A country house in Hampshire was the rarefied setting for the second conference hosting Muslims serving in Britain’s armed forces. Close to 400 Muslims serve in the military – about 300 in the Army, 50 in the RAF and 40 in the Navy. Imam Asim Hafiz, who has served as the Muslim chaplain for the last three years, organised the conference and is in charge of ministering to the spiritual needs of Muslims in all three services. “They are soldiers but at the same time they have a faith identity, a Muslim identity,” he told the BBC. He went on to explain that the conference provided Muslims with advice on tackling some of the issues they may face – like how to talk to superiors about getting regular prayer time, or having halal food available or fasting. Some of the older officers explained that when they joined the issue of halal food was not understood at all, leading to a diet that consisted largely of potatoes and peas. But while progress has been made, there was a sense that more work needed to be done to educate officers on how to deal with Muslims in their ranks and what it means to practise a religion. “It is an education for the individual on how to raise these issues and an education to the hierarchy that these are just different requirements that need to be considered,” explained one flight lieutenant in the RAF.
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Across the United States, Muslims who are finding that a public school education clashes with religions and/or cultural traditions are turning home schooling as an alternative. Motivations range from wanting to build a solid Muslim identity away from the prejudices Muslim children may face in school, to specific concern about adolescence and teenage pressures to conform, specifically concern over young Muslim girls in the corrupting influences of American life. The subject of home schooling is a contentious one in all communities, including Muslim ones. Opponents of home schooling argue that Muslim children are better off staying in the system and fighting for their rights and a valid presence in challenging school systems. However, other parents, would rather their children learn in less difficult environments.
The European Assembly of Muslim Imams and Spiritual Guides (Al-Tagammu Al-Urubi Lillaimah val Murshideen) has been established following meetings in Brussels over more than 100 Imams from around Europe at the end of February 2008. According to Shakib Benmakhlouf, the President of the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE), the assembly’s goal is to preserve Muslim identity and prepare Muslims to play a civilizing role in their European homelands. It also aims to educate imams about European history, law, culture, society and politics. The Assembly is a non-governmental organization and will be based in Brussels with branches in other European countries. Wanis El-Mabrook was elected as the leader. El-Mabrook has an MA which examined fatwa in Western countries from Wales University and is the former manager of an Islamic Center in Sheffield, England. He is also currently a professor of Fiqh and director of the European Institute for Humanitarian Studies in Birmingham.
Secular Muslims who embrace various aspects of their heritage are often overlooked – both as social and as intellectual actors in modern Islamic societies, said Prof. Richard C. Martin, one of the key speakers at a symposium on contemporary Islam held 26 October at De Rode Hoed in Amsterdam. The question of who secular Muslims are and why they need to be part of future research in religious studies was the focus of discussion at the scientific meeting. The symposium, called ‘Beyond the Stereotypes’, was organized to help establish a new field of research – contemporary Islam. Prof. Martin: “The modern Muslim identity is far more complex and dynamic than most people are aware of.”…