LAT splurges on Islam trend stories

islamMaybe it's just that time of the year for the Los Angeles Times, but two stories over the past few days covering remarkably similar subjects seem a bit more than a coincidence. The first, reporting from Rome on page A-1, fails in that it tells me little I don't already know, but it does succeed in showing me what I've already been told, which is a positive (for those of you who attended journalism school, think "show, don't tell").

Here's the section that was my personal highlight of what was essentially a well-reported story on Muslims living in Italy:

The conversation turns to faith and tradition, the difficulty of maintaining a native cultural identity while trying to blend into an assumed one.

Perhaps surprisingly, Manel does not rebel when her parents declare that she will have to marry a Muslim -- obligatory in the daughter's case, they add, but not so in the sons'.

"It's not about me," Manel says. "The religion says a girl can't marry a non-Muslim. Years ago it was a death penalty for breaking the rules. Now it's not death but. ..."

The adults point out that ingrained social pressure is in part responsible for their opinion -- what would the relatives think if Manel married outside the faith?

On that note, Manel does protest. "Arabs are too worried about what other people think," she says. Islam "is a very pro-masculine religion."

Magdy is adamant: "Good or bad, correct or mistaken, you have to keep your religion."

This segment brings a whole slew of examples of a personal nature to mind. I find it all a bit humorous, the whole marriage issue (My Big Fat Greek Wedding and Bend It Like Beckham come to mind), but it's a serious social issue that Europe's Muslims will struggle with. Manel will marry a Muslim as her parents wish her too, but will her children? What type of social tensions will this create or possibly alleviate?

The second LAT story, on Latino Muslims, is a good example of The Big Local Paper finally digging out that story that everybody's been aware for a while. Here's the essence of the piece, which appeared in the Beliefs section:

Muslims throughout the world are observing Ramadan, a month of daytime fasting and repentance. For many Latino Muslims in Southern California, it is also a time to celebrate Islam's diversity and their conversion to a religion still struggling against intolerance in the overwhelmingly Christian United States. This year, the holy month started the first week of October.

The American Muslim Council estimates that there are about 40,000 Latino Muslims in the U.S. Local Muslims say there are about 1,000 Latino Muslims in Southern California, but that an accurate count is difficult because Islam is a decentralized religion.

The Los Angeles Latino Muslim Assn., founded in 1999, hopes to find converts through an outreach program to introduce Islam to the millions of Latinos living in the city. The group meets at the Islamic Center of Southern California in Los Angeles, and on Sundays during Ramadan members break their dawn-to-sunset fast together at the Vermont Avenue facility. The group also meets at the Masjid Omar, a mosque in Los Angeles.

The big glaring error in this one was the "intolerance in the overwhelming Christian United States" line. Sure, the U.S. is majority Christian, but intolerant? There are social tensions, but what do you expect, or want? Even the Dutch are reconsidering their hyper-tolerant society. Such a strong statement should be backed up, but the article completely fails to show real incidents of intolerance.

The example used in the piece at the beginning -- of a Catholic-turned-Marxist-turned-Muslim -- is fascinating to consider, and one wonders if the Muslim faith has any chance of making serious inroads into the Latino community. There is a heavy emphasis at the end on the similarities these Muslims find with their Christian faith. In fact, the word "Jesus" is used five times in the final half of the story.

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