Anjem Choudary: the British extremist who backs the caliphate

The Guardian World news: Islam - 7 September, 2014 - 00:04
Anjem Choudary, the radical Muslim linked to many Britons who have fought in Syria, talks about stoning women, rejecting democracy and freedom, and why executions are OK

Anjem Choudary is well practised in the art of making contentious or provocative statements. An acolyte of the extremist cleric Omar Bakri Muhammed, who fled the UK for Lebanon, the 47-year-old former lawyer was a founding member of Al-Muhajiroun, which celebrated the 9/11 attacks, and was proscribed along with several other groups that Choudary has fronted, including Islam4UK.

So it's no surprise that when I spoke to him last week he dismissed all allegations of Islamic State (Isis) atrocities, defended the use of crucifixion, and acknowledged Isis leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as "the caliph of all Muslims and the prince of the believers".

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Isis will not be beaten by a kneejerk reaction from the west | Jane Kinnimont

The Guardian World news: Islam - 7 September, 2014 - 00:03
Military responses as a quick fix won't defeat the terrorists. Their ideology and influence need to be undermined

The Nato summit has ended with the strongest signal yet that the UK may join US airstrikes on Isis in Iraq. But airstrikes are only addressing the current symptoms of a much deeper political crisis. The US's limited drone and jet attacks have helped prevent Isis advancing north. But it has also been of critical importance that Isis have absolutely no support in the autonomous Kurdish region. They've been fought hard on the ground by the Kurdish peshmerga forces, which Britain has now agreed to arm.

However, the longer term struggle against Isis in Sunni-majority areas of Iraq and Syria will depend on much harder political work to address the roots of discontent in these areas. This would take into account the recent history of the "war on terror" in fomenting anti-western sentiment, as well as the systematic inequalities and exclusion that fuel sectarian conflict. Isis's viciousness makes it all too easy to portray the group as an evil force that has come out of the blue, which could be defeated by decisive western military action. But it is essential to remember the recent history of Iraq and Syria, and the west's involvement there, and to understand the factors that have enabled the group to expand from a few thousand extremists to a wealthy movement controlling swaths of territory.

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An Enviable Legacy…

Inayat's Corner - 6 September, 2014 - 12:20


For the first time in months I have a weekend off work and have been looking through some of my book collection for inspiration and to stave off boredom.

Back in 1985, the physicist Freeman Dyson was invited to Aberdeen University to deliver the Gifford Lectures. The Gifford Lectures had been established almost a hundred years previously in 1888 by the jurist Adam Lord Gifford.

Freeman Dyson’s lectures from 1985 were soon after compiled together and published under the title “Infinite In All Directions” and as the author states in the preface, they were his excuse to “talk about everything in the universe.”

At the beginning of the book, Dyson introduces the readers to this awesome passage from the Last Will and Testament of Adam Gifford (1887) in which he talks about who should be invited to deliver the Gifford Lectures:

“The Lecturers appointed shall be subjected to no test of any kind, and may be of any denomination whatever or of no denomination, of any religion or way of thinking, or as is sometimes said, they may be of no religion, or they may be so-called sceptics or agnostics or free-thinkers, provided only that they be reverent men, true thinkers, sincere lovers of and earnest inquirers after truth.”

Aside from the usual Victorian bias towards ‘men’, this is such a marvellous aspiration and legacy to have left behind in a Will. The Gifford Lectures website contains an archive of the lectures delivered going all the way back to 1888, with many of them being available to be read online for free in their entirety.

An enviable legacy indeed.

Ice buckets and cruelty

Indigo Jo Blogs - 6 September, 2014 - 10:14

 you waste clean water as a challenge in order to avoid raising money for charity?"I’m sure everyone has heard of the “ice-bucket challenge”, in which someone is filmed having a bucket of freezing water poured over their head in response to donations to a charity, usually one dedicated to Motor Neurone Disease, also known as Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis or, in the USA, Lou Gehrig’s Disease after a baseball player from the 1930s who died of it aged 37. Various complaints have been raised about it, including that it’s a waste of water (see image right), that many people aren’t donating at all or don’t really understand what it’s about, and that it’s already leading to bullying incidents or assaults. However, the silliest complaint, in my opinion, is that the major ALS charities fund research that uses experiments on animals.

I’ll be straight about this: I support experiments on animals, especially for developing medicines. The animal rights lobby has a number of facile and often baseless claims, such as that the same medicines have opposite effects on different families of mammals, that you can simulate effects on a particular organ (the kidney, if I remember rightly) by using a potato, and that animal experiments just don’t work. This simply isn’t true; all medications are tried on animals before they are tested on humans, and there are nowhere near enough people to test every medication ever developed on. They can only use healthy, young, male volunteers, and not every young, healthy man would or could volunteer. They can only do it once they are satisfied that the medication will not just kill them. (I have heard it suggested that we should test new medication on murderers and rapists; needless to say, there are not enough of these for this purpose either, and we cannot breed them like we breed rats. In addition, some people imprisoned for such offences are innocent.)

I have seen someone recently express similar sentiments about a particular drug being trialled for the treatment of ME. I have my own doubts about this treatment which is why I haven’t contributed to it, but the idea that laboratory rats or guinea pigs might suffer is not among them. The life-span of these animals, if allowed to run its course, is barely five years (less so for rats); there are people who have been suffering from severe ME for twenty years and counting, spending most of it lying in dark, quiet rooms in pain. ALS does not feature the extreme pain and isolation of severe ME but it is a killer, and it causes progressive muscle weakening and paralysis in the years leading up to death (usually from respiratory failure); people can spend years unable to walk, look after themselves, speak or swallow. True, technology and good care can enable the sufferer to communicate and perform some functions, but they will still be increasingly dependent and will still die.

There is a strong reason not to encourage this particular charity stunt, and it’s connected to human suffering: pouring water over someone is assault, and while obviously the challenge is meant to be voluntary, it has already been done to people without consent, as bullying or hate crime. In Liverpool, a group of thugs poured a bucket of water over the head of a homeless man in a wheelchair, who then had to sleep in the open in his wet clothes. (More recently, people have had fluids other than water poured over them as a ‘prank’.) When a trend gets to this point, it should be understood that the good humour has run its course and people should find other ways of raising money for this particular cause.

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The British women married to jihad

The Guardian World news: Islam - 6 September, 2014 - 07:59
Young men are not the only British recruits to Isis. News this week that Scottish student Aqsa Mahmood had joined the militants sparked outrage. But what made her, and others, decide to go?

A young woman cheerfully tweets two British friends, Im making pancakes, and theres Nutella, come up in a bit. Her friends tease each other in response: come b4 I finish dem mwhaha :p; oi you have my back dont snake it. Punctuated with emojis and slang, its hardly a sinister exchange, until it becomes clear that all three have joined the Islamic State (Isis) and are using their social media accounts to encourage other women to join them in Syria.

As alarm mounts about British men who have joined the militants, including the man thought to have murdered the journalists Steven Sotloff and James Foley, experts say much less attention is being paid to an explicit recruitment drive by Islamic State members at the behest of their leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, to lure women and girls to the cause. And that too little is being done to challenge online accounts such as the one above on the frontline of this propaganda war.

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Inside jobs and Israeli stooges: why is the Muslim world in thrall to conspiracy theories?

Mahdi Hassan - 5 September, 2014 - 12:29

The “We’ve been lied to” argument goes only so far. Scepticism may be evidence of a healthy and independent mindset; but conspiracism is a virus that feeds off insecurity and bitterness.

 GettyThere's a theory out there that the 2010 floods in Pakistan were caused by secret US military technology. . . Photo: Getty

Did you know that Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of Isis, was trained by Mossad and the CIA? Were you aware that his real name isn’t Ibrahim Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai but Simon Elliot? Or that he’s a Jewish actor who was recruited by the Israelis to play the part of the world’s most wanted terrorist?

If the messages in my email in-box and my Twitter timeline and on my Facebook page are anything to go by, plenty of Muslims are not only willing to believe this nonsensical drivel but are super-keen to share it with their friends. The bizarre claim that NSA documents released by Edward Snowden “prove” the US and Israel are behind al-Baghdadi’s actions has gone viral.

There’s only one problem. “It’s utter BS,” Glenn Greenwald, the investigative journalist who helped break the NSA story, told me. “Snowden never said anything like that and no [NSA] documents suggest it.” Snowden’s lawyer, Ben Wizner, has called the story a hoax.

But millions of Muslims across the globe have a soft spot for such hoaxes. Conspiracy theories are rife in both Muslim-majority countries and Muslim communities here in the west. The events of 9/11 and the subsequent “war on terror” unleashed a vast array of hoaxers, hucksters and fantasists from Birmingham to Beirut.

On a visit to Iraq in 2002, I met a senior Islamic cleric who told me that Jews, not Arabs, had been responsible for the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. He loudly repeated the Middle East’s most popular and pernicious 9/11 conspiracy theory: that 4,000 Jews didn’t turn up for work on 11 September 2001 because they had been forewarned about the attacks.

There is, of course, no evidence for this outlandish and offensive claim. The truth is that more than 200 Jews, including several Israeli citizens, were killed in the attacks on the twin towers. I guess they must have missed the memo from Mossad.

Yet the denialism persists. A Pew poll in 2011, a decade after 9/11, found that a majority of respondents in countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Lebanon refused to believe that the attacks were carried out by Arab members of al-Qaeda. “There is no Muslim public in which even 30 per cent accept that Arabs conducted the attacks,” the Pew researchers noted.

This blindness isn’t peculiar to the Arab world or the Middle East. Consider Pakistan, home to many of the world’s weirdest and wackiest conspiracy theories. Some Pakistanis say the schoolgirl Malala Yousafzai is a CIA agent. Others think that the heavy floods of 2010, which killed 2,000 Pakistanis, were caused by secret US military technology. And two out of three don’t believe Osama Bin Laden was killed by US navy Seals on Pakistani soil on 2 May 2011.

Consider also Nigeria, where there was a polio outbreak in 2003 after local people boycotted the vaccine, claiming it was a western plot to infect Muslims with HIV. Then there is Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim-majority country, where leading politicians and journalists blamed the 2002 Bali bombings on US agents.

Why are so many of my fellow Muslims so gullible and so quick to believe bonkers conspiracy theories? How have the pedlars of paranoia amassed such influence within Muslim communities?

First, we should be fair: it’s worth noting that Muslim-majority nations have been on the receiving end of various actual conspiracies. France and Britain did secretly conspire to carve up the Middle East between them with the Sykes-Picot Agreement of 1916. They also conspired to attack Egypt, with Israel’s help, and thereby provoked the Suez crisis of 1956. Oh, and it turned out there weren’t any WMDs in Iraq in 2003 despite what the dossiers claimed.

I once asked the Pakistani politician Imran Khan why his fellow citizens were so keen on conspiracy theories. “They’re lied to all the time by their leaders,” he replied. “If a society is used to listening to lies all the time . . . everything becomes a conspiracy.”

The “We’ve been lied to” argument goes only so far. Scepticism may be evidence of a healthy and independent mindset; but conspiracism is a virus that feeds off insecurity and bitterness. As the former Pakistani diplomat Husain Haqqani has admitted, “the contemporary Muslim fascination for conspiracy theories” is a convenient way of “explaining the powerlessness of a community that was at one time the world’s economic, scientific, political and military leader”.

Nor is this about ignorance or illiteracy. Those who promulgate a paranoid, conspiratorial world-view within Muslim communities include the highly educated and highly qualified, the rulers as well as the ruled. A recent conspiracy theory blaming the rise of Islamic State on the US government, based on fabricated quotes from Hillary Clinton’s new memoir, was publicly endorsed by Lebanon’s foreign minister and Egypt’s culture minister.

Where will it end? When will credulous Muslims stop leaning on the conspiracy crutch? We blame sinister outside powers for all our problems – extremism, despotism, corruption and the rest – and paint ourselves as helpless victims rather than indepen­dent agents. After all, why take responsibility for our actions when it’s far easier to point the finger at the CIA/Mossad/the Jews/the Hindus/fill-in-your-villain-of-choice?

As the Egyptian intellectual Abd al-Munim Said once observed, “The biggest problem with conspiracy theories is that they keep us not only from the truth, but also from confronting our faults and problems.” They also make us look like loons. Can we give it a rest, please? 

Mehdi Hasan is an New Statesman contributing writer, and works for al-Jazeera English and the Huffington Post UK where this column is crossposted

Foundations of Our Discourse

Muslim Matters - 5 September, 2014 - 05:00

It was back in my school days of 1995 when our tutor, Mrs Hussain, asked the class why Muslims fast in the month of Ramadan. Both Muslim and non-Muslim students provided the standard textbook answers: “because it helps Muslims to become better human beings”, “it teaches Muslims self-discipline”, “have some appreciation for the hunger of the poor” and so on.To our confusion, Mrs Hussain explained that these were not (primarily) the correct answers. The correct answer, she taught us, is because God, who Muslims believe is the Creator and whom they worship, commanded and prescribed upon them the obligation of fasting. This is the foremost and primary reason why Muslims must fast in the month of Ramadan. All other reasons, explanations and rationalisations are secondary and derivative answers to this. I do not know whether all the students understood the precise lesson she was trying to inculcate in our minds. Nonetheless, it was a profound lesson which I have never forgotten and I try to employ this to the best of my ability when dealing with such questions.

Mrs Hussain taught us that for a believer in a transcendent, omnipotent and all Powerful God, our criterion and yardstick for judging issues in this world is not our finite and deficient mind and logic which are prone to making mistakes and is ever changing due to changing eras, places and even scientific and technological advancements. Rather, our criterion is the One who is infinite, all wise, and complete without any flaws, God All-Mighty.

There can be no doubt that the highest moral and spiritual goal of Islam is monotheism. And as Muslims, it is our firm belief that God Almighty should be worshipped and obeyed exclusively, and that this is the fundamental aspiration of the entire Universe. This is because God created human beings with the sole purpose of recognising His unity and worshipping Him exclusively.

“And I (God) did not create jinn and mankind except to worship Me.” [51:56]

Part of the Islamic creed is to believe that God, the Mighty and Majestic, the Creator, the Sustainer, the Owner of all things, the Controller of all affairs – by right – deserves to be obeyed and worshipped (in other words, we should obey His commands, avoid His prohibitions and strive to please Him). Nobody can ever share with Him this right. It is for this reason that as Muslims, when a command or a prohibition from God or His Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is presented to us, “we hear and we obey.”

Note that this simple point of monotheism as a 'reason' is sufficient. No other logical or empirical justification is required to validate any Islamic injunctions which are definitive, absolute and bound by scripture (tawqifi). Once we change our mindset to this, naturally we will refer to God's Book – the Qur'an – and His Messenger ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) when seeking the pleasure of God and searching for that which is 'right'. Common claims of 'outdated', 'oppressive' and 'reform' become irrelevant as this is no longer the focus.

Yet also, a fact which cannot be ignored is that God both wants the best for His creation and knows precisely what's best for it. Along with this is the quality of God that everything He does always has a divine and good purpose behind it. Nothing He does is ever arbitrary or in vain.

“Does not the One who created know? And he is the Subtle, the Acquainted.”  [67:16]

“And God has created the heavens and the earth by right/with truth.” [45:22]

The necessary result of this is that every ruling in the Shari'ah has reasons and benefits, primary spiritual, behind its establishment. This is known as Maqasid (Higher intents of the law). Often (and perhaps always) there are complementary physical and worldly Maqasid (Higher intents of the Law) to be found in a given Islamic ruling. Some benefits we may be able to access while others we may never perceive. However, the crucial point is that God Almighty is completely aware of every benefit, incomparably more knowing than we are of what is good for us.

“But perhaps you hate a thing and it is good for you; and perhaps you love a thing and it is bad for you. And God Knows, while you know not.” [2:216]

One of the areas of study I have been personally concerned with both in theory (academically) and practicality is domestic abuse – and by extension other related topics such as the role of women in Islam and how to understand and approach gender specific texts within the sources of divine Law (Shari'ah). What is clear to me is that there is a concerted attack and effort from certain non-Muslim intellectuals and certain Muslim 'feminists' to deconstruct immutable principles within various aspects of Islam. Some argue that the Qur'an is a historical text and that we must rationalise everything and give the mind more precedence over the divine texts – that it was liberating at the specific time of revelation but now is outdated and outmoded – thus demarcating the divine and universal message contained therein for all time and places. If Muslim 'feminists' pervade this line of thinking and approach to divine texts, the inevitable question to pose is why did God reveal books in the first place? Why did He send Messengers to convey the message? Our mind needs divine regulations (because God is the only objective anchor through which we know what is right and wrong) for it to succeed and strike a balance and equilibrium between the requirements of this life and the necessities of the next world. Without it, there is chaos and invariable imbalance in the affairs of life.

We live in a world where, for many, everything is relative and subjective – there are no Truths. What was Haram (unlawful) 20 years ago is lawful in our present time. What we considered repugnant and shameful a few decades ago is now viewed to be acceptable and even a 'logical' lifestyle. Even now, what one country deems permissible, others consider it barbaric and impermissible, and so on and so forth. In this age of intellectual relativism, everything goes, as they say, as long as we can do it. There are no transcendent and objective standards by which we measure things and no absolute truths. Therefore when we, as believers, discuss 'religion' and religious principles, we need to predicate our thoughts and principles from the Qur'an and the authentic Sunnah, and not on subjective human, liberal and secular paradigms.

Recently I was invited to a TV discussion on this topic. It was a vibrant and healthy discussion on some of the topics covered. However, the impression that I was left with, created by some comments and approaches of some of the panellists, highlighted some of the sentiments I have alluded to above. The Question of hijab and other related issues were entertained. When it came to fiqh and many detailed rulings and approaches, there seemed to be a consensus in the room. I probably shocked some, as the only male panellist who looked like a traditional 'mullah' wearing my traditional 'Muslim' attire, agreeing to much of what was said! However, I believe some of the comments and approaches used were very dangerous and concerning. It seemed to me that the standard or the basis of some of the discussion that took place (which is somewhat a norm amongst some) for some was not the Qur'an and authentic Sunnah and the notion of an objective criterion that is present in the belief of God, but the criterion was something else entirely.

I am not entirely certain what it was. Some, from listening to the discussions, could deduce it was a secular, liberal mindset. Nonetheless, I did try to communicate some of the aforementioned points when Islam and feminism was discussed, which was that we need to understand how feminism emerged in some of our Western societies. When it came to 'equality', there seemed to be always a comparison with men. In other words, achievements of women appeared to be measured or valued on how much they attain in life in relation to the achievements of men in the society! So for example, when a man ascends and climbs Mount Everest, women cannot be considered 'equal' to men unless a woman also conquers Everest. Therefore, the measurement of women's success is connected to men. Regardless of the simplicity of the analogy, perhaps this notion renders the entire idea of feminism defunct? A woman's value and worth should not be judged by such a restrictive and limited scope.

In Islam, men and women are equal in the sight of God in relation to reward and attainment. With regards to worldly existence, there is equity and fairness. Equality denotes sameness, whereas equity denotes fairness and justice. This is due to the fact that men and women are different physiologically, psychologically and biologically. Women are a distinct and unique creation of God which Islam recognises and caters for. However, it must be stressed that differences do not imply superiority or inferiority of one over the other. Differences here are complementary and a harmonising and balancing factor – you cannot have Yin without Yang.

However, the more pertinent point and the crux of this entire blog post is that our servitude to God is not dependent on our level of understanding of its benefits per se, nor is it proportional to it. Rather, it depends on our level of faith and conviction in God (encompassing love, fear, hope and trust), and the strongest level of faith is to obey God. The conclusion is that monotheism plays (or should play) a significantly larger role than Maqasid, certainly when it concerns what the scholars term 'ibadat (direct worship), for which the default ruling is compliance.

Returning to the earlier point, when we discuss the issues of inheritance or the Hijab, for example, our discourse should be intellectually predicated upon the Qur'an and Sunnah. We may look at the wisdoms and try to rationalise certain injunctions – which our scholars have done for centuries. However, recourse to that fundamental maxim needs to be made always. If, for instance, we discuss the topic of Hijab, at the very outset, if we articulate that it is about modesty, that it prevents men from looking at what they are forbidden from, that it reduces excessive and unnecessary attractiveness and so on – we subsequently dig a big hole for ourselves and are left with a conundrum. Among some communities, men may find women in the Hijab more attractive and I have personally heard non-Muslims say this in person and in writing as well. If these rationalisations are our primary tools, we are left with an intellectual puzzle and dilemma. Our main focus when discussing with people of no faith or communities who may not appreciate and understand the Qur'an's ethical premise on these issues should be tawheed and the belief in God, the One who prescribes these laws because He knows what is best for us. If a person does not believe in God, their worldview and outlook to these issues will invariably be confusing and there will be apprehension towards them. In most cases, there is no benefit in discussing these things without discussing and explaining the intellectual foundations of the discussions.

I do not wish people to misunderstand me. I am not proposing that we should be dogmatic and blind in the way we approach religious issues. Islam does not encourage that. However, there are immutable or definitive [thawabit/qati'yat] and mutable or speculative (mutaghyyirat or zanniyat) elements in fiqh and Islam which must be considered. The absolutely clear and fundamentals cannot be interpreted or rejected. Yes, I agree that most of fiqh is based on ijtihad. But like a house where there are so many walls, bricks, roofs, windows and whatnot that make up the house, even if the decorations within the house are changed, the house itself will still be intact. However, if the pillars and foundations are taken out, the house will cease to exist. Scholars have been carrying out ijtihad and tajdid (revivalism), which Islam endorses due to its flexible nature that should cater for and meet the requirements of all people, time and places -this is acceptable and religiously mandated. It will not, however, accept a complete deconstruction of the Principles or pillars of Islam.

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Muslim victims of domestic violence 'risk alienation if services cut'

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 September, 2014 - 22:15

Domestic violence services built on feminist principles unable to cater to needs of community, say Muslim Womens Association

The Muslim Womens Association (MWA) has warned Muslim victims of domestic violence risk being alienated if funding to the only service designed specifically for them is cut, with domestic violence services built on specific feminist principles unable to appropriately cater for them.

MWAs funding could be cut at the end of October under the New South Wales governments changed rules to funding for homeless and domestic violence services. It has been the only Muslim-specific service in NSW for 25 years and many families may no longer be supported, said a submission to the federal governments inquiry into domestic violence.

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Two mosques attacked in Germany’s Lower Saxony

Loon Watch - 4 September, 2014 - 20:58


via. Islamophobia-Watch

Two Turkish mosques in Germany’s Lower Saxony state has come under attack by unknown assailants.

The molotov cocktail attack on the Haci Bayram mosque in Oldenburg over the weekend was an attempt of arson, police said.

German authorities have begun an investigation into the attack on the mosque, which is bound to the Turkish Religious Affairs department and serves as an official Turkish diplomatic mission for Turkish citizens abroad.

No one was injured in the attack, which was said to be politically motivated, and only minimal damage was reported.

Another attack on a Turkish mosque, again bound to the Turkish Religious Affairs department, took place in the city of Mölln. This was the second attack on the mosque in two weeks.

There have been five attacks in mosques around Germany in the past 30 days, four of which involved attempts of arson.

World Bulletin, 4 September 2014

Die Welt reports that the incident in Mölln involved someone urinating in the mosque stairwell. Last month a bag of rotting meat was thrown at the door of the building. A solidarity rally will be held in Mölln on Saturday, with state president Klaus Schlie and Turkish consul general Fatih Ak among the speakers.

Hate Group Leader Robert Spencer and JihadWatch Zombies Harass Muslim Academic, Anne Aly

Loon Watch - 4 September, 2014 - 20:53


What else can be said about how despicable and gutter the disgraced blogger Robert Spencer is that hasn’t already been said?

As he continues to dwindle into irrelevance and insignificance he continues his worn-out tactic of trying to gain notoriety by attacking dignified academics, who unlike him, are well versed in Islam.

Muslim academic draws hate fire

As a proud and outspoken Muslim, Anne Aly has also become a target for anti-Islamic hate groups.

The Curtin University lecturer – who chooses not to wear a hijab and denounces Muslim extremists – has been bombarded with hate mail after a recent interview in which she defended Islam as a religion of peace.

Her quotes were republished on a right-wing website called Jihad Watch, along with her work email address.

“I was just really speaking out against some of the false assumptions about my religion,” Dr Aly said. “But what they (the hate groups) really want is for me to denounce my religion.

“By saying that Islam is not about terrorism and Islam is not about beheadings or female genital mutilation, they can’t cope with that because it shatters the basis for their arguments.”

Dr Aly said some of the messages she had received had been unnerving, while others had sought to “educate” her about her own religion.

“It is upsetting and, yeah, it is worrying, but in some ways I get where they are coming from because a lot of these people just assume what they see on the news is typical of all Muslims,” she said.

Linda Sarsour, Civil Rights Activist Attacked, Threatened with Beheading in Brooklyn

Loon Watch - 4 September, 2014 - 20:25


By Thomas Tracy, Joseph Stepansky  (New York Daily News)

An Arab civil rights activist was attacked in Brooklyn Wednesday by a man who hurled slurs and threatened to behead her to “see how your people feel about it,” authorities and the victim said.

Linda Sarsour, 34, director of the Arab American Association of New York, was leaving the group’s headquarters on Fifth Ave. in Bay Ridge at 12:20 p.m. when Brian Boshell, 45, allegedly threatened her, called her an “Arab b—-” and insulted her in Arabic. Boshell, who is white, then allegedly chucked a trash can at her and a woman walking with her, Sarsour said.

Neither woman was injured.

“It was out of nowhere, like he had taken a shot of Red Bull,” said the Palestinian American Sarsour.

The 24-year-old revealed her 'traumatic experience' on Facebook. Linda Sarsour via Facebook

She said she had called the police reporting Boshell as a suspicious person before the attack, but officers didn’t respond until afterward. Sarsour vented her anger at the allegedly slow response on her Facebook page.

Boshell was charged with menacing and aggravated harassment as a hate crime and criminal possession of weapon.

Jihads fatal attraction | Scott Atran

The Guardian World news: Islam - 4 September, 2014 - 18:37
The challenge for democracies is to provide an alternative means of satisfying the quest for glory that motivates those who join in Isiss barbarism

In a speech on Wednesday, President Obama said: Whatever these murderers think they will achieve by murdering innocents like Steven [Sotloff], they have already failed.

Not so, says the evidence. Publicity, Islamic State (Isis) knows, is the oxygen of terrorism. And publicity it has received in spades with the beheadings of two American journalists. So an organisation that hardly anyone knew existed only a few months ago is now the worlds, and particularly the wests, premier political and public concern, eclipsing Irans nuclear programme and Russias actions in Ukraine.

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Why I Don’t Need a Makeup Tutorial to Teach Me How to Wear a Hijab

Muslim Matters - 4 September, 2014 - 05:00

This was original posted on Under a Blue Tree

By Maryam S.

When I first started wearing hijab, my mother would pin it for me every day—a square scarf that she'd fold into a triangle, pin under my chin, and whose ends I would then tie into a little knot on my chest. I'd go to school (where my sister and I were the only girls in hijab) like that, thinking that I looked pretty good, especially if I was wearing a particular blue silky scarf that made 5th-grade me feel glamorous. There were other aspects of my wardrobe that I wished I could change at 10 years old (namely the many denim shirts with flower decals that my mother loved buying me so much)—but I can't recall feeling inferior to anyone because of my hijab style (or lack thereof, really) at that point in my life.

Fast forward 15 years. My fashion sense has developed considerably, and my hijab has gone through various style-phases, but it's still there on my head, though it's now more often secured with 3 pins instead of 1. But when I see images and videos of hijabis who teach others online how to wear this piece of cloth, now I feel somewhat inadequate. I had never considered that not being amongst many others who wore hijab during my youth could have had its benefits. But perhaps it allowed me to define for myself what my hijab should look like. I wonder how my formative pre-teen and teen years, as well as my concept of hijab, would have been different had I had access to hijab and makeup tutorials when I first started out—or, more importantly, had there been girls around me who followed them. I was content with my cotton scarves and bubble gum lip balm. But if I was 10 years old today, I think I'd be draping necklaces on my head and yearning for red lips.

I had the opportunity to grow into my hijab, to have it contribute to my own personal style and sense of individuality—and I believe that that is a right that every woman has. The requirements of hijab are a foundation around which women of different cultures, ages, and circumstances can work. As long as everything that needs to be covered is properly covered, one cannot call another woman's hijab incorrect simply because it is different from her own.

But there is a key difference between shaping my hijab around the standards laid out in the Islamic tradition and styling my hijab around the standards laid out by society. The desire to conform is something real and it's something that I fight against almost on a daily basis. What I was shocked to experience was feeling the need to continue that internal fight while around other Muslim women. I think the woman in a flowy tunic with white skinny jeans and stiletto heels looks beautiful, and the woman with red lipstick against a black hijab is striking, but I know that certain elements of their style are not ones that I can mimic with a clear conscience. And so the battle against myself and the beauty norms that I see around me, but that I choose not to adopt in an effort to please God, has permeated even my safe space.

I recently came across a video tutorial on “hijabi makeup”—how to dress up your face in order to make it stand out from the background of your hijab. There are tutorials on how to style your hijab with matching makeup for holiday celebrations, tutorials on “everyday makeup” for hijabis as though we can't step outside without properly pink cheeks, ones for hijabis with blue eyes vs. brown eyes. The conversation still exists on the oxymoron of hijab with makeup, but each Islamic conference that I attend shows me that the norm is swiftly moving away from clean faces.

The fact that mainstream messages regarding women's beauty standards have permeated into Muslim fashion is a testament to the rapid growth and development of our community, but also something that each Muslim woman should take the time to notice and consider on an individual level. I have to remind myself on an almost daily basis about the spirit behind my hijab. I style it and match it, but remind myself that it is not an accessory. It is a form of worship to my Creator that I get to show to the world every minute that I'm outside. And so I try to guard my hijab as I do any other form of worship. As its purpose is submission to God, I try to ensure that I am not simultaneously “submitting” to anyone else's code of dress while wearing my hijab.

There is a difference between looking presentable and looking like a presentation. I know that any hijab will turn heads, but I am careful in ensuring that the one who turns will have nothing to see when he/she takes a second look. Stiletto heels, red lipstick, smoky eyes, jewels on my forehead—all of these will hold a stranger's gaze on me and, for that reason, work directly against the spirit of the cloth on my head.

I find it to be a mercy that God revealed in the Qur'an that the believing women must “not reveal their beauty except that which [naturally] appears thereof” [Ch. The Light: verse 31]. We were created beautiful as humans, and certain manifestations of that cannot be hidden—and God is telling us that when they're natural, that is normal. But when we place them there to beautify and accentuate, then they're no longer natural, and that should not be part of our normal.

In conversations about hijab, the question arises of whether one has the right to deem another's choices right or wrong. While our focus is on ourselves, it is natural for us to compare ourselves to others and to participate in an exchange of ideas on an experience that we share. For that reason, every woman has a place in the discussion, and we welcome its continuation in the comments below.

The post Why I Don’t Need a Makeup Tutorial to Teach Me How to Wear a Hijab appeared first on

Twitter Agent Provocateur “Ahimla Jihada” Exposed As Fake

Loon Watch - 4 September, 2014 - 02:24

Original guest post

by Shibli Zaman

Recently, Twitter was abuzz with its latest agent provocateur tweeting in support of the orcs of our time, ISIS.


I’ve emblazoned the image with the word “Fake” in order to avoid spreading this nonsense uwittingly.

The tweets of this person declaring her undying devotion and love for ISIS from right here within the borders of the United States garnered some pretty ludicrous responses. After all, ignorance only begets ignorance.


On the blogosphere it was much worse. There were serious efforts to locate her and murder her:


In this crazed flurry of suggestions to bomb Mecca and Medina, to kill Muslims, and to even go as far as attempting to find and kill this girl, these folks overlooked a glaring detail that I was able to discern in 5 minutes. “Ahimla Jihada” is fake. Twitter apparently discovered this early on and any attempt to access the Twitter account @ahimla2 will reach this page:

So who is she? First and foremost, the name “Ahimla” doesn’t exist in any language on earth. Google it. All you will get are nutters plotting to kill this phantom or results thinking you misspelled the Indian city “Shimla”.

You won’t find a single person on earth named “Ahimla”. People have all kinds of crazy names. Frank Zappa named his kids Dweezil, Moon Unit, and even —as awesome as it is— Rodan. Ving Rhames named his kid Reignbeau. Yes. Pronounced “Rainbow”. David Duchovny named his kid…well…Kyd. But the twit behind this fake Twitter account had to use the one name that just didn’t exist on planet earth. Finally, the last name “Jihada”? That really took a lot of thought.

As for the picture, herein is something very sad and a lesson in sleuthing fabricated propaganda on the internet. Bookmark the URL right now. Using this website you can upload any image and it will search the internet for every instance of the image and even similar images going back for years.

I always use this site whenever I get images over social media allegedly portraying atrocities committed in some crisis point of the world. A majority of the time those pictures end up being lifted from something completely unrelated to what they are purported to represent. Don’t get duped! I hope everyone will start using this site to verify the authenticity of images that make claims with an objective of manipulating public opinion.

In this case I was able to find the source of this poor girl’s image. It was taken on April 1, 2009, five years ago, by a photographer who thought this girl’s infectiously cute smile would make a great picture. It was lifted from his Flickr account. Here’s the link to the original post:

Note, that he titled the picture “Angel Face”. How both ironic and tragic is it that this young girl’s angelic face was used to represent such great evil by someone who can be described as no less than a diabolical liar. Not only is this innocent girl’s life in danger but there are clearly people ready to exact violence upon any girl who even looks like her. That would be any Muslim woman who wears a scarf.

In the end, there are two critical details to be gleaned from this:

First, in the absence of any American-Muslims supporting such terrorist organizations they found the need to fabricate such a person. American-Muslims deserve a pat on the back for this. We have all kinds of crazies just like anyone else, but we should be proud that these incognito Islamophobes couldn’t find a real extremist to retweet. They had to fabricate one.

Second, it should make everyone painfully aware of what we’re up against. There are dubious forces from an increasingly belligerent political Right who are out to brainwash, by hook or crook, the American public into hating their fellow citizens of the Muslim faith and to justify a foreign policy in the “10/40 Window” that has tarnished America’s reputation globally and needlessly puts our men and women in uniform in harm’s way. It’s high time we fight misinformation with information.

Of Tombs, Discord, and Manufactured Journalism-The Reality Behind the Independent Article on the Prophet’s Grave

Muslim Matters - 3 September, 2014 - 22:30

By Hasib Noor

Yet another article about the destruction of the Prophet's grave is published and I catch the story early as it's released.

Wincing at the title of the article in the Independent, the UK national daily newspaper”…Muslim divisionproposalMohamed's tomb,” I think to myself as I'm reading, “oh no, not again.”

Social media is absolutely livid. I'm getting tags, messages, and posts directed at me as everyone is inquiring about what is going on.

Why me? Living and studying in the City of the Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is a mix of having a guilty conscience wrapped in a blessing.

We constantly question ourselves.

We constantly say it's not something we ever deserved.

But it's a blessing we have to constantly be thankful for and live up to the legacy of this city.

There is a tradition that's been passed down among the students to remind us of living up to that legacy, something age old. It's been narrated by each generation of Madinah students to the next. The saying goes:

“don't ever think you were so special to deserve to come here, but know that you needed this the most.”

Everything about being here reminds us of the responsibility. We are studying the faith that two billion people hold dear, in a tradition of over 1400 years, in the same location that the most beloved person to these two billion taught it in… the city of Madinah, one of the holiest cities in all of Islam.

The Prophet's masjid— Al-masjid Al-Nabawi —the world's oldest Islamic institution is the legacy of all of Islamic civilizations, scholarship, and history. All of it traces back to what every single Muslim shares and holds dear about this city. Not only because the masjid serves as the world's oldest Islamic learning institution, but because Muslims know the exact location where the beloved Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) is buried.

Madinah is where I read the article published by the Independent.

I feel sick. The language itself is loaded, divisive, intended to make an impact. And the reaction is the same. All of us feel it, think it, say it. “This CAN'T be true.”

I immediately send messages to my friends and contacts that are researchers at the Center for Historical Studies and Research of Madinah – to verify the news. My friend and long time researcher Abdullah Kabir Al-Shanqiti responds right away. He had already heard about the article. Many of the researchers, as well as the British-educated director of the center whom I know well, speak English. We have a conversation to discuss the details of the article and it is conclusive.

Standards of Journalism

Divisively worded to bring about an intended response, almost all of the facts in the article are not only out of context, but embellished or completely untrue. The article is laced with references to sectarian differences, and even manages to fit in a mention of ISIS for effect.

The source mentioned in the article, Dr. Irfan Al-Alawi,  of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, represents a polarizing organization called the Center of Islamic Pluralism based out of Washington D.C. The background, connection, and history of the organization and Dr. Irfan Al-Alawi is deserving of an entire separate article.

The timing of this article is something that came to light as research is done by close friends that showed that the Independent regularly posts articles every year that seemingly recycled the same story regarding the destruction of masjid Nabwi, Mecca and/or the Prophet's ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) tomb. These articles date as far back as least to 2011. Dr. Alawi is consistently used as a source annually on this topic in 2011, 2012, 2013 and now with the most recent one in 2014. One can recognize a clear trend or what some might call agenda.

Focusing on the facts of the latest Independent article, the article is pure tabloid—not journalism and certainly not news. Written not with intent to share an event, but a planned disposition for an intended effect.

Worse, it seems entirely premeditated.

Who is Dr Al-Shabal?

The entire story plays off the words “proposal” and “plans.” Emphasizing the veneration of this site by all Muslims, Shia and Sunni, of all backgrounds to create a crisis —a strategic divisive effect.

The reality is, there was no such proposal, and there were no plans.

The article discusses a 61-page document by a “leading Islamic academic Dr Ali ibn AbdulAziz al-Shabal.” The reality is he is not a leading academic, unheard of by the Center of Historical Studies, and someone unknown until the Independent coins him as a “leading Islamic academic” figure.

The document he wrote is a paper that post-doctoral candidates in Saudi Arabian universities write in order to reach the level of adjunct professor. Al-Shabal teaches at imam University. He submitted this paper to the Committee of the Presidency of the Two Masjids in order to establish credibility and at the end of his paper he makes suggestions. He did not submit a proposal to the government; that was never intended—let alone accepted. It is an entry submitted to an academic journal that was taken completely out of context in the Independent article—no, not out of context, seemingly used for an intended purpose.

The writer of the Independent article makes the claim that Dr. Al-Shabal “calls for the destruction of chambers around the Prophet's grave ” and “the removal of Mohamed's remains to the nearby al-Baqi cemetery, where they would be interred anonymously.” A prominent and well known scholar and professor in Umm al Qurra University in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, from the lineage of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him), Dr. Hatim Al-Awni Al-Sharif calls this a lie and the article a fabrication.

He says that Dr. Al-Shabal in fact called for the “separation” of the grave from the masjid structure and not destruction of the tomb or removal and relocation of the grave.

While correcting this fact, he scathingly critiques Dr.Al-Shabal's academic journal submission and calls it “against the tradition of scholarship from the time of the companions and scholars of this ummah.”He further says while the Independent article stands corrected, “this does not change the fact that [Al-Shabal] went beyond all bounds… and the problem that exists with some is that they believe that they are more knowledgeable and stand more for (the defense of) monotheism than the entire Muslim nation, otherwise they would never have the audacity to put forth such a preposterous opinion!”

Dr Al-Sharif concludes that the academic paper went against the tradition and understanding of orthodoxy entirely and that even though the Independent is completely wrong, lied, and falsified what Dr. Al-Shabal wrote, it still is something that's rejected.

Furthermore, Dr. Al-Shabal is painted as a “leading islamic academic figure,” yet he does not represent any kind of scholarly decision-making body, such as the Council of Senior Scholars whom the government directly seeks approval from. Nor does he represent the Organization of the Islamic Council, a 500-member body comprised of scholars from all over the world that's based in Jeddah. Nor does he sit in the Fiqh Council (alMajma' al Fiqhi) another international council that has members such as renowned scholar Sh Abdullah ibn Bayyah, and holds its meetings in Mecca.

This single fact shows how little the Independent even knows about how scholarly bodies are petitioned when it comes to matters dealing with Islam's holiest sites.

Flashback to last year—the Council of Scholars in Saudi Arabia oversaw the decision to expand the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)'s masjid. An official government proposal and plan was given to them for approval. The expansion of the masjid in this proposal required changing the place of where the imam leads prayers in the original masjid.

For over 1000 years Imams have led prayer here. This proposal suggested—for the first time in Muslim history—that the imam would deliver sermons on a minbar other than the pulpit of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him).

New Prophet's Masjid 2 masjid-Nabawi-expansion-Madinah1-400x265


The Council unanimously rejected the proposal with the exception of only two members who gave secondary suggestions. The King called for a readjustment of the expansion to demolish all of the 5 star hotels in the back of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) masjid and expand in a direction that preserves the original building, pulpit, and prayer cove.

I had to ask. How could the Council of Scholars, made up of at least one Madinan scholar, my own teacher, Sh. Muhammad Al-Mukhtar Al-Shanqiti, reject a plan and proposal to not have the pulpit of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) moved, yet they listened to a plan for his tomb to be moved? It was something impossible.

A Divisive Strategy to Sow Seeds of Discord

The problem of manufactured journalism is something we've seen more rampant today. A former CNN reporter, Amber Lyon, exposed that some news outlets even get paid by governments.

Regardless, seeds of discord spread among Muslims throughout social media because of the pervasive and almost subliminal impact such media plays. Many are in deep hate mode and have lunged full on attacks… without checking the facts.

When the facts are pointed out to many that the article contains false information, most seem to not care, “the reality is we can't forget that Saudi did…” or “but in Saudi…” type rhetoric is spreading. Even academics that lay claim to scholastic standard, even journalists, even educators… many are falling prey to the exact intention of the article —the sowing of discord.

For many equating Saudi to not just a government but to an ideology that pigeonhole others is becoming comfortable, again. The “they” and “us” is something that spread through the discussions on social media, no matter which “spectrum” the person belonged to. The standing and representing movements rather than Islam again reared its ugly head.

Many are letting their feelings dictate their rationale—it doesn't matter if the assertions in the article are false, there is injustice that needs to be spoken against, and criticism that needs to be made.

Destruction and Preservation in the Haramain

We must admit. We must be truthful. The realities of history, the truth of demolishing many archaeological sites, historical locations, and other damages to the two holiest sites in Islam is something that is concrete, recorded, and undeniable. There is no doubt, a time, a place, and a discourse that must be had on the destruction of historical sites (I plan on writing a critical analysis of the destruction and preservation of historical sites in the Haramain). However, many do not know about the existence and the work of the organizations to preserve historical sites. In fact, the Center for Historical Studies and Research of Madinah has an entire division that oversees preservation of archaeological sites in Madinah, makes recommendations to the government body overseeing expansion, and I have personally witnessed the director signing 18 sites to be preserved in the future expansion of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him)'s masjid.

Another organization that does the same in Mecca is called the Al-Furqan Islamic Heritage Foundation, and many other organizations exist both in Mecca and Madinah that work to preserve historical and archaeological sites as best as they can.

But what must be realized, what must resonate, is that there is no doubt that this strategy of manufactured journalism to sow discord is prevalent and strategically placed.

Muslims cannot afford to fall prey to this. Muslims cannot accept to give up the ethos of our faith in verifying news, not spreading everything we hear, and lose sight of the brotherhood that unifies us to collectively speak out against injustice, oppression, and transgression in our faith.

Muslims cannot fall into emboldening sentiments of partisanship and hatred that these type of articles wish for. Right now a correction of false information that's spreading, an understanding of our history, our heritage, our tradition, and our knowledge must be sought. It is in these turbulent times that we clearly see the work of strategy in play, and it is in these times that we beseech our teachers, our scholars, our academics, our journalists, our educators, all Muslims to hold fast and not let distraction seep in. Not let the seeds of discord blur our vision. Not let the disagreements distance ourselves from the objective of reaching a mutual understanding. Holding tight to the same rope, the unity of Muslims, a mutual understanding, a strength must be kept.


Holding on to the Legacy of Madinah

After my preliminary responses on Twitter, I have the opportunity to have an exchange with prominent British journalist Mehdi Hasan. The disagreement over the facts isn't there. It is a deeper sentiment that the article targets and wishes to sow.

We have a calm exchange, where we lay out our points. I point out the factual inaccuracy and emphasize that. And the exchange ends cheerfully with me offering him a cup of tea on his next visit to the holy city of Madinah and a discussion we can have—person to person.

Screen shot 2014-09-03 at 12.33.44 PM
He happily obligeds and says he was looking forward to it.

And I respond; I assure him the Legacy of Madinah is alive and well and will continue to be. This legacy will always defeat those who wish the seeds of discord. The legacy of the Prophet ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) that is ingrained in our faith to overcome and realize the bigger picture, know and understand not just the time to discuss disagreements but the place and environment as well, and to see through the elements that wish to sow that discord in our ranks.

This is the type of discourse we should encourage to have with one another, this is the type of legacy that we should preserve.

In trying times where there are major events occurring in the world, our priorities should be directed by that legacy. A legacy that informs us, that the honor, blood, and sanctity of a Muslim is holier than the Ka'aba itself (1). A legacy that tells us, “It is enough of a lie to relate to others everything you hear (2).” A legacy that guides us, “O you who have believed, if there comes to you an immoral person with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful (3).”

Let's uphold to that legacy, and not allow our discourse to be set by divisive elements and let discord sow in our hearts and ranks. These are from the hadiths of the beloved, our Prophet Muhammad ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) and guidance from the Qur'an. That is the legacy we must carry.

That legacy lives on… and will continue to live on.

Hasib Noor, completing his final year in Bachelors at the College of Islamic Law in the University of Madinah, following undergraduate study in the US majoring Pre-Med & minor in Psychology.


1. A hadith narrated in Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, & Ibn Hibban- by Abdullah ibn Amr raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him) who said “I saw the Messenger of Allah ṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) circumambulating the Ka'bah and saying: 'How beautiful are you and how good your fragrance; how great are you and how great your sanctity. By the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, the sanctity of the believer is greater before Allah than your sanctity, his blood and his wealth, and to think anything but good of him.'”

2. A hadith narrated in Sahih Muslim by Abu Hurayrah raḍyAllāhu 'anhu (may Allāh be pleased with him)

3. Qur'an 49:6




The post Of Tombs, Discord, and Manufactured Journalism-The Reality Behind the Independent Article on the Prophet’s Grave appeared first on

Muslim woman attacked on Vienna train

Loon Watch - 3 September, 2014 - 21:25


Another disturbing assault in Austria.

The Local

Zeliha Cicek is the third Muslim to have been assaulted in Vienna in the last month.

Cicek, a school teacher and mother of three children, is ethnically Turkish. She said she was talking to her sister on an U3 underground train on her mobile phone when the woman started shouting at her in English. “I calmly told her she could speak to me in German and suddenly she stood up and slapped me in the face. I dropped my phone and it broke, I was so shocked,” she said.

An English man came to Cicek’s aid but the angry woman scratched his face. She got out of the train at Stephansplatz – and despite Cicek screaming that she had attacked her the woman was able to flee without being stopped.

Cicek told the Kurier newspaper that she didn’t believe that the woman was drunk or mad. “The English man also thought that she had a problem with me wearing the headscarf,” she said.

Read the entire article…

Islamophobic France: Muslim Education Minister Targeted

Loon Watch - 3 September, 2014 - 21:08


This is the first time that I’ve heard of an “Ayatollah” supporting ‘gay marriage.’

Star Tribune

PARIS — France’s new Muslim education minister called for more respect Wednesday after becoming the target of slurs, while a top Socialist politician said a magazine should be convicted of inciting racial hatred for referring to her religion and ethnic background as a “provocation.”

Najat Vallaud-Belkacem, a 36-year-old rising star in the Socialist Party, said she has been the target of racially-motivated verbal attacks over the last week, including being branded “Ayatollah” by a conservative weekly.

“I call for respect,” she told The Associated Press in an email. “And I repeat in particular that racism is not an opinion, but a crime.”

The Morocco-born Vallaud-Belkacem, who doesn’t publicly speak about her religion, is seen as an easy target to attack the unpopular Socialist government led by President Francois Hollande.

She is a young, Muslim woman in a political landscape made up mostly of white, Catholic men. She’s an outspoken defender of gender and racial equality, and supported a divisive law legalizing gay marriage last year. She also intervened in a national debate on the negative impact of halal meat, saying society should stop pointing the finger at Muslims.

One conservative politician referred to Vallaud-Belkacem as a “smiling Vietnamese Communist,” and a fake identity card has appeared on social media falsely claiming she changed her name from Claudine Dupont to a more ethnic-sounding one to get promoted.

A top Socialist Party official threatened legal action against “Minute” magazine, which in its latest edition calls her religious and ethnic background a “provocation.” The official, Jean-Christophe Cambadelis, said the magazine should be convicted of inciting racial hatred.

“Minute,” which has sympathies with France’s ever-growing far-right National Front party, faced accusations of racism last year when it put black Justice Minister Christiane Taubira on the cover with the wording: “Taubira Finds Her Banana.”

Taubira tweeted in support of Vallaud-Belkacem: “They must have nothing in their heads, be empty in their heart, and have hardened souls. Najat, you’re flying high with our ambitions for schools. Thanks.”

Valeurs Actuelles’ cover, to be published Thursday, features the headline “Ayatollah” over a sinister-looking photo of the minister’s face.

The publication’s general director said the reference to Islam was purely coincidental despite an outcry that it was racist— and he said the criticism is purely about politics.

“We speak of ‘Ayatollah’ with no reference to the Muslim religion whatsoever … We’re concerned that her nomination poses a problem as she’s pursuing an ideology in schools that worries us,” Yves de Kerdrel told the AP without elaborating.

Government spokesman Stephane Le Foll said, “You can be in disagreement. But we cannot accept these kind of attacks.”

France has Western Europe’s largest Muslim population, estimated at 5 million.

French rights group, SOS Racism, meanwhile, issued a petition in her defense, which has been signed by more than 4,000 people.

Some commentators insist the criticism against her has nothing to do with religion or her sex.

“She just has no competence in education.” Versailles deputy mayor Francois-Xavier Bellamy said.


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