Community News (V10-I42)

October 9, 2008 by  


8521 Sunbul Ali-Karamali on Writing The Muslim Next Door

I am often asked how long it took me to write this book. I might say, in response, that I spent half my life preparing for it. I grew up in California at a time when Muslims and even Indians were unfamiliar. Inevitably, then, I grew up answering many questions on India and – more frequently as I grew older – Islam.

When my peers finished their schooling and began working, they began to ask me to recommend books on Islam. I couldn’t. In those days, bookstores carried only dry, abstract textbooks meant for studying, not reading in stolen snatches after a long day of work. How were my friends then to find answers to their questions? They had me to ask questions of, but many Americans do not personally know any Muslims. The media sometimes raises more questions than answers, since media discussion of Islam has always, in this country, been crisis-driven, not explanatory. And there were no books.

So I decided to write a book myself. If I had written it at that time, my book on Islam would have been based on my cultural, “family” Islam, the Islam I knew and grew up practicing. But I didn’t write it then. Instead, I left my job as a corporate lawyer and earned a graduate degree in Islamic law, thereby adding an academic study of Islam to my knowledge of family cultural Islam. Now, I could write a book which not only came from inside Islam, but which also was based on an academic foundation of Islam. I could write a book that contained not only my personal views and anecdotes to make the book fun to read, but one that clearly discussed my personal views as one part of the whole spectrum of diverse beliefs that come under the heading of “Islam.”

And that’s why my book is unique. It is well-researched and contains academically reliable information. But it is also a warm, candid conversation. Sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, it contains engaging anecdotes contextualizing Islam in a Western context that anyone can relate to. It contains stories that show in everyday life, not in the abstract, what Muslims believe, practice, differ, agree, argue about, condemn, and condone.

Moreover, my book focuses not so much on the history of Islam or the subjects typically covered in textbooks, but on the topics that constantly arise in my everyday conversations with my friends and acquaintances. It covers the topics that are most confusing and most interesting and most wondered about by average Western non-Muslims.

So The Muslim Next Door does feature chapters on the topics frequenting the media, such as women (marriage, divorce, polygamy, and the veil, or hijab), jihad and what it means, theft and adultery in Islam (because the mention of Islamic law inevitably invokes images of stoning to death for adultery or amputating hands for theft). But it also explains the foundations for those topics, such as: what all that terminology means (shari’a, fatwa, jihad, etc.); how Islam fits into the Judeo-Christian tradition; who’s who in Islam (Sunni, Shi’a, Sufi, Wahabi, Taliban, Nation of Islam); and who makes the rules in Islam (was it Khomeini? why does bin Laden issue all sorts of decrees? what’s an imam?). It’s the foundations of Islam that are important to understanding it, but that usually get left out in the rush to discuss the complex aspects of the religion. My book discusses the complex, problematic issues as well as the simple ones, but it gives the reader a foundation first.

And finally, when I was writing the book, a friend told me that she wanted to see a chapter on my reaction to the horrible attacks of September 11th. “Most Americans don’t know Muslims personally,” she said. So I include a chapter that describes my family’s reactions and thoughts, but that might very well describe the reactions and thoughts of Muslim neighbors across America.

I wrote The Muslim Next Door: the Qur’an, the Media, and that Veil Thing for all the people who have ever wanted to just sit down with a Muslim at a kitchen table, share a pot of tea or coffee or chocolate, and ask whatever they wanted. I hope you’ll come join me at the table.

Tragedy in Tempe

TEMPE, AZ–At a tearful ceremony at Tempe’s Islamic Community Center mourners remembered an 18-year old woman with a constant smile and devotion to her faith, reports the Arizona Republic.

Arizona State University student Nora Risha died Wednesday night after a four-car crash in Phoenix that seriously injured two others in the van she was driving.
Risha, who graduated from McClintock High School in May, was always devoted to something, friends said.

She was involved in Muslim student associations at ASU and McClintock. During her high-school years, she volunteered at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center and worked part-time at a local doctor’s office.

She also took part in campus efforts such as the annual fall canned food drive.

Risha, who had planned to eventually attend medical school, was loved by faculty and students alike, said Heather Glaeser, a teacher at McClintock. Despite her busy schedule, Risha always made time for anyone who needed her, said Yasmine Asfoor, president of ASU’s Muslim Student Association.

“She was just a genuinely good person,” Asfoor said. “There was nothing to dislike about her.”

McClintock Muslim Student Association adviser Kim Saad said Thursday that she would never forget Risha’s joy. She always stayed positive and enjoyed teaching others about her Muslim faith, Saad said.

Arizona Muslim Historical Society Formed

MESA, AZ–A group of Muslims in Mesa have recently formed the Arizona Muslim Historical Society. Their aim is to preserve the history of the state’s Muslim community. The organizers say that they have realized that many of the long time Muslim residents of the state are getting older and feared that their history might be lost.

This week the group will open the “Jewel in the Desert” heritage exhibit in Tempe City Hall in partnership with Tempe Historical Musuem.

The history of Muslims in the state will be told through the language of artsm food, and entertainment.

There are an estimated 70,000 Muslims in the area.

Florida Mosque Overcomes Dispute

TAMPA, FL–Management disputes at mosques have become commonplace in North America. Usually the disputes result from petty issues and ego clashes. One mosque near Tampa has, fortunately, overcome the disputes and is now all set to open. The fundraising for the Masjid Omar Al Mukhtar, near the University of Tampa, began in the late 1990s but the plans were disrupted due to an internal dispute. One of the mosque’s directors, Mahmoud Kaheel, was sued over missing funds.

Kaheel claimed that situation arose due to a contractor not providing receipts.

Sami Thalji, an attorney for the members, said the parties have agreed to allow Kaheel to stay providing he abides by the mosque’s governing charter.

The 2,400-square-foot mosque stands in marked contrast to the current worship center, an unmarked storefront next to Salem’s Gyro and Submarine, 1906 W. Kennedy Blvd., a couple of blocks away.

Man arrested for threat to Mosque

AUSTIN,TX-Austin police arrested a man for claiming that he had bomb in his backpack at the Muslim Community Center.

The arrested man Azzam Baytie apparently had a history of mental illness. He was charged for issuing terrorist threat and criminal trespass. He faces up to one year in jail and a $4,000 fine.

Baytie was previously issued a restraining order after abusing the center’s 24-hour availability for prayers, a center member said.

Center prayer leader Islam Mossaad told the Daily Texan that nothing like this had ever happened at the center.

“It’s a relief that nothing serious actually took place,” Mossaad said, adding that he was sad Baytie’s mental condition caused him to act in a destructive manner.

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