Also, if you're Shia, I'd appreciate if you read the last bullet point and give me your honest feedback.
Salaam! Last weekend I was in Columbus, Ohio, where I joined religion reporters around the country for the annual Religion News Association conference. There, I got to meet fellow Muslim journalists Aymann Ismail (Slate), Hannah Allam (BuzzFeed News), Amber Khan (Interfaith Voices), Jaweed Kaleem (L.A. Times), Dalia Hatuqa (freelance) and Dilshad Ali (AltMuslim). Seriously, how exciting is this photo?When I went to RNA in D.C. for the first time two years ago, Dilshad, Dina Zingaro (60 Minutes), Ruth Nasrullah (freelance) and I were probably the only Muslim journos there. Last year, in Nashville, I think there were even fewer of us. But this year we were actually able to pray Jummah together in the hotel. Just surreal. Next RNA will take place September 2019 in Vegas, and there are scholarships to help get you there! 💸
But for now, the headlines.
Purveyors of hate. So Hyatt Hotels went ahead and hosted anti-Muslim group ACT for America’s conference this month near D.C., despite vocal outcry. There, director Brigitte Gabriel apparently boasted about her group’s level of access to Trump: “I actually want you to know we have a standing meeting at the White House once a week. We have a president that likes us.” Concerning but, as The Atlantic reported last year, also nothing new.
A hipster halaqah in Virginia. TIME Mag photographed a informal Quran study group where millennial Muslim women draw on Drake, Pinterest and local museums.
The (grand old) party is over for Muslims. Hannah Allam profiles Anwar Khalifa, one of a dying breed of Republican Muslims who’s now navigating what it means to be in a political party – and sometimes a mosque – where they no longer feel welcome. Khalifa, like many other Republican Muslims, says the trust and cachet he’s built in his conservative circles is worth the price of staying.
A mosque, minus the male gaze. Over at Jezebel, Sheena Raza Faisal writes about going to a women-led Sufi dergah in New York. “In rejecting the progressive versus regressive binary, the women at the dergah refuse to be turned into evidence. They decide how open, free, and equal their own community is,” she writes. “The conversation belongs to them, just as the room does.”
Michigan becomes a CVE battleground once again. Niraj Warikoo reports on how the National Governors Association is funding Michigan and three more states to create "policy academies" to monitor and counter violent extremism. But because of Michigan’s high concentration of Arab-Americans and Muslims, local civil rights advocate fear the money will be used to surveil and target those communities.
A no-fly list case is back on ✈️ A federal appeals court just ruled that a Muslim man’s due process rights didn’t become moot when he was removed from the list without explanation three years after he sued. If the government places you on the no-fly list, which was created post-9/11, you’re barred from flying aboard commercial aircraft in into and out of the U.S. – and stigmatized as a suspected or potential terrorist. Yonas Fikre, an Eritrean-born American citizen, claims the FBI told him he could be removed from the list and paid big bucks if he became an informant. (Recommended reading: ProPublica on a no-fly list nightmare.)
This VICE headline caught a lot of flak: “The Photos Challenging What a Muslim Woman Should Look Like.” But the photo project the story is actually about, Alia Youssef’s “The Sisters Project,” aims to show the world how Canadian Muslim women see themselves.
His beard or his boxing career? 🥊 A Detroit teen says he’s being forced to choose between his passion and his Muslim faith. USA Boxing banned him from taking part in the Golden Gloves Tournament because he needs a religious waiver filed seven days before each fight. But he can’t file so far in advance for fights he doesn’t yet qualify for.
Inmates and imams. Muslim prison chaplains say they need more resources to be able to support inmates. “The overwhelming majority of Muslim inmates who I worked with saw their religion as perhaps the most important part of their own transformation, or a major part of their correctional program,” one Canadian chaplain said. And other Muslim inmates need chaplain support to deal with Islamophobic discrimination at the hands of fellow inmates or even guards: earlier this month, a Muslim woman imprisoned in Kansas said her hijab was confiscated as contraband, and that she was told she would be put in solitary if she didn’t remove the “rag” before leaving her cell.
Another invasive TSA search of a hijabi woman, this time at Boston’s Logan airport. The woman says an agent’s wand went so far up her dress that it touched her genitals. Last month, another hijabi reported an unnecessarily intrusive and humiliating airport security search – she had to show agents her menstrual pad.
What is Ashura? I wrote a quick explainer for RNS on the solemn occasion, and I’d appreciate feedback. Since I’m not Shia I want to make sure I was accurate, but I’m also disappointed with how I framed the piece. I originally planned to highlight Ashura blood drives as an interesting, lesser-known way of mourning, but because I got sick and didn’t get a chance to do some planned interviews, I settled for a broad explainer instead. In doing so, I think I ended up feeding into Sunni-normative tropes and fell into the ‘explaining to white people’ type of Islam journalism I dislike. I also focused too much on the bloody imagery as opposed to Ashura’s social justice narrative, as I had intended. So there’s that.
👌 Shout out to author Farah Rishi
If you’re looking for good Muslim sci-fi, keep an eye out for Farah Rishi. A former lawyer based in Philly, she was featured on an excellent RNA panel about the role of religion in science fiction (naturally, it was called “Close Encounters of the God Kind,” and there’s a livestream saved here). There, she explained some of the theological and scriptural reasons that Islam jibes with sci-fic, and she described writing science fiction as a Muslim woman as an act of self-care. 🔮 You can read more about that in a fantastic personal essay she wrote for VICE in 2016: “Dreaming of space exploration feels like an attractive alternative to, well, everything. …The stuff of science fiction sprinkled with reality, writing stories about Muslims exploring the fringes of the galaxy, far from a hateful political climate. To do so would be to take our present and place it on an imagined futuristic stage, providing a new perspective and ultimately clarify what we define as the status quo.”
Everyone walked away from that panel a little bit in love with her. Her debut novel is coming out with Glassworks Entertainment soon 😩 but if you can’t wait, like me, peep her fiction chops in this short story. And check out the work of authors like G. Willow Wilson, S.A. Chakraborty and Saladin Ahmed in the meantime. (Edit: Also just read about a new Moroccan space fantasy novel called “Mirage” from Somaiya Daud.)
🗣 Talk to me
As always, send me your comments, questions, corrections and fiction recommendations!