Salaam, friends! 👋 Happy autumn.
Last week I returned from Las Vegas, where I was attending my fourth-ever Religion News Association conference. I spoke on a panel about using social media as a tool for reporting, but more importantly, I visited two beautiful mosques in the city! So excited to sit down and write about the vibrant Muslim communities I met in the area.
Let’s jump into September’s stories. Buckle up, it’s another long one 😫
📌 TOP PICKS
WaPo — The Trump administration’s own data shows that its travel ban truly was a Muslim ban: The number of immigrant visas issued to citizens of affected Muslim-majority countries fell from 1,419 in October 2017 to 69 in January 2018. And the disparities go even deeper.
The Economist — A new column from Erasmus succinctly traces some of the political shifts and fractures among U.S. Muslims that we’ve traversed in this newsletter. “[T]o say that American Muslims have lurched from one end of the ideological spectrum to another would be an over-simplification…Muslims are not so much confirmed leftists as nomads, in search of anyone who will listen to them, and the only respectful attention they are getting is on the left.”
HuffPost — Rowaida Abdelaziz’s reporting on a Syrian couple separated by the Muslim ban may have helped pressure the State Department into issuing a visa to Asmaa Khadem Al Arbaiin, who spent years stranded in Turkey while her husband worked in the U.S.
NYT — “When I enlisted in the Marine Corps, I knew it was possible that I would become a casualty of war. I just never imagined I would become a casualty of the war on terror without ever leaving American soil.”
WaPo — Today at the very spot where the plane piloted by terrorists crashed into the Pentagon, hundreds of U.S. military employees gather to pray daily. Meet Manal Ezzat, the Muslim engineer who rebuilt the Pentagon crash site as a multi-faith chapel.
NYT — Omar Aziz mourns the life that 9/11 stole from him 18 years ago.
⚖️ LAW & POLICY
September’s biggest story was a federal judge’s historic ruling against the U.S. government’s watchlist of “known or suspected terrorists” as unconstitutional. The extrajudicial database includes over 1 million people, about 4,600 of whom are U.S. citizens and permanent residents. The Council on American-Islamic Relations had filed a lawsuit on behalf of 23 Muslim U.S. citizens—including a 2-year-old and a young man who had to be hospitalized after he was detained for being on the list—who claim they were wrongly placed on the list, that the government’s standards for adding names is overly broad and mismanaged, and that the system lacks any process for legal challenge and redress. CAIR claims the watchlist is “effectively a Muslim registry created in the wake of the widespread Islamophobia of the early 2000s.”
What’s next for the terror watchlist? The federal judge instructed both CAIR and the government to propose a path forward. That might mean an amended watchlist with fewer people on it, or developing mechanisms to challenge your placement on the list. Importantly, Maha Hilal notes, the ruling only applies to U.S. citizens and non-citizens on U.S. soil—so what will become of non-Americans who have also been targeted?
But the hearing also highlighted the sense of utter confusion around the process for obtaining the case-by-case immigration waivers promised by the Trump administration.
At least a dozen Iranian students set to begin U.S. graduate programs in engineering and computer science say their visas were abruptly canceled and they were barred from their flights at the last second, though federal officials deny any policy changes took place. Some immigration advocates have referred to such incidents as part of a “backdoor Muslim ban.”
The U.S. Dept. of Education threatened to cut Title VI funds to the Middle East studies program run by the University of North Carolina and Duke University, charging that program was advancing “ideological priorities” and unfairly promote “the positive aspects of Islam.” A coalition of 19 academic organizations issued a rebuttal, as did a group of Islamic and Middle Eastern studies graduate students.
In Washington, a first-of-its-kind law requires all colleges in the state to “reasonably accommodate” students for religious reasons, including holidays. Muslim students say such religious accommodations can be a game-changer.
War correspondent Bilal Abdul Kareem says he narrowly avoided five targeted U.S. airstrikes in Syria, after authorities mistook him for a militant due his contact with actual militants. Now, a U.S. judge dismissed Abdul Kareem’s lawsuit challenging his alleged placement on a federal “kill list,” with the White House invoking the “state secrets” privilege—even though he’s a U.S. citizen.
In San Diego, Muslims and other minority communities fear the city’s smart streetlights—rolled out as part of an environmental push without any discussion of locals’ many privacy concerns—could be used to surveil them.
Troy, Michigan is home to 73 places of worship. Not a single one is a mosque. A new lawsuit against the city by the U.S. Justice Department claims that’s because the city is violating local Muslims’ religious rights by denying them zoning approval.
🆘 DISCRIMINATION & HATE
The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ latest report documents more than 10,000 anti-Muslim bias incidents in the U.S. since 2014.
“Did you meet with terrorists?” Mohamed Khairullah, the longtime mayor of New Jersey’s Prospect Park, said he was held for three hours at JFK Airport when returning home from Turkey, questioned about whether he knew any terrorists and forced to hand over his phone for 12 days.
In 2017, a Muslim man rented a Kansas pavilion for a Malaysian Independence Day party. He sued the owners after they suspended his rental privileges and reported him to authorities for supposedly “desecrating” a U.S. flag with symbols of ISIS. Turns out…it was a Malaysian flag: 🇲🇾.
A Muslim woman is suing Virginia company for mocking her religion during a job interview and denied her employment because she asked for two five-minute prayer breaks during the work day.
Muslim students in the U.S. are four times more likely to report being bullied at school compared to the general student population. Just take Ihab, a 15-year-old boy in Maryland. Every day at school, his classmates called him a suicide bomber and ISIS. They physically assaulted him and threatened to kill him. The harassment was so severe that the teen is seeing a mental health professional. But the school denies that any bullying took place.
Two Muslim men say American Airlines canceled their flight home to Dallas because crew “didn't feel comfortable” flying with them.
A new report finds that Muslims in Philadelphia face more housing disadvantages than non-Muslims.
And now in prisoners’ rights: Muslim inmates are suing L.A. police for allegedly denying them access to religious services and meals even after having to answer questions proving their faith. The Alaska Department of Corrections settled another lawsuit by agreeing to provide Muslim inmates with appropriate meals at the appropriate times during Ramadan and allowing them to participate in religious services. And Virginia jail ended its so-called “God Pod” program after a lawsuit alleged it provided favorable treatment to Christians and discriminated against Muslims.
On the anniversary of 9/11, Muslim activists in D.C. unveiled an illustrated timeline of how the U.S-led "war on terror" has affected Muslim communities worldwide. Creator Maha Hilal told me the timeline highlights the “underlying Islamophobia” linking nearly two decades of torture, immigration crackdowns, surveillance overreaches and more.
In Nashville, Nigerian American accountant Zulfat Suara just became Tennessee’s first Muslim elected official. She’s faced anti-Muslim hostility online and locally during her run, though her campaign focused on fiscal issues. "To politicize my religious identity is simply un-American," Suara told local media.
The star of the Islamic Society of North America’s first-ever presidential forum was Sen. Bernie Sanders, who’s long worked to reach out to Muslim communities in his campaign. The only other forum attendee, Sec. Julian Castro, received a much more muted response.
Why do many Muslims treat Bernie like a rock star? The L.A. Times’ Jaweed Kaleem examined Muslim support for the septuagenarian Democratic socialist senator.
From the ISNA forum to the Muslim Caucus event in D.C., candidates have been cautious when it comes to openly courting Muslim voters. Such hollow politics hail from an earlier era, and may cost the left dearly, The New Republic notes.
However, HuffPost’s Rowaida Abdelaziz has noted a growing trend of Democratic candidates visiting mosques. Beto O’Rourke joined the ranks of these candidates this month when he visited a mosque in New Hampshire and heard their concerns about anti-Muslim hate. Back in 2016, Bloomberg wrote about how the same congregation has struggled for about two decades to build a place of worship.
A partnership between the U.S. Census Bureau and the Council on American-Islamic Relations ended days after it was announced, following a backlash from conservative media.
After years of accusations of anti-Semitism against co-chair Linda Sarsour, the Women’s March replaced Sarsour and two of its other original leaders with a diverse new board of 16 women. One of those women was Zahra Billoo, the civil rights attorney who directs of CAIR’s Bay area chapter and has been involved with the Women’s March since its early days.
Billoo’s also known for her work as an outspoken advocate of Palestine. Backlash to her past tweets criticizing Israel led to one organization rescinding an award from her previously. So perhaps unsurprisingly, Billoo was voted out of the Women’s March board within 48 hours of the news that she had joined it.
Turns out most of Minnesota’s aggressively negative news about Muslims is produced by a group of local donors, policy wonks and strategists tied to the state’s most powerful Republican organizations.
Muslim advocacy organizations are pushing hard for lawmakers across the country to pressure Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to ease the growing conflict in Kashmir, where families are in their 56th day of a communications blackout and a partial lockdown.
🤲 LIFE & FAITH
Baltimore’s historic Masjid Al Haqq just kicked off a series of local ‘Day of Dignity’ service events around the country, created by Islamic Relief USA to bring free health screenings, hot meals, haircuts, winter coats and hygiene kits to locals in need.
See Something Say Something spoke to teacher Irade Kashgary, co-founder of a Uighur cultural and linguistic after-school program for Virginia youth, about what it’s like teaching the Uighur language in America.
For Muslims wrestling with substance abuse, it’s often a silent struggle. But in Minnesota, a number of recent deaths in the Somali community have led to an effort to normalize addiction treatment and provide culturally competent counseling.
Some Americans might want Middle Eastern immigrants to “go home.” But in Patterson, New Jersey, they’ve created a sense of optimism, helping renew a city beleaguered by crime and corruption, and long in decline.
Teen Yemeni girls in Detroit are getting married. Why? It's complicated.
Meet Isra Hirsi. Sure, she’s Rep. Ilhan Omar’s teen daughter. But she’s also leading the U.S. Youth Climate Strike, the environmental activism movement that’s galvanized a generation to tackle climate change with a heightened sense of urgency.
Najah Bazzy began by helping Detroit's impoverished community in her house. Now, her nonprofit Zaman International has reached 250,000 people.
“[T]hey are subject to a system that immediately categorizes them from the minute they walk into the door.” Vanessa Taylor says conversations around the Hyde Amendment must consider the unique experiences of black Muslims seeking reproductive healthcare access.
Democratic presidential candidates now must lead the conversation on the Muslim ban by clarifying if they oppose the Muslim ban as a national security measure, Rozina Ali says.
“American liberal capitalism has a unique ability to individualize and materialize all structures of belief that claim to have objective transcendent meaning,” including the practice of Islam, The American Conservative argues. For more on how the emerging alliance between U.S. Muslims and leftists is shaping Islam, read Mustafa Akyol’s essay “The Creeping Liberalism in American Islam,” Eboo Patel’s book “Out of Many Faiths,” this collection of essays by Muftah, and this review by Shadi Hamid.
Here’s another response to Al Jazeera’s ongoing chain of op-eds about the state of the American Muslim ummah, this time from Columbia professor Hamid Dabashi: “When they say ‘our community’ who exactly is the member of this community?”
🍿 POP CULTURE
“A lot of us Muslims are sick and tired of going to rallies and protests…But if you can make somebody laugh, you’re the most powerful person in the room.” Three Muslim women comedians from Chicago discuss using stand-up as a way to deliver truth.
The NYT named Nijla Mu’min’s coming-of-age film “Jinn” as Critic’s Pick, saying it “delivered with a refreshing perspective on generational and cultural clashes.”
👌 SHOUT OUT
I have a confession: I’m really, really bad at listening to podcasts. I’ve only ever listened to more than one episode of a handful of podcasts. But I recently started listening to American Submitter, a small indie podcast started about three years ago by former Kominas band member Imran Ali Malik. Here’s a recent review of it:
“Within the genre of podcasts focusing on Muslim Americans and society, American Submitter is an absolute anomaly. The combination of intentional and aspirational representation, the lived experiences of Malik and his guests, and dynamic storytelling that switches between first and third-person narration create a show that unfolds in real time.” Read more.
🗣 TALK TO ME
I’m going to be in Los Angeles and Davis, California for a few days this month. Ping me if you’re in the area, or know of someone I should meet or something I should see.
And, as always, please send me your comments, questions and corrections! Otherwise, we’ll chat again in a few weeks, inshaAllah. 👋