Community News (V13-I32)

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

San Francisco Court throws out Circumcision ballot

SAN FRANCISCO,VA–A California judge last week struck from the ballot a San Francisco initiative that, if passed, would have banned circumcision.

A coalition of circumcision opponents had gathered around 7,700 signatures to place the issue on the November ballot, attempting to prohibit something that is at the heart of Judaism and Islam. It would have had no religious exception.

Judge Loretta M. Giorgi ruled that under California law, the state has regulatory power over medical procedures, the Los Angeles Times reported. She also found that it would violate the free exercise of religion.

“[T]he evidence presented is overwhelmingly persuasive that circumcision is a widely practiced medical procedure,” she wrote.

Muslim-American comedians to perform at show in Murfreesboro in August

MURFREESBORO, TN — Muslim-American comedians will step on stage with their best jokes at Middle Tennessee State University.

The comedians will take part in a free stand-up comedy show called “The Muslims Are Coming!”

The comedy tour will present a series of free shows in August that will take the comedians to Florida, Georgia, Alabama and Tennessee from Aug. 5-15, The Daily News Journal reported. One of the final stops on the first tour is in Murfreesboro on Saturday, Aug. 13 at MTSU’s Wright Music Hall.

The show comes amid controversy surrounding a proposed new Islamic Center of Murfreesboro.

Saleh Sbenaty, a spokesman for the Islamic Center, says the entire community is welcome to attend the show. Sbenaty says he hopes everyone can find something to laugh about.

Muslim women exercise

KANSAS CITY,MO–American Muslim women are increasingly taking up healthy lifestyles including physical exercise without compromising on their religious principles, reports the Kansas City Star. The paper profiled several hijab wearing women who undertake a grueling exercise regime.

Several of the women are new to athleticism. They completed “Couch to 5K” training last fall and had their first race on Thanksgiving.

Nadine Abu-Jubara remembers being out of shape in college, going to the gym in bulky workout clothes and being sensitive to the more physically fit “cute sorority girls” using equipment nearby.

“I already felt self-conscious, and it was hard to work out alone,” she said.

After graduation, she dedicated herself to changing her eating habits and exercise. She lost 65 pounds. And she found herself surrounded by Muslim women at social gatherings, all eager to learn how she dropped the pounds and brightened her self-outlook.

San Ramon Valley Islamic Centre Reopens

SAN RAMON–The San Ramon Valley Islamic Centre has opened for the first time since April when it was closed for renovations. The old single building was increasingly inadequate for the growing Muslim community in the area, reports the Patch.

“In the past we have had to lock the doors or send people away because of room capacity,” said Hana Khan, a Dougherty Valley High graduate who has been a member of the congregation for a dozen years.

In November 2009, the Islamic Center purchased two buildings adjacent to its original site. Now, those rooms serve as additional prayer halls.

The expansion improved the capacity of the Islamic Center, which aims to cater to a community of 500 to 800 people. According to Sattar, the largely donor-funded renovations were necessary to accommodate a rapidly growing and vibrantly social Muslim community.

“From 1992 to now, the city’s population has doubled. Our community has grown 13 fold. We started with 30 families and now we have 400,” he said.

Virginia prisons asked to accommodate Ramadan diet

FAIRFAX,VA–Citing past complaints, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia is reminding jail officials to honor the dietary rules followed by Muslim inmates during the holy month of Ramadan.
The ACLU said Friday it has sent emails to jail officials across Virginia reminding them that inmates who are Muslim take their meals between sundown and sunrise during Ramadan.

The ACLU’s executive director, Kent Willis, said the courts and Congress have made it clear that inmates have the right to practice their religious beliefs behind bars, provided they do not impose a security threat.The civil liberties group said the Virginia Department of Corrections honors the dietary strictures of Muslim inmates. The ACLU said that has not always been true in local lockups.

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Over $150K Raised to Support Group’s Civil Rights Work

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

0703_john_espositoOn Saturday July 30, 2011, hundreds of community members, interfaith leaders, activists and public officials turned out for the nearly sold-out CAIR Texas Annual Banquet.

Some 400 people heard Muslim scholar Dr. John Esposito, Professor of Religion and International Affairs and of Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, and founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in the Walsh School of Foreign Service offer the keynote address.

Corey Saylor, CAIR Government Affairs Director gave an update of the many challenges facing the Muslim community, and how CAIR is addressing those issues nationally.

Rais Bhuiyan, one of the first hate crime victims post September 11, 2001, shared with attendees his near death experience and his journey of healing leading to compassion and mercy for his assailant, Mark Stroman, who was executed July 20th, despite Rais’ attempts to use lawsuits to intervene.

The banquets raised over $150,000 in contributions to support CAIR’s civil rights work.

CAIR Texas Executive Director Mustafaa Carroll states “We are grateful to God first and foremost, and to our community for its broad and unending support.”

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Saudi-India Ties At A “New Height,” Says Saudi Envoy

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: Though he has been in India as Saudi envoy for only two years, Faisal Hassan Trad returns to his country as a satisfied diplomat. Within a short period, many steps have been taken in strengthening bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia. In Trad’s words: “My tenure in India has been a short one, two years but I am happy to have shouldered the responsibility assigned to me as ambassador of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to India.”

Trad returns this month to Saudi Arabia to spend Ramadan at home, following which he will take diplomatic charge in Belgium. While India and Saudi Arabia have always entertained good relations, undeniably, the past few years have witnessed a major upswing in development of their ties. It began with the landmark visit of Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz in January 2006. He was the Chief Guest of Indian Republic Day celebrations. His visit “opened a new chapter in Indo-Saudi bilateral relations.” The King referred to India as his “second home.” The highlight of his visit was the inking of Delhi Declaration, the first such bilateral document to be signed by a Saudi King. Saleh Mohammed Al-Ghamdi was then the Saudi envoy in India.

Since the Saudi King’s India visit, Indo-Saudi ties have been only on the upswing. It has been marked by active engagement between leadership of the two countries. Another chapter was opened in their bilateral ties with the historic visit of Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Saudi Arabia, from February 27 to March 1 2010. The highlight of this visit was signing of Riyadh Declaration which outlines a “new era of strategic partnership” between India and Saudi Arabia.

Elaborating on Indian Prime Minister’s Saudi-visit, which has taken place during his tenure, Trad said: “Saudi-India relations have now reached a level of Strategic Partnership. The roads are indeed paved for a bright future.”

Reflecting on recent developments, Trad said: “During the recent period, bilateral relations have reached a new height with exchanges taking place, at all levels, practically continuously, almost on a daily basis, between industrialists, investors, political people, community leaders, pilgrims and others.” Last year, while Saudi Arabia had issued 7,500 visas to business people, this year within six months only, 4,000 visas have already been issued, Trad pointed out.

Laying emphasis that Saudi-India ties are no longer confined to only oil diplomacy, Trad pointed to “complete cooperation” between the two countries in other fields, including education, science & technology, defense & security, taxation, extradition and culture, among others. Trad may also be credited for promoting people-to-people interaction between the two countries. The Saudi Embassy in association with Saudi Journalist Association invited Indian women delegation to visit the Kingdom last year in October. This was the first visit of an all-women delegation (including this scribe) to Saudi Arabia, which has been hailed as a major success.

Economic relations between India and Saudi Arabia have shown a remarkable growth with bilateral trade registering a three-fold increase during the last five years. Saudi Arabia is India’s 4th largest trade partner and the bilateral trade was $18 billion in 2010-11 (April-December), according to Indian sources.

The bilateral trade is now “worth $24 billion and is poised for increase every day,” Trad stated.

Saudi Arabia is India’s largest supplier of crude oil, accounting for almost one-fifth of the country’s needs. To meet India’s growing energy needs, sources said, the two sides are working towards strategic energy partnership including long term uninterrupted supply of crude oil by Saudi Arabia to India.

Besides, the 2.2 million-strong Indian community in Saudi Arabia is the largest expatriate community in the Kingdom. The total remittance send by Indian expatriates, spread world-wide, is valued at $50 billion, of which 60 percent is from GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) countries, with the largest share from Saudi Arabia. Taking note of this, Trad said: “The 2.2 Indians who live in the Kingdom support nearly 25 million at home (India).”

Haj diplomacy is also a major component of Indo-Saudi bilateral ties. More than 1,70,000 Indians perform Haj every year.

During Trad’s tenure, a new chapter has opened in religious diplomacy too. This is marked by the visit of Dr. Sheikh Abdul Rehman Sudais, Grand Imam of Masjid-al-Haram in Mecca, earlier this year in March.

There is every reason for Trad to be satisfied and happy at his successful tenure in India. Not surprisingly, he is one of the few diplomats, in whose honor, numerous farewell parties have been hosted in the capital city. He is perhaps the first Saudi diplomat, according to Indian sources, to receive so many farewell parties. In addition to Trad being viewed as a successful diplomat, the hosting of numerous farewell parties in his honor is yet another major sign of the two countries coming closer, Indian sources said. This in itself marks expansion and strengthening of bilateral ties between India and Saudi Arabia.

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Community News (V13-I31)

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

New Mosque in Staten Island

STATEN ISLAND,NY–The Muslim American Society is opening a new location on Staten Island.

The mosque and community center will be housed at the site of a former Hindu temple on Burgher Avenue in Dongan Hills.

Renovations are underway, and the center is not open to the public as of yet reports NY1.

St. Louis’s Imam Ansari Passes Away

ST.LOUIS,MO–Samuel Ansari, a much beloved leader of the St.Louis Muslim community, passed away on July 24, after suffering a heart attack. He was 62. He owned a bakery and served as a volunteer imam at the Al Muminun Mosque.

Mr. Ansari was born Samuel Hicks on Nov. 20, 1948, in Huntingdon, Tenn., and moved to St. Louis as a child. He graduated from Vashon High School and did a stint in the Army in the 1960s that took him to Alaska. When he came home, he was disillusioned with the United States. Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, a social movement of black Muslims, appealed to him.

“When I heard him say the white man is the devil, it hit home,” Mr. Ansari told the Post-Dispatch in 2006. “We wanted white Americans to feel what we felt.”

But after Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, Mr. Ansari followed the leadership of Muhammad’s son, W. Deen Mohammed, who focused on the universal teachings of Islam, not separatism.

Imam Ansari had worked hard to build bridges between the immigrant and the African-American Muslim community of the city. He was also active in interfaith efforts.

DOJ Asked to Probe Michigan Bias

DETROIT,MI–The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) has asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether local planning officials in that state are violating the religious rights of Muslims by denying a permit to build a school on property they own.

On June 16, the Michigan Islamic Academy (MIA) went before the Pittsfield Township Planning Commission for land usage approval on a newly-purchased property to be used for educational and religious purposes. The planning commission voted on a preliminary procedural motion to deny MIA’s request after concerns of disruption of neighborhood harmony were raised and derogatory comments were made about the religious practices of Muslims. (A final vote will be taken at a commission meeting on August 4.)

Ali Mushtaq Wins Piano Competition

WASHINGTON D.C.–Ali Mushtaq, a statistical contractor and an amateur pianist, came first at the ninth annual Washington International Piano Artists Competition.  The competition is open to amateur pianists 31 years of age or older. The event had competitors from around the world and was hosted by the French Embassy.

Arts Midwest Launches International Program to Bridge American and Muslim Cultures

Arts Midwest, the non-profit Regional Arts Organization (RAO) serving America’s upper Midwest, announces the launch of Caravanserai: A place where cultures meeT, a groundbreaking artistic and cultural exchange program supported by the nation’s RAOs. Caravanserai is funded by a one million dollar grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) Building Bridges program.

“The name Caravanserai was carefully selected for this program,” says David Fraher, Executive Director of Arts Midwest. “Historically, in the east and middle-east, stopping places for caravans were called caravanserais. Safe places to come together and exchange stories. The name evokes that imagery of travelers in a safe haven, a place where cultures meet.”

Betsy Fader of DDFIA says Caravanserai is a natural fit for their Building Bridges grants program. “Caravanserai beautifully illustrates our mission to promote the use of art and culture to improve Americans’ understanding and appreciation of Muslim Societies. We believe this pilot program of music and film will start many conversations and open many doors to understanding.”

Nearly two years in the making, Caravanserai begins with a pilot program in five US communities comprising performing arts and film programs featuring art and artists from Muslim cultures. The pilot program focuses on Pakistan. Future programming will feature other geographic regions and artistic disciplines and will travel to more US cities.

After receiving applications from across the country, Arts Midwest selected the following communities to present Caravanserai:

•    The Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire; Littleton, NH
•    Artswego SUNY Oswego; Oswego, NY
•    FirstWorks; Providence, RI
•    Monmouth University; West Long Branch, NJ
•    The Myrna Loy Center; Helena, MT

Each organization will host three arts experiences in their community, including music residency tours featuring traditional and contemporary Pakistani musicians and a film residency, featuring a Pakistani filmmaker. Residency activities will include educational workshops, public performances, film screenings, and localized community outreach.
Curated by artistic director Zeyba Rahman, Caravanserai features a roster of outstanding contemporary Pakistani artists.

•    Arif Lohar – Folk singer
•    Qawal Najmuddin Saifuddin – Qawali singers
•    Sanam Marvi – Folk and Sufi singer
•    Ustad Tari Khan – US-based tabla master
•    Ayesha Khan – Filmmaker, “Made in Pakistan”

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Revocable Living Trust – A Beneficial Product, But Is It Right for You?

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil Daudi, Esq.

Recently I was given the opportunity to speak at The Islamic Center of Greater Lansing on “Simplifying your Shariah Estate Plan.” My primary focus for the presentation was two-fold: (a) to provide a greater understanding for the community on the differences between a Revocable Living Trust and a Last Will and Testament; and (b) to inform the community on the importance of a Durable Power of Attorney and a Health Care Power of Attorney.

As the presentation ended and the question and answer period began, I realized that the focus of the questions was on the differences of a Trust and a Will, and which would be more suitable for them individually. Seeing how my article “To Will or Not to Will” has drawn attention from many in our community, I wanted to take the opportunity to write on the other product, the Revocable Living Trust, and hopefully shed some light on the benefits of obtaining such a product.

If you are at the stage where you are prepared to create an estate plan, you may be well-aware of the requirements that are placed on us Muslims: Narrated by Ibn Umar, Prophet Muhammad (s) once said: “It is not right for any Muslim person who has something to bequeath to stay for two nights without having his last will and testament written and kept ready with him.”

The following is a concise list of facts about Revocable Living Trusts that many may or not be taking into consideration when deciding on their estate plan. I would strongly advise for you to consult with an Attorney about these issues and to get a better, clearer, understanding of how a trust actually operates versus a Will.

1. Avoid Probate: One of the primary advantages of establishing a Trust is that you avoid the probate process; therefore, you avoid having the courts involved in your estate. This is extremely beneficial for multiple reasons: (a) allows you to distribute your assets almost immediately; (b) helps reduce the cost that your estate would otherwise pay; (c) allows you to avoid having lawyers involved; and (d) ensures a much smoother process for handling the estate’s affairs.

2. Costs: One of the biggest drawbacks of establishing a Trust is the upfront cost that is typically associated with it. From my experience, this is what usually deters clients away from creating a trust; however, more often than not, this is because they do not fully understand the benefits and the possible savings a Trust can actually provide. The average cost of going through the probate process is approximately 3-5% of your entire estate. Now, depending on the value of your estate, this cost can be excessive. However, in contrast, once you create a Trust, the only fee you will be required to pay is the actual cost of the Trust. 

If you are currently speaking to an Attorney about a Trust, be sure to ask whether there are any hidden costs, e.g. extra charges for making changes or costs for speaking to the Attorney about the Trust after it is created. Although I can only speak on behalf of my firm, we ensure that a client who purchases a Trust with us is given no additional fees, and has essentially retained us for the duration of their life (for their estate planning needs). Please make sure you understand your Attorney’s fee structure before signing up for any estate planning documents.

3. Private Information: Another important advantage with a Trust is that you do not open yourself up to the public. In other words, under a Trust, your information is kept private between you, your spouse and your immediate family (or whomever you choose). Unlike a Will, where once it is filed with the court, it is open for the public to see; with a Trust there is no requirement of having it filed with the court. For many, this is a very serious issue, as not many Muslims are keen on the idea of having their assets openly disclosed to the public. However, these are also issues that you need to address when creating your own personal estate plan.

It has become far too common for clients to focus too much on the type of estate plan they should create (trust vs. will), and less focused on the requirements that have been placed upon us. If you have yet to establish an estate plan, and if you are stalling the process because you confused on which product is more suitable for you, I highly advise for you to at least satisfy the bare-minimum requirement that Allah s.w.t. has made mandatory on us, and draft a Will; at least until you have informed yourself of the advantages to a Trust, and decided whether or not a Trust is in fact, the better product.

In addition, it is always important to discuss and understand these issues with your Attorney. Make sure you speak to an attorney who will not charge for the initial consultation and is knowledgeable in the area; especially in relation to Shariah law. With Ramadan approaching in less than two-weeks, there may be no better time than now to take advantage of completing a deed and satisfying your requirements; as well as ensuring you have protected your assets and have them distributed pursuant to Shariah law, and not Michigan law.

Adil Daudi is an Attorney at Joseph, Kroll & Yagalla, P.C., focusing primarily on Asset Protection for Physicians, Physician Contracts, Estate Planning, Business Litigation, Corporate Formations, and Family Law. He can be contacted for any questions related to this article or other areas of law at adil@josephlaw.net or (517) 381-2663.

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CIOM Interfaith Health Fair

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

CIOM Press Release

There was an Interfaith Health Fair, cosponsored by the CIOM & Jewish Community Relations Council. Jewish, Muslim and Chaldean physicians and health care providers joined together on Tuesday, July 19.

Organized by the CIOM and the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Interfaith Health Fair provided free medical screenings for residents of Detroit.  The program targeted the working poor who do not qualify for government-provided or other no-or-low cost health care programs.  DTE Energy Foundation, Great Lakes Health Plan, Henry Ford Health System and Huda Clinic sponsored the health fair.  About 100 health care providers and volunteers participated in the program.

The July health fair is the second free clinic sponsored by Detroit’s Jewish and Muslim communities, which joined together to host a similar program last November. In addition to giving clients access to potentially life-saving information and referrals for their health care, the health fair offers the participating health care professionals a meaningful interfaith experience and the opportunity to get to know their colleagues in each other’s faith community. 

Previously, the Muslims joined the Jewish community for Mitzvah Day on Christmas Day 2009. Volunteers enable their Christian neighbors to celebrate Christmas at home with their families.

Protocols were in place for patient referrals and, if necessary, urgent treatment.  The clinic featured education stations with informational literature, and social workers were on hand to assist with referrals to direct service agencies. In addition the Muslim Center Soup Kitchen in cooperation with the Pakistan Women’s Association was providing free meals to the patients.

Tuesday, July 19th – 4 PM to 8 PM; at the Muslim Center Mosque and Community Center, 1605 W. Davison Avenue, in Detroit.; Victor Ghalib Begg – 586-808-2864, vgbegg@gmail.com

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Delusion in Detroit

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, TMO

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Seated, left to right:  Steve Downs, Abayomi Azikiwe, Dawud Walid.  Behind podium:  Moderator Debbie Johnson

Detroit–July 17–There are several problems facing the Muslim community in the United States.  One problem is that Muslims are sometimes targeted by the FBI and other law enforcement bureaus, framed for plots they are not even intelligent enough to hatch themselves, and then arrested and prosecuted for conspiracy to commit crimes they never understood–sometimes they are goaded by troublemakers, wolves in sheeps’ clothing, paid by the FBI in proportion to the crimes they are able to get Muslims to commit.

Another, much worse problem, is that inside the Muslim community we give excuses and podiums to the apologists for Muslim terrorists and troublemakers–who are inherently dangerous to the Muslim community by virtue of their commitment to goals antithetical to the teachings of Islam. 

And so this past weekend in Detroit about 100 people gathered at The Shrine of the Black Madonna to complain about government “preemptive prosecution.” However, there was the problem that the meeting supported some Muslims who had suffered prosecution for very real offenses.

Not least among those is Tarek Mehanna, a pharmacy graduate who apparently travelled around the world (to Yemen) to seek training to fight against Americans, and who planned to kill numerous innocent civilians at a local mall, and went so far as to conspire to commit this attack.  You may say “innocent until proven guilty” but first read the complaint, 32 pages of damning evidence, with countless detailed samples of Mehanna’s assiduous efforts to commit terrorism, complete with evidence from two of his coconspirators who backed out of his plot and turned states’ evidence, and also audio-taped conversations in which Mehanna planned terrorist acts.

Tarek’s brother Tamer spoke in support of him this weekend in Detroit, however Tamer’s speech almost amounted to further evidence against his brother, as he spoke for about 15 minutes, railing against the existence in the Muslim community of “snitches.” The use of the term “snitch” already implies that his brother is guilty–as usually a snitch is someone who reveals what was intended to be a secret.  The implication is that Tarek had committed conspiracy, wanted to keep it secret, and Tamer is angry because the “snitches” revealed the secret.

But thank God they did.  Better for Tarek to rot in jail, frustrated in his intention to blot out the lives of innocent civilians.

If all Tamer Mehanna can say for 15 minutes is that snitches are bad, he begs the question whether his brother is fully guilty, and also whether he himself is supportive of his brother’s alleged crimes. 
But most of the people discussed at the meeting Saturday appeared far more innocent than Tarek Mehanna. Behind  the speakers was a board on which were posted the names of about 100 people termed victims of preemptive prosecution. 

Present at the meeting were many activists on behalf of many of those “preemptively prosecuted,” and the most effective presentation was a video about Sami Al-Arian, which advocated his innocence, and expressed the capricious nature of the US prosecution of his case–where when Al-Arian was acquitted of all charges they rearrested him and continued to detain him.

This event was slightly misguided in the ways mentioned above, but the point still stands that the US government has overplayed its hand in the war on terror, by brutally pursuing many who are in fact innocent, and by deliberately detaining them beyond the point at which it becomes obvious that they are innocent.

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Community News (V13-I30)

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

New Mosque planned in Lombard

LOMBARD, IL–The Muslim Community Association of the Western Suburbs has presented a revised set of proposals to the Dupage County Board in hopes for approval for a new mosque plan.

The groups wants to construct a roughly 43,000-square-foot mosque on nearly 4 acres along the south side of Roosevelt Road, just east of I-355, the Daily Herald reports.

In a move that could help win county board support for the conditional-use permit request, the mosque plan has been modified to include partial access to Roosevelt.

Mark Daniel, the group’s attorney, said IDOT officials have agreed to allow a right-turn only lane for vehicles exiting the site. Anyone traveling to the mosque still would have to use to use nearby Lawler Avenue to enter the parking lot.

The board could issue a ruling as early as next week.

Laredo to have new mosque

LAREDO,TX–Laredo will soon have a new mosque to cater to the growing needs of the Muslim community in the area. Previously they used to worship at rented spaces.

The new space will be close to 2,000 sq. feet and will be able to accommodate the school they are currently running.

Dr. Zakariah Hamdan,one of the leaders of the project, told a local news channel “for many years there hasn’t been a place for the Muslim community to perform their prayers and practice aspects of the religion. So this will be a very important step.”

Leaders also said they hope this will be an attraction to draw more people of the Muslim faith that are interested in living here.

Bilal Ahmed serves as the faculty speaker at commencement

ROCHESTER,NY–Dr. Bilal Ahmed, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Rochester Medical School, was selected by the Class of 2011 to serve as the faculty speaker at the commencement. His well received speech focused on adding the human touch to the medical profession.

He is closely involved with resident and medical student education and has received more than 30 teaching awards from the University in the last 10 years.

His particular areas of interest are bedside teaching and practice based learning.

He is currently boarded in Internal Medicine, as well as in Hospice and Palliative care.

Zarina Jamal wins scholarship

ROXBURY,MA–Zarina Jamal, a graduating senior of O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, is among the few students who have been honored  with the Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association’s annual scholarship. It is given to students who attain oustanding merit or contribute to the community in unique ways. Jamal was selected for the pro-active measures she took in launching her school’s tennis team. She will be attending the Wake Forest University in the coming semester.

Clearing misconceptions about Islam at California Fair

SACRAMENTO, CA–The Why Islam? group has set up a booth at the California State Fair to educate the public about Islam. So far hundreds of people have stopped by and asked questions.
The group has been holding a booth at the fair since 2008. “I think it will be as good or better than last year,” said Shane Yoder, president of the Sacramento Chapter Islamic Circle of North America, which sponsored the WhyIslam? boot, told the Sacramento Bee.

The State Fair booth is only part of an effort in the Sacramento area to educate non-Muslims about the faith, said Yoder. ICNA, which focuses on outreach and education of Islam, is sponsoring a billboard campaign – 16 will appear in the region next month – coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan.

The group will also give 500 backpacks to needy children.

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Unity in Diversity

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aqeela Naqvi

TMO Editor’s Note:  This is the first-place essay, by Aqeela Naqvi.

COLOR Aqeela NaqviThe date is December 5, 2000, my birthday. I walk through the hallways to my third grade classroom, trying not to notice the butterflies in my stomach. People turn to say “Hi” and do a double-take. I walk into my classroom; even my teacher gives me a funny look. “Aqeela?” I look up at her and try to control the nervousness in my voice as I say “Good morning.” Throughout the day, some of my classmates shoot indiscreet glances in my direction, while others stare shamelessly. Today is the first day I began wearing the Hijab, a head-covering that is required to be worn in my religion for all girls at the age of nine. Today, I walked into school with palms sweating, ears burning, and a heartbeat so loud it could be heard a mile away.

It has been nearly nine years since that day – nine years in which I have received stares for looking different, been called “towel-head” and “terrorist,” been judged based on first impressions, and was once, after September 11th, a ten-year old scared to walk out her front door simply because of a cloth on her head. Throughout my life, I had always assumed that prejudice against people of other backgrounds was something that existed in the past: something that had been buried long ago by the dreams of people such as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who believed in a day where all people would be judged solely on the content of their character. It was not until I began to wear a hijab, however, and began to experience blatant discrimination, that I realized that the works of past human rights activists had not completely healed the defects in society–they had simply covered its wounds with bandages that were slowly beginning to peel away.

From the day I wrapped a scarf around my head, “diverse” became my middle name. The more I was told that I couldn’t participate in certain activities, the more involved in them I became. I strove to prove that no matter how different I looked, I was still the same as everyone else. I could still participate in athletic activities; I could still be involved in public speaking; I could still perform community service activities; I could still be me. I began to understand that Society was a machine that attempted to create perfect porcelain dolls: the chipped, the flawed, the ones that were the wrong shade or the wrong size, the ones that were different, were all regarded as useless and thrown aside. I understood that I was seen as one of those throwaway dolls, but I refused to let society’s definition of me as such rule my life.

When I first began wearing a hijab, that cold December day in third grade, I did not fully understand its symbolism. I took it simply as something I had to do for my religion. As the years passed, I slowly became involved in my local community, donating my time and energy to volunteer at places such as my local soup kitchen, and getting involved in interfaith dialogue and charitable opportunities, and I began to realize that the hijab I wore on my head was not just a cloth; it was a mark of my strength.

It forced the people I encountered to get to know and understand me on a mental level before they judged me on a physical level. To me, everything that the hijab entails, the long sleeves and pants, the piece of cloth I wrap around my head, the aura of modesty – is all a sign of inner beauty. I have come to believe that all of us, regardless of our race or religion, have our own “hijabs” that set us apart from the crowd. All of us come from different backgrounds and have different experiences that cause the canvas of our lives to hold colors unique from everyone else. We all have a hijab that allows each and every one of us, down to the most fragile and faded porcelain doll, to have something that makes us absolutely and irreplaceably beautiful.

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Community News (V13-I28)

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Islamic school opens near New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS,LA–The Islamic School of Greater New Orleanswas officially  opened this week in Kenner. “Everyone is so excited,” Director Ahmad Siddiqui told the Times-Picayune. “We have been dreaming for this day for a long time. We bought this land in 1997, and we were supposed to start in 2002 and 2003. After Hurricane Katrina, our donations were down and we were trying to secure enough funds to complete construction.”

The new site at 2420 Illinois Ave. sits on more than five acres of land. The building is 15,000 square feet and boasts 12 classrooms, science and computer laboratories, a library, teacher’s lounge, assembly area, conference room, and offices for administration and support staff.

It can accommodate more than 250 students from pre-kindergarten to seventh grade, Siddiqui said.

A gymnasium and multipurpose hall with more than 10,000 square feet also were added. The attached building will house student activity as well as community functions.

“This building is for the entire community and the kids,” Siddiqui said. “This is a great place for everyone to get together and enjoy different occasions.”

The inauguration ceremony attracted more than 500 people. Among the dignitaries were the Mayor, police chief, council woman, and a judge from the Circuit Court.

Atlanta Muslims send message of peace

ATLANTA,GA–Members of metro Atlanta’s Muslim community spent part of the Fourth of July holiday spreading a message of peace and unity, WSBTC reported.

Organizers of a small gathering at the Bethak Banquet Hall in Duluth said they want to move beyond recent controversy surrounding the proposals to expand and build mosques in Lilburn and Alpharetta.

But Monday’s event wasn’t about politics, but patriotism.

“I’m here to say the Pledge of Allegiance,” said Gwinnett teen Suha Rashied. She was among a group of children who lead the gathering with a salute to the American flag.

The families who gathered Monday said the show of patriotism was more important than any fireworks.

“We wanted to remind everybody, yes, we are your fellow Americans and we are sending a message of peace and harmony,” said organizer Shamina Voora.

Voora said Monday’s celebration of the nation’s Independence Day is a first in metro Atlanta, a chance for local Muslim to send a message of peace. That was echoed by civil rights leader and Baptist minister the Rev. Gerald Durley.

“When we communicate, we eradicate the ignorance. When we eradicate the ignorance, we eradicate the fear,” said Durley.

Drs. Abdullah Daar and Ali-Khan’s research recognized with $10,000 prize

TORONTO,CANADA–Since the Human Genome Project was completed in 2000, there has been debate in biomedical literature about the use of race and ethnicity in genetic research potentially resulting in racial/ethnic stereotyping. Drs. Daar and Ali-Khan examined the 2005 Admixture Mapping study, which looked for risk factors for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in African Americans and European Americans, a disease that is extremely rare in Sub-Sahara Africans, common in populations of European desent, and of intermediate frequency in African Americans.

Drs. Daar and Ali-Khan examined the ethical and social issues raised by the Admixture Mapping project and used these to draw up a series of recommendations and points for policy makers and researchers to consider when undertaking population-based genomics studies.

“We are extremely pleased to be awarded this prize by OGI and have our work recognized,” commented Dr. Abdallah S. Daar, Senior Scientist and Director of Ethics and Commercialization, McLaughlin-Rotman Centre for Global Health, and Professor of Public Health Sciences at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto. “Working to encourage public understanding of genetic diversity, which goes beyond simplistic racial or ethnic stereotypes, is crucial to extract the maximum benefit from newly emerging genetic knowledge. We very much hope that our paper may function as a key reference document for those working in this field.”

The paper, titled Admixture mapping: from paradigms of race and ethnicity to population history, published in August 2010 in the HUGO Journal, examined the social and ethical issues, the benefits and the risks of Admixture Mapping, and more generally, of population-based genomic methods. Over the course of the study, Drs. Daar and Ali-Khan conducted interviews with researchers at the forefront of genomics and bioethics, including representatives from the International Multiple Sclerosis Genetics Consortium, the Harvard Center for Neurodegeneration and Repair, and the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, and members of the African American MS community.

“The findings examine issues that are also directly relevant to the development, testing and marketing of drugs aimed at specific population segments,” commented Dr. Sarah Ali-Khan, who was a Post-Doctoral Fellow in genomics and bioethics at MRC at the time of the study. “Our work provides practical guidelines to mitigate and negotiate potential pitfalls around fears of discrimination in genetic studies, and therefore may facilitate better population-based studies and assist in moving beyond racial and ethnic stereotyping.”

Dr. Mark Poznansky, President and CEO, OGI, said: “It is fitting that the potential of population-based studies be recognized. Such studies hold the promise to yield important biomedical knowledge, which may otherwise be hindered by fears of discrimination. We may all be 99.9% the same in our genetic make-up, but the 0.1% really makes all the difference, and we need to recognize this if we are to move towards fulfilling the possibilities of personalized medicine.”

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26th Generation Grandson of Imam Abu Hanifah in Houston

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

A Spiritual Treat Before Ramadan

Qari Nomani KalyanviPress Release: We, at Helping Hand For Relief & Development (HHRD), want to inform the community with much delight that Thanks to God, the world renowned Qari Muhammad Saad Nomani Kalyanvi of Madina Munawarah will be coming for his first historical tour of USA between Thursday, July 21st and 28th, 2011, during which in the evening on Friday, July 22nd, he will be doing his inspirational presentation at the Arab-American Cultural Center, 10555 Stancliff Road, Houston, Texas 77099. He will be also doing his unique presentations in Chicago, North-&-South California, New York, and New Jersey. For more information, one can call ILyas Hasan Choudry at 1-832-275-0786.

Qari Nomani Kalyanvi is from the progeny of Imam Abu Hanifah, one of the prestigious Imams of Muslims’ and is the 26th in the generation. Abu Hanifah R.A.’s real name was Noman (Numan or Nauman); hence the surname of Nomani / Numani.

Just to inform people about the significance of these programs, majority of people are well aware that Qirat is the correct and beautiful manner of reciting Quran; and someone, who is truly a specialist in Qirat is called “Qari (plural is Qaris or Qurra)”. It is further known that Qirat programs are something very special in the Muslims’ traditions and culture; and people always gather in large numbers, to enthusiastically listen to beautiful Qirat.

Such events are part of healthy community activity, where idea is not merely entertainment, but according to our guest Qari Muhammad Saad Nomani Kalyanvi, there is emphasis on Muslims to beautifully read and attentively listen to Quran in the best of manners and styles.

This is where one of the significances of this program; that is Qari Nomani can make presentation of Qirat in 85 Qaris styles and tones, making his programs blessed manifolds.

To see some glimpses of his performances, one can go to Youtube – Especially see this one: In Youtube search, write this: Amazing – Must See As if I was In Mecca from Canada.

This will be Qari Nomani’s first ever tour of USA, making his visit quite historic. Then Qari Nomani’s visit is on the eve of the Blessed Month of Ramadan, which is called the Month of Fasting & Quran; making his visit even more significance, as Muslims have been encouraged to begin preparing for Ramadan ahead of the month.

Since his performance is linked with Quran, which is an unifying book and attentively listening to Qirat itself has many blessings and rewards; as such diverse communities of all nationalities and backgrounds will be in attendance, like African Americans, Caucasian Americans, Malaysians-Indonesians, Pakistanis-Indians-Bangladeshis, Turkish, and Middle Eastern.

Qari Nomani’s program By the Grace of God will inspire Youth among Muslim community to work hard on the art of Qirat, bringing out world renowned Qurra from USA and just like Qari Nomani has become a scholar; our youth will also strive to go beyond just Qirat to become credible scholars of Islam.

Qari Nomani’s program will be also informed to the mainstream Americans, since he is presenting unique expression from the Muslim traditions and culture, making his visit a goodwill trip to USA from the Muslim world.

Again this event will happen on Friday, July 22nd, 2011, 6:30pm. onwards at the Arab-American Cultural & Community Center, 10555 Stancliff Road, Houston, Texas 77099.
For more information, one can call ILyas Hasan Choudry at 1-832-275-0786.

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Community News (V13-I25)

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

United Stationers Appoints Khan as Next CFO

DEERFIELD, IL–United Stationers Inc. said Tuesday that Fareed Khan will become its chief financial officer on July 18.

The office and business products distributor said its board elected Khan, 45, to replace Victoria Reich. Reich said in November that she planned to leave the company by the end of 2011. She cited personal reasons for her departure.

Khan has worked at USG Corp., a producer of building materials, for the last 12 years, and was most recently in charge of its finance and strategy.

Other senior level management positions held by Mr. Khan at USG included a variety of strategy, business development, marketing, supply chain management, and general management roles. Before joining USG in 1999, Mr. Khan was a consultant with McKinsey & Company, where he served global clients on a variety of projects including acquisition analysis, supply chain optimization, and organization redesign.

Mr. Khan received his bachelor of science degree in engineering from Carleton University in Ottawa, Ontario and earned a MBA from the University of Chicago.

Abdullah-Muhammad wins state gold in Murfreesboro

MURFEESBORO,TN–Cleveland High freshman Qetuwrah Abdullah-Muhammad soared to a state title in the girls long jump competition Thursday at the Middle Tennessee State University track.
Flying a distance of 18-feet, 9-inches on her third attempt, the three-sport Lady Raider standout left the competition in the dust by at least 8 1/2 inches.

Abdullah-Muhammad went past the 18-foot mark five times in her half dozen passes. After a 17-06.25 on her first pass, the 5-foot-10 ninth-grader leapt 18-01.75, 18-09, 18-02.25, 18-00.75 and 18-06.

Dr. Saleem Bajwa to receive rights award

BOSTON, MA–The National Conference for Community and Justice of Connecticut and Western Massachusetts, Inc., founded in 1927 as the National Conference of Christians and Jews, will present its annual Human Relations Award  to Dr. Saleem Bajwa, president of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts.

Dr. Bajwa, a physician board certified in internal and pulmonary medicine, practice in Holyoke, and is affiliated with the Holyoke Medical Center.

He is a founding member of the Islamic Society.

For the past 18 years, he has been the executive director of the Islamic Council of New England, an umbrella organization of Islamic centers and societies of New England, actively hosting inter-faith programs to build alliances and learn from one another.

In addition, for more than a decade, Bajwa has served on the Interfaith Council of Western Massachusetts.

Mayfield School District Names Student of the Month

CLEVELAND, OH–Fakhra Saleem, Mayfield City School District’s most recent Student of the Month, is enrolled in the Cleveland Clinic Internship Program at the Cuyahoga East Vocational Education Consortium.

Superintendent Dr. Phillip Price said Saleem was identified at one of the most responsible members of the surgical processing department at the Cleveland Clinic Main Campus.
Price said she is 100 percent accurate when pulling surgical kits to be delivered in preparation for surgeries. She also volunteered to learn decontamination – a task not typically required of CEVEC interns.

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CCN to Host Free Health Screenings at 48th Annual ISNA Convention

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Compassionate Care Network (CCN) to provide free health screenings and Bone Marrow Donor Registration Drive at ISNA Convention

CCN Health Screening1CCN Health Screening2CCN Health Screening3(Chicago, IL – June 9, 2011) As thousands of Muslims across the United States prepare to attend the Islamic Society of North America’s (ISNA) 48th Annual Convention on July 1-4 in Rosemont, IL, Compassionate Care Network (CCN) is pleased to announce it will once again host the ISNA Health Fair and provide free health screenings for convention  attendees.
CCN will offer free health screenings for BMI and Body Fat Determinations, Hypertension, Diabetes, Dental Health, and new this year, the Carotid Doppler Ultrasound for stroke risk.”We’re excited that this year we have expanded our health screenings to include Cartoid Doppler Ultrasound. This test to screen for stroke risk is  pretty expensive (over $500 value) and to offer it for free is indeed a big service to our community by CCN’s  Imaging Service Provider Batuta,” says Dr. Azher Quader, CCN Executive Director. CCN will also conduct a bone marrow donor registry drive and operate the convention’s First Aid station.

Additionally, CCN will offer those with high BMIs and diagnosed as overweight and obese an opportunity to enroll into its Weight Management Program, a 90-day health coaching program for those at risk for obesity related diseases and desire to lose weight. For Illinois residents who lack health insurance, enrollment will be available into CCN’s low-cost health care network program as well.
CCN’s participation in ISNA’s Health Fair is in furthering  its mission to promote health awareness within the community through  free health education and  free health screenings and to  provide access to affordable health care for the uninsured. 

About CCN

Founded in 2004 by Chicago doctors Azher Quader, M. Gafoor & Ayesha Sultana, practicing physicians and community activists, Compassionate Care Network (CCN) is a not-for-profit organization that conducts free health screenings around the Chicagoland area and offers  access to affordable  health care for the uninsured. Currently, CCN serves over 2500 Illinois residents. For a small annual fee, the uninsured  enrolled in the network have access to over 120 physicians, 6 medical labs, 13 imaging centers, and other health care services like Dentistry, Optometry, Chiropractic care, Physical Therapy and Podiatry. All network health care providers support the notion of “compassionate care” and voluntarily offer services to the uninsured at discounted rates. For more information please visit www.ccnchicago.com or call 773-776-3600. 

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“Stop Anti-Muslim Acts”

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nargis Hakim and TMO Stringer

P6050015Hamtramck–June 5–”People need to get more involved in their communities,” said leaders at an educational conference held by the Muslim Ummah of North America last Sunday in Hamtramck.

The national faith-based organization has four chapters in Michigan. About 600 guests attended from the north zone.

Hamtramck, home to four large Muslim community groups, namely Bosnian, Bangladeshi, African American and Yemeni, was the venue for the educational conference this past weekend.

MUNA (muslimummah.net) is a large organization which has a Michigan Chapter (headed by Toyab Al-Bari) and a North Zone.  The National President of MUNA is Dr. Sayeed Choudhury.

The North Zone organized this educational conference, and also produces a publication called Flash Point.

Invited speakers included: Congressman John Conyers Jr., A.S. Nakadar, publisher of The Muslim Observer, Dawud Walid from the Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan Chapter, Sheikh Ali Suleiman president of the Islamic Center of North Detroit and Syed Choudhury, MUNA’s president. Hamtramck council members Kazi Miah and Mohammed Hassan were present.

Congressman Conyers said of the event “Congratulations, you have outgrown this banquet hall.”  He jokingly invited the MUNA organizers to use Cobo hall in Detroit next year or a venue in Dearborn.

Congressman Conyers recently co-signed a call by members of Congress to “Respond to Anti-Muslim Sentiment,” on May 26.  Cosponsors included 24 congressmen, notably including Keith Ellison, Andre Carson, and Charlie Rangel.  Notably the signatories did not include former speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The congressional statement called “for the federal government to take the necessary steps to counter anti-Muslim sentiment.”

MUNA representatives spoke on the activities of MUNA, which have included successful boys and girls “brothers” and “sisters” programs respectively–to involve Muslim young people in fun associations, and they spoke also of the outreach they had done to Muslim youth who are not so active in the community.

Dr. Nakadar in his remarks noted the great accomplishment of Hamtramck in its disproportionately successful Muslim representation in the City Council.

Dawud Walid, Executive Director of CAIR-Michigan, also spoke.  He spoke of the importance of youth involvement in the Muslim community, and of the importance of providing a good example for young Muslims.

The MUNA conference was very well attended and in fact the banquet hall was filled to capacity.

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ICNA Launches Campaign on Understanding Sharia

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Rida Fozi, ICNA

Hartford, CT (June 5, 2011) – From a thought-provoking performance at Sunday’s entertainment night, to jam-packed sessions with various scholars the ICNA-MAS Convention was the place to be this Memorial Day weekend.

2011 convention videos are now available exclusively on ICNA TV channel.

More people attended the ICNA convention this year than any other in the past 4 decades.

A record 18,900 people attended the three-day conference entitled “Quran: Guidance Towards a Just and Balanced Way,” 4,900 of which were unique online viewers. Convention-goers benefited from nearly 80 sessions by over 100 prominent scholars, leaders and activists from across the country and around the world. The overwhelmingly successful Youth Conference ran parallel to the ICNA-MAS Convention, and crowds lined the entrance as speakers discussed “Diamonds in the Rough: Heroes of the Past.”

Reverend Dennis Perry of the Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Alexandria, VA was honored for his interfaith and community work with the Community Service Award.

National and local leadership of organizations including ISNA, CAIR, MSA, MANA and MUNA attended the convention this year, and were recognized at the Community Leaders Luncheon on Sunday.

The Islamic Circle of North America launched its nationwide, yearlong “Understanding Shariah” campaign at this year’s conference, which, according to president Zahid Bukhari, “will educate the American public on the definition and place of Shariah in Islam.” Says Bukhari, “Our campaign will also counter Islamophobia that is fostered and spread by groups who hide behind the false guise of an anti-Shariah movement.”

ICNA plans to develop an online portal as part of the campaign in order to support those engaged in similar efforts to shed light on religious freedom and the concept of Shariah. The organization also hopes to mobilize the Muslim community to undertake several grassroots efforts to better explain Shariah, and intends to partner with various faith and civic organizations to reach this goal.

The convention also marked the beginning of ICNA and ICNA Relief’s Back to School Giveaway campaign, a two-month long initiative that will culminate in a series of free school supply giveaways in low-income areas in the month of Ramadan (August 2011). The Back to School Giveaway, previously hosted in New York, New Jersey and Washington, DC is now expanding to Houston, Chicago and Southern California. Mahmood Aijazi, national director of the Back to School Giveaway hopes more cities will follow ICNA’s lead and host giveaways in their respective areas.

Aijazi says the initiative is necessary because “it’s part of our duty to help our society. We need to go out, reach out to others and give back to our communities.”

Social media played a significant role in this year’s convention, with ICNA hitting its 10,000th Twitter follower and 14,000 Facebook likes over the weekend. Perhaps the most creative initiatives at this year’s conference were the “surprise events”, exclusive to those who are members of ICNA’s social media fan base.

The attendees then enjoyed one-on-one time with renowned speakers. ICNA also offered a live webcast of selected sessions for the second year in a row, and families as far away as Trinidad were able to enjoy the lectures. One convention attendee said this spurred his family to raise the money to attend in person next year.

And bringing families together is a staple of the convention. In the middle of the day you’ll find parents and their children lunching together or friends strolling through the bazaar searching for the perfect gift. Strangers will stop you and ask your opinion on the right hijab color or ask you to borrow your charger to recharge their cell phones. The ICNA-MAS Convention is that experience that brings together people of all backgrounds for a unified purpose. And as one speaker said, “It just gets better and better every year.”

Credits:
Article: Rida Fozi. Photographs: Arfa Aijazi, Waqas Syed, Rida Fozi. Videos: Talha Faruqui, Anas Faruqui

13-24

Battle over Circumcision Shaping Up in California

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sue Fishkoff

rabbi

Rabbi Gil Leeds, right, performs a brit milah in Palo Alto, Calif., in July 2010. The baby is held by Mitchell Ackerson; Rabbi Yitzchok Feldman looks on. (Alex Axelrod)

SAN FRANCISCO (JTA) — In November, San Franciscans will vote on a ballot measure that would outlaw circumcision on boys under the age of 18.

Although experts say it is highly unlikely the measure will pass — very few state propositions pass, much less one this controversial — the mere fact that it reached the ballot, and in such a major city, has caused much concern for Jews and their allies.

Opponents of the bill see it as a violation of the Constitution’s protection of religious rights and an infringement on physicians’ ability to practice medicine. More than that, however, the measure is being seen as a frontal attack on a central tenet of Judaism.

“The stakes are very high,” said Nathan Diament, director of the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs. “Circumcision is a fundamental aspect of Jewish ritual practice and Jewish identity. While we certainly hope the prospect of its being enacted is remote, the precedent it would set and the message it would send would be terrible, not just in the United States but around the world.
“We don’t just want it defeated,” he said, “we want it defeated resoundly.”

Anti-circumcision activists have been around for decades, particularly on the West Coast.

They range from the Bay Area Intactivists, a loosely organized group that protests outside medical conferences in and around San Francisco, to MGM Bill (MGM stands for male genital mutilation), a San Diego-based advocacy group that has prepared anti-circumcision legislation for 46 states. MGM has managed to find a legislative sponsor in only one state: Massachusetts, last year. The bill didn’t even make it out of committee.

Matthew Hess, who founded MGM Bill in 2003 and spearheads its legislative efforts, says he is trying to protect boys from what he considers a barbaric mutilation of their bodies. He became an activist in his mid-20s, he says, when he decided that his own circumcision as an infant resulted in diminished sexual sensitivity as an adult.

“Freedom of religion stops at another person’s body,” he told JTA.

Last fall, MGM Bill changed its tactics, deciding to bypass the U.S. Congress and go straight to voters. The group gathered more than 12,000 signatures in San Francisco, enough to have the measure placed on the Nov. 8 ballot. If it passes, anyone who circumcises a boy under the age of 18 within city limits faces a $1,000 fine and up to one year in jail. The only exception would be for “compelling and immediate medical need.”

A similar effort is under way in Santa Monica, Calif., for that city’s November 2012 election. Hess says no other cities are being targeted — for now.

The Jewish community responded immediately and loudly to the San Francisco ballot initiative, with denunciations from across the nation. The American Jewish Committee called it a “direct assault on Jewish religious practice” that was “unprecedented in American Jewish life.” The Orthodox Union said the measure is “likely illegal” and is “patently discriminatory against Jews and Muslims.”

Locally, the San Francisco Jewish Community Relations Council organized a wide-ranging coalition of religious, medical, legal and political leaders to oppose the ballot measure. It was the first time that the Jewish community organized a formal counter effort because it was the first time that such a measure has made it to the ballot, according to Abby Porth, the JCRC’s associate director and the force behind the Committee for Parental Choice and Religious Freedom.

The newly formed committee, which also includes Muslim and Christian leaders, is still organizing its legal strategy; Porth declined to provide details.

Muslims also practice ritual circumcision on boys, although it can take place at any time before puberty.

The fight against the San Francisco ballot measure has brought a number of Muslim organizations into the JCRC-led coalition, including the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Bay Area director Zahra Billoo notes that CAIR rarely finds itself on the same political side as groups such as the Orthodox Union.

It’s the assault on religious freedoms that brings the two together, Billoo said.

“The civil rights of Jewish and Muslims are being impacted,” she told JTA. “We don’t agree on all things all the time, but we do find common cause in many areas. An attack on one religion is an attack on all religions.”

A popular local mohel, Rabbi Gil Leeds, director of the Chabad Center of the University of California, Berkeley, says he’s been fielding calls and e-mails from all over the area expressing concern.

“Jews from across the spectrum of Jewish observance, as well as many non-Jews, have responded in shock at this attempt to undermine our basic human rights as parents and as Jews,” Leeds said.
Proponents and opponents of a ban on circumcision argue over the health benefits and legal aspects of the practice.

“To say it has no medical benefit and so should be outlawed is completely untrue,” said Dr. Mark Glasser, a retired Bay Area ob-gyn who estimates that he has performed hundreds of circumcisions during his 35 years in practice.

Glasser notes that the World Health Organization supports circumcision as a preventative measure against HIV transmission, and several Centers for Disease Control studies show the same result. The American Academy of Pediatrics is neutral, as is the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology. But Glasser says those positions have not be revisited since the most recent AIDS studies.

“The unfortunate part is that people laugh — they say the San Francisco crazies are at it again. But this is no laughing matter,” he said. “Circumcision is very low-risk and has tremendous benefits, including life-saving benefits.”

Joel Paul, professor of constitutional law and associate dean of the University of California Hastings School of Law, says the law likely would not survive a court challenge — which could come even before the Nov. 8 ballot.

The proposed measure appears to violate the First Amendment protection of the free exercise of religion, and entangles the state in religious matters by putting the state in the position of judging whether a certain religious practice is permissible. Moreover, putting such a matter to a popular vote contravenes the Constitution’s many protections of the rights of individuals and minorities.

“This proposition would let the majority decide religious practice for a religious group,” Paul told JTA. “It’s not part of our politics. No one should have to go into an election and be asked to defend their religion.”

Hess argues, on the other hand, that the law is on his side. Noting that female genital mutilation is illegal in this country, he says boys should get equal protection under the law, no matter the religious beliefs of their parents.

That is a false and dangerous analogy, Porth says.

“Female genital mutilation is illegal because it is a cruel practice, medically harmful and performed for the explicit purpose of preventing female sexual satisfaction,” she said. “In contrast, there’s no credible medical evidence that male circumcision is harmful or that it prevents sexual satisfaction. Its purpose is for health reasons and religious belief.”

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Community Town Hall at Islamic Center

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

The Islamic Center of Southern California (ICSC) hosted a community town hall meeting this past Sunday. The event featured representatives of law enforcement agencies on the local, state and national levels. 

The ICSC was filled to capacity as the attendees listened to each representative discuss the role of his or her agency and what sort of services that agency provides. A question and answer session followed the brief presentations, and the speakers stayed beyond the scheduled meeting for discussions.

The agencies represented were: the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department (Muslim Community Affairs Unit), the presenting agency; Los Angeles Police Department; City of Los Angeles; State of California (Emergency Management Agency); State of California Office of the Attorney General; U. S. Department of Justice  (FBI); U.  S. Department of Justice (Offices of the US Attorneys), and the Department of Homeland Security (Office of Civil Rights and Civil Liberties).

Saadia Khan of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) was the Master of Ceremonies.

The representative of the FBI said that her organization has a valued Multicultural Advisory Committee. She further said that her organization worked with all of the agencies represented in the auditorium. In addition the FBI Field Office in Los Angeles has a Citizens Academy where selected members of the community spend an evening each week for eight weeks learning about the inner workings of the FBI.

Nadia Bacha, a Senior Policy Advisor for the Department of Homeland Security, said that her office is a watch dog. “We push for civil rights protection, and we have to work with our partners.”  She cited the recently discontinued NSEERS program (National Security Entry/Exit Registration) as an example of what citizen activism can accomplish. This program mandated an alien to reregister after 30 day and one year of continuous residence in the United States. NSEERS was unpopular with civil liberties advocates, and, according to Ms Bacha, was discontinued after continuous pressure by concerned citizens on the government.

Members of the audience were warned to be careful when consulting attorneys who advertised themselves as immigration attorneys. It is best to inquire about the bona fides of these people before engaging them.

A representative of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was asked to address the audience. She said that in October of the past year, MPAC trained 2200 TSA officers in cultural sensitivity.
“I have learned a great deal by coming here” said one young man in the audience.

The first question was from a woman who wanted to know how best to raise her children with respect to civic participation. All of the speakers answered, and their advice was remarkably similar. Participate in civil matters yourself and get your children involved at an early age so that civic participation becomes a duty.

For further information regarding the Muslim Community Affairs Unit within the office of the Los Angeles County Sheriff, please contact Deputy Sheriff Sherif Morsi at: ssmorsi@lasd.org.

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Op-Ed by Rev. Michail Curro

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Executive Director, Interfaith Center for Racial Justice

“We are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today. We are confronted with the fierce urgency of now.

In this unfolding conundrum of life and history there is such a thing as being too late…

We still have a choice today; Nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Curro2011MLK2 (1)In the stunning revelation that US forces had killed Osama bin laden, we are all called to reflect on what this means and re-emphasize the necessity to lift up the importance of nonviolence as taught and practiced by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (and Mahatma Gandhi before him).

President Obama emphasized in his death announcement that, “we need to remember that we are one country with an unquenchable faith in each other and our future.”

It would great if we could put an end to cynicism about government, see rancor in politics disappear, have Islamaphobia replaced by trust, and feel genuinely optimistic.  Thankfully, through my work with the Interfaith Center for Racial Justice (ICRJ), I haven’t lost hope and believe unity and working for the common good is achievable, but only if we use nonviolence.

Each year our Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Celebration of Macomb County draws over 1,200 people—gathering draws every sector of our county and demonstrating unity and common purpose.  For one evening, this most diverse grouping of community leaders commemorate Dr. King and re-commit to working for a better tomorrow for all.  It is a night where all seems possible to build unity and strengthen community while lessening bigotry, intolerance and racism.  President Obama’s vision and King’s dream—both so eloquently articulated—seem shared and attainable during this celebration. 

Still the challenge after each MLK Celebration (and today in the aftermath of bin Laden’s death) is to remain united, focused, and hopeful.  We attempt to do this by calling on community leaders to keep MLK’s teachings at the heart of all they (and we) do.  And not just King’s iconic “I Have a Dream” speech, but more importantly his teachings about and use of nonviolence to initiate social change and to create the “beloved community” we desire.

Our efforts here may never be more important, particularly in witnessing the spontaneous celebrations that followed the news of bin Laden’s death, the quick call that justice has been served, and the loud public clamoring to see photos of bin Laden with a bullet hole through his head.

I am reminded that Mahatma Gandhi once said of retribution:  “An eye for an eye and soon the whole world will be blind.”  Or as Dr. King explained, “Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already void of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.”

Like every American, every Muslim, and most everyone around the world, I am delighted that Osama bin Laden was finally captured.  It is a great accomplishment.  Bin Laden and his followers symbolized terrorism and violent death.  But I cannot celebrate his death or think that his death alone is equal justice for all the death, loss, pain, and expense his actions, and those of al-Qaida, have caused.  I caution us from expressing such hate and vengeance for our enemies.  And I ask that we learn more about and practice nonviolence—the tool that has brought about the most change historically (Gandhi, Civil Rights) and we are witnessing in Egypt today.

Central to the ICRJ’s programming (and to nonviolence) is overcoming fear, particularly fear of others and the recognition that we cannot lift ourselves up by putting others down.

Our “Listen, Learn, & Live” (LLL) programs aim to build bridges of understanding among people of different cultures and faith traditions.  Currently we are in the middle of our ninth module on Islam and Muslims.  And earlier this week we began a module on Christianity at a mosque.

LLL’s purpose, however, isn’t just to deepen intellectual understanding but to help build trust among different people that fosters relationships and ultimately unity in working together for social justice.

We offer a variety of programs annually, including two June LLL modules:  an experience with the Black Church and on the Chaldean community.  And later this year we will look for community support and involvement in our LLL Summer Camp for Teenagers, fall interfaith breakfast seminar, interfaith Thanksgiving Celebration, and upcoming 2012 Silver Anniversary MLK Celebration.

At this time of great social change worldwide, our community can either choose to follow the downward spiral of vengeful distrust of others, or continue the important legacy of nonviolence that brings about real and lasting justice and peace for us, for our children, and our children’s children.

(For more information please call (586) 463-3675, visit www.icrj.org, or email curroicrj@sbcglobal.net.) 

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Mona Eskandari Receives Leadership Medal

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Eskandari M.lg_vertTUCSON, AZ–The Nugent Medal at the University of Arizona is given to well-rounded individuals whose contributions through co-curricular and community activities and leadership have had a positive impact on the University and surrounding community. Mona Eskandari is this year’s one of two recipients.

She  graduated last week Summa Cum Laude and received a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering with honors and a minor in Near Eastern studies. 

She has been selected as the Outstanding Senior for mechanical engineering and for the College of Engineering.

As a mentor to the Girl Scouts at the Design and Robotics camp, she taught girls how to solder and work mechanical gears as they created robots. As an Engineering Ambassador at the UA, Eskandari is involved in outreach, seeking to inspire students as young as grade school to foster a love of learning. She also worked as communications chair for the annual Women’s Leadership Conference helping UA students learn about the workplace experience.

She has been involved in student organizations since being voted an officer for the Society of Women Engineers when still a senior in high school. She also served as a research intern in the agriculture and biosystems engineering department.

Additionally, Eskandari has demonstrated leadership skills as the mechanical lead on her Interdisciplinary Senior Design Team contributing to the novel creation of a gem classifier, a device capable of uniquely identifying precious stones. As vice president of the Muslim Students Association, she served the community of Tucson and the University as she united students in an effort to raise money for the less fortunate.

Eskandari’s exemplary academic record and involvement at the UA has earned her numerous scholarships and honors, among which are the Arizona President’s Award for Excellence scholarship, the National Society of Women Engineers Scholarship, the Alpha Omega Epsilon National Foundation Engineering and Technical Science scholarship, the Arizona Power Authority scholarship and the College of Engineering Award for Highest Academic Distinction. She also is a three-time recipient of the UA Honors College William and Marguerite Hesketh Memorial Scholarship.

In addition to performing research funded by the National Science Foundation and presenting her findings at national and annual conferences, Eskandari was nationally selected to work for IBM as a research intern in San Jose, Calif. this past summer.

Eskandari has earned acceptance to continue graduate studies in engineering at MIT and Stanford. Her energy and strength is drawn from her foundational Islamic faith and the adage, a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.: “Faith is taking the first step even when you do not see the entire staircase.”

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Mayor Omar Ahmad Passes Away

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

OmarAmadbwSAN CARLOS, CA–The news will be read with profound sadness that Mayor Omar Ahmad of San Carlos City, California, passed away on on the morning of May 10th at the age of 46.

A widely respected politician, busineman, and community leader he will be missed by one and all. He was elected to the San Carlos City Council in November 2007.  He had previously served as a member of the City’s Economic Development Advisory Commission (EDAC).  While on the City Council, Omar was selected to serve as the Mayor of San Carlos in November by his fellow Council Members. 

During his term on the City Council, Ahmad also served on several committees and boards including the Airport Roundtable, Belmont-San Carlos Fire Commission, C/CAG Airport Land Use Committee (ALUC), Caltrain Board of Directors, San Mateo County Council of Cities, Economic Development Advisory Commission (EDAC) (Council Liaison), Harbor Industrial Association (HIA Council Liaison), Peninsula Congestion Management Relief Alliance,  San Carlos Green (Council Liaison) and SamTrans Board of Directors (Council of Cities Appointment).

He was a well known entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, having been involved in the start up of a number of companies over the years including the Discovery Channel, @Home, Trusted ID, Grand Central Communications, Napster, Netscape and most recently as the co-founder and CEO of SynCH Energy Corporation.

Ahmad was also deeply committed to his Islamic faith and guided the community in grooming the next generation of leaders. By practical example he showed how to balance faith in the mainstream politics. He took his oath of office in the presence of an Imam. Noted playwright Wajahat, who was close friend, observed: “In all his activities, he remained committed to his faith. He helped nurture and train Muslim-American leadership. He was a behind-the-scenes mover, who used his vast entrepreneurial experience to make sure the next generation would be able to build real, lasting community relationships with our neighbors. We admired him, not because he was Muslim, but because being Muslim made him do admirable things.

When we think of Muslim-America, we think of Omar. There was no distinction for him between his faith and his country, and he sought to do right by both. When we think of role-models for our community, we think of Omar. He gave only what was best—and he gave it everyday for everyone, regardless of their color or religion.”

City Manager Jeff Maltbie said “Those of us at City Hall who had the opportunity to work with and get to know him are devastated by his loss.  Omar’s dedication to the citizens of San Carlos and his passion for democracy will be greatly missed. Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”

Ahmad is survived by Dr. Iftikhar Ahmad (father), Nadira Ahmad (mother) and his two sisters (Fataima Warner and Leah Berry). The City  lowered the flags in front of City buildings to half staff in honor of Omar Ahmad.  The State Senate and State Assembly in Sacramento will adjourn in honor of Omar Ahmad this week.

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