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9530Islam and Muslims in USA: Bay Area Muslim panels try to shed a light on a diverse religious group

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  • Zafar Khan
    May 10, 2014
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      Bay Area Muslim panels try to shed a light on a diverse religious group
      By David E. Early


      SAN JOSE -- Nearly 13 years since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Muslims in America -- and the 250,000 living in the Bay Area -- still face fear, reprisals and a variety of misunderstandings that make daily life continuously difficult.

      Now, as part of an increasingly active effort to publicly confront Islam's many challenges, American Muslims and scholars are sponsoring presentations, studies, analyses and in-depth demographic explanations of their community. The idea is that by being more open, Muslims will craft a peace that still eludes them.

      On Wednesday in San Jose, one such panel revolved around "Growing Up Muslim."

      "If we have learned nothing else," said Rasheeda Plenty, a second-generation African-American college student, "it's that we can't keep to ourselves and stay quietly in the background. If Muslims want people to know us and understand us, we have to get out there and show the public who we are and what we're really about."

      The program inside the Joyce Ellington Library laid out in great detail the results of a study of Bay Area Muslims by Farid Senzai, a political science professor at Santa Clara University. Along with Hatem Bazian, an ethnic studies professor at UC Berkeley, the authors measured everything from ethnic breakdown to marital status, from socioeconomics to employment, from levels of education to languages spoken.

      "The Muslim community is very diverse" -- not cardboard cutouts of violent, single-minded terrorists and religious fanatics, he said. "A sizable proportion of the Muslim community has been here since the very founding of this country."

      Senzai and Bazian took two years to study local Muslims. The findings included:

      The quarter-million Muslims in the Bay Area make up 3.5 percent of the region's population.
      Sixty percent are foreign-born; 34 percent are U.S.-born.
      Forty-six percent are men; 42 percent are women.
      Fifty-seven percent are married; 32 percent have never been married. Five percent are divorced; 2 percent are widowed.
      The average household income of Bay Area Muslims is $70,000; 29 percent earn more than $100,000.
      Senzai said as revealing as the study was about Bay Area Muslims, the hatching of the recent panels is aimed at learning more about young Muslims who still have challenges but who live in a world that is more curious about them, more willing to ask questions, listen and seek understanding.

      One panel, made up of young adults, was the embodiment of variety. They included an African-American woman without a hijab (head covering), an African-American woman with a hijab, a Pakistani-American with a hijab, an Afghan-American with an ethnic-style beard and even a Muslim who was raised Jewish. All of them spoke about the challenges around strict dieting, the daily prayer regimen and often distinct personal appearance that come along with being young and Muslim.

      Sadia Saifuddin, the first Muslim UC student regent, said her opposition to the university investing in three American companies who do business in Israel, was a pretty typical stance by many human rights activists. But for her, it brought extra vitriolic criticism her way.

      "During my (regent) nomination process there was a ton of negative coverage about my character and how I was anti-semitic and all these terrible accusations," Saifuddin said. "It was really hard for me to say 'I'm a proud Muslim and also a proud human-rights activist and that I stand by my values and my beliefs.' "

      Salmon Hossein, a law student at UC Berkeley, said the mere presence of his thick, black beard brings all kinds of grief, including cruel comments about him "looking like the Taliban," or him never being able "to get a job." He talked about how young Muslims who don't fit the typical mold of youth can find themselves battling waves of negative attention.

      "People forget Muslims are diverse," Hossein said. "They are conservative and liberal; they are religious and non-religious; they are brown, white and black. But if one doesn't drink or date, or chooses to pray or attend mosque or fast, a lot of burdens and expectations get placed on you by your peers. And then, they go on to make even more assumptions on your behalf."

      David Weinstein, who grew up in the San Fernando Valley in a Jewish family, took years of searching his soul to arrive at what he considers the beauty and peace of Islam. He took classes, traveled through Africa, read the Bible and prayed nightly to implore God to guide him to the perfect religion for him.

      "Am I doing this because I feel an emptiness as a culture-less white American with a Jewish identify? Do I want to embrace this radical identity to make myself feel more interesting? But I kept grilling myself until I realized, I really do want to be Muslim. This is really what I feel and believe."

      Contact David E. Early at 408-920-5836

      Can the US Government Confiscate a Citizen's Passport for No Apparent Reason? It Just Did
      Nader el-Dajani answered the FBI's questions. Now the State Department is withholding his passport.
      —By Nick Baumann | Mon Apr. 14, 2014 2:30 PM EDT


      When two FBI agents called Nader el-Dajani in August 2012 and asked if he could meet at Starbucks for a chat, he instead invited them to his home in Fort Wayne, Indiana, for coffee and tea. The 55-year-old businessman, who lives in Bahrain for most of each year, hadn't been charged with a crime, and the FBI agents never explained why they were interested in him. Dajani didn't have to tell the agents anything. But he did. He explained that, a few months earlier, he'd been stopped and questioned by Department of Homeland Security officers at a London airport because he was carrying multiple cellphones, which he uses during his international travels. He readily answered the agents' questions about his travels in the Middle East—where he owns several businesses—and his knowledge of the region. He thought it was the right thing to do. "I told them everything," he says. "I was open." He assumed that cooperating with the bureau would make his life easier.

      He was wrong. Dajani, who is of Palestinian descent, has been an American citizen since the mid-1980s. He owns several businesses in Bahrain, where he spends much of his time. One of these businesses involves selling security equipment—including access controls and retinal scanners—to telecommunications companies. It requires a lot of face-to-face meetings, so he travels regularly around the region and the world. Until the incident in London, he hadn't had any problems at the airport. The FBI agents said they'd try to fix his problems. But in the two years since they visited his house, he's faced additional screening and questions every time he travels. Each time, he submitted to searches and answered questions.

      Now Dajani's livelihood is at stake. On February 27, when he went to get new pages added to his passport at the US Embassy in Bahrain, as he had done many times before, the government confiscated it. He says he was told that "guidance from Washington" required the Embassy to hold on to his passport. He never received an explanation for why it was taken. He missed his 30th wedding anniversary celebration and numerous business meetings. Without his passport, he will lose his legal status in Bahrain on April 17 and face deportation. And he's had enough. "It's a situation of livelihood," he says. "My business could fall apart. I could lose everything that I've worked for if I'm not able to do the business trips I need to. People are going to start suspecting me, people are going to say, 'Why should we work with you?—you're suspicious.' My whole life, my whole career could be jeopardized because I am not able to travel."

      It has been more than five weeks since the government confiscated his travel documents, and Dajani is still without his passport. A State Department official told Mother Jones Dajani's "application is under review and we will be in touch with him shortly." The FBI declined to comment.

      Dajani has played by the rules. Last September, he used the Kafkaesque process known as the Traveler Redress Inquiry Program to formally ask the Department of Homeland Security to review whether he was on any terrorist watch lists and whether he was being screened appropriately. After submitting his personal information for use in this secret process, in which Americans are not able to contradict or even see any evidence against them (if it exists at all), Dajani received what is known as a redress letter. This document provides Americans who want to be removed from watch lists with a seven-digit Redress Control Number and the vague assurance that if any action was warranted, the government has taken it.

      The redress number solved nothing. The US Embassy in Bahrain has told Dajani that it is still unable to return his passport, and the only option he has is to accept a two-day travel document that will only allow him to return to the United States—a decision that would cost him his legal residency in Bahrain. "If they want me to go to the States, if they have something against me, they should say that, and I'll go to the States," Dajani says. But the embassy hasn't given him any indication that he's suspected of any wrongdoing or that the government wants him back in the United States.

      'Jesus is Muslim' Irks Ohio Christians
      OnIslam & Newspapers
      Saturday, 29 March 2014 00:00


      CAIRO – Billboards promoting that Jesus is a Muslim and the Muslims love Jesus too has been causing uproar around Columbus, Ohio, as a number of Christians planned protests on Saturday, March 29, at the location of the billboards.

      "Although we support the Islamic community's right to free speech, as well as their right to post messages on billboards, we do not support the hi-jacking of the name of Jesus Christ in their attempt to lure uninformed Christians into their religion," Coach Dave Daubenmire of Pass the Salt Ministries told Christian Today on Friday.

      "Although Islam honors Jesus as a prophet, they do not believe that He is the risen Son of God. During this most Holy Lenten season we find the messages on the billboards to be insensitive, dishonest and deserving of a response from concerned Christians.

      “We will be on the streets to proclaim Jesus is not Muslim but Jesus is Lord."

      Daubenmire is one of the local Christian leaders who planned a prayer vigil in protest on Saturday.

      The Reverend Rusty Thomas of Operation Save America, and Pastor Bill Dunfee of New Beginnings Church in Warsaw, Ohio were also among the names participating in the vigil.

      Uproar started when a collection of billboards were erected in Ohio.

      The billboards have sentences like "Jesus is Muslim", "Mohammed is in the bible" and "Muslims love Jesus too".

      The messages, placed by the Ask a Muslim organization, also list the group’s website.

      Along with Ask a Muslim, the billboards are a joint effort with the New Jersey-based Why Islam.

      Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to an estimated Muslim minority of six to eight million.

      Peaceful Coexistence

      The Jersey-based group, according to its spokesman Ashfaq Parkar, also operates an information line seeking to “promote peaceful coexistence through dispelling misunderstanding about the faith.”

      “There’s nothing wrong with having differences in terms of what to believe, and there’s nothing wrong with talking about them and getting know each other,” he said.

      Muslims believe in Jesus as one of the great Prophets of God and that he is the son of Mary but not the Son of God. He was conceived and born miraculously.

      In the Noble Qur’an, Jesus is called "Isa". He is also known as Al-Masih (the Christ) and Ibn Maryam (Son of Mary).

      As for his crucifixion, Muslims believe that Jesus was not crucified but was lifted up to heaven.

      Muslims believe that Jesus will come back to earth before the end of time to restore peace and order, fight the Anti-Christ (Al-Masih Al-Dajjal) and bring victory for truth and righteousness.

      The true followers of Jesus will prevail over those who deny him, misrepresent him and reject him.

      CAIR-CA Survey: Almost Half of Calif. Muslim Students Report Bullying
      Last Updated on Thursday, 19 December 2013 18:29


      (SANTA CLARA, CA, 12/19/13) - The California chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CA) today released a first-of-its-kind report documenting bias-based bullying of American Muslim students in that state's schools.

      The new report, "Growing in Faith: California Muslim Youth Experiences with Bullying, Harassment and Religious Accommodation in Schools," reveals that nearly half of Muslim students say they have been subjected to some form of bias-based bullying. The findings are based on a statewide survey of almost 500 Muslim students, ages 11 to 18.Theywere asked questions about their relationships with peers and teachers, as well as their comfort levels participating in discussions about Islam and Muslims.

      The report found that approximately one in five young women reported being bullied because they wore an Islamic headscarf (hijab) to school. Additionally, one in five youth reported they were unsure of participating in classroom discussions in which Islam or Muslims are discussed and were unsure of whether teachers respected their religion. More than one-third of bullying victims surveyed indicated that reporting harassment incidents to school administrators was not helpful.

      "Being called 'terrorist' or 'Bin laden' is still a reality for many American Muslim students," said CAIR-LA Civil Rights Manager Fatima Dadabhoy. "Throughout the course of this study, we were alarmed to find that many Muslim students didn't even deem this as a form of bullying. Through this report, we hope to show that a decision to dismiss mistreatment as a natural consequence of being Muslim in America, or simply part of growing up, is unacceptable and normalizes a toxic school environment."

      "Too often we find that parents and teachers don't know how to adequately address bias-based bullying of American Muslim students," said Rachel Roberts, civil rights coordinator for CAIR's Northern California offices. "We hope this report will shed light on the resources available to parents, teachers, and students in order to effectively and proactively address school bullying."

      The report also shares anecdotes from CAIR-CA's case files to highlight the problems reported to the civil rights organization's offices and includes information about recent changes to the law because of high-profile cases of extreme school bullying.

      Additionally, the report provides information for parents about how to request religious accommodation for their child and a list of resources that parents can use to learn more about the issues children face at school.

      CAIR also offers a booklet, called "An Educator's Guide to Islamic Religious Practices," designed to help school officials provide a positive learning environment for Muslim students.

      CAIR-CA is a chapter of CAIR, America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

      New organization unites US Muslims in one coalition
      By Amanda Murphy | Religion News Service, Updated: Friday, March 14


      WASHINGTON — Seeking to make a bigger impact in American politics and to better protect their civil rights, 10 Muslim groups have banded together under a new umbrella group: the U.S. Council of Muslim Organizations.

      Many of the leaders of the new organization called the campaign for increased unity among Muslims an unprecedented step for the community, and one that could help weave Muslims more tightly into the fabric of American life.
      “This is the dream of every American Muslim, to unify the approach, agenda and vision of the Muslim community,” said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, at a Wednesday (March 12) announcement at the National Press Club.
      “In the past, many people have tried to unite on a limited agenda, but this is a broad agenda for the American Muslim community.”
      The council plans to advocate for issues important to American Muslims and to boost their voter registration. The idea is to give Muslims a bigger political platform in elections and society, and to leverage the community’s purchasing power.
      The organizations in the council include some of the most active in Muslim-American life, including CAIR, the Islamic Circle of North America and the Muslim American Society.
      Council members say their first charge is to conduct a census of Muslims in the U.S. to get a better handle on what issues Muslims care about most. They hope to complete it within two years, to help shape their agenda in the 2016 elections.
      “Muslim voters have the potential to be swing voters in 2016,” said Awad. “We are aiming at that election to bring more participation from the Muslim community.”
      Article Courtesy: Washington Post

      CAIR-NY: New York Muslims Condemn Anti-Semitic Attack
      Last Updated on Monday, 05 May 2014 18:27


      (NEW YORK, NY, 5/5/14) -- The New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-NY) today said that Muslims stand in solidarity with the Jewish community after anti-Semitic graffiti sprayed on cars and buildings on Saturday in Borough Park, Brooklyn.

      The spray-painted words were found on 15 vehicles and four buildings near the Bnos Zion synagogue and school run by the ultra-Orthodox Bobov community. One person was arrested on Sunday and faces charges of criminal mischief as a hate crime and aggravated harassment.

      SEE: Former NYPD Cop Charged With Scrawling Anti-Semitic Graffiti Around Borough Park

      "The New York Muslim community stands in solidarity with the Jewish community in condemning this attack. We denounce all acts of anti-Semitism and hate when anyone is attacked based on their religion, ethnicity, gender, race, or sexual orientation," said CAIR-New York Director of Operations Sadyia Khalique.

      Earlier this year, during CAIR-NY's Muslim Day at the Capitol in Albany, CAIR-NY advocated for Assembly Bill A1953 sponsored by Assemblyman Hooper, which would amend Penal Law 485.05 in relation to presumptive evidence of hate crimes.

      CAIR-New York is a chapter of America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

      - END -

      CONTACT: CAIR-NY Director of Operations Sadyia Khalique, 212-870-2002, skhalique@...; CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-744-7726, ihooper@...

      Rep Peter King Moved By Mosque Reception
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Saturday, 26 April 2014 00:00


      SUFFOLK COUNTY, NY – Known for his anti-Muslim hearings, New York Representative Peter King visited one of the largest mosques in New York Friday, April 25, receiving an unexpected warm welcome from the mosque’s congregation.

      "I was actually surprised" by the welcome, said King, who addressed nearly 1,000 congregants at Masjid Darul Qur'an mosque for about 10 minutes, News Day reported.

      "I'm surprised by the reception for me, but not surprised by the hospitality of the people."

      The Republican representative has stirred controversies before for broad statements linking Islam to terrorism.

      In 2011, King held congressional hearings on what he called Muslim "radicalization."

      In 2007, he said, "There are too many mosques in this country, there's too many people who are sympathetic to radical Islam," though he has said his comments were taken out of context.

      In a bid to turn a new leaf in tense relations, Muslim leaders invited King to attend prayer services at Masjid Darul Quran, the Muslim Center of Long Island in Bay Shore, an invitation welcomed by King.

      During the visit, King shared a meal with the mosque's leaders and said he would return soon for a town hall-style meeting.

      "I think we're going to understand each other better," King said.

      "I don't expect anyone to change their position. I'm not changing mine. But I think we can find ways to work together."

      King’s hearing was widely condemned as stigmatizing the Muslim minority in the US.

      The hearing also drew fire from US officials and Muslims for stigmatizing the whole Muslim community in the country.

      Since 9/11, US Muslims, estimated between six to seven million, have become sensitized to an erosion of their civil rights, with a prevailing belief that America was stigmatizing their faith.

      A US survey has revealed that the majority of Americans know very little about Muslims and their faith.

      A recent Gallup poll, however, found 43 percent of Americans Nationwide admitted to feeling at least “a little” prejudice against Muslims.

      New Start

      Inviting King to visit their mosque, Muslim leaders said they believe the visit will lead to a new relationship with King, a member and former chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee.

      "I think it went very well. This will lead to future dialogue," said Hafiz Rehman, a pediatrician and leader of the mosque who helped arrange King's visit.

      "I think already I can sense that he regrets his own past statements."

      Mosque president Roshan Shaikh, in introducing King to the congregation, repeated some of the congressman's most controversial comments about Muslims.

      "I know we have all heard some tough statements from him, which we have not liked," Rehman told the congregation.

      "But the welcome he has seen today is going to change him."

      King told his listeners that he will not back down from past assertions that police surveillance is needed in Muslim communities.

      “The fact that there are people within the community who are evil and bad does not reflect on the entire community," King told the congregation.

      "But there is an obligation on that community to cooperate fully with law enforcement."

      Despite some of King's previous comments, people gathered at the mosque greeted him warmly, asserting that their religion condemns violence.

      Islam "is against all forms of terrorism," said Yousuf Syed, a doctor and a member of the board of trustees at the Islamic Association of Long Island, a mosque in Selden.

      Jersey City Muslims who lost mosque to fire praying at nearby church
      By Michaelangelo Conte/The Jersey Journal
      Follow on Twitter
      on March 14, 2014 at 5:24 PM, updated March 14, 2014 at 5:25 PM


      The congregation of Jersey City’s Tawheed Islamic Center lost their mosque to a devastating 3-alarm fire on Feb. 28, but congregants have been holding Friday prayers at The Church Of Jesus Christ Of Latter-Day Saints on Sip Avenue.

      “All the engineers are saying that the building has to come down even though some of the brick sides are still standing,” said Islamic Center President of the Board of Trustees Ibrahim Eldewak, 59, of the Islamic Center on West Side Avenue.

      “It has been very, very traumatic for us,” said Eldewak of the fire that left portions of the building in danger of collapsing onto an adjacent building and required shoring up of the roof. “I have to tell you we are devastated. It is hard for our community not to come to prayers. Thank God we have Friday prayers at the church.”

      The city helped secure the Sip Avenue church, less than one-half a mile away, where the Islamic Center congregation now hold Friday afternoon prayers. The use of the church on Sip is open-ended, Eldewak said.

      “We have gotten help from every official we approached and that makes me confident we are going to be able to go through the implementation of the project and I’m sure the help we see at the city will help us accelerate the process and put us back on track quickly,” said Eldewak today.

      Within hours of the fire Jersey City Mayor Steven Fulop’s administration made the Jersey City Armory available for Friday prayers and that same day the Archdiocese of Newark reached out to the congregation offering one of its facilities for prayers.

      Islamic Center engineers and architects are working on a plan for rebuilding the center, but right now the building is sealed as the insurance company conducts its evaluation prior to drafting a final report.

      “From the day we get the permit and start to build, my estimate now is more realistic," said Eldewak, who said after the fire that he had hoped to rebuild in two months. "I was emotional after the fire, but the reality is three to six months for construction.

      Friday prayers are the most important of the week for Muslims and must be held in a mosque. While up to 1,800 people had attended Friday prayers at the Islamic Center, only 300 attended today at the church, with others likely going to other area mosques.

      Eldewak said some congregants probably don’t yet know that the church is being used for Friday prayers and he expects the number to reach 500 in a week or two. He said that if the number grows much more than that, another location will have to be secured.

      It is not clear how much insurance money will be forthcoming, but the congregation has already raised $42,000 in donations and has been getting offers of building materials.

      The architects and engineers have not yet arrived at the cost of replacing the community center, Eldewak said. Donations can be made at www.altawheedjc.com.

      “When you look at the donations you can see that everyone is trying to help,” Eldewak said. “Some donations are $10 and we like that because we are hoping as many people as possible help any way they can.”

      Eldewak said that the rebuilt mosque “will be much better than before,” and added, “I am very positive from the large number of people that have provided us with kind words, donations -- this is all positive.”

      Number of Muslims in United States increasing day by day
      Saturday March 15, 2014 10:51 PM, Michele Moses


      Though Will Caldwell was born, raised and college educated in Georgia, he is uncomfortable praying there.

      He has felt that way since a clear summer evening in 2007 at a nondescript gas station off a nondescript interstate somewhere between Savannah and Macon. He was on his way home to Saint Simons Island from Emory University, where he had just finished his junior year. Caldwell had pulled his red Mini Cooper into the rest stop because the sun was starting to set and, since he had converted to Islam one year earlier, this meant that it was time to pray.

      In the empty field next to the gas station, he found a discrete corner, laid out his mat and began to recite the holy verses, first standing, then bent forward, then on his knees with his head to the ground. He noticed two people looking at him, secretively peering out from behind their truck. Uneasy, he rushed through the ritual, folded up his mat and got back in the car to leave. As he pulled away, he could see in his rear view mirror a cop car pulling into the parking lot. The people who had been staring were flagging down the police officer and pointing at Caldwell. He drove on at an intentionally moderate pace, and the cop did not follow, but he has not risked praying publicly in the South since.

      Caldwell is soft spoken. He pauses thoughtfully before talking and sometimes between sentences. He wears a plaid button down shirt, slacks and small, round wire-framed glasses. His wide-set green eyes gaze out earnestly from his creamy white face. One quickly gets the sense that he is a kind and spiritual person. Perhaps this is his fatal flaw. After growing up in the Episcopal Church, Caldwell rediscovered his spirituality in Islam and decided to convert. Now, less than a hundred miles from where he was raised, onlookers see Caldwell's prayer as a potential threat. Why might this be?

      "The political context we are in is so charged with anti-Muslim rhetoric that it's almost impossible, I would say, for that conversion not to have some kind of political ramifications even if the convert in no way intends it," says Brannon Ingram, a professor of religious studies at Northwestern University, who specializes in Islam and Sufism. In July of 2013, Fox News correspondent Lauren Green interviewed religion scholar Reza Aslan about "Zealot", a book he just had written about Jesus Christ. She repeatedly questioned his credentials and asked him to explain how a Muslim could write about Christianity. In 2013, a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press study found that 45 percent of Americans believe that Muslims face "a lot" of discrimination.

      Negative sentiments about Muslims most often link to an association of Islam with radicalism and terrorism. A 2007 document by the New York Police Department entitled "Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat," says, "Jihadist ideology is the driver that motivates young men and women, born or living in the West, to carry out an 'autonomous jihad' via acts of terrorism against their host countries." Because of these beliefs, the police instated surveillance over New York City's mosques and Muslim communities using informants, neighborhood mapping, photos and video footage. When the American Civil Liberties Union caught wind of this policy in June of 2013, they sued the NYPD.

      Muslim converts have received extensive media attention. Katherine Russell, the widow of one of the notorious Boston Marathon bombers, began practicing Islam after meeting her husband. Samantha Lewthwaite, known as the "White Widow" after her husband's 2005 suicide bombing in London public transit, is among the suspects implicated in the Nairobi mall massacre in September 2013. She, too, is Muslim convert. Nicholas Brody, a main character of the popular television show "Homeland", becomes a Muslim while he is imprisoned by al-Quaeda in Damascus, Syria. Once back in the United States, he collaborates with his captors to plot and execute terror attacks.

      Karen Danielson, Director of Outreach at the Chicago chapter of Muslim American Society, says that any event that brings Islam into the public consciousness — for negative or positive reasons — generates interest. "After 9/11 for example, there was a large influx of converts. Sometimes people come forward hostile, but then even they end up converting because of what they discover," she says. "They investigated, they read the Quran, and it answered a lot of questions that they had before." Danielson herself found Islam in 1983 when she was a young adult. She has worked in community building for Muslims ever since and has interacted with hundreds of converts and support groups.

      Despite their powers of attraction, these terror-infused portrayals are very problematic for converts, says Iqbal Akhtar, a professor of Islamic Studies at Florida International University. New Muslims are forced to view themselves as outsiders in their own culture and are not given the opportunity to reconcile the different parts of their identities. "Even if in day-to-day interactions you can pass for being American or not being differentiated, you live in a society where the media is constantly defining the Muslim as an 'other,'" says Akhtar. "All these things fit into how you define yourself."

      Converts to any faith seem increasingly abnormal as the United States gravitates farther away from religion. According to a Pew Research study, the number of Americans who do not affiliate with a religion has gone up by 5 percent in the past five years, from 15.3 percent in 2007 to 19.6 percent in 2012.

      Yet the number of Muslims in the United States is increasing. In the seven years that followed the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the Muslim American population grew from 1,104,000 to 1,349,000, according to the 2012 census. And in a study of that same time frame, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 40 percent of Muslims in the United States were not raised with the faith, but joined it as adults.

      This anomalous increase in religious practice may be because conversion to Islam is quick and very simple. "It really just requires reciting a formula called the shahada in front of a number of witnesses," says Ingram. He translates the verse to mean, "There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger." And that's it. There's no training, no test. You just recite the creed. Ingram attributes the successful global spread of Islam to the ease of this process.

      The difficulty for many converts comes in the change of daily customs, rather than in the change of faith. In 2005, at the age of 36, Jennifer Gauthier converted from Catholicism to Islam in order to marry to a Muslim man. The pair has since moved to Alexandria, Egypt. "I would say the greatest challenges I face are more related to Islamic cultural traditions rather than what I understand from the Quran," she says. "My dad and I have had many conversations about Islam and Catholicism and have found many overlaps." She says it made a big difference that she already felt comfortable with the idea of one god.

      Saba Safder, Scholarship Manager at the national non-profit Islamic Society of North America and a Muslim convert from Methodism, speaks to the challenging cultural adjustments. "In the beginning it was hard to fit in. Sometimes when I came to the mosque, my scarf may not have covered all my hair, or my sleeves may not have been as long as they should have been," she said. "There were many times that women would correct my praying or how I dressed."

      Many converts also felt alienated because of their whiteness. In theory, explains Ingram, Islam is meant to be a race-free religion. But in practice, he says, this is not the case. "In the popular imagination Islam is still very much," – he makes air quotes with his fingers – "a brown person's religion." And this belief, he continues, is somewhat valid. "American Muslim communities can be very closely knit in terms of some ethnic background," he says. "Not just immigrants from or descendants of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, but even specific regions in India."

      As a result, when Caldwell enters a Muslim center for the first time, he says he gets one of two reactions to his whiteness. The first is suspicion. In a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he recalls, he could feel everyone's eyes on him. Muslims sometimes suspect that he is an FBI agent, working for the aforementioned government surveillance, he says. "I just try to deal with it because I understand it." he says. Others place him on a pedestal. Immigrants trying to assimilate into white American society take his race as a sign of their success. "Seeing a white person [practicing Islam] sort of validates their own religious existence. There's a lot of embedded racial assumptions about that," he says. "I don't think it's a desirable situation for me or for them, but it is the case nonetheless."

      Some converts are forming their own groups, one of which is Ta'leef Collective. Founded as a resource for new Muslims and prospective converts, Ta'leef runs classes, discussions and support groups. Its headquarters are in Fremont, Calif., but it opened a Chicago chapter in 2012. Ta'leef stays away from the media for fear that it will portray them badly. "Our concern is both one of how we are represented to the larger American population and how we are represented to other Muslim communities," said Caldwell, who is a participant. "A lot of what we do would be controversial to other Muslim communities in the sense that it's not a mosque but it's a Muslim community. That doesn't fit so well into the parameters of what they expect."

      New Muslims often especially need this social outlet after distancing themselves from their former lives. "I very rarely associate myself with the community I was raised in. I have strong contacts with my family, but many times I just feel like it is hard to belong," says Safder. "There are too many media influences that give people a preconceived idea before seeing that I am still the same person."

      If not at home, how do converts find Islam? Danielson was in her first year at Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa. She intended to lead missions targeting Muslims. To prepare, she studied the Quran and was deeply moved by it. "It was through my personal reading of Quran that I had my own private conversion," she says. "I felt like my questions were answered. The deep bigger questions about justice and life in general. What is the universe all about? What does everything mean?" She says she never found this type of spiritual guidance in the Bible and converted to Islam one month after.

      Caldwell's story of coming to Islam is strikingly similar. An altar boy in his youth, Caldwell looked up to his Episcopal priest and wanted to follow in his footsteps. While an undergraduate at Emory University, he learned that seminary students studied Greek but not Hebrew. In order to understand the Old Testament, he started taking Hebrew classes. These led him to Jewish studies classes. Judaism introduced him to the possibility of practicing other religions, but it was too connected to an ethnic and cultural history for him to fully embrace it, he says. "I guess in a lot of ways Islam is a natural place to look at that point." He started reading the Quran and spent the summer and fall of his junior year in Jerusalem. He promised himself that he wouldn't make any big decisions until he finished it. One month into his studies in Israel, he finished the Quran and converted to Islam.

      Ingram has noticed a trend in why people like Danielson or Caldwell may gravitate toward the religion. "I've spoken to a few white converts over the years who said Christianity never made sense to me, the trinity never made sense to me, the idea of God being one and three at the same time never made sense to me," he said. "Islam doesn't have that problem. People are attracted to the comparative simplicity of Islam's notion of God."

      Their strong connection to Islamic theology helps converts deal with stigma. "We know that Islam does not preach terrorism. We know Islam does not preach extremist radical thought. Those things are not linked to Islam. They're linked to Muslims," says Danielson. "Muslims are people. They have so many factors that motivate who they are. Yes, Islam influences them, but they have their economic condition and their political situation, too."

      Gauthier puts this idea concisely. "A saying I've heard often — and I think it applies to all religions — is 'Don't look to Muslims to understand Islam. Look to Islam itself,'" she says.

      But, according to Danielson, converts need to change people's preconceptions about Muslims. "We have to get our voice heard better. Islam should be understood better, and that's a difficult position to be in," she says. "First-hand knowledge of Islam and Muslims needs relationship building and a genuine commitment to long-term cooperation." (http://www.huffingtonpost.com)

      Islam in the US – A brief history
      By Lee Lawrence, Correspondent / February 16, 2014


      NEW YORK
      Although Islam first came to these shores 400 years ago through enslaved Africans, it didn't really register on America's radar in a significant way until the 1960s and '70s with Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.

      This despite the fact that, after slavery was abolished, some African-Americans had converted to Islam as early as the late 1800s, and that Muslims emigrated from the Middle East in the early 1900s, some settling in such unlikely places as Ross, N.D. But these small communities mostly disappeared into the American cultural landscape within a few decades.

      RECOMMENDED: Sunni and Shiite Islam: Do you know the difference? Take our quiz.

      Even as Muslims from Bosnia, Albania, and other parts of Europe made the United States their home, it wasn't until the mid-1960s that the numbers of Muslims began to swell significantly.

      Many African-Americans began to convert, establishing mosques over the coming decades. At the same time, the government lifted national quotas on immigration, attracting waves of immigrants from the Middle East, South and Southeast Asia, Africa, and other parts of the globe. They brought not just a particular sect of Islam, but also the languages and cultures in which they practiced their faith.

      From the 1990s onward, Islam became increasingly visible. According to the Pew Research Center, 45 percent of Muslim Americans today arrived after 1990, and the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) reports that, between 1994 and 2011, the number of mosques grew from 962 to 2,106. Their construction has sometimes met with pushback, whether in small cities like Murfreesboro, Tenn., or a megalopolis like New York.

      Based on its survey of mosques, CAIR estimates that the current number of Muslims in the US may be as high as 7 million, or 2.2 percent of the population. Pew, on the other hand, calculates that Muslims number 2.75 million, or 0.08 percent.

      Both, however, agree that the numbers are growing with the influx of new immigrants as well as new converts. One of the fastest growing segments, according to some observers, is the Latino community, which accounts for a fifth of new converts in the US. By 2030, says Pew, their number will more than double to 6.2 million or 1.7 percent of the population – equivalent to the number of Jews or Episcopalians in the US today.

      Modest Muslim Attire Draws Attention at Oscars
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Thursday, 06 March 2014 00:00


      CAIRO – A young Muslim woman donning a headscarf and modest dress attracted wide attention at the Oscars academy awards ceremony last Sunday, Sayidaty.net reported on Wednesday, March 6.

      Appearing on the red carpet, Zainab Abdul-Nabi, a student at Screen Arts and Cultures University of Michigan, earned a big applause from attendants, according to Sayidaty.net.

      She was among six college students selected nationwide to join “Team Oscar”.

      The young American Muslim made it to the Oscars ceremony after participating in a video and essay competition open to US college students with a creative video that was selected by Oscar producers and the Academy.

      Donning a modest dress among holywood stars, Abdul-Nabi is considered the first ever headscarved woman to appear on the Oscars' red carpet, Sayidaty.net added.

      Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to an estimated Muslim minority of six to eight million.

      An earlier Gallup poll found that the majority of Americans Muslims are loyal to their country and optimistic about their future in the United States.

      A recent survey found that American Muslims are the most moderate around the world.

      It also showed that US Muslims generally express strong commitment to their faith and tend not to see an inherent conflict between being devout and living in a modern society.

      Islam sees hijab as an obligatory code of dress, not a religious symbol displaying one’s affiliations.

      Why Robert Davila is the Most Famous Muslim in America This Week
      Posted by: Hena Zuberi February 27, 2014


      Assalam 'alaykum wa rahmatulah,
      Sometimes we land in a spiritual slump and want to stop doing what we are doing, and then Allāh sends us inspiration when we need it most. I watched this last night and had to share this with our readers. Although it has probably been shared all over the world, on forums, Facebook pages, and websites (yes, even soap opera sites), it deserves to be shared even more, māshā'Allāh!
      What a story, what an inspiration! JazakAllah Khayr to Ustadh Nouman for sharing the story of Robert Davila.
      I relayed this story to three different people today, and each of them felt rejuvenated on his/her journey to Allāh, including my daughter, who was struggling with her Qurʾān lessons. To encourage her, we were reading Khuram Murad's Way to the Qurʾān together and at the part where he writes about making sure that we are “constantly alert with intense praise and gratitude to [our] Master for having blessed [us] with His greatest gift- the Qurʾān and for having guided [us] to its reading and study,” Brother Robert was the most perfect example that I could give to her, having seen this video.
      It really, truly reminded me that Allāh's work doesn't stop–we need Him–he doesn't need us. May Allāh guide all of us with the light of His Guidance in whatever position we may be in and give us the taufiq of du‘ā’ (supplication), shukr (thankfulness), sabr (patience), and ridha bil qadha (satisfaction with Divine Decree). Āmīn.


      Update: Here is a photo of Robert for those who were doubting his existence. Ustadh Nouman plans on airing an interview with him soon. Yusuf made some great points in comments. It is not enough for us to celebrate and be inspired by conversion stories, we have to realize that disabled and New Muslim support is severely lacking in many of our communities. If you were moved by this story, use the inspiration to start a support group in your masjid or community center. One immediate thing you can do is teach people how to talk about disability with respect. People with disabilities live in a world designed primarily for the able-bodied. We can only really start to empathize when we think of how inconvenient or unkind circumstances are getting to the places where people worship and socialize; things that many of us take for granted.

      Muslimmatters had our own da‘wah cheer to share this week. Yesterday, Br. Sebastian took his shahadah and shared this tweet with us, and another brother who cannot drive to the masjid due to a disability asked if he could take shahadah online with one of us. Allahumma taqabbal ya Rabb.

      Syrians routed by war find a safe haven in North Jersey

      FEBRUARY 16, 2014, 11:26 PM LAST UPDATED: MONDAY, FEBRUARY 17, 2014, 11:30 AM


      Syrians fleeing war and devastation in their homeland have settled in North Jersey by the hundreds since turmoil broke out three years ago. While family members, houses of worship and a social services agency offer support, many struggle to find work, afford housing and deal with grief amid harrowing experiences in war.

      Drawn to North Jersey by long-established Syrian-American communities, many arrive with little more than the clothing they are wearing and with bitter memories of the life-threatening conditions that drove them from their homes.

      Newcomers include Mahmoud Alzouabi, who was living with his family in a Syrian city under siege two years ago. They faced hunger and destruction.

      “After the revolution, the situation in Syria was very bad,” Alzouabi said. “There was all kinds of shelling and weapons. It was very difficult to buy food and there wasn’t electricity. At any moment there was a chance you could be detained.”

      Pro-reform protests broke out against the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in March 2011, sparking a violent government crackdown that led to full-blown war and a refugee crisis. About 2.3 million have fled the country and an additional 4 million have been displaced within Syria. The Syrians who have come to North Jersey are largely unrecognized as they blend into Arab-American neighborhoods in a diverse state that is home to more than 9,000 Syrian-Americans, according to the Census Bureau.

      The United States offers financial aid and transitional help to Syrians who are accepted into its refugee resettlement program, but only 108 Syrians have been officially designated as refugees. Many others are stymied by stringent U.S. security concerns over people arriving with no identification papers. Others face a high legal barrier in the requirement that they prove they are victims of persecution and not merely people displaced by war.

      Many of the Syrian refugees have arrived with visitor’s visas and extended their stays, legally, through what is known as temporary protective status, which allows them to get Social Security numbers and authorizes them to find employment.

      Alzouabi, 42, fled with his wife and eight children from Daraa, a hotbed of anti-government protest. In the first month of protests, Alzouabi said he saw a close friend shot to death at a demonstration. Another time, he said, he was beaten by the police who questioned him for using his cellphone at a checkpoint. Alzouabi said his sister’s house was burned to the ground. Soldiers destroyed houses and cars and searched houses during the 2011 siege of Daraa, when food and electricity were cut off to neighborhoods, he said.

      “Of course we were afraid, especially when there was shelling,” he said. “We’d run from one room to another, trying to predict where the shells would fall. Sometimes we’d run in the middle of the night to seek refuge in our neighbor’s basement.”

      He and his family fled by car to Jordan and got visas to travel to the United States, where they have family. Now, they live in South Paterson and the children attend city schools; in the past year alone, two dozen other Syrian families have enrolled their children, according to the school district.

      Alzouabi said his children struggle with the language and that sometimes their tempers flare. One son, he said, got in trouble for hitting another child.

      For a month after their arrival, one of his sons spoke of hearing shelling noises and feared planes overhead were coming to bomb them. “He would ask us, ‘Do you hear that?’ ” Alzouabi said.

      Christians are among the hundreds of Syrians who have come to North Jersey. Antoun Askar worked construction in Qatar for years before returning home to Syria in July 2011.

      “I came back astonished,” he said, adding that groups of Muslim extremists marched through the streets threatening Christians and disrupting long-standing peaceful relations.

      At a checkpoint, he said, a man on a motorcycle drove by and clubbed his wife in the knee, sending her tumbling to the ground in pain. She needed knee surgery and still cannot stand for long stretches because of the injury.

      With his work history in Qatar, and a sister in New Jersey, Askar was able to get a visitor’s visa to travel to the U.S. He has since gotten temporary protected status for himself, his wife and his two sons, ages 4 and 8. It entitles people already in the United States to remain for an extended time because of dangers in their native country because of war, civil unrest or natural disaster.

      Askar has been living on his savings and renting a home in Dumont, but does not know what he will do when the money runs out. He has gotten some help in the Syrian community — a doctor and a lawyer offered their services at low cost. A relative gave him furniture.

      With temporary protected status, he has work authorization and a Social Security number, but he cannot find work. He applied for health care coverage but did not understand the responses he got. His wife is eight months pregnant.

      “Everything is difficult here. Everything is complicated. There’s no help,” said Askar, who has applied for refugee status, fearing religious persecution back home.

      The family attends St. Mark’s Syrian Orthodox Cathedral in Teaneck, which has about 10 new families from Syria, church leaders said. The church has helped newcomers with donations of clothing and furniture, but some are embarrassed to ask for help, said Elias Sarkar, a Moonachie resident who is president of the archdiocese’s executive council.

      “Many of them have families here, but how long can you stay with family?” he said. “They come here and many don’t speak English. They have to get acclimated.”

      Najwa Basuf, 35, was able to leave Damascus in 2011 because she had previously lived in New Jersey and is an American citizen. She had believed the conflict would be resolved quickly, but then tensions exploded “like a fire.”

      She heard gunfire in streets nearby and feared the many military checkpoints she had to pass through. Soldiers surrounded her son and other worshipers at mosque prayers one Friday. She pleaded with the U.S. Embassy to expedite the renewal of her children’s expired passports.

      At home now in Clifton, Basuf said that she and her husband scan Facebook and call family daily, each time with heavy hearts. They hear horror stories about relatives and neighbors: about sons executed before their fathers; about an ill woman who couldn’t get to a hospital and died; about 35 people trapped in one home, starving, with the homeowner arrested for providing them shelter.

      She left her home, her land and her savings in Syria and is devastated over the destruction.

      “What’s happening in Syria, believe me, it’s haram, haram,” she said, eyes red, using the Arabic word for shameful or sinful.

      At the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson, office manager Hamid Imam said at least 100 newcomers had recently arrived from Syria. The mosque has supplied food and clothing and financial help, while some members have offered professional services at no cost or low cost. The mosque also has employed Alzouabi as a nighttime custodian.

      “Many of them need rent assistance, help with school registration, and attorney fees,” Imam said. “We tried to do fundraising for the families here.”

      The WAFA House in Clifton, a social services charity that caters to the Arab community, recently held a donation drive at the mosque for household goods to benefit refugees. The non-profit also has provided food vouchers, diapers, free legal services and therapy sessions.

      Wijdan Assaf, a clinician at the WAFA House, said about 30 displaced Syrians have sought help at the agency.

      “A lot of them come here and don’t have assistance to rely on,” Assaf said. “They need apartments and need help to advocate in schools. They need to get medical assistance and social services. Basically they need to start from zero.”

      Syrians who are granted asylum are eligible for help from programs funded by the federal Office of Refugee Resettlement, including cash and medical assistance, job preparation and placement and English-language training. But only 108 Syrians have been granted official refugee status by the U.S.

      Most have come to this country as visitors and stayed. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has accepted 5,261 applications for temporary protected status from Syrians already in the U.S., approving 2,038 of those and denying 59; the rest are pending. Of those, 335 applications came from Syrians in New Jersey; 150 were approved, three denied and the rest are pending.

      With no end in sight to the war, more Syrians can be expected to arrive in North Jersey. The U.S. government expects to receive thousands of referrals for resettlement from the United Nations’ refugee agency in 2014, with arrivals expected in 2015 and 2016, according to the State Department. It is not known how many will be accepted.

      Some elected officials and human rights groups have called for the U.S. to do more and take in 15,000 Syrians refugees. According to news reports, the Obama administration expects to take in only as many as 2,000.

      A small percentage of all refugees are resettled in a third country, said a State Department spokeswoman. The U.S. government’s main goal has been to provide refugees with humanitarian assistance and protection in the place to which they have fled, to give them “a better opportunity to return home at a future date,” the spokeswoman said.

      Askar has applied for refugee status, hoping it will bring him more security and more help so he can rebuild his life. He misses home, but fears he won’t be able to return to a country that has been largely destroyed and divided.

      “Anybody coming with our conditions is coming as a lost man, as a lost family,” he said. “They need somebody to lead them, take his hand and show him the way.”

      Email: adely@...

      Muslims’ Niche Market Lures Americans
      OnIslam & News Agencies
      Wednesday, 29 January 2014 00:00


      CHICAGO – Taping into the thriving Muslim market in the US, a growing number of American entrepreneurs are catering to modest fashion lines and halal production in a business worthy of more than $170 billion.

      “There are millions of consumers just waiting to see which brands will be smart enough to engage with them,” Melanie El-Turk, who launched a modest fashion clothing line a few years ago in Chicago, told WEBZ Radio on Tuesday, January 28.

      “And those who do will see first-hand not only their spending power but their brand loyalty and brand advocacy.”

      Deeming the Muslim consumer market like the Latino market in 1990's, El-Turk was at the forefront of the American entrepreneurs who realized the vitality of the Muslim market and how to gain loyal customers.

      Catering to a niche market that hasn't been widely recognized yet, El-Turk launched her haute hijab line to fill a void of modest designs in the US markets.

      Her modest fashion clothing line was inspired by American Muslim girls struggle with identity, “One issue that always used to come up was hijab,” El-Turk said.

      “Just as someone who always embraced hijab, it pained me to see people struggle with whether to wear it or keep it on.” she added.

      Prompted by the lack of the ready-to-wear modest designs in US Markets, Amany Jondy, has founded her modest fashion company, Simply Zeena, for US Muslim women.

      “It was the typical frustrated, not being able to find the sort of everyday American-inspired looks that were modest,” Jondy said.

      Achieving 30% growth in its first year, “Simply Zeena” has gained enough profits to release new collection every season.

      “Our goal is to be making much more than what we’re making now, but we’re self-sustaining and we’re profitable,” Jondy said.

      Halal Market

      Presenting a global thriving industry, halal market has been attracting many of the American entrepreneurs in the recent years.

      “The whole idea of halal is growing even beyond the Muslim realm,” Sameer Sarmast, who blogs and films a Web series about halal restaurants, said.

      “I feel like it’s just going to get bigger and bigger.

      “You mention food to anybody, food is a common denominator it will bring people together,” Sarmast, who has been tracking halal restaurants across the states, added.

      For Adnan Durrani, CEO of Saffron Road, halal markets offered Muslims a chance to defy misconceptions surrounding post 9/11 Islam.

      “I started thinking of ways to create a business model that was socially responsible,” said Durrani.

      “That could reflect the values that I felt were important to me in my faith, and not what I was seeing in the media,” he added.

      Being one of the well-known halal food brands in US, Saffron Road produces halal, organic and Non- Genetically modified food.

      The concept of halal, -- meaning permissible in Arabic -- has traditionally been applied to food.

      Muslims should only eat meat from livestock slaughtered by a sharp knife from their necks, and the name of Allah, the Arabic word for God, must be mentioned.

      Though there are no official estimates, the US is home to an estimated Muslim minority of six to eight million.

      According to a study by Ogilvy Noor marketing firm in 2010, the American Muslim consumer market was worth $170 billion.

      The Hummus takes a satirical look at Islamophobia
      Take Two | February 5th, 2014, 10:22am


      Fraternity Life, Islamic Style
      By KYLE SPENCERFEB. 6, 2014


      SHORTLY BEFORE SUNUP, a dozen or so students at the University of California, San Diego, stumbled dutifully out of bed. They ironed their collared shirts, knotted their ties and piled into their cars. Their destination was the Islamic Center of San Diego, where they were to be initiated into the country’s first Muslim fraternity, Alpha Lambda Mu, named for three letters that start several chapters of the Quran: Alif Laam Meem.

      Continue reading the main story

      Go to Education Life »
      After the morning prayer, Fajr, the 13 pledges recited a passage from the Quran, then listened attentively as their adviser applied the Islamic values of loyalty, sincerity and brotherly forgiveness to daily life on campus. Finally, the young men pronounced their goals for the coming semester: Rumzi Khan, a computer science major who founded the chapter, vowed to pray more. Several science majors promised to double down on their studying. Samer Abusaleh, a junior in economics, pledged to be more consistent with his Quran reading. He also wanted to work on his six-pack, and not the kind usually associated with Greeks. There was nothing typical about this initiation, which ended over plates of carrot cake pancakes and huevos rancheros at a 1950s-style pancake house. No beer pong. No hazing. None of the raucousness that characterizes frat life.

      Alpha Lambda Mu was founded just a year ago by Ali Mahmoud, a junior biology and sociology major at the University of Texas, Dallas, as a national fraternity for Muslim college students. Mr. Mahmoud, who is seeking university recognition and a house for his chapter, hosted the first formal rush this fall: 40 students showed up, and half were offered bids. A total of 24 members now make up the Texas chapter.

      Mr. Mahmoud, whose parents emigrated from Egypt before he was born, says he founded the frat to offer Muslim students the chance to express both sides of their identity, the American and the Muslim, at a time when “more and more of us identify strongly with both.”

      The directive is for spiritual students to have more fun, and convivial ones to incorporate more spirituality in their lives. Mr. Mahmoud’s guidebook stipulates that chapters organize events every semester. Some are to be purely social, others to teach life skills, encourage volunteer work and enrich members with Islamic culture.

      And so the Texas chapter set off in November on a wilderness retreat, with canoeing and cozy campfires on which to roast halal marshmallows, and an imam for lectures and prayers. The new Cornell chapter, which has eight members, threw an all-night party in November. In accordance with Islamic teachings, it was alcohol-free and men only (although chapters are permitted to hold some coed social events, like movie screenings). Two dozen attended the party. They prayed together, downed pizza, played games and crashed in sleeping bags on the floor of the event room the university had lent them.

      Members of the San Diego chapter, which started up in the fall, have visited a Halloween haunted house, learned to change a tire, spent a morning plucking debris from a beach in La Jolla and handed out water bottles to the homeless. The members meet twice a month in one another’s apartm<br/><br/>(Message over 64 KB, truncated)