Posts

mitchell_what if a shooter enters your masjid

If a gunman enters your mosque …

mitchell_what if a shooter enters your masjidBy Edward Ahmed Mitchell
AtlantaMuslim.com

Run if you can. Hide if you can’t. Fight if you must.

That was some of the advice offered by the Justice Department during its Protecting Houses of Worship Security Summit in Atlanta last month. Georgia’s top federal prosecutors joined an agent from the Federal Bureau of Investigation to discuss how religious communities can defend themselves in an age of mass shootings.

Representatives from Roswell Community Masjid, the Islamic Circle of North America and the Islamic Community Center of Atlanta attended the event, which also attracted members of Atlanta’s Christian and Jewish communities.

The first speakers at the event—including John Horn, the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia—focused on legal responses to discrimination and vandalism, including the use of federal laws to prosecute or fine such offenders when states are unwilling or unable to do so.

An official from the Anti-Defamation League also criticized Georgia’s lack of a hate crimes law, which would enhance punishments for crimes inspired by a victim’s race or religion, among other traits.

But the event’s focus on how congregations should respond to an “active shooter event” was of particular interest to the audience, particularly American Muslims, who have faced a persistent surge in hate crimes since 9/11, according to crime statistics presented by the ADL.

“When an active shooter is in your vicinity, you must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with the situation,” the FBI wrote in a handout given to meeting participants.

First and foremost, the Department said, anyone confronted by an active shooter should run to safety. This means:

  • Leave your belongings behind
  • Evacuate–whether or not others agree to follow
  • Help others escape, if possible
  • Do not attempt to move the wounded
  • Prevent others from entering an area where an active shooter may be
  • Keep hands visible (to avoid being mistaken as the shooter by law enforcement)
  • Call 911 when safe

But if running away is not an option, the Department advises potential targets to hide from the shooter. Specifically:

  • Hide in an area out of the shooter’s view
  • Lock door or block entry to your hiding place
  • Silence your cell phone (including vibrate mode) and remain silent

Only if no other option remains to protect yourself, the FBI says, should you fight the shooter.

“Fight as a last resort and only when your life is in imminent danger,” the FBI said, adding:

  • Attempt to incapacitate the shooter
  • Act with as much physical aggression as possible
  • Improvise weapons or throw items at the active shooter
  • Commit to your actions…your life depends on it

Those injured, hiding or fleeing may not receive immediate assistance from law enforcement, who would immediately confront the shooter to prevent further loss of life.

“The first officers to arrive on scene will not stop to help the injured,” the FBI said. “Expect rescue teams to follow initial officers. These rescue teams will treat and removed the injured.”

For their own safety, survivors might be detained by law enforcement after the shooting.

“Once you have reached a safe location, you will likely be held in that area by law enforcement until the situation is under control, and all witnesses have been identified and questioned. Do not leave the area until law enforcement authorities have instructed you to do so.”

The Justice Department also advised all houses of worship to develop an emergency action plan, including a pre-set escape route, and share that plan with their congregations.

Different mosques in Georgia already have different levels of security. Some use cameras 24/7 cameras. Some keep their doors locked. Some hire armed security to stand guard during events that attract large crowds, such as interfaith dinners, Jum’ah and Eid. Others allow members who are licensed gun owners to bring their firearms during daily visits to the mosque.

Indeed, as one Muslim attendee said, perhaps the best thing that any house of worship can do is pray for the best and prepare for the worst.

Editor’s note: Edward Ahmed Mitchell is an Atlanta attorney who serves as Copy Editor of AtlantaMuslim.com. A former freelance reporter with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Edward also serves as a member of the Board of Trustees of the Islamic Community Center of Atlanta. Edward received his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College and his graduate degree from Georgetown University, where he served as president of the law school’s Muslim Students Association. Follow him on Twitter @edmovie. His views are solely his own.

17-47

Council on American Islamic Relations Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid

Walid weighs in on Sterling Heights mosque dispute

Council on American Islamic Relations Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid

Council on American Islamic Relations Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid

By Dawud Walid

The evening of September 10th in Sterling Heights, Michigan reflects the complex convergence of trauma and bigotry that affects Chaldean and Muslim communities in Southeast Michigan.
The American Islamic Community Center (AICC), which currently resides in Madison Heights, purchased property in neighboring Sterling Heights to relocate its small center to build a larger community center to meet the needs of the Muslim community. Once AICC’s request for a special land use permit was made known to Sterling Heights’ residents, a sea of opposition came out against it in five separate city council and planning commission meetings. There was also a separate protest against the proposed community center to boot including the mayor voicing opposition.
On the eve of the anniversary of 9/11, the planning commission unanimously voted against the proposed Islamic center. After the hearing, Muslim community members including myself were faced with jeers, profanity and physical intimidation. One Muslim woman was even spat upon in her face by a resident who celebrated the decision.

Oppositions to Islamic centers and schools are nothing new to American Muslims in post-9/11 America. People with bigoted agendas have protested special land use permits and zoning accommodations for Muslims from Pittsfield Township, Michigan to Murfreesboro, Tennessee. What makes Sterling Heights different from others was the vast majority of protestors coming from the Chaldean community, Christians who originate from Iraq.

The protests in Sterling Heights were not really about the proposed height of the Islamic center and traffic concerns as some claim. There are churches off of primary roads in the city that are equivalent heights, and a traffic study by AICC reflects that no adverse impact would take place if the center was built at the proposed location. The opposition clearly desired that the area which is majority Chaldean continues to remain so and that an Islamic center is not welcomed there.

The largest concentration of Chaldeans in the world resides in Metro Detroit. There are literally more Chaldeans in Sterling Heights than in Baghdad. Due to the chaos which engulfed Iraq as a result of the misguided American invasion of Iraq in 2003, Chaldeans were displaced like other Iraqis. The difference between them and Iraqi Muslims, however, is that as Muslims continue to live in Iraq, though circumstances are tough, Christians have almost disappeared.

Michigan Muslims most certainly sympathize with the plight of Chaldeans as well as Assyrians in Iraq and the reasons why large numbers of them were forced to resettle in Michigan. It is easy to understand that Christian Iraqis who were displaced from are traumatized.

Michigan, however, is not Iraq.

Michigan Muslims were not part of the Al-Qaeda and Daesh criminals that destroyed churches, killed clergy and displaced Christians from their land in Iraq. The countertransference of Christian suffering in Iraq onto Sterling Heights Muslims is misguided to say the least.

The recent drama in Sterling Heights is not the first time that Michigan Muslims have received misguided opposition from a section of the Chaldean community. Beginning in 2011, members of the Chaldean community were the primary opposition to the American Muslim Diversity Association (AMDA) Islamic center project in Sterling Heights. In the same year, members of the Chaldean community joined a group from the ultra-conservative Jewish community in opposition to the Islamic Cultural Association (ICA) establishing a community center in Farmington Hills. During the same timeframe, the Walled Lake based Aramaic Broadcasting Network (ABN) hosted Islamophobes from Acts 17 who came to Dearborn to disrupt the now defunct Arab International Festival.

It is incumbent upon leaders within the Chaldean community to firmly denounce the Islamophobic elements which exist among them including from some who purport to represent Christianity. As we know that it takes time for a people to heal from collective trauma, the leadership of that community has to set the tone for healing and reconciliation. Being quiet about or brushing aside the issue of anti-Muslim intolerance among some Michigan Chaldeans is no solution; it is in fact irresponsible.

Hopefully the recent events in Sterling Heights will spark awareness among Chaldean and Muslim leaders in Metro Detroit that the two communities must hold regular community conversations just not leaders meeting once or twice then going back to the status quo. The process of reconciling the pain and frustrations between Chaldeans and Muslims in Michigan will not be without pain but must happen. Otherwise, such ugly situations as what recently took place in Sterling Heights will repeat themselves and possibly escalate.

Editor’s note: Dawud Walid is the Executive Director for the Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations. His views are his own.

17-38

ISIL suicide bomber kills 21 at Saudi Shia mosque

By Sami Aboudi

DUBAI (Reuters) – A suicide bomber killed 21 worshippers on Friday in a packed Shia mosque in eastern Saudi Arabia, residents and the health minister said, the first attack in the kingdom to be claimed by Islamic State militants.

It was one of the deadliest assaults in recent years in the largest Gulf Arab country, where sectarian tensions have been aggravated by nearly two months of Saudi-led air strikes on Shia Houthi rebels in neighboring Yemen.

More than 150 people were praying when the huge explosion ripped through the Imam Ali mosque in the village ofal-Qadeeh, witnesses said.

A video posted online showed a hall filled with smoke and dust, with bloodied people moaning with pain as they lay on the floor littered with concrete and glass. More than 90 people were wounded, the Saudi health minister told state television.

“We were doing the first part of the prayers when we heard the blast,” worshipper Kamal Jaafar Hassan told Reuters by phone from the scene.

Islamic State said in a statement that one of its suicide bombers, identified as Abu ‘Ammar al-Najdi, carried out the attack using an explosives-laden belt that killed or wounded 250 people, U.S.-based monitoring group SITE said on its Twitter account. It said it would not rest until Shias, which the group views as heretics, were driven from theArabian peninsula.
Saudi officials have said the group is trying hard to attack the kingdom, which as the world’s top oil exporter, birthplace of Islam and champion of conservative Sunni doctrine, represents an important ally for Western countries battling Islamic State and a symbolic target for the militant group itself.

In November the Sunni group’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi called for attacks against the Sunni rulers of Saudi Arabia, which has declared Islamic State a terrorist organization, joined international air strikes against it, and mobilized top clergy to denounce it.

Last week Baghdadi issued another speech laden with derogatory comments about the Saudi leadership and the country’s Shia minority.

Friday’s bombing was the first attack targeting minority Shias since November, when gunmen opened fire during a religious celebration in al-Ahsa, also in the east where most of the group live in predominantly Sunni Muslim Saudi Arabia.

The Saudi Interior Ministry described the attack as an act of terrorism and said it was carried out by “agents of sedition trying to target the kingdom’s national fabric”, according to a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

The agency quoted an Interior Ministry spokesman as saying the bomber detonated a suicide belt hidden under his clothes inside the mosque.

“Security authorities will spare no effort in the pursuit of all those involved in this terrorist crime,” the official said in a statement carried by state news agency SPA.

A hospital official told Reuters by telephone that “around 20 people” were killed in the attack and more than 50 were being treated, some of them suffering from serious injuries. He said a number of other people had been treated and sent home.

In April, Saudi Arabia said it was on high alert for a possible attacks on oil installations or shopping malls.

In Beirut, Lebanon’s Hezbollah, an ally of Saudi Arabia’s regional rival Iran, condemned the attack but said authorities in the kingdom itself bore responsibility.

“Hezbollah holds the Saudi authorities fully responsible for this ugly crime, for its embrace and sponsorship for these criminal murderers … to carry out similar crimes in other Arab and Muslim countries,” the Shia group said in a statement.

The statement appeared to echo Iranian accusations that Saudi Arabia sponsors ultra-orthodox Sunni militant groups in the region, an allegation usually taken to refer to groups such as Islamic State and al Qaeda. Riyadhdenies the allegations.

In Yemen, a bomb at a Houthi mosque in the capital Sanaa on Friday was also claimed by Islamic State.

7-22

Mosque proposed for Wausau area

WAUSAU, WI–The growing Muslim population in Wausau has made the current mosque in the area inadequate for them. The Islamic Society of Central Wisconsin has now purchased a building and hopes to convert it into a mosque in the next two years to meet the demand.

Adeel Aslam, a member and general secretary of the Islamic Society of Central Wisconsin, told the Daily Herald that the population now is large enough to have a second mosque.

The Rev. David Klutterman of Wausau’s St. John the Baptist Episcopal Church said he welcomes the group.

“It represents that Wausau and this area will have representation of the larger world and therefore the challenge will always be before us to somehow see what unites us instead of divides us,” Klutterman said.

Rabbi Dan Danson of Mt. Sinai Congregation said a mosque in Wausau will enrich the cultural life of the community.

17-21

Hagia Sofia.  Photo credit:  Clipart.com

Five ways to tell if your mosque is successful or just big

By Maher Budeir
Muslim Strategic Initiative

Hagia Sofia.  Photo credit:  Clipart.com

Hagia Sofia. Photo credit: Clipart.com

The American Muslim Community is making a shift and is generally moving towards professionalizing the operation of our institutions. More and more, I am hearing the right questions being asked about the desire to run things better and to operate masjid finances, facilities and other services better and with more accountability. More and more institutions are hiring specialists to do facility maintenance, office work, in addition to hiring more paid Sunday school teachers, counselors and youth directors. While many have started this transformation, the majority of the mosques in the US are experiencing growth. Unfortunately growth, by itself, is often mistaken in many institutions to mean success.

The reality is growth in some cases is one of many indicators of success, but in other cases it is not even that. For most mosques growth comes because of the geographic monopoly most mosques naturally have. Meaning the mere fact that people would go to a specific mosque because it is the one mosque that happens to be within 10 minute or 20 minute drive from their home. Most Muslims in the US may not have the option to choose among different mosques based on quality of services. Only in larger metro areas where multiple mosques exist within a reasonable driving distance do parents have a choice to select the higher qualitySunday school or the Friday sermon that normally delivers more relevant and interesting topic. But, the majority of mosque goers do not have much choice. This dynamic allows many mosques to grow in number of participants and worshippers regardless of the quality of services, or the level of success of the organization.

So, if growth is not the sole accurate indicator of success, what is?

1. Does your Masjid have a good connection to the community?

A well run organization is one where activists, volunteers, and participants are comfortable communicating and sometimes disagreeing within civil norms and in a positive atmosphere. Worshippers should know whom to ask what question, and know why things are done in a certain way.

2. Does your Masjid Provide Quality services?

From the relevant Friday sermon, to the interesting Weekend school format and content, all programs and services must be deliberately designed and thoughtfully developed to suit the users and serve the constituents in the best way possible. Services must be delivered with excellence (Ihsaan) and an attitude of service by all service providers. Whether they are volunteers or paid employees, the commitment and superior customer service must stem from the spiritual and moral commitment to serve our Creator.

3. Does your masjid attract users who may otherwise not be active in the Muslim community?

If items 1 and 2 above are done well, this normally leads to growth in the community. Not just growth in numbers, but growth in the wider circle of participants in the Masjid services and activities from those who otherwise do not participate. Well run institutions are likely to attract the casual visitor to become a regular, and the Muslim who is on the fence to become more comfortable in the community, and feel that they belong.

4. Is your Masjid an accepted destination for non-Muslim leaders in the area to seek information about Islam, and to reach out to Muslims?

A successful masjid is one that is well known by the broader community as the place in the area to represent local Muslims. The local government leaders must know your leaders by first name, and leaders in other places of worship must have at least visited the Masjid and made connections with your Masjid leaders. A masjid is part of the larger community and leaders of the larger community should know what happens in their community and what their local Muslims are like. This is easier to achieve in some communities over others, but the Masjid leadership and community must make a genuine effort to give the larger community no excuse to characterize the masjid as an unknown entity.

5. Are your Masjid leaders strong spiritually? Are they representing your community?

The last important sign of a successful Masjid is when the leaders of all aspects are in tune with their personal connection with Allah (SWT), have good overall relationship with His creation. They should not be so overwhelmed with running the Masjid Operations that it consumes their lives and it impacts the balance in the different aspects of their lives.

Lastly, the Masjid leaders must represent the diversity that exists in the community. This means, if you look around during a Friday sermon and see high level of diversity, brothers and sisters of different ethnic background and different age groups, then your Masjid leadership, including the Imam, board members, management team members, and volunteers should have the same level of diversity you see in the community. A diverse leadership team means a broader view, a richer experience, and a welcoming culture.

Editor’s note: Maher Budeir is a partner at Balance Leadership Institute, a firm committed to helping nonprofits reach their potential. You can visit their website at masjidboard.com. His views are his own.

17-21

Muslim, Jewish students create shared sacred space

BRONX,NY–Muslim and Jewish students in South Bronx came together to clean up a facility which will serve as a prayer space for both faiths.

Channel 12 News reported that about 50 Jewish and Muslim teens gave a makeover to the Islamic Cultural Centre building which will soon house both faiths.
Rabbi Linda Shriner-Cahn said that the effort is extraordinary in the horrific backdrop of Antisemitism and Islamophobia.

17-18

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul.  Photo credit:  Photodune.

First Qur’an recitation at Hagia Sofia in 85 years

OnIslam & Newspapers

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul.  Photo credit:  Photodune.

Hagia Sofia, Istanbul. Photo credit: Photodune.

ISTANBUL – A Muslim cleric has for the first time in 85-years recited the Holy Qur’an in public inside the Hagia Sophia.

A verse from the Holy Qur’an was recited late Friday at a ceremony in the Hagia Sophia to mark the opening of a new exhibition “Love of the Prophet.”

It was read by Ali Tel, imam at the Ahmet Hamdi Akseki Mosque in Ankara, the official Anatolia news agency said.

A church for over 1,000 years and a mosque for 500 more, Hagia Sophia is the most spectacular building in Istanbul. It was turned into a mosque after Constantinople was taken by Sultan Mehmet II in 1453.

In the 20th Century, Hagia Sophia was turned into a museum accessible to all by the secular founders of modern Turkey.

The ceremony was attended by top Turkish officials including the head of the country’s religious affairs agency Diyanet, Mehmet Gormez.

The exhibition inside the Hagia Sophia is a show of calligraphic work in devotion to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and runs until May 8.

On several occasions in recent years, tens of thousands of Turkish Muslims gathered to pray outside Hagia Sofia, urging Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan to reopen the museum to serve as a Muslim house of worship.

But the Turkish government has assured on several occasions its rejection of this request, as any pledge to reopen Hagia Sofia as a mosque was threatening criticism from nationalist voters.
Approximately 99 percent of Turkey’s population is Muslim, the majority of whom are Sunni Muslims.

Turkey has thousands of mosques, the most famous of which is Blue Mosque, which is marked with its blue tile work ornamenting its interior walls.

17-18

Hajj: Worship of a Lifetime

Post Hajj reflections

By Dr. Anis Ansari

Mideast Saudi Arabia Hajj

Hajj is one of the most exhilarating experiences one can have in life. Imam Ghazali (r) described it as an act of worship of a lifetime, seal of all that is commanded, perfection of Islam and completion of religion. Nearly three million Muslims (plus one million local) from 183 different countries performed Hajj this year.

Medina First

As preference, our journey started from Medina. Our stay at Medina was very pleasant since the Hotel was barely 30-40 steps from Haram. There have been so many changes to the area that it was difficult to recognize since my last trip in 1995. The space of Masjid Nabawi has been greatly increased with addition of more courtyard and roof. More than a million people can easily pray there. Prophet Mohammad (s) grave area was very crowded and praying between his minbar and grave was very difficult. This space was described by him as paradise and 2 rakat Sunnah was prayed there. Visitation time for women was different from men. All area of Haram was well maintained and clean. The umbrella covering the courtyard was the most surprising feature, which provides shade during the day with continuous mist to keep people cool. Our visit to Masjid Quba, the first mosque built by our Prophet was next. We performed 2 rakat Sunnah in this Mosque, which has reward of an Umrah. We also visited Masjid Qiblatain, where during the middle of prayer Qibla was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca. Area of battle of Trench has been covered by road but the camping area of Sahaba has 7 different Mosque with the largest one called Masjid Khandak. Other sites included mountain of Uhud, where graveyard of the Martyrs were cordoned off. Jannatul Baqi is closest to Masjid Nabawi.

Umrah

Miqat was at Dhul Hulaifah, short distance from Medina but we had put on our Ihram before heading to the bus. Mosque in Dhul Hulaifah was large with good facility for bath or shower and putting on Ihram. We prayed Isha, made our intention for Umrah  and started our Talbiyah. Unfortunately, due to frequent checking by police at stops our bus trip took almost 15 hours to reach Mecca. After settling in our Hotel 5-7 km from Haram, we finally arrived by Taxi at Haram to do our Tawaf at 10:30 AM, the worst time of the day due to hot weather. Because of the motivation to finish our obligation , and joy of looking at magnimity of Kabba’s, we forgot any discomfort and joined the crowd to start our Tawaf. It took about one hour to finish it. According to scholars, Tawaf is one of the most important things that we will find in our record book on the Day of Judgment. According to one Hadith reported by Abdullah Ibn Abbas(r), everyday Allah (SWT) sends one hundred and twenty mercies on this house. Of which sixty are for those who are doing Tawaf, forty for those who are praying before it, while twenty for those who are just looking at Kabba. Subhanallah, even just looking at Kabba has so much merit.

Another Hadith points out that any act of worship at Masjid Haram in Mecca is multiplied by 100,000 times while at Masjid Nabawi is multiplied by 1000 times. After praying 2 rakat at Muqame Ibrahim, we drank some Zam Zam, supplicated and then headed to do our Sa’ee. Having the Saee area at three different levels, it is not as crowded. Walking between Safa and Marwah and running briskly between green lines reminded us the plight and struggle of Hajirah (A) who is the most honored women in Islam. Small hair trimming completed this process.

Hajj

After staying at Shesha (just outskirt of Mecca) for one day, we were moved to Mina, the tent city on the morning of 8th Dhul Hijjah.  Our tent had small beds close to each other with comfortable air conditioning in proximity of the Jamarat. Other tents were on outskirts of Mina 3 kilometer away. All prayers were performed in the tent in congregation. Food was plenty and served in buffet style at breakfast and dinner with tea and drinks available at all times. Yet it was shocking to see the streets littered with unofficial pilgrims everywhere.  They were on mountains, street corners, and sidewalk and under the bus.  This created a dangerous situation and difficulty for emergency ambulances and police cars to maneuver. Generally police personnel were seen to be very tolerant but firm.

Arafat

Next day, we were woken up at 2am in order to get ready for the train to go to Arafat. The train ride was only 15 minutes but the entire process took almost two hours. Our Arafat tent was very close to the train station. The day of Arafat is considered the most important part of Hajj. Several hundred people were put in one large tent with carpet on the floor. All our activities like meditation, rest and prayer were confined to the tent. People could be seen making supplication inside and outside the tent, in groups or solitude, and some were praying loudly and some not so loudly. Prophet Mohammad (s) also prayed on the day of Arafat, “O Allah forgive the pilgrim and the man for whom the pilgrim asks forgiveness.” As the day passed supplication intensified with the ending reserved for collective supplication until Maghreb time.

Muzdalifah

Our train ride was orderly and took less than 10 minutes. Unfortunately due to some mishap, we were assigned one of the roughest areas to spend the night. The ground was under the bridge with broken asphalt all over, but no one complained about it. Every one spread out their sheet, prayer rug, and sleeping bag and lay down.  Early morning, we prayed Fajr on the same ground then headed to Mina by train. This year train was only for Americans, Canadians and Europeans Hajji only. It does not have capacity to accommodate everyone yet.

Jamarat

Big Jamarat was located right near the train station. Rami was easy. Jamarats are located at three different levels creating one way traffic and decreasing the chances of any stamped that used to occur in the past. We went to Haram to do our Tawaf Ziyarat on the same day. Off course the area was exceptionally crowed that day but we were able to complete our Tawaf and Sa’ee without any difficulty. On 11th and 12 the of Dhul Hijjah, Jamarats were opened for Rami from early morning instead of after Dhuhr as described in the books.

Farewell Tawaf

After our Rami on 12th everyone seems to have headed for Haram for final farewell Tawaf. Everyone seems to be walking since there is no train system between Mina and Mecca. Buses and Taxis can barely crawl in this kind of crowd. While finishing the final rights of Hajj, I could not forget the teaching which says that Allah (SWT) grants all the supplication,forgiveness as well as intercession that is requested. Prophet Mohammad (pub) said “ whoever performs pilgrimage to the house without foul talk or iniquity is free from sin as he was on the day his mother gave birth to him.” We had no choice but to finish our farewell Tawaf as soon as possible since our flight was in the afternoon the very next day. We left for airport 6 hour before flight in order to avoid any delay.

Conclusion

For hajj people have travelled far distances sometimes with meager resources. Everyday they have to walk long distances just to get to Haram.  In crowd includes elderly, women and children some with poor health. For them even surviving is not easy despite all the facilities provided. Due to large number of people performing Tawaf, Sa’ee, or Rami all at the same time, these rights are not easy to accomplish. Nevertheless, people persist solely for pleasure of Allah. They have hope that Allah (SWT) will accept their Hajj and they will be completely forgiven. This hope continues to keep people going until they accomplish all their rights of Hajj. Some people are exposed to 105-degree temperature, camping out in open, sidewalk, under the tree or bus with very little shelter. Their dedication in service to God is hard to miss.

Hajj must bring out the best in us in terms of understanding the concept of Tawheed; deepen our love of God and the Prophets.  It must encourage us to sacrifice our health and wealth for the sake of Islam and emulate the example of Prophet Ibrahim (A). Hajj must bring us closer to Allah (SWT) and increase our zeal to work in our own communities. Our relationship with Allah and the outcome will be completely changed for the better.

May Allah give us opportunity to perform Hajj as early as possible preferably at young age before death takes over.

Anis Ansari, MD, President of Clinton Islamic Center, Clinton, Iowa.

13-49

Can We Stop Tradition Erosion?

By Akif Abdulamir (Desert Classics)

I gave my children a choice where to eat when I decided to treat them. I knew the answer but I was hoping it would be some restaurant that served healthy traditional food.

Our children’s choice of eating at a famous fast food restaurant never surprises us. To them, burgers and chips never tasted so good. A plate of rice never has the same appeal since it is an old fashioned  tradition from our ancestors.

To our kids, anything that has been handed over from the past generations is backward. If they see it in  the movies or the Internet than it is “cool”, anything else is “rubbish.” The fear of losing one’s culture and customs has never been real. As we move on deep into the twenty-first century, we gradually but surely leave behind the richness of our heritage.

The truth is that very little is being done to stop the erosion. Don’t get me wrong. I am not blaming the West but the East for ignoring the basics. There is no doubt that we can still drive a car and surf the net but ignoring what is more important to life has dreadful consequences. I am very convinced we are fighting a losing battle because we welcome unreservedly a culture that has a few problems. Let me give you an example. One of my younger relatives chose to stay behind in UK to celebrate Christmas to be with his friends but flatly refused to join his family for Eid.

There was nothing his parents could do about it. Should they blame themselves for sending him abroad to study or the lack of firm upbringing? I don’t know but youngsters ignore the basics even at home. One youth told me that, “wearing a shirt and a pair of trousers does not mean I am a Westerner” when he went with me to a mosque on his friend’s wedding night.

I asked him what it meant not ever wearing the traditional clothing. He said that tradition had nothing to do with appearance but what was in his heart. I probed deeper and asked him what was in his heart. He thought about it and said, “I know who I am and my background, isn’t that enough?”

I dropped the subject seeing him getting agitated. Today’s youth are increasingly letting themselves get confused by a clash of cultures. For instance, more than half of the youth celebrate the New Year and stay out late. On face value, one would argue there that there is nothing wrong with that. On closer scrutiny, less than ten per cent of them ever notice the Islamic New Year let alone celebrate it. What has really gone wrong in the past thirty years or so? International integration of people cannot be blamed nor the fast pace of development. It is also not fair to point accusing fingers at Western education. We invited it because we need it to overcome many challenges otherwise we would have been left behind.

The ever decreasing number of traditionalists live in fear that the Gulf would soon fall under the hammer of whole-sale Westernisation. The auction is gathering momentum, so they say, and the highest bidders are examining prized exhibits.

I am not endorsing that theory nor opposing it but I would like to be an observer and write about it at a later date. To many, it is not about fast food restaurants or other external influences. It is about preserving an identity before the hammer falls down.

Akif Abdulamir is an Oman-based writer

13-47

Saudi Hails Hajj Success

s_h01_03036278

Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims move around the Kaaba, seen at center, inside the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on November 3, 2011.

(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

MECCA, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz hailed the “success” of this year’s hajj despite fears of “chaos” in the wake of the Arab Spring, as remaining pilgrims continued final rites on Wednesday.

“We thank God for the success of this year’s hajj, which was the best pilgrimage season to ever pass,” Nayef told the commanders of hajj security forces late on Tuesday.

“Some (pilgrims) were expected to exploit the international and regional changes taking place to cause chaos. But thank God this did not happen,” SPA quoted Nayef, who also holds the interior portfolio, as saying.

The hajj — the world’s largest annual gathering — this year coincided with the Arab Spring democracy protests that have swept many nations in the region and led so far to the unseating of three autocratic leaders, in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, as protests continue in Yemen and Syria.

“What’s going on in Syria is painful,” Syrian pilgrim Abu Imad told AFP. “I’m coming here for perform pilgrimage and to pray for myself and my children.”

According to the United Nations, more than 3,500 people have been killed, most of them civilians, in Syria’s uprising that began in March.

Saudi Arabia itself had been slightly touched by the unrest as Shiites held sporadic protests in its Eastern Province a few times over the past months.

But their movement was quickly contained by authorities in the conservative Sunni kingdom.

“We thank all the pilgrims for proving that they are Muslims who respect this (hajj) rite and for being cooperative,” the prince said.

Indonesian pilgrim Hamid Eddine also believes that “pilgrims must follow instructions to gain the rewards of hajj and to smoothly perform their pilgrimage.”

Saudi security forces have several times in the past confronted Iranian pilgrims holding anti-US and anti-Israeli protests.

In 1987, Saudi police efforts to stifle such a demonstration sparked clashes in which 402 people died, including 275 Iranians.

But no incidents were reported this year as Iranian pilgrims, put at around 97,000 — the maximum allowed for Iran under a Saudi system apportioning pilgrim quotas among the world’s biggest Muslim countries — held their protests inside their own camps on Saturday.

Already strained ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia became taut last month when the United States accused Iranian officials of having a hand in a thwarted plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

Iran has strongly denied involvement and emphasized “good relations” with its Arab neighbor across the Gulf.

Most of this year’s three million Muslim pilgrims had left the holy city of Mecca after after a farewell circumambulation of the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure in the Grand Mosque into which is set the Black Stone, Islam’s most sacred relic.

Others completed stoning of the devil on Wednesday — a ritual, which is carried out over three days in which pilgrims must stone the three pillars said to symbolize the devil.

In previous years, hundreds of people have been trampled to death in stampedes triggered by crowds trying to get close to the pillars to take their vengeance on the devil.

But this year, the stoning, like all other rituals, passed with no major incidents.

The ritual is an emulation of Ibrahim’s stoning of the devil at the three spots where he is said to have appeared trying to dissuade the biblical patriarch from obeying God’s order to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.

Saudi authorities have installed a multi-level walkway through the stone-throwing site in a bid to avoid the trampling that caused the deaths of 364 people in 2006, 251 in 2004 and 1,426 in 1990.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be performed at least once in a lifetime by all those who are able to.

AFP

13-46

As I See it

By Azher Quader

3252790512_03e2bbc5ea

As the Muslim world wrestles with dictatorial rulers to remove them from power and establish popular democracies, allowing for greater freedoms and greater choices, here in America an aging Muslim community of first generation immigrants are facing their own struggles, as they try to transition power at their mosques. Next to the zoning battles no other issue excites the emotions of the mosque goers more than the issue of choosing its new leaders.

Here in Chicago arguably one of the most mature Muslim communities in the country, the transition of power within our mosques is increasingly threatened with conflict. At the Muslim Community Center (MCC), perhaps the oldest mosque in the country run by an elected board of directors, the electoral decisions had sometimes to be litigated and settled in a court of law. The path for succession is no less controversial in those centers where the transition of leadership is without election. There too the inevitability of the moment and the inadequacy of the system to meet the expectations of the majority is coming to light.

Is it then appropriate to pause and ponder on where we are and whither we are going?  Is it right to win an argument within a core group of supporters or in front of a judge and claim victory over the people? Is it right to amend the rules to protect the turf and believe we have secured our future?  Is it right to concoct a system where choice is removed to eradicate dissent?

If we are serious about building institutions of trust and leaving a legacy of goodwill, we cannot be happy with these small wins. If we are committed to passing on the baton to the young, we cannot be scared to let go the reigns of power in the twilight of our lives. If we are committed to serving the welfare of the people we cannot be worried about the preservation of our selves. If we are the vicegerents of Him who gave us the freedom to choose in life, we cannot deny to others the same freedoms including the freedom to choose their leaders. Neither institutions nor nations are strengthened when choices are controlled and freedoms are abridged.

A nomination process which delivers no choices is no better than the Egyptian model of Mubarak against which the people ultimately revolted.

It is time we took a harder look at the way we are setting up systems to assure not only the smooth transition of power within our mosques but  also maintain  the highest traditions of freedom and choice.

May Allah guide us to be humble and fearless in the pursuit of right.

Azer Quader is Executive Director of Community Builders Chicago. ww.mycommunitybuilders.com.

13-45

Manipulations in Masajid

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah

In Southern California, during the last 15 years, in a radius of 3 miles four masajid have sprung at a cost of at least $5 million.  Most of them remain empty most of the time and when they are frequented by Muslims in large numbers it is for either the Friday prayers or education of their children, or funeral get together or dinner in memory of some one. Sometimes lectures are offered, but the number of those attending can be counted in fingers. Masajid have yet to offer dynamic to galvanize the community and attract people to its programs and functions.

There are several reasons for the lack of involvement of people. One of the reasons is the way the Masajid are run by organizers. We have different type of models of mosque ownership.  Even though all the masajid are built with donation from people but the pattern of ownership reveals their inherent weakness to attract people in general.

1. Mosques donated by people but run by an individual or a family.

2. Mosques donated by people but run by a religious party or group

3. Mosques donated by people but run by an ethnic group

4. Mosques donated by outside religious entities and run by the followers of that entity.

5. Mosques built and run by an individual or a family

There are no standards by laws for the mosque. No one has ever attempted to draw by laws that demonstrated the spirit and dynamism of Islam, Most of the by laws are designed to ensure that the power stays in the hands of those who are controlling the management. The by laws are amended to suit the interests of those controlling power. If it suits them to cancel election, they do so, if it suits them to have election they do so.

By and large, there are not many Masajid and Islamic centers that can claim that their rule and by-laws are not designed to help a particular group of people to lose their grip.

Ironically, this kind of mechanism is played with an institution that is established in the name of the Creator, God, the source of all guidance. The very fact that most of these religious institutions are irrelevant to the needs of the people speak volumes of the divine relations with them.

In other words, most masajid serve the interest of particular group. They are like shops and businesses and their attitude is not different than usual shopkeepers. This is our shop and if you want to come here play our rules, otherwise get out.

Islam offers a different style and functionality than what is being offered. First of all, it builds any institution on the concept of God consciousness. Without being accountable to people in running affairs meant for them, one cannot be accountable to God in real honesty. Wen people manipulated behind doors and use all sorts of means to deceive ordinary people they are not honest to God or people. This is one of the most important problems that our mosque managements face. Most are not honest with people. They manipulated events. Hundreds of examples can be given to substantiate this.

Interestingly, the people involved in manipulation often claim that if they leave the board, the future of Islam will be in jeopardy. They defy the Quran in logic here. The Quran addressing the Prophet (s), the Messenger who delivered the divine message to people, said: even if you leave this world or killed, the Divine guidance would continue. Some of these people think that Islam and God depends upon them for their survival in that masjid. It is a very arrogant claim and obviously, if everyone start thinking this way, there would be no place for any change.

The cruz of the matter is that what is happening in most of our masajid is not demonstrative of Islam. It needs to be changed to serve Allah and His creation better.

How?

The only way is to develop a model based on the values of the Qurn and the life of the Prophet (s) as substantiated by the Quran. Without that it is almost impossible to think of any other ways of bringing about effective chanages.

13-45

Commemorating 9/11

Detroit Area Muslims Observe Anniversary

By Adil James, TMO

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Farmington–September 11th–The 9/11 terror attacks and the subsequent scrutiny on the Muslim community has lasted until this date 10 years after the event.

Muslims have attempted to rebuild ties and bridges of mutual trust and understanding on this 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy through a multitude of different events.

Imams spoke at a CIOM event in Dearborn on the morning of the anniversary, and before the anniversary came, there was a huge food distribution done in Flint, also in the name of rebuilding connections.  Muslims across the nation, individually and through their organizations, also attempted to show their mercy and compassion for 9/11 victims by offering prayers and words of solace to the 9/11 families. 

In this issue of The Muslim Observer, we have attempted to collect some reports from around the country of Muslim events to honor the memory of the tragic events of 9/11.  The following Michigan events are not an exhaustive list of 9/11 commemorations, but a few good examples.

Flint

The Flint event distributed food to “about 1,000 families,” according to Iman Meyer-Hoffman, interfaith director of the As-Siddiq Mosque, from which food was distributed this past Thursday at 5:00PM.  

Each family recipient had to show a distinct i.d. in order to receive food, and the 1,000 family representatives who picked up food at the mosque came in about 300 carloads, showing Michigan’s desperate economic position after years of recession and layoffs.

The Flint Islamic Center in coordination with the As-Siddiq Institute and Mosque and the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan arranged the event.  Ms. Meyer-Hoffman said of the event that “the two mosques felt it was important for the community to work together.”

Flint Islamic Center coordinators for the event were Bilal Ali, Mohammed Aslam, and Macksood Aftab.  They publicized the event extremely well, and planned it well also–occurring several days before almost all 9-11 celebrations it successfully attracted a great deal of attention and put Muslims in a very good light by helping them to serve the real needs of the larger community.

The immense enthusiasm of Mr. Aftab in building media knowledge about the event and advertising the event to local non-Muslims helped to make it a success.

“We are doing this because we are part of this community and this country. Most Muslims are peaceful people who care about others,” said Meyer-Hoffman.

PWAM Acts of Kindness

The Pakistani Women’s Association of Michigan was one of the other organizations to hold an event to commemorate 9/11.

The organization, in association with CIOM and other organizations, took advantage of the event to discuss past contributions, including helping out at Interfaith Health Fair and Soup Kitchen at the Muslim Center Detroit, as well as active involvement in the annual CIOM Unity Dinner.

Here, PWAM partnered with CIOM, ACCESS, the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, the City of Detroit, United Way, WISDOM, J-Serve and Focus: HOPE, Volunteer Centers of Michigan, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Arts & Scraps, and Detroit’s Cities of Service “Believe in Detroit” Campaign to participate in the “Acts Of Kindness, Transforming 9/11” which had been called for by President Obama to counteract the incredibly negative and divisive event which took place ten years ago.

Hundreds of volunteers participated in projects such as park beautification, vacant lot clean-up, food packaging, sorting art supplies for local schools, and writing thank you cards to U.S. troops serving abroad. As they worked side by side, their energy and dedication helped transform 9/11 into a day of learning about each other’s interests, families, and faith traditions. After the projects were completed, there was a structured dialogue series designed to increase tolerance and understanding, with the goal of promoting a sense of unity, peace, community-building, and mutual understanding.

Dearborn

In Dearborn the morning of 9/11 was marked by a well-coordinated event at which several prominent local imams had the opportunity to speak about 9/11 and its broader meaning to Muslims after 10 years have elapsed. 

This event was held at the prominent Islamic Center of America (ICA), said to be the largest mosque in America–a huge mosque on Ford Road in Dearborn that unfortunately has served as a lightning rod for criticism of the Muslim community.

The CIOM statement about the ICA event stated that “The tragedy … will never be forgotten… The date brings back painful memories.  American Muslims…. wish for our fellow Americans to begin a renewed era of understanding, tolerance, freedom and justice for all.”

One of the prime movers for this event was Ghalib Begg of CIOM, known for his leadership and and hard work, and for his political and interfaith connections.

Some of the prominent imams present were Imam Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom, Imam Qazwini of the ICA, Imam El-Turk of IONA, Imam El-Amin of the Muslim Unity Center in Detroit, Imam Aly Lela of IAGD,  Shaykh Ali Sulayman Ali of MCWS, Imam Kilyani, Imam Al-Azom, and Imam Dawud Walid, Executive Director of CAIR-Michigan.

Imam Elahi said at the ICA that the tragic terrorist attacks of 9/11 constituted a crime, against Americans but also against Islam, agains the teachings of Islam–over 90 nationalities were among the victims, including many Muslims.  “We as Muslims joined to show solidarity with the victims.”

The tenth anniversary, he said, was a day of prayer for the victims, to show national unity, to build dialogue and interfaith cooperation, to build towards “a better America, with justice, peace, and working together.”

He said of 9/11 that it could have been a much worse event, and that the calm and involvement of Muslim and non-Muslim community leaders in the aftermath had managed the event to avoid it being worse for all concerned.

Following the ICA event there were other commemorations attended by prominent Muslim speakers all over the Detroit area and literally all day long, so that the scheduling for the events shortened the ICA event; similar events were held at mosques, churches, and synagogues.

13-38

Test of Faith

Last year, Wellesley Middle School students on a field trip were filmed praying in a Roxbury mosque. After being battered by nationwide criticism, why is the public school still determined to stand by its religion curriculum?

By Linda K. Wertheimer

“REMEMBER, THE REASON WE’RE GOING TO THE MOSQUE IS TO CONTINUE OUR LEARNING,” Jonathan Rabinowitz tells his sixth-grade social studies students. Dressed in a button-down shirt and khakis, the lanky 38-year-old teacher stands in the aisle of a school bus idling behind Wellesley Middle School. He holds up a hand to quell chatter and giggles from the 11- and 12-year-olds. “I want to be proud of your behavior. Make us proud in how you ask questions.”

Katie Pyzowski, her hair pulled back in a headband, sits quietly in a window seat as the din of her classmates resumes. Just a few days earlier, the then 11-year-old, who sings in her Episcopal church youth choir, had felt conflicted about visiting other houses of worship. “I feel kind of like I’m intruding on the holy places,” she had said. “It makes me feel like I don’t belong there.” Now, though, she says she feels more excited than nervous.

A short drive later, the bus pulls into the parking lot in Wayland of the Islamic Center of Boston, a rectangular brick building that could pass for offices if not for a few touches of Middle Eastern architecture, such as triangular arches. A few greeters – including three women in hijabs, the traditional head covering of Muslim females – are waiting outside.

“I’ve never been to a mosque before,” Katie says. Neither have most of her classmates, which is part of the school’s reason for this trip – to bring course work to life with real-world examples.

For more than a decade, Wellesley Middle School has been an outlier among the country’s public school systems because it requires sixth-graders to study the world’s religions for a full semester. After years of uneventful field trips to mosques and temples, it drew a maelstrom of criticism in 2010 when a video was made public showing Wellesley boys on a field trip appearing to pray in a Roxbury mosque.

These days, the mere potential for controversy is enough to convince the average school to steer clear of teaching about religion. But just a year after the uproar engulfed Wellesley Middle School, it did something that makes it even more unusual among its peers: It took students to a mosque yet again.

“I felt it was important to establish we can teach about religion,” says Joshua Frank, the school’s principal at the time. “There is nothing like being inside a mosque, inside a temple. These experiences are powerful for kids. They are going to remember them long after they forget Mohammed was born in 570 AD.” (s)

But Diane Moore, a Harvard Divinity School scholar and author of Overcoming Religious Illiteracy, says Wellesley’s difficult experience affirmed her belief that public schools should avoid such field trips.

There are just too many risks, from giving students the impression all temples are the same as the one they visit, to crossing the constitutional divide between church and state. “You’ve got this very fine line,” Moore says. “There are so many opportunities for this to go awry.”

***

FOR THE PAST 50 YEARS, exposing children to religion in school has been a flashpoint in American public education. Schools and state governments have battled with parents and others over whether religious music could be sung at holiday concerts or graduation ceremonies could be held in a church. For years, schools have shied away from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance because of that problematic phrase “one nation under God.”

Administrators at Wellesley Middle School, however, believe the risks of teaching about religion are worth the potential rewards, which is why it takes the unusual step of making its class mandatory. Even though most US states now include world religions in their education standards, they rarely require that students take a class. According to state records, roughly two-thirds of Massachusetts school systems offer comparative religion courses, but those are usually electives.

Wellesley’s decision to create its class in 2000, says social studies department head Adam Blumer, came from a place of “intellectual angst.”

Even before the terrorist attacks of September 2001, teachers worried that their students weren’t grasping the importance of religion in international politics. Blumer recalls thinking, “Are we really preparing kids for the world they’re walking into?”

Over the half-year course, students spend roughly a month on each of three religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and then three weeks on Hinduism. They cover seven aspects of each faith, including “stories of origin” and “core beliefs,” and take field trips to places of worship. For the first several years, those trips went off without a hitch; then there was last year.

On May 27, 2010, some 200 students visited the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury, which had opened less than a year earlier. A commanding presence with its black dome and brick minaret, the mosque is part of a 68,000-square-foot complex that includes a cafe, a shop, and an Islamic elementary school. It offers prayers five times a day, which Blumer felt was important: Students could witness the full racial and ethnic diversity of worshipers.

On the tour, a female guide escorted the group into the mosque’s social hall and delivered a PowerPoint presentation about Islam. “You have to believe in Allah, and Allah is the one God, the only one worthy of worship, all forgiving, wise, knowing,” she said at one point.

“Everything we do is to please God because God has guided us to do these things.”

After the early afternoon call to prayer was piped over loudspeakers, the guide took a group to see the prayer hall, pointing out features such as a clock listing the five daily worship times. The students asked to watch, so she escorted them to the perimeter of the room, advised them to sit quietly, and left to pray in an area reserved for women.

When she was gone, a male worshiper looked over to five Wellesley boys.

“You guys can participate if you’d like,” he said, according to Jackson Posnik, one of the students. Jackson remembers thinking, “That’s, like, cool that we’re allowed to do that.”

None of the Wellesley boys were Muslim, but they copied the movements of the Muslims around them, bowing, kneeling, and prostrating on the rug. “I didn’t think I prayed,” Jackson says. “I just kind of mimicked the motions.”

School and mosque officials did not realize what had happened until the beginning of the next school year, when on September 15, 2010, a video titled “Wellesley, Massachusetts Public School Students Learn to Pray to Allah” turned up online.

Unbeknownst to teachers, students, and mosque officials, a Wellesley mother had videotaped the field trip. A Boston-based group called Americans for Peace and Tolerance then posted it on YouTube. The next day, TV news trucks surrounded the school and coverage appeared on local news, CNN, and Fox, as well as in newspapers and on blogs from around the nation.

The reaction to the video was split. Parent after parent in Wellesley praised the school’s program in interviews with reporters. In the meantime, though, a spokesman for Americans for Peace and Tolerance told Fox News Radio that if a Catholic priest had given students Communion on a field trip, “the furor would be visible from outer space.” An anonymous commenter on the Wellesley Townsman’s website wrote, “How idiotic to take our precious little ones into the lion’s den.”

Subsequent news reports said the mother, who has never been identified, took the video on behalf of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, which is run by Charles Jacobs, a columnist for The Jewish Advocate newspaper.

ScreenShot001
The controversial Youtube video of students who joined in to pray with the dhuhr prayer.

When the mosque was being built, Jacobs had alleged its financial backers had ties to radical Islam. Mosque officials have continued to strenuously rebut that claim and note that they have longstanding partnerships with federal and state law enforcement and interfaith leaders.

Today, Jacobs says he remains concerned about the boys’ praying and what he says students were taught by the guide in the mosque. “The five students prayed to Allah. As Americans, we shouldn’t be proselytizing each other’s kids. That’s just not right for any religion,” he says.

“American schools don’t know what to do about the ‘other.’ They take them to the mosque and accept as given the tall tales given to kids.”

Both mosque and school officials say the video was not an accurate portrayal of what happened, and the guide’s talk was not preaching, but an informational presentation about the beliefs and practices of Islam.

The tour guide, who asked not to be named for fear her family would be harassed, also says her comments were taken out of context on the video.

“As a mosque, we didn’t invite them to pray,” says M. Bilal Kaleem, the president of the Muslim American Society of Boston, which runs the mosque. “It is our clear policy not to invite visitors to pray.” But it is plausible, he says, that a worshiper invited the boys. (Guides now escort visitors to the balcony during prayer.) “This was a learning experience,” Kaleem says. “Once you take kids out of the school, there are challenges. They’re curious.”

After the video was released, Wellesley Schools Superintendent Bella Wong issued a mea culpa in a letter to parents. “I apologized for [the praying] part, because that to me crossed the line from observation to participation,” she says. “As a public institution or public school, we really have to honor the separation of church and state. While we can teach about religion, we really can’t do anything that would encourage the practice of religion.”

The border between observation and participation can be a subtle one.

Many Americans don’t realize that the First Amendment to the Constitution only bans public schools from endorsing or promoting religion, it doesn’t prohibit educators from teaching about it.

According to a 2010 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 89 percent of respondents knew teachers could not lead the class in prayer, but only 36 percent knew it was legal to offer a comparative-religion course.

“There’s still a great confusion in the public about what the First Amendment permits and where the lines should be drawn,” says Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C. Haynes believes taking public school students to houses of worship during prayer times is problematic, even if the kids are told they must only observe. “We have impressionable young people,” Haynes says, “and they are there as a captive audience.”

***

EVEN AS THE ROXBURY brouhaha shook up teachers and school district officials in Wellesley, it did not diminish their faith in the academic promise of the religion unit. “It’s a very rich experience,” says Wong.

“With appropriate guidelines, you can do this without breaking the separation of church and state. I wish other communities would step forward and say they’ll teach it, too. We’ll stay the course.”

To avoid another round of controversy, though, the school did make changes to its field trips. Teachers were instructed to be clearer with students about the difference between participation and observation. In addition, Wellesley earlier this year chose to visit the mosque in Wayland, a place that doesn’t offer regular prayers during the day. “We live, we learn,” says Adam Blumer.

Although Kaleem is disappointed Wellesley classes didn’t return to his mosque, he was pleased the field trip wasn’t canceled outright. “That really would have been sad,” he says. “I think visiting religious spaces should be a part of education in America so people have a better understanding of people of all different faiths.”

On a morning in mid-April, a month before the Wayland mosque visit, Jonathan Rabinowitz ends the unit on Christianity and reviews what students had already learned about Judaism. He posts a big question on a projection screen at the front of his classroom. “In what overall ways are Judaism and Christianity the same? Different?”

The teacher hands out work sheets with a Venn diagram; one circle is labeled “Christianity,” the other “Judaism,” and the overlap between them is “both.” Attached to the worksheet are 44 statements, such as “Believe that Jesus is the Son of God” and “Reading from the Torah at age 13 is a rite of passage for these people.”

“Get up and walk around the room. Talk to everyone,” Rabinowitz says.

“Does it belong in Christianity, Judaism, or both?”

The students huddle in groups, although a few approach Rabinowitz for hints to the trickier statements. Rabinowitz shoos them away. “I want them to debate,” he says. “The hard thing is kids want right versus wrong. There isn’t always a right.”

Rabinowitz has been teaching Wellesley’s religion unit since 2002, though he readily admits that doesn’t make him a religion scholar. But over the years he and his colleagues have worked hard to find effective and unbiased course material. To continue his own learning, he visited Jordan in 2005 as part of an exchange program with teachers from the Middle East.

Rabinowitz, whose students call him Mr. R, was born in South Africa to observant Jewish parents who wanted him to stay home on Friday nights, the start of Shabbat, rather than play soccer. After moving to the United States at age 6, he spent most of his youth and early adulthood in what he calls a “Jewish bubble” – he went to a Jewish day school and mainly socialized with other Jews. “Growing up, I never knew how to talk or even ask questions about Jesus Christ,” he says. He tells students that what they’ll learn in his class will help them discuss religion with others as they get older.

At the start of the Islam unit, Rabinowitz asks his students to name some common Muslim stereotypes. “All Muslims come from Saudi Arabia,” says one student. Rabinowitz shows a world map of areas where Muslims live: The country with the most is Indonesia. “All Muslims are terrorists,” says another student. Rabinowitz urges the class not to use the word “all.”

Another day, students watch a news clip about Muslims’ push to include their major holidays on New York City’s school vacation calendar. Then the class discusses what Wellesley should do. Zain Tirmizi, who also attends religious school at the Wayland mosque, and a boy named Anand Ghorpadey, who describes himself as an atheist, still debate after the bell rings.

Anand, who celebrates Hindu holidays with his family, points out the school’s scarcity of Muslims and Hindus. He says the school should not alter the calendar.

Zain disagrees. “I want my education,” he says, adding it’s hard to catch up after missing classes for his religion’s holidays.

Anand raises his eyebrows. “Hard to catch up three days?”

“We should have both Hindu and Muslim holidays off,” Zain says.

As the pair walk out, Anand grins and shakes his head. He’s not convinced.

Rabinowitz watches his students leave. “I like when class spills out in the hallways,” he says.

***

RABINOWITZ LIKES it even more when class discussions continue at home.

His students can give a PowerPoint presentation on religion to friends and family during the unit. He also encourages them to have family discussions about a CNN special report he screens for class called Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door. The documentary is about the venomous opposition to the construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Protesters torched construction equipment, someone fired shots at Muslim leaders, and a lawyer for mosque opponents evoked 9/11 and said Muslims do not believe in God.

The video saddened Caitlin Gillooly, who discussed it with her mother.

“I’m really glad now that I’ve learned more about religion,” says Caitlin, an altar girl at her family’s Episcopal church. “One of these people could be me. I could be one of those people who misinterpret about religion.”

The class prompts families to have conversations they never would otherwise, according to the parents of Celia Golod, a Jewish student.

“These kids in sixth grade were infants during 9/11,” says Celia’s mother, Lisa. “It’s important that they understand the good and bad.

Religion sparks a lot of controversy, but there’s good in all of the religions.”

Her daughter, though, is skeptical about whether the course can really change students’ minds. In fifth grade, some kids interrogated her about why she did not believe in Jesus, she recalls. Last December, a classmate called her a “typical Jew” in a text message. “People who do tease people about [their religions] probably will never learn,” Celia says.

“But maybe you’re making a dent,” her mother says. “Do you think, Celia, the fact that you understand more about Christianity makes you more understanding?”

Celia nods. “Yeah,” she says. “I didn’t realize that Christianity came out of Judaism. Now we’re all related.” She crosses her fingers to indicate the connection.

Occasionally, Rabinowitz invites parents in to talk about their religions. On a Wednesday in late May, Ali and Hadia Tirmizi, Zain’s parents, arrive to discuss their experience. The couple, originally  from Pakistan, immigrated to the United States in the 1990s, before their children were born. They tell students that Muslims vary in their practices. “I have two kids,” says Hadia Tirmizi, who’s wearing a knee-length black dress and lavender sweater. “I’m a physician. I don’t pray five times a day.”

When Hadia mentions her son’s name means “leader” in Arabic, Celia’s hand shoots up. “We watched a movie, and it said, ‘Zain means beautiful.’ ” Hadia nods.

“So Zain means beautiful leader?” Rabinowitz says.

Zain laughs and ducks his head a little in embarrassment. “Zain is not going to like that,” his mother says.

Later, at the family’s home, Ali Tirmizi raves about the class: “To introduce that religion study class where he’s learning about Hinduism from Anand’s mom, and Judaism, and Christianity, and Islam, it opens up horizons.”

The couple originally resisted sending Zain to a public middle school for fear that he would be bullied. One day in fourth grade a boy approached him and said, “You’re a Muslim. I’m going to check you for bombs.”

But Zain still believes the religion class will affect how his peers treat others. “I believe the next time someone says ‘all Christians are,’ ‘all Jews are,’ ‘all blacks are,’ ‘all gays are,’ they’ll know to say, ‘Only some do this,’ or ‘That’s not true.’ ” But, he adds, that awareness might take awhile. For instance, he explains, after Osama bin Laden was killed, someone asked another Muslim student, “Aren’t you supposed to be at a funeral?”

“I get scared,” Hadia says of her son. “I’m so scared of him getting affected by all of this.” When the permission slip for the mosque field trip arrived, she was relieved to learn the class wasn’t going back to the Roxbury mosque. “If Wayland is a happy medium, there’s nothing wrong with happy mediums,” she says. “We don’t need any more controversy right now.”

***

IN CLASS before the May 9 field trip this year, Rabinowitz talks about Islamic worship practices and architecture. He passes around a prayer rug, a gift he received from a Saudi Arabian teacher during his exchange. He reviews terms. Mihrab? It’s the niche in the prayer hall that points toward Mecca, the direction Muslims face during prayer. He hands out laptops and asks the students to hunt for 20 mosques around the world. “Explore, explore,” he tells them. One student finds a mosque that has 24 domes and can hold up to 500,000 people.

On the morning of the visit, Rabinowitz and several teachers and parents stand outside the Wayland mosque with some 150 students (about 400 students in all will visit in three waves). With no dome and no minaret, the building doesn’t fit most students’ image of a mosque.

“This tour is going to be like one at an amusement park,” says their tour guide, Sepi Gilani, the mosque’s vice president. The students follow her single file up a set of stairs, where volunteers tell them about the center’s classrooms and library.

Before the students enter the prayer hall, they are asked to remove their shoes. They sit on a green and gold rug. Gilani points out the mosque’s mihrab and other architectural features and gives a PowerPoint presentation about Islam. A few students whisper and fidget, but most seem awe-struck to be here.

Why do we have to take off our shoes? a student asks during a question-and-answer period.

“We pray with our foreheads on the ground,” Gilani says. “If we kept on our shoes, we’d get our heads all dirty.”

When does Gilani wear her hijab? She responds that she, like many Muslim women, regards wearing the head covering in the mosque as a religious obligation. However, she does not wear it when she goes outside the mosque.

Gilani then asks a woman standing in the back to explain why she wears her hijab in public. The woman is Gilani’s friend, and the same person who had led the controversial tour of Roxbury’s mosque the year before.

“For me, not displaying a woman’s beauty in public is about modesty,” the woman explains. “It’s empowering not to be judged on the basis of physical appearance, but rather on the basis of one’s deeds.”

After Gilani’s talk, the students get 10 minutes to try different activities. Some browse books about Islam, while others get an outside tour of the building. They line up by the dozens to get their names written in Arabic. “Faster, faster,” urges Blumer.

Students are then rushed to their buses so they can make it back to school in time for lunch. There was no prayer to take part in. No mysterious videographer.

The next morning, Rabinowitz praises his students for asking thoughtful questions. “At the end of the day,” he says, “every one of you is able to say you’ve been to an Islamic learning center. You’ve been to a mosque.”

Most of Rabinowitz’s students say they probably won’t ever enter a mosque again, and that makes the class valuable. They might never have seen the inside of a Jewish temple, either, or heard so many different views on Islam from practicing Muslims.

“Before this unit, when I saw people wearing full Muslim clothing, I thought, ‘That’s kind of weird,’ ” says Anand Ghorpadey. “Now I understand how each religion is different.”

“Many people in America have stereotypes about Muslims. I’m glad they can teach about it,” says Zain Tirmizi. “I can say, ‘I’m Muslim. I do this.’ I’m very proud of it.”

A few weeks after school ends for the summer, Katie Pyzowski and her parents, Whitney and Paul, sit on their backyard deck. They talk about their strong connection to their Christian faith and their interest in other practices.

At her father’s urging, Katie brings out a photo album from their April vacation to Greece. They had seen burning crosses that were part of the Greek Orthodox celebration of Easter, and had even ducked into a monastery. There was no formal invitation, which made Katie a little nervous, but once inside, she felt as fascinated as she later would in the Wayland mosque.

“The key word to this unit is ‘about,’ ” Katie says. “They’re not teaching you the religion, they’re teaching you about the religion.

They’re not trying to make you do something, they’re trying to get you to learn.”

Sitting next to her, her mother asks, “Did it work?”

“Yeah,” Katie says. “It worked.”

Linda K. Wertheimer, the Globe’s former education editor, is a Lexington freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @Lindakwert. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

13-37

‘Eid in America!

By TMO Staff

Eid_017

Most of the mosques in the US celebrated ‘Eidul Fitr on Tuesday August 30th, 2011, finalizing the festival of worship and celebration that was Ramadan of AH 1432.

In this issue is a series of reports from around the USA, where TMO reporters describe their own ‘Eid experiences.

The Bloomfield Hills’ Muslim Unity Center celebrated ‘Eid on Tuesday, filled to overflowing and forced to have three separate celebrations (at 8AM, 10AM, and 11AM).  These ‘Eid khutbas focused on keeping Allah in mind “whatever you do,” the imam arguing that if you keep Allah in your mind, that will prevent you from doing wrong.  The khutbah also focused on Tawhid. 

Children at the center had a very good time, as there were rides and slides, and plenty of good food, and a festive atmosphere permeated the atmosphere of this suburban mosque.

Other reports in this issue of TMO!

13-36

Community News (Volume 13 Issue 36)

Settlement reached at Lilburn Mosque

LILBURN,GA–A settlement has been reached between the city of Lilburn and the federal government over allegations that the city violated the “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000” when it rejected the Dar-E-Abbas Shia Islamic Center’s requests for rezoning so they could expand a mosque.

Just last week the Lilburn City Council approved the expansion of the mosque.

It was the third time that the Dar-E-Abass Mosque tried to get a rezoning plan approved.

Neighbors said they didn’t want the expansion because it would bring more traffic and destroy their residential neighborhood.

The Muslim congregation wanted to expand from its current building to create a much larger facility.

Opponents believe the mosque’s owners are trying to skirt the city’s rules separating commercial and residential zoning. The attorney representing the mosque has said he believes the opposition is based on religious bias.

The dispute has resulted in a lawsuit and an investigation by the Department of Justice. Opponents insist religion is a non-factor.

As terms of the settlement, The city of Lilburn has agreed not to impose different zoning or building requirements on Dar-E-Abbas or other religious groups, and to publicize its nondiscrimination policies and practices.

The city also agreed that its leaders, managers, and certain other city employees will attend training on the requirements of RLUIPA.

ICNA Relief distributes school supplies

BOSTON, MA–The current economic downturn has hit hard on families and those especially affected are the children. But ICNA Relief USA is lending a helping hand by giving away free school supplies across the country.  It is expected to donate 15,000 back packs this year in over thirty communities. Almost all of the give away events held at Islamic school.
The one organized in Boston, however, reached out to the local neighborhood. The group gave out about 100 backpacks.

Imam Abdullah Faaruuq, prayer leader at a local mosque, was happy with the turnout. “People see a little simple event like this and they figure it just flowered,’’ he said. “But things like this don’t happen on their own.’’

Islamic Science Rediscovered premiers in California

SAN JOSE, CA–Long overlooked or often misattributed, the remarkable contributions of Muslim scholars in science and technology have quietly floundered as no more than common footnotes of world history.

Visitors educated in the Western world will be surprised to learn of discoveries and inventions in the Muslim World which predate by years, sometimes centuries, discoveries thought to be developed in the West.

Designed to unearth the scientific know-how of an Islamic Golden Age that is all too strange and unfamiliar to Western culture, Islamic Science Rediscovered demystifies this grand civilization and introduces visitors to the vast influence of its discoveries and inventions on contemporary society. It is being held at the Tech Museum in San Jose.

Did the Wright brothers soar in the sky first? Was Leonardo da Vinci the first to describe “machines of the future”?

Centuries before Orville and Wilbur Wright took flight, Abbas ibn Farnas was soaring over the hilly Spanish countryside in a one-man glider – a thousand years before the famed Wright flight in North Carolina.

Al-Jazari busied himself laying the foundations of modern engineering and writing the Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices in 1206, where he described fifty mechanical devices along with instructions on how to build them, more than 200 years before Leonardo da Vinci became revered for his technological ingenuity.

This global touring exhibition celebrates the contribution of Muslim scholars to science and technology during the Golden Age of the Islamic World (circa 8th to 18th centuries CE) and the influence of their discoveries and inventions on contemporary society.

Amazing ancient Islamic inventions are brought to life by more than 40 stations with interactive and sensory exhibits and videos to recreate the ingenuity.

Islamic Relief USA Prepares for Irene Response

WASHINGTON, D.C.–  As Americans on the East Coast braced for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, Islamic Relief USA staff and volunteers in the Washington, D.C. area were preparing for a potential emergency response to what is expected to be a powerful and damaging storm system.

Islamic Relief USA’s emergency aid workers have provided emergency assistance in the United States in the past, most recently this spring in Alabama after tornadoes leveled neighborhoods, killing hundreds of residents and leaving thousands homeless across seven states. Dozens of Islamic Relief USA volunteers and staff members quickly mobilized, traveling to Alabama to partner with the Salvation Army and the Red Cross to assess damage, assist at shelters, and collect and distribute food, clothing, cleaning supplies hygiene kits and other necessities.

In another major response effort, in 2005, Islamic Relief USA dispatched emergency response teams to areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history. Islamic Relief USA distributed food, cleaning kits, tents, sleeping bags, toys, clothes and hygiene kits to residents of Biloxi and Jackson, Miss., and Baton Rouge, La. Islamic Relief USA converted a mobile home into a health clinic serving residents of East Biloxi, and teams also worked with two local housing organizations to house victims of Hurricane Katrina and repaired homes in Jackson to provide an adequate housing for evacuees.

“Muslim Americans are interested in helping fellow Americans when disasters strike,” said Adnan Ansari, Vice President of Programs at Islamic Relief USA. “We always receive an overwhelming response from the community in times like these.  People want to help in any way, whether by volunteering to provide crisis care, conduct damage assessment or serve the residents in shelters, or through their checkbooks.” 

Ohio school cancels Muslim goodwill event

CINCINNATI,OH- Complaints and a request from the archbishop have led a Cincinnati Roman Catholic high school to drop plans for a Ramadan dinner to build goodwill with Muslims.

Kirsten MacDougal, president of Mother of Mercy school, says Archbishop Dennis Schnurr received “emotionally charged” emails, mostly from outside the area, and asked the girls’ school to cancel its Friday night plans. The event instead will be held at a church parish center.

Mosque asked to consider another park for ‘Eid

BOONTON,NJ–The mayor and the aldermen of Boonton have denied a second request from Jam-E-Masjid Islamic Center to apply for the use of Canalside park for Eid prayers. Instead they have asked them to use Tourne County Park.

“With Tourne Park, no one is there on a Tuesday,” Alderman Anthony Scozzafava said. “You’d have the whole place to yourself. You wouldn’t be disrupting traffic or business or anything.”

About 500-600 people are projected to participate in the Eid Prayer, the Islamic Center representative said. Some participants would work together to car pool or simply walk.

With such an large number of people, Boonton Police Chief Michael W. Beltran suggested that four or five officers would have to oversee traffic.

13-36

Islamic Center of America, Dearborn

By Ahmed Al-Hilali

SONY DSCThousands of Muslims gather inside the Qazwini Mosque of Dearborn to celebrate the end of Ramadan, and the beginning of Eid-ul-Fitr. Fourteen year old Hussein Neime shares his opinions about the yearly celebration.

“I love Eid because of the fact that I get to see relatives I don’t usually get to see, and I feel like all of Dearborn are my relatives,”

”Yearly the celebration of the end of Ramadan makes Muslims forget their problems,” said Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini in his sermon. “But that doesn’t mean you forget the poor,” The Imam’s point was that we should never forget the poor and Allah, and Allah won’t forget you. This inspired many Muslims to get up after the prayer and put money inside the charity box.

Though many Muslims celebrated ‘Eid Tuesday, many more Muslims around the world are celebrating a day late because of the lack of the sighting of the moon, but many people are gloomy because of they don’t get one more holy night of worship God.  

There were Q&A games for kids, in which the prizes range from stickers to gift cards. They had to answer questions about Ramadan, Ahlulbayt, which prophets came in order, etc. “Every kid here is happy,” says 10 year old Ali Alsumar. “The sun is shining, everybody is smiling and laughing, you get prizes, and I just think that Eid is a very unique day.”

13-36

Lessons from a Medina Graveyard

By Fahad Farruqui

slide_42595_328275_largeOne can learn many lessons at a graveyard. I once found myself helping carry the corpse of a stranger, an old woman, to its final abode. At the time, I was a 20-year-old on a family trip to the Holy City of Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Following the ish’a (night) prayers at the Prophet’s Mosque (Al-Masjid al-Nabawi) and the recitation of obligatory funeral prayer, I came across a middle-aged man searching for help to transport the coffin of the woman, who I later learned was his mother. She had passed away a few hours earlier and her son was eager to fulfill her final wish: to be buried immediately after death.
The son was the only family member present. He was anxious to hastily transport the steel coffin, containing the corpse of his mother wrapped in a white shroud, to the Garden of Heaven or, as it is called in Arabic, Janatu l-Baqi’, a graveyard adjacent to the Prophet’s (s) Mosque.

Since it was late at night, the mosque had emptied quickly and there weren’t many eager beavers to lend a hand. A few men on their way out of the mosque regrettably declined the man’s pleas for assistance, saying they had far travel before reaching home. I wanted to help, but I was unsure if I would be able to carry the coffin all the way to the grave situated a couple of hundred meters away.

After a handful of men gathered to move the coffin, four men including me lifted it in unison and rested each corner on the shoulder. As we proceeded toward the graveyard, the coffin was tilted toward my side since I was relatively shorter than the other three.

“She isn’t heavy,” I thought to myself in relief.

A man behind me yelled blessings to the dead as we commenced our walk towards the Medina graveyard. We all joined in enthusiastically, chanting blessings to the dead.

Our voices started to get dimmer as we ran out of breath. The farther we moved away from the mosque, the darker it became. In the sunlight, the sands of Medina graveyard vary in color from orange to a shade that borders on red, with volcanic rocks scattered throughout the grave marking the grave. But at night, it was pitch-black. Our pathway was lit only by the light illuminating from the towering minarets atop the mosque, where Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, rests along with Abu Bakr, the first caliph, and Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the second caliph, may God be pleased with both.

slide_42595_327677_largeAfter a few uneven steps, the buckle of one of my sandal’s broke, forcing me to push it aside as we continued forward. The ground was warm, even at this late hour. I could barely see where my feet were stepping in the wide graveyard around us. I was granted some relief when a man volunteered to help, seeking only reward from the Creator.

We walked aimlessly for a bit, trying our best not to trample over the other graves as we searched for the woman’s resting spot. Once we located it and rested the coffin beside the dugout, I took a peak at the grave. It was remarkably dark — the darkest shade of black that I have ever seen.

As I stood among these strangers with death before my eyes, and a six-foot deep grave that felt suffocating from above, the importance of my worries drifted away, and I began reflecting on the temporality of life.

It dawned on me how near we are all to death, our inevitable fate, although many of us think about death very rarely.

Quite out of the blue, I felt I was granted clues and answers to questions that had been filling my mind: Why am I here? And where will I go from here?

I had little to no sense of time. My startled parents went out looking for me when they saw all the doors of the Prophet’s Mosque closed from the window of our hotel room. I arrived back at the hotel more than an hour later than usual, yet the impression the experience left on me has been lasting. It was a moment of clarity, an hour that changed the very foundation of my existence.

“A moment of true reflection is worth more than ages of heedless worship,” Faraz Rabbani, a leading Islamic scholar, said recently on Twitter.

His words reminded me of that night. At certain points in our lives, we have experiences that shake us to the core and compel us to question our outlook on existence and, if we cultivate them properly, bring us nearer to the Almighty. Even many years later, in times when anger, distress, tribulation or temptation has attempted to sway me, my mind returns to that graveyard.

When you become mindful of death, you think and act differently. It becomes difficult to lash out in anger when we know how near death could be. A person conscious of death would think twice before defrauding and deceiving another human being.

slide_42595_328537_largeBy remembering that we will all perish and be buried in dirt, taking none of our possessions with us, it becomes undesirable to wrong or hurt someone intentionally. But one has to realize that death is inevitable.

My recollection of the funeral procession that night is vivid. I remember how time seized for me in the midst of that graveyard. I recall the haunting feeling of suffocation and discomfort that kept me awake that night.

Back in the hotel, as I rested my head on the plush pillow, in an arctic air-conditioned room, I thought of the rock-hard walls encircling that meager grave.

We need not reflect on death at all times to keep us on track. Paying attention to life — to the wondrous creations of the universe around us — can always draw us near to God and prompt us to be grateful. But also reflect on death, since it turns you away from the superficiality of the world and curbs your ego.

I would not say I am a man of immense knowledge. I haven’t spent an adequate amount of time fully uncovering the miracles of the Quran as deeply as I should. I have my ups and down. My faith, at times, dangles, and then I have to realign my thoughts. It happens more often than I am ready to confess here.

Yet I find remembering the inevitability of death from time to time is one way to stay grounded. During a course on Buddhist ethics I took a decade ago with Robert Thurman, the professor related a tale of a newlywed royal couple who went to a celebrated monk, Atisha, for marriage advice.

slide_42595_327710_largeInitially hesitating to offer any since he had never been married himself, the monk finally yielded, giving some of the soundest marital advice I have heard: “Eventually, husband and wife, each will die. So now while alive, you should strive to be kind to each other.”

Thoughts of death need not flood our minds with sorrow and negativity, as we should understand that death is a natural part of the journey of life.

If we work on making every prayer count as if it’s our last and set aside time from our busy schedules, including the social media that consumes a measurable chunk of our day, to unwind the thoughts and worries entangled in our minds, we may become better humans and will indeed have a greater chance of living with peace.

13-35

Community News (V13-I31)

New Mosque in Staten Island

STATEN ISLAND,NY–The Muslim American Society is opening a new location on Staten Island.

The mosque and community center will be housed at the site of a former Hindu temple on Burgher Avenue in Dongan Hills.

Renovations are underway, and the center is not open to the public as of yet reports NY1.

St. Louis’s Imam Ansari Passes Away

ST.LOUIS,MO–Samuel Ansari, a much beloved leader of the St.Louis Muslim community, passed away on July 24, after suffering a heart attack. He was 62. He owned a bakery and served as a volunteer imam at the Al Muminun Mosque.

Mr. Ansari was born Samuel Hicks on Nov. 20, 1948, in Huntingdon, Tenn., and moved to St. Louis as a child. He graduated from Vashon High School and did a stint in the Army in the 1960s that took him to Alaska. When he came home, he was disillusioned with the United States. Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, a social movement of black Muslims, appealed to him.

“When I heard him say the white man is the devil, it hit home,” Mr. Ansari told the Post-Dispatch in 2006. “We wanted white Americans to feel what we felt.”

But after Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, Mr. Ansari followed the leadership of Muhammad’s son, W. Deen Mohammed, who focused on the universal teachings of Islam, not separatism.

Imam Ansari had worked hard to build bridges between the immigrant and the African-American Muslim community of the city. He was also active in interfaith efforts.

DOJ Asked to Probe Michigan Bias

DETROIT,MI–The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) has asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether local planning officials in that state are violating the religious rights of Muslims by denying a permit to build a school on property they own.

On June 16, the Michigan Islamic Academy (MIA) went before the Pittsfield Township Planning Commission for land usage approval on a newly-purchased property to be used for educational and religious purposes. The planning commission voted on a preliminary procedural motion to deny MIA’s request after concerns of disruption of neighborhood harmony were raised and derogatory comments were made about the religious practices of Muslims. (A final vote will be taken at a commission meeting on August 4.)

Ali Mushtaq Wins Piano Competition

WASHINGTON D.C.–Ali Mushtaq, a statistical contractor and an amateur pianist, came first at the ninth annual Washington International Piano Artists Competition.  The competition is open to amateur pianists 31 years of age or older. The event had competitors from around the world and was hosted by the French Embassy.

Arts Midwest Launches International Program to Bridge American and Muslim Cultures

Arts Midwest, the non-profit Regional Arts Organization (RAO) serving America’s upper Midwest, announces the launch of Caravanserai: A place where cultures meeT, a groundbreaking artistic and cultural exchange program supported by the nation’s RAOs. Caravanserai is funded by a one million dollar grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) Building Bridges program.

“The name Caravanserai was carefully selected for this program,” says David Fraher, Executive Director of Arts Midwest. “Historically, in the east and middle-east, stopping places for caravans were called caravanserais. Safe places to come together and exchange stories. The name evokes that imagery of travelers in a safe haven, a place where cultures meet.”

Betsy Fader of DDFIA says Caravanserai is a natural fit for their Building Bridges grants program. “Caravanserai beautifully illustrates our mission to promote the use of art and culture to improve Americans’ understanding and appreciation of Muslim Societies. We believe this pilot program of music and film will start many conversations and open many doors to understanding.”

Nearly two years in the making, Caravanserai begins with a pilot program in five US communities comprising performing arts and film programs featuring art and artists from Muslim cultures. The pilot program focuses on Pakistan. Future programming will feature other geographic regions and artistic disciplines and will travel to more US cities.

After receiving applications from across the country, Arts Midwest selected the following communities to present Caravanserai:

•    The Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire; Littleton, NH
•    Artswego SUNY Oswego; Oswego, NY
•    FirstWorks; Providence, RI
•    Monmouth University; West Long Branch, NJ
•    The Myrna Loy Center; Helena, MT

Each organization will host three arts experiences in their community, including music residency tours featuring traditional and contemporary Pakistani musicians and a film residency, featuring a Pakistani filmmaker. Residency activities will include educational workshops, public performances, film screenings, and localized community outreach.
Curated by artistic director Zeyba Rahman, Caravanserai features a roster of outstanding contemporary Pakistani artists.

•    Arif Lohar – Folk singer
•    Qawal Najmuddin Saifuddin – Qawali singers
•    Sanam Marvi – Folk and Sufi singer
•    Ustad Tari Khan – US-based tabla master
•    Ayesha Khan – Filmmaker, “Made in Pakistan”

13-31

Umrah Packages Galore, as Ramadan Nears

By IINA

masjid_al_haram-300x224RIYADH, Shaaban 18/July 19 (IINA)-With two weeks to go before the holy month of Ramadan, attractive weekend Umrah packages starting from SR100 are being offered by travel operators in the capital.

The beginning of the Umrah season on June 29 this year coincided with the summer holidays, triggering a large rush of people including Saudis to do the pilgrimage.

An official from Al-Rushd, a leading Hajj and Umrah travel operator in the city, said the Umrah season is to continue until two weeks after Ramadan.

He predicted that the current fee of SR100 per pilgrim will increase by 50 percent as Ramadan approaches and will be hiked even further during the latter part of the holy month. “Budget conscious families are currently taking advantage of this offer,” he said.

A return fare from Riyadh to Makkah by luxury coach including accommodation in the holy city will cost SR100 per pilgrim and the charges remain the same even if the pilgrim opts to visit the Prophet’s (s) Mosque in Madinah en route to Makkah.

For an additional payment of SR30 per pilgrim, accommodation can be upgraded to four-star hotels in the holy city.

The itinerary for the weekend package to Makkah and Madinah starts at 4 p.m. from Riyadh on Wednesday and finishes on Friday midnight.  Each family is given a large room while the bachelors are accommodated on a sharing basis with three pilgrims in one room. Children under 12 pay half the fare.

A five-day package to Makkah and Madinah including travel and accommodation will cost SR150 per pilgrim. The offer includes a two-day stay in a three-star hotel in Madinah and another two days in similar accommodation in Makkah.

The journey begins on Monday and ends on Friday. The pilgrims will leave the holy city of Makkah after Friday prayers so that they reach Riyadh around midnight. Pilgrims are given an option to stay in a five-star hotel for an additional premium.

There are more than 100 Umrah travel operators spread out across the capital, but most are concentrated in the city center of Batha.

During the journey, coaches stop for Maghreb, Isha and dinner and at the meeqat point in Taif to allow pilgrims to don ihrams. Pilgrims are given half an hour to put their ihrams on to ensure that they reach Makkah in time for Fajr.

A leading hotelier in Makkah told Arab News that the majority of the pilgrims are from all parts of the Kingdom and others have come from countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
“This year, there are less people from Arab countries such as Egypt and Morocco, possibly due to unrest in the region,” he noted. The occupancy rate in Makkah hotels has been recorded at 88 percent during weekdays and 100 percent during the weekends, he added.

The local hotels in cooperation with local tour operators have arranged city tours to historical sites for the benefit of those pilgrims who come to Madinah to visit the Prophet’s Mosque.

The places of interest include Quba Mosque, the first mosque built by the Holy Prophet (s) in Madinah; the Qiblatain Mosque where the Qibla was shifted from Baitul Muqaddas (Al-Aqsa Mosque) to the Holy Kaaba; and the graveyard on the foothills of Mount Uhud where soldiers who died in battle during the prophetic period were buried.

AH/IINA

13-30