Gaza's Omari Mosque Embodies City's Ancient History

Praying in the Great Omari Mosque elicits humanistic emotions before evoking religious feelings, especially if one knows that, thousands of years ago, people prayed in this place of worship when it was a pagan temple for Marna, the greatest of the city’s seven gods. During that era, Gazans worshiped idols and the sun.

According to Saleem Mobayed’s book "Islamic Archaeological Buildings in the Gaza Strip," when Christianity emerged at the beginning of the 5th century, the majority of the city’s inhabitants embraced Christianity and demolished the pagan temple. They built a church on the same site to practice their faith, under the supervision of the then Gaza bishop St. Prophyrus and with the support of Queen Eudoxia and her husband King Arcadius. The latter ordered 42 Greek marble columns to be shipped to Gaza to construct the church, which was named in honor of the saint.

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*Photo Credit: Voice of Heaven

Sameer's Eats Takes Halal Food on the Road

Sameer Sarmast dares to offer something many halal eaters only dream of: a day dedicated to halal food, entertainment, cooking demos and an Iron Chef-style contest. Sarmast mixed all these ingredients together to launch the first halal food festival in the United States, under the banner of his online show, Sameer’s Eats.

The Halal Food Tour kicked off at the University of California, Irvine on April 13th to a warm reception. With the New York / New Jersey event taking place on July 7th in Teaneck, NJ, Chicago, D.C. and Houston are also on the itinerary in the near future. Featured guests at the Los Angeles stop included emerging singer/songwriter Mo Sabri, writer and comedian Aman Ali, veteran culinary expert Chef Abdul Eldeib and culinary educator and publisher of the popular food blog My Halal Kitchen, Yvonne Maffei.

Aslan Media’s team sat down with Maffei and the Sameer’s Eats team a day before the Los Angeles event to talk about the idea behind the Halal Food Tour- and how Sarmast developed a passion for food thanks to his mother’s “addiction” to cooking.

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LGBTQ Muslims: A Diverse, Dynamic and Confident Community

On Friday May 31, 2013, the Washington Post published an article about a retreat for LGBTQ Muslims and their partners that had taken place the weekend before. Along with five other individuals who were present at the retreat, the article included a section about me. Amidst positive reactions coming my way from friends and long lost acquaintances, I struggle with my own mixed reaction to the article. For a community whose identities, needs, and struggles are too often invisible within society, it is indeed a cause for celebration to be featured by a high profile media outlet. Yet, I worry that the article misrepresented me, and presented the LGBTQ Muslim community and the LGBTQ Muslim Retreat through a narrow lens.

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Everything You’ve Always Wanted to Know About Arranged Marriages

To most westerners, arranged marriages are an extraordinarily confusing concept. Of course, in some areas of the world, not only is it perfectly acceptable, it is the norm. It even occurs in areas of North America. In fact, many people around the world may think that the western idea of marriage is strange, especially given the high divorce rate.

Here are a few things you should know about arranged marriages.

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Persepolis: Too Graphic to be Taught?

Persepolis, the novel, may ring a bell, as does its subsequent Oscar-nominated animated film and co-winner of the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Marjane Satrapi’s name has recently made headlines as Chicago Public School (CPS) CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett announced that Persepolis, Satrapi’s popular 2000 coming-of-age memoir set during the Iranian Revolution in the 1970s and 80s, has been removed from school curriculum as of March 15, for its “graphic language” and “inappropriate images.” (It will still be taught in grades 11 and 12 and in Advanced Placement classes.)

“Give me a break,” Paris-based Satrapi told DNAinfo Chicago. “The book is ten years old. This is the first time I hear about it traumatizing children. No one has been traumatized until now.” Protests and read-ins were held in response to the decision, originally set to take hold district-wide; over 100 students and teachers in Chicago stood outside Lane Tech College Prep to protest what the Chicago Teacher’s Union (CTU) calls “Orwellian doublespeak,” “pedagogically unsound and constitutionally suspect.”

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Burqavaganza’s Brazen Bollywood Ballyhoo Puts the Fun in Fundamentalism

“If you look at the burqa in a symbolic sense, everywhere people have burqas. Every culture has its own way of hiding true intention. There are communist burqas; there are free-market burqas.” ~ Shahid Nadeem

Hot off the heels of Pakistan’s spirited parliamentary elections- which pitted a charismatic, secular former cricket star against an older, pro-establishment, conservative candidate- the United States theatrical premier of Burqavaganza at San Francisco’s Brava Theater couldn’t have been more aptly timed.

Billed as “a love story in the time of jihad,” Burqavaganza is a searing satire from Pakistan’s Shahid Nadeem, who uses the burqa as a metaphor to challenge Islamic extremism, sexual taboos, police corruption, Western imperialism, and the War on Terror.

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Cultural Differences Make Provocative Romance: “Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World”

Egyptian-American playwright, Yussef El Guindi explores the complexities of an intercultural romance in the Bay Area premier of Pilgrims Musa and Sheri in the New World, winner of last year’s prestigious Steinberg Award for New Play from the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA).

A romantic comedy is a departure for the multi-award winning Guindi, who is better known for his deeply contemplative political works such as Jihad Jones and the Kalashnikov Babes, Language Rooms and When the Birds Flew In, which have been staged by the San Francisco-based theater company Golden Thread Productions.

El Guindi says that he “latches on to whatever my muse or unconscious coughs up” and was inspired to write this play after hearing a late-night conversation between two people who were walking up the stairs to their apartment.

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444 Days: A Tangled Web of Love, Betrayal, and Politics

Love, betrayal, espionage: together, the three make for a winning combination, especially when it’s set to the well-known 1979 Iranian Hostage Crisis story told from the rare perspective of an Iranian woman. This is the premise of Playwright and Director Torange Yeghiazarian’s new play, 444 DAYS, set to premiere this October at Golden Thread Productions in San Francisco, the only theatre in the United States solely dedicated to producing work by and about Middle Easterners.

Can anything survive decades of secrecy, broken promises, and political intrigue? That’s the question we ask when Laleh, an Iranian revolutionary, and Henry, a diplomatic attaché, meet for the first time in 25 years as Laleh’s daughter lies in a coma. The last time they spoke was when she held him hostage for 444 days at the United States Embassy in Tehran along with 52 other Americans. Through a masterful and unexpected meshing of international espionage and family secrets, Yeghiazarian weaves a narrative that is not only dramatically gripping, but also provocative as it sheds a new light on current United States-Iran relations.

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One of These Things is Actually Like the Others

What Past Great Performances Can Teach Us In Dealing with Present-Day Events

Muslim-Americans. A 1950s American opera best described as “Shakespearean tragedy meets McCarthy-Era Tennessee.” The Boston Marathon. Before you begin to think that I’m having an ADHD attack, let me say this: one of these things is actually like the others.

I don’t think we need to rehash the events leading up to and following the Boston Marathon bombings. The tragedy shook me- not just because of its horrificness, but also because I used to live in Boston, and currently, I’m in the process of possibly moving back. As a city, it energizes me like no other- its culture, its history, and the intellectual stimulation it offers. The first time I ever felt like I had a small place in the span of American history was almost twelve years ago when I walked through Harvard’s Memorial Hall. And, every time I return to Boston, a certain pride overwhelms me. No matter how jaded or cynical I may feel at the time, the city always reminds me that calling myself an “American” is in fact something I can be proud of.

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