Linda Sarsour

CNN interviews 100 Muslims for its '25 most influential' list, and takes a few hits from critics

CNN interviews 100 Muslims for its '25 most influential' list, and takes a few hits from critics

It’s been almost two weeks since CNN ran a “25 most influential American Muslims” list. Lists are popular in this clickbait era, but they are tricky things to put together, as was the case when Time magazine put together its “25 most influential evangelicals” list in 2005. Those of us who track such things had strong opinions back then on who should’ve been included and who should have been left off.

Unlike the evangelicals list –- which was assembled by Time’s staff –- CNN asked 100 Muslims who should be on this list. (Asking real evangelicals for input on the 2005 list might have improved it greatly).

What resulted was a list of 12 women and 13 men. Which I find curious. Did Muslims really vote in that many women? Religious lists tend to be skewed toward men. The evangelicals' list only had four women, two of which were coupled with their husbands.

So here’s what CNN had along with some comments from me and other publications. The list consisted of short videos each with a descriptive paragraph. I include a few of their choices:

Hasan Minhaj: The comedian -- Hasan Minhaj says his faith doesn’t inform his comedy, exactly, but growing up Muslim in California offered a unique perspective on American life. “I had the whole course of my life to think back on all these situations where I was on the sidelines, whether it was, like, not being able to eat pepperoni pizza all the way up to (President Trump’s) travel ban.” …

Ibtihaj Muhammad: The Olympian -- Ibtihaj Muhammad has heard the stereotypes about Muslim women: they’re docile and oppressed, wear nothing but black, speak only Arabic and aren’t allowed to play sports. “I speak English, I like wearing bright colors, I’m athletic and I’m on Team USA.” In the 2016 Olympics, Muhammad became the first Muslim-American to wear a hijab in Olympic competition, where she won a bronze medal in the team sabre event. …

Feryal Salem: The teacher -- Feryal Salem (is the) co-director of the Islamic Chaplaincy Program at Hartford Seminary. The Connecticut seminary offers one of the country’s few accredited programs for Islamic chaplaincy, which means that Salem has a large role in training the next generation of Muslim interfaith ambassadors and spiritual counselors …

Eboo Patel: The bridge builder -- Eboo Patel’s … Interfaith Youth Core is one of the largest inter-religious organizations in North America, with an $8.5 million budget and 45-person staff who train thousands of students on nearly 500 college campuses. The author of three books, Patel was also a member of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Faith-based and Neighborhood Partnerships.


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Covering Linda Sarsour: When press affirms those who say 'jihad' has only one meaning

Covering Linda Sarsour: When press affirms those who say 'jihad' has only one meaning

The recasting of the word “jihad” is one of the greatest propaganda triumphs of the 21st century. The contemporary spiritualizing of the word to mean merely something akin to an inner struggle would have been news to the half of the known world who were conquered by Islamic armies in the 7th , 8th  and 9th  centuries across southern Europe.

(For a fascinating treatment of what jihad was like in medieval Spain as it was being sacked by Muslim armies in the 8th century, you must read “The Myth of the Andalusian Paradise,” a new book out by Dario Fernandez-Morera).

Thus, it’s no surprise that the use of the j-word by a Muslim activist caused quite a ruckus recently. As the Washington Post reported:

Linda Sarsour, a lead organizer of the Women’s March on Washington and one of the most high-profile Muslim activists in the country, gave an impassioned speech last weekend that at first gained little attention.
Speaking to a predominately Muslim crowd at the annual Islamic Society of North America convention in suburban Chicago, Sarsour urged her fellow Muslims to speak out against oppression.
In her speech, Sarsour told a story from Islamic scripture about a man who once asked Muhammad, the founder of Islam, “What is the best form of jihad, or struggle?
“And our beloved prophet … said to him, ‘A word of truth in front of a tyrant ruler or leader, that is the best form of jihad,'” Sarsour said.
“I hope that … when we stand up to those who oppress our communities, that Allah accepts from us that as a form of jihad, that we are struggling against tyrants and rulers not only abroad in the Middle East or on the other side of the world, but here in these United States of America, where you have fascists and white supremacists and Islamophobes reigning in the White House.”

I agree that one should be allowed to speak frankly to one’s own group but Sarsour is smart enough to know that the word “jihad” carries a lot of baggage.

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Can anti-Trump U.S. Jews and Muslims put aside historic differences to work together over time?

Can anti-Trump U.S. Jews and Muslims put aside historic differences to work together over time?

Negative circumstances can sometimes produce a surprisingly positive results. That's the case now with American Jews and Muslims as an outgrowth of the wave of anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim acts currently making unwanted headlines.

An increasing number of groups and individuals within the two religious communities -- historically wary of cooperating because of their profound political differences over Israel and the causes of Islamic-inspired terrorism -- have come to each others' assistance in response to the incidents.

If you haven't kept up with this twist, the following stories can bring you up to speed.

This one's from USA Today. Here's a second from NBC News. And here's one from The Los Angeles Times.

It's a step forward when generally estranged communities come to each other's aid. But let's be realistic.

This new-found cooperation does not for a second offset the gravity of the hateful incidents, which have also impacted non-Muslim, non-white immigrants.

Nor does it mean that the cooperation will continue once the current crisis passes, which I certainly hope is soon. I say this because this scenario has played out before.

The 1994 Oslo peace accord signing is one such instance. American Jews and Muslims fervently embraced cooperation then, only to back away from each other when the Israeli-Palestinian conflict heated up yet again. Anger and distrust on both sides forced the swift pull back.

So my advice to journalists covering this story is to be careful not to over inflate the strength of this cooperation.

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