Scotland: Scotland’s first Muslim Police Association is being created

Scotland’s first Muslim police association is being created, and is an attempt to encourage more Muslims to join and stay in the force. Strathclyde police hopes that the groups would also tackle the fear of Islamophobia and improve understanding of Islam. Amar Shakoor, Scotland’s first Muslim officer, said that the Muslim community had been the target of negative reactions as of late, and that he hopes the association would help put Islam in a more positive light. “We want to highlight some of the positive things Islam can provide to the communities and not just the police services,” he said. Strathclyde police has more than 7,000 officers, of which only 31 are Muslim. A significant hope of the initiative is that it will encourage young Scottish Muslims, who had previously not considered a career with the police, to seriously see the force as an option with upward mobility.

Understanding Muslim Identities: From Perceived Relative Exclusion to Inclusion

In an age dominated by discussion of counter-terrorism, an understanding of Muslim identities needs to be developed within the context of issues of inclusion and exclusion, and an acceptance of diversity of views and practices among Muslims…Social exclusion may be perceived to be absolute or relative by the individuals and communities concerned. The perceptions of exclusion could be at variance with the reality of exclusion […]

In an age dominated by discussion of counter-terrorism, an understanding of Muslim identities needs to be developed within the context of issues of inclusion and exclusion, and an acceptance of diversity of views and practices among Muslims. Drawing upon multiple definitions, particularly the one developed by Julian Le Grand, social exclusion could be defined as:

‘a condition where individuals or communities are geographically part of a society but feel that they cannot participate in the normal activities of citizens because, in their perception, a) conditions and institutions exist that actively limit or deny such participation, and b) where societal and/or governmental agencies portray them as ‘outsiders’.

Social exclusion may be perceived to be absolute or relative by the individuals and communities concerned. The perceptions of exclusion could be at variance with the reality of exclusion. Such a variance does not render the perception of being excluded meaningless: the feeling of being excluded remains significant as it contributes to how an individual and a community may relate to the wide society. Also,exclusion is not a unidirectional and uni-dimensional phenomenon. The ‘excluded’ minority are not immune to the phenomenon of excluding others: they may also relatively or absolutely exclude the majority or other members of the minority community.

The project team conducted qualitative interviews with 221 Muslims (111 males and 110 females). Of these, 99 are between 15 and 29 years of age. We also interviewed 108 non- Muslims (54 males and 54 females) to assess their views on Muslims in Australia. Primarily relying on ‘snowballing’, the respondents were selected from different ethnicities, age groups, economic background, professions and religious outlook, and educational backgrounds.

1. The interviews reveal a perception of relative exclusion among Muslims. The series of events since the terrorist attacks on the United States in September 2001 including the bombings in Bali (2002), Madrid (2004) and London (2005) have been the main contributors to this perception. The exclusion is apparent in increased incidents of harassment and the discourse on Australian values. Muslims feel that they can be both Muslim and Australian but perceive the wider community to be less accepting of this compatibility.

2. A large majority of Muslim respondents predominantly blame the media for its negative and sensational coverage of issues dealing with Islam and Muslims. But the Australian Government is also viewed as having contributed to the relative exclusion by design or inadvertently. The lack of knowledge about Islam held by non-Muslims, and the insular or negative attitudes adopted by some Muslims are also identified as factors contributing to the phenomenon of relative exclusion.

3. A mixed picture exists with respect to non-Muslim views on Muslims. With a very low level of knowledge about the religion of Islam, the respondents rely on a combination of sources to inform themselves of developments pertaining to Muslims. While they display scepticism of the information provided by the media, the media does shape their views on Islam and Muslims. Images of oppression of women as depicted through the wearing of hijab, and violence in Islam remain the main descriptors for a number of the respondents. However, these negative images coexist with either positive or nuanced views on Islam and Muslims. Hence not all of the respondents adopt exclusionary attitude towards Muslims in Australia.

4. The difference between the perception and the reality, however, does not alter the fact that Muslims are increasingly feeling relatively excluded. The sense of exclusion needs to be addressed as well as strategies devised that promote social inclusion of Muslims.

5. At the symbolic level, it is essential for the Australian Government, particularly its leaders, need to adopt a new language of communal harmony without ignoring the reality of countering militancy. This could be achieved by categorically stating that the Australian Government favours the notion of ‘Building a Safe Australia for All’ and that its participation in the War on Terror is not directed against Muslims. While a symbolic gesture, this could help reassures some Muslims that the federal and state governments are not contributing to their relative exclusion.

6. At the practical level, goal-oriented interaction among Muslims and non-Muslims needs to be supported and encouraged by federal, state and local governments.

7. In the process of devising strategies and engaging Muslims, it is important to take into account the diversity of views and practices among Muslims in Australia. Our research indicates that a variety of nodes of information are shaping the way Muslims understand and practice their religion. These range between orthodox ideas and related practices to modern/progressive interpretations of Islam and variants of these along the spectrum. While the process does include suggestions of de-territorialised Islam among some Muslims, cultural-specific ideas of Islam and Muslim practices continue to exist and be reaffirmed by many.

The spectrum of religious interpretations and their links with culture does not provide an adequate picture of social engagement by Muslims. It depends upon how texts are read and understood with the help of available nodes of religious knowledge on a continuous basis. The process is a dynamic one with individuals shifting along the spectrum and modifying their views on what it means to be a Muslim as their access to information changes or they feel the need to reassess their views on religion. In other words, while identifiable at a certain point in time, the frameworks used by Muslims do change as they come in contact with new information.

Within this continuously shifting context, some Muslims belonging to different ‘in-groups’ do adopt behaviour patterns that could be equated with excluding others (both Muslims and non-Muslims). Other Muslims continue to engage the wider community at different levels and in different spaces.

The strategies devised to promote social inclusion of Muslims need to be broad-based and engage representatives from communities who are feeling excluded and who do want to be included.

8. Research on experiences and views of Muslim men needs to be conducted. Our research indicates that the tendency to focus on subsets of Muslims (Muslim women, youth, Imams etc) ignores the interconnectedness of the lives of Muslims living in Australia. It particularly hides the sense of marginalisation and exclusion that educated (but unemployed or under-employed) men may experience. This, in turn, appears to shape the experiences and views of other members of their respective families. It also contributes to the oral understandings being transmitted by Muslims who feel excluded.

9. The perceptual context in which Muslims interact with other Australians is not completely negative. Nonetheless, the sense of Muslims being the ‘other’ has increased in recent years. The excessive emphasis on the War on Terror and Muslim extremism has created some fear among the wider society of Muslims. This fear contributes to mutual exclusion. This phenomenon needs to be addressed by enhancing an understanding of diversity of Islam. Education will play an important role in this process: our curriculum needs to reflect an acceptance of diversity within Australia. Exposure to these ideas at an early stage will contribute to harmony at a later stage. It carries the promise of new generations of Australians who share a vision of a country where they are all equal, accepted and included.

Muslims in Berlin, London, and Paris: Bridges and Gaps in Public Opinion

Gallup’s recent surveys of Muslims in London, Paris, and Berlin point to the need for greater understanding between Europe’s Muslim residents and the broader societies in which they live. But these surveys also offer plenty of evidence that the foundation for that understanding is already in place.

Muslims in Europe: Basis for Greater Understanding Already Exists (April 30, 2007)

Values Questions Set European Muslims Apart (April 27, 2007)

European Muslims Show No Conflict Between Religious and National Identities (April 26, 2007)

Executive Summary (PDF) 

Carnegie Corporation Contributes to Deeper Understanding of Islam

The Carnegie Corporation announced an initial $10 million investment to enrich the quality of America’s public dialogue on Muslim societies and Islam. The corporation’s comprehensive strategy focuses in increasing public knowledge about cultures and history of Islam and Muslim communities – both in the US and abroad, and public knowledge about diverse ways of thinking. These grants and allocations constitute the largest commitment by a US foundation toward the development and fostering of understanding among Americans about Muslim communities. There is a disconnection between many of our public conversations about Islam and our knowledge of it […]. We hope that our work will better equip Americans to make informed decisions about, and engage with, various Muslim communities in our midst as well as those abroad, said Carnegie Corporation President Vartan Gregorian.

Muslim student group kicks off week of awareness-raising events

The Muslim Student Association is hosting a weeklong event to increase students’ awareness about Islam. The week is in response to a chain e-mail vilifying Islam that Student Government President Nick Phelps forwarded to an SG listserv in January. The week, themed “Unity through Understanding,” is designed to give students the opportunity to ask questions about Islam and debunk stereotypes, said Fatimah Shalash, vice president of MSA. “People are afraid of the unknown or of what is different,” said Shalash, a family and consumer science senior. “Combined with anti-Muslim images and news found in the media, that creates feelings of fear or apprehension towards Muslims.” Shalash said the e-mail was a “step backward from the direction that the university was heading,” but many positive changes have resulted. “With the e-mail came overwhelming support and a new vigor to tackle the cultural divide that has climbed to the top of student leadership,” she said. MSA was established in 1971 and works to give the campus community a better understanding of Islam by lecturing in classrooms, promoting discussions about Islam, participating in volunteer activities and hosting other events, Shalash said. Rebecca Sweeney reports.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali seeks citizenship in France

Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the Somali-born former Dutch MP and outspoken critic of Islam, says that she is seeking French citizenship, citing security reasons. Ali, who has received numerous death threats, will not have her security paid for by the Dutch government. She has been living under police protection since the murder of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by an Islamic extremist in 2004. “I would be very honored and grateful if I were to become a French citizen, and the question of my protection could be resolved once and for all,” Ali said Sunday on France-2 television. She said she had chosen France because she received support from French intellectuals and expressions of understanding from French political leaders.

Federation of Murcia to instruct imams on correct version of Islam

The Islamic Federation wants everyone who receives instruction on preaching to better understand the contest in which he lives, and to correct possible misinterpretations of Islam. This is the objective set out from the Islamic Federation of the Murcia region, which comprises around twenty of the thirty officially registered mosques in the autonomous region. The intent of the federation is the ensure that those who speak in the mosque do so with a correct understanding of Islam and climate of integration that is needs for the community’s Muslims. To achieve this, courses for imams are being offered in the region. The federation’s secretary Abderrahim Nahid said that it’s important to understand that there are concepts that other countries can find normal, but it can not be used here because they can e misread. Nahid also emphasizes the necessity of understanding trans-national and cross-cultural context and awareness of religious practice.

Madrid Forum seeks Muslim-Western understanding

Spanish government and UN leaders plan to hold the first Alliance of Civilizations forum in mid-January. The conference, which will take place in Madrid, will foster dialogue on such topics like terrorism and cultural clashes. The alliance was created after the September 11th, 2001 attacks to foster an understanding between Islam and the West, and to address issues that continue to cause tensions. International delegates and leaders from Malaysia, Algeria, Turkey, Portugal, in addition to representatives from many organizations and universities plan to attend the conference.

Muslims of Europe Charter

Since early 2000, the Federation of Islamic Organisations in Europe (FIOE) debated the establishment of a charter for the Muslims of Europe, setting out the general principles for better understanding of Islam, and the bases for the integration of Muslims in society, in the context of citizenship.

The FIOE formed a committee to prepare the charter, which was discussed at the organisations leadership level. The charter was then presented to many European Islamic bodies at a seminar attended by their representatives and held in Brussels in January 2002. The project was then disseminated widely, to include the greatest possible number of Muslim organisations in order to add their comments and suggestions.

After amendments were approved, and duly incorporated, the final version of the charter was ready. It was signed by Muslim organisations from 28 European states; these are listed in the accompanying document.

Thereafter, signature of the charter will remain open to all organisations that decide to adopt it.

Introduction to the Charter:

Despite their diversity, Muslims of Europe share common values and principles. In order to portray this to European society they need to clearly express their religious convictions and the nature of their presence in Europe.

This charter aims to define a number of principles in accordance with the common understanding of Islam within the European context and to set thenceforth the foundations of greater positive interaction with society.

The rationale for such a charter includes:

The contribution of Islam to modern Europe as well as the rooted Islamic presence as represented by Muslims in many of the Eastern European states. Likewise, the establishment of Muslim communities in several Western European countries has witnessed a shift from a transitory presence of foreign migrants to a more permanent presence.

The Muslim presence in Europe requires a framework of citizenship based on justice, equality of rights, with respect for difference, and the recognition of Muslims as a European religious community.

In line with the expansion and development of the European Union, there is a need for greater co-operation among Muslims of Europe.

The need to enhance the values of mutual understanding, working for peace and the welfare of society, moderation and inter-cultural dialogue, removed from all inclinations of extremism and exclusion.

The importance of Islam in the world and its spiritual, human and civilisational potential requires a rapprochement with the West, and Europe in particular, in order to ensure justice and peace in the world.

These considerations have led European Muslim organisations to formulate this charter in the hope of enhancing the role of Muslims in benefiting European society and to help it build bridges with the rest of the Muslim world.

Articles of the Charter

Section one: on the understanding of Islam:

1. Our understanding of Islam is based on immutable, basic principles that are derived from the authentic sources of Islam: the Qur’an and the Prophetic traditions (Sunnah), within the framework of Muslim scholarly consensus and with consideration for the time factor as well as the specifics of the European reality.

2. The true spirit of Islam is based on moderation as extended from the Universal Objectives (Maqasid) of this religion. This moderation avoids both laxity and excessiveness and reconciles reason and divine guidance, taking into consideration the material and spiritual needs of man, with a balanced outlook on life which brings together the reality of the next life with constructive work in this world.

3. In its principles, rulings and values, Islam can be structured around the following three areas: the creed as expressed in the six pillars of faith – Belief in God, the Angels, the revealed books, the messengers, the Hereafter and Divine Decree; the Shari‘ah as expressed in acts of Worship and human interaction; and the Ethical code which lays down the foundations for living a good life. These three interconnected areas are complementary and aim to fulfil the Interests (Maslaha) of humanity and avert harm from it.

4. The emphasis on the human dimension, legislative flexibility and respect for diversity and natural differences among human beings are general characteristics of Islam.

5. Islam honours human beings. This honour embraces all the children of Adam, both male and female, without discrimination. By virtue of this honour, human beings are to be protected from anything that is an affront to their dignity, is harmful to their mental faculties, is damaging to their health or which abuses their rights by exploiting their vulnerabilities.

6. Islam gives particular emphasis to the social dimension and calls for compassion, mutual support, co-operation and brotherhood. These values apply particularly to the rights of parents, relatives and neighbours but also to the poor, the needy, the sick, the elderly and others, regardless of their race or creed.

7. Islam calls for equality between man and woman within the framework of human dignity and mutual respect and views that a balanced life is one in which the relationship between man and woman is harmonious and complementary. It unequivocally rejects all notions or actions that undermine women or deprive them of their legitimate rights, regardless of certain customs and habits of some Muslims. Islam rather confirms women’s indispensable role in society and strongly opposes the exploitation of women and their treatment as mere objects of desire.

8. Islam considers that a family based on the bonds of marriage between a man and a woman is the natural and necessary environment for the raising of future generations. The family is an indispensable condition for the happiness of the individual and stability of society. Thus, Islam emphasises the significance of taking all measures in order to reinforce the family and protect it from all things that will weaken or marginalise its role.

9. Islam respects human rights and calls for equality among all human beings; it rejects all forms of racial discrimination and calls for liberty. It condemns compulsion in religion and allows the individual freedom of conscience. However, Islam encourages that freedom should be exercised in accordance with moral values, such that it does not infringe upon the rights of others.

10. Islam calls for mutual acquaintance, dialogue and co-operation among people and nations so as to enhance stability and guarantee peace in the world. The term Jihad that occurs in Islamic texts means to exert all efforts towards good, starting from reforming oneself to spreading truth and justice between people. Jihad in its understanding as warfare is regarded as one of the means available to any sovereign state when it needs to defend itself against aggression. The teachings of Islam, in this respect, are in line with international law. Based on such an understanding of Jihad, Islam rejects violence and terrorism, supports just causes and affirms the right of all people to defend themselves by legitimate means.

11. Islam enjoins Muslims to be honest and to respect their pledges; forbidding treason and treachery. It also commands them to pursue excellence in dealings with other people, as well as with the rest of creation.

12. Given the virtues of consultation (Shura) and with consideration to human experience in the political, legislative and constitutional realms, Islam affirms the principles of democracy based on pluralism, freedom to choose one’s political institutions and peaceful alternation of power.

13. Islam urges human beings to use nature in a responsible manner. This requires the preservation of the environment and its protection from all causes of pollution and harm as well as from anything that may destroy the delicate balance of nature. Likewise, it requires the protection of natural resources and forbids cruelty to animals, over consumption and wastage of wealth.

Section two: the Muslim Presence in Society:

The principles of interaction among Muslims:

14. Despite their ethnic and cultural diversity and their affiliations to various schools of Islamic law and thought, Muslims of Europe constitute one religious entity within the framework of Islamic principles, united by fraternity. They are also tied with each other, in each European country, by their belonging to the same national entity. Any discrimination arising between them based on ethnic origin is against the value of Islam which emphasises unity.

15. Considering the basic principles of their religion and their common interests, Muslims of Europe are urged to come together, co-operate and co-ordinate the efforts of their different institutions and organisations. This should not fail to recognise the natural diversity that exists among them, within the framework of Islam as generally agreed by scholarly consensus.

16. In addition to their belonging to the country in which they reside and their commitment to the demands of citizenship, Muslims of Europe retain their links with fellow Muslims by virtue of the normal relationship which exists between members of the same community.

On Citizenship:

17. Muslims of Europe respect the laws of the land and the authorities that uphold them. This should not prevent them from individually or collectively defending their rights and expressing their opinions based on their specific concerns as a religious community or on any general matter that concerns them as citizens. Whenever there is a conflict with regard to certain laws and matters that are specific to religion, the relevant authorities should be approached in order to arrive at suitable and viable solutions.

18. Muslims of Europe adhere to the principle of neutrality of the state regarding religious affairs. This means dealing fairly with all religions and allows those who hold religious values to express their beliefs and practise the rites of their religion either as individuals or groups, in conformity with European and international human rights charters and treaties. Muslims have, therefore, the right, as religious communities, to establish mosques, religious, educational and welfare institutions, to practise their religion in day-to-day affairs such as diet, clothing and other needs.

19. As European citizens, Muslims of Europe consider it their duty to work for the common good of society. Their endeavour for the common good is as important as defending their rights. Finally, an authentic understanding of Islam requires of Muslims to be active and productive citizens who are useful to society.

20. Muslims of Europe are urged to integrate positively in their respective societies, on the basis of a harmonious balance between preservation of Muslim identity and the duties of citizenship. Any form of integration that fails to recognise the right of Muslims to preserve their Islamic personality and the right to perform their religious obligations does not serve the interests of Muslims nor the European societies to which they belong.

21. Muslims of Europe are encouraged to participate in the political process as active citizens. Real citizenship includes political engagement, from casting one’s vote to taking part in political institutions. This will be facilitated if these institutions open up to all members and sections of society, an opening up which takes into account competence and ideas.

22. Muslims of Europe emphasise their respect for pluralism and the religious and philosophical diversity of the multicultural societies they live in. They believe that Islam affirms the diversity and differences that exists between people and is not discomforted by this multicultural reality. Rather, Islam calls for members of society to appreciate and enrich one another through their differences.

Islam’s Contribution to Europe:

23. Through its universal and humane principles, Islam adheres to the rapprochement of all people who respect the rights of others and their particularities, who abide by the rules of fairness among people in matters of dealings and co-operation. Starting from these principles, Muslims of Europe consider it their duty to participate in strengthening relations between Europe and the Muslim World. This requires the removal of all the prejudices and negative images which stand between Islam and the West in order to build bonds of rapprochement between people and to establish bridges of fruitful exchanges among different civilizations.

24. Given its culturally rich heritage and emphasis on humanity, Islam, through its presence in Europe, can participate in enhancing important values in contemporary society such as justice, freedom, fraternity, equality and solidarity. Islam gives primacy to moral considerations as well as to scientific, technical and economic progress. This participation can be beneficial and enriching for the whole of society.

25. The Muslim presence in Europe represents a key element in establishing better communication and co-existence between the different religions and beliefs by encouraging discussion between different faiths and ideologies. This will no doubt bolster the path towards global peace.

26. Through their religious and cultural legacy as well as their presence in many European states, Muslims of Europe represent an enhancing element to the efforts of strengthening the European Union. With its diverse religious and cultural make up, Europe can act as an important civilisational signpost with a key role in maintaining international stability between influential world powers.

“O Mankind, indeed we created you from a male and female and have made you different nations and tribes so that you may get to know one another.” (Qur’an; Chapter 49: Verse 13)

Obama ignores attacks on his Muslim ties

CAIRO – A vicious campaign to scare Americans of White House hopeful Sen. Barak Obama by playing on his connections to the Muslim world might not be all bad news. “He understands that there are scurrilous attack e-mails going on underground that distort his religious affiliation and worse, but his judgment is that he trusts the American people more than that,” David Axelrod, a top Obama strategist, told the Washington Post on Nov. 29. “He genuinely believes…that people want to have a president that the world looks at and says, _I believe this guy has an understanding of us and how we fit together on the planet.'”