Barbershop: Reflections On A Particularly Difficult Ramadan

Jun 24, 2017
Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Now it's time for the Barbershop. That's where we talk with a group of interesting folks about what's in the news and what's on their minds. And this weekend, what's on the minds of millions of observant Muslims is the end of the annual period of fasting and reflection known as Ramadan. Ramadan ends tomorrow with a festival, Eid al-Fitr.

But we wanted to note that this has been a particularly difficult Ramadan for many Muslims in different parts of the world. Worshippers leaving services were attacked in separate incidents in London and Virginia. There was also that devastating car bomb explosion in Afghanistan on the first day of Ramadan. On Thursday, an 800-year-old mosque was destroyed in Iraq, the al-Nuri mosque in Mosul. So we thought this would be an appropriate time to ask a group of Muslim thought leaders to join us for their reflections as they conclude this important period of religious observance.

Joining us in our studios in Washington, D.C., is Congressman Andre Carson. He represents the 7th District in Indiana, which includes Indianapolis. He's one of two Muslim-Americans currently serving in Congress.

Congressman Carson, welcome. Thank you so much for joining us.

ANDRE CARSON: What an honor, thank you.

MARTIN: Also with me in our studios here is Buzzfeed reporter Hannah Allam. She has won awards for her coverage of the Iraq War. She's now reporting on Muslim life in the U.S. Hannah Allam, welcome to you. Thank you so much for joining us as well.

HANNAH ALLAM: Thanks for having me.

MARTIN: And joining us from WCPN ideastream in Cleveland, Ohio, is Julia Shearson. She's the executive director for the Cleveland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations or CAIR. Julia Shearson, thank you so much for joining us once again.

JULIA SHEARSON: Hello from the Muslim community in Cleveland.

MARTIN: And may I greet you all with Ramadan Mubarak?

ALLAM: Thank you.

SHEARSON: Ramadan Kareem.

CARSON: Ramadan Kareem.

MARTIN: And I know - I just wanted to ask if you all had been looking forward to Eid, or is it bittersweet because of all these issues that I just mentioned? And those are just a few. That actually doesn't even incorporate all of the things that have been happening this - just this period alone. Hannah, can you start?

ALLAM: Sure. I think a lot of people went into Ramadan looking forward to that period of reflection and just, you know, a chance to exhale after what had been this really difficult year - a lot of anti-Muslim rhetoric on the campaign trail and dealing with the travel ban and the fallout from that. And so, you know, I think people went into it thinking, I really need this time with my family. I need this time to reflect and, you know, also just to have fun - I mean, trading DJ Khaled memes about fasting and things like that, just, you know. But, of course, the troubles were never far from hand.

So yeah, we had a lot of - a string of attacks. And that definitely marred the month for a lot of people. So maybe, I think, there's a sense that maybe Eid, this three-day period of celebration, maybe that will kind of restore some of that peace and reflection.

MARTIN: Congressman Carson, you know, what about you? Now, I know you didn't grow up in the faith, so I don't know if you have sort of childhood memories to draw upon. But for you, has this been a joyous time in the past? And was it different for you this time?

CARSON: I think it has been. I've been a Muslim since I was 16, 17. And I think the Eid is always a time for celebration, recalibration, digging in. But this year was particularly trying. And I think now Muslims have come to a crossroads of sorts in really identifying who we are as a community. I mean, we have different schools of thought. We certainly are not monolithic. But the greater question becomes, what will our participation be in the larger society?

We can no longer sit back and be afraid and be shy about who we are. We don't have to necessarily be pronounced, but I think we need to be pronounced in the sense of saying, this is who we are. We will not stand for targeting. We will not stand by while Muslim women are attacked. We have to take a stand.

I think coming out of the indigenous Muslim community, I think that there has been a tradition of protecting Muslim sisters in particular. But I think now, more than ever, in a post-9/11 reality, I think that sentiment has become more widespread that we need to focus on being proud of who we are but also protecting our communities in a very real way.

MARTIN: Julie, can I ask you something? There's something that I know has been a very painful experience, which is something I alluded to earlier. In, you know, Virginia, a man has been charged with kidnapping and killing a teenager named Nabra Hassanen after she was walking with a group of friends to have breakfast.

You know, and one of our regular commentators, Arsalan Iftikhar, was telling us that this is something of a rite of passage for teenagers, you know, to go out together to have breakfast to break the - you know, before the fast begins at daylight. And I just wanted to ask, Julia, if I could ask you as a woman who wears hijabs, as a woman who wears head covering, does something like this make you feel more vulnerable, even more vulnerable than you perhaps may have felt before?

SHEARSON: Well, I think, yes. I mean, we live in - I live in Cuyahoga County, which is very cosmopolitan. But I think of some more rural areas in our country, or in that case, it was a suburban area. I mean, it is shocking and concerning. Last night, we were at a memorial service for her, a vigil, at the Islamic Society of Akron and Kent. There were people there from all different faith communities.

And what is very poignant about it was that it was led by young people, young American Muslims who've really stepped forward and want to claim their place in American society as part of the tapestry of this society. And what I see, you know, in this time of tremendous, you know, tragedy, of religious bigotry, where the fabric of the American tapestry is really sort of unwinding, I see on the other side this incredible hope and resilience and pride and courage to see our community stepping up together with the interfaith community.

I mean, right now, in our office, we have a Christian volunteer. She's 90 years old. She came in and worked on the Ramadan appeal with us. People, when they streamed to the airports during the Muslim ban, I think that that really shocked the conscience of the American people because they saw - I think they really finally saw how terrible religious intolerance can be. And they stepped forward to, you know, to stand up and defend. So yes, it's frightening, but it's also a chance of coming together.

MARTIN: Hannah, just briefly, if you would, I know that you've written about this. I know that many people have been talking about the fact that the authorities in Virginia have been reluctant to call this a hate crime. They are said - instead they are saying that this was an incident of road rage that escalated to this unbelievable level. And I haven't even given all the details because, frankly, I find it just very, very painful to even discuss. And I wanted to ask, why is it important what it's called? I mean, particularly I want to ask you this as a writer and as a journalist yourself, where precision is part of your job. But why do you think it's important what it's called?

ALLAM: Sure. And this one has been difficult to report on because it is not labeled a hate crime. And yet, that is definitely how it's, you know, being perceived, that there was some way in which Nabra Hassanen's either skin color or religion played a role in this. And it's, you know, really - whether or not it's classified that by authorities, a lot of - to a lot of Muslims, it's being just, you know, one more reminder of their vulnerabilities and especially for Muslims of color.

MARTIN: And, Congressman Carson, to that end, you know, we've talked a lot on this program and in many forums about the whole - the talk, you know, this whole question of the conversation that African-Americans have felt that they have had to have with - about how to engage with authorities.

Now, what - all of you have children. I'm going to ask you if you could talk to me about have you talked with your kids about this? And what do you say? I mean, there's no - what would one say? I mean, this is something that seems to have come out of nowhere. Have you talked about this with your kids? And what do you say?

CARSON: Yeah. You know, my daughter's 10 years old. She's African-American. She's Muslim but she's still 10. And I think, as a dad - I know her mom talks about - talks to her about these things. But as a dad, I think my approach is probably riddled with a lot of concern, anxiety, paranoia but coming from the African-American experience and knowing full well what it's like to be profiled.

So being black and Muslim, it comes with having double the suspicions, double the assumptions, double mythology surrounded - by who you are as a human being. But I think, in a very real sense, I've had to walk her through the realities of what it means to be black in America, being targeted and coming out of a lot of hurtful mythologies that have been codified by religion and even public policy. And so my hope is to navigate her around this to the best of my ability.

MARTIN: Hannah, what about you? I know you have two boys, and they're still kind of little but...

ALLAM: You know, no - well, I have one. And just this morning, he heard - you know, I said hey, we might go to the mosque tomorrow for Eid. And he knew that I had just come from the mosque to cover Nabra Hassanen's funeral, so I didn't even think of this connection in his mind. But he said, no, mommy, we can't go to the mosque, maybe we'll be attacked if we leave. And he's 6-and-a-half, so that stopped me.

MARTIN: Julia, what about you? I know you have a daughter, too. And just briefly, if you would, are you talking to her about this?

SHEARSON: Sure.

MARTIN: And what do you say?

SHEARSON: Oh, absolutely. I mean, my - as the daughter of a civil rights activist, my daughter is very well-aware of all the different things that have happened to the Muslim-American community. So I think she's - she doesn't wear the headscarf to school. She went to an Islamic school for four years, and now she's in the public school. But I think she started to be able more to assert her Muslim identity. She did a bake sale for the homecoming for the Syrian refugees. She recently did a speech - read from a speech on Malcolm X.

So, I mean, she's - you know, these young Muslims are trying to develop their identity in a very challenging circumstance. But I think that they're going to come through this well. But, of course, we have to be careful as a community. And we - I - you know, we have to be cautious. And we have to be alert and aware. But we have to go forward. I mean, we cannot cower in fear and neither can our country.

MARTIN: That's Congressman Andre Carson, Hannah Allam and Julia Shearson. I want to thank you all so much for joining us today. We do hope you have a blessed Eid. And I do want to know what you're going to eat to break the fast. Do you know?

ALLAM: We're going to a Lebanese restaurant.

MARTIN: OK, well, there it is.

(LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Thank you all so much for joining us.

SHEARSON: We're going for Korean.

MARTIN: OK.

(LAUGHTER) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.