Islam in the West; the Muslim Inquisition; Shia mayor

I regret to inform you that this is now a newsletter exclusively about Rep. Ilhan Omar.


Right now I’m packing for The Muslim Women and the Media Training Institute, which will be held at the University of Illinois at Chicago this weekend. If you’re in the area, shoot me a message—I might be able to make some time to meet up, especially if you’re a journalist or you have a story idea for me.

Anyways, onto this month’s stories…

  • With the Supreme Court’s blessing, Alabama executed a Muslim inmate without allowing his imam to be present. The state typically allows a prison-employed Christian chaplain to remain in the execution chamber, but the state said it would not let his imam in for security reasons. His imam, Yusef Maisonet, said his final words were the shahadah, or Islamic declaration of faith, and that he was able to read the Quran and pray before he received the lethal injection. “Constitutionally protected freedoms and concerns for religious liberties now frequently take a back seat to specious security concerns and fearmongering,” Wajahat Ali noted at The Atlantic. The decision, the NYT Editorial Board wrote, compounded the “moral failure” of the Supreme Court’s travel ban ruling and further diminished the rights of Muslims.

  • Mustafa Akyol identifies a creeping sociopolitical liberalism among young American Muslims, a trend we’ve seen featured in a number of pieces curated in this newsletter. Obviously, evolving interpretations of Islam are nothing new. But it’s an interesting dynamic within U.S. Muslim communities as they try to negotiate a space for themselves and respond to rising Islamophobia—and one he says deeply concerns conservative imams. Further reading: Eboo Patel’s “Out of Many Faiths,” Justine Howe’s “Suburban Islam,” Muftah’s series on American Islam.

  • Islam in the West 🌎 The Economist just published a seven-piece special series on the 30 million Muslims in Europe and America, featuring explainers on everything Western governments’ efforts to limit Islam in the West, Muslim-majority countries’ efforts to influence Islam in the West, and Western Muslims’ efforts to shift Islam. It’s a great companion series to Akyol’s piece above.

  • An Indiana man was shot and killed in an apparent act of road rage. The alleged shooter, who’s been charged with murder, apparently called the Prophet Muhammad a pedophile and told Mustafa Ayoubi to go back to his country before he shot him and killed him. “We don’t believe it was road rage. He meant to kill Mustafa,” Ayoubi’s sister told HuffPost’s Rowaida Abdelaziz. “…He was a victim of a hate crime.” But Indiana is one of five states without a hate crime law.

  • The travel ban, two years later. Abdelaziz reports that 37,000 visa applications were rejected by the State Department last year due to the travel ban. Abdelaziz also spoke to Yemeni woman Shaima Swileh, the mother who was just barely able to meet her 2-year-old son before he died in a U.S. hospital. “If I had received the visa the first time around, maybe [my son] would have been cured and he wouldn’t have died,” she said.

  • Florida Muslims immigrants sue ICE. The Intercept’s Maryam Saleh broke the story of a lawsuit by five detained Somali refugees alleging that Immigration and Customs Enforcement denied them religious accommodations: halal meals, ability to perform daily prayers, access to prayer rugs, etc. They’ve also reported physical and verbal abuse. Related: HuffPost reports that a Muslim man detained by Border Patrol for six days in Texas says the only food he received was a pork sandwich every eight hours.

  • What do we do about the ‘ISIS brides’? The U.K.’s Shamima Begum and Alabama’s Hoda Muthana both traveled to join the Islamic State as young women and helped recruit for Islamic State and promote its violent ideologies abroad. They’ve since disavowed ISIS and are now being held captive by Kurdish forces—and are begging to return home with their babies and go through the justice system. But both the U.S. and U.K. are trying to wash their hands of them: the U.K. has revoked Begum’s citizenship and the U.S. is arguing that Muthana never had U.S. citizenship. Muthana’s family has launched a legal campaign for her right to return. Should the government treat them differently because they’re women? Does the government have any sort of responsibility to them? “We never consider stripping citizenship from serial rapists or mass murderers,” H.A. Hellyer notes at WaPo. “Indeed, the wife of the man most responsible for the most bloodshed in Syria, Assad, is a British national — and she hasn’t had her citizenship removed.” And over at the Atlantic, Graeme Wood writes says Begum and Muthana are our responsibility: “We inflicted them on the world. They are our responsibility, and we have to punish them, rather than force others to punish them on our behalf.”

  • Going traditional 👰🏽 I talked to a bunch of young Muslim women about why they’re leaning into the idea of arranged marriages, sometimes even after having dated for years. I also profiled a new business that’s crafting beautifully-designed marriage contracts for Muslim couples’ nikkah ceremonies.

  • With the Muslim Inquisition, the only winning move is not to play. The Guardian’s Nesrine Malik argued that persistent questioning of Rep. Ilhan Omar shows that Muslims will forever be expected to prove their liberal credentials. “What Omar is being subjected to is only a subgenre of a wider smell-test for interlopers,” Malik wrote. “…The questions will never stop, even when they are answered.”

  • When it comes to Rep. Omar and Israel, everyone has an opinion 🗣 The latest kerfuffle, over her tweets saying that U.S. politicians’ support of Israel is based on money from lobbying groups like AIPAC, culminated in both Trump and Pence calling for Omar’s resignation. Vox said the tweets show left-wing anti-Semitism, as did NYT; the Daily Caller said anti-Semitism is a typical symptom of Islamism; the Socialist Worker said she’s being targeted as a black Muslim challenge to white supremacy; Marc Lamont Hill said her faith and race are clearly affecting analyses of her tweets; The Guardian and The Nation said she was right about the pro-Israel lobby’s influence; The Daily Beast wants to move on and focus on the Palestinian plight; and on and on. One interesting take to me is the observation that it took two Muslim Congresswomen for the Democratic Party to confront its internal divide on Israel. “It’s about...thinking through what it looks like to build a strong family that is able to withstand anti-Semitism, withstand Islamophobia, all the hate that we’ve collectively been fighting against,” Omar told the Star-Tribune in her first interview since the fateful tweet.

  • Omar is just the latest example of the multiple forms of bigotry black Muslim women face, Abdelaziz wrote in a piece that also quotes Margari Hill, co-founder of the Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative. I also featured MuslimARC in a story this month about the organization’s fifth anniversary.

  • Don’t miss these magazine profiles. Rolling Stone interviewed Omar about finding her way in Washington; Paper talked to model Halima Aden about encouraging girls to aim high; WaPo spoke to activist Linda Sarsour about her work for the Women’s March. Speaking of which…

  • Meet the Muslim activists at last month’s Women’s March. “By having this march and all coming together, maybe we can work these issues out. We have to at least speak to each other,” one woman told Religion & Politics magazine.

  • This Harvard-educated scholar of Islamic studies just became the mayor of Montgomery, N.J. "Growing up as a Shia Muslim, I always had this sense that we should fight injustice wherever we find it," Jaffer said in an interview about her journey to becoming America's first Muslim woman mayor.

  • Craving a halal burrito? 🌯 The Wall Street Journal looked at the increasing number of halal Mexican restaurants in the U.S.

  • Good reads 📚 Vanessa Taylor curated 10 books (well, eight books and two articles) about black Muslim history for Teen Vogue. Oh, and Ibtihaj Muhammad just wrote a children’s book! The history-making Olympic fencer talked to Bustle about “The Proudest Blue,” releasing in October, about two Muslim sisters and their faith.

  • Building better metrics 📈 Over the weekend, this newsletter earned a mention in a Columbia Journalism Review article by Amal Ahmed about how the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding—with whom this newsletter has collaborated—is working to provide higher quality data on American Muslims.

Shout out to the Our Three Winners Foundation 👌

This month marked the fourth anniversary of the killing of three young Muslims—Deah Shaddy Barakat, Yusor Mohammad Abu-Salha and Razan Mohammad Abu-Salha—by a neighbor at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill’s campus.

After the attack, Deah’s sister, Suzanne Barakat, created the Our Three Winners Foundation to honor the victims’ lives and to help prevent hate crimes by combatting implicit biases.

🗣 Talk to me

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

- Aysha