Unsettling U.S. Political Climate Galvanizes Muslims to Vote

These are unsettling times for many American Muslims. “People are losing their sleep,” said Naeem Baig, the president of the Islamic Circle of North America. “The political environment is creating a divide in America” by race, language, gender and religion.

But it has also had an unintended consequence: galvanizing Muslims to vote.

NY Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/02/us/unsettling-political-climate-galvanizes-muslims-to-vote.html

French Council of the Muslim Faith creates ‘theological council’ to counter radical discourse

May 8, 2016

The CFCM, the organization that governs the 2,500 mosques in France but is often criticized by French Muslims for its lack of concrete action, has taken steps to increase its religious presence.

The 2015 attacks and the success of Daesh in recruiting hundreds of youths shed light on the need for a theological council. “This new body provides our organization with a new dimension, which is no longer solely focused on administrative tasks and management,” CFCM president Anouar Kbibech stated, referring to its creation as an “historic day.”

The first meeting was held Sunday in Paris, where “all interpretations” of Islam were represented–except Salafists–including the Union of Islamic Organizations of France (UOIF, affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood), and the Tablighi Jamaat.

The Council is made up of 22 members, including the Imam of Bordeaux Tareq Oubrou, liberal member of the UOIF. It will meet twice yearly, ‘exceptional’ circumstances notwithstanding, and will give “advice,” as Kbibech prohibits using the word ‘fatwa,’ which has a ‘reductionist connotation.’

The committee “will be able to provide counter-discourse based on accepted theological arguments, in response to discourse circulated on social media, notably among young people,” according to the CFCM statement.

“On subjects such as jihad or hijra we need advice issued by competent and credible leaders,” said Kbibech. According to Kbibech, establishing a theological council was a “prerequisite” for the project of imam certification in order to ensure that preachers in mosques respected Republican values.

The new council can “recommend” imams after interviewing or a written exam, Kbibech explained. According to the leader, the council will “complement” the committees of religious expertise already established by certain federations, notably the theological council created one year ago by imams in the Muslim Brotherhood movement.

Dutch minister declines extra security after attacks on mosques

1 March 2016

Ard van der Steur, the Dutch Minister of Security and Justice, is not planning to take extra security measures after a sequence of severe threats and attacks on mosques. “If measures should be taken this is the responsibility of municipalities”, he said during a debate in the Dutch parliament on the matter.

Ahmed Marcouch, a parliamentary member of the Dutch Labour Party, observes that the amount of violent incidents against mosques and visitors of mosques is increasing. “In the past five years there have been two hundred incidents: raining from heads of pigs to fire bombs and molotov cocktails. […] These incidents can no longer be called occasional.”

He is furthermore concerned about the organizational character of the “resistance” against Muslims and mosques, exemplified by a pamphlet with Nazi-symbols and discriminatory language that was send to various mosques recently.

Ministers Lodewijk Asscher (integration) and Van der Steur will soon get in touch with representatives of the Dutch Muslim community to convey to them the position of the Dutch government.

Selçuk Öztürk, parliamentary member of the new Muslim political movement called DENK, reacted by saying that the Muslim community is not waiting for talking sessions. “Synagogues are rightly being provided with extra security. The cabinet has reserved extra finances for this. Why does this not happen for mosques?”, he demanded. He believes the Dutch government is using double standards and fears that there should first be casualties before the minister takes action.

Gay imam helps young Muslims balance religion, sexuality

March 11, 2016

Growing up in Algeria, Shaira had almost everything a young man could wish for. But he also had a big secret.

In a land where homosexuality is still a crime and a sin, he was forced to live a secret life, hiding that he was gay from everyone — even his closest family.

Shaira, 26, who asked that his last name not be used to protect his safety, hasn’t been back to Algeria since he went to study in France four years ago. His family still has no idea of his sexuality. Sahira has sought help from a gay imam from Algeria who is working with a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) association in Marseille. The Le Refuge group says it has helped 26 gays find shelter and start a new life in the ancient port city in the past year. Some eventually go back to their families.

Homosexuality is a criminal offense in much of the Middle East — punishable by imprisonment or, in countries like Saudi Arabia, by death.

In Algeria, homosexual acts are punishable by up to two years in prison and a fine. Islam considers homosexuality a sin. Men having sex with each other should be punished, the Quran says, but it doesn’t say how — and it adds that they should be left alone if they repent. The death penalty verdict instead comes from the Hadith, or accounts of the sayings of the Prophet Muhammad. The accounts differ on the method of killing, and some accounts give lesser penalties in some circumstances.

The Islamic State group (IS) has taken this to an extreme. Videos the group has released show masked militants dangling allegedly gay men over the sides of buildings by their legs and dropping them head-first or tossing them over the edge. It is believed that at least three dozen men in Syria and Iraq have been killed by IS over accusations of sodomy.

Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed is an Algerian-born imam who now works in Marseille and runs an association of French Muslims and gays. He has known the discrimination faced by the young people who come to Le Refuge for help.

“Personally I have received quite a lot of threats, but I saw more people come to encourage me … saying you are an embodiment of real Islam,” Zahed said.

The local head of Le Refuge in Marseille, Christophe Chausse, says the group tries to counsel young gays about how to cope with the constant conflict between their sexuality and their religion.

“For them, there is a real dilemma between — ‘I am or I feel homosexual’, and ‘I have my religion, my faith which prohibits it, so I cannot live this homosexuality,’” Chausse said. Shaira cries as he talks about this conflict that he battles every day.

“Everybody is telling me — ‘you are gay, you are Muslim and this is not normal,’” Shaira said. “But I feel that I have the same right to have a religion as everybody else. Even if I’m gay.”

[press release] Declaration on the occasion of International Women’s Day

March 8, 2016

The French Council of the Muslim Faith (CFCM) held a series of meetings throughout the period of several months with women, French citizens of the Muslim faith, who are engaged in their communities and in civil society.

The objective of this dialogue and exchanges is to understand the visions, the expectations, and the suggestions of Muslim women, and to examine, together, the problems linked to the condition of women within society.

At the end of the last meeting, which was held Saturday, March 5, 2016 in Paris, the CFCM and all women who participated would like to remind on International Women’s Day on March 8, 2016:

  1. That since the beginning of Islam, women acquired and merit full legal status and that the Sainted Qur’an, Message of Wisdom and Equity, confers complete equality for men and women. “Women have the same rights as the men have on them in accordance with the generally known principles.” (Coran, 2:228)
  2. That it is established in Islam, without argument, the spiritual equality between man and woman and that there can be no limits to their spiritual progress.
  3. That man and woman come from a vital essence both the same and different, they are equal in humanity. To this, the Prophet proclaimed: “Women are like men.”
  4. That the Muslim woman plays a primordial role in society, that she must assume this role, without reservation, or constraint. Also, in regards to professional life, Islam advocates for the equality of salaries for workers, men and women, who hold the same job. This underlines the notion of equality among man/woman that is actively sought today in the work and business world.
  5. That the right to express their opinions on public, social, and religious affairs was recognized by Muslims since the advent of Islam. In effect, women can share their thoughts and choices on any public position. Also, Omar Ibn Al-Khattab, second Caliph after the Prophet, entrusted the position of sales manager of contracts and purchases of Medina to a woman, Shifa Bint Abdullah, one of the rare people versed in art and writing in a society dominated by illiteracy; he also entrusted a woman to run the Market of Mecca, Samra Bint Nouhayl.
  6. That Islam gave man and woman their respective rights and obligations that allowed them to live in harmony. Sadly, in many cases, the principles of equality and equity are not respected by the Men who, at times, continue to impose their point of view. It is therefore necessary to continue to support pedagogy, study, and education so that Muslim women are not the objects of discrimination and submission.

The CFCM and the participating women proclaim on this occasion their solidarity with all women, of any faith and belief.

They reaffirm their commitment to work for the emancipation and development of the role of women in French society for today and tomorrow.

UAMO organizes third annual meeting

March 12, 2016

On Saturday the Muslim community of Orléans gathered at the Parc des expositions for a day dedicated to “faith and responsibility.” Tariq Ramadan took part in the annual event, which included round table discussions.

The Union of Muslim Associations of Orléans (UAMO) described the day as a “cultural” event, which scholars and exhibitors attended. “Faith and Responsibility: a requirement,” was the theme of the conferences and round table discussions.

For speakers, the UAMO invited several noted intellectuals: sheikh Fatih Aksay (youth and radicalization) and Michèle Sibony, vice-president of the French Jewish Union for Peace (in Palestine) and the (very controversial) professor of Islamic studies Tariq Ramadan.

The initiative aimed to encourage “active participations of the Muslim community of Orléans.” The UAMO, created in 2013, is comprised of nine associations present at the conference for “a platform offered to those living in the Central-Val de Loire region, so that they can express themselves, share and bring about a new future.”

Meet the British Muslim who wants to lead an Islamic reformation

When Adam Deen agreed to join the Quilliam Foundation in November 2015 it caused a stir among politically engaged British Muslims. By becoming Quilliam’s head of outreach, Deen is now a key member of staff at the world’s first self-styled counter-extremism think tank. And in the same vein as Quilliam’s founder Maajid Nawaz, Deen’s personal journey as a Muslim is seen as one of extremist activist turned counter-extremist campaigner.

Deen joined al-Muhajiroun while studying at Westminster University in 1995 and would stand on street corners denouncing non-Muslims to hell and accusing fellow Muslims of being sell-outs. He supported the group’s call to establish a global Islamic state but he left al-Muhajiroun in 2003 – two years before the group was banned for links to violence – after a former member encouraged him to seek out a different understanding of Islam.

Nearly a decade later in 2012, he established the Deen Institute, a Muslim debating forum named after the Arabic word for religion, which aimed to promote critical thinking among British Muslims that would reflect his own journey away from extremism.

In joining Quilliam Deen has moved on to work at an organisation which has sought to place itself at the forefront of the debate around Islamic extremism since its founding in 2008, during which time it has often courted criticism for its perceived closeness to British government counter-terrorism policy.

Deen, who is from London and has Turkish parents, joined Quilliam after months of negotiations with its leadership, and despite holding reservations about the organisation’s past actions, he concluded that it has an “honourable premise” which is to challenge ideas he believes have hijacked Islam.

Nearly six months on from joining Quilliam, Deen sat down with Middle East Eye at a coffee shop in Russell Square, to discuss his opinions on problems impacting British Muslims and to outline his vision for a reformed understanding of Islam. Throughout the 90 minute discussion Deen passionately warned of grave problems facing British Muslims, most of which are rooted in what he views as a puritanical understanding of Islam. He believes the religion has become “divorced from ethics” and while he is proud of being a Muslim he feels disconnected from his community.

“Confucius said he loves humanity but hates people. If I could borrow from his sentiments I love Islam, but I have a big problem with Muslims,” he said. “Most Muslims are good people, most Muslims are helping their neighbour. I’m talking about those voices – the self-proclaimed vanguards of our faith – as being the ones with a problem.”

Deen’s strident belief that ideology is the root cause of extremism led him back to an argument about what he views as a problem within Islamic theology and its relationship with ethics.

“There’s a major crisis in our theology that supports the view that our ethics are only derived from the Quran and Hadith. That’s a major problem because what that means is Muslims in society operate outside of the ethical sphere.”

How British Organizations Are Tackling Islamophobia

In a chintzy banqueting hall in Wembley, London, soft boos punctuate the loud chatter. A 300-person strong crowd, ranging from an Anglican vicar to former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, have gathered for the third iteration of the satirical Islamophobia Awards. The crowd’s tepid response to the announcement that British Prime Minister David Cameron has won the U.K. category for Islamophobe of the year is explained partly by the distraction of dinner at the event organizers like to call ‘the racism awards.’

Saturday’s event, held by the U.K.-based Islamic Human Rights Council (IHRC), is one of the many initiatives aimed at spreading awareness of Islamophobia, which is on the rise in the U.K.. London’s police saw a 60% rise in Islamophobic offences in 2015, from 667 offences recorded in 2014. Tell MAMA, an organisation that monitors Islamophobia, counted around 2,500 incidents for the whole of the U.K., but believes the number may be in the tens of thousands as studies have shown that the majority of hate crimes go unreported.

Fiyaz Mughal, who heads Tell MAMA, believes that the Islamophobia Awards, “trivializes” what should be a serious matter. “Some people may not like what the Prime Minister does but this is not the way to deal with it. These are senior political members of our country and our job is to lobby them, our job is to speak to them and give them the facts and hopefully build better, cohesive societies” he says. “Our job is not to mock them and by doing so create a ‘them and us.’” His organization has been working with police forces around the country to help collate data that will, hopefully, inform future policy on Islamophobia.

The police have taken steps to bring awareness to the issue: in 2015, David Cameron announced that anti-Muslim hate crimes, which had previously not been distinguished from wider hate crimes, would be recorded in their own separate category. Chief Superintendent Dave Stringer of London’s Metropolitan Police says they are working on raising awareness around Islamophobia with young Muslims, who tend to shy from reporting anything to the police. “We have a large number of schools officers and their role is to engage with young people” he says. “I would argue it has resulted in an increase in hate crime reports.”

According to Miqdaad Versi, spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Islamophobic attacks can range from “verbal assaults and attacks on social media on the lower end… to a more violent situations and attacks on mosques.” In February, the MCB, one of the country’s biggest umbrella groups for Muslim organisations, organised ‘Visit my Mosque Day,’ which saw thousands of people visit some 80 mosques across the country. The day was organized with the aim to allow Muslims “explain their faith and community beyond the hostile headlines.” Positive and high-profile campaigns like that is what works says Miqdaad, by demystifying the other side and nurturing social acceptance among communities.

Versi believes that strong leadership from public personalities is also needed to publicize the issues of Islamophobia. He describes the controversy surrounding the contentious headline published by the Times of London on Feb. 20, which read: ‘Imam beaten to death in sex grooming town.’ More than 400 complaints were made over what was seen as the paper conflating the faith of the now deceased Jalal Uddin with the town’s past child abuse scandals, reports the Guardian. In response, Manchester’s police Force, Ian Hopkins, wrote a public letter to the Times demanding an immediate apology for offending “the thousands of peaceful, law-abiding Muslims and non-Muslims living in Rochdale.”

Discussion with Sineb el-Masrar, author of the book Emancipation in Islam

Date: 21 February 2016

In the Muslim TV debate programme Forum on Friday, journalist Nazan Gökdemir interviewed Sineb el-Masrar, a German-Moroccan writer and activist, and discussed the latter’s new book Emancipation in Islam: A Reckoning with Its Enemies. El-Masrar has attained an increasingly high public profile after founding Gazelle, an intercultural women’s magazine, and after participating in several rounds of the government-sponsored ‘Islam conference’ that sought to bring together Muslim representatives and political decision-makers. El-Masrar sees herself as providing a voice for Muslim women who want to live their faith in ways that might not be accepted by more conservative and traditionalist segments in the Muslim community. In this regard, she directs some of her harshest criticisms at the Muslim organisations in Germany and their representatives, whom she deems unresponsive to women’s concerns. For el-Masrar, fellow Muslim women also need to rethink their strategy: according to her, it is not just that many of them are complicit in the maintenance of patriarchal structures that limit women’s choices; rather, even self-styled ‘Islamic feminists’ are often too narrow-minded in their conceptions of permissible forms of Islamic religiosity, or so el-Masrar argues. For her, what is necessary is a reappraisal of the diversity of Muslim women’s lives. This applies to Islamic history, which el-Masrar takes as offering a range of powerful female figures, as well as to contemporary society.