Controversial benefit event for Muslims in Birma cancelled due to alleged hate preacher

The Dutch Muslim foundation Rohamaa which organizes humanitary projects in Muslim countries such is Birma and Syria has cancelled a controversial benefit event in the Dutch municipality of Rijswijk. The event was discredited become alleged “hate imams” would speak at the event. According to the municipality of Rijswijk “the foundation has said that the charitable goals of the meeting – because of current happenings and negative media coverage – has been drawn into the background.” The municipality has called the organization’s canceling the event “a very brave decision.”

The Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders has retracted the visas of the three imams that were to preach at the event. Rohamaa has reacted “baffled” by this decision. “The retraction was executed on the bases of information more detailed information by the NVTC [National Coordination of Counter-Terrorist Measures and Security, ed.] and is fitting in the context of the action program jihadims,” the minister said in a reaction.

The total of seven speakers that were invited to the program had background from Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Nigeria, and Belgium. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs did not want to extrapolate on the identity of the speakers for whom the visas were retracted.

Muslim chaplains in prison, “formidable” work lacking direction

“Formidable work, but not encouraged.” Thirty year-old Ammar Maireche is training in Nièvre to become an imam and chaplain and would like to work in France’s prisons to combat the problem of radicalization. However, the lack of available resources has severely limited his ability to achieve his goal. The European Institute of Human Sciences (IESH) hosts some 220 students, men and women, who come from all over Europe to learn Arabic and Islamic theology. Throughout the course of seven years, each year around a dozen of graduates become imams and among them several become chaplains.

“The chaplaincy has not been supported and people are discouraged because there are not enough people. There is the financial aspect (only the costs are reimbursed,) and the prison does not provide enough resources so that the imam can help where it is needed,” explained Maireche.

“Everyone knows it’s impossible to support yourself from only this work,” he said. Radicalization of certain prisoners is for him “a real problem,” of which responsibility is “shared” between the Muslim community, who must portray a peaceful Islam, the politicians who must create more jobs, and the media.”

Chérif Kouachi and Amedy Coulibaly, who launched terror attacks January 7 and 9 in Paris, were radicalized in prison. To combat this phenomenon, the government announced they would hire an additional 60 Muslim chaplains, and promised the creation of five “ living quarters” to isolate radicalized detainees.

There are several problems involved in ameliorating the problem. The Institute’s director Zuhair Mahmood stated: “we can only produce five to ten imams each year, we can’t do more.” As well as the fact that “a chaplain must be better formed than an imam because prison, it’s the hardest area, it’s where there is the most need for pacification.”

The days at the school consist of both classes and daily prayer. Some women wear the veil, and several men are dressed in traditional garb. Jean-Jacques Pierre-Joseph, a 42-year-old convert who is an administrator at IESH and a prison chaplain, deplores the job’s “crisis of direction,” due in particular to its volunteer nature and the lack of personnel. In France, 182 Muslim chaplains are available for more than 200 prisons.

In prison, the chaplain plays “a theological role, but also has a social dominance as well, an ear for listening like a psychologist,” said Pierre-Joseph. Because “among the roots of radicalization, there are underlying elements such as instruction, the economy, frustrations and stigmatizations. Radicalization, it’s more about taking a position against the system, more than conveying religious ideas.”

Faced with this, “there shouldn’t be fear of confrontation, we must promote dialogue. We must work hard and sometimes ask anger-provoking questions in order to regulate them,” he said.

However Pierre-Joseph remains “completely opposed” to the prison living quarters dedicated, which would be even more of a “stigmatization,” for Muslims. “We can’t say that we want to reinsert these people into society while putting them at the margins,” he argued.

Following a visit to the United Nations on February 10, Minister of Justice Christiane Taubira, believed that prison was “one of the breeding-grounds” of extremism but “not the principal site of radicalization,” stating that only sixteen percent of people charged with terrorism had a criminal background.

Dutch benefit event “radical” Muslims in Utrecht cancelled

A benefit event organized by the Dutch Muslim organization World Wide Relief in Party Centre Luxury in the Dutch city of Utrecht was cancelled by the centre. Spokesperson of Party Centre Luxury Gino Shaho stated that it was not known that “radical Muslims” would attend the benefit event.

The organization World Wide Relief organized a similar event last year were they collected money for Palestine, Birma, and South-Morocco. But at that event no speakers were invited. Among others, this years event would feature two controversial Muslim preachers, the saudi shaykh Assim al-Hakeem and the Dutch convert Abdul-Jabbar van der Ven.

The management of the party centre was not in tune with the perceived political implications of the event. According to Shado World Wide Relief has reacted in an understanding way.

Questions have been asked about the event by members of the Dutch parliament. Earlier this week Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders retracted the visa for three imams that were to attend a similar event in the Dutch municipality of Rijswijk. The parliamentary members wanted to know if visas were also extended to the guests at the event in Utrecht.

Interview: How France could better regulate the imams who preach on its soil

Atlantico: From the time he was Minister of the Interior, Manuel Valls wished for French imams to be trained in France. Would that be possible?

Haoues Seniguer: It seems to me that we must make a distinction between desirable and possible, what is feasible and impossible. Several of Manuel Valls’s predecessors have discussed training imams in France, but it’s difficult to accomplish under the constraints. Moreover, permanent structures must exist with a multidisciplinary education, notably in history and in Islamic studies available at recognized universities.

Atlantico: Does it not pose a geopolitical problem that certain foreign imams come to France concerning the question of internationalization of educating the forein imams?

Franck Frégosi: Take the example of Turkey. The Turkish state believes that where important communities are located, it can exercise its right to monitor and control religious speech. This allows them to follow the eventual political evolution, to avoid what they consider to be hostile commentary. In Turkey, the religious administration is allowed to exercise control over what officially occurs in the Turkish mosques.

Atlantico: What are the problems encountered by Muslims in the education of imams?

Frégosi: Among the most well known private institutions there is the European Institute of Social Sciences, which has a satellite campus in Paris, and the school at the Great Mosque of Paris. The number of years of study to become an imam in France depends on the structure of each private institute. In general, the training is between three and four years. From the beginning, religious institutes are mostly preoccupied with opening places of worship or mosques in France, the question of the education of imams came much slower and later, when the French government raised the issue. It seems difficult to design an educational system different from that in Islamic states who have a state religion, and who wish to form an official clergy. Concerning Muslims in foreign countries, such as Turkey and Algeria, some imams were trained in their countries in religious universities. As I explained before they are sent and sponsored by their home country.

Atlantico: The difficulty in training imams doesn’t have to do with the multiple interpretations of the Qur’an?

Frégosi: It primarily comes from the fact that there are several different Muslim populations in France: North Africans, Turks, etc. who have different cultures and therefore different interpretations. Each Islamic federation wants to maintain complete control in training its imams, and therefore it’s difficult to develop a uniform training. The problem of foreign imams living on French soil demonstrates that Islamic education in France is not adapted to those who live in France. We need a global response from Muslim countries to this education, including countries such as Morocco who fear radicalization. Morocco has established an increased politicization of Islam concerning the training of its imams. This allows them to have a more contextualized interpretation of the texts; this also allows the state to maintain control over what happens in its mosques. Because if the state finances religion, it’s normal that it would control them.

Atlantico: Should the French state finance the training of imams?

Seniguer: Retaking the reigns would mean nothing less than a revision of the 1905 law. This would not come without reviving and exacerbating distrust between everyone.

Frégosi: Legally, it’s not possible for the state to intervene in the financing of a religion, and therefore in the training of imams. On the other hand, the state could show its support in the training of imams who are in charge of civic duties and allow them to have an official status. Thus, the expenditures would be for the training only, not the remuneration of religious sectors.

Atlantico: What would be the other necessary conditions to create an Islam of France? Is that the role of an imam?

Frégosi: I have the tendency to say that an Islam of France already exists; it is in the day-to-day lives of all the Muslims of this country. But looking at it from a sociological reality, it must develop its roots in France through any educational and theological work. This allows Muslims to have their own intellectual and spiritual reference and ensures that they no long rely on just any person’s interpretation of Islam.

The imam has a role to play in this respect but most of the time he possesses a secondary role. He’s not just an employee of the mosque, it is he who runs it and who has the most influence. The imam has a role to play in the transmission of the fundamental elements [of Islam], he is an integral part of the successful integration of Islam, it’s why certain large mosques established instructional seminars to be able to educate imams about the work and to understand the practice of Islam in France.

At the Great Mosque of Paris, future imams “unload their baggage”

The Grand Mosque of Paris
The Grand Mosque of Paris

“The best thing I heard this week, it’s what the Pope said. The press can’t say anything it wants, there are things we can’t talk about.” Students at the Institute of Theology at the Great Mosque of Paris cited Pope Francois when discussing the recent attacks at Charlie Hebdo. While flying to the Philippines the Pope said, “one shouldn’t provoke or insult the faith of others, or make a game of it.”

Every Saturday and Sunday at the Institute from 9 am to 7 pm adults take classes in order to become imams, or, for only two years in order to become a chaplain. Courses were suspended on January 10 and 11 due to recent “events” and restarted January 17.

Missoum Chaoui, a tutor and prison chaplain in Ile-de-France decided to facilitate discussion among his students, the “future leaders” of Islam. Men sit in one corner, women in the other. “Go ahead, unload your baggage,” encourages Chaoui in front of his first-year class.

The discussion is a reminder that Muslims “don’t have to excuse these crimes,” because the terrorists aren’t one of them. Or to clarify that “the Muslim community, it mourns these men but not the freedom of expression.” Another said, “It’s been said that there weren’t many Muslims who participated in the demonstration. They forget that ‘Muslim,’ isn’t written on our foreheads.” Some preferred to write “anger” on social media rather than “Je suis Charlie.” “Open your Facebook page, go on the Internet,” recommends Chaoui, “They took out their poison pens, take out pens of peace to show who the Prophet really was.”

Some expressed their frustration with “double standards,” such as the fact that “anti-Semitism is prohibited,” while Islamophobia is not. “It will come. We just have to work for it,” assured their teacher. “There will always be those who speak badly of the Prophet. He has already been called a sorcerer, a liar and he always pardoned them.”

“Caricatures, it’s just the beginning,” says one student. Examining the cartoons published in Charlie Hebdo he says, “The turban isn’t holy, it speaks volumes. For those who look hard, we see male genitalia, on the turban. And on the face…it’s like a woman’s private parts. It’s going around Facebook.” Chaoui interrupts and reframes: “Attention to what is open to interpretation.” Another older man doesn’t believe the media’s version. “The scenario, it was constructed in advance,” by others, he says. “It’s not what’s said, we didn’t see their faces,” he grumbles four or five times. “They’re at the forensic institute,” retorts the professor, “Then who is it?” he asks. No response. Another woman responds, “This newspaper was on the brink of bankruptcy, there are a lot of Muslims in France, we provoke an event…Now they have a lot of money.” Certain people nod their head, others don’t, but the whole room falls silent, even the professor. Two or three questions later the class is over.

Eric Pickles writes a letter to 1,000 imams to promote ‘Muslim British Identity’ sparks criticism

Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government is at the center of a new row has erupted between the British government and Muslim organisations after the minister responsible for community cohesion wrote to hundreds of imams calling on them to do more to tackle violent extremism and demonstrate "how faith in Islam can be part of British identity."
Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government is at the center of a new row has erupted between the British government and Muslim organisations after the minister responsible for community cohesion wrote to hundreds of imams calling on them to do more to tackle violent extremism and demonstrate “how faith in Islam can be part of British identity.” (Photo: Joe Giddens/PA/The Guardian)

A new row has erupted between the British government and Muslim organisations after the minister responsible for community cohesion wrote to hundreds of imams calling on them to do more to tackle violent extremism and demonstrate “how faith in Islam can be part of British identity”.

The letter, sent by Eric Pickles, the secretary of state for communities and local government, to every mosque in England, provoked an angry response from the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which accused the government of peddling far-right arguments about integration. “Is Mr Pickles seriously suggesting, as do members of the far right, that Muslims and Islam are inherently apart from British society?” said Harun Khan, the deputy secretary-general of the MCB.

However the Prime Minister, David Cameron, intervened, saying that the council’s response showed that it – not Mr Pickles – had “a problem”.

Speaking at lawn mower factory in Ipswich, Mr Cameron said: “It’s absolutely right to write this letter, to say we all have a responsibility to fight extremism. Anyone who reads this letter will see that what he is saying is that British Muslims make a great contribution to our country.

Lady Warsi argues that while the letter was in fact positive, the timing and actions before the letter led to its failure: “The Muslim Council of Britain was one of a number of groups over which we never reached agreement, but one which nevertheless was never formally engaged with. I’m not here to defend the council. Unlike some colleagues, I never viewed it as extreme or dangerous. My criticism, which I have on numerous occasions discussed with it, is that it continues to produce a leadership that is neither equipped to represent, nor is genuinely reflective of, the contemporary aspirations of large sections of British Muslim communities. So while I welcome Eric’s attempt to reach out, the reality is that if you haven’t cultivated a friendship, if you haven’t fostered trust, then the chances of success are limited. A letter out of the blue to a mosque that is potentially affiliated to an organisation like the Muslim Council of Britain – with whom the government has refused to engage – creates a climate where even the most benign of correspondence can become toxic. It makes it appear as if the government is neither listening nor genuine in its intentions. And it provokes a negative response, irrespective of the true motive.”

[Full text of the letter is here.]

Europe and Islam: degrees of separation

Muslim women walk along London's Whitechapel Road.
Muslim women walk along London’s Whitechapel Road. (Photo: Telegraph UK)

The political, legal and educational institutions of Europe are struggling hard to find ways of incorporating the new reality of Islam into older systems for regulating religion. In Britain this week, a lobby group called the Lawyers’ Secular Society reacted with indignation when the hosts cancelled an event it was planning at the University of West London at the last moment. The event was intended to launch a report that drew attention to the number of Islamist figures with hard-line views on gender, sexuality and relations with other faiths who were gaining access and influence on British campuses. The meeting’s cancellation seemed to confirm their apprehension. The campus insisted that its decision was made on purely technical and procedural grounds: the organisers had not gone through the proper channels to book the room.

Meanwhile in francophone Europe, some anguished discussions are taking place over how to solve a problem which almost all parties acknowledge: the need for imams who are properly trained, understand European society better and guide their flock away from, rather than towards, extremism.

In addition to all these ideological issues, there is a hard reality to consider. Being an imam in Europe is a rather thankless task. Of the 1,800 imams in France, about 1,000 offer their services for virtually no pay. Only 330 receive a decent, full-time salary—in most cases from religious authorities in their home countries, such as Algeria, Morocco or Turkey. Only 25-30% of the imams working in France have French citizenship. The idea of “home-grown” French imams, well trained and correspondingly well paid, is an attractive one in principle—but poor Muslim communities seem unwilling or unable to finance such arrangements. And for the secular French state, putting imams on its payroll would be inconceivable.

Calling Imams to condemn the crimes and terror committed by ISIS

August 15, 2014

Over the last 2 months we have witnessed the atrocities committed by ISIS to the people of Iraq. ISIS have targeted and forced Christians to convert to Islam, pay a high tax or face execution, therefore thousands of people left their homes and belongings and fled their city. Some Churches have been damaged and converted into Mosques.

ISIS has painted the letter “N” in Arabic on the houses of Christians in the city of Mosul (N standing for Nasara, word used to describe Christians in Arabic). Many churches and shrines have been destroyed, this is an extension to a dangerous movement which is spreading, we witnessed this in Syria and even reports in Libya, Tunisia and Lebanon. Arabs, Christians and people throughout the world have launched the #WeAreN campaign on social media sites to show solidarity with Iraqi Christians. This week we learn of the horrors to the Yazidi community, the displacement and the brutal targeting of the Yazidi community is causing a humanitarian crisis,  ISIS in addition continue to target Sunni and Shia population who have not pledged allegiance to the so-called “Islamic” authority. Mosques and shrines have been destroyed completely. The Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board is encouraging Mosques and Imams to condemn these crime and express solidarity, this Friday 15th August. Each Mosques and Imams have found appropriate means to delivering this; this includes delivering Friday Khutba’s on this issue, organising events, and send out information through newsletters, social media Facebook, twitter etc. The MINAB is working with the media including the BBC and Sky News to ensure this activity is reported.

Seattle Interfaith Leaders to Seek Probe of Imam’s Forced Removal from Delta Flight

March 31, 2014

 

On Tuesday, April 1, the Washington state chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-WA), along with a group of pastors, rabbis, imams, and labor leaders, will hold a news conference to ask Delta Air Lines and the U.S. Department of Transportation to investigate the apparently bias-motivated removal earlier this month of a Seattle-area imam (Muslim religious leader) from a flight by Delta employees.

The imam, who is a Delta Platinum Elite member, was forced to disembark his flight and take another flight. He was reportedly informed by the Delta employee who escorted him off the plane that this was being done because a crew member judged “the way you used the restroom” to be “doubtful.”

“The Department of Transportation must investigate this shocking incident to hold Delta Air Lines accountable for discriminating against a respected religious leader,” said CAIR-WA Executive Director Arsalan Bukhari. “Not all passengers who go to the bathroom get kicked off their flight, so Delta’s discriminatory act was due solely to the imam’s perceived racial, ethnic and religious affiliation.”

Bukhari noted that there have been a number of similar incidents nationwide in which Muslim leaders and community members have been forcibly removed from airplanes after boarding due to their language, religious attire or appearance.

Cair.com: http://cair.com/press-center/press-releases/12431-seattle-interfaith-leaders-to-seek-probe-of-imams-forced-removal-from-delta-flight.html

Mars One encourages Muslims to join red planet mission despite ‘Fatwa’

February 21, 2014

 

A fatwa issued by Gulf imams has ruled it is un-Islamic to promote or be involved in a one-way trip to the Red Planet. According to reports in the Khaleej Times, a fatwa committee under the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowment in the UAE prohibits Muslims from being involved in such a journey as it would pose “a real risk to life” and is tantamount to suicide.

The Mars One mission aims to establish a permanent human settlement on the red planet. Crews of four will depart every two years from 2024 following an initial unmanned mission in 2018. The mission would use a worldwide reality television show to raise the estimated $6bn required to send the team to Mars and give them a chance of survival. The company behind the Mars One mission has said that Muslims should sign up for a trip to the red planet, following reports of a Fatwa against it being issued.

“Protecting life against all possible dangers and keeping it safe is an issue agreed upon by all religions and is clearly stipulated in verse 4/29 of the Holy Koran: Do not kill yourselves or one another. Indeed, Allah is to you ever Merciful,” the committee, chaired by Professor Dr Farooq Hamada, said.

Volunteers were invited to apply for a ticket to Mars last year at a price of less than £30. The Mars One website states: “In a 1000 years, everyone on Earth will still remember who the first humans on Mars were. More than 200,000 men and women from around the world responded to the first call for astronauts.”

However, Mars One, a non-profit organisation that proposes to send four people to the red planet in 2022, has responded to the reports stating that the “Muslim world has for centuries had a rich tradition of exploration”. In a statement to the Telegraph, Mars One claimed the Koran “encourages Muslims to go out and see the signs of God’s creation in the ‘heavens and the earth’. The most influential example of this was the Moroccan Muslim traveller, Ibn Battuta, who from 1325 to 1355 travelled 73,000 miles, visiting the equivalent of 44 modern countries,” Mars One stated. “The mission to Mars is a road that has never been walked before, even though the first settlers will be walking in the footsteps of Ibn Battuta, Marco Polo, Neil Armstrong, or any of the other great explorers in history.”

 

The Independent:

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/middle-east/gulf-imams-issue-fatwa-warning-muslims-not-to-live-on-mars-as-it-would-pose-a-real-risk-to-life-9141631.html 

The Telegraph:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/unitedarabemirates/10649939/Muslims-warned-in-Fatwa-not-to-live-on-Mars.html

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/unitedarabemirates/10654014/Mars-One-encourages-Muslims-to-join-red-planet-mission-despite-Fatwa.html