On Apostasy

Among the negative images of Islam is that apostasy is believed to be punishable by execution. The most recent example of this is in Iran where a pastor was convicted of apostasy and faces execution by hanging. Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was born to Muslim parents but did not practice Islam. He converted to Christianity when he was 19 and is now a pastor in the Protestant Evangelical Church of Iran. Nadrakhani was arrested in October 2009 when he protested that his son was forced to read from the Qur’an. Iranian state media, however, later reported that the real charges were rape, extortion, and security-related crimes. His case has received international attention and pressure has been put on the Iranian government to release him. Continue reading

Protests over a Depiction of God

This past year the Middle East was defined by the Arab uprisings that began in Tunisia and spread to Egypt, Yemen, Libya, and Syria. Tunisians were the first to successfully remove their leader, President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, in January.  While the successful removal of Ben Ali was a sign of hope and change, Tunisia is undergoing a difficult transition with instability, continued protests, and in some case violence. One example of this continued instability is a series of protests around the recent broadcast of the film Persepolis. Continue reading

Yemeni Woman Wins Nobel Peace Prize

On Friday, October 7th, three women were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: Tawakul Karman from Yemen and Ellen Johnson Surleaf and Leymah Gbowee from Liberia. Tawakul Karman is a Yemeni journalist and activist. Karman, 32, mother of 3, and the first Arab woman to win the prize, has been a central figure in Yemen’s revolution to remove President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Referred to by some as the “Mother of the Revolution,” she began her activist work several years ago. Continue reading

Is Voting Enough?

Many people associate Islam with Saudi Arabia, assuming that what happens in the Saudi Kingdom reflects the law and spirit of Islam. While it is true that the Arabian Peninsula is the birthplace of Islam, the Saudi Kingdom and its specific interpretation of Islam does not represent the faith more broadly. Continue reading

It’s Not The Law, But You Really Shouldn’t Drive, Miss

Saudi Citizen Manal al-Sharif Driving in Saudi Arabia

The western media seems to have a field day with reports of Muslim peoples’ and Islam’s “repression” of women. It’s often overstated or even completely fabricated, but some of Saudi Arabia’s cultural practices and laws are clear examples of plain and simple repression of women.

Although nowhere in the Qur’an does it speak of women’s being prevented from operating any sort of transportation, the Saudi Government has never allowed women to drive within the country. The mobility of women is strictly controlled and limited to specific public and private spaces, and the inability to drive is symbolic of this reality. It’s ironic that a woman may hire a taxi, driven by a male stranger, but is not able to drive herself. Continue reading

The “New Faces of Islam”?

Hanaa Ben Abdesslem and Hind Sahli Photo: Alex Cayley

2006 Pulitzer Prize winner Robin Givhan recently wrote an article highlighting the personal and professional journeys of two top international models: Hind Sahli from Morocco and Hanaa Ben Abdesslem from Tunisia. The title of her piece: The New Faces of Islam. Right from the outset, I was worried about the direction of the article. Are there really faces of Islam, and if so, what do they look like? What are the faces of Christianity, the Baha’i faith, Sikhism, etc? Givhan’s troubling language and Orientalist thinking becomes even clearer as the piece continues. Continue reading

A Libyan Image for the World

Photo: Zehra Tajouri

Various iconic photos of the 20th and 21st century have sparked inspiration, reflection, and at times, even outrage; the Afghan girl in National Geographic, the crying Vietnamese children, and the vulture staring at a starving child in Sudan.

A number of images have received a great deal of attention during the Arab Spring, but one sticks out for its powerfully emotional evocation: Zehra Tajouri’s photo of her sister’s humble and defiant pose is one for the history books. The photo, taken and posted on Tajouri’s blog on February 16—the first day of the revolution—received immediate attention inside and outside of Libya.

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So That We May Know One Another?

Diversity on Display at an Annual Abu Dhabi Benefit Run for Cancer Research Photo: Sammy Dallal/The National

I briefly visited the Gulf during a recent stopover from Chicago to Delhi. I raced out of the Abu Dhabi airport as I only had a few hours to experience the city before catching my connecting flight. My transportation to the city’s noteworthy sights was provided by Nabeel, a hip-hop loving cabbie from Lahore, Pakistan. Having never previously stepped foot in the Gulf region, I still had an idea of the people I might see—Emirati men wearing the traditional dishdash and women donning black abayas, with sprinkles of Philippinos, Malay, Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, Indians, Sri Lankans, Brits, Americans, and other westerners. I was less prepared for the drastic economic differences that I saw–and that continue to characterize much of the growth in this capital city of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and many other oil-rich Gulf countries.

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The Image of Mrs. Assad

Asma Assad, Wife of Syrian President, Bashar Assad Source: Intereconomia.com

As we near the 10th anniversary of September 11th, many are reflecting on that painful morning and recalling where they were and what they felt when they heard the news. For many, that was the first time they ever heard  about Muslims or Islam. For me, the only other time before 2001 that the word “Islam” even entered my sphere was when my third grade teacher taught us about the five pillars of Islam during our world religions unit in history class. Over the past decade, discussions around Islam and Muslims have become nearly ubiquitous. Nevertheless, many people’s knowledge of Islam and Muslims is limited to strong emotional associations –mostly negative, sometimes fearful.

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Signs of Hope in Egypt’s Sectarian Violence

A Muslim Egyptian holding a Qur'an and a Coptic Egyptian holding a Cross

In the last few months, the Middle East has undergone tremendous change with revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt leading to the resignation of Presidents Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak. During these revolutions that inspired others across the region in Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Syria, different segments of society united with the goal of removing the leaders. In Egypt, especially, Muslims and Christians stood together, even protecting each other while they prayed.

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