The First Muslim Woman In Space: Anousheh Ansari

Anousheh Ansari is breaking stereotypes  from 27,000 miles above earth.  She became the first Muslim Woman in space in 2006.

Anousheh was born on September 12, 1966 in Masshad, Iran.  She moved to the United States from Iran in 1984.  She received her electrical engineering Bachelors degree from George Mason University and her masters from George Washington University.  

In 2006, she began her training as a backup to Daisuke Enomoto for a Soyuz flight to the International Space Station.   Daisuke was medically disqualified from participating and the next day Anousheh was promoted to the primary crew.

She has received multiple awards and honors including the George Mason University Entrepreneurial Excellence Award, the George Washington University Distinguished Alumni Achievement Award, the Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award for the Southwest Region, and the Horatio Alger Award.

Anousheh is clearly a remarkable role model for many and her accomplishments are inspirational.  I believe Muslims should be at the forefront of progress in this world and Anousheh is paving the way for many others.

New Movie about Islamic Art debuts for 2012

A new documentary entitled Islamic Art, Mirror of the Invisible World will be broadcast at a date to be decided later this year on PBS (Public Broadcasting Service).

Islamic Art, Mirror of the Invisible World is the latest in a line of quality films such as Muhammad, Legacy of a Prophet and Prince Among Slaves produced by Unity Productions Foundation (UPF).   According to the UPF website, the documentary ” takes audiences on an epic journey across nine countries and over 1,400 years of history. It explores themes such as the Word, Space, Ornament, Color and Water and presents the stories behind many great masterworks of Islamic Art and Architecture.”

 

Unity Productions Foundation film company  is a non-profit organization founded in 1999 by Alex Kronemer and Michael Wolfe with the objective of creating “peace through the media.”  Kronemer and Michael Wolfe produced the film with Rob Gardner as producer.  It features Academy-Award winner Susan Sarandon as the narrator who guides the viewer on a journey towards understanding Islamic art, its origins, inspirations, legacy and transcendental qualities.

Film Image from Islamic Art, Mirror of the Invisible World. Photo Credit: Gardner Films

The viewing experience attempted to be provided to the audience, according to Kronemer, is one which gives justice to “the whole breadth and depth of Islamic civilization.”  As Kronemer stated in an earlier interview, “When you take such an approach, you’re kind of reminded that the conflicts and the tensions that consume a particular time or place in history tend to be forgotten, and what remains, what endures, are the cultural productions.”

The documentary attempts to give greater awareness of the cultural contributions of an Islamic society whose image has been muddied in the West.  According to Kronemer, “Islam has become a caricature.  It is a caricature of [ticked-off] people who are just angry at the West and that’s it, that’s all we need to know.  But there are many different colored threads in the tapestry of Islamic identity, which Kronemer believes the film will show: “Besides the fact that there’s so much contemporary evidence to the contrary, the Islamic world is so large and so diverse, and I think that this film really shows the sensitivity and the sensuality that is a very big part of the Islamic story and serves in some ways to rebut the caricatures.”

You can see when Islamic Art, Mirror of the Invisible World will be showing by visiting the UPF website at http://www.islamicart.tv .

Senad Hadzic: A Refreshing Look at The Meaning of Hajj

Senad Hadzic is travelling over 3,600 miles to Hajj... BY FOOT!

“When I finish school, get a job and get married.”  “After I have settled down and have kids.”  “When my kids grow old or after I get that big promotion at work.”  These are some of the typical responses heard when the topic of Hajj, one of the five pillars of Islam, is broached.  In Islam, every able-bodied adult Muslim who can financially afford the trip must perform Hajj at least once in their lifetime.  For many caught up in the banality of a material world, there is an endless list of excuses as to why one can’t make Hajj.  For others, such as Senad Hadzic, all it took was a dream to start him on the journey of a lifetime – to walk to Hajj!  According to Hadzic, he saw a dream in which God told him to walk to Hajj.  As he says: “For all the riches in the world, I would never stop what I am doing.”

In order to reach Mecca for the Hajj in 2012, which begins at the end of October, Mr. Hadzic began walking in December 2011 from his home country of Bosnia Herzegovina.  The trek is arduous and totals 3,600 miles from Bosnia to Mecca.  To hear his audio interview with NPR’s The World, click here.

Above: With such an awesome hand drawn map like the one Senad Hadzic is using to get to Mecca, who needs Tom Tom?

Thus far he has crossed Serbia, spent 20 days waiting for permission to cross the Bosphorous Bridge from Europe into Asia, and has kept remarkable upbeat throughout his trip.  He travels with very little money, a backpack and a flag of every country he crosses through.  Hadzic says he has mostly been welcomed on his pilgrimage by strangers he meets:  “In one case, a professor in Serbia invited me to stay in his house. This Serbian professor, who was a Christian, told me that I was the first Muslim who had stepped in his house in his life. It was a great honor for me.”

To date, Hadzic has passed Istanbul, Turkey and has yet to cross a tumultous Syrian terrain, but Hadzic remains undettered.  He plans to wear a Syrian flag with the word “victory” on it while praying for the victims of the conflict.  “I’m not afraid of a tank or a bullet, only God. And then when I get to Makkah I will say a prayer for all of us.”

 

 

“The point, my friend, is learning the meaning of ‘thank you’. The poor people who live in the countryside love God and support me with generosity. The rich people in the cities love their ATMs,” says Hadzic.

My hat goes off to Mr. Hadzic.  Unlike the guy in all those commercials, who is just an actor, he really is one of the most interesting men in the world.

Rais Bhuiyan and The Power of Forgiveness

When Alexander Pope wrote “To err is human, to forgive divine” he probably didn’t imagine being shot in the face and left for dead as the act one would be forgiving.  Rais Bhuiyan, a Bangladeshi American, did exactly that, and in doing so turned an American tragedy into an opportunity to build bridges and heal. 

Shortly after the tragic events of 9/11, while working at a Dallas conveniene store, a masked man walked in and asked Mr. Bhuiyan where he was from.  Before he had an opportunity to answer, the man short him in the face with a shotgun.  His attacker was Mark Stroman, a white supremacist who believed he was taking revenge for the attacks of 9/11 on anyone he saw who appeared to be of middle eastern descent.  As a result of the attack, Mr. Bhuyan remains blinded in one eye and carries 35 shotgun pellets in his face.  At least two others, Vasudev Patel and Waqar Hasan, were killed by Mr. Stroman.

As Bhuyan told NPR:

I had to go through several surgeries and finally the doctor could save the eye, but the vision is gone, and I’m still carrying more than 35 pellets on the right side of my face. Once I touch my face, my skull, I can feel it’s all bumpy. It took several years to go through all these painful surgeries one after another one.

Despite the suffering Rais Bhuiyan and his family went through (his father suffered a stroke upon hearing of his son being shot), he found solace in the peace and forgiveness taught by his religion, Islam:

According to my faith in Islam, there is no hate, no killing. It doesn’t allow anything like that.  Yes, Mark Stroman did a horrible thing, and he brought a lot of pain and disaster, sufferings in my life. But in return I never hated him.

Rais Bhuiyan took what would have shattered the life of a lesser man and turned it into an opportunity to better the lives of those around him.  He established a website entitled World Without Hate in order to educate people about hate crimes and to prevent them.  He also works with Amnesty International and had worked with Mark Stroman’s defense team to try to thwart his execution, which took place on July 20, 2011.  Mr Bhuiyan says of his motivation: “My faith teaches me that saving a life is like saving the entire human race.” 

Bhuiyan was joined by the widows of Vasudev Patel and Waqar Hasan in forgiving Stroman.  Said Nadeem Hasan, brother in law of Waqar Hasan, “We decided to forgive him and want to give him a chance to be a better person.”

Bhuiyan’s efforts didn’t go to waste.  Before his execution, Mark Stroman seems to have changed his position:

I received a message that Rais loved me and that is powerful.  I want to thank him in person for his inspiring act of compassion. He has forgiven the unforgiveable and I want to tell him that I have a lot of love and respect him.

Mr. Stroman, who, according to court documents, suffered abuse and neglect as a child at the hands of his alcoholic parents, stated shortly before his death,  “It is due to Rais’ message of forgiveness that I am more content now than I have ever been.” 

Most recently, Rais Bhuiyan has been involved with the Islamic Circle of North America’s campaign, Defending Religious Freedom, and was named one of Esquire magazine’s Americans of the year for 2011.   

Islam is a religion of forgiveness.  One of the 99 names of Allah is Al-Ghafur (“The Forgiving”).  In a famous hadith Allah says:

O Son of Adam, so long as you call upon Me and ask of Me, I shall forgive you for what you have done, and I shall not mind. O Son of Adam, were your sins to reach the clouds of the sky and were you then to ask forgiveness of Me, I would forgive you. O Son of Adam, were you to come to Me with sins as great as the earth, and were you then to face Me ascribing no partners to Me, I would bring you forgiveness nearly as great as it.

A Campaign to Restore Shariah Law’s Good Name

Recently, Shariah (Islamic law) has received a bad rep in America, and the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) wants to change that.  ICNA is kicking off its Defending Religious Freedom campaign on Monday in order to create a better understanding of shariah law and to dispel common misunderstandings.  ICNA says its campaign is aimed at “educating Americans” on what it says is the noble meaning of Sharia through conferences, billboards, and TV and radio PSAs.”  The main website for ICNA’s Defending Religious Freedom campaign is here.  ICNA has also launched a nationwide toll-free hotline to answer peoples’ questions on shariah, which is 1-855-SHARIAH.

Shariah law is the code by which over a billion Muslims around the world try to govern their lives.  Its subject area ranges from dietary requirements to marriage and funeral rites.  To many American conservatives, however, shariah law has come to denote a threat to American law.  As Zahid Bukhari, president of Islamic Circle of North America, stated to CNN, “Some politicians like to abuse the word in this national spotlight they have.  They are trying to make it a dirty word.”

There have been many states that have proposed or passed “Anti-Shariah” laws.  In 2010, Oklahoma passed a ban that specifically mentioned shariah, and was later blocked by a federal court for review of its singling out Islamic law.  However, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, there are 40 such bills being considered in 24 states.  Most recently, Florida joined the ranks of states like Louisiana, Arizona, and Tennessee in banning the use of any foreign law in the United States.  Although it did not mention shariah law, it was understood to be the inspiration behind the law.

The fact that these laws are based upon nothing more than fearmongering is highlighted by the fact that the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution of the United States already establishes the US Constitution as the law of the land.  There is no movement to establish a Caliphate in the United States.  People just want to enjoy their right to freedom of religion, as protected by the 1st amendment of the Constitution.

Many organizations have lended their voice to the battle against the ignorance behind the anti-shariah movement.  Amongst them, is the Council of American Islamic Relations (CAIR).  On its website, CAIR asks for people of conscience to contact law makers in South Dakota to oppose House Bill 1253, which Roger Hunt (R-10) admitted is aimed at shariah law.  The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has also spoken out against the unconstitutionality of laws that aim to ban shariah law.  Their website can be seen here.  The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), known for its defense of Jewish rights, has also lent its voice to those opposing the anti-sharia laws.  The fear, according to Andrew Rosencranz, regional director of the ADL in Florida, is that “this legislation would actually jeopardize the religious freedom of Floridians.”  Jewish people, like Muslims, follow their respective religious laws in matters such as marriage.  Anti-sharia bills such as the one that just passed in Florida would make that practically impossible under the law.

They say hate is built upon fear and one always fears what they don’t know.  As Salam Marayati, president of the Muslim Public Affairs Council, told the New York Times, “The fact is there is no Shariah takeover in America.  It’s purely a political wedge to create fear and hysteria.”

Where did all this fear come from?  A sinister, evil-minded man who wants nothing more than to destroy Islam in America, even at the expense of everyones’ civil liberties?  Well… you can decide for yourself.  His name is David Yerushalmi.  According to the NY Times, he is a a “56-year-old Hasidic Jew with a history of controversial statements about race, immigration and Islam. Despite his lack of formal training in Islamic law, Mr. Yerushalmi has come to exercise a striking influence over American public discourse about Shariah.”

According to CAIR’s website, Yerushalmi is also the head of the anti-Islam hate group Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE), which on its now password-protected website offered a policy proposal that would make “adherence to Islam” punishable by 20 years in prison, called for the immediate deportation of all non-citizen Muslims and urged Congress to declare war on the “Muslim Nation,” which SANE defined as “all Muslims.”  Yerushalmi isn’t alone either.  He has a gang.

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If a nation expects to be both ignorant and free, it expects what never was and never will be.  President Thomas Jefferson.