▲ Day 1, New York City: A congregant hurries his meal as the call to prayer is announced at the Mosque of Islamic Brotherhood.
Bassam Tariq: During Ramadan last year, Aman Ali and I visited 30 mosques in 30 days around New York City. Regular Boing Boing readers may remember our two-week stint guestblogging here during that experiment. This year, while I was in Pakistan, we decided on a whim to revisit that adventure, but this time, take on the rest of America. We didn't know what we were getting ourselves into.
Our Ramadan road trip this year drew much interest from big media, thanks to the "Ground Zero Mosque controversy" and Terry Jones' Quran-burning fiasco. It was unsettling to sit through interview after interview, fielding questions about mosque construction and the state of the American Muslim community. Every TV interview eventually veered into "Islam on trial" territory, and we were the ones defending it. Aman and I became Ambassador Muslim. It sucked.
Ramadan ended, the news cycle moved on, and we were lost to the archives. We're good for clicks, but only when we're controversial. And as far as that part goes, I am happy it's all over.
But I'll miss every other part of our 30-day adventure. It's been two weeks since we've been back and already I miss the road, the people we met, and the America I experienced.
The following photos come from our month-long road trip through Muslim America. I've selected a special assortment of images for Boing Boing, and am honored to share these photos with you.
▲ Day 2, Maine: Two young men take turns reciting verses they have memorized from the Quran. Both were brought from a special Islamic school in Buffalo, NY to lead the special night prayer during the month of Ramadan.
▲Day 4, Pennsylvania: A woman meditates near the grave site of Bawa Muhaiyaddeen, a Sufi saint from Sri Lanka who passed away in 1985 in the USA.
▲Day 4, Pennsylvania: A row of ladies get ready for the sunset prayers, Maghrib. I later commented to one of the mosque caretakers that I had never prayed with this many white people before. I'm happy I got a chuckle.
▲Day 6, Atlanta, Georgia: A young student at the Muhammad School pays close attention to her social studies teacher as she takes notes. The Muhammad School is an organization established in the late 1980s that prides itself in a 100% college transition rate.
▲Day 6, Atlanta, Georgia: One of the the Lady Caliphs, the name of the Muhammad School's girl's basketball team, saves the ball from falling out of bounds.
▲Day 8, Jacksonville, Florida: A boy jumps off the slide. Soon enough, the other kids follow suit.
▲Day 11, Houston, Texas: At the Nigerian Mosque, three girls compete to see who can put on their hijab (head scarf) the fastest.
▲ Day 14, Colorado: Shaikh Abu Omar fled Iraq in the 60's and since then has made Colorado his home. He sticks his tongue out in hopes of ruining the photos I was taking. If only he knew how much he helped, instead!
▲ Day 15, Abiquiu, New Mexico: Benyamin (left) and AbdurRauf stand by the door of the prayer hall of Dar Al Islam. Dar al Islam is a large educational facility built in a traditional North African Nubian architecture style.
▲Day 16, Phoenix, Arizona: The loneliest girl to ever sit on a swing, attempts to swing.
▲Day 17, Santa Ana, California: Two Cambodian Muslim youth play basketball in the field outside of the Indo-Chinese Muslim Refugee Center. Muslim Cambodians live in homes arranged around the compound. Many of them fled from the brutal Khmer Rogue regime in the early 1980s.
▲Day 20, Boise Idaho: Fahruddin is 21 years old, and is the visiting Imam from Bosnia. He stands outside of the mosque during soccer practice.
▲Day 18, Las Vegas, Nevada: A boy attempts to jump an elevated chain in the parking lot of the Islamic Society of Nevada.
▲Day 22, Ross, North Dakota: The first mosque in the United States used to stand here. It was built in 1929, then demolished in the 1970s due to family issues. Only recently, in 2005, did some of the family decide to a build a small building to commemorate community members who have passed away.
▲Day 23, Minneapolis, Minnesota: Eid Ali, a cab driver in Minneapolis, checks his light fixture to see if it is working. The Somali refugee community in Minneapolis is large: by some estimates, more than 20,000.
▲Day 25, Cedar Rapids, Iowa: Aziza Igram, a first-generation Syrian immigrant to the United States, shows a picture of the Mother Mosque, formerly known as the "Moslem Temple." The Mother Mosque is considered the longest standing mosque in all of North America.
▲Day 30, Canton, Michigan: Our last stop before New York leads us to the largest population of Muslims in North America, Dearborn, Michigan. We also end up visiting neighboring cities densely populated with Muslims. Here, an uncle who is a local community leader lands an epic hit—making him the champion for the day.
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American-Muslim relations relations are strained; but even after 9/11, there were but a few anti-Muslim incidents, Marcia Pally observes
The Pew Forum, which generally makes Americans feel lousy about themselves, has just tossed us a rose. We compare miserably with other industrialized nations on poverty, educational and incarceration levels, health care, environmental protection, international aid, even infant mortality – you'd think with all the opposition to abortion, we'd at least be able to keep born babies alive. But we're dandy on immigrants, at least compared to Old Europe. Even Muslim immigrants, even devout, veiled Muslims, even after 9/11. God Bless America.
Pew says Europe's Muslims are "ghettoized" and "markedly less well off than the general population, frustrated with economic opportunities and socially isolated." Ours say "their communities are excellent or good places to live"; 71% say people can succeed in the US if they work at it. Both income and college graduation levels match the national norms. Most feel Muslims should adopt American customs once in the US and 63% report no conflict between religious devotion and living in a modern society.
Perhaps consequently, 63% had a "very unfavorable" view of al Qaeda; 85% said suicide bombing is rarely or never justified; only 1% said violence to defend Islam was "often" permissible.
"What emerges" said Amaney Jamal, an adviser to the study, "is the great success of the Muslim American population in its socioeconomic assimilation." Jamal meant well, but it's not "assimilation" that is the success. "Assimilation" means dissolving into the mainstream, but Muslim-Americans do not; they remain devoutly Muslim.
Integration without assimilation: many Muslim-Americans remain devoutly Muslim
Yet as 63% said, they feel no conflict between keeping this distinguishing practice and living in modernity. That is, they participate in the economic, political, educational and social life of America while practicing their faith.
One could argue that they do because of a self-selection process: only those Muslims who are up for the uncushioned (few social services) but relatively open possibilities of American life come here. Europe's immigrants, on this theory, migrate for the dole and don't care about participating in Europe's economic and political life. Yet that doesn't explain why America's Muslim immigrants remain religious; in fact, wanting to succeed US-style, they should be quick to "assimilate."
What allows them to participate without assimilation is the "pluralistic" public sphere, not a secular one – secular meaning 'without religion' and pluralistic meaning 'with many.' We've had so many religious groups participating in the socio-economic, educational and political life that one more is just that, one more. No big deal.
America has not been pluralistic out of virtue but of necessity: we needed to attract as many immigrants as were willing to endure the hardships of the frontier and later industrialization. But the benefit of this accidental generosity was a pluralistic deal: immigrants had to contribute to the economic and political fracas of the nation but they could keep not only their private faith but their community practice. There has of course been prejudice, but this tends to fall in importance as participation increases.
Upward mobility: Keith Ellison is the first Muslim in Congress and the first non-white representative Minnesota has sent to Washington
What remains in America is the paradoxical-sounding "familiarity with difference." As Americans are used to many different sorts of people in the socio-economic, educational and political arenas, they've gotten used to distinguishing the few differences that might damage the country from those – most – which will not. At least they tend not to panic. Even after 9/11, there were but a few anti-Muslim incidents.
More than that, Americans have become confident that, once participating, folks don't feel the need to make a belligerent, rebellious point of their differences. If they're participating, who would they be rebelling against? It's the American buy-out plan. Identity does not require conformity; to feel oneself as American and to see others as such does not hang on it. "Sameness" might be a tacit requirement of subgroups but not of entry into national, city or school life.
Pressure is to participate
The distinctions "assimilation/"participation" and "secularism/pluralism" are critical for the US, where they happen de facto if imperfectly, and for Europe, where there remains more confusion about the goals of the host countries. In this confusion, the pressures placed on Europe's immigrants are the mirror of the pressures placed on America's.
In the US, the pressure is to participate in the socio-economic, educational and political spheres, which remain relatively porous to allow this to happen; religious and ethnic custom we evade on a "live and let live" basis.
In Europe, if we believe Pew and Europe's own press, there is considerable concern about custom and far less porous economic, educational and political structures. With a less participation comes less familiarity with difference on the host country's side and more resentment on the immigrants', which may lead to angry insistence on maintaining differences in a society less able to accept them. To wit, the headscarf kerfuffle.
It is, as a 1945 New York Times called the paranoia between the US and USSR, a "vicious circle." No one in Europe wants an internal Cold War. But I was shocked when I was recently asked by a number of Germans if I require that female Muslim students remove their veils when they attend my university classes. I would no more do that than require them to remove their underwear.
And for the record, the two Muslim women in my spring seminar had tough arguments about religion only with a secular Egyptian, not with any American student. And they were among the best in the class.
© Marcia Pally 2007
Integrating Islam in Europe
Tolerance Cannot Be Based on Fear
In order to successfully integrate Muslims, European societies have to demand that they embrace the principle of religious freedom. However, this also entails a strict separation of church and state in Europe, writes Paul Scheffer in his essay
Modern Houses of Worship: Mosques in the USA
In the United States there are over 200 mosques that combine traditional designs from Islamic countries with modern American architecture. A report by Abdul-Ahmad Rashid
"Little Mosque on the Prairie"
Allah Is Great – and Funny
The comedy series "Little Mosque on the Prairie" plays on the confrontation of North American and Muslim cultures. But of course it doesn't come from the USA, but from Toronto, Canada. Adrienne Woltersdorf reports
Dr. Khalil Marrar is a university political science professor who describes his late mother, Aysheh Marrar, as a "beautiful soul" who worked hard to put him and his siblings through school. "She taught me that parenthood is a divine devotion," he explains. "That even despite the lot you are given in life, with perseverance you could create for yourself and your loved ones a heaven on earth." Dr. Marrar remembers his mother fondly and holds her in the highest regard, "My mom only had roughly a fourth grade education. Yet she was the most educated person I've ever encountered in matters of life, faith, family, people. " Aysheh passed away in an Illinois hospital in 2007.
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Dr. Khalil Marrar
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Mother's Day 2012: A Snapshot of American Muslim Motherhood: A Photo Essay
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Muslims in America
So far. there are no official. accurate figures concerning the actual number of Muslims living in the United States. Estimates have ranged from as low as less than three million to as high as over six million This is understandable because the statistics being released by the census bureau do not include religion as a category. As far as the census figures are concerned. therefore. Muslims could have been counted as Asians. Arabs. Africans. or even Europeans (Mujahid
Independent observers believe that the figures being released to
media depend on the partiality of the source. For instance. David Harris executive director of the American Jewish Committee. claimed that the number of Muslims living in the United States as of 2001 did not exceed 2 .8 million - a figure which was way below the estimates submitted by several researchers. This statement was immediately contradicted by Ibrahim Hooper. Speaking on behalf of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Hooper argued that the report which was generated by a review commissioned by the American Jewish Committee was a desperate attempt to discount the role of American Muslims ' The debate appears inconclusive since the figures released by Harris and the American Jewish Committee might just prove inaccurate if one considers that the review was done in the aftermath of the 9 /11 terrorist attacks - which everybody knows precipitated an anti-Muslim sentiment in the country (Zoll
However. the exact number of the Muslim-American population is not that significant if one 's purpose is to fully understand the Muslim-American community and examine how it has assimilated and contributed to the economic and social development of the United States. They could be over six million or less than two million - what is more important is the quality and the extent of their contribution as well as their desire to exert a sustained effort aimed at increasing the same. Considering the effects of the 9 /11 attacks. the commitment of Muslim-Americans to peace and development in the country acquires greater significance
Almost 80 of Muslim Americans are between 16 and 65 years of age. They belong to households with an average membership of five. suggesting a family-oriented culture. Majority of these families live in cosmopolitan centers. California has the highest concentration of Muslim-Americans with 20. followed by the state of New York (16. Illinois (8. and 4 each for the states of Indiana and New Jersey. Michigan. Ohio. Texas and Virginia each account for three percent of all Muslim-Americans. The fact that they are found in multiethnic and multicultural communities indicates that Muslim-Americans do not have difficulty in living with people with different backgrounds and persuasions. Not all Muslim-Americans are Arabs. In fact. only a minority of about 12 are of Arab descent while 24 originated from South Asia. the majority (42 being African-Americans. Sixty-seven percent of all Muslim-Americans are immigrants and /or descendants of immigrants. In addition. around 30 of all African-American inmates in the country 's penitentiaries are either Muslims or Muslim.
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A s part of President Trump’s unapologetic promise to defeat “radical Islam,” critics expect an overhaul of the previous administration’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program. Under Obama, officials adopted counter-extremism policies that European politicians tried over a decade ago and have since deeply regretted.
To tackle the threat of Islamism, the new administration must identify and challenge the specific groups and networks within American Islam that advocate extremist ideas, or officials may inadvertently repeat Obama’s practice of legitimizing Islamists as leaders of all American Muslims.
The British Experience
In 2005, a month after the 7/7 London bombings, the British journalist Martin Bright sought answers to a question that, somehow, no one in government or the media had ever thought to ask before: Who exactly were the people in charge of the Muslim community, and what did they believe?
After the Salman Rushdie riots in 1988, the British government blindly accepted the claims of self-declared community leaders to be representative voices of British Muslims. The government gave these leaders millions and millions of dollars of community funds, and, after 9/11, counter-extremism grants.
Bright’s investigation, however, revealed something quite different from what these Muslim leaders had been telling credulous politicians. The leading recipient of taxpayer funds, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), was in fact run by a violent Islamist group from South Asia, Jamaat-e-Islami (JI), which had close ties with the Muslim Brotherhood and had been involved in the mass killing of Bangladeshis during that nation’s 1971 Independence War.
The government embraced Islamist groups such as the MCB so tightly that, as Bright revealed in 2005, Britain’s foreign secretary, Jack Straw, and MCB leader Iqbal Sacranie (an early supporter of Iran’s fatwa for the killing of Salman Rushdie) even used the same speechwriter. With the MCB in charge, Muslim organizations could not receive government backing for projects without the MCB’s stamp of approval. Naturally, the Islamists prospered. Moderate Muslims, meanwhile, were left without a voice.
Over the next decade, the true extent of Islamism’s grip over British Islam was slowly revealed, thanks to a motley collection of journalists, bloggers, and anti-Islamist Muslims willing to challenge government wisdom. Prison chaplains, it emerged, had been chosen primarily from the Deobandi sect, a hard-line branch of South Asian Islam from which the Taliban had emerged. Taxpayer-funded schools in Birmingham, the U.K.’s second-largest city, had been taken over by a network of Islamists who preached hard-line Islamist rhetoric to young children. Compelling evidence was uncovered to show that prominent Muslim charities controlled by JI and the Muslim Brotherhood were funding terrorism abroad. Counter-extremism funds were being handed to Salafist and Jamaat-e-Islami groups. And in 2009, the Labour government cut off ties completely with the Muslim Council of Britain after its officials were found to be signatories to the Istanbul Declaration, a document that advocated attacks on British troops and Jewish communities.
By 2011, the new Conservative prime minister, David Cameron, understood enough to signal a distinct change in government policy, telling the Munich Security Conference:
As evidence emerges about the backgrounds of those convicted of terrorist offences, it is clear that many of them were initially influenced by what some have called “non-violent extremists,” and they then took those radical beliefs to the next level by embracing violence. Some organizations that seek to present themselves as a gateway to the Muslim community are showered with public money despite doing little to combat extremism. As others have observed, this is like turning to a right-wing fascist party to fight a violent white supremacist movement.
The British government overhauled its counter-extremism programs and cut off dozens of Islamist groups from taxpayer funding. Politicians and journalists learned a very important lesson about Western Islam: It is a diverse mix of dozens of different political and religious sects, which includes both violent and non-violent extremists. No single group could represent all Western Muslims, and it was only by delineating British Islam into its diverse, competing constituents that extremism could be effectively tackled and suitable Muslim allies identified. After all, if policymakers did not know which networks and groups within Western Islam were the bad guys, then how could they learn who the good guys were?
As increasingly radicalized Muslim communities across Europe produced eager volunteers for jihad at home and abroad, governments finally began to understand what moderate Muslims had been desperately trying to tell them for years: Non-violent Islamism is not a bulwark against violent Islamism. Extremists are not allies in the fight against extremism.
Meanwhile, in America
Across the Atlantic, American officials distinctly failed to note the lessons that Europe has learned the hard way. The Obama administration’s foreign policy treated Islamists as forces of democratization, and its domestic policy legitimized Islamists as gatekeepers to the Muslim community.
Non-violent Islamism is not a bulwark against violent Islamism. Extremists are not allies in the fight against extremism.
First envisioned in 2011, the Obama administration’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) program promised to “support and help empower American communities and their local partners in their grassroots efforts to prevent violent extremism.” In February 2015, the government launched CVE pilot programs in Boston, Minneapolis, and Los Angeles. To kick things off, the White House hosted a three-day summit. Writing about the conference in the Los Angeles Times. Obama reiterated that the “focus” of CVE “will be on empowering local communities.”
Whom exactly was the White House empowering? Representing the pilot program in Boston, leaders from the Islamic Society of Boston (ISB) and the Islamic Center of New England (ICNE) were invited to the White House summit. The ISB was established by the al-Qaeda operative Abdulrahman Alamoudi, who was jailed in 2004 for his role in a Libyan plot to assassinate a Saudi crown prince. The mosque’s trustees have included prominent Islamist operatives, such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the spiritual leader of the global Muslim Brotherhood. According to a report published jointly by Muslims Facing Tomorrow and Americans for Peace and Tolerance, twelve congregants, supporters, staff, and donors of the ISB have been imprisoned, deported, or killed or are on the run — all in relation to terrorism offenses.
The ICNE was once a moderate local mosque, until its imam was ousted by Abdulbadi Abousamra (the father of ISIS terrorist Ahmad Abousamra) and Muhammad Hafiz Masood, who is now a spokesman for the Pakistani terrorist organization Jamaat-ud-Dawah. Masood’s brother, Hafiz Saeed, is responsible for the 2008 Mumbai attacks and was arrested this month by Pakistani law enforcement.
Taking part in the government’s CVE program was not just an opportunity for Islamists to rub shoulders with America’s political elite; it was also a chance to obtain taxpayers’ money. As part of the Boston CVE pilot program, a group based at the ISB named United Somali Youth received over $100,000, despite having initially joined protests against the CVE organized by Islamist groups, which claimed that the program was designed to demonize Muslims.
In 2016, despite widespread media criticism of the CVE pilot programs, Congress approved a further $10 million of CVE grants. As Obama was leaving office, the Department of Homeland Security awarded $393,800 to the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), an organization with a long history of ties to extremism. MPAC was founded by individuals closely involved with the Muslim Brotherhood. Its founder, Maher Hathout, declared that the Iranian-backed terrorist group Hezbollah was “fighting to liberate their land” and exhibiting “an American value — freedom and liberty.” Before being offered almost half a million dollars, MPAC had also expressed opposition to the CVE program.
Another $800,000 of taxpayers’ money was awarded to Bayan Claremont (an Islamic graduate school in Claremont, Calif.), whose president, Jihad Turk, was recently a member of the executive council of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA). In 2008, federal prosecutors named ISNA as an unindicted co-conspirator during the Holy Land Foundation terrorism-financing trial. A judge later ruled that “the government has produced ample evidence” connecting Hamas and ISNA. Bayan Claremont faculty includes Ihsan Bagby, a former senior member of the Council on American–Islamic Relations, which was also designated an unindicted co-conspirator in 2008; Suhaib Webb, a former imam of the ISB who decries the “evil inclination” of homosexuality and “understands. animosity” towards Jews; and Edina Lekovic, an MPAC official who was the managing editor of an Islamist student magazine that, in 1999, called on Muslims to “defend” Bin Laden as a “freedom fighter.”
If Trump fails to delineate American Islam into its various components, and instead treats all American Muslims as part of the same problem, then the government will find it impossible to tackle extremism effectively.
To flaunt its anti-Trump credentials, Bayan Claremont recently returned the $800,000 it received, despite successfully applying for the grant under Obama. Regardless, are these really the “community” leaders that the government’s “countering violent extremism” program should empower?
Making America Safe Again?
The Trump administration’s plans for CVE are not fully known. Most recently, White House sources announced that CVE would focus solely on Islamic extremism and would be renamed “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.” Under Obama, all White House, Homeland Security, and Justice Department documents concerning CVE conspicuously omitted any mention of “Islam” or “Islamism.” Clearly, we should be pleased that the new administration is prepared to name the issue that occupies headline news almost every day. But we still do not know what Trump’s counter-extremism plans actually entail, although it seems unlikely that Muslim Brotherhood groups will receive more government grants.
Among moderate Muslims, however, there is some concern that a ham-fisted approach could be just as ineffective as Obama’s flawed ideas. If Trump fails to delineate American Islam into its various components, and instead treats all American Muslims as part of the same problem, then the government will find it impossible to tackle extremism effectively.
By cataloguing and excluding the “lawful” or “non-violent” extremists now in America, and the role they play in the radicalization of American Muslims, the government can work with genuinely moderate Muslim organizations to identify and prevent Islamists from, for example, operating schools and chaplaincy programs, obtaining taxpayer funds under the guise of community work, or using charitable endeavors to fund Islamist terrorism overseas.
President Trump’s former national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, reportedly wanted to “wage ideological warfare” against radical Islam using social media. But, as with all attempts to tackle Internet problems, this would be a Sisyphean task, and a distraction from the threat posed by homegrown extremists, who carry out their most dangerous work offline.
Islamist groups thrive on legitimacy, which they obtain either by being treated as representatives of ordinary Muslims (as happened under Obama) or by leading unifying protests against the government (which is happening under Trump).
American Muslims are not going anywhere, nor should they. Islamism, however, should be fought. To do so, state and federal governments must delegitimize Islamism in political and civic circles. This cannot be achieved without the cooperation of moderate Muslims. Only a considered, intelligent approach to counter-extremism can effectively tackle the Islamists who have gripped American Islam so tightly.
At the cost of whole Muslim communities becoming isolated from Western society, tens of thousands of radicalized Muslim youth joining terrorist groups overseas, and civil unrest increasing, Europe has discovered that the pernicious effect of extremism is just as dangerous as an explosive act of terrorism. In America, let’s not learn these lessons too late.
— Sam Westrop is a fellow of the Gatestone Institute and a writer for Islamist Watch, a project of the Middle East Forum.