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Imam Zaid Shakir, photo by Robin Holland
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June 22, 2007

Born in Berkeley, California and raised in the Atlanta and Hartford projects alongside six other children, Imam Zaid Shakir converted to Islam in 1977, and today is one of the foremost Islamic scholars in the west.

He found Islam while in the U.S. Air force, spending time reading and learning about various faiths and practices, from Christianity to Transcendental meditation, but says he chose Islam because of its social aspects:

"Transcendental meditation gives you peace of mind...but it didn't do anything for anybody else, so I had to keep looking," Shakir explains at a recent lecture at a Brooklyn mosque. "I was literally searching for truth, and I made various stops along the way and I found what I believed was the truth."

Imam Zaid began his study in the United States, earning a BA with honors in International Relations at American University and an MA in Political Science at Rutgers University, but continued his education in the Middle East, studying Arabic, Islamic law, Quranic studies, and spirituality at Syria's prestigious Abu Noor University. Yet he returned to the United States seven years later, settling in Connecticut, co-founding Masjid al-Islam, where he served as Imam, the Tri-State Muslim Education Initiative, and the Connecticut Muslim Coordinating Committee.

"You have an American Muslim culture emerging, which is very important, because then you can get a unique understanding of the religion that would allow the American Muslim to take his or her rightful place amongst the various Muslim communities of the world"

In 2003, Shakir moved to Hayward, California to serve as scholar in residence and lecturer at Zaytuna Institute, a non-profit, educational institute focused on Islamic studies and surrounding topics. In 2005, Zaytuna Institute published Shakir's collection of essays, SCATTERED PICTURES: REFLECTIONS OF AN AMERICAN MUSLIM.

Related Media:
WATCH Bill Moyers 2002 interview with Zaid Shakir:
Bill Moyers interviewed Imam Zaid Shakir for the first episode of NOW WITH BILL MOYERS, which aired January 18, 2002.

Watch the Islam vs. Islam Roundtable
Watch an excerpt from an Aspen Institute roundtable on Islam and 9/11, which appeared on NOW WITH BILL MOYERS on July, 12 2002.
References and Reading:
Zaytuna Institute
Imam Zaid Shakir has been a scholar-in-residence and lecturer at the Zaytuna Institute in California since 2003. The Institute is "a non-profit, educational institute and school founded and run by people committed to reviving time-tested methods of educating and transforming human beings. It is our belief that Islam offers a cohesive understanding of the world and a praxis for it that is able to cut through the illusion of contemporary nihilism and materialism."

New Islamic Directions
Imam Zaid Shakir recently launched this website in order to bring visitors "a fair and balanced presentation of Islam and it basic teachings." The site offers audio and video of recent lectures and talks, latest articles and blog entries, and a schedule of upcoming events.

Dear Self: A Year in the Life of a Welfare Mother
Find out more information about the recently published journal of Richelene Mitchell, mother to Imam Zaid Shakir.

The Growth of Suicide Terrorism
Shakir mentions Pape's work in explaining the recent proliferation of suicide attacks by religious fundamentalists. Robert A. Pape is a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and the author of the recent Cato Institute paper "Suicide Terrorism and Democracy: What We've Learned since 9/11," published September 11, 2006.

U.S. Muslim Clerics Seek a Modern Middle Ground
by Laurie Goodstein, THE NEW YORK TIMES, June 18, 2006.
"He [Imam Zaid Shakir] said he still hoped that one day the United States would be a Muslim country ruled by Islamic law, 'not by violent means, but by persuasion.' 'Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country,' he said. 'I think it would help people, and if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be a Muslim. Because Islam helped me as a person, and it's helped a lot of people in my community.'"

Zaid Shakir has been a blogger for "On Faith" since November, 2006. Read his latest entries and join the discussion.

"Muslim Americans: Middle Class and Mostly Mainstream"
In May 2007, the Pew Research Center released a study of the growing population of Muslims in America. The study finds that the nearly two and a half million Muslims are a religious and diverse community — one that is socially conservative and politically liberal. You can view highlights or read the whole study in PDF form at their site.

Beliefnet: Understanding Islam
"In the five years since 9/11, a spotlight has been on Islam and Muslims. Read Muslim voices as they react to world events and address controversial topics such as jihad, madrassas, terrorism, and women's rights."

Council on American-Islamic Relations
CAIR is America's largest Islamic civil liberties group, which aims "to enhance understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding."

ISLAM: Empire of Faith
Explore the website for the PBS EMPIRE series, which offers a glossary on basic Islamic terms, as well as a timeline that details the history of Islam.

Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding
With mission to "defuse verbal and physical violence perpetrated in the name of religion," the Tanenbaum Center Web site offers information about ongoing and upcoming center programs as well as various resource tools for better understanding of how religions can coexist peacefully and constructively.

Take the Islam Quiz
How well do you know Islamic history and scripture? Test your knowledge by taking Beliefnet's short quiz.

Photo by Robin Holland

Published June 22, 2007

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