Post-’Eid Gathering Fills Rock Financial Showplace

December 3, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

Novi–November 29–Much better than last year.  That was the consensus after this year’s mass ‘Eid celebration at the Rock Financial Showplace in Novi.

“It was packed all day,” said one vendor at the US Census booth, describing the events at the Rock Financial Showplace.  “People asked lots of intelligent questions,” she said, including many people who had worked for the 2000 census and wanted to do it again in 2010.

There were approximately ten different rides inside the Showplace, many bounce house style rides including slides, bounce houses, and even an imitation rock climbing wall over which children climbed to go down a slide on the other side.

There were many carnival rides, including go-carts and many different kinds of merry-go-rounds.

Mr. Muhammad Mohiuddin of CIOM explained that there were three main issues that the carnival planners emphasized after their first experience the previous year; first, they improved the layout of the ‘Eid celebration by pushing more vendors to the front entrance and eating area, so that crowds had to filter through the vendors on their way to the rides.  Second, there were more things for adults to do.  Third, last year there had not been enough publicity so this year the event planners made a bigger effort to reach out to everyone in Southeast Michigan.

The music from last year, he explained, had not worked very well, in part because the sound of it was so overwhelming in a closed space, and so this year there were no bands and in fact this change also improved the layout of the Rock Showplace.

Vendors almost universally said that this year’s ‘Eid carnival was much better than the previous year.  I talked to five vendors and while they did not all disclose how much money they had made they all seemed as though they had at least broken even on the day’s events.  Renting a booth at this year’s ‘Eid carnival cost about $150, which is in fact a reasonable price.

Many of the vendors had been at the previous year’s carnival as well, and most agreed that this year had been better.

Dr. Alam S. Syed sold sunnah health products including honey and black seed, and looked satisfied with they day’s receipts although he said “they should reduce the price” for vendors.

Mr. Brandon Metzger of Toner Solutions sold sunnah bathroom products and had sold about 20 units through the day, each for $50.  These units are portable plastic bidets with sprayers that extend when water is coming out–they can be attached to any toilet in just a few minutes.

Muhamed Halilovic, an artist from the Canton community, sold very reasonably priced calligraphy and paintings of mosques in his native Bosnia.  He was somewhat disappointed in his business for the day but perhaps next year will be better than this year.

An estimated 6,000 people attended this year’s ‘Eid carnival at the Rock Financial Showplace.

11-50

Muslim 500 – A Listing of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World

November 17, 2009 by · 12 Comments 

By Adil James, MMNS

mabda500cover-v2 A fascinating new book has just been issued by The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center (in Jordan) in concert with Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

The book lists the 500 most influential people in the Muslim world, breaking the people into several distinct categories, scholarly, political, administrative, lineage, preachers, women, youth, philanthropy, development, science and technology, arts and culture, media, and radicals.

Before this breakdown begins however, the absolute most influential 50 people are listed, starting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.  The top 50 fit into 6 broad categories as follows:  12 are political leaders (kings, generals, presidents), 4 are spiritual leaders (Sufi shaykhs), 14 are national or international religious authorities, 3 are “preachers,” 6 are high-level scholars, 11 are leaders of movements or organizations.

The 500 appear to have been chosen largely in terms of their overt influence, however the top 50 have been chosen and perhaps listed in a “politically correct” order designed not to cause offense.  For example, the first person listed is the Sunni political leader of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah.  The second person listed is the head of the largest Shi’a power, Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei.  As these are not the two Muslim countries with the largest populations, and do not even represent the two countries with the most spiritual or religious relevance (Saudi Arabia yes, Iran no) therefore clearly the decision of spots one or two appears to have been motivated by a sense of political correctness.

In total 72 Americans are among the 500 most influential Muslims, a disproportionately strong showing, but only one among the top 50.  Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson of Zaytuna Institute is listed surprisingly at number 38.  The world leader of the Naqshbandi Haqqani Sufi order, however, Sheikh Nazim al Haqqani, with millions of followers worldwide, spiritual adviser to kings, presidents, doctors, lawyers, professors and others across the spectrum of profession, race, and ethnicity on seven continents, is listed at number 49.  While Sheikh Hamza Yusuf has successfully built the Zaytuna Institute, his influence is confined mostly to American academia, scholars and students.  Surprisingly, Khaled Mashaal, leader of Hamas, (at number 34) is listed before any American Muslim. 

It seems strange that Yusuf is the only American listed in the top 50. Especially when Rep. Keith Ellison (D-5-MN), Tariq Ramadan and Ingrid Mattson are listed among the “honorable mentions” in the book (“honorable mentions” were almost among the top 50 but not quite—they are still listed among the 500).  Ingrid Mattson alone is likely more influential than Hamza Yusuf Hanson, for instance.  Not to mention Rep. Keith Ellison.  Even the Nobel prize winner Mohammad Yunus is listed only among the honorable mentions.

Sheikh Hisham Kabbani in the USA is listed among the most influential scholars in the Muslim world, and his relative Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon and its leading Sunni scholar, is also among the most influential scholars.  The Shi’a marja Ayatullah Sayeed Mohammad Fadlallah is the other listed scholar for Lebanon. 

The 18 prominent American Muslims in the Scholars section of the book also include Yusuf Estes, Sulayman Nyang, Muzammil Siddiqui, Sherman Jackson, Zaid Shakir, and Nuh Keller.  Two Americans are listed as Political figures in North America.  Nine Americans are listed as Administrative leaders, including Siraj Wahhaj—surprising to list him as an administrative leader rather than a preacher.  One Canadian is listed under the Lineage section, namely Jamal Badawi, but no Americans.  Under the Women heading appear six very recognizable names, perhaps most recognizable among them Ingrid Mattson, the controversial Amina Wadud, and the extremely influential Dalia Mogahed (who wrote the perhaps watershed work Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think.)  Two Americans are listed in the Youth category.  Under the Philanthropy category is listed one person, Dr. Tariq Cheema, co-founder of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists.  13 Americans are listed under Development, including strangely the boxer Mohammad Ali.  Four Americans are listed under Science and Technology, perhaps most recognizably Dr. Mehmed Oz, who frequently appears on morning television to help explain medical situations to people, and who shows an interest in the overlap between traditional medicine and spirituality.  Seven Americans are listed under Arts and Culture, including the notable actors Mos Def and Dave Chappelle, also the calligrapher Mohammad Zakaria.  Nine Americans are listed in the Media section, including Fareed Zakaria and the filmmaker Michael Wolfe.

The book’s appendices comprehensively list populations of Muslims in nations worldwide, and its introduction gives a snapshot view of different ideological movements within the Muslim world, breaking down clearly distinctions between traditional Islam and recent radical innovations.

People who are themselves prominent scholars contributed to or edited the book, including of course Georgetown University’s Professor John Esposito and Professor Ibrahim Kalin.  Ed Marques and Usra Ghazi also edited and prepared the book.  The book lists as consultants Dr. Hamza Abed al Karim Hammad, and Siti Sarah Muwahidah, with thanks to other contributors.

The entire book is available online (here:  http://www.rissc.jo/muslim500v-1L.pdf) and we hope that it will be available for sale soon inside the United States.  Currently it is not available.

To encourage the printing and release of the book in the United States you can contact Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at cmcu@georgetown.edu, or by phone at 202-687-8375.

11-47

Muslim Organizations Issue Statements Re. the Shooting of Imam Luqman Abdullah

November 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Farmington—November 4—The shooting of Imam Luqman A. Abdullah by the FBI sparked controversy, partly because it stirred up memories of America’s past persecution of African American leaders, partly because of the demeaning circumstances, and partly because news reports relating to the shooting have cast far reaching and highly unlikely aspersions on Imam Luqman.

The shooting spurred local and national Muslim organizations to issue alarmed press releases, the common theme of which was that they condemn any illegal activities if Imam Luqman was involved, but ask that news reports refrain from alleging any terrorist conspiracy absent any such evidence. Another theme echoed in several was the demand for an independent investigation into the events of the day.

The facts alleged by the reports do not conflict with one another, although only the MPAC statement actually explores the then-known facts of the incident.  On Wednesday 10/28 the FBI raided 3 Dearborn warehouses, to arrest Imam Luqman and 11 associates on many federal criminal charges.  At the end of the raid, Imam Luqman was dead, shot apparently 18 times.

The American Muslim Taskforce (AMT), Muslim Alliance of North America (MANA), Muslim Public Affairs Coalition (MPAC), Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), Imams’ Committee of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan (CIOM), ISNA, and Dawud Walid, Executive Director of CAIR Michigan, all made statements regarding the incident.

The American Muslim Taskforce  (an umbrella group including AMA, AMP, CAIR, ICNA, MANA, MAS-Freedom, MSA National, MUNA, and UMA) demanded an investigation and demanded that the government “stop injecting religion into this case,” apparently operating on the belief that the government may have had a valid criminal case against Imam Luqman but no terrorism case and that his religion was extraneous to the events that took place.

The Imams Committee of Michigan’s powerful CIOM unity group (representing most of Southeast Michigan’s mosques including Sunni mosques and Shi’a mosques) met with the director of Michigan’s FBI office (Mr. Andrew Arena, who had previously expressed satisfaction with his agents’ handling of the case) to discuss what happened.  They asked for clarification of what happened, without demanding a full investigation.  They also emphasized that religion should not be brought into the case.

ISNA, America’s largest and politically the strongest Muslim community organization, also made a statement saying it “is distrubed by the recent shootout.”  “The details of the incident are still sketchy,” read the statement, “but the way the incident is presented as a terrorism case when the actual charges involve criminal conduct, including alleged fraud and theft.” 

ISNA joined the chorus asking for a full investigation of the incident also, while also expressing support fot the “vital work carried out by law enforcement agencies” and spoke against resisting arrest, saying “[t]he only morally and legally acceptable way to challenge the actions of law enforcement agents is by working through the justice system and the court of law.”

MANA (which Imam Luqman was a part of) issued a statement which opened more directly the issues involved in the case, saying “Reference to ‘the Ummah’ as a ‘nation-wide radical fundamentalist Sunni group consisting primarily of African Americans’ is an offensive mis-characterization.”

Further, the MANA statement said that “to those who have worked with Imam Luqman A. Abdullah, allegations of illegal activity, resisting arrest, and ‘offensive jihad against the American government’ are shocking and inconsistent.”

MPAC’s statement had one wise piece of advice, “With so much left unknown in the developing case, MPAC is warning government agencies and media outlets of the alarming exploitation of this isolated incident that is stigmatizing Muslim American communities around the country.”

MPAC’s primary concern appeared to be avoiding national backlash against Muslims based on the Imam Luqman shooting and resulting media coverage.

More facts have come to light since the organizations’ statements were made, including that Imam Luqman apparently resisted arrest and shot an FBI dog that was loosed to attack him before going down in a hail of FBI bullets.  Several senior Muslim community workers have explained that as Imam Luqman lay dying from 18 gunshot wounds, he was handcuffed to a stretcher and left to die while the FBI dog was medically evacuated by helicopter. 

News reports around the incident portrayed Imam Luqman as a violent anti-government jihadist bent on a government takeover, but foiled by FBI action. 

However the best report about the incident was in fact the one by this newspaper’s Imam Abdullah El-Amin, who traced a convincing story about FBI provocateurs luring Imam Luqman into dealing in stolen merchandise and then springing the trap before he could escape, perhaps even orchestrating his reaction and demise.

Unfortunately the national theme in investigations of Muslims has largely been one of government provocateurs luring down-and-out Muslim men into situations they don’t fully comprehend and which appear to be fully funded, planned, and coordinated from inside the FBI.  Then the poor stooges are arrested in midnight raids by SWAT teams in body armor and paraded before camera crews as dangerous al-Qaeda terrorists. And the poor slobs are carted away through years of trials which often as not end in their being released.

11-46

Christian Scholar: Was Jesus a Muslim?

November 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

PA248508 Warren–October 24–Jesus’ being Muslim is a foundational belief of Islam, but not for Christians.  All of the prophets were teachers of the one true religion, although each taught different aspects of it.  But for Christians to think that Jesus (as) is Muslim is a very radical idea.

So true is this that the author and professor Robert F. Shedinger faced, predictably, some opposition when he published his book with the name Was Jesus a Muslim.

The author spoke about his book this past Saturday at the IONA mosque in Warren.

The essence of Mr. Shedinger’s argument is that Islam is not a religion but rather a system of pursuing social justice.  He argued that actually the reason non-Muslims call it a religion is in order to classify it in a way that has no relevance to social justice–in order to exclude religious people from involvement in controversies in the public square.

The underlying purpose of Western attempts to classify Islam as a religion, he argues, is to subvert the religious organizing principle and preempt a religious backlash against attempts to dominate or colonize a culture.

In fact, while it may sound offensive to think that Islam is not a religion, the professor couched this argument in very complimentary terms, arguing that in fact the idea of a religion being just a religion is a particularly Western concept that would have been foreign even to early Christians, let alone to the other peoples of the world and the other religions of the world.

Perhaps another way to state this argument would be to say that Islam is a complete system of life, not just a devotional practice restricted to certain days.
In accordance with his argument that Islam is not a religion, he argues that Christianity is also analogously not a religion, and he argues that Jesus (as) was in a sense a revolutionary and politically dynamic person, therefore not “just” a religious figure.

Shedinger argues that diverse Muslim scholars such as Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini and South Africa’s Fareed Ishaq have argued along similar lines that Islam should not be separated from social justice.  Shedinger quoted Tariq Ramadan also and his frequent calls to political justice of various sorts.

A different view might be that Islam is a religion the practice of which should be divorced from politics, except that it is a complete religion with implications in every avenue of life, including leadership.  Beyond this, Jesus (as) was actually Muslim in submission to God’s will, who will be Muslim when he returns.

11-45

UCLA to Close Islamic Studies?

November 2, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

By Adil James, MMNS

Farmington–October 28–UCLA may not be known for having old and distinguished programs or even library collections, yet its Islamic studies department has one of the largest single collections among all American academic libraries, second only to Princeton’s.

G.E. von Grunbaum, for whom UCLA’s Near Eastern Studies program was named, was a noted orientalist scholar who founded UCLA’s Islamic Studies program in 1957.

The Islamic Studies program at UCLA is one of several interdisciplinary subjects, including Jewish studies, Indian and Southeast Asian studies, Latin American studies, and Medieval studies. 

UCLA currently offers MA and PhD programs in Islamic Studies.  A related department is the von Grunbaum Center for Near Eastern Studies. 

The program garners approximately three million dollars per year in government grants, yet has a budgeted expense of only about $130,000 per year for a minimal staff and to pay the department head, and to pay to bring visiting scholar/lecturers to UCLA to teach.  Students benefit greatly from the government grants, as 15-20 students get full tuition plus living expenses.  UCLA in fact takes back most of this money in the form of tuition payments.

The program is very competitive, with about 50 applications per year to begin graduate studies, and only about 8 students admitted per year.

UCLA’s Islamic Studies program annually grants an award to a distinguished professor, and this award has been balanced between Western and Muslim scholars.

Three years ago UCLA made some effort to build their Islamic Studies program by attempting to recruit two new professors, however contract negotiations with the two targeted professors fell through, and the program failed to expand as planned.

Without the top scholars that UCLA had intended to get interest in the program appears to have flagged.  Other departments this year refused to send representatives to head the Islamic Studies dept.

Apparently UCLA has planned a consolidation which would not touch the other departments, but which would consolidate the von Grunbaum Near Eastern studies center with other departments. 

It seems unfortunate that a major university with a department that is distinguished as UCLA’s would consider actually closing such a department, especially since the need for it is growing, and other major universities are moving in the opposite direction, toward expanding such programs to fill the recognized and growing need.

11-45

Tricky PETA’s “Muslim” Website

November 1, 2009 by · 6 Comments 

By Adil James, MMNS

Editor’s Note:  PETA has addressed all of the most pressing concerns that TMO had about its website, and that is a credit to its founder, Ingrid Newkirk, and also to Kathy Nizzari and Hanif Akhtar, who all took the time to respectfully address our concerns.  The main concern was that the site should say it is sponsored by PETA, which it now does, “Sponsored by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals” at the bottom of the page, a little hard to read but it is there.  The second major concern was the “empty ritual” language referred to below.  Actually PETA has been quite sensitive and responsive in addressing TMO’s major concerns, compared to which all our other concerns are minimal.  We may disagree about the substantive issues relating to animal treatment, but we no longer have ethical concerns about their website.

 

Farmington–October 28–If you had asked me October 19th about PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) I might have said, “aren’t they the people who protect animals?”

IslamicConcerns I would not have gone into the issue of their calling fish “sea kittens,” or their spraying fake blood to ruin the furs that people wear, or their doing demonstrations around the world wearing minimal clothing.  These things I found out about in the course of my writing this article. PETA after all wasn’t really on my plate–not really on an agenda related to Islam. 

But now things have changed.  PETA launched a website called Islamic Concerns (www.islamicconcerns.com) early last week, and we at TMO received a press release rather proudly proclaiming that fact.  I immediately went to the website and searched in vain for the notice that PETA is behind the website.  No “about” page saying “PETA proudly produced this website.” No acknowledgment that the website islamicconcerns.com was commissioned by non-Muslims with a non-Muslim agenda (as per editor’s note above this has now changed).

At a glance the website appears fine.  In large letters it says Bismillahir Rahmanir Rahim.  The website is very attractive, at least until you start reading it or trying to see who is behind it.

At a closer look the website is problematic.  It stated until last Thursday that the slaughter of animals after hajj is “an empty ritual.”  (After TMO raised this issue with PETA they removed that language from their site although the site still argues against sacrificing animals in a more oblique way).  The site quotes a “scholar” who argues that all of the ahadith relating to dogs are incorrect.  The site fails to advertise that the entire website is commissioned by non-Muslims with a secular agenda.  It argues that the prescribed method for slaughtering animals in Islamic and Jewish law is too painful and should be amended to include stunning prior to slaughter.  The “fatwas” on the website are a smorgasbord of bizarre material, whatever fatwas suited the fancies of the non-Muslims who built the site.  The Muslims involved in the site care deeply about animals but do not appear to care very deeply about practicing Islam.  The website states conclusory fatwas unsupported by Islamic scholars, for instance that eating meat from animals who have themselves eaten pork is haram–this may or may not be true, but if it is it should come from a real scholar.

The website advocates extreme and unnecessary solutions to legitimate problems.  Admittedly factory farms likely feed chemicals and reprocessed animals to their livestock, and engage in other unsavory practices, and perhaps there is unnecessary mistreatment of such animals precedent to slaughter.  But if you sincerely want to help Muslims eat halal and wholesome meat, then the response to this problem is to support small farms, not to go vegan.

Also granted, animal testing is sometimes cruel.  But the solution to this is not to throw blood on people or to protest or yell and scream.  The solution is to live a simple lifestyle in which as much as possible we use the materials that don’t need animal testing–the same materials we use in following the sunnah of Prophet (s).

Immediately after learning of the site and seeing it I called PETA’s designated spokesperson on the issue, Kathy Nizzari, and in answer to my first question, “Did any Muslims contribute” to the site, Ms. Nizzari proclaimed that the “very devout Muslim” Hanif Akhtar had been involved. Nizzari, the primary spokesperson for PETA’s Islamic Concerns website, asked that I speak with Akhtar rather than her about the site.

I interviewed Mr. Akhtar three days later, last Thursday, and I say with sincerity that I respect Mr. Akhtar for his honesty and his taking the time to talk with me. 

Mr. Akhtar is not “devout,” any more than I am devout. He does not pray more than other Muslims, nor does he have a great deal of knowledge of Islam.  He is a practicing vegan (no meat no dairy) (originally from Pakistan), as are his entire family–he does not eat meat and will state with conviction that there is a branch of Muslims who believe that ahadith should not be followed.  In speaking about dogs he quoted from the surah called “Ashabul Kahf” (actually al-Kahf), speaking of the dog who was mentioned in that surah.

Still, he respects Prophet (s) and will not go as far as to state that he puts his vegan beliefs above the teachings of Prophet (s).  Confronted with the problematic issues on the website listed above, he sounded legitimately surprised and promised to speak with other PETA people about what is on the site, for example he said he “took exception with the website” in calling the slaughter of animals after hajj “an empty ritual.”   He promised to address this issue with others at PETA, and in fact a week later we no longer see that language on the site.  He said he did not know about the (still) missing “about” page. Again, he seems sincere to me, even if perhaps not religious, and certainly not “devout.”

While he admits he uses leather he says no one else in his family does.  An apparently sincere and honest man, but this is not a person who can be relied on as an expert in Islam or Islamic law. Likely PETA has never employed any such person.

Mr. Akhtar works on a purely voluntary basis for PETA, and provided some guidance in a review capacity on the website–if he saw a problem, he explained, he mentioned it to the PETA staff which corrected it–”just minor spelling mistakes,” he said. But in a cursory review of the website I was able to find the several significant problems listed above that he said he was unfamiliar with.

The Muslims who worked on the site always appear to be at the periphery.  When i mentioned Muslims to Nizzari, she pointed at Akhtar.  When I mentioned Muslims to Akhtar, he pointed at Nizzari.  One does not appear to be Muslim at all, and the other, for all his sincerity, is by his own admission not religious. 

Although the website supposedly provides Islamic law on subjects related to Islamic diet, there is no consistent school of thought referred to.  Mr. Akhtar mentioned a person named Ali–whose last name he would not share with me–who contributed to the website but was currently “in Iran,” therefore I assume he is Shi’a which is I guess a starting point although there is no attempt to clarify that perhaps the Islamic Concern website is built on Shi’a law.  There are different schools of thought, Ja’fari, Hanbali, Hanafi, Shafi’i, Maliki. 

Non-Muslims may believe that a handful of fatwas plucked from around the Muslim world form a convincing argument, any Muslim knows there is discipline involved.

So far we addressed the ethical issues of the website.  On a practical level, this website is a rather large block of uncertainty cast apparently by an extreme minority secular organization–so this is not likely to work. 

Moderate Muslims will be incensed that PETA is trying to trick them.  Shi’a are never going to accept this website when their religious authorities are marja’iyya.  Practising Sunnis are not going to take Islamic advice from shadowy online “Islamic” sites, especially insofar as they contravene the Sunnah of the Prophet (s).  Maybe some young impressionable Muslims will be swayed by the site, but the backlash against the site will likely outweigh any gains PETA might make.

How can it be Islamic to become a vegan animal worshipper who calls fish kittens, when the sunnah of the Holy Prophet (s) is to eat meat, and to wear leather–just the leather socks alone that Prophet (s) wore are proof of this.  What about other sunnahs involving leather? Muslims care about animal welfare, but it is not Islam to unbalance the world to the extent that the central concern of life is that no animal be harmed in any way.

So my advice to PETA, make a website, it’s okay.  But admit who you are and do not try to trick us.  And do not expect to change the world too much with this latest attempt to subvert Islam in the interests of promoting a secular and crafty agenda. One piece of advice from Qur`an–enter houses by their front doors.

It is no virtue if ye enter your houses from the back: It is virtue if ye fear Allah. Enter houses through the proper doors: And fear Allah. That ye may prosper.

Baqara:189 (Y. Ali)

11-45

Visitors Throng to Southeast Michigan Mosques

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

4 Warren–October 17–Seven local mosques opened their doors to welcome non-Muslim community members and TMO was present at one of the mosques, IONA on Ryan in Warren.

The mosque was incredibly beautiful, looking like a museum.  There were hand written copies of Qur`an, calligraphy, Islam-related videos playing, many items with Qur`an  engraved in them.

Perhaps 1000 square feet were cleared and in that space were tastefully separated displays, with enough space to walk between them and enough displays to take a visitor perhaps 45 minutes to take in everything  if they read everything.

There were several floor-stands chock full of calligraphy and explanations of Islam for the visitors, as well of course as tea and other refreshments.

“Many of the people asked us what Islam says about Jesus,” explained Waheed Rashid, one of the IONA volunteers/officials at the event.  They were very surprised, he said, to learn there is a chapter of Qur`an named after Sayyida Maryam.

The visitors included one sociology teacher and two local pastors.

“If just one person had come, it would have been worth it,” said Amin Varis, IONA’s outreach director.

An interesting idea was IONA’s giving of Sunnah-related foods on its table, with explanations of each of the ahadith about the items.  There was honey, black seed, and dates, as well of course as Middle Eastern refreshments like baklava, other sweets, and tea.

1 “Eat olive oil and anoint yourself with it since it is from a blessed tree.” 

“Honey is a remedy for every physical illness and Qur`an is a remedy for every spiritual illness.  Therefore I recommend to you both as remedies–Qur`an and honey.”

“Feed your pregnant wife with dates, she will surely give birth to a baby who is patient, well-behaved, and intelligent.”

“Use this black seed regularly, because it is a shifa for every disease except death.”

About 35 local people visited IONA during the course of the day, leaving behind their signatures in the welcome book. 

Amin Varis explained that the mosque had arranged for recent converts to welcome each of the visitors and guide them around, explaining the displays.  “People more like Americans, converts…  understand” the visitors better.

“We were really surprised,” he said, “some people were here for an hour–they showed lots of sincerity.”

Other mosques were also very successful in the outreach effort, with Canton’s MCWS mosque receiving over 100 visitors.

11-44

Raphael B. Johnson, Candidate for Detroit City Council

September 24, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

raphael b johnson Farmington–September 23–This upcoming Detroit city election is historic because of the candidacies of four Muslim candidates, including Imam El-Amin, Raphael B. Johson, Mohamed Okdie, and Reggie Reg Davis.

Despite the loss of Imam El-Amin in the primary, three of those candidates have soldiered on into the general election, and I had the chance to interview one of them, Raphael B. Johnson.

“I believe there is no god but Allah,” began Mr. Johnson.  “Our odds are high–I believe faith without work is like a ship without water–we are putting in the necessary work to make sure victory is ours.  We are knocking on doors, visiting churches, reacing out into all the neighborhoods not likely to vote.  We are doing everything.”

Asked if he has run for any office before, he shows his quick wit–joking, “I’ve only run for my life.”

Mr. Johnson worships at Muhammad’s Mosque Number 1, a Nation of Islam mosque, in Detroit.

Asked why he is running, Mr. Johnson explains, “because I owe the city of Detroit, because as a young person I took an innocent life… in Detroit.  Our leadership has failed us time and time again.  Our leadership should be the example of the change to see in the people.  If the leadership did not change in themselves, they can’t change the city.

“I have nothing to hide–Islam is what changed me.  Islam comes when all else has failed.”

For Detroit, “nothing has worked, we have tried everything”  — except Islam.

11-40

1st Annual IONA Street Fair

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Warren–August 15–Many local mosques have made an effort to reach out to their local communities, and just such an effort was this past weekend’s street fair at the IONA mosque in Warren.

The mosque blocked off its large parking lot and hosted vendors of food and clothing, and provided health screenings to fair attendees.

Dr. Naseer Ahmad, who provided glucose diabetes screenings, explained that as of early in the afternoon he had screened 51 people for diabetes.

In part the purpose of this street fair was to break any ice remaining with local neighbors of the mosque, some of whom vociferously opposed the mosque.  The fair bore fruit, as the Warren mayor and several city councilmen attended early on Saturday. 

The mosque’s imam, Mustapha El-Tourk, explained that several other local non-Muslims had attended as well.

“This is our first year–we hope to continue the tradition,” he explained.  “We want to draw the non-Muslim community so they will know who we are–we don’t discriminate against other cultures and religions.”

P8158139 “This is a changing community,” he went on to say, pointing out that just a few years ago Warren was overwhelmingly white and Christian, while now there are many different ethnicities and religious communities who have made the Detroit suburb their home, including a Buddhist community, people from the Hmong community, and of course many Muslims from the subcontinent and from the Arab world.  As evidence of this and of the mutual goodwill in the area, Reverend Curro (Exec. Director of the ICRJ) and also two Buddhist monks in saffron robes were at the fair.

Imam El-Tourk is very involved in local Muslim organizations and interfaith groups, including the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan (CIOM) which has its office in the IONA buildiing, and he has just been nominated president of the Interfaith Center for Racial Justice (ICRJ), of which Rev. Curro is the executive director.

The imam explained IONA would follow the FCNA pronouncement regarding Ramadan and ‘Eid, therefore tarawih will begin Friday night insha`Allah, and fasting Saturday. 

Speaking on the FCNA/ISNA pronouncement regarding moonsighting, Imam El-Tourk explained that “there is enough evidence for both sides, and Prophet (s) used to take the easiest way, as long as there was no sin in it.  Let’s be merciful in our communities–one ‘eid and one Ramadan.”

Imam El-Tourk said ‘isha prayers would begin at 9:45pm, followed by tarawih prayers, and he explained that each tarawih session would begin with a ten minute description of the Qur`anic passages to be covered in that session.

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OIC Visits TMO

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Adil James, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

OIC-3 Farmington–August 7–A delegation from the Organization of Islamic Countries recently visited the TMO offices in Farmington, Michigan.

The eight representatives of OIC were brought to the US on a US State Department sponsored visit to American Muslim institutions, a part of a program to foster mutual understanding and goodwill. 

The OIC officers are civil service officers paid by the international organization OIC, and are based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

The OIC is the “Organisation of the Islamic Conference,” an organization of 57 nation states across four continents.  Member states pay annual dues to pay for the functioning of the OIC, and maintain foreign service officers who represent them to the OIC.  The OIC thereby maintains a budget and is able to support its own paid staff.

The OIC was founded after a summit in Morocco in September of 1969, after arson was committed against the Al-Aqsa Mosque.  In 1970 the first meeting of the OIC was held in Jeddah. 

The organization sponsors a once-per-three-years meeting of heads of state of Muslim countries, an annual meeting of foreign ministers, and a full-time general secretariat to implement the decisions of the other two bodies.

In fact, the member states of the OIC are known sometimes more for their distance from Islam than from their adherence to it, and so it is intrinsically ironic that a body known as Islamic is at the same time in reality of a divided heart as to issues related to Islam.  Perhaps the common ground of these nation states is a desire for increased trade, and in fact the OIC delegates, when pressed on the accomplishments of the OIC in the past 40 years, point to nearly tripled trade (from 4% to 16%) between member states in that time.

The OIC professionals asked pointed questions about TMO, and encouraged TMO to form partnerships with other Muslim news organizations.

Dr. AS Nakadar, the CEO of TMO, in turn encouraged the OIC to build educational institutions like universities in Muslim nations, saying this would contribute much to solving the problems of the Muslim world.

For more information about the OIC, you can visit www.oic-oci.org to see their website.

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Southeast Michigan (V11-I34)

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Chinese Muslim Calligrapher Visits Tawheed Center

By Adil James, MMNS

img123 Farmington–August 9–The Tawheed Center recently invited a calligrapher who had been visiting Michigan–IAGD had originally invited him and then offered his visit to the Tawheed Center, which Tawheed accepted.

As Asim Khan, an important member of the Tawheed Center mosque who helped arrange the visit, explained that “He can write Bismillahir Rahman ir Rahim in Chinese, and then when you turn it, you can see that it says Bismillahir Rahman ir Rahim in Arabic.” 

About 60 people in total visited the three calligraphy sessions with Haji Noor-ud-Deen.

Tawheed Center Plans for Ramadan

Mr. Khan explained the Tawheed Center’s plans for Ramadan to TMO, explaining that “We are going to follow ISNA, will start Saturday the 22nd, first tarawih on Friday night.”

“There will be a fundraiser September 12th, to pay to extend the front musalla.” 

Tawheed plans three qiyamullayl programs, to coincide with the odd nights, 21, 23, and 27.  They intend to finish the Qur`an on the 29th. 

Tarawih will begin with ‘isha prayer, then 20 raka’ats.  The time of tarawih is intended to be the first week at 10pm and then every week after that earlier by 15 minutes. 

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Imam El-Amin Upbeat After Loss in Detroit City Council Primary

August 6, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

charles pugh
Detroit City Council frontrunner, Fox 2 news reporter Charles Pugh.

Detroit–August 5–Imam El-Amin of the Muslim Unity Center appears largely unfazed by the setback of not winning the primary for the Detroit City Council.

Speaking with TMO this morning, Imam El-Amin explained that he had not won; however he explained that his next column for TMO would be about accepting Allah’s will, which is an important and sometimes difficult decision to make, as here, when things have not gone the way we intended.

While many who engage in politics immediately lose their moral compass once they smell the possibility of success and a fat government paycheck, not so Imam El-Amin.

He explained to me on the eve of the election that “I’m not worried about [the notable people in the election] because we don’t know who’s going to be running, and actually it doesn’t matter–because I just want people to vote for me.  I’m not running against them, I’m running for me.”

The imam met with early success in his bid for the city council spot, collecting 800 signatures–in a weekend–for a petition that required 458 to qualify to run.
In fact, he explained that he  only ran after having been asked to run for the office by a group of Muslims and non-Muslims.

The imam had a core group of approximately 10 volunteers and a larger group of “about 50  or 60” altogether, who worked hard to help him meet people, knock on doors, and pass out flyers.  He was able to build an election budget of over $10,000 with minimal time–in the space of less than three months of campaigning.

He received the endorsement of Reverend Nicholas Hood, a former city councilman, who is in Detroit a relative political heavyweight although he did lose in his mayoral campaign to both Ken Cockrell Jr. and Dave Bing.

El-Amin portrait The campaign was destined to be difficult, as a few minutes’ analysis before the primary could have told you.  Approximately seven incumbent city councilmen intended to hold their seats, and outside of that group there were about 9 very serious contenders for the city council spots from among the former mayoral candidates who had already lost in the mayoral election–of those, all of the politically connected and experienced candidates unclouded by legal action passed the initial 18-person threshold.  There were several other serious political contenders with their irons in the Detroit fire on Tuesday, and it looked like a tough race.

Detroit has a unique political structure, in that it is perhaps the only major city in the nation that chooses nine “at-large” councilmen who are elected by the entire city, without leaving any seats apportioned by district.  The city is not divided into polling districts in order to elect councilmen.  The top vote-getter serves as president of the council, and the second vote getter serves as president pro tempore. 

If the poll numbers from the primaries hold true through the November election, those two spots will be held by, respectively, Charles Pugh and Ken Cockrel Jr.  After the 2005 poll, Cockrel was the president and Joann Watson was the president pro tempore.

The field of candidates in August 2009 was approximately 167 people vying for the city council positions.  Former Fox 2 reporter Charles Pugh was the top finisher with 9% or 59,560 votes.  The formerly dominant Ken Cockrel Jr. was in second place, followed by former Detroit Deputy Police Chief Gary Brown (who helped set in motion the downfall and disgrace of former mayor Kwame Kilpatrick via text-messaging fiasco).

The eighteenth out of those vying for one of the nine seats was John K. Bennett, who won 8,164, or about 1%, out of the total 84,000 voters who cast ballots  (because each voter can vote for nine people).  There was approximately a 15% voter turnout.

John Bennett expressed some dismay as to his eighteenth place finish, tempered with the sweetness of passing this first threshold- “It’s kind of bittersweet, I’m happy to be 18,” he said.  “But some of those people ahead of me have not campaigned at all.  I’ve been out here busting my tail for 23 months.”

Two incumbents, under fire for ethics allegations, lost the primary, Monica Conyers and Martha Reeves.

Detroit city councilmen earn approximately $81,000 per year as compensation for the four-year post–on a par with Michigan state legislators, who are among the highest paid state legislators in the nation.

The mayoral election, absent any major revelations or missteps, appears to be a nearly sure thing for Dave Bing, who is still fresh from his most recent contest with Ken Cockrel Jr. for the seat vacated by Kwame Kilpatrick.

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A New Kind of Television Dawns in the USA

July 9, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

By Adil James, MMNS

box-angle

As Tracy Thompson-West explains it, Talfazat and its sister stations, TV-Desi, and Kylin TV, were born from the union of NeuLion (whose specialty is in IPTV), and JumpTV (whose specialty was Arabic programming).  Ms. West is the Chief Executive of International Business for NeuLion, Inc. The marriage has led to the birth of several discrete and independent television networks, serving discrete niche markets–the Arabic, Chinese, and Desi markets.

Like NeuLion and JumpTV, Ms. West has an impressive resume, having worked for 20 years in the US and European satellite industry–where she had a hand in building Dish’s industry leading collection of international channels.

IPTV is still a mystery to most American consumers–in fact IPTV television providers in this country are far behind their counterparts in Europe.

Even the television services that are available via IPTV are not defined as such–Netflix, AT&T’s U-verse (still with fewer than 100,000 customers), and now JumpTV and its subsidiaries–usually refer to themselves as sources of television, alternatives to satellite and cable. 

In Europe however, the largest IPTV service provider (France’s Iliad) had over 1,000,000 customers as of January of 2008.  Its nine closest competitors, none of whom are American, all have more than 100,000 customers each.

The Talfazat box is simply a set top box (STB) that plugs into the internet and your television.  It uses proprietary technology developed by NeuLion to transfer video signals through the internet to your TV, and is controlled by an ordinary remote control.

talfazat logo shadow The technology is impressive.  NeuLion provides professional business-to-business display of major sports.  The pedigree as listed by Ms. West is simply unimpeachable–NFL, NHL, AHL.  If those guys trust NeuLion, you know their product is top-of-the-line. 

The box that you install in your home speaks over the internet with NeuLion’s servers and accesses the content you want to watch.  It needs a connection, according to Ms. West, of only one Mbs, and a 2 Mbs DSL connection nowadays is pretty standard.  With upcoming improvements in the internet network in the United States, especially for Fiber optics (like Verizon FIOS, for example), speeds ten times as fast will become very standard. 

Talfazat offers about 30 Arabic channels, including as far as I can tell all of the ones offered by Dish Network–with perhaps the exception of Dubai Sports.  The news channels are all available, including Al-Jazeera, Al-Jazeera English, and Al-Arabiya.

control Kylin offers, according to Ms. West, about 40 channels of Chinese language content.

TV-Desi is offered in several discrete packages, each tailored to a particular language group.  Their are Hindi, Bangla, and Pakistan-focused channels.  The channel list includes some news channels however some of the major Bollywood blockbuster movie websites are still missing, although Ms. West of JumpTV indicated to me that JumpTV was working in the direction of making those channels available in the future.

Potential future pitfalls with the technology include the increasing rumors and movements of internet service providers towards limiting bandwidth.  This controversy, frowned on by major net presences like Google, businesses that benefit and in fact need people to access the internet freely, is known by the name “net neutrality” and is increasingly coming up in legislative debates at the federal level–although until now it is unclear whether the movements toward bandwidth caps by ISPs AT&T and Comcast will later be widely implemented.

Asked about this potential problem, Mr. Alyas Ali of Talfazat explained that one of his Canadian customers, whose ISP is Rogers, faced bandwidth overages (which come into effect after 60 gigabits) and was charged for them.  Yet the total maximum fee charged by Rogers for those overages, even when added to his Talfazat bill, is still less than what he would have to pay for Bell ExpressVu Arabic channels.

The Roku box may be the most similar single service.  Roku offers access to Netflix.  You pay $99 and your payments to Roku are finished forever, but you get to enjoy Netflix instant views as long as you have a subscription.

There are free online IPTV sources, but the most professional services that provide IPTV are formed as walled gardens.  Explains Alyas Ali of Talfazat, “We want to provide a clean product that people are willing to pay for.”

Similar services exist from other providers.  AT&T has launched their U-Verse plan, which offers roughly the same channels you would expect from Dish Network.  Unfortunately AT&T has done a really awful job of marketing U-Verse.  Nobody knows that it exists.  If people know about U-Verse, most of them think that it is actually AT&T’s satellite service through its partner (was Dish Network, now DirecTV). 

If you find out about U-Verse, you may not want to buy it because AT&T has priced it at the same level as Dish Network–which is already the most expensive satellite network and fast losing market share as a result.  What could they have been thinking? And on top of that AT&T is maintaining a partnership with their own competitor, DirecTV.

The wild web, however, has much to offer if you can winnow the wheat from the chaff.  Despite its many nonsense or bad-spirited or generally poor quality channels, many fun and interesting videos are available on Youtube.  Services providing free IPTV include Joost, Hulu, Justin.TV, ChannelChooser, and WWITV.  Of these, Hulu may be the most professional, although the focus of Hulu is more on mainstream American shows.  And it is possible to construct an imitation of the walled gardens but without losing the wild and free content–either by connecting a PC running Boxee (and thus indirectly also Hulu) or by hacking an AppleTV box to run Boxee (and thus Hulu).  Surely other hacks will emerge as time passes, but for now the $200 AppleTV (which you buy once and never again pay for) in connection with Boxee is the most cost effective means of accessing free IPTV content.

The price structure of Talfazat and her sisters is middle of the road–but by comparison with other services that are available it is at a fair market rate.  For $30 a month, you can have 30 Arabic channels piped into your house.  Compared to Dish Network this is pennies.  Compared to the freely available content via satellite perhaps it is a little bit expensive–but perhaps the difference in price is made up for in ease of access and professionalism of the end product.

Considering that the price for Dish Network’s foreign content is simply outrageous (on average you would have to pay about $15 for only one foreign channel on Dish), NeuLion is in a strong position to secure customers escaping from long contracts, or sometimes mediocre customer service, and perhaps will recapture some of the former pirates who have been chased away from Dish Network recently by its increasingly aggressive anti-piracy encryption.

DirecTV, Ms. West explained, has just cancelled all its Arabic channels–perhaps a concession to Dish Network, which in fact provides a very decent array of international programming.

The Indian channels available in a standard package from TV-Desi are rather minimal, only roughly four or five from each package–yet if you are from a foreign country and you have access to the four channels you used to watch at home that might be more than enough–especially when TV-Desi is poised to expand into other channels.

Another competitive point emphasized by Ms. West is the ease of installation.  The box is mailed to you, you unpack it, plug in an ethernet cord, a power cord, and turn it on, and you are in business.  Unlike a satellite or cable install, which might require you to stay home from work when “a satellite guy or a cable guy has to come into your house” and install it.

Talfazat and her sisters offer limited American channels–about 30 of the JV American channels including Fox News and Discovery, for a nominal fee.  They plan to expand their coverage in this area, as they do in their ethnic channel repertoire.

Customer service through Talfazat seems excellent.  In a brief call to explore the available service, I encountered excellent, knowledgeable and friendly customer service from an Arabic-speaking customer service representative.  This is a level of niche marketing that, even with some effort, Dish Network or your local cable company will be unlikely to find a willingness to compete with.

As far as quality of the picture, Talfazat is excellent.  Ms. West claims there is no buffering  if a customer has a pipe of 1 Mbs.  The box is HD-ready, although regional programming in HD is slim-to-none.  What looks like an S-Video jack in the back of the Talfazat box is actually a plug for a dongle that can accept HD-ready HDMI or component plugs to connect to your television. 

NeuLion did not discuss the potential impact of the higher quality picture on bandwidth, but presumably that will push them beyond their current 1Mbs. 

Presumably NeuLion are experts at providing HD content, since their expertise has been developed through years of servicing the sports leagues which thrive in large part based on their HD filming.

But the brilliance of the NeuLion team is not only in the quality and availability of their product, it is also in their clever marketing to an available niche, at a marketable price, through friendly customer service.

Note:  Talfazat is a valued advertiser in this newspaper.

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Interview with Two Blind Muslim Pakistani Students, Imran Ahmed, Hina Altaf…

June 18, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

By Adil James, MMNS

DSC_0003r Speaking on the phone with Imran Ahmed, there is no way that a person could know that he is disabled, he has the same accent one would expect, and the same manners, but perhaps there is a gentleness to him, a mercy that has come to his heart from his illness. 

Imran Ahmed and Hina Altaf are brother and sister, although perhaps you might not know it from their names.  He is named after one side of the family, she after another.  And yet although they do not share a surname they share an unfortunate disease which has caused their blindness.

“We both have been blind since birth,” Imran explains, “we both have the same disease, none of our other family members have it–we both have light sections, light and dark, and we can tell how intense light is.  But we can’t see colors or shapes.  The disease is hereditary…  It is a very rare disease, and there are 2 cases every five years.” 

The two are studying at Carroll University in Waukesha Wisconsin, close to Milwaukee. He is 24, she is 25, and they hope to graduate next year.

“We were in Pakistan,” he explains, “my father’s cousin lived in Waukesha, and he suggested Carroll College–we applied and were accepted.”  After they found sponsors to help them, they came.

Despite their studies, they maintain contact with the Muslim community although such contact is difficult since they have to depend on others to bring them to and from the mosque, and since the Muslim community at their school is extremely small.

Hina - Comp 1 Imran explains, “Unfortunately it’s a very very small college, we are the only two Muslim students from Pakistan—there is another student that she lives up campus, we don’t have any Muslim student associations on campus.”

Although there are few Muslims, several people have been very helpful to the brother and sister.

“For at least one year into our stay, we didn’t know anybody,” says Imran.  “But one of our American friends brought us to the Islamic Center in Milwaukee,”  35 minutes away from campus.

Between the US and Pakistan, Imran explains, “there is a tremendous difference… in Pakistan, people don’t understand the meaning of a white cane–travel is difficult and dangerous.  There are potholes, there is always construction on the roads.  That hinders a lot of blind people from travelling.  The layout of roads is different.  Here there is always a curb so you know you are getting close–here there is a strategy to cross roads… things are a little better planned out here.  People have been more accepting here.  Even if people are reluctant to give you an opportunity, but there is always a hope that you will have an opportunity.  A lot of people of people appreciate and give you the opportunity to do things.”

Imran has optimism about his future–he and his sister both intend to build lives for themselves, each of them intends to work and marry as circumstances permit.
The difficulties they face, of course, make a mockery of the difficulties that many Muslims and others encounter–in order to study they must either find books in braille or find audio versions of their books–something which was nearly impossible in Pakistan.

Imran explains that he hopes to find a job in tech support or web design—”if possible, I would like to eventually move on to adaptive access technology, teach blind people, or sighted people how to use adaptive technology.”

And they would like to improve conditions in Pakistan for people who are not sighted.

“We want to start a Braille library, in Urdu,” and he wants to help to create OCR software for reading into Urdu as well.

To contact Imran: iahmed@carrollu.edu, or 262-305-9709.

Michiganders React to Turkey’s Kurdish Incursion

February 28, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

Farmington—February 27—“Let it be over quickly”—that is the prayer of all concerned except perhaps the PKK themselves.

“This is the fourth day of this ground operation, and there have been some determined targets, and the operation is going as planned,” explained Mr. Fatih Yildiz of the Turkish Embassy in Washington. “Our sole target is the PKK terrorists—we are taking the utmost care so no civilians are hurt, we made it very sure from the very beginning.”

He explains the Turkish government’s perspective, that Turkey had made its will known very clearly but without results—“Had the Iraqi authorities taken the necessary measures against the PKK during the five years…[since the Iraq War began] there would be no need for these operations… We tried other ways, trilateral talks… Not only with the Americans, but bilaterally also.” Perhaps the Turkish government’s demands were beyond the willingness of the other parties to abide with—they demand, in Mr. Yildiz’s words, “the extradition of PKK leaders, whose names are on Interpol bulletins, the closure of PKK camps in the north of the country.”

In November of 2007, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Erdogan came to Washington, DC to meet with President Bush, and there was a general understanding that this was to lay the groundwork for a Turkish military response to PKK killings of many Turkish soldiers.

Turkey estimates that the PKK had about 3,000 fighters in northern Iraq at the beginning of the incursion. Turkish incursion forces, whose numbers are not published by the Turkish government, but are estimated at between 1,000 and 10,000 under air support, invaded the Kandil mountain range in northern Iraq, following five bombing campaigns. Since the incursion, the Turkish military has inflicted some losses on the PKK, which has in turn claimed to have killed Turkish soldiers as well.

The residents of Iraq, whether they be Arabs, Kurds, or Chaldeans, have grave concerns over the potential for disturbance of the peace that rested until now on the shoulders of the Kurds of northern Iraq. And this concern is reflected in the voices of those in Michigan who come from the affected areas.

The underlying grievances are long-standing, consisting of repression against Turkish Kurds and a long-standing military feud. “These people (the Kurds) asked for some freedom inside Turkey,” says Umid Gaff, an ethnic Kurd who now lives in Michigan. “They are not allowed to talk their own language,” and [the Turkish government] calls them ‘Mountain Turks’ rather than Kurds. You can’t speak your language, can’t do school by your language, can’t have a Kurdish [political] party.”

Mr. Yildiz, on the other hand, emphasizes that Kurds in Turkey do have rights, and are represented in the political process there, some of them reaching very high ranks in the government. “In fact Kurds can speak their language, first of all,” he says. And he explains that over the past half decade there have been a number of democratization programs aimed at gaining Turkish admission into the EU that have benefitted all Turks, including the Kurdish people of Turkey.

The view expressed by some Kurds is that an unwanted conflict between their wayward countrymen and the Turkish authorities is spinning out of control—and they fear the repercussions. Umid Gaff explains that “We are not responsible for what happens between [the Turks] and PKK. The PKK does not get approval. Inside Iraq they are without any power from us—we do not support them. The area they are in is mountains, not under Kurdish government control—between Iraqi Kurdistan and Turkey, far from control.”

Mr. Gaff comes, as he explains, from the “Southeast of Kurdistan—Sulaymaniyya.” Sulaymaniyya is in a more developed region of Kurdistan than where the PKK is conducting its guerrilla war. Mr. Gaff’s perspective is perhaps more nuanced because of his experience of the Kandil Mountains—he explains that “Most of this area is mountains that don’t have any people—the problem to us,” he explains, is that the Turkish military is damaging the infrastructure by “attacking some villages and some bridges.”

“In 1993 we had a war with the PKK, supported by the Turkish government.” Despite looking in the Kandil mountains for the PKK, “we don’t do anything—lost a lot of peshmerga in Iraqi Kurdistan.”

“Tomorrow the PKK goes to a different place—can’t find him.”

Another perspective is that of Iraqi bystanders, who seem universally startled and outraged by the Turkish attack. This is summed up in the words of Kamal Yaldo, who describes himself as an Iraqi activist. “When the Turkish military crossed the border, it was a violation of the mutual interests of both countries. Everyone is seeing what’s happening in Iraq now, now on top of this an intervention, an invasion from a foreign military—I mean how much Iraq can take? How much?”

Mr. Yaldo is a Chaldean, born in Baghdad but who has lived in the United States for long enough that only a moderate echo of his original accent lingers in his voice. He explains, “There are 150,000 to 180,000 Chaldeans in the metro Detroit area.” This small community is perhaps equal to the number of Chaldeans left in Iraq, as he explains that perhaps half of the original 800,000 Iraqi Chaldeans left Iraq as refugees in the wake of the war and the following instability—during which they and other non-Muslims are often targeted by extremists.

He explains that there is from Iraq also “a small Arabic community living mostly in Dearborn—they are mostly Shi’a, conservatively 15,000 to 20,000.”

Also hailing from Baghdad is Michigander Nabil Roumayah—he is the president of the Iraqi Democratic Union. He explains in impassioned terms that the conflict “will lead to further destabilization of the region and Iraq and the whole area. What’s happening, it should be resolved by political means—military solutions as we have seen do not produce results, only short-term results.”

Says Mr. Roumayah, “There is a genuine problem for Kurds in Turkey. They are discriminated against—this has to be solved politically. The problem of a Kurdish minority in four countries—has to be solved politically… Nobody is asking for a state, but they need an economy, like everyone else in the world.”

The ghost of reconciliation is the silver lining in this cloud of war. Says Mr. Gaff, “We don’t like to fix the problem by the gun. We don’t like the gun—don’t like to shoot, don’t like to kill anyone. We don’t have any problem with the PKK, but don’t support them in that.”

“We want good relations with the Turkey government, they help us after 1991,” explains Mr. Gaff, referring to Turkish government support for the Iraqi Kurds who suffered reprisal attacks from Saddam Hussein after the Gulf War.

Gaff’s sincere appreciation of the support from Turkey for Iraqi Kurds is a reflection of Turkish feelings of support for the Kurds. “In the economic trade sense,” explains Mr. Yildiz, “Turkey is the primary counterpart of the recovery process in the north of the country. Most of the commodies transported there are from us. Turkish businessmen are quite active in the region in rebuilding that area. Any kind of instability in the region or in Iraq will not be in the interests of Turkey—it is fair to say that the presence of a terrorist organization in the north is a key element of instability.”

All of the voices of Iraq seem to resonate on one point, the desire for a quick end to the fighting. Fatih Yildiz, speaking for the Turkish Embassy in Washington, explained that “As soon as the planned objectives of the operation is achieved, our troops will be leaving northern Iraq.”

Mr. Gaff echoes in a few well-chosen words the underlying fear of all of the others—“That’s the point, we are scared, don’t want these people [the Turkish military] to stay a long time. We are scared they may pass these people [the PKK] and attack the villages.”

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Magic Post-Eid Banquet

October 25, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Jackson–October 20–MAJC is pronounced “magic,” and the magic of MAJC was evident Saturday night in the generous welcome offered to local non-Muslims by this especially well-connected Muslim community.

The event included singing performances by children, explanations of what it is to be Muslim, a warm atmosphere and fine food. Prominent people were present, including Michigan House Representative Marty Griffin (D-64th), who spoke very briefly and warmly to thank MAJC for hosting him.

Another speaker was Mrs. Gumar Husain, a social activist from Kalamazoo, described her understanding of marriage in Islam, describing it as a contract between two individuals. She described women’s rights in Islam, explaining “what she earns is hers to keep and she shares in her husband’s earnings too.”

She looked at the audience and pointedly said to them, “Isn’t that more than equal rights for women in Islam,” and the audience applauded.

In a brief interview with TMO, the Accountant Khawaja Ikram explained his happiness with this year’s MAJC event. Ikram is one of the main movers behind the MAJC community; he explained that the turnout was very good this weekend. “We ordered 300 seats and they are all full.”

“When we started not very many people came. This year for the first time 250 people RSVP’d” on their own that they would be coming. This he explains is a sign of progress, when compared with the first year when the MAJC community had to make a point of calling back all of those invited to make sure they would come.

About 300 people were present for the evening, about half of those who came were Muslim, and of the Muslims about half were actually from the Jackson community–the other half were composed in large part of members of the Ann Arbor Muslim community.

MAJC’s regular mosque is a converted two-story house–not large enough to entertain the hundreds of guests who attend this post-Eid “Introduction to Islam” banquet that MAJC holds. Therefore the event is held at local Jackson Community College.

The food for the event was provided by Kazi Catering from Rochester-and although the food was identifiably from the subcontinent and somewhat spicy, MAJC representatives explained to the guests of the evening that they had specifically asked for the food not to be too spicy.

Dr. Manzar Rajput, also of the MAJC community, explained that “We are very proud to be Muslim” and he expressed his happiness to be a part of the American and Jackson communities. “We are happy with the turnout–we have been doing this for 6 years and every year is better than the last.”

MAJC also runs an annual event in which it feeds homeless people on one night at Thanksgiving time. Another ongoing program the mosque conducts is to provide support to a community of about 30 Uzbek families who have come to Jackson as refugees and are living without much support, jobs, or even knowledge of the English language.

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Muslims Distance Selves from Atlanta Terror Suspects

April 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Muslims Distance Selves from Terror Suspects
By Adil James
April 25—All of those with alleged social ties to two terror suspects arrested by the FBI are seeking as much distance from them as possible.
The two, 19-year-old US citizen Ehsanul Islam Sadequee (of Bangladeshi origin) and 21-year-old Syed Haris Ahmed (of Pakistani origin), are local area students (Mr. Ahmed being a mechanical engineering bachelor’s candidate at Georgia Tech) accused of having gone to Toronto to conspire to engage in unspecified terrorist attacks against unspecified victims within the United States.
The FBI arrested Mr. Ahmed on March 23. They accused the two of having met at a mosque adjacent to the Georgia Tech campus, al-Farooq Masjid and Corporation.
Dr. Mohammad O. Tomeh, the Chairman of the Board of Trustees of al-Farooq Masjid, said that he does not remember having seen the two boys at all in the mosque. “It’s not like a church—people pray and go—we have no relationship with them.”
Dr. Tomeh emphasized that “there are no political activities in our mosque.” No political functions, he explained—the mosque as a matter of policy as written in its bylaws, he says, prohibits political activities. “We are a religious institution, we teach Qur`an, `ahadith, and good character—we have two schools. “We have no relationship with” the two boys who were arrested.
The mosque is an old one, having been built in 1980. It is now in the process of building an entirely new structure on its land, to replace the old mosque. So far, Dr. Tomeh explains, the mosque has fortunately had no problems from the surrounding community in the wake of the arrests.
Fellow students, also, are seeking to put as much distance between themselves and the two boys as possible. “I didn’t hear about that at all,” explained Jenny Rieck, a freshman psychology major from Augusta Georgia in an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, “I’ve been locked in my room working.”
Another student, West Daniel, was similarly shocked. “I’d never even picture a classmate even being accused of something like that,” said Wes Daniel, a junior mechanical engineering major who believes he may have had a class with Ahmed. “Everyone’s asked each other if they know him.”
One dark cloud remains over Atlanta in the wake of the accusations and arrests. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported, without giving supporting evidence or quotes, that the two boys were well-known at Al-Farooq Masjid.
In fact, according to Dr. Tomeh, the Chairman of that mosque, this is absolutely not the case. -

Adil James—Profile

November 18, 2004 by · Leave a Comment 

justme

Adil James graduated from Dartmouth College with a degree in American Literature in 1989 and from Columbia University School of Law in 1994.  His father was a career foreign service officer whose career culminated in being ambassador to the West African nation of Niger.  He is descended from Quaker families who emigrated to the American continent in the 1600s, including two of the founders of New Jersey.

He is the Managing Editor / General Manager of TMO, whose primary duties include managing the TMO office, its website, laying out the print newspaper, writing articles, and advising TMO’s CEO on content and strategic direction for TMO.

Adil has worked at The Muslim Observer since November of 2004. 

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