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.