Reaching Out

September 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Aqeela Naqvi

BLACK_AND_WHITE_Aqeela_NaqviAfter the tragic events of September 11, 2001, communities around the nation came together to help each other grieve, to support those who had lost loved ones, and most importantly, to help each other heal. One aspect of this healing was seen in many interfaith communities, as the horrendous acts by terrorists on 9/11 had sent waves of discord through interfaith relations.

In order to keep communities together and keep interfaith relations strong, many communities reached out to centers of different faiths. One such is the Freehold community, where three centers of different faiths: Muslim (Bait-wali-ul-Asr, IZFNA), Catholic (St. Robert Bellarmine Church), and Reform Jewish (Temple Shaari Emeth), came together in 2006 to form a program called Project Understanding. This program, according to the Monmouth County Human Relations Commission, was created to “promote positive human relations amongst diverse groups in Monmouth County through interaction with interfaith groups and community service projects, such as the collecting and delivering food for the Open Door Food Pantry, serving meals at the Freehold Area Lunch Program, and collecting and distributing food and clothing to homeless in the Midnight Run Project.” The Midnight Run Project involved youth from three different faiths in collecting clothing, food items, and toiletries at their respective centers, and coming together on a cold, winter night, to load the items on a bus, and distribute them to the less fortunate at midnight in New York City.

DSC05266At the completion of the program, the youth were awarded with certificates of appreciation, presented by the Monmouth County Human Relations Commission. The program is now inactive, but memories of the positive effect it had on creating relationships based on understanding and friendship between youth of different faiths calls for more programs of its kind. By focusing on the youth, programs like these will allow for the future leaders of the world to build the foundation of their interfaith understanding today, instead of waiting for tomorrow, so that in the years to come, acceptance and understanding between the communities can continue to grow, and ties of friendship will continue to be passed down for generations to come, Insha’Allah.

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Syrian Forces Round Up Dozens in Hama

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dominic Evans

BEIRUT (Reuters) – Syrian forces rounded up dozens of people around Hama on Wednesday, a day after shooting dead 22 people, activists said, and Amnesty International said Syria may have committed crimes against humanity in an earlier crackdown.

Tanks were still stationed outside Hama, which has seen some of the biggest protests against President Bashar al-Assad and was the site of a bloody crackdown against Islamist insurgents nearly 30 years ago.

But some of the tanks were redeployed away from the city and a resident said security forces were concentrated around the headquarters of the ruling Baath Party, the police headquarters and a state security compound. Most arrests took place in the outskirts of the city.

Ammar Qurabi, Cairo-based head of the Syrian National Human Rights Organization, said the death toll from Tuesday, when gunmen loyal to Assad swept through the city, had risen to 22.
He said hundreds of people had been arrested.

Rami Adbelrahman of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said 23 people had died in Hama in the last 24 hours, and that an opposition figure in the city had reported water and electricity supplies were cut to the city on Wednesday morning.

State news agency SANA said one policeman had been killed in a clash with armed groups who opened fire on security forces and threw petrol and nail bombs at them. It made no mention of civilian deaths but said some “armed men” were injured.

Syria has prevented most independent media from operating inside the country, making it difficult to verify accounts from activists and authorities.

Hama was emptied of security forces for nearly a month after at least 60 protesters were shot dead on June 3, but the security vacuum emboldened demonstrators and on Friday activists said at least 150,000 people rallied to demand Assad’s downfall.

The next day Assad sacked the provincial governor and sent tanks and troops to surround the city, signaling a military assault similar to those carried out in other protest centers.
In a report released on Wednesday, Amnesty International said the crackdown two months ago against one of those protest centers — the town of Tel Kelakh near the border with Lebanon — may have constituted a crime against humanity.

Urging the United Nations to refer Syria to the International Criminal Court, it said nine people died in custody after being captured during the operation in the town, close to the Lebanese border.

“Crimes Against Humanity”

Describing a “devastating security operation”, it said scores of men were rounded up, and most of them were tortured.

Some detainees told Amnesty they were beaten and tied by the wrists to a bar high enough off the ground to force them to stand on the tip of their toes for long periods — known as the shabah, meaning ghost, position.

A 22-year-old man told Amnesty he was tied up in the shabah position had electric shocks applied to his body and testicles during five days of detention in the provincial capital Homs.

“Amnesty International considers that crimes committed in Tel Kelakh amount to crimes against humanity as they appear to be part of a widespread, as well as systematic, attack against the civilian population,” it said.

Syrian activists say security forces have killed more than 1,300 civilians since the unrest erupted 14 weeks ago. Authorities say 500 soldiers and police have been killed by armed gangs who they also blame for most of the civilian deaths.

Assad has responded to the protests with a mixture of repression and concessions, promising a political dialogue with the opposition. Preliminary talks on the dialogue are due to be held on Sunday.

But opposition figures refuse to sit down and talk while the killings and arrests continue, and diplomats say events in Hama will be a litmus test for whether Assad chooses to focus on a political or a military solution to the unrest.

Some residents sought to halt any military advance earlier this week by blocking roads between neighborhoods with rubbish containers, burning tyres, wood and metal.

The New York-based group Human Rights Watch (HRW) said it had been told by an official at Hama’s Hourani hospital that security forces surrounded the hospital on Tuesday, although they did not enter it, as it received the bodies of four people and treated 60 others with gunshot wounds.

“Security forces have responded to protest with the brutality that’s become familiar over the past several months.” said Sarah Leah Whitson, HRW’s Middle East director.

Assad’s father, Hafez al-Assad, who ruled Syria for 30 years until his death in 2000, sent troops into Hama in 1982 to crush an Islamist-led uprising in the city where the armed wing of the Muslim Brotherhood made its last stand.

That attack killed many thousands, possibly up to 30,000, and one slogan shouted by Hama protesters in recent weeks was “Damn your soul, Hafez”.

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Dr. Muzammil Siddiqui honored with Human Relations Award

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

DrMuzammilSiddiqui-002ORANGE COUNTY, CA–Distinguished Imam Dr. Muzammil Siddiqui was honored with the the Community Leader Award by the Orange County Human Relations on its 40th anniversary.

On our 40th anniversary, OC Human Relations takes great pride in honoring these extraordinary people,” says C. William Wood, chair of the OC Human Relations Commission.  “These are Orange County’s unsung heroes, the people who dedicate tremendous amounts of their own time with no expectation of reward or recognition to make the county a better place for all people to live, work and do business.  At a time in our nation’s history when so many communities are polarized it’s a privilege to highlight the efforts of these bridge builders.”

The commission published an overview of Dr. Siddiqui’s long listing of contributions: “Dr. Siddiqi has served 30 years as the Imam of the first and largest Mosque in Orange County. Despite the hate and vandalism the mosque has too often faced, Dr. Siddiqi has always reacted with compassion. He brings a moderate, forgiving, open and embracing approach to his efforts. Dr. Siddiqi co-found the Academy for Judeo, Christian and Islamic Studies in the late 1970’s to build understanding between these three Abrahamic faiths and to emphasize their commonalities, despite the political conflict that at times drives wedges between them.

He has led and organized many interfaith dialogues, spoken at the World Assembly of Churches and participated in many seminars organized by the National Council of Churches and the National Council of Christians and Jews. In September 2001, President Bush invited him to lead a Muslim Prayer at the Interfaith Prayer Service at Washington’s National Cathedral. The Los Angeles Times, in recognizing Dr. Siddiqi as one of the 100 most influential people in California, described him as “…the religious leader of thousands of Southern California Muslims at a time when xenophobia is running high, he has been a leader in driving home the point that Muslims in the U.S. are peace loving.”

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Obama Honors Mary Robinson with Presidential Medal of Freedom

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

From LA County Foreign Policy Examiner, Lawrence Gist

Mary Robinson, the courageous former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, is among the distinguished recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to be awarded by President Obama on August 12, 2009. This honor is well deserved. Robinson, the former President of Ireland, has brought a clear, uncompromising voice on behalf of people throughout the world whose rights have been infringed.

Yet, as it has done before, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) has led a charge, joined in the last few days by several other groups, vilifying Robinson with false accusations that she is “anti-Israel.”  Most of their criticisms stem from her role at the UN Conference on Racism held in Durban, South Africa, in 2001 when she served as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

“In stark contradiction to these allegations, Robinson forcefully condemned Israel-bashing and anti-Semitism under circumstances where it would have been far easier to remain silent,” noted PHR Deputy Director Susannah Sirkin.

Throughout her laudable tenure as High Commissioner, Robinson stood steadfastly for universal human rights. All Americans should be proud that President Obama is awarding this extraordinary honor to her. Physicians for Human Rights commends President Obama on his choices, and congratulates Mary Robinson together with all of the other 2009 honorees.

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