New Blogger Joins Inside Islam

My name is Colin Christopher and I’m the newest contributor to the Inside Islam project housed here at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a graduate student of international public affairs, my work requires me to analyze all angles of a policy before any sound analysis can begin. While we lack policy-making capacity here on the blog, every day we’re searching for ways to bring a range of perspectives on Islam and Muslims, more accurately reflecting the differing realities of the planet’s 1.57 billion Muslims.

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Imam Training Course

With all the negative news about Muslims in Europe,  the University of Osnabrueck’s opening the first public higher education program for imams comes as a welcome gesture. On October 11th, the German university  began a course to train Muslim spiritual leaders in German language, the German political system, Islamic theology, and religious education.  Thirty students enrolled in the course, but many more expressed interest.

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Female Fans Fight for Rights

Sihem Bouyahia is an activist and student in Algiers, Algeria, and is an alumnae of the 2009-2010 National Democratic Institute’s Young Women’s Leadership Academy, held in part by the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

As a girl I always dreamt of attending a soccer game instead of watching my favourite players on TV. But in the North African region and specifically in Algeria, access to soccer stadiums is limited as far as women are concerned, despite there being no national law banning such access. Nor is attending games an illicit activity in the Islamic religion. For instance, in an Arab and Muslim country such as Egypt, women are free to attend any soccer game. Why is it not the case in my country?

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Can Rap Help Yemen?

Nowadays, Yemen is often associated with a growing Al-Qaeda movement and seen to be a breeding ground for terrorism. Anwar al-Awlaki, the Yemeni-American cleric, has become an example not only of the growing terrorist influence in Yemen but also in America. However, this is obviously not all there is to Yemen, just as it is not all there is to Islam. Many Muslims artists have used hip-hop and rap to relay messages of change and peace. While one may not think of rap in the context of Yemen,  this needs to change. Yemeni-American Hagage “AJ” Masaed, has been rapping for many years and is using this medium to reach the younger generation and to counter extremist messages. Continue reading

Coming Out of the Closet as a “Secular Muslim”

This is a guest post by a Pakistani student pursuing his masters degree from Columbia University. He wishes to remain anonymous in order avoid any difficulties upon returning to Pakistan.

A few days ago I went to a Jewish musical event and had an interesting conversation with the organizer of the event. While describing her passion for Jewish music and food, she told me that she was a “secular Jew.” “For me, being a Jew is not necessarily a religious label, instead it’s an ethno-cultural label. I am secular in outlook and am married to a Christian, but I identify with and cherish the Jewish tradition, culture, history and community,” she said. This statement really resonated with me as it reflected my own conception of my identity as a Muslim. I have been brought up as a Muslim in a Muslim-majority country and my passport even says I’m Muslim. Therefore, the Muslim identity and label is something that definitely applies to me and I own and cherish it as well, but what does it mean when I define myself as a Muslim? Continue reading

Is Geert Wilders’ trial about Free Speech?

On October 4th, Geert Wilders went on trial for inciting racial hatred against Muslims. The trial will determine if Wilders’ comments actually incite discrimination against Muslims, which is against Dutch law. If convicted, he faces up to 16 months in jail or $10,000 in fines.

Wilders is known for his often inflammatory remarks against immigrants, many of whom are Muslims, and Islam. His comments include calling the Qur’an a “facist book” and comparing it to Hitler’s Mein Kampf, referring to the hijab as “head rags” and proposing a headscarf tax, calling for a curbing of immigration from non-Western countries and a ban of the burqa. He has also said that the Judeo-Christian culture is inherently better than the “retarded Islamic culture”. Continue reading

Akbar Ahmed’s “Journey into America”

An upcoming Inside Islam radio show on November 2nd will focus on Akbar Ahmed’s book Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam, in which the author talks about his visits to over 100 mosques in over 75 U.S. cities. Ahmed points out that the mosque is the most representative symbol of Islam, yet most people do not know what goes on inside them.

Ahmed and his team asked the following questions in their study: How can a Muslim become accepted fully as an “American,” and what does that mean? How do American Muslims of Arab descent differ from those of other origins? Why are so many white woman converting to Islam? This study offers insight into these questions and others that some may have about mosques. Continue reading

Five-Year Anniversary of Danish Cartoons

Protest of the cartoons

On Wednesday, September 29th, Lene Esperen, Denmark’s foreign minister met with ambassadors from 17 Muslim countries ahead of the five-year anniversary of the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten. This meeting took place on the day of the release of The Tyranny of Silence, a book by Fleming Rose, Jyllands-Posten‘s cultural editor at the time the cartoons were published. In this book, the cartoons will be featured in a photograph.

The purpose of the meeting was to defuse tensions so that new protests would not take place. In the meeting, Espersen acknowledged that news of the reprinting of the cartoons would hurt Muslims around the world. She emphasized that, while anyone has the right to freedom of speech as long as it is lawful, the Danish government respects all religions and Muslim sensibilities.

These cartoons were very offensive to Muslims worldwide and there needs to be an understanding of this fact. Yes, it is true that depictions of the Prophet Muhammad are generally prohibited. However, the intense, and sometimes violent, reaction in 2005 was directed more to the clearly offensive nature of the cartoons. Thus, the fact that Espersen reached out to the ambassadors and addressed the Muslim sentiment is an important gesture.

Do you think the cartoons should be republished? Do you think the cartoons were offensive? Can meetings like this one alleviate tensions? Please share your comments below.