Still Painful, September 11 Has Few Rewards for Hollywood

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jill Serjeant

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – It was a disastrous attack that played out live on television 10 years ago, riveting a horrified nation for days.

But the thought-provoking films and TV shows that followed, depicting the fiery attacks of September 11, 2001 and their aftermath, have mostly been shunned by American audiences who favored escapist movies and almost-reality TV while wars raged in Iraq and Afghanistan in the decade that followed.

Culture watchers and media pundits say audiences are not yet ready to relive a memory that remains painful, and some experts note that this particular chapter of American history is still unfinished.
“Films about 9/11 run the risk of being exploitational because they deal with such an epic tragedy and they don’t have a resolution. One of the things Hollywood wants is a happy ending, and you are not going to get it,” said Wheeler Winston Dixon, author of “Film and Television after 9/11” and a professor at the University of Nebraska, Lincoln.

Ten years on, the trauma of September 11 and the ongoing war against terrorism have left their mark on pop culture in subtle yet omnipresent ways. And perhaps surprisingly, Muslims have escaped the widespread demonization on screen that many feared when followers of Osama bin Laden crashed passenger planes into the World Trade Center and Pentagon.
“After 9/11, I was terrified of the direction this country was going to go toward Muslims,” said Kamran Pasha, one of the few Muslim screenwriters in Hollywood.
“But in many ways, Hollywood is showing more sophistication and empathy toward the Muslim community than I think a lot of people in America are,” Pasha said.

BOX OFFICE FLOPS

Just two mainstream movies, “United 93” and “World Trade Center”, attempted to recreate the events of 9/11, both with strongly patriotic overtones. But the 2006 films together took in less than $250 million at global box offices — about the same as “Avatar” grossed on its opening weekend in 2009.

Stories dealing directly or indirectly with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan fared even worse, despite sometimes boasting A-list stars like Leonardo DiCaprio, Russell Crowe, Matt Damon and Reese Witherspoon.

Whether telling of heartbreak among troops and their families (“Brothers”, “Stop-Loss”), conspiracies and cover-ups (“Body of Lies”, “Rendition”) or politics (“Lions for Lambs”), Americans stayed away in droves. “Over There”, the first TV series to depict an ongoing war, was axed in 2005 after just four months.

“I don’t think audiences have wanted to relive one of the most painful chapters in our nation’s recent history. At least, not so soon,” said Claudia Puig, film critic for USA Today.

Even 2010 best picture Oscar winner “The Hurt Locker”, about a bomb disposal team in Iraq, brought in only $49 million at box offices worldwide — a decent sum for a low-budget picture but nowhere near blockbuster status.

Instead, one of Hollywood’s favorite genres, comic book flicks, soared with audiences in movies like “Iron Man”, “X-Men” and “Spider-Man”.

Television, with its quicker production times and lower budgets, was first off the mark on 9/11 with White House series “The West Wing” providing the perfect showcase in October 2001 for a discussion on terrorism, religion, race and intolerance.

Although created before September 11, counter terrorist agent Jack Bauer arrived in 2001 in TV thriller “24”. The series quickly embodied America’s post-September 11 state of mind, particularly in Bauer’s hard-hitting methods to get the bad guy and the show’s initially negative depiction of Muslims.

Yet “24” ended in 2010 with Bauer praying on his deathbed with a Muslim Imam. Pasha called that “a quantum leap from where the show started.”

WHO ARE THE BAD GUYS?

Screen villains have become more rounded and more diverse than pre-2001, when Arabs were already Hollywood’s go-to bad guys after the Middle Eastern plane hijackings of the 1980s.

Lawrence Wright, screenwriter for the 1998 movie “The Siege” about a radical Islamic group attack on New York, said that after September 11 “the world became a lot more complicated. It was indelicate to attack Muslims.”

Pasha said the 2005-06 Showtime TV drama “Sleeper Cell,” which he co-produced, was a “pivotal change” in the depiction of the Muslim community. It featured a Muslim American undercover agent who infiltrates a terrorist cell whose members include a white European woman, a gay Muslim and a Latino man.

“It tried to show the perspective of the al Qaeda guys, showing them as human beings and what could make them do these terrible things,” Pasha said.

Puig said Hollywood is now adapting its viewpoint, with villains in several recent movies being Russian or South American. “Some of that may be due to profiling concerns or political correctness, but it also reflects an expanded outlook on the terrorism genre in films,” she said.

Television also is moving forward.

New York firefighter drama “Rescue Me” began in 2004 and became the only long-running TV series to deal with the human toll of the attacks. The series ends on Sept 7, in what its co-creator and star Denis Leary calls a fitting conclusion.

Upcoming Showtime drama “Homeland” is a political thriller about a U.S. soldier who is suspected of having been turned militant by his captors in Iraq.

“Things have become deeper and more complex. And the heart of this show is really psychological — how America is dealing with the 10-year period post 9/11,” said “Homeland” executive producer Alex Gansa.

Yet, there remains at least one final look back. TV networks will revisit September 11 with numerous news specials and documentaries to mark the 10th anniversary.

Dixon doubts many Americans will be tuning in, even given the killing at U.S. hands in May of Osama bin Laden.

“I don’t think (the TV specials) are going to do well,” he said. “I lived through it once. I really don’t need to live through it again, because there is no happy ending in sight.”

(Additional reporting by Christine Kearney; Editing by Bob Tourtellotte and David Storey)

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Swiss Politician Apologizes For Calling For Ban On Muslim And Jewish Cemeteries

December 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Rachel Slajda

A Swiss politician has apologized today for calling for a ban on Jewish and Muslim cemeteries two days after the country voted to outlaw minarets on mosques.

“I am sorry. I didn’t mean it like that,” said Christopher Darbellay, president of the Christian Democratic People’s Party of Switzerland, a centrist party and the smallest member of the government coalition.

“It was about the principle that we all belong to the same Swiss society,” he added.

In his call for the ban, Darbellay said, “I don’t imagine that in this country, every religion or sect can have a separate cemetery in every town. It wouldn’t be manageable to make these exceptions. … Principle requires that one does not distinguish on the basis of origin or religion.”

Darbellay has also called for a ban on burkas or veils worn by some Muslim women.

Switzerland made international headlines Sunday when residents voted to add a line to their constitution banning the construction of minarets, or prayer towers, on mosques. The initiative, backed by the right-wing Swiss People’s Party, passed by more than 57 percent of voters.

“The minute you have minarets in Europe it means Islam will have taken over,” said one SPP politician.

The Swiss have a long history of trying to keep their culture free from the influence of both Muslim and Jewish immigrants.

In 1893, Switzerland banned the practice of shechitah, the kosher way of slaughtering animals, citing cruelty because the animals are not stunned first. Although the government opposed the measure, a group called the Anti-Semite Committee gathered more than 83,000 signatures to bring it to a referendum.

Even now, Jews and Muslims must import their kosher and halal meat from neighboring countries. In recent years, some groups have gone farther, trying to ban even its import. In 2003, for example, the Swiss Animal Protection group began a campaign to ban its import, but failed.

Six other European countries join Switzerland in banning the practice: Sweden, Norway, Finland, Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania. The European Union recognized such slaughter earlier this year and declared kosher and halal meat can be sold in every country, but did not go so far as to legalize the slaughtering practice throughout the EU.

Much of the xenophobia in Switzerland seems rooted in the belief that immigrants will not assimilliate into Swiss culture. In 2006, the citizenship application of a Turkish woman and religious teacher was rejected because she didn’t want to integrate into society.

Muslims are one of the fastest-growing groups in Europe, sparking culture clashes throughout the continent. In France, for example, President Nicolas Sarkozy wants to ban the burka on the grounds that such veils oppress women.

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All-American

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

Berkeley–September 10th–The “Season” has begun and authors are trampling through Northern California – Muslims and non-Muslims, knowledgeable about the Ummah and its people – hawking their books.  Jonathan Curriel, author of Al’America:  Travels Through Arab and Islamic America visited my city the week after Labor Day.  Curiel is no scholar, but was trained as a journalist.  Although employed by the San Francisco Chronicle, he was partially educated in and reported from the Middle East.

The book under discussion was published by The New Press in November of 2008, and details the historic influence of Arab and Muslim culture on America — from the time of Columbus to 9/11 — with the ramifications of the latter event.  This is a book that concentrates on the historical and Pop Cultural aspects of Islamic influence upon America, but it does a great service by exposing the underpinning of Islam at the Grassroots of North American culture.  The author too often degenerates into uncomfortable insensitivity to your reviewers’ target audience. 

Reading the press release composed for his tour, I notice a “slickness” that makes your reporter feel ill at ease. His publishers are not presenting J. Curriel humbly forcing his readers to concentrate on his credentials rather than his work!  Still, that did not prevent the book from translation into Arabic by Arab Scientific Publishers, the Beirut print house that, also, has exposed several important European and American writers to an Arabic-speaking audience.

In 2005, his Newspaper was honored by Columbia University (the dominant) U.S. J-School (of Journalism) in New York City for Jonathan Curiel’s exceptional articles on race and ethnicity!  Your Observer commentator — does not know about bragging rights — but he should be proud of this!  This is something that he attempts to bring to this study, but he is honest enough to note where he fails.

For him – even after September 11th 2001 – denying Islamic civilization is not being part of the American fabric is wrong.  “Muslims not only belong…but are part of [the American] culture in so many ways!”

In fact, Christopher Columbus reached out to the Muslim “Moors.”  The Admiral of the Ocean Seas was substantially influenced by the Arabs to the point he could not have reached the New World in 1492 without his North African designed sails.  While Arab culture was waning in Southwestern Europe by the late 16th Century (CE), Columbus’ voyages notably brought subtle Arab influences to the Spanish colonies and later the Portuguese colony in the Americas – including those parts in the United States that Washington (D.C.) seized in the Mexican-American and the Spanish-American War plus the Louisiana Purchase!

Although Madrid prohibited Muslims from the Americas, the Alamo now in Texas is a classic example of Arabic Architecture!  New Orleans was a city shunted back and forth between the Iberians and the French.  Finally, President Thomas Jefferson bought it from the Emperor Napoleon.  When the Spanish possessed that famous city, they imported Islamic ironwork for which the Metropolis near mouth of the Mississippi — plus the renowned Muslim-styled courtyards within the Big Easy — migrated from the Middle East via the Iberian Peninsula.   

The date palm was brought to the Western Hemisphere — including the California of yours truly — from the Middle East, also, via Hispania. 

In the United States, a Muslim slave actually wrote a book in Arabic while being held in South Carolina.  Until the Twentieth Century most American Muslims came from West Africa (since they were victims of that ugly Slave Trade).  Jonathan Curriel, as well as a few eminent musicologists, believe that the American “Blues” musical sub-structure comes from Islam’s call to prayer.  

No less than the extremely important American thinker of the Nineteenth Century, Ralph Waldo Emerson, was profoundly influenced by Muslim culture.  Many important American intellectuals have been influenced by Islam, too, throughout the history of the American Republic (and even before –Thomas Jefferson, of course, comes to your reporter’s mind most quickly) up into the contemporary period.  There has been a long-standing cultural interaction between the Potomac and the Islamic nations according to Curriel. 

Of course, some of this interaction was not fully comprehensible to the Americans; and, thereby, can be considered in bad taste.  The Shriners and the Masons adopted pseudo-clothing accoutrement and symbols of the Muslims.  At its most forgiving was mere mimicry, but at its worst was insulting and in bad taste.  (Your scribe must point out that Jonathan Curriel did make these issues transparent, and did not cringe from describing it for what it was.)  Yet, since the immigration reforms under the late President Lyndon Johnson, highly prominent Muslim immigrants have been attracted to, and have joined the aforementioned organizations.  They have pressured these groups to give a form of Zakat and to make them even more service-oriented. 

The iconic Los Angeles rock(-n-roll) band of the 1960s, the Doors, were highly influenced by Arab music while the ultimate Rock star (of the 1950s), Elvis Presley, was a great admirer of Khalil Gibran, a Christian Lebanese immigrant to America.  His best known work was a sequence of inspirational essays, The Prophet.  They were pitifully greeted by the critics when they were published in 1923.  It definitely belongs to the opus of Arabic-language literature, but not Islamic literature.  Having read the book as a young man, when it was still a best-selling “underground” rage, your reviewer considered it to be  overly simplistic.  How much of it might be based on Mohammed (PUBH) is hard to say because of the elevated ambiguity of its poetic language.

Curriel maintained Presley somehow turned this book into his Bible.  Also, along religious lines, the Christian Roman Catholic Pope John Paul II had instructed that his casket placed on a Persian Carpet to demonstrate the unity of all religions.

Back to Pop Culture, the movie cycle and “cult” television series, Stars Wars borrowed motifs respectfully from the religion from Mecca.  Jonathan Curriel concluded, “Cultures go back and forth, and always borrow from each other,” continuing, “Muslims have contributed from the inception of the American nations,” and they are still highly visible and contributing members of our society.  Their contributions are no longer seen as insignificant within North American society.  

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A Muslim’s Murder: Double Standards, Crude Generalizations

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Why we must work harder to bridge the gulf between the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation

By Sheema Khan

The stabbing death of Marwa al-Sherbini in a German courtroom will have ramifications in the months to come. Already, there is palpable anger in Egypt, where she was buried this week. That anger will most likely spread to other parts of the Middle East and South Asia and amongst Europe’s Muslim minorities.

The Egyptian blogosphere is filled with outrage – outrage at the vicious murder of a pregnant woman in a court of law and, most notably, at the lack of attention given to this hate crime by political institutions and European media. Many note the double standard: The ghastly murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004 was used as a pretext to cast suspicion on Dutch Muslims, whereas Marwa’s murder in Dresden last week is the work of a “lone wolf,” an immigrant from Russia (and thus not “really” German).

The muted reaction to the killing of a woman, in the heart of Europe, for wearing her hijab, also galls. No need to imagine the outrage if a woman is killed for not wearing a hijab – just look to the visceral reaction at the killing of Mississauga teenager Aqsa Parvez in 2007.

And while German authorities investigate whether Marwa’s murder was a hate crime, they might also want to focus on the reaction of court security. As Marwa was being stabbed, her husband tried to intervene. A court officer, apparently assuming the man with the Middle Eastern features to be the attacker, shot Marwa’s husband. He is now in critical condition.

Many do not see Marwa’s fate in isolation. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in its 2004 annual report, said “Islamophobia continues to manifest itself in different guises. Muslim communities are the target of negative attitudes, and sometimes, violence and harassment. They suffer multiple forms of discrimination, including sometimes from certain public institutions.” The London-based Runnymede Charity, in its 2004 report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, found that Muslims were seen by Europeans as the “other” and as lacking in values held by Western cultures, that Islam was violent, aggressive and terroristic, and that anti-Muslim hostility was natural or normal.

So, no surprise that European Muslims are increasingly seen as “outsiders,” with a monolithic, rigid culture that’s antithetical to that of Europe. Amidst sagging popularity and a recession, French President Nicolas Sarkozy redirected attention to the burka, saying it’s not welcome in his country. Even Muslims who don’t support the burka felt uncomfortable with Mr. Sarkozy’s spotlight on their community.

And so the double standards abound. As do the crude generalizations. When the perpetrator happens to be a Muslim, reports are sensationalistic, and Muslims, along with their faith, are cast in a negative light. In the Dresden case, the mirror reaction is happening in Egypt: All Germans are somehow complicit in Marwa’s fate. In the wake of horrific violence, the primal instinct is to blame all, to cast suspicion on those we don’t know.

Yet, in the wake of such episodes, we must work even harder to bridge the gulf between what Dominique Moisi calls the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation. Otherwise, the perpetrators of hate will achieve their goal of driving people apart. As Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, wrote: “They try to kill everything in you – initiative, hope, confidence, dialogue. The only way to oppose them is by demonstrating the strength they think they have taken from you. That strength is to keep on living, to keep on valuing life.”

Let’s remember that the enemy is xenophobia, which can metastasize like cancer unless society is on guard against the pernicious tendency to view others as less human. We have seen the ugly spectre of racism at Keswick High School and in Courtenay, B.C. We have our own painful history of wrongs committed against ethnic groups and indigenous communities. Yet, the better part of the human spirit tries to overcome these dark episodes with the light of justice and restitution.

Marwa’s murder cannot be in vain. She took on her perpetrator in a court of law after he called her a terrorist. Some would say she lost. It is up to us to carry on the larger quest of fighting racism and building bridges, so her son – and all children – can grow up without fear and prejudice.

sheema.khan@globeandmail.com

11-30

Muslims Count Michael Jackson as One of Our Own

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Iftekhar Hai, San Mateo County Times

THE UNTIMELY death of Michael Jackson became international news, and it has affected many people, including my children and grandchildren.

I dedicate this column to the philosophical and spiritual turmoil I felt when I heard Jackson died June 25 of an apparent cardiac arrest.

He had an extraordinary charisma, absolute innocence and a childlike charm that never left him.

As his music spread all over the world, bringing him wealth and recognition, he slowly transformed his God-given African texture and features into something else.

I could never explain this part of his life to my children.

He appeared to have a genuine concern for children and wanted to offer them a world that was denied to him as a child because of the abuses he claimed to have suffered.

I was very happy for him last year when he reportedly became a Muslim in Bahrain. He had apparently followed the footsteps of his brother Jermaine Jackson, who converted to Islam 20 years ago and found peace when he gave up drinking, drugs and womanizing. Michael Jackson admired this kind of change in him.

So in search of peace, he lived in Bahrain.

For some time, Jackson thought of making an album in Bahrain to promote spirituality and signed a contract. However, when he returned to America, he was too afraid of the consequences of aligning with the Islamic faith.

Islamophobia is a curse in America. He was advised by close associates and sincere friends not to go public with his new found spirituality.

He remained in his own closet of spirituality that few outside his close circle knew.

American pop culture is not about religion but about a world of fantasy — a flamboyant facade. And he sunk deeper and maintained a lifestyle that increased his dependency on drugs.

He lost all peace of mind and self-control to such an extent that his personal doctor said, “I had to wake him up with medication and had to put him to sleep with the help of medication.”

Michael Jackson is a trivial pursuit of American popular culture.

In my culture we say, “this was a bud that was cut before it could fully blossom.”

Practically, we have powerful people who worship money and power and who are constantly defeating any new ideas that challenge the status quo. Jackson — who was sweet, innocent and talented — fell victim.

I am obsessed with the question, “Why couldn’t Elvis and Michael Jackson remain famous, rich and on a musical pedestal and still live a drug-free and spiritual life?”

Ali Akbar Khan of Berkeley was such a musician, who gained great wealth, fame and popularity and left more than 1,000 students who are spiritually elevated musicians.

Michael Jackson’s death to all of us is one that is sobering. One can climb to fame, acquire great wealth and riches, but death comes knocking without much fanfare.

Nevertheless, Jackson’s very public death is a powerful reminder that no matter how famous, talented or wealthy one is, death comes sometimes sooner than later.

He has now entered a world of extraordinary perception, a world that makes his “Thriller” video seem mundane.

Given Michael’s r eported conversion to Islam last year, Muslims count him as one of our own, and we pray that he can finally find the peace he never found in this world and that he is in a place, God willing, of mercy, forgiveness and solace.

Iftekhar Hai is president of United Muslims of America Interfaith Alliance and a resident of South San Francisco.

11-30

Ban Racism And Not The Burqa

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Bindu Gurtoo, Countercurrents.org

So the French president has gone and done it. In the first presidential address in the French Parliament since 1848, the esteemed President talked about… the Burqa! By declaring, quite theatrically in the parliament that there was no place for the burqa in France, Mr. Sarkozy has undone the goodwill that President Obama so painstakingly earned for the West in Cairo last month. Not only that, by making a fatwa like declaration, he has given the Islamic hardliners another opportunity to raise the bogey of western cultural imperialism. Well, what else can one expect from a man who seems to have little clue on how to deal with global recession, or to tackle the rising unemployment in his country or even to get his countrymen and women to put in an honest day’s labour without going on a strike. Bombastic statements such as these confirm the long held belief of the coloured world that liberty is the white man’s concubine who uses her exclusively for his pleasure.

Pray, Mr. Sarkozy, how is burqa a garment of exclusion while the catholic nun’s habit is not? Granted that the burqa condemns the wearer to a claustrophobic formlessness, but, what about the two piece bikini designed by a man for the voyeuristic pleasure of the male gaze? How can a culture which connives in forcing teenagers to attain impossible thinness and applauds bizarre garments as high fashion, or sit in judgment over others’ attires? Come on Frenchies, tell us, as instruments of debasement and oppression, how are decadence, racism, substance abuse, bulimia, porn and pedophilia any less than the burqa? If, by banning the burqa you are trying to rescue Muslim damsels in distress, then may we suggest a more worthy alternative? How about giving the Muslims in your country genuine equal opportunities that are not sabotaged by racial snobbery?

While you rush to ban the burqa the way you banned the turban, why not ban a few other things such as tobacco, liquor and skinny fashion which have debased and destroyed a great many of your people? But we know you are not going to do that, Mr. Sarkozy for these are valued as expressions of the haute French culture. And one does not desecrate one’s culture by rudely hiving off bits, does one? We suspect Mr. Sarkozy that you have learnt your lessons in governance from the redoubtable Robespierre whose guillotine had once worked overtime in the name of democracy.

Perhaps Mr. Sarkozy, it is time you stepped out of the Muslim woman’s wardrobe and directed your attention to some real issues such as climate change, recession and the future of the European Union. Or do we conclude that it is because you are incapable of pondering over these problems that you take refuge in her cupboard? Do come away from her closet, President and let the Muslim woman decide for herself what she would like to wear. Ah! You are only trying to lend a helping hand, aren’t you? Please desist! For history shows us that the helping hand often ends up slapping the helper. As the president of the nation that pioneered popular uprising, you ought to know that revolutions have to germinate in native soil and can never be successfully grafted. Instead, place your trust in the Muslims to decide on the destiny of their cultures for themselves.

Perhaps, Mr. Sarkozy, the time has come for France to follow the example from across the Atlantic of her once good friend and partner- in- revolutions and elect colored leaders? Though it may seem a daunting task for a man of your intellect, but think Mr. Sarkozy, think!

(The author is a member of Citizen News Service (CNS) Writers’ Bureau. Email: bindugurtoo@gmail.com, website: www.citizen-news.org

11-31

At Peace at Last

July 2, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Hamza Yusuf

2009-06-29T055913Z_01_LOA191_RTRMDNP_3_MUSIC-BET
 

As a little boy, Michael Jackson had an extraordinary charisma — as well as an absolute innocence — that was disarmingly charming. It captivated millions of Americans and eventually people around the world.

As the years went by, his career took strange turns and he slowly turned white, transforming his face eerily into a pale and ghastly masque, perhaps to conceal the pain of alienation from his own self and family. He was also rumored to have unsavory predilections that would never have been suggested if one used the rigorous criteria of Islam before hurling an accusation. Despite the rumors, he appeared to have had a genuine concern for children, wanting to provide them with a world that was denied to him as a child due to the abuses he claimed to have suffered.

I was very happy for him last year when he reportedly became a Muslim. He had apparently followed the footsteps of his dignified and intelligent brother, Jermaine, who converted to Islam 20 years ago and found peace. It seemed befitting that Michael sought refuge from a society that thrives on putting people on pedestals and then knocking them down. He was accused of many terrible things, but was guilty of perhaps being far too sensitive for an extremely cruel world. Such is the fate of many artistic people in our culture of nihilistic art, where the dominant outlet for their talents is in singing hollow pop songs or dancing half-naked in front of ogling onlookers who often leave them as quickly as they clung to them for the next latest sensation.

In the manner of Elvis or the Beatles, Michael is unwittingly both a cause and a symptom of America’s national obsession with celebrity, currently on display in the American Idol mania. Celebrity trumps catastrophe every time. Far too few of us make any attempt to understand why jobs are drying up, why mortgages are collapsing, why we spend half-a-trillion dollars to service the interest on the national debt, why our government’s administration, despite being elected on an anti-war platform, is still committed to two unnecessary and unjust wars waged by the earlier administration, wars that continue to involve civilians casualties on an almost daily basis. Instead, we drown in trivia, especially trivia related to celebrity. And the response to Michael’s death is part of the trivial pursuits of American popular culture. The real news about death in America is that twenty Iraq and Afghan war veterans are committing suicide every day. But that does not make the front page nor is it discussed as seriously as the King of Pop’s cardiac arrest.

Nevertheless, Michael’s very public death notice is a powerful reminder that no matter how famous or talented or wealthy one is, death comes knocking, sometimes sooner than later. Michael has now entered a world of extraordinary perception, a world that makes his “Thriller” video seem mundane. It is a world of angels and demons, and questions in the grave, a world where fame is based upon piety and charity. Given Michael’s reported conversion to Islam last year, Muslims count him as one of our own, and we pray that he can finally find the peace he never found in this world and that he is in a place, God willing, of mercy, forgiveness, and solace.

11-28

The Muslims of Sri Lanka

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Oakland–It is scarcely known that there is an ample society of Muslims caught within the middle of Sri Lanka (Ceylon’s) recent tragically war-torn civil insular nation-State. 

There are three major groups of Muslims in that island’s nation – the “Moors,” Indian (originally from the Subcontinent) Muslims and the Malays.  The two Islamic non-South Asian subminoritities – one from the Middle East and other from Southeastern Asia, with the long-standing immigrants from India, make up about the same percentage as European descendant settlers, the Burghers at 8%.  The rest of the population is made up of the ultra-orthodox Hindus in the Tamil areas, and the majority 70% are Buddhists.  The total population of all main groupings within the island is between 19 through 21 million (2009) persons.  In 2005, the Islamic “Moors” represented 2 million of these souls.  The “Moors” were descended from a troupe of traders from the Arabian Peninsula, who came to Colombo’s island between the Eighteenth until the Fifteenth Century (CE) supposedly (by tradition) from the Arabian Peninsula.  In fact, one source I evaluated claimed that the “Moors were traversing the Indian Ocean between Lanka and Mecca before the Hijra (622 CE).  Nonetheless, the “Moors” had settled partially on Lanka bringing Islam to their ancient culture to the island.  Yet, the earliest came late in the Seventh Century as traders between the Middle East and South Asia.  Yet, most did not settle down on this Southern Asian Island, and took up the culture of the Tamils after they established a permanent residence upon the soil.  Although they first employed Tamil as their “Father” tongue — that parole (speech) used outside the house — (they soon devised Awi, which, in turn has become archaic, was a mixture of Tamil and Arabic.)   By marrying converted wives, they became a multi-lingual, multi-cultural people — Tamil, Sinhalese and English — while maintaining their religion inviolate:  They are largely Sunni Muslims of the Shafi School.  Although they can be described as a multi-ethnic, and religious alliance, they lack a linguistic cohesion, though, anthropologically (since they are tri-lingual).

The second group of Muslims, the Malays, came with the Dutch military during the period when Amsterdam controlled the island, and settled there over Ceylon’s Netherlandish period.  The Malays (originally from) Indonesia, and, thus from insular Southeast Asian origin (Ja Minissu), are some of the most orthodox of Muslims in the world today, but, unlike the “Moors,” they did not take up the surrounding Tamil culture, but they resolutely stuck to an adapted Malay cultural and religious norm.  They make up the smallest of minorities – 5% of the total Lankan Islamic citizenry only.

The third group was an alignment of mainly – although not exclusively — South Indian Muslim merchants, who emigrated southward over several centuries and naturally integrated well into the predominantly Tamil (Hindu) culture there on the other side of “Adam’s Bridge” from Tamil Nadu.

The Muslims were well assimilated and accepted into Ceylonese society, but, during the recent civil war, the Tamil Tigers systematized a process of ethnic cleansing that the once flourishing “Moorish” and other Muslim masses are not represented in the Northern Province anymore.  Most of those inhabitants have been forcibly cast largely into the Puttalam Region.  Also, a small Diaspora has been arising in the Middle East, Australia and even North America.  Now, that the Tigers have been defeated, will Islam be allowed back into their former (own) homes with full property rights restored?  Much of this depends upon us individually, and the pressure we can exert upon our own governments plus the Sri Lankan government, and, thereby, institutions of the International Communities – the U.N. et al., and especially Islamic groupings!

The pictures of those large numbers of noncombatants wretchedly entrapped between the Government and the Tigers’ forces during the former’s last stand last stand are staggering.  Amongst them is a significant number of Muslims, and the Islamic charities must especially address their needs, and become involved in their resettlement back to their ancestral homes with other (First World/Western) International NGOs.

11-26

Community News, North America (US & Canada)

April 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Curtain controversy in Chicago

CHICAGO, IL— The board of the Muslim Community Centre in Chicago has voted to let the organization’s president to work on a compromise on whether to replace a curtain hung to separate the men and women’s areas of the mosque.
The curtain was removed during renovations and since then has not been replaced. In an earlier meeting the board had voted 13-2 in favour of the “Not To Raise Curtain” resolution with two members abstaining.
Despite the vote Dr.Abdul Sattar, president of the MCC, said that a majority of the community wants the curtain divider and called for last Sunday’s meeting.
The new resolution calls on the president to take into consideration how women felt and to try to please everyone.

Minister praised for interfaith work

AUSTIN,TX—The Rev.Jim Mayfield, pastor of Tarrytown United Methodist Church, who retired recently was praised for his years of interfaith work. Imam Safdar Razi of the Islamic Ahlul Bayt Association said Rev. Mayfield played an important role in supporting the local Muslim community in the wake of Sept.11 attacks.
Under Mayfield’s leadership, the organization gathered clerics from different religions to pray on the steps of the Texas Capitol and “helped the Muslim communities a lot by letting people understand that Muslims also condemn the acts of terror and terrorism,” Razi told the Statesman.

Muslims join immigrant rights rally

DES PLAINES,IL— Muslims joined hundreds others in a rally calling for immigration rights and reform in the Des Plaines suburb of Chicago.
“We come here to work. We don’t come here to do anything bad or — we come here to have a better future,” said Lizeth Rios to ABC News.
What they’re doing right now is shameful and they’re trying to take away people’s hope. But there are good people who are doing things like that. We re trying do things in a peaceful matter. God did not create any borders,” said Rita Gonzales, Latin Americans United.
The rally ended with a prayer for those who had died trying to cross the border.

Nazir Baig passes away

BALTIMORE, MD—Nazir Baig, prominent Baltimore area Muslim community leader, passed away this week. He was a board member of the Muslim Community Center of Maryland. He also served as the organization’s trustee and chairman for 5 years and as president for 10 years. His tenure saw tremendous growth in the organization. He actively took part in various community building activities. He worked as a town planner for the Montgomery County.

New mosque in San Luis Obispo

SAN LUIS OBISPO,CA—- The Islamic Center of the Central Coast is seeking a building permit to build a new mosque and community center on Walnut Street in San Luis Obispo. The new mosque will be bigger than the centre’s present one.
Architect Heidi Gibson said the mosque’s new location makes it a good fit among San Luis Obsipo’s cultural and spiritual centers.
“We have the mission downtown. We have the other downtown churches,” Gibson told the Tribune. “Now weíll have a mosque.”
The mosque has already received approval from the city’s commissions and it can take three months to a year before permits are granted and construction begins.

Eid ul Fitr poem wins Ray Bradbury award

CHICAGO, IL—Faisal Mohyuddin’s poem Eid-ul-Fitr, 1946 won the coveted Ray Bradbury Poetry Writing Contest surpassing 118 entries received from across the world. Mohyuddin, 27, teaches English teacher at Highland Park High School.
The poem is described as a wrenching, fictional ode to a little boy lost amid the prayers and politics of Pakistan.”
“[The poem] is about impending loss, a lot of violence, pain and suffering,” Mohyuddin told the Chicago Tribune.
Mohyuddin’s other entry, The Sadness, also attained a honourable mention in the contest.

Saudi culture shared at Valparaiso

VALPARAISO, IN— Saudi students at the Valparaiso University held a special program to inform the community about the Saudi culture including music, food, religion and life. Around hundred people attended the event sponsored by the International Studies Office of the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Washington, D.C.
Student advisor of the Saudi Culture Mission Dr.Faleh Al Hogbani told the student newspaper: “In the Saudi culture we encourage this kind of event and encourage students to spread the culture to the real people of America, not just in D.C.”
The attendees were treated to a multimedia presentation, demonstration of Azan and prayers and lectures. Dr.Nelly Van Doorn-Harder, Patheja professor of world religions and ethics at the university, discussed the history and significance of Saudi Arabia to the Muslim world.
“Saudi Arabia is a country that despite everything, upholds the true concept of Islam,” said Van Doorn-Harder, who has traveled all over the world to study religion.
There are 80 students from Saudi Arabia currently studying at Valparaiso University.

Egyptian student shares perspectives

MADISON, WI— Ahmed Ayad is computer science student working on his Phd at UW-Madison. He is one of of about 60 students from countries around the world who volunteer to share their experiences and perspectives with audiences on and off campus as part of the university’s International Reach program.
Ayad,31, says he wants to present a more realistic picture of Egyptian culture while speaking to a group of eighth graders at Waunakee Middle School. “I want them to come away with a closer-to-reality idea of what a place like Egypt looks like,” he told the State Journal.
The International Reach program was started in the 1990s by Lise Skofronick, a member of Madison Friends of International Students, and was later adopted by the university, said Merilee Sushoreba, student services coordinator, who coordinates the program’s on-campus component.
But after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, International Reach was put on hiatus because of staff constraints and the need to focus on implementing new federal policies for students from other countries, said Stephanie Cowan, international student advisor, who coordinates the program’s off-campus component.
The program began making a comeback in 2004, and is now going strong after receiving a $5,000 grant from the university’s Kemper K. Knapp Bequest, which has paid for a student assistant this year to help with scheduling and other costs, such as materials and transportation.
Ayad, who came to UW-Madison in 2000, said people have a lot of misconceptions about the Middle East. “The most troubling to me is the misconception about religion,” he said.
While the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and the current war in Iraq “have not helped,” Ayad said they also have sparked interest in the Muslim faith.
Though he keeps his presentations “as neutral as possible,” sticking to subjects such as history and culture, Ayad told his audience of eighth- graders, “You guys can ask me any question you want.”

Don’t Relax Your Islam

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

“O ye Children of Adam! Let not Satan seduce you in the same manner as he got your parents out of the garden, stripping them of their raiment, to expose their shame: for he and his tribe see you from a position where ye cannot see them. We made the Satans friends (only to those without faith.” 7:27

One of the pitfalls of the glitz and glamour of the modern world is it has a very strong magnetic effect on the young (and sometimes not-so-young). Much of the TV, movies, and music we experience today have messages that downplay good healthy wholesome living.
Sometimes when I haven’t seen a person at the masjid in a long time, I will run into them at a festival, parade, ball game, golf course, or some other recreational outlet. And many times when I see them they will be with a non-Muslim companion and not dressed exactly as they were the last time I saw them at the mosque. This is much more common in the African-America community, because assimilation in the local culture is much easier than it is for immigrant Muslims.
Many of our young people, indigenous and immigrant, feel that Islam and living an Islamic life means you can’t have fun. They feel that Islam is too restrictive and prevents you from living a full life. Well, nothing could be further from the truth. And I’m not speaking from the perspective of an older person. I’m speaking from the perspective of the Qur’an.
ALLAH only forbids us those things that are harmful to ourselves and/or the society. A few examples of what I mean:
We are forbidden to eat pork and other unclean meats. This is self explanatory if you think about it. Pork is known to cause high blood pressure and clogged arteries, which can lead to strokes and heart attacks. It also harbors worms.
Adultery and fornication cause breakups in the family, which ultimately weaken the society. Alcohol and intoxicants cause warped and unstable thinking. Gambling leads to lying and theft after the inevitable losses you will incur.
These are a few of the prohibited things. There are many more activities that are permitted by ALLAH. You don’t need to stay away from the masjid to go to a movie. Just try to see decent movies. If your culture allows you to listen to music, make sure that the music you choose is not the rotgut, vulgar stuff put out by Shaitan.
As an imam and counselor, I get great many people seeking help for problems that can, for the most part, be solved by regular attendance and participation at the masjid. When you are around Muslims, your behavior automatically is going to be more Islamic. You will be encouraged to pay the zakat and attend Friday prayers. We need each other. Steel sharpens steel and man sharpens man.
On the other hand, we must be constantly aware of the presence and plan of Satan and know that “he can watch you while you are unaware.” When you are around non-Muslims, your behavior will likely be like those you are around. You will “relax” into an inferior culture, which will bring you down to a lower level.
Be Muslim ALL the time. Your life will be less stressful, more peaceful, and a greater asset to the community………And your Lord will be pleased with you.