The ShortFormBlog points out the push and pull of Congressional whimsy:
- action A couple weeks ago, Rep. Peter King attracted controversy by launching a Congressional hearing titled “The Radicalization of American Muslims.”
- reaction At the behest of Illinois Democrat Dick Durbin, the Senate will be holding a hearing titled “Protecting the Civil Rights of American Muslims.” source
On the other hand, I have to wonder if the Senate’s gesture can possibly heal some of the pain caused by Rep. King’s efforts and media outreach.
by Trent Gilliss, senior editorComments
by Trent Gilliss, senior editor, and Chris Heagle, producer
We happened upon the most magnificent soundscape today while viewing the Old City of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. It’s a serendipitous few minutes of audio that gives you a feel of the magic of this sacred land and the way religions, people, and cultures continually bump up against one another.
What you first start hearing is a group of Evangelical Christians from South Korea singing a classic hymn. But, within a minute, just as these pilgrims finish, a new wave laps up the side of the ridge. A muezzin calls Muslims to prayer. Then, in stagger-start style, the muezzin’s call from Al-Aqsa Mosque summons another group of Muslims. The recitations float freely and nimbly, almost as if you could waft the layers of sound at your choosing.
We hope you enjoy! I’d appreciate hearing your reactions.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 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 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
by Amanda Gormley, guest contributor
The first time I prayed the Islamic prayer, or salat, I stood in my living room in the silvery morning just moments before dawn. I was self-conscious and unsure of what to do. I had prepared flash cards to help me through the complicated process of standing, sitting, and bowing while reciting verses in Arabic. I stood facing Mecca and folded my right hand across my chest. My left hand clutched a flash card that read:
Bismillah ah Rahman ah Raheem
In the name of God, the most gracious, most merciful
Alhamdu lil-ahi rab-bil alamin
All praise be to the Lord, the Cherisher and Sustainer of the worlds
Ah rahman-ah rahim
The most merciful, most gracious
Master of the day of judgment
Iyyaka n’abudu wa-Iyaka nasta-in
You alone do we worship, and to you alone do we turn to for help
Ihdi-nas sira-tal Mustaqim
Show us the straight path
Sira tal-ladhina an-amta alaihim
The path of those who went before us with your grace
Ghair-il Maghdubi ‘Alaihum
Who did not deserve your anger
Wa lad dal-in
Nor went astray
The awkward syllables filled the back of my throat like a swallowed cry as I struggled to make the foreign sounds. But as my mouth worked away at the words, I felt my spirit enter a world that existed outside of the senses, a dimension beyond time and space where the body does not confine the soul. I felt a deep, unending sense of mercy and forgiveness surround me.Comments