The Muslim Council of Britain’s expectations: “Meeting the needs of Muslim pupils in state schools”

The Muslim Council of Britain launched its information and guidance document for schools entitled ‘Towards Greater Understanding- Meeting the Needs of Muslim Pupils in State Schools’ on Wednesday 21 February. Based on best practice, the document gives information and guidance on how schools can respond positively to some commonly raised issues concerning Muslim pupils including halal food, dress code, Ramadan, provision for prayers, collective worship etc.

Iftar and American Islam

Iftar (the breaking of daily fasts during the Islamic month of Ramadan) in interfaith settings is an increasingly widespread phenomenon. This year there were dozens of interfaith Iftar celebrations throughout New York City, where I live, and perhaps hundreds nation wide. Inviting non-Muslims to break fast has become a primary way in which Islam explains itself to the American public and extends friendship to the community. Ramadan began on September 24 this year, and the holy month saw numerous public Iftar events, including, for example, the Brooklyn Borough President’s Iftar and the Turkish Cultural Society’s Iftar, which took place at the Waldorf Astoria and was attended by judges, scholars, religious leaders, and New York Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton. Meanwhile, an Iftar at the Dawood Mosque in Brooklyn included among its guests local shop owners, community leaders, two rabbis, and the Rev. Daniel Meeter of Old First Reformed Church of Brooklyn. At the end of the meal — which is always at the center of the program — the Jewish guests, along with Rev. Meeter and an imam from Egypt’s Al-Azar University, sat together on the floor to engage in a long discussion about politics and religion for the community to hear. Other such examples abound. Union Theological Seminary and the Muslim Consultative Network, with a little help from the Interfaith Center of New York and the Columbia Muslim Students Association, hosted an Iftar at James Chapel, where Reinhold Niebuhr, Paul Tillich, and Dietrich Bonhoeffer once preached. (Union removed the cross from the chapel so that Muslims could pray without facing it.) During dinner, there was public discussion on human rights, with Jewish, Christian, and Muslim speakers. But not just monotheists are involved in interfaith Iftars. In Bay Ridge, Brooklyn, for example, an imam hosted Ven. Rey Fashi, a Chinese monk, pointing out that Chinese Buddhists and Arab Muslims share the neighborhood, have similar ethics, and should become better acquainted. There are also joint religious programs, such as Iftar-Sukkot gatherings, in which imams and rabbis explain to each other’s congregations the significance of shelter, food, and hospitality in their respective traditions. While mosques are likely locations for Iftar celebrations, many have been initiated by community leaders — often women — practicing outside traditional settings. In this way, these activists bring established religious authorities into contact with civil society, acting as important social interlocutors, and furthering alternative and complementary leadership models that reflect their communities. Organizers also use these opportunities to highlight social justice advocacy concerns, as with interfaith “fast-a-thons” for Darfur. Women’s groups such as New York’s Turning Point for Women and Families have hosted interfaith Iftars that provide religious context for highlighting the need to confront domestic violence. What has led to the pronounced growth in interfaith Iftars? The disaster of September 11, 2001, has much to do with it. While they existed before, numerous interfaith Iftar practices — both in local mosques as well as between mosques, synagogues, and churches — emerged in the weeks following the tragedy. And today, as in 2001, such occasions serve in part as quiet, accommodating responses to an event that will forever be recalled near the time of Ramadan, while also providing further opportunities for bringing Islam into conversation with the wider public. Indeed, for Muslims, breaking the fast during Ramadan is often very much a public event, an occasion for offering hospitality to their own community as well as the wider community. Here in America, it is rapidly becoming a primary way in which Muslims, especially among immigrant populations, can practice their religion while remaining open to other religious traditions and the public; the interfaith Iftar is therefore a way to be an “American Muslim,” with equal emphasis on each element in that term. Muslims have thus adapted a religious event into a civic activity in which local friends, civil authorities, and religious others may participate. In doing so, Muslims remain faithful to their tradition through acts of hospitality — hospitality that, one might hope, inspires reciprocity in our religiously pluralist America. Matthew Weiner is Director of Program Development at the Interfaith Center of New York, and a doctoral candidate at Union Theological Seminary.

Tariq Ramadan on the Pope’s Remarks

PARIS: A few sentences spoken by Pope Benedict XVI were sufficient to touch off a firestorm of impassioned reaction. Throughout the Muslim world, religious leaders, presidents, politicians and intellectuals joined their voices with protesting masses angered by a perceived insult to their faith. Most did not read the pope’s speech; others had relied on a sketchy summary according to which the pope had linked Islam and violence. But all railed against what they saw as an intolerable offense.

Interview with Tariq Ramadan

LAS PALMAS – “What can Europe offer to Islam, and the Muslims to Europe?” “Europe gives Muslims who were born there a life in societies under the rule of law and democracy, where we can express and develop pluralistic points of view. In the other sense, what Muslims can contribute to Europe is further cultural horizons, the wealth of real pluralism. Islam also contributes to questions of spirituality and ethics, which trouble the whole of this consumer society. I am both things, a European and a Muslim, and my own contribution is to work for a reconciliation.” – Tariq Ramadan

Tariq Ramadan: “The Fear Of Islam Extends Everywhere”

“What can Europe offer to Islam, and the Muslims to Europe?” “Europe gives Muslims who were born there a life in societies under the rule of law and democracy, where we can express and develop pluralistic points of view. In the other sense, what Muslims can contribute to Europe is further cultural horizons, the wealth of real pluralism. Islam also contributes to questions of spirituality and ethics, which trouble the whole of this consumer society. I am both things, a European and a Muslim, and my own contribution is to work for a reconciliation.” {(continued below in Spanish)} Lo digo en dos niveles, en primer lugar reconciliar a Europa con sus propios valores. En Europa se habla de ciudadan_a, de igualdad, de lucha contra la discriminaci_n… pero la realidad social es completamente diferente a estos ideales. Mi meta es reconciliar el ideal con la pr_ctica, aportar de verdad una _tica del ciudadano. La otra dimensi_n de la reconciliaci_n es promover la intersecci_n entre los valores que vienen de Occidente y los que vienen del mundo musulm_n. Es muy importante para Europa este pluralismo y no confundir poder econ_mico con arrogancia cultural. Algunos aspectos concretos del Islam, como los castigos corporales o el trato a la mujer, no parece que casen con los valores occidentales, _c_mo se concilian ambas cosas? – El Islam es un universo igual de complejo que el Cristianismo. Hay varias lecturas de las fuentes, entre ellas algunas literalistas que se han quedado en el siglo VII, sin evoluci_n. Pero hoy hay un pensamiento musulm_n reformista. Los principios de la democracia no se oponen a la pr_ctica del Islam, que promueve la igualdad de la mujer. La violencia conyugal no es isl_mica; no son isl_micas las bodas obligadas; la escisi_n o la ablaci_n no son isl_micas. Pero esto es lo que dicen los reformistas. El problema es que quienes atacan al Islam s_lo escuchan a los literalistas. Esto no es un di_logo, es un mon_logo interactivo. Escuchar a los reformistas exige de Occidente la capacidad de descentrarse, de ponerse en la otra parte. _La fuerza de la palabra es suficiente para salvar las diferencias hist_ricas entre el Islam y Occidente? – No, se necesita mucho m_s que la fuerza de la palabra. Lo primero es que no estoy de acuerdo en su interpretaci_n de las diferencias hist_ricas. Durante siglos, el Islam estuvo presente en Europa, era una realidad com_n. No siempre ha sido una relaci_n conflictiva. Hoy en d_a, por cuestiones geoestrat_gicas o econ_micas, existe una fractura. A partir de mi experiencia estoy intentando construir puentes y eso no se logra qued_ndonos sentados y diciendo, bueno, tenemos valores comunes y todo eso. La salida es el trabajo en com_n. El principal problema es que el miedo se est_ extendiendo por todas partes, hay mucha desconfianza y sospechas. Hay una evoluci_n del miedo y yo estoy llamando a una revoluci_n de la confianza, no s_lo mediante el discurso sino tambi_n con el trabajo contra la discriminaci_n, el racismo o el paro. Usted habla de recuperar la confianza, pero el 11-M o los atentados de Londres no ayudan en absoluto. – Pero es que los musulmanes implicados en estos movimientos son diez o doce. La inmensa mayor_a no est_ involucrada. Es algo muy marginal que, s_, es cierto, se hace en nombre del Islam y lo instrumentaliza y hay que condenarlo, pero los terroristas no son los j_venes de los suburbios. Los j_venes musulmanes europeos no est_n atra_dos por el yihadismo. _Cree entonces que existe una intensa propaganda por demonizar al Islam? – Bueno, el terrorismo existe y se necesitan medidas de seguridad, pero desgraciadamente existen partidos pol_ticos que lo _nico que proponen son pol_ticas de seguridad. Utilizan el terrorismo para presentarse luego como los garantes de la protecci_n. En toda Europa hay partidos que apuestan por el miedo, no proponen pol_ticas sociales ni alternativas econ_micas, s_lo seguridad. Y esto vale tanto para el terrorismo como para la inmigraci_n. _Qu_ papel est_ jugando la inmigraci_n en la creaci_n de la nueva Europa? – En los pr_ximos 25 a_os, Europa va a necesitar once millones de trabajadores por el envejecimiento de la poblaci_n. Es necesario que venga gente para competir con Estados Unidos y con China. Pero al mismo tiempo, y aqu_ est_ la gran hipocres_a, se alienta el miedo a la inmigraci_n. El racismo est_ aumentando en toda Europa, que se ve a s_ misma como sitiada. La otra gran hipocres_a es tratar a los inmigrantes como criminales. La _nica salida hoy d_a es compartir con los pa_ses de origen, pero no se est_ trabajando con Marruecos o con el _frica Occidental. Se cogen sus riquezas y se les trata como criminales cuando est_n buscando sobrevivir. El hecho de que la mayor_a de los inmigrantes sean musulmanes es un temor adicional. El discurso europeo es muy hip_crita. _Qu_ le genera verse rechazado en pa_ses como Francia o EE UU, donde le acusan incluso de filoterrorismo? – Eso es fruto de una verdadera desconfianza. Yo simbolizo algo nuevo en Francia, el ciudadano de origen del Sur que habla franc_s como los franceses y que se ha convertido en sujeto de su historia. Nadie habla ya por nosotros, hemos llegado a ser ciudadanos y eso da miedo. Soy el s_mbolo de esto. Francia no tiene problemas con Tariq Ramadan, tiene problemas con su propia historia, como el problema de Argelia o de las colonias. Durante la crisis de los suburbios franceses fue muy reveladora la sordera de la clase pol_tica con j_venes que, no lo olvidemos, son franceses. No s_lo Zidane es franc_s, tambi_n lo son los j_venes. Pero ya no toca hablar de integraci_n, sino de la contribuci_n de cada uno. No se le pregunta a Zidane de d_nde viene, porque est_ marcando goles para Francia. Cuando ellos aporten su riqueza para construir Francia no se les va a preguntar nada. Eso es lo que yo simbolizo y eso da miedo. _Entre su abuelo y usted hay evoluci_n o fractura? – La fractura ya es una evoluci_n. Mi abuelo form_ parte de la escuela reformista, segu_a una metodolog_a y yo soy la evoluci_n de esta metodolog_a. La tradici_n reformista viene del siglo VIII, pero lo que yo estoy reivindicando ahora es la reforma radical. El pensamiento musulm_n ha llegado a ciertos l_mites en lo que se refiere al derecho. Lo que hace falta ahora es desplazar el centro de gravedad del poder, hay que integrar al debate sobre las nuevas respuestas a especialistas, cient_ficos, expertos en ciencias sociales y no solamente los sabios en cuanto a textos. Estamos en un estado de crisis donde hace falta una radicalidad de la reforma. En este sentido, hay cierta fractura con el pensamiento de mi abuelo.

Muslims, Sororities Explore Common Ground

SYRACUSE, New York (AP) — Gozde Demir says sororities are the most American you can get. But at first, she knew nothing about them. She was a freshman and a conservative Muslim from Turkey. As she walked to Syracuse University’s international center, she noticed the Greek-lettered houses and asked in her then-heavy accent just what they were for. Two years later, after some rejection and tears, she lives in one of them. When Althia Collins hears Demir’s story, she sighs. “I just wish we had found her first,” she says. Collins is the president of America’s first Muslim sorority, Gamma Gamma Chi, which inducted new members last month. For years, the Greek system has been edging away from simply white and Christian. Today, there are Hispanic sororities, Jewish, Asian, black and even lesbian sororities, each with its own answer to, “Where do I belong?” Now the latest twist is Muslim. Combining cultures Imani Abdul-Haqq keeps her bright headscarf closely around her. “I’m obviously Muslim, you know. I cover,” she says. But while out shopping not long ago, a clerk focused on her keychain instead, its three Greek letters stamped in classic green. “Oh, you’re in a sorority!” the clerk said. But not just that. The Muslim sorority is Abdul-Haqq’s own. The U.S.-born senior at North Carolina’s Guilford College founded Gamma Gamma Chi this summer. She’d been looking for a full, fun college experience, but she found it hard to be a good Muslim in the standard Greek world. “To not be part of something because you’re Muslim just shouldn’t be,” she says. The sorority, based in Alexandria, Virginia, mixes Greek accessories with its Islamic values. It has a secret ceremony and a special handshake, even tank tops, tote bags and printed coffee mugs. It also has interest from schools in 16 states. Gamma Gamma Chi arrived at the University of Kentucky with a formal presentation for about a dozen girls. “Maybe this will kill the stereotype of sororities — partying, drinking, you know,” says Kentucky freshman Naema Shalash. “It sounds pretty interesting.” But Gamma Gamma Chi does plan to party, in its own way. No men and no alcohol allowed. Group faces criticism The approach does get some criticism. Muslim men have written to Abdul-Haqq, “Why do you have to be like non-Muslims?” And some students say existing Muslim groups do just fine. “My only question is, why?” says Jameelah Shukri, a manager at the Al-Thalib student magazine at the University of California at Los Angeles. “We have our girl parties, we hang out, we live together. I personally don’t see the need to put Greek letters to it. But I guess if it’s increasing unity, more power to them.” Collins, the president and Abdul-Haqq’s mother, says Gamma Gamma Chi eventually will take part in campus Rush Weeks and perhaps even join the National Panhellenic Conference, an umbrella group of 26 women’s fraternities and sororities. The Indiana-based NPC says it doesn’t keep membership statistics based on religion. The headscarf will be the only way to tell Gamma Gamma Chi is a Muslim sorority, Abdul-Haqq says. But it will be an important symbol, too. “I would think seeing us getting to have fun and dressing cool, it would make people think, ‘Maybe I don’t have to set Islam aside,”‘ she says. “I can have fun and be Muslim.” Demir just wanted to feel American. “Some international students have their own little bubble,” she said as she curled up at a table in an off-campus teahouse not long after the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. “They hang out with friends and say, ‘Why go out and feel uncomfortable?’ “I’m like, ‘No. I’m going to get this. I’m going to do this.”‘ Greek life is foreign concept More than 565,000 international students study on American campuses, according to a report released last month by the Institute of International Education. But advisers say Demir’s leap to Greek life is one few students try. The national Multicultural Greek Council represents groups that emphasize diversity, but its president, Denise Pipersburgh, knows of few international students who get involved. “The idea’s too foreign,” she says. Demir arrived at Syracuse and decided to sample all she could. If you don’t get out there, she thought, why live in the U.S.? But international advisers hesitated at sororities. “I was concerned about the kind of life and freedom they have,” says Fariba Rahmanzadeh, an adviser. Twenty-five years after arriving at Syracuse from Iran, she says she’s never been past the lobby of a sorority house. So as a freshman, Demir let Rush Week pass. On bid day, doors in her dorm were covered with the teddy bears and bright balloons of acceptance. But not hers. “I missed that,” she told herself. “I should have done that.” A year later, her English improved, her circle of friends grew and she joined Rush Week. She found a sorority she liked, a partying crowd. “They were like, ‘Oh my God, we love you,”‘ she says. Then they rejected her, and she cried. “Why do you care?” other international students asked. At the teahouse, the 21-year-old junior picks at a piece of cake, and at an answer. “Our understanding of Americans is Americans as white Americans,” she says. “As much as they liked me, it was still not good enough for me to be part of them.” Of course America is more than white, she says. “But think about it. If you’re just 18, you don’t have the maturity to say, ‘It’s the culture.’ You say, ‘It’s me. They don’t like me.”‘ In time, she visited another sorority, one that promotes itself as non-sectarian and multicultural. “I’m Turkish,” she told them up front. They liked her attitude, and she was in. Demir was quickly named the sorority’s multicultural and diversity chairwoman. (She asked that her sorority not be identified.) She plans to mentor other Turkish girls who might want to join sororities. During Ramadan, she tried to set up a special dinner at the sorority house with the school’s Muslim association. It fell through. “The Muslim group was not comfortable with it,” she says. Next year, Demir might try again.

Muslim Youth Find A Bridge In A U.S. Tradition: Scouting

By Tara Bahrampour Washington Post Staff Writer Standing before 100 or so girls in green, brown and blue Girl Scouts vests, Sarah Hasan, the leader of Brownie Troop No. 503, explained the Islamic Ramadan fast. “We’re not allowed to eat or drink anything from dawn to dusk for a whole month,” she said, noticing that some girls looked shocked. “It’s a month to be grateful for all the things that you have.” Ramadan, which fell this year in October and November, ends with a big feast called Eid al-Fitr. Last week, five Girl Scout troops from the All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling hosted an Eid party for five Herndon area troops, their mothers and troop leaders, to share a meal and help demystify Muslim cultural and religious traditions. The annual event, in its fifth year, was one of the activities many Muslim families — especially those with one or more immigrant parents — say are important to help integrate their sons and daughters into the rituals of American childhood. For many Muslim children, living in the United States means constantly balancing between being an observant Muslim and an American kid — identities that aren’t always in sync. “Unlike where we grew up [in Muslim countries], when they walk out the door, they’re seeing something different from what we teach them,” Hasan said. “So you can’t say, ‘That’s just the way it is.’ It’s always like, ‘But why? But how?’ ” Many Muslim immigrants have sought to bridge their old and new worlds since they began coming to the United States in large numbers during the 1960s. But since Sept. 11, 2001, as they have faced increasing hostility and scrutiny, parents and community leaders say, cultural integration is more vital than ever. “How do we deal with harassment, post-9/11? That’s part of our education program: letting people know who Muslims are,” said Rizwan Jaka, president of the Muslim society and a Cub Scout den leader. Like anyone else, he said, Muslims “want to be sure [our children] grow up with good character and good citizenship,” and they seek out activities accordingly. In the Washington area, home to about 250,000 Muslims from several countries, those activities include scouting, basketball, football, cricket and table tennis. The Muslim society’s center, which attracts Muslims from across Virginia, the District and Maryland, has hosted Muslim comedians and Muslim concerts and held interfaith exchanges with churches and an Eid festival with a moonbounce. “This is part of the normal progression of our community,” Jaka said. “They’re wholesome community activities that are compatible with who we are, which is wholesome Americans.” Many on the Muslim society’s board are, like Jaka, younger than 35 and born in the United States to immigrant parents. “We’ve gone through the system here, so we have a better idea of what our young people are facing,” he said. “As other mosques progress and more young people take over, you’ll see more transformation toward that.” U.S. Muslim scout troops have been increasing in the past two decades, said Donald York, director of the relationship division of the Boy Scouts of America: 112 troops with 1,948 members are chartered through an Islamic school or mosque. “What’s happening now in the Islamic community is very similar to what was happening in the 1920s and ’30s in Boy Scouts . . . with the Jewish community,” York said. “They used scouting to assimilate their young people into America.” York said scouting values — which include an adherence to faith — mesh well with Muslim ones. “Islamic families and clergies want the same thing for young people,” he said. “They want them to grow up in their faith and learn their histories and cultures,” he said. “Things like trustworthy, obedient, clean and helpful” — elements of Scout Law — “these are predominant Muslim ideas. They’re very attractive to an Islamic family.” A spokeswoman for Girl Scouts of the United States of America said the organization does not ask scouts’ religious affiliation but does encourage spirituality. Troops often meet in churches, synagogues, and, increasingly, mosques. “It’s a pretty common thing,” said Ibrahim Hooper, a spokesman for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations. “In fact, we did an ad campaign trying to show Muslims as regular people, and that was one of the things we showed: a Muslim Girl Scout troop in California.” Most Muslim children attend public schools and absorb American culture there, Hooper said. But people whose children attend Islamic school or are home-schooled also say connections with non-Muslims are important. “In this society, everybody has to learn to live together,” said Zohra Sharief, a Pakistani living in Woodbridge who home-schools her five children and co-leads Troop No. 503. “If I isolate myself from the society, it’s my loss.” It helps to have non-Muslim peers who understand the traditions, Hasan said. Still, she said, as immigrants arrive from Muslim countries and start families here, they must differentiate between what is religious and what is cultural and decide which American cultural practices to embrace and incorporate. Many note, for example, that dress is a cultural choice. Some immigrants arrive accustomed to wearing Western attire; some hew to the sartorial traditions of their home countries; some make compromises, such as forgoing headscarves but forbidding miniskirts. Hasan, 34, who is of Indian descent and was raised in Kuwait, said she and her three daughters do not wear head coverings except during prayers. “I tell them, ‘We’re in America; you can wear pants.’ ” But she has a blanket rule against another American ritual: sleepovers. “It’s not religious,” she said of her reasoning, “but I remember my mom said it’s not decent for young ladies to be sleeping in a house other than their own.” At the center last week, in a large room that serves as a prayer hall, party room and indoor gym, girls in headbands and jeans sat beside girls in headscarves and shalwar kameez — tunics and trousers — to make crepe-paper Eid necklaces. Hasan told the girls about Eid rituals, such as putting henna on their hands; taught them to say ” Salaam -u- aleikum ,” Arabic for “Peace be upon you”; and read a story about a family celebrating Eid. Afterward, Mona Magid, 6, a Brownie in a magenta headscarf who is the daughter of the society’s imam, explained more about fasting. “Like if you weren’t eating for the entire day, the way your throat would get dry is how the poor feel,” she said. “So Muslims want to try to help the poor.” Ashley d’Hedouville, 7, a second-grader at Clearview Elementary School in Herndon, said she learned that “Ramadan is when you eat at night.” Her sister Ann Marie, 8, said she knew about fasting from a classmate. “My friend does that. She goes to the library” during lunch. Once she and her classmates learned the reason, “we wouldn’t talk about food in front of her, or drinks.” While the Girl Scouts munched on halal, or religiously sanctioned, hot dogs, the center’s Muslim Boy Scout troops met downstairs for pizza, and the adults had their own cultural exchange. The Muslim mothers brought dishes from their home countries (chicken curry, rice, lamb and samosas) and from the United States (pasta casserole) and a large cake wishing a happy Eid. Gina Gallagher, a Herndon resident attending the dinner for the second consecutive year, said getting to know the Muslim mothers had been a revelation. “A lot of people look at the women with the head scarves, and they can’t relate,” she said. “You look at a woman like that and you’re like, ‘I don’t have anything in common with her.’ And then you sit down, you eat, you realize you all have the same problems.”

Ramadan in Melilla

By Emma Ross-Thomas MELILLA, Spain (Reuters) – It’s Ramadan in Spain’s North African enclave of Melilla and as tempers fray, a group of shopkeepers argue about how Spanish they are. “I am a Spanish Berber,” one fasting shopkeeper shouts in Spanish, repeating it in the Berber language Tamazight. Mimon Mohamed Amar shouts back: “Come on, all of us Muslims have family in Morocco … we all migrated from Morocco.” Melilla, nestling on Morocco’s northeast coast, has been Spanish since the late 15th century but Morocco claims it, along with Spain’s other enclave of Ceuta. Insecurities about Melilla’s status as a Spanish city or colony — never far from the surface — have re-emerged in recent weeks amid an immigration crisis in the city and residents in both enclaves held pro-Spanish demonstrations last week. “The Melillans will fight however we can so that it is not surrendered,” said 56-year-old health worker Maria Dolores Gongora. The hundreds of African migrants who have tried to enter Europe by storming the enclave’s heavily guarded razor-wire border have a limited impact on the city as they are regularly flown to the mainland but the crisis has sparked tensions between Melilla and Madrid and between the enclave and Morocco. Several local and national newspapers have suggested Morocco was turning a blind eye to African migrants crossing the razor-wire border fence in order to put pressure on Spain to ditch the enclaves — Europe’s only land borders with Africa. “Our southern neighbor is using these thousands of desperate people as a tool … so that we do not forget that they want Ceuta and Melilla for themselves,” an editorial in a Melilla newspaper said. A piece in a nationalist Moroccan newspaper fueled that by saying Spain could rid itself of the immigration problem by leaving the continent. Morocco has since reinforced police and military units around the enclaves, arresting hundreds of migrants. Moroccan troops killed six Africans who were trying to get into Melilla last Wednesday. Some Melilla residents — a large proportion of whom have relatives in the army or civil guard police — said they felt abandoned by the Socialist central government which was not doing enough to stop the migrants clambering over the fences. They also felt Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero did not feel strongly enough about keeping Melilla Spanish. “The new (Socialists) I think aren’t very keen. They make a lot of agreements with the Moroccans, they talk a lot with the Moroccans,” said a 46-year-old civil servant who gave his name only as Antonio. Melillans were angered by press reports Zapatero failed to answer a question on Melilla’s sovereignty at a news conference with his Moroccan counterpart and he was forced last week to state his commitment to the territory staying Spanish. The city is home to Muslims, Christians, Jews and Hindus who are broadly united in wanting the city to be Spanish. Like Britain’s colony Gibraltar off Spain’s southern coast, the enclave is much richer than the surrounding area. It is full of civil servants who earn more than their mainland counterparts. Melilla enjoys low taxes and swathes of the population live off border trade. “I don’t want Morocco to take over Ceuta and Melilla, it would mean ruin,” Mohamed Dris, a 70-year-old shopkeeper, said. “Ceuta and Melilla are Morocco’s, of course they are, but Spain has taken them and I don’t want Morocco to ruin everything.” Many of the Muslims in Melilla, like the shopkeeper who declined to give his name, are Berbers, a group traditionally repressed in Morocco and therefore less keen on Moroccan rule. “This is Spain, whoever wants it to be Moroccan can go off to Morocco,” said the shopkeeper, who sells Moroccan gifts, clothes and ornaments. Multicultural Model? Just over half the residents are of Christian descent but the Muslim community is growing faster. Of the 90 births in the city in July, 63 were to families with Muslim surnames, a National Statistics Institute official said. Residents say Melilla — where veiled women are a common sight and minarets dot the skyline amid the traditional Spanish architecture — is a model of tolerant multi-culturalism. “We get on famously. We have Jewish friends and we have dinner with them and Muslim friends who have parties we all go to,” Gongora said. Some Muslim residents are less sure of the Christians’ tolerance and residents of Spanish descent, while denying accusations they are racist to their Muslim neighbours, feel uneasy about becoming the minority. Antonio Sanchez says that when that happens, the Christians will abandon Melilla. “We will have to leave here … the mayor will be Moorish, the councillors will be Moorish, this will be Moorish.”

Controversial Muslim Assigned To Taskforce

LONDON: A controversial Muslim academic has been chosen by the Government to sit on a new taskforce designed to combat Islamic extremism. Professor Tariq Ramadan, who has been banned from the US and France, is a member of the Government’s working group on tackling extremism which met for the first time last week. Days after the July 7 bombings, right-wing newspapers described the decision to allow Prof Ramadan into the UK as utter madness. The Egyptian-born academic has been accused of supporting the use of violence – an allegation he refutes. Asked by an Italian magazine if car bombings against US forces in Iraq were justified, he was quoted as saying: Iraq was colonised by the Americans. Resistance against the army is just. But speaking in London on July 24, Prof Ramadan said: What happens sometimes in the name of Islam has nothing to do with our religion and we have to say it and we have to condemn it. We condemn terrorists, but I really think we have to do something more to promote the right education and to say where this is wrong. The new working group will report to Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Prime Minister Tony Blair by the end of September on the way to prevent British Muslims turning towards violence and extremism. Last year the Department of Homeland Security revoked Prof Ramadan’s visa nine days before he was due to take up a professorship in the US, claiming he had endorsed terrorist activity. A Home Office spokeswoman said: We haven’t yet agreed the final make-up of the working group and are not able to confirm its membership.