What Europe and America Have in Common

December 8, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Harold Bob Jones

Europe and the USA have many things in common, one of which noted currently is the massive debt crisis both are experiencing because of politicians who fail to learn from history.  George Santayana noted that those who fail to learn from the mistakes of the past are doomed to repeat them.  In both Europe and the United States, power-hungry politicians have been trying to buy votes with money we don’t have, taxing not only this generation but every generation in the future, guaranteeing a lower standard of lviing for our children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.  These short-sighted politicos, thinking only of the present, seem to think they can go on forever, steadily increasing the public debt, by just printing more and more money without an equal increase in goods and services, hoping to find someone to buy our consequently less and less valuable bonds.  As history has repeatedly shown us, this does not work.  Every society that has tried this has collapsed.  A prime example is the Soviet Union.  If socialism were a better system, we would all be speaking Russian.  Previousy democratic civilizations and nations that have tried this have collapsed into dictatorship.  Some noteworthy examples are the Greeks, the Romans,and the post-World War I Weimar Republc of Germany, the latter printing so much money that its currency became virtually worthless, bankrupting the country, and resulting in the establishment of Hitler’s Nazi (National Socialist) party dictatorship that brought on the horrors of World War II.

It is time to rid ourselves of such histroy-ignoring, out-of-touch-with-reality, power-mad politicians, ousting them from power, and never let them in office again.

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Beauty Within Me

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Noor H. Salem, TMO Foundation

They say that I’m oppressed because I cover my hair, They are misinformed, and by that I swear, Misinformed because they lack, the knowledge that I own, Knowledge that changed, throughout the years I’ve grown, I cover my hair, not by force or shame, But by obedience to my Creator, His satisfaction is my aim, My birth, life and death, are all to Him alone, That’s why my beauty to strangers, isn’t ever shown, Women are treated like sex objects, billboards and ads, And they wonder why young girls, get harassed by their dads, They wonder why a 1000 girls, die every single year, Of eating disorders, as they try to impress their thinner peer, When a size zero isn’t good enough, you know there is something wrong, Even when the girl’s been thin all along, They wonder why women are rapped day and night, They don’t realize what the media is doing, just isn’t right, I was once a size one, and with societies push I thought, A size zero is better, and that’s the next thing I bought, Double zero came quite fast, and that’s when I began to think, Is this really what I want in life, to continue to shrink?

I realized there is more to life, than beauty and my size, And society is killing us, and it doesn’t seem to realize, I became thankful for my religion, for I’m not judged on my face, But the true purpose- good deeds; it’s all one big race, A race to Paradise, an option for us after we die, Of course Hell is the other, for those who deny and always lie, Why waste my time, worrying about my eyeliner’s perfection, Or the fact that I need to renew my lipstick collection, Why deprive myself of food, and have celery and carrots for dinner, And ignore my loved ones who tell me, I keep on getting thinner, Why live my life to try impressing those around me, When in the end, they’re judged at a total different degree, A degree based on our actions, words, and deeds, A good deed would be, like fulfilling other’s needs, A deed like this of course, weights quite heavy on the scale, The scale that REALLY counts, the one we don’t want to fail, It’s not digits of your pounds; it’s not length of your hair, It’s the good that you do, hear me out if you care!

We’re all going to die, and end up in the same place: underground, So why sit here and try, to make this life so sound, Why build up our wealth, our beauty and our fame, On the day we are judged, all this is going to be so lame, Allah is not going to ask me why I went from 90 to 99 (pounds), And He’s not going to punish me, because my eyes didn’t “shine”, With the so called foundation, mascara, and blush, So girl I’m gonna tell ya, keep your words in and “hush”,  If you’re blinded from the truth, I pray for you each day, To be guided on the path, the one and only way, For eternal bliss, eternal, yes, as in forever, So you tell me, what’s more clever?

Live this life as if it’s going to last, Then get a smack in the face, when I lay in my cast, Or stick to my heart, and follow my deen, The deen of Islam, I believe in the Unseen, Throughout the past few years, I’ve realized more and more, Islam is so beautiful; it’s a total different door, Than what society perceives it to be, oppression, terror and hate, Wake up and realize this, before it’s too late, I am proud of my religion; it’s a protection for me, And after reading this and learning, you just have to agree!

A shout out to my friends, my family and more, Who cover their beauty, as they walk out their door We don’t need the approval of strangers, we don’t need their rates, They didn’t create us, and they’re not the ones to open Heavens gates, Does it really make you feel good, at the whistle from the guys As they stare your behind up and down, checking out your thighs Does it really make you feel good, at the winks and the flirts Does it make you happy, because for you my heart hurts!

You walk in arrogance, as if showing more skin means you’re better than me, And I walk in laughter, because I know you are NOT what I want to be, I don’t need attention from the senior guys, I don’t need to sit and flirt, Because I am a human, and don’t deserve to be treated like dirt, Covering up myself makes me feel real great, Knowing I’m not an object, for others to use at their own rate, I’ve gained respected for my personality, from strangers all around, And that’s when I truly realized, Islam is very sound, My name is Noor Salem, and I shout out loud, My religion is Islam, and I am VERY proud, Those who hate can hate, those who lie may do, But in the end what will emerge, is everything that’s true, I thank Allah for my religion, deep down in my heart, And I pray to stay on the path, until the day I depart.

Copyright 2011© Noor H. Salem

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One Ummah

December 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

The 15th Annual Western Regional Convention of MAS

By Susan Schwartz, TMO

maslogoThe United States faces serious problems, both domestically and internationally, problems that at a glance seem insurmountable.  Ignorance of Islam and Islamophobia are rampant. Muslim organizations are needed to combat the latter two and to offer Muslim solutions based on Muslim values to provide answers to our crises at home and abroad. Our culture is moving from R rated to X rated: What to do?

Many Islamic groups are active in offering such aid. One in particular the Muslim American Society (MAS), deserves special mention.

The Muslim American Society held a highly successful annual Western Regional Convention, the organization’s fifteenth, this past weekend in Los Angeles. The title of the event and its theme was: “One: One Ummah, One Brotherhood, One Pulse”.

More than two thousand people were in attendance in an event that began on Thanksgiving Day and ran through the following Saturday. The Muslim American Society of Greater Los Angeles (MAS GLA) was the host.

The majority of the three day convention was devoted to workshops, many intended for youth. The titles of the work sessions mirrored the theme of the convention. They included, but were not limited to: “The Believers are But a Single Brotherhood”; “One Ummah, One Body”, “The Fiqh of Priorities”, and “Our Means to a Beautiful End”.

Each session was conducted by learned speakers who were available to answer questions and expand on their presentations at the end of each session.

In one particularly timely session,  students from the original Irvine 11 spoke about their legal ordeal which grew out of their collective exercise of free speech at the University of California, Irvine (UCI) in February 2010. At that time the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, addressed a student audience and was confronted by a group of young Muslims vis a vis the illegal actions of the state of Israel.

Their subsequent arrest and indictment – almost a year to the date after the original incident and days before the statute of limitations would expire – angered civil libertarians. The students became a symbol of the limitations on free speech imposed on Muslims.

In a session titled: “I Don’t Plead the Fifth: Irvine 11 Speak out”, the students received a standing ovation, and many in the audience sought their autographs after the session ended. Each of the students stated unequivocally that he was glad of his actions and, given the opportunity, would do it again.

“What brave people” said one young woman in the audience. “It makes me feel  so proud”.

During a session titled: “A Quilt to Cover the Nation: Shaping the American Society by Applying the Fabric of Islamic Family Values”, two young Muslims introduced the Islamic Speaker’s Bureau.That organization will send Muslim speakers to address schools and law enforcement officers, to name but a few potential audiences, in an effort to explain Islam to non-Muslims and to counter act Islamophobia. Farhan Simjee and Shaista Azad invited the attendees and others who are interested to contact them at: isbsocal@gmail.com.

In one of the final sessions of the convention, the topic could not have been more timely. “One Ummah, One Pulse: Education and Mobilization to Help our Syrian Brothers and Sister” featured three speakers who gave the history of Syria, both ancient and modern, and offered practical actions that might be taken on Syria’s behalf.

One of the speakers,  Hussam Ayloush, the Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) in the greater Los Angeles area spoke movingly on behalf of the aspirations of the Syrian people. “We have a common bond as human beings and as Muslims”.

He called for the following actions. Be outspoken, use Facebook and e mail; talk to the media, and take part in protests; Get the DVDs sold at the booth of the Syrian American Council (SAC) in the bazaar, stay in contact with the activists (syrianetLA@gmail.com); wear buttons and T shirts to advertise your cause; donate money to help the victims in Syria.

“The right to freedom is a human right”.

A bazaar was held in the lobby during the convention. Attendees could purchase Islamic clothing, books, jewelry, and DVDs, and they could learn of different community organizations.

The booths included, but were not limited to: CAIR (http://ca.cair.com), ACCESS (www.accesscal.org ), InFOCUS News (www.infocusnews,net), One Legacy Radio (www.onelegacyradio.com),and the Institute or Arabic and Islamic Studies (IAIS) (www.islamic-study.org) and (www.legacyofpeace.net).

The Muslim American Society began in 1993 as a charitable, religious, social, cultural and educational  organization. It has grown since then to its present strength of fifty chapters across the United States. It is a go-to group for information and commentary, held in high esteem by the media and government officials on all levels. MAS emphasizes proactive community involvement such as community service, interfaith dialogue, youth programs, and civic engagement. It seeks to build strong Muslims with strong faith and a deep knowledge of Islam.

The recent roots of MAS can be traced to the Islamic Revival Movement that took place at the turn of the 20th century. Its ancient roots, of course, can be traced back to the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). The recent convention lived easily up to the standards of the Muslim American Society – to fulfill its mission for God consciousness, liberty and justice through the conveyance of Islamic values.

For more information on the Muslim American Society, please use the following email address: http://www.mascalifornia.org.

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Pakistan: Islamic Social State

November 23, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Abdul Quayyum Khan Kundi (Abdul.Kundi@GMail.Com)

In the West and most of the Muslim world there is a wrong perception that the struggle to establish Caliphate is mandated by the Quran. The reality is far from that. There are many verses in Quran which points to formation of local governments while there are none that mandate a Caliphate. Ummah itself is not a political concept but rather a social one where people from diverse cultures share a set of common spiritual and social values. That is the reason we find common cultural traits in food, clothing, family rituals and celebrations of Muslim countries around the world. Many of Pakistan’s political party’s manifesto include establishment of an Islamic social state. If this is the objective then it is very important to understand what it entails and what the society will look like if we achieved it. We have already covered the Islamic economic model in last article (published on November 2, 2011), this article will focus more on the social aspect of it.

The first order of business to establish an Islamic Social state will be to change the current Westminster form of parliamentary system to an American style Presidential system which is quite close to an Islamic concept. Islam emphasizes election of individuals who then have executive authority to run the state in consultation with a shura comprising of professionals with knowledge of government, administration and law. In Pakistan, we don’t have to write a new constitution rather amendments to existing one will achieve the objective. In Turkey the ruling AKP party in the leadership of Recep Tayyip Erdogan made it part of their election manifesto that a presidential form of government will be introduced through constitutional amendment. In Pakistan many leading politicians have already expressed their preference for a Presidential system.

Majority of Muslims go to great lengths to tell the world that Islam is the religion of peace. But in reality the essence of Islam is justice. Peace and harmony are the outcome of a just society. Promotion of justice is an active persuasion while peace is more passive approach to society. In an Islamic state introduction of an affordable and efficient system of justice is one of the top priorities of the state. The procedures for the discharge of cases should be such that decisions does not cost so much that people can’t afford it or take so long that it is a hindrance for people to seek justice. Independence of the judiciary is important. State has to ensure that life and property of judges are protected as well as their verdicts are executed without delay.

In an Islamic state the security policy will be oriented towards defensive rather than aggressive posture. This should become corner stone of Pakistan’s foreign policy position to initiate negotiation to sign non-aggression and non-interference bilateral agreements with its neighbors and focus more inward than outward.

Prophet Muhammad (s) in his last hajj sermon to Ummah clearly stated that in an Islamic state there will be no preference given to anyone based on their ethnic identity. Quran makes it clear that God, the ultimate sovereign, does not differentiate based on ethnicity among its creation to bestow its blessings on them. Quran does not mention that punishment of Shirk or Kufar is awarded in this world rather that it is a sin judged on the Day of Judgment which in a way is an opportunity for an individual to find the truth. Quran mentions that people were divided in tribes and nations to be identified rather than discriminated or preferred. In an Islamic social state everyone will be allowed to practice their cultural heritage without any discrimination or hindrance from the state. At the federal level decisions will be taken only considering the well being of the people. In this scenario provinces will be created not on ethnic lines but administrative basis as Islam gives preference to the well being of individual citizens. In the same vane the quota system has to be abolished and only merit should be the basis of all appointments in state and private enterprises. Similarly, Islam recognizes that non-Muslims are full citizens of the state and have the right to practice their faith without recrimination from the State which has to ensure safety of their prayer places.

The very first verse of Quran Iqra was to encourage acquisition of knowledge of life, universe and the spirituality. Islam looks down upon ignorance and mandates that everyone should seek knowledge which means that the state should ensure that adequate educational institutions are available throughout the country. In an Islamic state the religious seminaries will be required to provide education in science and technology. As centers of learning and prayers mosques will be required to hire religious scholars that can provide spiritual enlightenment to the people. These religious scholars should be educated not only in science, social sciences and anthropology but also aware of the spiritual difference between Islam and other religions.

Quran does not differentiate between men and women in terms of their participation in the society. Islam encourages that all members of the society regardless of their gender should participate to establish a just and equitable society. Islam acknowledges that women have much higher responsibility than men because of their critical role in development of a nation as mothers. But this domestic role does not preclude them from pursuing a career to express their talent and exercise their capabilities. In an Islamic state the role of women has to be recognized as full participant. This was evidenced from the lives of Khadija (RA) and Aisha (RA) who took active roles in business and politics respectively.

Many Muslim countries are now realizing the true meaning of a social state and embarking on reformation. Turkey, Malaysia, and Indonesia are good examples from which other countries can learn. Pakistan seems to be waking up to its true potential as freedom of speech is encouraging debates to create greater understanding of our religion, history and social values at the same time destroying dogmas.

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Beauty in Diversity

November 3, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Dilnawaz Qamar

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The majority of those who have an antagonistic attitude and behaviour towards other religions have closed personalities. They are never open to those who are different. They are over-defensive and overprotective of their own superior beliefs

In the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary, ‘diversity’ is defined as: “When many different types of things or people are included in something.” Diversity is a gift of God and different research and studies demonstrate that nature encourages diversity and it matters. If we just focus on our bodies we are blessed with different organs and these different organs have different functions. Diversity in bodily organs not only adds beauty to our physical being but also adds to the functionality of the body. We would not have been able to do various jobs if we were given a body with uniform functionality. Each and every part has a significant role to play in the body.

Cultural diversity is the multiplicity and variety of human cultures in a specific region or in the world as a whole. This world would be a boring place if we had to live in a homogenous society. Cultural differences include differences in language, dress, art, literature, values and traditions. As human beings we respect these differences.

Whenever we find ourselves in a different culture we try to accommodate, temporarily or permanently, the specific culture. Cultural diversity is a source of strength in society. Diversity becomes strength when society learns to value and respect differences. Doctors, engineers, soldiers, teachers, politicians, artists, singers, cricketers — all professionals make society a unified whole with diverse professions. Everyone is different with different talents and capacities and this variety is the most positive feature of any society. When we respect differences we actually create an environment where self-esteem and self-worth is promoted and where selfishness is discouraged. Nations are destroyed when there is intolerance and hostility to differences. Melissa Etheridge, an American singer, rightfully said, “I feel my heart break to see a nation ripped apart by its own greatest strength — its diversity.”

Many of you who are reading this article already agree that diversity, whether in mankind or culture and society, enriches life. But when it comes to religious diversity, a different evaluation is utilised. In all ages diversity in religions has been a fact but unfortunately this diversity has been a source of contention rather than community and kinship. We offend others by assuming that our religion is the superior one. People who entertain hostile feelings for other religions are considered to be the ones who are most faithful. Hostile people become satisfied as they assume that the hostility, aggression and enmity to the communities of different religions is an important component of religious commitment. Intolerance for people who are religiously different has become an important religious problem.

The thought that other religions are inferior to our religion is so deep rooted that many fundamentalists have become indifferent to other people. James Russell Lowell, an American poet, critic and essayist gives the following insight: “Toward no crimes have men shown themselves so cold-bloodedly cruel as in punishing differences of belief.”

Having difference in views is a human right and prevention of this right gives birth to defence, protection, selfishness, judgementalism and indifference.

In the Quran, God tells humanity: “Behold, we have created you all out of a male and a female and have formed you into tribes and nations so that you may get to know one another” (Surah Al-Hujurat, 49:13). It shows that diversity is God’s will. God encouraged diversity so that we may appreciate the unity and equality of the whole of mankind.

Jesus preaches the same, “If you love those who love you, what thanks you can expect?…Instead, love your enemies and do good, and lend without any hope of return.”

Today, the majority of those who have an antagonistic attitude and behaviour towards other religions have closed personalities. They are never open to those who are different. They are over-defensive and overprotective of their own superior beliefs. They have encaged themselves in their protective shells, making it impossible to welcome other viewpoints, thus shutting out all the opportunities of insights, learning and growth. Not to speak of other religions, many of these closed individuals have no tolerance for different sects within their own religion, believing themselves to be the true owners of the religion.

Nowadays Pakistan is the biggest victim of religious intolerance. Human life is sacred as God gives it and harming it or killing it in the name of religion is a hideous act. In the last few years, many people have been killed in the name of religion. We need to chuck out the intolerance that is lying within us as well as those around us.

We need to restructure our thinking patterns even if others are going against what we believe to be true. Let God be God and let us not interfere in His will. Now is the time for concerned Muslims, Christians, religious minorities, intellectuals, religious leaders and community leaders to mutually probe this matter. Pakistan is in dire need of getting rid of hatred, cruelty, intolerance, aggression and fanaticism. A significant paradigm change is required. Together we have to strive for mercy, justice, freedom and human dignity and respect.

DAILY  TIMES

The writer can be reached at dilnawazqamar@fccollege.edu.pk

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The Bellwether of Nations

October 27, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Tunis, Libya and the Arab “Spring”

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

Santa Barbara–October 24th–Those of you who have been here for as long as generations, please forgive me,  and have patience with me, and grant me your forbearance.  

Yesterday (October 23rd) two important events came about over two bordering Islamic North African States.

The most dramatic was the demise of Colonel Khadafy in Libya.  Today, the National Transitional Council (المجلس الوطني الإنتقالي ) of the Libyan Revolution scheduled an announcement of the liberation of Tripoli and her hinterlands.

Although it is a great victory of the three so far in the Arab “Spring,”  it was the bloodiest of those triumphs which, with over 160 claimant groups are currently within the capital, was the costliest; and, thus, is the least likely to succeed by the very fact it was a coup of arms.

Strangely, the three successful regime changes so far of the Arab “Spring” have occurred in North Africa – Egypt, Libya and Tunisia, and they all were Republics whose leadership was descended from the anti-colonial revolutions.  

The other grand occurrence of Sunday, October 23rd, was the Tunisian elections.   As I have pointed out before, Tunisia’s was the first Revolt of the “Spring,” and has the best chance of any of those successful so far to develop an Arab (Islamic) democracy.   Libya is the least in my humble opinion because of the degree of violence and foreign intervention to which it had to revert for its accomplishment.

It is too early to do much of an exegesis now so soon after the polls over Tunisia, but no egregious reports of irregularities have been reported to me so far, but Tunis has developed a viable civil society despite the years of dictatorship.  Unlike its neighbor, Libya, tribal politics are minor.  It has come out of its political nightmare as a manageable modern state although with serious challenges.
I expect our modern Punic Realm will do well – not without bumps along the way, though.  As I  mentioned in two weeks ago, much will depend upon the expertise and support from the West since so much of the wealth of that nation of ten million has been robbed by the last regime.  Yet, at the same time, the international financial crisis puts a strain on the deliverance of both material and aid of practical tutelage.  Alas, I wish I could be as positive for Benghazi.  I only hope that more military intervention will not be required from NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organization) on that side of the Northern African Sahara.

I would like to commend my colleague, Radwan Masoudi, the Libyan-American founder/Director of the Center of Islam and Democracy in Washington.  That think thank has been working on planning an Islamic democracy; so, that they can meld theologically and politically without contradiction. When the time miraculously arose, he had gone back to his native countryside to work with his cultural citizens to help make these elections possible by strengthening the roots of the civil society that already existed there!

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On Being Faithful Muslims and Loyal Americans

October 13, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Resolution of the Fiqh Council of North America Adopted in its General Body Meeting held in Virginia on September 24-25, 2011

Like other faith communities in the US and elsewhere, we see no inherent conflict between the normative values of Islam and the US Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Contrary to erroneous perceptions and Islamophobic propaganda of political extremists from various backgrounds, the true and authentic teachings of Islam promote the sanctity of human life, dignity of all humans, and respect of human, civil and political rights. Islamic teachings uphold religious freedom and adherence to the same universal moral values which are accepted by the majority of people of all backgrounds and upon which the US Constitution was established and according to which the Bill of Rights was enunciated.

The Qur’an speaks explicitly about the imperative of just and peaceful co-existence, and the rights of legitimate self-defense against aggression and oppression that pose threats to freedom and security, provided that, a strict code of behavior is adhered to, including the protection of innocent non-combatants.

The foregoing values and teachings can be amply documented from the two primary sources of Islamic jurisprudence – the Qur’an and authentic Hadith. These values are rooted, not in political correctness or pretense, but on the universally accepted supreme objectives of Islamic Shari’ah, which is to protect religious liberty, life, reason, family and property of all. The Shari’ah, contrary to misrepresentations, is a comprehensive and broad guidance for all aspects of a Muslim’s life – spiritual, moral, social and legal. Secular legal systems in Western democracies generally share the same supreme objectives, and are generally compatible with Islamic Shari’ah.

Likewise, the core modern democratic systems are compatible with the Islamic principles of Shura – mutual consultation and co-determination of all social affairs  at all levels and in all spheres, family, community, society, state and globally.

As a body of Islamic scholars, we the members of FCNA believe that it is false and misleading to suggest that there is a contradiction between being faithful Muslims committed to God (Allah) and being loyal American citizens. Islamic teachings require respect of the laws of the land where Muslims live as minorities, including the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, so long as there is no conflict with Muslims’ obligation for obedience to God. We do not see any such conflict with the US Constitution and Bill of Rights. The primacy of obedience to God is a commonly held position of many practicing Jews and Christians as well.

We believe further that as citizens of a free and democratic society, we have the same obligations and rights of all US citizens. We believe that right of dissent can only be exercised in a peaceful and lawful manner to advance the short and long term interests of our country.

The Fiqh Council of North America calls on all Muslim Americans and American citizens at large to engage in objective, peaceful and respectful dialogue at all levels and spheres of common social concerns. We call upon all Muslim Americans to be involved in solving pressing social problems, such as the challenge of poverty, discrimination, violence, health care and environmental protection. It is fully compatible with Islam for Muslims to integrate positively in the society of which they are equal citizens, without losing their identity as Muslims (just as Jews and Christians do not lose their religious identity in doing the same).

We believe that emphasis on dialogue and positive collaborative action is a far better approach than following the paths of those who thrive on hate mongering and fear propaganda. Anti-Islam, anti-Semitism and other similar forms of religious and/or political-based discrimination are all forms of racism unfit for civilized people and are betrayal of the true American as well as Islamic values.
May the pursuit of peace, justice, love, compassion, human equality and fellowship prevail in the pluralistic mosaic that is the hallmark of our nation.

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Civil Society in South Africa Deplores Failure to Give Visa to Dalai Lama

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Johannesburg. 4 October 2011.  The South African government should stand by its founding values by granting a visa to the Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of the Tibetan people, urged civil society in South Africa today.

The Dalai Lama was due to visit South Africa from 6-8 October to attend the 80th birthday celebrations of fellow Nobel Peace Prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu. He was expected to deliver the inaugural Desmond Tutu International Peace lecture at the University of the Western Cape. Delay in granting him a visa by the South African government has now resulted in him cancelling his trip to the country.

In 2009, the Dalai Lama was denied permission to visit South Africa under apparent pressure from the Chinese government which strongly opposes his support for the human rights and freedoms of the Tibetan people.

“In many regions of the world civil society members are being persecuted for their beliefs and impeded from engaging with the international community due to restrictive visa regimes,” said Ingrid Srinath, Secretary General of CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation. “… it is highly disturbing that this can happen in democratic South Africa, a number of whose leaders also had to wage their struggle for human rights in exile.”

Enhancing democracy and human rights as well as upholding justice and international law in relations between nations are important pillars of South Africa’s foreign policy. South Africa is also a founding member of the India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) trilateral of multi-ethnic and multicultural democracies, which is committed to the establishment of a new international architecture. Recent violent attacks on peaceful protestors by the police, proposed curbs on the freedom of information through impending legislation and the current controversy generated around the visit of the Dalai Lama are marring South Africa’s reputation as a vibrant democracy and human rights leader.

“It is untenable and hypocritical for the South African authorities to even consider denying the Dalai Lama a visa under pressure from a foreign government,” said Srinath.

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The New Tunisian Democracy: Islamic or Secular?

October 6, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, TMO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thus, we shall require your support in the West.

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Community News (V13-I40)

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Muslim Society of Central California free health care

FRESNO,CA–There was a big turnout at Fresno’s Manchester Center last week, where dozens of doctors joined together to offer free medical services to the public.

The Muslim Society Of Central California hosted its second health clinic of the year, giving free medical care to both children and adults, ABC News reported.

Patients walked in to see 40 Doctors and 100 other workers who volunteered their time Sunday.

Organizers say the need for basic healthcare is great, with many people uninsured or unable to pay. “We have everything from pediatrics to general medical, to blood draws, podiatry, dermatology, EKG’s, blood testing. We have everything,” said Brenda Alvarez with the Muslim Society Of Central California.

The Muslim society holds two health clinics each year. Sunday’s clinic also included dental and vision screenings.

Man disrupts Princeton MSA event

PRINCETON,NJ–A man claiming to be part of the Knights Templar was arrested last Saturday night after allegedly interrupting Princeton University Muslim Student Association welcome back dinner, the student newspaper reported. The man, Adam Pyle, 26, of Princeton Township, had apparently been present for part of the actual dinner at Campus Club, said Sohaib Sultan, the University’s Muslim life coordinator.

Public Safety officers arrested Pyle and charged him with bias intimidation, criminal attempt, disorderly conduct, harassment and defiant trespass.

Public Safety ordered Pyle to stay away from campus for the next 90 days, and the department intends to ban him permanently.

Interfaith reception held in Reno

RENO,NV– In a remarkable interfaith gesture, clergy belonging to different religions and denominations held a  reception for Meredith Cahn, new Rabbi of North Tahoe Hebrew Congregation in Tahoe Vista; Evon J. Yakar, new Rabbi of Temple Bat Yam in South Lake Tahoe and Abdelwahed Ali Awad, new Imam of Northern Nevada Muslim Community Center in Sparks, Nev.

The reception, organized by Nevada Clergy Association, was held at India Kabab & Curry Restaurant.

Imam Awad, born in Upper Egypt, started studying Islam and memorizing Quran when he was 15. He holds bachelor of science degree in geology from Egypt’s Assiut University, and besides Egypt, has traveled to Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Niger, Benin, Burkina Faso and Ghana lecturing on Islam. Mission of Northern Nevada Muslim Community includes “to promote the values and teachings of Islam” and its activities include Friday prayer, monthly potluck dinner, and Sunday school.

Muslims, Christians, Interfaith Cooperation

DALLAS,TX– North wood Church and Islamic Center of Frisco sponsored a joint program at North wood church to promote trust and compassion between the two communities.
More than three thousand Muslims and Christians attended the program.

Addressing the gathering Pastor Right emphasized on mutual cooperation and promotion of understanding between two faiths, for which we need to cultivate resources and provide opportunities to have awareness of each other’s faith.He said that we are not gathered here to change each other’s faith but to learn from each other. He said that he has never seen this many people in his church.
Muslim community leader Azhar Aziz while addressing the gathering explained that Hazrat Mariam is the only woman who is mentioned by name and a whole chapter is designated on her name in which her chastity and high morals are discussed.

He said Muslims believe in brotherhood and peace.

Pastor Josh during his address stressed upon this type of gatherings to promote understanding between communities and this can send a message of peace and love to the rest of the world.
While relating the gesture in Tennessee where a church had given Muslims a portion of their church to Muslims, while the construction of a mosque was underway, he said he received calls from residents of Kashmir that they had wanted to help build a church in Kashmir the same way and they did built a church.

Lunch for 3,000 attendees was arranged with Zabiha Halal food for Muslims. People attending the event said that they have never seen any event like this before and they are very pleased to be here. Christian volunteers greeted Muslims in this occasion.

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Muslims Rising Above The Ashes Of Misunderstanding

September 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kari Ansari

As the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11 approaches, we’ll be inundated with reports and recollections of where people were at that moment, what they were doing and how their lives have been changed because of it.

This anniversary-keeping activity feels like we have a wound that we know has yet to heal, but we can’t stop ourselves from touching it — just to see if it still hurts.

It does.

The inevitable media coverage will build now until Sept. 12, when folks will try to get back to normal life still smarting from the big press blitz. Muslim Americans will have no choice but to be one of the featured main dishes in this media feasting frenzy, and we will do our part to help heal the wounds caused by those who falsely claimed our faith by telling you again that Islam had no part in this tragedy.

Over these last 10 years, the events of 9/11 taught my faith community that we had been neglecting outreach to the greater society. We’ve had to step away from the cultural comfort of our mosques, Islamic schools and homes to shake the hands of our neighbors who have been there all along, but with whom we may not have engaged with serious effort or effect. Ten years later, Muslims have made these gestures of friendship to the point that a large percentage of the folks who wanted to know us better, now do. There are others who simply refuse to let go of the bigotry and stereotyping of Muslims in America. You may know them: They have their eyes closed with their hands over their ears singing, “la, la, la. I don’t hear you.”

For the next 10 years, I am hopeful that our nation will leave these crooners of ignorance out of our society’s narrative. We’ve already seen some of Islam’s biggest haters recently outed for propagating bigotry under the guise of being “terrorism experts.” Robert Spencer and Pamela Geller have been exposed for their racist and bigoted craziness through a Norwegian mass murderer, Anders Behring Breivik, who referred to their hate-filled blogs and rhetoric many times in his insanely xenophobic manifesto. The Center for American Progress recently released a report, “Fear, Inc., The Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America” that clearly outlines the organized machine operating a small empire of hatred. Besides Spencer and Geller, the report highlights major players like David Yerushalmi (recently featured in a New York Times article outlining his role in this smear campaign) and Fox News (a network owned by the now infamous News Corp and Rupert Murdoch). These people won’t stop their work in unfairly vilifying the American Muslim community, but really, how long can that leaky bucket of lies hold water?

It’s been a challenge to refute every slam and slur against Islam, but Muslims try to follow the example of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad (s), who persistently treated his neighbors with respect despite their derision.

America’s Muslims look forward to our faith community rising above these ashes of misunderstandings to find ourselves welcome as fellow citizens. To make this climb, we know our focus must stay on our youth.

There are thousands of young, dynamic American Muslims already creating change in our nation’s high schools, colleges and workplaces. Their parents have put heart and soul into raising these young people — especially within the difficult context of the last 10 years. They have been nurturing their kids with love and giving them confidence to be American and Muslim in the same sentence. We have great and lofty expectations of their futures, and these young people are not failing any of us.

Young Muslims are making advances in medicine, science and technology.

Look at the list of young doctors in any teaching hospital and you’ll see Muslim names galore. Most major corporations include a cadre of brilliant Muslim engineers. Beyond technology and medicine (traditionally the career paths of choice for Muslims in the U.S.), we are now seeing young Muslims choosing to pursue careers in the less lucrative, but necessary fields of public service, social services and education. And finally, we are seeing more and more Muslim names coming up in the arts and communications fields. This is a hopeful sign for the future, as public perceptions often change through the media in all its forms. Watch Musa Syeed, a writer and independent filmmaker to produce great movies and documentaries, as well as Qasim Bashir, who wrote and directed “Mooz-lum: The Movie.” There are thousands of upcoming Muslim journalists, writers, artists, photographers and performers that we will be sure to hear more from in the next 10 years.

I’m proud to claim these honest young people who are giving us honest portrayals of Muslims through the arts and media.

We now have young people studying to become Islamic scholars within the American context through the newly instituted Zaytuna College, whose mission is “to educate and prepare morally committed professional, intellectual, and spiritual leaders, who are grounded in the Islamic scholarly tradition and conversant with the cultural currents and critical ideas shaping modern society.” We look forward to the graduates of Zaytuna to actively lead and positively shape the American Muslim community for generations to come.

Young Muslims are the backbone of American-Muslim philanthropic efforts, and what they lack in financial resources, they are making up with their time and hard work. There isn’t a single charitable event that doesn’t depend on student volunteers for its success. Muslims Without Borders has taken this legacy one step further by forming a full-blown relief agency run solely by Muslim students.

I recently had a reporter ask me if it wasn’t too big of a burden for my kids to grow up as identifiable Muslims during these last 10 years.

It was a sincere question, but I wondered how else she thought I should have raised them. Later, I realized that there are some Muslim parents who have discouraged their children from expressing their faith in any way from fear of reprisal. Recently, my heart hurt for the young checker at the grocery store who told me in a wistful voice that she was “technically a Muslim,” but that her parents didn’t want her to practice the faith in case she’d suffer here as a new immigrant. I don’t know if that statement reflected more poorly on our society, or on her parents; however, for the most part, Muslim families in America are raising their children to be proud of their beliefs and are teaching them that God is infinitely Merciful and Gracious to those who struggle for His sake. These young people who are proud of their noble faith realize that despite some people’s innocent ignorance of Islam, or other’s outright bigotry, the majority of our neighbors and greater community will have respect for them as long as their character and behavior follow the example of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad (s). To put it plain and simple, we are raising these young people to trust in God and do good things with their lives.

Muslims in this country are looking forward to seeing an America that once again says we have had enough of hate and fear. We hope everyone will recognize that our country becomes more beautiful with each new color and creed we accept as our own.

Kari Ansari is a Writer and Co-Founder of America’s Muslim Family Magazine

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The Father of Invention

September 1, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Mohannad Al-Haj Ali

APPLE/

Apple CEO Steve Jobs holds an iPad in this January 27, 2010 file photo. Jobs resigned as CEO of Apple, the company announced August 24, 2011.    

REUTERS/Kimberly White

Steve Jobs is routinely voted one of the most influential and powerful people in the world.WHEN the world awoke to the iPod revolution and the innovations that followed such as the iPhone and the iPad, it turned its attention to the creative mind behind them, the founder and chief executive of Apple, Steve Jobs, and his life story as the adopted child of a modest American family.

The Observer newspaper in Britain, Fortune magazine in the US, and other media outlets published lengthy articles on his life in which his biological father of Syrian origin, Abdul Fattah “John” Jandali, emigrated to the United States in the early 1950s to pursue his university studies.

The western media did not give great mention to Jandali other than to say he was an outstanding professor of political science, that he married his girlfriend (Steve’s mother) and by whom he also had a daughter, and that he slipped from view following his separation from his wife.

An American historian, however, has now stirred controversy over the role of genes and their superiority over nurture in the case of Steve Jobs, by describing Jandali in a detailed critical article published briefly on the Internet before it was suddenly removed, as “the father of invention”, given that Jandali’s daughter Mona (Simpson) – Steve’s sister – is also one of the most famous contemporary American novelists and a professor at the renowned University of California in Los Angeles (UCLA).

The 79-year-old Jandali has deliberately kept his distance from the media.What is known about him lacks detail, and is both one-sided and a source of curiosity at the same time. Here is his story as Jandali himself told it to Al-Hayat.

Jandali in Syria

Abdul Fattah Jandali was born in 1931 to a traditional family in Homs, Syria. His father did not reach university, but was a self-made millionaire who owned “several entire villages”, according to his son. His father held complete authority over his children, authority not shared by his traditional and “obedient” wife.

“My father was a self-made millionaire who owned extensive areas of land which included entire villages,” Jandali said. “He had a strong personality and, in contrast to other parents in our country, my father did not reveal his feelings towards us, but I knew that he loved me because he loved his children and wanted them to get the best university education possible to live a life of better opportunities than he had, because he didn’t have an education. My mother was a traditional Muslim woman who took care of the house and me and my four sisters, but she was conservative, obedient, and a housewife. She didn’t have as important a part in our upbringing and education as my father. Women from my generation had a secondary role in the family structure, and the male was in control.”

The American University

Jandali did not stay long in Syria. “I left for Beirut when I was 18 to study at the American University, and I spent the best years of my life there,” he said.

He was a pan-Arabism activist, and his star soon began to shine. He headed an intellectual and literary society which had a nationalist bent and counted among its members symbols of the Arab nationalists’ movements such as George Habash, Constantine Zareeq, Shafiq Al-Hout and others.

“I was an activist in the student nationalist movement at that time,” he said. “We demonstrated for the independence of Algeria and spent three days in prison. I wasn’t a member of any particular party but I was a supporter of Arab unity and Arab independence. The three and a half years I spent at the American University in Beirut were the best days of my life. The university campus was fantastic and I made lots of friends, some of whom I am still in contact with. I had excellent professors, and it’s where I first got interested in law and political science.”

The university’s Campus Gate magazine published in its 2007 spring issue an article by Tousef Shabal in which he says: “The Al-Urwa Al-Wuthqa Association was founded in 1918 and dedicated to cultural and political activities. Between 1951 and 1954 the society was headed by Abdul Fattah Jandali, the now deceased Eli Bouri, Thabit Mahayni and Maurice Tabari. The decision to disband the society was taken after the events of March 1954…” a reference to the violent demonstrations that took place on the university campus against the Baghdad Pact.

According to Shabal, the society consisted of “diverse political groups such as Arab nationalists and communists, and competition for the managing positions was red hot, but in the end went in favor of the Arab nationalists.”

When Jandali graduated from the American University in Beirut, Syria was going through troubled political and economic times, according to Jandali, and although he wanted to study law at Damascus University and become a lawyer, his father did not agree, saying that there were “too many lawyers in Syria”.

He continued: “Then I decided to continue my higher studies in economy and political sciences at the United States where a relative of mine, Najm Al-Deen Al-Rifa’i, was working as a delegate of Syria to the United Nations in New York. I studied for a year at Columbia University and then went to Wisconsin University where I obtained grants that enabled me to earn my master’s and doctorate. I was interested in studying the philosophy of law and analysis of law and political sciences, and I focused in my studies at the American University on international law and the economy.”

The birth of Steve and Mona

While studying in Wisconsin, Jandali met Joanne Carole Sciebele by whom he had a boy while they were both still students, but Sciebele’s father was conservative and wouldn’t agree to them getting married, so she gave her baby boy – Steve Jobs – up for adoption.

Initially, a lawyer and his wife approached, but did not proceed with adoption when they found out the child was a boy and not a girl as they wanted. Another couple came forward, neither of whom had gone through university education, and adopted the newborn baby after agreeing to the mother’s condition that the child be given a university education later in life.

Abdul Fattah (who added “John” to his name) returned and married Sciebele, and they had a daughter and named her Mona, but he then traveled to Syria – part of the United Arab Republic at the time – intending to enter the diplomatic corps.

The United Arab Republic

“I had two basic paths open to me after graduating,” Jandali said. “Either go back to my home country and work with the Syrian government, or stay in the United States and in university education, and that is what I did for a while. I went back to Syria when I got my doctorate, and I thought I’d be able to find work in the government, but that didn’t happen. I worked as a manager at a refinery plant in my hometown of Homs for a year, during which Syria was part of the United Arab Republic and run by the Egyptians. Egyptian engineers, for example, ran the Ministry of Energy in Syria, and the situation wasn’t right for me, so I went back to the United States to rejoin education there.”

According to Jandali, his wife decided to break up with him while he was away in Syria, but that didn’t stop him from pursuing his academic work.

“I enjoyed university education very much, it was a rewarding profession, but unfortunately during the sixties and seventies in the United States the pay was very poor for academics, and in general they did not enjoy great respect due to the prevailing belief that professors only taught because they couldn’t do anything else. That is stupid and wrong, of course. I was an assistant professor at Michigan University then at Nevada University. I purchased a restaurant and became interested in making money, and I gave up academic work to run the business. After the restaurant I was a manager at companies and organizations in Las Vegas, and then I opened two restaurants in Reno and joined the organization that I manage today.”

Jandali describes himself as an “idealist”. “Any job I want to do, I try my utmost to see it through completely or not do it at all. Academically, I was very successful. In business management, after a couple of difficult years, I improved. For example, now I run the organization I work in. Success in the world of business requires you to be interested in your assistants and staff and to have a clear vision.”

80 years: No to retirement

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In the tumult following Steve Jobs’ resignation, the media have been digging up interviews with Steve Jobs’ biological father, Abdulfattah John Jandali, who is a Syrian-born vice president of a casino in Reno.

Jandali is that rare case of a person continuing work beyond the age of retirement, and it is something he is proud of.

“Next March I’ll be in my eighties, but to look at me you’d think I was only in my sixties because I’ve taken care of myself, looked after my health, and I love work. I think retirement is the worst of western societies’ institutions. When people retire they become detached, grow old and stop looking after themselves. Enthusiasm for life dies out and energy levels drop, and they effectively kill themselves, even though they’re still alive. I’m not planning to retire even if I leave my position here after a year or two. I’ll dedicate myself to writing, I might write a book or two. My daughter is a very successful novelist with five books, and I plan to move on from my work, and I’m thinking of writing about the Arab World, perhaps a historical narrative with analysis for the future.”

But even so, Jandali has not been to Syria for over 35 years. “Not because I don’t want to, but because of the worry which affects an emigrant when he wants to go back to his home country after so many years, and over what might await him there. I’m thinking of visiting Lebanon and Abu Dhabi next summer to see relatives,” he said.

He doesn’t hide his nostalgia. “I miss my family in Syria. When I left, my closest relatives were still alive. I miss my culture and society and the tight social bonds between relatives as well as the standard of living. Here in the United States there is technological advancement and abundant opportunities for growth and work, but it’s not life itself, and while one appreciates the individual freedoms in western societies, there are times when you really feel that you are alone, that you don’t have the moral family support that you have in the east. I’m not talking about one’s mother or father, but the wider family, relatives, that entity that makes you feel you are part of it, that’s what I miss most about my home country. Of course I miss the social life and wonderful food, but the most important thing is the outstanding cultural attributes which in general you don’t find in the West.

“If I had the chance to go back in time, I wouldn’t leave Syria or Lebanon at all. I would stay in my home country my whole life. I don’t say that out of emotion but out of common sense. I think I’ve wasted my energies and talents in the wrong place and in the wrong society. But that’s just theoretical talk, and what’s happened has happened.” So what remains of his Syrian identity and Arabic culture after nearly 60 years in America?

“I’m a non-practicing Muslim and I haven’t been on the Haj, but I believe in Islam in doctrine and culture, and I believe in the family. I have never experienced any problem or discrimination in the United States because of my religion or race. Other than my accent which might sometimes suggest that I’m from another country, I have completely integrated in society here. I advise young Arabs coming here, however, to get a university degree and not prolong their stay, as there are lots of opportunities in the Arab World today, particularly in the Gulf. The good minds of the Arab world must stay there, as they might be able to help their countries there more than they can here.

Father of invention

Responding to his being called the “father of invention”, Jandali says: “My daughter Mona is a famous writer, and my biological son is Steve Jobs, the chief executive of Apple. The reason he was put up for adoption was because my girlfriend’s father was extremely conservative and wouldn’t let her marry me, and she decided to give him up for adoption. Steve is my biological son, but I didn’t bring him up, and he has a family that adopted him. So if it’s said that I’m the ‘father of invention’, then that’s because my biological son is a genius and my daughter a brilliant writer. I thank God for my success in life, but I’m no inventor.

“I think that if my son Steve had been brought up with a Syrian name he would have achieved the same success. He has a brilliant mind. And he didn’t finish his university studies. That’s why I think he would have succeeded whatever his background. I don’t have a close relationship with him. I send him a message on his birthday, but neither of us has made overtures to come closer to the other. I tend to think that if he wants to spend time with me he knows where I am and how to get hold of me.

“I also bear the responsibility for being away from my daughter when she was four years old, as her mother divorced me when I went to Syria, but we got back in touch after 10 years. We lost touch again when her mother moved and I didn’t know where she was, but since 10 years ago we’ve been in constant contact and I see her three times a year. I organized a trip for her last year to visit Syria and Lebanon and she went with a relative from Florida. I always take the side of the mother because the son will always be happiest with his mother.

I’m proud of my son and his accomplishments, and of my work. Of course I made mistakes, and if I could go back in time I would have put some things right. I would have been closer to my son, but all’s well that ends well. Steve Jobs is one of the most successful people in America, and Mona is a successful academic and novelist.”

On the likelihood of Steve Jobs being regarded as an “American-Arab”, Jandali says: “I don’t think he pays much attention to these gene-related things. People know that he has Syrian origins and that his father is Syrian, that’s all well-known. But he doesn’t pay attention to these things. He has his own distinctive personality and he’s highly-strung. People who are geniuses can do what they want.”

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Women: The Touchstone of Modernization

August 11, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Laila Zayan

TMO Editor’s Note:  This essay tied for third place in the 2011 TMO Foundation Essay Contest.

Lift the Veil! They say, “Oh poor girl you’re so beautiful you know! It’s a shame that you, cover-up your beauty so! “ She just smiles so graciously, responds reassuringly: “This beauty that I have is just a simple part of me.

This body that I have, no stranger has a right to see. These long clothes and shawl I wear, ensure my modesty, Faith is more essential than fashion, wouldn’t you agree?
“This hijab – This mark of piety! Is an act of faith, the symbol, for all the world to see ! A simple cloth, to preserve her dignity!

So lift the veil from your heart, to see the heart of purity! They tell her girl: “Don’t you know this is the west and you are free! You don’t need to be oppressed, ashamed of your femininity!

Abstract

This paper discusses the public sphere in Islamic nations from the perspectives of women’s uses of their visibility, mobility, and voices. I argue that the sociopolitical transformations unfolding in many Islamic countries are not taking place in the absence of women’s contribution and participation, but quite the opposite. Using examples from different countries, I illustrate how women are shaping, impacting, and redefining the public sphere by producing alternative discourses and images about womanhood, citizenship, and political participation in their societies that prove that Islam and modernity can co-exist without being secular. Pious Shi’i volunteers and Javanese women are strategically using their bodies and their actions to participate in the public sphere and in turn have used the public sphere as a stage in proving that Islamic nations can indeed be modern. 

Roadmap

I will begin by discussing the controversial debate between whether or not an Islamic nation can be modern. In doing so, I aim to provide a backdrop in which the role of women in the public sphere can be analyzed. Next, I will give an explanation of the public sphere and introduce the query about the necessity of secularization in the public sphere. Given this backdrop, I will then discuss how women have become the touchstone of modernization by giving examples of how women in different Islamic cultures have used their visibility, mobility, and voices in creating a new discourse in the public sphere that proves modernity can exist in an Islamic nation.

Can Islam and Modernity Co- exist?

In the wake of September 11th, images, assumptions, and conclusions about Islamic nations began to circulate as media interest in Islam exploded. The military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq led to crash courses on the history of Islam, Muslim attitudes toward democracy, the reasons some women veil, and the question of whether the Western and Muslim worlds are indeed fated to what Samuel Huntington describes as a “clash of civilizations” . Unfortunately, the infatuation with Islamic nations, post 9/11, has led to increasingly skewed depictions of these nations as being the “other” and has led to “culture talk” in which cultures are defined by their “essential” characteristics . Culture talk as Mamdani describes has led to the world being divided into the modern and pre-modern, such that “the former makes culture in which the latter is a prisoner.”

This divide between modern and pre-modern has been an underlying theme that has emerged in depicting Islamic nations as the “other”. For centuries, Islam represented the greatest military power on earth, prevailing economically and socially over Europe, Africa, India, and China. But with time, Europeans were beginning to progress in the civilized arts, leaving the cultural heritage of the Islamic world far behind them. Western innovation coupled with successes on the battlefield resulted in European dominance, and the establishment of Christianity as the state religion. Throughout Christian history, church and state existed side by side, but as different institutions as a result of tension that emerged in their coexistence. These institutions remained separate, “each with its own laws, and jurisdictions, its own hierarchy, and chain of authority”, providing a secular system of rule. In contrast, the idea that any part of human life is in any sense outside the scope of religious law and jurisdiction is alien to Muslim thought. The absence of secularism in Islam, and the refusal of an imported secularism inspired by Christian example, may be attributed to profound differences of belief and experience in the two religious cultures. After looking at the development of Islamic nations’ correlation with modernity, it may be concluded that this debate has plagued the relations between the East and the West. While secularism is believed to be a condition of modernity in some respects, alternative models of modernization that do not include secularism have also been thought to work, only perpetuating this debate further into inquiry.

Public Sphere: A Stage for Modernity

Islamic nations contest secularism as a pre- requisite to modernity by showing how a public sphere acts as a stage where modernity can exist devoid of secularism. A public sphere, as Nilufer Gole describes, is institutionalized and imagined as a site for the implementation of secular and progressive way of life where people can get together and freely discuss and identify societal problems, and through that discussion, influence political action. The public sphere is not simply a pre-established arena; but it is constituted and negotiated through performance, be that through self-presentation, dress code, cultural taste, or leisure activities. Because the public sphere provides a stage for performance rather than an abstract frame for textual and discursive practice, images become vital in the public sphere.

As Gole further describes, in a “Western” public sphere, religious signs and practices have been silenced as the modern public sphere has positioned itself against the Muslim social imaginary and segregated social organization. However, in a Muslim context, women’s participation in public life, corporeal visibility, and social mixing with men all count as modern. Here it is visible that while the public sphere adheres to some of the basic universal principles of the Western public sphere, these principles are translated into social practices that are uniquely altered as well. Because the public sphere provides a stage for performance and discussion, rather than an abstract frame for textual and discursive practice, women are able to prove that their “image” is a site for resisting secular modernity.

The Modern Woman

The ways in which Islam appears into the public sphere challenges Western aspirations for a secular, therefore, modern society. However, I argue that women have become the touchstone of modernity by using their bodies and actions as a means to be both religious, and modern simultaneously. Suzanne Brenner describes how Javanese Muslim women use the veil as their particular language in order to assert themselves and their aspirations in the public sphere. 

In Indonesia’s Island of Java, most Muslim women do not veil, and not all Muslim activists agree with the practice of veiling. Some strongly oppose veiling, arguing that the Qur’an calls for veiling “only for prayer and that its adoption for daily wear is excessive.” Others believe that as a symbol, modern Islamic dress fails to invoke an image of the Indonesian past; it does not summon up any sense of nostalgia or local authenticity”. Instead, some Indonesians believe it invokes a picture of fundamentalist extremism that is “culturally dissonant for them as it is for many Westerners.”

The fact that modern veiling is understood as a departure from local practice is vital in understanding the veiling movement in the Javanese context. The veil represents for some Javanese Muslims both self-reconstruction as well as reconstruction of society through individual and collective self-discipline. A goal for women who veil is to effect religious and social change through the individual and collective actions of members of the Islamic community. The lack of and skepticism of veiling in Java has allowed women to use the veil to signify a new historical consciousness and a new way of life, weighed down neither by their tradition nor by centuries of colonial rule or Western capitalism. The veil in Java stands for a new morality and a new discipline, “whether personal, social, or political-in short, a new, Islamic modernity.” Women see themselves as pioneers in the struggle towards redefining their society as modern, yet religious. They have used their bodies and actions by veiling to spark a discourse in Indonesian society. They have used the public sphere in refashioning themselves to fit their image of modern Islamic womanhood.

Similar to the example of the Javanese women, Lara Deeb illustrates how women in the Shi’i community of al-Dahiyya in Lebanon use volunteerism in the jami’yyas as a display of public piety and spiritual progress through authentication, or full understanding of meaning and purpose, to prove that Islamic nations can be modern while still being “enchanted” with religion.  Deeb states that states that the jami’yyas were believed to be a spiritually developed institutional framework for helping others. A jami’yya volunteer, Maliha, describes the jami’yyas as a place where the connection between spiritual and material progress is clearly practiced and where “authenticated” religious motives lead to the pious modern.

Deeb proves that women are the main actors in illustrating an alternative model of modernity because Muslim women have faced stereotypes held by the West that depict them as backward, passive, and oppressed by their religion. The Muslim woman’s self-conscious confrontations with these stereotypes have led to what Deeb regards as “gender jihad”, or a gender struggle. Women have combated these stereotypes by drawing upon volunteerism in jami’yyas in order to provide evidence of women’s ability to be both religious as well as being connected to the contemporary world. A colleague of Deeb, Hajjeh Amal, speaks to these stereotypes by saying,

“Our goals as women are to improve these images of Muslim women within our society that thinks that women are less than men, and to change the image of the oppressed Muslim woman that exists outside our society. This work (volunteerism in the jam’iyya) is part of our religious duty, because woman is the example for everything. A culture is judged by the level of its women.”

A Shi’i women’s jihad uses the public sphere to take on the work of proving to the West that Muslim women can be both pious and modern. The visibility of the pious Shi’i women- marked by their public activities and volunteerism- is crucial in demonstrating how women have progressed both spiritually and materially, into a pious modern, in contrast to the Western modern.

Conclusion

Women have used their visibility, mobility, and voices to redefine the public sphere by producing alternative discourses and images about womanhood, citizenship, and political participation in their societies that prove that Islam and modernity can co-exist without being secular. As orientalist imagery of the East has been depicted by the media and internalized by the public, women have faced the bud of the stereotypes regarding subordination and inferiority. By looking at the correlation between Islam and modernity through a female lens, one may be able to see how women act as a systematic thread, one that interweaves the power relations between the “East” and the “West”, one that knits the yarn of Islamic society, and illuminates the shades of modernity through the prism of Islam. Rather than seeing women as needing to be saved and liberated in the wake of 9/11, women in Muslim nations have proven that despite their inferior reputation, they are in fact the main actors in the public sphere in proving that modernity and Islam can co-exist.

There is a bibliography attached to this article.  If you wish to read it please visit the tmofoundation website.

Ellison Statement on the Beginning of Ramadan

August 4, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

image.custom300x0.dimgRamadan Kareem to all. Today marks the first day of Ramadan, when Muslims and their friends, families and neighbors come together for food and fellowship.

For me, Ramadan is a time to reflect upon how I can play a positive role in society. Each year I recall the story of the Good Samaritan. It was Jesus, who Muslims call “Issa” and revere as a prophet, who taught us to care for others, no matter their religion. This message of inclusiveness is one of my core beliefs.

One of my favorite Ramadan moments happened in 2007, when Ramadan coincided with the Jewish holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. To commemorate this special occasion, the Imam of my mosque in Minneapolis and the Rabbi of Temple Israel brought together their congregations to break our fasts as one. So many people came that we didn’t even have enough chairs for everyone. It was a wonderful event and a testament to our shared American values of religious tolerance and pluralism.

This Ramadan, my thoughts and prayers are with those seeking their basic human rights, whether they are demanding freedom from oppressive governments or struggling to have enough to eat. Peace be upon all of them and everyone.

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Getting on Board with Peace in Israel

June 30, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

An Israeli American explains why she will be among many boat passengers trying to break through Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.

By Hagit Borer

Later this month an American ship, the Audacity of Hope, will leave Greece on a journey to the Gaza Strip to attempt to break Israel’s blockade. It will join an expected nine other ships flying numerous flags and carrying hundreds of passengers from around the world. I will be one of those passengers.

I am an Israeli Jewish American. I was born in Israel, and I grew up in a very different Jerusalem from the one today. The Jerusalem of my childhood was a smallish city of white-stone neighborhoods nestled in the elbows of hills. Near the center, next to the central post office, the road swerved sharply to the left because straight ahead stood a big wall, and on the other side of it was “them.”

And then, on June 9, 1967, the wall came down. Elsewhere, Israeli troops were still fighting what came to be known as the Six-Day War, but on June 9, as a small crowd stood and watched, demolition crews brought down the barrier wall, and after it, all other buildings that had stood between my Jerusalem and the walls of the Old City, their Jerusalem. A few weeks later a wide road would lead from my Jerusalem to theirs, bearing the victors’ name: Paratroopers Way.

A soldier helped me sneak into the Old City. Snipers were still at large and the city was closed to Israeli civilians. By the Western Wall, a myth to me until then, the Israeli army was already evicting Palestinian residents in the dead of night and demolishing all houses within 1,000 feet. Eventually, the area would turn into the huge open paved space it is today, a place where only last month, on Jerusalem Day, masses of Israeli youths chanted “Muhammad is dead” and “May your villages burn.”

It is a different Jerusalem now. It is not their Jerusalem, for it has been taken from them. Every day the Palestinians of Jerusalem are further strangled by more incursions, by more “housing developments” to cut them off from other Palestinians. In Sheik Jarrah, a neighborhood built by Jordan in the 1950s to house refugees, Palestinian families recently have been evicted from their homes at gunpoint based on court-sanctioned documents purporting to show Jewish land ownership in the area dating back some 100 years. But no Palestinian proof of ownership within West Jerusalem has ever prevailed in Israeli courts. Talbieh, Katamon, Baca, until 1948 affluent Palestinian neighborhoods, are today almost exclusively Jewish, with no legal recourse for the Palestinians who recently raised families and lived their lives there.

In his speech on Jerusalem Day, Yitzhak Pindrus, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem, assured a cheering crowd of the ongoing commitment to expanding the Jewish neighborhood of Shimon Hatzadik, as Sheik Jarrah has been renamed.

This is not my Jerusalem. The tens of thousands of jeering youths that swarmed through its streets on Jerusalem Day have taken the city from me as well. That they speak my native tongue is almost impossible for me to believe, for there is nothing about them or about the society that gave birth to them that I recognize.

Did we know in 1967, in 1948, that it would come to this? Some did. Some knew even then that a society built on conquest and dispossession would have to dehumanize the conquered in order to continue to dispossess and oppress them. A 1948 letter to the New York Times signed by Albert Einstein and Hannah Arendt, among others, foretells much of the future. Martin Buber did not spare David Ben-Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, his perspective on the expulsion of the Palestinians in 1948-49.

But too many others, including members of the U.S. Congress who recently cheered Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, are determined to not hold the Israeli government responsible or the Israeli-Jewish society culpable.

Let us note that some Israeli Jews do stand up and protest. There are soldiers who refuse to serve, journalists who highlight injustice, and human rights organizations, activist groups, information centers. In a sense, all of us seeking justice have been on a virtual boat to Gaza all these decades. We have been trying to break through the Israeli blockade, in its many incarnations. We wish to say to the Palestinians that, yes, there are people in Israel who know that any viable future for the Middle East must be based on a just peace — not the forced imposition spelled out by Netanyahu to Congress — or else we are all doomed. We want it known that the soldier is not the only face of Israeli Jews. There are those who say to the government of Israel, “You do not represent us.” We say to the people of the United States in general and to American Jews in particular that yes, you do have an alternative. You can support peace. A true peace.

Hagit Borer moved from Israel to the United States to study in 1977. She became an American citizen in 1992 and is currently a professor of linguistics at USC.

13-27

‘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.

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The Shari’ah Controversy in America:

June 16, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Waheeduddin Ahmed, Ph.D.

shariah-compliance_imgIslamophobia, as it exists today in America, cannot be assigned to a single cause. It has a variety of causes. Differences in belief systems have little to do with it, since such a chasm would require awareness, which is all but lacking in the general populace. Clash of civilizations is hardly causative in a civic society, where only one civilization prevails. In fact, it is the cultural side of Islam, which arouses prejudice and disapproval on the part of some and suspicion on the part of others.

The second cause is the global political conflicts in which Muslims are seen as occupying the center stage. Incessant news and events depicting individuals committing terrorist acts, with their religion specifically highlighted in the media if they are Muslims, constantly plays on the minds and emotions of the American people. The worst act of terrorism in its history occurred in New York on September 11, 2001. It was carried out by a few foreign miscreants from the Middle East with Muslim names and had roots in the Arab-Israeli conflict. While it shook the world, it sent chills down the spines of the Muslim inhabitants of America. They were hit the hardest just by name association. They walked the streets under suspicious and disdainful eyes and are still struggling to reclaim their rightful place in the American society.

We are living in an era sequential to global communism. The phobia which dominated that era was the fear of the great Bolshevik conspiracy, which would undermine our freedoms and individual liberties. The product of that phobia was the Cold War, generating thousands of nuclear weapons, sufficient to obliterate human race many times over and which gave birth to scores of dictators all over the world, who subjected their countrymen to tyranny and humiliation. The succeeding era would not pass without a phobia to decorate it with.  Islamophobia readily served the purpose. The bogey of the worldwide Islamic khilafa replaced that of the Communist conspiracy and is beginning to inflict the psyche of the American public. If there are any people, who are unaware of this khilafa “conspiracy”, it is the Muslim people themselves.

The Phobia and its Profile: The Mosque Controversies:

Proposals to build mosques to serve the religious needs of Muslims countrywide have brought out deep-rooted prejudices even from the members of the clergy, from California to Wisconsin to New York. Acts of vandalism against the Muslim places of worship such as in Tennessee proliferated. In Sheboygan, Wisconsin a Muslim doctor who owned a store type building proposed to convert the property into a place of worship for hundred or so of Muslims. The place was close to the hospital he worked in. A public hearing brought out some of the patients he had treated and had faith in, who spilled out venom against Islam, a faith they had no knowledge of. It shook the wits out of him and many of the citizens. In Manhattan, Muslims had been praying at Burlington Factory House at Park51 a makeshift mosque for a year before the Cordoba House proposal. On Fridays the congregation at Farah Mosque nearby would spill over on the street for want of sufficient accommodation. It was not a matter of “desecrating” Ground Zero but a matter of dire necessity and equal rights under the constitution. The proposal became such a big controversy that everybody from the president to the governor to the archbishop to the Jewish Defense League weighed in. It was made to look as though the proposed Cordoba House was a monument of Muslim “triumphalism” at Ground Zero.

Ban the Shari’ah Legislations:

The campaign against the Cordoba House project was started in a blog “Stop Islamization of America”, a xenophobic campaign, playing on the aforementioned fears of people, of the perceived impending transformation of the country’s religious face and its cultural profile. This is an outrageous presumption and a wildly imaginary scenario. Exact statistics are lacking but according to a study conducted by the American Jewish Committee there are 2.8million Muslims in America, while many Muslim organizations have been claiming that the total number stood at about six million. This makes the range of percent population to be from 0.9 to 1.9%. The true number may be closer to the lower figure than the higher one. Of the total population, the practicing Muslims may be less than half that number, scattered over a continent and among the population of 308.7 million. What a force for the Islamization of the United States of America!

The force behind this anti-Shari’ah tirade is an Arizona lawyer: David Yerushalmi, a White supremacist, an anti-Islam hate monger and the founder of the “Society of Americans for National Existence (SANE)”. He argues that whites are genetically superior to Blacks.  He wrote: “Some races perform better in sports, some better in mathematical problem solving, some better in language, some better in Western societies and some better in tribal ones.” He urged that the United States must declare war on Islam and all Muslim faithful. This puts him in the same category in hate mongering, as the likes of Meir Kahane, Baruch Goldstein, Daniel Pipes, David Horowitz and Peter Emerson. He had pushed legislation in 2007 to make adherence to Shari’ah a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison. Sadly, it is him and the likes of him, who are driving the conservative legislative agenda in this country. He is either the author of or the consultant for most of the anti-Shari’ah bills, which have been introduced. The American legislators, who have been led onto this path by people like Yerushalmi, in the name of patriotism, should realize that their actions are mutilating the values and the principles on which this country was founded.

A majority of the anti-Shari’ah bills is considered to be, in the main, innocuous and inconsequential, emotive rather than practical, save SB1028, the State of Tennessee bill as originally proposed, which would have dangerously violated the basic human rights of Muslims, guaranteed in the constitution, by criminalizing the day to day acts of worship. The other acts of legislation have been rightly branded as: “A Solution in Search of Problem”. However, there are some very complex legal implications, which cannot be overlooked.

Shari’ah, meaning “the way” or “the path” encompasses many disciplines such as ritual worship, moral principles, trade, charity, dietary rules, monetary transactions, matrimony, inheritance as well as criminal law. Many of the Shari’ah rules have been absorbed into cultural norms and adherence to them is almost subconscious, such as the dietary rules. Although ritual worship is an essential part of religion, some Muslims pray and some don’t and those who pray would do so even under the shadow of a guillotine. The criminal law (the Shari’ah penal code) is in abeyance in a majority of the Muslim countries, as secular criminal laws have taken its place. The laws of marriages, divorce and inheritance are in general followed, except that polygamy is now obsolescent among the common people. Most of the laws of Shari’ah, including the penal code, bear striking similarity to the laws of the Old Testament (Halacha) and those followed in early Christian communities. Reformist movements in Judaism and the Church in Christianity have amended those laws but since in Islam there is no Church, Pope or “reform” authority, the Shari’ah has remained immutable, except where the rules are amenable to ijtehad (dialectical derivation).There is a corpus of exegesis in Shari’ah law but its implementation however, has been effected with a varying degree of laxity.

As for the criminal law, it must be noted that Muslims have lived under secular laws for ages without protestations. There are only two countries where Shari’ah law is applied, albeit selectively: Saudi Arabia and Iran.  American Muslims have therefore no qualms about living under the law of the land. Civil laws however are a different matter. Let us take the example of India, home to 161 million Muslims (13.4%) among a total population of 1.2 billion. The criminal law is the law of the land and is applicable to every resident. Muslims are not clamoring for the imposition of hudud, qisas or ta’dhir (elements of religious criminal law).  In civil matters, Muslims are allowed to follow their own “personal law” or opt for the secular law. Western countries would do well to consider this precedence.

The Archbishop of Canterbury had proposed a similar procedure for the British courts, where arbitration, with the consent of the contestants, would amiably settle disputes without burdening the courts with costly trials and litigations. In any case, in the matters of divorce, inheritance, child custody and child support, the parties would have an option between the Shari’ah and the secular laws, whichever they think serves their interests best. This kind of arrangement, if mutually agreed upon by the parties and allowed by the courts, does in no way threaten the integrity and the tranquility of the society; it may on the other hand enhance them. Nevertheless, we must ensure that the women’s rights and the children’s welfare are safeguarded by the courts in the best way possible. There will be times when the Shari’ah will serve women better than the states’ laws. In California recently a court ruled that meher payment (a contractual sum payable to a woman by her husband on divorce under the Shari’ah) violated the state law prohibiting spouses from “profiteering” from divorce. Loss to the woman in this case is obvious. In general the interests of the citizens as well as of the state would be best served when the courts are independent and have discretion — not obligation — in when to reference religious laws and when not to do so.

“Foreign” Law and the U.S. Courts:

In many states legislation prohibiting the courts from considering “foreign” law or international law is being pushed with a vengeance. This raises a number of very complex legal issues, involving international treaties and trade. Compliance with international treaties, when ratified, is vouchsafed in the U.S. constitution and may be outside the jurisdiction of any one state. However, there may be areas of trade and labor laws, where complications may arise and hamper businesses of American companies.

In the U.S. courts presently marriages contracted abroad and under the Shari’ah are recognized, so are divorces executed abroad. The integration of many immigrant families is based on this provision. In the matters of matrimony, parenthood, inheritance and execution of wills disputes do arise in courts and could not be settled without reference to “foreign” laws. There is a serious concern that the ramifications of ban on foreign law now or in the future may put strains on the justice system and adversely affect the social structure of the American society.

Islamophobia, the Underlying Reason:

It is hard to believe that the proponents of the ant-Shari’ah bill of Tennessee, as it was originally written, were unaware of its unconstitutionality. Clearly, their intent was provocation and their motive was historic religious prejudice. It is not uncommon in the American history and in the history of many other countries for hate groups to arise in certain political and economic circumstances and by their actions and rhetoric malign the very society whose wellbeing they claim to protect.

It was said after 9/11 that “history begins now” or words to that effect. How true! Muslim Americans have been living in the full glare of history ever since, with their faces lit with bewilderment, although some governmental agencies, the top political leadership of both the parties, the law enforcement agencies and the leadership of almost every faith have helped to take the attention away from them. We still remember with gratitude the president of the United States’ visit to a mosque in the aftermath of the tragic event and the kind words uttered. This brought out what was good in the American people and averted a possible catastrophe. We appeal to the same good nature of the American people not to heed to bigotry, prejudice and electoral polemics. America will lose its soul if it succumbs to religious intolerance. It will lose its reason for being.

Muslims in America are a highly diverse community, consisting of almost every race, ethnicity and culture, including a large indigenous section. Among them are doctors, engineers, scientists, entrepreneurs and workers, enriching the economy with their contributions. There are Nobel laureates such as Ahmed Zewail news anchors such as Fareed zakaria and many sports celebrities. There are highly regarded congressmen and mayors in many cities.

Muslim contribution in highlighting the moral values is an asset to the society, which should not be ignored. The mosques are not a threat to anybody but beacons of light. They are centers of spiritual uplift as well as of education, social activism, moral reformation and charity.  Most mosques have prison visit programs, which have resulted in transforming many individuals into productive and law-abiding citizens. Many mosques in the inner cities have food pantries, counseling and crisis management programs.  Above all they curtail social ills. Consider a man who comes to the mosque to pray early morning, early afternoon, late-afternoon, at sunset and at night, five times in Twenty-four hours, to renew his commitment to God. What are his chances of committing unsocial acts in between his prayers? If two million people do this in a society, is the society better off or worse?

13-25

Interview with Graffiti Artist Mohammed Ali

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Siddiq Ather, TMO

Mohammed Ali also known as Aerosol Arabic is a Muslim Graffiti artist who has gained attention worldwide, painting murals and conducting shows for peace, justice, and humanity. He was born and raised in Birmingham, England. He was involved with graffiti art during the eighties when it was spreading like wildfire across the U.K. His work has been displayed in a variety of exhibitions, and he has spoken at various artistic and academic venues. 

ma1ma2ma3ma4ma5writing on the walls2

Do you think the attitude towards graffiti has changed since the eighties?

They have and haven’t. You still hear the questions of whether graffiti is just vandalism or art. People like Banksy have targeted a whole different audience and shown the power of street art. The attitudes toward the art form have not evolved enough, but the art form hasn’t either.  Many of the artists from this movement are not like Banksy. They are not trying to communicate to the mainstream.

Do you think art needs a purpose?

For me, it has to communicate something. Initially, I was just expressing myself: one’s identity, your name, or your tag. What’s the point of that? If I am painting a public space why should it just be a selfish expression? Why should I be expressing my name? Communication is paramount for me.

What is the value of graffiti art in society?

Who owns the public space? I suppose it’s the people.  So, when I’m painting, I’m painting for the people. I need to be communicating something of value. In big cities we are bombarded by visuals and imagery by different useless commercial products.

For me, it is about taking ownership of the public space and offering, to the public domain, ideas that are beneficial for a progressive and positive society. In our lifetime we have seen the breakdown of certain values. I want to bring something back that will be of benefit to the people, me, as a Muslim, me, as an artist, and me, as human being.

How much of your art is for you and how much is for the audience?

For me, it’s for the audience. I paint for the people, really me getting any personal fulfillment from painting is like a bonus for me. I’m an artist, but I don’t do art for art’s sake, so art for the sake of mankind, I suppose. Art I hope will bring some good to society. It’s a channel for me to release my thoughts and ideas so people may benefit personally, spiritually, or otherwise.

Is art only meant for adding positivity to the world, and for the betterment of society?

Each to their own really. It’s fine that people want to express their color, art, and composition for their own personal benefit; I’m not going to criticize that. Certainly art has some therapeutic properties for personal benefit. There’s a space and need for that.

But I feel, as a Muslim, I also have a strong social responsibility. What did I do in this world if I leave, not if, when I leave I feel I am accountable. What did I do for my community and society at large? What would be the point if I left this world and didn’t do anything to benefit it?

How does being Muslim affect your art?

As a visual artist, graffiti and the Islamic art of written word were interesting. In graffiti art it was man. In the Alhambra Mosque in Spain, it was the word of God. When I rediscovered my identity as a Muslim, as a graffiti artist, I was blown away by the marriage and melding of the two art forms. I felt I could take the best of both worlds without conflict.

There are issues of drawing figurative forms. I do a lot of shadowesque silhouette forms of people. So I have found different ways of expressing things. It has made me think outside the box.
How has your outlook on art changed since you started?

I wasn’t one of those people mindlessly vandalizing property: painting an eyesore, with something of color. I have a social responsibility now. What kind of example would I be if I was painting walls illegally? So I’ll see a wall that’s ugly screaming to be painted, that’s someone else’s wall, anyone can tell you about painting someone’s wall without permission.
Before there wasn’t really a message, just a name, now the focus is on the message rather than selfish expression.

What keeps you going?

Feedback from people, whether it’s to know kids in Palestine were joyously talking about some wall painted in an English city, or seeing an old woman emotionally passing her hand over a load of painted bricks. Art has the power to change the world. I’ve seen how it can.

What is one of the most difficult moments as an artist?

Well the event with the Chicago mural was a challenge, being unable to complete it. Difficulties I face are a blessing. They give me encouragement to come back and do something bigger and better.  I’m planning an event similar to”Writing on the Wall” with IMAN in Chicago, insha’Allah.

Where do you draw your inspiration?

Engaging with the people and traveling my travels. Historical figures: Malcolm X and Salahuddin, leaders who fought for justice. The prophets would be the best examples of course. What we are doing as artists and activists is a continuation  of these people who fought and struggled, fought for justice, fought for bringing back values.

One of my favorite quotes is from the author George Orwell, he once said, “In a time of universal deceit, speaking the truth will become a revolutionary act.”

How do you see yourself advancing in the future professionally, personally?

I established an organization called Soul City Arts, and have been programming and directing theatrical events with other artists. My arts organization in my city is called the Hubb Arts Centre. I want to continue collaborating with groups like IMAN. The scene of arts for social change is very small and people who work in this arena need to connect so they can effectively bring about social change.  We have to think strategically and think where we want to be in ten years.

13-24

Silencing Bahrain’s Journalists

June 2, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Lamees Dhaif tells Al Jazeera: “They can stop us from telling stories now, but they can’t stop us forever.”

By Matthew Cassel

2011-05-17T104537Z_133607826_GM1E75H1FX801_RTRMADP_3_IRAN

An Iranian waves Iran and Bahrain flags as a ship filled with aid for the people of Bahrain departs from Bushehr, some 746 miles south of Tehran May 16, 2011. Picture taken May 16, 2011.

REUTERS/Mohsen Norouzifard/Mehr News/Handout

Women and local journalists have long been at the forefront of the movement for change in the Arab world. Bahrain’s Lamees Dhaif is both, and for nearly a decade she has been an outspoken proponent of social justice in the small island nation.

Thirty-four-year-old Dhaif spoke to Al Jazeera in Doha this past weekend about her career as a journalist and the recent government crackdown that has silenced her and many others in the Gulf kingdom.

Dhaif described herself as a “golden child” when she entered journalism in 2002, saying she had “everything it takes” to be a great journalist. Since then, Dhaif has become one of the most recognised and controversial personalities in Bahrain’s media.

“I came with an aggressive approach to journalism,” she said. “In Bahrain, they try to avoid conflict in journalism; they don’t want to upset anyone. It’s a small society, so if you write about someone you’re going to upset his relatives.”

Dhaif, a Shia Muslim who comes from a “conservative” background, said: “I criticised the [Shia religious establishment] and I’ve been the target of my own people.”

“And then I started to target the powerful and the elite, someone had to say something.”

“For example, we have 21 sports unions in Bahrain, and the heads of 17 of them are members of the royal family,” Dhaif explained. “I asked, ‘why is the chairman of the swimming union so fat?’ I asked the same for the minister of health, ‘shouldn’t he be a doctor?’”

“In the beginning I was smart, a little bit spoiled. I wanted to prove myself. When I put my hand deeper in my work and went for the first time to the villages and saw poverty and injustice, I started to despise myself for thinking that working in the media was something that could make me a star.”

“I started addressing issues that made the powerful want to destroy me, I made many enemies,” Dhaif said.

Dhaif described the government’s campaign to ruin her reputation. Statements were made about her physical appearance and behaviour, claims she dismisses as rumours and attempts to “shrink” her in the conservative Gulf society.

Dhaif said these attacks backfired and “only made me more determined, and spreading the rumours made me more known”.

However, lately Dhaif has been silenced since the government imposed martial law to suppress a protest movement that began in February of this year.

Bahrain, a key ally of the US and home to its Navy’s fifth fleet, is controlled by a Sunni monarchy. Shia, who make up more than two-thirds of the population, lack rights and are excluded from most high-level political positions and the security forces.

The protest movement resembled those in Tunisia and Egypt which came before and succeeded in ousting the respective heads of both states. In Bahrain, protesters demanding change started their own Tahrir Square-like sit-in at Manama’s Pearl Roundabout, before they were forcibly removed. The government later destroyed the roundabout.

One month after protests began, the Bahrainmonarchy imposed martial law and invited thousands of Saudi troops to help quell the uprising.

Since that time, more than 30 protesters have been killed and hundreds of protesters, human rights advocates, medical workers, journalists and others have been rounded up and imprisoned by the authorities. Rights groups have condemned the widespread detention and subsequent torture and abuse reportedly happening inside the prisons. At least four detainees have died in custody, and two have been sentenced to death. Amnesty International has condemned military trials in Bahrain as “politically motivated and unfair”.

Dhaif described how her family had come under threat for her work, and, encouraged by her relatives, she took a break from writing since martial law began. “I stopped [practicing journalism] because I didn’t want to be arrested. If I’m arrested now, how can I document the others in jail? Everyone is arrested.”

Since the crackdown began, many activists, journalists and others have gone into hiding to avoid arrest by authorities – which posted pictures of the “wanted” on various media outlets, including Facebook.

“We reached a point where we’re scared to even write on our laptops because it’s the first thing they take when they invade our homes. So, I keep all the stories in my head,” Dhaif said.

“They can stop us from telling stories now, but they can’t do it forever. Even the dead will tell their stories.”

The government and state media in Bahrain have portrayed the protest movement as sectarian and attempted to justify the crackdown by warning against Iranian influence in the country. In April, Bahrain’s foreign minister said that foreign troops would stay in the country to remove any “external threat”, that he associated with Iran.

According to Dhaif, in Bahrain, “there are some Shia who have a lot. And there are a lot of Sunnis suffering, but they’re scared to [act] because the government makes them scared of Iran”.

“The government says that the protesters want Iran [to controlBahrain] … it’s an old song that they’ve sung for decades. What the hell do we want with Iran?

It is not a civilised government, it is a dictatorship. We wish a better life for the people in Iran.”

Dhaif asked: “Do all Sunnis want a government like Saudi Arabia? So why do they accuse any Shia of wanting a religious government like in Iran?”

Unlike protests in other Arab nations, Dhaif contends that the majority of protesters in Bahrain do not want “isqat al-nitham” (to overthrow the regime), but rather reform and equal rights.

“Bahrainis are peaceful and intelligent people, and we deserve a modern country. We deserve to be treated as citizens and partners, not followers and slaves. We don’t want to rule, we don’t want their palaces, their thrones, their Rolls Royces and their jets, we just want to be treated with dignity.”

“If the government said ‘let us keep our thrones, and we’ll offer you the dignity you deserve’ the people would accept,” Dhaif said.

“If the government gives them real rights there would be no need to protest. [The government] should stop being so stubborn – they can’t change the people, but the people can change them.”

Al Jazeera

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Parenting in America

May 19, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Karin Friedemann, TMO

There is a lot of uncertainty within the Muslim community about how to raise righteous children, given all the choices available within American society. How do we raise children who are honest, responsible, well mannered, never use bad language, are faithful friends, get good grades, and are not only polite but helpful with authority? Is it possible to raise children without any emotional problems and without any interest in drugs or alcohol or sex?

Sometimes immigrant parents try to be too strict, and then when that doesn’t work out, they simply give up and let their children be free like an adults. But did they even try to give clear guidance?

Children learn mostly through observation. The most important time to give a child a sense of moral responsibility is before the age of 5. After that, it’s all talk.

The “attachment parenting” philosophy of parenting gives babies their full Islamic rights. Two years or more of breastfeeding, and sleeping with the mother until weaning time. It is a huge personal sacrifice for the adults involved, but this will give children the foundation of confidence. No matter what else we did wrong, we can know that our children had plenty of skin contact with their mother at the most important time in their lives. They never have to doubt whether or not they are loved.

Skin contact with the mother at an early age will help prevent promiscuity in preteens and teens. I believe that most young (and older) people who irresponsibly search for a “friend” to give them comfort were denied a sense of comfort within their home life. If their parents’ love was conditional, they will search for unconditional love anywhere they hope they can find it. But if they don’t have a healthy example, they will likely never find true love.

Feelings do matter. If we cross the boundary of respect with our children (yelling at them), it is vital to always apologize and make friends again. It is emotional abuse to let children go to sleep feeling hurt and angry. Never expect them to just cheer up and accept abuse. Never call names.

Some children have strong fears of death due to emotional isolation and deep thinking. It is scary to imagine not existing anymore. Studying religion can just make them even more afraid of death and hell. Yet, it is so easy to help a child overcome this fear. If a child is having panic attacks, give him a hug!!! There is only one cure for fear. LOVE.

Truth matters. Never lie to your children. Don’t promise them things you don’t deliver, and that includes threats. Don’t make empty threats. When you promise something good, do it. If you cannot do it, apologize and explain. Be consistent. Don’t create surprises.

If we don’t give our children clear rules, it will be hard for them to take us seriously. We cannot leave our children alone to deal with this total emotional crisis of living in this world! If the child is seriously confused and then breaks the rule, he won’t understand the punishment. After that, we still have to protect the child in every way! We have to talk to our children about how to behave appropriately, and why.

If you want your children to be different from most children, never allow any TV station in your home. They will be exposed to TV programs at other people’s homes and this will help them keep in touch with what other people are thinking, but if they are not exposed to the continuous advertising and moral corruption of the TV at home, they will possess freedom of thought. They won’t have this need to be “sexy” or buy certain things, that young people usually learn they need to attain in order to be acceptable to society.

Above all, be home. Make huge personal sacrifices in order to be at home despite all odds. Being home makes a huge difference in children’s lives. If you are simply there, but teach them that you are not always available to serve them, they will have to learn how to cook and clean in reasonable amounts in order to help you get your work done. Any work they do adds to the strength of their family and home. This gives them a sense of accomplishment. The family must operate as a team effort!

This is so much more important than making huge demands on children that are often not moral or practical demands. Many parents waste huge amounts of money and energy forcing their children to learn how to ice skate (for example) instead of giving them the choice about whether or not they even want to ice skate.

Structured activities are not always necessary. Children really need time to do whatever they want to do. One must to steer them away from computer games and cartoons, of course; but once we deny them those options, they start being creative. They start making things with Lego’s or planting seeds in the garden or reading books. Sometimes they choose to do chores for small amounts of money.

Children suffer a lot when their parents are always driving them from this place to that place for all these structured activities. They need time to be left alone to do what they want in the home. Many children become exhausted from all these activities that are based on giving parents more free time without them.

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