Hajj: Worship of a Lifetime

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Post Hajj reflections

By Dr. Anis Ansari

Mideast Saudi Arabia Hajj

Hajj is one of the most exhilarating experiences one can have in life. Imam Ghazali (r) described it as an act of worship of a lifetime, seal of all that is commanded, perfection of Islam and completion of religion. Nearly three million Muslims (plus one million local) from 183 different countries performed Hajj this year.

Medina First

As preference, our journey started from Medina. Our stay at Medina was very pleasant since the Hotel was barely 30-40 steps from Haram. There have been so many changes to the area that it was difficult to recognize since my last trip in 1995. The space of Masjid Nabawi has been greatly increased with addition of more courtyard and roof. More than a million people can easily pray there. Prophet Mohammad (s) grave area was very crowded and praying between his minbar and grave was very difficult. This space was described by him as paradise and 2 rakat Sunnah was prayed there. Visitation time for women was different from men. All area of Haram was well maintained and clean. The umbrella covering the courtyard was the most surprising feature, which provides shade during the day with continuous mist to keep people cool. Our visit to Masjid Quba, the first mosque built by our Prophet was next. We performed 2 rakat Sunnah in this Mosque, which has reward of an Umrah. We also visited Masjid Qiblatain, where during the middle of prayer Qibla was changed from Jerusalem to Mecca. Area of battle of Trench has been covered by road but the camping area of Sahaba has 7 different Mosque with the largest one called Masjid Khandak. Other sites included mountain of Uhud, where graveyard of the Martyrs were cordoned off. Jannatul Baqi is closest to Masjid Nabawi.

Umrah

Miqat was at Dhul Hulaifah, short distance from Medina but we had put on our Ihram before heading to the bus. Mosque in Dhul Hulaifah was large with good facility for bath or shower and putting on Ihram. We prayed Isha, made our intention for Umrah  and started our Talbiyah. Unfortunately, due to frequent checking by police at stops our bus trip took almost 15 hours to reach Mecca. After settling in our Hotel 5-7 km from Haram, we finally arrived by Taxi at Haram to do our Tawaf at 10:30 AM, the worst time of the day due to hot weather. Because of the motivation to finish our obligation , and joy of looking at magnimity of Kabba’s, we forgot any discomfort and joined the crowd to start our Tawaf. It took about one hour to finish it. According to scholars, Tawaf is one of the most important things that we will find in our record book on the Day of Judgment. According to one Hadith reported by Abdullah Ibn Abbas(r), everyday Allah (SWT) sends one hundred and twenty mercies on this house. Of which sixty are for those who are doing Tawaf, forty for those who are praying before it, while twenty for those who are just looking at Kabba. Subhanallah, even just looking at Kabba has so much merit.

Another Hadith points out that any act of worship at Masjid Haram in Mecca is multiplied by 100,000 times while at Masjid Nabawi is multiplied by 1000 times. After praying 2 rakat at Muqame Ibrahim, we drank some Zam Zam, supplicated and then headed to do our Sa’ee. Having the Saee area at three different levels, it is not as crowded. Walking between Safa and Marwah and running briskly between green lines reminded us the plight and struggle of Hajirah (A) who is the most honored women in Islam. Small hair trimming completed this process.

Hajj

After staying at Shesha (just outskirt of Mecca) for one day, we were moved to Mina, the tent city on the morning of 8th Dhul Hijjah.  Our tent had small beds close to each other with comfortable air conditioning in proximity of the Jamarat. Other tents were on outskirts of Mina 3 kilometer away. All prayers were performed in the tent in congregation. Food was plenty and served in buffet style at breakfast and dinner with tea and drinks available at all times. Yet it was shocking to see the streets littered with unofficial pilgrims everywhere.  They were on mountains, street corners, and sidewalk and under the bus.  This created a dangerous situation and difficulty for emergency ambulances and police cars to maneuver. Generally police personnel were seen to be very tolerant but firm.

Arafat

Next day, we were woken up at 2am in order to get ready for the train to go to Arafat. The train ride was only 15 minutes but the entire process took almost two hours. Our Arafat tent was very close to the train station. The day of Arafat is considered the most important part of Hajj. Several hundred people were put in one large tent with carpet on the floor. All our activities like meditation, rest and prayer were confined to the tent. People could be seen making supplication inside and outside the tent, in groups or solitude, and some were praying loudly and some not so loudly. Prophet Mohammad (s) also prayed on the day of Arafat, “O Allah forgive the pilgrim and the man for whom the pilgrim asks forgiveness.” As the day passed supplication intensified with the ending reserved for collective supplication until Maghreb time.

Muzdalifah

Our train ride was orderly and took less than 10 minutes. Unfortunately due to some mishap, we were assigned one of the roughest areas to spend the night. The ground was under the bridge with broken asphalt all over, but no one complained about it. Every one spread out their sheet, prayer rug, and sleeping bag and lay down.  Early morning, we prayed Fajr on the same ground then headed to Mina by train. This year train was only for Americans, Canadians and Europeans Hajji only. It does not have capacity to accommodate everyone yet.

Jamarat

Big Jamarat was located right near the train station. Rami was easy. Jamarats are located at three different levels creating one way traffic and decreasing the chances of any stamped that used to occur in the past. We went to Haram to do our Tawaf Ziyarat on the same day. Off course the area was exceptionally crowed that day but we were able to complete our Tawaf and Sa’ee without any difficulty. On 11th and 12 the of Dhul Hijjah, Jamarats were opened for Rami from early morning instead of after Dhuhr as described in the books.

Farewell Tawaf

After our Rami on 12th everyone seems to have headed for Haram for final farewell Tawaf. Everyone seems to be walking since there is no train system between Mina and Mecca. Buses and Taxis can barely crawl in this kind of crowd. While finishing the final rights of Hajj, I could not forget the teaching which says that Allah (SWT) grants all the supplication,forgiveness as well as intercession that is requested. Prophet Mohammad (pub) said “ whoever performs pilgrimage to the house without foul talk or iniquity is free from sin as he was on the day his mother gave birth to him.” We had no choice but to finish our farewell Tawaf as soon as possible since our flight was in the afternoon the very next day. We left for airport 6 hour before flight in order to avoid any delay.

Conclusion

For hajj people have travelled far distances sometimes with meager resources. Everyday they have to walk long distances just to get to Haram.  In crowd includes elderly, women and children some with poor health. For them even surviving is not easy despite all the facilities provided. Due to large number of people performing Tawaf, Sa’ee, or Rami all at the same time, these rights are not easy to accomplish. Nevertheless, people persist solely for pleasure of Allah. They have hope that Allah (SWT) will accept their Hajj and they will be completely forgiven. This hope continues to keep people going until they accomplish all their rights of Hajj. Some people are exposed to 105-degree temperature, camping out in open, sidewalk, under the tree or bus with very little shelter. Their dedication in service to God is hard to miss.

Hajj must bring out the best in us in terms of understanding the concept of Tawheed; deepen our love of God and the Prophets.  It must encourage us to sacrifice our health and wealth for the sake of Islam and emulate the example of Prophet Ibrahim (A). Hajj must bring us closer to Allah (SWT) and increase our zeal to work in our own communities. Our relationship with Allah and the outcome will be completely changed for the better.

May Allah give us opportunity to perform Hajj as early as possible preferably at young age before death takes over.

Anis Ansari, MD, President of Clinton Islamic Center, Clinton, Iowa.

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Can We Stop Tradition Erosion?

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Akif Abdulamir (Desert Classics)

I gave my children a choice where to eat when I decided to treat them. I knew the answer but I was hoping it would be some restaurant that served healthy traditional food.

Our children’s choice of eating at a famous fast food restaurant never surprises us. To them, burgers and chips never tasted so good. A plate of rice never has the same appeal since it is an old fashioned  tradition from our ancestors.

To our kids, anything that has been handed over from the past generations is backward. If they see it in  the movies or the Internet than it is “cool”, anything else is “rubbish.” The fear of losing one’s culture and customs has never been real. As we move on deep into the twenty-first century, we gradually but surely leave behind the richness of our heritage.

The truth is that very little is being done to stop the erosion. Don’t get me wrong. I am not blaming the West but the East for ignoring the basics. There is no doubt that we can still drive a car and surf the net but ignoring what is more important to life has dreadful consequences. I am very convinced we are fighting a losing battle because we welcome unreservedly a culture that has a few problems. Let me give you an example. One of my younger relatives chose to stay behind in UK to celebrate Christmas to be with his friends but flatly refused to join his family for Eid.

There was nothing his parents could do about it. Should they blame themselves for sending him abroad to study or the lack of firm upbringing? I don’t know but youngsters ignore the basics even at home. One youth told me that, “wearing a shirt and a pair of trousers does not mean I am a Westerner” when he went with me to a mosque on his friend’s wedding night.

I asked him what it meant not ever wearing the traditional clothing. He said that tradition had nothing to do with appearance but what was in his heart. I probed deeper and asked him what was in his heart. He thought about it and said, “I know who I am and my background, isn’t that enough?”

I dropped the subject seeing him getting agitated. Today’s youth are increasingly letting themselves get confused by a clash of cultures. For instance, more than half of the youth celebrate the New Year and stay out late. On face value, one would argue there that there is nothing wrong with that. On closer scrutiny, less than ten per cent of them ever notice the Islamic New Year let alone celebrate it. What has really gone wrong in the past thirty years or so? International integration of people cannot be blamed nor the fast pace of development. It is also not fair to point accusing fingers at Western education. We invited it because we need it to overcome many challenges otherwise we would have been left behind.

The ever decreasing number of traditionalists live in fear that the Gulf would soon fall under the hammer of whole-sale Westernisation. The auction is gathering momentum, so they say, and the highest bidders are examining prized exhibits.

I am not endorsing that theory nor opposing it but I would like to be an observer and write about it at a later date. To many, it is not about fast food restaurants or other external influences. It is about preserving an identity before the hammer falls down.

Akif Abdulamir is an Oman-based writer

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Saudi Hails Hajj Success

November 10, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

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Tens of thousands of Muslim pilgrims move around the Kaaba, seen at center, inside the Grand Mosque, in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, on November 3, 2011.

(AP Photo/Hassan Ammar)

MECCA, Saudi Arabia — Saudi Crown Prince Nayef bin Abdel Aziz hailed the “success” of this year’s hajj despite fears of “chaos” in the wake of the Arab Spring, as remaining pilgrims continued final rites on Wednesday.

“We thank God for the success of this year’s hajj, which was the best pilgrimage season to ever pass,” Nayef told the commanders of hajj security forces late on Tuesday.

“Some (pilgrims) were expected to exploit the international and regional changes taking place to cause chaos. But thank God this did not happen,” SPA quoted Nayef, who also holds the interior portfolio, as saying.

The hajj — the world’s largest annual gathering — this year coincided with the Arab Spring democracy protests that have swept many nations in the region and led so far to the unseating of three autocratic leaders, in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, as protests continue in Yemen and Syria.

“What’s going on in Syria is painful,” Syrian pilgrim Abu Imad told AFP. “I’m coming here for perform pilgrimage and to pray for myself and my children.”

According to the United Nations, more than 3,500 people have been killed, most of them civilians, in Syria’s uprising that began in March.

Saudi Arabia itself had been slightly touched by the unrest as Shiites held sporadic protests in its Eastern Province a few times over the past months.

But their movement was quickly contained by authorities in the conservative Sunni kingdom.

“We thank all the pilgrims for proving that they are Muslims who respect this (hajj) rite and for being cooperative,” the prince said.

Indonesian pilgrim Hamid Eddine also believes that “pilgrims must follow instructions to gain the rewards of hajj and to smoothly perform their pilgrimage.”

Saudi security forces have several times in the past confronted Iranian pilgrims holding anti-US and anti-Israeli protests.

In 1987, Saudi police efforts to stifle such a demonstration sparked clashes in which 402 people died, including 275 Iranians.

But no incidents were reported this year as Iranian pilgrims, put at around 97,000 — the maximum allowed for Iran under a Saudi system apportioning pilgrim quotas among the world’s biggest Muslim countries — held their protests inside their own camps on Saturday.

Already strained ties between Iran and Saudi Arabia became taut last month when the United States accused Iranian officials of having a hand in a thwarted plot to kill the Saudi ambassador to Washington.

Iran has strongly denied involvement and emphasized “good relations” with its Arab neighbor across the Gulf.

Most of this year’s three million Muslim pilgrims had left the holy city of Mecca after after a farewell circumambulation of the Kaaba, a cube-shaped structure in the Grand Mosque into which is set the Black Stone, Islam’s most sacred relic.

Others completed stoning of the devil on Wednesday — a ritual, which is carried out over three days in which pilgrims must stone the three pillars said to symbolize the devil.

In previous years, hundreds of people have been trampled to death in stampedes triggered by crowds trying to get close to the pillars to take their vengeance on the devil.

But this year, the stoning, like all other rituals, passed with no major incidents.

The ritual is an emulation of Ibrahim’s stoning of the devil at the three spots where he is said to have appeared trying to dissuade the biblical patriarch from obeying God’s order to sacrifice his son, Ishmael.

Saudi authorities have installed a multi-level walkway through the stone-throwing site in a bid to avoid the trampling that caused the deaths of 364 people in 2006, 251 in 2004 and 1,426 in 1990.

The hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam and must be performed at least once in a lifetime by all those who are able to.

AFP

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As I See it

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Azher Quader

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As the Muslim world wrestles with dictatorial rulers to remove them from power and establish popular democracies, allowing for greater freedoms and greater choices, here in America an aging Muslim community of first generation immigrants are facing their own struggles, as they try to transition power at their mosques. Next to the zoning battles no other issue excites the emotions of the mosque goers more than the issue of choosing its new leaders.

Here in Chicago arguably one of the most mature Muslim communities in the country, the transition of power within our mosques is increasingly threatened with conflict. At the Muslim Community Center (MCC), perhaps the oldest mosque in the country run by an elected board of directors, the electoral decisions had sometimes to be litigated and settled in a court of law. The path for succession is no less controversial in those centers where the transition of leadership is without election. There too the inevitability of the moment and the inadequacy of the system to meet the expectations of the majority is coming to light.

Is it then appropriate to pause and ponder on where we are and whither we are going?  Is it right to win an argument within a core group of supporters or in front of a judge and claim victory over the people? Is it right to amend the rules to protect the turf and believe we have secured our future?  Is it right to concoct a system where choice is removed to eradicate dissent?

If we are serious about building institutions of trust and leaving a legacy of goodwill, we cannot be happy with these small wins. If we are committed to passing on the baton to the young, we cannot be scared to let go the reigns of power in the twilight of our lives. If we are committed to serving the welfare of the people we cannot be worried about the preservation of our selves. If we are the vicegerents of Him who gave us the freedom to choose in life, we cannot deny to others the same freedoms including the freedom to choose their leaders. Neither institutions nor nations are strengthened when choices are controlled and freedoms are abridged.

A nomination process which delivers no choices is no better than the Egyptian model of Mubarak against which the people ultimately revolted.

It is time we took a harder look at the way we are setting up systems to assure not only the smooth transition of power within our mosques but  also maintain  the highest traditions of freedom and choice.

May Allah guide us to be humble and fearless in the pursuit of right.

Azer Quader is Executive Director of Community Builders Chicago. ww.mycommunitybuilders.com.

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Manipulations in Masajid

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah

In Southern California, during the last 15 years, in a radius of 3 miles four masajid have sprung at a cost of at least $5 million.  Most of them remain empty most of the time and when they are frequented by Muslims in large numbers it is for either the Friday prayers or education of their children, or funeral get together or dinner in memory of some one. Sometimes lectures are offered, but the number of those attending can be counted in fingers. Masajid have yet to offer dynamic to galvanize the community and attract people to its programs and functions.

There are several reasons for the lack of involvement of people. One of the reasons is the way the Masajid are run by organizers. We have different type of models of mosque ownership.  Even though all the masajid are built with donation from people but the pattern of ownership reveals their inherent weakness to attract people in general.

1. Mosques donated by people but run by an individual or a family.

2. Mosques donated by people but run by a religious party or group

3. Mosques donated by people but run by an ethnic group

4. Mosques donated by outside religious entities and run by the followers of that entity.

5. Mosques built and run by an individual or a family

There are no standards by laws for the mosque. No one has ever attempted to draw by laws that demonstrated the spirit and dynamism of Islam, Most of the by laws are designed to ensure that the power stays in the hands of those who are controlling the management. The by laws are amended to suit the interests of those controlling power. If it suits them to cancel election, they do so, if it suits them to have election they do so.

By and large, there are not many Masajid and Islamic centers that can claim that their rule and by-laws are not designed to help a particular group of people to lose their grip.

Ironically, this kind of mechanism is played with an institution that is established in the name of the Creator, God, the source of all guidance. The very fact that most of these religious institutions are irrelevant to the needs of the people speak volumes of the divine relations with them.

In other words, most masajid serve the interest of particular group. They are like shops and businesses and their attitude is not different than usual shopkeepers. This is our shop and if you want to come here play our rules, otherwise get out.

Islam offers a different style and functionality than what is being offered. First of all, it builds any institution on the concept of God consciousness. Without being accountable to people in running affairs meant for them, one cannot be accountable to God in real honesty. Wen people manipulated behind doors and use all sorts of means to deceive ordinary people they are not honest to God or people. This is one of the most important problems that our mosque managements face. Most are not honest with people. They manipulated events. Hundreds of examples can be given to substantiate this.

Interestingly, the people involved in manipulation often claim that if they leave the board, the future of Islam will be in jeopardy. They defy the Quran in logic here. The Quran addressing the Prophet (s), the Messenger who delivered the divine message to people, said: even if you leave this world or killed, the Divine guidance would continue. Some of these people think that Islam and God depends upon them for their survival in that masjid. It is a very arrogant claim and obviously, if everyone start thinking this way, there would be no place for any change.

The cruz of the matter is that what is happening in most of our masajid is not demonstrative of Islam. It needs to be changed to serve Allah and His creation better.

How?

The only way is to develop a model based on the values of the Qurn and the life of the Prophet (s) as substantiated by the Quran. Without that it is almost impossible to think of any other ways of bringing about effective chanages.

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Commemorating 9/11

September 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Detroit Area Muslims Observe Anniversary

By Adil James, TMO

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Farmington–September 11th–The 9/11 terror attacks and the subsequent scrutiny on the Muslim community has lasted until this date 10 years after the event.

Muslims have attempted to rebuild ties and bridges of mutual trust and understanding on this 10-year anniversary of the 9/11 tragedy through a multitude of different events.

Imams spoke at a CIOM event in Dearborn on the morning of the anniversary, and before the anniversary came, there was a huge food distribution done in Flint, also in the name of rebuilding connections.  Muslims across the nation, individually and through their organizations, also attempted to show their mercy and compassion for 9/11 victims by offering prayers and words of solace to the 9/11 families. 

In this issue of The Muslim Observer, we have attempted to collect some reports from around the country of Muslim events to honor the memory of the tragic events of 9/11.  The following Michigan events are not an exhaustive list of 9/11 commemorations, but a few good examples.

Flint

The Flint event distributed food to “about 1,000 families,” according to Iman Meyer-Hoffman, interfaith director of the As-Siddiq Mosque, from which food was distributed this past Thursday at 5:00PM.  

Each family recipient had to show a distinct i.d. in order to receive food, and the 1,000 family representatives who picked up food at the mosque came in about 300 carloads, showing Michigan’s desperate economic position after years of recession and layoffs.

The Flint Islamic Center in coordination with the As-Siddiq Institute and Mosque and the Food Bank of Eastern Michigan arranged the event.  Ms. Meyer-Hoffman said of the event that “the two mosques felt it was important for the community to work together.”

Flint Islamic Center coordinators for the event were Bilal Ali, Mohammed Aslam, and Macksood Aftab.  They publicized the event extremely well, and planned it well also–occurring several days before almost all 9-11 celebrations it successfully attracted a great deal of attention and put Muslims in a very good light by helping them to serve the real needs of the larger community.

The immense enthusiasm of Mr. Aftab in building media knowledge about the event and advertising the event to local non-Muslims helped to make it a success.

“We are doing this because we are part of this community and this country. Most Muslims are peaceful people who care about others,” said Meyer-Hoffman.

PWAM Acts of Kindness

The Pakistani Women’s Association of Michigan was one of the other organizations to hold an event to commemorate 9/11.

The organization, in association with CIOM and other organizations, took advantage of the event to discuss past contributions, including helping out at Interfaith Health Fair and Soup Kitchen at the Muslim Center Detroit, as well as active involvement in the annual CIOM Unity Dinner.

Here, PWAM partnered with CIOM, ACCESS, the Interfaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit, the City of Detroit, United Way, WISDOM, J-Serve and Focus: HOPE, Volunteer Centers of Michigan, the Jewish Community Relations Council, Arts & Scraps, and Detroit’s Cities of Service “Believe in Detroit” Campaign to participate in the “Acts Of Kindness, Transforming 9/11” which had been called for by President Obama to counteract the incredibly negative and divisive event which took place ten years ago.

Hundreds of volunteers participated in projects such as park beautification, vacant lot clean-up, food packaging, sorting art supplies for local schools, and writing thank you cards to U.S. troops serving abroad. As they worked side by side, their energy and dedication helped transform 9/11 into a day of learning about each other’s interests, families, and faith traditions. After the projects were completed, there was a structured dialogue series designed to increase tolerance and understanding, with the goal of promoting a sense of unity, peace, community-building, and mutual understanding.

Dearborn

In Dearborn the morning of 9/11 was marked by a well-coordinated event at which several prominent local imams had the opportunity to speak about 9/11 and its broader meaning to Muslims after 10 years have elapsed. 

This event was held at the prominent Islamic Center of America (ICA), said to be the largest mosque in America–a huge mosque on Ford Road in Dearborn that unfortunately has served as a lightning rod for criticism of the Muslim community.

The CIOM statement about the ICA event stated that “The tragedy … will never be forgotten… The date brings back painful memories.  American Muslims…. wish for our fellow Americans to begin a renewed era of understanding, tolerance, freedom and justice for all.”

One of the prime movers for this event was Ghalib Begg of CIOM, known for his leadership and and hard work, and for his political and interfaith connections.

Some of the prominent imams present were Imam Elahi of the Islamic House of Wisdom, Imam Qazwini of the ICA, Imam El-Turk of IONA, Imam El-Amin of the Muslim Unity Center in Detroit, Imam Aly Lela of IAGD,  Shaykh Ali Sulayman Ali of MCWS, Imam Kilyani, Imam Al-Azom, and Imam Dawud Walid, Executive Director of CAIR-Michigan.

Imam Elahi said at the ICA that the tragic terrorist attacks of 9/11 constituted a crime, against Americans but also against Islam, agains the teachings of Islam–over 90 nationalities were among the victims, including many Muslims.  “We as Muslims joined to show solidarity with the victims.”

The tenth anniversary, he said, was a day of prayer for the victims, to show national unity, to build dialogue and interfaith cooperation, to build towards “a better America, with justice, peace, and working together.”

He said of 9/11 that it could have been a much worse event, and that the calm and involvement of Muslim and non-Muslim community leaders in the aftermath had managed the event to avoid it being worse for all concerned.

Following the ICA event there were other commemorations attended by prominent Muslim speakers all over the Detroit area and literally all day long, so that the scheduling for the events shortened the ICA event; similar events were held at mosques, churches, and synagogues.

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Test of Faith

September 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Last year, Wellesley Middle School students on a field trip were filmed praying in a Roxbury mosque. After being battered by nationwide criticism, why is the public school still determined to stand by its religion curriculum?

By Linda K. Wertheimer

“REMEMBER, THE REASON WE’RE GOING TO THE MOSQUE IS TO CONTINUE OUR LEARNING,” Jonathan Rabinowitz tells his sixth-grade social studies students. Dressed in a button-down shirt and khakis, the lanky 38-year-old teacher stands in the aisle of a school bus idling behind Wellesley Middle School. He holds up a hand to quell chatter and giggles from the 11- and 12-year-olds. “I want to be proud of your behavior. Make us proud in how you ask questions.”

Katie Pyzowski, her hair pulled back in a headband, sits quietly in a window seat as the din of her classmates resumes. Just a few days earlier, the then 11-year-old, who sings in her Episcopal church youth choir, had felt conflicted about visiting other houses of worship. “I feel kind of like I’m intruding on the holy places,” she had said. “It makes me feel like I don’t belong there.” Now, though, she says she feels more excited than nervous.

A short drive later, the bus pulls into the parking lot in Wayland of the Islamic Center of Boston, a rectangular brick building that could pass for offices if not for a few touches of Middle Eastern architecture, such as triangular arches. A few greeters – including three women in hijabs, the traditional head covering of Muslim females – are waiting outside.

“I’ve never been to a mosque before,” Katie says. Neither have most of her classmates, which is part of the school’s reason for this trip – to bring course work to life with real-world examples.

For more than a decade, Wellesley Middle School has been an outlier among the country’s public school systems because it requires sixth-graders to study the world’s religions for a full semester. After years of uneventful field trips to mosques and temples, it drew a maelstrom of criticism in 2010 when a video was made public showing Wellesley boys on a field trip appearing to pray in a Roxbury mosque.

These days, the mere potential for controversy is enough to convince the average school to steer clear of teaching about religion. But just a year after the uproar engulfed Wellesley Middle School, it did something that makes it even more unusual among its peers: It took students to a mosque yet again.

“I felt it was important to establish we can teach about religion,” says Joshua Frank, the school’s principal at the time. “There is nothing like being inside a mosque, inside a temple. These experiences are powerful for kids. They are going to remember them long after they forget Mohammed was born in 570 AD.” (s)

But Diane Moore, a Harvard Divinity School scholar and author of Overcoming Religious Illiteracy, says Wellesley’s difficult experience affirmed her belief that public schools should avoid such field trips.

There are just too many risks, from giving students the impression all temples are the same as the one they visit, to crossing the constitutional divide between church and state. “You’ve got this very fine line,” Moore says. “There are so many opportunities for this to go awry.”

***

FOR THE PAST 50 YEARS, exposing children to religion in school has been a flashpoint in American public education. Schools and state governments have battled with parents and others over whether religious music could be sung at holiday concerts or graduation ceremonies could be held in a church. For years, schools have shied away from reciting the Pledge of Allegiance because of that problematic phrase “one nation under God.”

Administrators at Wellesley Middle School, however, believe the risks of teaching about religion are worth the potential rewards, which is why it takes the unusual step of making its class mandatory. Even though most US states now include world religions in their education standards, they rarely require that students take a class. According to state records, roughly two-thirds of Massachusetts school systems offer comparative religion courses, but those are usually electives.

Wellesley’s decision to create its class in 2000, says social studies department head Adam Blumer, came from a place of “intellectual angst.”

Even before the terrorist attacks of September 2001, teachers worried that their students weren’t grasping the importance of religion in international politics. Blumer recalls thinking, “Are we really preparing kids for the world they’re walking into?”

Over the half-year course, students spend roughly a month on each of three religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – and then three weeks on Hinduism. They cover seven aspects of each faith, including “stories of origin” and “core beliefs,” and take field trips to places of worship. For the first several years, those trips went off without a hitch; then there was last year.

On May 27, 2010, some 200 students visited the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center in Roxbury, which had opened less than a year earlier. A commanding presence with its black dome and brick minaret, the mosque is part of a 68,000-square-foot complex that includes a cafe, a shop, and an Islamic elementary school. It offers prayers five times a day, which Blumer felt was important: Students could witness the full racial and ethnic diversity of worshipers.

On the tour, a female guide escorted the group into the mosque’s social hall and delivered a PowerPoint presentation about Islam. “You have to believe in Allah, and Allah is the one God, the only one worthy of worship, all forgiving, wise, knowing,” she said at one point.

“Everything we do is to please God because God has guided us to do these things.”

After the early afternoon call to prayer was piped over loudspeakers, the guide took a group to see the prayer hall, pointing out features such as a clock listing the five daily worship times. The students asked to watch, so she escorted them to the perimeter of the room, advised them to sit quietly, and left to pray in an area reserved for women.

When she was gone, a male worshiper looked over to five Wellesley boys.

“You guys can participate if you’d like,” he said, according to Jackson Posnik, one of the students. Jackson remembers thinking, “That’s, like, cool that we’re allowed to do that.”

None of the Wellesley boys were Muslim, but they copied the movements of the Muslims around them, bowing, kneeling, and prostrating on the rug. “I didn’t think I prayed,” Jackson says. “I just kind of mimicked the motions.”

School and mosque officials did not realize what had happened until the beginning of the next school year, when on September 15, 2010, a video titled “Wellesley, Massachusetts Public School Students Learn to Pray to Allah” turned up online.

Unbeknownst to teachers, students, and mosque officials, a Wellesley mother had videotaped the field trip. A Boston-based group called Americans for Peace and Tolerance then posted it on YouTube. The next day, TV news trucks surrounded the school and coverage appeared on local news, CNN, and Fox, as well as in newspapers and on blogs from around the nation.

The reaction to the video was split. Parent after parent in Wellesley praised the school’s program in interviews with reporters. In the meantime, though, a spokesman for Americans for Peace and Tolerance told Fox News Radio that if a Catholic priest had given students Communion on a field trip, “the furor would be visible from outer space.” An anonymous commenter on the Wellesley Townsman’s website wrote, “How idiotic to take our precious little ones into the lion’s den.”

Subsequent news reports said the mother, who has never been identified, took the video on behalf of Americans for Peace and Tolerance, which is run by Charles Jacobs, a columnist for The Jewish Advocate newspaper.

ScreenShot001
The controversial Youtube video of students who joined in to pray with the dhuhr prayer.

When the mosque was being built, Jacobs had alleged its financial backers had ties to radical Islam. Mosque officials have continued to strenuously rebut that claim and note that they have longstanding partnerships with federal and state law enforcement and interfaith leaders.

Today, Jacobs says he remains concerned about the boys’ praying and what he says students were taught by the guide in the mosque. “The five students prayed to Allah. As Americans, we shouldn’t be proselytizing each other’s kids. That’s just not right for any religion,” he says.

“American schools don’t know what to do about the ‘other.’ They take them to the mosque and accept as given the tall tales given to kids.”

Both mosque and school officials say the video was not an accurate portrayal of what happened, and the guide’s talk was not preaching, but an informational presentation about the beliefs and practices of Islam.

The tour guide, who asked not to be named for fear her family would be harassed, also says her comments were taken out of context on the video.

“As a mosque, we didn’t invite them to pray,” says M. Bilal Kaleem, the president of the Muslim American Society of Boston, which runs the mosque. “It is our clear policy not to invite visitors to pray.” But it is plausible, he says, that a worshiper invited the boys. (Guides now escort visitors to the balcony during prayer.) “This was a learning experience,” Kaleem says. “Once you take kids out of the school, there are challenges. They’re curious.”

After the video was released, Wellesley Schools Superintendent Bella Wong issued a mea culpa in a letter to parents. “I apologized for [the praying] part, because that to me crossed the line from observation to participation,” she says. “As a public institution or public school, we really have to honor the separation of church and state. While we can teach about religion, we really can’t do anything that would encourage the practice of religion.”

The border between observation and participation can be a subtle one.

Many Americans don’t realize that the First Amendment to the Constitution only bans public schools from endorsing or promoting religion, it doesn’t prohibit educators from teaching about it.

According to a 2010 survey by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, 89 percent of respondents knew teachers could not lead the class in prayer, but only 36 percent knew it was legal to offer a comparative-religion course.

“There’s still a great confusion in the public about what the First Amendment permits and where the lines should be drawn,” says Charles Haynes, a senior scholar at the First Amendment Center in Washington, D.C. Haynes believes taking public school students to houses of worship during prayer times is problematic, even if the kids are told they must only observe. “We have impressionable young people,” Haynes says, “and they are there as a captive audience.”

***

EVEN AS THE ROXBURY brouhaha shook up teachers and school district officials in Wellesley, it did not diminish their faith in the academic promise of the religion unit. “It’s a very rich experience,” says Wong.

“With appropriate guidelines, you can do this without breaking the separation of church and state. I wish other communities would step forward and say they’ll teach it, too. We’ll stay the course.”

To avoid another round of controversy, though, the school did make changes to its field trips. Teachers were instructed to be clearer with students about the difference between participation and observation. In addition, Wellesley earlier this year chose to visit the mosque in Wayland, a place that doesn’t offer regular prayers during the day. “We live, we learn,” says Adam Blumer.

Although Kaleem is disappointed Wellesley classes didn’t return to his mosque, he was pleased the field trip wasn’t canceled outright. “That really would have been sad,” he says. “I think visiting religious spaces should be a part of education in America so people have a better understanding of people of all different faiths.”

On a morning in mid-April, a month before the Wayland mosque visit, Jonathan Rabinowitz ends the unit on Christianity and reviews what students had already learned about Judaism. He posts a big question on a projection screen at the front of his classroom. “In what overall ways are Judaism and Christianity the same? Different?”

The teacher hands out work sheets with a Venn diagram; one circle is labeled “Christianity,” the other “Judaism,” and the overlap between them is “both.” Attached to the worksheet are 44 statements, such as “Believe that Jesus is the Son of God” and “Reading from the Torah at age 13 is a rite of passage for these people.”

“Get up and walk around the room. Talk to everyone,” Rabinowitz says.

“Does it belong in Christianity, Judaism, or both?”

The students huddle in groups, although a few approach Rabinowitz for hints to the trickier statements. Rabinowitz shoos them away. “I want them to debate,” he says. “The hard thing is kids want right versus wrong. There isn’t always a right.”

Rabinowitz has been teaching Wellesley’s religion unit since 2002, though he readily admits that doesn’t make him a religion scholar. But over the years he and his colleagues have worked hard to find effective and unbiased course material. To continue his own learning, he visited Jordan in 2005 as part of an exchange program with teachers from the Middle East.

Rabinowitz, whose students call him Mr. R, was born in South Africa to observant Jewish parents who wanted him to stay home on Friday nights, the start of Shabbat, rather than play soccer. After moving to the United States at age 6, he spent most of his youth and early adulthood in what he calls a “Jewish bubble” – he went to a Jewish day school and mainly socialized with other Jews. “Growing up, I never knew how to talk or even ask questions about Jesus Christ,” he says. He tells students that what they’ll learn in his class will help them discuss religion with others as they get older.

At the start of the Islam unit, Rabinowitz asks his students to name some common Muslim stereotypes. “All Muslims come from Saudi Arabia,” says one student. Rabinowitz shows a world map of areas where Muslims live: The country with the most is Indonesia. “All Muslims are terrorists,” says another student. Rabinowitz urges the class not to use the word “all.”

Another day, students watch a news clip about Muslims’ push to include their major holidays on New York City’s school vacation calendar. Then the class discusses what Wellesley should do. Zain Tirmizi, who also attends religious school at the Wayland mosque, and a boy named Anand Ghorpadey, who describes himself as an atheist, still debate after the bell rings.

Anand, who celebrates Hindu holidays with his family, points out the school’s scarcity of Muslims and Hindus. He says the school should not alter the calendar.

Zain disagrees. “I want my education,” he says, adding it’s hard to catch up after missing classes for his religion’s holidays.

Anand raises his eyebrows. “Hard to catch up three days?”

“We should have both Hindu and Muslim holidays off,” Zain says.

As the pair walk out, Anand grins and shakes his head. He’s not convinced.

Rabinowitz watches his students leave. “I like when class spills out in the hallways,” he says.

***

RABINOWITZ LIKES it even more when class discussions continue at home.

His students can give a PowerPoint presentation on religion to friends and family during the unit. He also encourages them to have family discussions about a CNN special report he screens for class called Unwelcome: The Muslims Next Door. The documentary is about the venomous opposition to the construction of a mosque in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.

Protesters torched construction equipment, someone fired shots at Muslim leaders, and a lawyer for mosque opponents evoked 9/11 and said Muslims do not believe in God.

The video saddened Caitlin Gillooly, who discussed it with her mother.

“I’m really glad now that I’ve learned more about religion,” says Caitlin, an altar girl at her family’s Episcopal church. “One of these people could be me. I could be one of those people who misinterpret about religion.”

The class prompts families to have conversations they never would otherwise, according to the parents of Celia Golod, a Jewish student.

“These kids in sixth grade were infants during 9/11,” says Celia’s mother, Lisa. “It’s important that they understand the good and bad.

Religion sparks a lot of controversy, but there’s good in all of the religions.”

Her daughter, though, is skeptical about whether the course can really change students’ minds. In fifth grade, some kids interrogated her about why she did not believe in Jesus, she recalls. Last December, a classmate called her a “typical Jew” in a text message. “People who do tease people about [their religions] probably will never learn,” Celia says.

“But maybe you’re making a dent,” her mother says. “Do you think, Celia, the fact that you understand more about Christianity makes you more understanding?”

Celia nods. “Yeah,” she says. “I didn’t realize that Christianity came out of Judaism. Now we’re all related.” She crosses her fingers to indicate the connection.

Occasionally, Rabinowitz invites parents in to talk about their religions. On a Wednesday in late May, Ali and Hadia Tirmizi, Zain’s parents, arrive to discuss their experience. The couple, originally  from Pakistan, immigrated to the United States in the 1990s, before their children were born. They tell students that Muslims vary in their practices. “I have two kids,” says Hadia Tirmizi, who’s wearing a knee-length black dress and lavender sweater. “I’m a physician. I don’t pray five times a day.”

When Hadia mentions her son’s name means “leader” in Arabic, Celia’s hand shoots up. “We watched a movie, and it said, ‘Zain means beautiful.’ ” Hadia nods.

“So Zain means beautiful leader?” Rabinowitz says.

Zain laughs and ducks his head a little in embarrassment. “Zain is not going to like that,” his mother says.

Later, at the family’s home, Ali Tirmizi raves about the class: “To introduce that religion study class where he’s learning about Hinduism from Anand’s mom, and Judaism, and Christianity, and Islam, it opens up horizons.”

The couple originally resisted sending Zain to a public middle school for fear that he would be bullied. One day in fourth grade a boy approached him and said, “You’re a Muslim. I’m going to check you for bombs.”

But Zain still believes the religion class will affect how his peers treat others. “I believe the next time someone says ‘all Christians are,’ ‘all Jews are,’ ‘all blacks are,’ ‘all gays are,’ they’ll know to say, ‘Only some do this,’ or ‘That’s not true.’ ” But, he adds, that awareness might take awhile. For instance, he explains, after Osama bin Laden was killed, someone asked another Muslim student, “Aren’t you supposed to be at a funeral?”

“I get scared,” Hadia says of her son. “I’m so scared of him getting affected by all of this.” When the permission slip for the mosque field trip arrived, she was relieved to learn the class wasn’t going back to the Roxbury mosque. “If Wayland is a happy medium, there’s nothing wrong with happy mediums,” she says. “We don’t need any more controversy right now.”

***

IN CLASS before the May 9 field trip this year, Rabinowitz talks about Islamic worship practices and architecture. He passes around a prayer rug, a gift he received from a Saudi Arabian teacher during his exchange. He reviews terms. Mihrab? It’s the niche in the prayer hall that points toward Mecca, the direction Muslims face during prayer. He hands out laptops and asks the students to hunt for 20 mosques around the world. “Explore, explore,” he tells them. One student finds a mosque that has 24 domes and can hold up to 500,000 people.

On the morning of the visit, Rabinowitz and several teachers and parents stand outside the Wayland mosque with some 150 students (about 400 students in all will visit in three waves). With no dome and no minaret, the building doesn’t fit most students’ image of a mosque.

“This tour is going to be like one at an amusement park,” says their tour guide, Sepi Gilani, the mosque’s vice president. The students follow her single file up a set of stairs, where volunteers tell them about the center’s classrooms and library.

Before the students enter the prayer hall, they are asked to remove their shoes. They sit on a green and gold rug. Gilani points out the mosque’s mihrab and other architectural features and gives a PowerPoint presentation about Islam. A few students whisper and fidget, but most seem awe-struck to be here.

Why do we have to take off our shoes? a student asks during a question-and-answer period.

“We pray with our foreheads on the ground,” Gilani says. “If we kept on our shoes, we’d get our heads all dirty.”

When does Gilani wear her hijab? She responds that she, like many Muslim women, regards wearing the head covering in the mosque as a religious obligation. However, she does not wear it when she goes outside the mosque.

Gilani then asks a woman standing in the back to explain why she wears her hijab in public. The woman is Gilani’s friend, and the same person who had led the controversial tour of Roxbury’s mosque the year before.

“For me, not displaying a woman’s beauty in public is about modesty,” the woman explains. “It’s empowering not to be judged on the basis of physical appearance, but rather on the basis of one’s deeds.”

After Gilani’s talk, the students get 10 minutes to try different activities. Some browse books about Islam, while others get an outside tour of the building. They line up by the dozens to get their names written in Arabic. “Faster, faster,” urges Blumer.

Students are then rushed to their buses so they can make it back to school in time for lunch. There was no prayer to take part in. No mysterious videographer.

The next morning, Rabinowitz praises his students for asking thoughtful questions. “At the end of the day,” he says, “every one of you is able to say you’ve been to an Islamic learning center. You’ve been to a mosque.”

Most of Rabinowitz’s students say they probably won’t ever enter a mosque again, and that makes the class valuable. They might never have seen the inside of a Jewish temple, either, or heard so many different views on Islam from practicing Muslims.

“Before this unit, when I saw people wearing full Muslim clothing, I thought, ‘That’s kind of weird,’ ” says Anand Ghorpadey. “Now I understand how each religion is different.”

“Many people in America have stereotypes about Muslims. I’m glad they can teach about it,” says Zain Tirmizi. “I can say, ‘I’m Muslim. I do this.’ I’m very proud of it.”

A few weeks after school ends for the summer, Katie Pyzowski and her parents, Whitney and Paul, sit on their backyard deck. They talk about their strong connection to their Christian faith and their interest in other practices.

At her father’s urging, Katie brings out a photo album from their April vacation to Greece. They had seen burning crosses that were part of the Greek Orthodox celebration of Easter, and had even ducked into a monastery. There was no formal invitation, which made Katie a little nervous, but once inside, she felt as fascinated as she later would in the Wayland mosque.

“The key word to this unit is ‘about,’ ” Katie says. “They’re not teaching you the religion, they’re teaching you about the religion.

They’re not trying to make you do something, they’re trying to get you to learn.”

Sitting next to her, her mother asks, “Did it work?”

“Yeah,” Katie says. “It worked.”

Linda K. Wertheimer, the Globe’s former education editor, is a Lexington freelance writer. Follow her on Twitter @Lindakwert. Send comments to magazine@globe.com.

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‘Eid in America!

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By TMO Staff

Eid_017

Most of the mosques in the US celebrated ‘Eidul Fitr on Tuesday August 30th, 2011, finalizing the festival of worship and celebration that was Ramadan of AH 1432.

In this issue is a series of reports from around the USA, where TMO reporters describe their own ‘Eid experiences.

The Bloomfield Hills’ Muslim Unity Center celebrated ‘Eid on Tuesday, filled to overflowing and forced to have three separate celebrations (at 8AM, 10AM, and 11AM).  These ‘Eid khutbas focused on keeping Allah in mind “whatever you do,” the imam arguing that if you keep Allah in your mind, that will prevent you from doing wrong.  The khutbah also focused on Tawhid. 

Children at the center had a very good time, as there were rides and slides, and plenty of good food, and a festive atmosphere permeated the atmosphere of this suburban mosque.

Other reports in this issue of TMO!

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Community News (Volume 13 Issue 36)

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Settlement reached at Lilburn Mosque

LILBURN,GA–A settlement has been reached between the city of Lilburn and the federal government over allegations that the city violated the “Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000” when it rejected the Dar-E-Abbas Shia Islamic Center’s requests for rezoning so they could expand a mosque.

Just last week the Lilburn City Council approved the expansion of the mosque.

It was the third time that the Dar-E-Abass Mosque tried to get a rezoning plan approved.

Neighbors said they didn’t want the expansion because it would bring more traffic and destroy their residential neighborhood.

The Muslim congregation wanted to expand from its current building to create a much larger facility.

Opponents believe the mosque’s owners are trying to skirt the city’s rules separating commercial and residential zoning. The attorney representing the mosque has said he believes the opposition is based on religious bias.

The dispute has resulted in a lawsuit and an investigation by the Department of Justice. Opponents insist religion is a non-factor.

As terms of the settlement, The city of Lilburn has agreed not to impose different zoning or building requirements on Dar-E-Abbas or other religious groups, and to publicize its nondiscrimination policies and practices.

The city also agreed that its leaders, managers, and certain other city employees will attend training on the requirements of RLUIPA.

ICNA Relief distributes school supplies

BOSTON, MA–The current economic downturn has hit hard on families and those especially affected are the children. But ICNA Relief USA is lending a helping hand by giving away free school supplies across the country.  It is expected to donate 15,000 back packs this year in over thirty communities. Almost all of the give away events held at Islamic school.
The one organized in Boston, however, reached out to the local neighborhood. The group gave out about 100 backpacks.

Imam Abdullah Faaruuq, prayer leader at a local mosque, was happy with the turnout. “People see a little simple event like this and they figure it just flowered,’’ he said. “But things like this don’t happen on their own.’’

Islamic Science Rediscovered premiers in California

SAN JOSE, CA–Long overlooked or often misattributed, the remarkable contributions of Muslim scholars in science and technology have quietly floundered as no more than common footnotes of world history.

Visitors educated in the Western world will be surprised to learn of discoveries and inventions in the Muslim World which predate by years, sometimes centuries, discoveries thought to be developed in the West.

Designed to unearth the scientific know-how of an Islamic Golden Age that is all too strange and unfamiliar to Western culture, Islamic Science Rediscovered demystifies this grand civilization and introduces visitors to the vast influence of its discoveries and inventions on contemporary society. It is being held at the Tech Museum in San Jose.

Did the Wright brothers soar in the sky first? Was Leonardo da Vinci the first to describe “machines of the future”?

Centuries before Orville and Wilbur Wright took flight, Abbas ibn Farnas was soaring over the hilly Spanish countryside in a one-man glider – a thousand years before the famed Wright flight in North Carolina.

Al-Jazari busied himself laying the foundations of modern engineering and writing the Book of Knowledge of Ingenious Mechanical Devices in 1206, where he described fifty mechanical devices along with instructions on how to build them, more than 200 years before Leonardo da Vinci became revered for his technological ingenuity.

This global touring exhibition celebrates the contribution of Muslim scholars to science and technology during the Golden Age of the Islamic World (circa 8th to 18th centuries CE) and the influence of their discoveries and inventions on contemporary society.

Amazing ancient Islamic inventions are brought to life by more than 40 stations with interactive and sensory exhibits and videos to recreate the ingenuity.

Islamic Relief USA Prepares for Irene Response

WASHINGTON, D.C.–  As Americans on the East Coast braced for the arrival of Hurricane Irene, Islamic Relief USA staff and volunteers in the Washington, D.C. area were preparing for a potential emergency response to what is expected to be a powerful and damaging storm system.

Islamic Relief USA’s emergency aid workers have provided emergency assistance in the United States in the past, most recently this spring in Alabama after tornadoes leveled neighborhoods, killing hundreds of residents and leaving thousands homeless across seven states. Dozens of Islamic Relief USA volunteers and staff members quickly mobilized, traveling to Alabama to partner with the Salvation Army and the Red Cross to assess damage, assist at shelters, and collect and distribute food, clothing, cleaning supplies hygiene kits and other necessities.

In another major response effort, in 2005, Islamic Relief USA dispatched emergency response teams to areas affected by Hurricane Katrina, one of the deadliest natural disasters in U.S. history. Islamic Relief USA distributed food, cleaning kits, tents, sleeping bags, toys, clothes and hygiene kits to residents of Biloxi and Jackson, Miss., and Baton Rouge, La. Islamic Relief USA converted a mobile home into a health clinic serving residents of East Biloxi, and teams also worked with two local housing organizations to house victims of Hurricane Katrina and repaired homes in Jackson to provide an adequate housing for evacuees.

“Muslim Americans are interested in helping fellow Americans when disasters strike,” said Adnan Ansari, Vice President of Programs at Islamic Relief USA. “We always receive an overwhelming response from the community in times like these.  People want to help in any way, whether by volunteering to provide crisis care, conduct damage assessment or serve the residents in shelters, or through their checkbooks.” 

Ohio school cancels Muslim goodwill event

CINCINNATI,OH- Complaints and a request from the archbishop have led a Cincinnati Roman Catholic high school to drop plans for a Ramadan dinner to build goodwill with Muslims.

Kirsten MacDougal, president of Mother of Mercy school, says Archbishop Dennis Schnurr received “emotionally charged” emails, mostly from outside the area, and asked the girls’ school to cancel its Friday night plans. The event instead will be held at a church parish center.

Mosque asked to consider another park for ‘Eid

BOONTON,NJ–The mayor and the aldermen of Boonton have denied a second request from Jam-E-Masjid Islamic Center to apply for the use of Canalside park for Eid prayers. Instead they have asked them to use Tourne County Park.

“With Tourne Park, no one is there on a Tuesday,” Alderman Anthony Scozzafava said. “You’d have the whole place to yourself. You wouldn’t be disrupting traffic or business or anything.”

About 500-600 people are projected to participate in the Eid Prayer, the Islamic Center representative said. Some participants would work together to car pool or simply walk.

With such an large number of people, Boonton Police Chief Michael W. Beltran suggested that four or five officers would have to oversee traffic.

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Islamic Center of America, Dearborn

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Ahmed Al-Hilali

SONY DSCThousands of Muslims gather inside the Qazwini Mosque of Dearborn to celebrate the end of Ramadan, and the beginning of Eid-ul-Fitr. Fourteen year old Hussein Neime shares his opinions about the yearly celebration.

“I love Eid because of the fact that I get to see relatives I don’t usually get to see, and I feel like all of Dearborn are my relatives,”

”Yearly the celebration of the end of Ramadan makes Muslims forget their problems,” said Imam Hassan Al-Qazwini in his sermon. “But that doesn’t mean you forget the poor,” The Imam’s point was that we should never forget the poor and Allah, and Allah won’t forget you. This inspired many Muslims to get up after the prayer and put money inside the charity box.

Though many Muslims celebrated ‘Eid Tuesday, many more Muslims around the world are celebrating a day late because of the lack of the sighting of the moon, but many people are gloomy because of they don’t get one more holy night of worship God.  

There were Q&A games for kids, in which the prizes range from stickers to gift cards. They had to answer questions about Ramadan, Ahlulbayt, which prophets came in order, etc. “Every kid here is happy,” says 10 year old Ali Alsumar. “The sun is shining, everybody is smiling and laughing, you get prizes, and I just think that Eid is a very unique day.”

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Lessons from a Medina Graveyard

August 25, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Fahad Farruqui

slide_42595_328275_largeOne can learn many lessons at a graveyard. I once found myself helping carry the corpse of a stranger, an old woman, to its final abode. At the time, I was a 20-year-old on a family trip to the Holy City of Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Following the ish’a (night) prayers at the Prophet’s Mosque (Al-Masjid al-Nabawi) and the recitation of obligatory funeral prayer, I came across a middle-aged man searching for help to transport the coffin of the woman, who I later learned was his mother. She had passed away a few hours earlier and her son was eager to fulfill her final wish: to be buried immediately after death.
The son was the only family member present. He was anxious to hastily transport the steel coffin, containing the corpse of his mother wrapped in a white shroud, to the Garden of Heaven or, as it is called in Arabic, Janatu l-Baqi’, a graveyard adjacent to the Prophet’s (s) Mosque.

Since it was late at night, the mosque had emptied quickly and there weren’t many eager beavers to lend a hand. A few men on their way out of the mosque regrettably declined the man’s pleas for assistance, saying they had far travel before reaching home. I wanted to help, but I was unsure if I would be able to carry the coffin all the way to the grave situated a couple of hundred meters away.

After a handful of men gathered to move the coffin, four men including me lifted it in unison and rested each corner on the shoulder. As we proceeded toward the graveyard, the coffin was tilted toward my side since I was relatively shorter than the other three.

“She isn’t heavy,” I thought to myself in relief.

A man behind me yelled blessings to the dead as we commenced our walk towards the Medina graveyard. We all joined in enthusiastically, chanting blessings to the dead.

Our voices started to get dimmer as we ran out of breath. The farther we moved away from the mosque, the darker it became. In the sunlight, the sands of Medina graveyard vary in color from orange to a shade that borders on red, with volcanic rocks scattered throughout the grave marking the grave. But at night, it was pitch-black. Our pathway was lit only by the light illuminating from the towering minarets atop the mosque, where Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, rests along with Abu Bakr, the first caliph, and Umar ibn Al-Khattab, the second caliph, may God be pleased with both.

slide_42595_327677_largeAfter a few uneven steps, the buckle of one of my sandal’s broke, forcing me to push it aside as we continued forward. The ground was warm, even at this late hour. I could barely see where my feet were stepping in the wide graveyard around us. I was granted some relief when a man volunteered to help, seeking only reward from the Creator.

We walked aimlessly for a bit, trying our best not to trample over the other graves as we searched for the woman’s resting spot. Once we located it and rested the coffin beside the dugout, I took a peak at the grave. It was remarkably dark — the darkest shade of black that I have ever seen.

As I stood among these strangers with death before my eyes, and a six-foot deep grave that felt suffocating from above, the importance of my worries drifted away, and I began reflecting on the temporality of life.

It dawned on me how near we are all to death, our inevitable fate, although many of us think about death very rarely.

Quite out of the blue, I felt I was granted clues and answers to questions that had been filling my mind: Why am I here? And where will I go from here?

I had little to no sense of time. My startled parents went out looking for me when they saw all the doors of the Prophet’s Mosque closed from the window of our hotel room. I arrived back at the hotel more than an hour later than usual, yet the impression the experience left on me has been lasting. It was a moment of clarity, an hour that changed the very foundation of my existence.

“A moment of true reflection is worth more than ages of heedless worship,” Faraz Rabbani, a leading Islamic scholar, said recently on Twitter.

His words reminded me of that night. At certain points in our lives, we have experiences that shake us to the core and compel us to question our outlook on existence and, if we cultivate them properly, bring us nearer to the Almighty. Even many years later, in times when anger, distress, tribulation or temptation has attempted to sway me, my mind returns to that graveyard.

When you become mindful of death, you think and act differently. It becomes difficult to lash out in anger when we know how near death could be. A person conscious of death would think twice before defrauding and deceiving another human being.

slide_42595_328537_largeBy remembering that we will all perish and be buried in dirt, taking none of our possessions with us, it becomes undesirable to wrong or hurt someone intentionally. But one has to realize that death is inevitable.

My recollection of the funeral procession that night is vivid. I remember how time seized for me in the midst of that graveyard. I recall the haunting feeling of suffocation and discomfort that kept me awake that night.

Back in the hotel, as I rested my head on the plush pillow, in an arctic air-conditioned room, I thought of the rock-hard walls encircling that meager grave.

We need not reflect on death at all times to keep us on track. Paying attention to life — to the wondrous creations of the universe around us — can always draw us near to God and prompt us to be grateful. But also reflect on death, since it turns you away from the superficiality of the world and curbs your ego.

I would not say I am a man of immense knowledge. I haven’t spent an adequate amount of time fully uncovering the miracles of the Quran as deeply as I should. I have my ups and down. My faith, at times, dangles, and then I have to realign my thoughts. It happens more often than I am ready to confess here.

Yet I find remembering the inevitability of death from time to time is one way to stay grounded. During a course on Buddhist ethics I took a decade ago with Robert Thurman, the professor related a tale of a newlywed royal couple who went to a celebrated monk, Atisha, for marriage advice.

slide_42595_327710_largeInitially hesitating to offer any since he had never been married himself, the monk finally yielded, giving some of the soundest marital advice I have heard: “Eventually, husband and wife, each will die. So now while alive, you should strive to be kind to each other.”

Thoughts of death need not flood our minds with sorrow and negativity, as we should understand that death is a natural part of the journey of life.

If we work on making every prayer count as if it’s our last and set aside time from our busy schedules, including the social media that consumes a measurable chunk of our day, to unwind the thoughts and worries entangled in our minds, we may become better humans and will indeed have a greater chance of living with peace.

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Community News (V13-I31)

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

New Mosque in Staten Island

STATEN ISLAND,NY–The Muslim American Society is opening a new location on Staten Island.

The mosque and community center will be housed at the site of a former Hindu temple on Burgher Avenue in Dongan Hills.

Renovations are underway, and the center is not open to the public as of yet reports NY1.

St. Louis’s Imam Ansari Passes Away

ST.LOUIS,MO–Samuel Ansari, a much beloved leader of the St.Louis Muslim community, passed away on July 24, after suffering a heart attack. He was 62. He owned a bakery and served as a volunteer imam at the Al Muminun Mosque.

Mr. Ansari was born Samuel Hicks on Nov. 20, 1948, in Huntingdon, Tenn., and moved to St. Louis as a child. He graduated from Vashon High School and did a stint in the Army in the 1960s that took him to Alaska. When he came home, he was disillusioned with the United States. Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, a social movement of black Muslims, appealed to him.

“When I heard him say the white man is the devil, it hit home,” Mr. Ansari told the Post-Dispatch in 2006. “We wanted white Americans to feel what we felt.”

But after Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, Mr. Ansari followed the leadership of Muhammad’s son, W. Deen Mohammed, who focused on the universal teachings of Islam, not separatism.

Imam Ansari had worked hard to build bridges between the immigrant and the African-American Muslim community of the city. He was also active in interfaith efforts.

DOJ Asked to Probe Michigan Bias

DETROIT,MI–The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) has asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether local planning officials in that state are violating the religious rights of Muslims by denying a permit to build a school on property they own.

On June 16, the Michigan Islamic Academy (MIA) went before the Pittsfield Township Planning Commission for land usage approval on a newly-purchased property to be used for educational and religious purposes. The planning commission voted on a preliminary procedural motion to deny MIA’s request after concerns of disruption of neighborhood harmony were raised and derogatory comments were made about the religious practices of Muslims. (A final vote will be taken at a commission meeting on August 4.)

Ali Mushtaq Wins Piano Competition

WASHINGTON D.C.–Ali Mushtaq, a statistical contractor and an amateur pianist, came first at the ninth annual Washington International Piano Artists Competition.  The competition is open to amateur pianists 31 years of age or older. The event had competitors from around the world and was hosted by the French Embassy.

Arts Midwest Launches International Program to Bridge American and Muslim Cultures

Arts Midwest, the non-profit Regional Arts Organization (RAO) serving America’s upper Midwest, announces the launch of Caravanserai: A place where cultures meeT, a groundbreaking artistic and cultural exchange program supported by the nation’s RAOs. Caravanserai is funded by a one million dollar grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) Building Bridges program.

“The name Caravanserai was carefully selected for this program,” says David Fraher, Executive Director of Arts Midwest. “Historically, in the east and middle-east, stopping places for caravans were called caravanserais. Safe places to come together and exchange stories. The name evokes that imagery of travelers in a safe haven, a place where cultures meet.”

Betsy Fader of DDFIA says Caravanserai is a natural fit for their Building Bridges grants program. “Caravanserai beautifully illustrates our mission to promote the use of art and culture to improve Americans’ understanding and appreciation of Muslim Societies. We believe this pilot program of music and film will start many conversations and open many doors to understanding.”

Nearly two years in the making, Caravanserai begins with a pilot program in five US communities comprising performing arts and film programs featuring art and artists from Muslim cultures. The pilot program focuses on Pakistan. Future programming will feature other geographic regions and artistic disciplines and will travel to more US cities.

After receiving applications from across the country, Arts Midwest selected the following communities to present Caravanserai:

•    The Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire; Littleton, NH
•    Artswego SUNY Oswego; Oswego, NY
•    FirstWorks; Providence, RI
•    Monmouth University; West Long Branch, NJ
•    The Myrna Loy Center; Helena, MT

Each organization will host three arts experiences in their community, including music residency tours featuring traditional and contemporary Pakistani musicians and a film residency, featuring a Pakistani filmmaker. Residency activities will include educational workshops, public performances, film screenings, and localized community outreach.
Curated by artistic director Zeyba Rahman, Caravanserai features a roster of outstanding contemporary Pakistani artists.

•    Arif Lohar – Folk singer
•    Qawal Najmuddin Saifuddin – Qawali singers
•    Sanam Marvi – Folk and Sufi singer
•    Ustad Tari Khan – US-based tabla master
•    Ayesha Khan – Filmmaker, “Made in Pakistan”

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Umrah Packages Galore, as Ramadan Nears

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By IINA

masjid_al_haram-300x224RIYADH, Shaaban 18/July 19 (IINA)-With two weeks to go before the holy month of Ramadan, attractive weekend Umrah packages starting from SR100 are being offered by travel operators in the capital.

The beginning of the Umrah season on June 29 this year coincided with the summer holidays, triggering a large rush of people including Saudis to do the pilgrimage.

An official from Al-Rushd, a leading Hajj and Umrah travel operator in the city, said the Umrah season is to continue until two weeks after Ramadan.

He predicted that the current fee of SR100 per pilgrim will increase by 50 percent as Ramadan approaches and will be hiked even further during the latter part of the holy month. “Budget conscious families are currently taking advantage of this offer,” he said.

A return fare from Riyadh to Makkah by luxury coach including accommodation in the holy city will cost SR100 per pilgrim and the charges remain the same even if the pilgrim opts to visit the Prophet’s (s) Mosque in Madinah en route to Makkah.

For an additional payment of SR30 per pilgrim, accommodation can be upgraded to four-star hotels in the holy city.

The itinerary for the weekend package to Makkah and Madinah starts at 4 p.m. from Riyadh on Wednesday and finishes on Friday midnight.  Each family is given a large room while the bachelors are accommodated on a sharing basis with three pilgrims in one room. Children under 12 pay half the fare.

A five-day package to Makkah and Madinah including travel and accommodation will cost SR150 per pilgrim. The offer includes a two-day stay in a three-star hotel in Madinah and another two days in similar accommodation in Makkah.

The journey begins on Monday and ends on Friday. The pilgrims will leave the holy city of Makkah after Friday prayers so that they reach Riyadh around midnight. Pilgrims are given an option to stay in a five-star hotel for an additional premium.

There are more than 100 Umrah travel operators spread out across the capital, but most are concentrated in the city center of Batha.

During the journey, coaches stop for Maghreb, Isha and dinner and at the meeqat point in Taif to allow pilgrims to don ihrams. Pilgrims are given half an hour to put their ihrams on to ensure that they reach Makkah in time for Fajr.

A leading hotelier in Makkah told Arab News that the majority of the pilgrims are from all parts of the Kingdom and others have come from countries such as India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Indonesia.
“This year, there are less people from Arab countries such as Egypt and Morocco, possibly due to unrest in the region,” he noted. The occupancy rate in Makkah hotels has been recorded at 88 percent during weekdays and 100 percent during the weekends, he added.

The local hotels in cooperation with local tour operators have arranged city tours to historical sites for the benefit of those pilgrims who come to Madinah to visit the Prophet’s Mosque.

The places of interest include Quba Mosque, the first mosque built by the Holy Prophet (s) in Madinah; the Qiblatain Mosque where the Qibla was shifted from Baitul Muqaddas (Al-Aqsa Mosque) to the Holy Kaaba; and the graveyard on the foothills of Mount Uhud where soldiers who died in battle during the prophetic period were buried.

AH/IINA

13-30

Stand Up to Herman Cain

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Eugene Robinson

It is time to stop giving Herman Cain’s unapologetic bigotry a free pass. The man and his poison need to be seen clearly and taken seriously.

Imagine the reaction if a major-party presidential candidate — one who, like Cain, shows actual support in the polls — said he “wouldn’t be comfortable” appointing a Jew to a Cabinet position. Imagine the outrage if this same candidate loudly supported a community’s efforts to block Mormons from building a house of worship.

But Cain’s prejudice isn’t against Mormons or Jews, it’s against Muslims. Open religious prejudice is usually enough to disqualify a candidate for national office—but not, apparently, when the religion in question is Islam.

Sunday, Cain took the position that any community in the nation has the right to prohibit Muslims from building a mosque. The sound you hear is the collective hum of the Founding Fathers whirring like turbines in their graves.

Freedom of religion is, of course, guaranteed by the Constitution. There’s no asterisk or footnote exempting Muslims from this protection.

Cain says he knows this. Obviously, he doesn’t care.

Cain’s remarks came as “Fox News Sunday” host Chris Wallace was grilling him about his obsession with the attempt by some citizens of Murfreesboro  to halt construction of a mosque. Wallace noted that the mosque has operated at a nearby site for more than 20 years, and asked, sensibly, what the big deal is.

Cain launched into an elaborate conspiratorial fantasy about how the proposed place of worship is “not just a mosque for religious purposes” and how there are “other things going on.”

This imagined nefarious activity, it turns out, is a campaign to subject the nation and the world to Islamic religious law. Anti-mosque activists in Murfreesboro are “objecting to the fact that Islam is both a religion and a set of laws, sharia law,” Cain said. “That’s the difference between any one of our other traditional religions where it’s just about religious purposes.”

Let’s return to the real world for a moment and see how bogus this argument is. Presumably, Cain would include Roman Catholicism among the “traditional religions” that deserve constitutional protection. It happens that our legal system recognizes divorce, but the Catholic Church does not. This, by Cain’s logic, must constitute an attempt to impose “Vatican law” on an unsuspecting nation.

Similarly, Jewish congregations that observe kosher dietary laws must be part of a sinister plot to deprive America of its God-given bacon.

Wallace was admirably persistent in pressing Cain to either own up to his prejudice or take it back. “But couldn’t any community then say we don’t want a mosque in our community?” Wallace asked.
“They could say that,” Cain replied.

“So you’re saying any community, if they want to ban a mosque. . .,”

Wallace began.

“Yes, they have the right to do that,” Cain said.

For the record, they don’t. For the record, there is no attempt to impose sharia law; Cain is taking arms against a threat that exists only in his own imagination. It makes as much sense to worry that the Amish will force us all to commute by horse and buggy.

This demonization of Muslims is not without precedent. In the early years of the 20th century, throughout the South, white racists used a similar “threat” — the notion of black men as sexual predators who threatened white women — to justify an elaborate legal framework of segregation and repression that endured for decades.

As Wallace pointed out, Cain is an African American who is old enough to remember Jim Crow segregation. “As someone who, I’m sure, faced prejudice growing up in the ’50s and the ’60s, how do you respond to those who say you are doing the same thing?”

Cain’s response was predictable: “I tell them that’s absolutely not true, because it is absolutely, totally different. . . . We had some laws that were restricting people because of their color and because of their color only.”

Wallace asked, “But aren’t you willing to restrict people because of their religion?”

Said Cain: “I’m willing to take a harder look at people that might be terrorists.”

Generations of bigots made the same argument about black people.

They’re irredeemably different. Many of them may be all right, but some are a threat. Therefore, it’s necessary to keep all of them under scrutiny and control.

Bull Connor and Lester Maddox would be proud.

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Community News (V13-I30)

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

New Mosque planned in Lombard

LOMBARD, IL–The Muslim Community Association of the Western Suburbs has presented a revised set of proposals to the Dupage County Board in hopes for approval for a new mosque plan.

The groups wants to construct a roughly 43,000-square-foot mosque on nearly 4 acres along the south side of Roosevelt Road, just east of I-355, the Daily Herald reports.

In a move that could help win county board support for the conditional-use permit request, the mosque plan has been modified to include partial access to Roosevelt.

Mark Daniel, the group’s attorney, said IDOT officials have agreed to allow a right-turn only lane for vehicles exiting the site. Anyone traveling to the mosque still would have to use to use nearby Lawler Avenue to enter the parking lot.

The board could issue a ruling as early as next week.

Laredo to have new mosque

LAREDO,TX–Laredo will soon have a new mosque to cater to the growing needs of the Muslim community in the area. Previously they used to worship at rented spaces.

The new space will be close to 2,000 sq. feet and will be able to accommodate the school they are currently running.

Dr. Zakariah Hamdan,one of the leaders of the project, told a local news channel “for many years there hasn’t been a place for the Muslim community to perform their prayers and practice aspects of the religion. So this will be a very important step.”

Leaders also said they hope this will be an attraction to draw more people of the Muslim faith that are interested in living here.

Bilal Ahmed serves as the faculty speaker at commencement

ROCHESTER,NY–Dr. Bilal Ahmed, associate professor of clinical medicine at the University of Rochester Medical School, was selected by the Class of 2011 to serve as the faculty speaker at the commencement. His well received speech focused on adding the human touch to the medical profession.

He is closely involved with resident and medical student education and has received more than 30 teaching awards from the University in the last 10 years.

His particular areas of interest are bedside teaching and practice based learning.

He is currently boarded in Internal Medicine, as well as in Hospice and Palliative care.

Zarina Jamal wins scholarship

ROXBURY,MA–Zarina Jamal, a graduating senior of O’Bryant School of Mathematics and Science, is among the few students who have been honored  with the Blackstone/Franklin Square Neighborhood Association’s annual scholarship. It is given to students who attain oustanding merit or contribute to the community in unique ways. Jamal was selected for the pro-active measures she took in launching her school’s tennis team. She will be attending the Wake Forest University in the coming semester.

Clearing misconceptions about Islam at California Fair

SACRAMENTO, CA–The Why Islam? group has set up a booth at the California State Fair to educate the public about Islam. So far hundreds of people have stopped by and asked questions.
The group has been holding a booth at the fair since 2008. “I think it will be as good or better than last year,” said Shane Yoder, president of the Sacramento Chapter Islamic Circle of North America, which sponsored the WhyIslam? boot, told the Sacramento Bee.

The State Fair booth is only part of an effort in the Sacramento area to educate non-Muslims about the faith, said Yoder. ICNA, which focuses on outreach and education of Islam, is sponsoring a billboard campaign – 16 will appear in the region next month – coinciding with the holy month of Ramadan.

The group will also give 500 backpacks to needy children.

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Islam-Baiting Doesn’t Work

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Stephan Salisbury for TomDispatch

During the 2010 midterm election campaign, virtually every hard-charging candidate on the far right took a moment to trash a Muslim, a mosque, or Islamic pieties. In the wake of those elections, with 85 new Republican House members and a surging Tea Party movement, the political virtues of anti-Muslim rhetoric as a means of rousing voters and alarming the general electorate have gone largely unchallenged. It has become an article of faith that a successful 2010 candidate on the right should treat Islam with revulsion, drawing a line between America the beautiful and the destructive impurities of Islamic cultists and radicals.

“Americans are learning what Europeans have known for years: Islam-bashing wins votes,” wrote journalist Michael Scott Moore in the wake of the 2010 election. His assumption was shared by many then and is still widely accepted today.

But as the 2012 campaign ramps up along with the anti-Muslim rhetoric machine, a look back at 2010 turns out to offer quite an unexpected story about the American electorate. In fact, with rare exceptions, “Islam-bashing” proved a strikingly poor campaign tactic. In state after state, candidates who focused on illusory Muslim “threats,” tied ordinary American Muslims to terrorists and radicals, or characterized mosques as halls of triumph (and prayer in them as indoctrination) went down to defeat.

Far from winning votes, it could be argued that “Muslim-bashing” alienated large swaths of the electorate — even as it hardened an already hard core on the right.

The fact is that many of the loudest anti-Muslim candidates lost, and for a number of those who won, victory came by the smallest of margins, often driven by forces that went well beyond anti-Muslim rhetoric. A careful look at 2010 election results indicates that Islamophobic talking points can gain attention for a candidate, but the constituency that can be swayed by them remains limited, although not insignificant.

A Closer Look

It’s worth taking a closer look. In 2010, anti-Muslim rhetoric rode in with the emergence that July of a “mosque” controversy in lower Manhattan. New York Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, facing indifference to his candidacy in the primary race, took up what right-wing anti-Muslim bloggers had dubbed “the Mosque at Ground Zero,” although the planned cultural center in question would not have been a mosque and was not at Ground Zero. With a handy alternate reality already sketched out for him, Lazio demanded that Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Cuomo, then state attorney general, “investigate” the mosque. He implied as well that its leaders had ties to Hamas and that the building, when built, would somehow represent a threat to the “personal security and safety” of city residents.

A fog of acrid rhetoric subsequently enshrouded the campaign — from Lazio and his Tea Party-backed opponent, Carl Paladino, a Buffalo businessman. Paladino beat the hapless Lazio in the primary and was then handily dispatched by Cuomo in the general election. Cuomo had not joined the Muslim bashing, but by the end of the race, dozens of major political figures and potential Republican presidential candidates — including Newt Gingrich, Tim Pawlenty, Mitt Romney, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum, Sarah Palin, and Rick Perry — had denounced the loathsome Mosque at Ground Zero and sometimes the whole of Islam. What began as a local issue had by then become a national political litmus test and a wormhole to the country’s darkest sentiments.

But the hard reality of election results demonstrated one incontrovertible fact. Both Lazio and Paladino, heavily invested in portraying Muslims as somehow different from everyone else, went down to dismal defeats. Nor could these trouncings simply be passed off as what happens in a relatively liberal northeastern state. Even in supposed hotbeds of anti-Muslim sentiment, xenophobic rhetoric and fear mongering repeatedly proved weak reeds for candidates.

Take Tennessee, a state in the throes of its own mosque-building controversy (in Murfreesboro) at the height of the 2010 campaign.

There, gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey couldn’t slam Islam often enough. Despite raising $2.7 million, however, he went down to defeat in the Republican primary, attracting only 22 percent of the vote.

During the campaign, Republican victor Bill Haslam, now governor, simply stated that decisions about mosques and religious construction projects should be governed by local zoning ordinances and the Constitution.

In another 2010 Tennessee race, Lou Ann Zelenik, a Tennessee Republican congressional candidate and Tea Party activist, denounced the Murfreesboro mosque plans relentlessly. Zelenik ran her campaign like an unreconstructed Indian fighter, with Muslims standing in as opponents in a frontier war. As she typically put the matter, “Until the American Muslim community find it in their hearts to separate themselves from their evil, radical counterparts, to condemn those who want to destroy our civilization and will fight against them, we are not obligated to open our society to any of them.”

It didn’t work. Zelenik, too, was defeated, attracting 30 percent of the vote in a three-way primary race; the winner, state Sen. Diane Black, edged her out with 31 percent. Black declined to denounce the Murfreesboro mosque project and went on to win the general election.

Islamophobic Failures Around the Country

The impotency of anti-Muslim rhetoric was not some isolated local phenomenon. Consider this: in the 2010 election cycle, anti-Muslim Senate candidate Sharron Angle was defeated in Nevada, and the similarly inclined Jeff Greene lost his Senate bid in Florida. A slew of congressional candidates who engaged in anti-Muslim rants or crassly sought to exploit the Mosque at Ground Zero controversy also went down, including Francis X. Becker, Jr., in New York, Kevin Calvey in Oklahoma, Dan Fanelli and Ronald McNeil in Florida, Ilario Pantano in North Carolina, Spike Maynard in West Virginia, and Dr. Marvin Scott in Indiana.

Not all candidates bad-mouthing Muslims failed, of course. Renee Ellmers, a nurse running in North Carolina’s 2nd District, won her race by about 1,500 votes after airing an incendiary television spot that likened the lower Manhattan cultural center to a “victory mosque” and conflated Islam with terrorism. But Ellmers’ main campaign talking point was the abomination of health-care reform. That “victory mosque” was only a bauble-like embellishment, a dazzling attention grabber.

Similarly, Republican Rick Scott, running for governor in Florida, featured a deceptive television ad that referred to the New York project as “Obama’s mosque” and, like Ellmers’s ad, seamlessly fused Islam, terrorism, and murder. Tea Party favorite Scott, however, had a slight advantage in gaining a victory margin of about one percentage point over Democrat Alex Sink: he poured a staggering $73 million of his own money into the race in which he largely painted Obama as an anti-business incompetent. Despite lavishing more personal cash on the race than any candidate in Florida history, Scott won by less than 100,000 votes, falling short of 50 percent of the total. He was only the second Florida governor to take office without the backing of a majority of the electorate.

If some virulent political rhetoric was credited with bringing victory to candidates at the time, its effect in retrospect looks more questionable and less impressive. Take the victorious campaign of Republican Allen West for Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. A Tea Party favorite quick to exploit anti-Muslim fears, he was also a veteran of the Iraq War and had been fined by the Army for the beating and threatened killing of an Iraqi prisoner.

During the campaign, he made numerous statements linking Islam with terrorism and weighed in loudly on the proposed Manhattan Islamic center more than 1,000 miles away. In an open letter to his opponent, two-term incumbent Democrat Ron Klein, he noted that “the mosque symbolizes a clear victory in the eyes of those who brought down the twin towers.” Klein then caved and joined West in opposing the cultural center, claiming that Ground Zero should only be “a living memorial where all Americans can honor those who were killed on September 11, 2001.”

In the election, West reversed the results of his 2008 race against Klein and ever since, his victory has been seen as one of the triumphs of anti-Muslim trash talking. A look at the numbers, however, tells a slightly different story. For one thing, West, too, had a significant financial advantage. He had already raised more than $4 million as the campaign began, more than four times his total in 2008 and twice as much as Klein. Much of West’s funding came from out-of-state donors and conservative PACs. For all that money, however, West won the election by not “losing” as many votes as Klein did (when compared to 2008). In 2010, West won with about 115,000 votes to Klein’s 97,000; in 2008, when Klein had the funding advantage and a presidential year electorate at his back, he beat West, 169,000 to 140,000.

Off-year elections normally mean lower turnouts, which clearly worked to West’s advantage. His victory total amounted to about a third of the 2008 total vote. And there’s the point. The motivated, far-right base of the Republican Party/Tea Party can, at best, pull in about a quarter to a third of the larger electorate. In addition, West became the Definer: He blocked out the issues, agitated his base, and got people to the polls. Klein ceded the terms of the debate to him and failed to galvanize support. Did anti-Muslim rhetoric help West? Probably. Can it work in a presidential election year when substantial turnout ensures that the base won’t rule? Unlikely.

Nevertheless, candidates on the right are already ramping up the rhetoric for 2012. Herman Cain, the pizza king who would be president, is but one obvious example. He says he may not know much, but one thing he knows for sure: when he’s elected, no Muslims will find their way into his administration.

As he put it in an interview with Christianity Today, “Based upon the little knowledge that I have of the Muslim religion, you know, they have an objective to convert all infidels or kill them.” Cain told the Web site Think Progress that he’d brook no Muslim cabinet members or judges because “there is this creeping attempt, there’s this attempt to gradually ease Shariah law and the Muslim faith into our government. It does not belong in our government.”

Before a national television audience at a recent Republican presidential debate, however, Cain proceeded to say that he really hadn’t said what he had, in fact, said. This is called a “clarification.” What he meant, Cain reassured television viewers, was that he would only bar disloyal Muslims, the ones “trying to kill us.”

It almost seems as if candidates defeated in 2010 when using over-the-top anti-Muslim rhetoric are expecting a different outcome in 2012. Lawyer Lynne Torgerson in Minnesota is a fine example of this syndrome. In 2010, she decided to take on Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, pounding him relentlessly for his supposed “ties” to “radical Islamism.”

“And what do I know of Islam?” she wrote on the “issues” page of her 2010 campaign Web site. “Well, I know of 911.” Alas for Torgerson, the strategy didn’t work out so well. She was crushed by Ellison, garnering only 3 percent of the vote. Now, Torgerson is back, her message even more extreme. Ellison is no longer simply tied to “radical Islamism,” whatever that may be; he has apparently used his time in Congress to become a “radical Islamist” pushing, she claims, nothing less than the adoption of “Islamic Shariah law.”

Shariah Is the New Mosque at Ground Zero

Shariah has become 2012’s Mosque at Ground Zero, with about 20 states considering laws that would ban its use and candidates shrilly denouncing it — a convenient way, presumably, to keep harping on nonexistent, yet anxiety-producing, “threats.” Since no one knows what you’re talking about when you decry Shariah, it’s even easier than usual to say anything, no matter how bizarre or duplicitous.

So be prepared to hear a lot about “Shariah” between now and November 2012.

Going forward, a few things seem clear. For one, the Islamophobic machinery fueled by large right-wing foundations, PACs, individuals, and business interests will continue to elaborate a virtual reality in which Muslim and Islamic “threats” lurk around every American corner and behind every door. It is important to realize that once you’ve entered this political landscape, taking down anti-Muslim “facts” with reality is a fool’s errand. This is a realm akin to a video game, where such “facts” are dispatched only to rise again like so many zombies. In the world of Resident Evil, truth hardly matters.

But bear in mind that, as the 2010 election results made clear, that particular virtual reality is embraced by a distinct and limited American minority. For at least 70 percent of the electorate, when it comes to anti-Muslim slander, facts do matter. Failure to challenge the bogus rhetoric only allows the loudest, most reckless political gamer to set the agenda, as Ron Klein discovered to his dismay in Florida.

Attacks on the deadly threat of Shariah, the puffing up of Muslim plots against America, and the smearing of candidates who decline to make blanket denunciations of “Islamism” are sure to emerge loudly in the 2012 election season. Such rhetoric, however, may prove even less potent at the polls than the relatively impotent 2010 version, even if this reality has gone largely unnoticed by the national media.

For those who live outside the precincts where right-wing virtual reality reigns supreme, facts are apparently having an impact. The vast majority of the electorate seems to be viewing anti-Muslim alarms as a distraction from other, far more pressing problems: real problems.

Stephan Salisbury is cultural writer for the Philadelphia Inquirer and a TomDispatch regular.

Open House at Tawheed Center

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, TMO

Farmington–June 10–For the first time in six years the Tawheed Center in Farmington welcomed local non-Muslim residents in a large coordinated open house and free health clinic this past Saturday.  About 200 non-Muslims visited to tour the mosque, enjoy Muslim food and culture (henna and calligraphy), and listen to presentations about Islam by mosque volunteers and professional Muslim speakers including Dawud Walid of CAIR-Michigan. 

The open house was also a chance to show the immense work that has gone into the mosque since the last open house in 2005.

The setup consisted of an opportunity for the visitors to watch perhaps 100 Muslims pray dhohr prayer in the mosque, a tour through the semi-divided banquet hall, where on one side about 20 volunteers stood with posters describing Islam, young volunteers who described various issues about Islam and welcomed questions; and on the other side of the banquet hall a question and answer presentation session tried to address the visitors’ concerns about Islam.

The volunteers were mostly high school students–one of them, Mehak Haq, said that she was emphasizing that there is no compulsion in religion–that Muslims are guided to allow non-Muslims to worship freely.  She said that “It is a good opportunity–very insightful questions… the people seemed respectful, very respectful.”

Volunteer Ayyub Khan said that what surprised him about the event was the diversity of the visitors.  Indeed, the visitors to the mosque showed an admirable range of ethnicities which is very gratifying in sometimes segregated Detroit.  The visitors seemed to represent all the major demographic groups in America by race and age, the only possibly underrepresented group being adolescents and children.

Tawheed Trustee Asim Khan  spoke very happily about the many visitors, estimating the number of visitors who had come so far, and also expressing his happiness with the volunteers:  “See how many young people are involved? We are trying to get them ready to run things later on.”

13-25

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

Fire started at the Houston Masjid Targeted by Arsonists

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

According to Houston Fire Department, the iconic community Masjid (mosque) Madrasae Islamiah located in the 6600 block of Bintliff Drive in southwest Houston was targeted by masked arsonists. Madrasae Islamiah was established in 1989 and seniors at the Masjid have informed that they cannot recall if anything similar had ever happened.

Madrasae Islamiah Room Roof And Lights Have Black Dust From the FireSpeakers Got Black Dust Due to Fire at Madrasae IslamiahTiles And Floor Charred by the Fire at Madrasae IslamiahTiles Burnt by the Arson Fire at Madrasae IslamiahWater Sink is Charred at Madrasae IslamiahAccording to the footage from the surveillance video show two masked men sneaked from the backside of the property adjacent to CarMax. According to one member of the Masjid, who heard the fire alarm to reach the scene of the incident, the two arsonists had smashed in a window, and then doused a room with gasoline into the side prayer hall, before setting the fire. Many of the carpets on the floor got on fire, but the person was able to control much of the fire before it could have gone into the main prayer hall. Also many of the wrapped carpets did not catch the fire; otherwise the catastrophe could have been much more horrific. On Monday when our reporter visited the site, there was evidence of the smoke and flames in the atmosphere throughout the Masjid.

Surveillance video shows men creeping onto the property around 3:30 a.m. on Saturday. The video shows them covering their faces, which suggests that they had either known or feared of cameras on the premises. Few minutes later, they are seen getting into a white or silver four-door car driven by another person.

Talking to local mainstream American media outlets, Zaid Abdul-Aziz, a visitor and former Houston Rocket player, who played under the name Don Smith, said the crime was troubling. “It makes me really worried because Islam respects all religions,” he said.

The alarm sounded when glass was broken, but there was also someone staying inside the mosque who called 9-1-1. The crime, however, have not stopped the regular five times prayers at this populace Masjid.

Talking to various media outlets including Brad Woodard of KHOU 11 News, Atif Fattah, a member of the Masjid and radio programmer himself, said: “They came through here, sprayed gasoline all over the carpet and just torched it. There wasn’t significant damage. It was the act itself that’s scary.”

Mustafa Carroll, with the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Houston) said: “It sounded very nefarious, so I called the FBI and asked them to investigate this as a hate crime. We at CAIR have seen a spike in vandalism against Muslims nationwide since the death of Osama bin Laden. You have a small minority of people promoting this kind of thinking and causing people to distrust. When there’s distrust, hate is never far behind,” said Mr. Carroll.

The Houston Fire Department said there’s no question this was a case of arson. Whether it was an actual hate crime has yet to be determined. The FBI and ATF are following the investigation, but at the time of filing of this report, they were not actively involved.

If you know anything about the case, call police or Crime Stoppers at 713-222-TIPS.

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Community News (V13-I20)

May 12, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

New Jasper County mosque holds open house

JASPER COUNTY,IA–The newly opened Masjid Al-Noor in Waterloo held an open house to educate the neighbors about the Muslim community. Several dozen people attended the event, according to the Newton Daily News.

Masjid Al-Noor has been in operation in Waterloo since 1980, most recently in an old, leaky space on West Second and Wellington streets, said Raja Akbar, chairman of the Center’s board of trustees.
Masjid Al-Noor officially moved in January with the help of more than 300 donors. They are planning  to get a full-time imam in the next six months. For now, a part-time imam leads all five prayers on the weekends and three prayers during the week.

“The other beauty is we are in the middle of two cities — we’re easily accessible,” said Abdur Rahim, chairman of the Center’s board of directors.

William Crowley of Waterloo already attends Cedar Valley Community Church, but was invited by several friends who attend prayer services at the center.

Crowley said he hoped to get “a bit better understanding of what goes on in the mosque.”

Muslim school team honored by County Bar Foundation

NEW BRUNSWICK,NJ–On Tuesday, May 3, the Middlesex County Bar Foundation honored the Noor Ul-Iman School of South Brunswick for winning the 2010-11 Vincent J. Apruzzese High School Mock Trial Middlesex County Championship. The event was held at the Middlesex County Superior Court in New Brunswick.

The winning team consisted of Attorney Advisors Ahmad Aboelezz, Esq., and Norman Epting, Jr., Esq.; Faculty Coaches Sufia Azmat and Fakhruddin Ahmed; and students Omer Syed, Mobasshir Poonawalla, Ismael Catovic, Atif Salahudeen, Noor Rostoum and Taliah Khan, Sarah Qari, Lina Saud, Sabah Abbasi and Zahra Khan.

Standing (l to r): MCBF Mock Trial Coordinator Darrin Behr, Esq., Dr. Fakhruddin Ahmed, Mrs. Sufia Azmat, Omer Syed, Mobasshir Poonawalla, Ismael Catovic, Atif Salahudeen, Noor Rostoum and MCBF Mock Trial Coordinator Brenda Vallecilla, Esq. Sitting (l to r): Taliah Khan, Sarah Qari, Lina Saud, Sabah Abbasi and Zahra Kha.

Inflammatory sign posted at mosque

EAST AMHERST,NY–The Jaffarya Center – a mosque and cultural education facility located at 10,300 Transit Road in East Amherst – has not even celebrated its official opening yet, and already a controversy is brewing.

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (M-PAC) of Western New York, along with the directors of the Jaffarya Center, have invited nearby residents, Amherst politicians, and the general public to attend an inauguration ceremony and dinner this coming Saturday, May 14.

But this past weekend, the man who lives next door to the mosque posted an inflammatory sign near it.

Dr. Khalid Qazi, director of M-PAC, told reporters Monday inside the Jaffarya Center that this an isolated incident and the mosque has received wide support from the community. “This is in stark contrast to the reception we have received from all our neighbors and the community. It does great disservice, not only to the Muslim community, but to all who are a part of the mosaic of the Amherst community,” he added.

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