Islam and popular culture: an Inside Islam recap

All-American Muslim, a reality TV show we covered in 2011. Photo: TLC

It’s fitting to end Inside Islam where we started. When we first began the project, we focused heavily on Islam in popular culture and media. Our first shows and posts focused on Muslim youth and new media, videobloggers, and even fashion.

Our focus on cultural topics was deliberate. In our efforts to break down stereotypes about Islam, our strategy was to humanize Muslims by showing them engaged in activities non-Muslims could relate to. Popular culture has always cut across cultural and geographic borders, so we focused heavily on the medium. Continue reading

Women in Islam: An Inside Islam recap


Farah Pandith, a former radio guest on Inside Islam. Photo: www.state.gov

One of the most popular topics here on Inside Islam has been gender, primarily focusing on women. That’s no coincidence, given that Islam’s attitude towards women is generally portrayed in Western media as retrograde and repressive.

And there’s certainly plenty to criticize. Over our four years, we have highlighted cases like that of Amina Filali, a Moroccan girl who committed suicide after being forced to marry her rapist, and Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani, an Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned for adultery. We have also addressed issues such as domestic abuse and how key texts have been interpreted to discriminate against women, to ban women drivers, and to justify practices like child marriage.

But while our goal has never been to whitewash problematic issues, at the same time the standard mainstream rhetoric regarding Muslim women oversimplifies things and only further disempowers them. There has been a general inability to look beyond the veil when discussing Muslim women. Non-Muslim women or men who preach to Muslim women because they choose to cover their heads or accept certain circumstances tend to fall into the trap of portraying all Muslim women as a single entity without agency. They miss the movement within Islam itself to empower women.

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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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Ramadan: An Inside Islam recap


Ramadan Kareem to all our readers! Photo: desertpeace.wordpress.com

Ramadan starts tomorrow, and for the next month, Muslims around the world will be fastingfeasting, and celebrating. Ramadan is also a deeply reflective time as Muslims worldwide count their blessings and develop spiritually.

We have covered Ramadan from various perspectives over the years, and as Inside Islam heads towards a close, it’s a good time to recap some of what we’ve discussed. In fact, Inside Islam is historically linked to Ramadan, as our first very radio show was held during Ramadan, on September 19, 2008.

So here’s a rundown of our coverage of Ramadan over the years. Continue reading

Islam in France


Praying in the streets was banned in France in 2011. Photo: Bbc.co.uk

A recent article in National Geographic speculates that Marseilles may become the first city in Europe with a majority Muslim population. Official statistics are unavailable, but experts estimate that about 30 percent of the southeastern French city is Muslim.

Although the city is known for its tolerance, France as a whole is not, especially when it comes to its Muslim population. The country is home to about 6 million Muslims (the largest number in Western Europe), and is known for its bans on burqas, niqab, and for considering banning halal meat. Praying in the streets was also banned in 2011. At the end of 2011, the French Council of the Muslim Faith, an umbrella organization for various Muslim groups, released a study saying Islamophobia is on the rise in the country.

I spoke with John Bowen, Professor of Anthropology at Washington University in St. Louis about Islam in France. Bowen is the author of Can Islam be French? Pluralism and Pragmatism in a Secularist State. Continue reading

Islam and Labor


Photo: thegrindstone.com

On Wednesday I attended a talk by former Wisconsin senator Russ Feingold on the role the interfaith community plays in the labor movement. Although the talk was organized by the Interfaith Coalition for Worker Justice, no one I spoke to (including Feingold) was able to give me an Islamic perspective on labor and worker’s rights. So I decided to look it up myself.

I found two wonderful papers, one by Adnan Zulfiqar and another by Radwa Elsaman, that explain what the Qur’an and sharia law say about labor-related issues. Unsurprisingly, they reveal an astonishingly modern conception of worker’s right. Continue reading

Is Islam compatible with [blank]?

Here’s a quick exercise: go to Google and start typing the following: “Is Islam compatible with.” What are some of the predictions Google gives you for the end of that sentence? I get: Is Islam compatible with democracy? Is Islam compatible with modernity? Is Islam compatible with secular pluralistic societies? Is Islam compatible with evolution?

Google search predictions for the phrase "Is Islam compatible with..."

In comparison, when I type, “Is Christianity compatible with,” I get evolution, capitalism, yoga, and free masonry. Hinduism gets only one prediction: Christianity. Buddhism gets science, Christianity, atheism, and Judaism. Incidentally, there are no predictions for “Is Judaism compatible with.”

When Google predicts the end of your search, they’re looking for results based on what others before have searched for frequently. So although the exercise is admittedly trite, the message could not be clearer. People (or at least people who use Google) question Islam’s compatibility with fundamental political ideologies (democracy, modernity, secularism) much more regularly than they do other religions. Continue reading

Banning Male Circumcision in Cologne, Germany


An upcoming mosque in Cologne. Photo: The Guardian, UK

We have written about female circumcision and the difference between circumcision and female genital mutilation here on Inside Islam, but male circumcision, a common practice in Muslim communities, has not been discussed. Many other groups also circumcise male children for both religious and non-religious reasons. The World Health Organization estimates that about a third of men internationally are circumcised. Around 70% of them are Muslims.

But on Tuesday, a German court in Cologne condemned the practice of circumcising boys, saying that it violates a “fundamental right to bodily integrity.” Continue reading

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

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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