Three Muslim Students Shot Dead in North Carolina

Craig Stephen Hicks, a 46-year-old white male, has been charged with three counts of first degree murder, according to a Chapel Hill Police Release. After shooting three students in the head early Tuesday evening, Hicks turned himself in at a local police department in Pittsboro. The victims included a married couple – Deah Barakat, 23, and Yusor Mohammad, 21 – and their sister, Mohammad Abu-Salha, 19.

All three were currently attending or planning to attend schools in Chapel Hill. Although reports of previous of a conflict between the shooter and the victims are not confirmed, many have speculated religious bias played a significant role in the crime. 

France Ponders Its Response to Shootings: Will Xenophobia or Multiculturalism Win?

Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

Amina Tadjouri, right, with a friend in Paris during a demonstration on Jan. 11. Photo via Elizabeth Bryant / RNS

As France emerges from its worst terrorist attack in decades, a biting novel that imagines the country governed by Islamic law is part of a swirling debate about its basic values. Will the country respond to the shootings with fear and xenophobia, as suggested by the book “Soumission,” or “Submission” — or embrace its multicultural, multifaith identity?

On Jan. 11, solidarity was on display as heads of state and religious leaders joined millions on the streets of Paris in a massive march for free expression and to honor last week’s victims from the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Along with “I am Charlie,” some protesters also chanted “I am Jewish” in tribute to the four men gunned down by one of the assailants at a kosher market.

Muslims carried signs saying, “I am Charlie and Muslim.” And on Twitter, thousands of French rallied behind “#JeSuisAhmed” — referring to policeman Ahmed Merabet, a Muslim, who also died in the attack on the magazine.

On the edge of the dense crowd, high school student Amina Tadjouri clasped a Jewish newspaper, as she stood next to a Muslim cleric railing against radical Islam.

“I’m Muslim, and I’m not OK with these killings,” she said. 

VIDEO: Not in Our Name

When facing a new threat, it is easy for the media and news consumers to cast judgment on an entire demographic, as is being done to the Muslim community in the wake of ISIS. In his piece “On Being a Muslim Parent” (Sojourners, December 2014), Eboo Patel addresses the struggles of having to shield his children from Islamophobia in a time when fear is contagious.

Likewise, British Muslims have begun a social media campaign called #notinmyname to combat these stereotypes perpetrated by the Islamic State militants. In this way, members of the Muslim community are able to speak in defense of themselves and the values their community truly stands for.

Watch the video below and read tweets from online #notinmyname users to hear truth and clarity from an active and global Muslim community. 






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On Being A Muslim Parent

LAST YEAR, as I was unpacking my son’s school backpack, I found the children’s book on the Prophet Muhammad that my wife and I read to him at night. He had brought it to school without telling us. “It was for show and tell,” he explained to me.

You might think that my first reaction would be happiness. One of my goals as a Muslim parent is to help my kids feel connected to their faith. Clearly my son felt close enough to his religion to bring a book on the Prophet to share with his class.

What I actually felt was a shock of fear shoot down my spine. It was an immediate, visceral reaction. A whole slew of questions raced through my head. What did his teacher think of Muslims? What about his classmates? Would somebody say something ugly or bigoted about Islam during my son’s presentation? Would his first taste of Islamophobia come at the age of 5 during show-and-tell?

My fear at that moment is one small window into what it feels like to be a Muslim-American parent at a time when Muslim extremism is on prominent display and Islamophobia in America continues to spread.

My wife will not let me watch news shows in our home for fear that one of our kids will saunter by during the segment discussing Muslim terrorism (and it seems to be a regular feature of the news these days) and ask what’s going on.

The truth is, I would not have a good answer for them. I am doing my best to get two kids under 10 years old to love and identify with their religion in a secular urban environment. I don’t have a way of explaining to them yet that there are some people who call themselves Muslim who do stunningly evil things. When the TV talks about Islam, mostly they talk about those people. Moreover, when some Americans think about Islam, all they think about are those people.

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Justices to Take Up Abercrombie & Fitch Headscarf Case

Is Abercrombie & Fitch guilty of religious discrimination? Photo via RNS.

The Supreme Court granted 11 new cases for review Oct. 2, agreeing to rule on controversial topics such as religious freedom, child abuse, immigration, housing discrimination, congressional redistricting and campaign fund-raising by judicial candidates.

While they delayed any decision on same-sex marriage, the justices filled out their docket through January and into February with civil rights cases and others likely to command attention.

Here’s a look at what the justices chose from among some 2,000 cases that accumulated through the summer:

Muslim Inmate Takes His Case for a Beard to the Supreme Court

Should Gregory Holt be allowed to grow a beard? Photo courtesy of Religion & Ethics Newsweekly, via Arkansas Corrections/RNS.

It’s not every day that a coalition of legal minds is rooting for a violent inmate convicted of stabbing his girlfriend in the neck.

When Gregory Holt’s case arrives at the U.S. Supreme Court on Oct. 7, lawyers won’t be arguing about what landed him a life sentence in an Arkansas state prison, but rather what he wanted to do once he got there: grow a beard in observance of his Muslim religious beliefs.

The state of Arkansas says he can’t. Holt — a convert to Islam who now calls himself Abdul Maalik Muhammad — says he would keep his beard no longer than half an inch. But prison officials, backed by the state’s attorney general, argue that even such a short beard poses security risks.

“When it comes to making prison policies, the stakes are high; lives can be lost if the wrong decision is made,” according to the state’s legal brief, which describes Holt as a violent self-declared fundamentalist. “The ADC takes religious freedom seriously, but it takes seriously its paramount interests in safety and security, too.”

The St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals agreed with Ray Hobbs, the director of the Arkansas Department of Correction. But it’s hard to find too many others who think that the prison’s case for security trumps Holt’s right to exercise his religion.

Muslim Scholars Tell Islamic State: You Don’t Understand Islam

Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, endorses the letter. Photo via Lauren Markoe/RNS.

More than 120 Muslim scholars from around the world joined an open letter to the “fighters and followers” of the Islamic State, denouncing them as un-Islamic by using the most Islamic of terms.

Relying heavily on the Quran, the 18-page letter released Sept. 24 picks apart the extremist ideology of the militants who have left a wake of brutal death and destruction in their bid to establish a transnational Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.

Even translated into English, the letter will still sound alien to most Americans, said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, who released it in Washington with 10 other American Muslim religious and civil rights leaders.

“The letter is written in Arabic. It is using heavy classical religious texts and classical religious scholars that ISIS has used to mobilize young people to join its forces,” said Awad, using one of the acronyms for the group. “This letter is not meant for a liberal audience.”

Even mainstream Muslims, he said, may find it difficult to understand.

In Ferguson, Nation of Islam Members Push for Peace

Photo courtesy of Loavesofbread

People gather to march in Ferguson, Mo. on Aug. 15, 2014. Photo courtesy of Loavesofbread

FERGUSON, Mo. — Ever since Michael Brown, a young, unarmed African-American, was shot by a police officer on Aug. 9, various crews have played a part in achieving the tentative peace that has taken hold of the St. Louis suburb once rocked by protests.

Some wear black T-shirts with large white letters that spell out “Peacekeepers.” Others dress in bright orange shirts and call themselves “Clergy United.” All acknowledge that the Nation of Islam has been a key player since the very beginning.

Last week, Capt. Ronald S. Johnson of the Missouri Highway Patrol, who took over the police security patrol in Ferguson, acknowledged on national television that the Nation of Islam and other groups — such as Black Lawyers for Justice — helped control the crowds on West Florissant Avenue. Others on social media pointed out that the Nation of Islam protected businesses from looters.


Kenya's Catholic Bishops Sued After Canceling Lease for Muslim-run Restaurant

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops was sued by a tenant of their Waumini Building in Nairobi. Via RNS.

The Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops is facing a lawsuit over the cancellation of a rental contract for a restaurant operated by a Somali Muslim.

Al-Yusra Restaurant Ltd. had signed a six-year lease starting in 2013 to operate a restaurant in a section of Waumini House where the bishops’ conference is based. Baakai Maalim, a Somali Muslim, is a director for the company.

A lawyer for the bishops said the lease was signed without written consent and knowledge of the bishops.

Party Ties, Not Religious Ones, Drive Down Obama's Approval Rating

Obama ranks lowest among Mormons, according to a new Gallup poll. Image courtesy of Gallup.

Most Christians don’t approve of President Obama right now, but he gets high ratings from Muslims and other minority religious groups.

It’s not because of their religion, though.

Obama’s level of popular approval matches Americans’ political party ties, not their religious identity, age or almost any other demographic characteristic, said Jeffrey Jones, managing editor of the Gallup poll.

The newest Gallup tracking poll shows the president’s approval rating in June averaged 43 percent for Americans overall. However, his ratings sank with Catholics to 44 percent, down from 54 percent in June 2013.