Islam,  Media

That annoying media of ours

I was reading The Model School, Islamic Style recently and had the thought, does the media only interview histrionic pretentious American Muslims?

The article is about a Muslim school outside of Chicago. To Quote

The second order of business is creating what Universal calls an “Islamic environment.” The Koran and the sayings of Muhammad are taught two days a week, Arabic three days a week. Grades 2 to 12 break for prayer once a day. Beyond Scripture, a Muslim approach influences the traditional curriculum as well. When teacher Fuzia Jarad’s English class read Romeo and Juliet, the girls wanted to know, “Is it love at first sight?” “Yes,” the teacher answered. “As Muslims, we don’t do that. The difference is lust versus love; appearance versus knowing. Islam protects you from mistakes.” For assistant principal Abdallah, who is in charge of discipline, love is a big issue. “I’ve had students come to me and say, “So and so are in love. Everyone is gossiping about the girl. Her reputation is ruined.’I tell them, ‘If you care, show respect and stop the discussions.’ Sometimes a girl or boy will tell me about a love letter they’ve received. It’s always a letter. They can’t socialize. They don’t want the letter. They don’t want to get in trouble. The feelings for each other are natural. Islam gives us a way to approach those feelings. Choose your spouse, but don’t give your body or soul to someone until you’re married.”

What’s central to the environment is a sense of Muslim family values. That’s why Mohammad (Mo) Suleiman sent his daughter Samia, 18, to Universal. “Family means the older have mercy on the younger,” says Suleiman, “and the younger respect the older.” The students seem to make an effort, but cultural isolation is impossible. “My dad will hear the word love when I play my music, and he’ll say that’s against our religion,” says freshman Ryan Ahmad. “So I’ll stop for a week. But then one of my friends will start singing some lyric, and I start up again.” When freshman Gulrana Syed watches TV, she tries to stick with family shows but gives in to the temptation to watch Fear Factor. “If swearing starts,” she says, “I turn it off and hope God forgives me.”

Though the school and the parents want their kids to be successful in America, the ambivalence of many Islamic parents sends mixed signals. The pull of their home country is a constant distraction from fitting into this one. “They are obsessed with foreign politics,” says Steve Landek, who has been mayor of Bridgeview since 1999. “I come to talk to them about better sidewalks. They want to know how to run for Congress so they can change America’s Israeli policy.” Clearly respectful, however, of the economic and cultural contributions of Muslims to the community, he regrets to say 9/11 has set them back. “I still hear comments. I’m not going to repeat them. I’m not going to perpetuate the negative.”


The students next door sometimes give voice to the commonplace resentment that can be found among Muslims the world over. Assigned by his English teacher to write an essay about his own American Dream, a 15-year-old wrote that the occupied territories should be returned to the Palestinians and “the Jews should be left to suffer.” More often, however, Universal’s students feel resentment about being stereotyped, both in the media and on the streets. To senior Ali Fadhli, the Fox TV show 24, which had a plot this season about a Muslim terrorist cell, is “obnoxious,” he says. “America has moved on to a new enemy. We’re treated now like the Russians were during the Cold War.” Being teenagers though, perhaps the worst slight of all is being regarded as outsiders. “The students are aware,” says Dalila Benameur, head of the social studies department, “that they are perceived as different.” Says freshman Gulrana Syed: “It’s kind of impossible to blend in wearing a head scarf.” Student Ryan Ahmad, whose dad is his toughest music critic, admits, “Americans seem to have more fun. Muslims try to be American, but we don’t know how. The cultures are so different.” A sense that U.S. life has its own contradictions provides some perspective. Senior Muna Zughayer, noting the use of women as sex objects, says, “I think it’s funny people look at us and say we’re oppressed!”

So, in other words, they go to lengths to maintain their own culture and traditions, they voluntarily segragate themselves in education, visibly and publicly remove themselves from American mainstream culture, present a monolithic public face, and have strong loyalties to other countries.

Then they wonder why they don’t fit in the with the culture they’re rejected. You can’t be different without being different.

I guess the question is: Does the media deliberately seek out these people and ignore the rest of American Muslims or do they seek out the media. With the exception of finding out the Dave Chappelle was a Muslim (also in Time magazine), I can’t remember any other mention of American Muslims where that was a detail and not the focus. One never reads about, say some dentist who invented a new method of flossing, who got the idea on the way to prayers (or something like that). To put it another way, is the only public Muslim someone who is professionally Muslim?

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