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Encounters with Walls • 99 Superheroes battle injustice • Sharing Our Narratives

10 Years Later

Remembering the victims of Sept. 11, 2001


Vol. 40 No. 5 September/October 2011  visit isna online at:

Cover Story 31 Remembrance and


Honoring the victims of Sept. 11 ten years later.

36 The Power of Muslim Storytelling 39  Muslim Advocates: Working to Form a More Perfect Union

31 Convention 2011 19 22 24 26

48th Annual Convention Calls for Social Harmony Movement Living in Harmony Through Loving Earth Bizarre Bazaar Sightings Harmonious Home: A Guide to Spousal Serenity


Democracy and Dissension 40 Uniting for Change

Interfaith partnerships flourish around the Arab Spring.

42 The Hyphenated (Post-2011) Arab 44 Encounters with Walls

Graffiti tells the story of the occupied.

Back to School 48 Advice for Collegiate Newbies 50 A New Domain 51 Paying it Forward


Scholarship encourages diverse areas of study.


Interviews 52 Islamic Superheroes Out to Change the World 54 Senator Durbin Addresses Anti-Muslim Discrimination

Reviews 56 Film: The Death of an Imam 57 Book: Barefoot in Baghdad

6 8 12 58 60

Editorial ISNA Matters Community Matters Food for the Spirit Reviews

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 2011



The Resilience of a Nation


hildren growing up in America in the 21st century will never know what the nation was like before 9/11. They will never recall the days when you could take a full-size bottle of shampoo on an airplane, or travel without fear of being flagged on a no-fly list. They will never remember the New York skyline with the Twin Towers peaking into the clouds. They will always remember the day Osama Bin Laden was captured and killed. Much has changed in our world since those fatefully heinous attacks struck at the hearts of all Americans—Muslim and Christian, black and white, immigrant and native-born, young and old, New Yorker and Chicagoan. Islam in America took a brutal blow, with the emergence of Islamophobic zealots, hate-mongers and ignorant “pundits” claiming to have inside knowledge on the inner workings of the Muslim psyche. The media post-9/11 became rife with pejorative “-ists,” such as “terrorist,” “extremist,” “jihadist,” “fundamentalist” and “Islamist.” We witnessed the rise of the Shariah scare, Quranburning and the controversies over building mosques nationwide. Many feared the image of Islam in America would never recover. But Muslim Americans have made great strides. Perhaps it was these very attacks that propelled Muslims to take a more proactive role in their local communities, focusing not only on developing themselves, but their local political, social and educational structures. Perhaps it was these very attacks that led to the creation of interfaith collaborations nationwide, among youth and adults, at the local and national levels. Perhaps it was these very attacks that illustrated to Muslims they needed to branch out into new professions, to brave the frontiers in the entertainment and media industries. Yes, Muslims have undergone much turmoil, suffered expressions of hate and endured bouts of ignorance in the 10 years since Sept. 11, 2001. However, they have received expressions of love and support, witnessed movements of solidarity and joint patriotism.


PUBLISHER The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) PRE SID ENT Mohamed Hagmagid Ali

Though Sept. 11 brought the Pamella Gellers and Peter Kings of the world to the forefront, Muslims have also become a part of the discourse in civil society. Our post9/11 world has witnessed Muslims such as Keith Ellison and Andre Carson as part of our Congress, Dalia Mogahed, Farah Pandith and Rashad Hussian appointed to various posts by President Obama, and non-terrorist Muslim characters have even popped up on numerous sitcoms. Pop culture icons like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have come to the defense of Muslims, never failing to incisively expose the defective logic of virulent Islamophobes, as Colbert once quipped that Islam was facing “a P.R. nightmare.” A national poll recently conducted by Ohio State University found that, in the weeks following the U.S. military campaign that killed bin Laden, “American attitudes toward Muslim Americans took a significant negative shift.” Muslim Americans were viewed as more threatening after bin Laden’s death, favorable opinions of Muslims diminished, and survey respondents said they probably would not be against restrictions on Muslim Americans’ civil liberties. Erik Nisbet, assistant professor of communication at Ohio State University, and one of the leaders of the survey project, attributed the shift in views to “the fact that bin Laden’s death reminded some Americans of why they may fear Muslims in the first place.” Unfortunately, every time an event such as this—or even an attack not perpetrated by a Muslim, such as the bombing in the Norway— occurs, Muslim Americans face a setback. As we remember the victims of the attacks, and the victims of the hate crimes following the attacks, we can only move forward through education, through civic engagement and through local outreach. May God divert the evil that the architects of Sept. 11 sought to inflict into good. May the memory of those killed live on in the virtuous works of their families and communities. May all setbacks that the community faces ultimately lead toward progression.  Deanna Othman


Omer Bin Abdullah A ssistant Editor Deanna Othman ED IT O RIA L A DVIS O RY B OA RD

Susan Douglass (Chair); Dr. Jimmy Jones; Dr. Sulayman Nyang; Dr. Ingrid Mattson. ISL A MI C H O RIZO NS

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ISNA Matters ISNA Focuses on Developing Inclusive Mosques ISNA Secretary General Safaa Zarzour joined Prof. Rafik Beekum to deliver a training seminar on leadership development in mosques and Islamic centers to members of the Boston-area community. The event was co-hosted by ISNA and the Islamic Center of New England as a part of ISNA’s ongoing series of local “ISNA Days” to provide outreach and community development across the U.S. ISNA Founder Committee member Dr. Mohammad Saleem Bajwa and several community members helped coordinate this event. Zarzour focused attention to the importance of proper governance structures and developing inclusive mosques that serve as community resource centers. Youth leader-

ship, conflict-resolution courses, Islamic Studies courses, along with community outreach and interfaith programs are critical to providing strong systems of leadership in the mosque, said Zarzour. Beekum, a professor at the University of Nevada, highlighted Islam’s emphasis on integrity, honesty and competence when serving as a leader to the commu-

ISNA Supports Defense of Poor Inspired by a common spiritual conviction that God asks all Americans to protect the vulnerable and promote the dignity of all individuals living in society, the interfaith coalition is aiming to pro-

tect those struggling to overcome poverty in the U.S. and abroad and to exclude programs that protect people in poverty from the budget deficit debates. More than 25 heads of communion and national religious organizations are spearheading an 18-month faith-based public policy campaign to urge Congress and the Administration to exempt programs that assist at-risk families and chil8

dren in the U.S. and abroad from budget cuts. The campaign includes high-level meetings with policymakers, a Washington fly-in of religious leaders and daily prayer vigils. The prayer vigils led by a different religious organization were held each day in Washington, D.C. ISNA led a vigil on July 12. The campaign was announced via a teleconference featuring a number of the country’s leading religious officials. During the briefing, Dr. Sayyid Syeed, the national director for the Office for Interfaith and Community Alliances at ISNA, spoke first about our responsibility to stand up for those who cannot speak for themselves. He said, “It is our religious duty as part of the faith communities to convey our concerns about the problems of the budget cuts that will directly impact low-income individuals and the dispossessed. We are asking for a budget that should be just and equi-

nity. He stressed that one must know the limits of his or her expertise and provide leadership in the arenas they are best equipped to lead within, while upholding honesty with the community and the moral values taught in Islam. One of ISNA’s main priorities is to strengthen local institutions by providing beneficial knowledge and support. ISNA Days tailored specifically to the local community’s needs and provide a wide variety of trainings, such as: techniques of fundraising, board development, leadership, youth development, and support for imams and chaplains. To host an ISNA Day in your own community, please contact ISNA Development Director Ahmed ElHattab at 

table. It is our Islamic duty because this is one of the pillars of Islam.” To kick off the campaign, the religious leaders sent urgent letters to President Barack Obama, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), House Speaker John Boehner (R-Oh.), and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) stating that, “People who are served by government programs—those who are poor, sick, and hungry, older adults, children, and people with disabilities—should not bear the brunt of the budget-cutting burden.” In addition, the religious leaders, writing as the heads of numerous U.S.based religious institutions and faithbased organizations that have worked for decades in conjunction with federal programs to combat domestic and foreign poverty, stressed that religious groups would be unable to make up the difference in funding if the government further cuts or eliminates programs for society’s most vulnerable populations. They warned that without a sustained federal commitment to federal- and state-run assistance programs, religious organizations and houses of worship, while doing their best to help, cannot be the sole support for the country’s most vulnerable in their most pressing times of need. 

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Photo by Jennie Adams

Church Condemns Islamophobia

On July 13, Safaa Zarzour, addressing the 2011 General Assembly of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Nashville, Tenn., citing the Quran and hadith, explained how justice is one of the

most important core value in Islam. He reminded that Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam), had said that God told him, “Oh my servants, I have forbidden injustice on my own self and

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

have made it forbidden among you, so do not commit injustice against each other.” The three-day general assembly unanimously passed Resolution No. 1116, condemning the rise of anti-Muslim activities in the U.S. and asked church members to engage in interfaith work with Muslims. The resolution also acknowledged the positive contributions of Muslims as citizens and neighbors. Zarzour spoke in the panel, “Justice and the Children of Abraham,” along with Rabbi Mark Pelavin from the Union for Reform Judaism and Dr. Michael Kinnamon from the National Council of Churches.The panelists emphasized the importance of justice as one of the core values in their respective faith traditions and ways in which the three religious communities might work more closely together in areas of justice education, advocacy and action. Zarzour said ISNA has engaged in issues related to justice, including the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, and advocating for the passage of legislation that addresses social justice issues, such as the passage of the DREAM Act. 


ISNA Matters

Interfaith Groups Defend Healthcare for Poor, Seniors and Disabled On July 27, nearly 60 interfaith organizations sent a signed statement emphatically urging the Obama administration and Congress to protect Medicaid and Medicare. The statement, which has been endorsed by faith leaders representing millions of Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Unitarians, Muslims and Buddhists, emphasizes that the two programs provide critical healthcare for the most vulnerable in U.S. society. Medicaid provides comprehensive health coverage to low-income persons, the elderly and people with disabilities. It ranges from paying for nearly 40 percent of births to funding longterm care of seven out of 10 nursing home residents. Medicare is the primary source of health insurance for the nation’s seniors. 


ISNA Welcomes 2011 ISNA Fellows

ISNA welcomed the 2011 class of HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal ISNA Fellows graduate students who are pursuing philanthropic studies, public administration and related fields. The ISNA Fellowship Program offers graduate students the opportunity to receive education and training in nonprofit management and philanthropy and prepares these students to become effective and knowledgeable leaders of nonprofit organizations in North America.

The fellowship training nonprofit professionals is a great asset to the community, providing a source of needed practitioners in the nonprofit field. The fellows, who come from all over the country, are selected through a competitive applications process. The program provides funding for graduate programs in philanthropic or related studies as well as an opportunity to intern with ISNA. Fellowship participants also get hands-on experience organizing a large nonprofit project by working on specified projects for ISNA’s annual convention. The 2011 Fellows are: Abdullateef Muhiuddin, Adel El-Huni, Asma Men, Farhan Latif, Fathi AbdusSalam, Marian Haji-Mohamed, and Razi Hashmi. 

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Community Matters Dr. al-Hibri Joins U.S. International Religious Freedom Commission President Barack Obama appointed Dr. Azizah al-Hibri, founder and chair of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, to the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) on June 7. USCIRF is an independent, bipartisan U.S. federal government commission. USCIRF commissioners are appointed by the president and the leadership of both political parties in the Senate and the House of Representatives. USCIRF's principal responsibility is to review the facts and circumstances of violations of religious freedom internationally and to make policy recommendations to the president, the secretary of state, and Congress. KARAMAH, a nonprofit organization, is dedicated to contributing to the under-

standing and promotion of human rights worldwide through education, legal outreach, and advocacy ( Al-Hibri is a professor at the T.C. Williams

School of Law at the University of Richmond. She is a former professor of philosophy and founding editor of “Hypatia: A Journal of Feminist Philosophy.” She is also the recipient of the First Freedom Award for the State of Virginia in 2007 from the Council for America's First Freedom. For the past 20 years, al-Hibri has written extensively on issues of Muslim women's rights, Islam and democracy, and human rights in Islam, and is widely published in law journals and other legal publications. Al-Hibri has lectured extensively in the U.S., Europe, and the Muslim world at universities, religious and interfaith institutions, community centers, governmental agencies, think tanks and various public forums. Currently, she is completing a book on the Islamic marriage contract in U.S. courts. 

the Nobel Peace Prize as a part of a group of 1,000 women for peace across the globe. Abdi served as the senior advisor for the AFSC’s Somalia Peace Program since 2008. In addition to her work in the Horn of

Africa, she shared her experience as a trainer, facilitator, and speaker with the AFSC in the Middle East, Asia, and at the Quaker UN Office in New York City. Abdi, a peace activist in all areas of her life, served as a Trustee of Coalition for Peace in Africa (COPA), the proposed Wajir Peace University Trust, and ACTION for Conflict Transformation in Asia. She was also active with Responding to Conflict. She shared her knowledge as an instructor at the Summer Peacebuilding Institute of Eastern Mennonite University and at the Rift Valley Institute’s Horn of Africa course. She was working with Pact’s Peace in East and Central Africa (PEACE II) program. For information, contact AFSC, 1501 Cherry St., Philadelphia, Pa. 19102; (215241-7000). 

Help a Peacebuilder's Cause Dekha Ibrahim Abdi, internationally known and honored peacebuilder and activist, died July 14 from injuries due to a vehicle accident that also killed her husband. They are survived by their four children. “We lost a great hero for peace and justice. She was a woman of amazing integrity, commitment, skills and spirituality,” says Dereje Wordofa, Africa regional director for the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC). She was honored with the 2009 Hessian Peace Prize in Germany, the 2007 Right Livelihood Award from the Swedish parliament, and the 2005 Kenya Peace Builder of the Year. In 2005, she was nominated for

Vassar Grad Honored for Contributions to Faith Community Natasha Mir, recent graduate of Vassar College, was the recipient of the prestigious Sara Catlin prize. The Catlin Prize, established in 1984 in honor of Sara Huntington Catlin (1934), a former alumnae association president and college trustee, recognizes the most outstanding contribution by a senior to the religious life of the community. Mir, a founder of the Vassar Islamic Society, and its president during her sophomore and senior years, also served on the interreligious council. Additionally, she served as interfaith intern in the office of religious and spiritual life during her sophomore year. Mir did extensive interfaith and grassroots activism work that brought Muslim, Hindu and Sikh communities together as the secretary and vice president of the South Asian Students’ Alliance during her junior and senior years respectively



Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Hillary Clinton Launches “Muslim Civilization” Exhibition in Los Angeles

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking via video, inaugurated the award-winning exhibition about the scientific achievements of Muslim Civilization at the California Science Center in Los Angeles May 25 — for a seven-month run. The inaugural attendees included L.A. County Sheriff Lee Baca and diplomats from L.A.-based foreign consulates. Clinton remarked that “the Muslim world has a proud history of innovators” and highlighted the achievements of people

like Fatima Al-Fihri, founder of the world’s first modern university, and master engineer Al-Jazari, who created the crank mechanisms that today drive every plane, train and automobile on the planet. Prof. Salim Al-Hassani, chairman of 1001 Inventions, said, “The goal of 1001 Inventions is to highlight the astounding contribution that Muslim civilization has made in the fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics and how those advances still affect our lives today. More than a million people have already visited the 1001 Inventions exhibition during the first year of its global tour and that is the greatest endorsement we could ever hope for.” The exhibition, currently on a five-year global tour and sponsored by ALJ Community Initiatives, has shown in London, Istanbul and New York. It highlights the forgotten history of men and women, from a variety of faiths and backgrounds, whose contributions to the advancement of scholarship and technology during the Middle Ages helped pave the way for the European Renaissance. This period of history from the seventh century to the 17th century is commonly — though erroneously — referred to as the “Dark Ages.” 

Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid (The Mosque Islamic Brotherhood) was elected president of the Majlis Ash-Shura of Metropolitan New York (Islamic Leadership Council of New York) after the ratification of the new constitution on May 22. The new board took the oath of office on June 5. The following were elected to executive committee for the 2011-2014 term: Dr. Mohammed Yousufuddin (ICNA-NY) as vice-president; Dr. Khurshid Khan (Muslim Center of NY); Dr. Abdel Hafid Djemil (MAS-NY), secretary general; Imam Abdul Azeem Khan (Masjid Omar ben Abdel Aziz), treasurer; Naji Almontaser (Islamic Mission of America and Imam Siraj Wahhaj (Masjid At-Taqwah), members. The Majlis thanked the outgoing president Imam Al-Amin Abdul Latif and board members for their service and dedication. 

profit or advocacy sectors, education or elsewhere in the public service and to provide them with financial support for graduate study, leadership training and fellowship with other students who are committed to making a difference through public service.” Eldik’s mother, Sanaa Nadim, is instruc-

tor and Muslim chaplain at Stony Brook University. A double major in psychology and sociology, Eldik is dedicated to breaking down barriers grounded in religious differences. He collaborated with Palestinian and Israeli students on conflict resolution. He produced a documentary exploring Islamophobia and spent a summer in Cambridge researching media representations of Muslims. Eldik stays active in his community as president of the Science and Society Council and a congressional lobbyist for public television. Each year, the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, which is dedicated to education and public service, after a rigorous process, grants some 60 awards. The scholarship will provide Eldik up to $30,000 for graduate study toward a public servicerelated degree following his graduation from Stony Brook in 2012. Congress established the foundation in 1975 as the federal memorial to America’s 33rd president. 

College Junior Named Truman Scholar

Yaseen Eldik, a Stony Brook University student, has been named a 2011 Truman Scholar. This prestigious award is given each year by the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation to college juniors with “exceptional leadership potential who are committed to careers in government, non-

NYC Shura Elects New Board

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011


Community Matters

NEWS BRIEFS Dr. Ali Minai, associate professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Cincinnati, served as the general chair of the Eighth International Conference on Complex Systems, held in Boston, June 26 through July 1. The conference, hosted by the New England Complex Systems Institute (NECSI), was attended by more than 400 scientific leaders from around the world. Internationally prominent researchers presented more than 300 papers on topics ranging from food (cuisines as complex networks) to dealing with destructive cults. Many of the papers will later serve as guides for policymakers.   “Understanding and controlling complex systems with high levels of interaction presents one of the most challenging decision areas for today’s leaders,” said Minai in describing the value of the conference. The Cambridge, Mass.-based NECSI, a pioneer in the field of complex systems science, addresses questions previously considered to be outside of the realm of scientific inquiry. Its research draws on foundations from mathematics, physics, and computer science to solve pressing problems in such areas as economics, healthcare, education, military conflict, ethnic violence and international development. Its goal is to expand the boundaries of knowledge and to solve problems of science and society. 

Muslim Leader Gives Invocation at Rahm Emanuel’s Inauguration Kareem Irfan — the first Muslim president of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago — delivered his remarks and invocation at the inaugural of the city’s first Jewish mayor Rahm Emanuel on May 16. Apart from some 6,000 Chicagoans, the attendees included Vice President Joe Biden, former mayor Richard M. Daley, several members of President Obama’s cabinet and members of the city council. Irfan said Muslims “will especially help counter the ugly resurgence of faith-related bigotry, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism by compassionate understanding and meaningful collaboration forged across Chicago’s diverse faiths in order to realize a peaceful and prosperous society.” 


Dr. Arjumand Hashmi won a seat on the Paris, Tex., city council on June 18. He was sworn in June 27, and elected mayor by his council colleagues. Hashmi had pledged not to plan to wage an expensive campaign, or to accept any campaign contributions. A resident of the city since 2006, he secured 59 percent of the vote to beat the incumbent member. Hashmi ran on a campaign of empowering the people and involving them more in city government. He has set aside space in his medical office building for a district office — not solely for constituents but for anyone from the city’s six other council districts as well, utilizing volunteers citywide. 

Washington University First To Offer Halal Food in Missouri

Maryland Islamic School Celebrates First Graduating Class

St. Louis-based Washington University’s food service provider, Bon Appetit, responding to the campus MSA’s call that had support from the Student Union, has launched a halal food service, making it the first school in the state to offer halal food. A survey, presented at a recent meeting of the National Association of College and University Food Services, indicated only 6 percent of American colleges had meal plans for Muslims. 

For the first time ever in the history of the state of Maryland, on June 5, an Islamic school, Al-Huda School, graduated its first high school class. The school is run by Dar-us-Salaam, a Muslim community organization. The College Park, Md.-based Al-Huda High is accredited by the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, which accredits some of the top public and private schools in the Greater Washington D.C. region. In 2006, the Middle States Association accredited Al-Huda elementary and middle schools. Now, Al-Huda is accredited through grade 12. 

Interreligious Program Receives $50 Million Donation Claremont School of Theology is being renamed as Claremont Lincoln University after receiving a $50 million donation from David and Joan Lincoln. As a founding partner of this unique interreligious program, the Islamic Center of Southern California will design and oversee the Islamic component of multi-faith curriculum that will train pastors, rabbis and imams. David Lincoln, a Claremont trustee since 2003, an aerospace engineer and inventor, successfully invested in mining, technology and real estate. Joan Lincoln is a former mayor of the couple’s hometown, Paradise Valley, Ariz. 

Baytul-Iman Academy Students Wow at Science Competition Baytul-Iman Academy students won seven out of 14 first-place prizes and a trophy in the 2011 NJ Science Olympiad held May 14, with record number of schools attending — several of which included Islamic schools. They won prizes in 11 out of 14 categories. 

Poet, Writer Honored for Accomplishments in Urdu Literature Hyderabad Deccan Foundation of Canada honored Hasan Chishti, a distinguished literary figure, with the 2011 award of excellence for his outstanding achievement in Urdu literature. Born in Indian-occupied Hyderabad and educated at Osmania University, Chisti was associated with the literary world from an early age. He was the editor of “Akash,” “Pasban,” “Munsif ” (English) and several other publications. A Chicago resident since 1986, he is the recipient of numerous awards. A poet of rare distinction, he is widely praised for his ghazals; he has also compiled and edited four volumes of noted writer Mujtaba Husain. 

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Maryland County to Establish Its First Mosque

Community Honors Muslim Physician with Human Rights Award

Harford County Education Society (est. 2007) is converting a house located on a five-acre lot in Abingdon, Md., to become the county’s first mosque — Masjid AlFalaah ( Presently, the county’s Muslims — some 100 families — go to Baltimore County for services. The county approved a site plan in July 2009. 

Business Owner Honored for Giving Back to Schools, Charities The Merrick (N.Y.) Chamber of Commerce presented the Merchant of the Year award to Fahmida Aziz, owner of Serengeti Design Studios, on June 8. The award recognizes businesses and professionals who give their time and best efforts to the Merrick community. Aziz has been supportive of the local school district, PTA and nonprofit organizations. Aziz’s hobby photography, would eventually turn in to a lifelong passion. Today, with more than 25 years of experience, a B.A. in advertising design and M.A. in communications, Aziz owns Serengeti, a portrait studio and digital photo lab. She credits her quick success to her faith and to several people in her life: her father, her sister, her husband and the Merrick Chamber Council for their constant advice and assistance in helping her business grow. 

Boston Mosque Gets Green Seal of Approval The Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury Crossing, Mass., became the nation’s first Islamic center to receive a federal environmental label indicating the facility’s energy performance is better than at least 75 percent of similar buildings nationwide. ISB was among four New England congregations recognized in June for earning the Energy Star Label within the past year. Since Energy Star-labeling of congregations began two years ago, 19 congregations nationwide have received the distinction, five of which are in New England. Energy Star is a joint program of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Department of Energy. The mosque became an Energy Star partner one year ago and earned a score of 92 out of 100 on the EPA’s energy performance scale. 

The National Conference for Community and Justice of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, Inc., presented its annual Human Relations Award on June 14 to Dr. Saleem Bajwa, president of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts. Bajwa, a physician board certified in internal and pulmonary medicine, is a founding member of the Islamic Society. For the past 18 years, he has been the executive director of the Islamic Council of New England, an umbrella organization of Islamic centers and societies of New England, actively hosting interfaith programs to build alliances and learn from one another. In addition, for more than a decade, Bajwa has served on the Interfaith Council of Western Massachusetts. 

Muslim Woman Weightlifter Changes Official Rules on Sports Attire

Students Send Paramecium Off On Last U.S. Space Shuttle Mission

Kulsoom Abdullah, 35, of Atlanta, qualified for the American Open Weightlifting Championships last December, only to be told by the event’s sponsoring body, USA Weightlifting, that she could not compete in her hijab and Islamic dress. The USA Weightlifting follows rules set by the International Weightlifting Federation, which required outfits to be close-fitting, have no collar and not cover the elbows and knees. The IWF, which allowed the change of dress rules at the urging of the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC), said the new rules will promote and enable a more inclusive sports environment and breaks down barriers to participation. The Olympic Weightlifting has always allowed Islamic-oriented dress. Abdullah hopes to move on the Olympics if she qualifies one day. 

When the Atlantis shuttle took off on the last U.S. space shuttle mission July 8, there was Indiana paramecium on board, thanks to students at the Crown Point, Ind., Avicenna Academy. Principal Amanda Arceo joined students Heba Abuzer, Amalia Hosken, Ayesha Zubair and Sarah Suleimansaid at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida to witness the launch along with four students who developed the experiment for the Student Spaceflight Experiment Program. Abuzer and Jenna Rifai, who recently completed sixth grade, were the primary principal investigators, while Hosken, Zubair, Maria Khan and Sabriya Umrani served as co-investigators as fifth-graders, and Suleiman and Ameer Rifai were fourthgrade assistants. Avicenna got involved through the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, and purchased one of 11 spots for student experiments that welcomed students nationwide to submit proposals. Team members developed nine design proposals “to determine the effect that microgravity has on some biological or chemical system.” A panel of professional scientists chose the top three proposals, and the finalists were sent to NCESSE for the last round of selection. The winning proposal turned out to be an Avicenna Academy experiment studying the interaction of two species. The experiment pit two species of the unicellular ciliate protozoa in a battle for survival. 

Illinois County Approves Mosque Proposal The plans for the house of worship seem unremarkable: a one-story, 5,200-sq. ft. building, nestled on more than an acre in unincorporated Lombard, Ill. Illinois-based Proclaim Truth Charitable Trust’s proposal for one-story 5,200 sq-ft mosque — a worship home for 150 or so Muslims — was approved by the DuPage County zoning board, voting 13-4. Other recent zoning applications for mosques in DuPage County — including ones in unincorporated Willowbrook and elsewhere near Lombard — have run into significant opposition from neighbors. 

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011


ICNA-MAS Convention

Toward a Just and Balanced Way

balanced lives. Mattson spoke on drawing guidance from the Quran. She explained how the Quran is a timeless message for a better life, highlighting the importance of individuals taking time to study the Quran. Mattson emphasized that people must rely on authority when it comes to interpreting the Quran and should be weary of careless interpretations that may twist the spirit of the religion to fit any fad or trend. In one of Zarzour’s sessions, he spoke By Mahbubur Rahman about Shariah law, Islamophobia and the U.S. Constitution. He stated that the values bout 14,000 people from 34 the most creative initiatives at this year’s con- of freedom of religion, speech and assembly states converged in Hartford, ference were the “surprise events,” exclusive enshrined within the Constitution reflect Conn. on Memorial Day week- to those who are members of ICNA’s social the right for communities to organize and exercise their religious rights. Zarzour also end for the 36th annual ICNA- media fan base. MAS convention. ISNA’s Magid, Zarzour, Mattson and Dr. discussed how Islamophobes, by demonThe three-day convention, under the Muzammil Siddiqi, and ISNA Majlis mem- izing Shariah, violate the values that the theme “Quran: Guidance Toward a Just & bers Badawi and Hussain, spoke at sessions Constitution seeks to protect.  Balanced Way,” also garnered an additional during the convention. “U.S. history is replete with examples of 4,900 online viewers. courts honoring the rights of minorMany expressed that it was such a ity communities,” Zarzour says. “The warm feeling to be at the large event, Muslim community should not be surrounded by wonderful sentiments treated any differently.”  of sisterhood and brotherhood. There The Community Recognition Luncheon was an opportunity to was also excitement at the prospect of reconnecting with longtime, outrecognize community workers and of-town friends. And the opportunity leaders: Dr. Jamal Badawi, for his lifeto meet and learn from noteworthy long service and pioneering role in the speakers was foremost in the minds field of Dawah; Yusuf Islahi, for outof many of the attendees. The constanding scholarship and contribuvention offered nearly 100 sessions tion to Islam and Muslims; Dr. Dennis designed to address the needs of all Perry, for outstanding leadership in age groups and both genders, along building bridges between Christians with those of varying ethnic, profesand Muslims in Alexandria, Va.; and Afzal Hasan, for his pioneering role sional and educational backgrounds. As in previous years, a very diverse in establishing ICNA Da’wah Projects. Social media played a pool of speakers addressed this year’s About 150 people attended the significant role in this convention, including leading scholinterfaith dinner, where local leadyear’s convention, with ars, academics, imams and commuership from all major faith groups was nity activists. Among them were represented. ICNA hitting 10,000 Twitter There was an atmosphere of comnotable names such as Imam Siraj followers and 14,000 Wahhaj, Yasir Qadhi, Nouman Ali munity and a melodic feel in the air at Khan, Dr. Jamal Badawi, Dr. Muzamthe bazaar as nasheed and beautiful Facebook fans over the mil Siddiqi, Dr. Ingrid Mattson, Imam recitations of the Quran resonated weekend. Khalid Griggs, Dr. Altaf Hussain, and from the audiovisual booths, featuring the latest CDs and DVD releases. Wisam Sharieff, to name a few. There Magid spoke specifically about modera- There was also the bouyant chatter of women were also many leaders of national Muslim organizations present to speak, including tion and how people can avoid becoming as they shopped for hijabs, jilbabs, jewelry, ICNA President Dr. Zahid Bukhari, ISNA slaves to anything that would keep them books and gifts. Islamic Relief, Al-Maghrib President Imam Mohamed Magid, ISNA from being useful members of society. Institute, and Noor Vitamins bagged the best Secretary General Safaa Zarzour, and CAIR He explained how the latest electronic booth awards in the competition (ICNA bars President Nihad Awad. devices—such as PDAs, smart phones and its own entries). Social media played a significant role laptops—often have the potential to diminish The career fair that featured about 25 in this year’s convention, with ICNA hit- the priority that individuals put on spending booths attracted some 1000 attendees.  ting 10,000 Twitter followers and 14,000 time with family and setting aside time for Facebook fans over the weekend. Perhaps worship, and what they can do to lead more Dr. Mahbubur Rahman is editor of The Message International.

ICNA-MAS Convention rallies 14,000 attendees to focus on Quranic guidance.

Photo taken by Muhammad Tahir for ICNA



Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

48 Annual Convention Calls for Social Harmony Movement th

Scholars advocate for participation and activism in a pluralistic society. By Meha Ahmad & Leen Jaber Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Photography: Dr. Abdalla Ali & Vince Isner.


Convention 2011


en years after 9/11, many in the muslim american population are taking this opportunity to reflect on the progress made in their own community. In fact, ISNA dedicated its entire 48th annual convention this summer—attended by tens of thousands of Muslims across North America—to discussing the challenges of religious pluralism and social harmony in America.

The acid test of pluralism is whether a religion is ready to recognize other religions as citizens of the world,” Esposito says.


In sessions spanning four days, attendees listened to scholars, experts and activists call for a “social harmony movement.” Instead of just giving pretty speeches about interfaith and integration that offer momentary insight but are forgotten by most soon after, speakers like Imam Zaid Shakir, Tariq Ramadan, Dr. Ingrid Mattson, Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) and Eboo Patel (and dozens more) urged attendees to walk the walk

challenge [now] is to build a social movement to enhance values in our own community and then just share those values with others.”

by actively taking part in developing a peaceful, pluralistic climate. “For me the challenge of the 21st century is pluralism—religious pluralism and political pluralism,” says John Esposito. Esposito, the professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University and founding director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, says he believes the growth of fear of Islam in America is the challenge facing religious and political pluralism today. Shakir says the hurdles in the way of pluralism have already begun to fall, but that the Muslim community still has a ways to go. “I think we should really acknowledge that our community can live in harmony with other communities in this country,” Shakir says, echoing the convention’s main theme: Loving God, Loving Neighbor, Living in Harmony. “Our

“The acid test of pluralism is whether a religion is ready to recognize other religions as citizens of the world,” Esposito says. Mattson also urges Muslim Americans to work toward embracing a vision that is pluralistic. “Pluralism is reacting positively to diversity,” Mattson said in her opening statement at this year’s ISNA convention main session, “Islam, Pluralism and Social Harmony.” The future of living in social harmony is directly related to being a pluralistic society, which, according to Mattson, is part of God’s vision. “Leaving aside the issue of salvation, God in the Quran tells us that it is His will that there should be religious diversity in the world,” she says. “This is God’s choice. […] He could have chosen it to be a different kind of world. He didn’t.” Mankind is a world of many nations and tribes, as God says in the Quran, so that they may

Recognizing, Understanding & Embracing the Neighbor Esposito says people on both sides of the fence have to learn to not only live with each other, but also acknowledge each faith’s merit.

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011


uring its annual Community Service Recognition Luncheon (CSRL Banquet) at the 48th Annual Convention, ISNA honored a life-long activist within the North American Muslim community, Dr. Hisham Altalib. Dr. Altalib earned his Ph.D. in electrical engineering from Purdue University in Lafayette, Ind. While pursuing his career as an electrical engineer, he decided to become active by holding several positions in various Islamic organizations. He is currently the director of finance with the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT). Among several other positions, Dr. Altalib was the first full-time director of the Leadership Training Department of the Muslims Students Association. He also served as the secretary general of the International Islamic Federation of Student Organizations. He has conducted many trainings and seminars in America and abroad, and Dr. Altalib was also a founding member and director of the SAAR Foundation, as well as founding member of IIIT. He has authored the books “Principled Approach to Dawa” (Arabic) and “A Code of Honor for Islamic Workers,” which to date has been translated in over 20 languages. In his acceptance speech, Dr. Altalib also honored those who have devoted to themselves to the service of God. “I deeply feel that we have a debt to pay back, that is we are here today because of the sincerity and sacrifices of the many sisters and brothers who served America and the Muslim Ummah but Allah has chosen them to His side.” 

get to know one another. But more often than not, those races and religions don’t really know one another and even look at each other with suspicion or feel threatened by people the other. “There’s nothing wrong with being different nations and tribes because God made us that way,” says Shakir. “But the problem arises when these distinctions create privilege at the expense of others.” Mattson says she believes that, “there is a certain temptation or character weakness in people that wants us to put forth our ego… To say, ‘I’m better than you.’”

But diversity is a good thing. “The wisdom behind diversity is the competition it creates to do good works,” explained Mattson. But unfortunately, according to Mattson, too many Muslims think that if they accept the good in other groups, then somehow they are sacrificing their own belief system—which couldn’t be further from the truth. “In fact, being able to recognize and appreciate the truth and goodness in other people is a sign of being strong in your faith and relationship with God.” Scholar Tariq Ramadan echoed Mattson’s words. “You can accept that there are truths in other faiths, but that doesn’t make your faith any less special,” Ramadan says. He also called for Muslims to be an active moral center and use those moral values to identify with other groups to bring about social cohesion. “As American citizens of this country, you should be an ethical presence—an ethical contribution to this country.” Instead of looking at other groups of people with fear or hatred, Muslims can look at other religious communities and ask what good those groups are doing in the world that Muslims communities can also do? How can one’s Muslim brothers and sisters contribute positively to society?

Racism, Class-ism and Sexism Approach the average Muslim about whether or not they are racist, they would promptly reject the possibility, reminding that Islam forbids racism and elitism. But in practice, is that what is believed? Perhaps one of the most challenging problems to creating social harmony is racism. Even amongst different groups of Muslims, there is division: Arabs on one side, South Asians on another, white vs. black, Sunni vs. Shia, farmer vs. city dweller. These discriminations are only destructive to harmony, according to Aisha Al-Adawiya. It also proves that just knowing each other isn’t enough. “It’s not just simply knowing one another. It’s an actual assertion and understanding of one another. And empathizing with the backgrounds of one another. We must seek to understand the struggles, stories, backgrounds of one another,” says Rami Nashashibi, director of Inner-city Muslim Action Network, at a convention session on how to eradicate the “isms” (racism and class-ism) from our community. And even with regard to gender, many women still find gender discrimination to be a big part of the divide in the community. Al-Adawiya, founder of the Women In Islam organization, says the most disturbing stereotype she has found that people have regarding Muslims is the “devaluation of Muslim women within the community.” Continued on p. 23.

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

You are here to change the world; you are not here to be spectators," Ramadan says.


Convention 2011

Living in Harmony Through Loving the Earth By Leen Jaber

L I need you to be a willing, active citizen and stand up to protect today,” Ellison says. “Get ready to help your country, help your country revive the economy, help your country say liberty and justice for all to include all and help your country to relate to the rest of the world. All these strengths are on your table, all these things demand your attention.”


iving in harmony means, to many, living at peace with your neighbor and with yourself. It means loving the world around you because of the love you have for God. But “living in harmony” doesn’t stop there. The world around us encompasses more than just people; it includes the air, the land, and the many different creatures God has put on earth to live amongst us. At the convention’s session “Food, Health, and the Environment: The Responsibility of Muslims,” experts discussed the responsibility of all Muslims as both individuals and communities to take care of the earth that God has given to them as a blessing. And this, in turn, creates harmony within, not only our society, but also within ourselves and our relationship with the Creator. Saffet Catovic, a staff member of Green Faith (an interfaith, nonprofit organization for the environment) and adjunct teacher of religious studies, explained the connection between Islam and respecting the environment. “Our belief in Islam built the framework for connecting with other human beings and also other creations,” Catovic said. “And our salat (prayer) is a measure of how we connect with Allah… We must reinvigorate our salat and other acts of worship with a consciousness to re-establish the connection to each other and our environment.” Catovic asserts that if one’s prayer is strong, then his connection with Allah is strong. And therefore, his connection with God’s earth becomes a priority. God stresses in the Quran the essentiality of all of his earthly

creations: sky, water, dirt, animals. He even tells us that if there is no water available, we are permitted to make wudu with the dirt from the ground. Allah has created the earth to serve human beings, so isn’t it our responsibility to take good care of this service, this blessing Allah has bestowed up on us for our use? We will ultimately be held accountable on the Day of Judgment for what we did with the many blessings God has given us. Catovic reminded of the Prophet’s famous last words. He told his Ummah to take care of their prayer and that which their right hands possess. This entire earth is in our possession. Should we not take care of it? Working collectively in sustaining nature, will ultimately sustain the bond between people. This is social harmony. Muslims nationwide have been taking more and more responsibility for the earth. DC Green Muslims is a nonprofit organization taking proactive measures to make a greener earth. Just a few of their initiatives include forming curriculum to include in Muslim weekend schools and working with mosques, creating programs that will encourage Muslims to go green through community clean-ups and the use of earth-conscious materials. “The condition of the world around us directly affects how we feel,” said Sarah Jawaid, urban planner and co-founder of DC Green Muslims. This was her drive behind the project. Perhaps one of the greatest injustices done to our earth is the use of biochemistry to create fertilizers and hormones to enhance the growth of crops. During the session, the audience was encouraged to take part in organic farming through being involved in co-ops to produce healthy, natural foods that don’t harm the earth. People looking to get involved in this way can learn more about it at The entire world is a place of prostration and a place of submission to God. Let us remember that the next time we pollute, leave the faucet running or drive our cars to destinations that we can easily walk to. Great change starts with only one small action from one individual. And sometimes that’s all it takes. 

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Such devaluation of women is surprising, considering Islam is ahead of its time in calling for gender equality and establishing the rights of women. And while the topic of gender, particularly in Islam, is a hot topic in the West right now, it would behoove the Muslim community—both men and women—to become part of the discussion, according to both Al-Adawiya and Ramadan. “Muslims should be a lot more involved in anything dealing with gender issues,” Ramadan says. “We need to tackle this issue as something which is essential for our future.” He continued to explain how the success of Muslim women today can further our purpose as Muslims to be more integrated in mainstream culture. “Muslim women today in society within the families, within universities, in the job market are doing much better than men. And they are the driving force behind a potential positive reform in the future.” So how do Muslims combat racism and classism in their hearts and their communities? It starts with a conversation, explained Nashashibi. Not just with politicians and interfaith leaders, but amongst Muslims, too. “Muslims need to work to preserve Muslim cultures, not just one culture. This will help us preserve the human culture,” says Shakir. This will breed and nurture social harmony, he says, which should be the goal of every human being, including Muslims.

Showing Your Talent Muslims come in all different shapes and sizes. With that, Muslims also come with an array of talents, ranging from science and art, to writing and comedy. Why not encourage these talents? Most Muslims in America find it best to stay away from the arenas of entertainment and art because they seem traditionally unacceptable. Other reasons include being fearful. Many of us are afraid that if we allow our children to be involved in industries such as music or art, we may lose them

to a Godless society filled with forbidden things. But the world of artistic expression has so many levels, and Muslims can be involved in various ways that can allow them to express themselves without compromising their values. “There is another field that is important [for Muslims to be more involved in] and this is arts and entertainment,” explained Ramadan, “Really I think the Muslims should be a lot more creative. This is what we have to promote the greatest value of humanity.” The arts have always been, historically, an effective means of expression. It can reach a lot of people very quickly. Why not use this to our advantage? Islam is a religion of great spirituality that also encompasses beautiful values. Muslim singers and writers and even painters can incorporate these values in their work, portraying Muslims in a positive light in mainstream Western society.

A Call for a Movement Living in harmony is not just a concept. It can be a reality. There will always be conflict. And no one is expecting to live in a Utopia on earth. But it is not unrealistic to believe that Muslims can become a collective force of good, contributing productively to each other and to society. “Our community is not perfect,” Shakir says. “There are a lot of obstacles that still need to be overcome. But I think that we have to acknowledge the strides we have made.” Starting with two critical elements—vision and leadership—Shakir called for a beginning of a socially harmonious movement: “A movement of grace, a movement of forgiveness, and a movement of reconciliation should start. And Muslims should be a part of that movement,” he says. Being open to discuss race, diversity, and harmony is crucial in order to begin a social transformation that will inevitably encourage a harmonious society. Collaborating with speakers and other groups of Muslims working for social change, the ISNA convention provided various sessions about Continued on p. 25.

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

There’s nothing wrong with being different nations and tribes because God made us that way,” says Shakir. “But the problem arises when these distinctions create privilege at the expense of others.”


Convention 2011

Bizarre Bazaar Sightings By Meha Ahmad


t doesn’t matter what reason you use to go to the ISNA convention. From enlightening sessions on Islam, to getting reacquainted with old friends, everyone—and we do mean everyone—makes a point to stop by the much-talked about (but never over-exaggerated) convention bazaar. You never know what you might see—but we jotted down some of the more awesome sightings so you know not to miss out next year. 1. Celebrity appearances. This year, just one turn around the bazaar could have you running into Muslim country singer Kareem Salama, the football team from the movie ‘Fordson,’ hip-hop trio Native Deen, NFL players Hamza and Husain Abdullah, to name a few. 2. Crescent chicks. Who doesn’t love adorable animals? This year, Crescent Foods showcased several fuzzy yellow baby chicks and quickly drew a crowd of admirers, all clamoring for a chance to hold one. 3. CamAli’s Children Program. While the adults hit the bazaar with shopping on their minds, kids can sometimes lose patience. So the team at CamAli TV were at the bazaar to provide a full program for kids filled with learning and fun activities, like a bounce house and Wiis for the children to enjoy. 4. Funny Islamic t-shirts. If you couldn’t find the right shalwar qameez or the perfect gift, you probably still ended up buying a witty t-shirt. Wearers get to stand out in crowds in shirts that are often instant conversation starters.


Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011


Free stuff. In the sacred name of promotion, many booths scramble to give out free swag to passersby. And many bazaar shoppers clean up. From free t-shirts, stress balls, and food to complimentary electronic tasbeeh counters and a chance to win a free cruise, there’s something for everybody to have fun with. 6. Orphan sponsorship. For those (like me) who may feel shopper’s remorse after spending a little too much on abayas, the bazaar provided a charitable pick-me-up: Islamic Relief’s orphan sponsorship drive. For the same amount that one might spend on a pair of affordable shoes, an orphan can enjoy a month’s worth of provisions. 7. Bone marrow registry. In memory of 15-year-old Bilal Mallick, who passed away earlier this year after a brief battle with leukemia, the bone marrow registry urged convention-goers to take just a few minutes to register and potentially help save a life. “I registered to be a bone marrow donor,” said Omar Yunus, of San Francisco. “Just took a swab of the inside of my cheek—the whole thing took about five minutes. This is a good thing they’re doing.” 8. Mascots. Spotted: a big friendly bear from Noor Kids, hiding behind corners and taking pictures with shoppers and their children. Also sighted at the bazaar: A 6-foot-tall Adam, from the Islamic children series Adam’s World! 9. Eid decorations. Eid decorations are not always easy to find, but were readily available from several booths, like Sound Vision and, at the bazaar. Crescent moon lights, a Ramadan calendar, Eid string lights, and banners were big sellers, and a creative way to get families excited about Ramadan and Eid. 

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

pluralism, unity, health, the political climate of the nation, and how the simple act of loving God can make a substantial difference in how each person and faith relates to each other. Muslims in the West seem to be hesitant to get involved in secular groups and organizations that do real good in this country. The war on drugs, preserving the environment, the humane treatment of animals, and the care for orphans and children living in poverty are all causes that Islam supports, but is not always championed on a large scale by the Muslim community. Ellison called for the Muslim community to stand up and champion the rights of others. “I need you to be a willing, active citizen and stand up to protect today,” Ellison says, addressing the Muslim community. “Get ready to help your country, help your country revive the economy, help your country say liberty and justice for all to include all and help your country to relate to the rest of the world. All these strengths are on your table, all these things demand your attention.” How can Muslims guarantee safety and happiness for themselves, if they can’t guarantee it for others? “If I want to make sure my kids are okay, I have to take care of other people’s kids. […] Working with others shouldn’t threaten our faith,” says Mattson, suggesting that individuals do not live separately or in boxes; everything they do affects their neighbor(s) and how they react, in turn, affects the individual. One thing is for sure—idleness is no longer an option. As Tariq Ramadan put it, “You are here to change the world; you are not here to be spectators.” 

Meha Ahmad is the copyeditor of Islamic Horizons. Leen Jaber is a freelance reporter based in Chicago.


Convention 2011

Harmonious Home: A Guide to Spousal Serenity By Leena Saleh


ne question has been explored by every outlet imaginable and every social circle: “What is the secret to a successful marriage?” With the increasing divorce rate in the U.S. stretching beyond 50 percent, and above 30 percent among North American Muslim communities, the question is more than relevant. In light of this, three married couples— all having more than seven decades of marriage merit under their belts—discussed their secrets, methods and advice on the key to cultivating felicitous families at the ISNA Convention.

Religiosity in the Relationship “Religion is a factor in my own marriage. When you’re in a marriage, especially an intercultural marriage, there has to be something that pulls you together,” says ISNA president Imam Mohamed Magid. Magid, a Sudanese Muslim American, took part in the convention panel with his wife, Aamarah DeCuir, a Native American. There are two essential factors to incorporating religiosity in a marriage, according to Magid. The first is the establishing of rituals in the home. This includes prayer, thikr or remembrance of God, and a constant reference to Islamic values. The second is establishing a sense of belonging to the Muslim community. Magid believes that these are the primary factors to fertilize a spiritual growth for the married couple with which they can create a sense of harmony. Catapulting from Magid’s point, Dr. Iqbal Unus, headquarters director of the International Institute of Islamic Thought, and devoted husband for more than 40 years, chimed in with his own thoughts. “You have to create a culture of faith in the home, maintaining an overall perception that everything you do is Islamic.” Implementing Islam is one of the key ingredients for a successful marriage, 26

according to Humaira Basith. “When we began our married life, we decided that whatever big decision we made in our marriage would be an Islamic decision. Not an Indian decision or a Mexican decision.” Basith, married to Edmund Arroyo for more than a decade, emphasized the role of religion in her own intercultural marriage. “We made a distinction between culture and religion,” Basith says. Each couple reflected on their own marriage and came to the ultimate conclusion that marriage and religion are interwoven. Like all other aspects of the Muslim way of life, Islamic values are not entities unto themselves but tied tightly to daily life and even the smallest gestures, according to the couples.

Communication is Key Any sociologist or psychiatrist expert will say the key to any successful relationship is developing communication. Marriage is no exception. Knowing how to speak, how to let others speak, and knowing when not to speak are the fundamentals for establishing positive communication with your spouse. Seemingly simple, these basics are often overlooked by married couples. Dr. Altaf Hussain says communication is the top problem among married couples. Where does the communication begin to fall apart? Arroyo says it all begins with a lack of listening skills by each spouse. “I train couples to learn to listen properly,” says Arroyo, founder of Heartspeak Institute, a company that focuses on family and marriage counseling. “You’re not trying to find holes in what the person is saying but really

listening to try and understand what they’re saying, especially about a difficult topic.” Experts agree with Arroyo, listening to others while being devoid of an agenda or motive is essential. Many couples focus on clinging to singular statements or exclamations that will eradicate their responsibility or serve as justification for begrudging the other person. Arroyo explained that this is both unfair and unproductive. Listening wholly with full context is the only way to understand what it is your spouse is trying to communicate. Acknowledging purpose is another important part of communicating, according to Unus. “Communication has to be very natural and must come from the feeling that you need to connect with this person,” he says. Communication professionals agree that, increasingly among couples, what takes place is negative communication circles. The proprietary form of communication is one person blaming the other or waiting for a reason to angrily express how they feel. This causes the other spouse to become defensive

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

and retaliate reflexively. Conclusively they create a neverending circle of negativity where no one is heard and both are hurt. The marriage experts believe to avoid these problems and to establish a more harmonious way to express what they’re feeling, couples should adhere to the following tips: Make sure the person you’re talking to is ready to hear what you’re saying. In the heat of the moment, anger overshadows any real absorption of what you’re trying to say. Wait until you’re both collected and prepared to listen. Don’t assume your spouse is a mind reader. One of the most common mistakes couples make is assuming the other automatically knows what they want, need, or expect without ever expressing it directly. Stay on track. When you agree to sit and discuss one specific problem, don’t use this as an opportunity to dive into other emotional issues or to criticize mistakes of the past. Focus on one problem at a time and with sensitivity. Don’t generalize.

Once your spouse makes a mistake it does not give you precedence to brand them with that mistake for the entirety of your marriage. Specify what’s troubling you in that particular moment and avoid hurtfully pointing out a list of past blunders. Keep talking. Once an issue is resolved and things are alright again doesn’t mean conversations should desist. Having a frequent flow of pleasant exchanges can enhance your mutual respect as well as reassure your spouse of your affection towards them.

Handling Expectations Two types of expectations can lead to creating a disconnecting and conflicting marriage. In a marriage, according to Magid, couples must contend with hidden as well as external expectations. “The person has to adapt to the limitations of their spouse,” says Magid. “In return, spouses must also exert their maximum effort within their capacity.” He adds, “What brings tension to a marriage is having extreme expectations.”

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Oftentimes, couples, before marrying, conceal hidden expectations like the husband who expects his wife-to-be to wear hijab after they marry. Or the wife who convinces herself that she will make her husband start praying once they are married. This is a dangerous way of thinking when beginning a marriage, according to Magid. “You have to develop a ‘what you see is what you get,’ kind of attitude.” Battling another bout of outside factors that can harm a marriage are external expectations. This is where the issue of handling in-laws presents itself. Arroyo believes there is an important recognition to be sought not only by the spouses themselves, but their older counterparts. “A concept I want everyone to remember is the concept of different versus deficient. Just because someone does something differently, doesn’t mean it’s incorrect or deficient.” He further explained that realizing that everyone is an individual with their own way of doing things and developing routines can be different from what the other is accustomed to, but this does not mean their way is inherently wrong. Aamarah DeCuir, organizer of the ISNA Matrimonial banquets and wife to Imam Magid, has her own methods for making inlaws less of a problem. “The most important thing for me that I’ve learned about in-laws, is having knowledge. Take the time to learn the manners and etiquette of your in-laws.” She explained that knowing more about the family and their customs beforehand can help establish an appreciation for your effort to learn. Speaking to in-laws themselves, DeCuir pointed out that they need to create a leeway for that spouse to make mistakes. Most couples view their parents as a SWAT team, waiting by the phone for their back-up call. Ready to tear down the door and rush to their child’s defense, leaving the spouse outnumbered and defeated. Experts, as well as Magid, agree couples need a new outlook. “If you’re spouse does something you don’t like, don’t call your family to complain so they can take your side,” Magid says. Similarly, looking at one’s in-laws as some obligatory acquaintance met with groans and plastered smiles is also a mistake. “One of the golden rules of a marriage is to have a relationship with your in-laws independent of your spouse,” said Magid. “You have to have the ability to pick up the phone and start a conversation and not because your spouse is sitting there beside you.” 


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Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Remembrance and Forgiveness Ten Years after 9/11 By Zahra Cheema


Remembering Shakila and Nurul

harif Chowdhury, along with a dozen of his family members, will visit the National 9/11 Memorial in New York City on Sept. 11, a day before it is open to the public. He will search the memorial for the names of Shakila Yasmin and Nurul Miah, his daughter and son-in-law, both who were among the 2,606 victims of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center. Even 10 years later, his daughter and sonin-law’s memories are very much alive. “We remember every time, we cannot forget,” Chowdhury says. “We miss them very much.” Yasmin and Miah had only been married for about a year and a half when a plane crashed into the North Tower where they both worked a few floors from each other at an insurance firm: Yasmin at the computer help desk on the 97th floor and Miah, an audiovisual director, on the 93rd.

Chowdhury remembers Yasmin and Miah as inseparable. When he encouraged Yasmin to find another job with her degree in Management Information Systems instead of the temporary position she had, she told him that she was happy where she was. Yasmin and Miah first met at a friend’s wedding and were married in April 2000 among their parents, siblings and extended family. “They did not want to separate from each other,” Chowdhury says. “They did not change their service [job]. They go by bus [together]. 31

Cover Story

Shakila Yasmin and Nurul Miah worked on the 97th and 93rd floors of the World Trade Center.

If she was one hour early, Nurul also follows her. If Nurul was detained for a meeting, she was also waiting there.” In September 2005, six months after the city’s medical examiner’s office announced the end of its official forensic investigation to identify WTC victims, Yasmin and Miah were laid side-by-side in an Islamic burial at Washington Memorial in New York. “They gave us the flag and say, ‘Unfortunately, we cannot save your daughter,’” Chowdhury says. “[W]e know that America is the safest [place] and they were working in the safest place [...], but nobody can keep them safe.” Chowdhury remembers how Yasmin was born in an environment of crisis. Five days after Bangladesh’s first president Sheikh Mujib was assassinated in a military coup and a curfew was declared in the country, Showkatara Chowdhury gave birth to the 32

couple’s first child, Yasmin. The couple had a second child, son Fahim, five years later. The family immigrated to the U.S. in 1992 for their children’s education when Yasmin was 16 and Fahim 11. Chowdhury left a wellpaying managerial job in the sugar industry to move to Arlington, Va., where his younger brother resides. Chowdhury and his family currently live in South Redding, Va. Chowdhury says that it is especially difficult for his wife to talk about Yasmin. Even after receiving confirmation that Yasmin and Miah had died in the attacks, Showkatara held out hope that her daughter would return to her, like her own father had several years after going missing as a soldier in World War II. “My wife sometime in the night she wake up [saying], ‘Somebody is knocking at the door.’ She thought Shakila will come back sometime,” Chowdhury says.

Stories of hope like these were shared among families in the 18 days following 9/11, when Yasmin and Miah’s families frantically searched for information about the couple. They thought maybe the couple was taking shelter somewhere, maybe they were injured or their memories were affected. Chowdhury was sitting in his office, where he worked as a researcher for an insurance company, when a coworker told him that a plane had crashed into one of the towers. “I first think it might be a mere accident,” he says. But then Chowdhury watched it on the television in his office. “[I thought] ‘Oh my God. The northern tower is burning, flame is coming out.’ And when [we] were in New York my daughter show me, ‘Daddy you see this building? I work in 97th floor and Nurul in 93rd floor.’ And I imagine the plane hitting this area.” After calling Yasmin and Miah’s office and cell phones and receiving no answer, Chowdhury called their home. “The answering machine is on, so I keep message: ‘Shakila, you please give us a call. We are very much worried for you people.’” After failing to get answers from everyone that he and his extended family knew, Chowdhury decided to travel to New York City, but had to wait in New Jersey, where Miah’s parents lived, until the roads to the city were opened on Friday. Once there, Chowdhury, his family and in-laws rushed from hospital to hospital, eagerly scanning lists of the wounded to see if they could find Yasmin’s The names of all who died in the 2001 and 1993 attacks on the World Trade Center are inscribed into panels edging the Memorial pools.

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

or Miah’s names. After 15 days of fruitless search, they returned home. Soon after, they received the first piece of news. “We first get message that the health department informed that they are dead, they are no more in this world,” Chowdhury says. Fahim says a piece of his life ended that day. A sister he loved and confided in, and a brother-in-law and friend he admired and respected, were gone. “A major part of my life has departed 10 years ago,” Fahim says. He says both his Yasmin and Miah were dynamic people. “They ... both had great personalities,” Fahim says. “Both of them really enjoyed their lives.” The last time Fahim and Chowdhury saw Yasmin and Miah was during Labor Day weekend, a week before the attacks. They spent all weekend sightseeing and applepicking in upstate New York, eating out and visiting Miah’s family. “We passed a very nice time,” Chowdhury says. As the trip ended, Yasmin and Miah, in their newly purchased car, followed behind Chowdhury, Fahim and Showkatara up to the Brooklyn Bridge where they parted ways with a hug and a lingering wave. “And that is the last wave they gave to me,” Chowdhury says, with tears in his eyes as he demonstrates the wave with his arm. In Yasmin’s memory, Chowdhury built 25 housing units for the homeless in his birthplace village in Moulvibazar, Bangladesh. He visits there every other year and his nephew in Bangladesh helps him maintain the property. “I want to do something for people and

Visitors at the 9/11 Memorial view photos of the victims.

my daughter liked to help other people,” Chowdhury says. As a working high school student and later a student at Virginia Commonwealth University, Yasmin insisted on contributing part of her paycheck to help her family. “I told her […] don’t send me anything, but [she said] ‘No, no, I want to help you,’” Chowdhury says. At the time, Chowdhury was working a second job at night at a pharmacy and Showkatara at a daycare. “We did not give anything to her,” Chowdhury says. “She helped us.” Even after she was married, Yasmin would mail her father a check every month and said that she would help her parents purchase their own home. With the compensation funds they received, as did other victims of 9/11 and their families, Chowdhury and his wife purchased a single-family home. “My wife was telling, ‘I don’t want any

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

compensation, I want my daughter back,’” Chowdhury says. “But it was not possible, you know, what is gone forever.” Chowdhury and his family are grateful for the support and help they received from the government and others. In June 2006, the Bay Ridge Community of Brooklyn honored Yasmin and Miah by renaming Ovington and Third Avenues as Shakila Yasmin and Nurul Haque Miah Street. Chowdhury and his family attend all the annual 9/11 commemoration events at Ground Zero. For Fahim, it is a time of both comfort and pain. “It feels good to be there just to commemorate them,” Yasmin’s brother says. The reminder of the attacks is hard to experience. During the annual ceremony, four bells are sounded to coincide with the exact time each tower was hit and collapsed. “The most difficult time is [when] we hear those bells. I close my eyes and I picture that 33

Cover Story day,” Fahim says. “That part of [the] day just terrifies me.” Fahim says he feels the same way when he sees a documentary about the attacks, which are played frequently on television or select local theaters during Sept. 11 each year. “I get chills all over me when the first tower is hit,” he says. “I feel like right then my sister was gone.” This year’s commemoration ceremony at Ground Zero will include the dedication of the 9/11 Memorial. Fahim is eager to see the memorial and to find Yasmin’s and Miah’s names. “We want to see something there permanent on that location so that we can go every year and commemorate them,” he says. For the last several years, the Chowdhurys’ Ground Zero visit includes a visit to Yasmin’s and Miah’s grave in Long Island, where they stop for a prayer. And though Chowdhury says that a decade later he still does not know why 9/11 happened, he does know that his

Just moments earlier, a man wearing a bandana, sunglasses and a baseball cap, later identified as Mark Stroman, entered the store and pointed a gun at Bhuiyan’s face. Thinking he was being robbed—an experience he’d had a few months earlier—Bhuiyan emptied the cash register and put the money on the counter. But when Stroman did not budge and instead asked, “Where are you from?” Bhuiyan knew he wanted something else. “I thought ... that’s a strange question,” Bhuiyan says. “From that time, I could feel that he is not for money, he is for something else.” As soon as Bhuiyan opened his mouth to reply with an “Excuse me?” Stroman shot him in the face, blinding one eye. “I felt that sensation of million bees stinging my face and heard an explosion,” Bhuiyan says. “I was not sure that I was shot or [if] I was hallucinating.” Bhuiyan is the sole survivor of Stroman’s

daughter and son-in-law are no longer with them and that the pain remains. “I always pray to Allah, ‘Allah, don’t take any children before the parents,’” Chowdhury says. “It’s very much hard.”

9/11 hate-crime shooting spree that left two other South Asian immigrants dead. In the days following the 9/11attacks, Bhuiyan says he feared retaliation by those who associate all Muslims with the 9/11 perpetrators. “In the back of my mind, I was thinking that I have to stay in a safe side and not to argue with anyone, not to have any kind of conversation, just stay low,” he says. “But I never thought that something bad would happen to me.” Bhuiyan’s fear grew as he heard that not too far from where he worked, another gas station clerk, a Pakistani immigrant named Waqar Hasan, was shot and killed on Sept. 17. Hasan was Stroman’s first victim. Stroman was sentenced to death in 2002,

Forgiving Mark On Sept. 21, 2001, then 27-year-old Rais Bhuiyan pleaded with God to spare his life as he lay bleeding on the floor of the gas station convenience store where he worked in Dallas. Visions of his loved ones back in Bangladesh flew past his eyes. “I thought, ‘That’s it, I’m dying today,’” Bhuiyan says. “I was crying and I was asking Allah, ‘Please give me a chance, I don’t want to die today.’” 34

and his execution was later scheduled for July 20, 2011. Since the end of 2010, Bhuiyan has spearheaded a campaign to spare Stroman’s life by requesting that the sentence be changed to life imprisonment without parole. Just as he pleaded with God to spare his own life the day he was shot, Bhuiyan pleaded in civil, federal and supreme courts in Austin, Tex. in the days leading up to Stroman’s execution. Bhuiyan’s efforts, motivated by his faith— indeed, the Quran says to “Keep to forgiveness, and enjoin kindness, and turn away from the ignorant” (7:199)—only succeeded in delaying the July 20 execution by a few hours. Bhuiyan was fighting for his right as a victim to meet with Stroman for reconciliation and dialogue. “I felt that I lost a piece of my heart that day,” Bhuiyan says. “We lost a human life, whereas we could have given him a chance.

Rais Bhuiyan began an online petition to save the life of his attacker, Mark Stroman.

He became a changed person. He learned from his mistake. He could’ve contributed to society in a positive manner.” For years, Bhuiyan heard from people who interacted with Stroman that he had changed. This was confirmed when he received his first direct exchange with Stroman in the form of a handwritten letter on June 14. His eyes welled with tears upon reading it, where Stroman expressed his profound remorse for his actions and applauded Bhuiyan’s parents. Bhuiyan summarizes the letter: “I don’t know who your parents were, but definitely they’re wonderful people and they taught you a lot of good things and that’s why you could do all the things for me whereas you have all the right to hate me.”

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

“A person doesn’t write those kinds of letters unless they have a different heart, unless they are changed,” Bhuiyan says. “What he did was a hate crime and we know that hate comes from ignorance.” Bhuiyan says that he had long since forgiven Stroman and it was after returning from Hajj that his path changed into advocating for Stroman’s life. In Mecca, Bhuiyan renewed a promise he made to God on that rainy Friday, Sept. 21, 2001. After Bhuiyan realized that he had been shot and noticed that Stroman was still standing in front of him, he fell to the ground and played dead to avoid being shot at again. When Stroman left, Bhuiyan grabbed the phone and ran outside toward the neighboring barbershop. He was afraid he would not be able to dial 911 by himself and found someone to help him. It was there that he caught a glimpse of his face in the mirror. “I could see my face […] full of blood

started one after another,” Bhuiyan says. “I was struggling to survive.” He says his faith and the remembrance of the promise he made to God encouraged him to stay strong. Upon hearing the news of their son, Bhuiyan’s parents in Bangladesh were devastated and his father suffered a stroke due to the stress. For a time, Bhuiyan found himself with no money and no permanent housing. His nearest relative, a sister-in-law, provided help as did the local Muslim community and other organizations. Before moving to Texas in June 2001, Bhuiyan lived in New York City where he on a student visa from Bangladesh to pursue his education and have his shot at the American dream. He never imagined how his life would change. “I was deeply traumatized because I had no idea that one day I’ll be shot in this country and I would have to go through all this disaster,” he says. “I even didn’t want to go to the

the other victims’ families. Slowly, the appeal drew support nationally and worldwide, and even attracted the attention of human rights activists and organizations. “I was a little surprised at the end how this message of peace, forgiveness, tolerance spread all over the world. That was a surprise how good things can spread so quickly all over the world,” he says. Even though one of the causes of the campaign, Stroman’s life, has now ended, Bhuiyan says that two other causes will keep the campaign moving forward. One cause is increasing awareness of hate crimes, and inculcating a preference for forgiveness. The campaign’s third cause is providing support for the victims of hate crimes. “I have seen from own life experience, also from the two other widows and their families, how much they have suffered for the last 10 years, what horrible experiences that they went through,” Bhuiyan says. “If there

The National September 11 Memorial's twin reflecting pools are almost an acre in size each and feature the largest man-made waterfalls in North America.

and I looked horrible, like all those horror movies,” he says. “I was […] asking Allah, ‘Please don’t take me today, give me a chance. I promise that if I get my life back today, I will definitely dedicate my life for others. I will do my best and I will do the best for the poor, the deprived and the needy people in this world. Just give me a chance just to live.’” Bhuiyan knew his prayers were answered when he woke the next morning. “That was beautiful to feel that I’m still alive and [that] I did not leave this world,” Bhuiyan says. “God gave me a chance. That was beautiful, heavenly.” As doctors worked to heal Bhuiyan’s face, he tried to build his new life. “[A] new life started and new disasters

trial because I was so afraid that somebody will try to kill me.” Bhuiyan says that it took him years to put the pieces of his life together. The trip to Mecca renewed him spiritually and he was ready make good on his promise to help others—others like Stroman. “After I came back from pilgrimage, I found myself that my heart is softer than ever. I feel so much peace in my mind and in my heart. I felt that I’m a different person,” Bhuiyan says. “I was thinking that I need to start doing something to keep my promises.” Bhuiyan created a website, World Without Hate, and started an online petition to save Stroman’s life. Before starting this campaign, he discussed the idea with his parents and

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are any other victims anywhere who need help, […] whatever the way I can help, I will try my best to help those people.” Bhuiyan says his pain and suffering in the last decade have made him a stronger person. “My heart is bigger than ever and my vision is open and wider than ever and I am finding the good reasons why Allah kept me alive and gave me the chance,” Bhuiyan says. “I believe that now I’m in a position, with the mercy of Allah, where I’ll be able to at least contribute in a better way, to society, to the world. I feel that I have accomplished many things these last 10 years and now I’m equipped with many tools to help others.” 

Zahra Cheema, a freelance writer, resides in Maryland.


Cover Story

We Are Here

staff came up with a list of questions to help participants talk about their faith and identity as American Muslims. Naomi Greene, a StoryCorps facilitator, says she is glad that StoryCorps came to ISNA. “It seems like part of the reason why... My Faith My Voice invited us is because I think the stories of Muslims, Muslims in America, and Muslim Americans is probably not being told. So I’m really glad that we’re able to capture these stories because we have a real belief in the diversity of the voices in our country,” Greene says. For the past several years, National Public Radio’s Morning Edition broadcasts an edited segment from one of the recorded interviews every Friday. Two longtime friends and Chicagoans Ash-har Quraishi and Aziz Ansari interviewed each other for StoryCorps. Quraishi, a broadcast journalist and documentary filmmaker, says he participated to leave behind a legacy for his and Ansari’s children. “I think the idea that 60 years from now, when our two daughters, who are the same age, are 66 years old, if they want to go to the Library of Congress and listen to their dads talk about life in 2011, I think it would be fascinating for them,” Quraishi says.

Magnifying Muslim Voices through the Power of Storytelling By Zahra Cheema

My Faith My Voice: Islamic Faith, Muslim Voice My Faith My Voice is an online social media platform that invites Muslim Americans to record a 30- to 60-second message about issues that affect Muslims in America. The website was created in August 2010 after a group of second-generation Muslim American professionals decided to do something about the rise in Islamophobic speech surrounding the popularly-dubbed ‘Ground Zero Mosque’ controversy. The group of communication specialists, lawyers and activists volunteered their time to make My Faith My Voice a space where Muslim American voices could be expressed and heard. “[My Faith My Voice] ask[s] American Muslims to introduce themselves to America, to share a little bit about who you are, what you believe in, what your story is,” says Rabiah Ahmed, a board member of My Faith My Voice. My Faith My Voice’s website and YouTube page include video messages created and uploaded by Muslim Americans. Topics include reactions to the Park 51 mosque controversy, along with proactive messages such as tributes to America for Independence Day. Ahmed says that all entries are included as long as they are not against the spirit of the campaign. “What this platform does is that it collectively brings us together as a community to one place... and then you have a team of communication specialists working to get your voices heard so that we’re not just talking to each other… but that we are really 36

getting our voices out there to millions of Americans,” Ahmed says. National and international media outlets continue to show interest in My Faith My Voice as place to get a pulse on the Muslim American community, according to Ahmed. “We know that, through research and experience, that the best way to challenge misconceptions about Islam or to increase understanding about our community is to get to know people on an individual level,” Ahmed says. “Since we’re [Muslim Americans], only less than a percent of the entire population of the United States, we’re kind of at a slight disadvantage in that sense that we can’t necessarily reach everybody. That’s where mass media comes into play, or social media.” My Faith My Voice uses storytelling to challenge negative misrepresentations people may have of Muslim Americans. “The power of storytelling breaks down barriers and people start to relate to you on that level and empathize with you and that’s essentially what the Muslim community needs from people: [to] put aside the stereotypes, put aside all the reservations and be in our shoes so that they can see us for who we are and not what we’re portrayed to be by different segments of society,” Ahmed says.

Ash-har Quraishi and Aziz Ansari

StoryCorps: Leaving a Legacy Muslim American stories will now also be archived in the Library of Congress in Washington D.C. for future generations. My Faith My Voice partnered with StoryCorps at this year’s annual ISNA convention in Rosemont, Ill. StoryCorps is an oral history that has collected and archived over 35,000 audio interviews from people all around the country. StoryCorps offer participants a general list of questions to facilitate the interview process; however, they are encouraged to talk about anything that is important to them. At the suggestion of My Faith My Voice, StoryCorps

Photot by StoryCorps staff


am an American. I am a Muslim. This is my faith. This is my voice.” This tagline appears in video messages uploaded to the My Faith My Voice website. My Faith My Voice is one of several projects and organizations using the power of media to bring the diverse stories of Muslim Americans into the public discourse.

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Ansari, a physician and assistant professor at Loyola University Medical Center, says he wants people to know Muslims Americans as fellow citizens. “I think people need to know that we’re normal people who are trying to raise families and hopefully be good citizens,” Ansari says. Quraishi and Ansari say that during their StoryCorps interview they talked about the Muslim American community. “I think that we [American Muslims] have a tendency to isolate ourselves from the community at large,” Quraishi says. “Our responsibility is to reach more people on a personal level.” Quraishi takes this responsibility very seriously, especially after 9/11, an event he is constantly reminded of in his work in the new business. “I work with people who may have never ever encountered a Muslim before in their life and all that they know or think about Islam comes from those images of those planes hitting those buildings,” Quraishi says. “I have a responsibility every day to allow them to know me as a person and hopefully shape their opinions about Muslims—not based on what they hear in generalities on television and from pundits and from images overseas, but from who they see in front of them as a person.”

Ansari says the events of 9/11 motivated him to move away from the money-making, 9-to-5 private practice world and to focus on making a positive difference through teaching. “For me, I think it made me a better doctor… You don’t mention your religion, you don’t wear it on your sleeves, but if I can be the best teacher, and [my students] realize ‘Oh, that’s that Muslim guy, he’s a really good teacher, I look up to him,’ […] then, insh’Allah, I hope I’m doing my job,” Ansari says. Both Quraishi and Ansari say they hope that the Muslim American community becomes more involved in American society. “I would love for the Muslim community to finally take [its] place in American society as being a part of the fabric of America and being part of the leadership and the example,” Quraishi says. “Set the example for citizens of this country.”

My Fellow American: Voices of Support Americans who have been inspired by the example of a Muslim friend, colleague, family member or neighbor are telling their stories at My Fellow American, an online social media platform that is a project of Unity Productions Foundation (UPF). UPF is a non-profit organization that specializes in

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

making films and focuses on using media to increase understanding between Muslims and people of other faiths. Like My Faith My Voice, My Fellow American was started about a year ago in response to the increase in anti-Muslim speech in the public domain. UPF created a short film, “My Fellow American,” that pointed to the wrongness of anti-Muslim speech and included actual voices of pundits and elected official using anti-Muslim speech. “Our point is not to highlight them as individuals, but to highlight what they are saying as an example of a sort of media environment that has gone mad in terms of anti-Muslim sentiment,” says Daniel Tutt, UPF’s outreach director. “The purpose of the film is to send a strong wake-up call/call to action for people of other faiths to do something about this sort of rising level of anti-Muslim sentiment that is in the public discourse.” My Fellow American campaign asks site visitors to view and share the film, to sign a pledge stating that Muslims are fellow Americans, and also invites them to share a video story about a Muslim. Dozens of video stories have been submitted by Marine Corps servicemen, rabbis, priests, college roommates, and city council members. Tutt says the videos are unique because they are told from American citizens of other faiths and backgrounds who know and admire a Muslim personally. “It’s Muslims Americans’ stories themselves which are not being heard,” Tutt says. “Instead what we’re often hearing is this cacophony of really negative sentiment that drowns out some of the more positive stories.” One of the video stories is told by a North Dakota man who recalls going for dinner at his Muslim friend’s farmhouse as an eighth grader in the 1950s. He talks about how he remembers that act of kindness and hospitality. Another video is narrated by a Catholic university student who talks about the strong friendship she has with her Muslim roommate. “The purpose is to present mainstream American culture with a new set of voices that they’re not hearing in the media about Muslims in America,” Tutt says. Tutt says that the campaign chose to have people of other faiths as the storytellers in order to provide a space for supportive voices. “We wanted to give people [who] are honestly and sincerely concerned about this issue of people singling out Muslims, profiling Muslims, using hate speech, hate crimes… [a 37

Cover Story platform] to express in a positive way their support for Muslims as people, as citizens, as fellow Americans,” Tutt says.

MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau: Muslim Voices in Entertainment Suhad Obeidi, director of operations at the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) in California, knows about the power of media as an opinion-shaper—especially in Hollywood. “Hollywood is really important because they have a lot to do with pop culture and pop culture is a major impetus for establishing what people think,” says Obeidi, who is also the head of MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau. ”It could perpetuate stereotypes or it could demystify stereotypes.” MPAC’s Hollywood Bureau works to create a link between the Muslim American community and the entertainment industry. Though MPAC’s work with Hollywood started with the organization’s inception in the late 1980s, the bureau was officially created four years ago as a greater need for it emerged.


“We saw an increase in storylines involving Muslims and Islam and so the need did become crystal-clear after 9/11,” Obeidi says. Recognizing how much people’s opinions are influenced by the entertainment industry, the Hollywood Bureau not only cultivates relationships with decision-makers in the industry, but also provides consulting on film and television projects to help make sure any information on Islam or Muslims is accurate. The bureau consulted on the television shows “Saving Grace” and “Aliens in America”— two shows that included recurring Muslim characters. “We are not a watchdog… we just want to help the storyteller get his story right, and it doesn’t have to be positive, it just has to be accurate,” Obeidi says. “For example, if you’re a filmmaker and you’re going to show a Muslim praying, at least show them praying correctly.” Obeidi says that traditionally networks and studios send scripts to the Hollywood Bureau for feedback, and the Bureau also actively pursues scripts. The bureau was one of the first organizations to receive the script for the Disney movie “Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time.”

“[The studios and networks] really now want to get the story right,” Obeidi says. “The stakes are high, and in Hollywood the standards are getting higher and the audience is more educated now about worldly events, so it’s harder to pass something untrue by [them].” The Hollywood Bureau also recognizes professionals in the entertainment industry whose work promotes nuanced and humanizing portrayals of Muslims and Islam in its Media Awards Gala. Recipients of awards include Muslims artists as well as such past recipients as Alec Baldwin and Morgan Freeman. The bureau supports Muslims in the entertainment industry and those interested in entering it through networking events with industry professionals. Obeidi says it is important to support Muslims in entertainment. “Every community wants to see their own portraying their own,” Obeidi says. “If we’re writers or directors, we want to tell our stories. Who better to tell our own stories than us?” 

Zahra Cheema, a freelance writer, resides in Maryland.

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

In Order To Form A More Perfect Union Muslim Advocates help Muslim Americans secure civil rights. By Sameera Ahmed


rmed with nothing but the Constitution and their experience, the group Muslim Advocates seeks to uphold the inalienable rights of all Americans, while combating the injustices that have afflicted Muslim Americans. In 2005, a group of Muslim American lawyers, aware of the trials the community has endured post-9/11, sought to defend these values. Motivated by the recognition that Muslims needed to strive harder to have their most basic freedoms respected, they worked to leverage their understanding of Washington and the Justice Department, and hoped to ensure that those entrusted to protect citizens’ rights were indeed acting justly. From empowering charitable institutions and raising consciousness regarding the infringement of rights in all arenas, Muslim Advocates brings awareness to the struggles of Muslim Americans. To protect the integrity and legitimacy of charitable institutions, they established the Muslim Charities Accreditation Program. Teaming up with the Better Business Bureau Wise Giving Alliance, they educate and train nonprofit leaders so that their practice is impeccable professionally, financially and legally. The racial and religious profiling program focuses on general policies that target Muslim Americans, including FBI surveillance issues and profiling at the border, while also advocating for legislative activity. Muslim Advocates has orchestrated multiple events that have successfully shed light on several post-9/11 obstacles the Muslims have encountered. Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates and the National Association of Muslim Lawyers (NAML), highlights several hurdles that the organization has overcome.

“In late August, after recent events such as the Park 51 controversy, Terry Jones and the Quran burning, and the attempted murder of the cab driver in New York, we felt a need to put in a joint request for a meeting with the attorney general,” Khera says.

Muslim Americans have become a political wedge tool. A lot of politicians think that they can get easy votes at the Muslim community’s expense. And with the elections coming up, this will become more pronounced," said Nura Maznavi.

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Partnering with leaders of different faiths, they met with Attorney General Eric Holder, and invited him to their convention. Khera told Holder, “There are times when Muslim Advocates is seeking the full and robust implementation of the laws of our country, and other times we’re seeking reform of those laws and policies that go too far and infringe on fundamental rights and freedoms. There is no doubt in my mind that through active engagement with legal advocates for the Muslim community, federal law enforcement can work more effectively to carry out its vital responsibility of protecting our safety while preserving the rights of all Americans regardless of their faith.” As for Holder, it was the first time that an attorney general had addressed Muslims. “There can be no ‘us’ or ‘them’ among Americans,” Holder said. “And I believe that law enforcement has an obligation to ensure that members of every religious community enjoy the ability to worship and to practice their faith in peace, free from intimidation, violence or suspicion. That is the right of all Americans. And it must be a reality for every citizen.” Civil rights attorney Nura Maznavi represented Muslim Advocates at the ISNA convention, speaking at a session focused on the protected rights of Americans. “People don’t want to come forward and, without hearing the stories of the people, we won’t know where to direct our advocacy,” Maznavi, who also leads Muslim Advocates’ Program to End Religious & Racial Profiling, said. Citing the invasive surveillance guidelines released by the FBI in 2008 that allowed them to perform legally unprecedented searches, Maznavi mentioned a lawsuit filed in 2009 to release those guidelines. Though the entirety of those guidelines were not released, it was a step toward justice. Maznavi highlighted the importance of Muslims taking a proactive role as voters. “The Muslim American community has become a political wedge tool. A lot of politicians think that they can get easy votes at the Muslim community’s expense. And with the elections coming up, this will become more pronounced,” Maznavi said. 

Sameera Ahmed is a recent graduate of Windsor University School of Medicine and is based in Chicago.


Democracy and Dissension

Uniting for Change The Arab Spring strengthens interfaith bonds across the U.S. By Tasbeeh Herwees


t was perhaps one of the most galvanizing images to emerge from the Egyptian Revolution. Amidst a stream of photos and videos that depicted hundreds of thousands of Egyptians taking to the streets to demand their freedom, one in particular gave insight into the unifying impact of the Egyptian uprising: Coptic Christians, hand-in-hand, encircling a group of praying Muslims, providing protection from the aggression of pro-Mubarak thugs. Such photos inspired headlines around the world that called the revolution a harbinger of religious unity for Egypt. Images of priests and imams side-by-side, carrying crosses and Qurans, challenged a long-

photo to one of crowds of Copts protecting prostrating Muslims in the Square. Mubarak—like many other dictators challenged by the will of the masses before and after him—attempted to brand the revolutionaries as “Islamists” and casted the Muslim Brotherhood as an antagonistic bogeyman in an attempt to foment conflict between the protesters. The diversity of the Egyptians participating in the protests, says Gad, gave the revolution strength. “We know that there are quote-unquote powers that are trying to separate us, but it just brings us together,” she says, referring to the efforts of regime propaganda. The contagion of religious solidarity did

We know that there are quote-unquote powers that are trying to separate us, but it just brings us together,” Muna Gad says, referring to the efforts of regime propaganda.

not contain itself within the Egyptian borders. Over in the U.S., Gad found herself in closer contact with Coptic friends with whom she’d lost touch. “After the revolution, we kept calling each other more than ever because we want to check up on each other, we want to make sure that nothing has changed, we’re always going to be the same towards each other,” she says. Gad attended Egyptian protests in Los Angeles and Orange County, where she demonstrated side-by-side her Coptic friends. “We were never two different identities,” says Gad. “We were always one. We were always Egyptians. And no matter which religion we belong to, this is nothing between us and Egyptians. This is something between us and God.” It’s a sentiment that’s being felt across the Middle East. As protests sweep the streets of Syria, Bahrain, Yemen and Morocco, Arabs of all religious backgrounds have found themselves united for the cause of unity. In Syria, Bashar Al-Assad’s regime appears to have taken its cues from that of Libya’s Muammar Qaddafi, using violent force against peaceful protesters and creating a rising death toll. Though the regime has attempted to, once again, splinter prodemocracy groups by creating sectarian divisions where there are none, Syrian protesters remain unified. Syrian Muslims, Christians, and even suppressed ethnic groups like the Syrian Kurds, have risen to challenge the oppressive 41-year-old rule of the Assad regime.

standing narrative of the Middle East as a hotbed of sectarian unrest. But more importantly, the religious unity on display at the historic Tahrir Square signaled the arrival of invigorating social change in the Middle East for Arabs around the world. And the winds of change didn’t just sweep through Egypt: they could be felt all the way to Newport Beach, Calif., by the likes of 36-year-old resident and Egyptian American Mona Gad. “I’ve never seen this kind of spirit of unity between Coptic and Muslim Egyptians,” Gad says. “I have a belief in my people, in the youth now, they have such a strength... They want to change.” Gad was enthralled by the events taking place in Tahrir Square, but particularly by the Muslim-Copt solidarity. In a display of pride, she changed her Facebook profile 40

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Photos by Eman Elshiyab

“Of course, they’re just trying to find an escape from the situation and to [take away] the revolution’s legitimacy,” says Sawsan Jassouma, of Anaheim, Calif. Jassouma, a Syrian exile, has participated in the uprising remotely, attending solidarity protests in Los

Angeles and Anaheim. She rejects regime propaganda that attempts to depict the uprising as the will of a small minority of rabblerousers — or, as Al-Assad calls them, “germs.” “It’s a population revolution—the whole population,” says Jassouma. Since March, when demonstrators took to the streets in overwhelming numbers, members of the Syrian diaspora have been watching with fear, trepidation and hope from their homes. In Southern California, a group of Syrian exiles have mobilized to create a coalition of Syrians from different religious and ethnic backgrounds. Every week, they congregate on the corner of a major intersection in Costa Mesa to protest in solidarity with their Syrian brothers and sisters — Muslims and Christians alike. Fountain Valley High School student Tessniem Shukairy said the protests and her activism within the coalition have put her in touch with a segment of Syrian-American society she didn’t realize existed before. “We’ve gotten to know more people outside of our little group of Syrians,” Shukairy says. “In every single community, they found out more about people that come from dif-

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

ferent backgrounds, different religions, that are Syrian as well.” The Syrians protesting in Damascus, said Jassouma, are joined by the same necessity that brings together the Syrians here in Southern California: freedom. “That’s what unites them, they have one cause to call for.” It’s this one cause — a thirst for freedom— that is the thread that connects the Arab uprisings occurring across the Middle East and North Africa. In Libya, where peaceful protesting civilians were forced to arm themselves and civil war has turned the cities of Misrata and Yifren into war-zones, the cause is no different. In Libya, the same rallying cry for freedom that rings out in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, calls people out of their homes in Benghazi and the Nafousa Mountains. The Qaddafi regime has, for years, subjugated the masses, but some of its worse crimes were those perpetrated on Libya’s minorities. In the 1960s, when he took power, Libya’s Jewish population didn’t exceed 100; but that didn’t stop him from launching a vicious campaign against them that would drive them out of their homes and, ultimately, out of Libya. Most Libyans, especially those in the diaspora, have little knowledge of Libya’s ancient Jewish population. But the revolution has urged many to research Libya’s history more deeply and that’s brought them in contact with people like Vivienne Roumani-Denn, a Libyan Jew whose family fled Benghazi shortly after Gaddafi seized power. “Before the uprising, a lot of young Arabs from Libya did not know there were Jews in Libya,” says Roumani-Denn. RoumaniDenn said she used to receive emails from young Libyans baffled by her documentary, “The Last Jews in Libya,” contesting the presence of a Jewish population in Libya. “I can tell you that everyone who didn’t believe it when they contacted me,” says Rounami-Denn, “once they went back to their grandparents and asked in Libya, their grandparents confirmed, ‘Oh yes, there were Jews living here and they were very nice people.’” She says the Arab uprisings give her hope for the emergence of a more unified Middle East. “There are a lot of efforts from some groups to build a tolerant, open society,” says Roumani-Denn. “If that happens, it remains to be seen. I hope it does.” 

Tasbeeh Herwees is a Libyan American journalist living in Southern California.


Democracy and Dissension

The Hyphenated (Post-2011) Arab The Arab Spring leaves some Americans struggling with a dual identity and an uncertain future.


his story begins on March 15, 2011, when protests in Syria began demanding the end of the 11-year rule of President Bashar al-Assad. The protests continue. Back up. This story begins on Feb. 17, 2011, when Libyans began demanding the end of the 42-year rule of Muammar Qaddafi. The uprising in Libya continues. Back up. This story begins on Feb. 14, 2011, when protesters in Bahrain began demanding the end of the 12-year rule of King Hamad bin-Isa Al Khalifa. The uprising continues. Back up. This story begins on Jan. 25, 2011, when protesters in Egypt began demanding the end of the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. The revolution continues even after 18 days of massive protests brought about the end of the Mubarak regime. Back up. The story begins on Jan. 27, 2011, when protesters in Yemen began demanding the end of the 21-year rule of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. The battle rages on. Back up. This story begins in December 18, 2010, when protesters in Tunisia began demanding the end of the 23-year rule of President Zine El-Abidine Ben Ali. The revolution continues, even after largescale protests in the country ousted Ben Ali. Back up. This story begins on Dec. 17, 2010, when a 26-year-old Tunisian street vendor doused himself in gasoline and set himself afire in front of city hall in the small town of Sidi Bouzid, Tunisia. His self-immolation was in protest of the dignity that was stripped from him in a country where a young man cannot find employment, on a street where a vendor cannot make a living without fear of police harassment. The flame, which seared Mohammed Bouazizi’s flesh, ignited a fire across the Middle East and North Africa, and from his ashes the Arab Revolution was born.


This story has many beginnings, and no ending. It begins in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, when centuries of repressive European colonialist rule transformed into decades of repressive Arab autocratic rule in the Middle East and North Africa. My story begins in 1987, when an Algerian couple fled political repression and corruption, for safe haven in the U.S. Those two Algerian political asylees were my parents, and with my birth, a hyphen was tagged onto the identity I inherited from them. I became an Algerian (hyphen) American. My parents weren’t alone. Waves of Arabs escaping political oppression and seeking economic opportunity emigrated to the U.S. from the Middle East and North Africa in the 1970s and ’80s. Now, nearly three decades later, autocratic regimes are being toppled, metaphorical heads are rolling and freedom and democracy have become the rallying

Given the new political realities in the region, hyphenated Arabs in America are asking themselves what exactly their hyphenated identities mean given the changing Middle East.

Photo by Eman Elshiyab

By Assia Boundaoui

calls of the Arab Revolution. Given the new political realities in the region, hyphenated Arabs in America are asking themselves what exactly their hyphenated identities mean given the changing Middle East. They and we are confronted with a fundamentally existential question: If we are Americans because our parents fled repressive, undemocratic regimes in the Middle East for safe haven in the U.S., and those regimes are quickly disappearing, well, then shouldn’t we go back? This spring, a group of Yemeni, Libyan, Palestinian, Algerian, Syrian, Egyptian and Iraqi second-generation Americans gathered to try to answer this question and grapple with the glue that keeps our hyphenation in place. The conversation began with a simple question: how many of them had considered returning to their home countries? “It’s still bizarre, it is still like a dream to even discuss, can we possibly live there, you know? Can we possibly go?” said Abdullah Fadhli. Fadhli was born and raised in the U.S. His parents fled Libya in the ’80s to escape Qadaffi’s repression. “My father didn’t come here willingly. He was an exile from the get-go,” Fadhli says. “Libyans wanted to live in Libya; these people came here unwillingly. They love their country.” Ahlam Said, Yemeni-American, says the idea of returning is not nearly as simple for her.

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

“I’ve always been a little hesitant because, when going back to Yemen, and when you told people you were American-Yemeni, they’d smirk at you and go ‘Um, yeah,’” Said says. “I wasn’t raised in Yemen. I was born in Yemen, and I came here at the age of two, and now I’ve entered into a world where I want to be closer to my Yemeni identity. I want to understand what’s going on, I want to be involved. But I know there’s going to be a struggle if I go back, because now my identity is going to be challenged.” The question of being “Arab enough” quickly transforms into a conversation about hyphenated descriptions, and our tenuous, marginalized, confused and grammaticallyfragmented identities. “For me, as a Syrian-American, the assumed position on this hyphenation is very problematic,” says Yaser Tabbara, who grew up in Damascus before returning to the U.S. in his teens. “After all, Syria has been classified as one of the Axis of Evil by America for a long time. But I truly don’t feel a schism between the two identities. As an American, I’m very comfortable supporting the pro-democracy movement in Syria and in the Arab World. After all, that is a fundamentally American value.” It becomes evidently clear that each member of this conversation identifies with their hyphenation entirely differently. While some speak of “returning home,” others challenge the notion that they’re

even “returning” if “home” is a place that they were never of. The “American” in the hyphenated equation is a little disputed fact, but how “Arab” each one of us is or wishes to identify as becomes a contentious matter. Iraqi-American Laith Saud is tired of the whole debate over hyphenated status. “I’m beginning to look at this in a totally different way,” Saud says. “I don’t consider myself an Arab-American—I’m beginning to consider myself an American Arab. I was born in Baghdad, but I grew up here [in America]. For me to be as Iraqi as an Iraqi is absurd. I’m an American. But I happen to be an Arab one.” Ahmed Rehab, an Egyptian-American activist who flew to Cairo to participate in the Egyptian Revolution, considers himself fully American and fully Arab, and that hyphenating those two identities verges on the offensive. “I can be an American, I can be an Egyptian, I can be an Arab. I have the capacity of being all three; they’re not hyphenated. One does not qualify the other,” Rehab says. “When I go vote as an American, I don’t chisel hieroglyphics on my ballot card. And when I’m in Egypt, chanting in Tahrir Square with everybody else, I’m not saying, ‘Yay Freedom.’ I’m chanting in Arabic, the same slogans. I fully relate to these people there and they fully relate to me.” Said says that, beyond just a label, her hyphenated identity has complicated the

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

question of who she represents when she wants to speak her mind. “Am I speaking on behalf of America, or am I speaking on behalf of Yemen? And what are Yemenis going to be thinking about this, are Americans going to basically challenge my allegiance to America?” Said asks. “At the end of the day it’s my passion to see people living dignified lives. You know that’s what I want, that’s what I can identify with.” All present agreed that their shared experiences as Arabs is what drives them to want to play a role in the waves of change taking place in the Arab world—whether or not that means actually moving there. And as many in the group grappled with the idea of making that move, Said discussed how a member of her family finally made up his mind. “My brother just left to Yemen to move there. He thought that there would be economic opportunity post-Saleh, and wanted to invest in that,” Said says. “And so now my father—who left Yemen because he didn’t have opportunities there—is saying, look if you can give me dignity back… if you can go back and establish yourself, I will return. This is after 25 years that he said he would never go back to a country that corruption was so embedded into the culture, that he felt he had lost all his dignity in. For our parents, it’s about going to a place that honors them, that can give them that dignity that they’ve been trying to find all of these years.” That question of dignity sticks. All present in the room nod in agreement. And it becomes clear that the hyphenation is not just a matter of identification; it is a burden. If our parents fled the Arab world because they felt the political climate was draining them of their dignity, and if the Arab Revolution was sparked when a man immolated himself because he felt he had lost his dignity—well, then how do we go about regaining something as ubiquitous as dignity? While the question may take more than a generation to answer, one thing is clear. So long as the wave of revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa continue to unfold, Arabs in America will continue to mull their complicated roles and identities as Americans and Arabs. And in a generational twist of poetic justice, some will make the leap and return to the countries their parents were forced to abandon decades ago. 

Assia Boundaoui is an Algerian-American freelance reporter based in New York.


Democracy and Dissension

Encounters with Walls


How can those who trumpet themselves as champions of democracy and human rights condone a structure that imposes separation and inequality? Photo credit: Muna Shami, 2011

By Muna Jamil Shami


have never flown into Ben Gurion International Airport without an escorted invitation to the waiting room for additional questioning. Relying on the effective profiling of Palestinians at the Israeli airport, I had planned to meet my brother in the interrogation waiting room… and there my gentle brother was waiting for me. We were held for two hours in a room full of mostly young Arab men (and a few from South America) — each has a story of displacement to tell. Our stories are our collective history. The waiting room is situated such that we can view passengers eagerly arriving at passport control, many with tourist groups. They walk past us, oblivious to the profiling that has landed us on this side of the divide. Similarly, they will likely bypass any view of occupation or hear any stories of Palestinian dispossession as they visit Israel. The physical and metaphysical walls that separate us serve as blinders that allow us to maintain tired narratives that attempt to justify separation. Two hours later, my brother and I were released and greeted by a dear


1. Younger Abu-Ammar by Vince Seven, Qalandia Checkpoint: Nostalgic images of PLO leader Yasser Arafat in his younger years are pasted around the city walls of Ramallah. 2. Inside Bethlehem: Over 90 percent of the shops in this part of Bethlehem have closed or relocated due to the impact of the wall. 3. Free Palestine, Bethlehem 4. Wall Choking Bethlehem 5. Handala, Bethlehem: A symbol of the struggle of the Palestinian people for justice and selfdetermination, Naji Al-Ali’s Handala is a barefoot 10-year-old refugee child who serves as an honest witness to the Palestinian struggle.

Photo credit: Muna Shami, 2011



photo credit: Rasmiya Masoud, 2008

Photo credit: Muna Shami, 2011


Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

The false separation imposed by the wall is evident in the common history that lies beneath the ground on both sides of the barrier.


Photo credit: Muna Shami, 2011

friend who has the right yellow license plates to drive us from the airport to Ramallah. Color-coded license plates enforce Israel’s restrictions on the movement of Palestinians. As we ride alongside the other yellow-plated cars that symbolize our exclusion, hills and valleys welcome us back to our motherland. We continued down the road, facing the reality of settlement expansion in Palestine and eventually meeting the physical manifestation of Israel’s philosophy of separation — the separation wall or separation barrier. Israel’s construction of the wall continues — with plans for the wall to run over 400 miles in length at its completion. According to the Institute for Middle East Understanding, “The barrier consists, in places, of a wall 25 feet high, razor wire, trenches, sniper towers, electrified fences, military roads, electronic surveillance, and buffer zones that sometimes reach 100 meters in width.” The route of the wall is built deep into occupied Palestine [post-1967] and almost completely encircles some Palestinian towns. It cuts off 9 percent of the West Bank, including all of occupied East Jerusalem (dividing Bethlehem and Jerusalem), and will isolate approximately 242,000 Palestinians from the rest of the West Bank — separating Palestinians from


6. Banksy, Qalandia Checkpoint: In a gesture of solidarity with the Palestinian people, British street artist Banksy and 14 other artists traveled to Palestine to participate in a project called Santa’s Ghetto with London-based Pictures on Walls in December 2007. 7. Gandhi, Qalandia Checkpoint: Palestinians have a long history of non-violent resistance despite the violent response to their actions. Palestinians are actively using non-violent action to challenge the construction of the wall and are calling for a campaign of boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) against Israel until it complies with international law and Palestinian rights.

Photo credit: Jamilah Shami, 2008


Photo credit: Muna Shami, 2008

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011


Democracy and Dissension

Photo credit: Muna Shami, 2011


Photo credit: Muna Shami, 2011


one another. In addition to further confiscating Palestinian land and obstructing Palestinians freedom of movement, the wall has restricted Palestinian access to water sources, healthcare, education and employment opportunities — including separating farmers from their land and reducing tourism. In some areas, the wall has been used as a canvas for artistic expression of life under occupation and solidarity by international visitors. The work on the wall reflects their thoughts and feelings. The messages affirm their existence, reflect nostalgia for days passed, and share dreams for what lies ahead. The imposition of the wall and continued displacement of Palestinians symbolize the imbalance of power in the conflict while the words and art on the wall cry out for freedom, justice, love and peace. The barrier cannot confine such basic human aspirations. In July 2004, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) held that the wall is illegal and advised that it be dismantled. The judges further ruled Israeli settlements in Occupied Palestinian Territories to be in violation of international law. The Israeli High Court disagreed with the ICJ’s ruling, but has ordered some sections of the wall be re-routed, including a 2007 ruling to re-route the wall in Bil’in. The people of Bil’in organized weekly nonviolent protests since the construction of the wall began in their village in 2005. Following the ruling, the Israeli Defense Ministry began dismantling a section of the Bil’in barrier in the summer of 2011 and has plans to reroute it. Standing at the wall, I am struck by the failure of human compassion and 8. Welcome to Soweto: Leave Your Rights at the Gate, Bethlehem: Graffiti drawing parallels between the oppression of Palestinians and black South Africans under apartheid. 9. Love Wins, Bethlehem 10. “Greetings of a Free Palestine,” Qalandia Checkpoint

Photo credit: Muna Shami



Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011


Photo credit: Muna Shami, 2011

creativity that has lead to its existence. The false separation imposed by the wall is evident in the common history that lies beneath the ground on both sides of the barrier. The wall reflects a moment in time, yet it blocks out the horizon in some places — making it difficult to know what lies ahead. Still the sky above has no borders — this is where visions of a shared future live, where dreams of freedom, peace and justice will be realized. The wall is a temporary separation and like those that were built before it, this wall will fall. As we left Ramallah, a large Palestinian flag was blowing in the wind. Once a symbol of Palestinian aspirations for liberation and self-determination, I wondered what the flag symbolizes today as the Palestinian dream is negotiated and reduced to a statehood project that excludes the majority of Palestinians. Crossing the temporary divide, I was absorbed by the natural beauty on both sides — the olive trees carry history and wisdom in their roots and the possibilities of the open sky invite us to return soon. 

For information, see; American Muslims for Palestine:; Institute for Middle East Understanding:; and US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation:


Muna J. Shami, Ph.D., is a Palestinian-American social scientist and cultural worker based in the Washington, D.C. area. Photo credit: Muna Shami, 2008

11. To Exist… is to Resist, Bethlehem: Mural by Mexico’s Zapatista Army of National Liberation 12. Tall Birds, Bethlehem 13. Free Marwan Barghouti — Only Free Men Can Negotiate, Qalandia Checkpoint: There are over 5,500 Palestinian political prisoners in Israeli detention today (Addameer, June 2011).


Photo credit: Muna Shami, 2011

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011


Back to School

Advice for Collegiate Newbies

How to maintain balance and attain blessings in college

tive candidate for that graduate program. Look at the requirements for your undergraduate institution; outline what courses you’ll need to take and write a four-year rough draft of your courses so that you can balance more difficult classes with less challenging ones. Just make sure to keep your schedule a little flexible. “One of the best things about college is having the ability to choose your own schedule. For the most part, your classes work around your life. This added flexibility is truly liberating, especially when we have five prayers a day to think about,” says Ala G, a senior at the University of South Florida. “This may sound obvious, but plan your class schedule around salah; avoid class times that may consistently make you late for prayer, or conflict with the Friday prayer.”

By Iman Sediqe


ollege: a new world full of endless opportunities, an investment for your future, and for many of us, our first time being completely independent. It can be a bit daunting at first and exciting at the same time. How do you know how to avoid the classic mistakes and starting off on the wrong foot?

Reflect and Focus Like any other step you would take in life, it’s important to begin by reflecting and focusing your intentions. What do you hope to achieve? How can you best utilize this time to maintain a balance between your academics, your personal and spiritual growth, your social life, and your family? Safia Khawaja, a University of South Florida sophomore, says a big part of collegiate success is holding onto your faith. “College is the first step into the real world and as young Muslim students, there will be many tests of our iman. It is important to stay true to your Muslim identity. Ensuring we keep our faiths strong and It’s key to always firm will help when it comes to keep a focus on what succeeding in college in all aspects, including academics. You should your priorities are. surround yourself with the right At the end of the crowd and meet other Muslims... day the person that to stay connected to your deen and to protect yourself from getting will benefit most and involved in any fitnah.”

Set Clear Goals Before you begin college, set your goals very clearly. What do you want to have accomplished at the end of these four years? If your goal is to pursue graduate school immediately after graduation, then consider what you need to be the most attrac48

suffer most from your decisions is you. So you have to prioritize your needs and your responsibilities.

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Don’t forget to take advantage of the resources on your campus. You have an advisor, professors, graduate student instructors, and many others who are eager to help you.

Use Your MSA The MSA can be a great resource on campus as well. Look at your MSA for older individuals who have majored in your field or have reached goals similar to your own. MSAs often have a wealth of knowledge and advice ready for incoming MSA students. You can access old study guides, borrow textbooks, gain helpful advice on who the best professors are, and so forth. After all, who better to ask for advice and guidance than someone who had similar goals and went through your same undergraduate institution just a few years before you?

Seek Professional Opinion If you have a specific occupation in mind, connect with individuals who are already in that field. The MSA or your campus alumni association, advisors and professors can all act as resources in this area. “Make connections in college. These days they’re worth more than degrees,” advises Abdelfattah Nimer, a University of South Florida senior. Even if you don’t intend to pursue graduate school in the near future, it’s very important to maintain a strong relationship with your professors. Your professors are a hidden treasure that surprisingly not many students take advantage of. If you struggle in a certain area, reach out to your professors; make sure you attend office hours, and communicate with them regularly. They can help provide you with connections and information about other courses, fellowships, scholarships, and programs that would best suit you.

Have a Plan Pre-planning is essential. Even if you change your mind partway through college, it’s good to revisit your outlined goals and coursework schedule. It’s much easier to make adjustments to your written plan than to start from square one again. And when setting goals, don’t be afraid to aim high. “Take advantage of your youth. Be a visionary, follow your heart, and get active. Don’t ever think you can’t do something,” says Omnia Joehar, a University of Maryland senior. “If it hasn’t been done, set the standard, for amazing things have only been established with a dream, good intentions, a million [tries] and hard work.”

Keep the Faith Another key struggle many face in college is balancing one’s identity. College is an opportunity to start fresh, to really establish who you are. It’s very easy to get sidetracked and distracted. There are so many options out there in terms of social groups to join, extracurricular activities, and Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

even directions that you can take in your career. It’s key to always keep a focus on what your priorities are. At the end of the day, the person that will benefit or suffer most from your decisions is you. Having a good core group of friends who share similar values and aspirations is central to helping you hold yourself accountable for your actions. “I can’t stress enough the importance of having good company in college. Your friends will either make or break you, so always think twice about the company you keep and the types of people that you attract,” says Wiaam Yasin, a junior at the University of Mary Washington. Independence can be exciting yet also misleading as the limitless possibilities can often throw you off balance and you can easily go astray from your goals. Such a group can help reinforce and strengthen your beliefs, values, and goals and keep you in check. The MSA can facilitate in finding other Muslims who share similar values and most importantly support you just as you are. It’s important to remember that the MSA is not your major; your focus in college is personal growth, academic achievement and spiritual balance. It’s very beneficial to be involved within the MSA, but being caught up only in the MSA can be limiting. There are many opportunities available when you become involved in other organizations as well, but it’s important to remember that a key contribution you bring is your unique background and identity. “Most of what I’ve learned in college has been from different experiences outside of the classroom,” says Mariam Saifan, a fifthyear student of architectural engineering at the University of Kansas. “Get involved in unique activities and take time to get to know people. The key is to maintain a nice balance between schoolwork and having fun.”

Balance and Blessings College is not simply the “next step”; it is the most critical investment for the rest of your life. The key to success in college comes down to two things: balance and blessings. Keep balance in everything you do; keep balance in your personal and spiritual growth while keeping a strong focus on your academics. Keep a balance in your life and remember to do actions for the sake of God; even when you study, make your intention for God. When your intention is to do these actions as a form of worship to God, it will bring blessings to your life to aid you toward greater success. Sometimes we may suffer from potentially great failures, but it’s important to see those failures as a learning opportunity and to grow from them, not to let them inhibit you from success in the future. Ali Baluch, of Tribeca Flashpoint Media Arts Academy, says flexibility is necessary. “Get comfortable with being uncomfortable... meaning, you’re gonna be in a lot of situations where you will not be comfortable with: new school, not knowing anyone, being in a new town in a new community, new masjid, etc. Don’t let being uncomfortable hold you back from going to events, introducing yourself to new friends. Being uncomfortable is natural, but you have to become comfortable with it,” Baluch says. With proper planning, maintaining balance, and engaging in actions that bring barakah (blessings) to your life, college can be the beginning of a very rewarding future. 

Iman Sediqe, president of MSA National, is a graduate student at Harvard University.


Back to School

A New Domain

rated to finally break off from home—all freshmen but myself. My father and I climbed the dormitory stairs until we reached my suite, where the unpacking and the assembly of my room—and my new beginning—commenced. After settling in, my dad hinted that it was time for him to depart. I remember not of what my outward reaction was, but my inner emotions at that moment remain By Aala Mohamed forever etched in my memory. A wave of resistance washed over me and I began to t was December of 2009. College and exploring its glorious libraries, and choke, for I knew his last kiss marked the application deadlines were approach- most importantly, living comfortably and beginning of four years of desolation. Tears ing and, just like any other high school confidently in this “home away from home.” streamed down my face as my head was senior, I was entirely occupied with My answer to their office of admissions was numbed with despondency. I sat on my new, completing my essays and submitting therefore ‘yes,’ a million times over. crispy, unwelcoming bed, as I heard the faint The moment when my ‘yes’ was trans- sounds of folks yelling out in the courtyard. them in on time. I applied to a number of schools, all varying in prestige and distance formed into a reality soon arrived. I had It was the first time that I truly felt alone. from home. By the time the first of Janu- overlooked its simplicity. Was I ready to leave Looking back on this memory now, I ary dawned upon me, my college applica- my life, family, and friends back home? This wallow in regret because I failed to look past tions were signed, sealed and the confinement I placed upon delivered with certain expectamyself. I wasn’t incarcerated by tions and a rudimentary idea of default; I forced the shackles of where I would actually enroll in constriction on my outlook. I the fall. I spent almost my entire wanted nothing to do with this life in Chicago — it was where my foreign environment. But I couldn’t harbor this bitfondest memories were treasured. terness forever. This intimate attachment, with an assertive influence of its own, thus Eid rolled by soon enough decided that, despite potential and I flew home for what would account as my first visit home. It acceptances into various schools, I would enroll at a university close was then that I understood that to home. Sometimes, however, although it was rejuvenating and effort and time invested in arranglovely, it wasn’t completely ‘home.’ ing and planning the future are Home had a new dimension to not reflected in the outcome. It’s a it—and that dimension thrived strange phenomenon: you can sit back in New Haven. I knew it then, and ponder, illustrate diagrams, and I know it now. Leaving home formulate equations, schedule and gifted me with an entirely unique, Leaving home gifted me with reschedule, and focus until your invaluable, progressive perspective an entirely unique, invaluable, mind aches, but you still aren’t in that allowed me to appreciate my control of the results. You cannot family, friends, religion, educaprogressive perspective that direct fate. You plan meticulously tion and community on an entirely allowed me to appreciate and achieve what you believe is new level. I learned about issues I otherwise would have remained your final answer. my family, friends, religion, And then God plans. oblivious to and interacted with education and community on an As soon as admission results distinctive individuals on a scale entirely new level. were released, I realized I had to nonexistent to me beforehand. tweak my mindset. Without really Yale allowed me to rediscover and allowing some schools a chance, celebrate my individuality. without exploring their campuses, observ- wasn’t equivalent to initiating a new chapter I had originally planned that I was going ing student life and evaluating the vibes I of life; it was like writing a new novel. Living to remain in Chicago and asserted I wouldn’t received in return, I would be oppressing away from home was unfathomable. But that move an inch away. Plans change and people myself through limitation. Lifting this con- was exactly what I signed up for—and I did change. I stand corrected today, and proudly fining curtain only opened another window: not in the least bit know what to expect. proclaim that I surely wouldn’t have it any As the summer crept to a close, move-in other way.  I realized instantly upon arriving at Yale that, subhanAllah, it was my scene. I envisioned day received me with open arms. All the myself reveling in the beauty of its gardens incoming college freshmen seemed exhila- Aala Mohamed is sophomore at Yale University.

Reflections from a College Freshman Embarking Upon a New Journey



Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Paying it Forward Scholarship fund makes the presence of Muslims in the media a viable reality. By Zeeba Anarwala


burgeoning five-year-old organization is hoping to make a difference for Muslims nationwide through scholarship funding for students studying the humanities, social sciences and liberal arts. The Islamic Scholarship Fund aims to create Muslim thought leaders in these fields to provide Muslims a powerful voice in shaping American attitudes and policies toward Muslims and the Islamic world. The founder of ISF, Dr. Hamid Rezapour, sensed a lack of representation of Muslims in public discourse and decided to take action. “I was frustrated with the fact that there were more non-Muslims on TV, newspaper and other forms of media that were so called ‘experts’ on Islam than Muslims, and the Muslim voice in rebuttal was simply absent,” Rezapour says. As a dentist and MBA-degree holder, Rezapour says he felt education was the way to help solve this problem. “The creation of a self-sustaining scholarship program that focuses strictly on the fields of studies and professions that affect public policy and influence public opinion was the logical approach.” In 2011, ISF will provide 14 to 16 scholarships in the total amount of $38,000 to $42,000 — up at least $8,000 from the year before. Recipients are chosen solely on merit and not financial need. Students must have a minimum 3.4 grade-point average, and show dedication to extracurricular activities and community involvement. A committee of university professors, nonprofit organization leaders and community members review and score applications and grant interviews. Post-graduation requirements include volunteering 50 hours for a Muslim organization

(Top) Iman Zawahry, ISF 2009-2010 recipient, directed the short film "UnderCover," which opened in 25 film festivals and won seven awards. (Bottom) Daanish Faruqi, ISF 2010-2011 recipient, just published his first book, "From Camp David to Cast Lead: Essays on Israel, Palestine, and the Future of the Peace Process."

within one year of receiving the scholarship. Scholarship recipients in the past have praised ISF for not only the monetary gift, but for how it has had an impact on their sense of self. Zuleqa Husain, a journalist, felt more compelled to speak up. “After receiving this scholarship, I have become more vocal and active in getting the voices of American Muslims projected and heard by those in power. To sum it up, I believe it is my duty to be not just a good Muslim citizen but to be a deliberate and efficacious Muslim citizen,” Husain says. For Jason Van Boom, adjunct professor at Pacific School of Religion and a recent convert to Islam, the scholarship was an integral part in showing him the broadmindedness and acceptance of Muslims. “I received the scholarship about nine months after I had become a Muslim. My academic specialty is history of Christianity,” Van Boom says. “When I took shahada, I had no idea if or how my specialty fit within the Muslim community. So, the scholarship gave me a sense of validation.” ISF is eagerly looking for more funding to expand its program. The main source of fund-

After receiving this scholarship, I have become more vocal and active in getting the voices of American Muslims projected and heard by those in power," Husain says.

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ing comes from donations from the public. However, an individual or family can sponsor a named scholarship for a specific field of study or profession. People can also donate into the ISF endowment fund which is structured similarly to a university endowment fund. Additionally, donors can pledge a monthly amount to support the “One Student a Week Campaign.” “Our goal is to get the commitment of enough individuals each year to make monthly donations of any amount in order to support approximately 50 scholarships per year,” Rezapour explains. He says the long-term goal for ISF is to develop an endowment fund based on the university model that can be self-sufficient and award hundreds of scholarships each year. “Our biggest challenge is time,” Rezapour says. “We need to grow at an exponential rate in order to support and ultimately produce enough Muslims in the fields of studies that we support to make a meaningful impact on our destinies in a timely manner, before it is too late.” The second challenge is educating Muslim parents so they will encourage their children to pursue careers other than those in medicine and engineering. “Those are wonderful professions, [but] we also need Muslim journalists, lawyers, politicians, filmmakers, educators and academicians in order to better integrate ourselves into the fabrics of the society,” he says. “We believe that we as Muslims would be in a very different place if one day, every Islamic center and mosque around the nation supported one ISF scholarship per year.” According to ISF, there are scholars who have concluded that zakat money is eligible for scholarship funding for those who qualify as zakat receipients. For more information on donating to the Islamic Scholarship Fund or applying for awards, visit the website at: 

Zeeba Anarwala is a freelance writer based in North Carolina.



Islamic Superheroes Out to Change the World By Meha Ahmad

Dr. Naif Al-Mutawa was the keynote speaker at the ISNA's Annual Community Service Recognition Luncheon.


ove over, Clark Kent. A few new comic book heroes—actually, there are 99 of them—have moved into the neighborhood, to fight for truth, justice, and a whole bunch of other virtues, too.

The 99 is a group of superheroes based on the 99 attributes of God in Islam. From Hadya (the Guide) from England whose brain works like a GPS system, to Fattah (the Opener) from Indonesia who can create rifts in time and space, the characters don’t lack for variety. The 99 is led by psychologist Dr. Ramzi Razem, the Charles Xavier to The 99's X-Men. Since it first powered onto the scene in 2006, the series has become more and more popular with both Muslims and non-Muslims alike. In fact, Forbes magazine named The 99 one of the “Top 20 Trends Sweeping the Globe.” Series creator Dr. Naif AlMutawa, a clinical psychologist, shares his reasons for creating The 99 and how life has changed since diving into the world of comic book heroes. Islamic Horizons: Your background is in psychology. What made you go from that field into the world of comic books? 52

Naif Al-Mutawa: My dad asks me that all the time. You know, ever since I was nine years old, I told my parents ‘I’m going to be a writer.’ They said, it’s a great hobby, but never do it as a career. So I was the good son who got my doctorate’s and studied but I still always loved writing. At 32, I was sick of talking about how I was going to be writer and then not doing it. I figured I ought to do it or shut up. But it wasn’t comic books that were my idea—my idea was The 99. The idea to turn The 99 into a comic came later. IH: What inspired you to create The 99? NM: The idea came to me in a cab ride, after my sister had asked me to go back to writing. I thought about my own kids and saw that there weren’t that many role models for them out there that I was happy with. For me it was about creating role models for my kids and also kids in the world and base them on Islamic archetypes. But secular

ones, not religious ones; because when you focus on behaviors, that’s what differentiates us from each other. When you focus on values, no two people are different. IH: Were you a big comic book fan when you were young? NM: I wasn’t a big fan of comic books. In general, I read anything I could get my hands on. I can’t say I was a big comic book enthusiast like others are. I did read comic books, but that wasn’t my staple. IH: So how did The 99 become a comic? NM: When I first got the idea for The 99, I wasn’t sure what route I was going to take. I sent an email to my fellow classmates in business school and one of them said they interviewed the [creators] of Marvel and DC comics, and asked if I would like to meet them. So I met with Neal Adams (a comic book artist who has worked on both Batman and Superman comics), and former editors and writers of Marvel and DC. [Before meeting with them], I hadn’t realized the impact of religion on comics in general. The [comic] character Shazam, for example, is actually an acronym based on religious figures. That kind of got me thinking, “Huh. The 99 could come out into comic books.” IH: Was there any opposition to your idea? NM: When you start something like The 99, and you are taking something people understand but have it done in a way people

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have never encountered before, you’re going to face some opposition. Whenever a new idea comes about, the mind will attack it. I had initially faced opposition in [the Muslim] part of the world. Luckily, the problems I dealt with back home helped me prepare for the problems I would face here [in America]. It’s tough because you want to respond, but at the same time you can’t respond because some people are bullies; it’s like encountering the bully in the schoolyard. You kind of need to find a way to work together. IH: Who is your favorite character from The 99? NM: (Laughs.) I love all my kids the same. IH: What character do you identify with? NM: I guess I would identify with Dr. Ramzi. He’s in the background. He believes there is good that can be found. He’s amazed that people are out there who serve their own self-interest and give The 99 a bad name. He trains The 99 to make them a positive force in the world. He also raises money to finance them. It’s kind of what I try to do in the real world with The 99 series. IH: Be honest—did you base Dr. Ramzi on yourself? NM: Well, they tell you to write what you know, and I expanded that which I knew. He was a Kuwaiti psychologist. He’s definitely a sociologist. He works for UNESCO, and the reason for that is because UNESCO was the first organization to recognize me for my writing. In 1997, they gave me an award

for writing some children books I wrote on promoting tolerance. IH: What’s your favorite comic book hero in general? NM: I liked reading Richie Rich and Archie and Casper the Friendly Ghost. And Batman and Superman—I still remember the newsprint smell of a new Batman comic. I loved the DC Comics universe as a child, because, at the time, the only thing available to me was DC—Marvel wasn’t available in Arabic in Kuwait yet.

IH: You’ve got five young boys. What do your sons think of your comic book? NM: They love them. The older one is too cool for them—he’s into sports now. The others are big readers; the youngest two always want to get into it. IH: I hear there is a theme park and a television show series based on The 99. Tell me about it. NM: One theme park opened in Kuwait two years ago—it’s very small, not anything to write home about. And we’re in talks now to open a flagship theme park somewhere in the Middle East. I’m very excited about it.

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[As for the show], we did a season one, and we’re writing season two now. It’s a 3D, HD format and we’ve already sold it to 50 countries, from Australia to Ireland to Africa. America was the first one to buy it. You can find it on a channel called the Hub. And it’s not just for children; it’s actually for all ages. IH: How has the success of The 99 changed your life? NM: Oh God, in a lot of ways. It helped me to really focus on the skills I actually have. The irony is that that’s the whole basis of The 99; each of the 99 have their own skills and, based on the situation, they have to apply what they can do best and work together. I grew from one person with an idea into 1000 people that work on this. I love to write, but there are people who are professionals who can do a better job than I can. So I had to learn to focus on what I could do best, and leave the details to people who can do it better than me. It also taught me to spend quality time with my family because I’m a workaholic and I’m still a work in progress. The 99 project has definitely taught me that all of us have God-given gifts and we can focus on what we can do then we work together we can do something beautiful. The irony is that, even though that was my message in The 99, I wasn’t following that in my own life and it took me to be inspired by the characters that I created to learn that lesson. 

Meha Ahmad is the copyeditor of Islamic Horizons.



Senator Durbin Addresses Anti-Muslim Discrimination

Photo credit: Courtesy U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.

Durbin calls spike in anti-Muslim bigotry one of the most important civil rights issues of our time.


n the face of rising anti-Muslim rhetoric in America, Islamic Horizons asked Sen. Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)—who called a congressional hearing on antiMuslim bigotry earlier this year—about the protection of Muslim American civil rights.

Islamic Horizons: Why did you and Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) feel it was important to convene a hearing on protecting the civil rights of Muslim Americans? Senator Durbin: I called the first-ever congressional hearing on the civil rights 54

of Muslim Americans in response to the rise in anti-Muslim bigotry over the last year, including Quran burnings, restrictions on mosque construction, hate crimes, hate speech, and other forms of discrimination. This was the first hearing of the Constitu-

tion, Civil Rights, and Human Rights Subcommittee because addressing anti-Muslim discrimination is one of the most important civil rights issues of our time. It is vitally important for our generation to renew our founding charter’s commitment to religious diversity and to protect the liberties guaranteed by our Bill of Rights. IH: What did you hope the hearing would accomplish? Do you feel it accomplished this? Durbin: I hoped to challenge this insidious form of discrimination and bigotry— what Attorney General Eric Holder called “the civil rights issue of our time.” We should all agree that it is wrong to blame an entire

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Photo credit: Courtesy U.S. Senator Dick Durbin.

community for the wrongdoing of a few. We are not a society that believes in guilt by association. It is our government’s responsibility to prevent and punish this kind of illegal discrimination. And it is incumbent upon all Americans who love this nation and the values our Constitution protects to make it clear that the civil rights of our Muslim neighbors are as important as the rights of Christians, Jews, and non-believers. I think the hearing helped educate my colleagues in Congress and the American people and bring public perception of Muslim Americans more in line with the reality that they love this county, are as law-abiding as any of us, that they are our neighbors, and that they are entitled to the constitutional rights we all enjoy. There is still much work to do, but the hearing was a positive first step. IH: What next steps are you planning to monitor the protection of Muslim Americans’ civil rights? Durbin: We must make every effort to condemn anti-Muslim bigotry and make it clear that we won’t tolerate religious discrimination in our communities. As the chairman of the Senate Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights, and Human Rights, I will be vigilant in monitoring this issue and ensuring that the Justice Department takes appropriate steps to protect the civil rights of Muslim Americans. IH: What is your reaction to other members of Congress who believe “there are too many mosques in this country” and otherwise incite prejudice against Muslim Americans? Durbin: I’m deeply disappointed by that kind of rhetoric. It’s not the American way to encourage limits on religious freedom. Such inflammatory speech from prominent public figures creates a fertile climate for discrimination. Religious freedom is often referred to as the Constitution’s “First Freedom,” and American Muslims are entitled to the same constitutional protections as every other American—protections that all members of Congress have sworn to support and defend. IH: How do you think public perception of the Muslim American community has changed in the 10 years since 9/11? Durbin: There was a backlash after the 9/11 terrorist attacks that included violent hate crimes.  After President Bush and other elected officials defended the Arab and Muslim communities, the number of hate crimes sharply decreased. While the number of anti-Muslim hate crimes has declined

since the months immediately after 9/11, it is still well above pre-9/11 levels. Today, many public figures are attacking Islam and Muslims in harsh terms, and we have seen an increase in incidents of discrimination. Last year, the Southern Poverty Law Center, which tracks hate groups, designated five anti-Muslim hate groups for the first time. In addition to anti-Muslim hate crimes, we have seen employment discrimination, bullying in schools, restrictions on mosque construction, and Quran burnings. Sadly, this is a nationwide phenomenon, including my home state of Illinois. At the same time, since 9/11 many bridges have formed between the Muslim American community and their fellow Americans. Muslim Americans have educated their friends, neighbors, and colleagues about Islam, and many Americans have reached out to the Muslim American community. These efforts by average Americans reflect our values far better than the harsh voices of some politicians. I am confident that the good will of

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the American people, including our Muslim brothers and sisters, will prevail in the end. IH: How have your interactions with the Muslim American community developed in the 10 years since 9/11? Durbin: We are fortunate to have a vibrant Muslim American community in my home state of Illinois, and I have benefited from their insights for years. After 9/11, I learned about the anti-Muslim backlash from my Muslim constituents. This led me to cosponsor a resolution with John Sununu—who was then the only Arab American in the Senate— that condemned anti-Muslim and anti-Arab bigotry and said that American Muslims “are vibrant, peaceful, and law-abiding, and have greatly contributed to American society.” Our resolution passed both chambers of Congress unanimously. Earlier this year, I met with Muslim leaders in Chicago and visited the largest mosque in Illinois. I look forward to continuing a positive dialogue with the Muslim American community in Illinois and around the nation. 



The Death of an Imam A film examines the media coverage following an FBI raid in Detroit that left an imam dead. By Rania Barazi


he Death of an Imam,” directed by Geri Alumit Zeldes, follows the death of Luqman Ameen Abdullah, who led prayers at Masjid Al-Haqq in Detroit. Abdullah died in an FBI raid on Oct. 28, 2009. Documentary filmmakers interviewed Niraj Warikou, a reporter at the “Detroit Free Press,” Dawud Walid from the Council of American-Islamic Relations, and Andrew Arena, special agent in charge in the case against Abdullah. “Death of an Imam” samples these interviews and, as the film progresses, each man presents his view of events on the day of the raid. Walid spearheaded the suit against the FBI alleging that Arena released an FBI canine in order to justify firing upon Abdullah when he defended himself by shooting the Belgian Malinois; as the film’s interviewed explain, shooting an FBI canine constitutes shooting an officer. FBI agents were aware that Abdullah might be armed after discovering in their investigation that Abdullah maintained a cache of firearms in his apartment above the mosque with his wife and children. Arena does not regret dispatching the canine agent. The FBI believed him to be armed, and Arena cites Abdullah’s promise to take the FBI agents down with him during the standoff. He believes that if he had not released the dog, FBI agents would have died in the raid. A clip at the beginning of the film of a news interview with Abdullah captures him saying that “there will be war” between Muslims and others in the U.S., alluding to the imam’s militant separatist views that interested the FBI and led to various charges against him. In the end, the documentary states that local police, led by Chief Ronald Haddad, the Department of Justice, and Michigan’s attorney general found no wrongdoing after investigating the raid. By and large, however, the documentary investigates the media coverage and aftermath of the raid, rather than the case against him.


Where “Death of an Imam” excels, however, is examining the media coverage following the raid. Some charge the local news agencies with exploiting public fear and alarming audiences with images of “police tape and flashing lights” and headlines about “Islamic radicalization” and pointing to Abdullah’s sons as “suspects” and “at large.” One son interviewed in the documentary complained that the news outlets painted him and his brothers as “terrorists by implication.” Indeed, the media exploited every angle. “Who Killed Freddy?” asks one news anchor as the camera flashes to a picture of the FBI dog alongside a photo of the slain imam. Common questionable devices like these may have inspired co-producer Brian Bowe, along with Zeldes and graduate student Jennifer Hoewe, to draft “A Pedagogical Response to the Coverage of Islam: A WikiBased Best Practices Document for Reporting on Muslims and Islam” presented at Association for Journalism and Mass Communication (AEJMC) conference in Denver. Bowe explained after the film that he and his team were the first journalists to go to Al-Haqq and speak to the people there. Whatever one thinks of the events leading up to Abdullah’s death, the Emmy-nominated “The Death of an Imam” presents a valuable second side of the story and contributes to a wider array of voices in the media. 

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

Barefoot in Baghdad

Aid worker recounts experience in war-torn Iraq. By Manar Khalil


anal Omar came to the realization that the Iraqi proverb “walk barefoot and the thorns will hurt you” manages to encompass, in only a few words, her life as an aid worker in Iraq. “Barefoot in Baghdad” is a witty, catastrophic and heartfelt story that reveals the will and persistence of Omar as she travels to Iraq in 2003 to help rebuild the lives of women who faced devastation during the war. Being a Muslim Arab-American, her stance on the Iraq war is unique but her passion toward helping women leads her to discover the underlying beauty, sorrow and love in a war-torn country. Omar’s encounters with troubled women throughout the story test her will and power as an aid worker. She goes to extreme measures and risks her life to help better their plight. Omar helps 16-year-old Kalthoum who, after leaving her abusive husband, accepts food and

shelter from an older woman who Kalthoum later discovers is the head of a prostitution ring. Omar puts her life in jeopardy by speaking to Kalthoum since her family is awaiting her release to take matters into their own hands. The story provides an excellent and compelling example of true friendship between Omar and her security blankets: Yusuf, Fadi and Mais. Omar’s relationship with her Iraqi friends treads tough waters but they learn to protect and support one another during the hardships of war. Sacrifices and death are endured and overcome during this story, yet Omar never gives up. She not only helps but also learns about strength from Iraqi women who have

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been through unthinkable situations, such as Joumana who had been imprisoned and tortured by the Baathist regime. As an American, Omar is constantly tested and questioned about her dedication toward helping Iraq. Negativity is often thrown in her path, but this does not stop Omar from achieving her goals and dreams as an aid worker and as a Muslim. This book gives a brief history lesson about the Iraq War, but it mostly discusses the effort and unwavering aim the Iraqi people have to bring back the life and stamina of their country. Living in the “red zone” to be closer to the women in need, Omar feels and shares the pain and suffering of Iraqis she meets. She helps to pick up pieces of the lives that had been shattered after the war began to escalate. Soon enough, Omar learns that all internationals are ordered to leave Iraq, and her friends urge her to depart, even though she is not ready to leave. Omar faces the possibility that she may not be able to stay in Iraq forever. 


Food for the Spirit

Honoring Our Neighbors The Prophet advised that even small acts of kindness nurture neighborliness.


he Angel Gabriel kept advising me about the importance of the neighbor until I thought that he would make him an inheritor [of one’s estate].” (Bukhari) For many people, Islam’s emphasis on the neighbor can seem quaint, even puzzling. A recent poll found that only 1 in 4 Americans know “most” of their neighbors’ names ( Less than half of us cook meals for our neighbors or assist them with childcare. The trend since the 1970s has been toward increasingly anonymous and atomized living, says Robert Putnam in “Bowling Alone.” Numerous reasons have been suggested to explain why: TV has moved people indoors; labor-saving devices have made Americans less dependent upon one another; people move more frequently and have less time to get to know their neighbors. What does Islam teach about neighbors and what is the relevance of these teachings for our own lives? It is important to note that Islam’s call to good neighborly relations is not simply a holdover from a pre-modern time, when our Muslim forebears supposedly rarely moved and lived next to other families for generations. Quite the contrary, Islamic history from the very beginning has been dynamic, full of mixing and moving. The early Muslim community lived and engaged with Jews, Christians and polytheists. They moved from Mecca to Abyssinia to Medina and back, and—after


the passing away of Prophet Muhammad (salla Allahu ‘alayhi wa sallam)—all over the world. In fact, many of the Companions traveled far more frequently and widely than many Americans today. Early Muslim cities like Basra and Kufa were melting pots of newcomers from diverse economic and ethnic backgrounds: Christians, Jews and Zoroastrians; farmers, craftsmen and merchants; Africans, Persians and Arabs. Yet despite all of these comings and goings, God and His Messenger emphasized the importance of neighbors in the strongest terms. In the Quran, God even connects His right to be worshipped with the neighbor’s right to kind treatment in the very same verse: “Worship God alone … and do good… to the neighbor from amongst your own peoples, and the neighbor who is a stranger,” (4:36). Prophet Muhammad warned that one is not [fully] a believer if one’s neighbor does not feel safe from one and advised, “Whoever believes in God and the Last Day, let him be generous to his neighbor,” (Bukhari). One possible answer to such emphasis is that by encouraging us to connect with our neighbors, God provides us a safety net. If we know our neighbors, we have someone to care for our home while we are away, someone to watch our children in a pinch, and someone to lend a tool when in need. But if kind treatment of neighbors was simply about having additional resources, one wouldn’t expect an emphasis on all neighbors, simply those with whom we get along. Yet, God and the Prophet spoke of all

neighbors, regardless of whether or not we “click” with them. Explaining the word for neighbor, jar, in the aforementioned Quranic verse, the commentator Ibn Ashur writes that it includes Muslim and nonMuslim, pious and sinful, helpful and harmful, close and distant. What could be the wisdom in this emphasis? The British essayist G.K. Chesterton once mused, “We make our friends; we make our enemies; but God makes our next door neighbor.” This world is a test and just as we do not choose the most influential people in our lives—our parents and siblings—we usually do not choose our neighbors either. Yet God has enjoined the highest levels of respect and good treatment for all of them. For those whose company we enjoy and from whose companionship we benefit, our test is gratitude. For those who are trials, our test is to be patient. Another wisdom in calling us to engage our neighbors is that, as humans, we often tend to self-segregate, seeking out only the company of those with similar interests, professions and cultural backgrounds as ourselves. God says in the Quran, “And from amongst His signs… is the differences of your tongues and your colors,” (30:22). Elsewhere, He clarifies what is expected of us when encountering the incredible diversity of the human family: “We made you into nations and tribes that you might get to know one another,” (49:13). What better place to begin than with the family next door? What then can we do to honor our neighbors and protect them from any harm? Imam al-Ghazali mentioned the importance of being the first to greet them, not inconveniencing them with excessive talk or nosy questions, sharing our food with them, visit-

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ing them when they are sick and celebrating with them in times of happiness. At the end of this column are several additional suggestions we can consider applying in our own lives. Unfortunately, we can sometimes fail to honor our neighbors as we should. One reason is that we can be hesitant if they don’t share our values. While it is true that we must seek to provide a safe and wholesome environment for our children, Islam does not call for ghettoization. Indeed, in the early period of Muslim history, most of the Muslims’ neighbors were non-Muslim. Prophet Muhammad visited the homes of the idolaters. He had a Jewish neighbor who used to regularly leave trash on his doorstep out of spite. When one day the trash was missing, the Prophet went to check on him and discovered that he was sick. If the Prophet visited a neighbor who despised him, how much more incumbent is it upon us to visit our cordial neighbors who might simply differ in their outlook on life? Moreover, there are numerous ways to be kind to our neighbors. If we are uncomfortable spending long periods of time together, we can limit our time and do something as simple as giving them gifts.

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Another misconception is that we lack the time to honor them. Invariably, if we look to our schedules, we will find time wasted on tasks not nearly as important as honoring our neighbors. Moreover, honoring our neighbors need not be a major undertaking. A small gift of fruit purchased while at the store can go a very long way, especially in a society where such small acts of kindness have sadly become rare. The Prophet once said, “O Muslim women! No one of you should consider it insignificant to give her neighbor even the trotters of a sheep,” (Bukhari). Last, but not least, we must always remember a cardinal rule for interacting

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

with those around us: to always look to them as better than ourselves, regardless of their faith. As al-Ghazali wrote, “Don’t look down upon anyone, living or deceased, because you don’t know if perhaps they are better than you.” None of us knows our end. A difficult neighbor might yet die a saint and we ourselves might die remote from God. Moreover, if our neighbors are nonMuslim, it is very possible that they are in God’s mercy due to their ignorance while we have no excuse for our transgressions. May God help us to honor our neighbors and admit us one day to the Heavenly neighborhood. Ameen. 

Below are some ways for us to honor our neighbors. Please feel free to cut them out and keep them in your home, car or office. 1. Bring our neighbors homemade food. 2. Bring them gifts. 3. Learn more about their backgrounds. 4. Run errands for them. 5. Have our children assist them with yard work. 6. Share our holidays with them. 7. Never speak ill of them. 8. Pray for them. 9. Ask them what we can do to be a better neighbor.


Reviews An Unending Morality Play Ta‘ziyah: The Great Casting Off Jay Willoughby 2011. pp. 284. PB $14.95 CreateSpace, USA


nce again people power is roiling the Middle East. Today it is the Arabs who have finally had enough. A generation ago, it was the Iranians. Seeking to cast off the prevailing status quo that did not benefit them, in the late 1970s, the Iranians, the Saudi Shi‘a, and a small group of Saudi fundamentalists consciously decided to stop talking and take action. Seeing their religious and cultural worldviews being undermined by un-Islamic and anti-Islamic ideas and practices, materialism and secularism, and foreign “experts,” two men with very different solutions launched a cosmic ta‘ziyah, a passion–morality play—one that continues even now. This novel provides the context in which these events occurred and their underlying causes. It also helps answer the question that some ask, “Why do they [the Muslims] hate us?” 

Drawing Strength from Faith Islam Dreaming: Indigenous Muslims in Australia Peta Stephenson 2011. pp. 336. PB. $45 University of New South Wales Press


rom the Malay pearl divers of Broome to the Afghan camel drivers of the interior, Muslims have lived and worked in Australia for more than three centuries. Dr. Stephenson, who did her doctoral research on Indigenous Australians (the Aborigines) converting to Islam, reveals the life stories of the Muslim pioneers and their descendants as they formed bonds with the indigenous people of Australia. Her interviews with more than 50 contemporary Indigenous Muslims convey the spiritual journeys and personal perspectives of this incredible population. She offers a generous peek into efforts of Indigenous Muslims to make a sense of colonization, to reverse the disintegration of family associated with missionary Christianity, and to build a new sense of personal identity and public enfranchisement. 


Short Tak es The President Is A Muslim? Hakim Muhammad Rashid 2010. pp. 394. PB. $16.95 Hikma Publications. Greenbelt, Md. A novel. Mark Holloway is a Chicago-born Bosnian American, orphaned and adopted after his parents were killed in an auto accident. While spending his high school years in Sudan, he meets Zayd Abdullah, the son of a Muslim African American professor. Zayd helps Mark reconnect with his Islamic roots. Mark ultimately runs for president of the United States, while Zayd becomes the chief political advisor to the leader of the newly formed United States of Islam. As sinister forces push the two nations toward all out war, can their friendship avert a conflict that seems inevitable? Crescent and Dove: Peace and Conflict Resolution in Islam Qamar-ul Huda (ed.) 2010. pp. 336. PB. $19.95 United States Institute of Peace Press. Washington, DC. These essays focus on possibilities for nonviolent interventions, peacemaking, the implementation of human rights, the reinterpretation of texts, peace education instruction, and employing successful mediation, negotiation, and conflict resolution skills in an Islamic context. The Sociology of Islam: Secularism, Economy and Politics Tugrul Keskin (ed.) 2011. pp. 528. HB. $69.95 Ithaca Press This collection of writings makes a connection between the economic system and its social and political consequences within Muslim societies. To do this, it examines the role of Islam within Muslim societies in the context of ongoing and increasingly powerful neo-liberal economic processes in a globalized world. The Perfect Guide to the Sciences of the Qur’an: Al-Itqan fi ‘Ulum Al-Qur’an (Vol.1) Imam Jalal-Al-Din Al-Suyuti (author), Osman A. Al-Bili (Ed.), Hamid Algar, Michael Schub and, Ayman Abdel Haleem (translators) 2011. pp. 336. HB. $74.95 Garnet Publishing in association with Muhammad ibn Hamad Al-Thani Center for Muslim Contribution to Civilization. Al-Suyuti (1445-1505 CE) was an outstanding scholar, second to none in the field of Quranic Sciences (‘Ulum Al-Qur’an) in which he produced many well-known works. Most important of these was his Al-Itqan—perhaps the most outstanding work of its kind in the field of Quranic Sciences. This book is the translation of the first volume. It is a must to the specialist of Quranic Studies and is highly recommended to the initiate. Muslim Women in America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today [Paperback] Yvonne Yazbeck Haddad, Jane I. Smith, Kathleen M. Moore 2011. pp. 192. PB. $19.95 Oxford University Press, USA The book centers on the Muslim experience in America, examining Muslim American analyses of gender, Muslim attempts to form a new “American” Islam, and the legal issues surrounding equal rights for Muslim women. It also looks at the ways in which Muslim American women have tried to create new paradigms of Islamic womanhood and are reinterpreting the traditions apart from the males who control the mosque institutions. Learned Ignorance: Intellectual Humility among Jews, Christians and Muslims [Paperback] James L. Heft, Reuven Firestone, Omid Safi (eds.) 2011. pp. 360. PB. $39.95 Oxford University Press, USA The book is an outcome of the dialogue arranged by the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies that brought together an international group of 16 Jewish, Catholic, and Muslim scholars to carry on an important theological exploration of the theme of ‘’learned ignorance.’’ 

Islamic Horizons  September/October 2011

The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) P.O. Box 38 • Plainfield, IN 46168-0038


Islamic Horizons  

September-October 2011