Category Archives: Islamic Scholarship

Tending to Muslim Hearts and Islam’s Future – Part III

Part III of “An Imam in America” series by the NY Times.

Part I can be found here.
Part II can be found here.


PART III

March 7, 2006
An Imam in America
Tending to Muslim Hearts and Islam’s Future
By Andrea Elliott

The young Egyptian professional could pass for any New York bachelor.

Dressed in a crisp polo shirt and swathed in cologne, he races his Nissan Maxima through the rain-slicked streets of Manhattan, late for a date with a tall brunette. At red lights, he fusses with his hair.

What sets the bachelor apart from other young men on the make is the chaperon sitting next to him — a tall, bearded man in a white robe and stiff embroidered hat.

“I pray that Allah will bring this couple together,” the man, Sheik Reda Shata, says, clutching his seat belt and urging the bachelor to slow down.

Christian singles have coffee hour. Young Jews have JDate. But many Muslims believe that it is forbidden for an unmarried man and woman to meet in private. In predominantly Muslim countries, the job of making introductions and even arranging marriages typically falls to a vast network of family and friends.

In Brooklyn, there is Mr. Shata.

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Filed under Islam, Islam & Modernity, Islamic Scholarship, Muslims, U.S.

To Lead the Faithful in a Faith Under Fire – Part II

Part II of “An Imam in America” series by the NY Times.
Part I can be found here.
Part III can be found here.


PART II

James Estrin/The New York Times
Sheik Reda Shata begins a seminar in cultural sensitivity at the 68th Precinct in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Through these kinds of efforts, the imam hopes to foster better understanding between law enforcement and his fellow Muslims.

March 6, 2006
An Imam in America
To Lead the Faithful in a Faith Under Fire
By Andrea Elliott

The F.B.I. agent and the imam sat across a long wooden table at a Brooklyn youth center last August.

Would the imam, the agent asked, report anyone who seemed prone to terrorism?

Sheik Reda Shata leaned back in his chair and studied the agent. Nearly a year had passed since the authorities had charged two young men, one of whom prayed at Mr. Shata’s mosque, with plotting to blow up the Herald Square subway station in Manhattan.

The mosque had come under siege. Television news trucks circled the block. Threats were made. The imam’s congregants became angry themselves after learning that a police informer had spent months in their midst.

At the meeting, the imam chose his words carefully. It is not only the F.B.I. that wants to stop terrorism, he answered; Muslims also care about keeping the country safe.

“I would turn him in to you,” Mr. Shata finally said, pointing his finger at the agent, Mark J. Mershon, the top F.B.I. official in New York City. “But not because I am afraid of you.”

The moment captured one of the enduring challenges for an imam in America: living at the center of a religion under watch.

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Filed under Islam, Islam & Modernity, Islamic Scholarship, Muslims, U.S.

A Muslim Leader in Brooklyn, Reconciling 2 Worlds – Part I

The NY Times has recently come out with a 3-part series on Reda Shata, an Imam at the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, New York. The following 3 posts will contain each part of the series. The links to the NYT articles contain interactive media, video, and photographs.

 


Part II can be found here.
Part III can be found here.


PART I

James Estrin/The New York Times

March 5, 2006
An Imam in America
A Muslim Leader In Brooklyn, Reconciling 2 Worlds
By Andrea Elliott

The imam begins his trek before dawn, his long robe billowing like a ghost through empty streets. In this dark, quiet hour, his thoughts sometimes drift back to the Egyptian farming village where he was born.

But as the sun rises over Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, Sheik Reda Shata’s new world comes to life. The R train rattles beneath a littered stretch of sidewalk, where Mexican workers huddle in the cold. An electric Santa dances in a doughnut shop window. Neon signs beckon. Gypsy cabs blare their horns.

The imam slips into a plain brick building, nothing like the golden-domed mosque of his youth. He stops to pray, and then climbs the cracked linoleum steps to his cluttered office. The answering machine blinks frantically, a portent of the endless questions to come.

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Filed under Islam, Islam & Modernity, Islamic Scholarship, Muslims, U.S.

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Lawful and Unlawful

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Al-Azhar University: In the Heart of Muslim Belief

Al-Azhar University in Cairo: In the Heart of Muslim BeliefIf an extended conflict between the West and Islam is to be avoided, who should the West speak to in the Muslim world? Nobody officially. But inofficially, the ancient and respected al-Azhar University in Cairo would be a good place to start.


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What’s With All the Blind Clerics?

the blind bomber. Click image to expand.
Omar Abdel Rahman: the blind bomber

For those not familiar with the online magazine Slate (you’re missing out by the way), they have an “Explainer” section in which readers submit questions from a wide range of subjects; the most recent questions have focused on Ben Franklin’s birthday to the U.S. missile strike in Pakistan. This time, the focused on why there are so many blind ‘ulama in the Muslim world and also provided a list of some blind contemporary clerics.


What’s With All the Blind Clerics?
Vision and the Muslim world.
By Daniel Engber
Posted Friday, Jan. 20, 2006, at 7:30 PM ET

The Muslim cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri denied preaching racial hatred in a British courtroom on Thursday. Al-Masri has been linked to the would-be shoe-bomber Richard Reid and stands accused of starting a terrorist training camp in Oregon. Most news reports also mention that al-Masri has only one eye and no hands. It seems like we’re always hearing about blind or half-blind Muslim clerics—what’s the deal?There is a pattern of the blind leading the not-blind in modern Islam. (For an annotated list of some important blind clerics, check out this sidebar.) A traditional Muslim education in some ways favors the blind, since it proceeds largely through the repetition and memorization of sacred texts. Children chant Quranic verses until they know them by heart; those who learn the whole book often receive advanced religious training. Blind kids—who often make up for their disability with a finely tuned sense of hearing—tend to do quite well at this. Continue reading

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The Mufti of Egypt

The Egyptian publication Al-Ahram profiled Ali Gomaa in its 2001 issue. Though now four years old the article is informative. The article leaves a bit to be desired but nonetheless offers an interesting portrait of one of the most influential modern Islamic scholars and now the Mufti of Egypt.
There is — naturally — a certain aura about Al- Azhar, and a certain majesty. It was a Thursday morning when we went and were guided quite quickly to “Doctor Ali’s lesson.” It could have been a scene out of the middle ages. Al-Maqrizi could have written this. Across the spotless white marble we entered the doctor’s riwaq (gallery). The lesson was already underway, Sheikh Ali Gomaa sitting with his legs up, knees bent, on a large traditional chair, his back to a wall and his students around him in a semi-circle, a halaqa, the men closer to him, the women discreetly at the back. They came in different colours, the students, in different costumes, from various corners of the globe, extremely young and middle-aged, traditionally-dressed, Westernised, you name it. We took our places amongst the women, at the back — of course. All around the riwaq are bookcases laden with hard-backed volumes of the canons of jurisprudence. This was a lesson in economics, out of Al-Suyuti.

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