Local Muslim Community Discusses Life After 9/11
Thursday, September 10, 2009
San Diego's Muslim community continues to deal with stigma and misconceptions as a result of 9/11. We speak with a local imam and others within the Muslim community about what it means to be a Muslim in San Diego and how their community is affected by the long wars in the Middle East.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH (Host): I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to These Days on KPBS. The Muslim community in San Diego is in the middle of observing the holy month of Ramadan. And Muslims in the North County have broken ground on construction of a new, five-acre community center. So, it's evident that people of the Islamic faith are a vital and growing part of the larger San Diego community. But as we approach another anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, the complexities of being an American Muslim once again come to the surface. Since the attacks in 2001, the Muslim community has been working to move beyond the stigma and misconceptions that followed. And since the U.S. military is still fighting in Muslim countries, the pressures of a complex identity persist for many American Muslims. Today, we want to talk about what it means to be a Muslim in San Diego. Do misconceptions and prejudice continue to be expressed? Or after eight years, and with a new presidential administration, have social conditions improved for San Diego's Muslim community? I'd like to welcome my guests. Ghada Osman is director of the Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies at SDSU. Welcome, Ghada.
GHADA OSMAN (Director, Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies, San Diego State University): Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Imam Taha Hassane is imam and director of the Islamic Center of San Diego. Imam Taha, welcome.
IMAM TAHA HASSANE (Director, Islamic Center of San Diego): Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And Anita Tallman is a volunteer at the Muslim Community Center of Greater San Diego. And good morning, Anita.
ANITA TALLMAN (Volunteer, Muslim Community Center of Greater San Diego): Good morning to you.
CAVANAUGH: And I'd like to invite our listeners to join the conversation. If you are Muslim, tell us what it's like living here. Do you feel accepted just like anybody else? If you're not Muslim, do you think you understand your Muslim neighbors? Give us a call if you have questions or comments, 1-888-895-5727, that's 1-888-895-KPBS. Well, Imam Taha, let's start, since we are in the holy month of Ramadan…
IMAM TAHA: Umm-hmm.
CAVANAUGH: …why don't we begin by discussing what Ramadan is and why the month is holy.
IMAM TAHA: Thank you. (Islamic blessing) …in the name of God, the most gracious and most merciful. First of all, I would like to thank you for giving us this chance to be here and to represent the Muslim community here in San Diego County. Yes, today actually is the 20th day of the month of Ramadan, which is in the same time the beginning of the last ten days and ten nights, which are the most sacred days of Ramadan but also the most sacred days of the year. In these days, especially the last days of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world, they increase their acts of worship. They spend more time in the mosques praying and supplicating to God, reflecting on themselves and giving more charity and so on. And Ramadan basically is the ninth month of the lunar calendar. We, as Muslims, in our acts of worship and celebrations, we go by the lunar calendar, which is 11 days shorter than the solar calendar. So the ninth month of the lunar calendar is called Ramadan. In this month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world, those who are Muslims healthy and adult, they have to fast. Fasting means abstain from eating, drinking and having any conjugal relationship with our spouses from dawn. And here I would like to emphasize not sunrise, dawn, because I have heard a lot of people saying from sunrise to sunset. No, it's from dawn to sunset. At sunset, we have to break the fast. After breaking the fast, Muslims do observe a lot of prayers. They, most of them, they go to the mosques and pray in congregation and so on.
CAVANAUGH: And it sounds a little bit like the Christian season of Lent almost.
IMAM TAHA: Yeah. I mean, each faith traditionally have their own time season of when they increase worship and so on. And Ramadan for Muslims is very special.
CAVANAUGH: And it's not just about giving things up, it's about actually giving to the poor and being compassionate and, as you say, recognizing your connection with your God, is that correct?
IMAM TAHA: Yes. Ramadan is all about uplifting our spirituality, strengthening our connection with Almighty God. And also, it's the best time for us to remember those who are poor, needy, homeless people, so not only we should develop this relationship, spiritual relationship, with God but also we have to reach out to those needy people in our society and give to them.
CAVANAUGH: You know, Ghada, I was thinking about this and when the larger American public hears about Ramadam – Ramadan, that is, it's often in connection to whether or not fighting will decrease in the Middle East.
OSMAN: That's right.
CAVANAUGH: Does it sometimes feel that everything about Islam has become politicized?
OSMAN: I think, unfortunately, yes, and this especially the case after 9/11. But even before 9/11, this was the case. Ultimately, I think for many in American society, Islam is a religion that has been seen as a religion of 'an other.' And the focus on the American Muslim community has been relatively minor and that's why we are very grateful that you are having this show today. And so as a result, then when you're talking about a group that's 'an other' then you're only concerned about how they might affect you in that particular way, and so this is why a discussion has often been around politics rather than around the human interactions that – within the Muslim community.
CAVANAUGH: Give us a little context, if you would, Ghada. How many Muslims do you estimate live in San Diego County?
OSMAN: The estimate is that roughly 80,000 Muslims live in San Diego County.
CAVANAUGH: And is that a relatively stable figure? Or is the number growing?
OSMAN: The number is definitely growing. It's growing for several reasons. One of these is immigration, both immigration from other countries as well as migration within the United States. Also the number of converts actually post-9/11, converts to Islam, has increased, which is a remarkable fact to many people.
CAVANAUGH: Is that because people became aware of the Muslim religion even in a negative context after 9/11, and after studying it came around to wanting to be part of it?
OSMAN: Yes, 9/11 had many negative repercussions on the Muslim community but one of the other repercussions on the community was the fact that people became curious about Islam and wanted to read and learn about it more and more. And so exactly as you mention, as people read about Islam, then for some people this seemed to be a religion that fit with ideas and spiritual patterns that they had held in the past, hence the rise in conversion.
CAVANAUGH: We are talking about San Diego's Muslim community and we're also welcoming your calls. 1-888-895-5727 is the number to call. And Omar is in San Diego. And welcome, Omar. Welcome to These Days.
OMAR (Caller, San Diego): Yeah, thank you for having me. And my name's Omar and I live San Diego in two years and general for United States, I live 15 years. And we don't have any problem to live in San Diego or either United State as the Muslims. Actually since 9/11 we see sometimes difficult and some innocent people to, you know, to just desecrate for the Muslims. But the general, we don't have any problem.
OMAR: We don't have any problem.
CAVANAUGH: Well, thank you for that, Omar. That's at least good news from you. Thank you so much for that. Ghada, I wanted to ask you, just to round out our understanding of the Muslim community in San Diego, what religious organizations and mosques are here in town for the Islamic community?
OSMAN: Well, there are around 20 mosques in the San Diego area, including the Islamic Center of San Diego on Balboa at which the Imam Taha is Imam, and also the Muslim Community Center, that you mentioned, in North County. Other than that, yeah, there are around 18 other mosques of different sizes focusing on different congregations.
CAVANAUGH: And that brings me to you, Anita, because you are a volunteer for the Muslim Community Center, which, I believe, is under construction? Is that correct?
TALLMAN: That is correct.
CAVANAUGH: And where is it being constructed?
TALLMAN: It is located in the Santa Luz community. It is adjacent – if you can kind of – geographically, where it's located is right next to Fairbanks Ranch, Rancho Santa Fe, surrounded by 56. It's just north of 56 and just west of Forest Ranch.
CAVANAUGH: And, you know, in reading about this, I saw that there was a strong reaction when a public hearing was held to discuss the building of the center but it wasn't necessarily because it was a Muslim community center. Tell me about that.
TALLMAN: Well, I think that's still up for discussion.
TALLMAN: The public hearing that we had was something with the city planning board and I was one of many that were there presenting and basically representing MCC and what our intentions were as far as what kind of building we're building, what the use of the building will be, etcetera. And it was definitely an amazing event in the sense that for someone who's never been part of the process, to walk into what you think is going to be a rather dry process and walk in and see it was standing room only and, yeah, I think there were definitely a lot of concerns about any time you have a building going up, that whole not in my backyard idea of, you know, what about traffic? What about noise? You know, how busy is the center going to be? How's it going to affect my children walking to school? You know, a lot of those concerns. And I think that was probably the most of what we heard, but I think there were some that, of course, had that concern of, well, there's a Muslim center being built within my residential area so what is that going to mean to me? And I think now, in the last – This was about three years ago. We haven't heard much from the community so I think we've done pretty well of being able to, you know, take care of a lot of those concerns. We've done what you do when you build a building: traffic studies, you know, the center itself, the design of it. We've put it out there. You know, the functionality of the center, we've put that out there as well. So I think we're at a point now where, at least we hope, that our neighbors are excited about having us because I know we're very excited about being in that area.
CAVANAUGH: And what exactly are you planning? What is this structure going to be for in the – What is the community center – is it going to be a multi-use facility?
TALLMAN: It is. The center's going to have an area, of course, the majority area, the biggest part of the area is going to be a prayer hall. But that will also be used for any kind of, you know, pot luck gathering at night. There will be some classrooms that will be for the school on the weekends. There's also a break room and then, of course, an office for administrative use.
CAVANAUGH: And one thing I read about it is that there are some very distinct features about the Muslim Community Center. It's welcoming non-Muslims and the participation of women. Tell us a little bit about that.
TALLMAN: Well, I'll say all around the U.S. you always have an Islamic center mosque that's opening and welcoming to non-Muslims. We want that. And I think with MCC we want to promote that more because I know in my experience, talking to non-Muslims that are curious about our religion, there was always that factor of do I just walk in? Is it okay to walk in? When do I walk in? What are good times to walk in, that sort of thing. So we definitely like to promote the fact that, yes, come. Obviously, Friday is our busiest day. That's when we have our Friday prayers so we always like to promote, yes, come on a Friday afternoon when there's a lot of people there and you can kind of see what's going on and what we do and you've got access to talking to a lot of Muslims that are there. As far as the openness to participation, equal participation between men and women, all centers try to aim for that and I think there sometimes is a little bit of hesitation of whether or not a woman would feel comfortable. And when I say participation, it's not just attending the center. Obviously, all centers welcome women and, you know, men and children, of course. But as far as actually taking a leadership position in the center and the way MCC is structured is that we have a board of directors that is nine, and to be able to run for a board, you basically need to be a member of the center for a year, so you can be a college student, you could be a man, you can be a woman, you know, whatever the case may be.
CAVANAUGH: And it's, I think, it's wise to remember that Muslim is not the only religion that has a sort of difference between who runs – men and women, who actually runs the services. Imam Taha, let me ask you, at your Islamic Center of San Diego, is it also a welcoming center the way Anita was just describing it? Welcome to people to just stop by and find out what's going on?
IMAM TAHA: Yes, at the Islamic Center of San Diego, we have every Sunday a class from twelve to one, introduction to Islam class, and we receive a lot of non-Muslims, mainly students from different campuses, especially those who take world religion class, they come and they ask questions and they, you know, get as much information about Islam. Also, we do receive groups coming from schools. When they study about the religion of Islam, they come and they – we do give them presentation over there and they ask their questions and also they interact with the students that we have in the center. We have a full time Islamic school from K-to-8. So whenever we have students coming from middle school, high school and also elementary school, so we do have this kind of interaction. Also we have, I would say, almost every single Friday we have a few non-Muslims who come just to attend the Friday prayer. They want to see what Muslims talk about in their sermons. They want to see how Muslims pray. They want to interact with Muslims. They want to do their own research about Islam. They refuse to be the victims of some of the media outlet, you know, that are hammering our fellow citizens on a daily basis. So they want to discover by themselves what Islam is all about and who are the Muslims. And, of course, we welcome everybody over there. We take them to the right place where they can sit to listen to the sermon, and always we tell them if you have any question after the prayer, you can see us in the office.
CAVANAUGH: Let's take a break. Let's take a short break. There are a lot of people who want to join our conversation. Let's start taking calls when we return. You're listening to These Days and we're talking about the Muslim community in San Diego. Our number is 1-888-895-5727. I will return with my guests in just a few moments here on KPBS.
# # #
CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. You're listening to These Days on KPBS. We're continuing our discussion with members of the Muslim community in San Diego. We're entering the most sacred days of the holy month of Ramadan and, of course, approaching another anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, and we're assessing what it is to be Muslim in San Diego. We're welcoming your calls at 1-888-895-5727. I'd like to welcome back my guests, Ghada Osman, Imam Taha Hassane and Anita Tallman. And let's go to the phones and take some calls. Derek is calling us from Oceanside. Good morning, Derek, and welcome to These Days.
DEREK (Caller, Oceanside): Yes, hi. Great show. Yeah, I just wanted to state my support for the Muslim community in San Diego and the rest of the country, and all other religious groups for that matter. I think that religion is a good guideline for people in society. I'm actually an atheist myself but as I became an adult, I found that the use of religion seems to be – I mean, a religion is a good guideline for people in society. There's an interesting article that came out in the Economist about a year ago called "The Science of Religion" and they found that – the scientists that study religion found that the reason it's so universal throughout the world in history is that it's actually good for society. And they did a case study on communes and they found that communes that were religious-based lasted about four times as long as secular communes. So just – religion's just a great thing for society and I'm glad that the Muslim community is prospering and Christians and Jews and all the other groups.
CAVANAUGH: Well, amen to that. Thank you, Derek. Let's take another call. Tessine (sp) is calling in La Jolla. And good morning, Tessine, welcome to These Days.
TESSINE (Caller, La Jolla): Good morning, Maureen. And As-Salaam-Alaikum to your guests.
ALL: (in reply) Alaikum salaam.
TESSINE: I was born and raised in Southern California and I've lived over 30 years here in San Diego and I have had pretty much no problem being a Muslim and being an American here in San Diego. I've found that the community is very accepting of Muslims, and many people are very curious to learn more about Islam. In fact, right after 9/11, many people even came to the mosque to ask questions about Islam and even sent gifts and flowers saying, you know, we know that this is not from your religion, you know, this is a misuse of religion. But what I did want to say is I have had a couple of incidences in the past where people have said to me, go home. And the reason they've said that is that I wear the traditional Muslim covering of covering my hair and I – I've, you know, I've had a couple of people yell out of moving cars, go home. And I wish I had the chance to respond to them to say, where? L.A.? That's where I was born. And, in addition, in talking to my high school son, I've learned that in the high schools there are many students who harbor many prejudices about Islam and will often call a Muslim 'terrorist' or, you know, something negative like that. And it's not all students, obviously, but there are a few out there. And I think something needs to be done to educate those students and say, look, this is what Islam is all about, these are what Muslims are. There are one and a half billion Muslims in the world. If all of them believed in violence and terrorism, what kind of a world would this be? The word 'islam' means peace through submission to God. And the overwhelming majority of Muslims are peaceful; it's just a few, a potent maj – a potent, sorry, a potent minority, I think, as President Obama said recently, that have – that commit acts of terrorism. So…
CAVANAUGH: Tessine, you've given us so much to talk about. I appreciate your phone call and thank you for sharing your experiences with us. You know, it makes me think, Ghada, from what Tessine is saying, has there been a change in the way that the local Muslim community has perceived itself from before 9/11 to now? I mean, were – was it more that you thought of yourself as really a part of San Diego and now there's this dual thing going on?
OSMAN: Yes, I think 9/11 really made the Muslim community see itself as a community that has suffered the results of a particular set of events which means that it felt a little bit under the microscope if nothing else. I think before 9/11 most Muslims in San Diego and in the United States in general felt that they were a part of society like anybody else. They went to work, their kids went to school, that sort of thing. 9/11 put the spotlight on the Muslim community in a way that it had not been put before. Granted, there were previous political incidents such as 1993 or going back to the 1970s even, the Iranian revolution in 1979. But those were all fleeting associations whereas 9/11 has been an association that has been connected to the Muslim community since then. Here we are eight years later having a show about it, that it's clear this is something that has been associated with the Muslim community and it'll be a long time, I think, before anything shifts. And what this has done is it's made the Muslim community realize how much it needs to reach out to others in order to educate them about Islam and open its doors, which it used to do before but now this has become imperative post-9/11.
CAVANAUGH: I want to get both your, Anita and Imam Taha, your perceptions on this as well. Do you feel because of 9/11 and because of the prejudice and the misperceptions and all of the things that have been said since then, that as a Muslim American, you perhaps have more of a dual identity than other ethnic groups?
IMAM TAHA: I would say that what happened in 9/11th was basically a wake-up call for everybody. Politicians look at it from their own perspective. Myself, as an Imam, look at it from my own perspective. I look at what happened in 9/11th as a wake-up for us, a wake-up call for us as Muslim community because in addition to what Prophet Yahya said, the Muslim community after 9/11th failed to reach out to the larger society. We didn't do a good job. We were living inside our bubble, inside our comfort zone, and we thought that everything is okay outside. Everybody knows us. And right after 9/11th we realized that we are still a community here that most of our fellow citizens don't know us. They don't know who we are. They see us in the streets but they have no idea about our faith and belief and practices and so on. So because of this lack of reaching out that happened before 9/11th, I think, from my own perspective and experience, I've seen a lot of sincere continuous efforts done by Muslim leaders all over the country in terms of educating the larger society, in term – and also reaching out to other faith communities to let them know what Islam is all about and who we are. Islam is a religion of peace. You know, you don't have to be scared about Islam or Muslims. Muslims are here to contribute positively to the betterment of our society as every other community is doing. So this is how I look at 9/11th or what happened after 9/11th.
CAVANAUGH: And, Anita, do you feel that you have to sort of outreach all the time, explain all the time to people who aren't Muslim?
TALLMAN: You do, and I do feel that. And I'm used to that growing up here. I'm first generation, my family's from Pakistan. So I was born and raised in Ohio and there weren't a lot of Muslim families there. In fact, I think it was us and one other family. So there's times where you're in high school and you are fasting and you're always explaining yourself, and that's just part of growing up in a society where you're not the majority. But I think one thing I'd like to add to what Ghada said that hit it right on, 9/11 was a very difficult time and obviously we're all still, you know, experiencing the aftermath of it. But one thing that 9/11 did to the Muslim community is it was an opportunity and it is an opportunity. Like Imam Taha said, since 9/11 I'm not sure if the existence of having continual open houses, having the doors and basically having more outreach programs that tons of centers did throughout the U.S. was maybe non-existent. When I used to go to the mosque growing up, you would go, you'd go to Sunday school, you'd go to Islamic school and you'd leave. I never saw a non-Muslim walk in the door because why would they? So the spotlight that we have on us, what happened after 9/11, it's – there's a lot of positive things that came from it and I think that it's been good, you know, the wake-up call that we needed. It's made me, even having kids in school, I outreach to the teachers, become more involved with what's going on in school, you know, what they see and said. I'm sure, as my kids get into high school, you know, I may be move involved with what are they saying about Islam? How are the kids being taught about Islam? So definitely outreach, and being more involved in even schools and what's going on with your kids is definitely going to be something that's going to be a positive thing.
CAVANAUGH: You know, I want to ask you, I want to throw out a common criticism that I know you've all heard and get your take on it, especially you, Imam, that after the 9/11 attacks there was not enough condemnation within the Muslim community, either in this country or overseas, against the attacks. And I want to – because I've heard that, you know, it pops up even today. And I'd like you to address that, if you would, about how the larger Muslim community reacted to those attacks on America.
IMAM TAHA: You are right. It's the most common comment that I'll see whenever I give presentation. I would say that here, as Muslim-Americans, we have our own organizations, nationwide organizations, working in different fields and some of them in the civil right and civil liberties and so on. And from since day one, our leaders here, the Muslim leaders of – in the United States, they stood up against what happened, and they condemned in very clear words and statements. If people would like to see what was said, it's still in their websites, you know, since day one. The problem is that our leaders here, Muslim leaders in the United States, they could not voice their opinion more than they did. I mean, they have a website, they have congregations, they have small groups of non-Muslims coming to their organizations or community centers or Islamic centers. We don't have a radio station, you know, to express ourselves. We don't have a TV station to express ourselves. That's why a lot of – among our American fellow citizens could not hear our voices and we are trying our best. We are trying our best, and there are a lot of Muslim leaders who worked and they are still working very hard to make it very clear that the Muslim community in the United States is a peaceful community and is contributing to the betterment of the society and condemn every act of violence that was committed, unfortunately, in the name of our faith.
CAVANAUGH: And I think we can hear the frustration in our voice, Imam. And Ghada, I wonder, is it upsetting to you that this criticism persists and it just doesn't die down?
OSMAN: It is frustrating because like the Imam mentioned, there are so many sources where people can look and see these condemnations. I think what's also frustrating is there's a little bit of a skew in terms of the view of representation. If something happens, let's say, a shooting at an abortion clinic or, for example, the high school shooting such as, well, several ones, and the Virginia Tech shooting I'm thinking of in particular, where the assassin quoted Biblical verses, etcetera, your average American Christian does not think that he or she needs to come out and explicitly condemn that. It's a given that this is somebody who's an outlier. But when it comes to the Muslim community, there's always this expectation for people to immediately come out and condemn things and similarly to your average Christian in that context, the average Muslim clearly sees this person as an outlier and feels that the condemnation is a given.
CAVANAUGH: I understand.
OSMAN: And yet there is always this idea that people need to, with every single event that happens, immediately they need to come out and condemn it.
CAVANAUGH: We are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727, and let's take a call right now. Muhammed is calling in San Diego. And good morning, Muhammed, and welcome to These Days.
MUHAMMED (Caller, San Diego): Good morning.
CAVANAUGH: Yes, how can we help you?
MUHAMMED: Yeah, I have a comment and I was listening to the show. And I would like to give my comment.
CAVANAUGH: Yes, now is the time to do that, Muhammed.
MUHAMMED: Oh, okay, I have heard the subject. It's the month of Ramadan and the community in San Diego and all of the United States, I guess.
MUHAMMED: I think the Ramadan is the month that more fights are going on in Somalia every day. I don't think it is a good way to say Ramadan is a good month for the, you know, Muslim society because most of the countries it's – Muslim live, there's a lot of fight going on and I don't see any comments or anybody who is talking about it or condemning it. I don't see them in that area.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, well let's see – I think that I understand the gist of what Muhammed was saying and that is what we did talk about just a little bit earlier and that is the fact that when we in America hear about the holy month of Ramadan, we hear about it in context to fighting going on in the world. Imam, would you like to comment?
IMAM TAHA: Yeah, as Muhammed said, unfortunately, in some places in the Muslim world there are a lot of military conflicts going on and he mentioned one of them, one of the brutal ones in Somalia. I would say that the misunderstanding of our faith and the religion is not only the problem of non-Muslims, it's also the problem of many Muslims who misunderstood their own faith and misusing the codes from the Qur'an, the word of God revealed to prophet Muhammed, peace be upon him. And even misusing the sayings of the prophet, peace be upon him, to justify what they are doing. What some Muslims are doing all over the world do not represent authentically what Islam is asking us to do so I share the same opinion with Muhammed and I hope that this Ramadan could inspire all Muslims all over the world, you know, to observe the real fasting and to observe and to abide to the teachings of their own faith.
CAVANAUGH: We have to take another short break. It's going to be really short. We're going to come back and take your calls and continue talking about the Muslim community in San Diego. You're listening to These Days on KPBS.
# # #
CAVANAUGH: You're listening to These Days on KPBS. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. My guests are Anita Tallman, volunteer at the Muslim Community Center of Greater San Diego, Imam Taha Hassane, imam and director of the Islamic Center of San Diego, and Ghada Osman is director of the Center for Islamic and Arabic Studies at SDSU. And we are taking your calls at 1-888-895-5727. And right now let's take a call from Robert in Solana Beach. Good morning, Robert. Welcome to These Days.
ROBERT (Caller, Solana Beach): Thank you. Good morning and as-salaam-alaikum.
ALL: (responding) Alaikum-salaam.
CAVANAUGH: And none of their microphones were on but you want to answer him again?
ALL: (responding) Alaikum-salaam.
CAVANAUGH: Okay, Robert, thank you.
ROBERT: Okay, I called and I'm an American Jew and I'm also the son of Holocaust survivors. And around the time of 9/11 I had a Muslim friend and he and his family were feeling a lot of persecution and for the first time it occurred to me that the Muslim and perhaps the entire Arab community became the new Jews in America, the persecuted ones. And I think that the Muslim community is missing an opportunity to bridge the gap between themselves and the others, as you put it, by not just talking about the horrif – the historical perspective of Islam within the context of the Jewish and Christian – Judeo-Christian, if you will, religious experience. When you talk about anti-Semitism, you're talking about a discrimination against Semitic people. Well, Arabs and Jews are both Semitic people. We have the same patriarch, Abraham. And a lot of people don’t realize, excuse me, that the teachings of all the prophets of the Old Testament as well as Jesus are considered holy prophets in Islam and they are revered. And in much the same way that Christianity is a offshoot of Judaism in as much as the Apostles and Jesus Himself was a practicing Jew until the Council of Antioch when there was a clear split between the two religions or the two factions. And you have various factions in Christianity that split off from the original Roman church.
CAVANAUGH: Well, Robert, I think that – Thank you. That's a very good perspective because I think it's been said and I heard the term for quite some time that the Jews and Christians and Muslims are people of the book, they all sort of trace their religious ancestry back to Abraham. And the Bible and the New Testament and the Koran have links that talk about the same people, the same holy people. And one of the things that Robert said, though, that I think is a misperception is, of course, Muslims are not all Arab. And can you tell us a little bit more about that, Ghada.
OSMAN: Right, so this is often something that happens, that people equate Muslims with Arabs but, in fact, Muslims, only 20% of Muslims are Arab. And often when I teach in class, I point out to students that if I were to draw a line that's east of Afghanistan, then 60% of Muslims in the world would all lie east of that line, in other words, looking at a map, to the right of that line. And only 40% would lie west of that or to the left of that line. So the country with the largest Muslim population is Indonesia, for example, followed closely by India and Pakistan. And so this is something that's often equated but this is not the case, similarly just as 20% of Muslims are Arab, there are many Arabs who are not Muslim. So many Christian-Arabs, many Arabs that are of Jewish background, other religious minorities within the Arab community, so these are not two terms that are interchangeable. If I could also add to Robert's point about the parallels between the Muslim community and the Jewish community, this is a parallel that has been made, that the Muslim community today is somewhat similar to, in circumstance, to the Jewish community in the early part of the 20th century. And among scholars actually this is something that's said, that in some ways Muslims are the new Jews in the United States in terms of the circumstances within the society.
CAVANAUGH: Let's take another call. Sam is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Sam, and welcome to These Days. Sam, hello, are you there? Okay, Seamus is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Seamus. Welcome to These Days. We'll try it a little bit later because I think – I would really like to move on just to another question because we are getting out of – running out of time and I really do want to get to it. I think – When we think back on the call that we got from Tessine about her wearing the hijab and people calling out to her from cars, go home, go home, I think that it's hard for Americans to understand the role of women in Muslim culture and the wearing of the scarf. And I'm wondering, if – do Muslim women in America see their roles differently than other American women? I'm going to ask you both. Let me start out with Ghada.
OSMAN: I don't think that Muslim women in the United States see their role as different – differently from other American women. I think there are variations within the Muslim community like there are variations within the society as a whole. So you may have some women who are more comfortable being – working at home versus women that are working outside the home. But I think if we were to look at the community as a whole, the individual differences within it are similar to individual differences within the society. I think for Muslim women in the United States, they perceive their role as women in an American context, through an American lens, I think, much more than others give them credit for. Most people look at the headscarf and see the headscarf as symbolic of certain ideas that honestly are mainly stereotypes.
CAVANAUGH: And I want to make it clear to our listeners that neither Anita nor Ghada here in the studio is wearing a headscarf. And I wonder, Anita, what does that decision say, to decide not to or to wear the headscarf? Is there a controversy among Muslim women about this?
TALLMAN: Well, I think Muslim women have that decision that they make and is there a controversy within there? I don't think so. Only because knowing Muslim women that wear hijab, the head covering, knowing and being close to women that do not, when we look at each other, I think the first thing we look at is the fact that we're both Muslim women and there's that bond that's already there and something that really goes higher and more important than whether or not you wear a headscarf, whether you wear a hijab, why don't you wear it, you should, you should not. So, no, I don't think there's a controversy. I think that a lot of women that wear or do not wear hijab do have a strong opinion about their decision but I think, again, being a Muslim in the U.S., being a minority, I think a lot of those women want to kind of see past that and think, you know what, at the end of the day, we're all Muslim and it's better if we unite by our similarities, unite by our faith per se, than to focus on the differences of what decisions you make living in the U.S.
CAVANAUGH: But it obviously does leave you open to people who want to express some sort of prejudice against Muslims, and I'm wondering is it therefore also a political statement?
OSMAN: Actually, for some women it is. I know women who started wearing the scarf after 9/11, that they basically felt that Muslims are being verbally attacked at times. I've had students, for example, who started wearing the scarf because they said we hear students in class commenting on Muslims and they don't realize I'm a Muslim and I want to make it clear that I am. And so, yes, there are. For some Muslim women, wearing the scarf was a clear symbol and a clear statement of who they are. For other Muslim women, however, and I would say actually for the majority of Muslim women, this is not the case. This would not be the primary reason why they wear it.
CAVANAUGH: Let's go to the phones again, see if we can talk to a caller. Aron – Aaron, I'm sorry, is calling in San Diego. Good morning, Aaron, and welcome to These Days.
AARON (Caller, San Diego): Good morning. Am I on air?
CAVANAUGH: Yes, you are.
AARON: Thank you. I respect the other prayers. People saying the words. Mostly I believe in action. I want to see the action of the Islamic, the words. There are many Baha'is in Iran that have no rights and actually at this very moment there's seven Baha'is in prison, five of them are women, that are being executed. I believe in more often action and prayers, personally. I'm a very logical person. What is the act of the Islamic people on your word to provide freedom for the Baha'i in Iran and so they can have a Baha'i center and they can practice the faith that they believe in? We have an Islamic center in America, of course, why not have a Baha'i center in Iran so they can practice their religion and have freedom.
CAVANAUGH: I understand that. Thank you for that call, Aaron. And, Imam, you know, I'd like you to address the issue but I'd also like you to address the idea that – are Muslims in the United States seemingly held accountable for the actions of other nations?
IMAM TAHA: This is a problem, actually. We are not accountable for whatever is happening somewhere else in the world. And this question of this listener should be addressed to the politicians of that country to make the decision. Islam in itself respects all faiths and other religions. As a matter of fact, Islam urge us to get involved in sincere and serious interfaith dialogue with the representatives of different faiths, especially mainly the monotheistic or the three – the two other divine religions, Christianity and Judaism as we – as you have mentioned, Maureen, before that in the Qur'an they are called by Almighty God the people of the book or the people of the scripture in Arabic. I look it up. So we are accountable for our community here, what is going on here. But what's happening over there doesn't – I mean, it concerns me as a Muslim. I wish if everything is done according to the Fontic teachings of Islam but sometimes it's beyond my ability to do here.
CAVANAUGH: Because I hear that a lot. I hear that, you know, people – some Islamic countries don't allow other religions and they persecute people of other faiths but it also seems that Christian nations around the world do various things in their various nations and yet Christians in the United States are not asked to explain that. Did you find that…
CAVANAUGH: …to be the case?
OSMAN: Yes, I think that's very often the case. I think Muslims are often held accountable for what any Muslim in the world can do and there are 1.2 billion Muslims in the world. It's very difficult to hold an empaha (sp) and an Imam responsible for the acts of 1.2 billion Muslims. Also, in terms of authority, people will often say, well, why doesn't the Muslim community in the U.S. do this? The Muslim community in the U.S. are individuals with their religious leaders but it's very difficult for an individual to then go and have an affect on a country or on a political leader of a country.
CAVANAUGH: Let's take a final call. Edgar is calling from San Diego. Good morning, Edgar, and welcome to These Days.
EDGAR (Caller, San Diego): Hi. Good morning. Thank you for having me on and as-salaam-alaikum to all the guests there.
ALL: (responding) Alaikum-salaam.
EDGAR: I'm the local director of the Council of American Islamic Relations, which is the largest American-Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization in the United States. And it's a excellent, excellent dialogue that's happening today on this show. I just wanted to point out some of the things that, negative things that have been happening in San Diego and the United States. I'm sure you heard about the incident with the Navy Federal Credit Union and a Muslim woman being denied service because of her headscarf. So, these are some of the – We actually catalog anti-Muslim incidents and civil rights abuses on American-Muslims across the country. And, unfortunately, California is 21% of all those anti-Muslim incidents. And so we have still a big challenge to go about trying to educate people about Islam and Muslims. But we also have positive things like our Explore the Koran project which is in its second phase which we're trying to promote these to – the holy book to politicians and whatnot. So we have a lot of challenges ahead of us and a lot of them have to do with passenger profiling. We still get those problems.
IMAM TAHA: Yes, umm-hmm.
EDGAR: We still get problems with anti-Muslim incidents. And it – it's a big challenge and I thank you for allowing our various local Muslim leaders to address those issues.
CAVANAUGH: Well, Edgar, let me ask you one question before I let you go. Since you're cataloging these incidents, are they going down? Are the numbers going down?
EDGAR: Certain categories are going down but, unfortunately, a lot of the profiling still happens, the restriction on services. Nationally, some Muslim women were denied access to a swimming pool because of their headdress. So certain categories have been going down but, unfortunately, we also have fringe groups, far right fringe groups that are promoting that hate and intolerance toward Muslims and that's kind of confusing the wider American populous about what Islam is and so that's what my organization is bent on doing, is to combat, you know, these negative perceptions about Islam and to help some of our local Muslim leaders like Imam Taha and Professor – and everyone else in trying to educate Muslims – or, educate non-Muslims about our faith.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much, Edgar.
EDGAR: You're welcome.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you for calling in. In the 45 seconds we have remaining, Imam, I wonder if you – is there anything that pops to mind about what can be done to reach out to people who still have negative attitudes towards Muslims in San Diego?
IMAM TAHA: Thank you. I would like to go back to what Robert said. I really appreciate your sympathy with the Muslim family and actually you reminded me about something very important which is, you know, to get involved in a very deep, serious, continuous educational process, you know, between the Muslim community and other faith communities or even non-faith communities. The solution of all the problems that our Muslim community is facing is education. People have to be educated and we, as Muslims, also have to be educated so we have to get involved in such thing in order to eliminate or at least to minimize all these misconceptions and stereotypes.
CAVANAUGH: Thank you so much.
IMAM TAHA: Sure.
CAVANAUGH: We – we're out of time. I want to let everyone know, who didn't get a chance to call in, they can post their comments at KPBS.org/TheseDays. I want to thank my guests Ghada Osman, Imam Taha Hassane and Anita Tallman. Thank you all so much for coming in and speaking with us today.
OSMAN: Thank you.
IMAM TAHA: Thank you.
TALLMAN: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: Stay with us for the second hour of These Days coming up in just a few minutes here on KPBS.
To view PDF documents, Download Acrobat Reader.