Who Speaks For America’s Muslims? And Why Americans Must Know

From L to R: Activist Linda Sarsour, Rep. Keith Ellison, Imam Omar Suleiman, author Qasim Rashid, and comedian/writer  Dean A
From L to R: Activist Linda Sarsour, Rep. Keith Ellison, Imam Omar Suleiman, author Qasim Rashid, and comedian/writer Dean A Obeidallah.


My uncle passed away in Pakistan last week.  But because of serious threats for my criticism of religious extremism in my motherland, I was unable to travel back for his funeral. For fellow Americans, I am a Muslim, a physician and a human rights activist. But to the State of Pakistan - and the mainstream Sunni clergy -  I am an infidel for not conforming to the orthodoxy.

Like white supremacy, Sunni supremacy is a real phenomenon in parts of the ‘Muslim world,’ and is equally deadly, if not more. Other Islamic sects - like the Shi’ite and Ahmadi Muslims - often face marginalization and outright persecution under Sunni regimes. In Pakistan, Ahmadi Muslims were declared non-Muslim by the State in 1974. A decade later, specific anti-Ahmadi laws were put in place to criminalize the religious profession of Ahmadi Muslims. Ahmadis are jailed for reading the Quran, identifying as a Muslim, saying the Islamic call to prayer (Adhan), referring to their place of worship as a Mosque etc. Thousands of Ahmadi Muslims - including my uncle who passed away last week - have spent significant parts of their lives in prison cells merely for their faith. And millions more continue to be prisoners of conscience to this day. 

As I explained on a recent FOX News panel on the #RefugeeBan, it is this religious extremism that forced me to seek refuge in America.  

Disturbingly, this anti-Ahmadi hate and violence has also found its way to the West.  Last year, “Kill Ahmadis” fliers were distributed across universities and markets in the U.K. One Ahmadi Muslim was subsequently murdered in cold blood and the killer hailed a hero by extremist clerics in Pakistan.

Many Sunni clerics and activists in the United States also harbor deep prejudice against members of minority Muslim communities. Televangelist Nouman Ali Khan, preacher Yasir Qadhi, and the renowned Sheikh Hamza Yusuf are few of many prominent Muslims who have used derogatory language for Ahmadi Muslims, referring to them as Kafirs (infidels), or as a dangerous cancer within the Muslim community. In fact, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf’s official website has a full article dedicated to Ahmadi Muslims, labelling the Islamic sect a seditious cancer and its members infidels.

Many more Sunni Imams like Imam Dawud Walid (Executive Director, CAIR-MI), Imam Omar Suleiman, Imam Khalid Latif, Imam Suhaib Webb, etc, preachers such as Muhammad SattaurFaraz Rabbani, etc, activists including Hassan Shibly (CAIR Florida), Imraan Siddiqui (CAIR-AZ), Hussam Ayloush (CAIR-LA) etc, adamantly refuse to publicly identify me as a fellow Muslim. This refusal to identify another self-identifyng Muslim as part of the Muslim community is known as Takfir in Islamic terminology. Sadly, it is this anathematization and exclusion that is  at the root of sectarianism and religious extremism across parts of the ‘Muslim world.’ 

Unlike these clerics, Islamophobes on the far-right don’t discriminate. They consider ALL Muslims - without distinction of sect or denomination - a cancer within America.

The American Muslim community is certainly not a homogenous group. This begs the question. Who speaks for ALL American Muslims? Well, we can certainly identify those who do NOT. Any Muslim who looks down upon the richness and diversity within the Muslim community with disgust, and has no respect for pluralism within the American Muslim Community certainly does NOT speak for us. Any Imam who engages in Takfir does not speak for us American Muslims either. Any activist or leader who is unwilling to identify Ahmadis and Shias as fellow Muslims certainly does NOT speak for the American Muslim community.

And it is very important for the media, civil rights groups and the American people to understand this. Because calling on Muslims who do not value pluralism within their own communities to make the case for pluralism on behalf of the Muslim community is offensive and wrong. It insults the millions of Muslims whom such activists exclude from their activism. Imagine the injustice if a Protestant activist in Pakistan who does not identify catholics as Christian, be elevated by the Pakistani media as the voice of Christians in that country.

The American Muslim community as a whole is quite progressive, tolerant and inclusive. There are numerous Muslim activists who embrace pluralism and speak up for all Muslim Americans without any distinction whatsoever.

Here are a few:

Rep. Keith Ellison (who has always led by example), Dr. Bilal Rana, Khaled BeydounDean A Obeidallah (did a radio segment on this topic), Qasim RashidFarahnaz Ispahani, Muhammed A. ChaudhryDr. Amina WadudDr. Faheem Younus, Abdullah T. AntepliHarris Zafar, Nusrat Qadir ChaudhryMehdi HasanSalaam Bhatti, Wajahat AliDalia MogahedZeshan ZafarRaza Rumi, Rabia Chaudhry, Nadiya Al-Noor, Iyad El-BaghdadiAmjad Mahmood Khan, Hind Makki, Beena Sarwar, Robert Salaam, Professor Ali Asani (Harvard), Hina Tai, Loon Watchers, Heba Macksoud, John Robbins (CAIR-MA), Raquel Saraswati, Kanwal Haq, Manal OmarDilshad D. Ali, Asma T. Uddin, Haris Tarin (MPAC), Tayyab Rashid, Parvez Ahmad, Mike Ghouse, Muqtedar KhanAbed Ayoub, Jennah Adam, Richard RenoAni Zonneveld, etc.

Kashif N Chaudhry


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Forbidden Love

A coming of age story from Afghanistan, the book takes you on a journey of two teens and their star-crossed paths.

Author Nemat Sadat has dabbled with complicated topics in his debut book, garnering a lot of praise.
 Author Nemat Sadat has dabbled with complicated topics in his debut book, garnering a lot of praise.


Set in Afghanistan amidst the Soviet-Afghan War of 1979, The Carpet Weaver is the story of 16-year-old Kanishka, the son of a successful carpet weaver, who falls in love with his childhood friend Maihan. Author Nemat Sadat has dabbled with complicated topics in his debut book, garnering a lot of praise.

“It’s a coming of age story. It’s also a gay love story, and a clash of culture. And I guess because it’s my own experience with my own identity, being a gay Afghan refugee, these identities have been used as tools by powers to manipulate, so I just felt like it needed a story,” says Nemat, for whom the book was supposed to be a way of coming out of the closet himself.

“When I first started in 2008, I thought it would take a couple of years. That there would be a book tour and it would be a way for me to come out to the world. It didn’t quite work out that way,” the author reveals about his journey with his sexuality.

The Carpet Weaver is  about an Afghani homosexual teen and  is written by the first native Afghani to come out as gay. So you wonder if the author projected a bit of himself into in Kanishka’s character. The author responds, “In terms of my own core values, yes, because I  had self-doubt like a lot of people, but I was also outspoken, and Kanishka exhibits a lot of those qualities.”


The Carpet weaver by Nemat Sadat, Penguin Publishers,  Pp. 243, Rs 304.The Carpet weaver by Nemat Sadat, Penguin Publishers, Pp. 243, Rs 304.


Despite having similar core values, Nemat did not face hardships similar to his protagonist. Nevertheless, he can still relate to the character. “I was never a carpet weaver, never lived in refugee camps or grew up in Afghanistan. But in soul and spirit, we are similar. If I had gone through what Kanishka had, I’d probably make the exact same decisions he made.”    

But despite being a native Afghani, Nemat hasn’t spent much time in his home country. “I’m 40 years old, and have lived there for less than two years. First when I was born, then I went for one year in 2012,” the author reveals, adding that his 2012 visit did not go as planned.

But even though it wasn’t a pleasant stay, it helped him gain perspective. “While in Afghanistan, I didn’t do any research. But being there, helped me understand the situation,” he adds.

Today, the author and activist is still making waves in Afghanistan. “I’m known in Afghanistan because I am the first person to come out as gay. I am campaigning for LGBT rights,” says Nemat, who was the first to start an underground gay movement back in 2012.



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Dr. Patrice Harris Sworn in as First Black Female President of the American Medical Association

Dr. Patrice Harris just shattered another glass ceiling in the medical industry. On June 11th she was officially sworn in as the 174th president of the American Medical Association, making her the first Black woman to lead the organization.

In her speech at her inauguration, Dr. Harris reflected on the shoulders she stood on to reach the highest position within the AMA.

“It’s truly a dream come true to stand before you tonight,” she said. “A dream my ancestors, parents, my extended family, and my friends supported before it even entered my imagination. A dream my West Virginia, Georgia, psychiatry and AMA families helped me achieve. And I know in my heart that, tonight, I am my ancestors' wildest dreams.”

A native of West Virginia, Dr. Harris blazed trails and acquired invaluable experience beyond her white coat years before her presidency.  In 2016, she became the first African American woman to lead AMA's Board of Trustees. She also served on the board of the Medical Association of Georgia’s Council on Legislation, its Committee on Constitution and Bylaws, and its Membership Task Force. She was also the president of the Georgia Psychiatric Physicians Association, as well as the founding president of the Georgia Psychiatry Political Action Committee. 

As a Black woman, she is keenly aware of, and equipped to address, challenges within the medical field that uniquely affect marginalized communities.

"We are no longer at a place where we can tolerate the disparities that plague communities of color, women, and the LGBTQ community. But we are not yet at a place where health equity is achieved in those communities," Dr. Harris said in a statement.  She continued, “We are no longer at a place where underrepresented groups are not welcome in medicine, but we are not yet at a place where underrepresented groups are entering or graduating from medical schools at the rates of their peers."



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Sikh elders of the Ludhiana Village Hedon Bet refuse to let anyone demolish the Mosque built in 1920 despite zero Muslim population in the village.

“We will not let anyone demolish the masjid”

“It is the house of god”

This is the masjid in the village Hedon Bet of Ludhiana district

The elders stated that the Mosque is the house of god and no one has the right to demolish it. The residents of the village overwhelmingly support the elders and prevent anyone from occupying the abandoned site.

The elders stated that as long as they live the Mosque will stand and they will stand guard to prevent demolition. The Muslim population of the village moved to the newly formed Pakistan in 1947 and abandoning their places of worship.

The Sikhs have a long history of protecting other’s places of worship. The 6th Guru, Guru Hargobind Sahib Ji even built a mosque for Muslims.





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UK Sikh community pledges £500 mln donation to refurbish religious sites in Pakistan : Zulfi

ISLAMABAD, Jun 12 (APP):The Peter Virdee Foundation (PVF) and some Sikh businessmen, living in the United Kingdom have announced to donate £500 million (Rs 96.5 billion) to refurbish and restore their religious sites in Pakistan.

The commitment was made by the PVF, a non-governmental organization, working for marginalized sections of the society, in a meeting with Chairman National Tourism Coordination Board (NTCB) Sayed Zulfikar Abbas Bukhari in London.

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6 things your Lebanese mom will ask when you date a new guy

"Eben meen?"

Going out on a date doesn't go down too well with parents, especially mothers, as their protective instincts kick in almost immediately. 

There will be questions, lots of them, especially so if you're the daughter.

Here are some questions Lebanese mothers will most probably ask when they know you're in the dating zone. 

1. Chou Esmo?

“What's his name?” 

Both of you understand she won't know the guy, but since the interrogation has begun, the most basic questions are fired first. 

2. Eben Meen?

This could go two ways, either “What is his family name?” to try relating him to an area, village, ancestors, religion, political party, etc... 

Or "Whose son is he?" meaning she wants to know if he's from a well-off family.

3. Wen Sekin?

“Where does he live?”

Again with the camouflaged questions. Once your mother lays this one down, she means to investigate his cultural background and living entourage.

4. Farjineh sourto

“Show me a picture of him.”

The Instagram hunt is on. *Scroll* *scroll* *scroll* 

5. Kif t3arafto?

“How did you two meet?”

'Drunk at a party' is never the correct answer. However you two may have met, give her the prudish version of the story. 

6. Lawen rayhin?

“Where are you going out to?”

Lynn Hariri


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How Rwanda became an oasis of liberal Islam

Sheikh Salim Hitimana has fought to preserve a moderate and pluralist spirit

 Kigali, Rwanda


To most outsiders, Rwanda is still synonymous with genocide. Nearly a million killed in 100 days; almost three quarters of the Tutsi population dead. The country’s attempts to rebuild have been much commented on, but something else is overlooked: Rwanda has become an astonishing oasis of tolerant Islam and, in many ways, an example to the West.

In Rwanda, there is an Islam which stands firm against the petrochemical ‘Gulf Stream’ of Wahhabi finance, despite lacking the huge wealth that Muslims in the Arab world enjoy. It also refuses to yield control to the neo-fundamentalists of the Muslim Brotherhood now backed by Qatar and Turkey. This independence and liberalism are embodied by the spiritual leader of Rwandan Muslims, Sheikh Salim Hitimana. He is the Mufti of Rwanda, and as such he issues fatwas (religious edicts) on Islamic issues and is defender of the faith.

We meet in his offices at the Al Quds Mosque in Kigali, which is busier than at any time in the country’s history. ‘Before the genocide, there were perhaps 200,000 Muslims in the country, and no Rwandans wanted to enter Islam,’ he says. During the genocide, Muslims stood out for refusing to take sides and for risking their lives to shelter those under attack. ‘People started to think: who are those people? Why don’t those people commit genocide like us? People became attracted to join us.’ The country’s Islamic population has grown fivefold, he says, to more than a million.

What kind of religion have Rwandan converts joined? ‘I think Pakistan and many other Muslim majority countries have been hijacked by thinking which is not, basically, Islamic,’ he says. ‘In Rwanda we take Islam from our prophet, from our Quran. Which says: if you want to, you can convert to Islam; if you don’t, that is your freedom. Nobody can touch that freedom.’

The Mufti wants to preserve an Islam that adheres to scripture, without the new politicised elements of sartorial — and therefore social — control. ‘I introduced a religious fatwa against the niqab in 2016,’ he says proudly. ‘We saw that niqab abroad, but in Rwanda we have stopped it. Everything you have to practice here must be mentioned in the Quran.’ There’s nothing Islamic, he says, about the niqab — and Rwandan Muslims, he believes, do not have to look radically different from the rest of the population.

Rwandan Islam has followed the Shafi’i school of Islamic thought, which differs greatly from the harsher Hanafi, found in Pakistan, and Hanbali, found in Saudi Arabia. To understand Islam, it’s crucial to understand these distinctions.

Rwanda’s Islam has preserved much of the moderate and pluralist spirit. That is not to say that the fundamentalists who prey on failed states haven’t tried to turn this Islam in their direction. After the genocide, Saudi Wahhabi forces began to circle. They opened schools, as they did in post-war Yugoslavia: the usual means of Wahhabist exportation.

The Mufti himself was trained in Libya by scholars in the Shafi’i tradition, and realised that this more liberal model of Islam needs muscular protection. ‘In Rwanda, we learned that the result of division is genocide. That’s why we have set up these systems. We don’t allow any kind of thinking which can enter our society and divide us. That is why we don’t allow anyone to come to our country and teach about Islam without consulting the Rwandan Muslim community.’

The Saudis aren’t used to being outsmarted in this way: most countries have a blind spot for infiltration of Wahhabism, especially if it comes wrapped in money. ‘We control every minbar [pulpit],’ says Hitimana. Today, no preacher can enter Rwanda and start preaching in any of the country’s 675 mosques. Instead, they go through an intense three-month period of academic and religious testing before being certified as a qualified cleric. Every sermon by every preacher is pre-approved by the Mufti and central powers at the Rwandan Muslim Council.

In Britain, there has been much talk about ‘preachers of hate’ whom the government has struggled to deport. In Rwanda, any deviation from Shafi’i principles and clerics are immediately barred, and their minbars shut down until they fall into line. Anti-Semitism is banned, the Mufti tells me, because ‘our basic Islam does not allow anyone to discriminate against other people.’ It’s often said that Islam’s problem is the lack of a hierarchy — no bishops, no excommunication — leaving it open to extremist infiltration. In Rwanda, there is a strict hierarchy, and it works.

Qanta Ahmed


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What It’s Like To Be The First Woman In My Family To Choose An Interracial Marriage

The author and her husband at the beginning of their Sikh wedding ceremony, standing with their parents for a prayer.
The author and her husband at the beginning of their Sikh wedding ceremony, standing with their parents for a prayer.

Growing up, my dad would repeat his house rule almost every week: When you get married, marry a Sikh.

He couldn’t fathom that after moving to America for more opportunities for his family, one of his kids would make the mistake of losing touch with her roots. Through my mid-20s, my parents were still holding out hope that I would end up with a Sikh man.

Sikhism is the fifth-largest religion in the world, originating in Punjab, India. Its central values include the devotion to one God, service, equality, fighting for justice and truthful living. My parents are strict followers of the religion and made sure my siblings and I grew up going to Sikh camps over the summer, learning the Punjabi language and attending our version of Sunday school to learn hymns and history lessons.

I’ve always identified as a Sikh, but it’s been hard to reconcile my identity in my dating life. Before I met my husband, Sam, I dated both Sikh and non-Sikh men. Honestly, I often struggled when I went on dates with Sikh men. In some cases, I either felt too American and like I couldn’t relate or match their cultural experiences, or I was forcing myself to overlook a lack of chemistry or connection to make it work just because they were Sikh. In other cases, conversations about relational and marital expectations laid bare an underlying double standard of how it was only OK for men to grow up in this country and become liberal, opinionated, career-driven people.

When I met Sam on a dating site in 2016, I wasn’t making a conscious decision to be with someone who wasn’t Indian or Sikh. After years of heartbreak and a series of terrible dating experiences, I just wanted to meet a kind, respectful generous man. Sam’s emotional intelligence immediately blew me away, and I learned quickly that he was very different from the men I had dated before.

Marriage is the ultimate success for Indian daughters, and my parents had been worried about me for years. So, at 27, I decided to tell them I had met someone. It was supposed to be positive news. I was happy. 

My parents couldn’t really wrap their heads around me dating a non-Sikh man at first. They couldn’t understand why I would make a relationship and potential marriage even harder by choosing someone so different from me. They were worried for my future, and they pretty much banked on it being something that would pass. Months later, my dad continued to hint at potential Sikh suitors he knew about in the community. No matter how hard it was to actively fight for my happiness, I knew I’d have to ride it out and prove to them this wasn’t short-lived.

This was new for Sam, too. He also had never been with someone of a different race or culture. Someone whose religion is the thread that ties together their values, world views and beliefs. Someone whose culture emphasized family involvement even on personal matters. And while his family only cared that he was happy, Sam waited patiently and respectfully for mine to get on board.

I know that by choosing each other, Sam and I may have chosen a tougher path to go down, but also by choosing each other, we have been able to grow together and so have our families.

We had only been dating for three months when Donald Trump got elected in 2016, and it was the moment I knew Sam and I would either be able to see this through or would have to break up. We had to talk about the elephant in the room: his privilege as a white man. Sam listened intently as I talked through my fears for the turban-wearing men in my family who live in the South, and my own identity crisis. He also owned his place in these ongoing issues, learning to be an ally who knows when to stand by and listen and when to stand up and speak out.

I know if I were with a Sikh man, I wouldn’t necessarily need to have emotionally laborious conversations about race, religion and politics. These differences are a part of what makes my relationship with Sam beautiful, though. All relationships require work and effort, patience and respect and healthy communication. But because Sam and I were forced to address our differences very early on, we’ve also been able to address other big needs and desires out of a partnership ― from money and family involvement to future religious involvement in our relationship to cultural traditions and potential children.

In fact, much of what made me fall for Sam were his values that are foundational in the Sikh religion and of great importance to my family: his generosity to the less fortunate, his respect and desire for community building, his kindness, his nonjudgmental nature and ability to treat everyone as equals. 

I know that by choosing each other, Sam and I may have chosen a tougher path to go down, but we have also been able to grow together and so have our families. There’s been a steep learning curve for all of us. Sam and his loving, open-minded and open-hearted family have been able to break the stereotypes my family unfortunately had of white Americans. And I’ve been able to reconnect with where I come from and who I am by teaching my husband and in-laws about Sikhism and being an Indian in this country.

The author and her husband at their wedding reception.
The author and her husband at their wedding reception.


In May 2017, six months after I told my parents about Sam, I asked them to meet him. If they didn’t approve, I would hear them out and consider ending it. Even though I wouldn’t be able to pursue a partnership with someone my family didn’t approve of, I’ve always known in my heart that my parents want the best for me and truly want me to be happy. I also knew that Sam was special and that when they met him, they’d slowly come around. 

And thankfully, they did. But after Sam proposed in March 2018, everything seemed to get more complicated. Nothing prepared us for how tough wedding planning was going to be over the last year. There are very specific things a groom or a groom’s family are expected to do in a Sikh wedding and it was hard at first for my parents to compromise on certain traditions to make room for Sam’s comfort and our American expectations of what our wedding should feel like ― that our wedding is for us, not just for our community.

Eventually, we were able to create a wedding weekend that upheld the important Sikh wedding traditions with added twists to make it intercultural (i.e., we had a Sikh ceremony followed by a reception in a brewery where Sam played the drums with his band). However, leading up to it, I had massive anxiety wondering if my Sikh community was going to potentially judge my in-laws or not accept them. I was also nervous about how overwhelmed Sam’s family might be by the culture shock of this elaborately planned weekend.

The truth is, I underestimated everyone. In getting so caught up in what it means to marry outside my race and religion, I didn’t give credit to the love that was flowing around our relationship. My family and family’s friends were loving, patient and kind, embracing my in-laws as new members of the community. And my in-laws were enthusiastic, flexible and willing to learn, embracing my culture and tradition with open minds and hearts. I truly couldn’t have asked for any more love or acceptance. 

A snapshot from the author's Sikh wedding ceremony.
A snapshot from the author’s Sikh wedding ceremony.


I always have taken my ability to “choose” my life and partner for granted, when in reality, it’s a privilege. During my Sikh wedding, my dad read the laavan from the scripture from the Guru Granth Sahib (our holy book), which meant he sat in front of us through the entire traditional ceremony. I couldn’t make eye contact with him because I knew we were both processing a series of emotions and it felt like a breach of his privacy.

After the fourth laav, or walk around the Guru Granth Sahib, Sam and I were officially husband and wife. I looked up and locked eyes with my dad, and immediately started bawling.

It was in that moment that I got so overwhelmed by his love for me, a love so much stronger than his own religious beliefs or expectations or needs. I was able to see clearly the weight of the sacrifices and compromises my dad has made through his life to get me to where I was ― sitting next to a man I was privileged enough to choose as my life partner ― with the support of the hundreds of people sitting behind us. Him leaving his family over 30 years ago is the reason I’ve been able to choose Sam as my own.


The author and her husband at their Sikh wedding walking around her father and the Guru Granth Sahib. 
The author and her husband at their Sikh wedding walking around her father and the Guru Granth Sahib. 


As such, I think I’ll always feel a slight sense of guilt for not ending up with a Sikh man. I feel a sense of guilt for not fitting into the role of “obedient, good Indian girl” — for doing whatever it took to make my parents’ lives easier after all they’ve done for me. I went against the grain and chose my happiness over my parents’ expectations.

I know my parents initially wanted me to marry a Sikh, but I also know they truly love and consider Sam like a son. Their acceptance of my partnership and effort to meet me where I am has relieved some of my guilt. I’ve gotten a happy ending, but I know not everyone is as lucky or as supported as I have been.


Sahaj Kohli


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Brought up in Japan, Muslim siblings bring fresh take on fashion, art


Raised by Indonesian Muslim parents in Tokyo, Aufa Yazid and Ghufron Yazid, two siblings in their 20s, bring a cross-cultural perspective to fashion and art while adhering to their faith.

Wearing a hijab sets Aufa apart from the crowd in Japan, where Muslims are a minority, but what makes the 24-year-old freelance fashion creator really stand out is her style.

Aufa is part of the growing modest fashion movement in which Muslim women seek to express themselves stylishly while still adhering to Islamic requirements to cover up.

"Although not talked about much, modest fashion is spreading in Japan," Aufa told Kyodo News in a recent interview. In any case, she added, Japan has a tradition of modest female attire in the form of the kimono, and she also pointed to current fashion trends that honor stylish loose-fitting garments. "I want my work to be seen as art and to inspire others," she said.

Around the world, more high-end brands are entering the modest fashion sector. They include Dolce & Gabbana, which launched a collection of hijabs and abayas in 2016, and Burberry, which released its Ramadan collection. In Japan, casual fashion chain Uniqlo now sells hijabs.

Muslim women were estimated to have spent $44 billion (4.85 trillion yen) on modest fashion in 2015, according to a Thomson Reuters' economic report. Revenues are expected to reach $368 billion by 2021, the report says.

Aufa has around 69,000 Instagram followers. She posts editorial selfies, varying from an edgy street style to kimono fashions, all the while giving her take on Muslim attire.

(Aufa Yazid (R) and Ghufron Yazid)

Many of these photos have Tokyo as the backdrop, including one of her more popular images taken on a station platform showing her in jeans and wearing a black cap over a long black loose-fitting hijab.

Most of her outfits are from Japan, Aufa said, as she believes brands from Muslim countries are not the only options for a modest look. Instagram has officially featured her as one of the women around the globe making an impact in their community.

While many women in Indonesia wear hijabs with bright colors, according to Aufa, she mainly chooses monochrome beige and khaki colors to blend in with everyday life in Tokyo.

She takes particular care to achieve balance in her outfits, as covering up can make her appear "flat or heavy," she said. By varying her hijab arrangements -- sometimes tight or loose fitting, or worn with hats and berets -- she can achieve as much impact as a change in hairstyle.

Although some consider Islamic teachings to be repressive toward women, Aufa does not think this is the case. She sees her faith as uplifting and liberating, not confining.

While not all Muslim women might think this way, she said, if they do choose to wear a hijab, they can find value in doing so.

"Choosing what to wear means it's beautiful for the person," Aufa said. "The hijab is a tool to live beautifully."

Aufa's brother Ghufron, 28, also adheres to his Muslim faith but does not feel restricted by boundaries.

"Our parents taught us the basics of Islam but never forced us to follow the religion," Ghufron said. "Instead, we were always told to think about what we should live for."

Both Aufa and Ghufron went through struggles in their teens regarding relationships, their plans and identity, before choosing to live as Muslims.

As a graduate student of art in the United States and Britain, Ghufron said he was impacted by how open his friends were about their religion and culture. "There was an environment where everyone could feel accepted."

While working as a curator at Tokyo Camii, one of the biggest mosques in Japan, Ghufron last year started a new career as a freelance flower arrangement artist.

He holds workshops and takes orders for bouquets and decorations for special occasions such as weddings. Recently he decorated the Osaka branch of a major jewelry retailer and prepared bouquets for customers as gifts in an event on Mother's Day.

He was inspired to pursue this new path when he purchased a bouquet of roses for his parents' wedding anniversary and was moved by the vibrant yet fragile nature of the flowers.

"In the Quran, it says to observe the world and search for the signs that God has placed around. So for me, appreciating the beauty of flowers is part of my religion," he said. "Flowers are a gift from God."

Although it is not entirely his intention, Ghufron feels his flower arrangements -- both those he creates for events and his artwork on Instagram -- also reflect the Japanese traditional aesthetic of "wabi-sabi" and "mono no aware."

Wabi-sabi is often explained as a quiet, simple, and austere type of beauty based on transience. Mono no aware is an aesthetic ideal, involving a deep, empathetic appreciation of the ephemeral beauty manifest in nature and human life, and hence usually tinged with a hint of sadness.


Yuka Nakao, KYODO NEWS


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On D-Day: Remembering the Muslim Troops who Fought the Axis


One of the frustrations for a world historian is the unyieldingly parochial vision of the North Atlantic common among journalists and even many historians, and consequently among the public. The 17 world leaders gathering for the D-Day commemoration should by all rights include Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Senegalese President Macky Sall, among others from countries whose troops fought the Axis on European soil even if they weren’t part of this landing. They in many ways made it possible by their exploits in North Africa, Italy and southern France.

The great literary and cultural critic Edward Said pointed out that although Britain, France, Italy and other European states were multicultural empires in the 19th and early 20th century, many academics and popular writers now project back onto them the narrow framework of the nation-state. Postcolonial states are sometimes touchy and embarrassed about millions of their countrymen having volunteered to serve a now-gone empire.

World War II is a case in point. The British Indian army was expanded to 2.5 million men under arms through calls for volunteers. It fought in Italy (yes), Africa, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Tens of thousands were killed, a similar number wounded, and more tens of thousands taken prisoner. The British decorated 4,000 of them for valor. These troops were made up of Hindus, Sikhs, Muslims (and probably some Buddhists). Punjabi and Baluch Muslims, who would now be termed Pakistanis, were prominent among them, as were Muslims from the Indian Princely states. Along with regular British units, the British Indian Army fought the Italians and Germans in Libya from Egypt and campaigned on in to Tunisia. Once North Africa fell, they fought in the invasion of Italy. When I lived in New Delhi in 1982, my landlord was a Sikh colonel who had Italy campaign stories from his youth. Among the troops decorated in that Italian campaign was Sepoy Ali Haidar, 13th Frontier Force Rifles, for his role in allowing a key river crossing.

BBC The forgotten volunteers – Indian army WWII


All this is not to mention the role of British Muslims like Noor Enayat Khan in intelligence and other work toward defeating the Nazis. Or Shapour Bakhtiar, the later Iranian nationalist who went to Europe for an education and ended up fighting both on the Republican side in the Spanish Civil War and in the French Resistance to the Nazis in southern France.


While a few Muslims did support the Axis out of resentment of Western colonialism and hopes that the rise of an alternative power center would aid their quest for independence, they were tiny in their numbers compared to the Muslims who not just supported the Allies (as almost all did if you go back and read the newspapers) but actively fought on their behalf, on the battlefield. Nor was it only Muslims– Hindus in the British Indian Army captured by the Japanese sometimes were willing to join the latter’s puppet Indian forces and fight against British colonialism. But if you think about it, most Muslims would have realized that a Nazi-dominated world would not exactly be good for groups categorized as lesser and degenerate races.

Juan Cole


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