Immigrant businesses and Black lives, Indiana mosque shooting, Uighur bill

“Let the buildings burn. Justice needs to be served.”

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

NYT — It was Sandra Bland’s death in police custody in 2015 that made Imani Bashir buy a one-way ticket out of the U.S. Living abroad, she says, is her way of prolonging her Black son’s life.

NYT — Before coronavirus hit, one Muslim funeral home in Brooklyn was holding 20 to 30 funerals a month. Now, they’re moving about 15 bodies a day.

WaPo — A Bangladeshi family’s restaurant burned down during protests in Minneapolis against the police killing of George Floyd. But like many immigrant business owners in the area, the owner’s daughter writes, they still support the cause. “Let the buildings burn,” the owner said. “Justice needs to be served. Put those officers in jail.” 

NPR — “This can be replaced,” says the owner of Mama Safia's Kitchen, a Somali restaurant that burned down during the protests. “George's life cannot.”

NYT — Three weeks after Uighur businessman Ekpar Asat returned to China from U.S. in 2016, when he attended a prestigious State Department program, he disappeared. Now his sister, a Harvard-trained lawyer, is fighting to free him from Chinese detention. 

WaPo — Ali and Mary were supposed to be observing their first Ramadan together as a married couple. Then Mary started coughing.

🕌 COMMUNITY

  • George Floyd was arrested by Minneapolis police in response to a call by an Arab American-owned store’s employee, who suspected Floyd was using a counterfeit $20 bill. Floyd’s killing by police has touched off a debate on the responsibilities of immigrant-owned businesses in Black neighborhoods. “The reality is many such calls happen among these type of stores, unfortunately,” says Rami Nashashibi, who trains corner store owners to be allies of their Black customers. The store has since pledged not to call the police over non-violent crime.

  • Muslim communities are among those protesting the lack of accountability for police killings, with Minnesota’s young Somalis taking a lead role. “I was an organizer in Minneapolis for years. This moment was a long time coming,” Vanessa Taylor writes.

  • A few mosques in some parts of America have slowly begun reopening, but things look different: praying six feet apart on disposable mats, requiring registration for entry. Muslim business owners, too, are looking to their faith as they calculate reopening.

  • Digital events abounded during Ramadan, including an iftar photo club, interfaith programs, and a virtual iftar hosted in Animal Crossing attended by journalists from WaPo, BuzzFeed, Vice and Eater. Organizers say going digital has added something they don’t want to forfeit when mosques reopen.

  • On Eid, communities found creative ways to celebrate: a cable TV program, car parades, drive-thru celebrations and comedy shows. Some families are also building mini-mosques at home.

  • “I am considering myself an essential worker”: An Brooklyn imam helps his community maintain the Islamic rites and rituals of burial, which the pandemic has upended. At Manhattan’s largest mosque, an imam eases a pandemic’s grief. Upstate, an imam who had waited over a year for his work visa arrived at his new mosque just as houses of worship began closing their doors.

  • Without Ramadan donations, Chicago's Rohingya cultural center’s future has gone up in the air at a time when local refugees needs its services most. 

  • Fasting while providing essential services was harder than ever this year for doctors, EMTs and other forgotten essential workers. Ramadan during coronavirus “felt like a dystopian novel” for many Muslim doctors, though one physician described spending the month in an emergency room as feeling “like home.” In Philly, a group of Black doctors provided free testing at a local mosque, and other Black Muslim leaders are working to ensure their community’s wellness.

  • For many Muslims, Ramadan is a time to reflect on societal injustices and help correct them. Despite lockdowns, Muslims amped up charity during Ramadan. They gave zakat, offered rent assistance, bailed out vulnerable pre-trial detainees, adapted their soup kitchens and food pantries, and donated sterile hijabs and food to healthcare workers, dates to incarcerated Muslims, and meals, masks and bags of rice to local residents. One elderly social worker delivered food to homebound seniors and laid off workers, and two sisters in Brooklyn raised thousands to assist undocumented Bangladeshi Americans.

  • Muslim-led butchers, restaurants, mosques, and mutual aid groups have been working to make halal food accessible to those in need, often out of their own pockets. New York’s only Somali restaurant hasn’t gotten any financial support, and sales are down 90%, but that hasn’t stopped them from feeding the hungry. Closed mosques meant some families lacked food during Ramadan, and critics say the free halal meals provided by New York City are seriously substandard.

  • Some Latino converts navigated a locked-down Ramadan in households where they were the only Muslims.

  • Some cities allowed mosques to broadcast the call to prayer, helping lift spirits. But near Los Angeles, the azaan brought as much controversy as it did comfort.

  • DIASPORA UIGHURS 🌎 Nancy Pelosi just appointed the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom’s first Uighur member. A NASA engineer living in exile urges the international community to not forget his Uighur homeland. A Memphis woman remembers her brother, a Chinese state employee who helped Uighurs learn Chinese but was still detained. A Boston woman heard from her father for the first time in three years via Chinese media, where he denounced her activism for him as anti-China in what advocates say is a forced video. The pandemic has reshaped Uighur activism, but across the diaspora, Uighurs still fight to keep their culture alive.

  • IN MEMORIAM 🤲 Mohamed Omer, who spent his life trying to provide the best for his children, Abdelfattah Abdrabbo, a Detroit store owner and prayer leader, and Somali artist Hassan Nor all died of coronavirus. Indian-born American artist Zarina Hashmi died due to complications related to Alzheimer’s.

  • Employees at a Minnesota Amazon facility say the company is failing to protect them and their communities after several co-workers tested positive. An outbreak at poultry processing plants in central Minnesota has already established the area as a hot zone. East African immigrants make up much of the workforce at the facilities.

🗳 POLITICS

  • Biden has released a plan for American Muslims, following in the footsteps of Warren. Most Muslim activists called it a “concrete beginning” but said they needed more specific policy details and direct engagement. Asad Dandia writes that Biden's record on surveillance, in particular, ought to be interrogated.

  • A Queens judge ruled that two Bangladeshi American candidates will appear on the ballot after being initially removed over differences between their legal and professional names.

  • With endorsements from Reps. AOC and Ro Khanna under her belt, Georgia congressional candidate Nabilah Islam says the pandemic has given new urgency to her campaign.

  • For Colorado congressional candidate Iman Jodeh, faith and progressive politics go hand in hand.

⚖️ LAW & POLICY

  • The House and Senate both approved the bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which would condemn China for its detention camps and sanction Chinese officials responsible for them. The bill awaits Trump’s signature.

  • The trial of the accused 9/11 plotters, finally scheduled for early next year, is once again delayed. The only man ever convicted in a U.S. court for a role in the attacks says he’s renounced terrorism.

  • The Supreme Court declined to review the case of Imam Jamil al-Amin, an influential Black Muslim leader formerly known as H. Rap Brown, who is seeking a retrial after his 2002 murder conviction.

  • An elderly former Black Panther has been hospitalized with the coronavirus after the district attorney successfully appealed a court order for his temporary release.

  • Maryland’s Harford County government has settled a lawsuit alleging anti-Muslim bias over a proposed development in Joppatowne by Ahmadi Muslims.

  • A lawsuit in Pennsylvania highlights the challenges Muslim inmates face during Ramadan and beyond. As the outbreak rips through prisons, they seem to be facing more restrictions than ever.

  • A New Jersey court has ordered a new trial in a case involving a landlord accused of refusing to rent to Muslim applicants, finding that the judge and defense attorney unfairly put the religion of Islam on trial. The defense attorney suggested that Islam allows Muslims to lie and requires Muslims to view non-Muslims as infidels.

  • A former New Jersey cop who said he suffered years of discrimination and retaliation is suing to get his job back.

  • In Minnesota, the St. Paul City Council approved a measure denouncing India’s prime minister and ruling party for their “Islamophobic ideology,” after unexpected opposition caused a two-week delay.

🆘 HATE & CRIME

  • Worshippers at an Indianapolis mosque on Eid al-Fitr were nearly struck when a car driving by shot at the mosque.

  • The man accused of setting a fire that destroyed a Missouri mosque has been charged with a federal hate crime. A separate fire that destroyed a Minneapolis mosque appears to have been accidental.

  • After Georgia officer shot and killed a Sudanese man who threw rocks at him, Muslim activists are calling on the state’s attorney general for a full investigation.

  • A New Jersey man faces multiple charges after ramming his SUV repeatedly into a niqabi woman’s car. “I thought we were going to die,” she said later.

  • The USAID’s new religious freedom adviser has a long history of anti-Islam comments.

  • Ted Howze, a Republican House candidate in California, said the anti-Muslim posts on his social media accounts had been posted by someone else. But as a second set of posts emerged, Republican leaders began frantically distancing themselves from him. Separately, in Maryland, a local candidate withdrew his bid for office after criticism for his anti-Muslim Facebook posts.

  • A Minnesota school is funding its own playground after months of dealing with strangers filming kids at play in an attempt to prove that the mosque next doors is imposing sharia.

  • An Arizona community college is apologizing for discriminatory quiz questions such as which elements of Islamic doctrine encourage terrorism.

  • Two drivers pulled over for racing said they were trying to get to dinner quickly because they were fasting. 😂

🎭 CULTURE

  • RAMY 🧢 TV’s new Muslim characters feel freer, more experimental and frankly weirder than most who emerged in the burdensome age of countering stereotypes. Take Ramy Youssef. “I have donated my likeness to Muslim science,” the actor and comic told Slate. “Do whatever you want with it. Pick me apart.” Youssef was also interviewed by GQ, BuzzFeed, The New Yorker, Vanity Fair and NYT. The L.A. Times says his second season is “miraculously” good.

  • Four millennials of different faiths moved into the Abrahamic House together as a social experiment. Then a pandemic broke out.

  • How are Muslims thinking about their mortality during this time? Some Noise podcast explores.

  • FOOD 🍴 An uncertain beef market means halal businesses are tapping international supplies to meet customer demand. Boston’s Tawakal Halal Café, which has earned national acclaim, is now depending on its neighborhood to survive. Two businesswomen in Southern California sweeten up a rough Ramadan with knafeh cookie shots. For one daughter, living with her parents again means an opportunity to learn her mother’s recipes. The NYT spoke to eight people about their most meaningful Ramadan meals.

  • FILMS 🎬 Zeshawn Ali’s debut documentary “Two Gods” follows a Muslim casket maker mentoring two young men. Director Lena Khan is finishing her Disney+ film “Flora & Ulysses” during a pandemic. After three decades, a Minnesota professor found the footage of his own film, likely the last Somali-made film from the pre-war era.

  • BOOKS 📚 Porochista Khakpour's “Brown Album” confronts a troubling duality in the Iranian American diaspora. The “Once Upon an Eid” anthology offers 15 unique stories from Muslim women about celebrating in different countries. Rep. Ilhan Omar describes a bruising life in her memoir, “This is What America Looks Like.” Omar also spoke to NPR and Elle about her book.

  • A Black family in Louisiana discovers its Bengali Muslim heritage.

🧠 COMMENTARY

  • Bailing out mosques, who provide critical community services but may not survive the pandemic, is essential, Harris Iqbal argues.

  • Mosques are now regularly inviting women to offer religious lectures virtually to mixed-gender congregations, Hind Makki observes: “Sheltering in place, in fact, may be giving American Muslims an opportunity to reshape our community spaces.”

  • Rafia Khader talks to an “unmosqued” Muslim who says his family’s worship is thriving during the pandemic, and argues that more Muslims will question the relevancy of mosques as they re-open.

  • “My hope is that Muslims have not spent this Ramadan counting down the hours before darkness, but instead have used the time to practice mercy — for everyone, including themselves,” Najma Sharif writes. Ahmed Ali Akbar writes about becoming his quarantined family's head chef during Ramadan. Frank Johnson reflects on how his first Ramadan brought him closer both to God and his own father’s memory.

  • RAMADAN AT HOME 🏠 The worst Ramadan ever? Not so fast, Omer Bajwa says. This Ramadan has been “like cracking open a window in a stifled existence,” Fareeha Molvi writes. “In Islam, worship is anywhere,” Deanna Othman says. Quarantine has amplified the reflection that Ramadan is supposed to inspire, Ali-Asghar Abedi writes. “Ramadan is about becoming comfortable with loss,” Uzma Jalaluddin reflects. “Ramadan is about testing our patience and learning to cope with less,” Mariam Sobh writes. “Inside the pressure cooker of grave circumstance and an uncertain future ahead, iftar dishes have soaked up even more meaning for me,” Fareeha Molvi says. Author Saadia Faruqi writes on trying to create a special Ramadan amid work, homeschooling and a pandemic. One globetrotter reflects on a homebound holy month.

  • It’s time to put Palestine back at the center of the American Muslim political agenda, Ramzy Baroud argues.

  • Nailah Dean reflects on the racism she experienced while participating in a Muslim millennial version of “Love is Blind.” The matchmaking program’s organizer says round two will be different.

  • Some women say being stuck at home for Ramadan is nothing new.

  • For Gen Z Muslims, Gigi and Zayn are more than just a Hollywood power couple, Iman Sultan writes.

👌 SHOUT OUT

The Muslim Anti-Racism Collaborative, founded by educator Margari Hill and lawyer Namira Islam, has trained some of the country’s largest Muslim advocacy organizations in racial justice and is continuing its mission amid the protests. Read more about them here.

Please also see The Bail Project and a list of bail funds in major U.S cities here.

🗣 TALK TO ME

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

- Aysha