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Germany: Hand Grenade Thrown At Refugee Shelter in Latest Attack On Asylum Seekers

5 February, 2016 - 21:20

Police officers of the crime scene investigation unit examine a refugee shelter in Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany, 29 January 2016. EPA

 

Asylum seekers were asleep in the building at the time and police said it was just ‘luck’ that the grenade did not detonate By Lizzie Dearden, The Independent

A hand grenade was thrown into a refugee shelter in Germany overnight as officials said attacks against asylum seekers in the country hit a new level of “hate and violence”.

Police in the southern town of Villingen-Schwenningen said it was “just luck” that the device did not explode when it landed at 1.15am.

Around 20 asylum seekers were sleeping inside the building at the time and were evacuated while a bomb squad destroyed it in a controlled explosion.

Refugee-centre-attack2.jpg Andreas Stenger, of State Office of Criminal Investigation shows a model hand grenade after an attack on a refugee shelter January 29, 2016 in Villingen-Schwenningen, Germany.

Heiko Maas, the German justice minister, said the attack represented a new level of “hate and violence” that must be addressed by local and federal authorities.

“Grenades are already being thrown at refugee homes – we can’t wait until there is someone dead,” he added.

“We need to do everything we can to ensure xenophobic crimes are more rapidly solved and punished more severely.”

Continue reading …

PSA: If You’re White, Don’t Drink And Watch Fox News!

22 January, 2016 - 22:39

white_dude_watching_fox_terrorism

By Emperor

This just in! White Americans should be aware, drinking and watching Fox News is a toxic combination that may cause you to transform into a white supremacist terrorist seeking to perpetrate violence against minorities.

Take the recent example of John David Weissinger. Maybe he had a bit of hate in him, maybe he lost his job or his wife cheated on him. We’re told he suffers from anxiety and depression. He also enjoyed a brew or two or, well, lets say a lot more than two. Apparently, as his lawyer tells it, after binge watching Fox News for a week straight he decided to threaten the CAIR chapters in San Diego and Washington.

Malowney said Weissinger has problems with alcohol, anxiety and depression and had just finished watching a week of Fox News coverage on the Charlie Hebdo massacre in Paris when he threatened the CAIR offices.

“He barks when he’s drunk,” Malowney told the judge. “He was reeling from depression and anxiety.”

A female employee at CAIR’s Kearny Mesa office testified during a preliminary hearing last April that she came to work the morning of Jan. 15, 2015, and listened to a threatening voicemail left by Weissinger.

“In no way did we deserve the terror that Mr. Weissinger waged on us,” the employee, identified as Jane Doe, said in a recorded statement played in court Tuesday. “Domestic terrorism is unacceptable and must be stopped.”

This isn’t the first time a Fox News watcher has gone loony. Remember Randy Linn? He was the guy who said, “I only know what I hear on Fox News,” then one day drank 45 beers, and decided to burn down a mosque in Toledo, Ohio.

Prosecutors said Linn drove about two hours from his home to suburban Toledo on Sept. 30 and broke into the mosque where he poured gasoline on the rug and lit it on fire.

He estimated that he had drunk 45 beers over several hours before he decided to drive to Ohio.

Linn had several firearms in his car and carried a gun into the mosque, which was empty at the time.

The fanatical Islamophobic hate against CAIR has been going on for years and sadly it hasn’t only been the usual online suspects and celebrity Islamophobes. The hatemongers have included elected public officials who give succor to conspiracies about the group, as well as presidential candidates such as Ben Carson.

So please, please don’t drink and watch Fox News!

Beaten For Speaking Arabic on Philadelphia Street

22 January, 2016 - 18:00

Amine Aouam (Facebook)

Amine Aouam (Facebook)

via. Rawstory

David Edwards 21 Jan 2016 at 14:08 ET

A Muslim immigrant said that he was beaten for speaking his native tongue while walking down a street in Philadelphia.

Amine Aouam, 34, told Metro that he was walking home after getting a drink with a friend on Saturday night when he encountered “a group of five or six white people.”

He recalled that one of the women in the group seemed to be staring at them while they spoke a Moroccan dialect of Arabic.

“I said to her in Arabic, ‘Good evening,’ which is ‘Masaa al-Khair,’” he explained. “She said ‘What?’ and I said, ‘I just said ‘Good evening.’ Then I walked. And the guy next to her was like ‘Stop this sh*t!’”

Youssef Amarouch, who was walking with Aouam, had a clearer recollection.

“Take that sh*t you said and shove it up in your ass,” Amarouch remembered the man saying.

Amarouch said that while Aouam was speaking to one of the men, another man “sucker-punched him from behind,” according to Metro.

“The guy came from his side and just punched him so bad. The first part of his body that hit the ground was his head,” Amarouch noted. “The whole thing happened in 10 seconds.”

The next thing Aouam remembered was waking up in the hospital.

Since the attack, Aouam has been forced to miss classes at Temple University, where he is a full-time student. And he hasn’t been able to return to his valet job at the Bellevue Hotel due to follow-up CAT scans and MRIs.

“To be honest, the only bad thing that happened to me in this case is my heart is so broken now,”

Continue reading …

Murderer Robert Craig Klimek Used “Stand Your Ground” Law To Get Away With Anti-Muslim Hate Crime

15 January, 2016 - 22:01

Ziad_Abu_Naim_Lisa

Ziad Abu Naim with his wife Lisa

By Emperor

In the US not only can you kill someone because you are motivated by racist hatred and get away with it, (especially if you are white) but you will also become a celebrity. This fact was brought home recently to most Americans when George Zimmerman murdered 17 year-old Trayvon Martin and proceeded to successfully use the “Stand Your Ground” defense to get away with murder.

In Texas this past June, a Muslim man, Ziad Abu Naim, was murdered by Robert Craig Klimek, who like Zimmeran, was acquitted by a grand jury when his lawyers focused on using the “Stand Your Ground” defense.

A killing of a Muslim man in what some are calling road rage, and others a hate crime, is bringing renewed attention to the deadly consequences of Texas’ “Stand Your Ground” self-defense law.

The shooting occurred in Houston on June 26, 2015 when Ziad Abu Naim and his wife, Lisa Aimone, were driving to visit with one of Naim’s business clients on the way to his mosque for Friday prayers. After turning left at a four-way intersection just a block from their home, Abu Naim’s vehicle almost struck another vehicle, driven by Robert Craig Klimek, another Houston resident.

Moments later, as described by Leah Caldwell in a Jan. 4 report for Texas Observer, Abu Naim was on the ground, bleeding from a gunshot wound:

“[Klimek] made a right turn and pulled alongside Abu Naim’s Porsche SUV. Both men rolled down their windows. Aimone sat forward in her seat to catch a glimpse of the man in the other car, and that’s when she heard it: “Go back to Islam!” Abu Naim opened the door and stepped out of the car. Aimone kept her eyes on his back. Within a few seconds, she heard a single gunshot.”

Abu Naim never recovered consciousness and died in a Houston hospital three days later. Klimek told police he shot Abu Naim after Abu Naim reached inside his vehicle and punched him multiple times, while Aimone insists there was no time for any blows before the fatal gunshot, and that the shouted words point to a possible hate crime.

Cowardly murderer Robert Klimek

Cowardly murderer Robert Klimek

The right-wing press was in an orgasmic state while reporting the murder of Abu Naim. What makes the right happier than: 1.) A Muslim killed, and 2.) A white guy doing it and getting away with it like in the “good ole’ days ” of lynchings and Jim Crow?

On top of all of this lets remember that Robert Klimek has a history of anti-Muslim rants on Facebook. Yet for some “reason” the prosecution decided this fact was not worthy of pursuing.

Prosecutors also ignored Aimone’s demands that the killing be investigated as a hate crime. Although Caldwell’s investigation found years of anti-Muslim rhetoric posted online by Klimek, Aimone said officials were “dismissive” of the possibility, and added, “It was almost like too much work for them to find something to see if it was a hate crime.”

If the roles were reversed you can bet that Abu Naim would be smeared as a terrorist and an extremist. The prosecutors would move heaven and earth to interpret any Muslim-y pic or post on Abu Naim’s social media as proof that he was an extremist. The right-wing media would be going nuts, blaming Obama and calling for us to bomb Agraba.

This of course is nothing new, racial bias permeates every inch of our justice system. MintPress quotes Prof. Tamara Rice Lave of the University of Miami School of Law on how the expansive Texas Stand your ground law encourages violence against minorities and the double standards involved.

“‘If somebody’s in the car, the ignition is on, the foot is on the gas pedal, then they can easily drive away,’ she said. ‘If it was a white, upper-class mother getting out of her car and approaching a car, [and she were shot], do I think there would be an indictment? Yes, there would be. It makes a difference who the victim is.’”

This is America.

Kenya: Muslims Shield Christians From Al-Shabab Militants

14 January, 2016 - 20:57

Al-Shabab

Most of you have heard this story this past December but it is worth posting here. This is the level of resistance we need to all kinds of violence, whether perpetrated by the West or militant groups such as Al-Shabab.

Via. BBC

They told the militants “to kill them together or leave them alone”, a local governor told Kenyan media.

At least two people were killed in the attack, near the north-eastern village of El Wak on the Somali border.

The Somali based al-Shabab group says it carried out the attack.

The group often carries out attacks in Kenya’s north-east.

The bus was travelling from the capital Nairobi to the town of Mandera.

When al-Shabab killed 148 people in an attack on Garissa University College in April, the militants reportedly singled out Christians and shot them, while freeing many Muslims.

Last year, a bus was attacked near Mandera by al-Shabab militants, who killed 28 non-Muslims travelling to Nairobi for the Christmas holidays.

“The locals showed a sense of patriotism and belonging to each other,” Mandera governor Ali Roba told Kenya’s private Daily Nation newspaper.

The militants decided to leave after the passengers’ show of unity, he added.

Continue reading…

Omaha Mosque Attacked For the Fourth Time in One Year

14 January, 2016 - 20:46

Islamic_Center_Omaha

Via. Democracy Now

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is demanding an FBI hate crime investigation into an attack and desecration at a mosque in Nebraska. Security footage shows two masked men threw rocks at the glass doors of the Islamic Center of Omaha and left bacon wrapped around its doors Tuesday. Pork is considered forbidden or “haram” in Islam. It’s the fourth attack on this Omaha mosque within the last year. A recent study finds hate crimes against Muslim Americans and U.S. mosques have tripled since the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino.

The Emerging Islamophobe Coalition

12 January, 2016 - 19:40

Pegida_Islamophobia_Coalition

PEGIDA, anti-Muslim group in Germany.

Part 3 of 6 of an original series. See: part I and II.

By Umar Lee

It is no secret Islamophobia is on the rise. Hate for Muslims is manifested every day on social media, FOX News, talk-radio and other formats.  Most often this hate is relegated to only words. However, on occasion Islamophobia will manifest itself through violence or acts of physical intimidation.

Behind the random Twitter accounts and talk-radio hosts an Islamophobia industry exists.  There are those who see Islam as a threat for religious, political and nationalistic reasons.  These groups form a coalition of institutional and grassroots support for Islamophobia.  Other writers have looked at the financing of the Islamophobia industry.  I want to look at who is supporting Islamophobia from the grassroots.

Christian Right

The Christian-Right in America is the group perhaps most associated with anti-Muslim bigotry. This is the result of numerous articles and sermons by Evangelicals attacking Islam and Islamophobia becoming a staple of the Christian-right media along with issues such as abortion and same-sex marriage.

In years past there have been positive relations at times between the two groups. During the pre-9/11 years a significant portion of the American-Muslim community viewed the Christian-Right and the Republican Party as a natural ally as the two often shared conservative views on social issues and favored lower taxation.

Post-9/11 the Christian-Right has positioned itself not only as the defenders of America against a Muslim onslaught; but has aggressively attacked Islam theologically.

While the Christian-Right may share some concerns with other groups in the coalition what distinguishes them is theology.  With the proliferation of mosques in the United States and conversions to Islam the Muslim community is viewed as theological and spiritual competition.  Therefore, the more influence the Muslim community has in America, the less influence the Christian-Right has.

A cottage-industry has emerged within the Christian-Right for proselytizing to Muslims similar to what developed in previous eras when Jews, Mormons, and Catholics were viewed (and still are) as theological competition.

Hindu Nationalism

Ignored by many Muslim writers is the increased calls for unity between Christians, Jews and Hindus against the “global jihad”. This is an idea promoted by the Hindu-nationalist RSS in India and the BJP political party. As organizations affiliated with the RSS control a large portion of Hindu temples, summer camps, cultural institutions, and are politically active in America they’re using this influence often to promote Islamophobia.  Their Islamophobic position is rooted in political opposition to Pakistan and the search for allies on that front.  In the racial context of America Islamophobia can also help “scrub the brown away” as writer Arsalan Iftikhar said referring to Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal (a raised Hindu converted to Christianity).

Zionists

I don’t generally like to write about Zionism or Jews because I know this will open the doors in the comments section to the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the Illuminati, the Rothschild family controls the world and a variety of other Jew-centric hair-brained conspiracy many, (including Muslims) seem to go for.

However,  there is no denial that there is a large, vocal and well-financed group(s) dedicated to Islamophobia within the Jewish community in America.

These Jewish Islamophobic groups range from right-wing Republican Likud supporters such as Sheldon Adelson to Orthodox Jewish groups associated with Israeli settler movements.  For these groups on the right of the political spectrum engaging in the promotion of Islamophobia in America and militarism abroad directed at Muslims is not ideologically problematic.

On the Jewish-left there is a more problematic ideological problem.  Having traditionally been at the frontlines of promoting civil-rights and equality in America, it is hard for many American-Jews on the left to take an outright hostile position towards Islam and Muslims.

Thus, a nuanced approach has emerged within the liberal-Jewish establishment to combating the emergence of a strong American-Muslim community in America.  Dissatisfied with the leadership of the American-Muslim community and the religious,  political and social norms within the community there has been an attempt to prop up an artificial leadership in a colonial-like fashion.  The greatest manifestation of this is the Shalom Hartmann Institute which has managed to cultivate a group of C, D, and F list Muslim writers, chaplains and others and try to establish them as the new Muslim thought leaders of America (with very little success).

From left to right the rationale for Islamophobia is clear within elements of the American-Jewish community; support for Israel.  A growing American-Muslim community is a community that brings a different perspective to the Arab-Israeli conflict, works to increase support for the Palestinian cause, and erodes media bias on the topic. For those not attached to Jewish groups that are either anti-Zionist or promoting peaceful co-existence, there is a great need to counter what they see as the Muslim threat in America.

White Nationalists

The presidential campaign of Donald Trump isn’t about Christian Conservatism it’s about White Nationalism. Trump and his supporters have identified two groups which threaten the racial-dominance of the white race in America;  Latino immigrants and Muslim immigrants.

This support for Islamophobia is rooted in both race and Civilization with roots as far back as the Crusades and as recent as the Minuteman standing guard at the border.

White Secular Left

The white secular-left at this time for the most part is seen as an ally for Muslims in America and for the most part it is. Look at the stances Democratic governors and presidential candidates have taken towards Syrian refugees as opposed to Republicans.  Look who is standing against Islamophobia on the ground and supporting refugees and it is most often the left, secular or religious, black or white.  In Europe this isn’t the case.  There are deep roots of Islamophobia within the European left based on cultural nationalism, belief in the supremacy of Western thought and values, and an extreme secularism. This strand of Islamophobia on the left isn’t absent in America (see The New Republic); but is certainly on the fringes at this time.

Dalia Mogahed on the Daily Show with Trevor Noah

8 January, 2016 - 22:00

Daily_Show_Dalia_Mogahed_Trevor_Noah

Excellent interview with Dalia Mogahed on The Daily Show with Trevor Noah. Mogahed hits excellent points regarding issues relating to “theories of radicalization,” “terrorism,” and also questions about the hijab and oppression. Trevor asks her a question about liberals who make statements like “not every Muslim is a terrorist but every terrorist is a Muslim,” and responds with essentially the same fact we presented over 5 years ago in the article, “Are terrorists are Muslims except the 94% who aren’t.”

Provoking discussion, not riots: Sandow Birk’s “American Qur’an”

8 January, 2016 - 21:29

Sandow_Birk

Prof. Zareena Grewal’s Review of Sandow Birk’s “American Quran.”

Originally published at Salon, reposted with her permission.

Imagine yourself in a bland hotel room anywhere in the United States. You’re sitting on the edge of a bed with tightly tucked white sheets, flipping through TV channels without finding anything you can bear to watch. Out of lonely boredom, you open the top drawer of the nightstand. Instead of the requisite King James Bible, you find an English translation of the Quran inviting you to read its pages: “This is a message to all people, to whomever among you desire to take a straight path” (81:27–8).

Americans applauding Trump’s promise to ban all Muslims from U.S. borders might imagine the scenario above as a foreboding future brought on by the “browning of America” and a Muslim fifth column’s “Sharia creep.” Rather than as a sign of the destruction of America, painter Sandow Birk imagined this chance, cross-cultural encounter with the Quran as the conceptual launch of his nine-year journey of reading and reflecting on the Islamic scripture and the War on Terror. The result is his American Qur’an,” an illuminated manuscript published by W.W. Norton as a stunning coffee table art book, ideal as a Christmas or Hanukkah gift, perhaps for a friend or relative on your list persuaded by the fear-mongering of Donald Trump, who claims simply, “We have no choice.”

Birk’s “American Qur’an” intends to introduce the text to American audiences but he is neither inviting his readers to convert to Islam nor illustrating the history of Islam’s founding; the Quran struck him as far too poetic and abstract for such a literal approach. Birk eschewed the irony and satire that have become the knee-jerk impulse of so many Western artists who criticize the specter of Islam by representing the Prophet Muhammad as ugly, bloodthirsty, perverse and savage. In fact, Birk is unflinchingly neutral on the question of the reform of Islam. Contemplative and open-ended, Birk’s paintings collectively comprise a complete English transcription of the Quran bordered by narrative scenes of everyday life in the contemporary United States. In “Smoke,” Birk depicts the World Trade Center on Sept. 11 from the terrified pedestrians’ point of view. He critiques al-Qaida’s terrorism but also challenges the notion that contemporary Muslim political behavior was created and petrified in the seventh century text by analyzing contemporary jihadists alongside extreme forms of taken for granted state violence such as torture, capital punishment, warfare. Birk wants to provoke discussions, not riots, and while “American Qur’an” will likely strike many as controversial, his paintings reveal a welcome depth and seriousness lacking in so much of our national discourse about Islam.

Birk’s illuminated Quran is the first of its kind, not only because it is in English and its scenes are peopled, but also because Birk is not Muslim. For centuries, Muslim artists have created illuminated manuscripts of their sacred text out of faithful devotion. Birk’s relationship to the Quran is characterized by respect but not necessarily veneration. For example, Muslim artists have generally eschewed the human form in art that is explicitly religious and devotional in order to avoid graven images; Birk does not play by such Muslim rules. (Importantly, his paintings never received any Muslim backlash in the form of threats of violence despite years of media publicity and gallery shows.) Birk makes the Quran itself into a cultural criticism tool, a mirror, by making the exotic familiar and the familiar exotic, scrutinizing the beliefs and behaviors of ordinary Americans in much the same way as they typically scrutinize Muslim societies. Birk takes readers to each of the 50 states but also to places beyond the nation’s borders where the U.S. government exerts its power and force, often brutally: landscapes devastated by war in Japan and Iraq, the Guantánamo Bay prison camp in Cuba, and the militarized U.S.–Mexico border. Politically and artistically, Birk is quietly transgressive, and “American Qur’an” is far more interesting and edgy than the formulaic satirical depictions of the Prophet Muhammad that grab headlines.

Birk is driven by a political dilemma that troubles him and could not be more timely: Why can’t Islam be an American religion? Seventy-six percent of Republicans and 43 percent of Democrats polled believe Islam is incompatible with the American way of life. If the Bible, a 2,000-year-old book from the Middle East, is embraced as the very essence of American national culture and identity, why is another 1,400-year-old book from the Middle East deemed incomprehensible, dangerous and irredeemably un-American by so many? Birk’s “American Qur’an” tests both Islam’s claims to universality and the universal citizenship promised by American democracy. Can a white man who is not Muslim accept the Quran’s invitation to read, reflect on and interpret its verses without being accused of cultural trespass? Does the Quran have anything to say to a 21st-century American? Birk’s pairing of an image of a foreclosed house with the chapter titled “The Cheaters” is an emphatic affirmative answer to that question: “Woe to the cheaters, who demand full measure when they take from others, but short them when they measure for them” (83:1–3). As for whether there is room for Muslims in America, Birk suggests that we cannot know who is or is not Muslim just by looking at the people who populate “American Qur’an”; the same holds true for the people who populate America.

In the wake of the gut-wrenching San Bernardino, California, shootings, anti-Muslim discrimination and hate crimes have spiked though they were already on the rise. American Muslims are suffering a backlash and I am painfully aware that my non-Arabic name and unconcealed hair make me less vulnerable than friends and family who “look Muslim.” It is exhausting, frightening and alienating living among so many people who are ready to indict not only my faith but to punish me and millions of Muslims like me for the crimes of a few, crimes that I find just as terrifying as they do.

Growing up in Detroit, my family’s Quran was a cheap, worn paperback that belonged to my maternal grandmother, brought to the U.S. by my mother 40 years ago. The family lore about my grandmother’s short life was a spare mix of sad and inspiring fragments. As a young woman, she lost two of her daughters and their family farm to the war in India before she made a new life as a refugee in Pakistan. In her 50s, and with a greater semblance of peace, she nurtured a new ambition: to learn to read. There was only one book that she wanted to read, and she wanted to read it in its original language, not her native Punjabi. That book was the Quran. So she learned to read Arabic, a language she did not speak or understand, from a tutor, a young girl who had committed the entire book to memory. One page at a time, she worked her way through the book and it was her proudest and final achievement.

As a child, I learned to read Arabic the same way my grandmother did, phonetically, with only a vague sense of what the words meant. While I made my way through children’s primers with large blocky print, my grandmother’s Quran sat on a high shelf, wrapped in a neon pink stretchy material that reminded me of a bathing suit, complete with a single, long spaghetti strap my mother untied when she found a few spare minutes to read to herself. I felt the visceral power of the Quran’s words not in their translated meaning but in their ability to absorb my mother’s attention in a way nothing else could. Sometimes I would call her and she would not hear me, lost in fine black Arabic letters curling across thin, mint green paper.

That’s not to say I grew up in a strict, religious family. My mother taught piety by her example, not lectures. My family practiced Islamic rituals loosely and debated theology hotly. Fatwas were treated for what they were, mere religious opinions that one could take or leave, as numerous and varied as the guests at our dinner table arguing over them. Then one day an old turbaned man on television transformed the word “fatwa” into a license to kill. The world turned upside down over a novel that posited that the real author of the Quran was Satan. My teacher told our class the problem was that Muslims did not understand fiction as an art. He did not seem to understand that art could also be a racial insult. I did not say anything in class or to the teenage boys who called my Muslim friend a fundamentalist and threatened her with a knife at the bus stop. I wanted to share the Islam I knew intimately but all that stumbled out of my mouth was an embarrassed confession that my grandfather bore a striking resemblance to the Ayatollah Khomeini.

Now, as an adult and an Ivy League religion professor, I am far more prepared to field questions about Islam and the so-called clash of civilizations from friends and strangers, students and journalists. Many want me to disown the violence of jihadists as impurities polluting Islam’s peaceful essence; I disappoint them when I explain that interpreting the Quran incorrectly is not enough to put someone beyond the pale of the faith. Others want me to confirm that no institution has caused more bloodshed than religion and that a world without religion would be a peaceful one; I remind them that the 20th century may have been the most violent in history, with its world wars, colonial conquests, revolutions and counterrevolutions—much of the blood spilled in the name of nation-states, and not God. Others want to separate the ugliness of religion from a beautiful set of shared values that they call spirituality. They want me to confirm that Muslims believe in peace, compassion, forgiveness, generosity, and that once we boil religions down to their spiritual “essence,” we are all the same. They are surprised when I challenge the invisible line they have drawn between this thing they call spirituality and this thing they call religion. What if the rules and the martyrdom and the glorified suffering and the desire for power and the regimes of self-discipline blur right into the love and the light? Aren’t we surrounded by secular forms of all of the things we love and hate about religion?

Birk’s transcribed pages force us to confront our fears about how different and similar we might be. Some are frightened by Islam because even “moderate Muslims” believe the Quran is “the literal word of God.” When many Americans hear the expression “the literal word of God,” they misunderstand it to mean that Muslims only read the Quran literally or are only allowed to do so. In fact, a literal reading of the seventh verse of chapter 3 reveals that the Quran contains verses that are self-evident in meaning, as well as allegorical passages and mysteries beyond the comprehension of the human intellect. “[God] has sent down the Book for you. Some of its signs are decisive—they are the basis of the Book—and others allegorical” (3:7). Since the Quran never specifies which verses to take literally or allegorically, Muslims must rely on their communities of interpretation, often led by religious scholars such as jurists and theologians. Muslims have always argued over the Quran’s meanings. After the Prophet Muhammad’s death, an early community of Muslims challenged what they saw as the excessive interpretive liberties of the Caliph Ali, the Prophet’s cousin. They accused the caliph, in his capacity as ruler, of trespassing over the bounds of human interpretation and encroaching on the dominion of God’s law. In response, Caliph Ali brought a Quran to a large crowd. Touching the book, he instructed it to speak and to explain God’s law. Alarmed and surprised, the onlookers protested, “The Quran cannot speak, for it is not human!” This, the caliph explained, was precisely his point. As mere ink and paper, the Quran does not speak for itself. It is human beings who give the book its consequence by reading, reflecting, drawing out meanings and lessons, constructing arguments, all contingent on their recognition of the inevitable limits of human understanding and the limitlessness of the book’s divine truth.

Birk remains unconvinced of any claims of divinity; however, he is seeking answers to big questions. Why are we here? What happens after we die? Why do bad things happen to good people? By virtue of its format, with text boxes partially obscuring scenes, Birk forces us to confront our own biases. In forcing us to try (metaphorically) to peer around the Quran’s words to see what is happening in his scenes, Birk highlights our always partial (in both senses of the word) understanding. His “American Qur’an” teaches us to look with humility, to remember that none of us has a God’s-eye view of our world.

Imagine that the English translation of the Quran you discovered in the top drawer of that hotel nightstand or under your Christmas tree was Sandow Birk’s “American Qur’an.”

Zareena Grewal is associate professor of American Studies & Religious Studies at Yale University and the author of “Islam Is a Foreign Country: American Muslims and the Global Crisis of Authority” (NYU Press 2013) and “Is the Quran a Good Book?” (forthcoming) Follow her on Twitter at @ZareenaGrewal

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