American Muslims attending a major religious conference in Toronto on Friday are concerned they’ll be subjected to extraordinary searches and delays by U.S. border guards when they return home. Their concern followed a ruling by a New York district judge on Thursday that such searches did not violate the U.S. constitution. Judge William Skretny wrote that Customs and Border Protection “had reason to believe that these conferences would serve as meeting points for terrorists to exchange ideas and documents, co-ordinate operations, and raise funds intended for terrorist activities.” “I believe in religious freedom, and I will not allow the federal government to intimidate me out of that belief,” he said. Last year, several dozen Muslims men and women were searched, fingerprinted, photographed and held for up to six hours before being allowed to cross back into the U.S. after a conference held in Toronto. The New York Civil Liberties Association took up their case. The association sought an injunction to prevent similar inspections following this year’s conference. It also launched a lawsuit demanding the state destroy any personal information retrieved through past searches. The judge did not grant the injunction, and threw out the lawsuit.
Government plans that could see the closure of mosques suspected of inciting extremism have been attacked by Muslim leaders. Sir Iqbal Sacranie said the move would “criminalise an entire community for the criminality carried out by a few”. The Muslim Council of Britain secretary general made his comments in a speech to an east London conference focusing on the role of Muslims in the UK. But he added loyalty to the UK was not incompatible with the Muslim faith. Met Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur and the Lord Chancellor Lord Falconer are among the other figures addressing more than 20,000 people at the Global Peace and Unity conference. Wider community Sir Iqbal described the government proposals designed to tackle terrorism the “single most dangerous piece of legislation”. Under the plans, police could seek a court order for the temporary closure of a place of worship if extremist behaviour or terrorist activity was believed to be taking place. Mosques were not specifically singled out in the proposal but most people would see the proposal as referring to mosques and trustees of mosques, the MCB has said. The comments follow a recent warning by the Association of Chief Police Officers that the plan could be seen as an attack on religion. Assistant Chief Constable Rob Beckley, who is responsible for community relations at the association, said if officers had suspicions about a particular mosque they would want to identify those responsible rather than close it down. Sir Iqbal also used his speech to call for a public inquiry into the 7 July London bomb attacks. The MCB’s Sher Khan said the gathering at the Excel centre fulfilled a “very important need to clarify to the wider community that British Muslims are part and parcel of the wider community”.
By TARA BURGHART Associated Press writer ROSEMONT, Ill. – Karen Hughes, one of President Bush’s closest advisers, told a gathering of American Muslims on Friday that part of her new State Department job is to help amplify the voices of groups like theirs that are condemning terrorism and religious extremism. The Islamic Society of North America had invited Bush to attend its annual convention. He sent Hughes, who was recently confirmed as undersecretary of state for public diplomacy. Her tasks include improving the U.S. image in Muslims countries. “We need to foster a sense of common interest and common values among Americans and people of different faiths and different cultures,” Hughes said at a news conference opening the three-day event. “Frankly, who better to do that than many of our American Muslims themselves, who have friends and families and roots in countries across our world,” she said. The Indiana-based ISNA serves as an umbrella association for Muslim groups and mosques in the United States and Canada. Its convention comes just over a month after U.S. Muslim scholars issued a fatwa, or religious edict, condemning terrorism following deadly terrorist attacks this summer in London and Egypt. “The fatwa says that there is no justification in Islam for terrorism. Those are words the entire world needs to hear,” Hughes said. “And in delivering that message, I know that the most credible voices are of Muslims themselves. My job is to help amplify and magnify these voices.” At the news conference, ISNA unveiled a brochure outlining the Islamic position against terrorism and religious extremism. The pamphlet states that terrorism “is the epitome of injustice because it targets innocent people.” Kareem Irfan chaired the committee that produced the brochure and will be launching other initiatives to promote what ISNA calls “balanced Islam.” Despite “crystal clear statements stating the position of Islam and Muslims” against terrorism, there remains “inklings of doubt from segments of society,” he said. He said convention attendees, expected to total more than 30,000, will be asked to sign a pledge stating that they agree with the pamphlet’s position, and it will be distributed to mosques and churches. The convention was also attended by a 19-member delegation from Britain, where four suicide bombers killed 52 commuters on London’s transit system in July. The British group held a private meeting with Hughes, and she also met separately with ISNA leaders, women and young people. ISNA’s vice president, Ingrid Mattson, said those attending the meetings with Hughes were frank about their disagreements with the Bush administration on everything from foreign policy to concerns over the erosion of civil liberties. Several told her about the problems they regularly have with air travel because their Muslim names or dress prompt suspicion. One man who was supposed to be in a Thursday night meeting with Hughes walked in at the end because he was held by airport security for three hours until his name was cleared, Mattson said.
By Greg Flakus Dallas Hundreds of Muslims have gathered in Dallas, Texas for the Islamic Society of North America’s Third Annual South Central Regional Conference. The main goal of conference organizers is to build understanding with people of other faiths. Several hundred people came together in a hotel ballroom Friday to pray as the three-day conference got under way. Although men and women sat in separate sections of the hall, the Muslim cleric spoke to all believers, calling on them to be charitable toward their non-Muslim neighbors, not as a pretext for attracting them to Islam, but because that is what God calls on them to do. The message is similar to what might be heard in a Christian or Jewish service, because, as Muslim leaders are quick to point out, the three religions share common origins and beliefs. All three religions are based on belief in one God, yet many non-Muslims still regard Islam as an exotic religion. The theme of this conference is “Sharing Islam with our Neighbors,” and organizers note that this does not necessarily refer to proselytizing. The secretary general of the Islamic Society of North America, Sayyid Muhammad Syeed, says that the eight-to-ten million people of the Islamic faith who live in the United States today are in a unique position to help Americans understand this religion and its worldwide influence. “Muslims of America are an asset to America because they are bridge between America and the rest of the Muslim world and we take that role very seriously,” he said. Mr. Syeed says those Americans who embrace Islam also have a responsibility to bring about a better understanding of this country in the areas of the world where Islam is the dominant religion. “Muslims in the world have to understand that there is a Muslim population here who are practicing Islam in their day-to-day lives. Then, it is our duty to express, interpret and explain Islam to our fellow Americans, and it is our duty to explain America to our fellow Muslims,” he said. Muslims here feel a special bond with other Muslims in the Middle East and are concerned about the turmoil in that region. One of the main speakers at this conference is a State Department official who has come to explain U.S. policy in the Middle East. This conference also includes special sessions on the growth of Islam among American Latinos, including forums conducted in Spanish where people explain why they converted to Islam.
US Muslims sued the US Department of Homeland Security, accusing the US border agents of rights violation and racial profiling. The suit, filed in US District Court on Wednesday, April 20, named Homeland Security chief Michael Chertoff among four defendants in what the New York Civil Liberties Union called a case of profiling, according to Reuters on Thursday, April 21. The three men and two women said the agents who detained them as they returned from an Islamic conference in Canada violated their rights, held them, along with dozens of other US Muslims. They added that they were interrogated, photographed and fingerprinted against their will in December 2004. The lawsuit alleges that the plaintiffs, who were later released without charge, were singled out after telling customs officials they had attended a “Reviving the Islamic Spirit” conference in Toronto. The suit does not seek monetary damages, but asks for a declaration that the government action was unlawful, an injunction against further enforcement of such policies and practices and erasing from all federal databases of information obtained from the plaintiffs, Reuters reported. The annual conference draws thousands of Muslims from Canada, the United States and overseas, AFP said. A May 2004 report released by the US Senate Office Of Research concluded that Arab Americans and the Muslim community in the US have taken the brunt of the Patriot Act and other federal powers applied in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. Amnesty International said that racial profiling by US law enforcement agencies had grown over the past years to cover one in nine Americans, mostly targeting Muslims. ‘Most Humiliating’ Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union which is helping represent the plaintiffs, condemned what she described as the “over-zealous and counter-productive ethnic and religious profiling” encouraged by government security policies in the wake of the September 11 attacks. “They are engaging in profiling,” said Lieberman, adding that “the government detained people because they attended a conference that was perfectly legal, exercising their basic rights.” None of the citizens who were detained had done anything unlawful, nor were they charged with any unlawful act,” Lieberman told reporters. “You don’t lose your rights when you’re a Muslim. You don’t lose your rights when you cross a border, and you certainly don’t lose your rights by attending a religious conference,” she added. One of the plaintiffs, Sawsaan Tabbaa, an orthodontist from Buffalo in New York, said the experience at the border crossing “was the most humiliating I have ever gone through.” “It was unbelievable. I am proud of being American but I couldn’t believe my eyes something like this could happen.” Tabbaa said she had refused to be digitally fingerprinted on the grounds that she had done nothing wrong, but was physically forced into compliance. “I started sobbing like a kid,” she said. At the time of the incident, numerous press reports quoted Customs and Border Protection (CBP) spokeswoman Kristie Clemens as claiming the government had “credible information” that Islamic conferences were being used to promote and fund terrorist activities. On Wednesday, Clemens said she was unable to comment on a specific case that was the subject of a lawsuit, but added that the “priority mission” of the CBP was to “prevent terrorists” and their weapons entering the country. “As we continue to pursue this mission, we will continue to work with all communities to protect the freedoms of all Americans,” she said. Islamic Leaders Vehemently Deny The Charges. Tabbaa’s son, Hassan Shibley, 18, said the border guards had initially insisted they were picked “at random”, but when he entered the processing room he saw that all the occupants were Muslim. “It was like I was walking into my local mosque,” Shibley said. Lieberman, whose organization filed the suit along with the American Civil Liberties Union and Council on American-Islamic Relations, said there was nothing about the RIS conference to raise suspicions. “If the government has suspicions about criminal activities they have every right and indeed the obligation to go after those suspicions,” Lieberman said. “This is a case of rounding up the usual suspects in derogation of their rights and in derogation of all of our liberties.” A recent nation-wide poll, conducted by the Cornell University, showed that at least 44 percent of the Americans backs curbing Muslims’ civil rights and monitoring their places of worship.