France is launching a “cultural workshop” starting in September in a bid to promote understanding between the West and the Islamic world, the diplomat in charge of the project said Thursday. The workshop, which is the brainchild of French President Jacques Chirac, will hold its first session in Paris on September 13-15, ambassador-at-large Jacques Huntzinger told AFP. Huntzinger, in Doha to attend an inter-faith dialogue, said the workshop aims at “countering the risk of the development of misunderstandings, prejudices and fear among peoples and civil societies” on the two banks of the Mediterranean. According to a presentation of the project, a copy of which was obtained by AFP, the second session will be held in the Spanish city of Seville February 7-9, 2007 and the third in the Egyptian port of Alexandria in June next year. Participants in the “dialogue of peoples and cultures” will come from non-governmental organizations although organizers will seek the support of the governments concerned. “The platform must be given to historians, educators, researchers and new thinkers on both banks. With the help of the media, satellite channels and the Internet, they will know how to fight stereotypes,” the document says. The series of workshops will be open to Arab countries of the Maghreb, Levant and Gulf, in addition to Israel, Turkey and member states of the European Union. Themes to be debated will range from the role of media to the relationship between society and religion in secular systems and those based on sharia, or Islamic law. The need for an inter-cultural dialogue was highlighted by the crisis sparked by the publication of cartoons of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed in European papers, which infuriated Muslims across the world, according to the document. The cartoons row showed the degree to which “the Arab-Islamic world resents the West, notably Europe,” a feeling which can resurface any time, the document warns. Preparations for the dialogue are taking place in close cooperation with Spain and with the backing of Egypt, it said.
A red polyester curtain that once separated men from women during prayers at the Muslim Community Center on Chicago’s Northwest Side never divided the 1,400-member congregation until it disappeared. A janitor took the curtain down in October 2004 during renovations of the prayer hall. The 6-foot-tall curtain was misplaced and never returned. Some Muslim women lauded the removal as a chance to participate more equally. Other women left the mosque, unable to fathom praying in the presence of men. But after an 18-month debate that may not be quite done, a curtain of the original size replaced a smaller partition on Sunday, becoming a symbol of the struggle in the American Muslim community between tradition and modernity. Some say the sudden move signals an ideological shift on the horizon for the historically multicultural and progressive mosque. The ceremonial curtain-raising followed an emotional two-hour meeting at which board members instructed the president to work over the next month with the women of the mosque to permanently resolve the conflict. “There is a verse in the [Koran], Chapter 33, in which it is said to the Muslims when they ask anything of the prophet’s wife they should ask behind the curtain,” said Dr. Abdul Sattar, the mosque’s newly elected president, who supports barriers to separate men and women. “This is not only something that we are making up. It is in the holy book.” But even Islamic legal experts–including three scholars commissioned by the Muslim Community Center’s board of directors–disagree on whether the missing curtain violated the Shariah, the Islamic legal principles that guide Muslim life. They say such debates are quite common in largely immigrant communities where cultural backgrounds vary and Shariah scholars are in short supply. “One of the principles of Shariah law is you have to be conscious of the context,” said Inamul Haq, adjunct professor of Islam at Benedictine University in Lisle. “Orthodox clergy in America come from back home. It is hard for them to respond to the change in the American situation because they have not lived that situation. Since Islam insists on modesty … this is the way Islamic law is interpreted.” When the case of the missing curtain began, Uzma Sattar, the president’s daughter, said women immediately hung saris and other pieces of fabric to block men’s stares. The curtain was replaced last year by a 3-foot-tall fabric partition. Earlier this month, three scholars submitted written opinions on what kind of barrier, if any, was required by the Shariah. One scholar was Imam Jamal Said of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview. “My personal advice to the leadership of the MCC is to let the sisters decide for themselves what would make them more comfortable in their worship,” Said wrote. “If they prefer a divider or curtain for their privacy or comfort, then give them this freedom.” On Sunday, a band of believers sealed off the back corner of their prayer hall with a 6-foot-tall sheet of pink fabric in time for the fourth prayer of the day. Khaled Abou El Fadl, a leading Islamic jurist and professor of law at UCLA, said these kinds of squabbles, which seem trivial on the surface, emerge in communities where leaders feel threatened by modernity. “In the case of Muslim men–especially Muslim men–that feel Islam is under siege and the West has invaded Muslim culture in every other way, the way they express this anxiety is by being restrictive toward women, making sure women are not going to become more Americanized,” he said. That perceived threat escalated after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Abou El Fadl said, when many Muslim women began to assert their autonomy and question the origin of common practices that limited their participation in the community. “We are seeing more Muslim women reading the Koran, reading the tradition of the Prophet, reading the original teachings of Islam and coming back and challenging the role defined for them,” Abou El Fadl said. “A lot of these women were born Muslim, but grew up in the United States and grew up in the West so they have a `my rights’-oriented mentality.” Mary Ali, one of five women on the center’s board of directors, opposed putting up the curtain. She said the mosque has always been a progressive place to worship and only since the recent mosque election has its membership exhibited conservative leanings. Over the years, the 40-year-old mosque has served as the house of worship for Indians, Pakistanis, Arabs, people from South Asia and Africans. But Uzma Sattar said the debate has nothing to do with progressive vs. conservative. It has to do with a woman’s right to worship the way she wants. In the time of the Prophet Muhammad, women did not wear cosmetics or perfume to the mosque, and they covered themselves from head to toe, said Abdul Sattar, who is from Pakistan. Today, they wear makeup, blue jeans and loosely wrapped headscarves, so a curtain is necessary, he said. Whether the Koran calls for a curtain is still debated, but it does address modesty in front of the opposite sex, scholars say. Because Muslim prayer is a physical exercise that requires bowing, kneeling and prostrating, some prefer seclusion. “It’s about having your personal, private space where you can connect with God,” Uzma Sattar said. “In my mind, it’s completely in line with feminism to say women deserve their own space. The men took the curtain down. The women are standing up and claiming space for themselves.” “We want the curtain. We want our privacy,” said Noor Aliuddin, 49, who removes her hijab, or head covering, when she prays. “We have to open our face to God.” But at a time when American Muslims face discrimination, poverty and injustice, Shama Aleemuddin said she cannot comprehend why her congregation is consumed by a curtain. She is on the mosque’s board. She said the center, which occupies a converted theater, must focus on building a new mosque, facing down anti-Muslim bias and hiring a new imam. The curtain debate has drained time and energy from those issues that matter. “It seems that everyone is obsessed with the curtain issue,” she said. “It’s a shame.” Abou El Fadl said leaders should focus on what will move Islam forward in the 21st Century, not decisions they really have no right to make. “If it’s God’s law,” Abou El Fadl said, “then it shouldn’t be up to people to decide.”
Germans in a small East Berlin neighborhood are protesting plans to build a mosque there. They’d prefer their small garden plots to a minaret on the skyline. Mosques are by no means a new development in Germany. As far back as the 16th century, Prussian king Frederick William I had the first mosque built in Potsdam for his Turkish soldiers.
United Methodists and Muslims in Northern Illinois, part of the mid-west of the USA, have officially created a covenant relationship between the two faith groups – as witness towards _peace among the religions’, especially in the midst of difference. More than 100 leaders of the greater Chicago Islamic community and the United Methodist Northern Illinois Conference celebrated that covenant at an interfaith banquet at the Islamic Foundation in Villa Park earlier this month. The idea is not to ignore religious disagreements within and between the two faiths, but to stress common ground and to seek better community and public understanding. United Methodist Bishop Hee-Soo Jung and Abdul Malik Mujahid, chair of the Council of Islamic Organizations of Greater Chicago, signed a Declaration of Relationship committing the two groups to a relationship grounded in our mutual love for God and dedication to the ethical core of our faiths. The covenant includes an agreement that the two groups will continue in dialogue with each other and expand the dialogue to include other local faith communities; to work together on issues of social justice; to inform one another of situations that may affect each other’s faith community; and to gather annually to celebrate, reflect on the relationship and reaffirm the commitment. We had talked about the idea of bringing together Bishop Jung and Malik just to meet, explained the Rev Charles Emery, chairperson of the Northern Illinois programme council. Out of that conversation, Bishop Jung said, _Why don’t we work on a covenant together?’ So we spent the last year working on this declaration of relationship. In Europe, cooperation among Christian and Muslim faith communities has been growing over the years, though not without opposition from hardliners in each. In the USA, links between Jewish and Christian groups are widespread, but in the wake of 9/11 there has been hostility and suspicion towards Islam – thus the significance of the Illinois initiative. The banquet provided an opportunity for leaders or imams of Muslim institutions and United Methodist clergy in local churches in the same geographic areas to meet and begin to establish relationships, according to the Rev Ed Hiestand, the UMC conference’s ecumenical and interreligious officer. As he prepared to address those attending the banquet, the bishop removed his shoes and walked to the podium. I took off my shoes, Jung said, to honour all of you and to honour God in this moment. I believe I am standing on holy ground. Jung said his personal journey as a Christian leader has convinced him that he needs to build bridges by affirming the dignity and belovedness of people in other parts of the globe and in different traditions in the universe. There are many people excluded by human narrowness and prejudice toward each other, the bishop said. This exclusion is, of course, a gross violation of the principles that govern us. Jung noted that the theological charcter of God’s love is that it is unconditional. This transcendent love changes people’s lives and encourages them to learn about and love one another. In our declaration of relationship, it is imperative that people of faith commit together to a spirit of peace and cooperation, Jung said. We are in a spirit of humility and truth tonight. We are here to respect each other in an atmosphere of reconciliation, unconcerned about winning a victory over one another or bringing the other over to our own position. Jung said failure to connect with each other would be failure to honour God. And he said he believes the covenant between the two groups will make him a better Christian. God is seeing us together tonight, Jung said, and is pleased. Saleem Sheikh, board member of the Islamic Foundation and the council, called the declaration an historic agreement between two faith communities. We are honoured and we are grateful, Sheikh said. We are delighted to share with you our commitment to justice and fairness for all God’s creation. Mujahid called the signing of the covenant an extraordinary event. He added: In a world of fear and warfare, people of faith must continue to work together for a peaceful and just world. He invited the United Methodists to apply their methodical practices to the only racism still considered acceptable in America, _Islamaphobia,’ the new racism of our time. Mohammed Kaiseruddin, past chair of the Islamic council, said it was his hope and our prayer that the new relationship will flourish and grow and bring results. Kaiseruddin saluted the diversity of the United Methodists at the banquet. We as Muslims take pride in the diversity we have among us, he said. We have all colours and ethnicities among us. I was so pleasantly surprised to see the same diversity among the United Methodists here tonight. That is one of the reasons that I have hope that the association established tonight will flourish.
A Zimbabwe woman who arrived in San Francisco traveling on a student visa was barred from entering the United States. A Jordanian national with a valid passport and visa was denied entry in Chicago. And four University of Florida students who had gone home to China for Christmas were barred from returning for months. Since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, foreign visitors who may once have easily entered the United States are facing increased scrutiny at land borders, airports and seaports. Every year, more than 300,000 noncitizens are denied entry for reasons ranging from improper or fraudulent travel documents to suspected terrorist ties. Last week, Safana Jawad, an Iraqi-born Spanish citizen, said she was denied entry at Tampa International Airport because federal agents believed she was connected to someone they view as suspicious. Her case isn’t unusual. About 500 noncitizens last year were denied entry because of terrorism or national security concerns, said Kelly Klundt, a spokeswoman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection in Washington, D.C. “Ninety-nine percent of the traveling public is absolutely legitimate,” she said. “However, we will not denigrate our antiterrorism mission in any way in order to achieve being a welcoming nation.” Klundt’s agency was formed in 2003 under the Department of Homeland Security to oversee all immigration, customs and agriculture border inspections and enforcement. The following year, its agents denied entry to more than 450,000 noncitizens. The stricter border enforcement may be needed, but it also has led to an increase in fear among visitors to the United States, said Philip Hwang, an attorney with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. “The danger is that there is a mind-set among some federal officers which allows immigrants to be seen as the enemy, and fails to recognize their value and contribution to this country,” he said. His San Francisco firm specializes in cases of abuse by federal immigration and border officials. Recently, Hwang represented Tsungai Tungwarara, a Zimbabwe woman who was denied entry at San Francisco International Airport in 2002. Tungwarara was traveling on a valid student visa and federal agents suspected she planned to stay in the United States to attend school. Hwang said she already had enrolled at a school overseas. Tungwarara was detained at the Oakland County jail and strip-searched. Last October, a federal district court ruled the strip search was unconstitutional. And last week, the U.S. government settled the lawsuit for $65,000, Hwang said. The settlement was filed April 12 at the federal courthouse in San Francisco, the same day Jawad, 45, sat in a maximum-security cell of the Pinellas County jail. She arrived at Tampa International Airport to visit her son, who lives in Clearwater with her ex-husband, Ahmad Maki Kubba, 49. After being denied entry, Jawad was taken to the jail, booked as a felon and strip-searched. “It’s shocking because Jawad’s case is strikingly similar to the one we just settled,” Hwang said. “You’d think Homeland Security would get its act together. But it’s a problem that’s not going away.” Jawad is now visiting family members in London before returning home to Spain. Homeland Security has launched its own investigation of Jawad’s treatment at the jail while in federal custody. “I love America, but this was wrong,” Kubba said. “She is innocent until proven guilty, but they dealt with her as a criminal.” Along with suspicions of terrorist ties, visitors may be denied entry for a variety of reasons, including lying about their planned visit and the possession of smuggled merchandise or fraudulent travel documents. U.S. Customs and Border Protection says the increased scrutiny has netted some big fish, including a suicide bomber. In 2003, Ra’ed Mansour al-Banna, a Jordanian national with a genuine passport and valid visa, was denied entry at Chicago O’Hare International Airport because he presented “terrorist risk factors” during questioning, Klundt said. She wouldn’t elaborate. Al-Banna, 30, was detained overnight and sent home. In 2005, he was identified as the suicide bomber who drove a vehicle loaded with explosives into a Shiite city that February, killing 132 Iraqis. Fingerprints from his severed hand, found chained to the steering wheel, were matched with those taken by federal agents at the airport. “I’m not saying everyone we deny entry to is like al-Banna. But when we’re denying people on terrorism grounds, there’s reason for it,” Klundt said. “Our primary mission is antiterrorism. But will we deny entry because of incorrect paperwork? Absolutely.” Several Florida university officials say the stricter enforcement since Sept.11 has translated into a perception of the United States as an unwelcoming nation. The view has led to a significant drop in applicants to the University of Florida, said Debra Anderson, the international student coordinator. The four Chinese students barred entry in 2004 were eventually allowed back after additional security checks. The fear of not being able to return to school continues to worry students at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. “The students are very afraid to go home during their breaks because they are afraid of having problems coming back,” said Lisa Kahn, director of International Affairs at USF. Problems may arise even before students or professors reach a U.S. port of entry. In February, a prominent Indian scientist who was offered a visiting professorship at UF was denied a visa at a U.S. consulate in Madras, said Dennis Jett, dean of the International Center. Goverdhan Mehta said he was accused of potential links to chemical weapons production. Mehta refused to come even after U.S. officials granted him a visa two weeks later. Last week, the American Civil Liberties Union asked a federal court to lift a visa ban on another professor, Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss scholar who had accepted a position at Notre Dame. His visa was revoked under a provision that allows the exclusion of foreigners who endorse terrorism, said Paul Silva, an ACLU spokesman. But Silva said Ramadan has publicly condemned terrorism, and is being barred because the Muslim scholar is a vocal critic of American policy in the Middle East. Ahme d Bedier, director of the Council on American-Muslim Relations in Tampa, said Muslims like Jawad still often feel singled out by federal authorities, though reports of racial profiling at airports have dropped significantly since Sept. 11. In 2004, of the 1,522 “anti-Muslim incidents” reported to the council, nearly 6 percent, or 88 incidents, occurred at airports, he said. The reported cases represent less than 20 percent of the total number nationwide, he said. Bedier, however, believes most incidents go unreported because many people lack the sophistication of Jawad’s family. “It was beneficial that she was educated enough that she demanded to speak to lawyers and the Spanish embassy. Not everybody reacts in real time like that,” Bedier said. “When you’re in a state of shock, you’re afraid, you’re being interrogated, you can forget your rights.”
DETROIT – It was an image of Islam that might have startled many Americans: a young Muslim woman wearing a traditional head scarf standing in the center of a chandeliered banquet hall singing the U.S. national anthem. “It saddens me,” Denise Hazime, a 25-year-old, Muslim American law student remarked after watching the woman sing to kick off an Arab student fundraiser. “The way things are now, I bet the average American would never think of the image of a covered girl singing our national anthem.” The way things are now is this: American Muslim leaders say they are facing an increasingly tough public relations battle as they fight to portray their faith as non-violent. Some Muslims say conveying a peaceful image of Islam is tougher now than it was after the Sept. 11 attacks, and they blame a daily barrage of negative media images. They are referring to stories such as a Christian convert being threatened with execution in Afghanistan, coverage of thousands of Muslims expressing outrage at Danish cartoons and shouting anti-Western threats, and daily bloody images from Iraq. “We say we’re peaceful people, but it doesn’t matter what we say,” said Irfan Rydhan, 31, a spokesperson and organizer for the South Bay Islamic Association in San Jose, Calif. “They see these violent images on TV, and those people look like us.” American views of their Muslim neighbors had been improving. A Pew Research Center poll released in July 2005, after the London terrorist bombings, showed that 55% of Americans had a favorable opinion of Muslim Americans. But a Washington Post/ABC News poll released in March showed that a majority of Americans have a negative view of Islam. ‘It’s really hard right now’ It seems as if extremist voices “have taken over,” said Rana Abbas, a 26-year-old Muslim American who is deputy director of Michigan’s American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, a nationwide civil rights group based in Washington, D.C. “It makes your struggle so much harder. It makes it seem as if all your efforts are in vain. It’s really hard right now for moderate Muslims to get their message out.” A large part of the public relations problem is that most Americans do not have a basic understanding of the turmoil that exists in parts of the Muslim world, said James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, a political advocacy group based in Washington, D.C. Zogby said that many heavily Islamic regions have been destabilized by war. “The problem is not the nature of the religion; it is the dislocation and disruption of normal society brought on by the trauma of war,” he said. “It’s similar to what happened in our own country during the post-Civil War period where you had lynchings and the emergence of extremist currents that lasted for decades.” Imam Hassan Qazwini heads the largest mosque in the USA, the Islamic Center of America, based in Dearborn, Mich. Qazwini said he and other imams have grown weary of being made to answer for every violent act committed in the name of Mohammed. “This has become a daily nightmare for Muslims,” Qazwini said. “We’re upset. We’re frustrated. We cannot control every Muslim. We cannot be held responsible for everything.” Qazwini said he is confounded when Islam as a whole is blamed for the actions of individuals, while other religions are not. “How is it that when Pat Robertson calls for the murder of the president of a sovereign country that nobody said Christianity is promoting violence and murder?” Qazwini said, referring to Robertson’s call last August for the assassination Venezuelan President Hugo Ch_vez. Robertson later apologized. Qazwini said his mosque is trying to do its part to open dialogue. The mosque offers tours of the elaborate, 76,000-square-foot community and worship center, which is topped with a huge dome and accented with teak and mahogany doors carved in Turkey and the Philippines. ‘We’re not so different’ A group of 27 eighth-grade girls and boys from a Catholic school about an hour outside Detroit recently toured the mosque. The girls fidgeted with their makeshift headscarves, straw-blond hair poking out. A boy with shaggy bangs and pale skin asked the tour guide, a 46-year-old nurse consultant who sent her daughter to Catholic school, “How come you can’t draw Mohammed?” He was referring to recent news stories about the controversial Danish cartoons and the belief that any images of Mohammed are considered sacrilege in Islam. As guide Najah Bazzy waved goodbye to the students, one of their teachers stopped to thank her, saying it was her first time in a mosque. The teacher added, “We’re not so different.” Bazzy agreed. “That’s why these tours are so important,” Bazzy said after the teacher left. Muslims in San Jose are making special efforts at public relations, too. “Images are more powerful than any words,” the South Bay Islamic Association’s Rydhan said. With that in mind, Rydhan organized “Muslim Unity Day” last year at Paramount’s Great America amusement park. He said part of his mission was to provide an image of Muslims being carefree, and that’s his mission for this year’s unity day, too, which is Aug. 27. More than 4,000 Muslims from the area showed up for a day last year at the park in Santa Clara, Calif. The South Bay Islamic Association’s imam, wearing traditional loose, white religious clothing and a thick, long beard, got off a water ride with some friends at one point during the festivities. He was soaking wet and laughing. That’s a good picture, Rydhan says he thought to himself.
SON EN BREUGEL, THE NETHERLANDS – In 1999, while seeking a graduate project idea at the Design Academy of Eindhoven, Cindy van den Bremen found a problem-solving opportunity. The Dutch Commission of Equal Treatment had recently ruled that high schools could prohibit Muslim girls from wearing head coverings in gym class. Girls were advised to wear turtlenecks teamed with swim caps. But some were ignoring the sartorial advice, preferring instead to skip gym all together. At about that time, the Dutch were beginning to become disillusioned with multiculturalism – a trend that was to intensify in the next few years with the death of maverick anti-immigrant politician Pim Fortuyn and the murder of filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by a radical Dutch Islamist. For Ms. van den Bremen, the phys-ed class controversy offered a means to marry her political sense of injustice with her professional expertise. “I realized that if the hijabs did not look traditional, but hip and trendy, they could possibly change prejudice into some sort of admiration,” says the young Dutch designer. Within months, the “capster” was born, and quickly blossomed into a business. In four styles designed for tennis, skating, aerobics, and outdoor sports, van den Bremen’s head coverings were sleek, safe, and – in the words of a local Islamic cleric – “Islamically correct.” Even an elderly man at her graduation show who told her he didn’t like the hijab at all, said he did like her designs. “This made me realize even more that the social problem with the acceptance of the hijab was not about the girls being covered, but the way they are covered,” says van den Bremen. Initially, she expected that she’d be done with the capsters after graduation. But the capsters’ popularity has grown steadily, and grateful feedback she receives and the clamor for more such products has encouraged her to expand her small business operation. For Farah Azwai, an athletic undergraduate at the American Intercontinental University in London, who started wearing the hijab at age 16, the capster was a relief. “Before I had the capsters, I tried a number of things – I used to wear a bandanna and tried fixing my hijab in different ways but it wasn’t very practical and I always had problems,” says Ms. Azwai, who bought the “skate” and “outdoors” models online. “The fabric and style is very modern, it totally suits my style – it goes well with my sports clothes, with brands like Nike, Adidas and Pineapple.” Van den Bremen’s business expansion plans include increasing production of the four current lines to keep up with demand as well as new lines of “breathable” capsters for tropical climates. She also has designs on promoting intercultural dialogue. She recently teamed with Dutch Iranian photographer Giti Entezami to produce Sharing Motives, a book featuring 25 Dutch women in a variety of hijabs. The duo has since expanded their project to an exhibition – currently on display at the University of Utrecht – accompanied by a series of lectures and debates. More than a year after Van Gogh’s killing sparked a violent anti-Muslim backlash, experts say a pressing need for intercultural dialogue remains in the Netherlands. A recent Pew Global Attitudes study found the Netherlands to be the only Western country where a majority of the population – 51 percent – views Muslims unfavorably. Amid a recent slew of immigration tightening measures, beefed-up citizenship tests and controversial antiterrorism programs inviting citizens to report “suspect people,” Muslim community leaders say a proposed ban on the burqa – an all-enveloping Islamic covering for women – is yet another shot in the Netherlands’ rising Islamophobia. “There are two sets of standards in this country,” says Famille Arslan, a prominent Dutch Muslim lawyer. “One is for Muslims and another for non-Muslims. This law not only discriminates against religion and gender, it also threatens to further polarize the people.” In December, the Dutch parliament approved a ban on the burqa and other Islamic veils that cover the face in all public places. The measure – which was introduced by conservative politician Geert Wilders – is currently awaiting approval from a commission examining the legality of such a ban under European human rights laws. If passed, it would be one of the most restrictive responses to Islamic clothing in Europe. Defenders of the ban note that the measure does not apply to the head scarf (or capster), merely to Islamic garments that cover the face such as the burqa and the niqab, a facial veil with an opening for the eyes. Experts estimate that only about 50 to 100 women among Holland’s 1 million Muslims currently don such extensive veiling. Despite widespread criticism, Mr. Wilders is determined to push his initiative through the legal process. “I hope to succeed with my motion because I believe I have broad popular support,” he says in a phone interview. “Parliament has followed public opinion, but the government can act differently for political reasons.” Van den Bremen bemoans the lack of intercultural dialogue. “It seems like no one is discussing things with the girls. They always talk about the girls,” she says. “I was struck by how emancipated they were. They were demanding to be judged by their capacity, not their looks.”
SAN FRANCISCO – Prominent Muslim dignitaries on Saturday met for the first time with the world’s most influential Buddhist, the Dalai Lama, enlisting his help in quelling fanatical ideologies within Islamic communities and improving the faith’s declining image in the West. The summit was a measure of the desperate concern among moderate Muslim leaders and scholars about religious extremism and increasingly negative views of their faith arising from Western concerns about terrorism. Indeed, Islam traditionally has not recognized Buddhism. “The main issue of this conference is to provide a platform to teach that there is no room today to say or invest in anything but love,” said Imam Mehdi Khorasani of Marin County, who had extended the invitation to the Dalai Lama. “We are happy and grateful for His Holiness’ decision to lend his energy to this cause.” Appearing comfortable and jovial in his maroon and saffron robe before a crowd of about 600, the Dalai Lama, 71, was true to his image as one of the world’s most avid advocates for peace. “Some people have an impression that Islam is militant,” he said, seated in lotus position on a center-stage baronial chair at the InterContinental Mark Hopkins hotel. “I think that is totally wrong. Islam is one of the world’s great religions and it carries, basically, a message of love and compassion.” He pointed to his homeland of Tibet as an example of a place where Buddhists and Muslims have existed together in peace for centuries. In an interview earlier, the Nobel laureate and religious leader of Tibetan Buddhism said, “Promoting the genuine message of Islam and the proper impression of the Muslim world – that is my hope. “Some of my Muslim friends have told me that those people who claim to be Muslims, if they create bloodshed, that is not genuine Islam,” he said. “Those few mischievous ones do not represent the whole Muslim community.” Some of those in attendance suggested that the open display of mutual support might not play well with more extreme members of either Islam or Buddhism. “It’s a brave thing for imams to reach out to the Dalai Lama – it’s likely to be seen in some circles as an act of weakness and undignified of their own traditions,” said Caner Dagli, assistant professor of religion at Roanoke College in Salem, Va. “The Dalai Lama is also putting himself out on a limb by standing with his Muslim brothers and sisters,” he said. “But I’m happy about all that. It’s right that they should be allies.” One difference is that although the Dalai Lama holds an unquestioned position as spiritual and temporal leader of Tibet, Islam has no similar central authority uniting its members. Hence, Muslims around the globe interpret the faith quite differently and are more divided among themselves. That the meeting came together at all was remarkable, coming near the date of the prophet Muhammad’s birthday, as well as during Passover and Easter weekend. It also followed the release last week of the recorded sounds of struggle and panic when Sept. 11 hijackers took control of United Airlines Flight 93 and screamed, “Allah is the greatest,” as the plane went down. But the Dalai Lama, who normally books his appearances seven years in advance, and the Muslim leaders and scholars from around the world broke their holiday commitments to attend the hastily organized event. “This meeting had to happen,” said Dan Kranzler, a philanthropist and one of the gathering’s sponsors. “The 90% of the Muslim world that is moderate and peace-loving wants to overcome the radical ideologies of the rest,” said Kranzler, who is Jewish but refers to himself as a “universalist.” “If there is anyone in the world who can cheat the odds and make that happen it’s the Dalai Lama.” Organizers called it an extraordinary convergence. Essentially, Muslim leaders were seeking the Dalai Lama’s rock-star status, broad appeal and skills as a neutral conciliator in dealing with divisiveness within their faith, deepened by worldwide media attention. Even moderate Muslims, who make up most believers, are not united enough to impose their visions of peace and tolerance on those who are intolerant or promote violence. Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, founder of the Zaytuna Institute in Hayward, which is dedicated to reviving the sciences of classical Islam, pointed out another reason for wanting the Dalai Lama on their side. “Buddhism gets the best press of any religion in the world,” he said. “Islam gets the worst press because it’s associated with war and belligerence. “When a recent Gallup Poll asked Americans what they respected about Islam, 38% answered not a thing, and 12 % said they weren’t sure,” he said. “Yet one-fifth of humanity is Muslim. “So we are delighted that the Dalai Lama wants to understand how we view this situation and assess what his own community can do to alleviate the problems,” he said. Under tight security, the Dalai Lama initially met privately with 40 leaders, including Mahmud Kilic, a professor of Sufism and president of the Turkish and Islamic Art Museum in Istanbul; Sayyid M. Syeed, head of the Islamic Society of North America, the largest umbrella organization of Islamic centers in the United States; and Ahmad Al-Hashimi, president of the Ihsan Muslim Heritage Society of Ontario, Canada. One proposal that emerged from the discussions was a possible visit by the Dalai Lama to Saudi Arabia. Later, on stage, he was flanked by religious leaders and scholars including Huston Smith, emeritus professor of religion at UC Berkeley; Thomas Cleary, a Harvard professor whose interpretation of the ancient Chinese “Art of War” became a bestseller; and Robert Thurman, a Columbia University professor known as the Billy Graham of Buddhism. In an interview, Smith said the meeting was in direct response to the violent exploitation of one of the great traditions. “The world is in flames. We are at war with Islam,” he said. “The Muslim leaders here wanted to talk to the Dalai Lama about what they could do to persuade terrorists that their terrorism only increases terrorism.” Though Muslim leaders called for the gathering, it was organized and funded by a coalition that included film producer Steven Reuther and Kranzler, who made his fortune in the computer software industry. In an effort to make Muslim guests feel as comfortable as possible in their daily prayers, the organizing team determined the exact direction of Mecca from the Nob Hill hotel – 15 degrees east of north. Receptions were alcohol-free and vegetarian, in keeping with practices of Islam and Buddhism. Dozens of participants wore white scarfs that had been draped around their necks by the Dalai Lama in private sessions.
ROME (AP) – The editor of an Italian monthly has apologized for any offence to Muslims over a humorous caption for a drawing showing the Prophet Muhammad in hell, Italian news reports said Sunday. The journal Studi Cattolici (Catholic Studies), which offers a variety of opinions on cultural issues, ran the caption and drawing in its March issue. Italian news agencies Sunday quoted the journal’s editor, Cesare Cavalleri, as “apologizing, as a Christian,” for any offence. Milan daily Corriere della Sera said that the journal had run a caption next to the drawing, which was inspired by Dante’s depiction of Muhammad in hell in his Divine Comedy. The Union of Italian Islamic Communities said it had protested the caption. The organization’s secretary, Roberto Piccardo, declined to comment on the reported apology. Cavalleri was quoted as saying the vignette “was interpreted as being anti-Islam when, if anything, it was a denunciation of a cultural identity crisis in the West,” the Italian news agency ANSA quoted Cavalleri as saying. “In any case, if, contrary to my and the author’s intentions, someone felt offended in his religious feelings, I willingly apologize as a Christian.” News reports said Cavalleri is a member of Opus Dei, a conservative religious organization that had the favour of the late pope John Paul. Opus Dei on its website said that while it had no responsibility for the magazine, “we desire to apologize for any offence that was made.” Muslims make up a small percentage of people in predominantly Roman Catholic Italy. Earlier this year, a minister in Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi’s conservative government was forced to resign after wearing a T-shirt with a caricature of Muhammad on state TV. The incident was blamed for rioting in Libya against Italian interests.
BERLIN — A young Turk was jailed on Thursday for gunning down his sister at a Berlin bus stop in a so-called honor killing that sparked angry calls for better integration of Muslim immigrants. Ayhan Surucu, who was 18 at the time of the murder last year, was sentenced to nine years and three months by a Berlin court.