Wilders visit to US college cut short

A question and answer session by Dutch anti-Islam politician Geert Wilders at a college in the United States was cut short on Tuesday after “the tone of the event began to turn ‘nasty’ and some of the several hundred students ‘began jeering’”.

Wilders visited Temple University in Philadelphia in order to screen his movie Fitna. Associated Press reports that Wilders’ “remarks were met by a mixture of applause and boos, and occasionally gasps — particularly when he stated that ‘our Western culture is far better than the Islamic culture and we should defend it.’” Wilders’ visit was supported by a student group identified as Temple University Purpose.

Islamic Scholars Plan for America’s First Muslim College

Sheik Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir share a vision for the next step in the evolution of Islam in America: creating the country’s first four-year, accredited Muslim college.

The two men, American scholars of Islam and leaders in the Muslim community, are criss-crossing the country building support for an institution they call Zaytuna College, which they plan to open next fall. The college will serve the nation’s growing Muslim population, blending traditional Islam and American culture and establishing a permanent place for the religion in American society.

Before any of that can happen, Zaytuna’s founders face steep challenges. They must hire a staff, establish a curriculum, develop admissions policies, and raise at least $5-million just to open their doors, all during a particularly trying time for college fund raising. At the same time, government scrutiny has put a chill on Muslim philanthropy.

Sheik Hamza Yusuf (left) and Imam Zaid Shakir, the Muslim scholars who are creating Zaytuna U., are often called upon to speak on behalf of mainstream Islam in the United States. Kathryn Masterson reports.

Scholars in the United States planning on starting an Islamic college

A plan to launch the country’s first four-year accredited Islamic college is moving closer to fulfilling its vision. Advisors to the project have scheduled to have a June vote to decide whether the proposed Zaytuna College – what some are calling a “Muslim Georgetown” – can open in the fall of next year. Imam Zaid Shakir and Sheikh Hamza Yusuf of California have spent years planning the school, which will offer a liberal arts education and training in Islamic scholarship. “As a faith community our needs aren’t any different than the needs of any other faith community,” Shakir told the Council for the Advancement of Muslim Professionals. Others have tried to start Muslim colleges around New York and Chicago, but such previous plans have remained obscure or quickly unfolded; Zaytuna college, however, appears to be a real potential.

For Muslim students, a debate on inclusion

A debate on whether organizations for Muslim students should be inclusive or strict is unfolding on college campuses across the United States, where there are now more than 200 Muslim Students Association (MSA) chapters. Gender issues and relations are among the most fraught topics as Muslim students wrestle with the gap between American college traditions and those of Islam. Each chapter of the MSA is mostly autonomous in its rules, and discrepancies between liberal and conservative Muslim student groups are prompting Muslim students to reflect on the diversity of their representation. From clothing, to mixed-gender dodge-ball games, kissing at public ceremonies, to gender segregated barbecues, the levels of rigidity vary greatly. Amir Mertaban, who was president of his Muslim student group at California State Polytechnic University, Pamona said: There were drunkards in the Prophet Muhammad’s community; there were fornicators and people who committed adultery in his community, and he didn’t reject them… I think MSA’s are beginning to understand this point that every person has ups and downs. x

A Growing Demand for the Rare American Imam

Sheik Yassir Fazaga regularly uses a standard American calendar to provide inspiration for his weekly Friday sermon. Around Valentine’s Day this year, he talked about how the Koran endorses romantic love within certain ethical parameters. (As opposed to say, clerics in Saudi Arabia, who denounce the banned saint’s day as a Satanic ritual.) On World AIDS Day, he criticized Muslims for making moral judgments about the disease rather than helping the afflicted, and on International Women’s Day he focused on domestic abuse. (…) Prayer leaders, or imams, in the United States have long arrived from overseas, forced to negotiate a foreign culture along with their congregation. Older immigrants usually overlook the fact that it is an uneasy fit, particularly since imported sheiks rarely speak English. They welcome a flavor of home. But as the first generation of American-born Muslims begins graduating from college in significant numbers, with a swelling tide behind them, some congregations are beginning to seek native imams who can talk about religious and social issues that seem relevant to young people (…)

A New Face for Islam in North America

Ingrid Mattson had given up God. She had stopped saying her rosaries, stopped taking Communion. She was an atheist, abroad in Paris the summer before her senior year of college. But she could not stop listening to the Koran. “Forget it,” she told herself. “This can’t be happening to me.” Yet day after day, she popped the cassette into her Walkman, mesmerized by the chanting and oddly moved by lines such as: “The sun and the moon follow courses computed. And the herbs and the trees both bow in adoration_ It is he who has spread out the earth for [his] creatures.” When she returned home to Canada after that summer of 1986, Mattson signed up for the only Arabic class she could find. It was full of 8-year-old immigrants, who soon came to resent her for winning so many of the chocolates the teacher awarded top students. Mattson wanted to enjoy hanging out in bars with her brothers, the way she always had. Instead, she found herself at her sewing machine, stitching head scarves. That spring, she gathered several Muslim friends as witnesses and pledged herself to Allah. It was an unusual move for a white Canadian ex-Catholic. And it set Mattson down a trailblazing path. About 60,000 Muslims in the U.S. and Canada recently elected Mattson, 43, president of the largest Muslim organization on the continent, an educational and professional association called the Islamic Society of North America. She is the first woman, nonimmigrant or convert to Islam to become president of the group. Her election comes at a tumultuous time for the estimated 6 million Muslims in the U.S. Nearly 40% of Americans admit prejudice against Muslims, according to a recent poll by USA Today and Gallup. A similar percentage support mandatory identification cards for Muslims. And one in five Americans said they would not want a Muslim neighbor. Many Muslims are hoping Mattson can soften this fear. She does not speak with a foreign accent. She doesn’t wear a veil, though she does cover her head with a thick, dark scarf. Soft-spoken and quick to smile, Mattson is a suburban soccer mom; she cheers at her son’s games, helps her daughter with college applications, gardens, hikes, reads the New Yorker, laughs at Paris Hilton’s reality TV. “Many Americans think we didn’t arrive in this country until 9/11. She helps people know we’re part of the American landscape,” said Aneesah Nadir, the president of an Islamic social services agency based in Phoenix. Such comments were a frequent refrain at the Islamic society’s annual convention, which drew more than 32,000 Muslims to this suburb of Chicago earlier this month. Mattson was mobbed by fans wanting to take her picture. One father brought his five daughters from South Carolina to meet her. “She’s a visible refutation of stereotypes,” said Hasan Aijaz, a college student from Virginia. Outside the organization, Muslims have greeted Mattson’s election more warily. She’s received angry letters from conservatives who resent having a woman in charge. Such critics often cite an ancient hadith, or narrative about the life of the prophet Muhammad, stating that no good will come from entrusting leadership to a woman. The Islamic left has questioned Mattson’s credentials as well. A traditionalist who dresses in modest ankle-length skirts and loose blouses – and who prefers, whenever possible, to avoid shaking men’s hands – Mattson pushes women’s rights only so far. She has called for mosques to dismantle any barriers that block women from seeing or clearly hearing the imam during prayer. But she does not support the more radical, feminist notion that women should pray alongside men – or even lead men in prayer. Many Muslims argue that such an arrangement would distract men from God or lead to immoral conduct. Mattson explains her objection this way: The prophet would not have approved. Mattson’s journey to Islam began when she was a teenager in the Canadian town of Kitchener, Ontario. As a girl, she had been the most pious in her family of seven children, but when she entered high school, she began to find bedrock concepts such as the Holy Trinity illogical. The nuns and priests at her Catholic school were unable to answer her questions. “Accept the mystery,” they told her. She couldn’t. Though she stayed on at St. Mary’s High School, Mattson stopped looking for God. Years later, during her summer in Paris, Mattson became friendly with several West African Muslims. They introduced her to Islam; her spirit stirred. “What moved me most was the way the Koran described the majesty and beauty of creation,” she said. One of her favorite passages tells of God’s handiwork: “He has let free the two bodies of flowing water, meeting together… Out of them come pearls and coral… And his are the ships sailing smoothly through the seas, lofty as mountains.” After graduating from the University of Waterloo, Mattson worked in a refugee camp in Pakistan, where she met her husband, an Egyptian engineer. He took care of their small children while she earned a doctorate in Islamic studies from the University of Chicago. Since 1998, she has been teaching about Islam at Hartford Seminary, a nondenominational Christian institution in Connecticut. As president of the Islamic Society of North America – an unpaid part-time post – Mattson will lead a diverse organization that trains Muslim leaders, sets standards for hundreds of mosques, helps immigrants adjust to American life and serves as an umbrella uniting associations of Muslim engineers, doctors and other professionals. She will also be a very visible spokeswoman for the faith – a role she relishes. In particular, she can’t wait to refute the notion that Islam is a religion solely “for brown and black people,” she said. “When African Americans make the move to Islam, it’s considered valid. When I do, it’s considered cultural apostasy, as if somehow I’ve abandoned my whiteness to become an ‘other,’ ” Mattson said. In the past, many Muslims – like evangelical Christians before them – argued that they had to isolate themselves from American politics and culture in order to keep their faith pure. In the aftermath of Sept. 11, Mattson argues that Muslims no longer have that luxury. “We need to form an axis of good with our neighbors,” she said. “We’re 2% of the American population. How are we going to be effective unless we make alliances?” Her push for interfaith partnerships got off to a shaky start when the Islamic society invited former Iranian President Mohammad Khatami to address the convention. Jay Tcath, vice president of the Chicago Jewish Federation, accused the organization of “a dereliction of civic responsibility” for honoring Khatami despite his record of human rights abuses. The Anti-Defamation League also takes issue with the Islamic society for having provided a forum for anti-Semitic language at several conferences over the years, said Deborah Lauter, the group’s national civil rights director. The organization’s leaders “have been in bed with extremist groups,” Lauter said, “[so] we go into these relationships with some serious concerns.” Mattson says her group does not invite speakers “known for offensive statements,” but offers “as broad a platform as possible for legitimate views.” At the convention’s opening seminar, Mattson urged her fellow Muslims to step proudly into mainstream society, to engage their neighbors and promote their good works until Americans stop associating Islam with terror. “Islamic medical clinics… Islamic ethics. Islamic charity. These are the terms that should come off the tips of tongues,” she told a cheering crowd. “Islamic intellectuals. Islamic peace movements. Islamic human rights… This is who we are!”

British University In Veil-Ban Row

By Sakhr Al-Makhadhi in London Protesters say their rights as Muslims are being threatened Imperial College in London is battling controversy over the ban of the face veil on campus. The College in West London has banned the niqab as a security measure. But the hijab, which covers only the hair and has been banned in French schools, is allowed. Tony Mitcheson, the college secretary, said that the ban was needed “in light of security concerns raised by the terrorist incidents which occurred over the summer”, referring to the bombings in the capital on 7 July and the attempted bombings on 21 July. Abigail Smith, a spokesman for the college, said that it needed to be able to identify everyone on campus. “It’s not a blanket ban on religious dress – we’re just asking people not to cover their faces for security reasons,” she said. Hugo Charlton, a human rights barrister, said that the college was within its legal jurisdiction to implement such a measure. “I expect that the college does have a right, because this is private property,” he said. “But I expect that the courts would say that they need a good justification for it.” Protest denounced On Friday, about 35 students demonstrated against the measure. Ruji Rahman said the ban on face veils is the latest in a string of measures designed to drive Muslims out of Imperial. “I studied hard, I got into a top university and now I’m being asked to sacrifice that because of my religion,” she said. The president of the Student Union dismissed the demonstration as scaremongering. Sameena Misbahuddin said: “[The protest] is based on something that’s not true – it’s based on the banning of hijabs, which quite clearly is not the case.” Nevertheless, the Student Union is concerned that the Muslim community could feel targeted. “There’s religious discrimination that it could provoke, with the full-veil and half-veil [ban], it’s open to any sort of interpretation, it could be used any time the college wants to have a problem with someone,” Misbahuddin said. Misbahuddin will be taking those concerns to college officials next week. Scaring potential students The ban on the niqab and the subsequent demonstration has created controversy which seems to be scaring potential students away from Imperial. Smith told Aljazeera.net that a potential student had called her to ask if she would be able to wear her hijab at the college. “She was thinking about cancelling her application,” Smith said, adding: “And that’s very worrying.” That is a fear that Rahman shares. “We’ll end up getting no Muslim students coming to university – just like France,” she said.

Rotterdam Revokes Minaret Exception

The municipality of Rotterdam will revoke the exception which allowed minarets to be built up to 30 to 40 meters high. It was determined by the Burghers that this was not an imposition on religious freedom and that religious buildings did not deserve a special waiver. {(continued below in Dutch)} De gemeente Rotterdam wil af van de uitzondering in bestemmingsplannen dat kerktorens en minaretten tot 30 of 40 meter hoog gebouwd kunnen worden. Dit staat in een raadsvoorstel van wethouder Pastors (Fysieke Infrastructuur). Burgemeester en wethouders vinden een afwijkende behandeling van religieuze gebouwen niet nodig, omdat deze geen groter maatschappelijk belang vertegenwoordigen dan andere gebouwen. Pastors heeft zijn voorstel met de betrokken maatschappelijke organisaties besproken, aldus de gemeente. Het voorstel van de wethouder is een vervolg op de eerdere nota Ruimtelijk Moskeebeleid 2004. Omdat onvoldoende politieke steun voor deze nota bestond, besloot het college de nota terug te trekken. Na de in dit voorjaar gehouden serie debatten over islam en integratie heeft het college besloten het ruimtelijk beleid ten aanzien van religieuze gebouwen opnieuw tegen het licht te houden. Dit heeft niet geleid tot een nieuwe nota, maar volgens B & W tot de essentie, namelijk de uitzonderingspositie voor kerktorens en minaretten.

Europe’s Muslims Treated As Outsiders

Fatima Yaakoub, 24 years old, born in Morocco, living in the Netherlands since she was 12, says she wants nothing more than to fit in. She works hard, cleaning offices in the early mornings, going to college during the day, taking English classes on weekends-trying to get ahead, trying to do what is expected of a good citizen in her adopted homeland. But three years ago, she began wearing a head scarf, the sign of a devout Muslim woman, and got a rapid education on how much of an outsider she remains.