UK Muslims Reconsider the Compatibility of Secularism and Islam

22 May 2012

 

Living in a secular environment has been a challenge for Muslims in the West. Islam is a religion that does not accept the separation between the public and private space. Thus it expects believers to adhere to its rules regardless of their environment; this inevitably positions it in a fundamental conflict with the secular system that has been fashioned to keep religion out of the public space.

 

However, recently the rigid interpretation of secularism has been put to question. Prominent scholars like Tariq Modood (1997, 2005) have suggested that secularism and Islam can co-exist provided that the former soften ups its radical discourse on religion and tries to recognize and support the religious needs of people.

 

The article published by Tehmina Kazi further examines the issue in the light of recent events and research and examples from the past, in order to find answers regarding the compatibility of the two concepts.

LAPD to alter policy on data possibly related to terrorism

Reports on suspicious activity determined to be harmless will be deleted. They had been stored in a database for a year, sparking fears that the information could wind up with the federal government.

In the face of privacy concerns, the Los Angeles Police Department has agreed to change the way it collects information on suspicious activity possibly related to terrorism.

The department, after coming under fire from civil liberties and community groups, will no longer hold on to so-called suspicious activity reports that the LAPD’s counter-terrorism unit determines are about harmless incidents.

Until now, the department stored the innocuous reports in a database for a year. That gave rise to worries among critics of the reporting program that personal information about people who had done nothing wrong could be entered inappropriately into the federal government’s vast network of counter-terrorism databases and watch lists.

Why basketball is Muslims’ favorite sport

For many Muslim Americans, college and professional basketball provides heroes they can take pride in, symbols of affirmation at a time when they face hostility from some Americans. And it serves as a way to develop fellowship with their fellow believers while reaching out to non-Muslims.

“Every Muslim community I go to, there’s this obsession for basketball. Almost every mosque you go to, there’s a basketball court outside,” said Musab Abdali of Houston.

At the moment, there are at least eight Muslim players in the NBA (four Turks, two African Americans, one Iranian, and one Tanzanian), and one of them — center Nazr Mohammed of the Oklahoma City Thunder — is currently in the middle of a tense series against the Los Angeles Lakers.

But the special relationship between Muslims and basketball goes beyond any particular player or team and embraces the sport itself. It is not unlike the one described in “Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story,” a 2010 documentary film written by Ira Berkow, a Pulitzer-prize winning sportswriter.

 

Omar Abdelkader, a student at Northeastern University in Boston, is an observant Muslim but admits that, at least as a kid, he was occasionally seduced by the swish of a perfect jump-shot over the Islamic call to prayer.

“Sometimes we’d sneak out of prayers to play ball,” recalled Abdelkader, who grew-up attending the Worcester Islamic Center in central Massachusetts. Like a growing number of American mosques, the Worcester Islamic Center has a basketball court — and hence a built-in temptation for younger members.

Federal trial starting in Texas for Muslim soldier accused in bomb plot on Fort Hood troops

WACO, Texas — Pfc. Naser Jason Abdo, a Muslim soldier who was AWOL from Fort Campbell, Ky., is accused of planning to bomb a Killeen restaurant filled with Fort Hood soldiers and shoot any survivors last summer. Jury selection was scheduled to start Monday at his federal trial in Waco, about 50 miles northeast of Killeen, the city just outside Fort Hood.

Abdo, 22, faces up to life in prison if convicted of attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction, the most serious of the six charges on which he’s being tried.

Abdo, who was born in Texas and grew up in a Dallas suburb, became a Muslim when he was 17. He enlisted in the military in 2009, thinking that the service wouldn’t conflict with his religious beliefs. But according to his essay that was part of his conscientious objector status application, Abdo reconsidered as he explored Islam further.

In that essay, which he sent to The Associated Press in 2010, Abdo said acts like the 2009 Fort Hood shootings “run counter to what I believe in as a Muslim” and were “an act of aggression by a man and not by Islam.”

Controversy over a speech on the Norwegian Independence Day

May 19, 2012

A high school student from a Norwegian school on Gran Canaria had stirred up much controversy due to the speech given in her school on the day of celebrating the Norwegian Independence. She expressed partial support to the political views held by Ander Behring Breivik. The present students and their parents (Norwegian ex-pats), many of whom reacted strongly against her support, listened in dismay. The controversy is most clearly visible in the emerged conflict between the head of the school’s Parents’ Union (FAU), Ronny Kiil Olsen, and the school’s principal, Benedikte Grongstad.

Olsen defended the speech: “It was a speech which I approved and which was perhaps a little controversial. She is a reflective girl who came up with some political statements about the constitutional changes and mentioned among other things, the Islamization and Breivik.”

The Principal on the other hand was strongly critical of the FAU which, according to him, strongly endorsed these opinions. She further added that she will call Olson for a meeting next week where they will be discussing the speech and its contents.

Olson, is dismissive of the principal’s (and some of the parents’) strong reactions: “I don’t care about their reactions. The principal must accept this! The school’s purpose is to educate youth. If they censor the children away from media and society (disallowing opinions), this is wrong. The school should serve as a guide through life. I deeply disagree with the principle. In Norway we have freedom of expression, as well as in Spain.”

The school had experienced problems in the past. Several scandals and other issues concerning differences between the school’s administrative staff and many of the students’ parents have been in focus.

6 out of 10 mosques gave counsel contrary to the law

May 16-17, 2012

 

Two undercover women with niqab (face veil) approached Sweden’s ten largest mosques equipped with hidden cameras in order to inquire about issues of polygamous marriages, domestic maltreatment, and nonconsensual marital sex. Aired by the Swedish state television’s (SVT) controversial investigative program Uppdrag granskning (Mission Scrutiny) showed that the mosque representatives gave advices which were contrary to the Swedish laws.

 

In six out of the ten visited mosques the woman who posed as maltreated by her husband who had married several wives received advice not to report her husband to the police. The woman was accompanied by another veiled woman, a hidden camera equipped reporter, who posed as her supportive friend. In one mosque the answer was too vague to call either way, in another there was a conflict of opinions and in two mosques the advice was to report the husband’s abuse to the authorities. The overwhelming opinion given in the mosques was that the man had right to marry several wives simultaneously under certain conditions. Only one respondent argued that polygamy is disallowed in Sweden and that the man should obey by it.

 

These opinions and advice were given either by imams at these mosques or by someone who had a role as a family counselor. The host of the SVT program, a well-know reporter, Janne Josefsson, approached the two biggest mosques (in Stockholm and Uppsala) with the recordings from the women’s visit the official stand-point on issues of domestic abuse was that the mosques must abide by the Swedish law in these issues. In Uppsala, the chairman of the association disassociated himself from the person who gave the advice to the woman not to report her husband. It was later reported that the supposed imam in Uppsala was only a occasional lecturer at the mosque and not the regular imam or representative of the mosque. The recording from the program showed the man in Uppsala instructs the woman not to report her husband to the police but instead to seek solution to their problems between themselves. At one point he asked her to approach her husband through an apology, that is if she had done something wrong.

 

In Stockholm, the women had met with an imam who defended the general right of a husband to marry more than one wife and advised the supposedly maltreated woman not to report the incident to the authorities. The recording in this case showed that he had suggested to the woman to increase her efforts in showing affection to her husband, this after she claimed that she loved her husband very much and did not intend on leaving him in any case. He said among other things, “Do not deny him your love so he might change (to be kinder).” After seeing the recording showed to them by the program host, the board of trustees of the organization in charge of the Stockholm’s main mosque chose to start an internal investigation in regard to the reported counsel given by the imam.

 

Mohammad Fazlhashemi, a professor of history of ideas at the University in Umeå argues that the program had showed that several of the imams have given advice which clearly goes against the Swedish law. He himself was featured in the program as commentator of these events by reading written transcripts of the conversations from these various mosques. “What these men (imams) had said to the women clearly violates their human rights”, he adds. He is strongly critical of the imams (in the program) who do not follow the Swedish legislation. He links the alleged violations with some of these mosques receiving government approved financial support. “As the mosques have received state support they have also acknowledged their obligation to follow Swedish law and the basic democratic principles.” He continues, “Now there is a need for self-examination. They need to clean up.” Mohammad Fazlhashemi, himself a Muslim, believes that the outmoded mosque-representatives support the anti-Muslim forces’ ideology, including the Swedish Democrats (extreme-right wing party with 20 seats in the parliament). “This confirms their hateful view of Muslims. This is extremely unfortunate that they (i.e. the six mosque representatives) live up to the Islamophobic prejudices.”

 

In the long run, Fazlhashemi argues, there needs to be a state sponsored university program for imams where religious leaders are educated giving them opportunity to expand their competences in fields of feminism, democracy, legislation etc.

 

Omar Mustafa, the chairman of the board in Islamic Council of Sweden, and Mahmoud Khalfi, the chairman of the board in Swedish Imam Council have been quick to distance themselves from the controversial statements made by the mosque representatives and reported in the program. Omar Mustafa said that “It has been incredibly scary, the things that came up. It is unacceptable to defend violence against women, regardless if we look at the Swedish law or the Islamic values.” He continued, “Force, violence, oppression and fear are inconsistent with the goals of a marriage.” Mahmoud Khalfi, an imam himself, agrees, “Everything (marital relationship) is built on respect and love. Force and violence have no place in the relationship. This is what we lecture and preach about constantly.”

 

Omar Mustafa’s personal view is that the men who appeared in the program need to be investigated without delay. “It needs to be clear up if these men are guilty of any criminal or/and (professional) misconduct and in case of any violations it is necessary to take necessary measures. However, he is also critical of the tone taken in the program. “They (the program editors) paint a picture that Muslims give conflicting messages (i.e. hypocritical stance). It strives to show that Muslims have two agendas, one public and one private. It (the tone and approach in the program) feels awfully conspiratorial.” Mahmoud Khalfi adds, ”Our official version is always that which we believe in and the message that we preach. However, there are individuals who commit mistakes.”

 

Additionally, in the light of these recent controversies the Islamic Council of Sweden writes on its webpage (http://islamiskaforbundet.se/sv/), that believing Muslim have “religious duty to respect and obey the country’s laws”. The Council also writes that one of its primary goals is to “work for the human rights”.

 

Five of the ten mosques (out of about 145 registered mosques in Sweden) featured in the program Uppdrag granskning (Mission Scrutiny) were regular recipients of governmental financial support: Uppsala Mosque, Stockholm Mosque, malmö Salsabil mosque, and the mosque in Järfälla. The Örebro Mosque had received this type of support earlier, however, due to unrelated administrative misconduct; the support was temporarily suspended, this according to Åke Gustavsson, the Secretary General at the Commission for Governmental Support to Religious Communities.

The Union of Islamic Communities in Spain presents the video documentary “Together we build the future.”

17 May 2012
Spain forms a multicultural map with different lifestyles, ideologies, and beliefs. In this context of diversity, the Muslim community has an increasingly important opinion. “Together we build the future” is the documentary that gives voice to some of these people.
The video, made by Imal Producciones y Aire Comunicación, in collaboration with the Foundation for Pluralism and Coexistence, is part of the materials developed by the Union of Islamic Communities of Spain (UCIDE) to promote religious freedom in a framework of peaceful coexistence and plural in Spanish society.

The video, which lasts approximately 30 minutes, shows the daily lives of five Muslims and gives us their testimonies and experiences, especially on living in Spain.

The Bishop of Solsona calls to convert Muslims

18 May 2012

The Bishop of Solsona wants to convert Muslims living in the territory of his diocese to Christianity. Novell Xavier, the youngest bishop in Spain, writes in his Novell weekly on Sunday:
“In our work of evangelization we must not rule out the proclamation of our faith to the Muslims who reside in our towns and cities,” he adds then “If Christ is the only savior, he is also for those who profess Islam and therefore we have to engage in their conversion to Christianity,” the text adds. His proposal is considered inadequate by many Christians and also of course by Muslim representatives, although the rejection from many of them must be inferred from their silence. Jaiteh Morrow, imam of the mosque Claver, declines the invitation to comment on the bishop’s call to conversion. The president of the Islamic Association of Solsona, Khalid Baghal also refused to comment. However, the president of the Maghreb Atlas of Lleida, Omar Charah, talked of provocation: “It is out of place. Are we going back to the Crusades? “

Pluralism and Coexistence Foundation puts Ceuta as an example of normalization of the Muslim issues

17 May 2012
The director of the Foundation for Pluralism and Coexistence (FPC), Jose Manuel Lopez, went to Ceuta to participate with the Counselor of Education, Culture and Women, Mabel Deu, in the awarding diplomas ceremony to students of Spanish Language courses for religious leaders, an initiative that also includes the Instituto Cervantes, and that according to Lopez  settles Ceuta as an example of normalization of Muslim issues.

The FPC  intends to standardize the religious issues, from which the Muslim issues are also a part, and Ceuta in this field is “fundamental” to the State, considered Lopez  because “diversity is normal here for years” while in the peninsula, “the people think of Muslims as foreigners” even when 35%  of the Muslims living in the country are Spanish.

Neighbors ask judge in Bilbao to stop construction of mosque

21 May 12

The neighbors of Bilbao La Vieja following their battle against the local Mosque construction permits have now called for a precautionary measure to suspend these works. The City Council, in the other hand has granted permission to the Alforkan Mosque to take over 605 square meters and build there an oratory for circa 398 people.

The dispute arises at a critical time for centers of worship in the Basque region. Bilbao City Council has suspended for a year the construction licenses to draft its new regulations, giving special attention to its location.  However, the Regional Basque Government has a different opinion considering the precautionary measure as “extemporaneous” and not necessitating the halt of construction works. The two institutions are moving in parallel, with serious differences over how to manage religious diversity and to decide about the requirements to be met by the promoters of places of worship.