Bridging the Faiths through Art

Hatemi speaks to visitors about his work at a recent gallery opening. Photo: Haydarhatemi.com

The state of Kentucky has a strong tradition of political conservatism and also, unfortunately, a long history of bigotry. Although this means that it has become one of the more hostile places for Muslims in the US, this Islamophobic atmosphere hasn’t stopped Iranian-born artist Haydar Hatemi from creating art in his Lexington basement studio that builds bridges between Muslims and non-Muslims.

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The Taliban in Libya?

Republican presidential hopeful Herman Cain stumbles on questions related to Libya in a recent interview.

Last week, Republican presidential contender Herman Cain badly stumbled at an editorial meeting in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, displaying his limited knowledge of the current situation in Libya. His campaign blamed the gaffe on 4 hours of sleep and an ambiguous question from reporters. A few days later, Cain asked the media in a rhetorical manner, “Do I agree with saying that Gadhafi should go, do I agree that they now have a country where you’ve got Taliban and Al Qaeda that’s going to be a part of the government?” For the record, the Taliban has never been associated with Gadhafi or Libya.

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Islamic Galleries at The Met

The 18th Century Damascus Room Displayed at the Met's New Islamic Galleries

New Yorkers no longer have to travel to Linxia or Basra to catch a glimpse of Islamic artistic creativity. Last week, the Metropolitan Museum of Art (“The Met”) completed an eight-year renovation of their Islamic galleries, now housing over 1,200 works spanning more than 1,400 years. The Met even commissioned a Moroccan family with generations of artisan experience to coordinate and create a traditional Moroccan courtyard inside the museum itself.

Although most of the pieces have been in the permanent collection for years, the Met has taken some off of its dusty storage shelves and provided others with a more prominent display. Works now on display include a mihrab (prayer niche indicating the direction of Mecca) from Isfahan, an 18th-century Syrian reception room, and an Uzbek painting depicting the Prophet Muhammad’s Laylat al Miraj, or trip to heaven. Artists, historians, and many others have found a common appreciation for the stunning visuals offered to visitors, but I was also struck by the name given to the galleries.

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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

Tehran: Capital of Nose Jobs

Yes, Tehran is the world capital of nose jobs. While western news concentrates a disproportionate amount of time on the occasional ridiculous statement from President Ahmadinejad and Iranian nuclear ambitions, other stories seem to be flying under the radar. In no way am I suggesting that homophobia, anti-Semitism, or regional security threats are unimportant, but there are myriad other issues that provide more insight into the lives of average Iranians.

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Unveiled: A Balanced Portrait

Among many events in Madison this week raising awareness about Islam and Muslims was the film, Unveiled, hosted by UW-Madison’s International Student Services and the LGBT Campus Center. The film (Fremde Haut in German), directed by Angelina Maccarone, follows Fariba, an Irani woman seeking asylum in a small, industrial German town. Following the discovery of Fariba’s love affair with a married woman in Tehran, the Irani government threatens to prosecute her for her relationship, which is illegal under Iranian legal code. Fariba’s lover begs forgiveness and swears under oath that she will change and is freed, but Fariba decides to leave Tehran for good.

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Are Islam and Democracy Compatible?

Egyptian Protests

The protests in Tunisia and Egypt that led to the removal of the leaders of both countries have now spread to Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Iran. According to some commentators,  these protests reflect a relatively new push for democracy by the Arab peoples. In other words, the democracy that Western nations have enjoyed is now appearing in the Middle East. The implicit explanation for this “delay,” for some, is that most Arabs are Muslim and Islam is not compatible with democracy.

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Muslim-American Student Activism

Kylie Christianson, a Muslim-American student at the University of Wisconsin, protests in Madison, WI

Over 15,000 protesters marched on the Capitol in Madison,Wisconsin today, demanding state legislators to vote down recently proposed legislation termed radical by citizens and leaders of all political leanings. Among thousands of students and public and private employees were Muslim-Americans calling for lawmakers to vote against the bill.

Yesterday, among over 13,000 protesters congregating to protest the same legislation, Rashid Dar, President of the Muslim Student Association at the University of Wisconsin-Madison offered his own opinion of the situation. “I hesitate to tell people how to pick their politics, but in choosing our sides we would do well to consider who is working to bring the most overall benefit to society at large, and who is working to benefit a select, but influential, elite.”

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Islam in South Asia: Interview with Joe Elder

This is a guest post by Michael Kruse, a staff member of Center for South Asia at UW-Madison.

Since the 2003 invasion and subsequent occupation of Iraq, the American public has learned much about the division between Sunni and Shia Muslims. In the context of South Asia, however, the situation is much more complicated than one might expect. Just ask Joseph Elder, Professor of Sociology at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Prof. Elder has studied South Asian society and religion for over 50 years, and has produced a series of almost 40 documentary films on all aspects of South Asia.

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Future of Secularism in Iran

This is a guest post by Saideh Jamshidi, an Iranian-American journalist who is doing graduate study in journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Last month, I attended a conference at Lake Forest College about the “Future of Secularism and the Public Role of Religion in Iran,” where a group of intellectuals and university professors gathered to discuss the future of secularism in the Middle East and Iran’s role in shaping this phenomenon.

Ahmad Sadri

Ahmad Sadri

“Iran is the only country in that part of the world where we have a grassroots massive movement towards secularization”, said Ahmad Sadri, a professor of sociology and anthropology at Lake Forest College and the chair of Islamic World Studies.

Interview with Ahmad Sadri: [audio:http://insideislam.wisc.edu/audio/dStory/AhmadSadri.mp3]

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