Top Omani cleric supports women candidates for Shura Council

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 02 May 2011 | Posted in , , , ,

By Muna Khan

Oman’s Grand Mufti Sheikh Ahmed Al Khalili
Oman’s Grand Mufti, Sheikh Ahmed Al Khalili, has supported women candidates for the upcoming Shura Council elections, according to local media reports.

The top Muslim cleric, who is 76, and has held the position since 1978, also urged voters to avoid voting on the basis of tribal allegiance. He urged them to avoid graft.

Polls are scheduled to take place in October.

“Candidates for this year’s Shura Council must refrain from offering bribes to get votes. It is against Islamic teaching and immoral,” Sheikh Al Khalili said, adding that he hoped voters would “look past tribal affiliations when they go to the polls,” a report in The National quoted him as saying.

“Vote for any candidate who you think can serve you best. Those who normally go for the members of their own tribes should stop doing so. It is an open vote and a privilege to all,” the Grand Mufti said.

In a rare political statement, he said women have the right to hold public office and men need to move past sexist attitudes and vote for women.

“It would be wrong for voters to think women cannot use good judgement in the running of our affairs,” said Sheikh Ahmed.

In 1992, Oman’s ruler Sultan Qaboos bin Said, now 71, created a council called the Majlis Al Shura, whose 84 members are elected by constituents in 61 districts. The council can advise on public matters but has no legislative powers. This year, 26 women have registered for the Council’s election and will compete against 500 men to get elected for a three-year term.

However, this is not the first time women are standing for elections: Two women have served on the council in 2002 and 2005 but there is no female member in the current term. Women say it is difficult to garner male votes as men tend to vote for one another.

“It is a timely argument by Sheikh Ahmed to plead our case. We are as good and as educated as men and we can serve everyone. Not to mention that only women understand women’s problems such as maternity leave, child raising, coping with divorces and widowhood,” Sharifa Al Hinai told The National. She is one of 11 women candidates vying for a seat from the capital, Muscat.

The Ministry of Interior, too, is supporting women’s candidacies, and urging men not to exclude them in their voting.

Apart from ensuring women’s equal participation in the electoral process, Oman has to contend with candidates bribing voters and people voting on the basis of tribal allegiance.

An Interior Ministry official, who asked not to be named, welcomed Sheikh Ahmed’s statement and also asked voters to look beyond gender and tribal links. “Offering bribes will disqualify the candidate this time and we are taking this very seriously,” the official said.

[Muna Khan of Al Arabiya can be reached at: muna.khan@mbc.net]

(Courtesy: Al Arabiya News)

Islamic banking ideal for economic growth: Expert

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in ,

Bhopal: The interest-free Islamic banking system will provide the ideal thrust to India's economic development, an expert said here Sunday.

Islamic banking, which propagates zero-interest lending, can solve not only farmers' crisis but will also fill the gap between the financially-excluded and financially-included classes in India, Irfan Shahid, an economist and expert on Islamic banking, told a seminar here Sunday (May 1, 2011).

The programme was organised by the Muslim Educational Social and Cultural Organisation and the Arabic Language and English Education Foundation.

"The Islamic banking industry, which is operating for the past 30 years in the Middle East, has gained popularity and curiosity around the globe during the financial crisis of 2008.

"Despite the financial turmoil that crippled so many large Western institutions, Islamic banks continued to grow in prominence and size. Right now, about 500 such institutions operating in 75 countries, including Britain, the US and China," Shahid said.

According to Shahid, the main objective of Islamic finance is to create a society of investors, unlike the conventional banking system, which has created a society of borrowers and lenders over the past hundreds of years.

"In the Islamic banking concept, the banks involve themselves in real-time trading or investment activities with their customers based on various contracts. It is for all religions, anyone can have an account in it and get the benefits," he said.

All the products that these banks offer are Sharia-compliant and a Sharia board decides or monitors what sort of investments the banks can make.

He added that Islamic banking in India will not only benefit the marginalised and the minorities in terms of microfinance, but can also attract major investments from the Gulf countries.

Kerala is the only state where Islamic banking has begun after the high court permitted it in February.

(Courtesy: IANS, May 1, 2011)

Islamic teaching along with contemporary education need of the hour: All India Milli Council

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | 01 May 2011 | Posted in , , , ,

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani

Bhuj (Gujarat): The Muslim Ummah is in a deep slumber. Without true Islamic teaching with contemporary education, the dream of all round progress would only prove to be a wild goose chase, said Maulana Dr.Yasinsahib Usmani, Vice Preident of All India Milli Council, New Delhi.

Taking a dig against the so-called vicious propoganda against Muslims in the country, he advocated youths to be torch bearer for coming generations.

All India Milli Council recently held a state convention ubder the banner of Nafrat Mitavo, Mulak Bachavo at Bhuj on 25th April .2011 at Tagore Hall.

After 63 years of independence, thousand of Muslims are still in jails without any valid reasons. Justice is being denied in the country particularly to Muslims. We, the Muslims have full rights on country's resources, Maulana Yasinsahib thundered.

AIMC Gujarat convenor Mufti Rizwan Tarapuri emphasised on the need to be vigilant against those who are trying to break the Ummah. He told well-attended convention Muslims are lagging behind at all fronts and confronting several chalenges. It is very essential to be united, he said.

Shia ulema Akhtar Rizwisahib, Maulana Khadim Lalopuri of North Gujarat, and senior Journalist Abdul Hafiz Lakhani also spoke in this convention.

[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

In the name of four-laning, massive felling of trees goes un-noticed along NHA1

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

By Bashir Assad

Srinagar: Srinagar-Jammu National Highway-the only surface road that connects Kashmir with the rest of the country, since recent past has become a huge deforestation industry as thousands of young trees are mercilessly being uprooted in the name of up gradation of the NH1 to a four-lane road under a centrally sponsored scheme.

The central government, it merits a mention, on February 26, 2009 approved the up gradation of the Jammu-Srinagar stretch of the National Highway into a four-lane road at a cost of Rs. 8,436 crore.

The Centre had approved this project to help in smooth traffic movement besides easing frequent traffic jams on the highway.

The state government immediately started preliminary work of the project, which included acquisition of land and forest clearance was also sought at the very initial stage earliest, which the department provided mindlessly without examining ecological impact.

The forest clearance, experts believe, was in clear violation of J&K, Forest Conservation Act 1997, J&K State and Wildlife Protection Act 2002 and the orders of Supreme Court.

Hundreds of young trees felled in highly fragile ecological zone along the Jammu-Srinagar national highway, is going on unabated and interestingly, the process of felling of trees has been taken up from Nashri to Banihal, the 40 km highway patch traditionally prone to landslides.

With the felling of more trees on the cards beyond this patch in the name of four-laning of the National Highway is likely to cause a great harm to the ecology and environment besides increasing the dangers of landslides making the Highway more dangerous for traffic.

Experts apprehend the condition of the highway worsening which usually witnesses a series of closures for weeks together due to frequent triggering of landslides in the Nashri and Panthel areas, will become more accident prone due to massive felling of trees undertaken in the name of up gradation of the highway.

During a recent visit on April 27, this correspondent found hundreds of axed trees converted into logs lying along the highway to be transported.

The area where the trees have been axed falls in the vicinity of Patnitop Development Authority (PDA), where such activity is banned. Dr M A Malik, chief executive officer, PDA, said his department had no role in the felling of these trees. “It is the prerogative of the state’s Forest Department to see which tree is to be axed or spared,” Malik maintained.

S K Raina, Divisional Forest Officer (DFO), Batote, said trees had been felled to convert the 300-km Jammu-Srinagar national highway into a four-lane road. There was a government sanction for axing these trees, he claimed.

Farooq Ahmad, range officer, Batote, also put forth the same reasons for the felling of trees. “For the sake of development, one has to sacrifice something,” he asserted.

Prof G M Butt, a geologist at Jammu University, however, opined that four-laning of the highway may cause more landslides.

Butt said since area came under the Digdole fault zone, it had a number of original and local cracks that passed through this region.

He apprehended that four-laning in the identified fault-area zone could increase an angle of repose, resulting into more landslides on the strategic highway.

Four laning of the highway has been divided into six phases, Qazigund-Banihal, Banihal-Ramban, Ramban-Nashri, Nashri-Chinani, Chanani-Uhdampur and Udhampur-Jammu. In all cases 80% of the land has been acquired so far.

Qazigund-Banhihal long tunnel would be constructed at a cost of Rs. 2400 cores. At Nashri-Chenani, a 8.75 km long tunnel would also be constructed at a cost of Rs. 2100 crore which on completion would reduce 60 Kms of travel distance. However, what is shocking is the fact that earth work has not been started at any place as yet while the work or massive felling of trees is going on at a very fast speed.

This merciless deforestation, observers believe, is somehow indicative of a nexus between the forest department and the contractors as both have developed vested interest in tree cutting along such a fragile ecological zone. Interestingly the Department of Wild Life has maintained a criminal silence which also raises doubts in minds of people who are really concerned about such a large scale tree felling.

[Bashir Assad is a senior Journalist based in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir. He is now Bureau Chief (J&K) of IndianMuslimObserver.com. He can be contacted at bashirassad@rediffmail.com]

OPINION: ‘Leaders’ & ‘Representatives’

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

By Wasim Ahmad

We probably mix up with these two terminologies. Many a times we use ‘LEADERS’ where actually we should have used ‘REPRESENTATIVES’. These are just two examples of our reckless use of words without much reflection. A leader, to me, is a mirror. He holds fast to the TRUTH which he has reached out to after years of hard work and (re)search. He holds that truth closest to his heart and dearer than anything else. He shows the same truth as a mirror to his people.

The people reject and ridicule the leaders for a while and after only due passage of time accept them. This is almost always the case. The leaders know their people very well and the times they live in. They have a very clear idea about what is happening and why. They are well aware of what is not happening and why not. And what needs to be done to change the situation and how. They do not exploit a situation as do the representatives.

Our leaders are those who take us from one stage to another and a tangible difference is recorded by history – unmistakably. They treat their people not as they are but as they can and should be. They remove a lot many cobwebs in the minds of their people and educate them. They give new meaning to the words. They awaken them from deep slumber instead of lulling them into sleep at the noontime. Despite all these favors they are hardly ever garlanded. And they do not worry about it either. They are more concerned about garlanding their people.

The leaders talk to their people in clear and understandable terms. They are never confused about their own ideas. They clearly stand for something. And that something is clearly known to all. They talk to their own people more than ever talking on their behalf to others. This is what marks the LEADERS from REPRESENTATIVES. A leader is a life-long leader whether anyone follows him or doesn’t. This is not the case with representatives. They certainly need someone to represent.

A ‘representative’ only represents. This is his job. This is his career. He does not lead. Because he has no clear idea of the path and the destination. There are many external factors which make him a REPRESETATIVE. But he considers himself a leader and the people, too, consider him a leader. It compounds the whole situation. And it is hardly realized. Generations come and go but the confusion between ‘leaders’ and ‘representatives’ persists.

If we decide not to mix up between ‘LEADERS’ and ‘REPRESENTATIVES’ and use these two terms quite judiciously it will make a difference. A simple change of description will take away the charm from ‘leadership’ and it might set a few things right. Let us resolve to be very careful in the use of words like these and try our best to regain the lost meanings – a precondition for changing the discourse and moving towards rebirth.

After having established educational institutions with a VISION where our job is (or should be) to ‘develop a coherent body of ideas and creatively reach out to the unknown with critical and scientific thinking in order to arrive at the whole picture’ we will not need one single leader to show the mirror. We will get plenty of them from our Institutions. If we aren’t getting them now it is because of an incorrect concept of knowledge and lack of the following clear VISION:

The students coming out of our Colleges and Universities should have Qur’an in the right hand, most modern scientific and technological advancements in the left hand and the crown of Laa Ilaah on the forehead. So that the Muslims regain the same glorious status of founders and promoters of science and technology as they did during the ascendance of their civilization.

[Wasim Ahmad is Department Head of Islamic Studies, Preston University, Ajman, UAE. He can be contacted at malikwasimahmad@gmail.com or +971505363235]

SOHRABUDDIN FAKE ENCOUNTER ISSUE: Former Gujarat Home Minister Amit Shah’s arrest likely soon

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

By Abdul Hafiz Lakhani   

Ahmedabad: The CBI on took over the case related to fake encounter of Tulsiram Prajapati — a key witness to the killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh and his wife Kausarbi — by re-registering FIR in its Mumbai office. CBI IG, P Kandaswamy, who is heading the investigation team, confirmed an FIR had been filed. He, however, declined to divulge more details.

Following this, Gujarat's former minister of state for home, Amit Shah, faces an imminent arrest.

"Shah is facing a case of triple murder as the CBI has always held that Tulsi Prajapati fake encounter is linked with Sohrabuddin fake encounter and is part of a larger conspiracy involving senior police officials and politicians of Gujarat and Rajasthan," a source in the agency said.

This is the second fake encounter case of Gujarat where the central agency has been roped in by the apex court. Previously, the Supreme Court had ordered a CBI probe in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case in which the agency had arrested Amit Shah.

In the chargesheet that the CBI filed in the special CBI court in Ahmedabad in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, it has held that Sohrabuddin, his wife Kauser Bi and his accomplice Tulsi Prajapati were kidnapped by a joint team of Gujarat and Rajasthan Police from Andhra Pradesh in November.

The Supreme Court, on April 8, had ordered that the probe into Prajapati’s killing be transfered to the CBI.

This was following the appeal filed by his mother, Narmada Bai, alleging that her son was killed in a fake encounter by the Gujarat police as he was a key eyewitness in the November 2005 killing of Sohrabuddin Sheikh.

Prajapati, a close aide of Sohrabuddin, an alleged gangster, was killed in an encounter near Chapri village in Banaskantha district on December 28, 2006

To the utter discomfort of Gujarat government, the CBI is all set to begin investigations in the controversial Tulsi Prajapati case and at least four arrests, including that of two senior politicians from Gujarat and Rajasthan, appear imminent.

Additional Superintendent Vinay Kumar will be the investigation officer (IO) in this case. This puts an end to speculations that like the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case. This case too would be investigated by DIG Amitabh Thakur.

Sources confirmed a fresh FIR in the Tulsi case is likely to be filed in the next 36 hours.

Vinay Kumar is based in Delhi and CBI is his parent cadre, which makes him the perfect choice as the investigation officer in this sensitive case, sources said.

To ensure continuity and competence in investigations, Thakur will be the supervising officer.

IG P Kandaswamy will be the overall authority.

Vinay, a media shy officer, is known for his patience and incisive interrogation and investigation skills. He played a crucial role in the 1997 Connaught Place fake encounter case where two innocent businessmen from Haryana were killed by trigger-happy cops who thought it would be their ticket to instant fame and promotions.

Earlier, the Gujarat police investigated the case and even arrested seven policemen including one IPS officer. However, the shoddy investigation resulted in a clean chit to the then home minister Amit Shah.

Recently, Justices P Sathasivam and B S Chauhan in the Supreme Court said Gujarat police probe into Prajapati fake encounter case did not inspire confidence and entrusted the case to the CBI. The CBI views the Tulsi case as a larger conspiracy of the Sohrab case. Amit Shah’s arrest is imminent in Tulsi case. He was arrested by CBI in the Sohrabuddin fake encounter case, but Shah is on a conditional bail right now. Besides Shah and Katara, arrest of a top level police officer and a businessman are on cards. The arrests would be made from Gujarat and Rajasthan, sources said.

Who was Tulsi Prajapati

Tulsi was an accomplice of Sohrabuddin with whom he ran an extortion racket in Gujarat and Rajasthan. He, however, was lured by Gujarat police and he helped them betray his friend. He traced out Sohrabuddin who along with wife Kauserbi were picked up by Gujarat police from a bus in Andhra Pradesh. Sohrab was killed. Kauserbi was sedated, raped, killed and then burnt. Tulsi was then arrested in a case and sent to Udaipur jail. Tulsi soon started doubting Gujarat police intentions and sent a letter to authorities stressing he feared an encounter by Gujarat police.

What the CBI will investigate

1. The truth of Tulsi encounter

2. Direct involvement and complicity in this crime of the then Gujarat home minister Amit Shah and the then Rajasthan home minister Gulabchand Kataria and their financial dealings, if any.

3. Establish that Tulsi encounter was a continuation or a part of the larger conspiracy that began with Sohrabuddin fake encounter.

4. The real officers involved in Tulsi encounter, besides those selectively arrested by Gujarat police.

5. Amit Shah and Gujarat government’s direct involvement in managing and instructing the police. The CBI has evidence of calls made by Shah to some top cops involved in the Tulsi encounter before and after the encounter. CBI will also probe as to why Gujarat’s encounter specialist D G Vanzara was transferred as DIG Border Range just days before Prajapati’s encounter?

Tulsi encounter chronology (Dec 2006 to April 2011)

  • On December 13, 2006, V L Solanki, investigating officer of CID (Crime), asked for permission to go to Rajasthan to record the statement of Tulsi Prajapati, the only witness in the Sohrabuddin case. Permission denied by his bosses.

  • D G Vanzara transferred as DIG Border Range (as the encounter site in Banaskantha falls in the same jurisdiction)

  • Tulsiram Prajapati addresses letter to the Udaipur court (where he has been arrested in a murder case), that on his way to depose in a firing case he will be killed in a fake encounter

  • Summons issued to Rajasthan police by the Ahmedabad police asking Tulsi to be present in court in the Navrangpura Popular case

  • On his way back to Rajasthan, just as Prajapati had feared, he was shot dead on December 28, 2006. The Gujarat police claimed in the train, his accomplices threw chilli powder in the eyes of the police escorts and fired on the police escort and Tulsi had escaped and the efficient Gujarat police traced him and gunned him down.

  • The FSL reports contradicted the police claims.

  • The CBI investigating the Sohrab case asked the SC to give them the Tulsi case which was protested by Gujarat government.

  • April 2011: Tulsi case passed on to CBI.
[Abdul Hafiz Lakhani is a senior Journalist based at Ahmedabad, Gujarat. He is associated with IndianMuslimObserver.com as Bureau Chief (Gujarat). He can be reached at lakhani63@yahoo.com or on his cell 09228746770]

Every 15 minutes, a Muslim couple gets divorced in Malaysia

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

By Joseph Kaos Jr

Kuala Lumpur: An otherwise mundane Dewan Negara question and answer session was lightened up during a query on divorce cases among Malaysian Muslims.

Datuk Fatimah Hamat was the first to raise eyebrows across the senate hall when revealing that in every 15 minutes a Muslim couple gets divorced in the country.

“These statistics are shocking,” said Fatimah.

“How effective are our premarriage courses in tackling the rise of divorce cases in the country? Perhaps, we could also organise marriage courses for couples married for 10 and 20 years to avoid divorces.”

Deputy Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Datuk Mashitah Ibrahim, however, begged to differ, claiming divorce cases were “not a bad thing”.

“We should not be shocked by the statistics. It is not a bad thing, it is halal,” said Mashitah, whose ministry portfolio is Islamic affairs.

“Divorce is actually the solution to a troubled marriage. It happens to all groups people, be it the educated, the uneducated and even professionals.”

She added as the duration of compulsory marriage courses were only two days, therefore the onus was left on the couples themselves to be responsible for their marriage life.

“Couples can equip themselves with so much knowledge, but it is still up to them how they use it,” said Mashitah.

In a supplementary question, Ahmad Hussin brought grins to senators in the hall when he said Facebook was a cause for the rising number of divorce cases.

“A man falls in love, marries, and has children. And then he logs onto Facebook and sees someone even prettier!” said Ahmad.

“This is a gross abuse of the Internet. The government needs to look seriously into this.

“Again, there is the matter of men divorcing via SMS, which I find harsh and feel sympathy for the woman,” said Ahmad.

Mashitah, however, said there were many causes of marriage break-ups and the issue of new media such as Facebook constitutes only a small number.

"Our studies show there are many causes, which include monetary problems, deteriorating sex life, bad tempered partner, irresponsibility and many more,” said Mashitah.

On divorce through SMS, Mashitah said a Fatwa had already been issued and divorce via SMS could only materialise if it satisfied the courts.

Earlier, Mashitah said Selangor recorded the highest number of divorces among all States in 2009, with 4,614 cases.

(Courtesy: The Malay Mail)

Political parties propagate divisive politics

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

By Bashir Assad

Srinagar: In its post-independence era India has at least been successful in managing its vast diversity in terms of socio-religious, ethnic and regional identities which is quite appreciable. Even today,  despite the all out efforts by the non-secular and chauvinist forces to sow germs of hatred among different sections of the  multi-religious, multi-lingual and  multi-ethnic Indian society , the very idea of India, somehow remains intact.

However, in case of Jammu and Kashmir which in its all manifestations is considered as minuscule of India, the idea of managing the diversities through reconciliation has been the first causality since long.   Instead of reconciling differences of varied entities, their markers of identity have been manipulated through all fair and foul means. Here not only were the differences among the people in terms of their faith and region amplified extraordinarily, complete polarization has been infused between the two regions – Jammu and Kashmir – to the extent that the very characteristic feature-tolerance and trust – which till recent past was the glory has been wittingly rather deliberately defeated. The political discourse in the state is shaping in a way that instead of fostering a strong working relationship based on mutual trust and tolerance between different religions and regions – all overt and covert efforts are being made to compartmentalise the society. Political parties, both having national and regional character, are nurturing a policy of sharp divide.  Even as this grand strategy has been unfolding steadily since 1947, but the process was further accelerated after 1989.  

Every individual or community has a legitimate claim on the equal distribution of the economic resources, welfare and development, and proper representation in the government. People no doubt have some really genuine concerns here or there on this count, but to crowd an actual issue of political longings and aspirations with these economic complaints and cultural nuances is sheer subversion. As of now the project of ‘assimilation’ in case of Jammu and Kashmir has been carried forward through exploitation of the given diversities in the society and by broadening differences within the different segments.

Surprisingly, the New Delhi-appointed Interlocutors on Jammu and Kashmir have also started their mission compartmentalization.    Irrespective of whether the governments in Srinagar and Delhi concede it or not, fact of the matter remains that today the polarization between various regions and sub-regions seems complete, with each group looking at the other as a contender and not as a friend or collaborator. Be it the continued friction between Srinagar and Jammu over the share in government jobs and educational institutions as well as access to the developmental funds, and other welfare schemes or even to which offices should function in which part of the state, the divide is openly visible everywhere. Ladakh too is up in arms and raises its pitch for Union Territory status every now and then.

Dogras of Jammu, Kashmiris of Kashmir and Buddhists of Ladakh have lived together for centuries in harmony. Different cultural and ethnic identities – Sunnis, Shias, Gujjars, Paharis, Kashmiris, non-Kashmiris, Pandits, Dogras and Buddhists – have thrived together. Obviously then if all these identities suddenly becomes hyper-active, the assertion seems to be unnatural and fabricated. The political parties here and there are, for their electoral fortunes, encourage the divide and New-Delhi is maintaining criminal silence over a tendency fraught with dangerous consequences for the whole nation.

Among the ruling class today, there is a tendency to portray Kashmiri-speaking Muslims as the only “rubble rousers”. In a bid to reduce the scope of the actual Kashmir problem, a concerted effort is being made to single out Kashmiri Muslim from among the rest. This reductionist mind-set has certainly done more damage to the state’s character than having helped in reaching any worthwhile goal.

History stands witness that short-cuts and strong-arm methods have always proved counter-productive while dealing with the peoples’ longings. The rationale has to be engaged with a rationale and idea with a counter-idea. The task for India in Jammu and Kashmir is cut out: either it has to generate a workable counter-ideology to the separatists’ movement or it has to find an accommodation for the ideology of independence. In today’s civilized world, coercive measures and distortion is not possible; any resort to these means is akin to scuttling the very idea of liberty, equality and peace and justice.

[Bashir Assad is a senior Journalist based in Srinagar, Jammu & Kashmir. He is now Bureau Chief (J&K) of IndianMuslimObserver.com. He can be contacted at bashirassad@rediffmail.com]

Bridging the Gap between British Christians and Muslims

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , , ,

Muslims and Christians in Britain are enthusiastically engaged in exciting interfaith projects, ranging from an imams-versus-clergy football match to academic discussions on the Qur’an and the Bible, says Musharraf Hussain.

Common Muslim-Christian Graveyard in UK
London: I was recently invited to deliver the Peter Bell Memorial Lecture in Leeds, in honour of a local interfaith champion, Dr. Peter Bell, who worked tirelessly to raise the profile of interfaith dialogue in that Yorkshire city. As a Methodist lay preacher, he was keen to foster better understanding between people of different faiths, and was a teacher and pioneer in the field of interfaith dialogue. I discussed 70 ways of enhancing interfaith work, surveying the myriad of approaches that are commonly used to promote interfaith efforts in schools, churches, mosques, prisons, government and even in wider society.

My hope is that by reading about these efforts, people will understand that amongst stories of segregation, isolation and Islamophobia, goodwill and understanding between Muslims and Christians here in the UK do indeed exist.

Interfaith initiatives are a powerful way to tackle misunderstandings prevalent in society, and promote understanding and tolerance. Some of the myths about Islam frequently presented in the media have now become entrenched in British psyche – so much so that if we do not address them now, we could have a dangerously polarised society on our hands in the near future.

Some of the widespread myths that Brits have about Muslims are that they kill “infidels”, are inherently violent, that all Muslim women wear the hijab (headscarf), and that Muslim men treat women as second class citizens. There are also serious rumours that British Muslims are not loyal to Britain and that they are the so-called “fifth column”, clandestinely working to undermine the UK political and social system for their own gain.

Such grave misunderstandings can only be removed by serious engagement, the kind that happens in interfaith gatherings and meetings.

Last week a member of my congregation informed me how his seven-year-old daughter was upset by her classmate who told her, “I hate you Muslims because you destroyed the World Trade Center.” This begs many questions: who taught this child these things? Why? What was the motive?

The Muslim community is a significant minority in the UK: three million strong and predicted by the Pew Forum to increase to 5.6 million by 2030, which at that time will be 10 percent of the UK’s population. Furthermore, it is a very young community; 60 per cent of British Muslims are under the age of 30.

Professor Hugh Goddard, Director of the Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal Centre for the Study of Islam in the Contemporary World at the University of Edinburgh, has rightly pointed out the problem with Christian-Muslim relations in the UK. According to Goddard, “The level of mutual understanding between these two communities... is often very low; indeed it could be said that mutual ignorance is far more widespread than mutual understanding.”

So, I want to encourage us to move forward, for Muslims to take steps to get to become familiar with their Christian neighbours, and for Christians in the UK to make an effort to understand Muslims’ cultural and religious backgrounds.

But on a very practical level, what can you do?

First, be prepared to get out of your comfort zone; interfaith work is really challenging and requires taking risks.

Then, there are several options to reach out to those of different faiths: you can read the scriptures of another faith and then share what you have read with people of your own faith; invite someone of another faith to your home; invite someone of another faith to your place of worship and give them an opportunity to observe your religious practices; make a charitable donation to a charity operated by people of a different faith; give a copy of your scriptures to a friend of another faith (but not with the intention of converting them).

Already, all around you, Muslims and Christians in Britain are enthusiastically engaged in exciting interfaith projects, ranging from an imams-versus-clergy football match to academic discussions on the Qur’an and the Bible, and from interfaith pilgrimages to preparing and hosting shared meals. Not all such activities are easy; indeed they require – as the Archbishop of Canterbury says – “strong and committed relationships”, and an openness to counter one’s resistance to new ideas and new people.

Ultimately, however, a multitude of interfaith activities bodes well for a cohesive, faithful and trusting British society.

[Musharraf Hussain is the former Co-Chair of the Christian-Muslim Forum in the UK. This article is part of a series on religious leaders speaking out about tolerance written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).]

(Courtesy: Middle East Online)

US sought information on Muslims in Ireland

Posted by Indian Muslim Observer | | Posted in , ,

By Patsy McGarry

A leaked cable from the US embassy in Ireland has revealed that Washington asked its diplomats to compile as dossier on Muslims in Dublin to assess the strength of extremist views.

The July 2006 “priority” cable, published by WikiLeaks yesterday, was sent by then US ambassador to Ireland James Kenny to then US secretary of state Condoleezza Rice as well as US embassies and consulates in Europe and the Middle East.

It was prepared in response to a request from Washington “to look at the role of Islamic thinkers across Europe”.

The cable said “one of the most pro-democracy and pro-USG [US government] policy Islamic voices in Ireland is that of the Shi’a Mosque leader, Irish/Iraqi/Saudi Arabian national Dr Ali Al Saleh and his . . . predominantly Iraqi congregation in the Dublin neighborhood known as ‘Milltown’ ”.

It stated: “Al Saleh and the Irish Shi’as attempt to provide the Irish public with a balanced view of USG efforts in Iraq, but unfortunately, lack the media savvy to effectively communicate the balanced picture of activities in Iraq and are overshadowed in the Islamic community by the majority Sunnis, who have historical and political connections to the GOI [government of Ireland].

“With assistance from Post [the US embassy in Dublin], however, Dr Al Saleh’s message is gradually being heard by an Irish audience, such as in a positive Op-Ed ghost-written for him in The Irish Times, the Irish newspaper of record, on the third anniversary of the U.S. led invasion of Iraq.”

The article appeared in this newspaper on Saturday, March 18th, 2006.

The cable described the European Council for Fatwa and Research, based at the Islamic Cultural Centre of Ireland in Dublin’s Clonskeagh, as “little more than a paper tiger” but that it was chaired by a “leading member of Muslim Brotherhood (MB), Shaykh [sic] Yusuf al-Qaradawi”.

From within the Muslim community “only a few voices calling for integration can be heard”. The loudest were “Shaheed Satardien, Allama Zille Umar Qadri and Mian Ghulam Bari and his son Mazhar Bari”.

Both Satardien and Qadri “told emboffs [embassy officials] that getting out a positive message on integration is difficult because the conservative Muslims, or as Satardien refers to the leaders at [the cultural centre] ICCI, the Wahhabis and Muslim Brotherhood, control Islam in Ireland”, it said.

It said Dr Satardien had “a talent for seizing the microphone”, that “Irish government sources describe him as a man who likes the sound of his own voice”, and that he had organised a peace conference in 2006 at which a US embassy official spoke.

Mazhar Bari, “a [TCD] college professor and local politician for the Progressive Democrats”, was, with his father, a leader of the Pakistani community in Ireland, it said, but that “the Black Pitts [sic] mosque, which they sponsor, is suspected of being a gathering place for some radical elements within the Pakistani community”.

The cable said the mosque on Dublin’s South Circular Road had “weaker ties to MB” but was viewed as an “extremist mosque”.

(Courtesy: IrishTimes.com)

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