August 22, 2011

Guest post: Ramadan nourishes soul, citizenship

Maher Kharma is president of the Islamic Society of Annapolis.

In a nutshell, Ramadan is one the five pillars of Islam during which Muslims fast from down to sunset through out the month. During Ramadan, Quran was revealed on Mohammed over 1400 years ago. Muslims observe Ramadan by abstaining during the days of Ramadan from food, beverages, intimacy, and by observing best manners. At the end of each of the 30 days, a voluntary night prayers takes place in the mosques. The end of Ramadan is marked by celebrating “Eid Al Fiter” or end of Ramadan feast.

While the physical aspects of Ramadan involves the act of abstinence, the fast includes much spiritual and moral benefits besides those physical ones. In assessing serious challenges that law makers and law enforcement authorities have to deal with frequently in order to stabilize the society, we realize that crimes, drugs, violence, alcoholism, and abuse constitute some of the top societal ills that drain societal resources and place major kinks in the fabric of a more peaceful society.

By large, such acts appear to be rooted in a lack of ability to exercise self control needed to stop one from breaking the law or from infringing the rights of others. For a Muslim, Ramadan comes to be a vehicle that he/she enters as an opportunity to develop better control over own emotions, and to restore superiority over what could be internal or external drivers of deviant behavior.

While the fasting month may be perceived as a time of physical hardship, a deeper look at what is behind the actual act of fast reveals many advantages that such an act of worship can produce not only for reshaping ones character, but as well as for creating a more harmonious society.

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August 11, 2011

Obama: Islam has always been part of America

As Muslims observe Ramadan, President Obama on Wednesday evening hosted an Iftar -- a meal after sundown to break the fast of the daylight hours -- at the White House. Following are his remarks, as released by the White House Press Office.

THE PRESIDENT: Thank you. Thank you so much. (Applause.) Everyone, please have a seat, have a seat.

Good evening, everyone, and welcome to the White House. Tonight is part of a rich tradition here at the White House of celebrating the holy days of many faiths and the diversity that define us as a nation. So these are quintessentially American celebrations -- people of different faiths coming together, with humility before our maker, to reaffirm our obligations to one another, because no matter who we are, or how we pray, we’re all children of a loving God.

Now, this year, Ramadan is entirely in August. That means the days are long, the weather is hot, and you are hungry. (Laughter.) So I will be brief.

I want to welcome the members of the diplomatic corps who are here; the members of Congress, including two Muslim American members of Congress -- Keith Ellison and Andre Carson; and leaders and officials from across my administration. Thank you all for being here. Please give them a big round of applause. (Applause.)

To the millions of Muslim Americans across the United States and more -- the more than one billion Muslims around the world, Ramadan is a time of reflection and a time of devotion. It’s an occasion to join with family and friends in celebration of a faith known for its diversity and a commitment to justice and the dignity of all human beings. So to you and your families, Ramadan Kareem.

This evening reminds us of both the timeless teachings of a great religion and the enduring strengths of a great nation. Like so many faiths, Islam has always been part of our American family, and Muslim Americans have long contributed to the strength and character of our country, in all walks of life. This has been especially true over the past 10 years.

In one month, we will mark the 10th anniversary of those awful attacks that brought so much pain to our hearts. It will be a time to honor all those that we’ve lost, the families who carry on their legacy, the heroes who rushed to help that day and all who have served to keep us safe during a difficult decade. And tonight, it’s worth remembering that these Americans were of many faiths and backgrounds, including proud and patriotic Muslim Americans.

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June 10, 2011

Poling: Plus ça change ...

The Rev. Jason Poling is Pastor of New Hope Community Church in Pikesville.

The good citizens of San Francisco have managed to tear themselves away from a crippling state budget crisis long enough to place a ballot measure outlawing circumcision. Being represented by Nancy Pelosi would unbalance me, too, so I don't want to be too judgmental.

Nah, I do.

What is at stake here is nothing less than the choice between the French and American visions of the social good. Liberté or liberty, sometimes the choice is clear. In San Francisco it couldn't be any clearer.

Our revolutions took place within a stone's throw of one another, chronologically. But while the French sought to institute a creedal secularism, we set out a constitutional vision of church protected from state, and vice versa. Our experiment was a lot less bloody, and a lot more successful.

Fast forward to today and in France Muslim girls are prohibited from covering their heads in school. This approach reflects an understanding of secularism as a militant opposition to religion, a strict requirement of conformity to prescribed standards however much said conformity might violate the consciences of citizens.

When our founding fathers pointed us toward a novus ordo seclorum, they had in mind a worldliness that allowed a variety of religious movements to express themselves in virtually any way that wouldn't impinge upon others. So while we don't allow the recreational use of peyote our society allows it as an expression of Native American religious observance. We'll make you take off the veil for your driver's license picture, but we'll let you wear it in class. And we'll allow you to raise your children according to the dictates of your religion, unless doing so presents an imminent threat to the child's physical health.

How is this definition adjudicated? With care, and with great respect -- at least in this country -- for the deeply held religious convictions of the people involved. If there's no overwhelming medical reason to oppose a practice, we're going to defer to the scruples of our fellow citizens. We do so in part because we would want them to do the same to us; we do so in part because most of us have a hard enough time making difficult decisions for ourselves, let alone for others. But mostly we do so because to be American is to be free to exercise, or not, our religious beliefs, and to have that free exercise protected against the prejudices of our neighbors.

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June 9, 2011

Evangelicals join Jews against circumcision ban

The National Association of Evangelicals is joining Jews and Muslims in opposition to the proposed ban on circumcision of male children in San Francisco.

“Jews, Muslims, and Christians all trace our spiritual heritage back to Abraham. Biblical circumcision begins with Abraham,” Leith Anderson, president of the Christian organization, said Thursday in a statement. “No American government should restrict this historic tradition. Essential religious liberties are at stake.”

Opponents of circumcision have gathered enough signatures to get the ban on San Francisco's city ballot in November. The measure would make circumcision of a male under 18 a misdemeanor punishable by a fine of up to $1,000.

The National Association of Evangelicals says the ban would violate the First Amendment guarantee of the freedom to exercise one’s religious beliefs. The organization says its guiding policy document affirms the principles of religious freedom and liberty of conscience, which it describes as both historically and logically at the foundation of the American experiment.

“While evangelical denominations traditionally neither require nor forbid circumcision, we join Jews and Muslims in opposing this ban and standing together for religious freedom,” Anderson said.

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May 11, 2011

Judges reverse decision on Muslim headwear

The Associated Press reports:

A Georgia judge has reversed a decision that blocked a Muslim man from his courtroom because he was wearing religious headwear.

Henry County State Court Judge James Chafin said he found "through his own research that there is a basis in the Quran for both men and women to cover their heads as a religious observance."

Three separate times, the judge had blocked Troy "Tariq" Montgomery from entering his courtroom to dispute a traffic ticket because he was wearing a kufi, a traditional Muslim head covering. Montgomery said he was surprised by the decision but hopeful no other Muslims will have to face similar objections.

The Judicial Council of Georgia decided in July 2009 to allow headwear that is worn for religious or medical reasons after a similar dispute.

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May 4, 2011

In gesture, Turkey conserving Armenian churches

Associated Press correspondent Selcan Hacaoglu reports:

Turkey has launched a project to conserve an ancient Armenian cathedral and church in what is seen as a gesture of reconciliation toward its neighbor.

Turkey and Armenia have been locked in a bitter dispute for decades over the mass killings of Armenians in Turkey in the last years of the Ottoman Empire. Efforts to normalize relations have been dealt a setback by the conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan over the enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan is a close Muslim ally of Turkey.

Turkey, however, says it is committed to improving ties with Armenia, and has already restored the 10th century Akdamar church, perched on a rocky island in Lake Van in eastern Turkey. It has also allowed once-yearly worship at the site as a gesture to Armenia and its own ethnic Armenian minority.

Culture Minister Ertugrul Gunay said Tuesday the new project was being launched in partnership with the World Monuments Fund to conserve the remains of the cathedral and the Church of the Holy Savior in Ani, 25 miles (40 kilometers) from the eastern Turkish city of Kars.

According to the New York-based World Monuments Fund, Ani — "one of the world's great cities in the 10th century" — was once the site of hundreds of religious buildings, palaces, fortifications, and other structures. Today it stands abandoned, and the remnants of its celebrated buildings are in a precarious state.

The site, in an earthquake-prone area, has been listed on the World Monuments Watch since 1996.

"Ani, which is of global significance, presents particularly complicated challenges," Gunay said. "We hope that giving new life to the remains of once-splendid buildings, such as the Ani Cathedral and church, will bring new economic opportunities to the region."

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May 2, 2011

Palin to share stage with Islam critic

The Associated Press reports:

Sarah Palin will share the stage in Colorado with a former senior military intelligence official who disparaged Islam while helping to lead the war on terror after Sept. 11.

Monday evening's speech was already scheduled before Sunday's killing of Osama bin Laden. The Republican former vice presidential candidate is speaking at a fundraiser at Colorado Christian University with Retired Lt. Gen. William Boykin.

He said that America's enemy was Satan and that one Muslim Somali warlord was an idol worshipper. Boykin later apologized and said he did not mean to insult Islam. He retired in 2007.

The event in the Denver suburb of Lakewood raises money for a charity for families of fallen service members, the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

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Islamic scholars criticize bin Laden burial at sea

Associated Press correspondent Hamza Hendawi reports:

Muslim clerics said Monday that Osama bin Laden's burial at sea was a violation of Islamic tradition that may further provoke militant calls for revenge attacks against American targets.

Although there appears to be some room for debate over the burial — as with many issues within the faith — a wide range of Islamic scholars interpreted it as a humiliating disregard for the standard Muslim practice of placing the body in a grave with the head pointed toward the holy city of Mecca.

Sea burials can be allowed, they said, but only in special cases where the death occurred aboard a ship.

"The Americans want to humiliate Muslims through this burial, and I don't think this is in the interest of the U.S. administration," said Omar Bakri Mohammed, a radical cleric in Lebanon.

A U.S. official said the burial decision was made after concluding that it would have been difficult to find a country willing to accept the remains. There was also speculation about worry that a grave site could have become a rallying point for militants.

The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive national security matters.

President Barack Obama said the remains had been handled in accordance with Islamic custom, which requires speedy burial, and the Pentagon later said the body was placed into the waters of the northern Arabian Sea after adhering to traditional Islamic procedures — including washing the corpse — aboard the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson.

But the Lebanese cleric Mohammed called it a "strategic mistake" that was bound to stoke rage.

In Washington, CIA director Leon Panetta warned that "terrorists almost certainly will attempt to avenge" the killing of the mastermind behind the Sept. 11 attacks.

"Bin Laden is dead," Panetta wrote in a memo to CIA staff. "Al-Qaida is not."

According to Islamic teachings, the highest honor to be bestowed on the dead is giving the deceased a swift burial, preferably before sunset. Those who die while traveling at sea can have their bodies committed to the bottom of the ocean if they are far off the coast, according to Islamic tradition.

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CAIR welcomes 'elimination' of Osama bin Laden

The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a Washington-based Muslim advocacy group, has issued a statement welcoming the 'elimination' of Osama bin Laden on Sunday by a team of Navy Seals in Pakistan Sunday:

"We join our fellow citizens in welcoming the announcement that Osama bin Laden has been eliminated as a threat to our nation and the world through the actions of American military personnel. As we have stated repeatedly since the 9/11 terror attacks, bin Laden never represented Muslims or Islam. In fact, in addition to the killing of thousands of Americans, he and Al Qaeda caused the deaths of countless Muslims worldwide. We also reiterate President Obama's clear statement tonight that the United States is not at war with Islam."

CAIR issued the statement at 1:17 a.m., less than two hours after Obama began his announcement.

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April 28, 2011

Judge rules Muslim plaintiffs can't see FBI files

Associated Press writer Amy Taxin reports:

A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a group of Muslim activists and organizations cannot review additional records of FBI inquiries into their activities but berated the government for misleading the court about the existence of the files.

U.S. District Judge Cormac J. Carney said six Muslim groups and five individuals who sued in 2007 to gain access to records they believed the FBI was keeping do not have a right to much of the information because of national security concerns.

The ruling came amid a nearly five-year battle by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Muslim activists to obtain files they believe would show the FBI has been unlawfully targeting Muslims in Southern California.

Carney reached his decision after privately reviewing more than 100 pages of documents to ensure the government had complied with the Freedom of Information Act in denying access to plaintiffs.

In his 18-page ruling, Carney declined to reveal the number or nature of the records the FBI kept on the plaintiffs, citing national security concerns.

He also reached the conclusion that federal government attorneys misled the court about the existence of the documents.

"The government's representations were then, and remain today, blatantly false," Carney wrote. "The government cannot, under any circumstance, affirmatively mislead the court."

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April 27, 2011

Judge denies Muslim inmate's beard lawsuit

Associated Press correspondent Dena Potter reports:

Virginia's prison system did not violate a Muslim inmate's religious rights when it refused to allow him to grow a 1/8-inch beard, which he believes is required by his religion, a federal judge has ruled.

William Couch, a 50-year-old Sunni Muslim, is a medium-security prisoner serving multiple life sentences for rape and other convictions. He challenged the Virginia Department of Corrections' grooming policy, which bans long hair and beards.

U.S. District Judge Samuel G. Wilson in Harrisonburg sided with the department in a ruling Thursday. Couch's attorney, Jeffrey Fogel, filed an appeal Monday.

Department spokesman Larry Traylor declined to comment on the case.

Fogel argued a 1/8-inch beard would be too short to allow Couch to easily change his appearance if he escaped or hide weapons or other contraband, which is why the department argues the policy is needed.

"There is no conceivable security issue for a Muslim, with concededly sincere beliefs, to grow a 1/8-inch beard," Fogel said Monday.

It will be difficult for Couch to convince the federal appeals court, however.

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April 4, 2011

Veil ban comes amid tightening focus on Muslims

Associated Press correspondent Elaine Ganley reports:

Karima has a plan. If police stop her for wearing a veil over her face, she'll remove it — then put it back on once they're out of sight. If that doesn't work, she'll stay home, or even leave France.

For Muslim women in France who cover their faces with veils, it is the moment for making plans. Starting April 11, a new law banning garments that hide the face takes effect. Women who disobey it risk a fine, special classes and a police record.

The law comes as Muslims face what some see as a new jab at their religion: President Nicolas Sarkozy's party is holding a debate Tuesday on the place of Islamic practices, and Islam itself, in strictly secular but traditionally Catholic France.

The increasing focus on France's Muslims — who number at least 5 million, the largest such population in western Europe — comes with presidential elections a year away and support for a far-right party growing. A recent palpable rise in tensions has also been boosted by fears of a mass migration of Muslims due to disarray in the Arab world.

Interior Minister Claude Gueant put it bluntly Monday.

"This growth in the number of (Muslims) and a certain number of behaviors cause problems," he said in remarks carried on French radio. "There is no reason why the nation should accord to one particular religion more rights than religions that were formerly anchored in our country."

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March 9, 2011

13 dead in Christian-Muslim clashes in Egypt

Associated Press correspondent Hamza Hendawi reports:

Clashes that broke out when a Muslim mob attacked thousands of Christians protesting the burning of a Cairo church killed at least 13 people and wounded about 140, officials said Wednesday.

The Muslims torched the church amid an escalation of tensions over a love affair between a Muslim and a Christian that set off a violent feud between the couple's families.

The officials said all 13 fatalities died of gunshot wounds.

The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The clashes late Tuesday night added to a sense of ongoing chaos in Egypt after the momentous 18-day democracy uprising that toppled longtime leader Hosni Mubarak on Feb. 11. The uprising left a security vacuum after police pulled out of Cairo and several other cities three days into the uprising.

The police have yet to fully take back the streets, leaving space for a wave of violent crime and lawlessness in some parts of the nation.

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March 8, 2011

Killing provokes outrage among Sikhs, Muslims

Associated Press corrrespondent Lien Hoang reports:

The daily stroll had become routine for two elderly Sikh men in a Sacramento suburb, as well as for neighbors and friends accustomed to seeing the men walk by with their long beards and turbans.

But the traditional headwear might have singled them out late last week when they were gunned down, one fatally, in what police are investigating as a suspected hate crime. On Monday, local religious leaders pleaded for the community to come forward with leads but also said they will not be deterred by violence.

"Our community will continue to wear our turbans proudly," said Navi Kaur (NA'vee Kar), the granddaughter of Surinder Singh, 65, who died from his wounds.

His friend, 78-year-old Gurmej Atwal, remains in critical condition.

They were walking through their neighborhood in Elk Grove, just south of the capital, Friday afternoon when someone in what witnesses described as a pickup truck opened fire. Police said they have no suspects nor evidence the shooting was a hate crime, but said the turbans could have made the elderly men a target of extremists.

During a news conference Monday at a Sikh temple, a spokesman said the recent violence has scared some temple-goers into concealing any indicators of their religion.

Sikhs often are mistaken for Muslims and have been the subject of occasional violence across the country since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

"The enemies of the United States don't wear turbans in the United States," said Amar Shergill, a Sikh leader and attorney. "They don't want to be singled out. The result is that Sikh Americans since 9-11 have borne the brunt of violent hate crimes."

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February 24, 2011

Suit claims FBI violates Muslims' rights at mosque

Associated Press correspondent Thomas Watkins reports:

Plaintiffs in a lawsuit against the FBI said Wednesday that the agency's use of a paid informant to infiltrate California mosques has left them and others Muslims with an enduring fear that their phones and e-mails are being screened and their physical whereabouts monitored.

The claims came at a news conference announcing the lawsuit, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California and the Los Angeles office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

The civil rights groups allege that former FBI informant Craig Monteilh violated Muslims' freedom of religion by conducting indiscriminate surveillance because of their faith.

The former fitness instructor with a criminal past spied on Orange County mosques for the FBI for more than a year from 2006 to 2007, recording conversations and meetings with a device concealed on his key ring and a camera hidden in a shirt button.

"To know that he was targeting me simply because I was a Muslim, it's sad," said Ali Malik, one of three plaintiffs named in the suit. "I live in paranoia. ... I just wish the FBI didn't do this."

Malik, a Pakistani-American, added that his wife had nightmares about him being snatched by agents.

FBI spokeswoman Laura Eimiller said she could not comment on pending litigation but emphasized that the FBI does not target religious groups or individuals based on their religion.

"Any investigation would be based on allegations of criminal activity," she said.

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February 7, 2011

Police: Man stabbed for being Muslim

The Associated Press reports:

Authorities say a Florida man is accused of stabbing another man in the neck after learning he was Muslim during a discussion about religion.

According to an arrest affidavit, the man who was stabbed told 52-year-old Bradley Kent Strott that he was Muslim while the two talked on Saturday. Investigators say Strott then grabbed the man by his shirt and stabbed him with a pocket knife.

The man who was stabbed was treated for his wound, though details about his condition were not available.

Strott was charged with aggravated battery. He was released Saturday evening on $15,000 bond.

A message left at a telephone listing for Strott was not immediately returned.

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February 1, 2011

Pakistini student arrested for 'blasphemous' answer

Police have arrested a 17-year old Pakistani boy for writing an allegedly blasphemous remark in an examination paper, an officer said Tuesday.

Pakistan's blasphemy laws have come under intense scrutiny since the murder last month of a prominent politician who had campaigned to change them. They allow for the death penalty for anyone found guilty of insulting Islam. Critics say they are often used to settle scores and unfairly target the country's non-Muslim minorities.

School authorities lodged a police complaint against the boy, identified as Sami Ullah, in January after reading an examination paper he took in the city of Karachi, said police officer Qudrat Shah Lodhi.

Lodhi said he could not repeat what the boy, who is a Muslim, had written because he would be committing blasphemy if he did. He said the boy told police he wrote the blasphemous material out of frustration when he was not able to answer the exam question.

"He submitted an apology to the examination authorities and feels ashamed and depressed," Lodhi said.

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January 25, 2011

Southern Baptist leader leaves mosque coalition

A leader of the Southern Baptist Convention has withdrawn from a coalition that supports the rights of Muslims to build mosques in their communities.

Richard Land, the head of the SBC's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, said he heard from many Southern Baptists who felt the work of the Interfaith Coalition on Mosques crossed the line from defending religious freedom to promoting Islam.

"I don't agree with that perception but it's widespread and I have to respect it," he told The Associated Press.

The Coalition was formed last year as an initiative of the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish group that fights discrimination. Its first action was to file a friend of the court brief opposing a lawsuit that sought to stop a planned mosque in Murfreesboro, about 30 miles southeast of Nashville.

"My constituents, many felt, 'Yes. We certainly believe in religious freedom. People ought to have a place of worship. But it's a bridge too far not only to advocate for that, but to file suit,'" he said.

Saud Anwar is the founder and co-chair of the American Muslim Peace Initiative and a member of the coalition. He said he was saddened and disappointed by Land's action, which he believes undermines Land's professions of support for religious liberty for all.

"The Southern Baptist community is one of the finest examples of faith in action that I know of," Anwar said. "You are setting an example by your action."

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Categories: Christianity, Interfaith, Islam, People, Politics

January 4, 2011

Anti-Christian drumbeat grew before Egypt attack

Associated Press correspondent Maggie Michael reports:

CAIRO – In the weeks before the New Year's Day suicide bombing of an Egyptian church, al-Qaida-linked websites carried a how-to manual on "destroying the cross," complete with videos on how to build a bomb and the locations of churches to target — including the one that was attacked.

They may have found a receptive audience in Alexandria, where increasingly radicalized Islamic hard-liners have been holding weekly anti-Christian demonstrations, filled with venomous slogans against the minority community.

The blast, which struck Saturday as worshippers were leaving midnight Mass at the Mediterranean city's Saints Church, killed 21 people.

President Hosni Mubarak has accused foreign groups of being behind the attack, which has sparked a wave of angry protests by Christians in Egypt.

But on the ground, investigators are searching in a different direction — scrutinizing homegrown hard-liners, known as Salafis, and the possibility they were inspired by al-Qaida.

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Pakistani governor who opposed blasphemy law slain

Associated Press correspondents Asif Shahzad and Nahal Toosi report:

ISLAMABAD – The governor of Pakistan's most dominant province was shot and killed Tuesday by a bodyguard who authorities said was angry about his opposition to blasphemy laws carrying the death sentence for insulting the Muslim faith.

Punjab Gov. Salman Taseer, regarded as a moderate voice in a country increasingly beset by zealotry, was a close ally of U.S.-backed President Asif Ali Zardari. He is the highest-profile Pakistani political figure to be assassinated since former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto three years ago, and his death underscores the growing danger in this country to those who dare challenge the demands of Islamist extremists.

Taseer was riddled by gunshots while walking to his car after an afternoon meal at Kohsar Market, a shopping center in Islamabad popular with Westerners and wealthy Pakistanis.

Initial reports indicated the suspected gunman, a police commando guarding Taseer, unloaded up to 26 rounds from a Kalashnikov automatic rifle. The gunman could have fired that number of rounds in a matter of seconds.

Other guards then forced the police commando to the ground, according to police and hospital officials.

"It was one shot first and then a burst," said R.A. Khan, a witness who was drinking coffee at the time. "I rushed and saw policemen over another police commando, who was lying on the road with his face down."

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December 27, 2010

American Muslims: A new consumer niche

Associated Press writer Rachel Zoll reports:

NEW BRUNSWICK, N.J. – In the ballroom of an upscale hotel a short train ride from New York, advertisers, food industry executives and market researchers mingled — the men in dark suits, the women in headscarves and Western dress. Chocolates made according to Islamic dietary laws were placed at each table.

The setting was the American Muslim Consumer Conference, which aimed to promote Muslims as a new market segment for U.S. companies. While corporations have long catered to Muslim communities in Europe, businesses have only tentatively started to follow suit in the U.S. — and they are doing so at a time of intensified anti-Muslim feeling that companies worry could hurt them, too. American Muslims seeking more acknowledgment in the marketplace argue that businesses have more to gain than lose by reaching out to the community.

"We are not saying, `Support us,'" said Masood, a graduate of the University of Illinois, Chicago, and management consultant. "But we want them to understand what our values are."

There are signs the industry is stirring: Faisal Masood, a Wall Street executive who organized the gathering, had attracted only 200 or so attendees when he started the event last year. This year, he had to close registration at 400 to keep from going over capacity.

The worldwide market for Islamically permitted goods, called halal, has grown to more than half a billion dollars annually. Ritually slaughtered meat is a mainstay, but the halal industry is much broader, including foods and seasoning that omit alcohol, pork products and other forbidden ingredients, along with cosmetics, finance and clothing.

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December 14, 2010

U.S. sues district for denying teacher's pilgrimage

Associated Press correspondent Pete Yost reports:

The federal government sued a suburban Chicago school district Monday for denying a Muslim middle school teacher unpaid leave to make a pilgrimage to Mecca that is a central part of her religion.

In a civil rights case, the department said the school district in Berkeley, Ill., denied the request of Safoorah Khan on grounds that her requested leave was unrelated to her professional duties and was not set forth in the contract between the school district and the teachers union. In doing so the school district violated the Civil Rights Act of 1964 by failing to reasonably accommodate her religious practices, the government said.

Khan wanted to perform the Hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca in Saudi Arabia which every adult Muslim is supposed to make at least once in a lifetime if they are physically and financially able to. Millions go each year.

Khan started as a middle school teacher for Berkeley School District 87 — about 15 miles west of Chicago — in 2007. In 2008, she asked for almost three weeks of unpaid leave to perform the Hajj. After the district twice denied her request, Khan wrote the board that "based on her religious beliefs, she could not justify delaying performing hajj," and resigned shortly thereafter, according to the lawsuit filed in federal court in Chicago.

Berkeley School District compelled Khan to choose between her job and her religious beliefs, the lawsuit said.

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December 13, 2010

French court annuls fine for veil-wearing woman

The Associated Press reports:

A French court has annulled a fine given to a woman driver wearing an Islamic face veil, months before a ban on wearing the garments goes into effect.

Traffic police in the western city of Nantes fined 31-year-old Sandrine Mouleres euro22 ($29.22) in April, saying she did not have a clear field of vision, but the court quashed the fine Monday.

Jean-Michel Pollono, Mouleres' attorney, said the court in Nantes had ruled "we are in a free country, and as a result, everything that isn't forbidden is allowed."

The initial fine drew widespread attention amid a nationwide debate over the place of Islamic veils. In September, the French parliament agreed to a ban on face-covering veils — such as the niqab or burqa — from being worn in public. The ban goes into effect in spring.

Many Muslims see the legislation as another blow to Islam — France's No. 2 religion — and fear it could raise levels of Islamophobia in a country where mosques are sporadic targets of hate.

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Holder tries to reassure Muslims after arrests

The Associated Press reports:

Days after the arrest of a Baltimore man accused of attempting to detonate a bomb outside an Army recruiting center in Catonsville, Attorney General Eric Holder reiterated his resolve to prosecute hate crimes, even as he defended the methods used in anti-terrorism cases.

Speaking Friday to Muslim Advocates, a San Francisco-based group, Holder told the group that he's heard from many Muslim and Arab Americans who feel uneasy and singled out by law enforcement.

The organization is one of several groups voicing concerns over hate crimes, alleged rights violations at the hands of law enforcement and the tactics used in anti-terrorism cases.

Carefully-crafted sting operations by FBI and Justice Department officials have included plots against a Portland, Ore., Christmas celebration, Dallas skyscrapers, Washington subways, a Chicago nightclub and New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Undercover operatives in these cases have let suspects make clear they wanted to carry out an attack and gave them a chance to change their mind, according to authorities.

But Holder told the group he would make "no apologies" for the handling of the case against Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, a Somali-born Muslim accused of plotting to set off a bomb in Oregon.

"Those who characterize the FBI's activities in this case as 'entrapment' simply do not have their facts straight or do not have a full understanding of the law."

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November 30, 2010

Carroll County Islamic president condemns plot

Dr. Mohamed Esa, president of the Islamic Society of Carroll County has condemned "unequivocally" the alleged plot to attack a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Portland, Ore.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud, 19, has pleaded not guilty to a charge of attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction in the alleged plot to set off a car bomb in downtown Portland last week while thousands of people gathered for the holiday ceremony.

"The Islamic Society of Carroll County (ISCC) condemns unequivocally the attempted terrorist attack on innocent people in Portland, OR and praises the FBI and the Portland police for stopping the would-be attacker from carrying out a senseless killing of innocent Americans gathered to witness the lighting of the Christmas tree, a symbol of peace and hope," Esa said in a statement.

"The ISCC calls on all Muslims to stand up and be vigilant and report any misguided individuals who harbor hateful feelings and ill will toward our nation. As president of the ISCC, I have already asked our Imam (leader of prayer) to dedicate his sermon at next Friday’s prayer on December 3rd to the topic of “The Rights and Obligations of American Muslims.” A good American Muslim is loyal to his/her country and does not plan anything that can harm the common good. He or she rejects all forms of extremism and adheres to and respects the laws of our nation."

Esa's complete statement follows, after the jump.

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Town supporting alleged plotter's mosque

The Associated Press reports:

Residents in the Oregon town of Corvallis are showing their support for an Islamic center where a teenager accused of plotting mass killings in Portland occasionally worshipped.

Mohamed Osman Mohamud pleaded not guilty Monday in federal court in Portland to attempted use of a weapon of mass destruction. The 19-year-old was arrested Friday.

The FBI is investigating a Sunday fire that destroyed part of the Islamic center where Mohamud attended while going to Oregon State University.

The parking lot in front of the charred prayer center drew community members and Corvallis religious leaders Monday to offer prayers and support against what they called an abhorrent act of arson.

People have left plants, flowers and cards in front of the entrance.

A defense attorney and friends suspect Mohamud was set up — groomed and talked into a plot to detonate what he thought were six 55-gallon drums of explosives in a van.

But prosecutors led by Attorney General Eric Holder say the teen plunged into a what turned out to be government sting, dismissing talk of backing out and also exhulting in the mayhem he expected as Portlanders gathered by the thousands last week for a Christmas tree-lighting celebration.

Mohamud "was told that children — children — were potentially going to be harmed," Holder said Monday as the 19-year-old native of Somalia appeared in court and his defenders attacked the government's case.

Outside the courtroom, a man who has played basketball with Mohamud said the teenager wouldn't have gotten involved in the plot without encouragement from the FBI.

"If you talk with someone enough, they'll be convinced they need to do something," said 20-year-old Muhahid El-Naser. He was among a small number of people gathered outside a federal court building about a five-block walk from what the government alleges was the target of the bomb plot last week, Pioneer Courthouse Square.

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November 29, 2010

Muslim leaders fear retribution after plot

Associated Press corrrespondents Jonathan Cooper And Nigel Duara report from Corvallis, Ore.:

Patrols around mosques and other Islamic sites in Portland have been stepped up as Muslim leaders expressed fears of retribution, days after a Somali-American man was accused of trying to blow up a van full of explosives during the city's Christmas tree lighting ceremony.

Portland Mayor Sam Adams said Sunday that he beefed up protection around mosques "and other facilities that might be vulnerable to knuckle-headed retribution" after hearing of the bomb plot.

The move followed a fire Sunday at the Islamic center in Corvallis, a college town about 75 miles southwest of Portland, where suspect Mohamed Osman Mohamud occasionally worshipped, prompting an FBI arson investigation and concern about the potential for more retaliation.

Mohamud, 19, was being held on charges of plotting to carry out a terror attack Friday on a crowd of thousands at Portland's Pioneer Courthouse Square. He is scheduled to appear in court Monday afternoon.

His attorney, Stephen R. Sady, who has represented terrorism suspects held at the U.S. prison at Guantanamo Bay, didn't return a telephone message left Sunday by The Associated Press.

The suspect's mother, Maryan Hassan, declined to discuss the issue when contacted by phone late Sunday by the AP, referring all questions to Sady. His father also refused to comment.

Somali leaders in Oregon — a state that has been largely accepting of Muslims — gathered with Portland city leaders Sunday evening to denounce violence and call for help for at-risk Somali youth.

"We left Somalia because of war, and we would like to live in peace as part of the American community," said Kayse Jama, executive director of a local organization founded after the 9/11 attacks to fight anti-Muslim sentiment. "We are Portlanders. We are Oregonians. We are Americans, and we would like to be treated that way. We are your co-workers, your neighbors."

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November 19, 2010

Poling: A mountaintop experience…maybe

The Rev. Jason Poling is pastor of New Hope Community Church in Pikesville. He is traveling in Israel with the Maryland Clergy Initiative, sponsored by the Baltimore Jewish Council and the Institute for Christian & Jewish Studies.

JERUSALEM – I don’t know what I was expecting, but somehow it wasn’t what I expected.

Earlier this week I walked on the Temple Mount, the site where the first and second Temples stood. Today it houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock. For all the controversy that surrounds it, the Temple Mount is a very peaceful place – it’s a broad plaza populated by tourists, most of them apparently on organized tours.

For years I’ve studied various biblical passages about the events that took place on this site; I’ve looked at pictures and satellite images and helicopter flyovers to try to get something useful in my mind’s eye. It looked from a distance about how I thought it would, but the feeling of walking on it was the feeling of walking on an alien world. That’s not all too unusual, as that’s what walking through the rest of Jerusalem felt like too. But whatever connection I may have with the place spiritually, theologically … I don’t know that any connection was an experiential reality for me.

Some of this disconnect may come from the fact that I know enough about the history of the place to know that there is virtually no place one can stand that is as it was in the first century. Jerusalem has changed hands a number of times since then, and as we walked through the tunnels next to the Western Wall of the Temple Mount we learned about the ways successive administrations carried out massive building projects that would be impressive today but are stunning in scope for a pre-industrial age. The result of these building projects, though, is that streets in the neighborhood aren’t at the same levels they were two thousand years ago. So in a couple of days when we walk the Via Dolorosa, the path of Jesus’ journey carrying his cross, we will not be walking the same stones he walked.

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November 17, 2010

Egypt frees blogger convicted of insulting Islam

The Associated Press reports:

A prominent Egyptian blogger jailed for four years for writings deemed insulting to Islam and for calling President Hosni Mubarak "a symbol of tyranny" has been released, his brother said Wednesday.

Abdel Kareem Nabil was the first blogger in Egypt convicted specifically for his writings in a case that government critics said was intended to serve as a warning to others.

His prosecution was part of a government crackdown on bloggers and media outlets and drew a flood of condemnation from international and Egyptian rights groups.

He was released Monday after being held 10 days beyond the end of his sentence without explanation, said his brother, Abdel Rahman. The Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said last week that during that time he was subjected to repeated beatings by an officer at the State Security Investigation office in Alexandria.

His brother said Wednesday that Nabil needed a rest before talking to media and that the family was not yet prepared to release a statement.

Nabil, who wrote under the name Kareem Amer, was an unusually scathing critic of conservative Muslims.

Much of his criticism was directed at Cairo's Al-Azhar University, the pre-eminent institution of religious thought in Sunni Islam, where he was studying law.

He denounced the school as "the university of terrorism," accusing it of promoting radical ideas and suppressing free thought. Al-Azhar "stuffs its students' brains and turns them into human beasts ... teaching them that there is not place for differences in this life," he wrote.

In other writings, he called Al-Azhar the "other face of the coin of al-Qaida" and called for the university to be dissolved or turned into a secular institution.

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November 12, 2010

Palestinian held for Facebook criticism of Islam

Associated Press correspondent Diaa Hadid reports:

A mysterious blogger who set off an uproar in the Arab world by claiming he was God and hurling insults at the Prophet Muhammad is now behind bars — caught in a sting that used Facebook to track him down.

The case of the unlikely apostate, a shy barber from the backwater West Bank town of Qalqiliya, is highlighting the limits of tolerance in the Western-backed Palestinian Authority — and illustrating a new trend by authorities in the Arab world to mine social media for evidence.

Residents of Qalqiliya say they had no idea that Walid Husayin — the 26-year-old son of a Muslim scholar — was leading a double life.

Known as a quiet man who prayed with his family each Friday and spent his evenings working in his father's barbershop, Husayin was secretly posting anti-religion rants on the Internet during his free time.

Now, he faces a potential life prison sentence on heresy charges for "insulting the divine essence." Many in this conservative Muslim town say he should be killed for renouncing Islam, and even family members say he should remain behind bars for life.

"He should be burned to death," said Abdul-Latif Dahoud, a 35-year-old Qalqiliya resident. The execution should take place in public "to be an example to others," he added.

Over several years, Husayin is suspected of posting arguments in favor of atheism on English and Arabic blogs, where he described the God of Islam as having the attributes of a "primitive Bedouin." He called Islam a "blind faith that grows and takes over people's minds where there is irrationality and ignorance."

If that wasn't enough, he is also suspected of creating three Facebook groups in which he sarcastically declared himself God and ordered his followers, among other things, to smoke marijuana in verses that spoof the Muslim holy book, the Quran. At its peak, Husayin's Arabic-language blog had more than 70,000 visitors, overwhelmingly from Arab countries.

His Facebook groups elicited hundreds of angry comments, detailed death threats and the formation of more than a dozen Facebook groups against him, including once called "Fight the blasphemer who said 'I am God.'"

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November 10, 2010

Muslim group: U.S. delaying pilgrims' passports

Associated Press correspondent Sarah Brumfield reports:

A Muslim civil rights group said Tuesday it's concerned that the U.S. government is delaying the shipment of passports to those who are trying to make religious pilgrimages to Saudi Arabia.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations raised the issue after a northern Virginia mosque reported that 17 people missed their flight to Saudi Arabia when their passports were temporarily seized. The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol bought replacement tickets for those passengers, the mosque said.

On Tuesday, the council said it had learned of three other packages sent via UPS from California containing pilgrims' passports with hajj visas — for travel to Mecca — being held up by security checks or government seizure.

"The American Muslim community needs to know whether packages sent from point to point within our borders are being screened based on the religion of the sender or recipient, and whether or not such packages can be seized and opened by government officials without a warrant," said CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper.

Hajj, a pilgrimage to Islam's holiest city, Mecca, is a requirement for all able-bodied Muslims who can afford it. The pilgrimage is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and many people save for months or years to pay for the trip, said Khadija Athman, the council's national civil rights manager.

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November 9, 2010

Minister admits shaking hands with Michelle Obama

A conservative Muslim government minister admits he shook hands with first lady Michelle Obama in welcoming her to Indonesia but says it wasn't his choice.

Footage on YouTube shows otherwise, sparking a debate that has lit up Facebook, Twitter and the rest of the blogosphere.

"I tried to prevent (being touched) with my hands but Mrs. Michelle held her hands too far toward me (so) we touched," Information Minister Tifatul Sembiring told tens of thousands of followers on Twitter.

While Indonesia has the largest Muslim population in the world, the vast majority practice a moderate form of the faith. But Sembiring has flaunted his conservatism and says he avoids contact with women who are not related to him.

The minister was among the dignitaries in a receiving line that greeted President Barack Obama and his wife as they arrived in Jakarta on Tuesday — a homecoming of sorts for the president who spent part of his childhood here. Indonesians gathered around television sets across the country to watch the American president touch down. Children at the school he attended practiced a song dedicated to him just in case he visited.

In footage of the official welcome, Sembiring appeared to share his countrymen's enthusiasm. He smiled broadly as he shook the president's hand and then reached with both hands to grasp Michelle Obama's. But later he said she forced their contact.

His denial was in a response to tweets from Indonesians who noted the handshake and questioned his long-standing claims that, as a good Muslim, he restricts his contact with women.

Many posts had a "gotchya" quality to them.

One female journalist — who said the minister had refused to shake her hand — gleefully noted that now he would no longer be able to wriggle out of it.

Sembiring has often tweeted controversial comments, including blaming natural disasters on a lack of morality and joking about AIDS.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:30 PM | | Comments (2)

Obama sees progress in relations with Muslim world

The Associated Press reports:

President Barack Obama says he believes the United States is on "the right path" to a better relationship with the Muslim world, but acknowledges that policy differences will continue.

Standing next to Indonesia's President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono at a joint news conference in Jakarta, Obama said he has worked hard to repair frayed relations with the Muslim community.

He called his administration's efforts to repair relations with the Muslim world "earnest, sustained." But Obama also said he doesn't think "we're going to completely eliminate some of the misunderstandings and mistrust that have developed."

The president said he wants to make sure America is "building bridges and expanding our interactions with Muslin countries."

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:21 AM | | Comments (0)

November 3, 2010

Iran foreign minister: No verdict in adultery stoning

Associated Press correspondent Misha Dzhindzhikhashvili reports:

Iran's foreign minister said Wednesday that no final decision has been made about a woman who could be stoned to death for adultery, amid reports that her execution was imminent.

Manouchehr Mottaki's statement follows an international outcry over the stoning sentence against the 43-year-old woman, Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani.

"Everyone has to be punished for murder," Mottaki said at a news conference in Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia. "The person has killed her husband and I think this fact will be considered as a crime in every country ... But in this case the final decision has not been made yet."

Earlier Wednesday, French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner also said in a statement that Mottaki had told him that a final verdict in Ashtiani's case has not been issued yet and that reports "about her eventual execution don't correspond to reality." But Kouchner said France is "very worried" about the case.

Iran has temporarily suspended the stoning verdict and has suggested Ashtiani might be hanged instead.

The case has further elevated tensions between Iran and the West, already running high over suspicions about Tehran's nuclear ambitions.

The office of Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper said his wife Laureen Harper sent an open letter to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmedinejad calling for Ashtiani's release. Mrs. Harper wrote that she was "deeply troubled by the flagrant disregard of women's rights in Iran" and said Ashtiani's case "is an affront to any sense of moral or human decency."

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October 13, 2010

Four teens charged with anti-Muslim crime

The Associated Press reports:

New York City police say four Staten Island teenagers accused of bullying a Muslim classmate are now facing hate crime charges.

The Staten Island Advance says the incidents occurred from October 2009 to June 2010. Authorities say the bullies called the boy a "terrorist," frequently punched him in the groin and spit in his face.

The boy said he hoped the bullying would end when he left intermediate school. He finally told his family after learning that two of the alleged tormentors were in his high school class.

NYPD Lt. John Grimpel says three 14-year-olds and a 15-year-old are charged with assault and aggravated harassment as a hate crime.

The Muslim family immigrated from Trinidad in the 1980s.

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October 5, 2010

Israeli rabbis visit torched West Bank mosque

Six rabbis from West Bank settlements have taken a step to defuse tension over the burning of a West Bank mosque, apparently by extremist settlers — they presented 20 new Quran books to replace those damaged in the blaze, the Associated Press reports.

During their visit to the mosque in the village of Beit Fajjar, Palestinian residents held charred pages of the burned Quran books.

Israeli politicians rushed to condemn the attack. It came as Israeli and Palestinian negotiators try to salvage peace talks by working out a deal over Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank.

Rabbi Menachem Froman, who led Tuesday's reconciliatory visit, said those who committed the attack "oppose peace."

The attackers left Hebrew slogans on the mosque walls. Israeli police are investigating.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:32 PM | | Comments (1)

Muslims say bigotry behind cemetery order

The Associated Press reports:

Officials in a rural upstate New York town are trying to force a group of Muslims to dig up two bodies in their cemetery, saying the burials were illegal.

But the Sufi group, which has documents that appear to support the cemetery's legality, says the town board's actions were motivated by a wave of anti-Islamic sentiment fueled by the uproar over a planned mosque near ground zero.

Hans Hass of the Osmanli Naksibendi Hakkani community, 130 miles northwest of New York City, said last week that the Sufi community learned only recently about the Sidney Town Board's vote in August to pursue legal action to shut down the community's cemetery.

"They knew we had the cemetery," Hass said. "I filed burial permits with the town. It wasn't an issue until the ground zero mosque came up."

Town Supervisor Bob McCarthy said the cemetery is illegal and bigotry had nothing to do with the board decision. He said no legal action has been taken yet and referred questions about the potential action to town attorney Joseph Ermeti, who didn't return a call seeking comment.

"These people just came up and buried bodies on the land," McCarthy said. "You have to have permits. They didn't have them. You can't just bury Grandma in the backyard under the picnic table."

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September 24, 2010

Texas school board mulls limiting Islam references

April Castro of the Associated Press reports:

Social conservatives are seeking to curtail references to Islam in Texas textbooks, warning of what they describe as a creeping Middle Eastern influence in the nation's publishing industry.

The State Board of Education plans to vote Friday on a one-page resolution calling on textbook publishers to limit what they print about Islam in world history books.

Critics say it's another example of the ideological board trying to politicize public education in the Lone Star State.

"It's just more of the same Islamaphobic, xenophobic attitude we've been seeing around the country," said Mustafaa Carroll, executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations of Texas. "It's not like Muslims are not part of the country. This kind of attitude is not healthy, it's not even American."

Future boards that will choose the state's next generation of social studies texts would not be bound by the resolution.

The resolution cites world history books no longer used in Texas schools that it says devoted more lines of text to Islamic beliefs and practices than Christian beliefs and practices.

"Diverse reviewers have repeatedly documented gross pro-Islamic, anti-Christian distortions in social studies texts," reads a preliminary draft of the resolution.

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September 22, 2010

Muslim moderates want Wahhabi groups reined in

Moderate Muslims in Macedonia are urging the government and the international community to crack down on radical Wahhabi groups on the rise in the country, the Associated Press reports.

The head of Macedonia's official Islamic Religious Community, Suleyman Rexhepi, says he wants "radical measures" against the Wahhabis by the government, the U.S. and the European Union.

The radical brand of Islam embraced by al-Qaida and the Taliban is seen as gaining a foothold in the Balkans, and Rexhepi claimed Monday that the sect wants to "to distort (Macedonia's) image."

Rexhepi's group is engaged in a power struggle with the Wahhabis, who are thought to control five mosques in the capital, Skopje. Most of Macedonia's ethnic Albanian minority — a quarter of the population of 2.1 million — are Muslims.

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September 21, 2010

Muslims back mosque, call for dialogue

Karen Matthews of the Associated Press reports:

Leaders of prominent U.S. Muslim groups called Monday for a national week of interfaith dialogue to combat religious intolerance and said they support the right to build a controversial Islamic center near ground zero.

"We stand for the constitutional right of Muslims, and Americans of all faiths, to build houses of worship anywhere in our nation as allowed by local laws and regulations," the Muslim leaders said in a statement delivered at the site of the proposed Islamic center and mosque, to be called Park51.

They called for a "week of dialogue" on the weekend of Oct. 22-24, during which Muslims would conduct open houses at their places of worship to help ease tensions.

"We ask Muslims to open mosques nationwide to welcome people, to let them understand the Islamic faith and what American Muslim community is," said Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on Islamic-American Relations. "We also urge Muslims to visit places of worship in other faith communities."

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September 14, 2010

French Senate approves Muslim veil ban

The French Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed a bill banning the burqa-style Islamic veil in public, but the leaders of both parliamentary houses said they had asked a special council to first ensure the measure passes constitutional muster amid concerns its tramples on religious freedoms, the Associated Press reports.

The Senate voted 246 to 1 Tuesday in favor of the bill, which has already passed in the lower chamber, the National Assembly. It will need President Nicolas Sarkozy's signature.

Legislative leaders said they wanted the Constitutional Council to examine it.

"This law was the object of long and complex debates," the Senate president, Gerard Larcher, and National Assembly head Bernard Accoyer said in a joint statement explaining their move. They said in a joint statement that they want to be certain there is "no uncertainty" about it conforming to the constitution.

The measure effects less than 2,000 women.

Many Muslims believe the legislation is one more blow to France's second religion, and risks raising the level of Islamophobia in a country where mosques, like synagogues, are sporadic targets of hate. However, the vast majority behind the measure say it will preserve the nation's singular values, including its secular foundation and a notion of fraternity that is contrary to those who hide their faces.

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French Senate to vote on ban of full Muslim veils

The French Senate debates Tuesday whether to ban the burqa-style veil, a move that affects only a tiny minority of the country's Muslim women but has significant symbolic repercussions, the Associated Press reports.

Muslims believe the latest legislation is one more blow to France's second religion, and risks raising the level of Islamophobia in a country where mosques, like synagogues, are sporadic targets of hate. Some women have vowed to wear a full-face veil despite the law.

The proposed law was passed overwhelmingly by the lower house of parliament, the National Assembly, on July 13. The expected green light from the Senate would make it definitive once the president signs off on it — barring amendments and an eventual legal challenge.

The measure would outlaw face-covering veils in streets, including those worn by tourists from the Middle East and elsewhere. It is aimed at ensuring gender equality, women's dignity and security, as well as upholding France's secular values — and its way of life.

Kenza Drider, however, says she'll flirt with arrest to wear her veil as she pleases.

"It is a law that is unlawful," said Drider, a mother of four from Avignon, in southern France. "It is ... against individual liberty, freedom of religion, liberty of conscience, she said.

"I will continue to live my life as I always have with my full veil," she told Associated Press Television News.

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Hartford City Council cancels Muslim prayer

The Hartford City Council's decision to replace a scheduled Islamic prayer with an interfaith moment of silence before its meeting sends the wrong message to Connecticut's Islamic community, Muslim leaders told the Associated Press.

Mongi Dhaouadi, executive director of the Connecticut chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the canceling of Monday's Muslim prayer just days after the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks unfairly singles out state residents who practice Islam. Dhaouadi, along with about 50 other Muslim leaders and supporters, held an Islamic prayer session outside of City Hall on Monday in protest of the council's decision.

"We are not asking for special treatment," he said. "We are just asking for equal treatment, just like everyone else."

City Council president rJo Winch said she decided to cancel the scheduled prayer in favor of a moment of silence before the council's meetings this month after receiving negative e-mails and phone calls.

Winch and fellow council member Luis Cotto denounced the negative comments, which they said were filled with harsh and sometimes bigoted language, during a news conference last week.

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September 10, 2010

Jason Poling: I'm with stupid

The Rev. Jason Poling is Pastor of New Hope Community Church in Pikesville.

It’s been a tough year to be an evangelical pastor with a small congregation. The two best-known examples are Fred Phelps of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kansas, and Terry Jones of Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida. The former is best known for protesting military funerals and running The latter is known for a plan to burn copies of the Qur’an on Saturday to commemorate the 9/11 attacks.

Well down the list would be me. Like Westboro and Dove, New Hope is small and independent of a denomination. One difference would be that the only thing we burn is cigars when our guys get together to play poker.

There are plenty of other differences as well. But every time I turn on the news and hear about a small evangelical church that’s planning to burn copies of the Qur’an I realize that there just isn’t room for the reporters to describe it as “fringe,” or “cult-like” (see their “Discipleship Manual” at The Smoking Gun), or “nutty.” No, they have to call them something, so “small evangelical church” it is.

I’m getting a taste of what it’s like for many of my Muslim colleagues.

A couple of years back I asked a local Imam what he thought about the blasphemy laws in many majority-Muslim countries that prescribe the death penalty for those converting from Islam to another religion. He told me he thought it was outrageous. I referenced the passages in the Qur’an used to justify the practice, and asked why other imams would endorse it on that basis. “Because they’re idiots,” he said.

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Preacher cancels Quran burning, then reconsiders

An anti-Islamic preacher backed off and then threatened to reconsider burning the Quran on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, angrily accusing a Muslim leader of lying to him Thursday with a promise to move an Islamic center and mosque away from New York's ground zero, the Associated Press reports. The imam planning the center denied there was ever such a deal.

The Rev. Terry Jones generated an international firestorm with his plan to burn the Quran on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, and he has been under intense pressure to give it up. President Barack Obama urged him to listen to "those better angels" and give up his "stunt," saying it would endanger U.S. troops and give Islamic terrorists a recruiting tool. Defense Secretary Robert Gates took the extraordinary step of calling Jones personally.

Standing outside his 50-member Pentecostal church, the Dove Outreach Center, alongside Imam Muhammad Musri, the president of the Islamic Society of Central Florida, Jones said he relented when Musri assured him that the New York mosque will be moved.

Musri, however, said after the news conference that the agreement was only for him and Jones to travel to New York and meet Saturday with the imam overseeing plans to build a mosque near ground zero.

Hours later, Jones said Musri "clearly, clearly lied to us."

"Given what we are now hearing, we are forced to rethink our decision," Jones said. "So as of right now, we are not canceling the event, but we are suspending it."

Jones did not say whether the Quran burning could still be held Saturday, but he said he expected Musri to keep his word and expected "the imam in New York to back up one of his own men."

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September 9, 2010

Afghans burn U.S. flag to protest Quran burning

Hundreds of angry Afghans burned a U.S. flag and chanted "Death to the Christians" on Thursday to protest plans by a small American church to torch copies of the Muslim holy book on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the Associated Press reports.

Religious and political leaders across the Muslim world, as well as several U.S. officials, have asked the church to call off the plan, warning it would lead to violence against Americans. Iraq, worried that it will unleash a backlash against all Christians, has beefed up security near churches.

The Rev. Terry Jones, of the Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Florida, has vowed to go ahead with the bonfire on Saturday, even though he has been denied the required permit.

Local officials in Mahmud Raqi, the capital of Afghanistan's Kapisa province, estimated that up to 4,000 people took part in Thursday's demonstration. But NATO spokesman James Judge said the protesters numbered between 500 to 700.

"The Afghan national police prevented the protest from overwhelming an Afghan military outpost," and dispersed the demonstration, he told The Associated Press.

A cleric in Afghanistan's largely peaceful Balkh province also warned Thursday that, if the burning goes ahead, a protest will be held in the provincial capital Mazar-i-Sharif next Monday. Protesters could hurl stones at NATO-led troops stationed in the city — one of the country's main centers of the Islamic teaching.

In the central Pakistani city of Multan, about 200 people marched and burned a U.S. flag.

"If Quran is burned it would be beginning of destruction of America," read one English-language banner held up by the protesters, who chanted "Down with America!"

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Obama urges pastor to drop Quran-burning plan

President Barack Obama is exhorting a Florida minister to "listen to those better angels" and call off his plan to engage in a Quran-burning protest this weekend, the Associated Press reports.

Obama told ABC's "Good Morning America" in an interview aired Thursday that he hopes the Rev. Terry Jones of Florida listens to the pleas of people who have asked him to call off the plan. The president called it a "stunt."

"If he's listening, I hope he understands that what he's proposing to do is completely contrary to our values as Americans," Obama said. "That this country has been built on the notion of freedom and religious tolerance."

"And as a very practical matter, I just want him to understand that this stunt that he is talking about pulling could greatly endanger our young men and women who are in uniform," the president added.

Said Obama: "Look, this is a recruitment bonanza for Al Qaida. You could have serious violence in places like Pakistan and Afghanistan." The president also said Jones' plan, if carried out, could serve as an incentive for terrorist-minded individuals "to blow themselves up" to kill others.

"I hope he listens to those better angels and understands that this is a destructive act that he's engaging in," the president said of Jones.

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Mikulski: Burning Quran 'disgraceful,' 'un-American'

Sen. Barbara A. Mikulski is calling plans by a Florida pastor to burn copies of the Muslim holy book on Saturday "disgraceful and un-American."

“The anniversary of the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11 should not be marked with an act of hatred," the Maryland Democrat said in a statement. "Book burning is the action of fanatics and fascists. The Quran should be treated with the same respect given to the Bible and the Torah."

Terry Jones, pastor of the nondenominational Dove Outreach Center in Gainesville, Fla., says the church will proceed with "International Burn-a-Quran Day" despite condemnations by the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the White House.

Gen. David Petraeus warned in an e-mail to The Associated Press that "images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence."

Petraeus spoke with Afghan President Hamid Karzai about the matter Wednesday, the AP reports.

"They both agreed that burning of a Quran would undermine our effort in Afghanistan, jeopardize the safety of coalition troopers and civilians," spokesman Col. Erik Gunhus said, and would "create problems for our Afghan partners ... as it likely would be Afghan police and soldiers who would have to deal with any large demonstrations."

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates urged Jones to cancel the event, the AP reports.

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Catholic church honors Muslim worker

A Muslim stonemason who spent nearly four decades helping to restore a Roman Catholic cathedral in France has been immortalized as a winged gargoyle peering out from its facade — with the inscription "God is great" written in French and Arabic.

It was conceived as a symbol of inter-religious friendship that reflects the city of Lyon's links to its large Muslim population, the Associated Press reports. But a widely publicized outcry from a small extreme-right group has forced the Archdiocese of Lyon into damage control.

"This has nothing to do with religion. It's a sculptor who wants to pay homage to a construction site chief," said the Rev. Michel Cacaud, rector of the cathedral. "That's all."

In France, where Islam is the country's second religion, the government has worked to integrate Muslims into French culture, while at the same time confronting cases of Islamophobia, from the desecration of Muslim graves to attacks on mosques.

Ahmed Benzizine, who was born in Algeria, a former French colony, sees the gargoyle in his image as "a message of peace and tolerance."

"When I started to work in churches ... exactly 37 years ago, it was considered a sin that a Muslim enter a place of worship other than a mosque," he said.

He has worked off and on since 1973 at St. Jean Cathedral, which dominates the old city of Lyon and has been honored as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Benzizine is tickled to see his likeness on the facade of the cathedral, which dates to the 12th to 14th centuries and combines both Gothic and Roman architecture.

"It looks like me except for the ears," the 59-year-old told The Associated Press. "They're pointed like the devil. But the sculptor told me that angels have pointed ears, too."

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September 8, 2010

Pastor 'determined' to burn Quran

The leader of a small Florida church that espouses anti-Islam philosophy said Wednesday he was determined to go through with his plan to burn copies of the Quran on Sept. 11, despite pressure from the White House, religious leaders and others to call it off, the Associated Press reports.

"We are still determined to do it, yes," the Rev. Terry Jones told the CBS Early Show.

Jones says he has received more than 100 death threats and has started wearing a .40-caliber pistol strapped to his hip since announcing his plan to burn the book Muslims consider the word of God and insist be treated with the utmost respect. The 58-year-old minister proclaimed in July that he would stage "International Burn-a-Quran Day."

Supporters have been mailing copies of the holy text to his Gainesville church of about 50 followers to be incinerated in a bonfire on Saturday to mark the ninth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Gen. David Petraeus, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Kabul, took the rare step of a military leader taking a position on a domestic matter when he warned in an e-mail to The Associated Press that "images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence."

Petraeus spoke Wednesday with Afghan President Karzai about the matter, according to a military spokesman Col. Erik Gunhus. "They both agreed that burning of a Quran would undermine our effort in Afghanistan, jeopardize the safety of coalition troopers and civilians," Gunhus said, and would "create problems for our Afghan partners ... as it likely would be Afghan police and soldiers who would have to deal with any large demonstrations."

Jones responded that he is also concerned but is "wondering, 'When do we stop?'" He refused to cancel the protest at his Dove World Outreach Center but said he was still praying about it.

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September 7, 2010

Pastor plans to burn Quran despite military warning

A Christian minister said Tuesday that he will go ahead with plans to burn copies of the Quran to protest the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks despite warnings from the top U.S. general in Afghanistan and the White House that doing so would endanger U.S. troops, the Associated Press reports.

Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center said he understands the government's concerns, but plans to go forward with the burning this Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the attacks.

He left the door open to change his mind, however, saying that he is still praying about his decision.

Gen. David Petraeus warned Tuesday in an e-mail to The Associated Press that "images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence."

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley echoed that later in the day, calling the plan to burn copies of the Quran "un-American" and saying it does not represent the views of most people in the U.S.

"While it may well be within someone's rights to take this action, we hope cooler heads will prevail," Crowley said. He said burning copies of the Quran would be "inconsistent with the values of religious tolerance and religious freedom," and potentially puts the lives of U.S. soldiers and diplomats at risk.

Jones told the AP in a phone interview that he is also concerned but wonders how many times the U.S. can back down.

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Petraeus: Burning Quran could endanger troops

The top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan warned Tuesday an American church's threat to burn copies of the Muslim holy book could endanger U.S. troops in the country and Americans worldwide, the Associated Press reports.

The comments from Gen. David Petraeus followed a protest Monday by hundreds of Afghans over the plans by Gainesville, Florida-based Dove World Outreach Center — a small, evangelical Christian church that espouses anti-Islam philosophy — to burn copies of the Quran on church grounds to mark the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States that provoked the Afghan war.

"Images of the burning of a Quran would undoubtedly be used by extremists in Afghanistan — and around the world — to inflame public opinion and incite violence," Petraeus said in an e-mail to The Associated Press.

Muslims consider the Quran to be the word of God and insist it be treated with the utmost respect, along with any printed material containing its verses or the name of Allah or the Prophet Muhammad. Any intentional damage or show of disrespect to the Quran is deeply offensive.

In 2005, 15 people died and scores were wounded in riots in Afghanistan sparked by a story in Newsweek magazine alleging interrogators at the U.S. detention center in Guantanamo Bay placed copies of the Quran in washrooms and flushed one down the toilet to get inmates to talk. Newsweek later retracted the story.

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Lawyer: Iranian woman could be stoned soon

The lawyer for an Iranian woman sentenced to be stoned on an adultery conviction said Monday that he and her children are worried the delayed execution could be carried out soon with the end of a moratorium on death sentences for the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the Associated Press reports.

In an unusual turn in the case, the lawyer also confirmed that Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani was lashed 99 times last week in a separate punishment meted out because a British newspaper ran a picture of an unveiled woman mistakenly identified as her. Under Iran's clerical rule, women must cover their hair in public. The newspaper later apologized for the error.

With the end of Ramadan this week, the mother of two could be executed "any moment," said her lawyer, Javid Houtan Kian.

The sentence was put on hold in July after an international outcry over the brutality of the punishment, and it is now being reviewed by Iran's supreme court.

Ashtiani was convicted in 2006 of having an "illicit relationship" with two men after the murder of her husband the year before and was sentenced at that time to 99 lashes. Later that year, she was also convicted of adultery and sentenced to be stoned, even though she retracted a confession that she says was made under duress.

"The possibility of stoning still exists, any moment," Kian told The Associated Press. "Her stoning sentence was only delayed; it has not been lifted yet."

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University upholds suspension of Muslim group

The University of California, Irvine has upheld its decision to suspend a campus Muslim group after some of its members disrupted a speech by the Israeli ambassador at a campus event, the Associated Press reports.

However, the university said last week it would lift the suspension of the Muslim Student Union on Dec. 31 instead of enforcing it for a full year.

In addition, the group will be on probation for two years instead of one, and members must complete 100 hours of community service.

Eleven students were arrested in February for disrupting Michael Oren's speech.

Hadeer Soliman, the group's interim vice president, says the punishment will affect hundreds of Muslims who regularly attend prayer meetings and socialize together.

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September 2, 2010

Mosque objects to burger chain's Muslim outreach

Note to big companies hoping to tap into France's lucrative but long-neglected Muslim consumer market: Pitfalls may await, and not only in the form of complaints from the far-right.

As of this week, the Associated Press reports, 22 outlets of popular French fast food chain Quick are serving burgers it says respect Islamic dietary law. And while many Muslims are delighted, the powerful main Paris Mosque complained Thursday that Quick's criteria aren't all-encompassing enough, and that the operation is meaningless.

Quick's meat is certified as halal, but Cheikh Al Sid Cheikh, assistant to the rector of the Paris Mosque, said the burger chain should have had the other ingredients checked as well, from its mustard to buns to fries.

"The rest must be validated too, or else there's no point," he told The Associated Press. Quick responded that it has no intention of making any of its restaurants halal through-and-through — beer is still served there, for example, said spokeswoman Valerie Raynal.

Such cultural sensitivities are new territory for many French companies. Until recently in France, a country obsessed with secularism, companies were hesitant to reach out to France's Muslim population, estimated to be 5 million, the largest in Europe.

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N.Y. Muslims decry hostile atmosphere

It is "unethical, insensitive and inhumane" to oppose the planned mosque near ground zero, more than 50 leading Muslim organizations said Wednesday as they cast the intense debate as a symptom of religious intolerance in America, the Associated Press reports.

The imam behind the project, meanwhile, was preparing to return to the U.S. after a taxpayer-funded good will tour to the Mideast, where he said the debate is about much more than "a piece of real estate." Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf sidestepped questions about whether he would consider moving the $100 million mosque and Islamic community center farther from where Islamic terrorists flew two planes into the World Trade Center. Instead, he stressed the need to embrace religious and political freedoms in the United States.

Leaders of the Majlis Ash-Shura of Metropolitan New York, an Islamic leadership council that represents a broad spectrum of Muslims in the city, gathered on the steps of City Hall to issue a statement calling for a stop to religious intolerance and affirming the right of the center's developers to build two blocks north of the site of the 2001 terrorist attacks.

"We support the right of our Muslim brothers who wish to build that center there," said Imam Al Amin Abdul Latif, president of the Majlis Ash-Shura. "However, the bigger issue and the broader issue is the issue of ethnic and religious hatred being spread by groups trying to stop the building of mosques and Islamic institutions across the country."

This is the first time that the council as a body has spoken out on the weeks-old debate over the proposed center.

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September 1, 2010

John Walker Lindh seeks ruling on prison prayer

American-born Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and another Muslim inmate have asked a judge to order a federal prison to allow them and other Muslims in their highly restricted cell block to pray as a group, in accordance with their beliefs, the Associated Press reports.

The American Civil Liberties Union last Thursday filed a motion in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis for summary judgment on behalf of Lindh, 29, and Enaam Arnaout, 47, who claim that the prison's policy restricting group prayer in the Communications Management Unit violates their religious rights. The ACLU contends there are no disputes over the facts of the case and that the law is on the inmates' side, and asks the judge to rule in their favor.

Lindh, who is serving a 20-year sentence at the Terre Haute prison for aiding Afghanistan's now-defunct Taliban government, wrote in a legal declaration that his religion requires him to pray five times a day, preferably in a group. "This is one of the primary obligations of Islam," he wrote.

Praying in his cell is not appropriate, he said, because the Koran requires a ritually clean place for prayer and he is forced to kneel "in close proximity to my toilet."

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N.Y. imam: Mosque debate could shape relations

The imam leading plans for an Islamic center near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks in New York said the fight is over more than "a piece of real estate" and could shape the future of Muslim relations in America, the Associated Press reports.

The dispute "has expanded beyond a piece of real estate and expanded to Islam in America and what it means for America," Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf told a group Tuesday that included professors and policy researchers in Dubai.

Rauf suggested that the fierce challenges to the planned mosque and community center in lower Manhattan could leave many Muslim questioning their place in American political and civic life.

But he avoided questions over whether an alternative site is possible. Instead, he repeatedly stressed the need to embrace the religious and political freedoms in the United States.

"I am happy to be American," Rauf told about 200 people at the Dubai School of Government think tank.

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August 30, 2010

Wright criticizes those who say Obama is Muslim

The Rev. Jeremiah Wright, President Barack Obama's controversial former pastor, accused people who wrongly believe Obama is Muslim of catering to political enemies during a fiery speech Sunday in Arkansas, the Associated Press reports.

In his sermon at New Millennium Church in Little Rock, Wright criticized supporters of the Iraq war and defended former state Court of Appeals Judge Wendell Griffen for speaking out against it. Griffen serves as the church's pastor.

Wright's only reference to Obama came when he compared Griffen's opponents to those who incorrectly think Obama is Muslim. The president, whose full name is Barack Hussein Obama, is Christian.

"Go after the military mindset ... and the enemy will come after you with everything," Wright told the packed church.

"He will surround you with sycophants who will criticize you and ostracize you and put you beyond the pale of hope and say 'you ain't really a Baptist' and say 'the president ain't really a Christian, he's a Muslim. There ain't no American Christian with a name like Barack Hussein,'" he added.

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August 26, 2010

Hate crime charges in attack on Muslim cab driver

Michael Enright once volunteered with a group that promotes interfaith tolerance and has supported a proposal for a mosque near ground zero — an experience distinctly at odds with what authorities say happened inside a city taxi, the Associated Press reports.

The baby-faced college student was charged Wednesday with using a folding knife to slash the neck and face of the taxi's Bangladeshi driver after the driver said he was Muslim. Police say Enright was drunk at the time.

A taxi drivers' labor group quickly used the attack to denounce "bigotry" over plans to build an Islamic center and mosque two blocks north of ground zero. While supporters of the mosque say religious freedom should be protected, opponents say the mosque should be moved farther from where Islamic extremists destroyed the World Trade Center and killed nearly 2,800 people on Sept. 11, 2001.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a staunch supporter of the mosque project, invited the taxi driver to visit City Hall on Thursday.

"This attack runs counter to everything that New Yorkers believe no matter what god we pray to," the mayor said in a statement.

A criminal complaint alleges Enright uttered an Arabic greeting and told the driver, "Consider this a checkpoint," before attacking him Tuesday night inside the yellow cab in Manhattan.

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Guest post: A Muslim perspective on the mosque

Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American in Maryland. A native of Pakistan, he arrived in the United States in 1980.

For a moderate Muslim who has lived continuously in the West for more than thirty-eight years, the protests against the interfaith center proposed for Lower Manhattan is a wakeup call.

It highlights a deep distrust of Muslims and of our moderate belief system. In my version of Islam, I share my God and prophets with the Christians and the Jews, and hold them in equal reverence. I firmly believe that our religion is determined at birth by God and we must respect all religions. The only role of religion in my life is to give me hope and help me become a good citizen.

I do not need to grow a beard but those that do for symbolism are exercising their personal freedom -- and, perhaps without realizing it, are helping the environment by not wasting the water and energy consumed in the shaving process. I do not need any intermediary to pray for me to God, and strongly believe in the absolute separation of church and state.

Save for a tiny minority, Muslims do not subscribe to the orthodox brand of Islam that mistakenly assumes that Muslims are superior to all others and all humanity must be converted to Islam. If God wants us all to be Muslims, he surely has the power to make us so.

As human beings, we have every right to be very angry with the 19 madmen who killed thousands of innocent civilians on Sept. 11, 2001.

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August 25, 2010

Most say Islam no more violent than other faiths

A new poll finds skepticism among Americans that Islam is likelier than other faiths to encourage violence. But the survey also finds that their overall view of the religion has worsened over the past five years, the Associated Press reports.

In addition, the poll by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center finds that the public leans 51 percent to 34 percent against building a Muslim center near the former site of New York's World Trade Center.

By 42 percent to 35 percent, most think Islam does not incite violence more than other religions. That's about the same as said so last year.

But more people have unfavorable than favorable views of Islam by 38 percent to 30 percent. In 2005, it was reversed: 41 percent had favorable views, 36 percent unfavorable.

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August 24, 2010

Some want Ground Zero church rebuilt

Supporters of a Greek Orthodox church destroyed on Sept. 11 say officials willing to speak out about a planned community center and mosque near ground zero have been silent on efforts to get the church rebuilt, the Associated Press reports.

But the World Trade Center site's owner says a deal to help rebuild St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church was offered and rejected, after years of negotiations, over money and other issues.

Though the projects are not related, supporters — including George Pataki, New York's governor at the time of the Sept. 11 attacks — have questioned why public officials have not addressed St. Nicholas' future while they lead a debate on whether and where the Islamic cultural center should be built.

"What about us? Why have they forgotten or abandoned their commitment to us?" asked Father Alex Karloutsos, assistant to the archbishop of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America. "When I see them raising issues about the mosque and not thinking about the church that was destroyed, it does bother us."

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August 22, 2010

N.Y. mosque demonstration grows heated

The proposed mosque near ground zero drew hundreds of fever-pitch demonstrators Sunday, with opponents carrying signs associating Islam with blood, supporters shouting, "Say no to racist fear!" and American flags waving on both sides, the Associated Press reports.

Police separated the two groups but there were some nose-to-nose confrontations, including a man and a woman screaming at each other across a barricade under a steady rain.

Opponents of the plan to build a $100 million, 13-story Islamic center and mosque two blocks from the World Trade Center site appeared to outnumber supporters. Bruce Springsteen's "Born in the USA" blared over loudspeakers as mosque opponents chanted, "No mosque, no way!"

Signs hoisted by hundreds of protesters standing behind police barricades read "SHARIA" — using dripping, blood-red letters to describe Islam's Shariah law. Around the corner, NYPD officers guarded a cordoned-off stretch of Park Place occupied by the old building that is to become the Islamic center.

Steve Ayling, a 40-year-old Brooklyn plumber who took his "SHARIA" sign to a dry spot by an office building, said the people behind the mosque project are "the same people who took down the twin towers."

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Imam's goodwill tour comes amid mosque furor

The furor over the planned mosque and Islamic center near ground zero has put Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf in a curious position: At the same time he is being vilified in the U.S. for spearheading the project, he is traveling the Mideast on a State Department mission as a symbol of American religious freedom.

Some of the imam's American critics said they fear he is using the taxpayer-funded trip to raise money and rally support in the Muslim world for the mosque, the Associated Press reports.

"I think there is no place for this," said the Rev. Franklin Graham, who is the son of evangelist Billy Graham and opposes the Islamic center and mosque. "Can you imagine if the State Department paid to send me on a trip anywhere? The separation of church and state — the critics would have been howling."

At his first event Friday in the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, Rauf refused to discuss the uproar over plans for the community center two blocks from the World Trade Center site. State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley has said Rauf understands that he cannot solicit funds for the project on his 15-day tour.

The $100 million, 13-story project is modeled after the YMCA and Jewish Community Center. Rauf and his wife, Daisy Khan, a co-leader of the project, have a long record of interfaith outreach and insist the center will promote moderate Islam.

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August 20, 2010

N.Y. mosque imam: Extremism is global threat

The imam leading plans for an Islamic center near the Manhattan site of the Sept. 11 attacks said Friday he hopes to draw attention during his trip in the Middle East to the common challenges to battle radical religious beliefs, the Associated Press reports.

Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, who is on the first leg of a 15-day Mideast tour funded by the U.S. State Department, refused to discuss the political firestorm over the plans for an Islamic cultural center about two blocks from the World Trade Center towers. Foes of the project say it is insensitive and disrespectful to the victims of 9/11 and their families. The debate has become politicized ahead of November's midterm congressional elections.

Instead, Rauf preferred to focus on shared concerns. Speaking after leading Friday prayers at a neighborhood mosque outside Bahrain's capital Manama, he said radical religious views pose a security threat in both the West and the Muslim world.

"This issue of extremism is something that has been a national security issue — not only for the United States but also for many countries and nations in the Muslim world," Rauf said. "This is why this particular trip has a great importance because all countries in the Muslim world — as well as the Western world — are facing this ... major security challenge."

The imam also said he has been working on a way to "Americanize Islam." While he did not elaborate on what an American version of Islam might look like, he did note that different interpretations of the faith have emerged over the religion's nearly 1,400-year existence.

"The same principles and rituals were everywhere, but what happened in different regions was there were different interpretations," he said. "So we recognize that our heritage allows for re-expressing the internal principles of our religion in different cultural times and places."

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White House: Obama is a Christian, prays daily

President Barack Obama is a Christian who prays daily, a White House official said Thursday, trying to tamp down growing doubts about the president's religion, the Associated Press reports.

A new poll showed that nearly one in five people, or 18 percent, believe Obama is Muslim. That was up from 11 percent who said so in March 2009. The survey also showed that just 34 percent said Obama is Christian, down from 48 percent who said so last year. The largest share of people, 43 percent, said they don't know his religion.

White House spokesman Bill Burton said most Americans care more about the economy and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and "they are not reading a lot of news about what religion the president is." He commented on Air Force One as Obama headed for a vacation in Massachusetts on Martha's Vineyard.

Burton added, "The president is obviously a Christian. He prays everyday."

The survey, conducted by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center and its affiliated Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, is based on interviews conducted before the controversy over whether Muslims should be permitted to construct a mosque near the World Trade Center site. Obama has said he believes Muslims have the right to build an Islamic center there, though he's also said he won't take a position on whether they should actually build it.

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August 19, 2010

Some Muslims question mosque proposal

American Muslims who support the proposed mosque and Islamic center near ground zero are facing skeptics within their own faith — those who argue that the project is insensitive to Sept. 11 victims and needlessly provocative at a time when Muslims are pressing for wider acceptance in the U.S., the Associated Press reports.

"For most Americans, 9/11 remains as an open wound, and anything associated with Islam, even for Americans who want to understand Islam — to have an Islamic center with so much publicity is like rubbing salt in open wounds," said Akbar Ahmed, professor of Islamic studies at American University, a former Pakistani ambassador to Britain and author of "Journey Into America, The Challenge of Islam." He said the space should include a synagogue and a church so it will truly be interfaith.

Abdul Cader Asmal, past president of the Islamic Council of New England, an umbrella group for more than 15 Islamic centers, said some opponents of the $100 million, 13-story project are indeed anti-Muslim. But he said many Americans have genuine, understandable questions about Islam and extremism.

In light of those fears, and the opposition of many relatives of 9/11 victims, Asmal said organizers should dramatically scale back the project to just a simple mosque, despite their legal right to construct what they want.

"Winning in the court of law is not going to help improve the image of Muslims nationwide," said Asmal, a Massachusetts physician. "You have to win the hearts and minds of the ordinary American people."

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August 18, 2010

U.S. Muslim leaders condemn Holocaust denial

American Muslim leaders who recently returned from visiting Dauchau and Auschwitz have released a statement condemning Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism, the Associated Press reports.

The trip earlier this month was led by Rabbi Jack Bemporad of the Center for Interreligious Understanding in New Jersey, and co-sponsored by the Konrad Adenauer Foundation of Germany.

The Muslim leaders said that denying or justifying the Holocaust violates Islamic ethics.

"We condemn anti-Semitism in any form," the leaders wrote. "No creation of Almighty God should face discrimination based on his or her faith or religious conviction."

The leaders pledged to fight prejudice against Jews, Muslims and all people based on their religion, race or ethnicity.

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August 16, 2010

Taliban execute couple in first stoning since 2001

Taliban militants stoned a young couple to death for adultery after they ran away from their families in northern Afghanistan, the Associated Press reports.

Amnesty International said it was the first confirming stoning in Afghanistan since the fall of Taliban rule in the 2001 U.S.-led invasion.

The Taliban-ordered killing comes at a time when international rights groups have raised worries that attempts to negotiate with the Taliban to bring peace to Afghanistan could mean a step backward for human rights in the country. When the Islamist extremists ruled Afghanistan, women were not allowed to leave their houses without a male guardian, and public killings for violations of their harsh interpretation of the Quran were common.

This weekend's stoning appeared to arise from an affair between a married man and a single woman in Kunduz province's Dasht-e-Archi district.

The woman, Sadiqa, was 20 years old and engaged to another man, said the Kunduz provincial police chief, Gen. Abdul Raza Yaqoubi. Her lover, 28-year-old Qayum, left his wife to run away with her, and the two had holed up in a friend's house five days ago, said district government head, Mohammad Ayub Aqyar.

They were discovered by Taliban operatives on Sunday and stoned to death in front a crowd of about 150 men, Aqyar said.

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August 15, 2010

Obama supports right to build mosque

Weighing his words carefully on a fiery political issue, President Barack Obama said Saturday that Muslims have the right to build a mosque near New York's Ground Zero, but he did not say whether he believes it is a good idea to do so, the Associated Press reports.

Obama commented during a trip to Florida, where he expanded on a Friday night White House speech asserting that Muslims have the same right to freedom of religion as everyone else in America.

The president's statements thrust him squarely into a debate that he had skirted for weeks and could put Democrats on the spot three months before midterm elections where they already were nervous about holding control of the House and maybe even the Senate. Until Friday, the White House had asserted that it did not want to get involved in local decision-making.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, an independent who has been a strong supporter of the mosque, welcomed Obama's White House speech as a "clarion defense of the freedom of religion."

Gov. Charlie Crist, R-Fla., who was among those who met with Obama on Saturday, lauded the president's position.

"I think he's right — I mean you know we're a country that in my view stands for freedom of religion and respect for others," Christ said after the Florida meeting with Obama and other officials. "I know there are sensitivities and I understand them. This is a place where you're supposed to be able to practice your religion without the government telling you you can't."

Others were quick to pounce.

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August 14, 2010

Obama backs mosque near Ground Zero

President Barack Obama on Friday forcefully endorsed allowing a mosque near ground zero, saying the country's founding principles demanded no less, the Associated Press reports.

"As a citizen, and as president, I believe that Muslims have the same right to practice their religion as everyone else in this country," Obama said, weighing in for the first time on a controversy that has riven New York City and the nation.

"That includes the right to build a place of worship and a community center on private property in lower Manhattan, in accordance with local laws and ordinances," he said. "This is America, and our commitment to religious freedom must be unshakable."

Obama made the comments at an annual dinner in the White House State Dining Room celebrating the Islamic holy month of Ramadan.

The White House had not previously taken a stand on the mosque, which would be part of a $100 million Islamic center two blocks from where nearly 3,000 people perished when hijacked jetliners slammed into the World Trade Center towers on Sept. 11, 2001. Press secretary Robert Gibbs had insisted it was a local matter.

It was already much more than that, sparking debate around the country as top Republicans including Sarah Palin and Newt Gingrich announced their opposition. So did the Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group.

Obama elevated it to a presidential issue Friday without equivocation.

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August 10, 2010

Governor offers help moving Ground Zero mosque

New York Gov. David Paterson offered state help Tuesday if the developers of a mosque near the site of the Sept. 11 attacks agree to move the project farther from the site, the Associated Press reports.

Paterson, a Democrat, said that he doesn't oppose the project as planned but indicated that he understands where opponents are coming from. He said he was willing to intervene to seek other suitable state property if the developers agreed.

"I think it's rather clear that building a center there meets all the requirements, but it does seem to ignite an immense amount of anxiety among the citizens of New York and people everywhere, and I think not without cause," Paterson said in a news conference in Manhattan.

"I am very sensitive to the desire of those who are adamant against it to see something else worked out," Paterson said.

The developers declined to comment. Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who last week made an impassioned defense of the project planned for lower Manhattan, declined to comment through a spokesman.

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August 9, 2010

Far from Ground Zero, U.S. mosques face opposition

Muslims trying to build houses of worship in the nation's heartland, far from the heated fight in New York over plans for a mosque near ground zero, are running into opponents even more hostile and aggressive, the Associated Press reports.

Foes of proposed mosques have deployed dogs to intimidate Muslims holding prayer services and spray painted "Not Welcome" on a construction sign, then later ripped it apart.

The 13-story, $100 million Islamic center that could soon rise two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11 attacks would dwarf the proposals elsewhere, yet the smaller projects in local communities are stoking a sharper kind of fear and anger than has showed up in New York.

In the Nashville suburb of Murfreesboro, opponents of a new Islamic center say they believe the mosque will be more than a place of prayer. They are afraid the 15-acre site that was once farmland will be turned into a terrorist training ground for Muslim militants bent on overthrowing the U.S. government.

"They are not a religion. They are a political, militaristic group," said Bob Shelton, a 76-year-old retiree who lives in the area.

Shelton was among several hundred demonstrators recently who wore "Vote for Jesus" T-shirts and carried signs that said: "No Sharia law for USA!," referring to the Islamic code of law. Others took their opposition further, spray painting the sign announcing the "Future site of the Islamic Center of Murfreesboro" and tearing it up.

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Guest Post: Ground Zero bigotry: The ripple effect

Writer, public health professional and attorney J. Samia Mair of Baltimore is the author of the children’s books Amira’s Totally Chocolate World and The Perfect Gift.

According to the Council on American-Islamic Relations, several mosques in the United States have been targeted either by anti-Muslim protests or by hate crimes. Some speculate that it is due to the controversy over the proposed building of the Cordoba House, a few blocks from Ground Zero. For example, a children’s playground was torched at a Texas mosque and the parking lot had obscene graffiti, defiling the name of God.

There also have been protests against a Kentucky mosque and California mosque. A Florida mosque was recently bombed, which officials described as terrorism.

On Friday, angry protesters from the group Operation Save America accosted worshipers at the Bridgeport Islamic Society in Connecticut. Among them was a 13-year-old who held up a sign stating “Islam is a Lie.” One protestor shouted “murderers” as he apparently shoved a placard at a group of young Muslim children.

The Anti-Defamation League calls itself “America’s prime resource for information on and responses to bigotry.”

According to its website, “The immediate object of the League is to stop, by appeals to reason and conscience and, if necessary, by appeals to law, the defamation of the Jewish people. Its ultimate purpose is to secure justice and fair treatment to all citizens alike and to put an end forever to unjust and unfair discrimination against and ridicule of any sect or body of citizens" (emphasis added).

To meet these ends, ADL states that it:

• probes the roots of hatred
• fosters interfaith/intergroup relations
• mobilizes communities to stand up against bigotry

Where is the ADL in fulfilling its stated mission to combat bigotry in this case? The answer should surprise you. In a recent statement, ADL took the unbelievable stand that although legal, it is wrong to build the Cordoba House near Ground Zero.

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August 6, 2010

Jewish activists support Ground Zero mosque

A group of Jewish activists and community leaders voiced their support for a planned mosque near ground zero and said opponents, including the nation's leading Jewish civil rights group, are perpetuating misunderstandings about Islam, the Associated Press reports.

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, of the Philadelphia-based Shalom Center, joined about 30 other religious leaders and Jewish activists Thursday at the spot where the Cordoba Initiative hopes to build an Islamic center that will include a mosque, an athletic center, a culinary school and art studios. Waskow says the mosque will help people learn more about Islam.

"Whenever there has been bloodshed allegedly in the name of one tradition or another, it's necessary to say, 'That's not what that tradition is about,'" Waskow, 76, said. "The Cordoba Initiative will keep saying that is not what Islam is about."

The mosque and community center would be located two blocks from the site of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. SoHo Properties, a partner in the effort, purchased the property for nearly $5 million. Early plans call for a 13-story, $100 million Islamic center, of which the mosque would be a part.

Big-name Republicans including former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich have criticized the plan, saying it is provocative for a mosque to be built so close to a spot where Islamic terrorists killed thousands. Former Rep. Rick Lazio, a Republican running for governor of New York, has questioned where funding for the project is coming from.

The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights group known for advocating religious freedom, also opposes the project.

"This is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right," the ADL said in a statement. "In our judgment, building an Islamic center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right."

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August 4, 2010

Opponents sue to stop Ground Zero mosque

The debate over a planned Islamic community center and mosque near ground zero became a court fight Wednesday, as a conservative advocacy group sued to try to stop a project that has become a fulcrum for balancing religious freedom and the legacy of the Sept. 11 attacks, the Associated Press reports.

The American Center for Law and Justice, founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, filed suit Wednesday to challenge a city panel's decision to let developers tear down a building to make way for the mosque two blocks from ground zero.

The city Landmarks Preservation Commission moved too fast in making a decision, underappreciated the building's historic value and "allowed the intended use of the building and political considerations to taint the deliberative process," lawyer Brett Joshpe wrote in papers filed in a Manhattan state court. The Washington, D.C.-based group represents a firefighter who responded to and survived the terrorist attack at the World Trade Center.

City attorneys are confident the landmarks group adhered to legal standards and procedures, Law Department spokeswoman Kate O'Brien Ahlers said. A spokesman for the planned Islamic center, Oz Sultan, declined to comment on the lawsuit but said organizers were continuing to work toward choosing an architect.

The mosque has become a national political flashpoint, pitting several influential Republicans and the nation's most prominent Jewish civil rights group against New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others. In one of the latest signs of the issue's political reach beyond Manhattan, Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick expressed support Wednesday for the proposed mosque.

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Simmons: Ground Zero mosque 'not insensitive'

Over at the Huffington Post, New York media and fashion mogul Russell Simmons writes that the debate over construction of a mosque near Ground Zero is "digging a hole in the soul of America."

Simmons, the activist cofounder of the Def Jam record label and the Phat Farm fashion line, writes of being able to see the hole that remains at Ground Zero from his apartment in Lower Manhattan, and of greeting the firefighters at his neighborhood station, who lost nearly all of their comrades on Sept. 11, 2001.

This is my neighborhood, my backyard. And in my backyard, I have no tolerance for a new fear-mongering, hateful rhetoric that has sprung up over the proposed $100 million Islamic cultural center that they plan on building blocks away from Ground Zero.

It is not insensitive to put a cultural center of any sort, that has a place of worship, anywhere in our city. This is what makes our country and our city great. As a nation that was founded by men and women who were being persecuted for their particular faith, we should know that the best path to finding freedom is finding freedom for others. We were formed as a pluralistic society and this means we welcome all religions. Islam did not attack the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, sick and twisted men did, who not only hijacked four airplanes but also hijacked a religion. Let us not stereotype the over one billion Muslims around the world because of the evil acts of a few. A decision like this one, to support or not support the construction of this center, defines who we are as a nation. It's at the essence of our values, our freedom of expression, freedom of religion and religious tolerance.

As the Chairman of The Foundation Of Ethnic Understanding, my partner Rabbi Marc Schneier (also the Vice President, World Jewish Congress; Chairman, World Jewish Congress United States) and I have worked tirelessly to promote dialogue among different ethnic groups all over the world, particularly Jews and Muslims. We have witnessed the power of the fostering of this dialogue. We know that we must fight Antisemitism and Islamaphobia together and at the same time. We welcome and support this cultural center, as it will continue constructive conversations around a moderate approach to co-existence between all people, regardless of religious preference. In fact, we strongly feel that this center will bridge the divide that many of our nation's citizens have with the Islamic faith.

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August 3, 2010

NYC panel denies Ground Zero mosque opponents

A New York City panel cleared the way Tuesday for the construction near ground zero of a mosque that has caused a political uproar over religious freedom and Sept. 11 even as opponents vowed to press their case in court, the Associated Press reports.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission voted unanimously to deny landmark status to a building two blocks from the World Trade Center site that developers want to tear down and convert into an Islamic community center and mosque. The panel said the 152-year-old lower Manhattan building isn't distinctive enough to be considered a landmark.

The decision drew praise from Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who stepped before cameras on Governor's Island with the Statue of Liberty as a backdrop shortly after the panel voted and called the mosque project a key test of Americans' commitment to religious freedom.

"The World Trade Center site will forever hold a special place in our city, in our hearts," said Bloomberg, a Republican turned independent. "But we would be untrue to the best part of ourselves, and who we are as New Yorkers and Americans, if we said no to a mosque in lower Manhattan."

The vote was a setback for opponents of the mosque, who say it disrespects the memory of those killed at the hands of Islamic terrorists on Sept. 11, 2001. Jeers and shouts of "Shame on you" could be heard after the panel's vote.

The American Center for Law and Justice, a conservative advocacy group founded by the Rev. Pat Robertson, announced it would challenge the panel's decision in state court Wednesday.

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Court: Prison may ban Muslim headscarf

Prison officials may ban employees from wearing religious headscarves out of concerns they pose a safety risk, a U.S. appeals court in Philadelphia ruled Monday in a split 2-1 decision.

The majority said that prison officials have legitimate concerns the headscarves can hide drugs or other contraband, or be used by an inmate to strangle someone, the Associated Press reports.

The ruling dismisses a lawsuit filed by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission on behalf of three Muslim women employed at the Delaware County Prison in suburban Thornton. The EEOC had said they were being forced to compromise their religious beliefs to keep their jobs.

The suit was filed against the Geo Group, a Boca Raton, Fla.-based contractor that formerly operated the facility.

After the prison implemented a ban on hats and headscarves in 2005, nurse Carmen Sharpe-Allen was fired for refusing to remove her headscarf, or khimar, at work. Intake clerk Marquita King and correctional officer Rashemma Moss, after some deliberation, agreed to remove their headscarves on the job.

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July 31, 2010

Jewish rights group opposes Ground Zero mosque

The nation's leading Jewish civil rights group has come out against the planned mosque and Islamic community center near ground zero, saying more information is needed about funding for the project and the location is "counterproductive to the healing process," the Associated Press reports.

The Anti-Defamation League said it rejects any opposition to the center based on bigotry and acknowledged that the group behind the plan, the Cordoba Initiative, has the legal right to build at the site. But the ADL said "some legitimate questions have been raised" about funding and possible ties with "groups whose ideologies stand in contradiction to our shared values."

"Ultimately this is not a question of rights, but a question of what is right," the ADL said in a statement. "In our judgment, building an Islamic center in the shadow of the World Trade Center will cause some victims more pain — unnecessarily — and that is not right."

The director of the Cordoba Initiative, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf, was in Malaysia, where the group has offices, on Friday and could not be reached. His wife, Daisy Khan, who is a partner in the project, said the center will be a space for moderate Muslim voices. She noted Cordoba had previously worked with the ADL to fight prejudice against Jews and Muslims.

"We believe it will be a place where the counter-momentum against extremism will begin," Khan said Friday. "We are committed to peace."

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July 30, 2010

Constitution would accommodate Muslim courts

A draft constitution that Kenya votes on next week guarantees women the same rights as men — unless a judge in a Muslim family court decrees otherwise, the Associated Press reports.

Critics, including some American evangelicals, complain that the document carves out too many exceptions for the country's Muslim minority and could create tensions between Muslims and Christians.

Creating a new constitution was a key part of a power-sharing deal that ended weeks of bloody riots 2 1/2 years ago. More than 1,000 people were killed in the violence after a disputed presidential election.

But the inclusion of the publicly funded Muslim courts has galvanized opposition among some Christians ahead of next Wednesday's vote. A clause in the bill — which polls show is likely to pass — grants equality to women, as long as it doesn't interfere with the application of Muslim law.

"All Kenyans should have the same rights regardless of ethnicity, religion or gender," said Oliver Kisaka, the deputy general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Kenya. "This is the unfair creation of a system within a system. And why should taxpayers pay for a judicial system that doesn't include them?"

Muslim leaders call that kind of attitude scare mongering, and point out that Kenya's Islamic courts predate the country's independence from Britain, when they were formally brought under the Ministry of Justice. Muslims make up about 10 percent of Kenya's 40 million people.

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July 28, 2010

Muslims fined for taunting Hindus with cow's head

A Malaysian court fined 12 Muslims on Tuesday and sentenced one of them to a week in prison for illegally protesting the construction of a Hindu temple and parading a severed cow's head, the Associated Press reports.

The protest last August stoked tensions among Malaysia's three main ethnic groups — the Malay Muslim majority and Chinese and Indian minorities, most of them Buddhists, Christians or Hindus who have complained that their religious rights are often sidelined in favor of Islam.

The 12 men were among scores of Muslims who marched with a bloodied cow's head from a mosque to the central Selangor state chief minister's office to denounce the state government's plan to build a Hindu temple in their largely Muslim neighborhood.

The cow is the most sacred animal in Hinduism.

All 12 pleaded guilty in a Selangor district court to a charge of illegal assembly and were fined US$320 each, said defense lawyer Afifuddin Hafifi. They faced up to a year in prison and a fine for the charge.

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Tenn. candidate suggests Islam may be cult

Republican gubernatorial candidate Ron Ramsey is being criticized by a national Muslim rights group for positing that Islam may be more of a cult than a religion, the Associated Press reports.

At an event in Chattanooga earlier this month, Ramsey said: "You could even argue whether that being a Muslim is actually a religion, or is it a nationality, way of life, cult or whatever you want to call it?"

Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations, said Ramsey's comments are a sign of "a disturbing trend in our nation in which it is suggested that American Muslims should have fewer or more restricted constitutional rights than citizens of other faiths."

Ramsey responded with a statement saying he's concerned that "far too much of Islam has come to resemble a violent political philosophy more than peace-loving religion."

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July 23, 2010

Goin' after South Park? Goin' down to court

The Rev. Jason Poling is Pastor of New Hope Community Church in Pikesville.

I, for one, am glad to see that the Sun is selling enough advertisements to necessitate the abbreviation of wire stories. But I was disappointed to see that the piece in today's paper ("Man arrested on terror charges," page A10) relating the arrest of one Zachary Adam Chesser failed to mention the infamy he earned by threatening the creators of South Park for their depiction of Muhammad.

No doubt Chesser's alleged association with notable terrorist figures like Anwar al-Awlaki and Nidal Hassan had earned him a spot on the no-fly list (and a federal wiretap) before he put Trey Parker and Matt Stone in his sights. His defenders at the time tried to portray him as a harmless blogger, parroting his statement that he was simply observing (rather than threatening) that Parker and Stone might end up like murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh.

Chesser was picked up at JFK earlier this month when he allegedly tried to fly to Somalia in order to join up with the terrorist organization al-Shabaab, presumably not in the role of harmless blogger. Indeed, according to his own statements to FBI investigators, Chesser traveled with his infant son in order to deflect suspicion. Anyone who has attempted air travel with an infant knows that you don't do this unless you absolutely, positively, have to be there on an airplane. So clearly the guy was pretty serious.

What's especially sobering about this story is that Chesser is all of 20 years old. According to his interviews with the FBI, Chesser's commitment to the violent propagation of Islam was in considerable flux during the exactly two years between when he became interested in Islam and when he set off to another continent to join a terrorist organization. At times he was personally committed to violence, at times he was opposed; at times, Cuomo-esque, he supported others' violence but didn't want to perpetrate it himself.

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July 22, 2010

Guest post: The image of Islam, under siege

Shaukat Malik is a certified public accountant who lives in Potomac. He is also an entrepreneur and a business and political strategist.

Extremist Islam has done so much damage to the Muslim image that during the 2008 U.S. presidential election opponents of Barack Hussain Obama tried to scare voters by declaring that he was a Muslim and supported terrorists.

President Obama’s being labeled as a Muslim for political advantage is a wakeup call for Muslims everywhere, as it clearly confirms the pariah status of the 1.2 billion people who were born in a Muslim home.

As a religion of submission and acceptance of other religions that gave refuge to the Jewish people running from persecution in Europe to Iran, Egypt, Turkey, Morocco and Tunisia, today, unfortunately, it has been hijacked by the oil rich theocracies of Iran and the Middle East.

The great Rabbi Maimonides -- also known as Rambam – became leader of the Jewish community in Egypt in 1183 and was subsequently appointed physician to King Saladin’s vizier. He lived all his life in an Islamic society and died in Egypt. Harmonious co-existence between Muslims and Jews in 1183 confirms the existence of an Islam that was inclusive and welcoming to all, much like the United States of today. There is no reason why we cannot have Muslim states that are inclusive and welcoming to all.

The question we must ask is this. Let us imagine for a moment that Barak Hussein Obama is indeed a Muslim. Would this suddenly take away his intellect and his loyalty to the United States and transform him into an Osama bin Laden-like terrorist living in the White House?

No religion teaches you to harm another human being. The aim of all of the great faiths is to promote a just and fair society. We cannot say that Moses and Jesus were wrong and Prophet Mohammad is right. They were all God’s messengers who brought his message and wanted to spread peace, love and understanding.

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July 19, 2010

Guest Post: I was Muslim when Muslim wasn't cool

Writer, public health professional and attorney J. Samia Mair of Baltimore is the author of the children’s books Amira’s Totally Chocolate World and The Perfect Gift.

There is an old country music song called "I was Country, when Country wasn't cool." It reminds me of what it is like to be Muslim in America today.

In his new book soon to be released, A World Without Islam, Graham E. Fuller, former Vice Chairman of the National Intelligence Council, states:

Muslims are now the object of intensified overt and covert suspicions, sometimes even discrimination on a de jure basis, on anything that smacks of security issues. Muslims in the West have yet to receive the benefit of public political correctness; their characteristics and culture remain open season for spoof, lampoon, derision, and hatred in ways no longer tolerated in Western society in respect to African-Americans, Jews, or Native Americans.

In other words, it is okay to hate Muslims.

U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress, recently stated “if you're not fighting for the civil rights of Muslim Americans, then you're not on the cutting edge of civil rights in America today.”

Yet, it is an historic time to be Muslim in America. And I’m glad to be part of it.

Being Muslim post-9/11 presents challenges but also opportunity. We have the opportunity to dispel the many misconceptions about Islam and address the outright lies. We have the opportunity to fulfill our duties to our neighbors and our communities, even though they might fail to fulfill their duties to us. We have the opportunity to act beautifully in the face of harsh treatment. In short, we have the opportunity to help determine the future of Islam in America.

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July 15, 2010

Wilders bringing anti-Islam movement to U.S., world

An anti-Islam lawmaker in the Netherlands is forming an international alliance to spread his message across the West in a bid to ban immigration from Islamic countries, among other goals, the Associated Press reports.

Geert Wilders told the AP Thursday he will launch the movement late this year, initially in five countries: the U.S., Canada, Britain, France and Germany.

"The message, 'stop Islam, defend freedom,' is a message that's not only important for the Netherlands but for the whole free Western world," Wilders said at the Dutch parliament.

Among the group's aims will be outlawing immigration from Islamic countries to the West and a ban on Islamic Sharia law. Starting as a grass-roots movement, he hopes it eventually will produce its own lawmakers or influence other legislators.

Ayhan Tonca, a prominent spokesman for Dutch Muslims, said he feared Wilders message would fall on fertile ground in much of Europe, where anti-Islam sentiment has been swelling for years.

"So long as things are going badly with the economy, a lot of people always need a scapegoat," Tonca said. "At the moment, that is the Muslims in Western Europe."

Tonca called on "well meaning people in Europe to oppose this."

Known for his bleached-blond mop of hair, Wilders is a shrewd politician who has won awards in the Netherlands for his debating skills and regularly stands up for gay and women's rights.

But he rose to local and then international prominence with his firebrand anti-Islam rhetoric that has led to him being charged under Dutch anti-hate speech laws and banned from visiting Britain — until a court there ordered that he be allowed into the country.

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July 14, 2010

Ground Zero mosque foes seek landmark status

Dozens of opponents and some supporters of a mosque planned near ground zero attended a raucous hearing Tuesday about whether the building where the Muslim place of worship would be created warrants designation as a city landmark and should be protected from development, the Associated Press reports.

Republican gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio, who has sought an investigation into the funding of the mosque, was among the witnesses who testified in support of giving the building landmark status, which could complicate plans by Muslim groups to develop a community center and mosque there.

After noting the lower Manhattan building's history and architectural significance, Lazio said it also warranted landmark designation because on Sept. 11, 2001, it was struck by airplane debris from the terror attacks against the nearby World Trade Center. That connection to the attacks, he said, made it "a place of deep historical significance and a reminder of just what happened on New York's darkest day."

Lazio has called on state Attorney General Andrew Cuomo, his Democratic opponent in the governor's race, to investigate the funding of the project. On Tuesday, he repeated that request and said the pace of the landmark designation process should be slowed to allow time to thoroughly investigate the matter.

Nearly 100 people attended the hearing at a college campus on the Upper East Side of Manhattan. Fifty-six people testified at the hearing, which turned contentious at times, with some speakers drowned out by shouts from the audience and with one man escorted out by campus security.

"To deprive this building of landmark status is to allow for a citadel of Islamic supremacy to be erected in its place," said Andrea Quinn, a freelance audio technician from Queens who said she had worked with people at the World Trade Center.

But Rafiq Kathwari, who described himself as a moderate Muslim, said the landmark discussion had been hijacked.

"This has been made by a very vocal minority into an issue of bigotry," said Kathwari, as he held up his U.S. passport and was nearly drowned out by shouts from the crowd. "I'm standing in a hall in which I feel ashamed to be an American."

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July 13, 2010

French parliament backs ban on face veils

France's lower house of parliament overhwelmingly approved a ban on burqa-like Islamic veils Tuesday, a move that is popular among French voters despite serious concerns from Muslim groups and human rights advocates, the Associated Press reports.

There were 336 votes for the bill and just one against it at the National Assembly. Most members of the main opposition group, the Socialist Party, refused to participate in the vote — though they support a ban, they have differences with President Nicolas Sarkozy's conservatives over some aspects of it.

The ban on face-covering veils will go in September to the Senate, where it also is likely to pass. Its biggest hurdle will likely come after that, when France's constitutional watchdog scrutinizes it. Some legal scholars say there is a chance it could be deemed unconstitutional.

The main body representing French Muslims says face-covering veils are not required by Islam and not suitable in France, but it worries that the law will stigmatize Muslims in general.

France has Europe's largest Muslim population, estimated to be about 5 million of the country's 64 million people. While ordinary headscarves are common, only about 1,900 women in France are believed to wear face-covering veils. Champions of the bill say they oppress women.

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Guest post: Other religions are God's will

Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American Certified Public Accountant from Potomac. A native of Pakistan, he arrived in the United States in 1980.

Muslims must accept the existence of other religions as God’s will.

God decides our religion at birth, and judges us based on how we followed our assigned faith. Generally, a child follows the religion of his parents; conversions are rare.

Abraham, Moses and Jesus were all good men and brought good messages of peace. We cannot reject their faith or message outright. The Quran confirms the messages in the Old and New Testaments. All of God's children are entitled to worship whatever faith God has chosen for them. There are many divisions between Muslims, yet they all pray to the same God. We should leave it to God to decide who is right and who is wrong.

Here is a verse from the Quran confirming the existence of other religions acceptable to God that have not been revealed to us. This would cover Hindus and Buddhists and the rest of humanity.

YUSUFALI: We did aforetime send messengers before thee: of them there are some whose story we have related to thee, and some whose story we have not related to thee. It was not [possible] for any messenger to bring a sign except by the leave of Allah: but when the Command of Allah issued, the matter was decided in truth and justice, and there perished, there and then those who stood on Falsehoods.

PICKTHAL: Verily We sent messengers before thee, among them those of whom We have told thee, and some of whom We have not told thee; and it was not given to any messenger that he should bring a portent save by Allah's leave, but when Allah's commandment cometh (the cause) is judged aright, and the followers of vanity will then be lost.

SHAKIR: And certainly We sent messengers before you: there are some of them that We have mentioned to you and there are others whom We have not mentioned to you, and it was not meet for a messenger that he should bring a sign except with Allah's permission, but when the command of Allah came, judgment was given with truth, and those who treated (it] as a lie were lost.

This verse confirms other messengers and the validity of their messages. Muslims are only 25 percent of planet Earth's population and should worry only about their own conduct and dealings with fellow human beings. Muslims cannot force conversion on the remaining 75 percent of the world, as they are non-muslims by God’s will and design.

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July 12, 2010

Iran halts stoning of woman 'for the time being'

The controversial death sentence by stoning for an Iranian woman convicted of adultery will not be implemented for now, said a judicial official on Sunday.

The world outcry over the death sentence has become the latest issue in Iran's fraught relationship with the international community, the Associated Press reports.

Malek Ajdar Sharifi, the top judicial official in the province where the mother of two was convicted, told the Iranian state news agency that her crimes were "various and very serious" and not limited to adultery, but that the sentence "will not be implemented for the time being."

He added Sakineh Mohammadi Ashtiani's stoning would still take place if the judiciary wanted, despite the "propaganda" by the West.

The United States, Britain and international human rights groups have all urged Tehran not to carry out the sentence.

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Muslim group drops conference after host backs out

A controversial Muslim group has canceled its annual U.S. conference after a suburban Chicago hotel backed out of hosting the event, the Associated Press reports.

American members of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HIHZ'-buht-ah-tuh-REER') planned to hold the event Sunday at a Marriott hotel in Oak Brook. Conference organizer Ayman Hamed says about 1,000 people were expected.

But he says the hotel sent a cancellation notice and refund without explanation about two weeks ago. The daylong event has drawn protesters in the past.

The group advocates establishing a worldwide Islamic state. Its members don't openly advocate violence, and it isn't considered a terrorist group by the U.S. government.

The hotel didn't respond to calls and e-mails for comment.

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July 7, 2010

French parliament debates ban on burqa-style veils

France's justice minister went before parliament Tuesday to defend a hotly debated bill that would ban burqa-style Islamic veils in public, arguing that hiding your face from your neighbors is a violation of French values, the Associated Press reports.

Michele Alliot-Marie's speech at the National Assembly marked the start of parliamentary debate on the bill. It is widely expected to become law, despite the concerns of many French Muslims, who fear it will stigmatize them. Many law scholars also argue it would violate the constitution.

The government has used various strategies to sell the proposal, casting it at times as a way to promote equality between the sexes, to protect oppressed women or to ensure security in public places.

Alliot-Marie argued that it has nothing to do with religion or security — she argued simply that life in the French Republic "is carried out with a bare face."

"It is a question of dignity, equality and transparency," she said in a speech that made scant mention of Muslim veils. Officials have taken pains to craft language that does not single out Muslims: While the proposed legislation is colloquially referred to as the "anti-burqa law," it is officially called "the bill to forbid covering one's face in public."

Ordinary Muslim headscarves are common in France, but face-covering veils are a rarity — the Interior Ministry says only 1,900 women in France wear them.

Yet the planned law would be a turning point for Islam in a country with a Muslim population of at least 5 million people, the largest in western Europe.

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July 3, 2010

Crucifixes in classrooms testing European unity

An emotional debate over crucifixes in classrooms is opening a new crack in European unity, the Associated Press reports.

It all started in a small town in northern Italy, where Finnish-born Soile Lautsi was so shocked by the sight of crosses above the blackboard in her children's public school classroom that she called a lawyer to see if she could get them removed.

Her case went all the way to Europe's highest court — and her victory has set up a major confrontation between traditional Catholic and Orthodox countries and nations in the north that observe a strict separation between church and state. Italy and more than a dozen other countries are fighting the European Court of Human Rights ruling, contending the crucifix is a symbol of the continent's historic and cultural roots.

"This is a great battle for the freedom and identity of our Christian values," said Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini.

The court case underlines how religious symbols are becoming a contentious issue in an increasingly multiethnic Europe.

French legislators begin debate next week on a draft law, vigorously championed by President Nicolas Sakorzy, that would forbid women from wearing face-covering Islamic veils anywhere in public.

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June 29, 2010

Guest post: Pakistan must rally against Taliban

Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American Certified Public Accountant from Potomac. He left his native Pakistan in 1972 and has been living in the United States since 1980.

Western patience and capacity for continued spending on the Afghan war is running thin. The United Kingdom and other NATO countries are facing increasing opposition at home. The British Petroleum oil spill has added to the urgency for a speedy resolution in Afghanistan. We have reached a very critical stage in the Afghanistan war.

Creating a civil society in Afghanistan is a long-term project that may take a decade. Taliban rule of the 1990s, followed by nine years of continuous war and unrest, have destroyed local government and infrastructure necessary for bringing order to the ordinary lives of Afghans.

However, at least in Pakistan, where there is indeed an elected parliament, the politicians must earn their credentials and not allow critics to label them as useless rubber-stamp parasites hanging around for their monthly paychecks.

Time has come for Pakistan’s politicians to show maturity and counter criticism that they are inept, unqualified and unable to handle the problems of Pakistan. A free press in Pakistan has enough material for any politician to understand Pakistan’s important role in the war against terror and how it can directly influence the outcome of the war in neighboring Afghanistan.

Ordinary Pakistani citizens must be convinced that the war against the Taliban is their war, and not just America’s war. The Taliban has supported Al-Qaeda. The organization that carried out the 9/11 murder of more that 3,000 innocent Americans in New York cannot be allowed to establish its headquarters in Pakistan to kill innocent Pakistanis. The Taliban are no different from cancer cells and must be neutralized or eliminated.

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June 28, 2010

Guest post: Interfaith perspectives on violence

The following was written by J. Samia Mair, Sister Eileen Eppig, and Ted Chaskelson on behalf of the Muslim-Christian-Jewish Dialogue Group of Baltimore.

In the fall of 2007, Muslims and Christians from the Baltimore area established an interfaith group to learn more about each other’s religion and to promote understanding and peace on a wider scale. Later realizing that the discussion would benefit tremendously with the addition of the Jewish perspective, members of the Jewish community were invited to join.

Our participation in this dialogue has resulted in increasing appreciation of one another and our respective religious traditions; in praying for and otherwise supporting one another, and in raising our awareness of events that we might not have otherwise noticed.

Sadly, it is senseless killings that are the events that come -- more and more -- to the notice of the entire world. All three of our member religions are aware that a responsibility rests on all of them. None can say that such killings are problems for other religions, but not for us. The burden of responsibility rests on Jews, Christians and Muslims, to do what we can to end such killings. For this reason we have submitted a Jewish, Christian and Muslim perspective showing that all three religions call for an end to this violence.

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June 26, 2010

Convert loses deanship at Falwell's university

A Baptist minister who toured the country to talk about his conversion from Islam to Christianity is no longer the dean of Liberty University's theological seminary following allegations he fabricated or embellished facts about his past, the Associated Press reports.

The university founded by Rev. Jerry Falwell said that a board of trustees committee concluded Ergun Caner made contradictory statements. Although it didn't find evidence that he was not a Muslim who converted as a teenager, it did discover problems with dates, names and places he says he lived, a statement said.

Caner will remain on the Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary faculty, but won't be dean when his term expires on June 30.

"Caner has cooperated with the board committee and has apologized for the discrepancies and misstatements that led to this review," the school said.

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June 24, 2010

Police revoke appointment of Muslim chaplain

The Illinois State Police has revoked the appointment of the agency's first Muslim chaplain, citing only information revealed during a background check, the Associated Press reports. A national Muslim advocacy group Wednesday blamed the move on Islamophobia.

Kifah Mustapha, a Chicago-area imam, was appointed the agency's first Muslim chaplain in December. Community groups had praised Mustapha's appointment as a nod to the growing diversity among the agency's nearly 2,000 officers.

But within days, the appointment came under criticism from the Investigative Project on Terrorism, a Washington-based think tank.

The group alleged that Mustapha was linked to the Palestine Committee of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, a popular movement in the Muslim world that advocates the formation of Islamic governments in the Middle East. It also alleged he raised money for the Holy Land Foundation, a now-defunct Islamic charity whose founders were sentenced last year for funneling money to the Palestinian militant group Hamas. The group cited internal documents and a list of unindicted co-conspirators.

Mustapha hasn't been charged with any crimes. Messages left Wednesday for Mustapha weren't immediately returned.

According to a statement from the Illinois State Police, after Mustapha underwent training in December and was issued state identification and a bulletproof vest, it was discovered that he had not undergone background checks required to serve in the volunteer position.

Mustapha's appointment was rescinded Friday, but that action wasn't publicly disclosed until late Tuesday after media inquiries.

"Due to information revealed during the background investigation, Sheikh Kifah Mustapha's appointment as a volunteer ISP Chaplain has been denied," ISP spokesman Master Sgt. Isaiah Vega said in an e-mail. "Specific details of background investigations are confidential and cannot be discussed."

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June 23, 2010

Jermaine Jackson: Islam would have saved Michael

Jermaine Jackson, who performed with his brother Michael as a member of the Jackson 5 and later became a high-profile convert to Islam, tells the BBC World Service that the faith would have saved him.

"I felt that if Michael would have embraced Islam he would still be here today and I say that for many reasons," Jackson tells the BBC's Ed Butler. "Why? Because when you are 100 per cent clear in your mind as to who you are and what you are and why you are and everybody around you, then things change in a way that’s better for you. It’s just having that strength. God is so powerful. He was studying. He was reading a lot of books, because I brought him books from Saudi Arabia. I brought him books from Bahrain. I was the one who originally put him in Bahrain because I wanted him to get out of America because it was having a cherry-picking time on my brother."

Butler asks whether Michael was willing to convert.

"Not that he wasn’t willing to convert," Jackson responds. "All of his security became Muslims because he trusted Islam, because these are people who would lay their lives down and also who were trying to be the best kind of human beings they could possibly be not for Michael Jackson, for Allah. So having those people around, you knew that you would be protected because it is protection from God.

"Michael was most concerned about children around the world going to bed without food. He would talk about it. And he was concerned about our planet, what we are doing to this planet because of greed. And that was his whole thing to bring an awareness. He was doing these things before the Al Gores, and global warming-ists, he was on it. And he sung about it. He did videos about it. Spent millions and millions and millions of dollars on videos just to show the world for three minutes, look at what we are doing."

More excerpts from the interview, which is scheduled to air Friday, after the jump.

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June 21, 2010

Guest post: Why are we afraid of a nuclear Iran?

Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American Certified Public Accountant from Potomac. A native of Pakistan, he arrived in the United States in 1980.

We have all seen the devastation of nuclear bombs as confirmed by Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Even today the good people of these two cities are affected by the nuclear radiation injected by these bombs. To be honest, the enormity of long-term devastation that a single nuclear weapon can cause is such that it prohibits their use.

Countries that possess it use it to scare would-be invaders, and each other. It is more like a permanent “Boo!”

Iran is a one-party Islamic theocratic state ruled by mullahs who follow the Shia brand of Islam. The mullahs control Iran’s oil revenues. By using an interlocking system of financial patronage they exercise complete control over a strong regular army and a large private army, the Basijs (religious police) -- estimates include 7.5 million men and 5 million women ensuring compliance with Islamic laws -- and a legislature whose candidates must be approved by the council of mullahs in Qom, Iran’s Vatican. Like the Soviet Union of past, Iran is a police state, in which you are under constant surveillance.

Still, Iran is much more democratic than, say, Saudi Arabia, as women are part of the workforce. But it is not a democracy, as opposition to the party of God is not allowed. The opposition we saw last year on the streets of Tehran -- which was only opposing election results and not the writ of Imam Khomeni, who has the same stature as Pope in the Catholic Church -- was quickly suppressed.

There is a long proxy war being fought between mainly Sunni theocratic Saudi Arabia and theocratic Shia Iran. This war is being fought through sponsoring Islamic parties, including the Hizbollah in Lebanon, which wish to establish theocratic states all over the Muslim world. The viciousness of this war is evident on the streets of Baghdad, where men have been executed in Shia and Sunni neighborhoods and their bodies dumped on the pavement.

The suicide bombers in Afghanistan are infused with a religious ideology that promises paradise to them and to all the innocent people they might kill.

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The 'United Nations of disaster relief'

For every hurricane, earthquake or flood, there is help: food, bottled water, crews of volunteers nailing shingles to brand new roofs.

What even grateful recipients of that aid might not realize, the Associated Press reports, is that much of it comes from an unlikely hodgepodge of religious groups who put aside their doctrinal differences and coordinate their efforts as soon as the wind starts blowing.

Southern Baptists cook meals from Texas to Massachusetts. Seventh-day Adventists dispense aid from makeshift warehouses that can be running within eight hours. Mennonites haul away debris, Buddhists provide financial aid and chaplains with the Billy Graham Rapid Response Team counsel the traumatized and grieving.

This "juice and cookies fellowship," as one organizer calls it, is mostly invisible to the public, but it provides interfaith infrastructure for disaster response around the country that state and federal officials could scarcely live without.

"Think of us as the United Nations of disaster relief," said Diana Rothe-Smith, executive director of National Voluntary Organizations Active in Disaster, the main umbrella group for coordinating emergency response from private agencies.

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June 17, 2010

Global poll: Muslims leery of U.S., Obama

Muslims around the globe remain uneasy about the U.S. and are increasingly disenchanted with President Barack Obama, according to a poll that suggests his drive to improve relations with the Muslim world has had little impact, the Associated Press reports.

Even so, the U.S. image is holding strong in many other countries and continues to be far better than it was during much of George W. Bush's presidency, according to the survey.

There is one glaring exception: Mexico, where 62 percent expressed favorable views of the U.S. just days before an Arizona law cracking down on illegal immigrants was signed in April, but only 44 percent did so afterward.

The findings by the Pew Global Attitudes Project, conducted in April and May in the United States and 21 other countries by the nonpartisan Pew Research Center, come amid a global economic downturn and U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. The poll has been measuring the views of people around the world since 2002.

Among the seven countries surveyed with substantial Muslim populations, the U.S. was seen favorably by just 17 percent in Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan and 21 percent in Jordan. The U.S.'s positive rating was 52 percent in Lebanon, 59 percent in Indonesia and 81 percent in Nigeria, where Muslims comprise about half the population.

None of those figures was an improvement from last year. There were slight dips in Jordan and in Indonesia, where Obama spent several years growing up. Egypt saw a 10-point drop, even though Obama gave a widely promoted June 2009 speech in Cairo aimed at reaching out to the Muslim world.

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After flotilla raid, Israel to ease Gaza blockade

Israel agreed Thursday to ease its three-year-old land blockade of the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, hoping to quell international outrage over its deadly raid on a flotilla bound for the Palestinian territory, the Associated Press reports.

In one of the major changes, Israel will allow in more desperately needed construction materials for civilian projects, provided those projects are carried out under international supervision, government and military officials said. Israel has barely allowed in goods such as cement and steel, fearing Hamas militants could use them to build weapons and fortifications. The policy has prevented rebuilding thousands of homes and other buildings damaged in Israel's war with Hamas last year.

An Israeli military official told The Associated Press all foods would be allowed in to the impoverished territory, effective immediately. Authorities had previously allowed a short and constantly changing list of foods in, but the list has been growing incrementally in recent months.

Israel is maintaining its naval blockade intended to keep weapons shipments out of the hands of Hamas.

"This is a step in the right direction," said Cristina Galach, spokeswoman for the European Union presidency.

However, Hamas was not satisfied.

"We want a real lifting of the siege, not window-dressing," said Hamas lawmaker Salah Bardawil.

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June 16, 2010

CAIR seeks return of Va. man from Egypt

A Muslim civil rights group wants the U.S. government to allow a Virginia man stuck in Egypt for weeks to return to the U.S., the Associated Press reports.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says 26-year-old Yahya Wehelie (yah-yah we-HEEL'-ee) was interrogated aggressively by FBI agents in Cairo and placed on a no-fly list. He and his 19-year-old brother Yusuf apparently attracted FBI attention after a long stay in Yemen.

Government agents allowed Yusuf, who says he was chained to a wall at an Egyptian police facility for several days, to return to the U.S.

An Egyptian security official speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media confirms there is a Somali-American stranded in Cairo waiting for his name to be lifted from the no-fly list.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:49 AM | | Comments (1)

Israel to vote on easing Gaza blockade

Israel will significantly ease its bruising land blockade of the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, officials said, in an effort to blunt the widespread international criticism that has followed a deadly Israeli commando raid on a blockade-busting flotilla.

Senior Cabinet ministers were meeting to limit restrictions on what gets into Gaza — materials Israel says militants could use in their battle against the Jewish state — to a short list of goods, some of them desperately needed by Gaza civilians, the Associated Press reports.

But the Israeli naval blockade that was at the root of the deadly raid that prompted the international outcry will remain intact.

It also wasn't clear whether key raw materials for industry would be permitted to enter again and whether Israel would end its ban on Gazan exports.

The three-year-old embargo has shuttered hundreds of Gazan factories, put tens of thousands of people out of work and brought the territory's fragile economy to a standstill. Travel restrictions that confine most of Gaza's 1.5 million people to the territory are also likely to remain in effect.

Israel, with Egypt's cooperation, has blockaded the Palestinian territory by land and sea ever since Hamas militants, with a violent anti-Israel agenda, seized control of Gaza in 2007.

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June 15, 2010

Police ban pork party in Muslim neighborhood

French police are banning a street party whose organizers planned to serve alcohol and pork-based sausage in a heavily Muslim Paris neighborhood, the Associated Press reports.

Police said Tuesday that the party, called "Sausage and booze," was banned because it could have been viewed as a provocation in the Goutte-d'Or neighborhood of northern Paris, where Muslims pray on the streets on Fridays because there are not enough mosques. Alcohol and pork are banned in Islam.

Organizers said they were organizing Friday's party to protest Islam's encroachment on traditional French values in the neighborhood. The party was backed by several extreme-right associations. Muslim groups had announced a counterparty serving halal food.

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Muslim group faces suspension for Israel protest

A University of California, Irvine, disciplinary committee ruled that a Muslim student group should be suspended for at least a year because of a protest that disrupted a talk by Israel's ambassador and led to the arrest of 11 students, according to documents released Monday.

The letter from a student affairs disciplinary committee to Muslim Student Union leaders said the group was guilty of disorderly conduct, obstructing university activities, furnishing false information and other violations of campus policy, the Associated Press reports.

University spokeswoman Cathy Lawhon said the committee's decision will be a binding recommendation to the campus' office of student affairs if a planned appeal by the group does not succeed.

MSU attorney Reem Salahi said the committee relied on evidence relied that was "inadequate and problematic" but declined to outline the group's challenge in detail. She said the decision, if sustained, would leave Muslim students without an organization representing their interests.

"It really does have very lasting constitutional implications," she said. "It's a chilling effect for Muslims on campus and their right to associate."

Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren was repeatedly interrupted and called "murderer" and "war criminal" by pro-Palestinian students as he was giving a talk on the Middle East peace process in February.

Eleven students were cited on charges of disrupting a public event after they were requested to refrain from heckling but did not.

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June 11, 2010

Saudi sentenced for 'kisses and hugs' in public

A Saudi court convicted a man and sentenced him to four months in prison and 90 lashes for kissing a woman in a mall, a government-owned daily reported Thursday.

Saudi religious police arrested the man and two women after seeing them on mall cameras "engaging in immoral movements in front of other shoppers," the Al-Yom newspaper said.

The man, who is in his 20s, was seen with a woman "sitting on one of the chairs, exchanging kisses and hugs." It was unclear what the other woman was doing. Neither the man nor the women were identified by name.

The kingdom's powerful religious police, under the control of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, enforce Saudi Arabia's strict interpretation of Islam, which prohibits unrelated men and women from mingling.

Zealous officers routinely jail unrelated couples found sitting together in restaurants or coffee shops.

The policemen also patrol public places to ensure women are covered and not wearing makeup; shops are forced in most places to close several times a day for Muslim prayers and men go to the mosque and worship.

Such kissing busts have increased as economic pressures have made it harder for young couples to marry and as the ultraconservative kingdom grapples with a push to relax its strict social mores.

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June 9, 2010

Guest post: An opportunity for peace

Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American Certified Public Accountant from Potomac. A native of Pakistan, he arrived in the United States in 1980.

The flotilla incident is an unfortunate accident born out of Israel’s need to maintain its naval blockade of Gaza and the activists' objective of breaking Israel’s blockade. Instead of abseiling from helicopters onto the lead ship, which resulted in the loss of innocent lives, Israeli patrol boats could have escorted the flotilla to port.

Hamas’s non-recognition of Israel and demanding the return of Palestinians to a pre-1967 Jerusalem is undiluted rhetoric and must be treated as such. Declaring Hamas as terrorists, naval blockades and tit-for-tat bombings have not yielded any positive results. They have effectively derailed the peace process. Gaza has essentially become an internment camp.
Blockades leave unhappy memories. We should not forget the British blockade of Palestine in 1945 that forced flotillas carrying Jewish immigrants from Europe to turn back.

We must remember that Hamas won the 2006 elections in Palestine. Hamas won 76 of the 132 parliamentary seats, giving the party the right to form the next cabinet under the Palestinian Authority's president, Mahmoud Abbas, the leader of Fatah. A reason for their victory was the corruption of the Fatah government.

In today’s unsettled world, beset by recession and America’s economy destroyed by Wall Street robbers and the BP oil spill, it is extremely important for Israel to take the lead in peace efforts. A peaceful Middle East is extremely important for winning America’s war on terror. Terrorist recruiters are celebrating the flotilla incident.

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June 8, 2010

Afghans burn Benedict in effigy over preaching

Afghans have burned an effigy of Pope Benedict XVI out of anger over claims charities preached Christianity in the Muslim country, the Associated Press reports.

U.S.-based Church World Service and Norwegian Church Aid deny spreading Christianity. The government suspended them last week while investigating allegations in an Afghan television report.

More than 1,000 people marched Tuesday in the northern city of Mazar-e-Sharif, demanding organizations that proselytized in Afghanistan be banned.

The crowd roared approval as protesters doused the effigy of the pope in kerosene and lit it.

They shouted: "Death to America! Long Live Islam!"

Aid workers say the allegations increase the threat to staff already at risk for insurgent attack.

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June 3, 2010

Jason Poling: WWJLD?

The Rev. Jason Poling is Pastor of New Hope Community Church in Pikesville.

Amid the many difficulties faced by anyone writing about the events in the Middle East of the past few days is what to call those aboard the Gaza flotilla. Many news outlets have referred to these “passengers” as “pro-Palestinian activists.” In its plainest sense, the term denotes someone advocating a political or social cause by means of deliberate “action.” But in common parlance the term connotes a particular type of action -- namely, non-violent action. (We do not refer to the 9/11 terrorists as “activists,” though they certainly were taking deliberate action to advocate a political cause.)

For those aboard five of the six boats, this name makes some sense. According to reports from both sides, the passengers on these boats did not offer violent resistance to the Israeli armed servicemen who boarded their ships. Their ships were commandeered and sent to the Israeli port of Ashdod, where the humanitarian goods on board were unloaded and prepared for shipment to Gaza. The activists were processed to ensure they did not present a terror risk, and released.

This, I submit, is exactly what John Lewis would have done if he had planned the mission.

Most readers will remember that John Lewis, currently a Democratic congressman from Georgia, was among the “Freedom Riders” who through their fearless activism brought down legal segregation in the Southern states. Though he was arrested and beaten on multiple occasions, he held unswervingly both to his political goal and to his nonviolent principles. For good reason President Obama gave him a signed picture from his Inauguration declaring, “Because of you, John.”

Now, I do not know anything about Congressman Lewis’ position on the State of Israel beyond the fact that he co-sponsored a resolution congratulating Israel on its 60th anniversary (along with over half of his House colleagues, including Roscoe Bartlett, Albert Wynn and some 264 others in between). His few public statements on the Middle East have stressed the need for peace in the region, and urged all parties involved to seek nonviolent resolutions of their differences. I had the privilege of taking a class on the civil rights movement in college with Julian Bond, whom Lewis defeated in a 1986 Democratic primary to win that House seat; Bond had a number of things to say about Lewis but I don’t recall that any of them involved Israel. So I could be wrong about this, and I will gladly clarify if the Congressman or his staff say so.

The point of the Freedom Rides, as with all nonviolent action in the civil rights era, was to demonstrate the injustice of Jim Crow laws by firmly, respectfully and nonviolently breaking them, then suffering the consequences. The idea was that by receiving unjust punishment for breaking unjust laws, they would shame the nation into upholding the civil rights of all its citizens.

Many trace this strategy to the Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus says that if someone tries to sue you for the shirt off your back you should give him your pants, too (Matt. 5:40, my (broad) translation) – standing there naked, the interpretation goes, will demonstrate how outrageously you are being treated and shame your persecutor (or a just judge) into ensuring that the basics of human survival aren’t wrested from you in a parody of justice.

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Categories: International, Islam, Jason Poling, Judaism, People, Politics

June 1, 2010

Guest post: Murdered in the name of religion

Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American Certified Public Accountant from Potomac, a poet and a political analyst. He left his native Pakistan in 1972 and has been living in the United States since 1980.

The brutal murder of eighty Ahmadi Muslims in two mosques in Lahore last week by the Taliban confirms the contamination of the Indian-Pakistani subcontinent’s non-violent Sufi Islam, practiced for more than a thousand years, with the Saudi brand of Islam imported during the war against the soviets.

Madrassas financed by Saudi/Iranian money teach an ideology of Islam that mistakenly assumes anyone and everyone not agreeing with them is an infidel deserving of extermination. The Taliban have embraced this ideology and are supported by the Islamic parties in Pakistan.

Muslim clerics must be reminded that a person’s religion is determined by God, and as good Muslims they must submit to the will of God.

In the early days of Islam only a few rich individuals had the written volumes of the Quran, and these individuals along with their clerics had a monopoly over interpreting the Quran. An advisement was transformed into complete prohibition to control human behavior in a mostly illiterate population. Interpretations concerning women and minorities were also misinterpreted to control 50 percent of any population.

Islamic laws were introduced in Pakistan in December 1984 by a military dictatorship through a fake referendum. The time has come for Pakistan’s government to introduce a bill guaranteeing complete freedom of religion while at the same time repealing Islamic laws that clearly violate the rights of women and minorities.

Madrassas and religious establishments are safe houses for would-be terrorists and must be inspected to remove criminals hiding behind the veil of religion.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 11:10 AM | | Comments (66)

Pro-Palestinian activists sending another boat

Pro-Palestinian activists sent another boat to challenge Israel's blockade of the Gaza Strip on Tuesday and Egypt declared it was temporarily opening a crossing into the Palestinian territory after a raid on an aid flotilla that ended with Israeli soldiers killing nine activists, the Associated Press reports.

The raid provoked ferocious international condemnation of Israel, raised questions at home, and appeared likely to increase pressure to end the blockade that has deepened the poverty of the 1.5 million Palestinians in the strip. Turkey, which unofficially supported the flotilla, has led the criticism, calling the Israeli raid a "bloody massacre."

Amid the increasing tensions, the Israeli military said it carried out an airstrike in Gaza on Tuesday, and an Islamic militant group said three of its members were killed after firing rockets into southern Israel. Israeli authorities say the rockets landed in open areas and caused no injuries.

Two militants infiltrating into Israel from Gaza were killed in a separate incident Tuesday, the military said.

The pro-Palestinian flotilla had been headed to Gaza with tens of thousands of tons of aid that Israel bans from Gaza. After days of warnings, Israel intercepted the flotilla under the cover of darkness early Monday, setting off a violent melee that left nine activists dead and dozens of people, including seven soldiers, wounded. Most of the dead were believed to be Turks.

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May 28, 2010

Local faith groups to raise money against violence

Although this year's homicide totals continue to be on a slower pace a year ago, Earl El-Amin said he and his faith-based brethren have grown tired of the violence, Baltimore Sun colleague Brent Jones reports.

"We're called to be keepers of peace," said El-Amin, of the Muslim's Community Central of Baltimore and a member of Baltimore's Interfaith Coalition. "That is essentially our mission. When you study history, all the great sages that came, they came to establish peace in environments that were out of sync."

El-Amin and about 50 other religious leaders, along with representatives from the city state's attorney office, announced an anti-violence initiative Thursday that will use money collected from religious services to fund activities for children.

Organizers of the program, called "Fifth Sunday: Violence to Virtue," are asking the more than 1,200 churches, mosques and synagogues in Baltimore to take up an offering every fifth weekend and donate the money to a local nonprofit, which in turn would disburse the funds to individuals or organizations that work with kids.

It is the first major program under the newly organized Baltimore Interfaith Coalition, which formed last spring after several religious leaders met with police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, who called upon the faith-based community to help curb violence.

"We've challenged ourselves to break down barriers among ourselves and work for the greater good of the people in Baltimore," said BIC co-chairman Bishop Douglas I. Miles, pastor of Koinonia Baptist Church in Northeast Baltimore. "This is a means of funding small operations that may not have [nonprofit] status but are doing great things in our community — like people who work with marching bands, people who do mentoring on the weekends — something so they have means of getting funding to help advance their work."

Read the rest of the story at

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May 27, 2010

Islam target of NYC bus advertising campaign

The questions on the ads aren't subtle: Leaving Islam? Fatwa on your head? Is your family threatening you?

A conservative activist and the organizations she leads have paid several thousand dollars for the ads to run on at least 30 New York City buses for a month, the Associated Press reports. The ads point to a website called, which offers information to those wishing to leave Islam, but some Muslims are calling the ads a smoke screen for an anti-Muslim agenda.

Pamela Geller, who leads an organization called Stop Islamization of America, said the ads were meant to help provide resources for Muslims who are fearful of leaving the faith.

"It's not offensive to Muslims, it's religious freedom," she said. "It's not targeted at practicing Muslims. It doesn't say 'leave,' it says 'leaving' with a question mark."

Geller said the ad buy cost about $8,000, contributed by the readers of her blog, Atlas Shrugs, and other websites. Similar ads have run on buses in Miami, and she said ad buys were planned for other cities.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials said Geller's ad was reviewed and did not violate the agency's guidelines.

"The religion in question would not change the determination that the language in the ad does not violate guidelines," MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said Wednesday.

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May 25, 2010

Guest post: Where Muslims pray

Writer, public health professional and attorney J. Samia Mair of Baltimore is the author of the children’s books Amira’s Totally Chocolate World and The Perfect Gift.

Muslims are required to pray 5 times a day at specific times. For 4 of those prayers, there is a relatively lengthy period (hour or more) in which they can be done. For example, Muslims pray Fajr anywhere between dawn and just before sunrise. Maghrib, however, must be prayed shortly after sunset. During any given day, chances are that a Muslim living in the United States will not be at home or near a masjid (mosque) for all 5 prayers and therefore will be required to find a suitable alternative.

In Muslim-populated countries finding a place to pray is not an issue. There are abundant masajid (mosques) and no one would find it odd to see someone pull out a rug and pray in public. When I was in Saudi Arabia for the Hajj several years ago, people prayed everywhere—on sidewalks, in stores, and along hallways.

It’s not so easy in the United States. Every day, I need to review my schedule and decide where I am going to pray that day. Fortunately, the Baltimore area is rich in cultural and religious diversity; and in my experience, most people are respectful of others’ beliefs. There are places in the United States where I literally would be physically afraid to pray in public. Until recently, I have never had a problem in this regard. I have prayed in parks, parking lots, museums, restaurants, mall dressing rooms, and in storage areas. Most businesses have been extremely accommodating. Granted, there are some businesses where I felt uncomfortable asking to pray. But overall, finding a place to pray has not been too challenging here. It just requires planning.

Not long ago, I had my first hostile reaction. I needed to pray during a movie. Without asking, I found a quiet spot down a dark hallway and off to the side. No one was around when I started. During my prayers, I noticed a man’s shoes in front of me and slightly to the left. His presence was intrusive and intimidating. When I finished my prayer, he told me that I had “offended another customer” and company policy did not allow religious displays on the premises. He also refused to accommodate my request to find an alternative spot. Not at all satisfied with the interaction, I wrote several higher ups, including the president of the company, which is a national chain. I was informed that company policy did not prohibit me from praying and that if I ever needed to be accommodated at that theater again, all I needed to do was ask. As an extra conciliatory gesture, headquarters sent me eight complimentary movie tickets. Ultimately, I was more than satisfied with the outcome. But the experience made me think.

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May 21, 2010

Tenn. Tea Party won't drop anti-Islam speaker

Tea party organizers will not drop a speaker from a Tennessee convention this weekend despite calls from a national Muslim rights group that considers her anti-Islamic, the Associated Press reports.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations had urged that Pamela Geller be cut from the Tennessee Tea Party Convention in Gatlinburg over her views on Muslims. Washington-based CAIR said in a release Thursday that it objects to Pamela Geller's presentation titled "The Threat of Islam."

Convention organizer Anthony Shreeve said in an e-mail Friday that Geller will speak despite those concerns.

"We will not follow any request from CAIR," Shreeve said. "We also believe in the right to freedom of speech as given to us by our U.S. Constitution."

Geller heads a group called Stop Islamization of America.

"CAIR is trying to get good, decent Americans in the Tennessee Tea Party to crush free speech by dropping me," Geller wrote on her blog.

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May 20, 2010

Pakistan blocks more websites

Pakistan blocked YouTube and many other Internet sites Thursday in a widening crackdown on online content deemed offensive to Islam, reflecting the secular government's sensitivities to an issue that has ignited protests in the Muslim country, the Associated Press reports.

The move came a day after the government obeyed a court order to block Facebook over a page called "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!" that encourages users to post images of Islam's Prophet Muhammad. Most Muslims regard depictions of the prophet, even favorable ones, as blasphemous.

Supporters of an Islamist political party protested against Facebook in at least three cities in small and peaceful rallies. The government, which is unpopular among many Islamists for siding with the United States in the war against the Taliban and al-Qaida, is hoping that the website bans will lessen anger in the days ahead.

"We are ready to die protecting the honor of our beloved Prophet Muhammad," said Aysha Hameed, one of 1,000 female protesters in Multan city.

Others — mostly members of the more secular, educated elite — accused the government of blocking freedom of expression and hurting small businesses that use Facebook for marketing. Many questioned need for the entire Facebook and YouTube sites to be blocked, instead of individual pages on them.

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May 19, 2010

Muslim anger leads Pakistan to ban Facebook

Pakistan's government ordered Internet service providers to block Facebook on Wednesday amid anger over a page that encourages users to post images of Islam's Prophet Muhammad, the Associated Press reports.

The page on the social networking site has generated criticism in Pakistan and elsewhere because Islam prohibits any images of the prophet. The government took action after a group of Islamic lawyers won a court order Wednesday requiring officials to block Facebook until May 31.

By Wednesday evening, access to the site was sporadic, apparently because Internet providers were implementing the order.

The Facebook page at the center of the dispute — "Everybody Draw Mohammed Day!" — encourages users to post images of the prophet on May 20 to protest threats made by a radical Muslim group against the creators of "South Park" for depicting Muhammad in a bear suit during an episode earlier this year.

In the southern city of Karachi, about 2,000 female students rallied demanding that Facebook be banned for tolerating the page. Several dozen male students held a rally nearby, with some holding signs urging Islamic holy war against those who blaspheme the prophet.

"We are not trying to slander the average Muslim," said the information section of the Facebook page, which was still accessible Wednesday morning. "We simply want to show the extremists that threaten to harm people because of their Mohammad depictions that we're not afraid of them. That they can't take away our right to freedom of speech by trying to scare us into silence."

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Women protesting French veil ban

One runs her own company, another is a housewife and a third, a divorcee, raises her children by herself. Like nearly 2,000 other Muslim women who freely wear face-covering veils anywhere in France, the Associated Press reports, their lives will soon change and they are worried.

On Wednesday, French Justice Minister Michele Alliot-Marie presented a draft law to the Cabinet banning Muslim veils that cover the face, the first formal step in a process to forbid such attire in all public places in France, AP correspondent Elaine Ganley writes. It calls for euro150 ($185) fines and, in some cases, citizenship classes for women who run afoul of the law.

"Citizenship should be experienced with an uncovered face," President Nicolas Sarkozy told the Cabinet meeting, in remarks released by his office. "There can be no other solution but a ban in all public places."

Although the Interior Ministry estimates there are only 1,900 women who cover their faces with veils, the planned law would be another defining moment for Islam in France as the nation tries to bring its Muslim population — at least 5 million, the largest in western Europe — into the mainstream, even by force of law.

The bill is to go before parliament in July, and despite the acrimonious debate that is sure to come, there is little doubt the measure will become law. Sarkozy, who says such veils oppress women, wants a law banning them on the books as soon as possible.

Sarkozy welcomed the bill, saying the government is embarking on "a just path" and urging parliament to take its "moral responsibility" and approve it.

The measure notably creates a new offense, "inciting to hide the face," and anyone convicted of forcing a woman to wear such a veil risks a year in prison and a euro15,000 ($18,555) fine, according to a copy of the text.

"If the law is voted, I won't take off my veil ... No one will dictate my way of life" but God, said Najat, a divorcee, who gave her age as "45 plus." She was one of a half-dozen women who, in a rare move, met with reporters on Tuesday to express their worries about changes they say will impact their lives to the core.

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May 18, 2010

Guest post: Don't condemn Pakistani-Americans

Shaukat Malik emigrated from Pakistan in 1972 and arrived in the United States in 1980. He was moved to write by the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, the alleged author of the failed bombing of Times Square.

Recession and hard times provide the catalysts for racism to flourish. If that were to happen now, it would indeed be a sad day in American history.

America reigns supreme as a country that offers equal opportunity to all its citizens. Only in America could a black man with the name of Barrack Hussein Obama be elected president. We must celebrate this fact.

I emigrated from Pakistan to the United Kingdom in 1972. However, having experienced racism firsthand in 1972, when I was chased down Kensington High street London by white supremacists, and having travelled many times on British Railways with an empty seat as my constant companion, I can confirm for you that the worst form of prejudice is indeed racism.

I attended a July 4th party at the U.S. Embassy in London in 1976 and was so moved by the ambassador’s speech on the U.S. Constitution and its recognition of inherent human rights to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness that I decided I would move to the land of the free.

U.S. citizenship is cherished and celebrated by all Pakistanis who have been fortunate enough to acquire it. Our children were born here and we love the Unites States like any other U.S. citizen. Just because one man who happens to be an M.B.A. and is clean-shaven has gone raving mad does not mean we should condemn all U.S. citizens of Pakistani origin.

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May 7, 2010

Disinvited Graham prays outside Pentagon

Evangelist Franklin Graham prayed on a sidewalk outside the Pentagon Thursday after his invitation to a prayer service inside was withdrawn because of comments that insulted Muslims, the Associated Press reports.

"It looks like Islam has gotten a pass," he told reporters. "They are able to have their services, but just because I disagree ... I'm excluded."

In 2001, Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, described Islam as evil. More recently, he said he finds Islam offensive and wants Muslims to know that Jesus Christ died for their sins. The Pentagon's chaplain office called those comments inappropriate and, at the request of the Army, withdrew Graham's invitation to attend a multi-denominational "National Day of Prayer" service that was held in the Defense Department auditorium.

He came anyway, arriving in the Pentagon parking lot just before 8 a.m. EDT — his party of a half dozen people forming a circle on the sidewalk and praying.

They stood there for about five minutes, heads bowed, as people arriving for work passed by — a man with a briefcase, one on a bike, a woman carrying breakfast pastry in a bag and another man carrying a skateboard.

Then the group walked to the Pentagon's Sept. 11 memorial roughly a couple of hundred feet away, where media had gathered because it's one of the few places were cameras are allowed on the Pentagon property. There, Graham held a news conference that lasted nearly twice as long as the prayer.

Asked why he had come, Graham said it was to pray for the men and women serving at the warfront, including his son, who he said had already been wounded in Iraq and now serves in Afghanistan.

He said he doesn't believe "all religions are equal" and that there is only "one way to God" — and that is through Jesus.

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Comedy Central planning cartoon about Jesus

Having already caused a fuss this spring with the depiction of the prophet Muhammad on "South Park," Comedy Central said Thursday that it has a cartoon series about Jesus Christ in the works, the Associated Press reports.

"JC" is one of 23 potential series the network said it has in development. It depicts Christ as a "regular guy" who moves to New York to "escape his father's enormous shadow."

His father is presented as an apathetic man who would rather play video games than listen to his son talk about his new life, according to Comedy Central's thumbnail sketch of the idea. Reveille, the production company behind "The Office," "Ugly Betty" and "The Biggest Loser," is making "JC."

It wouldn't be the first time Jesus Christ has been on a Comedy Central cartoon; he's a recurring character on the long-running "South Park."

Comedy Central was the target last month of an Internet threat for a "South Park" episode that supposedly showed Islam's prophet in a bear costume.

Whenever "South Park" features Muhammad in an episode, Comedy Central obscures the character with a black box; Muslims consider any physical representation of their prophet to be blasphemous. Following the Internet threat, Comedy Central angered "South Park" producers by editing out a character's speech about intimidation in a subsequent episode.

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May 6, 2010

Obama proclaims National Day of Prayer

A federal judge in Wisconsin ruled last month that the law that directs the president to proclaim a National Day of Prayer in unconstitutional, and for the second year, President Barack Obama has declined to host an event marking the day, as President George W. Bush and others did.

Still, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb stayed her ruling, pending appeals, including one by the Obama administration. And last week, the president issued a proclamation marking the day:





Throughout our history, whether in times of great joy and thanksgiving, or in times of great challenge and uncertainty, Americans have turned to prayer. In prayer, we have expressed gratitude and humility, sought guidance and forgiveness, and received inspiration and assistance, both in good times and in bad.

On this day, let us give thanks for the many blessings God has bestowed upon our Nation. Let us rejoice for the blessing of freedom both to believe and to live our beliefs, and for the many other freedoms and opportunities that bring us together as one Nation. Let us ask for wisdom, compassion, and discernment of justice as we address the great challenges of our time.

We are blessed to live in a Nation that counts freedom of conscience and free exercise of religion among its most fundamental principles, thereby ensuring that all people of goodwill may hold and practice their beliefs according to the dictates of their consciences. Prayer has been a sustaining way for many Americans of diverse faiths to express their most cherished beliefs, and thus we have long deemed it fitting and proper to publicly recognize the importance of prayer on this day across the Nation.

Let us remember in our thoughts and prayers those suffering from natural disasters in Haiti, Chile, and elsewhere, and the people from those countries and from around the world who have worked tirelessly and selflessly to render aid. Let us pray for the families of the West Virginia miners, and the people of Poland who so recently and unexpectedly lost many of their beloved leaders. Let us pray for the safety and success of those who have left home to serve in our Armed Forces, putting their lives at risk in order to make the world a safer place. As we remember them, let us not forget their families and the substantial sacrifices that they make every day. Let us remember the unsung heroes who struggle to build their communities, raise their families, and help their neighbors, for they are the wellspring of our greatness. Finally, let us remember in our thoughts and prayers those people everywhere who join us in the aspiration for a world that is just, peaceful, free, and respectful of the dignity of every human being.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America, do hereby proclaim May 6, 2010, as a National Day of Prayer. I call upon the citizens of our Nation to pray, or otherwise give thanks, in accordance with their own faiths and consciences, for our many freedoms and blessings, and I invite all people of faith to join me in asking for God’s continued guidance, grace, and protection as we meet the challenges before us.


IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this thirtieth day of April, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fourth.


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May 5, 2010

AP: Agreement to increase clerics' power in Iraq

An agreement signed by the two main Iranian-backed Shiite blocs seeking to govern Iraq gives the final decision on all their political disputes to top Shiite clerics, according to a copy obtained by The Associated Press on Wednesday.

If the alliance succeeds in forming the next government, the provision could increase the role of senior clergy in politics, the AP reports. The provision would likely further alienate Iraq's Sunni minority, which had been hoping the March election would boost their say in the country.

The newly announced alliance between the Shiite blocs practically ensures they will form the core of any new government and squeeze out the top vote getter, Ayad Allawi's Iraqiya list, which received heavy Sunni support. But the terms of the alliance show the deep distrust between the two Shiite partners and seek to limit the powers of the prime minister.

A leading member of the prime minister's coalition who signed the agreement on Tuesday confirmed it gives a small group of clerics led by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani the last word on any disputes between the two allied blocs. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

"The marjaiyah has the final say in solving all the disputes between the two sides and its directives and guidance are binding," the agreement said, referring to the religious Shiite leadership based in the holy city of Najaf.

The provision only applies to the alliance, not officially to any new government. But if the Shiite alliance dominates the next government, clerics would potentially have a direct say in policy.

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May 4, 2010

Company defends itself from anti-Muslim charge

A company that denied a Baltimore woman the chance to become a foster mother after discovering she doesn't allow pork in her home defended its decision in a state-ordered corrective action plan, saying the woman lacks the flexibility needed to work with children, Baltimore Sun colleague Brent Jones reports.

Hyattsville-based Contemporary Family Services, which is authorized by the state to place foster children with families, said Tashima Crudup — a practicing Muslim — was unyielding in her stance, which in turn, could make her intractable in other issues involving children. Crudup initially had cleared a screening process and completed hours of training before her application was denied after a home visit from a CFS worker in August 2009.

Crudup took her case to the American Civil Liberties Union, which filed a complaint on her behalf with the Baltimore City Community Relations Commission, claiming religious discrimination. The commission is investigating the case and will set a hearing date.

Maryland's Office of Licensing and Monitoring, meanwhile, sent a letter to CFS outlining state discrimination laws and ordering the company to comply. The department also asked CFS to file a corrective action plan within 10 days.

CFS said in its response that it did not discriminate against Crudup. The company said it will now provide documentation of its nondiscriminatory policy to all parents and prospective parents.

Corey Pierce, chief operating officer for CFS, said his agency has never discriminated against potential foster parents and has clients of all religions and races.

"Why would we discriminate against her? Our issues with her are legitimate. It's not about religion, and really, it's not about pork," Pierce said.

Read the story at

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April 28, 2010

Jason Poling: You bastards!

The Rev. Jason Poling is pastor of New Hope Community Church in Pikesville.

When the 2005 publication of the Mohammed cartoons in a Dutch newspaper made headlines, I felt torn. As a libertarian, I wouldn’t want to say it should be illegal to publish such cartoons. But as someone who tries to be sensitive to the religious views of others, I would also not want to publish them in order to avoid giving offense. Perhaps it’s cowardice for me to want a world where they can be published but where I don’t publish them.

The same angst returned for me when South Park’s portrayal of Mohammed in their 200th episode was censored by Comedy Central. A pornographic from the Bible, of all things, has resolved the tension for me.

A few years back I preached through the book of Ezekiel. For those unfamiliar with it, it’s one of the longer prophetic books in the Bible; it’s also one of the most outrageous. Not once but twice (in chapters 16 and 23, if you’re interested) God describes the unfaithfulness of his people with language that would make a sailor blush. Naturally, I was pretty fired up to preach these passages.

When I got to chapter 16, I was five minutes into my sermon when a family with young kids slipped into the back of the church and sat down without hearing the warning during our announcements that the sermon would be dealing with some R-rated material. Rapidly downshifting from R to PG, I still managed to get my point across. (But I never saw them again.) When I came to chapter 23, I gave strict instructions to the ushers not to let that happen again. I also made sure that folks were aware that the sermon that day would deal with some mature subject matter, providing warnings in our bulletin, in the announcements, and at the beginning of my sermon.

The sermon was not well received by everyone. One visitor contacted the senior pastor of the church that planted us to express her disapproval, and wrote a long letter excoriating me for…well, preaching the text that I had in front of me. She said she would not be returning to New Hope until we changed our ways. I had the good manners not to ask if that was a promise or a threat.

You won’t find these passages preached in most churches; most aren’t willing to go into that kind of territory, even when the Bible does. At New Hope, we believe that having a high view of Scripture means that we treat all of it as inspired — the red letters, the black letters, and the purple prose, too. And I must say that I feel no responsibility whatsoever for the offense our visitors took that day: They were made aware of what was coming three different ways. They were warned that they were about to be exposed to offensive material, so they really couldn’t complain when it happened as promised. Even if the [WARNING: Gratuitous male nudity ahead] Pompeiian fresco of Priapus was projected on the front wall of the sanctuary. Which it was.

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April 26, 2010

Guest post: Images of the prophet

Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American Certified Public Accountant from Potomac. He writes in response to recent controversy over the depiction of the Prophet Muhammad in the satirical cartoon series "South Park."

Islam does not prohibit pictorial representations.

Muslim clerics all over the world are desperate for relevance. In the early days of Islam people worshipped idols. The prohibition of pictorial representations during the prophet’s time was intended to discourage this practice. Pictorial representations of the Prophet Muhammad are not banned in the Quran; any references in the Quran are by reference to substituting images for God. I reproduce for you the relevant verse that refers to dedication of stones/statues in place of God.

005.090 YUSUFALI: O ye who believe! Intoxicants and gambling, (dedication of) stones, and (divination by) arrows, are an abomination, - of Satan's handwork: eschew such (abomination) that ye may prosper. PICKTHAL: O ye who believe! Strong drink and games of chance and idols and divining arrows are only an infamy of Satan's handiwork. Leave it aside in order that ye may succeed. SHAKIR: O you who believe! Intoxicants and games of chance and (sacrificing to) stones set up and (dividing by) arrows are only uncleanness, the Satan’s work; shun it therefore that you may be successful.

Clerics also use sayings of the prophet or “Hadith” that were written a century after the prophet’s death by self-serving males to ban pictorial representation of the holy prophet. Even if the prophet said something about statues, it was in the context of his time and bears no relevance to today’s world. Of course in the Arabia of 1400 years ago there were no Picassos, cameras, or cartoonists to make people think.

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April 23, 2010

'South Park' Producers: Network cut fear speech

Producers of "South Park" said Thursday that Comedy Central removed a speech about intimidation and fear from their show after a radical Muslim group warned that they could be killed for insulting the Prophet Muhammad, the Associated Press reports.

It came during about 35 seconds of dialogue between the cartoon characters of Kyle, Jesus Christ and Santa Claus that was bleeped out.

"It wasn't some meta-joke on our part," producers Trey Parker and Matt Stone said. Comedy Central declined to comment.

Earlier this week, the radical group Revolution Muslim said on its website that "South Park" had insulted their prophet during last week's episode by depicting him in a bear costume.

The group said it wasn't threatening Parker and Stone, but it included a gruesome picture of Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker killed by a Muslim extremist in 2004, and said the producers could meet the same fate. The website posted the addresses of Comedy Central's New York office and the California production studio where "South Park" is made.

Despite that, Parker and Stone included the Muhammad character in this week's episode. Muhammad appeared with his body obscured by a black box, since Muslims consider a physical representation of their prophet to be blasphemous. When the bear costume was removed, it was revealed to be Santa Claus.

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April 22, 2010

South Park episode airs despite Islamist warning

Comedy Central's "South Park" included a representation of the Prophet Muhammad as a character this week despite a radical Muslim group's warning that its producers could be killed, the Associated Press reports.

Muhammad appeared on Wednesday night's episode of the cartoon with his face obscured by a black box, since Muslims consider a physical representation of their prophet to be blasphemous. Last week, the character was briefly disguised in a bear costume. When that same costume was removed this week, Santa Claus appeared.

The bear costume had angered the New York-based group Revolution Muslim, which posted a message on its website saying that producers Trey Parker and Matt Stone had insulted their prophet.

The message included a gruesome picture of Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker murdered by a Muslim extremist in 2004 after making a movie about a woman who rejected Muhammad's teachings. The message said the "South Park" producers would "probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh" for airing the show.

The posting included Comedy Central's New York address, as well as the address for Parker and Stone's California production studio.

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Army considering rescinding Graham invitation

The Army is considering whether to rescind an invitation to evangelist Franklin Graham to appear at the Pentagon amid complaints about his description of Islam as evil, the Associated Press reports.

Graham, the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham, was to appear at the Pentagon on May 6 — the National Day of Prayer.

He said he will be a guest of the Pentagon and would speak only if he's still invited.

Army Col. Tom Collins said withdrawing the invitation "is on the table," but no decision has been made. He said Army brass will have the ultimate decision on whether to pull the invite.

The Military Religious Freedom Foundation raised the objection to the appearance, citing Graham's past remarks about Islam.

Mikey Weinstein, president of the foundation, said the invitation offended Muslim employees at the Pentagon. He said it would endanger American troops by stirring up Muslim extremists.

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Islamist group warns South Park creators of death

A radical Muslim group has warned the creators of "South Park" that they could face violent retribution for depicting the prophet Muhammad in a bear suit during last week's episode, the Associated Press reports.

The website has since been taken down, but a cached version shows the message to "South Park" creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone. The article's author, Abu Talhah Al-Amrikee, said the men "outright insulted" the religious leader.

The posting showed a gruesome picture of Theo Van Gogh, a Dutch filmmaker who was shot and stabbed to death in an Amsterdam street in 2004 by a fanatic angered by his film about Muslim women. The film was written by a Muslim woman who rejected the Prophet Muhammad as a guide for today's morality.

"We have to warn Matt and Trey that what they are doing is stupid and they will probably wind up like Theo Van Gogh for airing this show," Al-Amrikee wrote. "This is not a threat, but a warning of the reality of what will likely happen to them."

The posting listed the addresses of Comedy Central's New York office and Parker and Stone's California production office. It also linked to a Huffington Post article that described a Colorado retreat owned by the two men.

CNN, which first reported the posting, said the New York-based website is known for postings in support of jihad, or holy war, against the West and Osama bin Laden.

Al-Amrikee told The Associated Press that the posting was made to raise awareness of the issue and to see that it does not happen again. Asked if Parker and Stone should feel threatened by it, he said "they should feel threatened by what they did."

Continue reading "Islamist group warns South Park creators of death" »

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April 21, 2010

Sarkozy to submit bill banning face veils

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has ordered legislation that would ban women from wearing Islamic veils that fully cover the face and body in public places, the government said Wednesday, the Associated Press reports.

It is Sarkozy's first political action toward an outright ban, though he has repeatedly said such outfits oppress women and are not welcome in France, home to a firmly secular government.

Government spokesman Luc Chatel said after a Cabinet meeting Wednesday that the president decided the government should submit a bill to parliament in May on an overall ban on such veils "in all public places."

That ups the stakes in Sarkozy's push against veils such as the burqa and niqab and chador. Some in his own party have bristled at a full-out ban, and France's highest administrative body has questioned whether it would be constitutional.

Sarkozy insisted that "everything should be done so that no one feels stigmatized," according to Chatel. Sarkozy said the veils "do not pose a problem in a religious sense, but threaten the dignity of women."

Continue reading "Sarkozy to submit bill banning face veils" »

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Objection to Graham appearance at Pentagon

A watchdog group objected Tuesday to an evangelist's invitation to speak at the Pentagon next month, saying his past description of Islam as "evil" offended Muslims who work for the Department of Defense and the appearance should be canceled, the Associated Press reports.

Mikey Weinstein, president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, said inviting evangelist Franklin Graham to speak May 6, the National Day of Prayer, "would be like bringing someone in on national prayer day madly denigrating Christianity" or other religious groups.

It would also endanger American troops by stirring up Muslim extremists, Weinstein said.

Graham is the son of famed evangelist Billy Graham and president and CEO of both Samaritan's Purse, a Christian international relief organization in Boone, N.C., and the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, in Charlotte, N.C.

He said through a spokesman that he will be a guest of the Pentagon and will speak only if he's still invited. A military spokeswoman said she was locating officials to respond to the criticism.

After the 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States, Graham said Islam "is a very evil and wicked religion." In a later op-ed piece in The Wall Street Journal, Graham wrote that he did not believe Muslims were evil because of their faith, but "as a minister .... I believe it is my responsibility to speak out against the terrible deeds that are committed as a result of Islamic teaching."

Graham hasn't changed his views on Islam, said his spokesman, Mark DeMoss.

DeMoss quoted Graham as saying, "As the father of a son serving in his fourth combat tour, I'd be glad to know someone was leading a prayer service at the National Day of Prayer, or any other day."

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April 20, 2010

Israeli Defense Minister: Occupation must end

Israel must recognize that the world will not put up with decades more of Israeli rule over the Palestinian people, the country's defense minister said in unusually frank remarks Monday, the Associated Press reports.

Ehud Barak's comments came against the backdrop of severe friction between the U.S. and Israel's hawkish government over an impasse in peacemaking.

Last week, President Barack Obama issued a surprisingly pessimistic assessment of peacemaking prospects, saying the U.S. couldn't force its will on Israelis and Palestinians if they weren't interested in making the compromises necessary to end their decades-old conflict.

Barak spoke to Israel Radio on the occasion of Israel's Memorial Day, dedicated to the nearly 23,000 fallen soldiers and civilian victims of terror attacks. The day is observed with a two-minute nationwide siren when people stand at attention, traffic is halted and everyday activities come briefly to a standstill.

At sundown Monday, the somber Memorial Day switched into Israel's 62nd Independence Day celebrations. At Mount Herzl, Israel's national cemetery, thousands watched an elaborate program of songs and folk dance while fireworks popped overhead.

Both dates are traditionally a time for introspection. This year, Israelis are dwelling on issues such as the country's growing isolation over its policies toward the Palestinians, the growing rift with the U.S. and the failure to relaunch peace talks.

Continue reading "Israeli Defense Minister: Occupation must end" »

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April 14, 2010

ACLU: Muslim woman rejected as foster parent

The American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland has filed a complaint with a city agency on behalf of a Muslim woman whose application to be a foster mother was denied, in part, because she does not allow pork in her home, Baltimore Sun colleague Brent Jones reports.

Tashima Crudup, 26, said she contacted Contemporary Family Services in July and went through 50 hours worth of training classes to become a foster parent. The organization is a private company authorized by the state to place foster children with families.

The complaint alleges that Crudup's application was denied after it was discovered during the interview process that she prohibits pork products in her Middle River home. In a letter dated Oct. 12 from Contemporary Family Services, the company tells Crudup that the application is being denied out of "concerns raised by statements made during the home study interview, specifically your explicit request to prohibit pork products within your home environment. Although we respect your personal/religious views and practices, this agency must above all ensure that the religious, cultural and personal rights of each foster child placed in our care are upheld."

Crudup earlier this year reached out to the ACLU, who filed a complaint with the Baltimore City Community Relations Commission over the incident Wednesday.

Read the story at

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April 13, 2010

Census asks wary Muslims to complete forms

Nine years of scrutiny have made some American Muslims wary of the federal government, and that has the U.S. Census bureau working to make sure its crucial survey doesn't become a casualty of fear, the Associated Press reports.

Muslims are not the only group the agency has identified as needing special attention, but they may be among the likeliest to shun the mail-in questionnaires. America's Muslim population includes large numbers of recent immigrants, and community leaders say nearly a decade of bearing the brunt of the country's post Sept. 11 terrorism fears have taken their toll.

"You still have people in a kind of paranoid state of mind," said Khalilah Sabra, director of the Muslim American Society's Freedom Foundation in North Carolina.

That might be particularly true in the Raleigh-Durham area, she said, where seven local Muslim men were arrested in July and charged with plotting to travel overseas to carry out acts of terrorism.

Sabra, who is working to convince Muslims in the area to participate, says she's heard many times this year from people who plan to ignore the census forms out of fear.

Jihad Shawwa, of Raleigh, has heard the same concerns, but says those fears risk putting American Muslims in a position where they don't take full advantage of their citizenship.

"I'm not going to stretch my mind to the point where I'm living in fear because I'm a Muslim," he said.

Continue reading "Census asks wary Muslims to complete forms" »

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Guest post: Children of Abraham

Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American Certified Public Accountant from Potomac. He left his native Pakistan in 1972 and has been living in the United States since 1980.

People of all faiths have fought each other in the past but that does not mean that animosity must survive in perpetuity. This is madness. Christians of the inquisition era victimized Jews and Muslims in Europe, but that has not stopped Jews and Christians from building bridges of understanding and sharing common values that promote the well being of everyone.

The whole world knows about the Palestinian problem, yet that has not stopped some Muslim countries from dealing and having diplomatic relations with Israel. This engagement and recognition has yielded peace dividends and allowed these states to focus on economic development and the well-being of their peoples.

Why has Turkey recognized Israel? The answer is not that complicated. Proud Turkey boasts the second largest army in NATO. It analyzed its own self-interest in joining the European Common Market and determined that recognizing Israel would help Turkish interests. Turkish people as Muslims are equally concerned about the plight of Palestinians, but this concern has not stopped Turkey from doing what is best for Turkey.

In its efforts to meet constitutional and legal requirements for membership in the European Union, the Islamic party in Turkey long viewed with suspicion by Turkey’s guardians of secularism – namely, the Turkish army – has emerged as a champion of democracy and reform. They have succeeded in presenting a brand of secular Islam that allows for separation of church and state with complete freedom of religion. This action does not mean that Turkey has lost its cultural identity or abolished Islam; on the contrary, it has given more freedoms to Turkish citizens to practice their cherished faiths.

This transformation has weakened the hands of autocratic forces led by adventurous generals who have toppled elected governments in the past. Turkey’s success can be used as a benchmark for all Muslim countries in different phases of democratization.

Like Turkey, Pakistan has a history of military intervention by adventurous generals who have in the past exploited a weak judiciary and an undereducated elected assembly to seize power. Through this process, Pakistan has been denied the economic and political success enjoyed by its neighbor and birth twin, India.

Why have many Muslim countries not recognized Israel?

Continue reading "Guest post: Children of Abraham" »

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April 2, 2010

Christians converge on Jerusalem for Good Friday

The Associated Press has moved an evocative Good Friday dispatch from Jerusalem:

The cobblestone alleyways of Jerusalem's Old City became moving forests of wooden crosses as Christian pilgrims and clergymen commemorated the day of Jesus' crucifixion, Good Friday.

Black-robed nuns filed past metal barriers erected by police as dozens of tourists in matching red baseball hats held up digital cameras. Some pilgrims carried elaborately carved crucifixes, while others had crude crosses made of two planks held together with tape.

Good Friday rituals center on the ancient Church of the Holy Sepulcher, where Christian tradition says Jesus was crucified and buried before his resurrection on Easter Sunday.

While Catholics and Orthodox Christians follow different calendars, this year their Easters coincide and the churches are commemorating Good Friday together.

Watching as hundreds pressed through the narrow Jerusalem street called the Via Dolorosa — the "Way of Suffering," tracing Jesus' final steps — was Katy Fitzpatrick, 24, of Spokane, Washington. She said the event was both "exciting" and "a little overwhelming."

"It's a little intimidating, and the riot gear is a little intimidating too," she said of the heavy presence of green-clad Israeli police deployed to keep the peace.

Continue reading "Christians converge on Jerusalem for Good Friday" »

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April 1, 2010

Malaysia stops caning of woman who drank beer

A Muslim woman sentenced to be caned for drinking beer has had her punishment commuted, in a surprising turnaround for a high-profile case that raised questions about Islamic laws intruding into personal matters in Malaysia, the Associated Press reports.

Kartika Sari Dewi Shukarno, a mother of two, received a letter Wednesday from the Pahang state Islamic department informing her that the state's sultan has decided to spare her the caning, her lawyer, Adham Jamalullail, said Thursday.

The order is likely to cool down a fiery debate over whether Islamic laws should intrude into people's private lives in this Muslim-majority country. Many people had condemned the punishment, saying it shows conservative Islamists are gaining influence over the justice system.

Kartika, a former model and nurse, was sentenced last July. Had the punishment been carried out at the time, she would have been the first woman to be caned in Malaysia, where about 60 percent of the 28 million people are Muslims.

She pleaded guilty and did not appeal her sentence, but the punishment was halted at the last minute following an uproar in the media and among rights activists.

Three other Muslim women were caned this year for having sex out of wedlock, becoming the first Muslim women to be caned. Their cases did not draw as much attention because the caning was kept a secret until after it was done. Subsequently, the women themselves appeared before local media and said they deserved the punishment.

Adham told the AP that "as a substitution for the caning, the sultan has ordered Kartika to perform community service for three weeks."

Read the Associated Press story.

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March 18, 2010

Florida lawmakers advance school prayer bill

Lawmakers in Florida have voted to advance legislation to allow organized prayer at school-sponsored events. Josh Hafenbrack, a statehouse reporter for Baltimore Sun sister paper the Sun-Sentinel, has the story:

Students could lead prayers at school functions such as football games and the senior prom, under a controversial bill advanced by a Florida House committee Wednesday.

Despite objections from Democrats and civil liberties groups who called the effort "patently unconstitutional," the House PreK-12 Education Committee approved the prayer bill (HB11) on a largely party line, 10-3 vote.

Students would be allowed to initiate and lead prayers at assemblies and extracurricular events. The bill bans teachers, administrators and school boards from "discouraging or inhibiting the delivery of an inspirational message," which includes a "prayer or invocation."

Opponents said the prayer-in-school bill would subject students from minority religions, such as Jewish and Muslim students, to majority Christian views.

"When we start breaking down the First Amendment, it is the breaking of our fabric," said Rep. Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach. Rader, who is Jewish, recalled sitting uncomfortably during team prayers while he was a high school student-athlete. "I remember it like it was yesterday."

Supporters, however, cast the bill as a free-speech issue for students who want to pray at school functions.

"That's the reason we have to have this bill – to protect people's First Amendment rights," said Rep. Greg Evers, R-Baker. "This is not necessarily a prayer bill. It's a rights bill."

Continue reading "Florida lawmakers advance school prayer bill" »

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March 14, 2010

Egypt cancels Cairo synagogue unveiling

Egypt canceled the inauguration of a restored synagogue on Sunday citing objections to Israel's treatment of Muslims in the occupied territories as well as alleged excesses during an earlier ceremony, the Associated Press reports.

Egypt's Supreme Council of Antiquities spent seven months restoring the ruined Ben Maimon synagogue in Cairo's ancient Jewish quarter and had been set to unveil it to the press Sunday, a week after its rededication in a private ceremony, according to the AP.

Council head Zahi Hawass called off Sunday's event following criticism in the press of the synagogue's rededication ceremony, which was attended by Israeli diplomats as well the American ambassador. The cancellation was largely symbolic as the restoration is complete and the synagogue has been reopened.

"This cancellation comes after what happened during the inauguration by the Jewish community who engaged in activities considered provocative to the feelings of hundreds of millions of Muslims around world, including dancing and drinking alcohol," Hawass said in the statement.

He added that "Muslim sanctuaries in occupied Palestine are subject to aggression by the occupation authorities," citing in particular Israeli security actions on the Temple Mount, known as the Aqsa compound to Muslims, in Jerusalem.

Officials with Cairo's Jewish community had no comment about Hawass' statement.

The March 7 dedication ceremony at the synagogue, named after the 12th century rabbi and intellectual Maimonides, was closed to media and included half a dozen Egyptian Jewish families that long ago fled the country. No Egyptian officials attended the ceremony.

A group of about 11 Hassidic Chabad-Lubavitch rabbis also came to Cairo from the United States and Israel and sang at the event. Attendees also said toasts were made.

Egypt's Jewish community, which dates back millennia and at its peak in the 1940s numbered around 80,000, is down to several dozen, almost all of them elderly. The rest were driven out decades ago by mob violence and persecution tied in large part to the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Continue reading "Egypt cancels Cairo synagogue unveiling" »

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Indonesia Muslims protest Obama visit

Thousands of Indonesian Muslims on Sunday staged peaceful rallies in cities across the country to protest the coming visit of President Barack Obama, Agence France-Presse reports.

The French news agency reports that around 2,000 protesters from the hardline Muslim group Hizbut Tahrir, which aims to establish a Muslim caliphate, shouted "Islam united... will not be defeated. Reject Obama" and tore printouts of the American flag as they marched around the South Sulawesi capital of Makassar.

In Central Java's Solo city, AFP reports, another 500 of the group's supporters carried posters saying "Expel Obama.. leader of coloniser" and "America.. The Real Terrorists".

"There are two types of visitors, good and bad, group spokesman Nor Alam told AFP. "Obama is bad. He might be of a different skin colour from George Bush, but he still oppressed the Muslims."

"He might have grown up in Indonesia, but that's no basis for not rejecting him. He is a cruel figure, his hands are full of blood and he has no sympathy," he said.

Obama has been popular in the world's largest Muslim-majority country, where he spent several years of his childhood in the late 1960s.

Read the Agence France-Presse story.

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March 11, 2010

Protests against imam at Va. House of Delegates

Hundreds of Virginians were urging legislators to boycott the House of Delegates session on Thursday, when a Falls Church imam whom they accuse of condoning violence and defending terrorism was to deliver the opening prayer, The Washington Post reports.

Reporters Anita Kumar and William Wan – the latter a former Baltimore Sun colleague – write that Abdul-Malik and other leaders in the Muslim and interfaith communities say the accusations against him are false. Some background from The Post:

Two of the Sept. 11 hijackers briefly worshiped at his mosque, the Dar al-Hijrah Islamic Center, and one of its former imams, Anwar al-Aulaqi, has been linked to accused terrorists and subsequently denounced by the mosque, one of the largest in the United States.

But Abdul-Malik was not affiliated with the mosque in 2001, when the Sept. 11 attacks occurred. In recent years, he has made statements following the arrest of Muslims on terrorism charges, arguing for due process, civil rights and fair sentencing.

"To try to cast me as someone who's a terrorist and closed-minded -- they picked the wrong guy,'' he said.

Soon after Sept. 11, Abdul-Malik was featured in paid ads produced by a group of national Muslim organizations, which denounced terrorism and the attacks. He has condemned terrorism and Osama bin Laden on "The O'Reilly Factor" and other television programs.

Still, letters and calls have poured into legislative offices since Friday, when a handful of concerned delegates let community activists know that Abdul-Malik was coming to Richmond.

"He's an apologist for people who commit criminal acts,'' said James Lafferty, chairman of the Virginia Anti-Shariah Task Force. The group, along with the Traditional Values Coalition and Act for America, will hold a rally outside the state Capitol on Thursday morning.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations put out a release on Thursday calling opponents to Abdul-Malik’s appearance “Islamophobes.” CAIR is asking supporters to contact Virginia House Speaker William J. Howell to thank him for “standing up to the Islam-bashers” and to contact delegates Adam Ebbin and Kaye Kory, the sponsors of the prayer, to thank them for “supporting religious diversity and inclusion in Virginia.”

“We cannot let a vocal minority of hate-mongers deny American Muslims their constitutionally-guaranteed right to take part in the political process,” CAIR National Legislative Director Corey Saylor said.

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March 10, 2010

Muhammad cartoonist: Nothing too holy to mock

The point of a caricature depicting the Prophet Muhammad as a dog was to show that artistic freedom allows mockery of all religions, including the most sacred symbols of Islam, the Swedish artist who created it tells the Associated Press.

Lars Vilks — the target of an alleged murder plot involving an American woman who dubbed herself "Jihad Jane" — said Wednesday that he has no regrets about the drawing, which is considered deeply offensive by many Muslims.

"I'm actually not interested in offending the prophet. The point is actually to show that you can," Vilks told the AP in Stockholm. "There is nothing so holy you can't offend it."

Vilks made his rough sketch showing Muhammad's head on a dog's body more than a year after 12 Danish newspaper cartoons of the prophet sparked furious protests in Muslim countries in 2006.

Continue reading "Muhammad cartoonist: Nothing too holy to mock" »

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U.S. Christian aid group attacked in Pakistan

The U.S.-based Christian humanitarian group World Vision has suspended operations in Pakistan after six employees were killed Wednesday in a grenade attack in Northwestern Pakistan, according to media reports.

"It was a brutal and senseless attack," Dean Owen, spokesman for the Seattle-based organization, told reporters. "It was completely unexpected, unannounced and unprovoked."

The victims were all Pakistani nationals. The Associated Press reports that suspected armed militants attacked World Vision offices in the small town of Ogi with grenades. World Vision had been helping survivors of the 2005 Kashmir earthquake.

The AP reports that extremists have killed other people working for foreign aid groups in Pakistan and issued statements saying such organizations were working against Islam, greatly hampering efforts to raise living standards in the desperately poor region. As a result, many groups have scaled back their efforts in the northwest or pulled out altogether.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 9:10 AM | | Comments (3)

March 8, 2010

Hundreds slaughtered in Nigerian religious violence

In Nigeria, Associated Press writer Jon Gambrell reports on the weekend slaughter of hundreds of Christians in Nigeria, apparently in reprisal for the killing of hundreds of Muslims in January.

His report opens:

The killers showed no mercy: They didn't spare women and children, or even a 4-day-old baby, from their machetes. On Monday, Nigerian women wailed in the streets as a dump truck carried dozens of bodies past burned-out homes toward a mass grave.

Rubber-gloved workers pulled ever-smaller bodies from the dump truck and tossed them into the mass grave. A crowd began singing a hymn with the refrain, "Jesus said I am the way to heaven." As the grave filled, the grieving crowd sang: "Jesus, show me the way."

At least 200 people, most of them Christians, were slaughtered on Sunday, according to residents, aid groups and journalists. The local government gave a figure more than twice that amount, but offered no casualty list or other information to substantiate it.

An Associated Press reporter counted 61 corpses, 32 of them children, being buried in the mass grave in the village of Dogo Nahawa on Monday. Other victims would be buried elsewhere. At a local morgue the bodies of children, including a diaper-clad toddler, were tangled together. One appeared to have been scalped. Others had severed hands and feet.

The horrific violence comes after sectarian killings in this region in January left more than 300 dead, most of them Muslim. Some victims were shoved into sewer pits and communal wells.

Continue reading "Hundreds slaughtered in Nigerian religious violence" »

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CAIR welcomes arrest of Al-Qaeda spokesman

Note: Pakistani officials say an American member of al-Qaida was picked up in a raid in the southern city of Karachi, but have reversed earlier assertions that the detained man was U.S.-born spokesman Adam Gadhan, the Associated Press reports.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations says it welcomes reports from Pakistan that the American al-Qaida spokesman Adam Gadahn has been arrested.

“We welcome the reported arrest of Adam Gadahn and repeat the American Muslim community’s repudiation of all those who would promote or condone terrorism anywhere in the world," the Washington-based organization said in a statement.

In a release, CAIR speaks of its "innumerable condemnations of terror," and touts its online anti-terror petition drive “Not in the Name of Islam,” its television public service announcement and the fatwa it coordinated against terrorism and extremism.

Pakistani officials have identified the captured suspect as Abu Yahya Majadin Adam, but have given no details on his background or role within al-Qaida, the AP reports.

A name very close to that is listed on the FBI's Web site as an alias for Adam Gadahn, the 31-year-old spokesman who has appeared in several videos threatening the West since 2001. The resemblance created confusion among officials Sunday, leading them to believe that the suspect was Gadahn, an army officer and a senior intelligence officer said.

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March 6, 2010

Muslim students protest Obama visit to Indonesia

Scores of Islamic students staged protests outside Jakarta's parliament and in at least three other major Indonesian cities on Friday against President Barack Obama's upcoming visit to the predominantly Muslim country, the Associated Press reports.

The students carried banners branding Obama as an enemy of Islam and an imperialist in downtown Jakarta as well as in the provincial capitals Padang, Yogyakarta and Surabaya, the AP reports.

They also threw shoes at large pictures of Obama's head. An Iraqi journalist was sentenced to a year in prison for throwing his shoes at U.S. President George W. Bush during a news conference in Baghdad in 2008.

Protest organizer Ahmad Irhamul Fikri, spokesman for the Coordinating Board for Campus Proselytizing Institute, said bigger rallies will be staged next Friday in more Indonesian cities ahead of Obama's March 20-22 visit.

Such demonstrations of hostility toward Obama are rare in Indonesia, where he enjoys widespread popularity because he spend part of his childhood in Jakarta while his mother was married to his Indonesian stepfather.

Local government officials allowed business people to erect a statue of a 10-year-old Obama in a Jakarta park in December. But it was shifted last month to a nearby elementary school that he attended after more than 50,000 people supported a Facebook campaign against it and court action was threatened.

Obama is expected to sign the statue's pedestal while in Jakarta.

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March 4, 2010

Malaysia won't prosecute fake Catholics

Malaysia won't prosecute two Muslims who pretended to be Roman Catholics and took Communion, a decision a church leader said Thursday undermines peace at a time of rising tensions between Muslims and the country's religious minorities, the Associated Press reports.

"The lack of action would appear to legitimize" the behavior of the two men, Archbishop Murphy Pakiam of Kuala Lumpur told the AP.

More details from the AP:

In a letter dated Feb. 12, Malaysian police informed the church that, following instructions from the attorney-general's office, "no further action" would be taken against two men who were investigated after they pretended to be Christians and took Communion at a church service to research a magazine article.

The monthly Malay-language Al-Islam magazine indicated the men spat out the Communion wafers because they took a photograph of it partially bitten. Catholics believe the Communion wafer is transformed into the body of Christ by the priest during the Mass.

The crime of causing religious disharmony carries a prison term of up to five years in Malaysia. The government stance in this case is likely to draw comparisons with its strong defense of Islam, the faith of the majority of Malaysia's 28 million people.

Most prominently, it has vigorously defended a ban on non-Muslim use of the word Allah. Court rulings in inter-religious disputes generally favor Muslims, and government leaders have on occasion publicly brandished daggers, vowing to defend Islam with their blood.

Attorney General Abdul Gani Patail said in a statement that he decided not to prosecute the two men because "they did not intend to offend anyone. It was an act of sheer ignorance."

He added that he had made the same decision in "previous cases where the circumstances were quite similar involving other religions."

Read the Associated Press story.

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March 2, 2010

Judge chides Muslim parents, Christian daughter

At looks as if reconiliation might be possible after all between a Muslim couple in Ohio and the teenaged daughter who said she feared for her life after converting to Christianity.

Associated Press reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins writes that a judge chided the divided family for filing legal motions instead of talking to one another, and then pushed a reconciliation plan back on track Tuesday:

Both the girl, Rifqa Bary, and her parents agreed to follow a counseling plan drawn up by the Franklin County child welfare agency last year to try to resolve the family's conflict.

The plan requires the girl and her parents, Mohamed and Aysha Bary, to work with individual counselors and to try to attend joint counseling.

Tuesday's deal patched up a short-lived January agreement that fell apart when the parents said their daughter was being allowed to contact Christian pastors who allegedly helped her run away to Florida in July. The couple believe that contact was hurting their chance for reconciliation.

The arrangement left open the possibility of such contact, but added a new requirement: The child welfare agency was to gather information on any pending criminal charges against the ministers and pass that on to the family's counselors.

Read the Associated Press story.

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March 1, 2010

Guest post: Turning the tide of militancy

Dr. Maleeha Lodhi, a policy scholar at the the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars in Washington, is a former Pakistani ambassador to the United States.

Have the military operations in South Waziristan, other tribal areas and Swat helped to create a strategic moment in the country’s struggle against militants? Will 2010 be decisive in reversing the tide of militancy after a deadly year that saw a record number of terrorist attacks and killings? Has military action scattered the local Taliban or irrevocably weakened the movement?

There are no easy answers to these questions in a fluid and fraught situation gravely affected by border volatility that is being heightened by the escalating war in Afghanistan. The consolidation of gains made by military offensives will depend on overcoming a sobering number of hurdles and resolving critical governance issues. This means a greater role for political rather than military actors in the transition to the post-conflict phase.

Militancy has been dealt a lethal blow but one that is not fatal yet. The necessary though not sufficient conditions have been created to turn the tide. The loss within six months of two leaders – Baitullah and Hakeemullah Mehsud – has left the Tehrik-i-Taliban Pakistan in confusion and disarray. The assault on the TTP stronghold in South Waziristan has degraded the organization’s capability. But its continued ability to strike in the mainland suggests it has more than just a residual capacity and is using its connection with other groups to orchestrate the attacks.

Among the daunting tasks ahead are to dismantle the militants’ ‘syndicate’ that remains intact, disrupt its supply line and flow of financial resources – which are also intact, and destroy its intelligence ‘assets’. Also critical is to halt the flow of recruits into the ranks of the Pakistani Taliban, even though this has been affected by its loss of physical space. That the threat may be becoming more dispersed is indicated by the nexus the TTP has established over time with proscribed organizations or their splinters beyond FATA.

Continue reading "Guest post: Turning the tide of militancy" »

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February 28, 2010

Israeli police enter Al-Aqsa mosque compound

Israeli police entered the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Sunday after Palestinians threw stones at visitors, Agence France-Presse repports.

"Muslim worshippers threw stones at visitors to the site today, and our forces have entered to make arrests," spokesman Micky Rosenfeld told the French news service.

"Around 20 young people are holed up inside the mosque, and as a preventive measure we have decided to limit access to the esplanade to men over the age of 50," as well as women and children, he added.

More from AFP:

Dozens of riot police were deployed throughout the narrow streets of the Old City as loudspeakers on minarets called on Muslims to "save Jerusalem," according to an AFP correspondent.

An official from Jerusalem's Islamic Supreme Committee said the Palestinians threw stones at people they believed to be Jewish extremists intending to pray at the site and upset the delicate status quo.

"They threw rocks because (Israeli) settlers have been surrounding the compound for two or three days and had said they intended to enter on Sunday or Monday to pray at Al-Aqsa," Adnan Husseini told AFP.

Read the Agence France-Presse story.

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February 27, 2010

Pakistan to amend blasphemy law

The Pakistani government plans to change its blasphemy law to check its misuse by extremist groups, Reuters is reporting.

The report continues:

The law, which carries the death penalty for insulting Islam or its prophet, is a highly sensitive issue in Pakistan, which is more than 95 percent Muslim. Previous governments have failed to reform the law because of opposition from powerful hard-line Islamic groups.

Liberal and secular groups have called for the repeal of the blasphemy law altogether, which they say discriminates against religious minorities.

However, the U.S.-allied government of President Asif Ali Zardari, which is fighting an Islamist insurgency, says it plans to reform the law instead.

"We are holding consultative meetings with representatives of minorities and political parties, as well as with Muslim clerics," Minister for Religious Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti told Reuters.

"Some elements misuse the law to create violence and disharmony in society. To stop that misuse, we are proposing legislation."

Read the Reuters story.

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February 26, 2010

Gadhafi declares holy war on Switzerland

After two centuries of neutrality, Switzerland found itself in a bizarre and unprecedented situation Friday, facing a would-be "holy war" announced by Libya's Moammar Gadhafi, the Associated Press reports.

The Swiss government declined to comment on Gadhafi's latest salvo in a simmering diplomatic saga stemming from the Geneva police's 2008 arrest and brief detainment of his son, Hannibal, and his wife for allegedly beating up their servants, AP reporter Bradley S. Klapper writes.

Although Gadhafi's jihad declaration late Thursday was widely viewed as a stunt by a leader given to outlandish behavior, the danger was difficult to dismiss in an era of Islamic-Western foment over issues ranging from headdress bans in Europe to faraway Middle East disputes, Iran's nuclear program and Nordic newspapers' caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad.

Analysts urged caution and Swiss citizens and politicians expressed alarm that a nation which managed to steer clear of direct involvement in the world wars and other bloody European conflicts was being dragged into an increasingly messy — if still nonviolent — conflict with an unpredictable government.

"You never know with crazies," nationalist lawmaker Oskar Freysinger told the AP. "I can imagine that this won't be taken very seriously. But nevertheless, it's the head of a state making a declaration of war against Switzerland."

There was no sign of a security alert, however, or heightened official vigilance.

Gadhafi called for the "holy war" ostensibly because of a recent Swiss referendum that banned the construction of new mosque minarets in the country. He also urged Muslims everywhere to boycott Swiss products and to bar the country's planes and ships from the airports or seaports of Muslim nations.

Many here saw the proclamation as another act of revenge. Hannibal was released after two days, but Tripoli retaliated by recalling diplomats from Switzerland, taking its money out of Swiss vaults, interrupting oil shipments to the neutral country and preventing two Swiss businessmen from leaving Libya.

One Swiss businessman was released this week after 19 months of detention, 69-year-old construction executive Rachid Hamdani. But 54-year-old Max Goeldi, an employee of the engineering firm ABB, remains in Libya.

Read the Associated Press story.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 4:09 PM | | Comments (10)

February 25, 2010

Ohio convert: Reconcilation with family not possible

More from Associated Press reporter Andrew Welsh-Huggins on the Rifqa Bary affair:

A teenage runaway who fled Ohio with the alleged help of Christian pastors, claiming she'd be harmed for converting from Islam to Christianity, says a reconciliation with her Muslim parents is no longer possible.

Efforts by Ohio and Florida courts to reunify Rifqa Bary with her family have failed and she continues to fear being hurt by her parents, according to a court filing by Bary's attorneys.

"Bary continues to refuse any contact with her parents and has made clear that she does not foresee a time when she will agree to have any contact with her parents," Bary's attorneys said in the Monday filing in Franklin County Juvenile Court.

Bary, 17, wants Judge Elizabeth Gill to rule that a reunion is impossible and that it's not in Bary's best interest to be returned to her native Sri Lanka. A hearing is scheduled for Tuesday.

Bary's parents, Mohamed and Aysha Bary, pulled out of a deal last month that would have included counseling as part of a reunion effort. The parents alleged that the county child welfare agency, which now has custody of the girl and which developed the reconciliation plan, was still allowing her to talk to the Florida pastor and his wife who sheltered Rifqa there.

Police in Columbus are investigating whether anyone broke the law helping Bary leave home for Florida in July.

Read the Associated Press story.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 6:30 AM | | Comments (7)

February 22, 2010

Campaign to close schools for Muslim holidays

Bash Pharoan brings his campaign for recognition of Muslim holidays in the Baltimore County Public Schools to a meeting Monday of the school board’s calendar committee.

The president of the Baltimore chapter of the Arab American Anti-Discrimination Committee issued an action alert over the weekend inviting supporters to the meeting:

The road towards recognition in a democracy is paved with hard work, persistence and community support. This is the 7th consecutive year that ADC Baltimore appeals the BCPS board of education for inclusion of the two Islamic holidays as school closing days, equal to the Jewish holidays. The school system closes on the Jewish holidays for religious reason and not a secular one. The calendar committee this year is the first stop in the making of school calendar. The committee members are educators and school supporters. They are members of the community and do respond to citizens requests. The school system needs to know that discrimination based on religious belief or national origin is wrong and is illegal. Your appearance Monday evening in support of granting the Islamic holidays as school closure days will be vital in the process of recognition.
Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:24 PM | | Comments (14)

February 20, 2010

Police probe minister who helped convert from Islam

I'm particularly pleased to post this Associated Press story, written as it was by old friend Andrew Welsh-Huggins, with whom I once traveled to Japan ...

An Ohio minister accused of driving a teenage runaway to a bus station last year has retained a lawyer as police say they're investigating whether anyone broke the law in helping the Christian convert leave home for Florida.

The minister, Brian Williams, is being represented by Michigan attorney Keith Corbett, the lawyer told The Associated Press on Friday.

"We're representing Mr. Williams in the event he's contacted by police authorities ... and asked to provide information," Corbett said.

The Columbus Police Department is investigating "any criminal wrongdoing with anyone involved in getting her from one location to another," Sgt. Rich Weiner said Friday.

The case has become a rallying point for Christian activists who say Rifqa Bary, a 17-year-old who comes from a Muslim family, is a victim of Muslim intolerance and Muslims who say the girl was exploited by outsiders. Scores of demonstrators siding with the girl rallied outside the Franklin County Court House in November.

Read the Associated Press story.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (14)

February 18, 2010

Guest post: Islamabad must reverse Islamization

Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American Certified Public Accountant from Potomac. He left his native Pakistan in 1972 and has been living in the United States since 1980.

The capture of throat-slitting murderer Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, enforcer of Sharia and all things Islam, is great news for the people of Pakistan and the war in Afghanistan.

His arrest in Karachi confirms that Pakistan’s religious institutions have become safe heavens for these murderers. It is only natural for a mullah to support a fellow mullah in distress.

Pakistan's civil society must rise and identify Taliban and other extremist murderers living behind the veil of religion.

The name of Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad – “the house of Islam” – was decided in early 1959, when there was no Sharia/ Hadood ordinance and not a single madrassa in Pakistan. Born as India's twin following British withdrawal from the Subcontinent, Pakistan was envisaged by its founding father Mohammad Ali Jinnah as a separate land for Muslims; a modern state with complete freedom of religion. He never envisioned a theocratic state.

However, America's war against the Soviets, financed in part by the newly oil-rich and theocratic Saudi Arabia, facilitated the imposition of Sharia laws by a military dictator.
It is no coincidence that Taliban leaders educated at Madrassas in Pakistan take the title of mullah and will always find a safe house in religious institutions scattered all over Pakistan.

The religious establishment derives its relevance from the Hadood ordinance, which promises to one day establish an Islamic caliphate under a mullah.

Continue reading "Guest post: Islamabad must reverse Islamization" »

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February 12, 2010

Image of Muhammad as pig sets off protest

Thousands marched through downtown Oslo on Friday to protest the publication of a caricature of the Prophet Muhammad by a Norwegian newspaper, the Associated Press reports.

The demonstrators chanted "God is great" in Arabic and waved placards calling for a boycott of the Dagbladet daily, according to the AP.

The protest followed the newspaper's publication last week of a photograph showing a man in front of a computer screen with a depiction of Muhammad as a pig. The picture accompanied an article that said users were posting offensive material about Muslims and Jews on the Facebook page of Norway's security police.

The item came nearly four years after the appearance of cartoons depicting the figure Muslims consider the last and greatest prophet in a Danish newspaper set off sometimes violent protests throughout the Islamic world.

Dagbladet's acting editor-in-chief, Lars Helle, told The Associated Press that he doesn't regret printing the offending image and that he welcomed Friday's protest.

"It was a test for Norwegian society — whether this would be a peaceful protest or not," Helle said.

He said Dagbladet has not received any direct threats since it published the caricature. A hacker attack originating from Turkey brought down the newspaper's Web site for two hours Wednesday evening, but Helle said it's unclear whether that attack was connected to the caricature.

Protesters said they wanted to show Norwegian media how hurtful such images are to Muslims. Islamic law generally opposes any depiction of the prophet, even favorable, for fear it could lead to idolatry.

"We have done nothing to anybody. We want to live here in peace. Norway is our home. Our children live here. Why should they (Norwegian media) hurt us like this?" said Naradim Muhammad, a 43-year-old school teacher who helped organize the demonstration.

The demonstration was peaceful, except for a firecracker that was apparently thrown by a protester onto a restaurant patio. It caused burn damage to a patio sofa, but nobody was injured. After the blast, organizers ordered the crowd to disperse, encouraging them to go home or to a local mosque to pray.

Read the Associated Press story.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:25 PM | | Comments (71)

February 11, 2010

Guest post: Religious law hinders Muslim countries

Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American Certified Public Accountant from Potomac. He left his native Pakistan in 1972 and has been living in the United States since 1980.

Infusing religion and nationalism can produce a people totally obsessed with their relgious identity. Many Muslim countries are suffering from the effects of this combination.

Religion of every denomination provides us hope and solace in moments of despair. However, whenever religion becomes the rallying cry of a nation’s system of government, it can easily become a tool for suppression of minorities and result in fascist states.

Imagine the United States and Europe declaring themselves Christian republics, with orthodox Christianity of the inquisition era enforced by the state. I think the Muslims of Europe and the United States, with populations of 37 million and more than 6 million, along with the Jews would find life a living hell.

The developed democracies and economies of Europe have experienced persecution under religion during the inquisition and learned from it. People were burned at the stake, thrown into burning oil and decapitated, all in the name of religion.

While the West has successfully reined in the power of religion after centuries of conflict and bloodshed by removing the state from the enforcement of religious beliefs, the Muslim world has been unable to accomplish this. Only Turkey has succeeded in some measure in its endeavor to join the common market.

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February 1, 2010

Autopsy: Detroit imam shot 20 times in FBI raid

A Muslim prayer leader accused of encouraging his followers to commit violence against the U.S. government was shot 20 times during an FBI raid at a suburban warehouse last fall, the Associated Press reports.

The autopsy was completed a month after Luqman Ameen Abdullah's death, but Dearborn police were granted a delay in releasing the results while they investigate the Oct. 28 shooting, said Dr. Carl Schmidt, Wayne County's chief medical examiner.

Abdullah, 53, died instantly, he said. The FBI says agents were trying to arrest Abdullah at a Dearborn warehouse when he resisted and fired a gun.

Schmidt said Abdullah's body was handcuffed and on the floor of a semitrailer when his investigator arrived at the shooting scene.

"You cannot tell by the gunshot wounds whether he was lying down, standing up, sitting" when he was shot, Schmidt told reporters. "It is impossible to say which one was the fatal gunshot wound. It was a combination of gunshot wounds."

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has demanded an independent investigation of the shooting.

“The shocking details of the imam’s autopsy raise a number of disturbing questions that need to be answered,” Dawud Walid, executive director of CAIR’s Michigan chapter, said in a statement over the weekend after a leak apparently suggested Abdullah had been shot 21 times.

“First of all, did the FBI agents follow established procedure when they shot the imam 21 times?" Walid asked. "How was the imam shot in the back? Was it proper procedure to handcuff either a dead body or a mortally-wounded suspect? If the agents found the imam alive following the shooting, did they call for medical assistance? All these questions need answers.”

FBI spokeswoman Sandra Berchtold said anyone subject to an arrest warrant is handcuffed "no matter what the circumstances" for the safety of agents and the public.

Read the Associated Press story.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 7:14 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Islam

January 25, 2010

French consider veil ban

A French parliamentary panel will recommend a ban on face-covering Muslim veils in public areas from hospitals to schools but will stop short of pressing for the garb to be outlawed in the street, the Associated Press reports.

The 32-member panel's report due Tuesday culminates a six-month inquiry into the wearing of all-encompassing veils that began after President Nicolas Sarkozy said in June that they are "not welcome" on French territory, AP reporter Elaine Ganley writes.

Andre Gerin, a Communist lawmaker who heads the multiparty panel, said the report contains a "multitude of proposals" to ban such garb in places like schools, hospitals and other public buildings, but not private buildings or on the street. He said the proposals would cover "domains that concern everyday society," a phrase that would seem to include public transportation, although he did not mention that specifically.

Gerin stressed the need to move "progressively" toward a law banning the attire in the streets and to work "hand in hand" with Muslim leaders and associations.

Critics of the veils call them a gateway to extremism, an insult to gender equality and an offense to France's secular system. A 2004 French law bans Muslim headscarves from classrooms.

Muslim religious leaders have warned that a law banning face-covering attire in the streets could stigmatize Muslims and drive some to extremism. They were joined last week by Roman Catholic and Jewish leaders who said they consider such a drastic step unnecessary.

France has Western Europe's largest Muslim population, estimated at some 5 million. Only a tiny minority of Muslim women wear such attire, usually a "niqab" pinned across the face to cover all but the eyes.

Read the Associated Press story.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 9:53 AM | | Comments (1)

January 23, 2010

Muslims, atheists praise removal of NT verses

The decision of a Michigan manufacturer to remove coded references to New Testament verses from the rifle sights that it sells to U.S Marines and Army for use in Iraq and Afghanistan is winning praise from Muslims and Atheists.

Trijicon, which has a $660 million contract to provide up to 800,000 sights to the Marines, has long inscribed its products with codes such as 2COR4:6, an apparent reference to a passage from the Second Letter of Paul to the Corinthians: "For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ"

Military officials said they were unaware of the inscriptions when they were revealed this week by ABC News.

"This is a serious concern to me and the other commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan," said Gen. David Petraeus, chief of U.S. Central Command. In a statement issued by CENTCOM, Petraeus said "cultural and religious sensitivities are important considerations in the conduct of military operations."

Trijicon announced that it would remove the codes.

American Atheists President Ed Buckner, who had warned that Islamic extremists could take advantage of what he called "a major blunder that seriously risks efforts to reach out to people in Muslim countries threatened by groups like the Taliban and al-Qaeda," praised the decision to remove them.

"By eliminating these 'Christian crusader' references, we are no longer handing al Qaeda and other Islamic religious fanatics a priceless propaganda vehicle," he said.

Added Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council for American-Islamic Relations: “This is a responsible move by Trijicon that will help reduce or eliminate a potential danger to our nation's military."

Kathleen Johnson, military director for American Atheists, wondered why this issue even came up.

Continue reading "Muslims, atheists praise removal of NT verses" »

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January 22, 2010

Muslims criticize Inhofe comments on profiling

Oklahoma Muslims want a meeting with their senator after he spoke in favor of profiling Muslims and Middle Easterners as a security measure.

“I for one, I know it’s not politically correct to say it, but I belief in racial and ethnic profiling,” Sen. James Inhofe, an Oklahoma Republican, said Thursday during a Senate Armed Service Committee review of the Fort Hood shootings. “I think if you’re looking at people getting on an airplane, and you have X amount of resources to get into it, you need to get at the targets. …

“When you hear that not all Middle Easterners or Muslims between the ages of 20 and 35 are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims or Middle Easterners between the ages of 20 and 35, that’s by and large true.”

The Oklahoma chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations called on Inhofe Friday to meet with representatives of the state’s Muslim community to discuss the comments. CAIR says FBI statistics who that the “vast majority” of terror attacks on American soil have not been committed by Muslims.

“It is disturbing to hear a member of the United States Senate suggest that entire religious and ethnic groups should automatically be considered terror suspects,” said Razi Hashmi, executive director of CAIR-OK. “Our nation’s leaders have a duty not to exacerbate the growing anti-Muslim sentiment in American society.

“By painting all Muslims and Middle Easterners as suspects, Senator Inhofe does a disservice to our nation and to its tradition of racial and religious diversity.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:29 PM | | Comments (12)

Firm to take Bible codes off rifle sights

A Michigan defense contractor will voluntarily stop stamping references to Bible verses on combat rifle sights made for the U.S. military, the Associated Press reports.

In a statement released Thursday, Trijicon of Wixom, Mich., says it is also providing to the armed forces free of charge modification kits to remove the Scripture citations from the telescoping sights already in use. Through multimillion dollar contracts, the Marine Corps and Army have bought more than 300,000 Trijicon sights.

The references to Bible passages raised concerns that the citations break a government rule that bars proselytizing by American troops in Afghanistan and Iraq, which are predominantly Muslim countries.

A spokesman for U.S. Central Command initially said the Trijicon sights didn't violate the ban and compared the citations on the sights to the "In God We Trust" inscription printed on U.S. currency.

On Thursday, however, Army Gen. David Petraeus, Central Command's top officer, called the practice "disturbing."

"This is a serious concern to me and the other commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan," Petraeus told an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington.

In a statement issued later by the command, Petraeus said that "cultural and religious sensitivities are important considerations in the conduct of military operations."

Read the Associated Press story.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 8:48 AM | | Comments (3)

January 21, 2010

Americans prejudiced most against Muslims

Americans are more than twice as likely to express prejudice against Muslims than they are against Christians, Jews or Buddhists, according to a report to be released Thursday by the Gallup World Religion Survey. While nearly two-thirds of Americans say they have little or no knowledge of Islam, a majority say they have an unfavorable view of the faith.

Associated Press religion writer Rachel Zoll breaks down the results:

Just over half of Americans said they felt no prejudice against Muslims. However, 43 percent acknowledged at least "a little" prejudice against Muslims, a significantly higher percentage than for the other four faiths in the survey.

About 18 percent of respondents said they had some level of prejudice against Christians, while the figure was 15 percent toward Jews and 14 percent toward Buddhists.

Asked about knowledge of Islam, 63 percent of Americans say they have "very little" or "none at all." A large majority of respondents believe most Muslims want peace. Yet, 53 percent of Americans say their opinion of the faith is "not too favorable" or "not favorable at all." By comparison, 25 percent of Americans say they have unfavorable views of Judaism, while 7 percent say they have "some" or "a great deal" of prejudice toward Jews.

Personally knowing a Muslim is not linked to a lower level of prejudice, although not knowing a Muslim is related to the greatest level of bias. The authors of the report say this finding underscores the need for better education on what Islam teaches.

"What really seems to impact one's perception of a group much more than knowing an individual is having a positive opinion of that group's distinguishing characteristic, which in this case is their faith," said Dalia Mogahed, senior analyst and executive director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. "That one person being nice enough could simply be explained as that person being an exception."

Respondents who say they attend religious services more than once a week are significantly more likely to have a favorable view of Muslims. Mogahed said people who are more religious generally consider prejudice a moral evil and often have respect for the devout of other faiths.

Researchers also found a link between prejudice against Jews and Muslims. Americans who acknowledged "a great deal" of bias toward Jews were much more likely to feel the same about Muslims. The survey results could not explain why the two prejudices are linked. Mogahed said bias against both groups should be tracked and studied together to understand the dynamic.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (1)

January 20, 2010

Clinton lifts ban against Muslim scholar

Muslim scholar Tariq Ramadan, a vocal critic of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, said Wednesday that the State Department has lifted a five-year ban that has prevented him from entering the United States.

"The decision brings to an end a dark period in American politics that saw security considerations invoked to block critical debate through a policy of exclusion and baseless allegation,” the Oxford University professor said in a statement published by Reuters.

"Under the Bush administration, academics and intellectuals were frequently excluded on the false pretext of security. Today's decision reflects the Obama administration's willingness to reopen the United States to the rest of the world, and to permit critical debate."

The Swiss-born Ramadan, a grandson of Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna, was to begin teaching at the University of Notre Dame in the fall of 2004 when the Department of Homeland Security revoked his visa. Officials cited a donation he made to the Swiss-based Association de Secours Palestinien, which the Bush administration said provided funds to Hamas.

Ramadan has said he was unaware of any connections between ASP and terrorism. In his statement, he said the reasons given for the ban "were nothing more than a pretence to prohibit me from speaking critically about American government policy on American soil."

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging his exclusion on behalf of the American Academy of Religion, the American Association of University Professors and the PEN American Center.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations said Wednesday that it welcomed the order signed by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to reverse the ban.

“We welcome this move by the Obama administration to permit a respected scholar and voice for religious moderation to enter our country,” CAIR Executive Director Nihad Awad said in a statement. “This is a step toward beginning to repair the damage to our image among Muslims worldwide.”

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 1:21 PM | | Comments (10)

January 19, 2010

Interfaith vigil against violence, for Haiti

Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders will lead an interfaith vigil next week against violence in the city, the Archdiocese of Baltimore announced.

The vigil, sponsored by the Baltimore Interfaith Coalition, will also include prayers and a collection for Haiti.

“Haiti is in the midst of what we call a natural disaster, but here in Baltimore, violence perpetuates what we could call an unnatural disaster,” Auxiliary Bishop Denis J. Madden, urban vicar of the Archdiocese of Baltimore and co-chair of the coalition, said in a statement. “Violence in Baltimore keeps our city from reaching its potential and limits our ability to focus on the poverty of places like Haiti.”

In a joint letter to area clergy this month, Madden and Bishop Douglas I. Miles of Koinonia Baptist Church, said “We have the opportunity to make a profound statement … that people of faith will not sit idly while violence destroys our neighborhoods.”

The Baltimore Interfaith Coalition, formed after a meeting last spring between local faith leaders and Police Commissioner Frederick H. Bealefeld III, has announced plans to “mobilize faith communities through joint service projects that promote healing and hope to those who are affected by violence.”

“This is the first time since the Civil Rights Movement that Baltimore has seen an interfaith movement of this scale,” Miles said.

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January 14, 2010

Bishops criticize Israel on Palestinians

A high-level delegation of Roman Catholic bishops has criticized Israeli policies in Arab sectors of Jerusalem and called for more contacts between ordinary Israelis and Palestinians, the Associated Press reports.

The group says violence, insecurity, home demolitions, the route of Israel's West Bank separation barrier and other policies threaten peace prospects.

The group of eight bishops from North America and Europe issued a statement at the end of its annual visit on Thursday. It says Israel's policies also endanger the dwindling Christian presence in the Holy Land.

The bishops called for the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel and said a lack of dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians undermines the hopes for peace.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 9:42 AM | | Comments (0)

January 12, 2010

Guest post: Sharia laws have become a weapon

Shaukat Malik is a Muslim-American Certified Public Accountant from Potomac. A native of Pakistan, he arrived in the United States in 1980.

We cannot name one country with Islamic laws that is a functioning democracy or a benchmark for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness except Turkey.

Muslim majority countries such as Pakistan have a history of thousands of years of customs and folklore shared with India that already plays havoc with the largely uneducated population in the rural areas. Unofficial patriarchal village juries made up of illiterate villagers will hand out and execute primitive punishments along the lines of a tooth for a tooth and an eye for an eye. Add to this outdated Islamic laws and punishments for, for example, adultery, blasphemy and women’s rights and you have created a living hell for women and minorities.

Because of the Islamization in Pakistan, carried out behind the veil of training Mujahedeen to fight the Soviet infidel, Pakistan has a large number of Madrassas and religious charities that share and support Saudi Arabia’s brand of Orthodox Islam. This was on display during the Lal-Masjid standoff against the Pakistan army in July 2007. These Madrassas and charities openly support the Taliban and al Qaida. It is interesting to note that a majority of the terrorists in prison have received their training in Pakistan.

The recent unrest in Malaysia over the use of the name “Allah” by Christians when referring to God has more to do with fear over losing members of the congregation to the Christian church than to Muslim sensibilities. Separate Sharia laws for Muslims, who make up 60 percent of the population, could open doors for al Qaida types to make inroads into Malaysia’s Muslim population.

The conflict in interpretation between the bible and the Quran over the holy trinity and the oneness of God as stated in the Quran is exploited by Muslim clerics to foment prejudice against Christians. It is clearly stated in the Quran that there is no compulsion in religion and that there must be complete freedom of religion. Muslims Jews and Christians are all children of Abraham and people of the book. A believing Muslim must submit to the will of God. It is God’s will that decides our religion at birth.

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Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (15)

January 10, 2010

Attacks on churches continue in Malaysia

Firebombs were thrown at two more churches in Malaysia early Sunday and another church was splashed with black paint, the latest in a series of assaults on Christian houses of worship following a court decision allowing non-Muslims to use "Allah" to refer to God, the Associated Press reports.

Hundreds of worshippers whose parish church was partly gutted in a firebomb attack last week gathered at a makeshift prayer hall for their Sunday service and called for national unity and an end to violence, AP reporter Eileen Ng writes.

On Sunday, a Molotov cocktail was hurled at the All Saints Church in Taiping town in central Perak state early in the morning before it had opened, said state police chief Zulkifli Abdullah. He told the AP that the building was not damaged but police found burn marks on the wall.

A broken kerosene bottle with an unlit wick was found early Sunday inside the compound of the St. Louis Catholic church, also in Taiping, said the Rev. David Lourdes. He said it appeared to be a failed attack.

In southern Malacca state, the outer wall of the Malacca Baptist Church was splashed with black paint, police said.

Four other churches were hit by gasoline bombs on Friday and Saturday. All except the Metro Tabernacle, whose parishioners moved their services, suffered little damage, and no one was hurt. The other three held normal services Sunday.

The unprecedented attacks have set off a wave of disquiet among Malaysia's minority Christians and strained their ties with the majority Malay Muslims.

The dispute is over a Dec. 31 High Court decision that overturned a government order banning non-Muslims from using the word "Allah" in their prayers and literature. The court was ruling on a petition by Malaysia's Roman Catholic Church, whose main publication, the Herald, uses the word "Allah" in its Malay-language edition. The government has appealed the verdict.

About 9 percent of Malaysia's 28 million people are Christian, most of whom are ethnic Chinese or Indian. Muslims make 60 percent of the population and most of them are ethnic Malays.

On Sunday, men, women and children from the Metro Tabernacle parish assembled in the cavernous, 1,800-seat meeting hall of the Malaysian Chinese Association party for the service. They lifted their hands and sang "We put all our faith in you," and "You are the God of love and peace" during the Sunday service.

"My wife was worried, but we want to be here to support the church," said Michael Chew, 40, who came to the service with two children, aged 1 and 6.

Continue reading "Attacks on churches continue in Malaysia" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 9:04 AM | | Comments (0)

January 8, 2010

Malaysian church firebombed amid 'Allah' flap

Attackers fire-bombed a Malaysian church and tried to set another ablaze Friday amid a growing conflict over the use of the word "Allah" by non-Muslims, the Associated Press reports.

The attacks sharply escalated tensions in the Muslim-majority country ahead of planned protests later Friday against a Kuala Lumpur High Court verdict which struck down a 3-year-old ban on non-Muslims using "Allah" in their literature, according to the AP.

The Dec. 31 court decision incensed many Muslims, who see it as a threat to their religion. Hateful comments and threats against Christians have been posted widely on the Internet, but this is the first time the controversy has turned destructive.

The ruling was on a petition by the Herald, the main publication of Malaysia's Roman Catholic Church, which uses the word Allah in its Malay-language edition.

Only the first floor office in the three-story Metro Tabernacle Church was destroyed in the pre-dawn blaze, said Kevin Ang, a spokesman for the Protestant church. The worship areas on the upper two floors were undamaged and there were no injuries.

He quoted a witness as saying she saw three or four men on a motorcycle break the main glass front of the church and throw a gasoline bomb inside. The church occupies a corner plot in a row of shops in Desa Melawati, a suburb of Kuala Lumpur.

Separately, a Molotov cocktail was thrown into the compound of a Roman Catholic church before dawn Friday but caused no damage or injuries, said the Rev. Lawrence Andrew, the editor of the Herald.

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Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 12:00 AM | | Comments (1)

January 5, 2010

Malaysia fights right of Catholics to call God 'Allah'

The government of Malaysia is fighting a court ruling that allowed non-Muslims to use the word Allah to refer to God, a decision that triggered protests in the Muslim-majority country, the Associated Press reports.

In an appeal filed Monday, the government says “Allah” is an Islamic word and implies that its use by others could be used to convert Muslims to other religions. “Allah,” an Arabic word, predates Islam and is used by Arabic-speaking Christians in places such as Egypt and Syria.

The Malaysian High Court ruled last month that a newspaper published by the Catholic Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur could use it as a name for God.

Subsequent protests by Muslim groups, although peaceful, have raised fears of friction between the Malay Muslim majority and the large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities, who mainly practice Christianity, Buddhism, and Hinduism.

Religious minorities and some moderate Muslims welcomed the High Court decision.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 10:57 AM | | Comments (3)

January 4, 2010

Muslim objections to new flight security measures

The Council on American-Islamic Relations is objecting to new measures announced by the Transportation Security Administration over the weekend that focus on flights from 13 Muslim-majority countries.

The move follows the attempt by a Muslim from Nigeria to blow up an airliner from Amsterdam as it landed in Detroit on Christmas Day.

The 14 nations on the list include four designated by the State Department as state sponsors of terrorism – Cuba, Iran, Sudan and Syria – and 10 additional “countries of interest:” Afghanistan, Algeria, Iraq, Lebanon, Libya, Nigeria, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and Yemen. Travelers from these countries will face automatic pat-downs and baggage searches before they are allowed to board a flight to the United States.

In a release on Monday, CAIR said the list discriminates unfairly against Muslims.

“Under these new guidelines, almost every American Muslim who travels to see family or friends or goes on pilgrimage to Mecca will automatically be singled out for special security checks -– that’s profiling,” CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad said in a statement. “While singling out travelers based on religion and national origin may make some people feel safer, it only serves to alienate and stigmatize Muslims and does nothing to improve airline security.”

“We all support effective security measures that will protect the travelling public from an attack such as that attempted on Christmas Day. But knee-jerk policies will not address this serious challenge to public safety.”

Awad suggested alternatives to what CAIR called “faith-based security checks:"

“First look at behavior, not at faith or skin color," he said. "Then spend what it takes to obtain more bomb-sniffing dogs, to install more sophisticated bomb-detection equipment and to train security personnel in identifying the behavior of real terror suspects.”

Continue reading "Muslim objections to new flight security measures" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 3:43 PM | | Comments (39)

January 2, 2010

Muslim, Hindu punks spark musical movement

The Associated Press has an interesting story on Taqwacore, a movement of Muslim and Hindu punk bands among the American children of Middle Eastern and South Asian immigrants.

Datelined Wayland, Mass, the story by Russell Contreras begins:

Artwork from the Punjab state of India decorates the Ray family home. A Johann Sebastian Bach statue sits on a piano. But in the basement — cluttered with wires, old concert fliers and drawings — 25-year-old Arjun Ray is fighting distortion from his electric guitar.

For this son of Indian immigrants, trained in classical violin and raised on traditional Punjab music, getting his three Pakistani-American bandmates in sync is the goal on this cold New England evening. Their band, The Kominas, is trying to record a punk rock version of the classic Bollywood song, "Choli Ke Peeche" (Behind the Blouse).

"Yeah," said Shahjehan Khan, 26, one of the band's guitarists, "there are a lot of contradictions going on here."

Deep in the woods of this colonial town boils a kind of revolutionary movement. From the basement of this middle-class home tucked in the woods west of Boston, The Kominas have helped launched a small, but growing, South Asian and Middle Eastern punk rock movement that is attracting children of Muslim and Hindu immigrants and drawing scorn from some traditional Muslims who say their political, hard-edged music is "haraam," or forbidden.

The movement, an anti-establishment subculture borne of religiously conservative communities, is the subject of two new films and a hot topic on social-networking sites.

The artists say they are just trying to reconcile issues such as life in America, women's rights and homosexuality with Islam and old East vs. West cultural clashes.

"This is one way to deal with my identity as an Arab-American," said Marwan Kamel, the 24-year-old lead guitarist in Chicago-based Al-Thawra. "With this music, I can express this confusion."

Continue reading "Muslim, Hindu punks spark musical movement" »

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 7:45 PM | | Comments (0)

Somali charged in attack on Muhammad cartoonist

A Somali man was charged Saturday with two counts of attempted murder for an attack on a Danish artist whose 2005 cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad ignited riots and outrage across the Muslim world, the Associated Press is reporting.

The 28-year-old Somali — who had ties to al-Qaida — broke into Kurt Westergaard's home in Aarhus on Friday night armed with an ax and a knife, said Jakob Scharf, head of Denmark's PET intelligence agency.

The 75-year-old artist, who has been the target of several death threats since depicting the Prophet Muhammad with a bomb-shaped turban, pressed an alarm and fled with his 5-year-old granddaughter to a specially made safe room.

Officers arrived two minutes later and tried to arrest the assailant, but then shot him in the hand and knee when he threatened them with the ax, said Preben Nielsen of the Aarhus police.

Nielsen said the man's wounds were serious but not life-threatening, and Westergaard was "quite shocked" by the attack but was not injured.

The Somali man denied the charges at a court hearing Saturday in Aarhus, Denmark's second largest city, 125 miles (200 kilometers) northwest of Copenhagen. Accompanied by a lawyer, he was wheeled into the court on a stretcher from the hospital where he was being treated.

Read the rest of the Associated Press story.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 10:48 AM | | Comments (0)

Haredi Jewish group visits Gaza

A small group of Haredi Jews were preparing Friday to celebrate the Jewish Sabbath in Gaza, in an unlikely show of support for Palestinians in the Hamas-run coastal territory, the Associated Press reports.

Bearded and wearing black hats and coats, the four members of a tiny Jewish group vehemently opposed to Israel's existence were a rare sight in the poverty-stricken Palestinian territory.

Members of the Neturei Karta group have expressed support for the Iranian regime and for others who oppose the Jewish state, which they believe was established in violation of Jewish law. They made a similar visit to Gaza last year.

"It's crucial that the people of Gaza understand the terrible tragedy here is not in the name of Judaism," said one of the men, Rabbi Yisroel Dovid Weiss of New York City, as the four prepared to observe the Sabbath at a Gaza City hotel.

Gaza is still recovering from Israel's devastating military offensive a year ago, which was aimed at halting rocket fire from the territory. Thirteen Israelis and almost 1,400 Gazans were killed in the three-week war.

The four men are American and Canadian citizens. Israel bans its citizens from visiting the blockaded territory. Weiss and his comrades entered Gaza through a border crossing with Egypt.

Neturei Karta, Aramaic for "Guardians of the City," was founded seven decades ago in Jerusalem by Jews who opposed the drive to establish the state of Israel, believing only the Messiah could do that.

Considered marginal even among Haredi Jews, the group's size is estimated at between a few hundred to a few thousand people.

Read the Associated Press story.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (0)

December 31, 2009

Malaysian Court: Catholics may call God 'Allah'

The High Court of Malaysia has ruled that a Catholic newspaper may use the word “Allah” and that a government order banning its use was illegal, null and void, The Star of Malaysia reports.

The court ruled on Thursday that the name “Allah” was not exclusive to Islam, The Star reports. Archbishop Tan Sri Murphy Pakiam, who as head of the Archdiocese of Kuala Lumpur is publisher of the weekly Catholic newspaper The Herald, had filed for a judicial review after the government banned its use outside of Islam.

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 10:56 AM | | Comments (0)

Top 10 local religion stories of 2009

In no particular order, as selected by the brain trust at In Good Faith world headquarters, and barring any unforeseen developments in the hours that remain. Comments?

Jewish Community Center opens on Saturdays, over objections of Orthodox community

Maryland priest becomes first lesbian Episcopal Bishop

Baltimore Hebrew University closes; reopens at Towson University

Muslims meet in Baltimore, denounce terror

Episcopal nuns join Catholic Church en masse

Catholic Diocese of Wilmington declares Bankruptcy

Death of Rabbi Mark Loeb

Towson Catholic High School closure surprises students, parents

Ecumenical Patriarch, head of Orthodox Christianity, visits Maryland

City Council passes first-in-nation regulations on faith-based crisis pregnancy centers

Atheists target Baltimore, ask: Are you good without God?

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 5:00 AM | | Comments (0)

December 29, 2009

Baltimore interfaith service Thursday

Historic St. Ignatius Church, just up the street from The Baltimore Sun, will hold its annual New Year's Eve interfaith service on Thursday.

Jews, Christians and Muslims will gather for the 17th annual service at 8:30 p.m. at the Catholic church at the corner of Calvert and Madison Streets.

The Right Rev. Eugene Taylor Sutton, bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Maryland, will deliver the sermon. Gov. Martin O'Malley and Mayor Sheila Dixon are expected to attend.

A musical program will begin at 8 p.m. A reception will follow the service. Tickets for the free event may be reserved calling 410-727-3848 or sending an email to

Posted by Matthew Hay Brown at 8:27 PM | | Comments (14)
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