‘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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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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Muslims Rising Above The Ashes Of Misunderstanding

September 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kari Ansari

As the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, we’ll be inundated with reports and recollections of where people were at that moment, what they were doing and how their lives have been changed because of it.

This anniversary-keeping activity feels like we have a wound that we know has yet to heal, but we can’t stop ourselves from touching it — just to see if it still hurts.

It does.

The inevitable media coverage will build now until Sept. 12, when folks will try to get back to normal life still smarting from the big press blitz. Muslim Americans will have no choice but to be one of the featured main dishes in this media feasting frenzy, and we will do our part to help heal the wounds caused by those who falsely claimed our faith by telling you again that Islam had no part in this tragedy.

Over these last 10 years, the events of 9/11 taught my faith community that we had been neglecting outreach to the greater society. We’ve had to step away from the cultural comfort of our mosques, Islamic schools and homes to shake the hands of our neighbors who have been there all along, but with whom we may not have engaged with serious effort or effect. Ten years later, Muslims have made these gestures of friendship to the point that a large percentage of the folks who wanted to know us better, now do. There are others who simply refuse to let go of the bigotry and stereotyping of Muslims in America. You may know them: They have their eyes closed with their hands over their ears singing, “la, la, la. I don’t hear you.”

For the next 10 years, I am hopeful that our nation will leave these crooners of ignorance out of our society’s narrative. We’ve already seen some of Islam’s biggest haters recently outed for propagating bigotry under the guise of being “terrorism experts.” Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller have been exposed for their racist and bigoted craziness through a Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, who referred to their hate-filled blogs and rhetoric many times in his insanely xenophobic manifesto. The Center for American Progress recently released a report, “Fear, Inc., The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” that clearly outlines the organized machine operating a small empire of hatred. Besides Spencer and Geller, the report highlights major players like David Yerushalmi (recently featured in a New York Times article outlining his role in this smear campaign) and Fox News (a network owned by the now infamous News Corp and Rupert Murdoch). These people won’t stop their work in unfairly vilifying the American Muslim community, but really, how long can that leaky bucket of lies hold water?

It’s been a challenge to refute every slam and slur against Islam, but Muslims try to follow the example of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad (s), who persistently treated his neighbors with respect despite their derision.

America’s Muslims look forward to our faith community rising above these ashes of misunderstandings to find ourselves welcome as fellow citizens. To make this climb, we know our focus must stay on our youth.

There are thousands of young, dynamic American Muslims already creating change in our nation’s high schools, colleges and workplaces. Their parents have put heart and soul into raising these young people — especially within the difficult context of the last 10 years. They have been nurturing their kids with love and giving them confidence to be American and Muslim in the same sentence. We have great and lofty expectations of their futures, and these young people are not failing any of us.

Young Muslims are making advances in medicine, science and technology.

Look at the list of young doctors in any teaching hospital and you’ll see Muslim names galore. Most major corporations include a cadre of brilliant Muslim engineers. Beyond technology and medicine (traditionally the career paths of choice for Muslims in the U.S.), we are now seeing young Muslims choosing to pursue careers in the less lucrative, but necessary fields of public service, social services and education. And finally, we are seeing more and more Muslim names coming up in the arts and communications fields. This is a hopeful sign for the future, as public perceptions often change through the media in all its forms. Watch Musa Syeed, a writer and independent filmmaker to produce great movies and documentaries, as well as Qasim Bashir, who wrote and directed “Mooz-lum: The Movie.” There are thousands of upcoming Muslim journalists, writers, artists, photographers and performers that we will be sure to hear more from in the next 10 years.

I’m proud to claim these honest young people who are giving us honest portrayals of Muslims through the arts and media.

We now have young people studying to become Islamic scholars within the American context through the newly instituted Zaytuna College, whose mission is “to educate and prepare morally committed professional, intellectual, and spiritual leaders, who are grounded in the Islamic scholarly tradition and conversant with the cultural currents and critical ideas shaping modern society.” We look forward to the graduates of Zaytuna to actively lead and positively shape the American Muslim community for generations to come.

Young Muslims are the backbone of American-Muslim philanthropic efforts, and what they lack in financial resources, they are making up with their time and hard work. There isn’t a single charitable event that doesn’t depend on student volunteers for its success. Muslims Without Borders has taken this legacy one step further by forming a full-blown relief agency run solely by Muslim students.

I recently had a reporter ask me if it wasn’t too big of a burden for my kids to grow up as identifiable Muslims during these last 10 years.

It was a sincere question, but I wondered how else she thought I should have raised them. Later, I realized that there are some Muslim parents who have discouraged their children from expressing their faith in any way from fear of reprisal. Recently, my heart hurt for the young checker at the grocery store who told me in a wistful voice that she was “technically a Muslim,” but that her parents didn’t want her to practice the faith in case she’d suffer here as a new immigrant. I don’t know if that statement reflected more poorly on our society, or on her parents; however, for the most part, Muslim families in America are raising their children to be proud of their beliefs and are teaching them that God is infinitely Merciful and Gracious to those who struggle for His sake. These young people who are proud of their noble faith realize that despite some people’s innocent ignorance of Islam, or other’s outright bigotry, the majority of our neighbors and greater community will have respect for them as long as their character and behavior follow the example of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad (s). To put it plain and simple, we are raising these young people to trust in God and do good things with their lives.

Muslims in this country are looking forward to seeing an America that once again says we have had enough of hate and fear. We hope everyone will recognize that our country becomes more beautiful with each new color and creed we accept as our own.

Kari Ansari is a Writer and Co-Founder of America’s Muslim Family Magazine

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10 Years After 9/11

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Despite Mistreatment, Muslims Still Loyal to USA

10th Anniversary of 9/11 and Muslim Americans: the Need for a New Narrative

By John L. Esposito, University Professor and Founding Director Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding

cultureclashmuslimWhile post-9/11 resulted in necessary Western government responses to counter international and domestic terrorism, this tragic event has been widely exploited by far-right neocons, hardline Christian Zionist Right and xenophobic forces. Islam and mainstream Muslims have been brush-stroked with “terrorism,” equated with the actions of a fraction of violent extremists. Major polls by Gallup, PEW and others reported the extent to which many Americans and Europeans had and have a problem not only with terrorists but also with Islam and all Muslims.
Islamophobia grew exponentially, as witnessed in America’s 2008 presidential and 2010 congressional elections, Park 51 and post-Park 51 anti-mosque and so-called anti-Shariah campaigns, as well as increased hate speech and violence. The massacre in Norway is a tragic signal of this metastasizing social cancer. Anders Behring Breivik’s 1500-page manifesto confirmed the influence of the hate speech spread by American anti-Muslim (Islamophobic) leaders, organizations and websites.

It is truly time for a new narrative, one that is informed by facts, and that is data-driven, to replace the shrill voices of militant Muslim bashers and opportunistic politicians chasing funds and votes.

Key findings from the recently released Abu Dhabi Gallup Report, Muslim Americans: Faith, Freedom, and the Future, offer data that provide a good starting point — a very different picture of Muslims in America today.

Far from the image of a fifth column of foreign, terrorist sympathizers and shariah-imposing boogeymen, data indicates that Muslim Americans are actually among the most integrated, optimistic, thriving, and loyal citizens of this country. Astonishingly, despite the hate speech, discrimination and erosion of their civil liberties, American Muslims remain optimistic about their status and future in America. Muslim Americans report being better off and more optimistic in 2011 than they were in 2008. Their life evaluation ratings have increased more than any other American religious group: 60% are thriving in 2011, up 19 percentage points from 2008. They are also more hopeful about their future than any other major religious group. They rate their lives in 5 years at 8.4 on a scale of 0 to 10, compared with 7.4 to 8.0 among other major religious groups and are more likely to see their standard of living getting better in 2011 (64%) than they were in 2008 (46%).

More than other groups, Muslim Americans believe the economy in 2011 vs. 2008 has improved more than that of other groups. They tend to vote Democrat and are happier with the political climate since the election of Obama (8 in 10 Muslim Americans approve of Obama’s job performance, the highest of any other major religious group).

In contrast to their critics who question their loyalty and charge that Muslim Americans do not reject terrorism, Muslim Americans (78%) are most likely to reject violent military attacks on civilians and are most likely (89%) to reject violent individual attacks on civilians versus other major U.S. religious groups. 92% say Muslims living in this country have no sympathy for Al Qaeda.

Yet, despite data that indicates Muslim Americans are loyal to the U.S., 10 years after 9/11 significant minorities of their fellow citizens continue to question their loyalty. Thus, while 93% of Muslim Americans believe they are loyal to America, 80% of Jews, 59% of Catholics, and 56% of Protestants believe this to be the case. Not surprisingly, 60% of Muslim Americans believe that most Americans are prejudiced toward Muslims and data shows that roughly half (between 47%-66%) among other religious groups agree. 48% of Muslims (by far the highest of any other group) say they have personally experienced religious or racial discrimination in the past year.

At the same time, 57% percent of Muslim Americans have confidence in the honesty of elections, the highest of all other major U.S. religious groups, and are among the most open group to other faith communities, with 44% classified as “integrated,” 48% as “tolerant,” and only 8% as “isolated.” For many, one of the most astonishing findings of the Gallup poll may well be the common ground that Muslims share with Jewish Americans in their political and social views. After Muslim Americans themselves (93%), Jewish Americans (80%) are more likely than Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons (59% or less) to see U.S. Muslims as loyal to America. They say that there is prejudice toward U.S.

Muslims in higher numbers (66%) than do Muslims (60%). Jews (74%) and Muslims (83%) in America are the most likely to say the Iraq war was a “mistake.” And perhaps most surprising, a substantial majority of Jewish Americans (78%) and Muslim Americans (81%) support a future in which an independent Palestinian state would coexist alongside of Israel. (DG: ????)

This September 11th provides an opportunity to remember the past but also to recognize that truth is stranger than fiction, the fiction constructed by preachers of hate whose fear-mongering has infected our popular culture and society. Now is the time to reassess and rebuild our national unity on the facts.

Posted at The Huffington Post: August 16, 2011 http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-l-esposito/the-10th-anniversary-of-9_b_928683.html

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The Face of Hate: Visible Now

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor-in-Chief

We are not born to hate or kill others. We are taught to hate and kill others. Sometimes this hatred is in the name of religion, sometimes in the name of country, sometimes it is for money and sometimes it is a combination of all these four. What is now emerging clearly is that there is a small group of Jewish intellectuals and activists who under the secret advise of hawkish Israelis have been engaged in a high level Islam bashing and Muslim demonizing for almost a decade in the United States. They have promoted hatred against Muslims and they can create conditions to justify the killings of Muslims in America and elsewhere. There purpose is to marginalize the Muslim community so that it may not play any effective role in any aspect of American life. Their goal is to create conditions leading to the almost lynching of Muslims. Their grudge against Muslim American comes from their love to the state of Israel. The irony is that they are using the American resources to promote their agenda. They have found an ally in the form of white conservative Christian evangelical supremacists who consider Muslims infidels and pagans.
The information here is from a highly credible research project. The report raises several questions about the credibility of Jewish organizations and leadership. It is an irony that despite overwhelming evidence of the involvement of some Jewish activists in trying to demonize Muslims intentionally and make their religion a target of hatred, the mainstream Jewish organizations and Christians groups have refused to condemn the hate mongers.

Here are the synopsis of the report that clearly demonstrates that the anti-Sharia bill in Michigan and other states is the result of a conspiracy against Islam hatched by some Jewish activists with the help of Christian evangelical resources.

The conspiracy is open. We must expose the hate mongers and question Christian and Jewish organizations to take a stand on these issues. In the interfaith forums these issues deserve to be discussed and brought out. We must be able to demonstrate clearly that the spreading of hate and misinformation against Islam and Muslims primarily started with five key people and their organizations, and it is sustained and funded by a few key foundations with Christian conservative roots, says an in-depth investigation conducted by the Center for American Progress Action Fund. The tightly networked group of misinformation experts were able to guide efforts that now have reached millions of Americans through advocates, media panelists and grassroots organizations.

The five misinformation experts are:

• Frank Gaffney at the Center for Security Policy
• David Yerushalmi at the Society of Americans for National Existence
• Daniel Pipes at the Middle East Forum
• Robert Spencer of Jihad Watch and Stop Islamization of America
• Steven Emerson of the Investigative Project on Terrorism

These individuals have generated the materials used by political leaders, grassroots groups, and the media on a regular basis.

The funding organizations have given over 40 million dollars during the last 10 years. They are:

Donors Capital Fund; Richard Mellon Scaife Foundation;
Lynde and Harry Bradley Foundation; Newton and Rochelle Becker
Foundation and Newton and Rochelle Becker Charitable Trust;
Russell Berrie Foundation, Anchorage Charitable Fund

The misinformation experts have traveled the country and worked with or testified before state legislatures calling for a ban on the nonexisting threat of Sharia law in America and have proclaimed that the vast majority of mosques in America harbor Islamist terrorists or sympathizers.

David Yerushalmi’s “model legislation” banning Sharia law has been cut and pasted into bills in South Carolina, Texas, and Alaska. His video on how to draft an anti-Sharia bill and his online tools have been picked up nationwide. The misinformation movement is active in more than 23 states.

Brigitte Gabriel’s ACT! For America, Pam Geller’s Stop Islamization of America, David Horowitz’s Freedom Center, and existing groups such as the American Family Association and the Eagle Forum are usually the groups that promote the ideas of misinformation experts whose work has often been cited many times by (among others) confessed Norway terrorist Anders Breivik.

Those whose rhetoric against Islam and Muslims has become known include among the the religious right:

Pat Robertson, John Hagee, Ralph Reed, and Franklin Graham; among the grassroots organizations

Brigitte Gabriel’s ACT! For America, Pamela Geller’s, Stop Islamization of America Eagle Forum, Tennessee Freedom Coalition, State Tea Party movements, American Family Association; among the media, Fox News Channel, David Horowitz, Freedom Center Pamela Geller and Atlas Shrugs, Washington Times, The National Review, Christian Broadcast Network, Clarion Fund, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Mike Savage, Glenn Beck, Mark Levin and Bryan Fischer and among politicians, Rep. Peter King, Rep. Sue Myrick, Rep. Allen West, Rep. Renee Elmers, Rep. Paul Broun and Rep. Michele Bachmann.

Those who validate their arguments include: Nonie Darwish, Former Muslims United and Arabs for Israel, Zuhdi Jasser, American Islamic Forum for Democracy, Walid Phares, Future Terrorism Project
Walid Shoebat, Former purported terrorist turned apocalyptic Christian.

Now we know who the hate mongers are and who the misinformants are, we should not keep quiet. We must raise the issue in every forum that we have to ensure that conspirators are further exposed for ever.

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Community News (V12-I17)

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Parvez Ahmed nominated to serve on Human Rights Commission

Dr. Parvez Ahmed, assistant professor of finance at University of North Florida, has been nominated by the mayor of Jacksonville to serve on the city’s Human Rights Commission.

“There are some here that believe they caught somebody that’s an evil person,” Mayor John Delaney told the council committee. “That is not the case here. It has the feel of lynching. It has the feel of what happened to the Japanese citizens on the West Coast in World War II who were incarcerated for simply being who they were.”

There were two protestors at the council meeting one of whom was escorted out.

The council committee voted to approve the nomination. The process will be complete when the full council votes later on.

Ahmed’s nomination was opposed by councilman Clay Yarborough who had earlier voted in his favor but reverses his stance this week. He did not cite the reason.

“I think there is a lot of fear, and the fear is exploited by people with definite agendas who have stated agendas of disempowering Muslims in America,” Ahmed said.

Young Muslims in US Seek Homegrown Imams

By Vidushi Sinha | Voice of America

The Muslim population in the United States is growing, and so is its need for spiritual guidance. A new generation American Muslims is demanding more from local mosques than they can always provide.

“It’s not what you see on television or it’s not what people are talking about or a dress code or whatever. It’s about being good to your fellow man, about being good to your God. That’s all it is. That’s what it is,” said Adeel Zeb, an aspiring imam and a Muslim chaplain at American University in Washington. He reaches out to young Muslims with what he calls the real message of Islam.

Zeb says there is often a disconnect between young Muslims and the foreign born leaders who head many mosques in the United States.

“When a youth comes and approaches the imam who comes from a different country – first of all there is a language barrier, second of all, there is a cultural barrier, and then there is also an age barrier. Many barriers have to be overcome,” he said.

Sayyid Syeed is a top official with the Islamic Society of North America. He concedes that many imams at American mosques are from overseas, but he says that’s beginning to change.

“We had to reject some imams who only knew the Koran, but could not relate themselves to the people. They came with the mentality that did not fit with our constituency where you have men and women actively in the leadership positions of islamic centers and these imams who came from overseas could not reconcile themselves with the fact that women were running the islamic centers,” he said.

In many Islamic countries, the imam’s   sole job is to lead the prayer. But here in  the United States, they often serve a  broader role.

“It is much more about leading the community than leading just the prayer,” said Sheikh Shaker Elsayed, the imam of the Dar Al-Hijrah mosque in Northern Virginia. “Here you are a judge, you are an arbitrator, you are a mediator, you are a psychologist, you are a psychiatrist at times and you are a friend. You are a brother, you are a leader, a teacher, and all of those combined, and everybody wants to pick from you what they need.”

Imam Elsayed came from Egypt three decades ago. “The learning curve of most imams is very steep. It takes an average of five to eight years for an imam to become a true, local, effective imam, especially when you move from your very small environment to a big, large, open environment like the United States,” he said.

But young American Muslims often have questions that require more immediate answers. “You need an imam who has an understanding of Muslim life here. I know I grew up around a mosque I went to only twice a year,” said Tanim Awwal.

The community at large understands the need for an imam who knows the turmoil a Muslim American goes through while growing up in a non-Muslim country.

“You have to reach them at high school level, at the college level when they are exploring. When they are learning, when their mind is still young and receptive,” said Adeel Zeb.

Zeb argues that Muslim Americans want a spiritual guide who can help to reconcile 14 centuries of Islamic scholarship with the modern traditions of American life.

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Did Muslims Discover America?

February 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Dr. Jerald F. Dirks on TheDeenshow talking about Muslims in America–the real history lesson everyone needs to know.