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Being a Muslim in the age of the iPod

By Mark Tutton for CNN
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Understanding Islam
  • Tayyibah Taylor is the founder of U.S. magazine "Azizah," aimed at Muslim women
  • She said: It's a challenge to gain "God consciousness" when "you're constantly wired to your iPod"
  • There are advantages to being a Muslim in a non-Muslim country, said Taylor
  • Taylor: For her Islam is a "formula for spiritual peace"

London, England (CNN) -- In this high-tech age of the 24-hour news cycle, it can be hard to maintain a sense of inner peace, according to the founder of a magazine for Muslim women.

Tayyibah Taylor, 57, was born in Trinidad to parents from Barbados. She grew up in Canada and embraced Islam when she was 19.

In 2000, she founded "Azizah" magazine, based in Atlanta, Georgia, to provide a voice for Muslim women in America and highlight their accomplishments.

In 2009, she was named one of the world's 500 most influential Muslims in a book produced by Georgetown University in Washington D.C. and Jordan's Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center.

CNN's Muslim in 2010 spoke to her about "Azizah," Islam and the challenges facing Muslim women.

CNN: What made you start "Azizah" magazine?

Video: Issues facing Muslim youth

Tayyibah Taylor: I was invited to a conference in the early 90s on American Muslim women, and the energy, expertise, and spirituality really resonated with me. I thought, wouldn't it be really wonderful to be able to encapsulate this and put it on pages of a magazine so everyone can experience it.

CNN: Is it important for Muslims to have positive role models?

TT: I think we can either allow others to tell our stories or we can tell our stories ourselves.

The media is a great shaper of opinion and the opinion of Muslims is not a favorable one. So we can either allow that to continue or we can change it by doing two things -- by working with the mainstream media, or we can create Muslim media.

I grew up in Toronto at a time when I saw no positive images of people of color and so the first time I saw Ebony magazine (an African American magazine) there was this kind of validation of seeing people of color positively contributing to society in the media. I think it's important for people to see themselves reflected positively in the media.

I really see a lot of parallels in how people of color were portrayed in the 1960s and 70s, and it was quite a biased portrayal. Black media had to undo a lot of that.

CNN: What are some of the challenges for Muslim women today?

We can either allow others to tell our stories or we can tell our stories ourselves.
--Tayyibah Taylor
  • Islam
  • Women's Issues
  • Media

TT: One is dealing with how those who are non-Muslim commonly define Islam. It's been associated with violence and terrorism, and having to deal with the repercussions of that is a huge challenge for Muslim women in particular, because she's visible if she has her head covered or has a Muslim name.

If she walks down the street, if she enters the boardroom or goes to a PTA meeting, she's dealing with people's misperceptions of her -- who she is as a woman and a Muslim. It's a challenge but not one that can't be overcome.

Another challenge for her is to gain the highest level of God-consciousness possible at a time when the world is exploding with technology and you're constantly wired to your iPod, your BlackBerry, your computer.

It seems almost as if technologically and scientifically we're advancing so quickly we're having trouble catching up -- the repercussions of the 24-hour news cycle, people are always on -- there's almost no off switch.

In this world of a constant barrage of information, you have to be able to sift out what is useful and maintain what I call your 'portable peace,' so you have this sense of peace regardless of what's going on outside of you, regardless of where you are.

In order to be able to transcend all that and maintain a sense of calm despite everything that's going on, the challenge is to be able to connect with God and maintain a strong connection.

CNN: You've also lived in Saudi Arabia -- is it harder to be a Muslim woman in the U.S.?

If you're really living a spiritual life your spiritual life is not impacted by where you are.
--Tayyibah Taylor

TT: I've visited all continents, except the Antarctic, and there are pros and cons to living everywhere.

One of the good things about being in America is freedom of religion. In the U.S. you have a legal system to redress problems you might face as a Muslim or a woman.

Spirituality should not really be a function of your surroundings.

Being a Muslim in a place where Islam is not the dominant culture you have to make a constant decision and choice about: 'Am I going to be a Muslim? And if so, how?'

Ramadan in a Muslim majority country, everyone's fasting or restaurants have different hours, so you can almost be on automatic pilot.

But in a country where Islam is not a dominant culture a Muslim has to be demonstrating a deliberateness about their religion -- it's time to pray and no one else is praying, but I'm going to pray. It's a conscious choice.

CNN: What does Islam mean to you?

TT: Islam for me is a formula for spiritual peace, an algebraic formula with these wonderful exponents that can take you to higher and higher spiritual levels. And for me and for those who practice and observe it in its highest forms, it produces this profound sense of inner peace.

That peace can spread to others in your circle and environment, not just your family, but your community and hopefully the world. For me, it's very difficult to watch the incongruities of people who profess terrorism in the name of Islam with the true meaning of the religion.

As Muslims, we are taught by the words of the Prophet that the greatest jihad is the struggle to purify one's soul and the struggle for self-mastery. If we all concentrated more on this, the greater jihad, we could eliminate the lesser jihad -- armed conflict.

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