‘Muslim American Women on Campus: Undergraduate Social Life and Identity’ by Shabana Mir

March 7, 2014


It should come as no surprise that being a Muslim American woman on an American college campus, surrounded by social pressures involving drinking and dating, makes for a complex young-adult experience. What’s surprising is that these conflicts are not much discussed.

Shabana Mir, who teaches global studies and anthropology at Millikin University in Decatur, Ill., spent 10 months in Washington during 2002-03. She interviewed 26 Muslim American women at Georgetown and George Washington universities about how their choices concerning dating, alcohol and clothing made them feel around their non-Muslim peers. Each woman had her own way of melding her two modifiers into a “third space” that is “neither stereotypically American, nor stereotypically Muslim.”

One theme of the book is a subtle current of dismay on the part of non-Muslim students, who tended to be misinformed at best and fearful at worst about interacting with Mir’s subjects. Here is the author’s summation of what one young woman experienced after deciding to go to parties where there was drinking but not indulge in it herself: “Though Fatima optimistically assumed that her peers would respond to her compromise and ‘just accept’ her teetotalism, the tolerance proffered by her peers was far shallower than the acceptance they received from Fatima because of the cultural power differential.”

The book may leave readers feeling confused about what it is young Muslim American women are seeking or needing from those peers. In any case, the reticence Mir found on both campuses is unfortunate in a university setting, where dialogue and mutual understanding should be the norm.

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/2014/03/07/6c3058b4-844c-11e3-8099-9181471f7aaf_story.html

CAIR: Fla. Muslim Files Suit Against Feds After Being Imprisoned for Months

December 5, 2013


The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-FL) today announced the filing of a federal complaint against the United States by Irfan Khan, an American Muslim citizen, alleging false arrest, false imprisonment and malicious prosecution.

Khan was arrested and imprisoned for 319 days and made to endure what he describes as “some of the worse conditions imaginable” in solitary confinement in federal prison. The government dropped all charges against Irfan before trial. He is being represented by Morgan & Morgan, P.A. and CAIR-FL.

“Being an American is about having the right to be who you are. We look forward to pursuing justice on behalf of Mr. Khan,” said Michael Hanna, a discrimination attorney at Morgan & Morgan.”The decision to take away someone’s liberties is a serious responsibility. We are seeing a troubling pattern of overzealous prosecution when it comes to the Muslim community. We look forward to a transparent proceeding to reveal the facts,” said Nezar Hamze, spokesman for CAIR-FL.

Morgan and Morgan is a leading personal injury law firm dedicated to protecting the people, not the powerful.CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.


Cair.com: http://cair.com/press-center/press-releases/12282-cair-fla-muslim-files-suit-against-feds-after-being-imprisoned-for-months.html

Francis calls for mutual understanding between Christians and Muslims in letter to Al-Azhar

September 18, 2013

The Nuncio to Cairo, Mgr. Gobel, has delivered a letter to the Imam of Cairo’s Al-Azhar University calling for a steady return to dialogue

The Al-Azhar University in Cairo – considered one of the most important centres of Sunni Islamic learning  – has announced that Pope Francis has sent a personal message to the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Ahmed Al Tayyeb. The most important Catholic website in Arabic, www.abouna.org, published the communiqué issued by Al-Azhar, which mentions that a meeting took place yesterday between Al Tayyeb and the Apostolic Nuncio to Egypt, Mgr. Jean-Paul Gobel. During the face-to-face meeting the Nuncio delivered the message of wishes Pope Francis sent to the Muslim world for the end of the month of Ramadan, along with a personal message from to Pope to Al Tayyeb.

According to Al-Azhar, in his message the Pope stressed the Vatican’s respect for Islam and said he hoped every effort would be made towards achieving “mutual understanding between the world’s Christians and Muslims in order to build peace and justice.” Al Tayyeb apparently replied that the message Al-Azhar wished to get out is one of “respect for people of every religion and the safeguarding of human dignity and the highest values described in the Quran and the Sunnah.” He also said that Muslims are willing “to collaborate to help justice and progress grow among the people of the Earth.”

The communiqué issued by the University of Al-Azhar is important in light of the tensions between the Sunni centre of learning and the Vatican, which exploded in January 2011 after Benedict XVI’s strong condemnation of the Coptic Orthodox Cathedral of Alexandria. This led the university to announce it was suspending dialogue with the Holy See. Prior to this, a university delegation would hold meetings with the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue every two years. Today’s communiqué alluded to this incident, saying that Al Tayyeb apparently told the Nuncio that casting Islam in a negative light is “a red line” that must not be crossed.

The communiqué does not make explicit reference to the resumption of dialogue. But it is important to bear in mind that in June Al-Azhar said it was waiting for a response to the message of congratulations which Al Tayyeb sent Pope Francis after his election. And it expressed the hope that there would be “a clear demonstration of respect for Islam and Muslims”. This was clearly demonstrated in today’s message. The President of the Pontifical Council for Interreligious Dialogue Cardinal Jean Louis Tauran responded by saying that it was Al-Azhar that had interrupted dialogue with the Holy See. The Holy See had kept the door of dialogue open.

The facts seem to suggest that this rift is healing fast: Al Tayyeb and the University of Al-Azhar have proven to be an important reference point for Christians during the difficult past few months in Egypt. Even during Mohammed Morsi’s presidency the Great Imam had tried on more than one occasion to act as a mediator with Christians, attracting the wrath of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Then, after the 30 June demonstrations he openly supported the ousting of the Islamist president by the military. Importantly, when Turkey’s president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attacked him for this, the Secretary of the Council of Churches of Egypt, Fr. Bishoy Helmy came to his defence. The Apostolic Vicar of Alexandria, Mgr. Adel Zaki told Fides news agency that “a strong collaborative agreement between Al Azhar and the Council of Christian Churches is being registered.”

Engaging Muslims in British society

26 October 2010

In recent years, few subjects have had more column inches, multimedia pieces and funding streams devoted to them than the integration of Muslims into British society. Whole essays have been devoted to the notion that donning the niqab (face veil) impedes the exchange of pleasantries in the street; research has been done on the radicalisation potential of Islamic student associations at universities; and online news sites are brimming with details of clashes between groups like the English Defence League and Muslims Against the Crusades.

While it should be clear to most people that the views represented on each end of this spectrum are crude, and exacerbated by the harshness and unreasonableness of their approach, further coverage should be given to the nuanced positions in between. In this overview of British-Muslim relations of the past years, Tehmina Kazi calls for a better mutual understanding by non-Muslims acknowledging the diversity of British Muslim belief and practice and by Muslims becoming more active in British politics.

The ‘Islamic-Christian Day’: A Good Chance to Set up a Dialogue

October 28, 2010

The anniversary of the day for the dialogue between Christians and Muslims (it was introduced by Pope Jhon Paul II in 1986) has been celebrated the 27th of October in the Chamber of Deputies. The aim of the event is to build trust and mutual understanding among people, religious and non religious. 100 initiatives of dialogue between Christians and Muslims have been launched. They will take place all over Italy. Many religious communities lament a deficit in pluralism, secularism and religious freedom in the country. The Imam of Florence and President of the largest Islamic association in Italy (UCOII) urges for a new culture that engages, recognizes and respects Others. He also exhorts the Muslim community to avoid any form of isolation and victimization.

Beneath the headscarf: a teacher’s journey into Austria’s Muslim world

(By Ben Bruce) Barbara Coudenhove-Kalergi, a well-known Austrian journalist, writes about her experiences following a year of teaching German to headscarf-wearing women in Vienna. Coudenhove-Kalergi recounts numerous anecdotes, some humorous, some wistful, as she and her Muslim students gradually get to know one another better thanks to a program called “Mama’s learning German.”

Though originally intended to be a language course, Coudenhove-Kalergi finds herself explaining the Christian origins of Christmas and taking her students, baby strollers and all, on a field trip to the famous St. Stephen’s Cathedral. While the children light candles and place them on an alter, she discovers that her Muslim students (whether from Bangladesh, Tunisia or Turkey) have no problems with Christianity – it’s rather the general atmosphere of ‘godlessness’ in Austrian society which renders them uneasy.

Coudenhove-Kalergi acknowledges the reality of their “parallel society,” though shows herself to be rather sympathetic. For these women, most of whom arrived in the country as immigrant brides following a very brief courtship in their home countries, their lives consist of their homes, the park, the supermarket and the mosque. In general, there are few opportunities for them to come into contact with local Austrians.

In response to this, one of her colleagues set up a “Mama Café,” held once a month and open to students, teachers, and outside guests (as long as female). Here Coudenhove-Kalergi is shocked as she sees Hollywood-style wedding pictures from her Muslim students and hears how all the women had the right to refuse their suitors – one Egyptian woman having turned down two men before accepting the third.

She befriends Leila, the school’s teacher for Islamic religion classes, and attends a class. Despite a highly-publicized study last year which mentioned that every fifth teacher of Islamic religion in Austria believed there to be a contradiction between Islam and democracy, Coudenhove-Kalergi finds the young Leila to be quite modern and open. In the class itself, she watches while the children place a soccer player and a pop-singer next to the prophet Mohammed, in an assignment designed to help the children identify their role models.

Coudenhove-Kalergi tells us how in her own training to become a teacher, she had been told to encourage independence and self-reliance with respect to the female students. Though at first many could not imagine leaving their families to take up a profession, gradually confidence grows and a number of women confess their desire to become teachers or nurses. The arrival of two young and independent women from Serbia and Poland also leads to many discussions and gests towards mutual understanding, especially when one of the Muslim women briefly takes off her headscarf in response to the curiosity of one of the new students.

Coudenhove-Kalergi ends on a note of optimism. She recounts how close to the end of the semester one of her students triumphantly arrived in the class to announce that she had enrolled her youngest child in a kindergarten. In German. Without her husband. All alone. And the entire class applauded.

President Medvedev stresses Islam’s importance for Russia

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev sent a message to greet the fifth session of the “Russia and the Islamic World” Strategic Vision Group held in Kuwait.

In the message he notes that “the Group has made a great contribution to development of trust and mutual understanding between Russia and Muslim states during three years of its work”. He also said: “Your activities help to resist radical and extremist initiatives. The Group is a platform for sharing experience in building tolerant relations between different cultures and religions.”

“The Russian Federation as Organization of the Islamic Conference observer state is firm in its intention to develop dialogue with the Islamic world,”–the message also reads.

Police dress up in burkhas ‘to improve community relations’

Two sergeants and a community support officer dressed in head-to-foot burkhas and other traditional clothing and went out shopping. Meanwhile a group of Muslim women were invited into police cells, a CCTV control room and shown other daily duties of a police officer.

The move was part of a police initiative dubbed “In Your Shoes” taking place in Sheffield, South Yorkshire. But it has attracted strong criticism from onlookers. Matthew Elliott, of the Taxpayers’ Alliance, said: “This is an absurd diversion from real policing. People want the police out catching criminals, not indulging in politically correct gimmicks.”

Sergeant Deb Leonard, who wore some of the clothing, described her experience in a South Yorkshire Police in-house magazine. “I have gained an appreciation and understanding of what Muslim females experience when they walk out in public in clothing appropriate to their beliefs. We are keen to gain a better understanding of issues which our communities face.”

The San Francisco Gate examines: Will Obama’s words matter to the Muslim world?

President Obama has been criticized for his approach to the Muslim world prior to his visit to Turkey, by those who see Obama’s promise to open a dialogue with the Muslim world as endemic of being soft on terrorism. Yet, others wonder why the president would waste time on words and glowing speeches, when imported policy is imminently needed. Others point to Obama’s virtual silence on Israel’s war on Gaza.

The criticisms are based around one major concern – actions speak louder than words. While scholars and intellectuals alike agree that Barack Obama has worked to set a new tone in US-Muslim relationships and a significant shift has been made since end of the Bush era, Munir Jiwa of the Graduate Theological Union in Berkely writes that Muslims are asking to be more active and participatory in public discourse, and the misunderstandings that have amounted over the past eight years must finally be addressed and talked about instead of ignored, and active mutual understanding over just talking about finding common ground will ultimately lead to resolution.

Experts, Catalans betting on an inclusive school

While adolescents in Catalonia are raising questions about their identity, and children of immigrants are wondering about what it means to belong to two or more cultures, the proposition of integrative schools is making its way into community discourse. Psychologist Said El Kadaoui Mossaoui is asking for structural changes, especially in schools, to become a reality that actually (represents) Catalans living in Catalonia. Among the suggestions of his proposals include introducing Arab literature and authors in classes, to better understand the complexities of people. The secretariat for Immigration raised the need for educators to work self-esteem, cultural and religious empathy, and mutual understanding in the curriculum for adolescents.