Muslim Groups: FBI Response to Islamophobia Scandal Not Good Enough

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The bureau has reached out to Muslim organizations in the wake of embarrassing revelations about its counterterrorism training materials. Critics say that’s not enough.

By Adam Serwer

After reports emerged last week that the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counterterrorism training included materials that depicted Muslims as inherently radical and violent, the bureau moved quickly to reach out to a number American Muslim groups in an effort to smooth over relations. FBI officials promised to take the problem seriously and vowed to conduct an internal review of the materials, which included assertions that mainstream American Muslims were sympathetic to terrorism and that the more devout a Muslim is, the more likely he is to be violent.

“There was acknowledgement that what happened is wrong and what happens needs to be addressed immediately,” says Abed Ayoub, the legal director of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). “It was a good first step in rectifying this.”

But Ayoub and other Arab and Muslim leaders add that more still needs to be done to repair the damage caused by the FBI’s offensive training materials.

The problem, Muslim and Arab groups argue, is that this isn’t the first time they’ve complained about the FBI’s counterterrorism training. In August 2010, several organizations sent a letter to FBI Director Robert Mueller after Islamophobic writer Robert Spencer, who believes “that there is no distinction in the American Muslim community between peaceful Muslims and jihadists,” was invited to give two seminars to Virginia’s Tidewater Joint Terrorism Task Force in July. Spencer was also invited to give a presentation to the US Attorney’s Anti-Terrorism Advisory Council, which is cohosted by the FBI in Norfolk.

The FBI didn’t take the outside groups’ complaints particularly seriously. In its response to the letter, the bureau defended Spencer’s appearance on the grounds that he was a “best-selling author.” A little over a year later, the FBI would try a similar tactic, dismissing the controversial elective training offered by FBI official William Gawthrop as an innocuous one-off. But Wired’s Spencer Ackerman soon revealed that recent FBI training materials depicted Muslims—not terrorists or extremists, but Muslims generally—as collectively bent on world domination.

The FBI’s previous efforts to dismiss the issue of anti-Muslim training materials, says Farhana Khera of Muslim Advocates, are one reason the FBI’s promised “internal review” won’t be enough. “We’re pleased that this very serious issue is finally receiving the attention of the FBI leadership, but we still believe that an internal FBI review is insufficient at this stage,” Khera says.

On a conference call with several Muslim and Arab organizations, the FBI took pains to note that several agents had registered complaints about Gawthrop’s training materials, and others had walked out of a session in disgust. But the FBI’s excuses left many on the conference call with more questions: If FBI officials had raised concerns about Gawthrop’s work, why was the issue not addressed immediately? A report  from an independent inspector general “is the only way to ensure that the FBI is [addressing the issue],” Khera adds.

The FBI missed opportunities by not taking the potential for cooperation with Muslim groups more seriously, other critics say. If FBI officials had asked for the Muslim American community’s input, they could have stopped the scandal before it happened. “Why did they not ask for the community’s advice on the [training material]? Why didn’t they use the resources at their disposal?” asks the ADC’s Ayoub. “There was no outreach done. That’s disappointing.”

The revelations about the training materials also damaged existing relationships, argues Mohamed Elibiary of the Freedom and Justice Foundation. “You really need very substantive community relationships and partnerships if you want to get to the point where you have community-based interventions and lessening of violent extremism and radicalization,” Elibiary says. “They need to be able to feel like they can call the FBI when there’s a problem with their kids.”

In the future, Elibiary warns, FBI headquarters has to follow the example of its best field offices and do more to reach out to Muslim communities beyond the DC area. “There’s a difference between engaging with the leadership in DC and the leadership across the country,” he says. “You need to engage with both. For what you say in DC to have an impact in Des Moines, you need to be talking to someone there.”

Adam Serwer is a reporter at the Washington, DC bureau of Mother Jones.

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Dispelling Myths About Islamic Law: Shariah Explained

August 18, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Imam Steve Mustapha Elturk

ReadTheSpirit

Islam_Shariah

CODES OF RELIGIOUS LAW CIRCLE THE GLOBE: Top is the New York Times front page of July 31, 2011, with a news report on a political dispute over Shariah, then a book of Roman Catholic Canon Law adapted for American Catholics, a page of the Adi Granth scriptures that guide Sikhs around the world, the current edition of the United Methodist book of church law, a colorful boxed set of the renowned Adin Steinsaltz translation of Jewish Talmud, and a copy of canon law ruling the Episcopal Church.

American political campaigns targeting Shariah are as red hot as Sunday’s front page in the New York Times. Unfortunately, these grassroots campaigns are aimed at scoring points with frightened voters—not at any real-world problem. No responsible Muslim leader in the United States is trying to substitute Shariah for secular American law. In fact, every major religious group around the world has some code of law for governing community life. Once upon a time in America, political parties targeted Catholics, claiming that they might try to impose Roman canon law in the U.S.—but that myth was dispelled more than half a century ago.

ReadTheSpirit invited a Muslim expert to write a clear and concise summary of Shariah—to combat wildly inaccurate information floating around the Internet is a Lebanese-American lecturer on the meaning of the Quran and president of the Islamic Organization of North America. Imam Elturk worked for many weeks on this summary, including input from other Muslim leaders.

Shariah

By Imam Steve ElTurk

Shariah sometimes is portrayed as an antiquated Islamic system of law that is barbaric with no regard for values of democracy, human rights or women’s freedom. In fact, the opposite is true: Social welfare, freedom, human dignity and human relationships are among the higher objectives of Shariah.

WHAT DOES SHARIAH MEAN?

The word Shariah comes from the Arabic: sha-ra-‘a, which means a way or path and by extension—the path to be followed. The term originally was used to describe “the path that leads to water,” since water is the source of all life. Hence, Shariah is the way to the source of life.

Shariah in Islam refers to the law according to divine guidance leading to a good and happy life in this world and the next.

The concept behind Shariah is not unique to Islam and is found in nearly all of the world’s great religions. Moses, peace be upon him, received the Torah incorporating the Mosaic Law and the Ten Commandments. Look at the sampling of religious codes, shown at right, for more examples. In Islam, we look primarily to the revelation that came when the Quran was revealed to Muhammad, peace be upon him, incorporating the final Shariah for the benefit of humankind. “For each of you We have appointed a law (Shariah) and a way of life. And had God so willed, He would surely have made you one single community; instead, (He gave each of you a law and a way of life) in order to test you by what He gave you.” (Quran 5:48)

SOURCES OF SHARIAH

There are basically two sources of Shariah—the Quran and the Sunnah (the divinely guided tradition of the Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him). There is also what is called fiqh or Islamic jurisprudence. There is a fundamental difference, however, between Shariah and fiqh. While Shariah is of divine origin, fiqh is the product of intellectual effort to deduce the rulings of Shariah through the jurist’s own intellectual exertion suitable for his specific time and place. Fiqh interprets and extends the application of Shariah to situations not directly addressed in the primary sources by taking recourse to secondary sources. Those secondary sources usually include a consensus of religious scholars called ijma and analogical deductions from the Quran and the Sunnah called qiyas. While the Quran and the Sunnah are permanent and unchangeable, fiqh is variable and may change with time and place—but always within the spirit and parameters of these two main sources of Shariah: the Quran and Sunnah.

OBJECTIVES OF SHARIAH

Shariah aims at the welfare of the people in this life and in the life hereafter. The sources of Shariah guide people to adopt a set of beliefs and practices that would help them ward off evil, injury, misery, sorrow, and distress. These beliefs and practices may result in benefit, happiness, pleasure, and contentment not only in this world, but also in the next. The Quran confirms, “Whoever follows My guidance, when it comes to you [people], will not go astray nor fall into misery, but whoever turns away from it will have a life of great hardship.”

(Quran 20:123-124)

It is an error to define Shariah as a “legal-political-military doctrine,” as some political activists claim. It also is wrong to associate and restrict Shariah only to the punitive laws of Islam. The fact is that Shariah is all-embracing and encompasses personal as well as collective spheres in daily living. Shariah includes the entire sweep of life: Prayers, charity, fasting, pilgrimage, morality, economic endeavors, political conduct and social behavior, including caring for one’s parents and neighbors, and maintaining kinship.

Shariah’s goal is to protect and promote basic human rights, including faith, life, family, property and intellect. Islam has, in fact, adopted two courses for the preservation of these five indispensables:
the first is through cultivating religious consciousness in the human soul and the awakening of human awareness through moral education; the second is by inflicting deterrent punishment, which is the basis of the Islamic criminal system. Other major bodies of religious law in the world, including the Canon Law used by the Catholic church, contain both legal outlines of responsibilities and codes for punishing misbehavior.

SHARIAH 1: PROTECTION OF FAITH

Faith is the essence and spirit of a meaningful life. Muslims profess their faith through a verbal testimony, bearing witness to the oneness and unity of God and to the finality of prophethood of Muhammad, peace be upon him. Muslims believe that Muhammad is the seal of all of God’s prophets and messengers, a chain that started with Adam and includes Noah, Abraham, Moses and Jesus, peace be upon them all. Muslims also express their faith through devotional practices, most importantly the five daily prayers, an act of worship that keeps them connected with the Creator.

Additional practices include fasting, obligatory charity and pilgrimage. Fasting during the month of Ramadan has been prescribed to Muslims so they may be mindful of God and learn self-restraint.

Zakat, or a portion of our income to be given to the poor, is another duty regulated by God to ensure that basic needs are met for the less fortunate, poor and destitute. If they are able, Muslims are also required to perform Hajj—a pilgrimage to visit the sacred house (Ka’bah) that was built by Abraham and his son Ishmael in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, to seek forgiveness from their Lord and renew their covenant with Him.

It is against Shariah to compel or force any person to convert to Islam. The Quran asserts, “Let there be no compulsion in religion.”

(2:256) Shariah provides total freedom of religion. The Quran is quite clear on the point, “Say (O Muhammad), ‘Now the truth has come from your Lord: let those who wish to believe in it do so, and let those who wish to reject it do so’ ” (18:29) “Had God willed He would have guided all people” (13:31)

Islam holds that people are endowed with our senses and our intellect so that we can choose what is best for us to follow. Shariah not only allows other faiths to co-exist but guarantees the protection of their houses of worship and properties. Shariah respects the worth of every human being in his or her own belief and endeavor in the pursuit of life and the truth.

SHARIAH 2: PROTECTION OF LIFE

Shariah recognizes the sanctity and sacredness of human life. One may not harm or kill. The Quran emphatically stresses this point, “And do not take any human being’s life—[the life] which God has willed to be sacred—otherwise than in [the pursuit of] justice.” (17:33) Killing innocent people, even at times of war, is a grave sin and strongly condemned by Shariah: “if anyone kills a person—unless in retribution for murder or spreading corruption in the land—it is as if he kills all mankind; while if any saves a life, it is as if he saves the lives of all mankind.” (5:32)

Unfortunately, as in all the world’s great faiths, Islam sometimes produces individuals who make distorted religious claims. News reports  from around the world have shown us extremists from various religious traditions who claim that their faith compels them to commit acts that clearly are crimes to any sensible person. This recently happened in Norway, according to news reports. Similarly, some Muslims have issued extreme fatwas (judicial rulings) that may not be based on the Quran and the Sunnah at all. Another unfortunate example of this distortion is the lingering practice of honor killings in some parts of the world.

Honor killing is an entrenched cultural issue in some areas, but clearly is in violation of Shariah as well as all globally recognized Christian codes of conduct. Nevertheless, honor killings still occur in some traditional Christian and Muslim cultures. These crimes need to be addressed worldwide by leaders of all faiths.

Psychological harm or injury is also prohibited under Shariah. The Quran mandates, “O believers! Avoid making too many assumptions, for some assumptions are sinful; and do not spy on one another; or speak ill of people behind their backs: would any of you like to eat the flesh of your dead brother? No, you would hate it. So be mindful of God: God is ever relenting, most merciful.” (49:12)

Shariah also demands total respect for all of creation. For example, a Muslim is prohibited to cut down trees or kill animals without a good reason. As part of Shariah, Muslims are required to protect the environment from pollution and harmful waste.

SHARIAH 3: PROTECTION OF FAMILY

Shariah regulates the life of a Muslim in matters of marriage, divorce, inheritance, parenting, upbringing of children, rights of orphans, ties of kith and kin, etc. The family is the nucleus of society. Hence, having a sound family structure builds a strong society. Islam encourages marriage as soon as a mature man is able to support his wife. Premarital or extramarital sex is strictly forbidden.

Islam does allow men to have more than one wife at the same time, up to a total of four, provided that the husband treats them equitably.

However, this represents a tiny minority in Muslim-majority countries, where polygamous marriage constitutes only 1-to-3 percent of all marriages. Islam encourages only one wife. The Quran in verse 4:129 affirms how difficult it is to be equitable in multiple marriage.

Polygamy remains a challenging issue in many world faiths.

International gatherings of Christian leaders in recent decades also have discussed compassionate responses to polygamy.

Despite misconceptions, Shariah protects women’s rights if properly applied. For example, women are entitled to education, to keep their maiden names and to control their inheritance. They are entitled to a decent living, to own property or to own a business, if they wish.

Islam teaches that family ties are to be maintained and parents are highly regarded. Shariah enjoins believers to honor parents and grandparents. In numerous places in the Quran, the rights of parents are mentioned immediately after the rights of God. The following verse illustrates the importance of this value: “Your Lord has commanded that you should worship none but Him, and that you be kind to your parents.

If either or both of them reach old age with you, say not to them a word of contempt, and do not be harsh with them, but speak to them respectfully, and lower your wing in humility towards them in kindness and say, ‘Lord, have mercy on them, just as they cared for me when I was little.’ ” (17:23-24)

Neighbors are viewed as extended family in Islam. God instructs believers to take care of their neighbors, Muslims and non-Muslims alike. “Be good to your parents, to relatives, to orphans, to the needy, to neighbors near (Muslims) and far (non-Muslims), to travelers in need.” (4:36)

SHARIAH 4: PROTECTION OF PROPERTY

Shariah stresses lawful earning for the maintenance of oneself and family—and rejects begging for a living. The objective of economic activities is to fulfill one’s basic needs and not to satisfy insatiable desires.

Our rights to property are protected in Shariah, an ideal that naturally contributes to a sense of security in a community. Forms of economic exploitation are condemned. Islam prohibits interest and usury (Riba). The goal is to keep people from depleting their property and falling into poverty through excessive debt. Likewise, the positive Quranic attitude towards trade and commercial activities (al-bay’) encourages mutual help, fairness with employees and equitable transactions in business. The Islamic view of economic principles includes a requirement that a lender should participate in either the profit or the loss of a borrower. Shariah’s interest in a just and healthy community extends throughout our business transactions.

SHARIAH 5: PROTECTION OF INTELLECT

Among the most cherished gifts of God is the faculty of intellect, which differentiates us from animals. It is through this faculty one is able to reason and make sound judgments. Such a precious blessing needs protection. Anything that threatens the intellect is discouraged or completely prohibited by Shariah. Prohibitions on intoxication with alcohol or drugs are aimed at keeping the mind sound and healthy.

Acknowledging that some may claim benefits of gambling and drinking, God informs that their harm is greater than their benefit. “They ask you [Prophet] about intoxicants and gambling: say, ‘There is great sin in both and some benefit for people: the sin is greater than the benefit.’ … In this way, God makes His messages clear to you, so that you may reflect.” (Quran 2:219)

CONCLUSION

Shariah abhors extremism and excessiveness. Excesses in spending, eating—even worship—are prohibited in Islam. Shariah promotes following the middle path. True Muslims are moderate in all of their endeavors—religious and secular. God described them in the Quran as “the Middle Nation.”

Shariah aims at facilitating life and removing hardships. Shariah beautifies life and provides comfort. It approves of good and forbids evil. It is considerate in case of necessity and hardship.

A general principle in Shariah holds that necessity makes the unlawful lawful. A Muslim is obliged to satisfy his hunger with lawful food and not to eat what has been declared forbidden. One may, however, in case of necessity—when permissible food is not available—eat unlawful foods such as pork to sustain life. Shariah comes from a kind and compassionate God.

The Quran says: “God wants ease for you, not hardship”(2:185) “God does not burden any soul with more than it can bear” (2:286) “It was only as a mercy that We sent you [Prophet] to all people.” (21:107)

Ultimately, Shariah strives for justice, fairness, mercy and peace.

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Reservation & Indian Muslims

July 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nilofar Suhrawardy, TMO

NEW DELHI: How serious are the politicians and other leaders who have recently started voicing their concern about the need of reservation for Indian Muslims? Describing Muslims as socially and economically backward, they are demanding reservation to help them progress. Though some importance is being given to these demands, prospects of their being implemented remain fairly dim. This demands an analysis of the Reservation-issue for Muslims from several angles. What has prompted several leaders to start talking about it now in louder than before tones? Why are chances of it being implemented bleak? What has prompted “concerned” politicians to assure aggrieved sections that the issue is being considered?

Seriously speaking, greater importance is being accorded to making political noise about reservation for Muslims than actually assuring that their socio-economic grievances are dealt with constructively. With Uttar Pradesh Assembly elections scheduled for next year and the national parliamentary elections in 2014, electoral preparations are gaining political heat. The Congress is hopeful that by assuring Muslims a reservation quota in government jobs and education, it is likely to win their support in UP assembly elections. The UP assembly polls are also viewed as a “dress rehearsal” to national elections. Political victory in UP is expected to play a crucial role in helping Congress consolidate prospects of electoral gains in the subsequent parliamentary polls.

Against this backdrop, the timing is just perfect for Muslim leaders and various organizations to gain some political mileage by voicing their concern on the reservation-issue. This is one side of the political-hype made over reservation for Indian Muslims.

India is home to second largest population of Muslims in the world. Muslims constitute the largest minority in India. Twenty-five percent of UP’s population are Muslims. Statistically, thus, the Congress cannot afford to ignore the electoral importance of the Muslim vote-bank in UP as well as the whole country.

Not surprisingly, Minority Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said recently that the home ministry is expected to submit a “concrete proposal” for minority reservation soon. With the necessary formalities, including consultations, having been completed, he said: “The home ministry will now take it forward. There is a sense of urgency.”

The Congress-led coalition government is likely to push for a proposal on lines of the model adopted by the southern states, which have provided reservation for Muslims – out of the existing OBC (Other Backward Classes) quota. Suggesting this, Khurshid said: “We believe the OBC element of affirmative action must be rationalised and fine- tuned in the manner in which it is being done in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka.”

But this is not an easy job. Questions have already begun being asked on the sudden sympathy being displayed by Congress to a commitment it made in 2004. The 2004-Congress-election manifesto said: “The Congress is committed to adopting this policy for socially and educationally backward sections among Muslims and other religious minorities on a national scale.”

Besides, while several leaders are not opposed to reservation for Muslims, they are against it being offered out of the OBC-quota. They fear that this political-card will create divisions in their OBC vote-bank. Janata Dal-United leader, Sharad Yadav, who is also a activist of OBC, said: “The government is trying to create divisions in the backward society.” Criticizing the government for not implementing the current OBC quota, he asked: “The rate at which the government fills the existing OBC quota is just two to three percent. The backlog is huge. With nothing on your plate, what will you offer the Muslims?”

“There should be a separate provision for Muslims if we are seriously interested in uplifting the backward sections of the community. It would be ideal, in my opinion, if a separate component of reservation is made for the Muslims to bring them on par with other sections of society,” according to Ram Kripal Yadav (Rashtriya Janata Dal Legislator in Upper House).

It maybe noted, the Ranganath Mishra commission recommended reservation for Muslims and Christians from within the 15 per cent quota for Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the 27 per cent OBC quota. Set up in 2005, the commission submitted its report in 2007. The commission pointed out that caste system was prevalent among Muslims too. The commission recommended that Muslim Dalit groups, whose counterparts exist among Hindus, Sikhs and Buddhists, should also be included in the central or state SC lists.

Several years have passed since reservation for Muslims was recommended by the Mishra commission and since the Congress committed itself to do so. The Indian Muslims have yet to benefit from the reservation-proposal. The manner in which the Congress has raised the issue at this juncture suggests that it is trying to play two cards at one go. The party is optimistic that this issue will help Congress win support from Muslims, particularly in UP. The Congress is also hopeful that the divisions created in OBC-vote bank will help it politically. Against this backdrop, politicking is more strongly linked with noise being made over reservation for Muslims than concern for their actual socio-economic progress!

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Muslim Leaders Participate in Mayor Emanuel’s Inauguration

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

CIOGC Report

kareem250 (1)Imam Kareem Irfan, President of the Council of Religious Leaders of Metropolitan Chicago and former Chairperson of CIOGC was one of the faith leaders that offered an invocation at Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s inauguration on May 16.

“It was both inspiring and humbling for me to to speak as the first Muslim President of CRLMC as more than 6,000 Chicagoans gathered in Millennium Park,” said Imam Irfan. “Having offered the first-ever Muslim prayer at Chicago’s City Council at Mayor Daley’s 2003 Inauguration, I felt privileged as an American Muslim to now offer focused remarks and an invocation for peace at Mr. Emanuel’s personal request and to a gathering which included Mayor Daley, the Chicago City Council, Vice President Biden and several members of President Obama’s Cabinet. Considering this a critical opportunity for wise dawah, I pray that I was able to provide an informed, firm and professional Muslim perspective reflective of our heritage of sensitive outreach and compassion for all.

Excerpt from his invocation:

“On behalf of all the faiths represented on our Council, most certainly including the Muslim community, be assured we will engage sincerely with your administration and the City Council as we together tackle the challenges of economic instability, gun violence, homelessness, healthcare, education and immigration. We will especially help counter the ugly resurgence of faith-related bigotry, Islamophobia and anti-Semitism by compassionate understanding and meaningful collaboration forged across Chicago’s diverse faiths in order to realize a peaceful and prosperous society. Today marks the launch of that collective commitment as all of us Chicagoans and Americans join hands in pursuit of these lofty objectives.”

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