Omar Sacirbey

Omar Sacirbey writes for Religion News Service in Washington, D.C.

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Report: Internet Hate Speech Can Lead to Acts of Violence

by Omar Sacirbey 05-06-2014

The word “hate” formed with computer keyboard keys. Photo courtesy Jaromir Urbanek via Shutterstock

Anti-Muslim hate speech on the Internet is commonplace and can motivate some people to commit acts of violence against Muslims, according to a report released Tuesday by Muslim Advocates, a legal and advocacy group in San Francisco.

“When you have threatening comments online and they go unchecked, people start thinking it’s acceptable,” said Madihha Ahussain, an attorney and the report’s lead author. “And it doesn’t take long to figure out that what becomes acceptable online becomes acceptable in the real world.”

The report contains examples of hate speech and how it can lead to violence, as well as how victims of online hate speech can report it and counter it. The report aims to help educate parents, students, youth, community leaders, Internet companies, and policymakers on how to counter online hate speech.

Muslims Welcome Shuttering of NYPD Spying Unit

by Omar Sacirbey 04-16-2014

Former NYPD Police Chief Ray Kelly. RNS photo courtesy of U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

Muslim and civil rights groups welcomed the news that the New York City Police Department’s Demographics Unit will disband but said they still fear they may be targets of warrantless surveillance.

Muslim Advocates filed a lawsuit in 2012 to stop the program, and the group was later joined by the Center for Constitutional Rights.

“We need to hear from the mayor and NYPD officials that the policy itself has been ended and that the department will no longer apply mass surveillance or other forms of biased and predatory policing to any faith-based community,” said Ryan Mahoney, president of another Muslim civil rights group, the New York chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Is New Katy Perry Video Blasphemous? Some Think So

by Omar Sacirbey 02-27-2014

Nearly 60,000 people have signed a petition demanding that YouTube take down a Katy Perry video they say is blasphemous and offensive to Muslims.

About 75 seconds into the video for the song “Dark Horse,” a Cleopatra-like Perry shoots a laser at a man dressed as a pharaoh but also wearing a pendant that says “Allah” in Arabic. Both the man and the Allah pendant disintegrate.

“Blasphemy is clearly conveyed in the video,” reads the petition, started by 22-year-old Shazad Iqbal of Bradford, England, who suggests Perry sets herself up as an enemy of God by shooting the man with the Allah necklace. “We hope YouTube will remove the video.”

'Salaam, Love' Counters Stereotypes of Muslim Men

by Omar Sacirbey 02-03-2014

“Salaam, Love: American Muslim Men on Love, Sex, and Intimacy” book cover courtesy of Beacon Press. Via RNS

Oppressive. Boorish. Misogynist: Those are the popular images of Muslim men and how they treat women.

But there’s more to it than that, thought Ayesha Mattu and Nura Maznavi, the editors of Love, InshAllah: The Secret Love Lives of American Muslim Women.

Many Muslims welcomed the two women’s 2012 collection of 25 stories as an overdue conversation starter. Soon they got flooded with requests for a male version.

They initially dismissed the idea, assuming men wouldn’t want to write so openly about such intimate matters. But as the queries kept coming, the two editors decided a Muslim male version wasn’t that far-fetched, and given the stereotypes of Muslim men, much needed.

Best Buy Commercial Points Way to Greater Muslim Acceptance

by Omar Sacirbey 01-24-2014

Best Buy employee Mustafa, who is featured on a Best Buy commercial. Photo courtesy of Best Buy / RNS

Viewers watching the American Football Conference championship game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots earlier this month may have seen a Best Buy commercial for a Sharp 60-inch television that seemed ordinary, but in one way was extraordinary.

The ad shows a young, clean-shaven salesman named Mustafa talking about the television, advising customers and relaxing at home watching movies and football with his friends.

“I’m never going to get these guys out of here,” he jokes to his girlfriend at the end.

While the commercial never identifies Mustafa as a Muslim, many might assume that given his name, a diminutive for Muhammad. For viewers used to seeing negative images of Muslims on television, the commercial was a rare exception.

Women Photographers Shatter Middle Eastern Stereotypes

by Omar Sacirbey 01-07-2014

Bullets Revisited #3. Crtsy: Miller Yezerski Gallery Boston; Edwynn Houk Gallery New York/Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. Via RNS

An Iraqi woman dons a black hijab but bares her thighs. A Lebanese woman wearing a sheer blouse curls up on a bed, both innocent and seductive. An attractive young Iranian couple shares breakfast at a small table, seemingly oblivious to the tank looming just a few yards away.

There are no harems, belly dancers, or male oppressors in this photography show, nor any of the other Middle Eastern stereotypes that Westerners generally associate with that far away, often misunderstood, region.

“She Who Tells a Story,” a photo exhibit now showing at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts and headed to other U.S. museums, features the work of 12 women from the Middle East who shatter stereotypes with works that are provocative, beautiful, mysterious, and surprising, all at the same time.

Muslim Christmas celebrations gain a toehold

by Omar Sacirbey 12-24-2013
Photo courtesy Zeyna Ahmed

Zeyna Ahmed, with daughters Nadyah Abdul-Majid, 13, Hadyah Abdul-Majid, 11, during Christmas. Photo courtesy Zeyna Ahmed

A generation or two ago, when America’s Muslims were new immigrants who made up an even smaller minority of Americans than they do today, they viewed the lights, trees, carols, gifts, and festive spirit of Christmas as a threat to their children’s Islamic faith.

But these days, a growing number of Muslims celebrate Christmas, or at least partake in some ways, even if they don’t decorate their homes with trees and a light show. Indeed, many Muslim families have created their own Christmas traditions.

“I teach my three children, who attend public school and happen to be born into an interfaith Christian-Muslim family, that we absolutely do celebrate Christmas because we are Muslim,” Hannah Hawk of Houston wrote in an email. Rather than putting up a tree or lights, “we celebrate the reason for the season, Jesus, by studying all that is written about him in the Quran and by examining historical theories.”

Religious, Civil Rights Groups Demand Investigation of NYPD Spying

by Omar Sacirbey 10-25-2013

An NYPD car drives through the streets of New York City. Photo via RNS/courtesy Giacomo Barbaro via Flickr

A coalition of 125 religious, civil rights, and community-based organizations sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Justice Thursday urging a civil rights investigation into a New York City Police Department program that spies on Muslims.

Groups from several faith traditions signed the letter including the Presbyterian Church (USA), the National Council of Jewish Women, the Hindu American Foundation, and the Sikh Coalition. Civil rights groups include the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, the NAACP, the American Civil Liberties Union, South Asian Americans Leading Together, and the National Network for Arab American Communities.

The NYPD program is already the target of two federal lawsuits, one filed in June by the ACLU and the City University of New York Law School’s Center for Law Enforcement Accountability and Responsibility, and the other filed in June 2012, by several Muslim plaintiffs represented by Muslim Advocates and the law firm Bhalla and Cho.

Middle Eastern Virus May Mar Hajj Pilgrimage

by Omar Sacirbey 10-08-2013

Pilgrims camp at Mina. Photo via RNS/courtesy Omar Chatriwala of Al Jazeera English via Wikimedia Commons

The annual pilgrimage to Mecca, known as the hajj, presents a gantlet of health challenges. This year’s pilgrimage, which falls Oct. 13-18, is no different.

Of particular concern is the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome coronavirus, which was first reported in Saudi Arabia last year. At least 120 cases have been reported in the country, including 49 deaths, according to the World Health Organization and Saudi officials.

Assault on Professor Part of Wave of Attacks on Sikhs, Muslims, Others

by Omar Sacirbey 09-25-2013

Dr. Prabhjot Singh from his profile at Columbia University

Shortly after teenagers beat up a Columbia University physician Saturday, a Muslim woman was attacked a few blocks away.

It is not clear whether the attacks on Dr. Prabhjot Singh and the Muslim woman, who were both treated at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, are related. But many say the motives, if not the perpetrators, are depressingly familiar.

They are part of a long line of assaults on Sikhs, who are sometimes mistaken for Muslims; on Muslims; and, more generally, on people perceived as foreigners.