Muslim moral police roam Oslo streets (Norwegian)

In a series of articles, Aftenposten (an independent conservative publication) has debated moral and social control exercised by Muslim men in the neighborhood of Grønland in Norway’s capitol, Oslo.

Described as Oslo’s multicultural and “hip” neighborhood, but also where you find most “minarets and khatbuls”, Grønland is said to have developed into a “Muslim neighborhood”. Muslim women in western clothes are reported to be harassed by Muslim men on the street and told to cover up. Last autumn two gay men walking through Grønland holding hands were attacked, and non-Muslim women say they hesitate to visit the cafe’s and restaurants in Grønland.

Imam and chairman of Norway’s Islamic Council (Islamisk Råd), Senaid Koblicia, acknowledges the problem and encourages mosque representatives to acknowledge and work on the problem. “Social control is to be left to the police, and God alone knows who’s a good Muslim or not”, he says.

Najaham Farhan, spokesperson for Islamic Cultural Center in Grønland, responds to Imam Koblicia’s request and says that it’s a question of common manners and that people may become more attentive to the problem if it is to be addressed in the mosques.

Columnist Sara Azmeh Rasmussen, finally, calls for a more nuanced debate and accuses Norwegian media of focusing on Muslim stereotypes and conservative Muslims. Grønland’s Muslim population is just as diverse as any, she says, but the media focuses on women in burqas more than they do on secular Muslim women in western clothes.

Europe: Survey says 31 percent of Muslims in Europe suffer discrimination

A survey of ethnic minorities in Europe says that 31 percent of Muslims across the EU feel that they were discriminated against in 2008, and many fail to report racist incidents because of a lack of trust in the authorities. The report was compiled by the European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA) and surveyed 23,500 members of ethnic minorities and migrant communities in Europe. It collated the opinions of Muslims living in 14 European nations and minorities in general from the 27 EU member states. It found that about 30 percent of the discrimination cases occurred when Muslims were looking for work or at work, while 14 percent took place in restaurants, bars, or dealings with landlords. “The high levels of discrimination in employment are worrying,” FRA director Morten Kjaerum said. “Employment is a key part of the integration process. The survey found that 81 percent of those interviewed did not report discriminatory acts, largely because they believed that reporting them would not do anything. The report also found that wearing traditional or religious clothing does not increase discrimination. And most of the Muslims surveyed did not consider religion as the main reason for discrimination. Only ten percent of Muslims who experienced prejudice said this was solely due to their religious beliefs while over half of the respondents felt their ethnic origin was the reason for the discrimination. A full report can be read at the last link below.

iPhone application helps American Muslims eat halal on-the-go

Finding a halal restaurant has become easier for Americans Muslims, thanks to a new phone application launched this month that makes dietary religious observance much simpler for Muslims eating out. Halalpal, an iPhone application that locates halal restaurants and eateries throughout the United States, has made restaurant eating while sticking to a halal diet much easier. The search engine is designed for Apple’s iPhone, and gives users a list of nearby restaurants with maps, contact information, price categories, and recommendations. We found people are reaching out for this service and this gave us the inspiration to create a special application for halal users,” said Rami Dodin, Halalpal’s founder, adding that the aim of any business is to tune in and respond to the needs of customers.

New food and restaurant laws draw concern that preservation of culture negatively targets immigrants and minorities

Thousands, if not more, are dissenting a regional law passed this week that regulates how fast-food restaurants and takeout shops may sell the food they produce. The law, which applies to any food or bar establishment, says that selling anything other than what they themselves produce on site, is not allowed to be sold to customers.

Many who protested the law say that the measure is an anti-immigrant and anti-foreigner law disguised as food regulation, and that the law was aimed at fast-food restaurants run by immigrants.

The measure was approved Tuesday by the center-right majority, but was championed by the conservative Northern League, as a means to preserve the traditional identity of Italian cities. “In its original form the law was more racist — it was specifically geared to get kebab shops out of the city center,” said Giuseppe Civati, a regional lawmaker.

The idea of “gastronomic contamination” is a façade for racial, cultural, and ethnic contamination that is feared in Italy’s growing concerns with culture. Supporters of the law say that it finally regulates a sector that had existed in a confused legislative status for years.

Terror trial begins: four men stand accused of German terror plot

Germany on Wednesday kicked off the country’s biggest terror trial since the 9/11 attacks. Four men accused of plotting to carry out bomb attacks on targets across Germany are the focus of a high-profile case expected to last up to two years. Under tight security, four men aged between 23 and 30 took to the dock on Wednesday in Düsseldorf to answer accusations of plotting a spate of bombings in discos, restaurants, airports, the Federal Prosecutor’s Office and US army installations. The alleged plot, which was in its final stages when it was thwarted by police in September 2007, would have been the most destructive in Germany’s postwar history. Sitting behind panes of bulletproof glass, the suspects being tried — Fritz Gelowicz, Adem Yilmaz, Daniel Schneider and Atilla Selek — face charges of conspiring to commit murder, plotting to launch explosive attacks and membership in a terrorist organization, the Islamic Jihad Union (IJU). The men have remained silent since their arrest 18 months ago. Police detained three of the so-called “Sauerland cell” members during a sweep on a holiday home in a quiet village in the Sauerland region in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia. The raid was Germany’s biggest anti-terror operation to date. Police said they had been tracking the terror cell for months but stormed the cottage when it appeared that the suspects were nearly ready to strike. They are accused of having turned the unassuming holiday cottage into a bomb-making base. Among the evidence, police impounded hydrogen peroxide-based liquid explosives more potent than those used in the 2004 Madrid bombings or the 2005 attack in London.

Immigrant chefs taking strong presence in Italian restaurants

The International Herald Tribune features an expose on the rising number of immigrant chefs taking a strong presence in Italy – a phenomenon causing debate concerning the strong national image of famed Italian cuisine. The article features several chefs of Indian, Tunisian, Jordanian, and other non-natives gaining respect for their work in the kitchen, and earning praise from prestigious restaurant reviewers. The author of the article writes: Italians take their food very seriously, not just as nourishment and pleasure but as a chief component of national and regional identity. Quotes in the article display both favorable and unfavorable opinions concerning the presence of non-Italian chefs, the introduction of new ingredients and spices to dishes, and immigration in the country as a whole.

A new guide highlights Rome’s ethnic assets

A city guide celebrating Rome’s ethnic diversity is in the works to be released to promote the city’s diverse cultural attractions. The publication, called ‘Roma Multietnica’ contains information related to cultural, artistic, and other activities involving migrants from Africa, Latin America, the Arab world, China, and other countries. The guide will be divided into geographic areas, and include cultural centers, associations, places of worship, language and culture sources, and restaurants. While it will published in Italian, it is expected to be available in other languages online. “Integration is only possible if we convince ourselves of Rome’s multi-ethnic identity,” said Silvio di Francia, councillor for cultural policies from the city of Rome.

Demand For Halal Food Rises Among U.S. Muslims

By Michael Kress When Shaheda Sayed was growing up in Southern California in the 1960s, her father would occasionally drive 100 miles to slaughter animals so his family could have meat. That’s because the family, devout Muslims, only ate food that was halal – permitted for Muslims. And, in those days, it could not be found in U.S. stores. Halal is an Arabic word meaning “permitted.” It’s used to describe acceptable behavior under Muslim law. When applied to food, the term refers to dietary laws that, among other things, require meat to be slaughtered in a prescribed manner. (Muslim law also sets out actions that are haram, or “prohibited.” These include drinking alcohol and eating pork.) “We never ate in McDonald’s,” Sayed said. So when she grew up, Sayed decided to address the problem. In 1998, she and her brother co-founded Crave Foods, a company that produces halal hamburger patties and frozen prepared dishes, including chicken rolls and spicy wings. The Los Angeles-based company soon will expand its product offerings to include hot dogs and Philly cheesesteaks. Halal slaughtering must be done by a pious Muslim who says a prayer immediately prior to the act, uses only healthy animals, slaughters each one away from other animals, employs a sharp knife to the neck to ensure a quick death, and lets the blood drain. According to most authorities, slaughtering must be done by hand, not machine. Some companies marketing themselves as halal sell machine-slaughtered poultry – a source of controversy among Muslims. Crave Foods, which now employs about 100 people, exemplifies the growth of the American halal food industry in recent years. Estimates on the size of the industry are hard to come by, but Muslim-friendly restaurants are easier to find than ever before, and packaged halal foods, once found only in ethnic shops, are increasingly stocked by mainstream supermarkets. Sayed might even be able to enjoy a Happy Meal today. Two McDonald’s restaurants in Dearborn, Mich., serve halal Chicken McNuggets and McChicken sandwiches. “The Muslim consumer population is becoming much more savvy, and the market has grown up around them,” said Shahed Amanullah, who runs the Web site, which lists halal restaurants in cities around the world. (“Zabihah” is the word for the type of slaughter that makes meat halal.) “Muslims are starting to demand higher quality.” Amanullah’s site started in 1998 with 300 restaurants. Now, it lists more than 3,000 establishments, “everything from Mexican to Brazilian to Philly subs to pizza,” he said. “That diversity only happened in the last year or two.” Still, many Muslims say the industry has a long way to go to fully serve the needs of America’s Muslim community, estimated at anywhere from 2 million to more than 6 million people, and growing quickly. “The halal industry has not reached maturity,” Amanullah said. “There’s a market opportunity there for somebody.” When Muslims can’t find foods that have been certified as halal, they rely on ingredient lists on labels. Or, they look for symbols marking a product as kosher, since the Jewish dietary laws are similar to Muslim ones. But labels sometimes omit ingredients found in minute quantities. Or they’re vague – what, exactly, are “natural flavors”? And the kosher laws, while similar to halal, are not identical: Jews, for example, are not prohibited from consuming alcohol. And halal does not share the kosher ban on mixing meat and dairy ingredients, so relying on kosher symbols can be overly restrictive for Muslims. There are other pitfalls, said Rasheed Ahmed, founder of the Muslim Consumer Group, which educates Muslims about halal products and certifies products as halal. Many Muslims, for example, might eat a fast-food fish sandwich, figuring it’s acceptable since fish need not be slaughtered in any particular way. But if the fish is cooked in the same oil as non-halal meat products, it is haram, Ahmed said. And marshmallows – found in sweetened cereals and other packaged foods – may be made with pork products. As a result of problems like these, many devout Muslims feel they have few choices. “Muslims who are serious about halal have been avoiding mainstream food,” said Muhammad Munir Chaudry, president of the Islamic Food and Nutrition Council of America, the largest U.S. organization that certifies products as acceptable for Muslims. Chaudry hopes to turn American Muslims from a people of label readers into one of symbol spotters. The council’s symbol, a crescent with the letter “M,” graces the products of nearly 2,000 companies, attesting that they are halal. That’s up from around 50 in 1990, he said. Other groups have their own symbols, such as the Muslim Consumer Group’s “H” in a triangle. “The trend is there,” Chaudry said of halal certification by mainstream food producers. “Companies have realized there’s a good-sized Muslim market here.” For a processed food to be certified as halal, it must pass muster with a certification group such as Chaudry’s. Representatives visit the production plant to inspect the ingredients used as well as the manufacturing and packaging methods. Representatives then revisit at least once a year. For companies that produce meat, the council has a halal supervisor on premises at all times, since the rules for slaughtering meat are complex, Chaudry said. His group’s fees range from about $2,000 a year to as much as $40,000 for large companies for which many products are certified. With the growth of the halal food industry, debates have broken out in the Muslim community over the rules and standards for deeming food acceptable. Must meat be hand-slaughtered or are machines acceptable? Must food businesses be Muslim-owned? Can a restaurant be considered halal if its food is okay but it serves alcohol? For many, such debates signal that the market has grown large enough to give Muslim consumers choices: It’s good if they have the luxury of discussing standards. If all that’s available is, say, machine-slaughtered meat, people wil* make do with what they have,” Sayed said. Increasingly, Muslims do not want to – nor are they forced to – simply make do. Muslims born and raised in America are more likely than their immigrant parents to call companies and request halal certification, Chaudry said. Advocates say certification brings benefits beyond helping America’s Muslims. For one thing, it helps U.S. companies export their products, since some Muslim countries mandate that all imports be halal. And certification can be used to market a product as wholesome. Being halal means a food has no hidden ingredients, and in the case of meat, that it does not come from a giant, automated slaughterhouse. “It’s going back to a simpler way of life,” Sayed said. “What we eat affects who we are and what we are, and our spirituality.” Such arguments were compelling to Cabot Cheese, a Vermont-based company that received certification in December 2003. The idea came up when company officials were discussing their kosher status, and the decision was based largely on demographics: Cabot services Northeast cities such as New York and Boston, which have large and quickly growing numbers of Muslims, as well as their Jewish populations. But the company was looking beyond these religious communities, hoping that kosher and halal certification sent a message to all consumers looking for healthy, natural foods. “If these foods are made in such a way that they can be both kosher and halal, it just speaks to a certain attention to detail and attention to food quality,” said Jed Davis, Cabot’s marketing director. “A lot of times, customers are looking for that type of third-party endorsement.” Becoming halal did not involve changing any Cabot products, so it’s “an inexpensive way of potentially dramatically increasing the market for our products,” Davis said. For now, Cabot’s decision is a minority one. Though finding halal food has become easier in recent years, many American food manufacturers still aren’t rushing to certify their products – at least, not yet. “But we are educating them,” said Ahmed of the Muslim Consumer Group