Monthly Archives: March 2009

Islamic law protects Muslims from downturn

Islamic law protects Muslims from downturn – MarketWatch

Islamic law protects Muslims from downturn

Last update: 7:43 p.m. EDT March 30, 2009
SACRAMENTO, Mar 30, 2009 (UPI via COMTEX) — The U.S. economic downturn is taking less out of American Muslims who follow an Islamic law against paying or charging interest, observers note.
The Sacramento Bee reported Monday that as a group Muslims also have been somewhat protected because they are barred from investing in banks and mortgages, which have experienced a big hit in the marketplace.
“If everybody was Shariah-compliant, there would be no recession,” said Farouk Fakira, who moderated a discussion on Islamic finance at Sacramento’s Masjid Annur last week.
Shariah prohibits usury, which often took advantage of desperate people who needed to feed or protect their families, said Imam Muhammed Abdul Azeez of Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims. “There’s an element of exploitation here.”
About one-fifth of the Sacramento area’s 50,000 American Muslims follow Islamic rules of finance, said Irfan Haq, an economist and president of the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations.
“Muslims in general have been much less affected by the recession because they’re very cautious and conservative in matters of finance and take a longer-term view of life,” Haq was quoted as saying. “They want to invest their funds in a way that pleases God so they can sleep peacefully — they care about the afterlife.”

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Copyright 2009 by United Press International End of Story

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Poor Afghans fail to benefit from funding

Al Jazeera English – News

Poor Afghans fail to benefit from funding

Years of war and violent conflict has left many families in Afghanistan deeply disturbed by the reality of life in their country.

With security deteriorating and a massive loss of life, displacement and destruction have become the norm for many Afghans.

Al Jazeera’s Todd Baer has more from the capital, Kabul.

More from: AljazeeraEnglish

Israel’s hidden plans to take over Jerusalem

alJazeera Magazine – Israel’s hidden plans to take over Jerusalem

Israel’s hidden plans to take over Jerusalem
30/05/2007 06:12:00 PM GMT Comments (15) Add a comment Print E-mail to friend

By Amina Anderson

For 40 years, Israel has been trying to tighten its grip on Jerusalem and its holy sites. But using weapons only couldn’t help this plan. That’s why the Israelis decided to use concrete to achieve their target.

Since 1967, East Jerusalem has been occupied by the Israelis, who started building lives for themselves until today. As soon as the area was captured, the Israeli government devised plans to build neighborhoods to connect the Israeli enclave of Mount Scopus, which holds the Hebrew University and Hadassah Hospital, with Jewish populated west Jerusalem.

From the mid 1970’s until the 1980’s, Israel has been mainly concerned with building the Jewish neighborhoods of Neve Yaakov, Gilo and Ramot Allon in East Jerusalem. Israel also expanded the boundaries of East Jerusalem from two square miles to 27 square miles.

“The plan was very simple: to get hold of the area and to consolidate control over the area, creating urban facts,” said Meron Benvenisti, the deputy mayor of Jerusalem in the 1970s. “It was exactly like a military strategic plan to take hold of the high ground, empty land and build there.”

At the Jerusalem Institute Think Tank, Kimhi, the head researcher also said: “All those areas were looking over Jerusalem … all of them were army positions, so it was quite easy for the government to enter the shoes of the Jordanians that left and expropriate it”.

Israel expansion episodes continued. In the 1980s, the government started building a string of West Bank settlements just outside the Jerusalem, including the vast hilltop enclave of Maaleh Adumim, which created a ring around East Jerusalem.

Along the way, Israel refused to take any complaints regarding the violation of the international law, claiming that it’s working on an unoccupied land. Moreover, the Israelis were making sure that the original Arabs are allowed no building permits, which drove them out of the city.

As a final episode, Israel now resumes the journey they started 40 years ago. Settlement construction began again; extensions are being developed in Jewish neighborhoods in East Jerusalem and only the finishing touches remain for a police station in an area known as E1.

Apartments in the Muslim and Christian quarters of the old city are now being sold and major projects are being planned in other Arab areas.

“If you have Jewish life east of the Old City, obviously it’s going to make it harder to divide the city,” said Daniel Luria, a spokesman for the Ateret HaCohanim group, which settled 1200 Jews near East Jerusalem holy sites.

Even though Arabs face major difficulties in obtaining authorization for construction, “View of Zion” complex easily issued all the required papers. Now this complex is expected to hold 395 apartments, a hotel, shopping center and a sports club, where sales are already conducted to mostly Jews residing in the United States.

The project forced Arabs to build illegally risking evacuation and legal penalties every minute.

Despite the fact that many Israeli are claiming that this new complex would improve the neighborhood and that it is only intended for the overall wellbeing, Arab residents are concerned over another Israeli project that further disrupts their lives.

The Palestinians are being isolated by Israel’s towering concrete wall along the West Bank, which cut off tens of thousands of Jerusalem’s Arab residents. While the Israeli government is claiming that the Arabs are drawing the wrong conclusions, Palestinians remain skeptical about where they will end up if the Jewish community continues to grow in East Jerusalem.

Therefore, Palestinians remain helpless while the Jewish settlers take more steps to cement their control over the occupied territories.

“You get angry. But what can we do?” Mervat Zayeha, a Palestinian who resides in East Jerusalem, asked, looking at the construction. “It is not in our hands.”

Source: AJP

American Christians keeping the fast of Ramadan

alJazeera Magazine – American Christians keeping the fast of Ramadan

American Christians keeping the fast of Ramadan
14/09/2007 12:05:00 AM GMT Comments (125) Add a comment Print E-mail to friend

To our Muslim brothers and sisters everywhere:

All praise and thanks be to the one God whom we all worship, who has called you to worship Him after the manner of al-Islam, and us to worship Him according to the gospel of Jesus, whom both faith traditions hail as the Messiah: it is our deep wish that God strengthen you in your devotion to God, your love of God, and your trust in God during this month of Ramadan, and that everything that you do for His sake may be pleasing to Him.

We have joined you in keeping the fast of Ramadan this year, as a freewill offering to God accompanying our prayer for peace, justice, and a spirit of love to grow among the peoples of the Abrahamic religions.

It is our desire that all over the world, if God so wills, Muslim, Jew and Christian can learn to stand together in brotherhood in the sight of their Creator, and encourage one another in faithfulness and good deeds. But we are mourning many of the deeds of our government and our people, as they continue to involve themselves in the affairs of Islamic peoples, and the lives of Muslim detainees held at United States facilities, without sufficiently caring or understanding what they are doing to the people whose lives they affect.

To our sorrow, we see many American Christians trusting, supporting, and following policy-makers whose guiding principle seems to be “let us do evil, that good may come of it,” as if they did not know that our own scripture explicitly condemns it (Romans 3:8). In repenting our own complicity in this, we hope to lead our brother and sister Christians into repentance.

Our power to make the world’s leaders humble themselves, question their own behavior, and let their hearts be turned, seems very small. And yet we draw hope from our certainty that we are listened to by the true Ruler of this world, the Turner of Hearts, who sees everything and holds all power.

This month we curb our natural appetites during daylight hours to be more mindful of the One to whom we must return, the Highest, our Helper.

We perceive, sadly, that many American Christians lack understanding of what it means to be a Muslim. How better to change that than for some of us to join the Muslim world in its Ramadan fast?

We also hope that such self-restraint as we gain from the fast might help restore a spirit of self-restraint to the worldly culture of the industrialized nations, in however small a way, for on our learning self-restraint now seems to depend the saving of the world from ruin.

Advised by Jesus himself to fast privately and without open display (Matthew 6:16-18), we make ourselves available for responses to this communication but without identifying ourselves individually by name. May God comfort you, sustain you in hope, and bestow on you every blessing.

Ramadan Fasters of Christ
christsfasters@aol.com

Israel’s persecution of Christians

alJazeera Magazine – Israel’s persecution of Christians

Israel’s persecution of Christians
11/05/2008 10:44:00 AM GMT Comments (41) Add a comment Print E-mail to friend
Instead of Christian worshippers, armed Israeli soldiers crowded the entrance to the Church.

By Dr. Elias Akleh
Instead of Christian worshippers, armed Israeli soldiers crowded the entrance to the Church.

Greek Orthodox Christian celebrations of Saturday’s Holy Fire and Sunday’s Easter in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem late April were violated and spoiled by aggressive interruptions of Israeli army and police.

Instead of Christian worshippers, armed Israeli soldiers crowded the entrance to the Church. Instead of lighted candles, police batons were raised. Instead of musical bands playing their instruments, Israeli soldiers brandished their automatic weapons, and instead of celebrating, Palestinian Christians were confronted by Israeli police, were beaten, and many were arrested.

Since the early hours of the day hundreds of armed Israeli forces descended on the old city of Jerusalem, erected steel barriers closing its gates, established checkpoints within the city’s narrow streets leading to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, and installed closed captioned video cameras to monitor worshippers.

The Old City was, again, under occupation by Israeli military and police. Palestinian Christian worshippers from West Bank, from Gaza Strip, from 1948 occupied Palestinian cities, and even local Jerusalemite Palestinian Christians were denied access to the church of the Holy Sepulcher and to the St. Jacob Church to celebrate Easter.

They were told that they had to obtain a military permit in order pray in the church. Many Christian worshippers, who insisted on performing their religious rights free from any military restrictions as they had done throughout the many past generations, tried to force their way through the Israeli barriers, but were met with savage beating, with tear gassing, and with arrest.

The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate denounced the Israeli measures denying Christian
worshippers access to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Official spokesman to the
Patriarchate father Issa Misleh said the Patriarchate denounces the measures taken by the
Israeli security forces against Christian worshippers during Holy Saturday celebrations.

Father Misleh said, “The manner in which the Israeli police officers dealt with worshippers heading to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Greek Orthodox Monastery to perform religious duties has gone beyond limits. Thousands of worshippers where forbidden to walk in the streets of the old city and many of them, including women and elderly civilians, were physically assaulted.”

The Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III, himself, criticized the Israeli suppressive measures stating: “I refuse such actions against my congregation. The Greek Orthodox Church will cooperate with the rest of the Churches in joint action to put a stop to what happened today and to guarantee the Religious freedom for the people”.

Church officials explained that praying is the right of all the people and no one has the right to prevent worshippers from conducting their ritual and religious duties especially in the City of Jerusalem.

The following press release was issued by different local Christian organizations criticizing the measures taken by the Israeli forces during the religious celebration, where Christians were harassed, singled out and prevented from worshipping freely in violation of the “Status Quo Law” that has existed for hundreds of years to regulate the different religious celebrations

“The Laity Committee in the Holy Land/East Jerusalem

26 April 2008

Christians Harassed in Jerusalem during Orthodox Easter Celebrations

During the Orthodox Easter celebrations, Palestinian Christians were denied their right to worship freely in Jerusalem; they were not allowed to arrive to the Orthodox Patriarchate where celebrations normally take place, and they were not allowed to reach the St. Jacob Cathedral near the Christian Quarter of the Old City.

Since the early hours of the day, the Israeli police had set up barricades at the Gates of the Old City, and when Christian worshipers arrived the Israeli police started shouting at them and pushing them, and there was an incident when the police threw tear gas and beat the Christian worshipers with clubs.

It was obvious that Christians were singled out, compared to Jewish worshipers who arrive in hundreds of thousands to celebrate Pesach in Jerusalem.The number of Palestinian Christians who arrive to the Old City for Easter does not exceed two thousand persons, and this is a manageable number that can be accommodated.

Moreover, there is no need for the police to interfere anyway, because the celebrations have been going on smoothly throughout the years, and there has never been an incident of violence or damage that warrants the closure.

The worshipers were stunned to see that a statement had been circulated by the police and posted on the wall of the Patriarchate, saying that whomever wants to worship in St. Jacob Cathedral must have a permit. This is indeed a flagrant violation of the rights of Christians to worship freely, and what makes the violation more dramatic is that it took place in Jerusalem on a holy day.

The presence of Christians in Jerusalem’s Old City, and the celebration procedures, are part of a Law that has been in place since 300 years. That law, known as the Status Quo Agreement, regulates the celebrations, and according to that Law, Christians have the right to access the Patriarchate and St. Jacob Cathedral. Preventing worshipers from entering is a violation of the Status Quo Agreement.

Such violations by the police should stop. The steps taken against Christians are illegal. We call upon the Consulates, Embassies, Christian organizations, and human rights organizations, to intervene immediately, so the harassment of Christians in Jerusalem will stop.”

Religious freedom has been restricted by the Israeli military since its illegal occupation of the city. Jerusalem, a holy city for the three major religions has been off limit to the local Muslim as well as Christian Palestinians but not to Jewish Israelis.

Pictures of Muslim worshippers kneeling in prayer behind the Israeli military checkpoints have been widespread in media resources all over the globe. Christian worshippers have no better luck, unfortunately media does not capture their hardships except in the major Christian celebrations such as Easter and Christmas.

Christian Palestinian Jerusalemites suffer the most because Israel is adopting a silent policy of evacuating Jerusalem from its Christian citizens to make it a Jewish-only city.

While Muslim and Christian religious freedom is severely restricted by the Israeli government, Jewish Israelis are given the ultimate religious freedom to the point of intoxication.

Jewish Israeli worshippers are given free access to the narrow streets of the Old City. They rush through the streets chanting and dancing loudly without any respect to the feelings of the local citizens. They smash the goods of any open Palestinian shops. Palestinians learnt to close their shops and stick to their homes during such extravagant Jewish celebration. Israeli worshippers spend most of the day and night dancing and drinking alcohol and blatantly provoking Palestinian residents of the city.

Armed Israeli soldiers can also been seen during these Jewish religious celebrations. Yet their presence is not to secure order and peace, but to protect the tumultuous and mostly drunken extremist Jewish Israeli worshippers from any Palestinian reaction to their provocations and disturbances of peace.

Palestinian Jerusalemites had barely forgotten the insulting provocations of the religiously extremist Jewish Israelis and the harassment of Israeli forces a week before the Jewish celebration of their Passover. In contrast, Christian Palestinians are denied access to their holy places during one of their holiest day of the year.

The presence of hundreds of Israeli armed soldiers and police forces in the city is clear evidence that Jerusalem is an occupied Palestinian city. The Israeli claim of securing religious freedom to worship and to have easy access to the holy places for the followers of the three religions in the city of Jerusalem is a mere propaganda.

The suppressive measures of the Israeli forces against peaceful Christian worshippers during Easter are clear contradictions to this claim. These suppressive measures indicate a deliberate form of religious persecution that stems from the extremist religious ideology of God’s chosen people and the rejection of all others (Goyims).
Source: AJP

Holy Land lost

alJazeera Magazine – Holy Land lost

Holy Land lost
10/07/2008 02:02:00 PM GMT Comments (27) Add a comment Print E-mail to friend
As Israeli settlements grew, the Palestinians lost freedom of movement

By Dr. James Zogby

As Israeli settlements grew, the Palestinians lost freedom of movement

The very words “The Holy Land” evoke powerful images. But the pictures that come to mind are rapidly disappearing from the landscape.

The occupation of the West Bank, once a military and political reality that dominated the lives of Palestinians, has become concretized: with massive housing projects connected by ribbons of highways; a wall and barbed wire barrier wending its way from North to South, cutting through villages, encapsulating others; and hundreds of checkpoints – all overtaking and transforming the once open terrain.

Raja Shehadeh has described all this in vivid detail in his most recent book, “Palestinian Walks: Forays Into a Vanishing Landscape.” A hiker from a young age, Shehadeh tells his story in a novel way.

Detailing six walks he has taken in and around his home in Ramallah during the last 30 years, he invites his readers to witness the transformations that have occurred, that increasingly circumscribed his movements, and marred his beloved land.

In his early years, Shehadeh set out roaming the hillsides to discover the life his parents and grandparents lived. The hills of the West Bank, once described by Western travelers as desolate and barren, come to life in Shehadeh’s narrative.

Dry one season, yes, but in the spring they were covered with flowers and new life. Conforming to this rough environment, generations of Palestinian farmers adapted their lives to the seasons and mastered these hills, naming every spring, wadi and cliff, and cultivating olives, grapes and family plots.

It was the world they knew and the land they loved.

As they defined the land, it, too, defined them, shaping Palestinian culture and social relations for generations.

This is what Shehadeh saw, in the beginning. The cycle of life, at one with its environment, that had existed for millennia. It was the Holy Land we know from picture postcards, lithographs and biblical stories.

But it is being lost, and this is a tragedy – not only for the Palestinians, but especially for them.

“The biography of these hills is in many ways my own, the victories and failures of the struggle to save this land also mine. But the persistent pain at the failure of that struggle would in time be shared by Arabs, Jews, and lovers of nature anywhere in the world. All would grieve, as I have, at the continuing destruction of an exquisitely beautiful place.”

As the book progresses, the landscape changes, because of the ever-increasing intrusions of the occupation. Walks became more difficult and, in some cases, fraught with danger.

“The other day I had to plead with a soldier to be allowed to return home. I told him that I really did not know a curfew had been imposed on Ramallah. I was away all day and hadn’t listened to the news. ‘I’m tired,’ I said, ‘please let me through.’ Oh, the humiliation of pleading with a stranger for something so basic.”

“How unaware many trekkers around the world are of what a luxury it is to be able to walk in the land they love without anger, fear or insecurity, just to be able to walk without political arguments…without the fear of losing what they’ve come to love, without the anxiety that they will be deprived of the right to enjoy it.”

As settlements grew (there are now almost a half million Israelis living in settlements in these occupied lands), not only did Palestinians lose ancestral lands and agricultural areas, they also lost freedom of movement, their way of life, and their hope for the future.

“The [settlement] master plan viewed our presence here as a constraint and was aimed at preventing ‘undesirable development.’ By creating new human settlements where none existed, connecting them with roads and isolating existing ones, it would not only strangle our communities but also destroy this beautiful land, and in a matter of a few years change what had been preserved for centuries.”

Jerusalem, too, was impacted. At first, cut off from the rest of the West Bank by a ring of settlements and a maze of highways, and now by a meandering and oppressive wall, the heart has been excised from the rest Palestine. Both the city, itself, and its once surrounding communities have suffered. The impact has been economic, social, cultural, and psychological.

“As we descended toward East Jerusalem…I realized that the beautiful Dome of the Rock was no longer visible. It was concealed by new construction. This was by design. Not only had Israeli city planners obstructed the view of this familiar landmark – they had also constructed a wide highway along the periphery of Arab East Jerusalem, restricting its growth and separating it from the rest of the city. Highways are more effective barriers than walls in keeping neighborhoods apart. Walls can always be demolished. But once built, roads become a cruel reality that is more difficult to change…

“No visitor would now sigh, let alone fall on his knees as many a conqueror and pilgrim in the past had done, upon beholding the Old City nestled in the hills. Now contorted, full of obstructions, walls and ugly blocks, it is a tortured city that has lost its soul.”

There is much more to “Palestinian Walks.” Woven through the narrative are stories of the author’s family, and accounts of legal challenges to land confiscations (Shehadeh is a famed human rights lawyer.) This is not an explicitly political book, filled with diatribes and prescriptions. Nor it is a hopeful book.

“As our Palestinian world shrinks, that of the Israelis expands, with more settlements being built, destroying forever the wadis and cliffs, flattening hills, and transforming the precious land that many Palestinians will never know.”

But it is real, and it is disturbing, and deserves to be read by everyone who calls that land Holy.

— Dr. James Zogby is president of the Arab American Institute. For comments or information, contact James Zogby.

Source: Middle East Online

Wake up, Christians, or lose the Holy Land

alJazeera Magazine – Wake up, Christians, or lose the Holy Land

Wake up, Christians, or lose the Holy Land
30/03/2009 05:00:00 PM GMT Comments (51) Add a comment Print E-mail to friend
(smith.edu) Western Christendom doesn’t really give a damn about the Holy Land and its people.

By Stuart Littlewood

A British man recently applied to the Church of England to have his baptism into the Christian faith cancelled. Five months, he argued, was too young to decide his religious fate. Now 56, he’s against the indoctrination of children in any religion.

In Spain, I read that the mayor of El Borge has written to the local bishop asking for his baptism to be deleted and his name removed from Church records. He too considers baptism to be a dubious practice because of the age at which it is carried out. Other Spaniards are reported to want out of the Christian faith.

Logging off from the Church has crossed my mind also, but for different reasons. For me it’s the realisation that western Christendom doesn’t really give a damn about the Holy Land and its people, and couldn’t care less that it is being stolen by Zionists who are unwilling to live there in harmony with other faiths. These violent intruders want the entire place for themselves – exclusively – and they are willing to murder, pillage, destroy, ethnically cleanse, and stoop to all manner of inhuman crimes to snatch it, in the name of worldwide Jewry.

Most people in the West, including Christians in their leafy suburbs, turn a blind eye. They are possibly ignorant, but more likely they are misinformed by those who have a twisted view of the scriptures and now swell the ranks of Zionist sympathisers while still posing as devout Christians. The hang out in groups like Christian Friends of Israel and Anglican Friends of Israel, which are part of the wider Friends of Israel network that has its stooges embedded at all levels in our political, business, religious and social fabric.

The Holy Land is at the very centre of the Christian Church’s teachings. It is Christianity’s raison d’être. The Catholic Church at least keeps a considerable presence there, serving Christian and Muslim alike, and resists as best it can Israel’s continual encroachments on its freedom. The dozen or so patriarchs and heads of Christian churches in Jerusalem also speak out strongly from time to time.

But few people in the West seem to realise how seriously Israel’s notorious ‘administrative’ controls disrupt the life and work of the Church. How many are aware that no Muslim or Palestinian Christian living outside Jerusalem is allowed to visit the Holy Places in the Old City? This goes for priests, too, although the Israeli military may, when it suits their mood, grant permits restricted to certain entry points and limiting the duration of stay. These bully-boy tactics make pastoral work a nightmare and participation at major religious occasions well-nigh impossible.

The freedom of the Church was set out in the Fundamental Agreement between the Holy See and the State of Israel in 1993 (but never ratified by the Knesset, I’m told). Buried deep within this document is the clause: The State of Israel recognizes the right of the Catholic Church to carry out its religious, moral, educational and charitable functions, and to have its own institutions, and to train, appoint and deploy its own personnel in the said institutions or for the said functions to these ends.

It turns out to be another worthless promise from a regime that ignores countless UN resolutions, disregards International Court of Justice rulings, is contemptuous of human rights and Geneva Conventions, yet claims to be a western-style liberal democracy sharing our values.

Last week the Israeli authorities deployed police reinforcements to prevent the Palestinians from holding cultural events in East Jerusalem to mark the city’s designation as the 2009 “capital of Arab culture”. East Jerusalem, as everyone knows, is officially Palestinian territory and includes the Old City. Palestinians naturally regard it as the capital of their future state; but the Israelis – unlawfully – claim it is their “eternal and undivided capital”. They intend to make their cruel grip on it permanent.

Criticise Israel in the US and you’ll lose your job. Criticise Israel in the UK and the Jewish establishment and their quasi-Christian friends hurl accusations of anti-semitism. Dare to support the victims of Israeli aggression and you’ll get banned by the freaky Canadian government and vilified, like George Galloway.

The Israelis’ game is clearly to hinder and paralyse Christianity in the Holy Land. It is a process that has been going on for a very long time. When Palestine was under British mandate, Christians accounted for 20 per cent of the population. Sixty-one years of hostilities, dispossession, interference and economic ruination have whittled their numbers down to less than 2 per cent. At this rate there will soon be no Christians left in the land where Christianity was born.

And what is the head of our Anglican Church doing? Last November, while Israel was meticulously planning its blitzkrieg against Gaza’s civilians (including the Christian community) and their democratically elected government, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, joined the Chief Rabbi, Sir Jonathan Sacks, in a visit to the former Nazi camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland to demonstrate their joint solidarity against the extremes of hostility and genocide.

“This is a pilgrimage not to a holy place but to a place of utter profanity – a place where the name of God was profaned because the image of God in human beings was abused and disfigured,” said the Archbishop. “How shall we be able to read the signs of the times, the indications that evil is gathering force once again and societies are slipping towards the same collective corruption and moral sickness that made the Shoah possible?”

The signs are there to plainly see, Dr Williams. Evil has indeed gathered its forces again and, as you surely noticed, certain societies have already slipped into the moral cesspit. Look no further than the hell-hole that the Holy Land has been turned into by the Israeli occupation.

So when can we expect a pilgrimage by the Archbishop and the Chief Rabbi to sniff the stench of profanity in the Gaza Strip? And what do they have to say about the relentless theft and judaisation of Jerusalem, I wonder?

Back in the days of the Crusades the Archbishops of Canterbury included Christian men of action like Baldwin and Hubert Walter, who donned armour and took up their sword to fight the good fight (as they saw it) for their belief in the Holy City and what it stood for. Times are different now, but unless the Western Church shows firmer leadership and more grit it will lose the Holy Land and more of its followers will renounce their baptism.

— Stuart Littlewood is author of the book Radio Free Palestine, which tells the plight of the Palestinians under occupation.
Source: Middle East Online

Obama and the empire

alJazeera Magazine – Obama and the empire

Obama and the empire
31/03/2009 11:59:00 AM GMT Comments (12) Add a comment Print E-mail to friend
(AFP) Obama has by now clearly shown that he does not want to be the American leader who loses the American empire.

By Bill Christison

Various people have asked recently, “What are the implications of the global economic crisis for U.S. policies in the Middle East, and will Middle East countries lean more or less toward the U.S. as they suffer their own economic crises?” Not simple questions, but here, presented very briefly, are our first shots at them.

Let’s start by discussing what U.S. policies affecting the Middle East may emerge in coming months. A preliminary point that is necessary to make is that present policies inherited from the Bush administration are a mess. Practically everyone of every nationality who lives in the Middle East — and elsewhere for that matter — believes that the economic crises now moving in on the world were largely caused by the U.S.’s own extreme version of capitalism with its massive emphasis on privatization and on elimination of regulations that might have provided some protections for ordinary people.

At the minimum, there are widespread feelings of Shadenfreude over the pain the U.S. is now suffering, and at a political level there is intense dislike of the U.S. for policies that are seen, correctly, as arising from U.S. and Israeli colonialism and empire-building and that are blamed for the economic woes and inequalities now affecting nations everywhere.

There are two major scenarios of how U.S. Middle East policies may develop in the next year or so. Even now, no one knows enough about President Obama to know which scenario or variation on it might be likely. Increasingly, though, it appears that in foreign affairs, he is not going to change very much. We hope this is wrong. At least on the central issue of Palestine-Israel, Obama made it clear from the start of his campaign, well before the election, that he will support the right-wing elements of the Israel lobby led by AIPAC. But there still is the question of how strong his support will be.

The first scenario is that Obama will just bumble along, changing as little as he can get away with from Bush’s policies, except for clearing away some of the roughest edges of Bush policies on torture. Obama is expanding the war in Afghanistan and continuing the war in Iraq longer than he said he would. Under this scenario, he will try to keep talking as long as possible over Iran and try to avoid fighting. He will try to keep supporting a civilian government in Pakistan, but would not really oppose a return to military dictatorship in that country, if Pakistan would continue supporting his Afghanistan and Iran policies.

That’s the first scenario. Although its support for empire and colonialism makes it an undesirable scenario, at least Obama would be trying to avoid a major war.

The second, much more militaristic scenario is far worse, possibly involving more wars, but it describes what Obama’s policies in the Middle East may well turn into as the remaining months of 2009 pass by.

Right now Obama is faced with domestic economic difficulties greater than he would have thought, during most of his campaign, could conceivably happen as rapidly as they did. But he is also faced with a military-industrial complex that is now pushing for ever larger military expenditures and more aggressive foreign policies, among other things as a way to help solve U.S. economic difficulties. In addition to this, Obama is faced with the prospect of an Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu that is even more right-wing than the present one, supported by that portion of the Israel lobby led by AIPAC.

This part of the lobby is probably the strongest ally of the military-industrial complex in supporting more wars and more aggressiveness in U.S. Middle East policies. Obama showed his support for the lobby throughout his campaign and, most recently, did nothing to oppose the lobby’s successful trashing of Charles Freeman, a fine candidate for a senior intelligence position whom the lobby charged with being anti-Israel. Since a majority of U.S. voters generally support Israel without thinking much about it, the disorganized justice and peace movement in the United States is not very effective in opposing either the military-industrial complex or the right-wing Israel lobby.

Obama has by now clearly shown that he does not want to be the American leader who loses the American empire. In general, most European governments, most of the Arab governments, and the Japanese government as well, will not oppose him. Public opinion in these countries, in contrast to the governments, will be somewhat stronger in opposing U.S. policies of empire, but it is doubtful that the publics in these countries will be able to accomplish very much.

So the conclusion that one comes to if this second scenario turns out to be true is that we are facing a very dangerous period in world history. There are indeed forces in both the United States and Israel that want a clash of civilizations and are definitely not against further wars, and these forces are powerful. Obviously, the first nation to be affected by implementation of this scenario would be Iran. At this point it is impossible to know whether Obama will want to, or be able to, prevent these forces from dominating future U.S. policies throughout the Middle East.

— Bill Christison was a senior official of the CIA. He served as a National Intelligence officer and as director of the CIA’s Office of Regional and Political Analysis. Kathleen Christison is a former CIA political analyst. She is the author of Perceptions of Palestine and The Wound of Dispossession. This article appeared in CounterPunch.org.

Violence by Sabarmati Jail authorities against Muslim inmates

Violence by Sabarmati Jail authorities against Muslim inmates | TwoCircles.net

Violence by Sabarmati Jail authorities against Muslim inmates
Submitted by admin on 30 March 2009 – 9:38pm.

* Crime/Terrorism
* Indian Muslim

By TwoCircles.net staff reporter

New Delhi: Following complaints of torture and ill-treatment a PIL was filed on March 23rd in Gujarat High Court for the removal of the Jail Superintendent of Sabarmati Central Jail, V. Chandrashekar. Sabarmati Jail houses many of the accused under POTA and for serial blasts case. Their situation got only worse after the filing of Public Interest Litigation (PIL).

On March 24th, Chandrashekar went on leave and instead of his deputy taking the change, government appoints R.J. Pargi in his place. On the same day, Pargi takes charge of the jail and according to the inmates stated that he is there to teach them a lesson.

Chronology of events:

March 25, 2009

At around 10 in the Morning:

A PIL was filed in The High Court of Gujarat regarding immediate transfer of jail superintendent V. Chandrashekar and appointment of a court commission to inquire the allegations of atrocities committed by him.

At around same time:

Trouble erupted when an inmate Yunus Sareswala was not allowed to meet his ailing mother. There were some skirmish between Sareswala plus 3-4 people and jailor incharge and the other guards. Cross complaints had been filed against each other.

Later in the noon:

The POTA accused went on hunger strike demanding immediate removal of the Superintendent. They also wanted that the jail be governed as per the Jail Manual.

In Evening:

Convicted prisoners and undertrial prisoners in serial blasts joined the hunger strike along with POTA accused.

March 26, 2009

The POTA court upon immediate representation by various lawyers against the atrocities sent the public prosecutor, 3 medical doctors, and a defense lawyer inside the jail to do the panchnama. The order on the panchnama is pending till date.

Yunus Sareswala and Saiyed Mohmmad Juned and some other prisoner were severely beaten up by the police inside jail premises.

Hunger strike joined by almost whole jail (more than 70%). Police personnel from different part of the city were called upon and 100s of prisoners were beaten up for going on hunger strike.

March 27, 2009

Hunger strike entered the third day.

Mohmmad Juned taken out from the jail for medical treatment. In the Civil Hospital, he files an F.I.R. against 3 jailors alleging torture.

Relatives were not allowed to meet with the accused (jail visit).

Meanwhile Haji Faruk usman Gani give application to designated POTA court vide Outward No. 1112 stating fear that they will be targeted and killed by/ through police by some or other reason

In the Afternoon:

A “whistle-blowing” episode happened in Central Jail at around 5 in the evening when they are performing “Asr Namaz”. Many prisoners were beaten up severely especially the accused in serial blasts case. They were pinpointed and trashed. Several POTA accused were also beaten up like Shanawaz Gandhi, Yunus Sareswala, Mohmmad Juned, Javed Siddiqui, Zahid Khan, Haji Faruk, Usman Gani, etc.

No medical treatment was given to the injured. Some doctors from Civil Hospital were called but that was too little and too late. Also the Sabarmati Jail lacks medical facilities.

Late evening:

“10 number Kholi” – the place were most of the POTA accused were living was vacated. All the prisoner of that place were shifted in other barracks. They were not allowed to carry any of their belongings.

All the prisoners who were on the hunger strike were beaten up again. This time the beating was done by crime branch officials and other police personnel. Main victims were the accused in the serial blasts case and POTA

March 28, 2009

Prisoners are still on the hunger strike.

Family member had tendered an application as they were not allowed to meet concern undertrial prisoners.

On Saturday Jail authorities and prison IG rejected the application stating the reason that on Saturdays only advocate are allow for interview with the accused.

Advocates tendered an application at 3:45 pm to have legal interview with so called accused (POTA & undertrial prisoners). Request was granted for some i.e. they allowed interview with POTA accused from 5:30 to 6:00 and rest were rejected stating reason that they are on hunger strike. At around 6:00 pm advocates on records make oral submission in respect to rejected application to meet the Jail Superintendent. But one reason or another, they lingered till 6:30 pm and at last they said that Jail Superintendent is busy doing rounds for inspection and hence could not meet them.

Advocate who meet the POTA accused, get information that the incident that took place is the part of conspiracy by the Jail authorities & others and right now they are under great fear that some of them might be killed or ill-treatment (especially bomb blasts case accused).

It was suggested by the advocates here that there are other accused in 9 other states who are also accused in the serial blast case. It should be taken care of that they are not brought here and the accused here should be transferred to some other better jail where there safety and security can be taken care of.

March 29, 2009
No one is allowed to meet the inmates.

March 30, 2009
Situation is not much different. According to local civil rights activists, inmates are still not allowed to meet there family members and advocates.

Kodnani arrest: A ray of hope for justice in Gujarat

Kodnani arrest: A ray of hope for justice in Gujarat | TwoCircles.net

Kodnani arrest: A ray of hope for justice in Gujarat
Submitted by admin4 on 30 March 2009 – 8:16pm.

* Indian Muslim

Arrest of Kodnani shows wheels of justice have started moving in right direction in Gujarat; may act as a deterrence to prevent repeat of 2002; say activists.

By TwoCircles.net special correspondent,

Ahmedabad: With the arrest of Maya Kodnani, a former minister in Narendra Modi’s cabinet and Vishwa Hindu Parishad leader Jaydeep Patel following cancellation of their anticipatory bail by the Gujarat High Court on March 27, human rights groups, political activists and legal luminaries feel that the wheels of justice have now started moving in the right direction in the state.

Former physics professor and well-known human rights activist J S Bandukwala talking to TwoCircles.net on this issue said that Indian society has to recognize that there is no difference between Pakistani terrorist Ajmal Kasab involved in November 2008 Mumbai killings and Kodnani as well as Patel accused of mass carnage of Muslims in Naroda Gam and Naroda Patiya cases on the outskirts of Ahmedabad during anti-Muslim communal riots in February-March 2002.

“But the sad point is that Kodnani and Patel escaped justice for seven years because of protection from the Sangh Parivar and the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party in the state”, he says.

While Kodnani is reported to be close to BJP’s prime ministerial candidate L K Advani as both happen to be Sindhi migrants from Pakistan, Patel is known for his proximity to Modi. Like Patel, 53-year-old Kodnani has deep RSS roots as she was actively associated with Rashtriya Sevika Samiti, women’s wing of the RSS, since the time she joined the Baroda Medical College from where she did her MBBS and Diploma in Gynaecology and Obstetrics.

“The only way to prevent the repeat of 2002 is to punish the principal figures involved in those riots as we can see currently in UP Varun Gandhi is being deliberately built up by BJP to polarize society to gather votes’’, opined Bandukwala saying they are totally unconcerned about damage Varun’s hate speech can cause to the society.

“Our difficulty is that in the last 60 years we have not taken action against political leaders who preach hatred against a community or caste”, he pointed out. And this, according to Bandukwala, has encouraged the likes of Bal Thackeray and his family in Maharashtra and people like Narendra Modi in Gujarat and Varun Gandhi in UP to continue with their hate-mongering.

“As Modi’s political stature shot up after he engineered 2002 mass carnage and also went scotfree, Varun Gandhi wants to repeat it in UP for rise in UP as well as in national politics”, he pointed out.

“But once the law takes a firm stand and Kodnani is sentenced to death, it will completely discourage future rabble rousers”, Bandukwala hoped.

Welcoming the high court order, Vadodara-based Munir Khairuwala of Gujarat unit of All India Milli Council told TwoCircles.net that the arrest of Jaydeep Patel, a former state unit secretary of VHP had established the involvement of VHP and Sangh Parivar in 2002 riots.

“After the SIT declared Kodnani absconder, she should have been dropped from the cabinet by Modi but the latter allowed her to continue in violation of all democratic norms and conventions”, said Khairuwala. Kodnani and Patel were declared absconder on February 2 after they did not go to SIT for giving their statements despite summons issued to them. On February 5, they procured anticipatory bail from Additional Sessions Court in Ahmedabad. Gujarat High Court on March 27th canceled the sessions court order. Kodnani resigned before surrendering to the SIT set up by the Supreme Court.

Stating that the high court order would strengthen the faith of people in rule of law and judiciary, former Director General of Police R B Sreekumar, who was punished by Modi for speaking against him as chief of state intelligence bureau, hoped the SIT would bring out the larger conspiracy behind mass killings in other riot cases as well like Kidiyad, Gulberg Society and Ode and bring to book the real conspirators who designed and perpetrated genocidal crimes.

Stating that the arrest of only Kodnani from the ruling party would have limited effect, Sreekumar said that the arrest of real planners of the riots along with the collaborators in bureaucracy and police was a must for a long term solution to genocidal crimes in the country. His views were supported by senior Congress leader Arjun Modhjwadia who said that 2002 carnage was orchestrated by Narendra Modi and his colleagues and monitored by officials in Chief Minister’s office.

“So what SIT has done so far is just a tip of the iceberg and it still has a lot to do to detect the politically more influential accused and bring them to justice”, remarked Modhwadia.

Senior advocate and Jan Sangharsh Manch representative Mukul Snha, commenting on the development, said the high court ruling had only vindicated their seven year old allegation that post-Godhra violence was not a spontaneous reaction but an organized killing. In fact, the high court order has equated the Naroda Patiya and Naroda Gam killings with terrorism.

Sinha said that the judgment has opened up possibility of further investigation into larger conspiracy as to who organized and executed statewide violence.

“The buck should not stop at Kodnani or Jaydeep Patel but it must go deeper”, he demanded.

The high court order, he said, also proved that Nanavati commission appointed by the state government had not told the truth and hence, it must be disbanded immediately.

Mumbai-based activist Teesta Setalvad of Citizens for Justice and Peace, who played the chief role in getting SIT appointed by moving the apex court, sees a ray of hope for justice for Gujarat victims of 2002 carnage in the arrest of Kodnani.

“I hope the SIT probe will go further and deeper, nail more politicians and ministers who were involved in 2002 mass killings of Muslims”, she says.

She said that the Gujarat government had removed the name of powerful accused from the complaints and also influenced the judiciary in the state.

“The Best Bakery and Bilqisbano cases show that if trial is conducted independently result will be different”, she said, adding that the accused in the two cases were punished after their trial in Mumbai.

The judiciary in Gujarat had acquitted all the accused in the Best Bakery case in which 14 people had been burnt alive.

However, the government spokesperson and a minister in Modi’s cabinet Jay Narayan Vyas said that the high court order could not be seen as court holding Kodnani guilty. He said that high court’s decision was a mere legal procedure.

[Photo: The Hindu]

AMU MBA Student Ahmad Faraz awarded by TCS

AMU MBA Student Ahmad Faraz awarded by TCS | TwoCircles.net

AMU MBA Student Ahmad Faraz awarded by TCS
Submitted by admin4 on 30 March 2009 – 10:18am.

* Indian Muslim

By TwoCircles.net news desk,

New Delhi: Ahmad Faraz, an MBA first year student of Aligargh Muslim University AMU, has been awarded with “TCS Smart Manager Award”. As part of the award he wins a cash prize of Rs 25 thousand.

It is notable that Tata Consultancy Services invites students of management institutes from all over India to participate online in a “Case Study Contest” where in a business problem is given to them and they are asked to provide practical solutions to challenging business problems.

The students in large numbers from institutes such as IIMs, IITs, NITIE, NMIMS and etc. participate in the contest but only one gets the award.

TCS had advertised a case contest which was on a retail organization facing terrorist attack. Faraz had sent an analysis and solution for that one month back and has been awarded now.

Noteworthy, TCS contest has importance because it includes higher qualified personalities of the country such as NR Naryan Murthy, the chief Mentor of Infosys Technologies, Nitin nohria, the Associate Dean of Harvard Business School, S. Ramodarai, the CEO and M.D. Tata Consultancy Services, Omkar Goswami, the Founder and Chairperson of CERG advisory and Gita Piramal, the India’s foremost business writer.

Prof. Javaid Akhter the chairman of the department of Business Administration, Aligarh Muslim University congratulated Ahmad Faraz calling it as proud moment for all AMU members.

Sacramento Muslims try their hand at matchmaking

Sacramento Muslims try their hand at matchmaking – Sacramento News – Local and Breaking Sacramento News | Sacramento Bee

By Jennifer Garza
jgarza@sacbee.com
Published: Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008 – 12:00 am | Page 3B
Last Modified: Tuesday, Dec. 9, 2008 – 10:00 am

The meeting was well into its second hour when Tamir Sukkary let out a loud sigh, put his head in his hands and asked about chaperones.

Should we have them?

He knew this was a sensitive subject for some Muslims.

“Mahram? Of course,” answered one man, an outspoken member of the committee.

After a 40-minute discussion the Matrimonial Singles Task Force unanimously voted to encourage guests to have chaperones for its Jan. 24 mixer for single Muslims.

Because it is the group’s first event, members decided prudence is best. “It is important to be careful,” said Sukkary.

The Matrimonial Singles Task Force at Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims, or SALAM, is believed to be the first of its kind in Northern California, and it is getting a lot of attention within the Sacramento Muslim community.

The goal of the group, which is made up of men and women, married and unmarried, is clear: Help devout Muslims find suitable mates.

It is not a dating service. “The goal is to find a spouse,” said Imam Mohamed Abdul Azeez, spiritual leader of SALAM.

The task force is taking every step to make sure Islamic principles are followed. Still, Azeez knows some Muslims do not approve. One local imam confiscated fliers for the singles mixer posted at his Sacramento mosque.

Azeez is determined. “We have to do something. The problem is widespread and it is serious,” said the imam. “All of the mosques in the area have failed in providing our people with an important but basic service – helping couples get married.”

Sukkary, 36, who teaches political science at American River College, is on the committee and is looking for a wife.

“It is hard for Muslims to meet, partly because there’s not enough lawful (halal) venues to connect single Muslims,” said Sukkary. “This service could really help.”

Practicing Muslims do not date. Traditionally, devout men and women meet spouses through friends and family. Chaperoned meetings are arranged. If the couple hits it off, an engagement ensues. If not, the prospective bride or groom go their separate ways.

In recent years, meeting potential mates has become more challenging, Azeez said.

That is because men and women have little, if any, interaction with the opposite sex. Growing up, Muslim boys are taught, as a sign of respect, never to approach a Muslim girl. That separation continues when they become adults. At many mosques, men and women must enter through separate doors to worship.

At next month’s mixer, organizers have planned every detail, including seating arrangements where men and women sit at the same table, how they will stand together in line at the buffet, and how workshops and games will steer the discussion to marriage.

In countries with large Muslim populations, meeting marital candidates is not a problem. It is more difficult in the United States because there are fewer Muslims and because many U.S.-born Muslims choose to find their own mates.

Those following the traditional route have a harder time.

Shemeem Khan is looking for a devout young woman for her son. She has asked friends of friends for help, but many of them are looking for spouses for their own children.

“I didn’t know how difficult it would be,” said Khan.

It has been more than a year since her son, a California Highway Patrol officer, told her that he was ready to get married. He is looking for potential mates, but it is customary to ask parents to help in the search.

Khan began approaching strangers at mosque. “Do you know of any young girls looking to get married?” she’d ask.

“There is definitely a need for this. People tell me all the time that they’re looking for someone, too,” she said.

Singles interested in the matchmaking service pay $50 and fill out a three-page application that covers cultural background (country of birth), education and lifestyle interests.

Religious practices are also asked: Do you pray? Wear a hijab, or head scarf?

A section for spousal criteria asks about such things as employment status and preferred nationalities.

“We wanted to be as thorough as possible,” said Khan.

The Matrimonial Task Singles Force reviews the applications and pairs them with ones they think will match.

The group started accepting applications a couple of months ago. So far, no matches have been made.

“We are hoping there will be one soon,” said Khan, who hopes that the group’s success rate will improve once it receives more applications.

Ming Ma filled out a form. She also plans to attend the upcoming singles event.

Ma, 28, is a Sacramento pharmacist who said she has always put her career at the forefront. She is now actively looking for a spouse.

Her mother is also helping in her search. They don’t always agree on what’s most important in a spouse.

“Our standards are clashing,” said Ma, who begins laughing. “For my parents, the priority is education, but that’s not as important to me.”

There is one criterion that her future spouse must meet.

“I’m looking for a practicing Muslim,” said Ma. “Someone whose faith is important to him. That’s why I’m doing all this.”

Islamic school thrives in Sacramento Part 2

Islamic school thrives in Sacramento – Sacramento News – Local and Breaking Sacramento News | Sacramento Bee

Islamic school thrives in Sacramento
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By Jennifer Garza
jgarza@sacbee.com
Published: Friday, Mar. 13, 2009 – 12:00 am | Page 6B

“Our parents are really the backbone of the school,” said Wardany.

One-of-a-kind education

Gihad Silmi volunteers in the classroom twice a week. Two years ago, her family moved from Willows near Chico so their son Hussein, 13, could attend the school.

“No other school offers this kind of education,” said Silmi. She said she worried about the problems her son could face at a public school as he got older. “He was getting at the age when there’s a lot of peer pressure – you know, girl stuff. We wanted him to be around people with the same beliefs.”

Al Arqam is named after the man who started the first Islamic school in the Arabian Peninsula, a humble schoolhouse where the Prophet Muhammad taught.

From the outside, the Sacramento school isn’t much to look at. Tucked away in a troubled neighborhood, the school is surrounded by an 8-foot-high fence. A car from a private security firm is parked near the school’s entrance. Parents hired full-time security after 9/11, but the school – next door to the Florin Road sheriff’s station – has had no problems, said Wardany.

Inside, the corridors bustle with students heading to their next class. Volunteers pass out the latest edition of the student newspaper, the Torch. Fifth-grade boys recite scripture in their Quran class. Girls their age talk about their favorite foods in their Arabic class. A third-grade class learns about how Jackie Robinson broke Major League Baseball’s color barrier.

A group of seventh-graders from St. Francis elementary school in midtown recently toured the school to learn about Islam.

“This has been a real eye-opener. I had no idea this school was here,” said Angelique Bradley of Sacramento, a St. Francis parent. “I’m very impressed with the kids. They’re very respectful, especially with how they address the teachers.”

At Al Arqam, students and teachers refer to each her as “Brother” and “Sister,” one way faith is integrated into the curriculum. Daily prayer is required, and classes on the Quran and Arabic are mandatory. Muslim values and etiquette also are taught. Each month, the student body studies a theme, such as modesty or respect. Recently, a group of girls was assigned to shop at the mall for a modest teenage wardrobe.

“Needless to say, it wasn’t an easy assignment,” said Wardany, laughing.

While the lower grades are crowded, enrollment in the high school is small. By the time kids reach high school, parents have more options or they think their children have developed a solid religious foundation, said Wardany.

Ossama Kamel, 15, is a sophomore at the school. He plays sports with non-Muslim friends who teased him about the class size. “They say, ‘you have four kids in your class?’ ” he said, laughing.

Kamel knows some will criticize the school.

“There are haters out there, they think we’re training to be terrorists or something,” said Kamel, shaking his head. “What we’re learning is how to be good Muslims – good Muslim Americans.”

Islamic school thrives in Sacramento

Islamic school thrives in Sacramento – Sacramento News – Local and Breaking Sacramento News | Sacramento Bee

By Jennifer Garza
jgarza@sacbee.com
Published: Friday, Mar. 13, 2009 – 12:00 am | Page 6B

  • BRYAN PATRICK/bpatrick@sacbee.com

    Heba Kelani, center, chats with friends outside a classroom at Al Arqam Islamic School in south Sacramento. The girls are wearing hijabs, or head scarves, part of the modest clothing that is worn at the school. Al Arqam is one of the fastest-growing faith-based schools in the region, drawing kids from outside the state.

It is 7:45 Thursday morning when the students at Al Arqam Islamic School line up for an assembly before school. As always, boys in their lines, girls in another.

The morning scripture reading can be heard throughout the south Sacramento campus. A kindergartner adjusts her hijab, or head scarf. A teenage girl whispers to her little brother to settle down. Two eighth-grade boys talk about “American Idol.”

Imam Mohamed Kamel steps forward, and the room quiets.

“Allah does not care about how good you look or how wealthy you are,” he said near the end of his five-minute talk. “All he cares about is how clean your heart is and how good your deeds are.”

Here at a converted Best department store across from Florin Mall, students learn lessons in academics and the Islamic way of life.

More than 300 students attend Al Arqam, which officials say has the only full-time comprehensive Islamic high school in California.

While other religious schools struggle with enrollment, Al Arqam is thriving and is one of the fastest-growing faith-based campuses in the region.

The students come from Sacramento and other parts of California, and a few are from other states. They come from different backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures but share a common faith.

They are all Muslim, they all dress modestly, they all follow the same dietary rules, and about 1:15 in the afternoon, they all break from studies to face Mecca and pray.

Last month, the Catholic Diocese cited declining enrollment for the merging of two south Sacramento schools and the closure of Loretto High School. Al Arqam, which started 11 years ago, has added 40 students in the past two years and has a waiting list of about 50 students, mostly for the lower grades.

Al Arqam started its high school three years ago. Enrollment is small in the upper grades, but administrators see those numbers growing as the children in the primary grades get older.

Two weeks ago, Al Arqam was accepted into the academically rigorous International Baccalaureate program, believed to be the first private school in the Sacramento region to achieve that status.

Families make sacrifices

Many families have moved to Sacramento just so their children could attend the school. Tuition is about $4,500 a year.

Ramseesha Sattar, 14, moved from Reno to Sacramento with her family after she and her siblings were accepted at Al Arqam. She plans to stay for high school.

During a recent computer class, she wondered, for a moment, what public school would be like in her hometown.

Perhaps, she said, no one would notice if she removed her head scarf or talked to a boy in the corridor. At Al Arqam, such behavior would bring unwanted attention. Conversation between a boy and a girl must be respectful and be for a specific purpose, such as asking about an assignment.

Still, Sattar said she would prefer Al Arqam over a public school.

“I like it here. I don’t mind the rules,” said Sattar “They’re teaching us about Islam, and that’s the way it is.”

Her father said the family didn’t hesitate to move even though he had to find someone to manage his restaurant in Reno while he started another business in Sacramento. He pays nearly $12,000 annually in tuition for this three children.

“Every sacrifice we have made has been worth it,” said Mohammed Sattar. “It was not easy. But it was important that the children get a good education and learn Islamic teachings.”

School officials predict interest in their campus will grow. “People in our community really value education, and they’re looking for an environment where their children can practice their religious values,” said Dalia Wardany, the school’s vice principal who has three children at Al Arqam.

Some Muslims have doubts about the school, said Wardany. She said they worry about the academic standards and if it is as good as a public school. “We’ve worked like crazy to change that,” she said, adding that they have received more inquiries since acquiring IB status.

Many of the school’s parents have brought their expertise to the school. Ninety-eight parents work at Intel.

Islamic laws of finance a cushion in hard times

Islamic laws of finance a cushion in hard times – Sacramento News – Local and Breaking Sacramento News | Sacramento Bee

Islamic laws of finance a cushion in hard times
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By Stephen Magagnini
smagagnini@sacbee.com
Published: Monday, Mar. 30, 2009 – 12:00 am | Page 1A

  • CARL COSTAS/ccostas@sacbee.com

    Farouk Fakira, center, rents a home, as do many other local Muslims, because under Islamic law, interest is mostly banned. About 20 percent of the area’s 50,000 American Muslims closely follow such rules, says economist Irfan Haq.

  • CARL COSTAS/ccostas@sacbee.com

    Sajid Hussain, left, and Akhtar Khan, members of the Masjid Annur Islamic Center in Sacramento, discuss finances and faith recently.

The recession gripping the nation has taken less of a toll on American Muslims who follow age-old Islamic laws against paying – or charging – interest.

They’ve also been shielded by socially responsible retirement plans because Shariah– Islamic law – forbids investments in banks and mortgages as well as tobacco, alcohol, gambling, pornography or weapons.

“If everybody was Shariah-compliant, there would be no recession,” said Farouk Fakira, a Yemeni immigrant who moderated a discussion on Islamic finance at Sacramento’s Masjid Annur last week.

Fakira, 57, rents a home – like hundreds of other local Muslims – because “interest is pretty much forbidden. If you’re making money off of money, the only person who benefits is you.”

Shariah – 1,400 years of Islamic legal knowledge based on the words of the Prophet Muhammad – guides Muslims in daily life, said Imam Muhammed Abdul Azeez of Sacramento Area League of Associated Muslims, or SALAM.

Shariah prohibits usury, which often took advantage of a desperate person who needed to feed or protect his family, Azeez said. “There’s an element of exploitation here.”

The bottom line for many Muslims is, “if I don’t have the money to buy something, that means I can’t afford it,” said Deya Dean Elghassein, who’s Palestinian American.

His family helped him buy his home in Folsom with cash. “I do use credit cards, but they have to be paid off in full at the end of the month,” he said. He wouldn’t invest in Costco because it sells pork and alcohol, but he and others shop there “out of necessity.”

About 20 percent of the Sacramento area’s 50,000 American Muslims closely follow Islamic rules of finance – especially the prohibition against interest – said Irfan Haq, an economist who’s president of the Council of Sacramento Valley Islamic Organizations , an umbrella organization representing 10 mosques.

“Muslims in general have been much less affected by the recession because they’re very cautious and conservative in matters of finance and take a longer-term view of life,” Haq said. “They want to invest their funds in a way that pleases God so they can sleep peacefully – they care about the afterlife.”

Along with avoiding interest, another tenet of Islamic finance is not to invest in enterprises that violate Shariah: alcohol, gambling, banking and weapons. Azeez counsels his Muslim flock not to buy businesses that sell alcohol because “you cannot be in the business of spreading sin: Drunk driving kills.”

Mohammed Memon, a Pakistani American project manager for Oracle in Rocklin, has a 401(k) through Amana Mutual Funds – a Shariah-compliant fund based in Bellingham, Wash.

“They’re relatively better than other funds; I’m down 15 to 20 percent while many of my friends are down over 50 percent,” said Memon, 38.

Amana’s income and growth funds avoid bonds and interest-paying securities.

“We screen about 5,500 stocks a month for our 75,000 shareholders, and 2,200 to 2,400 pass,” said portfolio manager Nick Kaiser. “The growth fund’s biggest holding is Apple Computer. We buy technology, health care stocks and stocks with low debt. The income fund focuses on drug companies, energy stocks, mining.”

Shariah also prohibits gharar – the Arabic word for uncertainty or risk – and maysir – gambling – which includes real estate speculation.

Metwalli Amer, founder of SALAM, said he knows Muslims who speculated in real estate and lost their shirts.

Amer, 75, said Islamic finance is about living within your means and helping the needy. “If Muslims had followed that, we’d be much better off,” said Amer, an Egyptian immigrant.

But he said the majority of Muslims he knows “became greedy.”

Islam doesn’t prohibit wealth as long as you give back, he said. “The Quran promotes going into business and trading ventures that share the profits and loss.”

Amer said one Sacramento Muslim who was able to become a millionaire while adhering to Islamic financial principles is Kais Menoufy.

Menoufy left Egypt in 1976 and landed in California in 1985 after becoming vice president of a computer science company in Europe and saving his money by sleeping on floors.

“When I started my own company in Sacramento nine years ago, I rented an apartment for $800 a month in the Arden area and again was sleeping on a mattress on the floor,” said Menoufy, 62.

By plowing the profits back into his business, Menoufy said he built Delegata Technology Consulting & Systems Integration into a multimillion-dollar company with about 100 employees. “You spend as much as you can make,” said Menoufy.

He recently bought a home along the Garden Highway for cash.

While Islamic scholars generally say interest-based financial transactions are prohibited, sometimes American Muslims have no choice, said Azeez of SALAM. “Every day I get a question about interest and student loans – I tell them getting your education is an absolute necessity.”

If a student can’t get an interest-free federal loan, “get yourself a loan with an interest rate as close to inflation as possible – they cancel each other out,” Azeez said.

Some scholars say the financial relationship between consumers and banks is OK if there’s no exploitation.

Akhtar Khan, who has a doctorate in economics, bought his home with a conventional mortgage out of necessity, he said, but hopes to pay it off as soon as possible.

Muslims are allowed to buy a home directly from the owner with owner financing, some scholars believe.

Mohammed Memon bought his home from the builder. “No banks are involved – there can’t be a third-party contract.”

Hamza El-Nakhal, a retired microbiologist from Egypt, said he came to the United States with $10 in his pocket 40 years ago.

He got a bank loan to buy property here. “Many scholars say that if it’s necessary to buy your home and take out a loan to survive in a foreign country, it’s OK,” said El-Nakhal, who is on the board of the Islamic Center of Davis. “There were no Islamic lending institutions when I bought. Now there is.”

The Shariah-compliant Lariba Bank of Southern California, founded in 1987, lends money without interest – instead, it goes into partnership with its clients and then charges rent on the property.

Here’s how Lariba works: If you borrow $80,000 from Lariba on a $100,000 home, you send a monthly payment to Lariba that has two components. The first is a portion of the money you owe Lariba. The second component is a rental payment that declines each month as you build up equity.

The first month, you pay 80 percent of the monthly rent to Lariba. Every month, you pay off a portion of the loan without interest, and then pay a smaller percentage of the rent based on your share of the principal.

“The approach is one of investment as opposed to just lending money,” said Lariba’s president Mike Abdelaaty.

Rather than checking to see if a client has the ability to pay back a loan, he said, “we use the rental value of the property in measuring whether it’s a good investment.”

The monthly rent is fixed over the term of the loan, which is competitive with other banks, said Yahya Abdur Rahman, Lariba’s founder. “We’ve never kicked anybody out of their homes. We give them a three-month grace period, and then we tell them, ‘Maybe your home is too big for you and you need to move to an apartment.’ ” If the house is sold, 100 percent of the profit goes to the customer, he said.

Other religions, including Judaism and Catholicism, also had prohibitions against usury, said Rahman, whose more than 3,000 clients span all faiths.

China cracks down in Muslim west

China cracks down in Muslim west

BEIJING (AP) — An overseas rights activist said Monday that authorities in China’s predominantly Muslim far west are closing unregistered Islamic schools and conducting house-to-house searches in a new security crackdown in the restive region.

The campaign under way for five weeks in the city of Hotan underscores Beijing’s persisting concerns about separatist movements in its Central Asian border province of Xinjiang.

While anti-government protests and a security clampdown in Tibetan areas have grabbed attention over the past year, China has also been battling unrest in Xinjiang, with a flare-up in violence last year that killed 33 people. Like the Tibetans, many of Xinjiang’s ethnic minority Uighurs have chafed under Beijing’s rule and restrictions on the practice of religion.

The clampdown in Hotan — once a jade-trading center on the Silk Road and still a bastion of Uighur culture — was meant to quash dissent before August’s anniversary marking communist troops’ entry to Xinjiang 60 years ago, the Germany-based World Uighur Congress said Monday.

A congress spokesman, Dilxat Raxit, said in an e-mail that armed police were making nighttime raids from house to house. At least seven religious schools have been shut and 39 people arrested so far, Raxit said.

The official Xinhua News Agency earlier this month reported that Hotan authorities had launched a campaign against “illegal religious activity” at the end of February and “had already achieved some initial success.”

“Officials uncovered some illegal religious activities, seized a large number of illegal books, handwritten materials, computer discs, audio tapes and other propaganda materials as well as bullets, fuses, explosive and flammable materials, and other weaponry,” it said.

A secretary with Hotan’s Communist Party Propaganda Department on Monday denied that any religious schools were closed, people arrested or bullets, explosives and other materials seized. But he confirmed that some illegal religious activity has been halted and illegal books, writings, computer discs and audio tapes had been confiscated.

He refused to give his name or any more information and referred calls to other departments where the phone rang unanswered or officials said they were not authorized to speak to the media.

The clampdown is consistent with previous efforts to target a resurgent Islam that the government says is fanning radical, violent separatism in Xinjiang. A year ago, several hundred Muslims staged a protest in Hotan that rights groups said was against a ban on women wearing headscarves but that the government said was incited by an overseas Islamic group.

Uighur separatists have waged a low-intensity campaign of sporadic bombings and assassinations for the past 20 years as social controls loosened along with free-market reforms and as more ethnic Chinese came to Xinjiang in search of work.

Last August, violence in Xinjiang killed 33 people, including 16 border guards slain when two attackers rammed a stolen truck into the group before tossing bombs and stabbing them.

Copyright © 2009 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

10 Terms Not to Use with Muslims

March 30, 2009 Forward to a Friend Support CAIR Contact Us Update Your Profile

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HADITH OF THE DAY: KINDNESS AND SIMPLICITY – TOP

The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Be kind, for whenever kindness becomes part of something, it beautifies it. Whenever it is taken from something, it leaves it tarnished.”

He also said: “Make things simple and do not complicate them. Calm people and do not drive them away.”

Imam Bukhari’s Book of Muslim Manners

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10 TERMS NOT TO USE WITH MUSLIMS – TOP
There’s a big difference between what we say and what they hear.
Chris Seiple, Christian Science Monitor, 3/28/09

Arlington, Va. – In the course of my travels from the Middle East to Central Asia to Southeast Asia it has been my great privilege to meet and become friends with many devout Muslims. These friendships are defined by frank respect as we listen to each other; understand and agree on the what, why, and how of our disagreements, political and theological; and, most of all, deepen our points of commonality as a result.

I have learned much from my Muslim friends, foremost this: Political disagreements come and go, but genuine respect for each other, rooted in our respective faith traditions, does not. If there is no respect, there is no relationship, merely a transactional encounter that serves no one in the long term.

As President Obama considers his first speech in a Muslim majority country (he visits Turkey April 6-7), and as the US national security establishment reviews its foreign policy and public diplomacy, I want to share the advice given to me from dear Muslim friends worldwide regarding words and concepts that are not useful in building relationships with them. Obviously, we are not going to throw out all of these terms, nor should we. But we do need to be very careful about how we use them, and in what context.

1. “The Clash of Civilizations.” Invariably, this kind of discussion ends up with us as the good guy and them as the bad guy. There is no clash of civilizations, only a clash between those who are for civilization, and those who are against it. Civilization has many characteristics but two are foundational: 1) It has no place for those who encourage, invite, and/or commit the murder of innocent civilians; and 2) It is defined by institutions that protect and promote both the minority and the transparent rule of law.

2. “Secular.” The Muslim ear tends to hear “godless” with the pronunciation of this word. And a godless society is simply inconceivable to the vast majority of Muslims worldwide. Pluralism which encourages those with (and those without) a God-based worldview to have a welcomed and equal place in the public square is a much better word.

3. “Assimilation.” This word suggests that the minority Muslim groups in North America and Europe need to look like the majority, Christian culture. Integration, on the other hand, suggests that all views, majority and minority, deserve equal respect as long as each is willing to be civil with one another amid the public square of a shared society.

4. “Reformation.” Muslims know quite well, and have an opinion about, the battle taking place within Islam and what it means to be an orthodox and devout Muslim. They don’t need to be insulted by suggesting they follow the Christian example of Martin Luther. Instead, ask how Muslims understand ijtihad, or reinterpretation, within their faith traditions and cultural communities.

5. “Jihadi.” The jihad is an internal struggle first, a process of improving one’s spiritual self-discipline and getting closer to God. The lesser jihad is external, validating “just war” when necessary. By calling the groups we are fighting “jihadis,” we confirm their own and the worldwide Muslim public’s perception that they are religious. They are not. They are terrorists, hirabists, who consistently violate the most fundamental teachings of the Holy Koran and mainstream Islamic scholars and imams. (More)

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CAIR: OBAMA HEADS OVERSEAS TO TACKLE WORLD ECONOMY – TOP
Richard Wolf, USA Today, 3/30/09

After 10 weeks in office trying to save the U.S. economy, President Obama is ready to take on the world economy. Whether the world is ready for his remedy remains in doubt.

Obama flies to London on Tuesday, then on to four other nations, for his first overseas trip since assuming office and with the global economy in shambles. It’s one of the most anticipated presidential trips since John Kennedy went to Berlin in 1963…

The trip is set to end in Turkey, a nation that is 99% Muslim but has direct ties to the West. “Turkey has always been viewed as a bridge between East and West, a kind of stabilizing influence in the region,” says Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

In his inaugural address, Obama pledged to seek a new relationship with the Muslim world “based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” As a result, his every move and phrase in Ankara and Istanbul will be closely followed. (More)

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CAIR: MUSLIMS SEEKING GREATER INFLUENCE – TOP
Effort puts resumes of top candidates in White House hands
Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago Tribune, 3/29/09

In a bid to get more Muslim Americans working in the Obama administration, a book with resumes of 45 of the nation’s most qualified—Ivy League grads, Fortune 500 executives and public servants, all carefully vetted—has been submitted to the White House.

The effort, driven by community leaders and others, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was bumped up two weeks ahead of schedule because White House officials heard about the venture, said J. Saleh Williams, program coordinator for the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association who sifted through more than 300 names.

“It was mostly under the radar,” Williams said. “We thought it would put [the president] in a precarious position. We didn’t know how closely he wanted to appear to be working with the Muslim American community.”

The effort aims to get the administration focused on Muslim Americans, a group that has at times felt like a pariah. During the campaign, Obama’s staff prevented Muslim women wearing head scarves from being photographed behind him, in one of many incidents that left Muslim Americans feeling slighted by the candidate.

Now, Muslim Americans—who according to a recent study overwhelmingly backed Obama in the November election—have been carefully watching the administration’s every step.

Most expressed disappointment with Obama’s initial silence during Israel’s offensive in Gaza. They’ve been encouraged by the video message the president issued recently to the Iranian people on the eve of the Persian holiday of Nowruz, and they want more diplomacy with Syria and Iran. They’ve been troubled by FBI admissions of sending what activists call “agents provocateurs” into mosques, and the bureau’s break in ties with Muslim American organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Community leaders hope the White House will consider Muslim Americans for posts in the administration. They say this is not just a chance for Muslim Americans to show their patriotism but also a chance for the country to engage the community and recognize its importance. There are an estimated 7 million to 8 million Muslims in America, but there have not been any Muslims appointed to key positions, as yet.

A White House aide confirmed the Obama administration had received the resumes, noting that it is “not unusual” for the administration to consider lists of job candidates suggested by constituent groups.

“We’re still very much in the middle of the [hiring] process, even when it comes to very senior government employees. These things take time, and they’re all based on finding the right fit,” said the aide, who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak publicly for the administration.

“Muslims are not looking for handouts,” said Abdul Malik Mujahid, the Downers Grove founder of the Muslim Democrats, who points to Zalmay Khalilzad, tapped by former President George W. Bush for many key roles. “We’re just looking for equal opportunity and inclusiveness. That will give a far better message to the Muslim world than speeches.” . . .

Some hope Atty. Gen. Eric Holder will reverse Bush administration actions such as the FBI’s decision to break formal ties with CAIR because it was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case involving the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation.

“We’re hoping that once Eric Holder puts the department in order and places people in different positions, we can re-establish what were very positive relations [with the FBI] in our 15-year history,” said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper. (More)

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CAIR-TX: GENDER EQUITY ROOTED IN TEACHINGS OF ISLAM – TOP
Sarwat Husain, San Antonio Express News, 3/28/09

Throughout history, women all over the world had to struggle for equality in a male-dominated world. During International Women’s Month, it’s worth considering how Islam’s teachings were an early harbinger of gender equity – contrary to a common misperception.

Prior to Islam, a female child was often regarded as a threat to the economic welfare of the family and some were even buried alive as soon as they were born. As an adult, she was a sex object that could be bought and sold. From this inferior position, Islam raised women to a position of influence and prestige in the family and in society.

Many of the rights conferred on women by the Prophet Muhammad more than 1,400 years ago have only partially and grudgingly been given to women in other cultures in recent centuries.

With respect to gender equity, the essential human dignity and fundamental equality of women in Islam is at one with the feminist movement of the West, despite images of Muslim women in the media and some agenda-driven circles as ignorant, oppressed and submissive. The perception that Islam subjugates women is far from the facts. (More)

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CAIR-CA: HUNDREDS MARCH TO HONOR CESAR CHAVEZ – TOP
Sam Stanton, Sacramento Bee, 3/28/09

More than 700 people took to the streets of downtown Sacramento today for a march honoring the late farm labor leader Cesar Chavez and to support issues ranging from workers’ rights to an end to the war in Iraq. . .

The event was the ninth annual march sponsored by the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and included groups ranging from the Sacramento City Teachers Association to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. (More)

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CAIR-SAN ANTONIO HELPS HONOR CESAR CHAVEZ – TOP

(SAN ANTONIO, TX, 3/30/09) The San Antonio, Texas, chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SA) recently participated in a Cesar Chavez Ecumenical Service attended by representatives of many different faiths.

Speaking at the services as a representative of Islamic faith, Sarwat Husain, president of CAIR-SA said “We call on all people of good conscience to once again bring back the legacy of the union Leader Cesar Chavez by standing hand in hand in the long fight for peace and justice because we understand that service in the way of God is perfect freedom. It is neither restrictive nor limiting. Restrictions diminish a man’s capacities and happiness. Oh God! Once again we are standing at the cross roads of oppression and injustice. You taught us that true excellence lies, not in the intellectual or manual attainments of people of differing gifts; but in the moral attainments of a pure heart.”

The services that were held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church were focused on issues of peace and justice, and in particular, how those issues relate to immigration.

CAIR, America’s largest Muslim civil liberties group, has 35 offices and chapters nationwide. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

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MCCARTHYIST TACTICS ALIVE AND WELL, THANKS TO THE FBI – TOP
Yusuf Khan, Examiner.com, 3/28/09

Say, did you hear the big news about the FBI last week?

No? Come on!

Alright, because didn’t read it in the Christian Science Monitor or the OC Register I’ll fill you in. Here’s the scoop.

In their noble effort to rid our country from the plague of terrorism, the Federal Bureau of Investigation hired an informant whose job it was to infiltrate California mosques with the hope of identifying suspicious individuals.

To quote, the exact assignment according to the informant was, “We want to perfect and train you to infiltrate the Islamic community.”

Nice. Makes me feel great about popping into a local mosque for prayer.

Now you’d think that they would hire the ideal man for this noble, patriotic endeavor, right? Wrong.

In a profound display of extraordinary judgment. the man picked as the ideal candidate for the job was ex-con artist Craig Monteilh, convicted in 2008 for grand-theft.

Whoops. But wait, the fun doesn’t end here. Read on!

Monteilh’s assignment was to pose as a new Muslim convert named Farouk al-Aziz and spout fiery rhetoric to basically anyone who would listen. Whoever lended a sympathetic ear would be promptly reported to the FBI as a suspect terrorist.

As the “agent provocateur” visited mosque after mosque in SoCal, things weren’t going so well for the Feds or Monteilh. They weren’t finding any militants! In fact, the opposite happened. (More)

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PASSOVER: A DAY FOR FAITH AND UNDERSTANDING – TOP
Janet Jensen, News Tribune, 3/30/09

Muslims, Christians and Jews shared unleavened bread at a Passover Seder Sunday night in a Tacoma synagogue as a step toward building interfaith bonds and eventually a house.

Volunteers from the three faiths will join together to build a house on Tacoma’s East Side, from April 24 to mid-July, for Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity.

Habiba Karim, a Muslim from University Place, said the interfaith Seder at Temple Beth El was important because “it gives us a chance to understand each other.”

Her mother-in-law, Zarina Karim, agreed. “There’s so much to learn,” she said.

Led by Rabbi Bruce Kadden, the group of 50 recounted the Passover story of the ancient Hebrews’ deliverance from slavery.

They sat at tables with plates containing traditional Passover elements including matzo, or unleavened bread.

The word Passover comes from the book of Exodus, which tells how God killed the firstborn of Egyptian households but passed over the homes of the Israelites. The Israelites had to leave in such haste they had no time to let their bread rise, thus the tradition of unleavened bread.

Allison Wisco, a Christian who lives in Tacoma, said she found it “interesting to be involved with the ritual of the Seder.”. . .

American Indians also attended the Seder and are taking part in the building project. A salmon bake and an interfaith comedy show are planned before the house in Tacoma is completed, said Cassandra Jarles, with Habitat in Pierce County. (More)

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NY: REACHING OUT TO CHRISTIANS: MUSLIMS MARCH FOR RECONCILIATION – TOP
Hundreds rally in Binghamton
George Basler, Gannett News Service, 3/30/09

Muslims from the Southern Tier and other communities as far away as Michigan and South Carolina gathered in Binghamton on Sunday to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and publicly urge reconciliation between Christianity and Islam.

“In many places Muslims and Christians are in conflict. This is senseless because it leads to a tremendous loss of life and suffering,” said M. Hasib Haqq, public relations spokesman for the new United Muslim-Christian Forum, which organized Sunday’s program.

The best way to overcome the conflict is to emphasize the commonalities between the two religions – namely belief in God, practice of The Ten Commandments and emphasis on “the golden rule” of “doing unto others as they would do unto you,” he said.

More than 500 people, including a small number of non-Muslims, filled West Presbyterian Church on Main Street for a series of speeches, followed by a march on Main and Court streets to the Broome County Courthouse lawn.

West Presbyterian’s board approved use of the church to “foster inter- religious dialogue, understanding and tolerance,” said the Rev. Andrew Stehlik, pastor, who spoke during the program. Other speakers included Binghamton Mayor Matthew T. Ryan; the Rev. Tim Taugher of St. Catherine’s Church in Hillcrest; and Khalifah Muhammad Hussein Adams, chairman of the Muslims of the Americas. (More)

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MI: EAST GRAND RAPIDS MAN CHALLENGES POPULAR IMAGE OF MUSLIMS – TOP
Charles Honey, Grand Rapids Press, 3/28/09

Muhammad Rasoul, chief operating officer of Global Forex Trading, has been in back-to-back meetings since 5:30 a.m., starting with a conference call to Japan and London. He hopes to be home in time to put his two younger kids to bed.

But in this typical wire-to-wire day, Rasoul also will make time for something sacred: the five prayers Muslims are expected to make each day.

“Anytime, I can close that door and do whatever I have to do,” Rasoul says of his airy office at 4760 E. Fulton St. in Ada Township. “I really benefit from having that five minutes of peace and quiet to myself. It’s almost like a meditation.”

Prayer is an obligation Rasoul takes seriously, as he does all other aspects of his adopted Islamic faith. Whether it’s flying to Singapore on business or teaching his children about God, Islam is his guidebook for doing the right thing.

If you think you know who Muslims are, meet Rasoul and think again. (More)

Modi’s rise is a very scary prospect for India

Narendra Modi as Man Muslims Love to Hate Wins Billionaire Vote

By Abhay Singh

March 30 (Bloomberg) — As Narendra Modi, chief minister of the state of Gujarat, walks into a cavernous tent filled with 20,000 investors and business leaders in western India, he’s greeted like a Bollywood movie star. Conference goers surround the politician to shake hands, snap photos and touch his shoes — a show of reverence in India.

After the January conference gets under way in the city of Ahmedabad, billionaire Anil Ambani, whose empire ranges from telecommunications to financial services, steps to the lectern. He praises Modi, 58, for turning Gujarat into India’s top destination for investors before paying the Hindu nationalist the ultimate compliment: He should be prime minister.

Since Modi became head of Gujarat in 2001, he’s lured investors with a rapid approval process for developments, a network of roads and ports and uninterrupted power supply — a rarity in India.

“If Narendra Modi can do so much for Gujarat, imagine the possibility for India by having him as the next leader of India,” Ambani says.

Some 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the conference, in a Muslim ghetto called Juhapura on the outskirts of Ahmedabad, Modi’s name isn’t celebrated. He’s a top official in the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), or Indian People’s Party, which opposes special treatment from the government of any one religious group, including Muslims.

Contaminated Food

For the 700,000 residents of Juhapura, the water runs only 15 minutes a day, potholed asphalt roads are lined with rubble and government-subsidized shops sell contaminated flour and rice that make people sick, says Mohammad Ishaq Sayed, a tailor who lives with his family of six in a one-room, 100- square-foot (9.3-square-meter) apartment.

“We live in Gujarat and still we get nothing,” says Sayed, 53, sitting in a plastic chair outside his apartment, where naked electrical wires snake along the walls. “Why is there no development for us? What enmity do they have with us? We are Muslims, that’s why.”

As India continues to tally the economic costs from the terror attacks by Islamic militants that killed 164 people in Mumbai in November, Modi stands out as a symbol of a nation that, 62 years after independence, has yet to come to grips with a sectarian divide that’s fueled decades of violent riots and the marginalization of Muslims.

Shut Out

The 158.6 million Muslims, which account for 13.4 percent of India’s population of about 1.2 billion, are among the poorest people in the country. They are shut out of jobs and unable to get equal access to education, according to a 2006 government-sponsored report. At state-run companies such as banks and railways, Muslims make up only 4.9 percent of the workforce.

Thirty-eight percent of them live in such deprivation that they consume less than 2,100 calories of food a day, the report says. By comparison, 20 percent of Hindus living in cities don’t receive proper nutrition.

Alakh Sharma, director of the Institute for Human Development, a New Delhi-based group that studies labor markets, development policy and education, says India’s exclusion of Muslims from the mainstream hampers its economic growth.

“If 13 percent of the population is alienated and doesn’t become part of the economic process, how will the country continue to grow?” Sharma says. “It’ll affect demand for goods and become a source of conflict and strife.”

‘Scary Prospect’

In more than two decades in the BJP, during which time he’s ascended to the position of general secretary, the third- highest rank, Modi has been in the middle of the sectarian conflict whose origins go back centuries.

Modi helped organize a campaign in 1990 for the BJP leader to drum up support for building a Hindu temple at the site of a Muslim mosque in the state of Uttar Pradesh, according to his Web site, narendramodi.in. In Gujarat alone, the BJP campaign spurred 1,520 violent incidents between Hindus and Muslims from April 1990 through April ‘91, according to a report by the New Delhi-based Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies.

“Modi’s rise is a very scary prospect for India,” says Shabnam Hashmi, an atheist who runs Act Now for Harmony and Democracy, a group started to counter sectarian politics in India. “He polarizes people by promoting the ideology of hate.” Jagdish Thakkar, Modi’s public relations officer, didn’t respond to several requests for an interview.

Rampaging Mobs

In February 2002, four months after Modi took control of Gujarat, Hindu mobs went on a rampage against Muslims after a fire on a train claimed 58 lives, among them Hindu pilgrims. In the riots that followed, more than 1,000 people were killed, mostly Muslims, while Modi allegedly instructed police to stand down and allow the violence to continue, according to an investigation by the eight-member Concerned Citizens Tribunal. The group, with no legal standing, was made up of former judges, professors and a retired police officer.

“If you are a minority you are pushed to the brink and treated like dirt in this state,” says Cedric Prakash, a Jesuit priest who runs a human rights center in Ahmedabad.

Modi has denied the allegations from the citizens group and critics.

“My future will be determined by the people of Gujarat,” Modi said at a conference sponsored by the Hindustan Times newspaper in October 2007. “In a democracy, criticism is welcome, but I am against the allegations.” The Supreme Court of India is still investigating the riots.

Holy War

The killings in Gujarat partly inspired Lashkar-e-Taiba, an Islamic militant group based in Pakistan, to launch its holy war against India, according to a study on the Web site of the Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies, a U.S. Department of Defense institute in Honolulu.

In November, 10 members of Lashkar-e-Taiba attacked two luxury hotels, a Jewish center, a cafe and railway station in Mumbai, according to Indian officials. In a massacre that shook India, the terrorists killed 164 people, including 26 foreigners. Earlier in 2008, the Muslim group Indian Mujahideen claimed responsibility for a series of bombings in three Indian cities.

The spate of violence weighs heavily on Indians as they elect a new prime minister starting in mid-April. The BJP is attacking the ruling Indian National Congress party for being soft on terrorism. The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, 76, has delayed the hanging of a convicted Muslim terrorist sentenced to death in 2002 — a fact that the BJP’s candidate, Lal Krishna Advani, 81, rails against on the campaign trail.

Slowing Economy

The BJP is trying to return to power after a six-year term from 1998 to 2004, during which time it stiffened prison penalties for terrorists and lengthened the maximum detention period for suspects who hadn’t been charged to 180 days.

“People lived under six years of a BJP government, but the end of terrorism was not one of its achievements,” says Mahesh Rangarajan, a professor of modern Indian history at Delhi University. “The terrorism card that the BJP could cash in on is gone.”

India’s economic downturn may be an even bigger election issue in a country where voters have regularly rejected incumbents, Rangarajan says. The economy grew 5.3 percent from October through December, the weakest pace since the last quarter of 2003. The recessions in the U.S. and Europe, combined with the terrorist strikes in 2008, are taking a toll on India’s tourist industry.

Partition

The number of visitors to the country plunged 12 percent in February compared with a year earlier. A February poll by an Indian affiliate of CNN showed that neither party would gain 50 percent of the vote, forcing the winner to cobble together a coalition government.

The divide between Hindus, who make up 80.5 percent of the population, and Muslims runs deep. In the 16th century, the Mughals, an Islamic dynasty, took over and ruled the land until the British made the subcontinent a part of its empire three centuries later. Before Britain relinquished control of India in 1947, it partitioned the nation into Muslim Pakistan and Hindu-majority India to buffer historical conflicts.

Eleven million Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs were uprooted, seeking refuge in one of the two countries and clashing along the way. The violence took 500,000 lives. Since the 1960s, there have been at least four major sectarian battles each decade in India, spurred by everything from a Muslim’s cow entering a Hindu’s house to conflicts over religious sites.

‘This is Not Our Country’

Muslims, fearing violence, tend to live together in small clusters in places like the Byculla area in Mumbai and the neighborhood of Nizamuddin in New Delhi, according to the 2006 report sponsored by the Singh government, “Social, Economic and Educational Status of the Muslim Community in India.” In Ahmedabad, Gujarat’s largest city, where investors have backed new malls with big grocery and electronics stores and movie multiplexes, some apartment complexes are off-limits to Muslims, according to the rules of occupancy set by building owners.

Activist Hashmi says her family, because of its Muslim name, has felt unwelcome in parts of New Delhi. In 2003, her daughter, then 7 years old, came home from school after being verbally attacked.

“Another girl told her that we should go live in Afghanistan, this is not our country,” Hashmi says.

Finding Jobs

Muslims also face obstacles in finding employment at state-run companies, which provide 70 percent of the full-time jobs with benefits in India, the report says. At Indian Railways, one of the country’s largest employers, with 1.4 million workers, Muslims make up only 4.5 percent of the total. Among civil service officers — bureaucrats, diplomats and police — 3.2 percent are Muslim. At banks such as State Bank of India, the No. 1 lender, the figure drops to just 2.2 percent. Of the 30 companies in the Bombay Stock Exchange’s benchmark Sensitive Index, only one — software services provider Wipro Ltd. — is led by a Muslim, billionaire Azim Premji.

The report recommends that employers include Muslims in hiring to increase their numbers.

“A very small proportion of government employees are Muslims, and on average, they are concentrated in lower-level positions,” the report says. “While no discrimination is being alleged, it may be desirable to have minority persons on relevant interview panels.”

Drop Outs

Dev Desai, an economics undergraduate student at GLS College in Ahmedabad, encountered discrimination recently when trying to get a Muslim friend and fellow student a job.

“I spoke to some people and told them she was from my college and studies with me,” says Desai, a Hindu. “On hearing her name, they asked if she is Muslim. When I said yes, they told me to let it be.”

The minority group lags behind in education as well, partly because of a shortage of schools that teach in Urdu, a language used by Muslims. As many as 25 percent of Muslim children ages 6-14 never attend school or drop out. Muslim kids in the Juhapura ghetto face another issue: Their school is in a Hindu area.

“Some children are afraid and don’t go,” says Niaz Bibi, a resident and mother. “Their thinking is, we’ll never get a job so why study? Might as well learn a vocation like fixing cars.”

Bollywood

In top colleges offering science, arts, commerce and medical courses, only 1 in 25 undergraduate students is Muslim.

“This has serious long-term implications for the economic empowerment of the community and consequently for economic development of the country,” the report says.

India has put aside its sectarian differences in a few areas, such as its movie industry. Muslim film celebrities Shah Rukh Khan, a romantic leading man also known as “King Khan,” and Aamir Khan often top the box office. Aamir Khan starred in Bollywood’s biggest hit of 2008, Ghajini. While Indians have never elected a Muslim prime minister, lawmakers have selected three Muslim presidents, the titular head of government, including A.P.J. Abdul Kalam from ‘02 to ‘07.

Modi mocked the government report, which was chaired by retired judge Rajindar Sachar, at a conference sponsored by India Today magazine in March 2008.

Spiraling Investments

“Mr. Sachar came to see me and asked, ‘Mr. Modi, what has your government done for Muslims?’ I said, ‘I’ve done nothing,’” Modi said. “Then I said, ‘Please also note that I’ve done nothing for Hindus either. I work for the people of Gujarat.’”

As head of the state, Modi has spurred a construction boom by attracting a slew of investors, including Sabeer Bhatia, co-founder of e-mail service Hotmail. Investors pledged $243 billion to Gujarat at the 2009 Vibrant Gujarat Global Investors’ Summit in January, a 60 percent jump from the previous event in 2007. In a country infamous for bureaucratic red tape, Gujarat lures investors with a streamlined process requiring developers to get approval for major projects at only one agency, the Gujarat Infrastructure Development Board.

Tata Group, the $62.5 billion conglomerate that owns everything from salt to software companies, got permission from the state to build a plant to produce the $2,500 Nano, the cheapest car in the world, in three days.

Hindu Nationalist

“Most of us in India have come to regard a time frame of six months or three months as an average time to get clearances,” Ratan Tata, chairman of Tata Group, said from the stage at the January conference in Ahmedabad. “In this particular case, that tradition was shattered, and we had our land and most of our approvals in three days. That, in my experience, has never happened before.”

After Tata’s speech, Modi walked toward the lectern and gave the executive a hug before addressing the crowd himself.

“Even in a recession, companies aren’t going to stop manufacturing,” he said. “They will prefer a destination where low-cost manufacturing is possible. This is a chance for a country like India, if we can provide a low-cost manufacturing environment, to grab this opportunity.”

Modi joined the burgeoning Hindu nationalist movement as a teenager after growing up in a family of modest means; his father ran a tea stall at Vadnagar railway station in Gujarat, according to a 2007 article in the Times of India.

Ideological Fraternity

After completing his master’s degree in political science at Gujarat University in the 1970s, he became a member of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or National Volunteers Corps, his Web site says. The RSS advocates that Hinduism is central to Indian culture and life.

At the time, northern India was recovering from a famine and sectarian violence was rising: 500 people were killed in Ahmedabad in 1969. Members of the still active RSS take part in regular military-style parades, drills and exercises dressed in white shirts and khaki shorts. The RSS, which hatched political groups that would coalesce into the BJP in 1980, remains the fount of the party’s ideas.

“The RSS ideology is all about cultural nationalism,” says Prakash Javadekar, spokesman for the BJP and a member of India’s upper house of parliament. “We are an ideological fraternity.”

Babri Mosque

The BJP built itself into a national power starting in the late 1980s with a campaign to construct a temple where a mosque stood in Ayodhya, Uttar Pradesh. Modi, who joined the BJP in 1987, helped organize a 10,000-kilometer journey for Advani, now the BJP’s candidate for prime minister, to rally support for the temple and the party. Advani’s trip in a truck, with the bed trussed up to resemble a chariot from Hindu mythology, was scheduled to end at the site of the mosque.

Hindus believe the site was the birthplace of the Hindu god Ram and that a temple once stood there until Muslim invaders destroyed it in the 16th century and built the Babri Mosque.

Advani’s journey was cut short when authorities arrested him in the state of Bihar in October 1990. According to Advani’s Web site, he was arrested by political foes who opposed a resurgence of nationalism in India. Two years later, Hindu mobs tore down the mosque, fomenting riots in Mumbai that claimed more than 1,000 lives, mostly Muslims.

Train Fire

The temple campaign catalyzed Hindu support across India for the BJP, which won its first national election in 1996 and its second in ‘98.

“Communal violence in the last two decades is a result of the manipulation of religious sentiments by Hindu right- wing organizations for political gains,” according to the Institute of Peace & Conflict Studies report. “The politicization of the temple-mosque issue and the subsequent demolition of the mosque gave the BJP the opportunity to consolidate its vote bank.”

Javadekar rejects that claim, saying the Congress Party’s sectarian politics and favoritism toward minorities poses the biggest danger to India. Javadekar says the BJP supports the equal treatment of all religious groups in India.

“That means you do justice to all and appeasement of none,” he says.

The 2002 riots in Gujarat began with a fire in a train coach carrying Hindu pilgrims returning from Ayodhya. A commission set up by the Gujarat government said that Muslims set the fire after an altercation at the station between some pilgrims and Muslim vendors.

Lost Everything

The report of the citizens tribunal, which was released in October ‘02 and based on about 2,000 interviews, shows the fire started within the coach and was not deliberate, says Ghanshyam Shah, a social scientist who was a member of the tribunal.

As news of the fire spread through the state, Hindu mobs surrounded Muslim neighborhoods, destroyed houses with homemade bombs, raped and killed women and butchered men, according to the three-volume report of the citizens tribunal.

“We escaped with just the clothes on our backs,” says Sayed, the tailor in Juhapura. “Everything was destroyed. Our house was torn down, and all our possessions were stolen.”

Sayed, his wife and three sons were rescued by a Muslim police officer and taken to a camp outside Juhapura.

“The Muslim officer risked himself and brought us to the camp,” Sayed says.

Police Don’t Arrive

The police didn’t respond to calls for help from many Muslims, according to the report. It details the murder of Ahsan Jafri, a former member of parliament from the Congress Party.

The attack on the neighborhood where Jafri lived in Ahmedabad began on the morning of Feb. 28, 2002. A high- ranking police official visited Jafri at 10:30 a.m. and assured him that police reinforcements were on the way to quell the riots. The police never came even after Jafri’s desperate phone calls to Modi’s office and the police. Jafri was dragged out of his home and killed in the afternoon, as were others who had taken shelter in his house, the report says.

Three years later, in 2005, the U.S. State Department denied Modi a diplomatic visa and revoked his existing one under a section of the Immigration and Nationality Act that bars entry of foreign officials who are complicit in severe violations of religious freedom.

‘Absence of Healing’

“The violence in Gujarat in 2002 was extremely serious; it went on for months,” says Delhi University’s Rangarajan. “If you travel in the hinterland of Gujarat, what is more serious is the absence of a healing process.”

In 2008, six years after the riots, the Supreme Court of India formed a special team to investigate the violence. In February, the team arrested Deputy Superintendent of Police K.G. Erda, the officer in charge of the area where Jafri lived, for dereliction of duty and abetment of murder, according to Mitesh Amin, Erda’s lawyer. Erda has been released on bail, and the Supreme Court has halted the trial, Amin says.

In March, investigators submitted their confidential report to the court, which asked the Gujarat government to file a response by April 13.

The 2002 riots shouldn’t taint Modi’s reputation as a good administrator, says Ajit Gulabchand, managing director of Mumbai-based Hindustan Construction Co. The company is building an $8 billion waterfront development in Dholera, an industrial and business hub.

Carnegie Mellon University

“What happened was terrible,” Gulabchand says. “The question is, Are we moving on? Here is somebody who welcomes people and creates an atmosphere for business and other investments to thrive.”

Yogesh Patel and his business partner, Hotmail’s Bhatia, are also bullish on Gujarat. They’re building university campuses in Dholera and have partnered with Carnegie Mellon University to open a graduate school there.

During a meeting last year, after Patel told Modi about the potential for generating solar energy in northern Gujarat, the chief minister immediately called in a bureaucrat and asked him to get working on a plan.

“It’s like dealing with a private enterprise and talking to a CEO,” Patel says.

‘Modi Has to Evolve’

While political analysts say Modi is a possible future candidate for prime minister, he would face hostility from Muslims. “God will bring Modi down one day,” Sayed says.

In states with large Muslim populations, where they comprise more than 15 percent, Modi would have to soften his anti-Muslim image.

“Modi’s problem is very real,” Rangarajan says. “Modi has to evolve.”

In Ahmedabad’s Juhapura ghetto, Hindus built a 10-foot- high wall with barbed wire at the top to separate themselves from Muslims. The wall is a reminder of the issues confronting Modi and his party as they vie to rule India again.

To contact the reporter on this story: Abhay Singh in New Delhi at abhaysingh@bloomberg.net.

Last Updated: March 29, 2009 17:00 EDT

Somali Muslims Changing Small Town

Somali Muslims Changing Small Town – World – CBN News

Somali Muslims Changing Small Town
By Erick Stakelbeck
CBN News Terrorism Analyst
March 28, 2009

CBNNews.com – SHELBYVILLE, Tenn. – It has been nearly 20 years since Somalia last had a functioning government. Islamic jihadists now control most of the country-and sharia is the law of the land. Tens of thousands of Somali refugees have resettled in America in recent years to escape the chaos of their homeland, which is located in the Horn of Africa.

But the transition isn’t going smoothly in one small town.

Click the player to watch the report from CBN News Terrorism Analyst Erick Stakelbeck followed by comments from Pat Robertson.

At first glance, Shelbyville is your typical sleepy southern hamlet. It’s nestled in middle Tennessee, where the walking horse is king.

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There’s Main St., the local sheriff, a movie theatre. It’s all very “Mayberry,” except for one big difference: the recent arrival of hundreds of Somali Muslims.

Small Town Having Difficulties

Shelbyville is about an hour’s drive from Nashville, in the heart of the Bible Belt. Like many Americans, the citizens of Shelbyville knew little about Somalia other than the 1993 Black Hawk Down incident, in which 18 U.S. servicemen were killed while battling warlords and Islamic jihadists in the Somali capital of Mogadishu.

So when hundreds of Somalis began turning up in the town–many of them dressed in traditional Islamic garb–locals quickly took notice.

“They’ve had an impact here. Unfortunately, it’s not been a good impact,” said Brian Mosely, a reporter for the local Shelbyville Times-Gazette.

Mosely won an award from the Associated Press for a series of articles he wrote for the paper about Shelbyville’s Somalis.

“I found that there was just an enormous culture clash going on here,” he said. “The Somalis were–according to a lot of the people I talked to here–were being very, very rude, inconsiderate, very demanding. Tthey would go into stores and haggle over prices. They would also demand to see a male salesperson, would not deal with women in stores”

Different People, Different Culture

“Their culture is totally alien to anything the residents are used to,” Mosely added.

The problems extend to local schools–where some Somali students won’t talk to female administrators. There have also been issues with local law enforcement.

“I’m not really sure whether that is because of experiences with the police in their country, or whether that’s just the way their culture is,” said Shelbyville’s Police Chief, Austin Swing.

Shelbyville is home to about 17,000 people. The town’s Somali population is estimated to be between 400 and 1,000.

Mosely says the Somalis have isolated themselves from the rest of the community.

“We’re talking about people who have not had any experience with Western civilization,” he explained. “They don’t know the language. Things like running water are a miracle to some of these folks…you don’t take people from a totally alien culture, put them into a community, and then say ‘alright, you must get along.’

Little Chance to Adapt

Abdirizak Hassan is the director of the Somali Community Center in nearby Nashville. He says the state of Tennessee has no programs to help immigrants integrate into their new surroundings.

“They come, and the only thing they can do is go to work, and then after work they go back to the apartment,” Hassan said. “They’re totally isolated and there’s no interaction between them and the locals.”

He added that some have even expressed a desire to return to Somalia.

“A lot of them face eviction. They put them in an apartment complex that costs $600 a month. They can’t get a job that gives them that much money,” Hassan explained.

“And sometimes you have families, like, a single mother with eight kids, or seven kids or six kids, and you expect her to go to work in six months time with no English, no driver’s skills, nothing? I mean, sometimes it’s impossible.”

“The locals, mostly, when they see a few hundred people in their backyard with a different look, strangers, you know, of course they have the right to be concerned,” he added. “But I think if the local authorities and organizations like ours do a lot of outreach, I think we can bridge the gap.”

So how did so many Somalis end up in rural Shelbyville? The answer can be complicated.

Taken in by the U.S.

The State Department helps resettle refugees from war-torn countries like Somalia in the United States. The resettlement project is one part of a taxpayer-funded refugee aid program with a billion dollar budget.

Immigrants are chosen from UN refugee camps. The selected refugees then undergo a few days of cultural orientation and are soon on their way to America.

Although most of the refuges are repatriated to their home countries, the U.S. takes in more refugees than any other nation–with a cap of about 80,000 this year.

“What we do is we look at the most vulnerable groups of refugees,” said Todd Pierce of the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration. “One group we’ve tried to help is Iraqi Christians and those who’ve worked with U.S. and Coalition forces.”

Pierce said the resettlement program helps improve America’s image in the eyes of the world.

“It’s one of the best facets of America, that we are a very generous, hospitable country,” he said. “This is something that has been bipartisan for decades now–we’ve brought people in….we look at Africa, we look at the Middle East, we look at Southeast Asia.”

A Rocky Transition?

More than 150,000 Somalis now live in the U.S., most in larger cities like Minneapolis, Nashville, Boston, Seattle and Columbus, Ohio.

Gang activity has been a major concern. And according to the U.S. government, at least a dozen young Somali Americans have returned home in recent months to join an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group called al-Shabab.

As a result, the FBI is conducting investigations in several cities with large Somali populations. The fear is that the Somalis will return to America and put their terror training to use on U.S. soil.

Pierce says the government tries to shut any potential troublemakers out of the refugee resettlement program.

“We work closely with the Department of Homeland Security to make sure we vet people coming here, especially since 9/11. It’s very important,” he said.

Motivated by Jobs

“Our experience has been that refugees are very successful at resettling,” said Holly Johnson of the Tennessee Office of Refugees.

Johnson said the federal government contracts with social welfare groups at the local level to help set the refugees up in apartments, find them jobs and ease their transition to America.

“They are completely self sufficient, usually within 4 months,” she said. “They arrive here with nothing but a duffel bag of clothes, and they’re on their own, paying their bills, children are attending school, they know where their doctor’s office is within a few months.”

After a few months in their settlement cities, the refugees are free to move around the country and live wherever they please.

Enter Shelbyville

Somalis in other cities were drawn to Shelbyville by the jobs offered at the local Tyson chicken processing plant.

The plant came under fire from the Department of Justice in 2001 for hiring illegal Hispanic immigrants.

The large influx of Somalis has only added to locals’ frustration with the plant and the government.

“We’ve had three major industries shut down here and 700 to 800 people have lost their jobs,” Mosely said. “They’re trying to find anything they can, and then–as they see it–the government is shipping people from overseas to come here and take their jobs.”

Getting Past Controversy

Despite locals’ continued complaints over its hiring practices, Tyson says it is doing things by the book. A Tyson spokesman said the company is following federal employment guidelines–and that the majority of its employees are local residents.

The Tyson plant generated national controversy last fall when it dropped Labor Day as a paid holiday in favor of the Muslim holiday Eid al-Fitr.

The decision was later reversed, but longtime local residents say the incident was symbolic of the larger changes taking place in Shelbyville–changes they are coping with as best they can.

“We’re probably as culturally diversified as any small town in America.” said Chief Swing. “There’s been a lot of changes. But I think most people just take it in stride and keep going along with it.”

*Originally aired March 26, 2009

Glimpses of 18th century Delhi through a ‘Storyteller’s Tale’ | TwoCircles.net

Glimpses of 18th century Delhi through a ‘Storyteller’s Tale’ | TwoCircles.net

Glimpses of 18th century Delhi through a ‘Storyteller’s Tale’
Submitted by admin4 on 27 March 2009 – 12:20pm.

* Indian Muslim
* Literature

By Madhusree Chatterjee, IANS,

New Delhi : A storyteller and a begum swap tales and match their narrative wits in writer-journalist Omair Ahmad’s new book “The Storyteller’s Tale” – giving a glimpse of 18th century Delhi after Afghan warlord Ahmad Shah Abdali’s army plundered it.

“At the core of the story is a man and a woman exchanging stories. It is set in 18th century Delhi after massive raids by Ahmad Shah Abdali’s forces, which devastated the capital. A part of it is history while the other is what happened to the city, alongside history,” Ahmad told IANS following the release of the book at the American Centre.

In the 18th century, when Abdali’s forces had crushed the city of Delhi, a Muslim storyteller found himself in an isolated casbah (settlement), a day’s ride from the capital, on his way out of the city.

A begum in the casbah invites him to share a story. The storyteller, anguished by the destruction of Delhi, tells her a bitter tale of two brothers, Taka and Wara – a wolf and a boy – a story of love, loyalty, hurt and fear that came with unrequited love.

The begum responds with a story of her own – the story of Aresh and Barab, a friendship that transcended death. It leads to a chain of stories as the two match their narrative wits.

And with each story, the begum and the storyteller are drawn into a whirlpool of forbidden love.

“The book happened more by chance than by thought. I did not plan it. In fact, I wrote the first story in the ‘…Tale’ as a short story. I showed it to my friend Olivia, to whom the book is dedicated. And she said I had not been particularly kind to the woman. So, I wrote a second story. But I wasn’t convinced by the guy’s point of view and wrote the third story, and then the fourth,” said Ahmad, who has given up his job as a journalist to become a full-time writer.

Before becoming a journalist, Ahmad was a political adviser to the British government and had also worked for the Conservative Party on international security issues.

He has also advised the Indian government on several key issues and prepared the brief for the India-US nuclear deal.

Ahamad’s book, in a form reminiscent of “The Tales of Sinbad”, “One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian Nights)” and Salman Rushdie’s “Haroon and the Sea of Stories”, weaves the turbulent history of northern India in the 18th century with fables – most of which read like popular lores.

“I was inspired by the fables of Panchatantra, the Bible, the Quran, Japanese folklore from the ‘Tales of Genji’, the adventures of Hamza and the Sinbad tales. Story-telling in India is an ancient format. Between 900 and 1500 AD, a huge number of people came from West Asia bringing with them their own stories. Delhi then was largely populated by immigrants,” Ahmad said.

He also drew from the “Tota-Maina ki kahani” – the rural folk tales of northern India – and a combination of the Alif Laila traditions of story-telling and the Panchatantra.

“But I really don’t want to compare myself with Salman Rushdie. ‘Haroon and the Sea of stories’ is by far his best work which showcases his talent without getting political,” said Ahmad, an Aligarh Muslim University and Jawaharlal Nehru University alumnus.

Ahmad has now signed a four-book deal with Penguin.

“The first is a travelogue and a narrative history of Bhutan, a novella ‘Jimmy, The Terrorist’, which I will submit for the Man Asian shortlist, a book of interlinked short stories based on my dad’s city Gorakhpur in eastern UP (Uttar Pradesh) and a biography of my grand-dad’s brother, Pakistan’s high commissioner to India between 1948 and 1952, who retained his Indian citizenship,” Ahmad said.

The Delhi-based writer is often referred to as a “true Sufi”. “I can’t say I am not a Sufi,” says Ahmad, when asked about his faith.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

Amana expecting licence to begin commercial banking

The Amana Group has reached another milestone in their journey with the granting of a Letter of Provisional Approval to establish a licensed commercial bank named Amana Bank Limited by the Monetary Board of CBSL, a statement released by the company said.

The Amana Group is currently taking steps to establish the first truly Islamic Commercial Bank in the country. Amana Bank has not yet been granted a licence to carry on banking business under the Banking Act No. 30 of 1988 (as amended).

Upon achieving certain conditions listed in the Letter of Provisional Approval such as the raising of a minimum capital requirement of Rs.2.5 billion, Amana Bank expects to receive a banking licence from the CBSL that will enable it to begin commercial banking operations.

Upon receiving its commercial banking licence, Amana Bank plans to use its unique position as the first truly Islamic bank in the country to attract Sharia-compliant investment flows from the Middle East and the Far East.

Subject to Malaysian and Sri Lankan regulatory clearances, Amana Bank hopes to utilize the technical expertise and specialized Islamic banking know-how of Bank Islam Malaysia Berhad (BIMB), which currently holds a 10% stake in AIL, to design and deliver a new range of Islamic banking services, which includes current accounts, foreign exchange transactions, inward and outward remittances, export financing, guarantees, performance bonds, bid bonds, corporate treasury placements, private banking, wealth management, long term housing finance, infrastructure financing, agricultural finance and leasing. BIMB pioneered Islamic banking in Malaysia and is a globally acknowledged leader in Islamic banking, the statement said.

Amana Bank plans to actively participate in the Government’s ‘Re-awakening of the East’ program by expanding it’s branch network in the Eastern province beyond the currently existing five and offering appropriate Islamic banking solutions to facilitate the resurgence of the Eastern Province’s infrastructure and economy.

Amana Bank has plans to build on the solid foundations laid by AIL to take its products and services to all ethnic groups, realize the full business potential that would ensue from a licensed commercial banking operation and provide its customers and shareholders with higher value and returns.

Map of Chinese Muslims

Map of Chinese Muslims

6 FEBRUARY 2009 NO COMMENT

The following map shows regions in China with large number of Chinese Muslims.

While other provinces and regions may not have that many Muslims but Muslims are nonetheless found in all parts of China. One of the reasons is because traditionally Muslims were involved in trade in China.

Brief Bio: Wang Daiyu is a doctoral student and the editor of the Islam in China webzine. He also maintains a blog on Islam and China.