September/October 2012/1433 | $4.00 | www.isna.net
Inclusiveness for the disabled • Fashion Fights Famine • Libyans in America Vote • Kids & Exposure to War
Muslims and the Presidential Election What really sways the Muslim vote may not be what you expect. Why Islamophobia is not the main concern of Muslim Americans at the ballot box.
Vol. 41 No. 5 September/October 2012 visit isna online at: www.isna.net
Cover Story 20 What Happened to Islamophobia?
While the media focuses on Islamophobia and foreign policy as the chief concern of Muslim American voters, new research says otherwise.
24 Teaching Activism
Following in the footsteps of their parents, Muslim American youth seek to carry the torch of political engagement.
20 Convention & Forums
12 Tweets from the Diversity Forum 28 29 30 32 34 36
Muslims in Action
Cleveland Mosque Celebrates 75 Years Muslim American Organization Gives Back Practicing Islam through the Scout Law Dawud Zwink on Muslim Scouting in Canada Caution: Activist Burn Out Ahead American Muslim Designers Combat Famine With Flair
Politics and Society
38 Houston Spotlight: Everything’s Bigger in Texas 41 Rapper Omar Offendum Makes Waves Musically— and Politically 44 Kids & War: How Much Exposure is Too Much
Around the World
46 Libya: A Vote Decades in the Making 48 The Invisible Rohingya
50 Promoting Inclusiveness for People with Disabilities 51 Making Room for Guide Dogs 53 Global Deaf Muslims
6 8 14 56 60
Departments Editorial ISNA Matters Community Matters Reviews Food for the Spirit
DESIGN & LAYOUT BY: Gamal Abdelaziz, A-Ztype Copyeditor: Meha Ahmad. 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.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Striving for the Common Good
s we are left with the spiritual glow of Ramadan, hopefully still illuminating our lives, we join together in our nation’s capital, on the brink of a major election. We welcome all those who have traveled from across the country, and the continent, to join us in celebrating our theme: “One Nation under God: Striving for the Common Good.” No doubt this past summer has been an eventful one, both positively and negatively. We’ve witnessed the Egyptian people take their revolution from Tahrir Square to the ballot box, and we’ve watched as Syrians have been massacred as they try to do the same. We’ve applauded the Libyan people for electing new officials to move their nation from the throes of oppressive tyranny to the inclusiveness of a democratic society, and we’ve seen Muslims make waves in the Olympics like never before. We’ve aided in the struggle of Muslim Americans to enjoy their civil rights without discrimination, and we’ve seen the Rohingya suffer cruel subjugation and murder at the hands of their “government.” And the list goes on. These events, in their challenges and their triumphs, have illustrated the importance of Muslims taking part in civil society—contributing and taking stands. In this issue, we examine what matters most to Muslim voters, and why young Muslims are taking it upon themselves to engage politically. We also highlight the triumph of Libyans in America, who were able to cast their votes for their homeland for the first time, right from the U.S. Muslim Americans have proven they remain devoted to all aspects of society, working for immigration and healthcare reform, job creation, and hoping for economic progress, like any other
PUBLISHER The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) PRE SID ENT Mohamed Hagmagid Ali
American. Islam does not confine them to concern only with foreign policy or Islamophobia; rather, Islam mandates that they take it upon themselves to enhance every aspect of the society they are in. Not to be forgotten are challenges faced within the community, as we also focus in this issue on the accessibility of Islamic institutions and inclusiveness of Islamic resources for the disabled. Accommodation of guide dogs in mosques and the availability of sign language interpreters at Jummah are among the examples of things community members have been working toward to ensure the most beneficial and comfortable experience for all Muslims, without exclusion. Widen your pool of contacts, reach out to Muslims in your own backyard that you may never have met. Cross racial and cultural lines. Don’t be afraid to enter new domains. Never forget to assess your contribution, and don’t allow your work to take a toll on your soul. Your activism should make you a better person, rather than leaving you burned out and disenchanted. We pray that you will take the inspiration you’ve received, whether from reading this issue of Islamic Horizons, or your trip to the ISNA Convention, and make your community a better place. Whether you do it through community service, like the Muslim Scouts profiled in this issue, or by educating others about the situation of Muslims abroad through creative means, like rapper Omar Offendum (also profiled in this issue), do something to dedicate yourself to furthering the common good. ISNA hopes to remain your resource in guiding you on this journey of improvement.
Islamic Horizons March/April 2012
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ISNA Matters St. Joseph’s Day Breakfast Honors Labor Dr. Sayyid Syeed, national director of the ISNA Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances, delivered the closing benediction at the Faith & Politics Institute’s 15th Annual St. Joseph’s Day Breakfast June 6 to raise awareness on Capitol Hill of the religious and moral dimensions of issues that affect working people. St. Joseph is the patron saint of the laborer and the breakfast provides an opportunity to honor individuals whose faith and values have led them to reach across divides in order to make outstanding contributions to the dignity and well-being of working people. This year the program focused on immigrant workers and honored the Secretary of Labor Hilda Solis for her commitment to improve the lives of this population. The AFL-CIO president Richard Trumka,
presented the award to Solis, who said she was accepting it on behalf of the many advocates for the immigrant worker. Also attending were Sen. Richard Harkin (D-Ia.), and Reps. Rush Holt (D-N.J.), Lois Capps (D-Calif.), Janice Schakowsky (D-Ill.), former Rep. David
ISNA Joins Call for Faithful Budget
Bonior (D-Mi.), and Deborah Dingell, the wife of Rep. John Dingell and a long-time friend of The Faith & Politics Institute. The honorary congressional co-hosts were Reps. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) and Bill Pascrell, Jr. (D-N.J.). Julie Chavez Rodriguez, the granddaughter of Cesar Chavez, the founder of United Farm Workers (that will celebrate its 50th anniversary) also attended. In his benediction, Syeed said, “We express our deep gratitude to You for blessing us with a society, a nation where people can climb up the social ladder, and we pray to you earnestly to make that ladder of upward mobility ever stronger so that American dream is accessible and achievable to hard working people of integrity who set their foot on this land and contribute to the peace and prosperity of this nation, providing a shining example of equality and justice to the global village, the interconnected world of today. Amen!”
to exclude programs that protect people in poverty from the U.S. budget deficit debates. Earlier this year, the campaign developed a document titled, “Priorities for a Faithful Federal Budget,” which calls on Congress to act with mercy and compassion as it considers programs addressing everything from child nutrition to humane treatment in prisons.
Photo Credit: United Church of Christ/Jessie Palatucci
MSA Elects New Board
ISNA led a prayer vigil in front of the U.S. Capitol as part of the Faithful Budget Campaign (faithfulbudget.org) on June 25. The event was one of a series of interfaith vigils to pray in solidarity with the Catholic nuns who embarked on a bus tour across 11 states to call for a federal budget that protects the poor and vulnerable. The U.S. House of Representatives’ recent federal budget proposal makes 8
deep cuts in programs that help struggling, impoverished families. Inspired by a common spiritual conviction that God has called on all of humanity to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all individuals living in society, the Faithful Budget Campaign is an inter-religious coalition aims to protect those struggling to overcome poverty in the U.S. and abroad, and
MSA National announced its new elected Executive Board for 2012-2014: Ali Fiaz, president; Maria Ahmed, VP USA; Rabia Zahid, treasurer; Ibrahim Afzal Malik, Central Zone representative (USA); and Safia Ansari, East Zone representative (USA). The election committee said that the following positions are vacant: vice president (Canada), East Zone representative (Canada), West Zone representative (Canada), and West Zone representative (USA). The new office bearers will be sworn in at the upcoming Continental Conference in DC.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
The Role of Religious Law
Saving Children Every year, 7.6 million children die before their fifth birthday from preventable causes. In recognition that every child deserves a fifth birthday, ISNA joined other religious organizations for the initiative, “Saving Children through Behavior Change: Religions in Action.” The initiative will work to reduce preventable deaths of children under five years of by engaging religious leaders across diverse faiths to be effective drivers of behavior change. ISNA Director of Community Outreach Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi joined in a Call to Action on Child Survival (hosted by USAID, UNICEF and other partner governments in D.C.)
to discuss and implement strategies to reduce child mortality rates. As part of the initiative, ISNA pledged to advocating for behavior changes vital to child survival. Additionally, ISNA is working through Center for Interfaith Action on Global Poverty (CIFA) and Religions for Peace (RfP) to help mobilize and equip religious leaders as agents of these needed behavior changes by empowering individuals and communities to demonstrably improve the well-being of children. This includes developing relevant training modules and tools to help mobilize and equip religious leaders from diverse faith traditions around this initiative, because their help to shift attitudes and behaviors can help to drive demand for products and services essential to child survival.
Minority Rights in Muslim Countries In early July, ISNA President Imam Mohamed Magid and ISNA Director of Community Outreach Dr. Mohamed Elsanousi convened a small multilateral forum of scholars in Mauritania to discuss challenges faced by religious minorities in Muslim-majority communities around the world. Since last year, ISNA has dedicated substantial efforts to this issue. As part of its mission, ISNA seeks to help represent the voice of diverse Muslim communities within the U.S, as well as to represent an American voice within Muslim communities around the world. Both goals require heightened attentiveness to issues of religious freedom and civil liberties, which ISNA seeks to address through positive interreligious partnerships both here in the U.S. and
abroad. ISNA has become increasingly concerned not only about the challenges faced by Muslim minorities within the U.S., but also those faced by religious minorities in Muslim-majority communities around the world. Discrimination against minorities runs counter to Islamic theology; it has always been the role of Islamic scholars to intervene. As such, ISNA is currently working together with Muslim leaders worldwide to promote a mechanism for developing Islamic standards and protocols on religious freedom and the role of religious minorities in the Muslim-majority communities. This effort is also in line with ISNA’s domestic priorities, because poor treatment of religious minorities in Muslim-majority communities also has
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Washington, D.C. was host to town hall-style meeting July 16, titled “The Role of Religious Law in America: Interfaith Perspectives on Islam, Shari’ah and the U.S.” Muslim Americans are currently experiencing the fastest growing rate of religious discrimination in the U.S. This growth is paralleled by scrutiny of Islamic law (Shari’ah), Islamic practices and lifestyle. The meeting discussed what does Shari’ah mean for Muslim Americans, and what does it have to do with religious freedom? And what do these questions mean for Christian and Jewish communities in the U.S.?
The meeting was addressed by ISNA president Imam Mohamed Magid, Dr. Azizah Al Hibri, founder, KARAMAH, Rabbi David Saperstein, director and counsel, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Prof. Dean Robert Destro, School of Law at the Catholic University of America, and director and founder of the Interdisciplinary Program in Law and Religion at CUA. The cosponsors were KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights. Through education, legal outreach and advocacy, KARAMAH contributes to the understanding and promotion of human rights worldwide, particularly the rights of Muslim women under Islamic and civil law. And Shoulder-to-Shoulder: Standing with American Muslims; Upholding American Values, a national campaign of religious, interfaith and faith-based organizations dedicated to ending anti-Muslim sentiment.
a substantial and negative effect on the manner in which Muslim minorities are regarded and treated in the West. To address this issue, ISNA has met with Muslim scholars and high-level
government officials in several countries, including Morocco, Tunisia, Qatar, and Saudi Arabia, to discuss the importance of elevating this issue to the forefront of scholarly discussion in the Muslim world.
Aziz Jamaluddin Scholarship Recipients Ten scholarships of $4,000 each have been awarded to Muslim students in the fields of journalism or political science based on merit and academic achievement. This program funded by the Jamaluddin family, is administered by ISNA. The Aziz Jamaluddin ISNA Scholarship Program was established because of the strong belief in the need of Muslim students pursuing careers in journalism. Jamaluddin noted the long history of biased media reporting and felt that there
has been a lack of voices representative of Islam inside mainstream American media. His continuing dedication and focus on helping the needy and promoting education and training of future leaders, serves as the inspiration for this scholarship. The primary goal is to have a generation of educated Muslims to speak out and communicate the true meaning of Islam in all types of media. This year’s recipients are: Rolla AlAbbasi (University of South Florida);
ISNA has also organized and participated in several events, including a symposium with Georgetown University’s Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Christian-Muslim Understanding this past May in DC. The meeting was hosted by Shaykh Abdallah bin Bayyah, vice chair of the International Union of Muslim Scholars, in his new Global Centre for Renewal and Guidance in Nouakchott, Mauritania. The scholars also met with Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz of to brief him on the purpose of their visit to Mauritania and the goal of their project. He was very supportive and offered the scholars his assistance facilitating the development of solutions to this enormous challenge.
Omama Altaleb (George Mason University); Maleeha Babar (University of Florida); Malak Habbak (California Polytechnic Pomona); Hadiya Iqbal (University of Houston); Roshni Khan (Georgia Gwinnett College); Suhaib Khan (George Mason University); Hibba Merray (Boston University); Hena Rafiq (Southern Methodist University); and Muna Sadek (University of California, Davis). The recipients expressed their thanks to the Jamaluddin family and ISNA, and resolved to live up to the expectations by honing their skills in mass communications.
IMAM WANTED FOR 2013 ISNF Buffalo is looking for an imam with the following qualifications: • Alim or degree in Islamic studies; and the ability to interact with all schools of thought and youth. • Should have valid work permit/eligibility to work in USA . Hafiz and multilingual and qari is a great plus. • Salary is excellent—Commensurate with qualification and experience. Free housing and family health insurance. Masjid located in excellent school district. For details see website WWW.ISNF.ORG or call (716) 596-1580 Send resume to: Ghous A Yasin: email@example.com
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
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Convention & Forums
Live Tweets from the Diversity Forum Using the hashtag #isnaDF, online enthusiasts enlightened the Twittersphere with thoughts from the Forum.
Dr. Sherman Jackson
SNA held its second annual Diversity Forum, cosponsored by the Michigan Muslim Community Council (MMCC) June 29-30 at the Islamic Center of North America in Dearborn, Mich. The theme, “Strength Through Diversity,” was exemplified as attendees met for the common goal of setting aside nationality, language, and race to develop proactive strategies and programs that promote tolerance within the increasingly diverse Muslim community and its interfaith neighbors. Highlights from the event included banquet keynote speaker, Sherman Jackson and Imam Zaid Shakir. ISNA President Imam Magid presented CAIR-Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid with an award, in recognition of his commitment to the harmonious diversity of the community. Wonder what everyone was saying at the forum? Here is a collection of thoughts and insights from Twitter: @zaynabon • #isnaDF On Park51 controversy, Imam Zaid saying media plays a role in stirring the controversy. Same w/Quran burning day. Not rep of reality • #isnaDF Tayyibah Taylor: Buzz words in media about Muslim women stick so that people equate Muslim women with victimhood- mindless & silent • #isnaDF Tayyibah Taylor: separation of prayers isn’t a negative; thats for spiritual focus.That’s not the issue- access+space are the issues • #isnaDF Zaid [Shakir]: Muslims don’t exist in a vacuum. Ask question of will America ALLOW Muslims to evolve to a land that transcends their origins? • #isnaDF Imam Zaid: Muslim-American women in leadership positions across diff orgs+institutions are many and increasing
Dawud Walid accepts the Diversity Award from Imam Magid. 12
• #isnaDF [On Saeed Khan]”The “Muslim world” is not reflective of Islam; the Muslim world is in disarray, a function of the remnants of colonialism” @ayakhalil • #isnaDF @lsarsour: I’m Palestinian I care about Palestine but I also care about education and healthcare and jobs in the u.s - we live here @KJ2daA • #isnadf our mosques should have Quran for deaf and blind, ppl in parking lot to collect ppl w/ physical handicaps (Imam Achmet Sallie) @lsarsour • How do we get to a place where we are comfortable with our differences. Only then will we create total acceptance. #Islam#isnaDF • When we talk about #Muslim community we want 2 make sure we include the non-mosque goers in our conversations. @DawudWalid #isnaDF @MichiganMuslims • “Sunni Shia has existed for over 1200 years meaning there’s substance to both sides...grow up and learn to live with it!”—Dr Jackson#isnaDF @HindMakki • “The pressure of society may force us to pretend to see things that are not there” Dr. Jackson referencing 1984 #isnaDF • @isnahq pres Imam Magid : Muslim community had evolved re inclusion of female ldshp, but have long way to go still.#isnaDF • Dr. Jackson: # Muslims have to have the courage to stand up to the bullies in our community & bring back adab in our differences #isnaDF • @dawudwalid says Detroit Muslims shd be proud of their unity in diversity #isnaDF
ISNA Secretary General Safaa Zarzour
Dr. Muneer Fareed
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Community Matters Muslim Social Innovator in White House Brighter Dawns’ founder Tasmiah Khan, a recent graduate of Wesleyan University and high school graduate of Universal School in Bridgeview, Ill., participated in a forum to discuss the important role that faithbased social innovators play in expanding opportunity and addressing social issues, at the White House on July 11. She had been invited to the conference by the Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships and the Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation, in coordination with the Office of Public Engagement. The participants included senior administration officials as well as leading faith-based social innovators from around the country. They held a series of briefings, panels,
and small-and-large group discussions that explored how faith-based organizations are creating innovative models and entrepreneurial ventures to make a positive impact on our economy and our society, often while serving our most vulnerable communities. The goal of this gathering was two-fold: (1) to celebrate the tremendous role of faithbased innovators in creating jobs, expanding opportunity, and strengthening communities and (2) to identify common threads and themes to help organizations take the next steps to serve their communities. Khan started this venture (BrighterDawns.org) after what she thought was a simple family vacation back 2010. Khan met with advisers to President Barack Obama,
Muslim Marine Honored
Boehner, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority and Minority Leaders Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell. The Montford Point Marines received basic training at Montford Point Camp, New River, N.C. between 1942 and 1949.
John T. Inge was honored and presented the Congressional Gold Medal at the U.S. Capitol for his service in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was recognized as a Montford Point Marine, the first African Americans to serve in the Marine Corps during World War II. The award represents Congress’s highest expression of national appreciation. President Barack Obama signed a bill last fall that honors the men and their sacrifice to the military and civil rights.The award ceremony was attended by House Speaker John
Leadership Recognized Dr. Farhan M. Asrar, chief resident medical doctor from McMaster University’s dual Public Health & Preventive Medicine and Family Medicine program in Canada, was recognized with the 2012 Royal College of Physicians & Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC) Leadership Award. Asrar, a resident medical doctor (selected from all of Canada), “has demonstrated outstanding leadership skills during their residency training, has encouraged the development of future leaders in medicine and has shown strong role modeling and mentorship ability among his peers.” Among Asrar’s many accolades and achievements at such a young age that led him to receive this award includes being chief resident physician in Public Health 14
including Joshua Dubois, the executive director of Office of Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, and Jonathan Greenblatt, the executive director Office of Social Innovation and Civic Participation. Brighter Dawns was one of the youngest endeavors run and led by college students.
According to the Montford Point Marine Association, there are more than 400 surviving members. Paying tributes to her father, Asma bint Inge-Hanif, chair of the Council Muslim Organizations, said, “I thank God for my father and the values he instilled in me. He taught me to love God, to be morally upright, to be a service to the community and to leave the world in a better place than you found it. Insha’Allah I will not be a disappointment to him.” Hanif is also director of Muslimat AlNisaa Organization, Shelter For Homeless Muslim Women & Children, and Muslim Women Victims of Domestic Violence.
& Preventive Medicine, the chief resident (interim) physician in family medicine and being elected to the governing council of the (provincial) Professional Association of Interns & Residents of Ontario (PAIRO). He founded Canada’s first national public health physician magazine “Community Calling” (that is distributed to public health doctors and specialists in Canada and now also in US, he was awarded an international scholarship to pursue a renowned space studies program (which is sponsored by NASA, CSA & ESA). The following year the space studies program named him the Emerging Chair of the Department of Space Life Sciences and Space Medicine inviting him to Graz, Austria to teach space medicine to participants from over 15 countries. As a
volunteer, Asrar has been actively involved assisting and helping the community and being frequently invited as a guest speaker at various events. He is also the founder and past head of one of the most successful ongoing student volunteer fundraising initiatives in North America which is based at University of Toronto and helps sponsor orphans globally (so far having raised over $350,000 to help orphans). Asrar was invited to speak to and assist other universities and student groups with similar initiatives and he helped form similar orphan sponsorship committees in around a dozen universities and schools in North America. Apart from the RCPSC national award, Asrar is also a recipient of this year’s McMaster University’s Quality Assurance Award.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Canadian Pioneer Dies
Canadian Muslims Honored Canadian Muslim men and women were among those honored for providing exemplary service to Canada with the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal at an impressive ceremony in Toronto. Ontario’s Lt. Gov. David C. Onley presided. Governor-General David Johnston,
Lt.-Cmdr. Wafa Dabbagh, who made history when she joined the Canadian armed forces in 1996—the first Muslim woman wearing hijab to do so—died June 5 in Ottawa of lung cancer. She was 50 years old. When Wafa passed away, she made history again. For the first time in Canada, an official memorial service was arranged that began and ended by recitation from the Quran. Mourners at service included Gen. Walter Natynczyk, Chief of the Defense Staff and the most senior military officer, Assistant Deputy Minister (Policy) Jill Sinclair, and Maj.-Gen. Ian Poulter, representing the Vice-Chief of the Defense Staff, Rear Adm. Ron Lloyd, Chief of Force Development. So highly was she regarded that when her superiors learned that she’d probably lose her battle with cancer, they went to the hospital and presented her on behalf of the government the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal, a prestigious award that marks the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s ascension to the throne. She was honored for “her dedication to duty, her cheerful spirit and for improving understanding between Muslims and the Canadian military.” A Palestinian who was born in Egypt, she grew up in Kuwait and moved to Canada in 1990 when she was 28. She had two degrees but jobs are not easy to come by in Canada so she tried the military. She was diagnosed with cancer in 2010. “I want the Muslim community to know the door is open for them in the Forces. My experience has been 95 percent positive,” she said.
Onley, former Ontario lieutenant governors Henry Jackman and James Bartleman, Chief Justice Warren Winkler and other dignitaries conferred the Jubilee Medal on selected recipients. Until February of 2013, some 60,000 Canadians, out of a population of more than 33 million people, will receive the Queen’s Medal. Renowned Toronto journalist Haroon Siddiqui, and Mohammed Azhar Ali Khan, a retired journalist, civil servant and refugee judge of Ottawa, both recipients of the Order of Canada and the Order of Ontario qualified for this award without being nominated. Hanny Hasan, an engineer and community volunteer in London, Ont., had also received the Order of Canada and received the jubilee medal. Muslims number about a dozen among the 5,000 Canadians who have received the Order of Canada. The Order of Ontario recipients who received the jubilee medal were Mobeen Khaja, a community worker in Gatineau, Quebec, and Niagara-on-the-Lake retired physician and community volunteer Fuad Sahin. About eight Muslims are among the 500 or so Ontarians who have received the
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Order of Ontario. Rabia Khedr and Uzma Khan received the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee medal for their exemplary work to serve the disabled community. Both are blind but they maintain normal, productive lives and have worked tirelessly to assist the disabled community.
Alia Hogben of Kingston, Ont., became the second Canadian Muslim woman to receive the Order of Canada. The late Lila Fahlman of Edmonton, who founded the Canadian Council for Muslim Women in 1982, was the first. Hogben has been executive director of CCMW for 10 years. Hogben was honored for her social services, promoting the rights of women and interfaith understanding. She calls the award a recognition of the contributions Muslim women are making to their families, community and country. Hogben, in addition, contributes a monthly column in the “Kingston WhigStandard” to explain Islam and the challenges facing Canadian women. Last year, Queen’s University awarded her an honorary PhD for her contributions. Hogben, who was born in Burma, is married Murray Hogben, a respected journalist and lecturer who converted to Islam, and was a pillar of the Kingston Islamic Society. They have three children. She worked for 20 years with the Ontario Ministry of Community and Social Services before she was drawn to CCMW.
Seattle Islamic School Closes Ann El-Moslimany, 74, bid farewell to the Islamic School of Seattle that she helped start, with her now late husband, in the Central Area 32 years ago — one of the nation’s first. The school’s governing board invited recent and former students, their families and community supporters to a potluck at the school July 10 to celebrate its history. The memories and accolades flowed. Soon after the school opened in 1980, more than 120 students attended. But that was the peak, and by this last school year, enrollment had dwindled to about 20. Final classes were June 12. The first students were primarily from
Saudi Arabia. Over the years they were joined by American Muslims and Muslim students from Afghanistan, Gambia and Algeria.The school, which offered a mix of religious education and a Montessori academic program, attracted less students
Melanz Supports Halal Food Products
Grocery shoppers in the Northeast, Pennsylvania, and California are being greeted by an “H” [for halal] decal at participating stores, like ShopRite and Newark Farmers Market. This is the initiative of Melanz, which is implementing a unique halal marketing program at supermarkets to increase category awareness among store employees and mainstream customers. Spokeswoman Annie Ghazi explains that the company uses a strategy of “identify, communicate, and connect” at retail store levels. “The first step is to identify the halal category of products, the second step is to implement a standard system to communicate, and finally to create programs that connect buyers and consumers with halal products.” 16
Most small and medium halal food product companies lack know-how to get into retail locations; Melanz — a marketing company — provides solutions for growing businesses to enter and expand into more stores. The “H” symbol is matched for customer convenience on price tags, banners and on free standing posters. With halal brands being offered at larger grocery chains and stores with mainstream patrons like WalMart, Costco, Whole Foods, ShopRite and neighborhood specialty markets, Melanz aims to offer a halal marketing, brand strategy, and sales development with a focus on packaged foods. Melanz is implementing a unique halal marketing program at supermarkets to increase category awareness among store employees and mainstream customers. Ghazi stated that the public must communicate and create a buzz for new products on Facebook, Twitter and tell their friends about new products they find when shopping in order to build momentum for halal brands. That will be noticed by purchasing agents, and will help foster a healthy halal industry for the future. Some estimate a potential $632 billion globally in the halal food industry, and
as Seattle’s Muslim community diversified and other Islamic schools started in the region. Seattle’s Muslims fall into multiple income brackets, but those most able to afford the school’s tuition live outside the Central District, primarily on the Eastside, where they are closer to competing Islamic programs. The Seattle Times reported that among the reasons for the closure were parent choices. Some parents wanted the school to focus almost exclusively on religious teachings while others disliked its Montessori model and wanted classes to be structured more like those of a rigorous preparatory academy.
American halal product sales are set to soar once they get more firmly established. Many people do not realize that halal products have a wider audience than just Muslim consumers. With increasing concern for food safety, health, and interest in humane animal rights, mainstream customers are happily choosing halal products. The key is in helping retailers find the means to meet their customers’ needs.
Right Priorities National Football League’s Abdullah brothers, Husain and Hamza, have put their careers and multi-million dollar contracts on hold in order to perform the Hajj, which comes in October this year. Free agents Husain, the former Minnesota Vikings safety, and Arizona Cardinals safety Hamza, have decided that they love football but the hajj was more important to them. Hamza told ProFootballTalk.com, “It has been a blessing to play in the NFL for both Husain and I, but we would be remiss if we didn’t give thanks to the One who made it all possible.” The brothers took iftar in a different U.S. mosque every night, where they spoke about fasting and its impact on athletes. They hope to return to the NFL after their pilgrimage.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Orlando Masjid in NEWS BRIEFS $5 Million Expansion For decade, Muslims have held Friday
The total two-story air conditioned area over 22,000 sq. ft., and of this the praying area is about 20,000 sq. ft. There are separate men and women covered entrances, each 1,400 sq. feet. The first floor includes: a high school-size basketball court, squash court, racketball court, kitchen, stage, elevators, separate men and women gym, locker rooms and bathrooms. The second floor includes: library, six classrooms for Islamic school and Hifz. The main hall can accommodate sitdown dinners for more than 800 people. Facilities include a dawah center, imam office suites, conference rooms, library and and a funeral room. JMO president Dr. Imtiaz Ahmed said the nonprofit project requires donations to fulfill this dream. Quoting Orlando Sentinental, he said that Orlando is one of the fastest growing Muslim communities in North America. The Muslim population in metro Orlando has grown from 2,691 in 2000 to 27,939 in 2010, according to the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies. There are now 20 Muslim congregations spread across Orange, Osceola, Seminole and Lake Counties. The Islamic Center of Orlando was founded in 1988 in the heart of Orlando at a close proximity to Disney, Universal, and Sea World. To donate: The Jama Masjid of Orlando, 11543 Ruby Lake Road, Orlando, Fla. 32836.
prayers in the Lotus Meditation Center on UND’s campus.
Photo by Eric Hylden/Forum Communications
The Islamic Center of Orlando (Jama Masjid of Orlando) in the Disney attraction area is undertaking a $5 million expansion, where 2,000 men and 800 women will be able to pray inside the mosque. While the 14,000 sq. ft. courtyard can accommodate more than 1,900 people.
Grand Forks’ United Church of Christ, which was purchased by the Islamic Center of Grand Forks, has reopened as a mosque after necessary alterations. The area is home to nearly 400 Muslims. For more than 20 years, Muslims, who held Friday prayers on University of North Dakota’s campus facilities, have a full service religious center with space for daily prayers, community activities, and a school. For the past year, the Islamic Center rented space in the church for use mostly for Friday prayers. Now the UCC congregation of 60 will rent space for Sunday morning worship. At times, both groups may use the building at the same time.
The 2011-2012 school year proved to be a pinnacle year in Houston, Tex., based Iman Academy Southwest history, a school with over 300 students. The elementary school has become an International Baccalaureate (IB) PYP candidate, a prestigious program recognized around the world for its excellence in education, one of the few Islamic schools in the nation to do so. In high school, all 21 of the 2012 graduating seniors received scholarships, totaling over one million dollars. Three of the graduating seniors have been accepted to Ivy League colleges on full scholarship: Asad Hussian, will be attending Harvard University this fall pursuing business, Shafiq Gyagenda, a hafiz of the Qur’an and trained in Indonesia to lead Taraweh this Ramadan
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
in China, will be attending Davidson University in the fall on the Bill and Melinda Gates Scholarship, totaling over a quarter of a million dollars, and Ibrahim Dabibi, who started Stanford in the summer.
Dawud Walid, director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on AmericanIslamic Relations (CAIRMI), was recognized for promoting intrafaith and interfaith understanding and cooperation. The award was presented at ISNA’s Second Annual Diversity Forum held at the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich. The award was presented the award by ISNA President Mohamed Magid and ISNA Executive Director Safaa Zarzour for “promoting diversity, leadership, and service for the cause of Islam and Muslims in North America and the society at large.” CAIR-MI President Haaris Ahmad and CAIR-MI Executive Director Dawud Walid were also speakers at the three-day event that focused on how to better enhance working toward the common good of the community by bridging the gaps between race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and denominational differences.
Shaan Mobin Khan, a junior at Glenbard South High School, Glen Ellyn, Ill., is studying principles and techniques of molecular biology and principles of biochemistry, a sixhour undergraduate credit course, at Harvard University’s Summer School Program of 2012. Shaan has been busy in preparing and appearing for four Advanced Placement courses and maintaining his membership in the National Honor Society, whose students recently elected Shaan as the school’s president, first for a Muslim student in the school’s history. In his 5th grade, Shaan was elected president of his school’s student council. However, his pride is being the president of the school’s MSA. Another equally passionate duty for Shaan is to be a teaching assistant at the Sunday School of the Islamic Foundation, Villa Park, Ill. Shaan, whose father is political activist Moin Moon Khan, took initiative in requesting and lobbying the Village of Lombard 17
to name a street in honor of Daniel Tani, an American astronaut, a former student of Shaan’s high school district 87, a former resident of Shaan’s home town - Lombard, and an Asian American hero. He had the honor of performing with famous Muslim stand-up artist Azhar Usman, whose works Shaan impersonates and he is Shaan’s mentor in this genre.
is mainly cultural. The Islamic Center is international, a place for Muslims of all backgrounds. But as the Bosnian population grew — now about 5,000 Bosnian refugees live in Bowling Green — some wanted a place to practice their own traditions explained Bosnian Center president Azmir Husic.
The large Bosnian refugee community opened the ornate $1.2 million Bosnian Islamic Center in Bowling Green, Ky., in May.
The central Mississippi Muslim community celebrated the opening of its newly completed Magnolia Islamic Center in Madison, Miss., on June 24 — the first masjid in Madison County, Miss.
The local Bosnian community expanded from 1998 to 2002 when Bosnian Muslims fled their home country after a civil war tore the nation apart.Now, two mosques operate in Bowling Green. The difference between the Bosnian mosque and the Islamic Center
The $2.2 million dollar, two-story structure was financed with 95 percent of money raised by the community. The Center is about 10,000 sq. ft. and located on a 5.0 acre lot. In addition to the mosque, it has a community hall, a library, women’s prayer area, Islamic school and play area for the youths. The commu-
nity’s vision is to make the Center a center of learning and education, youth and leadership development, interfaith and much more.
Papers are invited for the Second International Conference on Islamic Economics and Economies of the OIC Countries (ICIE2013) being held under the theme “Islamic Economic Solutions for OIC Countries: Theory and Policy,” in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Jan. 29-30, 2013. The conference is being sponsored by the Department of Economics, Kulliyyah of Economics and Management Sciences, International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM), in collaboration with the Ministry of Finance Malaysia, Islamic Research and Training Institute, and partner universities: University of Medeniyet, Turkey, Bogor Agricultural University, Indonesia, and the University of Kuwait. To submit a paper or for inquires, contact firstname.lastname@example.org; Secretariat ICIE 2103, Department of Economics, KENMS, International Islamic University Malaysia, P.O. Box 10, 50728, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. Tel. +603-6196 4649/4735
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
What Happened t Research shows Muslim Americans care more about immigration and economy than Islamophobia. By Meha Ahmad
s we march into the heart of the 2012 election, we will hear more and more about the import of voting in the “best interests of the Muslim community” by paying keen attention to the holy trinity topics—Islamophobia, anti-Sharia laws, and foreign policy toward Muslim countries. Muslim organizations will drill these three issues into the media and the minds of the community, trying to convince them it is these topics Muslim Americans must care most about. 20
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
to Islamophobia? Muslim voters care about the same things the general American public care about.” — Hoda Elshishtawy, MPAC
But has anyone ever asked the voters themselves? A recent poll conducted by the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a public service agency that works to enhance political and civic participation of American Muslims, listed the top 10 issues voters said they cared most about. Foreign policy was only No. 6. Religious freedom was all the way down the list at No. 9. Surprisingly, Islamophobia didn’t even make the list. According to the MPAC research, a majority of Muslim American voters listed a candidate’s stance on immigration reform as their chief concern when deciding who to vote for. “I think how immigrants are treated, and the process for applying
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
for citizenship, is appalling,” says Salima Salem, 25, a graduate student in New York City. “We make it extremely difficult for immigrants to apply for citizenship, it’s a long and arduous process with a lot of red tape. And when they’re not citizens, they’re criminalized socially.” Haris Tarin, director of MPAC in D.C., says it’s completely natural for immigration to be a top concern for Muslim voters in the U.S. “A lot of times people think immigration is only a Latino American issue, but Muslims have been immigrating here [for decades],” Tarin says. “I think immigration is an extremely important part of the agenda. It is something that impacts beyond the Latino American community.”
No. 2 on the list of voter concerns? The environment. “The whole country was practically on fire this summer,” says Hanaa Shafei, 31, of D.C., who plans on voting this fall. D.C. regularly saw 100-plus temperatures and high humidity this summer. “Almost the entire ice sheet surface of Greenland melted. I don’t want a president who is going to ignore the global warming crisis.” The concern over the environment was followed by taxes/national budget, national security, and foreign aid—rounding off the top five concerns of Muslim American voters. “Sometimes it looks like Islamophobia is more prevalent in the media than in my day-to-day life. But what does concern my day-to-day life? A job,” says Tariq Khan, 29, of Baltimore. “I’m working two jobs right now, part-time. I have a Bachelor’s in psychology; this is not where I thought I’d be at 29 [years old].” Khan says voters need to get their priorities straight by voting day, Nov. 6. “What people need to understand is— we’re not voting for a president to help the Muslims, or Palestine, or Syria, or Egypt,” Khan says. “We need a president who can help the American people. Because that helps us, too. Foreign policy is important to America’s interests (and it would be wonderful 22
to have a president who can help countries like those in the Arab Spring), but I can’t let that be a deciding factor in who I vote for. Jobs at home have to take priority. We need to work.” According to Hoda Elshishtawy, legislative and policy analyst for MPAC’s D.C. branch, some of the findings are not so surprising. “Muslim voters care about the same things the general American public care about,” Elshishtawy says. “Our poll shows that issues like the economy, immigration and even the environment are things that affect American Muslims just as much as Americans of other faiths. The job market and economy are affecting all Americans, and so it does not surprise me that it would also be a priority issue for American Muslims as well.” Tarin agrees.
“Muslim Americans care about things outside of just personal interests,” Tarin says. According to the survey, the national budget was among top concerns for Muslim American voters, as was financial assistance, like loans. Although the less-than-thriving economy affects nearly all Americans, Muslim Americans particularly feel the hit. “Muslim Americans care about the economy because that is impacted on a daily basis by the unemployment rate,” Tarin says. “They are impacted because many Muslim Americans are small business owners. So they’re very concerned about the opportunity for loans for small businesses.” Along with small business owners and entrepreneurs, Muslim American students are struggling to make ends meet when it comes to high tuition demands. “Many Muslim Americans are worried about college loans and grant opportunities,” Tarin says, saying that their concern may influence how they vote. “American Muslims are one of the most highest-educated groups in the country; they’re trying to go to Ivy League colleges, they want to send their kids to good universities.” In fact, Muslim Americans are the second highest educated religious group (second to Jewish Americans) in the U.S., according to a 2009 Gallup report. “Education is always a high priority, and
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Am I worried about Islamophobia? Definitely,” says Salima Salem, as she hurries off to class at Columbia University. “But I’m also in school, and I’d like to be able to pay for it.” those who don’t have access to money, they want to make sure they have access to private loans,” Tarin says. Education, the economy, jobs, and immigration reform are all great, but what happened to Islamophobia? Do Muslim American voter no longer care about anti-Sharia legislation—which about two dozen states have proposed or passed some form of? Or what about the whole NYPD spying fiasco? And the Rep. Peter King hearings? Anybody remember Murfreesboro? Is Islamophobia just so 2011? No, according to Elshishtawy. There are just other concerns that are more pressing for many voters. “These issues are not more important than Islamophobia, but equally as important,” Elshishtawy says. “For the American Muslim voter to point out that immigration, economy and national security as priority issues just goes to show that the American Muslim community is not pigeonholed into a ‘Muslim-specific box.’” She says that Muslim Americans, who contribute to all facets of American life, deeming these issues as important just goes to show how multifaceted the American Muslim community is. “Because we’re a diverse community, there are a lot of issues we care about, other than Islamophobia,” Tarin says.
He says he was surprised to find that Muslim Americans cared so deeply about primarlily domestic issues because, generally, he says, Muslim Americans are portrayed as a community that cares about foreign issues first and foremost.
He attributes the decline in focus on Islamophobia to the excellent work being done by NGOs, faith communities, and even some politicians. “Islamophobia, we thought it would be higher on the list, but it seems like American Muslims are dealing with these issues
well, and they’re seeing fellow Americans come out and talk about this issue,” Tarin says. “We’ve had people like Colin Powell, even the president has said a few things to kind of push back against this wave. We’ve had a lot of faith-based groups support us. [Muslim Americans] see Islamophobia as an issue, but they don’t see it as something that is going to impact the way they live. I think American Muslims believe in America more than that. They think America will correct any wrongs that Islamophobia may throw their way.” But the research did yield some surprising results—not necessarily about the issues raised, but the emotional perspectives of the voters themselves. Though an overwhelming majority of respondents said they were planning on voting in November, many thought their vote held little sway. “The thing that surprised me most about the poll results is how low the confidence of the American Muslim voter is, [they think] that their vote doesn’t count,” Elshishtawy says. “Compared to the number of those who responded that they would indeed be voting, the confidence number was low. I think this is something for the campaigns to definitely think about. At the end of the day, are they just looking out for votes, or do they actually care that people are voting based on knowledge of the issues?” For now, it seems like Islamophobia concerns are not forever gone, but may take a backseat to more pressing voter issues. “Am I worried about Islamophobia? Definitely,” says Salem, as she hurries off to class at Columbia University. “But I’m also in school, and I’d like to be able to pay for it. And when I finish my degree, I don’t want to have thousands of dollars in debt, and no job to show for it. That is definitely the stuff that keeps me up nights, and I’m hoping whoever I vote for, whoever is our president for the next four years, focuses on that.”
Meha Ahmad is the copy editor of Islamic Horizons.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Teaching Activism Does parental influence reflect on Muslim American youth political engagement? By Zahra Cheema
ineteen-year-old Portland, Ore.-native Dina Yazdani’s interest in global affairs and politics developed at an early age as she watched her parents keep up on world events. She grew up in a household where issues of Newsweek, The New York Times, and The Economist piled up on tables and the television was tuned to BBC or Al Jazeera. “My parents always taught me … to be cautious of what’s going on in the news,” Yazdani says. For Yazdani, a student at Occidental College in California, majoring in diplomacy and world affairs, her parents’ global consciousness, as she calls it, laid the foundation for her political activism. This is true not only for Yazdani, but also for other politically engaged Muslim American youth as well. A study, conducted by the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and Missouri State University’s (MSU) Poll Research Center, found that parents have a direct impact on their children’s political engagement. More than 700 Muslim American youth were surveyed on issues of identity and political behavior, making the study the
Adham Sahloul 24
first of its kinds, especially with its focus on Muslim American youth. Brain Calfano, Director of MSU’s Poll Research Center, said that this finding does not come as surprise. “Parental involvement matters,” he says. “In fact it’s the norm across most groups really when you get down to it. When you have behavior that’s modeled at home, or at least the survey respondent perceives that it’s something their parents do a lot, then there should be an increase, or some type of positive affect on the political engagement being reported.” Calfano says the findings will be of particular interest to Muslim community leaders. “I think from a broader standpoint it would have more of an impact in terms of those in the Muslim community who maybe in a position to encourage parents to be politically involved, and to talk to their children about political involvement and to model it at home, or to at least figure out ways that they may be politically involved with whatever interest and comfort they have,” he says. Nineteen-year-old Chicagoan Adham Sahloul received his education in civic and political activism from his parents. His father, a doctor, is the president of the Syrian American Medical Society, and chairperson of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago. His mother was on the school board of the Islamic school that he graduated from. He remembers how his father and a group of community members were instrumental in changing the way mosques in the area interacted with local government by helping to foster stronger relationships between the two. His family was also very involved in interfaith work and Sahloul calls himself an “interfaith baby.” “Their involvement got me involved at a very young age,” Sahloul says. “I grew up going to events at synagogues and churches and the topics were always, how do we improve
our communities, how do we improve this country together, and how dialogue can be a way to bring about progress.” He continues with interfaith work as president of Interfaith in Action at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, where he is majoring in political science. This summer, he is a policy fellow at the Syrian Emergency Task Force in Washington, D.C. Blazing their own path It was a handshake with Rep. Daniel Lipinski (D) in seventh grade that changed Sahloul’s career path from doctor to politics. He had won third place in the All-American Boy essay contest. “[I thought] I want to be in his position because in his position I can inspire other kids, in his position I can help communities that are underprivileged,” he says. “It dawned on me that I wanted to try something different, I wanted to do something different.” From that point on, his years were filled with political activism, including working on a political campaign and registering voters. His dream is to run for Senate one day. Sahloul’s parents support his ambitions, but have expressed some concern as well. “They want to make sure there’s some stability, that I know what I’m doing,” he says. “[T]he problem is that there isn’t much guidance from the community, at least in Chicago, because there’s no one that does it. People follow a traditional ladder,[but] I’m trying to make my own ladder or find a different path, and maybe that may worry my parents a little bit, but they’ve always been supportive.”
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
I think from a broader standpoint it would have more of an impact in terms of those in the Muslim community who maybe in a position to encourage parents to be politically involved, and to talk to their children about political involvement and to model it at home, or to at least figure out ways that they may be politically involved with whatever interest and comfort they have.” — Brain Calfano, Director of MSU’s Poll Research Center Yazdani has heard similar concerns from people toward her career goals of working in government as an advisor, or in a think tank to influence foreign policy—not from her parents, but from community members. “They’re like ‘Why aren’t you studying engineering?’, ‘How are you going to make money off of this?’” she says. Her parents are very supportive of her ambitions and know that she will find a way to support herself through the work she cares so much about. “I think my parents trust me that I’ll find opportunities and I’ll make something of myself after college,” she says. Yasmin Hussein, the Young Leaders Program Coordinator at MPAC in Washington, D.C., is not surprised to hear that Muslim community members are hesitant about careers in government, along with opinion-shaping industries like media. “These were industries that weren’t really spoken about in terms of career opportunities,” Hussein says. Though for some, the concern about working for the government goes beyond the issue of financial security. Through her conversations with Muslim community members, Hussein says that government has been seen as a taboo industry by some because they view government and government agencies, such as law enforcement, as scrutinizing and targeting the American Muslim community. However, Hussein, who organizes the Young Leaders Government Summit that brings a group of politically active Muslim youth to D.C. for a few weeks in the summer,
says that she sees this changing among youth. “I’m seeing the opposite effect where a lot of people are leaving the sciences, leaving the engineering degrees and really wanting to be part of government,” she says. “Young Muslims really wants to be a part of government because I feel like they see the value, they understand how important it is and they see the opportunities they have as young Muslims to be a part of that.” For Yazdani, it was an experience during freshman year of high school that cemented her path towards political activism. Her World History class had organized a mock conference about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and she was surprised by the lack of awareness shown by her peers and their parents of the issues involved in the conflict. “The conference made me really sad because it showed me how biased people were, how uneducated, unaware they were and how unaware their parents were; that’s where they were getting all of their information,” she says. It was there that she realized that she had a responsibility to help others be more aware of world affairs and politics, just as her parents had taught her to be. From that point, Yazdani’s high school career was filled with activity. She started the political club, spearheaded a voter registration campaign at her school, and volunteered and interned on multiple political campaigns. Now a student at Occidental College in California, her activism continues as she is vice president of the Muslim Student Association, and an intern
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
at Mercy Corp, just to name a few of her many activities. Though there are traces of political activism in her family history—her father was active in Iranian affairs during his university days in the U.S., and her maternal grandfather was a small-time politician in Malaysia—Yazdani did not see her parents directly involved in politics. But that is okay with her because she plans to continue where they left off. “I really want to take what they taught me and take it to the next level and do action with it,” she says. Ready to VOTE! Both Yazdani and Sahloul are eager to vote in their first presidential elections. Having done voter registration since their mid-teens, they know the process all too well. They are aware of the apathy expressed from some of their peers. This is something Hussein has also noticed in her interactions with youth across the country. “My concern is that a lot of people are apathetic this time around toward the elections,” she says. “You’re hearing a lot of ‘Oh well, both choices are bad, so what’s the point, it’s just going to be the same, nothing’s really going to change.’” For Yazdani, though she says she’s disappointed in President Obama, whose campaign excited her in 2008, she feels he is the better choice. “I’ll vote for Obama, but I’m not voting for Obama with the enthusiasm I had in 2008. And I’m really hoping that, because he has a second term, he can do a lot of things differently,” she says. Sahloul plans to make a matrix of issues that matter to him and see how each candidate stacks up. “I’m probably going to vote Democrat,” he says. Though, he adds that he is disappointed in Obama’s dealing of the situation in Syria. “There are people dying elsewhere just so that they can have their voices heard, just so that they can live in a country that has liberal democratic institutions that look after their well-being and dignify them as human beings,” Sahloul says. “We live in a country in which we have amazing opportunities to get our voices heard, to vote for whoever we want, and to push forward for polices that affect our communities.”
Zahra Cheema, a freelance writer, resides in Maryland.
Examining the Muslim Vote
Can Muslim Americans maintain the momentum to be among the counted at both election and post-election time? By Jonathan Hayden
y Nov. 7 of this year, we will know the results of the 2012 presidential election. In what appears will be a close contest, religious and ethnic minority communities have been aggressively courted by both political parties. In recent elections, African Americans, Hispanics, and Asian Americans have voted in record numbers. This kind of mobilization has not gone unnoticed by political parties. While not as large as the aforementioned
minority groups, Muslim Americans are receiving attention as an important constituency as they organize voters across the country. New studies indicate the Muslim community is fast becoming a player on the national landscape. The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) released a major report in April comprehensively combining and analyzing a decade’s worth of research on the community. “Engaging American Muslims:
Political Trends and Attitudes” contains data illustrating that Muslims have an increased interest in politics since 9/11. Muslim Americans are an extremely diverse constituency—African Americans, converts, and immigrants from across the world—and political beliefs are far from monolithic. Despite divergent backgrounds, they are becoming increasingly organized and sophisticated in their political engagement. The constituency is growing faster than any other religious community in the country and is poised to make an impact in key states. The ISPU report contains case studies of Florida and Michigan, two perennial swing states. “The Florida case study suggests that the American Muslim voter community is increasingly engaged, in part due to the mobilization of Emerge USA and similar organizations,” said Farid Senzai, director of research at ISPU. “In a swing state, the community has the potential to impact the election’s outcome.” In Florida, a state decided by less than 2 percent of the vote in the past three presidential elections, Muslim voters were a factor in the state being awarded to George Bush in 2000 and Barack Obama in 2008. Florida’s Muslim population, which has been increasing since the 1980s, is now estimated to include 124,000 registered voters. Muslims make up 2 percent of the registered voters in Orange County, one of the state’s largest and most contested counties. Osceola and Broward counties, where much of the 2000 election drama occurred, have large numbers of Muslim voters as well. Data on Muslim American political attitudes and behaviors had previously been limited. However, both nationally and on the grassroots level, Muslim organizations are working hard to organize the growing constituency. ISNA and other Muslim organizations have produced and disseminated voter guides on a number of issues during the months leading up to the election examining candidates’ records on a range of issues.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Political mobilization has increased significantly over the past decade to a point where Muslim American voters are hoping to exert influence on candidates and platforms. The guides also contain sample questions to ask candidates in town hall forums. ISNA’s annual convention features voter registration for the thousands of attendees. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)’s Get Out The Vote Campaign encourages voter registration and a guide to organizing local registration drives. CAIR also developed a Voter Guide outlining candidate biographies and positions on key issues. The Muslim Public Affairs Council’s 2008 “Rock the Muslim Vote” town hall forums were successful in boosting participation and encouraging thoughtful discussion of key issues for the Muslim community. On the local level, organizations like
Emerge USA in Florida and ACCESS in Michigan work hard to serve underrepresented communities in the electoral process including voter registration and voter engagement training. Political mobilization has increased significantly over the past decade to a point where Muslim American voters are hoping to exert influence on candidates and platforms. Yet, Muslim American communities will need to continue to organize at the local and national level to contest for real political influence. Senzai recommends community organizers provide information to help motivate the community, tap into active segments of the community like African Americans, women
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
and young voters, and engage with Mosque communities where civic and political participation is highest. Senzai says campaigns looking to reach Muslim voters should reach out to the mosque leadership and active members. Finally, Senzai says, it is important for candidates and political activists to remember that Muslim Americans are open to cultivation by both parties. Data suggests that the Muslim community contains a large independent segment. Senzai encourages candidates and community members to “build relationships and an open, two-way dialogue to explore issues that most concern community members.” As the Muslim American community grows and organizes, we can expect to see two major effects. First, candidates will be less likely to slander Islam and Muslims as we saw in some primary races this year. Second, candidates will begin to see American Muslims as a constituency that can tip the scales in their favor and will take seriously issues that matter to various Muslim communities.
Jonathan Hayden is communications manager at Institute for Social Policy and Understanding.
Muslims in Action
Cleveland Mosque Celebrates 75 Years By Horizons Staff
mam Abbas Ahmad, the spiritual leader of Cleveland’s oldest mosque, has been a foster father to about 40 children, according to reports. According to the Cleveland Plain Dealing Newspaper, Ahmad and his wife of 32 years, Eva Jean Wilson, are typically asked to take the hard-to-place children, including volatile teens and children who have been abused. Imam Abbas Ahmad They continuously endure the emotional saga of welcoming, loving and letting go. the mosque’s leadership, Ahmad taught and For the imam and his wife, who have three coached in Cleveland schools for 30 years children of their own, foster parenting is before retiring in 2005. only part of a larger quest to be true to their Akram, born Walter Reese Gregg in faith, which means sharing his abilities and Caldwell, Tex., in 1904, was introduced his heart. They still hear from most of them. to Islam in the early 1920s and went on to Among his charges were four siblings establish a mosque in 1937 with the creation they reared for five years in Aurora—white of the Muslim 10-Year Plan. The Mission of Christian children in an African American the mosque was to entertain and educate the Muslim home. However, Ahmad maintains Muslim community. clear rules: he’s a foster parent, not a foster Akram continued to spread Islam’s message of peace, love friend. They have the and unity, which made same set of rules for their FCM the milestone of charges as they have for Project their own children. peace-making among the They were named diverse religious groups Maida, among the newspaper’s across greater Cleveland. which “Community Heroes The program is now part occurs once a of 2010.” However, the of their history. 30-year-old fostering The mosque has never month when we program is the imam and been a part of the Nation open our doors his wife’s personal initiaof Islam movement. Over tive and not connected to the years, FCM perseto the public vered, demonstrating the mosque. and invite them On March 31, 2012, consistency and growth. the Council on AmerIn fact the mosque was in for a meal ican-Islamic Relations instrumental in the served by the (Cleveland Chapter) development of several volunteers recognized Ahmad with other Islamic institutions the I-CAIR Leadership throughout the Greater of the First Award for building Cleveland area. Cleveland bridges across comIn 1984, the leadermunities. Abbas has a ship was passed on to Masjid.” family tradition of comAl Hajj Imam Mahmoud munity service. In 1937, A. Akram, who served his grandfather Al Hajj Imam Wali Akram, as the imam until 1989. During his tenure, an African American, founded the First Imam Mahmoud continued to teach the Cleveland Masjid (FCM), the second oldest community the value of unity, harmony and mosque in the U.S. And before assuming love which has been promulgated by the
FCM leadership since its inception. Imam Abbas Ahmad, the grandson of Imam Wali Akram—who earned degrees in sociology and education from Hiram College, where he was on athletic scholarship—assumed leadership in 1989 and currently leads the congregation of more than 200 members. Like several cities, Cleveland has a council of mosques, and FCM is part of the body. “Our imam speaks at many different masjids as well as colleges. We offer Project Maida, which occurs once a month when we open our doors to the public and invite them in for a meal served by the volunteers of the First Cleveland Masjid,” says FCM’s Nyesha Samad. “We also have a Community Garden, in which we invite all (i.e. Muslim and non-Muslim) to participate. Lastly, we participate in combined Eid Prayers with the other mosques in Cleveland, as well as invite other imams to speak at our masjid.” Since its inception, FCM has moved several times, finally laying anchor in 1975 at its current edifice at 3613 East 131st Street. To commemorate their 75th Anniversary, FCM will host a two-day event, September 14-15, themed, “The Legacy Continues Through Education and Community Service.”
Electronic Funds Transfer —
A good deed done regularly!
You can make a significant impact on the quality of ISNA’s services by contributing through EFT. As little as $10 per month will help ISNA to serve the Muslim American community through effective communication to media organizations, government and civic agencies on behalf of all Muslim Americans.
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Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Dr. Mohammad Karim, vice president for research at Old Dominion University, addresses the convention.
Raising Generations on Outstanding Morality NABIC giving back to mother country through social service projects. By Aliya Karim
nly about 20 percent of Muslims living in the U.S. have contact with Muslim organizations, mosques, etc., said Dr. Altaf Husain, a member of the ISNA Shura Council and chair of ISNA’s Leadership Development Committee, addressing the 22nd annual convention of the North American Bangladeshi Islamic Community (NABIC) in Memphis, Tenn., June 9. Relating to the convention theme “Raising Generations on Outstanding Morality,” he said this Muslim community is “our extended family and support system,” so it is a challenge we must work on by serving the people and creating love for them. “We must raise our children with the ability to live during their time, not ours,” Hussain said. “The Prophet had the love of the people before he preached to them. He served them for 40 years.” Focusing on the trends and challenges of
the Muslim American family, the speakers discussed such topics as diversity, taking care of the family and serving the community. AbdelRahman Murphy, the youth director of the Muslim Community of Knoxville, Tenn., agreed. “Whoever is the master of the people is the one who serves them,” he quoted from a hadith. “If we’re sincere, then we spend time working on it.” The convention also focused on the different science and technology projects NABIC supports. The non-governmental organization supports numerous projects in Bangladesh, a country whose population represents about one-tenth of the Muslim Ummah. Some of these projects include hospitals, eye care research, a shelter for orphans and destitute girls, funding for science and technology teams at the university level, cyclone relief projects and much more. Dr. Farrukh Mohsen, a member of the Volunteers Association for Bangladesh (VAB), highlighted the computer literacy
We must raise our children with the ability to live during their time, not ours.” — Dr. Altaf Husain Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
programs and smart classrooms for which VAB and NABIC are working together to build in villages across Bangladesh. The evening’s convention program featured a keynote speech in which Dr. Mohammad Karim, vice president for research at Old Dominion University, explained his optimism for the people of Bangladesh. He said the country’s numbers for infant mortality rate, maternal mortality rate, immunizations, clean water and children getting education have become even more positive than in neighboring India. He also presented the story of Joynal Abedin, a rickshaw driver who saved half of his income over 10 years—a total of about $300—to open a village hospital. With this story as inspiration, NABIC then held a fundraising banquet—with the help of Husain and comedian Baba Ali—for a glaucoma research and eye hospital, which NABIC and the Bangladesh Eye Care Society plan to build in the capital city of Dhaka. “It’s not about being Bangladeshi and helping other Bangladeshis,” Husain said during the fundraiser. “It’s about being Muslim and helping other Muslims.” NABIC surpassed its goal for the night and raised about $140,000.
Aliya Karim, a journalism and mass communication major at George Washington University, is a reporter for “The GW Hatchet” and a consultant for the Institute for Inclusive Security.
Muslims in Action
Practicing Islam Through Scout Law
Muslim communities in the U.S. and Canada utilize the Scout Law to nurture a service-oriented generation. By Naureen Aqueel
urjan Hammad, 17, a Senior Patrol Leader for boy scouts, walks up to the front of the room to begin a meeting for Troop 1576 at the Sterling, Va.-based All-Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center. The chatter among young boys in scout uniforms ages 10 to 17 dies down as expectant eyes follow their leader. Hammad outlines the agenda for the meeting. Each scout has to complete a list of 10 native plants and animals that they can find and submit it in the next meeting. It’s almost Maghrib time and beginning to get dark. The scouts proceed to the outdoors to begin their activity. They have to come back in to perform their prayers. They also play a game of “anti-over” before they return to resume their troop meeting. This is a typical day for the ADAMS Boy Scouts meeting. Similar Muslim Boy Scouts and Girls Scouts belonging to the national Boy Scouts of America (BSA) and Girl Scouts of the USA organizations, but sponsored by mosques and Islamic centers and thus having exclusive Muslim membership, can be found throughout different cities in the U.S. and Canada. According to the Boy Scouts of America, scouting membership in the Muslim American community in 2010 was more than 2,000 individuals, divided into Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts and Venturers in the approximately 91 Muslim units associated with the BSA. There are no clear statistics on Muslim membership in the Girls Scouts, but reports have mentioned a number of exclusively Muslim Girls Scouts troops existing in states across North America. Muslim boy and girl scouts can also be found in troops that are not exclusively Muslim. Boston, Detroit, Minneapolis, Chicago, Brooklyn, Sterling, Va., Houston and Dallas are some of the cities that have
active Muslim scout groups. Scouting in the Muslim community has a long history that extends beyond the borders of the U.S. and Canada. “Scouting is not an American thing,” Assistant Scoutmaster at ADAMS, Yusuf Rambo explains. “There has been scouting in Muslim countries for as long as scouting has been around in the world. It has been there in countries like Pakistan and Saudi Arabia for a long time.” The Scout Association of the UK estimates that more than a third of all scouts worldwide are Muslim. According to Dawud Zwink, former vice president of ISNA, who served as chairman of the National Islamic Committee on Scouting from 1990 to 1993 and is currently working as Facilitator at the Canadian Muslim Fellowship of Scouting, persons with Scouting experience in Pakistan and Lebanon played a major role in the development of Islamic Scouting in the U.S. in association with the Boy Scouts of America. “Brothers from the Muslim American Society (MAS) developed their own groups that are now affiliated with BSA,” explains Zwink. “Brothers and sisters from the African American community have developed their own scouting organizations, some originating in the Black liberation movement organizations of the ’60s and ’70s, with many independent of BSA. The community
Canadian Muslim Scouts of the 65th IMO gather in the Greater Toronto area.
headed by Warith Deen Mohammed has developed Scout groups that are affiliated with BSA.” Scouting is a program that engages young people in fun-filled activities that lead on to build sound character and a strong personality. The fact that it includes activities viewed as fun by the youth, beyond those limited only to the religious domain, helps provide a platform where they can enjoy and be themselves while at the same time being involved in constructive activities that help them learn essential life skills. It is also an effective means of involving Muslim children in the mosques and Islamic centers
Scouting instills in young people values that last a lifetime and cultivates ethical character as expressed in the Scout Oath and Law.” — Dawud Zwink Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
where they can build healthy friendships with other Muslims. “The whole premise behind boy scouting is teaching our boys leadership skills through outdoor activities that test them—a leader only gets to be a leader after going through some trials,” says Rambo. The rank structure that is an essential component of scouting helps reinforce the aspect of challenge based learning and competition. “As you slowly acquire a new skill, they transfer you to another rank. Boys and girls have a value for accomplishment. Our whole aim is to trick the kids into teaching them leadership skills by masking them into fun and play.” Rank advancement culminates in the Eagle Scout rank. A scout must accomplish many things before reaching the Eagle rank but once the rank is achieved, it is an achievement that helps the scout immensely in the future. When an Eagle Scout goes to college or in the job market, the employer knows that everything else in that person’s life is also exemplary. For Girls Scouts, the highest rank is known as Gold.
Out of the more than 115 million boys who have passed through the Boy Scouts of America in the last 102 years, approximately two million have become Eagle Scouts—a level that has come to be called “the Ph.D. of Boyhood.” Scouts can earn merit badges in a number of activities of interest that they engage in. The BSA lists more than 100 merit badges, from archaeology to veterinary medicine. The merit badges are ways to introduce the youth to all the opportunities out there for them that could be potential career options. In addition to the regular merit badges, Muslim Scouts can earn special emblems by studying certain subjects of theology as well as by engaging in faith-related community service. Each Scouting group decides its own method of action and program content. So while some centers may not focus too much on Islamic knowledge and lessons in their activities, other mosques and centers might choose to keep their program religioncentric by incorporating examples from
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
the Quran and Sunnah. For example, Faiza Rahman, Girl Scouts coordinator for the MAS Youth Center of Dallas, Tex., explains how her group always uses examples from the Sunnah. “When we teach the girls about the aspect of honesty in the Scout Law we also tell them stories of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) and how he used to be honest.” Scouting is also instrumental in providing Muslim youth with mentorship in the form of positive relationships with adults that serve as good role models. Some groups also have chaplains who provide spiritual guidance to the youth on issues of concern to them. “For me as a mom, this is the best thing you can offer to your children for friendship, leadership and fun,” says Badria Kafala, mother of 12-year-old Yosaf Omeish who is a boy scout. Kafala put her son into Muslim scouting so that he could have Muslim friends from the community. “It helps the kids especially when they are teens—they can have a group where they can spend 31
Muslims in Action
Anam Khan of Lombard, Ill. poses at a rollerskating party.
Muslim Brownie Troop 1869 after a branch and twig clean-up service project with the Dupage County Forest Preserve at St. James Farm in Warrenville, Ill.
their time. It also helps build personality and self-esteem, and they learn from their leaders who are older boys. In scouting they practice leadership at the age of 11. It also gets them involved in various activities like hiking, canoeing, community services… so many things they can’t do in their own home and family.” Hadia Rizwan, another mother whose 8-year-old son was part of a cub scouts den in San Antonio, Tex., last year feels that the entire experience was a positive one. “They teach the kids a sense of responsibility and there is focus on physical fitness and doing your best,” she says. Her son, how-
ever, had to stop going to the Scout group because he started Quran classes during the same time. The ADAMS Scouting troops participate every year in the Camporee with 100 other scouts from different troops which include non-Muslims. “We don’t segregate ourselves. How else are we going to be ambassadors of the Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam) unless we don’t participate?” asks Rambo. “In camps we make sure we do not miss out on our [religious obligations] like Salah. We let the kids understand that they serve as an example to the community at large. If it is during Ramadan, we fast. We eat halal food.
We make sure we have a presence within scouting at the national level.” “Scouting instills in young people, values that last a lifetime and cultivates ethical character as expressed in the Scout Oath and Law,” explains Zwink. “For older youth, extreme adventure provides new meaningful experiences, generally in the out-of-doors, to promote team-building, practical leadership applications, and lifelong memories.” Scouting, however, is not without its share of critics. Some Muslim critics point out that it is primarily a Christian movement and Muslim participation is not acceptable. When posed with a similar question once, Syed Ehtesham H. Naqvi, founder president of the Edison, N.J.-based Islamic Council on Scouting
Muslim Scouting in Canada
awud Zwink, a former vice president of ISNA, who served as chairman of the National Islamic Committee on Scouting from 1990 to 1993 and is currently working as Facilitator at the Canadian Muslim Fellowship of Scouting, shares his experience of helping to build the Muslim Scouting community in Canada: Upon returning to Canada about six years ago, I approached the national office of Scouts Canada about developing an initiative to promote Scouting in Muslim Communities. I have been working with Scouts Canada in the Greater Toronto Council as a Community Development Worker for the last five-and-a-half years to develop new Scout groups in the area’s Muslim communities and across Canada. Considering that needed the support of a Muslim umbrella organization, work continues on establishing and building the Canadian Muslim Fellowship of Scouting (CMFoS). A PowerPoint presentation “Etiquettes and Protocol for Working with Muslims” has been prepared for volunteers and Scouts Canada professional staff members. We also initiated, helped design and raised money for the development of a DVD and information folder to promote Scouting in diverse ethno-cultural communities. This was distributed 32
nationwide and can be accessed online at the Scouts Canada YouTube site. Scouts Canada is the nation’s foremost youth program of character development and values-based leadership training. CMFoS helps add the dimension of Muslim cultural and spiritual values with trained Muslim adult volunteer leadership. It offers a rich nontraditional Dawud Zwink education program that uses the outdoors as a classroom. This enables mainstream Muslim communities to nurture children and youth into adults that are creatively engaged in contributing to the development of civic society and Canada’s future. We bring out the best in our multicultural Muslim communities, and Islamic values in order to inspire the visions and dreams of our youth. CMFoS’s Muslim scouting programs help provide a systematic program of leadership development for our children and youth from ages of 5 to 26, with trained mentors and role models. Outside of Scouting, no such systematic leadership development process presently exists in Muslim communities in Canada. The program embraces children and youth that are students Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
of North America said, “Do not see who is saying it, but look to what is being said.” “The Scouting Law given by Lord Powell contains the same principles mentioned in the Quran,” says Naqvi. “When we are living in a country like the U.S., we need to get our youth involved and this is the way. My organization has achieved a number of Dawah opportunities through the scouting activities we have participated in. We have been able to teach others about Islam and distribute pamphlets.” The Boy Scouts of America has been working with the Islamic Council on Scouting since 1982 and has gradually made policy changes to cater to Muslim Scouts in the U.S. Among the initiatives taken to cater to
Scouts from the Muslim American Society Dallas Chapter.
Muslim Scouts is the provision of halal food and a place for prayer at outdoor camping events. The Scout Oath binds a scout to do their duty to God and to their country and to abide by the Scout Law which enunciates 12 virtues that a scout must possess including being trustworthy, friendly, loyal, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. “There is not a single aspect in the law that is contrary to Islam,” says Rambo. “If anything, the most exemplary of scouts should be Muslim scouts. Scouting and Islam go hand-in-hand.”
in madrassas, full-time Islamic schools, and hifz classes and that are learning from Islamic classes, imams and teachers, to take what they have learned and apply it in their homes, neighborhoods, and communities. We have successfully started new Muslim Scout Groups that are working together and connected with the Scouts Canada area activities, planning and leadership. This year, seven youth received the Chief Scout Award for Scouts aged 12-14 and one received the Queen’s Venturer Award for youth aged 15-17. In order to start Scouts groups, a partnership is formed between an institution or group of citizens who wish to use Scouting’s programs to guide youth, and Scouts Canada. The sponsors agree to provide: youth interested in Scouting, emphasis on social and spiritual principles, familiarization of Scouts in the ideals of the sponsor, training of the Scouts in the ideals of the Scouts, facilities for meetings, and recognitions. Scouts Canada agrees to provide: promises and laws, programs, program support and supervision, assistance for recruiting leaders, literature, uniforms and equipment, camping facilities, and recognition. A charter certifying the agreement is issued by Scouts Canada and is subject to annual renewal. As part of our activities, we have semi-annual tree planting and Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
The biggest challenge facing the Muslim Scouting community in North America, according Naqvi, is the lack of funding and human resource. Although Muslim Scouts have a number of dedicated individuals who are doing commendable service to the community, apart from the little funding that comes from the Islamic centers, Naqvi says he fears most of the scout leaders end up paying from their own pockets for participation in national events, meetings and other activities that serve to benefit the whole community.
*Some names have been changed upon request
habitat restoration projects with our Scout groups called Scoutrees and Touch the Earth with Friends of Rouge Watershed. We are in our fourth year of this program which encourages our Scouts, Scout families, relatives, neighbors, and community members to reconnect with the earth to heal and renew the environment that we all depend on. Through this program we are building a Sadaqah Jariyah, a reward from God that accumulates even after death. We organized and sponsored a program that featured Dr. David Suzuki, a well known environmentalist, to help raise awareness about the urgent issues of climate warming and destruction of ecosystems. His topic, “Dialogues with the Heart: Conversations with PeaceMakers of the Earth,” was drawn from his book, “The Legacy.” We also organized an All Muslim Group Campout to bring together Muslim groups from across the spectrum of Muslim communities in the Greater Toronto Area. We have also sponsored an activity called “A Celebration of Giving” in partnership with Turtle Lodge, an indigenous organization in Manitoba that encouraged one day of fasting with the money that would have been spent on food instead contributed to two community kitchens run by the Native Child and Family Services of Toronto. I have served on a Scouts Canada First Nations, Inuit and Meti Network to develop Scouting in those communities. This included participation in a First Nations Symposium on Scouting in Winnipeg, Manitoba. I also participated in a Hajj delegation with the World Islamic Committee on Scouting for Non Muslim Countries.
Muslims in Action
Caution: Activist Burn Out Ahead Those devoted to the community grapple with trying to contribute without sacrificing their sanity. By Kiran Ansari
inexperienced volunteers work with oldschool but experienced board members. For instance, a well-intentioned “uncle” at the mosque attempting to apply management strategies of the ’70s to millennial activists leads to frustration at both ends. Second, when an activist brings new ideas to the table, everyone nods in agreement but no one raises their hand to help execute the plan. Or, they excuse themselves, leaving you with one more thing to do. Third, time differential leadership plays a role when a full-time organization is run by a part-time board with day jobs. The sheer number of hours in a day cannot justify the amount of work expected from the volunteers.
Signs of burnout
f you are waiting in line to ride a lamppost, perhaps you’re hungry. Or burned out. The catchy Snickers candy ad strikes a chord for anyone who has used shower gel to wash their hair, spread yogurt on their bagel or arrived at an event on the wrong day. It’s not that they are incapable; they are just juggling more than they should handle. Operative word: should. They can handle more as activists are usually high achievers in everything they do. They have the output of two or three people and can lead under pressure. But at what cost? Case in point: Sarah Hassaine, young, educated, dynamic Arab American Muslim in D.C. Her activist history highlights include marching for Somalia and Bosnia, volunteering with CAIR and having been active in her MSA and Students for Justice and Peace — to name a few. “I learned more from activism than my professional life,” Hassaine says. “I learned how a three-member board can orchestrate a 600-people banquet. I did everything. If it was a good cause, I made time to do it.” Operative word: made. Not anymore. She burned out after sev-
eral years of being swamped with work, with hearing the sentence “Sarah has the energy, let her do it” preclude every task. She now works in an advisory capacity and lends her expertise to the advisory council of D.C.’s Network of Arab American Professionals, ADC Women’s Initiative, America’s Unofficial Ambassadors among others.
Reasons for burn out Over time, those that join with the enthusiasm to change the world become disillusioned, frustrated or just plain tired. Rizwan Kadir, an alum of the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, has been serving in leadership roles for Islamic, Pakistani, and Kashmiri causes in the U.S. for about 15 years. He cites three possible reasons. First, “mismatched maturity” causes issues where enthusiastic but
“If you start seeing things in a negative light and take the wrong message from every email, it can be a sign of burnout,” says Dr. Zaher Sahloul, chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago and President of the Syrian American Medical Society. “If you feel overwhelmed, depressed, fatigued or edgy, it’s time to take a break.” Sahloul stops reading emails and answering phone calls for a while when he sees exhaustion on the horizon. He believes activists need to have the insight to know when to recharge their batteries and reset the balance. “You need to pause and reflect and ask yourself ‘Why am I writing in this tone or saying such things?’” When a person no longer enjoys what he or she is volunteering for, that’s a sign it’s time to re-evaluate, according to Hassaine. “It’s when you dread meetings, feel under-appreciated, get no feedback except criticism about how things could be done better — and when calls to your mom are short,” Hassaine says.
Preventing personal burnout The Sahlouls are a great example of how being activists as a family makes it easier to achieve more without alienating the most important people in your life. Once the family buys into a cause together, activism becomes easier. For the past 10 years or so, they attend most important fundraisers and rallies as a family so it’s not just dad’s event or mom’s cause. The Kadir family uses Google calendar to keep track of all activities so that impor-
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
spend as much time commuting to unending meetings. “In the corporate world, you put up with gossiping coworkers or nasty office politics for a paycheck or health insurance,” Kadir says. “If similar conditions exist in your volunteer work, you wouldn’t stand it.”
Doing it for the kids
tant activities don’t clash. Some overlap is inevitable but they have each family member throw their activities into a hypothetical pie and then prioritize as a family. This way they don’t have to make a sudden choice between a basketball final and a fundraiser. Other ways to prevent burnout is learning how to say no and not feeling bad about it, delegating work to others by not having the urge to control everything and making time for personal reflection. Sahloul works on preventing burnout by regular exercise, connecting with nature, listening to soothing nasheeds and reading and writing. Of the two routes that he can take to work, he opts for the scenic one when he is stressed. Just driving by the lake and the foliage calms his nerves.
Preventing others from getting burned out You might have a handle over how to destress or juggle different hats at one given time, but there might be others around you that are getting burnt out. Take the graphic designer who volunteered some time to help revamp your organization’s website. He came armed with innovative ideas but the board discarded some ideas, took three months to decide on the others and suggested he help out with door-to-door voter registration in the meantime. Based on a true story. Organization leaders can harness the best technology has to offer such as conference calls or online meetings so volunteers do not
Some activists want to be role models for their children and teach them about social responsibility. But if you are so busy with back-to-back conference calls and late-night meetings that the kids are plopped in front of video games, it becomes ironic if you claim to be doing it for them. Volunteering in activities that includes the kids encourages them to find a cause that they are passionate about. Each child doesn’t need to be as involved in every activity, but if nothing is trickling down, then that might be a cause for concern. Hassaine and her siblings are on varying degrees on the activism spectrum even though their father was passionate about many causes. It could run through your veins but doesn’t have to and that’s okay.
Doing it for Jannah Dollars Faith-based activism has a greater weight on your shoulders and more guilt trips if you don’t give it your all. Operative word: faith. If you are feeding the hungry for the pleasure of God but do not make your mandatory prayers on time or miss fasting in Ramadan because you are working 18 hours a day to save the earth, something is amiss. “Reading and reflecting on the Quran is an integral component for Muslim activists,” Sahloul says. “It reminds us why we are doing what we are doing and keeps our intentions in check. Activism for the sake of activism is not a good use of time. One shouldn’t just move from one cause to another without a clear reason. We should set goals, accomplish something and leave a legacy.” Kadir feels that balancing work, family and activism is a myth. “Balance means doing the same thing at the same time and that’s not possible,” he says. “You can do most of the activities but not all at the same time. You need to move things around and prioritize.”
Recycled Faces Go to any fundraiser or rally in a metropolitan city and you’ll see many of the same
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
faces. While some people are sitting on three boards and working until the wee hours of the morning, others are happy in their personal bubble. They might write a check but the activism stops there. The issues seen in the Muslim American community are not unique. “Even in the Jewish and Catholic communities, we often see the same activists,” Sahloul says. So how does one go around getting fresh blood in an organization? First, it is imperative to not write anyone off. “There is no reason why someone cannot promote an event,” Hassaine says. A 60-year old “aunty” may not re-tweet your latest post, but her few phone calls can turn out more people than your tweet. Talk about your cause, make it attractive for others to join you, but don’t abuse their time once they do. The key is to know where to draw the line. Hassaine feels that once people start knowing you are good at a particular thing, they give you a mile-long list of to-dos. When competent people get frazzled and quit, they get the same old people to volunteer again and again — even if it means getting work done with lower standards. “Appreciate others’ time and interests,” Hassaine says. “Remember, you are running an organization, not the world.”
Kiran Ansari is a part-time activist and full-time mom and is happy to keep it that way. Read more of her work at http://kiranansariwrites.wordpress.com
Muslims in Action
Fashion Fighting Famine By Sumiah Aduib
A volunteer model strikes a pose in a Hijab-ista harem pant on the 72-foot long Fashion Fighting Famine runway designed by 2Create Designs.
he expansive, bland hallways of University of California Irvine’s (UCI) Student Center are exquisitely transformed. Panels of amethyst silk are suspended from the 30-feet-high ceilings and drape all the way down, dusting the grey carpets recently vacuumed in preparation for the herd of stilettos expected within the next few hours. A local Muslim-run design team, 2CreateDesigns, brought in several white leather backdrops sprinkled with silver studs along with tens of white leather sofas to create intimate seating areas adjacent to the shopping bazaar. A collection of white and Tiffanyblue metal Moroccan lanterns scattered throughout the entryway, gave a sort of New York Fashion Week feel. Upon entry, guests walked on the hot pink carpet (courtesy of Kismet Events) and took pictures in front of the bright red backdrop with the words “FASHION FIGHTING FAMINE” printed clearly behind them to mark their attendance of this highly anticipated event. “Please tweet that you’re here,” the organizers could be heard saying throughout the entire evening. “We want anyone who chose to skip out tonight to know what they’re missing,” says Shima Chaballout, logistics organizer and UCI alum. “This is [the] biggest female-run Muslim event you will see on the West Coast if not the entire country. We know what we’re doing.” With a big smile, Chaballout runs off in response to an urgent voice on her walkie-talkie. There is a soft buzz as the organizers and volunteers quickly and quietly focus on the task at hand as they expect nearly 850 eager, well-dressed guests to be arriving. “We’ve been preparing for this for months and it’s surreal to think it’s all going to get
underway in a little bit,” says Nida Chowdhry, director of operations. Fashion Fighting Famine, casually referred to as FFF by attendees, is the nation’s largest Muslim fashion event. It began in 2007 as the brainchild of a handful of fashion-forward Muslim students attending UCI who wanted to support causes dear to their hearts, while raising funds in an innovative and creative manner. Since then, FFF has grown exponentially—both in funds raised as well as people in attendance. This year it took place on June 3 and premiered seven designers from all different parts of the globe. Guests and designers flew in from as far as Singapore, Cairo and Dubai in order to participate in this yearly event. The fashion fare ranged from cotton harems pants, to ornately embellished kaftans, to laser-cut abayas to fringed, laced and zippered-edged scarves. Every aesthetic preference could be found (sold at a discount) and many pieces were making their debut. “I am actually visiting from Tripoli [Libya] and I’m covering this event for my magazine Rogue,” says Sedeg Kebhaj. “I would like to bring this vision to the young women of Libya. It’s about time the fashion industry woke up and realized we have money and we want to spend it on clothing that speaks to us and [is] for us.” The Guardian recently reported that
Photo by Sarah Larba
Women-run Muslim event supports causes and does it with flair.
the global Muslim fashion market is worth nearly $96 billion. And designers worldwide are starting to notice the spending power of the Muslim woman looking to dress modestly while still retaining her individual style. If anyone is questioning whether this trend is over-hyped, all they need to do is look to Harrods, the high-end UK department store, which has recently began to sell abayas as a lucrative response to demands by its customers. “I am always willing to pay a premium price for something that I know is hijabfriendly and is elegant and well-made,” says California native Sarah Ascha who flew in from her new home in Jacksonville, Fla., for the event. “I came today with my checkbook ready to spend. I want to support these young [designers] … they finally are getting the point. Wearing hijab doesn’t mean you have to be boring.” Singapore-based designer Nancy Hoque debuted the flag line for her hijab company, SixteenR. Her line was well received by attendees and featured British and American flags, as well as a scarf of the French flag with an imprint of the Eiffel Tower (France banned the headscarf in 2004). Her hottest item by far was the Vintage Supersonic Headphones—a hijab with headphones printed into them to mimic old school headphones. “A lady of good faith has good humor, too, yo,” says the designer. Designer Deanna Khalil, who premiered her line Abaya Addict, was pleasantly surprised by the level of sophistication she found at FFF. “Finally Muslims are getting it right,” she says over the phone from her home in Dubai.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Photo by Anum Arshad
Photo by Anum Arshad
Zamena Momin, co-designer at Hijab-ista, poses on the Fashion Fighting Famine pink carpet.
A guest arrives carrying her VIP Swag Bag at the Fashion Fighting Famine 2012 Fashion Show.
“This was my line’s first real premiere and I got teary-eyed as I watched 15 of my pieces, many sketched out by hand, walk down that 72-foot runway. With the music pulsating and the crowd clapping and screaming I really felt uplifted.” Khalil, who grew up in Chicago, started Abaya Addict in 2011, designing longsleeved flowing dresses and modest tunics and blouses to help cater to the fashionforward Muslim woman. “I was tired of layering a million things to ‘hijabify’ my outfits … it always seemed like I need a cardigan or I need to [add] sleeves to make something store-bought more modest. There is this huge void of Muslim-tailored fashion lines and I decided to actually do something about it,” says Khalil, whose line is only sold through her online shop and has fans and customers from as far as East Africa and the UK. Many of the seven designers who had their pieces walk the runway also had booths, giving guests the opportunity to “shop for a cause” before and after the show. A percentage of every vendor’s proceeds went to this year’s beneficiary, One Laptop Per Child, whose mission is to educate the world’s poorest kids by providing them with laptops with up-to-date software. Chowdhry stresses that they hope the project’s funds will be specifically funneled to the efforts in Gaza, Palestine. “The laptop serves as an educational tool that is engaging, inspiring and gets children excited to go to school, learn new skills and teach their parents and friends. These laptops are rugged, low power and connected to the Internet so they work for children living in
the most remote and harsh environments like Palestine,” says Chowdry. She adds that they also donated a portion of the funds to relief efforts in Syria. “I was walking around the bazaar encouraging people to spend, reminding them about our causes,” Chowdry says. Throughout the years this annual fashion show has raised money to benefit charities such as the Ilm Foundation, that works to eliminate poverty and homelessness in Southern California, and the Widow’s Cooperative Program in Mali, that provides micro-financing for widowed women who support themselves and their families through small entrepreneurial efforts. Every year, a new theme is set forth to help create a buzz in the community and grab the interest of young fashionistas. Previous years’ themes included “An Old Hollywood Affair” and “A Thousand and One Arabian Nights” and these events were exclusive to women and outside press was not welcome. This year they took a more inclusive approach of encouraging coverage from the media as well as eliminating a specific theme and rather focusing on the talented designers and their creations. “We demand more from Muslim businesses, we are trying to create a space where successful and thriving Muslim business can actually exist—not businesses that are always teetering on the edge of life or death. We’re creating a space that promotes innovation and inspiration and the highest bars of excellence. We are demanding businesses to meet the highest levels of integrity, customer service, professionalism, and quality in products,” Chowdhry says.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Special guests included Ibtihaj Muhammad, American world-class fencer, and Lena Khan, an independent filmmaker who is currently working on her upcoming feature film, “The Tiger Hunter.” Attendees were given the opportunity to chit-chat with these Muslim women and draw strength from their stories and experiences. “I’ve always been an athlete at heart. I was psyched to meet Ibtihaj,” says Sandy Sanadaf, a young lawyer living in Anaheim, Calif. “She really has a purposeful spirit I can relate to both on the track and in the courtroom.” Fashion Fighting Famine is pending nonfor-profit status and the 100-plus volunteers and models who helped organize the event not only paid for a ticket but hung around afterwards to make sure every last piece of trash was picked up off the floor and the premises were returned back to its original, quiet, bland state expected of a university building. “It felt powerful to be part of this,” says Amal Sharif, a UCI junior. “I took a before and after [shot] of this place and what we were able to pull off in the span of one day is amazing and deserving of recognition from the Fashion World.”
Sumiah Aduib is a Libyan American freelance writer living in Los Angeles.
Politics and Society
Everything’s Bigger in Texas Houston Muslims to continue to expand their community in all arenas. By Ruth Nasrullah
ayeed Siddiqui, a geophysicist who moved to Houston in 1974, describes how shortly after their arrival to the city, he and his wife, Nilofer, were driving on Highway 59 when Nilofer said, “I heard there is a masjid around here.” She wanted to exit the freeway and see if they could find it, and although Sayeed was disinclined to go hunting for a mosque, his wife insisted. “Let’s just go look for it,” she said.“Just take the Shepherd exit.” They found it. In 1973, a group of Muslims had bought a small house on Richmond Avenue in downtown Houston after several years of meeting in members’ homes for Quran study and prayer. That initial group evolved into the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, which more than 40 years later is one of the major Islamic organizations in the city. Houston is a city of little more than 2 million people, of which an estimated 1.2 percent are Muslim, and it is among the
largest urban Muslim populations in the U.S. Houston’s Muslim community is truly diverse, a place where you find khutbahs in Urdu, students of W.D. Mohammed, and mosques whose boards of directors include European American converts. The Muslim community in the greater Houston area is among the most educated in the country and ranks ninth in the nation’s Muslim population. This size and diversity has given Houston Muslims the opportunity to serve as leaders in civic and political activities. What follows is just a snapshot of the spirit and action of the Houston Muslim community.
An organization with a legacy Sayeed and Nilofer Siddiqui describe a Quranic discussion group that was held every Sunday at the mosque they found on Richmond Avenue. Sometimes as many as 50 people attended, some coming from miles away. “That’s where we, the people who were sitting in that circle, got the sense of the
true kernel of Islam,” says Sayeed. “How the human being should be improving himself through Quran.” After registering as a 501(c)(3) organization, ISGH developed the model that it still follows: a central organization with five different zones, which are further divided into sub-zones. According to ISGH president Aziz Siddiqi, in addition to 19 Islamic centers, ISGH runs six full-time Islamic schools, three Islamic funeral homes and five lowcost medical clinics. The organization also coordinates classes for new Muslims and a prison dawah program. “It’s wonderful to see ISGH grow,” says Nilofer. “We’ve come a long way—from a ‘dilapidated’ house to 19 mosques.”
Advocacy and civic involvement In March 2012, a day-long program, the Civil Rights Coalition Conference, was held at Houston Community College. It featured speakers from organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, the League of United Latin American Citizens,
Texas Muslim Capitol Day in Austin. 38
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition as well as the keynote speaker, broadcast journalist Amy Goodman, producer and host of Democracy Now. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR)-Texas’ Houston chapter was at the helm. Shireen Jasser, outreach director of CAIR’s Houston chapter, says the conference is a natural result of the organization’s focus on building partnerships with community groups that have similar concerns regarding social justice and civil rights. “I really haven’t heard it happening before in other communities, so this was a first for Houston,” says Jasser. “Latino groups, Muslim groups and civil rights groups all coming together and having this ‘crosspollination,’ promoting our issues and just sharing with one another.” Another key CAIR-Houston activity is the annual Texas Muslim Capitol Day, an opportunity for Muslims to visit Austin, the state capital, and meet with legislators. Jasser says the most recent Capitol Day, in 2011, was crucial because there was a socalled “anti-sharia” legislation on the table. “Anti-sharia” bills, which, to varying degrees, propose to restrict Islamic religious practice, have proliferated across the country, and both Jasser and CAIR-Texas executive director Mustafaa Carroll see it as a priority issue.
Women dine at the Pink Iftar.
coalition building and, as the 2012 national elections near, they will have a special focus on voter registration.
On the political scene Over the last few election cycles, a grassroots effort to increase Muslim involvement in local politics has grown. M.J. Khan in 2003 became the first Muslim member of the Houston City Council, inspiring others to participate in local government.
Latino groups, Muslim groups and civil rights groups all coming together and having this ‘crosspollination,’ promoting our issues and just sharing with one another.” —Shireen Jasser “It’s a frontal attack on our rights as Muslims,” says Carroll of such proposed legislation. Jasser describes it as a direct attempt to restrict Muslim’s constitutional rights as well as a type of fear-mongering. CAIR-Houston’s programs also focus on education and advocacy training within the Muslim community, offering workshops on issues such as basic rights when questioned by law enforcement. Carroll sees such community education as essential. “If the community comes together, everything else will fall in place,” he says. To that end, CAIR’s Houston office plans to continue proactive workshops, community
At the 2012 Texas Democratic state convention, held in downtown Houston, the Muslim Democratic Caucus featured Muslim speakers exhorting their brothers and sisters not to shy away from political involvement, and non-Muslim candidates for a variety of positions took the opportunity to reach out to caucus attendees. A common theme was the emphasis on Muslims being part of the American system, not outside it. Maher Muhtaseb, a state delegate, concurs. “As Muslims, I think that we need to be more representative,” he says. “Unless we stand up, we will not be counted and I think it’s very important that we be here.”
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Voter registration drives have resulted in more than 5,000 newly registered voters since the 2004 presidential election, and the number of Muslims involved in the election process, from the precinct level on up, has increased greatly, especially within the Democratic party.
Interfaith in action A couple years ago, Kafah Bachari Manna attended a women’s interfaith Seder at the Christ Church cathedral. Moderators from the Jewish community guided each table of guests through the Seder, the ritual dinner held during Passover. She loved the event and recalled it when she and a group of fellow Muslim women were discussing how the image of Muslim women is so often distorted, even among members of the Muslim community. Manna proposed an event similar to the Seder, and a team of organizers conceived an interfaith women’s iftar, which ultimately became known as the “Pink Iftar.” The Pink Iftar format is simple: it begins with a presentation from a community member, followed by iftar and dinner, with volunteer moderators, or conversationalists, leading a discussion of Ramadan, Islam, Muslim women, and other topics as they come up. The event is hosted at the Christ Church cathedral in partnership with Brigid’s Place, a nonprofit organization devoted to women’s spiritual development. Manna sees the event as an opportunity for women from varied Islamic faith traditions to share their spiritual experience. “When I speak to the conversationalists 39
Politics and Society or hosts, they are all very strong, outspoken women whose identities are actualized, and they know who they are,”she says. She notes that, in the future, the Pink Iftar committee hopes to do youth programming. “I’m deeply concerned, and other community members are concerned, about the plight of young people in our communities, in terms of how they view their identities,” she says. Small interfaith activities in more informal settings can also be found in Houston. In the Clear Lake area, a group of Jewish, Christian and Muslim women meets at local restaurants to chat and learn about each other over dinner. The meetings were started by a group of women who attend Temple Beth Tikvah in southeast Houston, and on average two to three Muslim women attend regularly. At a recent meeting at a restaurant, the group explored a range of topics including common experiences such as challenges with airport security. Fasting was also brought up, and Jewish and Muslim group members were surprised to learn about Christian ritual fasts, and a conversation followed about the differences and similarities in the varied faith traditions. “I feel comfortable to freely ask questions and learn more—I never had a conversation with a person of the Muslim faith,” said Deena Artaleo, a Greek Orthodox Christian. “I was very judgmental of Muslims because of Greek history.” She says sees things differently now. “I see beautiful women—and their smiles are so wonderful,” she says. The discussions are sometimes structured around a theme, but often the women learn about each other just by having the freedom to discuss each others’ religious practices. “One person at a time is going to make a difference,” says group member Nancy Schwartz.
Helping those in need Ask what services are needed in the Muslim community, and unfortunately the answer you hear time and again is “domestic violence treatment and prevention.” Bibi Khan, a domestic violence intervention counselor, has worked tirelessly toward that end. She is the co-founder of the An Nisa’ Hope Center in north Houston. (The other founder, Cristina Diaz, now works with ICNA Relief.) “We started out trying to help women who were in a domestic violence situation, like having a shelter for them, a place 40
A Few More Houston Institutions It would be a mistake not to credit many other Houston institutions and endeavors. By no means are these all, but just a highlight. It is the home of the Texas Dawah Convention (http://goingtotdc.com/). The Houston chapter of the Islamic Circle of North America is very active, especially in their relief efforts (http://www.icnahouston.org/). The Muslim American Society’s Houston chapter offers services including programs for youth and outreach programming (http://www.mashouston.org). The Islamic Dawah Center is a former bank that underwent beautiful renovations funded by basketball star Hakeem Olajuwon (http://islamicdawahcenter.org/). The Houston Shifa Clinic offers medical services for needy patients (http:// www.shifaclinichouston.org/). The Institute of Interfaith Dialog has ongoing programs promoting education and interfaith interaction (http://www.interfaithdialog.org/). The Risala Foundation organizes visits by speakers from a spectrum of religious backgrounds (http://www.risala.org/). The Andalucia Center encourages interaction and learning through multimedia projects and educational workshops (http://www.andaluciacenter.org/). where they can go,” says Khan. “But within six months, we realized that the problem was so big that that wasn’t the solution, that we needed to come up with other things to make it right.” Counseling and education is now An Nisa’s main focus, strategizing that therapy sessions will prevent family problems from getting to the stage where families urgently need help. “When it’s gotten to physical abuse, then it’s too far gone,” says Khan. An Nisa’s staff, which includes counselors, psychologists and an on-call psychiatrist, all volunteer their time. The center receives cases from all over Houston. They receive referrals from other nonprofit organizations, clinics, the courts, social workers—basically anyone who needs a good place to send Muslim clients for counseling and intervention. An Nisa’ also provides assistance with Medicaid, immigration services and referrals for legal services. They opened a second facility in southwest Houston this past spring in response to the growing number of referrals. The organization is sponsored solely by donations. Even the furniture in their facilities is donated. Khan says that last year An Nisa’ worked with 163 families in crisis. “We went from having maybe one to three calls a month to having one to three calls a day,” she says. One of her clients (who asked that her
name not be used) has also had the opportunity to provide services to another recipient of An Nisa’s care. “I never really expected to need to use them,” says the mother of three. “Maybe just to donate to them. But Allah had other plans. My husband and I had issues. When I decided it was time to leave, a friend told me to call Bibi. She helped me and the kids get out of the house.” Shortly after becoming an An Nisa’ client, she met another family in need and was able to “pay it forward” by helping guide them through available services, including residential placement. “It’s been amazing to watch Allah use An Nisa’. I never thought I would have to go to a shelter. An Nisa’ has been such a blessing to me, to so many people,” she says. Houston Muslims face many of the same issues Muslims are facing across the country. Living in the “Bible Belt” presents challenges arising from misunderstanding and suspicion of Muslims. However, the Muslim community continually forges relationships with people of other faiths, activity in the political sphere, and in charitable efforts. It is a community of virtually all religious philosophies and schools of thought representing Muslims from all over the world, including those born and raised in the U.S. Metropolitan, cosmopolitan, homey and sophisticated— they all describe Houston.
Ruth Nasrullah is a freelance writer living in Houston.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Love and Death Threats Rapper Omar Offendum garners praise and criticism for his music on Syria. By Janne Louise Andersen
his past year, Syrian American rapper Omar Offendum has received both unconditional love—from Syrian pro-revolutionary fans telling him, “Next year in Syria, inshallah”—as well as pressure: “You should have written 15 songs about Syria by now.” Pressure has also come in the form of both vague threats—“Don’t you dare release this song”—to lethal ones—“We should have killed you all in 1982”—a reference to a government-led massacre in Hama, Offendum’s father’s hometown. The past 18 months have been a difficult period in the life of the 30-year-old Muslim rapper. For 10 years, he has performed at charity events for Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Somalia, New Orleans and Haiti. And he was among the first artists to release music in solidarity with the protesters of the Egyptian revolution when he and his long-time friend, Iraqi-Canadian The Narcicyst, along with other Arab and Muslim artists composed the song “#Jan25.” With Syrians taking to the streets in March 2011, the series of Arab revolts suddenly “hit closer to home” for the emcee born in Saudi Arabia by a mother from Damascus and a father from Hama, who later immigrated to D.C., where Offendum grew up. “I am happy to stand on stage and present a confident, strong face to inspire people and give them the energy needed to be activists, but when I am constantly reminded of the bloodshed—especially since it is just a phone call away and even closer for my immediate family—I admit I hit a wall some days myself,” says Offendum whose family went back to Syria after his father passed away, a
story he shares on the album SyrianamericanA, while he and his brother stayed in D.C. to finish school. He prefers to keep their present whereabouts private out of concern for their safety. “It’s very difficult for me. I’m trying to be vocal and careful at the same time,” he says.
Songs for Syria In the past six months, the rapper, who has a degree in architecture from the University of Virginia, has channeled his activism on stage into more than 10 charity events for Syria in the U.S. and around Europe, which have raised several hundred thousand dollars of aid money for those Syrians suffering as a result of the current uprising. One of these was Songs for Syria, a fundraiser organized by The Network of Arab-American Professionals of New York on May 31. On this day, Americans of Syrian, Lebanese, Palestinians and Egyptian origin trickled inside the venue Drom in Manhattan’s Lower East Side, most of whom had come to see Offendum. “I’ve performed at similar fundraising events for other humanitarian causes and now it seems I have come full circle performing at Syria events,” Offendum said before performing a spoken word poem about the Arab Spring. Tall and sturdy, his hand signs cut the air like his flow and meticulous articulation. Offendum rapped the satirical song “Arab Superhero,” followed by “Damascus,” his declaration of love for the Syrian capital— both tracks from SyrianamericanA, his 2010 debut album.
“I wrote ‘Superhero’ from a pretty cynical state,” Offendum said after the concert. “The only way we could solve these problems, which I had heard about my whole life, was if a superhero came flying out of the sky. Lo and behold, the superhero was actually the youth of the Arab world.” This fundraiser, along with one in Boston two days later, brought in more than $140,000. “At the end of the day humanitarian aid is a drop in a bucket, but I am proud of the community. They have been living with fear for such a long time,” he said.
Intervention Not everyone in the Syrian diaspora is supportive of Offendum’s activism. He has lost many online followers and received threats from pro-regime Syrians whom he encounters at shows or who attack him on
I’m sure Syrian secret police has shown up at my concerts and sent back information about me. Sometimes a person is asking way too many detailed questions...” — Omar Offendum Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Politics and Society Twitter and Youtube from accounts Offendum sometimes suspects are created by the Syrian intelligence. And then there are prorevolutionary activists who don’t consider him outspoken enough, or other activists who want him to denounce the prospect of a foreign military intervention. “I personally think there are few examples in history where a foreign military has come to a country within the interest of its people. But I also don’t blame people who have been dealing with this brutality for so long to ask for help. Don’t forget there is already foreign intervention. The regime is receiving weapons from Russia and Iran,” he says and adds that his ultimate dream scenario is a just, open, democratic solution for everyone, including the Syrian non-Arab/ Muslim minorities. Listening to Offendum talk about the confrontations, it’s clear from the agony in his voice that the patience of this spiritual, easygoing, D.C.-style emcee is dwindling. He is especially disappointed with “blazing liberals who were so gung-ho supportive of Egypt and Tunisia, but who can’t make a distinction between the will of a people and a superpower trying to influence the situation. It’s the same will as in Egypt.” “I have immediate family there, I am not living a romantic notion of what revolution is.”
#Syria Loosing fans has not deterred Offendum from stating his points of view in his music. But one factor has had him hesitating: the well-being of his family in Syria. But on the anniversary of the Syrian uprising on March 17, Offendum decided to release the song “#Syria” when he performed it at the largest U.S. rally for Syria in front of the White House in D.C. “I waited until my immediate family gave their blessings, both those inside and outside,” he says. The chant on the chorus “alshaeb yureed isqaat al-nitham” (the people want to overthrow the regime) is synced to the beat produced by Palestinian American Sami Matar. Matar also produced “#Jan25.” “#Syria” soon got over 100,000 views (mainly from the U.S., the U.K. and Saudi Arabia—the latter possibly being a reflection of proxy servers in Syria as well as the large Syrian Diaspora living in Saudi Arabia). Soon after Offendum learned that he was a persona non grata in Syria, not something 42
he wants to test nor something he was surprised about. “I’m sure Syrian secret police has shown up at my concerts and sent back information about me. Sometimes a person is asking way too many detailed questions,” he says and accounts for Syrian American pianist Malek Jandali, who performed at a protest in D.C. The next day, Jandali’s parents, living in Homs, had been severely beaten up by security forces. “And he was just playing the piano, not rapping. Imagine how they are with people who are vocal,” he says and gave the example of Ibrahim Qashoush. A singer and originator of the chant Yalla Erhal Ya Bashar [Come on Bashar, Leave], Qashoush was killed by security forces and had his vocal chords ripped out. Today Qashoush and Offendum are featured side-by-side on a stamp created by a group of pro-revolution activists inside Syria. “The song was received overwhelmingly positive despite the haters. I got more support than I lost,” he says. “You can’t please everybody. I am doing this music not just to empower people with my messages; I am also empowering myself and the therapy that is involved with making music for someone who goes through struggles.”
Upcoming music Offendum is currently in L.A. working with Matar on his next album, which among other artists will feature The Narcicyst, Shadia Mansour, Hamdan Al-Abri. “I’m really excited about it,” Offendum says, but added that a release date is still in the future. He says that everything has been stalled by the situation in Syria. “The emotional toll that this has taken on me, my family and my community will be one of the themes I explore on the next album,” Offendum says. For now, his biggest wish is performing in Assi Square in Hama—“Assi” is Arabic for “disobedient”—because it lies next to the Assi River that flows in the opposite direction from all other rivers in the area. It was also here that over half a million Syrians took to the streets in protest in June 2011, and where Ibrahim Qashoosh sang his nighttime protest—all of which are featured in Offendum’s “#Syria” video. “I dream about it, I won’t lie,” Offendum says. “Next year in Syria, inshallah.”
Janne Louise Andersen is a freelance journalist based in NYC covering issues among Arab diaspora communities.
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Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Politics and Society
One Ummah, One Body, Exposed How much suffering should Muslim American children witness?
h e n M u na J on dy ’ s 70-year-old uncle in Daraa, Syria was beaten to death by the country’s security forces earlier this year, she responded with activism. Like other Syrian Americans, she joined the ongoing revolution in the country online. Today, the Flint, Mich. attorney is president of United for a Free Syria. However, Jondy is also a mother of three, and explaining to her children what had happened to their grand-uncle and why posed a challenge. “My children are different ages, so I shared more or less, depending on the child,” she says. “My girls, who were 9 and 11 at the time, my nieces and nephews of the same age, yes, we told them that he was killed trying to protect his son. But the details I didn’t share with them. I didn’t tell them that when the security force officer first struck him with the butt of his gun, my uncle urged him, ‘Son, I am older than your father,’ and then the officer proceeded to pound him until he was unconscious. “I imagine I didn’t share that because it’s so explicit and my kids have to yet to understand that such evil can exist in the world. They know generalities. Bashar’s government is killing and torturing. But I don’t think they can comprehend one-on-one type of aggression like that. I haven’t shown them videos or even pictures. And I’m sure part of that is because of my personal reaction – my stomach hurts and the images are replayed in mind. I don’t want to pass that on to them.” It’s a dilemma American Muslim parents, in particular, face. On the one hand, Prophet Muhammad has taught that the Muslim Ummah is like one body. When one part hurts, the rest suffers as well. This is why events abroad matter to Muslims in the U.S. It is also why Muslim children here witness their parents and imams praying for 44
those suffering around the world, whether that is from war, famine, torture, or ethnic cleansing. But making kids aware of horrific crimes and situations is difficult. How much should they know? And how much should they be sheltered from? Part of the answer, perhaps, lies in looking at children who have experienced these traumas first-hand. Shahina Siddiqui is president and executive director of the Islamic Social Services Association Inc.-Canada. She has counseled refugee families and recounts the harrowing toll even witnessing violence takes on them. “I was asked to talk to children in a school who were drawing pictures of bombs and bloody people and dismembered bodies and the teachers were concerned,” she says. “On closer counseling, the children told us how they had witnessed their father hacked to
My kids don’t see violence. They don’t see suffering. And when they do, it’s fleeting,” says Jondy. “‘Why is that guy standing at the corner asking people for money?’ I explain he’s homeless. Then we move on.”
Photo credit Eman Sahloul
By Samana Siddiqui
Young Syrian refugees in a makeshift school in Turkey.
death. What they could not speak they were telling through their drawings. They had not spoken about this to anyone, not even their mother, who thought the children were hiding in the fields when this happened. “Another child was acting up in school and the school could not understand his aggression,” Siddiqui recalls. “He, too, had come from ethnic cleansing and had seen his grandfather decapitated and his head burned in the home stove. The boy had hidden in the closet and, through the key hole, saw the atrocity.” These experiences and topics are not ones that children open up to easily, according to Siddiqui. “They have mostly suppressed these emotions and the trauma of experiencing or witnessing the worst and the most despicable acts and atrocities,” she says. This trauma has both short and long term effects. “Thirty percent of these children continue to suffer from sleep disorders, 14 percent suffer from depression, and 40 percent of them have thought about suicide,” says Nuha Makhzumi, outreach coordinator of Muslim Community Center for Human Services in Richland Hills, Tex. Other effects include, “distractibility and lack of focus, bouts of cold from the impact of fear,” as well as chronic traumatic fear or phobia, violent behavior, various health problems, and serious psychological issues. Siddiqui adds to this list: anger, all the
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
explain he’s homeless. Then we move on. Our youth group volunteers at a soup kitchen. When asked how they felt about serving, one response was, ‘They don’t look very hungry to me.’ Hungry to us means the dying or starving in Somalia. Not the woman with three kids at the soup kitchen whose clothes are clean. Many of us suburbanites that don’t have regular interaction with underprivileged people will continue to have this problem with our children. And many of us that are children of immigrants, but are disconnected from our parents’ homeland, will also not have regular interaction. Two of my kids visited Syria once for two weeks. They were young, and so didn’t notice that some kids didn’t even have shoes.” “The point isn’t to depress or guilt-trip them but rather to keep them grounded in reality, to get them to recognize their bless-
that what they complain about or find difficult, they should actually be thankful for.” Kishawi’s parents gave him that realization as he was growing up. “[My parents] kept things relatable so that I could compare and understand different situations,” he says. “My parents also encouraged me to start watching the news when I was young.” He recommends parents “be honest with children, to avoid euphemisms, and to introduce, gradually of course, other people’s realities to the child. Personally, I’m not a fan of sheltering children. I think it detracts from the value of the world around them, and it’s both unwise and dishonest to pretend there is nothing wrong with the world.” Ultimately, the goal should be for young Muslims to become more than just voyeurs of suffering.
Photo by Deanna Othman
Photo by Deanna Othman
stages of grief, emotional disconnect, trouble trusting others, relationship issues, anxiety and cognitive distortions, and addictions. However, she emphasizes that, “all can be helped with counseling and therapy and strong and loving community and family supports.” Gazan children deal with post-traumatic stress and nightmares following Israel’s Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. Both Makhzumi and Siddiqui advise that Muslim children in “Parents should encourage the children North America should be told about their ings, and to take advantage of things like fellow believers’ suffering – but in a limited education or afterschool sports – things that to know that they themselves can grow up and supervisory manner. aren’t necessarily available to others,” says to become the solutions,” says Kishawi, by “It should be the father or the mother Sami Kishawi, a Chicago-based activist who empowering them “to become doctors, who gives some information to the child,” visited the Gaza Strip in 2011 and realized teachers, or historians who are more conthis first-hand. says Makhzumi. cerned with humanity than with salaries. “It should be enough to have empathy, but “I’m sure most Arab readers will have [That] is what’ll help them comprehend and based on their age, they must be spared the heard their fathers tell them stories about deal with the struggles around them.” gory details, as this can cause secondhand how, when he was a child, he used to walk “We have to teach our kids that suffering trauma,” says Siddiqui. “I have seen in many miles, barefoot, on broken glass, above and is not just the responsibility of the sufferer Canadian children whose parents come from under tanks, even before the sun came out, or the sufferer’s neighbor, but that it’s all our war zones or their families are in war zones just to get to school on time,” Kishawi says. responsibility,” says Jondy. “And it’s not a and they are constantly watching news from “Exaggerated or not, there is truth in these Muslim/non-Muslim distinction. When those areas, this over-saturation and over- stories, and they aren’t limited to Palestin- something is bad, we have to help. exposure to bloody photos and videos can ians only. As cliché as these stories are, they “Sometimes we don’t give our kids have deep psychological impact on children taught me to value all that I’ve got going for enough credit that they are recognizing me here in the United States.” and [it] is not healthy.” what’s going on around them. I think we But exposure to suffering is still imporWhile Jondy says she limits what she tells need to find a balance between exposing tant. This is not only to help young American her four-year-old son about the current situ- them to what they can handle and teaching Muslims develop empathy with others, but ation in Syria, she is more open with his sis- them they have a responsibility in correcting to also acknowledge their many advantages. ters. “For my older girls, I think it’s important it. And each family will have to make that “My kids don’t see violence. They don’t to know that what they think is a big deal in determination for itself.” see suffering. And when they do, it’s fleet- their lives, is frivolous in most of the world. Samana Siddiqui, content manager of Sound Vision ing,” says Jondy. “‘Why is that guy standing The twitter hashtag #FirstWorldProblems Foundation’s website (www.soundvision.com), is also at the corner asking people for money?’ I really sums it up. I want my kids to recognize reporter and columnist for the “Chicago Crescent.”
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Around the World
A Vote Decades in the Making
Libyan Americans have the first and final say in this historic election. By Meha Ahmad
“We had the first ballots—the one that said ‘00001,’” says Cyrine Kebhaj, 22, a volunteer for the vote held at city hotel. Although the election day in Libya was July 7, Libyan Americans had the advantage: the polling station in Washington, D.C. opened the morning of July 3 and ended on the evening of July 7, giving voters more time to travel and cast their vote. “When we told the first person who came to vote—I believe his name was Adam, he was actually a revolutionary who fought in the revolution in Libya in Tripoli—the emotional reaction that flew out of him was one of the biggest that I saw. He was only around 23 years old, but he was fighting for something he and his whole family believed in. […] He was crying, and saying, ‘Allahu Akbar.’” For American-born Dania Shafei, 18, she voted in the Libyan election before her first U.S. election. “I felt like every vote counted. We are only a population of six million,” Shafei says. “In the future, I will be able to say, ‘I was one of the first to vote in the first election ever in Libya,’” Shafei says. She says she was proud to be a part of it, and that this marks a new beginning for Libya, and that many can already feel the difference. “[Libya has] become a country that has gone through so much and been able to win,” Shafei says. “I feel like this revolution has brought everyone closer together. They were able to get together and work 46
with each other. From what I’ve heard, you can sense [in Libya] the fact that there is no more negativity or fear there. You can speak your mind.” On the morning of July 7, some had to make the decision to either make their way to D.C. to cast their vote, or forever (at least until the next election) hold their peace. “It was kind of last-minute. We woke up at Fajr, trying to figure out what we were going to do,” says Abdulrahman Aduib, a Libyan American from Chicago. Aduib, his twin brother, and both of his parents flew to D.C. for only a few hours before flying back the same day. At least, that was the plan. “My brother and I actually got stranded in
Although there are an estimated 20,000 Libyan Americans in the U.S., there was only one polling location to serve all of them—and one not even centrally located.
Photo credit Sara Jawhari
ast-minute flights to D.C. were booked as many made their way to the single U.S. polling station set up for Libyan Americans to cast their votes in the historic Libyan elections. Amid tears of joy for the future, and sorrow for past atrocities remembered, both the first and last vote in the first-ever Libyan elections weren’t even cast in Libya—they both took place on U.S. soil.
Libyan Americans Noor, Salwa and Yahia Tagouri pose after casting their votes in D.C.
D.C.,” he says. But that wasn’t nearly enough to bring him down from the high of voting in the Libyan election. “I had a constant grin on my face. I just couldn’t believe what I was experiencing. You could not say anything to take the smile off my face.” Aduib says he took time to revel in a moment that was decades in the making— decades members of his own family have spent away from their home country and who have felt the separation keenly. “My father didn’t see his father for 30 years. My mother didn’t even know about her two brothers passing away until months later. They suffered through the [Gaddafi] regime. They might not have been put in prison, but they had their own suffering,” Aduib says. Aduib says his parents’ happiness fed his own. “I just soaked in my mother’s expression. It’s more than happiness. Your whole life you’re told to sacrifice. But to actually see the physical manifestation of your sacrifice, there’s nothing like it,” Aduib says. For many, the novelty of knowing names on the ballot acted as another almost overwhelming dose of the momentous reality. “When I opened the ballot and I read the names, there were actually names I knew,”
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Aduib says. “I’ve lived in Illinois my whole life, and I can’t tell you anything about [Sen.] Dick Durbin. But when I opened the Libyan ballot, there were people on it who I could tell you what their favorite meal is, or who they root for in basketball.” And he wasn’t the only one. “My father was laughing, looking at the ballot and saying, ‘I went to school with this guy and that guy.’” As a result of the election, the Aduibs now also have a politician in the family. “My brother-in-law, Mohammad Ali Abdullah, ran and won overwhelmingly in [his district of] Misrata,” Aduib says, mentioning the third largest city in Libya. “Just imagine for a second looking at the ballot and seeing your father on it. And it’s not like a position for the board at the mosque, but it’s literally picking someone to help write the constitution for your kids and your grandkids.” However, many complained that, though there are an estimated 20,000 Libyan Americans in the U.S., there was only one polling location to serve all of them—and one not even centrally located. “We were really taken aback by the fact that there was only one place in all of the U.S. for Libyans to vote,” Aduib says.
Kebhaj says she thinks there should have been more stations, to accommodate the eligible voters. She says high costs of travel to D.C. prevented many from voting. “Some people were sad they couldn’t bring most of their family because they couldn’t pay for the flight,” Kebhaj says. “I feel that that’s really sad because there are so many people who missed out on their opportunity to vote in their first election.” Kebhaj, a California native, flew out at her own expense to help facilitate the historic vote. Her family helped subsidize the cost of her travel and accommodations, but she says she was “lucky” and it was not feasible
to expect other Libyan Americans to make the same sacrifice. “It was sad there wasn’t more polling stations to lower costs for people who wanted to vote,” Kebhaj says. For Libyans, the democratic election represents the hope for a better quality of life. “This is the first of many great things, inshallah. Libyans abroad sleep with one eye open at all times. In the ‘80s, Gaddafi sent out assassins abroad. Now the quality of life for people in Libya and Libyans abroad will improve in general.” Kebhaj says that, while the election represents big changes for Libya, she hopes education is one of the first areas to improve in the country. “Education was really corrupt under Gaddafi,” Kebhaj, a teacher of biology, says. “[The lack of education] is the root of so much of the problems in Libya. I feel like when I decided to be a teacher, I thought, ‘There is a lot of work that can be done in Libya in regards to education.’” Kebhaj plans on moving to Libya, getting her PhD, and becoming a professor there. After casting their ballots, voters dipped a finger in ink made of silver nitrate, marking them so as to prevent them from voting multiple times. Most voters took pictures holding their inked fingers up, proud to have been part of this piece of history. In the end, the voters agreed the experience, and what it represented and meant for the future of Libya, was worth the inconvenience of travel. “This was the first actual free election for Libya. This is the first time in history ever. It represented the step in the right direction,” Aduib says. But he maintains that there’s still more work to do. “It’s such happy time, but we have such a long way to go.”
Meha Ahmad is the copy editor of Islamic Horizons.
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Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Around the World
Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya Muslim shout slogans during a protest outside the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur on June 15, 2012.
Invisible Thus Expendable Will recent media attention help Rohingya Muslims regain their fundamental rights in Burma? By Horizons Staff
une 2012 brought an escalation in the slaughter of Muslims in Burma, who are popularly known as the Rohingya, concentrated in western province, Arakan. There were also the injured, maimed, and countless made homeless. This has been the pattern of life for the Rohingya since the 1920s, under the Buddhist sway. In fact, the post-independence constitution crafted by the communist generals, U Nu and Aung San, who are considered to be the fathers of modern-day Burma. He co-founded the Anti-Fascist Peoples’ Freedom Party with Gen. U Nu before World War II. After independence, U Nu decreed Buddhism as the state religion of Burma against the will of the ethnic minorities and various religious organizations including Muslims. 48
According to General Aung San’s initiatives and the 1948 law, many, of course not all, the Rohingya in Rakhine could be classified as citizens. The new citizenship law was introduced in 1948 at the time Burma won independence. Under Article 4 (II), “Any person descended from ancestors who for two generations at least have
all made any of the territories included within the Union their permanent home and whose parents and himself were born in any of such territories shall be deemed to be a citizen of the Union.” However, what “recognition” this 1948 edict gave was firmly overturned by the military-drafted 1982 law. The term “Rohingya” is derived from the Arabic word “Raham,” meaning sympathy. Muslim settlements were established in Arakan since the arrival of the Arabs in the 8th century. The UN describes the 1 million strong Rohingya as “one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.” Yet it has not taken action on their behalf. It is only recently that the world has taken notice of their sufferings.
Thein Sein suggested that Burma (Myanmar) could end the crisis by expelling all of its Rohingyas or by having the UN resettle them — a proposal that a UN official quickly rejected. Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
The June riots were in line with pattern of periodical outbursts of the military-backed Burmese Buddhists. Despite her Nobel Peace Prize, Aung San Suu Kyi, had never spoken for the Rohingya. She does not consider them Burmese citizens. However, during her first speech in parliament on July 24, she said, in support of a ruling party MP’s motion, “To become a truly democratic union with a spirit of the union, equal rights and mutual respect, I urge all members of parliament to discuss the enactment of the laws needed to protect equal rights of ethnicities.” Her statement, however, lacks clarity. Amal de Chickera of the London-based Equal Rights Trust, said, “You have these moral figures [such as Suu Kyi], whose voices do matter. It’s extremely disappointing and in the end it can be very damaging.” “In recent days, [Buddhist] monks have emerged in a leading role to enforce denial of humanitarian assistance to Muslims, in support of policy statements by politicians,” Chris Lewa, who runs a non-governmental organization called The Arakan Project, which advocates for the Rohingya cause worldwide, told “The Independent” in July. The fact that the Rohingya look different than other Burmese is used by the former junta to portray them as foreigners. In a 2009 open letter to diplomats, U Ye Myint Aung, the Burmese consul general in Hong Kong — now a U.N. ambassador — described the Rohingya as “ugly as ogres” and compared their “dark brown” skin to that of the “fair and soft” ethnic Burmese majority. Religious freedom for Muslims in Burma has been systematically curbed. In the post-
9/11 era, random accusations of terrorism against Muslims have become a common form of persecution and harassment by Buddhists. The government does not consider Rohingya as citizens but “illegal” settlers from neighboring Bangladesh. The Rohingya have long demanded recognition as an indigenous ethnic group with full citizenship by birthright. Tens of thousands live as unwelcome and often harassed refugees in Bangladesh and India. In 1978, the Burmese army drove more than 200,000 Rohingyas into Bangladesh, according to rights groups and the U.S. Campaign
for Burma. Some 10,000 died in squalid conditions, and the rest returned to Burma. The campaign was repeated in 1991-1992, and again a majority returned. Human Rights Watch and other independent advocacy groups say Rohingyas face discrimination routinely. Lewa says the Rohingya are subjected to forced labor by the army, a humiliation not usually applied to ethnic Rakhine in the same area. On June 9, a coalition of 31 international NGOs, including many top Burma lobbyists and funders, issued a statement in D.C. calling for the repeal of the country’s Citizenship Law. Dr. Wakar Uddin, Chairman, Director General, Arakan Rohingya Union, The Burmese Rohingya Association of North America (BRANA), provided a detailed background of the Burmese ethnic cleansing. T. Kumar, International Advocacy Director, Amnesty International USA in his July 10 press conference pointed out that while the political situation in Burma may be returning to normal, the Southeast Asian country’s Rohingya minority people still face several abuses, including: required government permission to marry; restriction to have only two children per family; they are victims of modern day slavery—forced labor; land confiscation and restriction on movement; and revocation of citizenship — making them currently stateless. The Burmese government counts more than 130 ethnicities in the country. The Rohingya are not on that list. Indeed, in June, President Thein Sein suggested that Burma (Myanmar) could end the crisis by expelling all of its Rohingyas or by having the UN resettle them — a proposal that a UN official quickly rejected.
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Promoting Inclusiveness for People with Disabilities The Muslim community has made progress in accommodating people with disabilities, but the work is far from complete. By Maggie Siddiqi
ohammed Yousuf grew up in a small town near Hyderabad, India, and contracted a serious form of polio when he was 2 ½ years old. It initially paralyzed most of his body, and after significant treatment, he was left with only a remaining impairment in his legs. His parents’ friends told them he would never lead a normal life, and for years he was unable to go to school, both because he was only able to move around by crawling and because of the way people would treat him. When his parents were finally able to obtain leg braces for him, he was only ridiculed further, and he preferred to continue crawling in order to get from one place to another. When he was 12, his grandmother came to visit. “She saw something in me,” Yousuf says. “She said ‘I’m taking him with me to my house and will see what I need to do to take care of him.’” She brought him to Hyderabad and hired a personal assistant whom he was entirely dependent upon to do many things, including carrying his books to school. He was able to make up a lot, though not all, of the lost time in school, and most importantly, he made a couple of good friends. “I felt so good about that,” he says. “Even if some people called me names, I had people to go to.” After graduating from school and going on to achieve a degree in engineering, Yousuf still had to struggle to be accepted. Employers did not think he
would be capable of doing more than clerical work, and refused to hire him for jobs for which he was qualified. In 1990, he moved to the U.S. for a Master’s degree, and went on to work for Chrysler, General Motors and the U.S.Department of Transportation. In 2001, he established what is now called the EquallyAble Foundation (www.equallyable. org) to try and make a difference for individuals with disabilities who encountered some of the same struggles he did. Growing up, Yousuf says, “I felt very
attached to God but an even greater change happened when I moved in with my grandparents. My grandfather was very pious, and when I saw him praying five times a day, I tried to do what he did.” Because of his leg braces, he had to pray with his shoes on, and still does to this day. His grandfather was very helpful and told him it was acceptable to pray that way. During the two years that he lived in that home, he says, “I didn’t lose sight. I prayed. I had hope.” From an Islamic standpoint, the exclusions Yousuf faced were unacceptable. Imam Zaid Shakir of Zaytuna Institute describes the prophetic example of how to regard people with disabilities. “The Prophet (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), as was his habit, made every effort to include people with disabilities in the highest level of communal life,” he says. “For example, Abdullah bin Umm Maktum, the blind man about whom Surah ‘Abasa (Quran 80) was revealed, was made governor of Madina in the Prophet’s absence, even though he was blind. So his ability to hold the highest office suggests that the Prophet looked at the ability of the person and not the disability of the person. [He thought] in terms of how that person could be a benefit in the community.” Yet not all disabilities may be as easy to understand as a physical disability that affects a person’s ability to walk, or a sensory disability that affects a person’s ability to see. Many disabilities are invisible. They can impact a person’s speech, his/her behavior toward others, and as communities and as individuals we are presented with a greater challenge to learn and reflect upon how to relate to these individuals. Safiyyah Amina Muhammad, for example, is the mother of a boy named Sufyaan in New Jersey. Sufyaan has autism spectrum disorder, a disability which has caused him to behave in a different and sometimes disruptive manner in their mosque, Masjid Waarith ud Deen. Community members initially responded to such behavior with immense
Not all disabilities may be as easy to understand as a physical disability that affects a person’s ability to walk, or a sensory disability that affects a person’s ability to see. Many disabilities are invisible. They can impact a person’s speech, his/her behavior toward others, and as communities and as individuals we are presented with a greater challenge to learn and reflect upon how to relate to these individuals. 50
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
disapproval, commenting loudly about how she was a bad parent who could not keep her son under control. Sufyaan’s other siblings were embarrassed, and Muhammad, like many others in that situation, simply might have gone home and stayed away from the mosque. But she refused. “He deserves to pray,” she says. “He has a right to faith, too.” She went to the imam and told him about the situation, and he addressed the topic of compassion during his sermon the next Friday. The community as a whole soon became eager to understand more about autism and learn how to support Muhammad, Sufyaan, and the rest of their family members so they could all maintain a positive and meaningful experience at the mosque. Masjid Waarith ud Deen now serves as a role model to other communities in similar situations. It was featured in a PBS Religion and Ethics episode in 2009 and in a new book by Mark Pinsky, Amazing Gifts: Stories of Faith, Disability, and Inclusion. Stories like Sufyaan’s remind us that there may be many occasions when we pass judgment on an individual or a family in our community without understanding the circumstances. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, nearly 1 in 5 people in the U.S. have some kind of disability. One in 3 people have a family member or close friend with a disability. And yet many report that they do not know a person who has a disability in their mosque. Sometimes this is because there are people who have invisible disabilities that we do not detect. Sometimes this is because people with disabilities feel so unwelcome or unsupported that they cannot or will not come. And sometimes this is because we forget that many elders in our midst face challenges that may be “disabilities” — like hearing or vision loss, arthritis, depression, an unsteady gait, or diabetes. One of the most beautiful things about Muslim communities around the world is the value placed on the elderly. This may serve as a model for the community when dealing with individuals with disabilities. Younger members of our community like Yousuf also deserve accommodation. Still other community members might not need a chair or similar assistance — perhaps all they need from their community is a smile. “There are people you’re avoiding,” says Ginny Thornburgh, Director of Interfaith Initiative at the American Association for People with Disabilities. “Maybe you’re avoiding them because you’re afraid you’ll
say the wrong thing to them and offend them. But sometimes people don’t want you to go out of your way to welcome them — they just want to be valued. They want to feel that their presence is appreciated, even enjoyed. Maybe there is a reason why the accessibility ramp at the mosque isn’t being used. Is it possible that a person came to the mosque but found no friends?” Everyone wants to feel part of a community. “They might be thinking, ‘I just need you to know that I like flowers,’” she says, “‘and to know that my mom is really ill right now and I’m worried about that.’” The gift of friendship is the best way for us to include everyone in our community, in addition to demonstrating dignity, respect, and patience for everyone in our midst.
Keeping Islam Accessible In 2000, Nashiru Abdulai and other deaf Muslim students worked to explain their particular needs to the Muslim community in Rochester, NY. Nashiru came from Ghana to study at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). As with his classes, the university provided him and other deaf Muslim students with a sign-language interpreter during every Jummah prayer. Whenever he went to a mosque off-campus, however, no interpreter was provided. But as the Islamic Center of Rochester came to understand the growing needs of the large deaf community there, it did everything it could to make sure their mosque was accessible and supportive. “They opened one hall so we could have American Sign Language (ASL) classes for the hearing community every weekend,” he says. “We did that and it was very successful. And whenever someone from the Islamic Center of Rochester came to RIT to give a talk, they made sure there was an interpreter there.” Even more significant, it was through the support of the Muslim community in Rochester that Abdulai and other deaf Muslims were able to establish Global Deaf Muslim (GDM) in 2005. “Without the help of the Muslim community in Rochester, there would be no GDM,” Abdulai says. “The Islamic Center of Rochester provided us with funds to pay for the paperwork and moral support, giving us all the attention we needed to go through with the paperwork.” Global Deaf Muslim (www.globaldeafmuslim.org), of which Abdulai is now president, works to make Islam accessible to deaf Muslims worldwide, and to address
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Making Room for Guide Dogs By Maggie Siddiqi
ebastian is well-known in the halls of the U.S. government. He has made his reputation keeping people on the right path, avoiding obstacles, and making it known if there are bumps in the road. But Sebastian is no government employee. He’s a dutiful seeing-eye dog who guides his blind owner, Mazen Basrawi, an attorney in the Obama Administration. Despite Sebastian’s stature in the government, he faces some challenges when he travels to the mosque with his owner. “People don’t know how to behave or what to expect,” says Basrawi. He finds a place for Sebastian out of the way, outside the prayer area, but is often asked to take the dog further away, even outside the mosque altogether. Unfortunately, Basrawi needs Sebastian to help him find doorways and let him know when there is an obstacle in his path, so needs him to be very close by once prayers have ended. “I would like to see more education on this issue among our community leaders and their communities as a whole,” Basrawi says, “both on a) fiqh regarding dogs and service animals in particular, and b) etiquette on how to behave around people with guide dogs.” He cites one community in the Chicago area that gave him hope, when he went to attend a meeting at the mosque. “I walked in and asked where the best place to put the dog might be. To my surprise, one of the leaders of the community said, ‘Come right this way,’ and took both of us into the meeting room.” That man, he says, was an elderly member of the community who was also the head of his local Lion’s Club. The cause they had chosen to work on was blindness and so he knew exactly what to do. There is a lot that our communities still need to learn about this issue, and mosques have a special obligation to help blind members of our communities feel comfortable and welcomed, together with their guides. To overcome, the dog issue, in fact, Muslims like Detroit native Mona Ramouni are trying alternatives. She goes about life with Cali, her seeing-eye 5-year-old miniature horse. And the horses can live into their 30s, more than twice as long as most dogs.
Special Feature the rights and needs of deaf Muslims. Many deaf people use American Sign Language as a first language, increasing the need for religious materials in American Sign Language, including the Quran. Imam Zaid Shakir also notes, “The Prophet mentions: ‘God will help His servant as long as His servant helps his brother,’ and a related hadith: ‘You are given divine aid and you are given your sustenance based on how you treat the weak amongst you.’ So how those who are weak or downtrodden or disabled are treated [in a community] is an indication of the degree of divine aid an individual or group of believers is given.” If we fail to provide access to the deaf community in our mosques, as Imam Shakir says, we are committing oppression by violating “the right of a person with a particular disability to religious guidance. So if there’s
sharing a personal story because there is a lot of sensitivity about privacy. We don’t air our dirty laundry, and sometimes we don’t even tell people if we’re in pain. This becomes unfortunate when this privacy also comes with a sense of shame, because we think a disability is somehow a punishment. And how does that make a person with a disability feel?” “The idea of disabilities being shameful is something we’re moving away from,” DePalma adds. “This is a very exciting time. We’re moving far past the idea of giving charity to people with disabilities, and thinking more along the lines of how to help people with disabilities be independent and live fully functioning lives. A lot of this has to do with technological advances: people who wear eyeglasses used to be visually impaired; people who are blind now have computers that read to them.” This is in large part, she says, due to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), a federal law enacted in 1990 which required accessible spaces in every parking lot, required employers to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities, and more. Disability advocates like DePalma and those before her have worked for decades to change the way Sufyaan has inspired his community to understand more our society views people with about autism. disabilities, providing them no deaf interpretation for a deaf person then with the opportunity are able to worship that person is being oppressed…. Therefore and attend events like everyone else. Many Muslims with disabilities feel that it’s an imperative that Muslims make every possible measure to provide accessibility and when society-at-large rejects them, they services, especially those related to educa- should find a welcoming home in the Muslim tion, those related to public health and safety community, but oftentimes the opposite is — otherwise people who are suffering from true. Churches and synagogues tend to be particular disabilities who are denied those more welcoming for people with disabilities, things are being oppressed. It’s a grave wrong providing accessibility ramps at the main that’s condemnable both in the Quran and entrance, giving individuals with intellecSunnah,” he says. tual disabilities important roles like carrying In many cases, Muslim communities sacred objects or handing out programs, and are often simply unaware of the needs of providing listening devices to community individuals with disabilities in their midst, members who are hard-of-hearing. until a brave individual points out their chalWorking with individuals of other faiths lenges and works very hard to change the has been incredibly helpful for people like community’s response. Some individuals DePalma, who spoke on her work with the and families find this challenge to be more Christian community at the 2011 ISNA Conthan they are willing to take on, and prefer vention. There is so much we can learn from to try to keep the disability hidden. “Privacy the experiences of others. “This is a great way is an Islamic value,” says Debbie DePalma, a to reach out to the interfaith community,” disability advocate at JJ’s List, a Chicago-based she says. “It melts away religious and cultural nonprofit. “We often are not comfortable with barriers when you can relate to someone 52
Note from the Author It is important to note here that deaf people do not typically view deafness as a disability, but rather as an identity they carry with pride. “Deaf people just can’t hear, but we have communication,” says Hamad Al-Humaid, Global Deaf Muslim Vice President for Asia, in a video pre‑ sented at the 2009 ISNA Conven‑ tion. “Suppose a person from Africa who doesn’t know English but speaks French has difficulty communicat‑ ing with us. Are we going to call him disabled? No, he already has a communication system, which is French. It’s the same thing with deaf people. We communicate using sign language.” For the purpose of this article, deafness is included because federal laws address the specific needs of deaf people under the Americans with Disabilities Act, and because the deaf Muslim com‑ munity’s needs for inclusion in the hearing Muslim community are parallel to the greater struggle of Muslims with disabilities.
else who is trying to address the same issue. We can work on these things together as a coalition, to improve the situation in the society-at-large.” At the same time, there is much that others have to learn from the Muslim community. When Global Deaf Muslim held an interfaith conference in Washington, DC, they were surprised that deaf members of the Christian community did not have a similar organization. The Christian members were very inspired by Abdulai and his colleagues.
How to Be Inclusive In many cases, Muslim communities become more accepting and inclusive of people with disabilities when those people themselves and their family members work hard to make it happen. This places a great deal of hardship on a family that is already doing all it can to make sure their loved one is accepted at work or school, and in many other areas. The last place they should have to face these challenges is at their mosques. There are many ways in which those of us who do not personally struggle with disabilities can help. Communities can start by ensuring that all events and the facilities where they take
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
place are accessible for people in wheelchairs and provide interpreters, written materials, or other similar resources upon request. Oftentimes people with disabilities will not attend events because they assume no arrangements have been made for them, so it is equally important to publicize that these events are accessible. A phone number should be provided on all flyers or announcements, asking people with disabilities to call if they need any special accommodations. Islamic centers can also include similar announcements in their newsletters, so people are aware that this is a priority and feel more welcome in the community. Some Islamic centers have held potluck dinners or disability pride events to highlight the importance of Muslims with disabilities and their contributions to the community. For example, Mohammed Yousuf ’s organization, the EquallyAble Foundation, joined together with the ADAMS Center in Sterling, Va., for a Special Eid Day. Some families may be reluctant to attend other events with the broader community, so this provided them with a fun opportunity to interact with others with and without disabilities. Most importantly, we can do our best to be welcoming and inclusive toward people with disabilities in our communities. Furthermore, Islam, says Imam Zaid Shakir says, requires Muslims to stop oppression, and to do all we can to promote the inclusion of everyone in our communities, to provide them with access to their God-given right to religious knowledge and practice. ISNA strives to be inclusive of Muslims with disabilities at events like the annual Convention, and also advocates on behalf of all people with disabilities with the federal government. ISNA is a member of the Steering Committee of the Interfaith Disability Advocacy Coalition (IDAC), which seeks to speak out and take action on disability policy issues with Congress, the President, and society at large. Specifically, IDAC members urge the federal government and local faith communities to take action to promote independence and community living, education, employment, and access to health care for all people with disabilities. To find out how you can get involved, check out facebook. com/InterfaithDisabilityAdvocacyCoalition or take a look at ISNA’s interfaith projects page at isna.net/interfaith.
Like a Goldfish in a Huge Tank Organization aids deaf Muslims in spiritual learning and growth. By Mariem Qamruzzaman
President of GDM Nashiru Abdulai, Development Coordinator Charles Sterling, Vice President Ahmed Ibrahim and others at a GDM Chicago event.
efore Nashiru “Nash” Abdulai left Ghana to come to America, a friend asked him why he was leaving the deaf community behind when he had done so much for them, championing their rights and teaching them Islam through sign language. Abdulai made a promise that he was going to do something to continue the cause, and he stayed true to that promise by establishing Global Deaf Muslim (GDM), the only organization representing and run by deaf Muslims in the U.S. Abdulai—the president of GDM—said many Muslims that are born deaf feel isolation from the Muslim community because they are unable to communicate and have only a basic understanding of Islam. “I have to admit that my life is like a goldfish in a huge fish tank,” says Fatima Muhammad, GDM’s marketing director. Describing a family dinner event, Muhammad wrote in an email, “One of my cousins made a joke about something and I didn’t understand what he was saying and everyone laughed so hard except me. I feel pretty much
hurt inside because I want to be able to join and laugh with them as a family.” Islamic education, too, is very limited for deaf Muslims. Abdulai found himself in a unique position because he received regular Islamic education until he contracted meningitis at the age of nine and lost his hearing. He knows firsthand the stark contrast between Islamic resources for the deaf and those for hearing Muslims. After Abdulai graduated from college, he made a commitment to fill that void for the deaf. He teamed up with friends from the Rochester Institute of Technology, which provides university education for the deaf, to establish GDM. His colleagues shared similar experiences, being unable to participate in typical Islamic activities that others took for granted. Ahmed Mohamed Ibrahim, vice president of GDM, grew up with significant hearing loss, but still made an effort to hear the imam on Fridays. “I can assure you that, despite that I am not fully deaf, I would leave the khutbahs on Fridays without understanding anything,”
There’s still a negative viewpoint of the deaf, that somehow God is punishing [the parents] or that somehow the devil is involved so they don’t get their children educated,” Abdulai says.
Maggie Siddiqi is program coordinator at the Islamic Society of North America’s Washington, DC office and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
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Special Feature Ibrahim wrote through email. It was a similar echo across the board. Even though GDM is a national organization, it only has enough resources to service mosques where there are higher concentrations of deaf Muslims such as the DC/Maryland/Virginia area, which has about 200 and Minneapolis, where 75 deaf Muslims all attend the same mosque. Those living in more remote areas, like Fatima Muhammad, GDM’s marketing director, rely significantly on themselves for learning about Islam. “Honestly, I don’t think I had a very good Islamic education when I was young because I’ve never had an interpreter at my local mosque,” she says. “They didn’t want to spend money on an interpreter if they only have one deaf student attending the local mosque. I had to learn more about Islam and Quran on my own.” But Abdulai and his colleagues are opening doors to deaf Muslims that were closed before. GDM has fundraised for 40 deaf Muslims to travel to Saudi Arabia with interpreters during the month of Ramadan and complete Umrah. They are also organizing the first international deaf conference in Qatar where they expect an attendance of 1,500 deaf Muslims.
Abdulai says he was shocked to see there was a lack of Islamic resources for the deaf even in the Muslim world. “A lot of the deaf that are in the Middle East, they look up to this organization for help, support, and counseling, and I was very surprised by that,” he says, through an interpeter. “I was expecting the reverse, for us to look up to them.” According to Abdulai’s experience, that’s not the only problem deaf Muslims in the Muslim world contend with. “The interpreters there, they make things up and they interpret whatever they want and however they want,” he says. Yet, even with few to look up to for help, GDM has found solid supporters such as Dr. Ingrid Mattson, former president of the Islamic Society of North America and professor at the Hartford Seminary. She was the first person to provide sign language interpreters at the annual ISNA Conference. “She’s a wonderful person, and she’s very much involved,” Abdulai says. GDM has been fundraising to create a sign language translation of the Quran, and Mattson has supported replacing the word “deaf ” in Quranic translations with “unhearing,” so deaf children
will not associate their condition with actual spiritual deficiency. Abdulai says there is widespread ignorance about deaf people within the Muslim community. Statistics show that 90 to 95 percent of deaf children are born to hearing parents. “There’s still a negative viewpoint of the deaf, that somehow God is punishing [the parents] or that somehow the devil is involved so they don’t get their children educated,” he says. “The children are feeling alienated and excluded. We see a lot of our members that have no real knowledge of Islam, and it starts with what Islam is.” Ahmed Ibrahim wrote that the hardest part of growing up as a deaf Muslim was “[t] o find deaf and hard of hearing Muslims like me, who practice and who are proud to be Muslims. This is where I feel to be the best place for me, here at GDM, alhamdalillah.” Indeed, Aelaa ElSabbahy, director of programs at GDM, may have summed up the feelings of the staff of five in GDM’s Virginia office. “GDM is a family to me,” she says.
Mariem Qamruzzaman is a freelance writer pursuing her Master’s degree in speech language pathology at the University of Texas-Austin.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Classical Islamic Tale to Capture Young Minds and Hearts What inspired Alexis York Lumbard to introduce a centuries-old classic to the young? By Celene Ayat Lizzio
ith her children’s adaptation of the well known Persian poem “The Conference of the Birds,” soon to be released, Boston-based children’s book author Alexis York Lumbard is fashioning engaging books that embrace the moral spirit of Islam for young minds. She recently shared some reflections on her journey with Islamic Horizons. Islamic Horizons: What motivates your storytelling? Alexis York Lumbard: Every traditional society has recognized the power of a storytelling. Stories aid our understanding of life, they help us see right from wrong, the good in the ugly. They call us to awaken our inner hero. That is why fables and folktales have been passed down with great care from generation to generation for thousands of years. The Islamic world has an incredibly rich tradition of storytelling, and as a writer, it is my hope to make more of these stories available to the general public. I sincerely believe in the transformative power of good fiction. In order to imbue certain moral qualities in the very young, lectures only go so far. Pictures and prose, however, can meet children right where they are developmentally, through the theater of their imaginations. Older children are intellectually and intuitively capable of understanding the logic, beauty and necessity of sacred teachings and moral doctrines. Young children, however, experience the world in a very different way. Play is, in a sense, their work. This is perhaps why Prophet Muhammad instructed us to play with our children for the first seven years of their lives. IH: What can we expect from your latest title? AYL: Mantiq al-Tayr, which is usually translated as The Conference of the Birds, was written by the great 12th century Persian poet Farid al-Din Attar. Attar’s original poem, profound and compellingly beautiful work, has
The Islamic world has an incredibly rich tradition of storytelling, and as a writer, it is my hope to make more of these stories available to the general public. 56
inspired writers and artists around the world from Muslim India to Ottoman Turkey to present day America. My version is the first rendition in English for children, tailored to children approximately four to eight years old. I retained the essential arch of the story where a flock of birds journey to meet their king. In order to complete this long and arduous quest, they must overcome certain obstacles pertaining to their own inner weaknesses and negative character tendencies. The story you see, is a metaphor, pointing toward the meaning of life. The birds are like our spirits on a journey to God. Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
“All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim” By Manar Khalil 2012. Pp. 256. pb. $16.95 White Cloud Press
Alexis York Lumbard in Egypt
IH: How has parenting influenced your career as an author? AYL: My three girls—ages two, four and six—are a constant source of inspiration. If it were not for my children, I may not have ever become a writer. When I was first pregnant, I had in mind a particular story I wanted to read with my child, but the story did not yet exist. So I thought, “Well, why don’t you write it?” And that is how this adventure began. Now, my children are avid book-lovers, and their delight in reading my stories keeps my work fresh and exciting. Inspired by their creativity, I am trying my hands at paper-cut illustrations. For now it is just a hobby I can do with my girls, but my hope is to become proficient enough in the craft to illustrate some of my own books. With my eldest now in kindergarten, I find myself venturing into non-fiction as well. In today’s world, girls need role models that are not only strong, but pious too. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for them to hear more stories about Seyyidah Zainab and other women of Islam? IH: Could you recommend other new Islamic-themed titles of interest for children? AYL: Islamic-themed children’s literature in English has been somewhat limited, but we are seeing an upward trend. For instance, the prestigious “Muslim Writers Award” is fostering new talent in Islamic children’s literature. One recent recipient is Naima Roberts [author of] Ramadan Moon. Also keep your eye on Hena Khan, a Pakistani American whose second picture book, Golden Domes and Silver Lanterns: A Muslim Book of Colors, is a delightful, breezy introduction to the pillars of Islam. Also, Mehded Maryam Sinclair, through her website Nur al-Qasas, is sounding a call for a renewal of the oral tradition.
Celene Ayat Lizzio is a Boston-based scholar, educator, parent, and affectionata of first-rate children’s literature.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
From varied religious figures to professionals with different ethnic backgrounds, “All-American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim” is an intricate collection of essays from men who were born and raised in America and follow Islam while leading their everyday lives. The story of Muslims in America is often smeared through the media, but this book offers vast experiences that the public rarely hears or reads about. One of the contributors, Mark Gonzales, is a Mexican and Muslim who’s an HBO Def Poet with a Master’s in education. In the chapter titled, “re: Location | re: Definition,” he addresses the question Where are you from? and the many Shamar Hemphill implications it comes with. Gonzales richly discusses his family, soul and the present by saying that a person is made up of many different things and that when asked that question it implies that you are not from here (America.) “I believe our skin is tailor-made to our bones. No skin will fit onto my skeleton like the one I currently live in,” Gonzales says. Like Gonzales, Amer Ahmad, the City of Chicago’s Comptroller and Director of Revenue, tells his story in his own powerful way. He wrote about the emotional and heartfelt story of his premature daughter, Safa, in his chapter titled “In This City by the Lake.” Safa was born just two pounds, and Ahmad found his world had changed from a state of comfort to absolute chaos. Through this, he tells the story of how he became interested in public service and helping lead Chicago back on a righteous financial path. He uniquely correlates Chicago’s financial situation to the stance of Muslims in America. Ahmad emphasizes that “If 2.7 million Chicagoans can find a way to rebuild their great city yet again, then so too can a group of 6 million American Muslims be inspired to return to our true fitra.” The surprising and apprised essays compiled in this book offer happiness, pain, humor and confusion. Why do some of these men feel they way they do about being Muslim and American? How can one think this way if he is Muslim or if he is American? This book succeeds at silencing these questions. These men illustrate the beauty of Islam and being American; one can think and believe in any way they choose and don’t have to explain why.
Exhibit Highlights Marvels of Muslim Civilization Att: ISNA Convention-goers: While in DC, be sure to check out this exhibit at the National Geographic Museum.
ashingtonians and visitors to the nation’s capital can marvel at the achievements of Golden Age of Muslim Civilization. The award-winning interactive exhibition, 1001 Inventions, which arrived in D.C. Aug. 3, introduces the ground-breaking scientific and cultural achievements of this era, from the 7th to the 17th centuries. It will be showing in the National Geographic Museum for six months, until Feb. 3, 2013, says Junaid Bhatti, the exhibition’s director of marketing. The collection, he says, is based on two decades of research by more than 100 leading academics and educationalists from around the world. The exhibition’s content was reviewed and approved by an independent panel of academics from the London Science Museum’s and was also reviewed by academic experts retained by California Science Center. Their previous venue, in Los Angeles, was opened by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, received half a million visitors. It has drawn millions of visitors at blockbuster residencies in London, Istanbul, New York City and Abu Dhabi. Bhatti adds that the exhibition, which has a footprint of about 8000 sq. ft. in the National Geographic Museum, is a blockbuster traveling exhibition that highlights the enormous contribution to science and technology made by men and women of many different faiths in Muslim civilization. The exhibition is located just half a mile from the White House. “The mission of National Geographic is to spread knowledge of the world and its cultures — past and present,” says Kathryn Keane, vice president of Exhibitions at the National Geographic Society. “This exhibition is an opportunity to share the fascinating history of Muslim civilization with our audiences and to celebrate great scientific achievement and innovation.” Accompanying the exhibition’s residency was a “Family Festival” on Sept. 8, which offered an opportunity for the families of residents, politicians, ambassadors and statesmen in the D.C. area to learn more about the history of science in Muslim civilization. The festival, supported by a grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, provided free entry to all viewers. “Muslim civilization stretched from southern Spain as far as China,” says Ahmad Salim, the exhibition’s producer and director. “For a thousand years, scholars of many faiths built 58
on the ancient knowledge of the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans, making breakthroughs that helped pave the way for the Renaissance. The discoveries made by men and women in Muslim civilization — from automatic machines and medical marvels to astronomical observations and inspiring architecture — have left their mark on the way we live today.” The exhibition’s centerpiece is a model of celebrated Ottoman engineer Al-Jazari’s sophisticated Elephant Clock, created more than 800 years ago. The clock was a masterpiece celebrating the diversity of humankind and incorporating features from Indian, Egyptian, Greek, Chinese and Arab cultures. The clock cleverly reflected cultural and technological influences from across Muslim Civilization, from Spain to China. The exhibition also features energy-efficient houses constructed more than 1,500 years ago. These incorporated natural cooling elements in their design, such as double-glazed windows, thick external walls and air-scoops for natural cross ventilation. Illustrations of the various houses are highlighted throughout the exhibition to show how our current energy-efficient houses use this same technology today. The work of influential scientists, such as physicist Ibn al-Haytham, is featured in the exhibition. Al-Haytham’s ideas about optics overturned the ancient theory that our eyes send out invisible rays in order to see. He proved his theory of light rays being reflected from visible objects to build the first camera obscura. The exhibition includes camera obscura examples and other advancements in optics, showing how early people came to understand the complex concepts behind vision. In addition to these larger-scale inventions, 1001 Inventions features many everyday objects that many do not know were invented by the men and women of the medieval Muslim Civilization. Items such as perfume, fabrics, chess games and more are featured to show visitors the importance of past inventions on our daily lives today. The exhibition is supported by the UKbased Foundation for Science, Technology and Civilization, an international network of academic experts, as its Global Knowledge Partner. Additional support comes from the Saudi Arabia-based Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiatives, philanthropic arm of the ALJ Group of companies, which serves as the Global Strategic Partner of 1001 Inventions.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Beyond Dogma: Rumi’s Teachings on Friendship with God and Early Sufi Theories Jawid Mojaddedi 2012. pp. 240. HB. $49.95 Oxford University Press, USA
undamental questions about Rumi’s (d. 1273) teachings, such as the relationship of his Sufi mysticism to the wider Islamic faith, remain contested. Mojaddedi reaches to the heart of the matter by examining Rumi’s teachings on walaya (Friendship with God) in light of earlier discourse in the wider Sufi tradition and juridico-theological Islam. Walaya is not only central to Rumi’s teachings, but forms the basis for the celebration of intimacy, communication with the Divine, and transcendence of conventional religiosity in his poetry. And yet walaya is the aspect of Sufism which has proven the most difficult to reconcile with juridico-theological Islam. Mojaddedi offers a perceptive analysis of the historical development of the discourse on walaya in the formative centuries of Sufism. This period coincides with the time when juridico-theological Islam rose to dominance, as reflected in the harmonizing efforts of theoretical Sufi writings, especially the manuals of the tenth and eleventh centuries. Mojaddedi seeks to present a fresh evaluation of the influential early Sufi manuals in their historical context, while highlighting the significance for juridico-theological scholars of fundamental dogma in the process of consolidating their own dominance.
Sufism for Non-Sufis?: Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah al-Sakandari’s Taj al-’Arus Sherman A. Jackson 2012. pp. 176. HB. $45.00. Oxford University Press, USA
n his translation and analysis of Ibn ‘Ata’ Allah al-Sakandari’s Taj al-’Arus (The Bride-Groom’s Crown), Jackson demonstrates that violent, lax, or rigid readings of the texts of Islam are just as much a result of the state of spiritual health, awareness, and fortitude of those who read and deploy them as they are of the substance of the Qur’an, Sunna, and the teachings of Islam’s sages. al-Sakandari’s book Taj al-’Arus highlights the effort of a renowned Sufi master (d. 1309 CE) to bypass the controversies and misunderstandings concerning Sufism to explain Islam’s tradition of devotional rectitude, spiritual refinement, and purification of the self to the everyday Muslim. To this end, al-Sakandari avoids virtually every aspect of Sufism known to raise problems for opponents or non-adepts — theological, institutional, even terminological — instead attempting to cultivate a proper relationship with God, not merely intellectually or theologically but experientially and psycho-dynamically. Written in the classical style of spiritual aphorisms, this work is a treasure-trove of classical Islamic spiritual wisdom, free of all of the usual barriers between Sufism and the common believer.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Short Takes The Art of Hajj Venetia Porter 2012. pp. 104. PB. $16.95 Interlink Pub. Group The Hajj is the sacred and most coveted journey for a Muslim. With her little book – a companion to the exhibition, Hajj: Journey to the Heart of Islam — Venetia Porter, curator of Islamic and modern Middle Eastern art at the British Museum, not only takes the reader on a journey, but celebrates the skill and creativity of artists, craftspeople, and the pilgrims themselves who have responded to the call of Hajj over the centuries. Walking Palestine: 25 Journeys Into the West Bank Stefan Szepesi 2012. pp. 288. PB. $22.95
Signal Books (Signal Travel Guides)
Szepesi offers the fruit of his 25 walking trips in the West Bank. His statement in his acknowledgement of thanks, “Shukran ala husn ildiyafaa” basically sums the book: a beautiful people in a beautiful, but enslaved land. American Arabesque: Arabs and Islam in the Nineteenth Century Imaginary (America and the Long 19th Century) Jacob Rama Berman 2012. pp. 288. PB. $23.00 Berman focuses on the representations of Arabs, Islam and the Near East in nineteenth-century American culture, arguing that these representations play a significant role in the development of American national identity over the century, revealing largely unexplored exchanges between these two cultural traditions that will alter how we understand them today. The Anthropology of Islam Reader Jens Kreinath (Ed.) 2012. pp. 432. PB. $55.00 In his well-rounded collection of essays on the anthropology of Islam available today, Kreinath has brought together a set of path breaking theoretical texts with some of the richest ethnographic accounts of Muslim societies produced by anthropologists. The volume would be of use to students and scholars who desire a more nuanced perspective and understanding of the Muslim world. Islam: An Essential Understanding for Fellow Americans Manzoor Hussain 2012. pp. 364. PB. $27.95 Vantage Press, New York, NY Dr. Manzoor Hussain’s response to Islamophia is to delineate Islam from its inception through its extraordinarily rich history, making transparent the religion’s most seemingly opaque foundations. He does not restrain from tackling the thorniest issues of the day, reiterating that Islam is peace and was spread peacefully. The Perfect Gentleman: A Muslim Boy Meets the West Imran Ahmad 2012. pp. 352. HB. $24.99 Center Street, New York, NY A memoir of a Pakistani Muslim boy growing up in the western world, about the complex multicultural confusion of growing up as an immigrant Pakistani Muslim in England; and the misguidance he slips into.
Food for the Spirit
Tapping into Our Spiritual Heritage Future columns will feature modern commentaries by a wide range of scholars from North America and Europe on individual aphorisms from this treasure trove of wisdom. By Imam Mohamed Magid and Sam Ross
he late Franz Rosenthal, a professor at Yale University and giant in the academic study of Islam, once made an observation about Islamic civilization that is both inspiring and challenging. In Knowledge Triumphant , his meditation upon Islamic thought, he argued that when compared to Greece, Rome, Christian Europe, and even China and India, Muslims were without peer in the esteem they held for knowledge. This esteem, he argued, originated in the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad and was carried forth by the extraordinary and tireless efforts of the innumerable students, teachers, benefactors, and rulers before us. His observation is a challenge, however, because while describing our forebears, the question remains: how aptly does it describe us? There are certainly many promising developments within our own community. Over the past 60 years, we have built mosques, schools and other institutions that now share knowledge of the Quran, hadith, the Prophet’s biography, law and theology with our communities and beyond. But unfortunately, one field has yet to receive its due: spirituality. That our resources for growing spiritually remain largely untapped is apparent when
we consider how we often approach studying it compared with other disciplines. Very often when we study spirituality, we do not progress much further than reviewing the beautiful spiritual statements of the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad such as, “Verily in remembrance of God do hearts find rest,” (13:28) and “None of you truly believes until he loves for his brother what he loves for himself,” (Bukhari). While the Quran and Sunnah are the radiant Sun and Moon of our tradition, illuminating our path to God, and while there is immense blessing in seeking to connect with them, there are also the stars of our tradition—the Companions, tabi’in (the companions of the Companions), and countless later scholars like Imam al-Ghazali and Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya whose reflections on the Quran and Sunna are gems in their own right. By comparison, when seeking to learn Arabic, we do not simply read the source texts from which the rules of Arabic grammar were derived: pre-Islamic poetry, the Quran, and the speech of the early Bedouin. Rather, we draw upon the brilliant scholarship of the grammarians before us, who carefully observed the language, reflected upon its inner workings, and then synthesized a curriculum for its mastery. When seeking to learn the proper performance of prayer, we do not simply search for all of the hadiths and Quranic verses that we can find. Rather, we benefit from the collective hard work and insights of our forebears who
gathered together all of the relevant material, evaluated its reliability, analyzed it, synthesized it and summarized it in guidelines for others to follow. It is imperative that we tap into our entire heritage, because as the Quran and the hadith both make clear, the ultimate goal of all our rituals and creeds, indeed of all our study, is to affect a change in our hearts; to be a different and better person on Tuesday than we were on Monday; to be more content, more kind, more patient, and more in love with Allah and His Messenger. As the Prophet himself taught, “I was only sent to perfect noble character” (al-Bayhaqi). Of course, this is not to deny the importance of the law or ritual worship. They are precious blessings from God and constitute the very path itself to change. But it is to suggest that until our hearts are transformed, our Islam is incomplete. As a community, we can benefit from connecting more with our immense spiritual heritage that is every bit the equal of law and theology in its complexity and depth. For it was Islamic spirituality that, when vibrant and engaged, produced innumerable men and women of the highest spiritual caliber— people whose station has been recognized even outside our own community. The Oxford professor of Islam, A. J. Arberry, for example, referred to the traditionally-trained Jalal al-Din al-Rumi as “surely the greatest mystical poet in the history of mankind.” In an effort to connect with the richness of our spiritual tradition, future columns of Food for the Spirit will be dedicated to one of the many largely untapped gems of our tradition: the profound spiritual aphorisms of Ibn ‘Ata Allah al-Iskandari.
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
Ibn ‘Ata Allah had an extraordinary life. He was born in the 7th/13th century in Alexandria, Egypt to a family distinguished by piety and scholarship. He was educated under the greatest scholars of the city in a range of fields: Quranic recitation, grammar, fiqh, usul, hadith, tafsir, and philosophy. He later went on to teach at the madrasa al-Mansuriyya and al-Azhar. During his lifetime, he became renowned for his taqwa, spiritual station, insight and eloquence. He wrote at least 20 works in a range of fields, though more may remain uncatalogued in manuscript libraries worldwide. The most famous however is his Hikam (plural of hikma or wisdom), his collection of spiritual aphorisms. One story, whose historicity will perhaps never be known with certainty, recounts that once the three great scholars and contemporaries, al-Busiri (the poet and author of the Burda), ‘Izz al-Din bin ‘Abd al-Salam (the faqih), and Ibn ‘Ata Allah were all sitting with the great teacher of Islamic spirituality, Abu al-Abbas al-Mursi. Al-Mursi is said to have told al-Busiri that his poetry would gain an acceptance in the world, ‘Izz al-Din that his
WHAT SPIRITUAL TOPICS MATTER MOST TO YOU? Please help “Food for the Spirit” better meet your needs by completing a two-minute survey at: www.isna.net/foodforthespiritsurvey knowledge would become renowned in the East and the West, and that Ibn ‘Ata Allah would be given God’s gift of wisdom. Indeed all three predictions came true. Al-Busiri’s the Burda is the most commonly recited poem in the Muslim world. ‘Izz al-Din later received the title “Sultan of the Ulama.” And Ibn ‘Ata Allah’s Hikam became among the most famous collections of spiritual aphorisms. Regardless of whether or not the story is true, the Hikam has certainly become one of the most frequently taught and commented upon works of spirituality in Islamic history, a suggestion of its acceptance by God. A quick survey yields more than a dozen different commentaries upon it, with untold numbers still in manuscript form waiting to be typed up. It has been taught and studied throughout
Islamic Horizons September/October 2012
the Muslim world, from Morocco to Indonesia. The aphorisms themselves are short and pithy often not exceeding a few sentences. But their brevity should not be confused with simplicity; their commentaries can run 10 pages or more. God willing, future columns will feature modern commentaries by a wide range of scholars from North America and Europe on individual aphorisms from this treasure trove of wisdom. Many of the authors will be familiar to you, while some will be new. All of them have dedicated their lives to calling us to the beautiful way and character of the Messenger of God, peace and blessings be upon him. Our hope and prayer is that this column can thus become a vehicle for a new commentary that speaks to modern realities as 21st century Western Muslims. Please keep the project in your prayers. We look forward to the journey together.
We look forward to incorporating your feedback and questions into future columns. Please send all correspondence to: foodforthespirit@isna. net. Please also visit our website where you can download this and previous columns at: http:// www.isna.net
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