Tag Archives: Islam

Lutherans and Muslims: 9/11 musings

 A week ago, amidst rising anti-Muslim anger,

The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) joined a coalition of Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders to denounce rising anti-Muslim rhetoric and bigotry in the United States, as the country prepares to commemorate the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

Read the full article here.

Pastor Stephen Bouman once served as bishop of the Metropolitan New York synod of the ELCA.  He currently serves in a leadership position of the ELCA Churchwide offices.  I met Pastor Bouman earlier this summer when he attended the biennial convention of Lutherans Concerned North America.  During that event, he delivered the sermon at the Goodsoil service at Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis.

With a hat tip to Pastor Clint Schnekloth of Stoughton, Wisconsin, who blogs at Lutheran Confessions, I reprint the September 11th retrospective sermon of Pastor Bouman.

“You shall be called repairers of the breach, restorers of streets to live in.” Isaiah 58:14

This morning, nine years later, at 8:46 am., the time of the first attack, I do what I have done every year since that day. I listen to Brahms Requiem. I am quiet. I remember. Later tonight, I will listen to Bruce Springsteen’s album, The Rising, and toast the end of the day and the new day to come. I am still haunted, as if it were yesterday, by the images, the smoke rising downtown, visible from my office window. The second plane roaring down the Hudson right past our office. The stricken looks on hundreds of people’s faces as we gathered for prayer at noon at the Interchurch Center in Manhattan. I remember dialing the phone frantically, trying to find family, pastors, those we knew who worked in the towers. I remember the collision of feelings and images, the helplessness, the growing terrible panic, best described by this line from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass: “how easily things are broken.”

In the petty squabbles over who can pray at Ground Zero, in the self righteous cruelty of a so-called religious leader threatening to desecrate the resting place of thousands of our neighbors and particular people I have loved by burning a book holy to billions of our neighbors on this planet, I am overcome with anger and powerlessness. Even the good name of the faith I hold dear, is trashed and desecrated at Ground Zero.
I have different memories of this sacred space of obscene suffering, yet sacred struggle. And I have different memories of who should be able to pray where and why.

Two things come to mind and I offer them today. First, when the towers fell, we in New York did, by instinct, what people did all over the world. The spiritual dna hardwired into what it means to be human expressed itself naturally and deeply. We prayed. We prayed together. We prayed in as wide a way as possible. We wanted to talk to our Maker, and wanted the comfort of human solidarity. St. Augustine was right: the soul was made for God, and will not find its rest until it rests in God.

Peter DeVries put this prayerful solidarity beautifully in his book “the Blood of the Lamb”:

“the recognition of how long, how very long, is the mourner’s bench upon which we sit, arms linked in undeluded friendship-all of us, brief links ourselves, in the eternal pity.”

On Wednesday evening, September 13, there was an emotional reunion of religious leaders in New York City at Abyssinian Baptist in Harlem. Pastor Calvin Butts, chair of the Council of Churches of the City of New York had put the interfaith service together. Imams, rabbis, pastors hugged and shared news of loss and nascent efforts at response. As we walked together toward the sanctuary I saw the bright television lights and Robin Williams of Good Morning America interviewing Don Taylor, the Episcopal bishop who is vicar for New York City. We were funneled in that direction by the tv flacks. I just continued to walk toward the sanctuary, empty of any wisdom for the next day’s breakfast. The singing at the liturgy was powerful, the remarks by leaders moving. As I gave a brief homily it occurred to me that Dietrich Bonhoeffer had preached from this pulpit for his friend Adam Clayton Powell. Bonhoeffer himself was a victim of bogus Christianity, a twisted version of spiritual warfare. Later, on the street, I saw some members of our synod and we embraced. I cried for the first time. Prayer enabled that.

Second, Ground zero became a house of prayer for all people. I often saw the holy respect for life at that awful place. When word began to circulate that human remains were found, the word would spread quickly. People would stop what they were doing. The site would gentle down to silence. Hats were removed. People knew that this was holy ground. One of the fire fighters in whose memorial I had participated, was lifted from the ground by his father and brother, both firemen. How dare anyone politicize, pontificate, harass or demonize the prayers of anyone near this sacred site! “My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers,” said Jesus at another sacred site.

I am remembering that Muslim and Arab neighbors in Brooklyn brought their children to Salaam Arabic Lutheran Church and our neighborhood Lutheran schools for safety. I am remembering that for every broken window or graffiti covered wall of an Arab establishment there were a hundred flowers.

As I watched this morning the names of our brothers and sisters being read at Ground Zero I am proud of my Lutheran family and how we served together with many interfaith and public and private efforts. Our collective work of disaster response started the association of victim’s families. As the last faith based group still attending to 9-11 for the past several years, LDRNY accompanied the families at this sacred space on every anniversary, a “house of prayer for all people.”

For me, this day will always be a day of Lamentations. Kathleen O’Conner put beautifully the deep meaning of lamenting our losses.

“Lamentations is an act of resistance. It teaches us to lament and to become agents in our relationship with God, even if our fidelity only takes the form of telling God and one another our truth….Lamentations crushes false images, smashes syrupy pictures, destroys narrow theologies. It pours cold water upon theologies of a God who prospers us in all things, on a God who cares only about us, on a God who blesses our nation and punishes our enemies, as if we were God’s only people.”

Our Lamentations are not the isolation and depression of wounded entitlement or private grief, but the community at the foot of the Cross moving outward in solidarity and love toward the sorrow of the world God loves.

Sudanese woman convicted of wearing trousers UPDATED

HusseinI blogged earlier about Lubna Hussein (here and here), a Sudanese woman arrested for wearing trousers in public.  Hussein is willingly becoming a feminist cause célèbre, first by refusing United Nations immunity and now by refusing to pay the court imposed fine which will result in a month long imprisonment.

The associated press reports:

The case has made headlines in Sudan and around the world and Hussein used it to rally world opinion against the country’s strict morality laws based upon conservative interpretations of Islam.

Ahead of the trial, police rounded up dozens of female demonstrators, many of them wearing trousers, outside the courtroom.

The London-based Amnesty International called on the Sudanese government to withdraw the charges against Hussein and repeal the law which justifies “abhorrent” penalties.

The trial had earlier been postponed, but now Hussein has been convicted.  Although she was not sentenced to public flogging, as happened to many others arrested with her, and the minimal ($200) fine indicates the government would just as soon avoid a public spectacle, Hussein won’t let that happen.  She refuses to pay the fine and is forcing the government to imprison her.

“I will not pay a penny,” she told the Associated Press while still in court custody.

Hussein said Friday she would rather go to jail than pay any fine.

“I won’t pay, as a matter of principle,” she said. “I would spend a month in jail. It is a chance to explore the conditions of jail.”


Howard Friedman, a retired law professor, watches all things at the intersection of law and religion on his blog, Religion Clause.  Today, he reports on a relaxation of dress standards for women lawyers in Gaza but also more stringent standards for school girls.

Trial of pants wearing woman postponed

Lubna Hussein is the Sudanese woman who refused UN immunity in order to force a court to try her on charges of violating the strict Islamic dress code by wearing trousers in a public place.  Last week, she appeared in court, defiantly wearing the same outfit, and her trial was postponed until today.  Trial has again been postponed as the judge consults with his superiors.  She faces a flogging of forty lashes if convicted.

Lubna Hussein supporterMeanwhile, the Huffington Post reports that pants-wearing supporters outside the courtroom were gassed and beaten by Sudanese police.  

“We are here to protest against this law that oppresses women and debases them,” said one of the protesters, Amal Habani, a female columnist for the daily Ajraas Al Hurria, or Bells of Freedom in Arabic.

No injuries were immediately reported but witnesses said police wielding batons beat up one of Hussein’s lawyers, Manal Awad Khogali, while keeping media and cameras at bay.

Muslim integration in the West

Here are two articles about Muslim integration into western society. The first is from my local newspaper, the Mpls Star Tribune, and features Augsburg, an ELCA college in Mpls. The second is a Reuters release about attitudes revealed in polling in the western democracies of Europe that suggests Muslims are less integrated in Europe than in America.

Not so long ago, Fadli Mohamed would not have fit the mold of typical Augsburg College students: She’s no white Lutheran kid from the suburbs.

But change has come rapidly to the small, 140-year-old Lutheran college that shares its Minneapolis Cedar-Riverside neighborhood with the highest concentration of Somali people in the United States.

For years Augsburg has reached out to its immigrant Muslim neighbors, helping to care for their infants, tutor their high school students and feed their elderly as part of the college’s service learning program.

Now children from those Somali families, people like Mohamed, are increasingly enrolling at Augsburg, rising from a handful three years ago to more than 30 this year. It’s still a small fraction of the 1,900 daytime undergraduates, but they’re a notable presence among those lending a hand to the neighborhood.

“It gives a different face to the college’s volunteerism and service,” said Mohamed Sallam, director of the college’s Pan-Afrikan Center. “These are students who may or may not come from this neighborhood but feel connected to it through ethnic and religious identity. They are products of the community and they’re giving back in such a way where members of the community can feel very proud.”

Students volunteer in the neighborhood, but they study there, too. A journalism class interviewed people from different backgrounds to create a cookbook called “The Taste of Cedar-Riverside.”

Mary Laurel True, associate director for the college’s Center for Service, Work and Learning, said the program is not an add-on. “The whole idea of service learning is that it’s integrated into the classroom, into everything we do.”

Augsburg undergraduates are required to take two religion courses, and in studying Islam, they hear about the faith from people who practice it, often visiting one of the four mosques within blocks of the school.

“Here we are, this Lutheran institution, and yet we have this rare gift to experience — not just read about, but experience — other people’s faith,” said Paul Pribbenow, the college’s president since 2006.

After being greeted by imams at the mosque, students take off their shoes, enter and observe people praying, said assistant Prof. Jeremy Myers. His introductory religion course is called “Christian Vocation and the Search for Meaning,” but he’s hoping to add “in Cedar-Riverside” to its title.

There, students “experience hospitality,” Myers said. “Especially in the last eight years — and even within the last few months — it’s important that they learn what Islam is and what it’s not. It’s important that people see the truth or a different side of the truth.”

Embracing the city

Augsburg College was founded as a Lutheran seminary in rural Wisconsin in 1869 and relocated three years later to Minneapolis. Early in the 20th century, the school “embraced the community and saw Minneapolis as a place of opportunity and service,” a chapter on Augsburg in a 1998 book titled “Successful Service-Learning Programs” recounts.

However, the school also has a long history of “organized efforts … to move to the suburbs for ‘more room and fresh air … more desirable locations,'” according to the text.

That tension occasionally resurfaced over time.

“If you go back even 10 years ago and look at some of Augsburg’s admissions materials, they often talked about this college as an oasis in the city,” Pribbenow said. “And I think what has shifted is that now we’re saying, we are no oasis. This is it. This is the city. We are the city.”

The makeup of the college’s incoming class has changed substantially since 2005:

Then, students of color made up 10.7 percent of the incoming class; last fall it was 17.9 percent. In 2005, the college tended to attract students from the suburbs; in 2008, the greatest number of incoming students came from Minneapolis high schools Henry and Roosevelt. The number of students who list their religion as Lutheran has dropped over that time, while the number of those who listed a religion other than Lutheran or Catholic has grown.

The appeal of Augsburg

Somali students come to Augsburg for the same reasons as any other students: Small classes, an urban setting, a focus on community service.

As a high school senior, Fadli Mohamed had her college choices ranked, with Augsburg in second place. Then she happened to meet Augsburg students who were tutoring her neighbors in English.

“They were so friendly,” said Mohamed, now 19. “Seeing people from the school doing something positive where you live — it made a huge difference.”

The number of Somali and Muslim student groups and services has grown along with the students. There’s the Pan-Afrikan center and student union — which brings together African and African-American students — as well as the newly-founded Muslim Student Association.

One of the students who helped start that group, Ahmednur Ali, was shot to death last fall on his first day volunteering at the Brian Coyle Community Center in Cedar-Riverside. The 16-year-old charged in his death reportedly shot him because Ali wouldn’t let him play basketball. Ali was the first Augsburg student to be fatally shot in the college’s history. In some ways, his passing brought the Augsburg and Somali communities closer, several students and leaders said.

People with the college talk about how Sallam and other Muslims helped fashion Ali’s memorial service so that it was reflective of Islamic traditions.

People with Somali organizations talk about how, despite some trepidation, students continued to volunteer. About how President Pribbenow was ever-present during that time.

“He came and said condolences to the father and the family,” said Saeed Fahia, executive director of the Confederation of Somali Community in Minnesota. “That’s significant. That shows the kind of neighbors they are.”

By Jenna Ross in the Mpls Star Tribune

Here is the Reuters article reprinted from MSNBC.com.

LONDON – Muslims living in European countries feel far more isolated than those living in the United States, according to a survey on coexistence, with a lack of access to education and jobs reinforcing a sense of ostracism.

At the same time, Muslims in France, Britain and Germany feel far more loyalty to their country than they are perceived to feel, and express a strong willingness to integrate.

The findings by pollsters Gallup tend to suggest that a longer period of migration to the United States and economic growth there has helped foster integration. Meanwhile, Muslims in Europe are working hard to fit in and say it is important, but they are not always seen to be succeeding.

“This research shows that many of the assumptions about Muslims and integration are wide of the mark,” said Dalia Mogahed, the executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and co-author of a report based on the findings.

“European Muslims want to be part of the wider community and contribute even more to society.”

The survey, described as the first of its kind, polled at least 500 Muslims in June and July of last year to generate its findings on European Muslim integration. At least 1,000 members of the general public in each country were also randomly surveyed to create comparisons on specific issues.

While 38 percent of Muslims in Germany, 35 percent of those in the United Kingdom and 29 percent of those in France were found to be “isolated” in their countries, that figure stood at just 15 percent in the United States and 20 percent in Canada.

“This can be explained by the historical importance of immigration in the development of Canada and the United States as modern nations,” said Mogahed, adding that better access to higher education and work in North America had helped over decades to create more integration and social advancement.

‘Perception gap’
One of the starkest findings of the surveys was the gap in perception between European Muslims and the general public.

While nearly half of French Muslims (46 percent) said they felt integrated, only 22 percent of the French public said they felt the same about the Muslims living in their country.

In Germany, 35 percent of Muslims saw themselves as integrated, but the broader public put it at 13 percent. And in Britain, while 20 percent of the public thought Muslims were integrated, only 10 percent of Muslims thought they were.

Mogahed and co-author Mohamed Younis said the findings showed how hard it was to draw broad conclusions about Muslim integration across Europe or develop policy as a result.

They suggested that country of origin — many Muslims in France are originally from North Africa, many in Germany are originally from Turkey, and in Britain from Pakistan or Bangladesh — affected integration and/or its perception.

That certainly appears to be the case when the surveys examined the importance of certain moral issues to Muslims and compared it to the general public in each country.

In France, 78 percent of the public said homosexual acts were “morally acceptable,” while 35 percent of Muslims agreed. In Germany, the ratio was 68 percent of the public and 19 percent of Muslims. In Britain, it was 58 percent to zero. The margin of error was five percentage points in all cases.

Similar dissonance was found on issues such as viewing pornography, extramarital sex, suicide and the death penalty.

The authors suggested that a combination of more rigid views and religious practices by Muslims in certain countries had contributed to a misperception about their degree of integration, even while those Muslims were keen to integrate.

“Since 9/11 and the terrorist attacks in Madrid and London, mistrust toward European Muslims has become palpable,” the authors wrote. “Significant segments of European societies openly express doubt that Muslim fellow nationals are loyal citizens.

“The integration debate has to widen its frame, moving beyond the confines of security and religion, and focus more on the socioeconomic struggles of citizens of all faiths.”

Azhar Usman, Muslim comedian


From World Faith News
Azhar Usman is a Chicago-born Muslim comedian, of Indian origin. A former lecturer, community activist, and lawyer, he has been performing stand-up Muslim comedy since 2001 and is often referred to as the “Ayatollah of Comedy” and “Bin Laughin.” He says that his sole goal, through comedy, is to promote better understanding of Islam and Muslims.

He is the co-founder of Allah Made Me Funny – The Official Muslim Comedy Tour, and he has performed in over a dozen countries on five continents.

Azhar and the Tour have been featured in over 100 major world media, including the following: ABC Nightline, CBS Sunday Morning, FOX News, Dayside Comedy Central, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, MSNBC Countdown with Keith Olbermann, CNBC Big Idea with Donny Deutsch, CBC The Hour with George Stroumboulopoulos, Al-Jazeera International Riz Khan Show, Al-Jazeera International Frost Over the World with Sir David Frost, NPR All Things Considered, and numerous print publications. He has shared the stage with many of his favorite comedians including Dave Chappelle, Jim Gaffigan, Russell Peters, Todd Barry, and the late Mitch Hedberg.

Azhar is presently producing a concert/documentary project entitled “Allah Made Me Funny: Live in Concert” which is a Kings-of-Comedy-style concert film. Additionally, he is star and creator of “Tinku’s World,” a semi-scripted alternative web comedy show, and he is also developing a humor book project.

His parents are originally from India. He graduated from Niles West High School in Skokie, Illinois in 1993. He holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in communication from the University of Illinois at Chicago and a Juris Doctorate from the University of Minnesota Law School.

Holy See: Vatican and Arab League to work together to promote peace, justice in world

By FRANCES D’EMILIO, Associated Press

VATICAN CITY – The Holy See and the Arab League have agreed to work together to promote peace and justice in the world, the Vatican said Friday, after a meeting between Pope Benedict XVI and the league’s secretary-general.

In a separate meeting, Amr Moussa and the Vatican’s foreign minister, Archbishop Dominique Mamberti, signed a memorandum of understanding between both sides, a Vatican statement said.

“During the cordial meetings, emphasis was placed on the importance of the agreement, which is intended to foster increased cooperation between the parties with a view to promoting peace and justice in the world. Particular importance was given to the role of intercultural and interreligious dialogue,” the Vatican statement said.

The meetings allowed for an “exchange of view on the international situation, especially in the Middle East, and on the need to find a just solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and to the other conflicts which afflict the region,” the Holy See said.

The pope travels to the Middle East next month on a Holy Land pilgrimage. Benedict will visit Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories.

Benedict’s envoy to Egypt, Archbishop Michael Fitzgerald, told Vatican Radio that besides appreciating the pope’s interest for peace and development in the region, the Arab League “takes into account also the situation of Christians in Arab countries.”

The Vatican has long shown concern for the Christian minorities in the Middle East.

As part of its interest in looking after its flock in the Holy Land, the Vatican and Israel have held periodic talks over several years to resolve long-standing differences over tax and property matters.

The Holy See and Israel said in a joint communique that a session between both sides in Jerusalem on Thursday yielded “meaningful progress” toward resolving these differences.

The latest meeting of the Bilateral Permanent Working Commission was characterized by “great cordiality” and a spirit of cooperation, the statement said.

Without describing the progress made, it said both sides want to reach agreement as soon as possible and will meet again next week at Israel’s Foreign Ministry.

Israel and the Vatican established diplomatic ties in the early 1990s, but they still must resolve the status of expropriated church property and tax exemptions.

On wider issues, tensions between both sides have sometimes marked their relations. Earlier this year, Benedict’s lifting of the excommunication of a bishop who had denied the Holocaust caused anger among Jews as well as Catholics and others worldwide. Last month, the pope made an unusual public acknowledgment of Vatican mistakes of turmoil caused by his reaching out to the renegade, ultraconservative prelate.

The Vatican has said that Benedict did not know that the British-born bishop was a Holocaust denier.

ELCA Presiding Bishop, Other U.S. Religious Leaders Meet King of Jordan

WASHINGTON (ELCA) — Four U.S. religious leaders — two Christian and two Muslim — met with King Abdullah II of Jordan here April 20 to discuss specific topics about the Middle East. The topics included the current conflict between Israelis and Palestinians with a focus on concerns for Jerusalem, deepening Muslim-Christian relationships and the future of Arab Christianity in the Middle East, said the Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), Chicago.

Hanson organized the U.S. participants in the discussion, a follow-up to a meeting he had in Amman with King Abdullah II in January. Hanson invited three U.S. religious leaders to attend: the Rev. Michael Kinnamon, general secretary, National Council of Churches USA, New York; Imam Mohamed Majid, vice president, Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Sterling, Va.; and Imam Sayid Hassan Al-Qazwini, scholar and religious leader, Islamic Center of America, Dearborn, Mich. The 30-minute meeting was private.

The discussion was an extension of a 2007 document, “A Common Word Between Us and You,” from 138 Muslim scholars to Christian leaders, calling for Christians and Muslims to work for peace. It declared that the world’s future depends on peace between Muslims and Christians.

In a conference call meeting with reporters afterward, Hanson said, “This is a critical time for us because we see in His Majesty King Abdullah II and in President Obama two global leaders who share a sense of renewed urgency in re-engaging the peace process.” Abdullah and Obama are scheduled to meet here April 21, Hanson noted.

“We also see in both of these leaders a deep commitment to interfaith relationships,” Hanson said. Religious leaders can diffuse rhetoric and religious extremism in the world and promote greater understanding between Christians and Muslims. That can contribute toward “a lasting and just peace in the Middle East,” he said.

“Having Bishop Hanson be the one who invited us to this meeting — it shows the relationship between the Christian and Muslim communities in this country, which we would like to be a model example for others (of) how people can work together,” said Imam Magid, a Sunni Muslim. Having Sunni and Shia Muslim representatives in the meeting with King Abdullah II “shows that the Muslim community believes in interfaith work, and they reach out to people of other faiths to work together for common ground. We would like His Majesty to help with interfaith work among the Sunni and Shia.”

Kinnamon said his presence signaled support for the position articulated by Hanson as well as “a broad array of churches.” The NCC is 35 member denominations, including the ELCA.

“We have spoken strongly together as churches about encouragement of a two-state solution, about great concern for the dwindling population of Christians, especially for Palestinian Christians and throughout the Middle East, and concern for interfaith relations as a basis for peacemaking in the region. I tried to speak about those issues,” he said.

Kinnamon said he told the king about “the very positive climate that’s developing between Muslims and Christians” in the United States. The NCC has been concerned about other issues such as residence permits and family unification issues in the Middle East, and construction of homes for Palestinians in East Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank.

“I emphasized with His Majesty King Abdullah the need for Muslims to have a dialogue with the Christians,” said Imam Al-Qazwini, a Shia Muslim. “I spoke about the fact that the majority of Christians do support Muslims and do understand where they are coming from. That is why Muslims need to reach out to the Christians and to establish a permanent dialogue with the Christians.” Al-Qazwini said he also spoke about the need for intrafaith dialogue between Muslims.

“Today was a blessed day for me to be talking to King Abdullah II and with Bishop Hanson. These are friends. I am so delighted to be with Christian leaders, and I am willing to move forward in the same step,” he said.

In Harlem, Reaching Out to Muslims Through Hip-Hop

There is nothing typical about Jorge Pabon. He may be a hip-hop D.J. and dancer from the mean streets of Spanish Harlem, but he keeps the lyrics clean and women dancers at arm’s length.

As a teenager he emerged on the scene as PopMaster Fabel. But today he prefers to be called Shukriy, “the thankful one” — the name he took 20 years ago when he converted to Islam.

Now he is part of an “Islam and Hip-Hop” movement in the United States that is reaching out to Muslim young people via the hip-hop beat.

At a recent “Islam and Hip-Hop” concert in Harlem, young men in wide trousers and women in head scarves made waves in the air, trying to simulate Shukriy’s robotic movements. They did not touch each other unless they were a married couple.

Shukriy, 43, has come under fire from conservative Muslims who accuse him of sinning by dancing on stage with women or acting as D.J. for a mixed audience. Some argue that even listening to music is a taboo in Islam.

He dismisses such critics as the “haram police,” using the Arabic word for sin or taboo.

“I think it is absurd that some of the ultra-orthodox Muslims don’t see the chance of using hip-hop to extend the religion,” he said. “Hip-hop is the voice of the youth.”

He added: “I think, if you don’t like to see these things, then don’t come to the show. Allah will judge me.”

Rami Nashashibi, executive director of the Intercity Muslim Action Network, a nonprofit community organization in Chicago, said hip-hop of the kind practiced by Shukriy was becoming a global phenomenon among young Muslims, despite the critics.

“Hip-hop has become a space where young Muslims can express themselves and not feel like an alien, but feel respected,” said Mr. Nashashibi, who has taught courses on hip-hop and Islam at the University of Chicago. People like Shukriy “are the reason Muslims have been so respected within hip-hop.”

He added: “He was part of the hip-hop movement from the beginning. He is a very proud Muslim and a proud Puerto Rican.”

Shukriy turned to Islam after a career odyssey that took him from street corners around Times Square, where he danced for coins as a youth, to dazzling cities around the world as a professional dancer and hip-hop choreographer.

His résumé includes prizes like the Bessie Award for choreography in 1991 and the VH1 Hip Hop Honors in 2004. But with fame, he experienced misfortune.

“One day you walk on the Champs-Élysées,” he mused, “and the next day you find yourself on 123rd Street in Spanish Harlem with junkies.”

He said he has faced discrimination in his career, both because of his Puerto Rican background and as a Muslim.

Still, he said, “I am thankful for lots of things, but especially that Allah has showed me the right way for my life — and therefore my name is Shukriy.”

But at first his name was Jorge. He was born into a Catholic family in Spanish Harlem. His father left when he was 4 years old and his mother worked three jobs to support the family.

Like most Puerto Rican families then, they were quite religious. He went to Catholic school and to church every Sunday. But music and dance were also part of the culture, especially salsa.

“My twin brother, our two older sisters and I listened to music day and night, and we would all dance together,” he said. “It is in our blood, you know.”

As a teenager he lost the family’s passion for religion but not for music. “I started to hang out with other people from Spanish Harlem — it was a gang environment,” he said. They danced on the streets, tried new moves and had small competitions.

Then in 1980, he and a couple of his friends choose the corner of 42nd Street and Broadway as their stage. Large groups would gather to watch them perform. “Then some club owners came and asked us to dance in their places for money. And this was the start.”

He danced in the 1984 movie “Beat Street,” now a hip-hop classic. That led him to the stage of the Kennedy Center in Washington. In 1986 he was the first American hip-hop dancer to perform in Cuba. “The career developed so fast that I couldn’t believe it,” he said.

With other hip-hop dancers, he performed around the United States and in Berlin and Paris. But in the late 1980s, the film and music industries lost interest in hip-hop. The international assignments stopped and he fell into a depression. “From 1988 until 1989 I worked in galleries and a bicycle shop,” he said. He drank a lot, fought and nearly lost his bearings.

Two friends, also dancers, warned him that he risked throwing his life away. They started telling him about Islam, but he was not interested in religion. Still, when one of them gave him the Koran, Shukriy promised to read it.

“My plan was to prove them wrong, but actually the words touched my heart,” he said. Within a couple of days he became a Muslim. It was 1989.

When his family learned that he had converted, their reaction was “not good,” he said. His oldest sister broke off contact with him. His mother “thought I had stopped believing in God,” he said, until he bought her a Koran in Spanish and she read it.

He started to question many of the things he had done in his life. He stopped drinking alcohol and eating pork. But though he altered his behavior, he never changed his look: a long ponytail and a trimmed beard.

His focus today is teaching as an adjunct professor at New York University and in the Muslim community.

“I like to teach kids of all faiths as a tool for self-empowerment, cultural consciousness and an emotional and physical outlet,” he said. Lots of younger Muslims are fed up with politics and were especially troubled by the Israeli assault on Gaza. He sees dancing as a way for them to express their frustration.

He still performs at concerts and festivals, some of which he organizes with his wife, Aziza, who also converted to Islam.

“There are different ways of making a move in a dance,” he said. “And sometimes it is the same with religion. People have different interpretations and different ways to call people to Islam. I chose music.”

By SOUAD MEKHENNET, in the New York Times.