Janan Najeeb, one of the busiest speakers from the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition’s Speakers Bureau, speaking this week at Milwaukee School of Engineering.
On recent episodes of Jeopardy, contestants burned through questions about obscure facts on everything from asteroids to the cry of the whippoorwill but when asked to identify the Kaaba in Mecca or the building where Muslims were praying (Answer: a mosque), no one buzzed in. For some Muslims, these moments may be shocking reminders of how little many of their fellow Americans know about Islam and Muslims.
But it’s not time to despair. Muslims in Milwaukee are seeing an uptick in requests to speak about their faith, driven partly by the influx of refugees from Afghanistan and by the celebration of Ramadan. And some Muslims are creating their own opportunities this month by hosting interfaith iftars, the breaking of fast.
On the Radio
Photo credit: Stick People Productions
Wisconsin Public Radio host Kate Archer Kent, producer Mackenzie Krumme and their team featured a segment about Wisconsin’s Muslims Wednesday on “The Morning Show.”
Mackenzie Krumme, a producer for The Morning Show on Wisconsin Public Radio, told Wisconsin Muslim Journal the concept of Wednesday’s show, “Exploring the history of Muslims in Wisconsin and the United States,” began formulating when families from Afghanistan started settling in Wisconsin recently.
“I thought it would be a great time to remind listeners about the contributions of and the history of Muslims in the area,” she said. “Muslims have been in the United States for centuries.
“When we’re thinking about building programs, we’re always thinking about how they relate to the audience. And the reality is that Islam is the fastest growing religion in the world. Muslims are the second most populous religious group in the world. There are thousands of Muslims here in Wisconsin.”
It was a coincidence the program landed during Ramadan, she said, but since it did “we definitely had to talk about this important time for Muslims.”
When planning the program, Krumme and her team talked with speakers Janan Najeeb, president of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition and religious historian and University of Wisconsin-Madison Professor Emeritus Charles Cohen, who is also the director of the Lubar Institute for the Study of the Abrahamic Religions.
“We talked about correcting some misconceptions,” Krumme said. “Muslims are often seen as impoverished or less educated, and that’s just not the case. Muslims are highly educated, here and elsewhere. And we certainly wanted to talk about misconceptions about Muslim women and the hijab, but we didn’t get to those things.
“Ms. Najeeb spoke so eloquently about Ramadan and her faith, there was no way to talk about anything else. Kate (Archer Kent) is an experienced host and there is no way she would have interrupted those beautiful thoughts. The program morphed into one about Ramadan.”
On air, Najeeb explained, “For Muslims around the world, Ramadan is an incredibly holy time, a time to build character, to spend with the Qur’an and to build empathy for those less fortunate.” She talked about how fasting shakes Muslims out of the complacency of “having everything at our fingertips, to realize we are dependent on God’s grace for everything.”
In a telephone interview with WMJ this week, Najeeb said, “Sometimes as Muslims we explain what we do but not so much the why, how we fast but not the transformative aspect.”
The team at WPR found the program “very impactful,” Krumme said. “Ms. Najeeb explained the ins and outs of fasting from dawn to sundown but then she went to a personal place and talked about what she prays for and what she thinks about, about breaking fast with family and celebrating with the community.” The format of live radio is a platform that allows for rich discussions and for people to say what they want to say, she added.
TMJ4’s Cassandra McShepard interacts with Taqwa Obaid, owner of Taqwa Bakery and Restaurant, at the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition’s Networking Lunch.
When Milwaukee radio and television personality Cassandra McShepard served as a guest speaker for the MMWC’s Networking Luncheon recently, she spotted “a hidden gem,” the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition and its Islamic Resource Center. She decided to feature the MMWC and the IRC in an upcoming episode of TMJ4’s “Milwaukee Tonight.”
“When I went to speak at the MMWC’s Networking Luncheon, I saw what a wonderful place it is and how they help not just the Muslim community but the entire Milwaukee community,” McShepard said in an interview with WMJ. “When I was there, the place just felt good, gave good energy. What wonderful help and assistance they give, not just to those of their faith but to everyone.
“I am always amazed, although I was born and raised here, at all the wonderful places I don’t know about,” she added.
The episode will be filmed next week, featuring the MMWC’s many programs and services, she said.
“Milwaukee Tonight” can be seen weeknights at 6:30 p.m. McShepard does not yet know what day the episode will air. “I go out with my photographer, hunting stories. When I see it on the calendar, that’s when I know,” she explained.