Navigating Islam as a Deaf Muslim


Friday prayers interpreted in British sign language. Photo: Muslim Deaf UK

The call to prayer, issued five times in day in cities across the globe, is one of the most beautiful, spiritually uplifting sounds, regardless of whether one is Muslim or not. The sound even inspired Irish Catholic actor Liam Neeson to consider converting to Islam. He describes the sound as “the most beautiful, beautiful thing.”

But many Muslims around the world will never hear the beauty of the call. Although there is no official estimate of the number of deaf Muslims, the World Health Organization estimates that about 275 million people worldwide (Muslim and non-Muslim) have moderate to profound hearing loss in both ears. Continue reading

Should the Khutbah be in English?

Growing up in the United States, I assumed that the language of the khutbah, the Muslim Friday sermon, was not an issue of serious contention. Since my community is very diverse, the common language is English. Arabic is used when the Qur’an is cited, hadith related, and supplications recited. However, the English translations are usually provided. Of course, there are many communities with a large percentage of a particular immigrant group in which Arabic, Urdu, Somali, etc. are used.

I always assumed that the reason why English was used in my community stemmed from the need for the congregation to comprehend and reflect on the message of the sermon, which they could only do if they understand the language. Moreover, since many Muslim Americans like me grow up being exposed to Arabic but not necessarily understanding it, it was important to find a way to make young Muslims feel connected to the mosque and language plays a big role in that. Continue reading

Interview with Arabic Students

Despite the fact that the vast majority of Muslims do not live in Arabic-speaking countries, Arabic is still the language of Islam. As images of the prophet Muhammad are forbidden, Islam relies heavily on language to pass down ideas and stories from generation to generation. Language is, of course, open to multiple interpretations, mistranslations, and misunderstandings. For example, jihad, literally meaning “striving in the path of God,” can be understood as both an internal struggle to live a moral and virtuous life and an external struggle against injustice and oppression. But in English, unfortunately, the word is often translated to “holy war” and implies fanatical violence against non-believers of Islam. This is just one example why an in-depth knowledge of Arabic is important to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

More and more Americans, especially young people, are realizing the critical role of the Arabic language in breaking down misperceptions about Islam and in working with Muslim communities. As a result of 9/11, enrollment in Arabic in American colleges increased by 126.5% from 2002 to 2006. This fall, 225 students are taking Arabic at UW-Madison, up from 120 students in fall 2006 and the UW’s summer Arabic language program continues to grow. Earlier this month I talked to a few students in a first-semester Arabic class to see how their perceptions of Islam and the Muslim world might differ from others. Continue reading

Arabic: The Language of Islam

ist2_882327-ahlan-wasahlanHow many people who study Arabic now realize its importance in the Muslim worldview and the complexity of the language situation in the Muslim community worldwide? Arabic, the classical form of the language, is the language of the Qur’an. When Muslims from all over the world recite the Qur’an, they do it in Arabic. Since the classical form of Arabic is a liturgical language, many Muslims will study it on some level in order to pray and read the Qur’an itself and other Islamic texts. In the Arabic-speaking countries of the world, in addition to the religious realm, the standard form of the language continues to be the language of poetry, much of the literature, news, and basically anything formal. While there are spoken forms of Arabic that are specific to each country and even city, many people hold the standard form of Arabic in high esteem because of its connection to the Qur’an. In some Arab countries, writers who push to use the colloquial form of Arabic in the place of standard Arabic face a challenge because of the connection that the latter has to the Qur’an. Continue reading

When Poetry Meets Twitter

Baghestani

Parham

When hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the street to protest against the presidential election results last month, many of them also flooded to Twitter, a popular social networking tool, to distribute information and voice their opinions. In the torrent of tweets from Iran, one voice stands out with its Persian prose and poetic power. That voice belongs to Parham Baghestani,  a 26-year-old engineering student and web developer from Isfahan. “My love has gone underground. The taste of night is nothing but awareness.” His tweets like this one caught the attention of NPR and landed him an interview on the Weekend Edition program. When poetry meets Twitter, readers are just one click away from the poet, but more importantly, the poet knows exactly who is following his words. He’s not alone, he’s within a network of readers, a network of support.

Parham's tweet

Parham's tweet

“Poets are the refuge of every wounded nation,” Roger Cohen of The New York Times wrote. When their voices are silenced in official media during political turmoils, poets with a will to speak will find another outlet. In China, the country where I grew up, underground poets posted their poems on a wall along a busy street in Beijing during the democracy movement in the winter of 1978. Twitter is much harder to close down than a brick wall. A network of readers in cyberspace is much harder to dispel than a crowd on a street. Poets in Iran, one tweet at a time, shall always have their voices heard.

Have you come across any poetry in Twitter? Do you know any other creative use of Twitter during the protests in Iran? What other technologies are useful in getting around information censorship? Please share with us by commenting on this entry.

What Does the Qur’an Really Say?

In President Obama’s speech in Cairo, we heard something perhaps unprecedented for an American president: references to the Qur’an—positive references! Quoting verses from the Qur’an was significant because it brought the holy text into the discussion in a way that reflects its real spirit–especially for the over 1.3 billion Muslims worldwide.

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Sofia Baig: Spoken Word Artist and Activist

Daughter of the Sand Album Cover

Daughter of the Sand Album Cover

Sofia Baig, a twenty one year old Canadian spoken word artist of Pakistani, Chinese and Spanish descent uses her poetry to speak out against discrimination, prejudice, and her personal struggles. What makes Baig fascinating is that her own personal journey represents the struggle of many Muslim youth growing up in Western countries. Although Baig grew up in a Muslim family, she did not practice the rituals of the faith as a child but definitely identified herself as Muslim.

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Global Dialogue and Social Translation

Meedan, or “gathering place” in Arabic, is the name of a social translation and community-building project for English and Arabic speakers. The online network provides a free and interactive translation service to all who register. Registered users can also create profiles and connect with others based on similar interests, and/or location regardless of language differences. Comments, news articles, and blog posts are translated from the user’s native language using an evolving Machine Translation service.

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Poetry Festivals and TV Shows

The Dubai International Poetry Festival was held the first week of March as a way to open the eyes of the world to poetry and increase global interconnectedness. The festival is significant in a larger religious struggle against fundamentalism and cultural repression in the region as well. Poetry is part of a debate of whether the arts are permissible expressions of worship in Islam.

Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, has in fact a long and vibrant tradition of poetry, music, and dance. The sufi poet Rumi may sound familiar to foreign ears, for instance. For this reason, sufi tombs are often important cultural epicenters of Muslim communities and have become symbolic of a centuries-long conflict with fundamentalists who have literal understandings of the Koran and want to repress mystical traditions, sometimes violently.

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Hip Hop Diplomacy and The Boom Generation

Hip hop and diplomacy are just as unlikely a pair as heavy metal and Islam to the Western mind. Nevertheless, hip hop and heavy metal are popular forms of music among youth in the Middle East. As in every society, the younger generation struggles to find alternatives to tradition through travel, study, and rebellion. The next generation in the Middle East faces the pressure of rebuilding a region after years of war. They are playing metal and hip hop to rebel against the surrounding culture of violence and war. Popular music suggests that a lot of Muslim youth are choosing an alternative to political activism, living their daily lives apart from ethnic and religious conflict with politics in the West.

Hip Hop Diplomacy in Morocco

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