A challenge for the media to counter ‘burn the Quran Day’

The Journey into America team in front of the Lincoln Memorial

The Journey into America team in front of the Lincoln Memorial

Published first on Huffington Post Religion

By Craig Considine

Pastor Terry Jones grabbed media attention last month with an announcement of his plans to burn the Quran on Sept. 11. Jones’ event, if carried out and given prominent media coverage, would likely provoke some Muslim communities in the world which feel threatened by such inflammatory gestures. Burning copies of the Islamic holy book might also inflame anti-Muslim attitudes in the United States.

Media around the world have the chance to counter Jones’ provocative gesture by providing coverage of efforts that demonstrate the amicable relationship between Islam and America. Media would be wise to give attention to constructive events that might allow news organizations to play a role in improving relations instead of exacerbating tensions between Americans and Muslims worldwide.

Produced by world renowned scholar Professor Akbar Ahmed of American University, “Journey into America” documents a year-long anthropological study of Muslims across the United States, Ahmed and his team of largely young non-Muslim American researchers, of which I was a part, travelled to more than 100 mosques and 75 cities to document what it means to be American through the eyes of Muslims.

The One Film 9/11 initiative, which will screen “Journey into America” in the homes, schools and places of worship around the world on Sept. 11, is my own initiative to counter the negativity surrounding relations between Americans and Muslims worldwide.

Event at SOAS, London

Event at SOAS, London

Since its launch on Sept. 12 last year, One Film has brought Muslims and non-Muslims together at the United States Embassy of London and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London, both of which fostered a meaningful dialogue between non-Muslims and Muslims on the strong ties between Islam and America. In early May, “Journey into America” will be screened at the University of Cambridge as well as other English cities of Manchester, Leeds and Leicester. “Journey into America” is also available online through a free stream so more people can partake in One Film 9/11.

“Journey into America” cuts straight through the stereotypes of Americans being anti-Muslim and Muslims being anti-American. One scene shows Arlington National Cemetery in a visit to gravestones of Muslim American soldiers who died in Iraq. This scene is particularly important for many viewers because it challenges false claims, such as “Muslim Americans are disloyal to the United States” and “Muslims cannot be America.” It also demonstrates that Muslims are proud to be American and that Americans are appreciative of the sacrifices made by their fellow Muslim citizens.

Use of social media plays a role in One Film 9/11’s goal of changing people’s perspectives in an increasingly digitalized world. Spreading this counter-narrative by means of a blog, Twitter and Facebook page has helped foster a more tolerant world as many people form views not through direct interaction with other people, but instead through what they see and hear in the media. One Film has also formed a team of enthusiastic young Americans to help circulate “Journey into America” and organize events around the world. The team is gradually building a bigger network of friends from interfaith and academic organizations and institutions and continues to welcome new volunteers who are interested in One Film’s interfaith initiative.

Many people feel that the media plays a significant role in escalating tension between Americans and Muslims around the world. Giving coverage to One Film 9/11 is an opportunity for the media to prove their critics wrong. It is also an opportunity to show how Islam and America are two compatible entities.

Follow Craig Considine on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ToBeCraig



OnIslam review of “Journey into America” documentary

ISNA convention launch of Akbar Ahmed's "Journey into America"

ISNA convention launch of Akbar Ahmed’s “Journey into America”

By Dilshad D. Ali 

The question is large, and the answer is even larger and more complex: What does it mean to be an American? And following that, what does it mean to be a Muslim in America? Can one be a Muslim and an American? Will non-Muslim Americans ever accept their Muslim brothers and sisters as a true component of the omnipresent “melting pot?” that is this country?

Nearly a year ago renowned scholar and Professor Akbar Ahmed of American University and a team of five young college students set out on a tour across the United States searching for answers to those questions. They visited more than 75 cities and 100 mosques across the country, armed with questions, anthropological experiments, and a video camera to record it all. The resulting film, Journey Into America made its premiere aptly on July 4th at the Islamic Society of Northern America (ISNA) convention in Washington, D.C.

Akbar Ahmed friends and supporters as well as journalists and conference attendees packed the screening room to see the debut of this documentary. The expectations were high, the hopes were strong that the film would discover some truths about how Muslims were accepted in post-9/11 America and show how they were an integral part of the American fabric. But the grandiose nature of the project, which lent itself wonderfully to the running blog (journeyintoamerica.wordpress.com) maintained by Akbar and his team throughout the year, was hard to capture in this low-tech film.

The problem for me stemmed from being in a position of knowing too much. Having interviewed Ahmed numerous times about previous projects (like in 2006 when he and his team of college students toured several countries in the Muslim world to research the perceptions Muslims have of America) and having followed the project on the Journey Into America blog, I knew the vast, rich, and varied stories Ahmed and his team had amassed through their incessant travels. As I awaited the premiere of this documentary, I wondered how it could all translate coherently into a documentary format.

To be sure, 24-year-old director Craig Considine certainly threw himself into his work, producing more than 150 hours of video that was then painstakingly edited into about 90 minutes of film. The film takes the viewer from the oldest mosque in Cedar Rapids, Iowa to Las Vegas to the largest mosque in New York City to the debauchery of Mardi Gras in New Orleans to a pleasant lesson in tolerance in a sleepy little Alabama town called Arab (but pronounced Ay-rab). And that is just for starters.

What it meant to be American?

Ahmed and his team visited so many communities and spoke with so many Americans, faith leaders, imams and Muslim-Americans in their goal to discover what it meant to be American (and following that, Muslim and American), that the bar was set impossibly high to capture all they had done. And unless you come to the film with a working knowledge of what Ahmed’s project was about, and how in depth it was, and how truly sophisticated and at the same time refreshing his research methods were, then chances are the importance of the Journey Into America project will get buried in the raw nature of this film.

It is better to focus on some of the individual moments captured on film rather than to take it as a whole. In one powerful scene outside New York City’s largest mosque, things get heated as a group of Muslims begin identifying themselves by their country of origin: Bangladesh, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia—until one Muslim breaks in to remind everyone that wherever they are from, whatever they do, their identity is first and foremost as a Muslim, and that should unify them all.

Another powerful tactic of the film is how it cleverly juxtaposes interviews to show how people with similar backgrounds can have entirely different viewpoints on what it means to be an American: As Ahmed and his team interview drunken revelers during Mardi Gras in New Orleans (which was an uncomfortable moment for those watching the film at the ISNA convention), many of them say that being American means drinking, fornicating, and doing whatever they damn well please. The film then cuts to an interview with an articulate young Muslim-American convert who used to be a self-described partier and fashion photographer. Now she sees the intelligence of Islam’s directive to women to cover up, because doing so allows for a respect for her mind instead of her body. For her, to be an American is to be a respected, contributing member of society.

And the scenes that take Ahmed and his team to the foundations of America—the site of Plymouth Rock and to the statue of Founding Father Thomas Jefferson at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville particularly drive home the point that this country was made on the principles of acceptance and tolerance: Jefferson’s statue has the word “God” written on the base in several manifestations, including “Allah.” And the modern representation of Jefferson’s vision is then perhaps when Ahmed visits with Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison, who swore his oath of office on a Qur’an that Jefferson owned.

The individual stories portrayed in Journey Into America indeed serve as a hopeful portrait of the potential America has to be a nation of citizens, a nation built by immigrants, a nation of human beings from all nationalities and faiths living harmoniously together. And though this grand idea is better grasped through the hundreds of posts in Ahmed’s blog, his film is still a promising start to a journey that continues forward.

And, as Ahmed said at a Khutbah (sermon) he gave during Friday prayers in Cedar Rapids, “The Prophet [Muhammad, salilahu aliwasallam] once said, ‘The ink of a scholar is more sacred than the blood of a martyr.’”

For more information about Journey Into America, visit http://www.journeyintoamerica.wordpress.com.

Dilshad D. Ali’s writing reaches across the United States to address lifestyle topics pertinent to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Ali has covered movie premieres, film festivals, art exhibitions, concerts, and numerous other cultural stories, including the effect of September 11 on New York’s cultural landscape for IslamOnline. Ali is a 1997 University of Maryland journalism graduate.

Reflecting on Islam and American identity at University of Cambridge

By Frankie Martin

On May 7th the Cambridge University Social Anthropology Society hosted a screening of Journey into America in the Department of Anthropology. I introduced the film and discussed its relevance in light of polls showing an increasing gap in perception between Muslims and non-Muslims in the US and elsewhere and cases of ‘homegrown terrorism” such as the bombing of the Boston Marathon.

It was a great experience to screen the film in my department, attended by many of my fellow masters students as well as members of the university press office. This was the first time I had seen the full version in some time, and I enjoyed reliving some of its moments and remembering many experiences and inside jokes shared by our team.

In the roundtable discussion afterward involving myself and Dr. Nikolai Ssorin-Chaikov of the Department of Anthropology, whose work deals with anthropology and film, we discussed some of the issues raised, including the question of identity and how the Muslim minority can be fully accepted by the mainstream. I believed that the film showed, I commented, that American identity itself is not the same for everyone, and how pluralistic one’s view is will help inform how accommodating they will be to those not like them.

It is for this reason, I explained, that Professor Ahmed and our team believed it was so important to see Muslims holistically as a part of American society and not in a vacuum. Only by looking both at the extremely diverse Muslim community and its relationship with American identity and the question of what it means to be American can the experience of Muslims in America be adequately explored.

There was a very positive response from both undergraduate and graduate students, commenting that it was a very important film, “entertaining,” and “honest.” People spoke of their surprise at some of the content of the film, such as the fact that Keith Ellison, America’s first Muslim member of Congress, was sworn in on Thomas Jefferson’s Quran. An English female undergraduate student expressed marvel at how tolerant the US Founding Fathers were in their vision for America and the place of Muslims in it.

In order to move forward in relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in the United States and between the US and the Muslim world, it is this extraordinary vision of American identity that must be promoted. This is the message of the film, and I was privileged to have the opportunity to discuss it at such a distinguished university and department.”

Eboo Patel video: “We have to build bridges that are stronger than the bombs that other people might throw”

University of Cambridge screening of “Journey into America”

‘This [documentary] is very refreshing … to take away the fear of encountering those people (Muslims) in those places (mosques)… So to get in and to hear what’s in those people’s minds, it takes away the strangeness of it’. – Ingrid Mattson, former president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)

*Screening followed by roundtable discussion by co-producer Frankie Martin*

Click HERE for the details of the event

"Journey into America" screening at University of Cambridge

“Journey into America” screening at University of Cambridge

"Journey into America" screening at University of Cambridge

“Journey into America” screening at University of Cambridge

Aspen Institute reflects on interfaith issues after Boston bombings

The Aspen Institute fosters open-minded dialogue

The Aspen Institute fosters open-minded dialogue

By Meryl Justin Chertoff for The Aspen Institute

America’s religious diversity, historically its pride and potentially a source for engagement around the common good, has for the last months occupied us at the Justice and Society program as we worked with co-chairs Madeleine Albright and David Gergen on the Inclusive America Project. With the benefits of the knowledge and experience of a distinguished panel drawn from the fields of education, youth service, government, media, and religiously affiliated organizations, the Inclusive America Project is working to preserve our nation’s collective strength by promoting the core value of religious pluralism based on freedom of worship, respect for the rights of others, and recognition of common values shared by all.

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Interfaith dialogue matters more than ever, here’s 3 reasons why

Picture: lassiwithlavina.com

Picture: lassiwithlavina.com

By Eboo Patel for the Huffington Post Religion

In the wake of the Boston attack and manhunt, I’ve been getting a lot of messages about how interfaith efforts matter more than ever, and I’ve sent out a volley of tweets expressing the same sentiment myself. So, does this view hold up to analysis, or is it just a surface salve for a really deep wound?

At the risk of promoting a cause in which I’m deeply involved, I think that there are several good reasons to strengthen and expand interfaith efforts. These are true even during normal times; what the events in Boston have done is highlight their importance. Before launching in, let me state the obvious: Interfaith programs are not a miracle solution. Their primary purpose is neither to root out potential terrorists nor solve every social problem. But they do matter. Here are three reasons why:

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Jordan’s King Abdullah points to Muslim American organizations for bridge building

Photo Albany Tribune

Photo Albany Tribune

Source: The Jordan Times

His Majesty King Abdullah on Monday emphasised the important role US Arab and Islamic organisations can play in communicating the issues of the Arab nations to decision makers in the US.

He said that these organisations can help entrench understanding and stretch bridges of cooperation and dialogue between the Arab and Islamic worlds from one end, and Western countries from the other.

He made the remarks during a meeting with representatives of Arab and Islamic organisations in Washington.

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Time for candid, meaningful interfaith talks


By Shai Franklin for Huffington Post Religion

“Dialogue” between religions, and among the denominations of individual religions, is too often limited to niceties and “search for common ground.” And who can object to those goals? But to be truly useful and honest, such dialogue needs to court friction and address the doctrinal disagreements and pent-up grievances on both sides of what divides us, religiously or otherwise.

At the United Nations, which generally avoids and discourages discussion of religion, the Alliance of Civilizations aspires to harness religions for peace and progress. But with a discussion devoid of religious testimony, conducted with retired religious personalities with little current influence, it has very little traction with the two-thirds of earthlings who are deeply religious.

No less than with inter-faith consultations, encounters within denominations also demand candor and accountability.

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Students of multiple faiths restore Bronx synagogue housed inside mosque

file / credit: clipart.com

file / credit: clipart.com

Source: CBSNewYork

Christian, Jewish and Muslim volunteers came together Sunday to refurbish the “Shul in the Mosque,” a synagogue that happens to be situated inside of a mosque in the Bronx.

The Shul in the Mosque is located inside the Islamic Cultural Center of North America, which also houses the Masjid Al-Iman, at 2006-8 Westchester Ave. in the Parkchester section of the Bronx. Members of the Bais Menachem of Parckchester worship in the space.

The partnership began when the Young Israel Congregation was holding a drive for needy families years back, and received a donation from Masjid Al-Iman founder Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, according to a Tablet Magazine report.

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Christian faith is source of Comboni priest’s passion for Islam

Father Scattolin's most recent published work is a historical look at Sufism (CNS)

Father Scattolin’s most recent published work is a historical look at Sufism (CNS)

By James Martone for Catholic News Service

“You must study the other,” said Father Scattolin, whose career in Islamic studies began in Lebanon and Sudan, before leading him in 1980 to settle in Egypt, where he has lived, taught, researched and written since.

He argues in books, interfaith forums and his daily life that understanding among religious groups comes through deepening one’s knowledge of the other’s texts and beliefs, and through accepting the other’s “freedom of choice” to believe in a religion different from one’s own.

“For me, it is difficult for people to put (Christians) as the center when they have their own beliefs,” Father Scattolin said.

“To have faith, you need freedom of choice. We are in a pluralistic world and this is good, as it makes freedom of religion, and there is no faith if you don’t have freedom of religion,” he said.

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Two Muslims guard the holiest site in Christianity

Courtesy of The Times (UK)

Courtesy of The Times (UK)

By Gabriele Barbati for International Business Times

Every Christian knows the holiest places in Christendom are in Jerusalem. The holiest of all, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, was erected in 325, over the site where it is believed Jesus was crucified, buried and rose from the dead.

Yet, few know that it is a Muslim who opens and closes the only door to this holiest of Christian sites.

In fact, it’s two Muslims: one man from the Joudeh family and another man from the Nuseibeh family, two Jerusalem Palestinian clans who have been the custodians of the entrance to the Holy Sepulchre since the 12th century.

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Pope Francis calls for urgent dialogue between Christians and Muslims

Photograph: Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

Photograph: Dmitry Lovetsky/AP

It is not possible to build bridges between people while forgetting God. But the converse is also true: it is not possible to establish true links with God while ignoring other people. Hence, it is important to intensify dialogue among the various religions and I am thinking particularly of dialogue with Islam. – Pope Francis

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Pope reaches out to Jews, Muslims, urges respect

Associated Press/Angelo Carconi - Pope Francis is driven through the crowd in his popemobile in St. Peter's Square for his inauguration Mass at the Vatican, Tuesday, March 19, 2013.

Associated Press/Angelo Carconi – Pope Francis is driven through the crowd in his popemobile in St. Peter’s Square for his inauguration Mass at the Vatican, Tuesday, March 19, 2013.

Pope Francis has promised to continue the Catholic Church’s “fraternal” dialogue with Jews and work with Muslims for the common good.

Francis met Wednesday with religious representatives from a dozen faiths and traditions who attended his installation Mass a day earlier.

The bulk of his comments were directed at Christian groups, particularly the Orthodox who were represented among others by Bartholomew I, the first ecumenical patriarch to attend the installation since the Catholic and Orthodox church split nearly 1,000 years ago.

Directing himself to the half-dozen rabbis attending, Francis promised to continue the “useful brotherly dialogue” that has been under way since the Second Vatican Council. He singled out Muslims in his comments, saying he wanted to “grow in esteemed respect” and work for the common good.


Inspiring message by Pope John Paul II to Muslim youth in Casablanca

King Hassan II of Morocco (L) embraces the pope John Paul II as he welcomes him upon his arrival at Mohamed V airport in Casablanca 19 August 1985 of an official visit to Morocco. AFP PHOTO DOMINIQUE FAGET        (Photo credit should read JEAN-CLAUDE DELMAS/AFP/GettyImages)

King Hassan II of Morocco (L) embraces the pope John Paul II as he welcomes him upon his arrival at Mohamed V airport in Casablanca 19 August 1985 of an official visit to Morocco. AFP PHOTO DOMINIQUE FAGET (Photo credit should read JEAN-CLAUDE DELMAS/AFP/GettyImages)

Monday, 19 August 1985

Dialogue between Christians and Muslims is today more necessary than ever. It flows from our fidelity to God and supposes that we know how to recognize God by faith, and to witness to him by word and deed in a world ever more secularized and at times even atheistic.

The young can build a better future if they first put their faith in God and if they pledge themselves to build this new world in accordance with God’s plan, with wisdom and trust…

Therefore we must also respect, love and help every human being, because he is a creature of God and, in a certain sense, his image and his representative, because he is the road leading to God, and because he does not fully fulfil himself unless he knows God, unless he accepts him with all his heart, and unless he obeys him to the extent of the ways of perfection…

I believe that we, Christians and Muslims, must recognize with joy the religious values that we have in common, and give thanks to God for them. Both of us believe in one God the only God, who is all Justice and all Mercy; we believe in the importance of prayer, of fasting, of almsgiving, of repentance and of pardon; we believe that God will be a merciful judge to us at the end of time, and we hope that after the resurrection he will be satisfied with us and we know that we will be satisfied with him.

Loyalty demands also that we should recognize and respect our differences. Obviously the most fundamental is the view that we hold on the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. You know that, for the Christians, this Jesus causes them to enter into an intimate knowledge of the mystery of God and into a filial communion by his gifts, so that they recognize him and proclaim him Lord and Saviour.

Those are important differences, which we can accept with humility and respect, in mutual tolerance; there is a mystery there on which, I am certain, God will one day enlighten us.

Source: vatican.va

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