Current Events, Muslim Responses,
Young Muslims addressed
in early June the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Interfaith Alliance (IA) issued a report on The Impact of 9/11 on Muslim American Young People: Forming National and Religious Identity in the Age of Terrorism and Islamophobia and MPAC director Salam Al-Marayati cited the problem of talking about Muslim youth rather than to them. By late July, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) mounted a two-day roundtable on post 9/11 security and liberty to which young leaders, 18-24 years of age, from the
American Arab, Muslim, Sikh, South Asian, and Middle Eastern communities were invited. The youth described their particular challenges: employment discrimination, restrictive government security policies, and general public misunderstanding. MPAC conducted the
First National Muslim American Youth Leadership Summit in Washington D.C. where young community leaders and professionals met with policy makers and opinion shapers. Listen to MPAC's youthful communications director Edina Lekovic (pictured), in a recording about Muslim Identity on Campus.
In action geared toward even younger Muslims in home countries elsewhere, the State Department asked embassies in 14 countries to come up with programs for children younger than age 14 and spent nearly a million dollars on projects -- such as camps -- that reached about 6,000 young Muslims and hundreds of partnering organizations. The program is likely to be expanded in the immediate future.
MPAC has campaign to fight terrorism material for Muslims, law enforcement
The Muslim Public Affairs Council's (MPAC) National Grassroots Campaign to Fight Terrorism, endorsed by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), encourages mosques to develop ongoing relationships with interfaith groups, civic organizations, and law enforcement. Guidelines for law enforcement personnel themselves are included in the materials.
Perception of American Muslims related to international events
Ingrid Mattson, president of the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), has said in a CNN interview, "The perception of who we [Muslims in North America] are and what we believe is heavily influenced by international events, and it's difficult to present ourselves independently." Mattson went on to say that Muslims in the U.S. do not need to answer for what every Muslim is doing elsewhere.
Speaking as an American Muslim to Muslims elsewhere, Georgetown University professor Yahya Hindi addressed the question of Muslims in the U.S. in relation to the rest of the world. He told a Saudi Arabian audience that the position of Muslims is improving in the U.S after 9/11 because other Americans have been spurred to learn about Islam and Muslims themselves have thrown off a tendency to remain uninvolved politically and legally. He said U.S. Muslims are working to make Islam part of the fabric of American society, including cutting funding links to Muslim countries.
L.A., Washington, Michigan Muslims sign an intrafaith code of honor
A Muslim intrafaith "code of honor" developed in Los Angeles starts with a concern that the situation in Iraq --a power struggle "expressed as a Shia Sunna confrontation" -- not spill over into similar conflict in the United States. A major aim is to stop the practice of takfir through which Muslims judge other Muslims to be nonbelievers. The signatories pledge to respect one another not only when there is agreement but also in times of disagreement. They agree that they will not make divisive, inflammatory, and irrelevant resources from abroad publicly available in the U.S. They say that material should promote knowledge and not propagandize. They advise that the style of prayer used by the majority group in any particular U.S. mosque be used by all worshipers there. Similar agreements have been signed in Michigan and in Washington D.C.
Sherman Jackson, one of the drafters of the Michigan code, says, "This is not . . . an attempt to obliterate a schism that has lasted 1,200 years. It's to recognize that differences can be accommodated." Ihsan Bagby, an Islamics professor at the University of Kentucky, is quoted as saying that there has never been a strong Islamic "ecumenical movement" and that this may be the beginning of one. Mohammad Ali Elahi, a Shia imam in Dearborn Heights, concluded a newspaper column with the words, "I am looking forward to the day when the highest leaders of the three Abrahamic faith traditions in America sign a similar interfaith code of honor."
Holy Land Foundation trial continues in Texas
The trial of defendants from the Holy Land Foundation for Relief and Development (HLF) began in July in Dallas. The U.S. government has formally accused them of supporting a foreign terrorist group, money laundering, conspiracy, and filing false tax returns -- revolving around the charge that they have illegally funnelled money to Hamas. HLF dates back to 1988 and is said to have once been the largest Muslim charity in the U.S. Federal investigation of the fund started in the 1990s and intensified after September 11, 2001. The trial will involve intense cross-examination and unusual features.
The prosecution has listed several hundred other organizations and individuals as unindicted co-conspiritors, including groups such as the Council for American Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), and the North American Islamic Trust, a large holding company for Islamic institutions. In response, ISNA's Ingrid Mattson issued a public statement saying, "ISNA is not now, and never has been, involved in any covert or illegal activity, and has never supported any terrorist organizations." Now CAIR has filed an amicus brief with the court asking that its name and others be removed as co-conspirators, and the National Association of Criminal Defense Attorneys has written to the Attorney General about the issue. CAIR's brief alleges that the list violates the uncharged parties' First and Fifth Amendment rights. " Such a practice should be per se unconstitutional, because once the government publicizes the names of the unindicted co-conspirators, the damage to their reputations, economic well-being, and expressive associations is done."
General issues are also at stake. CAIR has recirculated an article written by its chairman, Parvez Ahmed, "Islam has no ties to terrorism" (now posted on his website for May 7, 2007) in which he says that "the way forward is to engage in common-sense methods of intelligence gathering without criminalizing entire groups of people." OMB Watch says, "A central issue in the case will be whether funding charities or other groups that have ties to terrorist organizations amounts to funding terrorism. If indirect ties can lead to criminal prosecution many international funders may be reluctant to make grants to troubled areas of the world."
The case has spawned charges and countercharges from various organizations. The Anti-Defamation League has specified ways it says three organizations speaking in favor of HLF are "tainted by their own murky associations." CAIR has responded that ADL is "seeking to hinder the due process rights of American Muslims by using 'smears and exclusionary tactics' that exploit growing Islamophobia in American society."
Media reports controversies over CAIR
On March 14, the New York Times published an article on the controversies around the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Critics say CAIR's wider net of relationships ties them to terrorism. The Times says CAIR's three million dollar annual budget does receive funding from Middle Eastern sources, such as Prince Alwaleed bin Talal of Saudi Arabia who gave substantially toward a Qur'an distribution project. It also quotes J. Stephen Tidwell, the director of the FBI’s Los Angeles office, as saying that CAIR is an important link into the Muslim Arab-American community. In his March 16 blog, Shanta Premawardhana of the National Council of Churches reported that he and NCC general secretary Bob Edgar signed a letter reading, "We are profoundly disturbed by the long-term damage now being done to CAIR’s reputation, to interfaith relations, to freedom of religion, and to American principles of justice, when no evidence exists that CAIR endorses terrorism or supports terrorist groups."
CAIR became embroiled in additional controversy when its attorney demanded that the Young America's Foundation (YAF) cancel or prevent false remarks in a speech, "The Truth About the Council on American Islamic Relations," to be made at its
29th National Conservative Student Conference on August 2. YAF responded that it would not be intimidated.
Muslim women lawyers hold women's law and leadership program
Congressman Keith Ellison met with a group of Muslim women recently and told them, "Do not go to the Muslim community and tell them I am a Muslim, vote for me. . . . Figure out what the people need and speak to that and make sure to be universal enough" to appeal to all. Seyyed Hossein Nasr also spoke to the group and said that violations of women's rights in many countries should not be blamed on Islamic law but on undemocratic governments. The two men were speaking at the fifth annual intensive Law and Leadership Development Program for Muslim Women conducted by Karamah: Muslim Women Lawyers for Human Rights over three weeks in July in Washington, D.C. The program focuses on traditional jurisprudence and also trains in conflict resolution. The purpose is to prepare women to work for change in their own communities and to defend women's rights in their own institutional contexts. Karamah focuses on domestic and global issues of human rights for Muslims, especially women. It was founded by Aziza al-Hibri of the University of Richmond Law School in 1993.
Attitudes in support for suicide bombing decline in Muslim countries
The Pew Research Center's 2007 Global Attitudes survey indicates a sharp decrease in support for suicide bombings in Muslim countries, and confidence in Osama bin Laden as a world leader has also decreased. Nonetheless, the U.S. is also viewed as a major threat. Both a summary of findings and the full report are available online.
Polls look at attitudes about Islam and the West
A variety of polls offer insights into attitudes among Muslims and in the general public:
- Results of a new BBC poll suggest that a majority of people believe there is no inevitable clash between Islam and the West and that problems arise because of minorities on both sides. While 49% of Americans believe tensions have political reasons, a substantial 38% see religion and culture as primary causes.
- An in-depth poll by WorldPublicOpinion.org, with University of Maryland support, finds that in Egypt, Morocco, Pakistan, and Indonesia -- four of the world's large Muslim countries -- large majorities believe that weakening and dividing Islam is a key goal of U.S. foreign policy.
- A Gallup poll that looked at Muslim attitudes found growing anti-American feeling among them. The wealthier and better-educated the Muslim was, the more likely s/he was to be radicalized. Muslims condemned what they considered to be moral decay, but "religion" did not play a major role in radicalization. Gallup maintains an extensive Muslim-West Facts Initiative to disseminate findings. It provides links to media articles and analyses, and it describes an intensive course that can be offered by arrangement.
An interview with a non-Muslim reporter that highlights the status of the community was given by journalist Paul Barrett, author of American Islam: the Struggle for the Soul of a Religion, to the Carnegie Council for Ethics in International Affair's director of public affairs programs.
Studies look at attitudes of American Muslims
• The Pew Research Center has released a report of what it calls"a first-ever, nationwide, random sample survey of Muslim Americans." The study draws on Pew's survey research among Muslims around the world. It concludes that Muslim Americans are a very diverse, largely immigrant population who are highly assimilated into American society in terms of their outlook, values and attitudes, income, and educational levels. Pew calculates that, of native-born Muslims, half are African Americans and they make up 20% of U.S. Muslims. Muslim Americans reject Islamic extremism at a higher rate than is true in western Europe, though there are pockets of undiscontent.
Pew research shows that Muslim Americans and white evangelical Christians, though they often find themselves on opposite sides of issues, have more in common than other religious groups in terms of
fervor, scriptural literalism, and social morality. Their most glaring difference is in the area of political affiliation. American Muslims would like to see society encourage morality rather than impose it, a Muslim spokesman said.
• A survey conducted by Genesis Research Associates has looked at Muslim American voters, who they find are relatively young, well educated, middle class, and family oriented. The voters are well integrated into American society as measured by patriotic acts and volunteer service. Almost a third attend a mosque weekly and only 27% seldom or never attend. Most will not distinguish themselves as Sunni or Shia. A majority support normalizing relations with Iran and say that a just resolution of the Palestinian conflict would improve the U.S.'s standing in the Muslim world, but 55% are afraid the war on terrorism has become a war on Islam.
• One of the most crucial things to come out of a study conducted by JWT Worldwide concerning Muslim American attitudes, says JWT's executive vice president, is that "American Muslims want to be less singled out and to be simply acknowledged and accepted." Muslims in the U.S. are like other Americans in their priorities for personal safety, personal freedom, education, and careers.
• An independent task force sponsored by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs has concluded that greater Muslim-American civic and political engagement is needed to prevent alienation in a community that is vital to U.S. security and relations with the Muslim World.
The report found that although Muslim Americans are a well-educated, diverse group that can make greater contributions to the nation, they lack strong institutions and sufficient recognizable public or political voices to gain regular access to government and media circles.
CAIR report identifies problems of American Muslims
The 2007 annual report of the Council on American-Islamic Relations says there is a 25% increase in complaints of anti-Muslim bias, from 1,972 in 2005 to 2,467 in 2006. At the same time, civil rights complaints involving the workplace declined measurably. CAIR offers a number of recommendations in its report, among them an expediting of the processing of citizenship / naturalization applications.
U.S. mosques, now led by immigrants, may someday be led by U.S.-born
The Islamic Society of North America estimates that 85% of non-African-American mosques in the U.S. are led by immigrant imams, according to the Christian Science Monitor. Muslim immigrants place high priority on the maintenance of their culture of origin, but Muslims from various places now come together in the U.S. -- each bringing a different expression of Islamic values to living -- and their children who are American born will be maturing. In the future, the ability to communicate in English will not be optional for imams, nor will a firm command of Arabic. The Monitor says a handful of institutions in the U.S. are offering Islamic training and education, mentioning the Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, California.
U.S. Muslims deal with economic realities
There are differences of opinion about how Muslims can handle financial transactions for which most Americans would give or receive interest. Imam Omar Abu-Namous of the Islamic Cultural Center in New York City (right) suggests use of specially organized financial institutions such as Guidance Financial, which allows a buyer to become a co-owner rather than instituting the more usual loan.
As part of his leadership of the Mosque Cares, an Islamic community, Imam W. Deen Mohammed (left) has founded the Collective Purchasing Conference (CPC) as an Islamic investor-owned company in which all properties, equipment, and supplies are collectively purchased and investors fully share in the profits or losses. The company is based upon W.D. Mohammed's belief that poor people can collectively finance such an enterprise. CPC now offers shea butter cosmetics, fashions, and nutrition products.
Committee on Homeland Security hearing looks at "radicalization"
The prevention of violent radicalization and homegrown terrorism was addressed in a hearing of a sub-committee of the House of Representatives' committee on homeland security on June 14, 2007. Salam Al-Marayati, the executive director of the Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC), said in his testimony, "The empowerment of the Muslim American community is the most effective but underutilized resource in creating effective counter-terrorism strategies." He also said, "While radicals use Islam to justify terrorism, we cannot afford to lend Islamic legitimacy to extremist groups. Hence, using 'Islamic' before terms like fascism, terrorism, violent radicalism is counterproductive."
New York police report looks at radicalization
The New York City police department has released a report, Radicalization in the West: the Homegrown Threat, that looks at the phenomenon of ordinary, unremarkable people in western nations who adopt a terrorist ideology. The study breaks down the process into four steps: pre-radicalization, self-identification in which a person begins to explore militant Islam, indoctrination, and jihadization. Law enforcement officials hope the report will foster public debate and give guidance to their work. Muslim organizations and civil liberties groups criticize it for stereotyping entire communities and suggesting such broad-stroke clues to radicalization that they can make such things as adopting Islamic dress or stopping bad habits (such as smoking, drinking, gambling) suspicious behavior. A man speaking on behalf of the New York Civil Liberties Union said it might turn law-abiding citizens away from cooperation. "While aggressive counterterrorism policies are to be commended, this report appears . . . to lay the groundwork for wholesale surveillance of Muslim communities without there being any sign of unlawful conduct. To target Muslims in this way would mark a dangerous and unlawful erosion of the line separating the police from lawful religious activity.”
RAND report urges U.S. to develop and support moderate Muslim networks
A RAND report, Building Moderate Muslim Networks issued on March 26, 2007, says there is a war of ideas today within the Muslim world, not a war of civilizations. The U.S. should develop and support networks of moderate Muslims, it advocates. U.S. News & World Report, April 16 issue, in an article titled "Fighting for the Soul of Islam," refers to the RAND report. It cites Columbia University professor Richard Bulliet's statement that there is a crisis of authority within Islam caused by the marginalization of religious figures by authoritarian regimes, by the rise of persons without traditional training who are nonetheless media savvy, and by the expansion of literacy. The article's recommendation, not drastically different from the RAND proposal, is that a non-governmental organization with government funding be established to listen to the Muslim world in its own terms and to help shape governmental programs through its advocacy.
What is a moderate Muslim? And who are progressive Muslims?
MPAC's Salam Al-Marayati (pictured) told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that a "moderate Muslim" is "one who renounces and speaks out against violence as an instrument of political change, one who is authentic -- a conservative or a liberal -- in terms of Islamic tradition and is accepted by the Muslim mainstream as a voice in the community."
Also committed to a methodology of nonviolent resistance are self-identified "progressive Muslims," most of whom are in such places as South Africa, Iran, Malaysia, Turkey, and Egypt. These progressives stand against all forms of economic exploitation as well as colonialism and imperialism, writes the University of North Carolina's Omid Safi. They have a vision of social justice, gender equality, and both religious and ethnic pluralism that Safi admits some would call idealistic and romantic. Yet he quotes Gandhi,
"As soon as we lose the moral basis, we cease to be religious."
Pakistani scholar strictly interprets Qur'an to challenge militancy
The Boston Globe has published an article on the man it labels a "fundamentalist moderate," Javed Ahmad Ghamidi of Pakistan, a religious scholar whose work has drawn wide attention. The author writes that Ghamidi " meticulously recovers detail from within the confines of religious text, and then delivers decisive blows to conservatives and militants who claim to be the defenders of Islam." He concludes that Ghamidi wants to see religious scholars restored to their role of being "above politics and power." Now, since the Shi'a Islamic revolution in Iran, Sunni scholars have sought the power of the state in various places, including Pakistan. The power of the religious scholar, Ghamidi says, rests on his "moral appeal to the masses." "The people -- they are my real target. Because, whatever they might think, at least I know they listen."
Struggle over air travel rights continues
A homeland security bill now before a House-Senate conference committee would protect those who report suspicious activities to authorities from being sued as a result. The bill grows out of a struggle that emerged when six imams were pulled from an airline flight as a result of passenger complaint. They originally intended to name John Doe passengers, among others, in a lawsuit but have recently reported that no passengers will be included. Opponents of the law now before Congress are concerned that it might encourage a form of racial profiling.
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) has a "Know Your Rights" guide for Muslim airline passengers and a hotline for those who believe their rights have been violated. A program known as DHS TRIP, or the Traveler Redress Inquiry program, has already been established by Homeland Security. Individuals who believe they have been incorrectly delayed, denied boarding, identified for additional screening, or otherwise experienced travel screening difficulties may file a complaint or correct file information through a form that will be shared with all appropriate agencies. On June 13 ABC reported that the terrorist watch list compiled by the FBI has grown to include more than half a million names, so large that its usefulness is threatened.
Gridlock in immigration name searches impacts individuals
New York University's Center for Human Rights and Global Justice issued a report on April 25 , "Americans on Hold: Profiling, Citizenship, and the "War on Terror," that charges the naturalization process is being illegally delayed for thousands of immigrants who are perceived to be Muslim, subjecting them to expanded security checks that sometimes extend for years.
The report concludes that the current system does not result in accurate information, diverts law enforcement resources, and legitimizes prejudice. A summary report and podcasts on the concern are also available. A class-action lawsuit filed by the ACLU, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), and the Asian Law Caucus calls for time limits on the citizenship process.
Christian inaction described
In response to what he considers to be religious persecution in the U.S., Werner Lange writes (in a Journal of Religion and Society [Vol. 9, 2007] opinion essay, "Faith in Inaction: A Christian Critique of Islamophobia") that "the Church should be the first line of defense for Muslims. However, aside from a few voices in the wilderness, there is largely silence by the Church regarding this witch-hunt of our times." He reflects on the case of Fawaz Damra, the imam of the Islamic Center of Cleveland, Ohio, who was stripped of his U.S. citizenship and deported. Damra, who studied Christian-Muslim relations at Hartford Seminary, was known to Christians through his participation in the official Midwest Islamic-Catholic Dialogue and in the fiftieth anniversary celebrations of the National Council of Churches in 1999.
Secular Islam Summit says it responds to calls for reform
A Secular Islam Summit in March brought together secular Muslims and secularists from majority Muslim countries who have been thinking about the challenges of "modernizing, liberating, or secularizing" Islamic thought and practice. A St. Petersburg Declaration, released at the conference, calls for an Islam of personal faith, not political doctrine. The secularists at the conference included non-religious persons and ex-Muslims. The Toronto Sun said, "The lived experience by the summit's organizers of the broken and corrupt reality of Muslim countries makes [its] declaration compelling." In reaction, Radwan Masmoudi of the Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy is quoted as saying that the effort for Islamic reform "must be led by Muslims who are proud of their heritage, religion and culture and who are credible within their community. The people who attended the Secular Islam Conference are neither."
Dialogue efforts listed
The Alliance of Civilizations web site lists initiatives engaged in bridging global divides through dialogue and action.
Newsweek features articles, graphs, interaction with Muslim leaders
Newsweek mounted a major emphasis on Islam in America in its July 20, 2007. At the same time, on July 22-27 the online interactive program, On Faith, of the Washington Post and Newsweek hosted "Muslims Speak Out" with a panel including Muslim leaders from Egypt, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Europe and important western political, academic, and religious leaders. These materials are still online.
Human rights discussions
An Islamic human rights standard
Islamic academics, policy-makers, and others met in Malaysia to discuss “human rights in Islam.” Some are arguing for the creation of an Islamic rights standard, such as the Cairo Declaration, to complement existing rights mechanisms at the United Nations.
Respect for cultural diversity coupled with freedom of expression
In the aftermath of the publication of cartoons of Muhammad, the Organization for the Islamic Conference(OIC) and other Islamic organizations pressed for steps, even legal ones, to tie freedom of expression to respect for cultural diversity and religious beliefs. For study of the issues around the publication of cartoons of Muhammad, see Cartoons of Muhammad: Free Speech or Sacrilegious Offense? by Ted Peters (#TC0080), from The Thoughtful Christian curriculum, to be downloaded from online.
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* Specific resources: general Christian-Muslim resources that are not issue oriented
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