Posts Tagged ‘Islam’

MUSLIM IN AMERICA: PART TWO

Nine-Eleven shocked America. I remember my own disbelief and anger viewing images of smoke bellowing from the Twin Towers then the Towers collapsing, the damaged Pentagon and United Flight 93, headed for the White House, having crashed in Western Pennsylvania. The disaster proved equally eventful for Ameena Jandali.

A Colorado native and resident of the East Bay, Ameena, is an American-born Muslim. She recently co-led a course on Islam and Judaism: One God, Two Paths at San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel. “Nine-Eleven was a shock,” she says. For the first few days she was afraid to leave her house. “I thought our life was over. Then I got tired of that. I went out. The East Bay is pretty tolerant. Nothing really bad happened to me although I heard of discrimination and hate across the country.”

The Muslim community rose to address Islamophobia. Americans knew Muslims as overseas terrorists, not next-door neighbors. Islamic Networks Group in San Jose, for whom Ameena directs content development, got busy. Still, the situation remained dicey.

In some ways, things are worse now,” Ameena says. “There have been more terror attacks. Hate has ratcheted up. People demonize Muslims.” Still many people now know more about Islam and can distinguish between terrorists and regular Muslims. Interfaith activities have helped.

Bright spots exist. Keith Ellison a Democrat from Minnesota, serves in the U.S. House of Representatives. So does André Carson, (Dem.-Indiana). M. Saud Anwar, a Yale-educated physician, is mayor of South Windsor, Connecticut.

Ameena’s children experienced some discrimination at school. Her oldest daughter, now an adult, wore a headscarf in middle school and was often subjected to negative comments and teasing. Her middle son is blond and not generally noticed as a Muslim. But in high school, Ameena found a piece of paper his friends had written—the timeline of a suicide bomber. Her youngest daughter did not have the same negative experiences that her sister had. In fact, she was often told how beautiful her scarves were. Her youngest son was recently called a terrorist in middle school. He was upset but said the kids were joking. Ameena asked if she should speak to the principal. Her son told her, “Everyone jokes about everyone else.” Ameena wasn’t amused but didn’t pursue it.

As to the future, Ameena notes that people are getting used to others who are different. But, she, notes there’s a fine line to be walked. As minorities grow, they often transform from colorful to threatening. She believes that things are looking up barring another major incident. “More American Muslims are being born. There’s an authentic American-Muslim identity being created.” This presents the same challenges all ethnic Americans face—distractions like the Internet and video games taking young people away from their parents’ ways. Still, Ameena believes, “The new generation can combine the best of both worlds—traditional values and American know-how and efficiency.”

Ameena’s challenges are those of all Americans. If our core values really mean anything, we will embrace all our citizens whatever their faith beliefs—or lack of them. Turning the words of the fabled cartoonist Walt Kelly’s Pogo around a bit, we have met our friends, and they are us.

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Read my short-short story “White on White” in the Winter 2014 online edition of Summerset Review. Look for my new novel, The Boy Walker, in January—available at Amazo.com, Barnesandnoble.com and iUniverse.com.

MUSLIM IN AMERICA: PART ONE

Showtime’s Homeland offers something unusual this season. The CIA employs a young woman savvy in technology and banking to entrap a senior member of Iran’s intelligence service. The character Fara Sherazi (Nazanin Boniadi, born in Tehran, raised in London) is a Persian-American Muslim who wears a hijab—a headscarf. This Hollywood tale about Muslim bad guys in which F. Murray Abraham plays the CIA’s Dar Adal—Muslim by suggestion—reveals that Muslims are also good guys.

Muslims constitute part of the fabric of American life. Ask Ameena Jandali. In October and November, she co-led a course on Islam and Judaism, One God, Two Paths, at San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel. Ameena serves as director of content development for the Islamic Networks Group in San Jose. A non-profit, ING counters prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims by teaching about their traditions and contributions in the context of America’s history and cultural diversity. It also builds relations between American Muslims and other groups.

Ameena was born in a small university town in Colorado. Her father came to the U.S. from Pakistan to earn a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of North Carolina. There he met her mother, a practicing Episcopalian before moving away from religion as an adult. Ameena’s mother converted to Islam several years after marrying. “Due to the scarcity of American Muslims at the time, it took her a while after conversion to figure out what Islam was really about,” says Ameena.

Growing up Muslim in Colorado presented challenges. “I was a brown-skinned kid in a town of mostly white people.” She also had a strange name. Difference caused embarrassment. Ameena couldn’t decide whom she wanted to keep from school more—her mother, who wore a headscarf, or her brown-skinned father.

Her Muslim identity grew as she encountered other Muslim youth. Still, one of her best friends was a devoted Baptist; there were only one or two other Muslim kids in her grade. Inspired by a younger friend, in high school she began wearing a less obvious version of the Islamic hijab—a bandana over her hair. That seemed strange to other kids, some who didn’t know she was Muslim and others who did. Further, her Muslim faith came with prohibitions. “I couldn’t have a boyfriend or go to school dances.”

College—Ameena earned a BA in history at the University of Illinois Chicago Circle— provided a better experience. She started wearing her headscarf in the more traditional manner. Shortly after graduation, she and her husband moved to the San Francisco area. This required adjustment. Chicago had a bigger Muslim community. There was no mosque where they lived. But the East Bay, multicultural and progressive, quickly became home. Ameena took advantage of world-class UC Berkeley and earned an MA in Near Eastern Studies.

In 1993, nearly two years after the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Ameena joined a new organization, ING, focused on dispelling stereotypes about Muslims. “There was a sense that Islam was a new enemy replacing communism,” she says. Following the Gulf War, she felt a growing prejudice. Over the next few years, Ameena worked with ING to educate Americans about Muslims and their faith in a variety of venues and institutions.

In 2001, Nine-Eleven confronted Ameena and American Muslims with serious new challenges.

Part two will appear next Friday.

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Give great reading for the non-Chanukah portion of the Holidays—the novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK!, the latter named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012. See for yourself. Read the opening chapters at davidperlstein.com. Order at Amazon.com, bn.com or iUniverse.com. 

TRUE BELIEF IN TEHRAN

In 1951, Eric Hoffer’s book The True Believer presented a chilling subject. Political and religious mass movements form when leaders promise ultimate truth. Those leaders remain in power by defining truth, no matter how much they have to lie. See: Iran, Islamic Republic of.

In the September/October issue of FOREIGN AFFAIRS, Akbar Ganji profiles Iran’s Supreme Leader in “Who Is Ali Khamenei?” Ganji, an Iranian journalist and dissident, was imprisoned from 2000 to 2006. His writing is banned in Iran.

Yet this is no hatchet job. Ganji emphasizes Khamenei’s significant awareness of Western culture and praise for the West’s technology and capitalist risk taking. Moreover, Khamenei doesn’t hold the West responsible for all the Islamic world’s problems. He is not “crazy, irrational or a reckless zealot.” Still, Ganji acknowledges that Khamenei’s “deep-rooted views and intransigence” create a barrier to any rapprochement with the West.

From an Iranian point of view, Iran has an axe to grind. In 1953, the U.S. helped topple Iran’s elected government. We supported the Shah—a friend of ours but not to many of his own people. History to us. Not to Khamenei. Tehran lashes out, supporting terrorism around the world and repressing its people at home, all in the name of Islam as the answer to all problems.

Khamenei indeed promotes true belief. Start with his title—Supreme Leader. He assumed that position after the death of Ayatollah Khomeni in 1989. Supreme Leader has an ominous ring to it. It should. One man may decide who can and cannot run for office. One man may overrule any law passed by his government. One man has gigantic photos of himself posted throughout Iran. Images come to mind: Stalin, Mussolini, Hitler, North Korea’s Kims, George Orwell’s Big Brother. Each was a cult figure and a law unto himself.

So does Khamenei maintain a rational worldview or not? It’s a legitimate question since the Supreme Leader keeps looking under his bed for the bogeyman—and finding it. According to Ganji, Khamenei traces a string of evil deeds attacking Muslims worldwide, including the burning of a Quran by a lunatic pastor in Florida in 2010 (arrested yesterday before attempting to burn 3,000 Qurans), to—drum roll—the Jews! In a public speech, Khamenei spoke of “the system of hegemony and Zionist planning centers, which enjoy the greatest influence over the American government and its security and military agencies, as well as the British and some European governments.”

I’m not just aghast. I’m disappointed. Neither my parents, my friends nor my rabbis ever enlightened me that we Jews, all 14 million of us, control the world, which includes 1.6 billion Muslims. Mea culpa. I neglected to read The Protocols of the Elders of Zion as well as the writings of Hitler and the Ku Klux Klan. Yet this must be true. The Supreme Leader says it is.

There’s a lesson here: In a world of complexity mirroring the complexity of human nature, many find comfort in true belief. A sense of bliss follows separating oneself from any relationship with reality. Because reality, as they say, bites.

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Read the first three chapters of SAN CAFÉ and of SLICK!, named by Kirkus Reviews as one of the 25 Best Indie Novels of 2012, at davidperlstein.com. Order at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com or bn.com. 

LONDON NOTEBOOK

Carolyn and I spent ten days in London. It’s interesting to gather perspectives from someplace else, even if London is familiar. My thoughts:

On the day we arrived and met up with our middle son Yosi, who’d completed a three-week tour of Ireland and the UK with the band Hurray for the Riff Raff, two Islamists butchered a British soldier in Southeast London. Police shot both, who recovered and were charged. British Muslims condemned the act, while the “usual suspects” overseas praised the killing.

Britain has faced its share of Islamist terrorism, but the Muslim community is diverse. Take women. Many cover their hair, bodies and even faces. Interestingly, a woman working at Heathrow’s VAT (Value Added Tax) return counter was completely covered except, naturally, for her face. I wondered whether she’d be allowed to perform the same duties in her (or her family’s) country of origin.

I also saw young Muslim women with only their heads covered while wearing jeans and all the usual fashions. They might have been making a statement that they were proudly Muslim. Or that they were proudly British. Or both.

These notes focus on Islam and Islamism (the desire to impose Islam on others) because the issue is hard to dismiss. In a London paper, I read that the American author Alice Walker wrote an open letter to the American singer Alicia Keyes urging her not to perform in Israel. Walker probably found a good measure of support in the UK, whose Muslim population is many times greater than that of its Jews. (A few years ago, a Jewish documentary film producer told me that British Jews are frightened of the larger and often hostile Muslim community.)

Keyes will go to Israel anyway. Music, she said, represents an international language of peace. (That’s my son Aaron’s feeling about dance; we spent four days with him in London before he flew to Cape Town to teach dance as part of his college senior project.) I wonder if Alice Walker has written a letter to the Assad government in Syria and to Hassan Nasrallah, leader of Hezbollah, which vows to destroy Israel and has entered the Syrian fray. But only 80,000 Syrians have been killed during the past two years. Evidently the war’s not yet an issue.

Syria, of course, was in the news. Britain and France want to help the rebels. Washington hesitates because the rebels consist of many groups including Al Qaeda and sympathetic offshoots. Of course, the Assad government is an abomination, hence the problem—although not one necessarily recognized by Alice Walker, et al.

One thing seems clear. For years I’ve written that we’re witnessing a war for dominance within Islam pitting those who want to retreat to the Seventh Century against those who wish to inhabit the Twenty-first. With Hezbollah in the fight—and rebels attacking Hezbollah strongholds in Lebanon—we see a widening conflict between Saudi-backed Sunnis and Iran-supported Shiites. This sectarian war, playing itself out in Iraq, may soon engulf the entire Arab world and the Greater Middle East.

Meanwhile, Aaron reports from Cape Town, the children he teaches in the township of Philippi live in abject poverty. It’s a whole new experience. Yet in London, in spite of the ailing British economy, Harrod’s remains a showplace of opulence and the theaters are packed. Our problems in America may be serious, but we don’t have it all that bad by any stretch of the imagination.

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Read the first three chapters of David’s novels SAN CAFÉ and SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. You’ll also find online ordering links for iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com. 

YOU’RE WELCOME

Periodically, a Muslim shares in the media a particularly wonderful bit of wisdom. So it was last week. Yet the speaker or writer always seems to remain unaware of that wisdom’s source. It’s borrowed from Judaism. Such recognition might help to eliminate the hatred that many Muslims exhibit towards Jews.

The Quran (Sura 5:32) states: “That  was why We laid it down for the Israelites that whoever killed a human being, except as punishment for murder or other wicked crimes, should be looked upon as though he had killed all mankind; and that whoever saved a human life should be regarded as though he had saved all mankind.” (The Koran, Translated and with Notes by N.J Dawood, Penguin Books.)

This wisdom first appeared in the Mishnah (Sanhedrin 4:5) edited by Rabbi Judah HaNasi from oral sources around 200 CE—over four centuries before Muhammad received ongoing revelations from the angel Jibril (Gabriel). It’s worth noting that the Quran makes no claim to originating this thought. Indeed, the Quran states that Islam is not a new religion at all. Rather, it represents a return to the original monotheism of Abraham from which Jews and Christians strayed. Sura 2:135 relates: “They say: ‘Accept the Jewish or the Christian faith and you shall be rightly guided.’ Say: ‘By no means! We believe in the faith of Abraham, the upright one. He was no idolater.’”

How interesting that while the Quran views Judaism as corrupted—the Torah may have come from God in some form but Jews wrote and thus distorted a good part of it—the Quran nonetheless includes a teaching from the Oral Law—corrupt by definition—enumerated 1,200 to 1,400 years after Moses. This poses an intriguing question: If the Oral Law regarding destroying or saving the world through a single individual is valid, how much else in the Mishnah also is valid? Muslims need not practice Judaism, of course. But should they condemn it?

I don’t bring this up to argue against Islam. If I believed that Muhammad received the Quran from the angel Jibril, I would be a Muslim. (If I believed that Jesus was crucified to cleanse humanity of original sin, rose from the grave and ascended to heaven, I would be a Christian.) Clearly, Islam is not part of my belief system. But I find no need to discredit Islam or denigrate its practice other than to point to facets of Islam that may pose a clear and present danger to my freedom to live unmolested as a Jew.

Sadly, ignorance of the source of Sura 5:32 shrouds the similarities between Islam and Judaism, as well as Islam’s rich Jewish roots. Both Judaism and Islam are monotheistic religions sharing a core theology: God is one and indivisible. Jews and Muslims take different paths to the same destination.

In God’s Others, I cite Rabbi Elliot Dorff: “The claim to absolute knowledge of God’s will, then, accounts to a theologically improper egotism and/or idolatry.” For both Jews and Muslims, idolatry represents the ultimate abomination. May the coming years free all religions from claims of exclusive truth.

And if Muslims recognize in Judaism much in common, I offer a simple and heartfelt response. We worship the same God, and you’re more than welcome to share.

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Read the first 2-1/2 chapters of SLICK! at davidperlstein.com. Which, by the way, received a great review and coveted Star as “a book of remarkable merit” from Kirkus Reviews. To purchase a signed copy, email me at dhperl@yahoo.com. SLICK! also is now available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.