God Pod, Saudi freakout, Christmas Mubarak

Salaam! Hope you all are staying warm and toasty today.

Heads up to my subscribers who are journalists or journalism students: You have two weeks left to submit your stories on Muslim American communities for the Goldziher Prize, which I’m judging this year! I’ll be curating a special edition of this newsletter to feature some of my personal favorite pieces after we announce the winners ✨ And while we’re at it, if you’re a Muslim currently studying humanities, social sciences, liberal arts or law, apply to the Islamic Scholarship Fund by March 21. May the odds be ever in your favor.

Now on to the news.

  • Why don’t more Muslims donate their organs? 🧠 Uncertain of Islam's stance on organ donation, Muslims often err on the side of caution. So Philadelphia non-profit Gift of Life has launched a public seminar series to answer local Muslims' questions about Islamic texts and offer scholarly interpretations on transplants. (And speaking of Philly – this nice little piece on the opening of the city’s first mosque built from the ground up, which I attended this fall, includes great details about Baitul Aafiyat’s lovely architectural details.)

  • A Texas Muslim runs for office – in her mosque 🕌 Sarah Alikhan is the first woman to ever run for the shura board of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston, one of America’s largest Muslim organizations, the Houston Chronicle reports in a piece that explores the history of Muslim women in Texas and the U.S. Her campaign was ultimately unsuccessful, but it’s still a pleasant surprise to see this piece cover her loss as though it were any other political office. And it’s also interesting to consider how the rise in Muslim women running for political office will impact Muslim communities’ own leadership.

  • A battle rages in Texas’s Tarrant County Republican Party. A faction of Republican leaders in one of the state’s most populous counties want to remove newly appointed party vice chairman Shahid Shafi – because he’s Muslim. They’re also targeting a few other leaders, including a GOP precinct chairwoman who is married to a Muslim veteran. A vote on whether to oust Shafi is scheduled for Jan. 10. His opponents say it’s not about his faith but whether he is loyal to Islam and Islamic law or connected “to Islamic terror groups.” But both state and national GOP leaders are affirming their support for religious freedom and rebuking Tarrant County party members for their bigotry.

  • The Saudi state-controlled media seems to be in panic mode. They’re now attacking the Muslim women who have just been elected to Congress, Foreign Policy reports. The most common accusation: that Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and even Abdul El-Sayed (who lost his bid for the Michigan governor’s seat) are secret Muslim Brotherhood members who stand against the KSA and UAE.

  • Rashida Tlaib is heading to Palestine. The first Palestinian-American woman elected to Congress told The Intercept that she’s planning to lead a congressional delegation to the Israel-occupied West Bank. It’s a rebuke to the tradition of the Israel trip for freshman members of Congress sponsored by pro-Israel lobby group AIPAC. (And while she’s sworn into office next month, she’ll be wearing a Palestinian gown.)

  • Did Muslim groups keep money raised for Pittsburgh synagogue shooting victims? Spoiler alert: Nope. A crowdfunding effort by CelebrateMercy and MPower Change raised $238,634 for victims of the deadly Tree of Life synagogue. An Israeli activist and right-wing websites have falsely accused them of pocketing all but $10,000 of those funds. Snopes has all the receipts 📜

  • A Virginia prison is accused of discriminating against non-Muslim inmates. CAIR has filed a federal lawsuit alleging that inmates who agree to study and live in accordance with the Bible can live in a segregated unit in Virginia’s Riverside Regional Jail, known as the “God Pod.” Muslim prisoners, meanwhile, say they were starved during Ramadan and were denied access to religious materials and spiritual counseling.

  • “He fought with every cell of his being for the people he left behind.” The New York Times published a stirring obituary on Mujahid Farid, a former prisoner who founded the advocacy group Release Aging People in Prison and who died late last month. “If the risk is low, let them go,” Farid, who converted to Islam in prison, said often of the increasingly graying national prison population.

  • Speaking of the elderly… A new non-profit in Maryland called the American Muslim Senior Society aims to help older Muslims access services provided by the Muslim community and local government.

  • Backlash after a play called “Christmas Mubarak.” 🎭 A few weeks back I suggested that my RNS colleague Emily Miller, who’s based in Chicago, check out the local production for a light, feel-good story. She delivered with this great piece on the interfaith effort to teach Christians about the Quranic versions of Mary and Jesus’ lives. Then, just days later, we followed it up with this depressing op-ed: “I produced an interfaith play. Then all hell broke loose.”

  • What’s life like two years post-Muslim ban? HuffPost’s Rowaida Abdelaziz spoke to Brian Lehrer about the state of Islamophobia and civil rights issues facing Muslim women in the U.S. after the midterms.

  • Muslim workers are protesting Amazon work conditions. On Friday, many East African employees, as well as politicians like Ilhan Omar, will rally outside of a Minneapolis warehouse. This will come as no surprise to those of you who have been subscribed for a while, but for the uninitiated, Vox just put out a new primer on the issue.

  • A Muslim woman refused to sign an anti-BDS pledge, so she lost her job. A children’s speech pathologist who spent nine years working for a Texas public school district did not want to sign a contract saying she “does not” or “will not boycott Israel,” and that she shall refrain from any action “intended to penalize, inflict economic harm on, or limit commercial relations with Israel, or with a person or entity doing business in Israeli or in an Israel-controlled territory.” As The Intercept reports, forms of the loyalty oath are mandatory in 26 states. CAIR is also filing a First Amendment challenge to the Texas law.

  • The Women’s March and the long shadow of Farrakhan. March founders Linda Sarsour and Tamika Mallory have long drawn controversy for their association with Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan and his anti-Semitism. Jezebel offers an interesting analysis on a very complicated situation, suggesting that it’s a double standard to assume that one can't "both denounce Farrakhan and his bigotry while attempting to understand the myriad reasons why black Americans might be loathe to condemn him.”

👌 Shout out to the Muslim Youth Voices Project 

The non-profit Center for Asian American Media just partnered with PBS and WorldChannel to publish 32 short films created by budding Muslim filmmakers as part of its Muslim Youth Voices Project incubator. Professional Muslim filmmakers taught 44 newbies about script writing and video production through a series of free workshops in six cities since 2015. Watch their creations here 🎬

🗣 Talk to me

As always, send me your comments, questions and corrections!

- Aysha