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North American Community News 8-33

No Violations of New Jersey Halal Act Reported

By Ayub Khan

NEW JERSEY, NJ—The Halal Food Enforcement Bureau of New Jersey’s Division of Consumer Affairs has not received any complaints on violations of the halal Food Consumer Protection Act. A spokesperson said, information packets on the Halal Food Consumer Protection Act have been delivered to all known halal establishments in New Jersey.

According to the Act, businesses are required to post a disclosure statement visible to consumers indicating that all food offered for sale or sold as halal has been prepared according to the halal dealers representations of their practices. The disclosure statement must also be sent to Consumer Affairs. We are currently sending follow up letters to any establishment that has not sent in copies of their posted disclosure statement.

Businesses who have not submitted a copy of their disclosure statement and who do not have their disclosure statement visibly posted should be on notice of the Division’s current enforcement efforts to ensure compliance with the Act. Any person found to be fraudulently representing the standards that person follows could be fined up to $10,000 for the first offense and up to $20,000 for each subsequent offense.

UMMA’s Services Recognized

LOS ANGELES, CA—On July 26, 2006, Congresswoman Maxine Waters (CA-35) proudly proclaimed that ‘the UMMA Clinic provides Muslim-Americans with an institution in which they can take pride, one that enriches the community with services that save lives.’

The University Muslim Medical Association (UMMA) Community Clinic is currently celebrating its tenth year anniversary of dedicated service to the residents of South Los Angeles—regardless of race, religion, or socio-economic status.

Her address before a crowded session of the U.S. Congressional House of Representatives may be the first time in over two centuries of U.S. Congressional history that a Muslim-American institution was hailed as a model of hope, progress and benefit to the whole of American society, according to a press release.

Noting that the UMMA Clinic is the nation’s first Muslim-American founded charitable health center, Congresswoman Waters underscored that UMMA emerged ‘as a result of the obligations Muslim-Americans feel to ensure the well-being of everyone in society.’

‘At a time when Muslim-Americans face unfair discrimination and scrutiny, the UMMA Clinic allows Muslims to put their faith into action through service, selflessness and compassion,’ the Congresswoman stated. Her address represents a courageous and refreshing recognition of a long-standing, though overlooked fact: Muslim-Americans are an inseparable part of the nation’s fabric, and as she said, ‘UMMA Clinic is one of the many ways that Muslim-Americans serve their country.’

The Congresswoman’s address invites the possibility of serious public reflection on the negative stereotypes associated with Islam and Muslims. With added exposure for organizations like UMMA Clinic, an accurate understanding of Islam may soon emerge, whereby compassion and concern for preserving life become synonymous with Muslim practice.

For ten years, these values have helped UMMA flourish as a primary provider of free, high-quality healthcare for over 15,000 children and adults, many of whom would otherwise have no access to primary health care services.

Punctuating her remarks with a challenge to her Congressional colleagues, Congresswoman Waters said, ‘if you want to see what Muslim-Americans truly represent, go to the UMMA Community Clinic in my district and you will see it there.’

Nashville Muslims Clear the Air About Islam

Nashville, TN—As right wing bloggers and other bigots up the ante of anti-Islamic rhetoric, Muslims are also expanding efforts to reach out to the larger community with a clearer picture of their faith. The Islamic Center of Nashville threw open their doors last Saturday to all those who wanted to learn about Islam.

Around 50 people attended the event. In the midst of political violence in the Middle East, we usually get a good turnout,’ said Khaled Sakalla, the secretary of the center’s board and the chairman of the public relations committee, to the Tennessean. ‘People hear things (about Islam) on the news, and a lot of unpleasant stories come up, and they want to know more.’

‘Our main goal for the city of Nashville is that we’re hoping that the term ‘Muslim terrorist’ can be eliminated, because they don’t go together. A terrorist is violent and ‘Muslim’ means peace. You’re either a terrorist or a Muslim. You can’t be both.’

Chris Cotten, a master of divinity student at Lipscomb University, said he enjoyed the presentations. Cotten said he is not interested in converting to Islam, but he came to the open house to learn more about the religion.

‘They have a real sense of community, it seems to me—a tight sense of identity that Christianity has sort of lost,’ he said. ‘In the current climate, this is a vulnerable position (for Muslims) to be in, and as a Christian myself, I think it’s really important for us to be protective, almost (of the Muslim community).

‘I think that fear gets in our way, even though, as I understand it as a Christian, that’s what God would have us to do—to look out for those who are weak and vulnerable.’

Joseph Chojnacki, a Sunni Muslim and active member of the group, demonstrated the Azan at the meeting.

Interfaith Alliance Seeks to Build Religious Tolerance

College Station, TX—The Brazos Valley Interfaith Alliance held its second meeting with a renewed call to promote interfaith tolerance. The organization aims to ‘promote hope over fear and to bring an awareness and understanding of pluralism, tolerance, freedom of conscience and acceptance to the Brazos Valley.’

The alliance is planning a peace rally to take place at Wolf Pen Creek Amphitheater in College Station at 6 p.m. on Sept. 11.

‘We are calling it ‘Visions of Hope: Faiths in Solidarity on 9/11,’ said Lisa Hughes, chair of the planning committee. ‘We are inviting all people to come together in a spirit of sharing particular spiritual beliefs and visions. Self-expression can take the form of stories, poetry, music, dancing, skits or readings.’

The alliance grew out of a conversation at a meeting of the Brazos Progressives.

‘Some people were lamenting the fact that the religious right has hijacked religious dialogue. Other people of faith needed to get together to provide some balance,’ said Krista May, discussion leader for the alliance. ‘The Brazos Progressives are facilitating this group getting off the ground.’

Interfaith Council of Florida: Seek Alternatives to War

“Despite a rapid increase in knowledge and astounding advances in technology, humans are already engaged in or teeter on the brink of all-out war in various regions throughout the world. Taking or threatening human life and destruction of property are used routinely as a means to achieve the goals of nations and other groups.

“While our weapons have become increasingly sophisticated, our moral sensitivity concerning the sacredness of human life has lagged appallingly. Therefore, the Interfaith Council of Central Florida calls upon spiritual people of all persuasions to refocus attention and strengthen efforts to work for peace.

“Although the sacred writings of the world’s great religions are not typically pacifistic, they consistently call for a higher level of moral responsibility in the resolution of conflict. Further, these writings point to peace as the ideal. Peace is portrayed as the prime characteristic of ‘paradise.’

“Buddhism calls for adherents to honor the Five Precepts, the first of which says simply: ‘I undertake to refrain from taking life.’ Amplified, this principle states: ‘Aware of the suffering caused by the destruction of life, I am committed to cultivate compassion. . . . I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to condone any act of killing. . . .’

“Islam’s Prophet Muhammad (s) said: ‘There should be neither harming nor reciprocating harm (Hadith 32). And in the Qur`an (5:32) we read: ‘If any one slew a person . . . it would be as if he slew the whole people: and if any one saved a life, it would be as if he saved the life of the whole people.’

“In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ (Matthew 5:9). In the same discourse he advocated: ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you’ (verse 44).

“The ancient Hebrew writers clearly longed for the day when war would be no more: ‘They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore’ (Isaiah 2:4).

“The Hebrew scriptures begin with the simple words: ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’ (Genesis 1:1). Implicit in those words are God’s ownership, mastership and parenthood of all.

“All humans are equally from the hand of God. All are brothers and sisters. Therefore, we must respect each other. We must treat others as we would wish to be treated. The Golden Rule is advocated by all religious systems.

“The Interfaith Council of Central Florida is not calling for pacifism or unilateral disarmament. Our plea, based on the precepts of the world’s great sacred writings, is for spiritual people to call upon governments, groups and individuals around the world to more diligently seek alternatives to war as a means of resolving conflict.

“Is such a goal mere starry-eyed idealism? Perhaps. But remember, all of the world’s great spiritual movements began because some person or group was no longer willing to accept things as they were.”

The foregoing statement from the Executive Committee of the Interfaith Council of Central Florida was signed by Bassem Chaaban, outreach director, Islamic Society of Central Florida; Rabbi Richard S. Chizever, Temple Israel; James Coffin, senior pastor, Markham Woods Church of Seventh-day Adventists; the Rev. Gus Davies, pastor of community development, Northland—A Church Distributed; Lynette Fields, executive director for servant ministry, St. Luke’s United Methodist Church; and Bryan Fulwider, senior minister, First Congregational Church of Winter Park.

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