by Syarif Hidayat

         Despite Islamophobia is still prevailing strongly in the Western world, Islam is the fastest growing religion in the West especially in the United Kingdom and the United States. The increase of the conversion to Islam is one the results of post-9/11 curiosity. The 9/11 tragedy has triggered more curiosity among western people especially Americans to study more about Islam.

In the Name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful.  The Almighty God Allah SWT says in Al Qur’an:  “O you who believe! Enter perfectly in Islâm (by obeying all the rules and regulations of the Islâmic religion) and follow not the footsteps of Shaitân (Satan). Verily! He is to you a plain enemy. Then if you slide back after the clear signs (Prophet Muhammad SAW and this Qur’ân, and Islâm) have come to you, then know that Allâh is All-Mighty, All-Wise.” – (Al Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqara, Verses 208- 209)

        “O people of the Scripture (Jews and Christians)! Now has come to you Our Messenger (Prophet Muhammad PBUH) explaining to you much of that which you used to hide from the Scripture and pass over (i.e. leaving out without explaining) much. Indeed, there has come to you from Allâh a light (Prophet Muhammad PBUH) and a plain Book (this Qur’ân). Wherewith Allâh guides all those who seek His Good Pleasure to ways of peace, and He brings them out of darkness by His Will unto light and guides them to the Straight Way (Islâmic Monotheism).” – Al Qur’an Surah Al Maidah, Verse 15-16.

Stereotypes and misconceptions

Nevertheless, the West has many stereotypes and misconceptions about Islam that are due to: the media, Prejudice, and Ignorance. Islam is often looked upon as a “extremist”, “terrorist”, or “fundamental” religion. Many people hate Islam and do not want to acknowledge its true teachings.

In many cases, the western media’s reports about Islam are incorrect due to ignorance. This is one of the reasons why the West often hates Islam.  In contrast to what many Westerners think of Islam, Islam is a peaceful religion, which does not promote any injustice or crime. Stereotypes about Islam are not new to Western tern culture. Problems can be traced back 1400 years. At that time, Islam and Christianity were involved in the Crusades in the 1100’s and in the Ottoman and Moorish control in Europe. Islam spread quickly to the West, and started to threaten the position of the Christian Church and the ruling class.

The Western elites, mainly the governments and the churches, then became highly involved in seeing that negative images were presented about Islam. As a result, not only were battles fought against Islam, but also a war of words was initiated to make sure that Islam would not have any converts or sympathizers in the West. These kinds of actions and feelings that the West had long ago still seem to be the case in the West today.

Today, the West, with little or no understanding of Islamic history, has identified a new enemy, “a new demon that has replaced the Red menace of the Cold war, i.e., radical Islam”. This “radical Islam”, a stereotype common to Western thought, portrays Muslims as fundamentalists or potential terrorists. Some of these ideas that the Western people have about Islam are due to the mass media of the West. Reporters who cover the Muslim world often know very little details about it. The media then develops a distorted image of Islam that Western culture adopts.

A major factor which contributes to Islamic stereotyping in the West is due to the media’s ignorance of selecting their words that describe Muslims. Some common names heard or seen in the news about Muslims are “extremist” or “terrorist”. These words are misleading and are mainly anti-Islamic. The media rarely uses more neutral terms such as “revivalist” or “progressives”. The Western media also creates the idea that Muslims are “returning” to Islam. This is not true in most cases, because many Muslims have never left Islam in the first place. Islam has always been a big part of their lives.

“Islamic Fundamentalism” Misinterpreted

        A more accurate and just way to describe this idea is to say that there is a revival of Islam and it is becoming more and more influential to everyone. Adding to the fact that the media creates inaccurate ideas about Islam, the Western media is also very influential to its audiences in making negative Islamic stereotypes, such as the assertion that all Muslims are fundamentalists. The term “fundamentalist” is actually a term that is misinterpreted by the western media.

A fundamentalist, in fact, only represents a normal Muslim who follows his or her religion. Fundamentalism means an attitude, an effort, or a movement that an ideology, group, or religion tries to promote in its fundamental beliefs. The “fundamental” beliefs of a Muslim is to believe in only one God (Allah) and the Prophet Mohammed is His messenger(PBUH), to pray five times a day, give alms to the poor, fast the month of Ramadan, and make a pilgrimage to Mecca.

This means that all Muslims are fundamentalists if they believe in their own religion’s fundamentals. Although the media is uncomfortable with religious groups, it focuses heavily on “Islamic fundamentalism”. A majority of the media’s reports that talk about Islamic fundamentalism usually describes most Muslims as extremists. This shows how the media is ignorant, because Islam specifically prohibits any forms of extremism.

The Prophet Muhammad PBUH said, “Those persons who go to extremes (in practicing their religion) were cursed (by God)”. The media most often portrays Muslim “fundamentalists” prostrating themselves before God in prayer. For example, in the October 4 issue of Time, Muslim soldiers were shown performing prayers with guns. The caption on the bottom of the picture said, “Guns and prayer go together in the fundamentalist battle”. The part that the reporters omitted or failed to state was that the Muslim soldiers were praying on a battlefield in Afghanistan.

Common sense of the situation meant that the soldiers had to remain armed at all times in case of an ambush at any time. This is a clear example of the media’s biased and inaccurate reporting.

Another Great Misconception

With regard to the soldiers, another great misconception that exists is the truth about Jihad or “holy war” in Islam. The ideas of war and violence have become related to the Islamic religion from the media. Jihad is so often apparent in the news because the media thinks it is Islam’s justification for war and violence.

Al Quran (Muslim Holy Book) says “Fight for the sake of Allah those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. Allah (God) does not love aggression”.

Jihad literally means “The struggle in the path of God”, or “holy war”. However, the Western media often abuses the meaning of jihad by referring to it as a holy war where Muslims unreasonably kill non-believers. But the fact is, is that jihad can mean a numbers of things that a Muslim does for the sake of God.

Rarely has the Western media used this kind of a definition in their reports. The way the media represents jihad is wrong. The media often takes the word “jihad” out of context to propagate negative views on Islam. The association of Islam and violence is a common misconception that the general Western public has developed about Islam.

An example of this kind of misconception is that the Western media and some historians often say that Islam was a religion spread by the sword, meaning that Muslims went from one end of the world to the other forcing people to either convert or die. Islam spread by people learning about it and some by holy wars, but they did not force people to convert or die. Since majorities of the American public only get their information about Islam through the media, they believe this wrong idea.

The media’s reports about Arab or “Islamic” events, such as the Gulf War, are often misunderstood. The media usually fails to give background information about these Islamic events that it reports on. The media infrequently distinguishes between the religion Islam and the political affairs that occur in most Islamic countries. For instance, what Saddam Hussein, the former president of Iraq, did in the Gulf War was not Islamic and totally wrong (to attack other people for no reason).

But the media still makes reports about Islam and how Islam is made of war-crazed people. For example, to help put things into perspective, Hitler was a person of the Christian faith. This does not mean that all of his actions were consistent with the Christian beliefs.

Likewise, Saddam Hussein is of the Islamic faith, but all of his actions do not necessarily represent Islam. So you can see that the media’s reports about “war-crazed Muslims” are incorrect. The notion of associating of Islam and Muslims with the terms Arabs and Middle East are in fact misleading. Arabs only account for 18% of the Muslim population across the world.

Conversion To Islam One Result Of Post-9/11 Curiosity

Islam Converts        The Almighty God Allah SWT says in Al Qur’an: “Allah is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The Parable of His Light is as if there were a Niche and within it a Lamp: the Lamp enclosed in Glass: the glass as it were a brilliant star: Lit from a blessed Tree, an Olive, neither of the east nor of the west, whose oil is well-nigh luminous, though fire scarce touched it: Light upon Light! Allah doth guide whom He will to His Light: Allah doth set forth Parables for men: and Allah doth know all things.” – (Al Qur’an, Surah Al-Nour, Verse:35)

        Omar Sacirbey in his article titled: “Conversion To Islam One Result Of Post-9/11 Curiosity,” published in writes Like a lot of other people in the haze and confusion of the 9/11 attacks, Johannah Segarich asked herself: “What kind of religion is this that could inspire people to do this?”

She had studied other religions, but never Islam. So she bought a copy of the Quran, wondering if her notions of Islam as a patriarchal and now seemingly violent religion, would be confirmed. Then she got to the first chapter, with its seven-line message about seeking guidance from a merciful creator. She finished the Quran a few weeks later, then started reading it again. About half way through, barely 10 weeks after 9/11, “I came to the realization,” she said, “that I had a decision to make.”

Segarich began studying Islam more intensely, and within a few months, the Utah-born music instructor made her Islamic declaration of faith, or shehadah, at the Islamic Society of Boston in Cambridge. “It seemed kind of crazy to do. I was a middle-aged professional woman, very independent, very contemporary, and here I was turning to this religion, which at that point was so reviled,” Segarich recalled.

Indeed, it seems counterintuitive that Americans would consider joining a religion that many associate with terrorism and violence — especially after 9/11. But there are more than a few people like Segarich who, compelled by curiosity, became converts. The majority of post-9/11 converts are women, according to experts. Hispanics and African-Americans, who were already converting well before 9/11, are the most common ethnic groups to convert.

Though exact numbers are difficult to tally, observers estimate that as many as 20,000 Americans convert to Islam annually. Some conversions make headlines, such as Yvonne Ridley, a British journalist who converted in 2003 after being held captive by Taliban; Lauren Booth, the sister-in-law of former British Prime Minister Tony Blair; or the rapper known as Loon, who converted last year.

Angela Collins Telles grew up in southern California but had a travel bug that took her to Egypt and Syria, where she made friends and found most people generous and compassionate. When anti-Muslim rhetoric flared after 9/11, Collins Telles felt a need to push back. “I saw my country demonizing these people as terrorists and oppressors of women, and I couldn’t think of anything further from the truth,” she said, “and I felt a need to stand-up and defend them. But then I realized that I couldn’t argue without knowledge.”

Like other converts, Collins Telles said some Christian beliefs, such as the Trinity and priests as intermediaries to God — had never quite seemed right her. “The concept of God was the most beautiful thing, and that concept fit with what I believe,” said Collins Telles, who converted a few months after 9/11. Chicagoan Kelly Kaufmann had a similar experience. When relatives chastised her for volunteering for President Obama’s presidential campaign because they believed, erroneously, he is Muslim, she felt a need to study religion. When she came to Islam, her beliefs finally seemed in sync.

“Once I realized that’s where my beliefs aligned, I had that big uh-oh moment that a lot of people have when they realize, ‘Uh-oh, the (religion) I align with is the big fat scary one, as treated by the media, and understood as such by the public,” she said. But after nearly a year of study, Kaufmann could find nothing wrong with Islam. She decided to convert after confronting a man at a public lecture who said Muslims hated peace,

“That’s when I realized, if I’m taking this personally, I think I must be ready,” she said. Because of a slow but steady number of converts, many mosques have launched programs to help them with learning the essentials: prayer, basic beliefs, and proper behavior. Vaqar Sharief, who was tapped to create a program for converts at the Islamic Center of Wilmington, Del., estimates his mosque gets four or five converts every month.

Despite their enthusiasm, some converts worry about how friends and colleagues will react, or whether they are exposing themselves to harassment or attack. “I guess it will always be a concern until the rhetoric changes a little bit,” said Kaufmann, whose family has been supportive — except for an uncle who now forbids his daughter from seeing Kaufmann. “What are they afraid of, conversion by proximity?”

Trisha Squires hasn’t been a Muslim for even a month, following her July 31 declaration of faith, and has told only a few people, with mixed results. Among the disappointing reactions was a close friend who said, “The godmother of my children is going to be a Muslim?” Squires hesitates to wear a headscarf to work, unsure what her employer might think.

Others, however, don’t worry at all.

“I never cared about being accepted,” said Collins Telles, who now lives in Brazil with her husband, who also converted after meeting her. “I knew that I had found God, and that’s all I ever wanted.”

Study shows Islam growing in the UK

       John Bingham in his article titled “Study shows Islam growing, Christianity declining in the UK” writes a new analysis of the 2011 census shows that a decade of mass immigration helped mask the scale of decline in Christian affiliation among the British-born population – while driving a dramatic increase in Islam, particularly among the young. It suggests that only a minority of people will describe themselves as Christians within the next decade, for first time.

Meanwhile almost one in 10 under 25s in Britain is now a Muslim. The proportion of young people who describe themselves as even nominal Christians has dropped below half for the first time. Initial results from the 2011 census published last year showed that the total number of people in England and Wales who described themselves as Christian fell by 4.1 million – a decline of 10 per cent.

But new analysis from the Office for National Statistics shows that that figure was bolstered by 1.2 million foreign-born Christians, including Polish Catholics and evangelicals from countries such as Nigeria. They disclosed that there were in fact 5.3 million fewer British-born people describing themselves as Christians, a decline of 15 per cent in just a decade.At the same time the number of Muslims in England and Wales surged by 75 per cent – boosted by almost 600,000 more foreign born followers of the Islamic faith.

While almost half of British Muslims are under the age of 25, almost a quarter of Christians are over 65. The average age of a British Muslim is just 25, not far off half that of a British Christian.  Younger people also drove a shift away from religion altogether, with 6.4 million more people describing themselves as having no faith than 10 years earlier.

Secular campaigners said the new figures showed that Christianity had now dropped below “critical mass” making the case for disestablishing the Church of England stronger. But the Church insisted that while there had been a significant drop in “nominal” Christians, the core of the Church remained firm.

Prof David Coleman, Professor of demography at Oxford University, said: “This is a very substantial change – it is difficult to see whether any other change in the census could have been remotely as big. “But I wonder how far it reflects an overarching change in society where it is more acceptable more normal to say that you are not religious or are not Christian.”

Dr Fraser Watts, a Cambridge theologian, said it was “entirely possible” the people identifying themselves as Christians could become a minority within the next decade on the basis of the figures. “It is still pretty striking and it is a worrying trend and confirms what anyone can observe – that in many churches the majority of the congregation are over 60,” he said.

Keith Porteous Wood, executive director of the National Secular Society, said the long-term reduction of Christianity, particularly among young people, was now “unstoppable”. “In another 20 years there are going to be more active Muslims than there are churchgoers,” he said.

“The time has now come that institutional Christianity is no longer justified, the number has dropped below critical mass for which there is no longer any justification for the established Church, for example, or the monarch going through a religious ceremony at coronation.  “The expressions of optimism by the church are just completely misplaced.”

But a spokesman for the Church of England said: “These figures highlight the diversity of Christianity in this country today, something which has been increasing for decades and shows the relevance of Christianity to people from all backgrounds.  “These figures once again confirm that this remains a faithful nation and that the fall in the numbers identifying themselves as Christians is a challenge but – as you can see from the stability of Church of England attendance figures – the committed worshipping centre of the church remains firm.

Mosque building booming in the US

Mosques-construct      Angel Jennings and Teresa Watanabe in their article titled “Mosque building booming in the US” published in LA Times, write the opening this weekend of a new mosque in Rowland Heights is powerful evidence of a building boom of such facilities in Southern California and around the nation.  Over the last several years, new mosques have risen in Mission Viejo, Irvine, Anaheim, Reseda, Rancho Cucamonga, Rosemead, Diamond Bar and Tustin. Additional mosques are slated for Temecula, Ontario, Lomita and Corona.

Strikingly, the new mosques have been funded entirely by local Muslims, who began settling in the region in the 1960s. Before 2001, new mosques were often funded by foreigners; the Saudis financed the King Fahad Mosque in Culver City, and Libyans helped build Masjid Omar near USC.

Stricter government scrutiny of foreign investments from Islamic countries after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, along with reluctance by local Muslims about accepting foreign money, helped change the practices, according to Shakeel Syed, executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California.

Mosque-building rises as Muslim American clout growsPost 9/11, the dynamic completely changed

“Post 9/11, the dynamic completely changed,” Syed said. “The Muslim community at large in North America realized it is better if we develop our own funding, however long it takes.”  Syed said many Muslims have built successful businesses over the last few decades and are now positioned to give back. Some did relatively well during the recession, as they were able to buy undervalued properties while not taking on risky investments or interest-incurring debt, which is barred in Islam, he said.

The majority of mosques in the United States are still existing buildings converted to an Islamic prayer space. But the number of newly built structures — such as the new Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley — has doubled in the last decade, to 632 in 2011 from 314 in 2000, according to the American Mosque 2011 study. Among metropolitan areas, Southern California is home to 120 mosques, second only to the  New York area, the study found. (Estimates of the Muslim American population vary, but a 2011 Pew Research Center study placed it at about 2.7 million nationwide and growing.)

At the new Masjid Qubaa in Rowland Heights, several members donated $100,000, and a few gave $500,000. The women held a fashion show, which raised $100,000. Dozens of skilled craftsmen contributed services and construction materials, which significantly reduced the structure’s cost.

Syed Rizvi, the center’s president, reflects the arc of success experienced by some of the community’s more affluent members. He arrived in the United States from Pakistan in 1975 with a single suitcase and $7,500. But he had a medical degree and eventually opened several kidney dialysis centers. He donated a six-figure sum to the project, said Yasmeen Khan, a mosque leader. “We were professionals, but we were not rich,” Rizvi said. “America gave that opportunity for us all.”

The mosque construction attracted no local opposition — unlike projects in Temecula, Lomita and Ontario. There, neighbors raised concerns about potential problems with noise, traffic and parking — objections Muslims have successfully addressed, according to Ameena Mirza Qazi of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Some of those debates were marked by anti-Islam comments and fears about terrorism expressed by some opponents.

New Rowland Heights mosque a product of grass-roots effort

       In another article titled “New Rowland Heights mosque a product of grass-roots effort” published in Los Angeles Times, Angel Jennings and Teresa Watanabe write “Construction of the Islamic center was funded by local Muslims rather than foreign donors, a U.S. trend that began after 9/11. The project includes a school, mortuary, health clinic and three libraries.”

The sand-colored mosque rises against the San Gabriel Mountains, its blue-tiled dome and six minarets cutting a striking profile in an industrial area of Rowland Heights. Inside, lush tapestries from Pakistan adorn the walls, and ornate chandeliers from Dubai hang over the prayer rooms. At the head of the men’s prayer space, the 99 names of Allah are engraved in Islamic calligraphy into glass around the Arabic symbol for God.

After four years of construction and $5.5 million in fundraising, the Islamic Center of San Gabriel Valley formally opened its soaring new mosque Saturday. For Muslim worshipers, the transformation of their prayer space from a dilapidated church next to a smelly chicken farm purchased three decades ago to a 45,000-square-foot structure with a school, mortuary, health clinic and three libraries marks a coming of age for their community.

It’s also powerful evidence of a building boom of new mosques in Southern California and around the nation.  A couple from Orange County gave the mosque an interest-free loan from their pension. And, Syed said, the Islamic Center of Corona gave the Rowland Heights group a bridge loan of a couple hundred thousand dollars — a common practice among Southern California mosques to share their resources.

The mosque construction attracted no local opposition — unlike projects in Temecula, Lomita and Ontario. There, neighbors raised concerns about potential problems with noise, traffic and parking — objections Muslims have successfully addressed, according to Ameena Mirza Qazi of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Some of those debates were marked by anti-Islam comments and fears about terrorism expressed by some opponents.

Qazi said some Islamic centers have chosen to locate their new projects in industrial areas to avoid protests by homeowners. But doing so, she said, prevents mosques from serving as neighborhood centers, a traditional role for many religious institutions. The San Gabriel Valley community, however, always located its Islamic center in an industrial area because the land was cheaper.

The original space, a church purchased in 1983, could fit only 300 people and was so cramped that worshipers during the monthlong Ramadan observance had to break their ritual fasts outside — even when the holiday fell during the chilly winter months. They bought a chicken farm to expand and rented space at Santa Ana High School, almost 25 miles away, to hold Sunday school. Preparations for burials were held at a mosque in Garden Grove.  By the late 1990s, members decided it was time to build a comprehensive facility. But the blueprint continued to change as the Muslim community grew.

Syed Raza, the architect, said the first plan drawn up nearly 15 years ago called for a 4,500-square-foot mosque — about one-tenth the size of the final design. The three-story structure includes separate entrances and prayer spaces for men and women, who can watch the imam’s sermon through closed-circuit TV on the second floor. Syed of the Shura Council said that most new mosques include separate prayer spaces for the comfort of both genders but that all intermingle in other areas of the center.

Worshipers are especially excited that the center will now finally house all of their needed facilities in one space, including the charter school and mortuary.

Non-Muslims are welcome to visit and use the services, mosque leaders said. Females will not be required to cover their heads as Muslims do, and young men can wear Bermuda shorts. Muslim leaders in Southern California say they are trying to be less insular and reach out more to the non-Muslim community by holding blood drives, food giveaways, interfaith meetings and other activities. Last week, thousands of elated worshipers flocked to the gleaming new mosque for its inaugural Friday prayer meeting.  “It feels like it’s a whole new world,” said 19-year-old Omar Yamak. “You have a sense of love of the community.”  (HSH)






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