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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Community News (V13-I31)

July 28, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

New Mosque in Staten Island

STATEN ISLAND,NY–The Muslim American Society is opening a new location on Staten Island.

The mosque and community center will be housed at the site of a former Hindu temple on Burgher Avenue in Dongan Hills.

Renovations are underway, and the center is not open to the public as of yet reports NY1.

St. Louis’s Imam Ansari Passes Away

ST.LOUIS,MO–Samuel Ansari, a much beloved leader of the St.Louis Muslim community, passed away on July 24, after suffering a heart attack. He was 62. He owned a bakery and served as a volunteer imam at the Al Muminun Mosque.

Mr. Ansari was born Samuel Hicks on Nov. 20, 1948, in Huntingdon, Tenn., and moved to St. Louis as a child. He graduated from Vashon High School and did a stint in the Army in the 1960s that took him to Alaska. When he came home, he was disillusioned with the United States. Elijah Muhammad, leader of the Nation of Islam, a social movement of black Muslims, appealed to him.

“When I heard him say the white man is the devil, it hit home,” Mr. Ansari told the Post-Dispatch in 2006. “We wanted white Americans to feel what we felt.”

But after Elijah Muhammad died in 1975, Mr. Ansari followed the leadership of Muhammad’s son, W. Deen Mohammed, who focused on the universal teachings of Islam, not separatism.

Imam Ansari had worked hard to build bridges between the immigrant and the African-American Muslim community of the city. He was also active in interfaith efforts.

DOJ Asked to Probe Michigan Bias

DETROIT,MI–The Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI) has asked the Department of Justice (DOJ) to investigate whether local planning officials in that state are violating the religious rights of Muslims by denying a permit to build a school on property they own.

On June 16, the Michigan Islamic Academy (MIA) went before the Pittsfield Township Planning Commission for land usage approval on a newly-purchased property to be used for educational and religious purposes. The planning commission voted on a preliminary procedural motion to deny MIA’s request after concerns of disruption of neighborhood harmony were raised and derogatory comments were made about the religious practices of Muslims. (A final vote will be taken at a commission meeting on August 4.)

Ali Mushtaq Wins Piano Competition

WASHINGTON D.C.–Ali Mushtaq, a statistical contractor and an amateur pianist, came first at the ninth annual Washington International Piano Artists Competition.  The competition is open to amateur pianists 31 years of age or older. The event had competitors from around the world and was hosted by the French Embassy.

Arts Midwest Launches International Program to Bridge American and Muslim Cultures

Arts Midwest, the non-profit Regional Arts Organization (RAO) serving America’s upper Midwest, announces the launch of Caravanserai: A place where cultures meeT, a groundbreaking artistic and cultural exchange program supported by the nation’s RAOs. Caravanserai is funded by a one million dollar grant from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art (DDFIA) Building Bridges program.

“The name Caravanserai was carefully selected for this program,” says David Fraher, Executive Director of Arts Midwest. “Historically, in the east and middle-east, stopping places for caravans were called caravanserais. Safe places to come together and exchange stories. The name evokes that imagery of travelers in a safe haven, a place where cultures meet.”

Betsy Fader of DDFIA says Caravanserai is a natural fit for their Building Bridges grants program. “Caravanserai beautifully illustrates our mission to promote the use of art and culture to improve Americans’ understanding and appreciation of Muslim Societies. We believe this pilot program of music and film will start many conversations and open many doors to understanding.”

Nearly two years in the making, Caravanserai begins with a pilot program in five US communities comprising performing arts and film programs featuring art and artists from Muslim cultures. The pilot program focuses on Pakistan. Future programming will feature other geographic regions and artistic disciplines and will travel to more US cities.

After receiving applications from across the country, Arts Midwest selected the following communities to present Caravanserai:

•    The Arts Alliance of Northern New Hampshire; Littleton, NH
•    Artswego SUNY Oswego; Oswego, NY
•    FirstWorks; Providence, RI
•    Monmouth University; West Long Branch, NJ
•    The Myrna Loy Center; Helena, MT

Each organization will host three arts experiences in their community, including music residency tours featuring traditional and contemporary Pakistani musicians and a film residency, featuring a Pakistani filmmaker. Residency activities will include educational workshops, public performances, film screenings, and localized community outreach.
Curated by artistic director Zeyba Rahman, Caravanserai features a roster of outstanding contemporary Pakistani artists.

•    Arif Lohar – Folk singer
•    Qawal Najmuddin Saifuddin – Qawali singers
•    Sanam Marvi – Folk and Sufi singer
•    Ustad Tari Khan – US-based tabla master
•    Ayesha Khan – Filmmaker, “Made in Pakistan”

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Delusion in Detroit

July 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Adil James, TMO

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Seated, left to right:  Steve Downs, Abayomi Azikiwe, Dawud Walid.  Behind podium:  Moderator Debbie Johnson

Detroit–July 17–There are several problems facing the Muslim community in the United States.  One problem is that Muslims are sometimes targeted by the FBI and other law enforcement bureaus, framed for plots they are not even intelligent enough to hatch themselves, and then arrested and prosecuted for conspiracy to commit crimes they never understood–sometimes they are goaded by troublemakers, wolves in sheeps’ clothing, paid by the FBI in proportion to the crimes they are able to get Muslims to commit.

Another, much worse problem, is that inside the Muslim community we give excuses and podiums to the apologists for Muslim terrorists and troublemakers–who are inherently dangerous to the Muslim community by virtue of their commitment to goals antithetical to the teachings of Islam. 

And so this past weekend in Detroit about 100 people gathered at The Shrine of the Black Madonna to complain about government “preemptive prosecution.” However, there was the problem that the meeting supported some Muslims who had suffered prosecution for very real offenses.

Not least among those is Tarek Mehanna, a pharmacy graduate who apparently travelled around the world (to Yemen) to seek training to fight against Americans, and who planned to kill numerous innocent civilians at a local mall, and went so far as to conspire to commit this attack.  You may say “innocent until proven guilty” but first read the complaint, 32 pages of damning evidence, with countless detailed samples of Mehanna’s assiduous efforts to commit terrorism, complete with evidence from two of his coconspirators who backed out of his plot and turned states’ evidence, and also audio-taped conversations in which Mehanna planned terrorist acts.

Tarek’s brother Tamer spoke in support of him this weekend in Detroit, however Tamer’s speech almost amounted to further evidence against his brother, as he spoke for about 15 minutes, railing against the existence in the Muslim community of “snitches.” The use of the term “snitch” already implies that his brother is guilty–as usually a snitch is someone who reveals what was intended to be a secret.  The implication is that Tarek had committed conspiracy, wanted to keep it secret, and Tamer is angry because the “snitches” revealed the secret.

But thank God they did.  Better for Tarek to rot in jail, frustrated in his intention to blot out the lives of innocent civilians.

If all Tamer Mehanna can say for 15 minutes is that snitches are bad, he begs the question whether his brother is fully guilty, and also whether he himself is supportive of his brother’s alleged crimes. 
But most of the people discussed at the meeting Saturday appeared far more innocent than Tarek Mehanna. Behind  the speakers was a board on which were posted the names of about 100 people termed victims of preemptive prosecution. 

Present at the meeting were many activists on behalf of many of those “preemptively prosecuted,” and the most effective presentation was a video about Sami Al-Arian, which advocated his innocence, and expressed the capricious nature of the US prosecution of his case–where when Al-Arian was acquitted of all charges they rearrested him and continued to detain him.

This event was slightly misguided in the ways mentioned above, but the point still stands that the US government has overplayed its hand in the war on terror, by brutally pursuing many who are in fact innocent, and by deliberately detaining them beyond the point at which it becomes obvious that they are innocent.

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On Being a Muslim

September 24, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

By Kari Ansari

Villa Park, IL (USA)–“On Being a Muslim”

ansariSince becoming a Muslim many years ago, I have been compelled to strive for the potential I was born with, but up until that time did not use. My connection with God, through the teachings of Islam, has given me gifts of character and spirituality that I still find surprising.

Islam has made me smarter. God gave me a brain, but Islam gave me the reason to use it. For instance, being a Muslim woman has demanded that I grow intellectually. The Quran tells us over and over, “these are words for those who think.” Islam is a religion of thinking, questioning, revising our opinions, and considering the world from different perspectives. Over the years, I have listened to Muslim thinkers, scholars, and teachers who have changed, moderated, and enhanced their understanding of Islam as they themselves changed, moderated, and grew older and wiser. Islam has room for this. The message in the Quran is so layered and rich with meaning that it begs the reader to dive into the words over and over, only to surface each time at different places in its sea, leaving us gasping for breath from the complexity and simplicity that coexist simultaneously.

Being a Muslim has broadened my worldview. Being a Muslim in America means that I am part of a faith group that encompasses people of wildly different cultures and ethnicities. I have made friends and have worked with people from virtually all corners of the world. Since becoming a Muslim, I no longer view people through the lens of a television or movie camera, edited for my sensibilities; instead, I get to learn about them firsthand. I have friends who have transported me to their native land with a simple cup of tea and a little conversation. As an American Muslim, I have learned that the world is full of warm people who would give you their last meal, simply because that’s the way they have always lived.

Islam has taught me true empathy. I grew up in America’s safe neighborhoods, attending excellent public schools. With this advantage, I never experienced discrimination or disrespect from others until after I embraced Islam and wore the hijab, the Muslim headscarf. By taking on this visible identifier, I learned what it feels like to be the “other.” When someone spit on the street as I passed, just after the 9/11 tragedy, I experienced a little of what Catholics and Jews and other religious minorities in America went through in decades and centuries past. When my husband, a native of India, and I were swiftly refused a previously promised lease on a house after we faxed in our driver’s license photos to the out-of-town owner, I understood the resentment and frustration felt by those who suffer insidious bigotry. When I was made to stand with my arms and legs spread like a criminal for a physical pat down in plain view of other air travelers, I understood the humiliation of being profiled simply because of my faith. However, I consider these experiences a privilege, as they have taught me empathy for those who have suffered simply for being.

Islam has made me a stronger feminist. Contrary to common perceptions, being a Muslim woman demands that I become educated, one who questions authority and the status quo. The women who lived during the time of the Blessed Prophet Muhammad were constantly questioning the meaning of the revelations; they wanted to know where their place in society lay, and they asserted their intelligence in defining themselves. They asked the Prophet questions about their lives. They did not ask by means of their husbands or fathers; they spoke directly to the Prophet. Islamic teachings elevate women to equal status with men — the only qualifier of merit is one’s conviction of faith and actions. Islam leaves room for women to assert themselves in all aspects of community life, and while Musli ms in America are struggling against the misogyny brought from overseas, Islam gives us the strength and framework to claim equal standing with men in the mosque and in the greater society.

Islam has taught me real humility. Muslims are taught to perform each prayer as if we are in the presence of God — whose magnificence is more than any of us can fathom. Muslims must pray in a prescribed manner, and the most intimate position of the prayer is called sajud, where one kneels down and places the forehead and nose on the floor. In the very beginning for me, an American raised with a large amount of pride, it was difficult to pray in this position. I thought to myself, “This is humiliating,” but was told that this is the purpose of sajud. I performed the prayer as taught, but was disheartened when I did not find the solace promised. A wise Muslim woman told me to continue with the ritual, regardless of whether it felt hollow or not. So I persisted. Weeks passed, and I went through the motions of the daily prayers, until one day — all in an instant — I felt myself in the presence of God while in sajud. During those brief moments I gained everything I would ever need in this world — the eternal longing for that most intimate connection with my Creator.

My husband and I named our son Sajid, which means one who prostrates to God.

This article first appeared on American Public Media’s Speaking of Faith feature, Expressions of Muslim Identity.