Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Message from Brother Ashfaq

In addition to external challenges, the Muslim community in the USA is facing internal challenges.  Internal challenges that if not dealt with, in a well thought out strategy, will have a significant impact on what the Muslim community looks like in the next decade, and the next century.

While the Muslim leadership has rightfully engaged in establishing weekend schools, Islamic centers, and later Islamic educational, social and civil rights institutions in the past, we were and are not, proactively thinking about a dynamically metamorphosing demographic, our youth.

Children of immigrant Muslims, do not refer to the land their parents came from as “back home.”  They are not immune to the social ills of American society.  Parents, along with the Masjid leadership, do not have a clue about the problems, much less the solutions.  Women and those under 30 form the majority of our community, yet Masjid boards are managed by the gray haired, above aged 50 uncles.  If asked, Masjid board members blame the lack of initiatives by the sisters and the youth.  

Some years ago, a young person from another community was elected to the Masjid board and called me for advice.  My advice to him was, “follow the golden rule of life, seek to understand before you are understood.” The status quo will not change overnight.

An imam, one time in a speech at a convention said, “Once I got my degree from an Islamic University, I was confident that I was ready to be an imam.  The first week, I served as an imam at a western Masjid, I found myself not qualified.”  He went on to say that dealing with the contemporary ills that our youth are facing do not just require a black and white answer, haram or halal.

Our youth are not immune to the western trend of idolizing celebrities, be it sports figures, singers, actors, etc.. Celebrity status spiritual leaders are taking the airwaves and having an impact on how our youth are being raised. My utmost thanks to these American scholars for helping us mold our youth with an Islamic character.  However, this phenomenon must be managed, and they must instill in the youth the only infallible role model is our Prophet Muhammad (SAW).

I have just scratched the surface and there are many other issues that we need to address. Yes, “asabiah”, a more encompassing Islamic term for racism, nationalism, etc. is a plague in our communities.  According to some statistics, we Muslims in the West have the third highest rate of divorce, domestic abuse, drugs, homosexuality, and the list goes on.
For those who were expecting a cookie cutter, step by step solution at the end of this article, will be disappointed.  Understanding and getting out of the state of denial, is the first step towards the solution.

Inshaa Allah in the future, I will recommend some practical steps that will help our community leadership to identify the problems with the help from Allah, and put into action ways to make our communities an ideal reflection of our faith. Ameen.

Welcome Back Hajjis Dinner Draws Large Crowd by Ashfaq Taufique

It has been a tradition at the Birmingham Islamic Society to welcome Hajjis with a family dinner after they return.  

This year’s dinner on September 22, 2017 at HCIC ,was one of the best attended dinners, with over 200 people enjoying a biriyani dinner and panel discussion program.  Not only was it the largest turnout of people BIS has seen, but it was notable also in terms of diversity, mashaAllah.  

After Salat al-Isha, Hajis: Hafiz and Orooj Chandiwala, Mohammed Saleem and Nabiha Yusuf, Nawaz Barra, Naseem Akhter and Tayeb Barra, Othman Ashouri, Muhammed El Obeidi (and Shehanaz Mukhtar was present but not as a panelist), shared their experiences in a panel discussion, moderated by Imam Sameh.



Saturday, October 14, 2017

Over a Hundred Come out to See the Premiere of Sultan and the Saint by Orooj & Farooq Chandiwala

On September 16th, 2017, Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) conducted a fundraising dinner at the Embassy Suites in Hoover, called Countering Islamophobia and Promoting Peace.
Initially ticket sales were very sluggish, but the BIS community really came through, by almost filling the hall to its capacity of 150 seats, which boosted the optimism of the organizers for a very successful evening.  Guests enjoyed dinner and conversation, followed by a slide show presentation by Jawaad Abdul Rahman, a producer with UPF.  
Rahman highlighted UPF’s mission to produce films which tell inspiring stories of Muslims.  It is through these stories that UPF educates the public and counters Islamophobia.  UPF Films, such as American Muslims Fact v Fiction, have been viewed by millions of viewers, including government officials, and have been incorporated in many school curriculums.  
Members of UPF also work as consultants to Hollywood television productions, helping screenwriters develop Muslim characters that go beyond stereotypes.  Clips from several popular shows, including The Simpsons and Bones, were played to demonstrate UPF’s impact on the portrayal of Muslims in these shows.  
This was followed by a motivational talk by Br. Magid, the Imam of the largest masjid in Washington DC, the Adams Center, and who is also a former President of ISNA. He is well respected as an Islamic spiritual leader, and has been invited to speak at various interfaith events in the presence of US leaders, such as President Bush.

A brief fundraiser conducted by Br. Jawaad, fell short of the target of $100,000, however UPF confirmed after the event, that the amount collected was  $35,000.
Chairperson Farook Chandiwala said, “I tried to tell the community from the stage that this idea of making films to portray Muslims in a positive light, and other activities of this organization, are very essential to help reduce the high pitch fever of Islamophobia currently raging in USA and indeed throughout the world. This sad state of affairs befalling the Muslim community was unfortunately predicted for us by our beloved Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).  However, we have to do our best to combat them by all peaceful means, and I believe these films are one such vehicle.  The Human Rights Committee has shown some of these films locally to good reviews by both Muslims and non Muslims alike, and hopes to continue showing more films.”

“I sincerely appeal to the Muslim community to visit the UPF website at www.upf.TV,” he said, “and if ‘the spirit moveth thee’ please help further their efforts by donating online.
The evening concluded with a premiere screening of UPF’s latest film, The Sultan and the Saint.  This docudrama tells the amazing true story of St. Francis of Assisi and Sultan Al-Malik al Kamil of Egypt and how their actions ultimately led to the end of the Crusades.


Imam Siraj Wahhaj Comes to Birmingham to Raise Money for Syrian Refugees by Monica Khalaf

Candle of Hope for Syrian Refugees

On October 1st, the Helping Hand for Relief and Development Organization and BIS Human Rights Committee hosted a fundraiser at the Embassy Suites for Syrian refugees.  Alhamdulillah over $50,000 was raised, even though it was a small turnout for the event.  Imam Siraj Wahhaj gave an inspirational and empowering speech to the gathering.  

Helping Hands is unique in that they only use 4% of donations toward their administrative costs.  They are also able to give aid in several areas including building shelter, general education and they address the educational needs of students with special needs.  This is an area that is often overlooked in long term refugee situations.  

If you were unable to attend, please consider donating to the Helping Hand for Relief Development organization on your own.  May Allah bless all those who organized, participated and donated to such a worthy cause.   May Allah give our brothers and sisters in need ease in their situations.

Photographs of Muslims in America Displayed at Birmingham-Southen College by Kirin Nabi

Its remarkable if you think about it, that in today’s Islamophobia filled America, that a small southern college would invite a photographer to display his exhibit on American Muslims and the event would be a positive experience for all.

Photographer Robert Gerhardt’s exhibition “Muslim American/American Muslim” opened on Friday, Sept. 1, at the Durbin Gallery on the campus of Birmingham-Southern College, with a speech by the artist the night before, and remained open and free to the public through September 28.
Twenty five pieces hung inside the Doris Wainwright Kennedy Art Center/Azar Art Studios
Professor Steve Cole, Professor of Art at Birmingham-Southern College was involved in inviting Gerhardt.  “Robert Gerhardt's exhibition was a result of a search for exhibitions for our gallery which was posted in the College Art Association website.  The faculty and senior students looked at many exhibition proposals and Robert's was one which we decided was both educational and technically (artistically) well done.”  

With previous exhibits covering the lives of the Karen people who live along the Thailand/Burma border in South East Asia, daily life in Pakistan in the cities of Karachi and Lahore, and the Black Lives Matter protests in New York City, Muslim American/American Muslim is an ever evolving exhibit that he is regularly adding to as he travels.  When he was here in Birmingham, “he came to the HCIC Masjid and took pictures of the Arafah dinner, and also came to the Civic Center on the day of Eid,” said Birmingham Islamic Society President Ashfaq Taufique.

“I first became interested in a reportage about Muslim Americans in 2010 after reading about a controversy over converting an unused convent on Staten Island in New York into a mosque and community center that was planned by the Muslim American Society (MAS),” said Gerhardt.  “Many local residents vehemently protested the intended repurposing at various community board meetings, including the shouting-down of a US Army officer who simply asked if people would be willing to be good neighbors with the mosque.  But as I was following the protests in the newspapers, I realized that many of those people who were doing the protesting had never been in a Mosque.  So I wrote to the MAS and asked them about the possibility of doing a project, and then introduced me to a Mosque in Brooklyn.  That community gave me free reign over a year to photograph their community.  And from there the project expanded.”
The Nabi children each found a favorite photograph in the collection.

 Showing Muslims in their daily lives, playing sports, praying, napping, learning.  The Nabi children ages 10, 8, and 6 each found photographs they liked and related to.  Haroon Nabi, 6, liked the picture of the little girl sound asleep at the mosque while her father prayed.  “It is quiet and peaceful, sometimes it's so hard to stay awake,” he said. Yusuf Nabi, 8, liked the picture of the inside of the Quran best. And Zainab Nabi, 10, found the t-shirt reading, “My name causes national security issues. What does yours do?,” hilarious.  All were in awe that Muslims were the subject of the gallery and that other people, non Muslims, were interested in seeing the exhibit as well.

The photographs have “been exhibited in college and university galleries all over the country, as well as many publications.  Recently it was shown at The Museum of the City of New York in their exhibition "Muslim in New York," and the museum acquired 12 of the photographs for their collection,” said Gerhardt.

“So far the reception of my work has been very positive, from what people have told me.  People seem intrigued by seeing into the lives of the Mosques and their communities that many people who come to my exhibitors have never seen or experienced before,” he said.

Professor Cole agreed, “ I don't know the exact number of students and visitors but it was very well attended, as was the lecture by Mr. Gerhardt.  I did overhear some positive remarks regarding the lecture and I am sure that the work in the gallery received the same.”

The experience has been positive for the school, the visitors to the gallery, and for the photographer as well.  “My impression of the Muslim American community has been one of friendship.  All of the communities that I have visited have been very open and friendly with me. They have been made me feel at home, even though I am an outsider.  They have taken time to get to know me, and welcome me in their midst.  It has been a wonderful experience,” Gerhardt said.  

Only 25 pieces hung inside the Doris Wainwright Kennedy Art Center/Azar Art Studios, to see more of the artist’s work, please visit his website www.robertgerhardt.com

Rallying to Inform People about the Persecution of Rohingya Muslims by Ihsan Khalaf

When we look at the situation in Burma, the issue didn't just stem from a lack of sympathy, but from a lack of awareness. For years, the Rohingya Muslims have been one of the most persecuted Muslims on earth, and if you were to ask the average American "What do you think of the Rohingyas?" they wouldn't even know who you're talking about. Even with this escalation of over half of a million Rohingyas being persecuted now reaching genocidal proportions, the mainstream media doesn't show much interest.

That was why a demonstration was the first necessary course of action. We must be aware of a problem before countering it. The demonstration was held in front of the Hill Student Center at UAB on September 16th, from 12 to 1:30PM.

Only 15-20 people, comprised of students and families, along with a speaker, David Gespass, a local attorney who has helped the Muslim community and is the current Chairperson of our newly established CAIR-AL chapter, attended.  However, everyone that drove by, either looked at the signs or honked in acknowledgement.  Additionally, flyers about the Rohingya were passed out to pedestrians walking by. This was encouraging to be able to inform so many people, however, this also reminded us how little people are aware of the situation.

Cars that passed by slowed to read signs and honked in recognition of those rallying to bring attention to the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Burma.