Friday, December 31, 2004

Risama's Reflections on a Christian Science Monitor Editorial

Christian Science Monitor, a fairly liberal Christian magazine, can't seem to stop writing about Muslims and Islam. (Which is kinda weird because you would think that they would write about...Christian Science.) They even had a Muslim woman who didn't fast for Ramadan keep her own Ramadan journal on their website. Isn't that wonderful? And Ahmed Nassef has been a frequent contributor for their publication. He has, yet again, written another editorial. I inserted my thoughts in between.

Nassef: When Americans think of a Muslim American, most probably envision a bearded man or veiled woman, speaking accented English and holding traditional, conservative views of the world.

Risama: Thanks for reinforcing negative stereotypes! Why should Americans think that veiled women and bearded men can speak proper English because we all know that wearing it means that you just got off of plane from (fill in the blank with Muslim country).

Nassef: Although the reality is much different - most of the nation's Muslims are American-born converts or second-generation immigrants, not particularly religious, and liberal - you'd be hard-pressed to learn this by watching most Muslim spokespeople in the media.

Risama: Okay, umm, how does he know if most American Muslims are non-religious and liberal? And does non-religious Muslim translate into a good Muslim? Did he get his generalization from a poll or did he ask every American Muslim about his/her iman? Oh, and do you see how he goes into what the “real” problem is and why Americans fear Islam--the Muslim spokespeople--basically CAIR, ISNA, ICNA, MAS, etc.?

Nassef: Most Muslim American institutions today, from local mosques to national advocacy groups, reflect an ultraconservative Muslim agenda not shared by most within their community, which at an estimated 6 million now equals the size of the American Jewish community.

Risama: Generalization #245, “Muslims are a homogenous group of people.” It’s as if he wants to swing the pendulum the other way. If the main Muslim organizations are ultraconservative then Nassef and crew must be ultraliberal. I have no problem with Naseef being liberal but I do have a problem with him painting all of us with the same political/social stripe. American Muslims are liberal, conservative and every shade in between.

Nassef: The Washington-based Committee on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the most prominent Muslim American civil rights organization, spends much of its time and money defending the rights of female students to wear veils in public schools. However, when confronted with the rabid misogynistic policies common in most mosques - such as limited access to main prayer halls or bans on women serving on mosque boards - CAIR makes no such efforts on behalf of Muslim women's rights.

Risama: No. CAIR is not just responsible for hijabi women enjoying their rights as Americans. They handle cases where Muslims have lost their jobs and livelihoods due to religious discrimination. They also probe into cases where Muslims have been attacked and murdered because of their faith. So why is Nassef picking on them? CAIR created a program to fill America’s libraries on accurate information about Islam, many of these books written by non-Muslims. What exactly has done about Islamophobia other than reinforce the idea that our masjids are teeming with extremists? Nice way to build social, cultural dialogue. Sometimes I wonder what would Nassef and Co. would do if their boss fired them for being Muslim and they had no way to pay their bills, take care of their families or worse, face possible deportation? Subhan’allah. Personally, I think the problem of women’s spaces in masajid should be handled by each, individual masjid because everyone has different comfort levels. Whatever happened to Muslims handling their own problems? Do we really need to write articles for the NYT and CSM complaining to everyone else instead of the people who count--other Muslims?

Nassef: Not only are Muslim organizations out of touch with their supposed constituency, they're far removed from the realities of American life. Often this can reach the level of the absurd. For example, last month, the nation's biggest American Muslim group, the Islamic Society of North America, which represents a quarter of the nation's mosques, hosted the annual conference for the National Temperance and Prohibition Council, a Christian-based group working to ban the sale and manufacture of alcohol in the US.

Risama: Why is this so absurd? Alcohol is prohibited in our religion, right? As Americans we have the right to champion whatever causes we want. Why is it okay for people champion for teenage abortion without parental consent, legalization of marijuana and prostitution, lowering the age of sexual consent and yet as Muslims we can’t support a cause for an alcohol free society? It’s not as if the mass proliferation of alcohol has done such wonders for America with alcohol being the major cause of death in car accidents. Doesn’t date rape and suicide often include the influence of alcohol or some other intoxicant?

Nassef: The reluctance of the Muslim American leadership to deal honestly and directly with the important issues within their community is causing a major crisis in American Islam. Today, most Muslim Americans are so disaffected by their existing institutions that they have dropped out of the community altogether.

Risama: Actually, as reported by CAIR (the big bad boogeyman), since September 11th, more Muslims have become involved with their communities. And many organizations witnessed more conversions to Islam than before that dark day so once again, I'll just add that to the list of his many unfounded generalizations.

Nassef: A survey of Detroit mosque goers and officials released last month by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding shows that half of those attending mosques are recent immigrants, many of whom intend to return to their homeland. When asked if they thought America is an immoral society, more than half said yes. Such views - certainly radical in the context of mainstream American culture - are probably a major reason less than 7 percent of American Muslims attend mosque regularly (compared with 38 percent of Americans who attend church weekly).

Risama: According to the 2004 election, it’s not only us Muslims who think that America is an immoral society with Bush winning the “morality vote.” And yet, who did most Muslims vote for…immoral liberal John Kerry. There are a multitude of reasons as to why Muslims do not/ can not attend the masjid regularly. But I guess low attendance of Jumah prayer has nothing to do with the fact that Jumah prayers are on a Friday (when Muslims are working) and Sunday is when most people are off from work. (Which is why some Muslims either attend Maghrib and Isha prayer on Friday nights and Zhuhr prayers on Sunday, sssh, don’t tell anyone.) And I think it is strange that the above poll says that mostly immigrants attend the masjid but African-American Muslims make up 33% of the Muslim community. But maybe we were left out because the polltakers automatically assumed that we belong the Nation of Farrakhan.

Nassef: The dismally low level of attendance at US mosques is not something Muslim organizations like to discuss, especially when they're busy presenting their ideologically charged agendas as representative of the larger American Muslim community. Studies confirm that the majority of Muslims living in the West don't share the fundamentalist agenda of their self-appointed leaders. Yet conservatives are still most likely to be called upon by the media and policymakers to represent the Muslim community because they fit a convenient stereotype of what a Muslim should look and act like. As a recent RAND Corporation study points out, "They present a better photo-op, so the media tend to choose them when they need a pictorial illustration for a story about American Muslims."

Risama: “Ideologically charged agendas” is the same thing and the PMU are pushing, just in a different social and political stripe. And what groups is he really talking about? I have never had ISNA, CAIR, MAS, ICNA or MPAC beat down my door to make me buy what they are selling? Contrary to his belief, American Muslims can voice their opinions about politics without the “ultraconservatives” or the Progressive Muslim Union. And…are you guys just a tad bit creeped out with his reference to the RAND report?

Nassef: So Americans are often left with two extreme views on Islam - one promoted by Muslim ultraconservatives and the other, an equally dangerous one, represented by professional anti-Muslim bigots. The challenge for the millions of Muslims excluded by these groups is that they don't have the financial and institutional backing enjoyed by the fundamentalist organizations, many of which are financed by rich donors from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf countries.

Risama: And Nassef seeks to fill the void by being another spokesman claiming to speak for all of us. Oh and you noticed is covert plea for “financial and institutional backing?” He's basically saying, “America, give us support. CAIR and all the others are a bunch of violent Wahhabis. We’re the good Muslims!”

Nassef: Most Muslim Americans are well assimilated into the mainstream of American life. And because there are few organized spiritual and cultural outlets for them, the moderate and progressive Muslim American majority is harder to find than the vocal conservative minority. But there are definite signs that the silent majority is beginning to coalesce into a movement to reclaim its faith. Books calling for a progressive reinterpretation of Islam, such as Omid Safi's "Progressive Muslims," are being widely discussed by American Muslims, although you're unlikely to find them at mosque bookstores.

Risama: Yes, we are assimilated into American life and we don’t need any extra help with being both American and Muslim. Oh, but…you know Omid Safi’s book has to get a plug. As far as for finding it in an Islamic bookstore, I think most of us live in city where there are secular bookstores everywhere. My main problem seems to be finding an Islamic bookstore, not the other way around.

Nassef:, a progressive online magazine I edit, now has a monthly readership surpassing 70,000 - more than any other publication specifically catering to North American Muslims.

Risama: Wrong. Dr. Maxtor has already proven that is the most widely read Islamic website.

Nassef: Even some Muslim organizations are beginning to wake up. Recently, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a lobbying group connected with the largest mosque in Los Angeles, invited two progressive Muslim scholars to participate in their annual conference. That is an important step.

Risama: Actually, that’s not shocking. One of the main advocates of the Progressive Muslim Union used to work for the Muslim Public Affairs Council. Nice try.

Nassef: But American media and policymakers also need to step up to the plate to defeat Muslim extremism at home. Instead of encouraging the most conservative fringes within the Muslim American community, it's time to give voice to the moderate majority.

Risama: Yeah, Brother Yahya at Masjid X is more dangerous than American imperialism, racial and religious intolerance, poverty and falling public education. Basically, defund major Islamic organizations and give more funding the Progressive Muslim Union. Something’s rotten in Denmark and I think it is the RAND report.


Blogger meryum said...

I had a lot of respect for the CSM until now. Of course its not really THEIR fault though, we need knowledgeable practicing Muslims that appreciate tradition to be writing for these types of publications that are so open to Islam. The responsibility falls on those of us who are fortunte enough to appreciate our religious tradition and the teachings of our Prophet(s) and the scholars to provide a more fair and accurate representation of our community. Risama I love your blog by the way, Jazaks. :)

8:01 AM  
Blogger izzymo said...

Salaam alalikum Meryum,
Please excuse my typos. I tried to correct them by my internet connection is acting up. Thanks for the kudos and you are right. We need to assert our voice. Why should Muslims be painted as one large entity? These are diffucult times but we must push forward.

11:35 AM  
Blogger Ginny said...

Assalamu alaikum, Mashallah for this post. I'm not sure I can add to what's already been said. Well, I could, but I'm trying to keep the cat from eating my lunch! * smile * Just suffice it to say that just because you don't go to the mosque, it doesn't mean you're not religious, but anyway, just one thing I wanted to point out.

4:15 PM  
Blogger DrMaxtor said...

Ahmed Nassef is definetly beneath contempt, how this LIAR can look at himself in the mirror without recoiling is beyond me. I nominate him muslim neocon of the year award. He's definetly up there with the Iyad Allawis, Zalmay Khalizads of the world.
That being said, a little fact on CSM, they also published false stories about British antiwar MP George Galloway last year. Galloway sued and won in court. So much for objectivity.

7:01 PM  
Blogger muslim momma said...

Not to support this Naseef but he is right. The masjids are out of touch with the majority of Muslims. The majority of Muslims in America are not as "conservative" as the Masjid leadership but that being said. Their values are still traditional Islamic views. So I dont know exactly what he talking about. And why is he making the rounds to all of Non Muslim media

7:36 PM  
Blogger DrMaxtor said...

I dont think the masjids are at fault. Its the Muslims who are out of touch with Islam.
If they expect khutbas about promoting homosexuality, pronogrpahy and insulting Sahaba, they're in for a long wait.

9:08 PM  
Blogger MuslimaGripes said...


7:11 PM  

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