Niagara Foundation Peace and Dialogue Awards

By Adil James, TMO

Jennifer White, MC from the Niagara Peace and Dialogue Awards.

The Niagara Foundation held an awards ceremony Thursday October 27th, 2011 at the Westin Southfield, which celebrated several prominent people, including Graham W.J. Beal of the Detroit Institute of Arts, Janice M. Brown of the Kalamazoo Promise, Stephen Schram, Director of Broadcasting for Michigan Public Radio, and Victor Ghalib Begg, Community Activist.

About 100 people attended the awards ceremony and dinner.

The Niagara Foundation’s mission is to serve “societal peace, love, and friendship wisely and compassionately in support of human dignity and the common good by striving to bring forth the common values of humanity; values such as understanding, tolerance, respect, and compassion.”

The organization has branches in eight states.  Its founders, honorary president, and advisory board, are from Turkey.  The honorary president is Mr. Fethullah Gulen.  The Executive Director of the Michigan branch is Mr. Yasir Bilgin.

The Niagara Foundation has maintained a connection with and has celebrated the accomplishments of numerous journalists, educators, and leaders, the prestige of whom was well-reflected by the Michigan award winners in 2011.

The event featured professional videos of all the past and current award recipients, and recipient thank you speeches.

Graham Beal, of the DIA, spoke of his efforts in the direction of diversity, speaking of the African, Native American, and Islamic Art portion of the DIA, which last he had supported “because of the things done in the last ten years,” and he spoke of the Christian art in the Islamic section, which proved the coexistence of Muslims with Christians inside their nations.

Janice Brown of the Kalamazoo Promise program, spoke of the cooperative nature of the KPS program and how it was focused only on educating the Kalamazoo children.

Steve Schram of Michigan Public Radio spoke of his program’s series on the Muslims of Michigan. 

The evening was defined by its class and organization, and by the respect it gave to the prominent award recipients; focusing more on quality than quantity.


MPAC Forum on Bullying

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

default-article-thumbnailOne of the primary social problems confronting the United States is the well organized and well financed industry of Islamophobia. At a time when the nation should be united, Islamophobia is the great divider. While many groups have been and are active in combating this pernicious industry, the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) must be considered in the forefront. Islamophobia is hate, and hate acts like a malignancy.

MPAC was founded in 1988 as a 501 (c) (3) organization devoted to the establishment of a vibrant Muslim American community that would “enrich American Society through promoting the Islamic values of mercy, justice, peace, human dignity, freedom and equality for all”. MPAC is well equipped to deal with hate speech and hate acts and to enlighten the community.

MPAC has held many educational forums dealing with timely subjects. This past Saturday a forum entitled: Stand up Against Bullying was held in the Ehsan Center in Canoga Park, Ca. The forum was a training session for parents that began with the question: “What would you do if your child was being bullied?”

Ms Holly Priebe-Diaz an Intervention Coordinator representing the Human Relations, Diversity, and Equity Department of the Los Angeles Unified School District was the speaker.

Ms Priebe-Diaz gave an excellent presentation of bullying: its definition, its manifestations, the public school’s responsibilities to identify bullying and to counsel, and of course possible resolutions. Ms Priebe-Diaz is obviously well qualified to speak on the topic and her presentation was informal yet informative and thought provoking. The audience participated throughout the discussion.

Herewith some of her observations. Bullying, she said, can be a form of hate. “We have to educate law enforcement”. Ms Priebe-Diaz told her audience we have to educate more about hate. While it is understandably hard to prove an attitude, we can look at behavior. “When we find a child who is a bully, we re-educate him.”

The child says “My heart hurts”, and the adult replies “Let me help you.”

Not surprisingly, young boys who are school bullies also become adult offenders who are guilty of crimes of violence.

To combat this, the school gives a child a community project; the relevant school personnel dialogue about the situation, and different cultures are studied. “There is a lot of ignorance” Ms Priebe-Diaz told the attendants.

She continued by saying that 30% of hate crimes are committed by kids. Where, she asked rhetorically, do these children learn hate. The obvious answer is from home. The Internet has given the community a new word: cyberbullying as the bully – always present in society – has now moved into cyber space.

Ms Priebe-Diaz cited California law that makes certain classes of school children protected. They are protected against real or perceived acts of hostility. There are six protected categories: race, color, national origin, mental or physical disability, gender identification (how one perceives one’s self), and ethnicity.

While she cautioned parents to have rules – for example having a computer in a central room rather than in a child’s bedroom – she also acknowledged that for every restriction a child may find a way around it.

She made a clear distinction between tattling and helping the victim of a bully. The foundation of that distinction was the question “Is someone being hurt?”

No one can be a bystander in the matter of bullying. While urging parents to work through the school counseling office and not to take matters into their own hands, involvement is key.

Ms Priebe-Diaz gave suggestions for children who have been bullied such as “Don’t let the bully see you afraid” and “avoid areas where certain children congregate” to name but two.

The district uses progressive punishment with bullies beginning with (if the bullying continues) suspension, then expulsion, and last, arrest.

“I have learned so much about the subject” said one young mother at the conclusion of the forum.

Readers interested in learning more about MPAC and its work may contact MPAC at: Ms Priebe-Diaz may be contacted at:


Dispelling Myths About Islamic Law: Shariah Explained

By Imam Steve Mustapha Elturk



CODES OF RELIGIOUS LAW CIRCLE THE GLOBE: Top is the New York Times front page of July 31, 2011, with a news report on a political dispute over Shariah, then a book of Roman Catholic Canon Law adapted for American Catholics, a page of the Adi Granth scriptures that guide Sikhs around the world, the current edition of the United Methodist book of church law, a colorful boxed set of the renowned Adin Steinsaltz translation of Jewish Talmud, and a copy of canon law ruling the Episcopal Church.

American political campaigns targeting Shariah are as red hot as Sunday’s front page in the New York Times. Unfortunately, these grassroots campaigns are aimed at scoring points with frightened voters—not at any real-world problem. No responsible Muslim leader in the United States is trying to substitute Shariah for secular American law. In fact, every major religious group around the world has some code of law for governing community life. Once upon a time in America, political parties targeted Catholics, claiming that they might try to impose Roman canon law in the U.S.—but that myth was dispelled more than half a century ago.

ReadTheSpirit invited a Muslim expert to write a clear and concise summary of Shariah—to combat wildly inaccurate information floating around the Internet is a Lebanese-American lecturer on the meaning of the Quran and president of the Islamic Organization of North America. Imam Elturk worked for many weeks on this summary, including input from other Muslim leaders.


By Imam Steve ElTurk

Shariah sometimes is portrayed as an antiquated Islamic system of law that is barbaric with no regard for values of democracy, human rights or women’s freedom. In fact, the opposite is true: Social welfare, freedom, human dignity and human relationships are among the higher objectives of Shariah.


The word Shariah comes from the Arabic: sha-ra-‘a, which means a way or path and by extension—the path to be followed. The term originally was used to describe “the path that leads to water,” since water is the source of all life. Hence, Shariah is the way to the source of life.

Shariah in Islam refers to the law according to divine guidance leading to a good and happy life in this world and the next.

The concept behind Shariah is not unique to Islam and is found in nearly all of the world’s great religions. Moses, peace be upon him, received the Torah incorporating the Mosaic Law and the Ten Commandments. Look at the sampling of religious codes, shown at right, for more examples. In Islam, we look primarily to the revelation that came when the Quran was revealed to Muhammad, peace be upon him, incorporating the final Shariah for the benefit of humankind. “For each of you We have appointed a law (Shariah) and a way of life. And had God so willed, He would surely have made you one single community; instead, (He gave each of you a law and a way of life) in order to test you by what He gave you.” (Quran 5:48)


There are basically two sources of Shariah—the Quran and the Sunnah (the divinely guided tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him). There is also what is called fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence. There is a fundamental difference, however, between Shariah and fiqh. While Shariah is of divine origin, fiqh is the product of intellectual effort to deduce the rulings of Shariah through the jurist’s own intellectual exertion suitable for his specific time and place. Fiqh interprets and extends the application of Shariah to situations not directly addressed in the primary sources by taking recourse to secondary sources. Those secondary sources usually include a consensus of religious scholars called ijma and analogical deductions from the Quran and the Sunnah called qiyas. While the Quran and the Sunnah are permanent and unchangeable, fiqh is variable and may change with time and place—but always within the spirit and parameters of these two main sources of Shariah: the Quran and Sunnah.


Shariah aims at the welfare of the people in this life and in the life hereafter. The sources of Shariah guide people to adopt a set of beliefs and practices that would help them ward off evil, injury, misery, sorrow, and distress. These beliefs and practices may result in benefit, happiness, pleasure, and contentment not only in this world, but also in the next. The Quran confirms, “Whoever follows My guidance, when it comes to you [people], will not go astray nor fall into misery, but whoever turns away from it will have a life of great hardship.”

(Quran 20:123-124)

It is an error to define Shariah as a “legal-political-military doctrine,” as some political activists claim. It also is wrong to associate and restrict Shariah only to the punitive laws of Islam. The fact is that Shariah is all-embracing and encompasses personal as well as collective spheres in daily living. Shariah includes the entire sweep of life: Prayers, charity, fasting, pilgrimage, morality, economic endeavors, political conduct and social behavior, including caring for one’s parents and neighbors, and maintaining kinship.

Shariah’s goal is to protect and promote basic human rights, including faith, life, family, property and intellect. Islam has, in fact, adopted two courses for the preservation of these five indispensables:
the first is through cultivating religious consciousness in the human soul and the awakening of human awareness through moral education; the second is by inflicting deterrent punishment, which is the basis of the Islamic criminal system. Other major bodies of religious law in the world, including the Canon Law used by the Catholic church, contain both legal outlines of responsibilities and codes for punishing misbehavior.


Faith is the essence and spirit of a meaningful life. Muslims profess their faith through a verbal testimony, bearing witness to the oneness and unity of God and to the finality of prophethood of Muhammad, peace be upon him. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the seal of all of God’s prophets and messengers, a chain that started with Adam and includes Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, peace be upon them all. Muslims also express their faith through devotional practices, most importantly the five daily prayers, an act of worship that keeps them connected with the Creator.

Additional practices include fasting, obligatory charity and pilgrimage. Fasting during the month of Ramadan has been prescribed to Muslims so they may be mindful of God and learn self-restraint.

Zakat, or a portion of our income to be given to the poor, is another duty regulated by God to ensure that basic needs are met for the less fortunate, poor and destitute. If they are able, Muslims are also required to perform Hajj—a pilgrimage to visit the sacred house (Ka’bah) that was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to seek forgiveness from their Lord and renew their covenant with Him.

It is against Shariah to compel or force any person to convert to Islam. The Quran asserts, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

(2:256) Shariah provides total freedom of religion. The Quran is quite clear on the point, “Say (O Muhammad), ‘Now the truth has come from your Lord: let those who wish to believe in it do so, and let those who wish to reject it do so’ ” (18:29) “Had God willed He would have guided all people” (13:31)

Islam holds that people are endowed with our senses and our intellect so that we can choose what is best for us to follow. Shariah not only allows other faiths to co-exist but guarantees the protection of their houses of worship and properties. Shariah respects the worth of every human being in his or her own belief and endeavor in the pursuit of life and the truth.


Shariah recognizes the sanctity and sacredness of human life. One may not harm or kill. The Quran emphatically stresses this point, “And do not take any human being’s life—[the life] which God has willed to be sacred—otherwise than in [the pursuit of] justice.” (17:33) Killing innocent people, even at times of war, is a grave sin and strongly condemned by Shariah: “if anyone kills a person—unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land—it is as if he kills all mankind; while if any saves a life, it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind.” (5:32)

Unfortunately, as in all the world’s great faiths, Islam sometimes produces individuals who make distorted religious claims. News reports  from around the world have shown us extremists from various religious traditions who claim that their faith compels them to commit acts that clearly are crimes to any sensible person. This recently happened in Norway, according to news reports. Similarly, some Muslims have issued extreme fatwas (judicial rulings) that may not be based on the Quran and the Sunnah at all. Another unfortunate example of this distortion is the lingering practice of honor killings in some parts of the world.

Honor killing is an entrenched cultural issue in some areas, but clearly is in violation of Shariah as well as all globally recognized Christian codes of conduct. Nevertheless, honor killings still occur in some traditional Christian and Muslim cultures. These crimes need to be addressed worldwide by leaders of all faiths.

Psychological harm or injury is also prohibited under Shariah. The Quran mandates, “O believers! Avoid making too many assumptions, for some assumptions are sinful; and do not spy on one another; or speak ill of people behind their backs: would any of you like to eat the flesh of your dead brother? No, you would hate it. So be mindful of God: God is ever relenting, most merciful.” (49:12)

Shariah also demands total respect for all of creation. For example, a Muslim is prohibited to cut down trees or kill animals without a good reason. As part of Shariah, Muslims are required to protect the environment from pollution and harmful waste.


Shariah regulates the life of a Muslim in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, parenting, upbringing of children, rights of orphans, ties of kith and kin, etc. The family is the nucleus of society. Hence, having a sound family structure builds a strong society. Islam encourages marriage as soon as a mature man is able to support his wife. Premarital or extramarital sex is strictly forbidden.

Islam does allow men to have more than one wife at the same time, up to a total of four, provided that the husband treats them equitably.

However, this represents a tiny minority in Muslim-majority countries, where polygamous marriage constitutes only 1-to-3 percent of all marriages. Islam encourages only one wife. The Quran in verse 4:129 affirms how difficult it is to be equitable in multiple marriage.

Polygamy remains a challenging issue in many world faiths.

International gatherings of Christian leaders in recent decades also have discussed compassionate responses to polygamy.

Despite misconceptions, Shariah protects women’s rights if properly applied. For example, women are entitled to education, to keep their maiden names and to control their inheritance. They are entitled to a decent living, to own property or to own a business, if they wish.

Islam teaches that family ties are to be maintained and parents are highly regarded. Shariah enjoins believers to honor parents and grandparents. In numerous places in the Quran, the rights of parents are mentioned immediately after the rights of God. The following verse illustrates the importance of this value: “Your Lord has commanded that you should worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents.

If either or both of them reach old age with you, say not to them a word of contempt, and do not be harsh with them, but speak to them respectfully, and lower your wing in humility towards them in kindness and say, ‘Lord, have mercy on them, just as they cared for me when I was little.’ ” (17:23-24)

Neighbors are viewed as extended family in Islam. God instructs believers to take care of their neighbors, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. “Be good to your parents, to relatives, to orphans, to the needy, to neighbors near (Muslims) and far (non-Muslims), to travelers in need.” (4:36)


Shariah stresses lawful earning for the maintenance of oneself and family—and rejects begging for a living. The objective of economic activities is to fulfill one’s basic needs and not to satisfy insatiable desires.

Our rights to property are protected in Shariah, an ideal that naturally contributes to a sense of security in a community. Forms of economic exploitation are condemned. Islam prohibits interest and usury (Riba). The goal is to keep people from depleting their property and falling into poverty through excessive debt. Likewise, the positive Quranic attitude towards trade and commercial activities (al-bay’) encourages mutual help, fairness with employees and equitable transactions in business. The Islamic view of economic principles includes a requirement that a lender should participate in either the profit or the loss of a borrower. Shariah’s interest in a just and healthy community extends throughout our business transactions.


Among the most cherished gifts of God is the faculty of intellect, which differentiates us from animals. It is through this faculty one is able to reason and make sound judgments. Such a precious blessing needs protection. Anything that threatens the intellect is discouraged or completely prohibited by Shariah. Prohibitions on intoxication with alcohol or drugs are aimed at keeping the mind sound and healthy.

Acknowledging that some may claim benefits of gambling and drinking, God informs that their harm is greater than their benefit. “They ask you [Prophet] about intoxicants and gambling: say, ‘There is great sin in both and some benefit for people: the sin is greater than the benefit.’ … In this way, God makes His messages clear to you, so that you may reflect.” (Quran 2:219)


Shariah abhors extremism and excessiveness. Excesses in spending, eating—even worship—are prohibited in Islam. Shariah promotes following the middle path. True Muslims are moderate in all of their endeavors—religious and secular. God described them in the Quran as “the Middle Nation.”

Shariah aims at facilitating life and removing hardships. Shariah beautifies life and provides comfort. It approves of good and forbids evil. It is considerate in case of necessity and hardship.

A general principle in Shariah holds that necessity makes the unlawful lawful. A Muslim is obliged to satisfy his hunger with lawful food and not to eat what has been declared forbidden. One may, however, in case of necessity—when permissible food is not available—eat unlawful foods such as pork to sustain life. Shariah comes from a kind and compassionate God.

The Quran says: “God wants ease for you, not hardship”(2:185) “God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear” (2:286) “It was only as a mercy that We sent you [Prophet] to all people.” (21:107)

Ultimately, Shariah strives for justice, fairness, mercy and peace.


Shariah 101

By Enver Masud

Shariah-Council-Logo-green-star-with-logo-copy2-1-300x300The definition of justice, according to Dr. Robert D. Crane, founder of the Center for Civilizational Renewal, is respect for human rights, which were formulated six centuries ago by Islamic scholars. These rights, says Dr. Crane, are: “the right to life and personal integrity (haqq al haya), to family and community existence and cohesion at all levels of human society (haqq al nasi), to equal opportunities in accessing ownership of the means of economic production (haqq al mal), to political freedom for self-determination both within and among nations (haqq al hurriyah), to human dignity (haqq al karama, including freedom of religion and gender equity), and to education, knowledge, and freedom of expression (haqq al ilm).”

Regarding separation of Church and State, according to Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, author of Islam, a Sacred Law, Islamic jurists recognized this concept centuries before the Europeans, and divided the body of Shariah rules into two categories: religious observances and worldly matters. The first they observed to be beyond the scope of modification. The second, subject to interpretation, cover the following:

1. Criminal Law: This includes crimes such as murder, larceny, fornication, drinking alcohol, libel. 2. Family Law: This . . . covers marriage, divorce, alimony, child custody, inheritance. 3. Transactions: This covers property rights, contracts, rules of sale, hire, gift, loans and debts, deposits, partnerships, and damages.

“One of the most sensible definitions of the purposes of the Shariah,” according to Imam Feisal, was given by Ibn al-Qayyim al-Jawziyyah who said:

“The foundation of the Shariah is wisdom and the safeguarding of people’s interests in this world and the next. In its entirety it is justice, mercy and wisdom. Every rule which transcends justice to tyranny, mercy to its opposite, the good to the evil, and wisdom to triviality does not belong to the Shariah . . .”

According to Imam Feisal the sources of Shariah are, in order:   1. The Quran – God’s Word revealed to Prophet Muhammad (s); 2. The Sunnah – practice and teachings of the Prophet; 3. Ijma – consensus of those in authority; 4. Qiyas – reason, logic, and opinion based upon analogy.

Imam Feisal describes seven other methods for deriving Islamic laws. These seven, plus ijma and qiyas, are collectively known as ijtihad or interpretation, and/or opinion based upon reason and logic.
Several schools of Shariah have evolved: Shafii, Hanbali, Hanafi, Maliki – the orthodox schools, and Jafari – the Shiite school. The Zaydis and Ibadis also have their own schools.

“Classical international law, reputedly invented by the Spaniards Vittorio and Suarez, borrowed the concept of inalienable human rights from Islamic law,” according to Dr. Crane.

Wisely implemented, Shariah can better nurture and protect society than does Western law which is subject to the whims of lawmakers.