'Our meeting is the message': Pope Francis embraces senior imam

The Guardian World news: Islam - 9 hours 34 min ago

Meeting with Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb is first between leader of world’s Catholics and highest authority in Sunni Islam since 2000

Pope Francis has embraced the grand imam of Cairo’s al-Azhar mosque at the Vatican in a historic encounter both sides hope will lead to greater understanding and dialogue between the two faiths.

The meeting between the leader of the world’s Catholics and the highest authority in Sunni Islam marks the culmination of a significant improvement in relations between the two faiths since Francis took office in 2013.

Related: Islam and Christianity share 'idea of conquest', says Pope Francis

Related: The idealists of Lesbos: volunteers at the heart of the refugee crisis

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Gaza Despair, Israeli Culpability, Unfit to Print in The NY Times

Gaza made the front page of The New York Times recently, with an article highlighting the fears of residents who suspect Hamas of building tunnels under and near their homes. The topic was ready-made for the newspaper, fitting perfectly into the Israeli (and Times) spin on the besieged enclave.

According to the accepted narrative, the problems in Gaza are due to Hamas, and Israel is free from blame. Thus we find the tunnel story played prominently on the front page under the headline “As Hamas Tunnels Back Into Israel, Palestinians Are Afraid, Too.”

There is much cause for despair in Gaza—fishermen and farmers come under attack, drinking water is ever more scarce, patients are desperate for adequate medical care—but the Times has failed to highlight any of these issues, which are so clearly due to Israeli actions and policies.

The official Israeli line is that Hamas oppresses the residents under its control, and Israeli political leaders use this charge to help justify their airstrikes on Hamas sites and other actions, such as restrictions on the delivery of building materials to Gaza. The Times has been a willing partner in this effort.

So it is no surprise when the newspaper informs us that Hamas has rebuilt many of the tunnels it used during the assaults on Gaza in the summer of 2014, and this is causing anxiety for some Gaza residents who live near signs of underground construction work. They fear that Israel will bomb their neighborhoods to destroy the tunnels.

The story is just what the Israeli army press office ordered, and the Times willingly promotes this propaganda effort even as it shows little interest in even more urgent concerns that plague the residents of the strip. It had nothing to say, for instance, when Israel arrested 20 Gaza fishermen over less than a week this month and confiscated seven of their boats (here and here) even though they were fishing within the approved limit set by Israel.

Israeli harassment of the beleaguered fishermen has been a constant over the years: According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Israeli forces detained 71 fishermen and confiscated 22 fishing boats in 2015, firing on fishing boats at least 139 times, wounding 24 fishermen and damaging 16 boats. The attacks have continued without letup this year.

The Times, however, has almost totally ignored the subject. The paper took notice briefly last month, when Israel announced new rules allowing Gaza boats to sail farther out to sea, and the story most certainly made the grade because it was a chance to show Israel in a benevolent light. The Times has been silent on the issue ever since.

Farmers with land near the border fence also face frequent attacks by Israeli soldiers who fire live ammunition at workers tending their fields, and Israel has destroyed crops and farm buildings, spraying fields of spinach and peas with herbicides and leveling land with bulldozers.

The Times has failed to report these incursions as well, although the United Nations documents them in weekly reports, and other news sources routinely tell of the assaults.

According to the UN, as of May 16, the Israeli military had made 30 incursions into Gaza this year. Its forces entered the enclave at least 56 times during 2015. These mini invasions—which include tanks, bulldozers and live fire—are breaches of the truce agreement made to end hostilities in 2014, but the Times has not seen fit to report them.

Instead, the newspaper prefers to raise the alarm about possible attacks from Gaza via the tunnels, ignoring the relevant context: the frequent shootings and other assaults by Israeli forces and the nine-year blockade, which finds not a single mention in the tunnel article.

Israel blocks the entry of needed medical supplies into Gaza, denies doctors the right to upgrade their skills in foreign countries and prevents many patients from leaving the enclave to receive the treatment they need. It has destroyed electrical equipment, wells and water treatment plants, and the lack of potable water has reached such a critical stage that only some 5 percent of the water in Gaza is safe to drink.

The Times, however, has shown no interest in exploring these crucial issues. It follows a prescribed narrative in deflecting blame from Israel and demonizing Hamas. The tunnel story fit this bill and thus merited a prime placement on page 1 above the fold.

Barbara Erickson

Filed under: Gaza Despair Tagged: Gaza, Gaza Fishermen, media censorhsip, New York Times, Palestinian Center for Human Rights, United Nations, water crisis

Channel 4 Muslims documentary cleared after Islamophobia risk claims

The Guardian World news: Islam - 23 May, 2016 - 11:22

What British Muslims Really Think prompted 200 complaints saying it ‘risked increasing Islamophobia’ and used misleading information

Channel 4’s controversial documentary What British Muslims Really Think will not be investigated by media regulator Ofcom despite more than 200 complaints.

The hour-long programme presented by Trevor Phillips, a former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, promised to be a “rigorous survey of the views of British Muslims”.

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'No Muslims allowed': how nationalism is rising in Aung San Suu Kyi's Myanmar

The Guardian World news: Islam - 23 May, 2016 - 03:11

Concerns grow that Buddhist extremism may flourish unless country’s new democratic leaders counter discrimination against minorities

At the entrance to Thaungtan village there’s a brand new sign, bright yellow, and bearing a message: “No Muslims allowed to stay overnight. No Muslims allowed to rent houses. No marriage with Muslims.”

The post was erected in late March by Buddhist residents of the village in Myanmar’s lush Irrawaddy Delta region who signed, or were strong-armed into signing, a document asserting that they wanted to live separately.

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Cameron repeats criticism of Trump's 'dangerous' Muslim ban

The Guardian World news: Islam - 22 May, 2016 - 12:47

British PM says he stands by his claim that plan to ban Muslims from entering US is ‘divisive, stupid and wrong’

David Cameron has said Donald Trump’s call for a temporary ban on Muslims arriving in the US is “dangerous”, and he is not willing to withdraw his criticism of it.

The British prime minister said he was sticking to his earlier claim that the proposal was “divisive, stupid and wrong” but he would be happy to meet the presumptive Republican presidential candidate if he travelled to the UK before the US election.

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The Legacy of Malcolm X: Are You a Person of Haq?

altmuslim - 20 May, 2016 - 02:48
By Dr. Ali Naqvi “Will you continue to use it … ? [the name Malcom X]” – Reporter “I will continue to use it as long as the situation that produced it exists.” – Malcom X Hajj Malik El Shabazz broke into a large smile at the absurdity of the question; the African Americans in [Read More...]

Undercover: Some impressions

Indigo Jo Blogs - 19 May, 2016 - 21:40

A still of a Black man wearing dark-coloured jogging clothes with a flourescent yellow strip along the zipI couldn’t write a full review of Undercover, the six-part TV series about a police spy (Nick, played by Adrian Lester, right) who fell in love with and married the woman he was meant to be spying on (Maya, played by Sophie Okonedo, below left), as I tend to forget large chunks of the plot over the six weeks (or seven, as the final episode was delayed by a week), although others who watched the series and commented on it on Twitter couldn’t see the point of certain characters, for example, either. I watched it intently as a relative of mine had a minor role in it (as one of the cops in episodes 2 and 3) and believe that despite the strong acting, it had a weak plotline which fell to pieces in the final episode. It’s also problematic in how it handles issues of race.

The plot is based on the recent stories of undercover cops who formed relationships with activist women, who in at least one case bore the spy’s child. One of them turned out to be Bob Lambert, who later resurfaced as an academic and bridge-builder with the Muslim community until his past was exposed. Nick (a pseudonym borrowed from the identity of a dead child, something that has happened in real life) is sent undercover to infiltrate a Black civil rights protest group shortly after a man called Michael Antwi is beaten to death in a police cell. It appears that the police put him in a cell with a known racist who then killed him; however, it later transpires that in fact the police pulled him off and then killed him themselves. Nick encounters Maya, a young lawyer who is helping Antwi’s family, and forms a relationship with her. However, he falls in love with her and marries her, leaves the police behind and appears to start a new life as a writer (although strangely there is no evidence of him doing any writing, let alone publishing any). Years later, Maya is made Director of Public Prosecutions while also representing a man who is on Death Row for murdering the mayor of Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and he suffers a botched execution. However, Nick’s police colleagues reappear and ultimately he can no longer hide his past from his wife. It ultimately turns out that Michael Antwi was a drug ‘mule’ and in fact murdered the politician whom Maya’s client was convicted of killing.

So, here are my impressions:

(1) The murder of Michael Antwi reminded me of a number of other murders with obvious racial angles, in particular Zahid Mubarak, who was murdered in Feltham young offenders’ institution by a violent racist the prison staff had knowingly placed in his cell. Tnat part of the story also had parallels with the murder of Blair Peach at an anti-racism demo in Southall, west London. Zahid Mubarak had been locked up for committing a crime but was close to being released, and obviously had a right to be protected from violence that was entirely predictable and there have been suggestions that they were put in a cell together so that staff could watch the confrontation. However, in this drama it turns out that Antwi was a criminal and supposedly “deserved” to be murdered, and even Maya is supposed to just accept this (just after discovering that her husband was a police spy, no less). Frankly, to make a story out of two well-known stories of lethal racial injustice and turn it against the victim is at best cheap, and at worst racist. And I checked: the author (whose father was a cop who served in Northern Ireland) is white.

Picture of Maya Coppina (Sophie Okonedo), a light-skinned Black woman wearing a dark-coloured suit jacket with her hair tied behind her head in a bob, standing with her back to a front door on a London suburban street.(2) Like most people commenting on social media, the last episode was by far the weakest and included some downright ridiculous scenes. I was particularly unimpressed by Maya’s arguments at the Supreme Court, which consisted of very basic arguments against the death penalty (and lethal injection in particular) that you could get from any anti-death-penalty pamphlet. The American South is notorious for assigning inexperienced or downright incompetent lawyers to poor (and particularly Black) defendants in capital cases, and she struck me as precisely that type. We don’t see what arguments actually got Rudy off, except for the bit where he refused to name the real killer (a real court would have rejected his appeal in these circumstances). The assistance of Clive Stafford Smith, a real lawyer (also British) who has defended capital cases in the South is credited; where was he when these scenes were written? And it was curious, to say the least, that Maya was still able to travel to the USA to work on a capital case while she was DPP (or that she got that job despite having always been a defence barrister, or the fact that the authorities would have known about her past).

(3) A lot was left unexplained in that weak last episode. We see Dan, Nick and Maya’s learning disabled son, kindle a relationship with a white girl named Lola, whom he meets twice in a park and then invites back to his room for a “wrestle”. Nick tells Maya, in his farewell letter, that Lola is “not all she seems”, but we never learn what he means. We learn that Antwi in fact killed the mayor of Baton Rouge, but we do not learn why, or why Rudy had not named him sooner (given that he was dead) rather than spend 20 years on death row, or why the British police would have Antwi murdered in a police station rather than co-operate with the American authorities and have him extradited.

It rather looked like they were trying to leave a lot of ends loose for there to be a second series. Frankly, I think they shouldn’t always reprise drama serials for second or third series; much like film sequels, they don’t really live up to the original (Broadchurch was the worst recent example, but Happy Valley’s second series was not a patch on the first either). If a series is conceived as a self-contained story, why does it even need a second series? It is not like a sit-com where each episode is a story and you can always write more stories. This last episode seemed to use coincidences to quickly tie up the threads towards the end, and the connection is just not plausible. How likely is it that a lawyer had two cases that she dedicated much of her life to, and it turns out that one of her clients actually committed the murder the other was convicted of?

But my biggest complaint is that this drama isn’t true to life, and it’s untrue to life in a mean and reactionary way. Others have already noted that in real life, the police spies who formed relationships with women they were spying on disappeared and moved on to other police work, but it also takes real stories of racial injustice, uses them as a plot device and distorts them so that the victim in fact deserves his fate. Despite the fact that the drama contained multiple rounded Black characters (pretty rare in British TV drama), this story does not do justice to the issue of intimate police spying or of racial injustice and violence by the police. I don’t think it merits a second series on those grounds alone.

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Walking Without Seeing the Path

Muslim Matters - 19 May, 2016 - 20:33


I have often found myself at the crossroads. The greatest decisions I've made in my life have been at the fork of the road, often with two distinct goals. While one road is well paved,  some of my loftier goals have paths that are not well trodden.  More often than not,  I have been drawn to take the unclear path towards that loftier goal at the fork of the road. Although I can't always see the path, I know that the destination is worth the trials I faced getting there.   

As a researcher, I often look up multiple how to's and guides. I try to prepare emotionally and intellectually for the decisions I make.  Often, I am able to find general road maps.   If I can chart a certain course,  take so many steps left, then right, then bare north, I can get somewhere near that destination.  But I am reasonable, I know that I may not have the vessel to navigate some seas. I know that there are multiple destinations and numerous paths to find a sense of place.

When I co-founded MuslimARC with our original steering members, we had just an inkling of the mantle that we were taking on. Three years ago, I felt ill equipped, but knew that my community had tools that could get us there. I had little idea that it was much more challenging to find true travel companions, sometimes people would walk with us for a short distance, a few  would discourage us.  

Sometimes,  I walk when I don't see the path.  Is this the right way?  Is this the right thing to do? I have to constantly recalibrate. It reminds me of  that scene from  Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade “Only in the leap from the lion's head will he prove his worth.” So much can be said about Kierkegaard's Leap of faith. 

Sometimes my faith morphs into abstractions. What are the tangible benefits of my work? My heart becomes clouded with doubt. The doubts increase as I see certain negative aspects of myself, some  that I have long buried,  emerge. Am I going forward or backwards? Is this good for me? 

In some ways I have submitted to my path, but there are times faith in the decision I have made is shaken. Islam also distinguishes between belief and faith. The Qur'an says: 

The bedouins say, “We have believed.” Say, “You have not [yet] believed; but say [instead], 'We have submitted,' for faith has not yet entered your hearts. And if you obey Allah and His Messenger, He will not deprive you from your deeds of anything. Indeed, Allah is Forgiving and Merciful.” 

According to the prophetic tradition, there are three stages of faith: Islam (submission), iman (faith), and Ihsan (perfection).  For me, along this journey, I have walked with insecurity.  I have thought about the implications if I fail. What do I do? What is the right course? I submit, and take steps forward. I believe that what I am doing has deeper implications, that the impact will reverberate for Eternity. I think about my positive actions tipping the scales for my shortcomings. I think about redemption and hope to fill the void inside me with God's love. 

So much of my community work is spiritual, about purifying my soul through the process of continual self reflection. I see that my organizing work is a spiritual journey.  I still have a long way to go before Ihsan. I have much work even on iman. I may even go through the motions of my faith, the day to day as a mother as a wife, as an educator and writer often getting in the way of me truly connecting. I have to think about ways in which I can walk the path knowing my Creator is close to me and ever present. 

As many of the masters of Islamic mysticism have pointed out, there are always pitfalls in purifying the soul.  Our egos can easily take over and we can become pleased with ourselves in our higher level of consciousness and more disciplined actions, our self righteousness and self satisfaction then debases us and undermines that hard work. There are times when I go through the motion with the weakest of belief. Then there are times where faith kicks in and sparks a light on my journey. Maybe for brief moments to do I see the light at the end of the tunnel and I am in awe at how my Creator has eased the path for me. I keep walking to turn the corner and find that peace that comes with the perfection of faith.

Gay Muslims are essential in the global fight against Aids | Samra Habib

The Guardian World news: Islam - 19 May, 2016 - 15:41

An organization of Muslim countries has forbidden LGBT groups from the UN Aids conference. But our voices must be heard

Three days ago, I sat in a cafe in Brussels to interview a transgender Muslim woman named Raeesa. She’s from Mali. I was invited by a couple of Belgian not-for-profit organizations for an exhibition and to speak about my work, which consists of archiving the stories of queer Muslims around the world, many of whom are refugees who had to leave their native Muslim countries because their lives were in danger.

It is my goal to document the lives and stories of queer Muslims like myself because often, we’re told that our lives don’t matter because of who we are, and because many are subjected to daily violence, humiliation and erasure. Like Raeesa, many of us flee and seek asylum in countries that offer protection to LGBT refugees.

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