Islam on Capitol Hill

islam-on-the-capitolOn September 25th, 2009, the first ever Jummah (Friday) Prayer service was held outside the US Capitol building in Washington, DC. The prayer event — called “Jummah Prayer: a Day of Islamic Unity”  — drew about 3,000 Muslims from around the country. Hassan Abdullah, the head of the Dar-ul-Salaam mosque and one of the main organizers of the event, said that he got the idea for  “Islam on Capitol Hill” after watching President Obama’s speech in Cairo this past June. Abdullah believed that the best way to counter continuing negative perceptions of Islam was to join together in a peaceful act that would show the spirituality and diversity of the Muslim communities. Although the event fell far short of its targeted size, the thousands who attended did follow the organizers’ hopes that the Day of Prayer would focus on spirituality and not politics or protest. Continue reading

Islam in China

This is a guest post by David Dettmann, Assistant Director of the Center for East Asian Studies at UW-Madison.

Presently I am teaching a course on Islam in China, including the largest Muslim groups in China, the Chinese-speaking Hui people and the Turkic-speaking Uyghur people. I have two goals with this course: to broaden the students’ perspectives of what constitutes China, and also to broaden the students’ views on who in the world practices Islam.

My first encounters with Islam were actually in China. After I arrived in China in 1995 to study in Guangzhou, I, like many other Americans, was very impressed by the diversity of the metropolis. I found and began to frequent restaurants operated by Hui (many Hui run superb beef noodle shops) and Uyghurs (Uyghur food is very similar to the foods of Eurasia: nan flatbread, kebabs, and rice pilaf). Continue reading

Islam in Three Words: Interview with Muslim Students

Religion doesn’t just live in sacred books or buildings. Religion lives in people. Therefore, I believe that one of the best ways to understand Islam is to get to know its people. Knowing few Muslims, I set out to find some and ask each of them a simple question: If you had only three words to describe Islam, what would they be? Continue reading

“Flying While Muslim”

flying-while-muslim2There have been many times that I have gone on trips and was “Flying While Muslim.” What does that mean? Well, this expression has come to describe the reality of travel for all Muslims, non-Muslim Arabs, and anyone who looks like they could be from the Middle East or any other region of the world perceived as predominantly Muslim. After 9/11, Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians became the target of racial and religious profiling that has resulted in longer waits in security and in some cases being removed from flights. Continue reading

“The Domestic Crusaders”

domesticMany Muslims in the United States will say that the events of September 11, 2001, changed their life and their outlook on their faith and their place as Americans. What it meant to be Muslim American acquired a new complexity and depth that was not true of earlier generations.  In order to deal with this new reality, Muslim Americans have found myriad ways to respond and redefine themselves–interfaith dialogues, rallies, Islamic studies, etc. Some, though, respond using literature, art, music, and now drama. Continue reading

Breaking the Fast: Eid ul-Fitr

Eid ul-Fitr Prayers in Mecca

Eid ul-Fitr Prayers in Mecca

This year’s observation of Ramadan ended on September 20th with the Eid ul-Fitr festivities. Muslims from around the world spent the day celebrating the completion of one of the pillars of Islam. Each year, Ramadan lasts either 29 or 30 days. The beginning and end are determined in different ways. In the United States, for example, the largest Muslim organization, The Islamic Society of North America, uses calculations while many other countries depend on moon sighting. This year, there was relative consensus on Sunday.

The Eid celebrations begin with a morning communal prayer followed by a sermon. The sermon for this holiday typically revolves around fasting and the consequent spiritual growth. Because of the diversity of the Muslim worldwide community, Eid festivities are colored by cultural traditions that are most obvious after the prayer and sermon are completed. Continue reading

Media and Islam: A Closer Look at the Messengers

Like many Americans, I knew little about Islam before 9/11 and had little interest. Eight years later, I have greater interest but still feel uninformed and frustrated. Even though the media and the Internet are filled with information about Islam, much of it is confusing, dubious, or outright wrong. I’m not sure which media sources, if any, provide credible and objective information about Islam and the Muslim world. One of our goals here at Inside Islam is try to sift through these various sources.

I end up getting all my news about the Muslim world from my usual news organizations: BBC, NPR, PBS, the New York Times, for example. But all of these tend to lump their coverage of Islam into their coverage of the Middle East. Moreover, they are all “outsider,” Western, non-Muslim media outlets. I wonder whether I’m getting a full and accurate picture of what’s going on in the life and minds of Muslim people.

newspaperI have reasons to worry. A national survey this month reports that press credibility is at its lowest level in two decades. Less than 30 percent of Americans say that news stories are accurate or free of bias. When a college junior from Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world, writes about what she misses about home while studying in America, “access to quality news broadcasting” is high on her list.

“I lament the moment when I turn to the TV Guide channel to find that BBC World, CNN International and ABC (the Australian Broadcasting Corporation) are replaced with FOX, CNN America and CNN Headline News. While the brightly-colored studios, extraneous props and chummy presenters on most American news channels lure me like a moth to flame, the content leaves me feeling uninformed. Somewhere along the line, something went wrong with the U.S. news media. … It feels like news channels are being run by ad agencies.”

Constructive dialogues and meaningful debates can happen only when all parties involved have educated themselves with adequate and accurate information. Right now I don’t feel informed enough to engage in or benefit from any debates about Islam. Working for Inside Islam gives me a chance to examine various media sources about Islam and become informed. In the coming months I’ll report here the results of my examination and exploration.

Where do you get your news about the Muslim world? Is there a good media source about Islam that you can recommend to me and other Americans? I appreciate your input.

Sunni? Shia? Or Just Muslim?

sunnishiaWhat is a Sunni? What is a Shia? These two labels–which many still struggle to clearly define–have been used to explain some of the most violent confrontations in recent years. Now it seems that discussions on the conflict in Iraq, for example, require framing the discourse with the colorings of sectarianism. In the mainstream media, it seems that the explanation for all intra-religious fighting is solely the result of longstanding discord between these two main divisions of Islam.

Personally, I never thought of myself as anything but Muslim. I suspect many other Muslims also share that sentiment. It was only in high school that I even became aware of the division. I would give talks with my friends about Islam and the question “Are you Sunni or Shia?” started to come up. Of course, your family and community play a big role in what you come to know and how you know it. Since my family was of Sunni background, I was raised in that tradition. However, I was never taught to hate or harbor ill will towards the Shia. They were Muslims who shared much with Sunnis but had certain religious doctrines that we just agreed to disagree about. Continue reading

Islam is Peace: Eight Years Later

loveandpeace3It has been 8 years since 9/11 and Muslims have been dealing with the reverberations of that event ever since. Anyone who can remember that day, remembers what they were doing when they heard the news. I remember being at work and having my boss tell me to be careful because not everyone will understand that it is not my fault. That day was a turning point for a lot of things, but most importantly the world community took a more active interest in Islam. Continue reading

Can a Muslim Woman Wear Pants?

wb4701tanOne of the assumptions about Islam that never seems to dissipate is that Islamic law is this rigid and incredibly harsh system that exacts punishments that are beyond what is tolerable in Western societies. Moreover, so the common discussion goes, when this law falls on women, it often means that they will be unfairly subjugated. Is any of this true? An article in the New York Times about Lubna Hussein, the Sudanese journalist who faced lashing for wearing pants, reminded me how much these issues infiltrate discussions on anything in the Middle East and Islam. Continue reading