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Posts Tagged ‘muslim’


Photo: Ivan Pierre Aguirre/for the Washington Post
Mustafa Azimi, center, joins a discussion group hosted by Randy Harris, a friend, whose table is usually positioned near the Islamic Center’s table at a New Mexico farmers market.

Even though Thanksgiving dinners have an unfortunate reputation for fraught conversations among family members, it’s still true that sitting together and sharing food often bridges differences. That’s why going places where food is the main event — say, farmers markets — could be a great way to find commonalities with people from other cultures.

Abigail Hauslohner at the Washington Post describes one market’s experiment.

“The mother and daughter arrived just before 8 a.m., unpacking the table and folding chairs from the back of a white minivan. It was a chilly 43 degrees, and the sun cast long shadows between the farmers market stalls and the funnel cake truck, the smell of grilled meat and wood smoke hovering.

“Sureyya Hussain carefully laid out the Korans.

“Soon, the curious passersby began to approach with their questions, their comments and their concerns. The answers, Hussain hoped, would inform and enlighten — or at least spur constructive conversations about being Muslim in America.

“ ‘We wanted to have a voice about what Islam is for us,’ said Hussain, 50, who organizes the monthly table, where anyone can come to learn about Islam. …

“For some of the nation’s small-town mosques and groups of recent immigrants, the instinct has been to turn inward, keep a low profile, buy security cameras, and tell young people to avoid confrontations. Other communities have tried the exact opposite: public engagement.

“The Islamic Center of Las Cruces, the only mosque in this desert town of 101,000 about an hour north of the Mexican border, is one of them.

“Hussain and other members of the mosque’s Dawa — or outreach committee — come here, to the town’s farmers market, and set up a sign that says ‘Know Islam’ amid the stalls hawking apples, kettle corn and handmade soaps. They provide free Korans and pamphlets on different Islamic beliefs, and then they sit there for five hours, offering themselves up for whatever comes their way. …

“Sometimes the conversations get difficult — maybe even a little uncomfortable or combative — but the volunteers do their best to stay calm and friendly.

“ ‘I could very easily sit in my house and hang out, but I’ve decided to do something, and this is the consequence of doing something,’ said Mustafa Azimi, 27, a nurse, who joined Hussain and her daughter, along with his wife and another member of the mosque. ‘People are going to ask you questions. The goal is showing the community that Islam is not what the news portrays. If people knew that Muslims are also — like, that I’m a nurse who also knows how to cook food — that would be awesome.’ …

“ ‘Overall it’s been wonderful,’ said Hussain, a lawyer who grew up in Wyoming and is a mother of three. ‘People are friendly. People have a lot to say. Even people who disagree with us.’ …

” ‘We get more people that are stopping just to tell us that they either love us being here, or, like ACT for America, yell us down,’ Hussain said. ‘We get more of that because both sides feel the need to tell us how they feel.’

“As 1 p.m. approached and the farmers market began to wind down, a man in a cowboy hat, lugging a large metal washtub, walked up, looked at the sign and struck up a conversation. …

“ ‘Do you follow sharia law?’ [asked a guy calling himself Washtub Jerry.] ‘Do you want sharia law? Because it’s not compatible with the Constitution.’

“[Radwan Jallad, an electrical engineer and member of the mosque’s Dawa committee] explained: ‘Sharia law says you’re required to follow the law of the country.’

“Jerry seemed satisfied. He accepted a Koran, and said he would visit again.” More at the Washington Post, here. And check out a similar “Ask a Muslim” initiative started by one couple in Cambridge, Mass., here.

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Photo: Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times
Lining up for tacos outside the Islamic Center of Santa Ana.  The ‘Taco Truck at Every Mosque’ event for iftar (evening meal that breaks the fast during Ramadan) promotes solidarity and understanding.

Community organizers are getting creative with ways to pull different groups together. Consider this California example.

Anh Do writes at the Los Angeles Times: “Activists Rida Hamida and Ben Vazquez wanted to find a way to promote unity among the region’s Muslim and Latino communities, so they came up with a novel idea.

“After daily fasting as part of the holy month of Ramadan, dozens of local Muslims joined their Latino neighbors Saturday night in the parking lot of the new Islamic Center of Santa Ana, taking part in the inaugural event of the campaign dubbed Taco Trucks at Every Mosque.

“Organizers said the idea is to demystify Islam through the sharing of food and to unite two groups, Muslims and Latinos, facing increasing discrimination. …

” ‘This is perfect timing. The purpose of this month is to give charity, to grow our character and our inner lives and to nourish our soul through service. What better way to do that than by learning from one another?’ asked coordinator Hamida, whose goal is to host food trucks that will serve halal tacos at every mosque in Orange County. …

“Even young participants such as Idrees Alomari, 13, were encouraged by Saturday’s event, which he said was a good way to show how people can appreciate their differences and similarities. …

” ‘All the way from the parking entrance to inside, everyone’s been like, “Welcome, welcome, we’re so glad to have you here,” ‘ said Dulce Saavedra, 24, [a] youth organizer for Resilience OC, a nonprofit created from the merging of Santa Ana Boys and Men of Color and Raiz, a group pushing for partnerships between law enforcement and immigrants.” More at the Los Angeles Times, here.

This initiative reminds me of an annual event that took place in Lowell, Mass. It was a gigantic soccer tournament with teams from the scores of immigrant groups in the city. I always admired the ONELowell initiative because it can be hard to get minorities to band together and realize they can collaborate to promote common needs. Sharing a sport loved by many nationalities seemed like a good place to start.

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Photo: Aram Boghosian for The Boston Globe
Malika MacDonald is director of the Amal Women’s Center, which provides shelter for Muslim women and children in need of temporary housing.

When I was working at the central bank, we had a Hubert Humphrey Fellow visit us from Bahrain. One aspect of America she was studying was homelessness. She said there was no homelessness in her country. She said families would never let it happen; they would take people in.

Having no way to know whether that was true in every case, I was nevertheless intrigued. Was it something about the culture in a Muslim country?

One thing I do know is that in this country, alas, Muslim women and children like other women and children, sometimes find themselves in need of temporary housing. That was the impetus for a new center in Boston, the brainchild of an Egyptian-American college student.

Lisa Wangsness wrote about the initiative at the Boston Globe. Here is the part of the article that touched me the most.

“The project began six years ago, when Mona Salem, then a 20-year-old Egyptian-American college student, was trying to help a young Muslim friend who wanted to escape a foster home where she felt unsafe.

“Salem thought her friend would feel most comfortable in a Muslim-run shelter for women, but soon discovered none existed in Boston. So she began raising money to start one, and teamed up with [Malika MacDonald, the national director of the Islamic Circle of North America Relief USA’s Transitional Housing Network.] …

“Donations poured in from every direction. Dishes and pots and pans for the kitchen arrived from families affiliated with the Framingham and Wayland mosques. A man offered his Home Depot credit card to pay for lighting. Various groups and individuals sponsored each of the bedrooms, furnishing them with bright-colored bedding and art for the walls.

“Salem said she was near tears when she saw the finished house the other day.

“ ‘That place was a dump when we first got there, and now it’s beautiful — absolutely beautiful,’ she said. ‘That says a lot about . . . how strong we are as a community to help one another.’

“Help arrived from beyond the local Muslim community as well. An artist in Texas sent an Arabesque Moroccan ceiling medallion for the living room. A board member of the interfaith group Kids4Peace Boston donated a lacquered dining table and banquette. The founder of a planned shelter for transgender people in Indiana sent along bathroom towels, MacDonald said.”

I suspect many of those donors know what it’s like to feel different and look for comfort.

More at the Boston Globe, here.

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So much anxiety about “the others” these days, anxiety that is seldom based on knowing even one of those others!

That is why I found this story by Steve Annear in the Boston Globe so charming and important.

He wrote, “Mona Haydar knew that when she set up two signs outside a Cambridge library [in December] with the words ”Ask a Muslim’ and ‘Talk to a Muslim,’ she had to be prepared for strong opinions about her faith.

“But the Duxbury resident said the impromptu experiment led to a meaningful series of conversations about religion, politics, history, and sports. It was an experience that, even in a time of prejudice against Muslims, showed Haydar that ‘the community is loving.’

“ ‘We just wanted to talk to people and we didn’t see any harm in doing that,’ said Haydar. ‘We are just normal people. There is definitely fear [in America], and I want to talk about it, because it’s actually misplaced and misguided — I am really nice!’

“Holding a box of doughnuts and cartons of coffee from Dunkin’ Donuts, and wearing a traditional hijab, Haydar last Friday and Saturday planted herself alongside her husband, Sebastian Robins, outside the library for several hours each day.

“Haydar said that over the two days they spoke with more than 100 strangers. The initiative, she said, was inspired by a similar act, called Talk to an Iraqi, that was featured on ‘This American Life’ in 2008.” More here.

I’d say she gave a gift to the Cambridge populace, which although considered open-minded, is not monolithic. And she seems to have received a gift in return: the satisfaction of initiating an important conversation and of confirming that the majority of people are kind.

Photo: Mona Haydar
Mona Haydar and her husband, Sebastian Robins, stood outside of a library in Cambridge.

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I hardly need to remind readers of this blog that people are people. We are all just living our lives, with more or less the same daily concerns. And the differences are what make things interesting.

Sam Radwany at the radio show Only a Game recently described some youthful experiences in Minneapolis that sound both the same and different. The story is about a group of American Muslim girls who choose to cover themselves in keeping with their kind of Islam but who are also enthusiastic basketball players.

“The Twin Cities are home to one of the largest Somali populations in the world. The community is concentrated in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis, where these pre-teen players go to school. … Balancing their cultural and religious standards of modesty with sports can be tricky.

“ ‘Sometimes our hijab, our scarves, got off, and we would have to time out, pause, to fix it,’ Samira said. ‘Our skirts were a problem — they were all the way down to our feet.’ …

“Last season, some of the girls opted to wear long pants instead of dresses. But that still put them at a disadvantage when playing other Minnesota teams. …

“And because the girls’ team didn’t have their own jerseys, they had to share with the boys. Ten-year-old Amal says the experience was unpleasant.

“ ‘Horrible! Very horrible,’ she said. ‘And the boys, their jerseys were all sweaty and yucky and nasty.’ …

“That’s where a local nonprofit dedicated to expanding sports and recreation opportunities for local Muslim girls stepped in. … [They] brought in researchers and designers from the university to help the young athletes find a new solution to the stinky jersey problem.

“Jennifer Weber, the girls’ coach, said the players did most of the work themselves, with guidance from the experts. …

“Chelsey Thul from the university’s Tucker Center for Research on Girls and Women in Sport described some features of the new uniforms: ‘And so this sport uniform has black leggings. It’s longer, probably about to the knees …

“ ‘The biggest change to the hijab is that it’s not a pullover, so that instead, it fastens with Velcro at the neck,’ Weber said. ‘So it’s got some give to it, and it’s forgiving, and it moves as they move.’

“And of course, with the young girls’ input, there’s a bit of color. Samira and Amal said the team had a lot of ideas.” Read about their design ideas and their delight in the uniforms here.

Photo: Jim Mone/AP
Somali American girls in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of Minneapolis designed their own uniforms for greater freedom of movement.

 

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Here’s a nice story by NY Times reporter Dan Bilefsky about a British Muslim bake-off contestant who is a winner on many levels.

Bilefsky writes, “Prime Minister David Cameron praised her coolness under pressure. Bookmakers monitored her performance as they do election candidates.

“Television watchers admired her raspberry mille-feuille and soda-flavored cheesecakes — along with her blue chocolate peacock, and a mountain of éclairs in the form of a nun.

“The victory of Nadiya Jamir Hussain, a petite 30-year-old, head-scarf-wearing mother of three from northern England, in a wildly popular reality show called ‘The Great British Bake Off’ on [Oct. 7] has been greeted by many in Britain as a symbol of immigration success …

“Ms. Hussain’s popularity, bolstered by her self-deprecating humor and telling facial expressions, helped the final episodes of the baking program, in which contestants vie with one another to make a variety of desserts, attracting well over 10 million viewers per show, according to news reports. She has also become a darling of social media, with more than 63,000 followers on Twitter as of [Oct. 8]. …

“Ms. Hussain’s triumphant final dessert, a ‘big fat British wedding cake,’ offered a multicultural message of sorts by fusing her Bangladeshi and British identities. The lemon drizzle cake was decorated with jewels from her own wedding day in Bangladesh and was perched on a stand covered with material from a sari in red, blue and white, the colors of the Union Jack.”

More here.

Photo: Mark Bourdillon/Love Productions, via BBC
Nadiya Jamir Hussain, the winner of “The Great British Bake Off.” 

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Last month, Steve Curwood of the radio show Living on Earth covered a special conference on climate change.

“Curwood: A coalition of 80 leading Islamic clerics, scholars and officials meeting in Istanbul has issued a declaration on climate change, ‘calling on all nations and peoples to phase out greenhouse gas emissions as soon as possible.’ …

“Islamic nations, including wealthy oil-producing states, are taking action on global warming, says Wael Hmaidan. He’s director of Climate Action Network International, one of the conference organizers and joins us now from Istanbul. …

“Hmaidan: I was really happily surprised by how rigorous the Koran and the Islamic teachings on the environment and the care for the planet. It’s a core function of Islam to care for the planet. It’s a responsibility. … It talks about the delicate balance that all the creatures have on Earth and it’s the responsibility of humans to protect this balance.

“It also talks actually about how humankind should not think that they are more important than other creatures. It talks about the role of all creatures and the need of respect, this diversity in the planet. So all of these kinds of proverbs from the Koran and the Islamic teachings, as well as stories about Prophet Mohammed’s life and his care for the environment clearly [makes] environmental care and climate change key issue for an Islamic teaching. And hearing strong statements saying that it is forbidden not to phase out greenhouse gas emissions coming from Islamic scholars is something very inspiring, even for climate activists. …

“There’s an agreement to establish an informal group … that will follow up on all the ideas that came out from the conference. And the ideas are varied, some of them are high-level, like I mentioned going to the UN agencies, to governments, but also the representatives of the organizations that attended want to create action plans in their communities of influence, to bring the declaration. … We need to transform all mosques to renewable energy, and so on. So a lot of ideas, and they’ve created this platform Muslims for Climate to continue the dialogue.”

More here.

Photo: Islamic Relief
Mohamed Ashmawey, CEO of Islamic Relief Worldwide and one of the Climate Change Symposium organizers addresses attendees.

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