She’s an imam in LA and doesn’t have patience for a strict interpretation of Islam

Ani Zonneveld is an imam, and yes, also a woman. She qualifies that she is “an imam with a small “i” — though her reluctance to go with a capital “I” says more about her democratic approach to worship than any deference to Islamic tradition, one that has been and still is very male-dominated. She has no patience for that Islam.

Instead she founded a Muslim community — Muslims for

Credit: Arzeen Photography/Muslims for Progressive Values
Credit: Arzeen Photography/Muslims for Progressive Values

Progressive Values — that embraces gender equality, gay rights and interfaith marriage. And although it is based in Los Angeles, it has spread — often quietly — across the world.

Curriculum initiative by British Muslims

On the initiative of the Islamic scholar Dr Muhammad Tahir-ul-Qadri, British Muslims have introduced an “anti-terror curriculum” designed to supply Muslim clerics with arguments against the misuse of theological arguments by terrorist organisations such as IS. By Stefan Weidner

In principle, one can only welcome the fact that Muslims’ reactions to the terrorist misinterpretation of religion are becoming more and more sophisticated and explicit – with every attack, as it were.

They can achieve a variety of goals at once here. For one, they show resistance to attempts made to equate Islam with terrorism, an attitude that is fuelled just as much by notorious enemies of Islam as it is by political events, with the self-proclaimed “Islamic State in Syria and Iraq” at the forefront. Secondly, they are repudiating the allegation that Muslims are not distancing themselves sufficiently from terrorism. This is important, even if this insinuation is nearly always the product of ignorance, for example of the debates being waged in Arabic, and is partly based on plain distortion.

The initiative for a Muslim curriculum against terrorism is, however, not only geared toward appeasing Islam-critical observers; it is also an attempt to defeat with their own arguments those who espouse an aggressive and narrow-minded understanding of religion. The arguments against terrorism are derived here theologically from the religion itself and not, as so often is the case, from common sense, which is unfortunately in short supply among those who look to the religion to justify violence.

Of course, many scholars of Islam have tried to do this in the past. However, they have never before worked out such a systematic plan for a theological fight against terrorism and undertaken such great efforts to publicise it in the world press. That this has not yet been attempted can be explained by the religious diversity and local fragmentation of Islam, rather than assuming that Islam offers no arguments against violence.

IS supporters in Syria (photo: DW)

IS supporters in Syria. “We must not forget with regard to this initiative that religion is often used only as a pretext when young Muslims make their way to Syria. Very few of those who go to war are theologically savvy. And precisely because they lack religious education, they are susceptible to radical arguments that present themselves in a religious guise,” writes Stefan Weidner

No choice anymore

Such an initiative takes to its logical conclusion the fact that the Muslims have no choice anymore but to do the same thing with good arguments that the preachers of hate and violence are trying to do with bad ones, namely to reach a broad spectrum of Muslims all over the world. This is admittedly a Herculean task, but it just might lead – if it succeeds – to the kind of Islam that believers around the world are longing to see: a religion whose global standards would be supported by undisputed, universal and humane principles.

We must not forget with regard to this initiative that religion is often used only as a pretext when young Muslims make their way to Syria. Very few of those who go to war are theologically savvy. And precisely because they lack religious education, they are susceptible to radical arguments that present themselves in a religious guise. In this respect, the curriculum initiative could indeed provide a remedy. However, it also reinforces the misleading notion that “terror tourism” really does have primarily religious and cultural motives.

This form of culturalisation, as one might call it, hides other, more likely reasons for the suicidal decampment to the war zone, namely the social, political and economic marginalisation of many immigrants. And it could be, therefore, that the initiative seeks more to meet the expectations of Western policymakers and suspicious non-Muslim observers than to fulfil the needs of the Muslims concerned.

Seen in this light, the initiative could even end up having the opposite effect to what it purports to achieve. By chiming in with the chorus of those who interpret the phenomenon of Muslim terrorism as a problem with the religion, it relieves neo-liberal policymakers of their responsibility for the poverty and neglect of wide swathes of the population, including, of course, the converts looking to compensate for the lack of fulfilment and prospects in their lives in West by fighting for Islamic State, where they can earn the recognition they are denied in the West, even if they have to pay for it with their lives.

David Cameron (photo: Reuters/O. Scarff)

British Prime Minister David Cameron. Says Weidner: “That multiculturalism has failed, as conservative politicians like Merkel and Cameron like to claim today, must not be understood to imply that some Muslims are not interested in taking part in an open society, but indicates instead that this society is perhaps not as open as we would like to believe.”

Model Muslims and marginalised migrants

Finally, Western societies need to ask themselves some probing questions. What good is it if Muslims distance themselves from IS and come up with good arguments against radicalisation as long as the West still does its most lucrative business with countries that have supported this very radicalisation for decades and to this day have in many ways more in common with the social ideology of IS than they do with the Western nations? We are talking here about Saudi Arabia and other states on the Persian Gulf that may have neo-liberal economies but are, in political terms, decidedly anti-democratic.

A second question we must ask ourselves – and one that is perhaps even more important – is to what extent Western democracies are really willing to offer people from different backgrounds and cultures, besides a few very well-integrated model Muslims (and even they can be found above all in the purely symbolic worlds of culture and the media, but not in the crucial realms of business and politics) an equal opportunity and to show them respect and appreciation.

That multiculturalism has failed, as conservative politicians like Merkel and Cameron like to claim today, must not be understood to imply that some Muslims are not interested in participating in an open society, but indicates instead that this society is perhaps not really as open as we like to believe.

And it could soon prove to be the case – to the horror of conservative politicians in particular – that, despite the inherent risk of specific groups sealing themselves off, multiculturalism was a comparatively inexpensive solution to integration issues – at any rate compared to the aspiration to grant immigrants, no matter what their origin, a genuine opportunity in accordance with their abilities and desires and to provide the requisite, government-funded structures for this purpose.

Stefan Weidner

Marginalized, gay Muslims celebrate Ramadan together

During Ramadan, members of the Marseille chapter of the Association of Gay Muslims (HM2F) decided to break the fast together. “These moments are important, because they allow us to find ourselves and maintain a connection with the religion,” said Salim, age 22, who has been a member of the association since February 2015.

In HM2F, which is linked to the Progressive Muslims of France (MPF), everyone is free to practice their religion as they choose.
“For a long time, I couldn’t practice my religion. Now it’s different, even if I still have difficulty telling myself I can be gay and Muslim,” explains Adil, age 42. Even today, many gay Muslims find themselves in an identity crisis, or seeing homosexuality and Islam as two incompatible identities.

 

In Marseille, Salim, who is one of the local group’s coordinators, receives calls from young North African Muslims between 20 and 30 years old, who are scared of being rejected due to their sexual orientation. And for good reason, as Salim explains, it’s extremely difficult in cities such as Marseille where Arab-Muslim communities are very important: “The individuals are very dependent on their community. It’s thanks to the community that they have an identity. In a way, the community compensates for the lack of immigrant integration.”

Despite the miles that separate him from his family, Said cannot shed the importance of his community. “The only part of my religion that I still practice, it’s that I know God is merciful,” says the young Frenchmen of Moroccan origin.

For the anthropologist and founder of HM2F, Ludovic-Mohammed Zehed, the guilt is emblematic of certain communities’ “amnesia,” arguing that they rewrite history and their identities by condemning and excluding homosexuals. “They deny their existence, claiming that [homosexuality] came from the West,” he states. Zehed, who is the first French Muslim to be religiously married to a man, lists the supporting scientific arguments and the acceptance of homosexuals during the time of Mohammed.

The meal ends. Everyone gathers on the balcony to take in the fresh air. Music sounds above animated discussion. Hichem takes a piece of paper from his pocket. Nervously, he says he wishes to read the letter by Moroccan writer Abdellah Taia following the lynching of a gay man in Fez. Silence. Hichem begins reading in Un pays pour mourir: “Impossible to shed a tear. The shock I feel is such that everything in me ceases to exist…”

It is night but in the twilight faces move by sadness and incomprehension can be seen. From one side of the Mediterranean to the other, this “amnesia” seems to persist. The reading ends. “All is said,” concludes Said.

FRANCK PENNANT / AFP
FRANCK PENNANT / AFP

Nation of Islam opposes California vaccine mandate bill

A split among African American leaders on the issue of government-required vaccination has roiled the Capitol as lawmakers consider whether to eliminate most exemptions to state immunization laws.
A leader of the Nation of Islam has warned African American lawmakers of political repercussions if they support a bill that would require many more children to be vaccinated. A coalition of other black organizations on Monday countered that message with support for the measure.  And this month, a Nation of Islam leader denounced inoculation requirements, comparing such a mandate to the infamous Tuskegee syp

Nation of Islam Minister Tony Muhammad, shown in 2005, likened California's proposed vaccination mandate to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which federal researchers, starting in the 1930s, withheld treatment from African American men. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)
Nation of Islam Minister Tony Muhammad, shown in 2005, likened California’s proposed vaccination mandate to the Tuskegee Syphilis Study, in which federal researchers, starting in the 1930s, withheld treatment from African American men. (Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

hilis experiments.

Prison officials’ ordering Muslim prisoner-cook to handle pork may violate the Free Exercise Clause

So the Ninth Circuit held last Friday in Jones v. Williams, though the decision turns in part on the prison’s own admission that the kitchen could function just fine even if such requests for exemption were granted (and of course the rule would apply equally to Jewish religious objectors or to anyone else who feels a religious objection to handling pork):
The Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act implements a more demanding standard (see the recent Holt v. Hobbs decision), but it has been read as not authorizing damages remedies; and while it does authorize injunctions, here the behavior was unlikely to be repeated (and thus unlikely to need an injunction) because Jones is no longer in prison.

New sports uniforms level the playing field for Muslim girls

This is no ordinary fashion show. The models are East African, primarily Muslim girls living in Minnesota who designed their own culturally sensitive sportswear that lets them move freely without worrying about tripping on a long, flowing dress or having a head scarf come undone at a crucial point.
Sertac Sehlikoglu, a social anthropologist working on leisure, sports and the Muslim communities at the University of Cambridge, noted that Iran has been developing culturally appropriate female sportswear for years. She agreed with the Minnesota project’s organizers that the girls’ designs could catch on in other cities with large Muslim populations.

In this June 16, 2015 photo, East African Muslim girls practiced basketball in their new uniforms in Minneapolis. Muslim girls who play sports have challenges that go beyond the sporting. Their new culturally sensitive uniforms, designed by the girls, address worries over tripping on a long, flowing dress, or having a loosely wrapped hijab come undone during a crucial play. (AP Photo/Jim Mone) Read more: http://www.washingtontimes.com/multimedia/collection/new-sports-uniforms-level-the-playing-f-2015-07-01/#ixzz3fzuKYChI Follow us: @washtimes on Twitter
In this June 16, 2015 photo, East African Muslim girls practiced basketball in their new uniforms in Minneapolis. Muslim girls who play sports have challenges that go beyond the sporting. Their new culturally sensitive uniforms, designed by the girls, address worries over tripping on a long, flowing dress, or having a loosely wrapped hijab come undone during a crucial play. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

American Muslims Supporting Gay Marriage Speak Up

Often thought of as unremittingly hostile to homosexuality, some American Muslims celebrated Friday’s Supreme Court decision and chided their co-religionists who said judgment day was night.  The debate on whether Islam allows homosexuality is hotly contested among American Muslims.

Janek Skarzynski/AFP via Getty
Janek Skarzynski/AFP via Getty

France Deporting Radical Muslim Imams

Are some mosques brewing militant Islam and terrorism? France thinks so, and they are doing something about it.

Over the past three years, France has deported 40 foreign imams for “preaching hatred.” A quarter of those have taken place since the January terror attacks in Paris, Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve said on Monday.

The minister vowed to clamp down on mosques and preachers inciting hatred after a suspected Islamist beheaded his boss during an attack on a gas factory last week, according to Radio France International.
Any “foreign preacher of hate will be deported,” said Cazeneuve, adding that several mosques were being investigated for inciting terrorism and if found to be doing so, “will be shut down.”

Yassin Salhi, 35, on Sunday confessed during interrogation to killing his boss and pinning his head to a fence of the Air Products factory near the eastern city of Lyon.

The severed head was discovered flanked by two Islamic flags and it later emerged Salhi had sent a selfie of himself with the head to a number believed to belong to a French jihadist currently in Syria.

After the attack French Prime Minister Manuel Valls told French television, “We cannot lose this war because it’s fundamentally a war of civilization. It’s our society, our civilization that we are defending.”

AP Photo/Patrick Gardin
AP Photo/Patrick Gardin

Are halal shares a marketing trick?

Raphie Hayat conducted a research on ‘Islamic finance’ concluding that this is not safer than ‘regular financing’, as is often argued.

  • Question: Is Islamic financing nothing more than a trick to attract Muslims?

Hayat: It is a bit too farfetched to call it a trick. For a company to be called ‘halal’, it has to meet strict requirements. Companies that produce alcohol or pork are excluded for example. And a company’s debt ought not to be higher than 33% of the total balance. And not more than 5% of income should be derived from interest. It is mainly because of this last requirements that shares of many regular banks can never be traded as a ‘halal’ product.

  • Question: There are clear rules. But you do warn for Islamic investment to become a marketing trick.

Hayat: Besides the Financial rules, Islam also requires companies to take into consideration the environment, to have a positive influence on society and good governance. However, these are requirements that are often not met yet. And thus until now, according to my opinion, there is no full ‘seal of quality’.

  • Question: According to the Qur’an, interest is a bad thing. But an Islamic investor does receives efficiency on his shares. Is this an example of ‘special’ Sharia interpretation?

Hayat: I disagree. Interest is forbidden, because it is not dependent upon the profit. Effiency in contrast, ís dependent upon profit. So an investor shares the risk with a company, and this is the essence of the Islamic way of doing business.

  • Question: But religious shares do not withhold the Islamic investor to take excessive risks.

Hayat: this is the responsibility of this person himself.

  • Question: You also write that a small group of Sharia scholars, that are involved in ‘halal’-certificates within Dow Jones Index and FTSE earn around 4.5 million dollar a year.

Hayat: they get paid per certificate. So I have the impression there is a tendency to apply the rules flexible. This is why I propose companies to be judged by an independent institute, for example by a institute from the Netherlands, Sweden or Switzerland.

Hospitals urge Muslims to donate organs

Hospitals in the West Midlands are urging Muslims to consider donating their organs for patients waiting for transplants. Muslims needing an organ donation, such as a new kidney or liver, wait on average a year longer than non-Muslims.

This is due to a lack of donors coming forward from a matching ethnic background. The reason for the lack of suitable ethnic donors is uncertainty over whether Islam condemns or condones the practice of organ donation.There is much confusion, in part because there is nothing in the Koran which can be referred to, and because scholars have differing opinions.

The shortage of donors is not just a British problem. In April, Islamic scholars came together at Karachi University in Pakistan to discuss the issue. Figures from the Global Observatory on Donation and Transplantation show that there are fewer organ transplants from deceased people in Muslim-majority countries, compared with the rest of the world.

For some states of course, that could be down to a lack of investment in medical facilities. For others, it is a religious matter.

Dr Adnan Sharif warns waiting lists for organs are getting longer
Dr Adnan Sharif warns waiting lists for organs are getting longer