Why So Many U.S. Latinos Are Becoming Muslims

October 10, 2013

 

Most Latinos know the country is celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month right now. What far fewer Latinos know is that next week marks Eid al-Adha, one of Islam’s most sacred holidays.

And yet the two observances are more related now than most Latinos realize.

Just as the U.S. Latino population is on the rise — Hispanics are now the nation’s largest minority — so is the number of Latino Muslims. And it’s not just a result of Arab Latin Americans emigrating to the United States.

According to organizations like WhyIslam.org, Latinos are one of the fastest growing segments of the Muslim community. About six percent of U.S. Muslims are now Latino — and as many as a fifth of new converts to Islam nationwide are Latino.

The American Muslim Association of North America, based in North Miami, says heavily Hispanic South Florida in particular is home to a rising number of Latino Muslims.

If it’s a surprise that many Latinos are moving from a predominantly Roman Catholic culture to an originally Arab faith, perhaps it shouldn’t be. For one thing, like African-Americans in the 1960s, Latinos are discovering their own historical and cultural ties to Islam and the Arab world. And that starts with what most defines Latinos: Spanish.

“Our language is nurtured by more than 4,000 words that come from Arabic,” says Wilfredo Ruiz, a Puerto Rican-born Muslim who converted a decade ago and is a lawyer for the South Florida chapter of the Council of American-Islamic Relations. “Every word in Spanish that starts with ‘al,’ for example, like alcalde, alcantarilla, almohada.”

“What most Latinos who have embraced Islam find most amazing is their cultural affinity to the Muslim culture,” says Ruiz. “It’s like rediscovering your past. That area of our past has been hidden from us.”

Ruiz points out that both Latinos and Arabs highly value the extended family and traditions like offering hospitality to strangers. In religious terms, Latinos like Gonzalez say Islam provides a simpler, more direct form of worship than Catholicism does. They also feel more structure than they see in the evangelical churches so many Latinos join today.

“The connection I have with God now is better than before,” says Gonzalez.

 

Cair.com: http://cair.com/press-center/cair-in-the-news/12193-why-so-many-latinos-are-becoming-muslims.html

WLRN.org: http://wlrn.org/post/why-so-many-latinos-are-becoming-muslims

More American Jewish Students Take Up Study of the Arab World

October 18, 2013

 

Miriam Berger studied Arabic at Wesleyan University, lived twice as a student in Jordan, did thesis research in the West Bank and, after graduation, worked in Cairo. And like many of the Americans she has met each step of the way, she is Jewish.

“I don’t see it as a contradiction at all,” said Ms. Berger, 23, who grew up near Philadelphia where she attended a Jewish day school. “I grew up hearing so much about the Middle East, how it was this dangerous place we can’t understand, but as I learned more, every day it felt like old ideas were being challenged, and I wanted to contribute to better understanding.”

In the United States, colleges and universities are riding a two-decade surge in Middle East studies, reflecting that region’s consistent pull on American economics and security. And while there are no definitive demographic data, students and professors say that in classrooms, or in undergraduate study-abroad and postgraduate fellowship programs in the Middle East and in Arabic, it is not unusual for one-quarter or more of the students to be Jewish.

These students say their interest grew because of their heritage, not in spite of it. They feel a desire, even a duty, to understand a region where Israel and the United States are enmeshed in longstanding conflicts, and to act as bridges between cultures — explaining the Arab world to Americans, and America (and sometimes Jews) to Arabs.

 

The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/10/18/us/more-american-jewish-students-take-up-study-of-arabic.html

Christians, Muslims pray together

Muslims and Christians together pray in St. Peter’s Square, each with the words of their own religion. For many it is a “miracle” born by the appeal of Pope Francis who encouraged fasting for peace against the war in Syria. In St. Peter’s square, in the late afternoon, a hundred thousand people came to accept the appeal of the pope. A silent ceremony, with flags ranging from the Syrian flag to those of the color of the rainbow of peace and the Chinese flag to Argentinian flag, the country of the Pope.

An atmosphere of silence, made almost surreal by the presence of Syrians and Muslims in the square: several hundred according to the Arab Community in Italy. Some of them recited the Qur’an: while at the same time came Ave Maria rising from the square. A fusion of faiths and prayers in the name of peace. The verse recited says that Allah has set up a people and a community so that we can know each other – explains Salameh Ashour a Palestinian – The noblest man who loves and fears God refrains from any violence.” Egyptians, Libyans, Syrians, Palestinians, Iraqis and other Arabs mixed on the streets with African, South American and Italian.

For many it was a moment of peace. “Today we have fasted” says Ismael, wrapped in a flag of Syria “we are here because Francis has shown an understanding for our people.” “Unprecedented” for many Catholics “the sort of miracle of Pope Francis.”

Minas, a Syrian wearing the chador and honeymooning in Rome went to St. Peter with her husband for the event: “I just hope” he says “that when we return we will not find Damascus destroyed by bombs.”

 

Religious leaders welcome FBI hate crimes reporting

Fbi IslamFor Raed Jarrar, the FBI’s decision Wednesday (June 5) to begin tracking hate crimes against Arabs is a battle won in a larger war.

“This is just one part of fixing the system, because unfortunately many hate crimes against Arab Americans have not been noticed,” said Jarrar, spokesman for the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.

In addition to its decision on tracking anti-Arab hate crimes, the FBI has agreed to track crimes against a number of religious groups it has never before tracked. The new categories include reporting crimes committed against Buddhists, Hindus, Sikhs, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses and Orthodox Christians.

“I think having these additional categories is wonderful,” said Samir Kalra, director and fellow at the Hindu American Foundation. Though there were intense efforts to include Hindus, Sikhs and Arabs in the statistics, these other groups weren’t advocated for as heavily.

The original recommendation signed by more than 100 members of Congress called for the FBI to add Sikh, Hindu and Arab hate crimes to the data collected under the agency’s crime reporting program. The program now tracks religious hate crimes against Jews, Catholics, Protestants, Muslims and atheists/agnostics.

First VW, Now Coke: Soda Company’s Super Bowl Ad Being Called Racist By Arab-American Groups

arab_cokeSuper Bowl advertisers have been releasing their commercials earlier and earlier, mostly in an attempt to build social media buzz before the big game. But as advertisers this year are learning, with this new opportunity comes a great deal of risk.

Coca-Cola is running into similar charges of using racial stereotypes from Arab-American groups who are objecting to that company’s use of an Arab man with camels.

But the Arab-American objections to the ad go beyond that simple cliché. In the ad, three groups set off in a race towards a huge bottle of Coke. There is even an interactive element for viewers, who can vote on whether they want the cowboys, bikers or showgirls to reach the bottle first. They cannot, however vote for the Arab man.

Imam Ali Siddiqui, president of the Muslim Institute for Interfaith Studies told NBC News, “The Coke commercial for the Super Ball is racist, portraying Arabs as backward and foolish Camel Jockeys, and they have no chance to win in the world.”

The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee is also up in arms. “What message is Coke sending with this?” asked Abed Ayoub, the group’s director of legal and policy affairs. “By not including the Arab in the race, it is clear that the Arab is held to a different standard when compared to the other characters in the commercial.”

Ayoub is intending to reach out to CBS and Coke about changing the ad, which already has close to 1 million views on YouTube and an elaborate, interactive website. “I want to know why this happened and how can we fix this if possible before Sunday,”

 

Doug Saunders, “The Myth of the Muslim Tide”

Myth of the muslim tideIn his book “The Myth of the Muslim Tide”, Doug Saunders puts theories from critics of immigration under the microscope. He talked to Aygül Cizmecioglu about extremism, xenophobia and successful integration

Mr. Saunders, prominent public figures such as Thilo Sarrazin in Germany and Geert Wilders in the Netherlands believe that the West is being overrun with Muslims – at least demographically. Is that true?

Doug Saunders: No, I think the facts clearly contradict that. I’ve spent a lot of time in the largest Muslim countries, in Iran, in Bangladesh, in Pakistan, doing various forms of journalism and research into migration and urbanization. And I hired a research team, people who are not partisans and weren’t activists, but who are good scholars, who know demographics, who know radicalism, who know the history of integration. And first of all, what we found out was that these countries have the fastest falling reproduction rates in the world. Bangladesh now has a population growth rate falling very quickly toward a European level. The situation in Turkey is very similar.

Moreover, in Europe and North America, Muslims are not the largest group of immigrants at all. And what we’re seeing is the pattern that poor religious minorities always – after some time – follow the trend of the majority society. The second generation of immigrants has considerably fewer children than the first generation, and by the third generation they have almost completely adapted to their environment, in terms of the birth rate.

Since the September 11 attacks in 2001, the image of violent Muslims with extremist tendencies is ingrained in many people’s psyches…

Saunders: I didn’t use any data that was supported by only one organization. I’m talking about universities, government bodies, United Nations bodies, intelligence agencies. And the big surveys of extremism done by the CIA and MI5 were extremely useful for this book. Those surveys found that almost all Islamic extremists and terrorists do not come from tightly clustered immigrant neighbourhoods. Extremists don’t usually come from communities of strong belief.

First of all, the most religious groups of people do not produce extremism and terrorism. And second of all, if you survey all people who have become extremists and terrorists, religious faith is almost never a big cause. They use the language of religion as part of their extremism.

The New York police department just wasted something like six years investigating tens of thousands of ordinary Muslims in New York who had strong Islamic believes in the hope of finding some evidence of terrorism. And they had to admit that they had not found after this enormous spying program one piece of useful evidence for extremism.

But where do these fears come from?

Saunders: I passed through that set of views myself. I had deep fears, certainly when extremism and terrorism hit my own neighbourhood – when my local mosque was taken over by one of the most extreme al Qaida supporters around, when one of my neighbours had both of her legs blown off in the July 7, 2005 London transport bombings. Of course I wondered, of course I thought, is the western liberal world threatened by Islam?

What factors make it difficult for us to overcome these prejudices?

Saunders: I would not say that Muslims are an average. Now, you’re talking about very different people. There’s no generalizing about Muslims. You’re talking about extremely moderate practices like Alevi next to very ascetic, and rigid practices like Wahhabis and Salafists. And we can also show that immigrants from the same place of different religions have the same problems and difficulties. So religion is not a major causal factor.

Are areas populated mainly by Arabs or Turks, such as those in Berlin, parallel societies?

Saunders: Most of the successful immigrant groups in western history who have become very well integrated into the society around them have been clustered into ethically concentrated neighbourhoods. For instance, the Lower East Side of New York has seen about five different ethnic groups pass through it: eastern-European Jews, Irish, southern-European Catholics, Latin Americans, Greeks. All of whom have passed through and formed these densely clustered neighbourhoods, and their neighbourhoods were widely seen as being criminal.

 

A century on, Arabs in US struggle to separate myth from truth, tell their family stories

I am a third-generation Arab-American, and I am on a journey to learn more about the journey of my “jiddo,” the Arabic word for grandfather. I am sorting through family stories, passed down, that have a way of changing in the retelling. Folk tales are compelling, but I am trying to anchor my story to facts before the channels to history close entirely, in hopes they might offer insight about how I got here.

 

My quest mirrors those of so many Arab-Americans. They’re looking back and trying to unearth their stories, separating myth from truth and — just as important — hoping to show their neighbors that, in the story of America, they are not a “them” but an “us.”

 

Maybe the Titanic tale is true. It’s remotely possible, since Hussien Karoub came to the United States in the same year, 1912. My family hasn’t confirmed that through records, but by anecdotes like a radio interview from the early 1960s, when he said he came to Detroit in 1915 to make cars after spending three years making hats in Danbury, Conn.

 

For many Arabs, a version of the story is true. U.S.-bound Middle Easterners were on the Titanic and other ships traversing the Atlantic. In lower Manhattan, an already thriving Syrian community awaited and would be instrumental in identifying and memorializing the dead and helping survivors meet the new world.

 

U.S. Public Opinion Toward Arabs and Islam: How “The Video Incident” May Affect U.S.-Muslim Relations

A provocatively offensive film and violent demonstrations protesting it have once again roiled the relationships between Americans, Arabs and Muslims. In both the United States and the volatile transition states of North Africa, popular reactions have been swift, severe and complicated by domestic politics. But beyond the partisan scorekeeping and the loudly raised voices, how have these recent events changed the way the American public views Arab and Muslim communities? Within the emerging democratic Arab states, how has the furor over the video altered the public debate regarding freedom of speech, civil liberties and other constitutional rights? Finally, how are these issues examined within the context of religious expression, pluralism and tolerance—values that are central to American identity?

On October 8, the Saban Center for Middle East Policy and the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at Brookings hosted a discussion on these questions and unveiled a new University of Maryland public opinion poll examining attitudes just days after violence erupted in Libya and elsewhere in the Middle East.

The poll, conducted by Nonresident Senior Fellow Shibley Telhami, gauges American public attitudes toward Arabs and Muslims and toward U.S. foreign policy in the region.

Highlights of key findings from the poll include:

1. Most Americans believe that the the recent violent attacks against the American embassies in Libya and Egypt are the work of extremist minorities, not majorities, but most are dissatisfied with the reactions of the Libyan and Egyptian governments.

2. There is support for decreasing aid to Egypt, but not for stopping it.

3. A majority of Americans believes that an Israeli strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities would result in a drastic oil price increase, Iranian attacks on American bases, and a worsened American strategic position in the Middle East.

4. Majorities of the American public support increasing sanctions on Syria and imposing an international no-fly zone, but overwhelmingly oppose bombing Syria, arming rebels, or sending troops to Syria.

Waiting for an Arab Spring of Ideas

By Tariq Ramadan

DURING a recent visit to the United States, I was asked by intellectuals and journalists: Were we misled, during the Arab awakening, into thinking that Muslims could actually embrace democratic ideals?

The short answer is no. Participants in the recent violent demonstrations over an Islamophobic video were a tiny minority. Their violence was unacceptable. They do not represent the millions of Muslims who have taken to the streets since 2010 in a disciplined, nonviolent manner to bring down dictatorships.

Many Americans were nonetheless shocked by the chaos and bloodshed across Muslim countries, believing that they had come generously to the aid of the Arab peoples during the uprisings. But Arabs, and Muslims in general, have a longer memory and a broader view. Their mistrust is fueled by America’s decades-long support for dictators who accommodated its economic and security interests; by the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan; by the humiliating treatment of prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantánamo Bay; and by America’s seemingly permanent and unconditional support for Israel.

The timeworn dichotomy of “Islam versus the West” is giving way to an era of multipolar relations. The world’s economic center of gravity is shifting eastward. But the growing prominence of China, India and Russia, and of emerging powers like Brazil, South Africa and Turkey, does not automatically guarantee more justice and more democracy. Some Muslims are too quick to rejoice at the decline of American power. They seem unaware that what might replace it could well lead to a regression in social and human rights and to new forms of international dependency.

The Arab world has shaken itself out of its lethargy after decades of apparent resignation and silence. But the uprisings do not yet amount to a revolution. The Arab world must confront its historical demons and tackle its infirmities and its contradictions: when it turns to the task, the awakening will truly have begun.

Op ED: Not all Republicans are Islamophobes but all Islamophobes are Republicans

The straw man of the famous post-Sept. 11 slogan, “Not every Muslim is a terrorist but every terrorist is a Muslim” was debunked by a 2005 FBI report.

It showed that only 6 percent of terrorist attacks on U.S. soil from 1980 to 2005 were carried out by extremists calling themselves Muslims. But one group has sustained the Islamophobic rhetoric, nonetheless.

So I wonder if Muslims would rally outside the Republican National Convention this week carrying a banner stating, “Not all Republicans are Islamophobes but all Islamophobes are Republicans.” Trust me. The data supports it.

A new poll conducted by the Arab American Institute asked the attitudes of voters, analyzed along party lines, towards different religious groups, including Arabs and Muslims. Overall, 57 percent of the Republican voters viewed all Muslims unfavorably in comparison to 29 percent of Democrats who expressed a similar opinion. When it came to American Muslims, 47 percent of Republicans, in contrast with 23 percent of Democrats, held an unfavorable view.

Islamophobia in America is not innate, rather it’s the fruit of a decade-long hysteria against Muslims generated by a largely Republican machine comprised of pundits, conservative funders, media conglomerates and fiery politicians.

You can’t help but wonder: Why is it that nearly all Islamophobes are Republicans?