Campaign Launches to Get More Muslims Active in Politics

BOSTON — A nationwide campaign to get more Muslim Americans involved in local politics is being launched by a Massachusetts nonprofit.

Jetpac Inc. is focused on training Muslim Americans how to leverage social media, data analysis and other critical political tools to build winning campaigns for city council, school committee and other down ballot races.

The goal is to build stronger, more sophisticated grassroots political organizations with an eye toward the 2018 elections, according to Shaun Kennedy, Jetpac Inc.’s executive director.

“The community as a whole is about 50 years behind in terms of organizing,” said Kennedy, who is not Muslim. “The younger generation is trying to step up. The older generation just tried to fly under the radar. They didn’t want to be part of the political conversation. Unfortunately they are now, whether they like it or not.”

“Any Muslim candidate doesn’t need to draw attention to the fact that they’re Muslim. Someone else is going to do that for them,” he said. “At the end of the day, they are running as Americans. They’re not Muslim American candidates but American candidates who just so happen to be Muslim.”

Muslim women kicked out of US cafe accused of ‘civilizational jihad’ by lawyer

Soondus Ahmed and other plantiffs and attorneys representing the women hold a press conference in Laguna Beach. A group of Muslim women who claim in a lawsuit they were kicked out of a California restaurant for wearing headscarfs have been accused of “civilizational jihad” by a lawyer for the restaurant, which has launched a countersuit.

The seven women, six of whom were wearing hijabs, were kicked out of Urth Caffe in Laguna Beach in April.

They claim that they were targeted for ejection because of their hijabs, though the cafe denies that, claiming that they were violating a policy which limited seating time to 45 minutes, and have also claimed that there were other women wearing headscarves present who were not thrown out.

David Yerushalmi, the lawyer representing Urth Caffe, said that one of the owners of the cafe, Jilla Berkman, is also a Muslim.

He said that the discrimination suit was “an extortion”, called the women’s lawyers “ambulance-chasers”, and said that he planned to bring a suit against both the plaintiffs and their legal team for malicious prosecution. The countersuit that he has brought in this case, however, is for trespassing.

Yerushalmi is a controversial figure, listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a non-profit advocacy group which collates information on hate groups and extremists, as an “anti-Muslim activist who is a leading proponent of the idea that the United States is threatened by the imposition of Muslim religious law, known as Shariah”.

“Ideally, he would outlaw Islam and deport its adherents altogether,” the SPLC’s profile of Yerushalmi adds.

Asked about the SPLC’s characterization of him, Yerushalmi said that he “represents a lot of Muslims”.

“I represent Muslim Americans, running from jihad and seeking asylum. If you want to say I’m an anti-jihad lawyer, you’re 100% right,” he continued. “Am I anti-Sharia? Yes, I am. Am I anti-Muslim? Not if he doesn’t have a gun in his hand shooting at me.”

Yerushalmi alleged that the suit against Urth Caffe was part of a wider “civilizational jihad” waged by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) which aims, he said, “to weaken western civilization”.

“Urth Caffe has decided to hire a lawyer who has made a career out of crusading against Muslims in America,” said Mohammad Tajsar, a lawyer representing the seven women. “Their decision to hire this particular gentleman frankly makes our case. It demonstrates that this organization has no regard for the very Muslim clientele that it claims it caters to.”

Tajsar said he was “dumbstruck” by the allegations made by Yerushalmi, and also noted that the legal filing – the countersuit for trespass – doesn’t attempt to legally assert the claims of abuse of lawsuit that Yerushalmi has made publicly against him and his clients.

“They haven’t countersued for abuse of process,” Tajsar said. “They have alleged abuse of process, but not filed for that, and the reason why is that it would be incorrect and patently frivolous. There’s a lot of bluster and attempts to paint our clients as politically-motivated without any basis in fact.”

Hussam Ayloush, the executive director of the Los Angeles branch of CAIR, said that, contrary to Yerushalmi’s allegations, his organization was not involved with the case against Urth Caffe.

“I’m not privy to the details of the case, of their claim, and I would hope that a fair trial would allow us to know what happened,” he said. “But if anyone had any doubts about what happened on that day, those doubts are eliminated by the fact that the owners of Urth Caffe decided to retain David Yerushalmi.”

“There are 1.2 million attorneys in America, and for them to choose the most hateful, the most bigoted attorney, tells a lot about the values that Urth Caffe’s owners hold,” he added.

After Orlando shooting, Muslim Americans show support for victims

Muslims across America showed an outpouring of support for victims after the deadliest shooting spree in U.S. history left 49 people dead in an Orlando, Fla., nightclub.
The lone shooter, killed by police, has been identified as a Muslim.
The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement that said, “We condemn this monstrous attack and offer our heartfelt condolences to the families and loved ones of all those killed or injured. The Muslim community joins our fellow Americans in repudiating anyone or any group that would claim to justify or excuse such an appalling act of violence.”
The Muslim civil liberties organization is asking for blood donations to help those injured in the attack.
The American Muslim Community Centers, a mosque in Longwood, Fla., said the mosque stands with Americans and “senseless violence has no place in our religion or in our society.”
USA Today: http://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2016/06/12/orlando-nightclub-muslim-reaction/85790320/

Laila Alawa: Do we really need mosques in America?

Laila Alawa, Associate Editor at Islamic Monthly, views the controversial documentary film Unmosqued and offers some observations on the mosque and its function and future in America. Situating her argument in a larger view of faith in America, Alawa writes, “There are buildings scattered across America, empty of purpose and congregations, simply because people left – and never turned back. For the future of mosques in America, Muslim Americans who have been unmosqued must make a decision. Alongside this sense of urgency, however, is a sense of freshness: the community, innovations and conversations taking place in third spaces is unlike any that happened within mosques – and for now, that’s okay. The future of faith in America might just not take place within a conventional center of worship. For many, that’s just how it’s going to be.”

"Mother Mosque of America," Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
“Mother Mosque of America,” Cedar Rapids, Iowa.

Tariq Ramadan: My Absence Would Certainly Be The Most Powerful Speech I Have Ever Given At ISNA

August 14, 2014

On Sunday, August 10th, 2014, renowned and notable scholar and professor Dr. Tariq Ramadan posted on his webpage a piece titled Why I Will Not Attend The ISNA And RIS Conferences. The post stirred much heated debate over social media, with notable scholars also responding and urging him to reconsider his position in light of points they raised. The President of ISNA also issued a formal statement.

Dr. Ramadan agreed to be interviewed, stating for now this will be his one response to his post.

The following is an edited conversation between Dr. Tariq Ramadan and Amina Chaudary of The Islamic Monthly (TIM) on August 11, 2014.

TIM: In your essay, you argue that Muslims should speak out against certain U.S. policies by basing their arguments in American values, not Islamic ones. Why did you choose this frame of reference?

Ramadan: As Western Muslims and American Muslims, we need to understand that the values and principles we promote are not only Muslim values.  American Muslims live in a country where justice, dignity, freedom and equality are essential values. The Muslim contribution to the future of America is to not only speak out as Muslims, but to also speak out as citizens in the name of our common values. Our main contribution is to reconcile the American society with its own values, those that are not in contradiction to Islam.  We have a duty of consistency.

TIM: ISNA wears many hats for Muslims in America, and its annual convention provides a venue for everything from family reunions to panel sessions on halal certifications to addressing many of the political issues you identified in your essay. Is it fair to place the burden on this one institution to articulate a position on all American policies both foreign and domestic? Are you asking specific individuals within ISNA’s leadership to articulate their position vis-a-vis these issues? Does this boycott extend to other groups guilty of the same silence, or is it specific to ISNA as the largest of them all?

Ramadan: As I wrote in the beginning of my post, I have a great deal of respect for the people who have been working and serving the community in America and Canada, and, among them, the two institutions I mentioned. I am not attacking the institution. Some have misunderstood my point or not read my paper carefully and they are saying “Tariq Ramadan is calling for a boycott and is creating divisions.” What I was trying to do is exactly the opposite. The divisions are already there and it is not by hiding the tensions that we are solving the problems. My position is clearly about the leadership. I can understand and respect the fact that you want to keep the channel open with American authority. But at the same time, you need to know your goals to serve your fellow citizens and the Muslim community in the name of your principles. Some people are responding by saying, “You are not an American, you do not understand. The priorities in Europe are not the same as in the U.S. or in Canada. You are obsessed with international issues!” Is that even a response? So why do they invite me in the first place if I do not understand the respective situations in the U.S. and in Canada? Am I suitable only when I am not critical? I have been visiting and studying the North American continent for almost 30 years and I am sad to hear such arguments. I do not deal with “international affairs” only; half of my work has been on Western Muslims. My point is straightforward: anyone who tries to separate or divorce domestic politics from international politics does not get it, and that might be dangerous for the future of Western Muslims. Shouldn’t the American leadership be addressing what is happening in America, with its domestic policies on racism, discrimination, illegal monitoring, solitary confinement, torture, Guantanamo Bay and any other social and political issues related to the American society not directly connected to Islam?  American Muslims must speak out and be involved as well in international policies and, through their institutions, they should raise their voice. This is the way you serve the community.  I understand the need to serve the community by talking about marriage or halal food. But you should also lead with vision, wisdom and  courage. Islam is a religion of justice and dignity, and we are taught to never keep silent when facing injustice, discrimination and double standards. This is our contribution. I am expecting institutions to be able to open up and break the silence. They should write with assertiveness about some of the critical issues. But this is not what is done now. I have great respect for the way they serve, but question their silence on critical issues.

TIM: Some scholars have asked you to reconsider your attendance of ISNA, not necessarily because they disagree with your critique, but because they fear your absence could irrevocably diminish an institution they consider an important cornerstone of Muslim America. How do you respond to them? Assuming this analysis is true and your actions would diminish the organization in an irretrievable way, would you still not attend ISNA?

Ramadan: It is not a question of boycotting. I am not calling for a boycott. I am sending a message and asking a question in a respectful, critical and constructive way. I received many e-mails from people saying, “Professor, please come, don’t do that.” Just ten minutes ago, I received a very moving e-mail from somebody telling me, “Sheikh, in the name of your knowledge, your contribution and what you have been teaching us, don’t boycott.” Once again, I am not calling for a boycott. My absence would certainly be the most powerful speech I have ever given at ISNA. And for the attendees, it is important to note that my intention was not to create division, but exactly the opposite. They must ask their institutions, what are your priorities? How are you going to deal with this? I have given talks to many people for years, at ISNA or RIS. And now what I am trying to say is that although I am not going, the people who will attend should make their voices heard in a constructive way.

Narrating Islam in Black America: Philadelphia Museum Preserves Story of Islam in Black America

August 1, 2014

For many Muslims born to immigrant parents in this country, our first encounters with an indigenous American Muslim tradition allowed us to see pieces of ourselves in the cultural life and history of the United States. Whether it was watching slaves carry their religion to Southern plantations in the TV series “Roots,” poring over the prison conversion story in “The Autobiography of Malcolm X,” sifting through old footage of Muhammad Ali citing his religious beliefs as his rationale for refusing his Vietnam draft notice, or deciphering Islamic references in the lyrics of hip-hop artists such as Lauryn Hill or A Tribe Called Quest, each moment illuminated a rich archive of American Muslim history that we had never been exposed to in our homes, schools, or even in our mosques.

The New Africa Center on Lancaster Avenue in West Philadelphia is a small museum dedicated to preserving what Abdul Rahim Muhammad, the Center’s director, calls the “lost and found history of American Islam.” The Center features items donated largely from Abdul Rahim’s own personal journey as a convert to the Nation of Islam during the 1950s when it was under the leadership of Elijah Muhammad to the Nation’s transformation and transition under Warith Deen Muhammad, Elijah’s son.

“A lot of people, even Muslims themselves, don’t know about the Muslim experience in America, particularly the African-American Muslim experience,” said Abdul Rahim. “When I grew up, we were the voice of the community. Now we’re barely heard.”

Rahim claims that Warith Deen Muhammad continued to face criticism from Muslim leaders who had recently immigrated to the United States for speaking too much about racial issues and not enough about the Quran and the Prophet Muhammad.

“They thought he was trying to create a new Islamic movement. But he was really trying to help black people solve an identity crisis and help us reconnect with our roots as African Muslims and the sunnah of the Prophet and the story of his companion Bilal. But people would tell Warith Deen that he needed to talk more about Abu Bakr and the other main companions. No, he stuck with Bilal because Bilal spoke to us.”

Tariq Ramadan: Why I will not attend the ISNA (August 2014) and RIS (December 2014) conferences

August 10, 2014

In recent years I have been a faithful participant in two major events of the North American Muslim calendar. As a regular attendee at these annual gatherings, I wish to express my warmest thanks to the institutions, and to the women and men who made them the success they undoubtedly were.

This year, however, I have decided not to attend or participate in the conferences organized by ISNA from August 29 to September 1 in Detroit, and by RIS, from December 26-28 2014, in Toronto. The reasons are different, but point to similar causes.

The leaders of ISNA can boast a proud record of service to American Muslims, for which they must be thanked and congratulated. The annual ISNA convention is an important gathering, featuring a multiplicity of participants and a broad cross-section of activities. In recent years, however, the political positions taken by the organization’s leadership have not always been clear-cut. Though it is essential, I believe, to remain open to dialogue with the authorities, it is likewise essential that positions of principle must be maintained, re-affirmed and defended. Not simply for the good of the Muslims, but in the name of the contribution of American Muslims to their society. Criticism of the domestic policy of the current administration, like those that preceded it, is a moral obligation. Summary arrests, arbitrary prison terms, inhuman psychological torture and solitary confinement, the shadowy role of informers and the deeply troubling and unacceptable methods used by the FBI, which has provoked young people to engage in extremist actions, must be unconditionally condemned. Not in the name of Islam, but in the name of the values proclaimed by the United States. However, the ISNA leadership is too often silent, as if paralyzed by fear. It fares no better with respect to American foreign policy. Its silence over American support for the outlaw and inhuman policies of Israel cannot be justified, even less so after attending an iftar organized by the White House during which President Obama defended Israel while the Israeli ambassador tweeted his delight! We cannot be forever silent: what kind of active and responsible citizenship does the ISNA leadership offer young American Muslims? What kind of example? That of silent, fearful sycophants–or of free, public-spirited citizens who, while defending the values of human dignity and justice, serve their country in the most sincere and critical way? That of the unconditional loyalty of the timorous, or the critical loyalty of free individuals? To attend the ISNA convention would be to endorse their silence.

Nor will I be attending RIS this year. The reasons are different, the causes similar. The organizers have long demonstrated their effectiveness; they wish to convey the impression of favoring a plurality of voices. But in fact, it is the so-called “Sufi” and “apolitical” trend that lies at the core of the RIS convention. I do not have the slightest problem with this trend (on the contrary), or its underlying structures and aims. The problem is that some of the participants, scholars or preachers, under the guise of Sufism or in the name of avoiding partisan politics, defend highly politicized positions of support for states and dictatorships. Their silence and their inferences in the heart of the West, in Toronto or elsewhere, constitute visible support for the Gulf petro-monarchies or for despots such as al-Sissi in Egypt. This while dictators from Syria to Iraq by way of Egypt are imprisoning, torturing and killing innocents by the thousands. They cast themselves as above the conflict, while the “Sufism” they offer is highly politicized and too well adjusted to the boots of the State. But I will have none of this. When some speakers boast in public of their openness but refuse to participate in panel discussions to avoid being exposed, openness goes by the board. When the same people support dictatorial governments, coherence flies out the window. I cannot, by my presence, lend implicit approval to such positions.

Spare me please any talk of my family background: I have sufficiently criticized the Islamist movements—all of them, without exception–and their choices that my approach cannot be reduced to anything resembling even implicit support. My position is that all dictators must be confronted, all injustices must be fought; we cannot be silent, or feign silence while supporting the worst regimes.

I have said it once and I will say it again: Western Muslims will in the future assume a critical role. Educated and living in free societies, they must acquire greater knowledge of their religion and become free, active and outspoken citizens, fully aware of their duties and dedicated to the defense of their rights. In the United States, just as in Canada and in Europe, they must defend everyone’s human dignity, and refuse to keep silent in the face of intimidation by the state. Drawing on their spirituality and their values, their commitment will be their finest contribution, the best possible example of the contribution of Muslim citizens to the future of the West. The leaders of the previous generation are too cautious, too fearful; they dare not speak freely.

I am also a member of a generation that is passing on. It is up to the new generation to produce leaders who have understood that in bending over backwards, in saying “Yes sir!” they sacrifice not only their dignity, but forget and betray their duty. I dream of a new feminine and masculine leadership, educated, free and bold, a leadership that does not confuse the concept of dialogue with the authorities with unacceptable compromise and intellectual surrender, a leadership that does not transform Sufism, the historical underpinning of so many liberation movements, into a school of silence and cowardly calculation. As I look around me, I see the first premises of a dream come true, alhamdulLilah.

I am well aware that the position I am taking will sound off sharp criticism; others may simply decide not to invite me. For years I have dealt with criticisms of my person, my training, my credibility. I have no time to waste with these low blows and refer readers to my résumé, which can be found on my website (http://tariqramadan.com/english/biography/). These are the same individuals who attack my character to avoid responding to the content of my critical thought. I know their methods all too well, but I refuse to waste my time by answering their attacks, which are nothing but a manoeuvre to sidestep the true subject. It is impossible for me to attend such events when my presence alone would imply support for positions that stand in total contradiction to my vision of the role of Western Muslims in their society, now and in the future. I’ve said it once, I’ll say it again. It is imperative that we educate ourselves, and that we display good judgement and fortitude. If those around us are silent in the face of the unacceptable, the conscience of Muslims must not remain silent, neither in the name of wisdom betrayed, nor of Sufism perverted.

Muslim residents sue U.S. over citizenship denials

August 1, 2014

Five long-time U.S. residents who are Muslim or from Muslim-majority countries sued the federal government on Thursday, saying the Department of Homeland Security was unfairly denying or delaying requests for citizenship and permanent residency on vague security grounds.

The plaintiffs, all immigrants who are either practicing Muslims or are from predominantly Muslim nations, complain their immigration or naturalization petitions were illegally thwarted after they were flagged for potential national security concerns under a federal program.

They complained that the criteria for flagging applications under the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARRP) were secretive and broader than authorized by the U.S. Congress, essentially creating an immigration blacklist.

The ACLU said the five plaintiffs were among thousands of U.S. residents of Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim or South Asian backgrounds who are similarly being blocked from citizenship, asylum, green cards and visas, without explanation.

The plaintiffs include Ahmad and Reem Muhanna, Palestinian Muslims and U.S. legal permanent residents whose 2007 citizenship application was denied in 2012 and is under appeal.

Fellow plaintiff Ahmed Hassan, a Muslim refugee from Somalia, has been seeking legal permanent residency since 2006.

The lawsuit comes a month after a federal judge ruled that the government’s no-fly list banning people accused of links to terrorism from commercial flights was unconstitutional because it left them no way to contest that decision.

US: Terrorism Prosecutions Often An Illusion [PDF DOWNLOAD]

July 21, 2014

DOWNLOAD FULL PDF REPORT: Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions

Investigations, Trials of American Muslims Rife with Abuse

(Washington, DC) –The US Justice Department and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have targeted American Muslims in abusive counterterrorism “sting operations” based on religious and ethnic identity, Human Rights Watch and Columbia Law School’s Human Rights Institute said in a report released today. Many of the more than 500 terrorism-related cases prosecuted in US federal courts since September 11, 2001, have alienated the very communities that can help prevent terrorist crimes.

The 214-page report, “Illusion of Justice: Human Rights Abuses in US Terrorism Prosecutions,”examines 27 federal terrorism cases from initiation of the investigations to sentencing and post-conviction conditions of confinement. It documents the significant human cost of certain counterterrorism practices, such as overly aggressive sting operations and unnecessarily restrictive conditions of confinement.

“Americans have been told that their government is keeping them safe by preventing and prosecuting terrorism inside the US,” said Andrea Prasow, deputy Washington director at Human Rights Watch and one of the authors of the report. “But take a closer look and you realize that many of these people would never have committed a crime if not for law enforcement encouraging, pressuring, and sometimes paying them to commit terrorist acts.”

The report is based on more than 215 interviews with people charged with or convicted of terrorism-related crimes, members of their families and their communities, criminal defense attorneys, judges, current and former federal prosecutors, government officials, academics, and other experts.

In some cases the FBI may have created terrorists out of law-abiding individuals by suggesting the idea of taking terrorist action or encouraging the target to act. Multiple studies have found that nearly 50 percent of the federal counterterrorism convictions since September 11, 2001, resulted from informant-based cases. Almost 30 percent were sting operations in which the informant played an active role in the underlying plot.

“The US government should stop treating American Muslims as terrorists-in-waiting,” Prasow said. “The bar on entrapment in US law is so high that it’s almost impossible for a terrorism suspect to prove. Add that to law enforcement preying on the particularly vulnerable, such as those with mental or intellectual disabilities, and the very poor, and you have a recipe for rampant human rights abuses.”

These abuses have had an adverse impact on American Muslim communities. The government’s tactics to seek out terrorism suspects, at times before the target has demonstrated any intention to use violence, has undercut parallel efforts to build relationships with American Muslim community leaders and groups that may be critical sources of information to prevent terrorist attacks.

In some communities, these practices have deterred interaction with law enforcement. Some Muslim community members said that fears of government surveillance and informant infiltration have meant they must watch what they say, to whom, and how often they attend services.

“Far from protecting Americans, including American Muslims, from the threat of terrorism, the policies documented in this report have diverted law enforcement from pursuing real threats,” Prasow said. “It is possible to protect people’s rights and also prosecute terrorists, which increases the chances of catching genuine criminals.”

Is It Nation of Islam Time Again in Hip-Hop?

July 19, 2014

A revival of the Nation of Islam connection—if it avoids repeating some of the errors of the past—could signal a new era of consciousness in commercial hip-hop.

In the late ’80s and early ’90s, a wave of commercial hip-hop artists, like Public Enemy, Poor Righteous Teachers, Brand Nubian, Eric B. & Rakim, Paris, Gang Starr, Ice Cube and MC Ren, used their platform to promote political awareness, community uplift and cultural self-determination. They drew their inspiration in part from Islam—as culture, ideology and religion—influenced primarily by the Nation of Islam and its offshoot the Nation of Gods and Earths, or Five Percenters.

As movements, both the NOI and NGE actively engaged hip-hop artists and the communities in which the artists and their audiences lived. The NOI organized anti-crime patrols, established drug-prevention programs and negotiated gang truces. The NGE’s cipher gatherings rewarded those most skilled in wordplay. The theologies of the NOI, and the NGE in particular, proclaimed the black man “God,” and while contested by other Muslim traditions, this fit perfectly within the hip-hop tradition of the superlative boast (who, after all, could top God) and placed black men at the center of hip-hop’s universe.

For Electronica, the NOI is much more than stage props or costumes: He has sampled Elijah Muhammad on his tracks; and in his freestyle remix of Drake’s “We Made It” with Jay Z, he declares the Muslim “shahada”—the testimony of faith that “there is no god but Allah”—in Arabic and proclaims himself “the Farrakhan of rap.” In the days since his performance, Electronica has tweeted and Facebooked even more references to the NOI and its leadership. He’s clearly committed to asserting the presence of the NOI and NGE more broadly in hip-hop music and culture.

And he’s not alone in this NOI revival in hip-hop, and in black culture more broadly. Earlier this year, R&B artist Raheem DeVaughn collaborated with Chicago rapper Rhymefest to release “Final Call (Saviours’ Day).” The song’s title references both the NOI’s annual Saviours’ Day convention and itsFinal Call newspaper, sold by the FOI, who are also featured prominently in the music video.

The Fruit of Islam seem well suited for this role. When Jay Elect stepped to the stage with FOI in tow, he seemed to be channeling a moment from 25 years ago when Public Enemy took to the streets of Brooklyn, also with FOI, to film the Spike Lee-directed video for their anthem, “Fight the Power.” More than an entourage, the FOI’s military like presence conveys a charismatic power onto whomever they secure, a level of real-world seriousness: “They treated him like he was Barack Obama,” remarked one observer of the FOI guarding Jay Z at the festival.