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 1 in five people practice Islam internationally, a Pew Research survey in 2010 found that about half of Americans are able to correctly identify the Quran and Ramadan as associated with Islam.

Another Pew survey in 2007 revealed that 58 percent of Americans say they know little or nothing about Islam’s practices, and often, what they do know is actually incorrect. Meanwhile, 32 percent of Americans say the media are the biggest influence on their perception of Muslims.


Coverage of Muslim individuals has been a concern in academic inquiry as well, especially after 9/11.  Therefore, coverage of Islam and its followers is an important issue for journalists to take into consideration. This guide provides journalists with background information on Islam and a brief guide to covering Muslims in America. Islam Reporting Guide Infographic

The world of Islam

Islam is the second-largest religion in the world, after Christianity, and arguably the fastest growing. Islam is also one of the world’s three major monotheistic religions — Muslims, Jews and Christians all believe in one God, whom Muslims call Allah. Allah’s messenger, the Prophet Muhammad, revealed Islam to the world in the form of the Holy Book, the Quran. The word “Islam” is derived from the Arabic word for peace, and the word “Muslim” is usually translated as “to submit.”

It is estimated that there are as many as 1.3 billion Muslims throughout the world. 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. For instance, Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation, with 215 million Muslims in its population. Perhaps surprisingly, African-Americans, not Arab-Americans, make up the largest ethnic/racial group of Muslim Americans (35 percent of Muslim Americans), according to Gallup. Throughout the world, Muslims learn Arabic so they can read and understand the Quran and perform ritual prayers in Arabic.

A brief history of Islam

In 6th Century CE (Common Era) Arabia, Islam rose to prominence amid a melting pot of religious beliefs. Judaism and Christianity were already being observed, but the predominant spirituality of that era took the form of tribal god worship.

Islam’s Prophet, Muhammad, was born in Mecca (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 of peace (Islam).

Muhammad soon began to share his revelation with family and friends. Over time, he spread the message publicly, preaching “God is One,” and surrender to him is essential.

In an era of intertribal 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 an event that came to be known as the Hijrah (emigration). This marked the beginning of the Islamic era and calendar.

Eventually, despite a period of great conflict, Muhammad was able to unite warring tribes and return to Mecca. He died in Medina in 632 with no male heir. By the time of his death, most of Arabia had converted to Islam.

During the Middle Ages and Dark Ages of Europe, Islamic civilization thrived through a Golden Age and was considered the most advanced civilization in the world. When Mongol invaders destroyed the capital of the  Abbasid Caliphate, Baghdad, in 1258, more than 36 public libraries were already in existence. During the 18th and 19th centuries, however, many Islamic civilizations fell to European imperial powers before beginning the process of renewal in the 20th century.

Additional background and historical context on Islam can be found at the following links:

In 2008, Muslims in England gathered in Trafalgar Square to celebrate Eid al-Fitr, marking the end of Ramadan. The event, called Eid Festival, is hosted by the Mayor of London each year. Photo courtesy of Farrukh via Flickr

Background & groups

Over time, the Muslim community splintered off 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 in fact many different groups and factions under the umbrella of Islam. Those seeking general information about Islam must take care not to heavily rely on organizations that lie outside of what are considered mainstream Muslim beliefs. As in Christianity or Judaism, different sects interpret Islamic teachings in different ways that can be regarded as classical, traditional, modern or reformist.

The word “fundamentalist” should not be used in reference to Muslim groups. Technically, all Muslims are “fundamentalist” since they abide by the teachings of the Quran and Muhammad, 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 mainstream Islam.

Some of the most prominent branches of Islam include:

SunnisThe Sunnis make up about 85 percent of the world’s Muslim population. The Sunnah, or the example of the life of Muhammad, is the core of Sunni teaching. Sunni Islam incorporates 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

In addition to these six core tenets, Sunni Muslims also follow 105 key points of the Tahawiyyah creed. Islam lacks a formalized hierarchy. For example, congregations select their own imam to lead Friday prayer services.

ShiitesThe Shiites make up the majority of the remaining 15 percent of the world’s Muslim population, constituting the majority of the population in Iran, Azerbaijan, Bahrain and Iraq. Shiism developed after the death of 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.

Ismailis: This is 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.

SufisThis is the mystical branch of Islam. Although small in numbers, Sufis can be found among both Sunnies 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 and music. It is more a type of practice of the religion than a standalone denomination. Some Muslims are critical of Sufism as an unjustified innovation.

Wahhabism: This is 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. 

The Salafi movement has been often described as closely linked to or synonymous with the Wahhabi movement; however, Salafists consider the term “Wahhabi” as derogatory, according to French author Olivier Roy, who published The Failure of Political Islam.

Kurds: The Kurds are people of Indo-European (not Arab) descent primarily residing in Kurdistan. 

Given the legacy of the Ottoman Empire, sections of northern Iraq, western Iran, eastern Turkey and northeastern Syria make up the Kurdistan region. Some Kurds also reside in Lebanon and Russia. While Kurd is an ethnicity, the Kurds do not have a nation state of their own, similar to the Palestinians. This has created regional conflict in countries such as Turkey and Syria in recent years.

Islamic schools of thought

There are five primary schools of Islamic thought, each named after the imam who developed it.

By percentage of followers, the Hanafi is largest at 31 percent. Maliki is the second largest school with 25 percent of Islam’s followers. Ja’fari (23 percent), Shafi’i (16 percent) and Hanbali (4 percent) follow. The remaining one percent follow minority schools, such as the Zaydi and the Isma’ili.

In regard to Shariah law, hadith emerged from these schools of Islamic thought:


  • 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


  • 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)


  • An early school of thought that is neither Sunni nor Shiite, dominant in Oman and throughout many parts of Africa

Example coverage

“Mourners Bury Their Dead After Pakistan Mosque Bombing” — Feb. 1, 2015, The Wall Street Journal, Syed Shoaib Hasan and Qasim Nauman

Sindh province has traditionally been a haven of the moderate Sufi form of Islam, with practices based around traditional music and dance and worship at shrines. Such practices are regarded as heretical by hard-line members of the Deobandi and Wahhabist schools of Islamic thought. Like the Islamic State in the Middle East, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi has an anti-Shiite agenda.

Rahimullah Yousafzai, an expert on militancy in the region, said the government’s National Action Plan to crack down on terrorism has primarily focused on groups based in the tribal areas along the border with Afghanistan, and less on sectarian militants in other parts of the country. — Read more.

Conflict between Sunni and Shiite Muslims

Extremism has created conflict between Sunnis and Shiites. Weapons development in Iran and diplomacy issues in Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Palestine, Indonesia, Egypt, Syria and Bahrain also have fostered violence between these groups.

Sunnis make up the largest branch of Islam. This branch is dominant in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates and Yemen.

Shias make up the second largest branch of Islam. In the Middle East, Shiism is dominant in Bahrain, Iran, Iraq and Lebanon.

Islam is the Middle East’s most widely practiced religion. About 20 percent of the world’s Muslims live there. 

Example coverage

“Sunnis and Shias: Islam’s Ancient Schism” – June 20, 2014, BBC

Muslims are split into two main branches, the Sunnis and Shias. The split originates in a dispute soon after the death of the Prophet Muhammad over who should lead the Muslim community.

The great majority of Muslims are Sunnis – estimates suggest the figure is somewhere between 85% and 90%.

Members of the two sects have co-existed for centuries and share many fundamental beliefs and practices.

Though they may not interact much outside the public sphere, there are always exceptions. In urban Iraq, for instance, intermarriage between Sunnis and Shia was, until recently, quite common.

The differences lie in the fields of doctrine, ritual, law, theology and religious organisation. — Read more.

Belief system vs. cultural, state authority

It is important for non-Muslims to distinguish between true Islamic beliefs and the potentially chauvinistic customs operating within individual nations. 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 Islamic law, women have the right to own property, pursue education and participate fully in social and political life. Other important distinctions: Islam does not forbid women to drive; the Quran forbids a bride price; the Quran does not support female genital mutilation, which is practiced in northern regions of Africa and in parts of North America and Europe.

Abortion is another contentious issue that has recently stirred debate in Turkey. State officials, including the prime minister, health minister and members of parliament, have spoken out against abortion and even proposed a state ban, which has now been abandoned. Some women and interest groups saw a ban as a threat to the health of women, but some claim that Islam forbids abortion. 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.

Example coverage

“The Power of Religion” – July 13, 2013, The Economist

Islam, like any great religion, is a broad tent. Within it, Islamism—the belief that politics is and must be an extension of the faith—comes in many colours, from the black of al-Qaeda to the dark green of Saudi-style Wahhabism to the palest of modernising shades. In whatever dose, the mixing of religion with politics implicitly involves the right to interpret and to impose the will of God. Many Arabs, and not just the avowedly secular, are uncomfortable with this and resent such powers of enforcement. Perhaps that is why, amid the seemingly inexorable rise of Islam as a political rallying force and amid increasingly strident assertions of sectarian identity, doubts are also growing. — Read more.


Journalists should be aware that Muslim practices in regard to diet, money and other matters sometimes set them apart from other Americans or Europeans. These practices include:

  • Friday prayers – Muslims gather at mosques for congregational prayers on Fridays at the noon prayer time, but unlike Christians’ observance on Sunday or Jews’ on Saturday, the entire day is not considered a sabbath.
  • Diet – Muslims are not permitted to consume pork or alcohol and require meat and poultry to be slaughtered and prepared according to certain standards. Muslims cannot consume animal shortening, lard, gelatin or any product containing alcohol (such as Dijon mustard). posts a good description of how to follow Muslim dietary laws.
  • Holidays – Muslims follow a lunar calendar, which is 11 days shorter than the Gregorian calendar America follows. That means that the dates of holidays change from year to year, and holidays begin at sundown, with the sighting of the new moon.
  • Money – Islamic law bans collecting or paying interest, so Muslims use alternate ways to pay for large purchases, such as cars, homes and insurance.
  • The Prophet — Violent riots in Europe over cartoon images of Muhammad showed how seriously Muslims take Islam’s ban on visual images of its prophet. Muslims consider them an act of idolatry.

Example coverage

“Why There’s Tension Between France and its Muslim Population” — Jan. 8, 2015, TIME, Carla Power

With news that the chief suspects in the massacre on Wednesday at the offices of the French satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdoare French citizens, a new mystery emerges: how could the land of liberty, equality and fraternity have produced men hell-bent on destroying all three? While the attack may evoke comparisons to earlier tragedies in New York, London, or Madrid, France’s relationship with its Muslim citizens is particular — and particularly fraught. What sets France on a particular collision course with Islamic practices is the country’s radical brand of secularism — and this ideology’s impact on French Muslim life. — Read more.



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. 

Both Muslim men and women observe hijab, the Quran’s requirement that one dress modestly, and both are expected to lower their eyes to avoid lewd gazes. 

Hijab can also refer to the article of clothing worn by many Muslim women to cloak the head and body, in addition to a jilbab worn to cover everything except the head and hands in public. Loose, nontransparent clothing is emphasized for both genders.

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.

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. The American public does not support banning, however, according to Pew Research. 

This NPR video shows many American women have unveiled as a personal choice. Women from other countries where Islam is practiced have also chosen to unveil, especially in the context of revolution and social change. “Haera Unveiled” is a video that shows the life of a young Lebanese woman who has decided to unveil. She also uses theater and art as a form of activism, which she began during the Arab uprisings. These resources show that covering veiling and dress in regards to Islam is an important issue in terms of personal freedom versus authority in different countries.

Reporters must be careful to understand that Islamic women might not have the same interpretation of women’s rights as those in the West or individuals of European or Judeo-Christian background. Some women wear hijabs, or head scarves, while others do not. In some cultures, women cover their entire bodies.

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.

Example coverage

“The Islamic Veil Across Europe” — July 1, 2014, BBC

Countries across Europe have wrestled with the issue of the Muslim veil – in various forms such as the body-covering burka and the niqab, which covers the face apart from the eyes.

The debate takes in religious freedom, female equality, secular traditions and even fears of terrorism.

The veil issue is part of a wider debate about multiculturalism in Europe, as many politicians argue that there needs to be a greater effort to assimilate ethnic and religious minorities. — 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.

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, or Shariah. 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.

Participation of women

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

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

Some U.S. 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.  A 2011 Deutsche Welle story, “Turkey: Women Want Equality in the Mosque,” discusses Turkey encouraging women to pray beside men.

Participation also occurs outside the mosque. Muslim women participate in sporting events, including sports such as car racing, boxing and 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.

Example coverage

Members of M.T.O. Shahmaghsoudi started a global campaign protesting the mark used in Roberto Cavalli’s “Just Cavalli” line, which uses a similar symbol to their logo, shown here. The campaign has a presence in the U.S., Canada, U.K., Germany and France. Image courtesy M.T.O. Shahmaghsoudi

Sufi Muslims push designer Roberto Cavalli to pull an offensive logo

By Heather Adams, Religion News Service
July 17, 2014

(RNS) – A group devoted to the mystical Sufi tradition of Islam is taking to the streets and social media as it fights for the removal of the faith’s religious symbol on designer Roberto Cavalli’s “Just Cavalli” clothing and fragrance line.

Cavalli is an Italian fashion designer known for exotic prints and a sandblasted look for jeans. He created the “Just Cavalli” line in 2013. The line includes clothes, fragrances and accessories.

The “Just Cavalli” logo is said to be a snakebite, but members of the M.T.O. Shahmaghsoudi centers say it’s actually their religious emblem.

M.T.O. Shahmaghsoudi is a school of Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, best known for its ecstatic use of chanting, singing, dancing and whirling. With more than 500,000 followers, it has centers in Dallas and Los Angeles as well as Europe and Australia.

The symbol has been trademarked for the past 27 years but has been used by Sufis for 150 years. In the symbol, the words “Allah” and “Ali” are spelled out, making it sacred to Sufi students.

In Cavalli’s symbol, the image is rotated 90 degrees and is superimposed with a snakeskin pattern. Students say the “Just Cavalli” symbol is associated with lust and sex and is causing confusion among family and friends.

“I don’t want it to be associated with ‘Oh, is that the Just Cavalli logo? And it’s a snakebite and that means seduction and that means lust.’ Whereas for 150 years it’s been protected and it’s sacred,” said Saloumeh Bozorgzadeh, an M.T.O. follower in Chicago.

Sufi followers around the world are protesting, Bozorgzadeh said, with at least one protest every week, including a Wednesday (July 16) rally in Alicante, Spain, and one scheduled for Canada on July 26.

They’ve reached out to Cavalli and his team and have received letters back informing them that the logos don’t look anything alike.

The company declined to comment on this issue to a reporter.

They also started a social media campaign with the slogan #TakeOffJustLogo. The campaign is on multiple platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube and a blog.

The blog includes a petition with over 3,300 signatures, and organizers hope to get about 5,000 altogether.

“He is stealing a logo that means everything to me!” said Niyaz Sharifizad.

Nasim Bahadorani, another M.T.O. follower helping with the campaign, said non-Sufis are getting into the campaign too, understanding that Cavalli could change the meaning to any religious symbol.

“Who knows who’s next on his list?” Bahadorani said. “They believe in this mission because they are thinking ‘Am I next?’”

This is not the first time Cavalli has used a religious symbol on his products. In 2004, he put Hindu gods on a line of underwear and swimsuits. Stores saw a backlash and began removing the line from their floors. Cavalli later apologized and stopped producing the items.

Bozorgzadeh said seeing Cavalli’s response to the complaints in 2004 gives her hope for the current campaign.

“It does matter what the public thinks and it does matter just because we are perhaps a smaller group of students, it does matter what he’s doing,” Bozorgzadeh said. “It’s not really about us, it’s about what is happening to this logo, what is happening on a larger scale.”

Core beliefs

The five pillars

Islam has Five Pillars of faith, 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

Targeted Islamic outreach to Hispanics achieving results

By Ken Chitwood, Religion News Service
February 28, 2014

PEARLAND, Texas (RNS) – Carlos Lopez works in the United States to earn money and send it back home to his family in Mexico. But he sends back something else, too: pamphlets and personal testimonies about his new faith.

On Dec. 22, 2013, Lopez took the “shahada” — the profession of the Islamic faith — and joined the ranks of what the American Muslim Council estimates is a 200,000 strong Hispanic Muslim community across the U.S.

Unlike previous generations of Hispanic Muslims who were attracted to the faith by their own spiritual explorations, Lopez and many others like him are converting as a result of targeted Islamic outreach efforts.

This new form of Islamic “da’wah,” or outreach, aims to translate being Muslim into the Spanish cultural and linguistic vernacular.

“To reach Hispanics, we have to be practical,” said Imam Daniel Abdullah Hernandez who teaches an Islam in Spanish course in Pearland, Texas, where Lopez converted. “Islam is practical, it’s social, it’s very easy to translate it into Hispanic culture, and it’s even easier to communicate it in the Spanish language.”

Hernandez teaches interested Hispanics about the basics of Islam in addition to specific elements he and others believe are important for Hispanic seekers. These topics include links between Hispanic culture and Islam, social issues such as taking care of the poor, family dynamics and differences and similarities with the Roman Catholic faith.

“Many Latinos do not know about Andalusian Spain when Islam gave birth to much of what we know as Hispanic culture today, including over 3,000 Spanish words,” said Hernandez. “We are opening their eyes to how being Latino and Muslim makes perfect sense.”

Islam in Spanish reports an increasing number of Hispanics convert as a direct result of their targeted outreach.

Still, according to the Pew Research Center, just 4 percent of Muslim Americans are of Hispanic ancestry, though one of 10 native-born U.S. Muslims are Hispanic. “The American Mosque 2011″ report said the number of Latino converts has been steadily increasing since 2000, more so than any other racial or ethnic group.

As they convert, many face ostracism from their families who are predominantly Christian, often Catholic, and feel the converts are abandoning their Hispanic identity. Likewise, many Hispanic Muslims do not find a ready welcome in masjids that are largely made up of Middle Eastern, North African, South East Asian and African-American Muslims.

“My conversion was a shock for my family; they thought I rejected Jesus, Mary, my culture,” said Imam Isa Parada, one of the leaders of Islam In Spanish. “My dad thought I was going to be a terrorist.”

Likewise, Parada found the Islamic faith community did not know how to deal with Hispanics and lacked resources for Spanish-speaking converts.

Islam In Spanish is not the first organization to focus its efforts on reaching Hispanics. Another group, the Latino American Dawah Organization, existed before it and paved the way.

Shafiq Alvarado helped found LADO, which offers help and support to new Hispanic Muslims. Born into a Catholic family and of Dominican ancestry, Alvarado converted when he was 25 through the efforts of Allianza Islamica (Islamic Alliance) in New York City.

Commenting on the importance of Latino-specific outreach and organizations, Alvarado said, “We have to know who our audience is in order to explain Islam to them, and Latinos are a diverse group.”

To reach Hispanics, LADO is translating Islamic materials into Spanish and disseminating that information in new ways.

LADO spends time on university campuses among Hispanic students, provides open houses, YouTube videos and puts on events such as the North Hudson Islamic Education Center’s Hispanic Muslim Day, which features a blend of Hispanic culture and Islamic teaching.

Lopez and two other men converted in the Houston area at such an event. Now, all three are learning Arabic, taking part in daily prayers and looking forward to sharing their religion with family back in Mexico, Puerto Rico and elsewhere.

“People who become Muslims inevitably become ambassadors for Islam,” said Alvarado. “Hispanic Muslims are not sitting on the sidelines; they learn Arabic, the Quran, Islamic jurisprudence, and many other things to take that knowledge and give it back to their communities, their families,” he said.

Lopez is no different. Although he has been Muslim for just two months, he said he plans on helping his family with the newfound spiritual and social insight he found in Islam.

“As soon as I converted to Islam,” he said, “I wanted to share with my family in Mexico, so they could do the same.”


Allah and the Quran

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.

  • 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.


In addition to the Quran, Muslims also rely on thousands of hadiths, Muhammad’s sayings and practical guidance, which were compiled and collected after he died.


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, and they respect the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.

Example coverage

A man in Central African Republic shows a bandaged arm after an attack in the violence. Photo by Nestor Aziagbia

War-torn churches shelter Muslims in Central African Republic

By Fredrick Nzwili, Religion News Service
February 20, 2014

(RNS) – Churches in Central African Republic are caring for thousands of Muslims who have been trapped in a cycle of revenge attacks, perpetrated by a pro-Christian militia.

Since December, Anti-Balaka militias have been emptying Muslim quarters and avenging earlier attacks by the Seleka, an Islamist militia. The Seleka rampaged through the country in early 2013, terrorizing Christians and ransacking churches, hospitals and shops.

Now that the Muslim president Michel Djotodia has stepped down, Seleka is being forced to withdraw from its strongholds, as the center of power shifts, amid a mass exodus and displacement of Muslims.

In Baoro, a town in the northwest, a Roman Catholic parish is caring for more than 2,000 Muslims who can’t flee. A group of Catholic sisters in the town of Bossemptele is sheltering more than 500 Muslims, providing food, water and medicine.

“Now is the time for [people] of good will to stand up and prove the strength and quality of their faith,” the Rev. Xavier Fagba, a priest in Baoro, told the BBC.

One reason Muslims are able to take shelter in churches is because the country’s religious leaders believe this is a nonreligious conflict, said the Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbango, president of the Alliance of Evangelical Churches in the Central African Republic.

“We have been traveling to the provinces telling people to understand this is not a religious conflict,” said Guerekonyame-Gbango. “This is contributing some tolerance, although many people, including Christians, have taken up arms. This is regrettable.”

Roman Catholic Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga of the Bangui Archdiocese has welcomed Imam Omar Kobine Layama, president of the country’s Islamic Community, to live with him in the church compound.

“I live alongside him and I ask Christians to do likewise,” Nzapalainga said in a statement Tuesday (Feb. 18) for Caritas, the international relief organization. “Love should be a characteristic of Christians. You can’t call yourself a Christian if you kill your brother. You can’t call yourself a Christian when you hunt him down.”

Last week, CAR interim President Catherine Samba-Panza said she was “going to war” with the Anti-Balaka, who she described as having replaced a “sense of their mission” with warfare and killings.


In the world of Islam, there are two major celebrations, Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha. Because the Muslim calendar operates on a lunar cycle, the dates of these events vary annually. 

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. 

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.

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.

Example coverage

Muslims say they deserve school time off for holidays, too

By Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service
October 14, 2013

(RNS) – Hannah Shraim, a 14-year old sophomore at Northwest High School in Germantown, Md., will miss school on Tuesday (Oct. 15) to celebrate the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Adha, or the Feast of Sacrifice.

Instead, she and her two older brothers and her parents will go to morning prayers with an estimated 5,000 others at the sprawling Maryland SoccerPlex in nearby Gaithersburg. After prayers, they’ll mingle with friends, pass out toys to kids, and then families will head home or out to eat to fuel up for a day full of visiting relatives, exchanging gifts, more prayers, and more eating.

But at some point during the day, Shraim will have to study for her PSAT, which is on Wednesday.

“I thought, ‘Come on, do they really have to schedule it the day after Eid?’” she said. “They would never schedule a test after Christmas.”

When she was in eighth grade, Shraim’s teacher scheduled a math test on Eid al-Adha, despite guidelines by the Montgomery County school board that teachers not schedule tests on religious holidays. She had to skip the holiday in order to take the test.

“I felt put down by our system,” said Shraim, whose brothers have also missed holidays because of school.

Experiences like Shraim’s have been driving efforts in recent years by Muslim Americans to get school officials to recognize Eid al-Adha and Eid al-Fitr — the other major Islamic holiday that happens two months before — as official holidays.

Several school districts with significant Muslim populations already observe one or both of the Eid holidays as official days off, including Paterson and Trenton in New Jersey; Dearborn, Mich.; Burlington Vt.; and Cambridge, Mass.

Similar efforts in New York City, Connecticut, and Baltimore County, Md., have stalled, while those in Maryland’s Montgomery County, just north of Washington, have recently restarted. There, schools are closed for Christmas, Good Friday and the Monday after Easter; since the 1970s, schools have closed for the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur if those days fall on a weekday.

Muslims in Montgomery County have lobbied for school closures on Eid holidays for at least 10 years. 

The school district established guidelines a few years ago allowing Muslim students to take excused absences on Eid days, which are also considered non-testing days.

But the county’s board of education has resisted making Eid days official holidays, arguing that religion can’t be cited as a reason to close school. Rather, Eid supporters must show that the school day will be affected by a number of student and staff absences.

“There will always be those who judge based upon ignorance. They are of no concern to me,” said MacDonald Rushdan. “I will keep on doing what I’ve always done. I will not apologize for being a God-fearing woman whose faith provides her with inner peace and contentment.” 

Muslims listening to the sermon, or khutba, by Imam Suhaib Webb at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, on the Islamic holiday of Eid al-Fitr. RNS photo by Omar Sacirbey

A spokesman for Montgomery County schools said during last year’s Eid al-Adha, the absentee rates for students was 5.56 percent and 6.5 percent for staff, both consistent with the typical absentee rates for any given Friday.*

Muslims counter that the board’s demand is vague because it offers no numerical minimum, and unreasonable because it wasn’t made of other groups. 

By one count, there are at least 12,000 Muslims living in Montgomery County, and local Muslims say the eight mosques and anecdotal evidence suggest their numbers have indeed grown significantly in recent years.

“I hate to say that the source of the resistance is discrimination, but we can’t help but sometimes think that’s what it is,” said Zainab Chaudry, vice president of the Maryland chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

“It seems strange for the board to ask us to show proof that instruction would be impacted enough to close school when they didn’t ask the other communities to show proof.”

Chaudry helped create the Equality for Eid Coalition, which started an online petition that so far has close to 1,000 signatures; the group is calling on Muslim and non-Muslim families to keep their children home on Tuesday. 

The effort has also been supported by some Christian and Jewish groups, and at least one Montgomery County councilman, George Leventhal, who is Jewish, has said he will keep his children home for Eid.

For many Muslim families and students, it’s not just about equity and sparing students the hassle of make-up work, but connecting with their religious identity. Many Muslim parents worry that children are more likely to lose their sense of identity when they aren’t able to celebrate their holidays.

“We’re a minority. It’s important that our kids grow up with traditions. If we don’t celebrate the holidays, our kids won’t have any traditions to inherit and pass down to their kids,” said Hannah’s mother, May Salloum-Shraim, who works as a data analyst for the Montgomery County school system.

Salloum-Shraim is acutely aware of these differences because she is a convert, and her family still visits Christian relatives in Syracuse, N.Y., over Christmas. 

“I know they’re having fun. There’s the dinner, the decorations, the gifts. They really get to experience Christmas. I need to make sure I have the same thing going on for Eid,” she said.

“But when the kids have to go to school, you can’t give them that experience. It’s really frustrating.”

Muslims say having excused absences and no tests on Eid days don’t solve the problem.

“There are field trips and sports and other activities that go on. Those who are absent will still be missing a lot,” said Samira Hussein, who helped start the Eid equality effort in Montgomery County several years ago.

Shraim said that while she is disappointed that this Eid is not an official holiday, she is hopeful it may be before she graduates high school.

“I love being home from school on Christian and Jewish holidays so they can be with their families and celebrate. It’s an awesome thing,” she said. “And I think more people will feel that way about Muslims.” 

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. Both sects, for example, have given rise to extremist leaders; Osama bin Laden was Sunni, and former Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is Shiite.
  • The Nation of Islam is an organization of African-Americans led by Louis Farrakhan. It does not follow mainstream Islam. The Nation of Islam was founded by Elijah Muhammad in 1930. The black separatist organization preached against Christians, Jews and others. When Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, his son W. Deen Muhammad took over and began moving the organization toward mainstream Sunni Islam beliefs. 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 African-American Muslims and Muslim converts (although Muslims believe 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: Even though this is a non-binding opinion or judgment, many Westerners view fatwa 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Muslims do not engage in rigorous historical-literary criticism of the Quran as Christians and Jews do with their scripture, and Muslims consider it inappropriate to do so. Trained Quranic scholars interpret the Quran’s teachings for application in modern life but do not question what is true or analyze how the Quran was assembled.

Example coverage

Gay Muslims come out in Toronto photo exhibit

By Omar Sacirbey, Religion News Service
June 13, 2014

(RNS) – Many Muslims leave Islam when they are told their sexuality and faith are incompatible. But a new photo exhibit of gay and queer Muslims challenges that notion.

The exhibit, which opens June 18 at the Toronto Public Library, Parliament Branch, captures the humanity of subjects with close-up, intimate images. It’s the latest example of LGBT Muslims in North America reclaiming their faith and rejecting the expectation that they keep their sexuality secret.

See a gallery of images from the exhibit

“Muslims around the world are saying, ‘You know what? My relationship with Islam doesn’t have to be guilt-ridden,’” said Toronto native Samra Habib, the photographer behind “Just Me and Allah.”

“In most Muslim communities, most LGBT people are not open, and that’s living without dignity,” said El-Farouk Khaki, a Toronto immigration lawyer and one of the subjects in the photos. “Breaking the invisibility is important.”

Habib, who identifies as queer rather than gay, said she got the idea to take photos of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims a few years ago after learning there were others like her who were seeking affirmation.

“I found comfort in learning that it’s a conversation that many queer Muslims around the world were having and thought this project might help mobilize the queer Muslim community,” said Habib, who is also a digital editor and producer, and originally posted the photos on the social media site Tumblr.

In one photo, a young man with a slight goatee stares out from underneath a sweatshirt hood, while in another, a short-haired woman in a suit smiles casually but confidently.

Habib’s Tumblr page also includes short video interviews with a few of her subjects.

“We have always been here, it’s just that the world wasn’t ready for us yet,” says one of the subjects, Dali, in one video interview.

Khaki said he took part in the project less because he hoped to raise tolerance among Muslims and more to show young people they can be gay and Muslim.

“This is for queer Muslim kids who need to know there are other Muslims just like them,” Khaki said.

Khaki and Habib credit social media with aiding gay Muslims. Facebook and Twitter have helped gay Muslims meet one another in ways that weren’t possible 10 or 20 years ago. “We were all isolated,” said Khaki. “We didn’t have validation. But we do now.”

Several prominent Muslim-American leaders have said that while they believe homosexual acts are sins, they also believe Muslim communities should not ostracize gays.

While the urge for same-sex sexual relations should be resisted, said Sheikh Yasir Qadhi, a well-known American imam who blogs at, in a 2013 interview on YouTube, “being a homosexual does not disqualify you from being a Muslim.”

But in an America where many of the Muslims are immigrants from countries where homosexuality is stigmatized or even criminalized, that message isn’t always accepted.

Ani Zonneveld, president of Muslims for Progressive Values, a Los Angeles organization that advocates for gay rights, said the photo exhibit might improve relations between gay Muslims and other Muslims.

“Any image to personalize, humanize LGBTQ Muslims will help,” she said.

Imam Talal Eid, a former member of the U.S. Commission for International Religious Freedom, and chaplain at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass., added: “God created them. God gave them freedom to choose this way. Who am I to tell someone what they should do?”

Important and contentious issues

International issues

Adherence to Islam in daily life

Muslims often require special accommodation in order to follow Islam’s rules on prayer, dress and eating. When refused by schools, workplaces or prisons, these requests can lead to conflicts and sometimes lawsuits. In addition, Muslim communities struggle with engaging youth and young adults in a faith whose practices — from modest dress to certain foods — are often at odds with U.S. and European cultures.

Health care in the U.S. is a particularly important area in which Islamic practices, such as acknowledging dietary needs (halal food), modesty of patients and the need for prayer spaces, should be respected to prevent health disparity, according to a 2011 report by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding

As their numbers increase in the U.S., Muslims are creating an infrastructure of Muslim schools, health services, civic organizations, banks (Islam forbids collecting or paying interest) and more.

A few examples include:

  • Islamic American University is an institute of higher education located in Michigan that offers programs in Islamic studies. It is a private school, established in 2002, that offers correspondence and online courses.
  • American Finance House: LARIBA is a financing institution located in Pasadena, California, that complies with both Islamic Shariah law and the United States laws and regulations for financing.  It offers housing/mortgage solutions for those interested in taking an Islamic approach to home purchasing.

Christianity and Islam

Christians and Muslims first experienced contact in the 1500s. Since then, followers of the two faiths have engaged in both peaceful and violent interactions.

More recently, Muslims affiliated with the Islamic State have given Christians in their territory an ultimatum: convert to Islam, pay a religious tax or be killed. Almost all the Christians in Mosul, Iraq, have fled to Kurdish-controlled areas since the ultimatum was enforced in July 2014.

Christians also have persecuted Muslims, such as those living in the Philippines. The “A Common Word” website maintains a list of oppression at the hands of both Muslims and Christians. In addition to this list, it also offers potential reasons for the conflicts. These authors suggest that religious differences aren’t always the cause of conflict. Rather, religion is often used as the justification for political or economic maneuvering.

Conflict in South and Southeast Asia

Muslims have experienced a variety of tensions with Buddhists and Hindus throughout this region.

Most recently and intensely, Buddhist nationalism, violence and unrest in Myanmar has internally displaced about 140,000 Muslim Rohingya people, according to a CNN article. The Rohingya are an ethnic minority who practice Islam, speak Rohingya and live in the Rakhine State in western Myanmar.

Minority Muslim populations in Sri Lanka have faced similar threats by the ethnic Sinhalese majority’s Bodu Bala Sena (BBS) organization, or the “Buddhist Power Force.” Muslims in southern Thailand, a Buddhist-majority state, have also been part of violent conflicts in recent years, according to a BBC article.

In India, Hindus and Muslims relations have created communal tensions both inside the country and near the border of Pakistan.


The most high profile cases of extremism are terrorist attacks, in the U.S. and worldwide, carried out by Muslims who claim to be acting in the name of Allah.

Muslim Americans and the general public have different views on Muslim Americans’ support for extremism. Muslim Americans largely reject extremism, while 40 percent of the general public thinks that the group supports extremism, according to a 2011 poll conducted by Pew Research Center for the People and the Press.

Most Muslim extremist groups, such as Al Qaeda, Boko Haram and the Islamic State, are categorized as an extremely conservative and small segment of worldwide Muslims and their violent actions are not endorsed by a majority of the faith. About 6.5 percent of Muslims worldwide think the 9/11 attacks were mostly justified, according to a 2012 Gallup poll. In contrast, more than half (55.4 percent) think the attacks were not at all justified.

Islam and its connection with other religions

Islam is perhaps most closely associated with its two Abrahamic counterparts, Christianity and Judaism. All three are monotheistic and teach in the belief of a transcendent god that is a source of moral guidance. One of the more notable differences among them concerns their understanding of Jesus and his role within the faith. Islam teaches, for example, that Jesus was a prophet of Islam, but not the son of God. Both Jews and Muslims view the worship of Jesus, and the belief of his transcendence into human form, as heretical, in contrast to Christian doctrine.

Islam and resistance: peace or violence?

A question among Islamic communities is whether Islam supports nonviolent or violent resistance in times of conflict or uprisings (such as the Arab Spring that began in 2010 and had largely expired by mid-2012). There are some high profile groups, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, that see violent resistance as necessary.

Hezbollah, a recognized terrorist organization based in Lebanon, was formed in 1982 during Israel’s war against Lebanon. It is supported by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). IRGC provides Hezbollah with financial support and training. Syria also supplies the group with weapons and political support. In 2012, Lebanon fell victim to violent conflict, impacting the influence and place of Hezbollah. In 2012, the group lost its affiliation as a “national party” and is increasingly perceived as a Shiite political party and militia, according to ezine Jadaliyya.

Hamas is a Sunni Muslim extremist group that is characterized as an influential Palestinian militant movement. It has been known to carry out suicide bombings in Israel, the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Hamas originally grew as an arm of the Muslim Brotherhood in the First Intifada in 1987. Hamas soon sought its own charter and moved away from the Muslim Brotherhood’s practice of non-violence, with its first terrorist attack in the early 1990s.

In March 2012, Egypt brokered a ceasefire that ended a round of fighting. Rocket fire from Gaza to Israel has decreased significantly since that time. “In 2013, sixty-three rockets were launched at Israel from Gaza, compared to 2,327 the year prior,” according to the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency. In the West bank, Hamas has been largely driven underground. “Its social and military infrastructure has been dismantled, and many of its members arrested by PA and Israeli security forces,” according to the Council on Foreign Relations.

Islam, state control and diplomacy

Beyond areas of conflict, there are regions in which Islam is not pluralistic and threatens peaceful relations with other countries. For example, Iran, as an Islamic republic, has presented the threat of nuclear weapons development, according to a 2012 BBC article. While a 2007 reported concluded that Iran had ended all “nuclear weapon design and weaponization work” in 2003,” another report, this one released in 2012 and published by the Los Angeles Times, stated, “Iran is pursuing research that could enable it to build a nuclear weapon, but that it has not sought to do so.” This potentially places the nation at odds with the U.N. Security Council and other countries. “Iran is a theocracy that mixes religion and state more thoroughly than any other country in the world,” according to a primer on Iran and Islam developed by the United States Institute of Peace. Shiite Islam demands blind obedience to the clerics that interpret religious law and places a strong emphasis on patriarchy, according to the primer. Islam is also the state religion in other states, such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Maldives and more. While the status of nation states as Islamic can put stress on relations with secular or Western powers, reporters should be careful to not make assumptions on the connection between Islamic belief systems and potentially aggressive or hostile relations.

Israeli-Palestinian conflict

The conflict about geographic boundaries and territory control between Israelis and Palestinians also emerges as a major issue related to coverage of Islam’s involvement in conflict and social issues, according to a Religion Link resource guide. Most Israeli Jews and Palestinians believe that the conflict will never reach a permanent peace resolution, according to the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center. Eight million Palestinian refugees have been displaced to other regions in the Middle East, which presents a potential economic burden for other nation states and the United Nations, according to the Middle East Outreach Council. The International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination has charged Israel with human rights violations, according to a 2012 Jadaliyya article. The article states that Israel hasn’t provided immunity from violence to those in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory. It also states that these individuals don’t enjoy equal access to education, health, society, family, nationality, religion and work.

Jewish and Islamic relations

Interactions between the two groups started in the 7th century. Since then time, Jews have often lived in Muslim-ruled lands. During the middle ages, the two groups lived together largely peacefully. Jews living in Muslim lands, known as dhimmis, had few restrictions placed on them provided they paid the jizya (a tax for non-Muslim adult males).

In modern times, the formation of Israel as an independent state in 1948 massively impacted the immigration and emigration of both groups living in the Middle East. More than 700,000 Arabs fled or were expelled from Israel and more than 1 million Jews immigrated to Israel as a result of this action.

Some organizations, such as the Center for Muslim-Jewish Engagement, aim to promote “dialogue, understanding and grassroots, congregational and academic partnerships among the oldest and the newest of the Abrahamic faiths while generating a contemporary understanding in this understudied area and creating new tools for interfaith communities locally, nationally and beyond,” according to its website.

LGBTQ issues and Islam

Muslim individuals who express same-sex romantic attraction, engage in same-sex sexual activity, identify as gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender or intersex, or who advocate or provide education for those who do, can face discrimination and become the victims of violent acts. More than 75 countries have anti-homosexuality laws, according to the International Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans and Intersex Association.

LGBTQ legal issues include:

  • Ability to donate blood
  • Restrictions on the ability to marry
  • Adoption/parenting concerns
  • Bullying/non-discrimination legislation
  • Immigration equality for same-sex spouses/partners
  • Anti-discrimination laws for employment and housing
  • Hate crime laws
  • Military service

All seven countries that impose the death penalty for homosexuality are Muslim, according to a 2012 article in The Economist. The internet offers not only a virtual community for those LGBTQ individuals who cannot publicly express their sexuality, but also a safer place to debate the Quran and sexuality issues. Some scholars say that the Quran itself does not outlaw homosexuality, but rather forms of lust and potential violent acts allegedly associated with homosexuality.

LGBTQ rights in Asia

Overall, LGBTQ right are limited in many of the same ways that they are in other ways of the world. Same-sex sexual activity is illegal in more than 20 Asian countries and only 9 Asian countries allow openly LGBTQ people to serve in their armed forces.

In Myanmar, same-sex sexual activity is illegal and punishable by imprisonment from 10 years to life in prison. Political reform and the end of the military regime have slightly lessened LGBTQ persecution. In 2012, for example, the first gay prides were celebrated in the country, according to a BBC article.

The tension between LGBTQ rights and Islam historically stems from the Prophet Muhammad, who taught, “If you find anyone doing as Lot’s people did, kill the one who does it, and the one to whom it is done” (recorded in the Sunan Abu-Dawud, Book 38).

A 2013 Pew Research Study found “broad acceptance of homosexuality in North America, the European Union, and much of Latin America, but equally widespread rejection in predominantly Muslim nations and in Africa, as well as in parts of Asia and in Russia.” Approximately eight-in-10 or more Muslims view homosexuality as morally wrong.

Muslim-West relations

According to the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center, individuals in the Middle East and North Africa describe tensions between the West and Muslim society as being caused by religious difference and politics. Both Muslims and non-Muslims believe that the West does not respect Muslim communities as much as the East, according to an Israel Security Agency report. However, there are debates over whether an Islam and the West (or East and West) binary still influences diplomacy and international relations.

Other scholars, such as Hishaam Aidi, fellow at ISPU and a lecturer in discipline of international and public affairs at Columbia University, see this as a major issue impacting policy. Hamid Dabashi, an Iranian-American professor of Iranian studies and comparative literature at Columbia University in New York City, shares this view. Dabashi is the author of several books, including The Arab Spring: The End of Postcolonialism.

Muslim communities in Western Europe

Treatment and discontent of Muslims in Western Europe is another salient area of concern in news coverage, according to an Economist article. Britain, France and Germany have the largest Muslim populations in Western Europe. Hip hop rappers, among other groups, are creating a political discourse against discrimination and profiling in Europe, according to a 2012 article in Al Jazeera Another issue of concern is the banning of veiling in the region, in areas such as Belgium and France. There have also been clashes about veiling and religious practices in Germany, according to a Qantara article, where students said their headscarves are part of their identities and didn’t feel comfortable removing them during sporting events. Another relevant issue is prejudice and violent acts toward immigrants from countries in which Islam is practiced such as Morocco, Afghanistan and Turkey.

Political participation

Civil rights, immigration rules, travel restrictions, investigations of Muslim charities and public perceptions of Islam are of deep concern to Muslim communities. As a result, Muslims are becoming increasingly engaged in politics around the world.

In recent years, Islam has become a major part of political news coverage, such as the coverage of the Arab Spring. The role of Islam in different nation states in the Middle East has become an issue in the event of the uprisings. For example, a majority of Egyptians want Islam to guide the laws of Egypt, despite the practice of Christianity in the country, according to a Pew Research study.


The Salaf were the earliest scholars of Islamic law (Shariah). “Salaf” means “ancient one” in Arabic. Their prominence emerged before the schools of thought (see “Background & Groups”). Some Sunni Muslims practice Salafism as a return to a more authentic interpretation of the Quran, according to a 2012 Qantara article. Salafism is also applied as a greater integration of Islam in government and daily life. However, Salafism has been connected to terrorist acts and those adhering to Salafism have sometimes been identified as fundamentalists and jihadists. Journalists should be careful in labeling those that identify with this group, such as Egypt’s Salafist Nour Party, as radical, fundamentalist, Islamist, etc. Salafis only make up fewer than 1 percent of Muslims worldwide, so journalists should be cautious about making assumptions about their influence.

Shariah law

Shariah includes legal rulings and scholarly interpretations of rulings, but Muslims do not necessarily agree on the contents of Shariah and its application, according to the Middle East Outreach Council. While Muslim Americans might not use Shariah as legal guidance, Muslims in other countries might follow Shariah more closely. For example, nations (e.g., Iran) that do not use democratic government might be more likely to apply Shariah. The Council on Foreign Relations explains different kinds of punishment under Shariah and how Shariah fits with modern or secular forms of government and society.

“In sharia, there are categories of offenses: those that are prescribed a specific punishment in the Quran, known as hadd punishments, those that fall under a judge’s discretion, and those resolved through a tit-for-tat measure (i.e., blood money paid to the family of a murder victim). There are five hadd crimes: unlawful sexual intercourse (sex outside of marriage and adultery), false accusation of unlawful sexual intercourse, wine drinking (sometimes extended to include all alcohol drinking), theft, and highway robbery. Punishments for hadd offenses—flogging, stoning, amputation, exile, or execution—get a significant amount of media attention when they occur. These sentences are not often prescribed, however,” according to the Council.

Shariah can adapt to modern life in non-Muslim regions, according to an Institute for Social Policy and Understanding study.

The Islamic State group

Referred to as The Islamic State Group by the Associated Press, it is also known by the acronyms ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) and ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant). It started as an al Qaeda splinter group, and first announced the formation of an Islamic State in Iraq in 2006. In 2013, it broadened its goals and declared its intention to forge an Islamic State across Sunni areas in Iraq and Syria, according to a CNN article. The group is headed by Abu Bakr al-Baghadi, who now goes by Al-Khalifah Ibrahim to his followers. In June, 2014, “ISIS announces the creation of a caliphate (Islamic state) that erases all state borders, making al-Baghdadi the self-declared authority over the world’s estimated 1.5 billion Muslims,” according to the CNN article. Several groups, including the United Nations, the European Union, the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada, Israel, Turkey, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, have branded the group a terrorist organization.

U.S. clashes with Pakistan

Almost three-fourths of  Pakistanis view the U.S. as an enemy and threat to security, according to a 2012 Pew Research poll. Since the U.S.-led killing of Osama bin Laden on Pakistani territory, the relations between the U.S. and Pakistan have been tumultuous, according to a 2012 report by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. The U.S. perception of Pakistan as a country that harbors and supports terrorist organizations also has led to ill will between these nations.

U.S. War in Iraq

Iraqis believe that America’s 2003 invasion has been more harmful than beneficial, especially Sunni Muslims, according to the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center. In 2011, the war officially ended, though the insurgency continues. In 2014, the U.S. President Barack Obama authorized air strikes against ISIS to halt its advance, according to a New York Times article.

U.S. War in Afghanistan

In 2001, after the 9/11 attacks, the United States publicly stated its reason for waging this war was to cripple Al Qaeda, prevent it from using the country as a base, and remove the Taliban from power. U.S. navy seals killed Osama Bin Laden in 2011, and America’s leadership announced in 2014 that the majority of its forces would withdraw by the end of the year, and all troops would leave by 2016. The U.S. handed over its last base to Afghan forces on Oct. 26, 2014, according to a Guardian article.

Afghans are not satisfied with democracy in the country, according to a report by the Abu Dhabi Gallup Center. Financial and economic development are major issues of concern here.

In the news

“Dangerous and deepening divide between Islamic world, West” — Sept. 23, 2012, Reuters, Peter Apps

Religion not the only cause of confrontation; close ties with U.S. seen as liablity now -analyst; Arab Spring not as beneficial to West as had been hoped

WASHINGTON — For those who believe in a clash of civilizations between the Islamic world and Western democracy, the last few weeks must seem like final confirmation of their theory.

Even those who reject the term as loaded and simplistic speak sadly of a perhaps catastrophic failure of understanding between Americans in particular and many Muslims.

The outrage and violence over a crude film ridiculing the Prophet Mohammad points to a chasm between Western free speech and individualism and the sensitivities of some Muslims over what they see as a campaign of humiliation. – Read more.

“Egypt’s Path After Uprising Does Not Have to Follow Iran’s” — Feb. 12, 2011, The New York Times, Anthony Shadid

CAIRO — Two Egyptian leaders have been struck down in 30 years: one by an Islamist assassin’s bullets, the other by the demands of hundreds of thousands of protesters in a peaceful uprising. The first event, the death of President Anwar el-Sadat, marked a spectacle of the most militant brand of political Islam. The revolution the world witnessed Friday, the toppling of President Hosni Mubarak, may herald the dawn of something else.

There is a fear in the West, one rarely echoed here, that Egypt’s revolution could go the way of Iran’s, when radical Islamists ultimately commandeered a movement that began with a far broader base. But the two are very different countries. In Egypt, the uprising offers the possibility of an accommodation with political Islam rare in the Arab world — that without the repression that accompanied Mr. Mubarak’s rule, Islam could present itself in a more moderate guise. – Read more.

“High turnout in Tunisia vote defies forecasts” — Oct. 26, 2014, Al Jazeera, Ahmed El Amraoui

Millions take part in elections to new parliament even as cradle of Arab Spring remains divided over post-2011 path.

Tunisians have flocked to polling stations since early hours of the day to choose a new parliament in elections seen as a test of democratic transition in the birthplace of the so-called Arab Spring.

Sunday’s general election is the first under the North African country’s new constitution and the second since the 2011 uprising that overthrew the regime of Zine el Abidine Ben Ali.

Turnout defied most opinion polls, which had projected a decline in popular participation in the election of a 217-member legislature with a five-year term.

The forecasts were partly attributable to security concerns and the tense transitional period which Tunisia has witnessed since January 2011. – Read more.

“Militant leader in rare appearance in Iraq” — July 5, 2014,The New York Times, Alissa J. Rubin

BAGHDAD — Wearing a black turban and black robes, the leader of the self-proclaimed Islamic state that stretches across eastern Syria and much of northern and western Iraq made a startling public appearance, his first in many years, at a well-known mosque in the Iraqi city of Mosul, according to a video released on Saturday whose contents were confirmed by experts and witnesses.

Until then, there had been very few photographs on the Internet of the insurgent known as Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or ISIS. But on Friday he delivered a public sermon in a city once under American control with an audacity that even Osama bin Laden never tried. – Read more.

“The Islamic veil across Europe” — July 1, 2014, BBC

Countries across Europe have wrestled with the issue of the Muslim veil – in various forms such as the body-covering burka and the niqab, which covers the face apart from the eyes.

The debate takes in religious freedom, female equality, secular traditions and even fears of terrorism.

The veil issue is part of a wider debate about multiculturalism in Europe, as many politicians argue that there needs to be a greater effort to assimilate ethnic and religious minorities. – Read more.

“To fight radical Islam, U.S. wants Muslim allies” — Aug. 3, 2011, The New York Times, Scott Shane

WASHINGTON — Rolling out a new strategy for combating radicalization, White House officials on Wednesday warned that casting broad suspicion on Muslim Americans is counterproductive and could backfire by alienating a religious minority and fueling extremism.

The administration also promised to identify accurate educational materials about Islam for law enforcement officers, providing an alternative to biased and ill-informed literature in use in recent years, including by the F.B.I. Denis R. McDonough, President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, told reporters that Al Qaeda and those it inspired remained the biggest terrorist threat inside the United States. But he said the bombing and shootings in Norway last month, carried out by a right-wing, anti-Muslim extremist, were a reminder that the government could not focus exclusively on any single brand of radicalism. – Read more.

“Islam and other religions” — Oct. 3, 2014, The Economist, Erasmus

At a time when hundreds of thousands of Christians, Yazidis and members of other minorities have been chased from their homes, or worse, in northern Iraq, academic or theological discussion about co-existence between Islam and other faiths might—as I have suggested in some recent postings—seem pretty hypothetical to many people.

But the 126 Muslim scholars who signed a recently published “open letter” to Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the IS leader and self-proclaimed caliph, clearly take the very opposite view.  As a colleague explains in this week’s print edition, one of the letter’s main purposes is to challenge the claim of IS to have established a new caliphate to which all the world’s Muslims should rally. The signatories, all respected figures in the Islamic heartland or the Western diaspora, also use impeccable Muslim sources to make some strong arguments in favour of co-existence between Islam and other faiths. — Read more.

“All Islam’s sheikhs are extremists, right? Wrong. Meet the African Imam & mosques that shock even moderate Muslims” — Jan. 2, 2015, Mail & Guardian Africa, Samantha Spooner

Depending on the news channel you watch and media that you read, you might think all Muslim leaders are sword-waving radicals and extremists.

And matters are not helped by the recent wave of terror attacks in Africa and other parts  attributed to fundamentalist Muslims dominating the headlines. They don’t get as much attention, but moderate Muslims keep telling anyone who will listen to remember that these are far from actuality of what Islam is all about.

After all, Africa for one has been the continent where a distinctive, moderate and tolerant Islam has been practiced for decades. A phenomenon sometimes referred to as “African Islam”. — Read more.

“Meet America’s First Openly Gay Imam” — Dec. 20, 2014, Al Jazeera, Azmat Khan and Amina Waheed

He’s been condemned by other Muslim leaders, and some local imams have even refused to greet him. But Imam Daayiee Abdullah – believed to be the only openly gay imam in the Americas – is proud of his story.

He was born and raised in Detroit, where his parents were Southern Baptists. At age 15, he came out to them. At 33, while studying in China, Abdullah converted to Islam, and went on to study the religion in Egypt, Jordan and Syria. But as a gay man in America, he saw that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Muslims had unmet spiritual needs and he became an imam to provide community support.

“Sometimes necessity is the mother of invention. And because of the necessity in our community, that’s why I came into this particular role,” he told America Tonight about his journey. — Read more.

“The Rise of the Islamic State” — Aug. 11, 2014, BBC (interactive multimedia), Lucy Rodgers, Emily Maguire, Richard Bangay, Nick Davey, and David Gritten

The rapid advance across Iraq by militant fighters from Islamic State, widely known as Isis, has thrown the country into chaos and led to US air strikes against their key positions.

The brutal, extremist group, which claims to have fighters from across the world, has announced the establishment of a “caliphate” – an Islamic state – across parts of Iraq and Syria and forced many minority communities from their homes. Where did Islamic State (IS) come from? — Read more.

“US, NATO formally end Afghan combat mission” — Dec. 28, 2014, Al Jazeera

The U.S.-led coalition in Afghanistan formally ended its combat mission on Sunday, more than 13 years after an international alliance ousted the Taliban government for sheltering the planners of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on American cities.

“Today marks an end of an era and the beginning of a new one,” said U.S. General John Campbell, commander of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), at the ceremony marking the end of the mission held at the ISAF headquarters in Kabul. “We will continue to invest in Afghanistan’s future,” Campbell said at the ceremony, during which he rolled up the coalition’s flag.

Details of Sunday’s ceremony were withheld until the last moment for fear the insurgents might attempt an attack with rockets or mortars, according to the ISAF. — Read more.

“Oppressed by China, Uighurs drawn to Salafist ideas” — Jan. 19, 2015, Al-Monitor, Metin Gurcan

Not only the West fears the return of their citizens after they have joined the jihadists in Syria and Iraq. We sometimes read about Russian concerns over the significant role Chechens play in the Islamic State (IS) and Jabhat al-Nusra. But because of restrictions by the Chinese government on the media, we rarely hear about the turmoil closely linked to the jihadist war in Iraq and Syria that takes place in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region in northwest China.

The name of the place where the Uighurs live is disputed. The Chinese call the region Xinjiang, which means “newly recovered lands.” However, according to the Uighurs of Turkic origin, the area where nomadic Turks first settled is called East Turkistan. In recent years, there has been constantly increasing tension in Xinjiang/East Turkistan, which has gone largely unnoticed because of media restrictions in China. Interestingly, the IS flames in Syria and Iraq are felt thousands of miles away in Xingjian/East Turkistan. — Read more.

“Why resentment is growing between Christians and Muslims in Marseille” — Jan. 8, 2015, PBS

This city of more than 850,000 is France’s second largest and one of its most diverse. About 500 miles southeast of Paris and on the Mediterranean, Marseille is home to tens of thousands of immigrants throughout Europe and more recently from North Africa.

By some estimates, the city is now 30 to 40 percent Muslim, one of the highest concentrations of Muslims anywhere in this overwhelmingly Catholic country. Even before yesterday’s attack and even before two other recent attacks in France by Muslim men, tensions in Marseille between Muslims and non-Muslims had been rising. — Read more.

“Mid-East media wary of new Israel-Hezbollah war” — Jan. 29, 2015, BBC

The media in the Middle East have commented extensively on the Israeli-Hezbollah exchange of fire on the Lebanese border.

Pro-Hezbollah media portray it as revenge for what is assumed to be Israel’s attack on Hezbollah and Iranian forces on the Golan Heights earlier this month, and promise further retaliation.

Many Arab papers fear that Hezbollah is dragging the already-troubled region into another major conflict, and Israeli commentators debate the wisdom of their government’s actions. — Read more.

“Congress seeks to bring Obama’s Isis war on the right side of the law” — Jan. 28, 2015, The Guardian, Spencer Ackerman

A legislative push to retroactively justify Barack Obama’s war against the Islamic State would also phase out the prime legal wellspring of the global US war against terrorism.

Sunsetting the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) has been a longtime goal of the anti-Isis bill’s architect, Representative Adam Schiff, the top Democrat on the House intelligence committee.

Schiff’s proposed text, released on Wednesday, revives his pre-election effort to get Congress on record about the war in Iraq and Syria, about six months after Obama dispatched US military “advisers” to aid the Iraqi government in confronting Isis. US-led air strikes, which now occur daily in both countries, began in August. — Read more.

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 do so 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

By Lauren Markoe, Religion News Service
Sept. 24, 2014

WASHINGTON (RNS) – 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


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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.


  • 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


  • 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.

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


The number of mosques, or masjids, is increasing, and attendance is growing at many mosques. From 1990 to 2000, the number of U.S. mosques grew by 42 percent, and 60 percent of them experienced at least a 10 percent rise in attendance, according to a Faith Communities Today study. In 2001, another study found, there were 1,209 mosques. Where mosques had been built in larger cities with significant Muslim populations, there are now more mosques spread across different areas of the country and more cities with more than one mosque.

  • 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.


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. The Council of Islamic Schools in North America maintains a list of Islamic education organizations in the U.S. through the Muslim American society.

  • 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 are opening health clinics around the country, many of them targeting low-income people.

  • 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.


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

  • 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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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.


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.


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.”  


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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


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


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.


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. 

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