Judge finds District’s rules for hanging political posters unconstitutional

A federal judge on Thursday struck down as unconstitutional the District’s regulations for hanging political signs on the city’s lampposts.

U.S. District Chief Judge Royce C. Lamberth’s opinion finds that the rules governing how long signs can be posted in the District violate the First Amendment, and it prevents the city from enforcing the regulations.

In his 58-page decision, Lamberth “lauds the District for opening its lampposts to political messages” but writes that “once the District opens up public property to political speech, it has a responsibility to be fair, even and precise in its regulations.”

At issue is a long-standing battle between the District and a grass-roots organization that was fined tens of thousands of dollars by the city for failing to promptly remove its posters from lampposts and electrical boxes after an anti-war march it advertised in 2007.

Two groups — the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism Coalition and the Muslim American Society Freedom Foundation — argued that the city’s rules unfairly distinguished between different types of speech and initially favored signs promoting the election of individual candidates for public office.

In response to the lawsuit, the District has rewritten its regulations at least four times. City attorneys in the case said the regulations were designed to promote aesthetics and reduce litter, according to court documents.

But Lamberth wrote that the revised regulations still failed to apply a consistent, constitutional standard, in part because of the discretion the language gives to individual city inspectors.

A Planned Mosque Inches Along, but Critics Remain

A cluster of young Muslims in matching yellow T-shirts and broad smiles handed out free school supplies to a line of needy families in front of a gated construction site in the waning days of summer. Across the quiet residential street, two men glared at them, holding up protest signs.

The narrow avenue divided the two views of a three-story mosque and Islamic community center that is slowly being built on Voorheis Avenue in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, capturing the lingering tensions over a project that has split this multiethnic, but mostly Russian-Jewish, residential neighborhood that hugs the Atlantic shoreline.

The mosque’s backers say 150 to 200 Muslim families who live within walking distance are in need of a local place to pray. The mosque, they want to reassure neighbors, will be an asset, providing afterschool activities to children, a Boy Scout troop open to all and charity events, like the school supply giveaway.

But a determined group of opponents see in the half-built concrete and brick frame a provocation. To them, it is a blight, a source of future traffic congestion and worse: a beachhead for Muslim expansion in Brooklyn and a beacon for anti-Semitism.

“Yes, they are smiling, but you know what’s behind their smiles?” said Leonid Krupnik, 62, one of the two protesters late last month. Like many of the mosque’s opponents, he has strong memories of anti-Semitism as a Jew from the former Soviet Union. “Hatred. They want to create a caliphate. They want to push people out of this neighborhood.”

Mr. Krupnik and other opponents say they are being unfairly typecast as xenophobes and racists. They do nevertheless worry that the neighborhood will change so much that non-Muslims will want to leave and they fear that the mosque will be used to promote radical thinking.

“If the area, suddenly, is like a suburb of some Muslim country, it’s not very pleasant,” said Alexandr Tenenbaum, who lives several blocks away. “I am always scared because you see these kind of people, but we can’t say it.”

Mr. Ahmed and the Muslim American Society, which bought the property from him, say the suspicion is unfounded. They also say the statements by the politicians engender hate.

Mr. Ahmed, who has lived in the neighborhood since 1997, said that because of the tolerance he found in Brooklyn over the years, he had not expected such determined opposition.

Pool of American imams too small to meet the demand

SHARON, Mass. — The Islamic Center of New England has always been led by imams born outside America. The two-campus mosque would like to change that, but it’s proving harder than leaders had thought.

The ICNE’s mosque here on the South Shore of Boston has been without an imam since 2006, when the last imam was arrested for immigration fraud. A rotating cast of lay and trained imams have led congregational Friday prayers and other mosque functions since then.

As this suburban mosque has discovered, American-born imams are nearly impossible to find. Ads from mosques seeking imams who are fluent in English are readily found in Muslim-American magazines and newspapers. The North American Imams Federation, an advocacy group founded in 2002, gets more than 100 requests for help every year from mosques seeking religious leaders.

Hossam AlJabri, a former executive director of the Muslim American Society, estimated that about 80 percent of America’s 2,200 mosques were led by immigrant imams, although the majority have been in America for at least 10 years, many much longer.

According to a 2011 report from the Pew Research Center, 63 percent of America’s estimated 2.75 million Muslims are immigrants — with as many as 90,000 new Muslim immigrants arriving each year. Experts say it will be years before the pool of American imams becomes large enough to meet demand from mosques.

While a few Islamic chaplaincy programs and educational institutes have been established in the last few years in the United States, there are no similar programs to help newly arrived imams acclimate to America.

American mosques continue to rely on foreign-born imams for their religious knowledge and fluency in Arabic. But they also want Americanized imams who can speak English and serve as competent communicators with an ear for interfaith events, civic engagement and engaging the media.

Muslims battle to be official voice of U.S. Islam

As president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy, an eight-year-old group that twins conservative and Islamic values, Zuhdi Jasser is no fan of the more visible Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Washington-based CAIR and too many other U.S. Muslim groups, Jasser says, are soft on extremism and advocate a form of “political Islam.” The leadership of most U.S. groups is, as he puts it, “malignant.”
Islam is a decentralized religion with little to no hierarchy; in the United States, surveys indicate that about half or fewer of the estimated 3 million to 6 million Muslims attend mosques regularly.

Before 9/11, the best known Muslim-American groups were CAIR, the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim American Society and the Muslim Public Affairs Council. In the years since, leading Muslim groups have been deemed by some as too orthodox, not orthodox enough, too sympathetic to terrorists or too closely linked to Washington.

For many Muslims, including Jasser, the answer was to form their own organizations. And now they are competing to be seen and heard as authentic voices for American Islam alongside CAIR and other established groups.

Many new groups say visibility is key, especially in the media, which is attracted to sensational stories or personalities while often overlooking or not hearing mainstream views.

Harvard Longwood Muslims: Declaration

As salaam alaykum wa rahmatullah Dear All,

The Muslim American Society welcomes the news of the demise of Osama bin
Laden. The intentional killing of civilians for political ends is
terrorism, and this has been the mode of operation of Al Qaeda as
directed by Osama bin Laden. We pray that this development leads to a
reduction in radical extremism in the world, and that fewer fall victim
to it. Indeed fighting against acts of terror, radical extremism, and
its root causes must continue to be part of our nation’s agenda.
Finally, we pray that bin Laden’s demise brings some solace to the
thousands of families, Muslims and non-Muslims, who have been victimized
by Al Qaeda’s crimes.

Mosque Plan for Staten Island, NY Suffers Setback

By SUMATHI REDDY

The trustees of Saint Margaret Mary parish on Staten Island have voted against the controversial sale of a convent to the Muslim American Society. Father Keith Fennessy, pastor of the Midland Beach church, had agreed to the deal but after intense community opposition he stepped down as head of the church and later withdrew his support of the sale. Before reversing course, Mr. Fennessy had said he stepped down partially because of the local uproar over the convent’s anticipated sale, saying the opposition was not “totally rational.”

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.

US Muslim groups concerned about mosque seizures

The recent seizure of US mosques by federal authorities is raising concern amongst Muslim advocacy groups about the religious freedom and civil liberties of the majority of law-abiding US Muslims.

The mosques, property of the Iranian Alavi Foundation, were seized by authorities as part of an investigation probing financial ties to Iran’s nuclear program. The mosques themselves have been not been accused of any wrongdoing.

“As a civil rights organization we are concerned that the seizure of American houses of worship could have a chilling effect on the religious freedom of citizens of all faiths and may send a negative message to Muslims worldwide,” the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) said in a statement.

The move puts average Muslims at the center of the political dispute between Tehran and Washington, said Imam Mahdi Bray, executive director of the Muslim American Society’s Freedom Foundation.

“The American Muslim and faith communities must not allow houses of worship to become pawns in geopolitical struggles,” Imam Bray told CNN. “The tension between the United States and Iran must not be played out in the mosques of America.”

The Muslim American Society’s Freedom Foundation called the actions an “unprecedented encroachment of religious freedom.” The group said “it is an abiding concern among the American Muslim community that this action is just the beginning of a backlash after last week’s Fort Hood shooting tragedy.”

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) is also seeking more information from the federal government on the property seizure.

Muslims launch US-wide census

This summer, a team of Islamic advocacy groups and statistical organizations will begin a nationwide census of American mosques. The initiative is one in which organizers hope will paint a more accurate picture of composition of Muslims in the US. Challenges of the plan include finding all venues in which Muslims pray – as man Islamic communities do not have organized mosques, but still meet for congregational prayers in homes, workplaces, universities, and other multi-purposes places. The release of the study is planned for early 2009. The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) released a similar study in 2001, which found that South Asians comprised 33% of mosque attendance, African Americans 30%, and Arabs 25%. Groups sponsoring the 2008 census include the Islamic Society of North America, the Muslim American Society, The Muslim Public Affairs Council, the Hartford Institute of Religion Research, and the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

Muslims Donate for Hungry Americans

By Abderrazak Mrabet RALEIGH, North Carolina – The Muslim American Society (MAS) has launched a nationwide campaign to encourage Muslims to donate food and money to help feed fellow hungry Americans, regardless of their faith. “It’s our way of showing the community that we care about everyone and that Allah loves everyone, Muslims and non-Muslims,” Allyson Swelam, the head of the outreach committee in MAS Raleigh chapter, told IslamOnline.net. Muslims are encouraged to donate canned food, nonperishable items as well as money to provide fresh meat. Donation boxes were made available at local mosques and Islamic schools. “All donations are going directly to low income people who live under the poverty line,” said Allyson. She asserted that the response of the Muslim community was good, especially that this is the first time to conduct such a campaign. “I think this is a good start and we already met our target as far as the cost of the meat that we pre-ordered.”