She’s an imam in LA and doesn’t have patience for a strict interpretation of Islam

Ani Zonneveld is an imam, and yes, also a woman. She qualifies that she is “an imam with a small “i” — though her reluctance to go with a capital “I” says more about her democratic approach to worship than any deference to Islamic tradition, one that has been and still is very male-dominated. She has no patience for that Islam.

Instead she founded a Muslim community — Muslims for

Credit: Arzeen Photography/Muslims for Progressive Values
Credit: Arzeen Photography/Muslims for Progressive Values

Progressive Values — that embraces gender equality, gay rights and interfaith marriage. And although it is based in Los Angeles, it has spread — often quietly — across the world.

Breaking the Ramadan fast in the company of Jews

July 10, 2014

(RNS) Muslim tradition calls for breaking the Ramadan fast in the evening with a date and a sip of water, and increasingly these days, the company of Jews.

Muslim-Jewish iftars are popping up across the nation, bringing together dozens and sometimes hundreds of people for a celebratory Ramadan meal and a chance to forge interfaith friendships.

This Ramadan, as Jews and Muslims exchange rocket fire in Israel and Gaza, those attending these meals say they are all the more significant, as a way of demonstrating that Jews and Muslims have much in common, and can enjoy each others’ food and company.

In Los Angeles on Thursday (July 10), an iftar that bills itself as the single largest gathering of Muslims and Jews in the city, is sponsored by NewGround, an organization that works year-round on Muslim-Jewish relations. The group exists to build resilient relationships that both groups can draw upon in particularly difficult times, said Rabbi Sarah Bassin, NewGround’s former executive director.

“Yes, we are in another awful flare-up of violence and both of our communities are suffering,” Bassin said. “That will be acknowledged at the iftar.”

At Muslim-Jewish iftars, particular attention is paid to food. In Los Angeles, the meal will be both halal and kosher, in keeping with both Muslim and Jewish dietary laws, which often overlap. Neither faith community eats pork, for example. Out of respect for Muslim tradition, no alcohol will be served.

Some of these interfaith Iftars will be hosted in mosques or other Muslims institutions — on Sunday (July 13), for example, at the Institute of Islamic and Turkish Studies in Cary, N.C. Others will take place in synagogues.

The Time Square bomber incident and the Timeline

“On May 1st, New York’s Times Square was the target of a failed terrorist attack. In the extensive coverage of the incident, you will find the timeline of the incident leading to the arrest of the suspect right before he scarped the country. The coverage will also include the news following the arrest, the charges against the suspect and the debate around the suspect’s Miranda rights. It will review some of  the immediate consequences of the incident including debates about the effectiveness of the no-fly list, the heightened security measures in NYC and potential effects of the incident on US foreign policy. International dimensions of the incident in linkage to Pakistani Taliban as well as the coverage by Pakistani sources have also been included. Finally, a collection of links related to the suspect’s background is available.”

LA Times: Pres. Obama: “We will not be terrorized.”

Associated Press via LA Times and ABC: Police Release the Video of “A Person of Interest”

CBS: On the Vehicle

Fox News: Potential Foreign Links

LA Times: NYPD: No Evidence of Taliban Links

Associated Press via My Fox, Democracy Now, LA Times: Times Square Hero

Associated Press via CNN, WNYC, The Washington Post and CBS News:The Timeline

Associated Press via CNN, La Times, Huston Chronicle: The Last-Minute Arrest

The International Dimension

“On May 1st, New York’s Times Square was the target of a failed terrorist attack. In the extensive coverage of the incident, you will find the timeline of the incident leading to the arrest of the suspect right before he scarped the country. The coverage will also include the news following the arrest, the charges against the suspect and the debate around the suspect’s Miranda rights. It will review some of  the immediate consequences of the incident including debates about the effectiveness of the no-fly list, the heightened security measures in NYC and potential effects of the incident on US foreign policy. International dimensions of the incident in linkage to Pakistani Taliban as well as the coverage by Pakistani sources have also been included. Finally, a collection of links related to the suspect’s background is available.”

CNN: Links to Pakistani Taliban?
Associated Press via My Fox and USA Today: Pakistani Taliban Claim Involvement
ABC: Pakistan probes Alleged Connections to the NYC Terrorist Attempt
LA Times: Suspect’s Ties With Pakistani Taliban
The Washington Post: Investigating A Karachi Mosque
The Washington Post: Gates: Pakistan Committed to Fighting Extremism

Time Square Incident and Timeline

On May 1st, a smoking vehicle parked in NYC’s Times Square raised alarms. Times Square was evacuated and investigations confirmed that the vehicle was set to explode. The law enforcement agencies immediately engaged in tracking back the vehicle and identifying the suspect(s). President Obama reacted and speculations began about potential international links. The investigation led to the arrest of Faisal Shahzad, a Pakistani-American resident of Connecticut, two days later. The suspect was arrested while boarding a plane leaving JFK for Dubai.
LA Times: Pres. Obama: “We will not be terrorized.”

US Muslims and the challenge of extremism

According to the LA times, Muslim organizations are “walking a fine line” in openly fighting extremism while avoiding backlash from the Muslim community. The organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations, the Muslim Public Affairs Council, and the Muslim American Society are responding to the criticism that they have not done enough to fight extremism by embarking on public confrontation of radicalization of the youth. The campaign also includes certain programs to steer young Muslims away from extremist ideologies. Meanwhile, some critics from the Muslim community argue that such Muslim organizations have overstated the threat of radicalization and have inadvertently followed those voices who identify Muslims with extremism.

The Training Of Imams Eludes The Control Of The State

The recent efforts to bring forth an Islam “_ la fran_aise” is running up against resistance from the countries of origin of French Muslim immigrants, anxious to preserve their influence. The training of imams in France would be the key to deveoping an Islam integrated into the Republic; a French Islam. This training remains precarious, not controlled and more and more dispersed. In Lille, the ex-president of the Muslim Federation of France (FNMF), is about to open the Avicenna Institute, for the purpose of training imams. {(continued below in French)} LA FORMATION des imams devait _tre la cl_ de vo_te d’un islam apais_, int_gr_ _ la R_publique, d’un islam fran_ais. Elle reste pr_caire, peu contr_l_e et de plus en plus dispers_e. _ Lille, l’ancien pr_sident de la F_d_ration des musulmans de France (FNMF, proche du Maroc) vient d’ouvrir l’institut Avicenne. Mohammed Bechari a longtemps si_g_ au CFCM o_ on peinait _ le classer. _vinc_ depuis de cette instance, il s’est repli_ sur ce projet d’institut, profitant de ses liens avec les pays du Golfe au sein de la Ligue islamique mondiale pour obtenir un financement. Le Qatar et la Libye ont promis d’assurer les 330 000 euros de fonctionnement annuel de l’institut, sans s’immiscer dans les contenus. La mairie de Lille a fourni le b_timent en plein centre-ville et sign_ un bail emphyt_otique. _ Un coup de pouce de mon amie Mar_tine Aubry qui n’a pas besoin de _cela pour obtenir les voix des musulmans _, assure Mohammed Bechari, qui entretient depuis longtemps des liens avec le PS local. R_alit_s de la soci_t_ occidentale Samedi dernier, une douzaine d’_l_ves ont suivi leur premier cours, surtout des filles voil_es, qui _tudient par ailleurs. _ On cherche _ mieux comprendre l’islam et _ enrichir nos connaissances. On viendra _ l’institut le week-end et le soir _, ont-elles expliqu_. _ moyen terme, _ des cadres religieux _(imams et aum_niers) seront aussi form_s en langue fran_aise, initi_s _ l’_ducation civique et dot_s des outils pour faciliter l’int_gration dans la R_publique la_que fran__aise _, explique Mohammed Bechari, qui entend bien participer _ l’avenir de l’islam de France. Dans une logique plus acad_mique, des universitaires veulent mettre _ profit le concordat pour monter une universit_ priv_e de sciences islamiques _ Strasbourg, autour du sp_cialiste Francis Messner et d’intervenants venus d’universit_s islamiques. Ils se sont r_unis la semaine derni_re pour des journ_es de r_flexion. Le projet d_marre seulement et pourrait incarner un islam plus savant qu’adapt_ aux n_cessit_s des communaut_s. Enfin, _ Lyon, le centre Sh_tib_ fonctionne depuis septembre, mont_ par des disciples des fr_res Ramadan. Il forme des _ cadres _ musulmans, dont beaucoup pourraient _ terme faire office d’imams, dans un islam qui ne fonctionne pas sur le mod_le du clerg_ catholique et autorise le plus savant de l’assembl_e _ _conduire la pri_re. Ces initiatives relancent les craintes de voir importer en _France une formation traditionnelle, parfois fondamentaliste ou imperm_able aux r_alit_s de la _soci_t_ occidentale. Mais surtout marquent l’_chec d’une formation labellis_e que l’_tat appelait de ses voeux. Le Conseil fran_ais du culte musulman (CFCM), cr_e par Nicolas Sarkozy en 2003, devait s’atteler _ ce chantier prioritaire. Mais les pays d’origine ou le mouvement des Fr_res musulmans ne voulaient pas renoncer _ leur _influence, en renon_ant _ envoyer en France leurs imams. De son c_t_, l’administration a bien tent_ d’organiser une fili_re op_rationnelle et transparente, mais sans aller jusqu’au bout, _g_n_e aux entournures par _ le respect de la la_cit_ _. C’est d’ailleurs en son nom que les universitaires de Paris-IV ont refus_ en 2005 d’accueillir des _tudiants religieux dans un cycle profane de connaissance de l’histoire et des institutions fran_aises, faisant capoter les derniers espoirs du minist_re de l’Int_rieur. Pour l’instant, l’immense majorit_ des imams vient de l’_tranger (lire ci-dessous). Et pourtant, la France compte trois centres de formation depuis les ann_es 1990. _ Ces trois centres forment moins d’une dizaine d’imams par an _, estime un conseiller _ l’Int_rieur. Beaucoup d’_tudiants s’inscrivent pour obtenir des papiers et ne terminent pas leur cursus. D’autres dipl_m_s ne parviennent pas _ _vivre de leur minist_re. Face _ ce maelstr_m, les pouvoirs publics ont revu leur strat_gie, en contr_lant les pr_ches a posteriori, dans les mosqu_es. Mais l’enjeu d’un islam _clair_ d_passe largement la question des imams. Chaque ann_e, des dizaines de milliers d’enfants suivent des cours d’arabe ou d’_ducation coranique dans la plus totale opacit_. Par ailleurs, la diffusion d’un islam fran_ais repose aussi largement sur les leaders associatifs, qui discutent au quotidien avec les jeunes. La profusion d’instituts pourrait cr_er des cadres instruits, mais aussi des cadres adeptes d’un islam plus rigoriste que celui qui _tait pratiqu_ par la g_n_ration pr_c_dente.