Row arises over plans for a mosque in a Jewish London neighbourhood

The Centre for Islamic Enlightening, a Shia Muslim organization, bought the Grade II (meaning second tier of historical importance) Golders Green Hippodrome building and intends to use it as a mosque and community center. Most recently the hippodrome was used as an evangelical church.

Residents of Golders Green, a London neighbourhood with a large Jewish presence, have voiced opposition to the mosque. An online petition against the building’s repurposing received more than 5,000 signatures.

Some of the objections have focused on the possibility of traffic and parking problems but others are directly Islamophobic. One resident wrote, “This is going to force the Jewish population to run away, and make this beautiful neighbourhood too crowded with loads of burkas.”

Another person suggested that placing a Muslim institution in Golders Green would lead to anti-Jewish terrorism and violence and attract “undesirables” to the area.

A Reform rabbi in Golders Green, Mark Goldsmith, said that the Islamophobic comments were “threatening and misleading.”

Ahmed al-Kazemi, spokesperson for the Centre for Islamic Enlightening, said, “There might be people who don’t like us, but we don’t feel threatened. I have lived in Golders Green for 15 years, I have a Jewish neighbour and a Christian neighbour, and they are my brothers. I would invite people who don’t know us, and maybe have said something nasty about us, to come and meet us, and have a cup of tea or share a meal.”

 

Hate crimes against UK mosques double between 2016 and 2017

Hate crimes against British mosques doubled in the period between March and June of last year and the same time period this year. This may be related to several high-profile, ISIS-claimed terrorist attacks.

Hate crimes at or near mosques have ranged to vandalism of vehicles to bomb threats to violent assaults on worshippers. The greatest increase in hate crimes was seen in Greater Manchester and the second highest increase was in London.

A spokesperson for the home office responded, “all forms of hate crime are completely unacceptable and the UK has some of the strongest laws in the world to tackle it.”

Fiyaz Mughal, founder of Tell Mama, an anti-hate crime organisation that focuses on supporting the Muslim community, said: “Political events have supercharged the sense of confidence in sections of our population which probably held those [extremist] views and didn’t voice them before, but felt confident in voicing them over the last few years. We have seen a rise in anti-Muslim extremism and far-right activity online, with a very slow, dinosaur approach from social media companies to take off hate, and an utter denial for three or four years that this was their responsibility.”

Mughal also noted that Muslim terrorism is correlated with hate crimes against Muslims. He argues it is critical to reduce these terrorist attacks.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the crimes should be “met with the full force of the law.” Rudd also announced a new online hate crime reporting tool which hopefully will encourage more victims to report hate crimes.

The data comes form the British police and was obtained through a Freedom of Information request by the British Press Association.

Islamic theology at German universities: successes and limitations of an unprecedented experiment

For many decades after the arrival of Muslim ‘guest workers’ from Turkey, Morocco, and other Muslim-majority countries, German authorities were happy to outsource the provision of religious services to Imams and preachers sent by the Muslim immigrants’ countries of origin. Since the Muslim workforce would ultimately return home, it was unnecessary and even counterproductive to grant Islamic religiosity a permanent presence – or so the reasoning went.

‘Domesticating’ Islam

It was only around the turn of the millennium that perceptions changed. After the events of September 11, 2001, authorities took a securitised perspective on Islam. Fears about the uncontrolled flourishing of a radical underground religious scene appeared to call for the creation of more transparent structures of Islamic learning.

Members of the Muslim community also began to voice a critique of the prevailing arrangement: they bemoaned the fact that Imams knew little about life in Germany or Western Europe and could not provide guidance on many issues that mattered to believers, and especially to younger audiences.((See Ceylan, Rauf (2009). Prediger des Islam. Imame – Wer sie sind und was sie wirklich wollen. Freiburg im Breisgau: Herder. ))

Establing new chairs

In 2011, then, the German government – taking cues from the country’s ongoing Islamkonferenz, an (often controversial) forum bringing together state authorities and various Muslim figures and organisations – decided to fund the creation of several university departments of Islamic theology.

Subsequently, several university chairs were established – at Tübingen, Frankfurt/Gießen, Münster, Osnabrück, and Erlangen/Nuremberg. State funding, initially granted for five years, has since been renewed. Overall, the Ministry for Education and Research has spent € 36 million on these new faculties.(( https://www.bmbf.de/de/islamische-theologie-367.html ))

Training school teachers

Yet while the formation of Imams for Germany’s mosques has been on the agenda of these university departments, their main focus has been the training of teachers for Islamic religious education classes in public schools.

The understanding of secularism anchored in Germany’s constitution is not marked by a laic attempt to cleave apart public and religious life in a stringent manner. Instead, the German ethos is one of cooperation of state and religious bodies in the public sphere. Consequently, the country’s public schools offer confessional courses in religious education adapted to the pupils’ faith.

Expanding employment opportunities for graduates

Many of Germany’s 16 federal states – who are each individually responsible for their own educational sectors – rapidly expanded their offerings of Islamic religious education in the 2000s. Ever since, they have been in dire need of skilled teaching personnel to fill vacant positions.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Of the currently 2,000 students enrolled in degree courses in Islamic theology, most will seek employment as secondary school teachers. Others might staff the ranks of Germany’s expanding Islamic social welfare sector. Confessional institutions run by large Catholic and Protestant charity organisations play a pre-eminent role in various fields of pastoral care, including in care for the elderly. Now, with the ‘guest worker’ generations ageing, there is a growing demand for Islamic offers in this domain.(( http://www.deutschlandfunk.de/wohlfahrtspflege-der-religionsgemeinschaften-muslimische.886.de.html?dram:article_id=346493 ))

No progress on the formation of Imams

What the centres for Islamic theology have not accomplished so far, however, is to foster a new generation of Imams that could preach in German mosques. In fact, students themselves express little desire to pursue this career – a stance for which a number of reasons can be adduced.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 ))

First of all, given their lack of firm legal status in Germany – they are not recognised as a ‘corporations of public law’ and thus do not hold a status comparable to Christian churches or Jewish congregations – many Muslim communities have extremely limited financial wiggle room. They are, consequently, at times not in a position to pay the salaries of a fully-trained Imam – and students of Islamic theology are reluctant to accept employment with extremely meagre pay.

Continued reliance on clergymen from abroad

The organisation that could most easily avoid this financial trap is DİTİB, the country’s largest Islamic association with roughly 1,000 Imams. Yet DİTİB is a subsidiary of the Turkish government’s Presidency of Religious Affairs (Diyanet) and as such only employs Imams trained in and funded by Turkey.

To be sure, DİTİB spokesman Zekeriya Altuğ has affirmed that the mosques of his organisation will gradually move towards relying on German-trained Imams.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 )) Altuğ has also stressed DİTİB’s overall willingness to emancipate itself from its Turkish superiors.(( http://www.faz.net/aktuell/politik/inland/f-a-s-exklusiv-ditib-will-unabhaengiger-werden-14386218.html ))

Yet it remains doubtful whether the organisation will be either willing or capable to accomplish such a manoeuvre in the near future, particularly given the recent reassertion of central control from Ankara.

Distrust between theology chairs and associations

Scepticism about the suitability of potential Imams trained at German university extends beyond DİTİB, however. The 300 mosques of the Central Council of Muslims in Germany (ZMD) do fund their Imams through private donations, without relying on a financially strong state backer. Nevertheless, they have not embraced the idea of turning to graduates of Germany’s Islamic theology seminaries.

It seems likely that this reticence is linked to disputes over personnel choices and over the content of the curricula at Islamic theology faculties. On both of these matters, the more liberal-leaning faculties (with backing from universities and public authorities) and the more conservative Islamic associations have often clashed bitterly.

‘Liberals’ vs. ‘conservatives’

Generally, the liberals have had the upper hand, to the chagrin of their opponents. Consequently, Aiman Mazyek, chairman of the ZMD, criticised the tendency to “see university institutions as counter-models to the mosques”.

He claimed that the dichotomisation into “enlightened” university Islam and “backward” practices of mosque communities “does particular harm to the reputation of university institutions. For after all it is the congregations that are supposed to employ the graduated Imams one day.” In other words, the ZMD’s constituent communities continue to be suspicious of the ideological orientation of the university degree holders.(( http://www.rp-online.de/panorama/deutschland/imam-ausbildung-in-deutschland-studierende-wollen-nicht-imam-werden-aid-1.6046869 ))

Managing students’ expectations

At the same time, members of the ‘liberal’ university teaching staff have themselves expressed some dissatisfaction with their students and their outlook on the Islamic theology curriculum.

According to Harry Harun Behr, Professor of Religious Education at the University of Frankfurt, many students “seek to deepen their faith, not to work scientifically. When I tell them that the Qur’an is the result of a theological discourse, they don’t want to hear.”(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Professor Mouhanad Khorchide of Münster University concurred: Many students “want to have their faith confirmed”, he asserted, “but university is a place to reflect on faith”. According to him, it would take at least two or three additional generations of students for this point to be accepted across the board.(( http://www.zeit.de/2016/07/islamische-theologie-universitaet-fach-studium-bilanz/komplettansicht ))

Positive results

A little more than five years after the creation of the new faculties, policymakers as well as Islamic scholars and theologians nevertheless continue to see the experiment in positive light.(( https://en.qantara.de/content/europe-and-its-muslims-islamic-theology-in-germany-spanning-the-divide?nopaging=1 ))

Academic observers have stressed that, among other beneficial contributions, the establishment of departments of Islamic theology has helped to bring a more adequate and more intellectually sophisticated Muslim voice to current debates; debates which are all too often controlled by questionable “Islam experts” without any solid theological credentials.((Antes, Peter and Rauf Ceylan (2017). “Die Etablierung der Islamischen Theologie: Institutionalisierung einer neuen Disziplin und die Entstehung einer muslimischen scientific community”. In Antes and Ceylan (eds.), Muslime in Deutschland: Historische Bestandsaufnahme, akutelle Entwicklungen und zukünftige Forschungsfragen. Wiesbaden: Springer VS. )) Indeed, Muslim theologians have not shied away from weighing in on controversial issues.

Islamic theology’s struggle for independence

Thus, there are encouraging signs. They might enable Islamic theology at German universities to transcend its twofold challenge: first, like any new academic discipline, it needs to establish itself and find its own turf – institutionally as well as intellectually. This, by itself, is not an easy feat to accomplish.

In the case of Islamic theology, a second and more particular hurdle presents itself, linked to the inherently contested nature of the study of Islam itself. The most powerful factions seeking to gain definitional authority and dominance over the field are conservative Islamic associations on the one hand and public authorities on the other hand.

While the latter are ostentatiously more liberal than the former, they are nevertheless bent on enforcing their security agenda and on creating a state-backed ‘moderate’ Islam. If Islamic theology wants to come of age in Germany, it must shake off the demands of both sides and strive to cut its own path.

New report explores the identity of Latino Muslims in the United States

The Latino Muslims Survey (LMS), a social science oriented study of U.S. Latino Muslims, examined the religiosity of 560 Latino Muslims via an online, bilingual nationwide survey. The historic findings shed light on the intersection of religious beliefs and practices; spiritual, moral, social, and ethical views.  The study also examined the social, civic and political attitudes of the self-identified Latinos and Muslims.  The results of the study were published June 2017 in the Journal of Race, Ethnicity, and Religion. 

According to, Dr. Gaston Espinosa, Arthur V. Stoughton Professor of Religious Studies in the Department of Religious Studies at Claremont McKenna College, one of the co-principals of the study, this research “is important because it is the largest survey ever conducted on the U.S. Latino Muslims and because it helps us to understand why Latinos are converting to Islam, what branches of Islam they are converting into, and their religious, social, gender, and political views.”

This comprehensive survey adds nuance to the understanding of Latino Muslims and reexamines the previously held notion that a majority of Latino Muslims coverts embraced Islam as a rejection of Catholicism.

Grand Mosque of Lyon condemns attacks in Barcelona

The Grand Mosque of Lyon’s rector Kamel Kabtane was one of the first figures to issue a statement on the recent terror attacks in Spain. In a communiqué published to the mosque’s Facebook page, Kabtane writes:

“Hatred and violence have once again touched innocent lives. Barcelona has been struck by a declining terrorist force on its last legs. The Grand Mosque of Paris firmly denounces this barbaric act that targeted innocent people. It expresses its compassion and solidarity with those touched by recent events. It extends its condolences to the families affected by this barbaric act and wishes to express its support in these difficult moments.”

Kamel also published a brief statement to his Twitter account: “After Nice. We must be united in solidarity against those who sow seeds of hate and violence.”

 

 

 

 

Grand Mosque of Paris denounces ‘vile terrorist act’

On Friday, the Grand Mosque of Paris denounced the “vile terrorist act” that caused 14 deaths in Barcelona.

“After London, Paris, and other cities, the barbarity has once again returned, this time hitting Barcelona. The Grand Mosque of Paris firmly condemns the blind violence that attacks that which symbolizes tolerance and the vivre-ensemble,” wrote the mosque’s rector Dalil Boubakeur in a communiqué.

“This vile terrorist act must strengthen all those who fight obscurantism and radicalism in their determination to eradicate that which feeds these deviations,” said Boubakeur, who extended his condolences to the victims and their families.

 

Trump still has not condemned the Minnesota mosque bombing. Muslim leaders are waiting.

While President Trump’s Twitter feed remained mum on the August 6th Minnesota mosque bombing, other local, state and federal leaders have been quick to address and denounce the attack.

Minnesota Governor, Mark Dayton called the attack “terrible, dastardly, cowardly act” and that it was “an act of terrorism.”  The Governor was joined by the state’s lieutenant governor, the mayor of Bloomington and state Representative Andrew Carlson and state Representative Ilhan Omar, the first Somali American elected the legislature.  Keith Ellison, the first Muslim elected to Congress, also joined the condemnation of the attack and praised the the community for rallying behind the mosque. He said: “This is the right spirit and there is no better way to condemn the person who would throw a bomb into this mosque than to react in a loving, kind, inclusive way.”

 

All the while, Minnesotans and others are still waiting for the president to condemn the attack.

California imam apologizes for sermon seen as inciting to Jews, condemns anti-Semitism

A Northern California imam, Ammar Shahin’s sermon about Jews in disputed Jerusalem set off controversy and fear of violence apologized at a Friday news conference, saying his words were hurtful and “unacceptable.”

“To the Jewish community, here in Davis and beyond, I say this: I am deeply sorry for the pain that I have caused. The last thing I would do is intentionally hurt anyone, Muslim, Jewish or otherwise. It is not in my heart, nor does my religion allow it,” Shahin stated.

Worried about protests and even potential violence, Davis interfaith leaders, including Shahin, spent several days discussing how to publicly address the controversy, said Rabbi Seth Castleman, president of the regional board of rabbis.

Right after the sermon hit the Internet, the mosque put out two statements about it, accusing The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) of pulling a short clip out of context.

“In the context of the full sermon, it becomes clear that the theme of the sermon was against oppression, and not against Jews or any religion,” the mosque statement said. “If MEMRI and company sincerely followed Imam Ammar Shahin’s work and did not just cut and paste what suits their cause, they would have come across the countless lectures and sermons he has given regarding treating all people, especially non-Muslims, with kindness and giving them their full rights, supporting them when they are oppressed.”

Shahin spoke at a interfaith conference with other Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders in Davis, a university community outside Sacramento. The mayor and a county supervisor also spoke there about the videotaped sermon, which was watched many thousands of times in the past few days since it was posted by Shahin’s mosque, the Islamic Center of Davis (ICD).

On Wednesday, Shahin told The Washington Post that he wasn’t speaking of Jews in general but “specifically about this group shutting down the mosque — these soldiers, or settlers, or fighters, or oppressors.” He said he had focused on the situation at al-Aqsa because so many U.S. Muslims aren’t aware of it. He said he regularly speaks out against the Islamic State and extremism by Muslims and has made statements against Muslim extremist attacks in Europe, South Asia and elsewhere.

California Islamic Center Under Fire for Imam’s Sermon Calling for Annihilation of Jews

Mosque says comments taken ‘out of context’

An Islamic Center in Davis, Calif. is under fire after an English translation of a sermon that the mosque’s imam delivered on Friday was posted online and showed him calling for the annihilation of Jews.

The Middle East Media Research Institute, or MEMRI, translated a mostly Arabic sermon from the Islamic Center of Davis’ Egyptian-born American imam, Ammar Shahin, in which he called for the death of Jews.

“The Prophet Muhammad said: ‘Judgment Day will not come until the Muslims fight the Jews, and the Jews hide behind stones and trees, and the stones and the trees say: Oh Muslim, oh servant of Allah…’ They will not say: Oh Egyptian, oh Palestinian, oh Jordanian, oh Syrian, oh Afghan, oh Pakistani,” Shahin said, according to the MEMRI translation. “The Prophet Muhammad says that they time will come, the Last Hour will not take place until the Muslims fight the Jews. We don’t say if it is in Palestine or another place.”

Near the Islamic Center of Davis, Rabbi Shmary Brownstein said that he has been on guard ever since the video of Shahin was posted online, CBS Sacramento reports. Brownstein’s home is also the place of worship for the Chabad in Davis.

The mosque later issued a statement apologizing if the sermon offended anyone.

“If the sermon was misconstrued, we sincerely apologize to anyone offended,” the statement said. “We will continue our commitment to interfaith and community harmony.”

The mosque said that the imam’s comments were taken out of context and that MEMRI publicized a “mistranslation.”