Islamic Factor in Middle East/Mediterranean Protests?

On December 17, 2010, Muhamed Bouazizi, a 26-year old fruit vendor from the economically deprived Tunisian town of Sidi Bouzid set himself ablaze (dying from his burns three weeks later) after a female police officer and her two colleagues vandalized his fruit cart, confiscated his scales, and allegedly assaulted him in the middle of the street. Mr. Bouazizi, supporting a family of five, had been harassed by authorities in the past for his street vending and was enraged by the latest incident. After being refused a meeting with authorities at the governor’s office Mr. Bouazizi poured paint thinner on his body and lit himself on fire.

Just over a month later, the then-President of Tunisia has resigned and fled the country in the wake of widespread protests. Mr. Bouazizi’s bold act has inspired others around the Middle East/Mediterranean region to follow suit and take to the streets in demanding regime change from their own corrupt governments. Albania, Egypt, Yemen, and most recently, Jordan–all of which are Muslim majority countries–have seen tens of thousands of people protesting against widespread fraud, a lack of economic opportunities, and general illegitimate rule. New York Times columnist Roger Cohen is calling it Tunisian Dominoes. Additional protests may be looming in other countries, since at least 7 others have also set themselves on fire in protest of the economic conditions in Algeria and Mauritania.

Although less than half of those who have burned themselves have perished, the majority (all young men) were believed to have been intending to die from their acts. And while suicide is forbidden by nearly every Islamic scholar, outspoken opposition and action against injustice is an Islamic tradition. One of the most widely-referenced hadiths cites the Prophet Muhammad as saying,

“Whosoever of you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand; and if he is not able to do so, then with his tongue; and if he is not able to do so, then with his heart; and that is the weakest of faith.”

Countless examples in Islamic history highlight Muslims rising up against illegitimate rule. One of the most important non-violent Indian leaders spearheading the resistance to British rule was Muslim. While less well-known than Mahatma Gandhi, Khan Abdul Gaffar Khan (a.k.a. Badshah Khan) was a lifelong pacifist, close friend of Gandhi, and instrumental in the non-violent Indian uprising of the 1930’s and 1940’s in present-day N.W.F.P. of Pakistan. In 1929, Badshah Khan, an ethnic Pashtun, recruited over 200,000 men and women to join his non-violent army known as the “Red Shirts.” Under the official name of the Khudai Khidmatgar (KK or Servants of God), the Red Shirts led strikes, political rallies, and other opposition efforts and were instrumental in their efforts to defeat the British and gain independence.

And while Islamophobic pundits cite corrupt and despotic Arab leaders as evidence for what they call “Islam’s backwardness,” there are also numerous passages in the Qur’an that explicitly condemn injustice. In one such surah, or chapter, God encourages humans to teach “Truth,” “Patience,” and “Constancy” [Al-Asr 103:3].

Muslims all over the Middle East/Mediterranean are demanding change from corrupt leaders. While mainstream media may not be highlighting some of the socio-religious underpinnings of these uprisings around the region, it should be remembered that Islamic law, history, and culture are reflective and supportive of the protesters’ sentiment and actions.

What do you think about the recent protests in Tunisia, Egypt, Albania, and Yemen? What relationship do you see between the uprisings and Islam?

Latino Muslims: A Growing Population

Latino Muslims are a  population that is relatively unknown within the Muslim American community. While still a small minority within the United States, they are a growing segment of the Muslim community’s population. The American Muslim Council estimates that in 2007  there were 200,000 Latino Muslims, a significant jump from 40,000 in 1997. A study conducted by the Pew Forum on Religious and Public Life in 2008 estimates that Latino Muslim U.S. residents make up 4%  of Muslim Americans.

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MOOZ-lum

An upcoming Inside Islam radio show on March 14 will be on the new film “MOOZ-lum” that has been running in select since February.  The film premiered at the Urban World Film Festival in New York City this past September.

“MOOZ-lum” is a coming of age story about Tariq Mahdi, a Muslim American who is raised in a strict Muslim household and heads off to college. The film explores the struggles that Tariq faces with negotiating his relationship with his faith and his newly found freedom. The story is further complicated by the 9/11 attacks.

Director Qasim Basir said he decided to make the film because the images of Islam that are portrayed in the media do not reflect the faith that he lives. Moreover, he believes that there are not enough positive depictions of Muslims in Hollywood.

The film is based on Basir’s life and experiences and features well-known actors like Danny Glover and Nia Long. Basir hopes that the film will show the human perspective of Islam and that the audience will have a better idea of the experiences of Muslim Americans, specifically.

Would you be interested in a film that showed Muslim American experience? What do you think we can learn  from a film like this? What would you like to see in a radio show on the topic? Please share your thoughts below.

The Real Deal on Sufism

Dervishes, Konya, Turkey

Islamic extremists have one thing in common with many American media outlets: they don’t understand what Sufism is. Often referred to as “liberal Islam,” even major reputable news sources attempt to boil down an integral part of Islamic tradition into a single, ambiguous word. A growing number of Islamic extremists accuse Sufis of idol worship, or shirk, and have recently taken to violence, destroying Sufi shrines and killing Sufi worshipers in the name of purifying Islam. These extremists understand neither Sufism nor Islamic law justifying the killing of humans, and are part of an increasingly large group of both non-Muslims and Muslims that characterize Sufism in a way that benefits them.

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Radicalization Hearings Will Alienate Muslim Americans

In December, Representative Peter King, the new chairman of the Homeland Security Committee, announced that he planned to hold hearings on the threat of radical Islam in America. According to King, Muslim American leaders have failed to combat extremism and that is why someone like Nidal Hassan was able to carry out an attack. Possible witnesses to testify at these hearings include Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Continue reading

Healing the Pain through Education

Nearly a decade after the 9/11 attacks, many in the U.S. still believe the actions of a tiny minority of violent Islamists is representative of all Muslims and Islam more generally. Yet even in the midst of hateful bigotry and prejudice towards Muslims, much of New York has taken constructive steps towards understanding who Muslims are and what Islam is. The New York Public Library system is just one a few prominent New York institutions that has made efforts to educate the public about Islam.

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Increasing Number of Muslim Converts in UK

The most difficult Muslim to understand  in Western countries, I argue, is the convert. Whether in the American context or the European context, there is an underlying assumption that Islam is something foreign and that someone who is American or British would never choose to join the faith. However, a new study called “A Minority Within a Minority” conducted by Faith Matters, an interfaith think-tank in the UK, found that in the last 10 years the number of British converts to Islam nearly doubled, leading some to say that the country is undergoing a process of “Islamification.

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Library Serves as Reformist Mosque

Emerging Muslim communities, from Warsaw to Washington, D.C., hold their Friday prayer services in various locations. Some small, urban mosques in North America and Europe rent space in undesirable neighborhoods, often near or next to sex shops or liquor stores, while other Muslim communities expand their presence with opulent developments. One group of D.C. metro area residents has started its own mosque in an unusual place–a public library.

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Could a Muslim “Cosby Show” Dispel Islamophobia?

While talking about the year in review, Katie Couric spoke out against the anti-Muslim sentiment that emerged around the Islamic Center near Ground Zero, Cordoba House, and suggested on her CBSNews.com webshow that a Muslim version of “The Cosby Show” would alleviate the situation. In the show’s short segment, Couric said that she was disappointed by the hatred of Muslims displayed around the issue of the Islamic Center, which she attributed to a lack of knowledge of Islam among Americans. Although some find her suggestion of a sitcom absurd, I argue that a sitcom would be a constructive means to improve the image of Muslims.

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