NPR article: Blacks still drawn to Islam despite FBI raids

Jessie Washington of the Associated Press recently wrote an article addressing the challenges that Black American Muslims face despite negative stereotypes. Despite the prejudice we experience in a predominantly white Christian society, many of us are still drawn to Islam.

By now, Sekou Jackson is used to the questions: Why does he need to leave a work meeting to pray? Don’t black Muslims convert to Islam in jail? Why would you even want to be Muslim?

“It’s kind of a double whammy to be African-American and Muslim,” said Jackson, who studies the Navy at the National Academy of Science in Washington. “You’re going to be judged.”

Jackson’s struggle may have gotten harder when the FBI on Wednesday raided a Detroit-area warehouse used by a Muslim group. The FBI said the group’s leader preached hate against the government, trafficked in stolen goods and belonged to a radical group that wants to establish a Muslim state in America. The imam of the group’s mosque, a black American named Luqman Ameen Abdullah, was killed in a shootout with agents.

Although the FBI was careful to say those arrested in Detroit were not mainstream Muslims, it has accused other black Muslims of similar crimes, most recently in May, when four men were charged with plotting to blow up New York synagogues and shoot down a military plane.

For the article, he interviewed several local Black American Muslims, including myself and my husband Marc. The rest of the article explores Islam’s draw amongst Black American Muslims. You can read the rest here.

Not qualified to teach?

My husband Marc informed me that on a Salafi forum a local Philly Muslim warned people about attending any of lectures at the Islamic Literacy Series. The brother basically said that we were a bunch of latte drinking*, homosexual loving, elitist, Obama loving Muslims. In another email, someone criticized us by saying that we were not scholars of Islam, have never lived in Saudi Arabia (although I have lived in Kuwait and Egypt), there was no such thing as tasawwuf, and were going to commit shirk in these lectures.

These are some major accusations meant to discredit each one of us with a stereotype of a liberal Muslim who is lax about his/her moral stances. The effete and elitist stereotype is also used to try to emasculate any of the male speakers in the lecture series. It is a rather facile attempt to argue, “If you’re a real man, you won’t attend these lectures.” I will admit that it is not even worth engaging this type of drivel. Still, it is important to consider how these stances are detrimental to the Muslim community in America. The most important accusation is: none of us are qualified to teach because we are not “real scholars.” Not one of the lecturers claim to be amongst the ‘ulema. I have never claimed to be a faqiha, nor do I give fatwa. However, all of us have spent over a decade dedicated to studying subjects related to Islam. We all hope to share our knowledge with the broader public and inspire others to continue their intellectual quests informally and formally. Also, what qualifies this individual to say that I am not qualified to teach adults? I am a historian by training with a masters in history, I am qualified to teach college and private high schools. I have taught dozens of Muslim and non-Muslim students various subjects from English to African, Middle East, and Islamic history. I have taught elementary, high school, university, and adult education classes. The institutions and community leaders that brought me on to teach deemed me qualified. They didn’t bring me on to teach tajweed or give tafsir, I am not qualified to teach either.

Anti-intellectual Muslim have so much disdain for their degree holding brothers and sisters. I think it is a bit ironic. If we are going to have Muslim schools to develop a new generation, we need people who are qualified to teach and that requires having the training that comes with a degree. We need people who can make connections, and that often requires a different type of training. Azhar is not known for producing historians, let alone scholars who can challenge the intellectual nihilism that is predominating Western thought. This really struck home when taught my students a lesson about Othello. In one part of the mini-lecture, I began to explain several terms Europeans used for Muslims: Moor, Turk, Saracens. Many of my students did not know much about the history of Muslim and European interactions in Andalusia, the Crusades, and the Ottomans as a formidable Sea power and major threat to Europe.That meant they didn’t really know about the about the Moors, the Ayyubids, or the Ottoman Empire. I could see their eyes light up as I told them about the rich history of Muslims, the diversity of Muslim societies in North Africa and predominance of the Ottoman Empire at their height. I swear I could have seen their back straighten up with a bit of pride. Now, many Muslim adults don’t know a great deal of their own history either. Instead, they either wallow in despair about colonialism and the current occupation of Palestine, Iraq, and Afghanistan or they dream of utopias with no understanding how Muslim states played out in history.

One of my goals is to provide education opportunities so that Muslims of all ages so that they can critically engage with their own intellectual traditions. Our future will be shaky if we build it on the foundation of reactionary thought. In order to understand the direction we should be going, I think it is important to understand the sunnah and the ways of the pious predecessors. I still see the important lessons from the time of the salaf, but we should know what happened in the 1400 years between then and now.

Note: This post is not to discredit salafis, as we do have friends and associates who identify as salafis. I believe it is important for us Muslims to be respectful of our differences.

* I know a big bearded salafi who drink lattes, he has an imposing in their physical stature. I have also spied a few salafis at the Starbucks across from Penn’s campus. Also, we frequently drink tea and serve it to our guests. I’m avoiding caffeine for health reasons, but I prefer Dunkin Donuts coffee to any trendy cafe coffee.

The Islamic Literacy Series – Fall 2009

Here’s some info on a lecture series I’m participating in:

The Islamic Literacy Series is a new program at the University of Pennsylvania aimed at increasing the level of understanding among Muslims about their own faith. Each week, a 50 minute class will be held on a different topic pertaining to Islam. A faculty of 5 instructors will introduce, explore and examine the richness and diversity of the Muslim past and present. The goal is that over the course of this series, students find answers, discover new questions, challenge conventions, appreciate tradition and gain a better grasp of who they are and what their faith means.
All classes will be held in Huntsman Hall, Room TBD. The classes will be on Tuesdays and Wednesdays on the dates listed below. Each class will begin promptly at 7:30 and will last for exactly 50 minutes. Faculty will be available for those who wish to stay after to ask more questions. All students are welcome to attend. If you are not a student, but would like to attend please contact Adnan Zulfiqar to request permission (


OCTOBER 14, 2009 (WEDNESDAY): Discovering the Qur’an
Instructor: Adnan Zulfiqar
Description: This class introduces students to the various techniques used in the Qur’an to help convey meaning. Particular emphasis will be placed on how to better understand the Qur’anic language and the different schools of thought that have arisen to interpret the Qur’anic message.

OCTOBER 20, 2009 (TUESDAY): A Little Bit of Muslim Herstory
Instructor: Carolyn Baugh
Description: Since the beginning of Islam, Muslim women have made strong contributions to the story of Islam. This class explores the lives of a few of these strong and outspoken women, and asks how Muslim women today can capitalize on their stories to make their own voices heard.

OCTOBER 28, 2009 (WEDNESDAY): Spread of Islam in Africa
Instructor: Margari Hill-Manley
Description: This lecture explore Islam in Africa by providing the historical background to the development of Muslim societies and communities in Africa (Northern and sub-Saharan Africa). My aim is to complicate the dichotomy of Middle East and Africa by showing the ways in which sub-Saharan Africa has always been connected to the broader Muslim world.

NOVEMBER 4, 2009 (WEDNESDAY): The Science of Tasawwuf (Sufism)
Instructor: Marc Manley
Description: What are its goals and objectives. An intorspection on what Sufism is “trying to get at” and how it can relate to the modern Muslim. A tie-in with a short bio piece and examples from Abu Hamid al-Ghazali’s life.

NOVEMBER 10, 2009 (TUESDAY): The Relevance of Muslim Thought in Modern Times
Instructor: Marc Manley
Description: A reading/lecture inspired by William Chittick’s Science of the Cosmos, Science of the Soul. An introduction into the mechanics of Muslim thought and how/why it is important to “think like a Muslim” in the modern age.

NOVEMBER 18, 2009 (WEDNESDAY): The Spirituality of Muslim Women
Instructor: Margari Hill-Manley
Description: This lecture explores Muslim women’s spiritual practices and notions of womanhood in Islam. The lecture looks at women in the Quran, the significance of Hagar’s plight in the hajj rituals, and notions of womanhood in Sufism. The aim is of the lecture is to recover the feminine voice in Islamic traditions.

DECEMBER 2, 2009 (WEDNESDAY): Introduction to the Mad’habs (Legal Schools of Thought)
Instructor: Sadik Kassim
Description: A brief introduction regarding the historical development of today’s major schools of thought, their similarities, and differences with respect to legal theory and practice.

DECEMBER 9, 2009 (WEDNESDAY): Islamic Medical Ethics
Instructor: Sadik Kassim
Description: Introduction to basic principles underpinning Islamic Medical Ethics. There will also be a brief discussion regarding Islamic perspectives on bioethical issues such as abortion, end-of-life care, euthanasia, stem cell research, fertility treatment, and organ donation.

CAROLYN BAUGH holds an undergraduate degree from Duke University in Arabic and Arab Literature, and a Master’s Degree from the University of Pennsylvania in Arabic and Islamic Studies. She is currently completing her PhD dissertation at Penn focusing on legal methodologies with regard to consent and marriage in Islamic law. She was a 2009 Dean’s Scholar.

MARGARI HILL-MANLEY is an educator and writer with an MA in history from Stanford University where she specialized in Islam in Africa and Sufi social networks. She has lectured on a variety of topics relating to Islam, African history and Black American Muslim communities at universities across the nation and has traveled extensively in the Middle East as a student and researcher. Her blog, “Margari Aziza,” has been featured in international magazines and noted as one of the outstanding female blogs for the 2008 Brass Crescent awards.

SADIK KASSIM is a research fellow in the Gene Therapy Program at the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He is currently Scientific News Editor of the international scientific journal, Human Gene Therapy. Sadik obtained his Ph.D. in 2007 in the field of Viral Immunology. He is a founding member and former Secretary of the Islamic Message Foundation in New Orleans, Louisiana. Dr. Kassim has spoken at several Universities and Muslim, Christian, Jewish, and Hindu organizations around the country.

MARC MANLEY was born in Detroit, Michigan and embraced Islam in 1992. He subsequently learned and then taught the Arabic language for a few years. Marc has had an eclectic set of experiences including as a photographer, artist, chef and musician. He has been under the tutelage of scholars like Sherman Jackson and Shaykh Anwar Muhaimin. Marc is currently working towards a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies and has been a regular khatib since 2008. More information on him is available at

ADNAN ZULFIQAR is currently the Interfaith Fellow and Campus Minister to the Muslim Community at the University of Pennsylvania. He received his BA in Religion & Anthropology from Emory University, J.D. (Law) from the University of Pennsylvania and is currently completing his Ph.D. there in Arabic & Islamic Studies with a focus on Islamic law and the Qur’an. Adnan has also spent several years studying overseas mainly in Kenya, Syria and Pakistan.

Sapphires and the Enervation of Black American Women (Updated!)

In a recent interview a researcher asked me if the blogosphere provided a safe space where I could find my voice as a Black Muslim woman. My answer was ambivalent, although there have been supportive comments, I have often felt attacked and alienated on my own blog. I have resorted to heavily policing the comment section in order to foster healthy and thoughtful discussions on sensitive issues. Still, the internet, and the blogosphere in particular has allowed for a widening discourse on gender, race, and Islam. Some discussions are productive, while others are counterproductive if not destructive.

In the past, I have written about the battle of the sexes. And I have tried to commit myself to level of civil discussion as I critically engage with issues that reflect my anti-racist anti-sexist commitments. On of the most unnverving discourses in the blogosphere involves gendered racism especially the gendered racism that reifies stereotypes about Black women. Gendered racism is an insidious form of racism that targets only one gender of a particular racial group (i.e. all if not most Black women have attitudes, white women are easy, Black men are thugs, Asian women are submissive, or Asian men are asexual). The dominant society can generate these stereotypes or they may arise from intraracially (i.e. the colorism in the Black community). I’ve seen gendered racism perpetuated in the Muslim blogosphere with Black American men and women bashing each other. A number of non-Black Muslims have chimed in on the discussion to either challenge or reify stereotypes.

Recently, I was surprised to see a blog exchange where a prominent Black American Muslim blogger argued that most professional and educated black American women were materialistic, bossy, and “too independent.” I was saddened to read these statements and their subsequent defense because they reaffirm the pervasiveness of negative stereotypes aganst Black women as perpetuated by Black Muslim men. The blogger argued in the comment section that thousands of professional and educated Black men feel the same way. There may not be a scientific survey to assess whether this is the dominant view of Black men, especially those who are in relationships and are married to Black men. But I do find that certain themes and tropes, seem to dominate. What becomes more troubling is when this is folded into Islam, where women’s voices are marginalized if not heard at all. In many ways my blog provides a forum to show how these issues are a real problem within both the Muslim American and Black American communities. Either through women and men providing personal narrative and observations or anonymous commenters who spew their anti-Black, anti-woman, or anti-Black American woman vitriol reinforce my belief that there is a general antipathy towards Black women. I provide these as an example:

black women are what you might call a lost woman and a weak woman
her problem is she has been trained to think like racist white america but the difference is white people atach(sic) their vAlue(sic) to
themselves while black women attach
value tomaterials(sic) titles and money
she cant(sic) seperate(sic) her personal life from these women
in their current state of mind will
never on a large scale ever be a
good mate for anyone especially a
american black man the white male
has ingrained to(sic) much poison into her she is therefore a walking curse the bases(sic) of her problems is she hates herself and she has been taught to hate black men she is in
a useless struggle to be a woman
to a white man notice in all her
conversations is the pursuit of
men of other races this is what they want to do they just using
problems with black men as an excuse.


Non-Muslim professional African American men are not opting out on Black women… Just AFRICAN AMERICAN WOMEN. These brothers will marry Caribbean, Afro latina, or anything but African American sisters. The problem is the attitude they feel they get from Black women in this country. I frankly understand the point. As a Black professional I find dealing with many professional African American women to be a pain because of the 10 pound chip on their shoulders. I was talking to a group of lawyers, Black and white, they all agreed on one thing: There was nothing worse than having to deal with a Black female judge in the courtroom. The feeling was UNIVERSAL. The annoying neck rolling sass, which is more refined with the addition of university degrees basically turns EVERYONE OFF. So frankly.. I have little sympathy for these women.

Sadly, a number of Black Muslim men express negative attitudes towards Black Muslim women for being “too independent,” bossy, and in power struggles with their mates. Black Muslim women have not yet been able to overcome negative stereotypes attached to their womanhood. Lori Tribett writes, Author Patricia Morton noted that the pervasive misappropriation of negative images of African- American womanhood, among other factors, makes it clear that “[African]- American women have been assigned a hell of a history to live down.” Black women today, and Black Muslim women in particular are struggling to define their own identities and reclaim what it means to be woman and feminine. I was recently reminded of this when reading Jamillah Karim’s account of a conversation between a Etitrean, Pakistani, and Black woman. The Black American woman stated that she had a right to define define herself and feel feminine. [1] Her attempts to find an autonomous space to feel fully woman reminded me of my own struggles for self definitions. In my lecture on Muslim women’s spirituality, I explored some concepts of femininity, and in recent conversations with other black women, we have discussed the construction and undermining of Black women’s feminitiy. One blogger exploring femininity writes:

Now of course this is not to say that a Black woman or any woman of color can not be seen as sexy or attractive. Of course she can. Black women have always been sexualized. That’s never been the question. It’s our ability to be truly feminine, meaning truly valued and revered as wholesome, noble and beautiful that’s been up for intepretation. Black women are always cast as sexy, alluring and sexually available, but rarely is a Black woman put on a pedestal as a true “lady”.[2]

The author goes on to say that we should do away with concepts of feminity or at least be open to accept different modalities of womanliness and broaden our notions of beauty. But to me, this quote is powerful and it speaks a lot about the psychological trauma 400 years of slavery and anti-Black racism has weiled in the consciousness of our women. Slavery is dehumanizing, no one doubts that. What bothers me is that some of the most unthoughtful comments have blamed Black women and their so-called notorious attitudes for robbing Black men of their sense of chilvalry ( which is an ideal manliness), without taking into consideration the broader social and historical forces that have undermined Black men’s agency and sense of self and dignity. Now that the institutional racism has gave way, we turn inward as a community and look to root at the cause. Drawing on the Moynihan report conducted in the 1960s argued that assertive, intelligent, and independent Black women undermined the well being of Black men. Basically these traits emasculated Black men. Many Black men have bought into this. I argue that there are two racial tropes that dominate the discourse on Black womanhood in the Black Muslim community, the sexually promiscuous Jezebel and the emasculating Sapphire. Morton desribes the stereotypes as follows:

1) the “sex object,” also known as the “Jezebel”; 2) the “tragic mulatto”–neither White nor Black; 3) the “comical domestic servant,” also known as “Aunt Jemima”; and 4) the masculinized, domineering matriarch commonly referred to as “Mammy” or the “Sapphire” image. Among the most commonly depicted images of African-American womanhood is the image of the promiscuous “temptress” known as Jezebel. The new generation of rappers, through their X-rated lyrics and fashions, breathe new life into Jezebel, a mythical caricature and distorted representation of African-American womanhood.[2]

Marilyn Tarbrough and Crystal Bennett write:

in the stereotype of Sapphire, African American women are portrayed as evil, bitchy, stubborn and hateful. In other words, Sapphire is everything that Mammy is not. “The Sapphire image has no specific physical features other than the fact that her complexion is usually brown or dark brown.” Unlike other images that symbolize African American women, Sapphire necessitates the presence of an African American male. The African American male and female are engaged in an ongoing verbal duel. Sapphire was created to battle the corrupt African American male whose “lack of integrity, and use of cunning and trickery provides her with an opportunity to emasculate him through her use of verbal put-downs.”[3]

Abagond describes Saaphire as follows:

Sapphire, named after a character in “Amos ‘n’ Andy”, always seems to have her hands on her hips while she is running her mouth – putting down her man, making everything into a fight, never taking anything lying down. She is an overbearing, hard and undesirable woman who drives men away. Think of Tichina Arnold’s character Pam in “Martin”.[4]

Sapphire can come in various shades, although she is most likely to be clearly phenotypically Black. And now, the modern day Sapphire is an amalgamation of Jezebel and the emasculating matriarchal mammy. She comes withe a degree and massive issues about her hair being touched even so much that it effects her ability to be intimate with a partner. Now this all ties together because I’m interested in perceptions of womanhood within Islam. These are all negative perceptions of womanhood, that in many ways deny Black women’s ability to define for themselves what it means to be a woman and be feminine. Often femininity is tied up with notions of feminity linked to Victorian notions of the weaker sex or post war attempts at normalcy (i.e. June Cleaver). As the four tropes indicate, Black womanhood is either one of four pathologies and it is definitely not feminine.

I argue that shutting out of Black women from public discourse or dismissing their grievances and realities based on negative racist tropes of the emasculating Sapphire is the moral equivalent of emasculating Black women. I’ve been reading a lot on the web about manhood and the many threats to manhood and masculinities, particularly the masculinity of Black and Black American Muslim men. In most cultures, manhood is tied to being able to protect and provide for oneself and one’s family. Manhood is not just about being male, but linked with notions of maturity, efficacy, courage, virility, and honor. Manliness, like honor, is something that needs to be cultivated. And a blow to the manhood literally and figuratively really hurts. I’m not trying to be condescending, but at times I do wonder if masculinity is by its very nature so fragile that it has to constantly be guarded. Now since we have been talking about emasculating Black women, let us look at the definition:

Main Entry: emas·cu·late
Pronunciation: \i-ˈmas-kyə-ˌlāt\
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): emas·cu·lat·ed; emas·cu·lat·ing
Etymology: Latin emasculatus, past participle of emasculare, from e- + masculus male — more at male
Date: 1607
1 : to deprive of strength, vigor, or spirit : weaken
2 : to deprive of virility or procreative power : castrate
3 : to remove the androecium of (a flower) in the process of artificial cross-pollination

Emasculation is not about making a man into a woman, that is feminization. Rather, emasculation is about dehumanizing or making an adult male feel like a child, incapable of effecting change or acting as an agent for change. In addition to systems of oppression, poisonous relationships and negative life experiences can make a person feel less than human, or zapped of vigor. Much in the same way , racial tropes can make women feel less than a woman, a full person. They deprive them of their ability to define themselves and express their experiences as real and legitimate. Her grievances aren’t real, because they are simply attempts at emasculating others or spreading her spitefulness. They not only make Black women invisble, but their camoflauge behind some caricature. These efforts suit particular political or personal agendas. But they are no less detrimental than the psychological impact of emasculation on men. When it comes to the female gender, there is no equivalent term for dehumanization through emasculation. t I did find a gender neutral term, enervate, hence the title of this blog entry. The definition is as follows:

Main Entry: 2en·er·vate
Pronunciation: \ˈe-nər-ˌvāt\
Function: transitive verb
Inflected Form(s): en·er·vat·ed; en·er·vat·ing
Etymology: Latin enervatus, past participle of enervare, from e- + nervus sinew — more at nerve
Date: 1605
1 : to reduce the mental or moral vigor of
2 : to lessen the vitality or strength of
synonyms see unnerve
— en·er·vat·ing·ly \-ˌvā-tiŋ-lē\ adverb
— en·er·va·tion \ˌe-nər-ˈvā-shən\ noun

Black women have been denied the ability to be truly feminine, nor do they fit within European notions of beauty, much in the same way that they do not fit within Arab or South Asian notions of beauty. Within the American Muslim community, Black women are seen as less feminine than their white, Latina, Asian, South Asian, and Arab counterparts. Hence, their place within the marriage totem pole and the desperate use of the Sapphire trope to justify the intraracial discrimination against her. The stereotype has detrimental effects in the workplace, where Black women’s grievances are dismissed. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had white co-classmates or co-workers mock Black women or me by rolling their neck and with a caricature voice of a Black woman. It’s even happened to me when I was trying to get a young Jewish classmate to not disrespect me. He was using the Sapphire stereotype to belittle me, in essence dehumanize me to some caricature not even worthy of consideration. The Jim Crow of Racist Memorabilia concisely describes the relationship between the Sapphire stereotype and social control of Black women:

The Sapphire Caricature portrays Black women as rude, loud, malicious, stubborn, and overbearing.1 This is the Angry Black Woman (ABW) popularized in the cinema and on television. She is tart-tongued and emasculating, one hand on a hip the other pointing and jabbing (or arms akimbo), violently and rhythmically rocking her head, mocking African American men for offenses ranging from being unemployed to sexually pursuing White women. She is a shrill nagger with irrational states of anger and indignation — prone to being mean-spirited and abusive. Although African American men are her primary targets, she has venom for anyone who insults or disrespects her. The Sapphire’s desire to dominate and her hyper-sensitivity to injustices means that she is a perpetual complainer, but she does not criticize to improve things; rather, she criticizes because she is unendingly bitter and wishes that unhappiness on others. The Sapphire Caricature is a harsh portrayal of African American women, but it is more than that; it is a social control mechanism that is employed to punish Black women who violate the societal norms that encourage Black women to be passive, servile, non-threatening, and unseen [5].

I’ve been searching for thoughtful books that explore ideas about feminity and womanhood. I spoke with a Black woman and community builder asking if she knew some middle of the road books that were healthy for Black Muslim women. We couldn’t think of many. But there is a growing literature that we can build off of. There is a recent work that I’m looking forward to reading, titled Shifting: The Double Lives of Black Women. On the offical website, the book is described as:

Based on the African American Women’s Voices Project, Shifting reveals that a large number of African American women feel pressure to compromise their true selves as they navigate America’s racial and gender bigotry. Black women “shift.” They change the expectations they have for themselves. Or they alter their outer appearance. They modify their speech. They shift ‘white’ as they head to work in the morning and ‘black’ as they come back home each night. They shift inward, internalizing the searing pain of the negative stereotypes that they encounter daily. And sometimes they shift by fighting back.[6]

In my most recent research on the intersections of race, gender, and Islam, I have begun to seek out voices from the margins. But I have also have the pleasure to know so many Black Muslim women from different walks of life, professional, stay out home mothers, community activists, public speakers, researchers, and thinkers, I’m finding women who are in the trenches working besides their men, raising sons and daughters, trying to live dignified lives. They like myself, have their different personality quirks, modes of expression, and ways. They are amazing treasures and assets to their families and the community, they are neither materialistic or controlling. They are trying to get stuff done. And all of us enjoy being women and would appreciate it if more of our brothers and sisters supported us rather than create broad sweeping categories to cart us off in boxes and do away with us and our multitudinous voices.


For more information on the Sapphire Caricature, see
[1] Jamillah Karim, “To Be Black, Female, and Muslim: A Candid Conversation about Race in the American Ummah .” Journal of Muslim Minority Affairs 26, no. 2 (August 2006): 225-233.
[3] Marilyn Yarbrough with Crystal Bennett: “Mammy Sapphire Jezebel and Their Sisters” (2002)
[5] “Sapphire Caricature” Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia

6th Annual Brass Crescent Awards

Hat Tip to Baraka over at Rickshaw Diaries.
With a number of popular blogs shutting down completely and prolific bloggers no longer posting, blogistan has experienced some major shake-ups. Yet there are some blogs that been around but have gone long overlooked and some new blogs that have dazzled me. Now is the time to nominate your favorite Muslim blogs for the 2009 Brass Crescent Awards here.

Help Victims of the Indonesia Earthquake

لا حول ولاقوة إلا بالله
“There is no transformation or strength except through God”
Earthquakes, Tsunamis, Fires, Floods, Volcanic Eruptions, and Drought are all natural catastrophes reminding us that despite our many technological advances, human beings are subject to a power greater than ourselves. We see suffering on on a micro scale in our own societies, people afflicted with sickness, life shortened in random accidents, victims of random murders and violence. As Americans, we have not witnessed many devastating wars or natural disasters, outside of the World Series quake in 1989 where a highway collapsed and killed 42, September 11 where nearly 3000 people died, or Hurricane Katrina when the levees broke New Orleans where over 1500 people died. There are days when I am dumbfounded by the thought that a quarter of a million people wiped from the face of the Earth that late December day in 2004. Muslim theologians have tried to reconcile the notion of Allah, the omnipotent and omnibenevolent God, and the existence of human evil and natural disasters. No Muslim with solid belief doubts that Allah is omnipotent and benevolent, but human suffering challenges believers on multiple levels.

The aftermath of these tragedies often quickly fades from our imagination.

The Network for good is asking for your help with the most recent tragedy:

A 7.6 magnitude earthquake struck western Indonesia on September 30, 2009, causing landslides and trapping thousands under collapsed buildings. Donations are needed to help provide emergency relief to those currently in desperate need.

Maybe its because I don’t own a tv, maybe it is because the magnitude was not initially known, maybe because I was preoccupied with my own worries and concerns. I can’t imagine the horror of the Tsunami or a mudslide that could engulf a minaret. The Christian Science Monitor’s article points out that aid workers focusing on helping destitute survivors. Islamic relief recently arrived to distribute aid to the survivors. Read their article on their efforts here.
None of us knows our final moment. But we will be held accountable for what we did with our time. Like the suffering of the orphans in Aceh nearly five years after the Tsunami, we cannot let the suffering of the people in Indonesia go overlooked because they don’t live in what us Muslims deem as the central Muslim zones. Even if they weren’t Muslim, we should reach out as human beings to relieve the suffering of our global neighbors. Natural disasters remind us that humanitarian intervention should not just be about politics.

Bytes, Blogs and Believers: My Interview with Emel Magazine

This October Emel featured an interview of several Muslim bloggers called “Bytes, Blogs and Believer.”   Your’s truly was included amongst notable blogs written by Ethar Al Kataney of Muslimah Media Watch and 40 Days and 40 Nights, Indigo Jo, Rafael Alejandro of The Wandering Troubadour, Jana Kossaibaiti  of Hijab Style and Wang Daiyu’s Islam in China. Aramco did a nice feature on Emel that provides some interesting background information on the founders of the glossy Muslim lifestyle magazine  printed in the UK. I encourage you to check out Emel, which can be found in the US in select Barnes and Nobles. You can also subscribe to the magazine, which I do think is worthwhile.

As Indigo Jo pointed out, the process began in 2008 and our features were condensed versions of the interview. My answers were rather long and in some ways I think my notes from the interview might be worthwhile elaborating and posting in the future. I find the interview process very interesting and I am always astonished at what the finished product looked like. I have been interviewed in press conferences, by the journalists during  phone interviews, on panels, by a professor writing about religion in modern media, by a graduate student of Teaching Arabic as a Second language studying common mistakes Arab language learners make, by an anthropology graduate student studying the relationship between Arab and Black Americans, and most recently by an undergraduate student interviewing a woman of a different faith. While I studied the interview as a historical method in graduate school, I didn’t necessarily reflect how much I would be interviewed and have been interviewed in my life. Well, outside of job interviews As an historian who studied Africans, immigrants, and marginal groups in the Middle East, I was aware of  the uneven power dynamics between western scholar and interview subject. Interviews are not simply  a collection of oral data  and facts that historians, anthropologists, and social scientist  and other researchers use to reconstruct the past or explain current social formations. It is not simply a fact finding mission. The interviewee is interested in sharing their story and presenting themselves in a certain light. I understood that the interview was not so much as trying to get to some essential truth, but understanding how an individual would like to represent their experience and their identity.  The interview is a collaborative process between interviewer and interviewee. The interviewer shapes how we understand the life experiences of the subject. It is not only through the selection of questions, but also in the editorial process that meaning is shaped and guided. The interview process opens a lot of doors for the person who is answering personal questions. I learned in doing the Human Subject Research Protocols and experience in the field, and even from personal experience in the interview that some questions can bring up painful memories and experiences. But in some ways, the interview has allowed for a certain form of self discovery. They caused  me to think about a lot of things I haven’t thought about or articulate things that have long been unspoken. My experiences with the interview makes me aware of how I represent myself and the ways in which my words are interpreted by another.

On a lighter note: please forgive the unglamorous shot on Emel. I submitted it myself. I thought my picture would be rendered into a digital avatar as Indigo Jo pointed out  in “Hey Emel, what have you done to my avatar?” So, I didn’t ask my husband to do a professional head shot..  I try not to abuse my wifely privileges, but maybe one day I’ll twist his arm into a nice photo shoot. Unlike Indigo Jo, I knew that the brown woman in hijab was one of 99, not some generic rendition of a superhero me. 🙂