‘Cosby Show’ for Muslims?

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Suzanne Manneh & Zaineb Mohammed

Has a Bill Cosby show equivalent finally arrived for Muslim Americans with the TLC network’s reality series, “All American Muslim?”

The series, which premiered November 12th,  could be that first step of offering an alternative image to common stereotypes for American Muslims. It centers around five Shi’ite Muslim American families who all have roots in southern Lebanon, living in the Detroit, Michigan suburb of Dearborn.

“We really hope that we’re able to give viewers that sort of rare chance to kind of get immersed and enjoy the ride with this community that they have previously been completely unexposed to, said Alon Orstein, an executive producer for the series.

According to a TLC press release, the series, “shows how these individuals negotiate universal family issues while remaining faithful to the traditions and beliefs of their faith.”

A year before its debut, CBS news anchor Katie Couric declared that “bigotry expressed against Muslims in this country was one of the most disturbing stories to surface,” in 2010. Couric was referring to the proposed New York “Park 51” Islamic Center that generated national media attention and criticisms. “Maybe we need a Muslim version of ‘The Cosby Show,’” she said. “I know that sounds crazy, but “The Cosby Show” did so much to change attitudes about African Americans in this country, and I think sometimes people are afraid of what they don’t understand.”

Media experts, organizers, and advocates in the Arab and Muslim community agree with Couric, but believe that while “All American Muslim,” may not have the same immediate impact on mainstream America that “The Cosby Show” did, this new reality series is a much needed small step in the right direction.

Amina Sharif, communications director for the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) office in Chicago, said she is hopeful for the new series, because it will offer “a more mainstream image of American Muslims.”

“They are often stereotyped and misunderstood because of negative portrayals in media and pop culture. [This program] is normalizing Muslims,” said Sharif. “That’s the way [of] American culture – we needed ‘The Cosby Show’ to help normalize African American families.

In this society public opinion is shaped mainly by media and pop culture,” she said.

Zahra Billoo, executive director for CAIR, Northern California, echoed Sharif’s hopes for the program, adding that the program may be especially helpful because “over 60 percent of Americans have never met a Muslim,” she said citing a 2010 poll by TIME Magazine.

Another poll by Washington Post-ABC News, conducted in 2010, found that “roughly half the country (49 percent) holds an unfavorable view of Islam, compared with 37 percent who have a favorable view.” In October 2002, 47 percent said they had a favorable view of Islam and 39 percent said they had an unfavorable view.

In September of 2011, the tenth anniversary of the World Trade Center attacks, a CBS Poll found that one in three Americans think Muslim Americans are more sympathetic to terrorists than other Americans.

Warren David, president of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) said he hopes this series reaches these audiences and hopes they see beyond the stereotypes. “There are many people who don’t watch public or educational programming, but do watch TLC,” he said.

Hopeful, But With Some Reservations

While Muslim and Arab community leaders and media are generally optimistic about the positive impact the show could have on American Muslims, some did express reservations.

Many stressed the importance of not using the show as a way to teach the American public about Islam. Citing the various ways that different Muslims practice Islam, community members were concerned that the religious practices of these five families would become the face of Islam.

“I hope audiences understand that much of what they’re seeing isn’t Islam, it’s the person’s culture,” said Sharif of CAIR, Chicago.

Others questioned the choice to place the show in Dearborn, Michigan, which has the highest concentration of Arabs in America.

According to a Gallup poll, 35 percent of Muslims in America are African American and 18 percent are Asian. Additionally, the majority of Arab Americans are Christian, and according to the Muslim Public Affairs Council, only approximately 20 percent of Muslims are Arab. The gap between the reality of the American Muslim landscape and the show’s portrayal of the Muslim community frustrated many Muslim Americans.

After the premiere, #AllAmericanMuslim was a popular trending topic in social media, and several viewers sounded off angrily about the lack of ethnic diversity.

On Facebook, Ola Said commented, “This is a group of Lebanese American families in a localized spot in a city in MI. These examples do not portray an All American Muslim at all.”  HussamA tweeted: “The risk with shows like #AllAmericanMuslim is that as existing stereotypes are challenged, new ones are perpetuated. Oh well.”

Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR Michigan, expressed the danger behind conflating the terms Arab and Muslim, “When nothing but Arabs are depicted it shifts people’s minds to the Middle East. There’s a lot of negative stigma attached in the minds of Americans with the Middle East.”

The national spotlight on Dearborn within the past couple of years offers a potential rationale for choosing that city as a setting. In May 2010, Rima Fakih, from Dearborn, became the first Muslim and Arab American to win Miss USA. Nevada politician Sharron Angle  proclaimed that Dearborn was operating under sharia law during her campaign for US Senate. And in June this year, Pastor Terry Jones, known for burning a Qu’ran, went to Dearborn for the second time to protest Islam.

However, Alon Orstein, one of the executive producers of the series, offered a different explanation for the choice of Michigan and Dearborn in particular.

“We found this group of families that we just fell in love with …the natural drama we look for in our shows, they had it going on in spades,” said Orstein.

And for Orstein, diversity with respect to characters’ religiosity was important, “we did achieve a level of diversity with respect to how our different characters experience their faith.”

Other criticisms of the show came from anti-Muslim groups, who created a “Boycott TLC for New Program ‘All-American Muslim’” Facebook page.

However, according to Linda Sarsour, executive director of the Arab American Association of New York who helped with the show’s social media campaign, those Islamophobic criticisms were drowned out online by discussions (and disagreements) amongst Muslims about the show.

Some disapproved of the characters’ actions, in particular Shadia Amen, who described herself as the black sheep of her family. Imani Bsj, commented on Facebook, “If she was born Muslim I just can’t understand how she has all those tattoos.” But others related to her choices. Feda FeFe Saleh posted, “I’m a Muslim who prays 5 times a day but doesn’t wear hijab. Do I think Shadia exposed a little too much about her lifestyle, yes, but this is not for me to judge.”

Some community members expressed hope that more diversity will be featured as the show progresses. But they are generally pleased that the show exists. “Right now, we’ll take what we can get,” said Sarsour.

New America Media

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Youth Leadership Summit

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ahmed al-Hilali

hilaliDEARBORN— the second annual 2011 Youth Leadership Summit on Race was held at the U of M Dearborn on Saturday to discuss the recent racial tension.

The meeting was co-sponsored by the U of M Dearborn board of directors and the New Detroit Foundation. Many people of different races and backgrounds attended the event in hope of learning more about religion and different types of cultural backgrounds. Those in attendance engaged in constructive talks to get to know more about each other; many friendships were made. There were also a few interactive activities, where each person would describe himself in one word, and the people that had that word in common would engage in constructive dialogue. Next year, New Detroit will be aiming for better results.

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ISPU’s 2011 Annual Banquet in Dearborn

September 22, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

ISPU Press Release

For Immediate Release—The Institute for Social Policy and Understanding has  announced that Hollywood screenwriter, producer and director  Kamran Pasha  will serve as  its keynote speaker for the 2011 ISPU annual banquet “Navigating a Post 9/11 World”on Saturday October 22, 2011 at the Ford Conference and Events Center in Dearborn, MI.

Pasha is a prolific writer, penning two historical novels Mother of the Believers and Shadow of the Swords. He has been a writer and producer for NBC’s television series Kings, a modern day retelling of the Biblical tale of King David. Previously he served as a writer on NBC’s remake of Bionic Woman, and on Showtime Network’s Golden Globe nominated series Sleeper Cell, about a Muslim FBI agent who infiltrates a terrorist group.

The event will mark the culmination of ISPU’s special series of publications, events and conferences planned across the country to reflect on the tenth anniversary of September 11, 2001.  “Navigating a Post 9/11 World: A Decade of Lessons Learned” explores several of the most pressing policy issues facing the United States and the American Muslim community, and presents forward thinking and inclusive policy recommendations for the future. The series addresses the threat of terrorism, policy shifts over the past decade and challenges and opportunities for Muslims in America. 

The annual banquet  will focus on the role ISPU has played in shaping the policy debate on key issues over the last year, as well as how trailblazers like Kamran Pasha, have broken down barriers and helped to change the way the American public views Muslims in popular media.

ISPU will honor Dr. Aminah McCloud with the 2011 Scholar Award. Dr. McCloud is the Director of the Islamic World Studies Program at DePaul University. She is the founder of Islam in America Conference at DePaul and editor for The Journal of Islamic Law and Culture.

The 2011 ISPU Distinguished Award for Philanthropy to will be presented to Tim Attala. Saeed Khan will act as the Master of Ceremonies.

In 2010, ISPU’s Annual Banquet featured Keynote Speaker Rashad Hussain, US Special Envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The event gathered 600 attendees including Congressmen John Conyers, Deputy Special Envoy to the OIC Arsalan Suleman, and Michigan State University Provost Kim Wilcox. 

Event information:

Saturday October 22, 2011 6:00pm Registration & Appetizers, 7:00pm Program. Ford Conference and Events Center, Dearborn, MI; 1151 Village Road; Dearborn, MI 48124-5033; Tickets – $100

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‘Eidul Fitr, Masjid As-Salam, Dearborn

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jumana Abusalah

7624788It was time for celebration and joy as Muslims all over the world celebrated this year’s Eid Al-Fitr, 1432. It marked the end of the holy month of Ramadan in a fun yet spiritual way. Masjid Al-Salam (Dearborn Community Center) in Dearborn, Michigan was no exception.

The mosque chose to rent the soccer field at the Dearborn & Performing Arts Center on the morning of the 30th of August.  The field was decorated with large banners and colorful balloons.  Everyone gathered around and was reciting takbeer. Friends were giving their Salaams, children were playing together, and families were reunited.  When it came time for prayer, over 500 people rose to thank God for all His blessings and for all the great things He gave us. 

The Imam’s Khutba after the Eid prayer was very informative and touching for many people. He explained that Eid is God’s gift to us to reward us for our ibadih during the month of Ramadan.  He continued on to explain that we should be thankful for being able to have such a celebration—other people around the world are not able to, either because of poverty, war, or other unfortunate circumstances. We then all made du’aa to Muslims around the world and asked God to help their countries resolve their problems peacefully.

The Eid celebration for Masjid Al-Salam this year was an event that many people will not forget. There was also an Eid Festival at the same center on the following Sunday—not just for this particular masjid, but for all Muslims around Dearborn. As it should be, Eid was a celebratory, but sacred event.

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Islamic Center of America, Dearborn

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ahmed Al-Hilali

SONY DSCThousands of Muslims gather inside the Qazwini Mosque of Dearborn to celebrate the end of Ramadan, and the beginning of Eid-ul-Fitr. Fourteen year old Hussein Neime shares his opinions about the yearly celebration.

“I love Eid because of the fact that I get to see relatives I don’t usually get to see, and I feel like all of Dearborn are my relatives,”

”Yearly the celebration of the end of Ramadan makes Muslims forget their problems,” said Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini in his sermon. “But that doesn’t mean you forget the poor,” The Imam’s point was that we should never forget the poor and Allah, and Allah won’t forget you. This inspired many Muslims to get up after the prayer and put money inside the charity box.

Though many Muslims celebrated ‘Eid Tuesday, many more Muslims around the world are celebrating a day late because of the lack of the sighting of the moon, but many people are gloomy because of they don’t get one more holy night of worship God.  

There were Q&A games for kids, in which the prizes range from stickers to gift cards. They had to answer questions about Ramadan, Ahlulbayt, which prophets came in order, etc. “Every kid here is happy,” says 10 year old Ali Alsumar. “The sun is shining, everybody is smiling and laughing, you get prizes, and I just think that Eid is a very unique day.”

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ACCESS Health Fair Serves Hundreds in Dearborn Michigan

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, TMO

P5079980The biggest and oldest secular Arab institution in Dearborn is ACCESS.  It began as a storefront volunteer operation in Dearborn in 1971.  It caught on and blossomed, until the point now where it is in itself a major Dearborn employer, providing a large variety of essential community services to the residents of Dearborn.

This weekend ACCESS sponsored a health fair from 10AM to 3PM.  The event was coordinated as it has been for the past eight years, by Mona Farroukh. 

Ms. Farroukh is a diminutive woman with immense energy, a ready smile and a gentle goodnaturedness, who in my brief interview with her Saturday seamlessly juggled multiple conversations in Arabic and English, helping patients, helping doctors, helping newspaper reporters, without missing a beat.

She explained that about 25 different health care providers had agreed to attend the event and were present in the building the day of the Health-O-Rama. 

She described the service providers present with intimate knowledge of each one, mentioning Henry Ford, Naama, four dentists, a chiropractor, and seven representatives of Oakwood Healthcare.
The event provided an opportunity to provide other services as well, including child and adolescent care, a social worker, and a family life educator.

Ms. Farroukh explained that she expected “at least 200 people,”–one year, she explained, the Health-O-Rama had hosted 450 people, and served people from 8AM to 5PM.

The ACCESS health care services clinic is open full time, with medical and mental health services, and she explains that it serves 3,000 people each month.  There is a new Macomb County ACCESS clinic as well.

Said Cheryl Buss, of the Oakwood Health Center which provided cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar screenings of visitors, “ACCESS is always busy for us, I brought supplies for 100 people–it’s a busy day.”

To learn more about ACCESS please visit www.accesscommunity.org.  They have an office in downtown Dearborn, at 6450 Maple Street.

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Nour Al-Hadidi Graduates College with Perfect GPA

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By TMO Stringer, based in part on UM Dearborn Souvenir

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Nour Al-Hadidi is graduating with High Distinction and a perfect 4.0 GPA with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology with a minor in Hispanic studies from UM Dearborn.

Ms. Hadidi’s family is active in the Bloomfield Muslim Unity Center.

Her outstanding academic achievements have been recognized on numerous occasions.  She earned a place on the Dean’s List in 2008 and 2009, earned University Honors in 2008 and 2009, and received the William J. Branstrom Prize in March 2009.  She is a recipient of the UM Dearborn Chancellor’s Scholarship and the Michigan Merit Scholarship.

Miss Al-Hadidi’s Natural Sciences Department Awards include the Merck Index Award in Organic Chemistry and the Supplemental Instruction (SI) Leader Award.  As an SI leader, she provided original problems and volunteered for additional sessions before mid-terms and final exams.  Her sessions were very popular and the feedback from students was extremely positive.  They praised her for the clarity of her explanations, her undivided attention and patience.  Miss Al-Hadidi also shares her knowledge by serving as a tutor for biology and organic chemistry students through the Student Success Center on campus.

Miss Al-Hadidi has done quality work in Dr. Simon Maricean’s laboratory, the green chemistry project, studying the selective functionalization of diols.  Her academic ability is hardly limited to organic chemistry.  She loves to learn and has a deep and diverse academic interest.  Even more impressive is the ten A Pluses on her transcript.

Exceptionally literate, Miss Al-Hadidi is fluent in both Arabic and Spanish in addition to English.  In 2010, she spent her spring break in Costa Rica to provide health care to Nicaraguan refugees, an experience she found very rewarding.

Miss Al-Hadidi will be a first year medical student at the University of Michigan-Ann Arbor this fall.

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