Best Buy commercial points way to greater Muslim acceptance

January 24, 2014
(RNS) Viewers watching the American Football Conference championship game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots earlier this month may have seen a Best Buy commercial for a Sharp 60-inch television that seemed ordinary, but in one way was extraordinary.
The ad shows a young, clean-shaven salesman named Mustafa talking about the television, advising customers and relaxing at home watching movies and football with his friends.

“I’m never going to get these guys out of here,” he jokes to his girlfriend at the end.
While the commercial never identifies Mustafa as a Muslim, many might assume that given his name, a diminutive for Muhammad. For viewers used to seeing negative images of Muslims on television, the commercial was a rare exception.

“He has all the right stuff,” said Timothy de Waal Malefyt, a longtime advertising executive who now teaches at Fordham University in New York. “He has a girlfriend. He has Anglo friends. And he’s watching ‘Despicable Me’ and football. It’s very American.”

Muslims in commercials are still rare, but that could be changing as the acceptance of Muslims accelerates across America.

The Best Buy commercial, scheduled to run through Feb. 1, sparked a flurry of Twitter chatter after it debuted.

Best Buy spokesman Jeffrey Shelman said the ad featured actual Best Buy employees, chosen based on their tech knowledge and on-camera performance. As for Mustafa, he works one day a week at Best Buy’s El Segundo, Calif., store.

Mass. bar examiners to review religious wear rules

Test taker who had authorization interrupted due to her hijab

Iman Abdulrazzak, an observant Muslim, realized at the last minute that she needed special permission to wear her headscarf while taking the Massachusetts bar exam. She scrambled to fax her request for an exemption to the ban on hats and other headwear. She called the board’s office in Boston repeatedly to make sure it got through.


No one said anything about her headscarf when she arrived at Western New England University School of Law in Springfield to take the high-stakes test to become a lawyer Aug. 1. But halfway through the morning session, a proctor placed a note on her desk: “Head wear may not be worn during the examination without prior written approval. . . . Please remove your head wear and place it under your desk for the afternoon session.”


The problem was cleared up during the lunch break, when a proctor supervisor called the Board of Bar Examiners in Boston and confirmed that the office had approved Abdulrazzak’s request for a religious exemption. But Abdulrazzak said that the distraction and distress cost her about 10 minutes in the morning session and that she was not able to fully answer all of the essay questions.


Marilyn Wellington, executive director of the Massachusetts Board of Bar Examiners, called the mix-up “very unfortunate” and said the board takes responsibility for the mistake.


She said the board may consider revising its rule requiring prior authorization for religious headwear. The rule was established to prevent people from concealing notes or other information that could be used to cheat on the exam, she said, not to inhibit religious practice.


Normally, the Board of Bar Examiners notifies proctor supervisors of any test-takers who have obtained authorization to wear religious headgear during the exam.


Abdulrazzak said the proctor supervisor in her case seemed unable to find a notation of the authorization in her official binder. But she said the supervisor “was really nice.”


Charles C. Haynes, director of the Religious Freedom Education Project at the Newseum in Washington, said that as the nation becomes more diverse, requests for religious accommodation are becoming more common in schools, workplaces, and other arenas.


At least one other similar instance happened during the administration of the Massachusetts bar exam two years ago. Hania Masud, 28, a New York lawyer who took the bar in Boston in 2011, said she had not realized she needed a special exception to the no-hats rule in order to wear her hijab during the exam.

Jets’ Aboushi Faces Aspersions for Being Palestinian

On the night of June 29, two months after he was drafted by the Jets, Oday Aboushi stood before more than 700 people at the El Bireh Society convention in Arlington, Va., and discussed his journey to the N.F.L.

Aboushi shared what it was like growing up in Brooklyn and Staten Island as one of 10 children. He spoke about graduating from the University of Virginia in three and a half years. He discussed his 2009 visit to refugee camps in the West Bank, how that trip inspired him even more to succeed and to represent his community.

“It was the classic American success story,” said Sarab Al-Jijakli, the president of the Network of Arab-American Professionals, who was in the audience that night.

Aboushi’s appearance at the convention, a three-day gathering of Palestinian-Americans that was described by another attendee as a “cultural networking event,” produced an outcry from some online who charged Aboushi with being a Muslim extremist. An article on the Web site FrontPage Mag suggested that he had terrorist ties. A column on Yahoo Sports, since removed, said he held anti-Semitic views. An employee of on Twitter compared Aboushi to Aaron Hernandez, the former New England Patriots tight end charged with murder, before later apologizing.

Waves of support for Aboushi started rolling in on Thursday, and on Friday, the Anti-Defamation League released a statement condemning the attacks on his character and applauding him for taking pride in his culture. The Jets also backed Aboushi, an offensive lineman they selected in the fifth round.

In a statement, Aboushi said he was upset that his reputation had been tarnished by people who did not know him, but that he was proud of his Palestinian heritage and to have been born and raised in the United States.

Bosnian Muslims thrive in U.S. despite unease over homeland

BOSTON — As a young soldier in Bosnia, Azem Dervisevic led a platoon that helped keep the capital city of Sarajevo from falling to Serb forces during the 1992-1995 Bosnian war.

Now, as a civilian in the Boston area, Dervisevic is still fighting for his homeland, but with culture instead of bullets.

In June, he helped found the New England Friends of Bosnia and Herzegovina, a group that helped organize a recent art exhibit, “Bosnian Born,” featuring the work of more than 20 Muslim, Serb and Croat artists born in Bosnia.

The group also inaugurated its first semester of Bosnian language classes, with a dozen students between 6 and 9 years old. Dervisevic hopes it will promote Bosnian culture, encourage reconciliation between Bosnia’s different ethnic groups, and preserve the history of the war that introduced the term “ethnic cleansing.”

Despite their relatively short time in America and the ghosts of war, Bosnian Muslims are largely well integrated and often thriving in American society. Many have become physicians, university professors, business owners and financiers. Their children, like the children of most immigrant groups, are poised to do even better.

The Veiled Monologues at the A.R.T.

” . . . a magnificent demonstration of the power of theatre to change the terms of public debate. The monologues make visible – live, in real time, in close physical proximity – women, emotions, and beliefs that are hidden from the non-Muslim world.” Thomas Sellar, Editor, Theater

The American Repertory Theatre is pleased to invite you to the New England premiere of Dutch actress/writer/director Adelheid Roosen’s The Veiled Monologues. Scheduled for one week only, from Tuesday, October 16 through Sunday, October 21, performances will be the A.R.T.’s Zero Arrow Theatre in Harvard Square.

After acting in a production of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues, Dutch actress Adelheid Roosen approached Muslim women living in the Netherlands to ask them similar questions about their sexuality. The result – The Veiled Monologues – is a vital, surprising, and poetic portrait of love and relationships in the Islamic community. Each monologue is imbued with deep feeling and delicate detail, allowing us more than a glimpse into each woman’s soul.

Several performances will be followed by symposia:

October 16: Post-performance discussion with members of the creative team, co-presented by the Harvard College Women’s Center.

October 17: Post-performance panel discussion, co-presented by Harvard University’s Center for Middle Eastern Studies and Committee on Degrees in Studies of Women, Gender, and Sexuality

Tickets: Start at $39, $25 for students (based on availability.) Group rates are available for groups of 10 or more.

A New England Muslim leader reaches out

Imam Khalid Nasr, head of the Islamic Center of New England, has been working overtime as a spiritual leader of both the Sharon mosque and the center’s other mosque in Quincy. Officially the imam of both mosques since the imam of the center’s Sharon mosque was arrested on immigration charges last year, Nasr, an Egyptian native, has been conducting services in both places and delegating duties to trained lay persons in cases of conflicting schedules. In his time in charge of the Islamic centers, Nasr has made outreach to Christians and non-Muslims a trademark of his service, meeting regularly with heads of area Christian congregations and welcoming school groups to tour the Quincy mosque. “We are not strangers anymore. This is our home. Our intention is to stay here and be part of this community, he said.

Charges weigh on imam, backers – Local support for Masood remains strong, says rabbi

Facing criminal charges stemming from allegations of immigration fraud, Imam Muhammad Masood – the public face of the New England Center of Islam in Sharon – finds himself in an increasingly difficult position, and could face deportation. Masood was arrested in a sweep by immigration enforcement officers almost a year ago, losing his position as the center’s imam, his income, and his right to work for money in the United States because the charges stripped him of legal immigration status…

Going mainstream – Islamic school becomes first to gain accreditation

It’s located on 2.8 leafy acres in Shrewsbury, complete with a basketball court, small playground, and the traditional classes that can be found in any public school. But Al-Hamra Academy in Shrewsbury, a private school housed in a simple two-story brick building under an American flag, also teaches Arabic, Islamic studies, and the Koran. There are prayers during the school day. Now, the academy has become the first Islamic school in New England to win accreditation, a milestone for the region’s Muslim community. “Accreditation is really a sign of maturity of the school,” said Bill Bennett, director of the commission on independent schools at the New England Association of Schools and Colleges, the accrediting body…

Mosque leader accused of immigration fraud: Imam’s arrest sparks protest outside court

By Shelley Murphy The spiritual leader of a mosque in Sharon was arrested yesterday on federal immigration fraud charges, sparking a protest outside the courthouse in Boston by a group of religious leaders and civil rights advocates who called the case a witch hunt. Muhammad Masood, 49, imam of the 1,500 member Islamic Center of New England, is accused of lying repeatedly to federal immigration officials between 2002 and 2006 in a bid to obtain a green card and ultimately become a US citizen. The criminal charges follow administrative charges brought by immigration officials last year. That case also drew wide protest from local Muslim leaders, who have accused authorities of ignoring efforts to smooth relations with members of various cultures…