The UN Report on Ms. Benazir Bhutto’s Death, and the Current Situation

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mahvish Akhtar, MMNS Pakistan Correspondent

The Pakistan People’s Party blames the government of that time for the death of Ms. Bhutto. They claim that the Police could have done much more than they did. Because the PPP knew proper security was not going to be provided that is why they had their own security team.

However things get very hazy when getting into the report as to the whereabouts of the security provided by PPP as well.

Here are some parts of the reports to summaries what the report says and later what is being done after this report has come out.

Parts of Executive Summary of the UN Report:

The Commission was mystified by the efforts of certain high-ranking Pakistani government authorities to obstruct access to military and intelligence sources, as revealed in their public declarations. The extension of the mandate until 31 March enabled the Commission to pursue further this matter and eventually meet with some past and present members of the Pakistani military and intelligence services.

Ms. Bhutto faced threats from a number of sources; these included Al-Qaida, the Taliban, local jihadi groups and potentially from elements in the Pakistani Establishment. Yet the Commission found that the investigation focused on pursuing lower level operatives and placed little to no focus on investigating those further up the hierarchy in the planning, financing and execution of the assassination.

The investigation was severely hampered by intelligence agencies and other government officials, which impeded an unfettered search for the truth. More significantly, the Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) conducted parallel investigations, gathering evidence and detaining suspects. Evidence gathered from such parallel investigations was selectively shared with the police.

UN Report Blames the military for all Ms. Bhutto’s dismissals:

Her first government ended after just 20 months, and her second lasted less than three years. Both times, she was dismissed by the sitting president, Ghulam Ishaq Khan and Farooq Leghari, respectively, based on allegations of corruption and nepotism. While both men were civilians, each had close ties to the military. Ms Bhutto and the PPP believed that it was the military, or more broadly, the Establishment, that forced her out.

Who does the Report Blame?

Contrary to the police assertion, there was no police-provided box formation around Ms Bhutto as she arrived at the rally, and the Elite Force unit did not execute their duties as specified in the security deployment. Furthermore, the Commission does not believe that the full escort as described by the police was ever present.

According to the report a bullet proof Mercedez-Benz was supposed to be riding right behind Ms. Bhutto’s vehicle which sped off before the gunshots and the bomb blast. Riding in the black Mercedes-Benz car were the driver, PPP official Mr Faratullah Babar in the front passenger seat and, in the rear passenger seat from left to right, two PPP officials Mr Babar Awan and Mr Rehman Malik and General (ret) Tauqir Zia.

UN Report Findings on the Mercedes Benz:

96. The black bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz car was the first to leave the parking area. It is not clear how much distance there was between this vehicle and the rest of Ms Bhutto’s convoy at the moment of the blast. Credible reports range from 100 meters to 250 meters. Some of those in the car said that they were close enough to Ms Bhutto’s vehicle to feel the impact of the blast. Others at the site of the blast have said that the Mercedes-Benz left Liaquat Bagh so quickly that it was nowhere to be seen when the blast occurred. Indeed, the Commission has not seen this vehicle in the many video images of the exit area it reviewed. Despite the acknowledgement of some occupants of the vehicle that they felt the impact of the blast, the Commission finds it incredible that they drove all the way to Zardari House, a drive of about 20 minutes, before they became aware that Ms Bhutto had been injured in the blast.

They should have stopped at a safe distance when they felt the blast so as to check on Ms Bhutto’s condition, the condition of her vehicle and whether the back-up vehicle was required. Indeed, as the back-up vehicle, the Mercedes-Benz car would have been an essential element of Ms Bhutto’s convoy on the return trip even if the occupants of that car had confirmed that Ms Bhutto had been unscathed in the attack.

The nature of the crowd was not determined because it was slowing the cars down considerably. The crowd was riled up to the point where it started to worry the people inside as to why the crowd was this way and the cars were slowing down. There was a dispute on the route that was taken as well. Neither the PPP nor the Police side of this story has been confirmed.

The protective box that was promised was never formed. The police claims they were about to form the box right when the blast took place but there is no evidence of that event taking place in the videos. The video clearly shows that there were not enough Policemen to push back the crowds to form the box.

Also PPP blames the police for not giving permission for an autopsy on Ms. Bhutto’s body. The police say that that was because they wanted consent from the family which is legally not necessary. The PPP claim that situations were created which made the autopsy harder even when the body was handed over to the relatives. How strong an argument this is for PPP is doubtful since President Zardari, the husband himself refused an autopsy.

The crime scene was completely hosed off right after the event took place. The police say it was because the crowds around it were restless and they needed to be put at ease. Once the scene was cleaned off people started to leave. Also the police claim people were rubbing blood from the scene on their faces thinking its Ms. Bhutto’s blood. However later on it was confirmed that only one person was seen doing such a thing. Hosing down a crime scene is not standard practice in Pakistan.

UN Report on the Crime Scene:

127. Video footage immediately following the blast shows shock, fear and confusion among the people at the scene and little police control. The crime scene was not immediately cordoned off. The police did collect some evidence. Officers from intelligence agencies, including the ISI, the IB and MI, were present and also collected evidence, using, as one Rawalpindi police officer noted, better evidence collection equipment than the police. Within one hour and forty minutes of the blast, however, SP Khurram ordered the fire and rescue officials present to wash the crime scene down with fire hoses. He told the Commission that the police had collected all the available evidence by then. Police records show that only 23 pieces of evidence were collected, in a case where one would normally have expected thousands. The evidence included mostly human body parts, two pistols, spent cartridges and Ms Bhutto’s damaged vehicle.

The report also states that many times people were scared to speak openly. If that is the case then the question arises that if people are not speaking openly then how did the commission get any facts and how did the commission differentiate between facts and comments made out of fear?

UN Report on the Press Conference:

156. At about 1700 hours on the day following the assassination the government held a televised press conference, conducted by Brigadier Cheema, the spokesperson of the Ministry of Interior at which he announced that: a. Ms Bhutto died from a head injury sustained when from the force of the blast she hit her head on the lever of the escape hatch; and, b. Mr Baitullah Mehsud linked with Al-Qaida was responsible, presenting an intercepted telephone conversation between Mr Mehsud and one Mr Maulvi Sahib in which Mr Mehsud was heard congratulating Mr Maulvi on a job well-done

Un Report Says the Joint Investigation Team was not given access to the crime scene in due time:

166. Once at the scene, the investigators could see that it had been hosed down.

Despite the late hour, they spent seven hours there. They followed the water current, including wading through the drainage sewer and collected evidence from the debris.

They were able to recover one bullet casing from the drainage sewer, later established through forensic examination to have been fired from the pistol bearing the bomber’s DNA. The JIT members left the scene around midnight. The Rawalpindi police provided security for them, and the road was cordoned off during the entire time. The next day, the team returned to continue the search. Upon their request, the scene remained cordoned off and the road closed. They eventually recovered other evidence in the course of their crime scene examination, including the partial skull of the suicide bomber from atop one of the buildings near the site.

The UN Report on The Bomber:

168. The scientific analysis of the suicide bomber’s remains by the Scotland Yard team established that he was a teenage male, no more than 16 years old. According to the JIT’s investigations, this young man was named Bilal also known as Saeed from South Waziristan. This was established through the links that the accused persons admitted having had with the bomber and the ISI telephone intercept of Baitullah Mehsud’s conversation with Maulvi Sahib.

According to the report Ms. Bhutto considered (i) Brigadier (ret) Ejaz Shah, Director General of the IB at the time of the assassination, (ii) General (ret) Hamid Gul, a former Director General of the ISI, and (iii) Mr Chaudhry Pervaiz Elahi, Chief Minister of Punjab until 22 November 2007 to be a threat to her life but these people were not questioned in the investigation. Most of key persons who were in the car with Ms.Bhutto at the time of her death refused to speak to JIT when asked. They however, deny being contacted by the police.

The UN Report’s Statemen on The Sottland Yard Report finding:   

a. although not possible to “categorically…exclude” the possibility of a gunshot wound, the available evidence suggested there was no gunshot wound; b. Ms Bhutto died of a severe head injury caused by impact in the area of the escape hatch lip as a result of the blast; and c. the same individual both fired the shots and detonated the explosives.

That report was not trustworthy for the PPP leadership since they took a lot of the information given to them by the police on ‘good faith’.

The UN Report also says that she had threats from Al-Qaida and other terrorist organizations. She was also under threat they say from the establishment of the time.

Other hypothesis were her family and people close to her wanting her dead however the report states that there are no basis for these allegations.

Part of Important Findings of the UN Report:

iii. Responsibility for Ms Bhutto’s security on the day of her assassination rested with the federal Government, the government of Punjab and the Rawalpindi District Police. None of these entities took necessary measures to respond to the extraordinary, fresh and urgent security risks that they knew she faced.

vii. The additional security arrangements of the PPP lacked leadership and were inadequate and poorly executed. The Commission recognizes the heroism of individual PPP supporters, many of whom sacrificed them selves to protect Ms Bhutto. However, Ms Bhutto was left vulnerable in a severely damaged vehicle that was unable to transport her to the hospital by the irresponsible and hasty departure of the bullet-proof Mercedes-Benz which, as the back-up vehicle, was an essential part of her convoy.

xviii. The Commission believes that the failures of the police and other officials to react effectively to Ms Bhutto’s assassination were, in most cases, deliberate. In other cases, the failures were driven by uncertainty in the minds of many officials as to the extent of the involvement of intelligence agencies.

After the Report:

Presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar told AFP “Eight officials have been relieved of their duties while the service contract of a retired brigadier has been terminated. “Their names have been placed on the government’s exit control list. The Pakistan People’s Party has already asked the prime minister to take action against all those involved including Musharraf.”

Even though this seems to have satisfied many people and the government seems to be taking action against people who are mentioned in the report all does not seem to add up. There are many little things that are amiss still. It seems that there are key people in the PPP who need to be questioned and investigated on some decisions they made on that day as well.

The report mentions all of those incidents and persons but puts no blame or responsibility on them. The same is with the government. The police is being questioned for not providing boxed protection however, the Back up Mercedes-Benz sped up ahead leaving the vehicle with Ms. Bhutto behind; who is going to questions those people as to why they did that?

It is one of the common known facts that the police did not allow an autopsy after Ms.Bhutto’s death. However they cannot be held responsible when her husband refused to get it done as well. The situation goes against both parties however only one seem to be questioned.

The people of Pakistan get behind anything that gets them closer to the conclusion of any problem. However, this report brings out more problems and questions than solutions.

No one really knows who is saying what any more and who can be trusted. Everything that is presented to the people of Pakistan is wrapped in lies and confusion and in my opinion this is no different.

12-17

Monem Salem of Peaceful Communications Addresses Important Financial Issues

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

P3068744

Rochester Hills-March 10–Religious people are forced to confront directly decisions about their financial practices. Where people without religion have the luxury of making financial and other decisions without resort to a regime of discipline other than whatever feels right to them, religious people and especially Muslims have a strong structure of discipline into which they must integrate their financial lives.

How much to give as sadaqa? Is it halal to save money? And what about contemporary financial issues like debt–let alone the highly charged subject of riba.

Mr. Salam spoke at length about these issues to the Saturday night monthly dinner at IAGD.

The monthly dinner began after maghrib with Qur`an recitation and some demonstrations by IAGD children including a brief Qur`an recitation and a mock debate on the issue of Valentine’s Day and whether it is acceptable for Muslims.

Salam explained that in the environment of an economy that is hemorrhaging jobs, with a government that is borrowing money hand over fist, where all people are confronted with serious concerns about their economic well being, it is appropriate to ask what financial practices on an individual level are healthy and Islamically correct.

He had several main points which he emphasized carefully.  First, he emphasized balance.  He quoted a saying of Sayyidina Ali (kw) who said “spend neither extravagantly nor miserly.” This middle way, Salam explained, is dependent on what your personal wealth is.  But a sign of extravagance is buying things to compete with one’s neighbors or friends.  And don’t forget sadaqa and charity, he emphasized, saying sadaqa earns a reward far beyond what a person gives.  Spend less than what you earn, Salam said.

Also, he gave clear and convincing evidence from ahadith that debt is a terrible burden that must be avoided, pointing out that the level of debt of an American person, for example with a mortgage, is orders of magnitude beyond the debt avoided by Companions.  And his arguments about the terrible burdens of debt were powerful without his even touching on the subject of interest or riba.

P3068745 He explained that the word for debt in Arabic has the same root as the words “submission” and “humiliation.”

Also, Mr. Salam explained again with convincing arguments that saving is necessary.  He emphasized examples of Companions including Sayyidina Abu Bakr as Siddiq (ra) who gave a large amount of money to free Sayyidina Bilal (ra) from slavery–Salam’s argument was that this example of generosity must have meant that Abu Bakr (ra) had been saving in order to have such a large sum of money available to him when he needed it.

He gave examples from Qur`an also, including from Surat Kahf, where Sayyidinal Khidr (as) and Sayyidina Musa (as) rebuilt a wall to protect the savings of a pious man for his inheritors–therefore this means the pious man had saved money and was not spending all of it for sadaqa.

Another example from Qur`an was Sayyidina Yusuf’s dream of seven fat years and seven lean years–the principle being to save from prosperous times for “rainy days.”

Salam emphasized saving a significant amount, whether enough to live on for one full year or enough to survive a significant personal tragedy or catastrophe.

Mr. Salam is Director and Vice President of Islamic Investing and Amana’s deputy portfolio manager.  He was raised in Texas and earned degrees from the University of Texas.  After working with other firms, he joined Saturna Capital in 2003 and manages many of Saturna’s Islamic private acccounts. 

Mr. Salam was the subject of a documentary about learning to pilot a plane as a Muslim subsequent to 9/11, “On a Wing and a Prayer,” a review of which movie was featured in this newspaper.

12-11

Quboor of Prophets and Sahaba

January 5, 2010 by · 2 Comments 

 

 

The Maqam of the Holy Seal of Prophets, Sayyidina Muhammad (s) Rasulallah-s
Sayyida Khadija (ra) Sayda-Khadija-Mecca
Sayyida Fatimatuz Zohra (ra) Sayda-Fatimatuz-Zahra-ra
Sayyida Amina (ra) Sayda-Amina-ra
Sayyidinal Hasan (ra) Say-Hasan-ra
Sayyida Halima (ra) Sayda-Halima-ra
Footprint of Sayyidina Adam (as) from Sri Lanka Say-Adam-as
Maqam Ibrahim (as) Maqam Ibrahim-b&w
Sayyidina Ibrahim, Khalil Allah (as) Say-Ibrahim-al-Khalil-as-
Sayyidina Musa (as) Say-Musa-as
Sayyidina Dawud (as) Say-Dawud-as
Sayyidina Lut (as) Say-Lut-as
Sayyidina Yahya (as) Say-Yahya-as
Sayyidina Harun (as) Say-Harun-as
Sayyidina Saleh (as) Say-Saleh-as
Sayyidina Shuaib (as) Say-Shuaib-as
Sayyidina Zakariyya (as) Say-Zakariyya-as
Sayyidina Yusha (as) Jordan Say-Yousha-as
Sayyidina Habil (as) Jordan Say-Habil-as2
Sayyidina Habil (as) Jordan Say-Habil-as3
Sayyidina Bilal (ra) Say-Bilal-ra
Abu Taleb Abu-Taleb
   

Houstonian Corner (V11-I51)

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

HPD Convenience Store Safety Video Unveiled At Mezban Restaurant

SACC & ACC Collaborated

Houston, Texas (11-11-2009): The Houston Police Department’s (HPD) Assistant Chiefs John Trevino and John Chen, were present at Mezban Restaurant, with the office bearers of their partners the South Asian Chamber of Commerce (SACC) and the Asian Chamber of Commerce (ACC), in announcing the distribution of a convenience store safety video, which is produced by HPD and that has been translated into multiple languages as part of the city ordinance on convenience stores. Languages include Urdu, Vietnamese, Mandarin Chinese and Korean. The Urdu Voice-Over has been done by famous radio host of the recent past from Sangeet Radio Talat Rehman and her husband Rafeeque Rehman. During the luncheon press briefing, the Indian Chamber of Commerce offered to translate the video into Hindi and Gujrati languages.

Rogene Calvert, President Board of Directors of ACC, welcomed everybody and thanked Sohail Feroze of Mezban Restaurant for providing the food for the occasion.

HPD Chief John Trevino informed that there has been dramatic reduction in the convenience stores crime over the years and one of the reasons is proper training of the store owners and their employees. This DVD in various languages will help the employees at various stores to learn the basic precautions and know-how about handling hazardous situations. Other than this video, starting January 2010, HPD has divided the city into 4 quadrants and will be giving hands-on training to all the businesses of Houston throughout the year.

Munira Panjwani-Zahid, Shaukat Zakaria, Soofia Aleem, Muneer Ibrahim, Ghulam Bombaywala, Shoaib Bombaywala, and others were present on behalf of SACC.

This Store Safety DVD was originally developed in 2001 after a rash of violent robberies and killings of convenience store personnel. Under the leadership of former Houston City Council Member Gordon Quan and produced by the Houston Police Department, the video was created and distributed to educate store personnel on safety tips and practices. Anheuser Busch and Silver Eagle Distributing provided a grant to translate the video into Asian languages. With the help of the HPD production staff, the South Asian Chamber of Commerce, Asian Chamber of Commerce and native speaking volunteers in the four languages, the project was recently concluded.

Copies of the DVD will be available for distribution at the press conference. HPD will also distribute copies through its Convenience Store Registration Program in which convenience stores are required by ordinance to comply with various safety measures, including using the DVD information with their staff.

Additional copies will be available through the Chambers of Commerce, for which one can call 832-660-2952 or 713-782-7222.

Youth Showed Initiative during ISGH Elections

Houston, Texas (12-08-2009): Shabab UL-Haq E-Newsletter taken out by Muslim Youth of the Greater Houston Region, called the “Crescent Youth”; this time as the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH) came up, conducted interviews of all the candidates for various positions.

According to Kamal Husain, General Secretary of ISGH: “I sincerely commend the youth for voicing their concerns in matters relating to our society. I am impressed with their clarity and their professionalism in the way these issues are presented. I will be honored to sit with anyone interested in brainstorming ideas that will help to resolve at least some of these issues within the next six months. Please advice your willingness and I will make the time, Insha Allah.”

Although those who have won in the present elections, have been those, who have been serving the Muslim Community for a long time in various positions, but this initiative by Crescent Youth means that soon the leadership of ISGH will be going in the hands of Youth of the community and there is need to properly nurture them.

Unofficial ISGH Election results read like this:

Elected

Farouq Malik -Vice-President;
Aftab Silat – Treasurer;
Fuad Cochinwala – South Zone Director;
Mohammad Yusuf – NorthWest Zone Director;
Ziauddin Yousuf – South-East Zone Director;
Irfan Ibrahim – Associate Director Masjid At Taqwa – Synott Road;
Ibrahim Badat – Associate Director Masjid Bilal – Adel Road;
Dr. Majid Amine – Associate Director Masjid As-Salam – Champions

Wary serenity in Berlin mosques

January 4, 2007 by · 1 Comment 

Submitted to TMO by independent journalist Frank Payne

Bombings in Madrid and London, riots in Paris. At issue are geopolitics, class and ethnicity. In Germany, it is not terror attacks but alleged plots, police raids, and continuing suspicion. For young Muslims in Berlin, the response to such scrutiny is to be at once welcoming but hyper-vigilant of outsiders.

Neukölln

Scattered groups of Muslim men and women make their way toward Nür Mosque, their faces aglow in the orange light of the setting sun. I watch them through the window of a coffee shop, where American hip hop and R&B music are the soundtrack to an afternoon’s end. The friendly owner of the place is Nayaf, a Palestinian in his mid-thirties who jokes with customers in Arabic, Turkish, German, and English.

This is Neukölln, a working-class neighborhood in Southeast Berlin, populated by Turkish and Arab immigrants sometimes down to the third generation. Finished with my coffee, I too make way toward the mosque. The exterior of Nür Mosque is painted a clean white but like nearly all places of worship for Muslims in Germany is otherwise nondescript. The interior, however, fits the classic image of a mosque: a light green, ornate oriental rug covering the entire floor and wide pillars supporting the roof and walls. There is a store, a small library, and an upstairs kitchen and eatery where one finds traditional foods like baklava and falafel.

In the mosque’s washroom, the lights are off, but rays from a single large window illuminate the room and balance calm shadows. Cool water flows from a row of aluminum faucets while Zaher, a North African, demonstrates the Muslim purification ritual to me. I mimic his motions as he bathes his hands, arms, face, insides of his nose, and feet. Curious onlookers, also washing, ask Zaher about me with friendly smiles.

I take a seat on the floor among dozens of young men, or brothers, as the mosque fills up. All but a few appear to be under the age of 30. The majority appear to be in their teens. Each wears his own style of dress: traditional robes, shirts pressed and tucked, leather jackets, or sports jerseys hanging over baggy jeans a la hip hop style. Flowing beards and shaven heads mix with gelled, slicked-back and spiked hair.

What the individuals of such a varied group have in common, though, is a commitment to their faith, and at this moment, absolute attention to the words of the imam, Abdul-Adhim or Abu Abderrahman. This bond, so communal that exterior differences become seemingly null and void; shows one of the central beauties of Islam, and what some non-Muslims may fear so much about the religion. These are all obviously very different men. Yet, inside these walls, within the context of Islam, they are not disparate individuals. They seem to be indisputably one.

Today Abu Abderrahman, a small, Tunisian-born man between thirty-two and thirty-eight years of age, is speaking about the corruption of Muslim youth. In German, he sermons into a microphone from his own seated position at the front of the congregation. An animated speaker, Abu Abderrahman waves his hands and punctuates every sentence with a wide, jolly grin. His jokes often elicit laughs from the crowd.

I tightly frame the face of a bearded young man in the viewfinder of my camera. My finger on the shutter button, he turns and makes eye contact with me through the lens. In the exact same instant, the imam shouted in a sharp voice over the microphone “halo, no photograph in here!” Dozens of heads turn and hundreds of eyes focus in my direction. Abu Abderrahman is shaking his head in disapproval. I nod and quickly stow the camera away.

During a break in the service, several clerics dressed in white robes approach me one by one. With warm smiles, each says hello and offers a handshake. One man, a native German with chestnut-colored hair and full beard sits down. “There is no danger”, he insists. He talks on, asking questions about the U.S. and proudly admits that he was once a break dancer.

There has only been a misunderstanding. I had taken the imam’s invitation to Nür Mosque as approval to take also photographs. But approval from officials even higher than the imam were necessary in order to do so. “Kein problem”, or “no big deal”, Abu Abderraham insists.

Wedding

It is Easter Monday, and I am meeting the English-speaking Amr at Osloer Strasse U-bahn station for a youth prayer group in the predominantly Arab and South Asian neighborhood known as Wedding. Walking together, Amr tells me the story of Bilal, the namesake of the mosque that we are about to enter. Bilal, an Assyrian slave, converted to Islam then refused to repent even under torture. Moved by his devotion, another follower of the Prophet Muhammad (s) purchased Bilal’s freedom. “Racism existed hundreds of years ago too”, Amr says, but the Prophet Muhammad (s) preached that all men should be accepted into the faith.

In Bilal Mosque, I sit shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, within a circle of twenty men and boys. Amr consults with a leader of the prayer group about my presence and taking my photographs. A small man, with a light beard and gentle voice, he turns and responds in perfect English “let’s see, maybe after (the service), because I know that some brothers will have a problem with this.”

This evenings prayers and discussion is being led by another lightly bearded, married but altogether youthful looking man. Like the imam of Nür Mosque, he has notable abilities as a speaker. He makes eye contact around the circle and punctuates statements with a smile, as if to ask “You understand, yes? You do believe, right?”

After the service I snack on potato chips and soda, chatting with a couple of brothers on either side of me. Amr then calls me over to the main room to sit down on the carpet with him and two others. Their decision is no to photographs. They are seriously worried about negative media attention, specifically about alleged links between German mosques and terrorist activity. One of them mentions that state subsidies for the youth programs are at risk. Likewise, some well-meaning parents might keep their children from attending the mosque if they got the impression that extremism was being taught.

Later, I am struck by one of the men’s positive perception of Muslim life in the United States, based on anecdotes from friends and relatives in the country. Freedom of worship in the United States, he says, means fewer problems for women who wear veils than in Europe.

Burying a Brother

The Turkish Sehitlik Camii Mosque near Platz Luftbrücke is the only Berlin mosque with a dome, minarets, and other traditional Islamic décor. It used to be the Turkish embassy to Germany. Now, it serves a predominantly Turk-German congregation. I meet Amr, my host once again, this time for a funeral. Shorly on arrival, he interrupts our interview to say that we must be silent for the next few minutes. With a friend, he then distances himself physically to pray. He is two rows ahead as other figures gather. In total, we are six rows of about 120 total men. It is noon as the sun peaks from behind high, white clouds. Lying before us is the coffin, draped in black cloth with gold letters in Arabic.


The Sehtilik Mosque

The funeral is for a German convert to Islam. Remarkably, most of those attending did not know him personally. Amr claims to not have known him at all, neither what he looked like, nor how he died. He asks others and gets much of the same response. Yet, all have come en mass to pay their respects to a member of the community.

At the burial grounds, the graves are separated into Muslim, Christian, and Jewish sections. Only yards away from where the young man will be buried is a large headstone for Kaiser Wilheim II inside a small, fenced plot. The funeral continues, with preaching in Arabic. A man of Black African origins then summarizes what has been said in German. Amr translates for me, speaking softly. “The sermon was a reminder that we are all visitors on this earth. And a visitor must always leave the place that he visits. We came from nothing, dirt, dust, and will return to nothing: taking only our deeds with us as we go back to the Creator.”

The only sounds afterward are light street traffic, and occasional cries from the man’s wife. Her deceased husband’s parents comfort her. Then, the thumping of mounds of dirt against the coffin, as worshippers with shovels take turns filling in the grave. Muslims are generally buried in shrouds, but German law mandates the use of coffins.

The Fundamentalist

Amr and I sit down for an interview and a kosher Muslim lunch of roast hen, french fries, salad, and Coke. His beard has grown significantly since I first met him a couple of weeks ago. “By the way, you’re looking at a fundamentalist” he says from across the table. Amr says this with a keenness of how much the term fundamentalist is a watch word for terrorist in Western media and popular culture. However, he brushes off my attempts to distinguish it from the alternate, perhaps more politically correct fundamentalist extremist. These days, most legal authorities, media, and the general public do not bother to make the distinction anyway, he says.

Amr was raised in a devout Islamic household. He is familiar though, with the ways of the Western world from his education in an English-speaking school in Germany and his travels abroad. He speaks four languages – English, German, Arabic, and French – and is well-versed in the nuances of United States society. “I am a Muslim fundamentalist by choice”, he explains, a man who finds genuine insight and intellectual stimulation from the Koran and religious observance. One surmises from talking to him that he gets as much stimulation from Islam as he does from academia and his worldly appreciation of foreign cultures.

So how is Amr, a young fundamentalist Muslim treated by Western society? Echoing the others I spoke with, he feels generally respected by other Germans, but within an undercurrent of fear. On Berlin’s streets, trains, buses, and shops, Amr senses in others a wariness of his Arabic features and traditional, Islamic beard. He is particularly wary of trying to visit the United States for fear of being entered on a terrorist watch list; of being mistakenly detained and interrogated by authorities. Like so many other Arabic and Turkish men in Berlin that I spoke to, he asks that his true name and other specifics about his identity be omitted from this article.

“Islam is peace. If only people would dig deeper, they would find that”. On this point, Amr is most emphatic, stressing that this is what he wants me to leave with. He leans forward, holding his hand eloquently to the side of his face, expressing himself as a professor or an imam would. His large brown eyes hold steadily and benevolently.

Before lunch, Amr and I climb the white marble steps into the dome of Sehitlik Camii Mosque. Inside, an imam in a black, gold-colored rimmed robe and white cap is speaking in Turkish. Rows of adult men sit or kneel in front of him. A few elderly men sit on chairs or on steps at the back. Amr joins the men toward the front to listen and pray.

I absorb the view of the courtyard outside through large windows with wooden doors and the expansive interior. The dominant colors of the mosque are white, green, and gold on the high dome ceiling, marble columns, and wall to wall oriental carpet. The decor is intricate and inspired. Many spiritual people, religious or agnostic, would be moved by such a mosque’s beauty; it’s physical manifestation of man’s quest for spirituality and tranquility.

Amr returns from the front sits on the floor nearby, watching me as I observe everything else. From the nearest window, a white column of light shone down, illuminating his face and everything around him. The other figures closest are partially lit or remain in shadows.

Sitting down too, I see white prayer beads strewn beside a neatly coiled microphone on the rug next to one of the marble columns. It is time for everyone to pray as one. The imam sings the call from the front of the mosque. Then, a teenage boy with black-rimmed glasses, a white Muslim cap covering the black hair on his head, and a moustache and beard sprouting from his face stands directly beside me. He picks up the microphone beside the prayer beads and sings alternatively with the imam. Making neat rows, our feet adjoined, we all pray together, lifting our hands and bowing our heads in rhythm. For the moment, there is no tension with the outside world: only serenity among ourselves and God.

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