Remarks by the President at the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Supplied Transcript

Ronald Reagan Building and International Trade Center–Washington, D.C.–6:05 P.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you very much.  Everybody, please have a seat.  Good evening, everyone, and welcome to Washington. 

In my life, and as President, I have had the great pleasure of visiting many of your countries, and I’ve always been grateful for the warmth and the hospitality that you and your fellow citizens have shown me.  And tonight, I appreciate the opportunity to return the hospitality.

For many of you, I know this is the first time visiting our country.  So let me say, on behalf of the American people, welcome to the United States of America.  (Applause.) 

It is an extraordinary privilege to welcome you to this Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship.  This has been a coordinated effort across my administration, and I want to thank all the hardworking folks and leaders at all the departments and agencies who made it possible, and who are here tonight.

That includes our United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Ron Kirk.  Where’s Ron?  There he is.  (Applause.)    I especially want to thank the two departments and leaders who took the lead on this summit — Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.  Please give them a big round of applause.  (Applause.)   

We’re joined by members of Congress who work every day to help their constituents realize the American Dream, and whose life stories reflect the diversity and equal opportunity that we cherish as Americans:  Nydia Velazquez, who is also, by the way, the chairwoman of our Small Business Committee in the House of Representatives.  (Applause.)  Keith Ellison is here.  (Applause.)  And Andre Carson is here.  (Applause.) 

Most of all, I want to thank all of you for being part of this historic event.  You’ve traveled from across the United States and nearly 60 countries, from Latin America to Africa, Europe to Central Asia, from the Middle East to Southeast Asia. 

And you bring with you the rich tapestry of the world’s great traditions and great cultures.  You carry within you the beauty of different colors and creeds, races and religions.  You’re visionaries who pioneered new industries and young entrepreneurs looking to build a business or a community.

But we’ve come together today because of what we share — a belief that we are all bound together by certain common aspirations.  To live with dignity.  To get an education.  To live healthy lives.  Maybe to start a business, without having to pay a bribe to anybody.  To speak freely and have a say in how we are governed.  To live in peace and security and to give our children a better future.

But we’re also here because we know that over the years, despite all we have in common, the United States and Muslim communities around the world too often fell victim to mutual mistrust.

And that’s why I went to Cairo nearly one year ago and called for a new beginning between the United States and Muslim communities — a new beginning based on mutual interest and mutual respect.  I knew that this vision would not be fulfilled in a single year, or even several years.  But I knew we had to begin and that all of us have responsibilities to fulfill.

As President, I’ve worked to ensure that America once again meets its responsibilities, especially when it comes to the security and political issues that have often been a source of tension.  The United States is responsibly ending the war in Iraq, and we will partner with Iraqi people for their long-term prosperity and security.  In Afghanistan, in Pakistan and beyond, we’re forging new partnerships to isolate violent extremists, but also to combat corruption and foster the development that improves lives and communities.

I say it again tonight:  Despite the inevitable difficulties, so long as I am President, the United States will never waver in our pursuit of a two-state solution that ensures the rights and security of both Israelis and Palestinians.  (Applause.)  And around the world, the United States of America will continue to stand with those who seek justice and progress and the human rights and dignity of all people.

But even as I committed the United States to addressing these security and political concerns, I also made it clear in Cairo that we needed something else — a sustained effort to listen to each other and to learn from each other, to respect one another.  And I pledged to forge a new partnership, not simply between governments, but also between people on the issues that matter most in their daily lives — in your lives. 

Now, many questioned whether this was possible.  Yet over the past year, the United States has been reaching out and listening.  We’ve joined interfaith dialogues and held town halls, roundtables and listening sessions with thousands of people around the world, including many of you.  And like so many people, you’ve extended your hand in return, each in your own way, as entrepreneurs and educators, as leaders of faith and of science. 

I have to say, perhaps the most innovative response was from Dr. Naif al-Mutawa of Kuwait, who joins us here tonight.  Where is Dr. Mutawa?  (Applause.)  His comic books have captured the imagination of so many young people with superheroes who embody the teachings and tolerance of Islam.  After my speech in Cairo, he had a similar idea.  So in his comic books, Superman and Batman reached out to their Muslim counterparts.  (Laughter.)  And I hear they’re making progress, too.  (Laughter.)  Absolutely.  (Applause.)

By listening to each other we’ve been able to partner with each other.  We’ve expanded educational exchanges, because knowledge is the currency of the 21st century.  Our distinguished science envoys have been visiting several of your countries, exploring ways to increase collaboration on science and technology. 

We’re advancing global health, including our partnership with the Organization of the Islamic Conference, to eradicate polio.  This is just one part of our broader engagement with the OIC, led by my Special Envoy, Rashad Hussain, who joins us here tonight.  Where’s Rashad?  (Applause.)

And we’re partnering to expand economic prosperity.  At a government level, I’d note that putting the G20 in the lead on global economic decision-making has brought more voices to the table — including Turkey, Saudi Arabia, India and Indonesia.  And here today, we’re fulfilling my commitment in Cairo to deepen ties between business leaders, foundations and entrepreneurs in the United States and Muslim communities around the world.

Now, I know some have asked — given all the security and political and social challenges we face, why a summit on entrepreneurship?  The answer is simple. 

Entrepreneurship — because you told us that this was an area where we can learn from each other; where America can share our experience as a society that empowers the inventor and the innovator; where men and women can take a chance on a dream — taking an idea that starts around a kitchen table or in a garage, and turning it into a new business and even new industries that can change the world.

Entrepreneurship — because throughout history, the market has been the most powerful force the world has ever known for creating opportunity and lifting people out of poverty.

Entrepreneurship — because it’s in our mutual economic interest.  Trade between the United States and Muslim-majority countries has grown.  But all this trade, combined, is still only about the same as our trade with one country — Mexico.  So there’s so much more we can do together, in partnership, to foster opportunity and prosperity in all our countries.

And social entrepreneurship — because, as I learned as a community organizer in Chicago, real change comes from the bottom up, from the grassroots, starting with the dreams and passions of single individuals serving their communities.

And that’s why we’re here.  We have Jerry Yang, who transformed how we communicate, with Yahoo.  Is Jerry here?  Where is he?  He’ll be here tomorrow.  As well as entrepreneurs who have opened cybercafés and new forums on the Internet for discussion and development.  Together, you can unleash the technologies that will help shape the 21st century.

We have successes like Dr. Mohamed Ibrahim, who I met earlier, who built a telecommunications empire that empowered people across Africa.  And we have aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to grow their businesses and hire new workers.  Together you can address the challenges of accessing capital.   We have trailblazers like Sheikha Hanadi of Qatar, along with Waed al Taweel, who I met earlier — a 20-year-old student from the West Bank who wants to build recreation centers for Palestinian youth. 

Please read continuation at www.muslimobserver.com.

So together, they represent the incredible talents of women entrepreneurs and remind us that countries that educate and empower women are countries that are far more likely to prosper.  I believe that.  (Applause.)

We have pioneers like Chris Hughes, who created Facebook, as well as an online community that brought so many young people into my campaign for President — MyBarackObama.com.  (Laughter.)  We have people like Soraya Salti of Jordan who are empowering the young men and women who will be leaders of tomorrow.  (Applause.)  Together, they represent the great potential and expectations of young people around the world.

And we’ve got social entrepreneurs like Tri Mumpuni, who has helped rural communities in Indonesia — (applause) — harness the electricity, and revenues, of hydro-power.  And Andeisha Farid, an extraordinary woman from Afghanistan, who’s taken great risks to educate the next generation, one girl at a time.  (Applause.)  Together, they point the way to a future where progress is shared and prosperity is sustainable.

And I also happened to notice Dr. Yunus — it’s wonderful to see you again.  I think so many people know the history of Grameen Bank and all the great work that’s been done to help finance entrepreneurship among the poorest of the poor, first throughout South Asia, and now around the world. 

So this is the incredible potential that you represent; the future we can seize together.  So tonight I’m proud to announce a series of new partnerships and initiatives that will do just that.

The United States is launching several new exchange programs.  We will bring business and social entrepreneurs from Muslim-majority countries to the United States and send their American counterparts to learn from your countries.  (Applause.)  So women in technology fields will have the opportunity to come to the United States for internships and professional development.  And since innovation is central to entrepreneurship, we’re creating new exchanges for science teachers.

We’re forging new partnerships in which high-tech leaders from Silicon Valley will share their expertise — in venture capital, mentorship, and technology incubators — with partners in the Middle East and in Turkey and in Southeast Asia.

And tonight, I can report that the Global Technology and Innovation Fund that I announced in Cairo will potentially mobilize more than $2 billion in investments.  This is private capital, and it will unlock new opportunities for people across our countries in sectors like telecommunications, health care, education, and infrastructure.

And finally, I’m proud that we’re creating here at this summit not only these programs that I’ve just mentioned, but it’s not going to stop here.  Together, we’ve sparked a new era of entrepreneurship — with events all over Washington this week, and upcoming regional conferences around the world. 

Tonight, I am pleased to announce that Prime Minister Erdogan has agreed to host the next Entrepreneurship Summit next year in Turkey.  (Applause.)  And so I thank the Prime Minister and the people and private sector leaders of Turkey for helping to sustain the momentum that we will unleash this week.   

So as I said, there are those who questioned whether we could forge these new beginnings.  And given the magnitude of the challenges we face in the world — and let’s face it, a lot of the bad news that comes through the television each and every day — sometimes it can be tempting to believe that the goodwill and good works of ordinary people are simply insufficient to the task at hand.  But to any who still doubt whether partnerships between people can remake our world, I say look at the men and women who are here today.

Look at the professor who came up with an idea — micro-finance — that empowered the rural poor across his country, especially women and children.  That’s the powerful example of Dr. Yunus.

Look what happened when Muhammad shared his idea with a woman from Pakistan, who has since lifted hundreds of thousands of families and children out of poverty through a foundation whose name literally means “miracle.”  That’s the example of Roshaneh Zafar.  (Applause.) 

Look what happened when that idea spread across the world  — including to people like my own mother, who worked with the rural poor from Pakistan to Indonesia.  That simple idea, began with a single person, has now transformed the lives of millions.  That’s the spirit of entrepreneurship.

So, yes, the new beginning we seek is not only possible, it has already begun.  It exists within each of you, and millions around the world who believe, like we do, that the future belongs not to those who would divide us, but to those who come together; not to those who would destroy, but those who would build; not those trapped in the past, but those who, like us, believe with confidence and conviction in a future of justice and progress and the dignity of all human beings regardless of their race, regardless of their religion. 

That’s the enormous potential that we’re hoping to unlock during this conference and hoping to continue not only this week but in the months and years ahead.  So I’m grateful that all of you are participating.  May God bless you all and may God’s peace be upon you.  Thank you very much.  Thank you.  (Applause.) 

END 6:22 P.M. EDT

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Community News (V12-I19)

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

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Two Muslim students named winners of  Spirit of Princeton Awards

PRINCETON, NJ–Two Muslims are in the list of eight winners of the 2010 Spirit of Princeton Award, which honors undergraduates at Princeton University for their positive contributions to campus life. The award recognizes eight seniors who have demonstrated a strong commitment to the undergraduate experience through dedicated efforts with student organizations, athletics, community service, religious life, residential life and the arts.

This year’s winners were selected from a group of more than 90 nominations and will be honored with a book prize at a dinner on May 5.

The profiles of the two students are as follows:

Muhammad Jehangir Amjad, from Rawalpindi, Pakistan, has worked to create awareness of Pakistani arts and culture. He is the founder of the student group Pehchaan and is a member of the Muslim Students Association. Amjad also has been involved with the International Relations Council, both as a delegate and as a conference leader. In Rockefeller College, he has served as a residential college adviser for two years and a residential computing consultant for three years. An avid cricketer, Amjad worked with other students to create an informal team that competed with Yale University and the University of Pennsylvania. He is majoring in electrical engineering and pursuing a certificate in engineering and management systems. He was elected to Tau Beta Pi, the Engineering Honor Society, and has worked as a teaching assistant for computer science and electrical engineering courses. Next year Amjad will be working for Microsoft Corp. as a program manager.

Mariam Rahmani, from Kent, Ohio, is majoring in comparative literature and pursuing certificates in Persian language and culture, and European cultural studies. Rahmani has been the president of the Muslim Students Association and a co-convener of the Religious Life Council. She has worked to create a healthy environment for Muslim students through interfaith iftars, Eid banquets, the annual Fast-a-Thon and the creation of an alumni community group. With the University’s Religious Life Council, she participated in a trip to India to study religious pluralism, spoke at the World Parliament of Religions in Melbourne, traveled to Tanzania in summer 2008 and participated in a Muslim-Jewish dialogue trip to Spain. Additionally, Rahmani served on the selection committee for the first Muslim chaplain at Princeton and for the new vice president of campus life. In her senior year, she spoke to the freshman class at “Reflections on Diversity” and is a residential college adviser in Butler College.

Vandals deface Ottawa mosque

OTTAWA, CANADA–Ottawa’s Muslim community has condemned the defacing of a sign in Barrhaven marking the future location of a mosque and community centre.

The Canadian Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-CAN) said local residents discovered on Friday that offensive words, phrases and symbols were spray painted in red and black on the sign.

“Such acts are offensive, hurtful and intimidating to local citizens,” the council said in a statement.

“While the recurrence of such incidents is deeply disturbing, CAIR-CAN does not believe that such acts represent the sentiments of the vast majority of Canadians,” the group said. “Which is why we ask our fellow citizens to join us in condemning this and all such incidents.”

The group said mosques in Calgary, and in the Ontario cities of Hamilton, Waterloo and Pickering have also been vandalized in the last four months.

Dr. Zarzour delivers keynote speech at Lexington Islamic school

LEXINGTON, KY–Lexington Universal Academy (LUA) a full-time accredited K-8 Islamic school in the heart of Central Kentucky held its annual fundraising dinner at the local Marriot in Lexington, KY, on April 25. The dinner attracted close to 330 community members from diverse backgrounds. Addressing the guests, LUA President shared the school’s accomplishments for the academic school year.

The keynote speaker, Br. Safaa Zarzour, Secretary General of the Islamic Society of North America delivered a passionate speech on the importance of Islamic Education.

He shared his personal and professional experience with regards to the important role Islamic schools are playing in building future Muslim leadership.

“In Chicago alone, only 0.5% of Muslim high school graduates come from Islamic schools, yet 60 % of the Muslim student leadership at Chicago universities are graduates of Islamic schools”, said Br. Safaa. He invited the community members to support this noble and critical initiative and exceeded the organizers’ fundraising goal of $100,000.

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Deji Karim Begins NFL Journey

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Parvez Fatteh, founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

deji-karim Abdul Deji Karim had spent over two days waiting for the phone to ring. The running back from Southern Illinois University was awaiting his selection in the National Football League Draft, and the call finally came in the 6th round of the selection process. Karim was selected on April 24th by the Jacksonville Jaguars, who hope to have him spell their star running back Maurice Jones-Drew and return kicks.

Karim, ironically, went to high school with the player that was the very first selection in the 2010 NFL Draft, Oklahoma University quarterback Sam Bradford. But Karim’s college football accomplishments at a smaller school proved more difficult to display to scouts. In fact, he was not even invited to the NFL’s national scouting combine in February. So, he instead secured an invitation to perform an individual workout for scouts on the campus of Northwestern University in Chicago. That is where he dazzled scouts with workout numbers that were in the top 5 of all running backs in the draft.

Now Deji Karim awaits mini-camp later this month, followed by training camp this summer. He may be a kitten amongst Jaguars for now, but he will continue to seek out every opportunity to roar.

12-19

White House Quietly Courts Muslims in U.S.

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Andrea Elliott, NY Times

When President Obama took the stage in Cairo last June, promising a new relationship with the Islamic world, Muslims in America wondered only half-jokingly whether the overture included them. After all, Mr. Obama had kept his distance during the campaign, never visiting an American mosque and describing the false claim that he was Muslim as a “smear” on his Web site.

Nearly a year later, Mr. Obama has yet to set foot in an American mosque. And he still has not met with Muslim and Arab-American leaders. But less publicly, his administration has reached out to this politically isolated constituency in a sustained and widening effort that has left even skeptics surprised.

Muslim and Arab-American advocates have participated in policy discussions and received briefings from top White House aides and other officials on health care legislation, foreign policy, the economy, immigration and national security. They have met privately with a senior White House adviser, Valerie Jarrett, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano and Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to discuss civil liberties concerns and counterterrorism strategy.

The impact of this continuing dialogue is difficult to measure, but White House officials cited several recent government actions that were influenced, in part, by the discussions. The meeting with Ms. Napolitano was among many factors that contributed to the government’s decision this month to end a policy subjecting passengers from 14 countries, most of them Muslim, to additional scrutiny at airports, the officials said.

That emergency directive, enacted after a failed Dec. 25 bombing plot, has been replaced with a new set of intelligence-based protocols that law enforcement officials consider more effective.

Also this month, Tariq Ramadan, a prominent Muslim academic, visited the United States for the first time in six years after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton reversed a decision by the Bush administration, which had barred Mr. Ramadan from entering the country, initially citing the U.S.A. Patriot Act. Mrs. Clinton also cleared the way for another well-known Muslim professor, Adam Habib, who had been denied entry under similar circumstances.

Arab-American and Muslim leaders said they had yet to see substantive changes on a variety of issues, including what they describe as excessive airport screening, policies that have chilled Muslim charitable giving and invasive F.B.I. surveillance guidelines. But they are encouraged by the extent of their consultation by the White House and governmental agencies.

“For the first time in eight years, we have the opportunity to meet, engage, discuss, disagree, but have an impact on policy,” said James Zogby, president of the Arab American Institute in Washington. “We’re being made to feel a part of that process and that there is somebody listening.”

In the post-9/11 era, Muslims and Arab-Americans have posed something of a conundrum for the government: they are seen as a political liability but also, increasingly, as an important partner in countering the threat of homegrown terrorism. Under President George W. Bush, leaders of these groups met with government representatives from time to time, but said they had limited interaction with senior officials. While Mr. Obama has yet to hold the kind of high-profile meeting that Muslims and Arab-Americans seek, there is a consensus among his policymakers that engagement is no longer optional.

The administration’s approach has been understated. Many meetings have been private; others were publicized only after the fact. A visit to New York University in February by John O. Brennan, Mr. Obama’s chief counterterrorism adviser, drew little news coverage, but caused a stir among Muslims around the country. Speaking to Muslim students, activists and others, Mr. Brennan acknowledged many of their grievances, including “surveillance that has been excessive,” “overinclusive no-fly lists” and “an unhelpful atmosphere around many Muslim charities.”

“These are challenges we face together as Americans,” said Mr. Brennan, who momentarily showed off his Arabic to hearty applause. He and other officials have made a point of disassociating Islam from terrorism in public comments, using the phrase “violent extremism” in place of words like “jihad” and “Islamic terrorism.”

While the administration’s solicitation of Muslims and Arab-Americans has drawn little fanfare, it has not escaped criticism. A small but vocal group of research analysts, bloggers and others complain that the government is reaching out to Muslim leaders and organizations with an Islamist agenda or ties to extremist groups abroad.

They point out that Ms. Jarrett gave the keynote address at the annual convention for the Islamic Society of North America. The group was listed as an unindicted co-conspirator in a federal case against the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development, a Texas-based charity whose leaders were convicted in 2008 of funneling money to Hamas. The society denies any links to terrorism.

“I think dialogue is good, but it has to be with genuine moderates,” said Steven Emerson, a terrorism analyst who advises government officials. “These are the wrong groups to legitimize.” Mr. Emerson and others have also objected to the political appointments of several American Muslims, including Rashad Hussain.

In February, the president chose Mr. Hussain, a 31-year-old White House lawyer, to become the United States’ special envoy to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. The position, a kind of ambassador at large to Muslim countries, was created by Mr. Bush. In a video address, Mr. Obama highlighted Mr. Hussain’s status as a “close and trusted member of my White House staff” and “a hafiz,” a person who has memorized the Koran.

Within days of the announcement, news reports surfaced about comments Mr. Hussain had made on a panel in 2004, while he was a student at Yale Law School, in which he referred to several domestic terrorism prosecutions as “politically motivated.” Among the cases he criticized was that of Sami Al-Arian, a former computer-science professor in Florida who pleaded guilty to aiding members of a Palestinian terrorist group.

At first, the White House said Mr. Hussain did not recall making the comments, which had been removed from the Web version of a 2004 article published by a small Washington magazine. When Politico obtained a recording of the panel, Mr. Hussain acknowledged criticizing the prosecutions but said he believed the magazine quoted him inaccurately, prompting him to ask its editor to remove the comments. On Feb. 22, The Washington Examiner ran an editorial with the headline “Obama Selects a Voice of Radical Islam.”

Muslim leaders watched carefully as the story migrated to Fox News. They had grown accustomed to close scrutiny, many said in interviews, but were nonetheless surprised. In 2008, Mr. Hussain had co-authored a paper for the Brookings Institution arguing that the government should use the peaceful teachings of Islam to fight terrorism.

“Rashad Hussain is about as squeaky clean as you get,” said Representative Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat who is Muslim. Mr. Ellison and others wondered whether the administration would buckle under the pressure and were relieved when the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, defended Mr. Hussain.

“The fact that the president and the administration have appointed Muslims to positions and have stood by them when they’ve been attacked is the best we can hope for,” said Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America.

It was notably different during Mr. Obama’s run for office. In June 2008, volunteers of his campaign barred two Muslim women in headscarves from appearing behind Mr. Obama at a rally in Detroit, eliciting widespread criticism. The campaign promptly recruited Mazen Asbahi, a 36-year-old corporate lawyer and popular Muslim activist from Chicago, to become its liaison to Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Bloggers began researching Mr. Asbahi’s background. For a brief time in 2000, he had sat on the board of an Islamic investment fund, along with Sheikh Jamal Said, a Chicago imam who was later named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the Holy Land case. Mr. Asbahi said in an interview that he had left the board after three weeks because he wanted no association with the imam.

Shortly after his appointment to the Obama campaign, Mr. Asbahi said, a Wall Street Journal reporter began asking questions about his connection to the imam. Campaign officials became concerned that news coverage would give critics ammunition to link the imam to Mr. Obama, Mr. Asbahi recalled. On their recommendation, Mr. Asbahi agreed to resign from the campaign, he said.

He is still unsettled by the power of his detractors. “To be in the midst of this campaign of change and hope and to have it stripped away over nothing,” he said. “It hurts.”

From the moment Mr. Obama took office, he seemed eager to change the tenor of America’s relationship with Muslims worldwide. He gave his first interview to Al Arabiya, the Arabic-language television station based in Dubai. Muslims cautiously welcomed his ban on torture and his pledge to close Guantánamo within a year.

In his Cairo address, he laid out his vision for “a new beginning” with Muslims: while America would continue to fight terrorism, he said, terrorism would no longer define America’s approach to Muslims.

Back at home, Muslim and Arab-American leaders remained skeptical. But they took note when, a few weeks later, Mohamed Magid, a prominent imam from Sterling, Va., and Rami Nashashibi, a Muslim activist from Chicago, joined the president at a White-House meeting about fatherhood. Also that month, Dr. Faisal Qazi, a board member of American Muslim Health Professionals, began meeting with administration officials to discuss health care reform.

The invitations were aimed at expanding the government’s relationship with Muslims and Arab-Americans to areas beyond security, said Mr. Hussain, the White House’s special envoy. Mr. Hussain began advising the president on issues related to Islam after joining the White House counsel’s office in January 2009. He helped draft Mr. Obama’s Cairo speech and accompanied him on the trip. “The president realizes that you cannot engage one-fourth of the world’s population based on the erroneous beliefs of a fringe few,” Mr. Hussain said.

Other government offices followed the lead of the White House. In October, Commerce Secretary Gary Locke met with Arab-Americans and Muslims in Dearborn, Mich., to discuss challenges facing small-business owners. Also last fall, Farah Pandith was sworn in as the State Department’s first special representative to Muslim communities. While Ms. Pandith works mostly with Muslims abroad, she said she had also consulted with American Muslims because Mrs. Clinton believes “they can add value overseas.”

Despite this, American actions abroad — including civilian deaths from drone strikes in Pakistan and the failure to close Guantánamo — have drawn the anger of Muslims and Arab-Americans.

Even though their involvement with the administration has broadened, they remain most concerned about security-related policies. In January, when the Department of Homeland Security hosted a two-day meeting with Muslim, Arab-American, South Asian and Sikh leaders, the group expressed concern about the emergency directive subjecting passengers from a group of Muslim countries to additional screening.

Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, pointed out that the policy would never have caught the attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid, who is British. “It almost sends the signal that the government is going to treat nationals of powerless countries differently from countries that are powerful,” Ms. Khera recalled saying as community leaders around the table nodded their heads.

Ms. Napolitano, who sat with the group for more than an hour, committed to meeting with them more frequently. Ms. Khera said she left feeling somewhat hopeful.

“I think our message is finally starting to get through,” she said.

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Community News (V12-I16)

April 15, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Taskeen Khan wins first place in writing contest

taskeen-khan CHICAGO, IL–Taskeen Khan,a sixth grader from Hadley Junior High in Glen Ellyn , has won the first place in Expository Category in a national writing context held by the Writing Conference, Inc.

Her entry, Courage, tells the story of woman named Ahlam who came to the U.S. because of persecution in her home country. Taskeen recounts Ahlam courage in speaking out, building a new life for herself, and helping others to do the same.

Taskeen has been invited to the National Awards Ceremony in Kansas, where the winning pieces will be acted out by high school students. Her piece will also be published in the Writers Slate, an online journal.

Zahir Dossa, Soros Fellowship Recipient

zahir-dossa This is the fourth installment of our series of profiles of Muslim recipients of Paul and Daisy Fellowships

Zahir Dossa was born in Canada before moving to Texas to parents of Indian heritage who had settled in, and then fled during the socialist regime from, Tanzania.  Zahir gained admission to MIT, where he and a fellow student founded an organization to distribute low-tech but very inexpensive irrigation pumps to low-income farmers in Sudan.  Their efforts were featured in an article in Popular Mechanics and a report on BBC World Radio.

Their organization has received various awards, including the $10,000 Davis Peace Prize.  Funded as an undergraduate by the Gates Foundation, Zahir graduated with majors in electrical engineering and computer science along with management.  He has remained at MIT, where he is now pursuing both a MEng in electrical engineering and a PhD in urban studies.   Continuing with his interest in international development, he has created a curriculum for practitioners and is working to create a minor in international development at MIT.

Students at NJIT call for bringing back halal menu

NEWARK, NJ–Muslim students at the New Jersey Institute of Technology are calling on the administration to bring back the halal menu in campus cafetaria.

The “Halal Grill”  in the cafeteria has been facing shortages in supplies since last year and has been completely taken out this semester.

In a letter to the student newspaper a Muslim student wrote, “We are a campus from countless walks of life, it is important to accommodate these groups and not marginalize them. I ask that Gourmet Dining Services either provides Halal food, or update its website – the Grill no longer offers a wide variety of Halal items.”

Calgary Halal food bank grows

CALGARY,Canada–Muslim Families Network Society, a Calgary based non-profit organization, started its Halal food bank as a community outreach program in 2004 with a mission to relieve poverty.

With food bank 24/7 services, MFNS also provides bi-annual city-wide food, meat and clothes distributions; once at Easter time and in the month of Ramadan.

Needs are fulfilled according to family size with food, halal meat, clothes, toys, books and food gift cards. MFNS has made it easier for people in need to buy the food according to their dietary specifications.

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US Silencing Palestinian Journalist Mohammed Omer

March 25, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

Haymarket Books

Effectively canceling a planned speaking tour, the US consulate in the Netherlands has put an extended hold on the visa application of award-winning Palestinian journalist and photographer Mohammed Omer, scheduled to speak on conditions in Palestine, on 5 April in Chicago.

In 2008, Omer became the youngest recipient of the prestigious Martha Gellhorn Prize for Journalism, for his firsthand reportage of life in the besieged Gaza Strip. As his prize citation explained, “Every day, he reports from a war zone, where he is also a prisoner. He is a profoundly humane witness to one of the great injustices of our time. He is the voice of the voiceless … Working alone in extremely difficult and often dangerous circumstances, [Omer has] reported unpalatable truths validated by powerful facts.”

Upon attempting to return to Gaza following his acceptance of the Gellhorn award in London, Omer was detained, interrogated and beaten by the Shin Bet Israeli security force for over 12 hours, and eventually hospitalized with cracked ribs and respiratory problems. He has since resided in the Netherlands and continues to undergo medical treatment there for his subsequent health problems.

The US consulate has now held his visa application for an extended period of time, effectively canceling a planned US speaking tour without the explanation that a denial would require. In recent years, numerous foreign scholars and experts have been subject to visa delays and denials that have prohibited them from speaking and teaching in the US — a process the American Civil Liberties Union describes as “Ideological Exclusion,” which they say violates Americans’ first amendment right to hear constitutionally protected speech by denying foreign scholars, artists, politicians and others entry to the United States. Foreign nationals who have recently been denied visas include Fulbright scholar Marixa Lasso; respected South African scholar and vocal Iraq War critic Dr. Adam Habib; Iraqi doctor Riyadh Lafta, who disputed the official Iraqi civilian death numbers in the respected British medical journal The Lancet; and Oxford’s Tariq Ramadan, who has just received a visa to speak in the United States after more than five years of delays and denials.

Fellow Gellhorn recipient Dahr Jamail, expressed his disbelief at Omer’s visa hold. “Why would the US government, when we consider the premise that we have `free speech’ in this country, place on hold a visa for Mohammed Omer, or any other journalist planning to come to the United States to give talks about what they report on? This is a travesty, and the only redemption available for the US government in this situation is to issue Omer’s visa immediately, and with a deep apology.”

Omer was to visit Houston, Santa Fe and Chicago, where local publisher Haymarket Books was to host his Newberry Library event, “Reflections on Life and War in Gaza,” alongside a broad set of interfaith religious, community and political organizations.

Rather than cancel the meeting, organizers are calling on supporters to write letters and emails calling for the US consulate’s approval of Omer’s visa. They are also proceeding with the event as planned, via live satellite or skype, if necessary.

U.S. consulate information:

Ambassador Fay Hartog Levin
U.S. Embassy in The Hague
Lange Voorhout 102
2514 EJ
The Netherlands
T: +31 70 310-2209
F: +31 70 361-4688

ConsularAmster@state.gov

Background on Mohammed Omer:

Mohammed Omer was born and raised in the Rafah refugee camp in the Gaza Strip. He maintains the website Rafah Today and is a correspondent for the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. His home in Rafah was crushed by an Israeli bulldozer while the family was inside, seriously injuring his mother. Yet, as Omer explained in an article he wrote upon winning the award, “My ambition was to get the truth out, not as pro-Palestinian or anti-Israeli, but as an independent voice and witness.” His reportage features interviews with regular Palestinians in Gazan attempting to survive amidst bombing, home demolitions and the crippling economic blockade, which has created devastating shortages of electricity, water, fuel and other necessities for survival.

Omer was to visit Chicago to discuss, with Ali Abunimah, Chicago-based author of One Country: A Bold Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, his reportage, personal experience, and the struggle for Palestinian rights. If the delay on his visa continues, he will take part in the event via live satellite connection or Skype.

12-13

Muslim Groups Condemn Body Scanners

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

As full body scanners make their O’Hare Airport debut Monday, two groups (FCNA & CAIR) say the devices – which image a person’s body – are immodest, and therefore are inconsistent with Islam.

By Mark Guarino

body-scanner-airport-half Chicago–As full body scanners debut at O’Hare International Airport Monday, two American Muslim groups have suggested that the technology violates the teachings of Islam.

The comments are just the latest controversy surrounding full-body scanners, which some critics call a “virtual strip search” because the technology sees through clothing to show the contours of a passenger’s body in detail.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has deployed 150 scanners across 21 US airports this month, partly in response to the failed Christmas Day bombing of a Detroit-bound jetliner, where bombmaking materials were hidden in a passenger’s underwear – something full-body scanners would have seen.

The TSA expects to install an additional 300 scanners in nine additional airports by the end of this year. But security officials say they will be able to accommodate the wishes of passengers – Muslim or otherwise – who object to the full-body screener.

The technology is “completely optional for all passengers,” says Jim Fotenos, a TSA spokesman, and those who choose not to participate get “an equal level of screening,” which includes a walk through a metal detector and a physical pat-down by an officer of the same sex.

Islamic objections

The screening imagery is a violation of Islam, says The Fiqh Council of North America, a body of Islamic scholars located in Plainfield, Ind. Last month the council issued a statement that said the full body imagery “is against the teachings of Islam, natural law, and all religions and cultures that stand for decency and modesty.”

“It is a violation of clear Islamic teachings that men or women be seen naked by other men and women,” the statement continued. “There must be a compelling case for the necessity and the exemption to this rule must be proportional to the demonstrated need.”

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), a Washington-based civil rights advocacy group, agrees with the Fiqh Council and, according to National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, it plans to track Muslims concerns with the scanners before deciding what actions to take next.

“Modesty is a basic principal of the Islamic faith, it’s very important and always has been,” says Mr. Hooper. “People say, ‘I’ll do anything for safety,’ but that’s not the question. Everybody wants to be safe. Muslims fly like anybody else … you can be safe and secure and still maintain your privacy rights.”

‘A fuzzy photo negative’

To stress the anonymity of the process, the TSA says officers review the images in a remote location and never see the actual passengers. What they do see via their monitors is automatically deleted from the system once the passenger passes review.

According to the TSA website, what officers see of a passenger’s body either resembles “a chalk drawing” or “a fuzzy photo negative,” depending on the machine, therefore suggesting passenger privacy is ensured.

The Fiqh Council, however, is urging followers to request pat-down searches as an alternative.

CAIR’s Mr. Hooper also advocates an increase in federal funding for alternate screening technologies that do not require visual screening, such as the “Puffer,” a machine that can identify chemical particles a person may have on their body and analyze whether or not they are harmful.

The TSA’s Fotenos says the current options “shouldn’t substantially impact operations at checkpoints,” saying TSA research at 19 US airports shows gate delays are primarily caused by carry-on baggage checks.

12-12

America After the Quiet Coup

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Edward L. Palmer, Robert N. Rhodes and Alice J. Palmer

“There has been a quiet coup in the US in which a financial oligarchy has gained hegemony over the government structure.” That seizure of power has resulted in devastation for Black America, where “48% of the children of middle class Black Americans border on poverty.” Among the general public, “70% of last year’s college graduates in the US did not receive job offers.”

“A financial oligarchy has gained hegemony over the government structure.”

America is on a path toward a savage capitalism that is already decimating the middle class and working people and swelling the ranks of the poor. Adam Smith never intended this.

The U.S. government has spent more than one trillion dollars of taxpayer money to resuscitate the financial services economy and restore the status quo while unemployment has grown by millions since January 2009, and all without developing the real economy: production, sustainable development, infrastructure, and social networks.

Unlike Germany, for example, where, faced with a similar economic downturn, Chancellor Angela Merkel, a conservative, chose to increase public spending on production, infrastructure and human capital. Or, as in Sweden, which took measures to reverse unemployment and the contracting gross domestic product by isolating bad debts, stabilizing their currency, and allowing some banks to fail.

Or, for that matter, the win-win strategy the Chinese favor, which pursues their national economic interests without seeming to threaten the national interests of other countries.

Americans should ask themselves the fundamental questions that Bob Herbert is asking over and over in his New York Times columns: How do you put together a consumer economy that works when the consumers are out of work, and when poverty, particularly among Black Americans, is alarmingly high.

“At least 30% of America’s children are poor; tent cities are now housing displaced and desperate families.”

The statistics about Main Street are distressing. At least 30% of America’s children are poor; tent cities are now housing displaced and desperate families. According to a recent Harper’s magazine monthly index, 70% of last year’s college graduates in the US did not receive job offers. Some 16% of the daughters and sons of White Americans are not as financially stable as their parents. Most disturbing is that 48% of the children of middle class Black Americans border on poverty as they earn little more than $23,000 a year. Their parents, whose incomes average $55,000, came of age in the 1960’s.

For decades, from the late 1940’s through the end of the 1980’s, Black men expected to find work in the plants that dominated industrial centers such as Detroit, Chicago, and Pittsburgh. Steady work, no matter how initially back-breaking and low-level, afforded Black families adequate incomes to purchase homes and send their children to college from which a solid, often politically active, Black middle class emerged.

There is a “silent Black depression” in the United States, according to a 2008 report issued by the Institute of Policy Studies, in which 29.4% of Black households have zero or negative net worth as of 2004 compared with 15% of Whites; and Black males aged 16-19 have a 32.8% unemployment rate. People of color, in general, are more likely to be poor in the United States; yet, poverty is rarely discussed as an element of the country’s economic crisis.

“29.4% of Black households have zero or negative net worth.”

To gauge the consequences to America’s eroding consumer and family income economies we must look beyond spurious US unemployment and employment figures that do not adequately tell us how many new jobs are part time and how many workers are discouraged or under-utilized. Most European countries count the number of adults who are employed, which is a more realistic measure of consumer and family-economic well-being.

What does happen to a dream deferred? Job loss can also mean pension loss – a loss of family sustainability – which could cause a social crisis for decades to come, warns the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development in its yearly report. During the vaunted 1990’s, employers, looking for savings to their companies, encouraged working Americans to choose market-driven defined contribution pension packages that hinted at easy-living wealth at retirement instead of the traditional defined benefit pensions that assured steady retirement incomes. In 2008, private pension funds lost more than 25% in returns; so thousands of retirees cannot make ends meet, and thousands of younger workers must start anew to build their nest eggs.

Yet corporate chief executives and their circle earn an almost unbelievable 400 times what the average employee earns; and, as we have seen recently, garner enormous bonuses in spite of failing companies.

If we say in this country that we believe in family values, then we should value the family with adequate and equitable work, education, pensions and health care policies that matter to their well-being.

The US is not just experiencing an economic crisis, this is a crisis of our social being; and there are no quick fixes. Simon Johnson, a former Chief Economist for the International Monetary Fund, pointed out that there has been a quiet coup in the US in which a financial oligarchy has gained hegemony over the government structure.

“In 2008, private pension funds lost more than 25% in returns.”

During the 19th century through c1929, it was common to experience economic panics roughly every 20 years, e.g., in 1819, 1837, and 1873. Since World War II, we have not had feast or famine years. Why? Perhaps because Keynesian principles were in practice that fostered the judicious use of government interventions to fine tune the economy to avoid crises that imperiled people and businesses alike.

At the start of the 1980’s, the size of the financial service sector, i.e., traditional banks, was 4% of gross domestic product; and the number of financial corporations on the stock exchange was 0%. It was against the law for the financial service sector to be listed on the stock exchange. The Glass-Steagall Banking Act of 1933, passed after the Great Depression, which prevented banks from underwriting stocks and bonds for companies, was annulled in practice during the 1980’s, and the practice became law in 1999. The financial sector, especially banks, became one-stop centers for selling insurance, questionable mortgages and other risky undertakings to an uninformed public.

What is the significance of this change? A recent Bank of International Settlement report from Switzerland shows that world GDP (the real economy of the world’s people) is about a tenth the size of the financial services sector alone, and the gap continues to widen.

Many respected economists are alarmed by such economic indicators, the direction the US is taking, and the toll on people’s standard of living. Joseph Stieglitz calls the present-day economy ersatz capitalism; Paul Krugman calls it crony capitalism. John Monks, Secretary General of the European Confederation of Trade Unions, calls the economy casino capitalism. By any name, ponzi schemes are proliferating.

“World GDP (the real economy of the world’s people) is about a tenth the size of the financial services sector alone.”

Of course America’s financial sector should be kept viable; but in the long run, its salvation depends upon the ability of Americans to participate in and benefit from the economy. Real capital uses money to buy raw materials and machinery, hire workers, and produce products that can be sold for more than the cost of their production. Moreover, investment in research and development should be ongoing as new technologies and new ideas lead to innovations and new productivity. Real capital does not hollow out the lives of the average American.

It is in the interest of the United States, its people, and its place in the world to promote a sustainable development model, which is comprised of a labor policy, deliverable industrial and infrastructural advancement strategies, and social policies that ensure human well-being in health, education, and the post-work and sunset years. Since these policies and practices are not self-generating, it is necessary for common-sense minded people to undertake decisive, principled, actions to forge the path to our well-being.

Edward L. Palmer is Senior Research Associate, retired, Institute of Government and Public Affairs, University of Illinois, palmeredward@ymail.com; Robert N. Rhodes is Political Science Professor, retired, University of Ohio; Alice J. Palmer, PhD, is a former Illinois State Senator and current Associate Research Professor, University of Illinois aapalmur@yahoo.com.

12-11

Letter to Editor re. Azher Quader

March 11, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

The Muslim Observer is to be highly commended and praised for serving it’s constituency by printing a highly inspiring and freshly-composed essay on “Love of Divine” by Azher Quader (Muslim Observer Feb. 20, 2010).  “True Love for Divine is a state of being.  A life of doing.  Doing things for others.”  Azher Quader’s poetry is inspiring.  I thank Muslim Observer for publishing them.

Thank you,
Sher Mohammed Rajput
Chicago, Illinois

12-11

The iPod explained, for kids

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

ibn tufail 3-1-10

The iPod is a portable media player designed and marketed by Apple and launched on October 23, 2001. The product line-up includes the hard drive-based iPod Classic, the touchscreen iPod Touch, the video-capable iPod Nano, and the compact iPod Shuffle. The iPhone can function as an iPod but is generally treated as a separate product. Former iPod models include the iPod Mini and the spin-off iPod Photo (since reintegrated into the main iPod Classic line). iPod Classic models store media on an internal hard drive, while all other models use flash memory to enable their smaller size (the discontinued Mini used a Microdrive miniature hard drive). As with many other digital music players, iPods can also serve as external data storage devices. Storage capacity varies by model, ranging from 2GB for the iPod Shuffle to 160GB for the iPod Classic.

Apple’s iTunes software can be used to transfer music to the devices from computers using certain versions of Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows operating systems. For users who choose not to use Apple’s software or whose computers cannot run iTunes software, several open source alternatives to iTunes are also available. iTunes and its alternatives may also transfer photos, videos, games, contact information, e-mail settings, Web bookmarks, and calendars to iPod models supporting those features.

The iPod line came from Apple’s “digital hub” category, when the company began creating software for the growing market of personal digital devices. Digital cameras, camcorders and organizers had well-established mainstream markets, but the company found existing digital music players “big and clunky or small and useless” with user interfaces that were “unbelievably awful,” so Apple decided to develop its own. As ordered by CEO Steve Jobs, Apple’s hardware engineering chief Jon Rubinstein assembled a team of engineers to design the iPod line, including hardware engineers Tony Fadell and Michael Dhuey, and design engineer Jonathan Ive. The product was developed in less than one year and unveiled on 23 October 2001. Jobs announced it as a Mac-compatible product with a 5 GB hard drive that put “1,000 songs in your pocket.”

Apple did not develop the iPod software entirely in-house, instead using PortalPlayer’s reference platform based on two ARM cores. The platform had rudimentary software running on a commercial microkernel embedded operating system. PortalPlayer had previously been working on an IBM-branded MP3 player with Bluetooth headphones. Apple contracted another company, Pixo, to help design and implement the user interface under the direct supervision of Steve Jobs. As development progressed, Apple continued to refine the software’s look and feel. Starting with the iPod Mini, the Chicago font was replaced with Espy Sans. Later iPods switched fonts again to Podium Sans—a font similar to Apple’s corporate font, Myriad. iPods with color displays then adopted some Mac OS X themes like Aqua progress bars, and brushed metal meant to evoke a combination lock. In 2007, Apple modified the iPod interface again with the introduction of the sixth-generation iPod Classic and third-generation iPod Nano by changing the font to Helvetica and, in most cases, splitting the screen in half by displaying the menus on the left and album artwork, photos, or videos on the right (whichever was appropriate for the selected item).

In September 2007, during a lawsuit with patent holding company Burst.com, Apple drew attention to a patent for a similar device that was developed in 1979. Kane Kramer patented the idea of a “plastic music box” in 1979, which he called the IXI. He was unable to secure funding to renew the US$ 120,000 worldwide patent, so it lapsed and Kramer never profited from his idea.

12-10

US Special Representative Favors “Friendship” With Indian Muslims

February 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS India Correspondent

NEW DELHI: Farah Pandith, United States’ first Special Representative to Muslim Communities, was here on a four-day visit to apparently “win over” the Indian Muslims and improve President Barack Obama administration’s image among them. Farah has come and gone (Feb 16-19), leaving many questions unanswered about the role such visits can really play in improving United States’ image among the Indian Muslims. Asserting that her visit was “not a popularity contest,” Farah said that it was an “effort to engage with people and strike partnerships to find a common ground of interest for the common good of all.”

Farah, an American of Indian origin, was born in Kashmir. It was her first visit to India as an US Special Representative, a new position created by Obama administration to improve Washington’s image in the Muslim world and also to actively “listen and respond” to their concerns in Europe, Africa and Asia. Sworn to this position last year on September 15, Farah has visited 12 other countries, including Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, Iraq and Kuwait. Her visits are a part of Obama administrations to reach out to Muslims dominated by “propaganda, stereotypes and inaccurate generalizations” about Washington.  This is the message Farah conveyed during her addresses in New Delhi at Jamia Millia Islamia University and India Islamic Cultural Center (IICC).

Farah played her part in displaying her consciousness about her religious identity as a Muslim and also in fulfilling the responsibility assigned to her in reaching out to Muslims across the world. She kept her head bowed as a cleric recited from the holy Quran at the function held at IICC. Farah began her brief address with the traditional Muslim greeting: “Asalaam Alaikum.” It was President Obama’s “vision to build partnerships with Muslim communities across the globe on the basis of mutual interest and mutual respect,” she said. “I repeat that it is based on mutual interest and respect and I extend my hand of friendship and partnership with you,” she asserted.

Highlighting the significance of her position, Farah said: “Never before America had an envoy for Muslim communities. This is the first time an envoy for the Muslims was appointed. My job is to work with our embassies worldwide to engage with the Muslim communities and focus strongly on the new generation.” “Secretary (Hillary) Clinton has asked me to engage with Muslim communities around the world at the grassroots level, and to build and extend partnerships through the US embassies in both Muslim-majority and Muslim-minority countries. I have to look at out-of-the-box ways to engage, based on mutual respect. That is my job, my mandate,” she said.

“With one-fourth of the world’s population that is Muslim, of course our country (United States) wants to do as much as we can to build partnerships across the board,” Farah stated. “We can and we want to extend the partnership in a very strong way that will allow us to develop long-term relationship with Muslims all over the world,” she said.

Drawing attention to Islam being practiced in United States and the diversity there, Farah pointed to having learned reading holy Quran at a mosque there. She also tried convincing the audience that she was “this was not an effort to increase popularity of America by a few percentage points.” Nevertheless, while interacting with Indian Muslim leaders, she pointed to Obama administration being serious about working closely with Islamic world. This, she said, was marked by appointment of Indian born Rashid Hussain as envoy for the Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC).  Obama’s advisory council for faith also includes Eboo Patel, an Indian-American Muslim from Chicago.

The US government can act as a “convener, facilitator and intellectual partner” and help forge partnerships on basis of common ideas and common goals, the benefits of which will be useful not only for Muslims, but everyone, Farah said. Elaborating on her mission to reach out to the young generation, she pointed out that 45 percent of the world population is under the age of 30. “I will focus more on the young generation in Muslim world and I want to understand the diversity of Islam in different countries and communities as well,” she said.

Though Farah expressed that she was “interested in talking to the Facebook generation, the youth,” she evaded questions posed at Jamia University on United States’ foreign policy on issues that have bothered Muslims across the world. To a question regarding Israel-Palestine, she said: “That is not my job. I am not George Mitchell (US Mideast envoy).” On Washington’s policy regarding West Asia and Pakistan, Farah replied: “I am not Richard Holbrooke (US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan). It’s not my job to work on Kashmir or Pakistan.”

Irrespective of whether Farah succeeds in improving image of Obama administration among the Muslims, her own identity has certainly played some part in compelling the world to revise the stereotyped image they have of Muslim women. The Obama administration is apparently hopeful that Farah’s image as a “modern Muslim” will help win over the young generation. Suggesting this, Farah said: “This generation is having to navigate through that and understand what it means to be modern and Muslim and also is really searching for a way to be connected.”

12-9

True Love for the Divine

February 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Azher Quader

i-love-allah As Americans go about serenading their sweethearts on Valentines Day each year in the middle of February, love often arrives gift wrapped as a box of chocolates or shows up as a vase filled with roses. Sometimes for the more adventurous ones it may announce itself through pajama grams or for some imaginative ones through cuddly teddy bears. Clearly this money-making commerce of love is good for the industry. How much good it does to strengthen commitments, affirm affections or even heal some hurts is of little consequence to our society which thrives on the make believe, where the outer is more important than the inner, where the image is more compelling than the reality and where the transient is more attractive than the enduring.

Indeed the joy of true love is far more elusive than what the commercials tell us or what the romantic creations of Hollywood depict, where the plays of passion as shown on the silver screen dominate our imagination and describe the way to live and love.

For true love is not so common, is very special, a lot more demanding and indeed life changing. It empowers the week, enriches the poor and transforms the ordinary to become the extraordinary.

True love for a spouse is in the exercise of unconditional love that gives without asking, that seeks no strings, that provides much while receiving little.

It is sitting near a bed holding hands when speech is lost to the silence of stroke. It is a commitment to nursing when sickness overtakes, when Alzheimer devastates, when cancer strikes and yes to caring even when cure is said to be not possible.

It is to do the chores that come at the end of a tiring day, with a smile. To do the dishes, to make the meals, to change the diapers and so much more without raising a brow, without voicing a complaint. It is to make time when there is little time. To listen when arguing is easier, to practice patience when tempers are hot, to forgive when the moment has passed.

It is the love built on trust. It is the love that is not threatened by the embrace of other affections. It is the love that triumphs over the tragedies of life. It is the love that lingers through good times and bad times. It is the love that never dies.

True love for country is in the willingness to fight for its freedoms, to bear arms against its enemies, to make the ultimate sacrifice if need be, in the defense of its borders.

It is to speak truth to power, to abide by the law, to preserve the peace. It is to demand representation, to practice civic engagement, to look for the common good. It is in the willingness to dialogue and seek common ground. It is in the ability to see the big picture, let go of personal agendas and promote the national interest. It is to recognize that whether we live in the north or the south, in the east coast or in the west coast, whether we are black, white, brown or yellow, whether we are new immigrants from distant shores or old natives, inhabitants of the soil, whether we came here in chains or we came here by choice, our lives are now inseparable, we now share a common destiny.

True love for country is not the special claim of one ideological group or another, whether they be on the right or on the left or anywhere in between. True love for country is found in those patriot souls whose loyalty is not divided, who march to a single drummer and who carry a single flag.

True love for the Divine expresses itself through submission to His Will in all aspects of our living. It is a love that transcends our love for family and country. It frees us from our tribal allegiances, it liberates us from our national bondages. It makes us citizens of a global village. It is a love that connects man to fellow man, indeed to all creation. It is a love that unites mankind by reminding us of our essential humanity.

True love for the Divine is engaging not reclusive. It is best manifest in society amidst people and problems, not in the mountains amidst solitude and tranquility.
True love for the Divine is more than the pursuit of devotional practices that lead us into a life of self-absorption. It is to reach out and make a difference in the lives of others. It is to feed the hungry, care for the ailing, and speak for the silent. It is to spend for the welfare of the poor and needy, to teach and educate, to be good neighbors. It is to build trust among the distrusting, show compassion to the hateful.

True love for the Divine is a lot more than singing His praises or twirling in His remembrance. It is much more than memorizing His Words and reciting them every day. True love for the Divine is a state of being, a life of doing. True love for the Divine is tremendously empowering and life changing.

This Valentine Day let us find true love.

Azher Quader, Executive Director, Community Builders Chicago (CBC), www.mycommunitybuilders.com

12-8

Pres. Obama’s Economic Policies

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Michael Hudson

Reality had to raise its ugly head. Barack Obama was elected with overwhelming approval to inaugurate an era of change. And at his November 25 press conference, he said that his decisive victory gave him a mandate to change the direction in which America is moving. But his recent economic and foreign policy appointments make it clear that when he chose “change” as his campaign slogan, he was NOT referring to the financial, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sectors, nor to foreign policy. These are where the vested interests concentrate their wealth and power. And change already has been accelerating here. Unfortunately, its direction has been for the top 1% of America’s population to raise their share of in the returns to wealth from 37% ten years ago to 57% five years ago and an estimated nearly 70% today.

The change that Mr. Obama is talking about is largely marginal to this wealth, not touching its economic substance – or its direction. No doubt he will bring about a welcome change in race relations, environmental regulations, and a more civil rule of law. And he probably will give wage earners an income-tax break (thereby enabling them to keep on paying their bank debts, incidentally). As for the rich, they prefer not to earn income in the first place. Taxes need to be paid on income, so they take their returns in the form of capital gains. And simply avoiding losses is the order of the day in the present meltdown.

Where losses cannot be avoided, the government will bail out the rich on their financial investments, but not wage earners on their debts. On that Friday night last October when Mr. Obama and Mr. McCain held their final debate, Mr. Obama was fully on board with the bailouts. And this week’s appointment of the “Yeltsin” team who sponsored Russia’s privatization giveaways in the mid-1990s Larry Summers and his protégés from the Clinton’s notorious Robert Rubin regime shows that he knows his place when it comes to the proper relationship between a political candidate and his major backers. It is to protect the vested interests first of all, while focusing voters’ attention on policies whose main appeal is their ability to distract attention from the fact that no real change is being made at the economic core and its power relationships.

This is not what most people hoped for. But their hopes were so strong that it was easier to indulge in happy dreams and put one’s faith in a prince than to look at the systemic problems that need to be restructured in order for real change to occur. Individuals do not determine who owes what to whom, who is employed by whom or what laws govern their work and investment. Institutional economic and political structures are the key. And somehow the focus has been on the politics of personalities, not on the economic forces at work.

This is as true abroad as it is in the United States. Two weeks ago I was at an economic meeting on “financialization” in Germany. Most of the attendees with whom I spoke expressed the hope – indeed, almost a smug conviction – that Obama would be like Gorbachev in Russia: a man who saw the need for deep structural change but chose to bide his time, seeming to “play the game” with the protective coloration of going along, but then introducing a revolutionary reform program once in office.

Instead, after resembling President Carter by running a brilliant presidential primary campaign to win the nomination (will a similarly disappointing administration be about to come?), Obama is looking more like Boris Yeltsin – a political umbrella for the kleptocrats to whom the public domain and decades of public wealth were given with no quid pro quo.

Obama’s ties with the Yeltsin administration are as direct as could be. He has appointed as his economic advisors the same anti-labor, pro-financial team that brought the kleptocrats to power in Russia in the mid-1990s. His advisor Robert Rubin has managed to put his protégés in key Obama administration posts: Larry Summers, who as head of the World Bank forced privatization at give-away prices to kleptocrats; Geithner of the New York Fed; and a monetarist economist from Berkeley, as right-wing a university as Chicago. These are the protective guard-dogs of America’s vested interests.

If you are a billionaire, your first concern is simply to preserve your wealth, to avoid having to take a loss in the value of your financial claims on the economy – claims for repayment of loans and investment, as well as interest and dividends, and enough capital gains to compensate for the price inflation that erodes the spending power of more lowly income-earners.

This year has changed the typical fate of financial wealth in the face of bursting financial bubbles. Traditionally, business booms culminate in a wave of bankruptcies that wipe out bad debts–and the savings that have been invested on the ‘asset’ side of the balance sheet. This year has changed all that. The bad debts are being kept on the books–but transferred from the banks to the federal government, mainly the Federal Reserve and Treasury. The bank bailouts have aimed not so much to protect the banks themselves, but to enable them to pay off on the bad bets they made vis-à-vis the nation’s hedge funds and other institutional investors in the derivatives market.

To participate in a hedge fund, one needs to prove that one can afford to lose their money and not be much the worse off for it in terms of actual living conditions. So the $306 billion in federal guarantees of the junk mortgage packages sold by Citibank, and the $135 billion bailout of the insurance contracts written by A.I.G. to protect swap contracts from loss, could have been avoided without much impact on the “real” economy.

In fact, writing down these financial claims ON the economy would have paved the way for writing down its debt burden. If the subprime and other mortgage debts had been permitted to decline to the neighborhood of 22 cents on a dollar they were trading for, this would have made it possible to write down debts to match the price at which mortgage holders had bought these loans for. But the financial overhead of American wealth “saved” in the form of creditor claims on indebted homeowners, industrial companies and junk-insurance companies such as A.I.G. has been protected against erosion by this year’s federal bailout program.

Bloomberg has added up these programs and finds that they $7.7 trillion dollars – nearly half an entire year’s GDP. By acting to support the market for bad-mortgage loans (but not for real estate itself), the seemingly endless series of Paulson bailouts seeks to be to keep today’s debt overhead intact rather than writing it down. Service charges on this indebtedness will divert peoples’ income from consumption to paying creditors. It will help financial investors, not labor or industry. It will keep the cost of living and doing business high, preventing the U.S. economy from working its way out of debt by becoming competitive once again.

With all these trillions of dollars of bailing out the wealthy, one might easily forget to ask what is being left out. For one thing, the government’s Pension Benefit Guarantee Corp, whose $25 billion deficit is not bailed out. This year, underfunded corporate pension plans are supposed to “catch up” to full funding so as to protect the PBGC, in accordance with a law passed by Congress two years ago. If underfunded plans don’t meet the scheduled 92% coverage for this year, they have to bring their set-asides fully up to the 100% funding level. The stock market plunge has dashed their hopes to do this. The result will be to force many industrial companies into a financial bind.

On the auto front, the Bush Administration has brought pressure to force the big three Detroit companies into bankruptcy as a way to annul their defined-benefit pension plans – with no plans at all bail out money owed to labor by restoring the PBGC to solvency. State and local pension plans are almost entirely unfunded, and are at even more risk as their tax revenues plunge and property tax payments are stopped on housing and commercial buildings that have foreclosed.

And speaking of state and local finances, what role is local government to play in Mr. Obama’s promise to rebuild infrastructure, headed by transportation? Given their strapped position, one is hearing a surge of Wall Street plans to spend enormous sums. Whereas Obama’s economic team made fortunes for Russian kleptocrats by giving them public-sector assets already in place, their American counterparts are going to have to get rich by actually building new projects. In such cases the benefits are as large as the total amount of money being spent – but not in the way that most people understand at first glance. Construction contracts for new public transport systems, bridges and roads and urban or rural modernization may be entirely honest and provided at a fair cost. But it is a byproduct of such investment that it creates an amount that is of equal or often even greater magnitude in the form of rent-of-location – that is, vast windfall gains for well-located real estate.

This is where Mr. Obama’s Chicago political experience comes in so handy. It is in fact a game tailor-made for his team. Hundreds of millions of dollars were made in gentrifying Chicago’s notorious but conveniently centrally located public housing for low-income families. The developments sponsored by Mr. Obama’s mentors, the Pritzker family, the University of Chicago and assorted real estate reverends opened up vast new land sites, with public support to boot. (The house where I grew up in Hyde Park-Kenwood, a block or so from Mr. Obama’s house, was torn down along with the rest of the entire block as part of Mayor Daley’s urban renewal program in the late 1950s – after the University’s block busters had run down the neighborhood, then panicked the whites into selling to the blacks at extortionate price markups and mortgage rate premiums, then tearing down the houses into which the blacks had moved. It’s an old real estate game that one learns quickly in Chicago politics.) As Thorstein Veblen noted, any American city’s politics is best understood by viewing it as a real estate development.

The gains from providing better transport infrastructure typically are so large that transportation investment could be self-financing by taxing these property gains recapturing the added rental value in the form of property windfall taxes. London’s tube extension to Canary Wharf, for example, cost the city £8 billion but increased real estate values along the route by some £13 billion. The city could have financed the entire project by issuing bonds that would have been repaid out of taxes levied on the windfall gains created by this public expenditure.

Likewise in New York City, the transport authority has just announced that subway and bus fares will be jacked up (adding no less than $10 to the monthly commute card) and services cut back sharply. Mayor Bloomberg has just stopped work on the 2nd Avenue subway, its completion will add at least as much to upper East Side property values as the subway costs itself. The city thus could finance its construction not by issuing bonds to be paid off by city and state taxpayers in combination with user fees paid as fares. Taxpayers wouldn’t have to pay, and riders could enjoy subsidized fares simply by taxing the real estate owners.

But I see no prospect of this being done. Real estate is still the name of the game, because it remains the largest asset category in every economy today just as much as under feudalism. The difference from feudalism is that whereas landlords received the rental value of their lands in centuries past, today’s property owners acquire ownership not by military conquest (the Norman invasion of 1066 in England’s case) but by borrowing from the banks. To a mortgage banker, a commercial developer or real estate company is a prime customer, the bulwark of bank balance sheets. It is hard to imagine a new American infrastructure program not turning into a new well of real estate gains for the FIRE sector. Real estate owners on favorably situated sites will sell out to buyers-on-credit, creating a vast new and profitable loan market for banks. The debt spiral will continue upward.

The fact that state and local budgets are too burdened to afford infrastructure spending themselves will lead to it being privatized from the outset. Probably London’s notorious public-private partnerships (a Labour Party refinement more Thatcherite than even Margaret Thatcher herself could have got away with) probably will become the basic model. Users will pay higher fees rather than enjoying the subsidized or free access typical in public infrastructure spending during the Progressive Era. The main purpose of public enterprise back then was to keep prices down for basic services, thus lowering the cost of living and doing business in America. But today, infrastructure spending will be just one more item adding to America’s debt overhead to make its economy even less competitive with foreign ones than it is.

The moral is, next time a candidate promises change, ask him to say just what changes he has in mind. During the Presidential debates, only Dennis Kucinich came out and said each specific law that he had put before Congress to implement each change he promised. But most of the public didn’t want to know the details – they simply liked hearing the word “change.”

Here are some purely fiscal and financial changes that a future presidential candidate might propose – changes that I don’t expect to be hearing any more about during the next four years. Just to get the discussion going, why shouldn’t these merely marginal changes within the existing system be implemented right now by a presidential candidate who is still bragging about his “mandate for change”:

    * Regarding fiscal policy, re-introduce the estate tax, along with (at the very least) the Clinton era’s progressive-tax schedule.

    * Tax capital gains at the same rate as wages and profits, rather than at half the rate; and make these taxes be paid at the point of sale of real estate or other assets, not deferred ad infinitum if the gains simply are invested in yet more wealth.

    * Require a cost-benefit analysis of any publicly backed infrastructure spending so as to recapture all “external economies” (such as windfall real estate price gains) as the first line of financing such investment.

    * Tax corporate borrowing that is used merely to pay stock dividends or buy back one’s own stock at least at 50%.

    * Close the practice of offshore tax avoidance, and bring criminal cases against accounting firms abetting this practice.

    * Only let a building be depreciated once, not repeatedly as a tax writeoff.

    * Refocus state and local taxation on the property tax, remembering that whatever the tax collector relinquishes is simply “freed” to be paid to the banks as interest.

    * In the sphere of bad-debt banking, when a government agency takes over a bank or company that has negative net worth, the stockholders must be wiped out as their stock has lost all market value. Bondholders must stand in line behind the government in case of insolvency.

    * Write down mortgage debts to the ability of property owners to pay and/or the present market value. Banks that have made loans to these borrowers must take responsibility for their decision that the owners could afford to pay. Even better, apply New York State’s existing Fraudulent Conveyance law, and simply annul loans that are beyond the ability of debtors to pay.

None of this involves real structural change. It is simply more economically efficient under existing laws and practices – something like actually enforcing environmental law, anti-fraud and anti-crime laws, and the original intent of our tax legislation. It is a small step back toward the Progressive Era a century ago – the era that set America on the path of prosperity that made the 20th century the American century.

Michael Hudson is a former Wall Street economist. A Distinguished Research Professor at University of Missouri, Kansas City (UMKC), he is the author of many books, including Super Imperialism: The Economic Strategy of American Empire (new ed., Pluto Press, 2002) He can be reached via his website, mh@michael-hudson.com

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Muslim Americans Inspire at the Apollo

February 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sarah Jawaid, Common Ground News

apollo_facade Washington, DC – As I peered down from the lower mezzanine level of Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater, I knew I was witnessing history. The village of Harlem has been a beacon of inspiration for artists throughout the 20th century; novelists, poets, musicians and actors found it a safe-haven for expression through various art forms such as music and theatre. On 23 January, a burgeoning Muslim American culture also found voice on the Apollo’s historic stage.

The Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) organised a special edition of Community Café, usually held in IMAN’s hometown of Chicago. This Muslim-led event was meant to provide a space for the socially conscious to celebrate and engage in various artistic forms of expression. Muslims from across the spectrum showcased their incredible talents while shattering self-propagated boundaries of race, gender, sect and vision. A sold-out audience cheered on the dynamic range of creativity from artists, like singer/actor Mos Def, comedian Aasif Mandvi, Progress Theater, musician Amir Sulaiman and The ReMINDers.

The most striking and memorable aspect of the event was not any one performance, but the performances’ effect on those attending. The social cohesion resulting from the event extended beyond the Apollo, sending reverberations throughout the American landscape as attendees returned home. With the recent catastrophic events in Haiti heavy on the hearts of the performers, it was a night of social responsibility, artistic sharing and advocacy.

This event couldn’t have come at a more perfect juncture in the Muslim American experience. Our identity continues to be shaped by our diversity, reaction to world events and sometimes the stereotyping within and outside of our communities. Nevertheless, Muslim Americans are proactively constructing their own unique identities by contributing meaningfully to society through engagement in causes they truly care about.

For example, there’s the woman getting her Ph.D. in psychology to bring attention to mental disorders often seen as illegitimate in many of our communities. There’s the man shattering misconceptions about masculinity by taking on issues of domestic violence. There’s the painter donating proceeds from what she creates to the victims of Haiti.

These are everyday people. They aren’t in the limelight. They don’t have book or movie deals. They are living their lives, doing genuine good work because they believe in it. Yes, they are Muslim, and so much more.

Oftentimes, the media highlights folks on the fringes as the only ones confronting singular expressions of Islam. Those in the middle go unnoticed because they aren’t as sexy, loud or attention seeking. While the former expressions are one patch in the quilt that makes up the dynamic nature of the Muslim American community, they shouldn’t receive a disproportionate amount of attention. Our collective hope for society should be a higher level of consciousness, and that won’t happen by focusing only on those at the edges of society, who are most visible.

Focusing on the everyday folks instead can lead us to a stronger sense of social cohesion. These individuals provide us with something intangible but extremely valuable. They are the steady calm, the heart that keeps beating even when gone unnoticed. These individuals are helping create a Muslim American narrative that is based on God-consciousness by confirming faith with good works, community engagement and a purpose that goes beyond their existence.

As I sat there at the Apollo, listening in awe to the beautiful operatic voice of Sumayya, an African American woman with a pink hijab (headscarf), and Zeeshan, a Bangladeshi American Andrea Bocelli, I knew I was home. They were sharing a part of their soul with me while shattering barrier upon barrier.

Art comes from deep within us, a place that often thrives with mental quietude and presence. And when art is shared with one another, it has the power to inspire, build bridges to uncharted places and heal wounds. As we continue to shape our stories, let’s remember our essence and how we are all connected to friends of other faiths, the earth and our communities–from a place of wholeness.

* Sarah Jawaid is a writer, artist and faith-based activist working on urban planning issues in Washington, DC. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

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Community News (V12-I5)

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

IMANA sets up clinic in Haiti

imana

Imana team on their first day in Haiti

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti–The Islamic Medical Association of North America (IMANA) said today that it has helped convert an amusement park in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to a health care facility. The facility, which is seeing over 100 patients a day, is being operated through a partnership between IMANA, other medical teams, and local partners such as Aimer Haiti.

With existing hospitals in Port-Au-Prince overwhelmed with patients, IMANA said physicians at the facility are hoping to increase their capacity as quake victims continue to present with fractures, infected wounds and dehydration.

“On day one, an air hockey table doubled as a procedure table. Now, with our partners, we are providing services from pediatricians, obstetricians, emergency doctors, and surgeons to at least 100 patients a day. We are hoping to arrange equipment that would allow our surgeons to go from performing simple procedures to running a full mobile operating room,” said Dr. Sameer Gafoor, a volunteer physician in Port-au-Prince. Gafoor is a cardiology fellow in Washington, D.C.

IMANA  is planning to send additional teams of physicians and surgeons every week with shipments of supplies to support existing operations.

Flint Islamic center seeks expansion

FLINT, MI–The Flint Islamic Center, catering to more than 1500 Muslims in the area, is seeking a $4.5 million expansion to its existing facilities. The new complex will have a mosque, a grade school, and will double its size from its current facility.

Besides an expanded worship space, a multi-purpose hall for social gatherings, a professional kitchen and new offices, the plan is to revamp the school operation with a new media center, science lab, school cafeteria, a new gym, an expanded computer lab to include long-distance learning, and room for a new high school program, said board member Abed Khirfan to mlive.com.

The Flint area continues to attract Muslim professionals and their families to the area due to its excellent schools, communities, and hospitals.

Kais Menoufy honored for his human rights work

SACRAMENTO, CA– Kais Menoufy, a Muslim community activist in Sacramento, was honored by the Florin Chapter of the Japanese American Citizen’s League, for his commitment to civil rights.

Menoufy helps bring “Songs of Hope” – an annual concert performed by Arab and Israeli musicians – to Sacramento.

Since 2006, the Florin JACL has partnered with Muslim organizations to take Muslim American youths to the Manzanar Internment Camp in the Southern California desert where Japanese American were interned during World War II.

Eboo Patel to speak at Stanford graduation ceremony

Interfaith leader Eboo Patel is one of the featured speakers at this year’s graduation ceremonies beginning on June 11, 200. He will joing UN Ambassador Susan Rice and Stanford Philosophy Professor Debra Satz.

Patel is a member of the Obama administration’s Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. A Muslim born in India and raised in Chicago, he founded the Interfaith Youth Core in 1998 to inspire and train college students to build understanding.

He is the author of a Washington Post blog, “The Faith Divide,” which explores what drives faiths apart and what brings them together. He also wrote “Acts of Faith: The Story of an American Muslim, the Struggle for the Soul of a Generation.” He holds a doctorate in the sociology of religion from Oxford, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois.

“We believe Eboo Patel’s lifelong work to encourage religious tolerance and to prompt young people to take action will inspire all of us to make a difference,” the class presidents said.

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Building from Blueprints

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Marium Zafar

IMG_0370 Over New Year’s weekend, the conference “Blueprints to Success: A Reflection of Adab for Our Modern Society” was held at the Tawheed Center of Farmington Hills. As the foundations of our new building are laid down for the beginning of this decade, we turn our attentions to establishing fresh and powerful spiritual resolutions for the rest of our lives as well. I was lucky to be involved in organizing this weekend retreat with the youth of Tawheed Center under the guidance of Imam Sohel Mangera. Spearheading the efforts, Shafi Ahmed, a graduate accounting student at Oakland University and Youth coordinator from IAGD, brought experience from noteworthy conferences, such as Organic Traditions, to the Tawheed Center. While there were many important figures involved in organizing this retreat, the real blueprint to the success of the conference was not any individual, but the consistent cooperation between all the members of our society together in the manner and Adab distinguished by the Sunnah of the Prophet (S).

Cooperation amongst our various communities had a very far-reaching effect. As I walked around our Masjid, I could see people from IAGD rushing to organize registration papers and chasing toddlers into the babysitting rooms, people from Canton offering to publicize, attend, and finance future events, as well as new faces from Canada and Kentucky giving us valuable advice throughout the weekend. Our Ulema, from Chicago to as far as the United Kingdom, brought refreshing perspectives from their communities to the Tawheed Center as well.

This immense diversity was also spread amongst the volunteers. While the University graduates completed errands in the early mornings and late into the night, the registration tables were staffed by middle school kids throughout the day; sitting on the stage reciting the Quran were students in the Hifz Program as young as six years old, all eager to have their share in the blessings of the gathering. It may have been the first time in my life that I saw the youth around me functioning as such a cohesive body. It certainly was the first time our elders saw us in this new light! Fundraising for the conference in the weeks running up to it was rather daunting, for no one was sure where the money was going to end up in the hands of “youth;” as the actual retreat progressed however, our request for donations was readily answered and the funds began to flow in. It was only through the blessings of Allah (SWT) due to the presence of our scholars and the approval of our elders that this conference was completely funded while remaining free of charge to attendees.

The feedback I received during and after the conference was nothing but positive. The ladies were grateful to no end that the girls sacrificed their time to babysit their children, ensuring that everyone in the Masjid could concentrate and benefit from the lectures. (Perhaps more grateful were their husbands, who were not beseeched with requests to take turns taking care of the kids.)  The men were amazed at the swift execution of the agenda as the brothers burned CD recordings within the hour. As we learned in accordance to the Adab of Seeking Knowledge, a general punctuality rule was upheld in regards to everything from transportation of the speakers to coordination of food and supplies. With the support and example of the board members and our elders, we, as youth, accomplished a great deal on our first attempt at such an endeavor.

Another oft-repeated and undisputed remark the volunteers heard was praise for the implementation of the program according to the Sunnah of the Prophet (S), especially in regards to segregation. With the program and food completely separated, both the men and women enjoyed a more liberated atmosphere during break times, while still being able to clearly see, hear, and communicate with the speakers during the lecture sessions. As our scholars quoted in their talks, Allah (SWT) says in Surat Al-e-Imraan,

“If you do love Allah, follow me [the Prophet (S)]: Allah will love you and forgive your sins, for Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful”

Ali Imran: 31

A palpable, almost surreal atmosphere of tranquility was felt throughout the weekend, for by following the Sunnah of the Prophet (S) as much as we could in all aspects of the program, the blessings of the gathering were showered upon everyone. The youth surrounded the speakers and took several pages of copious notes as the weekend went on. Even after the intense schedule of activities, young children convinced their fathers to stay in ‘itikaaf with them overnight in order to remain with the scholars, keeping them awake until three in the morning with contemporary questions. Piles of CDs sold out, a good deal of chai was consumed, and everyone seemed to be smiling contagiously.

The Ulema were readily accessible throughout the weekend, for men and women alike; through the separate brothers’ and sisters’ Question and Answer sessions, everyone was able to communicate with the scholars and gain from their knowledge. As well stated by a student of the Islamic Sciences in attendance, “We live in a country where we are bombarded by images, people, and an agenda all year long. If these are the only programs that observe the separation and enable Allah (SWT) to bless us, then we have to make sure it continues. Insha’Allah the fruits of this conference will become evident in the people who change for the better. Maybe it won’t be tangible in our eyes, but know that Allah (SWT) won’t miss it.” For this reason, I would like to specifically express gratitude to the Tawheed Center Shurah Board for allowing us the privilege of conducting such an event, as well as to Imam Sohel for expertly guiding us through it. Jazakumullahu Khairan.

As Imam Sohel advised us repeatedly, we should take what we learned from this weekend and apply it to our lives to benefit long term. Now that we have drafted out our blueprints, we have to build upon them together with proper Adab. Our task as a community has not concluded with this weekend, but rather it has just begun. Just like our Masjid’s building did not rise up in two days, we have to work now to raise the bar of our spirituality and build up a strong community. We, the youth, this weekend have gained a new admiration and deeper Adab towards our elders who have organized such events on a regular basis; we ask you now to keep us in your Du’as and support us in our future efforts, insha’ Allah.

For more information about this conference and future events, please visit www.thelightofdawn.org.

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Al-Qaeda Using U.S. to Accomplish Goals — and U.S. Is Playing Along

January 7, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

William Pfaff, Chicago Tribune

PARIS — It is not widely understood that the policy objective of Al Qaeda is not to attack the Western countries, which in itself accomplishes nothing. Bringing down a Western airliner or blowing up a building in the United States or Britain is of no interest in itself, since the Islamic radical does no good by simply killing unbelievers. The ultimate purpose of Al Qaeda is to bring about an upheaval in the Islamic world in which Islam can be rescued from corrupted governments and degenerate practices.

When Gordon Brown or Barack Obama say that Western soldiers have to fight terrorists abroad so that they will not have to fight them in their own hometowns, they’re being silly, as such sophisticated men ought to know.

Why should Al Qaeda or the Taliban wish to fight in Peoria, Illinois, or a garden suburb of London? There are no recruits to be made there, and nothing to be gained in the real battle that the Muslim extremists are waging: to radicalize the Muslim world, and to rescue their co-religionists from heretical beliefs and Western practices.

The real reason for attacking Westerners in the West, or in airplanes on the way there, is to provoke the Western governments to send more Western soldiers to Afghanistan, Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere in the Muslim world to attack Muslim jihadists on the Islamists’ own ground, where the latter have tactical and human advantages that Western soldiers can never overcome.

Instead, attack by Western soldiers and the building of Western military bases on the soil of Muslim countries radicalizes and scandalizes ordinary people, and undermines the governments of those countries that choose to align themselves with the invaders — thereby, in the eyes of Islamic true believers, revealing themselves as traitors to orthodox Muslim belief.

The United States and the NATO countries are playing Al Qaeda’s game with every planeload of troops they dispatch to the Arab world and to Central Asia.

A headline in the Paris press says: “The CIA and U.S Special Forces lend a powerful hand to the government of Yemen.” The front-page headline in Tuesday’s International Herald Tribune says: “Yemen corruption blunts Qaeda fight.” This report explains that the Yemeni president’s government “is filled with members of his family and . . . wants to ensure that his son, Ahmed, 38, succeeds him.” The story goes on to say that “the economy has collapsed, with oil revenues down and oil and water running out.” This is the American-allied regime.

At the end of last year, we read about allegations of corruption in Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s own family, and the results of a national election were challenged as falsified. The president of Afghanistan has just ordered the nation’s parliament back from vacation in order to vote on his new cabinet nominees. These are to take the place of 17 of his 24 previous cabinet appointments, all rejected by parliament. Mr. Karzai is, of course, the man the United States put in place in Kabul to bring democracy to Afghanistan, so as to save it from the Taliban and al-Qaida.

No American who witnessed the waltz of U.S. senators with the health industry’s lobbyists during the ongoing effort to legislate health reform in the U.S. is in a position to be condescending about foreign corruption. If the United States has an occupying army that put in place, or sustains, the Afghan, Pakistani or Yemen government, then the ordinary citizen in those countries will see Americans and NATO as sources of their nation’s corruption, and perhaps the main one.

Moreover, the Taliban and al-Qaida are not fighting against corrupt governments in order to reform them. They want to destabilize and eventually destroy all of them so as to clear a political space in which 40 million Pashtuns and their fellow Sunni Arabs can create a new political dispensation of true believers, while the West declines.

That is fantasy, but it is a fantasy in which the United States and NATO are unwittingly playing leading roles.

(Visit William Pfaff’s Web site at www.williampfaff.com.)

Community News (V11-I53)

December 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Malcolm X’s daughter speaks

Ilyasah Shabazz, the third daughter of the late American Muslim leader Malcolm X, is the keynote speaker at the eighth annual Martin Luther King Jr. and Days of Dialogue (MLK/DOD) celebration Jan. 18-22, at the University of Wyoming.

Shabazz, an author, lecturer and human rights activist, will speak at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 21, in the Wyoming Union Ballroom. “Poverty, Politics and Race” is the theme of this year’s event. MLK/DOD renews UW’s commitment to making campus a more welcoming and empowering place for people from different backgrounds, heritages, orientations or abilities. UW events celebrate the continuing impact of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s life and ideals.

Author of “Growing Up X,” Shabazz is committed to developing educational programs that foster self-empowerment; expanding government to teach individual responsibility for improving society; and capitalizing on the arts and entertainment to encourage the understanding of history, culture and self expression.

She is the daughter of Malcolm X, an African-American Muslim minister, public speaker and human rights activist. To his admirers, he was a courageous advocate for the rights of African Americans, but his detractors accused him of preaching racism, black supremacy and violence. Malcolm X has been described as one of the greatest and most influential African Americans in history. Shabazz was only 2 years old and present when her father was assassinated in 1965 in New York.

Shabazz produces “The WAKE-UP Tour,” her exclusive youth empowerment program designed to inspire young people to think and act critically to safeguard their futures. She also is corporation president and trustee of her parents’ legacy, The Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial, Educational and Cultural Center, Inc. at The Audubon, the place of her father’s assassination.

Among other highlights of MLK/DOD are the annual MLK March and Willena Stanford Supper; panel and book discussions, observation of National Service Day, movies, art reception and entertainment.

Lawsuit claims religious bias

CHICAGO, IL–The Council on American-Islamic Relations has filed a lawsuit on behalf of an African-American Muslim who worked as a truck driver in the Chicago area, and who says he was harassed both for his race and for his religion.

Reginal Exson worked as a truck driver for the Cook County location of USF Holland, according to a news release form the council.

Exson says a company representative made insulting remarks calling him a “liar,” making derogatory remarks against African-Americans and telling Exson that lying “must be part of your gene pool.”

In November 2007, Exson suffered severe injuries in an accident that wasn’t his fault, and the company would not honor the work restrictions recommended by his doctor, the lawsuit said. Exson was also punished based on unspecified false allegations, the council said.

Furthermore, a worker’s compensation coordinator allegedly called Exson a “terrorist,” and remarked, “Did you think I was going to let you and Osama bin Laden get off with all this money that we’re paying you?” the council said.

Exson also alleged that his benefits provider, USF Holland parent company YRC Worldwide Inc., would not compensate him for his injuries, nor accommodate his work restrictions.

Iowa poultry plant receives state loan

CHARLES CITY, IA– newly  poultry plant in Charles City with plans to do halal poultry has received a $250,000 loan from Iowa’s Department of Economic Development.

Custom Poultry Processing plans to purchase the former Allstate Quality Foods facility in Charles City and convert it to a poultry processing facility. The plant is expected to process 14 million chickens every year and employ 126 people.

The company will focus on specialty market segments including fresh organic, halal and antibiotic-free poultry. It will offer private label processing as well as developing its own brand. Production is expected to begin by April.

Half of the loan will be forgiven if the company reaches $20 million in sales in three years.

Pakistani and Indian Americans meet

NEWARK, CA– Americans of Indian and Pakistani origin would be meeting on Dec. 25 in New Ark to discuss issues such as running an ethical business and educating their children.

Billed as “Vision 2047: First 100 Years Conference, Creating New Values and Principles for New World Powers,” the conference is sponsored by Universal News Broadcasting and WBT Television. The event will be held at the Chandni restaurant in Newark and will include dinner and classical Ghazal, the Mercury News reported.

“My parents came from the India side of Pakistan in the 1950s,” said Farrukh Shah Khan, a key organizer who grew up in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan before coming to the US when he was 17. “I have always thought of India as the motherland and Pakistan as the fatherland and I’ve always thought of the shared values the two countries have had.”

Khan, a TV producer at WBT Television and co-founder of San Jose’s Pakistani American Cultural Center, lined up an array of speakers to talk about business, government, culture and education from a South Asian perspective, purposely choosing entrepreneurs, philosophers and educators with nondogmatic viewpoints to speak to an audience of predominantly Hindus and Muslims.

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Community News (V11-I52)

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Muslim women celebrated in new calendar

EDMONTON, Canada–A Grade 3 teacher with a passion for kickboxing is one of 13 Edmontonians featured in a new calendar celebrating local Muslim women.

Noreen Bashir will be seen in the calendar wearing boxing gloves and a sports hijab at the gym where she works out almost everyday. The martial arts champion first took up the sport as a way to exercise while recovering from a car accident.

“I’ve … never been part of any kind of project like that before especially in our community and I’m actually very proud to represent the Muslim women of Edmonton,” said Bashir.

The calendar is the brainchild of local photographer and filmmaker Shazia Javed. The women featured in the calendar were nominated by the local Muslim community and include medical students at the University of Alberta, a local youth worker and a pizzeria owner who raised triplets on her own. Some, but not all, wear head coverings.

“I chose the women which represented a wide spectrum,” Javed said. “To me, it’s all about what they do, rather than for what they wear, and whatever they choose to wear doesn’t hinder them from doing anything.”

Having Bashir in the calendar was important to the project, Javed said.

“This is a very, very important image and a very strong image to send out there, that Muslim women are active. They are fit and you know they’re into sports and they’re strong.

“So I think it’s inspiring to a lot of us in ways if we want to go in sports that yes, we can do it. It’s not against our religion or anything.”

Javed produced the calendar in collaboration with Islamic Family and Social Services Association (IFSSA), with the help of a grant from the Edmonton Arts Council. She hopes the stories of the women in the calendar will inspire Muslim girls.

“I hope it works for the youth in boosting their self esteem in seeing, you know, other Muslim women on (a) calendar for their contributions and also I hope to create some role models for them to say, ok, you know, this woman, she’s a boxer, you know, or this woman, she’s a scholar … so I can be too,” she said.

The calendar will be launched on Dec. 18th. Proceeds will go to the IFSSA food bank.

Support for Naperville Muslim Center

NAPERVILLE, IL–The development committee of unincorporated Naperville on Tuesday reaffirmed its support for a conditional use permit for the Irshad Learning Center. The plan as submitted by the center will go as it is to the Dupage Country Board, the Naperville Sun reported.

The committee heard from both supporters and opponents of the proposal. Neighbors of the property expressed concerns about noise, intensity of use and extending the usage of hours.

Dr. Mojtaba Noursalehi, a Naperville resident, Irshad trustee and one of five applicants on the zoning petition, said he and his fellow board members have complied with the county’s requests and urged the committee to consider the petition solely on its own merits.

The request will go before the County Board at its next meeting Jan. 12

Crescent Bancshares to raise $15m for bank acquisition in Chicago

Crescent Bancshares Inc. announces the kick-off for its capital raise process. The bank focused on the needs of minority communities in the Chicago-land area, plans to open doors for operation in 2010. “ We hope to operate our first branch in the City of Chicago in early to mid 2010” said Fawad Butt, the Managing Partner of Zeus Capital Advisers. Mr. Butt’s company is tasked with the overall project management for the Crescent bank initiative.

“The recent economic slowdown and the resulting financial crises created significant asset quality problems for many community banks in Chicagoland and across the country. The Money Center banks (such as) BOA and Citi are riddled with asset quality concerns” said Rohail Khan, an initial contributor in Crescent Bancshares. “This represents an opportunity for locally connected, locally owned community banks, to gain market share, and to differentiate themselves from the larger banks.”

Crescent bank shareholders, board of directors and the management team, will service all customers and carry a specific focus to develop products and services for the South Asian, South Eastern European and Muslim Communities.

The acquisition of the bank asset is underway. The group plans to finalize the acquisition after the end of the capital raise process.

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American Hikers in Iran Are Too Useful to Release

December 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

William O. Beeman, Commentary, New America Media

NAM Editor’s Note: American hikers Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd are a precious catch for Iran, which is hoping to get some political mileage from their detention, observes NAM contributor William Beeman. Bauer freelanced for NAM.

the-three-hikers

Three Americans, journalist Shane Bauer, Josh Fattal and Sarah Shourd, have been detained in Iran since July 31, 2009 for entering the Islamic Republic from Iraq at a remote mountain border without visas. Now, Iran’s Foreign Minister Manoucher Mottaki has announced that they will be tried in Iranian courts. It is likely they will be charged with espionage.

The three Americans appear to have strayed innocently into Iranian territory, but they have provided an unusually strong opportunity for the Iranian government to continue to engage the United States in tit-for-tat attacks.

Superficially, the detention and eventual trial of these three individuals resembles the earlier detention of a number of Iranian Americans traveling in Iran, the most recent being journalist Roxana Saberi, who was released last summer after having been charged with espionage. Iranian-American academic Kian Tajbakhsh remains in custody facing a 12-year jail sentence after his espionage conviction.

The case against Bauer and his friends provides many political advantages to the Iranian government.

First, there can be no question that people who stray over international borders without proper documentation are subject to scrutiny and legal action. Here, the Iranians have an open and shut justification for holding the three hikers, and can claim indisputable high legal ground for their actions.

Second, Iran wants to make the point that foreign spies are operating in its sovereign territory. The United States has admitted to maintaining operatives in Iran, as has Israel. Israel has even bragged about assassinating an Iranian nuclear scientist. Thus, although the three Americans are probably not spies, they serve as reminders to the Iranian public and to the international community of the real spies that Iranian authorities have not caught.

Third, Iran has reportedly linked the American detainees to 11 Iranians that have been held by U.S. federal officials, as reported by Laura Rozen in the blog, Politico . These individuals are charged with violating export laws — essentially by supplying arms and military equipment to Iran. They were arrested in several European countries, and have been held incognito and incommunicado for more than a year in some cases. The Iranians certainly hope to see movement on releasing these detainees.

Iran also charges the United States with engineering the disappearance of nuclear researcher Shahram Amiri during his pilgrimage to Mecca last spring.

Finally, the Iranian government is desperate for a distraction from the unprecedented opposition disturbances in protest of the June 12 presidential elections. December 18 marks the beginning of the month of Muharram, when Shi’a Muslims commemorate the martyrdom of Imam Hossein, grandson of the Prophet Mohammad (s), murdered in 680 C.E. There will be street processions, religious demonstrations and ritual mourning for 10 days. This is the perfect smokescreen for anti-government demonstrations.

To add to the government consternation, sections of the regular Iranian military have threatened to emerge from their barracks to protect “the people” from the paramilitary Revolutionary Guard and Basij units that have been attacking the anti-government opposition. A big show trial against “foreign spies” will reinforce the Iranian government claims to its own citizenry that all the troubles in the Islamic Republic today are being fomented by foreign agents.

It is clear that both the United States and Iran have a lot of human traffic to account for on each others’ soil. The real impediment to sorting out these matters is that the United States and Iran still have no comprehensive way to talk to each other. Moreover, there is too much to be gained in both nations by mutual demonization to move forward toward rational discussion. Iran’s non-existent nuclear weapons program remains a red herring, preventing any real progress in reaching an accord between the two nations.

For the hapless hikers, the worst-case scenario is one where they get caught up in the maelstrom of events that have nothing to do with their meager crime, and end up as object lessons in the mutual hostilities between Iran and the West.

William O. Beeman is Professor and Chair of the Department of Anthropology at the University of Minnesota, and is past president of the Middle East Section of the American Anthropological Association. He has lived and worked in the Middle East for more than 30 years. His most recent book is “’The Great Satan’ vs. the ‘Mad Mullahs’: How the United States and Iran Demonize Each Other.” (Chicago, 2008).

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