Islamic Relief Malaria Conference

May 5, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

It is easy to forget that people suffer and die unnecessarily from disease as well as from natural and man made disasters, though the latter make the headlines. It is even easier to believe, as many in this country do, that the disease will never impact their lives. Fortunately their are organizations, impelled by their faith, that address this issue. One of them is Islamic Relief.

Islamic Relief USA, one of the world’s foremost charities, held its second annual Malaria Conference this past Sunday in Anaheim, Ca. Titled: Bite the Bug, the event included workshops with well known and informative speakers and an end of Conference dinner.

The Conference was both educational and a call to action. The theme of the Conference was: Educate, Communicate and Eradicate.

The event began with a welcome by Mohammed Mertaban. He told the audience that Malaria is a scourge that effects the entire world. Though its exact time of origin remains unknown, it has impacted mankind since the beginning of history. Children constitute a disproportionate number of Malaria’s victims.

Workshops were: Malaria: Beyond A Disease; Malaria Firsthand: Effect on Community and Family, and Eradicate Malaria: As little as $10 can Save A Life.

Dr. Faisal Qazi, a neurologist, began his address by thanking Islamic Relief for two reasons: first for embracing the cause of eradicating Malaria, and second, for recognizing the global impact. He said that one must not only address the epidemiological aspects of the disease – morbidity and mortality – but the economic and social burden the disease imposes.

He cited imperatives from the Holy Quran – tools in any battle fought by Muslims: wisdom, compassion, justice and excellence.

Imam Siraj Wahaj, one of the most revered Islamic figures today, cited some of the many instances of compassion on the part of the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). “Let us have the same compassion as our Prophet (s).”

He asked the audience to study American history, particularly African American history. Imam Wahaj cited Medgar Evers, an African American killed in the early 1960’s for speaking out against the policy of the South which kept his people from voting.

With the Muslim vote “You have to power to do something about government”, he continued. Muslims have a right to guide this country and to demand more money for Malaria relief.
“I have learned so much about Malaria and its effects” said one young woman toward the end of the workshop.

Malaria, while it is a global concern, particularly affects people in Central and South America; Southeast Asia; Africa, and the Eastern Mediterranean. Malaria can be cured, and it can be prevented. It is a blood disease caused by the bite of the female Anopheles mosquito. It only takes one bite to cause infection and probable, in the absence of treatment, death.

The United Nations has estimated that Malaria could be eradicated by 2015 with the proper international effort. Islamic relief would like to see that happen sooner.

Islamic Relief has offices around the world and works not only with people afflicted with disease but also with people who are the victims of natural and man made disasters. Islamic Relief partners with many other charities both international and local and has NGO status with the United Nations.. The group serves all people regardless of their nationality, race or religion. Islamic Relief has been in Haiti in the earthquake’s aftermath; Pakistan after the earthquake and floods; Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina; Libya during the current crisis; Republic of the Congo in the aftermath of the recent renewed decades old civil war, and Darfur with its many internally displaced people. The foregoing are but a small portion of the places and times where the presence of Islamic Relief has made and continues to make a difference in saving lives and improving the quality of existence.

To access Islamic Relief’s web site and find more about the organization, please visit: www.islamicreliefusa.org.  To learn more about Malaria and to donate to that cause or the numerous others on the web site, please follow the appropriate links.

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What Shari’ah Law Actually Means

April 14, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Justin Elliott

Islam.ShariahLast week in Tennessee, a Republican legislator introduced a bill that would make following Shari’ah — Islamic law — a felony, punishable by up to 15 years in prison. How such a law would be enforced is not clear; furthermore, it’s probably unconstitutional.

It is clear, though, that an anti-Shari’ah movement is growing in the United States. Last year Oklahoma voters approved a measure that bars courts from considering Shari’ah. Similar measures have now been introduced or passed in at least 13 other states. Indeed, anti-Muslim political operatives have been warning of “creeping Shari’ah” and “Islamist lawfare” for years, though the anti-Shari’ah efforts have gained new prominence in recent months.

But even basic facts about Shari’ah — what is it? how is it used in American courts? — are hard to come by. So I decided to talk to Abed Awad, a New Jersey-based attorney and an expert on Shari’ah who regularly handles cases that involve Islamic law. He is also a member of the adjunct faculties at Rutgers Law School and Pace Law School. He recently answered my questions via e-mail.
Can you define Shari’ah — is it a specific body of laws?

Shari’ah is more than simply “law” in the prescriptive sense. It is also a methodology through which a jurist engages the religious texts to ascertain divine will. As a jurist-made law, the outcome of this process of ascertaining divine will is called fiqh (positive law), which is the moral and legal anchor of a Muslim’s total existence.

Shari’ah governs every aspect of an observant Muslim’s life. The Shari’ah juristic inquiry begins with the Quran and the Sunna. The Quran is the Muslim Holy Scripture — like the New Testament for Christians or the Old Testament for the Jews. The Sunna is essentially the prophetic example embodied in the sayings and conduct of the Prophet Mohammed (s).
After the two primary sources of Islamic law, the Quran and the Sunna, the two main secondary sources of Islamic law are: (1) ijma (consensus of the scholars and jurists, and sometimes the entire community), and (2) qiyas (reasoning by analogy to one of the higher sources).  Other secondary sources of Islamic law are juristic preference, public interest and custom. Shari’ah is extremely flexible and subject to various interpretations. In the 19th century, Western colonialism decimated the Shari’ah legal system, replacing it with Western codes.

This caused a serious decline in the community of jurists. In addition, there is today a debate that revolves around the failure of the modern jurists — not the system of Shari’ah — to develop the Shari’ah to adapt with the current circumstances of modernity.

How often does Shari’ah come up in U.S. courts? Has there been an uptick recently?

It comes up often because the American-Muslim community is growing. With an estimated 8 million Americans who adhere to Islam, it is only natural to see a rapid increase of Muslim litigants before American courts where Shari’ah may be an issue — especially in family matters.

Can you give a couple examples of when Shari’ah has come up in cases that you’ve handled?

In the past 12 years as an attorney, I have handled many cases with an Islamic law component. U.S. courts are required to regularly interpret and apply foreign law — including Islamic law — to everything from the recognition of foreign divorces and custody decrees to the validity of marriages, the enforcement of money judgments, probating an Islamic will and the damages element in a commercial dispute. Shari’ah is relevant in a U.S. court either as a foreign law or as a source of information to understand the expectations of the parties in a dispute.

Suppose a New York resident wife files for divorce in New York; her husband files for annulment in Egypt claiming the parties were never validly married. A New York judge must determine whether he has jurisdiction and whether state law governs this dispute. If the conflict of laws of New York requires that Egyptian law govern the issue of validity, the court would require expert testimony about Egyptian law that is based on Islamic law.

Another common use of Shari’ah in American courts is in the enforcement of Muslim marriage contracts. Like the majority of Americans, Muslims opt for a religious marriage ceremony. In every Muslim marriage, the parties enter into a Muslim marriage contract. The contract includes a provision called mahr, which is a lump sum payment from the groom to the bride that, unless otherwise agreed, would be due at the time of the husband’s death or the dissolution of the marriage. An American court would require expert testimony to understand what a mahr is, what a Muslim marriage contract is, and to better understand the expectations of the parties at the time of the contract. All of this would be necessary for the court to determine whether the contract is valid under state law.
Is Shari’ah used in U.S. courts any differently than other foreign or religious systems of law?

No, it is utilized the same way as Jewish law or canon law or any other law.

A lot of critics of Shari’ah have cited a case in New Jersey in which a husband cited Shari’ah to argue that he did not rape his wife. What happened in that case?

The case is S.D. v. M.J.R.  It’s not about Shari’ah as much as it is about a state court judge who failed to follow New Jersey law. In this case, the plaintiff-wife sought a restraining order against her husband, alleging that his nonconsensual action constituted physical abuse. She testified that her husband told her repeatedly that, according to his religion, she was obligated to submit to his sexual requests.

The trial judge refused to issue the restraining order, finding that the defendant was operating under a religious belief that he was entitled to have marital relations with his wife whenever he wanted. Thus, he did not form the criminal intent to commit domestic violence. But, of course, the appellate court reversed the trial court decision, holding that the defendant’s nonconsensual sexual intercourse with his wife was “unquestionably knowing, regardless of his view that his religion permitted him to act as he did.” The appellate ruling is consistent with Islamic law, which prohibits spousal abuse, including nonconsensual sexual relations. A minority of Muslims mistakenly believe that a husband can discipline his wife with physical force in the interest of saving the marriage and avoiding divorce.

What about stoning, which critics also claim is part of Shari’ah?

The Quran does not provide for the stoning of adulterers. The punishment prescribed in the Quran is lashing. However, there is a prophetic tradition that adopted the Jewish custom of stoning adulterers. Many people describe the American legal system as having a Judeo-Christian heritage. Does that mean that we will stone adulterers as required in the Bible? No.

As long as a provision in Jewish law, canon law or Shari’ah does not offend our constitutional protections and public policy, courts will consider it. Otherwise, courts would not consider it. In other words, foreign law or religious law in American courts is considered within American constitutional strictures.

What do you make of these state-level efforts to ban consideration of Shari’ah in American courts?

Other than the fact that such bans are unconstitutional — a federal court recently held that a ban would likely violate the Supremacy Clause and the First Amendment — they are a monumental waste of time. Our judges are equipped with the constitutional framework to refuse to recognize a foreign law. In the end, our Constitution is the law of the land.

The only explanation is that they appear to be driven by an agenda infused with hate, ignorance and Islamophobia intent on dehumanizing an entire religious community. That a dozen states are actively moving to adopt anti-Shari’ah laws demonstrates that this is part of a pattern. This is not haphazard. Someone — a group of people — is trying to turn this into a national issue. I believe this will become an election issue. Are you with the Shari’ah or with the U.S. Constitution? It is absurd.

Justin Elliott is a Salon reporter. Reach him by email at jelliott@salon.com and follow him on Twitter @ElliottJustin

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Woman Serves as Mosque President

August 13, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Jeff Swicord , VOA

salmenna sedique
Salmenna Sedique prays, at far left.

Toleda, Ohio–05 August 2009–Some in the West have long held negative stereotypes toward the Islamic faith, particularly when it comes to the role of women. But if one woman in Toledo, Ohio has her way, that is about to change. She was recently elected president of a local Islamic center. She oversees the operations of a community center, school, and mosque, including the activities of the Imam. Her goal is to show the non-Muslim world that women of Islam can do and achieve anything they want.

Like many Afghan women, Salmenna Sedique enjoys spending quiet time with her family in their Toledo Ohio home.

But unlike some of her counterparts, Salmenna also plays a prominent role outside the home, in Toledo’s Muslim community. 

She is the first woman president of the Masjid Saad Islamic Center, which includes an Islamic school and mosque.

“It is a hard position for anyone to run, Salmenna said. “It is a responsibility. And every single second I am thinking, am I going to fulfill it in the right manner, in the right way?”

Toledo Ohio is an old industrial city in the middle United States. The Masjid Saad center started as a small prayer area at a local University more than twenty years ago.

It has grown to a community of over one thousand people. Women play prominent roles in all aspects of the center’s life.

Salmenna wants to change the negative stereotypes held by some toward Islam — particularly, the role of women. She says rules that say women cannot be educated, or leave the home without the company of a male family member, or must be covered, are rooted in culture, not Islamic tradition. She says, in Islam, those issues are a matter of choice and points to the role women played in the household of the Prophet Mohammed (s).

“They were not hiding,” Salmenna says, “They were not behind the curtains; they were not behind the walls. They were going to battles, they were in business.”

Salmenna also plays a prominent role in the family business.

She keeps the books and maintains the computer system at her husband Ahmad’s auto dealership. It was her husband who pushed her to become president of the Islamic center. “We needed somebody in our community right now to work and organize it. And she is qualified for that,” Ahmad Sedique says, “And I am fully supporting her for that.”

Salmenna says leading by example is the best way to change perceptions. She encourages young people to get more involved at the center. Today, these young women are planning youth group activities, but were shy about talking with us on camera.

Salmenna wants to see more action from Muslims outside the center.  “We don’t have people in politics, we don’t have people to fill out the social working areas. They don’t look at it as a priority, but to me,” she adds, “it is a priority.”

Her appointment as president is for one year. She encourages women to educate themselves, get involved, and stand up for their Islamic rights.

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Baitulmaal Fundraiser

April 10, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

By Susan Schwartz , MMNS

The deteriorating conditions in Gaza – often described as the world’s largest outdoor prison– have shocked and outraged just and humane people throughout the world. With the attention of the world focused on Gaza, another organization has stepped forward to bring aid and alleviate the suffering there.

A banquet and fundraiser sponsored by Baitulmaal was held in the Embassy Suites Hotel in Garden Grove, Ca. this past Saturday night.

Titled: “Light A Candle for Gaza,” the well attended event raised more than $85,000 for the beleaguered people of Gaza who lack even the basics of life as they endure deprivation under the boot of the Israeli oppressors.

The event featured as keynote speaker Dr. Hatem Bazien of the University of California in Berkeley. A native Palestinian, he is currently an adjunct professor at Boalt Hall School of Law and a senior lecturer in the Department of Near Eastern Studies there.

Afzar Noradeen was Master of Ceremonies for the event. Beginning with a reading of the Qu’ran by Moheb Daha, the evening also featured Hasan Mahmoud, an Imam from Jenin, Sheikh Mostafa Kamel and Osama Abuirshaid.

The audience listened intently as they were reminded of the ummah they were a part of. Quoting from the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh), the speakers told the attendees that they were part of one body and – using an analogy of the human body – when one part of the body was in pain, the entire body was impacted.

“You do not look down on a fellow Muslim, and you do not let him down.”

Brother Abuirshaid told of individuals in Gaza and their suffering – of a pregnant mother of three who lost both legs in an Israeli bombing. Who, he asked rhetorically, will care for her children? He spoke of young children who live out of trash receptacles. He told of a 19 year old girl dying of kidney failure – a disease which could be controlled with medication easily available in the West.

Brother Abuirshaid spoke of individual Gazans and their suffering, giving them names as he did so. The audience gasped as these people became more than statistics.

“I feel as if I know them and suffer with them.” said one young woman in the audience.

Baitulmaal is an organization which strives to aid the poor, the sick and the helpless. Headquartered in Texas, Baitulmaal is a (501)(c)(3) charity. Members work toward preventing disease, improving the educational infrastructure and encourage hygiene in troubled areas of the world. Baitulmaal will be found wherever communities are in danger of dissolution and ruin; they serve communities racked both by war and by natural disaster. Baitulmaal has worked in the Middle East, Africa and Asia and in the United State where, to cite one example, the organization came to the aid of victims of Hurricane Katrina.

A recent feature story in The Dallas Morning News in Baitulmaal’s home state described Baitulmaal and its alliance with a Christian organization. Sheikh Hasan Hajmohammad is the co-founder and now a senior consultant of Baitulmaal. Eric Williams is the CEO of a company that produces a religious talk show. They are working together in places far and wide.

Mindful of criticism from the non-Muslim community that might attend cooperation with Baitulmaal, Mr. Williams said: “With the heightened tension today between Muslims and Christians, I really wanted to…help solve the gap.”

From building a hospital in Jenin; to the rescue of earthquake victims in Pakistan; to providing blankets in the aftermath of a fire in Texas, Baitulmaal serves humanity.

To learn more about Baitulmaal, please access their web site at: www.baitulmaal.org. Or they may be accessed by postal service at: Post Office Box 166911, Irving, Texas, 75016. The telephone number of Baitulmaal is: (972) 257-2564.

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