The Ibtihaj effect, Guantanamo North, Anthony the Turk

Merry Christmas, chag chanukah sameach, and happy new year!

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

NPR — Several public scandals involving respected Muslim figures—including Nouman Ali Khan, Tariq Ramadan and now Ta’leef Collective founder Usama Canon—have reignited a conversation around how to deal with abuse by Muslim community leaders and how to hold authority figures accountable, Leila Fadel reports.

NYT — New York City’s Muslim history goes back further than you think. The Brooklyn Historical Society now has the original deed to prove that the borough's first resident of Muslim heritage, known as “Anthony the Turk,” owned 200 acres in Brooklyn in 1643.

HuffPost — With former NYC major Michael Bloomberg in the 2020 presidential race, many Muslims are demanding he publicly apologize for and condemn the extensive surveillance program that targeted the city’s Muslim communities. “What is he going to do when he’s president and has much more authority and resources at his disposal?” one Muslim New Yorker asked.

Appleton Post-Crescent — In 2010, Ahmadi Muslim leaders in Oshkosh, Wisconsin promised that the mosque they hoped to build would open its doors to anyone in need. This month, they made national headlines by fulfilling that promise. Moments after a gunshot sounded at her high school, senior Duaa Ahmad led about 100 students to safety across the street to the mosque.

BuzzFeed News — In the years since her images touting her as the first woman to pilot a fixed-wing jet in Afghanistan’s air force went viral, the threats against Niloofar Rahmani have made life in her country unbearable for her family. Now, she’s received asylum in Florida and dreams of flying a plane again. Her story is testament to the cost borne by the Afghan women whom the West has elevated as feminist heroes.

🗳 POLITICS

  • “We know how the Senate is going to respond”: Muslim activists seem less than enthusiastic about Congressional impeachment proceedings against Trump. Instead, they are urging their communities to focus on mobilizing for the 2020 elections.

  • "Do you know what I saw at the [US-Mexico] border? I saw Gaza," congresswoman Rashida Tlaib said during her keynote speech at the American Muslims for Palestine conference in Chicago, which some 3,500 people attended. Attendees said that if a Democrat is elected president in 2020, the recent momentum over issues impacting Palestinian self-determination needs to carry into the White House.

  • Uighur Americans say the success of the bipartisan Uyghur Human Rights Policy Act, which passed overwhelmingly in both the House and Senate and would enact sanctions against Chinese officials for human rights violations, is a huge step forward for their people. “I hope the Uighur people, they are listening…So it will give them at least some hope,” one activist in the U.S. said.

  • For Shahana Hanif, a 28-year-old Bengali organizer running for office in New York City, every outfit is a chance to expand the definition of what “professional dress” looks like in progressive politics. 

⚖️ LAW & POLICY

  • Chicago Tribune reporter Nausheen Husain spent the past few months talking to family members of inmates at "Guantanamo North," the Midwest prison units known for their high rates of Muslim prisoners and their strict limits on communications. After 10 years, she reports, one former inmate is still arguing in court that the prisons’ particularly harsh conditions are unlawful.

  • Masih Alinejad, the Brooklyn-based activist famous for her White Wednesday civil disobedience campaign against Iran’s mandatory hijab policy, has sued Iran in U.S. federal court over an alleged state-led harassment campaign targeting her and her family.

  • A Muslim woman received a $120,000 settlement from a Minnesota county after claiming that she was forced to remove her hijab and abaya in front of male jailers while taking a booking photo. The 57-year-old woman studied law in a local library in order to represent herself: “It was one of the most humiliating and harmful experiences of my life. I knew that I did not want any other Muslim woman to experience what I did.”

  • A Muslim electrician working at Boston College has sued the university and union officials over mandatory union dues, saying his religious beliefs conflict with joining or financially supporting the union. The lawsuit claims that while he requested that his fees instead be donated to a charity, his requests were ignored. Union officials say his checks were sent to the charity and had been cashed.

  • A woman in Bloomington, Minnesota is suing the city over an ordinance that bans filming children at the park without parent permission. The ordinance, which she argues violates the First Amendment, was meant to stop an issue of strangers photographing and videotaping kids playing at the public park next to Dar Al Farooq mosque. Videos from outside the mosque, which was bombed in 2017, had surfaced on YouTube as part of a right-wing anti-Muslim video series.

  • The Guantanamo prisoner known as Abu Zubaydah, the first person subjected to waterboarding and other so-called enhanced interrogation techniques approved by Bush, has drawn self-portraits of the torture he was subjected to during the four years the CIA held him in secret prisons. Zubaydah has never been charged with a crime, and documents show military prosecutors have no plans to do so.

  • The Federal Bureau of Prisons has edited its national guidelines to recommend prisons accommodate group prayer for Muslim inmates, following one incarcerated Muslim’s lawsuit challenging restrictions at a Kentucky prison. 

  • More correction officers are accusing New York state’s prison department of discriminating when it comes to religious beards.

  • An appeals court rejected a ruling by a lower court that allowed a Virginia state prison to prevent a Muslim prisoner from participating in a group prayer session via CCTV and from growing a beard.

🆘 HATE & CRIME

  • The same day as the anti-Semitic shooting at a Jersey City kosher market, a man deliberately set fire outside Bangla Bazar Jame Masjid in the Bronx. A worshipper put out the flames before they could spread to the mosque.

  • Police are treating a break-in and vandalism at a Minnesota mosque as a possible hate crime. It’s the second act of vandalism at a mosque in the area over the past few weeks.

  • A federal court convicted a North Carolina man over a tweet threatening to lynch Qasim Rashid, a Muslim attorney who ran for a state Senate seat in Virginia.

  • A Minnesota man was charged with two felonies after going on a violent and racist tirade, allegedly breaking the window of a Muslim man’s car while threatening to kill a bystander and brandishing a large piece of metal.

  • A U.S. citizen on the FBI's Most Wanted Terrorist List has been charged with additional crimes involving ties to Somalia's al-Shabaab rebel group. A former San Diego resident, he may be the highest-ranking United States citizen fighting overseas for a terrorist organization.

  • Authorities have also arrested and charged a Connecticut man with providing material support to a foreign terrorist organization and allegedly pledging his allegiance to ISIS in a video.

  • Journalist Mehdi Hasan says his wife, who wears the hijab, was threatened with being kicked off a Southwest flight after she asked to sit with her family.

  • Muslim women face unique discrimination during pregnancy, and the lack of healthcare research into the needs of Muslims isn’t helping, Tasmiha Khan reports.

  • Two men face criminal charges after harassing a Muslim couple in Georgia on the highway roughly a year earlier.

  • Metro State University of Denver is investigating an incident in which a woman told students praying a computer lab to pray elsewhere, began blasting music and told the men to “f*** your religion.” It’s the second headline on anti-Muslim bias in the city in the past few weeks.

  • A Sacramento teen says she was followed by a masked person into the school bathroom and attacked while wearing a Muslim Student Association shirt.

  • A man stole a safe with $1,500 cash from a New York City mosque, police say.

🕌 COMMUNITY

  • Four years after she became the first woman to build a U.S. mosque, I met Masjid Ibrahim’s founder—a 74-year-old pharmacist in Vegas with a penchant for real estate investment. “This is my mission accomplished,” Sharaf Haseebullah, who has seven kids and seven grandkids, told me. “Now I hope that Allah gives me a good death.”

  • A new Minnesota-based organization has launched a crisis hotline to help local Muslims seek help related to mental health, bullying, identity and Islamophobia.

  • In Dearborn, Michigan, thousands mourned the death of 58-year-old Iman Jasim, an Iraqi immigrant who raised tens of thousands of dollars for orphans and refugees and was known as a motherly figure to Muslims across the U.S.

  • A 13-year wait for a mosque and cemetery is finally ending for Muslims in southern Santa Clara, California, who have faced opposition from neighbors since they first bought land for the Cordoba Center.

  • At Wichita State University, a new Muslim sorority has landed. “A part of Greek life is about finding your home, and you can’t really be at home if you feel like you have to compromise a part of yourself,” the founder said.

  • A Turkish religious leader exiled in the U.S. died late last month at the age of 86. Close to 3,000 people in Turkey attended the funeral of Iskender Erol Evrenesoğlu, also known as Imam Iskender Ali Mihr. A former economic expert who in 1976 declared himself a prophet and the promised mahdi, he led the International Mihr Foundation and the online University of Allah based in Virginia. Earlier this year, Turkey blocked access to websites owned by him after complaints from the country’s top Islamic body, the Diyanet.

  • A moving comic follows Abu Omar, a young Syrian man who deserted his mandatory military service post to avoid killing his own people and now awaits asylum in Chicago.

  • Maryland’s largest school system will not hold classes on Eid al-Fitr next school year, marking a victory for parents and students who observe the holiday.

  • Four years after a mosque was vandalized in Louisville, Kentucky, the city has formed a Muslim-Jewish Advisory council to push forward against hate crimes and religious intolerance.

🎭 CULTURE

  • Olympic fencing medalist Ibtihaj Muhammad’s success has birthed a new generation of hijab-wearing fencers eager to thrust and parry, my friend Shara Taylor reports.

  • While Muslims don't typically celebrate the birth of Jesus, whom they believe to be a prophet, some say Christmas is an opportunity to remember the legacies of Jesus and Mary.

  • Meet the Salam Stars: Milwaukee’s all-Muslim varsity girls basketball team has caught the attention of WNBA legend Sue Bird.

  • “For me, it’s principles over anything, over business, over money, over endorsement deals,” says NBA player Enes Kanter, who has been an outspoken critic of Turkey’s human rights record. “This is way bigger than basketball because it doesn't just affect me. It affects millions of people.”

  • Gone are the days of comics Aziz Ansari and Kumail Nanjiani representing Islam. Increasingly, Muslim comedians are finding success on stage without losing their religion.

  • Becoming a Muslim refugee in America is no joke. So comedian Ali Sultan and his mom, Mona Shamsan, made a podcast: Stories with My Muslim Mom.

  • Thrillist asked ten notable Muslims to nominate America’s 10 best halal restaurants, from Brooklyn's Yemen Cafe to Chicago's Gundis Kurdish Kitchen. Be sure to bookmark this link for next time you’re traveling!

  • VICE visits a family-run Pakistani store hidden in the back of an L.A. convenience store.

  • In the film “Hala,” the main theme isn’t religion or race or any of the issues that have Muslim Twitter™ up in arms: instead, NPR says, it’s “about the generosity daughters rarely extend to mothers—how we find that generosity and the role identity can play in the process.”

  • Atlanta designer Asma Bibi, founder of the Hijabi Pop clothing line, is the fourth modest wear designer to make it onto the show “Project Runway.”

  • Two Milwaukee women created an art show called Fanana Banana for local Muslim artists to showcase their creative side.

🧠 ARGUMENTS

  • For the New York Times, a former InfoWars video editor admitted that the site lied about an upstate New York Muslim village, falsely accusing it of harboring terrorists, in order to promote host Alex Jones’ conspiracy theories about the threat of sharia law in America. Aymann Ismail responds: It’s too little, too late.

  • How can you survive Christmas as a Muslim? Aymann offers some tips.

  • “Is the Republican party actually trying to get the Minnesota congresswoman Ilhan Omar killed?” Moustafa Bayoumi wonders.

  • “Muslim-American politicians face Islamophobia online, but hardly ever from their constituents,” notes journalist Shaheen Pasha, who co-authored a recent study on anti-Muslim rhetoric faced by candidates for office. “For every venom-filled tweet portraying Omar as an incestuous supporter of female circumcision that goes viral, there are many more Americans…more concerned about her plans for student debt than the cloth that covers her hair.”

  • Sports uniform can often be alienating for Muslim women. At worst, they can be used as standards that lead athletes being barred from participating. Tasmiha Khan says it’s time sports team offer uniforms that better accommodate Muslim women.

  • “Dear Mark Zuckerberg: Facebook is an engine of anti-Muslim hate the world over,” Mehdi Hasan writes. “Don’t you care?”

👌 SHOUT OUT TO ZAREENA GREWAL

For the blog Jadaliyya, historical anthropologist and Yale University professor Zareena Grewal just posted a list of eight essential books about Islam in the U.S. from the last decade.

Her picks include her own insightful historical ethnography from 2017, “Islam is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority,” which examines the Muslim intellectual networks that link U.S. mosques to Islamic movements in post-colonial Middle East through debates about the reform of Islam. Check out the other books she recommends here.

🗣 TALK TO ME

As always, please send me your comments, questions and corrections! Otherwise, we’ll chat again in 2020, inshaAllah. 👋

- Aysha