New Jersey Gets Its First Muslim American Judge

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Sunita Sohrabji   

sohailconfirmed_72211The state of New Jersey got its first Muslim American Superior Court judge June 30, as Sohail Mohammed, a former engineer from Hyderabad, took his oath of office.

Following contentious confirmation hearings in the New Jersey State Senate, Mohammed, 47, who became interested in law after serving jury duty, began working July 1 in Passaic County Superior Court’s Family Division.

“I am deeply, deeply honored to be representing the two greatest democracies in the world: India and the U.S.,” Mohammed said, adding that he hoped to create a process in his courtroom that left people’s dignity intact, regardless of whether they had won or lost.

Mohammed, who earned his law degree in night school at Seton Hall University while working for GEC-Marconi Electronic Systems, said he has already ruled on a number of adoption cases.

“You see the kids in court, and there are such smiles on their faces. They are already saying, ‘This is my mommy; this is my daddy,’” related Mohammed, who emigrated from India with his parents when he was 10.

“One kid asked to touch the gavel. I lifted him up and he gave the gavel a loud bang. It was such a moving experience,” he said.

Mohammed refused to comment on his combative confirmation hearings, saying only, “It was a process.” New Jersey Governor Chris Christie had nominated Mohammed for the post Jan. 14, and the attorney had told India-West in an earlier interview that he expected his nomination to be fast-tracked through the confirmation process.

At his confirmation hearing June 29, Mohammed was grilled extensively about his ties to radical Islamist groups, and his opinion of Sharia law. Republican state Senator Gerald Cardinale, asked Mohammed about the organization Hamas – defined by the U.S. as a terrorist group – and also asked him to define the term jihad.

Cardinale also asked Mohammed if he had ever objected to the term “Islamo terrorist.”

Republican state Senator Joseph Kyrillos asked Mohammed why there was not more condemnation from Muslims about terrorism.

In an editorial, local columnist Bruce Lowry likened Mohammed’s confirmation hearings to a “witch hunt.”

Jolsna John, president of the North American South Asian Bar Association, said the accusations levied against Mohammed were ridiculous.

“Just because your name is Mohammed does not mean you’re a terrorist,” she said.

“Sohail has done some really great work for our community,” said John, noting that Mohammed, post 9-11, had worked to build bridges between law enforcement and the Muslim American community.

NASABA reached out to Mohammed during his confirmation process, said John, who encouraged other South Asian Americans to apply for judgeships, adding that her organization could provide help and resources.

Cyrus McGoldrick, civil rights manager of the Council on American-Islamic Relations New York chapter, told India-West that the New Jersey state Senate had created a double standard during Mohammed’s confirmation process.

“This tells Muslim Americans that their service, their acts of patriotism, aren’t as valuable as those of other Americans,” stated McGoldrick.

“Muslims are being told on the one hand ‘acculturate within your larger community,’ yet our institutions and our people are being shut out,” he said.

Mohammed is a board member of the American Muslim Union and an executive board member of the New Jersey Bar Association. Following the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Mohammed represented more than 30 undocumented immigrants who were not affiliated with the attacks, but caught up in sweeps by federal agents. The father of three boys has trained the FBI on Islamic culture and arranged a job fair in New Jersey where young Muslims could apply for jobs with law enforcement agencies.

Mohammed, who formerly practiced immigration law in Clifton, New Jersey, told India-West he has disbanded his solo practice, handing his clients off to other attorneys.

“It was really sad for me,” he said. “But there’s a greater good to be done out there.”

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Some in Egypt See Threat After Mubarak

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Shaimaa Fayed and Abdel Rahman Youssef

CAIRO/ALEXANDRIA (Reuters) – Down the narrow alleyways of Cairo’s Sayidda Zeinab neighborhood, 100 men sway their heads and clap in rhythm as they invoke God’s name.

“O how you have spread benevolence,” chant the men, some dressed in ankle-length galabeya robes, to celebrate the birth of Fatima al-Zahraa, the daughter of the Prophet Muhammad (s).
The men are followers of the centuries-old Azaimiya Sufi order who seek to come closer to God through mystical rites.

Some say their traditions are now threatened by Islamists elbowing for influence after the overthrow of Egypt’s veteran leader Hosni Mubarak.

Tensions have long rumbled between the country’s estimated 15 million Sufis, attached to some 80 different orders, and ultra-conservative Salafists who see Sufi practices such as the veneration of shrines as heresy.

The ousting of Mubarak in February has loosened state control over Islamist groups that he suppressed using an emergency law in place since 1980.

As Sufis seek to defend traditions dating back centuries, what began as a loose religious identity could be gelling, gradually, into a political movement.

“If the Sufis stood side by side, they could be an important voting bloc … but their political and organizational power is less than their numerical power,” said political analyst Nabil Abdel Fattah.

Alaa Abul Azaim, sheikh of the Azaimiya Sufi order, says moves by Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups to enter formal politics endanger religious tolerance and oblige Sufis to do the same.

“If the Salafists or Muslim Brotherhood rise to power, they could well cancel the Sufi sheikhdom, so there has to be a party for Sufis,” Abul Azaim said.

Sledgehammers

Shrines dedicated to saints are central to Sufi practice and can be found in towns and villages across Egypt, but they are frowned upon by Salafists.

Many are built inside mosques and contain the tombs of saints. They are often highly decorated, using wood and mother-of-pearl.

Some religious conservatives also dislike Sufi moulids — festivals celebrating the birthdays of saints that have become carnival-like events popular even among non-Sufis in Egypt.
Moulid music has found its way into pop culture, such as the well-known puppet operetta “El Leila El Kebira” (The Big Night).

Fears for the future of Sufi traditions were underlined in April, when two dozen Islamists wielding crowbars and sledgehammers tried to smash a shrine used by Sufis in the town of Qalyoub north of Cairo. Their plan failed when residents rallied to defend the site revered for generations.

Salafist leaders denied their followers were behind the shrine attack and condemned it, while making it clear that they oppose the shrines.

“The Salafi call does not reject Sufism,” said Sheikh Abdel Moneim el-Shahat, official spokesperson for the Salafi movement in Alexandria. “We reject (the practice of) receiving blessings from tombs and shrines because it is against Sharia law.”

He said Salafis believe religious blessings can only be sought from the Black Stone of the Kaaba in the Saudi city of Mecca. Millions of Muslims circle the stone during the Hajj pilgrimage.

No Sufi Party Yet

Egypt’s constitution forbids political parties formed on overtly religious lines. That has not stopped Salafist groups such as al-Gama’a al-Islamiya and the once-banned Muslim Brotherhood moving to create parties to compete in September elections.

No overtly Sufi party has emerged — adepts of Sufism, with their emphasis on personal development and inner purification, have till now seen little sense in forming a political movement.
But one nascent party, al-Tahrir (Liberation), has pledged to defend their interests and, by doing so, has built most of its membership from among the Sufi community.
“There is no doubt that the (Islamist) flood that’s coming … scares them,” said the party’s founder Ibrahim Zahran.

Affirmative political action would mark a departure for Egypt’s Sufis, who have tended to submit to the will of Egypt’s political leaders since the 12th century.
“From Sultan Saladin al-Ayubi until Mubarak, Sufism was used by the state to reinforce its legitimacy,” said sociologist Ammar Aly Hassan.

In a sign they are more ready to challenge authority, sheikhs of 13 Sufi orders have staged a sit-in since May 1 calling for the removal of Sheikh Abdel Hadi el-Qasabi, the head of the Sufi Sheikhdom who was appointed by Mubarak in 2009.

They say Qasabi broke a tradition of ordaining the eldest sheikh to the position and they refuse to have him as their leader as he was a member of Mubarak’s disbanded National Democratic Party.
Many Sufis oppose the idea of an Islamic state promoted by Islamists who take the Iran’s theocracy or the Wahhabi ideology of staunchly conservative Saudi Arabia as a model.
Sufi Sheikh Gaber Kassem of Alexandria criticized the political ambitions of the Muslim Brotherhood and its slogan ‘Islam is the Solution’.

“This is a devotional matter, a religious call … so how are they entering politics? Is this hypocrisy?” he said.

(Writing by Shaimaa Fayed; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer and Jon Hemming)

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Ahmadinejad: US Plans to Sabotage Pak Nuclear

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

2011-06-07T144459Z_01_BTRE75614Z400_RTROPTP_3_INTERNATIONAL-US-IRAN-NUCLEAR-AHMADINEJAD

Iran’s President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad speaks during a news conference in Tehran June 7, 2011.

REUTERS/Raheb Homavandi

TEHRAN: Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad on Tuesday accused Washington, Tehran’s arch-foe, of planning to sabotage Pakistan’s nuclear facilities, during a media conference in Tehran.

“We have precise information that America wants to sabotage the Pakistani nuclear facilities in order to control Pakistan and to weaken the government and people of Pakistan,” the hardline president said.

The United States would then use the UN Security Council “and some other international bodies as levers to prepare the ground for a massive presence (in Pakistan) and weaken the national sovereignty of Pakistan,” he added, without elaborating.

Pakistan is the only Islamic nation with nuclear weapons, and has close relations with Iran.

In order to fight al Qaeda and Taliban insurgents in Pakistan, Washington has intensified its aerial operations in Iran’s southeastern neighbor.

Pakistani Islamist groups have at the same time multiplied their assaults on Pakistani military convoys and also on transport and fuel convoys through Pakistani territory intended for NATO troops in Afghanistan.

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