Muslims big players in American economy

Arab Americans comprise 6 million to 8 million people in the U.S. and Muslim Americans’ purchasing power is estimated to be $170 billion annually, but businesses often fail to recognize their economic power, recent reports suggest. A J. Walter Thompson survey called “Marketing to Muslims” and a study of Arab Americans in southeast Michigan provide a fuller picture of the economic contributions of Arabs and Muslims. Although often associated with Arabs, Muslims represent dozens of ethnic groups, including whites, blacks, Hispanics and Asians. Understanding the differences between ethnicity and religion is one barrier that often confounds advertisers interested in selling to Muslim populations. “We need to educate ourselves and gain a broader understanding of the Muslim population,” said Ann Mack, director of trend spotting for Thompson and one of the authors of the study. The study, which was conducted earlier this year, interviewed 350 Muslim Americans in 20 states. It found: Muslims make up at least 2 percent of the U.S. population and two-thirds are under the age of 40. About 21 percent of Muslim Americans between the ages of 25 to 34 are registered voters, compared with 15 percent of people in that group across the country. Nearly 30 percent of U.S. Muslims are converts to Islam. 71 percent of Muslims believe advertisers rarely show anyone of their faith or ethnicity in advertising. That compares with 34 percent of the general population that believes the same thing. Around 70 percent of American Muslims over 25 have a college education, compared to 26 percent of the general U.S. population. Nationally, the food, finance and apparel industries appear to be the most influential markets for consumers who follow Islam. According to the Thompson study, the global market for halal – food prepared in accordance with Islamic law – is worth an estimated $580 billion annually. A study released by Wayne State University in Detroit titled “Arab America Economic Contribution Study” examined that population in southeast Michigan, finding that Arab Americans account for 6 percent of the work force and between $5.4 billion and $7.7 billion in earnings there. “In the U.S., the Arab and Muslim communities are small but generally very affluent and highly entrepreneurial,” Nasser Beydoun, chairman of the Dearborn, Mich.-based Arab American Chamber of Commerce, said last week. Michigan is home to the largest concentration of Arabs outside the Middle East – about 400,000 in metropolitan Detroit and 500,000 throughout the state.

Harsh reality dominates non-fiction prize shortlist

This year’s non-fiction prize shortlist features two books related to U.S. military intervention in Iraq and one study of an Islamist extremist murder in Holland Ian Buruma’s Murder in Amsterdam is about the killing of the provocative columnist and filmmaker Theo van Gogh by the son of Moroccan immigrants who was angry because he had collaborated with an anti-Islamic politician. These books edged out other promising biographies-presumably they were favored given the political nature of these times.

Islam in the European Union: What’s at Stake in the Future?

This report presents the current stakes concerning the Muslim presence in Europe. It adresses four main areas: organizational processes underway within Muslim communities; the questions of education and leadership; the juridical profiles and political management of Muslims; cohabitation as a decision to live together. Based on the findings of the study, proposals are made.

L’islam, un recours pour les jeunes

Based on a long ethnographic study, L’Islam, un recours pour les jeunes focuses on the Islamic identities of French youth with North African or Turkish origins and working-class backgrounds. It asserts that young men and women’s religious paths are linked to experiences at school, within immigrant families and in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Young men complain of being labelled negatively at school and being pushed toward low-skilled jobs instead of the professional vocations and lifestyles for which they yearn. They are often in conflict with teachers or with career advisers and engage Muslim symbols to protest against school judgments. The book also insists on the deep differences between Turkish and North-African populations with working-class backgrounds. The Turkish populations settled in France later than North-Africans and subsequently their settlement has been more fragile. They want to preserve traditions and customs from their country of origin, a phenomenon reinforced by the high concentrations of Turkish populations in urban areas. Turkish parents’ aspirations influence their goals for their children, especially in relation to school, professional life and marriage. The second part of Kapko’s book discussed the response of local authorities to Muslim religious claims. For over a decade, changes in Muslim demands of local policitians in relation to religious practice have been noticed. In comparison to demands made in the 1980s by immigrant fathers which focused on the need for prayer space, the 1990s have seen new demands such as the right to wear the headscarf in public spaces, the participation of local politicians to seminars held by religious leaders, and accommodation of religious arguments during negotiations with local political leaders. This investigation shows that council representatives often only select the aspects of the demands that seem to suit their objectives -keeping public order, social integration-and ignore the religious content of the demands. In other cases discussed, religious intonations are not ignored but rather exploited by the local government. Government officials, who fear confrontations between ethnic groups in disadvantaged areas, are tempted to turn religious militants into unofficial mediators between immigrant populations and public authorities.

Muslim Population Experiences Discrimination

The European Union Monitoring Center for Racism and Xenophobia made public, on the 18th of December, a report on Islamophobia in the countries of the EU. It is the first time that this organization has published a study on the population of Islamic origin, estimated at 13 million, or 3.5% of the EU population. This study did not take into account people’s relation to Islam, or their relgious practice, but concluded that the population that is considered “Muslim” experienced discrimination in the workplace, the educational system, and housing. In the countries of the EU, the level of unemployment of “Muslims” is higher than the national average.

EU Report: Muslims Face ‘Islamophobia’

Muslims across Europe are confronting a rise in “Islamophobia” ranging from violent attacks to discrimination in job and housing markets, a wide-ranging European Union report indicated Monday. The study, compiled by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, urged European authorities to strengthen policies on integration. But it also noted that Muslims need to do more to counter negative perceptions driven by terrorism and upheavals such as the backlash to cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The 117-page survey details the many divides between the EU mainstream and the estimated 13 million Muslims – now at least 3.5 percent of the 25-nation bloc’s population – and seeks to offer a street-level view of the complexities blocking efforts to bridge the differences. The report urged EU nations to develop more clear legal frameworks for Muslim cultural and religious institutions, including ways to make more public funds available to Islamic community groups and help train local imams. The report also said Europe’s Muslims are “often disproportionately represented” in poor housing conditions, unemployment statistics and in lower education levels.

Muslim students in Rome see learning as a two-way street: as they study Christianity, they find themselves ambassadors of Islam

ROME – When Zeinep Ozbek told her parents how she planned to pursue her education, they were shocked. Not only was the young Muslim woman about to leave her native Turkey, she was venturing into a strict traditional bastion of Christianity: Rome. Ozbek, 25, is now one of several Muslim students ensconced in the Vatican’s system of higher learning in and around the Italian capital. They attend pontifical universities, schools sanctioned by the Vatican, taking lessons from nuns and priests and sitting in classrooms decorated with crucifixes, in buildings adorned with larger-than-life statues and symbols of papal power. As Pope Benedict XVI travels to Turkey today, international attention is riveted on his attempts to improve troubled relations between Christians and Muslims. But here in Rome, at a more grass-roots level, a less-noticed experiment is taking place. Officially, the Muslim students attend the Jesuit-run Gregorian Pontifical University and other Vatican schools to learn about Christianity. In reality, they have become mediators navigating the suddenly very tricky world of interfaith dialogue and understanding. Some are meeting Christians for the first time, and they are often the first Muslims their Christian classmates have encountered. Several said they wanted to correct Western misconceptions about Islam. Interfaith dialogue was a favorite theme of the late Pope John Paul II, who became the first pontiff to enter a mosque. Benedict asks for an honest interaction that might ultimately lay bare mistrust and chafe historic sensitivities. His speech in September at the University of Regensburg in Germany was seen by many Muslims as an insult to their faith and its founder, the prophet Muhammad. In it, Benedict quoted a medieval emperor who branded Islam “evil and inhuman.” Ever since, in the face of Muslim anger, the pope has sought to explain that he was attempting to illustrate the incompatibility of faith and violence and that he has profound respect for Islam. In Turkey, crowds have been protesting the planned four-day visit. The Regensburg comments also proved problematic for Muslim students in Rome, and raised questions about the pope’s commitment to interfaith dialogue. “All the trouble of the recent months has been pushing people to think carefully about where dialogue is headed, and to realize how much more urgent it is,” said Father Daniel Madigan, head of the Gregorian’s Institute for the Study of Religions and Cultures, where most of the Muslim students are based. The program at the Gregorian is facing some uncertainty because Madigan, a leading expert on Islam and interfaith relations at a time the Vatican needs such insight, is leaving Rome for a position at Jesuit-run Georgetown University in Washington. Ozbek, the Turkish woman working on a master’s degree, had never met a Christian before she came to Rome. The Christian communities in Turkey are tiny and generally linked to ethnic groups such as Greeks or Armenians that Ozbek did not find particularly embracing. Some of her friends and relatives were afraid her immersion in a Catholic world would cause her to lose her identity. But that is a fear of those insecure in their faith, she said; for her, learning about the “richness” of Christianity only expanded her own devotion and helped her see “the other” as a fellow human being. “Generally I’m the first Muslim person they have met and they ask lots of questions,” she said. Ozbek wears a head scarf. An irony of her experience here is that most Turkish universities, obeying a strictly enforced government policy of secularism, would not let her attend class with her head covered. Naser Dumarreh, 34, of Damascus, Syria, said the pious Catholic milieu that Rome provided was more comfortable than a secular Western environment. “I’m living in a Christian society, not a Western society, and there’s not such a big difference from an Islamic society,” said Dumarreh, one of the first Middle Easterners to join the program. The students said they felt a fair amount of pressure as representatives of Islam. “They expect me to know everything about Islam, to be able to quote all the verses of the Koran by heart,” said Mustafa Cenap Aydin, 28, a Turk who has been studying in Rome for three years. But he says there is a mutual learning curve. Until arriving at the Gregorian, he did not know of the many positive references to Christianity contained in the Koran. “I’m not the same Mustafa who came here,” he said. Several of the students said understanding Christianity had broadened their understanding of Islam, a later religion that incorporates some of the earlier Christian and Judaic traditions. “To study in Rome on Christianity means to me to discover the historical, literary and theological background of the Koran,” said Esra Gozeler, who is working here on her PhD and teaches theology at the University of Ankara in Turkey. Omar Sillah, a 30-year-old student from Gambia who is specializing in the three monotheistic religions (Islam, Christianity and Judaism), has seen the traditions of his Muslim faith reflected in Catholicism. He knew Christians before coming to Rome; in fact, he studied at a missionary school in Gambia. But Rome was an eye-opener. After the pope’s Regensburg speech, Sillah said, he was bombarded with e-mails and questions from fellow students. He told them that a religion of violence and evil “is not the Islam that I follow.” His goal, he said, is to show Christians in Rome “by our actions” a different kind of Islam. But he doesn’t mind the endless queries. “That’s our goal – that’s dialogue,” he said.

The Mayor of Orange wants to forbid the Islamic veil in his community

Mayor of Orange Jacques Bompard, a memeber of the Movement for France and an ex-Front National, queried about the legal possibility of the prohibition of the Islamic veil in his community, in a letter made public Wednesday. “I have the honor of soliciting the services of the prefecture in order to study together the possibility of a prohibition of the Islamic veil in the community of Orange and especially our public establishments,” wrote the mayor. “It is not the responsibility of France to adapt to the veil… It is the responsibility of adherents to these religious traditions to adapt to France, to the Republic, to the French laws and customs,” he continued.

Muslim Students ‘More Tolerant’

Muslim pupils are more liberal and tolerant than non-Muslim pupils, a Home Office-funded study has found. The research, involving 400 15-year-olds, was carried out by Lancaster University in a two-year project after the 2001 Burnley riots. It found that nearly a third of non-Muslim pupils thought one race was superior, compared to a tenth of teenagers in a mainly Muslim school.

What is the Head Under the Scarf Thinking?

The first representative study of scarf-wearing Muslim women shows: they are pretty normal women. Muslim women seem to feel that everything has been said with regards to the headscarf. It has been eight years since the state of Baden-Wurtemburg refused to allow teaching candidate Fereshda Ludin to wear her hair-covering while acting as an official of the government. In the folowing years great controversy has raged over the alleged danger of an Islamist seizure of power in the German courts, talkshows, and newspapers. Politically the case is decided: almost all states have issued prohibitions of the headscarf. After the plaintiff’s success, the legal confrontation against the new national dress ordinances is going to the next round.