Hundreds in Joplin, Missouri, rally for Muslims and mosque

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) – A rally for Muslims in Joplin, Missouri, drew hundreds of people on Saturday night, nearly three weeks after a local mosque was destroyed by a fire which members of the Islamic community suspect was a hate crime, the organizer of the event said.

The gathering at a city park was promoted on a Facebook page as a way to show “that love is stronger than fear or hatred.” Organizers saw the rally in part as a giving-back to the local Muslim community because their mosque was a relief center for victims of the May 2011 tornado in Joplin, which took 161 lives and damaged or destroyed more than 8,000 buildings.

The fire that destroyed the Joplin mosque happened the morning after a white supremacist shot dead six worshipers at a Sikh temple outside Milwaukee, then killed himself after he was wounded by police. Police and Sikh temple members speculated that he might have mistakenly thought Sikhs were Muslims.

About $406,000 has been raised to rebuild the Joplin mosque. The donations have far exceeded the goal of $250,000, said Kimberly Kester, spokeswoman for the Islamic Society of Joplin.

Rhode Island Muslims ask for FBI, police security help after mosque vandalism

Members of Rhode Island’s Muslim community have asked to meet with police and the FBI to request heightened security at their places of worship after the sign for a mosque in North Smithfield was vandalized.

Farid Ansari, president of the Rhode Island Council for Muslim Advancement and an imam at the Muslim American Dawah Center of Rhode Island in Providence, said Tuesday they are concerned because of the fatal attack on a Sikh temple in Wisconsin on Sunday and a suspicious fire at a mosque in Missouri on Monday.

“Hopefully, it’s just a simple case of vandalism, but we can’t be sure. Of particular concern is what happened within the Sikh community,” Ansari said. “We can’t just not pay attention to these types of things. We don’t know if they are connected or not.”

The incident at the Masjid Al-Islam happened early Sunday morning. Surveillance video showed a person walk up to the mosque’s sign, struggle with it then knock down a large piece of it, put it into a car and drive away, said North Smithfield Police Capt. Tim Lafferty. The vandalism was first reported by The Providence Journal.

‘Sikhs are not Muslims’ sends a sinister message

Op-Ed: Such declarations by the news media and others has an insidious subtext: that there’s something wrong with being a Muslim in America.

Almost from the beginning of their coverage of the horrific and deadly shooting at the Sikh temple in Wisconsin, CNN and other news media went out of their way to send a message to the American public: “Sikhs are not Muslims.”

But what were we to make of that message? If the temple’s members had been Muslims, would the attack have then been justified?

We say we don’t endorse prejudice against one group or another, but for some reason we also want to make sure people know who the “we” and the “they” really are. CNN would probably say it was simply trying to clear up a common misunderstanding that, in this case, may have been shared by the gunman himself. Fair enough. The assertion that Sikhs are not Muslims is certainly true. Jains are not Hindus, and Mormons are not Methodists either.

WHO THEY WERE: Sikh temple shooting victims

But in the post-9/11context of a deadly act committed by an apparent white supremacist against a congregation that is largely ethnically South Asian — a congregation that includes bearded men in turbans — broadcasting the mantra that “Sikhs are not Muslims” takes on a far more insidious subtext: Don’t blame these people, it implies, for the unspeakable crimes of 9/11. It’s Muslims you want.

The media aren’t alone in conveying, however unintentionally, this sinister message. When Barack Obama was running for president in 2008, he responded to the inaccurate but surprisingly persistent assertion that he was a Muslim with this statement in a 2008 debate: “The facts are I am Christian. I have been sworn in [as a U.S. senator] with a Bible.”

NY Sikh, Muslim workers allowed to wear religious head coverings under legal settlement

NEW YORK — New York’s Sikh and Muslim transit workers will be allowed to wear religious head coverings without a government agency logo after years of bitter legal battles that started after the 9/11 terror attacks.
A settlement between workers and New York City Transit run by the state Metropolitan Transportation Authority was announced Wednesday.
“This was the back-of-the-bus solution,” said Amardeep Singh, a Sikh-American community spokesman who compared the agency’s dealings with the employees to the pre-civil rights practice of seating black Americans at the back of public buses.
The agency issued a policy before 9/11 forcing employees wearing the traditional Sikh turbans and Muslim khimars, or headscarves, to work out of public view. Some were reassigned from bus routes to nonpublic jobs in depots.
The agency later changed the policy so that workers were allowed to wear the head coverings in public — but only with the MTA logo attached.
Shayana Kadidal, an attorney at Manhattan’s Center for Constitutional Rights, said it was “a calculated attempt” to hide certain workers “on the grounds that they ‘look Muslim’ and might alarm the public for that reason.”
Among them was a subway train operator who became a 9/11 hero, for evacuating more than 800 people from the subway near the World Trade Center by maneuvering his train to safety after power was knocked out. Above, the towers were collapsing and dust filled the station.
“The MTA honored me for driving my train in reverse away from the towers on 9/11 and leading passengers to safety,” said motorman Kevin Harrington. “I didn’t have a corporate logo on my turban on 9/11.”
The problem started when his client, Malikah Alkebulan, a Muslim bus driver, was hired several months after Sept. 11, 2001. While in training, he said, “she was told she would have to take ‘that thing’ off her head.”

Room for Debate: Is Americans’ Religious Freedom Under Threat?

Companies have pulled their ads from a TV show that portrays Muslims as benign. Religious groups may be required to offer insurance that covers drugs that can induce abortions. A federal judge rejected a ballot initiative on same-sex marriage partly because of its religious arguments. Are these just bubbles in the American melting pot, or signs that religious freedom is under threat?

Thomas Farr and Timothy Shah, of the Religious Freedom Project at Georgetown’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs, organized this discussion.

Religion in the Public Square by Tim Shah and Thomas Farr

Is religious freedom under threat in America today? Yes and no. Compared to Eritrea, where the government habitually forces Pentecostals into unventilated shipping containers until they renounce their beliefs, American religious freedom is in very good shape. But comparative evils abroad are a poor reason to be complacent about liberty at home. Today, in fact, multiple threats warrant special vigilance.

Liberty Is Elusive for Sikh Americans by Rajdeep Singh

For religious minorities in the United States, the promise of religious freedom remains unfulfilled. Sikh Americans, in particular, continue to face relentless challenges in the post-9/11 environment. Worse still, American law affords inadequate protection to Sikhs against religious discrimination and, in some cases, reflects deep-seated stereotypes about American identity.

As American as Religious Persecution by Noah Feldman

Religious liberty has two parts: freedom to worship and freedom from discrimination on the basis of religion. On the first front, the United States is doing great – and has been since the 1700s, well before we even had the First Amendment. Religious dissenters, dissidents and schismatics have long seen the United States as their Canaan, Mecca or Valhalla. Large spaces and the need for immigrants gave birth to the American tradition of laissez faire in religion, and a principled commitment to toleration has firmed up this commitment derived at first from self-interest.

A Campaign Against Patriotic Muslims by Salman Al-Marayati

Yes, religious freedom for the Muslim American is under threat. Fear-mongering toward America’s Muslims and their faith is very clear. The Center for American Progress issued a report this year concluding that anti-Islam groups are financed by a $43 million industry. This garrison of Muslim-haters views Islam as either a theological or political threat in the United States, and their work is reminiscent of the pre-Nazi propaganda produced by Wilhelm Marr that regarded Judaism as a threat to Germany.

Recently, a reality TV show called “All-American Muslim” was aired on TLC, and it became a controversy because it did not include a terrorist. Advertisers are being pressured to pull their support because the show was “offensive.” In other words, Islam cannot be defined by the mainstream in America. It must be defined through the lens of extremism.
Popular books about Islam in bookstores are “The Trouble With Islam Today” and “Why I Am Not a Muslim.” Law enforcement officials are being trained by anti-Muslim bigots so that profiling of Muslims is the norm. Hate against Muslim children in elementary and secondary schools is on the rise.

Human Rights vs. Religious Freedom? By Helen Alvare

Skepticism about the good of religious liberty is growing. Recently, the federal government stopped working with experienced, highly regarded agencies whose religious conscience prevented their providing abortions or contraception; federal employees said they awarded grants instead to lesser-ranked providers. Under proposed federal health care mandates, almost no religious employers would be exempt from providing insurance that covers contraception, including forms that function as early abortifacients; only organizations that primarily serve and hire co-believers qualify for the exemption. Commentators accurately quipped that the ministries of Jesus Christ and Mother Teresa would not qualify. The rhetoric accompanying these moves is hyberbolic: Representative Nancy Pelosi accused Catholic institutions of a willingness to let women “die on the floor.”

Federal Law, at Least, Is on Our Side by Hamza Yusuf

My friend, Cheikhna bin Mahfudh, was about to fly from Los Angeles to San Francisco recently and needed a quiet spot for his noontime Muslim prayer. Fortunately, his business class ticket gave him access to an exclusive airport lounge. Just when he was about done praying, which involves four units of standing, bowing and prostrating, and can look like yoga to the uninitiated, an employee came up to him and said, “Sir, it is not permissible to pray here!” He replied: “I was just exercising. Is that a problem?” The bemused man then said: “Oh, sorry. I thought you were praying.”

Public space is sacred in America. It has the sanctity of that small space you carve out on the grocery checkout conveyor belt, where the little bar you set down lets others know that they cross that line with consequences. We don’t like it when others don’t conform, when they deviate from the norm, and when they do, we become flustered.

A Risk Even for the Majority by Winnifred Fallers Sullivan

Asking whether religious freedom is under threat implies that we know what religious freedom is. Religious freedom has multiple histories and is understood differently in different times and places. For example, for some today, religious freedom connotes the possibility of an individual to believe or not as she chooses and to act consistently with that belief within the bounds of law. For others, religious freedom implies the right of religious communities to a degree of autonomy or self-governance. A few would argue that religious freedom demands withdrawal and separation from a larger society so as to enable a common way of life. Still others would say that the priority today should be religious coexistence, rather than freedom; that freedom is a misguided goal, whether for individuals or communities, the appropriate goal being to live with difference and without conflict. And of course, to enforce any version of religious freedom also requires a determination as to what counts as religion.

Falling Short of Our Ideals by Michael Mconnel

This nation was founded on the principle of freedom of religion – the right of individuals, families, churches and voluntary religious associations of all sorts to live their lives in accordance with their own understanding of God’s will. That commitment remains strong today.

But our practice often has fallen short of the ideal, as Catholics, Jews, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Muslims and others could attest.

Police Identify Man Who Stabbed Sikh at Airport

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A Sikh man waiting for a plane at Fresno Yosemite International Airport has been stabbed in a seemingly unprovoked attack. Police say 26-year-old Mitchell Dufur stabbed the victim in the upper torso Sunday evening. No words were exchanged before the attack.

Dufur was arrested on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a knife in an airport. Lt. Don Gross says investigators have not determined whether it was a hate crime because Dufur has given no indication about his motive.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations urged the FBI and police Monday to investigate the incident as a possible hate crime.

“Sikh men who wear beards and turbans as part of their faith are often targeted by bigots who mistake them for Muslims,” said Sacramento CAIR Executive Director Basim Elkarra.

Sikhism developed in the Punjab region of northern India. Sikhs in the U.S. have occasionally been the target of anti-Muslim sentiment because they wear turbans and beards.

Differences in Educational Performances between Faiths

Based on figures by UK National Statistics, the Telegraph reports that Hindu, Sikh and Muslim teenagers are more likely to go to university than their Christian or atheist counterparts. A study conducted for the Department of Education found that 77% of Hindu and 63% of Sikh teenagers go on to higher education, compared to 53% of Muslims, 45% of Christians and 32% of those with no religion. These findings add to the existing body of research, which shows that students from white working-class backgrounds are performing worse at school and are less likely to go to university than their Asian counterparts. Prof Steve Strand of Warwick University, however, argues that religion is not the reason for these differences in performance. Rather, religion was a “proxy” for ethnicity – while white working-class students and parents do not see the relevance for attending university, Asian families consider it as a way to achieve a better socio-economic situation.

A Question of Appearances: Obama Will Bypass Sikh Temple on Visit to India Question of Appearances: Obama Will Bypass Sikh Temple on Visit to India

Mr. Obama was expected to visit the Golden Temple in Amritsar, India, next month, but there were questions about how he would cover his head. Sikh tradition requires that men tie a piece of cloth on their heads before entering the spiritual center. The president, who is Christian, has fought the perception that he is Muslim. Sikhs are regularly mistaken for Muslims. A Pew Research center survey in August found that nearly one in five Americans say Mr. Obama is a Muslim.

“We have worked so hard to establish in America that Sikhs have a very different identity than Muslims,” said H. S. Phoolka, a prominent Sikh lawyer in New Delhi. “It is very unfortunate that even the White House is conveying the message that there is no difference between Muslims and Sikhs.”

India requests Sikh turbans be granted leniency in French identity card photos

The Indian government has requested that the French remove the rule that Sikh men must remove their turbans for identity photographs. According to minister of state for external affairs Preneet Kaur, India has taken up the issue of French authorities taking photographs as identity markers and conveyed that if Sikhs are photographed without turbans, it would create a faulty database. “The plea that we have taken is that the French government is taking photographs and fingerprints as identity markers. However, if Sikhs are photographed without turbans, then they are accumulating wrong records because normally, a Sikh will always wear a turban,” Kaur said.

So far, all attempts made by Sikhs to convince the French government have failed. The 4,000-strong Sikh community in France maintains that it needs a commitment in writing from the French government ensuring that Sikh children who have graduated from the French education system will be free to work in any government job with their turban.

Sikh will be first non-white in far-right BNP to fight Islamic extremism

An Indian-born Sikh pensioner is hoping to become the first non-white member of the far-right British National Party (BNP) because he wants to fight Islamic extremism. Rajinder Singh, 78, is joining the BNP — whose policies include stopping immigration — after the party voted Sunday to change its constitution to admit ethnic minorities for the first time, following a court ruling.

Singh said he had seen the “potential of Islam”, witnessing extensive violence after partition in 1947, and wanted to “save” Britain by working to prevent similar scenes here. “Islam is global, it has zero loyalty to Britain,” he said. The BNP are sons of soil and they are standing up for their soil. I wish we had a counterpart of the BNP in India in 1946.”

This is an exceptional case of the transfer of a conflict (Indian-Pakistani) to the situation of contemporary Islam in Britain, and of a representative of an ethnic minority joining a far-right party.