Shehneela Ahmed, football agent

January 26, 2014

 

The first Muslim woman to qualify as an FA-approved football agent, Shehneela Ahmed, has announced that she is on a mission to open up the sport to more female players and people from ethnic minorities. Her sentiments exactly. The daughter of Pakistani immigrants, Ms Ahmed, 42, who moved from Rochdale to London after graduating from Staffordshire University and also works as a duty solicitor, said: “This will have a big impact on my career as I intend to promote more people from the Asian background to encourage their children to take part in the sports industry.”

“After spending all day dealing with criminals, footballers are a doddle,” Ms Ahmed explained. Ms Ahmed, who received her license in September added: “I’ve had clients approach me, from players, managers and clubs, and I’ve had some really good feedback so far.”

With only eight of the 4,000 players in the Football League of Asian descent, you find Ms Ahmed is not resting on her laurels. “I want to prove to ethnic minorities and females that if you put your mind to it, you can achieve anything,” she said.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/i/page-3-profile-shehneela-ahmed-football-agent-9073254.html

 

Allah vs atheism: ‘Leaving Islam was the hardest thing I’ve done’

January 19, 2014

 

Amal Farah, a 32-year-old banking executive, is laughing about a contestant singing off-key in the last series of The X Factor. For a woman who was not allowed to listen to music when she was growing up, this is a delight. After years of turmoil, she is in control of her own life.

On the face of it, she is a product of modern Britain. Born in Somalia to Muslim parents, she grew up in Yemen and came to the UK in her late teens. After questioning her faith, she became an atheist and married a Jewish lawyer. But this has come at a cost. When she turned her back on her religion, she was disowned by her family and received death threats. She has not seen her mother or her siblings for eight years. None of them have met her husband or daughter.

It can be difficult to leave any religion, and those that do can face stigma and even threats of violence. But there is a growing movement, led by former Muslims, to recognise their existence. In more than a dozen countries people who espouse atheism or reject the official state religion of Islam can be executed under the law, according to a recent report by the International Humanist and Ethical Union. But there is an ongoing debate about the “Islamic” way to deal with apostates. Broadcaster Mohammed Ansar says the idea that apostates should be put to death is “not applicable” in Islam today because the act was traditionally conflated with state treason.

“The position of many a scholar I have discussed the issue with is if people want to leave, they can leave,” said Shaykh Ibrahim Mogra, the assistant secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain. “I don’t believe they should be discriminated against or harmed in any way whatsoever. There is no compulsion in religion.”

Baroness Warsi, the Minister of State for Faith and Communities, agreed. “One of the things I’ve done is put freedom of religion and belief as top priority at the Foreign Office,” she said.

The Ex-Muslim Forum, a group of former Muslims, was set up seven years ago. Then, about 15 people were involved; now they have more than 3,000 members around the world. Membership has reportedly doubled in the past two years. Another affiliated group, the Ex-Muslims of North America, was launched last year.

Zaheer Rayasat, 26, from London, has not yet told his parents that he is an atheist. Born into a traditional Pakistani family, he said he knew he didn’t believe in God from the age of 15. “For a lot of older Muslims, to be a Muslim is an identity, whereas, for me, it’s a theological, philosophical position. They might feel they have failed as parents; some malicious people might call them up, gloating about it. Some would see it as an act of betrayal. My hope is that they will eventually forgive me for it.”

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/allah-vs-atheism-leaving-islam-was-the-hardest-thing-ive-done-9069598.html

 

Student and women’s groups write open letter to UN condemning gender segregation in UK universities

January 15, 2014

 

Students and women’s groups have written an open letter to the UN to condemn gender segregation at British universities. Writing to the UN’s special rapporteur in the field of cultural rights, the signatories are hoping to build pressure on UK universities to ban segregation of any kind.

They write: “Gender segregation reinforces negative views about women, undermines their right to participate in public life on equal terms with men and disproportionately impedes women from ethnic and religious minorities, whose rights to education and gender equality are already imperilled.”

The letter appeared on the LSE student union page on Tuesday, and has been signed by various people including Chris Moos, the secretary of LSE’s Atheist, Secularist and Humanist Society, and Nahla Mahmoud, the spokesperson for the council of ex-Muslims of Britain.

Mr Moos, who was recently involved in a freedom of expression battle with LSE, believes that any type of segregation should be fought and that the UN pressure would help public discussion.

Universities UK and the Federation of Islamic Students Societies were both targets in the open letter. Last December, UUK said in a report that “Assuming the side-by-side segregated seating arrangement is adopted, there does not appear to be any discrimination”, but later clarified their position, saying: “[UUK] agrees entirely with the prime minister that universities should not enforce gender segregation on audiences at the request of guest speakers”.

FOISS were mentioned as their guidelines recommend societies “maintain segregation between brothers and sisters, keeping interactions between them at a minimum”.

A march has also been planned which will take place on March 8th.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/student-and-womens-groups-write-open-letter-to-un-condemning-gender-segregation-in-uk-universities-9061327.html

Mastermind of 9/11 says Koran ‘forbids’ violence to spread Islam

January 10, 2014

 

The self-proclaimed mastermind of the September 11 attacks, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, has released a manifesto claiming that the Koran forbids the use of violence to spread Islam. The document, published Tuesday by The Huffington Post and Britain’s Channel 4 News, marks Mohammed’s first public communication since 2009, when the US government officially accused him of terrorism.

In a major departure from his previous position, Mohammed said that “the Holy Koran forbids us to use force as a means of converting!” He also tried in the 36-page document to convince his American captors, prosecutors, lawyers and members of his military tribunal to convert to Islam.

“It is my religious duty in dealing with any non-Muslims such as the people in the court (the judge, the prosecution, attorneys, etc.) to invite them to embrace Islam,” Mohammed wrote.

“I realise very well that you have heard about Islam and know much about it. But it is my own belief that Allah will ask me on the Day of Judgment why I did not invite these people to Islam?”

Mohammed said he was “very happy” in his cell, adding: “My spirit is free even while my body is being held captive.”

Mohammed said he has been “neither sad nor distressed” in his confinement “because I have been with the Only One True God.”

The document was declassified last month by military judge James Pohl.

Defence lawyers did not immediately respond to requests for comment

 

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/northamerica/usa/10574052/Mastermind-of-911-says-Koran-forbids-violence-to-spread-Islam.html

Elderly British schizophrenic sentenced to death for blasphemy in Pakistan

January 25, 2014

 

A British pensioner with a history of severe mental illness has been sentenced to death in Pakistan after being found guilty of breaching the country’s blasphemy laws. Muhammad Asghar, 69, from Edinburgh, who suffers from paranoid schizophrenia and is unaware that he is ill following a stroke, was convicted at the end of a trial in Rawalpindi in which it was alleged he claimed to be the prophet Mohammed. During the case, which was heard without a jury, the judge forcibly removed his independent lawyers from the court and appointed a state counsel on the defendant’s behalf.

His treatment has been severely criticised by human rights organisations which have long campaigned against Pakistan’s anti-blasphemy legislation which, according to Amnesty International, has created a climate of fear and murderous vigilantism in the devoutly Muslim country where allegations of religious crime are routinely used to persecute minorities.

Mr Asghar’s lawyers and his doctor are desperately concerned for his wellbeing after he attempted suicide following his incarceration in 2010. His condition is getting worse and he requires complex daily medication as well as psychological and social care but is instead sharing a crowded cell with other prisoners. The conviction is now being appealed although it could take five years before it is heard.

Dr Jane McLennan of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Edinburgh – a leading authority on psychiatric illness in older people – said that to properly analyse his behaviour she would be required to repeat her patient’s claims – potentially running the risk of being considered blasphemous herself. Thus the very nature of the charges in Pakistan makes it difficult for a mental health professional to indulge in a full discussion of the proper diagnosis.”

A Foreign Office spokesman said: “We strongly object to the use of the death penalty and will continue to provide consular assistance to him and his family during this difficult time. We have continuously made representations to the Pakistan government on behalf of Mr Asghar and we will continue to do so. We are opposed to the death penalty in all circumstances and we are dedicated to doing all we can to prevent the execution of any British national.”

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/death-sentence-for-british-pensioner-accused-of-blasphemy-in-pakistan-9083235.html

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/exclusive-lawyers-denied-access-to-severely-mentally-ill-british-pensioner-facing-execution-in-pakistan-over-blasphemy-9086318.html

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/10595398/British-schizophrenic-sentenced-to-death-for-blasphemy-in-Pakistan.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/asia/pakistan/10594765/British-man-sentenced-to-death-for-blasphemy-in-Pakistan.html

Atheist Afghan man granted asylum in UK to protect him from ‘religious’ persecution

January 13, 2014

 

An Afghan man is understood to have become the first atheist ever to secure asylum in Britain on religious grounds. His case was accepted by the Home Office on the basis there was a risk he could face persecution in Afghanistan for having rejected Islam.

Although he was brought up a Muslim, since living in the UK he has gradually turned away from it and is now an atheist. The young man – who does not want to be identified for fear of being rejected by the Afghan community in Britain – fled to the UK from a conflict involving his family in Afghanistan.

He first claimed asylum in 2007 when he was just 16. The claim was rejected but he was granted discretionary leave to remain until 2013 under rules to protect unaccompanied children.

The case was taken up by Kent Law Clinic, a pro bono service provided by students and supervised by practising lawyers from the University of Kent’s Law School, alongside local solicitors and barristers. A submission to the Home Office argued that the man’s return to Afghanistan could result in a death sentence under Sharia law as an “apostate” – someone who has abandoned their religious faith – unless he remained silent about his atheist beliefs.

Sheona York, who supervised the case, said: “The decision represents an important recognition that a lack of religious belief is in itself a thoughtful and seriously-held philosophical position.”

A Home Office spokesman said: “We do not routinely comment on individual cases. The UK has a proud history of granting asylum to those who need it and we consider every application on a case by case basis.”

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/afghan-atheist-to-get-asylum-in-britain-on-religious-grounds-9057286.html

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/10569748/Atheist-Afghan-man-granted-asylum-in-UK-to-protect-him-from-religious-persecution.html

 

 

Virginia man’s challenge to no-fly list clears hurdle

January 23, 2014

 

A federal judge on Wednesday allowed a Virginia man’s challenge to his placement on the no-fly list to go forward, three years after he was stranded in Kuwait.

U.S. District Judge Anthony Trenga issued a 32-page written ruling rejecting arguments of government lawyers who wanted the case dismissed. Trenga said that Gulet Mohamed suffers significant harm from his apparent placement on the list and the Constitution gives him the right to challenge his no-fly status.

Trenga acknowledged that Mohamed’s travel rights must be balanced against the government’s duty to protect its citizens from terrorism, but wrote that “the No Fly List implicates some of our basic freedoms and liberties as well as the question of whether we will embrace those basic freedoms when it is most difficult.”

The Justice Department is reviewing the ruling, department spokesman Wyn Hornbuckle said in an email late Wednesday.
The government has refused to say why it would have placed Mohamed on the no-fly list; in fact, the government won’t even confirm that Mohamed, or anyone else, is on the list at all. The government says only that people are placed on the list when it has “reasonable suspicion to believe that a person is a known or suspected terrorist.”

Mohamed, an Alexandria resident and naturalized U.S. citizen, was 19 when he was detained by Kuwaiti authorities in 2011. Mohamed says he was beaten and interrogated at the behest of the U.S. and denied the right to fly home.
U.S. authorities allowed Mohamed to fly home after he filed a federal lawsuit, but Mohamed says he remains on the list without justification.

Mohamed’s lawyer, Gadeir Abbas, who is with the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the ruling “a stinging rebuke to the government’s use of the no-fly list.”
Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/travel/va-mans-challenge-to-no-fly-list-clears-hurdle/2014/01/23/7e063730-8432-11e3-a273-6ffd9cf9f4ba_story.html

RNC chairman calls for official to step down over anti-Muslim, anti-gay posts

January 24, 2014

 

A Michigan member of the Republican National Committee rejected calls to resign Friday after making anti-gay and anti-Muslim remarks.

Dave Agema said he’s made mistakes but pledged to continue to “honor the trust and fulfill the responsibilities to those in the Michigan Republican Party that elected me.” On Jan. 17, Agema published a Facebook post saying, “Have you ever seen a Muslim do anything that contributes positively to the American way of life?” Earlier in the week, he linked to an article about a anti-propaganda law in Russia, saying “Read their law. Common sense in Russia.”
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) made oblique references to Agema’s comments in a Martin Luther King Jr. speech he gave last week, calling for “civility and respect.” The Michigan Catholic Conference also released a statement Friday calling for civility: “In all things political, in present times, there must be a renewed focus on charity.”

He issued a statement hours after RNC Chairman Reince Priebus and Michigan Party Chairman Bobby Schostak called for his resignation.

“For the good of the party, we believe Dave Agema should resign,” Preibus and Schostak said in a joint statement. Last March, Agema posted an article on Facebook with an unsubstantiated claim that gays account for half the murders in large cities. In December, he told Berrien County Republicans that his experience as an American Airlines pilot made him familiar with efforts by gays to get health insurance coverage because of the ravages of AIDS. He also came under fire from the Council on American-Islamic Relations for a Facebook posting this month questioning Muslims’ commitment to charity.
Washington Post:
http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2014/01/24/dave-agema-faces-additional-pressure-from-gop-party-leaders-to-step-down/
http://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/michigan-gop-official-rejects-calls-to-resign/2014/01/24/316c3340-855c-11e3-a273-6ffd9cf9f4ba_story.html

Best Buy commercial points way to greater Muslim acceptance

January 24, 2014
(RNS) Viewers watching the American Football Conference championship game between the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots earlier this month may have seen a Best Buy commercial for a Sharp 60-inch television that seemed ordinary, but in one way was extraordinary.
The ad shows a young, clean-shaven salesman named Mustafa talking about the television, advising customers and relaxing at home watching movies and football with his friends.

“I’m never going to get these guys out of here,” he jokes to his girlfriend at the end.
While the commercial never identifies Mustafa as a Muslim, many might assume that given his name, a diminutive for Muhammad. For viewers used to seeing negative images of Muslims on television, the commercial was a rare exception.

“He has all the right stuff,” said Timothy de Waal Malefyt, a longtime advertising executive who now teaches at Fordham University in New York. “He has a girlfriend. He has Anglo friends. And he’s watching ‘Despicable Me’ and football. It’s very American.”

Muslims in commercials are still rare, but that could be changing as the acceptance of Muslims accelerates across America.

The Best Buy commercial, scheduled to run through Feb. 1, sparked a flurry of Twitter chatter after it debuted.

Best Buy spokesman Jeffrey Shelman said the ad featured actual Best Buy employees, chosen based on their tech knowledge and on-camera performance. As for Mustafa, he works one day a week at Best Buy’s El Segundo, Calif., store.

RNS.com: http://www.religionnews.com/2014/01/24/best-buy-commercial-points-way-greater-muslim-acceptance/

American Forces Press Service

January 22, 2014

 

The Defense Department today released a new instruction that details its updated policy on making religious accommodations requested by service members, Pentagon spokesman Navy Lt. Cmdr. Nathan J. Christensen said today.

A DOD instruction implements a policy or prescribes the manner or plan of action used to carry out a policy, operate a program or activity, and assign responsibilities.

“The new policy states that military departments will accommodate religious requests of service members,” Christensen said, “unless a request would have an adverse effect on military readiness, mission accomplishment, unit cohesion and good order and discipline.”

When a service member requests such an accommodation, he added, department officials balance the need of the service member against the need to accomplish the military mission. Such a request is denied only if an official determines that mission accomplishment needs outweigh the need of the service member, Christensen said.

Requests to accommodate religious practices will be assessed on a case-by-case basis, the spokesman noted.

Defense.gov: http://www.defense.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=121525
Updated DOD Instruction Regarding Religious Accommodation: http://www.dtic.mil/whs/directives/corres/pdf/130017p.pdf