Posts Tagged ‘ Islam ’

Michele Bachmann and Muslim Witch Hunts

By Haris Tarin for The CNN

It is difficult being an American Muslim engaged in civic activities, let alone working in government or politics. We Muslims must always second-guess what we say, guard against people questioning our loyalty and make sure that nobody thinks we are trying to infiltrate the government to sabotage it from within and hand it over to the Muslim Brotherhood.

Most Americans would dismiss these accusations, especially the last one, as outrageous conspiracy theories written by loonies on their blogs. Yet American Muslim public servants are facing these charges from sitting members of Congress. The sad reality is that it has been happening for a decade, and has been met with complete indifference from the media and the public.

Recently, Rep. Michele Bachmann, briefly the front-runner for GOP presidential candidate, sent letters to the State Department, Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security asking them to investigate American Muslim organizations, individuals and government employees to determine if they are infiltrating the government and sabotaging it from within. This week, Newt Gringrich wrote an op-ed defending Bachmann’s request.

Bachmann and her friends — Republican representatives Trent Franks of Arizona, Louie Gohmert of Texas, Tom Rooney of Florida and Lynn Westmoreland of Georgia — pulled out all the stops. They not only hurled these outrageous claims at our organization, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and others like ours, but also accuse Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s deputy chief-of-staff of being part of the conspiracy.

Huma Abedin, married to former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, has served Clinton since she was the first lady. The slurs against her are beyond malicious. They accuse Abedin’s late father and her family of being a part of an international conspiracy seeking to sabotage the United States.
This latest witch hunt comes as no surprise to those of us in public life. This is a natural next step for hate mongers. First, people who do not have mainstream political backing start the rumors. Next, if we take a page from Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s 1950s playbook, the rumors become accusations leveled by the most politically privileged. It’s simple — the more accusations thrown at American Muslims trying to serve their country, the harder it is for them to be hired and the more politicians shy away from engaging them.

For years, we have watched presidential candidates talking about their discomfort with appointing Muslims to senior positions in government. We have seen them sparring over our ethics and principles. Legislation against Sharia law has been introduced in 20 states, frightening residents into thinking Sharia is an imminent threat. President Obama still faces vicious and pointed accusations of being a Muslim, as though it were a slur.
These attacks are real and hurt people’s lives. Public servants have been forced out of jobs, with suspicion shadowing them. Very few public officials have had the courage to publicly condemn the escalating witch hunt. Will this latest absurdity finally force our politicians and policy-makers to not only defend someone like Huma Abedin, whose public service needs no defense, but also all American Muslims who serve this country every day?

A few Republicans have rallied to Abedin’s side. This week, Ed Rollins, Bachmann’s former campaign chief, denounced her in an op-ed on Fox News. Speaker of the House John Boehner defended Abedin’s character.

Arizona Republican Sen. John McCain felt compelled to stand on the floor of the Senate and denounce the accusations. “Ultimately, what is at stake in this matter is larger even than the reputation of one person. This is about who we are as a nation, and who we aspire to be,” he said.
The question is whether this incident will serve as a tipping point. Will our political and religious leaders and the media push back against Islamophobes whose clear agenda is to marginalize American Muslims? Will this wave of McCarthyism be exposed, condemned and made politically unacceptable? Will American Muslim public servants be able to serve their country without suspicion?
Every year, my organization brings 25 young American Muslim leaders to Washington to help them better understand policy making. The majority are inspired to develop careers in government and public service.

Yet every year I ask myself: Are these individuals better off in banking, medicine and less high-profile careers? Am I exposing them to a career that will be tarnished by the likes of Michele Bachmann? In the end, I still believe that the sacrifice to serve this nation and make America a better place is worth the headache, and heartache, of dealing with bigots — including those in Congress.

Haris Tarin is the director of the Washington office of the Muslim Public Affairs Council.

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Pakistan Shuns Physicist Linked to ‘God Particle’

By Sebastian Abbot for Bloomberg Businessweek News

The pioneering work of Abdus Salam, Pakistan’s only Nobel laureate, helped lead to the apparent discovery of the subatomic “God particle” last week. But the late physicist is no hero at home, where his name has been stricken from school textbooks.

Praise within Pakistan for Salam, who also guided the early stages of the country’s nuclear program, faded decades ago as Muslim fundamentalists gained power. He belonged to the Ahmadi sect, which has been persecuted by the government and targeted by Taliban militants who view its members as heretics.

Their plight — along with that of Pakistan’s other religious minorities, such as Shiite Muslims, Christians and Hindus — has deepened in recent years as hardline interpretations of Islam have gained ground and militants have stepped up attacks against groups they oppose. Most Pakistanis are Sunni Muslims.

Salam, a child prodigy born in 1926 in what was to become Pakistan after the partition of British-controlled India, won more than a dozen international prizes and honors. In 1979, he was co-winner of the Nobel Prize for his work on the so-called Standard Model of particle physics, which theorizes how fundamental forces govern the overall dynamics of the universe. He died in 1996.

Salam and Steven Weinberg, with whom he shared the Nobel Prize, independently predicted the existence of a subatomic particle now called the Higgs boson, named after a British physicist who theorized that it endowed other particles with mass, said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a Pakistani physicist who once worked with Salam. It is also known as the “God particle” because its existence is vitally important toward understanding the early evolution of the universe.

Physicists in Switzerland stoked worldwide excitement Wednesday when they announced they have all but proven the particle’s existence. This was done using the world’s largest atom smasher at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, near Geneva.

“This would be a great vindication of Salam’s work and the Standard Model as a whole,” said Khurshid Hasanain, chairman of the physics department at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad.

In the 1960s and early 1970s, Salam wielded significant influence in Pakistan as the chief scientific adviser to the president, helping to set up the country’s space agency and institute for nuclear science and technology. Salam also assisted in the early stages of Pakistan’s effort to build a nuclear bomb, which it eventually tested in 1998.

Salam’s life, along with the fate of the 3 million other Ahmadis in Pakistan, drastically changed in 1974 when parliament amended the constitution to declare that members of the sect were not considered Muslims under Pakistani law.

Ahmadis believe their spiritual leader, Hadrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, who died in 1908, was a prophet of God — a position rejected by the government in response to a mass movement led by Pakistan’s major Islamic parties. Islam considers Muhammad the last prophet and those who subsequently declared themselves prophets as heretics.

All Pakistani passport applicants must sign a section saying the Ahmadi faith’s founder was an “impostor” and his followers are “non-Muslims.” Ahmadis are prevented by law in Pakistan to “pose” as Muslims, declare their faith publicly, call their places of worship mosques or perform the Muslim call to prayer. They can be punished with prison and even death.

Salam resigned from his government post in protest following the 1974 constitutional amendment and eventually moved to Europe to pursue his work. In Italy, he created a center for theoretical physics to help physicists from the developing world.

Although Pakistan’s then-president, Gen. Zia ul-Haq, presented Salam with Pakistan’s highest civilian honor after he won the Nobel Prize, the general response in the country was muted. The physicist was celebrated more enthusiastically by other nations, including Pakistan’s archenemy, India.

Despite his achievements, Salam’s name appears in few textbooks and is rarely mentioned by Pakistani leaders or the media. By contrast, fellow Pakistani physicist A.Q. Khan, who played a key role in developing the country’s nuclear bomb and later confessed to spreading nuclear technology to Iran, North Korea and Libya, is considered a national hero. Khan is a Muslim.

Officials at Quaid-i-Azam University had to cancel plans for Salam to lecture about his Nobel-winning theory when Islamist student activists threatened to break the physicist’s legs, said his colleague Hoodbhoy.

“The way he has been treated is such a tragedy,” said Hoodbhoy. “He went from someone who was revered in Pakistan, a national celebrity, to someone who could not set foot in Pakistan. If he came, he would be insulted and could be hurt or even killed.”

The president who honored Salam would later go on to intensify persecution of Ahmadis, for whom life in Pakistan has grown even more precarious. Taliban militants attacked two mosques packed with Ahmadis in Lahore in 2010, killing at least 80 people.

“Many Ahmadis have received letters from fundamentalists since the 2010 attacks threatening to target them again, and the government isn’t doing anything,” said Qamar Suleiman, a spokesman for the Ahmadi community.

For Salam, not even death saved him from being targeted.

Hoodbhoy said his body was returned to Pakistan in 1996 after he died in Oxford, England, and was buried under a gravestone that read “First Muslim Nobel Laureate.” A local magistrate ordered that the word “Muslim” be erased.

Why Do They Hate Us?

By Mona Eltahawy for Foreign Policy

In “Distant View of a Minaret,” the late and much-neglected Egyptian writer Alifa Rifaat begins her short story with a woman so unmoved by sex with her husband that as he focuses solely on his pleasure, she notices a spider web she must sweep off the ceiling and has time to ruminate on her husband’s repeated refusal to prolong intercourse until she too climaxes, “as though purposely to deprive her.” Just as her husband denies her an orgasm, the call to prayer interrupts his, and the man leaves. After washing up, she loses herself in prayer — so much more satisfying that she can’t wait until the next prayer — and looks out onto the street from her balcony. She interrupts her reverie to make coffee dutifully for her husband to drink after his nap. Taking it to their bedroom to pour it in front of him as he prefers, she notices he is dead. She instructs their son to go and get a doctor. “She returned to the living room and poured out the coffee for herself. She was surprised at how calm she was,” Rifaat writes.

But let’s put aside what the United States does or doesn’t do to women. Name me an Arab country, and I’ll recite a litany of abuses fueled by a toxic mix of culture and religion that few seem willing or able to disentangle lest they blaspheme or offend. When more than 90 percent of ever-married women in Egypt — including my mother and all but one of her six sisters — have had their genitals cut in the name of modesty, then surely we must all blaspheme. When Egyptian women are subjected to humiliating “virginity tests” merely for speaking out, it’s no time for silence. When an article in the Egyptian criminal code says that if a woman has been beaten by her husband “with good intentions” no punitive damages can be obtained, then to hell with political correctness. And what, pray tell, are “good intentions”? They are legally deemed to include any beating that is “not severe” or “directed at the face.” What all this means is that when it comes to the status of women in the Middle East, it’s not better than you think. It’s much, much worse. Even after these “revolutions,” all is more or less considered well with the world as long as women are covered up, anchored to the home, denied the simple mobility of getting into their own cars, forced to get permission from men to travel, and unable to marry without a male guardian’s blessing — or divorce either.

Not a single Arab country ranks in the top 100 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, putting the region as a whole solidly at the planet’s rock bottom. Poor or rich, we all hate our women. Neighbors Saudi Arabia and Yemen, for instance, might be eons apart when it comes to GDP, but only four places separate them on the index, with the kingdom at 131 and Yemen coming in at 135 out of 135 countries. Morocco, often touted for its “progressive” family law (a 2005 report by Western “experts” called it “an example for Muslim countries aiming to integrate into modern society”), ranks 129; according to Morocco’s Ministry of Justice, 41,098 girls under age 18 were married there in 2010.

It’s easy to see why the lowest-ranked country is Yemen, where 55 percent of women are illiterate, 79 percent do not participate in the labor force, and just one woman serves in the 301-person parliament. Horrific news reports about 12-year-old girls dying in childbirth do little to stem the tide of child marriage there. Instead, demonstrations in support of child marriage outstrip those against it, fueled by clerical declarations that opponents of state-sanctioned pedophilia are apostates because the Prophet Mohammed, according to them, married his second wife, Aisha, when she was a child.

In a crisp three-and-a-half pages, Rifaat lays out a trifecta of sex, death, and religion, a bulldozer that crushes denial and defensiveness to get at the pulsating heart of misogyny in the Middle East. There is no sugarcoating it. They don’t hate us because of our freedoms, as the tired, post-9/11 American cliché had it. We have no freedoms because they hate us, as this Arab woman so powerfully says.

Yes: They hate us. It must be said.

Some may ask why I’m bringing this up now, at a time when the region has risen up, fueled not by the usual hatred of America and Israel but by a common demand for freedom. After all, shouldn’t everyone get basic rights first, before women demand special treatment? And what does gender, or for that matter, sex, have to do with the Arab Spring? But I’m not talking about sex hidden away in dark corners and closed bedrooms. An entire political and economic system — one that treats half of humanity like animals — must be destroyed along with the other more obvious tyrannies choking off the region from its future. Until the rage shifts from the oppressors in our presidential palaces to the oppressors on our streets and in our homes, our revolution has not even begun.

But at least Yemeni women can drive. It surely hasn’t ended their litany of problems, but it symbolizes freedom — and nowhere does such symbolism resonate more than in Saudi Arabia, where child marriage is also practiced and women are perpetually minors regardless of their age or education. Saudi women far outnumber their male counterparts on university campuses but are reduced to watching men far less qualified control every aspect of their lives.

Yes, Saudi Arabia, the country where a gang-rape survivor was sentenced to jail for agreeing to get into a car with an unrelated male and needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where a woman who broke the ban on driving was sentenced to 10 lashes and again needed a royal pardon; Saudi Arabia, where women still can’t vote or run in elections, yet it’s considered “progress” that a royal decree promised to enfranchise them for almost completely symbolic local elections in — wait for it — 2015. So bad is it for women in Saudi Arabia that those tiny paternalistic pats on their backs are greeted with delight as the monarch behind them, King Abdullah, is hailed as a “reformer” — even by those who ought to know better, such as Newsweek, which in 2010 named the king one of the top 11 most respected world leaders. You want to know how bad it is? The “reformer’s” answer to the revolutions popping up across the region was to numb his people with still more government handouts — especially for the Salafi zealots from whom the Saudi royal family inhales legitimacy. King Abdullah is 87. Just wait until you see the next in line, Prince Nayef, a man straight out of the Middle Ages. His misogyny and zealotry make King Abdullah look like Susan B. Anthony.

So: Yes, women all over the world have problems; yes, the United States has yet to elect a female president; and yes, women continue to be objectified in many “Western” countries (I live in one of them). That’s where the conversation usually ends when you try to discuss why Arab societies hate women.

“Why extremists always focus on women remains a mystery to me,” U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said recently. “But they all seem to. It doesn’t matter what country they’re in or what religion they claim. They want to control women.” (And yet Clinton represents an administration that openly supports many of those misogynistic despots.) Attempts to control by such regimes often stem from the suspicion that without it, a woman is just a few degrees short of sexual insatiability. Observe Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the popular cleric and longtime conservative TV host on Al Jazeera who developed a stunning penchant for the Arab Spring revolutions — once they were under way, that is — undoubtedly understanding that they would eliminate the tyrants who long tormented and oppressed both him and the Muslim Brotherhood movement from which he springs.

I could find you a host of crackpots sounding off on Woman the Insatiable Temptress, but I’m staying mainstream with Qaradawi, who commands a huge audience on and off the satellite channels. Although he says female genital mutilation (which he calls “circumcision,” a common euphemism that tries to put the practice on a par with male circumcision) is not “obligatory,” you will also find this priceless observation in one of his books: “I personally support this under the current circumstances in the modern world. Anyone who thinks that circumcision is the best way to protect his daughters should do it,” he wrote, adding, “The moderate opinion is in favor of practicing circumcision to reduce temptation.” So even among “moderates,” girls’ genitals are cut to ensure their desire is nipped in the bud — pun fully intended. Qaradawi has since issued a fatwa against female genital mutilation, but it comes as no surprise that when Egypt banned the practice in 2008, some Muslim Brotherhood legislators opposed the law. And some still do — including a prominent female parliamentarian, Azza al-Garf.

Yet it’s the men who can’t control themselves on the streets, where from Morocco to Yemen, sexual harassment is endemic and it’s for the men’s sake that so many women are encouraged to cover up. Cairo has a women-only subway car to protect us from wandering hands and worse; countless Saudi malls are for families only, barring single men from entry unless they produce a requisite female to accompany them.

We often hear how the Middle East’s failing economies have left many men unable to marry, and some even use that to explain rising levels of sexual harassment on the streets. In a 2008 survey by the Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights, more than 80 percent of Egyptian women said they’d experienced sexual harassment and more than 60 percent of men admitted to harassing women. Yet we never hear how a later marriage age affects women. Do women have sex drives or not? Apparently, the Arab jury is still out on the basics of human biology.

Enter that call to prayer and the sublimation through religion that Rifaat so brilliantly introduces in her story. Just as regime-appointed clerics lull the poor across the region with promises of justice — and nubile virgins — in the next world rather than a reckoning with the corruption and nepotism of the dictator in this life, so women are silenced by a deadly combination of men who hate them while also claiming to have God firmly on their side.

I turn again to Saudi Arabia, and not just because when I encountered the country at age 15 I was traumatized into feminism — there’s no other way to describe it — but because the kingdom is unabashed in its worship of a misogynistic God and never suffers any consequences for it, thanks to its double-whammy advantage of having oil and being home to Islam’s two holiest places, Mecca and Medina.

Then — the 1980s and 1990s — as now, clerics on Saudi TV were obsessed with women and their orifices, especially what came out of them. I’ll never forget hearing that if a baby boy urinated on you, you could go ahead and pray in the same clothes, yet if a baby girl peed on you, you had to change. What on Earth in the girl’s urine made you impure? I wondered.

Hatred of women.

How much does Saudi Arabia hate women? So much so that 15 girls died in a school fire in Mecca in 2002, after “morality police” barred them from fleeing the burning building — and kept firefighters from rescuing them — because the girls were not wearing headscarves and cloaks required in public. And nothing happened. No one was put on trial. Parents were silenced. The only concession to the horror was that girls’ education was quietly taken away by then-Crown Prince Abdullah from the Salafi zealots, who have nonetheless managed to retain their vise-like grip on the kingdom’s education system writ large.

This, however, is no mere Saudi phenomenon, no hateful curiosity in the rich, isolated desert. The Islamist hatred of women burns brightly across the region — now more than ever.

In Kuwait, where for years Islamists fought women’s enfranchisement, they hounded the four women who finally made it into parliament, demanding that the two who didn’t cover their hair wear hijabs. When the Kuwaiti parliament was dissolved this past December, an Islamist parliamentarian demanded the new house — devoid of a single female legislator — discuss his proposed “decent attire” law.

In Tunisia, long considered the closest thing to a beacon of tolerance in the region, women took a deep breath last fall after the Islamist Ennahda party won the largest share of votes in the country’s Constituent Assembly. Party leaders vowed to respect Tunisia’s 1956 Personal Status Code, which declared “the principle of equality between men and women” as citizens and banned polygamy. But female university professors and students have complained since then of assaults and intimidation by Islamists for not wearing hijabs, while many women’s rights activists wonder how talk of Islamic law will affect the actual law they will live under in post-revolution Tunisia.

In Libya, the first thing the head of the interim government, Mustafa Abdel Jalil, promised to do was to lift the late Libyan tyrant’s restrictions on polygamy. Lest you think of Muammar al-Qaddafi as a feminist of any kind, remember that under his rule girls and women who survived sexual assaults or were suspected of “moral crimes” were dumped into “social rehabilitation centers,” effective prisons from which they could not leave unless a man agreed to marry them or their families took them back.

Then there’s Egypt, where less than a month after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down, the military junta that replaced him, ostensibly to “protect the revolution,” inadvertently reminded us of the two revolutions we women need. After it cleared Tahrir Square of protesters, the military detained dozens of male and female activists. Tyrants oppress, beat, and torture all. We know. But these officers reserved “virginity tests” for female activists: rape disguised as a medical doctor inserting his fingers into their vaginal opening in search of hymens. (The doctor was sued and eventually acquitted in March.)

What hope can there be for women in the new Egyptian parliament, dominated as it is by men stuck in the seventh century? A quarter of those parliamentary seats are now held by Salafis, who believe that mimicking the original ways of the Prophet Mohammed is an appropriate prescription for modern life. Last fall, when fielding female candidates, Egypt’s Salafi Nour Party ran a flower in place of each woman’s face. Women are not to be seen or heard — even their voices are a temptation — so there they are in the Egyptian parliament, covered from head to toe in black and never uttering a word.

And we’re in the middle of a revolution in Egypt! It’s a revolution in which women have died, been beaten, shot at, and sexually assaulted fighting alongside men to rid our country of that uppercase Patriarch — Mubarak — yet so many lowercase patriarchs still oppress us. The Muslim Brotherhood, with almost half the total seats in our new revolutionary parliament, does not believe women (or Christians for that matter) can be president. The woman who heads the “women’s committee” of the Brotherhood’s political party said recently that women should not march or protest because it’s more “dignified” to let their husbands and brothers demonstrate for them.

The hatred of women goes deep in Egyptian society. Those of us who have marched and protested have had to navigate a minefield of sexual assaults by both the regime and its lackeys, and, sadly, at times by our fellow revolutionaries. On the November day I was sexually assaulted on Mohamed Mahmoud Street near Tahrir Square, by at least four Egyptian riot police, I was first groped by a man in the square itself. While we are eager to expose assaults by the regime, when we’re violated by our fellow civilians we immediately assume they’re agents of the regime or thugs because we don’t want to taint the revolution.

SO WHAT IS TO BE DONE?

First we stop pretending. Call out the hate for what it is. Resist cultural relativism and know that even in countries undergoing revolutions and uprisings, women will remain the cheapest bargaining chips. You — the outside world — will be told that it’s our “culture” and “religion” to do X, Y, or Z to women. Understand that whoever deemed it as such was never a woman. The Arab uprisings may have been sparked by an Arab man — Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself on fire in desperation — but they will be finished by Arab women.

Amina Filali — the 16-year-old Moroccan girl who drank poison after she was forced to marry, and beaten by, her rapist — is our Bouazizi. Salwa el-Husseini, the first Egyptian woman to speak out against the “virginity tests”; Samira Ibrahim, the first one to sue; and Rasha Abdel Rahman, who testified alongside her — they are our Bouazizis. We must not wait for them to die to become so. Manal al-Sharif, who spent nine days in jail for breaking her country’s ban on women driving, is Saudi Arabia’s Bouazizi. She is a one-woman revolutionary force who pushes against an ocean of misogyny.

Our political revolutions will not succeed unless they are accompanied by revolutions of thought — social, sexual, and cultural revolutions that topple the Mubaraks in our minds as well as our bedrooms.

“Do you know why they subjected us to virginity tests?” Ibrahim asked me soon after we’d spent hours marching together to mark International Women’s Day in Cairo on March 8. “They want to silence us; they want to chase women back home. But we’re not going anywhere.”

We are more than our headscarves and our hymens. Listen to those of us fighting. Amplify the voices of the region and poke the hatred in its eye. There was a time when being an Islamist was the most vulnerable political position in Egypt and Tunisia. Understand that now it very well might be Woman. As it always has been.

Mona Eltahawy is an Egyptian-American columnist. In November 2011, Egyptian police beat her, breaking her left arm and right hand, and sexually assaulted her. She was detained by the Interior Ministry and military intelligence for 12 hours.

Islam & the NYPD

By Dr Qanta A Ahmed for NY Post

The relentless campaign to paint the NYPD as Islamophobic is itself an offense to Islam. In fact, our faith compels American Muslims to stand with the NYPD — both to protect the faith, and by its direct dictates.

Let me be clear: By investigating Islamist sympathizers who seek to curtail the freedoms of all Americans, the NYPD is aggressively protecting the freedoms and privileges that Muslims enjoy in America (freedoms that aren’t available even in the birthplace of Islam).

Islamism is distinct from the beliefs the majority of Islam’s 1.6 billion followers hold dear. The cry of “Islamophobia” is often merely an effort to silence those of us who seek to communicate this distinction, or to express concerns about Islamism. Most Muslims are spiritually private, committed persons active in their societies without a subversive political agenda. Think of them as pluralistic Muslims.

Because America’s religious freedom is protected by constitutional ideals, Muslims can pursue this pluralistic life — an American life that makes private space for faith, in parallel to public roles. Indeed, Muslims in America are freer to do this than Muslims in Pakistan (where my family is from), Saudi Arabia (where I have lived) or even Indonesia, because each of these Muslim-majority countries imposes laws restricting the practice of religion.

In many ways, Muslims are best able to follow their Islam — to become Muslim in the fullest sense — here in America, because of this nation’s astonishing, constitutionally guaranteed freedoms.

Political Islamism — variously called radical Islam, jihadism or Islamic fundamentalism — is completely different. In contrast to our centuries-old faith, it’s a modern political project that seeks to return any society to a supposed “scriptural foundation” of the Muslim community, removing existing forms of government and laws.

Sound like a war? Well, in the wider world and here in America, there is indeed a war afoot — a war of ideas, a “Battle for the Soul of Islam,” as my colleague, American Islamic Forum for Democracy president Zudhi Jasser, has termed it.

In this battle, the Islamist thrives — citing freedom of speech, claiming disadvantaged civil rights, exploiting the privileges that a liberal democracy accords him. Often operating via advocacy groups or “Islamic societies” that purport to represent mainstream Muslims, he or she truly serves a political agenda centered on replacing liberal democracy with fundamentalist theocracy.

In fact, the Koran is explicit on the loyalties a Muslim must accord his host nation, mandating a Muslim’s duty to be an unwavering and loyal patriot:
O ye who believe! Obey Allah, and obey His Messenger and those who are in authority from among you. (Ch.4: V.60).

That verse demands the Muslim express loyalty to any ruling authority. This isn’t a suggestion, this is mandated Islamic duty.
The Koran does not state leadership specified as Muslim. Leadership is whomsoever is empowered in the society where the Muslim finds himself. For us here, that includes loyalty to the NYPD, the FBI and their work to safeguard our highest authority — the principles of our liberal democracy.
Can any one group speak for the entire American Muslim community? Islam is diverse — especially in America. Islamism isn’t. The sooner we understand this, the better — because at stake are America’s ideals.

America’s extraordinary freedoms afford us an ability to define our own expressions of Islam as Muslims in a way that no Muslim-majority nation secures for any Muslim anywhere today. We must preserve these values, and join the NYPD, in understanding the Islamist threat to these values.
This means we must support, not vilify, our policemen and -women, our federal agents and our police commissioner — especially when they gather and interpret information they need to preserve us and our values.

How many devout Muslims were among the thousands killed on 9/11? Let us never forget that Islamists — moving among the broader Muslim and secular communities — have wrought atrocities in this city and around the world, and seek to do so again.
If you choose to smear the NYPD for its work to protect us and our society, so too you choose to smear me, a pluralistic patriotic Muslim in America, for demanding an honest discourse.

Dr. Qanta Ahmed practices medicine in New York. She is the author of “In the Land of Invisible Women.”
Twitter: @MissDiagnosis

Welcome To The First Annual Celebrity Religion Swap

By Wajahat Ali for Salon.com

Muslims worldwide groaned upon hearing the news that Oliver Stone’s son, Sean, converted to Islam while filming a documentary in Iran.

Although we — the collective 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide — assume Sean Stone is a fine, upstanding man and sincerely wish him spiritual contentment, we earnestly ask Allah why Islam only attracts controversial celebs (in this case, the son of a controversial celeb) who further tarnish our already toxic brand name?

We plead to the heavens for an answer as to why he converted in Iran, of all places, which is currently the most feared and loathed country in America and about as popular as herpes.

We have patiently endured, oh, Allah.

We miraculously survived Mike Tyson, who converted to Islam while incarcerated, and then angrily threatened Lennox Lewis in an infamous interview: “I want your heart. I will eat his children. Praise be to Allah.”

Awesome.

Islam has the lowest favorability rating of any religion in America. If Islam were a world economy, it would be Greece. If it were a professional athlete, it would be San Francisco 49ers punt returner Kyle Williams, who muffed two critical punts, which helped the New York Giants reach the Super Bowl. If Islam went to the prom, it would be the ugly girl with freckles and an overbite standing in the corner with a bucket of pig’s blood teetering precariously over its head. If Islam were a Republican presidential candidate, it would be Newt Gingrich.

A diverse jirga of American Muslim leaders decided “enough was enough” and held an emergency meeting at Lowes’ Home Improvement store in Dearborn, Mich., to strategize how to bolster Islam’s faltering image.

A consensus emerged that we needed to draft popular, mainstream celebrities whose successful addition to our starting lineup would boost our international brand name. After all, 1,400 years of civilization and the religious practices of 1.5 billion solely rest on the tanned shoulders of the rich, famous and beautiful.

Inspired by comedian Dave Chappelle, one of the few Muslim converts who could be considered a net gain, the Muslims held a “Religious Draft” this week, inviting major religions to participate on hallowed ground: McDonald’s.

The following is a summary of the proceedings.

THE FIRST ROUND PICK

Since it was universally accepted Islam was the 2011 Indianapolis Colts of world religions, they had first pick.

Predictably, the Muslims drafted free agent Liam Neeson, who recently said, “There are 4,000 mosques in [Istanbul]. Some are just stunning and it really makes me think about becoming a Muslim.” The Irish actor is experiencing a pop cultural rebirth as the 21st century embodiment of uncompromising, kick-ass masculinity and sage paternalism. On behalf of Muslims, he took revenge against France, which recently caved into hysteria and banned the burqa. Neeson single-handedly destroyed the entire country with his bare fists in the blockbuster action film “Taken.” Muslims believe Neeson will help rebrand them as Jedi Knights, due to his portrayal of Jedi Qui-Gon in “Star Wars: The Phantom Menace,” and replace their current image as Dark Lords of the Sith.

Rumors circulated that many Evangelical Christians felt slighted by this pick since Muslims stole their digital Avatar of Jesus: Neeson voices “Aslan the Lion” from the “Narnia” movies.

The rest of the day’s picks were organized according to different types of celebrity.

ATHLETES

In a surprise move, the Buddhists requested Mike Tyson from the Muslims. Exhausted from voluntarily suffering for the past 2,500 years, the Buddhists decided Tyson’s crushing right uppercut could “really eff up China.”

In turn, the Buddhists decided to offer the Beastie Boys — the aging, versatile, hip-hop trio from Brooklyn – sensing they peaked with their 1998 “Hello Nasty” album. The Muslims accepted, acknowledging the songs “Sabotage” and “Shake Your Rump” as perennial favorites in Egypt and Lebanon.

The Buddhists selflessly threw in Richard Gere and DVD copies of “American Gigolo” to sweeten the deal.

The Jews intervened and said they wanted the Beastie Boys back on their team. They offered the Muslims Ben Roethlisberger, two-time Super Bowl champion quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Having read about Big Ben’s dubious history of sexual impropriety, the Muslims passed, but decided to donate Mike D of the Beastie Boys to the Jews as a truce offering. Allegedly, the Muslims could never forgive Mike D for the horribly weak rhyme “Everybody rappin’ like it’s a commercial, acting like life is a big commercial” on the song “Pass the Mic.”

The Jews accepted the offer.

The Muslims, feeling emboldened, made an ambitious pitch to the Christians for Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow, who “just wins.”

Muslims offered former NBA all-star Shaquille O’Neal, who fell from their graces after he acted as a giant genie in the box-office bomb “Kazaam.” They also threw in Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf, the controversial Denver Nuggets star who converted to Islam and refused to stand for “The Star-Spangled Banner” before games. The Christians were initially enticed, seeing this as a perfect “born-again” moment, but they passed.

The Muslims went aggressive and promised they wouldn’t supplant the Constitution with Shariah and replace the White House with minarets unless Tebow and Mel Gibson crossed over.

The Christians, anxious to excommunicate Gibson, agreed. For the 2012 NFL season, Tebowing will now consist of prostrating and praising Allah after every touchdown. The Christians asked the Muslims to preserve Tebow’s chastity and not introduce him to Miss USA Rima Fakih or hot Arab women from the reality TV show “All-American Muslim”; the Muslims said they’d try, but they promised nothing.

COMEDIANS

The Jews made a play for comedian Dave Chappelle, a Muslim, citing his hit series on Comedy Central “Chappelle’s Show” as a creative juggernaut that still influences the masses — especially several rabbis, who apparently love saying, “I’m Rick James, bitch!” after performing circumcisions.

The Muslims immediately rejected the offer, saying Chappelle is perhaps the only living proof that Muslims can be intentionally funny.

Instead, they offered Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as an example of an unintentional comedian and provocateur in exchange for Israel cooling down its dangerous rhetoric of a preemptive strike on Iran.

Furthermore, the Muslims offered the newly acquired Mel Gibson straight up for Jerry Seinfeld.

The Mormons tried to intercept Seinfeld by playing one of their highest cards: “Napoleon Dynamite” actor Jon Heder. The Jews pretended not to hear this mockery and allowed the Mormons to slink away with some shred of remaining dignity.

The Jews finalized a deal with the Muslims and rumors have circulated since that Mel and Ahmadinejad are under house arrest in Tel Aviv, forced to watch “The Chosen” and “Fiddler on the Roof” on repeat while listening to Jerry Lewis perform comedy.

MUSICIANS

Sensing friendly relations, the Jews humbly approached the Muslims for rapper Ice Cube, citing his immense street cred and respect from the hip-hop and African-American communities. The Jews conceded the Matisyahu experiment, although initially promising, had failed, as the Hasidic reggae rapper never lived up to his “King Without a Crown” potential.

The Muslims mulled it over for a considerable time. The jirga decided they would retain eternal rights to Cube’s 1993 hit single “It Was a Good Day” from his multi-platinum album “Predator,” but ultimately release him because he inexplicably starred in the awful family comedy “Are We There Yet?”

Muslims in return asked the Jews for Kabbalah-worshipping Madonna, sensing serious comeback potential after her excellent Super Bowl halftime show.

Catholics made a request for multi-talented actor and hip-hop artist Mos Def from the Muslims, who soundly rejected any and all future offers, stating the entirety of the Middle East and North Africa could never bear to part with Def’s song “Ms. Fat Booty.”

Instead, Muslims counter-offered with alternative rock artist Everlast, whose 1998 single “What It’s Like” has made a surprising comeback on radio stations due to the economic recession. The Catholics still remember Everlast as the lead singer of the hip-hop band House of Pain, who produced the classic party anthem “Jump Around,” before his conversion to Islam. The Catholics accepted; South Asian Muslims danced to “Jump Around” one last time; and the Muslims in return received Taylor Swift and her legions of pubescent female fans, along with her former boyfriend Taylor Lautner, who played the ethnic werewolf in the “Twilight” movies.

The Muslims had finally secured their most promising young-adult celebrity.

POLITICIANS

The Mormons halfheartedly offered Mitt Romney. The Evangelicals promised Michele Bachmann and her lifetime supply of blinks. The Catholics, out of sheer desperation and embarrassment, bartered Newt Gingrich and his third wife, Callista.

The Muslims decided to stick with their boy, Barack Hussein Obama, in hopes of retaining the White House in 2012.

MISCELLANEOUS

Muslims threw a Hail Mary and asked fundamentalist Christians for Chuck Norris, who so thoroughly kicked the Middle East’s entire ass during the ’80s. The Muslims respected Norris for his ability to fire an Uzi, perform a roundhouse kick and wave an American flag at the same time. In return, Muslims offered the infamous WWF wrestler the Iron Sheikh and even agreed to teach the Christians the impregnable camel clutch. Norris, humbled by the offer, respectfully declined, and admitted that although he enjoyed killing hordes of fictional Arabs in jingoistic action movies like “Delta Force,” he currently fancied himself an intellectual and activist committed to exposing the nonexistent threat of Shariah infiltrating America. The Muslims were saddened, but collectively agreed to watch Norris in the summer action film “Expendables 2.”

The Hindus decided to play their strongest card, actress Julia Roberts, and made a request for journalist Lauren Booth, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair’s sister in law, who converted to Islam in 2010. The Hindus saw her as the perfect revenge and giant, henna-painted middle finger to England for the British Empire’s previous colonization and exploitation of India’s resources. The Muslims thought this was reasonable and now the “Pretty Woman” flashes her million-dollar smile behind a burqa.

THE CHOSEN ONE

Finally, the draft ended with all the religions coveting “the chosen one,” who would single-handedly redeem their public image both at home and abroad.

The Mormons offered former Republican presidential candidate Jon Huntsman, highlighting his excellent Chinese and fine hair. The Muslims initially offered NBA Hall of Famer and current cultural ambassador Kareem Abdul Jabbar. They sweetened the deal and threw in President Obama. The Jews presented Steven Spielberg and his entire film library. The Hindus humbly offered Bollywood actors Amitabh Bachan, Aishwarya Rai and a picture of Gandhi signed by Ben Kingsley. The Buddhists presented Tina Turner, Herbie Hancock and Tiger Woods.

But, it was sadly to no avail.

The Christians and Church of New York decided to keep NBA superstar and New York Knicks point guard Jeremy Lin. Rumors circulated that they were talking to China about a potential trade to ensure the ambitious superpower does not ask the United States to repay its debt, thus financially crippling and utterly destroying our great nation.

All in all, “it was a good day” for the Muslims in the first Religious Draft.

Wajahat Ali is a playwright, attorney, journalist and essayist. His award winning play”The Domestic Crusaders,” was published by McSweeney’s in 2011. He is the lead author of “Fear Inc., Roots of the Islamophobia Network in America.” He is currently writing a pilot for HBO. He is co-editing the anthology “All American: 45 American Men on Being Muslim” published in June 2012. More Wajahat Ali

Valentine’s Day in Islam?

By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong Co-Director, Association of British Muslims

I was asked to share my views on Valentine’s Day. Personally, I really don’t see what’s the problem that some people seem to have with this celebration. The fact that it’s a Western, originally Christian festival is in all honesty, completely besides the point. We should celebrate Love everyday!

Many cultures have something similar, a day to celebrate love, to send a message of love to your beloved – a person whom you would like to marry or is already your husband or wife. Seriously, what’s wrong with that? What could possibly be wrong with that?
The only argument I’ve heard against Valentine’s Day, is the same one I hear about every other festival besides the two Eids – it’s not part of Islam. Well, sorry, if that’s the best these people can come up with, it’s a pathetic argument – cars and aeroplanes aren’t technically part of Islam either, but we still use them!

More to the point, a Muslim can celebrate any festival, even the social aspect of those of other religions, as long as this doesn’t mean they end up committing shirk – i.e. worshipping another deity besides God or associating partners with God – and this is the position of the mainstream scholars of Al-Azhar University in Egypt.

Indeed, for the vast majority of people who celebrate it, Valentine’s Day isn’t even that religious, rather it’s just a wonderful opportunity to show loved ones how much you appreciate them – which is something every Muslim should do anyway, even if they do not celebrate Valentine’s Day!

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note– Finally, a Muslim perspective on Valentine’s Day that we can agree with! As compared to many other articles that decry Valentine’s Day as a pagan holiday and it is shirk to celebrate it, Paul has succinctly yet effectively given a great differing Muslim angle on this day as compared to the Orthodox Muslim view.

For Many in Pakistan, a Television Show Goes Too Far

By Declan Walsh for The New York Times

One morning last week, television viewers in Pakistan were treated to a darkly comic sight: a posse of middle-class women roaming through a public park in Karachi, on the hunt for dating couples engaged in “immoral” behavior.

Panting breathlessly and trailed by a cameraman, the group of about 15 women chased after — sometimes at jogging pace — girls and boys sitting quietly on benches overlooking the Arabian Sea or strolling under the trees. The women peppered them with questions: What were they doing? Did their parents know? Were they engaged?

Some couples reacted with alarm, and tried to scuttle away. A few gave awkward answers. One couple claimed to be married. The show’s host, Maya Khan, 31, demanded to see proof. “So where is your marriage certificate?” she asked sternly.

This hourlong spectacle, broadcast live on Samaa TV on Jan. 17, set off a furious reaction in parts of Pakistan. Outrage sprang from the Internet and percolated into the national newspapers, where writers slammed Ms. Khan’s tactics as a “witch hunt.”

“Vigil-aunties,” read one headline, referring to the South Asian term “aunty” for older, bossy and often judgmental women.

Now, the protests are headed to court. On Friday, four local nongovernment organizations will file a civil suit against Samaa TV in Pakistan’s Supreme Court, hoping to galvanize the country’s top judges into action.

“Journalists don’t have the right to become moral police,” said Adnan Rehmat of Intermedia, a media development organization that is among the petitioners. “We need to draw a line.”

Images of moral vigilantes prowling the streets have an ominous resonance in Pakistan, where many still recall the dark days of the Islamist dictator Gen. Mohammad Zia ul-Haq in the 1980s, when the police could demand to see a couple’s nikkahnama — wedding papers — under threat of imprisonment.

But the strong reaction is also drawn from a pressing contemporary worry: that the budding television media, seen as a force for democracy and greater social freedom for much of the past decade, have lost their way as part of a cutthroat battle for ratings.

“It really aggravates me that the media is using their power to intrude and invade our privacy, often with no good reason,” said Mehreen Kasana, a 22-year-old American-educated blogger from Lahore, who wrote a widely circulated protest against the Samaa TV show.

The controversy has rekindled a debate about the direction of Pakistan’s TV industry. Since liberalization in 2000, the sector has exploded from one channel — the state-controlled one — to more than 80 today, 37 of which carry national or local current affairs.

The media revolution has transformed social and political boundaries: in 2007, feisty coverage played a central role in pushing Pervez Musharraf toward the exit; in recent weeks it helped guard against a possible military coup.

But television is also a lucrative business controlled by powerful, largely unaccountable tycoons. Last year Pakistan’s television stations had advertising revenues of more than $200 million, according to Aurora, an industry journal — 28 percent more than the previous year.

Amid stiff competition for viewers, channels have relied on populist measures — rowdy political talks shows and, in recent times, vigilante-style “investigative” shows modeled on programs in neighboring India.

Some have a noble objective: holding to account crooked public servants, police officers and even fellow journalists. But others have veered into territory that could be described as Pakistan’s answer to Jerry Springer — voyeuristic, mawkish and intrusive.

In recent months, one reporter screamed at a man accused of child rape as he awaited trial outside a courthouse; another hectored a man said to be a self-confessed necrophile inside a jail cell; and a TV reporter “raided” a gathering of whisky drinkers, even though alcohol flows freely at many media parties.

Abbas Nasir, a former head of Dawn News television, said he was “nauseated” by some coverage.

“Hosts are under pressure to bring in ratings, and there is carte blanche to do the most bizarre things,” he said.

Another critic derided such reporters as “pussycat vigilantes” because they avoided challenging rich or powerful Pakistanis, whose Western-style lifestyles go unexamined.

“They only go after the people they know will not bite back,” said Nadeem Farooq Paracha, a culture writer.

Ms. Khan’s show touched a raw nerve because it combined simmering concern over media ethics with wider fears about society’s conservative tilt. Even General Zia’s son was appalled. In answer to a question on Twitter, Ijaz ul-Haq, a politician from Punjab Province, said he was “still in shock by what I’ve heard about her show.”

In a telephone interview on Tuesday, Ms. Khan rejected her critics, calling them “an elite class that don’t even watch my show,” and said the show merely intended to highlight the dangers that unaccompanied youths face in Karachi.

She also denied that there was anything unusual about asking couples for their wedding certificate — even though she does not carry one. All of “Pakistan knows me and my wedding pictures,” she said. “So I don’t have to.”

But on Wednesday, Samaa TV issued a formal apology for her show, followed by a short clip of Ms. Khan, sitting on a bed, offering an apology of sorts. “I never intended to make you teary-eyed or hurt you,” she said.

The furor has renewed long-standing demands for media regulation. With the state-run Pakistan Media Regulatory Authority seen as ineffective, the organizations approaching the Supreme Court on Friday hope the judiciary can help. “We need to hold the media to account,” Mr. Rehmat said.

But others argue that involving the courts, with their history of heavy-handed interventions, could open the door to state licensing of free speech. “It could backfire,” said Beena Sarwar, a journalist who helped rally protests against Ms. Khan’s show. “The media needs to do this themselves.”

Amid the polemic, there is one bright spot: the use of Twitter and Facebook to stoke debate has shown how, even as social space contracts in a turbulent society, the virtual space is opening up new possibilities.

But so far, the use of social media has been largely confined to the country’s English-speaking minority. It was striking how little attention Ms. Khan’s show received in the Urdu media, which is read or watched by the vast majority of Pakistanis.

“My real worry is that Pakistan is moving rightwards, and this time the face won’t have a beard,” said Mr. Nasir, the former head of Dawn News television. “And before people know it, they won’t know what’s hit them.”

Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- Samaa Tv and host Maya Khan ought to be ashamed of themselves for calling this program journalism. Vulture reporting is more appropriate. Highly intrusive and showing a complete disregard for private citizens who are meeting in a public place is no place for a TV channel.  This certainly strengthens the religious extremists in Pakistan, shoving their brand of austere Wahaabi Islam down the throats of the majority Barelvi/Sufi population of Pakistan.

Meanwhile the Pakistani Telecom Authority is curtailing freedom of speech by mandating mobile phone operators to ban certain ‘dirty’ words, as the Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority lacks the moral and legal mindset to stop a television channel on trampling citizen’s privacy and freedoms. They should shut this show immediately and get this so called ‘reporter’ off the air.

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