California county government reaches out to Muslim residents: Mental health office seeking to build trust

By Jennifer Torres San Joaquin County’s mental health office is seeking help from a community organization to build trust among Muslim and Middle Eastern residents, who traditionally have been underserved in mental health programs. The effort is part of a wider county plan to improve mental health among Middle Eastern and Muslim, Laotian, Hmong, Vietnamese, Cambodian, Latino, American Indian and black communities and also people who identify themselves as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. The county will work with community agencies representing each of those groups to provide education, strengthen relationships and ultimately improve access to mental health care, Deputy Director Becky Gould said.

German Converts to Islam Are an Asset, Not a Threat

By Esra _zy_rek In a guest editorial, anthropologist Esra _zy_rek from the University of California, San Diego argues that German converts to Islam are not the threat they are claimed to be, and explains how converts make a valuable contribution to German society. Recently the German press has been filled with stories about how German Muslims are a hidden threat to German society. As an anthropologist who has conducted a year-long ethnographic research project among German Muslims, I observed a very different picture. Rather than being a theat, ethnic German converts to Islam are in fact a very valuable asset to Germany. They serve as a bridge between immigrant Muslims and non-Muslim Germany, and by doing so they help to create a well-integrated German society.

German Muslim Held, Denied U.S. Entry

A German businessman of Syrian descent who wanted to surprise his daughter with a holiday visit was detained for four days in a Las Vegas holding cell before being sent back home without explanation. A civil rights group called authorities’ treatment of Majed Shehadeh a case of anti-Muslim discrimination. Shehadeh, 62, flew from Frankfurt to Las Vegas last Thursday, hoping to meet with his wife and drive to Bakersfield, Calif., where his American-born daughter had just gotten news she’d passed the California bar exam. On Sunday, he was released and sent back to Frankfurt on the same charter airline. The detention follows a series of similar incidents involving Muslim passengers, according to the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Muslims Sue, Alleging Discrimination

Families in Anaheim apartments say they are victims of religious and housing bias. Manager calls it just a landlord-tenant dispute. By David Reyes, Times Staff Writer Seven Muslim families filed a lawsuit Friday alleging religious and housing discrimination at an Anaheim apartment complex. The suit alleges that the owner and the manager of Chaumont Villas refused to make repairs to apartments, don’t allow Muslim children to play in public areas and have harassed Muslim families because of their faith. The suit was announced at a news conference in front of the complex at 1600 W. Broadway, attended by several tenants and representatives of the Southern California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The suit was filed in Orange County Superior Court on behalf of Tawfiq M. Mousa, Mustafa A. Suleiman, Waleed M. Abdullah, Jamal Almasri, Mohammed Wali Hakami, Abdullah T. Assaf and Issam H. Wahby. Listed as defendants were property management firm Swami International, businessman Ram K. Mittal, and corporations DKM Investments and RKM Investments. “This is nothing more than a landlord-tenant dispute,” said Pat Mitchell, a vice president for Swami, located in Rolling Hills Estates. Mousa said he, his wife and three children had lived three years in their $1,450-a-month, 3-bedroom unit with no problems until a new manager arrived at the complex a year ago. “Since then, there’s been a pattern of harassment against Muslims renting here,” said Mousa, 43, an engineer. Manager Bridgett Phillips yelled at Muslim children and chased them from common areas, and frequently referred to Muslim tenants with profanity, the suit alleges. Phillips, named as a defendant, could not be reached for comment. In June, the dispute escalated when Mousa circulated a petition seeking a new manager and asking for repairs to units, including fixing rusted plumbing and peeling paint. It was signed by two dozen Muslim and non-Muslim tenants at the 61-unit complex. “That’s when I was handed a 60-day eviction notice,” he said. But Mitchell said Mousa was evicted for causing friction between Muslim tenants and the apartment manager and said Mousa followed Phillips around the complex snapping her picture. “He has been harassing the manager and not allowing her to do her job,” Mitchell said. “We can’t have somebody creating a hostile environment.” Although Southern California is home to an estimated 500,000 Muslims, it’s a population that doesn’t file many housing complaints, said Connie Der Torossian, a spokeswoman for the Fair Housing Council of Orange County. “It’s a hard population to reach and similar to some of the ethnic minorities like Vietnamese,” Der Torossian said. “They’re afraid to make complaints out of fear of retaliation.” According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 27 cases of religious discrimination were filed statewide in the year ending Sept. 1. Of those, five were brought by Muslims. Of the seven families that are plaintiffs in the suit, two have moved out of Chaumont Villas after they sought larger apartments there but were told none were available, said their attorney, Federico C. Sayre. The apartments were then rented to non-Muslims, the suit alleges.

Experts Say Indigenous Terror Threat Real

By Jeremiah Marquez LOS ANGELES — An alleged plot targeting military facilities, synagogues and other Los Angeles-area sites has highlighted what experts say is a novel terrorist threat: homegrown American militants operating with little or no help from Islamic extremists abroad. Four suspects were charged last week with conspiring to wage war against the U.S. government through terrorism. Named in the federal indictment were Levar Haley Washington, 25; Gregory Vernon Patterson, 21; Hammad Riaz Samana, 21; and Kevin James, 29. All but Samana, a Pakistani national, are American-born and Muslim converts. Counterterrorism officials have found no evidence directly connecting the group–described as the cell of a California prison gang of radical Muslims–to Al Qaeda or other foreign terrorist networks. Law-enforcement officials and terrorism experts said it could represent one of the first Islamic terrorism cases involving U.S. natives without those connections. Since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist strikes, an international dragnet has broken up training camps, disrupted finances and sent terrorist leaders underground, making it all the more difficult for Al Qaeda to mount attacks. Yet despite tougher border control, a radical ideology shared by the terrorist network continues to seep into the United States through propaganda distributed via the Internet, books, pamphlets, DVDs and the media–a “passive recruiting strategy,” according to terrorism experts. That has helped transform Al Qaeda into a movement with disciples acting without funding, expertise or guidance from foreign handlers. “Al Qaeda can’t get their militants to the places they want to hit, so they rely on an ideology to gain converts who do it for them,” said professor Brian Levin, a terrorism researcher at California State University, San Bernardino. In the Southern California case, prosecutors say cell members largely supported themselves. Washington, Patterson and Samana allegedly robbed gas stations to finance their plans to target military sites, synagogues, the Israeli Consulate and the El Al airport counter in the Los Angeles area. Patterson purchased a .223-caliber rifle. Samana underwent “firearms training and physical training” at a local park, according to the indictment. They even conducted Internet research on potential targets and Jewish holidays–dates for which they allegedly planned the assaults to “maximize the number of casualties,” prosecutors said. Samana’s lawyer, Timothy Lannen, described his client in a statement as a “peace-loving, law-abiding member of our community” and said “he did not intend at any time to commit violence against anyone.” An attorney in Washington’s state robbery case had not reviewed the federal indictment and had no immediate comment. Patterson’s lawyer has said his client asked him not to comment. The plot’s suspected mastermind was James, a California State Prison, Sacramento, inmate who founded the radical group Jamiyyat Ul-Islam Is-Saheeh, authorities said. Washington converted to Islam while imprisoned there for a previous robbery conviction. Self-made groups in the United States can be more difficult to root out because they’re smaller and have fewer financial resources to track, experts said. “They’re adopting the Al Qaeda agenda and philosophy and carrying out their own jihad,” said Oliver “Buck” Revell, a former FBI associate deputy director and counterterrorism chief. “Unfortunately, they may be successful because they’re extremely hard to detect.”

U.S. Muslims Heighten Call For Wider Role For Women Defying Tradition

By Teresa Watanabe On a recent Friday, a veiled woman entered a crowded mosque in Los Angeles and surveyed the scene. In the front, a few hundred men waited for the call to prayer. In the back, women and children sat in a separate area behind tinted glass. With barely a pause, Asra Nomani made her choice. Defying age-old Islamic traditions, she stepped over a low partition, sat with the men – and kicked off a furor. A man brusquely approached her: “You are not allowed to pray here with men. The women are on the other side.” A female elder tried to coax her out, then lost patience and tried to lift her up by the elbow. A man stared at Nomani and muttered, “She must be mentally sick.” Through it all,Nomani – in pink veil and long coat – stood her ground. No, she was not going to move. Yes, she had an Islamic right to sit there. As a security guard towered over her, she began softly chanting “Allahu akbar” (“God is great)” to keep herself focused. But she noticed her fingers trembling. Eventually, leaders at the Islamic Center of Southern California cordoned off her space with a red rope, called other women to join her and started the prayer. “For that Friday prayer, a woman was able to sit in the main hall and create a new reality for our Muslim world,” said Nomani, a 40-year-old India native, author and journalist who lives in Morgantown, W.Va. “We have to take back our mosques with an expression of Islam that fully values women.” Nomani’s tactics outrage many Muslims. Among them are critics at the Islamic Center, who viewed her recent visit there as a self-serving stunt to publicize her new memoir, “Standing Alone in Mecca,” and an unfair ambush of the Los Angeles mosque, which is known for its women-friendly policies. Mosques have traditionally kept men and women apart because the prophet Muhammad ordered them to pray in separate rows, leaders say. This has been interpreted over the years, they add, as a way to keep men from becoming distracted during prayers. Still, friends and foes alike agree that Nomani has helped bring global attention to a long-festering issue: the limits on female access to Muslim prayer space, religious leadership and decision-making power. Today, a growing group of Muslims, most of them North Americans and some galvanized by the intense scrutiny of Islam since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, are pushing for wider roles for women. Such battles over women’s religious rights and authority have raged in many faith traditions – ongoing struggles for Roman Catholic women priests and greater female access to Talmudic studies in Orthodox Judaism, for instance. Double Lives, They Say Among Muslims, many women complain that they live double lives, one in the workplace and one in the mosque. “I don’t know how many women I’ve talked to who are professors, doctors, lawyers, professionals in their secular lives, treated with respect, sitting in the front of the room … and then you walk into the mosque, and you are catapulted back into some medieval world,” said Sarah Eltantawi, 28, a Boston-based Egyptian-American who says she was “spiritually damaged” by lifelong experiences of being shunted to the back of the mosque and chastised for not covering herself properly. Many Muslims are tackling gender segregation in the mosque, including Muslims in Hawai’i. A barrage of e-mail and newspaper columns show this issue continues to be hot. Some women are urging that women be allowed to pray as a group behind men in the main prayer hall, rather than be physically isolated by curtains, walls or separate rooms as they are in the majority of U.S. mosques. The most liberal are arguing for a hall with men on one side, women on the other and a mixed-gender row in the middle for families who want to pray together. Some are also calling for greater shared leadership, with more women serving on governing boards and as public speakers at community programs. Training For Clerics Last year, the Islamic Society of North America, the largest umbrella group of mosques in the U.S., began a training program for imams highlighting the need to give women leadership roles and adequate prayer space behind men in the main halls. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights group, is planning nationwide distribution of a new booklet calling for similar measures, saying that Islam calls for spiritual equality between the sexes. Other Muslims, however, are pushing edgier issues. The Progressive Muslim Union of North America, recently launched by Eltantawi and others, sponsored a groundbreaking town hall meeting in Los Angeles in June to debate the contentious question of whether Islam allows women to lead prayer. The meeting, which packed the Religious Center at the University of Southern California with both liberals and traditionalists, featured Khaled Abou El Fadl, an Islamic law professor at the University of California Los Angeles, who believes that Islam requires the most knowledgeable person to lead prayer, regardless of gender. Arguing that most Muslims are ignorant of their own vast and diverse intellectual heritage, Abou El Fadl cites examples of female prayer leaders in the past, along with three schools of thought in medieval Islamic history that embraced the practice. Relatively few Muslims, however, seem to buy that view. Opponents argue that evidence for women prayer leaders in the past is weak and that no innovations in worship practices are allowed. If women lead prayer in front of congregations, men will be distracted by the sight of them bending over in prostrations, opponents also say. “Men are men,” said Imam Abdul Karim Hasan of the Bilal Islamic Center in South Los Angeles. “I don’t care how you cut it or shape it, they won’t be thinking about prayer.” Worldwide Attention While a few women have quietly led mixed groups in prayers for years in the U.S., Canada and South Africa, the issue exploded across the Muslim world earlier this year. A female Islamic scholar, Amina Wadud, led a mixed congregation in prayer at a New York event covered by the international media. The March service by Wadud, an Islamic studies professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, drew a global chorus of condemnations and provoked threats of violence. An anonymous appeal for Osama bin Laden to issue a decree to kill Wadud was circulated on the Internet, prompting Virginia Commonwealth to move her lectures off campus – with remote hookup – for the rest of the semester, a university spokeswoman said. “This issue is a major challenge to the hegemony of patriarchal authority,” said Wadud, who argues that qualified women have the right to all positions of public ritual leadership, including leading Friday prayers, delivering sermons, and performing funerals and other ceremonies. The scholar asserts that Islam’s concept of “tawhid,” the oneness of God, along with Quranic stories that creation came in pairs, require gender equality. But that equality, she says, became lost over the centuries as male scholars and thinkers developed an Islamic tradition that relegated women to “subservience, silence and seclusion.” North American Muslim organizations have documented widespread concerns about practices in mosques. And without more openness, some say, the Islamic community could lose the next generation of American-born Muslims. Shahina Siddiqui, the Winnipeg-based president of the Islamic Social Service Association-Canada, said she was already seeing growing numbers of women and young people driven from mosques by the perceived gap between Islam’s egalitarian ideals and actual practices. “We don’t have the luxury anymore to sweep things under the carpet,” said Siddiqui, the main author of the booklet on women-friendly mosques. “We have to deal with it today.”

U.S. Muslim Runs For Congress; Abu-Ghazalah Calls For Bringing Home The U.S. Troops Occupying Iraq And Repealing The U.S. Patriot Act

NEWARK, Ohio, February 25 (IslamOnline.net & News Agencies) – Maad Abu-Ghazalah is hoping to be the first Muslim American ever elected to Congress. He will vie in the March 2nd Primary against fellow Democrats Tom Lantos and Rohit Khanna. The Palestinian-born Abu-Ghazalah, 44, has already raised $30,000 at a fundraiser at the Muslim Community Association (MCA) in Santa Clara, California, reported the New California Media (NCM), a group comprising some 700 ethnic communities worldwide. His platform calls for brining home the U.S. troops occupying Iraq, repealing the U.S. Patriot Act, ending the corporate influence on the policy-making mechanism and protecting the environment.