Muslim Youth Camp In America

In the aftermath of a growing wave of general Islamic fear and hatred, there may well be a number of Muslim children who are scared and confused about why they are being persecuted when they did nothing wrong – or why their parents are under such scrutiny by neighbors and friends.

While the lazy excuse for this may be that America was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, the real reason could just be ignorance and fear because the large majority of terror attacks in the world over the last couple decades have been committed by Muslims who have a literal (or known as “radical”) ideology and interpretation of the teachings of the Qu’ran. It is unfortunate that general ignorance about Islam leads to this fear of Islam because of a few “bad apples” who lay claim to adhering to “fundamentalist” Islam.

Islam is a religion that has some inherent difficulty assimilating to life in a free America, and it’s also difficult to live an Islamic life in a society that does not understand your faith and the lifestyle that usually comes with it. And it can be tough in these situations, especially for children in Islam, to live with pride in their religious and cultural heritage, and thus easier to “fit in” by adopting and assimilating to the Judeo-Christian ethos or the secularist ethic that seems to predominate in America.

More than 50 years ago, however, a Muslim couple (actually the wife converted to Islam from Methodist Christian) opened a Muslim Youth Camp in northern California, designed to unite Muslim children and help them embrace their faith and live harmoniously in America.

The camp is located in the woods of northern California, and it looks and acts much like any other summer camp you may find. There are games, activities, music, and swimming – many of the activities that campers of all stripes would experience during the summer.

The one difference is that all the children are Muslim and they have sessions each day where they learn about their faith and learn to adapt it to fit into the current American culture and society.  The camp lasts for a week and campers of all ages are welcome – even parents are encouraged to participate to “find their inner youth.”

Entire families will often participate, with parents being involved in adult classes and counseling sessions with other parents to support each other with the challenges of Muslim living, and children are grouped by age with various other classes and activities, and campers come from all over the world for the experience.

This youth camp is getting some publicity in the mainstream these days, mostly in the wake of anti-Muslim sentiment, and this camp is being portrayed as an “escape” for Muslims to find some camaraderie and support to be able to stand up in the face of irrational hatred and remain committed and proud of their culture and faith and understand that Islam is not inherently to blame for the carnage that is being tied to the religion.

Are Muslims To Blame For The Barcelona Attacks?

After a terrorist attack, it can be very easy for those who are skittish to automatically assume that all members of a particular group are dangerous. Whether it’s a right-wing white guy who had problems with the federal government (see Tim McVeigh) or if it’s a terrorist group which operates on a religious basis (ISIS, al-Qaeda), it can be considered “safer” to stay away from anyone who looks or appears to be connected by race, religion or gender to a terrorist.

But does painting with so broad a brush really help anyone, or does it just make us more divisive as a people?

Apparently in the wake of the terrorist attacks in Barcelona, Spain, last month, many residents of Spain have taken to retaliatory acts against Muslims in the area, even those who are innocent of the attacks. Up until the attacks, Muslims were able to live in peace and were left alone. But after the attacks happened – for which ISIS claimed responsibility – Spaniards and other Europeans seemed to have taken umbrage to all Muslims in the area, though the main suspects in the attacks have been arrested already.

A new wave of “Islamophobia” seems to have taken root in Europe in the wake of these latest attacks, where peaceful and innocent Muslims seem to be targeted simply based on their religious adherence that seems to be consistent with those of the ISIS terrorists.

But the question is, is it fair to blame Muslims for the terror attacks?

This is where we get into having to split hairs on a razor’s edge. After all, while yes, the Crusades were a series of battles involving Christians – not all Christians were involved in the Crusades.

The same can be said here in terms of modern-day terrorist attacks. While we may know the labels of these terror groups –  ISIS, Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda or Boko Haram – and they all claim to be based on Islam, it does not mean that all 1.5 billion Muslims are terrorists or practice the fundamentalist dogma about a caliphate.

In the last few years, it seems that all terrorists have been Muslim – but the reality is that not all Muslims are terrorists. The terrorist ideology is not necessarily the same that all Muslims espouse or practice. While the basis for the terrorism is rooted in the Qu’ran, there are also interpretations of the Bible that lead Christians to kill (terrorizing abortion clinics for example). But we also know it is not fair to paint all Christians as terrorists either.

To execute terrorism takes a certain unorthodox logic or reasoning (that may not be logical) to justify the killing of people. Some of this is mentioned in the Qu’ran, but many Muslims – like many Christians – tend to take the holy book in its spiritual intent and not its literal words.

It is often the literal and only the literal that seems to breed terrorism or at least extreme behaviors.

So are Muslims responsible for the Barcelona attacks? Only on an individual level, yes. It is too simplistic and dangerous to blame all Muslims for the heinous acts of a few. The Islamophobia that has run rampant is unfortunate nd actually does not help the situation in eradicating terrorism for all corners of the globe. It actually is making things worse.

 

Is Superman Really A Muslim Story?

All of us have the ability to make or perceive lasting first impressions, whether with real people or fictional characters. When we think of our favorite childhood superheroes, chances are we remember a specific event that stayed with us for an emotional or personal reason. Something close to our heart. Chances are we remember a specific character trait that carried over because we found it was relatable. But what about the newer versions of old classics? Well, when Batman V Superman was released, most of us probably never thought it could tell the tale of many Muslim Americans living here today. But why not?

Batman V Superman wasn’t everyone’s favorite film, and perhaps for good reason at the time. In fact, fans and critics alike seemed to hate it. It was too long. It didn’t have enough action. It was too broken. The ending was sappy and sour and terribly contrived. Then again, that was over a year ago, long before we were graced with a wealthy president who thinks nothing much of spouting radically divisive nonsense to the masses–sort of like Batman did in the movie. No one seemed to like the extremist version of Batman, but maybe we should have read more into it at the time. Maybe instead of rooting ourselves in hatred of a fictional world, we should have recognized the way it echoed the real one.

Then you have Superman, an…alien? Who could he possibly represent in modern-day America? Is he really the grave danger that everyone thinks he is? Possibly not. Of course, the same could be said of the real world immigrants from countries some mistakenly, carelessly, or ignorantly link with terrorism. Do we really need travel bans or a great big expensive wall to protect us from outsiders?

The movie’s depiction of Superman on his journey through the darkness around him and into the light might have been taken for granted. In the real world, most of us haven’t quite made it into the light just yet. We don’t let immigrants simply come into the country and immerse themselves into society while clinging to the values and traditions of their original homelands. We expect them to conform to our ways of thinking, our ways of doing, and our ways of acting. That’s what we’re most comfortable with, and somehow most of us seem content thinking that’s for the best. Your identity doesn’t matter unless it’s the same as our identity.

Batman V Superman does get some things right when we consider the movie in this somewhat crazily different way. The characters are real. Whether through fiction or reality, they come alive and make sense to different people in different ways. Some are xenophobic, scared of the little differences that make us who we are, and that xenophobia transforms both the hater and the hated in ways that vary from person to person. It also leads to hate crimes. The locked chest in which that xenophobia was hidden was one built of ignorance and misunderstanding, and breaking it open proved difficult. Can we in the real world hope to accomplish what characters in a movie accomplished, or will our nightmare play out in perpetuity? It seems like we’ll know the answer to that question soon enough, as events in the real world continue to escalate relentlessly.

Jews VS Muslims In America?

When we think of different races or cultures or religious followings, they evoke strong emotions for widely varying reasons. It’s nearly impossible for anyone to say they don’t immediately judge another–even if on a smaller scale than those of us who are more openly fearful, racist or xenophobic. We all stereotype to the detriment of ourselves and others, even if we don’t want to. We all base our opinions on the experiences we’ve had or shared with others, and we all live our lives in the same way. Here in America though, how do those of the Jewish and Islamic faiths compare with one another? Do the demographics of these two subsections of America prove any of our preconceived notions wrong? Read on to find out.

First, here’s a big standout from studies done by the Pew Research Center on both groups, which handed out surveys to Muslim and Jewish Americans. If you grow up Jewish in America, then a coin toss will decide if you lean to the left or to the right. By comparison, only just under a third of Muslims consider themselves liberal. Even so, 80 percent of Muslim Americans voted Hillary while 70 percent of Jewish Americans voted Trump. Probably not too surprising, considering Trump’s treatment of the Islamic community.

Jewish American are more likely to graduate college and subsequently earn more dollar bills each year than their Muslim American counterparts. That said, Muslim Americans weigh in these two demographics at about the same as the average American, while Jewish Americans just happen to weigh in a little bit above. This factoid is usually teased in popular culture, but perhaps that stems from jealousy. We have a deeply rooted passion for stigmatizing the poor, so surely we can’t do the same to the wealthy–right?

Fewer Muslim Americans intermarry. In fact, they do so only about thirteen percent of the time, while Jewish Americans do so about 58 percent of the time.

Muslim Americans are far more likely to report having faced discrimination than their Jewish counterparts, only fifteen percent of whom feel they’ve been discriminated against. In just the last year alone, about half of Muslims have experienced hate-based discrimination. Even so, 90 percent of Muslims are proud to be citizens of this country.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the views of the average Muslim American contrast with the views of the average American when considering violence. 59 percent of Americans feel that violence doled out among civilians can be deemed justifiable at least some of the time. In stark contrast, 75 percent of Muslim Americans say this is completely unacceptable–casting doubt on the longstanding average American belief that Islam is a religion seated in violence. Maybe it’s just the rest of us who are obsessed with violence?

Some of these statistics might come as a surprise, while others might skirt around truths we already feel we know. In either case, it’s for the best to reduce assumptions and treat others as we’d like to be treated. We all have differences, and we all have relatability. It’s our job to embrace both.

What Is Halal Food?

Many people have heard of the term “kosher,” though fewer technically understand what it means outside of being a Jewish term toward certain foods. In terms of food, the word refers to anything that is “proper” to eat according to Jewish law. In order to be considered kosher, various conditions must be fulfilled.  For example, in order for meat to be kosher, an animal must possess cloven hooves and be known to “chew its cud” – “cud” referring to already-partially digested food. Beyond this, though, other conditions regarding preparation need to be met in order for food to be considered kosher. And while it is may be less commonly known in parts of the Western world, Islam has similar processes by which they grade their food as well.

Similar to “kosher” meaning “right” or “proper,” the term “halal” that is applied to Islamic foods also tends to mean “permissible” and is even used more in context to “lawful” according to the Qur’an (as opposed to “haram,” meaning “forbidden”). Also similar to be foods being kosher by Jewish standards, many conditions must be met in order for food (and meat particularly) to be considered halal. Many of these conditions take heavy consideration toward the treatment and well-being of the animal as well as the most humane way of slaughtering it for the sake of food. The entire process of making food halal by way of slaughter requires several steps or conditions to be fulfilled:

  • In order for animals to be slaughtered for halal food, the slaughterer must be a sane, adult Muslim
  • This slaughterer must say the name of God before killing the animal. This is done to sanctify life and to proclaim that the animal is being slaughtered for the sake of food with the consent of God.
  • The animal must be killed with one continuous motion of a sharp knife. This knife must be sharpened and free of blemishes that may tear at the wound and cause undue suffering to the animal, and the knife may not be sharpened in the presence of the animal that is being slaughtered. Also, the animal may not be slaughtered in view of other animals. The cut must sever at least three of the trachea, the esophagus, and two blood vessels on either side of the throat. The spinal cord must be left intact.
  • Animals must be well-treated before the time of their slaughter, and they must be alive, healthy,  conscious and in a comfortable position at the time of slaughter. Carrion is considered haram by Islamic law, and animals cannot suffer death by any means other than a single cut to the throat with a sharp knife in order to be considered halal.
  • After an animal is slaughtered, the animal must be allowed to bleed out before it is processed any further, as blood is also considered haram in Islamic law.

This entire process of slaughtering is known either as Zibah or Zabihah, and it is considered by Muslims to be the most humane method of killing animals for the sake of halal food and food in general, criticizing the use of captive bolt stunning. While there is argument made toward this that the bloodletting of an animal after the cut could be considered inhumane due to pain potentially registered to the animal, Muslims argue that – in a proper Zabihah – the animal loses consciousness within seconds before the brain can register pain, and the animal eventually dies due to cerebral hypoxia (deprivation of oxygen to the brain) rather than actual blood loss.

Other conditions for halal food exist beyond the slaughtering of animals. For example, halal food prohibits the consumption of alcohol or any other intoxicant, swine-based products such as pork or bacon, animals of a carnivorous persuasion, and lard among many other products.

Are Muslims Allowed To Have Dogs As Pets?

For a long while, there has been a great debate within Islam as to the cleanliness of animals and, more specifically, dogs as house pets and companions for humans. But what is it that sparks such debate within the Islamic community while many other communities the world over enjoy the company of dogs as intimate members of their families? Controversy has existed due to varying historical points of view toward these animals. Some historical sources appear to claim that the Prophet Mohammed himself completed daily prayers directly in the presence of dogs. Similar sources also claim that his followers habitually raised puppies and that the holy city was frequently populated by dogs. However, there are also beliefs that contradict these claims. One of the hadiths – spoken and practiced lessons by the Prophet Mohammed – claims that Mohammed himself believed dogs to be “unclean,” and it is therefore considered haram (an act forbidden by the Qur’an) even to touch a dog, let alone own one. This claim, as it turns out, however, is only partially true.

According to an article written by Dr. Ayoub Banderker, there are several considerations regarding dogs and haram in Islamic law that have quite possibly been misconstrued. For one, it is not considered haram to own a dog (although Dr. Banderker goes on to specify that it is also not considered hygienic to keep a dog in the house, thereby making it not permissible). He also emphasizes that it is not haram to touch a dog. However, if a dog’s saliva comes in contact with clothes or skin, the person is then responsible for washing that part of their body as well as any clothing that was affected in this way. At this point, we can already see a pattern developing that while the pure ownership of a dog does not appear to be forbidden or even necessarily discouraged (as Banderker makes the argument that dogs are part of Allah’s creation and therefore should not be considered cursed or misaligned in any malicious form), hygiene is still an explicit concern regarding dogs and direct contact with them.

Like many other advocates for animals, Banderker stresses the need for Muslim dog owners to treat their dogs without cruelty. This includes food, water, and shelter – the basic amenities for all living creatures. He goes on to include providing adequate veterinary care so as to avoid allowing the dog to suffer until they are beyond help. This particular point of interest appears to be a known problem among many who seem to interpret the ownership or treatment of dogs as haram.

Dr. Banderker makes note of pets (specifically, many of which are dogs) who seem to be relatively animals as a whole, being brought in to shelters around Cape Town for euthanasia procedures. He has made similar notes toward animals that had reached terminally ill states being brought in for similar procedures. When questioned, many Muslims appear to have cited their religion, stating that it was impossible to touch their pets (thereby refusing them treatment). This “apathy” as Dr. Banderker calls it, has led to numerous unwanted litters that are eventually left abandoned to die. Beyond the obvious cruelty to the animals, however, there is also the point of a stigma on Islam as a religion that effectively supports this cruelty, both propagated by the views of those committing these acts and believing them to be the will of their religion and by those looking in from the outside without understanding what is happening or why.

Another scholar, Dr. Khaled Abou El Fadl, seemed to take a more proactive approach, directly going against the supposed dogma of his own religion by adopting dogs. He noted through extensive research that traditional religious practices generally forbade the act of dogs passing in front of a person while they were conducting prayers. In fact, the only exception for owning dogs in traditional society was for utilitarian purposes such as guarding a person or a household, and ownership of dogs as companions was generally frowned upon. Dr. Abou El Fadl noted also the general link between dogs and a conflict of interests with a person’s own hygienic needs. However, the need to submit to God in all things generally supersedes all else. Thus, the propaganda regarding dogs and their uncleanliness, Dr. Abou El Fadl believes, perpetuated the belief that owning dogs should be looked upon with such disdain. However, Dr. Abou El Fadl, like Dr. Banderker, makes note of Allah’s creations all being of relevant value. As an owner of three different dogs, all for their companionship, he mentions that, “dogs represent my rebellion against ignorance about the basis of actual historical law.” On his dogs’ general affinity for companionship, he continues and questions how God could, “create animals with these natural tendencies and then condemn them as thoroughly reprehensible?”

Muslims In The U.S. Military: An Overview

Religion has never been any kind of obstacle or prerequisite for service in the U.S. military. Whether you are Christian, Jewish, Muslim, atheist, Hindu – if you feel a calling to sacrifice for the freedoms the rest of us enjoy, you have that right and privilege as an American.

While religious faith plays a role in case a soldier, airman, marine or sailor is killed in combat (to know the right burial rituals to follow at Arlington National Cemetery), generally a person’s religious affiliation plays no role in a person’s assignment either on the front lines or in support of the combat forces. You serve where you are sent.

Because religion is never an issue in military service, it is often difficult to actually know much about the history of a particular religion within the military without people overtly stating or sharing their beliefs. It is believed, however, that Muslims have a long history of service in the armed forces, believed to go back as far as the Revolutionary War, fighting for the rebels.

Is it true? There is some reason to believe that it’s possible, but as we can often note, a person’s last name doesn’t always give away their religious affiliation, only their ethnic background. But the history of Muslims in the military has come to the forefront in recent months, due to comments made by then-presidential candidate Donald Trump about Muslim-American parents of Army Capt. Humayun Khan, who was killed in Iraq in 2004, comments which disparaged them after they were presented on stage during the 2016 Democrat national convention.

There is a book out now that discusses the history of Muslims in the military, and there is a Wikipedia page dedicated to the subject, as questions about the honor and sacrifice of Muslims have risen to the fore because of the comments made by Mr. Trump during the campaign. It wasn’t until Trump brought up the subject that anyone had even questioned the courage of sacrifice of Muslims in the military as any different than the sacrifice by Christian, Jewish and atheist servicemen and women.

And it is certainly not to say that any sacrifice should be questioned based on any religious or cultural grounds. Sacrifice is sacrifice for one’s country, regardless of background, talk about your workplace injuries.

It is believed, however, that one of the earliest Muslim soldiers in the U.S. military was Cpl. Bampett Muhamed, who served in Virginia back in 1775. The truth is we do not know unequivocally that Muhamed was a Muslim; he was certain to be of Arab descent. Much of the history is based on guesses – not necessarily informed hypotheses, but rather from some blind bigotry based on a name.

However, it is noted that an estimated 15,000 Muslims fought for the United States in World War II, focused in the North African theater, and at least a dozen known Muslims died in the Vietnam Conflict. Nearly 300 Muslims are confirmed to have served in the Civil War for one side or the other.

Perhaps the most noteworthy Muslim service member was Marine Col. Douglas Burpee, who was a 27-year veteran helicopter pilot who converted to Islam while a student at USC in the late 1970s. When he retired he was the highest-ranking Muslim to serve in the Marine Corps.

Thanks to Donald Trump, the role and value of Muslims in the military is being explored with more vigor and interest than perhaps at any other time, and those who did serve with distinction need to be honored not only by all Americans but also by the Muslim brethren who have unfailing loyalty to their brothers and sisters in arms as well as to their country.

Why Do Muslims Fast During the Month of Ramadan?

According to Chapter 2, Verse 185 of the Qur’an, the month of Ramadan in which the Qur’an was revealed, it’s necessary to prove that you are a true believer in the faith. To show this devotion, believers are instructed to fast at the sight of the first new moon of the month. This is not meant to punish believers but meant as a way to show faith and praise Allah for guiding believers and to show gratitude for all that he has done.

Fasting, however, is more than simply not eating all day. Fasting includes not drinking, not eating, no sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. Once the sun has set, all of these activities can be resumed.

The goal of this is to achieve what Muslims call taqwa or purification in the heart and mind, rejecting all things evil and accepting all elements of righteousness. Fasting is considered to be one of the highest degrees of obedience because the human is fighting off his animal instincts such as hunger and thirst, greed and NYC lust. He himself becomes more divine and one with God.

Some Muslims believe that they reach a higher spiritual plane and learn how to improve themselves ultimately improving society, while others, as they start to feel hunger and thirst, understand the plight of the less fortunate and look to improve society in that way.

Something interesting about the fact is that if people do not do it for the entire month, any days that they missed (for example, if they were pregnant or sick), can make them up by fasting before the next period of Ramadan. This is called qada’. As previously said, fasting is not about punishing the believers but a quest to achieve spiritual enlightenment and gratitude that Allah has provided this opportunity.

Why Images of Mohammed Are Forbidden

South Park creators, Matt Stone and Trey Parker made the mistake of depicting Mohammed in an episode. The backlash was unprecedented.

Believe it or not, this tradition of not depicting Mohammed stems back all the way to the beginning of Judaism. Most of us are familiar with The 10 Commandments. In this case, we are discussing the first commandment “I am the Lord your God, thou shall no other gods before me.” In the Basic English version of the Bible this phrase is expanded to also include the following:

You are not to make image or picture of anything in heaven or on the earth or in the water under the earth.

There are many interpretations of this passage in the scriptures. In ancient times, pagans worshiped idols or icons. This commandment is what made Judaism stand out from the other religions of the world at the time. That their God was “invisible.” Very religious Jews do not have photographs or portraits because humans are made in God’s image and that might be breaking this commandment.

Christians have a much looser interpretation of this scripture. As some of you may know, Catholics consider Jesus Christ to be devine which goes against the first commandment. Have you ever wondered why Jehovah’s Witnesses are all doomsday and fire and brimstone? Because they feel that modern CHristians are actively breaking this commandment.

Which brings us make to Islam. The Islamic tradition of not depicting Mohammed is almost sort of a combination of Judaism and Christianity. In response to Christians who have turned Jesus into a divine figure, Islamic Scholars did not want the same thing to happen to Mohammed. They believe that there is ONE God and he alone should be worshiped. They also believe in the Jewish sensibility that man is in the same likeliness of God and therefore should not be depicted.

For the record, the Quran never explicitly states that drawing or depicting Mohammed is forbidden, but through interpretations of the first commandment and in response to the growth of Christianity, this tradition has been continued.

What Really Is Zakat?

Zakat is considered one of the five pillars Islam. It is an obligation for all the Muslims who have the necessary income and wealth. In fact, Zakat is a form of an alms-giving treat as a religious tax or obligation in Islam. It ranks next to prayer in importance as per the Quran. Zakat is not a charitable contribution but a type of obligatory alms. Disputes on Zakat played a major role throughout the history of Islam such as during the Ridda wars. This article provides information on what is Zakat.

Zakat is a religious practice started by the Islamic Prophet Muhammad. The Caliph Abu Bakr – who is believed to be the successor to Prophet Muhammad by the Sunni Muslims – was considered the first to introduce a statutory Zakat system. He established a principle that Zakat needs to be paid to a representative of the Prophet’s authority. Here, in fact, the other Muslims disagreed and didn’t want to pay Zakat to him. This argument led to the Ridda wars later on. The successive Caliphs – Usman ibn Affan and Umar bin Al-Khattab – continued with Abu Bakr’s definition of Zakat.

Zakat is based on the income and of the possessions one has. Zakat is calculated at 2.5% of Nisaab. Nisaab is the amount of savings a Muslim has after deducting living costs, expenses, etc. By giving Zakat, a Muslim acknowledges that everything he has belongs to Allah, and he doesn’t really own it. The act also helps free the individual from excessive desire and greed. It teaches self-discipline and honesty too. Many Muslims prefer to give it during the Ramadan season. That’s because the rewards for good deeds performed during Ramadan are greater than in any other month.