There is More Than One Story To Be Told About Muslims in Trump’s America

By January 31, 2017

Let me tell you two stories that happened to two different people. Both concern religion in North America.

Register how you feel about each of them.

Story one: “Why are you not Christian?” a man asks you.

Story two: You wake up to find someone has left a Bible on your doorstep.

Which of these sounds more violent, more threatening to you? Or neither?

Now, imagine yourself a Muslim woman wearing a headscarf in a Western country and repeat the two stories to yourself again. How would you feel?

Now let me complete each story and give you some context.

Story one

“Why are you not Christian?” the man asked, kindly, in broken English.

“We believe in Jesus and the Bible,” I said, wanting to comfort him, “and we have a lot of Christians in Egypt where I come from.”

This happened to me in Houston, Texas around 2007 or 2008. The man was a plumber coming in to fix my sink. He found it difficult to express himself in English but seemed to care about saving my soul, however misguided that was.

It didn’t occur to me to be offended or afraid. This was a time when America was on the cusp of electing either a black president, a female president or at least a female vice president. Houston, despite what all my American friends had told me before I left Egypt, was not a generally racist place to live.

Half of the surgery fellows working with my husband at the Texas Heart Institute were Muslim. Some strangers said “Assalamu Alaikum” (peace be upon you) to me on the streets, or stopped me and my friends to comment on the beauty of our colourful headscarves.

Story two

You wake up to find someone has left a Bible on your doorstep. This happened to a friend in North America, soon after Donald Trump was elected president. She felt it was a threat or a subtle act of violence. She wondered how her neighbours would feel if she placed a Qur’an on their doorsteps.

When I heard my friend’s story, it got me thinking about the possible intentions of the person who placed that Bible on her doorstep.

I trust that my friend’s feeling of being threatened was real in that context. But I wondered if the story might have been different. What if the story had included a note inside the Bible, showing who had left it, or giving an invitation to exchange holy books?

What if the Bible on the doorstep had been the beginning of a dialogue rather than a way to scare someone away? And if the person who left the Bible on my friend’s doorstep didn’t have bad intentions, why didn’t they do it in person and look her in the eye?

What does a Bible on a doorstep mean?

Context and power

There are differences between story one and two, chief among them are context and power. The political context and who the actors are make a difference to the story. An elderly, Hispanic plumber fixing my sink? Not a threat to my 20-something self in Houston, accompanying my surgeon husband doing a fellowship at a prestigious nearby hospital.

Had I been asked the same question by a white man, in an angry voice, in another context, my reaction would probably have been very different.

I am telling this story in the era where we are lamenting the rise of fake news and exploring our roles as educators to respond to it, as if a technical solution to figuring out if something is a lie will fix our problems. It won’t. Because it’s not a technical problem.

Education and understanding

Donald Trump’s executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US is not fake news. It’s real news. And as a community, we have to deal with it.

Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has said:

“Power is the ability not just to tell the story of another person, but to make it the definitive story of that person. The Palestinian poet Mourid Barghouti writes that if you want to dispossess a people, the simplest way to do it is to tell their story and to start with, ‘secondly’. Start the story with the arrows of the Native Americans, and not with the arrival of the British, and you have an entirely different story. Start the story with the failure of the African state, and not with the colonial creation of the African state, and you have an entirely different story”.

The media does this all the time. So do politicians – we see Donald Trump right now, talking about banning Iraqi refugees and immigrants from entering the US, without mentioning the role of his country in causing the instability that motivated the immigration in the first place.

Adichie also says:

“The single story creates stereotypes, and the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story”.

In my view, the best way to ensure that we and our children see more than the stereotypical story about people who are different from us is to expose them and ourselves to multiple stories. The bare minimum is to expose ourselves to other cultures on their own terms.

So, for example, we don’t learn about Native Americans from Pocahontas or from Western films. We learn from Native Americans themselves. If we don’t have direct access to them (I live a long way away in Egypt), find them online. Read or listen or even, if you’re lucky, converse.

I know what you’re thinking. I’m Muslim, talking about Muslims in America. What brought this on? But in the midst of my concern over Muslims in America, I also noticed Trump’s presidential memo to advance approval of the Dakota Access Pipeline, I can see the injustice in this, and the irony: on the one hand, a “nation of immigrants” that is neither honouring immigrants, nor honouring the original residents of this land.

We will always have blind spots towards cultures that are unfamiliar to us. But the more deeply we establish understanding of the “other”, the more we try to empathise, with social justice as our underlying value, the more likely we are to become empathetic, critical, global citizens. As educators, we must expand and diversify the people in our in-groups, and help students do this too.

Education expert Sean Michael Morris, on the day of Trump’s inauguration, urged us to change the way we teach. He wrote:

“An education that convinces us of what needs to be known, what is important versus what is frivolous, is not an education. It’s training at best, conscription at worst. And all it prepares us to do is to believe what we’re told”.

This goes for parents and mentors as well as those of us in more formal teaching roles.

Building empathy

The best way not to believe what we’re told is not to go fact-checking each and every thing we hear. Instead, I propose we start building our ability to understand people who are different from us, in context, rather than relying on harmful stereotypes. To know them as individuals, as they would like to be known, not as some dominant power (or US president) has decided we shall know them.

This is not quick or simple. But it can allow us to form a view of the world that rises above deception and to see what’s important in our humanity. And it will change the way we vote. When we empathise with others, we imagine how our decisions can impact them.

Remember those two stories I mentioned earlier? Back in 2007 and 2008, I felt comfortable and safe praying in a mosque in Houston. Now, I would not, given the latest news of Islamophobic violence in mosques coming from North America, most recently the terrorist attack on a mosque in Quebec City that left six people dead.

My friend with the Bible on her doorstep, a dual citizen, was unable to attend a conference in the US a few days ago.

But that isn’t the biggest tragedy. The tragic stories are those of families torn apart by this executive order. Parents who cannot reach their children. What we need now, more than ever, is empathy.

The Conversation

Maha Bali, Associate Professor of Practice, Center for Learning and Teaching, American University in Cairo

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article

What’s Missing in The Teaching of Islam

 

Kishwar Rizvi, Yale University

There has been much misinformation about Islam. Reports in Western media tend to perpetuate stereotypes that Islam is a violent religion and Muslim women are oppressed. Popular films like “American Sniper” reduce places like Iraq to dusty war zones, devoid of any culture or history. Fears and anxiety manifest themselves in Islamophobic actions such as burning mosques or even attacking people physically.

At the heart of such fear is ignorance. A December 2015 poll found that a majority of Americans (52 percent) do not understand Islam. In this same poll, 36 percent also said that they wanted to know more about the religion. Interestingly, those under 30 years were 46 percent more likely to have a favorable view of Islam.

These statistics highlight an opportunity for educators. As a scholar of Islamic art and architecture, I am aware that for the past 20 years, educators have been trying to improve the teaching of Islam – both in high school and college history courses.

The problem, however, is that the teaching of Islam has been limited to its religious practice. Its impact on the arts and culture, particularly in the United States, is seldom discussed.

What teaching of Islam misses

In high school history books, there is little mention of the intertwined histories of Europe, Asia and Africa in the middle ages and the Renaissance. There is even less mention of the flowering of art, literature and architecture during this time.

In a world history textbook for New York public high schools, for example, the “Muslim World,” appears in the 10th chapter. In condensing a thousand years of history – from the seventh to the 17th century – it focuses only on “Arab armies” and the rise of early modern Muslim empires.

Palatine Chapel borrowed from the art of the Fatimids.
Al-dabra, CC BY-NC-ND

Such narrow focus misses out on the cultural exchanges during this period. For example, in medieval Spain, the Troubadour poets borrowed their lyrical beauty from Arabic. Arabic was the courtly language of southern Spain until the 15th century. Similarly, the 12th-century Palatine Chapel in Sicily was painted and gilded in the imperial style of the Fatimids, the rulers of Egypt between the 10th and 12th centuries.

Such exchanges were common, thanks to the mobility of people as well as ideas.

The point is that the story of Islam cannot be told without a deeper understanding of its cultural history: Even for early Muslim rulers, it was the Byzantine empire, the Roman empire and the Sassanian empire (the pre-Islamic Persian empire) that provided models. Such overlaps continued over the centuries, resulting in heterodox and cosmopolitan societies.

The term “Middle East” – coined in the 19th century – fails to describe the complex social and cultural mosaic or religions that have existed in the region most closely associated with Islam – and continue to do so today.

How the arts can explain important connections

So, what should educators do to improve this literacy?

From my perspective, a fuller picture could be painted if identities were not to be solely defined through religion. That is, educators could focus on the cross-cultural exchanges that occurred across boundaries through poets and artists, musicians and architects. Both in high school and university, the arts – visual, musical and literary – could illustrate the important connections between Islam and other world histories.

For example, a class on the Renaissance could explain how the 15th-century Italian painter Gentile Bellini gained famed at the court of Mehmet II, the conqueror of Istanbul. Mehmet II commissioned Bellini to design an imperial portrait that was sent to rulers throughout Europe. His art presents a wonderful example of the artistic exchanges that took place between early modern cities such as Delhi, Istanbul, Venice and Amsterdam.

It might also help students to know that the Dutch painter Rembrandt collected Mughal miniature paintings. Silks from the Safavid empire (the Iranian dynasty from the 16th to 18th century) were so popular that Polish kings had their coat of arms woven in Isfahan.

This exchange of art continued into the Age of Enlightenment, a time when ideas around politics, philosophy, science and communications were rapidly being reoriented in Europe. A class on the Enlightenment may highlight the fact that writers like Montesquieu turned to the Middle East to structure a critique of their own religious institutions.

Goethe found inspiration in Persian poetry.
kaythaney, CC BY-NC

A poetry class could similarly show connections between the German author Wolfgang von Goethe’s writings and Islam, as exemplified in his “West-Eastern Diwaan,” a collection of poems. This epitome of world literature was modeled after classical Persian poetry in its style, and inspired by Sufism, the mystical tradition in Islam.

Most students are open to seeing these connections, even if it might require overcoming their own preconceptions about Islam. For example, when I teach my class on medieval architecture, students are surprised to learn that the two oldest continuously run universities in the world are in North Africa (in Fez – a city in Morocco – and Cairo).

Indeed, it is not easy to disentangle contemporary politics from historical fact, to teach more fully the culture and diversity of a religion that is almost 2,000 years old.

Perhaps educators could learn from a recent exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York titled “Jerusalem 1000-1400: Every People Under Heaven.” The show illustrates how Abrahamic religions – that is, Christianity, Judaism and Islam – borrowed freely from each other in the realm of art, music and literature. Jerusalem was home to diverse populations and the arts played an important role within its religious and political life.

Muslims in America

It’s not in the past alone. We see these connections continue today – here in America, where Islam is an intrinsic part of the culture and has been for centuries.

From the Mississippi delta to the Chicago skyline, Muslims have made contributions, which might not be so obvious: West African slaves in the South were central to the development of the blues. Its complex vocalization and rhythms incorporated the rituals of Islamic devotion many of them had to leave behind.

The same is true of architecture. A quintessential example of modern American architecture is the Sears Tower in Chicago, which was designed by the Bangladeshi-American structural engineer Fazlur Rahman Khan.

Muslim contributions to art and architecture don’t just reflect the diversity of America, but the diversity of Islam in this country. Muslims in America comprise a rich tapestry of ethnicities, languages and cultures. This knowledge is particularly meaningful for young Muslim Americans, who struggle to claim their place in a country in which they are sometimes made to feel like outsiders.

Educators, especially within the arts and humanities, have an important role to play in this religious literacy, that helps students understand the unity in the diversity. After all, as the most popular poet in America, the 13th-century Muslim mystic Rumi wrote:

All religions, all this singing, one song.
The differences are just illusion and vanity.

The Conversation

Kishwar Rizvi, Associate Professor in the History of Art Islamic Art and Architecture, Yale University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original articl

An Opinion – Dear Donald Please Leave The Building Now

By Herb Ryan
Editor
Custer Free Press
October 9, 2016

Donald Trump, anointed presidential candidate of the Republican Party has finally and irretrievably crossed the wavering line of unacceptable actions. Anyone with an ounce of commonsense can clearly see that this person is not fit to be President of the United States of America.

Trump was the candidate the people wanted, rejected in the campaign process were:
Republicans: Jeb Bush. Ben Carson. Chris Christie. Ted Cruz. Carly Fiorina. Jim Gilmore. Lindsey Graham. Mike Huckabee. Bobby Jindal. John Kasich. George Pataki. Rand Paul. Rick Perry. Marco Rubio. Rick Santorum. Scott Walker.And among this list of republican candidates could Ted Cruz or John Kasich not have been a better choice.

Sadly, the American people went for the lowest common denominator. The math was simple. Trump, in his campaign speeches did the same thing that most egocentric politicians do. He promised to build walls across the Mexican border, order mass deportations against certain ethnic groups, stop all immigration from Islamic countries, further empower and already militaristic repressive police state and continue to subjugate the rights of women and the LGBTI community. Fear mongering, a tactic used by almost every dictator in recorded history is the candy that the people wanted.

If Trump comes back from this latest episode and remains on the ticket, we are surely a country that has lost it’s basic common sense. The decision for Trump to withdraw from the race is our decision, not his. The evangelicals and others who find themselves thoroughly disgusted by the thought of Hillary Clinton as President along with other Christian groups now have a moral decision to make. To follow the tenants of their religion, or to support a man whose morals are so lacking that he mocks the very concept of Christianity.

No one is asking Hillary Clinton to withdraw, even though she carries a lot of baggage that will make her presidency difficult. Without a majority in the house and senate, the bitterness over the election will follow her full term calling into question every decision she makes. The moral standard is based on the person running for president. Bill Clinton has the character and morals of a sewer rat. Hillary Clinton, the actual presidential candidate is in the opinion of the public, a liar and not trustworthy.

Tonight, the two candidates, in front of a world-wide audience will once again embarrass themselves and America in a so-called debate. Please watch this if, Mr. Trump shows up, it will be entertaining, I do not expect anyone to take the high ground and above everything else be afraid, be very afraid. One of these people could be President of The United States of America for the next four years.