Can We Stop Tradition Erosion?

November 17, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Akif Abdulamir (Desert Classics)

I gave my children a choice where to eat when I decided to treat them. I knew the answer but I was hoping it would be some restaurant that served healthy traditional food.

Our children’s choice of eating at a famous fast food restaurant never surprises us. To them, burgers and chips never tasted so good. A plate of rice never has the same appeal since it is an old fashioned  tradition from our ancestors.

To our kids, anything that has been handed over from the past generations is backward. If they see it in  the movies or the Internet than it is “cool”, anything else is “rubbish.” The fear of losing one’s culture and customs has never been real. As we move on deep into the twenty-first century, we gradually but surely leave behind the richness of our heritage.

The truth is that very little is being done to stop the erosion. Don’t get me wrong. I am not blaming the West but the East for ignoring the basics. There is no doubt that we can still drive a car and surf the net but ignoring what is more important to life has dreadful consequences. I am very convinced we are fighting a losing battle because we welcome unreservedly a culture that has a few problems. Let me give you an example. One of my younger relatives chose to stay behind in UK to celebrate Christmas to be with his friends but flatly refused to join his family for Eid.

There was nothing his parents could do about it. Should they blame themselves for sending him abroad to study or the lack of firm upbringing? I don’t know but youngsters ignore the basics even at home. One youth told me that, “wearing a shirt and a pair of trousers does not mean I am a Westerner” when he went with me to a mosque on his friend’s wedding night.

I asked him what it meant not ever wearing the traditional clothing. He said that tradition had nothing to do with appearance but what was in his heart. I probed deeper and asked him what was in his heart. He thought about it and said, “I know who I am and my background, isn’t that enough?”

I dropped the subject seeing him getting agitated. Today’s youth are increasingly letting themselves get confused by a clash of cultures. For instance, more than half of the youth celebrate the New Year and stay out late. On face value, one would argue there that there is nothing wrong with that. On closer scrutiny, less than ten per cent of them ever notice the Islamic New Year let alone celebrate it. What has really gone wrong in the past thirty years or so? International integration of people cannot be blamed nor the fast pace of development. It is also not fair to point accusing fingers at Western education. We invited it because we need it to overcome many challenges otherwise we would have been left behind.

The ever decreasing number of traditionalists live in fear that the Gulf would soon fall under the hammer of whole-sale Westernisation. The auction is gathering momentum, so they say, and the highest bidders are examining prized exhibits.

I am not endorsing that theory nor opposing it but I would like to be an observer and write about it at a later date. To many, it is not about fast food restaurants or other external influences. It is about preserving an identity before the hammer falls down.

Akif Abdulamir is an Oman-based writer

13-47

Haroon Khan Barred from Representing Pakistan

September 29, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

Compiled by Parvez Fatteh, Founder of http://sportingummah.com, sports@muslimobserver.com

_ABU2203, 2203British-Pakistani boxer Haroon Khan has been told by the International Boxing Association (AIBA) that he cannot represent Pakistan in international competition. Khan’s father, Shah Khan, told the BBC that they intend to appeal the decision, which if supported, would prevent Haroon from representing Pakistan at the 2012 Olympics in London.

Khan, age 20, is the younger brother of WBA and IBF light welterweight boxing world champion Amir Khan. Their father told BBC Radio Manchester, “The Pakistan boxing federation got an email that Haroon can’t represent them as he represented England as a youth. We sent letters out to AIBA and we’re hoping that they’ll accept all this.”

Haroon Khan was originally scheduled to represent Pakistan in the upcoming World Boxing Championships in Azerbaijan, which act as an Olympic qualifying even. Khan represented England as a youth in 2009. He initially hoped to box for England in the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games, but after being overlooked, opted instead to fight for Pakistan, and won a bronze medal.

“Their rulings say when a boxer becomes a national in more than one country then he has decided which country he wants to represent,” Shah Khan added. “He became a national of Pakistan in 2010, now that was after he’d boxed for England. Then he decided he wanted to box for Pakistan, which he did in the Commonwealth games, where he won a bronze medal. If you go by that rule he did decide to box for Pakistan so he should be entitled to box for Pakistan. There is another qualifier in February and we’re keeping our fingers crossed he’ll be going there.”

Hopefully this can be resolved so that Khan can box for the country of his heritage. It would make especially great theater for it to take place in in his newly-adopted country of England.

13-40

Bangladeshi American Democratic Caucus Chairman Attends White House Reception for Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage

July 7, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nargis Hakim Rahman

Chairman of the Bangladeshi American Democratic Caucus, Nazmul Hassan Shahin, was invited to the White House for a reception to honor Asian American and Pacific Islander heritage on June 22.
The social event was held for networking opportunities for 200 U.S. political representatives in the Asian American and Pacific Islander community.

Hassan said President Obama greeted the crowd with a speech and shook hands with those in the front row and with others who were close enough to reach him. 

Hassan took the 10-15 seconds he had with the president to thank him for his work (the healthcare, Wallstreet and housing reforms). He said, “Change is not easy Mr. President. You are doing a fantastic job. Under your leadership America got back its respect in [the] outside world,” he said partly referring to an ongoing relationship with Bangladesh with the appointment of a new ambassador to Bangladesh, Dan Mozena, in May.

He also handed Obama a thank-you letter on behalf of the BADC and an organizational newsletter, which the president accepted and said, “Keep doing the great work.”

It was a great once-in-a lifetime experience, said Hassan, from visiting the White House to shaking hands with the president. It was a, “Great honor as a Bangladeshi American to represent everyone [in] BADC,” he said.

BADC is an affiliate of the Michigan Democratic Caucus with 71 members in a “four-tier” organization. The executive council is comprised of members from the three entities: a task force committee; a congressional district committee with members who work closely with congress members and elected officials in those districts on issues relating to Bangladeshi Americans; and a standing committee with various branches including women, fundraising and student groups. An advisory council works with the organization.

Hassan describes the grass root organization as, “The voice of Bangladeshi Americans in mainstream politics working on issues important in our community.” The organization worked with democratic leaders in the past local state and presidential elections, fundraising and helping political candidates interact with the Bangladeshi Americans (a growing population in Michigan), such as Congressman Hansen Clarke.

States such as California, Delaware, Minnesota, and Texas, with Bangladeshi American populations are interested in replicating the organization, said Hassan. The organization may create a national board to work with all states.

Hassan has been working with BADC since 2009. He received the Martin Luther King Jr. Award at the Annual Jefferson-Jackson Dinner in April 16, 2011 by the Michigan Democratic Caucus for “an individual who works promoting the equality and inclusion of the people for every race, color, creed and gender in the Democratic Party,” said the website www.michbd.com, which reports on Bangladeshi news in Michigan.

BADC leaders and supporters motivate and energize me to do my job, said Hassan. “The Martin Luther King Jr. Award by the Michigan Democratic Party is a symbol of acknowledgement of our hard work.”

Hassan said he hopes more youth will get politically involved and help bring about a change in government by building the organization and leadership to, “Carry out the momentum and take it farther than we have created.”

Upon request of Hassan, Congressman John Conyers Jr. offered internships to youth during a Muslim Ummah of North America north zone conference on June 5. Hassan encourages people to apply. He said Bangladeshi American youth have potential to rise up and become political leaders. The possibilities and opportunities are endless.

Elections for BADC will be held in November.

For more information visit www.mibadc.org, or to get involved contact Executive Vice Chair Ripa Haq at 248-520-1921.

13-28

“Stop Anti-Muslim Acts”

June 9, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By Nargis Hakim and TMO Stringer

P6050015Hamtramck–June 5–”People need to get more involved in their communities,” said leaders at an educational conference held by the Muslim Ummah of North America last Sunday in Hamtramck.

The national faith-based organization has four chapters in Michigan. About 600 guests attended from the north zone.

Hamtramck, home to four large Muslim community groups, namely Bosnian, Bangladeshi, African American and Yemeni, was the venue for the educational conference this past weekend.

MUNA (muslimummah.net) is a large organization which has a Michigan Chapter (headed by Toyab Al-Bari) and a North Zone.  The National President of MUNA is Dr. Sayeed Choudhury.

The North Zone organized this educational conference, and also produces a publication called Flash Point.

Invited speakers included: Congressman John Conyers Jr., A.S. Nakadar, publisher of The Muslim Observer, Dawud Walid from the Council on American-Islamic Relations Michigan Chapter, Sheikh Ali Suleiman president of the Islamic Center of North Detroit and Syed Choudhury, MUNA’s president. Hamtramck council members Kazi Miah and Mohammed Hassan were present.

Congressman Conyers said of the event “Congratulations, you have outgrown this banquet hall.”  He jokingly invited the MUNA organizers to use Cobo hall in Detroit next year or a venue in Dearborn.

Congressman Conyers recently co-signed a call by members of Congress to “Respond to Anti-Muslim Sentiment,” on May 26.  Cosponsors included 24 congressmen, notably including Keith Ellison, Andre Carson, and Charlie Rangel.  Notably the signatories did not include former speaker Nancy Pelosi.

The congressional statement called “for the federal government to take the necessary steps to counter anti-Muslim sentiment.”

MUNA representatives spoke on the activities of MUNA, which have included successful boys and girls “brothers” and “sisters” programs respectively–to involve Muslim young people in fun associations, and they spoke also of the outreach they had done to Muslim youth who are not so active in the community.

Dr. Nakadar in his remarks noted the great accomplishment of Hamtramck in its disproportionately successful Muslim representation in the City Council.

Dawud Walid, Executive Director of CAIR-Michigan, also spoke.  He spoke of the importance of youth involvement in the Muslim community, and of the importance of providing a good example for young Muslims.

The MUNA conference was very well attended and in fact the banquet hall was filled to capacity.

13-24

If Cairo Came to Kabul

April 21, 2011 by · Leave a Comment 

By David Swanson

Before Tahrir Square happened almost nobody predicted that President Hosni Mubarak would be forced out of office by a movement that didn’t pick up a gun. Had President Barack Obama expected that outcome, he might have publicly backed Mubarak’s departure before, rather than after, Mubarak stepped down.

Obama can be seen as overcompensating for that performance in Libya, but there he is placing faith in weapons. Anybody can do that. Egypt still has a long way to go on its path to a just society. But the question of whether Tunisian-Egyptian movements will find success elsewhere is the question of whether people can take the far more challenging step of placing trust in nonviolence.

Those who believed a nonviolent movement, one that would involve youth and women, could gain power in Egypt, worked for years to make it happen. Those saying it couldn’t be done were not permitted to get in the way of those doing it. Nonviolent strategists like American Gene Sharp advised the organizers of a force that developed completely beneath the U.S. media’s radar. What burst forth earlier this year appeared to be spontaneous. It was not.

It will come as a surprise to most Americans, and indeed to most Afghans, that a dedicated group of Afghan youth has begun building a principled and disciplined nonviolent movement for peace, independence, and unity in Afghanistan. By independence, the Afghan youth mean independence from the United States and NATO, but also from Pakistan and Iran and all other outside control, as well as independence from rule by the Taliban, warlords, and oligarchs of all stripes. By unity, they mean national Afghan unity inclusive of all ethnicities.

Bringing Cairo to Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan, will not be achieved by occupying a central square this week and gradually increasing the crowd size for months and years as Afghans come to appreciate the value of the movement. Taking over the streets of the capital, if that tactic is employed, will not happen until a great deal of groundwork has been laid. That groundwork will likely involve several steps that have been identified by those working on this project.

Ethnic Unity

First, ethnic divisions will have to be healed. Afghanistan is 42% Pashtun, 27% Tajik, 9% Hazara, 9% Uzbek, and smaller percentages of several other ethnic groups. As long as these groups are rivals, it will be more difficult for the people as a whole to challenge corrupt oligarchs. A newspaper editor in Kabul told me he believed that even legitimate, credible elections — something Afghanistan has not had — would not produce a just and stable representative government, because any president would be from one ethnic group and not the others.

Afghans should be so lucky as to have that problem! The reality is that until the ethnic groups unite, and other progress is achieved, Afghans are unlikely to be able to compel their government to hold open and verifiable elections.

Ramazan Bashardost, a member of the Afghan Parliament, finished third in the official count of the 2009 presidential election. He is Hazara, and the first and second-place finishers were Pashtun and Tajik respectively. But Bashardost told me that he received more support from outside his ethnic group than from within it. Bashardost is a proponent of Gandhian nonviolence, ethnic unity, and national independence. He employs no security guards, cruises around town in a beat-up old car, and holds court in a tent in an empty lot in a particularly poor neighborhood.

Bashardost favors political reforms that would empower the legislature and disempower the president as well as political parties, thus allowing greater representation of minority groups. Bashardost is a powerful voice on the inside of the Afghan government for peace and nonviolence. Here is video of an interview I conducted with him. But Bashardost is not an activist or an organizer. He is a unifying figure, but he is a politician.

Teck Young Wee is another story. He is a medical doctor and a native of Singapore who began working with Afghan refugees in Pakistan 9 years ago and moved to Bamiyan Province in Afghanistan seven years ago. He was taken in by an Afghan family and given the name Hakim. Bamiyan is relatively free of U.S. forces and therefore something of a success story in terms of suffering low levels of violence.

Hakim has been mentoring youth in Bamiyan and elsewhere. The Bamiyan youth, primarily Hazara and Tajik, primarily boys and young men, but including girls and young women and other ethnic groups as well, have established the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers (AYPV). Peace is a radical idea, and apparently frightening to some. Hakim received threats from unidentified sources, and the people of Bamiyan created a warning system to protect him that involved plans to put their own bodies in the path of any violence. The threat has faded.

AYPV have taken steps toward ethnic unity, controversially arranging for college students from every ethnic group to room together. A similar approach of using housing rental policies to integrate the country on a larger scale is something I’ve heard advocated by professors in Kabul.

Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers from Bamiyan in the north have made particular efforts to reach out to Pashtun youth in the south. Peace volunteers hand made cell phone cases from second-hand leather and hand sewed the word ‘Peace’ in the Dari language on them. They sent these to Pashtun youth in Kandahar along with a video message. Then they phoned Pashtun youth leaders to say they had done this out of love and a desire for reconciliation. A Pashtun leader, in Hakim’s words (here’s video), “said this is impossible – he couldn’t believe it.” He said “this is a love you have shown us and we will never forget it.” That’s a powerful statement in a country where the things you most commonly hear people say they will never forget are acts of violence.

Hakim stresses that part of eliminating ethnic divisions will have to be recognizing and addressing the forces that strengthen them, namely the violence of warlords backed by the United States and NATO. Here, as elsewhere, is a chicken-and-egg dilemma. Unity is needed to drive out the occupiers, but the occupiers are a barrier to unity. Yet, this is always the way, and such traps have been opened before.

Women Behind The Wheel

A second part of the groundwork that is probably needed is the empowerment of women. A nonviolent peace movement stands a far greater chance of success, experts say, when it includes women and embraces a movement for women’s liberation.

An Afghan film director Sahraa Karimi has produced an engaging and illuminating documentary called “Afghan Women Behind the Wheel”. When she told me the title with a bit of an accent, I thought the last word was “Veil.” It could almost as well have been. The film is about the limited rights and options of women in a country that is not just poor and war-ravaged, but in which many men passionately believe women to be inferior.

The movie has great footage for anyone wondering what life in Kabul looks like, and it tells the stories of a number of women who learn to drive. In a scene that drew laughs from all the Afghans watching it with me, a driving instructor tells them “Another important thing is traffic lights, even though we don’t have any.” He goes on to explain what red, yellow, and green mean. I’m told there are a few traffic lights, but I haven’t seen them.

Something else you won’t see much of is women drivers. The women in the movie are violating a taboo. When they begin driving, vicious rumors are spread about them, including that they are working!

It’s actually very hard for anyone to find a job in Afghanistan, and driving lessons cost a good percentage of the average annual income. Some of the women in the movie are in fact working, one in a health clinic, one in a school, and one decides to become a taxi driver. She describes an unloved childhood and a forced marriage to a man 18 years her senior, a man who abused her. She enjoys the sport of Kabul driving, not a skill easily learned by anyone. Her story resembles the others’ — fathers prefer sons, sons inherit property, marriages are forced.

The taxi driver sees driving as the one thing she is able to do, and she is terrified of not being able to afford the gasoline to continue doing it. She dreams that cars might run on water. The same woman builds a house herself and loves it, but is afraid that her stepfather next door might hurt her or her children, and so lives in an apartment. Better times and changes come into her life, which is quite touching and revealing.

I certainly hope to see many more women driving in Afghanistan. If women are going to lead a movement, as they must, to reject both the U.S. occupation and the Taliban, they cannot remain in the position of children always asking for a ride.

A third part of a successful movement will be the educating and organizing of youth. In Afghanistan, 68% of the country is under age 25, and the life expectancy at birth is 44. A nation this young will rise or fall with the actions of youth.

This is almost certainly an advantage, in that youth have fewer years of trauma, bitterness, and ideologies of vengeance to overcome. While some of the leading members of AYPV lost family members to the Taliban, it is the youth more than their elders who carry less weighty memories and resentments. Watch this video of Afghan kids at an orphanage and you will feel more confident about Afghanistan’s future whether you want to or not. Watch this one of Afghan shepherd boys with slingshots and the possibility of David nonviolently halting Goliath’s assaults may appear within reach.

While Hakim is their mentor, the young men of AYPV are the leaders of this budding movement. They are thoughtful, experienced beyond their years, relentlessly energetic and upbeat. Abdullah, age 15, whose father was killed by the Taliban, recently explained his desire for peace and nonviolence from all sides to a defender of the US/NATO occupation. The icy response was that the Taliban ought to have killed him as well. Abdullah was told that he was too young to know real suffering. But the younger man was the wiser in this conversation, responding without anger or hatred and opposing the maintenance of a vicious cycle of violence.

One morning earlier this month, four members of Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers spoke to a college class in Kabul. The professor with the loudest voice argued that the United States and NATO wanted the good of all people. Faiz, age 20, was among those who spoke up in response. Speaking to elders is not part of the tradition these young men have grown up in, but they believe it has become necessary. Some eyes were opened. About half the class, by the end of the session, seemed to believe that peace might be possible.

A fourth important step is precisely that of persuading Afghans who have no experience with peace that peace is indeed possible, and that the nonviolent tools of peace are powerful enough to bring it about and to resist violent seekers of power, whether Afghan or foreign.

The U.S. military encourages Afghans to believe that only foreign violence can prevent domestic terror. Here’s a video showing U.S. advertisements for war in Afghanistan. A poster shows an Afghan baby with the words “suicide bomber or doctor?” The Peace Volunteers reject the notion that one violent force is needed to hold off another.

Afghanistan’s history has much to draw on in countering the idea that violence is inevitable. In particular, there is the history of a nonviolent Pashtun army under the leadership of Badshah Kahn resisting the British occupation of what was then the Northwest Frontier of India and is now Pakistan. A new film telling this story should be viewed by all Americans, but more importantly by all Afghans.

Imagining peace in Afghanistan is made difficult by decades of war, by traditions of honor and vengeance, by the current ubiquity of violence, but also by factors that dominate the lives of Afghans while often slipping from the minds of the rest of us. Afghans are hungry, miserable, suffering, and scared. Many have little or no electricity, healthcare, or potable water. In Afghanistan 850 children die every day.

There is no difficulty in motivating Afghans to protest in anger. But organizing a disciplined campaign of nonviolence moved by justice, while free of anger, may prove — as it usually is — more of a challenge.

A fifth factor is the building of alliances abroad, something the AYPV have been busy with, hosting dozens of foreign peace activists in Afghanistan, scheduling global conference calls on Skype, and sending messages far and wide. Here’s a video of U.S. peace activist Kathy Kelly speaking in the United States last week about her visits to Afghanistan.

The U.S. embassy has refused visas to members of AYPV who have been invited to visit and speak in the United States. What possible harm can the U.S. State Department believe would come from Americans meeting a few Afghans face-to-face and hearing about their plans for nonviolent activism and peace? Former Afghan member of Parliament Malalai Joya recently had a visa to the United States accepted following intense public pressure; so such reversals are possible.

The Revolution Has Begun

Whether a nonviolent movement will succeed in Afghanistan we have no way of knowing. Whether the Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers and others inspired by them will play a major role, I certainly can’t say. Briefly visiting Afghanistan has imprinted the views of a small unrepresentative sample of Afghans on my mind in a way that no reading about the nation can do; and even those who live there are unable to predict the future. If a nonviolent movement achieves power, the basic sequence of events is hard to foresee. The U.S. military could be forced out before a representative government is established, or vice versa. Or everything could come at once. The point I want to make is that such a thing is completely possible and that it may have already begun.

The small group of thoughtful, committed citizens that Margaret Mead said can change the world has already begun working toward peace and justice in Afghanistan. They’ve begun small. Here’s a video of the Peace Volunteers installing an illuminated sign with the word for ‘Peace’ on the side of a mountain. Here they are planting trees for peace last month. Here’s a candlelight vigil. And here is a slideshow from what I hope will be the first of many marches for peace in Kabul — this one held on March 17th of this year.

The march was covered by all of the local television stations in Kabul as a startlingly new phenomenon. Peace? Who even dreams of such a thing, much less proposes a strategy to build it? Police surrounding the marchers with batons and riot gear were a less unusual sight.

Of course, there have always been marches and protests in Afghanistan. As in the United States, such events receive far less media attention than do acts of violence. But most such demonstrations do not propose nonviolence, peace, and love. They oppose particular campaigns of violence and are generally considered at risk of spawning violence of their own. When I was in Kabul earlier this month, students at Kabul University held a march against the U.S. occupation. I would have loved to attend and speak against the crimes of my own government, but as an American I was strongly urged to go nowhere near an event at which being an American could get me killed.

The Afghan Youth Peace Volunteers have sought to send their message of nonviolent opposition to war to the heart of the empire. Here’s a video of U.S. Ambassador Karl Eikenberry in Bamiyan telling the AYPV that he will deliver their message to President Obama. Here’s a video of Congressman Keith Ellison promising the same.

The messages send out by the AYPV are eloquent and important. The immediate actions they advocate include establishing an international mediation team, a cease fire, a peacekeeping force, crisis teams, a unity campaign, restorative justice, and clean elections.

In another direct appeal the Afghan youth implore:

“Humanity has taken too long and lost too many in implementing non-violent, civil ways to resolve human conflict. We human beings can do better than repeatedly resorting to force and war to address human hurts and needs. Stop the killings, stop killing one another, stop killing the people. Stop killing us.”

David Swanson is the author of “War Is A Lie.”

13-17

Tariq Ramadan to visit Detroit MuslimFest

April 1, 2010 by · 1 Comment 

tariq-ramadan Tariq Ramadan will be the keynote speaker on April 11 in Detroit. He will address a Sound Vision benefit speaking on the topic of “Jihad within young hearts: Toward positive engagement”.

The event organizer, Sound Vision, says that young Muslims today face tremendous pressures. These pressures arise from a variety of sources: adjusting to a culture different from their parents’ culture, living and working in environments often hostile to Islamic values, facing outright prejudice that results from the constant negative portrayal of Muslims in the media. Muslim youth are among the least happy and the most angry among American youth groups, according to one Gallup poll; 16% Muslim youth participate in binge drinking; and 29% use some other name to hide their faith.

Speaking for Sound Vision Quaid Saifee said that the April 11 benefit offers a multimedia presentations on these topics along with what is being slated as Mini MuslimFest. It will feature live Adam mascot which is the main character in children’s Adam’s World series produced by Sound Vision. The Sunday event will take place in Burton Manor, Livonia, MI.

This is the first time Tariq Ramadan is visiting Detroit area. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton recently ended US visa ban on Swiss Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan entering the country.

The State department spokesman Darby Holladay said “Both the president and the secretary of state have made it clear that the US government is pursuing a new relationship with Muslim communities based on mutual interest and mutual respect.”

2004, Tariq Ramadan was to join his tenured position at the University of Notre Dame, Indiana when his visa was revoked.

The event will focus on the challenges faced by Muslim youth according to the latest Gallup poll and Columbia university research and will offer some concrete suggestions about what the community must do. For more information visit www.SoundVision.com/TariqRamadan

—-contact: Quaid Saifee: 586-944-7880

12-14

Building from Blueprints

January 9, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Marium Zafar

IMG_0370 Over New Year’s weekend, the conference “Blueprints to Success: A Reflection of Adab for Our Modern Society” was held at the Tawheed Center of Farmington Hills. As the foundations of our new building are laid down for the beginning of this decade, we turn our attentions to establishing fresh and powerful spiritual resolutions for the rest of our lives as well. I was lucky to be involved in organizing this weekend retreat with the youth of Tawheed Center under the guidance of Imam Sohel Mangera. Spearheading the efforts, Shafi Ahmed, a graduate accounting student at Oakland University and Youth coordinator from IAGD, brought experience from noteworthy conferences, such as Organic Traditions, to the Tawheed Center. While there were many important figures involved in organizing this retreat, the real blueprint to the success of the conference was not any individual, but the consistent cooperation between all the members of our society together in the manner and Adab distinguished by the Sunnah of the Prophet (S).

Cooperation amongst our various communities had a very far-reaching effect. As I walked around our Masjid, I could see people from IAGD rushing to organize registration papers and chasing toddlers into the babysitting rooms, people from Canton offering to publicize, attend, and finance future events, as well as new faces from Canada and Kentucky giving us valuable advice throughout the weekend. Our Ulema, from Chicago to as far as the United Kingdom, brought refreshing perspectives from their communities to the Tawheed Center as well.

This immense diversity was also spread amongst the volunteers. While the University graduates completed errands in the early mornings and late into the night, the registration tables were staffed by middle school kids throughout the day; sitting on the stage reciting the Quran were students in the Hifz Program as young as six years old, all eager to have their share in the blessings of the gathering. It may have been the first time in my life that I saw the youth around me functioning as such a cohesive body. It certainly was the first time our elders saw us in this new light! Fundraising for the conference in the weeks running up to it was rather daunting, for no one was sure where the money was going to end up in the hands of “youth;” as the actual retreat progressed however, our request for donations was readily answered and the funds began to flow in. It was only through the blessings of Allah (SWT) due to the presence of our scholars and the approval of our elders that this conference was completely funded while remaining free of charge to attendees.

The feedback I received during and after the conference was nothing but positive. The ladies were grateful to no end that the girls sacrificed their time to babysit their children, ensuring that everyone in the Masjid could concentrate and benefit from the lectures. (Perhaps more grateful were their husbands, who were not beseeched with requests to take turns taking care of the kids.)  The men were amazed at the swift execution of the agenda as the brothers burned CD recordings within the hour. As we learned in accordance to the Adab of Seeking Knowledge, a general punctuality rule was upheld in regards to everything from transportation of the speakers to coordination of food and supplies. With the support and example of the board members and our elders, we, as youth, accomplished a great deal on our first attempt at such an endeavor.

Another oft-repeated and undisputed remark the volunteers heard was praise for the implementation of the program according to the Sunnah of the Prophet (S), especially in regards to segregation. With the program and food completely separated, both the men and women enjoyed a more liberated atmosphere during break times, while still being able to clearly see, hear, and communicate with the speakers during the lecture sessions. As our scholars quoted in their talks, Allah (SWT) says in Surat Al-e-Imraan,

“If you do love Allah, follow me [the Prophet (S)]: Allah will love you and forgive your sins, for Allah is oft-forgiving, most merciful”

Ali Imran: 31

A palpable, almost surreal atmosphere of tranquility was felt throughout the weekend, for by following the Sunnah of the Prophet (S) as much as we could in all aspects of the program, the blessings of the gathering were showered upon everyone. The youth surrounded the speakers and took several pages of copious notes as the weekend went on. Even after the intense schedule of activities, young children convinced their fathers to stay in ‘itikaaf with them overnight in order to remain with the scholars, keeping them awake until three in the morning with contemporary questions. Piles of CDs sold out, a good deal of chai was consumed, and everyone seemed to be smiling contagiously.

The Ulema were readily accessible throughout the weekend, for men and women alike; through the separate brothers’ and sisters’ Question and Answer sessions, everyone was able to communicate with the scholars and gain from their knowledge. As well stated by a student of the Islamic Sciences in attendance, “We live in a country where we are bombarded by images, people, and an agenda all year long. If these are the only programs that observe the separation and enable Allah (SWT) to bless us, then we have to make sure it continues. Insha’Allah the fruits of this conference will become evident in the people who change for the better. Maybe it won’t be tangible in our eyes, but know that Allah (SWT) won’t miss it.” For this reason, I would like to specifically express gratitude to the Tawheed Center Shurah Board for allowing us the privilege of conducting such an event, as well as to Imam Sohel for expertly guiding us through it. Jazakumullahu Khairan.

As Imam Sohel advised us repeatedly, we should take what we learned from this weekend and apply it to our lives to benefit long term. Now that we have drafted out our blueprints, we have to build upon them together with proper Adab. Our task as a community has not concluded with this weekend, but rather it has just begun. Just like our Masjid’s building did not rise up in two days, we have to work now to raise the bar of our spirituality and build up a strong community. We, the youth, this weekend have gained a new admiration and deeper Adab towards our elders who have organized such events on a regular basis; we ask you now to keep us in your Du’as and support us in our future efforts, insha’ Allah.

For more information about this conference and future events, please visit www.thelightofdawn.org.

12-2

World’s Youth Leaders Gather to Address the Challenges of Militarization, Nuclear Weapons and the Misuse of Religion

July 16, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Kathmandu_street
File:  A busy street in Kathmandu.

(Kathmandu, July 10, 2009)  The International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security was inaugurated by His Excellency the President, Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, in Kathmandu on 10 July 2009.  Organized by the World Conference of Religions for Peace, the world’s largest multi-religious organization accredited with the United Nations and headquartered in New York, the Summit brought together approximately 100 Nepali and 50 international religious and civil society leaders from 25 countries.[1]   Other prominent participants in the Summit included Mr. Kul C. Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF; Mr. Taijiro Kimura, Director, UN Regional Centre for Peace and Disarmament in Asia and the Pacific; Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General, the World Conference of Religions for Peace; and Ms. Stellamaris Mulaeh, International Coordinator, Religions for Peace Global Youth Network.

Globally nearly 1,000 people a day die from various kinds of weapons.  Military spending in 2008 reached a new high of $1.464 trillion, even as the global economy faltered and the majority of the world’s population continued to live in extreme poverty.   Four billion dollars worth of small arms are traded legally each year, while another $1 billion is traded illegally.  The world is confronted with proliferation of nuclear weapons, continued use of cluster munitions, landmines and other conventional weapons, rising military expenditures at the expense of development, and the misuse of religion in support of violence and war.

His Excellency Dr. Ram Baran Yadav, the President of Nepal, stated that “We need to harness the power of the world’s religions to counter violence with the message of peace, love and compassion, especially among the youth of our nations. I want to compliment the Religion and Peace Academy of Nepal (RAPAN) and the World Conference of Religions for Peace (WCRP) for convening a very timely ‘International Summit of Religious Youth Leaders on Disarmament for Shared Security’ in Kathmandu.”

Mr. Tadatoshi Akiba, Mayor of Hiroshima, Japan, and president of Mayors for Peace, a global coalition of mayors from 2,926 cities in 134 countries and regions, stated in his message that “The possibility of proliferation and the use of nuclear weapons are growing, and the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) is on the verge of collapse.  Mayors for Peace welcomes the possibility of working with the world’s religious communities and young people through the Religions for Peace global network to promote our 2020 Vision, a program to eliminate all nuclear weapons by the year 2020, the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombings in Hiroshima and Nagasaki.” 

Mr. Kul Gautam, former UN Assistant Secretary-General and former Deputy Executive Director of UNICEF noted that “Youth are the soul of the society.  They are essential to transform culture of violence we are seeing at present to culture of peace, which is an intrinsic and inherent part of Nepali culture.  Based on my long association with Religions for Peace, I am confident that this conference will help advance a powerful campaign for peace and non-violence through multi-religious cooperation in Nepal and around the world.” He urged the World Conference of Religions for Peace to support a massive campaign to rollback violence in Nepal as a direct follow-up of this conference in Nepal, and consider similar campaigns in other post-conflict countries in the world.

Rev. Kyoichi Sugino, Assistant Secretary General of the World Conference of Religions for Peace, said, “This Summit intends to further unleash the positive socially transformative power of religion, underline the crucial role of young people in shaping our world, and highlight the added value of multi-religious cooperation and multi-stakeholder approach to disarmament for shared security, development and peace.”

Ms. Stellamaris Mulaeh, International Coordinator, Religions for Peace Global Youth Network said, “This Summit is a great opportunity for religious youth leaders to discuss major challenges to shared security and develop action plans.  Based upon these, Religions for Peace youth leaders from national, regional and global networks will launch a campaign on reducing military expenditures to advance shared security.”

[1] Afghanistan, Argentina, Cambodia, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, France, Georgia, Greece, India, Indonesia, Israel, Japan, Jordan, Kenya, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Peru, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka and the US.  

11-30

Despite FBI Investigation, Minnesota Mosque Has Support

July 9, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Ramla Bile, Mshale, New America Media

spring08-06-grocery
File:  A member of Minnesota’s Somali community

Despite fears of distractions from the missing Somali youth saga that has engulfed the Somali community in Minnesota, the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center held its 9th Annual Convention at the Minneapolis Convention Center over the weekend where thirty speakers addressed 10,000 people over three days.

Participants said it was encouraging to see the number of attendees, the breadth of topics, and the scope of talent.

Despite a tumultuous year, the mosque saw increased attendance at this year’s convention and a spike in monetary support. Since last fall, the mosque has come under fire for the “missing youth” debacle, a connection that the mosque administrators and its supporters continue to deny. People close to the mosque did not believe the annual event would occur this year, they feared that the need to address the allegations would distract the administration and volunteers from organizing the convention. But after successfully meeting fundraising goals and having a record attendance with the help of 200 volunteers, the Abubakar community believes it maintains the trust and love of the Somali community. “This crowd and their energy is a testimony to their commitment to the mosque and its respected leaders,” attendee Ali Abdi said.

People travelled from Columbus, Nashville, Toronto, Kansas City, and across the United States and Canada to listen, learn, and meet. Hundreds of others logged-in to a live broadcast through several websites that serve the Somali community. Twenty-year-old Anab Ibrahim travelled from Seattle to attend the convention. “We came because my aunt was impressed with the line-up. When we arrived, we were amazed with the number of people we saw standing and sitting around in the lobby… we were even more shocked to see the packed auditorium,” she said. At the peak of the event on Saturday, an estimated 7,000 thousand people filled the two auditoriums. Anab said she especially enjoyed the English lectures. “Other conferences are only about the politics of Somalia, and often make us feel hopeless. This was applicable to our lives here and our faith. It showed me what we could do for our community and ourselves.”

Speakers addressed a wide range of topics, including the future of Somalis in the diaspora, the prevalence of autism, the importance of knowing your rights, the danger of gangs and extremism, the notion of Islam as mercy among others.

The only wrinkle on the conference was keynote speaker, Sheikh Mustafa Harun, being denied entry to the United States upon landing at Newark airport. He ultimately addressed the audience via webcam the following day. Participants expressed outrage over their revered scholar being denied entry. Harun said he checked in with the U.S. Embassy in Norway weeks prior to his scheduled flight and was told he should not encounter any issues. Norway has a visa waiver program with the United States. Despite his attempt at planning ahead, he did not make it to the convention. After a 9-hour flight, he was questioned for 3 hours and was told that although his identity was cleared, he must leave the country. He was allowed to make a call before boarding another 9-hour flight back to Norway.

Other speakers included imams from around the U.S. including Minnesota, among them Sheikh Abdirahman Sheikh Omar, Sheikh Abdirizak Hashi, Sheikh Jamel Bin Ameur, and others. Audience members were astounded by the knowledge and wit of 12-year-old Mohamud Ahmed Mohamud, who was introduced as “Sheikh Mohamud.” He related the story of Salman Al-Farisi, a historic figure in Islamic history, and spoke on the importance of seeking knowledge and asking questions. He shared the Somali proverb of regret where a person says, “when I had youth, I did not want to learn, and when I had age, I wished I had learned during my youth.” Mohamud says he wanted to send a strong message to the youth, and encourage them to take advantage of their time. “I want young people to step up to the plate because I see so much good in them and it’s time for the youth to rise,” he said. Mohamud spent the past three years helping in the bookstore of the mosque, reading and writing as he could.

Gubernatorial candidate Steve Kelley, and Constituent Advocate to Sen. Amy Klobuchar, Siad Ali spoke on the health, education, and anti-immigration sentiment. Klobuchar addressed the audience by video where she touched on the cultural and intellectual wealth Somalis bring to Minnesota. Minneapolis welcomed Abukar Arman, the President of the CAIR chapter in Columbus who did a “know your rights” presentation in Somali, while members of the local chapter of CAIR did a program in English. “It’s important for people to understand their legal rights and the implications of their actions – intentional or not. Wanting a lawyer is not an omission of guilt. We want people to cooperate with law enforcement and we want them to know their rights,” he said. Arman also addressed the allegations against certain mosques in the city, saying that, “we’re finding that people are being judged by public opinion, which is ridiculous because this is a nation of law and order, and rumors should not absolve or condemn people or institutions of allegations. Rather, this should be determined by an established legal process.”

Poets Sara Mohamed and Maryam Warsame made their début at the convention. Warsame is one of three organizers for the mosque’s “Youth to Youth” group, a mentorship program for young women. Sara is a student in the program, and the two began writing together this winter. They rhymed about the situation of women in their homeland, and shared the stories of those who did not find relief. “We don’t want to be famous, we just want to get message out and not forget about those who are suffering,” Warsame said. She added that the convention was a good opportunity for students to share their work.

In addition to the poetry and lectures, the convention also included a fundraising component. In a little over an hour, participants pledged $150,000 to help cover expenses incurred over the construction of the second floor of the mosque, as well as to jump-start the next phase of development. The administration hopes to complete the parking lot and make the exterior of the building more visually pleasing.

It is difficult to imagine that this is the same institution that operated from a garage in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood – the epicenter of the city’s newest wave of immigrants. Founding member Abdulaziz Sugule says this vision for a mosque comprehensively serving the community started over a decade ago and the organization began operations in 2000. Then called the Imam Shafi’i Mosque, the name was changed to the Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center and the organization moved to an abandoned warehouse in South Minneapolis. “Today, that vision is a five million dollar project,” Sugule said. “The mosque plays a major role in advancing the community; it consists of all kinds of social services including providing family counseling, settling community disputes, celebrating Islamic holidays, working with local and national government leaders, mentoring youth, and providing a place of Islamic worship and education,” he said.

Looking up with a smile, he added, “Contrary to what some people are saying, they (the mosque administration) are trying to build a healthy community with good people… they’re starting a movement for positive change and people love the place and its people.”

11-29

South Florida Vol 8 Iss 17

April 24, 2006 by · Leave a Comment 

New Youth Group seeks to Mobilize Youth with first Boys Basketball Tournament

As of press time, organizers at the newly formed Florida Association of Young Muslims (FAYM) said that spots were almost gone for their First Annual Brothers Basketball Tournament to be held this coming weekend on April 30, from 9 AM-6 PM at the weston Regional Park at 20200 Saddle Club Rd in Broward County.
The tournament will be divided into two divisions with Seniors ages 15 and over in one category, and Juniors, ages 10-15, in another. The registration fee is $200 per team with a maximum of 12 Players per team. Participants can register of get more information on the tournament at www.faym.org, and questions can be sent to basketball@faym.org.
A recent addition to the South Florida Muslim youth scene, FAYM is the brainchild of a number of youth in the Broward area who attend the Darul Uloom Islamic center including self-published young Muslim poet and rapper Raa’id Khan.
But the group is not centered around any one local Islamic center, it’s focus, instead, is general community youth work “to mobilize Muslim youths from the Palm Beach to Key West”, which its members say has been seriously lacking in recent years.
“We have spent the last eight years trying to cater for the youths within the present masjid system,” reads a statement on the group’s website. “It has failed. This is due to the fact that the masjids are not set up to primarily focus on youths. It is not their first or even second priority. Masjids have a broader agenda to cater for the whole community. Youths are just a small part of this agenda and thus do not get the requisite priority.
“Thus in most masjids very little or no funds are allocated for youths and very little opportunity exists for them. If our youth are our most valuable resource, then we need to have some way of making them the priority and providing them all the opportunities and training they need. FAYM is set up to do this in the absence of any other alternative.”
FAYM follows in the footsteps of local chapters of national Muslim groups MYNA (the Muslim Youth of North America) and YM (Young Muslims), both of which still have a number of events throughout the year, but on a much smaller scale than in their heydays of the 1990s. Still prominent examples include a MYNA-Miami basketball tournament that still goes on annually. The number of local MSA’s has also grown in recent years, with inter-MSA basketball tournaments also present.
As for interactions with these other groups, the FAYM website says the new group’s outlook is simple: “If a youth group exists within another masjid, then FAYM will consider them a partner. They in essence are doing some of the work that FAYM would have had to do. Thus FAYM will support their effort and help them as much as possible.”
FAYM also organized a youth camp this past February, their first event.

Subhani speaks at FIU Islamic Awareness Week
Week focuses on Diversity, Women

After a number of low key years, The Muslim Students Association at Florida International University (FIU) held their annual Islamic Awareness Week earlier this month, featuring a number of lectures, presentations and events from April 3-6 at the local public university. The theme for this year’s week was “Diversity in Islam,” and speakers for the events ranged from the local to the national, men to women, and a diverse ethnic range.
Women’s issues were prevalent during the week, including the kick off event, a lecture entitled “Women in Islam” by local doctor and Muslim community leader, Dr. Aisha Subhani on Monday, April 3.

Pulitzer Prize Winning Cartoonist, Muslim leader, Law professor discuss Islam, Cartoons and Free Speech at UM Panel

The No Place For Hate Committee, a HOPE program at the University of Miami recently presented ‘Outrageous Cartoons’ a panel discussion on the issues of free speech, Islam, community values and political cartoons the UM School of Law student lounge on Wednesday, March 29.
The event featured participation from Jim Morin, Pulitzer prize winning political cartoonist for the Miami Herald, Patrick Gudirdge, a UM constitutional law professor, and Moeiz Tapia, the UM computer engineering professor who serves as advisor for the university’s two Islamic student groups and often presents Muslim community perspectives at various university events.
Organized described the event as a dynamic and thought provoking discussion on the subject.
The event was organized in the aftermath of the recent Danish political cartoon controversy. In the build up to the event, Tamer El-Attar, a Muslim research assistant with the school’s Industrial Engineering Department said that for the school’s hundreds strong Muslim student population, the event was an “opportunity to raise more understanding to our situation.”
The non-Muslim community has to see that have to see “Violence was never in our teachings, and was never practiced by prophet Mohammed,” (s) said El-Attar. “The Nobel prophet is definitely a person that we cant accept any humiliation against, even in the name of the so called Freedom of speech.”
In the build up to the vent, El-Attar circulated an article by Imam Zaid Shakir of the Zaytuna Institute of California entitled “The Ethical Standard of the Prophet Muhammad” (s) on the issue and suggested making copies and distributing the article at the event for informational purposes.
The article can be found here: http://www.zaytuna.org/articleDetails.asp?articleID=93