News from USA: New Mosques Cropping Up In Chicago, Study Shows
- New Mosques Cropping Up In Chicago, Study Shows
November 3, 2011
Protests against new mosque construction have made headlines from New York City and Chicago to Los Angeles and Nashville.
But despite the push-back in some communities, one new academic study shows the number of mosques in the U.S. continues to grow — especially in the Chicago area.
New Mosques Cropping Up
It's not easy to build a mosque in America these days. Media executive Malik Ali saw this firsthand back in 2004, when he sought approval to build a mosque in his hometown near Chicago. At a raucous three-hour public hearing in Orland Park's Village Hall, Ali heard incendiary comments.
"And now the war has been brought to Orland Park," Michelle Pasciak said. "And Orland Park is facing a big injustice if this mosque goes through. You are bringing terrorism to our back doors where our children play."
In the end, Ali won the vote — all the votes, actually — and the Orland Park Prayer Center now overlooks a soybean field and a Catholic cemetery. It is one of 15 mosques built in the Chicago area in the past decade, and religion scholar Paul Numrich says just that fact may be bigger news than the zoning fights that make the headlines.
"I think this is the lesser-told story," he says. "The story we hear is the controversy."
On a sabbatical last year from his job teaching world religions at an Ohio seminary, Numrich got in his 2005 silver Chevy Malibu and racked up 2,500 miles driving around the Chicago area. He counted 91 mosques. A quarter of them were built as mosques — many of them proudly so — a rate that far exceeds the national average.
"What was really fascinating is, at times I was going down a street looking for an address, and out of the corner of my eye would see a mosque that was not on any list; it had opened up recently or had moved or something," Numrich says.
'You Have To Know The Right People'
It's demographics that drive this story. An estimated 400,000 Muslims live in the Chicago area, many in wealthier suburbs. But some observers see something else going on here: a lesson in good old Chicago politics.
Abdulgany Hamadeh is a pulmonologist who moved here from Syria 30 years ago. First a county board turned down his proposal for a mosque in suburban Willowbrook. But after a high-profile interfaith press conference, a meeting with the Chicago Tribune editorial board and some face-to-face schmoozing with county politicians, his revised plan got the votes.
"You have to know the right people," Hamadeh says. "You have to know the right channels of communication. And eventually, I think you need to be on the right path. And then you will get what you want."
It's a lesson the younger generation is quick to pick up on. In Chicago, the Muslim federation is recruiting young lawyers for a new "zoning task force." Back in Orland Park, 34-year-old attorney Mohammed Nofal is a member of his mosque's board of trustees. He also serves as a commissioner in neighboring Tinley Park and as the Muslim co-chairman of a local interfaith group. He says the mosques are assets to the community. He also argues that it was the specter of contentious mosque hearings that inspired many of his peers to get more involved.
"[It's] no different than how the young generation is taking the lead in the Muslim world and putting a new face on the Arab Muslim community," Nofal says. "And this is the start of that."
At least three mosques are currently seeking approval to build in suburban Chicago. As for Numrich, the next time he hits the road in his Chevy Malibu, he expects to find even more.
Muslim “Homegrown” Terrorism in the United States: How Serious Is the Threat?
Risa A. Brooks
Risa A. Brooks is Assistant Professor of Political Science at Marquette University.
Since the September 11 attacks, analysts and public officials have expressed growing concern about the potential of Muslim citizens and residents of the United States to plot attacks within the country's borders—a phenomenon sometimes referred to as “homegrown” terrorism. To assess this apparent threat, it is necessary to examine what is known about the willingness and capacity of Muslim Americans to execute deadly attacks in the United States. Three conditions, either alone or together, could contribute to an increasing threat of homegrown terrorism. The first concerns what is known about the radicalization of Muslim Americans and whether a surge in arrests in 2009 indicates a growing trend in Muslim American terrorism. The second relates to the capacity of aspiring militants to avoid detection as they prepare attacks. The third depends on the skills of aspiring terrorists and therefore their capacities to execute increasingly sophisticated
attacks. The analysis should be generally reassuring to those concerned about Muslim homegrown terrorism. On both analytical and empirical grounds, there is not a significant basis for anticipating that Muslim Americans are increasingly motivated or capable of successfully engaging in lethal terrorist attacks in the United States.
East Carolina's Adhem Elsawi atypical football journey led him to Bible Belt despite his Muslim faith
Published: 06:48 AM, Mon Oct 24, 2011
By Sammy Batten
GREENVILLE - Adhem Elsawi is passionate about two things imbedded in Southern culture - college football and religion.
But neither Elsawi's path to major college football nor his religious beliefs are typically Southern.
Elsawi started his college career at Campbell University, a non-scholarship program that competes in the NCAA's Football Championship Subdivision. But believing he was capable of playing at a higher level, Elsawi transferred to East Carolina University, becoming an unlikely starter at left guard.
Elsawi, 20, is also a Muslim playing football in the Bible belt.
"Obviously, it was in God's plan for me to end up here,'' said Elsawi, whose journey in faith and football began in Saratoga Springs, N.Y.
The first steps
The upstate New York city known for horse racing and natural mineral springs is where Elsawi's father, Montasser, settled after moving to the United States from Egypt at age 19. The former bodybuilder met and married a native New Yorker, Elsawi's mother, Valerie.
Together, they raised a family of seven children - four boys and three girls. The eldest, Adhem, inherited his parent's height. Montasser stands 6-foot-2 and Valerie 5-11. Adhem is 6-5, 319 pounds.
That size made Adhem a natural for football.
"Adhem was always a big kid, much bigger than others,'' Saratoga Springs High School football coach Terry Jones said. "He can block out the sun compared to kids who usually come from this area. What happens, though, sometimes when guys are big and young is their coordination isn't there yet.
"But Adhem worked tremendously hard to become a good football player. He'd work on his own in the gym to improve his footwork and he was always in the weight room.''
Elsawi started three seasons on the offensive line for the Saratoga Springs varsity, earning first-team Large School All-Area honors as a senior in 2008.
It was soon after joining the Saratoga Springs varsity that Elsawi dealt with the first of the conflicts he'd face between the sport he loves and the religion to which he is devoted.
The Islamic observance of Ramadan often falls just before or during football season. During this month, Muslims are supposed to refrain from eating and drinking between sunrise and sunset.
"Starting in the sixth grade, I had been able to fast for the entire 30 days,'' Elsawi said. "But in the 10th grade, when I started getting into high school football, I realized I couldn't fast and play football.
"One of the things in the Islamic faith is that God understands your circumstances. For me, I treat football as my job right now. I love this game and I'm blessed to have this chance to play it. I'm giving it my all and I'm trying to take it as far as I can go. That means I've got to have 100 percent focus.
"So there are some things where it (faith and football) conflicts. But for the time being, I'm doing my best to balance both.''
Historic painting of African American sold as Philly history museum raises funds
October 21, 2011|By Stephan Salisbury, Inquirer Culture Writer
One of the earliest formal portraits of an African American - a well-known oil painting of a kufi-wearing free black man painted by Charles Willson Peale in 1819 - has been sold by the Philadelphia History Museum at the Atwater Kent to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
The striking portrait of Yarrow Mamout, an elderly Muslim and former slave living in Washington, is the most recent in a string of art and artifact sales made by the history museum, largely to finance its $5.9 million building renovation project.
Timothy Rub, Art Museum director, declined to discuss the painting's price, but other sources speculated that it would be at least $1.5 million.
Art Museum officials said eight paintings (including two Peale portraits) and a colonial side chair would be sold to fund the acquisition.
Yarrow Mamout is such "a rare and important painting" - the earliest known portrait of a practicing American Muslim - that the decision was made "to give up some works from our collection" to acquire it, Rub said. It is now on view at the museum.
Such sales of artworks from a collection fall within the ethical guidelines of the Association of Art Museum Directors, which approve of sales only when proceeds are used to acquire other art to enhance or focus museum holdings.
Mayor Nutter hailed the painting as a depiction of "a man who triumphed over enormous challenges and commanded the respect and admiration of all who knew him." He also said that "it is a great thing that such an extraordinary painting will remain here."
The Atwater Kent, mandated by the city charter to be Philadelphia's official history museum, has been criticized for using proceeds of sales from its collection to fund renovations. Viki Sand, former chief executive, instituted the program of sales with the approval of the board of directors several years ago.
In February 2010, after the auction sale of a distinctive still life by Raphaelle Peale (son of Charles Willson Peale) to a collector for $700,000, Sand told The Inquirer that her institution was "not an art museum."
That painting, along with all of the others in the recent series of sales, was acquired from the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, which provisionally transferred its holdings of 10,000 artifacts and artworks to the Atwater Kent in 2001. The museum obtained clear title to the society's collection in 2009, with the agreement that proceeds of sales be split evenly between the two institutions.
‘I Speak For Myself’: American women on being Muslim
By BARBARA FERGUSON, LIFE.STYLE@...
Published: Oct 5, 2011 15:36 Updated: Oct 5, 2011 15:50
We need to say more than Islam is a religion of peace. We need to say, as Muslims, that we disassociate ourselves from violence.”
This is an example of the attitudes reflected in the book, “I Speak for Myself,” recently published in the US. It tells the short stories of 40 American Muslim women, all under the age of 40, who were born and raised in the US.
Their stories examine their faith, families, values, traditions and relationships with both non-Muslims and fellow Muslims, while they examine their searches for their own identities, as Muslim women in America.
Compiled and co-edited by Maria Ebrahimji and Zahra Suratwala, the book contains first-person narratives of women that, as the editors’ point out, have been “negotiating a dichotomy of Islamic and Western values since birth.”
Four of these women gathered last week at Georgetown University to speak about their experiences. Organized by the Alwaleed bin-Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University, Yusra Tekbali, Saliqa Khan, Asma Uddim and Hadia Mubarak all come from different backgrounds but agreed the US offers the comfort of a culture that is the hybrid of many cultures.
They agreed that their definition of being a Muslim had changed since the Arab Spring, as the worldview of Arab youth has changed after the Arab Spring revolutions. “It easier to be an American Muslim,” said Tekbali.
“The way we are described by the media has had a direct effect on our lives, which fortunately, is beginning to change,” said Tekbali.
Need for Muslim women to ‘find their voices’
She said the Arab Spring has allowed Arab women to “break so many stereotypes.” Yet, she stressed the importance of Muslim women to “find their voices. The more we, as Muslim women, speak out, the easier it will become for all of us.”
The women agreed it was essential to know their religion and to understand the difference between culture and religion.
“When I was growing up, I always asked my parents: ‘Is this because of culture or because of Islam?’” said Hadia Mubarak.
“I learned at a very young age that as an American Muslim, especially as an American Muslim woman, we have to be well-read and know things for ourselves. We have to know the difference of true Islam and that which has nothing to do with it, but rather has to do with culture.”
Tekbali agreed: “My religion was always polluted with politics, and by this I mean radical Islam. It’s up for Muslims to find a solution for this. They need to speak out against it. I understand that it is a byproduct of unfair politics and other things, but they still need to speak out.”
Tekbali said that tolerance is key: “The best way is through dialogue and by not being afraid to say I’m a Muslim to those who say they are more pious. I think in 10 years time, we will see a growing and developing Islam.”
‘We need to disassociate ourselves from violence’
Tekbali said it was important that Muslims learn to speak out on the tenants of Islam: “We need to say more than Islam is a religion of peace. We need to say that we’re Muslim and we disassociate ourselves from violence.”
Confusion between culture and religion has maligned Islam, they agreed. “There is a distortion between religion and culture. A lot of misogyny and maltreatment of women has no religious basis whatsoever,” said Mubarak who is finishing her doctorate in Islamic studies at Georgetown University.
To fight this ignorance, they said women have to be educated about the true sources of Islam. “They must know what the Qur’an and Hadith say,” said Mubarak.
“What I found in the Muslim community is that there are people who are religious in their practice, but their understanding of Islam is based more on culture than on the Qur’an. There are often several different interpretations of an issue, and we have to accept that,” said Mubarak.
Such an education also extends beyond their religion. “We’re educating ourselves as Muslims, but let’s not forget to also teach those around us who are not Muslim,” said Khan. “Many people here (the US) are beginning to understand that we are part of the Abrahamic faith, and that we have more things in common with Judaism and Christianity than not.”
Khan said it was important to “get away from the branding of what a Muslim is — or isn’t. There is no one cookie cutter example of what a Muslim is.”
Tekbali agreed, saying Muslims often put a lot of peer pressure upon each other. “The Muslim community expects so much from each other. We’re expected to do so much, to explain ourselves, our religion and ourselves to other Muslims, but I think we’ll eventually lighten up.”
The women agreed this is where the book has proved to be pivotal in their lives. Tekbali said she struggled with whether to accept to write because “they are personal commentaries.” However, after she did, she felt good about it.
‘These women who are like me’
Her chapter deals with her experiences working in Washington, entitled the “Capitol Hill Diaries.” She writes about the blowback of 9/11 she experienced. “It’s been really good to belong to this network of women in the book, especially when someone says we’re not Muslim enough. I have the support of these women who are like me.”
‘Muslim women need to empower themselves’
Asked if they had a message, Tekbali said women need to empower themselves. “Know your rights and keep fighting for them. Don’t get stuck in the superficial bubble of: ‘I’m a woman and I shouldn’t do this,’ or ‘I should spend my time shopping rather than fighting for my rights.’
“What I mean is that you can be a feminist and a good mother, daughter and sister and be sexy and feminine. At the same time, however, demand your rights.”
Tekbali who has been in Qatar working as a journalist since August, while also advising human rights groups on Libya, said the book offered her a way to speak out. “Even though I was born in the US, I belong to this very conservative culture of Libya.”
Tekbali said it was difficult to put herself “out there” because of Libya’s conservative culture. “Once, I did and saw other women doing the same. I saw women struggling silently because they were afraid of a community backlash.”
“So, that’s the message of this book: Embrace yourself and empower yourself through your cultural identity and religion.”
On Muslims in America
Shariah law and other issues were discussed during campus event.
Posted: Wednesday, September 28, 2011 7:00 am | Updated: 6:02 pm, Tue Sep 27, 2011.
Chris Rashidian, Staff Writer
Orange Coast College’s Muslim Students Association discussed the role of Muslims in America to a group of about 30 people in the Robert B. Moore Theatre Thursday.
Guest speakers included Imam Suhail Mulla, a legal scholar studying Shariah law at Al-Azhar University in Egypt, Maryam Amir-Ebrahimi, a women’s right activist, and Adel Syed, a government relations coordinator for CAIR-LA, America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group.
“It is very important how the United States sees how Muslims really are in the Western world compared to how the media misrepresents us,” Mulla said.
Trying to clear common misconceptions that Western society has about Islamic culture and Shariah law, Mulla said that all people of the Islamic faith should participate in constructive activities that would be for the good for all humanity.
“We believe that both men and women are equal under God, and each individual is held responsible for their actions,” Amir-Ebrahimi said.
Amir-Ebrahimi added, when Islam was founded it put forward the new concept that women are equal to men. She said that fact goes against the misconception of Shariah law stating women are oppressed.
“The reason why there are so many misconceptions of woman in Islam is because of the Islamic country’s culture does not reflect the religion. No country is 100 percent following Shariah law,” Amir-Ebrahimi said.
One perspective about conceptions of Americans from Muslims came from veteran and Christian student Christopher Barrett.
He said while many Americans think of Muslims as terrorist, many in the Middle East see it differently.
“We are the people going into their people’s villages and ruining their way of life,” he said. “We are the terrorists in their eyes.”
Amir-Ebrahimi said that as a Muslim-American woman, she has a responsibility to work for what is socially right, regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or other factors that defines humanity.
“Muslims come to America from around the world, contrary to the media’s portrayal. When Americans meet and befriend people of the Muslim faith, we see statistically that their misconceptions of Islamic people disappears as they learn more about their culture,” Syed said.
Syed added, most Muslims are a peaceful group of people practicing their religion freely in the United States.
Arabs and Muslims carve a place in the US
Islamophobia may have grown, but progress is being made as activists question 'media stereotypes'.
Matthew Cassel Last Modified: 15 Sep 2011 14:42
"USA! USA!" chanted the mob of hundreds as it tried to march towards Bridgeview's Mosque Foundation just southwest of Chicago. It was September 12, 2001, one day after the attacks that brought down the World Trade Center towers 800 miles to the east in New York City. Had it not been for the police, Muslims in Bridgeview feared the attempted protest against their place of worship would have led to violence, and their mosque that was founded in 1954 and serves more than 50,000 Muslims would've been either damaged or destroyed.
Hate crimes against Muslims, Arabs and others happened across the US in the immediate aftermath of the September 11 attacks. In Arizona, a Sikh man was gunned down and killed at the gas station that he owned. Businesses belonging to American Muslims were attacked, and religious institutions were vandalised. In cities like Chicago, home to one of the nation's largest Arab and Muslim populations, the attacks and harassment were widespread.
Hatem Abudayyeh, then youth program director of the Arab American Action Network (AAAN) drove as fast as he could to the organisation's offices on the southwest side. "I wanted to be prepared for attacks on the community," he told Al Jazeera.
Abudayyeh said that Arab mothers were too scared to send their children to school for days after the attacks. Muslim women asked their imams if they could remove their headscarves out of fear for attack, many were too afraid to leave their homes with their families.
"[The Arab and Muslim communities] had experience with Oklahoma City when immediately the pundits claimed it must've been an Arab or a Muslim responsible," Abudayyeh said to Al Jazera referring to the 1995 bombing carried out by a white man that killed 168 people. "Immediately the radio talk shows were talking about going after the Arab community and countries in the Arab world."
For Amina Sharif, communication director of the Chicago branch of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the mainstream interest in Islam and Muslims began after September 11, but the negative feelings were always there.
As a child growing up in southern Illinois state, Sharif recalled hearing about attacks on a neighbour’s car during the first Gulf War because he was an Arab. Sharif said that fellow students also encouraged her to convert to Christianity because Islam was a "satanic religion".
On September 11, 2001, Sharif was preparing to deliver a speech to her class on the subject of Islamophobia. After news of the attacks reached Illinois, classes were cancelled and instead she huddled around the TV alongside classmates watching the horrific events of that day unfold.
For Sharif much of the blame lies with the media and popular culture in the US, which she says is often "orientalist and slanted" in its depiction of Muslims and Islam.
"When [my classmates] did think about it during a debate or classroom discussion, there were these negative assumptions made that Islam is oppressive towards women, that Islam is a violent religion. These aren't new ideas, they have existed for decades if not centuries in the US and in the West. I think they're rooted in our academia and our pop culture."
Sharif said immediately following the attacks the information market became flooded with everything about Islam.
"The knowledge vacuum started to be filled with some positive information, and [the emergence of] Muslim spokespersons. But many profiteers and opportunists [also emerged]. People claimed to be experts on Islam so they could sell books and make money going on speaking tours and appearing on TV news programs," Sharif said.
"A lot of those 'experts' on Islam had an agenda, besides making money they also [wanted] to marginalise Muslims, particularly American Muslims for political reasons or religious gain".
At the same time many went off to learn about Arabs and Muslims, the government began rounding them up.
On a cold autumn's day, one year after the attacks, Abudayyeh and other activists stood outside on a street corner in downtown Chicago offering free legal support to non-permanent resident male nationals of 25 foreign countries who were required to get fingerprinted, photographed and interviewed by US Immigration. All but one country on the list, North Korea, was either Arab or Muslim.
The Department of Homeland Security initiated the programmme, National Security Entry/Exit Registration System (NEERS), in September 2002.
In the programme's first six months, the US government deported or began the deportation process for more than 13,000 out of 83,000 men who complied with the registration. The Washington Post newspaper said the deportation was the "largest number of visitors from Middle Eastern and other Muslim countries in US history".
While NEERS was suspended in April of this year, groups that campaigned against it fear it could easily be restarted in the future. Colorlines, a publication that focuses on issues concerning race and identity in the US, called the NEERS programme, "one of the most explicitly racist, underreported initiatives in post-9/11 America".
Seven years after NEERS began, on September 24, 2010, Abudayyeh had just left his ill mother at the hospital and was resting at his parents' home when he received a phone call from his wife at 7am. The FBI had come bearing a search warrant for Abudayyeh's home in northwest Chicago. Abudayyeh was subpoenaed to testify before a federal grand jury, and provide information regarding the provision of "material support" for "terrorist organisations". Twenty-two other activists, many Arab or Muslim, were also subpoenaed.
In the past decade Abudayyeh's case is hardly unique. Humanitarian activists Sami al-Arian, Mohamed Salah, Abdelhaleem Ashqar, and five founders of the Holy Land Foundation, have all either served jail sentences or are still in jail after for supporting groups in occupied Palestine deemed "terrorist organisations" by the US government.
Abudayyeh, now executive director of AAAN, told Al Jazeera that he believes he and other activists are being scapegoated by the US government for their anti-war and Palestine activism in an attempt to silence them.
"They're shutting down [activism and community organising] directly by targeting the people who are doing it. And then they're shutting it down indirectly by creating a chilling effect on freedom of speech, and intimidating other people from standing up and mobilising and speaking out."
Abudayyeh, born in the US to Palestinian immigrants, calls himself secular and doesn't identify as Muslim. However, he says, some Chicago media have tried to associate him with Islamic fundamentalism.
"South Asians, Arab Muslims, Arab Christians, I don't think the right-wing knows the difference. There is this huge net being cast, and essentially anyone who is Arab or Muslim could be caught under that net."
Last month, the Associated Press reported that the CIA is collaborating with the New York Police Department to spy on Muslim communities in New York. Abudayyeh says this is proof of the government's "continuing to criminalise our communities without probable cause or due process."
Abudayyeh says this criminalisation extends beyond the Arabs and Muslims and into other predominantly immigrant communities. He points to a wall built by the US government over recent years that runs along the border with Mexico.
"The militarisation of the border has everything to do with September 11 and the fact that the right-wing legislators are trying to intimidate and terrify the country into securing our borders because the big bad terrorists are coming. And that has greatly affected the movement for civil rights and human rights and for dignity for immigrants who are working hard trying to make a living in this country."
Meanwhile, many Muslims fear that while the severity and number of attacks may have decreased since the period right after September 11, Islamophobia is still on the rise.
In 2005, the Pew Research Center conducted a poll and found that 41 per cent of Americans had a favourable view of Islam. Five years later, in 2010, Pew found that number had dropped to 30 per cent. A Gallup poll echoed these numbers and found that 43 per cent of Americans in 2010 admitted to having at least "a little" prejudice towards Muslim, at least two times higher than the number for Christians, Jews and other religious groups.
That prejudice manifested itself in November, 2009 by a woman in Tinley Park, a village southwest of Chicago that was chosen by Businessweek magazine that same month as the best place in the US to raise children.
Two days after an American army psychiatrist gunned down 13 of his comrades on a US military base in Fort Hood, Texas, Amal Abusumayah, then 28 and a mother of four, was at a grocery store in Tinley Park when she was startled by another shopper.
"I could hear her saying [the Fort Hood attacker] was a Muslim and American while talking to her husband loudly so that I could hear," Abusumayah told Al Jazeera. "I didn't pay her any attention. But then later I was checking out I had my back turned and she tried to rip off my scarf."
The attacker was later arrested and given two years probation.
"I was lucky to only have my headscarf pulled off. It could've been a knife or a gun. There are a lot of crazy people out there," Abusumayah said. "I look over my shoulder now, more than before. I used to go out and feel safe. I don't go out at times when I used to before like at night."
Activists point the finger at the media for wrongfully implicating all Muslims for the acts of individuals.
Popular TV journalist Christiane Amanpour hosted a show in late 2010 on ABC, a national TV channel in the US, bringing a number of guests to discuss the topic, "Should Americans Fear Islam?" Not only could advocates for Muslim rights not imagine a similar question being posed about other minority groups in the US, but one of the guests, Anjem Choudary, is a radical imam in London known for advocating sharia law in the UK, and who has practically no support from Muslims in the US.
As the largest non-governmental organisation in the US advocating for rights for the country's more than two million Muslims, CAIR is trying to challenge these misleading programs. And it's because of their effective work that Sharif says, CAIR's Chicago office regularly receives hate mail, mostly from anonymous senders.
"I am not offended by it," Sharif said. "I actually take it as a compliment that they see our success as a threat to them."
Muslims are starting to have a voice in the US, Sharif said pointing out the two Muslims congresspersons, the nation's first, both elected after September 11, 2001.
"We are definitely making gains and that makes some people nervous. And I don't mind. I look at our nation's history and see how every single minority group has had to struggle and that makes me optimistic for the future."