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.

Reviews:

“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

Endorsements:

“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

Back to the Black: Are Black Muslims the new (old) face of Islam?

If you passed the magazine section at your local newsstand or grocery store this month you might have seen two Muslims, actor Mahershala Ali and model Halima Aden, gracing the covers of this month’s GQ and Allure magazines, respectively. This inclusion is notable in light of the Muslim Ban but also because the Muslims featured in these issues, which are dedicated to celebrating American diversity, are not “Brown“ but Black.

When it comes to Muslims in the media, the images are both plentiful and one-dimensional. Typically speaking, Muslims who make appearances in US media share two fundamental characteristics–they are “originally” from somewhere else and they are “brown” – in this case, either South Asian, Arab, or Middle Eastern.  In a country where people who are anything other than white male Christians still have to prove their loyalty to flag and country, if Muslims are always non-white and not “originally” American then there is always the chance to tell them to “go home!”

American Muslim Poll 2017: Muslims at The Crossroads

American Muslim Poll 2017: Full Report

 

 

 

ISPU conducts objective, solution-seeking research that empowers American Muslims to develop their community and fully contribute to democracy and pluralism in the United States. Learn more about ISPU here.

 

American Muslims growing more liberal, survey shows

A major Pew survey reveals that American Muslims are growing more religiously and socially liberal, with the number who say society should accept homosexuality nearly doubling during the past decade.

The Pew Research Center, survey of 1,001 American Muslims exhibits that American Muslims are more likely to identify as political liberals and believe there are multiple ways to interpret the teaching of Islam.

The wide-ranging survey solicited opinions issues ranging from religious practices and political terrorism to social values.  The survey also found that the American Muslim population has been steadily rising for a decade, adding about 100,000 people per year.  An estimated 3.35 million Muslims now live in the United States, just 1% of the overall population.

The survey also reveals that despite persistent anxiety about Islamic extremism and religious discrimination, the Muslim community in America remains hopeful about their future in the United States.

After a Muslim-American shot and killed 49 people at a gay nightclub in Orlando last year, American Muslims were forced to come to terms with gays and lesbians in their mosques and families, prompting conversations about homosexuality and Islamic teachings, said Zareena Grewal, who studies the American Muslim experience at Yale University.
“After the Pulse shooting, Muslims were coming out of the closet across the United States, and the Muslim community, in public and private, was grappling with the issue in a much more honest way,” Grewal said.

Iman And Halima Aden Get Real About Islam, Hijabs And Somali Pride

Halima Aden, a Somali-American has taken the fashion world by storm, rocking a hijab while walking the runway at the most recent New York Fashion Week. The 19-year old made headlines last year when she wore hijab and traditional clothes during the Miss Minnesota USA pageant.

She along with Supermodel Iman are speaking out about what it means to take pride in being Muslim women from Somalia, and its inspiring.

 

Iman shared her own experience as a black Muslim woman who chooses not to wear a hijab, adding: “I’ve heard all types of critiques—as a Somali girl, as a model, as a mom, as a Muslim who does not wear a hijab, marrying a white man, my late husband David Bowie. But you know, I live my truth.”

Hear Yusuf / Cat Stevens’ Joyous New Song ‘See What Love Did to Me’

Yusuf / Cat Stevens will release a new album in the fall, his fourth since returning to the folk-pop style of his classic Sixties and Seventies work. The Laughing Apple bridges the artist’s present and past, combining newly written songs with covers of tracks from his early repertoire. Hear “See What Love Did to Me” – one of the brand-new selections – here.

The song’s lyric video features animations of Yusuf / Cat Stevens’ own drawings, made especially for the album. The artist himself turns up for a cameo near the end of the clip, as the song takes a religious turn: “And now I see what God did for me.”

 “‘See What Love Did to Me’ is a a song which extolls the virtue of Love and its destructive properties,” Yusuf / Cat Stevens tells Rolling Stonein a statement. “Based on a poem written by Yunus Emre, a Thirteenth Century Turkish poet. I fell upon the guitar riff back in 2006, while recording An Other Cup. It took eight years to find the right words and sentiments to marry with the joyous tune. It has musical ripples of Africa as well as India flowing through.”

Muhammad Ali’s Muslim Faith Is Being Scrubbed From His Legacy

Muhammad Ali is remembered as a boxing legend, an Olympian, a civil rights warrior, a humanitarian, and a trailblazer for Parkinson’s disease awareness.

But one central part of his identity is missing from the official Ali Instagram and Twitter feeds: the proud, unapologetic Muslim.

Islam is conspicuously absent from the Ali brand, which is owned and managed by a New York–based licensing company ABG.

Sherman Jackson, a Muslim professor at the University of Southern California who’s written extensively about Islam and black America, said Ali’s religion is an inconvenient fact for companies looking to profit by putting his image on T-shirts, hats, and posters. Jackson, who delivered a eulogy at Ali’s funeral in Kentucky, said the duty now falls to American Muslims to ensure that a central part of his legacy isn’t lost to revisionism and commercialization.

“It’s up to Muslims to really understand his legacy, to really preserve it, and to put it where it ought to be in terms of the pantheon,” Jackson said.

Ali’s family has emphasized six core principles as key to his legacy: confidence, conviction, dedication, giving, respect, and spirituality. In public aspects of the Ali legacy, all those values are reflected except spirituality.

Islamophobes are attacking me because I’m their worst nightmare

Linda Sarsour is an activist and a co-chair of the Women’s March on Washington.  She has received many threats and condemnation for her use of the word jihad in a speech delivered to a Muslim audience. 

Op Ed, by Linda Sarsour: “This week, conservative media outlets took a speech I gave to the largest gathering of Muslims in America out of context and alleged that I had called for a violent ‘jihad’ against the president. I did not.”

Sarsour goes on to state: “Sadly, this is not a new experience for me. Since the Women’s March on Washington, which I had the privilege of co-chairing with inspirational women from across the country, my family and I have received countless threats of physical violence. These ugly threats come from people who also spout anti-Muslim, xenophobic and white-supremacist beliefs. Their sole agenda is to silence and discredit me because I am an effective leader for progress, a Palestinian American and Brooklyn-born Muslim woman. In short, I am their worst nightmare.”

 

Progressive Muslims seek to open Islamic Academy in Berlin

As Euro-Islam reported, the political disputes of the past months have taken a heavy toll on Turkish-dominated DİTİB, numerically still Germany’s largest Islamic association.

German politicians have castigated the organisation for its proximity to the Turkish government, particularly when it was revealed that some of its Imam’s had spied on suspected members of the Gülen movement on behalf of Turkish state authorities.

Internal pressures

Internally, DİTİB has been rocked by successive waves of dissent, dismissals, and disputes. While some functionaries left the organisation of their own accord, others were de facto purged upon Ankara’s request. Out of protest, DİTİB’s entire youth board resigned in May 2017, signalling a generational split within the association.

Ender Çetin, former chairman of Berlin’s Şehitlik mosque, was one of the victims of the purge. Deemed too progressive and too disloyal to the Turkish point of view, Çetin was ousted from his post at the mosque in December 2016. In the past, he had gained renown for gradually turning the mosque into an open space for encounters and debates, including on controversial matters such as homosexuality.

A forum for debate

Now, Çetin and around 30 predominantly younger Muslims formerly active in DİTİB communities in Berlin seek to build an Islamic institution to their liking out of DİTİB’s reach. They have announced plans to open an Islamic Academy that is to serve as a forum for discussions and cultural events.((https://www.rbb-online.de/politik/beitrag/2017/06/berlin-muslimische-akademie-geplant.html ))

The Academy is to be modelled upon other comparable confessional institutions in Germany: both Catholic and Protestant churches have their “academies” – open centres that bridge the divide between religion and society by hosting conferences, debates, and projects on contemporary issues.

Aiming at a young audience

The Academy aims at catering primarily to a younger audience. Its initiators noted that young Muslims were in desperate need of a modern and societally open spiritual forum. As of late, DİTİB’s internal clampdown and the association’s rigid hierarchies had made open debate all but impossible, or so they argued.

As of now, the initiators are still organising the logistics of their project. Making the Academy real will necessitate overcoming many challenges, not least of a financial nature: in the past, a number of progressive endeavours that sought to establish themselves beyond the purview of the conservative associations have foundered on insufficient funding.

Nevertheless, the idea of a Muslim Academy holds the promise of building a genuinely open and proactive civil society institution that is capable of asking hard questions and of projecting progressive Muslim voices – without falling into the trap of a “liberal Islam” that remains a chimaera.

Insults and attacks: Muslim students from Berlin experience Islamophobia on Holocaust memorial trip

Anti-Semitic prejudice amongst Muslim youth has become an issue of growing concern in Germany. Schools, while at times being the site of anti-Semitic hatred,(( http://www.taz.de/!5406125/ )) have reacted by expanding educational opportunities aiming to combat the hostility to Jews exhibited by some of their students.

Grass-roots project combating anti-Semitism

The Theodor-Heuss comprehensive in Berlin has mounted one such educational initiative. Its project group “Remembrance”, founded by teacher Sabeth Schmidthals, takes groups of students to various sites of Jewish life and persecution in Europe.

Schmidthals says that the starting point for her project had been an in-class reading of Inge Deutschkron’s autobiographic book I Wore the Yellow Star, in which the author recounts her experiences as a Jew living in the Third Reich. It was in this context that “I noticed how strong the prejudice against Jews and also against Israel really is”, Schmidthals says.

As a response, she took her students on a trip to Israel in 2015; in 2016, they visited France and Spain. In June 2017, she and twenty predominantly Muslim 16- to 18-year-olds made their way to Poland, stopping in Warsaw, Lodz, Lublin, and Krakow.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/theodor-heuss-schule-in-moabit-berliner-schueler-in-polen-rassistisch-beleidigt/19985282.html ))

Islamophobic assaults

In Poland, however, the remembrance of Jewish life and of the Holocaust was somewhat overshadowed by repeated Islamophobic assaults on Muslim group members. Hijab-wearing girls were particularly targeted, facing repeated insults as well as physical attacks: one was drenched in water, another one was spat at. A young man was threatened with a knife.

Some students were not served in shops, with shopkeepers asserting that they would only sell to Poles. Another female pupil was kicked out of a shopping centre when she spoke Persian on her phone. The group was also denied access to a synagogue in Lublin, with guards citing “security concerns”.

According to Schmidthals, a number of Polish bystanders stepped in to defend the group; yet they received no help from the authorities. When students sought to report some of the incidents at the local police station, they were laughed at.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/muslimische-schueler-in-polen-ich-wurde-angespuckt-die.1769.de.html?dram:article_id=389593 ))

Students’ reflections

Upon their return to Berlin, students voiced their astonishment at the events of their trip. One of them stated that they “had absolutely not expected something like this, especially not from a member of the EU.” A girl found it “very sad, because we came for them, in order to find out about their history.”(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/muslimische-schueler-in-polen-ich-wurde-angespuckt-die.1769.de.html?dram:article_id=389593 ))

The school has forged intimate links of cooperation with the Haus der Wannseekonferenz, a memorial site and foundation located at the Berlin villa where Nazi leaders decided on the “final solution” in 1942. Its director expressed dismay at the students’ experiences: “I am particularly shocked that it happened to adolescents who are entrusted to us for this trip, and on a trip dealing with this topic [the Holocaust].”(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/muslimische-schueler-in-polen-ich-wurde-angespuckt-die.1769.de.html?dram:article_id=389593 ))

The teacher echoed this sentiment, adding that “against the usual opinion that youth don’t care about this topic, especially not Muslim youth, I can say the exact opposite. The motivation is high.”(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/muslimische-schueler-in-polen-ich-wurde-angespuckt-die.1769.de.html?dram:article_id=389593 ))

Racism on an anti-racism trip

Berlin’s Minister for Education, Sandra Scheeres (SPD), condemned the incidents as “unacceptable”. A number of Polish-German organisations have written to the school to express their solidarity with the assaulted students.(( http://www.tagesspiegel.de/berlin/theodor-heuss-schule-in-moabit-berliner-schueler-in-polen-rassistisch-beleidigt/19985282.html ))

One can only hope that the events on their trip have sensitised students further to the plight that Jews have endured in Europe and still endure in many parts of the world today, and that their own experience with racism strengthens their resolve to reflect critically on all forms of racial oppression, including those directed at Jews.