Celebrating Eid in America’s Heartland

Even in Omaha Nebraska, the heartland of America, Muslim Americans gathered to celebrate the end of Ramadan. A community of about 3,000 celebrated Eid Al-Fitr in the Hilton hotel ballroom room in Omaha. In the traditionally conservative Christian area, “They filed into the hall past non-Muslim Americans who, in bewilderment, stared at this unusual sight” reports IslamOnline. People with backgrounds from Sudan, Somalia, Pakistan, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and Latin America all participated in prayers. One man observed: “This is really great to see so many cultures in one place at one time.”

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Belgium-based Moroccan behind dismantled “terror network”

Anti-terrorism police in Morocco and Belgium have detained 11 suspects with alleged links to both Belgium and Al-Qaeda offshoots in Northern Africa. Authorities say that members of the group may have plotted attacks on a luxury hotel in Brussels and European Union facilities. Moroccan officials also said that attacks were plotted in their country, but details about the targets were not discussed. All of the arrestees were taken into custody in the cities of Fez and Nador.

Community centre and mosque plan for hotel site

A landmark hotel in Nelson could be given a fresh lease of life as a Muslim community centre under part of plans for a new mosque in the town. The former Groves Hotel, off Manchester Road, has been earmarked by the UKIM Madina Masjid, currently based in Forest Street, as a potential new home. Blueprints for an _850,000 project of the community centre and new mosque have been submitted to Pendle council’s planning department. The Forest Street mosque started life in 1974 as a single shop, which was later expanded with the purchase of two adjacent properties. But the local community has outgrown the current premises, which is incorrectly orientated with Mecca for prayer and also suffers from limited car parking. A spokesman for the project said: “Madina Masjid had been searching for a new site for a number of years and had considered a variety of potential sites. “Firstly the location and secondly, size were the main determinants in the selection of the Spring Bank Cottage (the former Groves Hotel).”http://www.themuslimweekly.com/newsdetails/fullstoryview.aspx?NewsID=88F82ADB58CCE46173D18278&MENUID=HOMENEWS&DESCRIPTION=UK%20News

Switzerland: Swiss reject plans for Major Islamic Center in Capital

Islamic groups said they were disappointed Saturday that plans to build one of the biggest Muslim cultural centers in Europe were rejected by Swiss planners in Bern. The center, to include a mosque, a museum, offices and a four-star hotel, had been proposed by a Bern-based Islamic coordination group, Umma, for the site of a former abattoir at a cost of up to 80 million Swiss francs (65 million dollars). The authorities said they had earmarked the site for a uses other than religious and saw no other suitable location for the project in Bern, according to the Swiss wire service ATS. Umma said in a statement they noted the decision with “regret.” The move comes in the midst of a row over minarets in Switzerland where 350,000 Muslims have settled. A campaign, spearheaded by right-wing politicians, has been launched to try to ban further construction of the towers at mosques claiming they are a political rather than religious symbol and breach Swiss laws. Only two mosques in Zurich and Geneva have a minaret.

Imams In Spain Say Muslims And Jews Must Confront Extremism

SEVILLE, Spain, March 23 — Scores of rabbis and imams gathered here this week to discuss what they called a deepening crisis in relations between Muslims and Jews, saying religious leaders must confront religious extremism and the failure to make meaningful progress on the conflict in the Middle East. The meeting did not produce any sweeping agreements, but it was nonetheless heralded by many participants as a breakthrough, bringing together religious leaders who have the potential to bridge the divisions between Muslims and Jews, but who rarely interact. Leaders who seldom cross paths despite living only minutes apart, like ultra-Orthodox rabbis from Israel and former members of the radical Palestinian group Hamas, spent four days in a hotel here sitting in the same rooms, eating the same meals and occasionally talking, guardedly at first, but increasingly freely as the conference progressed. You have some of the most fundamentalist people from both religions here, said Eliezer Simcha Weisz, a rabbi in Emek Hefer, Israel. These people would never sit together in Israel. The meeting, organized by the French foundation Hommes de Parole, which promotes dialogue between conflicting groups, included hostile exchanges and pointed arguments about terrorism, Israeli settlements and claims to Jerusalem. But it also led to some uninhibited displays of camaraderie, like rabbis and imams singing and dancing together during an impromptu musical performance in the hotel lobby near midnight. But sporadic displays of conviviality did not temper the underlying tension. At the opening ceremony on Sunday, the chief rabbi of Israel, Yona Metzger, noting that most Muslims are moderates, asked the imams in the audience: Why don’t you speak when Bin Laden invokes your religion to justify terrorism? Why don’t you express yourselves in a loud voice? Even discussions as seemingly innocuous as the virtues of peace often turned into arguments. No one can speak about peace while there is occupation, said Imad al-Falouji, a former Hamas member and one of the most prominent imams in Gaza, referring to the Israeli presence in the West Bank. But the participants appeared to agree broadly that tensions between Muslims and Jews had grown worse in recent years in part because religious leaders had lost their voice, allowing politicians, diplomats and, most worrisome, extremists to dictate relations between the two religions. Religion has been misused by the fundamentalists, who have taken over religion and made us hostages, said Andr_ Azoulay, a Jew from Morocco who is a senior adviser to King Mohammed VI. They could do so because we were silent. Rabbi Daniel Sperber, president of the Institute for Advanced Torah Studies at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan, Israel, said that religious leaders had many shared beliefs and might be able to reach agreements where diplomats had failed. We haven’t even begun to tap the resources of the religious world, he said. This is the first stage, trying to bring people together to establish some sort of common agenda. At the conclusion of the conference on Wednesday, the leaders issued a joint communiqu_ denouncing the use of religion to justify violence and urging respect for religious symbols, an apparent response to the recent protests of cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad. The declaration also included an implicit condemnation of statements from Hamas and the president of Iran, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, calling for the destruction of Israel. We condemn any incitement against a faith or people, let alone any call for their elimination, and we urge authorities to do likewise, the statement said. But the real value of the conference, most participants said, was in the informal meetings that took place in the hallways and at the dinner tables, allowing participants to put faces on people often portrayed as the enemy back home. Ashour Kullab, a Muslim leader from Gaza who had never spoken with a rabbi before coming here, said he spoke with two rabbis on the first morning of the conference. There were no problems with them, he said. They listened and I listened. They are my friends now. The encounter, he said, could never have happened in the Gaza Strip, where extremists do not tolerate friendships with Jews. If I go with them in the streets in Gaza, I might get shot, he said. The group first met last year in Brussels. In bringing the conference to Seville this year, organizers hoped to recapture some of the relative harmony that is said to have governed Muslim-Jewish relations here during the Middle Ages, when Spain was a Muslim-controlled territory called Al Andalus. That sense of cooperation seemed to find its way into many discussions. During a coffee break early in the conference, Stuart Altshuler, a rabbi from Mission Viejo, Calif., got into an angry dispute with Mr. Falouji, the imam from Gaza, over the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians. But the two made up shortly after, saying they had benefited from the exchange. I was able to meet with Falouji from Gaza, Rabbi Altshuler said the next day. I’ve dreamed of a chance to do that.

Post-9/11 Workplace Discrimination Continues

By Stephanie Armour, USA TODAY Nearly four years after the terrorist attacks, Muslim, South Asian and Arab-American employees continue to report discrimination on the job. Compared with the first two years after the Sept. 11 attacks, the number of employees saying they’ve been discriminated against as a form of backlash because of the attacks has declined. But charges continue to come in, indicating that Arab-American and other workers still feel discriminated against. “People are being called ‘terrorist’ at work, things of that sort,” says Arsalan Iftikhar, national legal director at Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “A lot of cases continue to go on. People have been called Osama bin Laden, told they are going to mosque to learn how to build a bomb.” Nearly 280 claims of discrimination in the workplace were received by CAIR in 2004, and the workplace was the second-most-common location for an alleged incident. The first was government agencies. At the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, about 980 charges alleging post-9/11 backlash discrimination have been filed through June 11 since the 2001 attacks. Most involved firing and alleged harassment; the EEOC specifically tracks “backlash” cases, where employees claim discrimination relating to 9/11. Likewise, religious bias charges are higher today than before 9/11. From Sept. 11, 2001, through June 11, the EEOC received 2,168 charges of discrimination based on an employee’s Muslim religion. That compares with 1,104 such charges in the same time span before the attacks. The agency has obtained more than $4.2 million on behalf of employees alleging post-9/11 backlash. The EEOC has filed lawsuits against employers such as MBNA America Bank, the Plaza hotel in New York, Alamo Rent A Car and construction giant Bechtel. Some Recent Eeoc Cases: – A lawsuit alleging the New York Plaza hotel and Fairmont Hotel Management discriminated against Muslim, Arab and South Asian employees was settled last month for $525,000. A 2001 lawsuit claimed that Plaza employees were called “terrorist,” “Taliban” and “dumb Muslim.” It also alleges that managers wrote “Osama” and “Taliban” instead of employees’ names on key holders. Fairmont Hotel Management managed the hotel, which has since been sold. “As a company, we are committed to providing a work environment free of discrimination or harassment,” says Carolyn Clark, senior vice president of human resources at Fairmont, in Toronto. – In March, upscale seafood restaurant Pesce agreed to pay $150,000 to settle a lawsuit alleging bias against the store’s general manager. According to the lawsuit, a former co-owner openly speculated that the manager’s Egyptian name and appearance were the reasons Pesce had seen earnings drop in the months after 9/11. The manager was fired. Pesce, which has since been sold to new owners, declined to comment. – The EEOC filed a lawsuit last year against an MBNA subsidiary in Philadelphia claiming in part that offensive comments were made to Indian and black employees after 9/11, including an Indian employee who was called “Osama bin Laden.” The case is pending. MBNA says there is no merit to the claim.