Concerning the sweet, formerly Christian, wife of the talented artist bomber

Here’s an interesting and timely religion news story at the Huffington Post: “Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Suspected Boston Bomber, May Not Get Islamic Funeral From Wary Muslims.” Assuming you’re interested in the topic, finds an interesting and informative angle and provides many details about Muslim burial and funeral rites.

Is anyone else finding the general coverage of this Boston bombing frustrating? I really wish reporters would remember to source everything better. I keep seeing details presented as statements of fact only to find them contradicted in other stories. It’s hard to know who is right or how to check it out. Yesterday, for instance, I wrote about confusion between the Islamic Society of Boston, a small mosque in Cambridge pictured here, and a much larger sister site called the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center. Let’s remember that as we dig into this Associated Press story headlined, in the Washington Post, at least: “Late Boston Marathon bombing suspect’s wife described as talented artist, ‘sweet.’” It begins:

PROVIDENCE, R.I. — Katherine Russell was a talented artist, a good student who grew up Christian, the daughter of a suburban doctor.

Then she went off to college in Boston.

A few years later, she had dropped out of school, converted to Islam and was Katherine Tsarnaeva, wife of a man who would become a suspect in the deadly Boston Marathon bombings and a subject of one of the biggest manhunts in American history.

We’d been learning so much about how the Tsarnaev brothers became more interested in radical Islam. I was curious about the spouse’s religious background and was fascinated to learn she “grew up Christian.” I know that can mean about a million different things so I read the story looking forward to additional details.

But those three words in the lede are all we have. I’d love even to know how we know this. She “grew up Christian” according to whom? I’d read elsewhere on the internet that she in fact hadn’t grown up in a family that was religious. It had better sourcing than this story but came from a site that is outside mainstream media. The CNN story on Katherine does the same thing as the AP, although further down:

Russell was born and raised a Christian, but she converted to Islam after marrying Tsarnaev. She’s an observant Muslim and wears a headscarf, her lawyer said.

I’m not even sure what being “born” a Christian means, unless we’re referring to baptism, but I don’t think that’s what the story is getting at. And are we sure we converted after marriage as opposed to before? How do we know the date?

Another Huffington Post story, that has been updated, on the brothers’ visits to a local mosque, includes a statement from the mosque saying that they weren’t members. That made me realize that I know nothing about what it means to be a member of a mosque. How does one join? What is required? What differentiates a member from someone who is not a member?

The AP story on Katherine says:

The couple got married on June 21, 2010, a Monday, in a ceremony performed by Imam Taalib Mahdee, of Masjid al Qur’aan, in Boston’s Dorchester neighborhood, according to their marriage certificate, which lists his profession as a driver.

So why did they get married there? The Pluralism Project at Harvard has an entry on Masjid al Qur’an (not sure why AP spells it differently) and that entry says that it was founded as a Nation of Islam mosque but that the congregants follow orthodox Sunni Islam and the masjid is no longer affiliated with the Nation of Islam.

The AP story also has this mess of a couple of paragraphs:

Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s relatives have said that in recent years he became a devout Muslim and prayed five times a day. DeLuca said the couple attended the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, although the mosque’s executive assistant, Nichole Mossalam, said that Tsarnaeva had never been there to her knowledge.

Leaders at the mosque say Tamerlan Tsarnaev did attend and in recent months had outbursts during two sermons that encouraged Muslims to celebrate American institutions such as the Fourth of July and figures including Martin Luther King Jr.

Argh. Did DeLuca say that? And Nichole Mossalam is identified in other reports as the office manager of the Islamic Society of Boston. I don’t think she’s the office manager for both, I really don’t, but this is confusing. Could both mosques have executive assistants with the same name? To further confound things, in other reports, Mossalam is quoted as saying that the brothers did go to the Islamic Society of Boston in Cambridge.

Yes, both mosques are affiliated with the Muslim American Society and are sister organizations. But failure to get this right is hurting a lot of stories.

Also, I wonder if, given where the marriage rite took place and what the ISB says about membership, reporters should extend their questions beyond the ISB and ISBCC.


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