News and Events
Ahmed Nassef, Founder of “Muslim WakeUp!” Talks to IMEY
August 2004 — The website “Muslim WakeUp!” (www.muslimWakeUp.com) was created by Ahmed Nassef. Nassef discussed “Muslim WakeUp!” with IMEY recently in New York City, where the website is based.
Nassef attended the University of California at Berkeley where he received his bachelor’s degree in Middle Eastern Studies and also completed graduate work in Islamic Studies. An Egyptian-American, he worked in Dubai and Amman for a few years, first at Maktoub.com then at Arabia.com, popular web portals in the region.
In January 2003, after moving back to the United States, he created the website “Muslim WakeUp!” as a forum for a more open Islam. “I saw a glaring vacuum in terms of representation of the Muslim community. There are many extreme groups out there, but we need more opportunities to reflect the voice of Muslim-Americans which is vastly different from these radical groups,” he explains.
“Muslim WakeUp!” includes essays, articles, forums for discussion and comments. Essay and article contributions (both fictional and non-fictional) are voluntarily submitted and come from a wide variety of individuals of all ages and ethnicities. Contributors include students, freelance journalists, academic scholars, religious leaders, business people and musicians. The majority of the contributions come from North America.
Article and essay topics range from art, humor and politics to gender issues, poetry and discussion of religious issues, such as observing Ramadan. A popular regular column about sexuality and Islam is called “Sex and the Umma” and is written by a Syrian born professor at the University of Arkansas. Nassef says the “Sex and the Umma” column – which addresses such issues as reproductive health, homosexuality and prostitution - has generated both the most praise and the most criticism. “Muslim WakeUp!” also recently profiled a punk rock band made up of young Muslim-Americans. They were featured because their lyrics are satirical and critical of a popular Muslim poet, Mowlana Jalaluddin Rumi , the founder of the Mawlawi Sufi order of Islam.
According to Nassef, the website gets 60,000 new hits a month and caters mostly to North American audiences. Available only in English, it also appeals to a selected group in Middle Eastern countries where there are many English speakers, such as the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, India and South Africa.
Nassef believes that his overarching goal--to begin a dialogue among Muslims in a more open Islamic context--is taking shape. He hopes the online interest will “morph” into a grassroots organization. He believes that this “organic” approach will prove successful in mobilizing mainstream Muslims and creating a more open environment for all followers of Islam. Nassef is planning to hold a Progressive Muslim conference at Harvard Divinity School in March 2005.
The organization also supports “activist” events. Recently they sponsored a Friday sermon during which women offered the call to prayer and then led a mixed congregation in prayer and offered the sermon. The event stimulated significant controversy.