by Krista Tippett, host
I recently attended a remarkable gathering in Washington, D.C., the U.S.-Islamic World Forum, cohosted by the Brookings Institution and the government of Qatar. For the past eight years this event has been held in Doha, Qatar.
This year, of course, the “Muslim world” is in the midst of seismic change. It was a remarkable experience to be — at this moment — with state and diplomatic leaders, civic and humanitarian activists, and senior religious authorities from Muslim majority countries around the world, as well as their counterparts from the United States and other nations.
So I found myself next to the Iraqi ambassador to the United States in one session and next to a young Bahraini human rights activist at another. She was juggling a laptop, an iPhone and an iPod simultaneously (and with notable ease). I made a lighthearted remark about how she was redefining the meaning of multitasking for me. She responded graciously, with a lovely smile, and then told me she was following new pictures just released on the Internet showing that Bahraini political prisoners are being tortured. Her father and two brothers, she told me, are in those prisons. She was fierce with dignity.
Representatives of Turkey, meanwhile, suddenly found themselves the "democratic model" of the Arab world that others want to study and emulate.
Key players from the emerging Egyptian leadership were also in attendance, as were ministers from the new government in Tunisia. And the Egyptians and Tunisians were, to a one, quite transformative simply to be around. They seemed to glow. They manifest a sense of having lived through a miracle, even as they face the tasks ahead with gravity.
"We have discovered ourselves," one longtime Egyptian activist proclaimed. And there is clearly no turning back on this collective self-discovery, painful and uncertain as the road ahead may be.
In a sense, this moment challenges Americans to a new era of self-discovery, too. As we watched ordinary men and women, young and old, become citizens for the first time on Tahrir Square, we saw a version of our own national narrative unfolding. The economic and foreign policy challenges ahead of us are profound — and will become even harder as countries like Saudi Arabia inevitably experience their version of the “Arab Spring.”
These events force us to ask hard questions of the policies we condoned for years, of decades-long dictatorships that we helped hold in power. More presently and importantly, they ask us to bring the best of our virtues, and the complexity of what we have learned in our own 200 years of democratic experiment, to the changed world we inhabit now.Comments
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
This time-lapse film from Hosain Hadi shows the Masjid al Haram (“Sacred Mosque”) in Makkah (Mecca) in more serene moments, which may be different than most depictions videos you’ve seen of the sacred site shot during the Hajj.
The complex is shot in the off-hours, so to speak. It’s not packed to the hilt with worshipers from all over the world. It’s not shot from that same, single overhead view we often see, the one that brings the Kaaba into focus. In Faith, Hadi shares many angles with the viewer, but always from a distance. This gives one a better sense of the pulse of the shrine and its visitors. Literally, during one time of prayer, the image flickers as the adherents kneel and stand. White and grey, white and grey.
What I’m most particularly drawn to are the images rolling during the credits. Several women stand outside the mosque with their boys, one taking photos while the other holds his mother’s hand and balances on one leg. Another group of women and men race past; the first group lingers. It’s an exquisite sequence that humanizes these black-veiled women. The distance should make them feel like objects, like ants in motion. It doesn’t. You actually see these women as mothers and friends. The extension of a hand to her son, a gesture of intimacy to return home.Comments
by Sharis Delgadillo, USC “Reporting on Israel” Journalism Student
Nejma Shea is a 29-year-old hip-hop artist who categorizes herself as an underground MC. Her socially conscious lyrics are militant, high-pitched, and punchy. Walkin Lyke WAR, her latest CD, describes the hardships of her life’s journey, including a five-year incarceration she served in New Jersey. On stage, she adds to her delivery by wearing bold outfits such as long Syrian camouflage dresses, decorative hijabs, and war paint on her face.
Shea’s songs describe her interpersonal revelations, interspersed with criticism of women’s correctional facilities and a quest for political justice. There are also, however, occasional mentions of smoking marijuana that have dismayed members of the Muslim community.
“Sometimes Muslim brothers and sisters don’t agree with my unorthodox ways when it comes to Islam.” Shea also says she does smoke for medical purposes; it helps quiet her chronic nightmares and spiritually enhances her relationship to Allah. “It has many medical uses and is a blessing from the Earth that the most high, Allah, created,” she explains.
Mustafa Umar, associate director of the Islamic society of Corona-Norco, calls Shea’s justification “the Islamification of weed.” The term describes the incorporation of marijuana usage into Islamic practice. Born in Orange County to Pakistani and Indian parents, Umar says he understands the social pressure young Muslims face in American society: “I’ve had many sisters come to me about it, but in the media, it’s more portrayed that guys are smoking,” says the 29-year-old imam.
Umar says he’s also heard young Muslims attempt to defend marijuana use by quoting a passage of the Qur’an that states the Lord “brought forth fruits for your sustenance.” But he doesn’t agree, and he recently held a meeting to combat this notion. His invited guest speaker is Imam Yassir Fazaga, the medical director of Mental Health for Access California Services, a family and resource center for Arabs and Muslims. Addressing a large crowd of immigrants and first-generation Muslims, Fazaga explains that the Qur’an prohibits marijuana.
A 38-year-old U.S citizen who immigrated from Eritrea, Fazaga cites a Qur’anic verse that states if “wine or gambling” causes greater harm than good, it should not be consumed. Incorporating marijuana consumption into this verse, he says, should also be prohibited as well: “For us Muslims, it’s a mood altering agent that shrouds a person’s intelligence to make decisions. Then for the Muslim it is Islamically illegal and the same goes for alcohol.”
Even though marijuana has been legalized for medical purposes, Fazaga says all other alternatives should be explored before its consumption. At the Access Resource Center where he counsels, Fazaga says he has come across an increasing number of young Muslims who admit to smoking marijuana.
In cases like Shea’s, Fazaga says that marijuana is a “mask for people who may suffer from post-traumatic stress syndrome,” and “is not the way to deal with the problem.” Since marijuana is inexpensive, many young people try it. But Fazaga attributes its frequent use mainly to its prevalence in popular culture.
“You have people like Snoop Dogg and Kanye West. They glorify marijuana,” says Fazaga. “The definition of manhood that is presented promotes and encourages to smoke.”
Umar has also made previous attempts to discourage the use of marijuana among young Muslims by inviting former celebrity rappers such as Loon, who was signed by P. Diddy’s Bad Boy Records, and Napoleon, who was part of Tupac Shakur’s group Outlawz. Both men attribute their new and sober lifestyle to their conversion to Islam. “In order to address the younger crowd, we have to speak lower to their level,” Umar says.
But Shea does not see eye-to eye with these Qur’anic rationales against marijuana nor with Fazaga’s evaluation. She holds firm that Islam is a non-compulsive religion. Since its fundamental principle is the practice of one’s free will, she has the choice to smoke marijuana.
“I’m not going to say the Qur’an forbids us to smoke weed or not,” says Shea. “The Qur’an is the only unchanged religious book and people interpret it in different ways because of different views in the Islamic community.” Only Allah can judge a person’s actions and their intention behind it, Shea adds.
Explaining her perspective, Shea raises the sensitive topic of gender roles and how they are reinforced by Qur’anic interpretations that she finds religiously oppressive: “As a Muslim woman, you are not suppose to make a lot of noise, you are not suppose to look a man in his eyes. The Qur’an and the true Islam, a peaceful and non-compulsive way of life, protects women. It doesn’t intend to give men the right to hold women captive.”
Orthodox members of the Muslim community argue that frequent mentions of marijuana heard in popular music threaten young Muslim-Americans. But, for Shea, hip-hop is an avenue of free expression: “I love hip hop. I love marijuana. But most of all I love Allah, most high, and his messenger Muhammad. Peace and blessings of Allah be upon him.”
About the image: Nejma Shea performs in Omaha, Nebraska. (photo: Ness Ordonez)
Editor’s Note (Jan 17, 2013): Language has changed to more accurately reflect Ms. Shea’s description of herself. And, we misstated that Ms. Shea did not use marijuana for medical purposes. She does. We regret the error.
Sharis Delgadillo is a broadcast graduate student at the USC Annenberg School for Communication & Journalism. She is the senior producer for the award-winning college television news-magazine show, impact. Last summer, she interned as a television producer at Cape Town TV in South Africa during the 2010 World Cup.
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.Comments
by Shubha Bala, associate producer
When we think of historic Islamic scholars, it’s easy to think of philosophy and literature and forget the science. From February 24-26, the University of Minnesota’s program in Religious Studies held the Shared Cultural Spaces conference, which aimed to “explore the ways in which Muslim contributions to literature, arts, science, and architecture have influenced and become foundational to Western humanistic and scientific expressions.”
George Saliba, a professor of Arabic and Islamic Science at Columbia University in New York, opened, “If you attempt to take out the Arabic influence from Renaissance science, you’d be left with a dead body.” He spoke passionately about the transmission of astronomical ideas from the Islamic world to the Western world. For example, the Egyptian astronomer Ptolemy wrote about the world being a sphere rotating on an axis that did not pass through the centre. It was Arabic thinkers that later realized this was impossible and proposed a new model with a central axis, and the moon revolving around the Earth.
Dr. Saliba, amongst many scholars, argues that Copernicus had access to the documents by Islamic astronomers, specifically by Ibn al-Shatir. Copernicus is now, according to Saliba, incorrectly attributed with having discovered several astronomical models that were first discovered by Islamic scholars.
Hamid Rassoul, himself a “veteran of space science” at the Florida Institute of Technology, went on to present four important Islamic thinkers: Razi, Biruni, Sina, and Khayyam. These four thinkers had lasting influence in philosophy, medicine, music, math, and science. According to Rassoul, around the ninth century Al-Razi created the most medical volumes ever by one person. His descriptions of human physiology and illnesses, amongst his many medical findings, were translated into Latin and were used for longer than any other medical textbooks.
This conference session just touched the tip of the iceberg of how Muslim scientists brought Western science forward, and of course, continue to today. Who are the great Islamic thinkers that inspire you?Comments
by Jon Dillingham, guest contributor
Camellia Abou-Odah was three months old the first time she ever sang: her mother says she belted out an impromptu tune to accompany her father, who casually filled the kitchen with Islamic melodies. Though it was her father’s extraordinary voice that first inspired her to sing, that few minutes in the kitchen was the last time they would ever share a song.
Born and raised in Kansas City to a strict Muslim father from Gaza and a self-described liberal Muslim mother from Lebanon, Camellia has struggled to stay true to traditional values while at the same time nurturing her passion for singing, which her father prohibits.
She’s now in the middle of recording her first songs with Grammy-winning producer/songwriter Danny Sembello, and she smiles confidently as we talk over Thai iced coffee near the University of Southern California in South Central Los Angeles. It’s casual sweatpants and sandals this afternoon, but it’s hard not to notice her boisterous brown curls and big smile when she walks in. She looks like a slender, young, Arab Chaka Khan. The ease and grace with which she speaks betray the fact that the long, arduous road to this point has broken family bonds and challenged her sense of self and identity.
Camellia’s father is often chosen to lead prayers at his local Islamic center in Kansas City thanks to both his piety and mellifluous voice. Her mother, Dr. Basimah Khulusi, says her ex-husband had even entertained notions of becoming a singer himself, before dismissing the idea as “a childish notion.” He came to America from a prominent family in Palestine but was far from a religious fundamentalist, until his daughter was born.
“When I met him, he was different, and then he flipped,” says Camellia’s mother. “He went back to the old traditions that he grew up with. Having a daughter was a driving force because in the Muslim tradition his honor lies in what ends up happening with his daughter.”
A Singing Career in the MakingComments
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Haroon Moghul's recent articles in Religion Dispatches, particularly "4 Reasons Why Egypt’s Revolution is Not Islamic," have been one of many perspectives that I’ve found of great help in trying to make sense of events happening in Egypt during this past week.
And, much to my delight, today he spends nearly an hour discussing the Muslim Brotherhood — its history, its potential role in Egypt, and how it exists in the United States — and a pretty good primer on shariah law — from its historical context to how it exists and functions within contemporary, democratic societies. I’d love to know what you found interesting or points that confuse your understanding of these ideas.Comments
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor
Projected distribution of Muslim population by country and territory in 2030. Click image for higher resolution version with data. (source: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life)
A study released this week by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life titled "The Future of the Global Muslim Population" is worthwhile reading for many reasons, if not simply for the informational graphs and some of the bullet points in the executive summary:
(source: Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life)
What are other points that stood out out to you? What does it mean?Comments
by Lina Attalah, special contributor
Egyptian Christians hold a blood-stained portrait of Jesus Christ during a protest late on January 2, 2011 outside the Al-Qiddissine (The Saints) church in Alexandria.
(photo: Mohammed Abed/AFP/Getty Images)
In April 2006, hundreds of Egypt’s Alexandrian Christians gathered to mourn the death of 78-year-old Nushi Girgis, a Christian who was stabbed at St. Mark and St. Peter’s Church during one of a series of attacks on churches in the city that year. As the crowd walked down the street, chanting religious hymns, people began throwing stones from their balconies. The scene quickly turned violent, pitting Muslims against Christians.
Four years later, although largely invisible, the tension still looms. We saw a resurgence of violence last week with the bombing of the same St. Mark and St. Peter’s Church, which took 23 lives and injured many more people. Egypt’s Coptic Christian families worry about their lives in a nation that has become a contested home. The current wave of violence could mark a crossroads for this community with regard to its sense of political engagement which, for a long time now, has been dormant.Comments