Muslims, Jews Break Bread at "Iftaar in the Synagogue"

Ignorance is the real enemy, and in an effort to mend fences and grow relationships Muslims and Jews in Chicago have been part of the Jewish-Muslim Community Building Initiative for several years now.

Ramadan is the holy month when Muslims fast and abstain from eating or drinking anything (and from marital relations) from pre-dawn hours to dusk. Iftar is the Arabic word for the meal Muslims have as they break their fast during Ramadan. It was the month that the Holy Quran, was first revealed to the Prophet Mohammed.

Ramadan is an opportune time to share one's traditions, especially inter-faith efforts. On September 13, the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs and Anshe Shalom Bnai Israel Congregation are hosting 'Iftar in the Synagogue,' where they will play host to Chicago’s Muslims and Jews in a communal iftar for an evening of what both traditions do best: eating, praying, discussing and schmoozing in a unique interfaith setting.

Complete Story on Huffington Post.

Palestinian and Israeli Teens Talk Peace in Chicago

Although Israelis and Palestinians have been meeting and communicating at a grassroots level to better understand one another and work toward a more peaceful future, the initiatives that bring them together do not receive the recognition that they deserve. Until a comprehensive solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is found, these grassroots initiatives remain vitally important.

One of these initiatives is Hands of Peace, which began in spring 2002 when Gretchen Grad and Deanna Jacobson, a Christian and Jew living in Northbrook, Illinois, began talking about how glad they were that their children were growing up with peers of different faiths. The two neighbors had a vision to spread intercultural understanding beyond their own neighborhood and foster it in youth from the Middle East.

With the help of Nuha Dabbouseh, a member of the local Islamic Cultural Center (ICC), Gretchen and Deanna secured sponsorship from Glenview Community Church, B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim (BJBE), a Reform Jewish congregation, and the ICC, as well as the support of individual donors and local businesses.

Originally published by Common Ground News Service. Read complete Story.

Why Muslims Want The Community Center in Lower Manhattan

I've read more than my share of news reports that claim that Muslims don't denounce terrorism. We do, but those pronouncements really don't make for riveting news. After all, what bleeds leads. And why wouldn't we denounce terrorism? Muslims died in the 9/11 attacks, and they are murdered by terrorists during embassy bombings and suicide bombings. We are looked on with suspicion at every airport, and often have spent grueling hours explaining to immigration why our names are, unjustifiably, on a no-fly list.

So the next best thing, or perhaps the very best thing, is for Muslims to actually mingle with their neighbors and get people to know them on a personal level. The better people know each other, the more commonalities they discover, and the more their common humanity unites them. Wouldn't it make sense that the reverse would also be true, that those who made the effort to reach out to Muslims would be able to understand what we are really about, rather than have only stereotypes to depend on?

To foster just such opportunities is the goal of the proposed Muslim community centre in Lower Manhattan, originally called Cordoba House and now called Park51. When asked if he'd have done anything differently over the many years he'd worked on the Middle East peace process, Ambassador Dennis Ross, a veteran U.S. Department State negotiator, answered, "More person-to-person contact."

So why the hate and the vitriol against the Muslim community center? Don't people believe Muslims have a right to honor the memory of those lost to 9/11, just as any other American? Or is the very idea scary, that getting to know Muslims up close and personal will threaten closely nurtured prejudices?

Yes, even as New York City wisely allows for the Muslim community center's construction, the flood gates of hate against Muslims have been opened. I dread to think of the backlash, both verbal and physical, our community may receive in the face of this, in the coming days.

The irony of the situation doesn't escape Josh Stanton, editor of the Journal of Inter-Religious Dialogue:

In spite of Park51's clear value to the city and its citizens, its location several blocks from Ground Zero has prompted protests that aim to keep some Muslim Americans from practicing their faith in freedom and peace, and from opening their doors in a truly American way to welcome guests from all faith traditions.

The terrible irony is that under the guise of fighting extremism, some critics of Park51 are unwittingly furthering the agenda of the terrorists who attacked us so viciously on 9/11. The terrorists wanted us to be afraid. They wanted us to put our rights in jeopardy. They wanted us to believe that not all religions are welcome in America. They wanted us to undo ourselves by debasing our own principles.

Although the First Amendment of the US Constitution makes clear that "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof", it is ultimately up to American citizens to ensure that the principles enshrined in the Constitution are applied in full. When a religious group, in writ or practice, is kept from establishing a gathering place for the community, those ideals are undermined.

The protests against Park51 are all the more severe, as they undermine the freedom of a religious community seeking not only to build a gathering place for itself, but to provide a space that is open to Americans of all faiths.
Yes, it's a space that will honor Islam and inter-faith learning. It will help us get to know each other better. Can we please give it a chance?

Chicago Muslim Photographer Guest at White House

Mrs. Sadaf Syed, a native Californian who now lives in Illinois, has photographed American Muslim women who wear the hijab, or head covering. The result is a stunning coffee table book that has caught the attention of none other than President Obama.

On August 13, 2010 Obama recognized both Mrs. Syed and iCover: A Day in the Life of a Muslim-American COVERed Girl in a White House ceremony. Both the first and second editions of the coffee table book, which were printed as limited editions, sold out within months of being published.

"To be honored by the President of United States reconfirms the value of iCOVER," said Syed. "It's uplifting and yet a humbling feeling to be invited to the White House. (The invitation) itself, is a very American thing!"

"Over the last four years, I've traveled across the country to photograph Muslim women who cover their hair. The intention was to showcase what it means to be a Muslim-American woman," Syed said. "Piecing together these photographs and quotes from the women I met, I self-published this unique coffee table book celebrating Muslim women in America."

In doing so Syed, a photojournalist and portrait photographer with a degree in communications and photojournalism from California State University at Fullerton, has been on her own journey of self-discovery -- one that has lead to the White House.

Mrs. Syed captures moments in the day-to-day lives of Muslim women, moments that the average American can relate to once they embrace the fact that these ladies cover their hair. The accompanying photo captions and personal quotes add another dimension to the women's lives. You hear the voices of a dancer, a surfer-girl, a biker, a tri-athlete and even a boxer and touch their thoughts, dreams, struggles and fears. With each page, a stereotype is shattered and the misunderstandings that surround the female followers of a faith of 1.3 billion, diminish.

iCOVER has garnered significant publicity both domestically and internationally. It has been endorsed by artists and journalists alike. The book is available at

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Open Letter to Pastor Terry Jones Re: Burn Quran Day

I think Pastor Terry Jones, leader of the miniscule, 50-member, extreme right-wing Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, and brain behind "International Burn a Koran Day," was out for some cheap publicity at the cost of being totally un-American, unpatriotic and un-Christian. Just ask Hillary Clinton and Gen. David Petraeus. They've said the move places American troops abroad in harm's way and have called it "outrageous," "disgraceful," and un-American. I'd add "ignorant" to those qualifiers, considering he hasn't opened the Quran once and doesn't even know what it says.

"If there's any good to come from this, may it be a wake up call to all Americans to see the insanity and danger of prejudice and ignorance," says Jonathan D. Scott, author of The Woman in the Wilderness, a historical novel about the search for religious freedom in pre-colonial America. "American government was virtually founded on the principle of religious freedom and tolerance, and to deny that is to deny one's patriotism and birthright."

"International Burn a Koran Day" is scheduled for September 11, to "warn Americans about the dangers of Islam." A reader, Aisha Kureishy, sent me a letter that she has written to the pastor. Her words echo my sentiments, so I've reproduced it below:

"Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you" (Colossians 3:13).

"Be quick in the race for forgiveness from your Lord, and in the race for a garden wide as the heavens and the earth, prepared for the righteous -- [the righteous are] those who spend whether in prosperity or adversity, who restrain anger and who pardon all people. For God loves those who do good" (Quran, 3:133-134).

Dear Dr. Terry Jones,

I write this letter as a message of peace. I am an ordinary woman, a loving mother, and most importantly, a caring American Muslim. My voice may be tiny and distant, but it is not weak or insignificant.

Dr. Jones, the world is shocked to know about your magnitude of unawareness towards Islam and its Holy Book Quran. Muslims have been deeply hurt by your ignoble and sordid plan to burn the Holy Quran on September 11, 2010, in honor and remembrance of all the people who lost their lives that day. There were also Muslims in the Twin Towers also who died that day. You will not be honoring them or any non-Muslim, for that matter, by burning a sacred text.

The Holy Quran belongs to all the Muslims of the world just like the Holy Bible belongs to all the Christians of the world and not just some of them. Such a relentless statement to punish the Muslims by burning their Holy Book indicates deliberate disrespectfulness towards a sacred text. You said in your CNN interview that you are a devout Christian and a true American, but your September 11th demonstration does not prove you to be either. Indeed your Dove institute will be reflecting its true colors to the world by rendering such heart-breaking activities. In this act you will be leading the nation towards intolerance. Instead, I hope this act raises people's curiosity about the Quran and leads them to the Truth that it is.

You claim that Quran is a book of the devil and deception. However, Quran discusses numerous Prophets of Judaism and Christianity such as Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jacob, Joseph, Lot, Isaac, John and even Jesus to name a few. Unfortunately neither the Torah nor the Bible recognizes the Quran as the last Book of God. However, the Quran unquestionably authenticates the revelations of both predecessor books. If you still choose to burn the Holy Quran, I would kindly ask you to at least be respectful by removing all of Quran pages that also mention any Prophets of the Bible. In fact you should definitely remove the pages that mention Jesus, Mary and Angel Gabriel. The entire Chapter 19 of the Quran is titled and based on the Virgin Mary. She is our mother too. With such strong similarities in our faiths, would you consider Christianity "from the devil" as well then?

In the Quran, God declared and promised that His message will not be altered, and that it is an eternal message affirmed onto His creation. The Quran is a miraculous Book that calms the disturbed mind, mends a broken heart, purifies a corrupt body and relaxes a disturbed soul with lessons of compassion, faith, patience, hope and forgiveness and respect for all.

Islam presently is the second largest religion in the world. Despite being regularly ridiculed by false accusations and speculations heightened by the media, it continues to grow rapidly. Islam is an authentic religion that gives precise answers and states detailed facts in its Holy Book for the reader. It was revealed as the last book after the Bible from God to the last Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, through Angel Gabriel.

Dr. Jones, burning the Quran may give you and your flock temporary satisfaction, but that will deepen the wounds of all American Muslims post 9/11. Even after nine years, Muslims still face discrimination and hate crimes. For example, Mr. Ahmed Sharif in New York was recently stabbed, a Muslim woman with a headscarf from Dallas was shot in the throat and paralyzed, another Californian Muslim woman was shot while walking her toddler, and Farhan Khan from Allen, Texas, was tortured and murdered by two men in a park. These are just to name a few. The American Muslims are trying very hard to mend all broken hearts since 9/11, but your atrocious act will certainly ruin any progress that has been made thus far.

Peace is never acquired through hatred and humiliation of people's religions or their sacred texts. Someone of your stature and omnipresence must overcome all the misunderstandings towards Islam and Muslims. As a devout Christian, you can set a global example of respect, tolerance and forgiveness to be emulated by the people. Choose love over hate and forgiveness over punishment. I hope that you will find my request to be the most humble and sincere.

Aisha Kureishy
Really, Pastor Terry Jones? What would Jesus do?

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See You at the American Muslim Consumer Conference

The American Muslim Consumer Conference broke ground last year with a conference that was titled "American Muslim Consumer: Who? What? Where?" and drew a crowd of over 250 participants. This year they are back, and I hope to be one of the attendees. The conference is a platform for industry professionals to examine the American Muslim market sector and explore its rich potential. This year's conference is titled "Charting the Landscape."

According to Zogby International, there are approximately 7 million American Muslims living in the United States (or 9 Million, according to IFANCA), with an estimated buying power of $170 billion. The American Muslim Consumer Conference focuses on promoting dialog and raising awareness of this multicultural niche where many mainstream companies are now seeing a growing opportunity.

In a recent interview on CNBC's Street Signs titled "Muslims & Their Money," Mostapha Saout, CEO of Allied Media Corp., highlighted why big business should focus their attention on the American Muslim market. The Muslim demographic is relatively younger, with 89.3 percent below the age of 50, compared with 45.2 percent for the general population. They are also well educated, with 77.9 percent having a Bachelor's degree or higher as opposed to 43.7 for everyone else. This translates to a very affluent niche market, with 44 percent of American Muslims earning $75,000 or higher each year.

There are several companies globally that are starting to take notice of this untapped market with abundant opportunities across all industries, including the financial sector, food, fashion and even Hollywood. Ogilvy & Mather, a leading international advertising, marketing and public relations agency, has launched Ogilvy Noor, the world's first marketing consultancy service focused on Islamic branding practices.

John Goodman, Ogilvy & Mather's regional director for South and Southeast Asia, puts it into perspective: "It's like being in 1990 and telling people that China doesn't matter. Twenty years ago you might have said that, but now you're being foolish."

Miles Young, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, will be the keynote speaker at the second annual American Muslim Consumer Conference. He stresses the strategic value of the Muslim consumer: "A market of 1.8 billion people that has scarcely been tapped, Muslim consumers offer enormous potential to businesses around the world -- but only if their values are fully understood."

To be held at the Hyatt Regency in New Brunswick, New Jersey on Saturday, October 30th 2010, the show promises to be as important to multinational companies as it is to large- and small-scale entrepreneurs.

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Neither This Nor That By Aliya Husain

Filling a gaping void in the world of American young adult literature, Neither This Nor That explores the struggles of an American Muslim girl living in the United States. The novel, written by Chicago author, Aliya Husain offers American Muslim youth a fiction novel that they can relate to in more ways than one. Neither This Nor That enters the young adult literature market, bringing to light many difficulties that American Muslim youth and children of immigrants face while acclimating to life in the United States.

This is a novel about Fatima, a young American Muslim whose parents immigrated to the US from India in the 1970's. Although she was born in the USA, Fatima isn't quite sure if she completely belongs. Her Desi upbringing combined with her Islamic morals, seem to be at odds with everything around her. She is Neither This Nor That.

"I felt that there was a need for our youth to read a book that they could relate to and realize that they are not alone," says Lisle, IL resident and author, Aliya Husain. "It seems like almost all other youth have some literary outlet to turn to when they want to read about any subject of interest or topics that relate to their people. The American Muslim youth haven't been given that same attention even though there is a dire need in our community for it."

The story is set in the pre-9/11 era. Challenges such as those the protagonist, Fatima, faces have gotten exponentially more difficult for Muslim youth now. "Fatima faces the same struggles that almost all American Muslim youth face. In the 70's and 80's these included culture classes and ideological differences in faith. Now our youth must deal with outright slander and character assassination simply because they are Muslim," says Ms. Husain.

The book is intended to help American Muslim youth deal with just such dilemmas. It shows them a way to come to terms with all of their identities without becoming an apologetic Muslim. It helps them build confidence and pride in their Muslim identity. According to Husain, "For the average American youth, this book opens their eyes to what is going in within the head of an American Muslim teen. It lets them see what types of struggles the Muslim boy or girl down the street may face. I think they will be very surprised to find out how similar Muslims are to all other youth."

Ms. Husain identifies in more ways than one with the protagonist. "I was born and raised in Morrisville, PA so I've lived Fatima's life and know how Muslim American youth feel. My family is originally from Hyderabad, India and there was a very strong cultural influence in our home. But we knew that our faith was different than our culture and, in our home, faith superseded all. This indoctrination of faith really helped us through all of the difficulties we faced at school and with our non Muslim friends. I am blessed with a very sensible father who guided me with tremendous wisdom . And of course, the prayers of my mother are the reason we made it through adolescence in this society without losing our identity."

"Till now there were hardly any Young adult novels that reflect the American Muslim population," she elaborates. It was this void that Ms. Husain set out to fill by writing Neither This nor That. Read it to discover what will become of a feisty young girl who struggles to find who she truly is...

Neither This Nor That is now available on . For speaking engagements contact

Here at Last !

Sheer exhilaration! I couldn't summarize my feelings better as I drove home from the MSc orientation. This was the first day of the beginning of my new life and a turn in the road that I had wanted and waited for, for 14 years. Somewhere between career, finances and young children, my Masters degree, had been put aside for another day. Sept 16th, 2010 - it was finally here. One of the first things that struck me were the variety of backgrounds that students were from. I realized that I was going to learn much more than I had anticipated - from them as much as from professors. The other reason I knew I was in just the right place was because the students actually communicated with each other. As a consultant who works virtually, I don't necessarily work with people face to face or even within the communications industry. Being able to share real time, and find both common ground and divergent thinking ... in real time, is a welcome relief. So many windows to so many minds. On the first day of class, I saw more of those exchanges. Discussions and questions were encouraged. We were reminded repeatedly that we were adult learners and the onus was on us to get out of the class as much as we wanted. I was particularly surprised to find an almost "spiritual", "get into the mind and heart" approach to the Decision Making and Leadership class. Would it work in real life, I emailed Professor Arnston. On the home front, I cannot believe how organized I've become - I juggle time better. I actually like doing my assignments and want to give it my best to get to my reading and writing sooner rather than later. Yes, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step and I believe, God willing, that I have taken mine in the right direction.

Questioning Theories

This week's readings were on "How to Motivate Your Problem People" and "the Tools of Cooperation and Change." “Culture is a pattern of shared assumptions that was learned by a group as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough ….to be taught … as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to those problems.” This is a quote from "The Tools of Cooperation and Change". According to the author, corporate culture is created as a result of the repeated use of successful approaches to a problem. I had instead assumed the opposite - that vision and culture molded the problem solving approaches taken. Here is the definition of the Google Culture: “.. we still maintain a small company feel. Our commitment to innovation depends on everyone being comfortable sharing ideas and opinions. Every employee is a hands-on contributor, and everyone wears several hats. Because we believe that each Googler is an equally important part of our success, no one hesitates to pose questions directly to Larry or Sergey in our weekly all-hands (“TGIF”) meetings.” Based on this nugget, wouldn't one think that companies first determine a vision, and a culture, and that in turn influences the problem solving approaches chosen. 2) “Behind most cynics is a frustrated idealist,” “a paradigm shift” or “walk in the other’s shoes” seems to summarize Nicholson’s approach in "How to Motivate Your Problem People". While his suggestions are theoretically good, I wonder if they can be executed with success given the human element involved? For instance, how often have members in a family been able to resolve new or existing issues with siblings or parents, if they've had a tenuous relationship to begin with? I doubt a work situation can be any easier. Nicholson even suggests that bosses ask around to get insights into any personal matters that may be affecting an employees work habits. Errr..How much trust would be left if an employee were to discover that their boss had been asking questions about their personal issues, from co-workers? I'd love to read actual case studies about situations where these author's recommended theories were used successfully. Any thoughts, folks ?

"8 Ways to Build Collaborative Teams" Inspires

The Decision Making and Leadership readings are invariably a mixed bag. They are meant to be. Last week's read "Eight Ways to Build Collaborative Teams" was inspiring and authentic in more ways than one. The study looked at huge companies with truly large, diverse, far flung teams to make its case. In taking seemingly ‘too big’ companies as case studies, it was able to drive home the point that if collaborative efforts and team spirit could be fostered here, it surely could be done with relatively smaller teams and relatively smaller companies. Having worked extensively in a virtual environment myself, every point made by the authors rang true. Face-to-Face interaction, even small doses of it at regular intervals, can make all the difference. Most employees can recognize at least a few of these "tips" playing out at their own companies, no matter the industry or organization’s size. From open floor plans to offices campuses that mimic a town to HR sponsored events where employees can socialize to job rotation - these concrete ideas can be emulated or inspire variations. Google, in fact, shares some of these very features. Those in upper management, including the founders, are always accessible to answer questions and have conversations, fostering a sense of “ we are all in this together”. Further, its offices are on "college like-campuses", with plenty of room for social interaction. A local family owned business, that a member of my family works for, fosters this ‘we’re all family” feeling. Come Thanksgiving, all employees receive a check for a turkey purchase, in "thanks". At its annual Holiday Party, the keynote address and annual overview of the company's doings are delivered by a sprightly old lady. She is the grand-mother of the current Company President and the grand-daughter of the original founder of the company. There certainly were benefits from HR investing in relationships, for all the reasons listed in this article. My favorite examples though were Nokia and BP’s job rotation initiative. Job Rotation at BP probably fostered collaboration because it is easier to see another’s perspective ( and empathize with their challenges) if you’ve been in their shoes at some stage. Also, imagine the dollars, time and opportunities salvaged when Nokia’s mentors not only point out whom new employees should build relationships with, but facilitate those interactions with paid time/ travel, and information as to what one can discuss with the other. Truly some very cool ideas!

It's All Coming Together

I didn't think there would be a time within the first quarter itself where I'd piece together insights from the various readings, into one big picture. With my last reading for Leadership that milestone has been reached! Surprise, Surprise! “Effectiveness can be learned and must be learned,” says Peter Drucker, as his concluding statement in What Makes an Effective Leader. That opinion is loaded with hope and his article effectively outlines ways to make that goal a reality. He breaks down the traits that he believes comprise an effective leader into their various components so that you aren’t just being told to “Take Responsibility for Communicating” or “Make Meetings Productive” but are also told what specific actions must be taken to achieve those ends. His approach seemed to take a page out of our previous reading, ….Meaningful Feedback by Sloan Weitzel, which advocated that feedback is meaningful only if behaviors and attitudes are dissected into their components and then shared. His point about effective managers focusing on opportunities rather than problems was also reminiscent of "The Art of Appreciative Inquiry" which emphasizes focusing on what’s going well and unleashing energy to achieve the various possibilities. From ‘Effective Meetings’ to ‘Taking Responsibility for Decisions’ to Knowledge Sharing, Drucker wisely chooses to address the most likely ‘bumps’ to be encountered, irrespective of the size or industry of an organization. What he leaves out, whether it’s about formal procedures for group decision making or pertaining to the psychology of people, have been covered in "Why It’s So Hard to Be Fair" and the other readings we have done so far. While Collins’ findings on Level 5 Leadership may not resonate with every reader, it does seem plausible that a leader who doesn’t seek to hog the limelight, distributes credit to his team for successes and looks to himself when there are failures, could be an effective leader. When you distribute credit to others you are, in effect, bolstering their own sense of pride in their work. The resulting impact could be similar to that experienced by staffers when appreciative inquiry is employed. When you are looking inward and holding yourself responsible for failures, it goes back to the ideas espoused by Senge, to first evaluate how our actions and choices may affect the choices and actions of others, rather than holding them responsible, by default, for things gone awry. Together, the selection of articles complement each other well. All in all, an insightful read for those beginning to look at organizations and their inner workings.