Monday, May 19, 2008

From Mayfair to Mecca

Mayfair socialite, aristocrat, owner of an estate in the Scottish highlands, accomplished deerstalker and angler, not to mention mother and gardener, Lady Evelyn Cobbold (1867-1963) was probably unique in being also a Muslim and Arabic-speaker. Unusually, she claimed to have been a Muslim all her life and there is no evidence of a moment of conversion.

In 1933, at the age of 65, this redoubtable Anglo-Scot became the first British-born Muslim woman to make the pilgrimage to Mecca. Yet the story of her life and her contribution to the literature of the hajj have been inexplicably overlooked until now. Nor has she been studied from the point of view of what her life has to say about Islam among the British.
Read the rest of the article by William Facey at the Guardian Online.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Le Trio Joubran

Le Trio Joubran is a band of brothers that play the oud, a classic stringed instrument that is nearly 4000 years old...story from All Things Considered...

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Minaret in Chicago Skyline

One of the coolest thing about Chicago is the architecture of all the different skyscrapers. Here is a shot I took of the Wrigley Building, featuring its famous white terra-cotta exterior, proudly signaling the beginning of the Magnificent Mile.

What you may not know, is that the Wrigley Building was inspired by the "Giralda," a famous bell tower that is part of the Cathedral of Seville in Spain. Interestingly, the Giralda was originally a minaret for a mosque upon which the Cathedral of Seville is built. The mosque was built around 1184 and the minaret was the tallest tower in the world at the time (source Wikipedia).

While the Wrigley Building added some flourishes from Renaissance architecture, it still looks quite like a minaret in the middle of the city, calling one and all to the wonders of Chicago...

Friday, May 16, 2008

NPR Interview on Khalil Gibran International Academy

In an earlier post, "Ambassadors of Peace and Hope," I talked about the controversy surrounding Khalil Gibran International Academy, a public high school in New York and I posted a link to the NY Times article and an interview of the founding principal, Debbie Almontaser by Democracy Now.

NPR had a 30-minute story yesterday on the school, "English-Arabic Public School Faces Harsh Critics," featuring Debbie Almontaser which is worth checking out.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Moroccan Design

I came across an interesting blog called, "Moroccan Design," that features the art, architecture and culture of Morocco. One of the posts on the blog referenced a documentary called, "When the Moors Ruled in Europe" which offers a fascinating account of how Islam became an indigenous religion, and way of life, in Western Europe.

The scientific advances, the beauty of the architecture, the gardens were all simply breath taking. The discussion of how the Alhambra was designed alone makes watching the documentary worthwhile.

The history of Muslim Spain is rarely remembered today, largely due to the Spanish Inquisition, a nearly 400-year campaign of terror against Muslims and Jews marked by executions, forced conversions, expulsion and the literal burning of thousands and thousands of books including the famed libraries of Cordoba.

This documentary helps address the historical imbalance and features amazing footage of the remaining vestiges of a once-remarkable civilization. I highly recommend it.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Ambassadors of Peace and Hope

As an American Muslim, I am daily confronted by the fact that many of my fellow Americans are uneasy about my faith. This unease is not limited to the uneducated and uncultured; I have seen flickers of apprehension even on the faces of very well-educated friends and colleagues.

In the wake of the tragedy of 9/11 and the overwhelmingly negative media portrayal of Muslims, American or otherwise, I can't say I find this too surprising. But what does surprise me is the unwillingness of the same people to confront their unease by learning about Islam and its message.

Debbie Almontaser tried to tackle this unease head on by founding a public school in New York that teaches Arabic as a second language, with the intention of creating students who would be "ambassadors of peace and hope."

New York City already has public schools that follow this model, including the Amistad Language School, which specializes in Spanish, and the Shuang Wen School, which specializes in Chinese language and culture.

Ms. Almontaser and the local American Muslim, Christian and Jewish communities came together and, as a result, Khalil Gibran International Academy was born. Like all New York City public schools, the school's curriculum was strictly secular, even the school's namesake was an Arab Christian, not a Muslim.

But some local New Yorkers, blinded by bigotry, and led by Daniel Pipes, felt the school would become a center of Islamic extremism and started a disinformation campaign using what can only be called yellow journalism, to fuel fear and misunderstanding, the very things the school was founded to dispel.

Amid all the confusion and controversy, Ms. Almontaser was forced to resign and, without her leadership, the school has floundered towards failure rather than success. It was only recently that more balanced coverage, by the New York Times, allowed for the real story to come out.

I strongly recommend everyone read the article by Andrea Elliott and watch the interview of Debbie Almontaser by Democracy Now. Hopefully, it will go a little way towards making us all a little more comfortable.

Also worth reading, Gershom Gorenberg's post "Daniel Pipes vs Religious Tolerance"

Thanks to Tareq for sending me the NY Times article.