Conference aims to empower U.S. Muslim women

Speakers from community groups, the LAPD and State Department said that by knowing and exercising their rights, American Muslim women could become a force against religious and political extremism.

“The American Muslim woman is empowered because she is an American,” said author, educator and Irvine community activist Anila Ali. From job discrimination and domestic violence to divorce and child-custody laws, “American Muslim women need to be knowledgeable about their rights and who to turn to” for assistance, Ali said.

Radicalism springs from disenfranchisement, said Farah Pandith, a U.S. State Department representative whose job is to reach out to emerging leaders who have grown up in the digital information age in Muslim communities around the world.

“Students, entrepreneurs, hip-hop artists, poets … people who may not have the strongest voice, but interesting ideas,” she said.

Families of Dutch Terror Suspects Appeal to Mayor

December 2 2010

The family and friends of two Amsterdam men arrested last week on terrorist charges have written to the city’s mayor to request his assistance. The men, two out of three arrested in the city, are both social workers without criminal records, and their arrest has shocked their local communities. The men are currently being held in a Dutch prison while they fight extradition.

Lerida mosque re-opens its doors

20 days after being forced to close its doors on account of the number of assistants exceeding the permitted. The mosque holds a capacity for 240 persons but the assistance to the prayers exceeded some times the 1000. The towns administration had already offered for an alternative location in a industrial zone but the community claims the problem would not be solved as the building would only be able to hold 550 people. The Muslim community plans to build a new mosque on rural grounds counting on the city hall to permit the construction of the building, expected to hold over 2000 people.

Converted teenager: reconciliation with family not possible

Despite efforts by courts in Ohio and Florida, Rifqa Bary, a runaway teenager from Ohio says reconciliation with her Muslim family is not possible. Ms. Bary converted from Islam to Christianity and fled home with the alleged assistance of a Christian pastor claiming she would be in danger due to her conversion. Ms. Bary’s attorney argued that the continuing fear of being hurt by her family makes reconciliation impossible.

Muslims discover Atheism

More than 500,000 Muslims live in Austria, but this figure tells us nothing about how many are actual believers. The expression “C and E Christians” (German version: “Baptismal-certificate Catholics”) applies to the Muslim community as well – people who still live according to certain traditions, but otherwise live a largely secular life.

For these “Muslims” there now exists a representative organization: the Central Committee of Ex-Muslims was founded yesterday (February 26) in Vienna, with the intention of appealing to those who are Muslims on paper, though perhaps not in practice.

The association plans to be involved in debates among Muslims on issues such as the headscarf or minarets, while they also intend to set up a phone hotline for youth. The founder, Cahit Kaya, explains that “we would like offer assistance to children from Muslim families who may not have anyone to talk to.” However, the association is still searching for funding, which explains the lack of a homepage or even an office. Furthermore, it does not look like this constitutes the beginning of a mass movement that might prove to be a rival to the numerous religious associations and the Islamic Community in Austria (IGGiÖ). “The core,” says Kaya, “consists of around twenty people.” Nonetheless, the point is not the number of members at the moment, but establishing a presence and speaking out when Muslim themes are discussed.

The German counterpart and model, founded in 2007, has already shown how this can successfully be done. A Swiss branch was founded in 2009, and now it is Austria’s turn. The figurehead of the movement is the Islam-critic and feminist Mina Ahadi, who was forced to flee Iran for her political activities – first to Vienna, then to Germany. Ahadi has received numerous threats on account of her activities, which Kaya anticipates will be the same in his case as well.

In Austria, renouncing Islam can be done as with any other religious community: all one needs is to submit a form to the proper authorities, such as the Magistratisches Bezirkamt in Vienna. Carla-Amina Baghajati, spokesperson for the IGGiÖ, stated: “one cannot bring people to something that they do not believe,” though she logically was not enthusiastic about the new association.

The IGGiÖ will most likely be one of the most important sparring partners for the new Central Committee, both with regard to the former’s claim to representativeness as well as legitimacy in religious interpretation. “The attempt to raise children a certain way does not always come from the family, but also from outside,” says Kaya. “And we reject that.”

Muslim prison chaplains to be standardized

Following an agreement reached between the justice minister, Claudia Bandion-Ortner and the president of the Islamic Religious Community, Anas Schakfeh, Muslim chaplains in prisons are to be standardized across the country. At around 1300 Muslim inmates, Islam has come to represent the second largest religion in Austrian penal institutions. Earlier religious services had been the result of local and regional cooperation, which meant regular visits by Muslim chaplains had been limited to ten prisons. The goal of the agreement is that such regular visits be possible in all prisons where a demand exists.

The agreement also lays out a number of minimum standards for the chaplains and conditions for the prisons visits. This includes a high school diploma; good knowledge of German, in order to hold religious services in German; and basic knowledge of the prison system, so as to ensure an optimal balance between safety and religious practice.

In the press release, Bandion-Ortner stressed the importance of the chaplain’s assistance in the resocialization of inmates, while Schakfeh expressed his happiness that an important step had been taken towards the broader institutionalization of Muslim prison chaplains.

Bosnian Muslims: threat or opportunity?

With their European culture and Islamic faith, Bosnian Muslims want to act as a bridge between East and West but instead feel rejected. There are times when Aida Begic gets on a plane and the looks she receives from other passengers remind her of people’s fears and misunderstandings about Islam. A well-known Bosnian movie director, she flies to film festivals all over the world dressed in fashionable yet distinctively Islamic clothing — a headscarf and outfits reaching down to her ankles and wrists.

Her first feature movie, Snow, premiered in Cannes in 2008. The global fear of flying with Muslims has become part of Begic’s everyday life. Despite this, she denies that there is any clash between her faith and her appreciation of western culture. “I was shaped by European literature, arts and music, and Bach is as much a part of my identity as [Muslim mystic and poet Jalaluddin] Rumi,” she says.

In fact, some experts believe the Muslim communities in the Balkans, whose Islamic faith developed in a European context, could serve as a bridge between the Islamic east and the Christian west.

But the allegiance of Bosnia’s Muslims to both worlds has been sorely tested recently. They feel Europe betrayed them in the 1992-1995 Bosnian war and has excluded them ever since. On the other side, offers of assistance during the war from some Muslim co-believers came at a price, that of the spread of Wahhabism in Bosnia.

Turkish/Moroccan Girls in Netherlands Do Not Seek Help for Assault

Trouw reports on an announcement by the UMC Utrecht that it will offer special services for Turkish and Moroccan girls and young women who have experienced sexual attacks. According to the National Psycho-Trauma Center for Children and Youth, these girls rarely seek professional help. None of the 250 assaulted and raped girls between 13-15 years old who turned to the center in 2005 was of Turkish or Moroccan origin, though sexual violence is as common among this group. The National Psycho-Trauma Center will visit schools, community centers and mosques at the beginning of the school year in order to bring Turkish and Moroccan girls who have been raped to the center.

Imam in Meaux France Examined for Alleged Mis-Use of Funds and Illegal Marriages

The imam at the Al Badr mosque in Meaux (Seine-et-Marne) is under investigation for performing religious marriage ceremonies prior to the civil ceremonies, and for the falsely collecting unemployment assistance. Nourdine Mamoun, of French nationality, has been charged with undertaking eight illegal marriages between January 2006 and December 2007 and for unjustly receiving monthly social assistance of 930 Euros beginning in August 2007. Earlier in the week approximately 90 local Muslims in Meaux protested in support of Mamoun.

Mamoun’s lawyer, Henri Gerphagnon, indicated to the press that Mamoun did not have a work contract and was working as a volunteer imam, while receiving a few donations from among the 1000 Muslims who typically attend the mosque.

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Disagreements Emerge in the CFCM with the end of Ramadan

With the end of the month of Ramadan, journalist James Andre visited the hallways of the CFCM (The French Council of the Muslim Faith) and discovered an institution mired in economic problems and political divisions.

During this central month, to secure enough leadership in the every mosque – the largest in France – two Moroccan imams arrived to assist. Their arrival – along with 150 others for the month – was met with debate. Some welcomed the assistance while others wished more of them spoke French. There was other division between Moroccans and Algerians in the CFCM to decide the date of Aid el-fitr.

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