INDIANAPOLIS — A federal prison in Indiana on Wednesday was expected to begin allowing American Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh and other Muslim inmates housed in his tightly controlled unit to start holding daily ritual group prayers.
The government had until Tuesday to appeal U.S. District Judge Jane Magnus-Stinson’s Jan. 11 ruling allowing the daily group prayers, but it didn’t. Magnus-Stinson found that a prison policy preventing Lindh and the other Muslims in his unit from praying together daily when not locked in their cells violated a 1993 law banning the government from curtailing religious speech without showing a compelling interest.
She said her ruling didn’t prohibit less restrictive security measures in the Communications Management Unit, which houses terrorists and other inmates the government doesn’t want freely communicating with the outside world.
Ken Falk, the legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which represented Lindh in a lawsuit challenging the prison policy, said Wednesday afternoon he didn’t yet know if the prison had started allowing the prayers. Officials at the prison didn’t return phone calls from The Associated Press seeking that same information.
Lindh is serving a 20-year sentence for aiding the Taliban during the 2001 U.S.-led invasion of Afghanistan. He was captured by U.S. troops that year, and in 2002 pleaded guilty to supplying services and carrying explosives for the now-defunct Taliban government. He is eligible for release in 2019.
Raised Catholic, the California native was 12 when he saw the movie “Malcolm X” and became interested in Islam. He converted at age 16. Walker told Newsweek after his capture that he had entered Afghanistan to help the Taliban build a “pure Islamic state.”
Lindh joined the prayer lawsuit in 2010, three years after being sent to the prison near the border between Indiana and Illinois. The suit was originally filed in 2009 by two Muslim inmates in the unit, but it got far more attention when Lindh joined the case. The other plaintiffs later dropped out as they were released or transferred from the prison.
The general mood in the United States has grown increasingly intolerant towards Muslims. Charlotte Wiedemann was in New York and spoke with Imam Talib Abdur-Rashid, Afro-American and President of the Islamic Leadership Council, on the mood in this election year and about his criticism of some Muslims for what he sees as opportunism
Imam, you stood on the street with a sign that said “Muslims demand equal rights!” Against what were you directing your protest?
Talib Abdur-Rashid: The surveillance of Muslim communities, mosques, meeting places, and student groups is a grave violation of the American constitution. Under the pretext of security, the New York police and their “Intelligence Division” have assumed the right to snoop around wherever they like. We will not put up with this. The matter must be decided by the courts.
Opinion polls indicate that almost every other American holds a negative view of Islam. And every third Republican supporter calls Barack Obama a Muslim, here synonymous with being un-American. Is religious tolerance in the USA a thing of the past?
Rashid: The atmosphere today is even more negative for Muslims than after the September 2001 terrorist attacks. We were all traumatized by 9/11, but back then there were efforts to support each other as Americans and not to fall into the trap of a collective guilt mindset. Today, the Republicans and, in particular, the Tea Party, have made Islamophobia an integral part of their political platform. They utilize fears, traumas, and a lack of knowledge to further their political aims. We have observed in recent times that there is a rise in anti-Islamic emotions during every election year. This was the situation at the time of Obama’s election and equally the case in local elections in New York two years ago.
BOSTON — A Massachusetts man convicted of conspiring to help al-Qaida was sentenced Thursday to 17½ years in prison after giving an impassioned speech in which he declared his love for Islam and said, “This is not terrorism; it’s self-defense.”
Tarek Mehanna, 29, an American who grew up in the wealthy Boston suburb of Sudbury, was found guilty in December of traveling to Yemen to seek training in a terrorist camp with the intention of going on to Iraq to fight U.S. soldiers there. Prosecutors said that when that plan failed, Mehanna returned to the United States and began translating and disseminating materials online promoting violent jihad.
Mehanna was sentenced on four terror-related charges and three counts of lying to authorities. His family and supporters gave him a standing ovation and called out “we love you” as he was led from the courtroom.
During the sentencing hearing, Mehanna gave a sweep of history and compared the suffering experienced by Muslims at the hands of Americans to the oppression inflicted on American colonists by the British. He mentioned Paul Revere, Malcolm X and Nelson Mandela, among others, and said he came to appreciate the plight of the oppressed against their oppressors as a 6-year-old boy reading comic books.
He was a “15-year-old white kid with Dad a diagnosed schizophrenic, rapist and racial separatist and Mom fresh off her second divorce,” Michael Muhammad Knight writes in his 2006 memoir, “Blue-Eyed Devil: A Road Odyssey Through Islamic America.” At home in Rochester, he “listened to a lot of Public Enemy and read ‘The Autobiography of Malcolm X’ and by 16 had a huge portrait of Ayatollah Khomeini” on his bedroom wall.
At 17, Mr. Knight, having converted to Islam, was “running around Pakistan with Afghan and Somalian refugees” and studying “at the largest mosque in the world: Faisal Masjid in Islamabad, which happens to look like a spaceship.”
Mr. Knight now writes that his immersion in the world of Five Percenters made him, in a sense, an insider. He does not accept the literal truth of all their claims (and he is skeptical that all Five Percenters do). But he is no longer an outsider looking in.
In his book’s introduction, Mr. Knight offers a bit of advice to other scholars doing fieldwork: “Keep your guard up and keep your distance. You spend that much time with a culture and fail to check yourself, you’ll fall in love and become your subject.”
How will you know when you have gotten too close to your subject? For Mr. Knight, there were clear signs. In 2008, he made the traditional pilgrimage to Mecca. “Here I am,” he told me, “a quasi-orthodox Muslim in Mecca, walking around the Kaaba” — the shrine Muslims around the world face during prayers — “and I am interpreting it through mathematics, the lessons, Wu-Tang lyrics. I had to make sense of that.”
In the biography, which reached No. 3 on The New York Times nonfiction best-seller list, Professor Marable argues that the famous autobiography overstated Malcolm X’s past life of crime before joining the Nation of Islam and failed to discuss his political evolution toward political organizing after leaving the Nation.
And so the multimedia project — containing F.B.I. and New York Police Department files on Malcolm X, photographs, interviews with scholars and hundreds of detailed descriptions of important people, places, ideas and themes in his life is built around the autobiography.
On Friday February 19 the imam Sheikh Khalid Yasin spoke in the city district of Nørrebro allegedly to prevent young people from joining gangs. Yasin was born in Harlem, New York and grew up as a Christian in Brooklyn. Inspired by Malcolm X he converted to Islam in 1965. Yasin now lives in Manchester, UK where he runs an Islamic center – a so called Da`wah. Yasin is by many considered controversial because he has made statements such as that AIDS was invented in the West and deliberately injected into Africans.
The organizations ‘Knowledge of Islam – Viomis’ and ‘NørreBronx’ were behind the event. NørreBronx engages in social work for young people and receives financial support from the city. Members of Copenhagen’s city council have therefore been questioning whether public tax money has paid for the imam’s visit in Copenhagen.
The president of NørreBronx, Khalid Alsubeihi, denies that the money to pay for Yasin’s appearance came from public funds. He said he personally paid for Yasin to speak at the engagement and believes the imam is the right person to speak to young people about avoiding the gang milieu. “He has himself been in a gang, so he knows what he’s talking about. The young people like him and they listen to him”, Alsubeihi told public broadcaster DR.
A city council member of the Red-Green Alliance, Jaleh Tavakoli was attending the meeting. There were gender segregated seating but Tavakoli insisted on sitting next to her husband. A group of people gathered around Tavakoli and her husband trying to make her take a seat in the women’s section. “In the end about 50 people were standing around me shouting words like slut, fat pig and a few were threatening to hurt me. I was very scared” Tavakoli says. She called the police who escorted her and her husband out. Tavakoli is originally from Iran and she is spokeswoman for the organization ‘Free Iran’ which works for human rights, democracy and freedom in Iran.
Viomis’ homepage refers to Yasin as the organization’s mentor and teacher and says he will visit Denmark every other month to speak.
American Muslim convert and Harvard Islamic studies graduate student Michael Muhammed Knight is an essayist, a novelist, and performance artist who embraces a rebellious, alternative interpretation of Islam. His mission? To “shed antiquated and retrograde seventh-century ideas and make Islam consistent with the liberations of the 21st century.”
In his work and his spirituality, he strives to separate himself from conservatives who view Islamic as a monolithic, uncompromising orthodoxy, a worldview he feels is linked to undemocratic governmental rule.
An account of his travels through the Muslim world, “Journey to the End of Islam” has been published. It profiles the diversity of practice in Islam while critiquing conservative values.
“I had chosen Islam because it was the religion of Malcolm X, a language of resistance against unjust power. But in Pakistan, Islam was the unjust power…Pakistan’s Islam was guilty of everything for which I rebelled against Reagan-Falwell Christianity in America.”
After a glimpse into Muslim cultures across the globe, Knight has a better understanding of its multiplicity. He also has faith in American freedom. “In a weird way, America can save Islam.”
Professor of Iranian Studies and Comparative Literature Hamid Dabashi calls upon the world to recognize US Muslims as an integral part of American culture.
In this article, he critiques the polarizing debate between the essentialist discourses that pin Islam as inherently violent religion, and the reactive apologist rhetoric which defends Islam as a faith that preaches peace.
He says violent strains of Hinduism and Christianity plagued humanity at various points throughout history as well, and all faiths contend with radicalism and violence. He urges the world not to forget Malcolm X’s role in American history as a champion of the civil rights movement of the 1960s, arguing that without his presence as a Muslim revolutionary, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “pacifism” could not have been effective.
By Richard Reddie, author of “Black Muslims in Britain: Why are a growing Number of Young Black people are Converting to Islam?”:
Black conversion or “reversion” to Islam is not new; it has been taking place in the African diaspora since time immemorial. However, I looked deeper into the phenomenon to find out why a growing number of Black Britons, especially younger ones, are embracing Islam. Although I am not a Muslim, I have always been interested in Islam — three of my all-time heroes, Muhammad Ali, Malcolm X and Jamaican singer Prince Buster were Muslim converts, and I was intrigued by the way Islam inspired all three to transcend their respective vocations to become icons.
My research reveals that there is no one, straightforward reason for conversions, but a plethora of theological, emotional and cultural motivations. Practically all those interviewed suggested that Islam had given their lives meaning and woken them from a spiritual malaise. Others said that their faith provided inspiration and strength to engage with a society they regarded as corrupted by materialism and moral relativism. And for those whose lives had previously been errant, Islam’s decisiveness on a range of religious and socio-cultural matters had given them a focus and an anchor. Equally, many of the women interviewed suggested that the Islamic focus on modesty had liberated them from the rampant fashion-related consumerism that objectifies all women, and sexualises pre-pubescent girls.
Spiritual leaders of a New York Muslim community lashed out against purported al-Qaeda message attacking President-elect Barack Obama, using racist language, and comparing him unfavorably to the late Malcolm X. The imams at a Malcolm X and Dr. Betty Shabazz Memorial, Educational, and Cultural Center issued a statement saying: “We find it insulting when anyone speaks for our community instead of giving us the dignity and the honor of speaking for ourselves.”
The Council on America-Islamic Relations (CAIR) also condemned Zawahiri’s comments, stating: “As Muslims and as Americans, we will never let terrorist groups or terror leaders falsely claim to represent us or our faith. We once again repudiate al-Qaeda’s actions, rhetoric, and world view and re-state our condemnation of all forms of terrorism and religious extremism.”
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