Green Faith: A Muslim Perspective

This is the first in a new series within Inside Islam that will explore the intersection of faith and environmentalism. Posts here on the blog by diverse religious leaders and community activists are leading up to an interfaith panel discussion (to be held in Madison on March 6th) and a radio show on the topic. Specifics on those events follow below.


Huda Alkaff is the founder and director of the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin (IEG) and president of Wisconsin Interfaith Power & Light. She taught ecology at UW-Oshkosh and has spent over a decade working as an advocate for environmental justice, initiating Muslim and interfaith programs focused on energy, water, and land conservation. In addition to orchestrating the Green Ramadan project, Alkaff has also led IEG’s monthly environmental awareness campaign.

Huda Alkaff feeding a llama at the Eco-Justice Center in Racine, Wisconsin

Believe it or not, I have been an environmentalist since I was a child. Back then, I remember being asked the famous question from the adults in my family and my teachers, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Remember that question? To everyone’s surprise, my answer was “An ecologist, an environmentalist!” I was and still am fascinated by nature, the sea (my best friend) and all its inhabitants, the mountains, the stars, the trees, the birds, etc. And I wanted to learn more about them.

Ecology is the study of interconnections and interdependence among everything in space and in time. Systems Ecology interested me the most since it looks into the big picture and studies patterns, processes, and relationships among different parts. The continuous attempt at establishing connections is the driving force for my ongoing work to build strong and sustainable bridges between the environmental teachings in Islam and my university environmental training and education.

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Sufis Under Fire in Macedonia

Damage from an arson at the Harabati Baba teqe, a Sufi Muslim religious complex in Tetova, Macedonia. Photo: Bektashi Community of Macedonia

Stephen Suleyman Schwartz is author of The Two Faces of Islam: Saudi Fundamentalism and Its Role in Terrorism (2002) and The Other Islam: Sufism and the Road to Global Harmony (2008). He is the Executive Director of the Center for Islamic Pluralism.

As an informed global media audience should know, traditions of pluralism that were long established in Islamic statecraft, law, and public institutions today face a mortal threat from adherents to radical, fundamentalist interpretations of Sunni Islam. The latter mainly comprise Saudi-financed Wahhabis, who masquerade as “Salafis,” and South Asian Deobandis, who support the Taliban. In the Balkans, the front line between Sufism and Wahhabism runs through the Albanian- and Muslim-majority – and in the past, Sufi-identified – city of Tetova in eastern Macedonia.

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Differences of Opinion

Image: Stuart Miles

Hussam Sehwail is a Palestinian-American Muslim and graduate student of electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

We often find Muslims arguing with each other about differences between their actions: “Why do you pray with your hands like that?”, “You’re washing yourself the wrong way,” and other similar statements frequently heard in mosques. This is especially true in multicultural Muslim communities common in Western countries. Although many grow up with whatever customs their parents follow, they may fail to realize that other Muslims might act differently than they do. Hence, it would be of benefit to understand why Muslims may have some differences with regards to religious practices.

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Polygyny: For the Benefit of Women

Image: Colin Christopher

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day in the US and, in recognition of that holiday, the next in our series of Inside Islam radio programs will feature Jean’s conversation with the co-editors of Love InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women, Ayesha Mattu & Nura Maznavi. (See the end of this post for information on how to listen and participate in the show.)

One of the authors in this collection of real-life stories about love, relationships, and dating, Asiila Imani, deals with the often difficult topic of plural marriages. We have written here about polygamy in Islam previously, but this is the first time we have heard from a proponent or participant in polygyny directly. Imani converted to Islam over 30 years ago and has followed the Jafari madhab for the last twenty. She is a strong proponent of polygyny and views it as an extended family that is most beneficial for women. The following is excerpted from Love InshAllah.

Ali became my spiritual advisor. He sent me books on the Prophet and the Prophet’s family and encouraged and helped my Arabic and Qur’anic studies. I read everything he sent me, which solidified my beliefs once again. I began to wear the khimar and identified myself with the Shi’a school of thought. Ali’s letters and phone calls came whenever I felt myself slipping back into doubt, and my faith in him grew alongside my faith in God.

We conversed about my son and about my plans to become a midwife; he told me about the communal business he ran with the brothers of his jamah, and their desire to live self-sufficiently.

Within the year, talk turned to marriage, both a hopeful prospect and a dreadful thought. Was I ready to do this again? Ali believed that both of my previous marriages had failed because he was my match. God meant for us to be together, he said. Our paths certainly had crossed many times, and we seemed to fit together perfectly, but for one thing––Ali was already married.

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The Intersection of Shamanism and Islam

Men pray the Eid al-Adha prayer in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan. Photo: theislamawareness.blogspot.com

Fatima Sartbaeva is a doctoral candidate of anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison studying female shamans among Muslim Kyrgyz.

Is there a compatibility between Islam and shamanism in Central Asia? How do nomadic Kazakhs and Kyrgyz intertwine Islam and shamanism in their religious cosmology? And are there any contradictions between Islam and shamanism among Kazakh and Kyrgyz?

In answering these questions, I sat down and spoke with Professor Oraz Sapashev of the University of Wisconsin-Madison. An ethnic Kazakh from Altay, Kazakhstan, and a scholar of Central Eurasian Turkic languages and culture, Sapashev shed some light on the relationship between shamanism and Islam. The following excerpt is a translation of our conversation in Russian.

Q: Could you tell me more about Altay and its cultural history?

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American Paki

Ayesha Kazmi

Ayesha Kazmi is a Muslim American specialist in UK anti-terrorism policy at London-based CageprisonersOriginally from Boston, Massachusetts, Kazmi lived in London, England from 2005-2011. She has written for The Guardian and Privacy Matters and blogs at AmericanPaki. You can follow her on Twitter @AyeshaKazmi.

They say the onset of authoritarianism happens through a process of incrementalism. If indeed that is the case, I have missed a lot in the 6 years I spent in the United Kingdom away from the United States.

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Why I Am a Doctor: One Muslim’s Perspective

Image: Healthspablog.org

Hesham Hassaballa is an intensive care unit physician, co-founder and Executive Director of the Bayan H. Hassaballa Charitable Foundation, and serves on the board of directors for the Chicago Chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. He is also a freelance writer and author of Noble Brother. This is his response to questions we asked him about his Islamic faith and profession as a physician.

“So, you are going to become a doctor, right?” This question, I am quite certain, has been asked of scores of Muslim children by their parents all across this world. Does Islam, somehow, motivate Muslims to become physicians? Perhaps slightly, especially since the Qur’an says that saving a life is like saving all of humanity. But I think that is more of a “fringe benefit” than a major motivation for Muslims to become physicians.

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New Islamic art documentary bridges worlds

Daniel Tutt is the Outreach Director at Unity Productions Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on creating peace through various media. UPF has produced several films on Islam, including Muhammad: Legacy of a Prophet, Cities of Light: The Rise and Fall of Islamic Spain, and Prince among Slaves.

The mainstream portrayal of Islam does not usually deal with transcendent beauty, elegant ornamentation, or intricate calligraphy. But might art be one of the keys to healing some of the chasms and conflicts that have plagued Muslim-West relations over the last 10 years? The power of art to build bridges of understanding is becoming more recognized as a vital component to repairing the Muslim-West divide. The new exhibit on Islamic art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art has already attracted thousands, and leading contemporary Islamic artists in America were recently featured at the Andy Warhol Museum, as part of the Dislocating Culture exhibit.

The largest mud brick building in the world is the Great Mosque of Djenné in Mali

In an another effort to present the great masterpieces of Islamic art and architecture to an American audience, a new documentary film, Islamic Art: Mirror of the Invisible World, is slated to air on PBS in 2012. The film will launch with a series of nationwide screenings starting today at the Kennedy Center with its world premiere. Exploring five themes that are central to Islamic art–the Word, Space, Ornament, Color and Water–, the film traces the arc of Islamic art as a universal human endeavor that frequently interacted with people of other faiths and cultures. Framing Islamic art as the result of a multicultural and adaptive set of artistic approaches and creations, the film highlights Muslim artists who developed new art forms through an integration of various cultural expressions. Continue reading

Pakistani Supreme Court Leads the Way

Dawood Ahmed is a lawyer from London. He is a graduate of Oxford University and is currently a doctoral candidate in law at the University of Chicago

Pakistani hijras, or transgendered men, at a function near the army garrison city of Rawalpindi, Pakistan Photo: Declan Walsh

Amidst the commonplace pattern of negative news cycles related to Pakistan, a rather landmark human rights development there passed by largely unnoticed. On April 25, the Pakistani Supreme Court ordered the government to recognize a third gender on government issued ID cards for transgenders (commonly known as hijras in South Asia) instead of the rather inappropriate and demeaning ‘male’ or ‘female.’ To put into context how ground-breaking the change is, consider this: very few countries in the world recognize a third gender in similar circumstances.

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The Death of Gadhafi: an Islamic Perspective

Libyan men lined up for hours to view Gadhafi's body Photo: Suhaib Salem/Reuters

Asmah Sultan Mallick is a master’s student of International Public Affairs at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Weeks after the Colonel’s death, attention is now shifting from Moammar Gadhafi to the importance of establishing a new order for Libya and its people. It is safe to say most people are very happy that Gadhafi is gone, and gone for good. While I am just as excited as the next person and optimistic for a brighter future, I can’t help but to be disgusted by the images and videos that were publicized in the media around the demise of Gadhafi. The images were quite disturbing, an old man wiping blood from his face saying “God forbids this” while guns were being shot and chaos everywhere, then later people posing with his bloodied body all while smiling and giving the peace sign with their fingers. Continue reading