Brother Ali and A Day of Dignity in North Minneapolis
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The hip-hop artist Brother Ali's lyrics are infused with notions of community, family, and serving one another. And, today in the blocks surrounding his mosque in North Minneapolis, Masjid An-Nur, he is putting on this cool community get-together and outreach effort, which they're calling the Twin Cities Day of Dignity: A Celebration of Neighbors Helping Neighbors.
The north side, one of the poorest and most crime-ridden areas of the city, was devastated by a tornado in May of this year. The natural disaster left the neighborhood in tatters, but the community also united in the clean-up effort. To celebrate, they’ll be closing down the streets and offering free health care services and medical supplies, haircuts, winter clothing, food, and school supplies to people and families in need. And, to round out the day’s celebration, a free performance by Freeway and Brother Ali:
"But this event has a particularly special place in my heart because it’s in my particular space in the community, but then it’s also such a service to humanity. It’s not just a show. All different parts of the Twin Cities community get to come together to actually help people, help people in need, and to be a part of that, to be able to have this music here to celebrate the cultural side of it as well. It’s a beautiful thing."
Sari Nusseibeh Discovers God in Cambodia
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Bayon Temple in Angkor Thom, Cambodia (photo: Ran Phang/Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Palestinian philosopher Sari Nusseibeh comes from one of the oldest families on record in Jerusalem. His Muslim ancestors have been in the Holy Land since at least the seventh century. Earlier this year, Nusseibeh traveled to Cambodia where he glimpsed inside another ancient civilization. And it was there, as he tells it in the audio link above, that he had an epiphany about God:
"One thing that struck me was the four faces in many of the gates that were on those temples of Buddha. I was asking the guide what they stood for. He said, "Care, compassion, charity, and equality are the four faces of Buddha in those temples. And as he said them I just felt, to me, this is God. And I’m not a Buddhist."
Listen to more of our interview with Sari Nusseibeh in this week’s show, "The Evolution of Change."
Eid Mubarak, But When?
by Nancy Rosenbaum, producer
Celebratory preparations are underway for Eid ul-Fitr, a multi-day festival that marks the end of Ramadan. Eid ul-Fitr (also known as Eid al-Fitr) officially begins with the sighting of the new crescent moon. There’s been controversy and confusion leading up to this year’s Eid festivities about when the holiday starts. Some countries like India and Pakistan won’t see a new moon until Wednesday, August 31st while stargazers in North and South America, Europe, and the Middle East will be able to see the sliver of a crescent moon on Tuesday, August 30th. The Saudi Supreme Court made a late-breaking decision that Eid will begin on Tuesday. According to The Washington Post, it’s customary for many countries to follow Saudi Arabia’s example as it’s home to Mecca, Islam’s holiest city.
Are you celebrating Eid ul-Fitr this year? What do you have planned for your Eid celebration?
About the image: a Thai Muslim man uses binoculars to spot the moon on the eve of the end of the fasting month of Ramadan in Thailand’s southern province of Yala on August 29, 2011. (photo: Muhammad Sabri/AFP/Getty Images)
A Poster Appropriate for Ramadan Learning
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
This poster for the course ”Exploring the Treasures of Ramadhan” from the Cambridge Islamic Science Seminars is beautifully constructed, don’t you think? I love the way the colors and calligraphy are fused with contemporary typography and layout. They eye wants to meander about for awhile.
Oh, and by the slim chance that any one of you who’s reading this post actually attended this seminar, would you mind sharing your experience of Dr. Nadwi’s presentation? Leave a comment here if you feel comfortable, or feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image courtesy of the Cambridge Islamic Sciences Seminars.
I have lived and worked in Dearborn, Michigan for 14 years. We have one of the largest Muslim populations outside of the Middle East. Come to my city and meet my friends. You will find yourself surrounded by peaceful, loving, and tolerant people, many of whom also happen to be Muslim. I wouldn’t want to raise my kids anywhere else.
—Janet Hughes left this poignant comment on our Facebook page in response to our recent post on the varied voices of Muslims.
~Trent Gilliss, senior editor
The Triumph of Ramadan: The Many Stories and Many Faces of Muslim Identity
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Two years ago I had the privilege of interviewing three dozen people for an online project we were calling “Expressions of Muslim Identity.” It was a single phrase that sparked this initiative: "the Muslim world." This three-word bit of shorthand was — and still is — being used by television reporters and newspaper columnists, bloggers and foreign correspondents, and it was even creeping into drafts of our production scripts.
But how could this phrase possibly be applied to more than a billion Muslims living in all cultures and segments of society — from Indonesia to Saudi Arabia, from Turkey to the United States and Canada? When we journalists repeatedly employ this phrase into our scripts and our copy, how do we homogenize this diverse group of people and create a monolithic bloc with erased faces?
So we aimed to change the conversation — for ourselves and for our audiences — by directly appealing to Muslims. We asked them to respond to these questions:
- What does “being Muslim” mean to you?
- What do you find beautiful about Islam?
- How does it find expression in your daily life?
- What hopes, questions, and concerns are on your mind as you ponder the future of your tradition?
We received hundreds of eloquent responses and selected more than 30 people to interview. What was meant to be an online-only project quickly morphed into a radio an podcast production. Our intent was to craft one hour of radio to be called "Living Islam," but, once we started listening to all these voices, we realized that almost every Muslim offered an unsolicited story about Ramadan.
With all these wonderful memories of fasting and prayer and family, we decided to create a second hour of radio featuring the voices of 14 Muslims. Even then, we were still discarding more than double that number of poignant stories about Ramadan, so we created a special podcast that was promoted by iTunes: 30 voices in 30 days, one voice for each day of Ramadan. “Revealing Ramadan” was the result, and I couldn’t be prouder.
Give it a listen and share with your friends. Whether you know a little or a lot about this holiest month, you’ll be moved and reminded of the distinct character of the many Muslims who observe Ramadan. They will delight and surprise you, and paint a self-portrait of what it means to be Muslim in their own words.
About the image: Mushda Ali, a young Bangladeshi Muslim artist, posted this self portrait on Flickr with this line from Flavia Weedn: “If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again.”
Ramadan 2011: The Blessings of a 16-Hour Fast and Mahmoud Darwish’s Poetry
by Ayman Amer, guest contributor
Ramadan this year starts Monday, August 1st. Every year it comes 11 days earlier because Muslims follow a lunar calendar. A lunar year is only 355 days long. So my Ramadan comes sometimes in super freezing Iowa winters and sometimes in hyper sizzling hot and humid summers.
When Ramadan comes in winter. It is easy to fast. Sunrise to sunset is a very short day. When it comes in summer, like this year, oh God helps us. Dawn is about 4:30 a.m. and sundown in Cedar Rapids is about 8:30 p.m. A sixteen-hour fasting day.
But I gladly fast. I am used to it. As Jane Gross said, “We became who we are when we were ten years old.” I started fasting when I was ten. Fasting makes me feel close to Allah. I really feel closest to Allah just as the call for maghrib, or sunset prayers, is heard — just before I take a sip of water and eat one or two dates, as is the tradition.
When I am not working late in a Ramadan afternoon, I read Qur’an in the last hour before maghrib. I feel so light, so alive, astonishingly spiritually energized. A day of fasting washes me inside and out. I make a deliberate tough choice, and I stick with it. I feel blessed with food and drink when I eat a simple meal because there are so many in the world who have no food and or are in a drought. I feel blessed that God taught me how to feel like them and live like them, but I do so by choice. Millions do not have that choice.
At the end of the month of Ramadan, our fasting is not acceptable if we do not offer the obligatory zakat, food for the poor. I remember the words of Mahmoud Darwish, the Palestinian poet:
As you prepare your breakfast — think of others.
Don’t forget to feed the pigeons.
As you conduct your wars — think of others.
Don’t forget those who want peace.
As you pay your water bill — think of others.
Think of those who have only the clouds to drink from.
As you go home, your own home — think of others — don’t forget those who live in tents.
As you sleep and count the stars, think of others — there are people who have no place to sleep.
As you liberate yourself with metaphors think of others — those who have lost their right to speak.
And as you think of distant others — think of yourself and say “I wish I were a candle in the darkness.”
Ayman Amer is an associate professor of Economics at Mount Mercy University in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
We welcome your original reflections, essays, videos, or news items for possible publication on the Being Blog. Submit your entry through our First Person Outreach page.
How Aida Refugee Camp Got Its Name
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
We met Kholoud Al Ajarma, a Palestinian woman who coordinates the arts and media activities for the Lajee Center, while conducting interviews within Aida refugee camp in the West Bank city of Bethlehem this past March. What a gift to meet her and take her photo, along with many others while working there.
Members of our staff all had different ideas about where she acquired her marvelous English accent; we were all wrong. But now we know. Maybe you’d like to guess? Listen to the audio clip above from this week’s show in which Kholoud tells a charming story about how Aida camp got its name. Submit a comment here, and I’ll post the answer shortly.
Will Muslim Women Feel at Home in Their Home Country of France?
by Anna Mansson McGinty, special contributor
Muslim men and women stroll down the Champs-Élysées in Paris. (photo: Archibald Ballantine/Flickr, cc by 2.0)
"Of course, I’m at home (laughter). Who else’s (country) am I in? I feel at home. I have my family here, we live, we eat, we cry, we laugh, we suffer, we don’t suffer. Some people are pleasant, some insult us. But truthfully, the day the law will be (implemented), I’ll no longer feel at home."
Camile is one of the Muslim women interviewed in "Unveiling the Truth: Why 32 Muslim Women Wear the Full-face Veil in France," a report written as part of the “At Home in Europe Project” of the Open Society Foundations. The report was released in April, as the ban on the covering of the face, such as with the niqab or burqa, went into effect on April 11.
The law has been fiercely debated since the French National Assembly voted in favor of it (336-1) in July 2010, six years after the banning of conspicuous religious symbols in French public schools. The ban makes it illegal to wear any face covering in public spaces in France, and thus, from the perspectives of the opponents of the law, a religious act and symbol has been criminalized. France, with an estimated 6-7 million Muslims, is the first European country to make it illegal. Belgium and the Netherlands may soon follow suit.
The “burqa ban” and its current popularity in Europe raise several questions pertaining to religious expressions in public, freedom of expression, the future of Islam, and the growing Muslim population in Europe, but also, as the quote of Camile points to, national identity and citizenship. The ban rests on the salient notion of French secularism, laïcité, the separation of church and state and the division between private life and public sphere.
Laïcité requires that in order for the state to secure the equality of all citizens, these individuals have to present themselves as free from religion. Consequently, the notion of laïcité, together with a prevalent public discourse of Islam and Muslims as the ultimate “other” incompatible with “French values,” has made Muslims, who publicly display their religious affiliation, the target and object of scrutiny. In effect, a woman who does not abide by the law could be fined up to €150, and in some cases be required to take citizenship classes.
But why this urgent and intense focus on Muslim women’s garments? The relationship of the West to the veil and Islamic dress code is a complex political and social phenomenon, with a long history, suggesting several interrelated factors at play. Considering the very small number of women in France who wear the full-face veil (estimates range from 400-2000), one wonders if this is, as the proponents argue, an effective means to combat Islamic extremism and enhance integration. In which ways can policies prohibiting certain attire promote the preservation of “French culture” as well as the assimilation of Muslim immigrants into the French mainstream?
This kind of state regulation and control over certain gendered and religious (as well as political) bodies demonstrates the symbolic meaning and weight a national community can place on women’s dress and conduct in public, as women represent, in Cynthia Enloe’s words, “nationalist wombs;” they are not only bearers of the future generation, but also the ones transmitting the nation’s culture and values from one generation to the next.
Furthermore, it is hard not to make historical parallels to colonial times in places such as Egypt and Algeria where the “veil” and “the Muslim woman” became the battlefield between the anti-veil colonialists and the native, national liberation movement. Similar to the colonial politics of the veil and the discourse of “saving the Muslim woman” from her oppressive and traditional man and religion, French president Nicolas Sarkozy uses “feminist” rhetoric arguing for Muslim women’s dignity and equality in the French Republic. Interestingly, 10 of the 32 women interviewed in the report indicated that they had started to wear the niqab as a protest to the ban.
In response to the ban, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, which makes recommendations on human rights issues, passed a resolution that emphasizes “freedom of thought, conscience and religion while combating religious intolerance and discrimination,” urging EU countries to protect women’s “free choice to wear religious or special clothing.” While perhaps not representative, the many personal experiences and testimonies of Muslim women featured in the report “Unveiling the Truth” resonate with this declaration.
To the proponents of the ban, the face veil symbolizes the most extreme version of Islam and poses a threat to national culture and secularism, but the women who claim to have chosen to wear the face veil, speak of the niqab as part of a spiritual journey, as reflecting a deepened relationship with God and the desire to follow the actions of the prophet Mohammad’s wives for guidance. The question now is how and to what extent the ban is going to be implemented, the social and political implications of it, and whether some of these women, such as Camile, will ever feel at home in their own home country.
References in This Article
- “Do Muslim Women Really Need Saving? Anthropological Reflections on Cultural Relativism and its Others” by Lila Abu-Lughod in American Anthropologist
- “The Burqa Debate. Are Women’s Rights Really the Issue?” in Der Spiegel
- Bananas, Beaches, and Bases: Making Feminist Sense of International Politics by Cynthia Enloe
- “France Enforces Ban on Full-Face Veils in Public” by Steven Erlanger in The New York Times
- “Deux Mille Femmes Portent la Burqa en France” (“Two Thousand Women Wear the Burqa in France”) by Cécilia Gabizon in Le Figaro
- "Unveiling the Truth: Why 32 Muslim Women Wear the Full-face Veil in France" in the At Home in Europe Project by Open Society Foundations
This article is reprinted with permission of Sightings from the Martin Marty Center at the University of Chicago Divinity School.