For newsroom source lists: A female Muslim lawyer to watch on religious-liberty issues

A Pegasus Books release has this curious title: “When Islam Is Not a Religion.”

Huh? Say what?

Is the pope not Catholic? Don’t U.S. Democrats constitute a political party? (With Britain’s Conservatives and Labour that’s open to question lately.) The subtitle then explains what the book is about: “Inside America’s Fight for Religious Freedom.”

Author Asma Uddin’s title targets American right-wingers who are claiming Islam is not “really” a religion — but a dangerous political movement.

Islam is, in actuality, a variegated global religion that usually intermingles beliefs with politics in ways that can become problematic, just as with some variants of Christianity -- including some of those making that anti-Islam claim.


Uddin, a Pakistani-American lawyer in Washington, D.C., belongs on your prime source list (if she is not there already). Contact: For starters, this Muslim studied her civil rights specialization at the elite University of Chicago Law School.

She became the founding editor of a lively, decade-old online magazine that journalists should be monitoring, It emphasizes hot-button gender issues in Islam (e.g. women’s rights, man-woman relationships, polygamy, harem, genital mutilation, honor killing, headscarves and burqas). You won’t want to miss articles on whether Islam, and also Christianity, can consistently be considered religions (!), like this one.

In an interview posted by her law school last year, Uddin says her altmuslimah colleagues felt “there were so many of us who wanted to be authentic to our faith, devoted to our faith, and who were struggling with issues that we didn’t always know how to fit with our lived realities. It turned out that these were conversations that people were desperate to have. The response has been overwhelming.”

Most important, Uddin is a principled defender of religious liberty across the board, naturally quick to defend the rights of fellow American Muslims but also concerned about believers in all other faiths, including those who suffer suppression in Muslim countries. This 2013 academic article provides a good rundown on her legal philosophy.

She was a staff attorney from 2009 to 2016 with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, described as “a highly effective religious-rights law firm that commands a great deal of respect at the Supreme Court” in a useful Sept. 12 New York Times rundown (.pdf here) on upcoming religion cases. She worked on two of Becket’s Supreme Court wins hailed by Christian conservatives, Hosanna-Tabor v. E.E.O.C. (2012), regarding employment rules for religious schools, and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2014) , letting a business with religious owners avoid mandatory contraception coverage.

Uddin has also been a consultant with UCLA'a Initiative on Security and Religious Freedom, Freedom Forum’s Center for Islam and Religious Freedom, the U.S. Department of State, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. She co-produced the documentary series “The Secret Life of Muslims,” an Emmy nominee and Peabody Award finalist in 2017.

In conjunction with the new book, Christianity Today this month posted an online interview with Uddin covering a variety of current disputes. It’s unusual for the influential evangelical magazine to give such exposure to a Muslim thinker.

Uddin’s book naturally looks at anti-Muslim efforts such as prohibitions against cemeteries or the building of new mosques (on which key Southern Baptist leaders allied with Islam). She says U.S. Muslims’ use of Sharia (religious law), which activists in 43 states have sought to prohibit, treats matters like prenuptial agreements, divorc and alimony, just as Orthodox Jewish and conservative Christian groups do. Check out the full interview.

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