Will Discrimination Backfire?

Image: Ahmed Rehab

Reem recently wrote about the controversy surrounding Lowe’s, the home improvement superstore that caved to Islamophobic pressure from the Florida Family Association (FFA) and pulled its advertising from the reality television show All-American Muslim.

Earlier this week, Jon Stewart and Asif Mandvi of the Daily Show ridiculed the absurdity of the fear many Americans have surrounding Islam and Muslims. In one segment, Stewart criticized the blatant bigotry of the FFA, a fundamentalist activist group, for lobbying American corporations to pull their advertising from All-American Muslim. But that didn’t stop kayak.com from following the lead of Lowe’s and pulling their ad campaign from the show this past Wednesday, days after the controversy made international news. In fact, according to the FFA, 65 advertisers targeted by mass email complaints have withdrawn funding from the December 11 show.

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Pillars of Islam: The Proclamation of Faith

Proclamation of Faith

Islam is founded on the five pillars. These pillars anchor a Muslim’s belief and establish the rituals that they must perform to demonstrate that belief. The first pillar of Islam is the shahadah, the proclamation of faith. The proclamation of faith comprises two statements, shahadatan, which encompass the core ideas of Islam. In Arabic, the proclamation of faith is ashhadu an laa illaha illa Allah wa ashhadu anna Muhammad rasul Allah. This translates as “I bear witness that there is no god but God and I bear witness that Muhammad is the Prophet of God.” Continue reading

Mohammed Ahmed

Ahmed led his team to a Big Ten Title and 2011 NCAA Champsionship Photo: University of Illinois Media Services

Last month, Mohammed Ahmed led the University of Wisconsin-Madison cross country team to its 5th NCAA championship title. The top finisher on his team, and placing 5th overall, the 20-year-old junior ran 10 kilometers in just over 29 minutes; that’s a 4:40 mile! Given Ahmed’s times, I assumed that he had been running since early childhood. Apparently not. I recently got the chance to speak with Ahmed about his love for running, how his faith in Islam informs his attitude about success, and his experiences as a Somalian immigrant growing up in Canada.

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Ashura in a Kashmiri Village

Hunza Valley Shi'a Muslims commemorate Ashura near Ultar Peak and other Karakoram Range mountains. Photo: Randy Johnson

Reem recently wrote about the holiday Ashura, the day when many Sunni Muslims and Jews fast in recognition of Moses and the Israelites escaping from the bondage of the Egyptian Pharaoh. For many practicing Shi’a Muslims, Ashura is one of the most important days of the year. Most Shi’a view the sacrifices of Husayn and 71 others during the Battle of Karbala as a crucial turning point in Islam, saving the religion from the indulgence and tyrannical rule of Yazid.

Having taken a few courses related to Islam in college, I was vaguely familiar with Ashura, but was unaware of the significance it holds for many Muslims around the world. My first personal experience of Ashura was in 2007 during a trip to Pakistan, where I witnessed Ashura processions performed by local area Shi’a in a small village in the Northern Areas (Pakistani controlled Kashmir).

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Building Things Together?

This past Saturday, Lowe’s Home Improvement store, which uses the  motto “Let’s Build Something Together,” pulled its advertising from TLC’s new show All-American Muslim after being pressured by the Florida Family Association. A statement put out by Lowe’s laid out their reasoning for this decision:

Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views. As a result we did pull our advertising on this program. We believe it is best to respectfully defer to communities, individual and groups to discuss and consider such issues of importance.

The Florida Family Association asked its members to petition Lowe’s to pull its advertising, which appears to have been successful. Furthermore, the group claims that 65 companies that they targeted have pulled their advertising. Continue reading

Muslims More Religious Than Others?

Proclamation of faith in Arabic

According to CNN and a survey by Ipos-Mori, Muslims overall tend to be more committed to their faith  than any other religious group and consider Islam to be a more significant part of their daily lives. The survey was carried out in 24 countries, of which three (Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Turkey) have Muslim majorities.

According to the CNN piece, one reason for this stronger commitment stems from the current global political atmosphere. Increasingly, Muslims are defining themselves against a negative perception of the West. Thus, they view Islam as the only viable path towards salvation. Moreover, the article maintains that this sentiment has increased in a post-9/11 world.

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Countering Extremism and Highlighting Diversity

MPV President Ani Zonneveld speaks with US Congressman Keith Ellison (D-MN) at an MPV event.

Exclusion seems to be at the root of many forms of extremism, whether religious, cultural, political, or otherwise. The growing and increasingly influential group Muslims for Progressive Values (MPV) hopes to shift extremist attitudes among North American Muslims through their latest initiative, Literary Zikr. Co-founded as a non-profit by Ani Zonneveld in 2007, the group aims to counter Islamic radicalization of North American youth by presenting the work of progressive Muslim scholars in a simple and accessible format.

MPV, law enforcement officials, and academics all agree that Islamic extremists constitute a small percentage of Muslims in North America or anywhere, but MPV and other groups believe that addressing this problem, although small in numbers, is incredibly important and is the primary responsibility of Muslim communities themselves. Zonneveld explains:

We as Muslims should all be working together to counter radicalism… There are many within the [Muslim North American] community that are in denial. You bring up the word ‘radicalism’ and people immediately become defensive. If you’re silent, you’re just as guilty.

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How Low Can We Go?

Islamophobia Today, one of the leading blogs covering anti-Muslim sentiments worldwide, recently published an article on the latest terrorism figures from Europol. The European law enforcement agency released their annual EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, citing “Islamists” as having carried out less than one half of one percent (0.005%) of all terrorist acts (1o out of 2,139) committed in Europe from 2005 to 2010. Interestingly, the report notes that “Islamist terrorism is still perceived as the biggest threat to most [EU] Member States.”

That perception, as divorced from reality as it is, seems to only get more and more entrenched. Reem and I have written extensively about a host of topics related to ignorance, prejudice, hatred, and violence against Muslims and Islam, but a recent statement from American comic Dennis Miller made me wonder how far things can go without anyone really noticing or caring.

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Ashura: A Day of Fasting and Mourning

Ashura in Arabic

Today is Ashura, which is the tenth day of the first month (Muharram) of the Islamic calendar. While Ashura is significant for both Sunnis and Shia, they differ in what the day commemorates and what practices should be carried out.

Sunnis fast on this day to commemorate the day that Moses fasted in gratitude for the Israelites being saved from Pharoah. The recommendation to fast on this day come from the following hadith of the Prophet.

Ibn ‘Abbas, may Allah be pleased with him, reported that the Prophet, peace be upon him, came to Medina and saw the Jews fasting on the day of ‘Ashura. He asked:”What is this?” They said: “This is a righteous day, it is the day when Allah saved the Children of Israel from their enemies, so Moses fasted on this day.” He said:”We have more right to Moses than you,” so he fasted on that day and commanded [the Muslims] to fast on that day. [Reported by al-Bukhari] Continue reading

Representations of Muslims in Video Games

From the game "Battle in Sadr City"

Stereotypes of Arabs and Muslims in the media are not new. They have been a persistent part of discussing the Middle East, terrorism, and Islam. Jack Shaheen, a professor at Southern Illinois University, traced these images of Arabs and Muslims in Hollywood movies. He found that Arabs and Muslims are often conflated so that it appears that Arab equals Muslim. Also, Arabs and Muslims are either portrayed as exotic, as if they all live in 1001 Arabian nights, or as violent. Obviously, these images do not reflect the reality of over 1.57 billion Muslim. These stereotypes are not restricted to Hollywood films or news media broadcast but also occur in video games. Continue reading