Archive for the ‘Islam in America’ Category

Muslims in Europe

October 15, 2006

Earlier this week, the NYT gave front page coverage to the split between Muslim immigrant communities and “the political mainstream” in Europe. Lurking not too far in the background of this story is Pope Benedict XVI. His comments provoked some outrageous reactions, to be sure, but, more importantly, I think the controversy has proven how easy it is for two religious communities to talk past each other.

Muslims feel justified in condemning the Pope’s original statement as insensitive and in feeling that he was simply picking a fight. He has essentially confessed on both counts.

Christians feel that the reaction by some Muslims (firebombing churches in the West Bank and Iraq, the execution of a nun in Africa) justifies the Pope’s comments by proving his point.

Both sides are content to sit on those positions, without moving any further.

Now, the article above cites evidence that non-religious Europeans are crossing “an invisible line” in their feeling towards their Muslim immigrant neighbors. It makes an important point towards the end: if two religious cultures that worship the same god have so much difficulty discussing their differences, how can devoutly religious immigrants mix with godless Europeans?

Many Muslims say this new mood is suddenly imposing expectations that never existed before that Muslims be exactly like their European hosts.

Dyab Abou Jahjah, a Lebanese-born activist here in Belgium, said that for years Europeans had emphasized “citizenship and human rights,” the notion that Muslim immigrants had the responsibility to obey the law but could otherwise live with their traditions.

“Then someone comes and says it’s different than that,” said Mr. Jahjah, who opposes assimilation. “You have to dump your culture and religion. It’s a different deal now.”

Another article in today’s NYT looks at Islamic schools in the UK. The underlying question there being, what educational setting is least likely to result in the violent radicalization of its students? A culturally heterogenous, non-religious school or a homogenous, religious setting?

Given a that isolated individuals are more prone to radicalization, I would say that with teenagers, who are themselves susceptible to extreme positions, society should err on the side of a stronger sense of community – not on breaking the bonds of community. Successful schools are the best path to integration.

A shortage of imams

October 1, 2006

Two articles from The Washington Post over the weekend point to a theme I’ve been picking up on in recent weeks. For many mosques in America, especially since 9/11, it is very difficult to find an imam.

An article on Saturday, “Seminarians Face Pulpit Shortage,” which reported on the shrinking number of positions for clergy in America’s churches and synagogues, very briefly noted that mosques in America face exactly the opposite problem. The article quotes Jalal Abu Shaweesh, president of the Islamic Center of Cleveland, which has been looking for an imam for over a year, as saying, “the hardest thing is to find somebody who can speak English well and is comfortable with American culture.”

Once the finding is over, though, the hurdles keep coming, as one mosque in Northern Virginia discovered recently. Two teenage boys are leading the Ramadan prayers at the Islamic Community Center of Northern Virginia because the imam who was supposed to do so detained at Dulles Airport on 9/22 and sent back to South Africa. The imam, Ismail Mullah, had led prayers at ICCNV the last three years.

I find this quote from Nihad Awad, the national executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, most interesting:

“Imams who come from overseas, sometimes they bring a different mentality. They come from Muslim-majority places. They have different cultures, norms and traditions,” Awad said. “I think it’s important that we develop our own.”

It is a very similar sentiment to that voiced by Sheik Hamza Yusuf in this book. Will the next generation of Muslims in America follow American-born imams?

Finally, these two graphs set off alarm bells:

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is writing letters to politicians demanding to know why Mullah and other scholars were turned away at the last minute. Nationwide, at least four other Islamic scholars were denied entry, without explanation, Muslim community leaders said.

They are questioning why the government waited until the men arrived in the country instead of denying their visas early enough for the mosques to find replacements.

(…)

Officials with U.S. Customs and Border Protection would not say why Mullah was turned away but said more than 1,000 people are denied entry every day for a variety of reasons. Kelly Klundt, a spokeswoman, said: “The State Department may issue a visa which allows someone to apply for admission into the U.S. It is not necessarily a guarantee that they will be permitted.”

5 years after 9/11 and our governmental agencies still aren’t on the same page? Why is the State Dept. so liberal in who it lets in? Does Customs/Border get better information than State? Why don’t they both get the same information? That doesn’t inspire confidence.

Update: My own reporting on this issue is now up at citylimits.org.

A week of “Muslims in America”

September 24, 2006

This is what I get for showering at the same time every morning, I suppose. Somehow I missed all of NPR’s Morning Edition series on Muslim life in America.

The series began on Monday, 09/11/2006 the fifth anniversary of 9/11, with a report from Chicago on the tension between being Muslim and being American.

As you’d expect, the NPR series has a wonderful variety of voices talking about the identity clash many Muslims and Arabs in America experience. They have one man saying that for him that clash “went away on 9/11.”
The second half of the interview features Ingrid Mattson, the first female leader Islamic Society of North America, who was just elected to the post.
Day Two – An in-depth profile of Sheik Hamza Yusuf. Born in California, Yusuf converted to Islam as a young man. Yusuf is a leading intellectual in the Muslim community and calls on his community to force extremism out of mosques.

Day Three – A segment on Arab American filmmakers who feel that 9/11, ironically, has given them greater opportunities to tell their stories. Now, Americans and Hollywood are interested in real Muslim stories and characters, not just bad guys or caricatures speaking gibberish. The filmmakers claim that most Arabs would describe America’s behavior over the last few years as “terrible” and “horrible.” At the same time, many of those same Arabs respect America as a land of unlimited opportunity.

Day Four – Interviews with two Muslim young women from Chicago who claim to be “Muslim first.” The theme in this piece doesn’t stray too far from a fairly common thread in the media and in books that posits that young Muslims identify too much as Muslims and not enough as “Americans.” But, don’t most teens and twenty-somethings tend to identify in this same way?

Day Five – In this last installment, NPR rightly continues its profile of the young women from Day Four: Assia and Iman Boundaoui.
Overall, NPR has given us an excellent portrait of Muslim life. Though it is not too hard hitting and doesn’t seem to really reach the anxiety that seems to be out there.

This publication exemplifies that anxiety. It is only available on IE 6.0 as a “web reader” and, thus, not a good model for online publishing, but Aramica is a faily accurate reflection of its audience in the things it chooses to report and others it chooses to ignore.

Mosques on Mainstreet or Lost?

September 10, 2006

I’m interested in how the media covers Islamic communities in the US. Namely, how a venue like Beliefnet covers the potential for “homegrown” terrorism in muslim communities in America as compared to coverage in the NYTimes of a different angle of the same story. I feel that this issues faced by this community and the issues that this community raises for society at large are largely underreported. But, I may also work on this in Craft so I’m not sure if it’s okay to blog about this here. An open question for this new environment…

If that doesn’t work out, similar to Annaliese, I’d like to kill two birds with one stone. I know that I don’t have enough time to watch tv every Wednesday, but Lost has become required viewing. However, I don’t just want to cover the coverage of the show in the media, good bad or ugly. Lost has developed a cult following not unlike Star Trek and Twin Peaks and an online life that is somewhat unprecedented (at least to my untrained eye).

I would look at how Lost fans cover the show and aggregate information, commentary and theories, see Lostpedia. Also, there is the online “alternate reality game” The Lost Experience, which is run, in part, by producers of the show. The Lost producers have woven passing references to theories, events and characters from Lostpedia and the ARG and have stated that those venues inform the actual scripts. Lately, an ARG candybar has shown up on eBay. I found myself wondering if Channel3000 is even a real tv station! Would the Lost producers create a fake news website to run a silly story about their fake chocolate bars being auctioned? Nah.