Ramadan: A Time of Festivity

Muslims breaking their fast

Muslims breaking their fast

While many people may know that Ramadan is a month of fasting, they may not realize the social and cultural aspects of the month. Ramadan, as I mentioned in my first post on the topic, is probably the most social time of the year. In addition to more time in the mosque, Muslims spend more time socializing during Ramadan. Ramadan is definitely a time of festivity. Continue reading

Ramadan: The Month of the Qur’an

Taraweeh Prayers during Ramadan in Karachi, Pakistan

Taraweeh Prayers during Ramadan in Karachi, Pakistan

The ninth month of the Islamic calendar is the holiest month of the year. In order to begin the discussion on Ramadan in my posts this week, it is important to address first the religious and spiritual aspects of the month. Fasting during this sacred month was ordained in the Qur’an in a verse that says:

Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.(Chapter 2, verse 185) Continue reading

Ramadan: Fasting and much more!

ramadan-13The importance of Ramadan within the Muslim worldview cannot be emphasized enough. Every year in the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, Muslims all over the world fast from sunrise to sunset each day and many spend the month in increased prayer, reading of the Qur’an, and visiting with family and friends. Ramadan is probably the most social time of the year. Ramadan has religious, social, cultural, and even political and economic significance that should be addressed in any discussion of the month.

This week I will be writing about the different components of Ramadan and would like to hear your ideas for a radio show on the topic that will air during Ramadan. What aspects of Ramadan do you think are most significant? What are the different cultural components of Ramadan? Do any parts of Ramadan confuse you? What is the place of fasting in this day and age? Does fasting always produce spiritual growth? Do you think that women and men experience fasting differently? How does the experience of fasting depend on context? Did you know that in the Middle East television series flourish during Ramadan? Is this part of the social component? Can fasting be a foundation for interfaith initiatives?

These are just a few possible questions. Please share your ideas and questions and help us as we develop the next radio show.

“The 99”: Muslim Superheroes?

cover-of-the-first-issue-0011In July 2006, Naif al-Mutawa, a Kuwaiti clinical psychologist, launched the first Islamically themed superhero comics. Al-Mutawa began the series “The 99” to provide Muslim children with superheroes with whom they could identify. Perhaps surprisingly, half of the heroes are females. The name of the series stems from the 99 attributes of God outlined in the Qur’an, the holy text of Islam. Each of the 99 heroes embodies one of the attributes and represents some aspect of the core Islamic values. All the characters also come from different countries from around the world and thus represent the diversity of the worldwide Muslim community. Continue reading

Oregon Act: No Religious Attire in Schools?

Oregon State Capitol, Photo by Bonnie King

Oregon State Capitol, Photo by Bonnie King

I wrote a post last week about a resolution to add the Muslim holidays to school calendars in New York. Today, I head over to the other coast of the United States where a new act intended to broaden religious freedoms has several groups, among them Muslims and Sikhs, worried over one of its clauses. The Oregon Workplace Religious Freedom Act (Senate Bill 786) requires employers to accommodate employees’ observance of religious holidays and wearing of religious apparel in the workplace place provided that it doesn’t pose significant difficulty or expense to the businesses. On its surface this seems like a positive and tolerant step towards religious diversity. Continue reading

What about Eid?

On eid-stamp-picutre3June 30th, 2009, the New York City Council passed a resolution to add the Muslim holidays–Eid ul-Fitr and Eid ul-Adha–to the public schools’ holiday calendar. Both of these holidays are significant for Muslims worldwide as the first marks the end of Ramadan,the holy month of fasting, and the second marks the end of the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca. With Ramadan coming right around the corner, the last week in August, I can’t help but remember my own struggles growing up when I would miss school to celebrate these holidays with my family and friends. Many times, exams, group activities, presentations would be scheduled on one (sometimes both) of the two holidays and I would then have to reschedule or simply miss out on something important at school. This resolution would relieve many Muslim American students from having to make that difficult decision.

Continue reading

Review of “Reclaiming Islam”

Mosque in Duisberg, Germany. Photo from Archi Press

Mosque in Duisberg, Germany. Photo from Archi Press

I recently listened to a show from “To the Best of Our Knowledge,” a sister program to Inside Islam’s Here on Earth on Wisconsin Public Radio. The show titled “Reclaiming Islam” aired on June 12th, 2009, and featured a number of interesting guests: Reza Aslan, Tissa Hami, Christopher Caldwell, Youssou N’Dour & Chai Vasarhelyi, and Kamran Pasha (who will be joining Inside Islam on July 21st). I was impressed by both the vastness of the content and the coherence of the idea that underlay all of the guests’ contributions: the diversity of how Muslims relate to Islam. Echoing our message here on Inside Islam, “To the Best of Our Knowledge” nicely showed that there is no one manifestation of Islam and no one medium to explore what it means to be Muslim. Continue reading

Ayesha’s Story: Mother of the Believers


Update – This program is now available for streaming and free download from the Inside Islam archive.

What do people know about Ayesha, the youngest wife of the Prophet Muhammad? Her age is the focus of any discussion and seems responsible for the controversy around her. Many, however, do not know the extent of her influence on the history of Islam and the role she played in preserving much of what we know about the Prophet Muhammad. Ayesha was a teacher, a political leader, and a warrior.

Kamran Pasha, a Muslim Hollywood screenwriter and television producer and author of Mother of the Believers: A Novel of the Birth of Islam, will join us on our next Inside Islam radio program (July 21) to talk about Ayesha’s story. Continue reading

“Headscarf Martyr” Mourned

Where can someone start with the story that has occupied Egyptian news media outlets for the past few days? It sounds so outrageous and so sad. How can a 32-year-old pregnant woman get murdered in a courtroom in Germany in full view of  witnesses? But it did happen and now Muslim communities around the Middle East and the world are struggling to cope with the news.

Marwa El-Sherbini, who was a few months pregnant, was stabbed in a German courtroom in Dresden 18 times on July 1st, 2009, in front of her 3-year-old son and her husband. The assailant was a man that she had sued for insulting her religion and calling her a terrorist and Islamist as well as for trying to take her scarf off in one incident. Her husband, Elwi Ali Okaz, an academic on scholarship, tried to rescue his wife and was shot by a security guard and stabbed by the attacker and is now in critical condition.

El-Sherbini is now being referred to as the ‘Headscarf Martyr’ because she was killed so violently, defending her right to practice her faith peacefully. On Monday, July 6th, thousands attended her funeral in Alexandria, Egypt, and are wondering why someone so young died because of another’s extreme hatred. More troubling is the relative silence in the media about this story. Isn’t her death important as well if there is a call for tolerance and civility?!?

When I heard about this story on Egyptian television, I knew that I had to write about it. I know that President Obama called for a spirit of tolerance worldwide so that we can begin to move away from this kind of destructive hatred. It’s important to be aware of and counter hatred that leads to violence no matter where it occurs. Now one more person has lost her life for no other reason than her wish to practice her faith.

Did you hear about this story? What is your reaction? What should the world’s reaction be to her murder? Do you think Muslims in the United States and elsewhere face similar struggles? Please share your comments.

When Poetry Meets Twitter



When hundreds of thousands of Iranians took to the street to protest against the presidential election results last month, many of them also flooded to Twitter, a popular social networking tool, to distribute information and voice their opinions. In the torrent of tweets from Iran, one voice stands out with its Persian prose and poetic power. That voice belongs to Parham Baghestani,  a 26-year-old engineering student and web developer from Isfahan. “My love has gone underground. The taste of night is nothing but awareness.” His tweets like this one caught the attention of NPR and landed him an interview on the Weekend Edition program. When poetry meets Twitter, readers are just one click away from the poet, but more importantly, the poet knows exactly who is following his words. He’s not alone, he’s within a network of readers, a network of support.

Parham's tweet

Parham's tweet

“Poets are the refuge of every wounded nation,” Roger Cohen of The New York Times wrote. When their voices are silenced in official media during political turmoils, poets with a will to speak will find another outlet. In China, the country where I grew up, underground poets posted their poems on a wall along a busy street in Beijing during the democracy movement in the winter of 1978. Twitter is much harder to close down than a brick wall. A network of readers in cyberspace is much harder to dispel than a crowd on a street. Poets in Iran, one tweet at a time, shall always have their voices heard.

Have you come across any poetry in Twitter? Do you know any other creative use of Twitter during the protests in Iran? What other technologies are useful in getting around information censorship? Please share with us by commenting on this entry.