D.C. imam provides counseling, weddings and prayer space for gay Muslims

Imam Dayaiee Abdullah never knows how many people are going to show up for Friday prayers.

Some weeks, nearly a dozen men and women gather at a Quaker hall in northwest Washington, D.C., where they kneel on prayer rugs laid out to transform the room into a Muslim place of worship.

 

Other weeks, Abdullah, a convert to Islam, sits alone.

 

He may be the only openly gay imam in the world, and he formed Light of Reform mosque more than two years ago so people like himself could worship without fear.

The mosque is one of just a few in the world where openly gay Muslims are welcome, but even there, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people fear harassment, and often stay away.

Life is changing for gay Muslims, even if the changes seem infinitesimally small. A gay-friendly mosque opened near Paris last year. A lesbian Muslim couple from Pakistan married in a civil service this year in England.

 

Western Muslims are leading the push for inclusiveness, said Ani Zonneveld, president of Muslims for Progressive Values, for which Abdullah serves as director of LGBT outreach.

Abdullah provides wedding ceremonies for gay Muslims and interfaith couples. He also offers counseling (available via Skype for gay Muslims living in countries where homosexuality is not tolerated), and weekly prayer services where men and women kneel side by side.

 

But while Abdullah calls his mosque “progressive,” Imam Muzammil Siddiqi, a prominent Muslim leader based at California’s Islamic Society of Orange County calls it “unacceptable.”

No legitimate imam will officiate at a same-sex wedding, Siddiqi said.

FBI Muslim spying vs. personal liberties

A federal judge Tuesday threw out a lawsuit filed against the U.S. government and the FBI over the agency’s spying on Orange County Muslims, ruling that allowing the suit to go forward would risk divulging sensitive state secrets.

Times court reporter Victoria Kim will join L.A. Now Live for a web chat at 9 a.m. to discuss the class-action lawsuit, which was brought by a group of Orange County Muslims who contended their constitutional rights were trampled when the FBI sent an undercover informant into their midst to illegally spy on them.

Comparing himself to Odysseus navigating the waters between a six-headed monster and a deadly whirlpool, U.S. District Judge Cormac Carney wrote that “the state secrets privilege may unfortunately mean the sacrifice of individual liberties for the sake of national security.”

The judge said he reached the decision reluctantly after reviewing confidential declarations filed by top FBI officials, and he was convinced the operation in question involved “intelligence that, if disclosed, would significantly compromise national security.”

Carney allowed the suit to stand against individual FBI agents and supervisors on Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act-related claims.

California councilman criticized for mentioning in meeting that he named dog after Muhammad

SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO, Calif. — A Southern California councilman is drawing criticism for mentioning in a public meeting that he named his dog after the Muslim prophet Muhammad.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations has called on Derek Reeve to apologize for his comment at a recent San Juan Capistrano council meeting. The Islamic advocacy group says Reeve mentioned naming his dogs America and Muhammad during a discussion about a new dog park.

The Orange County Register reports that Reeve said he named his dog Muhammad as a political statement.

Want to Sue the FBI for Spying on Your Mosque? Sorry, That’s Secret.

Obama, once a critic of the state secrets doctrine, has invoked it repeatedly. But critics say his latest use of Bush’s favorite get-out-of-court-free card is different.

The state secrets privilege—perhaps the most powerful weapon in the government’s legal arsenal—has a complicated history. For years, Democrats, including then-Sen. Barack Obama, accused the Bush administration of overusing of the privilege, which allows the government to quash cases that involve national security before a court even hears evidence. Then, after Obama took office, his Justice Department used this get-out-of-court-free card repeatedly.

Last week, the DOJ invoked the state secrets privilege yet again. But this case, civil liberties groups say, is different.

The case, Fazaga v. FBI, stems from the purported actions of Craig Monteilh, a 49-year-old convicted criminal who claims that he spent 15 months in 2006 and 2007 infiltrating mosques in Orange County, California, as part of an undercover FBI investigation known as “Operation Flex.” The Fazaga case, which the ACLU and CAIR filed in February 2011, claims that the FBI utilized Monteilh to “collect personal information on hundreds and perhaps thousands of innocent Muslim Americans in Southern California.” The ACLU says that the FBI investigation “violated the Constitution’s fundamental guarantee of government neutrality toward all religions.” For evidence, the two groups point to a somewhat problematic source: Monteilh.

Appeals court reinstates case by Muslim woman in CA over forced removal of head scarf in cell

SAN FRANCISCO — A federal appeals court unanimously reinstated a lawsuit Tuesday filed by a Muslim woman who accused Southern California jailers of violating her religious freedom when they ordered her to take off her head scarf in a courthouse holding cell.

An 11-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals also said plaintiff Souhair Khatib had the right to wear the scarf unless jailers can show it was a security risk.
Khatib filed the lawsuit in 2007 against Orange County. She had been jailed for several hours in November 2006 after a judge revoked her probation for a misdemeanor welfare fraud conviction.

Jewish advocacy group says its members should face same criminal charges as Muslim students involved in UC Irvine protest

A Jewish advocacy group says its members should also face criminal charges in light of Orange County prosecutors’ decision last week to charge 11 Muslim student protesters with conspiracy to disrupt the Israeli ambassador to the United States’ speech at UC Irvine last year.

When 11 students affiliated with the Muslim Student Union at UC Irvine disrupted a speech by the Israeli ambassador to the United States last year, they no doubt knew there would be consequences.
Jewish Voice for Peace, a liberal group that advocates for peace between Israelis and Palestinians and against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, said the student protesters at UC Irvine were targeted because they are Muslim.

Jewish groups that have interrupted speakers in the past — including a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year in New Orleans — have not faced criminal charges, they noted.

Charges filed against Muslim students in California who disrupted Israeli ambassador’s speech

A group of Muslim students accused of disrupting a speech by Israeli ambassador Michael Oren at the University of California, Irvine, were charged Friday with misdemeanor conspiracy counts, ending speculation about what would come from their actions nearly a year ago.

The 11 students each face one count of misdemeanor conspiracy to disturb a meeting and one count of misdemeanor disturbance of a meeting, the Orange County district attorney’s office said. If convicted, they could face anything from probation and community service to six months in jail.

The students were arrested Feb. 8, 2010, after shouting and protesting during Oren’s speech on U.S.-Israeli security, forcing the diplomat to stop his remarks for 20 minutes. Eight of the students were from UC Irvine, and three were from the nearby campus of the University of California, Riverside.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California said it is “deeply troubled” by the decision and called on the district attorney to dismiss the charges immediately.

“We are unaware of any case where a district attorney pressed criminal charges over this type of nonviolent student protest,” the ACLU said in a statement. “The district attorney’s action will undoubtedly intimidate students in Orange County and across the state, and discourage them from engaging in any controversial speech or protest for fear of criminal charges,” the statement said.

U.S. Muslims and Mormons share deepening ties

In a somewhat surprising relationship, the Lost Angeles Times reports on the befriending of Mormons and Muslim in the United States. While the two religions have very little theology in common, both have some shared values and have felt a feeling of isolation from mainstream America. The Mormon Church has become the largest contributor to Buena Park-based Islamic Relief, touted by some as the West’s largest Muslim based charity. Relief officials say that $20 million in goods and services has been donated by the Mormon church since the 2004 tsunami in Southeast Asia – about 20% of the charity’s annual budget. “We both come from traditions where there has been persecution in the past and continues to be prejudice… that helps us Mormons identify with Muslims” said Steve Gilliland, the LDS director of Muslim relations for Southern California. Muslims also echo the sentiment: “When I go to a Mormon church I feel at ease… When I heard the president [of LDS] speak a few years ago, if I’d closed my eyes I’d have thought he was an imam” said Haitham Bundakji, former chairman of the Islamic Society of Orange County.

Muslims Sue, Alleging Discrimination

Families in Anaheim apartments say they are victims of religious and housing bias. Manager calls it just a landlord-tenant dispute. By David Reyes, Times Staff Writer Seven Muslim families filed a lawsuit Friday alleging religious and housing discrimination at an Anaheim apartment complex. The suit alleges that the owner and the manager of Chaumont Villas refused to make repairs to apartments, don’t allow Muslim children to play in public areas and have harassed Muslim families because of their faith. The suit was announced at a news conference in front of the complex at 1600 W. Broadway, attended by several tenants and representatives of the Southern California office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. The suit was filed in Orange County Superior Court on behalf of Tawfiq M. Mousa, Mustafa A. Suleiman, Waleed M. Abdullah, Jamal Almasri, Mohammed Wali Hakami, Abdullah T. Assaf and Issam H. Wahby. Listed as defendants were property management firm Swami International, businessman Ram K. Mittal, and corporations DKM Investments and RKM Investments. “This is nothing more than a landlord-tenant dispute,” said Pat Mitchell, a vice president for Swami, located in Rolling Hills Estates. Mousa said he, his wife and three children had lived three years in their $1,450-a-month, 3-bedroom unit with no problems until a new manager arrived at the complex a year ago. “Since then, there’s been a pattern of harassment against Muslims renting here,” said Mousa, 43, an engineer. Manager Bridgett Phillips yelled at Muslim children and chased them from common areas, and frequently referred to Muslim tenants with profanity, the suit alleges. Phillips, named as a defendant, could not be reached for comment. In June, the dispute escalated when Mousa circulated a petition seeking a new manager and asking for repairs to units, including fixing rusted plumbing and peeling paint. It was signed by two dozen Muslim and non-Muslim tenants at the 61-unit complex. “That’s when I was handed a 60-day eviction notice,” he said. But Mitchell said Mousa was evicted for causing friction between Muslim tenants and the apartment manager and said Mousa followed Phillips around the complex snapping her picture. “He has been harassing the manager and not allowing her to do her job,” Mitchell said. “We can’t have somebody creating a hostile environment.” Although Southern California is home to an estimated 500,000 Muslims, it’s a population that doesn’t file many housing complaints, said Connie Der Torossian, a spokeswoman for the Fair Housing Council of Orange County. “It’s a hard population to reach and similar to some of the ethnic minorities like Vietnamese,” Der Torossian said. “They’re afraid to make complaints out of fear of retaliation.” According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, 27 cases of religious discrimination were filed statewide in the year ending Sept. 1. Of those, five were brought by Muslims. Of the seven families that are plaintiffs in the suit, two have moved out of Chaumont Villas after they sought larger apartments there but were told none were available, said their attorney, Federico C. Sayre. The apartments were then rented to non-Muslims, the suit alleges.