Posts Tagged ‘ 9/11 ’

Obscuring a Muslim Name, and an American’s Sacrifice

As Reported by Sharon Otterman for The New York Times

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He was buried after the Sept. 11 attacks with full honors from the New York Police Department, and proclaimed a hero by the city’s police commissioner. He is cited by name in the Patriot Act as an example of Muslim-American valor.

And Representative Keith Ellison of Minnesota, one of two Muslim members of Congress, was brought to tears during a Congressional hearing in March while describing how the man, a Pakistani-American from Queens, had wrongly been suspected of involvement in the attacks, before he was lionized as a young police cadet who had died trying to save lives.

Despite this history, Mohammad Salman Hamdani is nowhere to be found in the long list of fallen first responders at the National September 11 Memorial in Lower Manhattan.

Nor can his name be found among those of victims whose bodies were found in the wreckage of the north tower, where his body was finally discovered in 34 parts.

Instead, his name appears on the memorial’s last panel for World Trade Center victims, next to a blank space along the south tower perimeter, with the names of others who did not fit into the rubrics the memorial created to give placements meaning. That section is for those who had only a loose connection, or none, to the World Trade Center.

The placement of Mr. Hamdani’s name has fueled the continuing concern and anger about how his legacy was treated soon after the Sept. 11 attacks, when, apparently because of his Pakistani roots, Muslim religion and background as a biochemistry major at Queens College, he fell under suspicion.

His name appeared on a flier faxed to police stations; newspaper headlines amplified his status as a person wanted for questioning.

“They do not want anyone with a Muslim name to be acknowledged at ground zero with such high honors,” his mother, Talat Hamdani, 60, said last week at her home in Lake Grove on Long Island, her voice filled with pain. “They don’t want someone with the name Mohammad to be up there.”

To Mrs. Hamdani, that her son would not be recognized at the memorial as an official first responder was the latest in a series of injustices that began with a knock on her door from two police officers in October 2001. She, her husband and two other sons had been searching morgues and hospitals for his body. But the officers wanted to ask questions, and they asked for a picture from the refrigerator that showed Mr. Hamdani, 23 when he died, at his Queens College graduation next to a friend who Mrs. Hamdani had told them was from Afghanistan.

It was around the same time that Mr. Hamdani’s official police cadet picture was circulating through police stations on a flier with the handwritten words “Hold and detain. Notify: major case squad,” The New York Times later reported. Investigators visited Mr. Hamdani’s dentist and confiscated his dental records, his mother learned.

It was not until March 2002, when the family was finally informed that Mr. Hamdani’s remains had been found in the wreckage more than five months earlier, that the public cloud over his name cleared.

It turned out his was a classic New York story. His family had immigrated from Pakistan when he was 13 months old, his father opening a candy store, his mother becoming a middle school teacher. Mr. Hamdani attended Catholic school in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, until the eighth grade, and then played football for Bayside High School in Queens.

He became a certified emergency medical technician and spent a year volunteering for MetroCare, a private ambulance company. He was a police cadet for three years and had taken the test to enter the academy, but was waiting to see if he was accepted to medical school.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, his family and friends believed, Mr. Hamdani, traveling to work at a DNA analysis lab at Rockefeller University, must have seen the burning towers from the elevated subway tracks in Queens and gone down to help.

“We have an example of how one can make the world better,” Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg said of Mr. Hamdani. The mayor was one of the dignitaries who appeared at Mr. Hamdani’s funeral, which was held with full police honors at a mosque off East 96th Street in April 2002.

“Salman stood up when most people would have gone in the other direction,” Mr. Bloomberg said.

For years, Mrs. Hamdani believed that the police had fully acknowledged her son’s sacrifice. She cherished the weighty brass police cadet badge that the police commissioner, Raymond W. Kelly, had given her, to dispel any doubts about who her son had been.

So it was with shock that she received a notification from the Sept. 11 memorial in 2009 that Mr. Hamdani’s name would be listed among those with “loose connections” to the World Trade Center where they died.

She tried calling politicians, even writing a letter to President Obama, from whom she received a respectful but vague hand-signed reply. Her son’s placement had fallen through bureaucratic cracks.

There is no section at the memorial for informal rescue workers, first responders in the literal sense, who were believed to have voluntarily gone to the towers to help but who were not yet full-fledged members of an approved first-responder agency.

Organized groups of victims’ family members settled on the concept of “meaningful adjacency” to guide the placement of names, allowing them to place victims’ names next to those of people they worked with or knew. That was no help in the case of Mr. Hamdani, who had apparently not known anyone there.

“That’s where the model falls down,” said Thomas H. Rogér, a member of the memorial foundation’s board who was deeply involved in those discussions. “That was the sad part about it. If you weren’t affiliated with one of the groups that had a constituency that was at the table, when we were carrying out all these negotiations, then nobody was representing your cause.”

Meanwhile, the Police Department did not include Mr. Hamdani’s name on its own list of the fallen because “he was still a student,” said Paul J. Browne, a department spokesman. A police cadet is the equivalent of a paid college intern with the department, Mr. Browne said, and is not a full-fledged police officer or a recruit enrolled at the academy.

“But that did not take away from Mohammad’s actions that day,” Mr. Browne said in an e-mail. “If anything, it magnified them. He didn’t have to respond. It wasn’t his job, but he did anyway.”

Linda Sarsour, the director of the Arab American Association of New York City, said acknowledging Mr. Hamdani as a first responder “would be a great gesture to say to the community that we recognize that we have Muslim-Americans who risked their lives or lost their lives on that day, and for that we thank you.”

Mr. Rogér, of the memorial foundation, wondered if Mr. Hamdani’s name could appear in the Police Department’s section of the memorial with an asterisk noting that he was a police cadet. The Rev. Chloe Breyer, the executive director of the Interfaith Center of New York, also suggested some compromise.

“It shows an enormous lack of imagination on the part of the N.Y.P.D. and museum not to figure out a way to acknowledge adequately the special sacrifice he made and that his mother endures daily,” she said in an e-mail.

Mrs. Hamdani, who has started a Queens College scholarship in her son’s name, is still unsure of how much she wants to press the issue. Pride, in the end, is the overwhelming feeling she has for her son.

“You are equal no matter where you are buried, whether your name is there or not,” Mrs. Hamdani recalled saying as she stood before his name and the memorial’s pouring waterfalls on the 10th anniversary of the attacks. “By your actions the world remembers you.”

America’s Dark Age of Islamophobia

By Tony Norman for Philly.com

Muslims really thought they were doing the world a favor by pulling Europe and its mostly illiterate Christians out of the Dark Ages. But just because they foisted algebra, trigonometry, optics, astronomical charts, the classics, Arabic numerals, advanced surgical techniques, perspective in art, the lute, and artichokes on the world – while the Christian kings of Europe were smothering free inquiry – we’re not about to give them any credit a thousand years later.

Particularly in America, we remain ignorant of Islamic contributions to Western life. We suffer from a profound cultural amnesia when it comes to remembering our millennia-long debt to our Muslim brethren. But as the song goes, what has Averroes done for us lately?

Americans are so used to thinking of Muslims as an exotic “other” that many fail to realize they’re an inextricable part of who we are and have been since the nation’s earliest days. Unfortunately, too many non-Muslims see them as Manchurian candidates crouching in the shadows with explosive vests, waiting for the signal to wage terror on America’s malls. If you ask the average American citizen about Islam’s role as an incubator of Western ideas, expect stares of incomprehension.

If this ignorance were restricted to the margins of society, it wouldn’t be half as embarrassing. But Islamophobia, like its twin brother, anti-Semitism, has a way of injecting itself into the cultural discourse. Contempt for Muslims remains an acceptable prejudice for millions who continue to equate the religion with terrorism.

Recently, TLC began running an innocuous reality show called All-American Muslim. It documents the lives of five Muslim families in a Detroit suburb that boasts the highest concentration of Arabs and Muslims in America. The 99 percent of Americans who don’t share their faith are invited to explore the possibility that these very misunderstood Americans don’t have horns or drink the blood of infant Christians and Jews.

It didn’t take long for a conservative group calling itself the Florida Family Association to complain that the TLC series is “propaganda that riskily [sic] hides the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values.”

Of course, there’s nothing on the show to indicate a subversive religious agenda, other than its blatant attempt to portray Muslims as humans.

Lowe’s Home Improvement couldn’t be bothered with such nuances. It pulled its ads from the show and issued the wimpiest justification of corporate cowardice ever: “Individuals and groups have strong political and societal views on this topic, and this program became a lightning rod for many of those views.”

Ted Lieu, a state senator in California, called Lowe’s capitulation to intolerance “un-American” and is considering calling for a boycott of the retailer. Lowe’s isn’t worried about a boycott from America’s Muslims, who number fewer than two million, but a sympathy boycott by fair-minded Americans of all faiths and political persuasions would be a nightmare for the company.

Crawling out of this depressing sequel to the Dark Ages won’t be easy.

Park 51 Photo Exhibit Features American Children From All Over The World

BY Jessica Jenkins for Groundswell

NYChildren, a new photo exhibit at the Park51 community center in downtown Manhattan highlights the diversity of American identity by featuring New York City children from all parts of the world. A slideshow in the New York Times highlights a dozen portraits from the NYChildren exhibit. The photographer, Danny Goldfield, says he was inspired by a 2004 encounter with the brother of Balbir Singh Sodhi, the Sikh man who was murdered at his Mesa, Arizona gas station on September 15, 2001. That encounter led Mr. Goldstein to think about what constitutes American identity, and his project to photograph a child from each country of the world. So far Mr. Goldstein has photographed children from 171 different countries, all living in New York City.

It’s been a year since the Park51 community center was besieged by Islamophobic attacks from across the nation for its proximity to Ground Zero. Park51 has since scaled back its plans to build a new community center and mosque in Lower Manhattan but nevertheless has continued to offer events and faith services to the local community in its existing building. On its website, Park51 says about the exhibition: “We live in a world with far too much fear and misunderstanding. This exhibition is about finding the courage to meet and get to know neighbors to build trust and friendship.” We can’t think of a better way to set a tone of resilience, tolerance and hope.

Ten Years After 9/11, We’re Still in the Dark

By Omar S. Ashmawy for The Washington Post

I joined the U.S. military after law school to help my country defend itself against the threat of Islamic extremism. My final assignment in my eight years in the Air Forcewas as a war crimes prosecutor in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. With access to our nation’s most intimate secrets, I shuttled between Guantanamo and the Pentagon from the summer of 2007 to the winter of 2009. I learned many lessons, but on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks, the most important lesson I can share is the most alarming: After so many years and so much sacrifice, nothing has changed.

Our greatest weakness remains today what it was 10 years ago, and what it was eight years before that, when the World Trade Center was bombed in 1993. We don’t understand Islam or Arab culture, and that ignorance prevents us from accurately predicting our relationship with Arab and Muslim countries and identifying our enemies.

From our government to the front lines, individuals are making decisions based on inaccurate, biased information. The White House’s August announcement on combating radical Islam acknowledged this reality. Our soldiers, agents and analysts don’t have the facts they need to make informed decisions about whom to trust, what to believe and how to keep the threat at bay.

Whether it’s the FBI recommending its agents read books by a known anti-Muslim author, misplaced anxiety over “sharia law,” the near absence of linguistic and cultural training in the military, or our government’s collective surprise at the Arab Spring, the effect of what we don’t know reverberates through U.S. policy. But the result is the same: We are caught off guard by events we should have anticipated or, worse, we confuse our enemy’s propaganda with knowledge.

As an American Muslim born and raised in New Jersey, I am frustrated that America still struggles with the basics: We don’t understand the difference between Islam and Islamic extremism, or that Arab culture is not the same as the religion. We divide Muslims into secularists and extremists and can’t tell the devout from the radical, the sympathizer from the opportunist.

Two of the most enduring examples are the military commissions and Guantanamo Bay — intractable problems that will never be resolved to anyone’s satisfaction. They’re once and future disasters built by people who should have known better — people America trusted to know more. Both were operated and sustained by individuals so uninformed of our enemy’s religion, language and culture that they could not accurately process the information available to them. Attorneys couldn’t tell good cases from bad ones, and the agents assigned to the commissions didn’t know what questions to ask detainees.

I saw it firsthand. From lawyers to interrogators, the vacuum was enormous. It filled Guantanamo Bay with men who did not need to be there and barred their release. It was fuel on a fire set by a legal process that initially conflated the mutually exclusive missions of intelligence-gathering and the rendering of justice. The absence of knowledge and leadership permitted the worst of what happened — reports of the abuse of prisoners, the desecration of holy books, the legal pantomimes — and continues to prevent a resolution to the human drama playing out on that island.

We cannot close Guantanamo because the trials of the detainees who remain would be tainted by evidence from botched interrogations and because the men there are now radicalized — the result of decisions based in an ignorance tantamount to racism.

This ignorance is a degenerative disease that debilitates our efforts to protect our nation. It was tempting to think that with Osama bin Laden’s death we could end this conflict, if only we could end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. While those wars must be concluded, neither their end nor the death of any individual terrorist will secure us against another attack by Islamic extremists. We’re not fighting a single enemy but a decentralized patchwork of groups that adhere to the same twisted, bankrupt ideology. Whether it is Jemaah Islamiah in Southeast Asia or al-Shabab in Somalia, our enemies are motivated and wait — patiently — until we forget.

As we honor the past, we must also commit to the future. This commitment must include an expectation that all Americans responsible for protecting us possess the education and knowledge to do so and be committed to accuracy and learning. A good place to start would be language and culture training for our soldiers, and training in Islam and Arab culture and history for policymakers. Similar education should be made available to local law enforcement and community leaders. At the height of the Cold War, we encouraged our best and brightest to study Russian language and history. Ten years after Sept. 11, this is a basic but necessary step. Ignorance is our vulnerability, and we must begin somewhere. Those individuals we remember Sunday deserve better. We all do.

The writer is a former Air Force officer and war crimes prosecutor. He prosecuted U.S. v. Hamdan and U.S. v. Al Bahlul, the first two litigated cases to be brought before a military tribunal since the Nuremberg trials after World War II.

Osama Bin Laden Hunted Down And Killed By US

By Brad Norington for The Australian

Bin Laden was killed in Pakistan and his body retrieved by a US strike team nearly 10 years after the September 11 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon killed more than 3000 people.

Announcing “justice has been done”, Mr Obama said bin Laden had been found hiding in Pakistan and a targeted operation launched today by a small US team.

“After a firefight they killed Osama bin Laden and took custody of his body,” Mr Obama said, adding that no Americans were harmed in the assault.

“The death of bin Laden marks the most significant achievement to date in our nation’s efforts to defeat al-Qa’ida,” the President said. “His demise should be welcomed by all that believe in peace and human dignity.

“It’s important to note our counter terrorism cooperation with Pakistan helped lead us to bin Laden and the compound where he had been hiding.” “Yet his death does not mark the end of our effort.

“There is no doubt that al-Qa’ida will continue to pursue attacks against us. “We must and will remain vigilant at home and abroad.”

Despite the decade that has elapsed since the September 11 attacks, the event, one of the most traumatic in US history, still stirs raw emotions, and his demise will be celebrated across the United States.

Chants of “USA, USA” rang out from tourists outside the White House as the news of bin Laden’s death sent an electric charge through Washington.

Hundreds of people gathered outside the fence of the presidential mansion and sang the US national anthem and started shouting and cheering. Mr Obama said the United States people understood the cost of war, but would not stand by if threatened.

“As a country we will never tolerate our security being threatened nor stand idly by when our people have been killed,” he said. “We will be relentless in defence of our citizens and our friends and allies.

“We will be true to the values that make us who we are. “And on nights like this one we can say to those families who have lost loved ones to al-Qa’ida terror, justice has been done.”

The location of bin Laden and his family confirms recent speculation that he was hiding in comfortable surroundings and close to civilisation, not in the remote mountains dividing Pakistan and Afghanistan.

US armed forces have been hunting the Saudi terror kingpin for years, an effort that was redoubled following the 2001 terror attacks on the World Trade Centre in New York and the Pentagon which killed 3000 people. But bin Laden always managed to evade US armed forces and a massive manhunt.

The death of bin Laden will raise huge questions about the future shape of al-Qa’ida and also have steep implications for US security and foreign policy 10 years into a global anti-terror campaign. It will also raise fears that the United States and its allies will face retaliation from supporters of bin Laden and other Islamic extremist groups.

Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden was a member of the wealthy Saudi bin Laden family and the founder of the jihadist organisation al-Qa’ida, most widely recognised for the September 11 attacks on the US and numerous other mass-casualty attacks against civilian and military targets.

As a result of his dealings in and advocacy of violent extremist jihad, bin Laden lost his Saudi citizenship and was disowned by his billionaire family.

Bin Laden evaded US capture in Afghanistan after the 9/11 attacks and since then he and his organisation have been major targets of the US war on terror.

Bin Laden and fellow al-Qa’ida leaders are believed to have been hiding near the border of Afghanistan and Pakistan, in tribal areas that lie outside government control.

American Promotes Global Peace by Building Schools

By Samreen Hooda for The Bayor Lariat

He is well known for his best-selling novel “Three Cups of Tea” and as the American who builds schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan, yet his story began with an accident that changed his life.

Greg Mortenson first went to Pakistan on an attempt to climb the mountain K2. After getting lost twice, cold, sick and hurt, Mortenson stumbled upon the small village of Korphe where the locals nursed him back to health. It was here, Mortenson said during his recent visit to Dallas, that he first encountered what would become his new life.

“I saw 84 children sitting in the dirt doing their school lessons,” Mortenson said. “Most of them were writing with sticks in the sand. When I saw those 84 children sitting in the dirt and they asked for help to build a school, I made a promise that day that I would help them.”

Mortenson didn’t realize then that the climb ahead was still steep. He came back to the states and wrote letters to 580 celebrities asking them to donate to the cause. He got one response: a check for $100. But he did not give up, speaking at schools and appealing to people’s desire that all children have a right to an education. Mortenson eventually got the funds he needed to begin the school he had promised.

“I built that school and then 78 more and I’m still doing it today,” Mortenson said.

This is his life’s purpose and he constantly strives to fulfill it, said Sadia Ashraf, outreach coordinator for the Central Asia Institute, a nonprofit Mortenson started to promote education in remote regions of Northern Pakistan and Afghanistan. It is his passion for the cause that has made him so remarkable at what he does, she added.

It is this ability to mix passion with a unique perspective that many say makes him a revolutionary.

“I think philosophically speaking he’s looking at an issue that’s been there for many years, looking at it through completely fresh eyes and also looking at it through the perspective of an American, which is a little bit unique,” said Amir Omar, city councilman for Richardson. “And his ability to come back to the States and explain those needs in terms that other Americans would understand, I think that has a really compelling message to it. It not only impacts children in Pakistan but also it impacts the perceptions of Americans.”

Yet Mortenson’s vision is not just designed to change perspectives, but to alter future generations by educating today’s youth, especially women.

“When a girl learns how to read and write, one of the first things she does is teach her own mother,” Mortenson said. “The girls will bring home meat and veggies, wrapped in newspapers, and the mother will ask the girl to read the newspaper to her and the mothers will learn about politics and about women who are exploited.”

Teaching women, Mortenson says, is the way to changing the world.

“When someone goes on jihad, they first should get permission and blessings from their mother,” he said. “And if they don’t, it’s very shameful or disgraceful. And I saw that happen after 9/11. They were primarily targeting illiterate, impoverished society because many educated women were refusing to allow their sons to join the Taliban.”

But education of this sort can only take place when you don’t walk in as strangers to try and change the world, but first become family, Mortenson said.

That happens with three cups of tea.

“The first cup you’re a stranger, second cup a friend and the third cup you become family. That doesn’t mean you just go around drinking tea, having peace in the world,” he said. “But what it means is that first we have to build relationships and get to know each other.”  That’s how Mortenson believes in promoting peace: one school at a time.

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s NoteGreg Mortenson’s humanitarian work in Afghanistan and Pakistan shows that one man can make a difference and leave a lasting mark in the lives of many. He is a great unofficial ambassador of the United States much like aid worker Todd Shea of Shine Humanity. We commend both individuals and many others for their honorable work on behalf of the people of these two neighboring nations.

Message to Muslims: I’m Sorry

By Nicholas D Kristof for The New York Times

Many Americans have suggested that more moderate Muslims should stand up to extremists, speak out for tolerance, and apologize for sins committed by their brethren.

Go to Columnist Page »That’s reasonable advice, and as a moderate myself, I’m going to take it. (Throat clearing.) I hereby apologize to Muslims for the wave of bigotry and simple nuttiness that has lately been directed at you. The venom on the airwaves, equating Muslims with terrorists, should embarrass us more than you. Muslims are one of the last minorities in the United States that it is still possible to demean openly, and I apologize for the slurs.

I’m inspired by another journalistic apology. The Portland Press Herald in Maine published an innocuous front-page article and photo a week ago about 3,000 local Muslims praying together to mark the end of Ramadan. Readers were upset, because publication coincided with the ninth anniversary of 9/11, and they deluged the paper with protests.

So the newspaper published a groveling front-page apology for being too respectful of Muslims. “We sincerely apologize,” wrote the editor and publisher, Richard Connor, and he added: “we erred by at least not offering balance to the story and its prominent position on the front page.” As a blog by James Poniewozik of Time paraphrased it: “Sorry for Portraying Muslims as Human.”

I called Mr. Connor, and he seems like a nice guy. Surely his front page isn’t reserved for stories about Bad Muslims, with articles about Good Muslims going inside. Must coverage of law-abiding Muslims be “balanced” by a discussion of Muslim terrorists?

Ah, balance — who can be against that? But should reporting of Pope Benedict’s trip to Britain be “balanced” by a discussion of Catholic terrorists in Ireland? And what about journalism itself?

I interrupt this discussion of peaceful journalism in Maine to provide some “balance.” Journalists can also be terrorists, murderers and rapists. For example, radio journalists in Rwanda promoted genocide.

I apologize to Muslims for another reason. This isn’t about them, but about us. I want to defend Muslims from intolerance, but I also want to defend America against extremists engineering a spasm of religious hatred.

Granted, the reason for the nastiness isn’t hard to understand. Extremist Muslims have led to fear and repugnance toward Islam as a whole. Threats by Muslim crazies just in the last few days forced a Seattle cartoonist, Molly Norris, to go into hiding after she drew a cartoon about Muhammad that went viral.

And then there’s 9/11. When I recently compared today’s prejudice toward Muslims to the historical bigotry toward Catholics, Mormons, Jews and Asian-Americans, many readers protested that it was a false parallel. As one, Carla, put it on my blog: “Catholics and Jews did not come here and kill thousands of people.”

That’s true, but Japanese did attack Pearl Harbor and in the end killed far more Americans than Al Qaeda ever did. Consumed by our fears, we lumped together anyone of Japanese ancestry and rounded them up in internment camps. The threat was real, but so were the hysteria and the overreaction.

Radicals tend to empower radicals, creating a gulf of mutual misunderstanding and anger. Many Americans believe that Osama bin Laden is representative of Muslims, and many Afghans believe that the Rev. Terry Jones (who talked about burning Korans) is representative of Christians.

Many Americans honestly believe that Muslims are prone to violence, but humans are too complicated and diverse to lump into groups that we form invidious conclusions about. We’ve mostly learned that about blacks, Jews and other groups that suffered historic discrimination, but it’s still O.K. to make sweeping statements about “Muslims” as an undifferentiated mass.

In my travels, I’ve seen some of the worst of Islam: theocratic mullahs oppressing people in Iran; girls kept out of school in Afghanistan in the name of religion; girls subjected to genital mutilation in Africa in the name of Islam; warlords in Yemen and Sudan who wield AK-47s and claim to be doing God’s bidding.

But I’ve also seen the exact opposite: Muslim aid workers in Afghanistan who risk their lives to educate girls; a Pakistani imam who shelters rape victims; Muslim leaders who campaign against female genital mutilation and note that it is not really an Islamic practice; Pakistani Muslims who stand up for oppressed Christians and Hindus; and above all, the innumerable Muslim aid workers in Congo, Darfur, Bangladesh and so many other parts of the world who are inspired by the Koran to risk their lives to help others. Those Muslims have helped keep me alive, and they set a standard of compassion, peacefulness and altruism that we should all emulate.

I’m sickened when I hear such gentle souls lumped in with Qaeda terrorists, and when I hear the faith they hold sacred excoriated and mocked. To them and to others smeared, I apologize.

God Bless Islam with Courageous Leadership

By Ebrahim Moosa for Religion Dispatches

As Muslim Americans and millions around the world celebrate the end of Ramadan 2010 what will they pray for? What was the spiritual harvest of the month of fasting, prayer, deep reflection, and discipline? Given the growing hostility directed towards Muslims in the United States and the horrible deeds perpetrated by persons aligned to Islam on 9/11 and elsewhere in the world, I for my part, will be making two prayers.

The first is to urge Muslims to affirm their solidarity with all of humanity. The words of this prayer come from a tradition of the Prophet Muhammad. It reads:

Oh Allah, Lord (Rabb) of all things. I testify that You alone are the Lord of the world, Lord of all things… I testify that all servants of God are one family… Make me and my family truthful to you in every moment of life in this world and the next. Oh powerful and generous one, hear and respond to my prayers…

My second prayer is that God bless Islam with a religious leadership that has a modicum of Solomonic wisdom and tons of moral courage.

Why these two prayers? I think many Muslims have forgotten the message of humanism and solidarity with all creation that are the cornerstones of Islam. All servants of God are part of a single family, the Prophet Muhammad taught. So how can faiths be at war, if only to serve earthly gods? Many of our religious leaders have forgotten that our theologies, teachings, and practices were means to serve a transcendent Creator; not for idolatrous ends. Many of the most prominent Muslim religious and moral authorities the world over—clergy, intellectuals, scholars, politicians—have, through silence and inaction, invited a plague of craven violence on a number of Muslim societies. In a manner of speaking, in many places, the asylum is in charge of the mosque. Religious leaders are more interested in cowing to public adulation through demagoguery than in showing courage and exhorting people to piety and sanity.

Check if the sermon in the`Id al-Fitr (End of Fasting) sermon at your mosque hinted at the cowardly acts of al-Qaeda who killed thousands on September 11 and elsewhere. Or if deeds of the Somalian Shabab who killed dozens of Ugandans watching a soccer World Cup match in the suburbs of Kampala caused outrage. Has anyone been able to keep track of the death toll inflicted in Pakistan by Taliban suicide bombers, who most recently killed more than 60 people in Quetta because they were Shi’a? Did anyone even notice that a radical Muslim group in India chopped off the hand of a Catholic professor in the state of Kerala in July for apparently offending the image of the Prophet Muhammad in an exam questionnaire?

`Id is a day of celebration with family and friends. But it is unconscionable if Muslims do not think seriously and act in unison about the deep moral crises afflicting our communities here and abroad. To think critically is not to bow to the hate of the Islamophobes, it is a sign of strength and faith. Those who claim that there are no “moderate” Muslim voices denouncing acts of violence committed by Muslims are wrong, and yes, there are many good things happening in Muslim societies that do not make the headlines. Yet it is delusional to think that the evil masquerading as faith does not erode the belief and values each Muslim.

To Muslim Americans I say, next time you wonder why young men like the Times Square bomber Faisal Shahzad become entangled in conspiracies to commit acts of violence in this country and abroad please ask the following questions: What is the qualification of the imam at your mosque? Is he enriched by the best of American and Islamic culture, in tune with his environment, or is he preaching a theology no longer even appropriate for people in Iran, Egypt, or Pakistan? Does he teach the tradition creatively and help people think imaginatively? Or does he focus on impieties and promote the virtues of paraphernalia like the dress code and the mandatory length of facial hairs? If the imam is as wise as the religious leader in the Canadian sitcom Little Mosque on the Prairie, it will be a huge step up.

Mosque committees share their burden of responsibility too. Often they appoint preachers by applying the lowest and cheapest standard; theological diversity is frequently absent and enlightened thinking is considered too challenging and burdensome for them to contemplate. Will the smart Muslims in America and around the world stand up and be counted?

-Originally printed on Sep 9, 2010 for Religion Dispatches. Ebrahim Moosa is a professor of Islamic Studies at Duke University and an author of several books on Islam.

For Imam in Muslim Center Furor, a Hard Balancing Act

By Anne Barnard for The New York Times

Not everyone in the Cairo lecture hall last February was buying the imam Feisal Abdul Rauf’s message. As he talked of reconciliation between America and Middle Eastern Muslims — his voice soft, almost New Agey — some questioners were so suspicious that he felt the need to declare that he was not an American agent.

Muslims need to understand and soothe Americans who fear them, the imam said; they should be conciliatory, not judgmental, toward the West and Israel.

But one young Egyptian asked: Wasn’t the United States financing the speaking tour that had brought the imam to Cairo because his message conveniently echoed United States interests?

“I’m not an agent from any government, even if some of you may not believe it,” the imam replied. “I’m not. I’m a peacemaker.”

That talk, recorded on video six months ago, was part of what now might be called Mr. Abdul Rauf’s prior life, before he became the center of an uproar over his proposal for a Muslim community center two blocks from the World Trade Center. He watched his father, an Egyptian Muslim scholar, pioneer interfaith dialogue in 1960s New York; led a mystical Sufi mosque in Lower Manhattan; and, after the Sept. 11 attacks, became a spokesman for the notion that being American and Muslim is no contradiction — and that a truly American brand of Islam could modernize and moderate the faith worldwide.

In recent weeks, Mr. Abdul Rauf has barely been heard from as a national political debate explodes over his dream project, including, somewhere in its planned 15 stories, a mosque. Opponents have called his project an act of insensitivity, even a monument to terrorism.

In his absence — he is now on another Middle East speaking tour sponsored by the State Department — a host of allegations have been floated: that he supports terrorism; that his father, who worked at the behest of the Egyptian government, was a militant; that his publicly expressed views mask stealth extremism. Some charges, the available record suggests, are unsupported. Some are simplifications of his ideas. In any case, calling him a jihadist appears even less credible than calling him a United States agent.

Growing Up in America

Mr. Abdul Rauf, 61, grew up in multiple worlds. He was raised in a conservative religious home but arrived in America as a teenager in the turbulent 1960s; his father came to New York and later Washington to run growing Islamic centers. His parents were taken hostage not once, but twice, by American Muslim splinter groups. He attended Columbia University, where, during the Six-Day War in 1967 between Israel and Arab states like Egypt, he talked daily with a Jewish classmate, each seeking to understand the other’s perspective.

He consistently denounces violence. Some of his views on the interplay between terrorism and American foreign policy — or his search for commonalities between Islamic law and this country’s Constitution — have proved jarring to some American ears, but still place him as pro-American within the Muslim world. He devotes himself to befriending Christians and Jews — so much, some Muslim Americans say, that he has lost touch with their own concerns.

“To stereotype him as an extremist is just nuts,” said the Very Rev. James P. Morton, of the Church of St. John the Divine, in Manhattan, who has known the family for decades.

Since 9/11, Mr. Abdul Rauf, like almost any Muslim leader with a public profile, has had to navigate the fraught path between those suspicious of Muslims and eager to brand them as violent or disloyal and a Muslim constituency that believes itself more than ever in need of forceful leaders.

One critique of the imam, said Omid Safi, a professor of religious studies at the University of North Carolina, was that he had not been outspoken enough on issues “near and dear to many Muslims,” like United States policy on Israel and treatment of Muslims after 9/11, “because of the need that he has had — whether taken upon himself or thrust upon him — to be the ‘American imam,’ to be the ‘New York imam,’ to be the ‘accommodationist imam.’ ”

Akbar Ahmed, chairman of Islamic studies at American University, said Mr. Abdul Rauf’s holistic Sufi practices could make more orthodox Muslims uncomfortable, and his focus on like-minded interfaith leaders made him underestimate the uproar over his plans.

“He hurtles in, to the dead-center eye of the storm simmering around Muslims in America, expecting it to be like at his mosque — we all love each other, we all think happy thoughts,” Mr. Ahmed said.

“Now he has set up, unwittingly, a symbol of this growing tension between America and Muslims: this mosque that Muslims see as a symbol of Islam under attack and the opponents as an insult to America,” he added. “So this mild-mannered guy is in the eye of a storm for which he’s not suited at all. He’s not a political leader of Muslims, yet he now somehow represents the Muslim community.”

Andrew Sinanoglou, who was married by Mr. Abdul Rauf last fall, said he was surprised that the imam had become a contentious figure. His greatest knack, Mr. Sinanoglou said, was making disparate groups comfortable. At the wedding, he brought together Mr. Sinanoglou’s family, descended from Greek Christians thrown out of Asia Minor by Muslims, and his wife’s conservative Muslim father.

“He’s an excellent schmoozer,” Mr. Sinanoglou said of the imam.

Mr. Abdul Rauf was born in Kuwait. His father, Muhammad Abdul Rauf, graduated from Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, the foremost center of mainstream Sunni Muslim learning. He was one of many scholars Egypt sent abroad to staff universities and mosques, a government-approved effort unlikely to have tolerated a militant. He moved his family to England, studying at Cambridge and the University of London; then to Malaysia, where he eventually became the first rector of the International Islamic University of Malaysia.

As a boy, Feisal absorbed his father’s talks with religious scholars from around the world, learning to respect theological debate, said his wife, Daisy Khan. He is also steeped in Malaysian culture, whose ethnic diversity has influenced an Islam different than that of his parents’ homeland.

In 1965, he came to New York. His father ran the Islamic Center of New York; the family lived over its small mosque in a brownstone on West 72nd Street, which served mainly Arabs and African-American converts. Like his son, the older imam announced plans for a community center for a growing Muslim population — the mosque eventually built on East 96th Street. It was financed by Muslim countries and controlled by Muslim diplomats at the United Nations — at the time a fairly noncontroversial proposition. Like his son, he joined interfaith groups, invited by Mr. Morton of St. John the Divine.

Hostage Crisis

Unlike his son, he was conservative in gender relations; he asked his wife, Buthayna, to not drive. But in 1977, he was heading the Islamic Center in Washington when he and Buthayna were taken hostage by a Muslim faction; it was his wife who challenged the gunmen on their lack of knowledge of Islam.

“My husband didn’t open his mouth, but I really gave it to them,” she told The New York Times then.

Meanwhile, the younger Mr. Abdul Rauf studied physics at Columbia. At first, he recalled in interviews last year, it was hard to adjust to American social mores. By 1967, he and a Yale student, Kurt Tolksdorf, had bonded at summer school over their shared taste in women and fast cars. But Mr. Tolksdorf said his friend never subscribed to the “free love” of the era.

When the 1967 war broke out in the Middle East, Mr. Tolksdorf said, Mr. Abdul Rauf reacted calmly when Israeli students tried to pick a fight. A classmate, Alan M. Silberstein, remembers debating each day’s news over lunch.

“He was genuinely trying to understand the interests of American Jews — what Israel’s importance was to me,” he said. “There was a genuine openness.”

In his 20s, Mr. Abdul Rauf dabbled in teaching and real estate, married an American-born woman and had three children. Studying Islam and searching for his place in it, he was asked to lead a Sufi mosque, Masjid al-Farah. It was one of few with a female prayer leader, where women and men sat together at some rituals and some women do not cover their hair. And it was 12 blocks from the World Trade Center.

Divorced, he met his second wife, Ms. Khan, when she came to the mosque looking for a gentler Islam than the politicized version she rejected after Iran’s revolution. Theirs is an equal partnership, whether Mr. Abdul Rauf is shopping and cooking a hearty soup, she said, or running organizations that promote an American-influenced Islam.

A similar idea comes up in the video of his visit to Cairo this year. Mr. Abdul Rauf, with Ms. Khan, unveiled as usual, beside him, tells a questioner not to worry so much about one issue of the moment — Switzerland’s ban on minarets — saying Islam has always adapted to and been influenced by places it spreads to. “Why not have a mosque that looks Swiss?” he joked. “Make a mosque that looks like Swiss cheese. Make a mosque that looks like a Rolex.”

In the 1990s, the couple became fixtures of the interfaith scene, even taking a cruise to Spain and Morocco with prominent rabbis and pastors.

Mr. Abdul Rauf also founded the Shariah Index Project — an effort to formally rate which governments best follow Islamic law. Critics see in it support for Taliban-style Shariah or imposing Islamic law in America.

Shariah, though, like Halakha, or Jewish law, has a spectrum of interpretations. The ratings, Ms. Kahn said, measure how well states uphold Shariah’s core principles like rights to life, dignity and education, not Taliban strong points. The imam has written that some Western states unwittingly apply Shariah better than self-styled Islamic states that kill wantonly, stone women and deny education — to him, violations of Shariah.

After 9/11, Mr. Abdul Rauf was all over the airwaves denouncing terrorism, urging Muslims to confront its presence among them, and saying that killing civilians violated Islam. He wrote a book, “What’s Right With Islam Is What’s Right With America,” asserting the congruence of American democracy and Islam.

That ample public record — interviews, writings, sermons — is now being examined by opponents of the downtown center.

Those opponents repeat often that Mr. Abdul Rauf, in one radio interview, refused to describe the Palestinian group that pioneered suicide bombings against Israel, Hamas, as a terrorist organization. In the lengthy interview, Mr. Abdul Rauf clumsily tries to say that people around the globe define terrorism differently and labeling any group would sap his ability to build bridges. He also says: “Targeting civilians is wrong. It is a sin in our religion,” and, “I am a supporter of the state of Israel.”

“If I were an imam today I would be saying, ‘What am I supposed to do?’ ” said John Esposito, a professor of Islamic studies at Georgetown University. “ ‘Can an imam be critical of any aspect of U.S. foreign policy? Can I weigh in on things that others could weigh in on?’ Or is someone going to say, ‘He’s got to be a radical!’ ”

9/11 Remembered in Pictures

Obama Calls For Religious Tolerance

By Christi Parsons, Tribune Washington Bureau

In a news conference on the eve of Sept. 11, he speaks of his own Christianity, the economy, and asks Americans to remember they’re not at war with Islam, but with terrorists that distort the faith.

President Obama spoke of his own Christianity on Friday while calling on Americans to turn away from religious divisions and join together as “one nation, under God.” It was a rare personal reference from the president, coming in a news conference that sounded more like a homily to the nation before a somber anniversary.

“As somebody who relies heavily on my Christian faith in my job, I understand the passions that religious faith can raise,” Obama said. “But I’m also respectful that people of different faiths can practice their religion, even if they don’t subscribe to the exact same notions that I do, and that they are still good people, and they are my neighbors and they are my friends, and they are fighting alongside us in our battles.”

In his first news conference in several months, Obama talked up his plans for stimulating economic growth and complained about Republican obstruction to his proposals. He said people should remember that there is still a terrorist threat to Americans nine years after Sept. 11, even though U.S. troops overseas are successfully compromising the ability of extremists to carry out new plots.

Capturing or killing Osama bin Laden and Ayman Zawahiri, Al Qaeda’s No. 2 leader, is a high priority, he said, though it “doesn’t solve all our problems.”

But as a Florida preacher held out the possibility of a Koran-burning demonstration on Saturday, tying it to plans for the development of a mosque near the site of the World Trade Center attacks, even Obama’s messages about the economy and overseas conflict were interwoven with a larger message about religious tolerance.

If there is an increase in suspicion and resentment of Islam in this country, Obama said, it arises during trying times when the country is feeling a sense of general anxiety. He said he worries that the threat of a Koran burning could endanger American troops and cause others around the country to think it’s a good way to get attention.

The proposed New York City mosque has run up against the “extraordinary sensitivities around 9/11,” he said. “But I go back to what I said earlier: We are not at war against Islam,” Obama said. “We are at war against terrorist organizations that have distorted Islam or falsely used the banner of Islam to engage in their destructive acts.”

Americans, he said, must cling to the shared belief in religious tolerance. “We’ve got millions of Muslim Americans, our fellow citizens, in this country,” he said. “They’re going to school with our kids. They’re our neighbors. They’re our friends. They’re our co-workers. And when we start acting as if their religion is somehow offensive, what are we saying to them?”

Obama devoted a substantial portion of his Friday remarks to the economy, beginning with the announcement that he is naming Chicago economist Austan Goolsbee to head his Council of Economic Advisors. Goolsbee is an economist with expertise in tax policy.

The president refused to characterize his proposal to spend money on infrastructure as a “second stimulus” plan, despite one reporter’s prodding and even though he said he has “no problem with people saying the president is trying to stimulate growth and hiring.”

“I would assume that’s what the Republicans think we should do, to stimulate growth and jobs,” Obama said. Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky fired off a speedy critique, saying Americans are more interested in lower taxes and reductions in federal spending.

“The president spent a lot of time blaming others and talking about more government spending,” McConnell said. “But Americans want to know that Washington is going to stop the reckless spending and debt, the burdensome red-tape and job-killing taxes.”

But McConnell and others hastened to echo the president’s words about who, exactly, the U.S. is targeting with its war effort. “I agree wholeheartedly with the president that we need to do everything we can to fight Al Qaeda, while being clear who the enemy is,” McConnell said. “This war on terror goes on,” McConnell said. “We are confident in the strength and goodness of our cause and our country.”

Qureshi Uses U.S. Open Platform to Call For Understanding

By Matt Majendie for Reuters

Pakistan’s Aisam-ul-Haq Qureshi used the platform of the U.S. Open to deliver a message of peace on the eve of the ninth anniversary of the September 11 attacks in New York and Washington.

Qureshi lost in Friday’s men’s doubles final alongside India’s Rohan Bopanna, the other half of a unique partnership nicknamed the “Indo-Pak Express.”

In his on-court after-match speech, Qureshi said: “I feel there’s a very wrong perception of Pakistan as a terrorist country.

“We are a very peace-loving country and we want peace as much as you.”

Peace has very much been the message of Bopanna and Qureshi since their doubles partnership began with them sporting “Stop War, Start Tennis” sweatshirts in a bid to improve relations between their two countries.

Qureshi delved further into the message he was trying to get across at Arthur Ashe Stadium after the 7-6 7-6 defeat to Americans Bob and Mike Bryan.

“Since September 11, every time I come to the States or Western countries, I feel people have the wrong impression about Pakistan as a terrorist nation,” he said.

“There are extremists I think in every religion but, just because of them, you can’t judge the whole country as a terrorist nation.

“I just want to get this message across as a Pakistani.”

Qureshi said he vividly recalled the moment of the 2001 attacks in New York, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 3,000 people.

An up-and-coming tennis player at the time, he had been at a training camp in Holland when he saw events unfold at the World Trade Center in lower Manhattan.

“It was strange but I was going through the channels and I actually thought it was a movie or something,” he recalled. “I switched the channel again and then felt like it was the same movie on a different channel.

“I was kind of confused. Everything was mostly in Dutch so I couldn’t really understand. Then I actually realized what had happened. It was a very shocking moment.”

Why The Mosque Needs To Be Built At Ground Zero

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

This is already my third article on the NYC Mosque controversy. When I started my Facebook group and website Pakistanis for Peace by the same name nearly two years ago, I did it in response to the tragic and callous terrorist attacks in Mumbai India in 2008 and my desire to see peace in that region and beyond. As a firm believer in God, but not a particularly religious person, I never would have imagined that I would end up making a big part of my focus not just peace between India and Pakistan, but also peace and understanding between the Muslim and non-Muslim worlds as well. Heaven knows I have my own questions and issues with certain Muslim laws and practices and I of all people am the least suitable to be one of its defenders. However, I am a strict constitutionalist and as mentioned in my previous articles on this subject, I have advocated the building of the mosque simply on First Amendment religious freedom grounds.

Now here I am in less than one month, I find myself already writing a third article on the mosque controversy. Much has been written already by others on this topic also, but I wanted to give a few more opinions from a rational, moderate and patriotic American Muslim perspective, one which is missing in the current dialogue.

We know that many people who are opposed to the building of the mosque in lower Manhattan simply ask “Why there?” “Why would “they” possibly want to build it there of all places? It is seen as an affront by them that Muslims should want to build an inter-faith mosque, community center and a planned outreach ministry in the heart of Manhattan two city blocks from the site of the World Trade Center and the attacks of September 11, nine year ago. In fact, last night, while watching CNN, I saw Rick Sanchez ask former Governor George Pataki of New York about the Ground Zero Mosque controversy and his views on the subject. “Why there of all places would you build a mosque?” asked Gov. Pataki.  Why there?  As if he had fully bought into a favorite point of right wing groups that “Muslims build mosques at places they conquer” and that this is somehow a celebration of their “victory” over us because of the deaths of so many of our fellow countrymen on 9/11. That statement is wrong on so many levels that normally I would not even waste energy answering a clearly misguided assumption, but I will make an exception to clear the air as that is precisely what this article aims to do.

First of all, the 9/11 attacks were not a result of the actions of mainstream Muslims or the collective billion plus adherents of the religion but instead by members of a terror group known as Al-Qaeda, whose leader, Osama Bin Laden, we were very familiar and friendly with during the Soviet Afghan War of the 1980’s as he had assisted us in stopping the Red Army from conquering Afghanistan at the height of the Cold War between the two superpowers. Also a mosque is a place of worship. It is not a place where bombs are made and terrorists are trained either in ideology or practical training. To equate the building of a mosque to a direct link to terrorism or some other nefarious activity is in itself a deeply offensive argument to any Muslim, if one must speak of insensitivities.

So are we at war with Islam? This really is the only question we must ask ourselves to understand the debate over the mosque controversy. Debra Burlingame, the co-founder of 9/11 Families for a Safe and Strong America, issued a statement saying that “Building a 15-story mosque at Ground Zero is a deliberately provocative act.” This is simply not true as it is not exclusively just a mosque, but rather a multi layered structure that will house an auditorium, restaurant, gymnasium, library, conference rooms and multi-faith prayer halls devoted to allowing non-Muslim visitors the chance to come explore the center and at the same time take time to meditate and pray according to their own customs.

The center, as its leader Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf pointed out recently, “will establish this community as the place where the moderate Muslim voice condemns terrorism and works for new, peaceful, and harmonious relationships with all New Yorkers and indeed all Americans.” Just the fact that this center will have a restaurant, conference rooms, a library and multi-faith dialogue and prayer rooms, already makes this proposed building the most uniquely American mosque in the world. Nowhere else will one find a mosque so devoted to understanding and bridge building between Islam and other religions and no other place and location will it be more sorely needed in the years to come than in New York City! Too often, many non-Muslims complain about the self segregation practices of Muslims and indeed a characteristic of all minority communities to be in their own bubble and for not having a lot of interaction between other communities or faiths.

Many times my own non-Muslim friends have been curious and inquired on how Muslims pray and what they believe in and what exactly goes on in a typical mosque. But typically a small, regular mosque does not have the sort of access and resources to satisfy this curiosity and neither the infrastructure nor the logistics to handle curious visitors of other faiths. Primarily mosques in this country have been built with Muslims as its sole audience and occupants. This is the first time a mosque and cultural center is being proposed that will eliminate the barriers that many non-Muslims feel when it comes to understanding Islam and Muslims and actually takes into considerations its non-Muslim visitors when planning the structure. For many years to come, many Americans and indeed tourists from around the world will be coming to the proposed complex now under construction at the site of the World Trade Centers that will house the 9/11 Memorial. What better place  will there be than a few blocks away from the 9/11 Memorial where visitors can be told about the Islam of the great boxer Muhammed Ali and hall of fame basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabbar and not that of evil individuals such as Mohammed Atta and Osama Bin Laden? Where else should they be told of the difference between the Islam that is practiced by comedian Dave Chappelle and Oprah’s Dr Mehemt Oz versus the one practiced by the backward barbarian murderers known as the Taliban in the mountains of Afghanistan? Where else can they come to know of the type of Islam practiced by patriotic Bronze Star and Purple Heart decorated deceased US soldier Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan or the one practiced by the deranged Major Nidal Malik Hasan, the accused perpetrator of the Fort Hood Army base who sadly killed 13 fellow soldiers almost 1 year ago?

Now in order to satisfy the opponents and critics of the center, I also believe that all the funding needs to be transparent, there needs to be a multi-faith board of directors, and the Muslim leadership needs to be cognizant that this is indeed a very special place for all Americans and a place of national mourning. This mosque needs to therefore address the attacks of 9/11 and also needs to be a reminder not just to non-Muslims of the tragedy that was 9/11 but more importantly it needs to  serve as a constant reminder to the rest of the Muslim world of the terrible actions some have committed in the name of Islam.

Why build it here of all places you may still ask? Why not here? What other place in America, nay, what other place in the world did Islam take the biggest blow to its reputation and image? It is Ground Zero and lower Manhattan itself where this religion of over a billion people got literally hijacked and its message of peace and tolerance got forever destroyed in the eyes of the world’s non-Muslims by events of 9/11 and the actions of a handful of radical extremists who were terrorists and part of a network known as Al-Qaeda. So, why not build a monument to tolerance and understanding for the very religion that took the biggest hit to its global credibility by events that happened in this area?  I believe that it is not out of any provocation or insensitivities that Muslims want to build a community center near Ground Zero, but rather because this is the one place in the world where truth about the religion needs to be told and the need to showcase the real Islam of the world’s Muslims rather than allow the story of the hatred and violence perpetrated by the terrorists to be the only story one hears when discussing the religion of Islam. This center needs to be a part of the healing process we must go through as a nation and will be a testament for the rest of the Muslim world outside our shores of the grandeur of our nation and for our acceptance of Muslims and for not allowing the stereotyping of a religion of hundreds of millions of people over the actions of 19 evildoers. 

Trust me, the terrorists will triumph if this mosque does not get built.  We must not forget who we’re fighting against, and what we are indeed fighting for. The Taliban, the terrorists and other radical Islamists do not respect religious freedom or tolerance. Their distorted and narrowly interpreted Wahhabi views of Islam leave no room for dissent, debate or disagreements. These terrorists are responsible for more deaths of dissenting and or differing Muslims than of any other religion at their hands. These terrorists are Islam’s biggest enemy and threat and we must remember that this is not a war between us and the Muslim world. It is a war between us and Al-Qaeda. And to prevent moderate, peace seeking, bridge building, and patriotic American Muslims from building a structure that will help ease the pain and misunderstanding of the events of that dark day 9 years ago in September will only play into the hands of those who hate us for our freedoms. To have Muslim Americans potentially lose these very freedoms due to all the pressure, in this land built on freedom and liberty, will only strengthen the hands of the terrorists and bolster their claims that this is truly a war on Islam and that they are second class citizens who do not even have the fundamental rights to worship that is afforded to all Americans. This is a battle for Islam itself, one where the forces of evil are attempting to commandeer the entire religion towards their narrow minded interpretation of the sacred texts. We must hold steadfast to our principles and ideals and support moderate Islam in taking back the religion from the extremists and allowing this mosque to be built will go a long ways in turning the tide of radicalism, and ensuring that we stand for our time tested principles, no matter how unpopular they may be in the current climate.

-Manzer Munir, founder of Pakistanis for Peace, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is a freelance journalist that writes for PakistanisforPeace.com and other publications.

Religious Leaders Denounce Anti-Muslim ‘Bigotry’ in US

By Carla Babb for The Voice of America

As a pastor from a small church in the U.S. state of Florida plans to burn Korans on September 11, Christian, Jewish and Muslim leaders stood side by side at the National Press Club in Washington Tuesday to show their solidarity against anti-Muslim acts of discrimination in the U.S.

A group of religious leaders from Christian and Jewish faiths joined together with the Islamic Society of North America for an emergency meeting to discuss a recent increase in anti-Muslim rhetoric and intolerance.

Baptist Pastor Gerald Durley spoke for the group. “As religious leaders in this great country, we have come together in our nation’s capital to denounce categorically the derision, misinformation and outright bigotry being directed against America’s Muslim community,” he said.

The group said people around the world have seen non-Muslim Americans show fear and contempt toward their Muslim neighbors–emotions that have generated from a national debate about a planned Islamic Center near the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City.

Catholic Cardinal Theadore McCarrick, Archbishop of Washington, said he wants the international community to understand that the U.S was built on the principle of valuing one another.

 “I have a great fear that the story of bigotry, the story of hatred, the story of animosity to others is going to be taken by some to be the story of the real America and it’s not. This is not our country and we have to make sure our country is known around the world as a place where liberty of religion, where respect for your neighbor, where love for your neighbor, where these things are the most prominent in our society,” he said.

A Christian pastor in Florida says his church will burn Korans on Saturday, the ninth anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States. He says the act serves as a protest against violent Islamist extremists. The local government has denied the church a permit to conduct the public burning. But the pastor of the Dove World Outreach Center has vowed to go ahead with his plan.

Rabbi Nancy Fuchs-Kreimer says the interfaith group strongly condemns the desecration of a sacred text. “We stand by the principle that to attack any religion in the United States is to do violence to the religious freedom of all Americans,” she said. Farhana Khera, president of the organization Muslim Advocates, was part of a separate group of religious leaders that met with U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder at the Justice Department. She said Holder also condemned the plan. “To quote the attorney general, he called the Gainesville plans, burning of Korans, idiotic and dangerous,” Khera said.

The plan has sparked protests in Indonesia and Afghanistan. Demonstrators in the Afghan capital burned the American flag and shouted “Death to America.” Islamic Society of North America President Ingrid Mattson says American Muslims must show the world that the U.S. is a place where all religions can live together in peace. “American Muslims have a unique ability to be this bridge and to show the Muslims who do not live in this kind of freedom that an open, pluralistic atmosphere where there are diverse religions together can really be good for everyone,” she said.

Tensions have heightened in America as the anniversary of the attacks approaches. In 2001, Islamist extremists killed nearly 3,000 people by ramming passenger planes into the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon.

For US Muslims, a 9/11 Anniversary Like No Other

By Rachel Zoll for The Associated Press

American Muslims are boosting security at mosques, seeking help from leaders of other faiths and airing ads underscoring their loyalty to the United States — all ahead of a 9/11 anniversary they fear could bring more trouble for their communities.

Their goal is not only to protect Muslims, but also to prevent them from retaliating if provoked. One Sept. 11 protest in New York against the proposed mosque near ground zero is expected to feature Geert Wilders, the aggressively anti-Islam Dutch lawmaker. The same day in Gainesville, Fla., the Dove World Outreach Center plans to burn copies of the Quran.

“We can expect crazy people out there will do things, but we don’t want to create a hysteria,” among Muslims, said Victor Begg of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan. “Americans, in general, they support pluralism. It’s just that there’s a lot of misinformation out there that has created confusion.”

On Tuesday, the Islamic Society of North America will hold a summit of Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders in Washington “to address the growing tide of fear and intolerance” in the furor over the planned New York mosque.

Islamic centers in many cities are intensifying surveillance and keeping closer contact with law enforcement. Adding to Muslim concern is a fluke of the lunar calendar: Eid al-Fitr, a joyous holiday marking the end of Ramadan, will fall around Sept. 11 this year. Muslim leaders fear festivities could be misinterpreted as celebrating the 2001 terror strikes.

“We’re telling everyone to keep their eyes open and report anything suspicious to authorities and call us,” said Ramzy Kilic of the Tampa, Fla., chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

Other efforts around 9/11 aim to fight bigotry. Muslims will clean parks, feed the homeless, and give toys to sick children as part of Muslim Serve, a national campaign to demonstrate Islamic commitment to serving humanity.

Separately, groups are distributing ads to combat persistent suspicions about Islam. One spot, called “My Faith, My Voice,” features American Muslims saying, “I don’t want to take over this country.”

Sept. 11 anniversaries have always been challenging for U.S. Muslims, who have been under scrutiny since the attacks. This year, the commemoration follows a stunning summer in which opposition to a planned Islamic community center near the World Trade Center site escalated into a national uproar over Islam, extremism and religious freedom.

Islamic centers as far away as Tennessee and California faced protests and vandalism. In western New York, police said a group of teenagers recently yelled obscenities, set off a car alarm and fired a shotgun during two nights of drive-by harassment at a small-town mosque near Lake Ontario.

Usama Shami, board chairman for the Islamic Community Center of Phoenix, said a new mosque the congregation has been building for years drew little attention until recently, when some resistance emerged in the neighborhood and from some in city government. Recently, vandals broke into the new building, spilled paint on the floor and broke expensive windows.

Shami believes the ground zero dispute is partly to blame for the trouble, along with passions unleashed by Arizona’s strict new law that would require police to question people about their immigration status if there is reason to suspect they are in the country illegally.

“All of these issues came at the same time,” Shami said. “When things like that happen, I think they bring out the worst in some people.”

On Sept. 11 in Chicago, Zeenat Rahman, a 34-year-old native of the city, will visit a local nursing home with Muslim and non-Muslim friends to spend time with residents and help serve a meal.

“This is when people are going to look at our community, and when they do, what are they going to see?” said Rahman, a policy director for the Interfaith Youth Core, which promotes pluralism. “Sometimes, saying `Islam means peace,’ feels a little defensive and apologetic, whereas service is really core to our faith.”

Unity Productions Foundation, a Washington-area group that specializes in films about Islam and Muslim Americans, will hold an interfaith talk on Sept. 11 at the Washington Jewish Community Center.

Speakers include Monem Salam, the subject of a Unity Productions film titled, “On a Wing and a Prayer: An American Muslim Learns to Fly.” Unity recently launched groundzerodialogue.org, where visitors can view films and use them for community discussion about Islam in the U.S.

Salam, 38, of Bellingham, Wash., usually spends the Eid weekend with his wife and three young children, but said he persuaded his wife he had to participate in the event.

“I have to leave them and go across the country to answer questions about Islam,” said Salam, a portfolio manager who was 4 years old when his family left Pakistan for the U.S. “It’s unfortunate. It’s the time that we live in.”

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