Posts Tagged ‘ Freedoms ’

How I Overcome the Biggest Challenge in My Life

By Zulfiqar Ali Malik for Culturally Speaking
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I am a Muslim, an American Muslim and that identity itself has become the biggest challenge for me. I am a naturalized citizen, I but my children and grandchild are born in America. Just because we are Muslims, we cannot be treated as foreigners. We do not seek special favoritism but do expect an equal treatment allowed by the U.S. constitution. Muslims are not ‘children of lessor God’.The negative portrayal of Muslims the mainstream media incites the Islamophobia. Anti-Islam groups are rising in popularity. Some politicians particularly in the election year are spreading the fear of the Shariah law. Discrimination and hate crime against Muslims are on the rise. Our holy book Qur’an and several mosques have been desecrated. Seems to me that kicking around the Islamic values is the favorite game in town.

The challenge to me is how to fight bigotry, remove the paranoia and change the American consciousness. Then I remind myself of the  command of the God Almighty  in the Qur’an:
“Goodness and evil can never be equal. Repel evil with what is better (or best). Then see: the one between whom and you there was enmity has become a bosom friend.” [41:34]
I practice patience, tolerance and respect for others. I forgive wrongs done to me and my community. I try to be modest, gentle, friendly, and helpful to others. I participate in several social, cultural, charitable and interfaith activities and events.

Offering prayers and keeping a positive attitude has always been helpful to me. I make efforts to keep the same positive attitude during editing my weekly online newsletter Muslim News Digest. I try to inspire Muslims and cultivate understanding and build bridges between Muslims and my fellow Americans of other faiths.

American Muslims are as American as baseball and apple pie.

– Zulfiqar Ali Malik is a longtime resident of Overland Park, Kansas and is an editor of an online newsletter for his community.

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In This Country, Religious Freedom Is Real

By Imran Hayee for The StarTribune

My childhood memories of celebrating Independence Day are no different than those of my fellow citizens — except that it was on Aug. 14th instead of July 4th.

I grew up in Pakistan, which obtained its independence from British rule on Aug. 14, 1947.

As a child, I marked Independence Day year after year without having a clue about what independence really meant. As I grew older, I read from a speech of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, Pakistan’s founder, which he had delivered immediately after the nation’s independence was announced.

“You are free; you are free to go to your temples,” he said. “You are free to go to your mosques or to any other places of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or cast or creed — that has nothing to do with the business of the State.”

This was Jinnah’s dream, the founding principle behind the independence of Pakistan as he himself stated in the same landmark speech: “We are all citizens and equal citizens of one State. We should keep that in front of us as our ideal and you will find that in due course, Hindus would cease to be Hindus and Muslims would cease to be Muslims, not in the religious sense, because that is the personal faith of each individual, but in the political sense as citizens of the State.”

Growing up in Pakistan, as a Muslim, I never saw Jinnah’s dream materializing. The constitution of Pakistan defines who is a Muslim — any “impersonator” is subject to imprisonment or death. Temples, churches and mosques not ascribing to a single distorted version of Islam are routinely attacked.

What caused the secular ideology of Jinnah to take this U-turn?

Soon after the nation’s creation in 1947, and Jinnah’s demise a year later, Pakistan’s rulers succumbed to the demands of religious extremists who wanted to convert Pakistan into a puritanical fundamentalist state.

Gradually, the monster of religious fundamentalism grew large enough to devour Jinnah’s philosophy of spreading freedom and equality.

I never experienced independence until I came to America 18 years ago. For the first time — when Independence Day was being celebrated on July 4th instead of Aug. 14th — I wanted to rejoice once again.

I was unaware of the history behind America’s Independence Day, but still, I saw freedom and equality prevail all around me. I could freely go to my mosque without having to fear the state’s interference.

As I learned more about the history behind July 4th, it reminded me of the same philosophy of freedom and equality that Jinnah dreamed for Pakistan. What made the difference in America was that its rulers never succumbed to extremists’ demands.

Rather, its forefathers risked their wealth and lives to uphold the principles of freedom and equality. Their sacrifices paved the way for a Muslim like me to emigrate from a Muslim country and practice Islam the way I wanted to but could not do in the country of my birth.

More recently, while some European countries have banned building minarets on mosques and the wearing of veils by Muslim women, U.S. courts have struck down any such attempted restrictions as unconstitutional.

Addressing the Muslim world in Cairo, President Obama proudly announced, “Freedom in America is indivisible from the freedom to practice one’s religion. That is why there is a mosque in every state of our union, and over 1,200 mosques within our borders. That is why the U.S. government has gone to court to protect the right of women and girls to wear hijab, and to punish those who would deny it.”

As a Muslim-American, I feel proud and honored to be in America and find many reasons to celebrate Independence Day on July 4th. Among others, let me add that the founding principles of America’s Constitution are in perfect harmony with the Qur’an.

The Qur’an (2:257) proclaims, “There is no compulsion in religion. Surely, the right way has become distinct from error.” It further declares fundamental human equality: “O mankind, We have created you from male and female; and We have made you into tribes and sub-tribes that you may recognize one another” (Qur’an 49:14).

These golden principles of freedom and equality have been implemented — in America. In fact, I find the American Constitution to be more Islamic than the constitution of Pakistan or of any other Muslim country in the world today.

Imran Hayee is a professor of engineering at the University of Minnesota Duluth.

Thou Shalt not Mock or It May Cost You Your Life!

By Manzer Munir for Pakistanis for Peace

In the wake of the murder of Salmaan Taseer, the Governor of Punjab a couple weeks back, I did a great deal of contemplation about the situation in Pakistan and the current state of affairs of Pakistan and indeed in much of the Muslim world.

The current situation, especially in Pakistan and when it concerns the rights of the non-Muslims, is apparently the worst of anywhere in the Muslim world. Indeed, the plight of Asia Bibi, (also known as Aasia, Ayesa Noreen) Islam and Islamic Blasphemy laws have come under rightful scrutiny as of late.

One question that tugs at the heart of the debate for me is why is it that Muslims seem to get so very offended to the point they want to KILL you over a remark or something that comes out of your mouth? As Americans, we wonder to ourselves, “Haven’t they ever heard of sticks and stones may break my bones, but words don’t hurt me?!

Sadly, what the fundamentalist preachers at all the podiums of their Friday sermon or khutbah, nor any of their brethren on the run and in caves like the Taliban and Al Qaeda fail to realize that we are all God’s children. And God, Allah, Yahweh, Jesus, or whatever name you assign him, he is One and the same God of all religions. He is too big to fit into just one religion, concept, version or story of him.

And we all are his creations. Not one of us is superior over the other in his eyes and he judges us all equally. To him, the children of these three religions and its offspring’s are all related to each other. Adam being the first man, then Eve, and then all the Biblical figures and names such as Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, yes especially Jesus. He is their Messiah too!

Jesus, in fact is mentioned some 28 times in the Muslim holy book, Qu’ran whereas their own prophet Muhammad is mentioned only 4 times. And the fact that Jesus is also considered by Muslims to be the Messiah, it is sad that his followers should get such abject treatment in Pakistan and sadly, many Muslim countries.

If only the bad guys realized the connections between Christians and Jesus only then would a Pakistani Christian woman, suffering needlessly in a cell tonight going on 2 years away from her children in solitude, and constantly fearful for her life, would see her horrific ordeal come to an end.

These people are incapable of understanding basic rights, freedoms and even the unhindered concept of free will. No, they are primitive minded in their their spiritual and daily lives. They fail to see that a Christian’s God and a Muslim’s God are the one and the same. And he never would agree to laws like Pakistan’s Blasphemy laws at all. Why? Well because the Muslim God is known first and foremost as a Gracious, Merciful, Compassionate God.

In fact, the Arabic phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim is a beautifully poetic phrase which offers both deep insight and brilliant inspiration to the average Muslim who says it countless times as he or she starts each day and till they rest their head to sleep. “ It has often been said that the phrase Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim contains the true essence of the entire Qur’an, as well as the true essence of all religions. Muslims often say this phrase when embarking on any significant endeavor and the phrase is considered by some to be a major pillar of Islam. This expression is so magnificent and so concise that all except one chapter of the Qur’an begins with the words Bismillah ir-Rahman ir-Rahim.”

The common translation:”In the name of God, most Gracious, most Compassionate” essentially is saying that God is compassionate, and full of grace. So how would this God punish Asia Bibi? What would he do if he is so full of compassion and mercy? Would he even punish her? And if he is such a gracious and a compassionate God, then wouldn’t he feel that nearly a two year jail sentence in solitary is already far more than her crime not to mention being away from husband and children and being worried about mob vengeance on her or the death penalty?

That God may act in a multitude of ways and we cannot ever know till said Judgment Day. That is what Judgment Day is all about after all. In fact, this is probably one day when the man upstairs works overtime judging all of us mankind, from the beginning with Adam to the last standing comes till Tribulation and the End of Days. It is only he, the Creator who will do the judging and this is something that the men with the loudspeakers who climb to the top of the minaret five times a day to call the faithful to prayers, just do not really understand, in my opinion. They apparently constantly seem to forget and pass judgment from the pulpit and this in turn helps set the “popular” opinion amongst the ultra-religious faithful of Pakistan’s society.

My only prayer to this Creator is that may he keep Asia Bibi safe tonight and continue to give her strength. And if God should call her home and have her die a death at the hands of the real savages those that not only kill but shockingly, in your name, then please Allah grant her heaven just as you should governor Salmaan Taseer, a man who was only defending the rights of all your children, including those of other faiths. He was being compassionate and gracious towards a fellow human being God, as he was only trying to emulate his creator, You Lord. Ameen.

And while you are at it Lord, will you also please let the imam at the microphone know that “Thou shall not mock, should not cost you your life.” Afterall, “Thou shall not kill is one of your top 10 commandments, whereas mocking prophets or religious figures does not make the list!

Manzer Munir, a proud Pakistani American and peace activist, is a Sufi Muslim who is also the founder of Pakistanis for Peace and blogs at www.PakistanisforPeace.com and at other websites such as www.DigitalJournal.com, www.Allvoices.com, www.Examiner.com and www.open.salon.com as a freelance journalist and writer. He asks that you like the Official Facebook Page of Pakistanis for Peace to get the latest articles as they publish here: http://www.facebook.com/home.php#!/pages/Pakistanis-for-Peace/141071882613054

If We Scrap Religious Freedom, Terrorists Win

By Sloan R Piva for South Coast Today

I must remind readers that this is the United States of America.

In the United States of America, the supreme law is the Constitution. The Constitution is the framework for the organization of the United States government. Within the Constitution, the first 10 amendments, known as the Bill of Rights, specify the inalienable rights afforded to all American citizens.

Among those rights is the freedom of speech, which allows me to write this letter. Freedom of the press allows publications like The Standard-Times to communicate news, and opinions like this, to communities. And of course there is freedom of religion, which protects each individual American citizen’s right to free exercise of religion.

This means that any American citizen, including the men and women behind the Islamic center in New York City, may practice their religion anywhere on American soil without prejudice or interference.

To interfere with these freedoms is to defy the laws of the land, shamelessly shunning the doctrines assembled by the nation’s forefathers.

America was attacked nine years ago by cowardly and radical religious zealots. It was a devastating tragedy that affected all of us. But the proposed mosque simply cannot be regarded as a “radical Islamic” center. To say that a small, radical percentage of a religion’s members represents the entire religion is unfair. To disallow American Muslims a place of worship, on any available land in the country we share, is unjust.

If Americans truly think it is acceptable to negate the Constitution because of 9/11, then the terrorists have already won. If the nation is divided, and the freedoms associated with our flag are abolished, then we too have become radical.

On Tuesday night, Aug. 24, a 21-year old white man attacked and stabbed a cabbie in New York after asking if he was Muslim. Maybe he thought he was following in the endless line of so-called Americans suddenly claiming that certain religions are allowed in certain places in this so-called “free country.” Ever think so-called debates like this send the younger generation mixed messages about religious tolerance in America?

And shame on the citizens attacking the president for supporting the freedoms of the land which he serves. It would be much more troubling if the president of the United States of America denounced the Constitution and dictated who is allowed where and what religions can be practiced.

To me, that sounds a bit like Nazi Germany. I’m so glad that we do not have a leader enforcing “no Muslims here!” because a group of radicals committed a horrendous crime against our nation. The answer is not to now disallow our citizens their rights. Just because the planners of the Islamic center are Muslim does not make them radical terrorists. Such an assumption would be ignorance and bigotry.

To combat a related issue, the president’s middle name is completely irrelevant to any debate regarding any subject! Here are the main facts: He was born in America, and he is our president. Stating his whole name in support of some ridiculous conspiracy theory is petty, naive, and downright un-American.

My grandfather’s name was John. My mother’s stepfather, whom I also call Grandpa, is named Lee. Does that mean that, because they share the same common first names of John Wilkes Booth and Lee Harvey Oswald, my grandfathers are presidential assassins? By the same theory that Barack Hussein Obama is a Muslim that supports terrorism, I suppose my grandfathers John and Lee are killers.

What about non-Muslim terrorists like Timothy McVeigh? He was Irish, and he came from an Irish Catholic family. Does that mean that Catholic churches are disallowed in the area of the Oklahoma City bombing, and Irishmen in the area may not practice their beliefs? No, because he did not act on behalf of all Irish-Americans, and his terrorist motives were not the motives shared by his family’s religion.

Again, this is the United States of America. It’s a land of freedoms. Go against those inherited freedoms, you’re un-American. Attack the president of the United States with slanderous fallacies, you’re out of line. I applaud my fellow Americans who have taken the right and just stance on these issues, and shake my head in shame at the bigots who are just as hypocritical as the cowardly and radical religious zealots.

-Ms Piva is a resident of Dartmouth and this is her letter to the editor for a local paper in Massachusetts.

Mayor Bloomberg on Mosque: ‘A Test of Our Commitment to American Values’

As Reported By The Wall Street Journal

In a speech at a Ramadan Iftar dinner at Grace Mansion Tuesday, Mayor Michael Bloomberg offered an extended defense of the proposed Islamic community center and mosque near the World Trade Center site. Those who say the center should not be built “would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom,” the mayor said. “There is nowhere in the five boroughs that is off limits to any religion.”

Below, the full transcript of Bloomberg’s prepared remarks.

Good evening, and Ramadan Kareem. I want to welcome everyone to our annual Ramadan Iftar at Gracie Mansion.

We call this ‘The People’s House,’ because it belongs to all 8.4 million New Yorkers who call this city home. People of every race and religion, every background and belief. We celebrate that diversity here in this house with gatherings like this.

And for me, whether it’s marking St. Patrick’s Day or Harlem Week or any other occasion, these gatherings are always a powerful reminder of what makes our city so strong and our country so great.

America is a nation of immigrants, and no place opens its doors more widely to the world than New York City. America is the land of opportunity, and no place offers its residents more opportunity to pursue their dreams than New York City. America is beacon of freedom, and no place defends those freedoms more fervently, or has been attacked for those freedoms more ferociously, than New York City.

In recent weeks, a debate has arisen that I believe cuts to the core of who we are as a city and a country. The proposal to build a mosque and community center in Lower Manhattan has created a national conversation on religion in America, and since Ramadan offers a time for reflection, I’d like to take a few minutes to reflect on the subject.

There are people of good will on both sides of the debate, and I would hope that everyone can carry on the dialogue in a civil and respectful way. In fact, I think most people now agree on two fundamental issues: First, that Muslims have a constitutional right to build a mosque in Lower Manhattan and second, that the site of the World Trade Center is hallowed ground. The only question we face is: how do we honor that hallowed ground?

The wounds of 9/11 are still very much with us. And I know that is true for Talat Hamdani, who is here with us tonight, and who lost her son, Salman Hamdani, on 9/11. There will always be a hole in our hearts for the men and women who perished that day.

After the attacks, some argued – including some of those who lost loved ones – that the entire site should be reserved for a memorial. But we decided – together, as a city – that the best way to honor all those we lost, and to repudiate our enemies, was to build a moving memorial and to rebuild the site.

We wanted the site to be an inspiring reminder to the world that this city will never forget our dead and never stop living. We vowed to bring Lower Manhattan back – stronger than ever – as a symbol of our defiance and we have. Today, it is more of a community neighborhood than ever before, with more people than ever living, working, playing and praying there.

But if we say that a mosque and community center should not be built near the perimeter of the World Trade Center site, we would compromise our commitment to fighting terror with freedom.

We would undercut the values and principles that so many heroes died protecting. We would feed the false impressions that some Americans have about Muslims. We would send a signal around the world that Muslim Americans may be equal in the eyes of the law, but separate in the eyes of their countrymen. And we would hand a valuable propaganda tool to terrorist recruiters, who spread the fallacy that America is at war with Islam.

Islam did not attack the World Trade Center – Al-Qaeda did. To implicate all of Islam for the actions of a few who twisted a great religion is unfair and un-American. Today we are not at war with Islam – we are at war with Al-Qaeda and other extremists who hate freedom.

At this very moment, there are young Americans – some of them Muslim – standing freedoms’ watch in Iraq and Afghanistan, and around the world. A couple here tonight, Sakibeh and Asaad Mustafa, has children who have served our country overseas and after 9/11, one of them aided in the recovery efforts at Ground Zero. I’d like to ask them to stand, so we can show our appreciation. Thank you.

The members of our military are men and women at arms – battling for hearts and minds. And their greatest weapon in that fight is the strength of our American values, which have always inspired people around the world. But if we do not practice here at home what we preach abroad – if we do not lead by example – we undermine our soldiers. We undermine our foreign policy objectives. And we undermine our national security.

In a different era, with different international challenges facing the country, President Kennedy’s Secretary of State, Dean Rusk, explained to Congress why it is so important for us to live up to our ideals here at home. He said, ‘The United States is widely regarded as the home of democracy and the leader of the struggle for freedom, for human rights, for human dignity. We are expected to be the model.’

We are expected to be the model. Nearly a half-century later, his words remain true. In battling our enemies, we cannot rely entirely on the courage of our soldiers or the competence of our diplomats. All of us must do our part.

Just as we fought communism by showing the world the power of free markets and free elections, so must we fight terrorism by showing the world the power of religious freedom and cultural tolerance. Freedom and tolerance will always defeat tyranny and terrorism – that is the great lesson of the 20th century, and we must not abandon it here in the 21st.

I understand the impulse to find another location for the mosque and community center. I understand the pain of those who are motivated by loss too terrible to contemplate. And there are people of every faith – including, perhaps, some in this room – who are hoping that a compromise will end the debate.

But it won’t. The question will then become, how big should the ‘no-mosque zone’ around the World Trade Center be? There is already a mosque four blocks away. Should it too, be moved?

This is a test of our commitment to American values. We must have the courage of our convictions. We must do what is right, not what is easy. And we must put our faith in the freedoms that have sustained our great country for more than 200 years.

I know that many in this room are disturbed and dispirited by the debate. But it is worth keeping some perspective on the matter. The first colonial settlers came to these shores seeking religious liberty and the founding fathers wrote a constitution that guaranteed it. They made sure that in this country the government would not be permitted to choose between religions or favor one over another.

Nonetheless, it was not so long ago that Jews and Catholics had to overcome stereotypes and build bridges to those who viewed them with suspicion and less than fully American. In 1960, many Americans feared that John F. Kennedy would impose papal law on America. But through his example, he taught us that piety to a minority religion is no obstacle to patriotism. It is a lesson that needs updating today, and it is our responsibility to accept the challenge.

Before closing, let me just add one final thought: Imam Rauf, who is now overseas promoting America and American values, has been put under a media microscope. Each of us may strongly agree or strongly disagree with particular statements he has made. And that’s how it should be – this is New York.

And while a few of his statements have received a lot of attention, I would like to read you something that he said that you may not have heard. At an interfaith memorial service for the martyred journalist Daniel Pearl, Imam Rauf said, ‘If to be a Jew means to say with all one’s heart, mind, and soul: Shma` Yisrael, Adonai Elohenu Adonai Ehad; Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One, not only today I am a Jew, I have always been one. If to be a Christian is to love the Lord our God with all of my heart, mind and soul, and to love for my fellow human being what I love for myself, then not only am I a Christian, but I have always been one.’

In that spirit, let me declare that we in New York are Jews and Christians and Muslims, and we always have been. And above all of that, we are Americans, each with an equal right to worship and pray where we choose. There is nowhere in the five boroughs that is off limits to any religion.

By affirming that basic idea, we will honor America’s values and we will keep New York the most open, diverse, tolerant, and free city in the world. Thank you.

Iranian Protests for Democracy is a Cry for Freedom Across the Muslim World

Tehran, Iran- Demonstrations in Iran continue a little over a week after the mass protests the occurred throughout Iran on the Shiite festival of Ashura as protestors defy the government’s crackdown on dissent. It appears that for the first time since the Iranian Revolution of 1979, the regime of Iran is appearing weakened. Despite the brutal violence used by government soldiers and militiamen, the Iranian people are brazenly standing up and are demanding the end of the supreme rule of Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and establishment of a democratic nation where freedom and rights of the Iranian people are respected.

For far too long the current regime has used violence and intimidation to quell revolt. However since the disputed election of last year, the majority of Iranian citizens want an end to theocratic rule. The government must sense the tide turning against them as the popular revolt is gathering steam and gaining strength. Overseas, the Iranian communities around the world are standing in support with their brothers and sisters in Iran and demanding an end to suppression and tyranny also and asking governments around the world for support of this movement by instituting embargos and sanctions on the Iranian government.

The situation is bleak in many Muslim countries around the world when it comes to prudent and competent government. If one takes a look at the Arabian Gulf region we have kingdoms such as Saudi Arabia and Jordan, Bahrain, UAE, etc. There is not a great deal of individual and civil liberties as they are normally afforded in the western world. Freedom of speech, religion and right to protest is simply outlawed in most of these countries. If one takes a look at countries like Egypt, Libya, Syria, and until recently Iraq, are all countries where there are dictatorships akin to monarchies where power is held for generations as is the case with Muammar Al-Gaddafi or it is passed on to a family member as was the case with Bashar Al-Assad of Syria. Pakistan too is a country that of its 62 years of modern history, over half have been ruled by dictatorships robbing the people of a robust democratic system as is one that flourishes in neighboring India.

Far too often, in many Muslim countries around the world, governments and individuals in power are robbing the coffers of their national treasuries for their own greed and simultaneously either brutally cracking down on human rights and dissent or neglecting their responsibilities all together and therefore not providing basic services, infrastructure, and security.

It is not as if democracy is in theory in any ways in conflict with Islam, rather, Islam’s set of norms and ideals that emphasize the equality of people, the accountability of leaders to community, and the respect of diversity and other faiths, is fully compatible with democracy. Yet time after time, Muslim countries are finding themselves under repressive, corrupt and  inept leadership that has no problem using  vote rigging, violence, brutality and intimidation to remain in power.

The Iranian uprising and protests currently underway in Iran should inspire Muslims in other countries to demand better governance, more accountability, and freedoms from their leaders. A country that does not have the participation of all it citizens in all fields of endeavor is not going to advance aggressively as it should. Many citizens of Iran and Iranians around the world are hoping that the repressive regime in Tehran is overthrown by the brave protesters there. One would hope that eventually this starts a chain reaction throughout the Muslim world where repressive, authoritarian and harmful governments are holding back the progress of nations. Thomas Jefferson said it best  when he stated that “A bill of rights is what the people are entitled to against every government on earth, general or particular, and what no just government should refuse, or rest on inferences.”

Reported by Manzer Munir for http://www.PakistanisforPeace.com

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