In this edition: Muslim ban, CVE in L.A., and collab with me, maybe?
Hey all! You might notice that we’ve got a new banner, inspired by the work of one of my favorite artists and my spring trip to Spain’s Andalusia. I really hope you like it because it cost me $70 🙃🙃 That’s what I get for teaching my sister, a college student who freelances as a designer, that young women should never work for free and should always set their rate higher than they think they should. Lesson learned.
Anyways, here’s the latest. Let’s get the inevitable ~Palestine and censorship~ controversies out of the way first.
If you need a quick primer on the Wajahat Ali situation, this video from Aymann Ismail over at Slate is great investment of 10 minutes. Ali sits down to discuss his “excommunication” by ISNA, engagement with the Muslim Leadership Initiative and how he thinks dogma and absolutism is poisoning U.S. Muslims. I’ll also note that, like Ismail, I’ve been attempting in this newsletter to focus on the U.S. but have found it’s hard to avoid zooming in on the Israel-Palestine conflict. Alas. But I’ve had to kind of lean in to these controversies, since they show exactly to what I hoped to with Creeping Sharia: the textures, the tensions, the fault lines and the alliances among U.S. Muslims.
“It’s normal. We’re always going to be spied on.” The Intercept found that the FBI and state police have interviewed at least four pro-Palestine college activists about connections to terrorism and whether they were funneling funds to Hamas. The Intercept also goes into some background on the 2001 closure of the Holy Land Foundation, once the largest Muslim-run U.S. charity, for alleged support of Hamas and the convictions’ effect on U.S. Muslim political life.
How Zahra Billoo got her award back. In my last issue, you read about about how the progressive interfaith group PACT rescinded their award to Billoo, a CAIR leader, over backlash from Jewish groups. Well, the backlash to the backlash has since prompted PACT to apologize and reverse course.
For Muslim women, #MeToo is not a new conversation. NPR looks at how HEART Women & Girls, led by Chicago’s Nadiah Mohajir, has provided a space to talk about sex and sexual assault (as well as broader reproductive and sexual health questions) for nearly a decade.
“Hoejabi” was probably the last word I would have expected to see in the New York Times. But in 2018, everything we thought we knew has been turned upside down. So this happened: an NYU student wrote about how the term is empowering (🤔) Muslim women to reclaim their sexuality. Not sure what to say, beyond registering my general leeriness toward writing about Muslim women’s sexuality for a non-Muslim audience. But I do want to hear your thoughts.
“My wife can never call my name in public.” The BBC spoke to three men named Jihad: a doctor based in Chicago, a celebrated Syrian actor living in the U.S. and a Palestinian engineer now living in London.
In Los Angeles, a tussle over surveillance and civil rights. City officials are deciding whether to accept a $425K Dept. of Homeland Security grant to fight homegrown extremism. SoCal Muslims have been splintered over the issue of government-funded Countering Violent Extremism engagement programs for years. The group Muslims for Progressive Values has urged the city to accept the funds, and some local mosque leaders stand with the mayor. But civil rights advocates say the grant would fund efforts that disproportionately target Muslim residents rather than attacking, say, white nationalist violence. Critics of CVE say the program, as originally conceived under Obama, is inherently flawed: exploitative, and not just ineffective but harmful. The Trump administration has since actually tried to focus CVE efforts exclusively on Muslims—even attempting to rename the program “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism.” (For more reading, see the Brennan Center for Justice’s resource page on CVE 📚.)
Drama at my organization about the term “Muslim ban” brought up a larger point about journalism. Long story short: our interim editor tweeted to say that editors will “probably” reject op-ed pitches that use the phrase “Muslim ban,” which he termed an “inaccurate shorthand.” When staffers (read: I) brought it up, he replied that no conscientious journalist would assign intent by connecting the dots between Trump’s statements a few years ago and his current legislation. 🤷🏽♀️. My thinking is that you can’t divorce the ban from its political, historical and social context—and, indeed, the president’s own words and actions—even if the executive order doesn’t mention the word Islam. As Todd Green later articulated in our op-ed pages, reporters must also seriously consider whether the term “travel ban” is truly any more neutral. After all, where did that language originate? I’m curious to know where other journos fall. To you, is it a Muslim ban, a travel ban, a ban on travel from several Muslim-majority countries, a travel ban many have criticized as anti-Muslim, an executive order Trump once referred to as a “Muslim ban”…?
Nearly 1 in 5 Americans think Muslims should be denied the right to vote. “It’s the natural logical outcome of believing that an entire community is a pool of suspects,” Dalia Mogahed told Slate in an interview about her new survey on public perceptions of Muslims in the Trump era. Unsurprisingly, the perception is more negative from the right, but when it comes to women’s rights the left and right are united against Islam. “The concern for Muslim women’s well-being is actually fueling what they are suffering from, which is religious bigotry,” Mogahed says.
Florida Muslims offered to host every single migrant child who has been separated from their family. The Islamic Society of Tampa Bay collected pledges from community members to cover all transportation costs and arrange housing until families can be reunited. “Our Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, had once said there is a grave punishment for the person who separates a child from their mother,” one leader said. “The Muslim community is ready to do its part by hosting these children in loving and safe homes until they are reunified with their parents.” No word on whether the administration will take them up on the offer. I am skeptical.
👌 Shout out to “Being Muslim”
I just received Sylvia Chan-Malik’s new book, “Being Muslim: A Cultural History of Women of Color and American Islam,” in the mail over the weekend and hope to interview her about it soon. An associate professor at Rutgers University, Chan-Malik teaches on American studies, critical race and ethnic studies, and women's and gender studies. And some personal background: she was raised in a culturally Buddhist household by Chinese immigrants, worked as a journalist and engaged in anti-racist activist circles, then converted to Islam shortly after 9/11, when she began studying the history of Islam in the U.S. That’s still the major focus on her research.
The author Zareena Grewal says Chan-Malik’s book argues for “conceptualizing Islam in the US in terms of its foundational blackness and the religious opposition to racism and sexism." Really look forward to digging into it myself.
By the way, if her name sounds familiar, Chan-Malik was also interviewed in that Slate video. Find her measured reading of Wajahat Ali’s controversial article here.
🗣 Talk to me
Over the next several months, I'm looking to collaborate with Muslim journalists, activists and academics to develop special editions of Creeping Sharia. I'd like to work with experts to curate reading guides on niche topics like CVE or immigration law, as well as sects and offshoots like Ismailis, Sufis, the Nation of Islam and more. Shoot me a message if you’re interested.
If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, I would love to hear them. Otherwise, see you in a couple weeks, insha’Allah!