Monthly Archives: September 2007

Arabic not dangerous to America, but Arabic illiteracy dangerous to Muslims

By Corey Habbas

This month, the Arabic language came under attack when Debbie Almontaser, principal of the Khalil Gibran International Academy, New York’s first public school that integrates Arabic language and cultural studies with a public school curriculum, explained that the English translation for the word “intifada,” literally means to “shake off.” Almontaser had been asked to explain a word on the T-shirts circulated by the AWAAM (Arab Women Active in the Arts and Media), a Brooklyn-based organization that empowers girls and women.

To the people who wear the T-shirts inscribed with “Intifada NYC,” it is a non-violent term that the AWAAM internalizes to mean a nonviolent shaking-off of pressures related to prejudice.

“I feel, as an Arab woman, as a Muslim woman and as a woman of color, pressure from two sides,” says Mona ElDahry, co-founder of AWAAM, in an August 2007 interview with Amy Goodman of Democracy Now!

In the interview, Mona ElDahry describes the first pressure as the prejudice faced by Muslims and Arabs in the streets. The second pressure, she says, is when youth go home to their families, especially after the September 11 tragedy, and are told that they must hide their heritage, their language and remain silent about political issues.

Khalil Gibran International Academy has no affiliation with the AWAAM. But simply for explaining the meaning of an Arabic word, Almonaster and her school were attacked. In the same interview, activist and educator Paula Hajar comments, “It’s tragic that they attack the language the way they do.” Hajar notes how Arabic terms are frequently twisted and misinterpreted. “…the [Arabic] word for a school is madrasah, and they use it as an epithet, you know, that this was going to be a madrasah, meaning [to those who were against the school] a training ground for jihadists…” Hajar, who still hopes to see the new school open, expresses, “’s kind of tragic for all of us to see our culture peeled away this way and trashed, really.”

The attack on Khalil Gibran International Academy is one of the most recent examples of America’s fear of the Arabic language, but it is only one of numerous examples throughout the nation.

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Why we fast

By Elias Karmi

The month of Ramadan is when Muslims worldwide are required to fast, meaning to refrain completely from eating and drinking from dawn to sunset. It is also a month when Muslims perform more worship than they would during the rest of the year: praying more at night, reading more Qur’an, giving more in charity, etc.

A question that I hear frequently from my Minnesotan colleagues is: “Why do you do that?” – meaning, why do we fast. To Muslims, God’s order to fast is more than enough reason to do it, regardless of its health benefits that have been revealed over the years. But the question carries an interesting subtlety. The way the question is verbalized and the body language used suggest my colleagues are really asking: “Why do you have to make yourself suffer so much?” or “Why do you have to put yourself through this for a whole month?”

Looking deeper into the question, it is not the act of fasting itself that fascinates Americans; the principle of fasting is well established in several religions. Rather, it is the humility it takes for someone to submit, to the degree that fasting for a month per year becomes normal. To someone looking from the outside, it would appear as if Muslims are subjecting themselves to something they should refuse.
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