Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Westerners Attend Seminars Dispelling Myths About Islam


Westerners Attend Seminars Dispelling Myths About Islam
Ismaeel Nakhuda, Arab News

MAKKAH, 3 September 2006 — A group of 82 Western Muslims participated in a set of seminars held in the holy cities of Makkah and Madinah with some of the Kingdom’s leading sheikhs and imams to learn about the peaceful message of Islam.
The students — male and female, who were mainly from the US and included people from Britain, Canada and the West Indies, were also given an opportunity to visit the holy cities, gain exclusive access to the Prophet’s Mosque in Madinah, enter the Kaaba in Makkah and direct questions to Saudi scholars about the challenges faced by Muslim living in the West.
According to the organizers, Al-Quraan Wa As-Sunnah Society of New York, the Saudi scholars were able to dispel many of the myths and misconceptions surrounding Islam.
Sheikh Zahid Rashid, an American student at the Umm Al-Qura University in Makkah and one of the main organizers of the tour said, “The group includes people who are active in dawa in their areas, imams of mosques in the US and the heads of MSAs at universities in the US. The whole purpose of the program is to make people active in the US to give dawa (propagation of Islam) and dispel myths about Islam and terrorism.”
Participants spent one week in Madinah and two weeks in Makkah and were able to attend various seminars held by numerous sheikhs in both cities on subjects relating to creed, jurisprudence, hadith, the Qur’an and the methodology of dawa among non-Muslims in the West.
Convert to Islam Mohammed Abdul Aziz, from Atlanta, US, said, “I have definitely learned about Islam and this trip has enabled me to dispel some myths there about Islam. There are those who say they are good Muslims but the scholars here are telling people that this is wrong.
“As far as terrorism and stuff like that is concerned Saudi Arabia and the scholars here have categorically explained that they don’t support terrorism and that terrorism is against Islam.”
Arab News joined the group on their final day of seminars in which members of the group directed questions to Sheikh Wasiullah Abbas, an Indian scholar who lectures in the Grand Mosque. The sheikh answered questions regarding Muslim unity, how to interact with non-Muslims in dawa work and how Muslims should work with student Muslim bodies at universities and colleges across the West. Speaking to the group the sheikh said, “You shouldn’t call them in a harsh way, nor should you put people down but you should call them with wisdom and try helping them.”
Safwan Abu Kanaz, 35, came all the way from New York to participate in the seminars. Describing the trip to be very “historical” he said, “I’ve never seen the like of this trip and nor will I.”
Safwan added, “The way the media are projecting Islam is in total contradiction of what is being portrayed about Saudi Arabia. The extremists are people without knowledge. The sheikhs have condemned all acts of extremism and have explained and clarified that which is Islam and that which is against the ethos of the religion.”
Speaking about international terrorism he added, “They have explained in full detail that Islam is against terrorism. Those that are portrayed as leaders are not leaders and in fact don’t have any Islamic knowledge.”
Among the highlights of the trip was an opportunity to visit the factory that builds covers for the Kaaba and a chance to have supper at the home of the Imam of Makkah Sheikh Muhammad Subayyil.
Addressing the group Sheikh Subayyil advised against extremism and said, “People should behave with non-Muslims with softness, kindness and ease to attract them to Islam.”
Wisaf Sharieff, 25, a radiology student from New York, said, “We had a wonderful welcome in Madinah and one of the highlights of the Madinah stay was that within three days of reaching there we were given exclusive access to the haram and we had 35 minutes all to ourselves there. It was a special moment.”
Commenting on the outcome of the visit Sheikh Zahid said, “We want people to see the peaceful message of Islam and to go back and be able to teach their communities the real message. We want people to know that Islam and Muslims are different from what the media show.”
Organizers say this is the second time such a visit has been arranged and hope to organize similar visits in coming years.

Use of Modern Science for Crescent (Hilal) Sighting


Use Modern Science for Sighting the Crescent: Al-ObaikanRaid Qusti, Arab News

RIYADH, 1 October 2005 — Sheikh Abdul Muhsen Al-Obaikan, adviser at the Ministry of Justice, a member of the Shoura Council and a well-known religious scholar, has questioned the method being used by the Kingdom’s Supreme Judiciary Council to determine the sighting of the Ramadan crescent by using the naked eye.
In an interview with Arab News, Al-Obaikan said using the naked eye to determine the beginning and end of the holy month in this age of modern science and huge telescopes was primitive.
“There is no other way to put it. It’s pure backwardness,” he said.
The sheikh said that the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which specifies that the beginning of Ramadan and its end should be determined by viewing the crescent did not mention that the viewing should only be by the naked eye.
He mentioned that at the time of the Prophet there were no satellites or huge telescopes that could see the universe, let alone the moon.
“Modern science is always aligned with Islam,” Al-Obaikan said. “Unlike Christianity where the church in the Middle Ages refuted scientific discoveries and rejected them, we as Muslims are asked to embrace science,” he said, adding that, “Islam and science are not two separate things. In fact they work side by side.”
He questioned the logic of still relying on two witnesses to go out in the desert and see the moon, taking upon themselves the responsibility of the fasting of millions of Muslims, when telescopes and satellites could easily determine that without any error.
“I have said this just a couple of days ago on Saudi Arabian Television and I am saying it again: How can we take into account the testimony of an old man, 80 years old, who comes to the court and says that he had seen the crescent in the desert? The guy can barely see his sandals!” he remarked.
He said he had no idea why the Kingdom’s Supreme Judiciary Council continued to use the primitive method of determining the beginning and end of Ramadan by the naked eye, despite the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars saying that it was OK to use telescopes for the purpose.
“The use of telescopes has been OK’d by the Council of Senior Islamic Scholars years ago. I do not know why the Supreme Judiciary Council is so persistent to continue the use of the naked eye for the sighting of the moon,” he said.
Al-Obaikan said that using telescopes and modern science to determine the beginning of a month would rule out any errors made by people.
He noted how last year millions of pilgrims in the Kingdom were confused when the Supreme Judiciary Council suddenly announced that Arafat Day would be changed, just a couple of days before the actual day.
He said a couple of years ago he was the head of a conference that represented Saudi Arabia and other Islamic states to discuss “Al-Ahilla”, which means the sighting of the moon to determine the beginning and end of holy days.
“During that conference I strongly recommended that the viewing of the moon to determine these days through modern scientific methods. It is very unfortunate that nothing has happened since then,” he concluded

Monday, October 09, 2006

Islam and Democracy?


Islam and Democracy

“Democracy” is a powerful and attractive word. This holds true for the people of the Middle East, since their societies have come heavily under the influence of Western ideas and cultural values. For many, democracy has come to represent freedom, advancement, peace, stability, and prosperity. For some, it represents the very embodiment of all that is good.

The media contributes greatly to this general positive attitude towards democracy. The media links the word “democracy” to a vast number of concerns, depicting it as a sort of magic potion with the power to cure a myriad of social ailments. As a result of the media hubbub, many people have fallen into what might be called “the democracy trap”, by which I mean their belittling and totally disregarding their own cultural context to clear the way for an abstract ideal that is completely divorced in practice from the cultural reality in which they live.

The way to avoid this trap is to fully understand and appreciate the critical analysis that is brought to bear by leading democratic theorists with respect to the shortcomings that exist in both the conceptualization of democracy and its practical application.

Democracy is not the embodiment of all that is good. Nor is it something bad. The problem is that some of those in the Muslim world advocate democracy are unable to see it except within the superficial confines of a single ideological pattern tied in their minds to a single mode of practice. In the minds of such people, democracy means nothing other than parliaments and elections. This line of thinking can only result in a charade – the mere outward trappings of democracy. Then there are those who oppose democracy, conceiving of it as the absolute rule of the people which must necessarily be rejected. Their rejection, however, can only result in the absolute rule of a single, oppressive dictator.

In practice – as well as in theory – democracy is not a monolithic idea with a single mode of practical expression. There is a variety of approaches to democracy that have come about as a result of the different philosophical backgrounds and particular circumstances of the various societies wherein it has been adopted.

When democracy first developed in Athens over two thousand years ago, it was the people choosing to govern their own affairs instead of letting a tyrant do it for them. Democracy was a way to for them to do away with tyranny so that the people could express their will as to how they would govern their city.

The democracy of Athens was known as “direct democracy”. The idea of democracy evolved since then into what we know as “representative democracy”. This is the form that democracy takes in our present era. It, in turn, conceptualized and applied in various different ways.

Many theorists make a distinction between the philosophy and values that form the basis for democracy and the machinery by which the will of the people is ascertained – in other words, the means by which governance is carried out. They see democracy on its own unable of realizing its social objectives. They speak about principles of democracy that need to be realized as well, such as: the rule of law, freedom of speech, separation of powers, transparency of government, and secularism.

Though these principles and others enjoy the general acceptance of democracy theorists, we find that a number of these principles have come under some serious discussion. Take, for instance, the principle of majority rule. This is an essential principle, without which there can be no democracy. The very purpose of democracy would be lost without it. Nevertheless, a good number of theorists have expressed concern over the possible tyranny of the majority. Some argue that the fear of mob rule was the central issue that preoccupied the American thinkers who drafted the United States Constitution. This is the reason why, at the outset, the right to vote was restricted to certain sectors of society. Women and slaves, for instance, were ineligible to vote.

The discussions and disagreements that exist among political theorists tell us as Muslims that we need to investigate these issues ourselves and work to develop a way to apply democracy in a way that is suited to our Islamic outlook. I suggest, for this purpose, the following:

1. Distinguishing between ideological frameworks and means of governance

We can accept democracy as a form of government and a means of expressing the will of the people without adopting ideological principles and values that are at variance with the teachings of Islam. One of these Islamic values is that the ultimate authority for legislation is the Qur’an and Sunnah. This is not at odds with the concept of democracy, since democracy, as political theorists have pointed out, is a means of governance that cannot exist outside the context of some philosophical framework. As the American political thinker Zbigniew Brzezinski pointed out, democracy might be basically a western idea, but it is a vessel that needs to be filled with something. We can, therefore, fill that vessel with contents that are compatible with our faith.

Those who promote democracy today are not content merely to speak about it on its own. They link it to liberalism and individual freedom and claim that any democracy that does not realize these meanings is not a true democracy. If they are permitted to link democracy with other philosophical precepts that they embrace, then others are likewise permitted to do so.

Some might object the authority of the Qur’an and Sunnah conflicts with the basic principle of democracy that the state must be a secular one. We can counter that claim by pointing out the following:

1. We do not have to accept every principle that is advanced as a principle of democracy. We can have our own vision. We can develop a form of democracy that is compatble with our identity.

2. Most forms of modern Christianity do not have a specific code of Law that it is considered a religious duty for Christians to uphold in the governance of their societies. Therefore, secularism on the level of the civic polity does not constitute a revocation of Christian sacred law, since such a law does not exist in principle. What secularism means to Christianity is the abolition of theocracy – the rule of the clergy, the rule of people who claim to speak on behalf of God and on the behalf of Christ (peace be upon him). The clergy in a theocratic system claim to receive direct divine insight and in turn require that other people submit to their direction and their command. The will and the welfare of the people is not a consideration.

Islam is opposed to the idea of a clerical class. Islam views what they practice as heresy, as a situation where a special group of people upon their own authority concoct lies against Allah and a misrepresent the religion.

3. Once it becomes clear to us that secularism poses no conflict for the Sacred Law as understood by Christianity, we need then understand that secularism itself takes many forms. In America the Constitution openly declares the separation of church and state. In Britain, however, we find a different situation, where the Queen is the head of the church and the country tends to the affairs of the official Christian faith.

4. In Islam, the jurists and scholars – people who are often misleadingly reffered to by non-Muslims as “Muslim clerics” – do not possess exclusive access to the truth. They are people who can be debated with, whose views can be contradicted. In Islam, religious authority does not rest with the scholar or jurist; it rests with the Qur’ân and Sunnah. These texts are independent of the people and are to be approached objectively.

There is no single concept of secularism that is accepted by all secularists. If we understand from it that the people are to be consulted and that they have the right to express their opinions and object to what they disagree with – and this is the democratic spirit – then this is one of the basic principles of our Law.

2. Recognition of the excellence of many of the principles of democracy

Among these principles are the primacy of the constitution, transparency of government, independence of the judiciary, separation of powers, freedom of speech, respect for human dignity, and the preservation of human rights. These principles embody the true essence and spirit of democracy. Without them, all that can exist is a farse, the mere outward trappings of democracy.

These are principles that Islamic Law calls us to uphold and commands our politicians to adhere to. Whoever wishes to adopt democracy should, first and foremost, embrace these principles. It is deeply regrettable that in many countries in the Arab world where we find the outward appearance of the democratic process, we do not find the reality of democracy.

3. Recognition that democracy is a culture and a social practice

Democracy is not merely a parliament and a ballot box. The practice of true democracy requires freedom of speech and open public dialogue.

4. Democracy cannot exist without public scrutiny

A democracy that cannot be monitored by the people is not a true democracy. Transparency in government administration is essential. All citizens must have equal access to information.

5. Muslims must exercise every effort to develop their mode of government

We must devise our own Islamic terminology that reflects our religion, our heritage, and the requirements of our faith.

Dr. `Abd Allah Nâsir al-Subayh
The Rights of Non-Muslims in Islam

Why The Star Jermaine Jackson Became Muslim.


Jermaine Jackson

In a starling Interview, Jermaine Jackson, brother of world-famous star Michael Jackson, tells how he embraced Islam.

Islam is a religion, which transcends all petty prejudices of color, race and territorial boundaries. That is why the followers of other religions, with a nearsighted vision, have a sense of overflowing pride and relief when they embrace Islam. Deserting the religion of one?s forefathers is one of the most difficult decisions, but the golden principles and the virtues of broadmindedness of Islam have persuaded mankind to adopt it as a way of life.

Now, therefore, Islam has emerged as the greatest religion of the world. Jermaine Jackson, brother of world-famous Michael Jackson is one of those men who have left the religion of their forefathers and made Islam the inseparable part of their life. From Jermaine Jackson, he has re-named as Muhammad Abdulaziz. He lives in one of the luxurious palaces in the outskirts of Los Angeles (USA). The palace of Abdulaziz is surrounded by beautiful gardens. This is the place where he and his sisters compose their musical notes. This remains under surveillance of more than 15 security vans round the clock. This area which is known as? Falis? in Los Angeles is considered one of the most expensive areas the world over London based Arabic "al-Mujallah" has recently published an interview of Jermaine Jackson for the first time since he became Muslim. In this interview, he has expressed his passionate love for Islam. Let us see how he responded to various questions: -

When and How did you start your journey towards Islam?

It was way back in 1989 when I, along with my sister, conducted a tour to some of the countries of Middle East. During our stay in Bahrain, we were accorded warm welcome. There I happened to meet some children and had a light chitchat with them. I put certain questions to them and they flung at me their innocent queries. During the course of this interaction, they inquired about my religion. I told them, "I am a Christian." I asked them, as to what was their religion? A wave of serenity took over them. They replied in one voice ? Islam. Their enthusiastic answer really shook me from within. Then they started telling me about Islam. They were giving me information, much in piece with their age. The pitch of their voice would reveal that they were highly proud of Islam. This is how I paced toward Islam.

A very short interaction with a group of children ultimately led me to have long discourses about Islam with Muslim scholars. A great ripple had taken place in my thought. I made failing attempt to console myself that nothing had happened but I could not conceal this fact any longer from myself that at heart I had converted to Islam. This I disclosed first to my family friend, Qunber Ali. The same Qunber Ali managed to take me to Riyadh, capital of Saudi Arabia. Till that time, I did not know much about Islam. From there, in the company of a Saudi family, I proceeded for Mecca for the performance of "Umrah". There I made public for the first time that I had become Muslim.

What were your feelings after you proclaimed that you were a Muslim?

Having embraced Islam, I felt as if I were born again. I found in Islam the answers to those queries which I had failed to find in Christianity. Particularly, it was only Islam that provided satisfactory answer to the question relating to the birth of Christ. For the first time I was convinced about the religion itself. I pray my family members might appreciate these facts. My family is the follower of that cult of Christianity, which is known as AVENDANCE of JEHOVA (Jehova's Witness). According to its creeds, only 144,000 men would finally qualify to enter into paradise. ?How comes, It remained always a perplexing creed for me. I was surprised to know that Bible was compiled by so many men, particularly about a volume scripted by King James. I wondered if a man compiles a directory and then ascribes it to God, but he does not fully comply with these directions. During my stay in Saudi Arabia I have had the opportunity to buy a cassette released by the erstwhile British pop-singer and the present Muslim preacher, Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens). I learnt a lot from this as well.

What happened when you got back to the US after embracing Islam?

When I returned to USA, American media orchestrated heinous propaganda against Islam and the Muslims. The gossips were let loose on me which really disturbed my peace of mind. The Hollywood was hell-bent upon maligning the Muslims. They were being projected as terrorists. There are many things where there is consensus between Christianity and Islam, and Quran presents Holy Christ as a virtuous Prophet. Then, I wondered, why Christian America levels baseless allegations against Muslims?

This made me gloomy. I made up my mind that I would do my best to dispel the wrong image of Muslims, portrayed by the American media. I had not the slightest idea that American media would not digest the news of my accepting Islam and raise such a great hue and cry. It was virtually acting against all its tall and much-publicized claims about the freedom of expression and the freedom of conscience. So the hypocrisy of American society came to surface and lay uncovered before me. Islam unknotted many complications for me. As a matter of fact, I came to think of myself as a complete human being, in the literal sense of the word. After becoming Muslim, I felt a tremendous change in me. I discarded all thing prohibited in Islam. This made things difficult for my family too. In short, the Jackson family tumbled altogether. Threatening letters poured in, which further intensified the worries of my family.

What sort of threats?

Well, they would tell me that I had nurtured the animosity of American society and culture, by entering into the laps of Islam, you have deprived yourself of the right to live with others. WE would make life unbearable for you in America so on, so forth. But I confess that my family is broadminded. We have held all religions in esteem. Our parents have trained and groomed us in that way. Therefore, I may say that the Jackson family enjoys friendly relation with people belonging to almost all religions. This is the result of that training that I am being tolerated by them so far.

What was the reaction of your brother Michael Jackson?

On my way back to America, I brought a number of books from Saudi Arabia. Michael Jackson asked me himself for some of these books for study. Before this, his opinion was influenced by the propaganda of American media against Islam and the Muslims. He was not inimical towards Islam, but he was not favorably disposed towards Muslims either. But after reading these books, he would keep mum and not say anything against Muslims. I think perhaps this is the impact of the study of Islam that he diverted his business interests towards Muslim traders. Now, he has equal shares with the Saudi billionaire prince Waleed bin Talal, in his multi-national company.

It was said earlier that Michael Jackson was against Muslims, then there are rumors that he had become Muslim. What is the real story?

I testify this fact, at least there is nothing in my knowledge that Michael Jackson ever said anything derogatory against Muslims. His songs, too, give message of love for others. We have learnt from our parents to love others. Only those who have their own ax to grind hurl allegations on him. When there can be a nasty uproar against me when I became Muslim, why can it not be so against Michael Jackson. But, so far, media has not subjected him to scathing criticism, although he is threatened for his getting somewhat closer to Islam. But who knows what would it look like when Michael Jackson embraces Islam.

What are the views of the rest of the members of your family about you?

When I returned to America, my mother had already heard the news of my conversion to Islam. My mother is a religious and civilized woman. When I reached home, she put forth only one question, "you have taken this decision all of a sudden, or is it the outcome of some deep and long thinking behind it?" "I have decided after a lot of thinking about it," I replied, let me say we are known as a religious family. Whatever we possess, is due to the blessing of God. Then why we should not be grateful to Him? This is why we actively participate in the charity institutions. We dispatched medicines to the poor African countries through special aircraft. During Bosnian war, our aircraft were engaged in supplying aids to the affectees. We are sensitive to such things because we have witnessed abject poverty. We used to live in a house which was hardly a few square meters capacious.

Did you ever discuss about Islam with your sister pop star Janet Jackson?

Like other members of my family, my sudden conversion to Islam was a great surprise for her. In the beginning, she was worried. She has stashed into her head only one thing that Muslims are polygamous, they do have as much as four wives. When I explained this permission granted by Islam with reference to the state of the present American society, she was satisfied. This is fact that promiscuity and infidelity is very common in the western society. In spite of the fact that they are married, western men enjoy extramarital relations with a number of women. This has caused devastating moral decay in that society. Islam safeguards the social fabric from this destruction.

As per Islamic teachings, if a man is emotionally attracted towards a woman, he should honorably give this relation a legal shape otherwise he must be contented with only one wife. On the other hand, Islam has laid down so much conditions for second marriage that I do not think that an ordinary Muslim can afford to meet these conditions financially. There is hardly one percent Muslims in the Islamic world who have more than one wife. To my view, the women in an Islamic society is just like a well-protected flower which is safe from the stray penetrating looks of the viewers. Whereas western society is devoid of the vision to appreciate this wisdom and philosophy.

What are your spontaneous feelings when you look at the Muslim society?

For the larger interest of humanity, Islamic society presents the safest place on this planet. For instance, take the example of women. American women are clad in their out-fit in such a manner that gives temptation to the male for harassment. But this is unthinkable in an Islamic society. Besides, the prevalent sins and vices have disfigured the moral fabric of western society. I believe if there is any place left where the humanity is still visible, it can not be anywhere else than in an Islamic society. Time would come when the world would be obliged to accept this reality.

What is your candid opinion about the American media?

American media is suffering from self-contradictions. Take the example of Hollywood. The status of an artist is measured here keeping in view the model of his car, the standard of this restaurant that he visits, etc. This is the media that raises someone from the dust to the skies. They do not consider the artist as a human being. But I have met so many artists in the Middle East. They have no misplaced arrogance in them.

Just look at the CNN, they do that much exaggeration about some news that it appears that nothing else has happened except that event in the world. The news of fire in the forests of Florida was given such a wide coverage as it gave the impression that the whole globe has caught fire. In fact, it was a small area, which was affected by that fire.

I was in Africa, when the bomb-blast took place in Oklahoma City. The Media, without any proof, started hinting at the involvement of Muslims in that blast. Later on the Saboteur turned out to be a CHRISTIAN!!! We may term this attitude of American media as its willful ignorance.

Can you maintain a Linkage between your Islamic personality and the culture of your family?

Why not? This linkage can be kept up for the achievement of good things.

After becoming Muslim, did you ever happen to see Muhammad Ali?

Muhammad Ali is our family friend. I have met him a number of times, after embracing Islam. He has provided useful guidance about Islam.

Have you visited Shah Faisal mosque in Los Angeles city?

Yes, of course! This is a beautiful mosque. I am myself interested to construct a similar mosque in ?Falise? area because there is no mosques in this area and the Muslim community is not resourceful enough purchase a piece of land for a mosque in such a posh area. God willing, I would do it.

Who is ignorant of the services of Saudi Arabia for the glorious cause of Islam? No doubt it has leisurely financed the projects for mosques. But this American media even does not spare Saudi Arabia; it spreads quite strange news about this country. When I first visited Saudi Arabia, I had the impression that there would be muddy housed and a very poor communication network. But when I reached there, to my great surprise, I found it culturally the most beautiful country of the world.

Who has influenced you, so far as Islam is concerned?

Many persons have impressed me. But the fact is that first I turn to the Holy Quran, therefore I do not run a risk of getting strayed on the way. However, there are many Islamic scholars that one can be duly proud of. God willing, I plan to go to Saudi Arabia with my family to perform, ?Umrah?.

Your wife and children are Muslims too?

I have seven sons and two daughter who, like me, are fully Islamic-oriented. My wife is still studying Islam. She insists on going over to Saudi Arabia. I trust InshaAllah, she would sooner join Islam. May God Almighty give us the courage and perseverance to remain on this true religion, Islam. (Ameen)

Published by ‘al-Mujallah’

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Leader of The House of Common Critizes Islamic Practices

Since it has become trendy for Western politicians to critize Islam, Muslims, and/or Islamic practices, the leader of the House of Commons had to put his two cent into this current intellectual "crusade" against Islam.


British Official Criticizes Muslim Veil

Published: October 7, 2006
LONDON, Oct. 6 — As foreign secretary, Jack Straw was the quintessential British diplomat, sliding smoothly between the world’s trouble spots, a judicious word here, a deferential nod there, rarely forgetting his lawyer’s training — in public, at least — by misspeaking or failing to observe the sensitivities of hosts from Tehran to Washington.
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Neil Jones/Reuters
In Blackburn, England, where these women were Friday, Jack Straw says he first thought Muslim veils work against cohesion in society.
But this week, his words were anything but diplomatic.
In a remarkable series of utterances, Mr. Straw, now the leader of the House of Commons, has criticized the Islamic custom of wearing a full facial veil and urged Muslim women to remove it when talking to him in his district office in northwestern England. The veil, he wrote this week in his local newspaper, The Lancashire Telegraph, is “such a visible statement of separation and of difference” as to jeopardize British social harmony.
His remarks have ignited a furious national debate over political correctness and religious identity. The discussion does not have the same incendiary prominence as Pope Benedict XVI’s recent comments on Islam, or the publication of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad in European newspapers last February. But it has provoked some of the same collisions of values and perceptions.
It was in his district office in Blackburn, Lancashire, Mr. Straw said in his newspaper article, that he began to ruminate a year ago on the question of the facial veil — known as the niqab — and whether it damaged relationships between people of different ethnic backgrounds.
“There is a wider issue here,” Mr. Straw told the BBC on Friday. “Communities are bound together partly by informal chance relations between strangers, people being able to acknowledge each other in the street or being able to pass the time of day. That’s made more difficult if people are wearing a veil. That’s just a fact of life.
“I come to this out of a profound commitment to equal rights for Muslim communities and an equal concern about adverse development, about parallel communities.”
Asked if he would support the idea of the full veil being abandoned altogether, he said: “Yes. It needs to be made clear I am not talking about being prescriptive but, with all the caveats, yes, I would rather.”
After the July 7, 2005, London bombings and growing concern about homegrown terrorism, Britain is fretting over the status of its 1.6 million Muslims, whose representatives complain frequently of discrimination.
The protestations were amplified just weeks ago, when John Reid, the home secretary, urged Muslims to watch their children for the “telltale signs” of radicalism, prompting some to say the government was trying to persuade Muslims to spy on their offspring.
“The Muslim community does not need lessons in dress from Jack Straw, any more than it needs lessons in parenting from John Reid,” said Nazreen Nawaz, a spokeswoman for Hizb ut-Tahrir, a radical group that says it seeks pan-Islamic rule through peaceful means. Her remarks were part of a chorus of vehement protests from Islamic groups on Friday.
Mr. Straw won some allies. “The veil does cause some discomfort to non-Muslims,” said Daud Abdullah, an official of the Muslim Council of Britain. “One can understand this.”
And Hazel Blears, a senior Labor Party official, defended Mr. Straw by saying there should be a broader discussion with “views from all sections of the community.”
But Prime Minister Tony Blair distanced himself, saying through a spokesman that Mr. Straw’s decision to make the remarks “does not make it government policy.”
In Europe, the question of the Islamic veil is one that has divided opinion in several countries, including France, the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany. In Turkey, secular for over 80 years, the Islamic head scarf has become an emblem of the strains between secularist and Islamic tendencies.
In Britain, though, Mr. Straw’s remark underscored increasing worries among public officials that the country’s 40-year-old policy of multiculturalism — protecting each minority’s right to its distinctive languages and customs — has faltered by fostering division and social dislocation.
This week, for instance, at his party’s annual conference, David Cameron, the new leader of the opposition Conservatives, bemoaned the existence of “communities where people from different ethnic origins never meet, never talk, never go into each other’s homes.”
Moreover, the police in Windsor, west of London, reported Thursday that a dairy owned by a Muslim businessman had been attacked by non-Muslims protesting plans to build an Islamic center in the town.
Mr. Straw said that he had raised the issue — first with women in his office and then publicly — because he felt uncomfortable if he could not see an interlocutor’s face. But his comments raised suspicions that, as politicians jostle for high office, they were competing, in the words of the maverick legislator George Galloway, “to grab the headlines as the hammer of the Muslims.”

Do Neo-Cons Smoke Crack?

Even problems from Shiites are considered to be cause by the "Wahhabi" boogie-man. This is absolutely ludacrious.



Al-Qaeda (and US) eclipsed by rise of Iran By Mahan Abedin One of the more interesting results of the Israel-Hezbollah War has been the sidelining of the global jihadi movement and the broader Salafi currents that sustain it. Despite all its rhetoric of a global jihad against the enemies of Islam, al-Qaeda and the broader Salafi-jihadi movement were reduced to mere spectators as Hezbollah, once again, dealt a serious blow to Israeli prestige. While some analysts interpreted Ayman al-Zawahiri's latest message as an olive branch to Iran, Hezbollah and Shi'ite militants more broadly, it in fact was not a departure from the terror network's stance on sectarian relations in Islam. In any case, al-Qaeda is increasingly a marginal component of the Salafi-jihadi movement, and its ideological influence on the new generation of radicals is nowhere near as strong as is often assumed. However, to understand where Salafi-jihadism stands in relation to Hezbollah and Iran, it is vital to review the relationship between the Islamic Republic and al-Qaeda. This is not only important for dispelling myths but will help to clarify the balance of power between the various Islamic movements that are set to dominate politics in the Middle East. Iran and al-Qaeda: A secret relationship?Although the general consensus in the Western media is that there has never been a substantial relationship between al-Qaeda and Iran, occasionally sensational articles allude to such a relationship. The most recent one is by the German daily Die Welt, which claimed on August 2 that the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) had released Saad, the oldest son of Osama Bin Laden, from custody to enable him to organize a Sunni resistance against Israel from Lebanon. The paper characteristically cites "intelligence sources" to back up an implausible scenario. Leaving aside the unproven allegation that Saad bin Laden has been in Iranian custody, it is not at all clear what a 27-year-old Saudi of unknown quantity - who is completely unfamiliar with Lebanon - can hope to achieve against Israel. Notwithstanding the lack of any meaningful relationship, the Iranians have had a complex and intriguing attitude towards militant Sunni Islamism in general and al-Qaeda in particular. American intelligence is convinced the Iranians maintained links to Egyptian radicals (some of whom may have had peripheral ties to al-Qaeda) until recently. [1] This is plausible, especially in light of the Islamic Republic's deep and complex relationship with Egyptian Islamists spanning the moderate-extremist spectrum. At the rhetorical level the Iranians have consistently dismissed al-Qaeda as a construct of American intelligence. This is partly rooted in the Iranians' analysis of the Afghan War of the 1980s. While publicly they have glorified the exploits of the anti-Soviet mujahideen, privately they bear grudges for the isolation of Tehran and its Afghan Shi'ite allies in the conflict and its aftermath. Iran's isolation from the anti-Soviet jihad is to a large extent justified; at the time they were consumed by their own conflict against Ba'athist Iraq. This prevented the Islamic Republic from developing meaningful ties to the Arabic Islamic networks that matured in the Afghan jihadi landscape of the 1980s. This lack of contact reinforced Iranian suspicions that the Arab Islamists (of which bin Laden was a key member) were ultimately an American pawn in a grand geostrategic game against the Soviet superpower. In short, the Iranians deliberately downplay the role of the Arabs in the Afghan jihad, instead crediting the indigenous mujahideen with victory over the Soviet superpower. This is in sharp contrast to even moderate Arab Islamist narratives of the conflict. The Muslim Brotherhood and its various off-shoots (which organized much of the relief work in Afghanistan and Pakistan) view the Arab Islamist participation - both on the battlefield and in relief and other non-military activities - as crucial to the victory of the Afghan mujahideen. The legend that has been constructed (and to which all the Arab Islamists that participated in the conflict subscribe to) credits the "Muslims" with not only defeating the Soviet superpower in Afghanistan, but in engineering its eventual downfall in 1991. This narrative demands the US be grateful for this contribution, which catapulted the Americans into sole superpower position. The fact that the Americans were not grateful formed much of the grievances that fueled the emergence of al-Qaeda. The Iranians have a poor understanding of this dynamic and have thus consistently underestimated the ideological and organizational strength of al-Qaeda. This lack of understanding of the genesis of al-Qaeda predisposes Iranian analysts to too closely identifying the terror network with the Salafi streams in Saudi Arabia. In the ideological cosmos of the Islamic Republic, Salafism is synonymous with "Ummayad Islam", characterized by reactionary and extremist thinking and a tendency to bicker with other Islamic traditions, as opposed to the external enemies of Islam. From an Iranian perspective, the antithesis of "Ummayad Islam" is "Islam-e-Nab-e-Mohammadi" (pure Mohammadean Islam) which was revived by the late leader of the Iranian revolution, Grand Ayatollah Khomeini. This Iranian narrative presents "Islam-e-Nab-e-Mohammadi" as being historically concerned with fighting the "real" enemies of Islam, instead of fanning intractable and insoluble sectarian differences. This viewpoint is best articulated by Rasoul Jaafarian, a prolific writer and self-appointed promoter of "Mohammadean Islam". [2] Enemy's enemiesLeaving aside the intense theological and ideological rivalry of Shi'ites and Salafis, there are real problems with this Iranian analysis of al-Qaeda and its supposed Salafi underpinnings. First and foremost al-Qaeda is not even ideologically linked to the type of Salafis which the Iranians find most distasteful. These include Safar al-Hawali, Nasser al-Omar and Abdullah bin Jabreen. Hawali recently declared Hezbollah to be Hezb al-Shaytan (Party of the Devil), while Jabreen issued a fatwa against the Shi'ite Islamist organization at the outset of the conflict. While Hawali has a semi-jihadi background, he has now moved towards the more mainstream and regime-friendly version of Salafism which views al-Qaeda as "Kharejites" (rejectionists). Salafism is a very broad theological and ideological phenomenon and only a minority within it are predisposed to the type of jihad promoted by al-Qaeda. Second, al-Qaeda does not have a history of openly attacking Shi'ites, even at the rhetorical level. While the events in Iraq have called this into question, it is important to note that what is regarded as "al-Qaeda in the Land of the two Rivers" formerly led by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, has no meaningful organizational and ideological ties to the core of al-Qaeda. The alliance between Zarqawi and al-Qaeda was one of convenience and the former's vitriolic anti-Shi'ite rhetoric was not condoned by Zawahiri and bin Laden. Primary targetSimply put, al-Qaeda views the struggle against the West in general and the United States in particular as of primary importance. Sectarian squabbles within Islam can only be addressed once the external enemy has been forced to withdraw from the Muslim world. This is not too dissimilar from the geopolitical aspirations of the followers of so-called "Mohammadean Islam" who have been striving for the withdrawal of the West from the Middle East and other Islamic lands long before the emergence of bin Laden and al-Qaeda. In fact, al-Qaeda is a secret admirer of the discourse of Islamic Iran and has rarely (if ever) attacked the leaders of the Islamic Republic. However, the Iranians have always maintained their distance not only because of the extreme Sunnism (as opposed to Salafism) of bin Laden and Zawahiri but also because of genuine contempt for the terror network. Iranian leaders regard their "Islamic revolution" as the vanguard of the global Islamic movement and any competitor (especially one as pretentious as al-Qaeda) is regarded with deep suspicion and disdain. Moreover, there is genuine revulsion of al-Qaeda tactics. This is not only because al-Qaeda targets innocent civilians, but because the Iranians fear that terror attacks against US interests consolidate American hegemony in the region and beyond. These fundamental divisions between Iran and al-Qaeda are likely to deepen as the geopolitical weight of the Islamic Republic continues to grow. The resurgence of Islamic IranDespite their constant denials of providing financial and military help to Hezbollah, Iranian leaders and political analysts have not spared any effort over the past month to glorify Hezbollah's "resistance" against Israel, and claim credit for the Islamist group's stunning successes against the Jewish state. Iranian leaders are not altogether unjustified in feeling self-righteous over Hezbollah's perceived victory. Hezbollah's impeccable Lebanese credentials notwithstanding, its ties to the Islamic Republic are so deep and organic that the success and failure of either party would leave a uniquely powerful impact on the other. Iranian analysts and strategists have spent the past month extolling their country's foreign policy, promoting it as the most effective in the region. Arguably the best piece of analysis was from Reza Amir Khani of Baztab, which tries to rationalize the Islamic Republic's support to Hezbollah and Hamas within a national security framework. [3] Interestingly, Amir Khani explains the Iranian policy in the context of the evolution of the Western way of war. The author speaks of "Ghale'ie" (fortress) and "Meydani" (field) warfare, arguing that Western warriors (heeding the lessons of legendary Troy) learnt to abandon the fortress for the open field. The rationale is simple; the fall of the fortress entails complete defeat while losses on the field are more manageable. This buttresses the author's contention that the Islamic republic sees offense as the best form of defense. Instead of waiting for the US to attack Iran, the Iranians are already fighting the Americans and their proxies in Lebanon and Palestine, the author explains. This argument is both compelling and accurate, as evidenced by the emboldened attitudes of America's adversaries in light of Hezbollah's perceived victory over Israel. Hezbollah's stunning successes against Israel boosts the Islamic Republic's revival as an ideological power. This process started with the surprise victory of Mahmud Ahmadinejad in last year's presidential elections. Having spent the last 15 years on the ideological retreat, the Islamic Republic suddenly went on the offensive. This was particularly the case with the country's controversial nuclear program. The Ahmadinejad government's confrontational approach has not only been popular but is actually perceived to be working, as evidenced by a more moderate American approach which now favors some form of engagement with Iran. More broadly, the Islamic Republic's growing geopolitical weight (stemming in large measure from the ouster of the Taliban and Saddam Hussein) reinforces its ideological revival and motivates Iran's supporters across the Muslim world. Al-Qaeda and Salafi-jihadis are clearly losers in this intensifying dynamic. The problem is not so much their extreme ideology, but their comparative lack of organizational infrastructure and other resources. While Hezbollah has emerged as the most sophisticated guerrilla organization in the world, the Salafi-jihadis are still struggling with the basics. This is a reality that not even the most sophisticated al-Qaeda propagandists can dismiss lightly. More broadly, the resurgence of Islamic Iran is likely to boost the fortunes of moderate Islamists across the Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood's steadfast support for Hezbollah throughout the latest conflict is indicative of the tacit alliance between the Islamic Republic and the oldest and largest modern Islamist movement in the world. This is yet another dynamic that works against the interests of the Salafi-jihadis, the regime-friendly Salafis in Saudi Arabia and ultimately the House of Saud itself. In the final analysis, al-Qaeda and the Salafi-jihadis more broadly are proving to be ephemeral and increasingly marginal forces. They are inherently limited by their extremism, lack of vision and resources and isolation from mainstream opinion. Meanwhile the forces that pose a real threat to American hegemony in the region are increasingly on the ascendant and are set to completely dominate the political landscape of the Middle East in the not too distant future. The Americans are unlikely to be able to reverse this complex and intensifying dynamic. Being increasingly isolated from grassroots opinions in the Middle East, the Americans view force as the preferred option. But that has severe limitations, and can even be downright counter-productive, as evidenced by the latest Hezbollah-Israel conflict.
Notes[1] Author's interview with Michael Scheuer (former head of the Bin Laden unit at the CIA), the Jamestown Foundation's Spotlight on Terror, Volume 2 : Issue 13, 14 December 2004. [2] Rasoul Jaafarian, Bareh Deegar Islam-e-Mohammadi Barabareh Islam-e-Omavi (Once again Mohammadean Islam takes on Ummayad Islam), Baztab. [3] Reza Amir Khani, Lobnan va Felestin be ma Che Dakhli Darad (How are Lebanon and Palestine related to us?), Baztab. (This article first appeared in SaudiDebate.com. Published with permission.)

Monday, October 02, 2006

More US Hispanics drawn to Islam

More US Hispanics drawn to Islam

Marriage, post-9/11 curiosity, and a shared interest in issues such asimmigration are key reasons.

By Amy GreenThe Christian Science MonitorSeptember 28, 2006


ORLANDO, FLA. – With her hijab and dark complexion, Catherine Garcia doesn'tlook like an Orlando native or a Disney tourist. When people ask where she'sfrom, often they are surprised that it's not the Middle East but Colombia.That's because Ms. Garcia, a bookstore clerk who immigrated to the US sevenyears ago, is Hispanic and Muslim. On this balmy afternoon at the start ofRamadan, the Islamic holy month, she is at her mosque dressed in longsleeves and a long skirt in keeping with the Islamic belief in modesty."When I was in my country I never fit in the society. Here in Islam I feellike I fit with everything they believe," she says.Garcia is one of a growing number of Hispanics across the US who have foundcommon ground in a faith and culture bearing surprising similarities totheir own heritage. From professionals to students to homemakers, they aredrawn to the Muslim faith through marriage, curiosity and a shared interestin issues such as immigration.The population of Hispanic Muslims has increased 30 percent to some 200,000since 1999, estimates Ali Khan, national director of the American MuslimCouncil in Chicago. Many attribute the trend to a growing interest in Islamsince the 2001 terrorist attacks and also to a collision between twoburgeoning minority groups. They note that Muslims ruled Spain centuriesago, leaving an imprint on Spanish food, music, and language."Many Hispanics ... who are becoming Muslim, would say they are embracingtheir heritage, a heritage that was denied to them in a sense," says IhsanBagby, professor of Arabic and Islamic studies at the University ofKentucky.The trend has spawned Latino Islamic organizations such as the LatinoAmerican Dawah Organization, established in 1997 by Hispanic converts in NewYork City. Today the organization is nationwide.The growth in the Hispanic Muslim population is especially prevalent in NewYork, Florida, California, and Texas, where Hispanic communities arelargest. In Orlando, the area's largest mosque, which serves some 700worshipers each week, is located in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood. A fewyears ago it was rare to hear Spanish spoken at the mosque, says ImamMuhammad Musri, president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida.Today there is a growing demand for books in Spanish, including the Koran,and requests for appearances on Spanish-language radio stations, Mr. Musrisays. The mosque offers a Spanish-language education program in Islam forwomen on Saturdays. "I could easily see in the next few years a mosque thatwill have Spanish services and a Hispanic imam who will be leading theservice," he says.The two groups tend to be family-oriented, religious, and historicallyconservative politically, Dr. Bagby says. Many who convert are second- andthird-generation Hispanic Americans.The two groups also share an interest in social issues such as immigration,poverty, and healthcare. Earlier this year Muslims joined Hispanics inmarches nationwide protesting immigration-reform proposals they felt wereunfair.In South Central Los Angeles, a group of Muslim UCLA students a decade agoestablished a medical clinic in this underserved area. Today thenonreligious University Muslim Medical Association Community Clinic treatssome 16,000 patients, mostly Hispanic, who see it as a safe place to seekcare without fear for their illegal status, says Mansur Khan, vice chairmanof the board and one of the founders.Although the clinic doesn't seek Muslim converts, Dr. Khan sees Hispanicstaking an interest in his faith because it focuses on family, he says. Onevolunteer nurse founded a Latino Islamic organization in the area. AnotherHispanic woman told Khan she felt drawn to the faith because of the headcovering Muslim women wear. It reminded her of the Virgin Mary.The trend is a sign that Islam is becoming more Americanized and moreindigenous to the country, Bagby says. As Republican positions on issuessuch as immigration push Muslim Hispanics and blacks in a less conservativedirection, Islam could move in the same direction. Muslim Hispanic and blackinvolvement in American politics could demonstrate to Muslims worldwide thevirtues of democracy, eventually softening fundamentalists. He believes theOsama bin Ladens of the world are a small minority, and that mostfundamentalists are moving toward engagement with the West."The more Hispanics and other Americans [who] become Muslim, the strongerand wider the bridge between the Muslim community and the general largerAmerican community," Bagby says. "Their words and approach have some weightbecause they are a source of pride for Muslims throughout the world."Garcia left Colombia to study international business in the US. Alwaysreligious, she considered becoming a nun when she was younger. But herCatholic faith raised questions for her. She wondered about eating pork whenthe Bible forbids it, and about praying to Mary and the saints and notdirectly to God.In the US she befriended Muslims and eventually converted to Islam. Herfamily in Colombia was supportive. Today she says her prayers in English,Spanish, and Arabic, and she eats Halal food in keeping with Islamicbeliefs."It's the best thing that happened to me," says Garcia in soft, brokenEnglish. "I never expected to have so many blessings and be in peace like Iam now."