Dubai Babylon: The glitz, the Glamour – and Now the Gloom

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Property of TVS, Inc. Dubai, the Arabian city state that tried to turn itself into Manhattan-on-the-Gulf inside a decade, looks this weekend as if it may end up more like an expensive imitation of Sodom and Gomorrah. No brimstone, no vengeful God, but still an awful lot of wreckage after an orgy of hedonistic excess.

This, until last week, was the world capital of greed, a Legoland of lolly, where flashy malls, artificial islands, and preposterous skyscrapers were run up in no time; where monied chancers booked into £4,000-a-night hotel rooms; and where celebrities who didn’t know better were lured into a place that was even gaudier than their own homes. People said it was all built on sand, but, after the businesses at the core of the Dubai empire revealed a black hole of $80bn, we now know it was actually built on debt, semi-slave labour and the glossiest puffery that borrowed money can buy.

This, before we get down to the juicy details, is not how Gordon Brown saw it. The Dubai dream was largely the creation of the late Sheikh Maktoum and his successor, the current ruler Sheikh Mohammed. The day before Dubai’s shock debt announcement, the sheikh was in London. According to UAE’s national news service, Gordon Brown said he was “impressed with the quick recovery made by the UAE economy and the measures made by the leadership and government there that led to minimal impact of that crisis on the country’s economy.”

Once upon a recent time, this was true. At the height of Dubai’s property bubble, developers competed to outdo each other and impress the sheikh with more and more outlandish projects at the city’s annual property show Cityscape. Ski fields in the desert and the world’s largest shopping mall of 1,200 shops, complete with an aquarium housing 400 sharks, are among the projects already built, and plans for an underwater hotel.

Prospective buyers would queue for hours for the chance to purchase off-plan property. Ten minutes later they would sell on to someone at the back of the queue for a £10,000 profit.

While the economy boomed, the city partied hard. Dubai quickly became a favourite playground for Russian gangsters, Bollywood movie stars, and British footballers and their WAGs. David Beckham and Michael Owen were among those splashing out on multimillion-pound properties on the Palm, while Brad Pitt and Denzel Washington were also rumoured to have homes there.

Paris Hilton made a version of her reality show in the bars and malls of city this year. On any given night, parked out front the Grosvenor Hotel, with its popular bars, would be an eye-popping collection of the most expensive sports cars. “Soon,” one sheik was quoted as saying, “every Count of Monte Cristo will be in Dubai. In 10 years, only rich and famous people will live here.” And the servants? “I would hope robots or clones will do all that by then.”

With Western cash came Western cultural norms. Though foreign residents need a liquor licence to drink in their own homes, alcohol is widely available in hotel bars. All-you-can-drink brunches where expatriates got sloshed on champagne became the favoured way of passing Friday afternoons. While the Muslim community spent the holy day at the mosque, Westerners drank themselves legless.

It was at one of these infamous brunches that two Britons fell foul of the strict laws that govern the state. Michelle Palmer, 36, and Vince Acors, 34, who had met for the first time that day, were sentenced to three months in prison in July 2008 after being arrested for having sex on the beach. Not long after, British women Marnie Pearce and Sally Antia were jailed for adultery after their husbands told the police they were having affairs. Yet Arab men will drink openly in hotel bars and prostitution is rife.

The Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest skyscraper at 818m, disappears into the clouds high above this emirate of contradictions. Dubai is an architectural odyssey, yet an urban planner’s worst nightmare which employed, until recently, 50 per cent of the world’s largest cranes. The people of the more sedate and richer emirate of Abu Dhabi 70 miles down the road have often been said to shake their heads at the money its neighbour has wasted. Abu Dhabi’s developments such as the breathtaking Yas Marina Circuit used in this year’s Formula One championship have been carefully planned.

Dubai has simply built bigger and bigger with little thought given to planning. It was bound to fail: no city or region could sustain such growth – particularly as the oil that drove that expansion has been slowly running out. The financial crisis simply exacerbated the long-term structural problems of its economy. Last week’s announcement that Dubai World, the developer of the famous man-made Palm Jumeirah island development that can be seen from space, wanted a standstill on its repayments on a chunk of its $60bn indebtedness shocked the financial markets. Banks in London and Edinburgh, such as HSBC and the Royal Bank of Scotland, had lent Dubai World billions of pounds. Now there is the very real possibility that they will lose much of this as Dubai World defaults.

On the Palm, on the Persian Gulf’s man-made coastline, is the Atlantis Hotel, an imposing construction of two towers linked by a bridge. Kylie Minogue sang at its star-studded opening last year, with spectacular fireworks visible for miles a one-night jamboree that cost £20m. Dubai World could not have chosen a worse time to open the seven-star hotel.

Attracting Western tourists has been one of the pillars of Dubai’s gross domestic product growth, but as Westerners tighten the purse strings so Dubai’s tourism industry has started to wobble. The fear now is that the dreams of Sheikh Mohammed could turn into an economic nightmare for both the emirate and the rest of the world. Economists are analysing whether this is the disaster that will create a so-called W-shaped recession – that is, two collapses rather than just the one of a V-shape.

It might seem extraordinary that a tiny emirate of about 1.5 million people could cause such global turmoil, but Dubai is intertwined with some of the most everyday parts of the UK economy alone. Dubai World owns P&O, the ferry operator, while Dubai International Capital (DIC), the state’s international investment arm, has a 20 per cent stake in the company that runs Madame Tussauds, the London Eye and the Sea Life Centres.

The reciprocal nature of the UK and Dubai economies means that British firms are now coming to the rescue. The Independent on Sunday can reveal that Dubai World’s big lenders, led by the UK-based institutions, have lined up the London-based financial restructuring team a accountants KMPG to salvage the $30bn-plus they are owed. A formal appointment is expected this week.

They will have their hands full.

Gulf state’s holdings: Small sample of Dubai’s global reach

Millions of dollars have been invested in Sheikh Mohammed’s passion: thoroughbred racehorses. In Newmarket, he owns Dalham Hall stud farm and Godolphin stables. The sheikh’s 4,000 acres in Ireland make him the largest farmer in the country. He also owns 7,000 acres of paddocks in Britain and 5,000 acres of farmland. Other assets owned by Dubai investors include:

* The QE2, currently moored in Cape Town
* The Adelphi on the Strand and the Grand Buildings in Trafalgar Square
* A 20 per cent stake in Cirque du Soleil, the Canadian circus troupe
* Budget hotel chain Travelodge
* A stake in Merlin Entertainments, which runs Alton Towers, Madame Tussauds and the London Eye
* Scottish golf course Turnberry
* Chris Evert tennis clubs in the US
* A ski resort in Aspen, Colorado
* A 21 per cent stake in the London Stock Exchange
* Ports and ferries group P&O

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Two Standards of Detention

December 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Amy Goodman, Truthdig

Scott Roeder, the anti-abortion zealot charged with killing Dr. George Tiller, has been busy. He called the Associated Press from the Sedgwick County Jail in Kansas, saying, “I know there are many other similar events planned around the country as long as abortion remains legal.” Charged with first-degree murder and aggravated assault, he is expected to be arraigned July 28. AP recently reported that Roeder has been proclaiming from his jail cell that the killing of abortion providers is justified. According to the report, the Rev. Donald Spitz of the Virginia-based Army of God sent Roeder seven pamphlets defending “defensive action,” or killing of abortion clinic workers.

Spitz’s militant Army of God Web site calls Roeder an “American hero,” proclaiming, “George Tiller would normally murder between 10 and 30 children … each day … when he was stopped by Scott Roeder.”

The site, with biblical quotes suggesting killing is justified, hosts writings by Paul Hill, who killed Dr. John Britton and his security escort in Pensacola, Fla., and by Eric Rudolph, who bombed a Birmingham, Ala., women’s health clinic, killing its part-time security guard.

On Spitz’s Web site, Rudolph continues to write about abortion: “I believe that deadly force is indeed justified in an attempt to stop it.”

Juxtapose Roeder’s advocacy from jail with the conditions of Fahad Hashmi.

Hashmi is a U.S. citizen who grew up in Queens, N.Y., and went to Brooklyn College. He went to graduate school in Britain and was arrested there in 2006 for allegedly allowing an acquaintance to stay with him for two weeks. That acquaintance, Junaid Babar, allegedly kept at Hashmi’s apartment a bag containing ponchos and socks, which Babar later delivered to an al-Qaida operative. Babar was arrested and agreed to cooperate with the authorities in exchange for leniency.

While the evidence against Hashmi is secret, it probably stems from the claims of the informant Babar.

Fahad Hashmi was extradited to New York, where he has been held in pretrial detention for more than two years. His brother Faisal described the conditions: “He is kept in solitary confinement for two straight years, 23- to 24-hours lockdown. … Within his own cell, he’s restricted in the movements he’s allowed to do. He’s not allowed to talk out loud within his own cell. … He is being videotaped and monitored at all times. He can be punished … denied family visits, if they say his certain movements are martial arts … that they deem as incorrect. He has Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) … against him.”

Hashmi cannot contact the media, and even his lawyers have to be extremely cautious when discussing his case, for fear of imprisonment themselves. His attorney Sean Maher told me: “This issue of the SAMs … of keeping people in solitary confinement when they’re presumed innocent, is before the European Court of Human Rights. They are deciding whether they will prevent any European country from extraditing anyone to the United States if there is a possibility that they will be placed under SAMs … because they see it as a violation … to hold someone in solitary confinement with sensory deprivation, months before trial.”

Similarly, animal rights and environmental activists, prosecuted as “eco-terrorists,” have been shipped to the Federal Bureau of Prisons’ new “communication management units” (CMUs). Andrew Stepanian was recently released and described for me the CMU as “a prison within the actual prison. … The unit doesn’t have normal telephone communication to your family … normal visits are denied … you have to make an appointment to make one phone call a week, and that needs to be done with the oversight of … a live monitor.”

Stepanian observed that up to 70 percent of CMU prisoners are Muslim—hence CMU’s nickname, “Little Guantanamo.” As with Hashmi, it seems that the U.S. government seeks to strip terrorism suspects of legal due process and access to the media—whether in Guantanamo or in the secretive new CMUs. The American Civil Liberties Union is suing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and the Bureau of Prisons over the CMUs.

Nonviolent activists like Stepanian, and Muslims like Hashmi, secretly and dubiously charged, are held in draconian conditions, while Roeder trumpets from jail the extreme anti-abortion movement’s decades-long campaign of intimidation, vandalism, arson and murder.

Denis Moynihan contributed research to this column.

Amy Goodman is the host of “Democracy Now!,” a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 750 stations in North America. She is the co-author of “Standing Up to the Madness: Ordinary Heroes in Extraordinary Times,” recently released in paperback.

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Community News (V11-I46)

November 5, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Ruhi Khan named VP of Acorda Therapeutics

HAWTHORNE, NY–Ruhi Khan recently named Vice President, Business Development, of Acorda Therapeutics reporting to President and CEO RonCohen, M.D. Previously, Ms. Khan was the Executive Director, Business Development at Acorda.

Before joining the Company, Ms. Khan was the Senior Director of Business Development at Lexicon Pharmaceuticals. While at Lexicon, she led the business development function for both in-licensing and out-licensing of programs, research stage collaborations, technology assessments, spin-outs and other strategic initiatives. She was also responsible for market research and market analysis for clinical product candidates. Prior to that, Ms. Khan was a Director at Fidelity Biosciences, the biotech venture capital investment division at

Fidelity Investments; in that capacity, she had operational management responsibilities at EnVivo Pharmaceuticals, a biotech company focused on the development of therapies for central nervous system disorders. Ms. Khan has a Bachelor of Arts from Harvard College and a Master of Business Administration from the Wharton School.

“I`m delighted to announce the promotion of Ruhi Khan to Vice President of Business Development,” Dr. Cohen said. “Ruhi`s first assignment after joining Acorda was to lead our process to obtain a commercialization partner for Fampridine-SR outside the U.S. She did an outstanding job of executing this process and concluding a great deal with an optimal partner, Biogen Idec. I expect Ruhi to continue to be a major contributor to Acorda`s future successes as we work to capitalize on business development opportunities and build shareholder value.”

Islamic Studies at Lehigh University hosts first speaker

The Center for Global Islamic Studies at Lehigh University  welcomed David Lelyveld, author and professor of history at William Paterson University, to give the center’s inaugural lecture in Linderman Library on Wednesday.

Lelyveld’slecture, “Sir Sayyid’s Dreams: Biography and Islamic Dream Interpretation in Nineteenth Century India,” focused on the life, accomplishments and dream interpretation of one of the most well known Muslim reformists in late colonial South Asia, Sir Sayyid Ahmad Khan.

The Center for Global Islamic Studies was launched in the fall of 2009 with the support and grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and is an intellectual community committed to the study of Islamic civilization. “This four-year grant provides support for library acquisitions and faculty research,” said Robert Rozehnal, the director of the center and professor of religion studies. “Thanks to this grant, the center now has a real dynamism and direction.”

The grant also funds three visiting faculty positions: a professor of practice in Arabic, a visiting scholar and a pre-doctorate/post-doctorate scholar.

During their time at Lehigh, each visiting scholar will teach a range of courses in their respective fields, while contributing to the intellectual life and numerous activities of the center.

Lynchburg mosque to hold open house

LYNCHBURG, VA–The Greater Lynchburg Islamic Association is holding an open house this Saturday for everyone in  the community to come and learn  about Islam.

The mosque was opened last December and on average about thirty people attend the prayer services. Speaking to the media GLIA’s president, Maqsud Ahmad, said you’ll often hear in the media about those who are not representing the true image  of Islam.

“We want to tell them that you know we are just like you, we are as friendly as you are. We believe in one God, the same God you believe in.”

Mosque opposed once again in Gwinnett County

ATLANTA, GA–Gwinnett County Commissioners delay voting on a zoning application that would allow a mosque to move forward with its expansion.

The commission is considering a re-zoning application by the Darus Salam mosque. They want to build a 20,000 square-foot, two-story mosque with towers.

Neighbors against the mosque say the issue is traffic and parking.One woman told commissioners, “It is not about the mosque itself. It’s about how they conduct themselves toward the neighborhood.The mosque said they need the space to accommodate a growing number of worshipers. They have bought the surrounding property. In addition to the mosque, they are planning a small strip mall with stores downstairs and a library upstairs.County staff recommended the re-zoning application be denied. The Commission is delaying their vote.

Interfaith prayer service held in Toronto

TORONTO, CANADA–About 100 people from synagogues, mosques and churches gathered last week at the Church of the Transfiguration for an historic service of Evensong (the traditional Anglican late-afternoon/evening service), sponsored by the Neighbourhood Interfaith Group. The Reverend Canon Michael Burgess, incumbent, officiated at the service; Imam Dr. Abdul Hai Patel delivered a sermon; Rabbi Baruch Frydman-Kohl of Beth Tzedec congregation recited a prayer, and Archbishop Terence E. Finlay, former Bishop of Toronto, gave the blessing.

“This interfaith Evensong service and kosher-halal reception is a unique way of bringing people of our Abrahamic faiths together,” said Bryan Beauchamp, chair of the Neighbourhood Interfaith Group, which represents five Christian denominations – Anglican, Baptist, Lutheran, Roman Catholic and United Church – and three Jewish denominations – Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist.

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Christian Scholar: Was Jesus a Muslim?

November 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Qur`an Passages ‘Appear on Baby’s Skin’

October 22, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Muslim World News

 

2009-10-21T194556Z_659097707_GM1E5AM0AGQ01_RTRMADP_3_RUSSIA-BABY-KORAN

A Muslim cleric holds baby Ali Yakubov at his house in Kizlyar in Russia’s Dagestan Region, October 19, 2009. A miracle baby has brought a kind of mystical hope to people in Russia’s mostly Muslim southern fringe who are increasingly desperate in the face of violence. From hunchbacked grandmas to schoolboys, hundreds of pilgrims lined up this week in blazing sunshine to get a glimpse of 9-month-old baby Ali Yakubov, on whose body they say verses from the Qur`an appear and fade every few days. Picture taken October 19, 2009. 

REUTERS/Amir Amirov

dagestan markings on skin
Ali Yakubov’s skin, with Qur`an

 

Ali Yakubov with mother and father.jpg
Ali Yakubov with his mother and father.

The parents of nine-month-old Ali Yakubov claim the phenomenon began when the word Allah showed up on their son’s chin when he was a few weeks old, British newspapers report.

Other words then started appearing on other parts of his body, including his arms, legs and back, before mysteriously fading away, the parents claim.

“Ali always feels bad when it is happening — he cries and his temperature goes up,” his mother was quoted as saying.

“It’s impossible to hold him when it’s happening, his body is actively moving, so we put him into his cradle … it’s so hard to watch him suffering.”

The marks usually appear each week on a Monday and then again sometime between Thursday and Friday, she claims. Medics at the family’s town in Daghestan province, near Chechnya, are said to be baffled by Ali’s condition.

They have reportedly dismissed speculation someone the words are caused by someone writing on his skin. The phenomenon has reportedly made Ali the subject of religious homage by many locals in the troubled region.

One local MP even hailed Ali as “a pure sign of God.”

“Allah sent him to Daghestan in order to stop revolts and tension in our republic,” Akhmedpasha Amiralaev was quoted as saying.

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Mumbai Terror Survivor Embraces Islam

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Islamnewsroom.com

NEW YORK – An American Catholic and survivor of a terrorist attack in Mumbai, India last November overcame hatred and opened his mind to learn and discover Islam and becomes a Muslim.

Dennis O’Brien Survivor of Mumbai Terror Attack ACCEPTS ISLAM

Dennis O’Brien, a Catholic, wanted to comprehend the basis of faith of people accused of committing the attack in Mumbai. He discovered in fact, the gunmen were certainly not following Islam at all. In fact, anyone who might take the time to open their eyes, open their minds and open their hearts would have to come to the very same conclusion.

Sunday, just after Eid salat and standing before a crowd of thousands, Dennis O’Brien embraced Islam.

He declared.. ..his belief – “There is only one God and the Prophet Muhammad is his last messenger”.

O’Brien, who heads up the education committee of St Anthony’s Catholic Church in Wilmington, Delaware, says this was a surprise, even to him. But said he was at peace with it.

“Today I feel free of sin,” he remarked.

After several months of studies and asking questions of Muslim friends and associates, “I feel comfort in Islam,” he said.

O’Brien also said he wanted to express solidarity with Muslims, even though extremists who say they practice the faith “tried to kill me”.

Pastor John McGinley, of St Anthony’s, said Sunday he had not heard of O’Brien’s embrace of Islam. McGinley said he knew O’Brien is inquisitive and has expressed concern about the young men involved in the Mumbai attacks.

He would not say if the declaration of another faith would affect O’Brien’s position at the church, noting he had not spoken to him about Sunday’s events. “I think this is part of his journey of faith and we can work with that,” McGinley said.

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On Being a Muslim

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kari Ansari

Villa Park, IL (USA)–“On Being a Muslim”

ansariSince becoming a Muslim many years ago, I have been compelled to strive for the potential I was born with, but up until that time did not use. My connection with God, through the teachings of Islam, has given me gifts of character and spirituality that I still find surprising.

Islam has made me smarter. God gave me a brain, but Islam gave me the reason to use it. For instance, being a Muslim woman has demanded that I grow intellectually. The Quran tells us over and over, “these are words for those who think.” Islam is a religion of thinking, questioning, revising our opinions, and considering the world from different perspectives. Over the years, I have listened to Muslim thinkers, scholars, and teachers who have changed, moderated, and enhanced their understanding of Islam as they themselves changed, moderated, and grew older and wiser. Islam has room for this. The message in the Quran is so layered and rich with meaning that it begs the reader to dive into the words over and over, only to surface each time at different places in its sea, leaving us gasping for breath from the complexity and simplicity that coexist simultaneously.

Being a Muslim has broadened my worldview. Being a Muslim in America means that I am part of a faith group that encompasses people of wildly different cultures and ethnicities. I have made friends and have worked with people from virtually all corners of the world. Since becoming a Muslim, I no longer view people through the lens of a television or movie camera, edited for my sensibilities; instead, I get to learn about them firsthand. I have friends who have transported me to their native land with a simple cup of tea and a little conversation. As an American Muslim, I have learned that the world is full of warm people who would give you their last meal, simply because that’s the way they have always lived.

Islam has taught me true empathy. I grew up in America’s safe neighborhoods, attending excellent public schools. With this advantage, I never experienced discrimination or disrespect from others until after I embraced Islam and wore the hijab, the Muslim headscarf. By taking on this visible identifier, I learned what it feels like to be the “other.” When someone spit on the street as I passed, just after the 9/11 tragedy, I experienced a little of what Catholics and Jews and other religious minorities in America went through in decades and centuries past. When my husband, a native of India, and I were swiftly refused a previously promised lease on a house after we faxed in our driver’s license photos to the out-of-town owner, I understood the resentment and frustration felt by those who suffer insidious bigotry. When I was made to stand with my arms and legs spread like a criminal for a physical pat down in plain view of other air travelers, I understood the humiliation of being profiled simply because of my faith. However, I consider these experiences a privilege, as they have taught me empathy for those who have suffered simply for being.

Islam has made me a stronger feminist. Contrary to common perceptions, being a Muslim woman demands that I become educated, one who questions authority and the status quo. The women who lived during the time of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad were constantly questioning the meaning of the revelations; they wanted to know where their place in society lay, and they asserted their intelligence in defining themselves. They asked the Prophet questions about their lives. They did not ask by means of their husbands or fathers; they spoke directly to the Prophet. Islamic teachings elevate women to equal status with men — the only qualifier of merit is one’s conviction of faith and actions. Islam leaves room for women to assert themselves in all aspects of community life, and while Musli ms in America are struggling against the misogyny brought from overseas, Islam gives us the strength and framework to claim equal standing with men in the mosque and in the greater society.

Islam has taught me real humility. Muslims are taught to perform each prayer as if we are in the presence of God — whose magnificence is more than any of us can fathom. Muslims must pray in a prescribed manner, and the most intimate position of the prayer is called sajud, where one kneels down and places the forehead and nose on the floor. In the very beginning for me, an American raised with a large amount of pride, it was difficult to pray in this position. I thought to myself, “This is humiliating,” but was told that this is the purpose of sajud. I performed the prayer as taught, but was disheartened when I did not find the solace promised. A wise Muslim woman told me to continue with the ritual, regardless of whether it felt hollow or not. So I persisted. Weeks passed, and I went through the motions of the daily prayers, until one day — all in an instant — I felt myself in the presence of God while in sajud. During those brief moments I gained everything I would ever need in this world — the eternal longing for that most intimate connection with my Creator.

My husband and I named our son Sajid, which means one who prostrates to God.

This article first appeared on American Public Media’s Speaking of Faith feature, Expressions of Muslim Identity.

Growing Questions on Death of Benazir Bhutto

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Bruce Loudon, The Australian

Capture9-23-2009-6.36.04 PM UNITED Nations investigators are preparing to question former Pakistani president Pervez Musharraf about the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, amid mounting doubts over official versions of how she died and claims of a cover-up.

The Weekend Australian Magazine reveals today evidence that a bullet – probably sniper fire from a high-velocity rifle – killed the former prime minister.

The Musharraf regime said a “bump on the head” resulting from a Taliban or al-Qa’ida suicide bomber killed Bhutto on December 27, 2007, shortly before an election she was expected to win.

This evidence contradicts the regime’s claim that the murder was the work of the Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, who was killed in a US unmanned drone attack.

There is no history of the militants using sniper fire – or even regular gunfire – in any of the hundreds of suicide attacks they have mounted in Pakistan.

Also revealed in The Weekend Australian Magazine is detail of the cover-up that followed Bhutto’s murder. The crime scene in Liaquat Bagh, a park in Rawalpindi, was washed with high-pressure hoses within 45 minutes of the blast, destroying almost all forensic evidence.

Naheed Khan, Bhutto’s political secretary for 23 years, who cradled her head as she died, told The Weekend Australian Magazine: “There were bullets coming from different directions. There are lots of high buildings overlooking the area. This was a typical intelligence (agency) operation.”

Ms Khan’s husband, senator Safdar Abbasi, who is also a doctor, was in the Toyota Landcruiser when Bhutto was attacked. “The way she died – her instant death – suggests very sharp sniper fire. A typical intelligence (agency) operation.”

The Weekend Australian Magazine reveals that, despite the law in Pakistan mandating autopsies in all cases of murder, and doctors attending Bhutto telling police that one should be carried out, none was performed on her or others who died in Liaquat Bagh.

Within hours, her body had been flown to Sindh province for burial, without a full forensic examination.

There is no suggestion of any involvement by Mr Musharraf in her murder. But the UN investigators want to question the former general. Given the authority he wielded in Pakistan, including over the army and its agencies, Mr Musharraf, 66, is thought to be in a better position than most to cast light on events surrounding the assassination.

At his apartment off London’s Edgeware Road, living under the protection of the British government, Mr Musharraf has appeared untroubled by demands to bring him back to Pakistan. He has played bridge with friends and eaten out during the holy month of Ramadan.

An internationally brokered secret deal allowed Mr Musharraf to step down and assured his future security.

After long delays in getting Security Council approval for its mission, the UN investigators started looking into Bhutto’s death in July and are expected to report to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon this year.

The investigators are reported to be preparing to talk to people in London and Washington, including CNN presenter Wolf Blitzer. On October 20, 2007, Bhutto sent Blitzer an email, through a friend, reading: “If it is God’s will, nothing will happen to me. But if anything happened to me, I would hold Pervez Musharraf responsible.”

Investigations into Bhutto’s killing are the subject of controversy in Pakistan.

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Salim Ejaz Still Alive in NY Comptroller Race

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Press Release

“Good News!” announced the Salim Ejaz election committee’s press release, “We are on the ballot for general election as an independent candidate.”

“Our candidacy is alive and well–we are on the ballot for the general election being held on November 3rd, as an independent candidate.

“With God’s grace, we have the strongest candidacy.   The only candidate who is a CPA, has 40 years of experience and has a stellar performance record of having saved taxpayers several hundred million dollars.  In the coming weeks, our candidacy should start getting  coverage by the mainstream media.  We are already on the Voter Guide, of which 2.5 million copies were distributed and we have also been on NBC Video Guide (please visit our website for this and other media coverage).

“We will be soon issuing our press releases detailing our plans to save NYC several hundred million dollars.  No other candidate has offered any such plan.

“We can win if we can obtain adequate funding.  Contributions can be easily made through our website by using credit cards. 

“Please spread our message and get involved: Vote. Volunteer. Contribute.   We will keep you posted.

“God bless you.”

By Salim Ejaz, Your Candidate for NYC Comptroller

Ladies’ Qur`an Class By Fatimah Murad

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

P1040696 A delighted chatter permeates the room, occasionally an effusive call of “Assalamu-alaikum,” or “Alhamdulillah,” rises above the general murmur as two sisters greet each other for the first time. The setting is the Qiyam-ul-Layl program, organized by the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) sisters-wing’s Chicago-land unit.

The majority of the participants are the regular attendees of a Quran Tafseer Class, also organized by the ICNA sisters. The class takes place in the morning after fajr prayer in a conference call room, throughout the year it takes place every Saturday and focuses on select Surahs but during Ramadan it becomes a daily occurrence so as to complete the reading of the entire Quran, in English translation, within the blessed month. This is the third year that it is taking place and, where it started as a local meeting involving sisters from the Chicago metropolitan area, it has now grown to include sisters from various states including Michigan, Florida, Maryland, and North Carolina and even from as far as Bahrain. There is diversity not only of location but also of background, there are revert Muslimahs and born Muslimahs who hail from various different nations. Many are of African American or South Asian background but there are also sisters from the Caribbean, Latin America, Africa, and the Philippines.  

Every morning, the sisters take turns reading a few of the ayahs punctuated by brief explanations and insights into the Surahs by Huma Murad and Amina Jaffer-Mohsin, the two moderators. Roll is called every class by the ever reliable Amidah Burton, to acknowledge the nearly forty participants. Through sharing their love for the Quran and Allah, the attendees have come to know and love each other as well. One sister, Afsheen Khan summed up the shared sentiments of many participant in commenting that though she had physically attended similar classes before “…this was special because of meeting so many sisters and [feeling such] spirituality.” Sister Shahina Begg who has been a regular attendee for all three years continued in a similar vein when she commented that she felt blessed in being introduced to the class because it “brought me closer to Islam and my sisters,” she added that though she initially only met her fellow participant on phone she felt compelled to “keep in touch throughout my life and inshallah stay spiritually connected.”

It was in hopes of fostering this bond, and to reap the most benefits from the blessed odd nights of the last third of Ramadan, that the Qiyam-ul-Layl event was organized. The class participants are given a chance to meet face to face, some sisters travelling from out-of-town to take advantage of the opportunity, and share a night of spirituality and sisterhood. As sister Jameela Karim explained, “The Qiyam-ul-Layl is the glue of the class, and having the program helps us put it all together. Seeing the people you hear every morning, you are fully connected.” Many sisters said they felt it created something akin to family ties.

The program allowed the sisters to share food and each other’s company, but also to join together for congregational prayers of Taraweeh and Tahajjud, and group discussions on spirituality and remembrance of God. Revert sisters, who constituted a majority among the nearly fifty attendees, shared stories of their early struggles with their families in the way of Islam, while their companions reminded the group that the greatest struggle took place within and that we all had our own hurdles to overcome. One of the greatest examples of triumph that the sisters witnessed at the Qiyam-ul-Layl was in meeting sisters Habiba Castulo and Hina Altaf, both legally blind from birth, who regularly attend the class and diligently read the Qur’an in Braille.

Jamila Yusuf commented to great agreement how she was “inspired by Habiba and Hina’s dedication to the Quran.” It was one of many instances where the sisters felt their faith had been strengthened by their fellow Muslimahs.

Though initiated as a rather humble project in hopes of sharing the knowledge of God’s word, the Quran Tafseer Class has grown into something unique and transcendent. It is difficult for any of the participants to explain exactly why this class, among so many similar ones, feels special. Moderator Huma Murad has a theory that it is due to its timing, the Prophet (s) spoke many times on the blessings of reading Quran after fajr. The greatest factor in its success, however, is the dedication and enthusiasm of its members. Newcomer Vonzella Matin called being introduced to it the “best gift I could have been given,” by sister Amidah, but she and her fellow participants have, with the help of Allah, given this gift to each other many times over.

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How to Connect with Qur`an

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor in Chief

The whole town was abuzz with the news that the best reciter of the Qur`an from the Middle East was coming to lead taraweeh prayers.

very one was talking about his voice, the magic of his recitation, the way his reading rises and falls and the way the melody of his recitation mesmerized everyone.

Especially in Ramadan this ritual is played out in Muslim communities around the world.

Although listening to a beautiful recitation of the Qur`an is captivating, but let us revive the essence of what the month of the Qur`an is meant to be.

In a population of over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, some 50 percent are illiterate. Acquisition of knowledge is one of the obligations upon every Muslim. Nearly 83 per cent are totally ignorant of the book that is the foundation of their faith. Some may read the Arabic text but do not know what they read in their prayers.

The Qur`an describes itself as a message for people who reflect and think. Muslims all over the world have begun to place emphasis on learning. Muslim families are genuinely concerned to ensure that their children learn biology, mathematics, chemistry, social sciences from the best schools with full honors.

Where the Qur`an is being taught it is limited to reading and memorization. To learn and excel in various fields of knowledge is essential but at the same time to learn and excel in the understanding of the Qur`an cannot be neglected.

A patient cannot memorize and just listen to the doctors prescription and believe that he will be cured. Once a prescription is written, the patient immediately picks up the medicine from a pharmacy and starts using it.

But the divine prescription for curing human ills is neglected in a manner that is unexplainable. To memorize the Qur`an is an honorable deed that God will bless but it is better to learn also the meaning of the Qur`an.

When a child is raised up in an environment where the Qur`an is seen as a book to be recited only on certain occasions without the need to understand it, his relation with the Qur`an will be superficial unless there is some dramatic change in his or her attitude toward the divine book.

The Qur`an is the most read yet most neglected book in our recent and distant history. Millions of people have memorized parts or the whole of the Qur`an yet we do not see the practice of the Qur`an in our societies. If the purpose of this book was to be recited and read without understanding the Qur`an would not claim to be a guidance for humanity.

Alif. Lam. Mim. This is the Book in which there is no doubt, a guidance unto those who ward off (evil). Who believe in the unseen, and establish worship, and spend of that We have bestowed upon them; And who believe in that which is revealed unto thee (Muhammad) and that which was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter. These depend on guidance from their Lord. These are the successful.

Baqara:1-5

The Qur`an was meant to be a book of guidance in every aspect of life. The recitation with understanding was recommended primarily to highlight the importance of its message in every day life. Yet we should also spend time reflecting on its message and looking for its application in our own lives, using it as a guidance in every aspect of life.

The month of Ramadan gives us a unique opportunity to restore our understanding of the Qur`an and learn its message. Yet most of the time and in most of the places, we fail to avail ourselves of the opportunity to further our understanding of the Qur`an beyond the surface level.

Modern technology gives us tools to capture the best voice and repeat it at our will. But this is not the only purpose of the revelation. It is meant to be understood, followed and implemented in one’s life. Reading Qur`an is good no matter what.  But if we are not living according to its guidance, perhaps we have not fully devoted ourselves to the Qur`an despite our reading.

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Community News (V11-I39)

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

World’s tallest man honored for honesty and service

tallest man MIAMI, FL–Aurangzeb Khan, the world’s tallest man alive, has been honored by the Miami-Dade County Services Department for his quality service as a cab driver. He was recently given the Chauffer of the Quarter Prize for his efforts to help his passenger. In one stance he even drove long distance to return a purse full of credit cards, cash, and medicines left behind by an Australian tourist.

`It is actions like this that restores faith in human nature, and as a regular traveler to America, it leaves me with a great feeling about traveling in your country,’’ the Australian tourist wrote ina commendation which was later used by the county in its press release announcing the award.

The Pakistan born Khan is 8 feet tall and now stands taller than Shaquille O’Neal.  He has been living in US since 1981 and now drives a cab after stints with circuses around the country.

But Khan is a towering figure not only in his physical height but also his honesty and kindness.

In 1992, he returned a bag with $10,000 a passenger forgot in the cab.

“Mr. Khan represents the kind of attitude that all chauffeurs should have when providing services to visitors and residents of this community,’’ said Sonya Perez, of the Miami-Dade Consumer Service Department. “By doing a kind deed, Mr. Khan gave this tourist a positive experience as well as a positive view of our county.’’

Hillary Clinton hosts Iftar at State Department

WASHINGTON D.C.–Secretary of State Hillary Clinton hosted an Iftar on Sept.15 at the State Department. She said that the White House is committed to improving relations with the Muslim world.

In her speech to the guests she said, “Now, this time of self-reflection and clarity reminds us that the principles that are the hallmark of Ramadan – charity, sacrifice, and compassion – are also values we cherish as Americans. They guide us towards good stewardship of our families, our communities, our country, and our world. It is, as one of my wonderful young aides who Farah has already referenced – Huma Abedin – summed up in the words of Abdul Ghaffar Khan, that we need to be inspired by our leaders to fight poverty, injustice and hate with, “the weapon of the Prophet—patience and righteousness.” Well, that, to me, sums up much of what we celebrate tonight as we break fast.

Now, we recognize that the relationship between the United States and Muslim communities has at times suffered from misunderstanding and misperception. But we are committed to learning and listening; to creating bridges of understanding and respect; and building stronger bonds of cooperation. We believe that there is more that unites people of all faiths than divides us.

The Obama Administration will work to ensure that our communication, our partnerships, and our policies reflect that core belief. Because whatever God you pray to—or even whether you believe at all—we all need to work for the same goals: a world where our children can live together in peace and prosperity, and fulfill their own God-given potentials.”

Sultana Ali promoted at Massey Communications

ORLANDO, FL–Massey Communications, Orlando, has promoted Sultana Ali to account executive, business development.

Ali is a former national board member of the United Nations Association-USA (UNA-USA) where she represented the Young Professionals for International Cooperation. Currently, she serves on the board of directors locally for the Central Florida Women’s Resource Center, FHSMUN (Florida High Schools Model UN) and Harbor House of Central Florida, where she serves on its executive committee as Second Vice-President.

She  has been honored with a Global Young Advocate Award from UNA-USA, the Central Florida Women’s Resource Center Junior Summit Award, the Girl Scout Council of Central Florida’s Young Woman of Distinction and was named one of Central Florida’s “13 Shining Stars” by Central Florida News 13 and the American Red Cross. She also received the agency’s Todd Persons Award. Recently, she was named as a Finalist for the eWomenNetwork Foundation’s Emerging Leader of the Year Award.

A Walt Disney Scholar and Florida Academic Scholar, Sultana graduated from University of Central Florida with a Bachelor of Science degree in International Business Marketing and a minor in Political Science where she was recognized with the J.C. Aspley award and scholarship.

Muslim students at Lehigh U. fight hunger

BETHLEHEM, PA–Muslim students at Lehigh University have joined the national push against hunger by volunteering at the Trinity Beth Episcopal Church’s soup kitchen.

The students are part of a national organization called Muslims Against Hunger, an organization that partners with soup kitchens and food pantries to provide volunteers and food, the student newspaper reported.

Taha Haque, contacted Zamir Hassan, the founder and head of Muslims Against Hunger, and expressed interest in bringing the organization to Lehigh. Haque said the chapter will be the first in Pennsylvania.

About 15 students helped serve a lunch of Hassan’s special chicken, rice and green beans to the people gathered at Trinity Beth. Haque said the participating students were from all different campus groups, including ROTC, Hillel Society and Hindu students.

Sierra Foundation hosts Iftar

sierra RENO, NV– The Sierra Foundation,a Reno based nonprofit intercultural and interfaith dialogue foundation, hosted three Iftar dinners in the past two weeks. The events were attended by a large number of non-Muslims.

Apart from the dinners the participants were treated to lectures on Islamic practices and a  cultural presentation on the poetry of Rumi.

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The First Fast

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Usman Ather

Once upon a Ramadan day when it was time to pray
I walked by my refrigerator and had hunger pains
While I ignored the potatoes, I suddenly noticed some tomatoes
Rows and rows of nuts and grains
I felt the blood slowing in my veins
Oh the hunger, just  patience remains

Again I remember, that Ramadan in December
It seemed as if the only thing in the world was food
I wanted to eat, vegetables, nuts, especially meat
Stomping my feet, across the street, this hunger ruined my mood
Little children are eating in front of me. How rude!
Oh the hunger, I desire food

Then came the time for Zuhr
The four, four, two, took forever
It was only Zuhr and I was thinking of Iftar. Why did it have to be so far?
I didn’t have a car, so I walked home on the tar and thought taking a nap would be clever
Shaitan advised me to sneak some food. Nay I say. Not now not ever!
Oh the hunger, only for His pleasure is this endeavor

I awoke from my slumber, with a craving for a cucumber
I finished Salat-ul-Asr, God be praised
Before Iftar I sliced an orange, the juice splashed onto my door hinge
Me and the team went to Krispy Kreme to get some donuts. Glazed.
But for now I envied every cattle that grazed
Oh the hunger, I’m completely phased

It was but an hour left for me to wait, until then, safe was my plate
The clock’s second hand froze, or have my eyes lied
I stare and stare. Yet, the second hand remains right there
My head was hurting, my throat was dried, this anomaly of time left me mystified
My sister laughs, “The clock’s battery died!”
Oh the hunger, I almost cried

I felt like a car impounded, but to my delight, the Athan had sounded
To food, my mouth was an open door
Food and drink, down my throat would sink
I ate and ate until the Ramadan weight gain mystery was a myth no more
A sated beast was I, lying there on the floor
This hunger tormented me, Nevermore

Religious Leaders Seek Peace

September 10, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Stephanie Drum, Christian Newswire

LAKE JUNALUSKA, NC– Over 320 Hebrew, Christian, and Islamic leaders will gather at the second annual Lake Junaluska Peace Conference September 20-22 for a time of learning about one another’s faith traditions, examining what each brings to the search for peace, celebrating our common heritage, and exploring ways we can be more effective “Peace-builders.”

This highly anticipated event features Archbishop Elias Chacour, Dr. Sayyid Syeed, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling and Dr. Lisa Schirch, each with diverse religious backgrounds that will help facilitate dialogues between the three Abrahamic Faiths.

Archbishop Chacour has been a strong voice for peace and reconciliation in Palestine and Israel and has worked with all factions and faiths. Dr. Schirch is professor of peace-building at Eastern Mennonite University. Rabbi Mordechai Liebling serves on the Board of Advisors of COEJL. Dr. Sayyid Syeed, the National Director of Interfaith and Community Alliances for the Islamic Society of North America, has been fostering understanding among the world’s religions and has participated in interfaith dialogues.

Dr. Syeed hopes that at the conference’s conclusion, participants will look for positive aspects of all religions. “People should go with a sense of mission that those of us who are believers have a joint responsibility of working for God’s creation. We want to make sure that intentionally or unintentionally, we don’t harm anyone, and we continue to contribute towards the betterment of God’s creation. This will create a tremendous kind of feeling that we are at peace with our own selves, with our neighborhood, community, and the whole of mankind.”

Speakers from each faith will describe what their scriptures and practices have to bring to the Table of Peace.

“This year’s Peace Conference centers on an issue that has universal implications. There is much agreement that we will not have world-wide peace until the major religions understand each other better and develop genuine respect for one other. As we focus this year on the three Abrahamic Faiths, we hope a significant number of persons from each faith group will be here. Come expecting to be challenged by the presenters. Come with an open mind and an eagerness to enter into creative dialogue with persons of other faiths,” Garland Young, Chair of the Peace Conference Planning Committee, said.

Persons of all faiths are encouraged to attend this event. Please visit www.lakejunaluska.com/peace.aspx for more information.

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Fasting Good for Brain?

September 3, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By Andrea Useem

2009-09-02T125425Z_01_DHA004_RTRMDNP_3_BANGLADESH-RAMADAN Ramadan is in its third week now, and the required dawn-to-dusk fasting often feels like a daily mini–marathon. By late afternoon, hunger and thirst have sucked me dry, leaving me sleepy, slow-minded, and sometimes short-tempered.

I know that the purpose of fasting is spiritual—God will reward us in the next life—but in this lifetime, fasting sometimes makes me an ineffective, irritable person. So I was excited to learn that Harvard psychiatrist John Ratey, MD, had spoken at a recent Renaissance Weekend event about how caloric restriction can improve brain function.

I emailed Dr. Ratey to find out if those benefits might extend to religious fasting, and he sent me a 2006 paper on the brain functioning of men during the Ramadan fast. The researchers studied a small group of healthy men during and after the holy month, looking at their brain activity via functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). They concluded that “all individual results showed consistent and significant increase of activity in the motor cortex during fasting.”

That research builds on the work of other scientists, including Mark Mattson, PhD, who heads a neuroscience lab at the NIH’s National Institute on Aging. Mattson has done important research on how dietary restrictions can significantly protect the brain from degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s.

In 2003, Mattson and others reported that rats deprived of food every other day, or restricted to a diet at 30% to 50% of normal calorie levels, showed not only decreased heart rates and blood pressure, but also “younger” brains, with “numerous age-related changes in gene expression.”

Mattson and his colleagues also shared data from research on humans, which shows that populations with higher caloric intakes—such as the United States and Europe—have a greater prevalence of Alzheimer’s than do populations that eat less—such as China and Japan. The authors speculate that humans may have adapted to conditions of feast and famine; the stress of having little food, they write, “may induce changes in gene expression that result in adaptive changes in cellular metabolism and the increased ability of the organism to reduce stress.”

Although this research is relatively new, with many questions left unanswered, the authors conclude that “it seems a safe bet that if people would incorporate a spartan approach to food intake into their lifestyles, this would greatly reduce the incidence of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and stroke.” (Of course, how this recommendation translates for individual people remains almost a complete unknown; consult with your own doctor before restricting your diet in dramatic ways.)

But here’s the hard part: Although we know eating too much leads to all sorts of health problems, “it has proven very difficult to successfully implement prolonged dietary-restriction regimens,” reports Mattson and his team. Information and doctor’s orders are rarely enough motivation.

This last observation gave me hope, because it seemed the authors were overlooking the role of religion; it can inspire people in ways information or experts don’t. Would I be undergoing this rigorous month of fasting unless I believed strongly it was the right thing for me to do? Probably not. And the same goes for millions of Muslims around the world.

And many other religions include fasting or dietary restrictions as part of their religious observances. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or Mormons, for example, fast one Sunday a month. The Orthodox Church in America notes five separate fasting seasons on its website, in addition to individual fast days; during some of these fasts, all food is restricted, and during other fasts, only certain foods are off-limits. Some Roman Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays, and all do during Lent. Many types of Buddhist monks abide by a code that prohibits eating after noon each day.

Science may only now be discovering that some of these religious practices, both ancient and modern, offer nourishment not just for the soul, but for the body as well.

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Myths and Facts about al-Qaeda

September 3, 2009 by · 2 Comments 

By Karin Friedemann, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS)

al_qaeda The media myth of a global Islamic conspiracy never got much traction in America before 2001 because the minority Muslim American population simply did not seem like much of a threat, because Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States are loyal US allies, and because Americans generally have a positive attitude toward wealthy investors. After 9/11 pro-Israel propagandists exploited public ignorance and created a nightmarish fantasy of al-Qaeda in order to put the US and allies into conflict with the entire Islamic world. What is al-Qaeda? What do they believe? What do they actually do?

Osama bin Laden first used the term “al-Qaeda” in an interview in 1998, probably in reference to a 1988 article written by Palestinian activist Abdullah Azzam entitled “al-Qa`ida al-Sulba” (the Solid Foundation). In it, Azzam elaborates upon the ideas of the Egyptian scholar Sayed Qutb to explain modern jihadi principles. Qutb, author of Social Justice in Islam, is viewed as the founder of modern Arab-Islamic political religious thought. Qutb is comparable to John Locke in Western political development. Both Azzam and Qutb were serious men of exceptional integrity and honor.

While Qutb was visiting the USA in 1949, he and several friends were turned away from a movie theater because the owner thought they were black. ‘But we’re Egyptians,’ one of the group explained. The owner apologized and offered to let them in, but Qutb refused, galled by the fact that black Egyptians could be admitted but black Americans could not,” recounts Lawrence Wright in The Looming Tower. Qutb predicted that the struggle between Islam and materialism would define the modern world. He embraced martyrdom in 1966 in rejection of Arab socialist politics.

Azzam similarly rejected secular Palestinian nationalist politics as an impediment to moral virtue. He opposed terrorist attacks on civilians and had strong reservations about ideas like offensive jihad, or preventive war. He also hesitated to designate any Muslim leader as an apostate and preferred to allow God to make such judgments. Inspired by the courage and piety of Afghan Muslims struggling against the Soviets, Azzam reinterpreted Qutb’s concept of individual and collective obligation of Muslims in his fatwa entitled “Defense of the Muslim Lands, the First Obligation after Iman (Faith).” Qutb would have prioritized the struggle of Egyptian Muslims to transform Egypt into a virtuous Islamic state while Azzam argued that every individual Muslim had an obligation to come to the aid of oppressed Muslims everywhere, whether they are Afghan, Kosovar, Bosnian, Thai, Filipino, or Chechen.

John Calvert of Creighton University writes, “This ideology… would soon energize the most significant jihad movement of modern times.”

At Azzam’s call, Arabs from many countries joined America’s fight against Communism in Afghanistan. No Arab jihadi attack was considered terrorism when Azzam led the group, or later when bin Laden ran the group. Because the global Islamic movement overlapped with the goals of the US government, Arab jihadis worked and traveled frictionlessly throughout the world between Asia, Arabia and America. Azzam was assassinated in Pakistan in 1989, but legends of the courageous sacrifices of the noble Arab Afghans energized the whole Islamic world.

After the Soviets left Afghanistan, bin Laden relocated to Sudan in 1992. At the time he was probably undisputed commander of nothing more than a small group, which became even smaller after he lost practically all his money on Sudan investments. He returned to Afghanistan in 1996, where the younger Afghans, the Taliban welcomed him on account of his reputation as a veteran war hero.

There is no real evidence that bin Laden or al-Qaeda had any connection to the Ugandan and Tanzanian embassy attacks or any of the numerous attacks for which they have been blamed. Pro-Israel propagandists like Daniel Pipes or Matthew Levitt needed an enemy for their war against Muslim influence on American culture more than random explosions in various places needed a central commander. By the time the World Trade Center was destroyed, the Arab fighters surrounding Osama bin Laden were just a dwindling remnant living on past glories of Afghanistan’s struggle against Communism. Al-Qaeda has never been and certainly is not today an immensely powerful terror organization controlling Islamic banks and charities throughout the world.

Al-Qaeda maintained training camps in Afghanistan like Camp Faruq, where Muslims could receive basic training just as American Jews go to Israel for military training with the IDF. There they learned to disassemble, clean and reassemble weapons, and got to associate with old warriors, who engaged in great heroism against the Soviets but did not do much since. Many al-Qaeda trainees went on to serve US interests in Central Asia (e.g. Xinjiang) in the 1990s but from recent descriptions the camps seem to currently provide a form of adventure tourism with no future enlistment obligations.

Although western media treats al-Qaeda as synonymous with Absolute Evil, much of the world reveres the Arab Afghans as martyr saints. Hundreds of pilgrims visit Kandahar’s Arab cemetery daily, believing that the graves of those massacred in the 2001 US bombing of Afghanistan possess miraculous healing powers.

Karin Friedemann is a Boston-based writer on Middle East affairs and US politics. She is Director of the Division on Muslim Civil Rights and Liberties for the National Association of Muslim American Women. Joachim Martillo contributed to this article.

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Houstonian Corner (V11-I37)

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Largest Ever Gathering At Houston Mayoral Iftar-&-Dinner

Picture L “This is my last term as well as Council Member M. J. Khan’s last term. My Descendant Mayor and other Elected Officials should learn that when you move an event from outdoors to indoors, the number of people gets tripled.” These were the words of Mayor of Houston Honorable Bill White, as he welcomed hundreds of Houstonians of all faiths present at the traditional Annual Iftar-&-Dinner by the Mayor. Prominent among them were several present and former elected officials & various candidates vying for City Hall Positions in November 2009 Election; Consul General of Pakistan in Houston Aqil Nadeem & his wife; Congressman AL Green, Houston Police Chief Harold L. Hurtt; City of Houston Councilpersons Pam Holm, Peter Brown, Jolanda Jones & M. J. Khan; President, Vice President and General Secretary of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH), who were one of the major organizers of the event, Dr. Aziz Siddiqi, Hashim Badat & Kamal Husain; President & Former President of Pakistani-American Association of Greater Houston Khalid Khan & Ghulam Bombaywala; President of Council On American-Islamic Relation Houston Chapter (CAIR-Houston)  Dr. Tarek Hussein; Hafiz Mohammad Iqbal and many others.

Sumptuous Food was catered by Mezban and Demasis Restaurants and served in a well organized by volunteers of Aga Khan Ismailia Muslims Community. This year saw record number of people attending.

Dr. Aziz Siddiqi and Dr. Tarek Hussein Faraz Khan, talked about the lessons learnt from Ramadan, as the month brings God Consciousness’ and an ingredient of thankfulness in a person. As such we need to be thankful to God for all the Blessings. God has informed us in Quran that if we do not thank human beings for their services, God will not be happy.

Mayor White and Congressman AL Green lauded the Muslim community for their societal service. Due to forecast for inclement weather, Councilman M. J. Khan moved the event from the City Hall Reflecting Pool to George R. Brown Convention Center. “Weather is good out there, but inside it is cool and we will have a nice and spiritual evening together.” Informed Emcee for the Evening Khalid Khan, President of Pakistani-American Association of Greater Houston (PAGH) and one of the candidates to replace termed-out M. J. Khan for District “F”.

For more information, one can reach Councilman M. J. Khan Office at 832.393.3002 or E-Mail: Rabia.Taslim@CityOfHouston.Net

You Cannot Use Cellular Phone In School Zone In Texas

With the schools back in session in the State of Texas, new traffic laws have been passed by the Texas Legislature that will take effect September first. Experts are saying that a lot of these laws are improvements; and they do also raise awareness for motorists out there, who just sometimes need to be reminded about wireless devices or buckling up.

The new laws prohibit cell phone use in school zones, and require everyone in the car to wear a seatbelt, not just those in the front seat. Tough new penalties on DWI offenders, who are caught with children in the car; first time offenders will automatically have their licenses suspended, and reinstatement fees are going up.

There are also new graduated licensing rules for young drivers’ ages 16 to 19-year-olds. Also starting September first, some younger kids will find themselves back in child safety seats. New medical research shows children under the age of eight – or under four-foot nine – still need special restraints in the car. Tickets for this offense can’t be issued till next summer.

Here are some of the things to see in the new traffic laws:

HB 537: Requires all occupants of a vehicle to be secured by a seatbelt; not just those seated in the front seat.

SB 61: Amends the statute regarding child passenger safety seats. Any child younger than 8-years old or less than four-foot nine-inches in height must be in an approved child safety seat.

HB 55: Makes it illegal to use a wireless communication device in a school zone, unless a hands-free device is used.

HB 2730: Increases penalties for driving while intoxicated with a child passenger. First time offenders will have their license automatically suspended. Reinstatement fees will double.

HB 2012: increases penalties on those driving with a suspended license and without insurance.

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Muslims and Climate Change

September 3, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

plant-a-tree Muslims are 1/3 of the world. How can they contribute to saving the earth? I am trying to focus on world’s one third population who are not paying attention about their claim in associating  themselves with their beloved Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) while He was the staunch advocator for the cause of environmental protection. According to Prophet (s) (hadith-by Al-Bukhari) “There is none amongst the believers who plants a tree, or sows a seed, and then a bird, or a person, or an animal eats thereof, but it is regarded as having given a charitable gift”[for which there is great recompense].

On various occasions, it’s been reported that the Prophet (s) had given plenty of importance toward cultivation of land…

See better treatment for animals; special concern for the preservation of water, plant and birds.

Importance of Planting a Tree in Islam

Citing the Prophet’s (s) concern about plants, Qumruzzaman Azmi-Secretary General of the World Islamic Mission, Manchester(UK), said that Prophet (s) says, if a person is dying and he or she gets the chance to plant a tree then do it before dying. Azmi further quoted the Prophet (s) “if the people knew the importance and benefit of planting a tree, there wouldn’t be a single place on earth left treeless.”

According to a prominent Muslim scholar, Dr. Al-Qaradawi, Prophet (s) said “He who cuts a lote-tree (without justification), God will send him to Hellfire.

(this is a much needed tree found in the desert area  with scarce vegetation)

This Hadith gives value to even one tree so we can figure out that how much destructive it is in destroying millions of trees; spoiling the earth’s resources; causing destruction for ozone layer etc.

Encouraging to Cultivate Wasteland

In order to protect the natural resources and preserve the balance existing between the diverse elements of nature in the environment, Al-Qaradawi further quotes the Prophet (s) who not only encouraged the sustainable use of fertile lands, He also told his followers of the benefits of making unused land productive: planting a tree, sowing a seed and irrigating dry land were all regarded as charitable deeds. “Whoever brings dead land to life, that is, cultivates wasteland, for him is a reward therein.”

Essentially, it is prohibited by Islam to let the land set idle for a long time without working it out, quoted  by Iqbual Nadvi from ICNA(Islamic Circle of North America).

Water Conservation

For the purpose of saving water, the Prophet (s) strictly abstained His followers from wasting a single drop of water while making Wadu( a ritual of removing impurity) . He also recommended repeating each thing not more than three times while performing Wudu, even if they are sitting near lake, river or a flowing spring.

In fact, there are innumerable instances which substantiate the intimate relation of the Prophet with Earth, Water, Land and Animal.

In the context of treating birds, He says “If anyone wrongfully kills even a sparrow, let alone anything greater, he will face God’s interrogation” [Mishkat al Masabih].

Reducing Animal Cruelty

Prophet Muhammad (s) taught his followers to be gentle and cautious at the time of slaughtering animals. He advised to use sharp knives following a civilized method in slaughtering the animals so that it could minimize the risk of  hurting  and facilitating  them to die quickly with little pain.

However, He forbade sharpening the knives and slaughtering any animal in the presence of other animals which, essentially, shows the dignity toward the animal. Prophet used to give special consideration to camel and horses as the most useful animal for journey and battle.

Obama’s View

Addressing in Cairo, US President Barack Obama inspired the Muslim World by inculcating them:” As a student of history, I also know civilization’s debt to Islam. It was Islam – at places like Al-Azhar University – that carried the light of learning through so many centuries, paving the way for Europe’s Renaissance  and Enlightenment.”

The Qur’an says, mankind holds a privileged position among God’s creations on earth: he is chosen as khalifa (vice-regent), and carries the responsibility of caring for God’s earthly creations. Each individual is given this task and privilege in the form of God’s trust. But the Qur’an repeatedly warns believers against arrogance: they are no better than other creatures.

“No creature is there on earth nor a bird flying with its wings but they are nations like you

[Qur’an 6:38]

“Surely the creation of the heavens and the earth is greater than the creation of man; but most people know not.”

[Qur’an 40:57]

Protecting Eco-System

In the thesis, submitted into UNO, Professor Dr. Farooq Hassan-President

Pakistan Ecology Council, says: protecting the environment and eco-systems of the earth are a major concern of the Islamic Faith. If the situation of the environment keeps deteriorating at the present rate, there will ultimately be no life, no property and no religion left.

As we face the effects of pollution and water scarcity in some parts of the world and floods and violent storms elsewhere, now it’s time for the world

community as a whole, Muslims, Christians and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists, atheists and agnostics, to take a leaf out of the Prophet’s book and address the current environmental crisis seriously and wisely.

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Biased Frisking Of Shahrukh

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, Muslim Media News Service (MMNS) India Correspondent

shah-rukh khan actor NEW DELHI: Just as Bollywood icon Shahrukh Khan was probably not prepared for being detained by American immigration officials at Newark Liberty in International Airport in New Jersey for questioning, United States apparently did not expect the reaction that it would trigger from India. Different views have been expressed on what actually led to Shahrukh being detained (August 15). Linking his case with his religious identity- a Muslim- Shahrukh said that he was held up because his last name (Khan) came up on a computer alert list. Incidentally, the actor was in United States to participate in India’s Independent Day celebrations and also to promote his new film: “My Name is Khan,” which highlights racial discrimination of Muslims after September 11, 2001 attacks in United States.

Shahrukh may have been detained for a still longer time had perhaps the Indian embassy in United States not intervened. Not every Khan or any person bearing a Muslim name is lucky enough to have his country’s embassy intervene in such cases. Nevertheless, the US immigration officials denied that Shahrukh was formally detained because of his last name having cropped up on their computer alert system. His security check “took a little longer because his bag was lost by the airline,” according to US Customs and Border Protection spokesperson Elmer Camacho. Irrespective of whether Shahrukh’s bag was actually lost or not, Camacho’s statement certainly indicates United States’ acknowledgement that the actor was detained for longer than routine security checks require. It defeats the view expressed by certain people that Shahrukh was only subject to routine security frisking and the actor unnecessarily made a lot of noise about the issue. This is further confirmed by US embassy in India stating that it would look into the case. “We are clarifying. We are trying to ascertain facts about the incident,” US embassy official said.

Soon after the incident, Shahrukh expressed that he would avoid going to United States, as he did not want to be a part of America’s paranoia of religion. “This has happened with me before and that’s why it concerns me all the more. As it is I shy away from coming to the US because I don’t want to participate in their paranoia about religion and everything that the US has developed into over the years. I don’t want to say that it happened because I am a Muslim as it may lead to something else, but I think it had something to do with that only. We can only avoid this by not coming to the US,” he said. Describing the incident as “uncalled for,” Shahrukh said: “I did feel bad. I felt angry. I am glad my family wasn’t there. God knows what they would have done to them.”

Reacting to Shahrukh’s words, US envoy Timothy J. Roemer said: “We are trying to ascertain facts of the case – to understand what took place. Shahrukh Khan, the actor and global icon, is very welcome guest in the United States. Many Americans love his films.” The incident would probably not have invited reaction at the diplomatic level from both India and United States, were it a routine process to which all visiting US are subject to. 

Undeniably, if an ordinary Indian possessing the same name had been detained for even longer hours than the actor, the incident would not have probably hit headlines nor would it have raised concern diplomatically, politically and among the Indian people. This also is perhaps a minor indicator of the apparent religious and racial bias, which people bearing common Muslim names are subject to in United States. While United States may still take some time to come to terms with the negative image that prevalence of this bias has earned for the superpower, it cannot be missed that Washington is gradually but definitely becoming aware of this hard reality. This probably compelled United States to issue statements at various levels on what led to the incident and that it would be looked into.

In addition to the incident having invited strong comments from several Indian politicians, Shahrukh’s fans reacted strongly by staging a demonstration in Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh). Shouting slogans against the US administration, they also burnt effigy of US President Barack Obama. They termed Shahrukh’s detention as an “insult to one billion Indians,” (August 16). A similar demonstration was staged in the capital city also.

”We will take the issue with the United States government strongly. Such incidents involving Indians due to their religion or nationality should not happen. We will not accept it,” Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel said. Earlier, Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni said that India should also adopt the same attitude towards Americans. “Like they frisk, we should also be frisking them,” she said.

While United States has yet to accept that biased frisking of Shahrukh- decided by his religious and racial identity- has added to the negative image about the superpower’s democratic claims, Indians have reacted strongly against it, indicating that the incident is democratically unacceptable to them. Biased frisking of Shahrukh was totally undemocratic from the Indian perspective.

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Houstonian Corner V11-I35

August 20, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Pakistan Center Annual Dinner: Councilman M J Khan Given Bombaywala And Mian “Life Time Achievement Awards”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         “I am happy to be here in Pakistan Center and want to congratulate the whole community that now we all have a home of our own”: These were the sentiments of the City of Houston Councilman M. J. Khan, as he handed out the highest award given by the Pakistani-American Association of Greater Houston (PAGH), “The Life Time Achievement Award”, to Former President Ghulam Mohammad Bombaywala and Mian Shabbir. All this happened during the annual dinner of PAGH on Friday, August 14th, 2009, which was attended by Consul General of Pakistan Aqil Nadeem, several Elected and Governmental Officials from the Homeland Security Department.

By the Grace of God, Pakistan Center is a huge place located in City of Houston District “F”, from where Masrur Javed Khan (past President of PAGH) got elected as the first Pakistani and Muslim City Councilman of Houston, but this past Friday was the first time M. J. came to this Center and everyone was most happy to see him and hoped this is not the only time.

Pakistan Center is the first of its kind in North America, was build in an old HEB Store, through the efforts done by the previous President of PAGH Ghulam Mohammad Bombayawala and his team. The huge Pakistan Center has several shops at the front end and huge party hall at the back, from where rental money is received, making the center self-sustaining. Center has nice offices, meeting rooms and library build for the administration of PAGH.

President of PAGH Khalid Khan had to leave for Pakistan to attend the 14th of August ceremonies over there being the Vice President of Peoples’ Party North America, but his wife and daughters filled up his spot pretty well by handing out flower bouquets to M. J. Khan and Mrs. Bombaywala.

Large numbers of attendees were entertained by famous comedians from Pakistan Kashif Khan and Pervez Siddiqui. Many people were listening to them for the first time and their jokes and presentation were quite fresh and most hilarious for everyone.

For more information on ongoing programs and projects for the community by PAGH, once can call 281-933-0786.

Bill King the Grand Marshall of the 1st Pakistan Day Parade in Downtown Houston

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA         Hundreds of Pakistanis and their friends from other communities gathered in Downtown Houston for the historic first ever “Pakistan Day Parade Houston”, which was held on Sunday, August 16th, 2009.

It is said that inaugural Pakistan Day Parade in USA was held in New York, which was attended by around 100 persons. But this inaugural Houston parade saw seas of human beings coming together to fervently celebrate the day.

People from other cities and States had also come for the Parade. Some people like Dr. Aziz Siddiqi came on their open cars with their names and message of Pakistan Independence Day written on their vehicles. Several Pakistani students from University of Houston and Houston Community College System had their separate floats and vehicles with Pakistani Flags and paling traditional music of various areas of Pakistan. All these Youth were organized by social figures like Mariam Issa and Dr. Birjees Ashraf.

Former Mayor of Kemah Texas Bill King was the Grand Marshall of this first ever Pakistan Day Parade in Houston, as he led several hundred enthusiastic Youth from the Houston Community College System and the University of Houston. Accompanying them were the Founding Members Khalid Mahmood (Chairman) & Nadeem Naik (Secretary); and the Consul General of Pakistan Honorable Aqil Nadeem & City Councilman M. J. Khan.

Later on at the stairs of Tranquility Park, where the parade culminated, having started at 400 Rusk Street and went around Rusk, Milam and Walker; the national anthems of Pakistan and USA were presented and several speakers made enthusiastic speeches. They included Bill King, City Councilpersons M. J. Khan and Jolanda Jones, Consul General Aqil Nadeem, Islamic Society President Dr. Aziz Siddiqi, Khalid Mahmood, Nadeem Naik, Mariam Issa, Dr. Birjees Ashraf and others. Stage Programs were coordinated by Saleem and Zara Syed of Young Trang; Rehan Siddiqui of Hum Tum City Radio and Moin Pirzada of Radio Perdes.

Following the parade, speeches and recognition of sponsors like Mega Energy, a concert; lots of food; intermingling of families, friends & colleagues and Pakistanis and Non-Pakistanis happened.

The next parade will be held in Houston on March 28th, 2010. For more information, one can call 832-876-2392; or visit http://PakistanDayParadeHouston.com

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