Author Archives: haileywoldt

Interview for Indian Television–Kairala TV

A review by Saleem H. Ali on “Journey into America”

Dr. Saleem H. Ali wrote a great review for the Brooking’s Institution’s Doha Network website. You can read it here or below:

“Islamic Identity in America”

Much has been written or reported through various media sources on Islam in America but the complexity of Muslim lives in this great country has eluded most analysts. There is either a tendency to celebrate America as the most diverse land of opportunity on the one hand or to lament the legacy of discrimination towards Muslims following September 11, 2001. It was thus quite refreshing to watch a new documentary titled “Journey into America” in which some of the struggles that Muslim-Americans face within their own communities, as well as externally, were presented with nuance and objectivity. The film had some very dominant Pakistani overtones since the producer and host was none other than Dr. Akbar S. Ahmed, former Pakistani civil servant and ambassador to the United Kingdom a decade ago, and now a famed and often controversial public intellectual. Perhaps best known in Pakistan for his feature film production on Jinnah, Dr. Ahmed’s latest venture brought forth his anthropological pedigree most favorably.

Traveling with a group of American students through scores of Muslim communities in North America from “sea to shining sea,” the documentary attempted to show how the clash of cultures that is so frequently talked about is affecting daily lives for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. The film starts with the “Muslim Day Parade” in New York City which is greeted with celebration by one side of the street and invective on the other.  While some non-Muslim onlookers are cheering on the crowds as a mark of American diversity, others are jeering them with slogans of “no sharia,” and defamatory slogans about the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). There are even some Muslims themselves who are seen opposing the march as a mark of subservience and acquiescence to the dominant culture. The parade is an apt allegory for the messy state of Muslim affairs in America which continues to struggle with reconciling its multiple identities. Continue reading

Trailer for “Journey into America”

The world premiere of “Journey into America” is premiering on Saturday, July 4th. This feature film will be shown around Washington and throughout the United States.

The film shows Akbar Ahmed in his journey to over 75 cities and 100 mosques asking hundreds of Muslims and non-Muslims what it means to be “American.” From a bishop and an imam in Las Vegas to Somalis in small-town Nebraska to Noam Chomsky in Boston, this is the first film of its kind giving insight into the diverse and closed Muslim community in America and how they are fitting into American society. It ends on the hopeful note of coming together as a nation based on our pluralist identity going back to the Founding Fathers.

Breakfast with First Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison

We sat down with Congressman Ellison in the members only dining room of the capitol, a large portrait of George Washington accepting British General Cornwallis’s surrender hanging behind. What Washington fought for and what America stands for is liberty for all, including freedom of religion. However Congressman Ellison’s election has redefined and challenged what many people see as “acceptable” limits of these standards.

Congressman Ellison told us of his conversion to Islam as a young man and about the controversy in detail over his swearing in on the Quran. The reception he received in congress, he said, was exceptional: “I didn’t know how the Democratic leadership was going to react to me so when she reached her hand out in a handshake and pulled me close in, she said, “You swear in on anything you want.” And she was then technically still the minority leader…and then we had a dinner before the big day for all the incoming freshman and she asked me to give the opening prayer and she made the point, well here Keith Ellison is giving the prayer and it’s just like any prayer we might hear anywhere. And I have to say though it was fraught with controversy it was a welcoming environment because Speaker Pelosi made it that way and I thank her for that.”

Congressman Ellison has become a symbol of the promise and beauty of America. What does America mean to him?:

“American identity is an essential commitment to American principles. American identity is rooted is a system of ideas. And this is different from other places around the world where your national identity might be a mixture or race, color, religion, a certain culinary orientation, certain holidays. But in America our holidays are the 4th of July—Independence Day—our holidays are Thanksgiving, a very American holiday. Our cultural ethos is fairness, rule of law, freedom of expression. These are American ideas.

“Americans I think have a certain sense of optimism. Americans think they can solve problems whereas people from other parts of the world are more fatalistic and feel like, well this is how it’s always been and this is how its gonna be. That’s not an American attitude. Americans think, ‘well if it’s not right what re we gonna do about it?’

“I’m proud to be an American. It’s a great thing. Has there ever been a country in the rest of the world that started out taking the land from the Indians, dragging Africans to do the work, denying the right of half the population of women to participate in civic life and then within a few hundred years solving these problems internally. I mean Canada didn’t come down here and make us get along better. We worked it out. It wasn’t easy, people lost their lives, people lost their careers, there were prices paid. But now we live in a time when a black man is president.”

On another note, we are honored that Congressman Ellison has agreed to be on the panel after the premiere of our documentary “Journey into America” at the ISNA convention in Washington on July 4th.

Trip Featured in Turkish Newspaper Zaman

As I was sending my mother off on her long-awaited trip to Turkey for two weeks of touring the bazaars, palaces, and museums of Turkey, I received this email from our friend in Dallas. Elif Kavacki is a top fashion designer for Muslim women and also a writer for the prominent newspaper Zaman in Turkey (also sister of Merve Kavacki that we interviewed earlier). She had interviewed me while we were in Dallas, and Nicole featured earlier on the blog, was her photographer:

“Hi Hailey– Finally. They said they were waiting for the best time and spot which made me very happy. You are on the front page of way over 1 million newspapers in Turkey. Woohoo! [It will be on the website for one week.]

Elif Kavacki and Hailey in Dallas

I will summarize the article for you.

The title reads, “Catholic Hailey defends Hijab”.  It starts out by mentioning your visit to Turkey, how you went to Istanbul University, and how you were surprised that Hadiya was not allowed to enter the university. It goes on to mention your opinions about the AK Parti women, and your visits there. And then moves on to talking about your experience in Miami, as well as Alabama. Everything is straight from our interview, they have not made any changes. You can most likely understand bits and pieces. You can read they mention you as Academician Hailey. They did an amazing job, it’s a very strong article.”

We have been getting a lot of positive responses. Many people from universities in Turkey have written to offer their support and congratulations for the project in the Muslim world and in the United States. We got this one today actually on our “News and Links” page:

Mustafa Gerdan

it is so nice to hear the right things about Islam, from a Muslim’s mouth, and in American media… We, as young and educated Muslims, just want to be involved into the peace movement of the future world by firstly being understood by people of the world. Then, there will be no one, who calls himself as Muslim, exploding himself in somewhere of the world, to be heard and promote justice…Peace is in Islam, we hope spread into the world, by hardworking Muslims such as Dr Ahmed…

The most intriguing thing for me, though, is I wonder how surprised my mother will be after her twenty-hour flight when she sees the pictures in the paper!

“Journey” team visits The Alamo

The Alamo is small, beautiful building that is close to the hearts of Texans. When I told my father, a native Texan, that we had gone to visit the Alamo, he said that he can’t see it without tearing up it is so moving.

From Ground Zero in New York to Pearl Harbor in Honolulu, the team has visited the major monuments of heartache and triumph of the United States. What these places, battles, and sometimes myths built up around them mean for Americans is a major part of who we are. Craig, from Boston, related it to the Battle of Bunker Hill, a similar emotive battle during the Revolutionary War respected among Americans. It serves as a reminder to us how we have to protect the fragile freedom we have and to thank those who have sacrificed in order for us to have the life we do now.
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Interview with Merve Kavakci

Merve Kavakci is proud to say that America is the best place on earth for Muslims. As a student in Turkey she was not allowed to go to medical school because of her hijab. As an elected official she was harassed and thrown out of parliament on her first day for it. In a Muslim nation, Dr. Kavakci was unable to practice her freedom of religion.

She came with her family to the United States and a crucial part of her personal worship as a Muslim, and at the same time to become educated and successful. As she and her mother, a German literature professor, were forced out of their professions due to the headscarf, her father decided to accept an offer to be the imam of a mosque in my hometown of Dallas where she could wear the hijab. The family moved and they loved it. She even describes herself as “half Turkish and half Texan.”

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Latino Muslims in Miami

She had just gotten back from a long month in the United Arab Emirates and then had driven from Tampa to Miami to come and meet us. Although she must have been jetlagged and preoccupied with her other responsibilities, she was bursting with energy.

For our trip to Miami I had especially wanted to meet with Latino Muslims and all roads pointed to Khadija Rivera. From her friends in Los Angeles to organizations like LADO and ALAM, Khadija was well-connected in the Latino Muslim networks and was a leader in the growing segment of Muslims in America. She represents the newest segment of Muslims in America and her forceful personality will surely add some spice to the American melting pot. 

We had met with some Latino Muslims in Los Angeles with Khadija Galedary, another leader in the community and the next day with Cuban, Columbian, and Mexican Muslims. This group is unique and growing, with literature and organizations for their own group. Much like the African-American Muslims, Latino Muslims have a unique historical and theological approach to Islam. Their culture, language, and warm personalities will surely add to the world’s largest and most diverse religion. 

Hailey Woldt 

Thanksgiving in Hawaii


Thanksgiving dinner

We have been focusing a lot on this trip on the history of America. We went to Plymouth itself to understand the birth of America and its myths. Thanksgiving is of course the quintessential American holiday between the Pilgrims who came from England to build their own “city upon a hill” but barely could make it through the winter. The Wampanog tribe offered them food and together they had a feast sometime in November which we now celebrate as Thanksgiving.

We had a Thanksgiving unlike any other I have experienced in Hawaii. It reflects how far we have come—geographically and culturally—in our journey and as a nation. Hawaii is an interesting state, unlike any other, that prides itself on its diversity and openness. I had been here once previously for a conference on diversity due to the fact that whites are the minority here. The native Hawaiians and Asian-Americans make up the majority of the people. So what does a Thanksgiving in a context totally removed from Plymouth, white settlers, or sweet potatoes look like? Continue reading

Smart Power

By Hailey Woldt — Los Angeles has the largest population of Muslims in America. As head of the largest sheriff’s department and the largest prison population in the nation, Sheriff Lee Baca of Los Angeles has a special role to play in Muslim-American relations. He is well educated on the topic of Islam and has even been to Pakistan, including the Khyber Pass. He is also very spiritual, almost mystical in his approach to God, but is also pragmatic. He encourages understanding between faiths, especially Muslims, Christians and Jews, but realizes the serious security concerns that both Muslim and non-Muslim Americans have. He understands, though, that the best way to ensure security is through respect and cultural sensitivity; his unique approach makes him a model leader for law enforcement officials and patriotic Americans interested in homeland security.

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