Islam in France


Praying in the streets was banned in France in 2011. Photo: Bbc.co.uk

A recent article in National Geographic speculates that Marseilles may become the first city in Europe with a majority Muslim population. Official statistics are unavailable, but experts estimate that about 30 percent of the southeastern French city is Muslim.

Although the city is known for its tolerance, France as a whole is not, especially when it comes to its Muslim population. The country is home to about 6 million Muslims (the largest number in Western Europe), and is known for its bans on burqas, niqab, and for considering banning halal meat. Praying in the streets was also banned in 2011. At the end of 2011, the French Council of the Muslim Faith, an umbrella organization for various Muslim groups, released a study saying Islamophobia is on the rise in the country.

I spoke with John Bowen, Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis about Islam in France. Bowen is the author of Can Islam be French? Pluralism and Pragmatism in a Secularist State. Continue reading

Banning Male Circumcision in Cologne, Germany


An upcoming mosque in Cologne. Photo: The Guardian, UK

We have written about female circumcision and the difference between circumcision and female genital mutilation here on Inside Islam, but male circumcision, a common practice in Muslim communities, has not been discussed. Many other groups also circumcise male children for both religious and non-religious reasons. The World Health Organization estimates that about a third of men internationally are circumcised. Around 70% of them are Muslims.

But on Tuesday, a German court in Cologne condemned the practice of circumcising boys, saying that it violates a “fundamental right to bodily integrity.” Continue reading

Irish Muslim activist takes on FGM


Ifrah Ahmed. Photo: DigitalJournal.com

In past posts, we’ve attempted to clarify issues around Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), Female Circumcision (FC), and their perceived relation to religion and culture. Here are the facts: Islam, Christianity, nor any other world religion mandates any type of FC or FGM. Some forms of FC are considered FGM, depending upon the type of procedure. The practices are either forced upon women, expected of women, or in the rare case, embraced by women. FC and FGM are performed primarily on African girls and women or those from African backgrounds living in the West. A few countries in Asia have also been documented as practicing FC or FGM.

FGM has become a topic of focus for local activists in Africa and Asia, as well as the broader international community. Activists fighting against FGM have found a champion in an unlikely place—Ireland, where a significant number of women (over 3,000) have been subjected to it. Although substantial, the number pales in comparison to the 140 million women and girls worldwide who have undergone the procedure.

Ifrah Ahmed, a 23-year-old, Somali-born, Muslim activist has only been in Ireland for 6 years, but she’s already played a key role in shaping Irish policy regarding the practice. Ahmed underwent double mutilation as a child and still suffers from serious problems as a result of the procedures. She says that sometimes the pain is so bad that “I fall down and I feel like I’m going to die.” Continue reading

Banning Halal Meat?

Muslims in the United Kingdom have a new challenge facing them. Following attempts by other European nations like France, some British politicians have called for a ban on any meat that comes from an animal which has not been stunned before slaughter. Thus, the ban affects halal (sometimes also called dhabiha or zabiha) and kosher meats.

According to supporters of the ban, the manner in which Muslims and Jews traditionally slaughter is more painful to the animal than stunning the animal first and then slaughtering it. As in the Jewish tradition, Muslims have a particular manner in which they must slaughter an animal. The animal’s throat is slit to induce quick bleeding to reduce suffering. In order to do this, Muslims are instructed to make sure that the knife is sharpened. Also, in order to be as humane as possible, the knife should not be sharpened in front of any animals and one animal should not be slaughtered in front of another. Continue reading

Maher Zain: A Muslim Musician

Muslims around the world are using multiple media to express their identities. For many Muslim artists, music has become an important space to talk about their faith and the struggles they face. The music ranges from the overtly political to the spiritual. The focus of this post is Maher Zain, a Swedish Muslim of Lebanese descent who rose to fame in 2009 and just released his most recent album Forgive Me this past April. Zain’s music is influenced by his faith and has strong religious overtones. Continue reading

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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UK Course on Islam and the Media

In the last few years, there are have been several laws passed in different European countries that relate to Muslim communities. For example, in France and Belgium, laws were passed banning the niqab and in Switzerland a law was passed to ban the building of minarets. Many Muslims considered these moves to be a sign of an anti-Muslim sentiment. Occasionally, however, there are stories that indicate positive change.

This past January, the University of East Anglia in the United Kingdom introduced a new class on Muslim women and the media. The first of its kind, the course will examine the role of women in Islam and how they are portrayed  in the media. The class will look at various issues that include wearing the hijab, marriage, and “honor” crimes and how they are addressed in film, television, and the media in general. Continue reading

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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Islam, Besa, and Pashtunwali: A Seamless Integration

Muslim-Albanian Brothers, Ramadan and Isa Nuza, Saved Two Jewish Families During the Holocaust Photo: Norman Gershman

Last week, I wrote about how majority-Muslim Albania saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Recently, I was lucky enough to speak with Norman Gershman, the renowned American photographer of Jewish descent who traveled over a five-year period documenting the stories of Jews, and the Muslim-Albanian families who saved them. You can listen to my conversation with Gershman below.

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Majority-Muslim Albania and the Holocaust

On October 29, 1944, Jewish refugees protected by Albanians pose for a photo following the liberation of the country. Photo: Refik Veseli

Albania was the only European country that ended World War II with more Jews living in it than before the war started. According to the International School for Holocaust Studies, every one of the 200 Jews living in Albania before the war was saved by their local countrymen and women, and over 2,000 Jews in total were hidden, housed, and provided for by Albanians. In 1943, Nazi Germany ordered the Albanian authorities to turn over government census data on Jews in the country. The Albanians refused. In fact, not a single Jew was ever turned over by Albanians to the Italian fascists and Nazis in Albania.

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