A few months ago, I wrote about the Muslim 500, an annual review of the most influential Muslims around the world. The Royal Islamic Strategic Centre (RISC) has also published a number of other periodicals that can be downloaded for free. Although its textual resources serve as useful guides on Islam for novices and scholars alike, the RISC’s most important contribution goes back to its foundation in Amman, Jordan, based on a few key principles known as the Three Points of the Amman Message. Among other goals, RISC is using its resources and political clout to promote a “moderate” brand of Islam around the world.
Mohamed Ghilan is a Muslim-Canadian of Yemeni and Sudanese decent and a graduate student of neuroscience at the University of Victoria, British Columbia. Ghilan has formally studied Islam for the past four years and offers his own perspectives related to topics in Islam on his blog.
A disease that has taken over many Muslims nowadays is religious egocentrism—the over-obsession with one’s own religious understanding to the point of it becoming dogmatic. If this were to remain confined to one’s own life, it would not warrant much attention. But when it moves into the public sphere and people begin to enforce their beliefs upon everyone else, it becomes a problem.
This past fall, Brooklyn-based international hip hop star Mos Def (Dante Terrell Smith) announced that he is changing his name in 2012 to Yasiin Bey. Bey reverted to Islam in 1992 at the age of 19, just before his career as a hip hop artist took off. Famous for his collaboration with Talib Kweli in the duo Black Star and subsequent solo work, Bey will move forward with his music and acting careers under his new name. This Friday, Bey will officially perform under his new identity for the first time and rap in front of hometown fans at New York City’s Highline Ballroom.
The decision to change his name highlights an issue faced by many Muslims. Since approximately one fourth of all practicing Muslims in the US identify as reverts or converts, it’s a common topic for many that taps into a range of emotions related to personal identity.
Amir Ahmad Nasr, aka Drima from The Sudanese Thinker blog, recently created a project exploring new media—a source of information that altered his life many times. From fundamentalism to heartbreak and disillusionment, and finally to his current spiritual practice of Sufism, Nasr says he was greatly influenced by the internet and the different kinds of religious resources that he read throughout his Islamic spiritual development.
His new project, The Future of Islam in the Age of New Media, highlights the perspectives of 60 academics, scholars, and bloggers on how access to new media has shaped Islam and Muslims around the world. While most contributors see the internet as a “democratizing force,” some warn of the dangers that arise with equal access and speak about the potential hazards of providing a platform for anyone and everyone to offer their voice. Continue reading
Among the negative images of Islam is that apostasy is believed to be punishable by execution. The most recent example of this is in Iran where a pastor was convicted of apostasy and faces execution by hanging. Pastor Youcef Nadarkhani was born to Muslim parents but did not practice Islam. He converted to Christianity when he was 19 and is now a pastor in the Protestant Evangelical Church of Iran. Nadrakhani was arrested in October 2009 when he protested that his son was forced to read from the Qur’an. Iranian state media, however, later reported that the real charges were rape, extortion, and security-related crimes. His case has received international attention and pressure has been put on the Iranian government to release him. Continue reading
The question above was recently posed by 28-year-old New York University Imam Khalid Latif during a class session teaching Muslims about Ramadan. Latif, a Princeton graduate and also the youngest chaplain ever of the New York City Police Department, has gained a strong following throughout the Northeast and among English-speaking Muslims around the world through his social justice-oriented khutbahs, or Friday sermons, posted through podcasts. His Ramadan class lectures and khutbahs pose questions rarely discussed within Muslim communities and often hit at the heart of the Prophet Muhammad’s most emphasized point: lead by example and don’t judge others. Continue reading
Islamic extremists have one thing in common with many American media outlets: they don’t understand what Sufism is. Often referred to as “liberal Islam,” even major reputable news sources attempt to boil down an integral part of Islamic tradition into a single, ambiguous word. A growing number of Islamic extremists accuse Sufis of idol worship, or shirk, and have recently taken to violence, destroying Sufi shrines and killing Sufi worshipers in the name of purifying Islam. These extremists understand neither Sufism nor Islamic law justifying the killing of humans, and are part of an increasingly large group of both non-Muslims and Muslims that characterize Sufism in a way that benefits them.
Emerging Muslim communities, from Warsaw to Washington, D.C., hold their Friday prayer services in various locations. Some small, urban mosques in North America and Europe rent space in undesirable neighborhoods, often near or next to sex shops or liquor stores, while other Muslim communities expand their presence with opulent developments. One group of D.C. metro area residents has started its own mosque in an unusual place–a public library.
Last Monday afternoon in Balad Ruz, a small Diyala town near the border of Iran, a young Sunni police officer name Bilal Ali Muhammad made the ultimate sacrifice and died to save the lives of dozens around him. While public displays of grief and sorrow are commonplace among Ashura observers, this year’s Muharram was especially painful for Muslims in Iraq’s Diyala province.
The Muslim Students Association is hosting Islam Awareness Week 2010 on the UW-Madison campus this week. I interviewed the association in September 2009 and it reminded me that religion doesn’t just live in sacred books or buildings but more in people. There is no better way to understand Islam than to get to know its people. If you are in the area, I hope you’ll find some time to go to the events. Continue reading