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Unity in Diversity

By Aysha Jamali

This is the second prize winner in the TMO Foundation 2011 Essay Contest.

AJ_photo

I often look back at my childhood and note the split in my life, as well as in the lives of so many, made distinct after September 11, 2001. Ever since, I’ve had to answer for what I believe or prove who I was to people who had never focused so intensely on the terms “Muslim” or “Islam.” It was tiring knowing that people were looking at me with preconceived notions, and it was tiring always approaching people with the attitude of clearing misconceptions.

But I accepted it. I accepted that if I wanted people to know my Islam, then I would have to be comfortable answering the endless stream of questions – many bizarre and ignorant, but always important.

Then the American people, both Muslims and others, discovered something. While I was explaining what Islam meant to me, someone else was explaining what Islam meant to them. We began to discuss with each other about what we believed, why we believed and how we applied those beliefs to our lives. Our stories were born.

We were forced to compare our Muslim identities to those who claimed to destroy lives in the name of Islam. I was not like those people. My family was not like those people. My community was not like those people. I knew that. So what were we like?

We were diverse. We were diverse in age, in heritage, in interests; but always unified in faith. At first, this vast and intangible diversity I discovered confused me. I thought it would be easier if all Muslims were the same – one religion meaning one type of follower.

Then I uncovered the deception in that statement. I heard different narrations from Muslims, even those who looked just like me, about what Islam meant to them. The true meaning of diversity came out. It wasn’t limited to speaking global languages or swapping samosa recipes for falafels. It was deeper. It was diversity in experiences; diversity in thought.

So Muslims cannot be seen as one programmed, unchanging group – whether we’re from Indonesia or Palestine, the East Coast or the West Coast. Nor was it ever our purpose to be so. As God says in verse 13 of chapter 49 in the Quran, “Oh mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another …” We were created as different groups not for quarreling but for knowing each other.

I’m only beginning to understand diversity in Islam. We’re all only beginning to understand that. But it’s evident in our discussions that this understanding has begun. Just in January, the Islamic Society of North America held its first Diversity Forum in Michigan. It featured sessions on Shi’a-Sunni relations, immigrant versus indigenous experiences and encouraging an appreciation for diversity under the theme of “Realizing The Dream: Finding Strength Through Diversity.”

This forum seemed to have come ten years too late. I thought about how much discussions like that would have benefited me back in 2001. But it’s important to realize that those struggles my community and I faced then, we are still facing now. We’ve almost been thrust back in time with the recent death of United States “Enemy Number One,” having to answer those same decisive and identity-hinged questions again.

However, it’s not a matter of redefining yourself but of defining yourself. We discover our stories and our paths to this one, unified appreciation and understanding we have of God and His message. It is under this unity that when defining ourselves, we also discover our diversity.

13-31

Tax Dollars Used Against Islam and Muslims

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO

A few weeks ago, a former Palestinian Muslim, who is now an ultra conservative Christian equated Islam with terrorism describing the two inseparable. There is nothing new in what the so called former PLO terrorist said or says on a regular basis. In the last 10 years, several individuals claiming to speak on behalf of Christianity, Judaism and Hinduism have spoken openly against Islam and Muslim Americans in particular. Expressing one’s opinion is everyone’s right and that right must be preserved even if it is based on misconception or lies.

What is problematic is that the Homeland Security invited the so called terrorist-turned Christian to an official event attended by more than 300 law enforcement officials in South Dakota. This is a violation of our constitution that clearly indicates that the people’s tax dollars would not be spent in either promoting or targeting a particular religion. The so called expert was paid 5,000 plus other expenses.  In other word, the our tax dollars were spent on supporting someone whose anti-Islam agenda is well known. If the Homeland Security had invited a Muslim American to counter his argument, one could have argued that the purpose of the event was to have a balanced perspective. However, by giving money and podium to an avid anti-Islam fanatic, the Homeland Security has revealed its hatred of Islam, a crime which is in breach of the constitution and which deserves to be thoroughly investigated.

Ten after the September 11 attack, Muslim Americans are still deemed unfit by many law enforcement agencies or agents to be partners in the country’s fight against terrorism. This policy or attitude is hurting the country and wasting its tax dollars money. Seemingly, the Homeland Security and other federal and state agencies have wasted millions of dollars in rewarding anti-Muslim and anti-Islam experts on terrorism by giving them legitimacy and authenticity through invitation to officially organized events for state and federal agents.

Most of the so called experts on Islam belong to several religious groups who anti-Islam position is well known. They use the Tax payers money and resources to promote their religious agenda and to make money for themselves. The country does not benefit from their expertise.

One is entitled to his or her opinion on Islam or any other faith but when that opinion is given legitimacy by agencies that are meant to uphold the constitution and the citizens, then it deserves the attention of all those who are serious about the sanctity and supremacy of the constitution. As far as opinions against Islam are concerned, we Muslims must be aware of the task that we have at hand, i.e. challenging the misconception and informing the country and the world that there is another side of the explanation that can be offered only by those practice this faith and who understands its in and out better than those so called experts who have found a new opportunity to mint money from the new venture that we can term as “Islamic Threat to the West.”

13-30

Stand Up to Herman Cain

By Eugene Robinson

It is time to stop giving Herman Cain’s unapologetic bigotry a free pass. The man and his poison need to be seen clearly and taken seriously.

Imagine the reaction if a major-party presidential candidate — one who, like Cain, shows actual support in the polls — said he “wouldn’t be comfortable” appointing a Jew to a Cabinet position. Imagine the outrage if this same candidate loudly supported a community’s efforts to block Mormons from building a house of worship.

But Cain’s prejudice isn’t against Mormons or Jews, it’s against Muslims. Open religious prejudice is usually enough to disqualify a candidate for national office—but not, apparently, when the religion in question is Islam.

Sunday, Cain took the position that any community in the nation has the right to prohibit Muslims from building a mosque. The sound you hear is the collective hum of the Founding Fathers whirring like turbines in their graves.

Freedom of religion is, of course, guaranteed by the Constitution. There’s no asterisk or footnote exempting Muslims from this protection.

Cain says he knows this. Obviously, he doesn’t care.

Cain’s remarks came as “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace was grilling him about his obsession with the attempt by some citizens of Murfreesboro  to halt construction of a mosque. Wallace noted that the mosque has operated at a nearby site for more than 20 years, and asked, sensibly, what the big deal is.

Cain launched into an elaborate conspiratorial fantasy about how the proposed place of worship is “not just a mosque for religious purposes” and how there are “other things going on.”

This imagined nefarious activity, it turns out, is a campaign to subject the nation and the world to Islamic religious law. Anti-mosque activists in Murfreesboro are “objecting to the fact that Islam is both a religion and a set of laws, sharia law,” Cain said. “That’s the difference between any one of our other traditional religions where it’s just about religious purposes.”

Let’s return to the real world for a moment and see how bogus this argument is. Presumably, Cain would include Roman Catholicism among the “traditional religions” that deserve constitutional protection. It happens that our legal system recognizes divorce, but the Catholic Church does not. This, by Cain’s logic, must constitute an attempt to impose “Vatican law” on an unsuspecting nation.

Similarly, Jewish congregations that observe kosher dietary laws must be part of a sinister plot to deprive America of its God-given bacon.

Wallace was admirably persistent in pressing Cain to either own up to his prejudice or take it back. “But couldn’t any community then say we don’t want a mosque in our community?” Wallace asked.
“They could say that,” Cain replied.

“So you’re saying any community, if they want to ban a mosque. . .,”

Wallace began.

“Yes, they have the right to do that,” Cain said.

For the record, they don’t. For the record, there is no attempt to impose sharia law; Cain is taking arms against a threat that exists only in his own imagination. It makes as much sense to worry that the Amish will force us all to commute by horse and buggy.

This demonization of Muslims is not without precedent. In the early years of the 20th century, throughout the South, white racists used a similar “threat” — the notion of black men as sexual predators who threatened white women — to justify an elaborate legal framework of segregation and repression that endured for decades.

As Wallace pointed out, Cain is an African American who is old enough to remember Jim Crow segregation. “As someone who, I’m sure, faced prejudice growing up in the ’50s and the ’60s, how do you respond to those who say you are doing the same thing?”

Cain’s response was predictable: “I tell them that’s absolutely not true, because it is absolutely, totally different. . . . We had some laws that were restricting people because of their color and because of their color only.”

Wallace asked, “But aren’t you willing to restrict people because of their religion?”

Said Cain: “I’m willing to take a harder look at people that might be terrorists.”

Generations of bigots made the same argument about black people.

They’re irredeemably different. Many of them may be all right, but some are a threat. Therefore, it’s necessary to keep all of them under scrutiny and control.

Bull Connor and Lester Maddox would be proud.

13-30

Community News (V13-I30)

New Mosque planned in Lombard

LOMBARD, IL–The Muslim Community Association of the Western Suburbs has presented a revised set of proposals to the Dupage County Board in hopes for approval for a new mosque plan.

The groups wants to construct a roughly 43,000-square-foot mosque on nearly 4 acres along the south side of Roosevelt Road, just east of I-355, the Daily Herald reports.

In a move that could help win county board support for the conditional-use permit request, the mosque plan has been modified to include partial access to Roosevelt.

Mark Daniel, the group’s attorney, said IDOT officials have agreed to allow a right-turn only lane for vehicles exiting the site. Anyone traveling to the mosque still would have to use to use nearby Lawler Avenue to enter the parking lot.

The board could issue a ruling as early as next week.

Laredo to have new mosque

LAREDO,TX–Laredo will soon have a new mosque to cater to the growing needs of the Muslim community in the area. Previously they used to worship at rented spaces.

The new space will be close to 2,000 sq. feet and will be able to accommodate the school they are currently running.

Dr. Zakariah Hamdan,one of the leaders of the project, told a local news channel “for many years there hasn’t been a place for the Muslim community to perform their prayers and practice aspects of the religion. So this will be a very important step.”

Leaders also said they hope this will be an attraction to draw more people of the Muslim faith that are interested in living here.

Bilal Ahmed serves as the faculty speaker at commencement

ROCHESTER,NY–Dr. Bilal Ahmed, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Rochester Medical School, was selected by the Class of 2011 to serve as the faculty speaker at the commencement. His well received speech focused on adding the human touch to the medical profession.

He is closely involved with resident and medical student education and has received more than 30 teaching awards from the University in the last 10 years.

His particular areas of interest are bedside teaching and practice based learning.

He is currently boarded in Internal Medicine, as well as in Hospice and Palliative care.

Zarina Jamal wins scholarship

ROXBURY,MA–Zarina Jamal, a graduating senior of O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, is among the few students who have been honored  with the Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association’s annual scholarship. It is given to students who attain oustanding merit or contribute to the community in unique ways. Jamal was selected for the pro-active measures she took in launching her school’s tennis team. She will be attending the Wake Forest University in the coming semester.

Clearing misconceptions about Islam at California Fair

SACRAMENTO, CA–The Why Islam? group has set up a booth at the California State Fair to educate the public about Islam. So far hundreds of people have stopped by and asked questions.
The group has been holding a booth at the fair since 2008. “I think it will be as good or better than last year,” said Shane Yoder, president of the Sacramento Chapter Islamic Circle of North America, which sponsored the WhyIslam? boot, told the Sacramento Bee.

The State Fair booth is only part of an effort in the Sacramento area to educate non-Muslims about the faith, said Yoder. ICNA, which focuses on outreach and education of Islam, is sponsoring a billboard campaign – 16 will appear in the region next month – coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan.

The group will also give 500 backpacks to needy children.

13-30

Islam-Baiting Doesn’t Work

By Stephan Salisbury for TomDispatch

During the 2010 midterm election campaign, virtually every hard-charging candidate on the far right took a moment to trash a Muslim, a mosque, or Islamic pieties. In the wake of those elections, with 85 new Republican House members and a surging Tea Party movement, the political virtues of anti-Muslim rhetoric as a means of rousing voters and alarming the general electorate have gone largely unchallenged. It has become an article of faith that a successful 2010 candidate on the right should treat Islam with revulsion, drawing a line between America the beautiful and the destructive impurities of Islamic cultists and radicals.

“Americans are learning what Europeans have known for years: Islam-bashing wins votes,” wrote journalist Michael Scott Moore in the wake of the 2010 election. His assumption was shared by many then and is still widely accepted today.

But as the 2012 campaign ramps up along with the anti-Muslim rhetoric machine, a look back at 2010 turns out to offer quite an unexpected story about the American electorate. In fact, with rare exceptions, “Islam-bashing” proved a strikingly poor campaign tactic. In state after state, candidates who focused on illusory Muslim “threats,” tied ordinary American Muslims to terrorists and radicals, or characterized mosques as halls of triumph (and prayer in them as indoctrination) went down to defeat.

Far from winning votes, it could be argued that “Muslim-bashing” alienated large swaths of the electorate — even as it hardened an already hard core on the right.

The fact is that many of the loudest anti-Muslim candidates lost, and for a number of those who won, victory came by the smallest of margins, often driven by forces that went well beyond anti-Muslim rhetoric. A careful look at 2010 election results indicates that Islamophobic talking points can gain attention for a candidate, but the constituency that can be swayed by them remains limited, although not insignificant.

A Closer Look

It’s worth taking a closer look. In 2010, anti-Muslim rhetoric rode in with the emergence that July of a “mosque” controversy in lower Manhattan. New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, facing indifference to his candidacy in the primary race, took up what right-wing anti-Muslim bloggers had dubbed “the Mosque at Ground Zero,” although the planned cultural center in question would not have been a mosque and was not at Ground Zero. With a handy alternate reality already sketched out for him, Lazio demanded that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, then state attorney general, “investigate” the mosque. He implied as well that its leaders had ties to Hamas and that the building, when built, would somehow represent a threat to the “personal security and safety” of city residents.

A fog of acrid rhetoric subsequently enshrouded the campaign — from Lazio and his Tea Party-backed opponent, Carl Paladino, a Buffalo businessman. Paladino beat the hapless Lazio in the primary and was then handily dispatched by Cuomo in the general election. Cuomo had not joined the Muslim bashing, but by the end of the race, dozens of major political figures and potential Republican presidential candidates — including Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, and Rick Perry — had denounced the loathsome Mosque at Ground Zero and sometimes the whole of Islam. What began as a local issue had by then become a national political litmus test and a wormhole to the country’s darkest sentiments.

But the hard reality of election results demonstrated one incontrovertible fact. Both Lazio and Paladino, heavily invested in portraying Muslims as somehow different from everyone else, went down to dismal defeats. Nor could these trouncings simply be passed off as what happens in a relatively liberal northeastern state. Even in supposed hotbeds of anti-Muslim sentiment, xenophobic rhetoric and fear mongering repeatedly proved weak reeds for candidates.

Take Tennessee, a state in the throes of its own mosque-building controversy (in Murfreesboro) at the height of the 2010 campaign.

There, gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey couldn’t slam Islam often enough. Despite raising $2.7 million, however, he went down to defeat in the Republican primary, attracting only 22 percent of the vote.

During the campaign, Republican victor Bill Haslam, now governor, simply stated that decisions about mosques and religious construction projects should be governed by local zoning ordinances and the Constitution.

In another 2010 Tennessee race, Lou Ann Zelenik, a Tennessee Republican congressional candidate and Tea Party activist, denounced the Murfreesboro mosque plans relentlessly. Zelenik ran her campaign like an unreconstructed Indian fighter, with Muslims standing in as opponents in a frontier war. As she typically put the matter, “Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them.”

It didn’t work. Zelenik, too, was defeated, attracting 30 percent of the vote in a three-way primary race; the winner, state Sen. Diane Black, edged her out with 31 percent. Black declined to denounce the Murfreesboro mosque project and went on to win the general election.

Islamophobic Failures Around the Country

The impotency of anti-Muslim rhetoric was not some isolated local phenomenon. Consider this: in the 2010 election cycle, anti-Muslim Senate candidate Sharron Angle was defeated in Nevada, and the similarly inclined Jeff Greene lost his Senate bid in Florida. A slew of congressional candidates who engaged in anti-Muslim rants or crassly sought to exploit the Mosque at Ground Zero controversy also went down, including Francis X. Becker, Jr., in New York, Kevin Calvey in Oklahoma, Dan Fanelli and Ronald McNeil in Florida, Ilario Pantano in North Carolina, Spike Maynard in West Virginia, and Dr. Marvin Scott in Indiana.

Not all candidates bad-mouthing Muslims failed, of course. Renee Ellmers, a nurse running in North Carolina’s 2nd District, won her race by about 1,500 votes after airing an incendiary television spot that likened the lower Manhattan cultural center to a “victory mosque” and conflated Islam with terrorism. But Ellmers’ main campaign talking point was the abomination of health-care reform. That “victory mosque” was only a bauble-like embellishment, a dazzling attention grabber.

Similarly, Republican Rick Scott, running for governor in Florida, featured a deceptive television ad that referred to the New York project as “Obama’s mosque” and, like Ellmers’s ad, seamlessly fused Islam, terrorism, and murder. Tea Party favorite Scott, however, had a slight advantage in gaining a victory margin of about one percentage point over Democrat Alex Sink: he poured a staggering $73 million of his own money into the race in which he largely painted Obama as an anti-business incompetent. Despite lavishing more personal cash on the race than any candidate in Florida history, Scott won by less than 100,000 votes, falling short of 50 percent of the total. He was only the second Florida governor to take office without the backing of a majority of the electorate.

If some virulent political rhetoric was credited with bringing victory to candidates at the time, its effect in retrospect looks more questionable and less impressive. Take the victorious campaign of Republican Allen West for Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. A Tea Party favorite quick to exploit anti-Muslim fears, he was also a veteran of the Iraq War and had been fined by the Army for the beating and threatened killing of an Iraqi prisoner.

During the campaign, he made numerous statements linking Islam with terrorism and weighed in loudly on the proposed Manhattan Islamic center more than 1,000 miles away. In an open letter to his opponent, two-term incumbent Democrat Ron Klein, he noted that “the mosque symbolizes a clear victory in the eyes of those who brought down the twin towers.” Klein then caved and joined West in opposing the cultural center, claiming that Ground Zero should only be “a living memorial where all Americans can honor those who were killed on September 11, 2001.”

In the election, West reversed the results of his 2008 race against Klein and ever since, his victory has been seen as one of the triumphs of anti-Muslim trash talking. A look at the numbers, however, tells a slightly different story. For one thing, West, too, had a significant financial advantage. He had already raised more than $4 million as the campaign began, more than four times his total in 2008 and twice as much as Klein. Much of West’s funding came from out-of-state donors and conservative PACs. For all that money, however, West won the election by not “losing” as many votes as Klein did (when compared to 2008). In 2010, West won with about 115,000 votes to Klein’s 97,000; in 2008, when Klein had the funding advantage and a presidential year electorate at his back, he beat West, 169,000 to 140,000.

Off-year elections normally mean lower turnouts, which clearly worked to West’s advantage. His victory total amounted to about a third of the 2008 total vote. And there’s the point. The motivated, far-right base of the Republican Party/Tea Party can, at best, pull in about a quarter to a third of the larger electorate. In addition, West became the Definer: He blocked out the issues, agitated his base, and got people to the polls. Klein ceded the terms of the debate to him and failed to galvanize support. Did anti-Muslim rhetoric help West? Probably. Can it work in a presidential election year when substantial turnout ensures that the base won’t rule? Unlikely.

Nevertheless, candidates on the right are already ramping up the rhetoric for 2012. Herman Cain, the pizza king who would be president, is but one obvious example. He says he may not know much, but one thing he knows for sure: when he’s elected, no Muslims will find their way into his administration.

As he put it in an interview with Christianity Today, “Based upon the little knowledge that I have of the Muslim religion, you know, they have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them.” Cain told the Web site Think Progress that he’d brook no Muslim cabinet members or judges because “there is this creeping attempt, there’s this attempt to gradually ease Shariah law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government.”

Before a national television audience at a recent Republican presidential debate, however, Cain proceeded to say that he really hadn’t said what he had, in fact, said. This is called a “clarification.” What he meant, Cain reassured television viewers, was that he would only bar disloyal Muslims, the ones “trying to kill us.”

It almost seems as if candidates defeated in 2010 when using over-the-top anti-Muslim rhetoric are expecting a different outcome in 2012. Lawyer Lynne Torgerson in Minnesota is a fine example of this syndrome. In 2010, she decided to take on Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, pounding him relentlessly for his supposed “ties” to “radical Islamism.”

“And what do I know of Islam?” she wrote on the “issues” page of her 2010 campaign Web site. “Well, I know of 911.” Alas for Torgerson, the strategy didn’t work out so well. She was crushed by Ellison, garnering only 3 percent of the vote. Now, Torgerson is back, her message even more extreme. Ellison is no longer simply tied to “radical Islamism,” whatever that may be; he has apparently used his time in Congress to become a “radical Islamist” pushing, she claims, nothing less than the adoption of “Islamic Shariah law.”

Shariah Is the New Mosque at Ground Zero

Shariah has become 2012’s Mosque at Ground Zero, with about 20 states considering laws that would ban its use and candidates shrilly denouncing it — a convenient way, presumably, to keep harping on nonexistent, yet anxiety-producing, “threats.” Since no one knows what you’re talking about when you decry Shariah, it’s even easier than usual to say anything, no matter how bizarre or duplicitous.

So be prepared to hear a lot about “Shariah” between now and November 2012.

Going forward, a few things seem clear. For one, the Islamophobic machinery fueled by large right-wing foundations, PACs, individuals, and business interests will continue to elaborate a virtual reality in which Muslim and Islamic “threats” lurk around every American corner and behind every door. It is important to realize that once you’ve entered this political landscape, taking down anti-Muslim “facts” with reality is a fool’s errand. This is a realm akin to a video game, where such “facts” are dispatched only to rise again like so many zombies. In the world of Resident Evil, truth hardly matters.

But bear in mind that, as the 2010 election results made clear, that particular virtual reality is embraced by a distinct and limited American minority. For at least 70 percent of the electorate, when it comes to anti-Muslim slander, facts do matter. Failure to challenge the bogus rhetoric only allows the loudest, most reckless political gamer to set the agenda, as Ron Klein discovered to his dismay in Florida.

Attacks on the deadly threat of Shariah, the puffing up of Muslim plots against America, and the smearing of candidates who decline to make blanket denunciations of “Islamism” are sure to emerge loudly in the 2012 election season. Such rhetoric, however, may prove even less potent at the polls than the relatively impotent 2010 version, even if this reality has gone largely unnoticed by the national media.

For those who live outside the precincts where right-wing virtual reality reigns supreme, facts are apparently having an impact. The vast majority of the electorate seems to be viewing anti-Muslim alarms as a distraction from other, far more pressing problems: real problems.

Stephan Salisbury is cultural writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a TomDispatch regular.

Democracy Within Islam

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Tunis / Tunisia–About one and one half months ago, I was allowed to sit through the comments of a Professor Alfred Stefan here in Tunis via the miracle of cyber transmission.  He has held Professorships in the United States, the United Kingdom and the Continent.  Amongst many other remarkable accomplishments, he was the founder (in 2006) and currently is the Director of the Center for the Study of Democracy, Tolerance and Religion housed at New York City’s Columbia University.  He has authored or co-authored many books.  Of the most interest to our audience is Democracy, Islam and Secularism: Turkey in Comparative Perspective (Columbia University Press, forthcoming in 2012)which he co-edited and his manuscript which he, also, co-edited — that is under consideration at the same academic press — Indonesia, Islam, and Democracy: Comparative Perspectives.

Stefan, was invited to Tunis  by the Washington “think tank” the Center for the Study of Democracy and Islam whose founder / Director, Radwan Masoudi, is a natal son of Tunisia, chaired the event.
Now, the Tunisians were not only the first nation that overthrew their North African ancien regime, but have been the most successful of the emerging democracies within the Arab “Spring.” 
As Egypt, Algeria, Syria, Libya and Iraq went through a period of Arab-palatable socialism during the post-revolutionary period from the (former) Colonial powers which helped these nations lunge developmentally forward from their independence.  These regimes, however, became more autocratic as time progressed with their increased wealth, but to hold on to power the succeeding elites increased repression and corruption against their own citizens.  Yet their populations desired evermore a greater share of the wealth.   

With the overthrow of the (comparatively) liberal monarchy in (non-Arabic but Islamic) Afghanistan during the 1970s, and the invasion subsequent invasion of the Hindu Kush Mountains by Moscow at the end of that decade to bolster the Communist-controlled system there from increasing resistance to the Afghan Communist Party-controlled system by civil society there.  Consequently, a War of resistance ensued in which a large number of Arab “mercenaries” entered the mountainous battle theater – many of those from the very oppressive nations that they were previously battling that fell or may fall to this Arab “Spring.”

As civil society in Islam now believes Socialism to be “godless,” and that and the traditional monarchies to be corrupt, bourgeois democracy (there has always been an Islamic “capitalism”) now has its appeals as offering a better way to achieve the hopes and aspirations of Muslims in the region.  Yet, what truly is the Islamic path to such a future political ascendancy?

Alfred Stefan began his proposals by questioning the acceptance for the democratic within the Arabic-speaking world.  If the Tunisians can become successful, it will make an impression upon the North American peoples of a sea-change over much of the North African / Middle Eastern world.  Further, it would disprove the Israeli propaganda that Arabs are incapable of democratic governance.   
The truth is that 483 million Muslims are under democratic administrations already.

As your author has been heard to say on these pages previously, Stefan, also, whose English-language books have been translated into Arabic, and, whose ideas are known amongst the intelligentsia within the Punic space stated that there cannot be a singularity of democracy or even of modernity itself.  That is, as your reporter and he , further, holds Westminster or Jeffersonian democracy are not the only molds that can enfold equality, but there are other possible forms for the diverse Islamic peoples, too — not limited to the Arabic but to every ethnic sub-grouping within that religious classification.  In fact Stefan and your journalist, also, have determined that this prerequisite for the success of democracy to take root under any particular soil is the opening for such a diversity of possibility.  Democracy is unique to any time or place or the uniqueness of its religious environment.  Although it is not necessary for “Church” and State to be  synonymous, but rather the religious aspirations of the populace are vital to the form of its flowering.    Muslim Indonesia is the largest Islamic country in world, and the most emancipated within ASEAN (the Association of Southeast Asian Nations).  Succinctly, Stefan declares “There is nothing that can keep countries from having a democracy… Militaristic Turkey is the most secular country within Dar al Islam, but the present government’s dominating party is reversing much of Ataturk’s policies.  Under the traditional modern State’s regulation there, a parliamentarian cannot repeat the word ‘hajib’ while in the legislature, yet 50% of Turkish women wear one!  Still, students with religious training’s application to any of Ankara’s universities will be rejected.”  There are many incorrect assumptions about Islam’s relationship with democracy within the Occident.

Most Islamic nations respect other religions.  There are up to 90 paid religious holidays per annum, depending upon the nation-state within Europe, but not one public holidays is for a non-European religious observance while Indonesia has public religious celebrations for its varied belief fabric.  There is a co-celebration between faith communities on the Archipelago, too. 

A 100% of Christian-majority European countries support Christian religious schools. These institutions are at least partially subsidized by the State.

“In your nation [Tunisia], you have a history… of toleration.”  Tunisia’s modern structure has come from France, and speaks in terms of Parisian democratic forms in the same breath with the nation’s similarities with Sub-Saharan Senegal.

“Any country that develops democracy has to develop toleration!..Democracy has to cultivate a high-level mutual toleration…If Tunis develops democracy, she will realize the possible,” and America will learn about the Maghreb (finally).  “Tunisia has the best chance democratizing than anywhere else within the Arab ‘Spring.’”

On the other hand, “Syria is a difficult [case].”  Ethnic rules, and the fears they engender [has generated] slaughter.  Egypt’s success so far was based on their military to fire on their own countrymen;  thus, they should inherit Mubarak’s régime.  Lebanon is so overshadowed by its battle for the Levant with Israel; therefore, fair elections [there] will be complex.

Whether democracy will envelop or not over the expanse, “things will never be the same.”

Authoritarianism has gone and won’t come back.  Hundreds of millions of persons watched the Tunisian and Egyptian “revolutions” while several decades ago we turned our backs on the then Algerian elections wherein the Islamists won leading up to an unbelievably brutal Civil War.  Yet, the recent two civil insurrections over Northern Africa have changed U.S. impressions.

Democracies are created through elections.  “Parties must trust each other.  If not, there is only a minute possibility for democracy…They will find themselves in non-democratic situations.  The democratic means that a party will hold power only temporarily.  After the initial period, voters will re-evaluate, and the power structure may shift.”

13-29

Interview: Omar Offendum, Bilingual MC/Producer

By Siddiq Ather

Omar Chakaki, better known by the name Omar Offendum, is Syrian American emcee and producer who was born in Saudi Arabia but was raised in the United States. He raps in both English and Arabic comfortably about a vast range of issues and ideas. He has been featured on BBC, ABC news, Aljazeera, and other news sources. His most recent album is titled SyrianamericanA. He has performed around the world with a variety of famous artists. Occasionally, he starts his performances with an Arabic rendition of a work by the poet Langston Hughes

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1. Do Hip Hop and Islam fit well with each other, or is there a clash?

I never saw a clash between the two. In Islam innamal a’amaalu biniyaat, actions are based on intentions. So if you have good intentions to affect positive change through Hip Hop, another art form, or whatever, then, I believe insha’allah, it is compatible. If you have intentions of spread negativity, promiscuity, or misogyny etc, then, obviously, that is not compatible.
I understand there is a scholarly debate as far as music in Islam. I tend to fall in line with those do not believe it is haraam, citing the importance of intentions. If it doesn’t distract you from the demands of the Muslim faith, like praying, then, there isn’t anything wrong with it, especially if it is positive. I understand that it does distract a lot of people, and Hip Hop in particular can be a tool to spread negativity. But it’s a tool like anything else, so it’s how you use it.

I know a lot of spoken word artists, and I don’t see how you could ever say something like that is haraam.  At times I perform without music. I have been at events were people are uncomfortable with music, so I performed without it. I’m sensitive to that. I take time with my lyrics and make sure it is something I can do with or without music. That’s where I kind of stand on it.
Some people may say kaafir, haraam, judge, and use apocalyptic language after they hear a Muslim performing with music, but I question the intentions of those people. In the end of the day, there are haters out there and haters gon’ hate. I do this with positive intentions Insha’Allah.

2. There are a lot of Muslim performers: emcees, poets, rappers, singers, b-girls, beat boxers, and others. What are your thoughts on this phenomenon? As far as Muslim culture, and Arab culture, goes, there is a hesitation and apprehension surrounding even the idea of Muslim females on stage.

Well, I think it is a beautiful thing, and I encourage it, especially if they’re doing it positively. I welcome it, I embrace it, and I hope to see more of it because they’re inspiring to other women who think there is something wrong with that, when I, personally, don’t think there is.  Many good friends of mine are Muslim female Emcees. The best example that comes to mind is Poetic Pilgrimage: two very confident sisters from the UK of African-Caribbean decent.  They wear hijab and practice Islam to the best of their ability, and you can see it reflected in their lyrics. I think what they’re doing is very positive, and I encourage it.

As far as Arab culture, Shaadia Mansour, she is not Muslim; she’s Arab, but faces similar sentiment. Our community looks down on woman who are on stage, performing. In my opinion her heart is in the right place and has the best intentions. I think, especially with her, as far as the Palestinian cause is concerned, she’s such an important voice to put out there; it’s a different faith for the world to see, that it’s not just a bunch of angry men that are rapping about something. It really changes the dynamic.

3. A lot of your lyrics carry a heavy weight, since they have some political or historical background. Do you think music and lyrics have to have something behind them, some motive, or can it just be open expression?

I think it has to be honest self expression at the end of the day. In hip-hop we have the saying “keepin’ it real.” If you’re not “keepin’ it real”; If you’re not being true to yourself, true to your history, true to your background, then, I, personally, am not that into it. But, that doesn’t mean it has to be political, it can be anything. If you’re skillful with your art, I have to respect that.  I don’t go out of my way to be political. We live in a politicized world. Being a young Arab American Muslim, it happens to affect me deeply, and so I speak about it. I also used to translate Arabic poetry to English and English poetry to Arabic. That is a more relevant to my experience.

4.  How much of a difference can hip hop make without actual political change, or do you think this is the medium through which political change can occur?

I think it is a tool. It can spark dialogue, debate and awareness about issues in communities where there is none: locally, nationally, and internationally. When an artist is as successful as Lupe Fiasco (Wasalu Muhammad Jaco) says what he said about Gaza getting bombed in a particular song, it is a really really big deal. That album sold hundreds of thousands in the first week. It is extremely important. However, it is not going to stop the bombing in Gaza. No, it’s not going to fix the issue. In my case, I see the medium as the message. People see a young Muslim American Arab rapping on stage, comfortable in both languages. There’s a lot behind that, that I don’t’ even need to say. They can infer from it.

5. There are a variety of sheikhs out there, maybe you’ve heard names like Suhaib Webb and Hamza Yusuf. There are also many books, so are there any inspirational books you’ve read or scholars you really look up to?

I have actually met Sheikh Suhaib several times. He’s a great inspiration, masha’allah. I grew into my Muslim American Identity. I went to an Islamic School growing up, it was a Saudi Islamic School based in Alexandria, Virginia, mostly set up for students with family back in the Middle East who worked in the embassy. We had the Saudi Arabian curriculum coupled with the local county curriculum. It essentially for people intending to move back to the Middle East, and so they didn’t really establish the Muslim-American identity, and that was something that took me years to understand and really, kind of, be at peace with.

Hearing people like Sheikh Hamza Yusuf, Suhaib Webb, and Zaid Shakir speak are very inspirational to me. Sheikh Yassir Fazaga is also from southern California. I really, really, really enjoy his khutbahs. Some of the most inspirational one I have ever heard were from him. But Islam aside, reading books by authors like Edward Said, and novels by men like Amin Maalouf have greatly influenced me. Also included are emcees and reggae singers of all sorts. A number of old Arabic singers and poets: Khalil jibran, and darwish. All of this influences me, and I think you can see it in my music because I try to make it an honest reflection of me.

13-27

‘Intolerant’ Christians Are More Militant than Muslims, Says Equality Chief

By Daniel Martin

Christians are more militant than Muslims in complaining about discrimination, the head of Britain’s equality watchdog has claimed.

Trevor Phillips said Muslims are better at integrating into society, while Christians often complain about bias for cynical political gains.

Mr Phillips, the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, blamed the increasing influence on mainstream churches of African and Caribbean immigrants with ‘intolerant’ views.

In contrast, he said Muslims ‘are doing their damnedest’ to develop ‘an idea of Islam that is compatible with living in a modern liberal democracy’.

He added: ‘I think there’s an awful lot of noise about the Church being persecuted but there is a more real issue that the conventional churches face – that the people who are really driving their revival and success believe in an old-time religion which, in my view, is incompatible with a modern, multi-ethnic, multicultural society.

‘Muslim communities in this country are doing their damnedest to come to terms with their neighbours to try to integrate and they’re doing their best to try to develop an idea of Islam that is compatible with living in a modern liberal democracy.

‘The most likely victim of actual religious discrimination in British society is a Muslim, but the person who is most likely to feel slighted because of their religion is an evangelical Christian.’

Senior churchmen, such as former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, have attacked equality laws for stifling Christianity.

However, Mr Phillips said many of the legal cases brought by Christians over homosexuality were motivated by an attempt to gain political influence. He told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘I think for a lot of Christian activists, they want to have a fight and they choose sexual orientation as the ground to fight it on. I think the argument isn’t about the rights of Christians. It’s about politics.

Religious differences: Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has in the past attacked equality laws for stifling Christianity

‘There are a lot of Christian activist voices who appear bent on stressing the kind of persecution that I don’t really think exists in this country.’

But Mr Phillips, who was brought up in a Salvation Army background, said he could ‘understand why a lot of people in faith groups feel a bit under siege’. ‘There’s no question that there is more anti-religion noise in Britain,’ he said.

He also said equality laws should not apply to the internal organisation of religious groups.

‘It’s perfectly fair that you can’t be a Roman Catholic priest unless you’re a man,’ he continued. ‘It seems right that the reach of anti-discriminatory law should stop at the door of the church or mosque.’
Tory MP Philip Davies suggested Mr Phillips was attempting to ‘take the spotlight off his domestic difficulties’ at the beleaguered body. Home Secretary Theresa May has vowed to reform the organisation after a report branded it a costly failure.

13-26

Imam Aly Lela Speaks at the Flint Islamic Center

By Adil James, TMO

IMG054Imam Aly Lela was invited by the Flint Islamic Center to speak at its celebration of Isra and Mi’raj.  The event was attended by about 150 people, and several of the winners from the FIC’s Seerah Competitions spoke.

The imam surprised those in attendance by saying that possibly Isra and Mi’raj did not happen in Rajab, as is popularly believed. 

The theme of the imam’s speech was that Islam is a “very rational religion,” and he emphasized the use of the mind in Islam as a means of attracting non-Muslims to Islam.  However the imam did not give evidence that this process has attracted more believers than other methods.

The imam spoke on the greatness of Prophet Muhammad (s), emphasizing the incredible restraint he showed after being abused by the people of Taif–also he spoke of a single believer who was attracted to Islam by the perfect and holy example of the Greatest Prophet (s) in the aftermath of his being beaten by the people of Taif, when Prophet (s) still maintained his incredible poise and grace and perfect manners.

13-26

IV. End Game!

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Ashland (Ore.)–Your raconteur has found himself in the Siskiyou (Mountains) of Southern Oregon (about ten miles north from the California border).

This charming small city has been short-listed as one of the best “urban” areas in America with the right mix of (nearby) nature (Crater Lake National Park et al. is close) in balance with (Euro-American) culture.  This municipality is home to the highest acclaimed Shakespeare Festival in the United States along with other festivals and individual events.  Provided one is not working against a deadline, one does not have to be bored here – with Allah (SWT’s) awe-inspiring natural landscape during the day, and His arousing beauty of the human mind’s creations during the evening!
In the Middle East the vocabulary is stalemate.  Libya, Syria and Yemen are in all-out civil war with no end in sight although Colonel Khadafy is “testing the waters” for an amnesty from prosecution if he steps down and to allow polls to determine the will of the people to conclude this status of civil war.  It was reported Sunday (the 19th) a horrible bungled NATO (North Atlantic Treaty organization) sortie over the city of Tripoli missed its target slaughtering a large number of human souls.  Although your author had originally supported the NATO (North Atlantic Treaty organization’s) intervention at the behest of Islamic organizations pressing for the end to these repressive regimes, I must question its methods at this time, for it is doing further damage to the Muslims there who have suffered so much.

On the 15th, the Lower House of the (U.S.) Congress passed a vote of “no confidence” for their support of the Executive’s activities in Libya; and, thus, also, of our orderly withdrawal from Afghanistan as well.  Curiously, on Saturday (the eighteenth), (U.S.) Secretary of State Robert Gates admitted that the District of Columbia had recently had face-to-face negotiation with the Taliban, too, which is a positive sign towards solving an intractable confusion between the West and a less than attractive faction within Islam itself.

Let it be noted that Barrack Hussein Obama has been the most sensitive of American Chief Executives to Dar al-Islam.  He has nearly rectified the mess George W. Bush had created through his criminal aggression and War Crimes against Humanity (especially torture) in Iraq; the Obama Administration has fashioned a reasonable policy for Afghanistan, which mêlée was dumped upon him by the previous Administration when it refused to neutralize a legitimate threat to the Columbian Commonweal (Al-Qaeda) – because it violently and maliciously crashed into the heart of North American Metropolis, and, instead, “W” began to chase imaginary “goblins” elsewhere in the Islamic world (i.e., Iraq). 

The current regime in Washington has shown a much greater restraint compared to France and Britain over the  Tripolian desert, and the U.S. has served officially in more of a supportive than leadership role.  The criticism of Obama in and out of Congress is from the Tea Partyers (“No Nothings”), and disgruntled Leftists who are unable to cope with the real-world; and, therefore, criticize almost anything practical. 

(For the American populace of Islam, the bell-weather Representative Keith Ellis should be listened to determine a correct course for those of the faith, for he is a Muslim who has chosen to work within the highest levels of the System, and can guide all of us well!)

In Islamic South Asia, the ill-falling out between the District (Center) and Rawalpindi over the Punjab-related incident of the bin-Laden raid is inanely claimed by ill-trained (U.S.A.) J-School (Journalism School) graduates that the two uneasy long-phased allies—the U.S. and Pakistan – now against the Taliban – and even  before the U.S.S.R. (Union of Socialist Soviet Republic) invaded the Afghans — are almost at the point of pugilism is pure rubbish…although the unannounced commando attack next to an Army base near Rawalpindi (and, thereby, Islamabad) against bin-Laden himself has provoked tension that will not go away quickly!

Let us continue, and move to the denouement of the view of what is happening within the Middle Eastern Hebrew  State from the perspective of a dissident retired IDF General and a Ministry of “Justice” lawyer with the comments of the Director of a liberal American pro-Israeli group, J-Street, who are seeking a realistically striving  for an  acceptable peace with justice between our mutual Holy Land’s inhabitants (from where Prophet Muhammad (s) made his Night Right from the Spire of Solomon’s Temple). 

Just this afternoon (the twentieth) the journal, Foreign Affairs, reported that there was a great uneasiness between the Tel Aviv establishment and their military (IDF) over the actual security situation over the Jewish State and their Islamic neighbors – including the “Occupied Territories.”  General Sharoni

Our discussants, who acknowledged the Palestinians just entitlements, were noticeably at odds with their Prime Minister (Netanyahu’s) positions.  It was interesting to hear a high-ranking Israeli military officer’s comments regarding the defensibility of the pre-1967 borders from the perspective of his homeland.  In his estimation, they are eminently defendable from his military view:  “Formerly, we were threatened by the surrounding nation-States.  Now that is not the case [they’ve made peace and/or understanding with their neighbors].  Today, the threat is terrorism, and having unsecured borders makes it hard for us to defend ourselves!”  In the end, this interpretation of their security counters his government’s claim that the Obama proposed borders are indefensible, and forces Tel Aviv to continue their policy of “unending War” which in the end is unsustainable.  (It, also, demonstrates that the contemporaneous rightist establishment is more concerned with founding a “greater” Israel which is a dangerous policy both to their dominantly Islamic neighbors.)

Ms. Hassan of Justice; therefore, urges all of us (Jews, Muslims and Christians, etc. alike) to request (our governments) to support the Two-State Solution as the only workable resolution! 

The American-Jewish leader on the call, Jeremy Ben-Ami, rejoined his recommendation that the American Jewish Community support this resolution within the Halls of Congress, and to explain their assessment to their co-religionist landzmen!  (Your critic behind the computer has advocated the best allies for American Muslims are progressive American Jews, for they have had to go through many of the same things American Islamic citizens/residents to become accepted on this Continent, and you must get to know each other better to build avenues for communication between each of your communities if you, personally, are willing to do so.  Liberal American Jews and Muslims can do much to walk together to change things around in Washington for all of us born from Abraham’s seed!  That is, we, personally, must resolve to be part of the resolution.  We have agency!

There is still one more section to go before the final analysis and conclusions can be made from this rich experience your reporter stumbled upon.  Hopefully, it will provide one of many possible scenarios for discussion.

13-26

The Shari’ah Controversy in America:

By Waheeduddin Ahmed, Ph.D.

shariah-compliance_imgIslamophobia, as it exists today in America, cannot be assigned to a single cause. It has a variety of causes. Differences in belief systems have little to do with it, since such a chasm would require awareness, which is all but lacking in the general populace. Clash of civilizations is hardly causative in a civic society, where only one civilization prevails. In fact, it is the cultural side of Islam, which arouses prejudice and disapproval on the part of some and suspicion on the part of others.

The second cause is the global political conflicts in which Muslims are seen as occupying the center stage. Incessant news and events depicting individuals committing terrorist acts, with their religion specifically highlighted in the media if they are Muslims, constantly plays on the minds and emotions of the American people. The worst act of terrorism in its history occurred in New York on September 11, 2001. It was carried out by a few foreign miscreants from the Middle East with Muslim names and had roots in the Arab-Israeli conflict. While it shook the world, it sent chills down the spines of the Muslim inhabitants of America. They were hit the hardest just by name association. They walked the streets under suspicious and disdainful eyes and are still struggling to reclaim their rightful place in the American society.

We are living in an era sequential to global communism. The phobia which dominated that era was the fear of the great Bolshevik conspiracy, which would undermine our freedoms and individual liberties. The product of that phobia was the Cold War, generating thousands of nuclear weapons, sufficient to obliterate human race many times over and which gave birth to scores of dictators all over the world, who subjected their countrymen to tyranny and humiliation. The succeeding era would not pass without a phobia to decorate it with.  Islamophobia readily served the purpose. The bogey of the worldwide Islamic khilafa replaced that of the Communist conspiracy and is beginning to inflict the psyche of the American public. If there are any people, who are unaware of this khilafa “conspiracy”, it is the Muslim people themselves.

The Phobia and its Profile: The Mosque Controversies:

Proposals to build mosques to serve the religious needs of Muslims countrywide have brought out deep-rooted prejudices even from the members of the clergy, from California to Wisconsin to New York. Acts of vandalism against the Muslim places of worship such as in Tennessee proliferated. In Sheboygan, Wisconsin a Muslim doctor who owned a store type building proposed to convert the property into a place of worship for hundred or so of Muslims. The place was close to the hospital he worked in. A public hearing brought out some of the patients he had treated and had faith in, who spilled out venom against Islam, a faith they had no knowledge of. It shook the wits out of him and many of the citizens. In Manhattan, Muslims had been praying at Burlington Factory House at Park51 a makeshift mosque for a year before the Cordoba House proposal. On Fridays the congregation at Farah Mosque nearby would spill over on the street for want of sufficient accommodation. It was not a matter of “desecrating” Ground Zero but a matter of dire necessity and equal rights under the constitution. The proposal became such a big controversy that everybody from the president to the governor to the archbishop to the Jewish Defense League weighed in. It was made to look as though the proposed Cordoba House was a monument of Muslim “triumphalism” at Ground Zero.

Ban the Shari’ah Legislations:

The campaign against the Cordoba House project was started in a blog “Stop Islamization of America”, a xenophobic campaign, playing on the aforementioned fears of people, of the perceived impending transformation of the country’s religious face and its cultural profile. This is an outrageous presumption and a wildly imaginary scenario. Exact statistics are lacking but according to a study conducted by the American Jewish Committee there are 2.8million Muslims in America, while many Muslim organizations have been claiming that the total number stood at about six million. This makes the range of percent population to be from 0.9 to 1.9%. The true number may be closer to the lower figure than the higher one. Of the total population, the practicing Muslims may be less than half that number, scattered over a continent and among the population of 308.7 million. What a force for the Islamization of the United States of America!

The force behind this anti-Shari’ah tirade is an Arizona lawyer: David Yerushalmi, a White supremacist, an anti-Islam hate monger and the founder of the “Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE)”. He argues that whites are genetically superior to Blacks.  He wrote: “Some races perform better in sports, some better in mathematical problem solving, some better in language, some better in Western societies and some better in tribal ones.” He urged that the United States must declare war on Islam and all Muslim faithful. This puts him in the same category in hate mongering, as the likes of Meir Kahane, Baruch Goldstein, Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz and Peter Emerson. He had pushed legislation in 2007 to make adherence to Shari’ah a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Sadly, it is him and the likes of him, who are driving the conservative legislative agenda in this country. He is either the author of or the consultant for most of the anti-Shari’ah bills, which have been introduced. The American legislators, who have been led onto this path by people like Yerushalmi, in the name of patriotism, should realize that their actions are mutilating the values and the principles on which this country was founded.

A majority of the anti-Shari’ah bills is considered to be, in the main, innocuous and inconsequential, emotive rather than practical, save SB1028, the State of Tennessee bill as originally proposed, which would have dangerously violated the basic human rights of Muslims, guaranteed in the constitution, by criminalizing the day to day acts of worship. The other acts of legislation have been rightly branded as: “A Solution in Search of Problem”. However, there are some very complex legal implications, which cannot be overlooked.

Shari’ah, meaning “the way” or “the path” encompasses many disciplines such as ritual worship, moral principles, trade, charity, dietary rules, monetary transactions, matrimony, inheritance as well as criminal law. Many of the Shari’ah rules have been absorbed into cultural norms and adherence to them is almost subconscious, such as the dietary rules. Although ritual worship is an essential part of religion, some Muslims pray and some don’t and those who pray would do so even under the shadow of a guillotine. The criminal law (the Shari’ah penal code) is in abeyance in a majority of the Muslim countries, as secular criminal laws have taken its place. The laws of marriages, divorce and inheritance are in general followed, except that polygamy is now obsolescent among the common people. Most of the laws of Shari’ah, including the penal code, bear striking similarity to the laws of the Old Testament (Halacha) and those followed in early Christian communities. Reformist movements in Judaism and the Church in Christianity have amended those laws but since in Islam there is no Church, Pope or “reform” authority, the Shari’ah has remained immutable, except where the rules are amenable to ijtehad (dialectical derivation).There is a corpus of exegesis in Shari’ah law but its implementation however, has been effected with a varying degree of laxity.

As for the criminal law, it must be noted that Muslims have lived under secular laws for ages without protestations. There are only two countries where Shari’ah law is applied, albeit selectively: Saudi Arabia and Iran.  American Muslims have therefore no qualms about living under the law of the land. Civil laws however are a different matter. Let us take the example of India, home to 161 million Muslims (13.4%) among a total population of 1.2 billion. The criminal law is the law of the land and is applicable to every resident. Muslims are not clamoring for the imposition of hudud, qisas or ta’dhir (elements of religious criminal law).  In civil matters, Muslims are allowed to follow their own “personal law” or opt for the secular law. Western countries would do well to consider this precedence.

The Archbishop of Canterbury had proposed a similar procedure for the British courts, where arbitration, with the consent of the contestants, would amiably settle disputes without burdening the courts with costly trials and litigations. In any case, in the matters of divorce, inheritance, child custody and child support, the parties would have an option between the Shari’ah and the secular laws, whichever they think serves their interests best. This kind of arrangement, if mutually agreed upon by the parties and allowed by the courts, does in no way threaten the integrity and the tranquility of the society; it may on the other hand enhance them. Nevertheless, we must ensure that the women’s rights and the children’s welfare are safeguarded by the courts in the best way possible. There will be times when the Shari’ah will serve women better than the states’ laws. In California recently a court ruled that meher payment (a contractual sum payable to a woman by her husband on divorce under the Shari’ah) violated the state law prohibiting spouses from “profiteering” from divorce. Loss to the woman in this case is obvious. In general the interests of the citizens as well as of the state would be best served when the courts are independent and have discretion — not obligation — in when to reference religious laws and when not to do so.

“Foreign” Law and the U.S. Courts:

In many states legislation prohibiting the courts from considering “foreign” law or international law is being pushed with a vengeance. This raises a number of very complex legal issues, involving international treaties and trade. Compliance with international treaties, when ratified, is vouchsafed in the U.S. constitution and may be outside the jurisdiction of any one state. However, there may be areas of trade and labor laws, where complications may arise and hamper businesses of American companies.

In the U.S. courts presently marriages contracted abroad and under the Shari’ah are recognized, so are divorces executed abroad. The integration of many immigrant families is based on this provision. In the matters of matrimony, parenthood, inheritance and execution of wills disputes do arise in courts and could not be settled without reference to “foreign” laws. There is a serious concern that the ramifications of ban on foreign law now or in the future may put strains on the justice system and adversely affect the social structure of the American society.

Islamophobia, the Underlying Reason:

It is hard to believe that the proponents of the ant-Shari’ah bill of Tennessee, as it was originally written, were unaware of its unconstitutionality. Clearly, their intent was provocation and their motive was historic religious prejudice. It is not uncommon in the American history and in the history of many other countries for hate groups to arise in certain political and economic circumstances and by their actions and rhetoric malign the very society whose wellbeing they claim to protect.

It was said after 9/11 that “history begins now” or words to that effect. How true! Muslim Americans have been living in the full glare of history ever since, with their faces lit with bewilderment, although some governmental agencies, the top political leadership of both the parties, the law enforcement agencies and the leadership of almost every faith have helped to take the attention away from them. We still remember with gratitude the president of the United States’ visit to a mosque in the aftermath of the tragic event and the kind words uttered. This brought out what was good in the American people and averted a possible catastrophe. We appeal to the same good nature of the American people not to heed to bigotry, prejudice and electoral polemics. America will lose its soul if it succumbs to religious intolerance. It will lose its reason for being.

Muslims in America are a highly diverse community, consisting of almost every race, ethnicity and culture, including a large indigenous section. Among them are doctors, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and workers, enriching the economy with their contributions. There are Nobel laureates such as Ahmed Zewail news anchors such as Fareed zakaria and many sports celebrities. There are highly regarded congressmen and mayors in many cities.

Muslim contribution in highlighting the moral values is an asset to the society, which should not be ignored. The mosques are not a threat to anybody but beacons of light. They are centers of spiritual uplift as well as of education, social activism, moral reformation and charity.  Most mosques have prison visit programs, which have resulted in transforming many individuals into productive and law-abiding citizens. Many mosques in the inner cities have food pantries, counseling and crisis management programs.  Above all they curtail social ills. Consider a man who comes to the mosque to pray early morning, early afternoon, late-afternoon, at sunset and at night, five times in Twenty-four hours, to renew his commitment to God. What are his chances of committing unsocial acts in between his prayers? If two million people do this in a society, is the society better off or worse?

13-25

Open House at Tawheed Center

By Adil James, TMO

Farmington–June 10–For the first time in six years the Tawheed Center in Farmington welcomed local non-Muslim residents in a large coordinated open house and free health clinic this past Saturday.  About 200 non-Muslims visited to tour the mosque, enjoy Muslim food and culture (henna and calligraphy), and listen to presentations about Islam by mosque volunteers and professional Muslim speakers including Dawud Walid of CAIR-Michigan. 

The open house was also a chance to show the immense work that has gone into the mosque since the last open house in 2005.

The setup consisted of an opportunity for the visitors to watch perhaps 100 Muslims pray dhohr prayer in the mosque, a tour through the semi-divided banquet hall, where on one side about 20 volunteers stood with posters describing Islam, young volunteers who described various issues about Islam and welcomed questions; and on the other side of the banquet hall a question and answer presentation session tried to address the visitors’ concerns about Islam.

The volunteers were mostly high school students–one of them, Mehak Haq, said that she was emphasizing that there is no compulsion in religion–that Muslims are guided to allow non-Muslims to worship freely.  She said that “It is a good opportunity–very insightful questions… the people seemed respectful, very respectful.”

Volunteer Ayyub Khan said that what surprised him about the event was the diversity of the visitors.  Indeed, the visitors to the mosque showed an admirable range of ethnicities which is very gratifying in sometimes segregated Detroit.  The visitors seemed to represent all the major demographic groups in America by race and age, the only possibly underrepresented group being adolescents and children.

Tawheed Trustee Asim Khan  spoke very happily about the many visitors, estimating the number of visitors who had come so far, and also expressing his happiness with the volunteers:  “See how many young people are involved? We are trying to get them ready to run things later on.”

13-25

Azizah al-Hibri Appointed

White House Press Release

Azizah al-Hibri, Appointee for Member, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom

Azizah al-Hibri

Azizah al-Hibri is a professor of law at the T. C. Williams School of Law, University of Richmond. She is the founding editor of Hypatia: a Journal of Feminist Philosophy, and founder of KARAMAH: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights.  Professor al-Hibri has written extensively on issues of Islam and democracy, Muslim women’s rights, and human rights in Islam.  Professor al-Hibri has traveled extensively throughout the Muslim world in support of Muslim women’s rights and acted as a consultant to the Supreme Council for Family Affairs in Qatar in the development of that country’s personal status code.  She has also guest edited a special volume on Islam by the Journal of Law and Religion and is currently completing a book on the Islamic marriage contract in American courts.  Professor al-Hibri received a B.A. from the American University of Beirut, a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School, and a Ph.D. in Philosophy from the University of Pennsylvania.

13-24

MUNA Conference in Hamtramck

By Nargis Hakim Rahman, TMO

“The Muslim Ummah of North America’s north zone will have an educational conference in Hamtramck to discuss youth involvement and community development on June 5. MUNA is a social dawah organization in the U.S. which seeks to spread Islam through dawah, organization, education, social service, and relationship building. Michigan has four chapters and 15 sub-chapters, including two youth groups.

Guests will include: Congressman John Conyers Jr., Congressman Hansen Clarke, President of the Islamic Center of North Detroit (Masjid Al-Falah) and Imam of the Canton Masjid, Sheikh Ali Suleiman Ali, Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan Chapter, Dawud Walid, Imam Aly Lela from the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit, and Publisher of The Muslim Observer Dr. A.S. Nakadar. President of MUNA Dr. Syed Rahman Chowdhury is the keynote speaker.

The program will be held at the Gates of Columbus, 9632 Conant Ave., Hamtramck, MI, from 2:30 – 7 p.m. Admission is free. For more information contact Muhammad Rafiqul Islam at 313.231.1986 or Maleka Begum at 313.492.9695.”

13-23

Australia Muslims Push for Rights

By Patricia Karvelas

australia_kangarooMay 17, 2011 THE nation’s peak Muslim group is using the Gillard government’s re-embracing of multiculturalism to push for the introduction of sharia in Australia, but it says it would be a more moderate variety of Islamic law that fits with Australian values.

The Australian Federation of Islamic Councils, in a submission to a parliamentary inquiry into the government’s new multiculturalism policy, argues that Muslims should enjoy “legal pluralism”.

In an interview with The Australian, the organisation’s president, Ikebal Adam Patel, who wrote the submission, nominated family law and specifically divorce as an area where moderate interpretations of sharia could co-exist within the Australian legal system.

In the submission, the AFIC acknowledges some Muslims believe Islamic law is immutable, regardless of history, time, culture and location.

“They claim that Muslims may change, but Islam will not,” it says.

The AFIC argues this is not the case and sharia can be applied in a way that fits in to Australia and is not extreme.

“This means most of the regulations in Islamic law may be amended, changed, altered, and adapted to social change.

“Therefore, Muslims Australia-AFIC takes the position that Islamic law is changeable according to the requirements of different places and times, and therefore suits the values shared by Australian people,” the submission says.

A hardline reading of sharia confers unilateral divorce rights on men, while women who initiate divorce are stripped of their property and financial entitlements.

A more moderate interpretation and common practice in Islamic countries is to recognise divorce by mutual consent.

In the interview, Mr Patel said: “I’m saying that instead of letting the extremists within Islam take over the agenda, we are saying there is a path whereby it will work for all the communities in a moderate way.

“It is important for someone who is Muslim or a practising Jew that aspects of our religion which can be incorporated within the greater legal system are introduced.

“This is about personal issues about family, and won’t affect any other Australian,” he said.

“It’s about a system that does not impinge on the rights of any other Australian.”

In its submission to the inquiry, the AFIC says criticisms of sharia as being biased against women and treating them as second-class citizens are wrong.

“It is important for Muslims to seriously consider this criticism,” the submission says.

“But it is also important for the Australian government to respect the rights of Muslim women who want to keep and maintain the way they dress, eat and interact with others, as long as such behaviour does not inflict harm to others.

“Muslims in Australia should accept the Australian values, and Australia should provide a ‘public sphere’ for Muslims to practise their belief. It takes two to tango.

“This approach demands a compromise from Islam, which should be open to other values, and also to make a similar demand of Australia.

“It is not only Australian Muslims who should reconcile these identities, but all Australians.”

Mr Patel says the AFIC, as the peak body of Islamic organisations in Australia, “strongly supports that multiculturalism should lead to legal pluralism . . . and twin tolerations”.

The submission cites regulations governing Islamic finance and halal certification in Australia as examples of how legal pluralism can work.

British law since 1996 has allowed for alternative dispute resolution through sharia tribunals, the rulings of which are enforceable in county courts and the High Court.

The submission calls on the inquiry members to consider “hard questions” from Muslim communities.

“Muslims are required to have social integration with the majority of people in Australia: what does this really mean? Should Muslims remove the hijab, dress like others, drink alcohol and go to the pub to demonstrate they have actually integrated?”

In most Western countries, the submission notes, the idea of an “Islamic family tribunal or arbitration is likely to fuel the debate on radicalism and liberalism”.

“But is it true that Australia will never consider Islamic law?” it asks.

“It seems that in two areas, namely Islamic finance and halal food, the Australian government has been actively involved.

“So although the Attorney-General ruled out introducing Islamic law, or sharia, at the same time Australian financial institutions are encouraged to do much more to attract Muslim business by developing innovative products which comply with Islamic law.

“Apart from the economic motive, how can we reconcile the conflicting statement and fact?”

From: The Australian

13-22

Chicago Muslim Journalist Attends White House Correspondents Dinner

By Haia Radwan, CIOGC

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As a Deborah Orin Scholarship winner, I was recently invited to the Annual White House Correspondents’ Dinner. This experience was possible because of the grace of Allah and my work as a graduate student at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University.

It was truly a humbling experience, Alhamdulillah. I was able to enter a VIP room before the event where I met Sean Penn, Jon Hamm and Seth Meyers – Hamm even complimented me on my hijab. I was able to take pictures with President Obama and the First Lady. I talked to the President about the horrendous traffic in Chicago every time he visited, and it made him laugh.

After dinner, the program began with the award ceremony. As my name was called, I walked confidently across that stage. I did not feel nervous; rather I was proud to wear hijab on national television and represent Muslim women. It was great to show the world that Muslim women are smart and educated, and not oppressed. Islam has always given women the rights to vote, be educated, work, and be an integral part of society. It is so beautiful how the Quran has a whole chapter called Surat An-Nisaa (Chapter of Women) dedicated to women

Meeting the President and receiving an award in journalism was wonderful, but the highlight of my night was to show what Muslim women can do. Being the only one wearing a hijab made me very recognizable and that was a good thing. Many people including journalists, congressmen and women and even some celebrities congratulated me. I believe my hijab is empowering, and a blessing.

When employers look at my work, they can judge me based on my talents and not the way I look. The important thing is to be proud of the hijab, and proud that the United States gives us the freedom to be who we are. Now it is our jobs to give back as active citizens. We need to vote and be involved in the community on every level.

I left the event with many business cards and contacts. However, what was even better was leaving knowing that I represented Islam for what it really is. Alhamdulilah, I never once felt uncomfortable about who I was as a Muslim. I hope that Allah gives me the strength to excel as a journalist and I hope I can inspire other young Muslim girls to be proud of their identity and to know that anything is possible.

13-21

The Fallacy of Islamic Reform

By Dr. Macksood A. Aftab

In recent times many individuals are advocating for an Islamic reform along the lines of the reforms which occurred in Christian Europe and brought Christianity out of the dark ages and into the modern one.   The advocates of such reform appear unaware of Islamic intellectual and cultural history.  Their assertion lies on the mistaken assumption that like medieval Christianity, medieval Islam must also have been similarly backward and barbaric.    However, the exact opposite is true in the case of Islam.

Medieval Islam gave rise to a beautiful civilization filled with culture, tolerance and diversity.   It nourished a whole array of scientists and sciences in the fields of philosophy, astronomy, medicine, history and others.   As an example of the culture of learning the main library in Cordoba (Islamic Spain) contained between 400,000 and 600,000 books, and was one of 70 libraries in the city.

Art, architecture and poetry flourished in medieval Islam.  Some of the most beautiful world landmarks such as the Alhamra, the Taj Mahal, and the Blue Mosque are from this era.   Bernard Lewis states,  “The civilization of Islam was by far the most advanced and the most creative in the world. Muslims led the world in science.”   Fischer adds, “ The brilliance of Perso-Turko-Islamic civilization provided architectural, painting and music forms to a world stretching from Andalusia to India to Central Asia.”

Islam during this time embodied a liberal worldview which embodied religious tolerance not only towards non-muslim minorities but also amongst the various schools of thought within Islam.

Contrast the progressive city of Venice with the Islamic capital of Istanbul.    Goffman narrates the experience of a Muslim merchant who visits Venice in 1567 CE and notices that Muslim were not allowed to build mosques and were even denied water for ablution.   Whereas, “In his beloved city of Istanbul, the large and thriving communities of Christians and Jews fraternized with Muslims on the streets and in the work places of the city.”   Classical Islamic civilization celebrated and preserved religious, ethnic, and linguistic diversity amongst its population.

Women enjoyed privileges in society and status unthinkable in Europe.  Ruth Roded has documented that that the proportion of female lecturers in many classical Islamic colleges was higher than in modern Western universities.  She writes,   ‘If U.S. and European historians feel a need to reconstruct women’s history because women are invisible in the traditional sources, Islamic scholars are faced with a plethora of source material that has only begun to be studied. [ . . . ] In reading the biographies of thousands of Muslim women scholars, one is amazed at the evidence that contradicts the view of Muslim women as marginal, secluded, and restricted.’ 

Reform movements did take place in Islam in the 19th and 20th century.   However, unlike in the case of Europe when reform brought it out of the dark ages into enlightenment.   This reform took Islam from enlightenment into the dark ages.     These movements form the basis for the ideology of today’s Islamists, extremists and “puritans.”

Professor Fadl summarizes , “Puritans render the humanistic legacy of the Islamic civilization irrelevant as they ignore the accomplishments of past generations of Muslims in fields such as philosophy, the arts, architecture, poetry and music, moral and ethical theory, and even romanticism and love.” 

These reform movements revolted against traditional and progressive Islamic civilization and were largely reactionary to Western colonialism, ironically adopting western organizational structures at the expense of traditional Islamic institutions.  “Indeed, today’s Islamist militants reject the heritage of traditions in their endeavor to politicize Islam. Ironically, they contribute to the process of detraditionalization of society.” 

Therefore, the traditional Muslims of today are wary of a call towards Islamic reform.   This call is a result of the imposition of a western worldview on Islamic history.   Rather, the traditional Muslims are calling for a Revival of Islam.    A restoration of what were a great religion, and a great civilization begun in Madina by the Prophet (s) of Islam and which flourished for the following millennium.  Not for reform which had derailed the success story of Islam.

Dr. Macksood A. Aftab is Clinical Instructer at Michigan State University’s College of Human Medicine.  He is also a candidate for Masters in History of Science at Harvard University’s Extension School.  He is a Neuroradiologist having completed his fellowship training at the Harvard Medical School.  He is also editor of the Journal of Islamic Philosophy.

13-20

Islamophobia: a Media Creation

By Dr. AS Nakadar

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File:  Interfaith and media event headed by David Crumm.

Note:  Mr. David Crumm, founding editor of ReadtheSpirit.com, former staff reporter for the Free Press,  and activist for interreligious harmony, has held several meetings  of Michigan reporters and newspaper editors in the metro-Detroit area. At the most recent one Dr. Nakadar, publisher of The Muslim Observer, spoke on the importance of diversity and tolerance.  See remarks below.

Ladies and gentleman, I greet you with greetings of peace to you all.

Thank you Mr. David Crumm for giving me this opportunity,

It is a pleasure, privilege and honor to speak to this distinguished group of Journalists,

I am not a journalist, neither a writer nor I a communication expert.

I am a physician by profession, trained to be an Internist and cardiologist. I practiced medicine for 30 years in Western suburbs before I took an early retirement to pursue my social obligations and publication of The Muslim Observer.

This newspaper has been in the circulation for over 11 years serving the community and you may say it is an alternative voice,

Today my biggest concern and the concern of all of us should be the challenges that our pluralistic society and our country face.

Pluralism is the Achilles Heel of our society’s foundation.

And it is this ethos that has led our social, economical and political progress in a democratic setup.

The followers of Abrahamic faiths; Judaism, Christianity and Islam have played a crucial role in shaping the world and its civilization, especially, the two largest faiths, Christianity and Islam.

Today we see this pluralism and cohesiveness shaken to its roots.

In the current scenario the media coverage of Islam may be primary factor for creating Islamophobia.

Most of the time when a reporter covers the news where Christians or Jews or other religions are involved it is covered and analyzed as a political issue, or a conflict and are reported in general terms without linking of any community to an individual or a group’s act.

While a similar news event where Muslims are involved it is covered and analyzed in light of Muslim tradition, beliefs and practices. Apart from this the whole community is held responsible for the action of an individual or a fringe group.

This kind of news reporting about Muslims often invokes emotional response; it captures the audience and helps to improve the bottom line.

But in quest of profit we forget the damage it does to the harmony and pluralistic ethos of our society and to our nation.

Social harmony, respect to each other, and religious tolerance, is a prerequisite for a meaningful progress.

In today’s globalized world the relationship between different faiths is a matter of serious thought   because of increasing interdependence and the changing color of the American mosaic.

Thus it is essential we all work responsibly towards social harmony and pluralistic ethos. 

We will not be able eradicate Islamophobia, like anti Semitism, in near future unless we treat it as our national problem. 

Social activists, religious leaders, politicians our institutions and especially media have critical role to play if we want to transform our societies in eliminating voices of hate and bigotry if we were to promote global understanding of peace.

Our relations have to go beyond “us” verses “them” and to work for our common good.

Zogby survey done in 2004 showed that more than 50% of the Muslims income bracket was over $50,000 as compared to nationwide average income of $47,000 and nearly 60% Muslims are college graduates as compared to 27% as a whole.

We can’t afford to marginalize or alienate the group or the society that has so much to offer for national development.

Let us not define America on our religious or cultural identities but let us define America by the cherished and noble American values of respect for Human Rights, Freedom, Democracy, Justice and respect for the rule of law and to the American constitution. The rest of the world, look up to these values with a universal appeal to them. 

As pointed out by Karen Armstrong, “In the Islamic Empire, Jews, Christians and Zoroastrians, enjoyed religious freedom.

This reflected the teaching of the Qur’an, which is a pluralistic scripture, affirmative of other traditions.

Muslims are commanded by God to respect the “people of the book” (namely; Jews and Christians) and reminded that they share the same belief and the same God.”

Let us all work responsibly towards better understanding for the sake of our society and our country.

13-19