Islam: Bologna, Islamic Confederation promotes meeting

April 24, 2013

ROME — ”Diversity in Islam and interfaith dialogue” is the theme of a meeting to be held in Bologna, Tuesday April 30 at 10:00 am, organized by the Confederation of Italian Islam (CII). The objective of the meeting, announced by the CII is to ”create an opportunity for Islamic parties who are interested in the issues of religious freedom and interreligious dialogue.”

Founded in March 2012, CII, headed by Wahid al Fihri, aims to examine issues such as integration, citizenship and civil coexistence among peoples and religions.

French Court affirms religious freedom in hijab case

Le Monde

20.03.2013

France’s Court of Cassation overruled the dismissal of a Muslim woman from her workplace for wearing the niqab. Fatima Afif, a former employee of private day nursery in Chanteloup-les Vignes (Île-de-France), was refused from recommencing to work after a five-year long maternity leave when she announced her intention to continue to wear the niqab in 2008. The female director of the nursery, Natalia Baleato, justified her refusal to reemploy Mrs. Afif with the nursery’s work regulation guidelines, which state the obligation to “neutrality in respect to philosophy, politics and confession”.

The French government has since banned women from wearing the niqab in public with the help of controversial law.

The claimant lost her case of unfair dismissal from workplace on discriminatory grounds in front of the Court of Appeal of Versailles in 2011 but continued to appeal against the court’s decision. Last week’s annulations of  2011’s verdict by the French Court of Cassation in Paris is based upon the judge’s declaration that the Mrs. Afif was employed by a private nursery and not a public state funded institution. In other words, the principles of the recent anti-niqab legislation did not apply to the case whilst her civil right to express her religious faith prevailed.

The French government criticised the court’s ruling on the grounds that “it calls into question the princinple of secular education” in France.

Spain: Supreme Court invalidates the ban on the burqa

The Supreme Court has declared invalid the ban on women wearing the burqa or veil in public spaces, which had been decreed by the  Lleida City Council in October 2010.
The Supreme Court held that the measure “violates Article 16 of the Constitution”, which guarantees the right to religious freedom, and believes that “the burqa ban is a limitation on the exercise of religious freedom. ”
It is the first time that the Supreme Court is ruling on the prohibition of the burqa.

In declarations, the mayor of Lleida, Angel Ros, said that they would follow the decision of the Supreme although they did not share it. “The symbolism of the Islamic veil is an inequality between men and women,” he said.

American Taliban Lindh says Ind. prison’s ban on daily group prayer violates religious freedom

INDIANAPOLIS — The U.S. government claims it has the ultimate proof that American-born Taliban fighter John Walker Lindh might foment hate and violence among fellow Muslim inmates if they’re allowed to pray together daily. He has already tried, it argues.
But Lindh, 31, accuses the government of going too far in its drive for security and trampling on his freedom of religion by restricting group prayers among Muslim inmates in the Terre Haute, Ind., prison unit where he has been housed since 2007.
Lindh is expected to testify Monday in federal court in Indianapolis during the first day of a trial that will examine how far prison officials can go to ensure security in the age of terrorism.
Muslims are required to pray five times a day, and the Hanbali school to which Lindh belongs requires group prayer if it is possible. But inmates in the Communications Management Unit are allowed to pray together only once a week except during Ramadan. At other times, they must pray in their individual cells. Lindh claims that doesn’t meet the Quran’s requirements and is inappropriate because he is forced to kneel in close proximity to his toilet.
The American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana, which is representing Lindh, contends the policy violates a federal law barring the government from restricting religious activities without showing a compelling need.
The lawsuit was originally filed in 2009 by two Muslim inmates in the unit. Lindh joined the lawsuit in 2010, and the case has drawn far more attention since then. The other plaintiffs have dropped out as they were released from prison or transferred to other units.
Lindh had been charged with conspiring to kill Americans and support terrorists, but those charges were dropped in a plea agreement. He is serving a 20-year sentence for supplying services to the now-defunct Taliban government of Afghanistan and carrying explosives for them. He is eligible for release in 2019.

Ruling on Circumcision in Germany: When Judges Become Religious Referees

For Jews and Muslims, the circumcision of male children is more than just a pious custom. A German court has now for the first time ruled that the religiously motivated surgical procedure is a crime. The Cologne judgement can be seen as an expression of our secular society. But sometimes it’s not a good thing for judges to rule over religions. By Matthias Drobinski

When Abraham was 99 years old war, the first Book of Moses tells us, God made a pact with him and his descendants: If you’re true to me, I’ll be true to you. There would be special sign for this pact: “All male children, as soon as they are eight days old, must be circumcised.” According to the Islamic tradition, Abraham first carried out this act on himself – with the help of an axe.

Circumcision of male children thus was, and still is, the indelible archaic distinguishing feature of Jews and Muslims, and to make sure it stays that way Jewish parents often find themselves facing the death penalty. For Jews and Muslims, circumcision is more than just a pious custom.

Accordingly, one pair of Muslim parents who have now inadvertently written a new chapter of legal and religious history had their four-year-old-son circumcised. They went to a doctor so that it would be done properly, but there was some bleeding afterward, whereupon the mother took her son to the hospital. From what she said there, the doctor inferred that she didn’t completely consent to the procedure, and he informed the police.

Right of the child to physical integrity

The Cologne District Court acquitted the doctor of the charge of grievous bodily harm. But on appeal the Regional Court of Cologne then caused a sensation by passing a different judgement: The decisive factor is not the parents’ right to religious freedom and to decide how to bring up their children, nor is it the good of the child, who can presumably after the procedure grow up in the lap of a religious community. Decisive instead is the fundamental right of the child to bodily integrity. The doctor who performed the circumcision was only acquitted because he was acting to the best of his knowledge within the law, in other words, he couldn’t have known that what he was doing was punishable by law.

Ancient practice and medical arguments: Both Islam and Judaism require circumcision for men. In the United States by contrast, hygienic and medical motives lead to some 75 per cent of men being circumcised This is the first time that a German court has passed such a ruling. Should other courts follow suit, this would have grave consequences for Muslims and Jews in Germany: circumcision would henceforward be equated with grievous bodily harm.

Only those boys could be circumcised for which it could be assumed they did so of their own free will. Undercover agents would have to get to work in the many synagogues and mosques. At some point, all associations in favour of circumcision of young boys would have to be prohibited. Blithe religious peace would spread throughout the land.

The man whose deliberations were for the most part responsible for the judgement is named Holm Putzke and is professor of criminal law at the University of Passau. Born in 1973 in the town of Dohna in Saxony, he is regarded as one of the most ambitious scholars of jurisprudence in the country. He was an Adenauer Foundation fellow and active in the “Liberal Universities” group, and is far from having any anti-Semitic or anti-Muslim leanings. Ever since he examined “the criminal-law relevance of circumcision of boys” in a commemorative publication in 2008, he has been fascinated by this topic; the Cologne ruling now follows his arguments.

Basically, Putzke merely approached the topic with the tools of the professional jurist: every time a doctor uses a knife, bodily harm results, as far as jurists are concerned. The doctor therefore needs a good reason to start cutting: because he is trying to save the patient’s life and health, or, in the case of cosmetic surgery, in an effort to enhance the well-being or at least the social status of the individual requesting the procedure.

An intervention in religious freedom: the chairman of the Council of Muslims in Germany, Ali Kizilkaya, as well as Germany’s Central Council of Jews have sharply criticised the ruling of the Regional Court But what, then, gives a doctor the right to follow the will of the parents and remove the foreskin from the penis of their child?

Tradition and history of minor significance

One by one, the Passau criminal lawyers reviewed the usual arguments for making circumcision immune from punishment. Because the right to religious freedom allows for it? This comes up against certain limits in view of the right to bodily integrity, says Putzke, as does the right of parents to decide how to bring up their children.

Because circumcision is for the good of the child, because one in four men worldwide are circumcised anyway, and in the USA as many as 75 per cent of men live without a foreskin, not any better or worse off than others? The medical benefits of the operation are also controversial, Putzke replies. And how much good it actually does the child to bear the pain and trauma of an operation that is not medically indicated in order to be part of a community – that’s another question entirely. “Why can’t Jews and Muslims postpone circumcision to a later point in time”, he asks, “and just leave it at a symbolic rite, a small jab for example?”

This is a positivistic argument that pays no heed to the tradition and history of the Occident and Orient – and what is really remarkable about it is that the Cologne Regional Court is espousing it. The ruling on the Rhine reflects how the relationship between law and religion is changing in a society that is becoming secular and multi-religious.

A case for Germany’s Constitutional Court

A pact with God: in the Jewish tradition, a boy is circumcised on his eighth day of life. In exile and in the Diaspora, circumcision became, along with dietary laws and the Sabbath, one of the central identifying features of Judaism Things are not like they were thirty years ago, when the culturally dominant Christian society in Germany was accompanied by just 30,000 Jews largely keeping to themselves and a Muslim community of which it could be assumed that they would soon be returning to their homelands. Today, more than four million people are living in this country whose religion decrees that boys are to be circumcised.

The sense of Christian rituals is being lost, while those of other religions are understood even less, are contested, battled and brought before the courts – who then become the referees.

Sometimes this is justified, as for example with dramatic human rights violations such as female circumcision, which is nothing more than a violent act signifying that women are not mistresses over their own sexuality.

But sometimes it’s not good at all when judges make themselves referees of religion, putting themselves above it and making legal positivism into almost an ersatz religion. The border between legitimate objection in the name of basic law and transgression will be readjusted in the coming years by many judgements being passed down by different courts, all the way up to Germany’s Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe.

From the way things look at the moment, it seems that the judges in Karlsruhe will at some point have to turn their attention to the religious circumcision of boys, and that they will then follow the opinion of the Central Council of the Jews, which sees the Cologne ruling as an intervention in the right to self-determination of the religious communities.

Federal lawsuit charges religious freedom commission with discriminating against Muslims

Some Washington figures prominently connected with promoting religious freedom overseas are accused in a federal lawsuit of discriminating against Muslims.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court accuses members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom of reneging on hiring a Muslim lawyer in 2009 once they learned of her faith and her work advocating for Muslim-Americans.

It quotes staff as encouraging Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, during her short period working at the commission, to call in sick on the days that particular commissioners were in the office, to “downplay her religious affiliation” and to emphasize that she is a “mainstream and ‘moderate’ Muslim” who doesn’t cover her hair.

The lawsuit, which follows an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint that Ghori-Ahmad filed in 2010, lays blame on several longtime commissioners, including Nina Shea, an attorney and writer who focuses on religious freedom crises abroad, particularly the plight of Christian minorities. The suit quotes Shea as writing that “hiring a Muslim like Ms. Ghori-Ahmad to analyze religious freedom in Pakistan would be like ‘hiring an IRA activist to research the UK twenty years ago.’”

The allegations in the suit are the most explicit in a years-long series of allegations that commission leaders are biased against Muslims, specifically people associated with groups critical of U.S. foreign policy and who work for groups that fight anti-Muslim discrimination. Questions about the Ghori-Ahmad EEOC complaint — which commission lawyers had argued the body was exempt from — and how the commission uses its resources led some lawmakers last year to almost let USCIRF close for lack of reauthorization.

64-Member Coalition Opposes New Religious Freedom Appointee

Zuhdi Jasser lacks commitment to religious rights, claims ‘operationally, Islam is not peaceful’

WASHINGTON, April 12, 2012 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A broad national coalition of 64 organizations and individuals today sent a letter to Senators Inouye, McConnell and Durbin expressing “deep concern” at the recent appointment of Zuhdi Jasser to the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF).

In a joint letter, the coalition asked that Jasser’s appointment by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) be rescinded.

To read the full text of the letter and list of signatories, go to:
http://www.cair.com/Portals/0/pdf/JasserLetter.pdf

The letter states in part:

“The USCIRF promotes the freedom of religion and belief, and it seeks to combat religious extremism, intolerance, and repression throughout the world. In contrast with these laudable goals, Dr. Jasser believes, ‘. . .operationally, Islam is not peaceful.’ His consistent support for measures that threaten and diminish religious freedoms within the United States demonstrates his deplorable lack of understanding of and commitment to religious freedom and undermines the USCIRF’s express purpose.”

The coalition noted that Jasser’s organization, the American Islamic Forum for Democracy, “applauded” an amendment to Oklahoma’s constitution that both a federal district court and the U.S. Court of Appeals 10th Circuit have held is in violation of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by clearly favoring all other religions over Islam. That amendment specifically targeted Islam for official censure.

The letter also cited Jasser’s opposition to the constitutionally-protected construction of a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan, his support for the New York Police Department’s blanket surveillance of Muslims based on religion rather than evidence or suspicion of wrongdoing and his ties to virulently anti-Muslim groups and individual Islamophobes.

“Zuhdi Jasser has been a vocal opponent of religious freedom for American Muslims and is therefore an inappropriate choice to represent our nation as it seeks to promote such freedoms in the international arena,” said Corey Saylor, national legislative director for the Washington-based Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). “Jasser’s appointment sends a negative message to all those who seek to protect religious freedom in this nation and worldwide.”

Federal lawsuit charges religious freedom commission with discriminating against Muslims

Some Washington figures prominently connected with promoting religious freedom overseas are acccused in a federal lawsuit of discriminating against Muslims.

The lawsuit filed Thursday in federal court accuses members of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom of reneging on hiring a Muslim lawyer in 2009 once they learned of her faith and her work advocating for Muslim-Americans.

It quotes staff as encouraging Safiya Ghori-Ahmad, during her short period working at the commission, to call in sick on the days that particular commissioners were in the office, to “downplay her religious affiliation” and to emphasize that she is a “mainstream and ‘moderate’ Muslim” who doesn’t cover her hair.

The lawsuit, which follows an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint that Ghori-Ahmad filed in 2010, lays blame on several longtime commissioners, including Nina Shea, an attorney and writer who focuses on religious freedom crises abroad, particularly the plight of Christian minorities. The suit quotes Shea as writing that “hiring a Muslim like Ms. Ghori-Ahmad to analyze religious freedom in Pakistan would be like ‘hiring an IRA activist to research the UK twenty years ago.’”

The commission referred questions to the Justice Department, which represents the quasi-governmental organization; Justice officials declined to immediately comment.

Ritual Slaughter Reforms Established in Netherlands

June 5 2012

Religious leaders in the Netherlands have signed an agreement with Deputy Minister Henk Bleker amending the terms of ritual animal slaughter in the country. The agreement states that an animal must be unconscious within forty seconds of the cut to its throat, or else must be stunned. The minister, interest groups and the slaughterhouse association have all signed the agreement.
The accord, Bleker states, provides “a good balance… between religious freedom and the improvement of the welfare of animals.” Rasit Bal, chair of the Muslim and Government Contact Group, stated that he is happy the agreement enables Muslims to continue to practice halal ritual slaughter in the country.
The agreement comes into force next week, ending negotiations over a proposed ban on ritual slaughter which have carried on since June 2011. A scientific advice committee has been established to answer any questions about the new procedures.

The Union of Islamic Communities in Spain presents the video documentary “Together we build the future.”

17 May 2012
Spain forms a multicultural map with different lifestyles, ideologies, and beliefs. In this context of diversity, the Muslim community has an increasingly important opinion. “Together we build the future” is the documentary that gives voice to some of these people.
The video, made by Imal Producciones y Aire Comunicación, in collaboration with the Foundation for Pluralism and Coexistence, is part of the materials developed by the Union of Islamic Communities of Spain (UCIDE) to promote religious freedom in a framework of peaceful coexistence and plural in Spanish society.

The video, which lasts approximately 30 minutes, shows the daily lives of five Muslims and gives us their testimonies and experiences, especially on living in Spain.