Islam In America

Islam In America

“Our American Heritage”: 49th Annual ISNA Convention

posted by Suzy Shuraym

Grave Marker in Quartzite, Arizona

Altaf Husain started the session on “Our American Heritage” during the 49th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America with a challenge. “Who are we as a community,” he asked the audience on Sunday [2 September 2012]. “What does it mean to be an American Muslim?” A resident of Cleveland, Ohio, his specialty is working with immigrant and refugee families.

Most Americans still see Muslims through a “foreign” prism. “That way, it’s easy to ‘otherize’ Americans who are Muslim,” he said. “We need to take our narrative to the public sphere.”

However, what was pitched as a session on uncovering Muslim American history turned out to be a promotion for America’s Islamic Heritage Museum, which opened on April 30, 2011, in Washington, D.C.

The first panelist was Amir N. Muhammad, president of the museum board, and the second, Matthew Brooks, was introduced as museum staff.

Mr. Muhammad gave a quick overview of the history of Muslims in North America, from the Moriscos who arrived with the Spanish through the subset of African slaves who were Muslim to the present day.

Mr. Brooks examined Latin America’s Islamic heritage, especially in the regions of Mexico and Peru. He noted that many came to this hemisphere under false names because, officially, Muslims were not allowed to travel to the New World during the Colonial period.

Both noted that research was scant on the topic, and both said that more work was in order.

To this writer, who has conducted research on Islam in America, it seemed at times during the session that current scholarship was missing entirely (for example, the Melungeons of Appalachia have been identified through DNA as free descendants of unions between white women and African men in colonial Virginia, not as descendants of “Moors”).

It also seemed that the panelists were conflating Orientalism with Islamic heritage — for example, concluding that Moorish design motifs were evidence of Muslim influence rather than a fleeting Western fashion for Middle Eastern design.

It is this writer’s opinion that poorly documented narratives do nothing to enhance the image of Islam in America — which does, indeed, have a long and rich history.

Dr. Husain noted that Muslims are a part of the American mosaic. “If we don’t invest in uncovering the past, we’re not investing in our future,” he pointed out. “Muslims have contributed to America; we make the United States a better place.”

During the question and answer session, one commentator pointed out that a more critical analysis of Muslim history needs to be done. This writer couldn’t agree more.

(Photo courtesy of Collections & Stories of American Muslims)

“Forming a More Perfect Union”: 49th ISNA Convention

posted by Suzy Shuraym

Mustafa Tameez

What should be the role of Muslims in politics? That was the question before the panel Saturday morning [September 1, 2012] at the 49th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America in Washington, D.C.

First up was Mustafa Tameez, founder and managing director Outreach Strategists in Houston, Texas. A seasoned political strategist, he suggested that the problems for Muslims came from people “at the margins” of American life.

Noting that the United States is a country of immigrants, he suggested that “our focus has to be broader than earning our right to be part of the fabric of this nation. We will help make it stronger.”

Tameez noted that “if others have succeeded, so can we. We must be active citizens where we live and start by serving our local communities.”

Azizah al-Hibri

Azizah al-Hibri, founder and President of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights, pointed out that part of the “problem” is that Muslims have been “painted as a political not a religious group”, just as “terrorism by the few” has tainted the many.

She suggested forming something like a council of political elders — both male and female — to sift through the welter of anti-Muslim rhetoric in the U.S. and formulate strategies to combat the falsehoods.

Nihad Awad

The third panelist, Nihad Awad, is the Executive Director and co-founder of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. He pointed out that his organization, a civil rights and advocacy group, is prohibited by law from endorsing candidates.

He nonetheless called on the audience to be politically active.
“It is not an option to boycott the upcoming election,” Awad said. “We have to be civically engaged so that our leaders stand out and are part of the decision-making process.” Photo-ops are fine, but “access is not influence”, he said.

Al-Hibri agreed. “We need to be ‘in the room’ making our voices heard,” she noted, but “we should not overvalue gestures.”

The controversy over shari’a was discussed, with Al-Hibri (a former law professor) noting that the laws passed in the U.S. as a result were “either unconstitutional or redundant” because “of course U.S. law is supreme in U.S. courts”.

The moderator for the panel was Suhail Khan, a senior political appointee in the Bush administration who described himself as a conservative Republican. He said that the “no foreign laws” movement by the GOP was to counter environmental regulations that the United Nations intended to impose on the U.S., not a response to concerns about shari’a.

In their concluding statements, all three panelists encouraged the audience in civic engagement. “It’s important to empower our children to become politically active,” emphasized Tameez.

Awad added that political activity “is not enough. We also need to be socially active and ‘give back’ to show the human face of the Muslim community.”

Al-Hibri agreed: “If you don’t volunteer in your community, you’ll always be on the fringe.”

(Photos courtesy of Outreach Strategists, University of Richmond and CAIR)

Overview of Objectives of Shari’a: 49th ISNA Convention

posted by Suzy Shuraym

Muzammil Siddiqi and Muneer Fareed discussed shari’a in an afternoon session today (August 31, 2012) at the 49th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America in the Washington (D.C.) Convention Center.

Dr. Siddiqi (pictured), chairman of the Fiqh Council of North America, started with the translation of the Arabic word, shari’a, into English, noting that it meant “to begin”, “to enact”, “to lay down”. It’s “something enacted” to “show the way to the source of happiness,” he noted, adding that it’s “not just laws and rules, but also acts of worship”.

“Shari’a is a source of guidance for those sure of their faith,” he said. This guidance comes from both the Qu’ran and the Hadith.

“The United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights are not in conflict with Shari’a,” Dr. Siddiqi emphasized. “We do not see a confict with Islam. We are equal citizens without losing our Muslim identity. We can be faithful Muslims and loyal Americans.”

Dr. Fareed, director for the Centre for Contemporary Islam, pointed out that Shari’a is applied on three separate and distinct levels: individual, community and global.

What is applicable at one level may not be appropriate at another, he said.

Shari’a helps Muslims live their moral vision and “do what is right”, he concluded.

Ingrid Mattson, who also was scheduled to speak at this session, did not participate due to a family emergency.

(Photo courtesy of Muslim Public Affairs Council)

Are Muslims Allowed to Sing and Dance?

posted by Suzy Shuraym

“While moderate Muslims generally don’t object to music and dancing per se, a large portion of the faithful view sexually suggestive movement, racy lyrics, and unmarried couples dancing together as haram, because they may lead to un-Islamic behavior. This viewpoint resembles the anti-dance feeling common among American Christians at various points in U.S. history.”

Agree? Disagree? Read the whole article here and decide.

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