Islam In America

Islam In America

Here We Go Again!

posted by Suzy Shuraym

Hank Williams Jr. Blasts Obama Again, Says President Is Muslim, ‘Hates Cowgirls,’ ‘Loves Gays'”

Read it all here.

Egypt Abuzz as Newsreader on State TV Wears Hijab

posted by Suzy Shuraym

“In what was called a first for Egyptian state television, a woman wearing a head scarf presented headlines in a newscast on Sunday, breaking with a code of secular dress that for decades effectively barred the wearing of Islamic head coverings.”

Read the whole story here.

Answering Difficult FAQ: 49th Annual ISNA Convention

posted by Suzy Shuraym

Several sessions at the 49th annual convention of the Islamic Society of North America centered on one topic: how to answer difficult but frequently asked questions about Islam.

Maha ElGenaidi (pictured) moderated a discussion with Ameena Jandali and Jamal Badawi on the subject Sunday [2 September 2012]. Ms. ElGenaidi is President and CEO of Islamic Networks Group (ING), based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Ms. Jandali is a founding member, trainer, speaker and Content Director of ING. Dr. Badawi, a former professor, is an Egyptian-born Muslim Canadian.

Ms. ElGenaidi asked for sample questions from the audience, and was peppered with commentary about the role of women, from the wearing of the hijab to questions of polygamy to punishments for adultery.

Answers from the two panelists did not, in this writer’s opinion, give much help to the questioners. Saying that the hijab is worn for modesty does not explain how a piece of cloth covering the hair of a woman achieves that goal, for example.

Nor does commenting that the Qu’ran dates from the 7th Century explain why a man is allowed four wives or why it takes testimony from two women to equal the testimony of a man.

It is this writer’s opinion that a more detailed approach to this topic needs to be made. Referring questioners to parallel Biblical texts (to explain the abhorrence of homosexuality, for example) has no meaning for the more than 50% of Americans who are not members of any religious institution.

It also can be noted that the women attending this conference, the vast majority of whom can be assumed to be Muslim, evidenced a wide variety of dress. There was no consensus at the ISNA convention on the necessity of hijab for an American Muslim woman.

Perhaps 2/3 had some sort of head covering ranging from a length of fabric carelessly draped over flowing curls to a tightly pinned scarf showing not one strand of hair, and maybe a dozen wore niqab (or face mask).

As one woman remarked to this writer, if the object is to show modesty, then wearing hijab in a Muslim-minority country is an immodest display, especially when the scarves are brightly colored, sprinkled with glitter and sequins or adorned with jewels, fabric flourishes and lace.

No doubt, the discussion will continue.

(Photo courtesy of WiseMuslimWomen.org)

“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)

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