Trump Effect: Jewish and Muslim Organizations Form New Alliance

A new Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council will work to protect religious minorities’ rights as well as other ‘issues of common concern.’

Less than a week after an election that left many minority and religious groups in the United States feeling disenfranchised, two important organizations – one Jewish and the other Muslim – announced an unusual alliance on Monday.

The American Jewish Committee and the Islamic Society of North America have teamed up to form a new national group of leading Jewish and Muslim Americans: The Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council.

In a press release, the AJC said that the new group “brings together recognized business, political and religious leaders in the Jewish and Muslim American communities to jointly advocate on issues of common concern.”

Boston Muslims Struggle to Wrest Image of Islam From Terrorists

To be Muslim in America today means to be held responsible, or to fear you may be, for the brutal acts of others whose notion of what Allah demands is utterly antithetical to your own. For the diverse crowd that prays at the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, where professors at nearby universities mix with freshly arrived immigrants from Somalia and Egypt, it means hearing the word “Islamic” first thing each morning in news reports on an infamous extremist group. It means a kind of implied collective responsibility, however illogical, for beheadings in Syria, executions in Iraq and bombs in Boston.
Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times
Ian Thomas Jansen-Lonnquist for The New York Times
The Obama administration, worried about recruiting of young Americans by Islamic State extremists, chose Boston last fall as one of three cities for aCountering Violent Extremism pilot program. The idea is to brainstorm ways to combat recruitment by all militants, including antigovernment groups and white supremacists. But the plan has divided Muslims in Boston and the other two cities, Minneapolis and Los Angeles.

Running the Boston Marathon in a hijab

April 19, 2014

 

Like many participants in the Boston Marathon on Monday, Leanne Scorzoni will be running to honor the victims of last year’s bombing. But Scorzoni will also be running in a hijab: she converted to Islam after the attack, and wants her participation to emphasize that Boston’s Muslim community was also hurt by the bombings.

Scorzoni has never run the race before, but the thirty-two-year-old Boston native has watched from the sidelines for decades. Scorzoni was raised in nearby Danvers, and every year her family would arrive at a spot near the corner of Clarendon and Boylston Streets at about 8:30 A.M., sometimes bringing pots and pans to help cheer on marathoners.

Last year, Scorzoni staked out the same spot near the finish line and waited to be joined by a friend of hers named Sam. Unfamiliar with Marathon Monday tradition, he arrived late and, at about 2:30 P.M., he asked where the nearest bathroom was. Scorzoni was reluctant to give up her view of the race, but eventually agreed to guide her friend through the crowds. When the bombs exploded at 2:50, the two were browsing at a nearby Banana Republic on Newbury Street, approximately four blocks away from the finish line. The store’s loud music muffled the blasts, but when Scorzoni turned on her cell phone, she found dozens of texts from friends and family, asking where she was and if she was O.K.—she had been standing less than two blocks away from the initial explosion. Scorzoni doesn’t believe a divine power carried her away from the attack that killed three people and injured more than two hundred and sixty: “It was because my friend had to pee,” she said.

The next day, Scorzoni says, local F.B.I. agents visited her at her job at Massachusetts General Hospital, where they asked about a photo she had uploaded to Facebook of Sam, who is Muslim and from the Middle East. Shaken by the bombing and the encounter with the F.B.I., Scorzoni regularly checked in on her Muslim friends in the days after the bombing. As the media began to sort out the background of the Tsarnaev brothers, local reports also began to surface of sporadic verbal and physical attacks on Muslims, and of hate mail being sent to mosques, including the Islamic Society of Boston Cultural Center, in Roxbury, which the Los AngelesTimes originally reported that Tamerlan Tsarnaev had attended, confusing it with the Islamic Society of Boston, located in Cambridge. Scorzoni read about the letters on the center’s Facebook page, but she also saw the many comments of support that came from across the country.

Five weeks after the bombing, she called Suhaib Webb, the imam of the I.S.B.C.C., and told him that she was ready to convert. She walked to the mosque in jeans, a shirt, and flip-flops; after the ceremony, she and Sam celebrated just as casually, eating watermelon and chicken fingers on the mosque’s steps.

The I.S.B.C.C. has been a visible force in the local Muslim community’s efforts to support victims of the bombing. Last Friday, the I.S.B.C.C. organized a khutbah, or sermon, in remembrance of victims, and, on Tuesday, Webb spoke at a night of “Remembrance and Hope” at the Old South Church. Scorzoni was also in attendance and, at one point during the evening, runners were asked to stand. “Everyone started clapping, and all the runners just started crying, and soon everyone was crying,” she said. “Everyone in the church prayed for all of us, not even just the runners—prayed for the city.”

The New Yorker.com: http://www.newyorker.com/online/blogs/sportingscene/2014/04/running-the-boston-marathon-in-a-hijab.html

Jewish scholar lectures on ‘How Islam Saved the Jews,’ at UAB

April 22, 2014

 

David J. Wasserstein, a professor of Jewish History at Vanderbilt University, will lecture on “How Islam Saved the Jews” at 7 p.m. on Thursday, April 24, at the University of Alabama in Birmingham.

The free, public lecture will take place at UAB’s Volker Hall, Lecture Room A, 1670 University Blvd. The event is co-sponsored by the UAB Department of History and the Birmingham Islamic Society.

“It’s a chance for Jews and Muslims who are now often at odds politically to reflect on our glorious historical past and for a moment forget about our political differences, and work on future peace,” said Ashfaq Taufique, president of the Birmingham Islamic Society.

Wasserstein will discuss how the spread of Islam after Muslims conquered Mecca in 630 A.D. led to a thriving Muslim culture that also allowed a thriving Jewish subculture, until about 1300 A.D.

“Within a century of the death of Mohammad, in 632, Muslim armies had conquered almost the whole of the world where Jews lived, from Spain eastward across North Africa and the Middle East as far as the eastern frontier of Iran and beyond,” Wasserstein wrote in The Jewish Chronicle. “Almost all the Jews in the world were now ruled by Islam. This new situation transformed Jewish existence. Their fortunes changed in legal, demographic, social, religious, political, geographical, economic, linguistic and cultural terms – all for the better.”

If not for the Muslim conquests, Jewish culture might have died out, Wasserstein believes.

Alabama.com: http://www.al.com/living/index.ssf/2014/04/jewish_scholar_lectures_on_how.html

Islamic preachers: the pied pipers of sexual apartheid?

February 9, 2014

 

A young man called Ishmael, with a wispy black beard and a slight blemish in one eye, is telling me why women should be covered up and kept apart.

“If I had two sweets – one wrapped and one unwrapped – and threw them in a bin, which one would you pick out and eat?” He grins, the amateur philosopher pleased with his analogy, and breaks off to shake the hand of a young man walking past the makeshift London Metropolitan University Islamic Society stall set up in the student canteen. Ishmael, who says he is a former head of the society (something the current president later denies), appears to know a lot of the students passing through. Women are man’s great temptation,” he turns back to face me. “They should be covered up.”

Spring term 2014 was supposed to bring an end to gender segregation at British universities. In December, the Prime Minister himself intervened over the issue, emphasising through a spokesman that he wanted it banned even where men and women voluntarily separate themselves (although not in places of worship). Mr Cameron – backed by the Education Secretary Michael Gove – made his comments after Universities UK (UUK), the body that represents vice-chancellors, published new guidelines endorsing segregation which, according to some student groups and human-rights organisations, were tantamount to “sexual apartheid”.

UUK’s controversial guidance, set out in a case study detailing how external speakers from “ultra-orthodox religious groups” could request that men and women sit separately, has now been withdrawn. It continues to work with senior legal counsel and the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to clarify its position. The equality group Student Rights, which monitors preaching by extremists and discrimination through segregation at student events, says separated seating has become a widespread trend at many British universities.

Yet moderate Muslims find themselves at odds with this view of the relationship between the sexes. “That [position] isn’t something I recognise at all,” says Humayun Ansari, a professor of the history of Islam and culture at Royal Holloway, University of London, who specialises in researching the experience of Muslims in Britain. “What we’re talking about is various interpretations of Islam.”

Myriam Francois Cerrah, a journalist and DPhil student at Oxford University who regularly gives talks in front of mixed and intermingled audiences at Islamic societies up and down the country, says it is the London Islamic societies, in particular, that have become dominated by these ultra-traditional stances on the relationship between men and women.

 

The Telegraph: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/universityeducation/10625879/Islamic-preachers-the-pied-pipers-of-sexual-apartheid.html

Westminster University students ‘furious’ after controversial Islamic preacher booked for charity dinner talk

November 14, 2013

 

National Charity Week began in controversy after Westminster Islamic Society (ISOC) asked an anti-gay and anti-Semitic Muslim scholar to give a speech to over 300 students. ISOC had originally arranged for the moderate Wasim Kempson to come in as a guest speaker, but students were left confused after the controversial figure Sheikh Haitham Al-Haddad replaced Kempson less than 24 hours before the dinner.

Al-Haddad’s views on many subjects are outspoken to say the least. In a recent article published online with his name underneath it, entitled “Standing up against homosexuality and LGBTs”, the words “the scourge of homosexuality” are used, which is referred to as a “criminal act”.

During his speech the Sheikh revealed that he had been “invited to Westminster many times” before going on to talk about how “privileged” he had felt by his welcome.

While many students were left up in arms about the last-minute swap, the student union claims that ISOC “passed all requirements” and that “all relevant processes were followed” in Al-Haddad’s invitation.

A statement was later released which read: “UWSU as an organisation does not endorse or support any views expressed by external speakers, neither does it seek to prevent freedom of speech.”

The Islamic Society at the University of Westminster could not be reached for comment.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/westminster-university-students-furious-after-controversial-islamic-preacher-booked-for-charity-dinner-talk-8939980.html

Universities cancel Muslim cleric’s speaking tour over concerns about his anti-gay views

November 7, 2013

 

A Muslim cleric who preaches that gay people are worse than animals is at the centre of a fierce “free speech” row after being invited to speak at universities across the country. Mufti Ismail Menk was due to visit six universities – Oxford, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Cardiff and Glasgow – next week. But the speaking tour was cancelled after student unions and university officials expressed concern about his views. The Zimbabwean cleric, who studied in Saudi Arabia, has described same-sex acts as “filthy,” “wrong” and synonymous with “acts of immorality”. He has been recorded as saying: “With all due respect to the animals, [gay people] are worse than those animals.”

Mr Menk was believed to have been invited by the universities’ Muslim students’ associations, many of whom were still advertising the event on their Facebook pages this afternoon. Glasgow University Muslim Association described the event as a “wonderful opportunity” on social media.

Cardiff University Islamic Society changed its Facebook photo to a picture of Mr Menk. University of Leicester’s Islamic Society described him as “entertaining, yet very pious” on its social media page. Leeds University Union Islamic Society withdrew its invitation two days ago after realising his views.

The National Union of Students said Mr Menk’s “reported comments are very concerning”. Ruth Hunt of Stonewall said: “Universities should always remain mindful that they have a duty to protect all of their students and to ensure balance in university discourse.”

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/universities-cancel-muslim-clerics-speaking-tour-over-concerns-about-his-antigay-views-8927902.html

Muslim students pray in the rain after Queen Mary University denies them access to facilities

November 1, 2013

 

Hundreds of students at Queen Mary University in London, braved the rain today to pray outside, in protest against what they claim is inadequate resources for Muslims on their Mile End campus. It was their second ‘prayer protest’ in two weeks, with the student union counting 350 demonstrators last Friday.

Previously, the college’s 20-year-old Islamic Society had been able to book several large communal spaces for congregational Friday prayers. But from the start of this academic year, students have been told the rooms are unavailable. Principal Professor Simon Gaskell suggested students attend local mosques for the mass prayer, and denied any change in policy adding that the facilities are unavailable due to demand.

 

The Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/muslim-students-pray-in-the-rain-after-queen-mary-university-denies-them-access-to-facilities-8918293.html

Police, FBI investigate vandalism at Delaware mosque in Newark

October 27, 2013

Police are trying to determine who vandalized a mosque and school in Newark.

Investigators believe it happened early Friday morning at the Islamic Society of Delaware’s community center in Newark. Vandals tore down a fence and used rocks to damage a digital sign. Pieces of the fence were used to make a cross on the property.

Delaware State Police and the FBI are investigating the case.

On Monday, the group CAIR-Philadelphia will hold a news conference to respond to the vandalism.

The Islamic Society of Delaware has about 2,000 members. Officials say this is the first time the facility has been vandalized in 25 years.

 

Washington Post: http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/police-fbi-investigate-vandalism-at-delaware-mosque-in-newark/2013/10/27/cfb894a4-3f5b-11e3-b028-de922d7a3f47_story.html

Man confesses to Missouri mosque and clinic fires, prosecutors say

October 22, 2013

 

A Missouri man has confessed to twice trying to set a Planned Parenthood Clinic on fire and also admitted to setting a blaze that destroyed a mosque in the same town in 2012, federal prosecutors said in court documents filed on Monday.

When Jedediah Stout, 29, was charged Friday with two arson attempts at the Joplin, Missouri, clinic on October 3 and 4, authorities made no mention of his suspected involvement in an August 6, 2012, blaze that gutted the Islamic Society of Joplin mosque.

But in a motion filed on Monday seeking Stout’s continued detention, federal prosecutors said he also had confessed to the mosque blaze and an earlier fire at the mosque on July 4, 2012, that caused minor roof damage. Stout remains in custody pending a Tuesday hearing.

Muslim community leaders raised more than $400,000 from around the world in less than three weeks to help rebuild the mosque in Joplin, the only Muslim house of worship within a 50-mile radius, according to a website posting at the time. Money is still being raised for the project.

Authorities gave no motive for Stout’s alleged actions at the mosque or the Planned Parenthood clinic, which does not provide abortion services.

According to a federal affidavit, surveillance video helped identify Stout as a suspect.

 

Reuters: http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/10/22/us-usa-crime-missouri-idUSBRE99L04A20131022