Rep. Keith Ellison Speaks Out About the Lowe’s Controversy

December 15, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Press Statement:  Congressman Keith Ellison

Ellison Statement on Lowes’ Removal of All-American Muslim Advertisement

WASHINGTON–Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) released the following statement today after Lowes decided to pull its advertisement from TLC’s All-American Muslim series:
“Lowe’s Corporation has chosen to uphold the beliefs of a fringe hate group and not the creed of The First Amendment, which guarantees the free exercise of religion. This is disappointing since the success of ‘All-American Muslim’ shows how ready the country is to learn about Muslims as Americans. This probably makes hate mongers uncomfortable–as they should be. Our nation’s history is full of examples demonstrating how we have repeatedly torn down false divisions hate groups choose to create. But the struggle against bigotry and hatred must continue so we never give in to intolerance like Lowe’s Corporation has done. Corporate America needs to take a stand against these anti-Muslim fringe groups and stand up for what is right because this is what it means to be an American.”

13-51

The New Tunisian Democracy: Islamic or Secular?

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Washington–For the past several months since early summer, we have been examining Palestine’s bid for nationhood at the UN in New York City (NYC).  Last week their application went to the security council of the UN and, as was predicted by yours truly on these very pages a month and one-half ago, it was shunted to a committee of that august body on Manhattan.  As was predicted by Palestine’s diplomatic representative to the united states, he, also, foresaw that the proposal would be eventually forwarded to the general assembly (g.a.) Where, at the least, ramallah would be granted permanent observer status within the  g.a. Which would transform (the international) legal landscape for the fertile crescent.  The current move was meant to forestall the inevitable, and push Tel Aviv into more substantive negotiations.

President Barrack Hussein Obama is “caught between a rock and a hard place” with the American Zionist right-wing, led by the despicable AIPAC (the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee).  To oppose them is a death bell for any American politician.  The case of Cynthia Mckenna, the Afro-American congresswoman from a black Georgia district (likewise your author has written up a conversation with this former congressperson while in Sacramento a time back for this newspaper) was an “outspoken” advocate for both for the Palestinians and the Pakistanis within the house of representatives; and, thereby, she was twice “assassinated” politically by AIPAC’s filthy lucre.  It is rumored, for his proposals for a peace in the Levant the u.s. President is already targeted for his middle east policies by Jewish and Christian Zionists (the latter back the reactionary “tea party,” besides).  The Obama administration is trapped between his foreign initiatives to win over the Arab “spring” and his domestic enemies.

Keith Ellison of Minnesota, the only Muslim in in the American lower legislative chamber, has written a recent oft-quoted op-ed in the September 22nd new york times regarding the imbroglio within the holy land, “…direct negotiations have deteriorated to a dismally low point.”  My op-ed in the cyber and newsprint editions here last week may be a way out for the Obama government, and your commentator is circulating his ideas about to officials within the city of this article’s dateline – including in the form of a letter to Mr. Ellison.

Let us move on from Palestine, which has been alluded to as the source for the Arab “spring” to Tunisia, the first successful upheaval for Arab self-agency.

Before  the scheduled upcoming elections of October 23rd for the first “post-revolutionary” assembly, who will have the charge to draft a new constitution for this Maghreb countryside, your essayist hopes to compose several articles to present to American Muslims the realties on the ground in this modern punic territory which  is the most likely to make the transition to a contemporary Islamic democracy within that “spring” successfully.

Hamadi Jebali, the secretary-general of the al-Nahda party, who believes that Tunisia should be a fully Islamic society, also, reasons that its politics should not be locked in by the hadith along the lines of turkey, but the political landscape should be much less constitutionally radical than the nation that straddles the Bosporus.. The editor seems to be recommending a middle ground between the sacred and the secular – an Islamic modernism  if you will.

The engineer was quoted in an interview with The Italia News Webzine, “Our party is opposed to the introduction of the Sharia into the Constitution.  It is right for religion to play a role in society, but it should be separate from the State.  It is one thing to be inspired by the values and principles common to all the great monotheistic faiths, but the one source of the law should be the public will, and not the precepts of the Koran.”

He was in the District of Columbia last spring at the invitation of my Tunisian-born colleague, Radwan Masmaodi, the founder of the Washington and now Tunis’ (branch of) the center for democracy and Islam.  This presentation and interview was given at the US Capital’s (left of center) Stimson Center.

Hamadi Jebali (pictured to the left) was born during 1949 in Sousse, Tunisia. He is a graduate of the French (the former Colonial power of the Republic on the Southern Mediterranean littoral.  Parisian institutions have highly influenced, along with Islam, Tunis’ concept of the democratic) engineering institution, the Arts et Métiers in 1980 achieving an engineer’s degree in energy. He participated in many civil society activities during his ten-year stay in France, and was one of the founders of the French Muslim Association which demonstrates his deep personal Islamic religiosity, and participated in inter-religion dialogue that, further, demonstrates his toleration and liberality towards the beliefs of others, too.  He returned to Tunis in 1981, and became a member of the political bureau of the Islamic Tendency Movement.  Jebali became the president of this movement from 1981 to 1984.

Hamadi ran into legal difficulties for his political views in 1987 after Ben Ali came to power in late that year.

Despite this, Mr. Jebali became the political director of Nahda and the editor of the newspaper El Fair, the official newspaper of his party.  In 1990, he was condemned to sixteen years in prison, again, as a result of his political views and affiliation with al-Nahda, and spent 10 years in solitary confinement while in jail.  He was freed in 2006.  Then, he reintegrated into the Nahda party, and became its Secretary-General.

The presentation was in Arabic with translation by Masmaodi which gave your reporter plenty of time to get his comments down accurately.

What the “’Revolution’ was about was the dignity of the human being (very French) and social justice (more Islamic).   “We have to make this Revolt succeed…for social justice…We want political freedom…[for] One [dignity] goes with the other [freedom].”  Democracy is wherever freedom and justice reside side-by-side.

A State should represent all of its citizens, and refuse to be deleterious to any part of the body politique.  Everyone should have at least the “minimal rights” of residency!

Tunisia, the Metrpole of the pre-Islamic Carthagian Imperial world of the ancient past, has accomplished wonderful achievements over the centuries.  Even in the latter period education, women’s rights, etc. have been respected and have abounded.  Therefore, a “Peaceful democracy …is possible” in North Africa even though there are, additionally, many challenges which remain from individuals who benefited from the former regime, and still resist democratic change.

Thus, we shall require your support in the West.

13-41

Hillary Clinton Speaks at Eid ul-Fitr Reception

September 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Hillary Clinton

Ben Franklin Room

2011-09-01T141308Z_1393267109_GM1E7911PY301_RTRMADP_3_LIBYA-CONFERENCE

File: Hillary Clinton in Paris September 1, 2011.

REUTERS/Benoit Tessier

SECRETARY CLINTON:  Thank you, Farah.  Thank you.  Well, I am a wannabe athlete – (laughter) – and I have absolutely no claim to being anything other than that, but I am delighted that this evening we are going to be honoring some young people who truly are athletes and who are carving their own futures in the history of our country.

So good evening everyone.  Eid Mubarak.  And thank you, Farah, for your tireless efforts on behalf of the work that brings you not only to this podium but around the world.

It is a delight to see so many ambassadors from countries that I have visited and know well and to see many familiar faces here again, particularly some of the youth leaders that we honored at our last Iftar dinner.  The problem with Ramadan in August is it was impossible, and so we thought, well, it’s September but we’re going forward.  And so I thank you for your understanding and your being here once again.

Now, I’m told that there are two members of Congress with us, Representatives Keith Ellison and Sheila Jackson Lee, and I send a special word of welcome to them.

As Farah said, you can see through the lobby and the Diplomatic Reception Rooms some of our history of presidents affirming America’s respect for Muslims and Islam dating back to Washington, Adams, and Jefferson.  And we celebrate that history, and particularly today we wanted to celebrate sports and athletic competition.  Whether it be the Olympics or the World Cup, the human drive to run faster and climb higher is universal, and universally celebrated.  And it’s also a way by which talent rises to the top, ability is what matters, and people are treated equally.

And that’s part of the reason the State Department sponsors sports exchange programs and sends sports ambassadors around the world.  And for all the athletes joining us this evening, you may never have thought of yourself exactly as a role model, but you are.  And you are not only to the students that some of you visited earlier today, but to so many beyond.  And all Americans take pride in your achievements.

Now, we have some household names as well as some who will be household names.  World champion boxer Amir Khan flew all the way from London to be part of this celebration.  Where is Mr. Khan?  Thank you so much for coming.  (Applause.)

We also have a number of women athletes who are here.  When Ibtihaj Muhammad fences in her hijab, when she trains 30 hours each week without missing a prayer, she’s thinking about winning and she’s thinking about the London Olympics next year.  Where is Ms. Muhammad? 

Where is she?  Right there.  (Applause.)  But I think it’s fair to say that, as her mother has said, many people feel pride and recognize that she is representing more than just herself in her endeavors.
Now, not everybody will go to the Olympics, but even weekend warriors can get some satisfaction out of this.  And I hope many of you were able to watch the new documentary we screened earlier.  And we are joined by the coach and four members of the Fordson Tractors  from Dearborn, Michigan, as well as the filmmakers.  Where are all of them? 

That was such a great documentary and a great story.  (Applause.)

And I hope everybody gets a chance to meet our athletes here tonight, but that film highlighted the exceptional circumstances that the team faced, that they wanted to train hard and stay healthy while keeping the requirements of Ramadan.  And so like every other high school team, they geared up for football practice in August this year with two-a-day practices, except they took the field at 11:00 p.m. and finished around 4:00.  And that takes special dedication, special dedication to both your sport and your faith.

But what stood out to me is how familiar the team and the players ultimately are.  The image of the pregame huddle and prayer could’ve been filmed at any high school in America.  Shoulder pads and helmets crowded the locker room, and big-game nerves were somewhat evident on your faces, I have to confess.  But despite the extra burdens they carried, at the end of it, it was Friday night football for a team of champions.

Now, we can’t pretend that there have not been difficulties and division.  In fact, the Fordson documentary tells the story of the religious tensions in Dearborn, Michigan.  But the power of America has always been anchored in our ability to come together and move forward as one nation.

This weekend, we will mark the 10th anniversary of September 11th.  And we all lost something that day.  In the ashes and the aftermaths, we knew that we had lost Christians, Muslims, Jews, Hindus, Buddhists, men, women, young, old.  And a decade later, that unity that we felt must continue to inspire and guide us.

I’m very proud that in our country, despite the challenges, we do honor the freedom of religion.  Too many countries in the world today do not, or they make it difficult and even dangerous for people to try to exercise their religion.  So as difficult as it may be, the fact that we get up every day and keep trying is a real tribute to all of us.  So at this time of celebration and reflection, and as we mark the end of Ramadan and the beginning of a new year of renewal and possibility, I hope we can recommit ourselves to the common cause of spreading peace, prosperity, understanding to all the people of the earth.

Now I wanted to introduce two of our athletes so that you could hear  from them directly.  Ephraim Salaam has played in the NFL for over a decade, but some of you may know him best for his memorable Super Bowl commercial last year.  (Laughter.)  And Kulsoom Abdullah is a weightlifter, forging the way for Muslim women athletes to maintain their freedom of expression and still compete at the highest level. 

Please join me in welcoming first Ephraim and then Kulsoom.

(Applause.)

13-38

My Faith: Rep. Keith Ellison from Catholic to Muslim

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Chris Welch, CNN

769265196_0c4e4f2cdd_oMinneapolis, Minnesota (CNN) –Prior to 2006, few people even knew that then-Minnesota state legislator Keith Ellison was a Muslim. Because of his English name, he said, no one thought to ask.
But five years ago, when he ran for a seat in the United States House of Representatives – a race he would go on to win – word of his religious affiliation began to spread.

“When I started running for Congress it actually took me by surprise that so many people were fascinated with me being the first Muslim in Congress,” said Ellison, a Democrat now serving his third term in the House.

“But someone said to me, ‘Look Keith, think of a person of Japanese origin running for Congress six years after Pearl Harbor–this might be a news story.’”

Though Ellison’s status as the first Muslim elected to Congress is widely known, fewer are aware that he was born into a Catholic family in Detroit and was brought up attending Catholic schools.
But he said he was never comfortable with that faith.

“I just felt it was ritual and dogma,” Ellison said. “Of course, that’s not the reality of Catholicism, but it’s the reality I lived. So I just kind of lost interest and stopped going to Mass unless I was required to.”

It wasn’t until he was a student at Wayne State University in Detroit when Ellison began, “looking for other things.”

He doesn’t have an elaborate explanation of what led him to convert to Islam in college, though he said he was “drawn to the multi-national congregation.”

“I would really like to hear somebody who is really articulate about the elements of their faith conversion. I’m not,” he said. “I investigated it, it worked for me, and it made me have a sense of inspiration and wonder, and I became a Muslim. It’s been working for me ever since.”

Ellison’s political opponents have made his faith an issue in his congressional campaigns.

“I would caution [opponents] that it doesn’t work. People are not hateful like that,” he said. “If you come up saying, ‘Vote for me because Ellison is a Muslim and I’m not,’ nine out of ten voters are going to see that as the silliness that it is.”

“It doesn’t hurt my feelings at all,” he said. “In fact I actually feel sorry for these people.”

And he said he has never had a second thought about converting.

“My faith and my identity as a Muslim – I never saw it as something that made my job harder,” he said. “It’s just an aspect of who I am.

It’s the time that we live in. We have to respond to the realities of the world we’re in.”

But Ellison acknowledges that his faith has given him something of a national profile, not always in ways that are welcome.

In March, he testified in nationally televised congressional hearings, called by Rep. Peter King, a New York Republican, to explore what King said was radicalization in American Muslim communities.
At the hearing, Ellison choked up as he described the sacrifices of Muslim Americans who tried to save others in the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Without any of my choosing or desire I became somewhat of a symbolic figure,” Ellison said. “And I urge anyone to avoid becoming a symbolic figure if you can. But I ended up in that position, so I just figured why not talk about it? Why not help try to bring people together with it?”

“Faith really should be a bridge, not a wall,” Ellison said. “Because at the end of the day we should be focusing on what you believe, not what your religion is.”

13-37

Remarks By The President During Iftar Dinner

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you so much. Everyone, please have a seat, have a seat.

2011-08-11T010551Z_220798431_GM1E78B0PEZ01_RTRMADP_3_USA-OBAMA

President Obama welcomes guests at an Iftar dinner celebrating Ramadan at the White House, August 10, 2011.

REUTERS/Yuri Gripas

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the White House. Tonight is part of a rich tradition here at the White House of celebrating the holy days of many faiths and the diversity that define us as a nation. So these are quintessentially American celebrations — people of different faiths coming together, with humility before our maker, to reaffirm our obligations to one another, because no matter who we are, or how we pray, we’re all children of a loving God.

Now, this year, Ramadan is entirely in August. That means the days are long, the weather is hot, and you are hungry. So I will be brief.

I want to welcome the members of the diplomatic corps who are here; the members of Congress, including two Muslim American members of Congress — Keith Ellison and Andre Carson; and leaders and officials from across my administration. Thank you all for being here. Please give them a big round of applause.

To the millions of Muslim Americans across the United States and more– the more than one billion Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a time of reflection and a time of devotion. It’s an occasion to join with family and friends in celebration of a faith known for its diversity and a commitment to justice and the dignity of all human beings. So to you and your families, Ramadan Kareem.
This evening reminds us of both the timeless teachings of a great religion and the enduring strengths of a great nation. Like so many faiths, Islam has always been part of our American family, and Muslim Americans have long contributed to the strength and character of our country, in all walks of life. This has been especially true over the past 10 years.

In one month, we will mark the 10th anniversary of those awful attacks that brought so much pain to our hearts. It will be a time to honor all those that we’ve lost, the families who carry on their legacy, the heroes who rushed to help that day and all who have served to keep us safe during a difficult decade. And tonight, it’s worth remembering that these Americans were of many faiths and backgrounds, including proud and patriotic Muslim Americans.

Muslim Americans were innocent passengers on those planes, including a young married couple looking forward to the birth of their first child.

They were workers in the Twin Towers — Americans by birth and Americans by choice, immigrants who crossed the oceans to give their children a better life. They were cooks and waiters, but also analysts and executives.

There, in the towers where they worked, they came together for daily prayers and meals at Iftar. They were looking to the future — getting married, sending their kids to college, enjoying a well-deserved retirement. And they were taken from us much too soon. And today, they live on in the love of their families and a nation that will never forget. And tonight, we’re deeply humbled to be joined by some of these 9/11 families, and I would ask them to stand and be recognized, please.

Muslim Americans were first responders — the former police cadet who raced to the scene to help and then was lost when the towers collapsed around him; the EMTs who evacuated so many to safety; the nurse who tended to so many victims; the naval officer at the Pentagon who rushed into the flames and pulled the injured to safety. On this 10th anniversary, we honor these men and women for what they are — American heroes.

Nor let us forget that every day for these past 10 years Muslim Americans have helped to protect our communities as police and firefighters, including some who join us tonight. Across our federal government, they keep our homeland secure, they guide our intelligence and counterterrorism efforts and they uphold the civil rights and civil liberties of all Americans. So make no mistake, Muslim Americans help to keep us safe.

We see this in the brave service of our men and women in uniform, including thousands of Muslim Americans. In a time of war, they volunteered, knowing they could be sent into harm’s way. Our troops come from every corner of our country, with different backgrounds and different beliefs. But every day they come together and succeed together, as one American team.

During the 10 hard years of war, our troops have served with excellence and with honor. Some have made the ultimate sacrifice, among them Army Spec. Kareem Khan. Galvanized by 9/11 to serve his country, he gave his life in Iraq and now rests with his fellow heroes at Arlington. And we thank Kareem’s mother, Elsheba, for being here again tonight. Like Kareem, this generation has earned its place in history, and I would ask all of our service members here tonight — members of the 9/11 Generation — to stand and accept the thanks of our fellow Americans.

This year and every year, we must ask ourselves: How do we honor these patriots — those who died and those who served? In this season of remembrance, the answer is the same as it was 10 Septembers ago. We must be the America they lived for and the America they died for, the America they sacrificed for.

An America that doesn’t simply tolerate people of different backgrounds and beliefs, but an America where we are enriched by our diversity. An America where we treat one another with respect and with dignity, remembering that here in the United States there is no “them” or “us;” it’s just us. An America where our fundamental freedoms and inalienable rights are not simply preserved, but continually renewed and refreshed — among them the right of every person to worship as they choose. An America that stands up for dignity and the rights of people around the world, whether a young person demanding his or her freedom in the Middle East or North Africa, or a hungry child in the Horn of Africa, where we are working to save lives.

Put simply, we must be the America that goes forward as one family, like generations before us, pulling together in times of trial, staying true to our core values and emerging even stronger. This is who we are and this is who we must always be.

Tonight, as we near a solemn anniversary, I cannot imagine a more fitting wish for our nation. So God bless you all and God bless the United States of America. Thank you

13-34

“Stop Anti-Muslim Acts”

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nargis Hakim and TMO Stringer

P6050015Hamtramck–June 5–”People need to get more involved in their communities,” said leaders at an educational conference held by the Muslim Ummah of North America last Sunday in Hamtramck.

The national faith-based organization has four chapters in Michigan. About 600 guests attended from the north zone.

Hamtramck, home to four large Muslim community groups, namely Bosnian, Bangladeshi, African American and Yemeni, was the venue for the educational conference this past weekend.

MUNA (muslimummah.net) is a large organization which has a Michigan Chapter (headed by Toyab Al-Bari) and a North Zone.  The National President of MUNA is Dr. Sayeed Choudhury.

The North Zone organized this educational conference, and also produces a publication called Flash Point.

Invited speakers included: Congressman John Conyers Jr., A.S. Nakadar, publisher of The Muslim Observer, Dawud Walid from the Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan Chapter, Sheikh Ali Suleiman president of the Islamic Center of North Detroit and Syed Choudhury, MUNA’s president. Hamtramck council members Kazi Miah and Mohammed Hassan were present.

Congressman Conyers said of the event “Congratulations, you have outgrown this banquet hall.”  He jokingly invited the MUNA organizers to use Cobo hall in Detroit next year or a venue in Dearborn.

Congressman Conyers recently co-signed a call by members of Congress to “Respond to Anti-Muslim Sentiment,” on May 26.  Cosponsors included 24 congressmen, notably including Keith Ellison, Andre Carson, and Charlie Rangel.  Notably the signatories did not include former speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The congressional statement called “for the federal government to take the necessary steps to counter anti-Muslim sentiment.”

MUNA representatives spoke on the activities of MUNA, which have included successful boys and girls “brothers” and “sisters” programs respectively–to involve Muslim young people in fun associations, and they spoke also of the outreach they had done to Muslim youth who are not so active in the community.

Dr. Nakadar in his remarks noted the great accomplishment of Hamtramck in its disproportionately successful Muslim representation in the City Council.

Dawud Walid, Executive Director of CAIR-Michigan, also spoke.  He spoke of the importance of youth involvement in the Muslim community, and of the importance of providing a good example for young Muslims.

The MUNA conference was very well attended and in fact the banquet hall was filled to capacity.

13-24

Herman Cain’s Muslim Problem

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Tim Murphy

On Tuesday, GOP presidential candidate Herman Cain dropped by Glenn Beck’s radio program to argue that his previous promise to not appoint any Muslims to his Cabinet had been “misconstrued.” As he put it: “I did not say that I would not have them in my cabinet. If you look at my career, I have hired good people regardless of race, religion, sex gender, orientation, and this kind of thing.”

Cain’s position now is that only radical Muslims would be prohibited from serving in his administration. That sounds reasonable. Except he told Laura Ingraham in April that he’s never met a Muslim who didn’t fit his definition of a radical—and in the same interview, alleged that Rep. Keith Ellison (D–Minn.), who’s Muslim, has pledged his loyalty to Allah, not the Constitution. But even if Cain’s original statement, and subsequent defenses of it, were misconstrued, he still hasn’t adequately explained the rest of what he told Think Progress back in April.

When asked for examples of the “creeping attempt…to gradually ease” Islamic sharia law into the American judicial system he explained:

One judge did it up in New Jersey, and ruled in a case. Then last week we heard about a judge down in was it Texas? It might have been Texas where a judge said there was a dispute in a mosque and he was gonna consider ‘eclesiastical’ law in his deliberations, because of a dispute that was going on inside a mosque. This is the United States of America. Just because it’s going on inside a mosque doesnt mean you execute the laws based on what’s going on in the [mosque].”

Cain is right: This is the United States of America. But everything else here is inaccurate. In the civil case in question—which was in Florida, not Texas—the judge (a Republican) ruled that he was going to use “ecclesiastical” law because both parties had agreed, per their mutually agreed-upon contract, to settle their dispute through ecclesiastical Islamic law, in the form of a Muslim arbitrator. That’s totally normal; Christians and Jews also take advantage of independent arbitrators to settle disputes. If the government were to ban the use of such forums, it would mark a dramatic encroachment on the First Amendment’s freedom of religion—I’m fairly certain that Herman Cain doesn’t want to run for President on the platform of restricting Christians’ free speech rights. The actual trial, the judge noted, would be conducted according to Florida civil law; he was simply assessing whether the arbitration process had been handled properly.

Anyone can make a gaffe, which is how Cain is spinning his “no Muslims” comment. But the more serious problem isn’t that Cain misspoke; it’s that he has taken an extreme, unconstitutional position based on a conspiracy theory that could have been debunked in 30 seconds.

13-23

Obama Fights ‘Otherization’

May 6, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

of Muslims, through Envoy Rashad Hussain

By Josh Gerstein, Politico

2010-05-05T172601Z_01_BTRE6441CFM00_RTROPTP_3_POLITICS-US-USA-COURT
 

President Barack Obama’s aggressive outreach to the Muslim American community is reducing its sense of isolation, President Barack Obama’s envoy to the Muslim world told a conference in Washington Wednesday evening.

“We’ve really started to knock down that sense of otherization,” said Rashad Hussain, a White House lawyer who also serves as liaison to the Organization of the Islamic Conference. Hussain defined the rather esoteric term “otherization” as a sense that many Muslims had during the Bush years that their value or danger to society was viewed solely through the prism of terrorism.

“Muslims … sometimes feel like they don’t have as much of a stake or a role in the future of the country,” Hussain told the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy conference. “That’s something that all of the engagement that the United States has done on these issues both internationally and domestically has helped to counter.”

Hussain was the keynote speaker at the session, which marked one year since Obama’s historic speech in Cairo last April, where he attempted to reset America’s relationship with Muslims around the globe.

In many ways, the most remarkable thing about Hussain’s speech was the context in which it took place: a conference that featured explicitly “Islamist” political leaders from Algeria, Bahrain and Morocco, as well as a provocative Oxford scholar whom the Bush administration effectively banned from the U.S., Tariq Ramadan. Many Republicans, such as former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, continue to use the term “Islamist” to describe enemies of the U.S. The GOP politicians also fault Obama for failing to recognize the threat such an ideology poses to the U.S.

Giuliani’s view is pretty much 180 degrees from the prevailing sentiment at Wednesday’s conference. “There doesn’t really seem to be much of a debate about whether engagement with Islamists should happen,” Professor Peter Mandeville of George Mason University declared. “There really is no other alternative. The question now is about the nature of that engagement … rather than the question of whether this is something the United States should do.”

In his 20-minute speech and a subsequent Q & A session, Hussain generally stuck to Obama’s rhetorical formulation of using the term “violent extremism” for what the Bush folks — and just about everyone else — used to call “terrorism.” However, Hussain did use the T-word a couple of times. He touted the U.S. commitment to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, to a diplomatic resolution of tensions with Iran, to avoiding religious- and nationality-based profiling in airport security screening and to freedom for Muslims around the world to wear Islamic garb.

In response to a question about the U.S. willingness to deal with Taliban members who are prepared to renounce violence, Hussain said, “The U.S. will engage those groups that are lawfully elected and are lawfully part of the political process and don’t engage in violence, and that is a commitment that is demonstrated over a set period of time.”

Pressed by a questioner urging U.S. action against Israel over its refusal to end settlement-building activity, Hussain didn’t offer much to satisfy the pro-Palestinian audience. “The best way to address that issue is to get negotiations between the parties back on track again. … It’s not something that you will see this administration walk away from,” he said.

Hussain did seem a tad exasperated by complaints that, despite the vaunted Muslim outreach campaign, Obama has failed to visit a mosque in the U.S. as president. “If there is this silver bullet people are looking for, that the president visit a religious center in the United States, I’m sure there will be an appropriate time for that as well,” Hussain said.

Shortly after his appointment as the OIC envoy earlier this year, Hussain grabbed some headlines for a flap over comments he made in 2004 describing the Bush administration’s actions against some terror suspects as “politically motivated persecutions.” He initially said he had no recollection of making the remarks, but after POLITICO obtained a recording of the presentation he conceded he’d made the comments and called them “ill-conceived or not well-formulated.”

12-19

Muslim Business Leaders Invited by Democrats

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

The blowback of the Bush administration’s fierce pressure against Muslims has been the movement of once stalwart Republican Muslims over firmly to the Democratic camp.  Thus, 28 powerful Muslim businessmen and politicians flocked to a Democratic fundraiser in Washington, meeting with White House and Democratic Congressional leaders on April 14th and 15th–a project sponsored by the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC).

The event was organized by Keith Ellison and Andre Carson, the two Muslim congressmen.

It comprised on the first day (April 14) a visit to the White House, and on the second day (April 15) a breakfast and meeting with House Democratic Congressional leaders.

This meeting was actually the second annual DCCC “Leadership Summit.” The delegation of 28 Muslims went to the White House and met with White House senior advisor Valerie Bowman Jarrett (Assistant to the President for Intergovernmental Relations and Public Relations), who interestingly was born to American parents in Iran and speaks Persian.

The delegation had a very friendly and fraternal meeting with congressmen including Keith Ellison and Andre Carson,  and the following Democratic congressional leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Majority Whip James Clyburn, DCCC Chaimran Chris Van Hollen, Chairman of the House Finance Committee Barney Fank, Chairman of Ways and Means Committee Sandy Levin, Chairman of the Homeland Securiity Committee Bennie Thompson, as well as seven other members of congress, and the DCCC executive director Jon Vogel.  The friendly nature of the meeting is evidenced by the testimony of attendees and also by the warmth of the discussions from pictures from the event.

Saeed Patel, a prominent New Jersey businessman, President of Amex Computers, said of the two days of meetings that “the main theme was making introductions, raising concerns, and the second thing was promotion of business.”

“Ellison now has been looking into arranging trade delegations to other countries, including India,” explained Mr. Patel–”he’s focusing on Muslim countries but there are also 150 million Muslims in India.”

Patel attended a recent such trade commission to Turkey.  “We went to Turkey last year–one week, different places, to promote trade.  We were hosted by the US ambassador in Ankara.  We met quite a few people… made a lot of contacts.”

“I am hopeful,” he said.  There can be “a lot of business between here and Turkey.”

The delegates, as described by Mr. Patel, included “a lot of people, some social activists, some doctors.”

“I felt that [Democratic leaders] were very gracious–they went out of their way to make sure we were comfortable.  Pelosi, Jarrett, all were very nice.  Very sympathetic.”

The honorable Mohammed Hameeduddin, a city councilman of Teaneck NJ, explained that his  agenda was “racial profiling.”

As an example, Hameeduddin cited the recent visit by Saeed Patel to Turkey–saying Patel on his return trip was “treated harshly by the TSA.”

“I expressed my views to Pelosi, Frank, and Benny Thompson,” said Hameeduddin.

Patel explained that the meeting was “very promising, Ellison and Carson both mentioned that, and Jarrett–this is not just hello and goodbye, this is hello and more hello, more interaction.”  The democrats communicated that “You are more than welcome, give us your personal opinions and experiences to take into account.”

“It was a good exchange,” said Patel.  “Nobody was holding back, everyone was speaking his mind.”

Some of the delegates expressed some consternation, he said, that Obama and the Democrats have been in office more than a year and yet there is still harassment in travel.

Benny Thompson, chair of the Homeland Security Committee, explained in seriousness that if a person is mistreated by airport security personnel he should “always get the name of the person disrespectful to you.”  But he also quipped, “Not too long ago your community was Republican, was it not?”

Patel explained that a follow-up meeting is in the works with Attorney General Eric Holder, on the subject of civil rights abuses against Muslims.

12-17

CAIR Michigan’s Watershed Annual Banquet

April 1, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, MMNS

25395_380734086930_681926930_4297271_5323965_n

CAIR Founder Nihad Awad, Wendell Anthony, Imam and CAIR Michigan Executive Director Dawud Walid, Congressman John Conyers, CAIR Michigan Attorney Lena Masri, Civil Rights Activist Jesse Jackson, Jr., Ron Scott, Raheem Hanifa, and Jukaku Tayeb of CAIR Michigan.

Photo courtesy Nafeh AbuNab, American Elite Studios, 1-800-218-4020.

Dearborn–March 31–This year’s CAIR banquet really was special.  Every year, CAIR Michigan and many other organizations have gala awards and fundraising banquets, but typically in the past Michigan’s Muslim organizations have been less connected to the political landscape than some ethnic organizations which have in the Southeast Michigan region managed over several decades to establish long term ties with all levels of the political landscape, from the local to the federal level.

The Muslim organizations however, from the mosque level up to the level of national organizations, have not opened strong and lasting relations with any political groups (other than coordinated discussion groups and organized means of complaining to politicians and mainstream media about perceived and real injustices), other than an occasional speech by a political celebrity.

Perhaps a stronger movement has been the involvement of individuals in politics, such as for instance Farhan Bhatti, Deputy Campaign Manager at Virg Bernero for Michigan.  There are Muslims who have been elected to individual office, such as Rashida Tlaib in the Michigan legislature, and Keith Ellison in the US congress.

This year’s CAIR gala, with about 1,000 attendees including many powerful audience members from the business, media, and political community, on the other hand, seemed to offer the potential of a long-term conflation of interests between the Muslim community and America’s established civil rights aristocracy.  Present at this year’s fundraiser was Nihad Awad, who founded CAIR and set it up as a not-for-profit franchise operation of sorts, with now branch offices across the country to advocate for Muslims.  Mr. Awad is not always able to attend all of these gala events, but it seemed that he sensed the importance of this particular one. 

But the real jewels in the crown of the 2010 CAIR Michigan fundraiser were the civil rights workers who for sixty years have been deeply involved at their own personal peril with the struggle for civil rights in the USA. 

Jesse Jackson Sr., the keynote speaker, was one of those.  But there was also Rep. John Conyers (D-MI-14), whom Jackson described as “perhaps the only man who was ever endorsed by Martin Luther King.”  There was Rep. John Dingell (D-MI-15).  There were many others, including the strong gubernatorial candidate Virg Bernero (currently Lansing’s mayor). 

But famous people frequently collect together–many famous politicians have given stilted practiced speeches before Muslims, hoping to say what pleases their audience and earns their political support, but rarely does the politician seem to be present in deference to his or her own inner principles–and this is perhaps the characteristic of Sunday afternoon’s banquet that was uncommon.  Famous people with shared bonds of suffering coalescing in defense of a group they perhaps had not previously thought of as being within their shared interests.

The feeling wasn’t just from their presence in the same room; rather the feeling was in the mutual love between those famous people, and their expression of that love in the context of the protection of Muslims against injustice from government interference.  Jackson and Conyers both spoke of the famous people they had met and worked with through the years, including King, and Rosa Parks (who worked for Conyers for many years), and their describing the debts of gratitude they owed one to another–for example Jackson’s mentioning of MLK’s endorsement of Conyers, and Conyers mentioning publicly his gratitude to John Dingell for supporting him in his early days in the US House of Representatives.

What was different this year was that CAIR did not just bring politicians to speak for their own interests, rather CAIR Michigan bought into a movement, a movement that has been intrinsically and vitally important to the American landscape for the better part of a century, carrying with them the ghosts and spirits of men who gave their lives in that journey.

Nihad Awad offered his goal, a vision of a seemingly impossible world, post-911, in which Muslims face no discrimination–he argued that CAIR is working toward that goal from where we are now.

Jesse Jackson is a famous man, and in consideration of his famous personal failings it is sometimes surprising to see him still on the national stage–but in seeing him speak you understand the source of his sway across the American public–his voice carries so strongly and he has a magic in his delivery that is present in person but that is not felt through the television.  He speaks with vivid images and polished phrases and a very powerful and loud delivery, almost more like a musician or conductor than a politician, but he speaks logically and intelligently also, intimately conversant with the big picture of American politics, even if sometimes the details he cites are not precisely accurate (accidentally he cited the total number of coalition KIA in Iraq and Afghanistan together as Americans KIA in Iraq). 

But on the broad points he has very sharp insight. For example he stated that what is vital in the civil rights movement is to “change the frame.  Once you change the frame, you can change the furniture around whenever you want.”

Thus, he argued that after the recent health care legislation, eventually there must be a public option, although the public option was compromised away in the course of the bill being passed.

The theme of his speech was an argument to get Muslims to buy into a broader political agenda.

He argued that Muslims have to engage in issues beyond Muslim issues, offering the analogy that if one is in a burning house, he must try to put out the fire for the entire house–if the house is saved his room will be saved but it is impossible to save his room without saving the house.

He cited as examples labor union issues and health care issues.

Perhaps the most inspiring thing he said was that “we are not the left, we are the moral center,” thus dismissing the arguments from reactionaries who term his agenda a leftist agenda.  And this connected to another powerful theme from his speech, that “we are winning” in this struggle by the grace of God, and it is because God supports us because we are right.  He cited the achievements of abolition and civil rights, labor, and, at length, health care.

He said not to worry about government informants, arguing the view that the solution is to be completely above board and transparent and above reproach.  He said that several informants were intimately connected with the civil rights movement, saying that “our controller who signed all of our checks was a government informant.”

“Yes it does get dark,” he said, “innocent people get hurt, there is pain, but there is joy in the morning.”

“Through it all, keep marching, fighting, pursue excellence, don’t have time to hate.”

The involvement of the civil rights community with Muslims seems to have begun Sunday evening, and the person likely responsible is CAIR Michigan’s Executive Director Dawud Walid, who had the vision to pursue this goal, and who also has worked to bridge gaps between African Americans and other Muslims, and Sunni and Shi’a.

It remains to be seen whether the large-scale involvement of Muslims as players on the political (and not religious) landscape is healthy or potentially dangerous, and it remains to be seen whether non-Muslims from the civil rights community will be good partners in working toward civil rights for Muslims; also it remains to be seen to what extent Muslims can endorse  the agenda of a civil rights community that too often supports for example abortion services and homosexual issues; but perhaps these are the details, the furniture.  What is important is that the frame may have changed–to one where a Muslim organization has built a bridge or harmony and good will to an entire movement that is intrinsic to the American political landscape–this seems to be an important move in a good direction.

12-14

Muslim 500 – A Listing of the 500 Most Influential Muslims in the World

November 17, 2009 by · 12 Comments 

By Adil James, MMNS

mabda500cover-v2 A fascinating new book has just been issued by The Royal Islamic Strategic Studies Center (in Jordan) in concert with Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

The book lists the 500 most influential people in the Muslim world, breaking the people into several distinct categories, scholarly, political, administrative, lineage, preachers, women, youth, philanthropy, development, science and technology, arts and culture, media, and radicals.

Before this breakdown begins however, the absolute most influential 50 people are listed, starting with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia.  The top 50 fit into 6 broad categories as follows:  12 are political leaders (kings, generals, presidents), 4 are spiritual leaders (Sufi shaykhs), 14 are national or international religious authorities, 3 are “preachers,” 6 are high-level scholars, 11 are leaders of movements or organizations.

The 500 appear to have been chosen largely in terms of their overt influence, however the top 50 have been chosen and perhaps listed in a “politically correct” order designed not to cause offense.  For example, the first person listed is the Sunni political leader of Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah.  The second person listed is the head of the largest Shi’a power, Iran, Ayatollah Khamenei.  As these are not the two Muslim countries with the largest populations, and do not even represent the two countries with the most spiritual or religious relevance (Saudi Arabia yes, Iran no) therefore clearly the decision of spots one or two appears to have been motivated by a sense of political correctness.

In total 72 Americans are among the 500 most influential Muslims, a disproportionately strong showing, but only one among the top 50.  Sheikh Hamza Yusuf Hanson of Zaytuna Institute is listed surprisingly at number 38.  The world leader of the Naqshbandi Haqqani Sufi order, however, Sheikh Nazim al Haqqani, with millions of followers worldwide, spiritual adviser to kings, presidents, doctors, lawyers, professors and others across the spectrum of profession, race, and ethnicity on seven continents, is listed at number 49.  While Sheikh Hamza Yusuf has successfully built the Zaytuna Institute, his influence is confined mostly to American academia, scholars and students.  Surprisingly, Khaled Mashaal, leader of Hamas, (at number 34) is listed before any American Muslim. 

It seems strange that Yusuf is the only American listed in the top 50. Especially when Rep. Keith Ellison (D-5-MN), Tariq Ramadan and Ingrid Mattson are listed among the “honorable mentions” in the book (“honorable mentions” were almost among the top 50 but not quite—they are still listed among the 500).  Ingrid Mattson alone is likely more influential than Hamza Yusuf Hanson, for instance.  Not to mention Rep. Keith Ellison.  Even the Nobel prize winner Mohammad Yunus is listed only among the honorable mentions.

Sheikh Hisham Kabbani in the USA is listed among the most influential scholars in the Muslim world, and his relative Mohammad Rashid Qabbani, the Grand Mufti of Lebanon and its leading Sunni scholar, is also among the most influential scholars.  The Shi’a marja Ayatullah Sayeed Mohammad Fadlallah is the other listed scholar for Lebanon. 

The 18 prominent American Muslims in the Scholars section of the book also include Yusuf Estes, Sulayman Nyang, Muzammil Siddiqui, Sherman Jackson, Zaid Shakir, and Nuh Keller.  Two Americans are listed as Political figures in North America.  Nine Americans are listed as Administrative leaders, including Siraj Wahhaj—surprising to list him as an administrative leader rather than a preacher.  One Canadian is listed under the Lineage section, namely Jamal Badawi, but no Americans.  Under the Women heading appear six very recognizable names, perhaps most recognizable among them Ingrid Mattson, the controversial Amina Wadud, and the extremely influential Dalia Mogahed (who wrote the perhaps watershed work Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think.)  Two Americans are listed in the Youth category.  Under the Philanthropy category is listed one person, Dr. Tariq Cheema, co-founder of the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists.  13 Americans are listed under Development, including strangely the boxer Mohammad Ali.  Four Americans are listed under Science and Technology, perhaps most recognizably Dr. Mehmed Oz, who frequently appears on morning television to help explain medical situations to people, and who shows an interest in the overlap between traditional medicine and spirituality.  Seven Americans are listed under Arts and Culture, including the notable actors Mos Def and Dave Chappelle, also the calligrapher Mohammad Zakaria.  Nine Americans are listed in the Media section, including Fareed Zakaria and the filmmaker Michael Wolfe.

The book’s appendices comprehensively list populations of Muslims in nations worldwide, and its introduction gives a snapshot view of different ideological movements within the Muslim world, breaking down clearly distinctions between traditional Islam and recent radical innovations.

People who are themselves prominent scholars contributed to or edited the book, including of course Georgetown University’s Professor John Esposito and Professor Ibrahim Kalin.  Ed Marques and Usra Ghazi also edited and prepared the book.  The book lists as consultants Dr. Hamza Abed al Karim Hammad, and Siti Sarah Muwahidah, with thanks to other contributors.

The entire book is available online (here:  http://www.rissc.jo/muslim500v-1L.pdf) and we hope that it will be available for sale soon inside the United States.  Currently it is not available.

To encourage the printing and release of the book in the United States you can contact Georgetown’s Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at cmcu@georgetown.edu, or by phone at 202-687-8375.

11-47

“Healthcare, Yes or No?”

September 3, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Keith Ellison: Do We Want Health Care or Do We Not?

By Rep. Keith Ellison

EllisonObama So, my friends, what were we thinking? Did we really think that extending health care coverage to all Americans would be easy? Did we really believe that those who reap g’zillions of bucks from our ‘health’ (read: ‘sick’) care system were going to give it all up without a fight? Of course those who benefit from the status quo are attacking the Public Option. Of course they are falsely claiming that Medicare reimbursement for end-of-life discussions are “death panels”. Of course they are disrupting town hall forums — some even carrying firearms. It’s not an element of reform they oppose; it’s reform itself.

The special interests and protectors of the status quo acted worse when America was on the brink of passing Civil Rights and Voting Rights legislation. They spread lies and fear when America was contemplating women’s suffrage too.

Maybe it’s us, and not opponents of reform, who have failed to grasp the magnitude of this moment. We are on the verge of bringing about health care reform 60 years in waiting. Yes, we’re going to have to fight for it. I worry that a little rough stuff has discouraged some progressives. As Frederick Douglass famously said, “Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and never will.” It’s easy to figure out who the “Power” is. The 10 largest health insurers took in $13 billion in 2007 with CEOs earning an average $12 million a year, according to Health Care for America Now.

I have been a little concerned about some Democratic leaders who appear to be dancing away from the Public Option. But momentary wavering in leadership has provoked expressions of clarity from the people. Sixty Progressives in Congress have roared back in favor of the Public Option declaring their unwavering support in a letter to the White House. Thousands of people are raising their voices for the Public Option around America. Everyone has someone in their family who has been hurt by not having health care, and now is the time to speak up for every denial for a pre-existing condition, every forgone procedure, and everyone facing bankruptcy due to medical debt.

We are relearning a valuable lesson, aren’t we? The ones who want to conserve the status quo, sometimes known as Conservatives, will accept no compromises. Nothing. Jettisoning the public option won’t bring forth a bipartisan bill.

I appreciate U.S. Senator Richard Shelby’s candor. He recently said that defeating healthcare reform would benefit Republicans politically. Sen. Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) told reporters on a recent conference call that he stands opposed even to health care co-ops. Rush Limbaugh had this to say: “These co-ops, like we’re too stupid to know what that’s all about,” Limbaugh said. “Co-op? Why don’t they just call them communes?” Sen. Jim DeMint famously said defeating healthcare would be Obama’s “Waterloo.”

So Good. No more wasting time. Now, we need a new message: Can you say “reconciliation”? With a reconciliation vote, you don’t need 60 votes to pass a health care bill through the U.S. Senate, but rather a majority vote of 51. Given the intransigence of Conservatives, reformers must begin a drum beat for a reconciliation vote for health care.

We have the power to start that drum beat. Call your representatives every day. Post it on your Face book. Twitter for Healthcare. Bring it up in casual conversations. Talk to the clerk that sells you your groceries. Call your Mom. Call your Broker. Pray for the public option in church, synagogue, or Mosque.

11-37