Muslim-American Fencer Rises Above Tough Competition

Photo: Natalie Keyssar/WSJ

Maplewood, New Jersey, fencing star Ibtihaj Muhammad was recently named International Sportswoman of the Year by the Muslim Women’s Sports Foundation. In an interview, Muhammad, the third of five children in an athletic family, said that she initially began fencing because it easily allowed her to be fiercely competitive while maintaining her ability to wear hijab and present herself in modest dress. If her upcoming Olympic trial performance matches her world ranking, she’ll be one of two American women to fence in the London Olympic Games this summer. Although it cannot be confirmed, as the U.S. Olympic committee does not survey athletes’ religious backgrounds, Muhammad is probably also the first practicing Muslim woman to represent the U.S. in any Olympic event.

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Happy 500th, Inside Islam!

The Inside Islam Team

Thanks to your loyal support, Inside Islam has made it to this, our 500th blog post! Inside Islam has been funded since 2008 as part of the Social Science Research Council’s Academia in the Public Sphere program, perfectly in line with the Wisconsin Idea that drives much of the teaching and research here at the UW-Madison. As the only project funded for the duration of the Academia in the Public Sphere initiative, Inside Islam has matched the vision of linking academia, media, and the public. In addition to the blog posts and dozens of articles on our regional pages, over the last 3.5 years we’ve produced over 100 radio shows and hosted a number of events related to environmental activism, Muslim-American identity, and democracy. And thanks to your loyalty and participation, we’ve grown exponentially, nearing 10,000 twitter followers and receiving 25,000 unique readers in the month of March alone.

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All-Girl Prom Inspired by Islamic Modesty

Over 100 girls attended Hamtramck High School's first ever all-girl prom. Photo: Nicole Bengiveno/The New York Times

The dream of one Bengali-American Muslim girl came true last week, when over 100 girls packed a local hall to dance, eat, and pray as part of Hamtramck High School’s first ever all-girl  prom. The story has made the New York Times, Boston Globe, and other international media giants, and has created some interesting discussion around gender in Islam and religion in the public sphere.

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The Amman Message: Uniting Muslims

A Sunni man and Shi'a man pray side by side. Photo: Spencer Haskins

A few months ago, I wrote about the Muslim 500, an annual review of the most influential Muslims around the world. The Royal Islamic Strategic Centre (RISC) has also published a number of other periodicals that can be downloaded for free. Although its textual resources serve as useful guides on Islam for novices and scholars alike, the RISC’s most important contribution goes back to its foundation in Amman, Jordan, based on a few key principles known as the Three Points of the Amman Message. Among other goals, RISC is using its resources and political clout to promote a “moderate” brand of Islam around the world.

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There’s No Substitute for Personal Relationships

For the past four years, the Inside Islam project has been one of a few creative initiatives educating Americans about Islam as part of the Academia in the Public Sphere program. The idea is a good one, encouraging resource-wealthy institutions to interact with the larger public on contemporary and relevant issues. And we aren’t the only project trying to educate, connect, and facilitate dialogue around both controversial issues and more mundane topics related to Islam and Muslims. Muslimah Media Watch, Muslim Matters, and Loonwatch are some of the other active web-based platforms writing about Islam and Muslims. More recently, Crash Course and other internet-based learning tools are reaching out. In only three days, over 100,000 people viewed Crash Course’s latest video on the early history of Islam and Muslims. Click below to see it for yourself.

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Islam and the New Modes of Participation

Professor John O. Voll. Photo: Georgetown University

This past weekend academics and journalists from around the world gathered at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the Inside Islam-cosponsored conference Islam and Democracy. The changing political landscape of the Middle East was a central focus of the event in general and was the main topic of a keynote by John O. Voll, Professor of Islamic history and Associate Director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. In tune with perspectives expressed on Inside Islam by Reza Aslan, Marc Lynch, and Tariq Ramadan, Voll stressed that the desires of the people have largely stayed the same—peace, justice, economic stability—but that the ideologies and particular models of making these demands, have shifted. Continue reading

Some women wear cloth on their heads. Why the obsession?

On Tuesday, guest writer Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi wrote about various perceptions of women wearing the headscarf, one of many times that we have looked at hijab and the various perceptions associated with it here on Inside Islam. Last spring, an Inside Islam radio show focused on the life experiences of three Muslim American female authors from the collection I Speak for Myself: American Women on Being Muslim. The show talked about a variety of issues, but almost every single caller to the show—(seemingly) both non-Muslim and Muslim—had comments or questions about the hijab. Reem wrote a post highlighting an NPR story on Muslim American women removing the veil, and she asked an important question: why are people so fascinated with women wearing the veil?

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Inter-religious Solidarity through Protest

Christians protecting Muslims praying during Nigerian protests against the removal of oil subsidies. Photo: Reuters/Afolabi Sotunde

A large portion of global current events coverage in the last year has been directed towards Arab revolutions and their subsequent political transformations–and rightfully so. But Arab Middle Eastern countries aren’t the only places where significant protests have arisen; from Moscow to Malé, Lhasa to Quito, Athens to Delhi, people have taken to the streets to voice their opposition to distribution inequality, ethnic/religious persecution, and corruption. One story that slipped largely under the radar earlier this year is notable for its multifaceted issues as well as some of its parallels to Egypt. Nigeria was the location. Like most of the Arab revolutions of the past year and a half, it was the local Nigerian population, not international actors, that catalyzed the opposition movement and was the source of the protest’s relative success.

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Islam and Sports

Tonight at 7pm at the Union South Marquee Theater in Madison, Wisconsin, join Inside Islam for a free public film screening of Fordson: Faith, Fasting, Football. A post-film panel including UW-Madison cross country star and 2012 Canadian Olympic hopeful Mohammed Ahmed will explore perspectives on faith in competitive athletics.

The Fordson football team’s unique demographic makeup of predominately Arab Muslim Americans has been covered by just about every media outlet, from NPR to ESPN. The team initially received attention by holding their late summer pre-season practices from midnight to 4 AM, allowing 95% of their players to observe fasting for the Muslim holiday of Ramadan. But they are not alone: Whether it’s Lebanese-Australian Muslim girls playing Aussie rules football (“footy”) or Lebanese-American Muslim boys playing the American version of the game, Muslims are playing Western-style sports and games in increasing numbers. The stereotypes of Muslim female passivity and Muslim males only playing in the field of engineering are being directly challenged by the realities on the ground. In fact, Arab Muslims in Dearborn, Michigan, home to the largest Arab community in the US, have been playing football for generations.

Increasing attention has focused on faith in sports, most recently brought about by the success of NBA star Jeremy Lin and NFL quarterback Tim Teboe. During our panel following the Fordson film, Ahmed, a practicing Muslim, will speak about the role of Islam in his athletic life. If Ahmed is selected for the 2012 Canadian Olympic cross country team for the London Games as expected, he may have to deal with challenges similar to those faced by the Fordson players. In fact, he will likely compete with the greatest runners on the planet without any food or water during daylight hours, as the holy month of Ramadan covers the entirety of the three-week-long Summer Olympics. But Ahmed won’t be alone. Nearly one fourth of the 2012 Summer Olympic athletes are likely to come from Muslim-majority countries and a majority of these participants are expected to fast.

Please join us tonight for the film screening and discussion. If you are not in Madison but would like to participate in the discussion, post your thoughts on the intersection of faith and sports below.

Muslim-Jewish Comedy

Comedian Azhar Usman Photo: Shoaib Bin Altif

Two weeks ago, the Laugh in Peace Tour dropped by the UW-Madison campus to entertain hundreds as part of the White House Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Chicago-based Muslim-American lawyer-turned-comedian Azhar Usman and Vermont-based comedian and rabbi Bob Alper had the crowd roaring. As Usman entered the stage, Alper conducted a full-body pat-down, poking fun at the ridiculousness of the profiling that Usman has received post-9/11 because of his physical appearance and Muslim name. To return the favor, Usman patted down Alper before performing his own comedy sketch.

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