Posts Tagged ‘ Mosques ’

Visiting Each Other’s Holy Places in North America

By Habeeb Ali for Common Ground News Service

I can see your stares! I get them every time I say we are twinning our mosques and synagogues this month. “Really?” people ask, jaws dropping.

For the third year, this exercise of interfaith exchange has progressed in good faith. Synagogues agree to twin with nearby mosques, with congregants visiting each other during Jewish Sabbath and Muslim Friday prayer services and, in some cases, inviting guest speakers or jointly carrying out a community service project like doing a Hanukkah and Eid party together.

I have personally taken students to the synagogue. One young Pakistani-born boy marveled at how cordial Jews were and how familiar the service is. One Palestinian girl at first refused to enter the synagogue but after meeting a warm female rabbi, left saying how different it was from what she’d thought.

Many people wonder about the term “Twinning” to describe the event. But the history of the Muslims genealogically is an ancestral path that leads to Ishmael, a son of Abraham, while that of the Bani Israel, the Quranic term for the Jewish people, leads to another of Abraham’s sons, Isaac.

So we’re children of two brothers – a good reminder actually – since around this time Muslims commemorate Abraham’s story during the hajj, the pilgrimage to Mecca, on Eid al-Adha.

Twinning was initiated to encourage a better understanding between Muslims and Jews living in the West, regardless of political inclinations, with a more direct opportunity to have a dialogue about their faith traditions specifically.

In Toronto, in addition to Jewish visits to hear imams’ Friday sermons at mosques and Muslim visits to hear the Torah read in synagogues, the Noor Cultural Centre – which promotes cultural education and bridge-building in the Muslim Canadian community – has organized a weekend-long educational study conducted by Rabbi Dr. Reuven Firestone and Dr. Mahmoud Ayoub. The focus of the study is to reach out to students of both communities and discuss images of war and violence in Jews’ and Muslims’ scriptural texts.

According to Walter Ruby, the man behind the scenes at the New York-based Centre for Ethnic Understanding: “Twinning has brought together thousands of Muslims and Jews to jointly promote tolerance, understanding, education and goodwill in an effort to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.”

It has grown from a mere 50 places joining hands last year in North America to more than 100 mosques and 100 synagogues in 22 countries on four continents.

Normally hosted the first weekend in November, Twinning events also take place throughout the month, providing meaningful exchanges for Muslims and Jews to understand each other’s faith – or participate in community initiatives, no matter how creative or how basic, like simply having a rabbi and an imam chat over coffee.

In Toronto, Dr. Barbara Landau plays a key role in promoting the Twinning and works to ensure such events are not limited only to November.

Landau is a friend and long-standing peace activist in Toronto among Jews and Muslims. She has participated in missions to conflict areas in the Middle East to share how Canadians can serve as role models. She has worked tirelessly with others, including her co-chair at the Canadian Association of Jews and Muslims, Shahid Akhtar, since 9/11 to see that young people in our communities understand each other and work on common projects for the goodness of humanity.

“The Weekend of Twinning has time and time again shown us that Jews and Muslims can not only live together peacefully as neighbors, but also partner together to build a better community at-large,” said Rabbi Marc Schneier, president of The Foundation for Ethnic Understanding and lead organizer of the Weekend of Twinning.

And, with many more mosques and synagogues notifying her of their willingness to participate in the event, Landau is optimistic that next year’s Twinning weekend will be even bigger and better.

Female Imams Blaze Trail Amid China’s Muslims

By Louisa Lim for National Public Radio

It is 5:50 in the morning, and dark shadows scurry through narrow alleys to the mosque, as the call to prayer echoes from a minaret in Kaifeng. This city in central China’s Henan province has an Islamic enclave, where Muslims have lived for more than 1,000 years.

In an alleyway called Wangjia hutong, women go to their own mosque, where Yao Baoxia leads prayers. For 14 years, Yao has been a female imam, or ahong as they are called here, a word derived from Persian.

As she leads the service, Yao stands alongside the other women, not in front of them as a male imam would. But she says her role is the same as a male imam. “The status is the same,” Yao says confidently. “Men and women are equal here, maybe because we are a socialist country.”                                        

Yao Baoxia is a female ahong, or imam, at Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque in Kaifeng, in central China. She sits alongside believers during prayers, not in front of them like male imams. She believes male and female imams are equal in their role as teachers and leaders of prayers. Yao Baoxia is a female ahong, or imam, at Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque in Kaifeng, in central China. She sits alongside believers during prayers, not in front of them like male imams. She believes male and female imams are equal in their role as teachers and leaders of prayers.

China has an estimated 21 million Muslims, who have developed their own set of Islamic practices with Chinese characteristics. The biggest difference is the development of independent women’s mosques with female imams, something scholars who have researched the issue say is unique to China.

Yao studied to become an imam for four years, after being laid off from her job as a factory worker. First she studied under a female imam, then with a male imam alongside male students.

Her main role is as a teacher, she says. “When people come to pray, they don’t know how to chant the Quran, so my job is teaching people about Islam, helping them to study one line at a time and leading the prayers,” she says.

Mosques Began As Quranic Schools

The modest courtyard of Wangjia Hutong Women’s Mosque contains within it the entire history of China’s mosques for females. It’s the oldest surviving women’s mosque in China, with one gray plaque high up on a wall dating back to 1820.

Like other women’s mosques, it began as a Quranic school for girls. These sprang up in the late 17th century in central China, including Shanxi and Shandong provinces. They morphed into women’s mosques about 100 years ago, starting in Henan province. Remembering her own childhood, 83-year-old Tang Guiying says even then the women’s mosque was the only place a girl could receive education.

“I didn’t go to school when I was small,” she chuckles. “We were all too poor; none of us girls studied. But I came here to play and study. The old imam was very, very old — she was 80-something, and she had bound feet.”

Tang is sitting in the mosque’s washroom as she talks. This is where women conduct ritual ablutions before prayer. This space — and the mosque itself — doubles as a social center for these women, the heart of a community. In Kaifeng, there are 16 women’s mosques, one-third the number of mosques for males.

A Unique Chinese Tradition

Shui Jingjun, of the Henan Academy of Social Sciences and co-author of a book on the phenomenon, says that so far there are no women’s mosques in other countries. In most of the Muslim world, women pray behind a partition or in a separate room, but in the same mosque as men.

Shui points out that the women’s mosques in China are administered independently, by women for women, in addition to being legally separate entities in some cases. “After reform and opening up [in 1979], some female mosques registered independently, which shows the equality of male and female mosques,” she explains.

Controversy still rages in the Muslim world about whether women can be imams. In 2006, Morocco became the first country in the Arab world to officially sanction the training of female religious leaders.

China is the only country to have such a long history of female imams. However, there are things that, according to the customary practices of Chinese Muslims, female imams can’t do.

They can’t, for instance, lead funeral rituals or wash male corpses. Forty miles away in the provincial capital of Zhengzhou, white-sashed mourners wail as they process through the streets carrying the coffin from a mosque. No female imams are participating.

Opposition Still Exists To Women’s Roles

In central China, most Muslims support the female mosques, but there is some resistance closer to China’s border with Pakistan and Afghanistan, closer to the harder-line Wahhabi and Salafi influences.

“Historically in northwestern China, there were no female mosques,” says Shui, the researcher. “There was resistance because people thought that building female mosques was against the rules of religion. But in central China and most provinces, people think it’s a good innovation for Islam.”

In the past decade, some women’s mosques have been established in northwest China. The phenomenon appears to be spreading, helped politically by the Islamic Association of China, a state-controlled body that regulates Islam and issues licenses to practice to male and female imams alike.

This is part of the anomaly that is religion in China — the atheist Chinese authorities are endorsing a practice some Muslims find unacceptable. While there is broad support among Kaifeng’s Muslims for female mosques and imams, there is also some opposition.

“The education of Islamic women is a very important job,” says Guo Baoguang, of the Islamic Association of Kaifeng. But he admits that he has been criticized for organizing religious education forums for Muslim men and women to take part in together.

“There were some criticisms that women ought to be in the home, and ought not take part in social activities. I think these criticisms are too conservative, and don’t account of the importance of women’s education in Islam,” he says.

Guo believes that when it comes to female imams, China is leading the way.”Given the fast development of China’s economy, and as its political status rises, I think Chinese Islam will become more important in the Islamic world,” Guo says. “The developments Chinese Islam has made, like the role played by Chinese women, will be more accepted by Muslims elsewhere in the world.”

Greatest Challenge Is Economic

In the women’s mosques, most of the faithful are elderly. Young women with families often don’t have the time to worship, especially given the lengthy purification rituals several times a day.

Third-generation imam Sun Chengying, who has been practicing for 21 years, worries about the future.

“I haven’t had any students since 1996,” she says, shaking her head. “Women don’t want be imams anymore, because the salaries in the mosques are too low. No one is willing to do it.”

Female imams sometimes earn as little as $40 a month, one-third of what can be earned in other jobs. Younger women need to earn more to support their families. And so it appears the future of female imams in China is threatened — not by the state, not by resistance from inside Islam, but by the forces of market economics.

-Pakistanis for Peace Editor’s Note- Chinese Muslim female imams are unique to China but this practice of allowing female imams is one that should be encouraged throughout the Muslim world. Female imams as well as increased rights for women in Islam across the board will only help strengthen Muslim societies.

Deadly blasts hit Sufi shrine in Lahore

By Syed Shoaib Hasan for The BBC

Suicide bombers have launched a deadly attack on a Sufi shrine in the eastern Pakistani city of Lahore. At least 35 people died in the blasts at the popular Data Darbar shrine late on Thursday evening, officials say. At least 175 other people were hurt in the blasts, believed to be the first targeting a shrine in Lahore. Thousands of people were visiting the shrine at the time, officials say. It holds the remains of a Persian Sufi saint, Abul Hassan Ali Hajvery.

Although no-one has yet said they carried out the attack, Taliban militants and their Punjabi jihadi allies have been involved in several such bombings in the northern Khyber Pakhtoonkhwa province. The shrine is largely frequented by members of the majority Barelvi sect, who are seen as heretics by the Taliban. Most of the Taliban belong to the rival Deoband Sunni sect, which strongly disapproves of worship at shrines. Many are also allied to the Sipah-e-Sahaba, and its armed splinter group, Lashkar-e-Jhangvi, which seeks to turn Pakistan into a Deoband Sunni state.

The shrine is visited by hundreds of thousands of people each year from both Sunni and Shia traditions of Islam. At least two attackers were involved, although police initially said three explosions had been heard.  The impact of the blasts ripped open the courtyard of the shrine. Rescue workers could be seen clambering over the rubble as they carried out the victims. Khusro Pervez, commissioner of Lahore, said two of the attacks took place in the main courtyard and one in the lower level of the shrine.

The first attacker struck in the underground area where visitors sleep and prepare themselves for prayer, he said. As people fled, a second bomber detonated his explosives in the upstairs area. Officials say they believe the bombers used devices packed with ball-bearings to maximise the impact of their attack.  A volunteer security guard at the shrine described scenes of devastation.

“It was a horrible scene,” said Mohammed Nasir. “There were dead bodies all around with blood and people were crying.” The attack is the biggest on a Sufi shrine in Pakistan since militant attacks began in 2001.  No group has said it carried out the attack, but correspondents say the attacks continue a growing trend among militants to target members of other sects as well as minorities.

Lahore has been hit by a series of bomb attacks, including a suicide blast at anti-terrorist offices in March, when at least 13 people died. In May, more than 90 people were killed in a double attack on the minority Ahmadi sect in the city.

Earlier, security chiefs had been congratulating themselves after what was the first month in two years in which there had been no suicide bombings in Pakistan, the BBC’s Aleem Maqbool reports from Islamabad.

They said it was proof the militant networks had been disrupted. Most Pakistanis knew the battle against militancy in this country was far from over, he adds. Last year Pakistan launched a major military offensive against militant strongholds in South Waziristan.  In December the military said they had achieved victory, but subsequent reports have suggested the militants remain active in the region.

Why Pakistan’s Ahmadi Community is Officially Detested

By Mohammed Hanif  for BBC

By Mohammed Hanif for BBC

When a Pakistani Muslim applies for a passport or national ID card, they are asked to sign an oath that no Muslim anywhere in the world is asked to sign. The oath goes like this: “I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad an impostor prophet. And also consider his followers, whether belonging to the Lahori or Qadiani group, to be non-Muslims.”

Like millions of other Pakistanis, I have signed this oath several times without giving much thought to exactly what Mr Ahmad stands for, or what the technical difference between Lahoris or Qadianis is. I want my passport, and if I have to sign up to a fatwa to get it, so be it.

But like millions of people from my generation I also remember that when I was growing up, the minority Ahmadi sect were considered just another Muslim sect.

When a Pakistani Muslim applies for a passport or national ID card, they are asked to sign an oath that no Muslim anywhere in the world is asked to sign. The oath goes like this: “I consider Mirza Ghulam Ahmad an impostor prophet. And also consider his followers, whether belonging to the Lahori or Qadiani group, to be non-Muslims.

Like millions of other Pakistanis, I have signed this oath several times without giving much thought to exactly what Mr Ahmad stands for, or what the technical difference between Lahoris or Qadianis is. I want my passport, and if I have to sign up to a fatwa to get it, so be it.  But like millions of people from my generation I also remember that when I was growing up, the minority Ahmadi sect were considered just another Muslim sect.

Like scores of others I had friends who were Ahmadis. We played cricket together, and sometimes, when our parents ordered us off to the mosque, we even prayed side by side.

Last month, when more than 90 Ahmadis were massacred in two mosques in Lahore, I remembered the precise moment in 1974 when it all began to change.  There were street protests by religious parties against Ahmadis demanding that they should be declared non-Muslims.

One day I saw some bearded activists standing outside a clothes merchant’s shop in our town, chanting anti-Ahmadi slogans and turning customers away, telling them that buying clothes from Ahmadis was haram – forbidden. At the time I was learning to memorise the Koran from a very kind, mild-mannered teacher. I asked him what exactly was wrong with the Ahmadis.  He explained to me that they didn’t believe that the Prophet Muhammad was the last and the final messenger.

I said OK, maybe that makes them kafirs, infidels, but who says that kafirs can’t sell cloth?  My teacher’s response was a full-handed slap, so sudden, so unexpected that it rang in my ears for days to come. That same year Pakistan’s first elected parliament declared Ahmadis non-Muslims.  Then in 1984 Pakistan’s military dictator and self-appointed guardian of the faith General Zia-ul-Haq inserted that oath in the constitution that we are all required to sign.  Because of the new laws, Ahmadis have been sent to prison simply for using the Muslim greeting Assalamu alaikum, or putting a Koranic verse in a greeting card.

Over the last three decades the hatred against Ahmadis has become so widespread that Pakistan is now embarrassed by the only Nobel laureate it has ever produced.

Dr Abdus Salam Khan won the Nobel Prize for physics and, as a proud Pakistani, accepted his award in national dress.  But he was an Ahmadi so there is no monument to celebrate him, no universities named after him.

The word “Muslim” on his gravestone has been erased. Even the town he is buried in has been renamed in an attempt to erase our collective memory. This hatred was evident in the reactions to the massacre. TV channels were more obsessed with making sure that in their broadcasts Ahmadi mosques were called “places of worship”.

When you refuse to call a place of worship by its proper name, you are implying that it’s not a mosque, it’s not a church, it’s not a synagogue, it’s a place where godless people do godless things. And all the various Islamic political parties, whose leaders often refuse to pray together, are united on this.

When Pakistan’s main opposition leader Nawaz Sharif used the phrase “our brothers” for the murdered Ahmadis, leaders from 11 political parties came together to condemn him and threatened to issue a fatwa declaring him a heretic.  Over the last three decades the siege has been so palpable that those Ahmadis who couldn’t afford to emigrate have taken to hiding their identity.

If you want to destroy someone in public life it’s enough to drop a hint that they are Ahmadi. In the 1980s, the former chief minister of Punjab and current federal minister didn’t attend his own mother’s funeral because there were rumors that she was an Ahmadi.  When the funerals of the massacred Ahmadis took place there were no officials, no politicians present 

Pakistan’s liberal bloggers and some English-language columnists did write along the lines that Ahmadi blood is on our hands.  Others were adamant that it was yet another Friday, yet another massacre by the Pakistani Taliban, and we should just fight this sort of terrorism and leave the sectarian debates alone.

Two incidents in the past week made me realize how pathological our response was. At a vigil to mark the massacre, where a handful of people had turned up, a passer-by asked me “Are you an Ahmadi?” My own loud and aggressive denial surprised me.

Then an Ahmadi friend whose father survived the Lahore massacre wrote to me saying: “You know we have been living like this for decades. Did something like this have to happen for you to speak up?”

–Editor’s Note- It is high time that this law be repealed and the Ahmadi community of Pakistan be given all the basic human rights and privileges enjoyed by all Pakistanis.

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