By Tara Bahrampour Washington Post Staff Writer Standing before 100 or so girls in green, brown and blue Girl Scouts vests, Sarah Hasan, the leader of Brownie Troop No. 503, explained the Islamic Ramadan fast. “We’re not allowed to eat or drink anything from dawn to dusk for a whole month,” she said, noticing that some girls looked shocked. “It’s a month to be grateful for all the things that you have.” Ramadan, which fell this year in October and November, ends with a big feast called Eid al-Fitr. Last week, five Girl Scout troops from the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling hosted an Eid party for five Herndon area troops, their mothers and troop leaders, to share a meal and help demystify Muslim cultural and religious traditions. The annual event, in its fifth year, was one of the activities many Muslim families — especially those with one or more immigrant parents — say are important to help integrate their sons and daughters into the rituals of American childhood. For many Muslim children, living in the United States means constantly balancing between being an observant Muslim and an American kid — identities that aren’t always in sync. “Unlike where we grew up [in Muslim countries], when they walk out the door, they’re seeing something different from what we teach them,” Hasan said. “So you can’t say, ‘That’s just the way it is.’ It’s always like, ‘But why? But how?’ ” Many Muslim immigrants have sought to bridge their old and new worlds since they began coming to the United States in large numbers during the 1960s. But since Sept. 11, 2001, as they have faced increasing hostility and scrutiny, parents and community leaders say, cultural integration is more vital than ever. “How do we deal with harassment, post-9/11? That’s part of our education program: letting people know who Muslims are,” said Rizwan Jaka, president of the Muslim society and a Cub Scout den leader. Like anyone else, he said, Muslims “want to be sure [our children] grow up with good character and good citizenship,” and they seek out activities accordingly. In the Washington area, home to about 250,000 Muslims from several countries, those activities include scouting, basketball, football, cricket and table tennis. The Muslim society’s center, which attracts Muslims from across Virginia, the District and Maryland, has hosted Muslim comedians and Muslim concerts and held interfaith exchanges with churches and an Eid festival with a moonbounce. “This is part of the normal progression of our community,” Jaka said. “They’re wholesome community activities that are compatible with who we are, which is wholesome Americans.” Many on the Muslim society’s board are, like Jaka, younger than 35 and born in the United States to immigrant parents. “We’ve gone through the system here, so we have a better idea of what our young people are facing,” he said. “As other mosques progress and more young people take over, you’ll see more transformation toward that.” U.S. Muslim scout troops have been increasing in the past two decades, said Donald York, director of the relationship division of the Boy Scouts of America: 112 troops with 1,948 members are chartered through an Islamic school or mosque. “What’s happening now in the Islamic community is very similar to what was happening in the 1920s and ’30s in Boy Scouts . . . with the Jewish community,” York said. “They used scouting to assimilate their young people into America.” York said scouting values — which include an adherence to faith — mesh well with Muslim ones. “Islamic families and clergies want the same thing for young people,” he said. “They want them to grow up in their faith and learn their histories and cultures,” he said. “Things like trustworthy, obedient, clean and helpful” — elements of Scout Law — “these are predominant Muslim ideas. They’re very attractive to an Islamic family.” A spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of the United States of America said the organization does not ask scouts’ religious affiliation but does encourage spirituality. Troops often meet in churches, synagogues, and, increasingly, mosques. “It’s a pretty common thing,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. “In fact, we did an ad campaign trying to show Muslims as regular people, and that was one of the things we showed: a Muslim Girl Scout troop in California.” Most Muslim children attend public schools and absorb American culture there, Hooper said. But people whose children attend Islamic school or are home-schooled also say connections with non-Muslims are important. “In this society, everybody has to learn to live together,” said Zohra Sharief, a Pakistani living in Woodbridge who home-schools her five children and co-leads Troop No. 503. “If I isolate myself from the society, it’s my loss.” It helps to have non-Muslim peers who understand the traditions, Hasan said. Still, she said, as immigrants arrive from Muslim countries and start families here, they must differentiate between what is religious and what is cultural and decide which American cultural practices to embrace and incorporate. Many note, for example, that dress is a cultural choice. Some immigrants arrive accustomed to wearing Western attire; some hew to the sartorial traditions of their home countries; some make compromises, such as forgoing headscarves but forbidding miniskirts. Hasan, 34, who is of Indian descent and was raised in Kuwait, said she and her three daughters do not wear head coverings except during prayers. “I tell them, ‘We’re in America; you can wear pants.’ ” But she has a blanket rule against another American ritual: sleepovers. “It’s not religious,” she said of her reasoning, “but I remember my mom said it’s not decent for young ladies to be sleeping in a house other than their own.” At the center last week, in a large room that serves as a prayer hall, party room and indoor gym, girls in headbands and jeans sat beside girls in headscarves and shalwar kameez — tunics and trousers — to make crepe-paper Eid necklaces. Hasan told the girls about Eid rituals, such as putting henna on their hands; taught them to say ” Salaam -u- aleikum ,” Arabic for “Peace be upon you”; and read a story about a family celebrating Eid. Afterward, Mona Magid, 6, a Brownie in a magenta headscarf who is the daughter of the society’s imam, explained more about fasting. “Like if you weren’t eating for the entire day, the way your throat would get dry is how the poor feel,” she said. “So Muslims want to try to help the poor.” Ashley d’Hedouville, 7, a second-grader at Clearview Elementary School in Herndon, said she learned that “Ramadan is when you eat at night.” Her sister Ann Marie, 8, said she knew about fasting from a classmate. “My friend does that. She goes to the library” during lunch. Once she and her classmates learned the reason, “we wouldn’t talk about food in front of her, or drinks.” While the Girl Scouts munched on halal, or religiously sanctioned, hot dogs, the center’s Muslim Boy Scout troops met downstairs for pizza, and the adults had their own cultural exchange. The Muslim mothers brought dishes from their home countries (chicken curry, rice, lamb and samosas) and from the United States (pasta casserole) and a large cake wishing a happy Eid. Gina Gallagher, a Herndon resident attending the dinner for the second consecutive year, said getting to know the Muslim mothers had been a revelation. “A lot of people look at the women with the head scarves, and they can’t relate,” she said. “You look at a woman like that and you’re like, ‘I don’t have anything in common with her.’ And then you sit down, you eat, you realize you all have the same problems.”
Niko Kyriakou WASHINGTON — Muslim youth groups in the United States are addressing suspicions that the London bombers were both young and “homegrown” by ramping up anti-terrorism initiatives. After the second attack hit London on July 21, the Muslim Public Affairs Council and the Islamic Society of North America issued a statement in which young Muslim groups across the United States condemned terrorism and the ideology that fuels it. The Washington-based, Muslim Public Affairs Council says that this is the first campaign specifically launched by Muslim youth, and counts as an important addition to the movement since most Islamic terrorists are between 20 and 30 years old, the group told United Press International. “We Muslim-American students and youth stand united in condemning all acts of terror and the burgeoning war on ideas,” the group said in a statement. “The voice of American Muslim youth is essential at this tenuous time and we will rise to the occasion of making our values heard … We seek to cultivate a culture of pluralism, tolerance and coexistence for the advancement of all people.” British Prime Minister Tony Blair has said that future attacks on his country, which has a large immigrant Muslim population, could be prevented in part by legal and security measures, but “in the end, this can only be taken on and defeated by the [Muslim] community itself”. Some Muslim youth groups in the United States appear to have the same thought. Signed by some 30 Muslim student groups from universities across the country, including the University of California at Los Angeles and Cornell University, the statement offers an open-invitation for other groups to sign on and affirms that Islam does not tolerate terrorism under any circumstances. A number of the largest US Muslim groups – including The Islamic Circle of North America, the Coalition of Islamic Organizations of Chicago, the Council on American-Islamic Relations and groups that are part of the National Grassroots Campaign to Fight Terrorism – have outspokenly condemned acts of terror since the London attacks. Salam Al Marayati, the director of the Muslim Affairs Council, told UPI that his organization plans to “positively and constructively intervene with our youth to make sure they have a good understanding of Islam so that no extremists will play upon them”. He said that the campaign is in its nascent stage but might begin Internet outreach or hold a youth summit in the fall. Marayati said that he does not think that there are any young Muslims in the United States who embrace terrorist ideologies, yet. “I don’t think there are any right now; this is a proactive program. We are not going to wait for extremist groups to recruit any of our youth,” he said. The way to prevent young Muslims from adopting violent views is “to preach the ideology of love and mutual respect and justice, and secondly, to bring youth into more positive, active engagement with society and to listen to them so we reduce the likelihood of alienation,” Marayati said. Other signatories include the national office of the Muslim Students Association located in Virginia. The Association is the first and largest coalition of Muslim students in the United States, with nearly 600 chapters averaging 50 students per chapter. The national office, however, does not speak for the local chapters. Local MSA chapters, like the one in Ohio University in Athens, which had not yet signed onto the Muslim Affairs campaign, have put letters of sympathy for the London victims on their Website and lent their support to a petition of Muslim groups that disassociate themselves from terror. The petition was put out by the Council on American Islamic relations. But at times no action seems like enough to clear Muslims in the minds of others, said Usame Tunagur, of the group’s Ohio chapter. This week the group was planning to run a story in the local newspaper about how the local Muslim community was not only saddened by the attacks in London – and more recently, in Egypt – but also tired of the negative impressions that these attacks give about Islam, Tunagur said. “It really saddens the hearts of community members because when each of these things happens it worsens the image of Islam,” he said. Tunagur said that he felt “hurt” that reports by the British Broadcasting Corporation following the London attacks focused on how “these people could be our next door neighbors”. “They are creating this atmosphere of fear and paranoia in the general public – so bringing down the borders [between people], opening up is not very easy,” he said. In the nine years that Tunagur has spent in the United States and the two he has lived in Athens, where about 50 to 75 community members are Muslim, Tunagur said that he has never heard Muslims say that they support terrorist acts. Before 9/11 he said that there was a much larger Muslim student community at the university, particularly from Saudi Arabia, but that after the attacks the school has not received a lot of new Muslim students. Tunagur called Athens a “progressive” and “open-minded” town, but said that many students on campus seem to think that in general Muslims overseas “want us dead”, calling that a “generalization of people who live in the States”. “Most of the time we see the destruction and not the construction because the destruction is shorter, quicker and attracts more attention,” he said. Over the past four or five years Muslim groups in the United States have become increasingly quick to condemn acts of terror, but Tunagur believes that something more is needed. “I think having proactive events is the next step,” if Muslims are to cut through the “huge curtain between the values of Islam and the West” that terrorism presents, he said. The best way for Muslims to change the way that they are viewed, but also take action on the political issues that they support, is to take the route of political activism and social responsibility, the American Anti-Arab Discrimination Committee told UPI. Young Muslims should “get involved in society and work for the betterment of society and that will help address whatever grievances you have”, said Layla Al Khatami, the communications director at the committee, which is opposed to terrorism and provides legal aid to Arabs facing discrimination. The Council on American Islamic relations also said that they support the youth campaign “wholeheartedly” and that they had launched a recent campaign of 120 imams who condemn extremism and terrorism. “I think the false perception that Muslims in general support terrorism leads to violence and that’s why we launched our ‘Not in the Name of Islam’ petition drive,” Ibrahim Hooper, the communications director at the council told UPI. Specifically he cited the plight of the Palestinians. Another Muslim student group, The Islamic Alliance for Justice at Cornell University, claimed that “certain elements within the American political spectrum” have falsely accused Muslims of silence and even tacit support of terrorism. But “condemnation has in fact been consistently voiced by leading Muslim bodies and organizations both foreign and domestic,” Ahmed Maaty, president of the Alliance at Cornell, told UPI. He said that he and the groups’ chapter at George Washington University in Washington are now planning a number of events, including interfaith dialogues and solidarity vigils, documentaries and panel discussions and articles and op-eds in local and campus media.
Islamic leaders sceptical about scheme to discourage support for al-Qaida by vetting radical imams and assisting moderates By Hugh Muir Secret government plans designed to win the “hearts and minds” of young Muslims and dissuade the vulnerable from resorting to terrorism were strongly criticised by community organisations yesterday. Tony Blair has assembled a group of senior civil servants from nine Whitehall departments to work on a project, codenamed Contest, aimed at the 10,000 young Muslims whom officials fear may be sympathetic to al-Qaida. The project, details of which were revealed yesterday in cabinet documents leaked to the Sunday Times, would lead to an unprecedented level of government intervention in the political and religious practices of Muslim communities.
There is a political debate within Britain’s Muslim youth – and it is getting louder in the wake of continued scrutiny of their communities and faith. It is taking many forms and the outcome is uncertain. What is clear is that it is not just about how their world changed following the September 11 attacks – it’s about what it is to be British and Muslim, and disaffection with their place in society.