Unity in a Strange Land: Photographing New York City’s Islamic Communities

July 13, 2014

Philip Montgomery calls his photographs of New York City’s various Islamic communities an unfinished project, one driven by changing perspectives and questions. He began in 2009 as a new arrival from California and fresh from photographing Sufi Muslims in Kashmir. In an unfamiliar city, Mr. Montgomery, now 26, said he felt a yearning to “work my way back to the kind of connected communities I saw in Kashmir.”

What he found in New York was an incredible diversity of cultures and practices: West Africans in Harlem; Indonesians in Jamaica, Queens; Palestinians in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; large and small congregations from all over the Islamic world.

“They were all keeping the traditions of where the individuals came from,” Mr. Montgomery said. “These are Americans, but this is their connection to home. I was looking at people bound together by faith but also by the city they lived in.”

After a break, Mr. Montgomery returned to the mosques during the holy month of Ramadan, which this year is June 28 to July 28. In 2009, many of the Muslims he encountered were still navigating the anti-Islamic sentiments that arose after the Sept. 11 attack. This year, the world event moving many of the congregants has been the increasingly bloody conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in Gaza and the West Bank.

But he was struck by the scenes of unity, as at a mosque on West 29th Street, across from the hipsterish Ace Hotel. “You had creative directors grabbing coffee at Stumptown or pork-heavy food at the Breslin, and then you had cabdrivers praying in the street, breaking the fast,” he said. “I talked to Ghanaians, Yemenis, people from Mali, Palestinians and Americans, people from all over the world in a random spot in Manhattan. It was really a New York cross-pollination.”

Interfaith Panel Denounces a 9/11 Museum Exhibit’s Portrayal of Islam

April 24, 2014

 

Past the towering tridents that survived the World Trade Center collapse, adjacent to a gallery with photographs of the 19 hijackers, a brief film at the soon-to-open National September 11 Memorial Museum will seek to explain to visitors the historical roots of the attacks.

The film, “The Rise of Al Qaeda,” refers to the terrorists as Islamists who viewed their mission as a jihad. The NBC News anchor Brian Williams, who narrates the film, speaks over images of terrorist training camps and Qaeda attacks spanning decades. Interspersed with his voice are explanations of the ideology of the terrorists, rendered in foreign-accented English translations.

The documentary is not even seven minutes long, the exhibit just a small part of the museum. But it has suddenly become over the last few weeks a flash point in what has long been one of the most highly charged issues at the museum: how it should talk about Islam and Muslims.

With the museum opening on May 21, it has shown the film to several groups, including an interfaith advisory group of clergy members. Those on the panel overwhelmingly took strong exception to the film and requested changes. But the museum has declined. In March, the sole imam in the group resigned to make clear that he could not endorse its contents.

The screening of this film in its present state would greatly offend our local Muslim believers as well as any foreign Muslim visitor to the museum,” Sheikh Mostafa Elazabawy, the imam of Masjid Manhattan, wrote in a letter to the museum’s director. “Unsophisticated visitors who do not understand the difference between Al Qaeda and Muslims may come away with a prejudiced view of Islam, leading to antagonism and even confrontation toward Muslim believers near the site.”

Museum officials are standing by the film, which they say they vetted past several scholars.

The terms “Islamist” and “jihadist” are frequently used in public discourse to describe extremist Muslim ideologies. But the problem with using such language in a museum designed to instruct people for generations is that most visitors are “simply going to say Islamist means Muslims, jihadist means Muslims,” said Akbar Ahmed, the chairman of the Islamic studies department at American University.

“The terrorists need to be condemned and remembered for what they did,” Dr. Ahmed said. “But when you associate their religion with what they did, then you are automatically including, by association, one and a half billion people who had nothing to do with these actions and who ultimately the U.S. would not want to unnecessarily alienate.”

For his part, Bernard Haykel, a professor of Near Eastern studies at Princeton University, defended the film, whose script he vetted.

“The critics who are going to say, ‘Let’s not talk about it as an Islamic or Islamist movement,’ could end up not telling the story at all, or diluting it so much that you wonder where Al Qaeda comes from,” Dr. Haykel said.

The museum declined to make the film available for viewing by The New York Times.

The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2014/04/24/nyregion/interfaith-panel-denounces-a-9-11-museum-exhibits-portrayal-of-islam.html?_r=0

“I’ll tell you why I chose Islam” by Anna Assumma

October 30, 2013

 

By Anna Assumma

An Italian girl like many others. But she converts to Islam and decides to veil herself from head to foot. Hers is a choice that disturbs everyone: except her.

She’s a girl like any other, or perhaps she was a little brighter than others. She studied humanistic scientific studies before this, getting good grades and dreaming of dedicating her life after graduation to biotechnology, looking for new drugs to eradicate deadly degenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. Until a few years ago she always wore jeans. Sure, the pants were always accompanied with a tunic just above the knee and a headscarf. And then what? “Then there was the devotion to a new science,” she says smiling, Because she, Fatima – Giulia, smiles a lot.

Here is where our story begins. My interview began with a sinking heart. Seeing her completely covered in layers of black fabric (the white was only for marriage), no mouth, nose, eyes, hands only – which were gloved – her voice like a bearer of sunlight. Her gaze was clear, and even more with the youthful liveliness that makes its way from under the blanket that obscures her person.

 

L’Espresso: http://espresso.repubblica.it/visioni/societa/2013/10/30/news/vi-racconto-perche-ho-scelto-l-islam-1.139529#gallery-slider=1-139086

Protests against Ministry of Interior poster campaign

August 28

The Minister of Interior Hans Peter Friedrich has initiated a controversial poster campaign against the radicalization of young Muslim immigrants. The posters look like missing reports, showing young male Muslim migrants: the women in the pictures wear the “hijab”. The reports ask the reader to be aware of the missing person, who might have been radicalized and driven to extreme Islam. The number of a hotline to get advice from the Ministry of Interior is also on the poster. People who are within or close to social circle of Muslims, whether they are friends or relatives, and observe a “radicalization” among them, are invited to contact the hotline.

The initiative has triggered several critical reactions. Aydan Özoğuz, Commissioner for integration and deputy secretary of the SPD, harshly criticized the campaign, which would suggest regarding every Muslim as a fanatic and terrorist.

Kenan Kolat, a representative of the Turkish community in Germany, spoke about a stigmatization campaign, which would distract from the real problem, which in fact is societal racism.

Islamophobia and Its Discontents

Thirty years ago, no one outside the halls of academe had heard of Islamophobia. Yet today it is virtually impossible to open a newspaper without encountering either the term or an argument against its use. The word began to appear in print in the late 1980s, when Muslims in Western countries—people of starkly different racial and ethnic backgrounds—began to notice similarities among their experiences with hate, intimidation or discrimination. But almost from the start, there was a parallel effort to discredit this neologism: it was assailed as a fiction, at best the product of a culture of victimhood and at worst a very dangerous myth. Thus we have Islamophobia and “Islamophobia,” one with currency on the left side of the political spectrum and the other a common target of the right.

People who believe that Islamophobia is a fiction are fond of pointing out that Islam is neither a race nor an ethnicity. Islam is a set of beliefs and customs. And in a free society, one ought to be able to criticize all kinds of ideas without fear of being labeled hateful toward Muslims. The late Christopher Hitchens declared that “Islamophobia” was a “stupid neologism” because it “aims to promote criticism of Islam to the gallery of special offenses associated with racism.” Sam Harris, the bestselling author of The End of Faith and The Moral Landscape, wrote that “apologists for Islam have even sought to defend their faith from criticism by inventing a psychological disorder known as ‘Islamophobia.’” He continued, “There is no such thing as Islamophobia…. It is not a form of bigotry or racism to observe that the specific tenets of the faith pose a special threat to civil society. Nor is it a sign of intolerance to notice when people are simply not being honest about what they and their co-religionists believe.”

Youth Integration Summit 2012

April 17

 

The Youth Integration Summit 2012 has started this week in Berlin. Since 2010 young people from every part of Germany are invited to attend this annual initiative. Among the participants there are a great number of young migrants of different backgrounds. Participants are expected to discuss aspects such as “Education and Integration”, “Civic Engagement and Integration”, “Media and Integration” and “Inter-generational Conflicts” in different workshops. In her opening speech, Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed integration as a responsibility for the whole society.

 

However, there is a degree of criticism around the initiative. Representatives of the opposition Green party have criticized the Youth Integration Summit as an insubstantial event, which gathers engaged youths without concrete aims and leaves them with a little more than a family picture for the gallery.

The Louvre Prepares to Open Islamic wing

News Agencies – January 5, 2012

With a roof designed to look like a floating sheet of silk, a reference to the Islamic headscarf, a new wing of the Louvre housing Islamic art is nearing completion. The project to house the Paris museum’s well-regarded collection of Islamic objects was launched by former president Jacques Chirac in 2002.

Six years later his successor, Nicolas Sarkozy, laid the first stone. After four years of construction, the wing is set to open in the summer.

The building’s architect Mario Bellini, who has designed the structure with Rudy Ricciotti, said the structure should seem as if it is “floating in mid-air.” The 3,500 square metre space is the museum’s biggest project since the construction of the glass pyramid that sits in the Louvre’s main courtyard twenty years ago. The €98 million ($126 million) new wing will sit in one of the Louvre’s hidden courtyards in the Denon wing of the gallery and can house around 18,000 works.

At the Met, a New Vision for Islam in Hostile Times: A Cosmopolitan Trove of Exotic Beauty

Over the past decade, many Americans have based their thoughts and feelings about Islam in large part on a single place: the blasted patch of ground where the World Trade Center once stood. But a rival space has slowly and silently taken shape over those same years, about six miles to the north. It is a vast, palacelike suite of rooms on the second floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where some of the world’s most precious Islamic artifacts sit sequestered behind locked doors.

When the Met’s Islamic galleries first opened in 1975, they were presented as a cultural monolith, where nations and cultures were subsumed under one broad banner, as if Islam were another planet. Haidar and her colleagues have tried to emphasize the diversity of Islamic cultures across time and space. One result of that altered emphasis was the gallery’s new name. The “Islamic Wing” is gone, replaced by the “Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia.” It is a mouthful, but it makes a point.

French Judge Expels Fully-Veiled Woman from Courtroom

News Agencies – October 8, 2010

A French court on Friday expelled a woman from the public gallery for wearing the full Islamic veil, the day after a law banning the garment cleared its final hurdle. “Those people whose faces are visible are allowed to remain in the room wearing their headscarves. However, not that woman in the front row with only the eyes visible,” said the presiding judge. “She is asked to leave the room or take off her veil,” she said during the hearing at Bobigny, northeast of Paris, in the case of two men accused of breaking into the home of a local imam who was in favour of the burqa ban.

“I’m not surprised. I was expecting it, but I still took the risk,” the expelled woman told AFP afterwards, identifying herself only as a 35-year-old from the nearby neighbourhood of Saint Denis.

Detroit Institute of Arts’ Islamic art gallery

DIA is opening its long-awaited section dedicated to the art of the Muslim world. 168 items are to show in the part of the country with the largest Arab population. Ancient pieces from Silk Road to India , Egypt and Spain are in the collection. The collection is organized in themes such as calligraphy and carpets. One of the most significant items in the collection is a Qur’an on a rare colored paper from Iran made for a royal commission.