In Spain, a tiny group of Sufi Muslims thrives

For hundreds of years, the Iberian Peninsula was a thriving outpost of Islam before the Moorish Muslims were expelled by Christians in Portugal and Spain during a bloody and strident campaign that lasted for centuries. It didn’t end until 1492.

So you might be surprised to find that there’s a rare Muslim community in Spain today.

A small Sufi group of only 35 members resides in Villanueva de la Vera, a village of a little more than 2,000 people in the province of Caceres in the dry and hot Extremadura region. The 15-year-old community of Spanish converts to Islam comes mainly from Madrid.

Away from the hustle and bustle of the city, the simple village life in rural central Spain – not so far from the border with Portugal – allows these Sufis plenty of time to fulfill their religious obligations. To Sufis, the remembrance of God through group meditations and prayers is the ultimate purpose of life.

Ibn Khaldun, a 14th-century Arab historian, described Sufism as “dedication to worship, total dedication to God, most High, disregard for the finery and ornament of the world, abstinence from the pleasure, wealth, and prestige sought by most men, and retiring from others to worship alone.”

Villanueva de la Vera has provided the Sufi community a safe haven to do just that.

Jose Antonio De Lamadrid, a Spanish photographer, decided to make this rare community his next subject.

Lamadrid has documented about 70 religious minorities from around the world, including the communities of Coptic Christians in Egypt and Jews in Turkey and ending with the Sufi community of Villanueva village as the final report.

The members are all Catholic converts and have decided to shift their locality, after conversion, closer to Pico Almanzor, the highest mountain in the region. It was named after Cordoba caliphate general and statesman Al Mansur Ibn Abi Aami, who ruled in the late 10th century in Muslim Spain.

That significant 800-year period of Muslim rule has infused Spanish culture with Islamic and Middle Eastern values that have remained integral to the Spanish people. While some refer to these long years as peaceful and harmonious among the three Abrahamic faith communities of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, others recall the brutal end of the conquest, one full of bloodshed and near complete elimination of the Muslim community in Spain.

For the Spanish Sufi Muslim community, acceptance of their faith is often confronted by the residue of long historical conflicts leading society to misperceive them. Additionally, negative images represented in the media continue to give false representations of Muslims, Sufis included.

“This community is attractive, because the Muslims and Islam have a bad image. All that we hear in the news is not very good,” Lamadrid said. He wanted to show that this community is “not bad, they’re good people”.

Lamadrid was challenged in getting members to open up to him. They are skeptical to share information with others. However, the more Lamadrid visited, the more comfortable they became. Eventually, he was able to take his camera out and photograph their stories into life. Lamadrid spent nearly six months in and out of their village.

Lamadrid was eager to do this work because he believes everyone is the same inside and deserves to be treated fairly.

“We don’t know other cultures, and this causes big problems in society. This makes it hard to not know your neighbor. It’s ridiculous to only know your neighbor because he’s Muslim or Christian. Everyone has to learn about others to try to live together,” Lamadrid said.

His story shows the ceremonial traditions within the Sufi faith to constantly remember God and to be content with the simple life they live.

While they refrain from leisurely living, the members are all educated, have televisions and interact with the Villanueva community around them. They meet on Fridays in a large hall for worship. But when special events occur, the church allows them to use their space, since there is no mosque.

“It’s a very open community. They meditate and attend a center to meditate with other people of other faiths. … They are very peaceful. They dress differently, but what’s important is the inside of them, and we should know these people and be fair (to them),” Lamadrid said.

Slma Shelbayah, CNN

For some Muslims, fasting Ramadan poses risks

(CNN) This Ramadan, Amina Jabbar faced a difficult decision.

The University of Toronto medical student’s rotation at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre began around July 9, the start of the Muslim holy month.

That meant working unpredictable shifts for as long as 26 hours while fasting from eating and drinking during the day.

The fast-paced hospital environment was already challenging Jabbar’s ability to keep up with colleagues and patients. As a new physician, she felt more “error prone” and said fasting would increase her anxiety on the job.

Ramadan requires “slowing down,” Jabbar said, an impossible task for a first-year medical resident whose job requires fast decisions and clear thinking to save lives.

The 29-year-old Muslim was torn.

Should she fulfill her professional duties, eating regular meals so hunger would not distract her from patients’ critical needs? Or should she honor her religious obligations by observing the fast, a practice considered a “pillar” of Islam?

“I am spending 60-80 hours (at the hospital) and I don’t get to slow down for Ramadan,” Jabbar said. “It felt unfair to my colleagues and patients to tell them to slow down for me.”

At the same time, Jabbar said she feared that fellow Muslims would criticize her if she didn’t fast. “There’s a certain amount of shame when we talk about people not fasting,” she said.

The decision not to fast during Ramadan, the holiest month in the Muslim calendar, is somewhat taboo in the Muslim community.

READ MORE: The Belief Blog Guide to Ramadan 

In Islam, Ramadan commemorates the time when the angel Gabriel imparted the Quran to the Prophet Mohammed.

Many Muslims throughout the world commemorate the month by fasting, refraining from sex and smoking, and dedicating more time than usual to praying and reading the Quran.

Some exceptions are generally allowed during Ramadan, which ends August 8. Pregnant women, travelers and sick people are not expected to observe the fast, for example.

But for many other Muslims, especially first responders and others with stressful jobs, the choice of whether to fast can cause its own kind of anxiety.

When Jabbar blogged about her decision not to fast, she received a mix of reactions.

One Muslim accused her of looking for an “excuse” to shirk her religious duties. Some questioned her devotion to Islam, asking if she performs other required Islamic rituals such as daily prayers.

“Of course I pray,” Jabbar said. “I am just choosing not to fast. We have a lot of pressure to demonstrate to our community that we’re Muslim.”

Imam Khalil Abdur-Rashid, head of the Iqra Mosque in Brooklyn and Muslim Chaplain of Columbia University,  said that observing the fast during Ramadan is a religious obligation for every Muslim who is considered mature, mentally sane, healthy and not traveling.

There are no fatwas – or religious rulings – that grant fasting exemptions for first responders, he added. But, Abdur-Rashid said, one is definitely needed. In fact, he generated one immediately after speaking with CNN.

“The purpose of the fast is not to place the fasting person in the face of harm, but to teach self-restraint,” Abdur-Rashid said.

“And the moment the fast becomes dangerous, or external conditions place the fasting person in harm’s way,” he said, “then the fasting person is not only permitted, but in many cases, religiously obliged to break their fast.”

Abdur-Rashid’s new fatwa may be especially valuable to Muslims like New Yorker Ahmed Sabree, who battles fires while wearing heavy equipment during the searing summer heat.

Sabree, 42, said the arrival of Ramadan this July took him back to his training days with the New York Fire Department nearly eight years ago.

Sabree endured intense physical drills that included racing up six-story buildings, pulling up hoses and crawling on the floor.

Trainers told the budding firefighters to “hydrate, hydrate, hydrate,” Sabree recalls.

He contemplated breaking the fast, at least to drink some water, and researched Islamic texts for guidance.

Sabree concluded that his training, though grueling, was insufficient reason to drink water during the day.

Ramadan is not just about enduring physical hardships for hardships’ sake, Sabree said. Instead, the holy month has a deeply spiritual dimension.

The firefighter said Ramadan’s rituals offer an opportunity to “get back on track” and become more conscientious of his responsibilities to God and his fellow man.

That doesn’t mean fasting is easy for Sabree, so he takes precautions to lighten the load a bit.

For instance, he volunteered for the lunchtime watch shift at his firehouse in Harlem, New York, while others are eating in the kitchen, better to keep the alluring aromas of food at bay.

And if a fire breaks during the time of breaking the fast, Sabree responds immediately. To the fire that is, not his stomach.

“If it’s time to break the fast and there’s a fire, you gotta go,” Sabree said. “I’ll break my fast with some water and go.”

READ MORE: Muslims have mixed views on TSA Ramadan advisory

Deputy Chief Mike Jaafar of Wayne County in Michigan is also fasting this year.

Jaafar says Ramadan is “kind of a cool time,”  but he doesn’t mean temperature.

In fact, for the last several years, Ramadan has fallen during the hottest summer months. The holy month is calculated by a lunar, rather than fixed calendar, so it rotates from year to year.

“Unfortunately, I can’t adjust my schedule in the profession I am in. This year is going to be a tough one,” Jaafar said. He is expected to keep the same long hours and fulfill the same duties as his fellow officers.

But there are some perks to celebrating Ramadan in Michigan, home to the largest concentration of American Muslims in the United States. When the holy month comes around, fasting isn’t much of a foreign concept, even for those not Muslim.

This understanding translates into small workarounds for Jaafar. Sometimes, if he begins his workday early enough, he is able to finish in time to get home for dinner.

“My hours can be flexible, and usually I can break my fast with family,” Jaafar said. He uses this time to visit his mother every day and to attend the mosque with his children.

As for Jabbar, the medical resident is trying to make up for not fasting through other spiritually fulfilling options, such as praying and helping heal her patients.

“Spirituality has to become part of my clinical practice, because I spend so much time of my life there,” she said.

But Jabbar said she still misses the slowing down that Ramadan’s daytime fasting requires.

“I am trying to make it up in terms of remembrance,” of God, she said. “It doesn’t always feel sufficient.”

The Masjid and Me

During Ramadan or Eid, if you walk into an average size mosque in the United States, you will see it is crowded. Good luck finding space to stand, let alone pray! Space is limited. You may feel uncomfortable and unable to properly concentrate on your worship. The good news is, at most other times of the year, you will easily find space and worship much more comfortably. The prayer area has plenty of space for all people,  unless….you are female. That’s the bad news.

Not all mosque attendees are made equal. For women, finding a comfortable space at the mosque is challenging at almost all mosques and not just during holidays or Jumu’ah prayers on Friday, but usually whenever they attend. Why is that?

Two reasons come to mind. Women’s physical space is either,  located in a completely separate room devoid of visual and audio access to the lecture, speaker and congregational worship; or, located behind curtains or barrier that also prevent them from necessary interactive communication for a successful, meaningful worship experience. Women are struggling to identify a physical space at the mosque to satisfies their mental, intellectual and spiritual needs.

During the early years of Islam, women were able to share the main prayer area with access to the speaker. They remained engaged and were active members. The story of the second Caliph Umar Ibn Al Khatab and the woman who stood up in the middle of the mosque and pointed out that his proposed policy for putting a cap on dowry violated Islamic law, exemplifies the type of important interactions across the gender divide that may take place at the mosque. Can you imagine a similar scenario in most of today’s mosques?

Some 60%-90% of all communication is conveyed non-verbally. What this means is that words do not matter nearly as much as the gestures, voice tone and pitch and facial expressions made by the speaker. The audience needs to see the speaker to get the most out of what is said. Moreover, interactivity is lost when speakers and audience members can not see or hear each other. So how can women communicate their comments, questions or expressions to the speaker if they cannot see or hear him? And how can the speaker evaluate the efficacy of their own speeches if they are unable to see or hear all the audience? This situation is not beneficial for everyone present.

Communication is essential and it matters tremendously. It is what drives people to work collaboratively toward success. If women are unable to communicate or be communicated to effectively at the mosque, the center of a Muslim’s life, then where and and to whom else should they turn? This issue is addressed in the booklet, ” Women Friendly Mosques and Community Centers: Working Together to Reclaim Our Heritage” written by the New York City-based organization, Women in Islam and the Islamic Social Services Association, and recognized by the Islamic Society of North America. It points out that when women are not welcomed at the mosque, they begin to work independently, thus causing more fracturing and division in the community. What a loss for everyone when women are denied active participation in their communities!

Women are among the most hardworking, active individuals at the mosques: teaching children at weekend schools, staffing summer camps, volunteering during community events to help set up, cook or clean and simply being there with their children to establish love in their hearts for the mosque. So it perplexes me that women’s opinions are not factored in the decisions made by mosque leaders-decisions that directly affect women in the community, particularly about the space in which they pray and how they fail to interact with speakers.

When women are excluded from conversations such as khutbahs, speaker sessions or workshops in the mosque, they feel alienated. Women have the right to this learning and Mosque leadership needs to grant them space to access it. After all, the physical space is what creates mental, spiritual and social space for the community to grow healthy and united. If women are unable to find their space at the mosque, they will discontinue coming and so will their families. How will that affect the development towards a healthy and united community?

We can work together to change this situation to ensure a healthy growth of our community. Surely, good models of women-friendly mosques exist–I have been to a few. Mosque attendees need to speak up and share what they know about these better models and how they function. Write to your mosque leaders and governing board members to let them know that you care about your space and you want a comfortable, meaningful one; give the example of other working mosque models. It doesn’t matter whether you are a man or woman, young or old; you can speak up for the rights of others as you would for your own. The problem needs to be acknowledged so that steps are taken to resolve it.

It is then up to Mosque leaders to reach out to existing women-friendly mosques. Leaders need to visit, observe and learn from these successful mosque models. Speak to the women in these inclusive communities. Talk with the leaders who follow the Islamic authentic tradition of an open main prayer area, for men and women alike. Initiate a movement of “open space for all” and invite the women. Only then, will mosques be able to improve and become a welcoming home for individuals yearning to find peace, guidance and good company. There is no better place for this type of therapy than a mosque, but only if it is welcoming.

Allah states in the Quran, “The believing men and women are protectors and helpers of each other. They (collaborate) to promote all that is good and oppose all that is evil; establish prayers and give charity, and obey Allah and his Messenger. Those are the people whom Allah would grant mercy. Indeed Allah is Exalted and Wise. “(Al-Tawbah 9:71). Mosque leaders need to work together to guarantee equal and open space for all people seeking to worship and learn.

For the men and women who have a problem including women in the main prayer area, perhaps they can find their space behind the curtain or in a separate room with equal audiovisual opportunity; just as long as women decide for themselves where their space should be and the women who wish to be actively involved in the learning, get to do so.

This article is published in Azizah Magazine Volume 7 Issue 2. To read more of Azizah Magazine, purchase their latest issue now.

The All-American Muslimah: A Multitude of Identities

A passionate country music listener and a “hillbilly at heart” with 20 body piercings and nearly 50 percent of her body covered in tattoos, Shadia Amen is a 32 year-old American Muslim. Her older sister, 33 year-old Suehaila Amen, is also American and Muslim. A community activist and public speaker who travels the country representing Arab-American Muslim women, she wears the traditional headscarf. Featured on TLC’s former reality show, “All-American Muslim,” these two sisters gave viewers a glimpse of the diversity of Muslims in America.

The show was to fill in the void of Muslim representation in media, and while each American Muslim expected the show to represent them, it was an unfair expectation; reality shows rarely depict reality. The “All-American Muslim” series was no exception.

While Shadia and Suehaila were raised in the same family and social environment and share American and Arab cultures embedded with Islamic ideological values, both are strong-minded and outspoken; both have chosen Islam as their guide. However, each has separate aspirations, experiences and personalities – separate identities, while identifying with the same culture, ethnicity and faith.

When you consider our community’s diversity, suggesting an all-American Muslim should look, behave and think a certain way is naive. That is evident by the lives of the other women profiled in this article.

While Americans of other faiths were surprised not to see the stereotypical misrepresentation of a Muslim in the reality show and instead found average Americans living their day-to-day life as Muslims, a number of American Muslims were frustrated with the narrow representation of Muslims who lived in Detroit and shared an Arab heritage. Still it managed to, in the words of Suehaila, “capture the essence of the moderate Muslim by having a fair representation of every voice…from the ultra-conservative to the liberal perspective.”

The reality show did present all-American Muslims, just not all of them. To represent all American Muslims, TLC would have had to showcase a variety of African Americans, Asian Americans, Caucasian Americans, Hispanic Americans and many others who are Muslim – almost an impossible task. No one person can accurately represent an entire group with such diversity. According to a 2009 Gallup report, American Muslims are the most racially diverse group in the United States.

Suheila Amen represents young confident, capable, educated, active females in the community – a significant group among American Muslim women – her persona dispelling numerous misperceptions about American Muslim women.

She says she was excited for the opportunity to “show the global community the real faces of Muslim-Americans, when she learned about the show through a family friend who had proposed the idea to TLC. “There is no right or wrong way to be ‘All-American,’” she says.
The community depicted in the series can perhaps best illustrate the complex definition of identity more than any other group in the United States and, indeed, the show was successful in showing the contradictions, diversity and complexity of the lives of American Muslims. Change Strategist Tom Crompton and Psychologist Tim Kasser define identity, perhaps one of the most complex concepts to delineate, as “people’s sense of themselves: who they think of themselves as being.”

According to their definition, identity is self-prescribed and socially constructed. Factors such as culture, ethnicity, race, gender, religion, interests, family values and life experiences shape each individual’s personality, thus making it difficult for people to be clumped under one umbrella of identifiers.

When asked what she wants the world to know about the identity of American Muslims, Shadia Amen, says, “Americans are Americans regardless of their faith. We separate Church and State for everything else… Why are Muslims exempt? We are ALL AMERICAN.”

Both Shadia and Suehaila say they appreciated the opportunity to broadcast their voice to the world through the reality show and they would do it all over again if they could. The sisters say the cancellation shocked them; they felt the show humanized people who are misunderstood and viewed negatively in this nation. It allowed the network to be the first “to show the reality of American Muslims in a positive light and allow them to tell their own stories as opposed to trying to tell it for them”, said Suehaila.

Whether or not we we agree with Shadia’s or Suehaila’s lifestyle does not reflect on what it means to be an All-American Muslim. Each woman identifies as an American Muslim in her own way. This is the beauty of the American Muslim women in our community of a multitude of identities.

Shadia Amen concurs, “I continue to express myself with what makes me happy, and continue to be the Good-natured person my parents raised me to be. Most folks see right past my exterior once they’ve talked to me personally, but many just can’t get past the judgment zone. And I’m okay with that. I just pray for those still stuck on the surface.”

This article was published in Azizah Magazine Volume 7 Issue 2. To read more about other All-American Muslim Women: A Multitude of Identities, purchase a copy of Azizah Magazine’s latest issue now.

Thanksgiving Reflections

“Count your blessings!”

We count them to remain grateful, happy and appreciative of all that we have. These countless blessings put things in perspective. As a matter of fact, doing so everyday generates positive energy and a good attitude in life. Thanksgiving day is yet just another opportunity for me to reflect on my major blessings and how they relate to the world around me.

My fortunes are often forgotten about until I am reminded of their absence in other people’s lives. Sometimes, people’s misfortunates can be the gateway to appreciating my own treasures in life. While it may be sad, it is also true. It takes a conscious effort to remember the small things in life, otherwise taken for granted.

As an American-Egyptian Muslim female, I am thankful for the security, comfortable livelihood and especially for the freedom that allows me to be all that I am.

Freedom is simply not a guarantee for all. The freedom I am granted living in the ‘land of the free’, the ‘land of liberty’ is an unimagined foreign concept for most people in the world. The same is true for the additional comfort and security attached to my freedom. Billions of people strive day-in and day-out for the basics of their livelihood, such as food, water and shelter. While I, on the other hand, live luxuriously with multiple options for the same basics. Many people live in fear for their lives and loved ones even when they are settled in their very own homes. My home is my sanctuary and safety is rarely a concern of mine when I go out.

Think about it for just one moment: Neither you nor I completely choose to live the way we do– it is in our destiny.

I believe in destiny. I also believe in free will. The two go hand-in-hand–sometimes we do not know why certain things happen and other times we make choices that allow things to happen. Regardless, I believe things happen because they are meant to happen. While this can provide comfort in accepting what is and what is not meant to be, it fails to answer the prominent question of “why”. Consequently, I ponder, “Why are others not granted the basic human rights I am provided? Why are people born in different circumstances than I am, some more fortunate than others?” Never do I come to a fulfilling answer. Yet, my immediate innate response is always the same—it is so humans are reminded of one another and it is this reminder that can drive them toward a state of gratitude followed by an act of kindness to all around them, especially the less fortunate.

Just this past year, the world witnessed long-standing world leaders topple in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt. The price tag was high, leaving thousands of people dead, arrested and all three countries in a state of instability, at least for some time. However, the courageous people in these countries were willing to pay the price. They underwent great challenges for the simple hope of gaining basic freedoms I am granted everyday. The price tag was higher had they not done this—no freedom was nearing their way any time soon under the previously ruling dictators.

Still in Syria, everyday hundreds of people are dying as the people continue struggling to create free space that guarantees their basics of living. Sadly, no real change to ending this violence and destruction appears in near sight.

More recently, in Gaza and Israel, on-going conflict has resulted in the deaths of over 130 Palestinians and 5 Israelis with no cease-fire in sight. The people on both sides of the story are living in fear, insecurity and instability. At any one instance, their life, or a loved one’s, can end. Freedom to live peacefully is simply not a current option for them.

All the above events relate to me as someone with a Middle Eastern and Muslim background. Though I share part of my identity with people who live in the opposite side of the world, we do not share similar fortunes in life. Our life’s destiny is very different. Put simply, the basic freedoms I have always been granted are the same freedoms stripped from them since birth.

Essentially, humans are equal in their nature; all want to be happy in some shape, way or form. So it really should not make a difference where atrocities take place and whom they harm in order for us to take heed. The fact is they are happening to people all over the world. Naturally, the human heart can feel the pain of others’ deprivations, seeing through their outward physical appearance. And if it feels, it will surely act with kindness and compassion toward fellow human beings regardless of who they are.

The Dalai Lama says is best, “Compassion can be put into practice if one recognizes the fact that every human being is a member of humanity and the human family regardless of differences in religion, culture, color and creed. Deep down there is no difference.”

As a woman of faith, I believe that God intentionally created us differently only to test our free will to choose between appreciation and rejection of our destiny and to choose how we will react to the destiny of others around us. Without our Godly created differences, we cannot comprehend the world and how it relates to us. Without understanding, we are incapable of fathoming a true appreciation of all that we are provided. And without appreciation, we cannot be of help to the less fortunate.

This year, as I prepare my first thanksgiving dinner for my family, I will remember others who are not in the position to eat or share a meal with their loved ones. My heart is heavy and my hands are tied. I cannot help all those who are in a less fortunate state of living than me. I cannot provide them with peace, comfort, and security or grant them the freedoms I have. But I can remember and pray for them. This Thanksgiving day, gratitude surfaces much more vividly for me as I reflect on my freedoms and security, and in turn, dedicate a prayer for others who live without it everyday.

A Muslim-Friendly Conservative President for the American-Muslim Voter

Race and religion have been at the forefront of the election campaigns since the beginning. It all started back in 2008, when President Barack Obama became the first African-American (though he is also half Caucasian) president of the United States. This election year, Mitt Romney is also the first—the first Mormon candidate to make it to general elections. Ever since, discussions of white, black, Christian and Mormon—and even false rumors of Obama as Muslim–have continued to surface on the campaign trail.

But does the running candidates’ race and religion really play a significant role in the American voter decision-making process? Perhaps it does for some, but for others it means very little to nothing.

For the 3-7 million American Muslims, the nations most racially diverse religious group (according to a 2009 Gallup report), race and religion of the presidential candidate is an irrelevant vote factor. To them, the candidate’s personal views on other races and religions, especially Islam and/or Muslims in America and around the world, are far more significant. So it is not about what the American Muslim voter thinks of the candidates’ race or faith, rather it is what the candidates think of American Muslims and Islam that impacts the vote.

“A candidates religious proclivities are entirely their own and do not factor into my decision unless they show that their religion is an overt factor in how they will respond towards the country, foreign policy or individuals – in that case I shy away from candidates like this. And this would be the case even for a Muslim candidate”, says Alan Howard, 38, Caucasian American Muslim male who is an undecided voter.

The political views and affiliations of American Muslims appear as varied as their racial diversity.

“Followers of Islam are as nuanced as followers of Catholicism or Judaism. There are Republican Muslims and Democratic Muslims in America and I will defend their right to their choices, and know they will vote their consciences”, adds Howard.

A recent poll, conducted by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), shows 25% of American Muslims as undecided voters, sixty-eight percent will vote to re-elect President Barack Obama and only seven percent will vote for Mitt Romney. The CAIR poll surveyed 500 American Muslim registered voters in October and has a five percent margin of error. CAIR has not revealed the name of the firm it used to conduct this survey.

Other findings in the poll show 49 percent of respondents favoring the Democratic Party as friendly towards Muslims, while 12 percent saying the Republican Party was friendly. Equally, 51 percent of respondents said that the Republican Party was unfriendly towards Muslims, while 6 percent said that the Democratic Party was unfriendly.

“It’s also important to have a president who would consider American Muslims an essential part of our great country and treat them equally, according to the law and the constitution,” says Gida Hammami, 27, American, Syrian and French citizen born female. Hammami is voting for Obama.

Some American Muslims are supporting the candidate who seems most inclusive of the Muslim community as an integral part of the American society. Additionally, they are concerned with the candidates’ approach in dealing with radical Muslims or terrorism and will use their judgment of each of the candidate’s views on this issue to make a voting decision.

“We want a president who knows how to differentiate between radical or extreme Islamic militants and the general Muslim population who is basically wishing for the same things as the average American: opportunity for better jobs/pay, good schools, stable economy, affordable health care, religious freedom, peace, safety, etc”, says Anna Alcantara, 32, Hispanic Muslim American female teacher and Obama supporter.

Umar Ghuman, a Pakistani-American Muslim male lobbyist and leader of the Muslims for Romney campaign, does not accept the CAIR poll results. Ghuman referrers to the survey as “a lie.” He claims, “Republicans always understood Muslims’ interests better.” Ghuman is voting for Romney.

According to Ghuman, the Muslims for Romney campaign has reached out to thousands of Muslims across the nation in battleground states campaigning for Romney, visiting mosques and recruiting Romney supporters. He says that most of the Imams of Mosques and Directors of Islamic organizations he spoke with will be voting for Romney. He explains this is due to the common conservative views he believes Romney shares with Muslims. Ghuman manages the Facebook group, Muslims for Romney, which has 342 likes.

The CAIR poll results show the top five issues of importance to American Muslim voters are jobs and the economy, education, health care policy, Medicare and Social Security.

“Muslims come from different financial backgrounds and most will vote for the candidate they feel will allow them to provide for their family”, says William Trimble, Jr., an African-American Muslim male US Military Contracting Leader.

Trimble has already voted for Obama by absentee ballot stating Obama’s economic policies “benefit everyone in the country, while Romney’s represented the conservative “Trickle Down” economics which will benefit mainly the rich.”

But, Ghuman strongly disagrees that Democrats have solutions for the economy, claiming, “Republicans always have a better economic plan.”

Ghuman’s Romney vote is primarily based on his personal conservative views on two issues, homosexuality and abortion. He favors Romney’s faith-factor values and more precisely his conservative views on homosexuality and abortion, adding they are reflective values shared amongst the three faith traditions Judaism, Christianity and Islam. He adds that all Muslims should feel this way about these issues.  Ghuman continues by asserting that, “Muslims on democrats bandwagon are disillusioned.”

American Muslims are unconcerned with the race or religion of running candidates, rather they wish to engage politically and connect with the candidate that caters best to their diversity. Nevertheless, their vote is torn between choosing Republican Romney’s conservative views, reflective of their religious values and supporting Democratic Obama, who they perceive as a more genuinely Muslim-friendly candidate.

Still, some decided American Muslim voters have made their decisions on additional factors other than just friendliness and conservatism.

“I am voting for him [Obama] because I believe that he genuinely cares about the improvement of our economy, welfare of lower and middle class citizens, the environment and education outside of friendliness and conservatism.” Rachel Hamid, 43, Caucasian American Muslim female.

As for the claimed 25% undecided American Muslim voters mentioned in the CAIR poll, some are voting libertarian and others are still deciding.

“I am writing Dr. Ron Paul on the ballot. His foreign policy has been a major deciding factor. A non interventionist policy is a sustainable pattern,” says Kaveh Manizad, Iranian-American Muslim.

“I am not a decided voter. I have found it hard this year to come to a final decision. I have researched all the candidates’ positions, including the Green Party and the Libertarian Party. I weigh carefully all the angles based on my ideological leanings and issues I consider important and will make a decision,” says Howard.

When asked if Romney will win the elections, Ghuman responds, “It’s hard to tell. Whether he [Romney] wins or not, Muslims will continue to support a conservative America with conservative values.”

Does everything really happen for a reason?

It’s a common sense answer for Muslims who believe in destiny, right? Not really. It’s not so easy to respond in the positive when life’s challenges begin to surface and our “plans” come to nothing. At such moments, trying to define a reason may be unreasonable to ask for, but still necessary.

Three years ago, I HAD to find the reason for what was happening to me. I do not believe anything I write here will do my story justice. But the point here is to provide perspective, not a re-run of the story. Simply put, I faced discrimination that forced me to leave my job and discontinue my PhD studies.

Yep, my case was reported in various newspapers and TV newscasts. Of course, this was never part of my plans! But eh, there’s always a reason, right?

Nonetheless, discrimination was challenging to deal with, let alone to have faith that things were going to work out for the best. “Why was this happening to me?” Nothing I did, whether it was through grief or regret, answered this question at the time. But, slowly and steadily my answers were found in what I held dearest, my faith.

Fast forward three years – and not only have I found one answer to that question, but rather many! God knew I needed to slow down. He wanted me to appreciate the simple things in life. God’s plans for me were the same as my own, but he took me on a different route to get there–empowering me with strength and perspective for what was ahead. God’s answers didn’t end there.

I was hired by one of my current employers who heard about my case on TV. What’s the big deal, you ask? Oh, it’s big deal alright, considering this employer has been a dream employer of mine since childhood and I was holding off on applying to them until I felt “qualified.” Suddenly, they reached out to me and I was hired! God brought forth this incident as a reason for me to follow my dreams. This was yet, the most unexpected answer to my question.

Oh and if you’re curious about what happened to my discrimination case, rest assured. It was completely resolved to my satisfaction and I am still pursuing my PhD studies!

And so, with confidence I say, “of course, everything DOES happen for a reason!” It’s all about the way you look at your challenges. Try to always find the brighter side and dig deep to find the purpose of your challenge. Identify the ways in which it was necessary for your growth. Hold fast to what you know to be true, especially in times of difficulty. It’s not so easy to always see the good or bad in what’s happening to us. God reminds us in the Quran, “…but perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And God Knows, while you know not.” (2:216)

What I Do and Why I Do it.

Mother, Doctoral Student, University Instructor and Journalist all in one package describe the most prominent roles I currently play. As a full-time mother of two (ages 5 and 1), I am part-timing (is there even such a thing?!) as a PhD student, while also part-timing as a university instructor and freelancing as a journalist.

My life is FULL, to say the least. I don’t like leaving my children for long periods of time so I strive to be with them most of the time when they’re home. My rule is not to be away for more than 8-13 hrs/week. It’s tough! I end up doing most of my studies really early in the morning or when they are asleep at night (which means not much sleep for me!).

When I go to work as a journalist, it’s usually just once a week or twice a week depending on my studies workload (gotta love freelancing flexibility!!!). Finally, I teach one class per term and sometimes I simply choose not to, again based on my workload for the semester (gotta love adjunct faculty positions!). So by now you’re probably thinking, “well then, what’s the dilemma? You’re lucky to have such flexibility and do all the things you enjoy doing!”. My short answer is, it’s not the quantity of time required out of me, but rather the quality of production asked of me that drains me.

Often I am asked, “how are your studies coming along?” and I take a deep breath and sigh, “Aaah, it’s no walk in the park, that’s for sure!”. But the real truth is, it’s no run in the park either. It’s a race! Research papers, TONS of readings, conferences, class assignments, more readings and pressure to know it all in order to become a “scholar” in the field and of course pass the doctoral exams to begin writing the dissertation. I read over 200 pgs per week and sometimes only per class! But, it’s no leisurely reading either! I must synthesize and make sense of the literature to relate it to other similar research and my own work. I must remember the most important pieces of information and how they are part of the big picture. I must KNOW all the information and use it during academic conversations as if I am talking about my very own personal information! And so, I have to produce quality work which in turn requires a quantity amount of time! Ahhhhh. But, I still choose not to leave my children for long periods of time to do this work, so I sacrifice sleep, rest and personal needs and most of the time I am ok.

I don’t need the money. Seriously. I don’t have to work and am blessed with an AMAZING husband who provides for me in every sense–financially, emotionally, and with excellent help with the children. I do it because I LOVE it! I love every single role I play in an equal yet very different way. I enjoy knowing that I can contribute to the world in different, yet complimentary ways. After all, if you really think about it, everything I do, including raising my children, is in the field of education and communication. I just get to practice it with different audience members: children, young adults (my students), professors and a mixed audience (my journalism consumers).

I simply love learning about others and engaging in conversations with people from all walks of life. The roles I play allow me to do just that without having to commit fully (by that I mean full time!) to just one thing. And there you have it, what I do and why I do it!