American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years

American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years
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People look at photos at the organization’s 110-year celebration brunch. (Photos supplied)
American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years
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Muslims gather to celebrate the 110th anniversary.
American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years
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Mosque-goers celebrate Halloween in an undated picture.
American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years
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The interior of the Brooklyn Muslim Mosque.
American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years
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The minaret of the Brooklyn Muslim Mosque.
Updated 24 October 2017

American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years

American Muslim organization founded by European settlers marks 110 years

LONDON: Last week, the Brooklyn Muslim Mosque celebrated its 110th year anniversary in Astoria, New York City.
It is America’s oldest Muslim association, founded by white Muslims that emigrated from the Baltic states of northern Europe.
The event was marked with a typical New York-style brunch at a party last Sunday that brought together members of the community first established in 1907 as the Lithuanian Tatar Society.
“We’re New Yorkers, through and through, how else would we celebrate a historic milestone than with a brunch?” Alyssa Ratkewitch, an ethnic Lipka Tatar and the vice president, asked.
Alyssa’s grandfather was among those who taught Arabic and Qur’an to generations of ethnic Lipka Tatars when they arrived from countries like Lithuania, Poland and Belarus — part of the same wave of immigration that brought President Donald Trump’s grandfather here from Germany.
The mosque at 104 Power Street, in Brooklyn, New York City, is in a building with a pointed roof and slatted white, wood cladding. It looks more like a church that should be on a prairie than a mosque.
“It used to be a protestant church. After the early Lipka community bought the building in 1927. They added a small turret on the top with a crescent, adapting it to resemble the mosques they had left behind.”
The mass arrival of global immigrants at the turn of the 19th century led to several early Muslim communities being set up across America.
Near Ross in North Dakota, a large rectangular, brick and wood building was used as a mosque by local Syrian and Lebanese immigrants in 1929. It was knocked down in the 1970s.
Then, about twelve years ago, a tiny, brick ‘mosque’ with a dome and ornamental minarets was erected as a reminder of where it once stood.
Another group of Syrian and Lebanese immigrants built the Rose of Fraternity Lodge — later called the Mother Mosque — in Cedar Rapids, Iowa in 1934. It also fell into disrepair in the 1970s. But unlike the one in Ross, the Mother Mosque was rescued and renovated to serve as a heritage and education center.
Meanwhile, the Ahmadiyya Muslim community — originating from Punjab, India — founded their American branch in 1920 in Chicago, purchasing a building two years later on 45th Street and Wabash Avenue to serve as their mosque.
Alyssa’s organization predates all of these. Only the Dzemijetul Hajjrije in Chicago was founded earlier — 1906 -— also by white Europeans from Bosnia. However, that folded in the 1960s.
Inside the Brooklyn Muslim Mosque, it is a picture of integration and assimilation.
One photo on the walls of Alyssa’s office shows a group of clean-shaven men in Western-style suits standing at the front of the 19th century building. Only the man in the middle is dressed in oriental attire — the mosque’s imam.
Another, probably taken in the 1920s, is of Tatar families, smartly dressed around two tables, ready for a Halloween party. Above their heads, gruesome-faced pumpkin decorations hang from the ceiling and on the walls are black silhouettes of flying witches riding broomsticks.
One of the largest photos is from August 29, 1948, where members of the Lithuanian Tatar Society — by then, the American Mohammedan Society — pose alongside the United American Mohammedan Friends Inc. at Platzl Brauhaus picnic grounds in Ladentown, just north of New York City.
The black and white snap could have been of any group of American day trippers. Youngsters stare at the camera in swimsuits, their eyes pleading to hit the park waters; older girls pose in pretty dresses the Fonz’s girlfriends’ once wore on the famous US sitcom. Beside them, young men with greasy slicked-back hair resemble early American movie stars. There is even the odd dickie bow in the midst.
“This was a group of people determined to make a life here and because of that we embraced the ‘American way’ very quickly I think. By my generation, people were even marrying outside of the community — which was very taboo early on — and began moving to different parts of the country,” recalls 63-year-old Marion Sedorowitz, the mosque treasurer.
Throughout the organization’s history, it has remained exclusively a Lipka Tatar group, but as the community became more integrated and American, the numbers using the mosque began to dwindle.
“Over the years, assimilation has meant some people left the faith, became less observant, or simply moved away,” says Marion.
These days, the mosque only opens for community events, the odd religious one and funerals, presided over by the part-time Imam.
“We’ve had barbecues, cooking classes and tea dances. But the main religious service that takes place now are the funerals and some of the Islamic holidays.
“Wherever they are in the country, the members want to have their final rites observed here in the traditional way,” explains Marion.
For 32-year-old Alyssa, the mosque’s past will play a crucial role in its future.
“Our community is an important part of American Muslim history, and we believe it needs to be preserved for future generations. To educate them about this face of Muslim America,” she says.
One of the ways Alyssa and Marion want to do this is by reconnecting with their European heritage.
“At the anniversary brunch we announced our 2018 heritage trip back to the ‘old country.’ We’ve made contact with the Muslims in the Baltic in places where our ancestors once lived, and they’ve agreed to help us go on a journey of rediscovery.
“We hope to visit the towns and villages the early pioneering Tatars that set up the association came from.”
The trip, would see the Brooklyn Muslim Mosque take members of their community on an emotional journey back to countries like Poland, Lithuania and Belarus.
“Our ancestors didn’t have the money or means to visit the homes they had left behind in those days, and so it is unlikely anyone went back after settling in the US,” says Alyssa, who can trace her own roots back to the town of Iwie in Belarus.
“I’ve heard stories about them, and seen pictures of the historic mosques in the old country that our own was based on. Going on this trip should be a great way to connect with people like my great grandfather and his generation, and learn about our culture and heritage. It’ll be great to add new stories to pass on to future generations.”
Alyssa and Marion’s European ancestors’ story goes all the way back to the 14th century, when they first arrived in the Baltic from the Crimea.
Ironically, their Muslim ancestors were invited to the Baltic to fight religiously-intolerant Christian Teutonic Knights.
The Tatar people’s success in helping to defeat the Christians in 1398 meant the Grand Duke of Lithuania, “Vytautas the Great,” invited them to stay, embracing them as his own people.
Today, the mosque finds itself in a similar atmosphere of religious intolerance.
“Our community’s story is a reminder that American Muslims come from all different backgrounds and we have always been here.
“It reminds people that Muslims have also played a part in helping to build the American way of life, right from the start and, most importantly, it shows Americans that Muslims are not something new and dangerous.”
The 110-year-old story of America’s white Muslim community could just be the story the country needs to hear right now.


Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’

Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’
Updated 6 min 36 sec ago

Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’

Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’
  • ‘We created something that speaks to what an occupation takes away from people,’ Shoufani says

BEIRUT: “It’s immensely surprising, and a step in the right direction for the Academy,” says

Palestinian-American filmmaker, writer and poet, Hind Shoufani, of this year’s list of Oscar-nominated short films. “They’re looking at diversity, women’s voices, underrepresented minorities; they’re paying attention to intense, conflict-driven and truthful stories.”

One such story was crafted by Shoufani and compatriot Farah Nabulsi. “The Present” — directed by Nabulsi — has already won a BAFTA in the British Short Film category and is nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at this month’s Academy Awards.

Shoufani believes that “The Present” owes much of its capacity to resonate with so many people to its authenticity (it was shot in the West Bank) and the simplicity of the story. (Supplied)

Available on Netflix, “The Present” chronicles a day in the life of Yousef, compellingly depicted by renowned Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, who sets out across the West Bank to buy a birthday gift for his wife. His 10-year-old daughter, played by the talented Mariam Kanj, joins him on a journey peppered with the injustice and humiliation emblematic of the daily plight of people living in the Occupied Territories.

Shoufani — a Fulbright scholar born to Palestinian parents in 1978 in Lebanon who has lived between Damascus, Amman, Beirut, New York and Dubai — explains that the partnership between Nabulsi and herself was “collaborative and fruitful.” The director supplied the film’s overarching themes and inspiring narrative threads and Shoufani fleshed them out in script and dialogue, introducing crucial plot elements, such as the daughter as a character.

“We had long sessions where we would go through different drafts of the script, talk through scenes and negotiate ideas,” says Shoufani, who also edited the film. “We ended up creating something that speaks to the heart of what an occupation takes away from people, in terms of agency and the ordinary ability to have freedom of movement and dignity.”

“The Present” is available on Netflix. (Supplied)

Shoufani believes that “The Present” owes much of its capacity to resonate with so many people to its authenticity (it was shot in the West Bank) and the simplicity of the story.

“Most people nowadays don’t want to sit for two hours and watch a highly nuanced, socioeconomic/class-driven, ethnographically correct, anthropologically dense film,” she says. “We don’t try to explain the past 70 years of Zionism, we don’t moralize or make grandstanding political statements... Instead, you have this ordinary man with a beautiful daughter whom anyone would only want to protect and love. Your natural human instinct is to want to keep this little girl safe and make sure she’s okay.”

And while Bakri’s Yousef is seemingly the protagonist, it is ultimately Kanj’s portrayal of Yasmine that steals the show and infuses the film with a powerful message. “She has a strong hand in how the story resolves. It’s about the power of youth and women. It’s inspiring but also heartbreaking. And it gives us an opportunity to appreciate the strength and determination of this 10-year-old kid.”

“The Present” chronicles a day in the life of Yousef, compellingly depicted by renowned Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, who sets out across the West Bank to buy a birthday gift for his wife. (Supplied)

Shoufani passionately praises everyone involved, especially Palestinian producer Ossama Bawardi. “I introduced Ossama to Farah, and I couldn’t be happier for him — he put this crew together in the West Bank and did all he could to get this film out into the world. He really believed in it, and I want to give him a shout-out because he’s just awesome.”

Though “bewildered” and “astounded” by the industry’s acclaim for “The Present,” Shoufani is equally thrilled by many of her other endeavors, including two personal projects that are close to her heart.

One is “They Planted Strange Trees,” her upcoming film that documents “the various identities of the Christian minorities in the Galilee,” where Shoufani’s family is from. While being intrigued “to explore indigenous communities that people don’t really talk about much around the world,” the journey is also very personal. “It’s also about reconnecting with my family, and what it means to not belong, and yet very much belong there.”

“They Planted Strange Trees” is her upcoming film that documents “the various identities of the Christian minorities in the Galilee.” (Supplied) 

The other is a four-part series that captures the stories of four female Arab poets and draws its working title — “Poeticians” — from a group that Shoufani founded. “We’ve filmed in five or six Arab countries for eight years, and I’m trying to create a purely video-art-driven essay on taking poetry into a visual language. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than making films that are based on poems.”

In the short term, however, she is very much looking forward to seeing how “The Present” does at the Oscars.

“I think it is vital that global audiences see this film, and I’m proud to be part of that experience,” she says. “As Palestinians, we have an unending array of stories to bring to life, because of our diaspora, our fight, our complex history and our strength. And, yes, our profound beauty as people.”


US-Palestinian actor Mo Amer to star in DC Comics’ ‘Black Adam’

It is still unknown what role Mo Amer will play. (Instagram)
It is still unknown what role Mo Amer will play. (Instagram)
Updated 14 April 2021

US-Palestinian actor Mo Amer to star in DC Comics’ ‘Black Adam’

It is still unknown what role Mo Amer will play. (Instagram)

DUBAI: US-Palestinian stand-up comedian Mohammed Amer, who goes by the name Mo Amer, is set to star alongside US actor Dwayne Johnson in the new superhero movie “Black Adam.”

The action-adventure thriller is DC Comics’ long-awaited follow-up to 2019’s commercial hit “Shazam!” with the two characters, Shazam and Black Adam, being rivals in the DC Universe.

It is still unknown what role Amer will play.

 

 

The talent is famous for his role in the award-winning Hulu sitcom “Ramy,” in which he stars as US-Egyptian actor Ramy Youssef’s Muslim cousin who owns a diner. Amer also has a Netflix comedy special called “Mo Amer: The Vagabond.” 

Amer is not the only Arab actor in the cast. Tunisian-Dutch “Aladdin” star Marwan Kenzari confirmed in February that he is also starring in the movie, alongside actors Noah Centineo, Aldis Hodge and Quintessa Swindell.

 

 

Johnson, otherwise known as “The Rock” from his professional wrestling days, announced he was taking part in “Black Adam” two years ago on Instagram: “This role is unlike any other I’ve ever played in my career and I’m grateful to the bone we’ll all go on this journey together,” he wrote at the time. 

The movie was supposed to be released in December 2021, but was pushed back due to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Production is expected to begin in April in Atlanta.

According to Deadline, “Black Adam” is set for release in July 2022.


Former Disney, Nickelodeon stars send Ramadan greetings to Muslim fans

Disney star Jennifer Stone wished her Muslim fans a blessed Ramadan. File/AFP
Disney star Jennifer Stone wished her Muslim fans a blessed Ramadan. File/AFP
Updated 14 April 2021

Former Disney, Nickelodeon stars send Ramadan greetings to Muslim fans

Disney star Jennifer Stone wished her Muslim fans a blessed Ramadan. File/AFP

DUBAI: Fulfilling every millennial and Gen-Z’s childhood dreams, stars from shows like “Hannah Montana,” “Suite Life of Zack and Cody,” “Wizards of Waverly Place,” and “Drake and Josh” came together to wish their Muslim fans a blessed Ramadan this week. 

Non-profit, US-based initiative Paani Project brought the stars together in a one-minute long video, which it shared on its official Twitter platform on the first day of the Holy Month.

“Ramadan Kareem,” wrote the non-profit on Twitter. “Paani brought out a few childhood favorites to share a message with you all.”

The video featured the likes of Lindsay Lohan, Jesse McCartney, Jennifer Stone, Phil Lewis, Maria Canals-Barrera, Drake Bell and skateboarder Tony Hawk.

“Hannah Montana” star Jason Earles sent greetings to “all my wonderful, beautiful and inspirational Muslim brothers and sisters.”

Meanwhile, Kyle Massey, who played Corey Baxter in “That’s So Raven” and “Corey in the House” said “I want to wish you guys a happy Ramadan. It is the most amazing time of the year and I want you guys to stay blessed and continue to make each other happy and be nice to one another.”

Paani Project was founded by four Pakistani-American students on a quest to provide sustainable solutions for the water crises in Pakistan.

“Wishing you a happy Ramadan, and thank you for all your work you’re doing in South Asia, building wells,” said Hawk in the clip. 

Naturally, millennials and Gen Z’ers on the social media platform were thrilled, sharing their excitement in response to the clip.

“I never knew I needed Mr. Mosbey and Mrs. Russo to wish me Ramadan Kareem.  Thank u 3ammo w 3amto (sic),” wrote one user, in reference to two characters from Disney sitcoms.

“I love this so much, so many of my childhood favorite actors are here! Warmed my heart to see it and great respect to the project for building wells and helping out!” wrote another.


Fine-dining expert Fatima Osman’s top tips for the perfect iftar table setting

Fine-dining expert Fatima Osman’s top tips for the perfect iftar table setting
Updated 14 April 2021

Fine-dining expert Fatima Osman’s top tips for the perfect iftar table setting

Fine-dining expert Fatima Osman’s top tips for the perfect iftar table setting

DUBAI: After a year during which most people have spent more time at home than ever before, the month of Ramadan has also seen a pivotal shift in how it is celebrated.

No longer can fasting Muslims congregate in crowds around sumptuous hotel buffets or gather in large groups for a family iftar. The coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic has put paid to that, certainly for now.

But, according to Fatima Osman, breaking the daily fast can still be a lavish and momentous event.

The founder of fine-dining tableware business, A’ish, believes that iftar at home can be as opulent as dining in a restaurant, with the help of what she refers to as “tablescaping.”

Fatima Osman is the founder of fine-dining tableware business A’ish. (Supplied)

The phrase is used to describe the creation of the perfect table set-up for hosting family gatherings (COVID-19 safety compliant, of course) at iftar time. Osman said it was all about beautiful accessories and finishing touches, but she noted that it did not need to break the bank.

Her “key element” to setting up a table was the charger plate, a large, decorative base setting that other dinnerware was then placed on top of. That, along with some “distinctive cutlery,” could elevate any place setting, she added. It also meant that any crockery, preferably plain, could be placed on top.

“That way, you don’t need to invest in a crockery set, you can use simple things. It adds that element of glamour and a touch of luxury, and automatically elevates the experience,” she said.

Osman pointed out that accessorizing was the next most important aspect of setting up her table with simple touches such as adding napkin rings, fresh flowers for the centerpiece, and putting thought into what platter to use for serving food.

Osman pointed out that accessorizing was the next most important aspect of setting up her table. (Shutterstock)

“To me, the setting is just as important as the food. So much effort goes into the preparation of the meal, and I believe that the presentation of the food and setting is appreciation of the effort,” she added.

Before starting her business, named after her daughter Aisha, Osman was a lawyer in South Africa. She said formal dining had always been a staple of her annual Ramadan experience.

Buoyed by a family background in trade, she turned her passion for homeware into a company four years ago and has not looked back.

“Dining is so important to me as it was an integral part of my day with my family, and this is a legacy I wish to continue for my kids.

Fatima Osman’s business is named after her daughter Aisha. (Shutterstock)

“There was a lot of preparation that went into our iftar and while I am not insinuating that it should be that way, I do insist on the time and memories we created by just being around a table.

“If the best memories are made this way, shouldn’t we be using our best utensils, our best dinnerware, for the best company for the best reason?”

Her table setting is on show at a new exhibition during Ramadan at Dubai’s Indigo Living, the luxury home furnishing company. The display features a range of homeware and accessories from local female entrepreneurs and artisans.

Osman said: “I understand this is a month of prayer, but nobody said you can’t also have a good time. For me, a table and dinner and iftar signifies togetherness, this is a time to enjoy and go all out.”


Cairo International Film Festival announces 2021 dates

Lebanese actress Nour poses on the red carpet at the opening ceremony of the 41st edition of Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF). AFP
Lebanese actress Nour poses on the red carpet at the opening ceremony of the 41st edition of Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF). AFP
Updated 13 April 2021

Cairo International Film Festival announces 2021 dates

Lebanese actress Nour poses on the red carpet at the opening ceremony of the 41st edition of Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF). AFP

DUBAI:The 43rd edition of the Cairo International Film Festival (CIFF) is set to take place from Dec. 1-10, 2021, it was announced this week.

Egyptian film producer Mohamed Hefzy, president of the Cairo International Film Festival, said in a released statement: “Film Festivals have found a way to adapt and survive, acting as a lifeline for films and filmmakers that have been affected and challenged by the pandemic, including such threats as disrupted productions, and the closure of theatres throughout the world. Very few festivals managed to hold a physical edition, and we are proud to say that Cairo was one of them, setting the bar for an even more successful physical edition this year.”

This year’s festival will also offer prizes to 15 film projects.

“The festival’s programming team and management are thrilled by the challenge that this upcoming edition offers, and we are eager to present a diverse and rich lin0eup of films and a selection worthy of the festival’s audience that has come to expect more in terms of quality and surprises year after year,” added Hefzy.

“During the last three years we did strive to realize our fullest ambitions and utmost success in our offering of programming, and in the various support platforms offered to professionals by Cairo Industry Days, including the Cairo Film Connection which last year offered prizes valued at nearly $250,000 to 15 very different quality projects.”

As with the previous three editions, the festival will also feature the industry-focused Cairo Industry Days and its Cairo Film Connection co-financing event.

Last year’s edition featured more than 95 films from over 40 countries.

Despite challenges brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, including 50 percent less capacity due to social distancing, the festival sold 30,000 tickets while 200 international guests also attended in 2020. 

CIFF is not only the region’s oldest and largest annual film festival, but also the only internationally accredited one in the Middle East and Africa.

In 2019, the cinematic event also became the first Arab film festival to sign the 5050×2020 gender equality pledge, committing to empowering women and increasing transparency about issues of gender disparity in the Middle Eastern film industry.

That same year, CIFF achieved Oscar-qualifying film festival status in the Short Film category, becoming the only festival in North Africa to join Cannes, Venice, Sundance, and other prestigious events in this recognition.