Mixing in Mosques: An Influence of Neighborhood Norms

Tamil Muslim Children Photo: Dennis McGilvray

A few days prior to my departure from India in August, I ventured south from Hyderabad to the old French colony of Puducherry (Pondicherry), situated on the Bay of Bengal. I had a few minutes before my overnight bus journey back to Hyderabad and I decided to take a quick tour around the neighborhood to get a flavor of the area. Upon turning the corner of an old Hindu temple and noticing posters of Hindu gods transitioning to signs in Urdu and other objects marking the Muslim section of the neighborhood, I came across a typical 3-story white and green mosque.

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Finding a Place to Pray in the Land of Yogurt

The Acropolis, Athens, Greece Photo: Colin Christopher

While traveling around the Balkans a few year back, it was crystal clear to me that the people of the region have a long memory of their history, and that racism and hatred are far from notions of the past. The Balkans have been the stage for a host of conflicts, both recent and ancient, and the latest developments in Athens highlight age-old tensions related to identity. Amid “fear of an uprising from Muslims,” the Greek Parliament passed an environmental bill with an amendment approving the construction of a large Athens mosque. Nearly two-thirds of Parliament supported the bill. The mosque would serve as a central point of Islamic worship for Athens’s approximately 200,000 Muslim residents. Anti-Muslim activists have accused the Greek Government of “giving in,” and often point to the violent clashes of 2010 between Muslims and other groups related to a Greek law enforcement official stepping on a Qur’an.

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Attempted Attack on Mosque in US

On January 24th in Dearborn, Michigan, Roger Stockham, a 63-year-old Vietnam veteran, was arrested at a traffic stop near the Islamic Center of America, one of the largest mosques in the United States. Police got a tip after Stockham went to a local bar and bragged that he was going to cause a big explosion. Police officers found explosives in the trunk of his car.

This is not the first time that Stockham has been in trouble with the law. In 1977,  he held a psychiatrist hostage and, in 1985, planted a bomb in an airport in Nevada. He also threatened to kill President George W. Bush. According to some sources, Stockham says that after returning from Vietnam he converted to Islam and is now part of an Indonesian mujahadin group. It is not clear, then, why he would target a mosque. Moreover, Stockham rejected to be represented by a Muslim lawyer. Stockham faces 20 years in prison on a terrorism charge.

This story comes after increased attacks on mosques around the United States, according to the Council of America- Islamic Relations. Interestingly, this story did not get much attention in mainstream media. Some may argue that it was because of the protests in Egypt that began the next day. However, I have to wonder if it had been an attempted attack by a Muslim on a major church, what kind of coverage that story would receive.

Did you hear about this story? What was your reaction? Why do you think there was little mention of this attempted attack in the news? Please share your thoughts below.

Akbar Ahmed’s “Journey into America”

An upcoming Inside Islam radio show on November 2nd will focus on Akbar Ahmed’s book Journey into America: The Challenge of Islam, in which the author talks about his visits to over 100 mosques in over 75 U.S. cities. Ahmed points out that the mosque is the most representative symbol of Islam, yet most people do not know what goes on inside them.

Ahmed and his team asked the following questions in their study: How can a Muslim become accepted fully as an “American,” and what does that mean? How do American Muslims of Arab descent differ from those of other origins? Why are so many white woman converting to Islam? This study offers insight into these questions and others that some may have about mosques. Continue reading

All-Female Mosques in China

One of the stereotypes of Islam is that  it forces women to be subservient and prevents them from full participation in society. While there are societies that I would argue do misappropriate the faith to serve their own interpretations, numerous examples exist of how Muslim women not only participate, but take on leadership roles. One such example is in China where Muslim women not only have their own mosques, but also have their own female imams.

China is not often thought of when one discusses Islam, but it should be. Not only does it have over 20 million Muslims (much larger than the American Muslim population), it has the unique tradition of independent all-women mosques. Some of these mosques date from over 100 years ago and the imams are formally trained. Many of the women’s mosques began as Qur’anic schools for girls, providing education they were not able to find elsewhere. Continue reading

Banning Minarets

Mosque in Zurich

On November 29th, a referendum was passed in Switzerland to ban the building of minarets. The referendum passed with a 57% majority vote and a 53% voter turnout. Many in the Swiss government have opposed the referendum but according to the Swiss system the referendum will be added to the Constitution.  There are a number of aspects of this recent vote that are troubling. Continue reading