Friday, December 25, 2009

Shariah-Compliant Wills: A Primer

Click Here to read the whole article.

Essentials of the Islamic Will

A will is a legal document that gives the executor of that will direction on how the testator’s property should be distributed. In the Islamic context, however, the distributions are not at the discretion of the individual; rather, they are dictated in detail in the Qur’an and Hadith. Therefore, under Shariah law every individual’s estate would automatically be distributed in accordance with the rules outlined in the Qur’an and Hadith.

While the laws of succession, whether intestate or not, are strictly structured by Shariah law, a dispensation does allow for the distribution of a portion of the estate as the decedent pleases by way of a will, as established by Hadith. According to this tradition, and several other similar narrations, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), permitted an individual to dispose of up to one-third of his or her property to anyone not defined as an heir under Shariah law. This distribution, known as the wasiyya, allows an individual to leave bequests for charitable organizations, non-relative friends, non-Muslim relatives, adopted children, or anyone not recognized as a legal heir under Shariah law. In the aforementioned example, under Shariah law H cannot leave an additional wasiyya bequest to W since she is already set to inherit a one-eighth share. However, if W was not a Muslim, then she would not be entitled to a one-eighth share under certain interpretations of Shariah law. Assuming in the present example that W could not inherit from H due to her difference in religion, H could make a wasiyya bequest to W for an amount up to one-third of his possessions.

Thus, the Islamic will is essentially a three step process. First, before any distributions are made, Shariah law requires that all of the decedent’s debts and expenses be settled before any of the estate be distributed amongst his or her heirs. Once those debts are settled, an individual may bequeath an amount of up to one-third of his or her estate by way of the optional wasiyya to any person or institution who will not inherit under the normal Shariah intestacy laws. Finally, once debts and expenses are settled and the optional wasiyya has been subtracted, the remaining estate is distributed in accordance with the strict guidelines established in Shariah law.

An Islamic Will in U.S. Jurisdiction
It is absolutely clear that U.S. courts will not recognize a mere desire to have a relative’s estate distributed according to Shariah law principles—even if such desire is expressed through a signed or even notarized document. Quite practically, a U.S. judge cannot be expected to sit and interpret Islamic law. Moreover, a judge will not apply a document that is not legally binding upon the court. Thus, in order to have an Islamic will enforced in a U.S. court, one must make sure that the document is legally valid and that the instructions are clear and unambiguous.

All American jurisdictions require certain formalities before a will is legally acceptable. For example, in New York, the formalities are as follows:

(1) The testator must be over 18 years of age;
(2) The testator must sign the will;
(3) The signature must appear at the end of the document;
(4) There must be at least two attesting witnesses;
(5) The testator must declare to the witnesses that the document is his/her last will and testament;
(6) The testator must sign or acknowledge is signature in the presence of each witness;
(7) The Will must be executed within 30 days after the first witness signs.

Requirements for other jurisdictions may vary slightly (e.g. some jurisdictions may allow more or less time to execute the will). In very few jurisdictions, such as New Jersey, a holographic will—an unwitnessed will in the testator’s handwriting—is still legally acceptable. Although legally acceptable, such wills are frequently subject to contests and challenges after the death of the testator, and it is therefore preferable that a will comply fully with the aforementioned formalities so as to avoid contestation.

Consequently, an Islamic will must be drafted with these same formalities in order to have any force in a U.S. courtroom. In addition to these requirements, the bequests must be stated clearly, explicitly identifying individuals and the quantities they are to receive. It is not sufficient to state: “This estate shall be distributed according to Islamic Shariah law.” Instead, the will must state that it is an Islamic will and then it must recite all the beneficiaries and their respective shares. The wasiyya bequest and Islamic inheritance distributions must both be set out in this document as there is no distinction in U.S. courts between wasiyya and inheritance.

© Omar T. Mohammedi, Esq., Law Firm of Omar T. Mohammedi, LLC, 233 Broadway, Suite 801, New York, New York 10279. All rights reserved.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Muslims In America: What We Need to Do

by Minara Uddin

Muslims in America are in a unique position today. Eight years ago, Muslims were thrust in the spotlight (whether or not they wanted to be), because of the attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001. While this was a tragic part of our American narrative, it also provides Muslim Americans with the power to steer that narrative.

According to Time, nearly 40% of Americans still say they think Islam is more likely to encourage violence, according to a new Pew Forum survey, and only a minority hold favorable views of Muslims (the latest poll does not distinguish between Muslims and Muslim Americans).

These numbers can either serve to energize or depress Muslim Americans. We need to get out and be active in our communities. I have noticed far too many Muslim Americans only focus on themselves and their "plight". Volunteer with a local soup kitchen, help people in shelters, mentor someone, be a wonderful coworker, and stellar students in all fields (not just medicine).

I know we need to branch out into law, media, and other professions. There so many different instances where Muslim Americans have seen their rights infringed upon. We have seen the New York City's MTA prevent women from wearing hijabs (headscarf for modesty), a Philadelphia Muslim police woman disciplined for wearing hijab, proposed legislation that would ban wearing hijab in driver's licenses in Oklahoma and Minnesota.

These measures are amid protestations that the United States protects the rights of all citizens. President Obama declared in his speech in Cairo: "Freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one's religion. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear the hijab, and to punish those who would deny it. "

We need to become more involved in the legislative process. How can we expect Americans in general to understand how much we love our country if we isolate ourselves? Let us take those numbers from the Pew Forum Survey to heart. The reason that Americans feel this way is because we have not spoken up enough to let Americans know who we are. I encourage all Muslim Americans to stop hating and start participating in the Democratic process.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Muslim's Reaction to Obama's Speech

This is a few months old now, but it's still a very good interview with some very interesting people. Below is a transcript of the interview, see the video here.

BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: We have a discussion today of President Obama’s speech to the Muslim world and the reaction to it. Kate Seelye was a longtime Middle East correspondent, based in Beirut. She is now a vice president of the Middle East Institute in Washington. Vali Nasr is a professor of international relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and is also serving as a special adviser to Ambassador Richard Holbrooke, who is leading US diplomacy in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Professor Nasr speaks here for himself, not for the US government.
Welcome to you both. Professor Nasr, let’s begin with you. The reaction throughout the Muslim world — what do you hear?
Dr. VALI NASR (Professor of International Relations, Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University): Very, very positive. There’s no doubt that the speech exceeded expectations from the vast majority of Muslims all the way from Indonesia to Nigeria. Even though the president did not go deeply into policy, I think the level of respect and empathy and seriousness that he showed in terms of engaging the Muslim world was very well understood by the public and very much appreciated.
ABERNETHY: On the other hand, Kate, there was a lot of criticism, wasn’t there, or some guarded comments from officials?

Kate Seelye
KATE SEELYE (Vice President, Middle East Institute, Washington, DC): Well, there were. I think people are—there are some who are holding reservations. They want to see if he’s going to translate his words into action. There was also some disappointment on the part of democracy activists who wanted him to be tougher, let’s say, on Arab leaders, who wanted to put more pressure on them. And there were some who wanted him to be tougher on the Israelis. But by and large, people were very positive and felt that he went out of his way to try to bridge this gap between America and the Muslim world.
ABERNETHY: What could be the deeds now that would satisfy the people to whom Obama was talking?
Dr. NASR: I think one of the ways to look at this is that the speech or the series of speeches he’s given is a deed in itself. In other words, our habit in this region is that administrations come up immediately off the bat with a plan of action for something, whether it’s Iran, Arab-Israeli issue, Afghanistan. This president understood that there is no point trying a new policy before you change the context in which you engage the other side. So I think his very first policy, his very first deed has been to gain trust, and I think the first way in which he has to be measured is by trust, and I think Kate’s point, which is correct, there are — I think he’s been successful enough that some actors like the Iranian government or Hezbollah or the Muslim Brotherhood may worry that he’s quickly changing the game on them very fast and effectively, and some of the reaction we’re seeing has to do with that.

Bob Abernethy
ABERNETHY: But a specific deed now to follow this, Kate, what could that be?
Ms. SEELYE: Well, I mean everybody’s waiting to see what he’s going to do vis-a-vis the Arab-Israeli peace process. What steps he is going to take to pressure the Israelis perhaps to halt settlement building. This is what Arabs and Muslims are looking for — concrete deeds with regard to the peace process, frankly.
ABERNETHY: Did you feel on that that he was tilting a little bit toward the Palestinians?
Ms. SEELYE: Well, he acknowledged the Holocaust, he acknowledged the suffering of the Jews, and he also acknowledged the suffering of the Palestinians, and this was really a first. Many presidents have acknowledged the need for a two-state solution, but few have said, you know, I feel for the suffering of the Palestinian refugees. He won high marks for that.
ABERNETHY: I was struck by the language, especially the references to the Qu’ran and other phrases that come out of the Islamic tradition. That can’t help but have helped him in the Muslim world.
Dr. NASR: Absolutely. I mean, there are ways of using the Qu’ran and then there are ways of using the Qu’ran. Often Western commentators or leaders usually use the Qu’ran in order to hit the Muslims on the head with it. In other words, use their own scripture in order to preach to them very selectively. This president, I think, has used a very light touch in terms of trying to use the Qu’ran to convince the Muslims that he believes they belong inside the tent — that there is no such thing as a Judeo-Christian tradition with the Muslim standing out there. The way he used the Qu’ran, particularly at the end, was to say that there is an Islamic-Judeo-Christian civilization—that your values are the same as our values and our values are the same as your values, and look, here is the example by referring to all three scriptures at the same time, and I think that’s what’s most effective.
ABERNETHY: And as you said, this attempt to build respect with the audience he was talking to is the first step in new policy?

Vali Nasr
Dr. NASR: Well, absolutely. If you looked at the Bush administration, their approach was that you are either with us or you’re against us. It’s either black or white, and the burden was on Muslims to prove themselves innocent. In other words they’re guilty unless proven innocent, and they set down a set of markers which basically meant abandon your faith, change it, reform it, change everything, and then you’ll be sort of acceptable. This president is starting from a very different point of view. First of all, he’s creating a massive gray area in the middle. It is not either us or you, that we have a common arena in which we share, and the burden is not on Muslims to prove that their religion matters or that their values are world values. He immediately off the bat said, “I agree with that, and I’ll give you better examples than you can yourselves.”
Ms. SEELYE: Yes, and if I might add to that, I mean he was very sensitive about language and Muslim sensitivities. He never once used the word “terrorist,” because over the past eight years the word terrorist has become synonymous with the word Muslim and Islam. So he avoided these words, and he used language that people applauded. When he talked about the Prophet Muhammad he said “peace be upon him.” That was very important for Islamists and traditionalists watching his speech.
ABERNETHY: What about nuclear weapons? What can you divine in the speech about how that problem can be addressed now?
Dr. NASR: That’s a problem that has to be solved at the negotiation table, and we will not see where it is going until the day the United States and Iran are sitting at the table and discussing it. But I think the president is trying to make it easier or in some ways compel the Iranian government not to hide behind excuses that Americans are not sincere, they’re not serious, there’s no point talking to them. To say that you — look, there is a pathway for you to come in, and the United States is going to engage Iran over these very serious issues from a position of respect.
ABERNETHY: Kate, did you hear anything from people you know in the Muslim part of the world about what we’re talking about? Did anybody say anything to you?
Ms. SEELYE: Oh, absolutely. I had some blogger friends from Saudi Arabia say that they were thrilled by this speech because it wasn’t directed toward Arab leaders. Obama never once mentioned the name of Hosni Mubarak, the host. He was speaking to the youth, to the women, to the people of the Arab world, and that’s very rare in a region where people don’t feel like they’re being addressed by their leaders. Here was this leader of the world superpower saying, “I care about you. I want to help you. Your education is important. Let’s invest in you.” That was profoundly appreciated.
ABERNETHY: Many thanks to you, Kate Seelye, and to Professor Vali Nasr.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Benjamin Franklin on Religion

Just before he died, Benjamin Franklin was asked about his religious beliefs. Here is (in part) what he said:

“Here is my creed: I believe in One God, the Creator of the Universe. That he governs the world by His providence. That he aught to be worshipped. That the most acceptable service we can render to Him is doing good to His other children. These are the fundamental principles of all sound religion.

Regarding Jesus (peace be upon him):

“I think his system of morals and religion, as he left them to us, the best that man ever saw or is likely to see. But I apprehend that over time, it has received various corrupting changes.”

“I have some doubts as to his divinity, though it is a question I do not dogmatize upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now when I expect soon an opportunity of knowing the truth with less trouble.”

This was taken from a lecture given by Geoffrey Stone at the University of Chicago School of Law, entitled "The World of the Framers: A Christian Nation?"

How much of this conflicts with Islam? If a person told me today what Benjamin Franklin said, I would have a hard time arguing that this person could not be a Muslim. That said, Franklin was definitely not a Muslim. But the important thing to understand from this quote is his egalitarian view of religion. He, and most of the other founding fathers never meant to create a Christian nation, but to create a pluralistic society based on shared values and human rights.

Muslims are not alien to America, but an essential and deliberate thread in the American fabric.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

U.S. Muslims are Americans Too

by Hamid Dabashi

(This article was taken from here.)

New York (CNN) -- The serendipitous occurrence of this year's Thanksgiving holiday on the same evening as the Muslim Eid-ul-Adha is a festive occasion to reflect on the place of Islam in American collective consciousness and on Muslims as Americans.

On the same evening that millions of Americans gather around their Thanksgiving dinner to celebrate this most American of holidays, even more millions of Muslims around the globe, including the growing number of American Muslims, will do the same -- celebrating as well one of the most definitive moments of their faith -- Prophet Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son for his God.

This holiday celebration comes soon after the tragic incident at Fort Hood, when the atrocious act of a mass murderer put Islam and Muslims under some pressure to either denounce or defend their faith.

The psychotic act of Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, MD, a Muslim American military psychiatrist at Fort Hood who went on a rampage killing 13 U.S. soldiers and wounding 30 others, has prompted two diametrically opposed reactions.

On one side are people who say that Islam -- and Islam alone -- is inherently violent and by extension Muslims are constitutionally driven to murder, while on the other are apologetic Muslims who argue their faith is peaceful and benevolent -- unrelated to criminal acts such as Hasan's.

The fact is that Maj. Hasan and Osama bin Laden have as much claim on Islam as do Muhammad Ali, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar and the Persian poet Mawlana Jalal al-Din Rumi, who is the best-selling poet in America. Islam is an abstraction and any Muslim, saintly or satanic, detested or beloved, can and does have a claim on it -- and Islam is not the only world religion with this proclivity for good and evil.

The distinguished New York Times columnist David Brooks, one of the most consistently militant warriors in his take on American involvements in Afghanistan and Iraq, takes Islam -- and Islam alone -- to task for having a diabolic roughness on its fringes. But even if so, Islam is not alone in this failure to curtail murderous instincts.

The same Hinduism that produced Mahatma Gandhi and his non-violent theory of civil disobedience has also produced Hindu fundamentalists who sliced and skewered pregnant Muslim women alive in Gujarat.

The same Christianity that produced Saint Francis of Assisi and Mother Theresa also produced children's crusades and Spanish conquistadors who burned native Americans alive 13 at a time (according to the 16th-century Spanish Dominican priest, Bartolomé de las Casas) in honor of the Twelve Apostles and Jesus Christ. It also produced American Seung-Hui Cho who killed 32 students and himself at Virginia Tech and American John Wayne Gacy, Jr., who raped and murdered 33 young men and boys in Chicago, Illinois, in the 1970s.

The same Judaism that produced Martin Buber, Emanuel Levinas, or Primo Levi also produced the Stern Gang, Meir Kahane and Baruch Goldstein.

But the knee jerk reaction of blaming Islam and Muslims, in general, or looking for delusional links to "al Qaeda," for the horrific murders at Fort Hood points to something far more fundamental, overdue, and urgent -- namely something of a psychological barrier for Americans to accept the Islamic component of their own society, culture, and history.

To avoid singling out Islam as diabolical, it is imperative for Americans to come to terms with the collectively repressed fact that by far the most important social uprising of their 20th century -- namely the civil rights movement of the 1960s -- is not as exclusively a Christian phenomenon as it is made out to be: The towering figure of a Muslim revolutionary named Malcolm X is of great importance in the history of that movement.

It took a whole generation of Americans to accept the fact that Jewish civil rights activists were instrumental in many measures of the success that was achieved in the 1960s. It is long overdue for Americans also to recognize that Malcolm X was equally, if not more, important to the civil rights movement.

The way the history of the civil rights movement is mostly remembered now, an overwhelming role is assigned to the Southern Baptist genealogy of Martin Luther King Jr. Malcolm X is delegated to a radical fringe -- portrayed as more of a menace and a hindrance than a positive force in the civil rights movement.

But without the simultaneous presence of Malcolm X as a Muslim revolutionary, the Southern Baptist pacifism of Martin Luther King Jr. would not have been as formidable a force.

Malcolm X and Martin Luther King were the yin and yang of the civil rights movement -- ennobling anger and vision coming together in hopes of realizing the dream of equality.

For more than three decades now, I have taught generations of American students who come to college having scarce read a word about Malcolm X, and yet everything about Martin Luther King Jr.

Until Americans come to terms with the fact that they are deeply indebted to a Muslim revolutionary for the fruits of the civil rights movement they enjoy today, Islam and Muslims will continue to be seen as archetypically alien and an everlasting danger to American lives and liberties.

Americans are Christians, Jews, Hindus, agnostics, atheists, and anything else in between -- but Americans are also Muslims, millions of them, and Islam has now become integral to what the distinguished American sociologist Robert Bellah termed our "civil religion."

It is only apt that this particular Thanksgiving, Americans think about Eid-ul-Adha, as precious to Muslim-Americans as the occasion that has gathered us all "at the table." Let's make room for Muslims "at the table" because -- to quote Langston Hughes -- they "too, sing America."

Hamid Dabashi is the author of "Iran: A People Interrupted." He is Hagop Kevorkian Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature at Columbia University in New York. His Web site is

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Pat Robertson: Islam isn’t a religion; treat Muslims like fascists

By Daniel Tencer

Conservative commentators are ratcheting up anti-Muslim rhetoric in the wake of last week's Fort Hood massacre, with televangelist Pat Robertson leading the way with a declaration that Islam is "not a religion," but a "political system" bent on destroying all the world's governments.

In a commentary on his show, The 700 Club, Robertson noted that the alleged shooter in the Fort Hood massacre, Nidal Malik Hasan, had come to the attention of authorities prior to the rampage by emailing a radical cleric and trying to contact Al Qaeda.

"Nobody wanted to go after him because of political correctness," Robertson said on Monday. "We just don't talk about somebody's quote 'religion,' even if the religion involved beheading infidels and pouring boiling oil down their throats."

Robertson said Islam should be treated like a fringe political movement.

"If we don't stop covering up what Islam is ... Islam is a violent -- I was going to say religion, but it's not a religion, it's a political system, it's a violent political system bent on the overthrow of the governments of the world and world domination," Robertson said. "You're dealing with not a religion, you're dealing with a political system, and I think we should treat it as such, and treat its adherents as such as we would members of the communist party, members of some fascist group."

Read the full article here.

Pat Robertson was a large contributor to Virginia Governor-elect Bob McDonnell. McDonnell openly spoke against Robertson's claims. See the video here.

I read one of Pat's books, Bring It On. On page 261, he says "Many people are confused about who Allah is. Allah was one of the jinns in existence in Mecca during the time that Muhammad [peace be upon him] was having his purported dreams and revelations that inspired the Koran. Allah is the moon god, and the symbol of Islam is the crescent moon. Allah is not the God of the Old Testament."

As you can see, he plays off of old and misinterpreted stereotypes to get his followers to believe that Islam is not apart of the Abrahamic tradition, but some crazy religion, where Muslims worship the moon and follow a false prophet.

First of all, Allah is the Arabic word for God. It comes from the word Al-Ilah, literally, "The God." If one picks up any Bible in Arabic, they will find "God" translated into "Allah." What Pat is thinking of is the pagen moon-god "Al Laat," who the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) told us not to worship. Also, the crescent moon became the symbol of Islam much later in Islam's history and has nothing to do with who we worship.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How Right-Wing Talkers Crassly Exploited Ft. Hood Tragedy

By David Corn

This article was taken from here.

On Tuesday morning I accidentally had the chance to listen to Chris Plante, a Rush-wannabe radio talk-show host who appears on a D.C. station. He was going on and on about how the Fort Hood shootings have driven the nation apart. An agitated Plante noted that 9/11 had brought the country together, but that in the wake of the horrific Fort Hood attack there's been no unity. Why? Because, as his Web site noted, Democrats and liberals have been "trying desperately to convince America" that Nidal Hasan, the presumed shooter, was "just a crazy guy who spent too much time around deployed soldiers and caught [post-traumatic stress disorder] and oh he happened to be a muslim [sic], but we should ignore that. We shouldn't jump to conclusions."

This was a bizarre analysis: Division was being created by people saying that there should be no rush to judgment regarding the motives underlying this horrific act or the episode's ultimate significance. Actually, it was right-wing pundits and activists who were eagerly whipping up conflict.

On his show, Plante repeatedly asserted that Hasan had shouted, "Allahu Akbar!" before firing on his fellow soldiers -- which would make his attack an act of religious-inspired murder. But a Fort Hood spokesman had said that Hasan's use of that phrase was just "speculation." In fact, last Friday, when Gen. Robert Cone, the base's commander, first discussed the possibility that Hasan had shouted these words, he made clear that this was an unconfirmed report. Nevertheless, Laura Ingraham, another conservative radio ranter, also claimed it was a fact that Hasan was "screaming Allah-u-Akbar" -- as she argued that Hasan had been moved to kill by his "religious fervor" (read: Muslim religious fervor).

Maybe Hasan did shout that Islamic phrase. If so, that would partly explain what had driven him to kill his fellow soldiers. For now, stating it as an established fact is a divisive act.

Yet some on the right see no need to wait for evidence. On Monday, the American Family Association, a conservative Christian group, posted on its Web site an article calling for all Muslims to be barred from military service. "As soon as Muslims give us a foolproof way to identify their jihadis from their moderates, we'll go back to allowing them to serve," wrote Bryan Fischer, the group's director of issues analysis. (An aside: When Christian right extremists shoot abortion providers, does this outfit call for prohibiting all Christians from owning guns?)

Over at Fox News, Sean Hannity, too, has been busy exploiting the Fort Hood horror. He proclaimed, "There is a chance our government knew all about" Hasan and "did nothing because nobody wanted to be called an Islamophobe." This is -- to use a technical term -- dumb. The U.S. government has pursued numerous terrorist cases against radical Muslims. It has broken up alleged cells of Muslim radicals. And the Bush and Obama administrations have used drones to blast Islamic extremists in the nether-regions of Pakistan. No one in charge of these activities seems to fear being branded a bigot.

Nevertheless, Hannity has tried to use the Fort Hood tragedy to depict Obama as weak on terrorism. The facts, however, don't fit the smear. As The Washington Post reported, Hasan came to the attention of not one but two terrorism task forces after he corresponded by e-mail with a radical imam named Anwar al-Aulaqi. But this happened in late 2008, when George W. Bush and Dick Cheney were in charge. The government then took no action, because an analyst concluded that Hasan's contact with al-Aulaqi was consistent with research Hasan was conducting. Still, Hannity has blasted the Obama administration for not catching Hasan before his killing spree, bellowing, "What does it say about Barack Obama and our government?" Actually, it says nothing about Obama.

Rush Limbaugh also blamed Obama for the Fort Hood massacre. Then he denounced the president for not referring to the attack as an act of terror.

The Fort Hood killings are a national nightmare. Obama spoke movingly at the memorial service held on Tuesday afternoon. After being greeted by loud cheers from those who had assembled to commemorate the deaths of comrades and loved ones, the president spoke of the country's commitment to religious freedom and plurality:

We're a nation that guarantees the freedom to worship as one chooses. And instead of claiming God for our side, we remember Lincoln's words, and always pray to be on the side of God. We're a nation that is dedicated to the proposition that all men and women are created equal. We live that truth within our military, and see it in the varied backgrounds of those we lay to rest today.

Shouters on the right, though, see this moment as an opportunity -- to stir up questions about an entire religion and to bash political foes. They are not decrying division, they are quite purposefully creating it.

David Corn is the Washington bureau chief for Mother Jones magazine. Prior to that he was the Washington editor of The Nation magazine for twenty years... More on David Corn.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Now Hiring. Muslims Need Not Apply.

For Muslim-Americans, discrimination in the workplace and in hiring practices is the norm. This discrimination comes in many forms; but no matter what form it comes in, it has a grave impact on Muslim-Americans. Muslims and Non-Muslims should remember that such discrimination in America is a part of our history. Many religions, cultures and ethnic groups have faced hatred and bigotry in the past, and in many ways, it’s just our turn. The difference is, however, that we have certain recourse that other minorities did not have in the past.

It’s common for Muslim-Americans to face discrimination in the workplace. During job interviews especially, Muslims who practice outwardly by either wearing a hijab for women, or a beard and a kufi (skullcap) for men, are at a significant disadvantage. Notably, one Muslim woman was not hired at Abercrombie and Fitch because her headscarf did not (supposedly) fit their style. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) in 2008, reported 3,273 complaints of religious-based discrimination.

I have personally found that there are several ways in which discrimination at job interviews happens:

1) They are open about it. While applying for a job to load and unload trucks at a local FedExKinkos dock, I got the ol’ “go back where you came from.” Even worse, one classmate in college was told in a phone interview “sorry, we’re not hiring Muslims right now.” I remember the look on her face when she told me that. I remember her telling me how tired she was of this country, and how she just wanted to go back to Pakistan. (She was a U.S. Citizen.)

2) They just can’t get over it. For a possible job at a charitable organization in Rochester, NY I was given the option of having a phone interview, or coming in person. I always like to come in person, because I am not ashamed of how I look, nor do I want any surprises the first day of work, if I do get the job. As usual, the interviewer walked in with a smile, until she saw me. Her face changed, but she tried to be cordial. She asked me some questions and I politely and smilingly replied. While I was replying to one of her questions, however, (I’ll never forget this!) the interviewer exploded like a volcano. Out of nowhere, she suddenly slammed her hand on the table and screamed “I have friends in Israel!”

3) They give excuses. This is the interviewer that doesn’t really have ill will towards Muslims personally, but also can’t afford to be a hero. “Look,” they usually start out, “most of my clients are [fill in the blank] and they wouldn’t like it if I hired you.” For me, that blank was filled with “firefighters.” For my sisters (who are dentists) in Long Island, that blank was filled with “Jewish.”

4) They are “subtle.” “Don’t worry,” I was told with a wink and a smile, “we’ll take care of you.”

No matter how you’re discriminated against, it hurts. Like hell. All at the same time, you feel angry, helpless, bitter, worthless, and alien to your own society. You feel different, and, after a while, despair sets in. A study done by psychologist Mona Amer of Yale University corroborates this. In her study of 611 Arab-American adults, she found that Arab-Americans had much worse mental health than Americans overall. About half had symptoms of clinical depression. The cause of this depression, she says, is the verbal harassment Muslims and Arab-Americans face in a post 9/11 world.

Instead of depression, Muslims need to look at the broader picture, and buck up. America has a long history of discriminating against many different races, cultures, creeds and religions at one time or another for various reasons. Blacks faced slavery. Native Americans had their land and culture destroyed. The Japanese were thrown into internment camps, (imagine every Muslim in America thrown into Guantanamo). Women weren’t allowed to own property (Please note, Muslim women have always had the right to own their own property thank you very much!)

An old Jewish neighbor (who has since retired and moved away), graduated from the same law school I did. He told me his story when he was a first-year law student. “I remember one student, he was a Catholic Priest, who decided to go to law school. He was no dummy. He actually ended up graduating at the top of his class! I’ll never forget the first conversation we had. As we were talking, he started staring at my head. ‘What are you looking at?’ I asked. ‘We were always taught that all Jews had horns,’ the priest replied.”

Don’t forget, even Catholics were discriminated against. When the Irish-Catholics came to America during the potato famine, signs outside businesses would openly say “Help Wanted. Irish Need Not Apply.” When Kennedy ran for president, he had to repeatedly say that he would not take orders from the pope. Moreover, an entire group, known as the “Know-Nothing Party” also known as the “American Party” was dedicated to keep immigrants and especially Catholics from being able to vote or hold public office.

The point is, that becoming part of the American story means going through the same growing pains and the same rights of passage all other American subcultures went through, namely, discrimination. This is not to say, that discrimination is ok; just that people have gone through this before, and things have gotten better. Eventually, Muslims will be recognized as the full members of American society they are, just like all other groups.

What non-Muslim Americans should learn from their past, is not to discriminate in the first place. Even if your ancestors came to America on the Mayflower, they did so because of persecution and discrimination. Every American should look to their past and try to remember when they, as a group, were shunned, hated and despised. They should remember the trials and tribulations their ancestors went through just because they were “different.” Every American should remember the evils of the discrimination their ancestors faced, and know that they have the chance to be a part of the fight against this evil. Judge us not by the direction in which we pray, but by the content of our character.

The good news is, Muslims have recourse that most previously discriminated American subcultures didn’t. Muslims often do not speak up against what is done to us, but we have every right to. Laws such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act protect us from the injustices we face. Just last month, a Muslim won a settlement against his employer for allowing other employees to make jokes about Muslims being terrorists. Moreover, of the 3,273 religious discrimination complaints, almost a quarter of them resulted in outcomes favorable to the parties claiming discrimination, with a total payout of 7.5 million dollars last year. For more information about fighting discrimination, see the EEOC website.


In a new USA TODAY/Gallup Poll of 1,007 Americans, 58% said they had never met a Muslim. And those who did know Muslims felt a lot better about them.

In Los Angeles, there are two "cousins clubs," interfaith groups of Muslim and Jewish women, so named because they share a common ancestor, Abraham. Participants read each others' sacred texts, celebrate holidays together and learn about one another's spiritual lives.

The women have become close, says Shayna Lester, co-founder of one of the groups. "We find we have more likenesses than differences. We no longer call each other cousins. We call each other sisters."

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Clinton's Visit to Pakistan: Same Wolf, New Shalwar Kameez

This morning, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton visited Islamabad, the capital of Pakistan. Her visit was primarily to, as she put it, "turn the page" on what has been, in the past few years, "primarily a security-anti-terrorist agenda." Her visit came after the rising anger in Pakistan over Pakistan's role in fighting Taliban in the South Waziristan and the recently enacted Kerry-Lugar foreign aid bill.

Pakistan has been a key U.S. ally for many reasons for a long time. Pakistan worked with the U.S. during the Cold War and played a key role in expelling the Soviets from Afghanistan. Also, as one of the largest Muslim countries by population, and the only Muslim country to have nuclear arms, it is very important that the U.S. keep good relations with Pakistan.

However, the U.S.'s strategy in Pakistan can only be described as "wham, bam, thank you ma'am." The U.S. has a history of engaging with Pakistan only enough to get what it wants, and then leaving, without providing any real aid to Pakistan. For example, after the Cold War, Pakistan was left to clean up the mess in Afghanistan and deal with the scores of refugees flooding in from Afghanistan to Pakistan. The worst part, is that the U.S. geuinely thinks Pakistanis are stupid enough to believe them. Clinton said today, "it is unfortunate that there are those who question our motives, who perhaps are skeptical that we are going to commit to a long-term relationship, and I want to try to clear the air up on that while I am in the country."

Today's visit is no different than anything seen before, however. The Kerry-Lugar bill, purports to give Pakistan billions in aid, but actually sends most of the money to make a new embassy and consulate within Pakstan. It also sets parameters for obtaining and keeping that money which are overly vague and violate the sovereignty of Pakistan.

In all fairness, however, Clinton does have many Pakistani friends, and enjoys wearing shalwar kameez!

To see an interesting take on the bombing that occured, please see this video.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Imams Win Victory for Civil Rights

"Three years after six Muslim men were arrested on a US Airways jet in the Twin Cities, the "Flying Imams" have reached a legal settlement they say acknowledges they were treated improperly because of their religious and ethnic backgrounds."

Read the entire story here.

Read the entire ruling here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Trajic Misuse of Freedom of Speech

by Hassan Shibly

Dutch lawmaker, Geert Wilders was recently allowed entry to Britain after over a year of being denied entry due to his controversial film about Islam.

"Wilders' film "Fitna," which was released online in March 2008, features disturbing images of terrorist acts superimposed over verses from Islam's holy book, the Quran, to paint Islam as a threat to Western society.

After its release, the movie drew complaints from the European Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference, as well as concern from the United States, which warned it could spark riots"

People throughout the world are imprisoned, tortured, and even killed when they attempt to exercise free speech. They wish to exercise free speech so that they can call out corruption and injustice. Yet we sometimes use free speech as an excuse, if not justification, to insult and defame the beliefs of others. We use free speech to propagate hate, fear, and bigotry, based on misinformation and lies. It is disheartening and disgraceful that people use freedom of speech for such unworthy causes when others are giving their lives as they attempt to use it for worthy causes.

We do a great disservice to those who died in the name of freedom of speech, by being fooled into believing that those who use freedom of speech to unjustly hurt others are standing for the same great freedom of speech that we so value and honor. We value freedom of speech because it is a means to promote truth, liberty, and justice—yet those who misuse it are seeking polar opposites of what it was initially a means to protect.

In order for freedom of speech to survive, it must have broad protections that even shield those who misuse it. Thus those who misuse it may have a legal right to do so. But it must be remembered that courts do not and cannot ordain whatever is best for society in each individual case. Rather, they ordain whatever is permitted. Hence, a court can (and should) protect someone’s right to a particular act, but it cannot impress upon the actor to exercise their right in the best manner. Hence, courts can protect someone’s freedom of speech, but cannot force the speaker to use their freedom in the manner it was intended: for the open and honest discussion of issues important to the speaker.

Thus it is simply up to us, not as lawyers, but individuals, to recognize that those who use “freedom of speech” as an excuse to divide our community and promote hate and bigotry are no real champions of freedom of speech but rather are using this noble right to spread open lies and half truths. We as Americans must make the decision not to stand for such hate mongering. We must peacefully take a stand and send a message to hate-speech advocates that “no, you shall not use this noble right for an act that is counter to the very essence of free speech.”

It is thus very saddening that when a world leader was given a right by a court to travel to promote a film which demonizes the faith and culture of billions of people through outright lies and bigotry, he claimed that the court decision was “a victory for the freedom of speech.” How shameful! The interests freedom of speech was intended to protect are polar opposites of the interests for which he made his bigoted film. Freedom of speech is sought because it protects truth and justice; his films promote lies and hatred.

In short, the next time you see someone using freedom of speech to promote bigotry, hatred, slander, defamation, or any other cause, tell them "shame on you for using such a noble term as a cover for such an ignoble cause."

Hassan Shibly is a second year student at the University at Buffalo School of Law. He is on the Law School's prestigious Student Advisory Committee to the Human Rights Center at the University at Buffalo School of Law.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Obama's Premature Prize?

This year, the Nobel Peace Prize went to President Obama. But with less than a year in office, has he really earned such an honor? One of the major reasons for his win, according to Stein Tønnesson of the International Peace Research Institute in Oslo, was to "encourage his further work for peace" and finish initiatives he started. Among these initiatives: a "return to respect for civic and human rights," rapprochement with the Muslim world, Iran and North Korea and withdrawing troops from Iraq. "Then a big question is if he can find a way to be peaceful also with relation to Afghanistan."

But that's just it. He has yet to actually do anything. Although the Nobel Committee has "encouraged" others in the past for their efforts without yet accomplishing their goals, has Obama taken enough substantial steps even to be encouraged in this manner?

Muslim-Americans are among the many minority groups thankful that the Bush Administration is no longer in power. We see Obama as a breath of fresh air, and hope (key work here) that he will at least try to undue the damage the Bush administration has caused between the Muslim world and the U.S., as well as fight civil rights issues Muslim-Americans face. Lastly, we hope that Obama will be a voice of reason, speaking against the atrocities that the Palestinians, Iraqis and Afghanis face every day.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) national executive director, Nihad Awad echoed how Muslims feel when he said in a recent press release “We are pleased that our president has been awarded one of the highest honors for any world leader. Under president Obama’s leadership, our nation is beginning to restore its international image as a beacon of peace and justice. As the Nobel Committee stated, President Obama ‘has created a new international climate.’ We hope this prestigious prize will strengthen the president’s ability to help bring an end to international conflicts through the ‘dialogue and negotiations’ mentioned by the Nobel Committee and to eliminate the threat nuclear weapons pose to all of humanity."

This is all true, but let's not count our chickens before they're hatched. Obama has yet to fulfill his promise of closing Guantanamo (the one year deadline is probably not going to happen), and just this month, has backed out of his promise to find a better way to hold suspected terrorists than the Bush Administration. Also, the president has not addressed the issue of targeting Muslim-Americans in the U.S. Lastly, Obama has yet to do anything for the Palestinians who live as second-class citizens in their own homeland. What is more, what he says about the issue does not give us much hope for change.

Congradulations, Mr. President, on getting the world's hopes up.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Muslim-American History Revealed!

Coming out next year, is the most comprehensive book, no, encyclopedia on Muslims in America. The general editor, Professor Edward E. Curtis IV was kind enough to answer a few of my questions and give us a brief overview of this important work!

Would you be willing to write a small note or article about your upcoming book for my blog?

Adapted from "Introduction to a History both Muslim and American," from Edward E. Curtis IV, general editor, Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History (New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2010).

The Encylcopedia of Muslim-American History, featuring the work of nearly 130 contributors who penned 330 entries, is the largest scholarly work ever produced on the Muslim-American experience. In addition to biographies of Muslim Americans and entries on Muslim-American groups, the encyclopedia offers information on Muslim-American participation in major historical events such as the Columbian Exposition of 1893 (the Chicago World’s Fair), critical court cases such as Fulwood v. Clemmer (1962), important sectors of the U.S. economy such as healthcare, and familiar organizations such as the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. It charts the impact of Muslim Americans on cities such as Atlanta and Cleveland and Muslim-American contributions to American jazz, film, poetry, and hip hop.

The encyclopedia also features the most comprehensive chronology of Muslim-American history ever published. This chronology should be especially helpful to students, teachers, community activists, and others who wish to incorporate Muslims into their understanding of U.S. history. It details obscure events such as the 1803 conversion of white Americans to Islam during the course of First Barbary War, the 1847 escape of Muslim slave and sailor Mahommah Baquaqua from his captors at the port of New York, and the 1910 arrival of Inayat Khan, the Sufi missionary and Hindustani musician who toured America. It also charts the opening of mosques in Boston, Massachusetts; Detroit, Michigan; and Ross, North Dakota. More well-known happenings such as the death of Elijah Muhammad in 1975 are noted as are cultural milestones such as Life magazine’s 1948 cover story on Muslim jazz artists and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar’s retirement from the National Basketball Association with the most points of any player in history. The encyclopedia also contains dozens of historical illustrations and photographs that help readers better imagine the people, events, and places that are part of the Muslim-American past. Finally, it concludes with a master bibliography, perhaps the most definitive compilation published sources on Muslim-American history.

As a whole, the articles, original documents, chronology, and images make it possible to recover the essential role of Muslims in U.S. history and to incorporate them into our common notion of who we are as Americans. Such a task is critical in our age. By conjuring these American ancestors and unearthing our shared past, the Encyclopedia of Muslim-American History provides us all with new memories of who we have been and new hopes for what we might become.

1) When did you first come up with the idea of writing this encyclopedia?

I was contacted by Facts on File, Inc., and invited to be general editor of the project.

2) What kind of impact do you expect your encyclopedia to have?

Since Facts on File has a lot of success in placing their encyclopedias in high school and college libraries, my hope is that the encyclopedia becomes the first place to which students will turn when trying to understand how Muslims have been a part of U.S. history. Teachers of advanced placement courses will be able to incorporate original documents from Muslim Americans into their courses and integrate discussion of Muslims into their coverage of everything from the Civil War to U.S. foreign relations. On the scholarly level, I hope that it does its part to change the presentist bias in "Islam in America" studies; an historical perspective is generally lacking in this growing subfield.

3) What can we learn most about the Muslim Americans of the past?

Muslims have been part of the American story from before the republic was founded and have shaped the unfolding of U.S. history. They were multi-ethnic and multi-racial and subscribed to various forms of Islam from the beginning, too. Rather than seeing Muslims as separate from U.S. history, the encylcopedia's most important contribution is to integrate Muslims into the stories that make us Americans.

4) Was there a story/article you found most interesting?

There were so many! I did not know that thousands of Muslims had served in the U.S. military from the Revolutionary war to World War I. I also discovered that Muslim Americans have been vitally important for the last hundred years to the history of American jurisprudence, so the entry on law is really important. The history of Muslim contributions to jazz demonstrates how Muslims changed American culture. And I found even more evidence that our common narrative of Islam among African Americans is all wrong. It didn't start with the Nation of Islam. The Nation was only one of several black Muslim organizations competing for converts before World War II.

5) Did you find that the Muslim-Americans faced the same challenges Muslim-Americans face today?

Most Muslim Americans in 1820 were enslaved, so of course circumstances have changed since then. Muslim Americans who moved from Syria to North Dakota in 1900 struggled to stay warm in the winter, especially when they had to use the outhouse, but today, with the exeption of homeless Muslim Americans, there are few Muslim Americans who do not have heat and indoor plumbing. Muslims still face some of the same stereotypes that they did in 1800 and first generation Muslim immigrants, like the European, South Asian, and Arab Muslim immigrants who came before World War I, are still hard-working members of their community who contribute their culture and know-how to cities such as New York and Cedar Rapids, Iowa--both of which have entries in the encyclopedia.

6) Were the Muslim-Americans of the past politically active? If so, how? If not, why not?

Again, we have to reference slavery. Slaves did not have the right to vote, so most Muslims in the colonial, Revolutionary, and antebellum eras could not participate formally in governance. Muslims have always played an irreplaceable symbolic role in U.S. politics, however. In addition, if you define politics in its classical sense--that is, the search among community members for an ordered life together--Muslims have always been active. One of the first prominent black men to visit the White House was a Muslim. Abdul Rahman Ibrahima met John Quincy Adams in the 1820s.

In the 20th century, it was a different story. Muslims were politically active in the Dakotas, where they sent their boys to join the American Expetionary Force in World War I and joined political parties and agricultural associations. In the 1920s, Arab American Muslims in New York formally organized against Zionism, and drew hundreds to a protest in Brooklyn. Several African American Muslim leaders were sympathetic toward the Japanese in World War II; they considered the Japanese to be fellow people of color. But many Muslim Americans, African American and immigrant, once again supported the United States by joining the army. By the 1960s, of course, there was no more important voice in debates over civil rights and Vietnam than Muslims such as Muhammad Ali and Malcolm X.

Dr. Edward E. Curtis is the IVMillennium Chair of the Liberal Arts and is a Professor of Religious Studies and American Studies at Indiana University-Purdue University, Indianapolis. His homepage is

Thursday, October 8, 2009

New Report on the Wordwide Muslim Population

This month, the PEW Forum on Religion and Public Life published their report on the World Muslim Population. They found that approximately 1.57 billion Muslims live in the world today, making up approximately 23% of the world's 6.8 billion people. Approximately 87-90% of the Muslim population is Sunni, while approximately 10-13% of the Muslim world is Shia. The report also found that only about 20% of Muslims live in the Middle East and North Africa, while a whopping 60% of the Muslim population is in Asia.

In a telephone interview with CNN, Reza Aslan (author of "No God but God") explained "When it comes to issues of outreach to the Muslim World, these numbers will indicate that outreach cannot be focused on the Middle East. If the goal is to create better understanding between the United States and the Muslim world, our focus should be on south and southeast Asia, not the Middle East."

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


This blog is meant to discuss Islam's role in American law and politics. As the Muslim population grows in the United States, issues of when, where and how Muslims can practice their own religion while being upright citizens (as Islam teaches us to do) are on the rise. Women wearing hijab (the traditional headscarf) or niqab (face veil) and men wearing a beard and a kufi (head covering) are looked at as strange, evil and backward. These view often have legal and political ramifications.

Also, Islam has both legal and spiritual components to it. Hence, many rights and duties Muslims are religiously obligated to perform may come into conflict with American laws. For example, do the Islamic rulings regarding marriage and divorce conflict with American law? Can there be a resolution if there is? How do Muslims make a shariah-compliant will that is recognized my U.S. courts?

Lastly, there are many legal and political issues Muslims face that have no direct connection to the religion, but affect Muslims as a society. The U.S. government may implement policies which are counter to Muslim-American interests and views. For example, Muslims immigrate to the U.S. everyday. What trials do they face? How do they overcome them? Where can they get help? Secondly, how do Muslims deal with the USA Patriot Act? The U.S. is the strongest ally Israel has.What effect, if any, does that have on American Muslims?

This blog welcomes all academic views on every one of these topics and much more. Enjoy!