Islamic Schools in US Raise Hopes and Fears

By Mohamed Elshinnawi

As the population of Muslims in the United States continues to grow, so too does the number of Islamic schools serving Muslim families across the nation. 

American Muslims see these schools as a way to provide their children with a combination of good, mainstream education and training in the essentials of their faith. But critics fear some of these schools might expose Muslim children to radical Islamist views.

Police postpone CCTV scheme targeting British Muslims

The introduction of a network of more than 200 CCTV cameras giving blanket coverage of two predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham is to be postponed after furious protests.

Muslim, civil rights and community groups were enraged after it emerged earlier this month that the cameras were not primarily for crime prevention and detection, but were paid for by the police for anti-terrorism surveillance. It led to accusations that, because of the concentration of Muslim families in the Washwood Heath and Sparkbrook districts of the city, the police had stigmatised the area as a terrorist ghetto.

The Safer Birmingham Partnership, the joint city council/police organisation that installed the cameras, backed down yesterday after mounting protests and a parliamentary motion condemning the move, and announced that the 218 cameras would not be switched on in August as planned.

Muslim elected vice chairman of the Danish Free Press Society

The 30 year old Muslim Ahmed Mohamud has been elected vice chairman of the Free Press Society. The Free Press Society was established in 2004. Its mission is to defend the right of free speech. However a broad spectrum of debaters and political commentators have been criticizing the Free Press Society for not being the defender of freedom of speech they claim to be but instead being a forum for Islamophobia and being closely linked to the right-wing party Danish People’s Party. In January 2010 the chairman Lars Hedegaard was heavily criticized for saying that: “Muslims rape their own children. You hear that all the time. Girls in Muslim families are being raped by their uncles, their cousins or their fathers”.

Lars Hedegaard welcomes Ahmed Mohamud as vice chairman and says: I never opposed Muslims. Some of us have used our freedom of speech to criticize Islam as a political system. Everybody can be a member of the Free Press Society no matter what they believe in, as long as they support freedom of speech”.

Ahmed Mohamud is of Somali origin, nurse by profession and openly gay. He doesn’t see any contradictions in him being the Society’s vice chairman and being Muslim. “If I was solely to interact with people like myself I would be very isolated. I don’t think I sanction certain opinions by being the vice chairman for the Free Press Society. To me the right of freedom of speech is central and I think it’s essential that we speak to each other instead of fighting each other” Mohamud says.

German central council of muslims demands that violence of young muslims be thoroughly analysed

After a study was published two weeks ago, showing that young Muslims are more violent the more religious they are (http://www.euro-islam.info/2010/06/05/violence-among-young-muslims-increases-with-attachment-to-religion-study-finds), the Central Council of Muslim has demanded further analysis. The General Secretary Aiman Mazyek misses a serious expertise regarding the causes of the phenomenon. He believes that the study has not carefully examined the youths’ religiosity, which is often vague and not closely related to a certain faith community. The study had indeed pointed to the fact that Islam was not the root cause, but a “macho culture” that was conveyed in some traditional Muslim families.

Bridging the education gap for British Muslims through mosques and madrasahs

Across Europe, Muslims are up to three times less likely to be employed than non-Muslims. Asim Siddiqui, member of The City Circle for the promotion of British Muslim community projects and founder of CEDAR (http://www.thecedarnetwork.com), holds that mosques and madrasahs could contribute significantly to help young Muslims in Britain achieve more. About 1,600 madrasahs in Britain educate as many as 200,000 children. They are the only place where Islamic education is available and therefore remain popular with British Muslim families, although the classes offered range from classic rote learning to a variety of subjects taught in creative ways.

CEDAR has now launched a mentoring programme in madrasahs that seeks to raise aspirations in young Muslims and introduces them to British Muslim professionals who can act as role models and contact persons for the younger. London Tawhid Mosque, for example, has tried the new scheme of experimental learning activities for the mosque’s madrasah students and other local youth. It included life mapping and a teamwork project for building a community centre for both Muslims and non-Muslims. The author claims that if used in this way, madrasahs could significantly contribute to a successful life and career of young Muslims in Britain.

Muslims discover Atheism

More than 500,000 Muslims live in Austria, but this figure tells us nothing about how many are actual believers. The expression “C and E Christians” (German version: “Baptismal-certificate Catholics”) applies to the Muslim community as well – people who still live according to certain traditions, but otherwise live a largely secular life.

For these “Muslims” there now exists a representative organization: the Central Committee of Ex-Muslims was founded yesterday (February 26) in Vienna, with the intention of appealing to those who are Muslims on paper, though perhaps not in practice.

The association plans to be involved in debates among Muslims on issues such as the headscarf or minarets, while they also intend to set up a phone hotline for youth. The founder, Cahit Kaya, explains that “we would like offer assistance to children from Muslim families who may not have anyone to talk to.” However, the association is still searching for funding, which explains the lack of a homepage or even an office. Furthermore, it does not look like this constitutes the beginning of a mass movement that might prove to be a rival to the numerous religious associations and the Islamic Community in Austria (IGGiÖ). “The core,” says Kaya, “consists of around twenty people.” Nonetheless, the point is not the number of members at the moment, but establishing a presence and speaking out when Muslim themes are discussed.

The German counterpart and model, founded in 2007, has already shown how this can successfully be done. A Swiss branch was founded in 2009, and now it is Austria’s turn. The figurehead of the movement is the Islam-critic and feminist Mina Ahadi, who was forced to flee Iran for her political activities – first to Vienna, then to Germany. Ahadi has received numerous threats on account of her activities, which Kaya anticipates will be the same in his case as well.

In Austria, renouncing Islam can be done as with any other religious community: all one needs is to submit a form to the proper authorities, such as the Magistratisches Bezirkamt in Vienna. Carla-Amina Baghajati, spokesperson for the IGGiÖ, stated: “one cannot bring people to something that they do not believe,” though she logically was not enthusiastic about the new association.

The IGGiÖ will most likely be one of the most important sparring partners for the new Central Committee, both with regard to the former’s claim to representativeness as well as legitimacy in religious interpretation. “The attempt to raise children a certain way does not always come from the family, but also from outside,” says Kaya. “And we reject that.”

Controversial statements by president of the Danish Free Press Society lead to uproar and heated debate

A heated debate is taking place in Denmark between leading political commentators and the president of the Danish Free Press Society. Just before Christmas the president of the Free Press Society, Lars Hedegaard, in a video interview said: “Muslims rape their own children. You hear that all the time. Girls in Muslim families are being raped by their uncles, their cousins or their fathers”. In protest against these utterances MPs Naser Khader and Søren Pind and Christian priest Katrine Lilleør left the Free Press Society.

The Free Press Society was established in 2004. Its mission is to defend the right of free speech. However, a broad spectrum of debaters and political commentators are criticizing Hedegaard and the Free Press Society for not being the defender of freedom of speech they claim to be, but instead being a forum for Islamophobia and being closely linked to the right-wing party the Danish People’s Party.

December 22, 2009 Lars Hedegaard was reported to the police for violating the so-called racism-paragraph that forbids utterances which could be understood as demeaning or deriding due to race, skin color, national or ethnic origin, religion or sexuality.

Travelling Iftar Dinners Bring Together Muslims and Non-Muslims

Thousands of non-Muslims are to dine with Muslim families during the month of Ramadan as part of an intercultural dialogue festival in the Netherlands. The dinners are a central component of the Ramadan Festival, which has staged public events throughout the month of Ramadan in several Dutch cities for the past five years. The festival has seen overwhelming public response and is supported by, among others, the Chamber of Commerce and the Amsterdam municipality.

Hospitality iftar dinners were initially offered by Muslims who invited non-Muslims to their homes in small gatherings because “most non-Muslims have never had dinner with Muslims or vice versa,” Aicha Lagha, chairwoman of the Ramadan Festival, told DPA. With increasing interest, those who want to join an iftar dinner can now apply for a seat at the festival website, where Muslims can also sign up as hosts for others. And this year an iftar caravan, a bus decorated in the famous traditional Dutch Delft-blue colors, will travel from town to town to offer iftars to thousands of Muslims and non-Muslims.

Struggling B.C. City Aims to Attract Muslim Professionals with new Islamic Center

The northern British Columbia city of Prince George (population 70,000) 800 kms from Vancouver is getting its first mosque, and with it a sense of new life in the struggling city. Civic leaders hope the multimillion-dollar Islamic cultural and educational centre will be a beacon that draws highly skilled professionals to a city that badly needs to diversify its forestry-dominated economy. For the city’s roughly 200 Muslim families, the mosque is a welcome change to the non-permanent prayer locations in past years.

The B.C. Muslim Association’s Prince George chapter approached the city six years ago with a pitch that a mosque could attract desired professionals. In 2003, the group approached the city to buy and rezone a piece of land to build a mosque. The city unanimously approved the request. The projected cost is between $1.5- and $2-million. About $500,000 has been raised from private donors across the province.

Bid to build East Lothian’s first mosque

A Bid is being launched to build the first mosque in East Lothian. Asian community leaders are set to meet council officials to discuss finding a suitable site or building that could be converted. More than 100 Muslim families from across the county currently have to travel to Edinburgh for prayers at least once a week. There are seven mosques in the city, and three in West Lothian, but none in East or Midlothian. East Lothian Ethnic Minority Forum, which has a majority of Muslim members, has put forward the idea. It says a purpose-built mosque could cost £300,000, so an existing building would be the best option in the short term. Jalal Chaudry, the forum’s vice president, said members planned to meet local councillors and officials to discuss the idea. He said: “Almost every council area has its own mosque, but we don’t have any. “We’re supposed to pray five times a day, preferably in a mosque. Even if that’s not possible, we should at least go for Friday prayers. “The problem is, people in East Lothian have to close their shop or leave work for two or three hours and travel to Edinburgh.
“There are also quite a few people who live in Edinburgh, but work in East Lothian. “We also need to teach our children their religious education. Usually children go after school, or on a Saturday, but at the moment they have quite a long journey.”

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