We know that the westward expanse of Islam covered significant portions of southern Europe. From the eighth to the fourteenth century CE (until 1492, in fact), portions of the Iberian Peninsula, Sicily, and France were under Arab rule. This is evident in the decorative arts and architecture that remain there, but also in many foodways, which are often touted as iconic European foods, and agricultural technologies.
Popularized in American culture in the 1970s, the “Mediterranean diet” touted health benefits of “traditional” foods focusing on fish and vegetables with olive oil as the primary fat. The Mediterranean diet became such an icon that it was declared an “intangible cultural heritage” by UNESCO in 2013. But in the popular imagination this diet was largely built of influences of Greek, Italian, Spanish, and Southern French cuisine. Anyone who has seen a map, though, knows that a lot is missing. Where in this version of the Mediterranean diet were the foods of Turkey? Of North Africa? Of Syria?
Imagine listening to hip-hop with lyrics in German but the melody starts and ends with a Turkish folk song, and there is the Islamic Sufi flute Ney playing in the middle… Or rapping in German as if speaking in Turkish…This is exactly what Aziza A. does! 
Born and raised in Berlin to Turkish immigrants, Aziza’s dream was to become an actress when she was a child. Instead, she became the first female Turkish-German rapper and one of the several other outstanding female rappers who challenged the male dominated German hip-hop scene. She stands out because of her “Turkish roots” and the way she bravely challenges gender stereotypes about Turkish culture and even Islam to some extent in her songs. Aziza touches on social struggles of the Turkish diaspora in Germany by incorporating themes such as immigration, religion, and modernity. Some of her songs make reference to Islamic elements while some other ones focus on diasporic problems specifically.
Hijab (Veil) is a term which has multiple images associated with it. For some it might bring to surface images of the ongoing protests in Iran by women to end the mandatory hijab, while for others, it might recall images of Muslim women in France fighting against the Hijab ban. Such duality of the meaning and interpretation of Hijab can be challenging to understand without indulging into the particular sociocultural and spiritual contexts which constitute its meaning. How do we then understand the meaning of Hijab then and the role it plays for Muslim Women?
Muslim Voices first interviewed Professor Abdulkader Sinno when President Obama was running for his first term in 2007, discussing Muslims in Western politics. Fourteen years later, I sat down for a follow up with Professor Sinno to see what has changed about the Muslim community’s position in politics. I was curious to know what effect President Obama’s policies may have had. Professor Sinno first started explaining how the American right wing treated Obama and what effect that had on the Muslim community,
“Obama was attacked as being a Muslim, by the far right. And in this country, and surveys found that even recently, well after President Obama finished his eight-year term, about 18% of the American public still believes that he was a Muslim. And which is not true, of course, because he was Christian. There’s nothing wrong with that. But the problem was, it was being used as a smear.”
A couple summers ago, I ran into an elderly couple who had done decades of Christian missionary work in Australia. They were looking for my neighbors, who were from Turkiye. When I said that I too was from Turkiye, the wife told me “But you do not look Islamic” since I was wearing a sleeveless above the knee height dress, unlike my neighbor’s wife, who wears a hijab. It was an odd conversation. Not only did I have to correct the word “Islamic” to “Muslim,” but I also had to explain to them that different people practice their religion in different ways – including Muslims.
Hugs and chatter with friends I have not seen in months. Greetings and introductions to those I have not met before. Hearing the adhan in-person in the masjid. Grabbing a medjool date and savoring the pillowy, chewy, and cake-like texture after a long day’s fast.
I have been able to experience Ramadan alhamdulillah in different cities, countries, but most importantly with a variety of communities. I never felt necessarily attached to a single community and have spent the last few Ramadans traveling around like a wayfarer.
Why has the practice of wearing the Islamic headscarf by Muslim women become such a controversial symbol of Muslim culture? And what about it has made governments decide it will be a major factor in how they choose to control their people? These were some of the questions that I was left with after attending a panel discussion on this issue in the Fall of 2022. This panel was put on by IU’s Muslim Voices Project and focused on the stark contrasts in hijab control policies implemented by the governments of France and Iran. Policies of the French government ban this religious practice in certain settings and discriminate against those wearing it; the Iranian government strictly requires all women to wear the hijab outside of their home. In France, hijab is viewed as a symbol of Muslim oppression and often of terrorism; in Iran it has become a tool of gender oppression which has led to protests against its mandated use. Attending this panel provided me with a more in-depth understanding of the importance of symbols in culture and religion. It also showed me two different important perspectives on this issue that has become highly politicized.
My mother, Shamima, is a Muslim Bangladeshi immigrant who came to the United States in 1996. She came to the United States after she got married to my father who already resided in Indiana. I asked my mother about her experiences when she first arrived in the US, especially as a Muslim:
“It was hard because I had to leave my family. I left Bangladesh alone on my first international flight. I was nervous when my husband was not present when I arrived at the airport. I didn’t speak English very well, but there was an American man who was very helpful. Even though his family had flowers and welcome signs and were waiting for him, he patiently provided coins for me to call my husband until I was able to confirm that my husband was on his way.”
Prior to starting my job, I was warned by one of my Arabic teachers about the corporate world from an Islamic standpoint. I did not completely understand what the corporate world was like, but he worked in the corporate world for decades. He spoke about being careful about gender interactions and alcohol gatherings. I am a practicing Muslim woman and Islam is an important part of my life, so I wanted to ensure that my work in the corporate world does not affect my religious practices.