TX Muslim Candidate!

July 2, 2009 by · 1 Comment 

By ILyas Hasan Choudry, MMNS

 

Houston, Texas: I attended a fundraiser for M. J. Khan way back in 2003. This was the first time he was vying to become the City of Houston Councilperson. Many including myself doubted and did all kinds of analysis that M J has little chance to win the elections in the 4th largest city of USA (Houston). Due to the blessing of prayers of hundreds; his personal hard work; his family’s absolute support; the funds he received from his friends and community persons; and team of shrewd advisors, he surprised several pessimists.

khan21

M J Khan will be termed out as the City Councilman in December 2009. Before that in November 2009, elections to various offices will be held in Houston. M J Khan, who in 2007 got the “Outstanding American by Choice Award from the USCIS-U.S. Department of State”, has again shown his courageous character, by confidently entering into citywide election race to become the Controller of the 4th largest city of USA (Houston). The distinction for the Controller of Houston is that it is an independent position and his or her decisions are not influenced by the Mayor or City Council. The City of Houston has strong Mayoral Form of Government.  On behalf of the citizens of Houston, the City Controller is the person that brings the much needed check-&-balance to the Mayor and City Council (the executive and legislative branches) of City government.

The position of Controller of the City of Houston has a rich history of about 106 years. The Controller is the Chief Financial Officer of the 4th largest City of USA, making decisions that affect each and every citizen and businesses of the city. He or she is responsible for ensuring that the assets of the City are properly accounted for and expended in a manner consistent with applicable laws, policies, plans and procedures. To achieve this, the Controller conducts audits of different departments of the City. Controller processes and monitors more than $2.5-Billion Annual Budget.

As such a M J Khan win in November 2009 elections, will not be merely a personal triumph, but a landmark occasion for all the smaller communities of Houston, where they will proudly see someone most competent from diverse communes, making tough decisions for the betterment of all the Houstonians.

More information on his campaign (Theme: “Fiscal Responsibility for a Stronger Houston”), can be received by regularly visiting www.MJKhan.Com Contributions can be made to his campaign at the website by Citizens and Permanent Residents from anywhere in USA.

M J Campaign for Controller is Viable

Saturday, June 27, 2009, saw the Gala Fundraising Dinner of M J Khan for Controller Campaign at the impressive Westin Galleria Hotel. Reasonable numbers of people attended the fundraiser. Prominent among them were all the close members of M J Khan’s extended family; Former City of Houston Councilperson Gordon Quan and his wife; Counsel General of Pakistan in Houston Aqil Nadeem and his wife; Director of Harris County Houston Sports Authority Board Haroon Shaikh; President of Pakistani-American Association of Greater Houston (PAGH) Khalid Khan; Former President of PAGH Ghulam Bombaywala; President of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Dr. Tariq Hussein; President of Shifa Foundation Dr. Moien Butt; Chairman Executive Board of Ibna Sina Foundation Nasruddin Rupani; Attorney Noaman Hussain; Attorney Neiyar Izfar; Former Houston President of the Association of Physicians of Pakistani Descent of North America (APPNA) Dr. Asaf Qadeer; Entrepreneurial Zakaria Family; Media and Campaign Coordinators Ghulam Chisti and Azam Akhtar; and several representatives of community media.

Program started with heart wrenching recitation of Quran by young Hafiz Anis-ul-Haq, who recited verses about unity among the community and importance of calling people towards all that is good, while advising people to avoid doing evil. Following Hafiz Anis-ul-Haq recital, Dr. Attiya Khan, wife of M J Khan thanked everyone for coming and requested to support M J Khan for Controller Campaign.

Dr. Neelofur Ahmad was emcee on the occasion, while Ghulam Bombaywala, Dr. Asaf Qadeer, Dr. Abdul Kader Fustok; Attorney Noaman Hussain; Dr. Moien Butt; Dr. Mubashir Chaudhry; Faisal Ameen; and others helped with the fundraiser. It was informed that at the first fundraiser in 2003 for the City Council Election, M J Khan raised $250,000 from our community and six years later, several communities living in District “F” of M J received many dollars in grants to improve the living standards of people: As such the funds of our community, used in the election of the right person to the office of City Council, resulted in the betterment of whole of Houston. This positive investment also brought more than $5-Million to the Pakistani, Muslim and South-Asian Communities in the fields of health and social wellbeing.

It was further informed that the name of M J is not only restricted to Houston, but his name is heard in the Congressional Hallways in Washington, D.C. and Legislative Corridors in Austin, Texas.

More than $103,000 was received at this fundraiser in cash and pledges. M J Khan Camping for Controller already had more than $300,000 in the coffers before the fundraiser. It is projected that it will cost each candidate $1-Million to run for this position. With over $400,000 raised five months before the election, M J Campaign is in a strong position.

Before that, the former city councilman Gordon Quan, while introducing Councilman M J Khan also talked about the challenges he is going to face: “This is a city and not federal government, where one can print millions of dollars to come out of financial crisis. Here one has to balance the budget, show fiscal responsibility and take tough decisions for the future of this great city of Houston, which we and our children proudly call home. M J came up with the catchphrase that District F is the forgotten district and that after getting elected; he will make it the known and best district. With his persistence and hard work, he has brought several positive improvements to District F and we all need to applaud him for the excellent work he has done. With these six years experiences, his strong academic background having done MBA from the prestigious Rice University and having run a business, M J is one of the strongest and most capable candidates for this position. He will be a pride for all communities in these trying economic times.”

M J Khan in his presentation thanked his Sister Yasmin Khan, Wife Dr. Attiya Khan, all extended family members, friends and well-wishers and said his earlier win with Blessing of God due to sincere supplications by everyone in the community and requested for continuing prayers. He said in 2003, people did not give him much chance to win: That motivated him to persistently work and he did not win once, but three times due to the Grace of God. He said putting sincere and complete efforts with clean heart is what is needed; results are in the hand of God.

“I have worked diligently to serve all Houstonians including our community as the City Councilman and will work even more meticulously, if given chance by all Houstonians, to serve them as their proficient Controller:” Said M J Khan.

11-28

Houstonian Corner (V11-I27)

June 27, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Both Best of Times & Most Crucial Times in Pakistan: Imran Khan

Imran Khan Spoke About Future Of Pakistan At World Affairs Council (G)

The World Affairs Council (WAC) is one of Houston’s most prominent citizen forums. Through guest speakers and over 80 seminars and events, WAC gives chance to people of different view points on various issues to make presentation, especially matters related to current world events. Idea is to promote better understanding of international relations and contributes to national and international policy debates. The result is a better educated citizenry and the advancement of Houston as an important international center. Some of the prominent speakers at WAC have been: Madeleine Albright; James Baker, III; Prince Bandar Bin Sultan; Fernando Henrique Cardoso; Wesley Clark; William S. Cohen; Thomas Friedman; Robert Gates; George Mitchell; General Colin Powell; David Rockefeller; Lech Walesa; and Fareed Zakaria.

This past Monday, prominent philanthropist, sports and political figure of Pakistan Imran Khan gave a candid presentation to hundreds of WAC members on “Future of Pakistan” at a special luncheon at Omni Hotel. Program was sponsored by the Pakistani-American Council of Texas (PACT). President of PACT Sajjad Burki, Executive Members of PACT & Pakistani Community and Council General of Pakistan in Houston Aqil Nadeem were in attendance.

In his presentation, Imran Khan gave detailed history of Pakistan; South Asian Region; cultural traits of people of Afghanistan and Northwestern Pakistan; and much more. He said USA Government is not getting proper advise about this things and in his recent meetings with Senators Kerry and Ackerman, he has asked them to find right people to know more about the people of the area. Imran himself have gone on a road journey of all these areas and written books like “Indus Journey: A Personal View of Pakistan” and “Warrior Race: A Journey Through the Land of the Tribal Pathans”.

Imran Khan said that Pakistan is going through unprecedented times in her short 62 years history. Citing incidents of the rough times Chief Justice of Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry and Media in Pakistan have gone through in the past few years, Imran Khan said that today what we see in Pakistan was never seen before in the history of Pakistan, which is that the Judiciary and Media are independent. Elections are just one of the means to have democracy, but actually institutions like Judiciary and Media are what really build good democracy. True test of the independence and Vibrancy of Judiciary and Media will come, when the next General Elections will be held.

Imran Khan said while on one hand we have seen optimism through successful struggles of Judiciary and Media (which got overwhelming support from the public): On the other hand, Pakistan is plagued by the wrong policies of the war on terror, which have been implemented by Governments of USA and Pakistan (he has been against the policies used in war of terror from the very beginning). Terrorism is an idea and ideas are not fought by military powers. Reason is when one applies power, terrorists, who are not regular armies; they retreat into civilian populations or into other hide-outs, and massive collateral damage of innocent people means more recruits towards terrorist side. After 9/11, clearly AL-Qaeda was the main force and Talebans were not. The Talebans merely asked for proof and said they will hand over AL-Qaeda suspects if given proofs: That could have been easily done.

Imran further said that terrorism is a political issue and has nothing to do with any religion. Past eight years and similar war in Ireland are proofs that this war on terror can only finish with dialogue, as such a process clearly identifies, who are the wrong guys and then they can be surgically removed or even in cases won back into own camp. There is need to isolate the terrorist and not giving them opportunities to get more recruits through indiscriminate bombing and use of force. At present, what is happening in Swat has public backing: However this is also known that to catch about 5,000 persons, Government of Pakistan has displaced 3.5 Million persons, creating a catastrophe of mammoth proportions. Now if these 5,000 persons have run away like gorillas do and not captured, these 3.5 Million Displaced Pakistanis will demand the Government for retribution and God Forbidding if nothing is done, we have potential of more violence, as these 3.5 Million people have lost their entire livelihood.

As such discourse has to start at the earliest and such dialogues will result in several disappointments, rejections and failures, but past evidence and loud thinking clearly show that to persevere with the process of dialogue and avoidance of making way for people to join terrorist camps, is what will eventually bring peace and end the ideology of terrorism. He said Benazir Bhutto would have been better in situation like this.

Four Centers of ISGH Successfully Hosted ICNA Annual Knowledge & Skills Competition

ICNA Houston Quizz - Knowledge - & - Skills Competition - H (June 20 2009) For the past fifteen times, the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA) Houston Chapter organized Islamic Knowledge and Skills Competition for various age groups of 4 and 19 at the University of Houston and Rice University. This year through the sponsorship of the Islamic Society of Greater Houston (ISGH), ICNA Houston Chapter organized competitions at four ISGH Centers (Adel Road, Bear Creek, Synott Road and Hwy 3). These year maximum numbers of youth were able to participate. Finalists from each zone will now compete at the 4th ICNA-MAS South Regional Conference at Rice University on July 04th, 2009 (more info at www.icnasouth.com). For more information, one can call 1-866-CUB-ADAM.

The Muslims of Sri Lanka

June 18, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Geoffrey Cook, MMNS

Oakland–It is scarcely known that there is an ample society of Muslims caught within the middle of Sri Lanka (Ceylon’s) recent tragically war-torn civil insular nation-State. 

There are three major groups of Muslims in that island’s nation – the “Moors,” Indian (originally from the Subcontinent) Muslims and the Malays.  The two Islamic non-South Asian subminoritities – one from the Middle East and other from Southeastern Asia, with the long-standing immigrants from India, make up about the same percentage as European descendant settlers, the Burghers at 8%.  The rest of the population is made up of the ultra-orthodox Hindus in the Tamil areas, and the majority 70% are Buddhists.  The total population of all main groupings within the island is between 19 through 21 million (2009) persons.  In 2005, the Islamic “Moors” represented 2 million of these souls.  The “Moors” were descended from a troupe of traders from the Arabian Peninsula, who came to Colombo’s island between the Eighteenth until the Fifteenth Century (CE) supposedly (by tradition) from the Arabian Peninsula.  In fact, one source I evaluated claimed that the “Moors were traversing the Indian Ocean between Lanka and Mecca before the Hijra (622 CE).  Nonetheless, the “Moors” had settled partially on Lanka bringing Islam to their ancient culture to the island.  Yet, the earliest came late in the Seventh Century as traders between the Middle East and South Asia.  Yet, most did not settle down on this Southern Asian Island, and took up the culture of the Tamils after they established a permanent residence upon the soil.  Although they first employed Tamil as their “Father” tongue — that parole (speech) used outside the house — (they soon devised Awi, which, in turn has become archaic, was a mixture of Tamil and Arabic.)   By marrying converted wives, they became a multi-lingual, multi-cultural people — Tamil, Sinhalese and English — while maintaining their religion inviolate:  They are largely Sunni Muslims of the Shafi School.  Although they can be described as a multi-ethnic, and religious alliance, they lack a linguistic cohesion, though, anthropologically (since they are tri-lingual).

The second group of Muslims, the Malays, came with the Dutch military during the period when Amsterdam controlled the island, and settled there over Ceylon’s Netherlandish period.  The Malays (originally from) Indonesia, and, thus from insular Southeast Asian origin (Ja Minissu), are some of the most orthodox of Muslims in the world today, but, unlike the “Moors,” they did not take up the surrounding Tamil culture, but they resolutely stuck to an adapted Malay cultural and religious norm.  They make up the smallest of minorities – 5% of the total Lankan Islamic citizenry only.

The third group was an alignment of mainly – although not exclusively — South Indian Muslim merchants, who emigrated southward over several centuries and naturally integrated well into the predominantly Tamil (Hindu) culture there on the other side of “Adam’s Bridge” from Tamil Nadu.

The Muslims were well assimilated and accepted into Ceylonese society, but, during the recent civil war, the Tamil Tigers systematized a process of ethnic cleansing that the once flourishing “Moorish” and other Muslim masses are not represented in the Northern Province anymore.  Most of those inhabitants have been forcibly cast largely into the Puttalam Region.  Also, a small Diaspora has been arising in the Middle East, Australia and even North America.  Now, that the Tigers have been defeated, will Islam be allowed back into their former (own) homes with full property rights restored?  Much of this depends upon us individually, and the pressure we can exert upon our own governments plus the Sri Lankan government, and, thereby, institutions of the International Communities – the U.N. et al., and especially Islamic groupings!

The pictures of those large numbers of noncombatants wretchedly entrapped between the Government and the Tigers’ forces during the former’s last stand last stand are staggering.  Amongst them is a significant number of Muslims, and the Islamic charities must especially address their needs, and become involved in their resettlement back to their ancestral homes with other (First World/Western) International NGOs.

11-26

A Saudi Arabian University with a Western Feel

July 17, 2008 by · 1 Comment 

By Jeffrey Fleishman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

kaust classroom artist

Artist’s rendering of a classroom at KAUST.  King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) will feature coed classes, a curriculum in English and other touches seen as dangerous liberalism by Islamic fundamentalists.

THUWAL, SAUDI ARABIA — Up the corniche, along a coast where boats carrying pilgrims bound for Mecca sailed for centuries, a thicket of cranes rises over whitewashed mosques along the Red Sea.

Steel flashes and blowtorches glow as 20,000 workers build a $10-billion university ordered up by a king who hopes Western ingenuity will revive the economy of this ultraconservative Muslim nation. When finished next year, King Abdullah University of Science and Technology will offer coed classes, Western professors, a curriculum in English and other touches loathed as dangerous liberalism by Islamic fundamentalists.

The West may be dependent on Saudi crude, now as high as $145 a barrel, but this campus outside an ancient fishing village is recognition that the country that is home to Islam’s holiest shrines needs the likes of USC, Oxford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to survive globalization.

An architect’s rendering shows a campus of canals and reflecting pools running along sleek silver and glass libraries and laboratories. A marina with slips for 140 boats stands in a cove lighted by a tapered beacon. Students and professors will live in villas and apartments looking out on date palms and furnished with eggshell and white Swedish-style sofas and chairs.

Saudis have studied in the U.S. and Europe for decades, bringing back expertise without directly exposing the kingdom to Western classrooms and professors. But the new university is inviting the secular West a step closer in another ideological battle between Saudi reformers led by King Abdullah and the Wahhabi sect of puritanical Islam that has resisted outside influences since the days of desert caravans.

“Saudis are beginning to realize they are not the center of the universe,” said Tariq Maeena, a writer and aviation expert. “The king hopes that a young Saudi will be in a class with an American professor. The king is jabbing the conservatives from all sides. He’s not doing it with a massive decree, but incrementally, and all the radicals can do is roll their eyes and say, ‘Uh-oh, we’re losing more power.’

“Amira Kashgary, a literature professor at a women’s college, said, “We are part of the global world now. Whether we like it or not, and regardless of our political and religious systems, there are changes seeping through our lives.

“The radicals ran a wicked Internet campaign against the university. They said it is another sign liberals are invading us.”

The kingdom’s huge oil reserves cannot mask Saudi Arabia’s problems: 40% of its population is younger than 18, its schools are backward and its economy is not diverse enough to compete in a high-tech future balanced between the West and the rising powers of China and India.

King Abdullah is building the university, along with six multibillion- dollar Economic Cities, to provide jobs and open the country to global markets. Conservatives fear that these international voices, from South Asian construction workers to Western scientists, will change the religious fabric.

“Men and women learning together should remain forbidden,” said Mohammed Ben Yehia Nogeemy, a member of the Saudi Juristic Academy, a religious organization that issues fatwas. He said that such an atmosphere could be regarded as sedition and “if any Saudi official has the intention to allow the establishment of a coeducational university, that will be a big mistake that will need to be corrected.”

But the king, for now, is a step ahead of the conservatives. Nogeemy was not in attendance on a recent afternoon when oil money seduced brainpower at a hotel along the Red Sea in Jidda.

Silver trays of hors d’oeuvres and alcohol-free champagne glided through a crowd of Western academics gathered for a conference on the university’s goals. Soldiers with Humvees and .50-caliber machine guns stood guard outside to scare away would-be terrorists, while inside mathematicians and molecular biologists tried on blue university ball caps and pocketed Lamborghini pens left on seats as gifts.

The university, known as KAUST, is promising academic freedom, the mixing of cultures and religions, and subjects as varied as nanotechnology and crop development. The country’s ubiquitous and often abusive morality police will not patrol the campus, depicted on the university’s interactive website with unveiled women. Going unveiled is a crime in Saudi society that could lead to lashings and imprisonment.

kaust artist's rendering KAUST will be “a new house of wisdom,” Ali Ibrahim Naimi, the Saudi minister of petroleum and mineral resources, told the guests. He said world research projects and the Saudi economy, with a 12% unemployment rate, would benefit from the “easy flow of ideas and people into and out of the region.”

To ensure that, KAUST is not under the jurisdiction of the Education Ministry, which is controlled by fundamentalists and often forbids the teaching of music, art and philosophy.

The project is overseen by Aramco, the Saudi oil company founded by US firms in the 1930s. Aramco has experience in creating a parallel world: In its gated communities in the eastern part of the country, alcohol is available but hidden, there’s a pee-wee baseball winter carnival, and Western women drive cars, a practice forbidden to Saudi women.

With a chocolate-scented cigar in one hand and a honey-flavored coffee in the other, Maeena sat in his favorite Jidda cafe, nodding hellos to young men with laptops and waiters who know his preferences. This is the world he likes, a place to write, a den of intellectual freedom in Saudi Arabia’s most liberal city.
He said KAUST, which is being built 50 miles north of the cafe, is another sign that the country’s religious and ideological barriers are weakening.

“It’s an act of opening us up to a better side of education,” said Maeena, who, like many of his generation, attended college in the U.S. “The West has planted those seeds of liberalism in me and thousands like me. We were young Saudis educated in the West in the ‘60s, ‘70s and ‘80s, but this slowed as the seeds of fundamentalism took hold here in the 1990s.”

10-30

South Asian Traditional Islam vs Western Islam

April 24, 2008 by · Leave a Comment 

Courtesy “Yursil”

After reading through a number of works discussing South Asian Islamic history, and also many of the references, I have thought a lot more deeply about the traditions of South Asian culture than my last series of posts on this subject. Every time I read the numerous moving stories, I marveled at how totally lost Muslim South Asians, especially expatriates and their children, have become from their traditional past. While the first Masjid in India was built in Kodungallur by Malik Bin Deenar(R), a Sahabi (during the Prophet’s (s) lifetime), it certainly seems that most of what occurred after that point has been forgotten by South Asian Muslims living abroad.

The Islam that I experienced in American South Asian dominated mosques and organizations was so utterly disconnected from the traditional understanding of Islam of India, that without being mentally prepared, I would certainly have considered what I was reading as pure fiction. The attraction of Muslim South Asians in America to various agenda-driven forms of Islam (and their lack of awareness as to their shifted reality by these agendas) has been complete and total. This has made the alien into the norm and the norm into the alien.

The sheer volume of information on the subject of the spirituality, plurality, tolerance and strength of South Asian Muslims, combined with the natural understanding as to how South Asian society flourished with Muslim and Hindu interaction for over the 1400 years, makes it clear that the fiction was that which I was sold most of my youth.

In fact, it was the desire and clearly defined curriculum of organizations such as ICNA and early administrations of the various masjids that I attended (dominated by South Asians at nearly all levels of organization) that Muslim youth study the life and works of Seyyid Qutb, Maududi, and Bilal Phillips.

This created an entire generation (including most of my friends) that had never heard the name of Khwaja Moinuddin Chishti (R) much less the name of a single one of the countless saints buried in South Asia. The importance of knowing those names (and therefore, understanding and respecting their teachings) is vitally important for immigrant South Asian Muslims in the West for a proper return to the spiritually moving faith connected to the Prophet (S), as practiced by these holy people who carried Islam to us.

The difference between what has become ‘modern Islam’ and the traditional Islam of South Asia and other traditional Muslim communities is striking.

One is focused on a singular attempt at ‘authenticity’ and ‘purification’ of Islam using new understandings of Hadith and discussing their authenticity, the other is focused on the application of the immediate tradition for the purpose of bettering the soul.

One is focused on the political, absorbing worldly power and doing so with various levels of crassness, looking for religious and legal legitimacy the entire time, while the other has always been about building bridges between hearts with subtlety and care.

The Islam of South Asians in the West has mirrored that of converts. Many converts were in love of the faith of Islam primarily due to its claim of textual authenticity of the Quran (and hence the faith), which was unchanged for centuries. This was in stark comparison to the faiths of the West which suffered from deep questions of relevancy and authenticity, faiths which they had left for just those reasons. There is no doubt that the weight of the extreme desire for textual authenticity led to the ‘off’ switch of South Asian immigrants in examining the Islamic faith as understood by their families for generations.

The lack of textual information about Islam in South Asia certainly did not help. Modern South Asians were brought up appreciating the written word much more than that spoken word, a side effect of making education the largest priority in their lives (a means to escape poverty of the homeland). The idea of following a way of life which couldn’t be immediately checked, verified, and looked up for confirmation led most to the path of various forms of Wahabism.

Of course, most of groups eschewed the name ‘Wahabi’ itself, preferring to claim the title ‘Muslim’ for themselves. Interestingly enough their use of ‘Muslim’ was to the exclusion of their ‘grave worshipping’ ancestors or family members, which they considered to be misguided and confused. Most likely, however, the situation was actually tragically reversed, with modernized South Asians being extremely confused about their faith and the ‘ignorant’ visitors of graves seeing with a spiritual clarity.

Many South Asian parents had not bought into their own intellectual superiority, and hence many had not adopted the Wahabi ideal in order to critique the problems ‘back home’. These parents were quiet on the subjects of question (saints, graves, intercession, etc), and very few had the ability to respond back to the arguments presented by Wahabi philosophies from their children. Growing up their entire lives in that society, it was difficult for parents to forsake that which they had learned was de-facto Islam, an Islam which had run their lives and so many loved-ones lives could not easily be discarded… Saints, Milad, Naats, Qawaali, and all. Largely, they kept their distance from argument and supported the now adjusting faith of their children.

Interestingly enough, this comfortable nature of the different Islam between father and son, mother and daughter, in matters of practice of faith was a direct consequence of the open nature of the parents Islamic faith. It is this same South Asian pluralism which had created large periods of relative peace between Hindus and Muslims over a span of centuries, which now allowed children to look, dress, and act radically different from their parents, with hardly more than a word spoken.

This is not to say that parents did not fear the children would become ‘Christian’ in the West, indeed such fears existed and were a large part of growing up South Asian in the West. However, I would argue the fear towards Christianization was much more focused on the change in culture, and what that would mean for marriage, dress and social standings than what it meant to their soul. The pluralistic values of South Asia centered around a common culture, where often the weddings of the Muslim were not so dissimilar from that of the Hindu, in terms of dress and celebration. Exiting this culture was much more profound an issue than disagreements over details of faith.

After coming to terms with the reality of the rigid nature of a singular interpretation of Islam, the American convert experience, a struggle and challenge in its own right, seemed to need an understanding of how Islam survived with pluralistic flexibility in order to continue and progress in their faith. The first struggle for those espousing a return to the traditional understanding of Islam was to establish authenticity. This was done by focusing on the Madhabs, the schools of Islamic Law. Within these Madhabs lived the intellectual contribution of all Muslim legal scholars for centuries.

However, the reality was that the average South Asian Muslim had never heard of Madhabs in any Islamic sense. Since the overwhelming majority of their society was Hanafi, there was no need to even learn the names of other approaches in matter of form or externals. So, in fact, in American Masjids, it was those espousing “Madhabs” who ended up looking as if they were speaking of something new.

As a completely wayward path, the Wahabi agenda of puritanical groups looking to take over Islam in the West was rebuffed with this larger understanding of Islamic Law. The only escape for American converts from this type of Islam, was a broader understanding of the faith with multiple legal opinions. This has become to be known as “traditionalism”, espoused by famous converts and speakers such as Sh Hamza Yusuf, Imam Zaid Shakir, and Sh Nuh Keller.

However, this following of converts, with their own issues of reconciliation of culture cannot be followed by South Asians descendants who plan on keeping their own culture alive. It seems the South Asian child’s only two choices today are assimilation into three categories: the secular West, the Western Islamic discourse dominated by anti-traditionalists, or the Islamic discourse of Arabized traditionalists. As noted in my previous articles, it is clear that a traditional South Asian Islam has been ignored by the West. Revivalists of traditional sciences in the West have ignored the South Asian contribution for too long.

A focus on historical personalities and works of South Asian descent is a personal priority of mine. It is time the Milad, Ghazal, Naat, and Qawaali was understood and loved again, not simply analyzed through the lens of a protracted argument about good and bad “innovations”.

“That is so 90’s.” It’s time to move on.

10-18

Wary serenity in Berlin mosques

January 4, 2007 by · 1 Comment 

Submitted to TMO by independent journalist Frank Payne

Bombings in Madrid and London, riots in Paris. At issue are geopolitics, class and ethnicity. In Germany, it is not terror attacks but alleged plots, police raids, and continuing suspicion. For young Muslims in Berlin, the response to such scrutiny is to be at once welcoming but hyper-vigilant of outsiders.

Neukölln

Scattered groups of Muslim men and women make their way toward Nür Mosque, their faces aglow in the orange light of the setting sun. I watch them through the window of a coffee shop, where American hip hop and R&B music are the soundtrack to an afternoon’s end. The friendly owner of the place is Nayaf, a Palestinian in his mid-thirties who jokes with customers in Arabic, Turkish, German, and English.

This is Neukölln, a working-class neighborhood in Southeast Berlin, populated by Turkish and Arab immigrants sometimes down to the third generation. Finished with my coffee, I too make way toward the mosque. The exterior of Nür Mosque is painted a clean white but like nearly all places of worship for Muslims in Germany is otherwise nondescript. The interior, however, fits the classic image of a mosque: a light green, ornate oriental rug covering the entire floor and wide pillars supporting the roof and walls. There is a store, a small library, and an upstairs kitchen and eatery where one finds traditional foods like baklava and falafel.

In the mosque’s washroom, the lights are off, but rays from a single large window illuminate the room and balance calm shadows. Cool water flows from a row of aluminum faucets while Zaher, a North African, demonstrates the Muslim purification ritual to me. I mimic his motions as he bathes his hands, arms, face, insides of his nose, and feet. Curious onlookers, also washing, ask Zaher about me with friendly smiles.

I take a seat on the floor among dozens of young men, or brothers, as the mosque fills up. All but a few appear to be under the age of 30. The majority appear to be in their teens. Each wears his own style of dress: traditional robes, shirts pressed and tucked, leather jackets, or sports jerseys hanging over baggy jeans a la hip hop style. Flowing beards and shaven heads mix with gelled, slicked-back and spiked hair.

What the individuals of such a varied group have in common, though, is a commitment to their faith, and at this moment, absolute attention to the words of the imam, Abdul-Adhim or Abu Abderrahman. This bond, so communal that exterior differences become seemingly null and void; shows one of the central beauties of Islam, and what some non-Muslims may fear so much about the religion. These are all obviously very different men. Yet, inside these walls, within the context of Islam, they are not disparate individuals. They seem to be indisputably one.

Today Abu Abderrahman, a small, Tunisian-born man between thirty-two and thirty-eight years of age, is speaking about the corruption of Muslim youth. In German, he sermons into a microphone from his own seated position at the front of the congregation. An animated speaker, Abu Abderrahman waves his hands and punctuates every sentence with a wide, jolly grin. His jokes often elicit laughs from the crowd.

I tightly frame the face of a bearded young man in the viewfinder of my camera. My finger on the shutter button, he turns and makes eye contact with me through the lens. In the exact same instant, the imam shouted in a sharp voice over the microphone “halo, no photograph in here!” Dozens of heads turn and hundreds of eyes focus in my direction. Abu Abderrahman is shaking his head in disapproval. I nod and quickly stow the camera away.

During a break in the service, several clerics dressed in white robes approach me one by one. With warm smiles, each says hello and offers a handshake. One man, a native German with chestnut-colored hair and full beard sits down. “There is no danger”, he insists. He talks on, asking questions about the U.S. and proudly admits that he was once a break dancer.

There has only been a misunderstanding. I had taken the imam’s invitation to Nür Mosque as approval to take also photographs. But approval from officials even higher than the imam were necessary in order to do so. “Kein problem”, or “no big deal”, Abu Abderraham insists.

Wedding

It is Easter Monday, and I am meeting the English-speaking Amr at Osloer Strasse U-bahn station for a youth prayer group in the predominantly Arab and South Asian neighborhood known as Wedding. Walking together, Amr tells me the story of Bilal, the namesake of the mosque that we are about to enter. Bilal, an Assyrian slave, converted to Islam then refused to repent even under torture. Moved by his devotion, another follower of the Prophet Muhammad (s) purchased Bilal’s freedom. “Racism existed hundreds of years ago too”, Amr says, but the Prophet Muhammad (s) preached that all men should be accepted into the faith.

In Bilal Mosque, I sit shoulder to shoulder, knee to knee, within a circle of twenty men and boys. Amr consults with a leader of the prayer group about my presence and taking my photographs. A small man, with a light beard and gentle voice, he turns and responds in perfect English “let’s see, maybe after (the service), because I know that some brothers will have a problem with this.”

This evenings prayers and discussion is being led by another lightly bearded, married but altogether youthful looking man. Like the imam of Nür Mosque, he has notable abilities as a speaker. He makes eye contact around the circle and punctuates statements with a smile, as if to ask “You understand, yes? You do believe, right?”

After the service I snack on potato chips and soda, chatting with a couple of brothers on either side of me. Amr then calls me over to the main room to sit down on the carpet with him and two others. Their decision is no to photographs. They are seriously worried about negative media attention, specifically about alleged links between German mosques and terrorist activity. One of them mentions that state subsidies for the youth programs are at risk. Likewise, some well-meaning parents might keep their children from attending the mosque if they got the impression that extremism was being taught.

Later, I am struck by one of the men’s positive perception of Muslim life in the United States, based on anecdotes from friends and relatives in the country. Freedom of worship in the United States, he says, means fewer problems for women who wear veils than in Europe.

Burying a Brother

The Turkish Sehitlik Camii Mosque near Platz Luftbrücke is the only Berlin mosque with a dome, minarets, and other traditional Islamic décor. It used to be the Turkish embassy to Germany. Now, it serves a predominantly Turk-German congregation. I meet Amr, my host once again, this time for a funeral. Shorly on arrival, he interrupts our interview to say that we must be silent for the next few minutes. With a friend, he then distances himself physically to pray. He is two rows ahead as other figures gather. In total, we are six rows of about 120 total men. It is noon as the sun peaks from behind high, white clouds. Lying before us is the coffin, draped in black cloth with gold letters in Arabic.


The Sehtilik Mosque

The funeral is for a German convert to Islam. Remarkably, most of those attending did not know him personally. Amr claims to not have known him at all, neither what he looked like, nor how he died. He asks others and gets much of the same response. Yet, all have come en mass to pay their respects to a member of the community.

At the burial grounds, the graves are separated into Muslim, Christian, and Jewish sections. Only yards away from where the young man will be buried is a large headstone for Kaiser Wilheim II inside a small, fenced plot. The funeral continues, with preaching in Arabic. A man of Black African origins then summarizes what has been said in German. Amr translates for me, speaking softly. “The sermon was a reminder that we are all visitors on this earth. And a visitor must always leave the place that he visits. We came from nothing, dirt, dust, and will return to nothing: taking only our deeds with us as we go back to the Creator.”

The only sounds afterward are light street traffic, and occasional cries from the man’s wife. Her deceased husband’s parents comfort her. Then, the thumping of mounds of dirt against the coffin, as worshippers with shovels take turns filling in the grave. Muslims are generally buried in shrouds, but German law mandates the use of coffins.

The Fundamentalist

Amr and I sit down for an interview and a kosher Muslim lunch of roast hen, french fries, salad, and Coke. His beard has grown significantly since I first met him a couple of weeks ago. “By the way, you’re looking at a fundamentalist” he says from across the table. Amr says this with a keenness of how much the term fundamentalist is a watch word for terrorist in Western media and popular culture. However, he brushes off my attempts to distinguish it from the alternate, perhaps more politically correct fundamentalist extremist. These days, most legal authorities, media, and the general public do not bother to make the distinction anyway, he says.

Amr was raised in a devout Islamic household. He is familiar though, with the ways of the Western world from his education in an English-speaking school in Germany and his travels abroad. He speaks four languages – English, German, Arabic, and French – and is well-versed in the nuances of United States society. “I am a Muslim fundamentalist by choice”, he explains, a man who finds genuine insight and intellectual stimulation from the Koran and religious observance. One surmises from talking to him that he gets as much stimulation from Islam as he does from academia and his worldly appreciation of foreign cultures.

So how is Amr, a young fundamentalist Muslim treated by Western society? Echoing the others I spoke with, he feels generally respected by other Germans, but within an undercurrent of fear. On Berlin’s streets, trains, buses, and shops, Amr senses in others a wariness of his Arabic features and traditional, Islamic beard. He is particularly wary of trying to visit the United States for fear of being entered on a terrorist watch list; of being mistakenly detained and interrogated by authorities. Like so many other Arabic and Turkish men in Berlin that I spoke to, he asks that his true name and other specifics about his identity be omitted from this article.

“Islam is peace. If only people would dig deeper, they would find that”. On this point, Amr is most emphatic, stressing that this is what he wants me to leave with. He leans forward, holding his hand eloquently to the side of his face, expressing himself as a professor or an imam would. His large brown eyes hold steadily and benevolently.

Before lunch, Amr and I climb the white marble steps into the dome of Sehitlik Camii Mosque. Inside, an imam in a black, gold-colored rimmed robe and white cap is speaking in Turkish. Rows of adult men sit or kneel in front of him. A few elderly men sit on chairs or on steps at the back. Amr joins the men toward the front to listen and pray.

I absorb the view of the courtyard outside through large windows with wooden doors and the expansive interior. The dominant colors of the mosque are white, green, and gold on the high dome ceiling, marble columns, and wall to wall oriental carpet. The decor is intricate and inspired. Many spiritual people, religious or agnostic, would be moved by such a mosque’s beauty; it’s physical manifestation of man’s quest for spirituality and tranquility.

Amr returns from the front sits on the floor nearby, watching me as I observe everything else. From the nearest window, a white column of light shone down, illuminating his face and everything around him. The other figures closest are partially lit or remain in shadows.

Sitting down too, I see white prayer beads strewn beside a neatly coiled microphone on the rug next to one of the marble columns. It is time for everyone to pray as one. The imam sings the call from the front of the mosque. Then, a teenage boy with black-rimmed glasses, a white Muslim cap covering the black hair on his head, and a moustache and beard sprouting from his face stands directly beside me. He picks up the microphone beside the prayer beads and sings alternatively with the imam. Making neat rows, our feet adjoined, we all pray together, lifting our hands and bowing our heads in rhythm. For the moment, there is no tension with the outside world: only serenity among ourselves and God.

9-2

South Florida News, Vol. 8 Iss. 42

October 12, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

“Bravest Woman in the World” Mukhtar Mai to speak at FIU

Miami–Cries heard all ‘round the world came from here, first of shame, then of indignation, and finally cries for justice that were answered despite obstacles.

The South Florida community will get a chance to hear an inside perspective on one of the world’s most widely publicized recent cases of human rights abuse against a Muslim woman on Saturday, Oct. 28 as local South Asian women’s organization Sahara hosts Mukhtaran Mai, named “The Bravest Woman in the World” by Glamour, and one of TIME Magazine’s “100 People Who Shape Our World.”

Gang raped by her local tribal counsel in Pakistan as punishment for a crime allegedly committed by her younger brother, Mai took the tribal council to court and won – making her the first woman in Pakistan to have won such a case.

Since then, she has traveled the world raising awareness about violence against women.

The event will be held at 7 PM at Florida International University’s South Campus. It is also being presented by the Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade’s Women’s Advocacy Project, The Asian American Network Against Abuse of Human Rights (ANAA) and Glamour. (For more information, call Sophie Brion at (305) 441-0506 or email sophie@womensfundmiami.org) 

“Many strong and successful efforts have been made to develop our group,” says Brion of Sahara, the fledgling group aimed at helping to faciliate minority and immigrant women’s social services in the area for about a year now. “Sahara has collaborated with several organizations and has received assistance in fundraising, outreach efforts to the South Florida community, and with direct services to assist victims of domestic violence. We hope to continue to grow and reach our goals to assist Asian women in distress.”

In August 2006, Sahara established a phone help-line where victims can leave a message for one of the group’s counselors, who can then provide them assistance and direct them towards resources & services. The phone number for the hotline is 1-866-567-7635. A training session for those interested in becoming phone counselors was held on Friday, Sept. 15 at the local Safe Place Shelter, and the group continues to seek more volunteers.

The group’s most recent general body meeting was held on Sept. 18 at the home of one of their Muslim volunteer couples, the Shakir family, and it has organized a number of other events and activities over the summer. It also has a new website up at www.saharafl.org, which is being renovated with the help of SFINdians.com.

“Wow, the amount of growth/progress with this group is really impressive,” said Sahara volunteer and local social worker Syeda Naqvi. “I remember attending the second meeting or so when the idea was being hashed out and look at it now.”

Turkish Cultural Center hosts 2nd Interfaith Dinner

Ft. Lauderdale–South Florida’s youngest Muslim cultural organization continued to make in-roads with local community leaders this month, as The Anatolia Cultural Center (ACC) held its 2nd Annual Interfaith Dialogue Dinner on October 5 at the Fort Lauderdale Marriot North.

The event brought together a wide of range of speakers and guests from various faith backgrounds including: Richard Agler, senior rabbi at the Congregation B’nai Israel, Jack Noble, senior pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Pompano Beach, Cengiz Alacaci, associate professor of Mathematics Education at Florida International University, and George Earhart, paster at Shepherd of the Coast Lutheran Church in Fort Lauderdale.

In the vein of the three year old ACC’s monthly Turkish coffee nights, the evening Including presentations, dinner, dessert and conversation. Organizers made a special point that the event was not a fund-raising dinner.

“Our faith is a significant part of our culture and the ACC is dedicated to promote mutual understanding and respect between people of different faiths,” said the center’s director Mustafa Sahin. “The Annual Interfaith Dialog Dinners bring leaders of various faith-based organizations together opening the doors to conversation and tolerance.”

The Other Side of “Normal”

Everyday reflections of a young Muslim social worker

By Syeda Feiza Naqvi,
Special to TMO

Funny how we have the capacity to become so jaded that even the abnormal comes to wear the face of “normalcy”. Working as the supervisor of volunteers at the Guardian ad Litem Program, I see a lot in an “average” day…or rather, hear a lot. But my second encounter with the same exact prostitute, in the same exact week, at the same exact gas station has made me reflect on just how wide a gulf there is between who I am today vs. who I was three years ago, when I first got my job.

“Yesterday” the sight of the billboard sign on the way to work was enough to make me quake in my shoes and seriously question whether I even wanted to go for the interview. ‘Twas no ordinary billboard sign, oh no: it was one that showed the picture of a serial rapist, asking for any info on his whereabouts.

But today, I look at a prostitute and can tell, immediately, that she’s on a high from a recent “date” with a joint or two. I can’t pick up the familiar smell of weed on her (oh yes, I have come to know that scent quite well by now), but her strung out appearance and tipsy steps give her away. She is all angles, and taut skin, but I can still see the last, faint vestige of beauty on her face. She could have been…must have been, beautiful once. Now she trades on those remnants for food, pointing to a sandwich as a price for her time.

And I just walk on, about my business, as if all of this is normal.

I’ve seen too many parents, too many adults, fall victim to their passions, obsessions, addictions, to believe in the capacity to save any of these lost souls. Because I know too well the underbelly of their deeds: the innocent children who are neglected or abused or severely endangered as a result.

Sometimes it scares me, the dark sense of humor that lurks within me, making note of the stupid, stupid ironies existent in some of these cases: the junkie mother who, ironically, works as a substance abuse counselor at a local college; the huge, buff, drug dealer father reduced to tears, as if he’s five, because he’s scared silly by the machinations and aggression of his tiny, pencil-thin wife; the mother who comes to court and tells the judge that she thinks she’s being followed by aliens…

Sigh.

I think a sense of humor is a necessary coping skill, because you either have to laugh or just put your head down and CRY.

I’ve driven past the scene of a break-in/shooting at the same grocery store about three times now. Note to self: never go grocery shopping in THAT particular store.

And none of it even registers anymore…it’s like the backdrop to a very normal, very average day.

None of the cases I get surprise me anymore….child raped by father? Been there, done that. Kids beaten up by parents? Happens all the time. Schizo mother unable to care for kids? Please, what else is new? Criminal parents with violent tempers? Lord, who ISNT a criminal, tell me that? Domestic violence disputes? Sigh. Lost causes. ‘Cause you know the woman is just going to go back to her no good husband.

What particularly amuses me is how people continue to underestimate me, until I open my mouth in court.

Oh, these parents. They just never learn.

They see the hijab and assume I’m some submissive, meek, nice type, and it ends up costing them. I imagine it’s rather like thinking you are talking to a nun, only to have her whip the habit off suddenly, catching you off guard.

They seem so stunned.

Well, good…if that’s the wake up call they need to get their act together, then fine, so be it.

Syeda Feiza Naqvi is a local writer, a leading veteran of local and regional Muslim organizations. For more info on how to serve as the voice for an abused child, please go to www.nationalcasa.org.

Cricket Tour / Contest for DeLay’s Seat / Houston Local Cricket

April 27, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Never Forget the South Asian Quake, Says Pakistan Cricket Team

Islamic Relief Volunteers from the US, UK and Pakistan were already operating on the Azad Kashmir Line of Control when the huge earthquake struck the South Asian Region at 8:50 am Pakistan time, on October 8, 2005.
Many volunteers lost loved ones in the catastrophe, which was twenty times more damaging than Hurricane Katrina which had hit New Orleans just before, on August 25, 2005.
Former captains of the Pakistan Cricket Team, Rashid Latif and Moin Khan and record-holder, first-class c cricketer and coach Haris Ahmed Khan, joined hands with Islamic Relief and went deep into the Neelum Valley to work with their own bare hands to assist those in the region who have lost almost everything.
After what they saw, they determined it would take years to build the lives of the devastated people. Having witnessed many heart-wrenching and dreadful stories of poor people of the region, these three celebrities of Pakistan Cricket came for a long and tiring fundraising effort in North America, which took them to California, Illinois, Florida, Texas, New York, New Jersey, Michigan and Ontario Canada.
During their stay in Texas, they came to Dallas and Houston. In Dallas, they raised more than $200,000, while in an unscheduled last-minute Houston event they were able to raise more than $15,000.
Rashid, Moin and Haris all said that these people may have lost everything and may even have lost their natural emotions or grief, but all of them have the rest of the world to assist them. Many people promised to help—most of those promises were fulfilled. For years to come, the need is so immense that even if we have given to them, we still need to go back to our wallets and pockets and keep giving for another five to eight years.
The cricketers praised the efforts of Islamic Relief and the disciplined manner in which they have taken up this huge task, with just 6% overhead.
For more information on this fundraising humanitarian trip, and for information on ongoing humanitarian projects, call Anwar Khan of Islamic Relief at 1-818-216-9723.

Mayor of Sugarland Wants to take Tom DeLay’s Seat

The popular mayor, David G. Wallace, of Sugarland Texas, wants to take the seat of Tom DeLay, whenever he will decide to vacate.
Toward this end, he is meeting several people in the communities in Texas and also planning to travel to New York and other places to raise funds.
Recently he met, at Lassani Restaurant, a bipartisan group representing Texas communities of Muslims, Arabs, and South Asians.
He said that, having done his job to the best of his abilities at the local level, he now has aspirations to provide service to the people of America by being in the congress. He said although he is not well abreast about all foreign affairs issues, he is interacting with several communities to learn from them how they think about these problems of the world.
He said he is the advocate for low-interest rates to enhance the economy, and will work to build a better lifestyle for all Americans and to build fruitful measures for small businesses.

New Houston Pakistan/India Cricket Win-Loss Record: Tied at 4 and 4!

It was 1998 when the first annual Pakistan v. India Houston Players Cricket Match was played. Ever since then, every April third, these two traditional teams play against each other in a most disciplined, high-class and friendly manner.
The game has been played without a hitch except one year when it was cancelled for rain. Of the remaining years, the win-loss record is as follows: Pakistan has won four times and India three times; this year India won, making the record 4 and 4.
The match was played at the beautiful Harris County Tom-Bass Park. Pakistan scored 232, while India crossed the score when they had two wickets and few balls left to play.
Elegant left handed batsman Sushil made 115*, the first century of these traditional matches. Sushil was declared the Most Valuable Player of the Match. Majid of Pakistan was affirmed as the best bowler for his three quick wickets, which made the game even poised and most exciting at one stage. Captain Rafay of Pakistan for his 45 was given the best batsman award.
Those interested in playing cricket or wanting to know more about this game in Houston, please visit the website of the Houston Cricket League: http://www.houstoncricket. com/

SE Michigan Events Volume 8 Issue 17

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

Mawlid Fills Hearts of IIK Worshippers with Love for Prophet (s)

Dearborn—April 15—The Islamic Institute of Knowledge (IIK) in Dearborn celebrated the blessed birth of our holy Prophet (s) this past weekend at a very popular meeting attended by about a hundred Muslims who sang praises and rejoiced at his coming into this world with the message that is the light of our lives.
The event was by open-invitation to the community. There were three main speakers at the event, being Imam Abdul Latif Berry, Imam Baquir Berry (the son of Imam Abdul Latif Berry), and the Chairman of the IIK, Dr. Ali Sobh.
The elder Imam Berry spoke on the importance of education, emphasizing that the first revealed verse was “Iqra,” read. He also spoke on world events, discussing the impact of Islam on those events, and saying that it is important for Muslims to be educated, to participate in politics, education, and the media. In support of this he quoted Qur`an and `ahadith.
Imam Baquir Berry and Dr. Sobh echoed this theme, the first saying that those closest to God are those who are well-educated, and the doctor emphasizing the hadith to “seek knowledge even if it is in China.” Imam Baquir Berry said that it is important to raise children in the ethnical and moral way that Islam was founded on. There were many children at the event, and one of the speakers mentioned a hadith that when your children look at you with love in their eyes, it is as if you are paying charity. Candy bags and balloons were given to the children to make them happy on the blessed occasion of the birth of the holy Prophet (s).

Women’s Mawlid at IIK Dearborn Heights

April 12—The women of several mosques gathered at the IIK to celebrate Mawlid together on Friday. About 75 women were in attendance at the event, at which Imam Baquir Berry spoke.
The event began with a brunch of fruit and other nice food. Then Imam Baquir Berry spoke.
He spoke on different issues of how Prophet (s) was—as a role model, how forgiving and compassionate and understanding he was. He spoke for a few minutes.
Then two women, Linda and Hanan, read anthems or songs of praise including Tala’al Badru ‘Alayna and other songs. A first-grade class from the neighboring Islamic academy also sang songs of praise for Prophet (s).
Following this, the ladies had a raffle event, for which they competed in answering questions about the life of Prophet Muhammad (s) and Companions, wives and descendants—the winners receiving different prizes.
Hajja Khalida Beydoun, when asked about the event, quoted a hadith of Prophet (s) that “Live howsoever you like but you will surely die; love whatsoever you like but you will surely depart from it; do whatsoever you like but you will certainly meet it (and receive its reward). The honor of a Muslim believer is his midnight prayers, and his nobility is his refraining from ruining the reputations of people.”

Sunni-Shi’a Dialog

Canton—April 15—A packed house greeted IIK’s Imam Baquir Berry this past weekend in celebration of Shi’a-Sunni unity.
This event was held at the Canton Mosque, the Muslim Community of the Western Suburbs, on 40440 Palmer Avenue, in Canton. This mosque is a huge and sprawling center with a large mosque, cafeteria, and school, with until now signs of recent construction—unfinished landscaping and some building debris close to the mosque.
About 130 people were in attendance in total, roughly evenly split between men and women. MCWS is primarily considered, in its community’s eyes, as a south-Asian mosque composed of peoples from Bangladesh, Pakistan, and India.
The evening began with words of welcoming and an introduction of the evenings main speakers, firstly MCWS’s own imam, Shaykh Ali Suleman Ali, and then of the visiting imam, the guest of honor at the evening, Shaykh Baquir Berry, the son of Imam Abdul Latif Berry and an imam in his own right at the Islamic Institute of Knowledge in Dearborn. Their topic, chosen by the mosque, was “Shi’a-Sunni relations—how to keep unity.”
Imam Berry spoke first at the behest of MCWS. He said that he was impressed by MCWS, and reflected that it is the result of 100 years of hard work by Muslim immigrants to this country. He quoted an ayah of Qur`an that Allah made Muslims the best nation to grace human beings. He said that Allah made this ummah appear as the best. He said that Prophet (s) had one mission, which Imam Baquir Berry emphasized was to lead people from “dhulumaty `ila nur” to guide people from darkness to light.
In view of this single mission that Prophet (s) did, we must continue his work of bringing guidance and nur to humanity. He said that in order to accomplish this we must work, hand in hand with other Muslims—by means of this ayah he emphasized the importance for all Muslims of all different forms of practice to come together to further this message.
He emphasized Prophet’s (s) example of bringing brotherhood between people by means of pairing the ansar with the muhajiroon. He emphasized that although the Companions disagreed over things at times, they would set aside their disagreements in light of their respect for and love of the Holiest Messenger (s).
He emphasized that we should, firstly, focus on this overriding mission rather than on the minor differences between Sunni and Shi’a, and secondly, that we should come closer together in order to know one another because just opening enough knowledge to bridge gaps of ignorance will solve by itself many problems.
He minimized differences of practice between Sunni and Shi’a, saying that even the differences between the Ja’fari madhhab and the Sunni madhahib is not that much, and emphasizing that the founders of the madhahib used to keep mutual respect and used to pray behind each other without disputing differences of practice—even following the practices of another madhhab’s imam when in his presence rather than arguing with him.
Imam Ali Suleman Ali also emphasized similar issues. Imam Ali is a Ph.D. holder who received his doctorate from the University of Michigan Ann Arbor.
He emphasized that in his early days in Michigan, decades ago, he and other Sunni imams including Shaykh Musa, now of the Bloomfield Unity Center, used to visit Shaykh Berry’s father on Fridays and sit and joke together and spend pleasant time with one another.
He said that in fact there are no problems between Sunni and Shi’a here in the US, but that historically there have been some differences. He said we should bury these issues and focus on what’s good for Muslims as a community. He emphasized shahada, of clinging to “hablil Lah jami’an,” and emphasized that there are many efforts today to divide Muslims based on sex, race, and differences of practice and belief like Sunni and Shi’a.
He thanked Shaykh Berry for coming, and emphasized several definite plans for Sunni Shi’a cooperation in the immediate future.
In their questions and answers the people of the mosque asked questions for which there are not easy and clear-cut answers, (1) trying to establish universal acceptance of an ‘ied day, (2) to establish that Sunni and Shi’a zabiha-halal meat is mutually acceptable (Shaykh Ali said unequivocally that Shi’a zabiha halal meat is acceptable for Sunnis), (3) how to prevent the terrible division between Sunnis and Shi’a in Iraq from spreading here and to other places (Shaykh Berry said that in fact America is the shining example for the rest of the Muslim world, because we have held so many mutual Sunni-Shi’a gatherings since the terrible Samarra boming, and Shaykh Ali said that no Muslim could have bombed that shrine), (4) what we can do as Muslims to come together (Shaykh Berry said that religious people are open to come together, but that some people in the community are not religious and therefore not open to relations with people of different ethnicities), (5) asked whether Sunnis and Shi’a can pray behind each other.
Shaykh Berry’s response to this last question was very nicely worded, emphasizing again that the founders of the madhahib used to show respect to one another by following the rulings of the other major jurists when in their presence in order to show respect and mutual love and honor, and would pray behind one another even in a manner out of keeping with their own practices for the sake of mutual respect—therefore we also should adhere to this practice of mutual respect despite differences of opinion and law.

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