Putting things in perspective


When you think things are going badly, know there is always someone worse than you; be patient and hope for a better tomorrow and find things in your experience for which you can be grateful.

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Another newer act of terrorism on American soil


…and no it wasn’t done by Muslims.

millerAnother U.S. shooting spree has left bullet-riddled bodies in its wake, and refocused attention on violent, right-wing extremists. Frazier Glenn Miller, a former leader of a wing of the Ku Klux Klan, is accused of killing three people outside two Jewish community centers outside Kansas City, Kan. As he was hauled away in a police car, he shouted “Heil Hitler!” Unlike Islamic groups that U.S. agencies spend tens of billions of dollars targeting, domestic white supremacist groups enjoy relative freedom to spew their hatred and promote racist ideology. Too often, their murderous rampages are viewed as acts of deranged “lone wolf” attackers. These seemingly fringe groups are actually well-organized, interconnected and are enjoying renewed popularity.

In April 2009, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released a study on right-wing extremists in the United States. The 10-page report included findings like “The economic downturn and the election of the first African American president present unique drivers for rightwing radicalization and recruitment.” It controversially suggested military veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan could potentially be recruited to join hate groups. The report provoked a firestorm of criticism, especially from veterans groups. The Obama administration was just months old, and newly appointed Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano withdrew the report, apologizing for it during a congressional budget hearing.

SPLCLogoMark Potok is a senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking right-wing hate groups and Frazier Glenn Miller for years. Potok said, about that report, “a real problem with the Department of Homeland Security … ever since a particular report on the right wing was leaked to the press in April of 2009, DHS has sort of cowered. They essentially gutted their non-Islamic domestic terrorism unit.”

The SPLC was co-founded in 1971 by civil-rights lawyer Morris Dees. It began suing white supremacist groups in the 1980s, representing clients that the groups threatened, beat and harassed. Potok described Frazier Glenn Miller as “one of the best-known white supremacist activists in the country for a very long time … active for more than 40 years in the movement. He joined, as a very young teenager, things like the National States’ Rights Party, a descendent of the American Nazi Party.” Miller formed his own wing of the Klan, which marched publicly in military fatigues. He had dealings with another supremacist group, The Order, that gave him $200,000 from the more than $4 million stolen through bank robberies and armored-car holdups.

After being sued by the SPLC, Frazier Glenn Miller agreed to a settlement in one case, but violated the terms of the agreement and was found guilty of criminal contempt. While out on bond, he disappeared, issuing a crudely typed “Declaration of War,” specifically targeting Morris Dees for murder. He was eventually arrested. Potok told me, “He was initially charged with conspiracy, very serious charges, in 1987 that could have sent him to prison for 20 or 30 years. But he cut a deal with the federal government and agreed to testify … against his comrades. That wound up meaning a mere five-year sentence for him, and he served only three years.”

Miller cooperated with federal prosecutors, testifying against 13 white supremacist leaders. He was released from prison and was assisted, it is believed, by the Federal Witness Protection Program as he relocated to Nebraska and changed his last name to “Cross.” Frazier Glenn Miller, also known as Frazier Glenn Cross, lost credibility with other white supremacists and faded into relative obscurity. He occasionally ran for office in Missouri, after running virulently racist campaign ads on radio.  Then he went on his murderous rampage this week. “Perhaps if he had been in prison all those years rather than a witness in this trial,” Potok reflected, “we wouldn’t have experienced what we saw in Kansas City the other day.”

 

Potok and the SPLC track the recent rise of right-wing hate groups. When I asked him about the FBI’s focus on animal rights and environmental groups, he replied, “The idea that eco-terrorists, so-called, are the major domestic terror threat, which was in fact said to Congress a couple of times by FBI leaders during the Bush years, I think is just patently ludicrous … no one has been killed by anyone in the radical animal-rights movement or the radical environmentalist movement.” The SPLC will soon release a report that links registered members of two prominent white supremacist online forums to more than 100 murders in the United States—in just the past five years.

While law-abiding Muslims are forced to hide in their homes, and animal-rights activists are labeled as terrorists for undercover filming of abusive treatment at factory farms, right-wing hate groups are free to organize, parade, arm themselves to the hilt and murder with chilling regularity. It’s time for our society to confront this very real threat.

amy-column360Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “The Silenced Majority,” a New York Times best-seller.

Another perspective of from the tragedy of last year’s Boston Marathon


RUNNING THE BOSTON MARATHON IN A HIJAB

Leanne-290Like many participants in the Boston Marathon on Monday, Leanne Scorzoni will be running to honor the victims of last year’s bombing. But Scorzoni will also be running in a hijab: she converted to Islam after the attack, and wants her participation to emphasize that Boston’s Muslim community was also hurt by the bombings.

Scorzoni has never run the race before, but the thirty-two-year-old Boston native has watched from the sidelines for decades. Scorzoni was raised in nearby Danvers, and every year her family would arrive at a spot near the corner of Clarendon and Boylston Streets at about 8:30 a.m. sometimes bringing pots and pans to help cheer on marathoners.

Last year, Scorzoni staked out the same spot near the finish line and waited to be joined by a friend of hers named Sam. Unfamiliar with Marathon Monday tradition, he arrived late and, at about 2:30 P.M., he asked where the nearest bathroom was. Scorzoni was reluctant to give up her view of the race, but eventually agreed to guide her friend through the crowds. When the bombs exploded at 2:50, the two were browsing at a nearby Banana Republic on Newbury Street, approximately four blocks away from the finish line. The store’s loud music muffled the blasts, but when Scorzoni turned on her cell phone, she found dozens of texts from friends and family, asking where she was and if she was O.K.—she had been standing less than two blocks away from the initial explosion. Scorzoni doesn’t believe a divine power carried her away from the attack that killed three people and injured more than two hundred and sixty: “It was because my friend had to pee,” she said.

The next day, Scorzoni says, local F.B.I. agents visited her at her job at Massachusetts General Hospital, where they asked about a photo she had uploaded to Facebook of Sam, who is Muslim and from the Middle East. Shaken by the bombing and the encounter with the F.B.I., Scorzoni regularly checked in on her Muslim friends in the days after the bombing. As the media began to sort out the background of the Tsarnaev brothers, local reports also began to surface of sporadic verbal and physical attacks on Muslims, and of hate mail being sent to mosques, including the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, in Roxbury, which the Los Angeles Times originally reported that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had attended, confusing it with the Islamic Society of Boston, located in Cambridge. Scorzoni read about the letters on the center’s Facebook page, but she also saw the many comments of support that came from across the country.

Leanne ScorzoniScorzoni was raised Catholic, but she abandoned the Church in 1999, shortly after family members publicly announced that local priests had sexually abused them. “I was eighteen; I was angry. I was just like, I’m not doing this anymore,” she said, adding that she would often belittle friends and family members over their religious beliefs.

Years later, one of her relatives who had been abused told Scorzoni that he had gotten over his anger toward religion and that she needed to do the same. When she moved back to Boston, in 2011, she remembered seeing many ads for the I.S.B.C.C. on public transportation around the city, and later found out that the center was two blocks from where she lived. She first visited the I.S.B.C.C. in the summer of 2012; on her way to the grocery store, she asked a woman who was leaving the mosque if anybody could visit. “I was thinking it was like Mormonism, where only Mormons can go in,” she said.

Scorzoni went into the center’s bookstore, where she met Sam for the first time and engaged in a three-hour discussion about religion with the shop’s owner. As she began to make new friends at the mosque, she would observe prayer services and occasionally sit on prayer rugs and meditate. The I.S.B.C.C. thus became a special place for her: it was she where she began to feel comfortable again with being in religious surroundings. In Islam, Scorzoni found “more of a sense of ritual and meditation and contemplation I wanted in my life.”

Five weeks after the bombing, she called Suhaib Webb, the imam of the I.S.B.C.C., and told him that she was ready to convert. She walked to the mosque in jeans, a shirt, and flip-flops; after the ceremony, she and Sam celebrated just as casually, eating watermelon and chicken fingers on the mosque’s steps.

The I.S.B.C.C. has been a visible force in the local Muslim community’s efforts to support victims of the bombing. Last Friday, the I.S.B.C.C. organized a khutbah, or sermon, in remembrance of victims, and, on Tuesday, Webb spoke at a night of “Remembrance and Hope” at the Old South Church. Scorzoni was also in attendance and, at one point during the evening, runners were asked to stand. “Everyone started clapping, and all the runners just started crying, and soon everyone was crying,” she said. “Everyone in the church prayed for all of us, not even just the runners—prayed for the city.”

While she regularly attends services and will wear a hijab on Monday, Scorzoni also carries what she describes as “white privilege,” which many other Muslims do not have. She works part-time teaching English as a second language; many of her students are young Muslims living alone in the United States or working seventy-hour weeks to support their families here. She knows that the Tsarnaev brothers, who lived in the United States for almost a decade, also had better upbringings than many other Muslims in the area, and thinks that their actions left lingering scars for those who dissociate from their radicalism.

“I just see it as the same way there’s good Catholics and you have the Westboro Baptist Church,” she said, referring to the extremist group that often stages protests against the gay community. “It’s just such a helpless anger, when you curl your hands into fists and you just want to say, ‘You’re forcing everyone else to go five steps back from where they’ve come from.’ These two kids just cheated other people out of their livelihood, their spots—people who could’ve made their own lives better.”

Two other I.S.B.C.C. members will join Scorzoni on Monday to run in the marathon. Officially, Scorzoni is running to raise money for Massachusetts General Hospital’s Center for Pediatric Hematology and Oncology. But, when people ask Scorzoni what they can do to help, she tells them to go to the marathon and show that the tradition will continue, uninterrupted.

On Monday, when Scorzoni crosses the finish line, her family will be there to cheer her on, as will Sam and other friends from the I.S.B.C.C. “I believe we are moving away from, ‘Hey, look, a Muslim doing something normal,’ ” Scorzoni said. “Now we see a myriad of cultures and religions here, as it should be.”

 

 

America rejects Arabs even at memorials


RAY HANANIA

Like all Americans this week, I paused to commemorate the tragic violence that took place at the end of the Boston Marathon last year on April 15 killing three and injuring 263 more.

But I was disappointed that the one-year commemoration in Boston of the terrorist killings reflected the same kind of selfish commemoration that has cloaked many past acts of violence. Muslims and Arabs were excluded, as if we were not Americans.

I can tell you upfront that I am an American. I am insulted that people in the US continue to stereotype their anger to direct their hatred against people who are Arab or Muslim. I can tell you that unlike most Americans, I served in the US military active duty during the Vietnam War. I was proud to be able to continue what my brother and father and uncle did, all of whom served in the US military.

My father and uncle served four years through World War II fighting the Nazis in Europe and defending freedom as much as anyone else who wore or did not wear a military uniform. Yet, they and I are constantly disrespected by the undercurrent of revenge hatred that permeates America today.

The Boston terrorists, Tamerian Tsarnaev and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, happened to be Muslims. And in their planning of this vicious attack, they asserted that they were defending Islam, as if Islam had chosen them as the religion’s defenders.

The fact is the two killers just happened to be Muslims and in fact were not true Muslims. They were not Arab. Yet Americans continue to hold Arabs and Muslims responsible for every act of violence by every crackpot who comes from the Middle East or a Muslim country. The Tsarnaevs were from Chechnya, where the Muslim population has been brutalized by the Russians.
They don’t represent Islam. They don’t represent Arabs. And they certainly don’t represent me, or other Arabs, Christian and Muslim, who continue to be persecuted and vilified in the news media and by political opportunists who seek to exploit the growing racism in America to advance their individual political agendas.

I know that I could have sung “America the Beautiful” as powerfully and as meaningfully as anyone. I am as patriotic and more patriotic than any of those who were invited to speak at the commemoration ceremonies.

I was disappointed, but not surprised, that no high profile Muslims or Arabs representing the other victims in this vague and blurring concept of the “War on Terrorism” were invited to speak or participate or to express their own patriotism and demonstrate that they are “Boston Strong,” too.

Just this past week, a white man was arrested and charged with the murder of four innocent civilians at Jewish community centers in Kansas City, yet no one dared to denounce him as a “white terrorist” or as a “Christian terrorist.” The suspect’s Christian religion suddenly had become insignificant, even though it reflects a disturbing far rightwing corner of American militant and fanatic Christians.

He’s “different” from Christians and doesn’t represent the “Christian” religion. Yet somehow, all Muslims and even Arabs, Christian and Muslim – and yes, Christian Arabs do exist America – are represented by the self-proclaimed two Islamic terrorists who murdered innocent Americans so viciously and so cowardly in Boston last year.

I want to know when the real America will return? When will the America that stands up for justice, freedom and fairness return to this country? When will Americans stop pretending to embrace the US Constitution and the “American way” and start living it? Stop talking and start doing. Because what many Americans are doing is not what America stands for.

I’m an American. I’ve done more than most Americans by serving my country when the call to stand up and put my life on the line was made when I was younger. I didn’t hesitate. I was there in uniform ready to fight, doing what I was told.

And I am tired of having to remind people who claim to be American, but are not, that I am more of an American than they could ever be. Because I believe in justice. I believe in fairness. I believe that one man’s insanity does not represent the beauty of an entire race of people. I reject racism. I reject racial hatred. I reject xenophobia. I reject discrimination.

I embrace true American patriotism, which means speaking for and defending every American regardless of their race, religion or their creed. And, added to that, true American patriotism means that we stand together regardless of the race, religion or the creed of the terrorist fanatics who deserve our scorn as a nation.

I happen to be Christian, too. But if you think of me as a Muslim, I am as proud to be thought of that way as I am proud to be a real American.

Ray Hanania is an award-winning Palestinian American columnist. He is the managing editor of The Arab Daily News at www.TheArabDailyNews.com. Follow him on Twitter @RayHanania.

More airplane news


It’s amazing what takes place in today’s post 911 world.  It seems people all over the world have been struck with the disease of stupidity.  Take for example this story coming out of Europe, the land of the world’s last two major wars.

Sunday morning, a teenager named Sarah allegedly took to Twitter and tweeted the following threat to American Airlines:

Twitter

Twitter

American Airlines responded with the following:

Tweet

Twitter

Good for American Airlines, one of the airlines that suffered the most on that day of infamy in 2001.  Their no nonsense approach will hopefully help land this poster in jail and if she doesn’t go to jail then her guardian should for allowing such a monumentally stupid act to be perpetuated. I hope authorities aren’t put off with her excuse that white people aren’t terrorists.

US Air pornOne another note is the embarrassing tweet made on the account of US Airways in response to a customer complaint.  It wasn’t what was said on the 120 character app it was the picture (above) that was displayed.  How the pornographic image made it on US Airways is a sleuthing story worthy of the best espionage novel but fortunately US Air is only guilty of  not taking it down before it could be captured on the ‘net for all to see.    It’s pathetic to see such disregard and disrespect for an industry associated with one of the most horrific acts of modern civilization.

Lies, damned lies and statistics


The following article is not so much about statistics as it is about the how and why Islam has become popular in America but in reading it what angered me is the use of a statistic…the number of Muslims in America.  The statistic of 1,349,000 Muslims in America as of 2012 is hilariously funny and pathetically short of the real numbers.  I understand however why the number HAS to be that low for it makes it far more comfortable for people to fathom and tolerate a religion that has been so beguiled and vilified.  In other words it keeps the mass hysteria and panic down, for now, to a minimum.  But all one need do is look up the numbers for themselves to see that the number of Muslims in America is much greater than 1.3 million with figures ranging from the equally pathetic 2 million to 7 million and all of these numbers are merely guesses because such data is not allowed to be collected in a government sponsored census for reasons of privacy and freedom from suspicion of suppression of religion.  These are my pet peeves; the article below is about how people come to adopt and practice Islam in an increasingly secular country.  I hope you enjoy it

 

Though Will Caldwell was born, raised and college educated in Georgia, he is uncomfortable praying there.

He has felt that way since a clear summer evening in 2007 at a nondescript gas station off a nondescript interstate somewhere between Savannah and Macon. He was on his way home to Saint Simons Island from Emory University, where he had just finished his junior year. Caldwell had pulled his red Mini Cooper into the rest stop because the sun was starting to set and, since he had converted to Islam one year earlier, this meant that it was time to pray.

In the empty field next to the gas station, he found a discrete corner, laid out his mat and began to recite the holy verses, first standing, then bent forward, then on his knees with his head to the ground. He noticed two people looking at him, secretively peering out from behind their truck. Uneasy, he rushed through the ritual, folded up his mat and got back in the car to leave. As he pulled away, he could see in his rear view mirror a cop car pulling into the parking lot. The people who had been staring were flagging down the police officer and pointing at Caldwell. He drove on at an intentionally moderate pace, and the cop did not follow, but he has not risked praying publicly in the South since.

Caldwell is soft spoken. He pauses thoughtfully before talking and sometimes between sentences. He wears a plaid button down shirt, slacks and small, round wire-framed glasses. His wide-set green eyes gaze out earnestly from his creamy white face. One quickly gets the sense that he is a kind and spiritual person. Perhaps this is his fatal flaw. After growing up in the Episcopal Church, Caldwell rediscovered his spirituality in Islam and decided to convert. Now, less than a hundred miles from where he was raised, onlookers see Caldwell’s prayer as a potential threat. Why might this be?

“The political context we are in is so charged with anti-Muslim rhetoric that it’s almost impossible, I would say, for that conversion not to have some kind of political ramifications even if the convert in no way intends it,” says Brannon Ingram, a professor of religious studies at Northwestern University, who specializes in Islam and Sufism. In July of 2013, Fox News correspondent Lauren Green interviewed religion scholar Reza Aslan about “Zealot”, a book he just had written about Jesus Christ. She repeatedly questioned his credentials and asked him to explain how a Muslim could write about Christianity. In 2013, a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press study found that 45 percent of Americans believe that Muslims face “a lot” of discrimination.

Negative sentiments about Muslims most often link to an association of Islam with radicalism and terrorism. A 2007 document by the New York Police Department entitled “Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat,” says, “Jihadist ideology is the driver that motivates young men and women, born or living in the West, to carry out an ‘autonomous jihad’ via acts of terrorism against their host countries.” Because of these beliefs, the police instated surveillance over New York City’s mosques and Muslim communities using informants, neighborhood mapping, photos and video footage. When the American Civil Liberties Union caught wind of this policy in June of 2013, they sued the NYPD.

Muslim converts have received extensive media attention. Katherine Russell, the widow of one of the notorious Boston Marathon bombers, began practicing Islam after meeting her husband. Samantha Lewthwaite, known as the “White Widow” after her husband’s 2005 suicide bombing in London public transit, is among the suspects implicated in the Nairobi mall massacre in September 2013. She, too, is Muslim convert. Nicholas Brody, a main character of the popular television show “Homeland”, becomes a Muslim while he is imprisoned by al-Quaeda in Damascus, Syria. Once back in the United States, he collaborates with his captors to plot and execute terror attacks.

Karen Danielson, DanielsonDirector of Outreach at the Chicago chapter of Muslim American Society, says that any event that brings Islam into the public consciousness — for negative or positive reasons — generates interest. “After 9/11 for example, there was a large influx of converts. Sometimes people come forward hostile, but then even they end up converting because of what they discover,” she says. “They investigated, they read the Quran, and it answered a lot of questions that they had before.” Danielson herself found Islam in 1983 when she was a young adult. She has worked in community building for Muslims ever since and has interacted with hundreds of converts and support groups.

Despite their powers of attraction, these terror-infused portrayals are very problematic for converts, says Iqbal Akhtar, a professor of Islamic Studies at Florida International University. New Muslims are forced to view themselves as outsiders in their own culture and are not given the opportunity to reconcile the different parts of their identities. “Even if in day-to-day interactions you can pass for being American or not being differentiated, you live in a society where the media is constantly defining the Muslim as an ‘other,’” says Akhtar. “All these things fit into how you define yourself.”

Converts to any faith seem increasingly abnormal as the United States gravitates farther away from religion. According to a Pew Research study, the number of Americans who do not affiliate with a religion has gone up by 5 percent in the past five years, from 15.3 percent in 2007 to 19.6 percent in 2012.

IRAQI-AMERICAN MUSLIMS CELEBRATE IN DEARBORN OUSTER OF HUSSEINYet the number of Muslims in the United States is increasing. In the seven years that followed the 9/11 terror attacks on the World Trade Center in 2001, the Muslim American population grew from 1,104,000 to 1,349,000, according to the 2012 census. And in a study of that same time frame, the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 40 percent of Muslims in the United States were not raised with the faith, but joined it as adults.

This anomalous increase in religious practice may be because conversion to Islam is quick and very simple. “It really just requires reciting a formula called the shahada in front of a number of witnesses,” says Ingram. He translates the verse to mean, “There is no god but God and Muhammad is his messenger.” And that’s it. There’s no training, no test. You just recite the creed. Ingram attributes the successful global spread of Islam to the ease of this process.

The difficulty for many converts comes in the change of daily customs, rather than in the change of faith. In 2005, at the age of 36, Jennifer Gauthier converted from Catholicism to Islam in order to marry to a Muslim man. The pair has since moved to Alexandria, Egypt. “I would say the greatest challenges I face are more related to Islamic cultural traditions rather than what I understand from the Quran,” she says. “My dad and I have had many conversations about Islam and Catholicism and have found many overlaps.” She says it made a big difference that she already felt comfortable with the idea of one god.

American faceSaba Safder, Scholarship Manager at the national non-profit Islamic Society of North America and a Muslim convert from Methodism, speaks to the challenging cultural adjustments. “In the beginning it was hard to fit in. Sometimes when I came to the mosque, my scarf may not have covered all my hair, or my sleeves may not have been as long as they should have been,” she said. “There were many times that women would correct my praying or how I dressed.”

Many converts also felt alienated because of their whiteness. DanielMooreIn theory, explains Ingram, Islam is meant to be a race-free religion. But in practice, he says, this is not the case. “In the popular imagination Islam is still very much,” – he makes air quotes with his fingers – “a brown person’s religion.” And this belief, he continues, is somewhat valid. “American Muslim communities can be very closely knit in terms of some ethnic background,” he says. “Not just immigrants from or descendants of immigrants from the Indian subcontinent, but even specific regions in India.”

As a result, when Caldwell enters a Muslim center for the first time, he says he gets one of two reactions to his whiteness. The first is suspicion. In a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, he recalls, he could feel everyone’s eyes on him. Muslims sometimes suspect that he is an FBI agent, working for the aforementioned government surveillance, he says. “I just try to deal with it because I understand it.” he says. Others place him on a pedestal. Immigrants trying to assimilate into white American society take his race as a sign of their success. “Seeing a white person [practicing Islam] sort of validates their own religious existence. There’s a lot of embedded racial assumptions about that,” he says. “I don’t think it’s a desirable situation for me or for them, but it is the case nonetheless.”

Some converts are forming their own groups, one of which is Ta’leef Collective. Founded as a resource for new Muslims and prospective converts, Ta’leef runs classes, discussions and support groups. Its headquarters are in Fremont, Calif., but it opened a Chicago chapter in 2012. Ta’leef stays away from the media for fear that it will portray them badly. “Our concern is both one of how we are represented to the larger American population and how we are represented to other Muslim communities,” said Caldwell, who is a participant. “A lot of what we do would be controversial to other Muslim communities in the sense that it’s not a mosque but it’s a Muslim community. That doesn’t fit so well into the parameters of what they expect.”

New Muslims often especially need this social outlet after distancing themselves from their former lives. “I very rarely associate myself with the community I was raised in. I have strong contacts with my family, but many times I just feel like it is hard to belong,” says Safder. “There are too many media influences that give people a preconceived idea before seeing that I am still the same person.”

If not at home, how do converts find Islam? Danielson was in her first year at Faith Baptist Bible College in Ankeny, Iowa. She intended to lead missions targeting Muslims. To prepare, she studied the Quran and was deeply moved by it. “It was through my personal reading of Quran that I had my own private conversion,” she says. “I felt like my questions were answered. The deep bigger questions about justice and life in general. What is the universe all about? What does everything mean?” She says she never found this type of spiritual guidance in the Bible and converted to Islam one month after.

Caldwell’s story of coming to Islam is strikingly similar. An altar boy in his youth, Caldwell looked up to his Episcopal priest and wanted to follow in his footsteps. While an undergraduate at Emory University, he learned that seminary students studied Greek but not Hebrew. In order to understand the Old Testament, he started taking Hebrew classes. These led him to Jewish studies classes. Judaism introduced him to the possibility of practicing other religions, but it was too connected to an ethnic and cultural history for him to fully embrace it, he says. “I guess in a lot of ways Islam is a natural place to look at that point.” He started reading the Quran and spent the summer and fall of his junior year in Jerusalem. He promised himself that he wouldn’t make any big decisions until he finished it. One month into his studies in Israel, he finished the Quran and converted to Islam.

Ingram has noticed a trend in why people like Danielson or Caldwell may gravitate toward the religion. “I’ve spoken to a few white converts over the years who said Christianity never made sense to me, the trinity never made sense to me, the idea of God being one and three at the same time never made sense to me,” he said. “Islam doesn’t have that problem. People are attracted to the comparative simplicity of Islam’s notion of God.”

Their strong connection to Islamic theology helps converts deal with stigma. “We know that Islam does not preach terrorism. We know Islam does not preach extremist radical thought. Those things are not linked to Islam. They’re linked to Muslims,” says Danielson. “Muslims are people. They have so many factors that motivate who they are. Yes, Islam influences them, but they have their economic condition and their political situation, too.”

Gauthier puts this idea concisely. “A saying I’ve heard often — and I think it applies to all religions — is ‘Don’t look to Muslims to understand Islam. Look to Islam itself,’” she says.

But, according to Danielson, converts need to change people’s preconceptions about Muslims. “We have to get our voice heard better. Islam should be understood better, and that’s a difficult position to be in,” she says. “First-hand knowledge of Islam and Muslims needs relationship building and a genuine commitment to long-term cooperation.”

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