Archive for the ‘Islam in North America’ Category

18 days.

Friday, February 11th, 2011

Click on CC for English subtitles
The graffiti behind the father and daughter reads "The streets belong to us"

My daughter was seven years old on September 11. For the past decade – i.e. the entirety of her childhood, the only one she'll ever get – she has had to endure taunts and slurs and snickers, or at best pinched "tolerance," about her ethnicity and her religion. She's handled it well and is actually quite articulate in countering the bias. But it's fatiguing, and over time she has distanced herself from her Arab Muslim background. I can't tell you how much this saddens me, but I know she's not alone in this reaction, I know her life needs to be more than an ongoing argument with other people's ignorance, and I've tried to give her space to work out who she is and how she identifies.

She turned seventeen this week, and it's a milestone. For the first time ever, I have seen her beaming, in that I told you guys all along way, whenever some only-sorta-follows-the-news American asks her, "Wait… aren't you Egyptian?"

شكرا يا مصر

This month in hate.

Saturday, July 18th, 2009

Muslimah Media Watch on the murder of Marwa el-Sherbini

BBC News entitled their piece “Egypt mourns ‘headscarf martyr‘”. Additionally, they describe the murderer’s initial actions toward Sherbini as “insulting her religion” – an inaccurate statement, as W. insulted Sherbini herself, not her religion. Making such a statement skews the reality of the case and paints the story as the “Muslim angry over insult to Islam” trope. Stating this lie trivializes Sherbini’s very real experience of personal hate and Islamophobia. It diminishes W.’s hateful actions toward a Muslim woman. It ignores the fact that it was human being who was hurt, not a religion.

Meanwhile, on this side of the pond…

California: FBI investigating death of Muslim leader in High Desert

The FBI is investigating the death of a Muslim leader whose body was found inside a burned home in Yermo that had recently been spraypainted with racial epithets and Nazi symbols…

When firefighters doused the flames 40 minutes later, they found the body of 51-year-old Imam Ali Mohammed inside the East Yermo Road house he had moved his family out of last month.

"We don't know if it was simply an accident or if there is foul play involved," said sheriff's spokeswoman Cindy Beavers. "We just don't know if a crime occurred yet."

(Why is this a mystery?)

Seattle: Man charged with hate crime for threatening Muslim woman

The woman, who was holding her six-month-old son, tried to reason with the 24-year-old Auburn man by saying that her "her clothing does not make her a bad person," court documents said. When the insults didn't stop, prosecutors said, the woman backed away from Garner and tried to shield her son from him.

Garner then cursed at the woman, got in her face and pulled out a large sheathed knife, court papers said. Garner told the woman he was going to "cut" the woman and her baby with the knife, charging documents said.

Minnesota: Minnesota withdraws "Run Hadji Run" fireworks from shelves

Miami: Miami-Dade police have charged two teens in the latest vandalism of a West Kendall mosque and school that has been targeted twice this year

Gonzalez-Vaca told police that the vandalism had been planned for months. He said "all Muslims are terrorists," according to the report….

Six months ago, the mosque was sprayed with 51 bullets that left broken windows and holes in the building's golden dome. In June 2005, unknown assailants used a large rock to shatter the door of the Islamic center, which draws 500 Muslims for Friday prayers and has a 250-student religious school.

The year before, the center's sign near Southwest 147th Avenue was defaced with a Nazi swastika and profanity. No arrests have been made in the prior vandalisms.

Race, religion, and Michael Jackson.

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

I'm kind of fascinated with the question of Michael Jackson's funeral, and whether or not it will be Muslim. Jermaine ended his press conference with "may Allah be with you" and now even Andrew Sullivan is posting about it.

Reports that Michael Jackson had converted to Islam created a minor buzz on Muslim blogs last fall, but I didn't hear much about it elsewhere. Part of me was okay with that: the guy had become so weird that I'm not sure he did Islam's image any favors. But most Muslim bloggers who talked about it reported it as a happy event and welcomed him into the fold, under his new name, Mikaeel Jibril. A few other articles came out a week or two later saying it was just a rumor: that Jermaine had converted in the '80s, but Michael never did. Both Yusuf Islam and Dawud Wharnsby Ali, who were supposedly present at said conversion, said it wasn't true. Michael himself neither confirmed nor denied the story, though he certainly must have been aware of it.

We'll never know. But I thought the silence outside of Muslim Blogistan was telling. There are more Black Muslims in the U.S. than there are Arab Muslims, their history here pre-dates immigrant Islam, and most of them are Sunni, not Nation of Islam. But in the media they are presented as exceptions, or at best as avid followers of Louis Farrakhan. The Islam of someone like Dave Chappelle is rarely mentioned, and Michael Jackson was probably likewise considered an outlier, as he was in so many other ways, so reports of his conversion were ignored, doubted, or dismissed as a stunt, despite the otherwise obsessive interest in his personal life. Thus the narrative of who counts as a "real" Muslim remains intact. A Pakistani man who kills his wife does so because the Qur'an told him to, but even during the height of the War On Terror the D.C. sniper — also Muslim — was slotted into the Violent Black Male category. Not a category that's any better, mind you, but evidence of the way both stereotypes are calcified. Black and Middle Eastern men are both dangerous, but for different reasons.

In contrast, there was the case of John Walker Lindh, a devout Muslim by about any standard you care to employ, but he was white, so the media treated him like a mixed-up boy-child from northern California who dabbled in terrorism because he was spoiled by his hippie parents. Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad, a Black Muslim convert who killed an army recruiter in Arkansas, was not treated as part of a larger conspiracy until it was discovered that he'd traveled to Yemen, although he was charged with terrorism — unlike Scott Roeder, a white man who engaged in a different politically-motivated murder one day earlier. Roeder was described as mentally ill.

Michael Jackson's funeral won't answer any questions about his relationship with Islam, if there even was one. The need for an autopsy means he couldn't have been buried within 24 hours, and at any rate it's common among American converts to have mixed ceremonies. But the conversation still interests me.

Obama in Egypt

Saturday, May 16th, 2009

Al-Azhar mosque

So Obama is planning to speak in Egypt on June 4, a choice some are saying is a signal that America wants our "autocratic ally" to be a model for other Arab nations. He's rejected the resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh in favor of Cairo, a move that is considered bold, since anything in Cairo will be harder to secure.

Now the question is finding a venue within Cairo, and there's talk that it may be Al-Azhar, one of the oldest universities in the world and Egypt's center of Islamic learning. Pro: Al-Azhar can hold 1,000 people. Con: What to do with all the shoes?

I doubt this will be the final choice, but I'll be interested how the media in both countries will respond if it is. In Egypt Al-Azhar is the center of state-sponsored Islam; Sheikh Tantawi is known as a mouthpiece of the government, always giving Muslim cover for Mubarak's policy decisions. Obama speaking there would be an endorsement of Mubarak, not the Islamists. But would that be understood in the U.S.? Or would it just be read as Barack HUSSEIN Obama speaking at a mosque?

Boricua Islam in Pittsburgh

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

"So now, Brother Hamza, you are a single dad, and now you're married. So you're a married man, you're Muslim, you're American, you're Puerto Rican, you're from the 'hood, you're an artist, you're a rapper… you know… you sound like America's worst nightmare."

Check out the trailer for New Muslim Cool, a documentary about a Puerto Rican Muslim community in Pittsburgh:

From the web site:

Puerto Rican American rapper Hamza Pérez ended his life as a drug dealer 12 years ago, and started down a new path as a young Muslim.

Now he’s moved to Pittsburgh’s tough North Side to start a new religious community, rebuild his shattered family, and take his message of faith to other young people through his uncompromising music as part of the hip-hop duo M-Team.

Raising his two kids as a single dad and longing for companionship, Hamza finds love on a Muslim networking website and seizes the chance for happiness in a second marriage.

But when the FBI raids his mosque, Hamza must confront the realities of the post-9/11 world, and challenge himself. He starts reaching for a deeper understanding of his faith, discovering new connections with people from Christian and Jewish communities.

NEW MUSLIM COOL takes viewers on Hamza’s ride through the streets, projects and jail cells of urban America, following his spiritual journey to some surprising places —where we can all see ourselves reflected in a world that never stops changing.

National Organization Of (Some) Women Gets It Wrong: More On Muzzammil Hassan And Domestic Violence

Thursday, February 19th, 2009

photo courtesy of yasmine

[x-posted at]

When HijabMan posted his entry on the murder of Aasiya Hassan yesterday, "On Giving Men a Free Pass," I was thankful. It was, I thought, another sign that the Muslim community is taking the issue of domestic violence seriously. In some cases the talk is coming from corners where the discussion is long overdue – there's no use pretending otherwise – but if there is any small good that can come out of this woman's brutal murder I hope that it will be in the form of more attention to violence against women, and the need for Muslim leaders, in particular, to address it.

Secular North American feminists have been at the forefront of this issue since the 1970s. In theory, they should be playing a leadership role as well. Instead, though, we get quotes like this from NOW-New York, attacking the use of the term "domestic violence" in Aasiya Hassan's case:

The ridiculous juxtaposition of "domestic" and "beheading" in the same journalistic breath points up the inherent weakness of the whole "domestic violence" lexicon… This was, apparently, a terroristic version of "honor killing," a murder rooted in cultural notions about women's subordination to men. Are we now so respectful of the Muslim's religion that we soft-peddle atrocities committed in it's

I'm not sure what a "terroristic version" of an honor killing is, or how it's worse than the regular kind. But I do know that "cultural notions about women's subordination to men" are not limited to Muslim countries. And the thing is? Marcia Pappas, NOW-New York's president, should know that, too. I expect sensationalistic coverage from FOX News (who tell us divorce "is not permitted in their culture," and that such crimes will increase if left "unchecked by Western law"). But mainstream feminist groups like NOW keep doggedly insisting, year after year, that no, really, we speak for all women, not just white middle-class women. Really! We swear! And yet when something like this happens, they inevitably revert to the same tired script: When white men kill white women, they do it out of misogyny. But when brown men kill brown women, they do it because they're, well, brown.

Last year I attended a conference at UMass-Boston called "Engaging Islam," where Lila Abu-Lughod, a Palestinian-American feminist anthropologist who has done work in Egypt, gave a talk about honor killings. As she was researching this issue, she found that many cases of family-based violence in the Muslim world were labeled "honor crimes" but did not have the characteristics that would merit this label (i.e., a girl killed by male family members over real or imagined sexual indiscretions); for example, one case was that of a Palestinian father who likely killed his daughter because she was about to expose him as an informant. While family-based violence should be a serious issue in any circumstance, there was nothing uniquely Muslim about this case. This lack of distinction between forms of violence, she found, was typical of research on the subject; reported numbers of honor killings varied dramatically, from fourteen a year to four thousand a year, depending on how "honor killing" was defined.

She also asked how descriptions of these situations capture the flow of life-as-lived in areas where these acts are practiced. In her own fieldwork with the Awlad 'Ali Bedouin in Egypt, she said, the emphasis on honor and morality was true, but girls' lives could not be reduced to those factors – as in any community they were valued for their individual personalities, scolded for their mistakes, and so forth. And, as in all societies, there were violent husbands, brothers who committed incest, and other transgressions, but the perpetrators were considered as individuals, not men who were acting out their "culture." Finally, she said there is no evidence of honor crimes being on the increase (because the state of research on the subject is so inconsistent), but if this is true, it's more likely to be found in areas of rapidly changing social circumstances, rather than being an example of societies following an "ancient code of morality."

Was Aasiya Hassan's murder an honor killing? There's no evidence of that. We've only heard that she wanted a divorce. While that clearly infuriated her husband, there's nothing "Muslim" about such fury. It has been well-documented that one of the most dangerous times, for a woman who has been the victim of domestic violence, is when she finally decides to leave. The question, for feminists, is how to condemn honor crimes without playing into a wider discourse that depicts Muslim women as abject and "Other."

This is not the first time that a large, mainstream feminist organization that claims to speak for all women has made it clear that it only speaks for some. We should expect better.

This week in God.

Sunday, October 12th, 2008

Elmhurst College rallies in support of Muslim student attacked by masked man

Tensions that had been boiling at Elmhurst College spilled over this week amid reports that a Muslim student had been physically assaulted by a masked gunman.

The 19-year-old sophomore said she was hit with a gun in a bathroom in the college's science center Thursday night, authorities said. Anti-Muslim graffiti was written on the wall, authorities said, similar to a threat written on the same student's locker the week before that said: "Die Muslims, Rid us of your filth."

Villa Park mosque vandalized for 4th time

The Islamic Foundation Mosque in west suburban Villa Park [Illinois –ed.] said today it was vandalized for the fourth time in less than two months when someone threw a 5-gallon tank of flammable liquid into the mosque's school on Tuesday, breaking two windows.


Monday, September 29th, 2008

From Daily Kos:

On Friday, September 26, the end of a week in which thousands of copies of Obsession: Radical Islam's War Against the West — the fear-mongering, anti-Muslim documentary being distributed by the millions in swing states via DVDs inserted in major newspapers and through the U.S. mail — were distributed by mail in Ohio, a "chemical irritant" was sprayed through a window of the Islamic Society of Greater Dayton, where 300 people were gathered for a Ramadan prayer service. The room that the chemical was sprayed into was the room where babies and children were being kept while their mothers were engaged in prayers. This, apparently, is what the scare tactic political campaigning of John McCain's supporters has led to — Americans perpetrating a terrorist attack against innocent children on American soil.

unusualmusic has news & links.

Not my country.

Tuesday, August 26th, 2008

The last time I was here hardly anyone had satellite. Obviously, that's changed. I've never had satellite before so I naively believed everyone when they said you could get "everything" on satellite.

This isn't true.

WHAT I WAS EXPECTING: People would be watching all the crap TV we export, including our crap news, including FOX. If someone spoke enough English, and cared enough, they could, in theory, watch all this crap American TV and come to the conclusion that the American people are either bombastic and stupid or decent and well-intentioned but either way they are separate from their government. Which is criminally insane.

WHAT I'VE FOUND INSTEAD: It's the other way around. The government looks smart, the people invisible (at best) or (at worst) in need of guidance from our overlords.

I was thrilled to get CNN International, since it's so much better than the regular CNN and in Boston we only get it for one hour a day. The problem is… it's too good. When Jesse Helms died there were no sappy and embarrassing obituaries, nor any glee from other corners. It was just reported. Here's who he is, he's dead now, moving on to unrest in Pakistan or child soldiers in West Africa. And the John Edwards affair? Only made the scroll on the bottom of the news. If I didn't have internet I would have missed it entirely. (I'm assuming they made more of it at home.) There's none of the joking about politicians, nothing about Bush's gaffes and failed policies. He does stuff and it's reported. Objectively and without context. Like he's a real politician, the kind other countries have.

I never thought I'd miss the underbelly of American media, but after being here for almost two months, watching only CNN and BBC and Al-Jazeera English, I've started seeing the U.S. in a different light. On television, our government looks scary-competent. It looks cold. And the American people — when they are featured at all, which is rare — look like cold and calculating minions of it. We look much more intentional than we really are. "Yes," we are saying to the world (unsmiling), "George Bush is our president. We like him, because he is powerful. We are more powerful than you."

One can, and I probably would, argue that this is closer to The Truth than the Jay Leno/Jon Stewart version of America, where George is a fuck-up who lies and bumbles, but not really Darth Vader, and the American people just kind of got stuck with him ha ha oh well.

Yet this cold version also misses the level and intensity of American opposition. I've gotten frustrated with German friends in the past who are critical of the U.S. government, particularly this administration, but obstinately refuse to acknowledge that I am too, probably way more than they are. But now I can kind of see it, because people who speak for me are not in power, and in this kind of news format, where it's Australia (60 seconds) –> France (30 seconds) –> South Africa (60 seconds) –> U.S. (30 seconds) –> Russia (60 seconds)….. there's no room at all for people like me. So why WOULD they think I exist? They watch the news, right, they're informed? And they don't see me. So my opposition looks like a defensive posture I'm adopting only because I'm under fire, in the moment, rather than the thing that drives me every day of my life.

It's making me re-think some of my reactions to Egyptian, and more broadly Middle Eastern, reactions to American policy. If you imagine an America with NO Left — not an ineffectual, underfunded, oppressed, or just generally embarrassing Left, the kind we complain about to each other, but literally NO Left, no anti-racist movement, no religions outside of God-told-me-to Crusader Christianity, no voices at all other than those of 5 or 6 politicians who are photographed disembarking from airplanes — I can see why it probably seems hopeless that anyone could ever deal with us. And maybe it really is! That's not my point. My point is that at home I feel American opposition and diversity. Here, I don't see it.

Audio links

Thursday, June 26th, 2008

A Democracy Now! story about a teacher who was fired for "indoctrinating her students with Afrocentrism," and a legislative panel in Arizona that endorsed a proposal cutting funding to public schools whose courses "denigrate American values and the teachings of Western civilization" and denying funding to state-funded universities and community colleges that sponsor clubs based in whole or in part on race (fast forward to minute 49:30 if you want to skip Ralph Nader, or just read the transcript).

An hour-long NPR program about the differences between Muslims' experiences in Europe vs. the U.S. I was actually pretty impressed with this. You can't go into any depth in an hour, but they hit all the major points about why these are such different demographics — namely, why the U.S., despite its bootstraps attitude towards immigration and its greater participation in international imperialistic adventures, is nevertheless having fewer problems with integrating Islam.

It also has this great quote from Aminah McCloud:

Interviewer: But, isn’t it possible that this internal dynamic could turn into something more outwardly destructive? Could America’s young Muslims follow the path of some of their European counterparts?

McCloud: I want to say that they wouldn't, but I also know that there's always a chance for anything. I don't think they could ever emerge on the scale that they are in Europe. There are non-Muslims here who don't particularly care about Muslims, but they care about freedom of speech. They care about opportunities for everybody. There are also that indigenous groups of Muslims who say, no you're not going to bomb the street on which my mom lives, because then you won't have to worry about the US, you'll have to worry about me.


Thursday, June 19th, 2008

My thoughts on the two hijabi women kicked out of an Obama photo-op.

Fact o' the day:

Thursday, June 12th, 2008

The origin of the letter 'H' in 'Jesus H. Christ'


Monday, January 7th, 2008

I get most of my news from the internet and the radio. We have CNN but I rarely watch it unless there's a big visual event. While I was home, I was mostly away from all three sources.

Thursday morning (the 27th) my sister and I were leaving a gas station when I glanced at the newspaper rack and saw The Waterloo Courier's headline that Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated. I reacted the way you do when you hear something big, with what!'s and oh-my-god!'s, and then went searching through the rest of the rack to see if it was in any of the bigger papers, like The New York Times. It wasn't.

Now here is the thing. I honestly did not know if 1) it wasn't in any of the other papers because the news was so fresh that they hadn't gotten the story by the time they went to press, 2) if it was in the other papers but not considered enough of a story to make the front page, 3) if it had happened several days earlier and was old news by now, and I just hadn't heard it because I hadn't been following things, or 4) if it was even true.

Of course #1 did turn out to be right. The story broke, hard, within the hour, and then it was on every TV station, every radio station, my parents were talking about it, half my friends list posted about it, and my husband texted me the news on my phone.

But I thought about my reaction later, and realized what a crap shoot it's become, trying to predict what news will actually make it out of the apparent black hole that is the quote-unquote Muslim world. This goes for all international news, really, but I'm speaking about Muslim countries because so many Muslims complain about the way they're portrayed in the Western press, and I think this is often interpreted as a complaint, solely, about being portrayed negatively. Which is also a problem. But I think the larger issue is that, for all the news that we get in this country about Islam, the Middle East, and to a lesser extent South Asia, so much of it is the same five or six stories, re-hashed, continually, with American actors and American perspectives always, always, unrelentingly at the center. In retrospect it seems ludicrous that I could have thought Bhutto's assassination might be a page 16 blurb in the obits section, but then in so many other cases that's exactly how things have worked.

While I'm here and on the subject: HijabMan's sister and brother-in-law are in Pakistan right now and have been posting dispatches and analysis.


Monday, March 5th, 2007

This is a great review of Ayaan Hirsi Ali's latest book. By "great" I mean the article is great. I haven't read the book yet. But the article does justice to her life and her work (page 1) and then points out the problem with her theory (page 2). Most reactions to her are either fawning or dismissive, no middle ground, so this is refreshing.

It's a shame her first book came to the world's attention around the same time as Irshad Manji's did, so they keep getting thrown in the same intellectual pile. (I know I ordered them both in the same Amazon order. "If you liked… then you'll love…!") A shame, because Ali is about 150 IQ points smarter than Manji is. I still disagree with her a lot of the time, but I give her credit for being consistent to the truth as she perceives it.

Here is a New Yorker video from last October with her, Abdullahi Ahmed An-Na'im (who writes about human rights and Islamic jurisprudence), Azar Nafisi (Reading Lolita in Tehran), Mahmood Mamdani (Good Muslim, Bad Muslim), and others. It's long, but worth watching.

Love it.

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2007

Ellison to Use Thomas Jefferson's Qur'an