Muslim Boy Scout Troup

Can something as American as the Boy Scouts work within the traditional framework of Islamic traditions? In the small town of Richmond Heights in Ohio, an all-Muslim Boy Scout Troop is attempting to answer that question.

Boy Scout Troop 2690 is headed by Scout Master Isa Abdul Matin and is represented by Muhammad Samad. According to Samad, “These boys are American boys. They bleed American pride. They do what American boys do.” And let’s be honest, there’s nothing more American than the Boy Scouts.

However, there are certain aspects of being a Boy Scout that does not mesh with some aspects of Islamic law. A prime example is the Boy Scout tradition of reciting the Pledge of Allegiance at Scout meetings.

“We pledge our allegiance to God, not a flag or a country,” says 12-year-old Boy Scout Mohammad Zoraiz. “Saying the pledge is ‘American’ but our basic tenet that we don’t have to is… because it’s America,” he added, understanding that the right to free speech is an American tenet.

Samad points out, “Those who do not pledge allegiance to the flag still stand at attention out of respect.”

But how do the Boy Scouts America feel about this? According to Mark Baxter from the Lake Erie Council, it’s absolutely fine.

“Scouting is and has always been open to all faiths and religions,” Baxter continued. “We have a duty to God but to who’s god? What god? That is between the young person, their parents and their organization’s faith. We support that.”

For those who don’t know the Boy Scout Oath, you can read it below:

On my honor, I will do my best
To do my duty to God and my country and to obey the Scout Law;
To help other people at all times;
To keep myself physically strong, mentally awake and morally straight.

Boy Scout Law requires a scout to be trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent. If anyone is familiar with the tenets and laws of Islam the similarities are clear. It turns out that you can be Muslim and American.

This Is What You Need To Know About Islamic Growth

We go through the routine of each day without much thought about what really goes on around us. We live in a bubble, underneath a rock, and wholly ignorant of the realities that other people face. A large part of this response to the world around us is biologically ingrained. Mother nature wants us focused on the predator just around the corner, not the predator three thousand miles away. That’s the reason why we’re so drawn and indoctrinated by the news we see on TV, and it’s also the reason why we think so little about the things that actually matter–like creating community with the people who live down the street.

Well, here are some things you might actually want to know about the Islamic world that surrounds you–and make no mistake, it does surround you. Contrary to popular opinion, it isn’t your enemy, either.

In 2015, there were nearly two billion Muslims living in the world. This accounts for about a quarter of the entire world population. In 2010 (the last year on record), there were 2.2 billion Christians compared to the 1.6 billion Muslims at the time. If you’re Christian, this might stoke some sort of pride. Tone it down, though, because according to a Pew Research Center estimate, Islam will likely experience a whopping 70 percent increase by 2060, while Christianity will experience only 34 percent.

About 62 percent of the world’s Muslim population is situated in APAC (the Asia-Pacific region), and countries like India, Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Turkey, and Iran. Of the nearly 330 million people living in the United States, there are only 3.35 million Muslims–but they still live in a vibrant, important part of our overall community. By 2050, the Muslim percentage of the U.S. population will probably more than double (while other minorities shrink the Caucasian percentage even further). This will contribute to the United States becoming even more diverse than it already is.

One of the driving factors behind the projected growth of Islam is the age of those who are alive today. The median Muslim age was only 24 in 2015, and that means a lot of people are about to start having children. Couple that with the fact that Muslim women are having more children on average as anyone else (about 2.9 as opposed to 2.2), and you have the reason for the booming population.

Luckily, frosty feelings about the Islamic population in the United States are actually on the decline. Based on the same research study, views regarding Muslim citizens are ten points warmer than they were only a few years ago. On the whole, Americans feel the same way toward Muslims as they do toward atheists. In other words, we still have some work to do.

What Is It Like To Grow Up Muslim In America?

Most people who haven’t experienced bullying are confused by the debate that surrounds it. They define the word as similar to the constant teasing that envelops us as we grow up and go through the public school system, but that’s not what bullying is. Bullying is a constant everyday thing that comes at someone from all sides all the time, and to the victim, it feels universal and unending. Like it can’t stop, no matter how much you want it to. That’s why the environment that Muslim American children grow up in today is so terrifying. Imagine how you might feel if all you hear on the news is how evil a big part of your upbringing is. It’s not so easy to put ourselves in their shoes, and most of us seem not to care.

Not everyone had the same experience, as is expected.

Writer Haroon Moghul says that religion got in the way of his high school experience, and so he contemplated a turn to atheism as a means of combating the perplexed feelings exhibited by his peers. Oddly enough, he was drawn back into his faith because of his Roman Catholic peers. If they could believe openly, then why shouldn’t he? Even though these years were tumultuous, it wasn’t until college that 9/11 happened and his identity became shaped by the reality of what others had done. Although he doesn’t necessarily connect one element to the next, Moghul goes on to write about his battle with being bipolar and a divorce. How did his childhood affect these parts of his life?

Sara Barry is an Egyptian and Muslim who can speak Arabic, but she grew up far from home. As is true of anyone who other kids pick on, it can be a difficult struggle to feel different. It’s not easy to pass through that barrier, either. Barry was asked if she spoke Muslim, and when she admitted that her religion barred her from pork consumption, the confusion was obvious and the questions were endless. Therein lies another problem with being different: even when people aren’t openly abrasive or negative about who you are, they’re curious and want to know the details. It can become a headache having to explain and relive the same small moments each day of your life.

Although the hardships associated with growing up Muslim in America today can vary greatly from individual to individual and certainly from one region of the country to the next, it’s still important to empathize with those from other walks of life as often as possible, and to help one another make it through this journey whenever we can. The Muslim identity is just one of many, and it should be no easier nor more difficult than any other.

Holy Festival Celebrations

If I were to ask you to name as many Islamic-based religious holidays and festivals as you could, how many could you name? Assuming you weren’t already Muslim, of course, which would probably give you an unfair advantage. If you’re like me, you would probably only be able to name the fasting month of Ramadan, and you probably wouldn’t have guessed the name of the festival that annually closes out the month: Eid al-Fatr. Surprisingly enough, this isn’t even considered the major festival associated with the Muslim faith. That honor belongs to the holy festival Eid al-Adha.

The Eid al-Adha, which literally translates to “festival of the sacrifice,” is generally celebrated each year on the 10th day of the 12th month of the Islamic lunar calendar (which shifts 11 days every year due to the difference in cycles between the moon and the sun, on which the Gregorian calendar is based), with variations taking place dependent upon region or sect, even possibly individual mosques. The celebration itself is said to correlate with the time in which Ibrahim (more familiar as Abraham to the Christian and Jewish faithful) was commanded by God to prove his devotion by sacrificing his son. When Ibrahim came to the point of preparing to sacrifice his son and even after fending off Satan with stones after attempts to deter him from carrying out God’s will, God stopped him – convinced of Ibrahim’s devotion – and provided him with an animal to sacrifice in his son’s stead, most often considered to be a sheep or a ram. The festival celebrates devotion to Allah and enacts this devotion by sacrificing animals to Allah while simultaneously assisting those in need by distributing the meat of the slaughtered to the poor and the needy, as well as making monetary donations.

The festival also marks the end of what is known as the hajj – the holy pilgrimage to Mecca, considered the most holy site throughout the Islamic faith. Recognized as one of the Five Pillars of Islam, the hajj is a pilgrimage that millions of Muslim worshipers make every year, and one that all Muslims are expected to make as part of their religious duty at least once in their lives if they are at all able to afford the physical and financial burden of it. Typically, the hajj concludes with pilgrims camped in what is known as a tent valley in Mina, a portion of Saudi Arabia, where they spend three days visiting holy sites such as the Jamarat Bridge and perform a symbolic ritual known as Stoning of the Devil. This ritual sees worshipers throwing stones to symbolize the stones that Ibrahim used to stone the devil who stood between him and God’s command. The hajj ends in celebration with prayers at the Grand Mosque in Mecca before pilgrims disperse to return to their friends and families and celebrate the rest of the observance of Eid al-Adha.

This year, more than 2.35 million Muslims made the pilgrimage to Mecca and celebrated Eid al-Adha in the holy city. In Mina and at the Grand Mosque, male worshipers shave their heads and remove white garments that are worn specifically for the hajj, while female worshipers cut and remove a lock of their hair. This removal of hair and garments is recognized in the Muslim community as a sign of spiritual rebirth and renewal. You can learn more by visiting their website

Muslims and Racism

Islamophobia is real; take a look at the past several months of American politicking and all the proposed legislation that circulated through our highest offices if you don’t believe me. To some extent, it was even successfully implemented and imposed a travel ban on several majority-Muslim nations, barring entry of those originating from those countries. Now, while I will not claim to know all of the ins and outs of political methodology, it’s not difficult to see why there is such a fear of the Muslim community. For those of us that were around to experience it, our generations “where were you” moment was most definitely September 11th, 2001, just like generations before us experienced the attack on Pearl Harbor or the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. The vivid memory and the uprising of propaganda of conflict between Muslim nations and the Western world that propagated from it still exist to this day. And with the rise of militant groups such as ISIS, the message that many try to send has only seemed to get even clearer. Muslims are the enemy.

For the record, I don’t agree with this line of thought whatsoever, but it’s obvious to see the ripple effects that something like this has on the American people and their view of the Muslim community. I once spoke with a woman who openly expressed a fear of Muslim women who would enter grocery stores wearing the hijab. Her reaction was that she was afraid they might have bombs strapped underneath. This is the sort of ignorance that our country has come to embrace. Similar to profiling teenagers for wearing hooded sweatshirts in public that make them look suspicious by default (you know the incident I’m referring to), the assumption that anyone wearing a hijab might be coming into public buildings with bombs strapped to their chest is utter lunacy. Granted, I’m not saying it couldn’t ever happen, but the fact is that the modern propaganda has altered much of the nation’s view on Muslims and we now hold them accountable on everything they do that differentiates them from other religions or cultural backgrounds. Which borders very close to – if not, crosses into the territory of – racism.

Now, some of you may be tempted to argue that being Muslim is not a race, so it’s impossible to be racist against them. And to that, you would technically be right. People are not simply born Muslim as they are with darker or lighter skin – it is a result of choosing (freely, in an ideal circumstance) to follow the beliefs and practices of the religion. But, there are some who would argue that the entire concept of race is just a load of garbage anyway. Yes, there are defining physical qualities that separate some humans from others, whether it be complexion or stature or something else that we can’t help but accept as part of our lot in life. But there are some who would argue the fact that many of us decide to divide the world population up into nice, neat portions is little more than an arbitrary social construct based on (arbitrary) sovereign borders because our long-lost ancestors decided to settle in certain places a long time ago. And is often the case, as one Stuart Hall might argue, these sorts of differences picked out are done so due to an imagined sense of superiority in terms of cultural sophistication – the same stereotypical way an admirer of ballet and symphony orchestras might look down upon those who go for rock and roll or rap music.

The point of all this is that, while racism might not be the most accurate term to describe prejudice against Muslims, there is very much a strong prejudice in the American community. Whatever word is put to it, the fact remains that Muslims suffer from stereotypes and heavy profiling – a lot of it due to the government’s handling of international affairs and the worldview that is painted by a handful (radical militants) compared to the reality of the rest of the entire Muslim community.

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.