UK Bishop Weighs in on Veil Debate

A Church of England bishop said in comments published Sunday that officials should have the power to ban veils that cover the face in public, continuing the divisive debate in Britain over the traditional garment for Muslim women. The Pakistani-born bishop of Rochester, Michael Nazir-Ali, urged Muslims not to wear the veil under some circumstances. “It is fine if they want to wear the veil in private,” he was quoted as saying by the Sunday Telegraph newspaper. “But there are occasions in public life when it is inappropriate for them to wear it.” Nazir-Ali said authorities should have the power to ban the veil in some situations. “I can see nothing in Islam that prescribes the wearing of a full-face veil,” he said. “In the supermarket, those at the cash tills need to be recognized. Teaching is another context in which society requires recognition and identification.”

Pope Worries About Clash with Islam

Pope Benedict XVI on Friday urged intensified dialogue with Islam, saying in a Christmas speech that 2006 will be remembered as a year marked by the danger of a clash between cultures and religions. Benedict compared the situation in the Muslim world to that faced by Christians beginning in the Enlightenment, the 18th-century movement to promote individual rights, including freedom of religion. “We Christians feel close to all those who, on the basis of their religious conviction as Muslims, commit themselves against violence,” the pope said.

The Pope, Islam, and Human Rights

Pope Benedict XVI declared Friday in the Vatican that the Muslim world must accept human rights and the freedom of religion as the Catholic Church had been forced to do in the past. “The Muslim world is posed today with an urgent task, quite similar to the one that was posed to Christians at the beginning of the Enlightenment,” declared the pope in his end-of-year speech. Believers, he said, should “oppose a dictatorship of positivist reason that excludes God from the public life,” even while welcoming “the real victories of the Enlightenment regarding human rights and most notably the freedom of religious belief and practice.” Three months after the crisis provoked by his Ratisbonne speech, and three weeks after his trip to Turkey, Pope Benedict declared himself “in solidarity with all those who, based in their Islamic religious conviction, combat violence and work for a synergy between faith and reason, between religion and freedom.”

Muslim Population Experiences Discrimination

The European Union Monitoring Center for Racism and Xenophobia made public, on the 18th of December, a report on Islamophobia in the countries of the EU. It is the first time that this organization has published a study on the population of Islamic origin, estimated at 13 million, or 3.5% of the EU population. This study did not take into account people’s relation to Islam, or their relgious practice, but concluded that the population that is considered “Muslim” experienced discrimination in the workplace, the educational system, and housing. In the countries of the EU, the level of unemployment of “Muslims” is higher than the national average.

Muslims need to take part: Palestinian dispossession is a reason to participate in Holocaust Memorial Day, not boycott it

The freedom for Muslims to express their identity in Europe is today under attack. Implicit in this attack is the view that Islam is intrinsically repressive, and embodies values alien to western values of liberty, tolerance and democracy. The memory of the Holocaust stands against such a grossly sanitised view of European history. It reminds us that in the heart of modern Europe the demonisation of a religious and cultural minority culminated in genocide – the mass, industrialised slaughter of European Jews. Why then, with European Muslims subject to attacks reminiscent of the gathering storms of anti-semitism in the first decades of the last century, has Holocaust Memorial Day become such a difficult issue for some British Muslims? One objection has been outlined by Inayat Bunglawala of the Muslim Council of Britain. “There have been many further instances of genocide and mass killings since we vowed ‘never again’ in response to the Nazi crimes,” he has pointed out. “Do the innocent killed in those horrific episodes not equally deserve to be commemorated in a more inclusive and aptly titled Genocide Memorial Day?” However, for many Muslims, arguments about the specificity of the Holocaust are not the main reason they are uneasy about participation in memorial events. The main reason is Palestine. The way in which Zionists have abused the memory of the Holocaust to bolster support for today’s Israeli state and its racist and murderous policies towards the Palestinians repels many Muslims, as well as some anti-Zionist Jews, from participating. In fact, Palestine should not be a reason for boycotting Holocaust Memorial Day, but a reason for participating. As the peace campaigner Uri Avnery, who organised a demonstration against the killing of Palestinian children on last year’s Holocaust Memorial Day in Tel Aviv, put it: one of the lessons of the Holocaust is that you must not accept an ideology telling you “that other people are inferior and subhuman” or that loyalty to your country justifies “the occupation of another country and oppression of another people”.

Mosque to be Built on Dairy Site

Plans to build a mosque on the site of a Windsor dairy will go forward after the Borough of Windsor decided not to appeal the ruling of the government planning inspector in favor of the Islamic center. Local councillors were disappointed at the advice to not challenge the appeal, but they are now working with planning officers to regulate usage of the building, including a ban on weddings, celebrations, and extended hours of operation. Despite the racially motivated violence that took place at the site in October, councillors said that good community relations could be maintained if Medina Dairy respected that the property was in a long-standing residential area.

EU Report: Muslims Face ‘Islamophobia’

Muslims across Europe are confronting a rise in “Islamophobia” ranging from violent attacks to discrimination in job and housing markets, a wide-ranging European Union report indicated Monday. The study, compiled by the European Monitoring Center on Racism and Xenophobia, urged European authorities to strengthen policies on integration. But it also noted that Muslims need to do more to counter negative perceptions driven by terrorism and upheavals such as the backlash to cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The 117-page survey details the many divides between the EU mainstream and the estimated 13 million Muslims – now at least 3.5 percent of the 25-nation bloc’s population – and seeks to offer a street-level view of the complexities blocking efforts to bridge the differences. The report urged EU nations to develop more clear legal frameworks for Muslim cultural and religious institutions, including ways to make more public funds available to Islamic community groups and help train local imams. The report also said Europe’s Muslims are “often disproportionately represented” in poor housing conditions, unemployment statistics and in lower education levels.

Non-Muslims Snap Up Islamic Bank Accounts

Non-Muslims both in England and in Islamic countries are increasingly opening Islamic bank accounts, which operate in compliance with Sharia law. Under Sharia Islamic law, making money from money, such as charging interest, is usury and therefore not permitted. Wealth should be generated only through legitimate trade and investment in assets. Sharia also forbids investing money in arms, tobacco, alcohol, gambling, and pornography. Non-Muslims find this version of ethical finance increasingly appealing and are therefore opening such accounts at major UK banks.

Muslims in Europe and in the United States. A Transatlantic Comparison

Friday December 15, 2006

Panel One: Consequences of 9/11 on Muslims in Europe and in the United States: Legal and Political Aspects

Chair/Discussant: Louise Richardson, Radcliffe Institute, Harvard University

  •   Europe: The Consequences of European Security Laws after 9/11 on Muslims in Europe Presenters: Jose Maria Ortuño Aix, University of Barcelona Didier Bigo, Institut d’Études Politiques, Paris
  •   America: The Situation of Immigrant Muslims after the Patriot Act: Legal Ramifications Presenter: Philip B. Heymann, Harvard Law School
  •   The Situation of Arab Muslims and Christians: Political Ramifications Presenter: Wayne Baker, University of Michigan
  • Panel Two: Islam and Muslims in the Western Public Sphere

    Chairs/Discussants: Diana Eck, Harvard University Ali Asani, Harvard University

  •   Europe: Anti-Islamic Discourses in Europe: Agents and Contents Presenter: Yasemin Karakasoglu, University of Bremen
  •   America: Status of Islam in the American Public Sphere after 9/11 Presenter: Emran Qureshi, Harvard University
  • Panel Three: Religious Life of Muslims in the West: Legal and Political Dimensions

    Chair/Discussant: Peter Skerry, Boston College

  •   Europe: Legal Status of Islamic Religious Practices in Europe after 9/11 Presenters: Marcel Maussen, University of Amsterdam Frank Peter, University Viadrina Frankfurt-Oder
  •   America: Religious Practices of American Muslims Presenter: Louise Cainkar, Marquette University
  • Saturday December 16, 2006

    Panel Four: Relations Between the State and Muslims

    Chairs/Discussants: Kishwer, Baroness Falkner of Margravine, John F. Kennedy School of Government Jocelyne Cesari, CNRS-Paris and Harvard University

  •   Europe: Muslims in Europe: Between Secularism and Multiculturalism Presenter: Farhad Khosrokhavar, École des Hautes Études en Sciences, Paris
  •   America: The Debate on Religious Freedom and Civil Liberties after 9/11 Presenter: José Casanova, New School for Social Research
  •   Muslims and American Secularism Presenter: Jane Smith, Hartford Seminary
  • Concluding Round Table

    Chair: Jocelyne Cesari, CNRS-Paris and Harvard University

    From Head Scarf to Army Cap, Making a New Life

    By ANDREA ELLIOTT LACKLAND AIR FORCE BASE, Tex. – Stomping her boots and swinging her bony arms, Fadwa Hamdan led a column of troops through this bleak Texas base. Only six months earlier, she wore the head scarf of a pious Muslim woman and dropped her eyes in the presence of men. Now she was marching them to dinner. I’m gonna be a shooting man, a shooting man! she cried, her Jordanian accent lost in the chanting voices. The best I can for Uncle Sam, for Uncle Sam! The United States military has long prided itself on molding raw recruits into hardened soldiers. Perhaps none have undergone a transformation quite like that of Ms. Hamdan. Forbidden by her husband to work, she raised five children behind the drawn curtains of their home in Saudi Arabia. She was not allowed to drive. On the rare occasions when she set foot outside, she wore a full-face veil. Then her world unraveled. Separated from her husband, who had taken a second wife, and torn from her children, she moved to Queens to start over. Struggling to survive on her own, she answered a recruiting advertisement for the Army and enlisted in May. Ms. Hamdan’s passage through the military is a remarkable act of reinvention. It required courage and sacrifice. She had to remove her hijab, a sacred symbol of the faith she holds deeply. She had to embrace, at the age of 39, an arduous and unfamiliar life. In return, she sought what the military has always promised new soldiers: a stable home, an adoptive family, a remade identity. She left one male-dominated culture for another, she said, in the hope of finding new strength along the way. Always, I dream I have power on the inside, and one day it’s going to come out, said Ms. Hamdan, a small woman with delicate hands and sad, almond eyes. She belongs to the rare class of Muslim women who have signed up to become soldiers trained in Arabic translation. Such female linguists play a crucial role for the American armed forces in Iraq, where civilian women often feel uncomfortable interacting with male troops. Finding Arabic-speaking women willing to serve in the military has proved daunting. Of the 317 soldiers who have completed training in the Army linguist program since 2003, just 23 are women, 13 of them Muslim. Ms. Hamdan wrestled with the decision for two years. Only in the Army, she decided, would she be able to save money to hire a lawyer and finally divorce her husband. […]