Note: Because the U.S. Census does not ask about religion, these two sources used a combination of research. The Daily Beast estimates are based on the number of mosques and halal restaurants.
Question 9: Answer It depends who you are asking. We do have evidence that in 1731 Job Ben Solomon, a Muslim, was captured and enslaved in what is now Senegal, in West Africa, and brought to Annapolis, Maryland where he was sold to a tobacco farmer. Historical background information for teacher:
The following is an excerpt from the Pluralism Project at Harvard that highlights the difficulty of providing an easy answer.
The First American Muslims
“The historical roots of Islam in America are complex and contested. Some historians argue that Muslim explorers may have come to this continent long before Christopher Columbus, with the earliest estimates dating to the 12th century. Many contend that Muslims played a vital part in numerous European expeditions to the Americas, both as mapmakers and as guides: Estevancio of Azamor, a Moroccan guide who landed in Florida in 1539, is often cited as the first documented Muslim in America. By the late 1700s, historical records indicate the presence of “Moors” living in South Carolina, many of whom were expelled from their homeland under edict of the Spanish Crown.
The first significant migration of Muslims to America, however, is an indisputable fact: in three centuries of the slave trade, an estimated 10 to 50 percent of the ten million Africans brought to these shores against their will were Muslims. American slavery brutally denied the basic humanity of Africans, dissolving their families and suppressing their religious practices. Forced conversion to Christianity was commonplace; however, historical records indicate that many African Muslim slaves strove to preserve their religious and cultural heritage even after conversion. Much of this history remains to be recovered. Historical documents, including oral histories of the great-great grandchildren of slaves, as well as slave narratives and diaries, indicate that some of the earliest Muslims in America performed salat daily, observed the fast of Ramadan, and recited and read the Qur’an.
Oral traditions and historical records celebrate the life of Bilalia Fula, enslaved on the Sea Islands of Georgia. According to a scholar of these traditions, Dr. Allen Austen, Bilalia Fula was multilingual and a heroic fighter during the War of 1812. He was reported to have saved many lives during a hurricane in 1824. Bilalia lived as a Muslim and was buried with his prayer rug and Qur’an. He gave many of his children Muslim names, and ethnographic interviews with those who knew the family indicated that they performed daily prayers.
Another American Muslim slave, Al Haj Omar Ibn Said, wrote his autobiography in 1831. This document, which has been translated into English, describes the life of a trader, a soldier, and a faithful Muslim who performed the hajj and studied the Qur’an for twenty-five years before being sold into slavery. “Before I came to the Christian country, my religion was the religion of ‘Mohammed, the Apostle of God – may God have mercy upon him and give him peace.’ I walked to the mosque before daybreak, washed my face and head and hands and feet. I prayed at noon, prayed in the afternoon, prayed at sunset, prayed in the evening. I gave alms every year… I went on pilgrimage to Makkah, as all did who were able…when I left my country I was thirty-seven years old; I have been in the country of the Christians twenty-four years.” Today, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, the Masjid Omar Ibn Sayyid on Southern Avenue stands as testament to the legacy of the first American Muslims, a legacy which continues to inform contemporary Islam in America.”
Source: “The First American Muslims.” The Pluralism Project. Harvard University.
http://pluralism.org/religions/islam/islam-in-america/the-first-american-muslims/ Accessed 26 July 2018.
There is also an excellent Pew Research Center, Religious Landscape Study that “provides information about religious affiliations, beliefs and practices, and social and political views” from people in all fifty states.
Depending on the level of engagement, it will take almost half of the second session to finish the answers activity of Lesson one. At the end of that, pass out the student reflection handout, allowing students at least 15 minutes to complete it.
Students will be doing three written reflections during this mini-unit. Teachers may want to design one handout that contains all three reflections. The first is after Lesson One. The second is after Lesson Two and the final is the mini-unit assessment. Of course, they could all be done as a digital document or as notebook entries.
Student Handout Lesson Two: Muslim American Voices
this page is under construction
What Is Identity? Identity is…
This activity will help to show the similarities and differences between the way we define ourselves and the way others define us.
—Draw a box on a piece of paper.
Inside your box:
Write labels and descriptions you would use to describe yourself. Think about the different parts of your life. Think about how you define yourself at school, with your friends, at home with your family, with your family out in the world etc.
Outside of your box:
Write labels and descriptions that reflect how you think others view you.
In some cases, how people in the world see us is the same as how we see ourselves, and in some cases, it is not. Therefore, words inside the outline and outside the outline may or may not overlap.
Notice the words inside and outside of your box. Which ones are the same? Which ones are different?
Explain why some words might be the same, while others might be different.
Student Handout Lesson Two: Muslim American Voices
Vocabulary List biography an account of someone's life written by someone else
culture the beliefs, customs, arts, etc., of a particular society, group, place, or time
discrimination the unjust or prejudicial treatment of different categories of people or things, especially on the grounds of race, ethnicity, age, religion, gender, or sexual orientation
identity who a person is, or the qualities of a person or group that makes them different from others
the reputation, characteristics etc., of a person or organization that makes the public think about them in a particular way
Islamophobia the fear, hatred of, or prejudice against, the Islamic religion or Muslims
stereotype the inaccurate way outsiders generalize about the characteristics of an ethnic, racial, or religious group
Student Handout Lesson Two: Muslim American Voices
Name of person: _____________________________________________________________
Important biographical information: _____________________________________________
As you read, think about the following questions. When you are finished, write down your answers. Questions for readings: 1. For this person, what does being Muslim mean?
2. For this person, what does being American mean?
Voice 1: Mohja Kahf Beginning Anchor Voice My Grandmother Washes Her Feet in the Sink of the Bathroom at Sears by Mohja Kahf My grandmother puts her feet in the sink
of the bathroom at Sears
to wash them in the ritual washing for prayer,
because she has to pray in the store or miss
the mandatory prayer time for Muslims
She does it with great poise, balancing
herself with one plump matronly arm
against the automated hot-air hand dryer,
after having removed her support knee-highs
and laid them aside, folded in thirds,
and given me her purse and her packages to hold
so she can accomplish this august ritual
and get back to the ritual of shopping for housewares
Respectable Sears matrons shake their heads and frown
as they notice what my grandmother is doing,
an affront to American porcelain,
a contamination of American Standards
by something foreign and unhygienic
requiring civic action and possible use of disinfectant spray
They fluster about and flutter their hands and I can see
a clash of civilizations brewing in the Sears bathroom
My grandmother, though she speaks no English,
catches their meaning and her look in the mirror says,
I have washed my feet over Iznik tile in Istanbul
with water from the world's ancient irrigation systems
I have washed my feet in the bathhouses of Damascus
over painted bowls imported from China
among the best families of Aleppo
And if you Americans knew anything
about civilization and cleanliness,
you'd make wider washbins, anyway
My grandmother knows one culture—the right one,
as do these matrons of the Middle West. For them,
my grandmother might as well have been squatting
in the mud over a rusty tin in vaguely tropical squalor,
Mexican or Middle Eastern, it doesn't matter which,
when she lifts her well-groomed foot and puts it over the edge.
"You can't do that," one of the women protests,
turning to me, "Tell her she can't do that."
"We wash our feet five times a day,"
my grandmother declares hotly in Arabic.
"My feet are cleaner than their sink.
Worried about their sink, are they? I
should worry about my feet!"
My grandmother nudges me, "Go on, tell them."
Standing between the door and the mirror, I can see
at multiple angles, my grandmother and the other shoppers,
all of them decent and goodhearted women, diligent
in cleanliness, grooming, and decorum
Even now my grandmother, not to be rushed,
is delicately drying her pumps with tissues from her purse
For my grandmother always wears well-turned pumps
that match her purse, I think in case someone
from one of the best families of Aleppo
should run into her—here, in front of the Kenmore display
Mohja Kahf is an Arab American poet and novelist. She was born in Damascus, Syria, in 1967 and moved to the US with her family in 1971. She is an associate professor of comparative literature at the University of Arkansas and author of the book The Girl in the Tangerine Scarf, about a Muslim girl’s coming of age in Indiana.
Voice 1: Mohja Kahf
Vocabulary affrontan action or remark that causes outrage or offense.
Aleppo a Syrian city, and one of the oldest continuously inhabited city in the world
perhaps dating to the 6t century B.C.E.
Standards manufacturer of toilets, faucets, bathtubs, and showers for over 140 years
august respected and impressive
Damascus a city in Syria that has existed for over 4,000 years
decorumbehavior in keeping with good taste and decency, correctness
housewares small household items such as kitchen utensils, tableware, and
decorative objects. Iznik tile colorful ceramic tiles produced in 16th and 17th centuries in Iznik (Nicaea), a city in Northwestern Turkey
Kenmore a brand of household appliances sold by Sears, Roebuck and Co markdown a reduction in price
matrona married woman, especially a dignified and sober middle-aged one
porcelain a hard but delicate, shiny, white substance made by heating a special type of clay to a high temperature, used to make cups, plates, ...
pumpsis a shoe with a low-cut front, the vamp, and without a fastening, usually worn by women Sears a department store
squalora state of being extremely dirty and unpleasant, especially as a result of poverty or neglect
wudu act of ritual cleansing performed before prayers, usually with water
Voice 2: Mary Juma
“I was born in Byria, Rushia, Syria. I don't know my exact age, but according to my naturalization papers, I am sixty-nine years old. I am sure that I am at least seventy-five years of age, however. My home in Syria was a large, one-story stone house. The floors were made of logs (about the size of our telephone poles), and the space between the poles was filled with smaller poles….
My religion in the Old Country was Moslem. We attended services every Friday, the same as we do here. I received no education, as our people figured that it was a waste of time and money to teach a girl to read and write. There were no schools in our village, and those that were taught to read and write were taught by a tutor….
The people in our vicinity were migrating to America and kept writing back about the riches in America. Everyone wanted to move, and we were a family of the many that contemplated leaving. We sold all our possessions and borrowed $200 from a man, giving our land as a collateral.
A big farewell party was given in our honor, as there were twelve of us coming to America from that one village. It was a sad farewell as our relatives hated to see us leave. We feasted, danced, and played games at the party. The games were for men, which were feats of strength and endurance.
We left two daughters in the Old Country with relatives. One of the girls has died since, and the other one still lives there.
We went to Beirut, which was about thirty miles from our home, and caught a boat to France. It took us about three weeks to travel through France…. It took us three weeks to come from France to Montreal, Canada.
We moved further inland and started to travel over that country with a horse and cart as peddlers. We stayed there only a few months, and then moved to Nebraska…. We traveled through the entire state in a year. We never had trouble making people understand what we wanted while peddling, but many times we were refused a place to sleep. We suffered the same conditions as the pioneers, and at times were even more uncomfortable.
…. In 1902, we came to western North Dakota where we started to peddle. It was at the time when there was such an influx of people to take homesteads, and for no reason at all, we decided to try homesteading too.
We started clearing the land immediately, and within a year, had a horse, plow, disk, drag, and drill. We also had some cattle and chickens. When there was a very little work to do on the farm, my husband traveled to Minnesota and eastern North Dakota to peddle.
In 1903, my son, Charles, was born. He was the first Syrian child born in western North Dakota. We were the first Syrians to homestead in this community, but soon many people from that country came to settle here.
Our home has always been a gathering place for the Syrian folk. Not many parties or celebrations were held, except for occasions like a wedding or such. Before we built our church [mosque], we held services at the different homes. We have a month of fasting, after which everyone visits the home of another, and there was a lot of feasting.
We always speak in our native tongue at home, except my grandchildren, who won't speak Syrian to their parents. They do speak in Syrian to me because I cannot speak nor understand English. My grandchildren range from fourteen months of age to eight years, and there are four of them. . . .
I can't read at all, neither in English nor Syrian. My son and daughter-in-law tell me the news they think might interest me.
We don't have any recreation; we only work. Sometimes friends stop in to talk for a while, and then we attend services every Friday too, but that is all. I sew a little occasionally, and like to hold the baby.
The thing that sets this farm apart as a Syrian-American home is that all the buildings are located close to the house, and all the chickens and sheep come close, even to the doorstep of the house….
There is too great a comparison to say much about America and my native land. This country has everything, and we have freedom. When we pay taxes, we get schools, roads, and an efficiency in the government. In the Old Country, we paid taxes and Turkey took all the money, [with] Syria receiving nothing in return. We were repaid by having Turkey force our boys to join her army. The climate in the Old Country was wonderful, but we [Americans] have such a climate down south.
If I had my life to live over, I would come to America sooner than I did. I would have liked to visit the people in Syria five or ten years ago, but now that I am helpless, I wouldn’t care to go. I don’t ever want to go back there to live.
About Mary Juma:
Mary Juma is a Syrian native who settled in North Dakota in 1902 and told her story 37 years later to a U.S. government employee who worked for the Works Progress Administration (WPA).
Source: The interviews with Mary Juma and other Syrian settlers are excerpted in The Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States, edited by Edward E. Curtis. The book is included in the Muslim Journeys Bookshelf.
Note:A WPA field worker, Everal J. McKinnon, interviewed Mary Juma in her home in Ross, North Dakota. Because she could not speak English, her son, Charles Juma, interpreted.
Voice 2: Mary Juma
collateral something pledged as security for repayment of a loan, to be forfeited in the event of a default
homestead a tract of land acquired from U.S. public lands by filing a record and living on and cultivating the tract
influx an arrival or entry of large numbers of people or things
Moslem an older way to spell Muslim
naturalization legal process by which a citizen of one country becomes a citizen of another peddle to try to sell goods, especially small goods, by going from place to place
Voice 3: Halima Touré A few years after I embraced Islam, a woman I worked for said to me, “You seem so intelligent. Why are you a Muslim?” I responded, “Because Islam appealed to my head as well as to my heart.”
If anyone had told me a year before I became a Muslim that my head and heart would be open to Islam, my response would have been, “You’re out of your mind!” So how did I come to this point in my life?
On the outside, I had a good life. As a beneficiary of the civil rights movement, I became the first black editor at Redbook Magazine in the mid-60s. Then I freelanced for magazines and did research for television.
I had a rich social and professional network. I believed, along with my friends and colleagues, that we could help make a positive change in America. It was the time of “Say it loud: I’m black and I’m proud.” My Afro hairstyle and my support for the black arts movement expressed my black pride. The knowledge of Africa’s great past awakened my African identity. My family was supportive of my accomplishments. I’d made it. On the inside, though, a creeping emptiness had begun to spread. I’d joined freedom rides, picket lines, and boycotts with the Congress of Racial Equality. I had volunteered with the National Urban League. But the bullets that killed John F. Kennedy, Robert Kennedy, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King Jr. each killed a bit of my spirit and hope. Cynicism began to take root.
Meanwhile, I had drifted away from organized religion…The death of a 24-year-old relative left me angry that God would take such a nice guy…Neither my childhood beliefs nor my adult agnosticism could satisfy me.
The deeper questions of life began to surface: If I’d “made it,” why did I feel so empty? Material goods, careers, family and friends alone did not fill my inner space. Is life just a free fall from birth to death? Is this all there is? Why am I here? I became hungry for meaning.
Then I met the Muslim man who would become my husband. He talked of our African Islamic origins, along with his dream of a new future for them. He emphasized how our African past was linked to Islam in empires like Songhai and Mali, and in renowned centers of learning like Timbuktu.
I read literature about the basic tenets of Islam. Several were similar to Christianity, although there were fundamental differences…I saw how all parts of me—mind, body, spirit—connected to my total environment.
At Friday services in the mosque, the imam, an African-American and alumnus of Al-Azhar in Cairo, described Islam as a scientific way of life bound by God’s spiritual, physical, and social laws. He believed it was just the medicine needed to uplift humanity, but especially for African- Americans suffering the after effects of slavery.
I was impressed by the focus on family and by the fraternal bonds. Given the popular perception of the absentee African-American father, I was particularly impressed by the Muslim men talking to and laughing with young children, even holding infants. …
I met Betty Shabazz, the late widow…Malcolm X, when I was helping to edit a book about her husband. When she learned of my engagement, she extolled for me the benefits of being married to a Muslim man. She pointed out that the ideal of Islam was free of racism and classism.
An Idul-Fitr prayer service at the Islamic Center revealed the international character of Islam. In contrast to the racial separation of the United States on Sunday morning, the colorful tapestry of humanity worshiping together impressed me as just what Allah intended. With the diversity was the unity—black, brown, yellow, and white prostrating themselves before their Creator, reciting the same prayers and intoning in unison, Allahu Akbar (Allah is the greatest). On the evening that I sat in hijab (headscarf) on the carpet in front of the imam to make my shahadah (witness), I was convinced that I needed Islam for me and not just to please my future husband. Before witnesses, I professed that there is no God but God (Allah), and that Muhammad is His prophet and messenger. Then the imam said, “You’ve taken the first step toward becoming a Muslim. Now the work begins.”
That work is never-ending. It began with studying—learning what is halal (lawful) and haram (prohibited), and why. It continues with trying to incorporate its principles into all aspects of my world. I gave away the clothes of my old life, covered my hair, and made ankle and wrist-length garments that both cover and conceal. The duty-free alcohol went down the toilet, the cigarettes went into the garbage. I scrutinized food labels to avoid haram ingredients. I learned wuzu and the prayers. Gradually, I changed my work schedule in order to attend Friday services. The Islamic holy days replaced the holidays of my old tradition.
….However, my inward shifts were, and continue to be, the most astonishing. For one, I was unaware of the extent of my arrogance and ignorance until I had to bow down to Allah in prayer. My credo had been, “I am the captain of my ship! I am the master of my fate!”
A wise person once said, “A problem cannot be solved on the same level of consciousness at which it was created.” The hopelessness, cynicism, anxiety, rage, and despair that mark contemporary life— symptoms of an individual’s and a society’s loss of meaning— threatened to consume me. But on that day nearly 30 years ago, I opened a door to become something else, and I am still “becoming.”
I could not comprehend how seeing life through the lens of an Islamic consciousness would change me. One friend was turned off by my zeal, screaming, “Give me a break!” Time and experience have since mellowed me.
My hijab and peaceful demeanor surprised a friend who saw me about eight years after my shahadah. He remarked, “It suits you!” Yes, it does suit me, and I have yet to feel empty again.
Touré, Halima. “You Seem So Intelligent. Why Are You a Muslim?” Taking Back Islam,
edited by Michael Wolfe, Rodale, 2002, pp. 122-126. About Halima Touré
Halima Touré, a linguistics professor, was born in Brooklyn in 1943, she lives in Teaneck, New Jersey.
Voice 3: Halima Touré
agnostic a person who believes that nothing is known or can be known of the existence or nature of God or of anything beyond material phenomena; a person who claims neither faith nor disbelief in God
credo a statement of the beliefs or aims that guide someone's actions
demeanor outward behavior extoll to praise
fraternal of or like a brother or brothers
of or denoting an organization for people, especially men, that have common interests or beliefs
freelanceworking for different companies at different times rather than being permanently employed by one company
Idul-Fitr Eid al-Fitr, religious holiday for Muslims that marks the end of
Voice 4: Keith Ellison NPR host Farai Chideya (FC) talks with Keith Ellison, the first Muslim congressman in U.S. history, about his politics, his faith, and where the two meet….
FC: Tell us a little bit about your district and your voters.
ELLISON: Well, we have a very engaged active group of folks in Minnesota. …I can tell you that somewhere out on the prairies of Minnesota, people got the idea that people of this country are sovereign, and that the people should lead the nation, and the public good should be first and foremost, not the private gain of a few. And where they actually found that idea might be found in the native tribes that were there; could be found in the liberal ideals that come from Scandinavia, where many Minnesotans come from; or could be from our strong labor tradition….
FC: So you're originally from Motown and I understand that you converted to Islam in college. Why did you convert and what does that religion mean to you?
ELLISON: Whoever knows exactly why a person chooses to follow a different spiritual path, I'm not sure I could tell you that. But what I can tell you is that I'm strongly attracted by the social justice, egalitarian ideas in Islam. But you know - it only - again, you know, a person's faith is like a marriage, you start out, seeing if it's going to work out - overtime, it just grows and deepens and becomes part of who you are.
FC: Part of your history also is environmental activism, environmental justice....How did you get involved and what were some of the things that you've done that you're proud of?
ELLISON: Well, you know, just walking around my district, I found that there was just a large number of kids who had inhalers and they were relying on these inhalers to get through the day. … I began to think about how we deal with this …we had to look at traffic and how close kids live to traffic, which is highly correlated with asthma. And then proximity to coal-burning electricity plants, and of course, we live right near one in North Minneapolis….
So, you know, those two things became a big concern and so I got active in trying to get community to help convert the coal plant in our neighborhood to natural gas, which has much lower emissions, particulate matter, mercury and a lot of other dangerous emissions.
FC: Were you successful?
ELLISON: … I helped start an organization called the Environmental Justice Advocates of Minnesota. And we worked on protecting people from lead, worked on mercury, worked on other pesticides and things that really have a negative impact on our health from an environmental standpoint.
FC: So what in your upbringing or what in your childhood led you to have a passion for justice?
ELLISON: …I was raised in a household where issues of civil rights and justice were discussed on a regular basis. You know, my mother's father, whose name is Frank Martinez, was organizing black voters in rural Louisiana in the ‘50s, you know. And she grew up telling us about how they would receive threats and had crosses burned on their front lawn. And it really was a topic that made a great impression on me.
And, you know, my father was one who discussed issues in politics around the dinner table. And so it really wasn't that unusual for me to gravitate toward political activism, trying to make a change, trying to include more people, make our society live up to the ideals that are stated in our Declaration of Independence and Constitution.
FC: I talk to a lot of younger people about politics…who are just like, it's a fool's game. It's rigged. Everyone is dirty. How do you deal with that kind of attitude for example?
ELLISON: … the most activist thing you can do is to get involved, is to play a role. And you know…slavery was a horrible epoch in American history 243 years of…slavery - horrible. But we have to remember that the abolitionists were there fighting it and the abolitionists won.
We got to remember that till 1920, till all adults could vote…Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton and…and Frederick Douglas… fought for universal suffrage and they won. And you know, the people in the Civil Rights Movement, they defeated Jim Crow.
So every time you point to some negative piece of American history - and there have been some ugly periods - there have been people who have stood up for what was right and have generally prevailed over time. And so I say to my brothers and sisters and the hip-hop generation, you know, write a song about how, you know, how we got to have more justice, how we got to expand democracy, how we have to respect the sisters and the women in this world, and how we got turn away from this crass commercialism and materialism that is promoted so aggressively. Talk about making America live up to its noblest ideals, that's what I say….
FC: Now, as a Muslim, do you feel obligated to bring your religion to the table, simply in terms of trying to address issues like the war; address issues like detainees; address issues like Israel and Palestine and the conflict between them, or are you going to try to leave your own personal background out of how you lead in Congress? -
ELLISON: You know, Farai, I don't know what role I will play in that regard. My faith, my Islamic beliefs are ones that are not exclusive to Islam. I mean, you know, every faith system - Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, all - you know, we believe in caring for the poor. All of us believe that. All of us believe that we should have justice and real fairness in economics and economic opportunity. And every ethical and religious system you can name talks about the importance of peace, non-violent resolution of conflict. You know, these are not the exclusive province of any religious system. Now I may come at it from - my faith informs my values, but other people's faith informs their values. But we arrive at the same place, cause the values are universal even though we may have different ways of seeking God and of praying and engaging in religious ritual.
…I see my faith as something that builds bridges - doesn't build walls. I mean, for example, if somebody got up on the House floor and said something misinformed or even bigoted about Islam, of course I would stand up and correct the record and put forth the truth. But that's not something only I would need to do. Anybody could do that if they studied the subject matter.
You know, people who are within this same religion don't always see the faith the same way, right? Because just like you know some evangelical Christians who are to the far right, politically
So, you know, religion and faith is part of the American fabric. It's one of the reasons why the first amendment says that Congress shall make no law establishing a state religion. That's so we can all pursue God as we see fit. And, you know, this issue of how religion plays out is going to be messy. And we're not always going to agree. But hopefully we can agree that, you know, the state should be neutral ground in which everyone can participate and that the big religious value questions will be played out in our daily lives every day….
Source: “First Muslim Congressman Prepares to Take Seat in Congress.” National Public Radio.
https://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=6513386&utm_source=npr_newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_content=20180717&utm_campaign=npr_email_a_friend&utm_term=storyshare. Accessed 19 July 2018.
About Keith Ellison
Keith Ellison is an American politician and lawyer. He was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1963. He has been Minnesota’s Fifth Congressional district representative in the US House of Representatives since 2007 and Deputy Chair of the Democratic National Committee since 2017. Before being elected to Congress, Ellison served in the Minnesota House of Representatives.Before entering politics, Ellison spent 16 years as an attorney specializing in civil rights and defense law.Ellison is the proud father of four children – Elijah, Jeremiah, Isaiah and Amirah and isrunning for Attorney General of Minnesota.
Voice 4: Keith Ellison
abolitionist a personwhoadvocated or supportedtheabolition of slavery
in the U.S
commercialism practices and attitudes that are concerned with the making of profit at the expense of quality, or being obsessed with buying things
egalitarian relating to or believing in the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities
Christians technically speaking, evangelical refers to a person, church, organization that is committed to the Christian gospel message that Jesus Christ is the savior of humanity
gravitate move toward or be attracted to a place, person, or thing
sovereigna supreme ruler, especially a monarch, or possessing royal power and status
suffrage the right to vote in political elections
Voice 5: Shams Aljuwude “Daughter of America”
My parents grew up in the same village in Yemen. My father fell in love with my mother after watching her from a distance while she did her chores. He being the handsomest young man in the village, married who he thought was the most beautiful girl. My soon-to-be mother moved into his family home and shortly thereafter started a family.
My parents both came from peasant farming families. What food they had to eat came from what dairy products they owned and from whatever crops they were able to harvest, if it rained and the crops grew. Because my parents had a difficult existence, my father had to leave the country to find a decent job. He worked for a while in the Persian Gulf island nation of Bahrain. Eventually, my father looked to America the land of tremendous opportunity for those who seek it, where he had a cousin who worked at a factory and earned a decent living. This cousin was the man who helped my father find work in the United States, and the same man who would later convince my father not to allow my sister and me to immigrate to America with the family.
I sometimes think about the difficulties my father must have had when he decided to go to America—to leave a culture that was his own, the country where his ancestors were buried; to go to a new land with another language, a land where people dress, look, act, and believe differently than would a Yemeni farmer’s son. The one thing that my father had in common with other Americans, he believed, was that he sought a better way of life, just as the earlier immigrants to America did. He felt that because it was a country founded by and made up of immigrants, he would only naturally blend in.
He told me about how, after he arrived in Detroit and was met by his cousin, he was immediately sent on a Greyhound bus that took him to California, where he would work picking grapes and asparagus stalks as a migrant farmworker. I asked him how he communicated, because I knew that he did not speak any English. My father explained that he did not speak to anyone, and that when he had left his cousin in Detroit, his cousin gave him a piece of paper with the word “chicken” on it. His cousin advised him to follow the crowd on the bus and do whatever they did. If they stopped off at a place to eat, he was to show the piece of paper. He eventually got to the camp where he lived and worked with other Yemenis and sent whatever money he earned to Yemen to support his growing family, his parents, and his siblings.
After working a while in America my father would travel back to Yemen to be with his family, and then he would go back to America and work. When I was born my father was in Yemen. When it was announced that my mother had given birth to a girl, my father wore his meshedeh (turbanlike head covering) loosely to show his disappointment. He was hoping for another son because boys traditionally earn money and help support the family, whereas girls are just more mouths to feed and do not contribute to the financial well-being of the family. Little did he know that I would capture his heart with my cleverness as a child and that he would announce to the family that I was his favorite.
My family immigrated to the Southend of Dearborn in the summer of 1972, a year after I was born. My father had a well-paying job working on the assembly line in the Ford Rouge Plant and was able to have us brought close to him. We rented a flat in a house owned by my father’s cousin, the same man who always insisted that females should not immigrate to America. In fact, when we did finally come here so that we could live with my father, we left my sister behind. We immigrated to the United States without her. My father also wanted to leave me behind, but my mother would not allow it because I was only a baby.
My sister was eight years old when she was left behind. She was told that we would be back in a year or two and that she would take care of our grandparents until we got back. This was my father and his cousin’s idea. They felt that girls, should not be raised in the Unites States, that they were better off in the old country where they could be protected from any and all evils that might be found in the new country’s foreign culture and ideas….
My earliest memory of being aware of my identify is when I was five years old. We had moved to a neighborhood in Detroit that year out of the safety of the Arab culture of the Southend. We moved into a neighborhood where we were one of only two Arab families. One of our next door neighbors did not appreciate that we had bought the house next to theirs. They made sure to let us know this at every opportunity.
One day when I was five, I was sitting on the front sidewalk playing with some rocks—an innocent child not knowing what kind of hatred lurked in the world. The teenage girl who lived next door approached me and started calling me a camel jockey…I remember sitting on the sidewalk staring at her in awe, not really understanding what she was talking about, but realizing …she was saying…a very negative word.
…I sometimes wonder about bigoted people like our neighbors who believe they are superior to others and have the right to hate immigrants. Do they know that they live in America? Do people have to keep reminding them what that means? Are some people just so stupid that they think immigrants traveled to their exclusive homeland to live and not to America? This country is only about two hundred years old. It is a baby. The only people who have a right to be angered at immigrants being here are Native Americans.
Sometimes I feel that I might be discriminated against because I dress differently than the average American and that it threatens people. But when I was five, and I was sitting on the sidewalk being called a camel jockey, I did not dress differently than any other five-year-old-kid in this country….
My family bought a house in the Southend because many of the other people there had the same culture we did. My mother had new neighbors that she could communicate with. We felt embraced by other Arab families who had the same concerns that we did about being in a different culture. Like us, they wanted to be a part of it, but they did not want to give up their own identities. Since this is a free country, there was always the sense that if we did not want to give up some of our traditional Yemeni customs, we did not have to. So my parents sent us to schools, and I got to go to school because my mother felt it was safe.
The older...I got, the more [I] became aware of our dual cultures. One culture was that of television, which, more importantly, we also found in our school. The other culture was that of our home.
When we were in school six to seven hours a day, we were exposed to a curriculum that catered to Christians of European descent. I remember how absurd it was when we Arab Muslim children would sing in the Christmas concert that was done every year (the school was made up of mostly Muslim Arab children) and that the teachers would say “Merry Christmas” to us when we did not even celebrate the holiday. The teachers didn’t even ask us if we celebrated it or not. I wondered if they assumed that we did or if they did not care whether we did. Needless to say, it was a very awkward situation where two cultures met and assumed not to notice the difference they had.
After the long days with our teachers who were all, as I recall, ethnically European Christian people, the same kind of people who belonged to the culture that we watched on TV, when we went back home.
As soon as we walked over the threshold into our house, we walked into Yemen. We would immediately be met by the mother whom we spoke to in Arabic. We would be in a home decorated with pictures of Muslim holy places and hand-woven Yemeni debegs used to serve Yemeni breads. …My mother would also remind us of our religion when prayer time came (five times a day). She would do her ritual washing before the obligatory prayer, then spread the neatly folded prayer rug toward Mecca and start praying where we could see her….
As I got older, my mother started asking me to wear the hijab, the head scarf that Muslim women wear. When I started wearing it, it was easy since all the Yemeni women I knew wore it. When I asked what it was about, my mother said that we wear it because we are Muslims, that it is part of our religion. That was a good explanation as I at the time needed. Later in my life when I was faced with a crisis and was looking for help from God, I had a profound religious experience during which I realized the significance of wearing the hijab. I understood my identity as a Muslim woman, and that the hijab identified me as one of the “believing women” the Holy Quran talks about. I realized that my ethnic heritage is significant and legitimate and cannot be ignored. It is significant to the extent that those who hate Muslims hate me because I am one, even though they have never met me. I knew and loved who I was historically and became able to see how beautiful people of other cultures were. My recognition of my Yemeni history helps me to know which way I should ne heading in my life. I choose to dress like a Muslim so that I may honor my religious beliefs and my identity. I wear my hijab and also my jilbab (a long robelike dress) in order to feel sacred and in touch with God.
I felt, at the same time, that because I lived in a free country and the Bill of Rights guaranteed my religious freedom, that I was blessed to even make such a decision. I felt that I must be the ideal American. I am a Muslim Yemeni woman who espouses her identity wholeheartedly, but who also cherishes the ideals of freedom. By my very existence in this country, I believe that this is truly a free country because I can be who I am, not who the conformists want me to be. If I am made to submit by assimilation into the dominant culture, then how could this country be called “free”? Certainly many of my beliefs are Muslim, but I also sincerely believe in the ideas that this country was founded on, in the Constitution and in the Bill of Rights, and I do consider myself an American who would fight for the cause of freedom.
Aljuwude, Shams. “Daughter of America.” Editors Abraham, Nabeel & Shryock, Andrew. Arab Detroit: From Margin to Mainstream. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 2000.
About Shams Aljuwude
Shams Aljuwude is a pseudonym for a Muslim American woman who was born in Yemen in 1971. She immigrated to Dearborn, Michigan the next year and still resides there. Aljuwude was pursuing her undergraduate degree in 2000.
Voice 5: Shams Aljuwude
bigoted having or revealing an obstinate belief in the superiority of one's own opinions and a prejudiced intolerance of the opinions of others
camel jockey a racial slur for Arabs
migrant farmworker a person who moves from place to place to get work,
laborer who harvests crops seasonally Voice 6: Ibtisam Barakat “…I invite you to become me for the duration of this essay—take a walk in my moccasins as a person from the Middle East. Identity
You are Palestinian, a woman, and a poet. Your language is Arabic. You write from right to left. Your religion is Islam. People in your culture pray to Allah, the Arabic word for God. They fast
in Ramadan, a month in the Islamic calendar. Many of your female relatives wear the hijab. The color of your eyes is coffee brown. Your name means “a smile,” but few people outside the Middle East know that or can say your name easily. Your IQ is high. IQ stands for I Question everything.
War and Words
You are three years old when war happens in your country. Your mother has cooked a lentil-and-rice meal. You and your siblings are waiting for your father to come home so that you can
eat together. But when he arrives, his first words are, “Hurry. Tell your mother the war has started!” In the chaos that follows, you are separated from your family for a night. The war ends with Israeli military occupation of your city and other Palestinian cities.
So you blame lentils for how you feel. Without knowing it, you take out all the anger of the Middle East on one tiny lentil seed to make it understand how powerless and small you feel. …
Letters to Freedom
You wake up every day dreaming of al-hurriyya, freedom. You do not want to live in the Middle East under a crushing military occupation that denies you so much, including the freedom to say
the name of your country—Palestine…The minute you learn about the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, you copy it by hand and carry it in your pocket, until your mother washes your pants with the paper inside; all is pulp. But you have memorized your rights and personalize the Declaration to sing it with wishful joy to yourself….
Sometimes, the news describes your people’s desire for a homeland as something objectionable. You fight to hold onto hope. You want to believe that nations will not allow the plight of your people to go on forever, but you are not certain. Each time you
are in that cage of despair, you hear your father’s voice quoting teachings from the holy book of Islam, The Qur’an…Your dad says that Allah is to be offered gratitude for the good—and for the pain and suffering.…“But how can one be thankful for suffering, Dad?” you ask impatiently. “Nothing meaningful ever happened without overcoming a hardship,” he says, “not a child walking, not a mother giving birth, not a people becoming free.” …But you cannot wait; panic invades all aspects of your life. When an opportunity opens, you leave for America.
On the nineteenth anniversary of the Six-Day War, the event that overwhelmed your childhood, you see the Statue of Liberty for the first time from the plane window. She is a woman! She has what looks like a book in her hand. … Thanks be to Allah; she must love reading! She raises a torch and you see it as a symbol, a big pencil burning with desire for new knowledge. A fellow passenger explains that the torch is held up so that immigrants can find their way to the shore. You hide your eyes and weep thinking that she is there to welcome you too. You, the one who has never felt truly safe or welcome as a Palestinian anywhere on Earth all of your life, not even in your mother’s lap because your mother herself never felt safe. If you could embrace the Statue of Liberty, offer her a chair to rest while you carry her book and torch, as long as she desired, you would. The first thing you do in New York is buy a miniature statue and put it in your pocket. It is your first American passport. You think of the word American, which you hope to become someday. American ends with can. You also see the Am in the beginning of American and instantly turn your name to Ibtisamerican. Now you can do so much that you could not do before. As a Palestinian you come from a people obsessed with education as much as they are obsessed with liberation, so you know that you must do everything you can to enroll in graduate studies. The voices of your people are crammed in your heart, all waiting for you to breathe out and tell their stories.
You study journalism because you know it is a field where you can interview strangers and they will answer your questions. … You become visible. And there is democracy. It rests on freedom of speech, you are assured by many. You must learn a new language of responsibility, so you begin to conjugate new verbs: I decide. He chooses. They initiate. She leads. We vote. We have rights. Still, it is a jungle of new experiences. …fireworks of the Fourth of July send you hiding under your bed with images of war. Stylish army boots in shop fronts unleash hours of trauma. A helicopter transporting someone to a hospital takes you back to where helicopters flew to drop bombs.
You find that many people have never met a Palestinian, never knew that Palestinians have a story. They don’t know that Palestinians were forced into diaspora to create the state of Israel
on Palestinian lands. You explain that great numbers of Palestinians now live in refugee camps rented with assistance from the United Nations and its largest agency dedicated to this one uprooted people, the United Nations Refugee Works Agency. Without the UN,
you would not have had the chance to go to school. If a person’s tears could run out, you would have run out of tears a long time ago on this journey to freedom. Because they
have never lived under occupation, most Americans tell you that they cannot relate to what you say. Some call your people terrorists. “What?” you ask. “Have you seen our lives? We are prisoners in our home.” You begin to expect discrimination from people with limited
views of humanity and little knowledge of history, those who do not seek a broader perspective. You expect discrimination like you expect harsh winters in Missouri: one wears the right clothes
and survives. Some insist that the word Palestine is controversial; others feel your sorrow, whisper that England considered George Washington a terrorist. You thank them for their empathy. Over time, many of your Middle Eastern friends change their names to sound Italian or Greek or American. But you cannot do so. To change your name would be comparable to no longer recognize yourself. You could not say Palestine growing up and now you would not be able to say Ibtisam! No, a big shout from the depth of your soul declares to you, Ibtisam I am, green cheese and lamb. Dr. Seuss can eat ham, but I am Muslim.
… You seek friendships with people from varied backgrounds: Catholics, Protestants, and Mormons. They too have stories of war and displacement and have suffered for religious beliefs. You hear about the legacies of slavery from African Americans, and the astonishing losses on the Trail of Tears from Native Americans. You speak with Italians, Mexicans, Irish, Asians, and others and they tell you about their history outside and inside America. The stories repeat one thing: there is a Trail of Fear we create for one another in all places on Earth. Freedom is often defined as freedom from others, not freedom with others. You want to know why the Jews of Israel, who wanted freedom and have suffered much, put your people through captivity and exploitation in the name of God or in the name of their suffering. …
You and ME
We’ve come to the end of our walk, so I’ll take back my moccasins. I wish you happy travels and will leave you Fee Aman Allah, in the gracious protection of God. I hope that being Middle
Eastern (ME) for the space of this reading has enriched your experience, helped you see a bigger picture—one that includes everyone in the family of humanity.
Ibtisam Barakat is a Palestinian-American author and poet who moved to the United States in 2016. She is also a translator, public speaker, artist, educator, and social justice advocate who focuses especially on empowering children and teens. Ibtisam’s first memoir in English is Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood. In 2016 Balcony of the Moon: Coming of Age in Palestine was published.
Voice 6: Ibitsam Barakat
refugee a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.
Universal Drafted by representatives with different legal and cultural
Declaration backgrounds from all regions of the world, the Declaration was
of Human Rights proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly in Paris on 10 December 1948 (General Assembly resolution 217 A) as a common standard of achievements for all peoples and all nations.
Voice 7: Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar “I Believe in Allah and America”
Myself included, there are over one billion humans on earth who call God by his Arabic name, Allah. Out of that billion, over seven million of us call America our home. Many of us are born as Americans, study in American institutions and go on to work and pay American dollars to our tax system. Like everyone else, we eventually find our better half, have chubby babies, go to zoos, get season tickets to the Chicago Bulls, go on our children’s field trips and fix the leak in our roofs. With all the growing pains in the life that we lead as normal Americans, everyday we turn our face to Mecca to pray to what our Christian brothers call God, our Jewish sisters call Yahweh and whom we call Allah.
Islam, Christianity and Judaism have exactly the same origin. We each believe in the monotheistic deity of Abraham, who was the father of all three of these noble religions. Islam's moral and ethical standards are equivalent, if not more stringent, than those of modern day Christianity and Judaism. We, as Muslims, believe in every prophet of both Judaism and Christianity. We believe the world began with Adam and Eve and great prophets, namely Moses, Aaron, Jacob, Joseph and Jesus (peace be upon all of them) were all divinely inspired by God.
We revere Jesus as a great prophet and the messiah of God. He is mentioned by name in the Quran 33 times. We equally revere the Virgin Mary as the mother of the Messiah. She is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran and she is mentioned 34 times. Anyone who says Muslims don't respect women, read the entire chapter dedicated to Mary (peace be upon her). How many times was our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) mentioned by name in the Quran? Five.
In Islam, a woman receives a monetary dowry from her husband, of which he has no legal claim. A woman is not obligated to change her maiden name. CNN happily broadcasts women being oppressed by the Taliban regime. Islam abhors the oppression of women. The Taliban says women are not allowed to work, yet the Prophet Muhammad's wife, Khadijah, was one of the most successful merchants in all of Arabia. Should we base our belief on a bunch of tribal warlords or the teachings of our Prophet?
In Islam, both men and women have to dress modestly. One aspect of this modest dress for women is the hijab (head covering). This is a religious mandate, but whether a woman decides to wear it or not, is an issue between her and Allah, because as the Quran categorically states, "there is no compulsion in religion." The hijab symbolizes empowerment, not oppression of women. It allows women to be judged on the content of their character, rather than the physical features that we men today objectify onto them. When we see a nun covered from head to toe in her habit, we commend her on her devotion to God. But when we see a Muslim woman wearing hijab, she is oppressed. In how many likenesses of the Virgin Mary, sculptures or paintings, is her hair not covered? Not one. Was she oppressed? Hardly.
Muslim American is not a paradox. As Muslim Americans we currently live in a diaspora having to deal with an attack on our, yes, our, country. We also have a dual anxiety because our way of life, which is not far different from our Christian and Jewish counterparts, is under attack.
I am a law student. I study international human rights. I have been to U2, Sarah Maclachlan, Dido and Outkast concerts. I have been a ball boy for the Chicago Bulls. I have owned a Ford Mustang. I pray for peace and have read Dr. King's "I Have a Dream" speech ninety-six times. I may be a dreamer, but I promise you, I am not the only one.
I am a Muslim and I am an American. I am proud of both and will compromise neither.
Iftikhar, Arsalan Tariq. “I Believe in Allah and America.” Taking Back Islam,
edited by Michael Wolfe, Rodale, 2002, pp. 225-232.
About Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar
Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar was born September 1, 1970 in Norfolk, Virginia. He is an international human rights lawyer and author of several books. He is the founder of TheMuslimGuy.com, the editor of Islamic Monthly Magazine and a professor at Georgetown University.
Voice 7: Arsalan Tariq Iftikhar
diaspora the dispersion of any people from their original homeland.
dowry property or money brought by a bride to her husband on their marriage.
ethical relating to moral principles or the branch of knowledge dealing with these.
paradox a statement or proposition that, despite sound (or apparently sound) reasoning from acceptable premises, leads to a conclusion that seems senseless, logically unacceptable, or self-contradictory.
revere feel deep respect or admiration for (something). Voice 8: Andre Carson How did your difficult childhood shape your life and politics?
My mother suffered from schizophrenia so my grandmother raised me. My mother was a brilliant woman - she had a doctorate degree and was a devout Christian - but of course the illness impacted her judgment. But going through that difficult experience deepened my sensitivity to the less fortunate, to those who don't have home or shelter. Later on this complimented my Islamic belief in relation to almsgiving and helping the poor. That kind of experience should only shape a person to become a better humanitarian. It made me want to give back and make the world a better place.
Was there any kind of pushback from your Baptist family after you revealed you were converting to Islam?
Absolutely. There were some relatives who were told not to associate with me. However, my grandmother had a fondness and an appreciation for the religion, and she was wise enough to give me the space to grow and study, even though I was living under her roof.…
Your grandmother encouraged your move towards the faith?
She definitely encouraged me because she knew for me as a young African American male that as long as I was in the faith I was not getting in the kind of trouble that would have left me incarcerated. Still, some relatives were deeply disappointed. We laugh about it now but at the time where they were spiritually did not compliment my spiritual journey. It was good preparation though; rejection from loved ones hurts, especially as a teenager but I fell in love with the faith; it just answered questions for me.
Islam is often associated with helping the oppressed or giving to the poor. How do these religious tenets carry over…your work trying to improve standards of education?
It was the Prophet Mohammed, peace be upon him, who stated explicitly in the Hadith that a man who educates his daughters is granted paradise….In the prophet's last sermon he said there is no superiority - white over black, Arab over non-Arab - words that were quite visionary and also applicable to our times today….
Do American Muslims need to become more entrenched in American society, particularly civil society and law enforcement? How do you encourage that?
… At 17, after I had started studying the religion, I was arrested because police officers tried to go into a mosque without probable cause. That arrest fuelled me into wanting to become a police officer, which I did. I managed to do that and I was assigned to homeland security, terrorism and counter-intelligence….
You and Keith Ellison are both from the Midwest. Observers would have probably predicted the first elected Muslims would have come from the more cosmopolitan areas, cities such as New York or LA?
I'm in the Bible Belt but what you'll find about Midwesterners is that they're less concerned about what religion a person is and more concerned with their value system and whether they'll deliver. What you are seeing from Representative Ellison and myself are Muslims that come from the African American experience. We are more concerned with civil and human rights, with education, with the global economy, creating jobs and how to repair broken infrastructure. These are issues Midwesterners relate to.
So Indiana constituents in 2008 didn't see a Muslim man, or they did but first they saw a former police officer, and then a man that had served in local government?
During the campaign there were a number of YouTube videos posted that tried to discredit me because of my religion. But the polling data we received stated that most people only really cared that I was a police officer and a former city councilor. It speaks to Midwestern sensibilities that folks are not so wrapped up in a person's faith….
Some Republicans, backed by campaign groups, are sincerely pushing for the US to adopt a more "Christian" worldview. Is this a concern?
I always respect a person's religion. I had a lot of support from the Christian community when I ran. There was a small group of Christian ministers that didn't want me to speak in their churches because they thought I was unfit due to my religion, but overwhelmingly more Christian pastors welcomed me….
The founders [of the United States] were very visionary when they said there should be no religious test to hold public office because there can be a danger when politicians use their public office to proselytize, and to ostracize people who don't feel the same way as them.
You're a vocal advocate of equal-marriage, an area most traditional religions have a problem with. Does you faith ever clash with your politics?
For me equal marriage is an issue of civil rights. If we believe we are all part of God's creation we should be careful about making these calls. The LGBT community is making great strides and I wouldn't be surprised to see a future president coming from that community.
But how can I as an elected official just represent one constituency? We represent all people. Muslims should be mindful that injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We should have equality on all fronts.
“Muslim Congressman Andre Carson On The Bible Belt, Equal Marriage, Madrassas
Andre Carson was born into a Baptist family in 1974, and converted to Islam at 16. Carson graduated from Indiana Wesleyan University with a Masters in Business Management, became a police officer, and transferred to a counter terrorism unit in Homeland Security. He was elected to represent Indiana's 7th district in 2008. He is the second Muslim to be elected to serve in the United States Congress.
Voice 8: Andre Carson
Bible Belt those areas of the southern and midwestern US and western Canada where Protestant fundamentalism is widely practiced
doctorate the highest degree awarded by a graduate school or other approved educational organization
humanitarian concerned with or seeking to promote human welfare.
Infrastructure the basic physical and organizational structures and facilities (e.g., buildings, roads, and power supplies) needed for the operation of a society or enterprise
ostracize exclude (someone) from a society or group
pastor a minister in charge of a Christian church or congregation
proselytize convert or attempt to convert (someone) from one religion, belief, or opinion to another
schizophreniaa long-term mental disorder of a type involving a breakdown in the relation between thought, emotion, and behavior, leading to faulty perception, inappropriate actions and feelings, withdrawal from reality and personal relationships into fantasy and delusion, and a sense of mental fragmentation
Voice 9: Haroon Moghul Growing up in New England as a first-generation Pakistani-American, Haroon Moghul was taught that practicing his Islamic faith would make life his better. What he didn't anticipate was how challenging it could be to be Muslim in America.
In 2001, Moghul was the student leader of New York University's Islamic Center when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. Shortly thereafter, he was called upon to be a spokesperson for the Muslim community in New York — a role he describes as both a "civic responsibility" and a "tremendous burden."
"It's really hard," he says. "Being Muslim can be a limiting factor where you're shackled to what people do in the name of Islam in different parts of the world, including here in the United States."
Moghul has continued to advocate and explain Islam since then, but he acknowledges that he has also grappled with the more personal aspects of his faith. …
When I was growing up, mosques were pretty much the reserve of men of a certain professional and ethnic background, of a certain sectarian affiliation. The sermons were often barely in English, hardly comprehensible and usually completely irrelevant to the concerns of the time.
I was deeply dissatisfied by that. And when I got to NYU ... it was the first time I had ever encountered a large group of diverse Muslims, and I thought, "Wouldn't it be cool if all of us could find a place where we'd feel at home, where being Muslim was something that we got to define for ourselves and not have imposed on us from without?" So we set ourselves to the task of building this really cool, this really dynamic and this really fun institution. And I think it took off precisely because a lot of people were invested in their religious identity, but they didn't have a place where they could express it.
I've often felt myself to be torn in half between who I believed I was supposed to be — often through the input of parents and elders and religious authorities — and who I thought I wanted to be, which emerged from within myself…
[This] was reproduced in the aftermath of Sept. 11. ... Suddenly there were two parts to me that a lot of people believed were not only incompatible, but mutually hostile — that I was an American and I was a Muslim. And there are a lot of people, and probably an [increasing] number of people, who think that that conjunction is impossible.
… when the attack happened, I was in a place in my life where I thought I would leave the Islamic Center behind, because it felt suffocating and I felt a hypocrite and a fraud. And when the attack happened, I was [the] leader of one of the largest Muslim communities in proximity to ground zero, and one of the few [communities] that was able to talk to media because it was conversant in English and composed of people who had grown up here and had the ability to speak to wider American audiences. And suddenly this task of community building and community organizing — which was only ever supposed to be for a university campus — became part of a national, even international, conversation, which I felt like I had to do, and felt completely and totally unprepared for.
Every time something bad happens you're called upon to apologize, to explain. It means that your entire identity is pegged to events in other parts of the world — usually and almost exclusively negative events — and your entire religious life becomes the articulation of why your community is not a problem or should not be perceived as a problem to wider America.
The tragedy, I think, of contemporary American Islam is that externally we're defined politically — we're defined as a national security threat, we're defined as the "other" of Western civilization. But internally, we've begun to reflect that rhetoric and we've begun to talk less of ourselves as a spiritual tradition and a religious worldview and more and more as an ethnic community whose boundaries are political. I think that's the tragedy here.
When I dropped out of law school at the age of 23, I was pretty sure that it was the end of my life. I was so raised in the suburban Pakistani milieu that I believed if I didn't become a doctor and I didn't become a lawyer, I literally would have no future. …and so it only confirmed in me this feeling that I had somehow come up short. ... I thought that what I was going through was either something exclusive to me, or a product of my inability to live up to being Muslim….
The way I was taught Islam when I was growing up was a set of practices that you do so that you don't go to hell. There was almost nothing there of the idea of actually transforming yourself or having a personal and intimate relationship with God. And what I began to find in Dubai, including at that mosque, was this idea of spirituality as a practice and as a struggle to reach a different point in your life.
What I found so moving about this imam's prayers was that he very openly and candidly expressed, in beautiful Arabic, his insufficiencies, and I had never encountered that kind of vulnerability in religion. ... He was talking about how he'd come up short, and how time and again he had failed as a Muslim, and I had never experienced that kind of frank, open conversation about spiritual shortcomings. I had always treated religious leaders as people who had somehow figured it out and reached a point where they didn't have any doubt, they didn't have any questions, they didn't have any insufficiencies, and that moment, that night in the mosque ... was transformative. ... It gave me permission to be myself, to accept that just because I don't pray as often as I should doesn't mean I can't have a connection to God or that I can't be Muslim, and it also meant that I had to find a spiritual practice that worked for me.
Moghul, Haroon in conversation with Terry Gross. “How to Be a Muslim Author on Being a Spokesperson for His Faith.” National Public Radio.
Haroon Moghul was born in Massachusetts in 1980. Both of his parents were doctors who immigrated to America from Pakistan. He is an academic and author.
Voice 9: Haroon Moghul
articulation expressing oneself readily, clearly, and effectively
ground zero In the case of an explosion above the ground, ground zero refers to the point on the ground directly below the nuclear detonation and is sometimes called the hypocenter also used to refer to the site of the World Trade Center buildings
shackles one of a pair of metal rings connected by a chain and fastened to a person's wrists or the bottoms of the legs to prevent the person from escaping
sectarian relating to religious or political sects (groups) and the differences between
them vulnerability the quality or state of being exposed to the possibility of being attacked or harmed, either physically or emotionally Voice 10: Raqshan Kahn It happened in seventh grade during the end of math class. I was having a conversation with a couple of my friends. We were turning in homework and one of my friends asked me jokingly how I was able to get “such good grades.” I laughed and told her that all I did was turn in my homework. Another one of my friends thought he knew the reason and was eager to share.
“Why?” I asked.
“Well, let’s just say none of the teachers want her bombing their houses.”
I cannot tell you how mixed I felt in that moment. Part of me wanted to shout at him and demand an apology. Yet the comment would go away faster if it wasn’t acknowledged, wouldn’t it? Another part of me wanted to go along with the joke and laugh. No one wants someone around who can’t take a joke about herself now and then, and I certainly wasn’t going to be that girl. So I did. I smiled and gave a laugh. I smiled as I put away my books and I smiled as I left the room.
But inside, I wanted to curl up and cry. That small joke sounds so insignificant, and even I eventually brushed it aside, but just revisiting that classroom in my memory now makes me feel so vulnerable and…lonely. I guess there is a huge part of me that cannot believe how blunt he was. How unremorseful we was as he told the joke and how much he enjoyed telling it. I doubt he even remembers the conversation or realize how much that one remark affected me. He could be reading this right now and not even know I’m writing about him.
But I remember. I remember the words as he said them. I remember the moment I understood what he was referring to and what he was calling me. I remember the feeling of walking out of that classroom that afternoon and wanting to run away as far as I could. I remember wondering if that was the way everybody saw me now. I also remember telling myself it was no big deal. That he was only joking and that I should be able to laugh at myself sometimes. Of course, whenever I remember that joke, I still have to repeat this to myself. Over and over again: It was only a joke. But how many times will I say it to myself before I actually believe it?
The idea of living with different cultures is a common circumstance nowadays. With interracial marriages, immigration, and the easy accessibility of information, people are starting to learn and respect that there are different cultures around the world. However, as an American high school with Indian heritage, Islamic beliefs, and American values, I know multiculturalism can be both an important part of who you are and also the most confusing aspect about yourself.
To experience the benefits of multiple ideas and customs, you have to find a way to discover yourself in a chosen mix, a blend of your different customs, ideals, and lifestyles. Unfortunately, this is not always an easy process. When sharing with others my multiple cultures I insert hundreds of different points of views, political agendas, religious views, cultural dynamics, family values, racial identities, moral obligations, dreams, and futures. In this pool of cultural identities, it can be difficult to decide who exactly I am. Even today, I still find myself questioning my logic in certain situations, colliding with other peoples’ beliefs and ideas, and having difficulty deciding whether any of my cultures truly defines who I am. My culture is not just my backstory, it defines my personality today and how I choose to live my life. Sometimes, that is not so easy for everyone around me to understand and can be difficult to explain in a single conversation.
More often than not, I have trouble explaining how I handle the different ideals of each of the cultures.
On one hand, I am an American. I love the land, the people, and all the memories I have made here. The values of free speech, liberty, and equality I hold as an American make me who I am. I wouldn’t trade that for anything. On the opposite side of the world though, is India. My heritage is not something I can simply push aside. When my parents moved to America, they brought a piece of India with them. For example, even though we eat sandwiches, salads, and pastas for lunch, my mother cooks Indian food every night for dinner. I have grown so accustomed to the spicy Southern Indian food she cooks that I can eat the spiciest snacks my friends can find without flinching. I grew up watching Disney Movies, Nickelodeon/Cartoon Network cartoons, and Bollywood movies. My music collections consists of the Neighbourhood, Bastille, OneRepublic, Arctic Monkeys and my favorite Bollywood songs that almost none of my friends can understand. On top of the diversity of my ethnic culture comes the stability I can find in my religion. Islam guides me in my everyday life just as my American ideals and Indian habits do. The rules I set for myself, both moral and habitual, are guided by my belief in my religion. For example, with accordance to my religious values, I try to dress as modestly as possible. However, it can be difficult to stay completely covered when I live in such a open culture. Without my values, I am not sure what type of path I would follow, but I am sure I wouldn’t be me. Sometimes, I find that my friends and peers can have difficulty understanding or sharing my views on certain topics such as morals, reasoning, or political and world problems.
I don’t think I fully realized how controversial my religion was until late elementary school. I have never been outright bullied for my religion or targeted for my beliefs or values, but I knew early on my religion was viewed as different and sometimes odd just by the reactions my friends had when I tried explaining it to them. However, I didn’t understand the seriousness of the issue until much later. One thing I realized almost immediately though, just by paying attention to our news, was that being President of my own country wasn’t a possible career choice for someone of my faith.
Now, when I see all the controversial ideas people have about Islam, I find it hard to decide whether or not anyone is willing to listen to what American Muslims have to offer. The terrible attacks and outbreaks of violence both against and inside my country make me cringe. I cringe, not only with fear for my home, but also at the reactions of my fellow Americans. Not everyone reacts in terrible ways, but there are more than enough people who believe that all Muslims are a threat and are willing to do their best to spread that idea to others. According to a 2014 opinion poll conducted by the Arab American Institute, Americans have a 27 percent favorable rating for Muslims. This means that only 27 percent of Americans approve of Islam/Muslims. Another one in four Americans surveyed either were unfamiliar with or not sure of their attitudes toward Muslims and Islam.
Islam is one of the fastest growing religions in the world, second only to Christianity. Islam is not growing at such a rapid pace because we preach violence or fear. Islam is an Arabic word hard to perfectly translate into English but in simple terms it means “peace.” The message of peace and unity I grew up learning about is at the foundation of our religion. The teachings of my religion are some of the most peaceful philosophies of life I have ever heard.
Unfortunately, not many people know that. Due to the warped portrayals in the media, lack of education about Islam, and little exposure to its culture, many people develop misconceptions about Islam and Muslims.
In my opinion, the media is perhaps the biggest contributor towards the misinterpretation of Islam and Muslims alike. When the media shows a certain religion or culture in a certain light, a lot of people are likely to believe it, especially when they have no other way to gain information about that religion or people. When the majority of news stories about the war and violence occurring in the Middle East and surrounding areas are blamed on my religion, I can see why many Americans would believe that this is what Islam is. Extremist groups may propagate a fight for Islam, but their whole war is mainly political. They have taken up a religious flag to draw fighters to their cause. The news has recently been focusing on terrorists groups such as ISIS, and how they are out to destroy America and the American way of life. In reality they are ready to cut down anyone in their way, including their fellow Muslims. When you look at the details of the brutalities committed by ISIS, you can see that their killing of Muslims and attack on other nations has nothing to do with Islam, but rather is a fight for absolute power. According to a report done by the United Nations, ISIS is responsible for nearly 4,325 Muslim civilian deaths (this means not including officers, soldiers, or other government officials). ISIS is especially brutal and commits anti-Islamic deeds. When media chooses to ignore all the suffering terrorists like these inflict upon innocent Muslims as well as the rest of the world, they create an atmosphere of hostility here at home and can make American Muslims feel especially singled out. The media continues to propagate the myth that terrorist groups are after America alone. The moment “Islamic terrorist” became the name for the these violent, extremist groups, Islam has been seen as the embodiment of terror and violence to a lot of Americans. No one in the mainstream media seems to feel the need to discuss the basic reasons these wars started or learn how we can prevent terror groups like this from forming. The fear-mongering that occurs on a lot of the news channels causes me to feel either incredibly angry or upset. Just because these extremists have decided to use violent means to express their ideals and to hide their motives behind a pseudo-religious war, the entire religion is seen as one of violence, anger, and oppression.
The minority of Muslims involved in extremist activities does not define my religion, just as the number of Christian extremists does not define my view of their religion. “ISIS is about as Islamic as the KKK is Christian,” American political comedian, Dean Obeidallah, wrote in The Daily Beast. Every religion has its group of extremists, but allowing those extremist to define a religion will get you nowhere.
Another form of media that plays a factor in peoples’ minds are movies. Hollywood portrayals are rarely 100 percent accurate, but occasionally popular movies can lead to the spread of incorrect information. The film American Sniper, which was released at the beginning of 2015, is a perfect example. While the film was well made it had a lot of inaccurate information and stereotypical portrayals of Muslims. This can generate misconceptions, especially among American youth, who tend to gain their information from a lot of Hollywood material, to see Muslims and Islam through a narrow light.
Whenever I read the news and listen to people debating Islam and Muslims, I am left with a hollowed out, sick feeling. When I listen to many people in America saying that my religion is horrific and violent and that we ought to be profiled and spied on just for being Muslims I can’t help feeling pushed away. How can I feel like I belong in my country when I feel like my country doesn’t want me?
Another large reason for the misunderstanding of Muslims among Americans is a lack of education. I remember that in seventh grade, we had our first and only unit on Islam. After spending years learning about Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, and basically every other main religion, I was ecstatic to be learning about my culture. My teacher did pretty well. We learned the history, language, and basic customs of Islam. Since I was Muslim, I was asked to read Arabic and bring in my hijab (which I use during prayers) to class, both of which I did. The part I found the most interesting during the entire unit was the movie our teacher showed us. It was called The Message. Up until then I had only seen religious movies showing the story of Jesus Christ, Prophet Moses and the origins of Christianity and Judaism. Never had I seen a movie that depicted the start of Islam and its history that made it the religion it is today. The movie was beautiful. It showed, in detail, the many historical events I had read about and how they affected the first followers of my faith. It followed Prophet Muhammad’s journey, all the while never showing his face which follows the Islamic law to never portray a prophet. While it was an incredibly difficult feat to pull off, the movie did it seamlessly. I cannot describe the feeling of pride I felt when I was watching the movie with my class. For once, my religion was being explained and its history taught.
Even though I was happy, I was generally wary of how my class would react to learning about my religion, especially when contrasted with all the media and portrayals of Islam.
After we watched the movie, it wasn’t unusual for me to be walking down the hall and hear someone whisper, “Allahuakbar,” behind me. Whenever I turned to see who it was though, they always quieted down and looked away. Once, I turned around and was able to catch the kid’s eye. I knew him. He noticed me and realized I had heard and quickly shushed his friends.
As soon as I noticed him noticing me, I whipped my head back around. But my ears were still picking up his voice. The last thing I heard him say to his friends was: “Shhh….she’s a Muslim.”
This sort of thing happened a lot during seventh grade, during and after the unit about Islam. I don’t know what to make of a circumstance like this. Are they making fun of my religion, or are they simply saying it because the words sound different to them? If they are doing it because it sounds different, then why do they act like they’re being offensive? I wish American youth had a better education in the religions of the world, and that a unit on Islam weren’t so novel. If people knew better there would be fewer quick assumptions based on media and propaganda.
For example, one assumption I hear a lot is that hijabs (head scarfs) are used to oppress women. While I agree that forcing women to wear the hijab is wrong and oppressive, according to Pew Research, out of the 49 Muslim countries in the world, Afghanistan, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are the only countries that actually have legal enforcements of the hijab. In my experience, the majority of Muslim women (especially the ones living in Western countries) testify that it is their personal choice to either wear or not to wear a hijab or burqa, which is a loose garment covering the whole body from head to toe. Whether or not a woman wears it based on social or spiritual influences is not a reason to deny her the right to wear it. From an Islamic point of view, displaying women in sexualized ways is another huge form of oppression that inhibits the person from being seen for their intelligence and ability. This is what the hijab’s purpose is. To provide modesty so that one’s worth is based on what they can do, not just their appearance. While I myself do not find complete head to toe cover necessary, I cannot deny that I find Western culture’s sexualization of women as bad as extremists forcing women to wear the hijab or burqa. Both are imposing their views on how women should be displayed. Just because one calls for covering and the other for exposing does not mean they are any less discriminatory.
I happen to not wear the hijab because I don’t believe I need it in order to express my faith and, if I am being completely truthful, because of all the negative connotations Americans seem to associate with it. It is not an option I would like to have taken away from me, though. I hate to hear myself say it, but I am genuinely afraid to go outside or to school for a full day in a hijab. Just the looks I’d get would be enough to make me nervous. I have considered many times what it would be like to show up to school in my hijab. What kinds of questions would I get? What kinds of jokes would be shot at me behind my back? How many people that day would joke about me being a terrorist? Honestly, I don’t think many Tam students know the horrifying fear of being joked about or called a terrorist. It is not one that can be shaken off easily. Luckily, that hasn’t happened to me too often at Tam. I have heard of Muslim in other parts of the country being bullied or harassed for their religious beliefs. With Tam High and Marin County being liberal and relatively open-minded communities, I am grateful that the level of acceptance here is pretty high. In fact, 81 percent of Tam students surveyed by The Tam News believe Islam is NOT directly linked with terrorism while only 18 percent believe it is. In addition, 76 percent of Tam students surveyed said they don’t believe Islam teaches violence more than other modern religions while only 23 percent said it does. This large rate of acceptance could be correlated with the amount of exposure Tam students have Muslims and Islam. So, I highly doubt that wearing a hijab would result in blatant bullying or mockery, but I know that because the knowledge about Islam is pretty low, not many people really understand the purpose of it. Only 12 percent of Tam students claim to have a deep understanding of the religion while the majority, 65 percent, say they remember learning about it in social studies class and think they have a basic understanding. This left 19 percent who’ve heard of the religion but don’t know much about it and four percent who’ve never heard of Islam.
For me, the hijab is a declaration of faith, morals, and representative of my wish to be valued as a woman of intelligence and knowledge rather than just by my appearance. This is the original purpose of the hijab. The fact that certain people have turned the hijab into a symbol of oppression shows a fault in those people’s thinking, not the religious purpose. There are other ways to work against the oppression of women rather than simply banning a religious/cultural article of clothing. Promoting women’s equality does not mean restricting women. Working towards changing the minds of society of the importance of women or cultivating a lifestyle where women are viewed with equality would be a more effective route.
All in all, most of the issues involving the misunderstanding or bigotry towards Islam and Muslims can be changed with more diverse media coverage, such as Al Jazeera or BBC, more education, and the willingness to understand a culture that may be different from yours.
On February 19, 2015, Obama gave a summit speech about counter-terrorism. One of the most powerful and impactful lines of the speech was: “We are not at war with Islam. We are at war with people who have perverted Islam,” Obama said.
I hope one day, everyone can understand that. I hope that one day, my entire nation will see that one religion is not defined by a group of extremists. I hope that one day someone of my faith can run for President without being suspected of being a terrorist. I hope that one day all Americans can look past Muslim stereotypes and see us for the people we are. I hope that one day I can say with full and absolute certainty: my country is not at war with my religion.