Muslim and American

On October 12th, Tarek Fatah posted a conversation with Ayaan Hirsi Ali on The Huffington Post. In this conversation, Fatah and Ali, a former Muslim and well-known critic of Islam, discussed many issues, ranging from extremist activity among Muslims to Muslim citizenship in the West. Of these topics, I would like to focus on the place of Muslims in the West, specifically in the United States.

Ali is surprised that Muslims who spend the majority or all of their lives in the United States still adhere to Islam. She expects these Muslims to discard their beliefs in order to be truly American because in her perception there is a clear contradiction between the practice of Islam and being an American. In another context, she argued that Muslims in the United States should all accept Christianity in order to have a place in America. In her conversation with Fatah, she suggested that organizations like the Islamic Society of North America and the Council on American-Islamic Relations had secret agendas because they attempt to portray a positive picture of Islam and fight for Muslims’ civil rights. Continue reading

Muslims and Jews in America: The Most American of All?

Muslim and Jewish students at a recent co-existence dinner at the University of Wisconsin. Photo: Muslim Jewish Volunteer Initiative

On college campuses where significant numbers of Muslims and Jews study, it may not be surprising to find that they have negative perceptions of one another. To characterize the overall dynamic between these two groups as tense is generally not accurate–there have been a number of service-based/interfaith dialogue initiatives between them–but the reality is that many students from both groups have been raised in environments that instil deep distrust for one another, sometimes bordering on hatred. And this is despite the fact that Muslims and Jews have shared more common experiences with each other living in a Christian-dominant US than with any other group.  Continue reading

The Butterfly Mosque: One Woman’s Journey to Islam

On the next Inside Islam radio show, this Wednesday, December 15th, Jean will be talking with G. Willow Wilson, the author of The Butterfly Mosque: A Young Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam. In her memoir, Wilson tells the story of how she came to Islam and how she met her husband Omar.

In 2003, after converting to Islam, Wilson journeys to Egypt. There she meets her husband. In Egypt and through her relationship, she learns how to bridge cultural divides and to reconcile the images of Muslims in the media with the real people (including her husband) that she meets. 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

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 in Europe

reflections_on_the_revolution_in_europeA few weeks back, I reviewed the “To the Best of Our Knowledge” show “Reclaiming Islam” on which Christopher Caldwell discussed his most recent book, Reflections on the Revolution in Europe: Immigration, Islam, and the West. What Caldwell said during the short segment was not entirely representative of the larger message in the book. However, my own reading of his argument was incredibly skewed and, well, wrong. On Thursday, August 13th, Christopher Caldwell joined Here on Earth to talk in more depth about the book and the issue of Muslims in Europe. In preparation for the show, I had a chance to read the book and understand his argument more fully. Continue reading