celebration, with moments for reflection and connection to God and the Sunna of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam). Due to it being held online, many educators were able to participate in the ISLA Retreat for the first time. One retreat participant reflected, “I almost didn’t join because I am really tired of virtual experiences, but I’m glad I did!” And another summarized sentiments culminating from a year-long endeavor to collaborate with Islamic school colleagues across the country, “Truly a new experience. This pandemic made us find other ways to have this retreat, not miss it, and see all the people we have been meeting during the yearly retreats. Jazakum Allah Khairan for all you do for the Islamic education.” ih Shaza Khan, PhD, is executive director of the Islamic Schools League of America.
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The Reality of Muslim Children in Public Schools Teachers want to help us — we have to show them how BY MICHAEL ABRAHAM
he average Muslim parent in the U.S. has concerns about how public schools influence their children. While sending them to Islamic schools might be preferable, the reality is that the vast majority of Muslim children attend public schools, where they will spend over 16,000 hours of their growing-up years. It is common knowledge in our communities that this particular worry has always been prevalent and is only heightened today. At the same time, the average public school teacher, along with the education system itself, has been facing the task of teaching an ever-increasingly diverse student body in the current century. This was especially buttressed by the decade of 2000-10, which saw the U.S. welcome more immigrants than any other decade in its history. There are now more Muslim students in public schools than ever before. The reaction to this increasing diversity has been to amp up the prioritization and prevalence of training teachers and staff in multiculturalism and racial equity
throughout pre-service teaching training programs, school policies and in-service professional development. The result is that the average teacher now absorbs a nearly endless amount of messaging about the need to accept and respect students and families who are not from the same background as themselves. Racial equity and multicultural training are incorporated, at least in part, in nearly every school district proximal to an urban center, and standards for developing multicultural competencies are common to virtually all state teacher licensure requirements. What is generally known and felt by public school teachers is that the pressure to be “culturally responsive” and practice “culturally relevant pedagogy” is made apparent and strongly felt. However, what most find lacking, yet desperately desire, is a concrete “how to” manual when it comes to transforming what they have learned into real-world cultural competencies. Here lies the grand opportunity for Muslims. Having analyzed and experienced this dynamic, seven years ago I
embarked upon creating a comprehensive professional development program for teachers of Muslim students. My goal was to give public school educators everything they needed to know so they could not only quell the private concerns of Muslim parents, but also show educators how to leverage Muslim students’ religio-cultural background in school in order to realize all of the shared secular goals that the education system and Muslim communities have in nurturing youth.
dozens of districts. Some schools have had their entire staff take the training. During these interactions, one fact has become very clear: The educators’ reception of explicit instruction about Islam and how it interplays in the lives of Muslim Americans is not only overwhelmingly positive, but also with the sentiment that focusing on it is exactly what they have been looking for to help them understand and connect with their Muslim students and their families. As much as we might lament the state of
IF WE EVER WISH TO CROSS THE BRIDGES THAT WE NEED TO CROSS IN ORDER TO TRULY LIVE OUT OUR HOPES OF PRACTICING ISLAM IN THE U.S., THEN WE HAVE TO COMPREHENSIVELY EDUCATE THIS COUNTRY’S NON-MUSLIMS ABOUT WHAT ISLAM REALLY IS.
Parts of the program that I created and launched in 2017, “Engaging Muslim Students in Public Schools,” were originally done at educator conferences in the Twin Cities, and then as specialized presentations in a training program for in-service educators at Hamline University (St. Paul, Minn.). After that, it was conducted twice as a 24-hour training course for interested educators in Minneapolis. Hamline University has since accredited this program. That same year I began working on a condensed sixhour version of the training available educators that could be done in a one-day seminar and conducted them live — primarily in Minnesota, but also in other states as well. I executed this work in a way designed to deliver an uncompromising message to educators: that Muslims value Islam and what it teaches, that a Muslim identity for their children is of vital importance to them and that there is an objective reality to what Islam authentically is and the values it upholds. Given these facts, teachers can use specific ways to support the positive development of a Muslim child’s identity in a secular public school setting. However, doing this successfully necessitates an authentic and comprehensive knowledge about Islam and Muslim communities. To date, I have trained over 1,000 educators representing hundreds of schools and
our youth, teachers who spend all day with them clearly know that their Muslim identity is important to them. They want to facilitate its positive development to whatever extent the families desire; however, they need us to show them how to do this. This comprehensive knowledge involves extended and organized learning about Islam and our communities. This knowledge then has to be linked directly to the school setting, after which we can show educators how to (1) avoid giving offense unintentionally, (2) accommodate religious practice by informing the educators about the necessary particulars so a comfortable environment can be prepared for the youth to observe them and (3) how to use Islamic modes of pedagogy, an undertaking from which many educators are yearning to benefit. The training also offers a full array of K-12 texts, texts that authentically demonstrate Islamic religiosity and worldviews as a legitimate and live perspective and way of life. Also, the training gives teachers the proper background information they need to teach about those texts authentically and thereby bring the desired truly culturally diverse perspective into the classroom. Public school educators are vectors for how the larger society will understand a topic for, unlike the media, the education system fosters the actual discourse of
society’s non-reactionary class of people. If we ever wish to cross the bridges that we need to cross in order to truly live out our hopes of practicing Islam in the U.S., then we have to comprehensively educate this country’s non-Muslims about what Islam really is. Doing this effectively, and with any type of scale and longevity, will inevitably be seeded in the public education system. The current time is ripe for us to move beyond pamphlet-type advocacy and prompt educators to acquire a deeper understanding of us and our religion. This training is now available in book form (“Engaging Muslim Students in Public Schools,” 2020) as well as an online course series. Sharing the book with your child’s teacher or principal and recommending they take the course online will benefit everyone. Our schools are still local entities, and there is nothing they take more seriously than advocacy from parents. School administrations frequently have their staff take webinars or give them books to read, and everyone is looking for resources to help them better understand Muslim families. ih Michael Abraham is a Muslim educator and author of “Engaging Muslim Students in Public Schools” (2020).
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Bitcoin and Cryptocurrency in Islamic Law Whether Muslim investors can purchase a cryptocurrency depends on their intention and a legitimate analysis of why it is a better store of value than their local currency BY SHAYKH MUSTAFA UMAR
ne of the most common economic questions Muslim January 2021, there were 8,257 different cryptocurrencies that scholars get asked is whether Bitcoin is halal. Although it work in a similar, but not identical, way. was introduced in January 2009, most people only heard of There are many benefits to using a cryptocurrency. First, because it in 2017, when the price of one bitcoin went from $1,000 in there is no need for a middleman or a bank, transaction fees are January to $11,000 in December. This jump in value clearly caught reduced. This can help poor people transfer money. Approximately the attention of both investors and gamblers. $400 billion is transferred annually from migrants to friends and Despite its recent popularity, most people don’t understand families in other countries. The average transaction cost, 9%, is rather what cryptocurrency really is or why it exists. Some are skeptical, hefty. Skipping companies like Western Union and MoneyGram considering it is a fad that will soon disappear. Others think it is means that more money reaches the receiver. Also, the transfer is instant and the world’s future currency, the one that will displace all of the others. requires no currency conversion. Leaving the lovers and haters aside, Moreover, as there is already a a cryptocurrency must be proplack of traditional branch banking erly understood before deciding in poverty-stricken areas and half whether using it is halal or haram. the world’s population has no bank The idea of a digital currency is accounts, a digital currency can pronot new. Paypal, launched in 1998, vide much good in the world. is an extremely popular way to pay Another major benefit is profor things. However, it requires a tecting people from government manipulation and mismanagethird party like Visa, MasterCard ment of currency. Zimbabwe’s or Western Union to process transactions. Buying Microsoft or Apple 2008 experience with hyperinflapoints in their online store is a type of tion is a perfect example. At its digital currency as well, but only one peak, the inflation was estimated company backs it. Cryptocurrency at 79.6 billion percent month-onis different because it is decentralmonth. At the beginning of a year, ized, meaning that there is no third Zimbabwe had printed a 10-dollar LEAVING THE LOVERS AND HATERS party and no one entity that controls bill, and within 12 months it had ASIDE, A CRYPTOCURRENCY MUST it or can shut it down. printed a 100-billion-dollar bill. BE PROPERLY UNDERSTOOD BEFORE The currency became worthless. A The idea of a decentralized currency has been around for a long DECIDING WHETHER IT IS HARAM OR cryptocurrency would have been an time, but it became much more alternative for people to retain their HALAL TO USE popular after the 2008 financial money’s value when there was no meltdown. The biggest problem in trust in the government currency. establishing it was finding a solution to the “double spending problem.” For example, Paypal is a IS A CRYPTOCURRENCY HALAL? giant company that keeps financial records in the form of a ledger. A general principle in Islamic law states that the default for economic When I send you money, they deduct it from my account, credit it transactions is permissibility. Thus, everything is halal unless clear to your account and verify the transaction. If there is no company evidence indicates that it is haram. The main position according to like Paypal and no national bank, then who will keep a record of the vast majority of scholars (al-rajih ‘inda al-jumhur) is that “the the transactions? default in things is permissibility” (al-aslu fil-ashya’ al-ibaha) until Satoshi Nakamoto (which may be a fake name) solved this proven haram (Muhammad al-Burnu, Mawsu‘at al-Qawa‘id al-Fiqhiproblem in his “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System” yya [Beirut: Mu’assasat al-Risala, 2003], 2:115-116). Despite that, the Turkish Religious Ministry (Diyanet) in 2017, (https:/bitcoin.org/bitcoin.pdf. 2008) paper. He came up with the idea of a blockchain ledger: Instead of keeping the transaction Shawki Ibrahim Abdel-Karim Allam (the Grand Mufti of Egypt) in records with one person or entity, he uses encryption to regulate 2018 and Mufti Faraz Adam (executive director and head, Shariah the generation of a digital currency and thus verify the transfer Advisory, Amana Finance Consultancy in 2017) have declared it of funds without the need for any central bank. Without getting haram. Among their arguments is the high risk of fraud given the too technical, the first bitcoin was created on Jan. 3, 2009. As of lack of any centralized surveillance for the currency, the possibility 50 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
IN MEMORIAM of using it to fund terrorism, making money laundering easier and its high volatility. However, none of these reasons intrinsically make it forbidden. One of the stronger arguments is that people primarily use a cryptocurrency for speculation. But they also use many other currencies as well. According to fundera. com, in 2021 about 15,174 businesses worldwide accept Bitcoin. This means that even though it is mostly bought for speculation, it is also used as an actual currency. So, in brief, Muslims can use it and other cryptocurrencies as a currency. The last, and perhaps most important, point is whether speculating on a currency is halal or haram. Currency exchange is permissible if the exchanger has a good reason to think that the currency will increase in value based on some analysis that does not resemble the psychology of gambling. For example, people in Venezuela are using U.S. dollars through Zelle in order to avoid the worthless Venezuelan Bolivar currency. This is not considered gambling. On the other hand, let’s say “A” has $10,000 invested in the stock market, which he daytrades regularly. His annual return is 10%. He withdraws it and decides to invest in Bitcoin and daytrade it, where his annual return is now 70%. This is haram, for he is clearly speculating on a currency, which is akin to gambling. A final example is investor “Z” who does not believe that the U.S. dollar is strong. He invested a lot of money into gold thinking that the dollar will go down. He also invested a lot of money into the Euro, thinking that the European Union is a safer place to park his life savings. He then decides that gold is not a safe store of value for his money. He also notices the European Union collapsing due to Brexit, etc. He then uses all his gold and Euros to buy ethereum — a decentralized, open-source blockchain featuring smart contract functionality — instead and leave half of his life savings in there instead. This is most probably halal. Whether Muslim investors can purchase a cryptocurrency depends on their intention and a legitimate analysis of why it is a better store of value than their local currency. ih Shaykh Mustafa Umar, who has a bachelor’s degree in information and computer science (UC Irvine), a bachelor’s degree in theology and Islamic law (European Institute of Islamic Sciences, France) and a masters in Islamic studies (University of Gloucestershire, U.K.), is president of the California Islamic University and an executive member of the Fiqh Council of North America.
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Ann Paxton El-Moslimany Scientist, Educator & Community Leader 1937-2021
nn Paxton El-Moslimany, PhD, who along with her (now late) husband Dr. Mohammad El-Moslimany (1924-2003) founded the Islamic School of Seattle (ISS) in the late 1980s and which she led for forty years, passed away on January 25, 2021, after a prolonged illness. El-Moslimany was a cornerstone of the early Muslim community in Seattle. In the early 80’s, ISS put into reality her vision of what a truly modern Islamic school would look like, infused with elements of Montessori learning and holistic education. She made ISS her life mission so that children of all faiths, racial, ethnic and economic backgrounds could have access to quality education. She embodied the spirit and practice of integrated, holistic learning and Islamic values who helped many in her community and beyond. She is irreplaceable, but her legacy will live on in her children, students and fellow educators. El-Moslimany (PhD in botany) was author of not only Islamic books but also science research papers, had taught in Kuwait University, Kuwait (1984-86) and Seattle Central Community College, Seattle (1986-1990). She was the author of “Zaki’s Ramadhan Fast” (1994) and “Teaching Children: A Moral, Spiritual, and Holistic Approach to Educational Development” (International Institute of Islamic Thought, 2018). Her book “Teaching Children” is considered a necessary read for Islamic school educators. In her book, El-Moslimany advocated for teaching the whole child, building foundationally from the concept of tawhid, while also drawing upon fitrah and activism. She commented on the value that an Islamic school can provide to the child in the book, “The time that a child spends in a full-time Islamic school can be thought of as a sort of incubation period if you will, if God wills, give him/ her the strength of character to comfortably assume a role in the world in which we live” (p. 23). Yet, she also highlighted, “The ‘ilm we seek to instill in our children cannot be a combination of two diametrically opposed views of life, but a unified
vision of the truth” (p. 10), thus reiterating her approach to integrated, holistic curricula and pedagogy. Tarek Dawoud, a former ISS board member, reflected, “She taught the kids ‘Since God is one, that means all creation comes from Him, all knowledge comes from Him, all people come from Him. There’s no bad knowledge, there are no bad creatures, there are no lower humans.” In a given unit, the students would be learning about the physics of space and gravity, the Quranic verses that talk about stars and the heavens and then famous Muslim scientists who contributed to the optics of the telescope and close with a science experiment to fire a rocket. Just beautiful holistic education where religion and science were not at conflict or taught in separate enclaves. A true pioneer and visionary who was decades ahead of her time.” ISNA programs director Dr. Mukhtar Ahmad reflected, “Late Sister Ann was a great source of inspiration for Muslim educators all over the country and her community in Seattle for a long time. Her intellectual and financial contributions made many projects possible. She was a strong believer and generous person who had devoted her life to the cause of Islamic education.” She was the mother of Ahmed Ramsey El-Moslimany, Rasheed El-Moslimany, and Samia El-Moslimany and a beloved grandmother. ih
Human Rights: All of us are Partners in Crime Have human rights become no more than just pious assertions on pieces of paper? BY TARIQ SHAH
n December 7, 2020, the U.S., positioning itself as a nation founded by those fleeing religious persecution, designated Burma/ Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, Nigeria, North Korea, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as “Countries of Particular Concern” under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, as amended, for engaging in or tolerating “systematic, ongoing, egregious violations of religious freedom.” But this is a list of convenience. Missing, along with other countries, is India. Why? Because India is a major market that corporate America covets. Among its recent violations is New Delhi’s enactment of laws that single out Muslims as well as acts such as the destruction of a mosque during former President Trump’s visit. This does not even begin to capture India’s long history of human rights violations in the disputed state of Kashmir. When it comes to human rights violations, all faith traditions and nations are partners in crime. Our minorities exist because our majorities permit them the luxury of an oft-demeaning life; the majority can withdraw this benevolence whenever it decides to do so. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR; https://www.un.org/ en/universal-declaration-human-rights/) promised to be “the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world,” since peace is impossible without freedom and justice. Scholars of different faiths and of no faith have argued that the Asian, Hindu, Islamic, African or Christian concepts of human rights predate and are superior to those that form the framework of this mostly secular declaration. This declaration was intended to make people conscious not only of their rights, but also of the rights of their fellow beings. Article 1 states, “Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms set forth in this Declaration, without distinction of any kind, such as race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” Believers have made competing claims that their particular religion has a better track record of protecting minorities’ human rights and that their worldview reflects superior human rights principles. This perhaps explains the existence of such regional variants as the European Convention on Human Rights (1953), the Helsinki Declaration (1975), the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981), the Cairo Declaration on Human Rights in Islam (1990), the Arab Charter on Human Rights (1994) and the Asian Human Rights Charter (1998). Because each of these embody some of the human rights ideals voiced in the UDHR, one might posit the existence of a widespread, if not a nearly universal, consensus regarding the protection of rights of religious and ethnic minorities. But the reality is markedly different, as there is a gap between principles and practice. Are these coveted human rights ideals even worth the paper they are written on if they are not duly implemented? Such meaningless claims are of no consolation to those minorities who are facing real majoritarian abuse. It’s not what Muslims, Jews, Christians or other faith traditions say about human dignity or human rights that matters, but what they do. Many would argue it’s not because of the major religions’ teachings, but rather in spite of them, that a small minority of their followers target minorities. 52 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
Where is the majority’s collective outrage when a minority of their fellow believers witness acts of injustice? Where, for example, is the universal Muslim outrage when a Pakistani forcibly converts a non-Muslim — a clear violation of Quranic teachings? Where is the Hindu outcry when Hindu mobs in India lynch Muslims suspected of eating beef, although India is one of the world’s top beef-exporting countries? Where is the Buddhist expression of horror when Myanmar’s army pursues and exiles its Rohingya Muslims despite Buddhism’s message of “loving-kindness and compassion” toward others? Where is the Jewish uproar when Israeli soldiers run roughshod over Palestinian civilians, despite their own long history of suffering? And where is the collective Christian outrage when Jews are subjected to murderous right-wing bigotry, given Christianity’s claims on deep biblical roots of human rights ideals? Clearly, none of these faith traditions by themselves can serve as a benchmark to measure our individual and collective commitment to protecting human rights. In short, we all have our extremists and terrorists. As the famous atheistic Arab poet Abul Ala Al-Ma’arri (c. 973-1058) said, They all err — Muslims, Jews, / Christians, and Zoroastrians: / Humanity follows two worldwide sects: / One, man intelligent without religion, / The second, religious without intellect. We share the guilt of crimes against humanity when we silently observe violence in the name of religion. If we don’t speak up when such violations occur, who will speak up for us when we suffer the same fate? The
Human rights have become a cliché. Matters of personal, national and international ethics IT’S NOT WHAT MUSLIMS, JEWS, CHRISTIANS OR and morality are increasingly becoming irrelevant. Nations are inclined to disobey their OTHER FAITH TRADITIONS SAY ABOUT HUMAN own laws and shrug off international law as extraneous to their populist-nationalist projects. DIGNITY OR HUMAN RIGHTS THAT MATTERS, Now more than ever, there is a desperate BUT WHAT THEY DO. MANY WOULD ARGUE need for those who attend houses of worship IT’S NOT BECAUSE OF THE MAJOR RELIGIONS’ to realize that when one minority is abused, we all are abused. We must help counter this TEACHINGS, BUT RATHER IN SPITE OF THEM, reality by fostering pragmatic and practical THAT A SMALL MINORITY OF THEIR FOLLOWERS humanitarianism. Let’s not blame it all on populist nationalist TARGET MINORITIES. leaders who always create phantoms, stir up people’s fears and use the “other” as a political piñata to grab or stay in power. Rather, we same Han Chinese who happily consign the Uyghurs should wonder why leaders like Jacinda Ardern, whose response to religious to gulag camps have been stereotyped in the West as terror made Kiwis proud and earned them global respect, are so few. We can a “yellow peril” have been unfairly accused of manu- learn from such leaders. As a first step, we should examine our own individual facturing the global scourge of Covid-19. and collective thoughts or national records on human rights. Is that too much to ask? Today, the persecution of minorities — legitimized through nationalistic, religious or other majoritarWe need to stand up not only for our own rights and/or faith, but also for ian privileges — pervade our global cultures like a the rights and the faiths of others. All of us, regardless of gender or age, must do pandemic. Humanity is in a state of stupor and feels what we can to defend those rights that protect all of us and thus promote our incapable of controlling its destiny. Although scientific common humanity. Make a difference by speaking up for those who are oppressed and silenced and technological progress has made our lives better and easier, they have not made us better human beings. because of their religion, gender, race or political persuasion. We appear to lack the will to protect those who are Maybe we have to rebuild our human family one child and one person at persecuted. Perhaps our current and future genera- a time. But rebuild it we must. This is no longer an option; it is a civilizational tions run the risk of annihilation due to intolerance, imperative. ih wars leading to massive population movements and xenophobia, starvation and pestilence. Tariq Shah is a citizen and a community activist. MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 53
Are Muslims Free of Racism? Have Muslims internalized the Prophet’s Farewell Sermon, or do they just pay lip service to it? BY NOOR SAADEH
re Muslims racists? Most would categorically deny it, unless called to account by others for their words or actions. It is a difficult label to apply, even if one is humble enough to recognize some of their very real prejudices on this subject. “There are Muslims of all colors and ranks here in Mecca from all parts of this earth,” wrote Malcolm X while performing the hajj rituals in 1964. “I have eaten from the same plate, drank from the same glass, slept on the same bed or rug, while praying to the same God — not only with some of this earth’s most powerful kings, cabinet members, potentates and other forms of political and religious rulers…their belief in the Oneness of Allah had actually removed the ‘white’ from their minds, which automatically changed their attitude and behavior toward people of other colors.” If Malcolm were to make the hajj again today, would he make the same remark? The Quran commands both justice and ihsan in our relations with others (16:90). Prayer, dkhir and du’a are only the first steps, and yet our halaqas, speeches and khutbas repeat them over and over again. Although Islam’s foundation is built upon the five obligatory pillars, we spend most of our time polishing them and paying less attention to those that define who we are based on our behavior and interaction with others. Dallas, my hometown, has become a land of suburban megachurches and mega-mosques, and yet we see an absence of Black faces in them. In interfaith events, Muslims bring a bit of color and diversity to the otherwise mainly white Christian and Jewish participants. Dallas is large enough to be cosmopolitan, but not so large as to create mosques catering to specific regions. Instead, our Black kin have their own mosques in the inner city. We are not so racist as to exclude Pakistanis, Yemenis or Africans. Yet the African Americans’ “Black” mosque is separated from others not only in physical proximity, but also in spirituality and kinship as well. Rarely do the two meet. Consider the Nation of Islam’s (NOI) astounding legacy in terms of their members’ habits, dress, manners and uplifting effects on surrounding neighborhoods. Can we credit our Arab or South Asian communities with the same effects? Have Arabs had a similarly remarkable impact on Dearborn, Mich.? Has any ethnic-majority Muslim community in the U.S. accomplished so much? Do we congratulate them, emulate their good works, ethics and manners, or distance ourselves and cry out kafir and bida’? Do we dismiss their good works and declare them void because they weren’t following what we define as the Sunna? Even after Warith Deen Mohammed embraced the more traditional Sunni path, did we welcome his followers or hold them at arm’s length — and continue to do so today? If we are honest, did their skin color and long-term second-class status prevent us from embracing them as kin in faith? Isabelle Wilkerson, in her extensively researched and thought-provoking “Caste System: The Origin of our Discontents” (Random House, 2020) [which 54 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
was featured on Oprah’s Book Club], offers undeniable examples of an unspoken caste system that has shaped the U.S. and other societies — how this hierarchy of human divisions still defines our lives today. Muslims, as a misunderstood minority and as fairly recent arrivals, are farther down the totem pole but still above — and try to distance themselves from — the Blacks and Hispanics. Do Muslims rush to integrate with white Westerners and their values to get as far away from the bottom or from the Blacks as they can? Even though most immigrants followed this same trajectory, are we being true to our Islamic tenets of justice and ihsan? We cannot complain that our fellow citizens know little or nothing about Muslims or only what they garner from the media and films if we don’t care to know our own brothers and sisters in the faith. Do we embrace African American Muslims only when they are famous imams, celebrities or politicians at fancy dinners in luxury hotels? The study of history is important. We know little of our own Islamic history beyond the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), his Companions (‘alayhum rahma) and perhaps the Righteous Predecessors. How much do we know about Islamic Spain, the Islamic capital cities of Africa and the Ottoman Empire — much less the history of North America? A great portion of our Muslim history in the U.S. begins
Muslim Americans? One cannot claim to care about the plight of Muslims overseas while ignoring the grave injustices in our own backyard. Muslims are enjoying this land’s opportunities, and yet we sometimes choose to look down our nose, hold ourselves aloof and perhaps consider ourselves better than other communities. We need to practice gratitude for what our Muslim predecessors did that enabled us to be here and succeed. We cannot do this if we don’t get to know others, open our doors, study their history and appreciate their struggles. Furthermore, are we racist when we value light skin more than dark skin even among our own? Does a woman have more worth if she is white-er? Is she more marriageable? Skin-lightening and hair-straightening product ads suggest the existence of a tacit consensus that the lighter the skin, often the more Western-appearing, the better the prospects for the future. This is, in fact, a false comparison because “white” people also have many colors: black, blonde, brown, yellow and red hair, as well as variations in eye colors and skin pigmentation. That being said, historically, lighter skin color was also an indication of status or caste (https://www.inkstonenews.com/; Feb. 8, 2019) note: “Having white skin isn’t only about being Western. In Asia, there is a deeply rooted cultural notion that associates dark skin with poverty and working in the fields, whereas pale skin reflects a more comfortable life out of the sun and, therefore, a higher socioeconomic status.” These human-created values are contrary to God’s statement that we are only superior by means of taqwa. Does my being a white convert of European descent give me privilege even as a Muslim? I find it does. Although I now empathize and align myself more with minority groups, many of my co-religionists have remarked, “It’s easier for you with your blue eyes and fair skin.” White converts also often bemoan that the reverse — never being fully accepted as “real” Muslims — can be true. Our racist attitudes as Muslims are not confined to skin color. Rather, we tend to discriminate based on ethnicity. Arabs, as the original recipients of the deen, IS THE FOCUS OF SADAQA AND COMPASSION hold themselves in higher regard despite the Prophet’s words that an Arab is no better than a non-Arab. As DIRECTED TOWARD MUSLIMS OPPRESSED much as Muslims esteem those who memorize and recite the Quran, Qur’anic academies tend to boast far IN OUR HOME COUNTRIES RATHER THAN numbers of South Asians. We still find mosques FELLOW MUSLIMS IN AMERICA? ONE CANNOT greater that offer non-English khutbas and halaqas to attract CLAIM TO CARE ABOUT THE PLIGHT OF those of a specific overseas Muslim region rather than offer their sermons in the common language of the land. MUSLIMS OVERSEAS WHILE IGNORING THE We are often prideful and elitist about being GRAVE INJUSTICES IN Muslim. Islam and the Quran are great, but bearing a Muslim name doesn’t make us worthy of being the OUR OWN BACKYARD. best of creation. It is causational. We are the best when we do the work. With the Messenger of God in their midst and with the African Muslims who were brought here their mindful practice of taqwa, the Ansar exemplified kinship. “Allah is certainly and enslaved (Sylviane A. Diouf, “Servants of Allah,” sufficient for you. He is the One Who has supported you with His help and with NYU Press, 1998). the believers. He brought their hearts together. Had you spent all the riches on If Muslims seek to build their affairs on the foun- the earth, you could not have united their hearts. But Allah has united them. dations of ihsan and justice, then we must place our- Indeed, He is Almighty, All-Wise” (8:62-63). selves on the side of the historically oppressed and The way to rectify racism, caste or any of our ills as an umma is to return dehumanized, who still encounter barrier after barrier to the Quran — not just to memorize or recite it, but to understand it so that to full social inclusion; from the disproportionate rates its meaning can reverberate within us. May its verses truly become the furqan of incarceration, arrest and killings to other indicators (criterion), along with Prophet Muhammad’s example, by which we think, speak of an unjust, unfair system. Is the focus of sadaqa and and take action. ih compassion directed toward Muslims oppressed in their home countries rather than deserving fellow Noor Saadeh is production manager, Noorart, Inc. (www.noorart.com). MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 55
How Converts can Oppose Islamophobia Serving as bridges to faith and non-faith communities BY STEPHENIE BUSHRA KHAN
here are various estimates of the number of Muslims living in the US. Some say there are approximately 5 million of us. Even if that number is low, researchers have said that Islam is now the world’s fastest-growing religion (“Why Muslims are the world’s fastest-growing religious group,” Pew Research, April 6, 2017). The Pew Research report of Jan. 17, 2019, stated that 20% of the country’s Muslims are Black Americans. A smaller percentage are White converts. Islamophobia, which existed long before 9/11, increased substantially after that tragedy. A small percentage of Americans have assumed that Sharia will take over our government and that Islam is incompatible with the American way of life. A large number of those Americans who fear Muslims may have never met one, because the media both distorts its coverage of our community and doesn’t cover our contributions to American society. Converts who wear hijab are often discriminated against because they really stand out. More than a few people assume that it is an instrument of repression. American male converts mostly blend in, unless they dress in traditional Islamic attire. Sometimes they conceal their conversion, fearing that they might lose their jobs; be rejected or cut off by their families; or lose their friends because they no longer fit into mainstream American culture. Some have been verbally attacked, told to go back home (even if they were born here) and take traditional Islamic names — many now keep their given name. In airports, converts are often pulled aside based on their appearance and name. Women have had their hijab pulled off and have been harassed and verbally attacked.
DEALING WITH ISLAMOPHOBIA
I know something about this, based upon my own experiences of facing distancing from family members and some friends who don’t approve of what I have done. My response to such negativity was to become involved with interfaith programs and revealing an accurate picture of Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and Islam through my writing and my artwork. Like many Muslim artists, I want my artwork to display Islam as it really is — a religion of peace. I strive to make my artwork convey God’s Oneness, which is very appealing to me, especially in nature. Thus, my artwork conveys, like that of other female artists, Islam’s beauty. Inspiration is a gift from God, and converts should not shy away from it. Female artists and writers have broken the stereotype of American women being repressed by converted American or foreign-born husbands. Most of the time this is not the case. Female converts have contributed a great deal to society not only in the arts, but also in other fields as well. Both male and female Muslim Americans are active in the work force as businesspeople, lawyers, psychiatrists, housewives, athletes, artists and entertainers. We live the same daily lives as other Americans — taking care of children, studying, going to work — and face the same problems. Many converts who work as public school teachers are exposed to students who, along with the media, call Muslims “terrorists.” Their parents are teaching this to their children. Many children of converts are also bullied. One convert I know tells her students, “I’m a Muslim. Do you think I’m a terrorist?” She then informs them that the vast majority of Muslims live very peaceful lives and oppose terrorism. Along with this, she explains why she wears modest attire, observes dietary restrictions, prays, does not observe certain American holidays and the significance of Islamic holidays. 56 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
Muslims should start to teach their K-12 children what Islam is about, for many middle schools provide very limited information about it and often use poorly written textbooks. My friend and I have gone into public school classes and volunteered in our children’s classes to tell them how Islam has changed our lives and to give them a more accurate account of the world’s second largest religion. Our husbands have done this as well. Converts should demonstrate their faith by example. Anti-Islam and offensive literature and cartoons should cause outrage, but we need to express this intelligently. We know that the Prophet never responded to insults with violence, but with teaching his opponents what Islam is all about through education and activism. Unfortunately, many Muslims seem to have forgotten this important fact. Some journalists, educators and writers promote Islam in a positive way. As media outlets can earn more money by reporting on and sensationalizing “Islamic” terrorism and its perpetrators, they make almost no effort to inform their readers about how
Islam and Muslims oppose terrorism. Thus it is up to all Muslims, including converts, to correct this omission through activism, engaging with mainstream society, behaving as all good citizens should behave, demonstrating peacefully for just causes, running for public office and following the law. Muslims shouldn’t separate themselves from non-Muslims, but befriend them. This is where interfaith groups come in, for interfaith events allow leaders and people of various faiths to get to know each other better through personal interaction. Attendees from different houses of worship and schools of thought meet to express and share their faith. In fact, many Christian and Jewish faith leaders have stood up for Muslims after acts of Islamophobia, hate crimes, opposition to the construction of a new mosque and similar incidents.
Although participating in such groups is a good idea, one that should always be encouraged, Muslims should also join civic groups. For example, I have joined and served on the boards of several art organizations without compromising my faith. Many people are curious about our faith and want to visit the mosque to learn about Islam. Given this, we need to start inviting them to attend our community’s activities and events that are held there. Converts are like a bridge between Islam and other faiths. They can provide non-Muslims a unique and very personal perspective about Islam by sharing why they converted and how Islam’s teachings and practices have made their lives better. In addition, we should undermine Islamophobia’s false narrative by living in a way that adheres to the Quran’s principles and reflects the Prophet’s example. We should live with integrity and generosity to everyone, not just to fellow Muslims. For example, many converts have helped out at soup kitchens and with the homeless, visited the sick and engaged in what every religion regards as “good deeds.” Opposing Islamophobia begins with us converts. Just as the Prophet did, we can begin by talking with our family members and co-workers about why we converted. But not before we have educated ourselves enough about the Quran and IN ADDITION, WE SHOULD UNDERMINE so we can answer their questions intelligently ISLAMOPHOBIA’S FALSE NARRATIVE BY LIVING Sunna and by citing the relevant verses and hadiths, as well IN A WAY THAT ADHERES TO THE QURAN’S as the contexts in which they were revealed (verses) and why the Prophet chose that particular approach PRINCIPLES AND REFLECTS THE PROPHET’S or action (hadiths). EXAMPLE. WE SHOULD LIVE WITH INTEGRITY Some Muslims, both those who were born into Muslim families or converted, get their information AND GENEROSITY TO EVERYONE, NOT JUST solely from the Internet. This is not the best way to TO FELLOW MUSLIMS. acquire such information, as a great deal of it is opinion or taken out of context. New converts should get the right information through accurate publications and personal or online interactions with knowledgeable Muslims. On top of that, we should be aware that all kinds of people convert to a given religion, even those who have some psychological problems or political grievances. We need to learn how to identify them and make sure that they do not turn to radicalism or terrorism. Many Muslims have reported to their mosque and other officials their concerns about someone who appears to have become radicalized. Converts who have become imams should give kuthbas to new converts on how they can implement Islam’s principles, teachings and practices in their life and begin their spiritual and behavioral transformations. Converts who have gone on to become scholars can also be very helpful in this regard, for they know what new converts are facing and understand that “becoming Muslim” is a gradual process, one that continues forever. Mostly there should be a great deal of love for God, the Prophet and for humanity. We should care for Earth as part of our faith, because God gave it to us as a gift. We should care about all living things and prevent cruelty to them, for such behavior is part of our faith. These are some of the ways in which converts can oppose Islamophobia. ih Stephenie Bushra Khan is a freelance writer for Islamic magazines and professional artist. She also wrote for The Independent newspaper in Bangladesh for three years.
MARCH/APRIL 2021 ISLAMIC HORIZONS 57
Iconic Muslim University Marks Centennial The Aligarh Muslim University stands as testimony to Sir Syed’s quest for reforms in education and a fulcrum for Muslims in South Asia BY IFTIKHAR GILANI
ast December, Muslims of South Asia and beyond Qasim Nanatvi, while agreeing to make education a tool to celebrated a landmark — the centenary of Aligarh re-empower Muslims, had serious differences on the Muslim University, which has gained a global nature of education. reputation for academic excellence. Concerned with the imperialists’ mass killing The real story started nearly 150 years ago in of religious scholars (ulema), Nanatvi (1832-80) the red sandstone building of the Delhi Madrassa left Delhi in 1866 for Deoband village. He started (now the Anglo Arabic Model School) at Ajmeri imparting religious lessons under a pomegranate Gate, where the old and new city of Delhi meet. tree to produce scholars who could lead mosques and guide people to sustain religious values and Here Molvi Mamlook Ali’s two students were often seen fiercely debating how to revive the Muslims’ principles. Out of this grew Darul Uloom Deoband, glory in the Subcontinent. the world-famous seminary considered the mother of South Asia’s madrassas. Hopelessness and despondency crept among Muslims after the British ended their 800-year rule Ten years later, Syed Ahmad (1817-98) also left Sir Syed Ahmad Khan and targeted them. Delhi and, in 1875, set up the Anglo Mohammedan Coinciding with the mighty Mughal Empire’s dissolution and College on the pattern of Cambridge and Oxford in Aligarh, 150 miles the failure of the first war of independence against the British in southeast of Delhi. Braving fierce community opposition — he was 1857, both students, [later Sir] Syed Ahmed Khan and Maulana actually labeled an infidel — he introduced modern education and 58 ISLAMIC HORIZONS MARCH/APRIL 2021
politician of Pakistan) and Abdul Rahman Peshawari (aka Abdurrahman Bey). This member of the wealthy Samdani family later helped found the global Turkish Anadolu Agency news agency and was appointed Turkey’s first ambassador to Afghanistan soon after WWI by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Khaliquzzaman reminisced that Ansari had approached him during a tennis practice session and convinced him to help: “In the evening I was packing my baggage to join Ansari’s medical mission to leave for Istanbul,” he writes in his memoir “Pathway to Pakistan” (Pakistan: Longmans, 1961).
BID TO MAKE AN AMU REPLICA IN TURKEY
AMU students in formal attire
made learning English compulsory. He envisioned a crop of committed Muslims who were comfortable with modern science and the industrial world — scholars who could lead their community and dialogue with the West.
but it has also become a part of their aspirations woven into culture and identity. AMU has produced distinguished alums: five heads of states in Pakistan and one each India, Bangladesh and the Maldives; former
ACCORDING TO INTERNATIONAL RANKING AGENCIES, AMU IS RANKED FOURTH IN THE NATION IN TERMS OF THE EXCELLENCE AND QUALITY OF ITS EDUCATIONAL PROGRAMS. Like their founders, the two institutions have remained poles apart in terms of conduct and response to social and political developments. In later years, Aligarh’s alum (Alig; Aligarian), at ease with English, were in the forefront of demanding a share of political power. Many of them supported the demand for what, in 1947, would become Pakistan. But at Deoband, kifaya-clad teachers and students fervently supported the Indian National Congress and remained its loyalists until 1992, when the events leading to the 700-year old Babri Mosque’s demolition forced them to seek refuge elsewhere. To this date, these two groups have refused to seek a middle ground. In December 1920, The Anglo Mohammedan College was upgraded to a university. Although India’s Muslims now fare much worse than the lowest, Dalits (Untouchables) and other weaker sections, the iconic Aligarh Muslim University (AMU) has preserved their ancestors’ past grandeur and splendor. Not only does it provide a window of opportunity to Indian Muslims,
Indian vice-president Hamid Ansari; and four chief ministers of the erstwhile Muslimmajority state of Jammu and Kashmir. According to international ranking agencies, AMU is ranked fourth in the nation in terms of the excellence and quality of its educational programs. Since its inception, AMU students have been quite receptive to international political developments. According to University of Texas professor Gail Minault, Aligarh college students fasted and saved money to raise 13,900 Ottoman lire (nowadays $5 million) for the Turkish relief fund to help the Ottoman Empire during the 1912-13 Balkan War (“The Khilafat Movement: Religious Symbolism and Political Mobilization in India,” Columbia University Press, 1982). Dr. Ahmed Mukhtar Ansari, a physician-turned-political activist, made Aligarh the center of his activities to garner support. He later headed a 23-member volunteer medical mission that helped the empire during WWI. Members included students like Chaudhry Khaliquzzaman (a future top
Since the British were stalling about upgrading Aligarh to a university, Ansari, who later became president of the All India Muslim League as well as the Indian National Congress, proposed establishing this university abroad until India achieved independence. Burak Akcapar, a senior Turkish diplomat, recalls that Ansari had convinced Sultan Mehmet V and the endowments minister to allot 65,000 acres of land near Ankara’s railway station and 25,000 acres at Adana and Konya (“People’s Mission to the Ottoman Empire: MA Ansari and the Indian Medical Mission, 1912–13,” Oxford University Press, 2014). Akcapar records that Ansari had written to Maulana Mohammad Ali Jouhar, the top Muslim and Khilafat Movement leader, that this university would be a cornerstone of an Islamic renaissance. He had suggested that Jouhar consult scholars such as Shibli Nomani and Sir Muhammad Iqbal to form a committee to draft its curriculum. But the proposal was overtaken by events, as WWI started and Ansari and his medical team had to return to India. Spread over an area of 1,000 acres, AMU currently enrolls 30,000 students, maintains a staff of 11,000 academics and non-academics and offers 350 different courses. This area, located west of the Aligarh railway station along with the “Civil Lines” housing development known as the university area, houses residences for professors, former staff members and the Muslim elite. Over time, rich Muslims have also settled in the area. In fact, this is perhaps the only North Indian region where one can see clean localities with proper civic amenities and recall the Muslims’ past glory. Although Aligarh scholars have expertise
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HERITAGE in modern education, along with a genuine Muslim identity and character, they also have many faces. Kerala governor Arif Mohammed Khan and Samajwadi Party leader Azam Khan represent a bitter ideological rivalry. Historian Irfan Habib represents its high scholarship. Noted actor Nasiruddin Shah brings up a manifest talent. Zahida and Sajida Zaidi have showcased the assertion of gender equality. Alum heart specialist Dr. Hanif Baig, who is also a professor at its medical college, was declared an outstanding scientist a few years ago. Hafeezu-Rahman’s research on cancer and its relation with alcohol received international acclaim. Dr. Rafatullah received
has objected to using “Muslim” in its name, claiming that doing so violates India’s secular ethos and that an institution that gets government money cannot identify itself with any religion. But they do not object to using “Hindu” in Banaras Hindu University. In 2015, Prime Minister Modi’s government told the Supreme Court that it does not consider AMU a minority institution. Ending its minority status would be a big blow to Indian Muslims, whose educational backwardness is documented in official statistics. Only 11% of Muslim children acquire a higher education. The figure for Hindus and Christians is 20% and 31%, respectively. The government and ruling party leaders argue
a lifetime achievement in medicine award from the Indian government for classifying 250 medicinal herbs that are now used in 395 medicines. Bushra Atiq received the most coveted 2020 Shanti Saroop Bhatnagar award for scientific research.
AN EYESORE FOR ISLAMOPHOBES
The Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) chose Aligarh University Medical College for its anti-coronavirus vaccine trial. AMU ranks fourth in India and its medical college ranks ninth. While a section of India’s media often blows out of proportion even insignificant incidents that may occur there, the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party leaders have described the university as a threat to national security. Their patron organization, the extreme right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh,
that the British — not the Muslims — set up this university in 1920 by an act of Parliament and that the Anglo Mohammedan College was upgraded to university status. Ironically, Modi used AMU as a prop by attending its centennial and having his government issue a postage stamp. This is not the first time that AMU’s minority character has been targeted. In the 1960s, using an incident of student protest, Education Minister M. C. Chagla — ironically a Muslim — enacted a law ending its minority status. Later in 1981, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi restored its character through an act of Parliament. In 2005, the Allahabad High Court struck down this law. But then the Manmohan Singh government challenged it in the Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of its minority character. The case is still pending before the court.
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Over the years, the university has developed its ethos and philosophy — known as Aligarh culture — on three pillars: taaleem (education), tehzeeb (culture) and tarbiyat (training). It seeks to nurture people whose mission of education and scientific vision is not only socially alive but also practically emphatic. For special occasions, male students dress in a black sherwani (a long coat buttoned along its length). A senior student is expected to guide juniors, even to help them financially if necessary. Even after graduation, a junior cannot pull out his wallet in a senior’s presence. The strong Aligarh alumni communities spread all over the world affirms the lasting bond of respect and affection produced by the unique culture. AMU still stands testimony to Sir Syed’s quest for reforms in education and a fulcrum for South Asia’s Muslims. But grappling with the South Asian Muslims’ existential threat and identity crisis, it strives to produce leaders and visionaries to lead them. Its grandeur and splendor continue to exist in the verses of its famous alum, Urdu poet Asrarul Haq Majaz, which was adopted as AMU’s anthem: Every night is the night of Egypt here, every evening in the evening of Shiraz here. The garden encompasses lyrics and tunes of the whole world. The sky has come down many times to kiss the dust of this land. We have seen with our own eyes, the utter defeat of vanity. This is my garden; my garden, and I am the nightingale of my garden. ih Iftikhar Gilani, editor (planning) in Turkish global wire Anadolu Agency, Ankara, is a senior journalist who has reported from the Indian capital New Delhi for over the past 25 years for many national and international media outlets.
NEW RELEASES Engaging Muslim Students in Public Schools: What Educators Need to Understand Michael Abraham 2020. Pp. 370 PB. $24.99 Kindle. $19.99 Abraham Education, Mahtomedi, Minn. ichael Abraham designed his book with his training program designed for public school educators in mind. Thus, it is a learning continuum that builds on itself as it goes, so those who seek to benefit from it must read it cover to cover. He stresses the importance of knowing the students’ home culture and practicing culturally relevant pedagogy. Teachers, he says, rarely feel that they have an inside view of these two realities and how they follow the students into the classroom. This book is a unique journey in which Islam, Muslim culture, the history of Muslims in America and the learning structures in mosques are all taught in a prose specifically written for the public school educator. It offers new and practical insights, as well as ideas and considerations for practice, that take the culturally relevant pedagogy of Muslim students out of the nominal and superficial and into the authentic.
The War for Kindness: Building Empathy in a Fractured World Jamil Zaki 2020. Pp. 288. HB. $20.49. PB. $15.39 Crown, New York, N.Y. tanford psychology professor Zaki argues that empathy is in short supply. Even though people struggle to understand those who aren’t like them, they find it easy to hate them. Studies show that Americans are less caring than they were even 30 years ago. But, the author argues, it doesn’t have to be this way. Sharing his own lab’s cutting-edge research, he shows that empathy is not an inherent trait, but a skill that can be strengthened through effort. He also tells the stories of people who embody this new perspective, people who are fighting for kindness in the most difficult circumstances. In essence, he states that empathy can be developed and shows how, when it happens, it changes people, relationships, organizations and cultures. In short, he offers a practical guide to making the world a better place.
Handing down the Faith: How Parents Pass Their Religion on to the Next Generation Christian Smith and Amy Adamczyk 2021. Pp. 264. HB. $29.95 Oxford University Press, New York, N.Y. orking from the well-accepted norm that parents have the most influence on shaping their children’s religious and spiritual lives, the authors use new empirical evidence from more than 230 interviews to answer how and why religious parents seek to pass on religion. How were they influenced by their own childhood experiences in this regard? What do they look for in their houses of worship? The interviewees allow them to identify the primary cultural models that inform how religiously observant Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, Mormons and Hispanic Catholics try to attain this goal. The authors conclude that many factors influence this process, from parenting styles, the parents’ own levels of involvement with religion, how and if they talk about religion with their children to the parents’ immigrant status, race and ethnicity, background and nationality, as well as their own religious tradition. They also explore how religions are both reproduced and transformed across the generations. This book will interest scholars of religion; social scientists interested in the family, parenting and socialization; clergy, religious educators and leaders; and religious parents themselves.
Ascending Adversity: The Journey of a Polio Survivor Dealing with Disability and Discrimination Mohammed Yousuf 2020. Pp. 206. PB. $18.99 New Degree Press, Potomac, Md. magine being told that you can’t do something, even if that something is your dream. Mohammed Yousuf, who proved that you can, shares his journey in his “Ascending Adversity.” Yousuf travels back to when he was first diagnosed with polio (aged 2) and his subsequent journey to adulthood, all the while facing unimaginable hardships. After obtaining an engineering degree, he left India to pursue higher education in the U.S., where he found more opportunity, encouragement and acceptance for people with disabilities. He studied at Wayne State University, spent his career working in both the private and public sectors, and contributed to the state of the practice and innovation in ways he couldn’t have imagined. Through his memoir, he seeks to inspire others who are on a similar journey by sharing how he overcame what seemed like never-ending rejection and exclusion. Writing as a polio survivor, immigrant, researcher, husband, father and disability activist compelled Yousuf to reflect on the moments, communities and ideas that transformed his life. In reading this book, people may find themes and stories that relate to their own life.
The Art and Technique of the Friday Khutbah Dr. Munir El-Kassem 2021.Pp. 109+ iii. PB. CDN$ 16.00 Compass Books (https://compassbooks.ca), London, Ont., Canada his is a ‘how-to’ guide for imams and aspiring khatībs who want to perfect their khutbah. With over forty years’ experience, El-Kassem takes the reader through the essentials of how to deliver a meaningful khutbah, including practical exercises at the end of each chapter.
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This was a much-overlooked by how-to publishing sector. In nine chapters, he begins with his personal story based on forty years’ experience giving khutbahs, and addresses crucial aspects of public speaking as well as delivering khutbahs. A much-needed book for effective communication with one’s congregation, especially in the West. Designed as a practical guide, notably the book includes exercises at the end of each chapter for the reader to practice implementing the lessons learned. It should be a welcome how-to guide for both the experienced, and the up-and-coming, khatib. The Politics of Vulnerability: How to Heal Muslim-Christian Relations in a Post-Christian America: Today’s Threat to Religion and Religious Freedom Asma T. Uddin 2021. Pp. 336. HB. $27.95 Pegasus Books, New York, N.Y. sma T. Uddin presents a unique perspective on the complex sociopolitical factors that contribute to the Muslim-Christian divide. She asks what underlying drivers cause otherwise good people to do — or believe — bad things? Why do people who value faith support measures that limit the rights, among them that of religious freedom, for Muslims and other faith groups? She contends that many conservative Christians fear that the Left is trying to replace traditional “Christian America” with an Islamized America, a conspiracy theory that has given rise to an “evangelical persecution complex” — a politicized vulnerability. The author reveals the interconnection between Islamophobia and other aspects of the conservative Christian movement. She reveals where hate comes from, how it can be conquered and argues that we can begin to heal the divide only by addressing the underlying factors of this politics of vulnerability.
No Refuge: Ethics and the Global Refugee Crisis Serena Parekh 2020. Pp. 272. HB. $24.95 Oxford University Press, New York, N.Y. arekh, a philosophy professor at Northeastern University, presents a well-grounded moral case for helping refugees by offering original and lucid ways of thinking about our moral obligations to them. She analyzes the politics of this global crisis as well as the largely invisible narrative of a second crisis: those refugees who have been stuck for decades in the dehumanizing and hopeless limbo of camps or urban slums. She states that only 2% of refugees will ever find a permanent home either through resettlement or returning home, whereas the rest will spend an average of 17 years in a period of uncertainty and without access to the basic conditions of human dignity. Her argument for resolving this nightmare emphasizes their humanity and the challenges that states face when they accept refugees. Her accessible explanation of ethical approaches to this global crisis helps us deepen our understanding of its ethical dimensions. She also highlights the crisis faced by contemporary refugees who can’t find refuge in any of the three options given to them: refugee camps, urban settlements or dangerous asylum journeys.
The Invisible Muslim: Journeys Through Whiteness and Islam Medina Tenour Whiteman 2020. Pp. 288. HB. $19.95. Kindle. $9.99 Hurst & Co., London hiteman, a writer, poet, translator and musician, stands at the margins of whiteness and Islam. An Anglo-American born to Sufi converts, she feels perennially out of place — not fully at home in Western or Muslim cultures. In her analysis of what it means to be an invisible Muslim, the author examines the pernicious effects of white Muslim privilege and explores what Muslim identity can mean in lands of religious diversity and cultural insularity, from Spain (Andalusia), Bosnia and Turkey to Zanzibar, India and Iran. She remarks that talking to minorities made her aware that white people are, on the whole, clueless. Through her travels, she unearths experiences familiar to both Western Muslims and anyone of mixed heritage: a life-long search for belonging and the joys and crises of inhabiting more than one identity.
The Unknown Fallen: The Global Allied Muslim Contribution in the First World War 2020. Pp. 112 (14 maps and 200+ photos) HB. £49.50 Forgotten Heroes 14-19 Foundation, London, U.K. his interesting project documents the Muslims who died while serving in the armies of their colonial masters, Britain and France, during WWI (1914-19). Occupied and made dependent by their enslavers, the military was one source of employment. During this six-year war, some 2.5 million Muslims — convenient gun fodder — were drafted and transported to Europe’s battlefields. This coffee-table book, produced in high-grade color with more than 200 unique illustrations accompanied by informative text, highlights how these colonized Muslims from around the world contributed to Europe’s history. Foundation chair Luc Ferier explains, “Muslims are portrayed as the enemy within, that they are recent arrivals who have never made a valuable contribution to Europe. But we can show that they have sacrificed their lives for a free Europe, have helped to make it what it is and that they have a right to be here.” ih
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