Posts Tagged ‘Islamic Networks Group’

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.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

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.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

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.