L’islam, un recours pour les jeunes

Based on a long ethnographic study, L’Islam, un recours pour les jeunes focuses on the Islamic identities of French youth with North African or Turkish origins and working-class backgrounds. It asserts that young men and women’s religious paths are linked to experiences at school, within immigrant families and in disadvantaged neighbourhoods. Young men complain of being labelled negatively at school and being pushed toward low-skilled jobs instead of the professional vocations and lifestyles for which they yearn. They are often in conflict with teachers or with career advisers and engage Muslim symbols to protest against school judgments. The book also insists on the deep differences between Turkish and North-African populations with working-class backgrounds. The Turkish populations settled in France later than North-Africans and subsequently their settlement has been more fragile. They want to preserve traditions and customs from their country of origin, a phenomenon reinforced by the high concentrations of Turkish populations in urban areas. Turkish parents’ aspirations influence their goals for their children, especially in relation to school, professional life and marriage. The second part of Kapko’s book discussed the response of local authorities to Muslim religious claims. For over a decade, changes in Muslim demands of local policitians in relation to religious practice have been noticed. In comparison to demands made in the 1980s by immigrant fathers which focused on the need for prayer space, the 1990s have seen new demands such as the right to wear the headscarf in public spaces, the participation of local politicians to seminars held by religious leaders, and accommodation of religious arguments during negotiations with local political leaders. This investigation shows that council representatives often only select the aspects of the demands that seem to suit their objectives -keeping public order, social integration-and ignore the religious content of the demands. In other cases discussed, religious intonations are not ignored but rather exploited by the local government. Government officials, who fear confrontations between ethnic groups in disadvantaged areas, are tempted to turn religious militants into unofficial mediators between immigrant populations and public authorities.

Muslims Remain Very Attached to Collective Rituals

It is generally said that France is home to 5 million Muslims. In reality, however, no one has counted them, because ethnic and religious census questions are forbidden. The last projections made by poller Michele Tribalat (on the basis of INED’s family surveys in 1999) put the estimation at more like 4 million Muslims living in France. But the alleged Muslim population level has grown unceasingly in the past few years. Some even put the number at 10 million, obviously confusing national origin with religion. Up to now, most people coming from the Maghreb, from Senegal, Mali, Turkey, and Pakistan have effectively considered themselves Muslims. But the last firm survey, taken from a large population samble by Cevipof, shows an increasing gap between national origin and religious practice, especially among those born in France of North African origin. In 2005, 35% of this population declared themselves to have no religion. The process of secularization has been set in motion…

What Works Against Forced Marriages?

BERLIN – As part of the Integration Summit, Chancellor Merkel and the Ministry of the Interior invited experts to give testimony on forced marriages to the family committee in the Bundestag. Heiner Bielefeldt, director of the German Institute for Human Rights, was one of many who argued that forced marriage is not a typically Islamic practice.

First Muslim Sorority Hopes To Form Chapters Across USA

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – Christine Ortiz slips quietly from the Muslim prayer room on the campus of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and into a group of squealing young women. Some of them are Ortiz’s Muslim sisters, the undergraduate pals who embraced her when she converted to Islam from her family’s Roman Catholicism. Less than a year after she graduated from MIT, Ortiz, 23, has returned to campus on a chilly night to help introduce them to a new concept in Muslim sisterhood: the first Muslim-oriented sorority, Gamma Gamma Chi. The sorority, which was formed last year, has no campus chapters but is trying to drum up interest with informational meetings across the nation. It aims to be a sorority unlike almost all others by adhering to principles of Islam: no alcohol and no casual mixing between men and women. Ortiz is a member of Alpha Phi, one of five traditional sororities at MIT. She says she wants her Muslim girlfriends to have the sorority experience without having to compromise their religious values. In theory, the existing sororities’ policies are in line with Muslim beliefs, but in reality, she says, the sorority culture at MIT and other campuses “unfortunately is based on men and alcohol.” Muslim women at MIT, the University of Kentucky, Rutgers, the University of Maryland-Baltimore and the University of Southern California have expressed interest in Gamma Gamma Chi, says founder and President Althia Collins, who owns an educational consulting business in Alexandria, Va. Collins and her daughter Imani Abdul-Haqq, both Muslim converts, created the sorority in 2005. The MIT gathering attracted 13 women – five in traditional Muslim head scarves and loose-fitting clothes but most with uncovered hair and typical campus attire of jeans and sweaters. “I never felt attracted to sorority life,” says Tania Ullah, 20, a junior from New York City. “Aside from the drinking and partying, which I don’t do, I didn’t feel comfortable with pledging loyalty to the principles.” ‘We’re already a close-knit group’ Collins and Abdul-Haqq’s idea for a Muslim sorority reflects both the increasing presence of the religion on U.S. campuses and the growth of multiculturalism, says Denise Pipersburgh, a lawyer in Newark, N.J., and president of the National Multicultural Greek Council. The National Panhellenic Conference represents 26 historically Caucasian sororities and women’s fraternities with 3.8 million members. The National Panhellenic Council, which represents four historically black sororities and five men’s fraternities, has 1.5 million members. The first Latina sorority was formed in 1975, and Asian-American Greek organizations have existed since the 1920s. At the MIT session, the Muslim women, whose majors include brain and cognitive sciences and chemical engineering, seem intrigued by the idea of their own sorority. But they also are skeptical. “An Islamic sorority is almost an oxymoron, isn’t it?” asks Tasneem Hussam, 20, a junior from Centreville, Va. Muslims are active at MIT, where the Muslim Student Association on the 10,200-student campus regularly attracts 200 people to its dinners. All of the women at the presentation belong to the association. “We’re already a close-knit group,” Hussam says. “I’m a little unsure about how necessary it is to have a sorority.” Tayyba Anwar, 18, a freshman from New York City, wonders how she’ll explain the sorority concept to her parents and persuade them to let her join Gamma Gamma Chi. “They’ll say, ‘What is this? Is it good or bad?’ ” Anwar says. “To me, it sounds like a respectable thing.” Ortiz notes that Greek life is a big part of MIT. “Once they are organized, it’ll give Muslim women a face and voice on campus,” she says. Ultimately, none of the MIT students submitted applications to Gamma Gamma Chi. ‘An American phenomenon’ The Muslim women at MIT say they rarely suffer from discrimination or isolation on campus. Panhellenic President Shannon Nees, 20, a junior from Hatfield, Penn., says they would be welcome in any of MIT’s five sororities. “MIT is a very diverse group of people,” Nees says. “None of the sororities discriminate.” Abdul-Haqq says Gamma Gamma Chi, unlike traditional sororities, will allow Muslim women to feel more comfortable without compromising their Islamic beliefs. Abdul-Haqq recalls trying to join a sorority at Bennett College in Greensboro and fearing she might be required to dress immodestly while pledging. “I don’t wear short sleeves,” she says. “I wear my hair covered. I felt put off from the beginning.” Collins and her daughter have sent e-mails to Muslim student groups and received enthusiastic responses, but no campus has signed up the 10 to 15 members needed for a chapter. “We have to keep in mind that sororities are really an American phenomenon,” Collins says. “A lot of Muslims come from Middle Eastern and South Asian backgrounds. This is not a part of their experience.” The sorority has collected the names of 200 women who have expressed interest in joining. The sorority, Collins says, would also welcome non-Muslim women who support its mission. Xenia Tariq, 19, a freshman at Kentucky whose family moved to the USA from Pakistan, attended the sorority’s recent seminar in Lexington and applied to join. She has been spreading the word among her Muslim girlfriends and hopes the university will have a chapter by fall. “I guess the appeal was that it is the first ever Muslim sorority,” Tariq says. “I was thinking this is going to be really cool and groundbreaking, and I wanted to be a part of it.”

A Look At France’s Draft Immigration Bill

Key points of a bill making its way through parliament: _ Create a renewable, three-year work permit for highly skilled foreigners. _ Do away with a provision that allows foreigners who have been in the country for more than 10 years – even those here illegally – to apply for French citizenship. _ Require the government to submit to parliament an annual report specifying the number and kind of residency permits to be authorized over a three year period. Although the draft bill avoids using the word ‘quotas,’ critics say the provision amounts to a quota-system. _ Stiffen requirements on foreigners requesting to bring family members to France, requiring them to show their salary alone – and not government assistance – would suffice to support their families. _ Double the current two-year period foreigners married to French nationals must wait before applying for French citizenship. _ Require foreigners applying for long-term residency permits to attend French language and civics classes. _ Make obtaining 10-year-residency permits contingent on speaking French and respecting of the “values of the French republic.”

Tending to Muslim Hearts and Islam’s Future

By ANDREA ELLIOTT The young Egyptian professional could pass for any New York bachelor. Dressed in a crisp polo shirt and swathed in cologne, he races his Nissan Maxima through the rain-slicked streets of Manhattan, late for a date with a tall brunette. At red lights, he fusses with his hair. What sets the bachelor apart from other young men on the make is the chaperon sitting next to him – a tall, bearded man in a white robe and stiff embroidered hat. “I pray that Allah will bring this couple together,” the man, Sheik Reda Shata, says, clutching his seat belt and urging the bachelor to slow down. Christian singles have coffee hour. Young Jews have JDate. But many Muslims believe that it is forbidden for an unmarried man and woman to meet in private. In predominantly Muslim countries, the job of making introductions and even arranging marriages typically falls to a vast network of family and friends. In Brooklyn, there is Mr. Shata. Week after week, Muslims embark on dates with him in tow. Mr. Shata, the imam of a Bay Ridge mosque, juggles some 550 “marriage candidates,” from a gold-toothed electrician to a professor at Columbia University. The meetings often unfold on the green velour couch of his office, or over a meal at his favorite Yemeni restaurant on Atlantic Avenue. The bookish Egyptian came to America in 2002 to lead prayers, not to dabble in matchmaking. He was far more conversant in Islamic jurisprudence than in matters of the heart. But American imams must wear many hats, none of which come tailor-made. Whether issuing American-inspired fatwas or counseling the homesick, fielding questions from the F.B.I. or mediating neighborhood spats, Mr. Shata walks an endless labyrinth of problems. If anything seems conquerable, it is the solitude of Muslim singles. Nothing brings the imam more joy than guiding them to marriage. It is his way of fashioning a future for his faith. It is his most heartfelt effort – by turns graceful and comedic, vexing and hopeful – to make Islam work in America. Word of the imam’s talents has traveled far, eliciting lonely calls from Muslims in Chicago and Los Angeles, or from meddlesome parents in Cairo and Damascus. From an estimated 250 chaperoned dates, Mr. Shata has produced 10 marriages. “The prophet said whoever brings a man and woman together, it is as if he has worshiped for an entire year,” said Mr. Shata, 37, speaking through an Arabic translator. The task is not easy. In a country of plentiful options, Muslim immigrants can become picky, even rude, the imam complains. During one date, a woman studied the red-circled eyes of a prospective husband and asked, “Have you brought me an alcoholic?” On another occasion, an Egyptian man stared at the flat chest of a pleasant young Moroccan woman and announced, “She looks like a log!” the imam recalled. “This would never happen in Egypt,” said Mr. Shata, turning red at the memory. “Never, never. If I knew this boy had no manners I never would have let him into my office.” The Imam’s Little Black Book The concept of proper courtship in Islam, like much about the faith, is open to interpretation. Islamic law specifies that a man and woman who are unmarried may not be alone in closed quarters. Some Muslims reject any mingling before marriage. Others freely date. Many fall somewhere in between, meeting in groups, getting engaged and spending time alone before the wedding, while their parents look the other way. For one Syrian in New York, a date at Starbucks is acceptable if it begins and ends on the premises: The public is his chaperon. Mr. Shata is a traditionalist. There were few strangers in his rural town of birth, Kafr al Battikh, in northeastern Egypt. Men and women often agreed to marry the day they met, and a few made the deal sight unseen. It was rare to meet anyone from a distant province, let alone another country. New York is not only the capital of the world, imams often joke, but also the crossroads of Islam, a human sampling more diverse than anywhere save Mecca during the annual pilgrimage known as the Hajj. Beyond the city’s five boroughs, Muslim immigrants have formed Islamic hubs in California, Illinois, Michigan and Texas. At the center of these hubs stands a familiar sight in a foreign land, the mosque. What was a place of worship in Pakistan or Algeria becomes, in Houston or Detroit, a social haven. But inside, the sexes remain largely apart. A growing number of Muslim Web sites advertise marriage candidates, and housewives often double as matchmakers. One mosque in Princeton, N.J., plays host to a closely supervised version of speed dating. And so many singles worship at the Islamic Society of Boston that a committee was formed to match them up. Fearing a potential surplus of single Muslim women, one Brooklyn imam reportedly urged his wealthier male congregants during a Ramadan sermon last year to take two wives. When a woman complained about the sermon to Mr. Shata, he laughed. “You know that preacher who said Hugo Ch_vez should be shot?” he asked. “We have our idiots, too.” More than a matchmaker, Mr. Shata sees himself as a surrogate elder to young Muslims, many of whom live far from their parents. In America, only an imam is thought to have the connections, wisdom and respect to step into the role. Mr. Shata began the service three months after arriving in Brooklyn in 2002, recruited to lead the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, a mosque on Fifth Avenue. Dates chaperoned by Mr. Shata – or “meetings between candidates,” as the imam prefers to call them – often take place in his distinctly unromantic office, amid rows of Islamic texts. As a couple get acquainted, the imam sits quietly at his desk, writing a sermon or surfing the Arabic Web sites of CNN and the BBC. If there is an awkward silence, the imam perks up and asks a question (“So tell me, Ilham, how many siblings do you have?”) and the conversation is moving again. Candidates are vetted carefully, and those without personal references need not apply. But instinct is Mr. Shata’s best guide. He refused to help a Saudi from California because the man would consider only a teenage wife. Others have shown an all-too-keen interest in a green card. Those who pass initial inspection are listed in the imam’s version of a little black book – their names, phone numbers, specifications and desires. Some prefer “silky hair,” others “a virgin.” Nearly all candidates, men and women alike, want a mate with devotion to Islam, decent looks and legal immigration status. Scanning the book, the imam makes his pitch with the precision of a car salesman. “There is a girl, an American convert, Dominican, looks a little Egyptian. Skin-wise, not white, not dark. Wheat-colored. She’s 19, studies accounting,” Mr. Shata told a 24-year-old Palestinian man one afternoon. “This is my only choice?” replied the man, Yamal Othman, who lives in Queens. Such questions annoy Mr. Shata. An imam, he says, should be trusted to select the best candidate. Often, though, his recommendations are met with skepticism. “It’s harder than choosing a diamond,” said Mr. Shata. Sometimes, on the imam’s three-legged dates, no one seems more excited than Mr. Shata himself. He makes hurried, hearty introductions and then steps back to watch, as if mixing chemicals in a lab experiment. Love is rarely ignited, but the imam remains awed by its promise. Mr. Shata discovered love 15 years ago, when he walked into the living room of the most stately house in Kafr al Battikh. The imam was tall, 22, a rising star at the local mosque. For months, Omyma Elshabrawy knew only his voice. She would listen to his thunderous sermons from the women’s section, out of view. Then, one evening, he appeared at her home, presented as a prospective groom to her father, a distinguished reciter of the Koran. The young woman, then 20, walked toward Mr. Shata carrying a tray of lemonade. “She entered my heart,” said the imam. After serving the drinks, she disappeared. Right then, Mr. Shata asked her father for her hand in marriage. The older man paused. His daughter was the town beauty, an English student with marriage offers from
doctors. The imam was penniless. But before Mr. Elshabrawy could respond, a sugary voice interrupted. “I accept,” his daughter said from behind a door. “I loved him from the moment I saw him,” Ms. Elshabrawy said. They now have four children. The family posed last year for a Sears-style portrait, taken by a woman in Bay Ridge who photographs Muslim families in her basement. A blue sky and white picket fence adorn the background. The imam sits at center, with the baby, Mohammed, in his lap, his three daughters smiling, his wife wrapped in a lime-green hijab. Mr. Shata carries the picture in the breast pocket of his robe. It is as close as most people get to his family. At the mosque, they are a mystery. His wife has been there twice. Their years in America have come with great hardship, a subject the imam rarely discusses. The trouble is the illness of his 7-year-old daughter, Rawda, who is severely epileptic. She has dozens of seizures every day and rarely leaves home. No combination of medicine seems to help. “Rawda is the wound in my heart,” the imam said. Mr. Shata offers long, stubborn theories about the value of marriage, but to observe him at home is to understand the commitment he seeks to foster in other Muslims. The family lives in a spare, dimly lighted apartment two blocks from the mosque. Headscarves are piled over Pok_mon cards. The gold-painted words “Allah is Great” are framed over a threadbare couch. In the next room, an “I {sheart} New York” bumper sticker is slapped on the wall. Mr. Shata spends long hours away from his family, lecturing at mosques, settling disputes, whispering the call to prayer in the ears of newborn babies. On his walk home at night, he shops for groceries, never forgetting the Honey Nut Cheerios, a favorite American discovery of his children. When he walks in the door, his face softens. Loud kisses are planted on tender cheeks. Mohammed squeals, the girls smile, sweet laughter echoes. But then there is Rawda. “My beautiful girl,” the imam says softly one evening, holding his limp daughter in his lap after a seizure has passed. He places one pill in Rawda’s mouth, then another. She looks at him weakly. “There we go,” he whispers. “Inshallah.” Her lids close with sleep. He lays her in bed and shuts off the light. Hardship, the imam believes – like marriage, like life – is a test from God. Foreign and Familiar It is proof of the imam’s uncommon popularity among women that he is trusted with roughly 300 female marriage candidates. The mosque on Fifth Avenue is a decidedly male place. Men occupy every position on the board of directors. They crowd the sidewalk after prayer. Only they may enter the mosque’s central room of worship. Only men, they often point out, are required to attend the Friday prayer. One floor below is the cramped room where the women worship. On Fridays, they sit pressed together, their headscarves itching with heat. They must watch their imam on a closed-circuit television that no one seems to have adjusted in years. But they listen devotedly. Teenage girls often roll their eyes at foreign imams, who seem to them like extraterrestrials. Their immigrant mothers often find these clerics too strict, an uncomfortable reminder of their conservative homelands. Mr. Shata is both foreign and familiar. He presides over a patriarchal world, sometimes upholding it, and other times challenging it. In one sermon, he said that a man was in charge of his home and had the right to “choose his wife’s friends.” Another day, to the consternation of his male congregants, he invited a female Arab social worker to lecture on domestic violence. The women were allowed to sit next to the men in the main section of the mosque. The imam frowns at career women who remain single in their 30’s, but boasts of their accomplishments to interest marriage candidates. He employs his own brand of feminism, vetting marriage contracts closely to ensure brides receive a fair dowry and fighting for them when they don’t. Far more than is customary, he spends hours listening to women: to their worries and confessions, their intimate secrets and frank questions about everything from menstruation to infidelity. They line up outside his office and call his home at all hours, often referring to him as “my brother” or “father.” He can summon the details of their lives with the same encyclopedic discipline he once used to memorize the Koran. “Are you separated yet?” Mr. Shata asked a woman he encountered at Lutheran Medical Center one day last July. She nodded. “May God make it easier for you,” he said. A Chaperoned Date By most standards, the Egyptian bachelor was a catch. He had broad shoulders and a playful smile. He was witty. He earned a comfortable salary as an engineer, and came from what he called “a good family.” But the imam saw him differently, as a young man in danger of losing his faith. The right match might save him. The bachelor, who is 33, came to Brooklyn from Alexandria, Egypt, six years earlier. He craved a better salary, and freedom from controlling parents. He asked that his name not be printed for fear of causing embarrassment to his family. America was not like Egypt, where his family’s connections could secure a good job. In Brooklyn, he found work as a busboy. He traded the plush comfort of his parents’ home for an apartment crowded with other Egyptian immigrants. His nights were lonely. Temptation was abundant. Women covered far less of their bodies. Bare limbs, it seemed, were everywhere. In Islam, men are instructed to lower their gaze to avoid falling into sin. “In the summertime, it’s a disaster for us,” said the bachelor. “Especially a guy like me, who’s looking all the time.” Curiosity lured him into bars, clubs and the occasional one-night stand. But with freedom came guilt, he said. After drifting from his faith, he visited Mr. Shata’s mosque during Ramadan in 2004. The imam struck him as oddly disarming. He made jokes, and explained Islam in simple, passionate paragraphs. The bachelor soon began praying daily, attending weekly lectures and reading the Koran. By then, he had his own apartment and a consulting job. Now he wanted a Muslim wife. If the bachelor had been in Egypt, his parents would offer a stream of marriage candidates. The distance had not stopped them entirely. His mother sent him a video of his brother’s wedding, directing him to footage of a female guest. He was unimpressed. “I’m a handsome guy,” he explained one evening as he sped toward Manhattan. It was his second date with Mr. Shata in attendance. “I have a standard in beauty.” From the passenger seat, the imam flipped open the glove compartment to find an assortment of pricey colognes. He inspected a bottle of Gio and, with a nod from the bachelor, spritzed it over his robe. The imam and the bachelor were at odds over the material world, but on one thing they agreed: it is a Muslim duty to smell good. The religion’s founder, the Prophet Muhammad, was said to wear musk. The car slowed before a brick high-rise on Second Avenue. Soon the pair rode up in the elevator. The bachelor took a breath and rang the doorbell. An older woman answered. Behind her stood a slender, fetching woman with a shy smile. The young woman, Engy Abdelkader, had been presented to the imam by another matchmaker. A woman of striking beauty and poise, Ms. Abdelkader is less timid than she first seems. She works as an immigration and human rights lawyer, and speaks in forceful, eloquent bursts. She is proud of her faith, and lectures publicly on Islam and civil liberties. She was not always so outspoken. The daughter of Egyptian immigrants, Ms. Abdelkader, 30, was raised in suburban Howell, N.J., where she longed to fit in. Though she grew up praying, in high school she chose not to wear a hijab, the head scarf donned by Muslim girls when they reach puberty. But Sept. 11 awakened her, Ms. Abdelkader said. For her and other Muslims, the terrorist attacks prompted a return to the faith, driven by what she said was a need to reclaim Islam from terrorists and a vilifying media. Headscarves became a statement, equal parts political and religious. “There’s no
thing oppressive about it,” said Ms. Abdelkader. “As a Muslim woman I am asking people to pay attention to the content of my character rather than my physical appearance.” The pair sat on a couch, awkwardly sipping tea. They began by talking, in English, about their professions. The bachelor was put off by the fact that Ms. Abdelkader had a law degree, yet earned a modest salary. “Why go to law school and not make money?” he asked later. Ms. Abdelkader’s mother and a female friend who lived in the apartment sat listening nearby until the imam mercifully distracted them. The first hint of trouble came soon after. It was his dream, the engineer told Ms. Abdelkader, to buy a half-million-dollar house. But he was uncertain that the mortgage he would need is lawful in Islam. Ms. Abdelkader straightened her back and replied, “I would rather have eternal bliss in the hereafter than live in a house or apartment with a mortgage.” An argument ensued. Voices rose. Ms. Abdelkader’s mother took her daughter’s side. The friend wavered. The bachelor held his ground. The imam tried to mediate. Indeed, he was puzzled. Here was a woman who had grown up amid tended lawns and new cars, yet she rejected materialism. And here was a man raised by Muslim hands, yet he was rebelliously moderate. After the date, the bachelor told the imam, “I want a woman, not a sheik.” Months later, he married another immigrant; she was not especially devoted to Islam but she made him laugh, he said. They met through friends in New York. Ms. Abdelkader remains single. The imam still believes she was the perfect match. That evening, the imam stood on the sidewalk outside. Rain fell in stinging drops. “I never wanted to be a sheik,” he said. “I used to think that a religious person is very extreme and never smiles. And I love to smile. I love to laugh. I used to think that religious people were isolated and I love to be among people.” The rain soaked the imam’s robe and began to pool in his sandals. A moment later, he ducked inside the building. “The surprise for me was that the qualities I thought would not make a good sheik – simplicity and humor and being close to people – those are the most important qualities. People love those who smile and laugh. They need someone who lives among them and knows their pain.” “I know them,” said Mr. Shata. “Like a brother.” Copyright 2006The New York Times Company Home Privacy Policy Search Corrections XML Help Contact Us Work for Us Site Map Back to Top

US Muslims fight halal meat scam. Some stores sell meat that is falsely labelled as Halal

Of the many ways Musa Abdus Salaam could break the tenets of his Muslim faith, eating a cheeseburger might seem the least threatening. But one year ago, not long after he and his family dined on beef he purchased from a shop in Norfolk, Virginia, Abdus-Salaam learned they had unwittingly violated the Quran: His investigation revealed the store’s meat was not halal. “It is a major sin in our religion,” Abdus-Salaam said. Halal is the Muslim equivalent of kosher, a method of slaughtering, blessing and preparing food to purify it. Believers are willing to pay a premium for halal, and across the US, states and localities are targeting unscrupulous dealers who prey on their dietary devotion. The state of Virginia, home to 350,000 Muslims, is weighing three proposals. One would make selling halal knockoffs a misdemeanour punishable by up to $500 in fines. “In my research, I realised that Virginia does not have a programme to certify kosher or other religious foods,” said Kenneth Alexander, a state legislator who sponsored the bill at his constituents’ request. Fines or jail Other legislation would force vendors to offer certification information and a toll-free number or website for confirmation of halal and kosher foods. Violators could face up to six months in jail and $1000 in fines. The bills are pending in legislative committees. Last summer, New York enacted a law requiring halal food distributors to register with the state. Pending legislation would fine vendors caught possessing mislabelled halal items. Similar codes are on the books in a handful of states, including California, Illinois and Michigan, despite the misgivings of some who maintain that state governments should not be policing religious laws. In Virginia, growing communities are bringing Muslim needs to the forefront, said Imad Damaj, president of the Virginia Muslim Coalition for Public Affairs. Growing numbers He pointed to a 1994 survey that found 11 mosques between Richmond and northern Virginia. “Now there’s no less than 45,” he said, adding that the 9-11 attacks highlighted the American Muslim presence. “Now the community is more higher profile and more under the microscope, too.” Halal foods are vital for the expanding group. Halal means lawful and applies to anything from lunch meat to potato chips, depending on things such as additives and what something’s cooked in. Seafood is automatically halal while pork automatically is not. Other meats undergo a complex procedure. The Muslim population in the US is increasing Generally, the butcher must invoke the name of Allah while cutting the live animal’s neck; once the blood has drained and the animal’s heart stops, Abdus Salaam said, it is halal. Years ago, he was among many residents who travelled as far as Philadelphia to find properly prepared cuisine. Now halal foods – and their lookalikes – are popping up in grocery store meat cases, on carryout menus and in fast food drive-throughs. Difficult to decipher Scams have become common. Some vendors will blend regular meat with a little halal meat to justify Muslim-friendly labels and higher prices. Others simply lie, preying on Muslims’ trust and devotion, said Habib Ghanim Sr, president of the USA Halal Chamber of Commerce. “It’s not like Third World countries, where you can just slaughter a lamb in your back yard and feed the family,” he said, pointing out that halal meat has no special smell or appearance. “You wouldn’t know the difference.” His group is one of several sniffing out fakers. They ask questions such as which supplier one uses – guaranteed to trip up vendors unfamiliar with the tight-knit community of halal butchers and slaughterhouses. Sometimes it pays off. In 1997, authorities fined Springfield’s Washington Lamb Inc $10,000 after they found that the company was falsely claiming its products were halal. Federal agriculture officials can pursue litigation against a company for misbranding a product, considered a violation of the federal meat inspection act. Tricky laws “It’s not like Third World countries, where you can just slaughter a lamb in your back yard and feed the family. You wouldn’t know the difference” Habib Ghanim Sr President, USA Halal Chamber of Commerce But creating laws could put state governments in the touchy position of interpreting religious rules, said Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He argued that it is up to community members to confront vendors. “That seems to me vastly more powerful an instrument than going and expecting some young district attorney to understand the complexities of this,” he said. Yet, without legal repercussions, proponents argue, it is impossible to ensure phony vendors would not resume business. That troubles Abdus-Salaam. His faith mandates that he ask forgiveness for eating non-halal food and promise never to do it again – a tough proposition with shady vendors pushing phony foods. The regional administrator with the Islamic Political Party of America is promoting Alexander’s law. “In our religion, if we see a wrong, we have to right that wrong,” he said. “We can’t just stand around and wish for it to go away.”

Us Latinas Seek Answers In Islam

By Christine Armario UNION CITY, N.J. – Jasmine Pinet sits on the steps outside a mosque here, tucking in strands of her burgundy hair beneath a white head scarf, and explaining why she, a young Latina, feels that she has found greater respect as a woman by converting to Islam. “They’re not gonna say, ‘Hey mami, how are you?’ ” Ms. Pinet says of Muslim men. “Usually they say, ‘Hello, sister.’ And they don’t look at you like a sex object.” While some Latinas her age try to emulate the tight clothes and wiggling hips of stars like Jennifer Lopez and Christina Aguilera, Ms. Pinet and others are adopting a more conservative lifestyle and converting to Islam. At this Union City, N.J., mosque, women account for more than half of the Latino Muslims who attend services here. Nationwide, there are about 40,000 Latino Muslims in the United States, according to the Islamic Society of North America. Many of the Latina converts say that their belief that women are treated better in Islam was a significant factor in converting. Critics may protest that wearing the veil marks a woman as property, but some Latina converts say they welcome the fact that they are no longer whistled at walking down a street. “People have an innate response that I’m a religious person, and they give [me] more respect,” says Jenny Yanez, another Latina Muslim. “You’re not judged if you’re in fashion or out of fashion.” Other Latina Muslims say they also like the religion’s emphasis on fidelity to one’s spouse and family. But for many family members and friends, these conversions come as a surprise – often an unwelcome one. They may know little of Islam other than what they have heard of the Taliban and other extremist groups. That creates an inaccurate image, insists Leila Ahmed, a professor of women’s studies and religion at Harvard University. “It astounds me, the extent to which people think Afghanistan and the Taliban represent women and Islam.” What’s really going on, she says, is a reshaping of the relationship between women and Islam. “We’re in the early stages of a major rethinking of Islam that will open Islam for women. [Muslim scholars] are rereading the core texts of Islam – from the Koran to legal texts – in every possible way.” New views of women and Islam may be more prevalent in countries like the US, where women read the Koran themselves and rely less on patriarchal interpretations. “I think the women here are asserting more their rights and their privileges,” says Zahid Bukhari, director of the American-Muslim Studies Program at George- town University. ” Some Latina Muslims say they harbored stereotypes about Muslim women before deciding to convert, but changed their minds once becoming close friends with a Muslim. “I always thought, geez, I feel sorry for women who have to wear those veils,” says Pinet. Then she met her Muslim boyfriend and began studying the Koran with a group of Muslim women. She says she was impressed with the respect they received. “A women is respected because she is the mother, she takes care of the children, and she’s the one that enforces the rules,” Pinet says. “They’re the ones who are sacred.” Critics of the decisions of Latinas to convert to Islam say they are adopting a religion just as patriarchical as the Roman Catholic faith that many are leaving behind. “While it’s true the Latino culture tends to be more male-dominated, and there’s a tendency toward more machismo, I would venture to say it exists [in Islam] as well,” says Edwin Hernandez, director of the Center for the Study of Latino Religion at the University of Notre Dame. Latinos account for six percent of the 20,000 Muslim conversions in the United States each year, according to a report published by the Council on American-Islamic Relations. Anecdotal evidence suggests this number may be rising. But that doesn’t mean it’s getting any easier for the women who make this choice. “At first it was anger and then more like sadness,” Nylka Vargas says of her parents’ reaction when she told them she was converting to Islam and began dressing more conservatively. “They would sometimes feel strange being around me.” Pinet’s family has been more accepting, but she too has encountered some resistance in her community. It’s as if you’ve betrayed your own kind,” she says. For some, the cultural differences are the most trying. “I can’t eat pork, I can’t wear [form- fitting] clothing, I can’t dance in the clubs, I’m not gonna attend church,” says Ms. Yanez, who is of Cuban and Spanish descent. “But I keep my language, and there’s still things that we do as Latinos that they don’t have to change.” Within the Islamic community, Latina Muslims report being warmly received, although language barriers sometimes exist for Latinas who only speak Spanish. There are few Spanish services at mosques and a limited number of Islamic texts in Spanish. Grassroots organizations specifically for Latino Muslims have been created in recent years. They function in part as an informational resource for new converts and but also as a support group for those who encounter difficulties at home. Ultimately, Latina Muslims say that time heals the divisions and angst their conversion sometimes causes among friends and family. “What I had to learn was patience,” says Vargas, whose family came to accept her religious beliefs after several years. “Sometimes things are not as we want them.”

Italian Prison Warily Allows Muslims To Pray; European Jails Often Are Breeding Grounds For Radical Islam

Milan — The guards, heavy brass keys swinging from their belts, open and shut the metal gates to each floor of the labyrinthine Bollate prison as the Muslim call to prayer echoes in the corridors. Prisoners rush to the makeshift mosques that have sprouted in every building. At the end of the hall on the fourth floor of Building 1, a hand-lettered paper sign proclaims, in Italian, “moschea” — mosque. Furnishings inside are sparse, just three green prayer rugs, pointing eastward, and on the wall a plaque with verses from the Quran. Abdelfattah Jendoubi, serving a sentence on drug charges, throws on a dishdasha shirt, pulls off his shoes and makes his way to the room. The 42-year-old Tunisian is joined by two other men. He is apologetic, saying turnout is better on Fridays. Generally, though, younger Muslims in the prison are not very religious, he says. He hopes to change that. “I want to teach the young beautiful things,” he says, but it is unclear whether authorities, who lack Arabic speakers to monitor his preaching, would agree with his definition of beauty. “They have to change their lives. God wants them to leave the life of crime.” Jendoubi’s mission is a difficult one: reaching out to the young men confined within these sterile walls on the outskirts of a city known the world over as Italy’s vibrant fashion capital. About 30 percent of the inmates in Bollate are Muslim, officials say; that’s in a country where Muslims make up just 2 percent of the population of 58 million, although there is a higher concentration of them in northern Italy around Milan. Their burgeoning numbers in prison are a reproach to Europe’s efforts to integrate its immigrants, and a boost to radical imams and hard-core militants who use cellblocks to attract followers and spread a doctrine of violence. Many of the Muslim inmates in Bollate arrived in Italy alone, sometimes as young as 14, hoping to find an uncle or a cousin, or even a distant relative, and burdened with the overly optimistic expectations of their family back in Morocco, or Tunisia or Algeria. Once in Italy, they can find themselves trapped in a vicious circle. Unable to obtain proper work and residency documents, they live on the fringes, perhaps turning to crime to survive. Marginalized in society, they are doubly marginalized in prison, outsiders in an institution where Italian clout and influence are supreme. Their hopes of sending money to families who sacrificed to send them to Europe are vanquished. They probably will be deported, and going home as ex-cons will bring shame. That fate probably awaits Bilel Sefir, an inmate with an air of quiet desperation. Sefir left his native Tunisia for France four years ago, when he was 17. After a couple of years he moved to Italy, thinking, mistakenly, that it would be easier to obtain residency papers. Alone but for a friend who had come with him from France, he found odd jobs as a plumber and was able to support himself for about a year, until he was arrested in a crackdown on drug dealers. “I made a big mistake,” he says in a voice barely above a whisper. Tall but slight, with wavy dark hair, Sefir received a relatively short sentence of 14 months and expects to be sent back to Tunisia after his release. Like Jendoubi, he takes some comfort in his faith. Sefir says he is able to pray five times a day, as devout Muslims do, with little trouble. In fact, he finds it easier to pray inside jail than outside, where mosques are far away and tolerance more rare. “I have the time,” he says. “Once in a while, other prisoners make fun of me and ask me why I do it the way I do and why do I keep praying. But most people are respectful. “I pray mostly that God forgives me for what I’ve done.” Jendoubi, in his quest to save souls, sees far more hardened cases in Bollate. A greater number of young Muslim men in the prison are like Mohammed Derrag, 23, a heavily tattooed Moroccan. He does not pray at all, saying, “This is not the moment.” Derrag is caught between his family and heritage, which he acknowledges he has betrayed with his criminal ways, and the gritty world in which he survives. “I was born a Muslim and always will be a Muslim,” he says. “But my family prays. Not me.” Even some young immigrants who seem destined for better things can get caught up in a hard-luck underground. As baby-faced as Derrag is tough, Yunis Qabili, 19, landed in jail after being caught with friends who had drugs. Unlike most other inmates, Qabili has lived more than half his life in Italy with his parents and siblings, who arrived legally from Morocco. The teenager, who says he speaks better Italian than Arabic, worked as a mechanic. But he fell in with a bad crowd, and now he just wants to do his time (a year), get out and finish high school. “The police will say they don’t (discriminate), but I think they look more for Moroccans,” Qabili says, narrowing his eyes and taking a long drag on his cigarette. Mirroring friction on the streets, relations between Italian and immigrant prisoners are often strained. A recent — and not uncommon — brawl landed several inmates in the infirmary. In the prison’s gyms, cafeteria and library, the inmates usually divide into cliques. Muslims lift weights and exercise together, and share pork-free meals. Bulletin boards advertise Italian lessons for Arabic speakers. The library has copies of the Quran — as well as works by the Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci, known of late for her anti-Muslim screeds. For a while, the prison employed “cultural mediators” who could translate both language and cultural sensitivities, but there’s no budget for them anymore. None of the inmates at Bollate talks about waging jihad; one youth recoils physically and begins to shake when asked. But authorities in Italy, Spain, Britain and elsewhere in Europe are all too aware of the ease with which prison populations have become fodder for militant networks operating in their midst. Throughout Europe, some suspects in notorious cases, including the recent London bombings, are said to have been radicalized in prison, and a number of terrorist plots are known to have been hatched behind bars. Muktar Said Ibrahim, an Eritrean immigrant arrested in a failed bombing attempt in London in late July, obtained British citizenship in September 2004 despite having served a five-year prison sentence for armed robberies. He found Islam in the same penitentiary where radical imams converted Richard Reid, the convicted shoe-bomber of Jamaican descent imprisoned in the United States for trying to blow up a Paris-to-Miami flight. And so the delicate balance for wardens such as Lucia Castellano at Bollate is allowing inmates to practice their faith without letting the institution be used to recruit and indoctrinate extremists. “I’m a little scared of the imams,” she says. “They don’t speak Italian, we can’t understand them, and in Milan that can be quite dangerous.” As a consequence, and in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, she has banned imams from outside the prison. Milan has long been known as a center of radical Islam, and one of its principal mosques was named by U.S. and Italian authorities as a likely European headquarters for al Qaeda. Instead, Castellano allows the Muslims in each cellblock to appoint an imam from among themselves. Still, the inability to understand the language being spoken in many cells is worrisome, says Castellano, a red-haired native of Naples, one of Italy’s toughest cities. Her office is decorated with Andy Warhol prints of Marilyn Monroe on one wall, a crucifix on another. “Each of my head guards can tell me who the boss (of the Muslim inmates) is on each floor,” she says. “It does not mean that they are terrorists, but they are organized. We are paying attention. We are watching.” But the warden and her guards can only guess at what devout prisoners such as Jendoubi are preaching. On the fourth floor of Building 1, Italian inmates are giving hard looks to the trio of Muslims gathered to pray in the room designated as a mosque. They keep their distance, smoking cigarettes. Jendoubi, the Tunisian, says he avoid
s the Italian inmates. But he praises the prison for allowing the Muslim inmates to pray. A carpenter by trade who has lived many years in Italy, he was not religious when he was sent to prison, he says, but has used his time in the three years since to study the Quran. Now he prays 12 times a day, sometimes rising well before dawn to do so. “I didn’t pray before,” says Jendoubi, who has a thin, graying beard. “But as I read more, I saw it was the right way.” On this particular midday, another Tunisian calls out the summons to prayer. He, Jendoubi and a third man then move inside the one-room mosque. The three men kneel on the small rugs and pray. They bow eastward, toward a window looking out on the cold gray concrete of the prison, and the walls topped with barbed wire.

British Tolerance Of Forced Unions Wanes

The government may criminalize forced marriages, hundreds of which take place annually among Muslims. By James Brandon In a drafty railway station cafe in England’s Midlands, Ayesha, a young Muslim girl whose family is from Pakistan, is trying not to cry as she talks about her wedding day. “When I was young I always expected to have an arranged marriage,” she says. “But I also thought that I’d get a chance to know the man first.” Instead, at 17, her family forced her to marry a man she had never met. When Ayesha, not her real name, tried to have the marriage annulled, she was disowned by her family, and forced to flee her hometown of Birmingham. Although every year hundreds of Muslim, Sikh, and Hindu women in Britain, according to figures from the government and aid agencies, are forced into marriage to fulfill traditional ideas of family honor or parental prestige, Britain’s government has so far been reluctant to interfere in the private lives of immigrants. But now, following the London subway and bus bombings on July 7, the government is proposing new laws that would specifically criminalize forcing others into marriage. And calls for the ban have grown as Britain attempts to integrate its insular Muslim communities into the mainstream in an effort to temper extremism. “In Britain we are proud of our cultural diversity,” said Baroness Scotland, a Home Office minister who started talks on the proposal earlier this month. “But even a sensitive appreciation of cultural differences cannot allow abuse to go unchallenged.” Shaminder Ubhi, director of the Ashiana Project, one of several London refuges for Asian and Middle Eastern women fleeing domestic violence, says that about 300 women looking for help come to them every year. “And around 60 percent say that forced marriage is one of the issues they are escaping from.” But some say that new legislation specifically targeting minorities will only increase feelings of persecution, and that the worst cases of forced marriages can be dealt with under existing laws against rape and kidnap. “There is already enough legislation. We prefer to say it’s a cultural and not a religious thing and to abolish the practice that way,” says Reefat Drabu, of the controversial Muslim Council of Britain’s Social and Family Affairs Committee. “The media use the issue to demonize the Muslim community. And the problem is diminishing anyway.” But in Derby, a city where Britain’s growing racial divide is most apparent, the problem is far from diminishing. “The cases sound barbaric but they happen every single day,” says Jasvinder Sanghera, who runs Karma Nirvana, a shelter in Derby for Asian women fleeing forced marriages and abusive husbands. “One day last week I dealt with 12 cases. We need a complete change of mind-set,” says Ms. Sanghera. “This is a human rights issue. It needs to be treated with the seriousness it deserves.” One key problem is that while many South Asian immigrants permit their sons to absorb Western influences, they often cannot accept that their young women brought up in Britain have adopted Western ideas of female independence. “We’re born here. We’re bound to be influenced by Western ideals,” says Sanghera, who herself ran away from home after her Sikh family tried to force her into a marriage with a stranger. “I just wanted to have a love marriage that people like you can take for granted,” she says. The challenges of reconciling their increasingly Western ambitions with their private loyalty to their family and their cultural traditions are too much for many young women. “Younger Asian women in the UK in the 16 to 24 age group have a suicide rate two to three times the national average,” says Sanghera. “Girls in schools at this moment are sitting there fearing that they’re about to be sent to India or Pakistan to be married off.” But while the practice of forced marriage initially came from older generations keen to preserve their traditions, many young British-born Asians perpetuate the practice as a way to differentiate themselves from mainstream British society, which many deem corrupt and immoral. “We are seeing an increasing number of 16 year olds fleeing forced marriages,” says Sanghera, “The myth is that when the older generation die this problem will go. But young people are reinventing these attitudes.” The growing isolation of minority communities, particularly in the north of England, means that even with the new law, Sanghera’s ambition to stamp out the problem may take years to fulfill, especially as many community leaders deny that the problem exists. “Some schools say not to bring our leaflets into schools because it will upset the Asian community,” she says. “But our human rights organizations shouldn’t worry about upsetting people. These arguments slow us down. “Asian community leaders say leave us alone, you’re stereotyping us. I wish faith groups did work with us because they hold a lot of power,” says Sanghera. “These communities are not above the law. If they choose to live [here] they must sign up to helping people live free of fear and violence.” But even if the new law does prevent forced marriages, it will do little for those who have already fled their homes to escape. “I’ve not seen my family for eight years,” says Ayesha. “I’m so disappointed – they are supposed to be the closest things to me – they’re not supposed to hurt you.”