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                                             September 27, 2009                     Vol. 2:8
 
Bob
In This Issue
Understanding Islam
Crosswinds World Report
Culture Tracks
Culture News
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BobThis month marked the eighth anniversary of the September 11, 2001 attack by Islamic terrorists that took the lives of some 3,000 Americans. On the first anniversary of that event, I wrote an article addressing religious terrorism, for another publication. As an introduction to that article, I wrote:
 
"It is hard to believe we are at the one-year mark of the terrible events of last September 11. Without question it will be on the hearts and minds of all who lived through it, watched or heard it unfold through the media, or experienced it through the loss of someone they knew.
 
While a year may seem like a long time and though much healing has taken place, ours is still a different day than it was on September 10, 2001. What was being recognized as an already slipping economy was dramatically impacted and we suddenly found ourselves involved in a military campaign that was quickly labeled 'The War on Terrorism'. The places we once thought safe became places of potential danger. In fact, soon we would even find ourselves fearful of our mail."
 
As I read these words I am reminded of the old adage, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." As was true then, this is a different day, but in many ways it is much as it was then. We are again experiencing a shaky economy, it looks as if we will be involved in another extensive military campaign as additional troops are being called for in Afghanistan, and, as I write this, the news is a flurry of reports of new terrorism acts expected in the U.S. as heightened security measures are being called for and implemented at railroad and bus terminals, entertainment venues, and at large hotels.
 
What remains unchanged is a continued interest in Islam and a desire by many Americans to truly understand what it teaches and what, if any, association it has with terrorism. As I wrote, regarding that 2002 article, "Islam also became a central issue after the events of September 11. The terrorists claimed the atrocities they committed were in the name of Allah (the god of Islam) and in accordance with the teachings of their prophet, Muhammad...Muslims in the West quickly decried this as untrue, as did many in the East. They began to try and give instruction about what they believe Islam truly teaches. The interest in, and debate over, Islam continues even today."
 
Evidence of that continuing debate is evident in the emotions stirred by the release of Muslim terrorist Ali Mohmed al Megrahi, last month. Megrahi, who was convicted for the 1998 bombing of Pan AM Flight 103, killing 270 people, was released by the British for medical reasons (he is dying of cancer) and allowed to return to his home country of Libya. There, rather than being condemned as a terrorist, or murderer, he was welcomed as a hero. It is actions such as this that makes it difficult for non-Muslims to separate Islam and Muslims from terrorism.
 
Muslims in the West recognize this and continue to try and make the distinction by interacting with non-Muslims through public presentations and by invitations to visit a local Mosque; particularly, during the Muslim holy days of Ramadan. Muslims are hopeful that such interaction will allow one to see Islam in a different light than one, they believe to be, tainted by acts of terrorism and war.
 
So, what do Muslims really believe? In light of the recent anniversary of 9-11 and as Muslims have just completed the month of Ramadan, we thought this a good opportunity to take another look at Islam.
 
This month's issue is devoted to a fresh look at Islam. Our feature article is a brief overview of Islam and the central beliefs and practices to which most Muslims adhere. This is based, not only upon the academic study of Islam but, also on over thirty years of personal interaction with Muslims in my own community.
 
Our "In the News" section will also focus on recent articles about Islam that have appeared in news publications. And "Culture Tracks" contains some of the recent statistical information related to Muslims in the West and how Americans view Islam.
 
We hope you find this issue helpful, and as always, we welcome your thoughts and/or questions on this or any other topics addressed in CrossingCurrents. Please let me know if we can be of help to you with any questions or information needs.

Blessings,

Bob Signature 
Bob Waldrep
 
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Understanding Islam
By Bob Waldrep
Dome IslamPrior to September 11, 2001, most Americans were well aware of terrorist acts having been committed by Muslims in other countries. Some had even drawn the inference that this meant Islam was a terrorist religion and/or that Muslims are terrorists. Muslims in the West were very conscious of this. I know this to be true from personal experience.
 
I had my first encounter with Islam during the 1970s when I befriended two Muslim brothers from Iran who were in the United States pursuing college degrees. Through them, I met others in the Muslim community who were also from Iran and other Middle Eastern countries. All of them seemed sympathetic to the cause of the people of Iran who were trying to overthrow their ruler, the Shah, and replace him with a religious leader.
 
It was a quite prevalent belief among Americans in that era that Iranian Muslims were at the center of numerous acts of terrorism being committed in various parts of the world. Politically, America was also favorable towards the Shah and opposed efforts being made to overthrow his regime and replace it with an Islamic government. Needless to say, there was considerable distrust among Americans, if not outright hatred, for Iran.
 
In this context, I noticed that whenever one of my Iranian friends was asked where he was from, the reply was Persia, which is where modern-day Iran is located. This answer was indicative of their fear of being "outed" as Iranians (When I why they did not identify themselves as Iranian, they candidly expressed it was from concern for their safety - better, it seemed, to be identified as Middle Eastern than Iranian).They realized that most Americans had no idea where or what Persia was and this provided them a better opportunity to avoid the issue of terrorism, or being labeled a terrorist because of their nationality, or religion.
 
In the early 1990s, I reconnected with some Muslims in my community and found that some twenty years later Muslims here still felt the need to try and distance themselves from being labeled terrorists. Many conversations began with their explaining Muslims are not terrorists or that Islam does not promote terrorism. Clearly, in their minds, Americans still held a false perception of Islam that needed to be corrected. As we entered a new Century, the events of September 11, 2001 again renewed, and broadened, the debate about Islam and terrorism.
 
In fact, after September 2001, there has been an effort to redefine the very meaning of the word Islam. It is not uncommon for Muslims in the West to promote the idea that "Islam" is the Arabic word for peace. Shortly after 9-11, President Bush even defined Islam in this manner after holding meetings with Muslim leaders. I find this interesting considering that, prior to 2001, every Muslims I ever dialogued with defined Islam as meaning "submission" or, more particularly, submission to the will of Allah. A Muslim was therefore, by definition, "one who submits."
 
So, what is Islam today and what does it really teach? The short answer is, Islam means many things to many people; it really depends on the Muslim with whom you are conversing - which is true of religions, in general - and, to some degree, the culture and era that has most shaped their theological understanding of Islam. A Muslim's beliefs will primarily depend upon which sect of Islam he belongs to and how knowledgeable or devout he is, to the beliefs and practices of that sect. And, while there are a number of sects in Islam, two of them, the Shi'a and the Sunni, comprise over 90% of Islam with the Sunni being the predominate of the two (some estimates place them as high as 80% of all Muslims). Today, most of the Shi'a a are found in Iran and Iraq.
 
These two groups developed shortly after the death of their prophet Muhammad, in 632 A.D. They essentially parted over a disagreement as to who should be Muhammad's successor in leading. The group that would become the Shi'a believed Muhammad's successor should be a descendant of Muhammad. The majority opinion was held by those who became known as the Sunni. Favoring a less restrictive criteria for their selection, they chose Muhammad's close friend, Abu Bakr, as their leader.
 
Each sect of Islam believes they alone represent "true" Islam. Since they developed independently of one another, each with their own leaders, they have developed divergent beliefs through the centuries. Therefore, not all Muslims fully agree on the teachings of Islam. Having said that, there are some basic beliefs and practices of Islam upon which most Muslims would agree. Before considering these, let's first get an overview of Islam as we find it in the United States.
 
There are no hard and fast figures as to how many Muslims there are in the United States. On the high end are those who estimate it is more than 10 million; conservative estimates are 1.5 to 3 million. Most favor a number somewhere in between 3 to 10 million (considering that estimates also indicate there are only some 3,000 Mosques, or centers of worship, in the U.S., I tend to favor the lower estimates). These numbers include both immigrants and converts.
 
Concerning converts, Carl Ellis and Larry Poston, in their book The Changing face of Islam in America, estimate the African-American community comprises some 40% of the converts to Islam. Many of these belong to the American Society of Muslims, a primarily African-American segment of Islam, founded by Warith Deen Muhammad, the son of Elijah Muhammad, who led the Nation of Islam until his death in 1975. (After replacing his father as the leader of the Nation of Islam, which is regarded by Muslims as a cult, W.D. Muhammad gradually moved the Nation into mainstream Islam. Eventually, it became the American Society for Muslims; however, some members did not like these changes and reconstituted the old Nation of Islam under the leadership of Louis Farrakhan.)
 
Muslims in the West are especially interested in engaging non-Muslims in conversation. This is often done through an open house at the Mosque (particularly during Ramadan - the Holy month of Islam) and through public presentations, generally held on a "neutral" site. This practice is known as dawah (literally, "invitation"). In a sense, it is the equivalent to what Christians would call evangelism.
 
The purpose of dawah in the West seems to be two-fold. First, to acquaint the non-Muslim with Islam in a way that will break down any misconceptions the person might have about Islam; particularly as relates to terrorism (In recent years, I have noticed attention also being given to address concerns that Islam denigrates women - probably brought on by the treatment of women by the Taliban in Afghanistan). Secondly, dawah is intended to be ongoing with further discussions intended to convince the person to convert to Islam.
 
Beliefs and Practices of Islam
 
The essence of Islam is found in five practices known as the Five Pillars of Islam. There may be some variation among sects as to form but, generally, most Muslims embrace these Five Pillars:
 
Shahada
 
The shahada consists of an Arabic phrase that roughly translates to, "There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is His messenger". To say the shahada is equivalent to a profession of faith or belief in the truth of Islam. No one can become a Muslim without reciting this. To illustrate this, recently, I spoke with a young man who told me, that while serving in the military in the Middle East, he converted to Islam. When I asked how this conversion had occurred, he replied that Sunni Muslims, who had befriended him there, led him in reciting the shahada. He now attends a Mosque here in the States where his training in Islam continues.

Salat

Salat is the Muslim obligation to pray, at the appointed times, five times a day (Some Muslims offer more prayers): at dawn, midday, mid-afternoon, sunset, and two hours after sunset. Each of these prayers are to be completed within a set block of time and should be done with the proper preparation and form, including: facing Mecca in the right position, with ones shoes removed and having properly washed (ablutions). The prayers typically come from the Quran but may vary from Mosque to Mosque and sect to sect.
 
Sawm

 
Sawm is the fast required from sunup to sunset during each day of the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. This most holy month for Muslims celebrates the giving of the sacred scriptures of Islam, the Quran (which translates to, "recitations") to Muhammad by the angel Gabriel. Muslims believe that over a period of many years, the angel Gabriel recited the message of the Quran to Muhammad who, in turn, recited it to his followers (Muhammad did not put the recitations into written form as he, allegedly, did not know how to read and write). It wasn't until after his death that these words were written into book form divided into chapters known as surahs.
 
Unlike our Western calendar, the calendar of Islam is based on a lunar calendar; therefore, the beginning of Ramadan varies from year to year. Muslims determine its starting point as the evening when the moon first enters the crescent phase during the ninth month. It seems most likely this is the reason one of the most recognizable symbols for Islam is the crescent shaped moon.
 
I think it important to note that there are those who point to this symbol as proof that Muhammad worshipped the moon god; however, I think this is a bit of a reach. Even were it true, I see no real value in introducing a moon-god into a discussion of Islam with a Muslim, who will never accept it as being true.
 
Zakat

 
Zakat is the responsibility of every Muslim to give alms, equal to 2.5% of their income, to the poor and needy. If a Muslim is not able to give zakat in currency, based upon his finances, he should give in some other way, as he is able. Zakat is not an obligation or tax paid to the Mosque; it is solely intended to be for the benefit of the poor.
 
Hajj

 
The fifth pillar of Islam is the hajj. This is the obligation of every Muslim, who is able, to make a pilgrimage to Mecca at least once in his lifetime. While some Muslims may go at other times, the hajj is officially to be made during the twelfth month of the Islamic calendar, which typically falls during the month of December; however in 2009 it falls on November 25-29.
 
AlonzaThere, dressed in the ihram (white garments), millions of Muslims (over three million in 2008) participate in the rituals associated with this week-long pilgrimage. These rituals include marching counter-clockwise around the large, black, cube-shaped structure known as the Ka'bah. This ritual predates Muhammad to a time when it was believed the Ka'bah was the home to hundreds of idols. Today it is the center to which Muslims worldwide face in prayer.
 
The Question of Jihad
 
Though not "officially" one of the Five Pillars, another important practice of Islam is jihad. The idea of jihad for most non-Muslims (Westerners, in particular) is a "holy" war. However, Muslims tend to think of jihad as having two forms - a "lesser" and a "greater". This concept is especially verbalized by Muslims in the West when explaining jihad.
 
They would say the greater of the two jihads is the struggle everyman must wage to bring himself into submission to Allah. The lesser then is the struggle to bring others into submission to Allah, or the teachings of Islam. Without question, it is this idea of lesser jihad that is used to fuel and justify terrorist activities related to Islam. I think it is for this reason that Muslims in the West generally steer any discussion of jihad away from the "greater" and to the "lesser"
 
In addition to these five common practices of Islam and jihad, there are certain beliefs that Muslims generally hold in common. Following are a few of these that can be contrasted with beliefs commonly held by Christians.
 
Concerning Scriptures/Authoritative Writings
 
While Muslims accept certain portions of the Bible as being true, they believe that overall the Bible has been abrogated - corrupted - and therefore much of it contains an inaccurate account. The writings of the Apostle Paul are particularly distasteful to and discounted by Muslims. In Islam, the only truly authoritative scripture is the Quran.
 
Concerning God
 
In Islam, there is only one God - Allah. Muslims believe that, like Jews and Christians, He is the God of Abraham. However, Muslims do not believe He is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; but, the God of Abraham and Ishmael - a major deviation from Judaism and Christianity. While the Bible establishes God as a personal and relational being, even describing Him as a Father, the God of Islam is more akin to a task master. Muslims are quick to point out that God is not a father and does not have any sons.
 
Concerning Jesus
 
Muslims have a very high regard for Jesus, whom they know as Isa. Though not on par with Muhammad, they believe Isa was a great prophet. However, they do not believe he is God, as do Christians, nor do they believe he died on the cross. Muslims do not discount the crucifixion occurred but what happened there. As such, they find they must come up with alternatives to Jesus dying on the cross.
 
One popular explanation offered is the "substitution theory", in which they maintain someone other than Jesus was crucified (a widely held view is that in the confusion of the arrest, Judas was mistakenly taken and crucified). Probably even more popular is the so-called "swoon theory" in which Jesus only appeared to have died on the cross but recovered when placed in the tomb and removed the stone, overcame the guards and escaped (usually, the story goes that he ended up in Egypt).
 
Concerning Sin and Future Judgment
 
Islam does not really have a concept of sin, as understood in Judaism and Christianity. For the Muslim, the real issue is how one chooses to live their life. If one follows his own way his life will have no meaning and in the end he will have Allah's disapproval in the judgment. However, if one follows the way set by Allah, then he may, perhaps, have Allah's approval at the end of his days.
 
As in Judaism and Christianity, Islam teaches that the final destination of a person is either heaven or hell; the former being described as a place of unimaginable delight and the latter a place of unimaginable suffering. The determining factor as to which of these a Muslim will find himself at the end of his life, depends upon the degree to which he was submitted to Allah.
 
However, even if ones good deeds outweigh the bad, Allah may yet reject him. Thus, according to Islam, no matter how numerous ones good works, there is no assurance of being permitted into heaven - with the notable exception of those who die in the name of and for the cause of Islam. (This promise is one of the appeals for those who give their lives in acts of terrorism which they have been convinced are committed for the cause of Islam.)
 
This stands in stark contrast to the Christian message that a person's ultimate destination is not determined by how good, or bad, they are; but, whether or not they have accepted Christ's saving work on their behalf. The gospel of Jesus teaches that all have sinned - there is none that are "good" enough to earn their way into heaven, or to tip the scales in their favor through their good works. So, our hope is not placed upon what we can do but, upon what Christ has done on our behalf. He shed his blood on the cross as an atonement for our sins that we might be forgiven and enter into a restored relationship with the Father.
 
Now that is good news, and news worth sharing. Christians must not let their fears of terrorism, or the prejudices they hold toward Muslims, that have come about from a lack of understanding, keep them from sharing this good news with their Muslim friends and neighbors. The Christian message is one of hope; hope for the present, and hope in the future. It is a sure and certain hope.
 
So, go ahead - engage in dawah. Extend the "invitation" to enter into a relationship with the God who loves them through the person and work of His son, Isa.
 
[For general tips and ideas on sharing with Muslims, including answering their objections to the Bible and their view of the crucifixion, email us at info@crosswindsfoundation.org. Put "Tips for Sharing with Muslims" in the subject line. Please include your first and last name in the message.]
 
Crosswinds World Update
Afghanistan 
Don in AfghanistanIn a couple of months, Crosswinds associate staff member, Don Malin will have completed his tour of duty in Afghanistan, where he has served as a military chaplain. While there, Don has not only represented his country well, but has also been a shining light for Christ. In past issues, we have share with our readers about two ministries he has established while there.
 
The first was Table of Grace which provided our men and women who serve in that area with needed supplies. Like God's grace, they are provided at no cost to the soldiers. Another ministry Don took on was providing much needed school supplies to Muslim children. Of this Don wrote:
 
"We started asking for school supplies many months ago. The boxes continue to come in. We will give them to an orphanage and school in the local area in the next month. If you are interested please feel free to send boxes of supplies. We will get them out to the needed places. The Taliban has been known to intimidate schools and close them down. We need to encourage resisting them and helping in this way."
 
Malin at Muslim SchoolAfter Don's departure, I am confident that these ministries will continue. I also know that Don has ideas for ways he can still be of help. He has already shared one of them. Please consider his plans for a new ministry that Crosswinds will be actively helping with:
 
"I plan on starting another Phase of this ministry. What do we do to help veterans who are back home and have problems? MTBI (Mild Traumatic Brain Injury) and PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder) are more common than we think. Active duty soldiers have all the resources on base. National Guard and Reservists go back home into civilian life with help but they usually forget because they are home...and of course home fixes everything...NOT.
 
That is where real problems can occur. I want to focus in Mississippi since that is where I live, but much of the information I will put out can be found in other states. So I would like to consider starting a Veterans ministry back home. Bible Studies, fellowships would be a key...so anyone in Mississippi who would like to do this please get on board via Face Book. Be in prayer about it. I will add more information about resources later on."
 
When Don gets home he will have completed his second tour of duty in the Middle East. I know from talking with him after his first trip that he has seen the problems he writes about here and has previously helped returning soldiers deal with some of these issues.
 
I am grateful to so many of you who have helped with Table of Grace and providing school supplies. Now I am asking you to consider helping out in this new phase of ministry Don will begin stateside. As he develops more details, we'll be giving you more specific information as to how you can help.
 
Don has a Facebook page specific to this cause. Click here to visit
 
Culture Tracks

"Cultural Trends Related to Religion in America"

footprints

 Statistical data reflecting some of the findings regarding the cultural footprints of Americans
 
Statistical Data Regarding Muslims in America
 
 The following information is from "Muslim Americans: A National Portrait" published by Gallup in 2009.
  • Thirty-five percent of Muslims in the United States identify themselves as African Americans, which represents the largest racial group within the community.
  • Eight in 10 Muslim Americans say religion is an important part of their daily lives; only Mormon Americans (85%) are more likely than Muslims to say this.
  • Forty-one percent of Muslim Americans are classified as "thriving," which is a lower percentage than what is found among other religious groups.
  • Nearly one-half of Muslim Americans (49%) identify themselves as Democrats, 37% say they are independents, and 8% say they are Republicans.
  • 73% of the Muslim population are under age 45 (36% are in the 18-29; 37% are 30-44)
  • 66% of Muslims in America say they feel safe where they live (that figure is70% for the general population)
  • 51% of Muslim Americans are married
  • 51% of young Muslim Americans say they are registered to vote (one of the lowest percentages among all youth groups surveyed)
  • Muslim American women are roughly equal to Muslim men in frequent mosque attendance, in sharp contrast to women in many majority Muslim countries who are generally less likely than men to report attending a religious service in the last week.
  • Muslim women and Mormon women are the only female groups in which fewer women than men report being treated with respect.

View the full report

The following Information is from the Pew Report, "Views of Religious Similarities and Differences" released in 2009.

  • 58% of Americans believe Muslims face great discrimination
  • 45% of Americans say they know a Muslim personally.
  • 38% say Islam encourages violence (down from 45% in 2007, but up from a low of 25% in 2002)
  • 53% can correctly identify Allah as the Muslim name for God
  • 52% can correctly identify the Koran as the Islamic equivalent to the Bible
  • 27% of the population is basically unfamiliar with the religion of Islam
  • The greater one's familiarity with Islam the less likely they are to view it as violent
 
Culture In The News
Excerpts From NewspapersMedia News Stories Reflecting Trends In American Spirituality
 
Obama Calls for "New Beginning' in U.S.-Muslim Relations
LA Times, June 05, 2009
Reporting from Cairo and Washington - President Obama, calling for "a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world," said in a long-promised and widely watched address from Cairo today that the "cycle of suspicion and discord must end."..."We meet at a time of tension between the United States and Muslims around the world -- tension rooted in historical forces that go beyond any current policy debate," Obama said in the address that was ripe with religious references, drawing from Islam, Judaism and Christianity, which all trace their roots in the Mideast.
 
"I have come here to seek a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world, one based upon mutual interest and mutual respect," he said. "America and Islam are not exclusive, and need not be in competition." "This cycle of suspicion and discord must end," he said.
 
That fear and mistrust stem from the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, carried out by "violent extremists," Obama said. "Whatever we think of the past, we must not be prisoners to it," the president told a theater audience that frequently applauded his repeated appeals for mutual understanding..."I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear," said the president, who recalled hearing prayer calls of "azaan" at dawn and dusk while living in Indonesia as a boy.
 
At the same time, he said the same principle must apply in reverse. "Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire."...But Obama also appealed explicitly to the self interest of his listeners, arguing that the mutual benefits of collaboration on a range of issues including Middle East peace, human rights, democratic reforms and the containment of nuclear arms.
 
The diverse crowd received Obama warmly, responding with its first outburst of boisterous applause when the president offered the Arabic greeting of peace...The audience was made up largely of university students, in keeping with Obama's impulse to play to young, educated people -- and with his belief that if he can win many of them over he has a unique opportunity to turn the page with his larger Muslim audience.
 
Obama's words about supporting the education and choices of women drew especially loud applause from women in the audience, some of them wearing western dress, some in light head scarves and some with their hair completely covered.
 
To this crowd, Obama offered an alternative to radicalized Islam, calling for a collective search for common ground while displaying respect as no American politician has done before such a broad audience..."The fact that he talks about tolerance, and cited verses from the Koran and the Bible, makes me feel he is aware how people think," said Michael Fayek, 27, a recent graduate of Cairo's Ain Shams University, after watching the speech. "I admired very much the suggestion that Jews, Christians and Muslims should live together in peace."
 
"Change cannot happen overnight," Obama said. "No single speech can eradicate years of mistrust, nor can I answer in the time that I have all the complex questions that brought us to this point." The president drew applause when he said: "As the Holy Koran tells us, 'Be conscious of God and speak always the truth.' "
 

Muslim Americans Encouraged
Reuters, July 12, 2009
Eight years after Middle East militants carried out the September 11 attacks, Muslim Americans are raising their profile, encouraged by the election of Barack Obama, a U.S. president proud of his Kenyan father's Muslim heritage.
 
The president, who is a Christian, used his middle name, Hussein, at his inauguration. He called for new dialogue with Islamic nations and named a special envoy for the Middle East on his second full day in office.
 
Like other immigrant groups in a country of immigrants, Muslims were drawn to the United States seeking opportunity and relief from poverty in their home countries. Arabs went to industrial centers, south Asian Muslims to the West Coast. Some arrived to study in universities; some arrived as slaves. A 2007 Pew Research Center study says 21 percent of Muslim Americans arrived from abroad during the 1990s.
 
The September 11 attacks put a magnifying glass on what until then had been a largely invisible Muslim American community, prompting many to organize. The Patriot Act limited civil liberties. Many felt they were being profiled. The Council of American-Islamic Relations, a Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group, said more than 60,000 people were subject to new government actions such as interrogations, detentions, raids and the closure of charities.
 
...The greater scrutiny prompted Muslims to engage more with one another and politically, said U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the first Muslim member of Congress. "The Muslim community has learned the lesson that if you want things to change for you in America, you have to be involved in the process," he said. "Political engagement of the Muslim community is higher than I have ever seen it."
 
In the last two years, two Muslims have been elected to Congress, five have won seats in state legislatures and many more have been elected on more local levels, Ellison said. The Islamic Society of North America Convention took place in Washington over the July 4 weekend and had a large number of sessions with a political focus. Some 35,000 people attended.
 
...Opinion polls and anecdotal evidence suggest economic opportunities and a commitment to democratic inclusion may encourage greater civic engagement among Muslims in the United States than those in other countries...It is this inclusion and participation in society that Muslim Americans say they are starting to embrace as a means of improving their lot.
 
"Until Muslims demand their seat at the political table, they are going to continue to be defined by extremists abroad and political 'nut jobs' at home," [said Zeba Khan the daughter of South Asian Muslim immigrants].
 
View Full Article

Muslims Press for School Holidays
Wall Street Journal, Sept 15, 2009
Muslims groups here are pressing city officials to close public schools on two of the faith's holiest days, just as schools do for major Jewish and Christian holidays. But the groups have yet to persuade the man in charge of New York City schools, Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
 
Muslim groups have asked the city to cancel classes on Eid Ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and Eid Ul-Adha, which marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.
 
New York is one of many public-school systems now struggling with appropriate ways to recognize religious holidays for a diverse population. An estimated 100,000 Muslim children are enrolled in New York City schools, about 10% of the enrollment.
 
..."This city is supposedly the most diverse city in the world. The city's laws and rules have to reflect that," said Councilman Robert Jackson, a Muslim from the borough of Manhattan. "I am hoping that pressure from the Muslim community will help Mayor Bloomberg decide, in the best interest of himself politically, to incorporate these two holidays."
 
The mayor often says children need to be in school more, not less, and that establishing more holidays would encourage every religious group to demand that their holy days be recognized. Children are required to attend school for at least 180 days a year in New York.
 
Other states have found a workable approach. Dearborn, Mich., where nearly half of the 18,000 students are Muslim, is believed to be the first city to close school on Muslim holy days, a spokesman said. Several cities in New Jersey now close school on the holy days.
 
After Muslims asked for school closings in Hillsborough County, Fla., the school board in 2007 approved a secular calendar that doesn't commemorate any religious holidays for the 189,000 students. Schools remain open on Good Friday, a Christian holiday, even though many students are absent, said Linda Cobbe, a spokeswoman. "There are so many religions we don't want to single out one or two," she said.
 
Not every Muslim believes that creating official school holidays would serve Muslims well. "The second the schools get into the business of officially recognizing holidays, it gets into establishing religion," a potential constitutional problem, said Hussein Rashid, an Islamic scholar at Hofstra University. How would the city establish criteria for granting Muslims days off, but not Hindus or other groups, he asked.
 
View Full Article

Saudi Arabia Inaugurates First Coed University
Washington Post, Sept 23, 2009
RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) - Saudi Arabia inaugurated on Wednesday its first-ever fully integrated coed university, and its ruler declared the institution will be a "beacon of tolerance" in a world attacked by extremists.

The multibillion dollar King Abdullah Science and Technology University, or KAUST, boasts state-of-the-art labs, the world's 14th fastest supercomputer and one of the biggest endowments worldwide. It breaks many of the conservative country's social taboos by allowing, for the first time, men and women to take classes together.

Saudi officials have envisaged the postgraduate institution as a key part of the kingdom's plans to transform itself into a global scientific hub - its latest efforts to diversify its oil-reliant economy.

Saudi royals and dignitaries attended the inauguration ceremony outside the coastal city of Jeddah, where the university is located.

"Humanity has been the target of vicious attacks from extremists, who speak the language of hatred," King Abdullah said at the inauguration. "Undoubtedly, scientific centers that embrace all peoples are the first line of defense against extremists. And today this university will become a house of wisdom ... a beacon of tolerance."

So far 817 students representing 61 different countries are currently enrolled, with 314 beginning classes this month while the rest are scheduled to start in the beginning of 2010...Of that total, 15 percent are Saudi, say university officials. The university's financial backing will allow all the students to receive full scholarships covering their tuition plus a stipend.

Officials say KAUST's embrace of scientific freedom marks Saudi Arabia's determination to not be left behind as technology increasingly drives global development. The hope is that KAUST will succeed in promoting scientific freedom in a country where strict implementation of Islamic teachings has often been blamed for stifling innovation.

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Muslim Youth Wrestle With Post-9-11 Suspicion
Louisville Courier-Journal, Sept 6, 2009
Kareem El-Refai says he'd never heard of Osama bin Laden before the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when the World Trade Center towers in New York collapsed in a burning heap of rubble.
 
He and his brother, Mostafa, sons of Egyptian immigrants who came to America and built an engineering company from scratch, were teenagers growing up among non-Muslim friends in prosperous eastern Jefferson County. They pronounce "Louisville" like the native-born citizens they are and attended good schools as they pursued degrees in medicine.

But after 9/11, Kareem's 10th-grade friends at duPont Manual High School began calling for wiping out Middle Eastern countries. Mostafa was stopped by airport screeners five times in one day. Their mother feared Muslims would be exiled from the United States. The brothers say things have calmed since then, but they still face challenges unlike those that previous generations of Muslims encountered.

Eight years after the terrorist attacks on New York and Washington, Muslims coming of age in the era following 9/11 era are struggling to find their place in a nation they say still views them with suspicion and fear.

Young Muslims such as Mostafa still find America a place of religious freedom and economic opportunity, according to interviews with more than two dozen Louisville-area Muslims in their teens and 20s. They ranged from those attending elite schools in pursuit of medical and other careers to refugees from war zones working on assembly lines.

Even without the specter of 9/11, Muslim youth have had to negotiate their roles as religious minorities, where work and school schedules often conflict with prayer times and holy days. Many are from immigrant families and are having to decide whether to accept Old World traditions in which American-style dating is forbidden and marriages are often arranged.

All of those interviewed said Americans' knowledge of, and attitudes toward, Islam have improved in the past eight years. Some tell stories of non-Muslim neighbors bringing them flowers, fruit baskets and words of encouragement.

Dania Shaban recalled that shortly after 9/11, she was waiting at a stoplight with her mother - who was wearing her traditional Islamic head scarf - when another driver rolled down his window "and started cussing us out."

Shaban, 19, a University of Louisville sophomore who came to America from her native Jordan at age 7, said the family was quickly reassured by another woman who approached the car and apologized "for people who still act this way."
 
National polls show that most young Muslims seek to integrate into American society, embrace the American work ethic and are far less alienated from their societies than Muslims in Western Europe, where tensions are high over Muslim immigration and extremism.

At the same time, significant numbers of young American Muslims report higher levels of stress and tensions with society than the general public, raising concerns that their disaffection could breed unrest. Reports of sporadic cases of extremist recruitment have fueled fears of home-grown terrorism.

...Muslim elders say the task of integrating younger Muslims into American society is urgent to prevent them from becoming susceptible to extremism. Americans "either take them on our side or isolate them," said Bashar Masri, 51, president of the Louisville Islamic Center on River Road.

...Khalid Kahloon, an attorney and Pakistani-born Muslim, has worked to build communication between law enforcement and Islamic communities. He said Muslims are likely to report any extremist elements.

Muslims "know that if there was another act like 9/11, it will take decades to regain their footing in this country where they have worked so hard to become productive and respected members of the community," he said. "Having gone through 9/11 once, they know very well the risks of overlooking or ignoring jihadist-type elements in their ranks."

The experiences of young Muslims are especially important because Islam is one of America's most youthful religions. Twenty-nine percent of the United States' estimated 1.4million Muslim adults are younger than 30, a higher proportion than any faith category except those with no religion, according to the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

Muslim adults are more likely than any major religious group except Mormons and Hindus to have children at home.
 
...Kiarash Jahed, 27, a University of Louisville medical student, sees young people leading a transition in Islamic communities - from a mindset of being "Muslims in America" - with their minds still in the Old World - to "Muslims of America."

"Muslims have gone from a period of just trying to survive in society to establishing themselves in society, but eventually they have to transition into being relevant to society," he said...Young Muslims are "salivating to hear ... how this religion is relevant to their current life here in America," said the Iranian-born, American-raised Jahed.

Young Muslims acknowledged that their deep disagreements over American foreign policy - such as the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and U.S. support for Israel in its conflict with Palestinians - will involve some difficult public debates.

But compared with ancestral homelands where dissent is repressed, "that's a sign of a healthy society," said Mamdouh Khayat, 23, a University of Louisville medical student...And Mostafa El-Refai said that, while he finds himself defending Islam to his American friends, he also finds himself defending Americans when he visits his parents' homeland, telling what it's like to have American classmates and soccer teammates.

"When I'm in Egypt and people tell me America's doing this and America's doing that, I get emotional and I feel like, 'You don't understand. You haven't lived in America.' "

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