As I See it

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Azher Quader

3252790512_03e2bbc5ea

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.

13-45

Huda Clinic Fundraiser

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, TMO

Detroit–October 8–One of the best ways to help the Muslim community is to provide useful services to the surrounding communities.  And so the Huda clinic has been providing free health care to Detroit since 2004.

An audience of about 300 watched as several speakers including two congressman spoke at a Huda Fundraiser Saturday. 

Mitchell Shamsuddin spoke early in the event, speaking about the blood sweat and tears that had gone into building Huda.  Imam El-Amin of the Detroit Muslim Center welcomed everyone to the mosque which has served as a home for Huda.

There was a promotional video for Huda, showing people who had received free healthcare at the facility, including non-Muslims living close to Huda who praised the friendly and helpful medical services provided at Huda, with only a short wait-time to see a doctor.

Rep. Hanson Clarke and Rep. John Dingell were in attendance. Both of the congressmen expressed their appreciation for the great work of Huda.  John Dingell said “thanks to the volunteer doctors, donors, and staff.  Thanks to you all and Huda.”  Dingell went on to speak about the importance of healthcare in the US, pointing out the great strides towards healthcare that has been fought for and built, since 2008.  “Healthcare is a right, not a privilege,” he said.

“Your mission is a superb success, and vital, and its importance is increasing as the economy suffers.”

Hanson Clarke was very emotional at the sight of the hundreds of people in the audience, representing all of the Muslim communities in America. The three major communities are African American, South Asian, and Arab, and all three groups were not only present but are actively participating in Huda’s work, serving as doctors and other volunteers, and management.

Rep. Clarke advocated early healthcare rather than last minute help in the emergency room. 

He spoke very strongly against the past attacks on the Muslim community from, for example, Peter King. “How DARE they unfairly target Islam?”  Clarke spoke very angrily about the conflation of the hunt for terror with prejudiced and biased rhetorical attacks on all Muslims.

Dr. Jukaku Tayeb said that at Huda the Muslim community is trying to “do our responsibility.” He quoted Qur`an as emphasizing the importance of giving to others without reminding them or giving them pain after helping them.

“This is a purification of ourselves and of our wealth,” he said.  Also the work of Huda provided an opportunity to bring diverse communities together, including within the Muslim community, but also Huda serves as a bridge to other communities.

He pointed out the contributions of Huda’s directors, especially Eide Alawan, and of all of the volunteers and volunteer physicians–some of whom come to Huda regularly every week as if they are being paid, although they are not.

He expressed his hope that Huda would be open full time in the future.

Rami Nashashibi spoke,  praising Huda as one of the fruits of Warith Deen Mohammad’s work, and Dr. Abed El-Mannan Alo also spoke.

www.hudaclinic.org

13-42

Statement by the President on the Occasion of Eid-ul-Fitr

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Press Release

8931

Michelle and I would like to send Eid greetings to Muslim communities in the United States and around the world.  Ramadan has been a time for families and communities to share the happiness of coming together in intense devotion, reflection, and service. Millions all over the world have been inspired to honor their faith by reaching out to those less fortunate. This year, many have observed the month while courageously persevering in their efforts to secure basic necessities and fundamental freedoms.  The United States will continue to stand with them and for the dignity and rights of all people, whether a hungry child in the Horn of Africa or a young person demanding freedom in the Middle East and North Africa.

As Ramadan comes to an end, we send our best wishes for a blessed holiday to Muslim communities around the world. Eid Mubarak.

13-36

Statement by President on the Occasion of Ramadan

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

White House Press Release

Official portrait of President-elect Barack Obama on Jan. 13, 2009.

(Photo by Pete Souza)

As Ramadan begins, Michelle and I would like to send our best wishes to Muslim communities in the US and around the world.  Ramadan is a festive time that is anticipated for months by Muslims everywhere.  Families and communities share the happiness of gathering together for iftar and prayers. Bazaars light up the night in many cities from Rabat to Jakarta.  And here in the US, Muslim Americans share Ramadan traditions with their neighbors, fellow students, and co-workers. 

For so many Muslims around the world, Ramadan is also a time of deep reflection and sacrifice. As in other faiths, fasting is used to increase spirituality, discipline, and consciousness of God’s mercy.  It is also a reminder of the importance of reaching out to those less fortunate.  The heartbreaking accounts of lost lives and the images of families and children in Somalia and the Horn of Africa struggling to survive remind us of our common humanity and compel us to act.  Now is the time for nations and peoples to come together to avert an even worse catastrophe by offering support and assistance to on-going relief.

Times like this remind us of the lesson of all great faiths, including Islam–that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us.  In that spirit, I wish Muslims around the world a blessed month, and I look forward to again hosting an iftar dinner here at the White House.  Ramadan Kareem.

13-32

Dubai Hotels Aim to Pick Up Pilgrim Trade During Ramadan

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The National

Atlantis_Hotel_in_Dubai

Atlantis Hotel in Dubai.

Hoteliers in Dubai are trying to tempt pilgrims to stop over in the emirate on their way to Saudi Arabia to make up for an expected slump in business next month during Ramadan.

The GCC is usually the most important market for Dubai hotels during the summer months, a low season for the industry as many Europeans are put off by the soaring temperatures.

This year, Ramadan takes place throughout August. Most GCC nationals prefer to spend the holy month at home.

The dual impact of Ramadan falling during the slowest month in the year has prompted hoteliers to launch “pilgrim packages” as they seek out alternative markets. Ramadan is a peak time for umrah trips to Saudi Arabia. About 4 million pilgrims travelled to Saudi Arabia for umrah throughout last year.

“We are trying to link the stopover for many of the Muslims who are travelling from India, Pakistan, Iran, and they go for umrah in Saudi Arabia,” said Habib Khan, the general manager of the Arabian Courtyard Hotel and Spa in Dubai. He said the packages were likely to include iftars and suhoors.

Indonesia and Malaysia were other potential markets for this business, he said, adding that the pilgrims could be persuaded to stop over either on the way to Saudi Arabia or on their way back.

“That’s an opportunity to give them a special offer and reach out to them,” Mr Khan said. “If they get a good offer, they will stop over and stay for two or three nights.”

The Ramada hotel in the Downtown Burj Khalifa area is also trying to attract pilgrims, aiming to draw stopover business from the large Muslim communities in South Africa and the UK.

“They have to transit via Dubai,” said Wael El Behi, the executive assistant manager at Ramada Downtown Dubai. “This is another market which can generate a good proportion of business. There is another factor to consider, which is the inventory in town.

“The room inventory is increasing. We have to be tactical in our approach to win new business. Our expectations for the month of July, because of the Dubai Summer Surprises, will be 85 to 87 percent occupancy, while for the month of Ramadan our target is a maximum of 60 percent occupancy.”

Mr El Behi said the room rates could more than halve next month compared with their present rates.

An influx of tourists from the GCC, in particular Saudi Arabia, has helped hotels in Dubai to achieve high occupancy levels in the past few months.

Beach hotels in Dubai benefited from an 11 percent increase in revenue per available room, a key industry indicator, during the first four months of the year, according to the property consultancy Jones Lang LaSalle. Occupancy levels across Dubai reached 81 percent, compared with 77 percent in the same period last year.

Dubai hotels will also be targeting their home market, with packages for UAE residents to attract guests from neighbouring emirates.

Tourists from China could also help to counteract the expected decline next month.

“The Chinese market will come because of the low prices,” Mr Khan said. “My hotel has seen a threefold increase in the months of May and June.”

He said that Chinese tourists made up 15 percent of all guests at the hotel during that period.

13-28

‘Intolerant’ Christians Are More Militant than Muslims, Says Equality Chief

June 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Daniel Martin

Christians are more militant than Muslims in complaining about discrimination, the head of Britain’s equality watchdog has claimed.

Trevor Phillips said Muslims are better at integrating into society, while Christians often complain about bias for cynical political gains.

Mr Phillips, the head of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, blamed the increasing influence on mainstream churches of African and Caribbean immigrants with ‘intolerant’ views.

In contrast, he said Muslims ‘are doing their damnedest’ to develop ‘an idea of Islam that is compatible with living in a modern liberal democracy’.

He added: ‘I think there’s an awful lot of noise about the Church being persecuted but there is a more real issue that the conventional churches face – that the people who are really driving their revival and success believe in an old-time religion which, in my view, is incompatible with a modern, multi-ethnic, multicultural society.

‘Muslim communities in this country are doing their damnedest to come to terms with their neighbours to try to integrate and they’re doing their best to try to develop an idea of Islam that is compatible with living in a modern liberal democracy.

‘The most likely victim of actual religious discrimination in British society is a Muslim, but the person who is most likely to feel slighted because of their religion is an evangelical Christian.’

Senior churchmen, such as former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey, have attacked equality laws for stifling Christianity.

However, Mr Phillips said many of the legal cases brought by Christians over homosexuality were motivated by an attempt to gain political influence. He told the Sunday Telegraph: ‘I think for a lot of Christian activists, they want to have a fight and they choose sexual orientation as the ground to fight it on. I think the argument isn’t about the rights of Christians. It’s about politics.

Religious differences: Former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Carey has in the past attacked equality laws for stifling Christianity

‘There are a lot of Christian activist voices who appear bent on stressing the kind of persecution that I don’t really think exists in this country.’

But Mr Phillips, who was brought up in a Salvation Army background, said he could ‘understand why a lot of people in faith groups feel a bit under siege’. ‘There’s no question that there is more anti-religion noise in Britain,’ he said.

He also said equality laws should not apply to the internal organisation of religious groups.

‘It’s perfectly fair that you can’t be a Roman Catholic priest unless you’re a man,’ he continued. ‘It seems right that the reach of anti-discriminatory law should stop at the door of the church or mosque.’
Tory MP Philip Davies suggested Mr Phillips was attempting to ‘take the spotlight off his domestic difficulties’ at the beleaguered body. Home Secretary Theresa May has vowed to reform the organisation after a report branded it a costly failure.

13-26

Sec of State Hillary Clinton Praises the Late Imam Tantawi

March 18, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

From US Dept. of State Website

“I was saddened today to learn of the passing of Grand Imam Mohamed Sayyid Tantawi, the head of al-Azhar University in Cairo.

“Imam Tantawi was a highly respected cleric and the leader of one of the most important institutions of Islamic learning in the world. As President Obama said in Cairo last summer, Al-Azhar has stood as a beacon of Islamic learning for over a thousand years, and it continues to play a dynamic role today. Imam Tantawi was an important voice for dialogue among religions and communities. Under his leadership, the university co-hosted the President’s speech laying out a vision for a “New Beginning” between the United States and Muslim communities around the world. And Americans will always remember Imam Tantawi for his condemnations of violence after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, when he said: “It’s not courage in any way to kill an innocent person.”

“We offer our condolences to the Imam’s family and friends today, as well as his many students in Egypt and in Muslim communities throughout the world.”

12-12

Clinton Ends US Visa Ban on Tariq Ramadan

January 28, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

swissinfo.ch and agencies

ramadan-709854 The United States has lifted a ban on Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan entering the country.

Ramadan has had his US visa revoked several times since 2004 when he was due to take up a university teaching post. He was banned from the US over alleged ties to terrorism.

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton has signed orders enabling the re-entry of Ramadan and Adam Habib, a professor at the University of Johannesburg in South Africa, once they obtained required admittance documents, department spokesman Darby Holladay said on Wednesday.

He said Clinton “has chosen to exercise her exemption authority” for the pair’s benefit. “Both the president and the secretary of state have made it clear that the US government is pursuing a new relationship with Muslim communities based on mutual interest and mutual respect,” Holladay said.

Both professors, who are frequently invited to the US to lecture, were critics of the war in Iraq.

Government lawyers have said Ramadan was barred because he gave money to a Swiss-based charity, the Association de Secours Palestinien (ASP), between 1998 and 2002. Washington listed ASP as a banned group in 2003, saying it supported terrorism and had contributed funds to the Palestinian Islamic movement Hamas.

“The decision brings to an end a dark period in American politics that saw security considerations invoked to block critical debate through a policy of exclusion and baseless allegation,” Ramadan said in a statement.

12-5

Eid Mubarak from Pres. Obama

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

The President released the following statement to mark the end of Ramadan and the beginning of Eid-ul-Fitr:

“As Muslims in the United States and around the world complete the month of Ramadan and celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr, Michelle and I would like to extend our personal greetings on this joyous occasion. Eid is a time to celebrate the completion of 30 days and nights of devotion. But even on this festive occasion, Muslims remember those less fortunate, including those impacted by poverty, hunger, conflict, and disease. Throughout the month, Muslim communities collect and distribute zakat-ul-fitr so that all Muslims are able to participate in this day of celebration. As I said in Cairo, my Administration is working to ensure that Muslims are able to fulfill their charitable obligations not just during Ramadan, but throughout the year. On behalf of the American people, we congratulate Muslims in the United States and around the world on this blessed day. Eid Mubarak.” 

Over the past month, the President and several government Agencies participated in events to mark Ramadan – the President continued the tradition of hosting an Iftar here at the White House while the U.S. Department of Agriculture hosted the first in their history. The Corporation for National and Community Service spearheaded “Interfaith Service Week” as part of the President and First Lady’s Summer of Service initiative and many other groups and individuals came together to make this month a time of giving and reaching out to our neighbors in need.

The President and the First Lady extend their personal greetings on this special day. May you be well throughout the year.

11-40

How to Connect with Qur`an

September 17, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dr. Aslam Abdullah, TMO Editor in Chief

The whole town was abuzz with the news that the best reciter of the Qur`an from the Middle East was coming to lead taraweeh prayers.

very one was talking about his voice, the magic of his recitation, the way his reading rises and falls and the way the melody of his recitation mesmerized everyone.

Especially in Ramadan this ritual is played out in Muslim communities around the world.

Although listening to a beautiful recitation of the Qur`an is captivating, but let us revive the essence of what the month of the Qur`an is meant to be.

In a population of over 1.5 billion Muslims in the world, some 50 percent are illiterate. Acquisition of knowledge is one of the obligations upon every Muslim. Nearly 83 per cent are totally ignorant of the book that is the foundation of their faith. Some may read the Arabic text but do not know what they read in their prayers.

The Qur`an describes itself as a message for people who reflect and think. Muslims all over the world have begun to place emphasis on learning. Muslim families are genuinely concerned to ensure that their children learn biology, mathematics, chemistry, social sciences from the best schools with full honors.

Where the Qur`an is being taught it is limited to reading and memorization. To learn and excel in various fields of knowledge is essential but at the same time to learn and excel in the understanding of the Qur`an cannot be neglected.

A patient cannot memorize and just listen to the doctors prescription and believe that he will be cured. Once a prescription is written, the patient immediately picks up the medicine from a pharmacy and starts using it.

But the divine prescription for curing human ills is neglected in a manner that is unexplainable. To memorize the Qur`an is an honorable deed that God will bless but it is better to learn also the meaning of the Qur`an.

When a child is raised up in an environment where the Qur`an is seen as a book to be recited only on certain occasions without the need to understand it, his relation with the Qur`an will be superficial unless there is some dramatic change in his or her attitude toward the divine book.

The Qur`an is the most read yet most neglected book in our recent and distant history. Millions of people have memorized parts or the whole of the Qur`an yet we do not see the practice of the Qur`an in our societies. If the purpose of this book was to be recited and read without understanding the Qur`an would not claim to be a guidance for humanity.

Alif. Lam. Mim. This is the Book in which there is no doubt, a guidance unto those who ward off (evil). Who believe in the unseen, and establish worship, and spend of that We have bestowed upon them; And who believe in that which is revealed unto thee (Muhammad) and that which was revealed before thee, and are certain of the Hereafter. These depend on guidance from their Lord. These are the successful.

Baqara:1-5

The Qur`an was meant to be a book of guidance in every aspect of life. The recitation with understanding was recommended primarily to highlight the importance of its message in every day life. Yet we should also spend time reflecting on its message and looking for its application in our own lives, using it as a guidance in every aspect of life.

The month of Ramadan gives us a unique opportunity to restore our understanding of the Qur`an and learn its message. Yet most of the time and in most of the places, we fail to avail ourselves of the opportunity to further our understanding of the Qur`an beyond the surface level.

Modern technology gives us tools to capture the best voice and repeat it at our will. But this is not the only purpose of the revelation. It is meant to be understood, followed and implemented in one’s life. Reading Qur`an is good no matter what.  But if we are not living according to its guidance, perhaps we have not fully devoted ourselves to the Qur`an despite our reading.

11-39

A Muslim’s Murder: Double Standards, Crude Generalizations

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Why we must work harder to bridge the gulf between the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation

By Sheema Khan

The stabbing death of Marwa al-Sherbini in a German courtroom will have ramifications in the months to come. Already, there is palpable anger in Egypt, where she was buried this week. That anger will most likely spread to other parts of the Middle East and South Asia and amongst Europe’s Muslim minorities.

The Egyptian blogosphere is filled with outrage – outrage at the vicious murder of a pregnant woman in a court of law and, most notably, at the lack of attention given to this hate crime by political institutions and European media. Many note the double standard: The ghastly murder of Theo van Gogh in Amsterdam in 2004 was used as a pretext to cast suspicion on Dutch Muslims, whereas Marwa’s murder in Dresden last week is the work of a “lone wolf,” an immigrant from Russia (and thus not “really” German).

The muted reaction to the killing of a woman, in the heart of Europe, for wearing her hijab, also galls. No need to imagine the outrage if a woman is killed for not wearing a hijab – just look to the visceral reaction at the killing of Mississauga teenager Aqsa Parvez in 2007.

And while German authorities investigate whether Marwa’s murder was a hate crime, they might also want to focus on the reaction of court security. As Marwa was being stabbed, her husband tried to intervene. A court officer, apparently assuming the man with the Middle Eastern features to be the attacker, shot Marwa’s husband. He is now in critical condition.

Many do not see Marwa’s fate in isolation. The European Commission against Racism and Intolerance, in its 2004 annual report, said “Islamophobia continues to manifest itself in different guises. Muslim communities are the target of negative attitudes, and sometimes, violence and harassment. They suffer multiple forms of discrimination, including sometimes from certain public institutions.” The London-based Runnymede Charity, in its 2004 report Islamophobia: A Challenge for Us All, found that Muslims were seen by Europeans as the “other” and as lacking in values held by Western cultures, that Islam was violent, aggressive and terroristic, and that anti-Muslim hostility was natural or normal.

So, no surprise that European Muslims are increasingly seen as “outsiders,” with a monolithic, rigid culture that’s antithetical to that of Europe. Amidst sagging popularity and a recession, French President Nicolas Sarkozy redirected attention to the burka, saying it’s not welcome in his country. Even Muslims who don’t support the burka felt uncomfortable with Mr. Sarkozy’s spotlight on their community.

And so the double standards abound. As do the crude generalizations. When the perpetrator happens to be a Muslim, reports are sensationalistic, and Muslims, along with their faith, are cast in a negative light. In the Dresden case, the mirror reaction is happening in Egypt: All Germans are somehow complicit in Marwa’s fate. In the wake of horrific violence, the primal instinct is to blame all, to cast suspicion on those we don’t know.

Yet, in the wake of such episodes, we must work even harder to bridge the gulf between what Dominique Moisi calls the culture of fear and the culture of humiliation. Otherwise, the perpetrators of hate will achieve their goal of driving people apart. As Mariane Pearl, the widow of Daniel Pearl, wrote: “They try to kill everything in you – initiative, hope, confidence, dialogue. The only way to oppose them is by demonstrating the strength they think they have taken from you. That strength is to keep on living, to keep on valuing life.”

Let’s remember that the enemy is xenophobia, which can metastasize like cancer unless society is on guard against the pernicious tendency to view others as less human. We have seen the ugly spectre of racism at Keswick High School and in Courtenay, B.C. We have our own painful history of wrongs committed against ethnic groups and indigenous communities. Yet, the better part of the human spirit tries to overcome these dark episodes with the light of justice and restitution.

Marwa’s murder cannot be in vain. She took on her perpetrator in a court of law after he called her a terrorist. Some would say she lost. It is up to us to carry on the larger quest of fighting racism and building bridges, so her son – and all children – can grow up without fear and prejudice.

sheema.khan@globeandmail.com

11-30

Mahinur Ozdemir: First Belgian MP to Don the Hijab

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Abdullah Mustapha

2009-06-23T140409Z_01_THR004_RTRMDNP_3_BELGIUM

Mahinur Ozdemir attends swearing-in ceremony in Brussels 6/23/09. 

REUTERS/Thierry Roge

Brussels, Asharq Al-Awsat- When I met Mahinur Ozdimer in one of the biggest shopping malls in Brussels just one day before the Belgium elections that took place on June 7, I noticed that she was the only female candidate wearing Hijab as the candidates handed out leaflets and met and spoke with voters.

I asked Mahinur “Aren’t you worried about the reaction you’ll get from Belgian voters because you wear Hijab?” Ozdemir, a Belgium citizen of a Turkish descent, answered, “I will not take off my Hijab for the elections or for parliament. I wore the Hijab when I was working for Schaerbeek Municipal Council and I will carry on wearing it even in parliament.”

Despite the pressure she is subjected to because she continues to wear the Hijab, Mahinur always says that “efficiency alone is what matters, not the Hijab.”

Mahinur is the first parliamentarian to wear Hijab, but there is a problem; Belgian law does not allow MPs to wear headscarves in parliament. The issue has begun to raise controversy among members of Arab and Muslim communities and amongst the Belgians themselves.

MP Suad Razzouk from Belgium’s Socialist Party said, “Ozdemir will face two options: resign if she does not take off the Hijab, or give up her seat in parliament.”
Ahmed Mohsen, a member of the Green Party, said “I will work towards changing the current status as the right-wing, liberals and socialist parties caused the banning of Hijab in 95 per cent of Belgian schools with only five schools allowing it.”

The Socialist Party’s MP Sofia Bouarfa said, “I am concerned about the future of every female candidate who wears Hijab and wants to run for parliament because that person will face major challenges and difficulties. She is supposed to represent all parts of Belgian society and it is only normal that not everybody will be considerate of the fact that wearing Hijab is a personal freedom.”

Having won 2851 votes, enough to secure her a seat in Belgian parliament, local and international media rushed to interview Mahinur. Everywhere she goes there are local and international press and television stations from different countries such as Britain, Turkey and Australia that want to talk to Mahinur.

In every interview, Mahinur has insisted that there should not be so much emphasis on the Hijab that she wears but on the issues that are of importance to a Belgian citizen, mainly unemployment and housing.

Mahinur said, “I will work against unemployment and towards allowing the Hijab to be worn in the workplace and in schools.” She added, “I would like to point out that with or without Hijab, my view of the problems in this country and finding solutions to them and helping others will be the same. I cover my hair, but not my ideas, and the Islamic headscarf will in no way be an obstacle to my political activity. It should not be a controversial issue and I would advise those criticizing the Hijab to do away with the injustice that obscures their vision.”

Mahinur emphasizes that she is a Belgian of Turkish and Muslim descent by saying, “I was born here in Belgium and raised and educated in this country. I’m a third-generation immigrant and I come from a family that is devoted to serious and sincere work. My family supported me and celebrated my success in the elections.”

There is a large Muslim community that consists of at least half a million people in Belgium, the majority of which are Moroccans and Turks. The first generation of immigrants arrived in Belgium in the late 1950s to help rebuild the country following the destruction caused by World War II.

Mahinur got to a point where she avoided answering questions about Hijab after she found that there was too much focus on this issue, especially when it came to questions on the attitudes of her fellow party members towards her and whether people were open to the idea of a parliamentarian wearing Hijab. There was an incident during her party’s election campaign; the party had put up pictures of the candidates in Schaerbeek and Mahinur’s picture was enlarged so that people could only see her face, not her Hijab.

Commenting on the incident, Mahinur said, “The party officials explained that a mistake had been made either by the printing company or by an employee working on the election campaign, either of whom did not consult anyone else regarding the matter. I was angry but I am not now after the party explained the situation.”

There has been debate over the name of the party to which Mahinur belongs. The foreign media calls it the ‘Christian Democratic Party’ whilst a number of party members of Arab descent state that this is incorrect and that the correct translation of the party’s name is the ‘Humanist Democratic Centre.’

Taha Adnan, who works for the administration of the francophone government in Brussels, said that in 2002, the Christian Democratic Party changed its name to ‘Humanist Democratic Centre’ [CdH] and as a result, it lost the votes of many Christians in Belgian society. But in turn, it gained votes from a number of Arab and Muslim immigrants.

But how did Mahinur get into politics? When did she join the party? When did she decide she wanted to enter parliament and how did she choose which party to join?

“When I was a child, I always dreamt of being a lawyer, but I started wearing the Hijab at 14 years old, so I had to reconsider my future. So I chose to study Political Science at the Free University of Brussels, with a major in Human Resources, and I obtained a diploma in Management…My decision not to study law was not because it was too difficult, as I’m not the kind of person who gives up. Even if became a lawyer I would have entered the world of politics, which I came to understand quite well during my free time at the university through the internet.”

Mahinur stated that she read the programs of various Belgian political parties and liked the CdH, which calls for offering social aid, and upholding democratic principles and family values. “It is enough that it is a moderate party as I hate extremism, and the party’s program has a lot of respect for religious beliefs.”

Mahinur joined the party in 2004 when she was still studying. The following year she was offered the opportunity to take part in the municipal elections as part of the party and she joined the municipal council of Schaerbeek, which has a large number of citizens of Arab and Muslim descent, mainly Moroccans and Turks.

In the recent elections Mahinur ranked 21st, which was enough to guarantee a seat in parliament. In reference to her family, Mahinur said “They helped me a lot and gave me support. They are very happy for me.”

Describing her as a very eloquent speaker, the Belgian press says that Mahinur has a lot to say on social issues and social development.

However, the elections are over and the winners have been announced. Mahinur is now waiting to take the constitutional oath as the first parliamentarian in Belgium to wear Hijab though this goes against Belgian law.

Mahinur believes that she will be a member of parliament in Brussels alongside a number of Muslims who were chosen by the Muslim community living in the Belgian capital to represent them. The issues that they want dealing with include the banning of the Hijab in some schools, the prohibition of slaughtering animals at home for the religious festival of Eid al Adha or any other day, and the issue of financial aid required for Islamic associations to help them carry out their religious duty of serving members of Muslim communities.

Prior to Mahinur, several Muslim MPs entered Belgian parliament to serve their society’s interests.

MP Fatiha Saidi, a Belgian of Moroccan origin born in Algeria to Moroccan parents, says that she focuses on the issues of all races without discrimination and that her primary goal is to serve the oppressed, especially those with no residence permits or those who are jobless, and those who have problems with schooling and education etc.

Saidi said, “I have intervened in parliament with regards to the issue of slaughtering animals during the Eid festival or on other days. I raised questions on the matter in parliament and I questioned the Belgium Minister of Justice on racism in the Belgium labour market, the oppression that Muslim communities suffer and discrimination in the employment field.”

Saidi indicated that she has prepared a report to this effect to be discussed in parliament and that she has also raised the issue of Hijab in schools; “Discussions on this are still underway.” Finally, Fatiha Saidi added, “The Belgian people we work with do not share the same experiences or circumstances that Muslim communities experience such as nostalgia, racism and migration. This is why it is our role to clarify the nature of such problems to others through different means such as seminars and lectures within the party to which I belong or in parliament or during sessions, as well as in magazines, party-affiliated and independent newspapers.”

Mohamad Daif, of Moroccan descent, was one of the first Muslims to enter Brussels parliament following the 1995 elections. Daif said, “The religion of Islam is acknowledged here in Belgium and there is a representative body that is recognized by the Belgian government despite the strong criticism against it from some Belgium parties that refuse to recognize this body or Islam as a religion. As a Muslim citizen, I am of the view that the executive body for Muslims must have the ability to work and achieve the goals for which it was established, and that there must be enough finance to provide for this. Towards this end, my role in the party to which I belong – the Socialist Party – and my role in parliament has been to work towards eliminating any kind of racism by providing finance to different bodies and ensuring a fair share of financial aid to different institutions so that it can achieve its goals.”

It is clear that Mahinur has a lot of work ahead of her regarding the problems in the Muslim community but the important question remains; how will this parliamentarian escape the dilemma that lies ahead? Will she give up the Hijab? Or will the Brussels parliament turn a blind eye and let her take the oath and amend that specific article of the constitution? Deliberations to this effect are underway between different parties, and we will soon know the answers to those questions.

11-27

The Muslim Observer

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

click here to visit The Muslim Observer website.

The Muslim Observer is the only Muslim weekly newspaper distributed in all 50 states in the USA. It is one of the largest subscription-based Muslim newspapers in the U.S. The Muslim Observer offers top-quality community, national, and international news.
We currently have domestic offices and correspondents in several major cities, with plans for further expansion within the U.S. We also maintain a large pool of writers and reporters around the world who provide interesting reports on current international events relevant to Muslims and Islam. Also, using the major news wire services, we cull stories and graphic images that are of particular interest to our readers but that might be under-reported outside of a special-interest newspaper like ours.

Our goal is continued growth and recognition within Muslim communities in the United States.