Important Sites: Al-Azhar

Cairo, in Egypt, houses one of the oldest mosques and universities. Al-Azhar Mosque and University is now the foremost Sunni institution in the world. Al-Azhar mosque was the first in Cairo, the capitol of the Fatimid Caliphate. The university followed and became the second oldest continuously running academic institution after Al-Qarawiyyin. Al-Azhar, part of a series on important sites in Islam, is the focus of this post. Continue reading

Indonesia’s Islamic Environmental Boarding Schools

Today’s Inside Islam radio show, Green Faith, will preview the upcoming event Green Faith: An Interfaith Conversation on Eco-Consciousness and Activism, to be held at the Pyle Center at UW-Madison on Tuesday, March 6th. Jean Feraca will speak with Anna M. Gade, UW-Madison Associate Professor and expert on eco-Islam in Indonesia, and Cal DeWitt, UW-Madison Professor and author of Earthwise: A Biblical Response to Environmental Issues. (Broadcast details follow below.) In addition to today’s radio show, earlier posts here on the blog have explored Muslim and Christian perspectives.


Indonesia is home to more Muslims than any other country, with 205 million, or 13% of all Muslims worldwide. In addition to being the world’s largest archipelago, Indonesia is also one of the most eco-conscious places on the planet. We’ve talked about eco-Islam in Indonesia before and it is one of the foci of our Green Faith series because the country’s combination of biodiversity, religions, and cultural traditions have formed the basis for the unparalleled development of widespread integration of faith and environmentalism.

The video above is an environmentally focused religious song performed by students from Pondok Pesantren Al-Ittifaq, an Indonesian environmental boarding school, or pesantren. An expression of love for God, eco-consciousness, and artistry are all rolled into one, as students integrate the idea of environmentalism naturally with other aspects of their daily life.

Since the 1950s, Islamic environmental pesantren have been teaching students the importance of stewardship and the deepening of their faith through a higher level of environmental consciousness and activism. It’s also important to point out that “environmental activism” as seen in the U.S. may be understood differently in an Indonesian context. Environmental practices such as water conservation and the planting of trees are commonplace practices in Indonesia and not necessarily viewed as uniquely progressive, political, or radical acts.


Anna M. Gade, filmmaker of the clip above and Associate Professor in UW-Madison’s Department of Languages and Cultures of Asia, has been studying the intersection of Islamic practices, community initiatives, and government policies in Indonesia for over a decade. Gade and renowned Evangelist environmental steward and scholar, Cal DeWitt, will speak to Jean on today’s Here on Earth radio broadcast about faith-based environmentalism, from both local and global perspectives.

How to Listen and Participate

Important Sites: University of Al-Qarawiyyin

Fes, a city in Morocco, houses what many deem to be the oldest university in the world. The University of Al-Qarawiyyin was founded in 859 C.E.; it was initially part of a mosque built by Fatima Fihriya, the daughter of a wealthy merchant. Fatima decided to use all of her inheritance to build a mosque; later, the university was established. The University of Al-Qarawiyyin is the oldest continuously operating degree-granting university and the focus of this post, the latest in a series on important sites in Islam. Continue reading

Green Faith: A Muslim Perspective

This is the first in a new series within Inside Islam that will explore the intersection of faith and environmentalism. Posts here on the blog by diverse religious leaders and community activists are leading up to an interfaith panel discussion (to be held in Madison on March 6th) and a radio show on the topic. Specifics on those events follow below.


Huda Alkaff is the founder and director of the Islamic Environmental Group of Wisconsin (IEG) and president of Wisconsin Interfaith Power & Light. She taught ecology at UW-Oshkosh and has spent over a decade working as an advocate for environmental justice, initiating Muslim and interfaith programs focused on energy, water, and land conservation. In addition to orchestrating the Green Ramadan project, Alkaff has also led IEG’s monthly environmental awareness campaign.

Huda Alkaff feeding a llama at the Eco-Justice Center in Racine, Wisconsin

Believe it or not, I have been an environmentalist since I was a child. Back then, I remember being asked the famous question from the adults in my family and my teachers, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” Remember that question? To everyone’s surprise, my answer was “An ecologist, an environmentalist!” I was and still am fascinated by nature, the sea (my best friend) and all its inhabitants, the mountains, the stars, the trees, the birds, etc. And I wanted to learn more about them.

Ecology is the study of interconnections and interdependence among everything in space and in time. Systems Ecology interested me the most since it looks into the big picture and studies patterns, processes, and relationships among different parts. The continuous attempt at establishing connections is the driving force for my ongoing work to build strong and sustainable bridges between the environmental teachings in Islam and my university environmental training and education.

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Important Sites: The Dome of the Rock

Jerusalem, a sacred city to Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, houses Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock. Both Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, known in Arabic as Masjid Qubbat as-Sakhrah, are built on the Temple Mount in the Old City in Jerusalem.

The entire area is referred to as Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary, and is sacred to Muslims because the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven from that area during the Night Journey. The Dome of the Rock is probably more widely recognized than Al-Aqsa because of its architecture. The focus of this post, the fourth in a series on important sites, is the Dome of the Rock. Continue reading

Islam’s Open Door Policy

Come, come whoever you are.
Wanderer, worshipper, lover of leaving.
It doesn’t matter.
Ours is not a caravan of despair.
Come, even if you have broken your vow a hundred times.
Come, yet again, come, come.

         -Jalal-ud-din Rumi, 13th-century Persia

Rumi’s words, translated into countless languages, constitute one of the most profound vehicles through which Muslims and non-Muslims alike have understood Islam. This particular quote captures the forgiveness, mercy, and compassion of God, all foundational principles within Islam. Continue reading

Important Sites: Al-Aqsa Mosque

Jerusalem, a sacred city in all the Abrahamic faiths, houses the third holiest site in Islam. Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Farthest Mosque, is believed by Muslims to be the second mosque on earth after the Kaba. This ancient structure and the surrounding area that now includes the Dome of the Rock is referred to by Muslims as Al-Haram Al-Sharif, the Noble Sanctuary. The focus of this post, the third in a series on important sites of Islam, is Al-Aqsa Mosque. Continue reading

Important Sites: The Prophet’s Mosque

Medina, in Saudi Arabia, houses Al-Masjid Al-Nabawi, the Prophet’s Mosque. This mosque is the second holiest site in Islam after the Kaba and the Sacred Mosque in Mecca. It was built after the hijra from Mecca to Medina in 622 C.E. Many Muslims performing the hajj will try to go visit this holy mosque as well. The focus of this post, the second in a series on important sites, is the Prophet’s Mosque.

The Prophet’s Mosque today stands on the site of the mosque first built by the Prophet Muhammad near his house in Medina. Originally, the mosque was an open-air building made of palm trunks and mud walls. The Prophet included a section in the mosque called the suffah, a shady place where strangers and needy people could take shelter. The mosque served several purposes: a place of worship, a community center, a court, and a religious school. Initially, the prayers faced Jerusalem; however, the qibla was later changed to Mecca. Continue reading

Differences of Opinion

Image: Stuart Miles

Hussam Sehwail is a Palestinian-American Muslim and graduate student of electrical engineering at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

We often find Muslims arguing with each other about differences between their actions: “Why do you pray with your hands like that?”, “You’re washing yourself the wrong way,” and other similar statements frequently heard in mosques. This is especially true in multicultural Muslim communities common in Western countries. Although many grow up with whatever customs their parents follow, they may fail to realize that other Muslims might act differently than they do. Hence, it would be of benefit to understand why Muslims may have some differences with regards to religious practices.

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Important Sites: The Kaba

Mecca, the sacred city in Saudi Arabia, houses the holiest site in Islam. The Kaba, the ancient house of God, is the geographical and historical center of the Muslim worldview. Five times a day, Muslims around the world face this holy site, called the qibla, in prayer. Once a year, pilgrims from all over the world, travel to the Kaba to perform the hajj. The focus of this post, the first in a series on important sites, is the Kaba.

The Kaba is a cubical structure  about 60 feet high and 60 feet wide. It is surrounded now by Al-Masjid Al-Haram, the Sacred Mosque, the largest mosque in the world. Near the Kaba is the Well of Zamzam and the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwa. Both the well and the hills are significant because they are part of the story of Hagar’s search for water for her son Ishmael. Continue reading