Reporting on Islam

Muslims approach the Ka'aba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, during Eid al-Adha. Photo courtesy of Elias Pirasteh via Flickr
Muslims approach the Ka’aba in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, during Eid al-Adha. Photo courtesy of Elias Pirasteh via Flickr

While nearly 1 in four people identify as Muslim across the globe, a Pew Research survey in 2019 found that only six-in-ten U.S. adults know that Ramadan is an Islamic holy month and that Mecca is Islam’s holiest city and a place of pilgrimage for Muslims. 

Since the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. Muslim population has grown and media coverage of Islam diversified, but it many U.S. adults “know little about Islam or Muslims, and views toward Muslims have become increasingly polarized along political lines” according to another Pew survey in 2021. 

Meanwhile, the media remain one of the biggest influences on the perception of Muslims in the public sphere. What media communicate reflects and reinforces popular perceptions of Islam and Muslims, in turn shaping related political, legal, social, and economic decisions.

In other words, how Muslims are portrayed in the media matters. Research shows that there is a causal link between rhetoric, tone of coverage, and public perception with policy preferences, political outcomes, and potentially violent acts against minority groups. 

And yet, study after study shows that over the past few decades, coverage of Muslims in U.S. (and global) media has been decidedly negative. 

Therefore, coverage of Islam and its adherents is a critical issue for journalists to consider. This guide provides reporters, commentators and analysts with background information on Islam and a brief guide to covering Muslims, with a specific focus on the U.S.

Background

Islam Reporting Guide Infographic

The world of Islam

Islam is the second-largest religion in the world. Muslim majority countries extend from North Africa to Southeast Asia and there are minority populations across the world, from Chile to Chechnya, New Zealand to Newfoundland

Islam is also associated with two other monotheistic religions — Muslims, Jews and Christians all believe in one God, whom Muslims refer to as Allah (“the God”). Muslims believe that Allah revealed the Quran to his chosen messenger, the Prophet Muhammad, in the form of the Quran. The word “Islam” is derived from the Arabic root s-l-m, which means “submission” or “peace.” The word “Muslim” is usually translated as “those who submit” or “those who surrender” to Allah and his will for humanity. 

It is estimated that there are at least 1.6 billion Muslims throughout the world. Though the Middle East and North Africa are most often associated with Islam, the majority of Muslims reside in Africa and Asia, with some of the largest Muslim communities found in Indonesia, Bangladesh, Pakistan, India, Central Asia, and Nigeria. In other words, and although they are often mistakenly conflated, not all Muslims are Arabs (anyone with Arabic as a native language), nor are all Arabs Muslims. Arab Muslims make up only 15 percent of the world’s total Muslim population. Of the world’s 220 million Arabs, about 10 percent are non-Muslims. There are significant non-Muslim populations (Christian, Jewish, Yazidi, etc.) among Arab populations. Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation, with 237 million Muslims  (86.7 percent of its populace). Throughout the world however, Muslims strive to learn Arabic so they can read and understand the Quran and perform ritual prayers.

In the U.S., no racial or ethnic group makes up a majority of Muslim adults. About three-in-ten are Asian (28%), including those from South Asia, and one-fifth are black (20%), according to Pew Research Center. A smaller number are Hispanic (8%), and an additional 3% identify with another race or with multiple races.

A brief history of Islam

In 6th Century CE (Common Era) Arabia, Islam rose to prominence amid a melting pot of religious beliefs and political pressures. Interactions between the Christian Byzantine Empire, the Persian Sassanid Empire, the Christian kingdom of Ethiopia, pagan Arabian tribes and Jewish communities influenced the geopolitics of Arabia and the larger Middle East on the eve of Islam’s appearance.

Islam’s Prophet, Muhammad, was born in Mecca (located in modern-day Saudi Arabia) in 570 CE. During Ramadan (which occurs in the Islamic calendar’s ninth month), Muslims believe that Muhammad experienced a revelation from Allah while meditating in a nearby cave, where the Angel Gabriel appeared to him with a message.

Muhammad soon began to share his revelation with family and friends. Over time, he spread the message publicly, preaching the monotheistic message “God is One” and bidding people to surrender to Allah in belief and practice.

In an era of internicene warfare, Muhammad’s message of peace was met with opposition. Muhammad fled to the nearby city of Medina, about 250 miles north of Mecca, in 622. This event came to be known as the Hijrah (emigration) and marked the beginning of the Islamic era and calendar (signified by AH, or “after Hijrah”). 

Eventually, despite a period of great conflict, Muhammad was able to unite warring tribes and triumphantly return to Mecca in 629 (7 AH). He died in Medina in 632 (10 AH) with no male heir, leading to political divisions within the Muslim community (ummah). By the time of his death, most of Arabia had converted to Islam.

During Europe’s Middle Ages, Islamic civilizations thrived in what has been called their “Golden Age.” Well before the European Renaissance, a “Muslim Renaissance” in math, science, and philosophy consolidated Greek, Persian, Indian and Chinese wisdom into a potent package that benefitted centuries of European development in the centuries that followed.  Gunpowder, the compass and advanced sails all entered Europe via Muslims. Moreover, Greek classics from Aristotle, Plato, Pythagoras, Ptolemy, Euclid, and Hippocrates were reintroduced to the world through houses of learning sponsored by Muslim benefactors, which rendered these works into Arabic.

As a result, words such as algebra, alcohol, alchemy, guitar, chemistry, zero, nadir, coffee, cotton, rice, atlas, camel, and so forth came from Arabic into European languages. For example, modern Spanish contains some three thousand words of Arabic origin.

When Mongol invaders destroyed the capital of the Abbasid Caliphate, Baghdad, in 1258, more than 36 public libraries were already in existence. In the same year, the Ottoman Empire rose to prominence under the leadership of the Turk, Osman Ghazi, who was born in 1258. After Baghdad fell to the Mongols, the Seljuk Turks declared an independent Sultanate in east and central Asia Minor. Osman died in 1326, after having laid the foundation for the Ottoman empire, which that lasted for 600 years — until the end of World War I.

During the 18th and 19th centuries, however, many Islamic nations, societies, and empires — including the Ottomans in the early 20th — fell to European imperial powers before beginning the process of renewal and revival in the 20th century and beyond. Beginning in the 18th and 19th centuries, Muslims also spread throughout the world via a series of economic, political, and social migrations.

Additional background and historical context on Islam can be found via the following resources:

Background & groups

Over time, the Muslim community has splintered into different branches. Reporters should be sensitive to the varying beliefs of these branches, as the Muslim community is not a monolithic entity. There are many different groups and factions under the umbrella of Islam. Those seeking general information about Islam must take care to note which community they are speaking to and where they lie on the spectrum between mainstream and marginalized. As with other religious traditions, different sects interpret Islamic teachings in different ways that can be regarded as classical or traditional, modern or reformist.

The word “fundamentalist” should not be used in reference to Muslim groups. Technically, all Muslims turn to the fundamentals of their religion, since they abide by the teachings of the Quran and Muhammad (the Sunnah), but the addition of the term overlooks this context and often adds only pejorative meaning. Furthermore, not all groups termed “Muslim” are considered as such by other Muslims (e.g., the Ahmadiyya).

Here is a quick breakdown of some of the most prominent communities, sects, movements, and branches of Islam worldwide:

SunnisThe Sunnis make up 80-90 percent of the global Muslim population. Their name is derived from the Sunnah, or the example of the life of Muhammad, which forms the core of Sunni teaching. All Muslims are guided by the Sunnah, but Sunnis stress it as the core of their jurisprudence, alongside other sources like the Quran, ijma (consensus), and qiyas (analogy). Sunni Muslims also ascribe to six articles of faith, known as the pillars of iman. These are:

  • Reality of one God (Allah)
  • Existence of Allah’s angels
  • Authority of the books of Allah
  • Following the prophets of Allah
  • Preparation for and belief in the Day of Judgment
  • Supremacy of Allah’s will

Sunni life is guided by four schools of legal thought: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafii and Hanbali.

Sunni Islam generally lacks a formalized hierarchy, though that may differ depending on setting, locale and culture. For example, most mosque communities select their own imam to lead Friday prayer services.

ShiitesThe Shiites make up the majority of the remaining 10-20 percent of the world’s Muslim population, constituting the majority of the population in places like Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Iraq. Shiism developed after the death of Muhammad, when his followers split over who would lead Islam. Shiism favored Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib, believing that divine guidance was passed on to the Prophet’s descendants. Its followers are called Shiites (or “the followers” or “party of Ali”). 

There are three main branches of Shiites today: the Zaydis, the Ismailis (or “Seveners”), and the Ithna Asharis (or “Twelvers” or “Imamis”). The Zaydis (followers of Zayd ibn Ali ibn al-Husayn [695–740 CE]) are found in Yemen, Iraq, and parts of sub-saharan Africa. Ismailis are a branch of the Shiites led by the Aga Khan, the hereditary title given to the branch’s leader. They are predominantly an Indo-Iranian community, but can also be found in India, Pakistan, Syria, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, China, Jordan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, East Africa and South Africa. In recent years, they have also emigrated to North America, Australia, New Zealand and Europe. The Ithna Asharis form the largest contingent of Shiites worldwide. They believe there are twelve imams, beginning with Ali and ending with Muhammad al-Mahdi, who they believe went into hiding (occultation) and will return at the end of time as the messianic imam to restore justice, equity and peace. 

Ibadis: An early school of thought that is neither Sunni nor Shiite, dominant in Oman and throughout many parts of Africa. They are considered a moderate offshoot from the Kharijis, who seceded from both Sunni and Shii camps in the contest over Islamic leadership following the Prophet’s death. There are only one million adherents worldwide and they have a high regard for the authority of their imam and teachers (ulama). 

SufisThis is Islamic mysticism, often understood to be the internalization or intensification of Islamic practice and belief. Not a separate sect per se, Sufis can be found among both Sunnis and Shiites. 

Muslim Distribution in the Middle East2
This map illustrates the distribution of Sunni and Shiite Muslims in the Middle East. Figures do not necessarily total 100 percent, since they exclude Christians and other minorities. SOURCES: Statistics on Bahrain, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait are taken from CIA World Factbook. Statistics on Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, U.A.E. and Yemen are taken from the department of State International Religious Freedom Report. Statistics on Lebanon are from Lebanon’s Political Mosaic.

Known for poetry by writers such as the 13th-century Persian writer Rumi, Sufism often involves worshipful dancing, music and the methodical repetition of divine names (dhikr). It is more a type of practice of Islam than a standalone denomination. Some Muslims are critical of Sufism as an unjustified innovation (bid’a).

Wahhabis: Founded by Muhammad ibn Abd al-Wahhab (a Hanbali scholar), this is an 18th century reform movement within Islam, which became dominant in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Wahabbis (or Muwahhidun) follow a literal interpretation of the Quran and strict allegiance to the notion of tawhid (the oneness and unity of Allah). They advocate for a sociomoral restructuring of society according to their interpretation of Islamic law. 

Most people in the West knew nothing of Wahhabism until after the 9/11 attacks, which were organized by Osama bin Laden, a professed Wahhabi. Wahhabism has spread rapidly since the 1970s, when the oil-rich Saudi royal family began contributing money to it. 

Salafis: The Salafi movement has been often described as closely linked to or synonymous with the Wahhabi movement; however, Salafists consider the term “Wahhabi” derogatory, according to French author Olivier RoyThe name Salafi is derived from the term salaf (“pious ancestor” or “predecessor”), referring to the first generations of Muslims. Modernist and intellectual, Salafism has spread across the globe as a form of traditionalist reform within Islam. 

Ahmadiyya: A controversial messianic movement founded by Mirza Ghulam Ahmad in Punjab (then, British-controlled India) in 1889. Rejected as heretical by the majority of Muslims because they believe their leader is a “non-legislative prophet,” they are widely persecuted in Muslim-majority countries (including Pakistan and India). They are very active in places like the United Kingdom, Canada, and the U.S., distributing literature, founding mosques, and conducting humanitarian aid and missionary services. There are two factions within the Ahmadiyya movement: Qadiani and Lahori, the latter emphasizing Ghulam Ahmad as a reformer and not a prophet.

Islamic schools of thought

There are four primary schools of Sunni Islamic thought and three within Shiism, each named after the imam who developed it:

Sunni

  • Hanbali: Orthodox, dominant in Saudi Arabia, used by the Taliban, relies primarily on the Quran and Sunnah
  • Maliki: Used in North Africa, emphasizes personal freedom
  • Shafi’i: Prevalent in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei Darussalam and Yemen
  • Hanafi: Most liberal, used in Central Asia, Egypt, Pakistan, India, China, Turkey, the Balkans and the Caucasus

Shiite

  • Ja’fari: Used in Iran, emphasizes hadiths that match the Quran and sunnah
  • Zaydi: Only practiced in Yemen, formerly dominant in northern Iran, scholarship is known to be pluralistic and philosophical
  • Isma’ili: Predominantly Indo-Iranian, but can also be found in India, Pakistan, Syria, Palestine, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, China, Jordan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, East Africa and South Africa (see above)

Sunni and Shiite Split

Referred to as “Islam’s foundational conflict,” what began as a political disagreement later devolved into a sectarian split defined by social, spiritual, and intellectual differences. This has created numerous forms of conflict between Sunnis and Shiites across nearly 1,400 years. Weapons development in Iran and diplomacy issues in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Indonesia, Egypt, Qatar, Saudi Arabi, Syria and Bahrain also have fostered violence between these groups.

Both Sunnis and Shiites – drawing their faith and practice from the Qur’an and the life of the Prophet Muhammad – agree on most of the fundamentals of Islam. The differences are related more to historical events, ideological heritage and issues of leadership.

The first and central difference emerged after the death of Prophet Muhammad in A.D. 632. The issue was who would be the caliph – the “deputy of God” – in the absence of the prophet. While the majority sided with Abu Bakr, one of the prophet’s closest companions, a minority opted for his son-in-law and cousin – Ali. This group held that Ali was appointed by the prophet to be the political and spiritual leader of the fledgling Muslim community.

Subsequently, those Muslims who put their faith in Abu Bakr came to be called Sunni (“those who follow the Sunna,” the sayings, deeds and traditions of the Prophet Muhammad) and those who trusted in Ali came to be known as Shiite (a contraction of “Shiat Ali,” meaning “partisans of Ali”).

Abu Bakr became the first caliph and Ali became the fourth caliph. However, Ali’s leadership was challenged by Aisha, the prophet’s wife and daughter of Abu Bakr. Aisha and Ali went to battle against each other near Basra, Iraq in the Battle of the Camel in A.D. 656. Aisha was defeated, but the roots of division were deepened. Subsequently, Mu’awiya, the Muslim governor of Damascus, also went to battle against Ali, further exacerbating the divisions in the community.

In the years that followed, Mu’awiya assumed the caliphate and founded the Ummayad Dynasty (A.D 670-750). Ali’s youngest son, Hussein – born of Fatima, the prophet’s daughter – led a group of partisans in Kufa, Iraq against Mu’awiya’s son Yazid. For the Shiites, this battle, known as the Battle of Karbala, holds enormous historical and religious significance.

Hussein was killed and his forces defeated. For the Shia community, Hussein became a martyr. The day of the battle is commemorated every year on the Day of Ashura. Held on the tenth day of Muharram in the Islamic lunar calendar, scores of pilgrims visit Hussein’s shrine in Karbala and many Shiite communities participate in symbolic acts of flagellation and suffering.

Over time, Islam continued to expand and develop into evermore complex and overlapping societies that spanned from Europe to sub-Saharan Africa, North Africa to Asia. This development demanded more codified forms of religious and political leadership.

Sunnis and Shiites adopted different approaches to these issues.

Sunni Muslims trusted the secular leadership of the caliphs during the Ummayad (based in Damascus from A.D. 660-750) and Abbasid (based in Iraq from 750-1258 and in Cairo from 1261-1517) periods. Their theological foundations came from the four religious schools of Islamic jurisprudence that emerged over the seventh and eighth centuries.

To this day, these schools help Sunni Muslims decide on issues such as worship, criminal law, gender and family, banking and finance, and even bioethical and environmental concerns.

On the other hand, Shiites relied on Imams as their spiritual leaders, whom they believed to be divinely appointed leaders from among the prophet’s family. Shiite Muslims continue to maintain that the prophet’s family are the sole genuine leaders. In the absence of the leadership of direct descendants, Shiites appoint representatives to rule in their place.

Other disputes that continue to exacerbate the divide include issues of theology, practice and geopolitics.

For example, when it comes to theology Sunnis and Shiites draw from different “Hadith” traditions. Hadith are the reports of the words and deeds of the prophet and considered an authoritative source of revelation, second only to the Quran. They provide a biographical sketch of the prophet, context to Quranic verses, and are used by Muslims in the application of Islamic law to daily life. Shiites favor those that come from the prophet’s family and closest associates, while Sunnis cast a broader net for Hadith that includes a wide array of the prophet’s companions.

Shiites and Sunnis differ over prayer as well. All Sunni Muslims believe they are required to pray five times a day, but Shiites can condense those into three.

Example coverage

“Differences masked during Hajj” – August 1, 2017, The Conversation

During the Hajj – the pilgrimage to Mecca, held annually and obligatory for all Muslims once in a lifetime – it may seem that these differences are masked, as both Sunnis and Shias gather in the holy city for rituals that reenact the holiest narratives of their faith. And yet, with Saudi authorities overseeing the Hajj, there have been tensions with Shia governments such as Iran over claims of discrimination.

And when it comes to leadership, the Shia have a more hierarchical structure of political and religious authority invested in formally trained clergy whose religious authority is transnational. There is no such structure in Sunni Islam.

The greatest splits today, however, come down to politics. Although the majority of Sunni and Shia are able to live peacefully together, the current global political landscape has brought polarization and sectarianism to new levels. Shia-Sunni conflicts are raging in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Pakistan and the divide is growing deeper across the Muslim world.

This historical schism continues to permeate the daily lives of Muslims around the world.

What is Shariah?

Shariah means “the way,” traditionally in reference to a path to a source of sustenance, such as a watering hole (sometimes the difference between life and death in a desert environment).

Not a strict or set in stone body of law, sharia is better understood as Allah’s will for humanity, an immutable set of wide-ranging moral principles and examples drawn from the Quran and the practices and sayings (Sunnah) of Prophet Muhammad.

These broad ethical principles and practices are then interpreted and applied by jurists to come up with specific legal rulings and moral prescriptions. These human efforts to codify Islamic ethical norms is widely referred to as Islamic law, or fiqh in Arabic. While fallible and open to interpretation, revision, and contextual adaptation, the term shariah is still sometimes used to refer to the entirety of Islamic legislation.

“What Shariah means: 5 questions answered” – June 16, 2017, The Conversation

I want to caution against reducing Sharia to just one or two legal principles and picking out certain punishments as being characteristic of Sharia. It is much more fruitful to start with Sharia’s fundamental objectives.

Sharia provides guidance on how to live an ethical life. It lays down guidelines on how to pray and how to treat one’s family members, neighbors and those who are in need. It requires Muslims to be just and fair in their dealings with everyone, to refrain from lying and gossip, etc., and always to promote what is good and prevent what is wrong.

Muslim scholars reflecting on the larger objectives of Sharia have said that laws derived from it must always protect the following: life, intellect, family, property and the honor of human beings. These five objectives create what we may consider to be a premodern Islamic Bill of Rights, providing protection for civil liberties.

On the specific question of adultery, Islam, like some other religions, takes a strong position, since it seeks to promote the sanctity and stability of the family. Those found guilty of adultery are supposed to be punished by lashing (based on the Quran) or stoning (based on hadith).

But there is a high bar of evidence that must be met before this punishment can be meted out: Four witnesses must observe the actual act of penetration. Even in this age of voyeurism, it would be next to impossible to meet this criterion. The prescribed punishment for adultery was therefore hardly ever carried out in the premodern world.

This situation is in contrast to the brutal stonings that have been carried out in the modern, post-colonial period in a handful of Muslim majority countries, like Nigeria and Pakistan. From my perspective, the above-mentioned rules of evidence were not given due regard. In many such cases, modern jurists who may have very little training in classical Islamic law and do not understand the principles of Sharia are being asked to implement “Islamic punishments” by politicians who want to appear Islamic. Stoning appears to be a dramatic way of asserting a shallow “Islamic” identity, often in conscious opposition to the West. There are other jurists who have criticized these sensationalist examples of stoning as being in violation of fundamental moral and legal principles within Islam. — Read more.

Belief systems, cultural customs, and state authority

It is important for non-Muslims to navigate the tensions between Islamic beliefs and patriarchal customs operating within communities, nations, and regions. Iran, for instance, is a state where freedom is at odds with authority. This often results in unequal treatment of women, such as difficult divorces and forced veiling (where men do not have the same difficulty or expectations in terms of dress code). 

Under the majority of interpretations of Islamic law, women have the right to own property, pursue education and participate fully in social and political life. Many Muslim jurists also point out that Islamic law does not categorically forbid women to drive; that the Quran forbids a bride price; and the Quran does not mention female genital mutilation, which is practiced in northern regions of Africa and in parts of North America and Europe. Such issues need to be carefully, and painstakingly, reported, with an awareness that there is no single “Islamic law” and that interpretations of shariah vary across different historical, political, ethnic, and geographic contexts. 

Abortion is another contentious issue that has recently stirred debate. Different schools of thought have different time restrictions in terms of acceptable abortions, even as the Quran does not explicitly discuss abortion. “Sanctity of Life: Islamic Teachings on Abortion” explains that abortion is generally forbidden by the religion, but is acceptable if having the baby will put the mother’s life in danger. But, as scholar  explains, “there is no single Islamic attitude about abortion.”

Example coverage

There is no one Islamic interpretation on ethics of abortion, but the belief in God’s mercy and compassion is a crucial part of any consideration” – July 8, 2022, The Conversation

Islam isn’t monolithic, and there is no single Islamic attitude about abortion. The answer to the question depends on what kinds of Islamic sources, scriptural, legal or ethical, are applied to this contemporary issue by people of varying levels of authority, expertise or religious observance.

Muslims have had a long-standing, rich relationship with science, and specifically, the practice of medicine. This has yielded multiple interpretations of right and wrong when it comes to the body, including ideas about and practices surrounding pregnancy. — Read more.

Practices

Journalists in predominately non-Muslim contexts should be aware that Islamic practices in regard to diet, money and other matters may differ from majority practices or that which is considered “normal” according to general Judeo-Christian standards in places like the U.S. or Europe. These practices include:

  • Friday prayers – Muslims gather at mosques for congregational prayers on Fridays at the midday prayer time, but unlike Christians observance on Sunday or Jewish Shabbat on Saturday, the entire day is not considered a sabbath. Often, Friday is considered the weekend in Muslim-majority contexts, but that is far from universal. 
  • Diet – Muslims are not permitted to consume pork or alcohol and require meat and poultry to be slaughtered and prepared according to certain standards (halal). Muslims cannot consume animal shortening, lard, gelatin or any product containing alcohol (for example, Dijon mustard). The American Halal Foundation has a good description of how to follow Muslim dietary laws.
  • Dogs — Often considered impure and unclean in many traditional Islamic communities. There is a hadith that mandates ritual washing before prayer for anyone who comes in contact with a dog’s saliva. At the same time, the Quran speaks favorably about dogs and grants permission (even praising as good) food that is caught by a trained hunting dog. 
  • Holidays – Muslims follow a lunar calendar, which is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar. That means that the dates of holidays shift on the January to December calendar, and holidays begin at sundown, with the sighting of the new moon.
  • Money and finance – Islamic law bans collecting or paying interest, so Muslims use alternate ways to pay for large purchases, such as cars, homes and insurance. Financial institutions in non-Muslim countries are increasingly aware of the principles and practices of Islamic finance. The International Monetary Fund (IMF), even provides an overview of recent developments and best practices
  • Fasting during Ramadan — As explained in more detail below, Ramadan is a month of fasting, prayer and reflection for Muslims. It is a time when practicing Muslims refrain from food, drink, smoking and sex from sunrise to sunset. In Muslim-majority countries, the entire calendar and pace of daily life shifts to accommodate the practice. In non-Muslim countries, where this is not the case, some Muslims may struggle to fast. Many are starting to seek accommodations from their employers. Civil rights laws provide a number of protections to ensure that no one suffers workplace discrimination because of their religious beliefs, including “reasonable accommodation” to employees for religious practices such as prayer or fasting.
  • The Prophet — Protests in Europe over cartoon images of Muhammad showed how seriously Muslims take a general ban on visual images of the Prophet and other human/animal figures. Most Muslims consider this an act of idolatry. However, as is evidenced in the story below, the issue of Muhammad’s portrayal requires a nuanced approach. 

Example coverage

“Why the Media Didn’t Publish the Muhammad Paintings at the Heart of the Hamline Controversy” — May 5, 2019, VOA

​”The practice of fasting in Muslim nations is presumably much more common during Ramadan, since there are likely to be more practicing Muslims,” says Hassan. “And fasting is a part of the daily culture during this month. Thus, if people you know are fasting, you’re likely to do the same.”

Most Muslim countries also make it easier for people to fast. Across the Middle East, Ramadan must be observed in public. Which means, even non-Muslims must refrain from eating, drinking and smoking in public. In most of these countries, religious police patrol the streets and violators are usually punished. Most cafes, restaurants and clubs are closed during the day although some hotels serve food in screened-in areas or through room service.

Most public offices and schools are closed and private businesses are encouraged to cut back their hours to accommodate the fasters.

“Being part of an environment or community where fasting is encouraged and accommodated can increase the likelihood of people fasting successfully,” Hassan says. “In some Muslim countries, accommodations are provided for fasting, which may not always be the case in the West” or in other non-Muslim nations.

“Observing Ramadan as a minority has its challenges. But it is not significant enough to make it impossible to fast,” says Naeem Baig of the Islamic Circle of North America. He says it is made easier because “people from other faiths generally are respectful and supportive towards their Muslim colleagues or neighbors.”

Making accommodations

Mansouri, in India, will have to accommodate her fasting while spending weekdays at her job as a teacher in a Hindu school. She says she will try to keep herself busy so as not to think of food when teachers and children take their lunch break.

Similarly, Baig says, “We encourage Muslim parents to inform the schools their children attend and let the teachers know that their children will not be going for lunch break. In most public schools, Muslim children of fasting age can go to the library during lunch and are exempt from PE (physical education).” — Read more.

Example coverage

“Why the Media Didn’t Publish the Muhammad Paintings at the Heart of the Hamline Controversy” — Jan. 23, 2023, NewLines Magazine

When New Lines published an essay in December about the firing of an academic at Hamline University in Minnesota over the display of a medieval painting of the Prophet Muhammad in an Islamic art history lecture, we knew that it would become a national story. Given the controversies over the issue of Muhammad’s portrayal and the violent reactions to it in the past, we had to treat it with the seriousness it deserved.

[…]

On Nov. 18, the Hamline student paper The Oracle published a piece reporting on an incident of alleged Islamophobia, without providing any details about the incident and why it was so labeled. A subsequent article on Dec. 6 explaining the sound logic and context of the painting’s inclusion in the class taught by adjunct instructor Erika López Prater was taken down from the university website and only republished after the New York Times reported on the incident a month later.

The inclusion of the painting triggered a complaint by a student, and a memo circulated by the administration described the exercise as “undeniably inconsiderate, disrespectful and Islamophobic.” Hamline did not renew the contract for López Prater. The university then walked back this stance after the story became a national controversy and after the professor filed a lawsuit claiming religious discrimination and defamation. In a statement explaining the about-face, the university said it had overstepped in using the term “Islamophobic” to describe the classroom exercise and that it had not intended for the feelings of some of its students to supersede academic freedom. Perhaps this signals a turning point in the increasingly concerning and absurd debate on academic freedoms on campus clashing with the sensibilities and linguistic acrobatics now pervading student bodies.

But it was not just the university and student paper that fumbled their attempt to handle the controversy. Mainstream media outlets that subsequently reported on the incident after the New Lines essay also made important missteps… — Read more.

 

Dress

Because modesty is an essential virtue in Islam, expectations about dress and grooming are emphasized for both men and women. Non-Muslims, however, often take note of these distinctions and interpret them as gender inequality. 

“Hijab” does not only refer to a head covering, but is a general term to describe modest dress. Both Muslim men and women observe hijab, the Quran’s requirement that one dress modestly, and both loose, nontransparent clothing is emphasized for both genders. It can include a headscarf, or a veil that partially covers the face; a burqa, which covers the face and body; or a chador, which is a cloak that covers the body. It can also include a jilbab worn to cover everything except the head and hands in public. Help the reader understand what it is and be specific about what it is that is being called a hijab.

Depending on how they interpret the instructions for women, some Muslim women wear garments that cover their heads or their whole bodies. Some women do not cover their heads and simply wear clothes that are modest. As a journalist, it is best to ask, rather than assume. 

Debates on dress

Efforts to ban veiling practices in the West are also an issue relevant to coverage of Islam, indicated by support of banning full veiling in Western European countries. Several European states have introduced full or partial bans of the burqa, including: Austria, France, Belgium, Denmark, Bulgaria, the Netherlands (in public schools, hospitals and on public transport), Germany (partial bans in some states), Italy (in some localities), Spain (in some localities of Catalonia), Russia (in the Stavropol Krai), Luxembourg, Switzerland, Norway (in nurseries, public schools and universities), and Kosovo (in public schools), Bosnia and Herzegovina (in courts and other legal institutions). 

Meanwhile, in the U.S., the public does not support banning, according to Pew Research. In fact, there are numerous examples of non-Muslims donning hijab in what they position as an act of solidarity with “gendered Islamophobia.”

Reporters must be careful to understand, however, that some Muslim women wear hijabs, or head scarves, while others do not. In some cultures, women cover their entire bodies by choice. There have also been debates over dress beyond veiling. For example, there is a campaign for modest dress in Qatar and UAE targeted at expatriates. Both men (wear the kandura) and women (wear the abaya) typically wear full cloaklike coverings in these regions. This shows that covering veiling and dress in regards is an important issue in terms of personal freedom versus authority in different countries.

At the very least, reporters should endeavor to understand “the way hijab functions for the Muslim women who wear it, and the values associated with it” according to religious studies scholar Liz Bucar, before reporting on the issue or questions related to it.

Example coverage

In ‘Stealing My Religion,’ Liz Bucar takes on murky forms of appropriation” — November 18, 2022 Religion News Service

Progressives and liberals donned hijabs to be in solidarity with Muslim women and combat gendered Islamophobia, but they did it in a way that really centered themselves, and that enforced white secular feminism. Some Muslim woman felt like it was another layer of being othered and tokenized and decentered and erased.

The act erases half the Muslim women in the U.S. who don’t wear a hijab. I also think if people really understood the way hijab functions for the Muslim women who wear it, and the values associated with it, they would see why it might not be appropriate as a form of political protest and solidarity. There’s something really odd about taking a religious practice which is about humility and modesty, and then putting it on your head and taking a selfie or posting on social media to get a lot of likes and to virtue signal that you are against gendered Islamophobia. Part of the dynamic with solidarity hijab was a lot of white non-Muslim women centering themselves as the true feminists, rather than following and learning from others.

The liberal political agenda of fighting gendered Islamophobia, which is a good thing, didn’t take the time to be truly intersectional in its approach to the problem. They didn’t actually ask the community what it wanted, and sometimes what the community wants is harder to give. — Read more.

 

Women in Islam

Many misconceptions persist about the role of women in Islam. Contrary to these perceptions, the original teachings of the Quran were controversial at the time because of their high regard for women, treating them as an integral part of Arab society. However, the steady accretion of patriarchal authority throughout history has meant women have — as with other societies, polities, and cultural systems — been marginalized and mistreated.

Nonetheless, because Muslim life largely revolves around the family, Muslim women command great respect in all their roles, especially as mothers.

Women are spiritually and intellectually equal to men under Islamic law. Although the rights of Muslim women vary by country, most Muslim nations afford women rights with regard to marriage, divorce, civil rights, legal status, inheritance, education and clothing.

Even so, there are legal and social restrictions placed on women within an Islamic legal framework, many of which have been codified into state law in some Muslim-majority nations like Malaysia, Pakistan, or Saudi Arabia. Since the 19th-century, numerous male and female scholars have spoken out about the status of women and published works advocating for reform in education, politics, and various spheres of public life. Debates continue over the level of female participation in the public realm, even as numerous Muslim women have taken up significant cultural, political, economic, and religious roles.

A 2011 study by Pew Research, “Muslim Americans: No Signs of Growth in Alienation or Support for Extremism,” indicated that roughly half of U.S. Muslims support gender separation during prayer at a mosque

But some Muslims who call themselves “progressive” are urging that women should be allowed to lead prayers or sit with men during prayers. There is also debate on separation in other countries. Numerous female-led or women’s only mosques have sprung up in places like South Africa, the U.S., Canada, or the Maldives in recent years. 

Participation also occurs outside the mosque. Muslim women participate in sporting events, including sports like car racing, boxing or soccer.

“Donning a Headscarf in the Cockpit” profiles a Muslim woman in Tehran who is the star of car racing. Another article, “An Inspiration to Young Women around the World,” explores the growing number of Muslim women who play sports and excel.

 

A woman holds a Quran after an afternoon prayer at the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City June 26, 2012. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Example coverage

American Muslim women are finding a unique religious space at a women-only mosque in Los Angeles” — April 30, 2022, The Conversation

The Women’s Mosque of America was founded in 2015 by two South Asian American Muslim women – comedy writer M. Hasna Maznavi and attorney Sana Muttalib. It was conceived as a space to empower Muslim women to take on active roles in their individual community mosques and influence changes in a mosque culture that is often unwelcoming to women.

The mosque hosts monthly Friday prayers where women exclusively run the services. One woman calls the adhan, or call to prayer, while another delivers the sermon and leads the all-female congregation in prayer. Yet, as I explore in my forthcoming book, the mosque’s contribution to creating a different kind of Muslim community is not simply its placement of women in leadership roles, but rather the way it elevates particular issues as worthy of concern in religious communities.

For example, with women at the helm of this mosque, the sermons focus on connecting Islamic scriptures to women’s lived experiences in both their personal and professional lives.

Topics have ranged from sexual violence, divorce and motherhood to social justice activism and support for the Black Lives Matter movement. As I learned in my interviews with community members, congregants are eager to hear these types of sermons, which they see as missing in their traditional mosque communities. — Read more.

 

Domestic violence

Writing about American Muslim efforts against domestic violence, religion scholar Juliane Hammer commented that abuse is often made invisible in public discourse. Though it occasionally becomes big news through exceptional cases or campaigns to raise awareness, domestic abuse can often go unreported or unnoticed. 

Even so, there is a stunning amount of quantitative and qualitative research on the prevalence and dynamics of domestic violence in the U.S., including its root causes and ruinous effects. According to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence:

  • Nearly 20 people per minute are physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, equating to more than 10 million women and men annually.
  • Based on reported cases, 1 in 4 women and 1 in 9 men have experienced severe intimate partner physical violence and 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men have experienced some form of physical violence by an intimate partner, including slapping, shoving and pushing, which in some cases might not be considered “domestic violence.”
  • About 4,000 women die each year due to domestic abuse.
  • From that total,  75% of the victims were killed attempting to leave the relationship or after the relationship ended.

There are no data to show how many victims and survivors are religious or if their abuse was directly related to religion. However, the National Resource Center on Domestic Violence reported that across traditions, “issues of religious faith, or the belief in a specific system of principles and practices that give reverence to a higher power, are often central to the experiences of many victims and survivors of domestic violence.”

Muslim activists in the U.S. figure that approximately 10% of Muslim women are abused emotionally, psychologically and/or physically by their husbands.

Example coverage

“Explainer: what Islam actually says about domestic violence” — June 12, 2017, The Conversation

Islam’s position on domestic violence is drawn from the Qur’an, prophetic practice (sunnah), and historical and contemporary legal verdicts (fatwas).

The Qur’an and prophetic practice clearly illustrate the relationship between spouses. The Qur’an says the relationship is based on tranquillity, unconditional love, tenderness, protection, encouragement, peace, kindness, comfort, justice and mercy.

The Muslim prophet, Muhammad, set direct examples of these ideals of a marital relationship in his personal life. There is no clearer prophetic saying about a husband’s responsibility toward his wife than his responsewhen asked:

Give her food when you take food, clothe her when you clothe yourself, do not revile her face, and do not beat her.

Muhammad further stressed the importance of kindness toward women in his farewell pilgrimage. He equated the violation of their marital rights to a breach of the couple’s covenant with God.

Abusive behaviour towards a woman is also forbidden because it contradicts the objectives of Islamic jurisprudence – specifically the preservation of life and reason, and the Qur’anic injunctions of righteousness and kind treatment.

Domestic violence is addressed under the concept of harm (darar) in Islamic law. It includes a husband’s failure to provide obligatory financial support (nafaqa) for his wife, a long absence of the husband from home, the husband’s inability to fulfil his wife’s sexual needs, or any mistreatment of the wife’s family members. — Read More.

Core beliefs

The five pillars

Islam has Five Pillars of practice, which are required of all Muslims.

1) The Shahada, or declaration of faith: A Muslim must express his or her faith by declaring in Arabic, “There is no God but Allah and Muhammad is the messenger of Allah.” This declaration expresses that the purpose of life is to serve Allah alone, and it must be recited, understood and enacted in faith by all Muslims in their daily life.

2) Salat, or prayer: Muslims are required to pray five daily prayers in order to attain peace and harmony. Mental concentration, verbal communication, vocal recitation and physical movement are all components of this prayer. An hour-long special congregational prayer is also delivered on Friday at noon in the mosque. Ritual cleanliness is essential, and prayer can be performed anywhere.

3) Support almsgiving: Islam teaches that it is a sin not to share one’s wealth with the needy or to allow others to suffer while personally prospering. Each year, Muslims make a payment to charity, which is based in amount on a percentage of their income or property. This is called zakat, which means both “purification” and “growth.”

4) Sawm, or fasting: Islam follows a lunar calendar. During Ramadan, the ninth month in the lunar calendar, all Muslims above the age of maturity (14 or 15) fast, or abstain from eating, drinking and engaging in sexual activity with spouses during the hours between dawn and sunset. The sick, pregnant women, nursing mothers, women who are menstruating and people traveling are all excused from fasting; however, they are required to feed a needy person one meal each day or make up for lost days later. Fasting serves the purpose of instilling patience and self-control, helping the individual resist temptations and show obedience to Allah.

5) The hajj, or pilgrimage to Mecca: Mecca, known as the Ka’bah, is the center of the Muslim world, and a powerful symbol of Muslim unity and the sole worship of Allah. Once in a lifetime, depending on health and material means, all Muslims are required to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. This journey is the hajj.

More than 2 million Muslims from all over the world congregate in Mecca each year for the hajj. Simple white garments are worn to emphasize equality before Allah without discrimination based on of race, color, language or nationality. The close of the hajj is marked by the festival of Eid al-Adha.

Example coverage

Imam Daniel Abdullah Hernandez teaching at the masjid. Photo by Ken Chitwood

“A peek into the lives of Puerto Rican Muslims and what Ramadan means post Hurricane Maria” — May 17, 2018, The Conversation

For Juan, Ramadan is a balancing act. On the one hand is his religious faith and practice. On the other is his land, his culture, his home: Puerto Rico.

Although he weaves these two elements of his identity together in many ways, during Ramadan, the borderline between them becomes palpable. For the Puerto Rican Muslims like Juan, the holy month of fasting brings to the surface the tensions they feel in their daily life as minorities – and as Muslims among their Puerto Rican family and Puerto Ricans in the Muslim community.

That is even more true this year in the wake of Hurricane Maria, the storm that made landfall in the southeastern city of Yabucoa on Sept. 20, 2017, and devastated parts of Puerto Rico. Even today, many parts of the island are without essential services, such as consistent electricity and water or access to schools.

I met Juan in 2015, when I first traveled to Puerto Rico in an effort to better understand the Puerto Rican Muslim story as part of my broader research on Islam in Latin America and the Caribbean. What I have found, in talking to Muslims in Puerto Rico and in many U.S. cities, is a deep history and a rich narrative that expands the understanding of what it means to be Muslim on the one hand, and, on the other, Puerto Rican. This Ramadan, Muslims in Puerto Rico are using the strength of both these identities to deal with the havoc of Hurricane Maria. — Read more.

Scripture

Allah and the Quran

RNS MOSQUE ARSON
Mohammed Moussaoui, an attendee of the Salman Alfarisi Islamic Center in Corvallis, Ore., reads a passage from the Holy Quran. RNS photo by Ross William Hamilton

Muslims do not worship Muhammad (only Allah), but they believe he was chosen by Allah to be the final prophet for his message of peace. This message of peace is Islam, recorded in Arabic in the 114 chapters (or surahs) of the Quran or al-Quran in Arabic, meaning “The Recitation.” Muslims consider it to be a precise transcription of Allah’s words to Muhammad through the Archangel Gabriel over a 23-year period. It can only be read and recited in accordance with a strict set of rules and regulations.

The Quran teaches the importance of peace – internal peace, peace and submission to Allah, peace with other people and peace with the environment. For Muslims, the goal of life is to worship Allah and obey his commandments, escaping hell in afterlife.

Other transliterations of “Quran” exist, such as Koran or Qu’ran; however, the Associated Press recommends “Quran” as the preferred spelling, unless a specific group or individual requests an alternate spelling.

  • Islamic-Dictionary.com: Islamic-Dictionary.com provides the meaning, traditional Arabic form, and pronunciation of Islamic words.
  • “The Koran”: Read the full electronic text of the Koran, posted by University of Michigan and translated by M.H. Shakir. The site allows users to search Koran through key words, chapters and phrases.

Hadiths

In addition to the Quran, Muslims also rely on thousands of hadith, reports of the words and deeds of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions. These are also considered an authoritative source of revelation, though there are debates about the reliability and authority given to particular collections. The most famous and authoritative of the collections include those by al-Bukhari and Muslim among Sunni and al-Kulayni and al-Tusi among Shiites.

 

Pluralism

Muslims trace their roots to the Prophet Adam and believe in all of the prophets celebrated by Jews and Christians. They consider Jesus a prophet; however, they do not consider him divine. Muslims consider the followers of Judaism and Christianity fellow People of the Book (Ahl Al Kitab), and they respect the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, though believe that they have been corrupted over time.

Some scholars point to the “constitution of Medina”  as a unique example of “pluralistic theocracy” within Islamic tradition, wherein Muhammad and the early Muslim community acknowledged in their midst the people of the Ahl Al Kitab. This acknowledgement, however, is not coterminant with the secular understanding of pluralism: it was hierarchical, with limited/little recognition for the space of non-monotheistic religions within the nascent Islamic community.

Still, across time and space, Islam has had lengthy encounters with other religion traditions like Hinduism and Buddhism, given that two-thirds of Muslims live in South and Southeast Asia. The concept of Ahl al-Kitab, and the related ahl al-Dhimma, has therefore been extended to include other groups besides those mentioned.

Today, numerous Muslim organizations, leaders, and institutions are involved in a variety of pluralistic endeavors and agreements, ranging from the Amman Message of 2009 calling for tolerance and unity to an agreement between the World Evangelical Alliance (WEA) and Nahdlatul Ulama (NU), an Indonesian Islamic association that claims 90 million members worldwide.

Not all Muslim endeavors at interreligious engagement and dialogue have been welcomed, however, as the controversy around the International Dialogue Center (KAICIID), funded significantly by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (but founded with support from the Republic of Austria, the Kingdom of Spain and the Holy See as a founding observer) forced them to relocate their headquarters from Vienna, Austria to Lisbon, Portugal in 2022.

Example coverage

“Religions for Peace made history with its new leader. Then came historic challenges.” — October 5, 2021, Religion News Service 

In August of 2019, Azza Karam became the first woman and first Muslim to be appointed secretary-general of Religions for Peace, replacing William Vendley, who had led the international interfaith organization and worked for peace across Africa and Asia for more than half of the group’s 49-year history.

Her historic appointment would not be a topic of conversation for long. Within a few months of her taking over, the world was in the grips of the coronavirus pandemic and the staggering death toll and global recession it sparked. This year, the U.S. pullout of Afghanistan brought on political chaos in that country, with ripples around the world. — Read more.

Celebrations

In the world of Islam, there are two major celebrations, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Eid literally means a “festival” or “feast” in Arabic. Because the Muslim calendar operates on a lunar cycle, the dates of these events vary annually on the Gregorian calendar. 

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and commemorates the time during which the faithful believe Allah sent the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad in Mecca and gave him the teachings of the Quran. 

Eid
A young boy prays alongside Muslim men at an Eid al-Fitr observance at the U.S. Embassy to Indonesia in Jakarta. RNS photo courtesy U.S. Embassy to Indonesia

The beginning of Ramadan is determined by whether a new moon is sighted. As such, it is not always possible for Muslim leaders to predict the exact dates in advance. Most months in the Islamic calendar have 29–30 days. The first day of the month is marked by the sighting of the hilal (crescent moon). Weather conditions can delay moon sightings and thus influence when a new month starts. 

Two proper greetings during Ramadan are “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Salaam,” which means “peace” and can be used at any time. Participating Muslims observe Ramadan by abstaining from eating, drinking and sexual relations from dawn to sunset during a 29- or 30-day period.

Eid al-Fitr marks the end of the Ramadan and is a joyous three-day celebration. Often, relatives and friends exchange good tidings and a special Eid prayer is said. Children receive gifts, and sweets are enjoyed.

In many countries with large Muslim populations, it is a national holiday. Schools, offices and businesses are closed so family, friends and neighbors can enjoy the celebrations together. Saudi Arabia has announced a 16-day holiday this year for Eid. In Turkey and in places that were once part of the Ottoman-Turkish empire such as Bosnia and Herzegovina, Albania, Azerbaijan and the Caucasus, it is also known as the, “Lesser Bayram” (meaning “lesser festival” in Turkish).

Eid al-Adha is a three-day celebration that generally falls about 2½ months after Eid al-Fitr. The greater of the two events, Eid al-Adha celebrates the end of the hajj, or the pilgrimage to Mecca. All Muslims take part whether they participated in the pilgrimage that year or not. The purpose of Eid al-Adha is to spend time with family, give thanks and commemorate Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his son Ismail for Allah. In the spirit of this sacrifice, many Muslims sacrifice their own livestock and share the meat with family, friends and the needy. Eid al-Adha is also known as the “Greater Bayram.”

 

Example coverage

“Stamford schools add only one holiday — Eid al-Fitr — to calendar after months of debate.” — January 26, 2023, Stamford Advocate

After weeks of discussions about the calendar for next school year — which featured holidays taken off then put back on and new ones being added — only one change was ultimately adopted Tuesday night.

The Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr […] will be a day off of school for the 2023-24 school year. The holiday had never been  included in Stamford’s school calendar in the past.

The Stamford Board of Education approved the calendar during a meeting Tuesday night, but not after making some adjustments to a proposal that was before them.

That proposal also included Three Kings Day, Diwali, and Eid al-Adha as additional new holidays, even though all three fall on weekends during the upcoming school year. Board president Jackie Heftman made a motion to place all three in a note at the bottom of the calendar to acknowledge them, but not as days off from school.

“The perception out there that people are feeling is that once it goes on the calendar even if it is a weekend, the following year when it isn’t a weekend, it would be a school holiday,” she said. — Read more. 

Notes on coverage

Terminology and labels

  • Muslim refers to people. Islam refers to the faith, and the adjective form is “Islamic.”
  • Avoid labeling extremist or terrorists groups as Islamic, even if they describe themselves as such. If the term is necessary to the story, seek out balance and diverse Muslim opinions. Use additional caution for headlines. 
  • There is no easy way to characterize the differences between the two main branches of Islam, Sunni and Shiite, so reporters should be careful not to make generalizations. 
  • The Nation of Islam is an organization of predominately Black Muslims led by Louis Farrakhan. It is not considered a mainstream Islamic group. The Nation of Islam was founded by Elijah Muhammad in 1930. When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, his son W. Deen Muhammad took over and began moving the organization toward mainstream Sunni Islam. He eventually changed its name to the American Society of Muslims. Farrakhan disagreed with this new direction and restarted the Nation of Islam in the early 1980s. While he has moderated its views somewhat, the Nation of Islam, based in Chicago, is still associated with intolerant views toward some groups. 
  • Islam is very diverse, and there are many misconceptions about who is Muslim. Many Arabs are Muslims, but many are not. In addition, many Muslims are not Arab, including the growing number of Black Muslims and Muslim converts (although Muslims often say people “revert” to Islam instead of “converting” to it). Some U.S. mosques are dominated by Muslims from a particular country or region, but many mosques draw worshippers from dozens of countries.

Take caution with the following terms:

  • Allah: This specific term for “God” might make it seem that Muslims worship a specific or exclusive God.  In reality, Allah is just the Arabic word for God and is used by Christian and Jewish Arabs to describe God as well.
  • American Muslims: This term defines the group by religion, rather than nationality, ethnicity or race. Using “American Muslim” might frame Muslim individuals in the U.S. as having more allegiance to Muslim countries or Islam itself over the United States government and culture.
  • Fatwa: A fatwa is a legal ruling delivered by an Islamic legal authority in response to a question posed by an individual or legal body. Even though this is a non-binding opinion or judgment, many Westerners view fatwas as official, and sometimes harsh, judgments.
  • Islamic terrorism: This term should be avoided in coverage because it suggests that there is a tie between terrorist acts and Islam or that terrorism follows Islamic values.
  • Islamists/Islamism: This term is often used as a blanket term for a variety of groups, both violent and nonviolent, from political parties to terrorist organizations. Most often, the term should be used to describe institutions or individuals seeking the application of Islamic values in political arenas.
  • Islamofascism: This is problematic because it links fascism and Islam, which are actually in opposition.
  • Jihad/jihadists: The use of these words should be watched carefully as Muslims and non-Muslims or Westerners might have different meanings connected to them. While Muslims see jihad as an inner struggle to be closer to God, jihad is linked to terrorism and violent acts in Western media.
  • Liberal democracy: Journalists should be careful here because labeling a government as such might make it sound like the government is accepting, or victim to, Western values.
  • Moderate Muslim/Islam: While this term suggests secular influence and anti-extremism, journalists should hesitate using it. It characterizes Islam as an opposing identity that is extreme or violent.
  • Secularism/secular society: When writing about different nation-states, journalists should not jump to define a given region as a secular society. Many Muslims see the need for religion to play a role in government and/or society, so it can be offensive to define a state as secular. The use of such discourse can also ignite negativity and tension with the “West.”
  • Shariah: Shariah might be perceived as archaic and not able to adapt to modern life, which can offend Muslims. It also does not refer to a singular body of law (see above). 
  • War on Terror: This could be misinterpreted as “War on Islam” and readers can become confused about who the enemy in the war actually is.

About visiting a mosque

Mosque FAQ

  • What are the major sections of the mosque?
    • Entrance (where shoes are removed)
    • Musallah (prayer room)
    • Qiblah (where the imam faces in prayer)
    • Mihrab (niche that shows direction of Mecca)
    • Wadu facilities (place to wash hands, face and feet before prayer)
    • In some mosques, there may be separate entrances for men and women.
  • Who officiates services?
    • The muazzin calls individuals to prayer. The imam leads prayer and gives sermons.
  • What are guests expected to do at a service?
    • Guests can just sit and observe or can choose to participate in the service.
  • What kinds of equipment can be used in a mosque service?
    • Taking pictures, using flash and using a video camera are generally not allowed. Sometimes using this equipment is OK for use if approved by a given mosque or Islamic center. Tape recorders are more likely to be approved for use.
  • What happens after the service?
    • There is not usually a reception after the service and guests can leave early if they wish.RNS-MOSQUE-SERVICE n
      Men and women leave their shoes by the front door during 1:30 prayer at the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City on June 26, 2012. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Religious activities and appropriate behavior in the mosque

  • Journalists should take care to remove shoes and dress conservatively upon entering a mosque. Men should wear slacks and a casual shirt. Women should cover arms and legs and bring a head scarf. Open-toed shoes and modest jewelry are OK for women. Avoid wearing clothes with photographs or images of faces. Wearing visible crosses, Stars of David, zodiac signs or pendants with faces or animals is frowned upon.
  • It is sometimes considered inappropriate for a stranger to shake hands with a member of the opposite sex.
  • When taking photographs of Muslims at prayer, do not film or photograph them from behind. Ask permission to film from the front or from any other vantage point in the mosque. 
  • Avoid luncheon meetings during Ramadan, when Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. Also, many Muslims follow dietary laws, which prohibit eating pork, its byproducts, blood and the flesh of animals that died without being ritually slaughtered.

General issues

  • Do not enhance racial profiling by simply running photographs and images of Muslims who, because of the way they dress, fit the stereotype.
  • Do not seek out the Muslim community only when there is a crisis or major problem and a reaction is required. 
  • There is no one Muslim leader that can speak for all of Islam. Additionally, there is no worldwide leader of Islam, or even the major branches of the religion. Imams and other local leaders serve different functions from most pastors and rabbis and often focus most of their work on interpreting Islamic law. Because there is no central authority, theological and legal interpretations can vary by region, country or even from mosque to mosque.
  • Do not rely on non-Muslims for information about Islam.

Example Coverage

Nihad Awad, center, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, and more than 10 Muslim-American leaders endorse a letter, written by more than 100 Islamic scholars, that denounces ISIS by relying on sacred Muslims texts Sept, 24, 2014. Photo by Lauren Markoe

“Muslim scholars tell Islamic State: You don’t understand Islam” Sept. 24, 2014, Religion News Service

More than 120 Muslim scholars from around the world joined an open letter to the “fighters and followers” of the Islamic State, denouncing them as un-Islamic by using the most Islamic of terms.

Relying heavily on the Quran, the 18-page letter released Wednesday (Sept. 24) picks apart the extremist ideology of the militants who have left a wake of brutal death and destruction in their bid to establish a transnational Islamic state in Iraq and Syria.

Even translated into English, the letter will still sound alien to most Americans, said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council of American-Islamic Relations, who released it in Washington with 10 other American Muslim religious and civil rights leaders.

“The letter is written in Arabic. It is using heavy classical religious texts and classical religious scholars that ISIS has used to mobilize young people to join its forces,” said Awad, using one of the acronyms for the group. “This letter is not meant for a liberal audience.”

Even mainstream Muslims, he said, may find it difficult to understand.

Awad said its aim is to offer a comprehensive Islamic refutation, “point-by-point,” to the philosophy of the Islamic State and the violence it has perpetrated. The letter’s authors include well-known religious and scholarly figures in the Muslim world, including Sheikh Shawqi Allam, the grand mufti of Egypt, and Sheikh Muhammad Ahmad Hussein, the mufti of Jerusalem and All Palestine.

A translated 24-point summary of the letter includes the following: “It is forbidden in Islam to torture”; “It is forbidden in Islam to attribute evil acts to God”; and “It is forbidden in Islam to declare people non-Muslims until he (or she) openly declares disbelief.”

This is not the first time Muslim leaders have joined to condemn the Islamic State. The chairman of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany, Aiman Mazyek, for example, last week told the nation’s Muslims that they should speak out against the “terrorist and murderers” who fight for the Islamic State and who have dragged Islam “through the mud.”

But the Muslim leaders who endorsed Wednesday’s letter called it an unprecedented refutation of the Islamic State ideology from a collaboration of religious scholars. It is addressed to the group’s self-anointed leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, and “the fighters and followers of the self-declared ‘Islamic State.’”

But the words “Islamic State” are in quotes, and the Muslim leaders who released the letter asked people to stop using the term, arguing that it plays into the group’s unfounded logic that it is protecting Muslim lands from non-Muslims and is resurrecting the caliphate — a state governed by a Muslim leader that once controlled vast swaths of the Middle East.

“Please stop calling them the ‘Islamic State,’ because they are not a state and they are not a religion,” said Ahmed Bedier, a Muslim and the president of United Voices of America, a nonprofit that encourages minority groups to engage in civic life.

President Obama has made a similar point, referring to the Islamic State by one of its acronyms — “the group known as ISIL” — in his speech to the United Nations earlier Wednesday. In that speech, Obama also disconnected the group from Islam.

Enumerating its atrocities — the mass rape of women, the gunning down of children, the starvation of religious minorities — Obama concluded: “No God condones this terror.”

International sources

Global

  • Islamic Finder

    Islamic Finder is a web tool that enables users to search for mosques by ZIP code or city.

  • International Institute of Islamic Thought

    The International Institute of Islamic Thought is a private, nonprofit, academic, cultural and educational institution concerned with general issues of Islamic thought and education.  The institute is based in the United States but has locations in Bangladesh, Nigeria, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Indonesia, Jordan, Pakistan, Morocco, Saudi Arabia and the U.K.

Asia

  • Radio Sapcham

    Radio Sapcham is an Islamic Dakwah Program on radio in order to reach out to and connect the Cham Muslim Community and Cham Diasporas.

  • International Islamic University of Malaysia

    The International Islamic University of Malaysia is an educational institution in Kuala Lumpur.  The school has a variety of program courses and research, which include medicine, law, engineering, Islamic practice, and education.

    Contact: (+603) 6196 4000.

South America

  • Centro Cultural Islámico

    Centro Cultural Islámico is an organization in Argentina that provides many resources on Islam, Arabic language, culture and education.

  • Islamic Center of Argentina

    Islamic Center of Argentina / Centro Islámico de la República Argentina is an organization that hosts festivals, cultural events, education activities and schooling in Buenos Aires.

  • Sociedad de Beneficente Muculmana-Rio de Janeiro

    Sociedad de Beneficente Muculmana-Rio de Janeiro provides information about Islam and posts information about cultural activities in the area.

Africa

  • Islamic University of Ghana

    The Islamic University of Ghana is an institution of high learning that teaches in areas of business, communication, religious studies, information systems and law.

Europe

  • Euro-Islam.info

    Euro-Islam.info is an online active network of researchers and scholars who conduct comparative research on Islam and Muslims in the West and disseminate key information to politicians, media, and the public.

  • Institute of Islamic Studies

    The Institute of Islamic Studies is a Protestant network of scholars in Islamic studies that is carried out by the Evangelical Alliance in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. Churches, the political arena, and society at large are provided foundational information relating to the topic of “Islam” through research and the presentation thereof via publications, adult education seminars, and democratic political discourse.

  • Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe

    The Federation of Islamic Organizations in Europe is a cultural organization, with hundreds of member organizations spread across 28 European States, all subscribing to a common belief in a methodology based on moderation and balance, which represents the tolerance of Islam.

  • European Muslim Union

    The European Muslim Union is an umbrella organization made up of various other organizations and to serve the Muslim community in Europe and to promote and facilitate the dialogue and mutual improvement of the host societies and the Muslims.

     

  • Islamic Religious Community in Austria

    Islamic Religious Community in Austria, or Islamische Glaubensgemeinschaft in Österreich, seeks to enhance the Islamic bond between government and civil institutions in Austria.

  • The Muslims in Britain Research Network

    The Muslims in Britain Research Network brings together academics, professionals, teachers, researchers, students, journalists and others to encourage and promote the study of Muslims and Islam in Britain.

  • The Husaini Islamic Centre in Stanmore

    The Husaini Islamic Center in Stanmore is an entity in Stanmore that provides many resources for area Muslims, including classes and cultural activities.

    Contact: +44 (0)20 8954 6247.
  • World Assembly of Muslim Youth

    The Work Assembly of Muslim Youth is a nongovernmental, nonprofit youth and student organization affiliated with the United Nations and located in the UK. It supports those involved in young Muslims’ personal and social development and works to enable them to fulfill their potential in modern society.

  • The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy

    The Union of Islamic Communities in Italy/ Unione delle Comunità ed Organizzazioni Islamiche in Italia – UCOII is an organization that holds conferences on the relationship between Italian Muslims and the government, and has issued statements in response to major events in Muslim-European relations.

  • French Council of the Muslim Faith

    French Council of the Muslim Faith/Conseil Français du Culte Musulman is a national elected body and serves as an official interlocutor with the French state in the regulation of Muslim religious activities.

    Contact: +33 (0)1 45 58 05 73.
  • Arab World Institute – Paris

    The Arab World Institute is an organization founded in Paris in 1980 by 18 Arab countries with France to research and disseminate information about the Arab world and its cultural and spiritual values.  It functions as a museum and research center.

    Contact: 01 40 51 38 38.
  • Central Council of Muslims in Germany

    The Central Council of Muslims in Germany is a body that provides a discussion forum for Muslims to discuss religion, politics, culture and family life.

  • Islamic Council for the Federal Republic of Germany

    The Islamic Council for the Federal Republic of Germany/Islamrats für die Bundesrepublik Deutschland is an organization that provides networking and support for Muslims in Germany.  The Council is located in Cologne, Germany.

    Contact: +49 (0) 221 170 4901 5.
  • Muslim Students’ Association in Germany

    Muslim Students’ Association in Germany/Muslim Studenten Vereingingung in Deutschland  is a part of the International Muslim Student Association.

  • Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies

    The Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies is an organization that provides a meeting point between the Islamic and Western worlds of learning. Through good scholarship, it promotes a more informed understanding of Islam, its culture and civilization.

  • Centre of Islamic Studies at Cambridge

    The Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge is an organization that is working with the Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation on the Sunna Project. This project aims to encourage, facilitate and advance work in all the disciplines of hadith study by means of the Hadith Database, and to continually enrich the database by means of the research it encourages and the interaction of all the members working in the field.

  • Cambridge Muslim College

    The Cambridge Muslim College is a nondenominational institution for education, training and research in subjects relevant to the British Muslim community.

  • The International Union for Muslim Scholars

    The International Union for Muslim Scholars is an organization that is composed of scholars who want to discuss and preserve Islamic teaching and research.

  • Sara Silvestri

    Dr. Sara Silvestri is an interdisciplinary social scientist fascinated by the role of faith in society and in international relations and its implications for the governance of an increasingly diverse Europe.  Specifically, she specializes in Islam and Muslim political mobilization in Europe; Islamism; religion, politics and public policy; governance of religious pluralism, faith-based movements and lobbies, radicalization, counter-terrorism; migration, integration, EU.

  • Sean McLoughlin

    Dr. McLoughlin is a senior lecturer in religion, anthropology and Islam at the University of Leeds.  He researches theology, religion and the Middle East.

  • Gary R. Bunt

    Gary R. Bunt is a scholar that specializes in topics relating to Islam, Muslims and the media; Islamic philosophy of law; Muslims in the U.K.; ritual and performance; religious and political authority. He is the author of Islam in the Digital Age. He writes a blog and maintains a website at Virtually Islamic.

  • Ruud Peters

    Ruud Peters is professor of Arabic law and culture at the University of Amsterdam.  His research includes several books on Egyptian Islamic law.

Middle East

  • Al-Bab

    Al-Bab is a general portal for all things Arab, in English. Al-Bab aims to introduce non-Arabs to the Arabs and their culture.

Middle East news sources

  • ASharq Al-Awsat

    An online publication in both English and Arabic covering the World and the Middle East.

  • Al-Ahram Weekly

    The publication is an online news source, published in Cairo.

  • Al Hayat

    A regional publication for the Middle East. Though the publication is written in Arabic, Google Chrome has the capability to translate the webpages to English.

  • Arab News

    An online publication about the Middle East, published in Saudi Arabia.

  • Egypt Today

    An Egyptian magazine covering topics such as art, culture and politics.

  • Gulf News

    Gulf News is an online news publication for the United Arab Emirates.

  • Syria Today

    Syria Today is an English news magazine published in Syria.

  • The Daily Star

    The Daily Star is a daily news publication in Lebanon.

  • The Jordan Times

    The Jordan Times is an independent English-language daily published by the Jordan Press Foundation since October 26, 1975.

  • Yemen Times

    Yemen Times is a weekly newspaper that seeks to promote development of the country, including media development.

  • Arabic Media Internet Network

    A project of Internews Middle East, offering news of the region by Arab journalists in Arabic and English.

  • Reuters Voices of Iraq

    This project offers daily coverage by Iraqi freelance journalists.

  • One Day in Iraq

    An online project by the BBC.

U.S. sources

Organizations

  • The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community – U.S.

    The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community is an international movement that identifies as Muslim but differs from Orthodox Islam in its teachings. Its U.S. headquarters is in Maryland and it maintains more than 70 chapters across the U.S.

  • The Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations

    The Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, part of Hartford Seminary in Connecticut, is the country’s oldest center for such study. With a history that traces back to 1893, the center focuses on research, teaching, publication and public discourse. Its faculty includes Mahmoud Ayoub, the Rev. Steven Blackburn and Yahya Michot.

  • Islamic Circle of North America

    The Islamic Circle of North America is a grass-roots organization working to establish Muslim identity and cohesiveness and to further good works. It has traditionally been an immigrant-led organization. It provides religious instruction and public education, youth programs, social services, disaster relief and services to the homeless. It has a presence in every major city in the country, with the largest chapters in Houston, Dallas, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Maryland-Virginia, Florida, Detroit, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Contact president Khurshid Khan.

    Contact: 718-658-1199.
  • Muslim Alliance in North America

    The Muslim Alliance in North America is a national network of masjids, Muslim organizations and individuals committed to work together to address certain urgent needs within the Muslim community.  They are especially concerned with issues affecting indigenous Muslims. Contact: Siraj Wahhaj.

  • American Society for Muslim Advancement

    The society is a cultural and educational organization that works to build bridges between Muslims and other Americans. It has offices in New York City and North Bergen, N.J. Daisy Khan is executive director.

    Contact: 212-870-2552.
  • As-Sunnah Foundation of America

    The foundation works to promote unity and religious understanding among different groups of American Muslims. Its chairman is Sheik Muhammad Hisham Kabbani. The organization is based in Burton, Mich.

    Contact: 810-744-3400.
  • Cordoba Initiative

    The Cordoba initiative is a multifaith organization whose goal is to build understanding between Muslims and the U.S. It sponsors educational programs, meetings, policy initiatives and lectures on a range of subjects including women in Islam, interfaith understanding and youth leadership. John Bennett is its executive director, and he is located in Aspen, Colo.

  • Fiqh Council of North America

    The council is an organization of Islamic scholars and clergy in Canada and the United States.

  • International Association of Sufism

    The association is a nonprofit organization that works to promote the principles of and knowledge about Sufism, one of the branches of Islam. It is headed by Seyedeh Nahid Angha and Shah Nazar Seyed Ali Kianfar. It is based in Novato, Calif. Send questions through the website.

    Contact: 415-382-7834, 415-472-6959.
  • Latino American Dawah Organization

    The organization promotes Islam among American Latinos. It publishes a newsletter, The Latino Muslim Voiceand has several chapters across the U.S.

    Contact: 877-949-4752.
  • Muslim American Society

    The Muslim American Society is a dynamic charitable, religious, social, cultural, and educational, organization. Over the past two decades, MAS has expanded to more than 50 chapters across the United States. MAS offers unique programs and services that seek to better the individual and in turn, the greater society by imparting Islamic knowledge, promoting community service, engaging in political activism, and much more.

  • Muslim Women’s League

    The Muslim Women’s League is a nonprofit organization that works to improve the status of women in the American Muslim community. Part of its mission is to create awareness about domestic violence within the American Muslim Community. It is based in Los Angeles.

  • The Mosque Cares

    The Mosque Cares is the organization and ministry of Warith Deen Mohammad. It is based in Crest, Ill. and is involved in charitable giving and education.

Many in the densely populated Muslim community concentrated in Dearborn, Mich., and surrounding Detroit suburbs spent years planning and building the largest and costliest mosque in America. RNS photo by Eustacio Humphrey

In the Northeast

  • Akbar S. Ahmed

    Akbar S. Ahmed is a professor of comparative and regional studies and professor of international relations at American University in Washington, D.C., where he holds the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies. He has advised world leaders on Islam and was formerly High Commissioner of Pakistan to Great Britain. He has engaged in public dialogues with Judea Pearl, father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, in the U.S. and abroad. Ahmed has written widely and is a frequent television commentator on Islam. He is author of Islam Under Siege: Living Dangerously in a Post-Honor World. He also undertook a yearlong “anthropological journey” across America with a team of students studying American diversity. The journey has been documented via blog.

  • Zaheer Ali

    Zaheer Ali is a doctoral candidate at Columbia University researching 20th-century African-American history and religion; he is project manager for Columbia’s Malcolm X Project.

  • All Dulles Area Muslim Society

    The society serves 5,000 families and has seven branches in the northern Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C. The imam is Muhammad Magid.

  • Lawrence H. Mamiya

    Mamiya is professor of religion and Africana studies on the Mattie M. Paschall Davis and Norman H. Davis Chair at Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, N.Y. He is an expert on African-American religion and Islam. among African-Americans and is working on a book project on the history and sociology of African-American Muslim movements.

  • Dalia Mogahed

    Dalia Mogahed is director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, which specializes in the study of American Muslims. She previously served as executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies.

     

  • Seyyed Hossein Nasr

    Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a world-renowned scholar on Islam who teaches Islamic studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. His writings include Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man and The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity. Much of his work focuses on Islamic spiritual values, but he has also written about the religious and spiritual dimensions of the environmental crisis.

  • Sulayman Nyang

    Nyang is 
a professor of African studies at Howard University. He teaches and has written extensively about Islam and was the co-principal investigator for the research project “Muslims in the American Public Square.”

In the South

  • Ihsan Bagby

    Ihsan Bagby is an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky and an expert in Islam and its history and practice in North America. He is one of the authors of the research report “The American Mosque 2011.”

  • Alan Godlas

    Alan Godlas is an associate professor in the Department of Religion at the University of Georgia and has assembled this resource guide on the Middle East. He is also one of the country’s experts on Sufism.

  • Institute of Interfaith Dialog

    The Institute of Interfaith Dialog was founded by Turkish Muslim Fethullah Gulen and, though based in Houston, has chapters throughout the South and Southwest.

  • Islamic Center of Mississippi

    The Islamic Center of Mississippi is located in Starkville and serves a diverse groups of residents.

  • Jamillah Karim

    Karim was an assistant professor in the department of philosophy and religious studies at Spelman College in Atlanta. She was reared in an African-American Muslim community. Her expertise is on race, gender and Islam; younger Muslims in the U.S.; and connections and tensions among African-American Muslims and immigrant Muslims in the U.S.

  • King Fahd Center for Middle East and Islamic Studies

    The center is an interdisciplinary program in the Fulbright College of Arts and Sciences, dedicated to the study of the modern Middle East and the geo-cultural area in which Islamic civilization prospered, and continues to shape world history.  The center at the University of Arkansas includes professors in a variety of disciplines.

  • Yusuf Ziya Kavakci

    Yusuf Ziya Kavakci is the Turkish-born imam of the Islamic Association of North Texas.

    Contact: 972-231-5698.

In the Midwest

  • Edward E. Curtis IV

    Curtis is an associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. He is the author of Black Muslim Religion in the Nation of Islam: 1960-1975 (2006) and editor of The Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States (2008).

  • Marcia Hermansen

    Marcia Hermansen is director of the Islamic World Studies Program and a professor in the theology department at Loyola University Chicago. She is an expert on Islamic spirituality and Sufism.

  • Islamic Center of America

    The Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Mich., claims to be the largest mosque in the U.S. It is a Shiite mosque, and its congregation is predominantly Arab. Contact Imam Sayed Hassan Al-Qazwini.

  • Aminah B. McCloud

    Aminah B. McCloud is a professor of religious studies at DePaul University in Chicago and director of the Islamic World Studies Program. She has written about black Muslims. She can also discuss the place of animals in the Muslim world. The notion of animal rights is a new one for Muslim societies, she says.

  • Muslim Community Center

    It is an organization in Chicago with an education center in Morton Grove.  They offer membership services, which include counseling, marriage and funeral arrangements, and prayer sessions.

    Contact: 773-725-9047.

In the West

  • Shahed Amanullah

    Shahed Amanullah is founder and editor in chief of altmuslim, a website with contributors from across the globe writing on Muslim life, politics and culture.

    Contact: 650-248-6135.
  • Sherman Jackson

    Sherman Jackson holds the King Faisal Chair of Islamic Thought and Culture at the University of Southern California, where he is also professor of religion and American studies and ethnicity. He was formerly the Arthur F. Thurnau Professor of Near Eastern Studies, Visiting Professor of Law and Professor of Afro-American Studies at the University of Michigan. His books include Islamic Law and the State: The Constitutional Jurisprudence of Shihâb al-Dîn al-Qarâfî and Islam & the Problem of Black Suffering.

  • Karen Leonard

    Karen Leonard is an anthropologist at the University of California, Irvine. Her publications include Muslims in the United States: The State of Research and Immigrant Faiths: Transforming Religious Life in America.

  • Zaid Shakir

    Zaid Shakir is an African-American imam who converted to Islam during his service in the Air Force. He has a master’s degree in political science and received classical scholarly training in the Muslim world. He is a writer, speaker, teacher and activist, having founded several Muslim organizations in the eastern U.S. before becoming a resident scholar at Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, Calif., which calls him a leader in an emerging indigenous American Muslim tradition. Read his blog at New Islamic Directions.

  • Tim Winter

    Tim Winter is President of the Parents Television Council in Los Angeles, which tries to bring more family oriented programming to television and monitors network programming.

    Contact: 213-403-1300.

Advocacy and civil rights

  • American Muslim Alliance

    The American Muslim Alliance promotes participation of Muslim Americans in the political process. The alliance is based in Newark, Calif. Agha Saeed is its national chairman.

  • American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections

    The American Muslim Taskforce on Civil Rights and Elections promotes civic equality for Muslims and their participation in the American political process. It is an umbrella association of 11 Muslim-American groups. Contact Salim Akhtar.

  • Islamic Society of North America

    The Islamic Society of North America promotes unity and leadership among Muslims. The organization, based in Plainfield, Ind., has a large immigrant presence. Contact executive director Ahmed Elhattab.

  • Muslim Advocates

    Muslim Advocates uses legal advocacy, policy engagement and education to promote rights for Muslims and others. Contact executive director Farhana Khera.

  • Muslim Public Affairs Council

    The Muslim Public Affairs Council works for Muslim participation in civic life. It is a leading Islamic advocacy group with offices in New York and Los Angeles, committed to developing leaders with the purpose of enhancing the political and civic participation of American Muslims. It works to cultivate leadership in young Muslims and encourage a sense of ownership over their religious and national identity as Americans. The group’s $1.1 million budget includes no overseas funding. It has offices in Washington, D.C., and Los Angeles and several state chapters. The council is considered moderate and politically savvy and is led by first- and second-generation Americans. Contact Salam Al-Marayati, executive director.

Seminaries and student organizations

  • AlMaghrib Institute

    AlMaghrib Institute conducts seminars and conferences on Islam in the U.S., Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, leading students to a bachelor’s degree in Islamic studies. Muhammad Alshareef is its founder. It is based in Ottawa, Canada.

  • Muslim Students Association

    The association seeks to provide a forum for the unification of Muslim students from diverse backgrounds. Its website contains a list of the association’s chapters on college campuses across the country. Contact through the form on the website.

  • Zaytuna College

    The Zaytuna College in Berkeley, Calif., is the first Muslim seminary in the United States. It is run by two influential American clerics who received classical training abroad and who have large followings here, particularly among young American Muslims. A 2006 New York Times article credited the scholars, Sheik Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir, with countering the influence of conservative Wahhabism that has been spread in the United States by clerics trained in Saudi Arabia.

    Contact: 510-582-1979.

Muslims’ growing infrastructure

As the Muslim population in America grows, Muslims – like Catholics, Jews and other religious groups before them – are creating an infrastructure that is being woven into the fabric of America.

RNS AHMADI MUSLIM
Tahir Ahmad sings the call to prayer prior to the Friday service at the Rizwan Mosque in Portland, Ore. RNS photo by Michael Lloyd

Mosques

The number of mosques, or masjids, is increasing, and attendance is growing at many mosques. According to the “US Mosque Survey 2020” from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding (ISPU) there are some 2,769 mosques in the U.S., which is a 31% increase from the 2010 count of 2,106 mosques. They also found that “Mosques are becoming more suburban as major declines occurred in the number of mosques located in towns/small cities and in downtown areas of large cities.”

  • The Pluralism Project

    The Pluralism Project at Harvard University lists resources across the country by religious tradition, including interfaith resources. It is aimed at engaging students in studying the new religious diversity in the United States.

  • Salatomatic

    Salatomatic allows users to search by state and city for mosques and schools in the United States and around the world. It provides descriptions of mosques and contact information.

  • Islamic Finder

    Islamic Finder is a web tool that enables users to search for mosques by ZIP code or city.

Schools

Muslims have been very active in starting Islamic schools that combine a traditional education with instruction in Arabic and Islam. Many of these schools are affiliated with a local mosque. 

  • Islamic Schools League of America

    The Islamic Schools League of America is a national organization that provides resources and networking to help Islamic schools improve the quality of education they provide. It’s based in Falls Church, Va.

    Contact: 517-303-3905.
  • Muslim American Society

    The Muslim American Society is a dynamic charitable, religious, social, cultural, and educational, organization. Over the past two decades, MAS has expanded to more than 50 chapters across the United States. MAS offers unique programs and services that seek to better the individual and in turn, the greater society by imparting Islamic knowledge, promoting community service, engaging in political activism, and much more.

Health care

Muslims have also opened health clinics around the country, many of them targeting low-income communities.

  • American Muslim Health Professionals (AMHP)

    The American Muslim Health Professionals can help reporters find Muslim health-care professionals to discuss how Islam balances the stewardship of animals and the needs of science. Arshia Wajid is president.

  • Islamic Medical Association of North America

    The Islamic Medical Association of North America aims to provide a forum and resource for Muslim physicians and other health-care professionals, to promote a greater awareness of Islamic medical ethics and values among Muslims and the community at large, to provide humanitarian and medical relief and to be an advocate in health-care policy.

Banks/ finance

More banks are adding Islamic banking services, and the number and size of Islamic banking institutions are increasing to help Muslims comply with Islamic laws banning interest.

  • Arab Bankers Association of North America

    The Arab Bankers Association of North America is a nonprofit organization that promotes cooperation and understanding between financial services in the Arab world and North America.

    Contact: 212-599-3030.
  • Zakat Foundation of America

    The Zakat Foundation of America provides assistance for food, shelter, clothing and transportation for poor and needy Muslims in the United States. It is based in Bethesda, Md.

  • Islamic Relief Worldwide

    Islamic Relief Worldwide based in Birmingham, U.K., provided aid to Darfur. Its U.S. branch is based in Buena Vista, Calif.

Charities

There are many Muslim charities in the United States, which serve as outlets for the annual payments Muslims are required to give to the poor and needy. Several have been investigated and shut down because of suspected ties to terrorist organizations, angering Muslims.

  • Helping Hand

    Helping Hand is an Islamic global humanitarian relief and development organization that focuses on Pakistan, India, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Kenya and Iraq. Its American office is in Detroit.

America-based Islamic media

  • altmuslim.com

    altmuslim.com is an online magazine offering “global perspectives on Muslim life, politics and culture.” Contact through the website.

  • The American Muslim

    The American Muslim is the name of an independent magazine edited by Sheila Musaji, and not affiliated with the Muslim American Society.

  • Azizah Magazine

    Azizah Magazine focuses on the issues and needs of American Muslim women. It was founded by Tayyibah Taylor and Marlina Soerakoesoemah and is published in Atlanta.

  • The Final Call

    The Final Call is the newspaper of the Nation of Islam. It is published in Chicago.

    Contact: 773- 602-1230.
  • Illume

    Illume magazine focuses on the Islamic community in America. It is published in southern Alameda County in the San Francisco Bay Area.

  • Islamic Horizons

    Islamic Horizons is the magazine of the Islamic Society of North America.

  • Islamica

    Islamica is a not-for-profit news and issues magazine published by the Center for Inter-Civilizational Dialogue in Cambridge, Mass. Sohail Nakhooda is editor in chief.

  • IslamiCity

    IslamiCity bills itself as “a global Muslim eCommunity” and offers everything from news and opinion to ecards and matrimonial services on its site. It is based in Los Angeles and owned by Human Assistance and Development International, a nonprofit organization. Mohammed Aleem is its CEO.

  • MeccaOne Media

    MeccaOne Media produces radio, television, Web content, recordings and other forms of media designed to give voice to American Muslims. It is based in San Jose, Calif.

    Contact: 408-428-0144.
  • Muslim Yellow Pages

    Muslim Yellow Pages is a business directory based in Dallas. It is a nonprofit project of the Islamic Services Foundation in Dallas.

  • The Muslim Observer

    The Muslim Observer is an online publication created in Detroit. Aslam Abdullah is editor.

  • New Islamic Directions

    New Islamic Directions is a website featuring news, opinion and information. It is the project of Imam Zaid Shakir, a teacher at the Zaytuna Institute. It is published in Hayward, Calif.

    Contact: 510-387-2604.
  • Radio Islam

    Radio Islam is a project of the SoundVision Foundation and has aired Islamic-oriented radio programs via the Internet since 1999. Programs include music, poetry, scripture interpretation, news and talk shows. Abdul Malik Mujahid is its executive producer. It is based in Bridgeview, Ill.

Academics

For a more extensive listing of scholars of Islam, see ReligionLink’s source guide, Islam: A guide to U.S. experts and organizations.”

  • Akbar S. Ahmed

    Akbar S. Ahmed is a professor of comparative and regional studies and professor of international relations at American University in Washington, D.C., where he holds the Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies. He has advised world leaders on Islam and was formerly High Commissioner of Pakistan to Great Britain. He has engaged in public dialogues with Judea Pearl, father of slain Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, in the U.S. and abroad. Ahmed has written widely and is a frequent television commentator on Islam. He is author of Islam Under Siege: Living Dangerously in a Post-Honor World. He also undertook a yearlong “anthropological journey” across America with a team of students studying American diversity. The journey has been documented via blog.

  • Leila Ahmed

    Leila Ahmed is a professor of divinity at Harvard University Divinity School. She has a background in women’s studies and is a pre-eminent scholar of Islam as it pertains to women. She has written about the resurgence of the veil and about Islam and women’s bodies, among other things. Contact her through faculty assistant Kristin Gunst.

  • Dr. Laila Al-Marayati

    Dr. Laila Al-Marayati is a physician and past president of the Los Angeles-based nonprofit Muslim Women’s League, which represents Muslim women and supports the status of women as equal members of society. The league has a speakers bureau and position papers on topic issues such as divorce, honor killing, female genital mutilation, gender equality, inheritance and women’s dress. Members often speak at interfaith public events and at their children’s schools to increase awareness, particularly during Ramadan.

  • Kecia Ali

    Kecia Ali is a professor of religion at Boston University. She wrote Sexual Ethics and Islam: Feminist Reflections on Qur’an, Hadith and Jurisprudence. Her areas of expertise include progressive Islam and women, gender and Islamic law and Muslim societies. She taught a class in 2003 on marriage and divorce in Islamic law at Harvard University Divinity School.

  • Zahid H. Bukhari

    Zahid H. Bukhari directs the American Muslim Studies Program at the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. Previously, he directed the Muslims in the American Public Square Project, which looked at the contribution and role of Muslims in American public life. He also directs the Center for Islam and Public Policy.

  • Richard Bulliet

    Richard Bulliet is a history professor at Columbia University in New York City who specializes in Islam. Among his books are Islam: The View From the Edge and The Case for Islamo-Christian Civilization.

  • Edward E. Curtis IV

    Curtis is an associate professor of religious studies at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. He is the author of Black Muslim Religion in the Nation of Islam: 1960-1975 (2006) and editor of The Columbia Sourcebook of Muslims in the United States (2008).

  • Carl W. Ernst

    Carl W. Ernst is a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill. He wrote Following Muhammad: Rethinking Islam in the Contemporary World and edited Islamophobia in America: The Anatomy of Intolerance. He is affiliated with the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security.

  • Khaled Abou El Fadl

    Khaled Abou El Fadl is an internationally recognized law professor and the Omar and Azmeralda Alfi Distinguished Fellow in Islamic Law at the University of California, Los Angeles. He teaches a course on Islamic law and has also taught about Middle Eastern investment law, immigration law and human rights and terrorism. His books include Speaking in God’s Name: Islamic Law, Authority and Women, and he wrote the entry on Shariah for The Oxford University Handbook of Islam and Politics.

  • John Esposito

    John Esposito is founding director of Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding and professor of religion and international affairs and of Islamic studies at Georgetown. He is an expert on global terrorism, Islam and democracy, and international interfaith relations. His publications include Islamaphobia: The Challenges of Pluralism in the 21st Century and Islam: The Straight Path; The Oxford Dictionary of Islam; Unholy War: Terror in the Name of Islam; What Everyone Needs to Know About IslamWho Speaks for Islam?: What a Billion Muslims Really Think; and Women in Muslim Family Law.

  • Yvonne Y. Haddad

    Yvonne Y. Haddad is professor of the history of Islam and Muslim-Christian relations at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. She co-authored Muslim Women in America: The Challenge of Islamic Identity Today and Educating the Muslims of America. Her scholarly interests include Muslims in the West, Islamic revolutionary movements, 20th-century Islam and the intellectual, social and political history of the Arab world.

  • Amir Hussain

    Amir Hussain is professor of theological studies at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. He is also editor of the Journal of the American Academy of Religion.

  • Zayn Kassam

    Zayn Kassam is professor of religious studies at Pomona College in California. She is an expert on Islamic society.

  • Richard C. Martin

    Richard C. Martin is a professor in the religion department at Emory University in Atlanta. His scholarly interests include Islamic studies, comparative religions and religion and conflict. He has written several books about the history and study of Islam. He has lived and done research in Egypt and elsewhere in the Muslim world, and he is engaged in cooperative projects with Muslim scholars.

  • Seyyed Hossein Nasr

    Seyyed Hossein Nasr is a world-renowned scholar on Islam who teaches Islamic studies at George Washington University in Washington, D.C. His writings include Man and Nature: The Spiritual Crisis in Modern Man and The Heart of Islam: Enduring Values for Humanity. Much of his work focuses on Islamic spiritual values, but he has also written about the religious and spiritual dimensions of the environmental crisis.

  • Omid Safi

    Omid Safi is a professor of Asian and Middle Eastern studies at Duke University, where he also directs the Duke Islamic Studies Center. He edited Progressive Muslims: On Justice, Gender and Pluralism.

  • John Voll

    John Voll is professor of Islamic history and associate director of the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He is an expert in Middle Eastern, Islamic and world history, and he has written on Islam in the modern world and Islam and democracy.

Demographics and Muslim life

  • Ihsan Bagby

    Ihsan Bagby is an associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky and an expert in Islam and its history and practice in North America. He is one of the authors of the research report “The American Mosque 2011.”

  • Omer M. Mozaffar

    Omer M. Mozaffar is a doctoral student at the University of Chicago. He is an adjunct professor of Islamic studies and religion at St. Xavier University and North Central College, where he teaches courses on Islam and world religions. He is knowledgeable about inner dynamics of Muslim organizations, particularly immigrant organizations. Mozaffar is a lifelong active participant in the Muslim community of Chicago and has given more than 200 lectures on Islam across the country since 9/11. He blogs about contemporary Islamic viewpoints.

  • Farid Senzai

    Farid Senzai is a fellow and director of research at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, which researches the Muslim community in the United States. He is also an assistant professor of political science at Santa Clara University. A co-editor of Educating the Muslims of America (2009), he helped organized a 2006 conference on Islamic education in the United States.

Other contacts

  • Paul Barrett

    Paul Barrett was a reporter for The Wall Street Journal and author of American Islam: The Struggle for the Soul of a Religion (2006). He currently directs the investigative reporting unit at BusinessWeek. Contact via Farrar, Straus and Giroux Publicity.

  • Mona Eltahawy

    Mona Eltahawy is a speaker, writer and commentator who focuses on issues concerning Islam. She is based in New York City.

  • Dalia Hashad

    Dalia Hashad is the Arab, Muslim, South Asian advocate for the American Civil Liberties Union. She is part of the Campaign Against Racial Profiling, which focuses on issues facing Arab, Muslim and South Asian Americans in a post-9/11 world. 

  • Sarah Husain

    Sarah Husain is a poet, activist and editor of Voices of Resistance: Muslim Women on War, Faith and Sexuality (2006). She is based in New York City.

  • Irshad Manji

    Irshad Manji is a writer-in-residence at the University of Toronto in Toronto, Canada, and author of The Trouble With Islam Today: A Muslim’s Call for Reform in Her Faith (2004). Contact via the form on the website.

  • 100 Influential Voices from the Arab World

    100 Influential Voices from the Arab World is a project by The Center for Global Engagement at the Institute for American Values and Al-Tasamoh developed this list of scholars, thinkers, journalists and artists that influence the Arab world.

Online handbooks for Arab and American journalists

More resources on/for Arab Americans

Style guide

A family visiting from Mauritius waits for other family members in front of the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center before Eid al-Fitr prayers. RNS photo by Omar Sacirbey

A

abaya: A robelike garment worn by some women who are Muslims. It is often black and can be a caftan or fabric draped over the shoulders or head. It is sometimes worn with a hijab and/or a niqab. See burqa.

ablution: The practice of ritual washing in a religious rite to cleanse a person of sin or disease, to purify or to signify humility or service to others. In Christianity, baptism and foot-washing are both forms of ablution. In liturgical churches, ablution can refer to purifying fingers or vessels related to the Eucharist. In Islam, ablution is ritual washing, known as wudu, before prayer. In Judaism, immersion in a mikvah is a form of ablution.

adhan: The Islamic call to prayer.

Ahl al-Kitab: Used in the Quran for Jews and Christians; Arabic for “People of the Book.”

Al-Aqsa: An eighth-century mosque in the old city of Jerusalem. Arabs sometimes use the term to designate the surrounding area; Jews refer to that area as the Temple Mount.

Al-Isra Wal Miraj: A celebration of Muhammad’s journey from Mecca to Jerusalem, where he ascended to speak with Allah.

al-Qaida: The international network of militant terrorists associated with Osama bin Laden and an extremist form of Islam. In Arabic, al-Qaida means “the base.”

Allah: Arabic word for God. Some Muslims say they generally say or write God instead of Allah when addressing a non-Muslim to avoid any suggestion that the two are not the same. However, always use Allah when quoting a person or text that uses Allah.

Allahu akbar: Pronounced “AH-luhu AHK-bar.” In Arabic it means “God is great” or “God is the greatest.” Muslims say it several times a day, such as during the call for prayer, during prayer, when they are happy and when they wish to express their approval of what they hear.

angels: Spirit messengers, both good and evil, accepted in the traditions of Judaism, Christianity, Islam and other religions. They appear in the Hebrew Bible, the New Testament and the Quran. Capitalize angel when it precedes a name, such as the Angel Gabriel.

Aqiqah: A birth or welcoming ceremony into Islam.

ayatollah: Pronounced “eye-ya-TOE-la.” A Shiite term for senior clergyman. Capitalize when used as a title before a name, but lowercase otherwise.

B

Black Muslims: Black Muslim is a term that became associated with the Nation of Islam but is now considered derogatory and should be avoided. The preferred term is simply member of the Nation of Islam. Also, because of that association, do not use Black Muslim to describe African-Americans who practice traditional Islam, whose tenets differ markedly from the Nation’s. Instead, say African-American Muslims. See Islam and Nation of Islam.

burqa: A form of covering for women who are Muslims, most frequently found in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is an all-enveloping outer garment with a net-covered opening for the eyes or face to allow the woman to see. See abaya, hijab and niqab.

C

caliph: Pronounced “KAY-luhf.” Successor or representative of the Prophet Muhammad, and the political leader of the Ummah, or Islamic community. A dispute over who should succeed Muhammad after his death prompted the Sunni-Shiite split that continues today. According to Sunnis, who make up the vast majority of Muslims, the first four caliphs were Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, Othman Ibn ‘Affan, and ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib. These four are known collectively as the “Rightly Guided Caliphs.” Shiites believe that Muhammad’s relatives should have succeeded him. Another term for caliph is khalifah.

caliphate: Pronounced “KAY-luhf-ate.” The lands of the Islamic state ruled by the caliph. In 1517, the Ottomans claimed the caliphate and held it until 1923, when the secular nation of Turkey was created. The terrorist Osama bin Laden spoke of restoring the caliphate.

Council on American-Islamic Relations: The Washington-based advocacy group challenges stereotypes about Islam and Muslims and aims to provide an Islamic perspective on matters of public importance to Americans. CAIR is acceptable on second reference.

D

da’wah: Inviting others to Islam; missionary work.

dhikr: Pronounced “THIK-er.” The remembrance of God, especially by chanting the names of God to induce alternative states of consciousness. Also sometimes spelled zikr.

dogma: In religions such as Christianity and Islam, dogmas are considered core principles that must be adhered to by followers. In Roman Catholicism it is a truth proclaimed by the church as being divinely revealed. Dogma must be based in Scripture or tradition; to deny it is heresy.

du’a: Pronounced “DO-uh.” The Islamic term for individuals’ personal supplication to God. In Arabic it means calling.

E

Eid al-Adha: Pronounced “EED-uhl-ad-ha.” Known as the Feast of Sacrifice, it concludes the annual observance of the pilgrimage to Mecca known as hajj. Muslims everywhere observe Eid al-Adha with community prayers and a feast, whether or not they are on hajj. Eid al-Adha shifts dates every year because Muslims use a lunar calendar that only includes about 354 days. Eid al-Adha commences with the sighting of the new moon. See hajj.

Eid al-Fitr: Pronounced “EED-uhl-FIT-uhr.” A joyous Islamic holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, the month of fasting. It is observed with communal prayers, donations to charity and special meals. Fasting is forbidden on this day. Eid al-Fitr shifts dates every year because Muslims use a lunar calendar that only includes about 354 days. Eid al-Fitr commences with the sighting of the new moon. See Ramadan.

end times: Lowercase. Generally refers to the time of tribulation preceding the Second Coming of Jesus, though it has parallels and roots in all three Abrahamic traditions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Sometimes also called the “End of Days.”

F

fatwa: Pronounced “FAHT-wah.” A ruling, or legal opinion, on Islamic law issued by an Islamic scholar.

fiqh: Pronounced “fik-h.” Islamic jurisprudence, based on study of the Quran and other sacred texts.

Five Pillars: The fundamental aspects of Islam that direct the private lives of Muslims in their dealings with God. All branches of Islam accept them. The First Pillar is the Shahada, or profession of faith, that there is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his prophet. The Second Pillar is salat, or the five daily or canonical prayers for remaining constant in the faith. They are performed at prescribed times with a prescribed ritual. The Third Pillar is zakat, charity for the poor. The Fourth Pillar is fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. The Fifth Pillar is hajj, or the pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. Every Muslim who is physically and financially able is required to make the journey once.

G

golden rule: Variations on the golden rule, which can be succinctly stated as, “treat others as you wish to be treated,” are found in the texts of every major religion, including Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

grand mufti: The most supreme religious leader. One can be a grand mufti of a city, region or country. It is a title used mostly by Sunnis. Capitalize when used before a name.

H

hadith: Pronounced “ha-DEETH.” A report or reports about a saying, action or tradition of Muhammad and his closest companions. Can be used as both a singular and a plural noun. Hadith are viewed by Muslims as explanations of the Quran and are second only to Islam’s holy book in terms of guidance and as a source of Shariah (Islamic law). The two most reliable collections are by Bukhari and his student Muslim, both ninth-century Islamic scholars.

hajj: Pronounced “hahj.” In Islam, a pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of the Prophet Muhammad. It is the fifth of the Five Pillars of Islam. Every Muslim who is physically capable and financially able is expected to make the hajj at least once. Hajj takes place during the 12th month of the Islamic year, and specific rites take place during a five-day period. Because Muslims follow a lunar calendar, the dates move each year. The festival of Eid al-Adha occurs at the end of hajj. A hajji is a person who has undertaken the pilgrimage. See Eid al-Adha.

halal: Pronounced “ha-LAL.” In Arabic, something that is lawful and permitted in Islam. It is often used to refer to Islamic dietary laws, which prescribe ritual slaughtering of beef and poultry, among other things.

Hamas: An Islamic political party in Palestine. An armed wing of the party uses the same name.

haraam: Pronounced “ha-RAHM.” In Arabic, something that is forbidden or prohibited in Islam.

haram: Pronounced “HAR-em.” In Arabic, a sanctuary or sacred territory in which all things are considered inviolable. Mecca and Medina both have this designation.

Hezbollah: A Shiite Islam political party in Lebanon. An armed wing of the party uses the same name.

hijab: Generally used to describe the scarf many women who are Muslims use to cover their head, but it can also refer to the modest dress, in general, that women wear because of the Quran’s instruction on modesty. Shiites are more likely to wear hijabs than Sunni Muslims, but women decide whether to wear one based on the dictates of their mosque, community and conscience. See abaya, burqa, niqab.

hijrah: Pronounced “HIJ-ra.” In Arabic, to flee in pursuit of sanctuary; the term refers to the flight of Prophet Muhammad in 622 from Mecca to Medina, and marks the start of the Islamic calendar. Also spelled hijira.

I

ijtihad: Pronounced “IJ-tee-haad.” The process of reasoning and interpreting the Quran, hadith and other sacred texts to uncover God’s rulings. Religious scholars effectively terminated the practice five centuries ago, but a need seen by some Muslims to reinterpret the faith for modern times has revived the practice. It is disputed whether ijtihad is reserved for scholars, or open to all Muslims with a basic degree of religious knowledge.

imam: Pronounced “ee-MAHM.” In everyday use, any person who leads a congregational prayer. Traditionally, only men have been imams, although women are allowed to serve as imams for other women. To lead prayers, one does not have to be a cleric. In a more formal sense, an imam is a religious leader, but can also be a political leader. Many Shiites believe imams are intercessors with God; many also believe in the Twelve Imams, descendants of Prophet Muhammad whom they consider his rightful successors. The Twelfth Imam disappeared from the world in 873, but followers of Twelve Imams Shiism believe that he is still alive and will return as the Mahdi, or “the guided one,” who will restore righteousness before the end of the world. On first reference, uppercase imam when preceding a proper name. On second reference, use only the person’s last name. Uppercase imam when referencing the Twelve Imams.

intifada: This Islamic term for shaking, uprising and insurrection generally is used to refer to the Palestinian resistance of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. Specific events mark the beginnings of different intifadas.

Islam: Religion founded in seventh-century Mecca by the Prophet Muhammad, who said Allah (God), through the Angel Gabriel, revealed the Quran to him between 610 and 632, the year of his death. Followers of Islam are called Muslims. They worship in a mosque, and their weekly holy day is Friday. Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity. After Muhammad’s death, Islam split into two distinct branches — Sunni and Shiite — in an argument over who would succeed him. Sunnis make up an estimated 85 percent of all Muslims. Shiites are the majority in Iran, Iraq, Lebanon and Bahrain, while Sunnis are the majority in other Islamic countries. In Sunni and Shiite Islam, there are various madhhabs, or schools of thought, and other theological traditions. There is no central religious authority, so theological and legal interpretations can vary from region to region, country to country and even mosque to mosque.Capitalize all Islamic titles when used before a name and lowercase otherwise. Use the title and name on first reference and only the person’s last name after that. Shiites and Sunnis use a few of the same religious titles but differ on others. Shiites have a more-defined hierarchy than Sunnis. For example, Sunnis call people who lead congregational prayers imams, while Shiites almost exclusively reserve imam to refer to any of the 12 descendants of the Prophet Muhammad who Shiites believe were his rightful successors. Sheik, on the other hand, is used in both communities, but can be used either as term of respect — to address older men, for example — or for a formally trained scholar. Among Sufi Muslims,sheik holds a more exclusive status that is reserved for highly trained scholars and heads of Sufi orders. Among Shiites,mullahs are lower-level clergy who generally have only rudimentary religious education. A hujjat al-Islam is more learned than a mullah but does not have the authority to issue legal rulings. Mujtahids and faqihs are jurists with the authority to issue rulings. A higher-level mujtahid is a marja, the most educated of whom are called ayatollahs. In addition to imam and sheik, Sunni titles include mufti and grand mufti, which indicate a higher status usually conferred by an institution.Grand muftis are usually the top religious scholar in a country. Because the Quran is in Arabic, it is a common misconception that all Arabs are Muslim and all Muslims are Arab; neither is true.

Islamic: An adjective used to describe the religion of Islam. It is not synonymous with Islamist. Muslim is a noun and is the proper term for individual believers. See Islamist, Muslim.

Islamist: Follow AP style, which defines the term as an “advocate or supporter of a political movement that favors reordering government and society in accordance with laws prescribed by Islam” and gives this guidance: “Do not use as a synonym for Islamic fighters, militants, extremists or radicals, who may or may not be Islamists. “Where possible, be specific and use the name of militant affiliations: al-Qaida-linked, Hezbollah, Taliban, etc. Those who view the Quran as a political model encompass a wide range of Muslims, from mainstream politicians to militants known as jihadi.”  

J

jihad: An Arabic word that translates as “struggle” or “striving.” It is most commonly used to describe an inward, spiritual struggle for holiness, though traditionally it has also been used to describe defensive military action against non-Muslims. Today militant Muslims use it to call for aggressive armed strikes against non-Muslims, including civilians, and against other Muslims whom they consider impure – all acts condemned by mainstream Islam. Although many in the media translate jihad as “holy war,” it does not mean that literally, and the majority of Muslims do not use it that way.

K

kaffiyeh: A men’s headdress.

Koran: Quran is the preferred spelling and is capitalized in all references. The spelling Koran should only be used if it is in a specific title or name. See Quran.

kufi: A skullcap worn by some (male) Muslims.

M

madhhab: Islamic school of thought. There are four schools of thought that most Sunni Muslims follow: Hanafi, Maliki, Shafi’i and Hanbali. There is generally great harmony between these schools, with differences lying in finer points of law rather than in fundamentals of faith. Ja’fari and Zaydi are the two main Shiite schools of thought.

madrassa: A Muslim place of learning usually associated with a mosque.

Mahdi: Pronounced “MAAH-dee.” The “guided one” many Muslims believe will appear at the end of times to restore righteousness for a short period before the end of the world. Shiite Muslims believe the Mahdi is the Twelfth Imam, a descendant of Muhammad who disappeared in 873. Many Sunni Muslims also believe in the Mahdi, though not necessarily that he is the Twelfth Imam. However, some noted Sunni authorities have rejected belief in the Mahdi, saying it is not compatible with a religion that does not rely on intercession to achieve salvation.

Malcolm X: The African-American civil rights activist who converted to Nation of Islam while in prison and changed his last name to X, symbolizing his lost tribal name. After becoming one of its most prominent spokesmen, he separated from the Nation in 1964 and was assassinated in 1965.

Mary, mother of Jesus: According to the New Testament, Mary was a virgin when she miraculously conceived Jesus through the Holy Spirit. She then married Joseph. Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that she remained a perpetual virgin and that biblical references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters mean either Joseph’s children by an earlier marriage or cousins. Most Protestants believe that Mary and Joseph had children. Mary was present at Jesus’ Crucifixion and was among the disciples gathered when the New Testament says they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. According to one tradition, she went to live with the Apostle John in Ephesus, Greece (in modern-day Turkey), after Jesus’ Crucifixion. Other traditions hold that she lived out her days near Jerusalem. Catholic, Orthodox and some Protestant Christians give her the title Mother of God. Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that her prayers for them are especially powerful because she has such a close relationship to Jesus. Catholics alone believe that Mary’s parents conceived her without transmitting original sin to her – a dogma known as the Immaculate Conception. The Immaculate Conception is often confused with the Virgin Birth, which refers to the birth of Jesus by the Virgin Mary. Catholics refer to her as the Blessed Virgin Mary. Both Catholic and Orthodox Christians believe that she was drawn up bodily into heaven at the end of her life. The Orthodox call this the Dormition of the Theotokos (Theotokos [theh-oh-TOH-kohs] is the usual Orthodox term for Mother of God) and believe that it happened after she died. Catholics call it the Assumption and have never officially resolved whether she died. Mary is also revered by Muslims, and there is a chapter in the Quran named after her. Veneration is the term that characterizes Catholic devotion to Mary and other saints; only God is worshipped. Marian veneration, along with the entire tradition of devotion to saints, was historically one of the principal divides between Catholics and most Protestants, although many Protestants are rethinking their traditional views of the mother of Jesus.

Mecca: The birthplace of Muhammad, it is Islam’s holiest place. Located in western Saudi Arabia, Mecca is the focal point of Muslims’ prayers. Muslims pray toward Mecca five times each day.

Mohammed, W. Deen: Founder of the American Society of Muslims, the largest association of African-American Muslims in the United States, and The Mosque Cares. His father, Elijah Muhammad (born Elijah Poole), was a leader of the Nation of Islam who was considered a prophet. After his father’s death in 1975, W. Deen Mohammed led the Nation of Islam toward mainstream Sunni Islam and then formed his own organization; Louis Farrakhan rebuilt the Nation of Islam closer to its previous tenets. Different spellings of both W. Deen Mohammed and Elijah Muhammad have been used over time, sometimes within the same organization, and W. Deen Mohammed changed his name from Muhammad to Mohammed at one point. See Nation of Islam.

monotheism: A religion devoted to the worship of a single god. Judaism, Christianity and Islam are known as the world’s three great monotheistic religions.

Moslem: An outdated term for Muslims. It should not be used unless it is part of a proper name.

mosque: A building in which Muslims gather for prayer and worship. The tower of a mosque, a minaret, is used to chant a call for prayer.

Muhammad: Islam’s most important prophet. Because Muslims believe Islam existed before Muhammad, they consider him to be the religion’s final prophet, not its founder. Non-Muslims refer to Muhammad as the founder of Islam. Capitalize the word prophet when used with Muhammad’s name – as in the Prophet Muhammad – but not when used alone. According to traditional biographers, Muhammad was born circa 570 in Mecca and died in 632 in Medina, both cities in what is now Saudi Arabia.

Muhammad, Elijah: A leader of the Nation of Islam who is considered a prophet by members. After he died in 1975, his son, W. Deen Mohammed, led the Nation toward mainstream Sunni Islam. Louis Farrakhan then rebuilt the Nation according to Elijah Muhammad’s teachings.

Muhammad, Wallace Fard: The founder of the Nation of Islam. Members consider him the Mahdi, or savior, and believe that black people are superior to all others. Sometimes referred to as W.D. Fard. See Nation of Islam.

mullah: A Shiite term for lower-level clergy. Capitalize the title when it precedes a name.

Muslim: A follower of Muhammad and the tenets and practices of Islam. Muslim is a noun; use the adjective Islamic when referring to the Islamic faith or the Islamic world. See Islam.

N

Nation of Islam: A religious and political organization formed in 1930 by Wallace Fard Muhammad with the stated aim of “resurrecting” the spiritual, mental, social and economic condition of black people in America and the world. Its tenets differ markedly from those of traditional Islam. Elijah Muhammad took over the organization in 1934 and preached separation of blacks and whites, in addition to calling for a strong morality. After his death in 1975, Elijah Muhammad’s son, W. Deen Mohammed, assumed leadership. (Note the different spelling of the last name.) Mohammed began moving the Nation toward mainstream Sunni Islam and shunning black separatist views. He essentially dismantled the Nation and created his own organization. In 1976, Louis Farrakhan left the Nation of Islam, but in 1978 he and his supporters decided to rebuild the original organization. Followers should be referred to as members of the Nation of Islam. The term, Black Muslim, once associated with the organization, is now considered derogatory and should be avoided. Nation of Islam clergymen use the title minister, which should be capitalized on first reference before a name. On second reference, use only the person’s last name.

niqab: A veil worn by some women who are Muslims; it covers all of their face except the eyes. See abaya, burqa and hijab.

P

pagan: Generally, a person who does not acknowledge the God of Judaism, Christianity or Islam and who is a worshipper of a polytheistic religion. Many pagans follow an Earth-based or nature religion. The modern religious movement known as neo-paganism has adopted the name as a badge of faith. Note: Some pagans prefer to see the term capitalized. See neo-paganism.

prophet: Someone who speaks divine revelation, or a message they received directly from God. Judaism, Christianity and Islam all have certain figures they formally recognize as prophets. Some traditions, including the Mormons, some charismatic groups and some non-Christian faiths, believe their leaders receive ongoing divine revelation. In much of Christianity, all ordained clergy are considered to have a prophetic role because their job is to proclaim the word of God. Capitalize when used before the name Muhammad to refer to Islam’s final prophet, but otherwise do not capitalize as a title.

Q

qawwali: Pronounced “kuh-WAH-lee.” Devotional songs of the Sufi tradition of Islam. Do not capitalize.

Quran: Pronounced “ku-RAHN.” The holy book of Islam, which Muslims believe is the direct word of God as dictated in Arabic to Muhammad by the Angel Gabriel during the month of Ramadan beginning in 610 to about 632. The Quran contains laws for society, as well as descriptions of heaven and hell and warnings on the end of the world. It also includes stories of figures found in the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures, but Muslims believe the Quran supersedes those holy writings. Quran is the preferred spelling and is capitalized in all references. The spelling Koran should only be used if it is in a specific title or name.

R

Ramadan: Pronounced “rah-mah-DAHN.” Islam’s holy month, during which Muslims fast from sunup to sundown. Ramadan commemorates the time during which the faithful believe Allah sent the Angel Gabriel to Muhammad in Mecca and gave him the teachings of the Quran. The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid al-Fitr. Because Islam follows a lunar calendar, Ramadan shifts each year as calculated by Western calendars. See Eid al-Fitr.

S

salat: The prescribed prayer that Muslims offer five times a day to fulfill the second of the Five Pillars of their faith.

Satan: In the Hebrew Bible, Satan is depicted as an angel used by God to test man. In the New Testament, Satan is a fallen angel who is the ultimate evil and enemy of God and man. In Islam, Satan was the head jinn or genie until he angered God by refusing to accept man’s superiority. Uppercase in all references, but always lowercase devil.

Shahada: The Islamic profession of faith that there is no god but God, and Muhammad is God’s prophet. The Shahada is the first of the Five Pillars of Islam.

Shariah: Pronounced “sha-REE-ya.” The revealed and canonical laws of Islam. Some countries base their legal systems on Shariah; their legislators create laws and rules based on the Quran, hadith and other sources.

sheik: Most Islamic clergymen use the title sheik like a Christian cleric uses the Rev. Sheik also is used as a secular title. Capitalize it when used before a name, but lowercase otherwise.

Shiism, Shiite: Shiism is the name of the smaller of the two major branches of Islam. It developed after the death of the Prophet Muhammad, when his followers split over who would lead Islam. The Shiism branch favored Muhammad’s cousin and son-in-law ‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib. Its followers are called Shiites. Use Shiite instead of Shi’ah unless in a quote or as part of a name. Uppercase in all uses.

skullcap: A small, close-fitting headpiece worn in some religious traditions, particularly by men. Other names for it include yarmulke (worn by Jews), zucchetto (worn by Roman Catholic prelates) and kufi (worn by Muslims).

Sufism: Pronounced “SOO-fee-izem.” An Islamic mystic tradition with followers around the world.

Sunni: Pronounced “SOO-nee.” The largest denomination in Islam, followed by about 85 percent of Muslims. The plural form is Sunnis.

T

tawhid: Pronounced “tau-HEED.” The concept that denotes the oneness and unity of God; it is the basis of Islam.

U

Ummah: Pronounced “OOM-mah.” The worldwide community of Muslims.

W

Wahhabism: An austere form of Islam dominant in Saudi Arabia and Qatar that follows a strict, literal interpretation of the Quran. Most people in the West knew nothing of Wahhabism until after the 9/11 attacks, which were organized by the terrorist Osama bin Laden, a Wahhabi. Wahhabism has spread rapidly since the 1970s, when the oil-rich Saudi royal family began contributing money to it. It is considered an extremist form of Sunni Islam that strictly enforces rules and criticizes those who follow other traditions of Islam. Use Wahhabi for a follower of Wahhabism.

wudu: Pronounced “woo-DOO.” A ritual in Islam in which the hands, face, mouth and feet are cleaned with water, symbolic of spiritual cleansing. It is usually performed before a Muslim goes to prayer five times each day. See ablution.

Z

zakat: One of the Five Pillars of Islam. All branches of Islam accept these fundamental aspects of the faith that direct the private lives of Muslims in their dealings with God. Zakat, the Third Pillar, is charity for the poor. 

Additional Resources

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