Wednesday, November 10, 2010

US to transfer extra $150m aid to Palestinians

I'll be honest, I never thought this would happen, especially before President Obama's second term. Usually, it seems that most presidents (I could be wrong) don't really do anything with the Israel/Palestine until the end of their presidency.

Taken from here.

The US is to transfer an additional $150m (£93m) in aid to the Palestinian Authority and called on other donor nations to increase aid.

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the announcement in a video call with Palestinian PM Salam Fayyad.

Ms Clinton said that despite deadlock, a "positive outcome" was still possible in the Middle East peace talks.

But Israel's plan for more settlement building in the West Bank was counterproductive, she added.

The funding was described as an effort to shore up the Palestinian Authority's budget.

The announcement came after Israel said it planned to build more than 1,300 new homes for Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem.

The US has rejected Israeli claims the new homes would not affect the peace process.

Mrs Clinton is to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin in New York on Thursday, and is expected to raise the issue of the settlements.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Oklahoma Shariah Ban

A Muslim activist in Oklahoma City filed a lawsuit Thursday challenging a voter-approved measure that bars Oklahoma state judges from considering Shariah, the Islamic religious code based on the Koran and the Prophet Mohammed's teachings, in formulating rulings.

State Question 755, which passed Tuesday with 70% of the vote, declares "the legal precepts of other nations or cultures" off-limits to Oklahoma courts. "Specifically, the courts shall not consider international law or Sharia Law," it reads.

The suit, filed by Muneer Awad, director of the state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, asks the federal district court to block officials from certifying the referendum. Mr. Awad says the measure violates the First Amendment, which protects "free exercise" of religion and prohibits official "establishment of religion." A hearing was set for Monday.

The complaint alleges Oklahoma has singled out Islam for "profound stigma," consigning Muslims such as Mr. Awad "to an ineffectual position within the political community."

Oklahoma's Legislature voted overwhelmingly to place the Save Our State Amendment before voters. A co-sponsor, state Sen. Anthony Sykes, denied it sought to stigmatize Muslims. "We're not trying to send any sort of message here," said Mr. Sykes, a Republican.

Rather, he said, Oklahomans wanted to insulate their judiciary from un-American influences. While no Oklahoma court ever has cited Shariah law, "we are on a slippery slope," he said.

Democratic Sen. Richard Lerblance, one of two state senators to vote against the measure, called it "a scare tactic."

"They call it 'Save Our State.' I don't know what we're saving it from," he said. "We have yet to have any court do anything based on Shariah law."

Several states have adopted rules that restrict judges from making decisions that take into account foreign or international legal materials, said William Raferty, a research analyst with the National Center for State Courts in Williamsburg, Va. Only Oklahoma's measure singles out a particular religious tradition, he said, though a proposal in Arizona lists Shariah along with canon law, Jewish law and karma, a conception of fate in Hindu and Buddhist traditions.

Mr. Sykes and other conservatives who perceive a threat from Islamic law cite a 2009 case in which a New Jersey judge declined to issue a restraining order against a Moroccan man who forced sex on his unwilling wife.

Among other reasons, the judge said the husband's belief that his wife must submit to sex "was consistent with his [religious] practices." An appeals court reversed the judge and ordered that a restraining order be issued, citing a Supreme Court decision rejecting a Mormon's claim that his faith exempted him from an anti-bigamy statute.

"To permit this would be to make the professed doctrines of religious belief superior to the law of the land, and in effect to permit every citizen to become a law unto himself," Chief Justice Morrison Waite wrote.

Decisions of the U.S. Supreme Court are binding on all state and federal courts, and no justice of the Supreme Court ever has asserted he or she is bound by any authority other than the U.S. Constitution.

However, beginning in 1791, when Chief Justice John Jay adopted English rules for the new U.S. Supreme Court, American judges occasionally have examined how foreign courts address similar legal problems.

For instance, in a 1997 decision concerning Washington state's ban on assisted suicide, Chief Justice William Rehnquist cited court decisions from Australia, Britain, Canada, Colombia and New Zealand.

Mr. Sykes said he wanted to protect the Oklahoma judiciary from the influence of "Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Elena Kagan and, I'm sure, Sonia Sotomayor, given her political leanings," who he believed were inclined to rely on international law.

Justice Ginsburg responded to similar criticism in a July speech to the International Academy of Comparative Law, at American University. She said foreign opinions "are not authoritative; they set no binding precedent for the U.S. judge. But they can add to the store of knowledge relevant to the solution of trying questions."

She cited Justice Robert Jackson's 1952 concurrence that the president lacked authority to seize steel mills during wartime. Justice Jackson "pointed to features of the Weimar Constitution in Germany that allowed Adolf Hitler to assume dictatorial powers. Even in wartime, Jackson concluded, the U.S. president could not seize private property."

University of Oklahoma law professor Joseph Thai said that earlier this year, the state legislature commissioned "a monument to the laws of another religion"--the Ten Commandments--for the state Capitol.

"Oklahoma's apparent approval of the legal traditions of a majority religion and attempt to suppress the legal traditions of a minority religion" may conflict with the Constitution's requirement that government treat all religions equally, Mr. Thai said.

He said the new state law may forbid Oklahoma judges from citing the Ten Commandments, because they are "international in origin."

Write to Jess Bravin at

Monday, October 25, 2010

The myth of Muslim support for terror

Taken from here.

Those who think that Muslim countries and pro-terrorist attitudes go hand-in-hand might be shocked by new polling research: Americans are more approving of terrorist attacks against civilians than any major Muslim country except for Nigeria.

The survey, conducted in December 2006 by the University of Maryland's prestigious Program on International Public Attitudes, shows that only 46 percent of Americans think that "bombing and other attacks intentionally aimed at civilians" are "never justified," while 24 percent believe these attacks are "often or sometimes justified."

Contrast those numbers with 2006 polling results from the world's most-populous Muslim countries – Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. Terror Free Tomorrow, the organization I lead, found that 74 percent of respondents in Indonesia agreed that terrorist attacks are "never justified"; in Pakistan, that figure was 86 percent; in Bangladesh, 81 percent.

Do these findings mean that Americans are closet terrorist sympathizers?

Hardly. Yet, far too often, Americans and other Westerners seem willing to draw that conclusion about Muslims. Public opinion surveys in the United States and Europe show that nearly half of Westerners associate Islam with violence and Muslims with terrorists. Given the many radicals who commit violence in the name of Islam around the world, that's an understandable polling result.

But these stereotypes, affirmed by simplistic media coverage and many radicals themselves, are not supported by the facts – and they are detrimental to the war on terror. When the West wrongly attributes radical views to all of the world's 1.5 billion Muslims, it perpetuates a myth that has the very real effect of marginalizing critical allies in the war on terror.

Indeed, the far-too-frequent stereotyping of Muslims serves only to reinforce the radical appeal of the small minority of Muslims who peddle hatred of the West and others as authentic religious practice.

Terror Free Tomorrow's 20-plus surveys of Muslim countries in the past two years reveal another surprise: Even among the minority who indicated support for terrorist attacks and Osama bin Laden, most overwhelmingly approved of specific American actions in their own countries. For example, 71 percent of bin Laden supporters in Indonesia and 79 percent in Pakistan said they thought more favorably of the United States as a result of American humanitarian assistance in their countries – not exactly the profile of hard-core terrorist sympathizers. For most people, their professed support of terrorism/bin Laden can be more accurately characterized as a kind of "protest vote" against current US foreign policies, not as a deeply held religious conviction or even an inherently anti- American or anti-Western view.

In truth, the common enemy is violence and terrorism, not Muslims any more than Christians or Jews. Whether recruits to violent causes join gangs in Los Angeles or terrorist cells in Lahore, the enemy is the violence they exalt.

Our surveys show that not only do Muslims reject terrorism as much if not more than Americans, but even those who are sympathetic to radical ideology can be won over by positive American actions that promote goodwill and offer real hope.

America's goal, in partnership with Muslim public opinion, should be to defeat terrorists by isolating them from their own societies. The most effective policies to achieve that goal are the ones that build on our common humanity. And we can start by recognizing that Muslims throughout the world want peace as much as Americans do.

• Kenneth Ballen is founder and president of Terror Free Tomorrow, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization dedicated to finding effective policies that win popular support away from global terrorists.

Friday, October 22, 2010

NPR Ends Williams' Contract After Muslim Remarks

NPR News has terminated the contract of longtime news analyst Juan Williams after remarks he made on the Fox News Channel about Muslims.

Williams appeared Monday on The O'Reilly Factor, and host Bill O'Reilly asked him to comment on the idea that the U.S. is facing a dilemma with Muslims.

O'Reilly has been looking for support for his own remarks on a recent episode of ABC's The View in which he directly blamed Muslims for the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Co-hosts Joy Behar and Whoopi Goldberg walked off the set in the middle of his appearance.

Williams responded: "Look, Bill, I'm not a bigot. You know the kind of books I've written about the civil rights movement in this country. But when I get on the plane, I got to tell you, if I see people who are in Muslim garb and I think, you know, they are identifying themselves first and foremost as Muslims, I get worried. I get nervous."

Williams also warned O'Reilly against blaming all Muslims for "extremists," saying Christians shouldn't be blamed for Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

But strong criticism followed Williams' comments.

Late Wednesday night, NPR issued a statement praising Williams as a valuable contributor but saying it had given him notice that it is severing his contract. "His remarks on The O'Reilly Factor this past Monday were inconsistent with our editorial standards and practices, and undermined his credibility as a news analyst with NPR," the statement read.

Williams' presence on the largely conservative and often contentious prime-time talk shows of Fox News has long been a sore point with NPR News executives.

His status was earlier shifted from staff correspondent to analyst after he took clear-cut positions about public policy on television and in newspaper opinion pieces.

Reached late Wednesday night, Williams said he wasn't ready to comment and was conferring with his wife about the episode.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Suspect in NYC Muslim cabbie stabbing out on bond

Taken from here.

NEW YORK (AP) - A college student charged with a hate-fueled attack on a Muslim taxi driver was freed on bail Tuesday, staying silent about a stabbing that helped heighten concerns about tolerance in the weeks before the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

An impassive Michael Enright said nothing as he left court, arm-in-arm with his mother and surrounded by about a half-dozen supporters. His mother, Cathy, declined to comment.

Enright, 21, had been jailed since his Aug. 24 arrest. Manhattan state Supreme Court Justice Richard Carruthers set his bail last week at $500,000; Enright's family put up a suburban home and other assets to free him. He's due back in court Dec. 8.

Enright asked cab driver Ahmed Sharif whether he was Muslim, uttered an Arabic greeting and told him to "consider this a checkpoint" before slashing him in the neck, authorities said. The Bangladeshi driver survived.

Enright initially told police that Sharif tried to rob him and he'd defended himself, prosecutors said. The film student later declared to police that he was "a patriot," according to prosecutors.

Enright has pleaded not guilty to attempted murder and assault, both charged as hate crimes. His lawyer, Lawrence Fisher, has said the film student was beset by alcoholism and by post-traumatic stress disorder from a trip to Afghanistan.

Enright went there last spring to shoot a documentary and was briefly embedded with troops. He was profoundly disturbed by his experiences, according to his lawyer. Enright was held for a time in a psychiatric ward, though prosecutors have questioned whether he has serious psychiatric problems.

When arrested, Enright was carrying notebooks describing his Afghanistan experiences - as well as an empty bottle of scotch, authorities said. He told police he had downed a pint of it.

While free on bail, he'll have to get alcohol-abuse treatment and mental-health care, avoid bars or clubs that serve alcohol, wear an electronic monitor that tracks his whereabouts and comply with an 8 p.m. curfew at his home in Brewster, N.Y., about 60 miles north of Manhattan.

Enright's arrest came at a fraught moment in relations between Muslims and others in the U.S. As the Sept. 11 anniversary neared, an emotional debate over a planned Islamic center and mosque two blocks from ground zero grew into a political flashpoint, figuring in campaigns and commentary around the country and spurring protests and counterprotests.

Opponents say a mosque doesn't belong so near the site of a terror attack carried out by Islamic extremists. Supporters say the plan speaks to religious freedom.

In a nod to the contentious context surrounding the Sharif's stabbing, Mayor Michael Bloomberg appeared with the driver and called for people to "understand that we can have a discourse."

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Obama's pro-Israel chief of staff quits

Taken from here.

WASHINGTON // Barack Obama yesterday announced the resignation of his chief of staff Rahm Emanuel, a staunch supporter of Israel, in the highest-profile change yet in the US president’s nearly two-year administration.

Mr Emanuel, who is quitting to run for Chicago mayor, will be replaced, at least in the interim period, by the administration insider and Obama confidant Pete Rouse. The change will mark a shift in tone in the White House. Mr Rouse is seen as a quiet and conciliatory figure in stark contrast to Mr Emanuel, who is known to supporters and detractors alike as "Rhambo" for his pugilistic and brusque manner.

The news may also be met with some relief in the Middle East where Mr Emanuel's appointment, one of the first by Mr Obama after taking office, was greeted with near unanimous disappointment. Mr Emanuel volunteered for the Israeli army during the 1991 Gulf war and has long advocated that a militarily strong Israel is a strategic US interest. When he was appointed to the Obama administration, Ma'ariv, an Israeli newspaper, even ran a story about him headlined, "Our man in the White House".

Fiercely partisan, he has rarely voted against his own Democratic Party, but did so to support the position of George W Bush, the former US president, on democratisation in the Middle East. He was also a vocal opponent of plans to allow Dubai Ports World to manage operations at six US ports in 2006, plans that would eventually founder on intense congressional opposition. It was Mr Emanuel who was tasked with smoothing over tensions with Israel when Washington and the Israeli government clashed over the timing of a large settlement tender in occupied East Jerusalem earlier this year.

Nevertheless, it is not clear if his resignation will have much consequence for US Middle East policy. While his original appointment might have been designed partly to allay fears among pro-Israel groups in the US about the Obama administration's Middle East policy, Mr Emanuel was mostly concerned during his time in the White House with pushing through the administration's legislative agenda in congress, not least on healthcare reform.

And when he did get involved with the Middle East, there are suggestions that he clashed, sometimes fiercely, with Israeli government officials, including Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who is reported to have called him a "self-hating Jew". His resignation after two years is also part of a traditional turnover of officials as mid-term elections loom and the administration's focus shifts from pushing through legislation to consolidating positions.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The cultural damage of the 'war on terror'

Taken from here.

Manan Ahmed discusses Amitava Kumar's new book, among other things, in The National:

ScreenHunter_09 Sep. 05 12.07 It is among the accomplishments of Amitava Kumar’s new book, A Foreigner Carrying in the Crook of His Arm a Tiny Bomb (Duke University Press, Dh80), that it refuses to separate the cultural and the political means by which the War on Terror has been waged. Kumar’s slim volume begins in India, with the wrongful arrest of terror suspects – and with the observation, by a poultry farmer in Walavati, that “What the Americans were doing in Abu Ghraib, they learned from our policemen here”. As he traces the ordeals of the “ordinary men and women whose lives are entangled in the War on Terror”, Kumar endeavours to connect not only the tortuous practices common to states fighting terrorists, but also the ways this “war” has been imagined. He covers the cases of three convicted terrorists, in their own words, and in the words of their loved ones. The three men were all caught in sting operations and accused of planning crimes, or expressing the desire to commit crimes, against the United States; one convicted of purchasing a rocket launcher, another of wanting to detonate bombs in the New York City subway, and the last of funding Sikh terrorists in India.

Alongside his personal encounters with these terrorists, Kumar shows the haphazardly constructed legal cases, the government witnesses, and the clash of half-digested cultural understandings. He peels back the stories that we only know by headlines – the Lackawanna Six, the American Taliban – with a novelist’s eye and a reporter’s doggedness. Kumar is not out to rehabilitate these characters nor to act as their apologist. He keeps a studied distance, a knowing diffidence – but not just to the terrorists: to the prosecution, to their evidence, to the informants used by the US government to provoke the defendants into convictable speech and acts.

It is when he widens his gaze from the terrorists to the arts, to public speech and to advocacy, in order to highlight the efforts of artists to observe, catalogue and explain – and the efforts of the state to control, coerce and regulate – that his book becomes a truly horrific indictment of post-September 11 “failure of imagination”. He correctly identifies “all of us” as participants in the state’s war on terror – sanctioning the drone attacks, extra-judicial assassinations and extraordinary renditions. By focusing on the banality of the state’s cases against the old, the infirm, the misfits, the ill-suited, Kumar reminds us that the war raging far from our doorsteps is also all around us. He wants to bring that war closer, and to make its consequences visible, by exposing the inequities of domestic counter-terrorism prosecutions.

More here.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Israel probes soldier's dance near Palestinian prisoner

Why has this story not found its way into American media outlets?

Taken from here.

Israel's army says it is investigating a video which appears to show a soldier dancing around a bound and blindfolded Palestinian woman.

The video first appeared on the YouTube website and has since been aired on Israeli television news reports.

Palestinian officials have called for tough action against the soldier's "immoral and inhumane" conduct.

In August, a female Israeli soldier posted photos on Facebook of her posing next to Palestinian prisoners.

On that occasion, the Israeli military described the behaviour as "shameful".
'Ugly actions'

The latest YouTube video, which looks like it has been filmed on a mobile phone, appears to show an Israeli soldier in uniform dancing to Arabic music around a female Palestinian prisoner.

The woman is seen bound and blindfolded with her face up against a wall.

The soldier appears to move his body suggestively as he dances close to the woman, the BBC's West Bank correspondent Jon Donnison reports.

The Israeli military has issued a statement denouncing the behaviour, saying such incidents were "isolated cases that do not represent the IDF as a whole".

It has launched an investigation into the video.

But Issa Qaraqei, the Palestinian Authority's minister of prisoner affairs, told the BBC that the "ugly Israeli actions represent a blatant violation of human rights".

As in the previous incident involving the Facebook photos, the video "shows the very low immoral and inhumane status of the state of Israel," he added.

Mr Qaraqei said officials had identified the Palestinian prisoners who appeared in the Facebook photos and had filed a complaint against the former soldier, Eden Aberjil, on their behalf.

He called on international organisations to put pressure on Israeli officials to take action against the soldiers involved in both cases.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

How Much Do You Know About Other Religions?

Take the test!!

I scored a 73%... not as good as I had hoped, but apparently that's better than 80% of the country! How well did you do? Leave it in the comments!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Thousands in Pakistan protest scientist's prison sentence

Taken from here.

Islamabad, Pakistan (CNN) -- Hundreds of thousands protested in Karachi and Hyderabad Tuesday against the 86-year prison sentence for a Pakistani scientist convicted of attempting to kill Americans in Afghanistan.

The rallies were organized by the Muttahida Quami Movement, a Pakistani political party, in response to last week's sentencing of Aafia Siddiqui, who was convicted by a jury in February in the United States on seven charges, including attempted murder and armed assault on U.S. officers.

"I appeal to the U.S. government and their people to release Aafia Siddiqui with honor and dignity to get the praises of millions of people," MQM's leader, Altaf Hussain, said during a live address by telephone from his self-exile in London, England.

Hussain also questioned "why the people who are responsible for the drone strikes in Pakistan and killing innocent people" are not given similar sentences.

The United States does not officially comment on suspected drone strikes. But it is the only country in the region known to have the ability to launch missiles from drones -- which are controlled remotely.

Siddiqui's sentence -- which the country's foreign minister called "very harsh" -- has sparked widespread protests.

"Many people feel that she is innocent and she was framed and she should have got a fairer chance," Pakistani Foreign Minister Makhdoom Shah Mahmood Qureshi said last week of the demonstrations.

Prosecutors said Siddiqui picked up a rifle and shot at two FBI special agents, a U.S. Army warrant officer, an Army captain and military interpreters while she was being held unrestrained at an Afghan facility on July 18, 2008.

The agents returned fire, shooting her in the abdomen.

Siddiqui was extradited to the United States in August 2008, after the shooting incident.

At her sentencing last week, the 38-year-old MIT graduate shook her head in defiance and wagged her finger in a "no" gesture as U.S. District Judge Richard M. Berman laid out the case against her.

But Siddiqui was more subdued when Berman allowed her to speak before the packed courtroom filled with family, spectators and foreign and national press.

Clad in a khaki suit and a hijab that covered most of her face, Siddiqui repeatedly asked her Muslim supporters to not "get emotional."

"I don't want any violence in my name," Siddiqui said of the demonstrations in Pakistan, where her case has become a cause celebre. "If you do anything for me, please educate people about Islam because people don't understand that it is a religion of mercy."

Friday, October 1, 2010

Muslim burial site in upstate New York runs into problems

Taken from here.

(CNN) -- Leaders of a town in upstate New York are trying to shut down a local Muslim community center's burial site, prompting members of the center to wonder: Why now?

Hans Hass, spokesperson for the Sufi Muslim Osmanli Naksibendi Hakkani Dergahi, or community center, in Sidney, New York, told CNN that problems surrounding the cemetery and questions about its legality started around the time the lower Manhattan Mosque and Islamic Center controversy began making national news.

But Sidney town supervisor Bob McCarthy said the legality of the cemetery came up "long before that," referring to the lower Manhattan Islamic center controversy, though he did not say specifically when the issue came up. "What they do in New York City has nothing to do with us," he said. When asked if the lawsuit had anything to do with the burial site originating from a Muslim community center, McCarthy said, "No."

According to board meeting minutes provided to CNN by Hass, McCarthy and the town board voted in August to start "seeking an injunction prohibiting the burying of bodies on private property in violation of New York state town law." In addition to preventing future burials, town officials are seeking to disinter the two members of the Sufi Muslim community currently buried on the land.

McCarthy said he is "not an attorney" and was vague about the injunction proceedings, except to say that, currently, "there is no injunction." He referred CNN to the town's lawyer, Joseph Ermeti, who is handling the legal proceeding. Ermeti has not returned phone calls or e-mails to CNN.

Lisa French, town clerk for Sidney, told CNN that according to Sidney's zoning laws, cemeteries are permitted on property that contains a "single contiguous area of at least 15 acres." Hass said his community's burial site has over 60 contiguous acres.

And according to the New York state Department of Cemeteries, there are no state regulations concerning burial on private property -- each community is advised to consult its local government on the matter.

But French points to another law in the state's Department of Cemeteries, which does indicate that it is unlawful to mortgage land "used and occupied for cemetery purposes."

The community center's lawyers are looking into the mortgaged land issue and are still uncertain whether the law is applicable to their situation, Hass said. "We didn't have a cemetery that we mortgaged, we have a property that we had a mortgage on from the beginning and we put a cemetery on it," he said. The center is confident the matter will be resolved -- either by dividing the property or paying off the mortgage, Hass said.

The community's burial site was approved in 2005 by the town's code enforcement official Dale R. Downin, Hass said. Hass provided CNN with a copy of the approval letter, dated December 6, 2005, which simply states that Downin has "inspected" the proposed property and that "a cemetery at this location would be allowed use according to the Town of Sidney Zoning Ordinance." Phone calls to Downin to confirm its authenticity have not yet been returned.

But according to McCarthy, who said he has not seen Downin's letter to the community center, "The crux of the argument is that you can't just bury somebody in your lawn," McCarthy tells CNN. "That's what they're doing -- they buried [bodies] in their field."

Hass does not see it that way. "It's an unfortunate situation, and I don't think it really reflects the view of most Americans," he told CNN."This is a small-town issue and it's a small-town mentality ... and they're pressing ahead with it because their intentions, I think, are pretty transparent."

Hass also said the cemetery is not exclusively for Muslims. "We welcome anyone who would like to be buried here, including local people who otherwise are unable to afford burial," he said.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Omid Safi: Muslims in the Mosaic of America

There is much heat, and not a lot of light, in the discussion about the Park51 Community Center.

No, it is not the “Ground Zero mosque.” In the crowded landscape of Manhattan, two blocks away from Ground Zero is a significant distance.

No, it is not a mosque. It is a community center with interfaith spaces, wedding halls, reading rooms, and yes, a place for prayer.

So what if it is a mosque? We have churches and synagogues close to Ground Zero. To say that having a mosque presents a problem is to suggest that Islam and Muslims somehow are held collectively responsible for the crimes of 19 terrorists. Those crimes are their own and cannot be used to label 1.3 billion members of humanity. Collective punishment runs against the very foundation of our legal system, in which each individual is responsible for his or her own actions.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf has been a leading voice in the interfaith community of New York. The mere fact that the establishment of this community center has been viewed as promoting jihadism baffles the mind and would be laughable if the charges were not so serious. Are the critics aware that this community center would include a swimming pool? This is hardly the version of Islam the Taliban or Wahhabis would like to see established in America.

Most importantly, this controversy is not ultimately about Muslims or Islam or the place of Muslims in the mosaic of America. It is about competing and contentious visions of America. It is about what kind of a society we wish to be and to become.

We do have a culture war in this country, and on one side we have people who see us as being made richer through our existing diversity, and on the other side we have people who are displaying xenophobic anxieties about the increasing religious, ethnic, and sexual diversity of America.

Omid Safi is professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the author, most recently, of “Memories of Muhammad: Why the Prophet Matters” (HarperOne, 2009).

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Construction Workers Oppose Mosque Near Ground Zero Update

I posted a question on the website of some construction workers who oppose the masjid near ground zero. (see my previous article) They did respond to me a little while back and I just haven't gotten the time to put into the blog as I need to so I didn't post it.

I'll try to find their response to my questions if for nothing else then to be fair, but basically, they said that their opposition is not about religion, it is simply about making sure that those who lost loved ones on 9/11 were not insulted. They also said that they would not mind a masjid outside a one mile radius of ground zero.

Let's face it, it is about religion. Which was my point in asking the question they dodged: if a radical Christian group committed the attacks on 9/11, would you have a problem with a church being built near ground zero? If they said yes... they're not going to say yes. And if they said no... well then it is about religion isn't it?

Friday, September 24, 2010

Texas education board mulls banning ‘pro-Islamic’ history books

Taken from here.

A new front in the Texas textbook wars may soon erupt.

The Texas Board of Education is considering targeting history textbooks that promote a “pro-Islamic, anti-Christian” point of view, The Dallas Morning News reported.

The board, which overhauled the state's history and social studies curriculum in May to reflect conservative values, will examine a resolution next week that would warn publishers not to “push a pro-Islamic, anti-Christian viewpoint” in world history textbooks, the newspaper reported.

Conservative board members requested the resolution after a candidate for a board seat warned them that “Middle Easterners” are buying textbook publishing companies.

Terrence Stutz of The Dallas Morning News reported:

A preliminary draft of the resolution states that "diverse reviewers have repeatedly documented gross pro-Islamic, anti-Christian distortions in social studies texts" across the U.S. and that past social studies textbooks in Texas also have been "tainted" with pro-Islamic, anti-Christian views.

In May, The Texas board’s conservative bloc, overhauled its existing social studies and history curriculum to reflect conservative contributions to U.S. history.

Among the approved amendments, according to the Texas Education Agency: discussions of the "solvency of long term entitlements, such as Social Security and Medicare"; and an examination of why "the Founding Fathers protected religious freedom in America" and guaranteed its free exercise.

Posted by: John Blake - CNN Writer

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Children Praying in Boston Mosque Stirrs Controversy

Taken from here.

WELLESLEY, Mass. -- An Islamic mosque where students from the Wellesley Middle School participated in a prayer ceremony during a field trip in May denied reports Friday that the mosque invited the students to pray.

"I've double- and triple-checked with our tour guides and she certainly didn't invite them to participate in the prayer," said Bilal Kaleem, president of the Muslim American Society of Boston, which operates the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury.

The school superintendent apologized to local parents after the video, shot by a parent, was made public. It shows a handful of Wellesley sixth-grade boys kneeling and engaging in the prayer ritual during the May event at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center.

Kaleem said he did not know if the students prayed on their own, but a chaperone who was on the trip said the prayer was voluntary.

10 Things About Islam

"They weren't asked to pray. They weren't refused from going in ... to observe. You could go in and observe and some kids did sit down. There were some boys who sat behind the men and kind of copied them, but it wasn't like they had to," said Marijane Tuohy.

Flyers alerting the school community to the incident turned up on cars at a back-to-school meeting at the middle school Thursday night.

In the flyers, an online group called "Americans for Peace and Tolerance" slammed the school and demanded an investigation into the incident.

Some parents were offended by the group's campaign.

"Here's a group that says 'Peace and tolerance,' and what they're preaching, appears to me, to be hate," said parent Drew Knowland.

A man affiliated with the group that made the video said his issue is with the mosque that was chosen. He called it a "radical" mosque and said the school should have chosen a more moderate mosque if it was going to teach children about Islam.

Mosque officials, however, said they regularly host students and other groups and they worry that the incident is part of a growing wave of anti-Muslim sentiment.

"It just seems like a sensational, kind of publicity-seeking type of thing," said. "I mean, if this happened four months ago, and they've had this (video) for so long, if they were particularly concerned, wouldn't they reach out to us? Wouldn't they reach out to the school?"

Studying different religions is part of the school's sixth-grade social studies curriculum where classes also visit a synagogue and meet with Hindus. Students who visited the mosque in the past said they appreciated the visit.

"It was interesting. It was like, different to see our culture versus their culture," said one of the students.

Nevertheless, Wellesley Schools Superintendent Bella Wong said she doesn't apologize for her curriculum but she does believe in the separation of church and state. In a letter to parents she said, "It wasn't the intent for any of the students to participate in religious practices. The fact that any students were allowed to do so in this case was in error."

Wong apologized and said teachers would be given more guidance on future field trips.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Deepak Chopra's Seerah

I must say I'm not sure what to make of it. I haven't read the book and am not sure whether to do so or not. He's definitely not the first non-Muslim to write about the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and definitely will not be the last. I imagine that it, at best will be all over the media for a while and then kinda fade into the volumes of other books out there on the life of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Taken From here.

Editor’s Note: Deepak Chopra is a founding member of the Chopra Center for Wellbeing located in Carlsbad, California. He is the author of over 50 books on health, success, relationships and spirituality. His newest book, "Muhammad: A Story of the Last Prophet” is a fictional biography of the Muslim Prophet Muhammad. It hits bookstores Tuesday, September 21st. He spoke with CNN in depth about the new book. This is an edited transcript of that conversation.

Why do you think the time is right for a novel about Muhammad?

I was just doing this as part of my trilogy; it started with Buddha and then Jesus, and now it turns out serendipitously that the timing is appropriate because there is so much discussion about Islam in the world. It all stems from not being aware of the other person. The only way this outrage can occur is when you demonize the other. When we expand our awareness, we have a more contextual knowing of why things are; then, we don’t react with violence, we respond with creativity. There is a lot of room for creativity right now.

In the book, you present some less than desirable characteristics of The Profit, including his illiteracy and his 6-year-old wife. Are you concerned there may be a backlash against your portrayal?

I am not, because first of all, it’s all historically true and nobody denies that. Not even the more fringe elements or the radical elements. It’s all the more astonishing that Muhammad is illiterate and does not know how to read and write but when he utters the Koran, it has the lyrical quality that listening to it allows you to enter these amazing realms of consciousness…
As far as his young wife, we have no idea of evaluating what the customs were in those days and how relationships were forged. There is no way to judge a culture across the yawning abyss of time… I’m not really concerned about any backlash. I did the book factually, honestly with respect, beyond that, of course, one can’t control anyone’s reaction.

HarperCollins, your book’s publisher, authorized e-book retailers to sell the book a week before its print publication. This is the first time they’ve ever placed an e-book for sale before the print edition.

This has to do with the timing and also on Twitter. If you go on Twitter and you [search] #Muhammad, you’ll see a lot of traffic around the book and the topic because, first of all, there are 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, they are obviously very curious. When I visit Twitter, I’m seeing reactions from people [all over the world.] They’re all having a conversation right now.
Some of them have been a little critical, some are skeptical, but everybody is curious, and I think it’s starting a new conversation. Its easier to related to Muhammad than to Jesus or Buddha because he never claimed that he was of divine origin, he was as shocked at his revelation as anybody else, he frequently said many times “I’m a man amongst men,” he frequently said “all the good that happens comes from Allah and everything that is not good is my fault,” he’s very human and that is what makes him relatable. We can connect to him.

Why do you think Americans know so little about Islam?

I think part of it is we are, to some extent, ethnocentric, and we are very nationalistic, and extreme nationalism is a recent trend. America is a melting pot. I’m in NY City right now. You can walk through the city and visit almost every culture. This is the future of the world.
I have a grandson now who is three years old. He speaks English, Mandarin Chinese, Spanish and Hindi and he’s only three-years-old. His mother is a Chinese-American, his nanny is Spanish, we speak German, Hindi and Urdu, and he speaks English in school and he’s comfortable with all of that. This is the future of humanity and particularly of America.

What are your thoughts on the current debate surrounding the proposed Islamic center near ground zero?

I’ve had the wife of the Imam, Daisy Khan on my radio show. She is from Kashmir, the disputed territory between India and Pakistan. Her husband, the Imam, is Egyptian. They’ve been very involved in interfaith dialogues for many years; in fact, they’re just the kind of Muslims we should be looking at and encouraging dialogue with because they’ve been doing it for 10 years… Some people are trying to convince the Imam to focus on the multi-faith aspect of this and perhaps dedicate the whole institution to the victims of 9/11. That would be a creative solution in my opinion.

How has Islam factored into the lives of some of the celebrities that you have worked with, like Michael Jackson?

I spent a lot of time with him, he was curious about every tradition. So yes, Islam was an influence on him for a while, but he was more interested in the origins and the life of Muhammad than actually the tradition itself.

Buddha, Jesus, now Muhammad… who will you write about next?

Next, I’m going to look at the lives of all of the great saints of East and West. I am going to look at Christian mystics, and I’m going to do a book that looks at their lives and their revelatory experiences, and I’m going to call it ‘When God Spoke.’

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Muslims Combating Extremism

Sorry it's been a while... I'll get back to posting more often inshallah... Enjoy!

Taken from here.

(BTW, I can't figure out how to embed the video the way I used to so you'll have to go to the website if you want to watch the actual video.)

BOB ABERNETHY, host: A new report this week from the former heads of the 9/11 Commission says US authorities have not done enough to address the threat of homegrown terrorism. It urged new systems be put in place to counter radicalization. Kim Lawton reports that several leading US Muslim groups are already trying to confront those concerns with new efforts to prevent extremism from taking hold in their communities.
KIM LAWTON, correspondent: It’s late afternoon in Manassas, Virginia, not far outside Washington, DC, and at the Dar al Noor mosque they’re getting ready for a good all-American barbecue. The picnic is part of a new national initiative from the Muslim American Society called the Straight Path Campaign. It’s one of several new projects being launched by US Islamic groups in an effort to fight extremism within their community, particularly among young people.
IMAM MAHDI BRAY, Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation: We want them to say to America and prove to America through their efforts that, you know, we’re not terrorist suspects. We are America’s brightest prospects.
LAWTON: According to a new poll by the Pew Research Center, Americans hold conflicted views about whether Islam is more likely to encourage violence than other religions. Forty-two percent of those surveyed said that Islam does not encourage violence more than others, but 35 percent said it does. Almost a quarter said they didn’t know. The survey also found that almost 40 percent of Americans said they had an unfavorable view toward Islam. That’s a significant increase from just five years ago.
Since the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, many American Muslims say it’s become increasingly difficult to counter the perception that their faith is linked to violence, and that job has been complicated by some recent high-profile terrorism-related arrests of Muslim Americans, including several who were born or raised in the US.
EDINA LEKOVIC, Muslim Public Affairs Council: The fact that there has been a string of incidents presents a reality that we cannot afford to ignore, regardless of whether it’s emanating from our own homes, or our own mosques, or our own communities.
LAWTON: A Duke University study released earlier this year found only a relatively small number of US Muslims who had planned or carried out terrorist attacks. The study concluded “homegrown terrorism is a serious, but limited, problem.”
BRAY: One is one too many, and so we have zero tolerance for that kind of seductive narrative and that seductive type of presentation that lures young people into things that will ultimately ruin their lives.
LAWTON: One of the first priorities for mainstream US Muslim groups has been trying to fight extremist messages online, including many from foreign-based English-speaking Americans.
Al-Qaeda Online Video: “I am calling on every honest and vigilant Muslim, unsheathe your sharpened sword and rush to take your rightful place among defiant champions of Islam…”
SALAM AL-MARAYATI, Muslim Public Affairs Council: What happens in extremist groups is that really there’s a cult mentality. There’s blind following of a charismatic leader, these pied pipers that are speaking to us now on YouTube from caves and jungles and war zones that are trying to glamorize violence. That’s basically what we’re dealing with.
LAWTON: Hoping to offer a different view, American imam Suhaib Webb has set up his own Web site where he challenges radical statements and answers questions about Islamic teachings.
IMAM SUHAIB WEBB: You know the Prophet, peace be upon him, said “If the day of judgment starts and you have a seed in your hand, plant that seed.” Stay positive. Never allow yourself to succumb to that negative discourse.
LAWTON: He’s been urging other Muslims to tackle the issue of extremism head on as well.
WEBB: If you’re not going to take the position, someone else will take that position for you. If you’re not going to step up to the mic, someone else is going to grab it and spit. That’s just the reality.
LAWTON: Webb says a major problem is that many of the radical Web sites twist and misrepresent Islamic teachings, either intentionally or through ignorance. He was one of nine US scholars and imams who denounced extremism in a recent video produced by the Muslim Public Affairs Council.
LEKOVIC: Communities really need to focus on religious literacy so that our young people start at an early age knowing what the Quran actually says, and what the Quran actually promotes us to do, which is to be a part of society, to be contributing, and to be good to our families, and to be model citizens within whatever countries we live in.
LAWTON: With the Straight Path Campaign, the Muslim American Society is also trying to educate Muslim young people about the tenets of their faith. Imam Mahdi Bray draws from his own experience in the US civil rights movement and talks about the importance of nonviolence within Islam as well.
BRAY (speaking at mosque): Nonviolence, the sanctity of life, is valued, and it’s not the sanctity of Muslim life. It’s the sanctity of all life.
LAWTON: The campaign is holding a series of meetings with youth and youth leaders across the country to discuss violence and Islam, and also how to address injustice and discrimination in positive ways. Bray says it’s important not to dismiss the very real concerns and frustrations among young Muslims.
BRAY: Providing young people with skill sets and tools that embrace nonviolence but at the same time doesn’t give them the feeling that they’re just rolling over and that they’re not really fighting back against some of the injustices that they see every day in their lives both here and abroad.
AL-MARAYATI (speaking in meeting): We don’t separate Islam from politics. This is actually an act of worship for us.
LAWTON: The Muslim Public Affairs Council is trying to help young Muslims address their concerns through the political process. The group holds a Young Leaders Summit in Washington, where participants learn how government works.
AL-MARAYATI: It’s easy for somebody to exploit people’s angers and frustrations and lead them to destructive behavior, so our approach is promoting the theology of life within Islam—that Islam is meant to be a part of a pluralistic society.
LAWTON: The students see the mechanics of politics up close and get to meet with politicians, this year including Minnesota Representative Keith Ellison and Indiana Representative Andre Carson, the only two Muslims in Congress. Organizers say the experience gives young Muslims a new vision for what can be accomplished.
LEKOVIC: In a post-9/11 reality, they sometimes have a hard time believing that their own government and their own elected officials want to hear from them, or even care about their opinions, because what they see on their campuses and in their hometowns is a rising level of Islamophobia.
LAWTON: The various projects are intended to be proactive against radicalism, but they have also provoked controversy. Several outsiders have accused the campaigns and their leaders of not being tough enough against extremism, while some Muslims fear the new initiatives could give the impression that the problem is bigger than it really is.
IBRAHIM HOOPER, Council on American-Islamic Relations: Some of the young people said, “Ah, yeah, before you get going on that, make sure it doesn’t portray us all as so-called radicalized,” that that’s a danger as well—to project something that isn’t there.
LAWTON: Some Muslims have accused Bray of perpetuating anti-Islamic stereotypes.
BRAY: There are some who say, oh, there’s no problem, everything is just fine, you know? Well, everything is not just fine.
LAWTON: American Muslim leaders say their young people, like young people of all faiths, are trying to figure out their identities, and, the leaders say, religion should be a culturally relevant part of the mix.
AL-MARAYATI: Islam is a religion that has a book that is supposed to be universal and is supposed to apply at different times. Therefore it is our responsibility to interpret the principles from the Quran and the traditions of the Prophet to America in the 21st century, and by and large that has not been done.
LAWTON: It’s a matter that hits all too close to home for students like these.
MATEEN RIAC: Saying that everybody, all Muslims are terrorists, I think that is like a big issue, so like it makes people feel left out, especially in schools, they’re like, “Wow, am I really like that?”
ATTIQAH SYEDA: The words “Muslim” and “terrorist” are not synonymous in any way, shape, or form.
LAWTON: And that’s the ultimate message they hope takes hold.
I’m Kim Lawton reporting.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Construction Workers Oppose Mosque Near Ground Zero

I left a comment on their blog... I'll keep you posted if I get a response!

Hey guys,

A couple quick questions... if these horrible attacks were done by Christians, would you oppose the building of a church in this same spot? Also, how far from ground zero is far enough to build a mosque without being insulting? Lastly, what is your opinion of Islam and Muslims? From your comments, I get the sense that you feel Islam and Muslims are to blame for the attacks on 9/11 and not just a group of radicals. Don't forget that innocent Muslims died on 9/11 also, and they they also grieve for the loss of their loved ones.

Taken from here.

NEW YORK (Aug. 20) -- The proposed Islamic center near ground zero is facing stiff opposition from a group that will be vital if the plan is to be realized: the New York City building industry.

Construction worker Andy Sullivan has set up a "Hard Hat Pledge" on his website, calling on construction workers to vow not to do work on the Park51 community center and mosque, the New York Daily News said.

Diane Bondareff, MCTMosque opponent Andy Sullivan stands outside the site of the proposed mosque and Islamic center on Park Place near lower Manhattan's ground zero on Thursday.
Sullivan is not alone. Several New York construction workers interviewed by AOL News declared their opposition to the project.

"It doesn't make any sense to be there," said Eduard Nika, a marble worker. "The mentality these people have, it's not anything to do with religion."

The planned mosque and community center two blocks from the site of the 9/11 terrorist attacks that killed 3,000 people has spiraled from a local zoning issue into a national political debate.

Public figures such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have blasted the plan, saying it is an insult to the families of the victims. The Anti-Defamation League, whose mission statement says it exists to fight "all forms of bigotry," has said the center should be built at another location.

Others, such as Mayor Michael Bloomberg and President Barack Obama, have said that while they understand the strong resentment the project arouses, any effort to block the Islamic center would infringe on American values of freedom.

Handyman Frank Rivera, who said three of his relatives were in the World Trade Center at the time of the attack but survived, believes the project would be bad for New York City and an insult to the families of victims.

"It shouldn't be there. It's a slap in the face," Rivera said.

Like Nika, he said he would sooner quit his job than work on the project.

But not everyone is opposed to the Islamic center. Mike Bakovic, who works in interior construction and painting, said he'd work on the project -- even if he didn't get paid.

"Muslim people have the freedom or religion, same as everyone else, the Jew, the Catholic, everyone else," Bakovic said. "Islam is peaceable, like every other religion. "

Louis Coletti, president of the Building Trades Employers Association, told the Daily News that labor unions had not taken a "formal position" on the plan. Still, he said it was " a very difficult dilemma for the contractors and organized labor force."

The New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO, did not respond to a call from AOL News seeking comment.

Friday, August 13, 2010

President Obama Supports 'Ground Zero Mosque'

taken from here.

Aug. 13) -- President Barack Obama gave a thumbs up today to a proposed Islamic community center and mosque that is slated to be built two blocks from the site of the 9/11 attacks in lower Manhattan.

"Let me be clear," Obama said at a White House dinner celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, "as a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as anyone else in this country.

"That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances," Obama said, according to CNN.

Obama's remarks drew a prompt response from Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y. "President Obama is wrong," said King, The Associated Press reported. "It is insensitive and uncaring for the Muslim community to build a mosque in the shadow of ground zero. While the Muslim community has the right to build the mosque, they are abusing that right by needlessly offending so many people who have suffered so much."

The proposed construction of the Cordoba House Islamic Center has divided U.S. politicians and the public. Obama's remarks follow a line of argument put forth by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who made an impassioned defense of the construction of the Islamic center in a speech delivered on Governor's Island.

Politicians such as Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich have opposed the mosque, citing their view that the former site of the World Trade center is "hallowed ground" and that building Cordoba House in such close proximity is an affront to the memory of those who died in the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

"This is America," Obama declared today, "and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable. The principle that people of all faiths are welcome in this country, and will not be treated differently by their government, is essential to who we are. The writ of our founders must endure."

New York's Landmarks Preservation Commission has cleared the way for construction of the Islamic center, which will occupy the site that once housed a Burlington Coat Factory outlet store, but the state's governor, David Paterson, has suggested that other land might be made available to the developers of the project.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Group Makes Push For Muslim School Holidays

Taken from here.

By: Rebecca Spitz

NEW YORK CITY – A group of Muslim parents and their supporters gathered Wednesday on the steps of City Hall where they called on Mayor Michael Bloomberg to recognize Islamic holidays on the school calendar.

The coalition of religious, immigrant and labor groups is asking the mayor to honor a City Council resolution calling for two Muslim holy days -- Eid-ul Adha and Eid-ul Fitr -- to be added to the school calendar.

The resolution passed last year, however Bloomberg and Schools Chancellor Joel Klein say there is not room for more time off during the academic year.

The group says the fact they were considering pushing back the first day of school to accommodate Rosh Hashanah indicates that there is flexibility in the system. They also say having no Islamic holidays discriminates against the city's 100,000 Muslim school children.

"Twelve percent of the New York City's 1.1 million school children are Muslim. And our children deserve to have their holiday like everyone else," said City Councilman Robert Jackson.

"We want to make our holiday like other people. We want to be equal like other people. It's not fair. We want to get our rights just like other people get their rights," said one student.

Mayor Bloomberg says he is supportive of the Muslim community and the rights of all religious groups. However, he says New York City children need more time in the classroom, not less.

The teachers' union says it supports including the holidays, but did not offer any specific suggestions on how to make up the days.

Where in the World is Osama Bin Laden?

My wife said something really interesting... we were praying Maghrib on July 4th when we started to hear the fireworks go off. She said that when we hear bangs outside, we look out to see the show. When Muslims in Afghanistan, Iraq and Palestine hear bangs outside, they duck for their lives.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Jews and Palestinians Used to Live in Peace

I'm sure you've seen this video before, and at the risk of having way too many Israel/Palestine blogs, but I saw this video again and it was just too good.

Monday, July 5, 2010

My Take: New York's schools should observe Muslim holidays

taken from here.

Editor's note: Imam Khalid Latif is a chaplain for New York University and Executive Director of the school's Islamic Center.

By Khalid Latif, Special to CNN

I was recently eating dinner at a restaurant with a friend near Times Square when it became time for me to pray. Muslims pray five times a day and this particular prayer, called Maghrib, is performed at sunset.

Having lived in New York City for decades, I’ve become comfortable praying pretty much anywhere. It also doesn’t hurt that there are stranger things happening on the streets here than a young guy bowing and kneeling for a few minutes.

After I started to pray, a tour bus parked in front of me and a large group of people proceeded to spill out.

While I continued, a woman from the group came closer to where I was praying. She removed a scarf from her neck, placed it on the ground so that I would be praying on something clean, then walked away before I finished.

A truly amazing woman whose name I don’t even know. But if I had not felt comfortable being myself and praying on the street, I would never have had the opportunity to learn from her.

A child at a recent rally for Muslim holidays to be observed by New York city schools.

It’s not easy fitting in. Whether you’re 15 years old or 55, most of us have to compartmentalize our identity in order to feel accepted. We let go of things that we hold dear in hopes that we can just belong and in doing so we assume the worst of the people around us. We think that they wouldn’t be able to understand and accept us for who we are.

A year ago this week, more than 80 faith-based, civil rights, community and labor organizations came together under the title Coalition for Muslim School Holidays. Our purpose was to encourage New York City to give permanent recognition to its Muslim community by adding two holidays observed by Muslims to the public school calendar: Eid ul-Fitr, which celebrates the end of Ramadan, the sacred month of fasting and Eid Ul-Adha, which celebrates the end of the Hajj, the yearly pilgrimage to Mecca.

New York’s City Council convened to vote on the issue and almost unanimously passed resolution 1281, calling for the Department of Education to recognize the holidays. But Mayor Michael Bloomberg has decided that the holidays won’t be added to the public school calendar

Yesterday, the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays held a late morning rally on the steps of New York’s City Hall. Hundreds of people attended and even more stood at the gates waiting to get in—a 300 person limit had been placed on the gathering—as politicians, city officials, interfaith leaders and activists spoke from the steps telling Mayor Bloomberg why he should change his mind.

The expectation that people have of Muslims these days is pretty confusing. On one hand, Muslims are explicitly told they need to integrate Islam more effectively into mainstream society. On the other hand, Muslims are implicitly shown that can’t really happen. The construction of our mosques is protested, our communities are profiled, and our children have to go to school on their holidays.

“One in every eight school kids in the City of New York observes the Muslim faith,” New York City Comptroller John Liu said in a statement issued yesterday by the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays. “Yet these students are forced to choose between their education and their faith, and it’s a situation that needs to be rectified.”

In addition all the presidents of New York’s five boroughs have sent letters of support to our coalition, while Public Advocate Bill de Blasio support the City Council resolution recognizing Muslim holidays.

“About 12 percent of New York City students are Muslim,” says de Blasio, “and consequently thousands of students miss exams and important activities because they are scheduled on Muslim holidays. The Department of Education should treat these students equally and include the two main Islamic holidays in the school calendar, just as it does with other major religions.”

It was a beautiful thing to stand amongst a diverse group of people yesterday in support of a cause that really goes beyond a holiday. I’m looking forward to the day that it’s celebration—not contention—that brings us together. Who knows? Maybe it’ll even be on Eid.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Khalid Latif. Author photo courtesy Bryan Derballa.

Friday, July 2, 2010

Ohio 6-Year-Old Turns Up on Terror Watch List

Others on the no-fly list include, but are not limited to: The late Senator Ted Kennedy, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens), and Nelson Mandella. So... how many actual terrorists are on this list? I'm not a world renowned politician, an international pop star, and certainly no terrorist... so if my name appears on the list, how do I get it off?

This article was taken from here.

(June 26) – The father of a 6-year-old Ohio girl who turned up on the U.S. government's terror watch list says the worst thing his daughter has ever done is probably been mean to her sister.

But Santhosh Thomas, a doctor from Westlake, Ohio, says he's sure that's not enough to land his 6-year-old Alyssa on the no-fly list of suspected terrorists. "She may have threatened her sister, but I don't think that constitutes Homeland Security triggers," he told CNN.

An airline ticket agent informed the family of their predicament when they embarked on recent trip from Cleveland to Minneapolis. "They said, 'Well, she's on the list.' We're like, okay, what's the story? What do we have to do to get off the list? This isn't exactly the list we want to be on," Thomas said.

The Thomases were allowed to fly that day, but authorities told them to contact the U.S. Department of Homeland Security to clear up the matter. Now they've received a letter from the government addressed to 6-year-old Alyssa, telling her that nothing in her file will be changed.

Federal authorities have acknowledged that such a no-fly list exists, but as a matter of national security, they won't comment on whose names are on it nor why. "The watch lists are an important layer of security to prevent individuals with known or suspected ties to terrorism from flying," an unnamed spokesman for the Transportation Security Administration told Fox News.

"She's been flying since she was two-months old, so that has not been an issue," Alyssa's dad said. "In fact, we had traveled to Mexico in February and there were no issues at that time."

That's likely because of a recent change by the Transportation Security Administration, which used to check only international passengers' names against the no-fly list, but since earlier this month has been checking domestic passengers as well.

The Thomases told CNN they plan on appealing Alyssa's status to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security again, and will be sure to leave plenty of extra time for check-in the next time they fly.

Michael Jackson Would Have Been Saved by Islam, Brother Says

Taken from here.

In an interview marking the first anniversary of Michael Jackson's death, one of his older brothers, Jermaine Jackson, said the pop icon would still be alive if he had converted to Islam, as Jermaine had long urged him to do.

"I felt that if Michael would have embraced Islam he would still be here today and I say that for many reasons," Jermaine Jackson, who is a Muslim, told BBC World Service radio.

"Why? Because when you are 100 percent clear in your mind as to who you are, and what you are, and why you are and everybody around you, then things change in a way that's better for you. It's just having that strength."

The elder Jackson added that some of that strength came from the Muslim security staff around MJ, chosen by the singer because of their faith:

"All of his security became Muslims because he trusted Islam, because these are people who would lay their lives down and also who were trying to be the best kind of human beings they could possibly be not for Michael Jackson, for Allah," Jermaine said. "So having those people around, you knew that you would be protected because it is protection from God," he added.

All of the Jacksons' were raised as Jehovah's Witnesses, and as they became famous and wealthy they also became generous supporters of the denomination, which is popular among African Americans. Yet as Michael Jackson's woes and weirdness increased, there were reports that he was "disfellowshipped," or effectively excommunicated.

Jackson was interested in many religions and practices; one of his close friends was the Orthodox rabbi and well-known personality, Shmuley Boteach. And Jackson had been photographed wearing a traditional Arab women's veil.

But in recent years, Jermaine Jackson and others apparently pressed Michael to convert to Islam; the elder Jackson said again in his BBC interview that he brought Michael books on Islam from Saudi Arabia and was the one who convinced him, near the end of his life, to move to Bahrain "because I wanted him to get out of America because it was having a cherry-picking time on my brother."

There was at least one report, in 2008, that he had done so and changed his name to "Mikaeel." But according to Jermaine Jackson, that may not have been a thorough conversion.

For a fuller sense of Michael Jackson's spiritual outlook, read a 2000 column that he penned for Beliefnet at the behest of his friend, Rabbi Boteach, titled "My Childhood, My Sabbath, My Freedom."
"More than anything, I wished to be a normal little boy. I wanted to build tree houses and go to roller-skating parties. But very early on, this became impossible. I had to accept that my childhood would be different than most others. But that's what always made me wonder what an ordinary childhood would be like."

"There was one day a week, however, that I was able to escape the stages of Hollywood and the crowds of the concert hall. That day was the Sabbath..."

Thursday, July 1, 2010

A Comment on Comments

Dear Readers,

Thank you so much for visiting the site and please be sure to come back and comment on what you read and what you'd like to read. I have been receiving many comments in asian languages and, unfortunately, I am not able to post them because I cannot ensure that they are not saying something derogatory or are just an advertisement.


Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Spain's Senate Votes to Ban Burqa

Taken from here.

MADRID — In a significant escalation of Spain’s debate over how to handle radical Islam, the Senate on Wednesday narrowly and unexpectedly approved a motion to ban Muslim women from wearing in public the burqa or other garments that cover the whole body.

The vote, 131 to 129, was another setback for the Socialist government of Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, which had favored more-limited restrictions on Islamic clothing and has instead been pushing to curtail religious fundamentalism through better education.

The Spanish vote comes amid several national initiatives across Europe to restrict the spread of radical Islam and defend liberal values.

In Belgium, the lower house of Parliament has already approved a measure that, if unamended by the upper house, would make it a crime to wear in public “clothing that hides the face.”

France, which has the largest Muslim population in Europe, has also been inching toward such a ban on the burqa. The measure has the backing of President Nicolas Sarkozy, who recently condemned the garment as “a sign of subservience” rather than one of religion.

In Switzerland last year, a referendum banned the construction of minarets.

While national politicians may be urging a clampdown on the burqa, such moves are still expected to run into legal obstacles. In March, France’s top administrative body, the Council of State, warned the government that a full ban would be unconstitutional. A commission of the Council of Europe, the European institution dealing with human rights issues, also recently warned governments against imposing a complete ban that would violate women’s individual rights.

Before the Spanish Senate’s vote, some of the country’s local authorities had already moved to introduce restrictions on the burqa. The issue was especially heated in the region of Catalonia, where the debate over Islam and immigration has become entangled in early campaigning ahead of regional elections later this year. The pending elections may have proved crucial in the Wednesday vote, as senators from the CiU, a Catalan party, surprisingly switched their earlier stance to vote in favor of a burqa ban.

The motion adopted by the senators calls on Spain to outlaw “any usage, custom or discriminatory practice that limits the freedom of women.” It was drafted and led by politicians from the main center-right opposition People's Party.

Justifying the vote, one of the senators from the CiU, Montserrat Candini, said that “we cannot tolerate that nobody understands that we are not in favor of banning the burqa.”

The Senate’s position also came as a surprise because although Spain has become a major European entry point for Muslim migrants from North Africa, few of those immigrants wear either the burqa or the niqab, which does not cover the eyes. A similar argument has also been made by opponents of a burqa ban in countries like France, where only an estimated 2,000 women wear the burqa out of a Muslim population of about 5 million. France, however, already passed a law in 2004 to ban head scarves or any other “conspicuous” religious symbol from state schools in order to preserve their secularism.

The Spanish government is supposed to follow the Senate’s motion. However, given that Socialist senators opposed the ban, the governing party is likely to seek ways to circumvent the vote.

Anna Terrón, the secretary of state for immigration, said the Senate vote had “more to do with the election campaign in which the CiU is involved than with a real discussion” on the burqa.

ICNA Launches Outreach and Relief efforts in Alaska

By Suzanne Khazzal

ICNA members were hosted by the largest mosque in Alaska, the Islamic Community Center of Anchorage, Alaska (ICCAA) from May 21-28 where they visited to help establish ICNA activities.

The Friday night youth group listening to a presentation.

The Friday night youth group listening to a presentation.

The team included Dr. Muhammad Ayub, member of the ICNA general assembly, Washington Unit, Amir Mertaban the WhyIslam Coordinator of Southern California and Waqas Syed the Assistant General Secretary of ICNA.

Mertaban presented a Friday sermon and was followed by a youth meeting later in the day to discuss organizing youth work. Young Muslims national will follow up with the youth coordinator to support them in running a successful youth circle at the mosque.

A group discussion in progress during the workshop.

A group discussion in progress during the workshop.

Syed and Mertaban held a Dawah 101 workshop for the community, which included Dawah tips and ICNA’s WhyIslam project. The workshop presented the crowd with interactive sessions on frequently asked questions. An estimated 24 attendees signed up to volunteer for the project.
An interactive session during the workshop.

An interactive session during the workshop.

Some of the key members of the local WhyIslam team.

Some of the key members of the local WhyIslam team.

After the workshop an exclusive meeting was conducted regarding establishing a local team. A local WhyIslam coordinator was assigned and several dawah opportunities in Anchorage were formalized.
Dr. Ayub helping Tanya, who embraced Islam, to proclaim the Shahadah.

Dr. Ayub helping Tanya, who embraced Islam, to proclaim the Shahadah.

Also on the agenda was the new building ICCAA is building, with ICNA’s support. Various ICNA Relief services were discussed with the ICCAA President Lamin Jobarteh. He expressed desire to work with ICNA Relief in offering social services to the local community.

Jobarteh and ICCAA Dawah Chair Dawood Abuobaid organized a meeting with Regina Boisclair, Chair of Catholic Theology and professor of Religious Studies at the Alaska Pacific University. An understanding was reached regarding organizing a major interfaith event with ICNA in the near future.

Please visit and support: The Islamic Community Center of Anchorage, Alaska (ICCAA)