When most people think of Brazil, images of Carnival, soccer, and beaches likely come to mind. All three are alive and well, and recent changes to Brazilian culture may add new visual associations with “the land of happiness.” While still not widespread, Muslim women wearing headscarves and men dressed in long djellaba robes are becoming an increasingly more common sight among the vast array of peoples and cultures that make up Brazilian society. Islam, predominately concentrated in São Paulo, is growing throughout Brazil, but it is anything but new to the eastern shores of South America.
We hear a lot about the decline of intellectual and cultural production in the Muslim World, but very little attention is paid to the actual heyday of Islamic scholarship itself. Many of these traditions have indeed declined, but so too have recognition and knowledge of the most important spiritual, artistic, and scientific contributions Muslims have made. Islamic scholarship—from poetry to the philosophy of metaphysics—has been rich since the founding of Islam in the 7th century, but very few even know it exists.
A variety of factors have prevented many of the most insightful and stunning works of art and scholarship from gaining recognition. Pieces remain hidden treasures in the minds of a handful of academics and on the dusty shelves of libraries and museums around the world.
One of the biggest challenges for Muslims around the world is the plethora of negative stereotypes that have come to be associated with Islam, many with a very long history. Among the most pervasive of these are related to the Prophet Muhammad, who is still not understood by many non-Muslims. Throughout my life, I have been repeatedly asked about the Prophet’s life and specifically his role as prophet, statesman, and in some situations military leader. Many find it disconcerting that he led his followers into battle. They often compare him to Jesus to show that he was not peaceful. However, the Prophet did not engage in indiscriminate warfare, but instead opted for diplomatic options whenever possible. Being a statesman does not take away from his prophethood; rather, his conduct as a statesman and military leader serves as an example of leadership. Continue reading
This coming November, a new Muslim reality show will broadcast on TLC. All American Muslim will follow the lives of 5 families in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest Muslim population in the United States. The show aims to give a glimpse of the Muslim American population and the challenges that they face, inside and outside of their community. Moreover, according to Amy Winter, TLC’s general manager, one of the goals of the program is to show the diversity of the Muslim community, which is not only true of the community in Dearborn but of the worldwide Muslim community.
This show comes at a time where the situation for Muslim Americans has been mixed. Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, there is an increased awareness of this community and Islam more generally but on the other hand it has become much more acceptable to express negative sentiments about Muslims and Islam. A show like this can further the positive interest that has emerged post 9/11 and counteract the negative response.
I briefly visited the Gulf during a recent stopover from Chicago to Delhi. I raced out of the Abu Dhabi airport as I only had a few hours to experience the city before catching my connecting flight. My transportation to the city’s noteworthy sights was provided by Nabeel, a hip-hop loving cabbie from Lahore, Pakistan. Having never previously stepped foot in the Gulf region, I still had an idea of the people I might see—Emirati men wearing the traditional dishdash and women donning black abayas, with sprinkles of Philippinos, Malay, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Indians, Sri Lankans, Brits, Americans, and other westerners. I was less prepared for the drastic economic differences that I saw–and that continue to characterize much of the growth in this capital city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and many other oil-rich Gulf countries.
As we near the 10th anniversary of September 11th, many are reflecting on that painful morning and recalling where they were and what they felt when they heard the news. For many, that was the first time they ever heard about Muslims or Islam. For me, the only other time before 2001 that the word “Islam” even entered my sphere was when my third grade teacher taught us about the five pillars of Islam during our world religions unit in history class. Over the past decade, discussions around Islam and Muslims have become nearly ubiquitous. Nevertheless, many people’s knowledge of Islam and Muslims is limited to strong emotional associations –mostly negative, sometimes fearful.
After a summer hiatus (or winter, for those reading from south of the equator), Inside Islam is back online. I spent the summer in Hyderabad, India, making a film on microfinance and studying Islamic finance, and Reem was here in Wisconsin teaching Arabic. We’ve got plenty of fresh ideas for new content, but we’d also love to hear ideas from you.
What do you want to hear more about? Are there topics that we cover too frequently, or not enough? Are there any specific authors, scholars, or anyone else that you’d like to hear from?
While our blog slowed down over the summer, our radio side continued to produce interesting shows regularly. If you missed any of these, we invite you to check them out. A new Inside Islam staff member, Naya Mukherji, has joined our radio production team. You’ll definitely hear from her here on the blog as well.
Thank you to those of you who have been writing with suggestions. Please keep them coming. You can write to firstname.lastname@example.org or tweet us @InsideIslam. And, as always, feel free to comment here on anything that piques your interest. Our readers and listeners are an integral part of Inside Islam: Dialogues and Debates.