Being Banned: An Inside Islam recap


The Islamic Center is Murfreesboro, TN. Photo: tennessean.com

The Islamic Center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is in the news again. The last time Inside Islam covered the center, it had been delayed on a procedural technicality. Most recently, a federal judge overruled that decision, and the center is expected to open sometime this month, hopefully in time for Eid ul-Fitr at the end of Ramadan.

This development gives us an opportunity to reflect on similar stories that we have covered over the years. Rather than an isolated case of pushback against Islam, the Murfreesboro debate is just one example of attempts to ban or otherwise stifle expressions of faith. As I went through the Inside Islam archives, it really struck me what a monumental torrent of hate and Islamophobia Muslims are up against.

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Tennessee Islamic Center delayed on procedural technicality

The sign has been spray-painted with the words "Not Wanted." Photo: CNN

The proposed Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, is no stranger to controversy. Since 2010, plans to set up the facility have been constantly thwarted by opponents. Some argued that Islam is not a legitimate religion and thus not protected under the U.S. Constitution. Others protested that the mosque would create traffic problems and lower housing values. Still others decided to take the law into their own hands, spray-painting “Not Welcome” on signs announcing the center, and even setting fire to construction equipment and vehicles.

The center prevailed through a string of lawsuits, so opponents adopted another tactic, this time attacking the planning commission who granted the building permit. Now it seems that construction may be held up on procedural grounds. On May 30, a county judge ruled that plans for the center, which had previously been approved by the planning commission, are now “void, and of no effect.” Continue reading

Inside Islam Coming to a Close

Regretfully, after nearly four years of operation, we will be publishing our final Inside Islam post next month. As part of its Academia in the Public Sphere initiative, the Social Science Research Council has provided us with funding for an unprecedented four consecutive cycles. Since August of 2008, we’ve published more than 500 blog posts, broadcast over 100 radio shows, and reached a following of 25,000 unique readers per month. And quite fittingly, just a few moments ago, we received our 10,000th follower on our @insideislam twitter feed.

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There’s No Substitute for Personal Relationships

For the past four years, the Inside Islam project has been one of a few creative initiatives educating Americans about Islam as part of the Academia in the Public Sphere program. The idea is a good one, encouraging resource-wealthy institutions to interact with the larger public on contemporary and relevant issues. And we aren’t the only project trying to educate, connect, and facilitate dialogue around both controversial issues and more mundane topics related to Islam and Muslims. Muslimah Media Watch, Muslim Matters, and Loonwatch are some of the other active web-based platforms writing about Islam and Muslims. More recently, Crash Course and other internet-based learning tools are reaching out. In only three days, over 100,000 people viewed Crash Course’s latest video on the early history of Islam and Muslims. Click below to see it for yourself.

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Senator Russ Feingold Takes on Islamophobia

Today is the beginning of a two-day conference co-sponsored by Inside Islam, Islam and Democracy, to be held in Madison, Wisconsin. Although Senator Russ Feingold is not expected to speak at the conference, at an event earlier this week, he highlighted issues that will be discussed in detail at the conference. Islam and Democracy will feature over 30 speakers, including keynote addresses by John O. Voll and Seyyed Hossein Nasr. See the conference website for more information.


Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI). Photo: BarackObama.com

Nayantara Mukherji is a journalist, editor, Inside Islam radio producer, and a recent addition to our writing team.

Former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold is known for taking on monumental challenges. In 2001 he was the only senator to vote against the Patriot Act. These days, Feingold has turned his attention to another cause—US foreign policy. At a talk in Madison, Wisconsin, about his new book, While America Sleeps, Feingold argued for increased American engagement with the rest of the world. He said 9/11 highlighted the importance of engaging and understanding the rest of the world, and criticized Democrats and Republicans alike for failing to heed the message. Continue reading

Perceptions of the Head Scarf

Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi

As Reem pointed out yesterday, many see a connection between the beating death of Shaima Alawadi and the shooting of Trayvon Martin because both hate crimes are connected to the clothes the victims were wearing. In light of that connection, this is the first of two posts this week that will examine hijab and the various perceptions associated with it.

Nausheen Pasha-Zaidi is the author of The Color of Mehndi and a doctoral student of international psychology at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Zaidi is studying the influence of the Muslim headscarf on perceptions of attractiveness, intelligence, and employability.

There is no argument among Muslim women that the headscarf is a necessary component of Islamic prayer; however, the incorporation of the hijab in public life continues to be an area of contention. Within the Muslim community, the hijab has often been used as a litmus test to determine the piety of Muslim women. Not surprisingly, women who wear the hijab are able to gain a higher level of social prestige within their Muslim communities, while the public display of their faith has made them more susceptible to discrimination in secular Western society. By publicly declaring their faith, those who adopt the hijab are often perceived as conveying a greater passion in their observation of Islamic practices than those who confine their religiosity to the private sphere. As a result, the decision to wear or not wear the hijab in public life has a profound influence on the identity and group affiliation of Muslim women.

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Muslim-Jewish Comedy

Comedian Azhar Usman Photo: Shoaib Bin Altif

Two weeks ago, the Laugh in Peace Tour dropped by the UW-Madison campus to entertain hundreds as part of the White House Interfaith and Community Service Campus Challenge. Chicago-based Muslim-American lawyer-turned-comedian Azhar Usman and Vermont-based comedian and rabbi Bob Alper had the crowd roaring. As Usman entered the stage, Alper conducted a full-body pat-down, poking fun at the ridiculousness of the profiling that Usman has received post-9/11 because of his physical appearance and Muslim name. To return the favor, Usman patted down Alper before performing his own comedy sketch.

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Will Discrimination Backfire?

Image: Ahmed Rehab

Reem recently wrote about the controversy surrounding Lowe’s, the home improvement superstore that caved to Islamophobic pressure from the Florida Family Association (FFA) and pulled its advertising from the reality television show All-American Muslim.

Earlier this week, Jon Stewart and Asif Mandvi of the Daily Show ridiculed the absurdity of the fear many Americans have surrounding Islam and Muslims. In one segment, Stewart criticized the blatant bigotry of the FFA, a fundamentalist activist group, for lobbying American corporations to pull their advertising from All-American Muslim. But that didn’t stop kayak.com from following the lead of Lowe’s and pulling their ad campaign from the show this past Wednesday, days after the controversy made international news. In fact, according to the FFA, 65 advertisers targeted by mass email complaints have withdrawn funding from the December 11 show.

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Muslims More Religious Than Others?

Proclamation of faith in Arabic

According to CNN and a survey by Ipos-Mori, Muslims overall tend to be more committed to their faith  than any other religious group and consider Islam to be a more significant part of their daily lives. The survey was carried out in 24 countries, of which three (Saudi Arabia, Indonesia, and Turkey) have Muslim majorities.

According to the CNN piece, one reason for this stronger commitment stems from the current global political atmosphere. Increasingly, Muslims are defining themselves against a negative perception of the West. Thus, they view Islam as the only viable path towards salvation. Moreover, the article maintains that this sentiment has increased in a post-9/11 world.

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How Low Can We Go?

Islamophobia Today, one of the leading blogs covering anti-Muslim sentiments worldwide, recently published an article on the latest terrorism figures from Europol. The European law enforcement agency released their annual EU Terrorism Situation and Trend Report, citing “Islamists” as having carried out less than one half of one percent (0.005%) of all terrorist acts (1o out of 2,139) committed in Europe from 2005 to 2010. Interestingly, the report notes that “Islamist terrorism is still perceived as the biggest threat to most [EU] Member States.”

That perception, as divorced from reality as it is, seems to only get more and more entrenched. Reem and I have written extensively about a host of topics related to ignorance, prejudice, hatred, and violence against Muslims and Islam, but a recent statement from American comic Dennis Miller made me wonder how far things can go without anyone really noticing or caring.

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