Muslim charity to put ‘Allah is great’ posters on buses to portray Islam in a positive light

Hundreds of British buses will carry adverts praising Allah as part of a campaign launched by the country’s biggest Muslim charity to help victims of Syria’s civil war. Islamic Relief hopes the posters, which bear the words “Subhan Allah”, meaning “Glory be to God” in Arabic, will portray Islam and international aid in a positive light.

Buses will carry the advertisements in London, Birmingham, Manchester, Leicester and Bradford. These cities have large Muslim populations and the charity hopes it will encourage people to donate generously ahead of the start of Ramadan on 7 June.

Imran Madden, the UK director of Islamic Relief, said: “In a sense this could be called a climate change campaign because we want to change the negative climate around international aid and around the Muslim community in this country.

“International aid has helped halve the number of people living in extreme poverty in the past 15 years, and British Muslims are an incredibly generous community who give over £100 million to international aid charities in Ramadan.”

The new campaign will appear on buses from 23 May on 640 buses around the country. The adverts will have a special resonance in London as the city elected its first Muslim mayor, Sadiq Khan, on Thursday – despite a Conservative campaign, which repeatedly accused him of having connections to extremists.

Switzerland to Muslim Students: Shake Your Teacher’s Hand or Pay $5,000

25 May 2016

When two teenage Muslim students from Syria told their school in Switzerland that to shake their female teacher’s hand would violate their religious beliefs, administrators were sympathetic. So they made an exception: Unlike the school’s other students, who shake each teacher’s hand at the beginning and end of each class period, the two boys would be exempt from shaking anyone’s hand at all.

Turns out the Swiss national government takes their handshakes seriously. So seriously, in fact, that a regional authority announced Wednesday that the two boys would shake their female teachers’ hands from now on — or pay a $5,000 fine.  The local education department in Therwil, which is near the city of Basel, said in a statement Wednesday that the final decision was made because “the public interest with respect to equality between men and women and the integration of foreigners significantly outweighs the freedom of religion.”

This came after the citizenship process for the teens’ family was halted due to the incident. Authorities are now looking into their father’s 2001 asylum claim. He is an imam.

Last month, Swiss Justice Minister Simonetta Sommaruga went on television to say that “the handshake is part of our culture.”

“We cannot accept this in the name of religious freedom,” she said.

There are roughly 350,000 Muslims in Switzerland, and it’s unclear whether other exceptions were quietly made before this one. It’s also unclear what the two boys will do next. In an interview with Swiss media, one said they “could not just delete [their] culture as if it were a hard drive.”

Why Zac Goldsmith’s “extremism” attacks on Sadiq Khan were wrong

As the dust settles on Sadiq Khan’s victory in London’s mayoral election, attentions are turning to Zac Goldsmith’s campaign and his aggressive focus on his rival’s past encounters with Muslim hardliners. A Guardian op-ed under the headline “Forgive and forget Zac Goldsmith’s racist campaign? No chance” has been shared some 25,000 times. In the Spectator, Toby Young argued: “Zac Goldsmith has nothing to be ashamed of”. Both pieces make some good and some bad points. But I sympathise more with the first. Here is why.

To begin, some concessions. Elections are a rough-and-tumble business. Candidates should expect their characters and suitability for office to be challenged; their weaknesses to be daubed in primary colours on 10-meter high billboards. And within reason, that is good. It flushes out bad ideas and unsuitable candidates for the benefit of an electorate that has better things to do than worry about the nuances of their every policy.

The themes on which Mr Goldsmith so contentiously challenged Mr Khan are hardly irrelevant. In the past year Islamist terror attacks have hit the two European capitals closest to London. Labour clearly has ingrained problems of anti-Semitism and has form when it comes to tolerating conservative practices (like gender-segregated civic events) among its British Muslim supporters. And it is true that Mr Khan has links to certain reactionary Muslims, some of whom have expressed extremist views. His new role gives him influence over London’s schools, the front-line of the government’s anti-radicalisation “Prevent” strategy. It also gives him oversight of the Met police, as well as powers of patronage and discretionary spending which Ken Livingstone, his Labour predecessor, deployed in part to the benefit of conservative Muslims.

Yet to be valid and responsible, Tory “questions” about Mr Khan’s connections needed to do three things. Given the tensions surrounding the subject, each had to kill any suggestion that Labour’s candidate sympathised with extremism. Each needed to specify in clear and concrete terms how his past encounters affected his suitability to be mayor. And each needed an appropriate degree of prominence in a Conservative campaign that had, itself, big questions to answer about its man’s plans for transport, housing and policing.

Mr Goldsmith failed each one of these tests. First, he played up ambiguities as to what, precisely, his rival had done wrong. When pushed, he insisted that he was not trying to portray Britain’s most prominent Muslim politician as an extremist. Yet his campaign seemed to imply as much. By routinely calling Mr Khan a “radical” it blurred the Labour candidate’s support for Jeremy Corbyn, his party’s far-left leader, with his links in British Islam. A spoof Tory leaflet published in the Private Eye, a satirical magazine, captured the “I’m not racist, but…” character of these insinuations: “Think about it. Funny name, Khan, isn’t it?” The Conservative candidate was surely too worldly not to have realised how reckless this was, at a time when political outfits from the Trump campaign to the AfD in Germany were questioning Muslims’ basic compatibility with Western democracies and societies.

Second, the Goldsmith campaign failed to pin down what this had to do with Mr Khan’s suitability to be mayor. The claims it raised publicly (and the more lurid ones it quietly briefed to journalists) fall into three categories. Some had to do with his background as a civil liberties lawyer; like his links to Suliman Gani, a radical imam, his “association” with whom included angry clashes over gay marriage and Mr Khan’s involvement in a bid to boot Mr Gani out of his mosque. Other crimes like having a sibling-in-law who had flirted with conservative Islam—a transgression of which Tony Blair is also guilty—pointed to Mr Khan’s Muslim family background. The third category involved his characteristic blend, hardly unique among politicians, of naiveté and electoral opportunism. Into this final basket can be counted his role on the not-impeccable Muslim Council of Britain, his defence of Recep Ergodan’s Turkey and even those unproven suggestions that he played up his Liberal Democrat opponent’s Ahmadi (a persecuted minority within Sunni Islam) identity when fighting to keep his south-London parliamentary seat in 2010. Instead of differentiating between examples, or offering their own additional categories, Mr Goldsmith’s campaigners ground them together into a rough paste of “unanswered questions” and “extremist associations” that that they smeared all over Mr Khan.

Third, Mr Goldsmith gave such observations an undue prominence in his campaign, especially towards the end. London house-prices are on track to hit £1m by 2030 and are wrecking the capital’s social mix. On this, the Tory candidate had nothing substantive to say. On transport and policing his offer was almost as inadequate. But he seemed obsessed with Mr Khan’s relationship with his co-religionists; devoting his giant op-ed in the last Mail on Sunday before the election not to any of the bread-and-butter problems affecting Londoners but to a garbled mess of an argument that smudged together Mr Corbyn’s economic leftism, Labour’s anti-Semitism problem (of which the party’s candidate for the London mayoralty had been perhaps the foremost critic) and Mr Khan’s background, faith and personal traits.

There is a broader point here. Politicians are human and thus possess hinterlands, blind spots and inconsistencies. By definition they have an overdeveloped appetite for approval that prompts them to feign sympathy, delve into parts of society where they would not otherwise venture and humour certain audiences when they ought to avoid or upbraid them. How many Conservative or Labour candidates, confronted on the doorstep by an elderly voter ranting about “the coloureds”, would call him what he is—a racist—to his face? Moreover, no politician can exist in a hermetically sealed vacuum. Britons broadly accept that in their rulers. Some politicians have wealthy backgrounds that might inhibit their understanding of material insecurity, or religious backgrounds that make them intolerant of alternative lifestyles. Many are closer than is politic—or at least reflective of the median voter’s experiences—to bankers, strikers, bible-bashers, imams, die-hard environmentalists or other representatives of esoteric social segments.

Yet as a rule we tolerate, indeed often welcome, such florae in Britain’s civic life because their tendrils extend deep into its society. Mr Goldsmith, who has links to plenty of people unsuited to setting the agenda in City Hall, exemplifies this. His father was a hardline Eurosceptic accused of being corporate raider. His former brother-in-law, Imran Khan, has all sorts of links to Islamism through his political career in Pakistan. The magazine Mr Goldsmith edited, the Ecologist, carries articles opposing economic growth, cheering on activists who break the law and looking approvingly on third-world insurrectionists. Such connections are among the factors cited when journalists describe him, approvingly, as an “independent minded” MP.

None of this compares directly to Mr Khan’s links to Muslim radicals. But while that subject is more troubling than, say, ecological extremism, should it be treated so differently? I venture (as I did in a column in January) that the very problems of British Islam make it all the more pressing to draw its representatives into the country’s politics. Can Britain combat the self-exclusion of some of its Muslims, the anti-Semitism that infects their politics and the radicalisation of the most naive among them without prominent Muslims in public life who have first-hand experience of these problems and their causes? Can the establishment support a new generation of moderates—including the liberal, telegenic imams to whose rise Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Jewish Board of Deputies, drew my attention only last week—while dismissing Mr Khan?

It is hard to imagine a successful, liberal Muslim politician who, as she advanced from her neighbourhood to the national stage, never crossed paths with the sort of reactionary that so dominated Mr Goldsmith’s criticisms of Mr Khan. And who, given British politicians’ inclination to indulge their audiences, publicly challenged every last Islamic conservative that she encountered. Which poses the question: if London’s new mayor is the “wrong” sort of Muslim to hold a major public office, what does the “right” one look like?

Sadiq Khan: British dream now a reality for London’s first Muslim mayor

In Pakistan, the chances that the son of a bus or rickshaw driver could secure a high-ranking political position in the country’s capital city are minuscule. But now, the people of London have elected Sadiq Khan – the son of an immigrant Pakistani bus driver – to be their first Muslim mayor.

While unable to influence the nation’s foreign or economic policy, Khan will have responsibility for key areas in London, such as transport, housing, policing and the environment. And being directly elected gives the London mayor a personal mandate which no other parliamentarian in Westminster – including those in the cabinet – enjoy.

Now, at the age of 45, he is mayor of London: the economic and cultural heart of the UK, the largest city in western Europe and one of the most important cities in the world. He is the immigrant success story – for him, the British dream has become a reality.

Khan’s Islamic faith catapulted the city’s mayoral contest into the international limelight, at a time when Muslims are facing growing hostility in the West. In the US, presidential hopeful Donald Trump has said that he will ban Muslims from entering the country; while in Europe, the far right is gaining traction by campaigning on explicitly anti-Muslim platforms.

During the mayoral campaign, Khan’s “Muslimness” was viewed as a liability by some – including members of his own party. His Conservative rival, Zac Goldsmith, accused Khan of sharing platforms with Islamic extremists – the implication was clear: that the public should be wary of his “radical” views. Goldsmith’s highly controversial campaign has been heavily criticised – notably by senior Conservative Andrew Boff – for its divisive “dog-whistle” politics.

Khan’s victory supports what a number of Muslim commentators have argued all along: that having a Muslim mayor could help defeat Islamist ideology, by showing that the West is not anti-Islam – and that Muslims can “make it” there. Khan himself has spoken about the symbolic value of becoming the first Muslim mayor of a city which experienced terrorist attacks in 2005, perpetrated in the name of Islam.

But Khan’s victory says as much about social mobility as it does about race and religion. Had Khan’s father stayed in Pakistan, it is inconceivable that his son would have succeeded in that country’s political system, where privilege and connections win elections. By contrast, many Pakistanis who migrated to the UK in the post-war era were subsistence farmers and manual labourers. In many cases, they were illiterate in their own mother tongue. They took up positions in the service industries of the south, the factories and foundries of the Midlands and the mills of northern England. And while some succeeded in pulling themselves out of poverty, the UK’s Pakistani community still has some of the highest levels of unemployment and underachievement in the UK. Many British Pakistanis live in some of the UK’s most deprived neighbourhoods.

And of course, British politics is also now dominated by an “old boys’ network”: the cliques of Etonions and Bullingdon club members, personified by the prime minister, David Cameron, the chancellor, George Osborne – and indeed London’s outgoing mayor, Boris Johnson. Yet the working-class Khan managed to win out against a Conservative rival with family pedigree, wealth and friends in powerful political, media and business circles.

For many, this is a triumph of meritocracy over privilege – a sign that the political establishment is becoming more inclusive and representative of the ethnic, religious and socioeconomic diversity of the wider population.

And Khan is not the only second-generation Pakistani to have entered high political office in the UK. Sajid Javid, the current secretary of state for Business, Innovation and Skills, is the son of a Pakistani immigrant who worked in the mills of the north before becoming a bus driver. So too did the father of Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, who rose to become a member of David Cameron’s cabinet, and was the first Muslim woman to sit at the highest table in the land. In the 2015 general election alone, ten individuals of Pakistani heritage were elected to the British parliament.

And now, in London, the son of a Pakistani immigrant bus driver is in charge. He has become Europe’s most powerful Muslim politician. Khan’s victory has shown us that the British dream can become a reality.

Global press reaction to Sadiq Khan a mix of curiosity and ignorance

In London, the religion of the Labour candidate for the city’s mayor became an issue only when his Conservative opponent made it one, by attempting to link his rival to Islamist extremism in a campaign criticised as divisive and racist.

Abroad, however, it seems the faith and family background of Sadiq Khan is seen through a somewhat different prism: in much foreign media coverage of the elections, it was more important than his politics.

“Sadiq Khan likely to become the first Muslim mayor of London,” was the headline in France’s leading left leaning news weekly L’Obs. The country’s largest commercial broadcaster, TF1, went for: “Sadiq Khan: Muslim, immigrant’s son, self-made man – and future mayor”? The Metronews freesheet went further, saying a Khan victory would make the Tooting MP “the first Muslim mayor of a European capital”.

Le Monde went out of its way to note that Khan, “the son of an immigrant bus driver from Pakistan”, described his moderate Islamic faith as “part of my identity” – adding that his opponent Zac Goldsmith was “the son of a Franco-British billionaire of Jewish origin”.

Khan’s religion was prominent in media coverage of the election in the Netherlands, where Ahmed Aboutaleb has been the Muslim mayor of the country’s second largest city, Rotterdam, since 2009. The headline of the authoritative NRC Handsblad was: “The green millionaire v the leftwing Muslim”, while the right leaning De Telegraaf chose simply: “London could get its first Muslim mayor”.

In Germany, Süddeutsche Zeitung remarked – although not in its headline – that London seemed on course for its first Muslim mayor, while Switzerland’s Le Temps noted that the duel between the sons of “a billionaire, and a bus driver” could see the city becoming “the first European capital to be run by a Muslim”.

Different perceptions of Islam and integration were compounded in some countries by a wildly different continental view of Pakistan. “Is Khan’s Pakistani origin not an obstacle?” asked a journalist on the Swiss radio station RTS. “Is Pakistan not associated with fundamentalism and terror?”

The station’s interviewee replied that in a city in which almost 40% of residents were born outside the UK, and whose Muslim population makes up 12% of the total (and more than 30% in some boroughs), the popular image of Pakistan was more usually to do with corner shops and academic excellence.

But perhaps the most striking example of how differently much of the world sees London – and the importance of religion – from the way the city plainly sees itself came from the US, where Donald Trump caused uproar with a call for a temporary ban on Muslims entering the country.

“DEVELOPING: FIRST MUSLIM MAYOR OF LONDONISTAN” was the top headline on the popular news aggregator site The Drudge Report, followed closely by: “Jewish leaders express concern over voting problems” and “FLASHBACK: Parts of city 50% Islamic”.

“Soldiers of Allah” Canal+ documentary (video)

May 5, 2016

A French Islamic State cell dismantled in the final stages of planning an attack has yielded a new secret this week, with the release of undercover footage showing how a group of disaffected petty criminals transformed into a terror network.

Link to Video: http://www.canalplus.fr/infos-documentaires/pid3357-special-investigation.html

 

French Council of the Muslim Faith creates ‘theological council’ to counter radical discourse

May 8, 2016

The CFCM, the organization that governs the 2,500 mosques in France but is often criticized by French Muslims for its lack of concrete action, has taken steps to increase its religious presence.

The 2015 attacks and the success of Daesh in recruiting hundreds of youths shed light on the need for a theological council. “This new body provides our organization with a new dimension, which is no longer solely focused on administrative tasks and management,” CFCM president Anouar Kbibech stated, referring to its creation as an “historic day.”

The first meeting was held Sunday in Paris, where “all interpretations” of Islam were represented–except Salafists–including the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood), and the Tablighi Jamaat.

The Council is made up of 22 members, including the Imam of Bordeaux Tareq Oubrou, liberal member of the UOIF. It will meet twice yearly, ‘exceptional’ circumstances notwithstanding, and will give “advice,” as Kbibech prohibits using the word ‘fatwa,’ which has a ‘reductionist connotation.’

The committee “will be able to provide counter-discourse based on accepted theological arguments, in response to discourse circulated on social media, notably among young people,” according to the CFCM statement.

“On subjects such as jihad or hijra we need advice issued by competent and credible leaders,” said Kbibech. According to Kbibech, establishing a theological council was a “prerequisite” for the project of imam certification in order to ensure that preachers in mosques respected Republican values.

The new council can “recommend” imams after interviewing or a written exam, Kbibech explained. According to the leader, the council will “complement” the committees of religious expertise already established by certain federations, notably the theological council created one year ago by imams in the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Unease with Islam on rise in France, new poll finds (Report)

April 30, 2016

The study found that 47 percent of French people and 43 percent of Germans felt that the Muslim community poses a “threat” to national identity.

Almost two-thirds of the poll’s respondents in France also said that Islam had become too “influential and visible”, whereas just under half of participants said the same in Germany.

The same study in 2010 found that 43 percent of French people viewed Islam as a threat, while 55 percent said that it was too visible.

A sample of around 1,000 people were surveyed in each country as part of the latest study.

The findings in France, which suggest growing unease with the Muslim religion, come after a year of tragedy during which a total of 147 people were killed in a series of attacks in the Paris area by Islamist gunmen in January and November 2015.

“This poll reinforces the sense that the image of Islam represents a major challenge for French Muslims,” Anouar Kbibech, president of the French Council of the Muslim Faith (Conseil français du culte musulman, or CFCM), told Le Figaro in response to the survey. “Considering the tragic events we’ve lived through, the risk of conflating [Islam and terrorism] is real. Unfortunately, this survey confirms that.”

But according to the director of Ifop’s opinion department, Jérôme Fourquet, the recent bloodshed in the French capital isn’t the only factor at play. “The deterioration of Islam’s image in France wasn’t triggered by the attacks, even if those events contributed to it. What we’re seeing is more of a growing resistance within French society to Islam. It was already the case among voters for the [far-right] National Front and part of the right, but it has now expanded to the Socialist Party,” he told Le Figaro.

Earlier this month, Prime Minister Manuel Valls declared his support for banning headscarves in universities as part of the country’s strict secular rules, which separate state and religious institutions. Muslim veils are already banned in state-run schools, along with all other “visible religious signs”.

Although Valls’s comments sparked an immediate backlash from some within his party, they also reflected changing attitudes towards Islam within segments of the left.

“There are some on the left who feel that the Republic has been too lax with Islam and want it to stop,” Fourquet said. “Manuel Valls’s strong rhetoric is a sign of this. The left is divided on the issue. In the end, it’s a combative form of secularism that’s awakening. It’s looking to repel the influence of a religion it considers too dominant.”

The analyst also pointed to the study’s findings in Germany as evidence that the problem is not only a French one. As in France, the number of Germans who said they viewed Islam as a threat to national identity has also risen since the 2010 survey, although by only three percentage points.

The Ifop poll found that over two-thirds of respondents in both countries thought that Muslims had failed to integrate into society, a situation that 67 percent of French people and 60 percent of Germans blamed on a refusal to adapt to local values and customs.

“Although these two countries have a very different history of immigration, this alignment [between French and German opinion] shows that these important questions are posing challenges in a similar way throughout Western society,” Fourquet said. While France has the largest percentage of Muslims in the European Union (estimated at 7.5% of the total population), Germany has the largest number of Muslims with 4.8 million people in 2010, according to the Pew Research Center’s most recent estimates.

Full Report: IFOP Figaro

French journalist infiltrated Islamic State armed group

May 2, 2016

The journalist, a Muslim using the pseudonym Said Ramzi, carried out the investigation for a documentary entitled “Allah’s Soldiers” which gives an insight into the minds of young jihadists, and will be shown in France on Monday night.

Ramzi describes himself as a Muslim “of the same generation as the killers” who carried out the November 13 terror attacks which left 130 people dead in Paris.

“My goal was to understand what was going on inside their heads,” he said.

“One of the main lessons was that I never saw any Islam in this affair. No will to improve the world. Only lost, frustrated, suicidal, easily manipulated youths. They had the misfortune of being born in the era that the Islamic State exists. It is very sad. They are youngsters who are looking for something and that is what they found.”

To make contact with the group, Ramzi said the first steps were easy, following and interacting with those preaching jihad on Facebook.

Then, he had to meet the person presented as the “emir” of the group of about a dozen youths, some of them born into Muslim families, and the others converts.

This took place in Chateauroux, a town in the centre-west of France, at an outdoor activities centre that was deserted in winter.

The “emir” was a young French-Turkish citizen named Oussama, and on their first meeting he tries to convince the journalist he knows as Abu Hamza, that paradise awaits him if he carries out a suicide mission.

“Towards paradise, that is the path,” Oussama says, a chilling smile on his face. “Come, brother, let’s go to paradise, our women are waiting for us there, with angels as servants.”

“You will have a palace, a winged horse of gold and rubies.”

During another meeting in front of a mosque in the Paris suburb of Stains, a member of the group points to an airplane approaching the nearby Bourget airport.

“With a little rocket-launcher, you can easily get one of them… you do something like that in the name of Dawla (Islamic State), and France will be traumatized for a century.”

Some of the gang, like Oussama, try and reach the Islamic State group in Syria. He was arrested by Turkish police and handed back to France where he spent five months in jail before being released.

While he had to show his face at the local police station once a day under his release conditions, he stayed in touch with the group via encrypted messaging application Telegram to organise meetings at which plans to launch an attack took form.

“We must hit a military base,” says Oussama. “When they are eating, they are all lined up … ta-ta-ta-ta-ta,” he added, mimicking the sound of automatic gunfire.

“Or journalists, BFM, iTele, they are at war against Islam,” he says of the prominent French television stations.

“Like they did to Charlie. You must strike them at the heart. Take them by surprise. What do you want them to do? They aren’t well protected. The French must die by the thousands.”

In January 2015 two brothers attacked the offices of satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo, killing 12 people. Things accelerate when a certain Abu Suleiman returns from Raqqa, the Islamic State group’s capital in Syria and tells the journalist to meet him at a train station.

Once there, it is not Suleiman — who the journalist never meets — but a woman in a full-faced niqab veil who shows up and hands Ramzi a letter. The message lays out a plan of attack: target a night club, shoot ‘until death”,’ wait for security forces and set off an explosives vest.

However the security noose tightens around the group at this point, and several members of the group are arrested. One of them who avoided arrest sends a message to the journalist saying: “You’re done for man.”

“That is where my infiltration ended,” said Ramzi.