Age of Jahiliyah

A blog of wide and varied interest, including Islam, Muslims, Poetry, Art and much more.

Archive for the month “August, 2011”

Ramadan: When Feeding Others Supersedes Our Own Hunger and Greed

From Sandala

By Hamza Yusuf.

As Ramadan moves along, we realize the rapidity with which the month travels. The word “month,” derived from “moon,” essentially measures one lunar cycle: the roughly 29.5 days it takes the moon to circle the earth. A lag time is involved due to the earth’s spin and its own movement around the sun. The Qur’an tells us that fasting is prescribed so we may learn to ward off evil, and then reminds us of the “limited days” (ayyaman m’adudat) before fasting comes to an end (2:183-184). The plural form used for “days” is known in Arabic morphology as a “plural of paucity,” meaning the number is not large. In other words, Ramadan is a limited time of spiritually powerful days.

During Ramadan, one can achieve spiritually what would take far longer during other times of the year. But restraining our zest for food is a prerequisite. In his book Hujjat Allah al-Balighah, Imam Shah Wali Allah al-Dahlawi explains that our faith provides special times of blessing that have enhanced spiritual power, and only a receptive soul will experience great openings during such times. To prevent the openings from blockage, he recommends, among other things, ensuring that the stomach is not sated. This advice is in the prophetic tradition. The Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “The worst vessel the son [or daughter] of Adam ever fills is his [or her] stomach.” He also said, “It is enough for the son of Adam to eat a few morsels that will maintain his back’s uprightness. But if he must add more to his stomach, then let it be one third for food, one third for water, and one third for air.” The Persian scholar Sahl al-Tustari was asked about a man who ate once a day, and he replied, “This is the way of the prophets.” Asked about someone who eats twice a day, he said, “This is the way of the righteous.” Finally, he was asked about someone who eats three meals a day, and he replied, “Build for him a trough!” Abu Madyan al-Ghawth, who laid the foundations along with Imam al-Ghazali for the way of Shaykh Abd Allah al-Haddad of Hadhramaut, remarked that his own path was one of hunger.

Ramadan is an especially opportune time to reflect on the blessings of food and satiety. When we eat less, our stomachs shrink, and we feel full after a few bites at the end of the day. Fasting allows us to experience once a year what many throughout the world experience almost daily. Hunger, for them, is not a choice; it is simply a fact of life. Currently, Somalia and other parts of East Africa are gripped by a devastating drought, and the lives of millions of men and women — and sinless children — hang in the balance. Such tragedies make some people ask, “Where is God?” But God may very well answer with a question: “Where are you?!” After all, these catastrophes are avoidable. A recent study of global food wastage indicates that we waste millions of tons of food each year. Even a portion of that would ward off any potential famine.

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Somalia has gone through great tragedies of late. We should not forget that in the not too distant past, Somalia was a wonderful pastoral society of profoundly spiritual people. The occasional clashes of clan and feuds over water were usually resolved by the elders without bloodshed. Somalis had an irenic culture largely bilingual due to their love of Arabic and immersion in a classical training in the Yemeni tradition of islam, iman, and ihsan. They were people who would wake before dawn to call on their Lord before setting out for a rural day’s work. I know this both from my own elderly Somali friends whom I cherish, and also from my time in a very similar society in West Africa. In fact, the Somali of Mauritania are descendants of Somali migrants from East Africa. Some of the most brilliant scholars I met in Mauritania are from the Somali people. In the San Francisco Bay Area, our own dear Shaykh Abdar Rahman Tahir, a brilliant scholar of Arabic from Somalia, was a student of the great master of Arabic, Muhyiddin Abdul Hamid.

Somalia’s recent history has unfortunately been one of political upheaval and the collapse of civil society and functional government. As it emerged from the weight of colonialism, it fell victim to Cold War politics and international intrigue due to its important strategic spot in the Horn of Africa. Now the persistent poverty has been compounded by drought and famine, even as internal violence makes everything far worse. Yet Africans in general are always low on the so-called world community’s list for help. Higher up on the list are the bailouts of Wall Street firms or the financial institutions of Greece or Italy or Spain because those have consequences for people in the West. But when it comes to starving Africans, one hears the refrain, “When are they going to help themselves?” That is the thinking of Iblis. The Qur’an quotes the mentality of such people; they say, “Shall we feed those whom had God could have fed if He willed?” (36:47). The Prophet, peace and blessings upon him, said, “You are aided by aiding the weak among you.”

Somalia deserves to have the aid of all of us.

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It is Ramadan, a time when our own self-induced hunger should bring us a bit closer to those whose hunger is caused by circumstance, not choice. I am in the Emirates now and have seen the generosity of the government and its people here in coming to the aid of Somalia; they have sent about 900 tons of food and have begun well-drilling operations. But much more needs to be done. The Red Crescent is extremely active there, as are other charitable organizations.

Charity conquers the greed of our souls and actualizes the solidarity of humanity, as those who have reach out to those who have not with love, compassion, and faith. Let us all remember them tonight at iftar as we break our fasts and pray for them. Let each of us find it in our hearts to do something, no matter how small, to address the problem. And let us not forget to pray for our brothers and sisters in Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and Afghanistan, whose Ramadan is filled with trials and tribulations, while most of ours are filled with relative ease and comfort.

In this blessed month of Ramadan, let us do what we are able for those in need, whose hunger and pain is likely to outlast this brief month.

Growing up Muslim after Sep. 11 – Test of Faith

From ajc


The Associated Press

FULLERTON, Calif. — In many ways, Yousuf Salama is a typical teenager: He lives for football, worries about acne and would rather dash off to see “Captain America” with friends than spend one more minute with his mother.

He’s aware, however, that his actions in particular can have greater meaning.

Yousuf is a Muslim, one of only two in an all-boys Catholic prep school in Southern California. He has been asked if he’s a terrorist and routinely shrugs off jokes about bombs and jihad.

“Sometimes I feel like I take it upon myself to be a better example,” he said on a recent evening after returning for a weeklong football camp.

Yousuf is among thousands of children who navigate every day the subtle and complex challenges that come with growing up Muslim in a deeply traumatized post-Sept. 11 America. Some were still in diapers and others in grade school when hijackers crashed planes into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon a decade ago, but their childhoods have been deeply touched by the pain and anger of a nation struggling to come to terms with a day that, for them, represents the worst perversion of their faith.

For some, like Yousuf in California and others across the country, the bullying, the hard stares and endless defense of their identity has nurtured a deeper faith and a maturity and resilience that surprises even their parents.

“I tell them that when they’re out in the world, they represent the best of our community, they are our faith ambassadors,” said Kari Ansari, who was pregnant with her youngest child on Sept. 11 and lives outside Washington, D.C with her family. “They will have learned to have compassion for people who maybe don’t even deserve that kind of compassion — dealing with bigots and dealing with prejudice — and that’s a great life lesson.”

For Ansari’s oldest daughter, Aneesa, that lesson colors her earliest memories.

She started attending a private Muslim kindergarten in Denver just days before Sept. 11 and it shut down for two weeks after angry protesters gathered outside. It eventually reopened, but an armed security guard stayed on campus for almost a year.

Today, the 15-year-old is deeply invested in her religious identity and exudes a quiet pride at being Muslim. She began wearing a head scarf in public without prompting in the fifth grade and has never removed it despite being cursed at while waiting in line at Ikea, stared at and pressured at school, she said.

Aneesa goes to the library during the lunch hour so she can observe the holy month of Ramadan (a month of no food or water from sunrise to sundown) and said she prefers to spend time with other Muslim teens to avoid the pressure to drink and do drugs.

Her mother worried that her young daughter would be pitied or discriminated against for wearing the hijab. But for Aneesa, wearing the head covering was a rebuke to those who dwelled on her differences and minimized her faith. Even at 11, she said, she was adamant that it was her choice and her identity.

“I have enough strength, I guess, to not be afraid of who I am,” Aneesa said. “It’s this pressure to change, people kind of hint that you don’t have to wear a scarf at school, they ask if your parents make you.

“Combatting that makes you a stronger person,” she said.

When the family moved from Denver to a new school in the western suburbs of Chicago, her younger brother Sajid suddenly found himself the only Muslim boy in his grade in a tiny school district.

For three years, from the fourth to the sixth grade, he was relentlessly bullied by dozens of students who ganged up on him, called him a terrorist and ridiculed him for his faith.

In a sixth-grade art class, a group of boys passed him a note showing a drawing of the twin towers, with the words “Look familiar?” written below. On another occasion, he was walking his sister home in the snow when other students ambushed them with icy snowballs. One hit his face, leaving a bloody gash on his cheek.

Sajid’s grades plummeted and attempts to get adults to help led to more abuse, so he stopped telling his parents about what was going on.

“I just kind of felt like, ‘Why was I born at a time when people didn’t understand?’ I didn’t have any problem with being Muslim or being born that way,” said Sajid, now 13.

“Sometimes, I felt it was unfair that I was born at a time when all this was happening,” he said. “It’s hard to explain that you’re not the stereotype that’s put out.”

The Ansaris eventually moved to northern Virginia and put their children in a bigger and more diverse school district where Sajid has thrived.

Today, Sajid is open with classmates about his faith, explaining that he can’t eat pepperoni because Muslims don’t eat pork and talking with friends about the terrorist characters that represent the enemy on war-themed video games.

“When you are a person of faith you look at your life circumstances and every situation that comes up is a trial or challenge to you in your faith,” said Ansari, who works as a freelance marketing consultant. “We believe it’s God’s way of saying, ‘What are you going to do about this? Are you going to succumb to it or rise above it and show what the true story is?”

In Southern California’s Orange County, Yousuf Salama, his 18-year-old sister Sarah and his 21-year-old brother Omar have spent years navigating the same types of challenges at their private, Catholic prep schools. Their parents sent them there because of the top-notch education and same-sex environment.

One of Yousuf’s friends asked if he was a terrorist after watching a TV program on Islamic extremism.

His older brother, unusually tall and lanky for his age, was called “Twin Tower” at a seventh-grade flag football camp and quietly endured an endless loop of jokes: Do you have a bomb in your backpack? When do you leave for jihad?

These days, those memories barely raise an eyebrow in the family’s upscale suburban home, where their parents juggle a home business, their children’s sports practices and part-time jobs as well the nightly prayers at the mosque during Ramadan.

On a recent night, the children, Omar’s new wife and their grandmother gathered to break the Ramadan fast with heaping plates of lamb and chicken kebobs, sliced grilled eggplant, humus and a thick chocolate cake for dessert.

“How have we been living for the past 10 years?” asked Anita Bond-Salama, their mother.

“There’s no answer, there’s no magic formula,” she continued. “My husband and I have just dealt with things very matter-of-factly: This is what happened. There’s good and there’s bad in the world. And unfortunately there’s bad people who represent our religion but our religion doesn’t say that.”

Omar was 11 when the airplanes were hijacked and of the three siblings, he has the clearest memories of that day and its aftermath. He remembers thinking at the time that the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan would change his life, too.

Over the years, he learned to restrain himself from physically confronting anyone who made fun of him, but he had his hardest test as a high school senior — six years after Sept. 11 — when a teacher asked him to read aloud in class. A fellow student leaned in, he recalled, and whispered: “Does your religion allow you to read?”

“I was this close to climbing over my seat and really messing him up,” Omar said.

He remembered thinking on that occasion and on many others that he should not react violently.

“If I did that … the whole school would be thinking in the back of their mind, ‘Oh, there goes another Muslim. There goes Omar again, a typical Muslim — violent and angry,'” he said.

Omar started high school “football crazy” and every bit the jock. He played for his school’s powerhouse football team, fasting during Ramadan while doing two-a-day workouts.

Over time, as the teasing got to him, he distanced himself from school friends and spent more time at the mosque. By his senior year, he had quit football and devoted himself to studying his faith so he could better explain Islam.

He attended more prayers, stopped swearing and improved his grades, which had slipped to Cs and Ds.

“If I’m being attacked by an individual or even just a curious individual, I have to be able to answer. I can’t just say, ‘I don’t know.’ It made me pick up a book,” he said. “In that sense, it’s changed my life.”

Atheist Finds Islam Through Fasting Ramadan

From onislam

By Reading Islam Staff

Wednesday, 03 August 2011 12:45
Brother Sulaiman

In Turkey I soon noticed that the people who were fasting in Ramadan were the people who already I decided that I like

When I first come to Bahrain, I was hoping to discover the customs of the Middle East.

This turned out to be a very difficult thing as people who come to the gulf discover very early on.

You find yourself surrounded by many foreigners of many different nationalities and faiths. They are all here to work, to achieve things for themselves and this is not what we expect to come for, this is not the culture that we are expecting to find.

So, for sometime Islam is obscured or masked from people that come to the Gulf. So, for a long time I didn’t discover anything about Islam. I heard the Adhan and I thought this is very beautiful, I asked what these words mean and people told me, but even so, this was just information. This is almost like tourism.

Ramadan in Turkey

It was in fact 10 years later after I traveled from Bahrain to Sharjah to Dubai and then to Turkey where I discovered something different. That’s not to say that Islam is better or greater in Turkey, not at all. In fact, sadly, Islam is suppressed in Turkey in many ways.

I discovered after my arrival in Turkey that there were so many wonderful things to find out about that country. Of course it has a great Islamic history and this is what struck me visually straight away. I immediately discovered beautiful Islamic architecture from the Ottoman period. It was only after sometime in Turkey that I started to get to know the people in Turkey very well.

Then it was Ramadan, something that I witnessed many times before in the Gulf, but something I just let it pass me by just as most westerners do. Just an annoyance, an inability to get a cup of tea during the day. In Turkey, I felt something different. I felt some sense of something else. I soon noticed that the people who were fasting in Ramadan were the people who already I decided that I like. There was an obvious correlation between the best of the people and the people who fast it. These proved to be the best of the Muslims and I was attracted to them so I joined them.

I did what it seemed to be a strange thing. I started to fast in Ramadan even though I wasn’t a Muslim and I found it very pleasing in many ways, quite challenging in other ways, but very pleasing. I enjoyed the fast, I enjoyed especially the few moments before the Adhan of Al-Maghrib (sunset prayer) and waiting quietly with people who were fasting all day, working quite through the day because in Turkey there were no allowances made for Ramadan in the work. So people are fasting completely from the beginning of the day until dusk and they are working all the time. I did this also and this is difficult but alhamdulellah I succeeded. I was impressed with this. It gave me a sense of achievement and it inspired me to do more studying.

Reading The Quran

I was amazed when I read it because there was nothing strange in this book

Around this time somebody gave me my first Quran, it was a Yusuf Ali translation and I was able to read it in the English and to understand something. I was amazed when I read it because there was nothing strange in this book. I expected it to be full of… I don’t know… eastern mysticism or whatever nonsense you like to think as a westerner can imagine. There was nothing odd in it. In fact what I discovered was it wasn’t like the Bible.

I’ve never been able to understand the Bible. The Bible seemed to me to be full of contradictions, peculiar stories that didn’t seem to adapt and things which didn’t seem to be conveying the message of Christ. The message of Jesus didn’t seem to come through in the Bible except in some parts. Later I came to study this closely and now I understand why, but this is not the subject now. The point was that the Quran made a complete sense.

So I read it and I also read the biography of the Rassul, the life of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and this inspired me also. This was very interesting because this was a great man in history, so this was facts, something I can relate to as a westerner interested in logic. I followed this and I continued to follow it but still nobody was doing serious da`wah to me, nobody was trying to convince me that I should change my ways in any other way. So I became what you can call ‘an abstract scholar of Islam”. I could have taken a qualification in Islamic studies! But this is of no real value if you don’t intend to do something with it, and sadly I didn’t.

Back in Dubai

After I returned from Turkey to Dubai, by Allah, I found myself working for some very excellent people and the person who was my boss became one of my great friends. In the evening after work we would discuss while we go out for dinner, maybe a little bit during the office also. He would help me study the right things and talk to the right people and tried to answer some of my questions in the best way he could.

But still he could see that all my objections were all to do with logic, all these questions about customs and practices, all these things that were born out of my secular upbringing. I’ve never been really Christian, I’ve just been an agnostic. I continued to ask him questions and not every question he could necessarily answer himself.

Fortunately, after at least a year some men came to him, some European Muslim businessmen who were trying to start a big project. Their project was the great desire to introduce the Islamic Gold Dinar as the currency of the Muslims. This seemed like, and even now, an awfully big desire and a huge goal. He brought this to me and said

“Hey, you are a finance man, what do you think of this?” These are some European Muslims who are trying to bring a practical aspect of Islam. Their idea is you can’t pay the zakah unless there is a gold dinar to pay it with. So you only have four pillars of Islam and you must find the other one through proper means.

So he asked me “What do you think of this idea?”.

Of course I learnt all about Islam and what was meant by these pillars and I said

“Rubbish, it can’t be done, there’s no way that they can overcome the international financial system and this will fail”.

He said “Well, why don’t you come and tell them this?”

I think I was in a bad mood and said “Yes sure, I’ll tell them”.

He took us out and I met these men.

European Muslims & My Shahada

They were not only answering my questions from a religious point of view, but they were also answering them from a point of view of logic and only scientific sense

They were Spanish and Germans who spoke English very well. They were very educated, very wise and great scholars who reverted to Islam like 10 or 20 years before and their knowledge was very great. These men are still doing great da`wah all over the world. So we discussed, we went on to this restaurant and we talked over and over.

We started with that dinner and I asked my questions and for the first time I started to get answers I couldn’t challenge. They were not only answering my questions from a religious point of view, but they were also answering them from a point of view of logic and only scientific sense that I thought I had with my objections and all my arguments about these points of religion and philosophy.

It was a Wednesday night in the middle of the week and at 1:00 am they said to me

“So, do you have any more questions?”

ِAnd I said “No… I don’t, I ran out of questions”

So they said “Now what, you are going to embrace Islam?”

What could I say? I could only say “Yes”.

So they invited me to come to their house on the following Friday, two days later. I came to the house well-prepared. They gave me some last lessons and advices, things I needed to know about salah, making wudu/ghusl, and we went to the grand mosque of Jumeirah where I said my shahada. I immediately got a thousand big brothers who were hugging me and were delighted. I’ve never seen so many happy faces, never, not in my birthday party, not in a Christian gathering and not in any other gathering, so many pleased people and they were all pleased for me.

So that’s my story. I hope it didn’t bored you too much. I think I still have just one thing to say. Those of  you who were born Muslims, alhamdulellah, you were blessed and I just hope you would treasure it and treat it as you should as a gift that you were given at birth, something very wonderful.

If you are a revert like me then congratulations also, alhamdulellah, always alhamdulellah. I hope your story was something wonderful for you whether it was a sudden discovery or a slower torturous argumentative path like mine, whatever it was I hope it  had brought you to the right path.

If you are not a Muslim, then I have something else to say to you. Look at me now; some ugly old man but I’m very happy, happier than I’ve ever been and more satisfied than I’ve ever been. All the doubts and fears, all the desires and longing for wrong stupid material things that belong to this life, no matter what I collected, after 70,80 or 90 years if I’m lucky I would have to give them all up. I swapped that for something permanent.

I’m not going to lecture you, if you don’t want to listen to it you don’t have to listen, just see what I have on my face, I’m happy, you could be happy too, this is something you should consider, I hope you will.

Uploaded by AlwaysMuslims

Prince Finds Islam Orderly

Défilé Channel printemps/été 2010 prêt-à-porte...

Image via Wikipedia

From Illume Magazine

Prince respects the “order” of Islamic countries.

The ‘Purple Rain’ singer believes Middle Eastern countries that dictate what their citizens can do and wear cannot just be dismissed as oppressive and wrong.

In an interview with The Guardian newspaper, Prince – who has been a Jehovah’s Witnesses since 2001 – said: “We can’t do what we want to do all the time. If you don’t have boundaries, what then?

“It’s fun being in Islamic countries, to know there’s only one religion. There’s order. You wear a burqa. There’s no choice. People are happy with that.”

When asked what he would say to Muslim women who are unhappy to be forced to wear burqas – which cover the wearer’s entire body apart from their eyes – he replied: “There are people who are unhappy with everything. There’s a dark side to everything. I don’t want to get up on a soapbox. My view of the world, you can debate that forever.”

Jihad Against Islam – The Anti-Muslim Inner Circle

From Information Clearing House

Activists attacking Muslims and Islam are springing up around the country. But there’s a core group of 10 hard-liners

By Robert Steinback

July 23, 2011 “SPLC” – – Rarely has the United States seen a more reckless and bare-knuckled campaign to vilify a distinct class of people and compromise their fundamental civil and human rights than the recent rhetoric against Muslims.

It would also be hard to imagine a more successful campaign. In the span of the two years since the start of Barack Obama’s presidency in early 2009, an astonishing number of people have turned into a kind of political wolf pack, convinced that 0.6% of the U.S. population is on the verge of trampling the Constitution and imposing an Islamic, Shariah-guided caliphate in its place. Like the communists that an earlier generation believed to be hiding behind every rock, infiltrated “Islamist” operatives today are said to be diabolically preparing for a forcible takeover.

Ironically, the Constitution seems more threatened by certain Americans who, prodded into paranoia by clever activists, opportunistic politicians and guileful media players, seem downright eager to deny Muslims the guarantees of religious freedom and the presumption of innocence.

“As an American Muslim, what is of most concern to me is that it is no longer only a small cadre of dedicated Islamophobes who are expressing bigotry and even hatred towards the American Muslim community — but sadly, also many among our elected representatives and government officials,” Sheila Musaji, moderator of the website The American Muslim, wrote in an E-mail to the Intelligence Report. “It provides a veneer of respectability and reasonableness to what would otherwise be more easily perceived to be outright bigotry.”

And that bigotry has consequences. Recent news reports strongly suggest a spike in anti-Muslim hate crimes. In May 2010, for example, a bomb exploded at an Islamic center in Jacksonville, Fla. In August, a man slashed the neck and face of a New York taxi driver after finding out he was a Muslim. Four days later, someone set fire to construction equipment at the future site of an Islamic center in Murfreesboro, Tenn. This March, a radical Christian pastor burned a Koran in Gainesville, Fla., leading to deadly riots in Afghanistan that left at least 20 people dead. Hate crime statistics for 2010 won’t be released by the FBI until the fall, but it appears certain they will show increasing violence against Muslims.

The American public psyche has undergone a subtle but profound metamorphosis since 2001, moving from initial rage at the 9/11 mass murder to fear of another devastating attack by Muslim extremists to, most recently, a more generalized fear of Islam itself. That evolution from specific concerns to general stereotyping is the customary track of racism and xenophobia — and in Muslims, those inclined to bigotry may have found their perfect bogeyman.

Muslims are predominantly non-white. They practice an unfamiliar religion with unusual rituals. They are a small population in this land with a largely inconspicuous history here. They are regarded by many as a military enemy of the United States. They are perceived as a threat to the American social and cultural fabric. They have few ideological allies outside their own number. Never before has an American minority group had all of these factors arrayed against them.

And Muslims have one uniquely debilitating additional characteristic: a sliver of global Muslim society willing to resort to terrorism. It’s a small sliver, but it doesn’t need to be large. If 99.9% of the world’s Muslims were firmly dedicated to peace and nonviolence, that would still leave hundreds of thousands posing a legitimate and very significant public danger. It took only 19 jihadist terrorists, after all, to kill 2,977 innocent people on 9/11.

Ginning Up Anger
Earlier this year, on Feb. 13, scores of middle-class Americans who could easily populate any pastoral suburban America tableau turned out in Yorba Linda, Calif., to protest the scheduled appearance of two highly controversial Muslim speakers at a dinner to raise money for local charitable projects. The speakers were Imam Abdul Malik Ali, who has made a series of undeniably anti-Semitic comments, and Imam Siraj Wahhah, who was a character witness for a blind New York City sheikh convicted of seditious conspiracy in a 1993 terrorist plot.

Although there may have been a reasonable basis for the initial protest, things got out of hand quickly. As attendees arrived, many with small children in tow, a breakaway group of the protesters hurled scathing taunts, boos and hoots at them: “Go back home!” they chanted. Individuals yelled, “No shariah! Muhammad was a child molester! Muhammad was a pervert! You beat your women and you rape your children! Why don’t you go have sex with a 9-year-old! Get out of here! Eat sand! Take your Shariah and go home, you terrorist lovers!”

It was an ugly scene, made all the uglier by comments offered earlier from the podium of the main rally by Villa Park, Calif., Councilwoman Deborah Pauly, who described the fundraiser as “pure, unadulterated evil” and said she knew “quite a few Marines who will be very happy to help these terrorists to an early meeting in paradise.”

While such insinuations of violence from public officials have not yet become commonplace, consider just a little of what has happened since 2009:

• U.S. Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) — who has said there are “too many mosques” in America and asserted, without providing any evidence, that 80-85% were controlled by fanatical extremists — on March 10 held the first round of hearings into the “radicalization” of American Muslims. To most Muslims, the hearings seemed to be little more than an exercise in demonizing their communities and religion. Even many non-Muslims wondered how the public would react if congressional hearings were held into the radicalization of fundamentalist Christians because it is, after all, mainly fundamentalists who have attacked women’s clinics and doctors who provide abortions.

• Oklahoma voters last November passed a state constitutional amendment prohibiting judges from making rulings based on Shariah — the Islamic religious code of law and moral conduct — rather than U.S. law. The measure was legally pointless — no American judge can override U.S. law — but critics said it could hurt local companies doing business internationally. A federal judge indefinitely stayed implementation of the referendum, but at least 20 states have considered similar legislation recently to confront the feared Shariah takeover plot.

• Two Tennessee legislators in February introduced a bill that would establish certain Shariah practices as prima facie evidence of an intent to overthrow the Constitution. It would virtually criminalize Islam, theoretically subjecting Muslims who weren’t careful in their prayer practices to prison terms of up to 15 years.

Former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, firing off an attack on Muslims during a controversy last summer over a planned Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in New York City, said approving the center would be akin to allowing Nazis to erect a monument outside the U.S. Holocaust Museum.

• U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) took to the floor of Congress last August to warn of a plot to bring pregnant Muslim women to the Unites States to have babies — later lampooned as “terror babies” — who could then return here in 20 to 30 years as terrorists with American citizenship and passports. Challenged by the news media later, Gohmert could produce no evidence of any plot.

• Two elderly, turban-wearing Sikh men were shot to death on an Elk Grove, Calif., street this March 4 in what police suspect was a hate crime committed by assailants who mistook their victims for Muslims. At least one Sikh was murdered shortly after 9/11 by a man who thought his victim was Muslim, and many others were attacked.

Citizen protests have challenged perfectly legal mosque or Islamic center construction projects in New York City, Murfreesboro, Tenn., Temecula, Calif., Sheboygan, Wis., and elsewhere. Fox News host and conspiracist-in-chief Glenn Beck claimed that 10% of all Muslims — that is, about 157 million people worldwide, more than the entire population of Russia — were terrorists. The crackpot leader of a tiny fringe church in Florida generated a global controversy last fall with a proposed stunt he called “International Burn a Koran Day.” This March, Terry Jones followed through on the threat, burning a Koran and sparking riots in Afghanistan that left at least 20 people, seven of them foreigners, dead. A columnist for a Brooklyn, N.Y., neighborhood webzine wrote: “[W]here there are mosques, there are Muslims, and where there are Muslims, there are problems.”

Of course, there has been serious terrorism from homegrown Muslims in this country. The Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security reported earlier this year that there had been 161 terrorist plots involving Muslim Americans since 9/11, with 69 contemplating domestic targets. Eleven of those 69 actually carried out their attacks, killing 33 people — 13 at the hands of U.S. Army psychiatrist Major Nidal Malik Hasan, who opened fire at Fort Hood, Texas, in late 2009, and 11 by “Beltway Snipers” John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo. (It’s questionable whether or not Muhammad and Malvo are rightly seen as having been motivated by Islam, although some comments they made suggested that may have been the case.) In addition, a 2007 Pew Research Center survey found that 15% of American Muslims under the age of 30 believed that suicide bombing could be justified.

But the Triangle study found something else, too. Of the 120 suspected plots it said were foiled before execution, 48 — 40% — were brought to the attention of the authorities by other Muslims. Similarly, the Pew study found that 76% of American Muslims were very or somewhat concerned about the rise of Islamic extremism around the world, and a similar proportion opposed suicide bombing in all cases. At the same time, many law enforcement organizations have rejected the claim, made by Peter King in his hearings, that most Muslims don’t cooperate with police.

All of this, especially the attacks on Muslims by public figures, is having a real effect. In an April 2009 Washington Post-ABC News poll, 29% of Americans said they felt mainstream Islam advocated violence against non-Muslims (it also found that 48% had an unfavorable view of Islam, the highest proportion since 2001). Sixteen months later, in August 2010, a Pew Forum survey found that 35% of Americans now felt Islam encouraged violence more than other religions. Finally, just this March, a Gallup poll found 36% of Americans believed that Muslims in the United States are too extreme in their religious beliefs. The latest poll also revealed that 28% of Americans— that works out to almost 90 million people — felt that Muslims who live in the United States are sympathetic to Al Qaeda.

Behind the Attacks
This apparently growing movement was not a case of spontaneous public-opinion combustion. In the decade since 9/11, a coterie of core activists — most importantly, hard-liners Robert Spencer, Brigitte Gabriel, Frank Gaffney, David Horowitz and David Yerushalmi, along with the more moderate Daniel Pipes and Steve Emerson — has been warning that the Islamic sky was falling. Independent journalist Max Blumenthal in December 2010 called it “the Great Islamophobic Crusade.”

“Erupting so many years after the September 11th trauma, this spasm of anti-Muslim bigotry might seem oddly timed and unexpectedly spontaneous,” Blumenthal wrote. “But think again: it’s the fruit of an organized, long-term campaign by a tight confederation of right-wing activists and operatives who first focused on Islamophobia soon after the September 11th attacks, but only attained critical mass during the Obama era. … This network is obsessively fixated on the supposed spread of Muslim influence in America.”

This stalwart core of activists labored to find traction through the decade after 9/11. They created a slate of organizations dedicated to exposing and combating various aspects of the Muslim threat they perceived.

Two factors largely neutralized their efforts: The U.S. military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan, which many Americans may have considered an adequate response to 9/11, and a conservative president, George W. Bush, who consistently argued that terrorism, not Islam or Muslims in general, was the nation’s enemy.

During that post-9/11 lull, the activists, many of them bankrolled by deep-pocket organizations including Aubrey Chernick’s Fairbrook Foundation, began to hone strategies to take on what they saw as the spread of Muslim influence in mainstream America, Blumenthal reported. In 2004, they tried but failed to block the tenure application of Palestinian-born Columbia University professor of Middle East studies, Joseph Massad. Then they engineered a protest of a community center planned by the Islamic Society of Boston. That effort failed, too, and the center was approved in 2007.

The activists got their first taste of success when they contested the planned opening of a secular Arabic-English elementary public school in Brooklyn, N.Y. Its intended principal, educator Debbie Almontaser, was widely known as a politically moderate Muslim, but opponents, under the banner Stop the Madrassa, succeeded in recasting her as a dangerous extremist. Though the school was ultimately approved, the opposition compelled Almontaser to resign when she lost the support of New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

The New York Times described the effort that ruined Almontaser “the work of a growing and organized movement to stop Muslim citizens who are seeking an expanded role in American public life.”

“The fight against the school… was only an early skirmish in a broader, national struggle,” the Times reported. Daniel Pipes, one of the leaders of Stop the Madrassa, told the Times, “It’s a battle that has really just begun.”

A Star is Born
Pipes was right. Circumstances turned favorable for this corps of anti-Muslim activists beginning in late 2008. A black man with an Arabic middle name — Hussein, also the name of an infamous American enemy in Iraq — had just won the presidency, exacerbating many whites’ fears about the demographic “browning” of America. The public began to weary of protracted U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, realizing it might never yield triumphantly pro-Western results. The economy tanked. Conservatives began casting about for issues to emotionally fire up their temporarily staggered base, seizing first upon immigration.

At the same time, much conservative and right-wing opposition to Obama came to be framed in the simplest terms, even though they were false: The president was a secret Muslim, a man with allegiances to people who weren’t like real Americans. According to the Pew Research Center, 11% of Americans believed Obama was a Muslim in March 2009. By last August, it was 18%.

Then, in early 2010, a fortuitous gift arrived: An innocuous proposal by a New York City imam and his financier partner to renovate an abandoned building in lower Manhattan into a 13-story mosque and community center came to light. The gift was its address: 45-51 Park Place — two blocks from the site of the former World Trade Center.

Just then, a dazzling new anti-Muslim activist burst onto the scene: Pamela Geller, the well-to-do ex-wife of a Long Island used-car mogul who previously busied herself rearing her four children, writing blogs and posting slam poetry-style videos trashing all things liberal on her YouTube channel.

Geller had joined Stop the Madrassa and blogged often about the matter on her website, Atlas Shrugs. Blessed with sultry Hollywood sex appeal and a sassy, scythe-like wit — a personable Ann Coulter and articulate Sarah Palin rolled into one — Geller would ride the Park51 project protest to superstardom.

She first blogged against Park51 in December 2009. Four months later, she and Robert Spencer joined forces to take control of the organization Stop Islamization of America (SIOA), then an insipid adjunct of a Denmark-based group called Stop Islamisation of Europe. Geller’s charisma and Spencer’s savvy blended to create a propaganda powerhouse. One of their first projects was buying controversial bus ads in New York and Miami that invited Muslims to reject Islam. The ad campaign created virtually instant notoriety for SIOA.

That June, Geller and Spencer staged a protest in Lower Manhattan to oppose Park51. The rally drew thousands, and plenty of media coverage. Drawing on tactics used against Almontaser, Massad and the Boston community center, SIOA strove to depict the American-born project leader, Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf — a man who had quietly led a small mosque in lower Manhattan for many years prior and worked with the FBI for years— as an anti-American “radical Islamist.” They insinuated, with scant evidence, that the project’s financing might be tied to terrorists. They absurdly described it as an Islamic “victory mosque” celebrating the 9/11 attacks, modeled after Jerusalem’s Dome of the Rock, though no Muslim had ever suggested such a thing. It wasn’t long before prominent conservatives including Rush Limbaugh, Newt Gingrich and then-New York gubernatorial candidate Rick Lazio had embraced and rebroadcast much of SIOA’s rhetorical fire.

Shariah as Pariah
The Park51 project secured all of its needed approvals and is currently moving ahead despite the opposition. (This time, Mayor Bloomberg took a different tack, coming out strongly in favor of the mosque’s construction in the name of religious tolerance.) But despite Park51’s apparent advances, anti-Muslim animosity in America has continued to grow, a brakeless bandwagon of hostility.

Brigitte Gabriel’s ACT! for America, the core group’s effort at creating a grassroots-mobilization movement, sought to derail the appointment of University of North Florida professor Parvez Ahmed to the Human Rights Commission of Jacksonville, Fla. But the video that ACT released in December 2010 supposedly proving that he, too, was a clandestine extremist, fell flat. ACT, which claims 155,000 members and 500 chapters nationwide, also was instrumental in spurring protestors to go to the Yorba Linda community center, although a defensive Gabriel later argued that ACT had not “organized” the protest.

Perhaps the most bewildering “success” story of the anti-Muslim campaign has been the public panic over the feared imposition of Shariah law in America. Shariah is hardly a fixed concept; virtually every Muslim-majority country utilizes a different variant of it, from extreme, as in Saudi Arabia, to almost imperceptible, as in Turkey. It seems laughable to think it could ever take hold in the United States, a nation with 300 million non-Muslims and a Constitution that hasn’t wobbled in 220 years. Still, legislators across the country are scrambling to be the first in their state to file anti-Shariah legislation — purposeless but propagandistic laws that inevitably will be challenged as unconstitutional and almost certainly thrown out.

Frank Gaffney’s Center for Security Policy helped set off the Shariah panic with the September 2010 release of its report, “Shariah, the Threat to America,” which depicted Islamic Shariah law as a global threat comparable to Soviet communism a generation ago. “Shariah’s pursuit in the United States,” the report asserted, “is tantamount to sedition.”

Even observers with deep concerns about radical Islam balked at endorsing such loopy paranoia. “This report makes this good point in a seriously bad way, which, if allowed to guide policy, will continue the discrimination against Muslims who are also good Americans,” observed John G. Stackhouse, professor of theology at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia.

The report is noteworthy, however, because so many legislators have bought into its extremism. One of its principal authors is attorney David Yerushalmi, who used virtually identical reasoning in drafting the astonishingly harsh anti-Shariah bill filed in Tennessee.

Two Key Tactics
This coordinated anti-Muslim movement relies heavily on two key tactics. The first is arguing that the most radical Muslims — men like Osama bin Laden — are properly interpreting the Koran, while peaceful, moderate Muslims either don’t understand their own holy book or are strategically faking their moderation. The primary architect of this theory is SIOA co-founder Robert Spencer, who has researched Islam outside academia for more than three decades. He says the Koran itself is innately violent and calls for the utter subjugation of non-believers. Critics charge that Spencer ignores other passages and centuries of interpretive scholarship that mitigate the Koran’s occasional violent verses. Some also point out that the many violent admonitions of other holy books, including the Bible, are not usually taken literally by believers.

The second key tactic is to relentlessly attack individuals and organizations who purport to represent moderate Islam in America, painting them as secret operatives in the grand Muslim scheme (typically attributed to a conspiracy led by the Egypt-based Muslim Brotherhood) to destroy the West.

One doesn’t have to probe very deeply to find the fingerprints of the eight central activists — Spencer, Pipes, Horowitz, Gaffney, Emerson, Gabriel, Geller and Yerushalmi — on almost every aspect of the recent surge in anti-Muslim fervor in America. The conservative media, led by FOX News personalities Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Eric Bolling and including the upstart Pajamas Media online network, evangelist Franklin Graham, and a contingent of sympathetic right-wing bloggers and commentators, have joined in to help construct a “movement” that 9/11 itself didn’t generate.

It is particularly perplexing trying to discern the ultimate goal of this corps of activists. If their aim is to isolate and destroy the violence-prone fanatical Muslim fringe, then it doesn’t make sense to undermine moderate Muslims and argue that only confirmed terrorists are interpreting the Koran correctly. But both tactics make perfect sense if the aim is to build a widespread, irrational fear and hostility against Islam in general — encouraging, rather than helping defuse, an eventual global confrontation between East and West.

© 2011. Southern Poverty Law Center.

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