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Islam and Muslims in America: A Thank You, and a Koran, for Obama

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  • Zafar Khan
    A Thank You, and a Koran, for Obama June 30, 2009, 3:25 pm By Andrea Fuller http://thecaucus.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/06/30/a-thank-you-and-a-koran-for-obama/
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 5, 2009
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      A Thank You, and a Koran, for Obama
      June 30, 2009, 3:25 pm
      By Andrea Fuller


      President Obama will soon receive a thank-you gift for his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo. Inspired by the address, in which Mr. Obama quoted the Koran, the Council on American-Islamic Relations plans to distribute 100,000 copies of the Koran to national, state and local leaders.

      The council’s national executive director, Nihad Awad, said at a news conference in Washington today that the speech, in which Mr. Obama called for the end to mutual suspicion between Americans and Muslims, was “inspiring” and “historic.”

      The council is soliciting donations to pay for the books; at the national convention of the Islamic Society of North America on July 5, the name of one donor will be chosen as sponsor of the Koran that will be sent to Mr. Obama.

      In a public opinion survey done by the council, almost 60 percent of Americans said they were “not very knowledgeable” or “not at all knowledgeable” about Islam. Mr. Awad said that the organization hopes to educate Americans about Islam to combat prejudice.

      Over the next 10 years, the council plans to distribute one million copies of the text to the American public through its “Share the Quran”campaign.

      “This project is pure education,” said Mr. Awad, who said the council was not attempting to proselytize.

      Mr. Obama has said he hopes to reduce tensions between America and the Middle East, and between Muslims and non-Muslims. Mr. Obama’s father was Muslim, though the president is Christian.

      “There must be a sustained effort to listen to each other; to learn from each other; to respect one another; and to seek common ground,” he said in his Cairo address

      Obama's Cairo Speech Inspires Islamic Group to Give Qurans to US Leaders
      June 30, 2009 6:02 PM


      Prompted by President Obama's speech directed to the Muslim world in Cairo in early June, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today launched its "Share the Quran" campaign distributing free Qurans to local, state, and national leaders across the United States.

      The organization's spokesperson said it will also send a copy to Obama and Vice President Biden.

      "This is pure educational. I want to make it clear that this is not proselytizing or a campaign or project to convert people to Islam," said CAIR's director Nihad Awad today at a press conference. "We want people to be aware and informed about Islam."

      Awad said the idea to gift high-end Qurans ($78 each) to American legislators, law enforcement officers, media leaders, governors, local elected and public officials, was directly inspired by Obama's Cairo speech:

      "We were astonished he quoted the Quran." Awad told ABC News. "We know it. But I think the majority of Americans have no idea that maybe these quotes are direct from the Quran, they're unequivocal, and they cover the issues of . . . values we need today, in order to work together, fight extremism and terrorism, and turn the page. And bring the relationship to its rightful position between the American and Muslim world."

      The organization chose Muhammad Asad's (a European) English translation of the Quran, and asks Muslims to donate $48 to help subsidize its multi-million dollar project as part of a grassroots campaign.

      "The long-term goal of the campaign is to put one million Qurans in the hands of ordinary Americans of all faiths over the next 10 years," according to a CAIR statement.

      Al Jazeera showed footage last week of bibles translated into Pashto and Dari stacked at a US army base that raised questions about whether the US army was proselytizing in Afghanistan.

      The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Navy Adm. Mike Mullen was asked about the report the same day the video aired on Al Jazeera:

      "My reaction is twofold," he said. "One is that I'm not aware of the details of this and certainly want to know more about it. Secondly, it certainly is -- from the United States military's perspective -- not our position to ever push any specific kind of religion. Period."

      ISNA Traces Islam History in America


      WASHINGTOIN – The thousands of Muslims who devoted their Fourth of July weekend to attend the annual Islamic Society of North American (ISNA) convention got a rare chance to hear about the 7-century history of their faith in the US.
      "At least 10 percent of enslaved African Americans were Muslims," Ihsan Bagsby, an African American covert, told his enchanted ISNA audience.

      In a session themed Legacy of Islam in America: The Transatlantic Voyage and Beyond, he traced back the roots of African American Muslims in different eras.

      Bagsby said the first generation of Muslims were the enslaved African Americans who came from the Senegambia area and their descendants, highlighting many of their contributions.

      "Blues is really a product of Senegambian culture, which most musicologists would agree with."

      Senegambia refers to the African region that includes the Senegal River, the Cap-Vert region and the Gambia River.

      The region, colonized by both France and the British Empire as of the 1500s, were of special importance for both empires because West Africa allowed for a convenient way station for trade between Europe and their American colonies, and a warehouse for the African Slave Trade.

      Bagsby noted that by the 1920s came the second wave of Islam in the history African Americans, which he called "the rediscovery of Islam".

      "Among the many enslaved African American Muslims you have no traces of Islam after the Civil War and undoubtedly it is the result of the passing of generations, where we see the loss of Islam in the enslaved African Americans."

      The third stage of Islam in America, according to Bagsby, started with conversion amongst African Americans in the late 1960s.

      Though there are no official figures, the US is estimated to be home to nearly seven to eight million Muslims.


      Bagsby did talk about the history of African American Muslims, but what was more important is the predominant theme within that community that he brought to light.

      "The major theme that resonates throughout African American Muslim history is resistance," he said.

      "Islam among African Americans has always represented resistance to the endemic racism of this country. A resistance [and] rejection of White stereotypes of black people."

      Within African American communities throughout the history of America, Islam has been a beacon of light that allowed the people to resist the condescension they endured from those who considered them outcast.

      It helped the African Americans to reject the White molds of thinking, dressing and culture in order to be assimilated, which was a notion the black church supported.

      But Islam also played a vital role in the rejection of the isolation African Americans endured in the White world.

      "Islam, amongst African Americans, has represented a vehicle for the uplift of the African American people — morally, spiritually, economically, and politically —both as individuals and as communities."

      The first person to grasp the idea of Islam and resistance was Drew Ali Timothy, also known as Noble Drew Ali, who founded the Moorish Science Temple of America in Newark.

      "He tried to build in his own lifetime an activist community, not an arc community. He actually tried to build a community that influences the wider communities," said Bagsby.


      Aisha al-Adawiyya, a Muslim activist, said that a packed audience speaks a great deal about the growing awareness and interest in the subject.

      The young want to trace back their roots and "go beyond the media projection of Muslims in American and get some historical background."

      Bagsby's talk was an eye-opener for many of the audience.

      Zahra Hussein, a doctoral student who followed his talk through a deaf interpreter, was pleased to learn about the history and the role Islam played in African American communities for generations.

      "It was an interesting introduction into the beginning of American history that includes Muslim culture and religion," she said through an interpreter.

      The legacy of Islam in America is something Hussein would want to be known to the wider American society.

      "This is a topic that should be included in US history courses, because this is something the students are missing out on," she said.

      "There is such a strong Muslim foundation to the America culture, but no one really talk about it."

      Mosque's 1st female leader tackles stereotypes


      Toledo mosque Masjid Saad has elected a female president, the first woman to hold the leadership position at the 30-year-old mosque.

      Salmenna Sediqe, a businesswoman and mother of five, was elected last month and will serve a one-year term as president of the mosque on Alexis Road in Sylvania. The administrative position is separate from the mosque's religious leadership.

      Mrs. Sediqe said Monday hers was not a landmark election for Muslims, but she hopes it will change some negative stereotypes among non-Muslims.

      "For local Muslims, there is no doubt in the minds of the mass majority that they are supportive of a female in a leadership position. For non-Muslims, this will help them break down misperceptions they have about

      Islam," she said.

      It is the second time a woman has been elected president of a Toledo-area mosque. In 2001, when the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo in Perrysburg Township elected Cherrefe Kadri as president, it was believed to be the first time a U.S. mosque elected a woman to that position.
      Mrs. Sediqe said Islam has a long history of treating women equally and with respect, beginning with the Prophet Mohammed, who founded Islam 1,400 years ago.

      There have been some misinterpretations of the Prophet's teachings and the Qur'an, including in her native Afghanistan, she said.

      Women at times have been denied equality, but that is a distortion of Islam, she asserted.

      "It will be a challenge to break the myths that are reinforced in the public's minds through images and discussions of right-wing groups such as the Taliban," Mrs. Sediqe said.

      Wearing a lavender hijab, Mrs. Sediqe said she had wanted to wear the head scarf as a child in Kabul but it was not common in that cosmopolitan city when she was growing up in the 1970s.

      The daughter of a physician and an educator, Mrs. Sediqe, 42, said she began wearing a hijab after immigrating to the United States and settling in Sylvania Township in 1990.

      She had fled Afghanistan after clashing with the Communist leadership after the Soviet invasion, and sneaked out of the country by disguising herself in a full-body burka.

      A number of Muslims said they are thrilled to have Mrs. Sediqe as president of Masjid Saad, which has about 200 member families.

      "She is some kind of bulldozer. She will get the job done," said Dr. Azedine Medhkour, a neurosurgeon and member of Masjid Saad. "She's got a plan and a lot of enthusiasm, and Toledo will gain. It will be good for the community."

      Ms. Kadri said Mrs. Sediqe's gender "should be a nonissue. As long as she was the best qualified person, that's all that should matter. People should be judged by their merits and abilities."

      Julia Shearson, executive director of the Cleveland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said, "We're very pleased, of course, and I think it's important that competent women are advanced in our community. But I don't think it's an anomaly.

      "There have been four women presidents or prime ministers of Muslim-majority nations, and we have yet to have a woman president in the United States."

      Dr. S. Zaheer Hasan, a member of both the Masjid Saad and the Islamic Center of Greater Toledo, said Mrs. Sediqe "has the respect of the community as a very hard-working and pious lady. People who voted for her saw that in her. It was not a gender issue."

      Mrs. Sediqe said her biggest challenge will be budgeting her time. She and her husband own a used auto dealership in addition to being the parents of five children.

      The most pressing challenge for Muslim Americans, however, is to overcome negative portrayals in the media, she says.

      "If you walk into a book store and go to the 'Islam' section, 75 to 90 percent of the material is negative. You do not find this with other faith sections in the book store," she said.

      She says it is critical that Muslim Americans become more engaged in the community.

      "Islam is about balance; it's not healthy to shelter our children from other faith groups and our community," she said. "I truly believe the way we interact and have interfaith dialogue in Toledo can be an example for the rest of the world."

      Contact David Yonke at:
      dyonke@... or

      First accredited Islamic college planned for US
      • 'Muslim Georgetown' aims to rival Yale for Islamic studies
      • Non-believers and women welcome, imam says
      Riazat Butt, religious affairs correspondent guardian.co.uk, Sunday 7 June 2009 19.21 BST


      The first accredited Islamic college in the US is being planned by an influential Muslim body hoping to produce "a generation of indigenised scholars".

      The management committee from the Zaytuna Institute, which is dedicated to classical Muslim scholarship, last week recommended launching Zaytuna College in autumn 2010. The board of trustees is expected to vote on it later this month.

      The college would be open to men, women, Muslims and non-Muslims, and would be on a level comparable to the best religious seminaries and higher education institutions in the US, the brochure says.

      The initiative, described as a "Muslim Georgetown", is backed by widely respected Islamic scholars and clerics across the world, who argue there is a need for institutions that can wed religious texts to a contemporary context.

      There are thought to be about seven million Muslims in the US, and in Cairo last Thursday, President Barack Obama noted that Islam had "always been a part of America's story".

      "They have fought in our wars, served in government, they have stood for civil rights, they have started businesses, they have taught at our universities, they have excelled in our sports arenas, they have won Nobel prizes, built our tallest building, and lit the Olympic torch."

      Every state had a mosque and there were more than 1,200 mosques within the country's borders, Obama said, before adding: "Let there be no doubt, Islam is a part of America."

      Imam Zaid Shakir, scholar in residence at the Zaytuna Institute, said: "We're an expanding Muslim community in North America and we don't have any seminary or college that is endeavouring to produce a generation of indigenised scholars.

      "Non-Muslims are free to study here. We are not a closed society or a secretive one. Our goal is to have a 50/50 gender split in the student body. We're talking about a generation of American Muslim scholars, period."

      His key concerns, shared by others at Zaytuna, are that there are few scholars who can meet the religious and pastoral needs of the west's Muslim community and that much of the younger generation has become alienated from the mosque and the religious culture.

      Students on the bachelor programme will study the Qur'an, jurisprudence, legal theory, theology, hadith science, Islamic spirituality and Arabic. There will also be an emphasis on studying history, literature, philosophy, political science and economics and sociology.

      The brochure states: "We see no dichotomy between what is called 'secular' and 'religious' in the modern world. We believe our students will be able to contextualise Islamic knowledge in a dynamic and productive way."

      Shakir, an African-American air force veteran who converted to Islam in the 1970s, studied in Syria and Morocco. It is hoped that by obtaining accreditation – a process that can take up to seven years – Zaytuna college will offer a local alternative to those who are thinking of studying overseas. It has even been suggested that its classes in Islamic studies will rival those offered at places such as Yale and Stanford. "We want to be recognised by Al-Azhar [an eminent centre of cultural and religious teaching in Cairo] and other educational institutions in the US," he said.

      The initial enrolment will comprise 30 students, with up to 50 students added each year. The operating budget is forecast at $3m for the first year.

      The biggest financial overheads will come with the creation of a $30m endowment and $20m for property purchasing. The college will, for a while, work out of rented buildings.

      • This article was amended on 9 June 2009. The original said that Barack Obama had given a speech at Al-Azhar. He spoke at Cairo University. This has been corrected.

      Columbia’s Muslims examine role as Americans
      ‘At the end of the day, we’re all human beings’
      By JOHN MONK - jmonk@...
      Monday, Jun. 01, 2009


      The first Muslim member of Congress wowed a mostly Muslim crowd of some 200 Sunday night in Columbia, urging them to celebrate America as well as not let others define Muslims.

      “Salaam Alaykum,” said U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., beginning his speech with a traditional Muslim greeting.

      But it was typical of Ellison’s speech — part of which was urging American Muslims to show they are Americans like anyone else — that he quickly noted that Salaam Alaykum just means, “Peace be unto you” — which was an expression used by Jesus and quoted in the King James version of the Bible.

      “Until you learn how to tell your story, you will always be defined by others,” said Ellison, 46, whose speaking style — a mix of cheer, sincerity, frank talk and energy — was often applauded by the audience.

      Ellison was the keynote dinner speaker in a series of Sunday Muslim-oriented events at the Metropolitan Convention Center celebrating diversity.

      After the meal of hummus, baba ghanoush (roasted eggplant with sesame paste, yogurt and garlic), lamb, chickpeas and Damascus bread prepared by Al Amir restaurant, Ellison also praised Mayor Bob Coble for attending the dinner.

      Many mayors would have been afraid “of running a political risk just being seen with you,” said Ellison, but Coble’s presence is a symbol that “everyone is welcome in Columbia.”

      Also attending the dinner was U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C., House majority whip, who praised President Barack Obama’s win last November as a victory of “love over hate.”

      Islam, with more than 1 billion adherents who speak numerous languages, is the world’s second largest religion after Christianity. While divided into two main rival factions — Sunni and Shia —it is the major religion throughout the Middle East and Pakistan, as well as much of Africa.

      Although much these days concerns Islam’s violent branches — from Hamas suicide bombings to Taliban “holy war” in Afghanistan and Pakistan to bloody strife between Sunni and Shia in Iraq — people at the afternoon and evening affair stressed extremists aren’t true Islam.

      “In every belief, in every society, you have the mild and the extreme. Extremism is not a healthy sign in any society. Islam respects human life,” said Chaudhry Sadiq, president of S.C. Council on American-Islamic Relations.

      “In Islam, in the Quran, if a person kills one person, it is as if he kills the whole universe,” said Huseyin Sahiner, 28, working on his doctorate in mechanical engineering at USC and president of the Turkish Student Association.

      Sahiner, dressed in Black Sea folk dance garb, was staffing a display of Turkish art — from tiny coffee cups to Evil Eye charms to turquoise jewelry.

      It was one of more than a dozen afternoon exhibits illustrating a few of the myriad facets of Islam and the many cultures in which it has taken root.

      Other exhibits included samples of Mediterranean food prepared by Moroccan chef Hamid Al Ami, 36; brochures for a local mosque headed by Iman Mohammed Basheer, 33, on hand to answer questions; and a child reading in Arabic from the Quran accompanied by her tutor, Zohra Arasta, 62.

      “We are taught to clean our plates because it is Allah’s gift — don’t waste food,” said Arasta, the tutor, dispensing a bit of practical Muslim wisdom to an interviewer.

      Preston Winkler, executive director of Greater Columbia Community Relations Council, said in a world where neighbors don’t always know each other, it’s common sense to get together.

      “The more we reach out, the more we build a better community,” said Winkler.

      Sadiq said, “At the end of the day, we’re all human beings.”

      Reach Monk at (803) 771-8344.
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