Omar Ibn Said: A Muslim American Slave

Among the millions of slaves brought to North America through the transatlantic slave trade, several million were Muslims. Some of these people were literate and left behind manuscripts that attest to their experience of slavery, their continued commitment to Islam, and their ability to negotiate a space to express their identities. In the next Inside Islam radio show on November 7th, Jean will talk with Ala Alryyes, the author of the book  A Muslim American Slave: The Arabic ‘Life’ of Omar Ibn Said. In his work, Alryyes examines Omar Ibn Said‘s autobiography, which he maintains is “the only extant Arabic autobiography written by a slave in the United States.” Continue reading

Should the Khutbah be in English?

Growing up in the United States, I assumed that the language of the khutbah, the Muslim Friday sermon, was not an issue of serious contention. Since my community is very diverse, the common language is English. Arabic is used when the Qur’an is cited, hadith related, and supplications recited. However, the English translations are usually provided. Of course, there are many communities with a large percentage of a particular immigrant group in which Arabic, Urdu, Somali, etc. are used.

I always assumed that the reason why English was used in my community stemmed from the need for the congregation to comprehend and reflect on the message of the sermon, which they could only do if they understand the language. Moreover, since many Muslim Americans like me grow up being exposed to Arabic but not necessarily understanding it, it was important to find a way to make young Muslims feel connected to the mosque and language plays a big role in that. Continue reading

What’s in a Name?


An uproar is occurring in a perhaps unexpected place. This past week Malaysia witnessed rising tensions as several churches have been vandalized. These tensions are the result of a court ruling in which a government ban on the use of Allah by Christians was overturned. Proponents of the ban argue that the term Allah should be reserved only for Muslims because they believe that Christians are using the term to get converts and that its use by other faith communities will end up confusing Muslims. The violence that has resulted, in my view, is problematic and sad. Continue reading

Interview with Arabic Students

Despite the fact that the vast majority of Muslims do not live in Arabic-speaking countries, Arabic is still the language of Islam. As images of the prophet Muhammad are forbidden, Islam relies heavily on language to pass down ideas and stories from generation to generation. Language is, of course, open to multiple interpretations, mistranslations, and misunderstandings. For example, jihad, literally meaning “striving in the path of God,” can be understood as both an internal struggle to live a moral and virtuous life and an external struggle against injustice and oppression. But in English, unfortunately, the word is often translated to “holy war” and implies fanatical violence against non-believers of Islam. This is just one example why an in-depth knowledge of Arabic is important to both Muslims and non-Muslims.

More and more Americans, especially young people, are realizing the critical role of the Arabic language in breaking down misperceptions about Islam and in working with Muslim communities. As a result of 9/11, enrollment in Arabic in American colleges increased by 126.5% from 2002 to 2006. This fall, 225 students are taking Arabic at UW-Madison, up from 120 students in fall 2006 and the UW’s summer Arabic language program continues to grow. Earlier this month I talked to a few students in a first-semester Arabic class to see how their perceptions of Islam and the Muslim world might differ from others. Continue reading

One in Four are Muslim

From The Pew Forum

From The Pew Forum

A couple weeks ago, the US Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a study that has received a great deal of attention. According to a three-year study of over 232 countries, the population of Muslims worldwide is now 1.57 billion, which means that one out of every four people in the world is a Muslim. Although the number was above some of the researchers’ expectations, what really makes this study fascinating is what it discovered about the details of this overall population. Continue reading

Islamic College in America

zaytuna-collegeWhen choosing the right college to attend, not many people think of an Islamic college. That’s about to change. Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir, two prominent Muslim scholars, are planning to create the first accredited Islamic college in the United States, to be called Zaytuna College. The goal of the college is to teach Arabic and Islamic studies in the context of American culture. The founders argue that the Muslim American community is in need of scholars who not only are familiar with American culture, but actually come out of it and thus will be much more in tune with the needs of the community. Continue reading

Arabic: The Language of Islam

ist2_882327-ahlan-wasahlanHow many people who study Arabic now realize its importance in the Muslim worldview and the complexity of the language situation in the Muslim community worldwide? Arabic, the classical form of the language, is the language of the Qur’an. When Muslims from all over the world recite the Qur’an, they do it in Arabic. Since the classical form of Arabic is a liturgical language, many Muslims will study it on some level in order to pray and read the Qur’an itself and other Islamic texts. In the Arabic-speaking countries of the world, in addition to the religious realm, the standard form of the language continues to be the language of poetry, much of the literature, news, and basically anything formal. While there are spoken forms of Arabic that are specific to each country and even city, many people hold the standard form of Arabic in high esteem because of its connection to the Qur’an. In some Arab countries, writers who push to use the colloquial form of Arabic in the place of standard Arabic face a challenge because of the connection that the latter has to the Qur’an. Continue reading

Global Dialogue and Social Translation

Meedan, or “gathering place” in Arabic, is the name of a social translation and community-building project for English and Arabic speakers. The online network provides a free and interactive translation service to all who register. Registered users can also create profiles and connect with others based on similar interests, and/or location regardless of language differences. Comments, news articles, and blog posts are translated from the user’s native language using an evolving Machine Translation service.

Continue reading

Islam and Feminism in a Global World

As discussed in my post yesterday, Pope Benedict XVI brought the tensions between Muslims and Catholics into the open and discussed them with religious leaders at a conference this month. The conference was held to address the open letter from Muslim leaders who were offended by a speech the Pope made in 2006. They demanded a dialogue to dispel the stereotype that Islam is inherently irrational and Muslims are prone to violence.

Continue reading

Turkish Soap Opera Sparks Controversy and Conversation


Gümü? Stars: Songül Öden and K?vanç Tatl?tu? (Source)

The Turkish soap opera Gümü?, or Noor in English, is a pop culture phenomenon across the Arab world. Actress Songül Öden plays Noor, a young Muslim woman and fashion entrepreneur. The romantic relationship she has with Muhannad, her husband on the show, has won over a broad following in Arab countries and incited media buzz around the world. The fact that the program originally flopped in Turkey, a secular nation-state, but is immensely popular in religiously conservative countries like Saudi Arabia raises fascinating questions about the relationship between Islam and Muslim culture.

Continue reading