Keeping It Halal: The Everyday Lives of Muslim American Teenage Boys by John O’Brien

A compelling portrait of a group of boys as they navigate the complexities of being both American teenagers and good Muslims

This book provides a uniquely personal look at the social worlds of a group of young male friends as they navigate the complexities of growing up Muslim in America. Drawing on three and a half years of intensive fieldwork in and around a large urban mosque, John O’Brien offers a compelling portrait of typical Muslim American teenage boys concerned with typical teenage issues—girlfriends, school, parents, being cool—yet who are also expected to be good, practicing Muslims who don’t date before marriage, who avoid vulgar popular culture, and who never miss their prayers.

Many Americans unfamiliar with Islam or Muslims see young men like these as potential ISIS recruits. But neither militant Islamism nor Islamophobia is the main concern of these boys, who are focused instead on juggling the competing cultural demands that frame their everyday lives. O’Brien illuminates how they work together to manage their “culturally contested lives” through subtle and innovative strategies—such as listening to profane hip-hop music in acceptably “Islamic” ways, professing individualism to cast their participation in communal religious obligations as more acceptably American, dating young Muslim women in ambiguous ways that intentionally complicate adjudications of Islamic permissibility, and presenting a “low-key Islam” in public in order to project a Muslim identity without drawing unwanted attention.

Closely following these boys as they move through their teen years together, Keeping It Halal sheds light on their strategic efforts to manage their day-to-day cultural dilemmas as they devise novel and dynamic modes of Muslim American identity in a new and changing America.


“Swift and insightful. . . . O’Brien effectively shows teenage Muslim Americans to be an unjustly persecuted minority, delving into the psychology of how they behave in reaction to their outsider status in order to paint a portrait of social anxiety and strained assimilation that is universal in its power.”Publishers Weekly


“A textured and insightful look into the lives of young American Muslim men.”–Eboo Patel, author of Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation

Keeping It Halal is a sensitive, lucid, compelling portrait of the social complexity of male Muslim teen life. It should be read by anyone concerned with the way young people navigate complicated cultural terrains.”–Omar M. McRoberts, author of Streets of Glory: Church and Community in a Black Urban Neighborhood

“Engaging and insightful. O’Brien provides rich descriptions of the cultural work these teenagers do in their efforts to be both good Muslims and fully American.”–Mark Chaves, author of American Religion

“The best ethnography of immigrant American youth to be published in many years. O’Brien writes with empathy, sensitivity, and analytical sophistication about people trying to manage the cultural tensions of being young and Muslim in American society.”–Mitchell Duneier, author of Ghetto: The Invention of a Place, the History of an Idea

Journey through an Islamic Germany: A book seeks to give diverse Muslims a voice

Providing a counterpoint to the black-and-white narrative

Karen Krüger, journalist at culture desk of the conservative weekly Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung, has released a new book in which she embarks on a journey through what she terms an ‘Islamic Germany’, portraying diverse Muslim Germans in their daily lives.

Krüger’s self-professed goal is to show the diversity of the country’s Muslim population and the multifaceted nature of their religion, against the backdrop of a public perception of Islam as a monolithic unit: “My aim was to enable those Muslims to speak up whom you otherwise don’t hear because their religion simply is not bellicose.”((

Pre-empting potential criticism claiming that she hand-picked ‘liberal’ Muslims to portray in her book, Krüger states that “I only show liberal Muslims because the large majority of Muslims living in Germany is liberal. One just doesn’t notice them that often because they don’t appear as talk show guests, because they don’t attract attention through spectacular demonstrations.”((

Krüger thus seeks to work against a news cycle focused on terrorism and security concerns: “I wanted to confront this [focus] by showing that Muslims are not this homogeneous mass they’re often presented as in the media. It is really worth to look in people’s faces, to find contacts and to start a conversation with people – and then you will see that many [allegations] are not justified.”((

Deficits in incorporating Islam into society

The author also notes the toll that the ongoing barrage of media scrutiny and public suspicion is taking on German Muslims: “With most Muslims you can feel a great deal of hurt because due to the worldwide political situation many Muslims often experience rejection, even though they feel as a part of German society.” Krüger notes that among many Muslims this rejection leads to a latent yet perceptible state of grief.((

For Krüger, this state of affairs is a powerful driver of radicalisation: for young German Muslims, the starting point on the slippery slope towards jihadism is a situation in which “religion is transformed into an identitarian place of refuge” – a place particularly appealing to the children and grandchildren of Muslim immigrants who are neither deemed to be ‘properly German’ nor can simply claim to belong to their parents’ country of origin. Islam in general, and jihadist Islam with its transnational ideological and organisational structures in particular, appears to offer a way out of this dilemma.((

What is required, Krüger argues, are better educational efforts, in order to offer relevant and theologically sound instruction to young Muslims. This would pre-empt the need for an auto-didactic and haphazard engagement with Islam on shady online fora. More importantly, however, Krüger calls upon mainstream society to allow and enable a Muslim German identity to grow: “Surely not for everyone but at least for wide sections [of the population] it is not yet imaginable that ‘being German’ and ‘being Muslim’ do not have to exclude each other but can come together.”((

Krüger’s call comes at a particularly sensitive moment, as a number of conservative interior ministers of Germany’s federal states are putting forward drastic national security proposals. Among other measures on their list, they demand the prohibition of dual citizenship, a burqa ban, and tighter supervision of mosque finances.((

Criticism of the Turkish-dominated Islamic federations

Yet in Krüger’s view, the emergence of a Muslim German identity has not just been hampered by fears and prejudices on the part of mainstream society. She is acutely critical of the existing Islamic associations and federations in the country whom she deems unable to develop a way of thinking about Islam that resonates with the experience of ordinary German Muslims. Whatever progress has been accomplished in this regard has not been attained because of the work of the federations but rather in spite of them.

Krüger reserves her particular ire for DITIB, still the most powerful Islamic association in Germany. A subsidiary of the a Turkish government agency – the Presidency for Religious Affairs – she accuses DITIB of importing a kind of Turkish state Islam that is backward and ill-equipped to develop a constructive vision for Muslim life in Germany. Against this backdrop, the author conceives of the arrival of Syrian and other refugees as an opportunity to break the dominance of Turkish governmental Islam.((

This last point is of great salience in current German political debates. Diplomatic rows with the Erdogan administration have undermined the trust in the previously convenient arrangement that had outsourced Islamic religious services to Turkish government agencies. Unfortunately, however, virtually none of the voices present in these discussions offer constructive proposals as to how the gridlocked Islamic institutional landscape ought to be reformed. Krüger’s book appears valuable not as such an institutional blueprint but as a document of the diversity of Muslim life in Germany.

Karen Krüger, “Eine Reise durch das islamische Deutschland”, 352 pages, Rowohlt Berlin, 19,95 Euro

Muslims and Political Participation in Britain [Newly- Released Book and Coupon]

A new book, titled “Muslims and Political Participation in Britain” has recently been released by Timothy Peace of University of Stirling. The first link below is the link to purchase the book, and the second link is a PDF which contains a discount code to apply to the book purchase.

Muslims and Political Paricipation in Britain USD [Download PDF]


Cover book SalafismSALAFISM
Utopian Ideals in an Unruly Reality

By Martijn de Koning, Joas Wagemakers en Carmen Becker

Three Dutch expert academics on Islam published a book on Salafism in the Netherlands, named “Salafism: Utopische Idealen in een Weerbarstige Praktijk” (English: Salafism: Utopian Ideals in an Unruly Reality). Salafism has been a highly debated current in Dutch Islam since 2002 when two Dutch youngsters from Eindhoven died in Kashmir. As fervent participants on Salafi internet fora and visitors to a main Salafi mosque the incident spurred discussion in the wider public on the assumed radicalization of Dutch Salafi Muslims. In the decennium that followed Salafi Islam remained a much discussed phenomenon in Dutch media reaching a height with the death of Islam critic Theo van Gogh by a presumed participant of the Dutch Salafi circuit.

The book (the first of its kind in Dutch) is written by three specialists on the theme working from the perspectives of anthropology, Islamic Studies, and political science respectively. Making use of this interdisciplinary approach the book tries to give insight into a much obscured subject, delving into the issue of definitions and trying to enhance a more clearer perspective on what exactly Salafism is based on robust empirical research. The book gives an in-depth description and analysis of the historical and theological roots of Salafism in the Middle East and its various branches and interpretations (such as Quietist, Political Islamists and Jihadi trends). It discusses the intersection of Salafi ideologies into current international debates on for example gender and secularism.

The book then goes on to describe the rise and spread of Salafi Islam in the Netherlands and its main beliefs and doctrines. It extrapolates on the practices of Salafi Muslims and how these manifest on for example the internet. In addition the book pays attention to the experiences and perspectives of Salafi Muslims themselves and how Salafi Muslims involve themselves in the issues of the practice of interpretation and religious authority. It tries to answer the question if the use of the internet enhances or reduces the possibility of radicalization. Similar questions were ventured into in an earlier anthropological research by scholar Martijn de Koning in his Dutch book “Zoeken Naar een Zuivere Islam: Geloofsbeleving, Identiteitsvorming en Radicalisering van Marokkaanse Moslims” (2008). (English: In Search of a ‘Pure’ Islam: Religious Experience, Identity Formation and Radicalization of Moroccan Muslims).

Additional information, interviews (in written and audiovisual formats) and reactions by other specialists can be found in the internet links below as well as an extract of the first chapter of the book.



Book review: Germany’s new public enemies? Stefan Buchen on Syrian “escape helpers”

August 4, 2014

Germany is proud of its culture of democracy and the rule of law. But how proud should it be of the way it treats those who help Syrian refugees threatened by starvation and mass murder at home to enter the country? In 2013 and 2014, several German-based Syrians have been tried in court for helping their compatriots to flee to Europe. Stefan Buchen has written a book about the matter. By Martina Sabra

Over 11 million Syrians are on the run from war, hunger and death. Most of them are in Syria or the neighbouring countries of Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. Only a few hundred thousand want to flee to Europe – a minority. Yet the EU has sealed its borders, with entry visas now almost impossible to procure.

This is why these people’s only option is often to risk life and limb by entering the EU illegally. They need support to get into Europe. The people who help them are known in German as “Fluchthelfer” (escape helpers). They arrange false papers, transport, food, clothing and accommodation for them and co-ordinate the various stages of their escape. These people have to be paid.

Smugglers or helpers?

In German, people who help others to escape from one country to another are called “Menschenschmuggler” (people smugglers). Some of these smugglers are primarily interested in profit and pay little attention to whether their “customers”, the refugees, arrive safely at their destinations. Yet there are also escape helpers who aren’t motivated by money but by the fact that it is their relatives, friends or acquaintances who are asking them for help.

This distinction ought to be significant in legal terms in Germany of all places, where many people only survived or made their way to freedom thanks to escape helpers during the Nazi dictatorship that lasted from 1933 to 1945 and the era of the Berlin Wall, which lasted from 1961 to 1989.

Yet that is far from the case. Although it is perfectly clear that a terrible war is raging in Syria, Germany is treating Syrian escape helpers like serious criminals – even if they can prove that they have acted out of humanity. German judges, state prosecutors and politicians have publicly branded Syrian escape helpers as supporters of terrorism and accused them of crimes they have not committed.

For their part, many media outlets unthinkingly spread these prejudices, branding escape helpers as “unscrupulous human traffickers” or “murderers” and contributing to the destruction of people’s professional and social existences.

Operation “Cash”

What that can mean in specific cases is the subject of a new book, as gripping as it is disturbing, by the German TV reporter and Middle East expert Stefan Buchen.

The story Buchen tells begins on 29 January 2013. On that day, the federal police in Berlin and the state prosecution department in the city of Essen announced that they had smashed an “international people-smuggling gang” as part of a Europe-wide operation.

Under the codename “Cash”, they reported that homes had been searched and suspects arrested in 37 places across Germany. The GSG 9 task force was deployed in the town of Ahlen in Westphalia. Arrests were also made in Greece and Poland. The “head of the gang”, according to the press release, was a 58-year-old Syrian living in the west German city of Essen. The authorities estimated he had made a 300,000-euro profit out of the activities. Although they didn’t find any cash, the police seized his family home.

Tendentious investigations, groundless accusations

Stefan Buchen, who writes for Germany’s highly respected political TV programme “Panorama”, knows Syria well. The way the police and the state prosecutors present the case made him curious. Were the suspects really serious criminals out to make a quick buck?

Buchen researched extensively, conducting numerous interviews with all those involved and working his way through mountains of files relating to the investigation. Gradually, a very different picture emerged: the “head of the gang” was not a professional human trafficker, but an engineer who went to work every day and had nothing to do with aiding escapes until the outbreak of war in Syria in the autumn of 2011.

War in Syria blocked out

But the judges and prosecutors see things differently. They insist on applying rulings on foreign residents and entry to the country, clinging to the letter of the law. They systematically block out the genuine threat that causes Syrians to flee their country. “The political character of this trial is the total de-politicisation of the situation,” writes Stefan Buchen. “A highly political process with far-reaching moral implications is assessed purely according to the standards of criminal law.”

The will to depoliticise the matter is also oppressively apparent in the lawyers’ phrasing: the Operation “Cash” court records refer to refugees as “individuals willing to be smuggled”; the war in Syria is not referred to as such, but as “the escalating political situation”.

He also points out how courts dealt with people smugglers in the 1970s, in the context of the divided Germany. One West German escape helper, for instance, successfully sued for his “fee” before a court in 1977. A family from East Germany, whom he had helped to escape, had tried to get out of paying part of the sum they’d agreed. Ironically, the “fee” that the West German judges awarded to the escape helper at that time was higher than the “fees” of the Syrian escape helpers today, in relative terms.

Duplicity in politics and media

Buchen also denounces the duplicity he sees in politics and the media. They claim that drastic measures are necessary to protect refugees from traffickers, he writes. But in reality, Europe has blocked almost every legal way in. “Smugglers offer a service in exchange for money. Refugees call on this service when they realise that there is no other, easier, less dangerous or less expensive way out of danger for themselves or their families,” he notes.

By the same token, he points out that none of the accused ever set out to become “smugglers. “They came to this activity because they have ties to Syria and because the war in Syria caused a terrible refugee tragedy. The accused smuggled Syrian refugees only, no one else.”

The investigations and verdicts have had drastic consequences for all the escape helpers on trial and their families. The engineer, now 60, lost his job and had to pay a penalty of over €150,000; a Syrian-French taxi driver was sentenced to two and a half years’ imprisonment; a young Syrian-Greek father who worked as a waiter is also behind bars, separated from his wife and three children.

One of the book’s strengths is that the author gives an impressive and emotional presentation of his personal encounters with those involved, while also handling the subject matter and vocabulary very precisely.

Some of the legal material is rather complex for lay readers. Nevertheless, the book is extremely readable and gripping – an enthralling read that raises many important questions on the relationship between what is right, what is legal and what is moral in Germany.

Book review: Youth Tsunami in Arab World: ‘The New Arabs,’ by Juan Cole

July 8, 2014

These days, alarming news continues to spill out of the Middle East. Syria’s continuing civil war has claimed tens of thousands of civilian lives. Iraq — where the prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, a Shiite, has stoked sectarian conflict by refusing to form an inclusive government — is hurtling toward civil war, as Sunni militants, led by the Qaeda splinter group ISIS, have moved close to Baghdad. Farther east, the Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan.

In his book “The New Arabs,” however, the Middle East scholar Juan Cole provides an optimistic assessment of a new generation coming of age in the region. Mr. Cole, a history professor at the University of Michigan, gained recognition in the prelude to the 2003 American invasion of Iraq and in its wake, with his “Informed Comment” blog, which was not only highly critical of Bush administration policies but also provided illuminating historical and social context for the war and its devastating aftermath.

“The New Arabs” focuses not on Iraq, but on the Arab Spring, and in particular on the role that youth movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya played in bringing down the authoritarian regimes in those countries. “Young people are the key to the rapid political and social change in the Arab countries that have been in turmoil since 2011,” Mr. Cole writes, arguing that members of this “Arab Generation Y” are more literate than their elders, more urban and cosmopolitan, more technologically savvy and less religiously observant than those over 35. Echoing what the veteran Middle East reporter Robin Wright wrote in her 2011 book, “Rock the Casbah,” Mr. Cole contends that “a new generation has been awakened” and that a positive new historical dynamic is taking hold.

Mr. Cole’s book is at its most illuminating when it takes the reader inside the youth movements in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, showing us how activists used technology and social media to amplify their message and connect with like-minded citizens across the region. Although this phenomenon has already been widely covered by Western media, Mr. Cole chronicles it in fascinating detail here, recounting the stories of prominent dissidents and their often pioneering use of Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and cellphone technology to network and organize.

The creation of YouTube in 2005 and the growing reach of satellite television (most notably Al Jazeera) also gave dissidents important tools. In 2006, the blogger Wael Abbas began posting graphic videos, taken secretly, of Egyptian police brutalizing their prisoners, which provoked public outrage. And in Tunisia, videos of the police opening fire on young protesters — who had turned out in the streets after a fruit vendor burned himself to death (in December 2010) in response to being humiliated by government officials — received thousands of views and fueled the spread of demonstrations across the country.

In Egypt (where, according to The C.I.A. World Factbook, 49.9 percent of the population is 24 or younger), disgust with the Mubarak government had been building for years. Among the events that created “links and networks among a diverse group of leftist and Muslim fundamentalist organizations” opposed to Mr. Mubarak as an agent of the West, Mr. Cole says, were demonstrations in early 2003 against the coming United States invasion of Iraq and the Gaza war of late 2008 and early 2009.

Mr. Cole’s conclusion to this book is a hopeful one. He writes: “The youth revolutionaries of the Middle East inspired their peers throughout the globe by their ideals of liberty and social justice and their collective action techniques. Fundamentalist movements seeking to take advantage of the political opening to impose new forms of theocratic authoritarianism suffered severe setbacks at the hands of the same youth activists.”

New Book: Inventing the Muslim Cool: Islamic Youth Culture in Western Europe by Maruta Herding

June 4, 2014

Inventing the Muslim Cool: Islamic Youth Culture in Western Europe

Maruta Herding

May, 2014 
Paper270 pages, 17 b&w 1 color
ISBN: 978-3-8376-2511-0

Inventing the Muslim Cool: Islamic Youth Culture in Western Europe by Maruta Herding
Inventing the Muslim Cool: Islamic Youth Culture in Western Europe by Maruta Herding

In the current environment of a growing Muslim presence in Europe, young Muslims have started to develop a subculture of their own. The manifestations reach from religious rap and street wear with Islamic slogans to morally impeccable comedy. This form of religiously permissible fun and of youth-compatible worship is actively engaged in shaping the future of Islam in Europe and of Muslim/non-Muslims relations.
Based on a vast collection of youth cultural artefacts, participant observations and in-depth interviews in France, Britain and Germany, this book provides a vivid description of Islamic youth culture and explores the reasons why young people develop such a culture.

Dr Maruta Herding is a sociologist at the German Youth Institute (Deutsches Jugendinstitut e.V.) in Halle, Germany. The book «Inventing the Muslim Cool» is the publication of her doctoral research, which she conducted at the University of Cambridge. Her research interests include the study of young people, subcultures and Muslims in Europe.

¡Matadlos! Quién estuvo detrás del 11-M y por qué se atentó en España’

February 18, 2014


Author: Fernando Reinaressobre_matadlos_web

Title: ¡Matadlos! Quién estuvo detrás del 11-M y por qué se atentó en España’

Publisher: Galaxia Gutenberg, S.L., Colección: Ensayo

ISBN: 978-84-16072-00-2


Ten years have passed since the 11M terrorist attacks in Madrid and finally, the whole truth is exposed in this book. After years of rigorous research, Fernando Reinares reveals when and where the decision to attack was made in Spain. He explains how the terrorist network of 11-M was formed, what were the main components, their international connections and funding.
Matadlos!Kill them! concludes that the killings in the commuter trains in Madrid were planned for reasons of revenge, and were prepared by the criteria of opportunity and were executed for strategic reasons. In fact, the author says that the reasons for revenge   have their roots in the dismantlement of an Al-Qaeda Spanish cell in 1997, and the general role of Spain in the anti-terrorist fight. Al-Qaeda supported and helped the execution of the 11-M attacks and profited from the context of the Iraq war to placed the in the strategy of the organization.





The 11M attacks were approved by al-Qaeda

The 2004 Islamist attacks in Madrid were not the result of an “isolated cell ” but they had the “approval and facilitation ” of Al- Qaeda. This has been assured on Tuesday by Spanish expert, Fernando Reinares who has spent years researching the facts. In his new book, “Matadlos! Quien estuvo detras del 11-M y por que se atento en Espana” (‘Kill them! Who was behind the 11-M and why was Spain attacked”)he concludes that “the decision to attack Spain was made in December 2001 in Karachi”, Pakistan.
According with Reinares, “the initial decision to attack Spain was due to motives of revenge”. In fact, the author says that the motives  have their roots in the dismantlement of an Al-Qaeda Spanish cell in 1997, and the general role of Spain in the anti-terrorist fight.