Islam Awareness Week 2010

The Muslim Students Association is hosting Islam Awareness Week 2010 on the UW-Madison campus this week. I interviewed the association in September 2009 and it reminded me that religion doesn’t just live in sacred books or buildings but more in people. There is no better way to understand Islam than to get to know its people. If you are in the area, I hope you’ll find some time to go to the events. Continue reading

Senegal: Conversation at Gaston Berger University

In January 2009, several UW-Madison professors visited Senegal, where a Muslim majority and a Christian minority peacefully coexist. You can watch an overview of this trip in part one of this series, and the professors’ conversation with a prominent Imam in part two. The group also stopped at Gaston Berger University in Saint Louis where they talked to Senegalese friends about the country’s religious tolerance.

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Senegal: An Imam in Saint Louis

senegalA former French colony in western Africa, Senegal is a country where a Muslim majority and a Christian minority live peacefully together and pride themselves on interfaith harmony. Several UW-Madison faculty and staff members visited Senegal in January, 2009, to find out what makes Senegal a model for interfaith peace. You can read an overview of the trip and its results here.

The UW-Madison group interviewed a prominent Imam in Saint Louis. Following his father’s footstep, the 83-year-old Imam became a scholar and teacher at age 16. He started running a school well before Senegal became independent. Because his school was not involved in political activities, just in Qur’anic teaching, the colonial power left it alone. Continue reading

Senegal: Model for Interfaith Peace

Larry Nesper

Larry Nesper

A former French colony in western Africa, Senegal is a Muslim-dominated country where a Christian minority is well respected and has lived peacefully with the Muslim majority for ages. What has made Senegal so successful in maintaining interfaith peace and avoiding the religious tensions that plague other countries? A group of professors from the University of Wisconsin-Madison traveled to Senegal last year to look for answers. In the next several weeks, you will read a series of their interviews from the trip. As an introductory overview, anthropology professor Larry Nesper, talked with me recently. You can watch our full conversation by clicking on the video below. Continue reading

Islam in Iran: Interview with Saideh Jamshidi

saidehIran is very much in the news. For example, the mass protests against last year’s disputed presidential election generated tremendous support for the Iranian people. Also, Tehran’s nuclear program is causing fears that Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship with the ability to launch devastating terrorist attacks. But how do ordinary Iranians view their country and Islam? I talked to Saideh Jamshidi recently, a journalist born and raised in Iran. She came to the US in 1999, has been working for Free Speech Radio News, and just started her graduate study in journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Continue reading

American Perceptions of Muslims

biasCoverEven though two thirds of Americans (63%) admit that they have little or no knowledge about Islam, according to a recent Gallup poll, almost half of Americans acknowledge some level of prejudice against Islam (53%) and Muslims (43%). Furthermore, “personal affiliation with a Muslim may help to soften extreme prejudice, but is not enough to eliminate it.”

Comparing what Americans believe Muslims think to what Muslims actually think, the study finds a big gap between the two. For example, only 16% of Americans agree that “most Muslims around the world believe that women and men should have equal rights,” while in reality, majorities of people in more than 35 Muslim countries surveyed by Gallup support gender equality. The support is above 73% even in conservative Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran, Sudan, and Egypt. Continue reading

Islam and Media: Qantara.de

This is part 5 of our series, Media and Islam. Previous parts explained why we started the series and examined Al Jazeera, Global Voices and CNN.

Having lived through the atrocities of the Nazi era, Germany is very sensitive to issues of tolerance. Perhaps that is why it has put more effort into integrating its four million Muslims, or 5% of the population, into society than many European countries. For instance, German public schools now teach Islam along with other religions. A recent study found that many German Muslims are more German than expected, doing quintessentially German things such as joining soccer clubs or senior citizens’ groups. For many non-Muslim Germans, as talk show host Michel Friedmann remarked, “most of those five percent are honest, bourgeois, boring and sweet — just like their German Christian neighbors.”

A great example of Germany’s effort to promote dialogue with the Muslims is Qantara.de, an Internet portal designed “to discuss controversial issues openly and to highlight common ground between cultures.Qantara means “bridge” in Arabic. Published in Arabic, English, German, Turkish, and Indonesian, the portal is funded by the German Federal Foreign Office and is jointly run by Deutsche Welle, Germany’s public broadcasting service, the Goethe Institute, the Federal Agency for Civic Education, and the Institute for Foreign Cultural Relations. Continue reading

Media and Islam: CNN

This is the fourth part of our series, Media and Islam. Previous parts explained why we started the series and examined Al Jazeera and Global Voices.

cnn“Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own fact,” said US Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan. News media’s job is to give the public both facts and opinions, but labeling each clearly so as not to confuse or mislead. Facts should carry more weight in media coverage and be the basis of opinions voiced in media.

Using this criterion to assess the coverage of Islam and the Muslim world by the three major US cable news networks, I find that CNN outperforms Fox News and MSNBC even though it lost 30% of its viewers in 2009 while Fox News gained 7% and MSNBC fell 12%.

First, CNN is more committed to news gathering. Unlike generating opinions, gathering facts requires having reporters on the ground knocking on doors, talking to locals, and sifting through documents. Statistics show that CNN has more correspondents in more Muslim countries than what Fox News and MSNBC have combined. The financial commitment by CNN is also the biggest among the three, with Fox News spending the least on newsgathering. Continue reading

Interview with Farha Tahir

The Fort Hood shooting in November and the arrest of five Virginia young men in Pakistan in December have shocked many Americans in a different way than 9/11 did. The terrorists in the 2001 attack were Islamic extremists from abroad, but the suspects in the two recent cases are American Muslims raised and educated here in the States. Even though it’s not clear whether the Fort Hood suspect was motivated mainly by his religious belief, the case with the five Virginia Muslims is definitely clear: despite their middle-class upbringing and higher education, they are still susceptible to twisted logic of extremism and the recruitment effort by terrorist organizations. Why?

To find out how American Muslims and their communities are wrestling with the question, I talked to Farha Tahir, a graduate student at the Robert M. La Follette School of Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has been actively involved in the national American Muslim community since high school. She was a recipient of the Gamaliel Chair in Peace and Justice in 2003 for her interfaith work. Continue reading

Islam and Women in Niger

Even though 98% of its population practices Islam, the Western African country of Niger is a secular state, protected by laws mostly inherited from the French. In recent years, the government has adopted some woman-friendly policies but rejected a few as well. What’s behind those rejections? What role does Islam play in the politics of women’s rights laws? Alice Kang, a PhD candidate in the UW-Madison Department of Political Science and a former SKJ Fellow through Global Studies, spent a year in Niger to look for answers. She sat down with Inside Islam to share her findings.

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