Saturday, 26 November 2011

Female Role Models in Malaysia

The New York Times (21 November 2011) reports on a new contest in Malaysia to find female Muslim role models:

"While official religious leadership in this predominantly Muslim country has traditionally been male, women in Malaysia are carving out new roles, including that of female preacher. Now, television has taken up the theme, starting rival preaching contests on separate channels: “Solehah” (pious female in Arabic), and “Ustazah Pilihan” (ideal female preacher in Malay).

“We need women preachers, rather than men,” said Siti Adibah Zulkepli, 21, after her appearance on “Solehah.” “Because they don’t face what we are facing — health problems, how to manage the house, how to manage the children. The woman knows better.”

Women in many Muslim countries have been engaged in religious education behind the scenes. In Malaysia, where women are on the rise in business, politics and academia, the new television shows have shone a spotlight on women’s growing role in religious leadership.

Contestants on “Solehah,” who are selected by auditions around the country, study Islam and get coaching in public speaking and personal grooming. During one recent episode, the women produced videos on high school drop-outs and acid attacks and were then asked to comment before a live studio audience on how these issues could be addressed, using Islamic references.

“Ustazah Pilihan” focuses more on a search for “muslimah,” or female Muslim role models. Modeled on a popular TV contest for male imams that premiered last year, it eliminates one contestant a week. Publicity material for the show stresses the “importance of assuming responsibilities as a Muslim woman, not only as a wife or mother but also as an educator, who can shape and nurture potential leaders of the future.”

Read the full article here.

Friday, 25 November 2011

PBS Documentary: Cities of Light - The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain

Cities of Light: The Rise & Fall of Islamic Spain, a two-hour documentary film, journeys into one of World History's most fascinating and important periods. With a fresh focus on the many contributions to Western civilization made by Islamic institutions and culture, the film also consistently cleaves to an even-handed presentation of the triumphs and shortcomings, achievements and failures of a centuries-long period when Muslims, Christians, and Jews inhabited the same corner of Western Europe and there built a lasting society that was both part of Christian Europe and the Muslim Middle East.

From the days of Charlemagne to Christopher Columbus, Islamic Spain represents one of the most productive intercultural relationships in Western history down to the present day. The lemon tree, the water wheel, the astrolabe and Aristotle's lost philosophy all arrived in Europe through Islamic Spain. Churches and temples that strongly resemble Muslim mosques, the pinnacle of Hebrew literature's Golden Age, the roots of modern medicine and mathematics, and the transmission of Greek philosophy into Western Europe are just a few of the collaborative achievements that form the legacy of Christian, Jewish, and Muslim cultures interacting on the Iberian Peninsula over seven centuries.

Cities of Light was produced by Unity Production Foundation and Gardner Films.
For more information on the documentary go to

Thank you to Tayyib for the link.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Muslims Proud to be British

The Guardian (23 November 2011) carries an article on a new report from think tank Demos:

"The finding in Demos's report A Place for Pride that 83% of Muslims said they were proud to be a British citizen, compared with the national average of 79%, has been met with surprise in some parts of the press. Clearly many British citizens have both a strong religious identity and a strong national identity. Yet it also seems clear that many people see these identities as mutually exclusive. Why is this the case?

That 83% of Muslims are proud to be British does in fact make sense. Many British Muslims come from families that have sought the opportunity and refuge offered in this country. The Demos report suggests that "People who are religious are more likely to be patriotic than are those who self-define as atheists or nonbelievers"; 88% of Anglicans and Jews agreed that they were "proud to be a British citizen". Many British Jews have a family history of refugee status and it follows that this leads to a sense of pride in their British identity. People with a strong religious identity are also often part of a strong community, and benefit from the co-operation and collective goodwill that can come with this. Patriotism, the report suggests, isn't only concerned with Queen and flag, but also with community values.

There is a lot of misinformation about the British Muslim community. In 2009 the Gallup Coexist Index found that only 36% of the British public thought that British Muslims were "loyal to this country" as opposed to 82% of the British Muslim community. The surprise at the findings of Muslim pride in Britain is rooted in a prejudice that leads people to believe that it is paradoxical for someone to hold both their religious and national identities as important. Lazy caricatures of Islam as contradicting many of the rights and values that are seen as quintessentially British – particularly freedom and democracy – only exacerbate this problem."

You can read the full article here.

Monday, 21 November 2011

OBE for Dr Musharraf Hussain

The Muslim Weekly reports on the OBE received by Dr Musharraf Hussain:

"A Halifax man who is director of an Islamic school has been awarded an OBE for his services to community relations.

Musharraf Hussain, pictured, won the gong in the latest honours list and will be invited to Buckingham Palace to receive it.

Dr Hussain, who was born and lived in Halifax until the age of 18, now lives in Nottingham, where he is a member of the Muslim Council of Britain, an iman and the principal of an Islamic school.

Dr Hussain was picked to be part of a team sent to Iraq to try to help when Liverpool man Ken Bigley was taken hostage in 2004.

Dr Hussain is director of the Karimia Institute in Nottingham – a centre for worship, education, training and self-development that works on projects ranging from community development to adult classes and interfaith work."

You can read the full article here.

Swiss Minarets Politician Now Muslim

The Muslim Observer (17 November 2011) reports:

"Renowned Swiss politician Daniel Streich, who previously campaigned against Swiss minarets, embraced Islam a few years ago.

A member of the Swiss People’s Party (SVP) and a well-known politician, Daniel Streich was the first man who had launched a drive for imposition of ban on mosques minarets, and to lock the mosques in Switzerland. The proclamation of Streich’s conversion to Islam created a furor in Swiss politics, and caused a tremor for those who supported ban on construction of mosques minarets.

Streich had propagated his anti-Islamic movement far and wide in the country, sowed seeds of indignation and scorn for Islam among the people, and paved the way for public opinion against pulpits and minarets of mosques.

But now Streich has become a servant of Islam. His anti-Islam thoughts finally brought him so close to this religion that he embraced it."

You can read the full article here.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

The All-American Id

The New York Times Global Editions blog India Ink (7 November 2011) posts on the "All-American Id":

"In countries with significant Muslim populations, Id-al-Adha—Bakr-Id, or Festival of the Goat, as it’s known throughout South Asia—is synonymous with qurbaani, or the sacrifice of animals. But you’d be hard-pressed to find Muslim families in the United States ferrying sheep home in the backs of their SUVs, securing them to their white picket fences and slaughtering them on their driveways. In the motherland, the ritual is as standard a practice as baking Christmas cookies is here, but most Muslims I know in America have never witnessed the practice themselves.
Instead, my family, like countless others, has outsourced our qurbaani to—where else?—India, where the meat is then widely distributed to the needy on our behalf. And then we eat doughnuts.

Id-ul-Fitr, at the end of Ramadan, is enthusiastically anticipated by hungry Muslims counting down the days to the finish line that marks the culmination of the month of fasting. But it’s harder for those of us not participating in the hajj pilgrimage to muster the same level of enthusiasm for this Id—ironic, considering it’s perhaps the greater of the two, and most symbolic of the very core of the faith. The word Islam means submission, and today we celebrate Abraham’s submission to the will of God when he was asked to sacrifice his son. When he agreed without hesitation, a lamb was sent in his son’s place; today, Muslims honor that devotion by sacrificing lambs, goats or cows.

For the full article and more on the writers take on Eid in America, click here

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

A Bialy Shop’s Unlikely Muslim Saviors

The New York Times (3 November 2011) reports on the actions of two Muslims brothers to save a Jewish Bakery from the 1920's:

"When the owner of Brooklyn’s oldest bialy store, Coney Island Bialys and Bagels, announced last summer that he was closing up shop, fans began mourning the impending loss of a 91-year-old piece of Jewish culinary history.

But the shop has been saved, and from an unlikely corner — at least as far as geopolitics are concerned. The new owners? Peerzada Shah, 43, and Zafaryab Ali, 52, a pair of Muslim immigrants from Pakistan.

The new shopkeepers have a sanguine approach to their possibly groundbreaking foray into cross-cultural culinary terrain. “Not too many people in this business are Pakistani,” Mr. Ali said. “Just a few. So I am happy, very glad.” Jews and Muslims, he said, “live together in New York. We never have a problem.”

Minutes later, Marty Markowitz, the Brooklyn borough president, walked into the shop, crying, “Salaam Aleikum!”

“Brooklyn has the largest Pakistani population in America,” he told Mr. Shah and Mr. Ali. “We also have the largest Jewish population in America. So what could be a better Brooklyn story?”

“It’s a Brooklyn story of how the world can someday be at peace,” Mr. Markowitz said."

Read the full article here.

New Vision for Islam at the NY Met Museum of Art

The New York Times (28 October 2011) reports on a new exhibition at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art opening soon which displays some of the world’s most precious Islamic artifacts:

"Over the past decade, many Americans have based their thoughts and feelings about Islam in large part on a single place: the blasted patch of ground where the World Trade Center once stood. But a rival space has slowly and silently taken shape over those same years, about six miles to the north. It is a vast, palacelike suite of rooms on the second floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where some of the world’s most precious Islamic artifacts sit sequestered behind locked doors.

When the Met’s Islamic galleries first opened in 1975, they were presented as a cultural monolith, where nations and cultures were subsumed under one broad banner, as if Islam were another planet. Haidar and her colleagues have tried to emphasize the diversity of Islamic cultures across time and space. One result of that altered emphasis was the gallery’s new name. The “Islamic Wing” is gone, replaced by the “Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia.” It is a mouthful, but it makes a point.

“Not one world, but many; not another world, but our own,” Haidar said, repeating the mantra that has guided her thinking about the new collection over the years.

The collection is full of deliciously heterodox crossovers, like an image of the blue-skinned Hindu god Krishna that was painted for Akbar, the Muslim ruler of north and central India, in the late 16th century. There are Persian bowls alongside the Chinese models that inspired them. There is Muslim art from Spain and south Italy.

Last month, Haidar got a taste of public reaction when dignitaries in town for the United Nations General Assembly asked to see the new galleries. One of them was Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who was a model guest, admiring the art and chuckling at a wooden panel from Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein. But he stopped short when Haidar showed him a 10th-century Muslim prayer mat that was found on the shores of Lake Tiberias. The date suggested a very early Muslim presence in what is now Israel. Netanyahu asked if it was really that old, Haidar recalled, and she assured him that the carpet had been scientifically dated. But he kept staring at it quizzically. “ ‘I don’t know,’ he finally said, ‘it just doesn’t look that old to me.’ ”

You can read the full article here.
You can learn more at the Museum website here.

Women & Islam: The Rise and Rise of the Convert

The Independent (6th November 2011) reports on a new study by Swansea University for Faith Matters called "A Minority Within a Minority" which reports on reverts to Islam in the UK:

"As Muslims celebrate the start of the religious holiday of Eid today and hundreds of thousands from around the world converge on Mecca for the haj, it emerged that of the 5,200 Britons who converted to Islam last year, more than half are white and 75 per cent of them women.

In the past 10 years some 100,000 British people have converted to Islam, of whom some three-quarters are women, according to the latest statistics. This is a significant increase on the 60,000 Britons in the previous decade, according to researchers based at Swansea University.

Kevin Brice, author of the Swansea study A Minority Within a Minority, said to be the most comprehensive study of British Muslim converts, added: "White Muslim converts are caught between two increasingly distant camps. Their best relationships remain with other converts, because of their shared experiences, while there is very little difference between the quality of their relationship with other Muslims or non-Muslims.

"My research also found converts came in two types: some are converts of convenience, who adopt the religion because of a life situation such as meeting a Muslim man, although the religion has little discernible impact on their day-to-day lives. For others it is a conversion of conviction where they feel a calling and embrace the religion robustly.

"That's not to say the two are mutually exclusive – sometimes converts start out on their religious path through convenience and become converts of conviction later on."

You can read the full article and same case studies about the experiences of some reverts here.
The original research report can be found here (PDF).