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.”

School Board Member Resigns Over Anti-Muslim Facebook Posts

ELMWOOD PARK, N.J. — A New Jersey school board member resigned Friday after backlash over posts she made on Facebook disparaging Muslims.

Gladys Gryskiewicz resigned from the Elmwood Park school board, citing concerns about the safety of her family, The Record reported .

Gryskiewicz posted on Facebook earlier this year that Muslims should stay “in your desserts (sic) and follow your religion in your own countries.”

Lawyer: NYC hopes surveillance deal alters image of police

NEW YORK — A New York City lawyer said Wednesday that the city hoped to improve the image of its police department when it reached a deal with civil rights advocates to allow a civilian to serve on a committee of high-ranking police officials as they discuss investigations relating to surveillance of political activities.

City attorney Peter Farrell made the comment as he urged a federal judge in Manhattan to approve a deal settling lawsuits contending that the police department had violated constitutional rights in its infiltration and surveillance of Muslim communities after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

As part of the deal, an attorney chosen by the city’s mayor and police commissioner would serve for five years on a committee along with a dozen New York Police Department officials to discuss the initiation, continuation and closing of investigations pertaining to political activities.

The deal grew in part from a 2013 lawsuit in Brooklyn federal court by mosques, a charity and community leaders alleging that the department was discriminating against Muslims.

Several years ago, The Associated Press revealed that New York City police spied on Muslims, infiltrated student groups and sent informants to mosques.

Michigan mosque takes in homeless Unitarian Church

(RNS) The Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Greater Lansing is getting a new church this spring — but not quite soon enough.

Hearing of construction lags and its neighbor’s need for a temporary home, a mosque in East Lansing offered up its worship space — for free.

“No charge whatsoever,” said the Rev. Kathryn Bert. “It’s been a lovely story to live. It has been a beautiful relationship.”

Olympic faithful: Ibtihaj Muhammad

Even as a kid, Ibtihaj Muhammad stood out. She was faster and stronger than her friends, and she was serious about her religion. Most of the sports she tried required physically revealing gear, in sharp contrast to the modesty her Muslim faith required. Then she discovered fencing. The sport let her express her athletic talent, and the uniform allowed her to stay true to her faith.

Today Ibtihaj is one of the best fencers in the world—and an observant Muslim woman. This summer, she will represent the U.S. at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro. And when she competes for her country, representing all of us, she will be the first American Olympian to do so while wearing the hijab. Ibtihaj embraced what made her stand out, and she’s an Olympian because of it.

That’s not just the story of Ibtihaj Muhammad. That’s the story of America.

“The Name Means Everything”: On the Birth of the Black Muslim

Malcolm X here dates the birth of the term “Black Muslim” to 1961, when C. Eric Lincoln published his seminal study, The Black Muslims in America. The book arrived at an important moment for the Nation—“at just about the time we were starting to put on our first big mass rallies.” Malcolm describes a process that is no doubt still familiar to Muslims in the United States. The media got out ahead of the Nation’s attempt to define itself in the eyes of the wider American public, creating a narrative that the NOI leadership neither desired nor controlled. “The press snatched at that name,” Malcolm tells, forcing him and Elijah Muhammad into a mode of perpetual damage control. Just as the television documentary, The Hate That Hate Produced, had “projected the ‘hate teaching’ image of us” in 1959, so too did the press brand a “Black Muslim” figure that seemed scarcely recognizable to the Muslims it supposedly represented.

A report launched on ethnic and religious discrimination against Somalis in Finland

The mission of Finnish Somali League held a press conference on May 27th to launch their newly published report on discrimination. The report is based on a survey directed at residents and citizens of Finland of Somali origin and tackled issues of verbal harassment, violent attacks and discrimination in the public sector. The aim of the survey was not to offer generalizing figures but to identify and investigate diverse discrimination experiences.

Out of 105 participants 80% had experienced discrimination and 80% reported having witnessed discriminative behavior towards other individuals of Somali origin. Moreover, 61% reported that the discrimination had been due to their Islamic religion and 31% reported their clothing to be the cause of discrimination. The survey’s narratives in open-end questions provide accounts of everyday struggles that residents and citizens of Finland with Somali origin experience. Especially racist accusations and verbal harassment were frequently reported. Yet, accounts on discrimination in public spaces such as denying access to services, being barred from entry to supermarkets and explicitly rejecting a job application due to the applicants head cover depict a detrimental picture of the current situation.

The full report in Finnish language can be downloaded from the official website of the League:

http://somaliliitto.fi/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/Selvitysraportti.pdf

German conservatives call for Islam Law

Leading members of the CSU party, Bavarian sister organisation to Angela Merkel’s CDU, have called for an ‘Islam Law’ that would curb foreign influence on German mosques. CSU Secretary General Andreas Scheuer asserted that “German has to become the language of the mosques”, with Imams being trained in Germany and being steeped in German “basic values”. In order to curb what Scheuer described as imported extremism, mosques, Islamic cultural centres and Muslim institutions should also no longer be allowed to receive money from abroad. These proposals follow the lead set by Austria, who adopted similar measures in 2015.

While Scheuer explicitly mentioned Saudi Arabia’s practice of funding Wahhabi and Salafist organisations as dangers to domestic German stability, in the context of recent diplomatic rows between Germany and Turkey, the Turkish connection of many of Germany’s Islamic institutions has now also come into the focus of the political debate. Up to 1000 Imams in Germany are trained in Turkey, and are sent to Germany by the Turkish presidency of religious affairs, Diyanet. They work in mosques administered by DITIB, Diyanet’s German affiliate, and continue to be paid by the Turkish state.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, DITIB has been extremely critical of the CSU proposals, arguing that they violate the German constitution and the right for religious self-determination anchored therein. The DITIB Secretary General dismissed the proposal for an Islam Law as “discriminatory”, “populist”, and as playing into the hands of the far-right AfD party. Other, more Islamist-tinged functionaries of the German Islam Council (IRD) and the Millî Gorüs community (IGMG) equally castigated the proposals as an attempt by the CSU to gain undue state influence over Muslim religious life.

Other commentators have noted the with approval that the CSU – in contrast to its past positions – now appears willing to recognise the existence of Muslim communities in Germany and the need to provide some sort of institutional infrastructure for the exercise of their religiosity. However, in an opinion piece for the newspaper Die Zeit, Parvin Sadigh notes that many mosque communities in the country are already using German as their primarily language, due to the diversity of origins of the attendees, as well as due to the fact that the children and grandchildren of Muslim immigrants often no longer speak the language of their parents and grandparents well enough to be able to follow religious instruction in Turkish or Arabic. Conversely, most Salafi and jihadi preachers are fluent in the German language and extremely well-versed in the sociocultural features of young Muslims’ lives. Ostentatious ‘integration’ in the mainstream of German society is thus not synonymous with theological liberalism.

Sadigh notes that degree programmes for Islamic Theology at German universities have only been in existence for 6 years, meaning that for the foreseeable future there will remain an acute shortage of German-educated Imams for mosques and of religious education teachers for public schools. Moreover, Sadigh notes that German mosques often do not have the necessary financial resources to offer adequate salaries to their Imams: without the constitutionally recognised status as a ‘religious corporation’, they have been unable to construct a durable financial infrastructure and thus continue to depend on charitable offerings from their members and on large-scale funding from abroad in order to be able to offer religious and social services.

Another CSU politician, Alexander Radwan, reacted to these criticism and proposed to enable Muslim associations in Germany to levy a church tax, analogous to the practice of the Catholic and Protestant churches. This, according to Radwan, would remedy the need of mosque communities to rely on foreign funding. What Radwan did not mention, however, is that the attainment of the requisite status of a ‘religious corporation’ that would enable Muslim associations to levy such a tax has remained elusive for most of the deeply divided Islamic organisations operating in the country.

France lawmakers pass bill to strip terrorists of citizenship

French lawmakers gave preliminary approval Wednesday to a bill that would allow terrorists to be stripped of French citizenship, or at least of rights associated with it.

The National Assembly, the French Parliament’s lower house, approved the measure by a 317-199 vote.

The Senate must still approve the bill if it is to become a part of the French Constitution.

But the legislation has already split the ruling Socialist Party badly. Justice Minister Christiane Taubira resigned in opposition to the measure. “I am leaving the government over a major political disagreement,” Taubira said. “I choose to be true to myself.”

President Francois Hollande put forward the proposal in the wake of the November 13 Paris terrorist attacks in the wake of the attack that killed 130 people.

Overall, the legislation is intended to give the president greater powers to declare a state of emergency without, as is now the case, first asking for a vote in the Parliament.

A U.N. convention discourages countries from leaving people without any citizenship. France is a signatory to that convention. The first draft of the measure called for stripping those with a second nationality who committed crimes against the nation to be stripped of their French citizenship. It caused outrage in some quarters, particularly on the left, on the grounds it would penalize those with second citizenships but not most of the French, who have only French passports.

The new measure still calls for stripping those with another nationality of their French citizenship. But it adds that those with French citizenship can be stripped of “the rights attached to it,” implying that those with only one citizenship will face similar punishment to those with two or more. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill March 22.

Any constitutional changes require both chambers of the Parliament to convene in a Congress in Versailles and proceed to a vote that receives a three-fifths majority. The Constitutional Council, France’s highest court, must then review the text before the constitution can be amended.

Formation of the ‘Alliance for Open-Mindedness’: An attempt at inter-religious dialogue in a toxic political climate

Leading representatives of Catholic, Protestant, Jewish and Muslim religious organisations, as well as the heads of employer associations and unions, and of umbrella associations in the fields of culture, sports and social welfare joined hands in the creation of the ‘Alliance for Open-Mindedness’. According to Zekeriya Altug, spokesman of the Coordination Council of Muslims in Germany, the Alliance’s objective is to speak out against fringe movements – especially those from the populist far-right – claiming to represent the societal mainstream. This sentiment – a thinly veiled reference to right-wing protestors to chant ‘We are the people!’ at their anti-immigrant and anti-Islam rallies – was echoed by the leaders of the other confessional organisations. The Alliance conceives of itself as a civil society platform without any party affiliation, seeking to offer a space for religious and social dialogue. Under the header ‘human dignity shall be inviolable’, the Alliance issued an initial proclamation demanding a less hysterical debate on questions of immigration and integration that would remain mindful of fundamental commitments to human rights and to the German Basic Law.