Fasting on the front lines, Gen Z ummah, Ramadan bail fund

Plus: Mosques around the country are turning into blood donation centers.

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.

📌 TOP PICKS

The New Republic — A bail fund to help free detained Muslims is finding new urgency as the coronavirus spreads rapidly through prisons and jails. Believers Bail Out draws from a deep tradition of black Muslim abolitionists, Vanessa Taylor writes.

Plough — Some Muslim traditionalists, critical of U.S. Muslims’ leftward drift and fearing a cultural and moral dilution, have chosen to take a so-called “Muslim Benedict Option” by forming their own communal enclaves. Shadi Hamid looks at one such community in rural Pennsylvania.

The New Yorker — A Philadelphia imam wrestled with whether to close his mosque’s doors due to the pandemic. “We want to make sure that people get fed, because we don’t know what’s going to happen with those folks if we close,” he said. Then a coughing congregant changed worshippers’ tune.

HuffPost — Osamah Mahyoub and Emad Al-Azabi survived armed rebels, poisonous snakes and sinister smugglers. Now, as Rowaida Abdelaziz reports, they face the greatest threat of all: the U.S. immigration system.

🕌 COMMUNITY

  • The biggest story of the month was how Muslims’ highly communal Ramadan practices are adjusting to the pandemic, which has shut down the mosques where worshippers usually congregate for daily iftar dinners and prayer vigils long into the nights. That’s forced Muslims to get creative with Zoom iftars, card and gift exchanges, and other projects to maintain a sense of community, as covered by national outlets including HuffPost, NPR, The Guardian, NBC, Elle, CNN, ABC, Insider, WSJ, Vox and Time. Local outlets from D.C. to Texas to Denver to Chicago to Minnesota also covered these shifts.

  • Muslims are figuring out ways to preserve their faith at home, from aqeeqah birth ceremonies in isolation to a Ramadan lights contest to families recreating mosques in their living rooms. One Minneapolis neighborhood even partnered with the city to encourage at-home prayer during Ramadan by playing the call to prayer over a loudspeaker.

  • A few are trying to salvage their mosques: In Syracuse, a congregant used his asbestos abatement expertise to create an easy-to-sanitize prayer room, covered in plastic with special ventilation. (I’m unsure if this is legal.)

  • Community service during Ramadan, a time of heightened charity, is focused on coronavirus relief. Dozens of Ahmadi mosques are converting into blood donation centers. Kansas City volunteers are delivering halal meals from Muslim-owned restaurants to healthcare workers fasting on the front lines. Activists in Brooklyn are distributing free gift cards for Muslim-owned markets to Muslim families in need, one of dozens of Muslim-led food security initiatives in the city. Halal food trucks are distributing free meals nightly during Ramadan. Many communities are making masks, holding supply drives and offering free groceries and deliveries. And immigrant and refugee chefs are cooking free meals for those in need.

  • Muslims are overrepresented in multiple fields that are considered essential during the pandemic, from taxi drivers to doctors. During Ramadan, such workers are working 12-hour shifts while fasting and self-isolating from their families. It can present a serious challenge for doctors on the front lines, though many say it’s only helped them focus.

  • An emergency room nurse in Brooklyn who tested positive says health workers face a “war zone.” A Syrian American doctor who spent years treating civilian brutalized by the Assad regime says he faces similar life-and-death challenges today. While we’re talking doctors: Two Muslim doctors spent their honeymoon fighting the outbreak, and a Connecticut doctor helped develop a ventilator device that allows seven patients to be treated at once.

  • Black Muslims fear they will be disproportionately impacted by the coronavirus. A new oral history initiative is training black Muslim youth to document their elders’ stories—before it's too late.

  • Four of the country’s top Sunni imams created a grant fund to protect imams and mosque staff from layoffs. As lockdowns dry up donations during Islam’s most charitable time of year, many mosques face dire financial strain. One Florida mosque may even face eviction shortly.

  • In New York City, working class immigrant families are battling broken government welfare systems along with devastating disparities in healthcare and health outcomes, with Bangladeshi communities hit particularly hard.

  • Muslim communities are also struggling to hold onto their funeral rites as New York City is overwhelmed by deaths. Usually, a deceased Muslim's body is washed with water, wrapped in a shroud, then a communal janazah prayer is performed and the deceased is buried within 24 hours. But the cost of burial has spiked, coronavirus victims’ bodies are not washed with water, and janazah prayers are sometimes taking place on empty streets rather than within mosques. False rumors of mass graves have also panicked communities.

  • Arab American businesses wonder: Will Little Arabia be recognizable after the pandemic passes? In Little Baghdad, sales are down, too, but some halal meat markets are seeing takeout sales jump.

  • Language barriers and a lack of internet access could cause educational inequities to widen as schooling moves online during the pandemic.

  • In memoriam 🤲 The coronavirus stole Idris Bey, a 9/11 first responder and 27-year veteran of the NYC Fire Department; cab driver and Harvard dad Mohammed Jafor; Akbar Shabazz, the first Muslim chaplain employed by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice; Kamal Ahmed, head of the Bangladesh Society in New York; the mother of Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress. Also read the NYT obituary of Liyna Anwar, a South Asian journalist whose struggle to find a donor to treat her leukemia started a national campaign.

  • Pledging your life to God, the Ahmadi Muslim way.

  • The imam of the oldest mosques in North Texas is retiring after two decades of social justice work.

  • Manhattan College’s Dr. Mehnaz Afridi serves as the world’s first Muslim director of a Holocaust center.

  • "Compared to what people are facing in the homeland, this is nothing.” Radio Free Asia’s Uighur reporters discuss investigating the fate of their own people.

🆘 HATE & CRIME

  • Police arrested a suspect with a history of mosque vandalism in connection with a fire that completely destroyed a Missouri mosque at the start of Ramadan. The same day, someone reportedly broke a Salt Lake City mosque’s window.

  • A Muslim pharmacist was tasered and handcuffed for grocery shopping while wearing a face mask.

  • After announcing her run for office, MuslimGirl.com founder Amani Al-Khatahtbeh received a vile death threat against her family.

  • Far-right groups are disrupting Muslim groups’ online meetings with anti-Muslim harassment. “There were pointed disgusting things about God or about Islam,” says one Muslim student who was Zoombombed. “My hands began to shake and sweat and then turned cold,” another victim says.

  • The top administrator at a major Iowa jail says Muslims are “pawns of the devil” and will soon be hunting down and killing Christians. Also in Iowa, a congressional candidate wants to redefine Islam as "militant cultural imperialism seeking world domination" and says the faith isn’t constitutionally protected. 

⚖️ LAW & POLICY

  • The pandemic has brought new challenges for incarcerated Muslims during Ramadan, reducing access to food items, religious materials and chaplains. Faith groups have pressed prison officials not to use the outbreak as an excuse to neglect inmates’ religious needs. But in Virginia, some Muslim prisoners have once again been denied the right to fast, civil rights groups say. Separately, a lawsuit alleging Corrections Corp. of America officials fed Muslim detainees pork while claiming it was turkey has been revived.

  • An immigration detainee, scheduled to be deported months ago, is trapped in an ICE processing center due to the pandemic. An Iranian scientist with health issues has also contracted the coronavirus in ICE detention.

  • A Muslim woman sued New York police for making her remove her hijab for her booking photo, a night in jail and a court appearance.

  • Muslim Somali workers in Minnesota are on the front lines of labor rights disputes with Amazon over safety concerns during the pandemic.

  • A Muslim woman filed a complaint alleging workplace discrimination at CUNY, including being called a terrorist and being mocked for her beliefs.

🎭 CULTURE

  • Welcome to Muslim, a new digital publication for the Gen Z ummah that asks, "Why can't we Muslims cover news?"

  • Some niqab-wearing Muslim women say they're finding greater acceptance in an era of face masks: "Nobody is giving me dirty looks."

  • Forget “panic buying.” For many immigrants and refugees, being ready for the worst is a state of mind.

  • New York City was once home to a thriving community of Arab immigrants known as Little Syria.

  • Entertainment 🍿 See Mahershala Ali play Ramy’s sheikh in season two of Ramy on Hulu. Jay Electronica’s debut album puts his spirituality at the center. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar wishes he handled his conversion differently. Influencer Shahd Batal discusses being the face of ASOS’ new modest style edit. Zainab Johnson discusses her role in Amazon's new sci-fi comedy "Upload."

  • Books 📚 Nazita Lajevardi’s “Outsiders at Home” measures discrimination empirically to provide an account of systemic discrimination beyond anecdotes. Linda Sarsour’s new memoir is a tribute to the tenacity and fearlessness needed to stand against injustice.

🗳 POLITICS

  • Since Trump took office, thousands of Iranians have been isolated from their families, separated by one travel ban after another.

  • Trump suggested there “could be a difference” in how authorities enforce lockdown measures for mosques during Ramadan compared with how churches were treated on Easter. He echoed a far-right talking point that’s been weaponized across the globe. This “latest call to be suspicious of what the Muslims are up to isn’t even a dog whistle; he’s just saying it out loud,” Aymann Ismail writes in response. “One thing remains the same this Ramadan: the bigotry our community faces from the president of the United States,” Maggie Siddiqi says.

  • Bernie’s effectively out of the race. Now what? the Muslim advocacy group Emgage has endorsed Biden, after previously supporting Sanders. But for many it’s not so simple: “Now that Sanders’ inclusive campaign has raised our standards, it will be tough for us to go back to politics as usual,” Tazeen Ali writes. “My own Muslim community has made huge strides since we first heard about ‘Amo Bernie’ and his commitment to these ideas five years ago,” Abdullah Younus reflects.

  • Democrats are working on legislation to force the Trump administration to release secret findings on Saudi Arabia’s role in killing Jamal Khashoggi.

  • Two Muslim candidates for office in New York City were kicked off the ballot by the Board of Elections.

  • Meet Shahana Hanif, the Bangadeshi American organizer who’s running for New York City Council

  • Trump's new press secretary has a history of defending Islamophobia.

🧠 COMMENTARY

  • Muslim women are used to practicing their faith outside the mosque. Men should take this opportunity to learn from them, Anniryn Armstrong suggests.

  • In Ramadan, those fasting must also actively fight collective hunger, Imam Omar Suleiman writes. During the pandemic, as food banks are stretched beyond capacity, he says, maybe all Americans should consider joining in.

  • On Ramadan at home 🏠 “In filling my home with new life, I find comfort and, Inshallah, the way through my first Ramadan and through this pandemic,” convert Mary Catherine Ford says. “I confess I like this way of observing the holy month…God is with us wherever we pray,” Ruth Nasrullah writes. “Here’s hoping my family and I won’t look like a depressed and hangry Brady Bunch this Ramadan,” Rummana Hussain writes. An Illinois imam says his congregants are mourning their physical mosques. 

  • On parenting 👨‍👩‍👧 Asiya Shakir explains why she’s letting her 7-year-old daughter fast during quarantine. Meet the mom who started an online community for Muslim parents.

  • The U.S. must not repeat the same mistake it made after 9/11, Sahar Aziz says. Just as Muslims and Arabs were scapegoated then, Chinese and Asian Americans are now being collectively blamed for the coronavirus pandemic.

  • Journalist Shaheen Pasha reflects on how a loved one’s incarceration set her on a new, unexpected path to found the Prison Journalism Project.

👌 SHOUT OUT

Check out American Muslim, a new three-year multimedia storytelling project dedicated to revealing Muslims’ long and vital role in shaping the U.S. There’s a stellar lineup of scholars involved.

🗣 TALK TO ME

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

- Aysha