[ppi] [ppiindia] Islamic beliefs enter mainstream

  • From: "amartien" <amartien@xxxxxxxxx>
  • To: ppiindia@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
  • Date: Fri, 13 Aug 2004 04:01:15 -0400 (EDT)

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From birth to burial, region adapts to culture

Islamic beliefs enter mainstream

By Doug Guthrie / The Detroit News  Monday, August 9, 2004

When the Islamic call to prayer was allowed to be broadcast through the streets 
of Hamtramck, it thrust religious tradition into the national spotlight and 
illustrated the growing influence of Muslims in the multi-ethnic enclave. 

But the religious and cultural practices of Muslims in Metro Detroit are taking 
hold on a much quieter and broader scale with schools, businesses, hospitals, 
funeral homes and even cemeteries adjusting to meet their needs. 

At Henry Ford and St. John hospitals, policies have been adopted that allow 
Muslim women to maintain their religious modesty during medical treatment. 
East-facing graves are being added at cemeteries like White Chapel in Troy to 
meet the growing demand for graves facing Mecca. And schools in Hamtramck and 
Dearborn are tailoring schedules and offering Halal food that meets the dietary 
needs of Muslims. 

?Accommodation of beliefs is very important for the Muslim community and 
society as a whole,? said Sally Howell, a University of Michigan graduate 
student and member of a research team that studied Metro Detroit Arabs last 
year. ?Mainstreaming their culture is a boost to them, but perhaps more 
important to the the rest of the community to increase our understanding of 

Nehaya Silmi, 25, found the kind of childbirth experience she wanted, but it 
was after her first two children were delivered by male doctors. 

Her third child, Yousef, was born Feb. 28 at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit 
with the help of a female midwife. Silmi?s husband, Ramzi, whispered the 
child?s first call to prayer in his right ear, followed by a prayer in the left 

?It was very, very important to us,? she said. ?According to the religion, if 
there is a woman who can do the job, that is best. This time, there was and 
that made me feel better. The privacy of a woman is a simple thing.? 

The hospital last year hired midwife Katherine ?Trinka? Robinson, who is also a 
certified nurse, to assist Muslim women. In Islamic tradition, modesty is not a 
personal preference, but rather an edict of the religion. 

?The bottom line is that this is not a hard thing to do,? Robinson said of 
providing services geared toward Muslim women. ?Treating people with respect 
should come naturally.? 

Dr. Cheryl Gibson-Fountain, an obstetrician and gynecologist at St. John 
Riverview Hospital, said staff there is trained to knock first, wait and let 
expectant Muslim mothers put on head scarves. They also don?t question requests 
that seem unusual, like taking home the placenta, a practice of some Muslim 
women who may follow the custom of burying the placenta. 

?It?s a matter of not questioning things that might not be familiar to us,? 
said Gibson-Fountain, who was born and raised a Methodist in Detroit. ?Those 
simply are their beliefs, and when you think about it, it doesn?t affect the 
way I practice medicine.? 

Burial rites honored

David Krok?s family has operated a funeral home in Hamtramck for 70 years. The 
business was almost exclusively Polish Catholic until the last decade, when 
immigrants and refugees from Muslim countries began to arrive in large numbers. 
He said he now sees an increasingly diverse clientele of Muslims from places 
like Yemen and Pakistan. 

?When we tried to raise funds to restore our statue of the Polish pope, one of 
the mosques was the first to present a check,? Krok said. ?Why would I ignore 
the needs of my good neighbors like that?? 

More and more funeral homes provide places for Muslim families to perform 
ritual bathing and clothing of bodies. Quick burials are arranged in modest 
cardboard and wooden coffins, sometimes with burial vaults lowered upside down 
with no bottom to promote ground contact and natural decay, consistent with 
Muslim burial traditions. 

John Santieu Jr. and his family have helped facilitate Muslim rites at their 
funeral home in Garden City since the 1960s. He said much depends on regional 

Iraqis have different needs than Bengali, Bosnian or African Muslims. The 
latest trend, he said, appears to be the increasing frequency of shipping 
bodies for burial back to the Middle East. He said he handled about 30 last 
year and believes it is a sign of growing affluence in the local Muslim 

White Chapel in Troy is adding areas with graves facing Mecca to meet a growing 
number requests, said Bill Beemis, a counselor there. 

But an issue that has been debated for years is the precise direction a grave 
should face. Santieu said some Asian followers of Islam prefer to place the 
dead in a north/south grave, turned on their left side to face east. The new 
Valley of Peace section of Roseland Park Cemetery in Berkley has graves 
oriented 44 degrees north of east, in alignment with the great circle route 
used by airlines as the quickest route to Mecca. 

Schools diversify menu 

There are more than 60 mosques in Metro Detroit representing differing sects 
and ethnicities. Howell at U-M estimates 130,000 followers of Islam live in 
Wayne, Oakland and Macomb counties. The U.S. Census bureau doesn?t provide such 
information, because it does not ask questions regarding religion in order to 
preserve the separation between church and state. 

Many Muslims are concentrated in Dearborn and Hamtramck, and the school systems 
there are accommodating the cultural and religious practices. 

School calendars for the upcoming year have days off marked in November and 
January that coincide with the holiest days of Islam. Not allowed under law to 
recognize religious holidays, the public schools have scheduled conferences and 
teacher in-service sessions to accommodate Muslim students. 

?It?s not an irony that two of our in-service days fall this year on Muslim 
holidays. It?s just practical,? said Pat Victor, principal at Hamtramck High 
School, where up to 60 percent of students are Muslim. 

School cafeterias in Dearborn offer Halal diet menu selections ? based on rules 
similar to Kosher food regulations in the Jewish faith ? no pork and some 
dishes need to be certified as properly prepared. 

Last year a daily Halal menu was started in Hamtramck, where officials estimate 
the Muslim population in some schools is as high as 95 percent. 

?We would have done it earlier, except it was a matter of economics and 
supply,? Dearborn Public Schools spokesman David Mustonen said. 

Most welcome changes

The accommodations being made for Muslims are a positive sign, said Adnan 
Kahloul, 46, even though he suspects the institutions aren?t doing it entirely 
for the good of the community. 

?Now there is a recognition here, but don?t think for a minute that it is all 
about respect. It?s about money,? said Kahloul, who works for the Wayne County 
Health Department. ?There are a lot of us now. We are awakening in many ways.? 

Imam Mohamed Mardini of the American Muslim Center in Dearborn said Muslims, 
like any other religious people, are part of the larger society. And in a time 
of terrorism and suspicion, it?s important for people to understand and accept 

?There is great fear now of Arab people in the face of media about 
fundamentalism, but our children ask the same questions when they see the news 
on television, ?Who are these terrorists?? We fear what we don?t know. 

These growing accommodations here are a sign of understanding and tolerance and 
are welcome.? 

You can reach Doug Guthrie at (313) 222-2359 or dguthrie@xxxxxxxxxxxx

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