The Status of Muslim Civil Rights in the United States, 2007

A report released today by a prominent national Islamic civil rights and advocacy group indicates a 25 percent increase in the total number of complaints of anti-Muslim bias from 2005 to 2006, with citizenship delays being the major issue.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations’ (CAIR) report — the only annual study of its kind — outlines 2,467 incidents and experiences of anti- Muslim violence, discrimination and harassment in 2006, the highest number of civil rights cases ever recorded in the Washington-based group’s report. (Hundreds of anti-Muslim incidents reported immediately following the 9/11 attacks were detailed in a separate report.)

According to the study, called “Presumption of Guilt,” that total is a 25.1 percent increase over the preceding year’s total of 1,972 cases. One of the most significant increases is in the category dealing with government agencies, which rose sharply from 19.22 percent of total reports in 2005 to 36.32 percent in 2006. This increase was due primarily to the number of cases related to immigration issues such as citizenship and naturalization delays.

CAIR also received 167 reports of anti-Muslim hate crime complaints, a 9.2 percent increase from the 153 complaints received in 2005.

Nine states and the District of Columbia accounted for almost 81 percent of all civil rights complaints to CAIR in 2006. They include (in descending order): California (29 percent), Illinois (13 percent), District of Columbia (7 percent), Florida (7 percent), Texas (6 percent), New York (5 percent), Virginia (4 percent), Michigan (3 percent), New Jersey (3 percent) and Ohio (3 percent).

This year, most categories of reported cases remained relatively unchanged from last year’s report. There were a few decreases, in both real and proportional terms, in certain categories from the previous year. For example, civil rights complaints involving the workplace declined significantly from 25.41 percent in 2005 to 15.57 percent in 2006.

In the report, CAIR offers public policy recommendations to address anti- Muslim sentiments in American society. Those recommendations include: 1) asking elected representatives and religious and community leaders to speak out strongly against Islamophobia and to repudiate anti-Muslim bigots, 2) urging American Muslims to increase outreach and education efforts, 3) holding congressional hearings on the rising level of Islamophobia in America, 4) expediting the processing of citizenship/naturalization applications, and 5) adopting domestic and foreign polices that reflect American traditions of justice and respect for the human dignity of all people.

“Like the history of other minority groups in America, the experience of the American Muslim community after the tragedy of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is seen by many as the next chapter in American civil rights history,” said CAIR Legal Director Arsalan Iftikhar, the report’s author. “The findings in this report should serve as a reminder that discrimination is still a major issue in our nation.”

CAIR began documenting anti-Muslim incidents following the 1995 attack on the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. The council is America’s largest Islamic civil liberties group, with 33 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.

Women’s hidden role writing Islam’s rules

From The Times April 14, 2007 Women’s hidden role writing Islam’s rules A Muslim scholar is rewriting history by revealing the extent of women’s influence on the formation of Sharia Carla Power Mohammed Akram Nadwi is an unlikely champion for a Muslim gender-quake. Soft-spo-ken and shy, he is a graduate of madrassas in his native India, and an unabashed religious conservative. But the current work of this Oxford-based alim, or religious scholar, could shatter the stock notions of Muslim women’s roles, both in society and Islamic scholarship. Hunting through classical texts, Akram, 43, a researcher at the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies, has uncovered a tradition of female Muslim scholars dating back to the 7th century. Muslim women’s religious scholarship is seen as sort of a cottage industry: if women study, it is pretty much in the purdah of their own homes or in segregated rooms in mosques or madrassas. If they teach, they usually teach only women. But trawling through centuries of biographical dictionaries, madrassa chronicles, letters and travel books, Akram has found evidence of thousands of muhaddithat, or female experts in Hadith, the deeds and sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. He has found accounts of women teaching men and women in mosques and madrassas, touring Arabia and the Levant on lecture circuits, issuing fatwas, and making Islamic law. Who knew that in the 15th century, Fatimayah al-Bataihiyyah taught Hadith in the Prophet’s mosque in Medina, and that the chief male scholars of the day, from as far afield as Fez, were her students? (Such was al-Bataihiyyah’s status that she taught at the grave of the Prophet, the mosque’s most prestigious spot.) Who knew that hundreds of girls in medieval Mauritania could recite al-Mudawwana, a key book of Islamic law, by heart? Or that Fatimah bint Muhammad bin Ahmad al-Samarqandi, a jurist in medieval Samarkand, used to issue fatwas and advised her far more famous husband on how to issue his? Presumably not the Taleban, who banned women from education while in power, and even now threaten administrators at Afghan girls’ schools. Nor, one imagines, Saudi Arabia, which bans women from driving or travelling freely. A few Islamic historiographers have known about a few women Hadith experts. A century ago Ignaz Goldziher, the Hungarian orientalist, estimated that about 15 per cent of medieval Muslim scholars were women. And Muslims widely acknowledge there have long been learned women, starting with Aisha, the Prophet’s favourite wife. It is less well-known that she narrated about a quarter of the laws forming the basis of Sharia, and was the preferred interpreter of Sharia by the founders of three of the four schools of Islamic law. Akram, himself a Hadith expert who has written more than 25 books, is shocked at the scope of his discoveries. When he started on the project, he expected to find 20 or 30 women, enough to fill a single-volume biographical dictionary. Seven years on, he has found more than 8,000, and his dictionary now stands at 40 volumes. It is so long that his usual publishers, in Damascus and Beirut, have balked at the printing cost. (An Oxford publisher, Interface Publications, will publish the preface to the book in English this summer.) And he is convinced that the women he has found only hint at the true numbers of working women scholars. If I can find 8,000 in the sources, he notes, it means that there were many, many more than that. Since Islamic knowledge is based on oral transmission through chains of scholars linking back to Muhammad, narrators’ reliability is crucial. Weighing Hadiths’ authenticity is itself a branch of Islamic science. Few muhaddithat have been accused of fabrication or inaccuracy, notes Akram. As women didn’t work, they had no reason to invent or embellish prophetic traditions. Hadith wasn’t a source of income for them, and they didn’t do it because they wanted to become famous, he observes. Purdah kept their accounts pure. After the 17th century, women’s scholarship dwindled. Colonial governments, favoring Western-style education, neglected the madrassa system, so custom flourished in lieu of solid Islamic scholarship. Weak leadership from the ulama, many of whom have busied themselves with politics rather than scholarship, has left Muslims ignorant of their own history. Akram believes that Islam’s current cultural insecurity has been bad for both Islamic learning and Muslim women: Our traditions have grown weak, and when people are weak, they grow cautious. When they’re cautious, they don’t give their women freedoms. Akram’s discoveries are particularly powerful because they have been made by a working alim, not a Western academic or a self-styled Muslim reformer. Muslim feminists such as the Dutch reformer Ayaan Hirsi Ali may make headlines in the West, but they often lack credibility among ordinary Muslims. Akram’s approach is fundamentally conservative. Uncovering past muhaddithat could help to reform present-day Islamic culture. Many Muslims see historical precedent – particularly when it dates back to the golden age of Muhammad – as a road map for sound modern societies. The way Muslim society is now isn’t the way it was in the time of the Prophet, observes Akram. Muhammad didn’t hide the accomplishments of his wives or daughters, which many Muslims still do today. When Akram lectures at mosques and madrassas around Britain, his research has met with cautious interest. Women are far keener on his research than men, he wryly notes. His audience is a conservative crowd, wary of teachings that unpick social mores. People think my work will change the structure of society, he says. Critics have accused him of championing free mixing between men and women. He is not, and believes that many segregations should be preserved. I’m not issuing a fatwa that men and women need to study together, he says. But Muslim women scholars are part of our history. And by looking at that history, we can bring Muslim society closer to what it once was.

Turkey: Pope Makes Turkish Mosque Visit

Pope Benedict XVI has visited one of Turkey’s most famous mosques in what is being seen as an attempt to mend relations with the Muslim community. During his tour of the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, the pontiff paused in silent prayer alongside senior Muslim clerics. It marks only the second papal visit in history to a Muslim place of worship.

The Caged Virgin (Reviewed): The Sins Of Islam

{Media review: Carlin Romano’s article about Hirsi Ali’s new book, The Caged Virgin, is doing the rounds in the syndicated American press.} By Carlin Romano (Philadelphia Inquirer) “I do not despise Islam,” writes Somali-Dutch activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali at the outset of her first book, “The Caged Virgin,” a best seller in Europe that consolidated her reputation as that continent’s sternest critic of Islam. “I am thoroughly conscious of the noble values that the religion promotes, such as charity, hospitality and compassion for the weak and poor.” Sounds reasonable and moderate. Why, then, must Hirsi Ali live under 24/7 guard from Dutch security after years of death threats? Why did a Moroccan-Dutch jihadist murder the filmmaker Theo van Gogh, who helped Hirsi Ali make a TV documentary about Muslim abuse of women, then vow that Hirsi Ali would be next? The answer, “The Caged Virgin” makes clear, is that Hirsi Ali refuses to accept what she considers immoral aspects of the religion in which she was raised just because many Muslims are good people. Within Islam, this thinking is often deemed heresy, and in the view of some, Hirsi Ali is very heretical indeed. In her view, the chief sin of Islam is how it treats women. “In the name of Islam,” she writes, “women are subjected to cruel and horrible practices, including female genital mutilation and disownment.” A Koranic verse “gives men the right to beat their wives.” Muslim tradition allows fathers to marry off a daughter by fiat, a practice Hirsi Ali describes as “an arranged rape approved of by her whole family.” Muslim women are virtually excluded from public life, and legislation “puts women at a severe disadvantage.” The cause is what Hirsi Ali calls “tribal morality,” Islam’s obsession with a woman’s virginity. She writes, “a woman who withdraws from the virgins’ cage is branded a whore” and the “essence of a woman is reduced to her hymen.” Yet Hirsi Ali brings more to bear against these beliefs and practices than mere anger. She draws on Western champions of critical reason with stinging force: “I’d like to invite all people like me who had an Islamic upbringing” to “contrast J.S. Mill’s essay, ‘On the Subjection of Women’ (1869) with what the Prophet Muhammad has to say.” This is not pretty to watch. Muhammad, she notes, “fell in love with Aisha, his best friend’s 9-year-old daughter. Her father said, ‘Please wait until she has reached adulthood.’ But Muhammad did not want to wait.” Muhammad married Aisha when she was 9. “By our Western standards,” Hirsi Ali writes, Muhammad is “perverse” and “a despicable individual.” To Muslims who reject Western mores in judging Muhammad, she retorts, “the fact that the Wright brothers were not Islamic has not stopped Muslims from traveling by air. By adopting the technical inventions of the West without its courage to think independently, we perpetuate the mental stagnation in Islamic culture.” “The Caged Virgin” interweaves this critique with reporting on the plight of Muslim women and the author’s own history as a woman subjected to genital mutilation, beaten in her youth by a Koranic teacher who fractured her skull and bequeathed in marriage by her father to a man she’d never met — the final straw that led her to seek asylum in the West. At certain moments in cultural history, a particular book or pamphlet catches fire by taking a spark already burning in people’s hearts and minds and setting it ablaze on the printed page. “The Caged Virgin” is such a book. We live in such a moment.

From One Border to the Next: The Past and Present of Islam in the West

Between 15 and 22 July the universities of Granada, Hassan II-Mohammedia, Paris VIII and Seville will hold a joint program under the aegis of the Euro_rabe Foundation. The history of al-Andalus, the Mediterranean in history, syncretism, progress and tradition will be some of the organising themes at this European Summer University.

Britain, Let’s Talk, Say Muslims

By Dominic Casciani The organisers insist it is a coincidence, but the fact that IslamExpo fell on the first anniversary of the London bombings was the powerful symbol British Muslims needed to say very publicly what they stand for. The $1.8m show at London’s Alexandra Palace could have been just another event where Muslims talks to Muslims about being Muslim. But instead the organisers found a simple formula of exhibitions, market stalls, and robust debate that very successfully managed to bring in a healthy proportion of white, non-Muslim people and, critically, create some dialogue. And so, while the two-minute silence came and went, and Britain reflected on how we find, in simplest terms, a way to all get on, the many different people at IslamExpo just got on with it. For Ihtisham Hibatullah, co-ordinator of the massive enterprise, this was what it was all about. Taking his guests through the entrance hall of a Bedouin-style tent, and a very lavish interactive history of Islam, he said the show’s mission was to give confidence to Britain’s Muslim communities.
Black in the Union Jack Stopping at a gallery of work by British Muslim artists, he said the images were a perfect way of understanding the reality of the modern world. “Islam is not just part of the East anymore,” said Mr Hibatullah. “It began there, but is now very much part of Europe, part of Britain. “Look at these pictures. Here is one of the Union Jack in the style of Islamic calligraphy. I don’t think the flag is the trade mark of the British National Party anymore, is it? “We are trying to give people a sense off Islamic history, of identity but, crucially, we are trying to provide means through which British Muslims can show how they have contributed to our society.” Among the thousands trooping through the doors of Ally Pally were an estimated 4,000 school children from all over the UK.
History comes alive In the marquee of Exhibition Islam, a touring organisation that takes historic artefacts into schools, children of all backgrounds crowded around Imtiaz Alam as he showed them a 16th century Koran. “It has been fantastic to be here and see the non-Muslim kids taking an interest,” said Imtiaz, who has received invitations from American and Australian organisations. “I am really glad that so many people have taken the time to listen and learn. “Every time we do our show, and we must have taken it to 250,000 people by now, we find a good reception. People want to learn and understand and appreciate what Islam means to Muslims.” And this was key for the diverse audience. While the tough lectures and deep thinking went on in some of the marquees, the biggest attraction for the children were workshops with a lighter touch. Khayaal Theatre Group was among those holding music and dance shows for the kids, drawing on traditional Islamic stories from around the Muslim world. Luqman Ali, founder of Khayall, has long campaigned among Muslim communities for them to use the arts to both understand themselves and forge links with wider society. “It is through story-telling and the universal values that they contain we can improve inter-cultural understanding and start dealing with issues like alienation, isolation and segregation,” said Luqman. “It’s through stories that people and civilisations better understand each other, rather than through dogma and doctrine.” Luqman said however that he had mixed feelings a year on from the bombings. “The consequences were not uniform – in some parts of society it’s been a catalyst for much more dialogue and for individuals to bridge the gap of understanding. “In other ways it has increased anxieties – I have times when I am optimistic and times when I am very pessimistic.”
New generation Intissar Khreeji-Ghannouchi shared Luqman Ali’s mixed feelings, saying the past few years had been an “emotional rollercoaster”. A recent Cambridge law graduate, Intissar is representative of a new emerging generation of confident Muslim women determined to take on prejudices stereotypes. “I think there is a lot of optimism created by this event – it shows how we can all overcome the actions of individuals [the bombers] who want to break the Muslim community away from the rest of society. “We need to find ways of having a genuine dialogue with each other and I feel IslamExpo is a very important step. Look at what you have here today – you have an opportunity to properly introduce people to Muslim culture. The public perception is very negative but if we are open, we can combat it.” Intissar said that she had personally found it frustrating to sometimes explain to non-Muslims why she wears a headscarf. “Then I started reminding myself that while it is a normal part of me, I should put myself in their shoes – they are curious and may not understand. I would be naturally curious about another culture and what it means. “I think since 9/11 we [the British] have had to think more deeply about identity. “This has been an invigorating experience but also one of urgency because Muslims now recognise that it is not enough to be passive.” And the pro-active stance taken by people such as Intissar was one that went down well with the non-Muslim visitors who had come to learn and talk. South London A-level students Laura Burtonshaw, Lucie Robathan and Katie Carpenter were among the significant number of non-Muslim visitors. They said they had been enormously enthused by the experience which had helped them understand the relationships between Islam and Christianity. “We really think it has been brilliant,” said Katie. “It is really what we all need to see and hear. I just can’t get over how friendly everyone has been.” Laura said the trio had been studying the roots of religion at school but the show had given them a real opportunity to really understand the daily lived-in culture of Islam. “The most important thing is that we find a way to learn and understand each other,” she said.