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.