One Ummah

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The 15th Annual Western Regional Convention of MAS

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

maslogoThe United States faces serious problems, both domestically and internationally, problems that at a glance seem insurmountable.  Ignorance of Islam and Islamophobia are rampant. Muslim organizations are needed to combat the latter two and to offer Muslim solutions based on Muslim values to provide answers to our crises at home and abroad. Our culture is moving from R rated to X rated: What to do?

Many Islamic groups are active in offering such aid. One in particular the Muslim American Society (MAS), deserves special mention.

The Muslim American Society held a highly successful annual Western Regional Convention, the organization’s fifteenth, this past weekend in Los Angeles. The title of the event and its theme was: “One: One Ummah, One Brotherhood, One Pulse”.

More than two thousand people were in attendance in an event that began on Thanksgiving Day and ran through the following Saturday. The Muslim American Society of Greater Los Angeles (MAS GLA) was the host.

The majority of the three day convention was devoted to workshops, many intended for youth. The titles of the work sessions mirrored the theme of the convention. They included, but were not limited to: “The Believers are But a Single Brotherhood”; “One Ummah, One Body”, “The Fiqh of Priorities”, and “Our Means to a Beautiful End”.

Each session was conducted by learned speakers who were available to answer questions and expand on their presentations at the end of each session.

In one particularly timely session,  students from the original Irvine 11 spoke about their legal ordeal which grew out of their collective exercise of free speech at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) in February 2010. At that time the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, addressed a student audience and was confronted by a group of young Muslims vis a vis the illegal actions of the state of Israel.

Their subsequent arrest and indictment – almost a year to the date after the original incident and days before the statute of limitations would expire – angered civil libertarians. The students became a symbol of the limitations on free speech imposed on Muslims.

In a session titled: “I Don’t Plead the Fifth: Irvine 11 Speak out”, the students received a standing ovation, and many in the audience sought their autographs after the session ended. Each of the students stated unequivocally that he was glad of his actions and, given the opportunity, would do it again.

“What brave people” said one young woman in the audience. “It makes me feel  so proud”.

During a session titled: “A Quilt to Cover the Nation: Shaping the American Society by Applying the Fabric of Islamic Family Values”, two young Muslims introduced the Islamic Speaker’s Bureau.That organization will send Muslim speakers to address schools and law enforcement officers, to name but a few potential audiences, in an effort to explain Islam to non-Muslims and to counter act Islamophobia. Farhan Simjee and Shaista Azad invited the attendees and others who are interested to contact them at: isbsocal@gmail.com.

In one of the final sessions of the convention, the topic could not have been more timely. “One Ummah, One Pulse: Education and Mobilization to Help our Syrian Brothers and Sister” featured three speakers who gave the history of Syria, both ancient and modern, and offered practical actions that might be taken on Syria’s behalf.

One of the speakers,  Hussam Ayloush, the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in the greater Los Angeles area spoke movingly on behalf of the aspirations of the Syrian people. “We have a common bond as human beings and as Muslims”.

He called for the following actions. Be outspoken, use Facebook and e mail; talk to the media, and take part in protests; Get the DVDs sold at the booth of the Syrian American Council (SAC) in the bazaar, stay in contact with the activists (syrianetLA@gmail.com); wear buttons and T shirts to advertise your cause; donate money to help the victims in Syria.

“The right to freedom is a human right”.

A bazaar was held in the lobby during the convention. Attendees could purchase Islamic clothing, books, jewelry, and DVDs, and they could learn of different community organizations.

The booths included, but were not limited to: CAIR (http://ca.cair.com), ACCESS (www.accesscal.org ), InFOCUS News (www.infocusnews,net), One Legacy Radio (www.onelegacyradio.com),and the Institute or Arabic and Islamic Studies (IAIS) (www.islamic-study.org) and (www.legacyofpeace.net).

The Muslim American Society began in 1993 as a charitable, religious, social, cultural and educational  organization. It has grown since then to its present strength of fifty chapters across the United States. It is a go-to group for information and commentary, held in high esteem by the media and government officials on all levels. MAS emphasizes proactive community involvement such as community service, interfaith dialogue, youth programs, and civic engagement. It seeks to build strong Muslims with strong faith and a deep knowledge of Islam.

The recent roots of MAS can be traced to the Islamic Revival Movement that took place at the turn of the 20th century. Its ancient roots, of course, can be traced back to the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). The recent convention lived easily up to the standards of the Muslim American Society – to fulfill its mission for God consciousness, liberty and justice through the conveyance of Islamic values.

For more information on the Muslim American Society, please use the following email address: http://www.mascalifornia.org.

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Muslim Americans for Palestine Event

March 4, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, MMNS

muzammil-siddiqi
Muzzamil Siddiqi

The plight of the Palestinian people as they suffer under the boot of Israeli occupation is at the forefront of humanitarian concerns of people throughout the globe. Many individuals and organizations have addressed themselves to the Palestinian plight.

In December of 2009, as the world observed the first anniversary of Operation Cast Lead and the devastation wrought then by Israeli forces on an already beleaguered land, a new organization pledged to help Palestine was introduced to the public.

Muslim Americans for Palestine (MAP) is a project of the youth division of the Muslim American Society (MAS). Readers of The Muslim Observer will be familiar with MAP as its formation was announced at the MAS convention during the last weekend of the year. Its objectives are in many ways similar to those of other Palestine oriented group, yet it is also distinctive.

This past Saturday the group held its first formal event, a banquet and fundraiser at the Crowne Park Anaheim Resort in Garden Grove, Ca. Islamic Relief cosponsored the event and was the recipient of the funds collected. Islamic Relief will use the funds for their relief work in Palestine.

After prayers the evening began with a recitation and translation from the Holy Koran. Dinner followed.

During the early evening as people took their seats, two screens presented a video of MAP and its founding principles and goals.

The keynote speaker was Alison Weir, a human rights activist from Northern California. She spoke of the plight of Palestinians from her personal experiences and from the testimony she has received from eye witnesses, victims, and victims families. Her first trip to the oPt was in 2001 and was a fact finding expedition. What she discovered was the reverse of what she had been told by the media and her own government. Her organization, If Americans Knew, and her web site, www.ifamericansknew.org  are excellent and hard hitting sources of knowledge about Palestine.

As she spoke, her quiet voice and her presentation of facts and the inevitable conclusions these facts indicated, captivated the audience. Her emphasis was on the bias of the American media toward the state of Israel and against the Palestinian people. Ms Weir cited major news outlets: The New York Times, ABC, CBS and NBC Evening News and the Associated Press. “I am not talking about Fox News” she said.  She spoke of their unerring misreporting of deaths, always exaggerating Israeli losses and minimizing Palestinian ones; always manifesting a bias towards Israel with such consistency that it defied simple error or random chance. As she spoke, charts were shown on the two screens, statistical proof the accuracy of her claims. In addition cards were passed out to every guest with similar data.

Ms Weir included National Public Radio in her list of news outlets biased towards Israel.

Ms. Weir concluded by urging her audience toward action.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi was another informative speaker. Dr. Muzammil’s leadership in the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California (ISCSC); the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA); the Fiqh Council of North America, and the Islamic Society of Orange County (ISOC), to name but a few organizations, have made him a sought-after speaker. As a theologian and Islamic scholar he is also famous for his interfaith work.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi spoke of his trip to Palestine with interfaith leaders. The audience gasped when he spoke of the  650 checkpoints imposed on Palestinians by their Israeli occupiers..

“ I never imagined that there would be so many. How do you get through the day?” asked one young woman. As if in answer to her question Dr. Siddiqi spoke of the hardships wrought by these checkpoints on workers, students, and people in need of medical help.

Dr. Siddiqi urged people to visit the oPt and “see with their own eyes” the conditions there.

Dr. Siddiqi also spoke of the place of Jerusalem in the Islamic faith and referenced Koranic verses.

Attorney and human rights activist Reem Salahi spoke of the “Irvine 11”. A murmur passed through the audience with this familiar reference. These eleven students are threatened with expulsion or suspension by the University of California in Irvine (UCI) for exercising their free speech rights during the appearance on campus of Israeli Ambassador to the United State Michael Oren. In addition, the University has referred their case to the District Attorney in Orange County.

Ms Salahi was part of a delegation to Gaza a year ago, a delegation sponsored by the National Lawyers Guild. There the group found numerous violations of International law on the part of the Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead.

Ms Salahi said that to speak of the Irvine 11 was not off subject. They are symbolic of the plight of the Palestinian people. The Israelis are the occupiers and the oppressors. The presence of their representative at UCI is not acceptable.

In dealing with the Israeli/Palestine issue she made an analogy with a boat that should be parallel but is instead diagonal with Israel on top. Muslims want fairness for Palestine: they want to right the boat.

Muslim Americans for Palestine has a three pronged approach to the Palestinian problem: Educate, Empower, Preserve. It is a grass roots organization dedicated to justice and self determination in Palestine. Recognizing the natural affinity between the American Muslim community for Palestine and recognizing also the pioneering spirit embodied in youth, MAP, in accordance with the Islamic faith. has been launched.

For further information, please access the MAP web site at: www.mapalestine.org

Islamic Relief may be accessed at its web site: www.islamic-relief.com.

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Suit by Alleged Informant Says FBI Endangered His Life

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Craig Monteilh, who says he worked undercover in Orange County as part of anti-terrorism efforts, accuses the bureau of abandoning him after mishandling a case. Action also names the Irvine Police Dept.

An Irvine man who says he worked as an undercover informant for the FBI, most notably as a Muslim convert in an anti-terrorism case, filed a lawsuit Friday accusing his law enforcement handlers of violating his civil rights and endangering his life.

Craig Monteilh, 47, says he worked as an informant for the FBI from 2004 through 2008, providing information and assistance in narcotics, bank robbery and murder for hire investigations before being asked to go undercover as part of an anti-terrorist effort in Orange County, according to a complaint filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles.

Monteilh alleges that the FBI essentially cut him loose after a supervisor bungled an operation that would have led to the discovery of “bomb making materials” in a Tustin mosque. Afterward, the lawsuit alleges, his FBI handlers reneged on a promise to implement an “exit strategy” that was to include back pay and severance pay and help with beginning a life with a new identity.

Monteilh also accused the FBI of breaking a promise to clear up a grand theft conviction he says was the result of his work as an informant in a 2006 steroids distribution case. His suit also names the Irvine Police Department and the detective who investigated the case. “The government will have the opportunity to defend the lawsuit in court,” FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said in a prepared statement. “However, the accusations appear to be desperate attempts by Mr. Monteilh to personally benefit at the expense of law enforcement officers and the Muslim American community.”

Monteilh says in his lawsuit that his work for the bureau at times placed his life in jeopardy. At one point after his cover was blown, he said, Muslim extremists “ordered a `fatwa’ “ against him and the Romania Mafia, Mexican Mafia and a white supremacist group all wanted him dead.

Monteilh said he warned the FBI of the threats against him and asked to be placed in protective custody while serving a 16-month state prison sentence for the grand theft conviction, but that his request was ignored and he was left in the general population of Wasco State Prison. He said he was attacked several times while in prison, including an April 2008 incident in which he was allegedly stabbed multiple times in the legs by members of a white supremacist group called Public Enemy Number One. The assault, he said, left him with permanent scars and reduced mobility.

Monteilh said the FBI recruited him to infiltrate drug trafficking groups shortly after his 2004 release from prison, where he was serving a sentence for forgery. That led to stints with the bank robbery and murder for hire squads, according to his lawsuit. His most sensitive assignment began in 2006, when he said he was approached to work under a program called “Operation Flex,” in which he assumed the identify of a Muslim convert and went undercover to identify extremists and gather intelligence.

Under the direction of his FBI handlers, Monteilh assumed the identify of Farouk Al-Aziz and claimed to be a new Muslim convert of French and Syrian descent, his suit alleges. Monteilh said he was given the code name “Oracle” and instructed to spy on the Islamic community.

To support his cover, Monteilh said he learned to read, write and speak Arabic, became well versed in the pillars of the Islamic faith and began dating Muslim women. After his successful immersion in the Muslim community, particularly at the Islamic Center of Irvine, Monteilh said he was approached by extremists who attempted to “radicalize” him. He says the information he provided led to the indictment of Ahmadullah Sais Niazi last February. According to an FBI agent who testified at Niazi’s bail hearing last year, Niazi was secretly recorded by an informant while initiating jihadist rhetoric and threatening to blow up abandoned buildings. Monteilh says he was the informant who made the recording — a claim the FBI will neither confirm nor deny.

Niazi, who was born in Afghanistan, has not been charged with terrorism. Rather, he was charged with lying on his citizenship and passport applications for failing to disclose that his brother-in-law is a close associate of Osama bin Laden. He pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

Monteilh first went public with his charges in February, upsetting members of the Muslim community and some civil libertarians who were critical of the practice of informants being placed undercover in mosques. Those concerns were inflamed in April when Monteilh told The Times that he also lured Muslim men to Orange County gyms, where agents allegedly seized video of them coming and going as part of their probe.

Monteilh’s claims of working for the bureau in some capacity were confirmed in December when he persuaded a judge in West Covina to unseal court records showing that his probation in a theft case was terminated early at the behest of the FBI in 2007.

A transcript of a hearing in the case revealed that a prosecutor told the judge that Monteilh had provided “very, very valuable information” that had proven “essential” to a federal prosecution.

scott.glover@latimes.com

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