Targeted Islamic outreach to Hispanics achieving results

February 28, 2014

 

PEARLAND, Texas (RNS) Carlos Lopez works in the United States to earn money and send it back home to his family in Mexico. But he sends back something else, too: pamphlets and personal testimonies about his new faith.

On Dec. 22, 2013, Lopez took the “shahada” — the profession of the Islamic faith — and joined the ranks of what the American Muslim Council estimates is a 200,000 strong Hispanic Muslim community across the U.S.

Unlike previous generations of Hispanic Muslims who were attracted to the faith by their own spiritual explorations, Lopez and many others like him are converting as a result of targeted Islamic outreach efforts.

This new form of Islamic “da’wah,” or outreach, aims to translate being Muslim into the Spanish cultural and linguistic vernacular.

“To reach Hispanics, we have to be practical,” said Imam Daniel Abdullah Hernandez who teaches an Islam in Spanish course in Pearland, Texas, where Lopez converted. “Islam is practical, it’s social, it’s very easy to translate it into Hispanic culture, and it’s even easier to communicate it in the Spanish language.”

According to the Pew Research Center, just 4 percent of Muslim Americans are of Hispanic ancestry, though one of 10 native-born U.S. Muslims are Hispanic. “The American Mosque 2011″ report said the number of Latino converts has been steadily increasing since 2000, more so than any other racial or ethnic group.

As they convert, many face ostracism from their families who are predominantly Christian, often Catholic, and feel the converts are abandoning their Hispanic identity. Likewise, many Hispanic Muslims do not find a ready welcome in masjids that are largely made up of Middle Eastern, North African, South East Asian and African-American Muslims.

Islam In Spanish is not the first organization to focus its efforts on reaching Hispanics. Another group, the Latino American Dawah Organization, existed before it and paved the way.

Shafiq Alvarado helped found LADO, which offers help and support to new Hispanic Muslims. Born into a Catholic family and of Dominican ancestry, Alvarado converted when he was 25 through the efforts of Allianza Islamica (Islamic Alliance) in New York City.

“People who become Muslims inevitably become ambassadors for Islam,” said Alvarado. “Hispanic Muslims are not sitting on the sidelines; they learn Arabic, the Quran, Islamic jurisprudence, and many other things to take that knowledge and give it back to their communities, their families,” he said.

 

RNS.com: http://www.religionnews.com/2014/02/28/targeted-islamic-outreach-hispanics-achieving-results

Islam in Spanish.com: http://islaminspanish.org/

LADO: http://www.latinodawah.org/

The State Department’s Arabic outreach team spoofed an al-Qaeda video

In the war for Middle Eastern hearts and minds, the U.S. Digital Outreach Team is on the virtual front lines: debating America’s critics on Twitter, commenting on Arabic message boards and generally engaging with anyone they can reach. But that outreach appears to have crossed a new line: spoofing al-Qaeda propaganda videos on an official State Department YouTube channel.

The Digital Outreach Team is fairly transparent about its activities — as evidenced by that closing credit. According to an Associated Press article from April, a month before the Zawahiri spoof went online, the team consists of roughly 50 native Arabic, Punjabi, Somali and Urdu speakers. It’s grown considerably since January 2009, when a State Department bulletin listed only 10 team members; it’s been around, per the bulletin, since November 2006.

The team runs Facebook, Twitter and YouTube channels, and it tangles with commenters on popular Arab news and discussion sites, always identifying themselves as State Department employees and using their real names. In 2012, they had 7,000 online engagements, reports the AP, up from 2,000 in 2009. The idea is to “explain U.S. foreign policy and to counter misinformation” through the power of Diplomacy 2.0, says the State Department bulletin.

The program’s success is difficult to gauge. A 2012 study of the program, published in The Middle East Journal, concluded that engagement did little to change the tone of anti-American conversations. In a sample of several hundred forum posts, users were more likely to ridicule or refute the Outreach Team than engage with it. Only 4 percent of posts expressed positive views of the team, and a sliver more — 4.8 percent — expressed positive views toward U.S. foreign policy.

NJ’s attorney general visits mosque as part of outreach after NYPD surveillance flap

NEWARK, N.J. — New Jersey Attorney General Jeffrey Chiesa quietly visited a Newark mosque Friday that had been listed in a secret report by the New York Police Department, and he reassured worshippers that New Jersey officials do not believe certain groups of citizens have lesser rights than others.

Chiesa attended prayer services at Masjid Ibrahim, a modest, single-story mosque set up inside a ramshackle former commercial space in Newark. The mosque was among several in the report by the NYPD, which conducted surveillance of Muslims in New Jersey and elsewhere.

“It is not tolerable here in New Jersey for us to have people treated differently in this state — period,” Chiesa said.

The attorney general’s visit was part of an ongoing effort by his office to repair relations between Muslims and New Jersey law enforcement after The Associated Press uncovered the NYPD spying. The NYPD has said its actions were legal and it has the right to travel to other cities in carrying out its duties.

Chiesa has said that New York police now meet regularly with New Jersey law enforcement to discuss counterterrorism intelligence and operations. He has also issued a directive requiring New Jersey law enforcement agencies to notify the New Jersey State Police Counter-Terrorism Bureau and the Office of Homeland Security and Preparedness if they hear of outside departments working in New Jersey. Assemblyman Charles Mainor also has introduced legislation that would give such guidelines the weight of law.

ACLU: FBI kept details of Muslims’ religious practices in violation of privacy rules

WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union on Tuesday released records it obtained from the FBI that it said showed the bureau’s San Francisco division used its Muslim outreach efforts to collect intelligence on religious activities protected by the Constitution.

Under the U.S. Privacy Act, the FBI is generally prohibited from maintaining records on how people practice their religion unless there is a clear law enforcement purpose. ACLU lawyers said the documents, which the organization obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, showed violations of that law.

After reviewing the ACLU documents, the FBI said the reports that contained notes about religious activity were appropriate because the agents were meeting with members of the Muslim community for law enforcement purposes.

FBI agents are required to document their contacts and their activities. In the documents released by the ACLU, religious information was included as an aside and was not the focus of the reports. But because the information was entered into FBI files at all, it was available to be searched by investigators nationwide.

FBI documents reveal profiling of N. California Muslims

SAN FRANCISCO–Reports obtained by the ACLU show agents gathered intelligence under the guise of outreach programs and shared it with other agencies. A legal expert calls the practice ‘outrageous.’

Federal agents routinely profiled Muslims in Northern California for at least four years, using community outreach efforts as a guise for compiling intelligence on local mosques, according to documents released Tuesday by the American Civil Liberties Union.

From 2004 to 2008, agents from the San Francisco office of the Federal Bureau of Investigation regularly attended meetings and services, particularly in the Silicon Valley area, “collected and illegally stored intelligence about American Muslims’ First Amendment-protected beliefs and religious practices … and … disseminated it to other government agencies,” the ACLU said in a written statement.

The ACLU of Northern California, the Asian Law Caucus and the San Francisco Bay Guardian filed a Freedom of Information Act request in 2010 and a lawsuit in 2011 after the groups received repeated complaints from the Muslim community about intrusive FBI activity, ACLU attorney Julia Harumi Mass said.

Many of the FBI documents released Tuesday by the ACLU are titled “Mosques Liaison Contacts.” In their original form, they contained names and phone numbers of Muslim Americans affiliated with centers of worship from San Francisco to Seaside, Calif. Those names have been redacted.

FBI illegally using community outreach to gather intelligence, ACLU and CAIR alleges

The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today expressed concern about the “chilling effect” on constitutionally-protected activities that may result from the apparent use of FBI community outreach efforts to secretly gather intelligence on American Muslim communities, groups and individuals.

According to documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), “the FBI is using its extensive community outreach to Muslims and other groups to secretly gather intelligence in violation of federal law.”

The FBI is using its extensive community outreach to Muslims and other groups to secretly gather intelligence in violation of federal law, the American Civil Liberties Union alleged Thursday.

Citing internal bureau documents, the ACLU said agents in California are attending meetings at mosques and other events and illegally recording information about the attendees’ political and religious affiliations. FBI officials denied the allegations. They said that records kept from outreach sessions are not used for investigations.

The documents reveal new details of the FBI’s efforts to build a more trusting relationship with Muslims and other communities — a major priority since the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. Federal officials have said that the effort is aimed at protecting Muslims’ civil rights and smoothing lingering resentment over the law-enforcement crackdown after the attacks, along with helping the government fight terrorism.

Obama says to the Muslim world that a new era has started

President Obama announced that the United States would embark on a business exchange program in areas such as telecommunication and electronic technology, health care, education and infrastructure with the Muslim World. It is a part of the larger outreach efforts by his administration to begin a new era in US relations with Muslims. He declared that such new era “has already begun.” The announcement came in the Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship in Washington D.C. The idea of the Summit had been mentioned in Obama’s Cairo speech last June.

Somali Muslims are calling FBI outreach ‘coercion’

Concerns about racial profiling and other questionable tactics used to investigate the possible terrorist recruitment of Somalis living in the United States are prompting some Muslim leaders in Saint Louis and elsewhere to limit their cooperation with the FBI.

Federal agents are intensifying their efforts to make connections and conduct investigations within the Somali community across the US, as concerns grow that some are being recruited to radicalization and association with al-Qaeda affiliated terrorists. About two dozen teenagers and young men have disappeared from the Minneapolis area, and returned to the Horn of Africa over the past two years, according to the FBI. Some critics say that what the FBI calls community outreach to bridge closer ties to US-Somali communities, actually involved the use of coercion, threats, and intimidation. “The Somali Muslim community in particular feels they are under siege by law enforcement,” said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

Charity concert to raise awareness about immigrants

Two concerts were held on the island of Lampedusa to raise awareness about the plight of illegal immigrants. International Organization for Migration (IOM) spokesperson Flavio Di Giacomo said that “the concerts can do that little extra bit to help the Italian public and institutions understand the problems these people face.” Di Giacomo added that the migrants, who arrive to Lampedusa almost daily, are likely trying to achieve political asylum, and many are fleeing war and political persecution. IOM regional representative Peter Schatzzer said that he hopes the concerts will send a message of solidarity between Italy and other Mediterranean countries.

Full-text article available here. (Some news sites may require registration)

Crackdown on ‘suicide websites’

The law on “suicide websites” is to be rewritten to ensure people know they are illegal, the government has said. It follows concerns people searching for information on suicide are more likely to find sites encouraging the act than offering support. It is illegal under the 1961 Suicide Act to promote suicide, but no website operator has been prosecuted. The law will be amended to make clear it applies online and to help service providers police the sites they host. Justice Minister Maria Eagle said there was no “magic solution” to protecting vulnerable people online. In April, the British Medical Journal reported on a study in which researchers used four search engines to look for suicide-related sites. The three most frequently occurring sites were all pro-suicide, prompting researchers to call for anti-suicide web pages to be prioritised. An outright ban on suicide sites would have been unworkable, according to the Samaritans.

Full-text article continues here. (Some news sites may require registration)