Saturday 31 October 2009

USA Today: Islam and Agrican Americans

USA Today has an article about the growing number of reverts to Islam in America from the African American Community, which also takes in the views of respected blogger Margari Hill:

"The vast majority of African-American Muslims are using the religion to strengthen their spirituality," said Mamiya, who has interviewed many black Muslim leaders and congregants. He said the number of black Muslims is growing, but not as fast as before the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Few white Americans convert to Islam "because the tendency is to view Islam as foreign," he said. "For African-Americans, it's part of their African heritage. There's a long tradition (in Africa). ... It moves them away from the Christianity they saw as a slave religion, as the religion that legitimized their slavery."

Margari Hill was a California teenager seeking an antidote for nihilism and widespread disrespect of black women when she found Islam in 1993. A few years ago she began covering her hair with a hijab, or head scarf.

"I wanted to be thinking about humility and modesty," said Hill, a 34-year-old teacher in Philadelphia. "I decided it would help me be a better Muslim and a better person."

She also is attracted to Islam's family values and the egalitarian message embodied by the prophet Muhammad's "last sermon," which according to Muslim scriptures says that no Arab, white or black person is superior or inferior to members of another race

You can read the full article here.

Refuting Mellanie Philips

One person who I have no love for is a lady called Melanie Phillips, who is known for her anti-Islamic views (Brother Yusuf Matthews over at Indigo Jo often picks up on the crap she writes), so it was good to see this article by Ed Hussain in the Guardian (Saturday 31 October 2009) discussing her views:

"Melanie Philips's zealotry and ignorance frighten me. How did we produce a public commentator filled with such anger, venom and hatred?

In Melanie's world, anybody – non-Muslim (Barack Obama) or Muslim (me) – who opposes her views on Israel is either an Islamist or "in the Islamists' camp". I reject Islamism on grounds of principle, experience, faith and political philosophy – and I refuse to pass the "Israel First" test. That is a perfectly coherent, normative political stance.

An Israel First mindset is about supporting Israel regardless of whether its behaviour is right or wrong, whether it is victim or oppressor; it also involves holding political activists hostage with accusations of antisemitism and/or Islamism in seeking to gain unconditional support for Israel.

The Israel First test, which she seeks to impose on British Muslims (as well as an American president), reeks of racism. Why is Israel more important than any other country in the world? With leading British Muslims increasingly supporting a secular state, democracy, women's rights, gay rights and liberal pluralism, and opposing Islamist extremism – then still be attacked as "extremists" or "Islamist" because they don't support Likud's plans for Israel is bullying and uncompromising in the extreme. How dare she?

I support Israel's right to exist, but not its brow-beating tactics in dealing with its neighbours. Britain and America are committed to a two-state solution – so are, one hopes, most British Muslims. Why can't Melanie accept and rejoice that rather than poke fun at Muslim individuals and organisations that are on a journey to moderation?"

You can read the whole article here.

Tuesday 27 October 2009

Link TV: Who Speaks for Islam?

Link TV are showing a two-part series called “Who Speaks for Islam? “What a Billion Muslims Really Think,”. Presented by Ray Suarez and featuring Reza Aslan and Dalia Mogahed, the programme asks questions such as: why is the Muslim world so anti-American? Who are the extremists? Is democracy something Muslims really want? What do Muslim women want?

The video is below and can also be accessed via Link TV.

The New York Times is also featuring an article about the series here.

Wednesday 21 October 2009

Questioning the UK Government's "Prevent Strategy"

Rizwan Sabir comments on the Guardian (19 October 2009) on the government's controversial "Prevent Strategy" which aims to work with the Muslim community to prevent terrorism.

He argues that such policies have to take care not to link terrorism with ordinary mainstream islam:

"Firstly, the government still thinks that a correlation exists between acts of indiscriminate killing and the religion of Islam, even though it's a well-known fact that indiscriminate killing is not condoned by Islam, but rather justified through a flawed, restrictive and manipulated understanding of Islam, unless you're Geert Wilders. Why else would it be trying to collate intelligence on people's religious views? So it can fund the construction of more mosques?

Secondly, the government is now thinking that the reason why some individuals may carry out violence is not because of overzealous policing, disproportionate counterterrorism measures and a foreign policy that has led to thousands of deaths, including British service personnel, but is somehow caused by the mental condition of British Muslims.

Thirdly, the government thinks that collecting information on the sex lives of British Muslims could indicate a potential link between acts of violence and British Muslims. Essentially this means that British Muslims who "aren't getting any" are more vulnerable to radicalisation.

And fourthly, the government is playing a very sinister and dangerous game of guilt by association. It is presuming that if you are in contact with certain individuals, you have the potential to become a terrorist or have to the potential to adopt a violent methodology for change. Does this mean that every Muslim in touch with suspected terrorists or individuals convicted on terrorism charges should all be monitored, snooped upon and intercepted? Maybe they should. Maybe then the government will actually be able to justify its £3.5bn yearly counterterrorism budget.

However, what this will not do is build bridges between the government, the police services and the Muslim community, where distrust, anxiety and fear are rife. To build bridges, the British government must rethink the prejudiced manner with which it views young Muslims, their attitudes towards world events and their desire for a more just and peaceful world. Just because they view Israel as an occupying power or believe that the west has a hypocritical foreign policy, does not mean that they are terrorists or will take up jihad."

You can read the whole article here.

Time Photo Essay by Ziyah Gafic

Photographer Ziyah Gafic provides an intimate portrait of America's Islamic community in her photo-essay for Time Magazine.

You can see the rest of the pictures here.

Monday 12 October 2009

Shaikh Abdal Hakim Murad on Money

Todays Guardian has an article by Shaikh Abdul Hakim Murad exploring Islam's standpoint regarding money:

"O you who believe! Let not your wealth nor your children distract you from remembrance of Allah. Those who do so, they are the losers. (63:9)

This verse in the Qur'an is an invitation for humanity to make a relatively small effort in this world, in return for the eternal reward of the hereafter. It is a call to save ourselves from becoming fixated on our wealth and on providing our children with the latest gadget and games, which ultimately are mere distractions from our remembrance of the creator.

But humans are short-termist; we think primarily of our pleasures now rather than the harmony and serenity of the world to come. Chapter 102 of the Qur'an says that we are distracted by competing in worldly increase, until we finally end up in our graves where we will be questioned about our excesses.
Does this mean that it is wrong to own things? Of course not, as money and offspring can be positive things in the life of a believer, and we do of course have basic needs which need to be met. But we must remember that the pleasures of consumption are quickly gone, while lasting benefit comes only from using our wealth to uphold the rights of others; namely the orphan, the traveller, and the needy. Wealth is thus truly ours only once it has been given away."

You can read the whole article here.

Saturday 10 October 2009

Hope in Texas

When I first started watching this video, an ABC , it upset me thinking that this is the way people behave and it made me wonder how Muslim's manage to get by in such places. But as I watched the rest of the video, the way ordinary people came to the young Muslim women's defence really moved me.

Friday 9 October 2009

Mapping the Global Muslim Population

The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has this month published its report "Mapping the Global Muslim Population: A Report on the Size and Distribution of the World's Muslim Population". A comprehensive demographic study of more than 200 countries, it found that:
  • That there are 1.57 billion Muslims of all ages living in the world today, representing 23% of an estimated 2009 world population of 6.8 billion and meaning that nearly one in four people practise Islam.

  • The top five Muslim countries in the world include only one in the Middle East ‑ Egypt ‑ behind Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh, in that order. Russia, the survey shows, has more Muslims than the populations of Libya and Jordan combined. Germany has more Muslims than Lebanon. China has a bigger Muslim population than Syria.

  • Of the total Muslim population, 10-13% are Shia Muslims and 87-90% are Sunni Muslims. Most Shias (between 68% and 80%) live in just four countries: Iran, Pakistan, India and Iraq.

  • Extrapolating the figures from the survey, the Islam that is largely practised around the world, particularly in large swaths of Asia, is more moderate and integrated than its stereotypical characterisation as an often militant and intolerant faith.

  • Significantly, one in five of Muslims now lives in a country where they are represented as a religious minority, with three-quarters of that number concentrated in five countries: India (161 million), Ethiopia (28 million), China (22 million), Russia (16 million) and Tanzania (13 million).
The report states that it offers the most up-to-date and fully sourced estimates of the size and distribution of the worldwide Muslim population, including sectarian identity. You can read the full report here.

Wednesday 7 October 2009

Guantánamo Guard Terry Holdbrooks Conversion to Islam

Sarfraz Manzoor interviews Terry Holdbrooks in today's Guardian newspaper (Wednesday, 7th October 2009) regarding his conversion to Islam. Holdbrooks, now known as Mustafa Abdullah, was formerly a guard at Guantánamo and says that what he saw there led to his conversion to Islam:

"I knew nothing about Islam prior to Guantánamo," he says, "so this was a complete culture shock to me. I wanted to learn as much I could, so I started talking to the detainees about politics, ethics and morals, and about their lives and cultural differences – we would talk all the time." What began as curiosity turned to disciplined study, with Holdbrooks spending at least an hour a day learning about Islam and talking in chatrooms online. Among those he talked to were the Tipton trio of British Muslims who featured in Michael Winterbottom's docudrama, The Road to Guantánamo; another was a man the other detainees referred to as the General – Moroccan-born Ahmed Errachidi, who had lived in Britain for 18 years, working as a chef, and spent five and a half years in Guantánamo accused of attending al-Qaida training camps. (He was later released and cleared of any wrongdoing.)

"We'd talk for hours and hours," Holdbrooks says. "We'd talk about books, about music, about philosophy: we would stay up all night and talk about religion."

Finally, six months into his time at Guantánamo, Holdbrooks was ready. On 29 December 2003, in the presence of Errachidi, he repeated the shahada, the statement of faith that is the sole requirement for converting to Islam: "There is no God but God and Muhammad is his prophet". The Guantánamo guard was now a Muslim."

Read the full article here.

image source

Newsweek - The Gitmo Guard who converted to Islam

Cageprisoners - Interview with Former Guantanamo Guard Terry C. Holdbrooks Jr

Terry Holdbrooks Cage Prisoners Speech

Tuesday 6 October 2009

Why Are Black People Turning to Islam?

Richard Reddie, author and researcher, asks in the Guardian (Monday, 5th October 2009) why are black people turning to Islam? His research has led him to write his book "Black Muslims in Britain: Why are a growing Number of Young Black people are Converting to Islam?" In the Guardian article he argues that:

"One of the first issues I became aware of was the fact that many converts feel uncomfortable with the term "black Muslim", as they regard themselves as part of a worldwide community of believers who do not recognise "race". However, others are less reticent about associating their blackness with being a Muslim, and believe that Islam is the "natural religion of black people" and provides the means for full "spiritual, mental and physical liberation" from an oppressive system designed to subjugate them.

My research reveals that there is no one, straightforward reason for conversions, but a plethora of theological, emotional and cultural motivations. Practically all those interviewed suggested that Islam had given their lives meaning and woken them from a spiritual malaise. Others said that their faith provided inspiration and strength to engage with a society they regarded as corrupted by materialism and moral relativism. And for those whose lives had previously been errant, Islam's decisiveness on a range of religious and socio-cultural matters had given them a focus and an anchor. Equally, many of the women interviewed suggested that the Islamic focus on modesty had liberated them from the rampant fashion-related consumerism that objectifies all women, and sexualises pre-pubescent girls"

You can read the full article here.

Friday 2 October 2009

Rifqa Bary - Refutation

Altmuslimah picked up on this article from the Examiner which looks at the accusations that have flown back and forth regarding the young Rifqa Bary and the way this case has been used to demonise Islam

"There were immediately two competing narratives. Rifqa's attorney John Stemberger asserts that Rifqa suffered a history of physical and sexual abuse, and she is now fighting for her life. Anti-Muslim bloggers like Pamela Geller of Atlas Shrugs and Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch immediately jumped into the fray. In this narrative, an extremely devout Muslim family from a radical Ohio mosque is trying to fly its apostate daughter back to Sri Lanka for an “honor killing.”

The Bary family insists that they've never made any such threats, that the girl is free to practice any religion, and they just want their family whole again. In this narrative, a cult of Evangelical Christians used the Internet to brainwash her into leaving her religion and her family and move to Florida

The first thing that was clear was that Rifqa learned about "honor killings" from Christians not from Muslims. Periodically in the video, when she's flustered, she looks over to someone off camera. This is a sign when someone has been coached. They seek visual confirmation by making eye contact. At the five minute mark she says, "It's in the Quran." Which it's not, but then she looks off camera and says, "You can, like, give them knowledge about it." She gestures, and a man answers unintelligibly. Then she says to the reporter, "He really will explain it and break it down. They have to do this!" Who ever that man is, he is the coach. And we know it's not the pastor because he's holding her, but I'm certain he had a hand in it. He's quoted as having said, "These are the last days, these are the end times, and this conflict between Islam and Christianity is going to grow greater. This conflict between good and evil is going to grow greater." But if this is her religion, her upbringing, her life, she would be fluent in its details. She wouldn't need someone else to explain it for her.But that's not enough. Blake Lorenz had only had her for a few weeks in Florida. That's time for coaching, but not for brainwashing. So, I looked to her church activity in Ohio. Only a few articles briefly mention that she attended a church called the Xenos Christian Fellowship. A little Googling on this group immediately brings the whole picture into view. Message boards and articles about the Xenos Fellowship are filled with comments about the group's cultish tendencies, specifically its manipulative efforts to isolate people from their friends and family."

You can read the full article here.

image source

Institutional Islamophobia in America - The Rifqa Bary case

Orlando Sentinel - Anti-Muslim bias obvious in Fathima Rifqa Bary case

Fathima Rifqa Bary Update: No Abuse Found

Islamophobia in Perspective: The Curious Case of Fathima Rifqa Bary