She’s bicycling around Boston, measuring the sounds of a city


Certain annoyances come with living in a metropolitan city, and noise usually is at the top of the list. The steady din of loud neighbors, music, construction, sirens, and transit vehicles hits some areas harder than others, and Erica Walker, a researcher at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, wants to know where. So she is mapping the sounds of Boston.



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She plans to build a noise model based on the characteristics of Boston’s neighborhoods, including samples taken at various times at about 400 to 450 sites around the city. Dorchester is of particular interest to Walker, due to its size and high number of noise-producing elements.

“You’ve got planes, you’ve got trains, you’ve got automobiles,” Walker said to the Reporter.

A doctoral candidate in Environmental Epidemiology, the 36-year-old Walker, a Mississippi native who lives in Brookline, started thinking about the impact of community noise about six years ago, thanks to the clatter engendered by the children who were living in the apartment above her.

“They ran across the floor literally 24 hours a day, and it drove me crazy,” Walker said. Even though she loves kids, she needed to have a few moments of peace as well. After every effort to gain a reprieve failed, Walker came to the realization that this was a serious issue. This was “affecting my health,” she said.



She suspected that she did not have a unique problem.

On a whim, she posted a survey on Craigslist asking if others were consistently disturbed by footsteps and other noises in their buildings; the responses poured in. “Okay,” she said, “people really are bothered by this.”

Her work at Harvard focuses on loud community noise and how individuals respond to it. Originally, her dissertation research consisted of mapping out noise levels in communities across Boston.

Although she is recording and monitoring a variety of sounds, Walker is particularly interested in low frequency and infrasound, a sort of vibration that may not register to a human as audible noise. Her goal is to organize a series of studies based on the noise metrics she acquires. She has recently completed a study in East Boston, which is tied with Dorchester’s Savin Hill as the loudest Boston neighborhood during daytime hours, according to her measurements.

The World Health Organization has published standards for acceptable noise levels before noise is categorized as interference and annoyance and a threat of hearing loss. Many areas of Boston consistently register far above the recommended decibel level for indoor and outdoor noise levels.

The increasing number of airplane noise complaints involving Logan Airport air traffic will be the subject of a public forum in Milton tonight (Thurs., Dec. 3) that will be hosted by Congressman Stephen Lynch. Federal Aviation Administration officials have agreed to the long-sought meeting, Lynch’s office said in a statement, which will be held at Milton High School from 7 to 9 p.m.

The noise complaints have worsened after a new GPS-based navigation system that directs planes on the most efficient route was installed, Lynch’s office said. According to the statement, “the neighborhoods lying beneath those flight paths can experience extended periods of aircraft noise, raising health implications and negatively impacting the quality of life for local families.”

The quality-of-life metric is the second part of Walker’s dissertation research. As she bicycles around Boston taking noise levels, she has found that residents were often curious about her project and quick to chime in with how frustrated they are by city sounds. “If they’re upset enough to complain about it, there are probably others with the same complaint,” she said. “There’s a person behind the complaint.”

Walker is monitoring an anonymous survey being taken of attitudes and health effects as a result of exposure to community noise, which is open until April 2016 and takes just a few minutes to complete at Reports on the project’s progress and sound maps will also be posted at the website.

A common response to city noise complaints is a non-response. It is often taken for granted that residents sign up for the noise along with a neighborhood’s amenities. Walker hopes to personalize the effects of excess sound with case studies.

“If you don’t put a face to it, people will just be like, ‘Well, get used to it,’ ” she said.




One of the things the brilliant minds at MIT do — besides ponder the nature of the universe and build sci-fi gizmos, of course — is notarize aircraft airworthiness for the federal government. So when Sabrina Pasterski walked into the campus offices one cold January morning seeking the OK for a single-engine plane she had built, it might have been business as usual. Except that the shaggy-haired, wide-eyed plane builder before them was just 14 and had already flown solo. “I couldn’t believe it,” recalls Peggy Udden, an executive secretary at MIT, “not only because she was so young, but a girl.”

OK, it’s 2016, and gifted females are not exactly rare at MIT; nearly half the undergrads are women. But something about Pasterski led Udden not just to help get her plane approved, but to get the attention of the university’s top professors. Now, eight years later, the lanky, 22-year-old Pasterski is already an MIT graduate and Harvard Ph.D. candidate who has the world of physics abuzz. She’s exploring some of the most challenging and complex issues in physics, much as Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein (whose theory of relativity just turned 100 years old) did early in their careers. Her research delves into black holes, the nature of gravity and spacetime. A particular focus is trying to better understand “quantum gravity,” which seeks to explain the phenomenon of gravity within the context of quantum mechanics. Discoveries in that area could dramatically change our understanding of the workings of the universe.


Among the many skills she lists on her no-frills website: “spotting elegance within the chaos.”

She’s also caught the attention of some of America’s brightest working at NASA. Also? Jeff Bezos, founder of and aerospace developer and manufacturer Blue Origin, who’s promised her a job whenever she’s ready. Asked by e-mail recently whether his offer still stands, Bezos told OZY: “God, yes!”

But unless you’re the kind of rabid physics fan who’s seen her papers on semiclassical Virasoro symmetry of the quantum gravity S-matrix and Low’s subleading soft theorem as a symmetry of QED (both on approaches to understanding the shape of space and gravity and the first two papers she ever authored), you may not have heard of Pasterski. A first-generation Cuban-American born and bred in the suburbs of Chicago, she’s not on Facebook, LinkedIn or Instagram and doesn’t own a smartphone. She does, however, regularly update a no-frills website called PhysicsGirl, which features a long catalog of achievements and proficiencies. Among them: “spotting elegance within the chaos.”

Pasterski stands out among a growing number of newly minted physics grads in the U.S. There were 7,329 in 2013, double the four-decade low of 3,178 in 1999, according to the American Institute of Physics. Nima Arkani-Hamed, a Princeton professor and winner of the inaugural $3 million Fundamental Physics Prize, told OZY he’s heard “terrific things” about Pasterski from her adviser, Harvard professor Andrew Strominger, who is about to publish a paper with physics rock star Hawking. She’s also received hundreds of thousands of dollars in grants from the Hertz Foundation, the Smith Foundation and the National Science Foundation.


Pasterski, who speaks in frenetic bursts, says she has always been drawn to challenging what’s possible. “Years of pushing the bounds of what I could achieve led me to physics,” she says from her dorm room at Harvard. Yet she doesn’t make it sound like work at all: She calls physics “elegant” but also full of “utility.”

Despite her impressive résumé, MIT wait-listed Pasterski when she first applied. Professors Allen Haggerty and Earll Murman were aghast. Thanks to Udden, the pair had seen a video of Pasterski building her airplane. “Our mouths were hanging open after we looked at it,” Haggerty said. “Her potential is off the charts.” The two went to bat for her, and she was ultimately accepted, later graduating with a grade average of 5.00, the school’s highest score possible.

An only child, Pasterski speaks with some awkwardness and punctuates her e-mails with smiley faces and exclamation marks. She says she has a handful of close friends but has never had a boyfriend, an alcoholic drink or a cigarette. Pasterski says: “I’d rather stay alert, and hopefully I’m known for what I do and not what I don’t do.”

While mentors offer predictions of physics fame, Pasterski appears well grounded. “A theorist saying he will figure out something in particular over a long time frame almost guarantees that he will not do it,” she says. And Bezos’s pledge notwithstanding, the big picture for science grads in the U.S. is challenging: The U.S. Census Bureau’s most recent American Community Survey shows that only about 26 percent of science grads in the U.S. had jobs in their chosen fields, while nearly 30 percent of physics and chemistry post-docs are unemployed. Pasterski seems unperturbed. “Physics itself is exciting enough,” she says. ”It’s not like a 9-to-5 thing. When you’re tired you sleep, and when you’re not, you do physics.”


3 girls went on national television and raised the bar for America. Fearless…

In an amazing — no really, AMAZING — spoken-word performance on “The Queen Latifah Show,” teenagers Belissa Escobedo, Rhiannon McGavin, and Zariya Allen got real about America and a lot of the harsh realities facing their generation.



Their main point? Kids learn more from the behavior, laws, and values demonstrated in the culture and society around them than they will ever learn from a standard curriculum.




And boy are they learning. They’re seeing a ton of contradictions that don’t support the “American values” they’re taught about in school — issues like poverty, censorship, gun violence…




…and capitalism without recognition of the rich, dark history that laid the foundation for it (or of the people who have been broken along the way).




And then there’s the gender stuff … my God. Girls being harassed after school, schools turning away and brushing rape allegations under the rug, violence against women, and all while homophobia is allowed to run rampant and unchecked.




Somewhere in America, teens are learning these lessons and many others. And they’ll never forget them.

Check out the spellbinding performance below:

This superintendent has figured out how to make school work for poor kids


Tiffany Anderson, the superintendent of the 3,000-student Jennings School District in Jennings, Mo., addresses college-prep students on Dec. 10. Anderson has a “hands-on” approach and visits classrooms frequently. She has brought additional funding, initiative and momentum to the district. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

— School districts don’t usually operate homeless shelters for their students. Nor do they often run food banks or have a system in place to provide whatever clothes kids need. Few offer regular access to pediatricians and mental health counselors, or make washers and dryers available to families desperate to get clean.

But the Jennings School District — serving about 3,000 students in a low-income, predominantly African American jurisdiction just north of St. Louis — does all of these things and more. When Superintendent Tiffany Anderson arrived here 3 1/2 years ago, she was determined to clear the barriers that so often keep poor kids from learning. And her approach has helped fuel a dramatic turnaround in Jennings, which has long been among the lowest-performing school districts in Missouri.

“Schools can do so much to really impact poverty,” Anderson said. “Some people think if you do all this other stuff, it takes away from focusing on instruction, when really it ensures that you can take kids further academically.”

Public education has long felt like a small and fruitless weapon against this town’s generational poverty. But that’s starting to change. Academic achievement, attendance and high school graduation rates have improved since Anderson’s arrival, and, this month, state officials announced that as a result of the improvements, Jennings had reached full accreditation for the first time in more than a decade.

Gwen McDile, a homeless 17-year-old in Jennings, missed so much school this fall — nearly one day in three — that it seemed she would be unlikely to graduate in June. But then she was invited to move into Hope House, a shelter the school system recently opened to give students like her a stable place to live.

Hope House in Jennings, Mo., on Dec. 11. The house was a school building that was converted to a shelter for homeless students. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Gwen McDile, right, chats with her boyfriend, Nicholas Branscomb, at Hope House in Jennings, Mo., on Dec. 10. This was Branscomb’s first visit to the house. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

She arrived a few days after Thanksgiving. The 3,000-square-foot house had a private bedroom for Gwen, who loves writing and poetry; a living room with a plush sofa she could sink into; and — perhaps most importantly — a full pantry.

She’s no longer hungry. She has been making it to class. She believes she will graduate on time.

“I’ve eaten more in the last two weeks than I’ve eaten in the last two years,” Gwen said on a recent afternoon, after arriving home from school and digging into a piece of caramel chocolate. “I’m truly blessed to be in the situation I’m in right now.”

There also is a new academic intensity in Jennings: Anderson has launched Saturday school, a college-prep program that offers an accelerated curriculum beginning in sixth grade, and a commitment to paying for college courses so students can earn an associate’s degree before they leave high school.

Anderson restored music, dance and drama programs that had been cut, as they so often are in high-poverty schools, finding the money for those and other innovations by closing two half-empty schools, cutting expensive administrative positions and welcoming new grants and a tide of philanthropic contributions. The district was running a deficit of $2 million before Anderson arrived and balanced the budget.

Sherry Johnson said her daughter Breanna, a sixth-grader in the college-prep program, is being challenged in a way she never was before.

“I feel she’s getting an education,” Johnson said, speaking outside the student-run food bank, which distributes thousands of pounds of basic goods every other Thursday.

Johnson was one of 175 people who stood in line on this Thursday, each family there to pick up a box of canned goods, fresh vegetables and a turkey, special for the holidays. “It helps a lot, it kind of carries us through,” said Johnson, whose family lives on her husband’s disability checks.

Among those handing out food was Samuel Brown Jr., a 2015 graduate of Jennings High who works as a custodian for the district. He was one of 10 members of his graduating class who didn’t find work elsewhere, and Anderson hired all of them. It was an extension of her effort to change lives by reaching beyond the classroom door.

“I’ve learned how it feels to be getting your own,” Brown said of his first job, which pays $9.50 an hour. “I’ve learned how it feels to be free.”

Jennings is a town of 15,000 that borders Ferguson, Mo., where police officer Darren Wilson shot and killed Michael Brown in August 2014, triggering months of protests and the birth of the Black Lives Matter movement. Like Ferguson, Jennings is a mostly poor, mostly black town where opportunity can feel out of reach.

One-quarter of Jennings’ residents are living below the federal poverty line, according to 2014 Census Bureau data. The median household income is $28,429. Just 13 percent of those age 25 and older have a bachelor’s degree, half of the state average.

Yet: In 2015, 92 percent of high school students graduated on time, and 78 percent of those graduates had enrolled in the military or post-secondary training within six months of graduation, according to state data. Gov. Jay Nixon (D) invited Anderson and a student to his state of the state address this year, praising Jennings for its “big leaps forward.”

Jennings still has a ways to go. Most students are not proficient in math and reading, and just 36 percent of the graduates in 2015 scored high enough on the ACT, SAT or similar tests to meet Missouri’s definition of “college and career ready.” But almost every academic indicator has been improving.

“What we are doing in Jennings is bigger than us,” Anderson said at the end of a holiday concert this month, triggering a wave of cheers and applause. “We are giving hope where there was no hope.”

It’s not just the support services that are making a difference, said Maureen Clancy-May, of the state education department. She said she has “no doubt that Jennings will continue to grow.”

Teachers are expected to give weekly assessments to measure student progress, and principals meet monthly with Anderson to discuss whether their schools are on track to meet goals for academic achievement and attendance.

Anderson also regularly pays new teachers a full salary to work alongside a more experienced mentor teacher for a semester or a year. And prospective hires must pass a 10-question quiz — usually in math — written for students two grade levels above the students the teacher is applying to teach. Most applicants don’t pass.

Many of the district’s initiatives, including Hope House, are done in partnership with social services organizations. But a lot of people in Jennings say that the driving force in this community’s turnaround is Anderson.

“We just needed someone who believed in us,” said Jeff Arnold, an art teacher in the district for the past 23 years. “I’m wondering if someday somebody’s going to click their heels and she’s going to go ‘poof,’ and we’re not going to have anyone else. She’s the best thing that’s happened to us in a very long time.”

Gwen McDile, left, meets with Superintendent Tiffany Anderson in Jennings, Mo., on Dec. 10. Anderson was helping McDile, 17, get a job interview. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Gwen McDile, right, performs during a holiday show at Jennings Senior High School in Jennings, Mo., on Dec. 10. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Anderson, 43, has brought rapid change in a manner that is nearly the opposite of the slash-and-burn fierceness of reformers such as Michelle Rhee, the former D.C. schools chancellor who once fired a principal on television. Anderson instead uses a relentless positivity and sense of shared mission.

“Hello, Beautiful,” Anderson says, walking school corridors. “You’re awesome,” she says dozens of times each day.

“I appreciate you,” she says to the teacher working with a small group of students who are struggling in math, to the second-grader excitedly showing off his research project on dinosaurs, to the teenager who sang a solo in the holiday concert the night before.

Anderson started her career in her native St. Louis and later led Virginia’s Montgomery County schools, a 10,000-student system in southwest Virginia, for four years. In 2009, she moved to Kansas City to be closer to family, leading a charter school there until she took the job in Jennings.

Anderson’s husband, an ob-gyn, and her two college-age kids are based in Kansas City, four hours away. She keeps an apartment in Jennings, but many days she wakes up with her family at 2 a.m. on Missouri’s western border and drives to work on the state’s eastern border, arriving by 6 a.m. Then she is in constant motion, pairing her business suits and pearls with a pair of white tennis shoes as she pops in and out of schools and classrooms.

She doesn’t go to meetings, and she doesn’t drink coffee. God gives her the energy she needs, she said.

“This work is faith-filled work. You have to believe that your presence makes a difference, that your effort makes a difference in someone’s life,” she said. “Whether you wrap that in Christianity or not.”

Each morning at 7 and each afternoon at 3, Anderson picks up a stop sign and serves as a crossing guard, ushering children across one of the district’s busiest intersections. On chilly mornings, she brings a thermos of hot chocolate, doling out the steaming treat in tiny paper cups and using the moment to check in with children.

“How do you know the needs of the community if you’re not in the community?” she said.

One recent Friday morning, she noticed a little boy had been crying — his brother had hit him, he said. Anderson admonished that brother when he strolled past a few minutes later. “You’re supposed to take care of him,” she said. “Go make it right. I’m watching.”

Her energy has helped persuade teachers to buy into initiatives such as Saturday school that require extra hours, said Curt Wrisberg, an elementary school principal who has worked in Jennings for more than 20 years. “If you see her doing it times a thousand, how can we not do it? She’s nonstop,” Wrisberg said.

Employees who don’t meet Anderson’s standards face heat, and some have lost or left their jobs, said Michael McMurran, president of the Jennings National Education Association. But overall, McMurran said, “she’s made Jennings School District a place where students and teachers want to be.”

Students deliver food packages at the Jennings School District Community Cupboard in Jennings, Mo., on Dec. 10. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Superintendent Tiffany Anderson speaks with a student in Jennings, Mo., on Dec. 10. “How do you know the needs of the community if you’re not in the community?” she said. (Bonnie Jo Mount/The Washington Post)

Philanthropists are giving to Jennings, excited by the story that is unfolding here. The nonprofit foundation that Anderson set up to accept private donations has more than $80,000 in the bank to pay for the shelter, which can house up to 10 homeless and foster children, and for other efforts.

The shelter emerged from a 90-year-old dilapidated house with no roof. Anderson charged her senior administrative staff members with overseeing the renovations, and she said she gave them 30 days for work to be completed. Concept to reality in one month.

And they did it.

“We need to have the urgency for other people’s children that we have for our children, so we move at warp speed,” Anderson said.

The shelter project cost an estimated $50,000. Donors also provided all the furniture in Hope House, and a local organization specializing in foster care helped find Shelly Watts — an experienced foster mother who moved in around Thanksgiving.

Some of the kids who live at the shelter are likely to be in the child-welfare system, and Watts will receive money from the state to care for them. But there’s no state money to feed or clothe homeless kids such as Gwen. Jennings School District is footing that bill, too.

Anderson also is determined to help Gwen get a job.

She stopped by the local McDonald’s one recent morning to check on the owner’s promise to hire one student. Anderson left with a commitment to hire two, including Gwen.

Gwen had never been able to get a job despite spending her 16th birthday filling out applications. She said she was tired of depending on other people for shoes, underwear and everything else she needed and couldn’t afford. Now, she’ll be earning $7.65 an hour, starting next week.

She gave her boyfriend a tour of the house on a recent evening. It was his first visit, the only time he would be allowed upstairs.

She pointed out a closet where she puts her shoes and a desk where she does her homework. This is the place where her life could get back on track, where she could plan for a future without worrying about being hungry or cold or on her own.

“This is a beautiful room,” he said.

“Yes,” Gwen said. “I like this room.”

How a high school student won more than $1 million in college scholarships

derriusquarles_1383304056_52In high school, Derrius Quarles was rebellious in class, disruptive and often late. But the words of a high school teacher had a profound impact on his goals for the future. Through determination and creativity, Derrius earned more than $1.1 million in college scholarships. Now he’s paying it forward by advising other students on how to bridge the gap in funding for college.

To learn more about the benefits and costs of higher education, and how to pay for college, check out the results of the 2015 survey by our sponsor, Discover Student Loans.





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Derrius Quarles’ journey to attending and paying for college has been anything but simple. As a product of the Illinois foster care system and the south side of Chicago; higher education did not always seem to like a feasible possibility for him. More accessible at times were the fleeting opportunities of the urban streets. Facing the obstacles of his father’s murder in Chicago at the age of 4, being taken away from his mother’s custody at the age of 5, and traversing the foster care system for nine years; the challenges of the inner-city almost lead him down a path of crime and fast money. During his first year of high school, receiving an education was not a priority. That was until a biology teacher by
the name of Nivedita Nutakki took him out into the hallway after he showed up twenty minutes late for class and told him “You have so much potential, and yet you choose to waste it”. From that day forward, he approached school differently. Mrs. Nutakki’s words provided an awakening of sorts. It provided him a type of motivation he had never received in his life before, a type of motivation that screamed, “of course you can do it”.

Over the next two years of high school, (while living in his own apartment) Derrius laid the foundation–work ethic, attitude, and vision–that would lead him to accumulating over 1.1 million dollars in scholarships and financial-aid. He is the first in his family to attend college and is proud to be a current Gates Millennium, Horatio Alger, Coca-Cola, Dell, Chicago, Nordstrom, and Gilman Scholar.

Million Dollar Scholar is the culmination of his eagerness to see other students


succeed, especially those who face disadvantages that often act as barriers to a college education. It is Derrius’ hope that all students, no matter what their background, can realize that they are Million Dollar Scholars and that it is very possible to obtain the funds for a post-secondary education.


Dream. And when you dream–dream big, dream hard, dream wild. Allow your imagination to become the jet engine that propels you to places unseen, sounds unheard, knowledge unknown, and success unaccomplished. There will be people who do not understand your vision, there will be those who believe your dreams have no value. Why? Well, because of the simple fact that it is not easy to dream these days. Now, more than ever, the world needs people with wild imaginations and seemingly unachievable dreams. This is your hour and it will be the only hour you ever receive, do not waste your sixty minutes making small plans.”


Arabic calligraphy fracas closes Virginia school district


Officials closed all schools in a Virginia district as a precaution on Friday, days after an Arabic calligraphy assignment in a high school textbook sparked anger among some parents who said the exercise was meant to convert their children to Islam.

The closing comes amid heated rhetoric from politicians after a mass shooting in San Bernardino, California carried out by a Muslim couple earlier this month.

“While there has been no specific threat of harm to students, schools and school offices will be closed Friday,” the Augusta County school district said in a statement posted online. The “tone and content” of some complaints to the school raised concern, the statement said.

Residents of the western Virginia town of Greenville described a sharp split between the majority of people in Augusta County who have no problem with the Arabic calligraphy lesson, and a vocal minority who raised alarms.

“I think this is something that this community could have done without,” said Chris Bobb, 41, a machinist who lives in the county, adding that most people think the fuss is “ridiculous.”

The closure has been unfortunate for students, Bobb said.

“All the Christmas programs, all the choir and band programs that these kids have been working on for weeks and months have been cancelled. And it’s all due to someone who doesn’t understand what’s going on,” he said, referring to Rivershead High School parent Kimberly Herndon.

Herndon and a few other Riverheads parents had complained to school officials after the Arabic lesson was assigned a week ago for a World Geography class, with some parents saying it was an attempt to indoctrinate their children into the Muslim faith. The homework assignment asked students to copy — but not translate or recite — the shahada, the Islamic profession of faith that declares there is only one God and that Muhammad is his messenger.

At a public forum held by school officials Tuesday to discuss the issue, several parents called for the termination of Cheryl LaPorte, the teacher who made the assignment. Herndon echoed their call on Facebook.

“She should be fired because she had them write an abomination to their faith and causes a little girl to cry herself to sleep because she was worried she had denounced her God,” read a post made Wednesday on Herndon’s Facebook page. It said LaPorte was trying to “INDOCRINATE our kids into a religion of hate.”

Herndon hadn’t replied to a message seeking comment by time of publication, and calls to the school district office went unanswered Friday.

The uproar has caused some parents in the community to decry what they see as a climate of irrational fear.

“My kids are still very small, but it scares me to live in a community where the reaction by some parents to a fairly innocuous school assignment is so frightening and over-the-top that schools are forced to close,” said Erika Zipser, 31, a parent of two infants who she said will one day attend Augusta public schools.

“I just want people to be aware that we are not all bigots around here,” Zipser said.

In its statement announcing the closure late Thursday, the school district said that “no lesson was designed to promote a religious viewpoint or change any religious belief.” However, it said the district will use a “different, non-religious example” of Arabic calligraphy for students to copy in the future.

LaPorte has received an outpouring of goodwill from many community members, students and school alumni, some of whom started a Facebook group called “Support LaPorte.” Many said the uproar over the assignment was absurd.

Taylor Dupree, 22, who graduated from Rivershead High in 2011, said she remembered the lesson about Islam in LaPorte’s class. She said she came from an observant Christian family and the assignment was first thing she had learned about Islam.

“It was a really good class,” Dupree said.

“I think that unfortunately the area I’m from is a deeply religious area, and it’s a very opinionated area. I just think that Ms. LaPorte was trying to open eyes, and I think this backlash proves we really need that in this area,” she said. “Without the sensationalism in the media right now, this would be a much smaller issue.”

The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) has denounced the fear of learning about Islam as bigotry spurred on by recent caustic political speech against Muslims. Last week Republican frontrunner Donald Trump called for a temporary ban on Muslim foreigners coming into the United States, and has backed a plan to monitor every member of the religion in the country.

“Major public figures are stoking anti-Muslim bigotry. They’re pandering to the lowest common denominator to boost their poll numbers. These public figures are mainstreaming anti-Muslim bigotry so that those who had not expressed it now feel the freedom to do so,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for CAIR.

CAIR on Thursday released a report saying 2015 had seen the most attacks on mosques that the group has recorded since it began recording such incidents in 2009. So far in 2015, 71 mosques have been threatened or damaged, with 17 acts in November alone, the group said.


12-Year-Old Sikh Boy Arrested After Classmate Accuses Him of Carrying a Bomb


This goofball on the left in this picture is my 12 year old cousin, Armaan Singh Sarai. He was born and raised in Texas by a loving #Sikh family. In his spare time, he loves spending time with his family, watching tv, and playing video games. In his family, are his mom, dad, two sisters and a brother who love him more than life, after all he’s the baby in the family. His family moved to Dallas, Texas about three to four months ago, and being the new kid wasn’t that easy for him. It made it especially hard since he isn’t able to get out much, due to a heart condition he was born with. The heart condition has led him to having three open heart surgeries, and he isn’t able to do a lot of extra curricular activities. But his love from his family and friends has always been enough to keep his heart filled. His family and friends would describe to be really funny, nice, and a caring human being.

On Friday, December 11th, 2015, my cousin attended school, like any other normal 12 year old child. A bully in class thought it would be funny to accuse him of having a bomb, and so the principal, without any questioning, interrogation, or notification to his parents, called the police. Worried & frightened at home, his family was concerned as to why he had not reached home right after school. They started calling every police department in the area, only to find out he was sent to a Juvenile facility. They kept him held behind bars for three consecutive days, before finally releasing him on Monday, December 15th.

It hurts my heart and boils my blood that there are people stupid enough out there not only accusing us, but our innocent children of being terrorists! It sickens me even more that there are people even more stupid out there, taking their word for it. My cousin is a minor and was arrested without any evidence or guardian present! This should show you how fucked up the system is! There are good people out there, but the majority of the system is corrupt! All these bastards see is race & the color of your skin! He’s more than what meets the eye people! I’m more, you’re more, we’re all more! The color of your skin does not define who you are! Please help share this post to open people’s eyes to the fuckery that goes on in our system #JusticeForArmaan#SikhLivesMatter #HumanityMatters


Wanted in New York City: A thousand black, Latino and Asian male teachers


 December 11

New York City, which has the nation’s largest public school system, wants to hire 1,000 black, Latino and Asian male teachers by 2017 to create a teaching corps that more closely matches the student body.

The program, called NYC Men Teach, is part of the Young Men’s Initiative, a city program that focuses public and private funding on ways to reduce disparities between young black and Latino men and their peers when it comes to education, health, employment and the criminal justice system.

While approximately 43 percent of New York City Public Schools male students are black, Latino or Asian, about 8 percent of male teachers belong to those groups. Of the city’s 76,000 teachers, just 6,600 are men of color, city officials said.

Richard Buery, the city’s deputy mayor, said that kind of imbalance is unfortunate.

“It’s both common sense and common sense reinforced by research that we will do better if we have a more diverse workforce in our school system,” Buery said in an interview. “There is lots of research that shows it promotes self-esteem and better academic performance. We think white students will benefit as well from having diverse teachers because it breaks down stereotypes.”

New York City’s lack of male minority teachers is not unique; school districts across the country face the same problem. Nationally, black men make up just two percent of the nation’s teaching workforce.

Traditionally, teaching has been dominated by women, dating back to the last century when college-educated women had few career options besides teaching or nursing. Today, almost 80 percent of the country’s 3.4 million public school teachers are women.

And that female-dominated workforce is overwhelmingly white. Nationally, the teaching force is 82 percent white, 7.8 percent Hispanic, 6.8 percent African American and 1.8 percent Asian, according to federal data.

The profession’s relatively low status and low pay have made it unattractive to many men, while the hours and summers off have made it appealing to women raising families, historians say. Men who do teach are most likely to be found in high schools, with many fewer teaching at the elementary level and hardly any working in early childhood.

School districts have been pushing in recent years to recruit more minorities; more than half of the states have some kind of minority recruiting program for teachers. And numbers have been going up. In 1987, there were about 325,000 minority teachers, by 2011-2012, there were more than 666,000, according to federal government data.

But while there are more African American, Hispanic and Asian teachers now than a generation ago, there also are more children of color enrolling in public schools at a faster rate, so the ratio of minority teachers to students is getting smaller, according to a report released last year by Richard M. Ingersoll, an education professor at the University of Pennsylvania, who studies teacher demographics.

NYC Men Teach is a three-year, $16.5 million initiative under Mayor Bill de Blasio (D) that aims to step up recruiting, guide applicants through the selection process and retain current teachers.

Just 6 percent of recent applicants for teaching positions in New York schools were men of color, city officials said.

The school system will work with the City University of New York and Teach for America to recruit new teachers, Buery said. The program will offer help to undergraduate students to make sure they complete teaching certification requirements and will offer professional development grants for current teachers, run advertising campaigns and work with career counselors at local and national universities to promote teaching as a career for men of color.

If teachers outside of New York want to teach in the city’s schools, the program will help them obtain reciprocal teaching credentials, Buery said.

A number of barriers exist that prevent black, Latino and Asian men from choosing teaching as a career, he said.

Nationally, fewer people overall are seeking to enter the teaching profession, Buery said. But men of color are frequently turned off by teaching because they had negative experiences themselves, he said.

In addition, there are structural problems, such as when prospective teachers who get job offers in the spring cannot afford to wait until the following fall to start earning a paycheck, he said. To remove that barrier, NYC Men Teach will offer short-term employment to men of color between their hiring and the start of school.

Once men of color do become teachers, they often feel isolated, he said. “If you are one of only one, or two male teachers in your school, that could be alienating, as it would be in any workplace,” Buery said.

“More than anything, we want to make sure that people around the country know we value teachers of all dimensions here in New York City,” he said. “We want to welcome teachers of any background, but we’re offering support so that teachers of color will want to come here and stay.”



What is the Truth About American Muslims? Questions and Answers

flagEditor’s note: This publication, produced by the Interfaith Alliance and Religious Freedom Project of the First Amendment Center, provides answers to frequently asked questions about religious freedom and American Muslims.

From the beginning of our history, religious liberty has been at the heart of the American vision of democratic freedom. Within the civic framework provided by the U.S. Constitution, religion has long played an important role in American public life, without being enforced or controlled by government.

Today, however, as a growing number of religions call America home, new questions are being raised about the place of religion and specific religious groups in American life. For the health of the nation and the good of religion, those questions require answers.

During the past decade, acts of violence by extremists claiming to act in the name of Islam have raised fears and created confusion about Islam. In the United States, some individuals and groups have attempted to conflate all of Islam with extremist violence by disseminating misinformation and distortions about Islam and American Muslims. This has led to a rise in discrimination against American Muslims and those perceived to be Muslims, attacks on American Muslim institutions, and protests against the building of mosques in local communities.

By seeking to provide accurate information about religious freedom and American Muslims, this publication does not ignore or minimize the significant threat posed by extremists who promote and commit acts of violence in the name of Islam. We fully recognize the challenge to peace and justice posed by small factions within Islam who lift up extremist theology and pervert their faith to support their violence. All of the world’s major religions have faced similar challenges. But acts of violence by radical individuals and groups must not be used to condemn Islam itself – or to paint all Muslims with the brush of extremism.

Our purpose here is to inform Americans about the vast majority of their fellow citizens who are Muslim. In doing so, we seek to uphold our shared commitment to religious freedom and contribute to a climate of understanding and respect among Americans of all faiths and none.



The Law of Religious Freedom

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof …
— Religion clauses of the First Amendmentto the U.S. Constitution

1. Are all religious individuals and groups protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution? 

Yes. The Religion Clauses of the First Amendment guarantee religious liberty, or freedom of conscience, for all Americans — people of all faiths and none.

The Establishment Clause bars the government from advancing or inhibiting religion and ensures that government remains neutral.

The Free Exercise Clause and supporting laws, like the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act, protect the right of religious individuals and institutions to follow their conscience in matters of faith.

Under the Free Exercise Clause as currently interpreted by the U.S. Supreme Court, government may not enact laws or regulations that target religious practice without demonstrating a compelling state interest and no less restrictive means of accomplishing that interest. When laws or policies apply to everyone and don’t target religious practices, but nonetheless burden those practices, the government is not required to justify such burdens with a compelling interest. The high court has also established that government may choose to afford religious liberty greater protection — an authority that is frequently exercised.

The twin constitutional guarantees of religious freedom for all citizens are good for religion and good for government.

The United States is today the most religiously diverse society in the world. The civic framework of religious freedom defined by the First Amendment enables people of all faiths and none to live together as equal citizens of one nation. Like other First Amendment freedoms, the rights to exercise one’s faith and to be free from governmental establishments of religion are fundamental rights that cannot be denied by majority vote or elections.

A majority may not impose its religious values on others, nor limit minority religious rights. The fact that a majority of Americans do not share the beliefs of a minority faith does not make those beliefs and practices any less protected. Unless all Americans are assured of religious freedom, the freedom of all Americans is in question.

2. What are the rights and civic responsibilities of religious citizens?

As a general rule, the government protects the rights of religious people and institutions to practice their faiths openly and freely without governmental interference unless the practice harms others or undermines other compelling societal interests. The government may not, however, compel adherence to, or participation in, the practices of any faith.

Good citizenship includes the civic duty to uphold religious freedom for all. Religious liberty rights are best guarded when each person and group takes responsibility to guard not only their own rights but the rights of others, including those with whom they deeply disagree. This respect for the rights of others is not indifference to theological or moral disagreement, but rather a civic virtue necessary to maintain peace in a religiously diverse society. All faiths are free to proclaim their vision of the truth, but they cannot look to government for help in doing so by either endorsing their religious truth or suppressing someone else’s.

All faiths are a religious minority somewhere in the United States: An attack on the religious freedom of one group today could easily become an attack on another group tomorrow.

3. What is the relationship of American law to religious laws?

Neither federal nor state governments may enforce or interpret religious law. This rule applies to courts, legislatures and administrative agencies — and it is a rule uniformly understood and respected. Courts may not, and do not, apply religious law in deciding contracts disputes, divorce or child custody cases or even in refereeing disputes over control of houses of worship. Even when deciding whether a particular governmental rule violates the free exercise of religion, courts refrain from deciding whether a party before them correctly understands his or her faith. They inquire only whether the claim is advanced sincerely.

4. Can American courts ever substitute religious law for civil law?

No. The Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibit American courts or other government agencies from substituting religious law for civil law. This prohibition applies to all religions equally. For example, a court may not say that since the parties belong to a faith that prohibits divorce (or provides for different post–divorce property arrangements than civil law) that religious law will govern the divorce.

5. Can American courts enforce the decisions of religious tribunals?

Yes, as long as the parties voluntarily and knowingly submit the matter to the jurisdiction of a religious tribunal, the tribunal follows certain minimum procedural safeguards, and doing so will not conflict with important public policies (e.g., the policy against awarding custody to a parent guilty of child abuse). Such an agreement — in effect an agreement to arbitrate — cannot require a secular court to decide theological questions (i.e., an agreement cannot require reference to a tribunal appropriately applying Islamic, Jewish, canon law or other religious law because that would require the secular court to decide whether a religious tribunal properly applied religious law).

This is hardly novel law. For decades, American courts have confirmed many of the decisions religious and other nongovernmental tribunals (such as a Jewish Beit Din) make regarding the parties that willingly come before them, always subject to review for violations of important public policies.

Secular courts have, in effect, encouraged religious bodies to refer internal disputes about governance, hiring of clergy and disputes over theology to religious tribunals precisely because courts cannot interpret the religious rules which are frequently at the heart of such disputes.

Jewish and Christian as well as Muslim communities have long had such tribunals in the United States, and individuals and organizations have the freedom to choose to submit their disputes to these religious bodies for resolution. Government courts often, but not always, confirm decisions of these tribunals so long as they adequately respect constitutional boundaries and protect the rights of all parties.

Editor’s note: This publication, jointly produced by the Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center and the Interfaith Alliance Islamic Understanding, is republished here with permission.

American Muslims in the United States

6. When did Muslims come to America?

The history of American Muslims goes back more than 400 years. Although some evidence suggests that there were Muslims on Columbus’ ships, the first clearly documented arrival of Muslims in America occurred in the 17th century with the arrival of slaves from Africa. Scholars estimate that anywhere from a quarter to a third of the enslaved Africans brought to the United States were Muslims. Large numbers of Moriscos (former Muslims of Spain and Portugal) also came to the Spanish colonies, including many areas of what is today the United States. Although enslaved people were denied freedom of religion, many did practice their faith in secret and pass it on to their children. There are several autobiographies of Muslim slaves that survive from this period, including some by individuals who were involved in the Abolitionist movement and were Union soldiers during the Civil War.

The next significant wave of Muslim immigrants began in the mid-19th century. During the late 19th century until the 1920s, large numbers of Arabs, mostly from Lebanon and Greater Syria, arrived in the United States. Although the majority of these immigrants (almost 90%) were Arab Christians, there were sizable clusters of Muslims, most of whom settled in the Midwest. Mohammed Alexander Russell Webb, an early American convert to Islam, established a mosque and mission in New York City in 1893. The first mosque structure built in the United States for the purpose of serving a Muslim community was in Ross, North Dakota (1929) and the oldest surviving mosque is in Cedar Rapids, Iowa (1934).

African-Americans began to rediscover their African Islamic roots after the Great Migration of Blacks from the South to the Northern cities after World Wars I and II. The re-emergence of African-American Islam has been a consistent phenomenon during the twentieth century until the present. Today, African-American Muslims constitute roughly a third of the American Muslim population.

After passage of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, greater numbers of Muslims began migrating to America along with many other immigrants with diverse backgrounds. The change in immigration laws allowed highly-skilled professionals to enter the U.S. Many Muslims who came during this time period were from the Middle East and South Asia (India, Pakistan and Bangladesh).

7. Who are American Muslims today?

America is home to one of the most diverse Muslim populations in the world, including people of almost every ethnicity, country and school of thought. Although they are widely viewed as recent immigrants, the demographics tell a different story. Approximately one third of the community is African-American, one third is of South Asian descent, one quarter is of Arab descent, and the rest are from all over the world, including a growing Latino Muslim population. While exact numbers are difficult to establish, there are between 3-6 million American Muslims. About one half of this population was born in the U.S., a percentage that continues to grow as immigration slows and younger individuals start having families.

Like others, most Muslims who choose to migrate to America arrive seeking economic opportunity and democratic freedom. The best studies available characterize American Muslims today as largely middle-class and an integral part of American society.1

American Muslims are present in all walks of life, as doctors and taxi drivers; lawyers and newspaper vendors; accountants, homemakers, academics, media personalities, athletes and entertainers.

Although American Muslims make up approximately one percent of the U.S. population, most Americans can name several famous American Muslims. Names like Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X, Mos Def, Fareed Zakaria, Shaquille O’Neal, Lupe Fiasco, Dr. Oz and Rima Fakih are part of our popular consciousness. Important business figures like Farooq Kathwari (CEO of Ethan Allen), Malik M. Hasan (a pioneer in the field of HMOs), and Safi Qureshey (a leader in PC component manufacturing) are all American Muslims.

Many American Muslims are also civically engaged, working with their neighbors to better their communities. Well-known American Muslim leaders include Rep. Keith Ellison (DFL-Minn.), the first American Muslim to be elected to the U.S. Congress; Rep. André Carson (D-Ind.); Mohammed Hameeduddin (Mayor, Teaneck, N.J.); and Amer Ahmad (Comptroller, Chicago).

The nation has honored many American Muslims for their service and sacrifice, including, for example, Salman Hamdani, a first responder on 9/11, and Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, recipient of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart who died while serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

8. What is the role of mosques in American Muslim life?

Mosques dot the American landscape and, for observant Muslims, are central to devotional life. A major study of American Muslims in 2008 found that involvement with the mosque and increased religiosity increases civic engagement and support for American democratic values. According to the study, “mosques help Muslims integrate into U.S. society, and in fact have a very productive role in bridging the differences between Muslims and non-Muslims in the United States. This is a finding in social science that is consistent with decades of research on other religious groups such as Jews, Protestants and Catholics where church attendance and religiosity has been proven to result in higher civic engagement and support for core values of the American political system. Likewise, mosques are institutions that should be encouraged to function as centers of social and political integration in America.”2

9. How do American Muslims participate in American public life?

American Muslims take part in all aspects of American civic life. They are members of the Boy and Girls Scouts, Elks Lodges, Rotary Clubs, Kiwanis Clubs, and Veterans of Foreign Wars as well as members of school boards and volunteers in community centers.

American Muslims have created institutions of their own in the United States, just like other religious communities. There are many long-established groups, such as the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), an umbrella organization of some 300 mosques and Islamic centers based in Indiana, and newer organizations like the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals.

Many Islamic centers and institutions create programs serving both American Muslim communities and the wider public.

The University Muslim Medical Association, for example, is a free health care clinic in Los Angeles founded in 1992 by American Muslim college students at UCLA and Charles Drew University to serve a diverse inner-city community. The Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) is a community-based non-profit formed in 1995 by American Muslim students, community residents and leaders to address inner city poverty and abandonment in the greater Chicago area. IMAN delivers a wide range of services, including a health clinic providing free health care and support services to the uninsured population on Chicago’s Southwest Side.

Many other American Muslim institutions are actively engaged in charitable giving, educational programs, interfaith outreach, health care, civic engagement, politics and the media. In short, American Muslims and the organizations they create are part of the fabric of American public life.

10. Is Islam a political movement?

No. Islam is a religious tradition, and adherents to Islam are called Muslim. Of course, American Muslims, like Americans from other religious groups, participate in American political life. American Muslim voting patterns generally mirror the broader American population. American Muslims are Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, liberals and conservatives. There is no one political platform or agenda for those who practice the religion of Islam in the United States.

11. Have American Muslim leaders spoken out against extremist violence?

Yes. Many American Muslim leaders and organizations have repeatedly denounced extremist violence in the strongest possible terms.

Of the many statements and actions taken by American Muslims to condemn and counter terrorism, the fatwa (religious ruling) from the Fiqh Council of North America (an Islamic juristic body) captures the views of the vast majority of American Muslims:

“Islam strictly condemns religious extremism and the use of violence against innocent lives. There is no justification in Islam for extremism or terrorism.”

The Fiqh Council of North America’s statement affirms the following Islamic principles:

”[1] All acts of terrorism, including those targeting the life and property of civilians, whether perpetrated by suicidal or any other form of attacks, are haram (forbidden) in Islam.

[2] It is haram (forbidden) for a Muslim to cooperate with any individual or group that is involved in any act of terrorism or prohibited violence.

[3] It is the civic and religious duty of Muslims to undertake full measures to protect the lives of all civilians, and ensure the security and well-being of fellow citizens.”

A comprehensive collection of condemnations of terrorism and extremism by American Muslims, including theological arguments, may be found on The American Muslim, a publication that has been providing information about the American Muslim community since 1998.

12. Are American Muslims concerned about extremist violence in the United States?

Yes. Most American Muslims, like most other Americans, are deeply concerned about the problem of extremist violence committed in the name of Islam. According to the most reliable data we have, the overwhelming majority of American Muslims is well integrated into American society and reports criminal activity. Over the past decade, 40% of domestic terrorism plots have been uncovered or deterred with assistance from American Muslims.3

13. Do American Muslim leaders support freedom of expression and religious liberty?

Yes. Many American Muslim leaders, educational institutions and advocacy groups have repeatedly spoken out for freedom of expression and are actively involved in promoting religious liberty for all people both in the United States and abroad.

A recent statement signed by some 200 American and Canadian Muslim leaders unconditionally condemned “any intimidation or threats of violence directed against any individual or group exercising the rights of freedom of religion and speech; even when that speech may be perceived as hurtful or reprehensible.”

The statement directly addresses recent controversies in the United States:

“We are concerned and saddened by the recent wave of vitriolic anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment that is being expressed across our nation. We are even more concerned and saddened by threats that have been made against individual writers, cartoonists, and others by a minority of Muslims. We see these as a greater offense against Islam than any cartoon, Qur’an burning, or other speech could ever be deemed.”4


1 The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life has undertaken two major studies of American Muslims in 2007 and 2011. See the following for a summary of these studies:

2 The full study may be found at

3 For a series of studies on extremist violence and the role of the American Muslim community in addressing the problem, see the publications of the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security ( The Gallup study of American Muslims may be found at

4 The full text of “A Defense of Free Speech by Canadian and American Muslims” may be found at


Editor’s note: This publication, jointly produced by the Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center and the Interfaith Alliance Islamic Understanding, is republished here with permission.


Misunderstood Terms and Practices

14. What does “jihad” mean? Isn’t it a “holy war”?

“Jihad” literally means striving, or doing one’s utmost. Within Islam, there are two basic theological understandings of the word: The “Greater Jihad” is the struggle against the lower self – the struggle to purify one’s heart, do good, avoid evil and make oneself a better person. The “Lesser Jihad” is an outward struggle. Jihad constitutes a moral principle to struggle against any obstacle that stands in the way of the good. Bearing, delivering and raising a child, for example, is an example of outward jihad, because of the many obstacles that must be overcome to deliver and raise the child successfully. Jihad may also involve fighting against oppressors and aggressors who commit injustice. It is not “holy war” in the way a crusade would be considered a holy war, and while Islam allows and even encourages proselytizing, it forbids forced conversion. In Islamic tradition, the form of jihad that involves fighting requires specific ethical conditions under which it is permissible to fight, as well as clear rules of engagement such as the requirement to protect non-combatants. Scholars have compared Jihad that involves fighting to the Christian concept of “just war.”

The variety of interpretations of Lesser Jihad, or just war, over 1400 years in many settings is a complex discussion.

Much of the contemporary misuse of the term “jihad” may be dated to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, when stateless actors began to claim the right to declare jihad. In Islamic tradition, there is no theological or political basis for this claim. Radical and extremist groups appropriate and misuse the term “jihad” to give a religious veneer to their violent political movements and tactics.

15. Does the Qur’an require women to be covered?

The Qur’an requires men and women to dress modestly, but without specifying exactly what that means (24:30-31). Muslims therefore differ on what modesty requires, resulting in a variety of practices in different cultures and countries.

Historically, male dominance in Muslim societies has led to unequal application of modestly rules, with women in some cultures being made to cover much more of their bodies then men are required to do. At the same time, it must be said that many Muslim women in the United States and other countries freely choose to veil as an expression of their faith.

16. Are Muslim men allowed to marry four wives?

While the Qur’an sanctions marriage to up to four wives (Q.4:3), the wording of the verse is understood by some Muslim scholars to allow but at the same time discourage marrying more than one wife. Verse 4:3 says that a Muslim man may marry up to four wives if he can treat them equally. Since men cannot treat any two people equally, the practice which was historically acceptable during times of crisis, like war, is now even outlawed in some Muslim majority nations.

17. Does Islam sanction “honor killings”?

No. According to Islamic teachings, no Muslim may sanction or support murder; the Qur’an explicitly forbids such actions (16:59, 5:27-32). In fact, the Qur’an does not mention “honor killings,” and in Islamic teachings, there is no such thing as excusable murder. The term “honor killings” used in some cultures is an attempt to describe murder as something religiously acceptable. It is not religiously acceptable in Islam.

18. What is Taqiyya? Does Islam encourage American Muslims to deceive and lie?

Taqiyya is an Arabic word that means to hide your faith in times of persecution in order to protect your life and family. It does not allow one to deceive and lie. Muslims are allowed to practice Taqiyya when open declaration of their faith leads to death and torture.

A similar teaching can be found in Judaism: Maimonides, one of the great Jewish Torah scholars, taught that one is allowed to lie about one’s religion in order to save one’s life, and many Jews who were forcibly baptized in medieval Christian Europe engaged in the same kind of practice to protect their lives and remain committed to their faith. Given the very restricted contexts in which such behavior is allowed in both religions, it would be wrong to accuse Islam or Judaism of actively encouraging believers to deceive others.

Islam commands all Muslims to speak the truth and conduct themselves honestly in personal, political and professional relationships. In the Qur’an, God commands Muslims: “And do not mix the truth with falsehood, nor conceal the truth while you know [what it is] (2:42).”

Editor’s note: This publication, jointly produced by the Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center and the Interfaith Alliance Islamic Understanding, is republished here with permission.


19. What is Sharia?

Sharia stands for Islamic or sacred law. It is an Arabic word meaning “the way” or “the path to water.” For centuries, Muslim scholars have given a broad definition of Sharia reflecting the diversity of interpretations on how Muslims have attempted to best understand and practice their faith.

The general definition of Sharia as understood by most American Muslims is as follows:

Sharia represents how practicing Muslims can best lead their daily lives in accordance with God’s divine guidance. It may be generally defined as the Islamic law revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad. That divine law was then interpreted by Muslim scholars over the centuries. Among the primary aims of the Sharia are the achievement of justice, fairness and mercy.

The five major goals of the Sharia are the protection of sound religious practice, life, sanity, the family, and personal and communal wealth. The acknowledgement of sound local customs throughout the world is one of the five basic maxims of the Sharia according to all Islamic schools of law.

Sharia is overwhelmingly concerned with personal religious observance such as prayer and fasting. Just as many observant Jews follow Halakha, many observant Muslims follow some aspect of Sharia.

Currently, 35 countries incorporate Sharia into their civil, common or customary law. The diverse manner in which these countries apply Sharia to daily life highlights how Sharia is neither static nor rigid but instead a reflection on how different communities interpret it.5

20. What are the sources for Sharia?

Within Islam, there are four principle sources of Sharia, which are accepted by consensus. They are (1) the Qur’an, Islamic sacred scripture, which Muslims believe God revealed to humanity through the Prophet Muhammad, (2) the Sunna (or Prophetic model of behavior recorded in a literature called the Hadith), (3) the consensus of religious scholars, and (4) analogy. Many regional and local customs are also accepted as a source of the Sharia when they are consistent with the general good. Thus, the Sharia mandates that Muslims follow the good and generally wholesome customs of the lands in which they live.

The revealed and other sources of the Sharia require interpretation for the creation of substantive law. The process of legal interpretation is called “fiqh,” which means understanding. It requires trained scholars and is similar to the roles of religious scholars in working out the details of Rabbinical law in Judaism. Islam has a number of valid traditional schools of law, each of which constitutes a distinctive methodology in deriving the law from its sources and applying it to concrete situations. Each school offers a vast body of rulings and opinions. Islamic law is one of the richest sources of Islamic civilization through the ages and must be applied appropriately to new times and places.

21. Is Sharia open to interpretation?

Yes. Within Islam, certain interpretations and applications of Sharia have changed over time and continue to change today. There is no one interpretation called “Sharia.” A variety of Muslim communities exist around the world, and each understands Sharia in its own context. No single official document encapsulates Sharia.

Since interpretation is a human process, it has always been pluralistic, prone to error and dependent on human understanding, no matter the religion in question. Interpretation is also subject to conditions and times specific to a particular community of believers.Interpretations may vary significantly from country to country and community to community. This explains the great variety of ways Muslims have practiced their faith all over the world for the past 1400 years.

Any theological or moral system is vulnerable to misuse by extremists to promote violence. For that reason, it is important to be familiar with the history of a religious tradition and understand the widely-shared interpretation of its beliefs and practices.

22. Is Sharia compatible with American law and values?

Many aspects of Sharia or Islamic law are consistent with modern legal rules found in American law. For example, both legal systems allow rights to personal property, mutual consent to contracts, the presumption of innocence in criminal proceedings, and the right of women to initiate divorce proceedings.

If and when religious laws conflict with American law, the Free Exercise and Establishment Clauses of the First Amendment prohibit American government, including the courts, from substituting religious laws for civil law or following religious laws that violate civil law. This prohibition applies to all religions equally.

23. Do all Muslim countries adhering to Sharia engage in stoning and amputations as punishment for crimes?

No. These penalties are not allowed in 52 countries that make up the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, encompassing most countries with a Muslim-identified government. Indonesia, the most populous Muslim majority country, along with Egypt, Turkey, and Morocco all use Sharia as a primary source of law and none allow these punishments.

In countries where extreme interpretations of Sharia are applied, like Iran, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Somalia and 12 states in northern Nigeria, stoning and amputations for adultery and theft are rarely used or enforced.

24. How do American Muslims follow Sharia?

Many American Muslims, like other religious communities who rely on scriptures and religious principles to guide their life, look upon Sharia as a personal system of morality and identity. The vast majority of American Muslims see no conflict between their religious obligations and values and the U.S. legal system.

American Muslims are part of one of the most diverse religious groups in the U.S. in terms of ethnicity, socio-economic status, education levels and political affiliation. For some, adherence to Sharia means keeping some or all of the religious observances, such as prayer, fasting or charitable giving. For others, Sharia also affects religious practices and rituals concerning personal matters, such as marriage, divorce, dress, inheritance, business transactions and property.6

25. Do American Muslims want to replace the U.S. Constitution with Sharia?

No. American Muslims overwhelmingly support the U.S. Constitution and do not seek to replace it with Sharia or Islamic law. The vast majority of American Muslims understand Sharia as a personal, religious obligation governing the practice of their faith, not as something American governments should enforce.

26. Is taking into account Muslim practices in U.S. courts an example of what some are calling “creeping Sharia” in the American legal system? How do you explain U.S. courts interpreting contracts based on Sharia law?

Sharia is not creeping into the U.S. court system. There are three types of cases that may require a court to even take notice of Sharia law:

• The first is a case in which a party alleges that some government practice interfered with the ability to practice his or her faith as required by Sharia law. Such a Free Exercise claim is identical to claims that government practice violates Jewish law, canon law or other religious laws. Courts decide only whether the claim is sincere and whether the government action violates the person’s rights.

• The second is an arbitration agreement providing for arbitration under Sharia law. These can be enforced by courts if voluntary and not in violation of public policy.

• The third, and least common case, is one in which a foreign country’s law governs a dispute (e.g., an accident that occurred abroad) and the country’s law includes Sharia law. In general, the same rules apply: American courts will not interpret religious law and will not apply foreign law in violation of basic public policies. The rules are no different for Islamic law than for canon law, Halakha (Jewish law) or other religious laws.

See also answers to questions 3-5.

27. How would state laws barring any consideration of Sharia or other religious laws in courts affect American Muslims and other religious groups?

More than two dozen state legislatures are currently considering or have enacted laws intended to bar state courts from considering foreign and/or religious laws. From statements by advocates of these laws, it would appear that the real target of such legislation is Sharia law, although most are now written to encompass religious law of other faiths, and “foreign” law.

Where enacted, these bills will infringe upon the long-settled and, for faiths other than Islam, non-controversial practices described above of allowing parties to voluntarily submit their disputes to religious tribunals.

Prohibiting courts from considering religious laws would hamstring all religious communities in a variety of ways. Many civil corporate documents, especially for churches, synagogues and other houses of worship, reference canon law, a book of order or discipline, church manual, or other source of law that explains the powers and limitations of administrators. How can a title company know, for example, if a religious leader signing a deed for a congregation has the authority to do so without looking at the rules and bylaws of the corporation (which for religious corporations will be religious rules or laws)? Many religious communities have alternative dispute resolution provisions in their governing documents, which have spared the courts much expense and time in civil litigation. Would these be unenforceable if courts cannot consider religious laws?

There simply is no evidence that Sharia (or other religious law) is being substituted for U.S. law in American courts. The First Amendment clearly bars government imposition of any religious law. At the same time, the First Amendment protects the right of religious groups to observe their laws in matters of faith.

Legislation barring any consideration of “foreign law” or “religious law” in the courts has the effect of potentially marginalizing and discriminating against all religious communities in America who have practiced their religious beliefs and customs peacefully for centuries thanks to the pluralistic and inclusive nature of the U.S. Constitution, which affords such freedoms and rights to all American citizens.


5 CQ Researcher Sharia Controversy by Sarah Glazer, available at

6 For a discussion of American Muslims and Sharia law, see: “Shari’a Law: Coming to a Courthouse Near You?: How Muslim Americans Understand and Use Shari’a in Marriage and Divorce” by Dr. Julie Macfarlane. See also, “Understanding Sharia in the American Context” by Asifa Quraishi and other publications from the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding ( 

Editor’s note: This publication, jointly produced by the Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center and the Interfaith Alliance Islamic Understanding, is republished here with permission.


Throughout American history, people of many faiths have come to these shores seeking religious freedom. Despite periodic outbreaks of nativism, anti-Semitism, and other forms of religious intolerance, America has been home to history’s boldest and most successful experiment in religious liberty. Faith communities have thrived in this land without threatening the rights and freedoms of citizens of other religions or no religion.

More than 200 years after the ratification of the First Amendment, Americans still hold fast to the principles of religious freedom. Nearly 9 in 10 Americans agree that the United States was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including the smallest minorities or least popular communities.7

Today our commitment to religious freedom is tested once again as American Muslims and their institutions increasingly come under attack by those who raise unfounded fears and create confusion about Muslims – or, in some cases, use the violent extremism of a faction as an opportunity to demonize an entire faith.

We urge all Americans of goodwill to join us in combating ignorance and fear with knowledge and compassion. Religious freedom cannot be sustained by laws and courts alone – as important as they are. Full religious freedom depends on the courage and commitment of ordinary citizens to stand up for the rights of their fellow citizens.

In the words of the Williamsburg Charter (1988), all Americans should “affirm that a right for one is a right for another and a responsibility for all. A right for a Protestant is a right for an Orthodox is a right for a Catholic is a right for a Jew is a right for a Humanist is a right for a Mormon is a right for a Muslim is a right for a Buddhist – and for the followers of any other faith within the wide bounds of the republic.” The same guarantee prevails for people with no religion.8

We commit ourselves to speak, write and act according to this vision of mutual respect and religious liberty. We further commitment ourselves to disseminate this document widely in an effort to combat misunderstanding and false information about American Muslims. We urge our fellow citizens to do the same.


7 Public Religion Research Institute, Pluralism, Immigration, and Civic Integration Survey (August 2011).

8 The Williamsburg Charter is a reaffirmation of religious liberty signed by more than 100 American leaders and presented to the nation on June 25, 1988, the 200th anniversary of Virginia’s call for the Bill of Rights.

Editor’s note: This publication, jointly produced by the Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center and the Interfaith Alliance Islamic Understanding, is republished here with permission.

Resources for Learning More About American Muslims

The following organizations provide educational publications and presentations that may be used by faith communities, schools, colleges, community groups and others for deepening understanding among people of different faiths, upholding religious freedom, and promoting respect for the rights of others.

Unity Productions Foundation The mission of Unity Productions Foundation (UPF) is to create peace through the media. A nonprofit organization founded in 1999, UPF produces documentary films for television broadcast, online viewing and theatrical release, and implements long-term educational campaigns aimed at increasing understanding between people of different faiths and cultures, especially between Muslims and other faiths. ( UPF also sponsors “My Fellow American,” featuring stories of American Muslims and their contributions to American society. (

Institute for Social Policy and Understanding ISPU is an independent, nonpartisan think tank and research organization committed to conducting objective, empirical research and offering expert policy analysis on some of the most pressing issues facing the United States. These issues include U.S. foreign policy, national security, the economy and public health. In addition, ISPU has assembled leading experts across multiple disciplines and built a solid reputation as a trusted source for information about American Muslims and Muslim communities around the world. (

Islamic Networks Group Islamic Networks Group (ING) is a non-profit organization whose mission is to counter prejudice and discrimination against American Muslims by teaching about their traditions and contributions in the context of America’s history and cultural diversity, while building relations between American Muslims and other groups. Founded in 1993, ING achieves its mission through education and community engagement. ING works through regional volunteers and affiliated organizations across the country to provide thousands of presentations, training seminars and workshops, and panel discussions annually in schools, colleges and universities, law enforcement agencies, corporations, healthcare facilities, and community organizations as part of cultural diversity curricula and programs. (

The Islam Project The Islam Project is a multimedia effort aimed at schools, communities and individuals who want a clearer understanding of this religion: complex, diverse, historically and spiritually rich, and – for many – mysterious and even forbidding. While there is no shortage of classroom materials on Islam, surveys of teachers suggest that there are few resources that penetrate the monolithic concept of Islam to present the extraordinary diversity found in the world’s Muslim communities – diversity that is cultural, political, ideological and even religious. Equally important, there seem to be few resources designed to help teachers answer students’ questions, in the present political environment, about the nature of Islam and its role in the world in which they live. And finally, teachers need materials to increase student sensitivity to, and understanding of, Islam as it is woven through America’s rich multicultural fabric. The Islam Project is conceived in part in the belief that accurate information, representing a spectrum of perspectives, is the most effective antidote to fear and misunderstanding. (

Editor’s note: This publication, jointly produced by the Religious Freedom Education Project of the First Amendment Center and the Interfaith Alliance Islamic Understanding, is republished here with permission.

#DearJusticeScalia: I remember getting my acceptance letter to my ‘fast track’ university in January 2007.



I remember getting my acceptance letter to my ‘fast track’ university in January 2007.

My first feeling was utter bliss. That jubilance quickly subsided to concerns that I wasn’t good enough, prepared, or smart enough. Maybe I was over reaching trying to go to a top-notch engineering school?

As a first generation black college student, I remember thinking that just graduating from Georgia Tech would be a long shot. I couldn’t even fathom striving for excellence because I was filled with doubt; the same doubt you fuel with your recent comments. To myself, it was unfathomable to dream about graduating with highest honors, getting a graduate degree in engineering with a perfect GPA, receiving a Marshall Scholarship, and earning two additional graduate degrees with distinction (highest honors) from a premier UK university. Yet, it happened – I kept ‘pace’, and at times set the pace.

The comments you’ve made are the very seed that allows imposter syndrome to root in minds of young, ambitious, and intelligent black students (like myself) who have the world at their fingertips but don’t realize it because their minds are trapped by the shackles of prejudice, bigotry, and oppression.

I never thought I’d hear a message like this in 2015 trumpeted at the highest court in our land, but I’m thankful I am one of many that stand as proof that your words are baseless, useless, and unwarranted.

#DearJusticeScalia I remember getting my acceptance letter to my 'fast track' university in January 2007. My first...

Posted by Jacob Tzeg on Friday, December 11, 2015