My Trip To The Mosque

December 13, 2009

This past week I made my first trip to a Mosque. I have been studying the Islamic religion all year, and I don’t really know what I was expecting when I walked into the building, but it was different then anything I had ever done before. All semester we have talked about how men and women are separated in the Mosque, and I knew we would be separated inside, yet when I walked in it still felt very different for me to have to go one direction because I’m a woman, while the men went another way. When I finally got to the women’s area, it wasn’t really what I expected. It was a decent sized room with nice carpet and a speaker box. All of the speaking that was going on downstairs in the men’s area was played through this speaker box, and I caught myself several times starring at the speaker box like it was a tv. The service wasn’t very long, but the man that was speaking was very interesting. He had a way of speaking that made you want to listen, at least that’s what he did for me.

Overall, I really enjoyed going to the Mosque. It was nice to get to see something in real life as opposed to just sitting in a classroom and talking about it all the time. Everyone that we came in contact with at the Mosque was very nice to us and they offered to answer any questions that we had. I think that if people took the time to learn about a religion and its people, there would be a lot less hate in this world. While I definitely don’t know everything there is to know about Islam, I feel that I am at least now capable of understanding what the religion is about and what the people who practice it stand for.

November 20, 2009

 

                                                                                                                                  

Yale freshman Yasmine Hafiz wrote “The American Muslim

Teenager’s Handbook” with her mother and younger brother.

 

 

While researching what it is like for the Muslim youth living in America I came across the interview of Yasmine Hafiz, a young women studying at Yale University who has written a handbook for Muslim children growing up in America (I believe the same book is referenced in one of my earlier blog posts). The interview was conducted online and various individuals logged on to ask Yasmine questions.

 

At one point the moderator posts the link to a video on the America.gov website. The video is supposed to show what Muslim Americans would like to say to the world. The video is supposed to send out the message that Muslim Americans are just like us, that they deal with the same problems as most of us do and that deep down, we are all very similar. While the video did have some moments where I questioned to myself why they would publish certain clips, overall I think that the video had a positive message.

The video can be found at http://www.america.gov/multimedia/video.html?videoId=1667940807.

 

The moderator also gives the link to a video which is about Muslim American college students and Ramadan. I found this video to be very interesting and also inspiring to see how college campuses around the United States accommodate their students for Ramadan. http://stream.state.gov/streamvol/libmedia/usinfo-video/470/usinfo-video/gtown.wmv

 

The interview focuses mostly around the book that Hafiz has written. However, there is some discussion as to how things have changed in a post 9/11 America. One of the things that Hafiz points out is that she feels that things are getting better. Right after the attacks, as we know, there were many stereotypes about the Islamic religion. Now that some time has passed it seems that Americans are starting to understand the religion more and that people are starting to disassociate terrorists and Islam. I have posted the interview below.

I think what is most important to take away from this interview is that not only is the perception of the Islamic religion in America changing, but also that the change in views is partly due to the Muslim American youth.  Most if not all of us remember what America was like in the days after 9/11 and what the Muslim youth is doing is very inspiring.

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19 February 2009 Muslim Student Yasmine Hafiz Discusses Life in America CO.NX webchat transcript,

February 19 Yasmine Hafiz, a student at Yale University, answered questions in a CO.NX webchat February 19.

 She discussed the culture of America’s Muslim youth.

 Following is the transcript: (begin transcript)

U.S. DEPARTMENT OF STATE Bureau of International Information Programs Webchat Transcript

 Guest: Yasmine Hafiz

Date: February 19, 2009

Time: 9:00 a.m. EST (1400 GMT)

 Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: Welcome to our webchat! On February 19 at 14:00 GMT, Yasmine Hafiz will talk about what it is like to be a Muslim teenager in America. We are taking your questions now.

Webchat Moderator [Mark]: Welcome to today’s webchat! The webchat will start at 1400GMT.

Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: Hi everyone! Thanks for joining us today. We will begin in just a few minutes.

Yasmine Hafiz: Life in post 9/11 America has been challenging for America Muslims: the ‘random’ searches at the airport, the impression that hijab = oppression, that Muslims are “the other.” We heard so many misconceptions about Islam in the media, yet no coherent Muslim voices ever got airtime. Where are the Moderate Muslims? Well, we’re fairly moderate – maybe we should speak up. So in 2002 we sent out a survey to 44 Islamic full-time and Sunday Schools across the country. The 150 responses which we received displayed such a variety of opinions and stories that we felt motivated to continue with our project – of not only writing an educational and entertaining handbook for the average American Muslim teenager, but also an enlightening guide to the basics of Islam for non-Muslims who are curious about Islam or want to pursue an interfaith dialogue.

Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: Thanks for joining us today, Yasmine. Please continue to submit your questions.

 Question [2day]: Where is your book available?

 Answer [Yasmine Hafiz]: It’s available on Amazon.com and in major bookstores as of Feb. 10th. If a bookstore doesn’t have it, you can ask them to order it from our publisher, Simon & Schuster.

Q [2day]: Is your book English only?

A [Yasmine Hafiz]: At the moment it’s only in English, but we are working on translations into Dutch, French, and Chinese, with more to follow!

Q [Lauren]: How is it living in America? Do you have a lot of friends?

A [Yasmine Hafiz]: Hi Lauren! It’s great living in America, and I do have a lot of friends from a variety of different backgrounds. That’s one of the greatest things about living in the United States. I am currently attending Yale University where I am friends with people from around the world.

 Q [Ahmad]: Assalamu alykum. How are you? I’m from Uzbekistan. My name is Ahmad. I’m going to visit the US this year as a student. Can I ask any question about Islam?

A [Yasmine Hafiz]: Hi Ahmad. Yes, you can ask any question about Islam. I hope you enjoy your time in the US as a student. I would recommend that you read my book soon after you arrive here, because I think it is a great snapshot of the way American Muslim teenagers think and behave.

Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: Welcome to everyone just arriving! We are chatting with Yasmine Hafiz about what it is like being a Muslim teenager in America.

Q [Ahmed Aly]: Can I ask you this usual question? What is it like to growing up Muslim in America? I am really interested to know!

A [Yasmine Hafiz]: Growing up Muslim in America is in some ways very similar to growing up as a practitioner of any religion, but in some ways it is very different, especially after the horrible attacks of 9/11. Before 9/11, my brother and I would practice Islam just as young children would practice any religion. We were always proud to be Muslims, and we never felt any prejudice or fear towards us, although most non-Muslim Americans didn’t know very much about Islam. After 9/11, the American people were bombarded with an incredibly negative perception of Islam that really had nothing to do with my religion. People had awful stereotypes that all Muslims were terrorists that hated the United States, not realizing that American Muslims were just as sad and horrified on 9/11. The first few years afterwards were definitely a challenge, as suddenly being a Muslim had become confused with political implications that weren’t really applicable at all. That’s one of the reasons we wrote this book, to make teenage Muslims more comfortable with their faith and for non-Muslims to get rid of some of the stereotypes they held about Muslims. These days we find that many Americans know much more about Islam, though there is definitely still some prejudice. During the Presidential Election, people who didn’t want President Barack Obama to be elected claimed that he was a Muslim as a sort of slur. While he is not, in fact, a Muslim, I found it awful and offensive that being a Muslim was seen as such a bad thing.

Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: Here is a link to a music video on some American Muslim college students’ views on what it is like being Muslim in America: http://www.america.gov/multimedia/video.html?videoId=1667940807

A [Yasmine Hafiz]: Growing up as a Muslim in America has challenges beyond the negative stereotypes that arose after 9/11. Being a teenager is difficult for people of any religion! As a teenager one is confronted with a range of issues. We cover some of the most frequently asked questions in our chapter, “The Four Ds- Drinking, Dancing, Dating, and Drugs.” We encourage teenagers to make good friends that will help them resist these challenges and to talk with their parents about their lifestyle choices. Our book is meant to provoke discussion and act as a guide. We hope it will make you ask questions and that it will make you think.

Q [Ahmed Aly]: You are in Yale 2012 class, which means that you are 18 yrs old, right? I am also a Stanford summer student, but I could not travel to America, because I was not granted the visa! Since I could not attend my Stanford classes, I would love to know your experience in Yale as a Muslim student?

A [Yasmine Hafiz]: I am having a wonderful experience at Yale as a Muslim student. There are many Muslim students here at Yale, and there is an active chapter of the Muslim Students’ Association [MSA]. There is a chapel very close by to my hall which is open at all hours for prayers, and the University Chaplain’s Office sponsors study breaks with snacks and is available to help with any issues concerning religion. There was a beautiful Ramadan Banquet in Commons, our largest dining hall, with lovely decorations and halal meat. One of the best aspects of Yale is having conversations with the other students. My friends are all really interested in my book and we love to talk about religion and other issues. They ask interesting and intelligent questions and we learn so much from each other. I would highly recommend Yale to anyone!

Yasmine Hafiz: Yes, I am 18 years old.

Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: Here is a link to a video on how some American college students celebrate Ramadan: http://stream.state.gov/streamvol/libmedia/usinfo-video/470/usinfo-video/gtown.wmv

Q [Ahmed Aly]: Yasmine! Do you know what does your name mean in Arabic? It means a nice flower.. Yasmine is kind of a beautiful flower!

 A [Yasmine Hafiz]: Yes, my parents named me Yasmine, the Arabic word for jasmine flower.

Q [Dr Yasir]: How can an American Muslim teenager help Pakistan?

A [Yasmine Hafiz]: I think the best way for American Muslim teenagers to help Pakistan is by living in a way that shows the beauty of the religion of Islam. Many non-Muslim Americans perceive Pakistan as being a violent country full of fanatics and fundamentalists, because the majority of Pakistanis are Muslims. If we show them that most Muslims are moderate, reasonable, good people, hopefully they will understand that Islam is not to blame for all of Pakistan’s problems. Being a good person is the best way to improve the image of Islam in the world. I also believe that it would greatly help Pakistan if the education system there was improved. Education is the way to overcome old barriers by being exposed to a variety of new ideas and people. I believe that everyone has the right to literacy and a basic education. Many people ask us why we wrote this book. I’ll now elaborate on the reasons for the book, and also talk a little about the writing process. After 9/11, my family and I felt very aware of the prejudice against Islam held by many members of the public and perpetuated by the media. One day we were in a bookstore and I was looking in the teen non-fiction section, which included books specifically for teenagers of many major religions. However, I was surprised to see that there were no books about teenage Muslims, though there were books for teenage Christians, Jews, and even teenage Wiccans! I mentioned this to my mother, and this lack of a resource for Muslim teenagers really bothered us because everyone in my family loves to read. We thought about it for a while until we realized that, as a family including teenage Muslims, we were uniquely qualified to write this book! My mother has been a Sunday school Islamic teacher for years, and my brother and I are experts on the teenage Muslim experience since we live it on a daily basis. Once we had decided to write this book, the project really began in earnest. Although we could speak for ourselves, we wanted to get the opinions of more teenage Muslims. We started out by sending a survey to Muslims across America, asking them for their opinions on a variety of subjects including peer pressure, their role models, and the challenges they faced as American Muslims. Many of these responses are quoted in our book, and I feel the diversity of the answers shows that there is no standard American Muslim. American Muslims, like Americans, come from all over America and from all over the world. They speak many different languages and come from various cultures, though most now call themselves American. Though they might not all pray or fast to the same degree, all of them call themselves Muslims. Next we talked about the topics that we wanted to cover in the book. We made a rough Table of Contents, and then worked on it from there. We knew that we wanted the book to be fun and appealing, so we included quizzes, lists, and pictures. You don’t have to read the book from cover to cover if you don’t want to, it can be useful just to flip through it and find answers to specific questions. My brother Imran and I mainly concentrated on the teen-specific parts of the book while my mother Dilara tackled most of the Quranic research, checking with scholars that our facts were correct before publication. Next we edited and re-edited each others’ work. Then we worked closely with our publisher on the final look of the book. We are so thrilled that it will now be widely available as a resource for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: Here is a link to an interview with Yasmine’s mother, Dilara, about the book: http://globalcomment.com/2007/the-american-muslim-teenagers-handbook/

 Q [Ahmed Aly]: Salam Alikum Yasmin. I am Ahmed, 22 yrs old, from Cairo, Egypt. I want to tell you that I am proud of you, because of your book. And I have a question for you! Here in Egypt, we – the Muslim youth – are worried and afraid a little bit of visiting the United States, because we hear in the news about the security things, and as we see in our media, we feel that Muslims – specially youth – are suspected in America, and there are doubts in the Muslim youth that they are radical or terrorists – although we are not of course. My question exactly is: Does America and Americans really have doubts about the Muslim youth? And do you encourage the Muslim youth to visit America, and not be afraid of the security things we hear of? Thanks!

A [Yasmine Hafiz]: Definitely after 9/11 it was a little scary to travel internationally as a Muslim. I heard many horror stories about friends and relatives being detained and aggressively questioned. I’m happy to say that I don’t think that is the case now at all. Many people now know much more about Islam and realize that not all Muslims are terrorists. Nonetheless, security is important in America and one must be careful while traveling not to joke about sensitive issues. I would absolutely encourage Muslim youth of other countries to visit America as it’s a wonderful country! Most Americans are kind, warm people just like those you’d meet in any other country.

 Q [Ahmed Aly]: Yasmine! I always say that youth can fix what the politicians do!! Don’t you think that it’s easy for the Muslim youth to communicate with other American youth, and make a “peaceful” dialogue that would build a “real” – not fabricated – mutual understanding relationship between different cultures? Don’t you think that youth regardless of their background can make this world better, just regardless of any complicated conflicts between politicians, countries, and cultures?

A [Yasmine Hafiz]: I absolutely believe that. Engaging in a peaceful dialogue is something that we attempt to do with our book. In America it is fairly easy for people of different religions to talk rationally about their ideas without coming to blows. My family and I are every involved with interfaith activities and we seek to reach out to people of all faiths. Most religions have a lot in common. I feel the fundamental code of Islam is to do good deeds and to believe in God, two ideas that many religions also believe in. As the youth, it is our responsibility to address the problems in our world as we are the future leaders.

Comment [Ahmed Aly]: As a fact of matter, there are some restrictions against the Muslim youth – non-Americans of course – who want to visit America to study in it. But I have so much of hope that Obama changes this soon.

 A [Yasmine Hafiz]: I also hope that it will become easier to study in America. Not only would it benefit international students, but it is so useful for Americans to meet people from different countries. Though our book attempts to break down stereotypes, the most effective way to do so is by actually meeting and knowing the people that you have stereotypes about. I have friends from all over the world here at Yale, and that is one of the best parts of my college experience. Just in my hall, there are people from London, Paris, Ethiopia, China, Korea, Pakistan, Singapore, New Zealand, and various other countries. Meeting with youth from other cultures is so useful and interesting.

Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: Thanks to all of you for joining us today. However, we are now reaching the end of the program. I hope you will visit our page at http://co-nx.state.gov to learn about future programs.

Yasmine Hafiz: Thank you so much to everyone who participated today. I really enjoyed speaking about being a Muslim in America today, and I hope it’s been informative. Being a Muslim and being an American at the same time is an important part of my life. My religion is Islam but my culture is American. My book is available on Amazon.com and in many bookstores nation-wide, and for more information visit www.theamth.com.

Emails can be sent to authors@theamth.com. Thanks for your time. I was honored to be a part of this webchat.

 Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: Thank you very much, Yasmine!

 Webchat Moderator [Sarah]: The Webchat is now closed. We wish to thank Yasmine Hafiz for joining us today. A transcript of today’s webchat will be posted to http://co-nx.state.gov and to http://www.america.gov/multimedia/askamerica.html within one business day. Speakers are chosen for their expertise and may not reflect the views of the U.S. Department of State.

(end transcript)

 Read more: http://www.america.gov/st/washfile-english/2009/February/20090219165643xjsnommis0.1621973.html#ixzz0XQtRHOHO

James Zogby Article

November 13, 2009

I recently came across this article by James Zogby, founder and President of the Arab American Institute, and found one of the stories he told very interesting. Zogby had been invited to address this years Itfar dinner at the Pentagon, and he discusses the changes that are occurring among American Muslims and in the US’ relationship with Islam. He told one story, which I have quoted below that I found particularly interesting,

“On another occasion, I was called to Michigan to deal with a crisis that had erupted in the schools during Ramadan. Muslim children who wanted to fast had asked to have a study period during lunchtime. Instead, they were made to sit in a corner of the cafeteria. Other children began to taunt them, some threw food at them. Fights broke out and some of the Muslim children had been suspended.

When I met with the Arab American children and their parents, one 14 year old girl told me that she had spoken with the principal and suggested a solution. The problem, she said, was that the non-Muslim children “don’t understand our culture. Maybe we can help them learn about us.” To which the principal responded “our job is to teach you our culture, not to learn your culture”.

That 14 year old Yemeni American girl was right and her principal was dead wrong.

When America is at its best, it is growing, learning, changing and becoming more diverse and better.”

Later in the article Zogby says that the young 14-year old girl he is talking about in this article is now a grown women and is actually teaching US military personnel about Arabs and Islam.

Unfortunately this article does not say what year this incident in Michigan occurred, but I have a problem with Zogby’s idea that this type of incident is one of the past. I have done some research on issues that Muslim-American students face in schools, and stories such as this seem to have a recurring theme. I think that Muslim students still face discriminations against non-Muslim students in America, regardless of how educated or uneducated the students are. This article was published September 4, 2009 so it does  take into effect Americans views of the Muslim community in a post 9/11 world, however I just got the feeling after reading this article that Zogby had made things better off then they seemed. Granted he is right in how the Itfar dinner at the Pentagon is something that has not always been done, and there are some advancements toward the acceptance of Muslim-Americans in America, but I think that there is still a long way to go.

 

 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/james-zogby/ramadan-2009-america-and_b_277905.html

NA-BA466_MUSLIM_H_20090914182322

There is an ongoing debate between Muslims and Mayor Bloomberg in NYC over whether or not classes should be held on Muslim holidays, specifically Eid Ul-Fitr, which marks the end of Ramadan, and Eid Ul-Adha, which marks the end of the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. There are an estimated 100,000 Muslim school children in New York City Schools, approximately 10% of the schools population.

The argument of those opposing the observance of the Muslims holidays in the schools is that New York City is one of the most diverse cities in the world, which means that there are many religions practiced throughout the city, and if the schools agree to start observing Muslim holidays, they will have to start observing all religious holidays. New York City is not the only place in the country that is facing these issues, “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. (WSJ)”

The question that is really at hand here is where do you draw the line? How can the city include some religions but choose to exclude others? It had been argued that the original reason for schools allowing days off for religious observance was because if they held classes on those dates there would not be enough faculty and staff present at the school to hold classes. Since this however is not the case anymore, some say that there is no need to cancel classes for religious holidays.

And what about the legal aspects of this debate? “Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of University of California-Irvine’s law school (and a TNR contributor), explains that school systems must strike a delicate balance: honoring the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, which allows people to practice the religions they choose, and the establishment clause, which prevents the government from favoring certain religions over others. “Either they should give no religious holidays… or they should give [them to] at least all major religions and Muslim holidays should be included,” Chemerinsky says. (tnr.com)”

This issue has taken up much debate, The New York Civic Participation Project (NYCPP) has discussed the issue, you can find more information regarding their stance, and others issues they have taken up by visiting the link below.
http://www.nycpp.org/en/campaigns.html#muslim

Muslim American Experience

September 11, 2009

What is Islam?

Islam today is the world’s and America’s fastest growing religion. According to the 2009 American religious identification survey, Muslims count for 0.6 percent of the American population. Yet, other statistics show that up to seven million Muslims live in America. Even though they live all over the United States, they are concentrated in four major areas: First, the New York/Boston/Washington area; second, California; third, the Chicago/Cleveland/Detroit Midwest area; and last, Texas cities like Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth.

The video below is a basic introduction to the religion of Islam.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZHujiWd49l4

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What is it like for Muslim children growing up in America?

For most teenagers growing up in America, High School isn’t easy and when you throw religion into the equation, it just gets even harder. I think that Noura Badawi, trained educator from Teachers college at Columbia University puts it best when she says, “Muslim teenagers are very conflicted; they have a need to assimilate, but they also have a strong desire to please their parents and their community”

So how exactly do Mulim children manage day to day school life? Constant questions in regards to their dress, or what they are eating for lunch, or why they are not eating at lunch (in observance of Ramadan) can be draining for not only young people, but for the Muslim community as a whole. The link below is a short clip of two Muslim students, brother and sister, who realized that their fellow students remarks and question didn’t come from hatred but rather from ignorance. They decided to write a book called “American Muslim Teenager’s Handbook” which tries to help teenagers answer some questions that they might have.

http://static.schooltube.com/player/panda/panda.swf?pv=113&vid=a1296f411c20495b9a08

In my research of Muslim children attending American schools one of the topics that keeps coming up is Ramadan. Ramadan occurs in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. Participants refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, and indulging in anything that is in excess or ill-natured from dawn until sunset. Sometimes this time of the year is hard for Muslim children in school since all of their classmates notice them not eating, and begin asking questions.

The video link below is a short clip on what Ramadan is and how it is celebrated.

The video link below is a short clip of a few Muslim students explaining how they deal with their classmates questions during Ramadan.

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American Muslim Experience Post 9/11

It is not hard to understand how many Muslim Americans have been affected by the events that unfolded on September 11, 2001. For most, they were looked at as terrorist and outsiders. I came across an article in which a young man was describing what happened to him after 9/11. The young man was in 8th grade at the time, and every time a picture of Bin Laden or a suspected terrorist came on television or in the news his friends would all call him and tell them they saw his Dad, or his Uncle on tv. The video link below has his story, plus the stories of two others.

While this is just the story of a few, I’m sure it can sound familiar to young Muslims all over America. As I said earlier, it is hard enough to get through high school as it is, but when something such as this happens, it only becomes more difficult.