Islam

Trump and Muslims: Politico in-depth piece misses key questions about Muslim-led city

Trump and Muslims: Politico in-depth piece misses key questions about Muslim-led city

Politico's indepth story on Hamtramck, Mich., makes much of the fact that it's the only American city with a Muslim-majority government. So how many Muslims does it quote?

Just five. Out of 13 quoted sources.

"What America’s Only Muslim-Governed City Thinks of Donald Trump," the headline teases us. Politico paints Hamtramck as a model of diversity and acceptance, with Poles, Ukrainians, Albanians, black Americans and other folks besides Middle Easterners. Just the kind of place that Trump -- with his anti-Muslim, anti-immigration message -- says would erode American values.

OK, that's a valid starting thesis -- for an editorial or an opinion column, rather than the newsfeature this was supposed to look like. But the Muslim subjects in question aren’t even quoted until more than halfway down this 2,600-word story.

And the argumentative theme starts in the second paragraph:

After a November 2015 election, four of the City Council’s six seats are now held by Muslims—three of them immigrants—making Hamtramck’s council the first in the United States with a Muslim majority. Predictably—if ridiculously—the city has become a lightning rod among conservatives in fear of Islamic law erupting in America. At a recent talk in Boston, a Somali women’s-rights activist named Ayaan Hirsi Ali warned an audience of academics and real estate developers that Hamtramck’s City Council would soon bring Sharia to their American backyard.
But here in Hamtramck, on the eve of a Michigan primary in which Donald Trump is ahead in the polls by double digits, residents aren’t afraid that their city is about to suddenly establish a foothold for the caliphate. They’re more afraid of the Republican Party’s front-runner. "It’s unbelievable Donald Trump has made it this far," says friend and resident Aaron Foley, who is gay, African-American and the editor of a Detroit lifestyle magazine called Blac. "It really feels like a bad dream that we haven’t woke up from yet. This can’t happen. It upsets me that he’s made so many disparaging remarks, not just about Muslims, but about everyone."

That's right. In this story about Muslim-ruled Hamtramck, the first quote is from a non-Muslim who doesn't even work in town. Would have been interesting to get a quote also from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, instead of lobbing a glancing reference. The writer might have learned that she's an atheist, not a card-carrying conservative. Also that she's been under death threats for years for opposing Muslim extremists. So whether Hirsi Ali is accurate about Shariah, she speaks from experience.

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A study Quran in English? The Daily Beast details this surprising new book

A study Quran in English? The Daily Beast details this surprising new book

Study Bibles were all the rage when they first became popular in the 1970s and 1980s. Evangelical Protestants popularized this trend, but it wasn’t long before there was an Orthodox Study Bible, a Catholic Study Bible and a Jewish Study Bible.

But a study Quran?

How do you study a work said to have been dictated by the Angel Gabriel to Mohammed between AD 610 and AD 632 and passed along to his followers who, it’s assumed, memorized his words perfectly? Judaism and Christianity have survived critical scholarship about their holy books, but Islam has resisted such questions.

And so I was intrigued by a recent Daily Beast piece about why a new Study Quran is riling the Islamic world. It starts thus:

A new translation of the Quran, with commentary, is causing a stir—and maybe something of a revolution -- in the world of English-speaking Muslims.

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Franklin Graham: Another Trump? Yes and no, RNS profile says

Franklin Graham: Another Trump? Yes and no, RNS profile says

The Religion News Service takes a skeptical but fair-minded look at Franklin Graham -- his beliefs, his politics, his differences from his famed father, Billy Graham -- in a satisfyingly long profile rolled out for Super Tuesday week.

And no, that’s not a chance coincidence, as Godbeat veteran Cathy Lynn Grossman crafts the story:

While Donald Trump campaigns to "Make America great again," Franklin Graham, facing a nation where conservative believers are losing cultural clout, wants to make it Christian again. Week after week, he stands on winter-wind-swept statehouse steps and exhorts crowds like a biblical Nehemiah, warning people to repent to rebuild Jerusalem — with a gospel twist. He urges them to pray first and then vote for Bible-believing evangelical candidates.
But you can’t vote for him.
"No, no!" he is "absolutely not" running for office, said Graham, who tends to rat-a-tat-tat his points.
Instead, he exhorts his listeners to run themselves, starting with local city and county offices. Imagine, he says at every tour stop, the impact on society if "the majority of the school boards were controlled by evangelical Christians."

This sweeping, 2,200-word article is impressive, though not without a couple of issues. It tells of Franklin's rise in building the Samaritan's Purse charity, from a small medical mission into one of the largest disaster relief and development agencies in the U.S. And it adroitly parallels the presidential primary campaigns with Franklin's $10 million "Decision America" barnstorming tour, which often "takes him into town just ahead of a primary or caucus."

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Huffington Post explores YouTube's wooing of anti-ISIS Muslim videographers

Huffington Post explores YouTube's wooing of anti-ISIS Muslim videographers

In the crush of religion stories in the past week or two, a jewel of a Huffington Post article about YouTube’s battle against ISIS got lost in the shuffle.

Which is too bad, as it was a meticulously researched piece by Jaweed Kaleem that deserved some attention. So into the GetReligion file of guilt we go. Before everyone clicks on yet one more Pope Francis piece, or another trip into Kentucky culture wars, do give a listen to some inside information on how some of the techies are warring on Islamic extremists.

On a Thursday night late last fall, after leaving the Manhattan office where he works as a digital products specialist, Aman Ali -- a well-known comedian in American Muslim circles -- received an unusual email from YouTube.
“We need you,” read the note, which invited Ali to the company’s sprawling, 41,000-square-foot production facility in Los Angeles and promised a free flight and two nights in a hotel. “Muslim community leaders [are] struggling to have their voices heard against the overwhelming extremist and bigoted content currently surfacing the web.”
The words “Islamic State” appeared nowhere in the note asking Muslims like Ali to “change the discourse,” but the message was clear. The terrorist organization's vast media arm, with its slick recruitment videos, was winning the propaganda war. Muslims needed to figure out a way to fight back and “get your voices heard.”
YouTube, facing pressure after unwittingly hosting execution clips before the company could realize and take them down, was offering its helping hand.

What follows is a behind-the-scenes account of how 70 Muslims from around the country showed up at a YouTube studio (I am assuming it was in Manhattan but the story doesn’t say)  and tutored on how to produce short, snappy videos that’d be more enticing for young Muslims to watch than ISIS recruitment fodder.

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How do you cultivate an ISIS follower? New York Times shows how it's done

How do you cultivate an ISIS follower? New York Times shows how it's done

The 4,600-word story that ran this weekend in the New York Times about how ISIS is -- or was -- recruiting a confused 20-something woman in rural Washington state was so gripping, I read it several times. So much was disturbing: The cluelessness of this young woman; the vapid response by her pastor and the details describing the 24/7 worldwide network of online ISIS recruiters working to get people like this woman to join up.

The article starts off with an eight-minute video that shows “Alex,” her face shaded to remain anonymous.

“The first thing they told me,” she begins, “was I was not allowed to listen to music.” Then her online friends love-bombed her with Tweets, Skype conversations and CARE packages of Islamic literature, head scarves, money and chocolate. These folks don’t want her involved in a local mosque. They want her involved with them. In Syria. Start here:

Alex, a 23-year-old Sunday school teacher and babysitter, was trembling with excitement the day she told her Twitter followers that she had converted to Islam.
For months, she had been growing closer to a new group of friends online -- the most attentive she had ever had -- who were teaching her what it meant to be a Muslim. Increasingly, they were telling her about the Islamic State and how the group was building a homeland in Syria and Iraq where the holy could live according to God’s law.
One in particular, Faisal, had become her nearly constant companion, spending hours each day with her on Twitter, Skype and email, painstakingly guiding her through the fundamentals of the faith.
But when she excitedly told him that she had found a mosque just five miles from the home she shared with her grandparents in rural Washington State, he suddenly became cold.

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Al Jazeera digs into Pakistan's blasphemy law in two-part series

Al Jazeera digs into Pakistan's blasphemy law in two-part series

You have to hand it to Al Jazeera America; they have the guts to send reporters to one of Pakistan's most backward districts to investigate one of the diciest topics you can bring up in polite conversation there: its draconian blasphemy law, the subject of a two-part package.

Published late last week, the first piece talks about the six years that have passed since Aasia Bibi, a Christian from the Punjab province, was thrown into prison. She is the only woman sentenced to death for blasphemy, and in spite of international appeals to release her, she’s essentially rotting there. When Al Jazeera sent a reporter to Aasia's hometown for an update, some of the interviewees were so hostile, she fled the area in fear for her life. A second piece, also based in Punjab, talks about the killing of a Christian couple last November by a mob that falsely claimed they were burning pages of the Quran. The headline brings up echoes of the American South by calling the murders “lynchings” although the couple in question were actually burned to death in a kiln.  It starts thus:

KOT RADHA KISHAN, Pakistan -- Walking through the quiet, empty streets of Chak 59, patrolled by stray dogs and the odd buffalo, one finds it difficult to tell whether the village is inhabited at all.
It is striking how silence can envelope a life, so as to all but erase it. Or, in this case, two lives: Shama and Shahzad Masih, a young Christian couple accused of blasphemy in this hamlet 31 miles from the big city of Lahore, but deep in the wilderness that dominates Pakistan’s Punjabi heartland.
On Nov. 4, 2014, Shama and Shahzad (most Christians in Pakistan are known only by their first name) were killed by a mob, stirred up by false allegations that the couple had desecrated the Holy Quran, at the brick kiln where they lived and worked for the previous 18 years.
The mob first beat them with sticks and fists before dragging them to the kiln furnace to set them on fire. Witnesses say one or both of them were still alive as they burned.

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What's a progressive Muslim? Don't ask, just read and nod

What's a progressive Muslim? Don't ask, just read and nod

Reading the Associated Press's recent article on so-called progressive American Muslims is like a game of fill-in-the-blanks. Except that the blanks are never filled.

With its usual broad strokes, AP paints a broad mural of younger American Muslims who are getting more comfortable as Americans and less so as Muslims.  It starts with the tried-and-true anecdotal lede: Omar Akersim of Los Angeles, who prayed and fasted for Ramadan and is (shock alert!) openly gay.

The story then opens the nut graphs:

Akersim, 26, is part of a small but growing number of American Muslims challenging the long-standing interpretations of Islam that defined their parents' world. They believe that one can be gay and Muslim; that the sexes can pray shoulder-to-shoulder; that females can preach and that Muslim women can marry outside the faith — and they point to Quran passages to back them up.

The shift comes as young American Muslims work to reshape the faith they grew up with so it fits better with their complex, dual identity, with one foot in the world of their parents' immigrant beliefs and one foot in the ever-shifting cultural landscape of America. The result has been a growing internal dialogue about what it means to be Muslim, as well as a scholarly effort to re-examine the Quran for new interpretations that challenge rules that had seemed set in stone.

"Islam in America is being forced to kind of change and to reevaluate its positions on things like homosexuality because of how we're moving forward culturally as a nation. It's striving to make itself seen and known in the cultural fabric and to do that, it does have to evolve," said Akersim, who leads a Los Angeles-based support group for gay Muslims. "Ten or 15 years ago, this would have been impossible."

All of that is so eloquent, it's easy to forget some difficult questions. But we'll ask anyway.

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No ghosts in this SI look at Wooden, Alcindor/Abdul Jabbar

Week after week, month after month, year after year, I write GetReligion posts in which I fault mainstream sportswriters for looking the other way when they encounter religious facts and themes related to the lives of amateur and professional athletes. Some reporters ignore or radically downplay the religious elements in the lives of important athletes and coaches (hello, Ravens-beat editors at The Baltimore Sun). Then there are journalists who allow athletes to flash the God-card in the language of a story, but then never follow up on those faith claims (hello Michael Vick) when it comes to digging out the facts (follow the money, follow the hours on the clock) about their lives in the real world. Where’s the basic journalism?

Often, after the publication of one of these God-and-sports posts, I hear from people who say that I am constantly pointing out the bad, without showing positive examples of coverage that gets the faith element of one of these stories right, combining religious symbolism, facts, etc., into one A-plus package.

Well, here’s one. The other day Sports Illustrated offered a long-read drawn from the biography of UCLA hoops legend John Wooden (“Wooden: A Coach’s Life“) written by veteran reporter Seth Davis. This particular chunk of the book was summed up in the headline, “The Wizard and the Giant.”

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Praying Jews flock to the Temple Mount; world notices

If there is a “Ground Zero” for the world’s three Abrahamic religions — Judaism, Christianity and Islam — it would be the Temple Mount, or “Haram Al-Sharif” (“Noble Sanctuary”) in the center of Jerusalem.

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