Census 2020, the Mosque of Zoom, the future of hajj

And tons of new books to add to your quarantine reading list.

Salaam, friends! 👋 I’m journalist Aysha Khan, and you’re reading my monthly roundup of the latest news stories about Muslims in the U.S. Today I’m saying a prayer that Allah blesses you and your loved ones with good health and governance, adequate stores of food and patience, and compassionate supervisors and landlords during this crisis. Ameen. 🤲

📌 TOP PICKS

HuffPost — The coronavirus outbreak and subsequent bans on gatherings and travel have forced Muslims to rethink Jummah prayers as well as plans for hajj and Ramadan, which will likely begin around April 24. Muslim community leaders are struggling to figure out how to recreate the communal elements of Ramadan in an era of social distancing.

HuffPost — Getting an accurate census count is vital. But while the U.S. Census Bureau is bound by law to protect private information, many Muslim Americans are wary of submitting information to the government. (Fill out your census if you haven’t already!)

The New Yorker — A moving reflection on Arab American identity, the construction of whiteness and what the census leaves out. Despite repeated efforts to add a specific U.S. census category for them, people of Middle Eastern and North African descent completing this year's census will once again have to identify as "white," skewing American demographic data. But this time, Americans can write in their nationality of origin under the race category they identify with, and Iranian Americans are taking the chance to be recognized.

Lawfare — Foreign policy is an important lens for understanding Muslim voters’ preferences in the primary. What does American Muslims’ increasing importance to the Democratic Party mean for the future of progressive foreign policy?

L.A. Times — Liyna Anwar, a rising journalist and podcast producer who was passionate about championing underrepresented voices, has passed away at 30 years old after complications from acute myeloid leukemia. Inna lillahe wa inna illaihe rajioon.

🕌 COMMUNITY

  • Saudi Arabia has asked Muslims to hold off on planning travel for the annual hajj pilgrimage, most likely clearing the way for the first cancellation of the hajj in over 200 years. The kingdom already suspended the umrah pilgrimage and sealed the country’s borders to foreigners due to the pandemic. That’s disrupted plans for thousands Muslims around the U.S. hoping to fulfill one of the major pillars of their faith this year. (🗣 Please reach out if you know of Muslim-owned travel agencies that have taken a hit.)

  • Bans on large gatherings have forced mosques and Islamic centers across the country to close their doors and cancel congregational Friday prayers, from Brooklyn to Denver to Memphis to Northern Virginia. Many mosques had previously said that members with symptoms or who are immunocompromised are exempt from obligatory Jummah prayers; all healthy adult men were instructed to attend but avoid hugs and handshakes, bring their own prayer rugs, use soap during ablutions, or even pray six feet apart from one another.

  • Religious learning, rituals, and community are shifting completely online with Zoom webinars, YouTube livestreams, and other online classes. (🗣 Please reach out to me if you know of any innovative projects or outside-the-box spaces where Muslims are building community these days.)

  • Imam Omar Suleiman, who is now hosting three webinars daily, describes what his faith community looks like now: “…while we’ve been sort of consumed here with not being able to do the Friday prayer, in places where there have been more deaths, they’d been consumed with not being able to [do] the funeral prayer. And I think that that reality is gonna dawn upon us very soon.” Fulfilling Islamic burial traditions, including ghusl and the janazah, has become complicated.

  • Despite critical concerns among mosques and Islamic institutions about how to stay afloat without the usual Jummah and Ramadan fundraisers, Muslims are pitching in to help those the pandemic has left most vulnerable. Many mosques, Muslim relief organizations and youth groups are delivering groceries, sewing face masks, offering counseling, and donating food and medical supplies to those in need.

  • A Muslim-led team of doctors in Michigan — where about 15% of doctors are Muslim — has developed a way to sterilize single-use masks for reuse.

  • “She was completely alone.” An Iranian immigrant became the first person in the Bay Area to succumb to the coronavirus when the region was just starting to see the seriousness of the situation.

  • A Paterson, New Jersey mosque held a gathering for a funeral that likely exposed attendees to the novel coronavirus, health officials say.

  • “Instability was the only constant.” For many families who have fled war, violence, and political instability, the scenes caused by the outbreak feel far too familiar.

  • Small ethnic grocery stores are struggling to stock shelves. (🗣 Please reach out if you know Muslim grocers, restaurant owners or halal butchers that are struggling due to the pandemic.)

  • Being a cab driver in NYC was never easy. It’s now a lot harder, thanks to the coronavirus. Just ask journalist Zainab Iqbal’s dad.

  • NYC’s low-income students have been largely going without kosher and halal meal options since schools closed due to the outbreak.

  • A Muslim advocacy group has advised Muslim medical professionals to shave their beards to ensure a closer fit when wearing protective masks.

  • Last month, Akida Pulat celebrated her third birthday alone since her mother, Uighur anthropologist Rahile Dawut, disappeared in Xinjiang.

  • A Tennessee Muslim restaurateur teamed up with Muslim volunteers to prepare 400 meals for families affected by a deadly tornado in Nashville.

  • Chicago’s Inner-city Muslim Action Network just broke ground on its planned fresh market, which will offer locally-sourced produce and meals by area chefs. 

  • An Iraqi man who interpreted for the U.S. troops arrived in Omaha, after a decade of waiting on the special visa he’d been promised.

⚖️ LAW & POLICY

  • Activists and religious leaders are pushing officials across the country to release as many people held in jails, prisons, and immigration detention facilities as possible to keep them from turning into “virus tinderboxes.”

  • The Intercept obtained documents showing that the FBI opened major international terrorism investigations into the pro-Palestinian activist group International Solidarity Movement.

  • The Muslim communities targeted by federally-funded Countering Violent Extremism programs in Boston and around the country say the initiatives lacked transparency and deepened their mistrust of the government. Related: An interview with Fatema Ahmad, new head of Boston’s Muslim Justice League.

  • When the state of Alabama executed Nathaniel Woods in March — despite a last-second Supreme Court review of his case — he wanted his imam to witness it. But the imam couldn’t be there due to a miscommunication with prison officials. The imam says he “felt that there was a deliberate plan to keep me out of the prison.” Maha Hilal argues that the case underscores the ways that incarcerated Muslims have been systematically denied their religious freedoms, even as they are executed. 

  • The Supreme Court says it won’t hear the wrongful death suit brought against the military by the family of a Muslim Marine who died during boot camp four years ago.

  • Outbreak-related border closures left travel writer Imani Bashir criss-crossing the globe for weeks to try to reach her husband and toddler. Some Muslim families and students were also among those stranded in Peru after the government closed its borders due to the outbreak.

  • Uzair Paracha was convicted in 2005 in Manhattan of trying to help a terrorist enter the U.S. Now he’s been released and flown back to Pakistan with all charges against him dropped.

  • Between sanctions and travel bans, Iranian students say political tensions have made it harder to land a job in the U.S. Separately, an Iranian-born Canadian citizen says he was denied entry to the U.S. because of his past mandatory military service in Iran, which the border officer claimed effectively linked him with terrorists. 

  • Paterson, New Jersey approved a noise control ordinance measure that would allow mosques to broadcast the Islamic call to prayer.

🗳 POLITICS

  • New Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam became the first Muslim woman elected to a public office in North Carolina.

  • MuslimGirl.com founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh is running to represent New Jersey’s 6th Congressional District. She’s the first Muslim woman to run for federal office in the state’s history.

  • Joe Biden’s campaign is facing growing pressure to remove its current Asian American and Pacific Islander vote director, who is known for his close ties to India’s Hindu nationalist prime minister Narendra Modi. The campaign hired a former Clinton aide as its new unpaid senior adviser on Muslim engagement, but activists want all ties to right-wing groups severed.

  • Shahid Buttar is a DJ, constitutional attorney, community organizer — and an unlikely challenger against House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, America’s top elected Democrat and 33-year incumbent for San Francisco’s congressional seat. “I happen to freakishly have a bunch of different pieces of my background that fit together almost like a puzzle to crack her coalition,” Buttar told Middle East Eye. 

  • When a man sent anti-Muslim tweets to Virginia Congressional candidate Qasim Rashid, he wasn’t expecting Rashid to donate to the man's GoFundMe campaign for his medical debt. Now, the pair have struck up an unlikely friendship. Last year, another man was convicted for making an online death threat against Rashid.

  • Democrats delayed a vote on the NO BAN Act, which would repeal the Muslim ban. It was originally scheduled for a House vote in March, but was delayed in order to make way for coronavirus response legislation.

  • Sen. Bernie Sanders took 58% of the Muslim vote on Super Tuesday, a poll found, compared to 27% for Biden. That’s in part due to Muslim advocates’ serious get-out-the-vote efforts, as well as Sanders’ truly unprecedented level of voter outreach to Muslims.

  • Sanders pulled out all the stops in Michigan, and the state’s strong Muslim population reciprocated the energy big time, but it wasn’t enough. When he rallied in Dearborn, he was welcomed with a dabke troupe, remarks from a local imam in Arabic and chants of “habibi Bernie.” Rep. Rashida Tlaib campaigned for him, The Yemeni American News and The Arab American News community papers endorsed him, as did the Yemeni American Democratic Caucus. But Muslim turnout in Michigan is historically low. The state won him a major upset victory in 2016, but was the site of a crushing defeat this time around.

  • The Sanders campaign distanced itself from Imam Sayed Hassan Al-Qazwini, who leads the Islamic Institute of America in Dearborn and had endorsed Sanders at the candidate’s Dearborn rally, after some of the Shia imam’s previous statements came to light. These include calling same-sex marriage “against human nature,” claims that ISIS was controlled by Israel, and praising the Houthi militia in Yemen for attacking Saudi oil facilities. Of Sanders himself, Al-Qazwini said, “I truly consider him an honorable man, even though he is a Jew — but you know we have no problem with Jewish people, we have a problem with the Zionists.” Sanders identifies as a Zionist.

  • Sanders endorsed a Muslim candidate for office in Illinois who created the state’s Countering Violent Extremism program and is now running on a criminal justice reform platform.

  • Nabilah Islam, a candidate for Congress in Georgia, says her mother was laid off from work this week due to “stay at home” directives.

🆘 HATE & CRIME

  • Minority faith groups have been hit especially hard with racist abuse on Zoom, part of a growing epidemic dubbed ‘Zoombombing.’ As such harassment becomes increasingly coordinated, Muslims may face more incidents.

  • FBI agents arrested a Pakistani doctor in Minnesota for allegedly pledging allegiance to the Islamic State group and saying he wanted to carry out lone wolf attacks in the U.S.

  • In Maryland, a woman was charged with arson and attempted murder after she admitted to firebombing a mosque and Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall. In Florida, a man was arrested for making several threatening calls to the imam of American Muslim Leadership Center in Kissimmee. The Minneapolis mosque attended by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison was vandalized with anti-Muslim hate speech. And in New Jersey, over $1,000 was stolenfrom a mosque’s donation boxes.

  • A New York man was sentenced to a year in prison for threatening to “put a bullet” in Rep. Ilhan Omar’s skull.

  • A survey found that 48% of adolescent Muslim students in North Texas said they've experienced bullying online or in person.

  • In New Jersey, the Camden County GOP stands by some ofthe anti-Muslim political memes it has posted, which local Muslims and the state attorney general’s office have criticized.

  • A fundamentalist Christian YouTuber drew backlash for a video in which she passes out Arabic Bibles — while possibly ill with the coronavirus — to the Muslims of Hamtramck, Michigan.

  • When Child Protective Services took a Minnesota Somali woman’s children from her custody, she pleaded to the global Somali community for help. Now, she’s being charged with felonies of child abuse.

  • A Somali American woman confronts anti-immigrant discrimination both in the U.S. and in Africa.

🎭 CULTURE

  • Muslim teens see surveillance memes as a subversive tool for coping with Big Brother.

  • The Contemporary Muslim Fashions exhibit, now in New York City, showcases the rise of modest attire in mainstream fashion.

  • Quarantine reading material! 📚 Cartoonist Huda Fahmy's graphic memoir "That Can Be Arranged" is a frank, funny Muslim love story. Sahar Mustafa’s novel “The Beauty of Your Face,” centers on a hateful shooting that upends a suburban Muslim girls’ school. The Yemeni-American poet Threa Almontaser just won the Walt Whitman Award for best first book with “The Wild Fox of Yemen.” Laila Lalami’s book of essays, “Conditional Citizens,” asks what it truly means to be an American. Abdul El-Sayed’s “Healing Politics” focuses on the “epidemic of insecurity” facing America. Linda Sarsour digs deep in her memoir, "We Are Not Here to Be Bystanders.” And Rajia Hassib’s “A Pure Heart” tells the story of two Egyptian sisters whose lives take two different turns.

  • Refinery29 asks South Asian Muslim women activists and creatives how they view themselves and their identity in this moment.

  • Filmmaker Iram Parveen Bilal discusses what the cancellation of the SXSW film festival means for her and her latest project, “I’ll Meet You There—Bismil.”

  • Fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad is stepping away from competition to focus on the “uphill battle” that is tackling hatred and bigotry. 

  • “You can't laugh and be afraid at the same time.” After comedy shows around the country were canceled due to the coronavirus, Zara Khan assembled a lineup of comics for a livestream show.

🧠 ARGUMENTS

  • After the International Criminal Court agreed to investigate war crimes by the U.S. forces in Afghanistan, a current Guantanamo detainee who was abused in a “dark prison” in Kabul is speaking  out.

  • America was once among the most hospitable jihadist recruitment grounds in the world, Thomas Hegghammer writes. In the ‘80s, Islamists exploited the U.S.’s political freedoms to attract fighters for the Afghan War.

  • Asad Dandia offers a Muslim reflection on COVID-19: “Perhaps anchoring ourselves in something greater than ourselves that also tethers us to others can help us rethink our place in the world as well. In the Islamic tradition, amidst the turbulence, God remains constant and always in control.”⁩

  • At the heart of backlash to a proposed mosque in Maryland is plain, simple Islamophobia, the Baltimore Sun’s editorial board writes.

  • Organizer Mariam Kaba speaks to Intercepted: “For me, capitalism is the crisis. It always has been. And I think what we’re being exposed to in this moment is all of the contradictions and the violences of capitalism, bringing things to light in stark relief.”

  • Why do Muslims love Bernie? “For American Muslims who have never felt empowered by ‘politics as usual,’ the ‘moderate’ candidates are the bigger risk,” Sajida Jalalzai explains. And for Iranian Americans, Hoda Katebi writes, “Bernie Sanders may be the only chance for peace with Iran in the foreseeable future.”

  • Frank Gaffney is wrong, Asma Uddin argues. Religious liberty is good for everyone, not a “takeover.”

👌 SHOUT OUT

A Muslim-led crowdfunding campaign has raised about $515,000 to send small grants directly to hundreds of low-income families in need of assistance. The project is a collaboration between Penny Appeal USA, CelebrateMercy, and the Islamic Center of NYU. Read more about the initiative.

And for any journalists: Check out Poynter’s course on covering American Muslim communities. It’s free through May 31.

🗣 TALK TO ME

As always, please send me your comments, questions and corrections! Otherwise, we’ll chat again in a few weeks, inshaAllah. 👋

- Aysha