Leaving the MSA: Reinventing Alumni

Muslim Matters - 26 October, 2016 - 10:08

Written by Khwaja Ahmed, with the help of Ahmed Abdelgany and Omar Elsayed. Edited by Engie Salama.

As a graduating senior it's common to hear that once you graduate you become irrelevant to (Muslim Student Association) MSA's and the college structure. The real world is upon you, college is over and with it so is the MSA lifestyle. I've always had heavy qualms with this notion, mostly because it permeates beyond the college borders and into people falling off the map after graduation. It props up a paradigm of active community members being under a certain age and taking a hiatus until they've grown old to reintegrate into the community. Pushing this idea of detachment from the community based on phases of life is lazy, unimaginative and irresponsible. It detaches the individual from the community as if to say the only way to they could serve the community is as a college student in MSA. This is false and limiting: people are never irrelevant or obsolete. We grow until the day we die. We will take different trajectories from one another once the homogeneity of college life wears off but this is not to say that we've lost the ability to give valuable input into the community. There is validity in temporary leaves from service as to figure out one's life, take the next step in terms of career and to develop new skills or sharpen existing. But these should not be roadblocks to service in the long run and can also be dealt with in parallel. There two important trajectories to follow on this, one is the role of an alumni, the second of an active member of the larger community. For now, I want to focus on the role of alumni in relation to helping their MSA. Graduating from college does not mean we become irrelevant to the MSA or the larger community, but it means we must reinvent ourselves to serve the community at a different capacity.

This myth stems from a limited view of what MSA's are or can be, they are relegated as resume builders for college students lasting only four years. The first step in taking apart this image is reanalyzing what the MSA can be. Suggesting MSA's are strictly for college students guided mostly by social justice movements or a social club for those looking to make friends relies on a warped image. The role MSA plays should not be confined by this thinking. There is no reason for why the MSA should just be a college only experience or seeing our duty of serving the community finishes with leaving the MSA. The foundation of the MSA is not on passing social justice movements but rooted in the strong sense of establishing a community working towards a better world in totality.

For example, Corporate ladders give employees years to develop and grow so that they can serve the companies, along with the option of horizontal movement. Along with this renewed outlook the first trajectory of the role of the alumni comes in. Claiming that one becomes peripheral upon graduation since they do not have the same time flexibility comes from this narrow scope of human capital and vision of an MSA. If anything, graduation would help one become a stronger asset to the organisation, not the opposite. Having experience beyond a college campus is needed for growth. The various paths they carve out help widen the uniqueness of experiences they have to offer. College students, just as any grouping of people, tend towards groupthink validating ideas in a circular way without innovation or progress. Variety is essential to diverse growth. But the most important advantage of viewing MSA's as part of a larger ecosystem is the greater depth of vision. The role moves away from simply serving the needs of college students for a duration of four year to developing productive members of the Muslim community for years beyond.

Mapping the importance of the first trajectory with a closer look helps paint the larger potential that MSA's could have by broadening their vision. The first notion to deconstruct is the idea of the MSA as only for college students; indeed, there are inherent limitations when the leadership and constituency have a four year lifespan. Putting the all burdens of development and operations on college students, from fundraising, programming to logistics and vision, is a hefty chore for student leadership. They are already pulled from angles and receive no material compensation for their MSA work. This is not to undermine the efforts of MSA leadership and active members who are proficient in developing these aspects of their MSA, but to broaden the scope of those involved in this process.

Alumni involvement is not to co-opt the work of MSA members but to add on to the efforts. Pushing graduates outside the framework of MSA operations does not add any value to the organization. Alumni have great skills to offer to the MSA as an institution. These are diverse and can help the institution grow to greater levels. One easy way they can give back is through financial donations, though an important contribution it should not be overplayed nor guide the conversation with them. They are not piggy banks to be broken open. Instead, use alumni to their full potential by ensuring their perspective and advice is included in long term visions or ask them to take roles in projects that would be difficult for college students to execute by themselves. This is where the institution grows on a larger level and moves away from the monotony of repetition.

Listening to voices outside the established framework is a perfect way to move away from repetitious action and develop new programs or expand existing. To briefly go over some avenues of ways alumni can help the MSA, one can improve existing programs depending on their field of expertise of personal skillset. One tangible example would be to help the spiritual plan of the MSA; this could range from giving halaqat, teaching Arabic, or working to improve the existing curriculum set up. Of course this would necessitate prior training or experience with Islamic development. Another way to develop the resources MSA has is to aid with post college transition. This includes reviewing resumes and cover letters along with interview prep and career guidance. What is seen as unmoveable is now subject to change, college students aren't exclusively building the vision and path of their community.Long term projects like developing food pantries or local clinics could also be now in the grasp of the MSA. With help from alumni the fear of year turnover rates is pushed to the side, more intensive projects are doable. These are general avenues of how to help and are open to manipulation depending on the needs of the MSA but this growth is contingent on accepting help from alumni.

Fully addressing the needs of the individual after graduation in personal and professional growth is still needed. Addressing them in totality is tied into the second trajectory of involvement with the larger community, for now the focus is on the immediate break from college life. It is fiction to assume that all recent graduates are capable or willing to give back. Everyone is on a different playing field upon graduation and will need time and a unique way to give back. This space is good, it allows for maturity to occur outside the college MSA setting. Notice that many of the suggestions given require the individual to develop their skills and own paths. It is because neither MSA or college give one all of life's skills and MSA's should not be seen as the sole medium of involvement. Beyond the immediate ways to give back, advice and holding halaqat for example, cultivation of the skill is needed. That is what MSA's need, alumni with skills outside the college setting to assist them in growth. An alumni who departs for a few years but comes back with the know how of Arabic or how to establish long running institutes is a highly valuable resource. The way forward is through developing the individual for the community. Muslim Student Associations can be hotbeds of change and growth, making them so is on us.

Heathrow: No free ride for Zac Goldsmith

Indigo Jo Blogs - 25 October, 2016 - 22:39

A village green in Harmondsworth behind which is a church; to the left is a pub, the Five Bells, and an old house is to the right. Cars are parked on roads outside the pub and house and a yellow litter bin is in the foreground.Today the government announced its preferred option for airport expansion in the south-east of England, and as had been expected, that was a third runway at Heathrow in west London. The other main option had been a second runway at Gatwick, to the south of London. This does not (contrary to the BBC’s report) mean that the plans have been approved, which means it will get built; there still has to be a debate in Parliament (where there may well be a free vote) and there are likely to be legal challenges. The Heathrow plan has long been opposed by Boris Johnson, currently foreign secretary, who represents Uxbridge which is in the same borough as most of the airport (Hillingdon), and Zac Goldsmith, who represents Richmond Park constituency to the south-east of the existing airport, parts of which suffer severely from noise from low-flying planes (having visited friends in nearby Isleworth, I know how disruptive this can be), and has ‘resigned’ in protest, triggering a by-election in which he intends to stand.

I’m against airport expansion in general; we already have four large airports surrounding London and we do not have as much land to spare as other large cities in Europe. On land grounds alone, Gatwick looked ideal, as there was already a strip of land to the south of the existing airport which could be used, and as it runs east to west, it will not result in significant noise blight nearby (the major towns in the area, Horley and Crawley, are to the north and south). It has better rail links than Heathrow, which has a slow Tube line and a branch line which only leads into London; Gatwick has fast rail links to both the City and West End, is served by Thameslink and a link to Reading, and the link to the West Coast Main Line could be reinstated if there was the political will. However, its road links are poorer; the road route to Gatwick from almost anywhere in the country passes via Heathrow. If Gatwick were extended, congestion on the southern and western parts of the M25 would increase, likely resulting in a need for another motorway link such as the long-abandoned ‘M31’ scheme. Pressure would also build to relieve congestion at the Dartford Tunnel, which already suffers huge tailbacks.

However, the Heathrow plan will extend the airport west of the M25, require the demolition of much of Harmondsworth village and the whole of Longford, on the north-western edge of the airport currently, and its flight path to the east will pass directly over the villages of Sipson and Harlington; it will require the demolition of a lot of airport-related industrial premises and require the demolition or rerouting of several major roads, including the A4. Quite apart from the carbon emissions, which will increase when the three runways are used to capacity (if one does not believe the promises of night-time flight bans, fewer delays and circumnavigations of the airport by planes that cannot land, and so on), the new runway will increase the area of London blighted by aircraft noise by a third.

The decision has led to the ‘resignation’ of Zac Goldsmith, triggering a by-election in his Richmond Park constituency, which includes part of Kingston where I live (I live in the Kingston and Surbiton constituency, represented by James Berry). Goldsmith was previously editor of the Ecologist and won the seat from the Lib Dems in 2010; they had previously held it since 1997 (Jenny Tonge until 2005, then Susan Kramer). He had a reputation as a progressive “green Tory” until he stood for mayor of London this year, during which he relied on Lynton Crosby to smear his Labour opponent, Sadiq Khan, with baseless stories of association with Muslim extremists, as well as courting Hindu and Sikh voters with anti-Muslim appeals.

On previous occasions where the sitting MP has triggered a by-election as a protest (e.g. Haltemprice and Howden in 2008), the main opposition parties have not fielded candidates. As this MP has a record of running campaigns based on bigotry, he should not be allowed a free ride. The Lib Dems have opposed the expansion of Heathrow airport for years and have the best chance of taking it from the Tories; this was one of their strongholds for years and they should field a strong candidate. The opportunity should not be lost to erase this stain.

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Challenging Domestic Violence in Tunisia

Loon Watch - 25 October, 2016 - 19:07


Yes, it’s true that laws too often in some majority Muslim nations restrict and discriminate against the rights of women, as do certain societal and cultural norms. At the forefront of upending such discriminatory practices are Muslim women politicians from the Ennahda party.

via. The Guardian

Almost half of women aged 18-64 – 47.6% – had experienced some form of violence, according to a 2010 survey. There is little evidence that the situation has improved since the uprising that ended the dictatorship of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali and led to a democratically elected government.

However, this month Tunisia’s parliament is debating a bill to strengthen legislation on violence against women. Championed by Ennahdha, a conservative reformist party with Islamic roots and a clutch of dynamic female MPs and officials, the bill is expected to be passed by the end of 2016.

The proposed law, which would be incorporated into other legislation and government policies, would introduce sweeping definitions of gender-based violence, covering psychological and economic harm in both the public and domestic spheres. Marital rape would be outlawed and there would be an end to impunity for rapists if their victims are under 20 and they subsequently marry them. Penalties for sexual harassment at work would be increased and police officers and hospital staff trained in gender issues.

The scope of the bill may challenge western stereotypes of Islam, but Mehrezia Labidi, an Ennahdha MP and chair of the parliamentary women’s committee, said: “We see no contradiction between Islam and protecting women’s rights. We have a progressive reading of Islam.”

Sayida Ounissi, 29, another Ennahdha MP and secretary of state for entrepreneurship in the coalition government led by the secular Nidaa Tounes party, said: “It’s good to have conservatives like us saying violence against women is not acceptable. Some conservatives might argue that the state should not interfere in the private space [of the family], but when a person’s physical integrity is harmed, the state needs to step in.”

Tunisia may have a better record on women’s rights than other countries in the region, “but we compare ourselves to international standards”, she added.

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Muslims Stand Firmly With Standing Rock

Muslim Matters - 25 October, 2016 - 17:25


Is this really happening

I watched dogs bite into the flesh of Native Americans while they were maced by private security in North Dakota protesting the most controversial land-grab of our generation. I saw people chain themselves to heavy machinery. I watched Green Party Presidential candidate Jill Stein be arrested for standing in solidarity with them. I watched Journalist Amy Goodman go to jail for documenting it. The scenes at one time were filled with blood curdling screams and wounded members of the opposition being carried away. It was inconveniently reminiscent of 50s era protest where dogs were sent upon African Americans for pushing back against gross inequality. I saw it all through my phone however, and I know millions of people in America saw it too. As a Black Muslim, it troubles me to know that the first people nearly annihilated in the American experiment were experiencing such injustice. My religion puts an indelible weight on interfering with abuses of human rights. Myself and others looked for ways to join the fight. In my naivety, I realized that there was huge swath of Native American Muslims, already well-invested in the fight.

Energy Transfer Partners  is a multibillion dollar natural gas conglomerate hailing from Texas. Their investments and operations range from transportation, storage, and pipeline construction for natural gas. Since 2015 they've set their sights on land declared holy by the tribes living in Standing Rock. Four months ago, their brigades of earth-clearing machines descended on the project area.

Approximately 150 million indigenous people were eradicated to make space for the American entrepreneurial project. More than 10 million Africans were enslaved to labor for it. In 2016, the plans to once again extract the earth beneath the feet of the descendants of the aforementioned. Natives are being marched upon, violently.

The youth of Standing Rock refused to be silent though. One group of protesters ran 500 miles just to bring attention to the crisis. After obtaining the attention of a national audience, hundreds flocked to the protest site. Media, Activists, Organizations and concerned Muslims. They were said to have been met by the tribespeople with warmth only cultivated through a rich tradition in compassion. A compassion that Columbus resented when he landed saying “they could be conquered easily, and made servants.”

Native Americans march to a burial ground sacred site that was disturbed by bulldozers building the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), near the encampment where hundreds of people have gathered to join the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's protest of the oil pipeline that is slated to cross the Missouri River nearby, September 4, 2016 near Cannon Ball, North Dakota. Protestors were attacked by dogs and sprayed with an eye and respiratory irritant yesterday when they arrived at the site to protest after learning of the bulldozing work. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn BECKROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

Native Americans march to a burial ground sacred site that was disturbed by bulldozers building the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL), near the encampment where hundreds of people have gathered to join the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe's protest of the oil pipeline that is slated to cross the Missouri River nearby, September 4, 2016 near Cannon Ball, North Dakota.
Protestors were attacked by dogs and sprayed with an eye and respiratory irritant yesterday when they arrived at the site to protest after learning of the bulldozing work. / AFP PHOTO / Robyn BECKROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images

A cause for commitment

Latanya Barlow is a 34-year-old Arizona native and national representative of The Coalition for Indigenous Muslims. Her family is from the Dineh and Chiricahua people. Walking onto the reserve was a scene imbued with nostalgia. Barlow's tribe is a descendant of the 19th century Native American freedom fighter Geronimo. Such familial bonds earned her added smiles among the youth and elders. Barlow spoke at a hummingbird's pace of her entrance. “Before we even got to the camp at the reservation we were welcomed by the natives. It felt amazing in an odd way because, you know, I wear hijab and there are times where I'm in public and I can feel menacing eyes on me. To have these strangers take us in that way brings me to tears,” she shared with Muslimmatters.

In camp she and many others who are in the fight are called water protectors, Samaritans who've come to battle a financial behemoth for the preservation of a direct water source. “The pipeline they're digging is only 7 miles away from the river. That river is where a significant amount water comes from for them,” Barlow explains. Energy Transfer's Dakota Access pipeline project runs over the sacred stone camp which happens to be a tribal burial ground and site of spiritual commemoration. Environmental experts agree that even a small mistake in containment of harmful elements could result of poisoning for decades. Richard Kuprewicz, president of Accufacts Inc. a consulting firm for the oil industry was quoted in an Inside Climate News article saying, “there's no perfect solution to spotting oil spills. Ideally, companies should combine the best leak detection technology with experienced operators—but even then, some leaks will go undetected.” Barlow remembers being face to face with a people fully aware of those same realities, yet carried  with a sense of unmatched determination. “The people themselves have the best character even while this is going on. An imam came days ago and said given what they are going through they've represented the best of what humanity has to offer,” Barlow argued.

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Activists like Barlow have come to terms with what is most feasible to aide the ongoing protests. A brutal Dakota winter is approaching. Known for it's backbreaking temperatures and unforgiving snowstorms, time is an untrustworthy friend of Standing Rock organizers. Barlow maintains that more than ever action should be taken. “We need people putting pressure on congressional representatives. We need the partners with Energy Transfer to be researched and boycotted. Bail funds are always helpful because protesters are being targeted like never before. And in general funds are needed to survive what winter holds.” Social Justice organization Muslim ARC led one of the first waves of collective contributions to the cause raising over $15,000. Co-Founder of Zaytuna Institute, imam Zaid Shakir anchored a roundtable with native leaders, symbolically delivering Zamzam water, from a thousands of year old well in Mecca, along with a group of concerned Muslims.

Trouble we know too well

To be a Native right now in the Dakota region is to be perpetually at war. The treaty of 1868 named Fort Laramie promised to “ensure the civilization” of the Lakota, a large tribe with ancestral ties to the region. Basheer Butcher is a member of the Lakota and one of many residents that have witnessed the Energy Partner titan move in on ancient land. To him, the current trespasses across land and contract are only a reminder of age-old abuse. “From the Buffalo being killed off by European settlers to what's going on now, it's all a cycle. We've been battling for this land for centuries” he heaves.

In four months it's become clear to Butcher how brutal this new iteration of commerce-centered violence can become and how challenging it is to control public perception. Butcher remarked, “We're happy social media made sure the world couldn't just shut the door on us. When you turned on mainstream media they had little to say about how our land is about to be stolen, again. Everyone needs to know that the Missouri is our main source of water. One spill could contaminate the water for 18 million people if it happens. Treaties signed when my great grandparents were alive are being treated like they never were signed.”

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Butcher is well aware of what context means to be an indigenous Muslim involved in the Standing Rock struggle; he wants Muslim communities to understand the severity of what is happening. “I see it as community situation more that a Muslim one.That's why we are backing this protest 150%. Being a Muslim and full blooded Lakota is important. The Water I use to make wudhu (ablution) comes from the Missouri and I was bathing in this water before I became Muslim. Muslim communities need to understand that we need support from them. Islam is about caring for humanity. Human rights abuses are happening now.”

Before getting to a critical mass like this, area tribes negotiated with the birthing American government for land rights, concessions, and most important the procurement of contracting jobs when development was taking place. Companies like Energy Partners are required to enlist Natives for jobs first and foremost. The TERO Tribal Employment Rights Ordinance is charged with managing the contracts with private enterprises. Though the project promises thousands of jobs, in this particular situation, TERO wants no parts of what Energy Partners wants to do. No jobs Butcher says, “are worth destroying a water source for millions.”

A call to dignity

Besides African Americans, no other group of people could be more well acquainted with U.S. sanctioned piracy than the indigenous of America. Standing Rock as it is today appears to be the last straw for this generation of Natives. “The last time the tribes gathered together in this number was 140 years ago for the Battle of Little Bighorn” Butcher says. Within weeks the opposition has turned to a brutal fiasco. Arrests continue, along with protesters enduring savage beatings by private police and targeting of journalists. Support from outside of the reservation is crucial. Support from everyone is imperative.

imam Zaid Shakir exclaimed after a recent visit to the site, “Let us not forget, however, our native brothers and sisters who are facing the full force of corporate greed and government callousness at the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.” General  Armstrong  Custard's famous quote when stumbling upon and decimating the lush Sioux lands in the 1800s still presses needles in the hearts today, “There's gold in them there hills.” Today Energy Partners, with the indifference of the American government, are prying land away from the hands of Natives once again, for Black gold.

The Mighty Signs In The Humble Honey Bee

Muslim Matters - 25 October, 2016 - 05:36


By Khaled Dardir


Among the many creatures Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has created in this world, there is one in which Allah's blessing is so clear that it is evident to all of mankind. This creature is no bigger than my thumb and affects our well being, society and economy. This miraculous creature is the honey bee.

A reason why an entire chapter in the Qur'an has been devoted to it is that Allah subḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) has enabled the honey bee to produce a substance within which there is a cure for all mankind. Allahsubḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) says in the Qur'an:


Nahl 68

And your Lord inspired to the bee, “Take for yourself among the mountains, houses, and among the trees and [in] that which they construct [Surat An-Naĥl: 16:68]


Nahl 69

Then eat from all the fruits and follow the ways of your Lord laid down [for you].” There emerges from their bellies a drink, varying in colors, in which there is healing for people. Indeed in that is a sign for a people who give thought [Surat An-Naĥl: 16:69]


From these verses, we can see the reference to the healing benefits of the honey bee.  Unlike other creatures that are limited in range to specific locations, the honey bee can be found worldwide, and its medicinal benefits are universal.

In a hadith, Abdullah bin Mas'ood has reported Allah's Messengerṣallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam (peace and blessings of Allāh be upon him) as saying: “Make use of two remedies, Honey and Qur'an.”

Honey has been useful both as food and medicine. It has been produced by bees from nectar and contains a unique combination of sugars, acids, minerals, enzymes, vitamins, and flavor to make it one of the most nutritionally diverse and easily digestible foods known to man. For these properties it has become known as a superfood for its superior health benefits.

Approximately a third of all the food we eat is due to pollination from the honeybee. Unfortunately, due to habitat loss, pollution, pesticides and disease, their numbers have been dwindling. Over the last decade, there has been a startling rise in colony collapse disorder, a phenomenon by which the worker bees in a colony disappear. Research is still ongoing, but several possible causes have been identified including pathogens, mites, radiation and fungus. As honey bees are essential for maintaining our food supply, it has become a major concern from an economic perspective as well. Without a healthy bee population, produce prices would skyrocket, costing both the agricultural and food industry billions of dollars.

The list of benefits and remedies which the honey bee provides to its consumers and our society through honey and pollination include:

  • One teaspoon of honey will help to clear most colds and coughs.
  • Drinking honey diluted in hot water in winter and cold water in summer relieves stress, and is an ideal energy supplement.
  • A spoonful of honey early in the morning restores health and increases potency of body organs and the mind.
  • Honey improves memory and eyesight.
  • Honey strengthens the joints in the body.
  • Honey has four times more energy than milk.
  • Honey reduces stress and tiredness.
  • Honey is not harmful for diabetics.
  • Honey bees are vital as pollinators. They are responsible for 1/3 of your food.
  • The honey bee is the only insect that produces food eaten  directly by man.
  •  Honey is the only food that includes all the substances necessary to sustain life, including enzymes, vitamins, minerals, and water; and it's the only food that contains “pinocembrin”, an antioxidant associated with improved brain functioning.

The critical role of the honey bee and the benefits of honey have only become apparent over the last several decades. Honey bees contribute over $14 billion to the value of U.S crop production. Some crops would not be available as they rely 100% on bee pollination. Unfortunately, due to the impact that humans have on their population, we have seen a decrease in colonies over the years. Cross-pollination practiced by bees helps at least 30% of the worlds crops and 90% of our wild plants to thrive.

Modern science is becoming more aware of the knowledge that has existed within the Qur'an and Sunnah over 1400 years ago, which is a testament to the many signs of Allahsubḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He).

May Allahsubḥānahu wa ta'āla (glorified and exalted be He) guide us on the straight path, and guide us to better understand His creations and blessings.


Khaled Dardir has recently completed his first Masters specializing in chemistry and his second in Educational Leadership. He is currently enrolled as a student in Mishkah pursuing a bachelors in Islamic Studies. He is working at the WCS (Wildlife Conservation Society) as an educational advisor. He is the founder and Chief Coordinator of the non-profit organization The Building Blocks of New Jersey whose mission is: “To aid self development, promote activism, and bolster community building”

The Art of the Qur’an – landmark exhibit shows holy book as text and work of art

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 October, 2016 - 18:18

First major exhibit on the Qur’an in the US, at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery in Washington, displays manuscripts over a period of almost a millennium

The last significant survey of Islam’s holy book in the west was held at the British Museum in London in 1976. Into that void comes the first major exhibit on the Qur’an in the United States, The Art of the Qur’an: Treasures from the Museum of Turkish and Islamic Arts, at the Sackler Gallery in Washington DC. On display are more than 60 richly decorated manuscripts that span nearly a millennium, cover a vast area of the Islamic world and encompass an array of styles and formats, from simple sheets of parchment to large bound tomes.

The exhibit offers “an unparalleled view of some of the greatest [Islamic] calligraphy, illumination and binding”, said museum director Julian Raby. “Above all, we convey the sense of how artists from north Africa to Afghanistan found different ways to honor the same sacred text of Islam.”

Related: Artist Sophia Al-Maria: 'People hate Islam, but they're titillated by it too'

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Fears battle for Mosul could open new front in wider Sunni-Shia conflict

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 October, 2016 - 12:36

Confusion and denial over Turkey’s role in battle against Isis reflects Iraqi anxiety over predominantly Sunni country’s intentions

The risk that military operations to expel Islamic State terrorists from Mosul in northern Iraq could morph into a new frontline in the wider conflict between the Sunni and Shia branches of Islam has intensified with Turkey’s disputed entry into the fray.

Binali Yıldırım, Turkey’s prime minister, confirmed reports that Turkish troops based in the contested Bashiqa area outside Mosul were firing on Isis positions with artillery, tanks and howitzers. Yıldırım said the bombardment followed a request from Kurdish peshmerga forces.

Related: Turkish and Kurdish soldiers join forces to gain advantage in Mosul push

Related: ‘We usually cry when we watch the news’: anguish of Iraq’s Yazidi families

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From the US army to al-Shabaab: the man who wanted to live under sharia law

The Guardian World news: Islam - 24 October, 2016 - 11:00

Craig Baxam left the military to practice Islam in Somalia but ended up imprisoned for murky terrorism-related charges, a case that exposes the conflict between religious fundamentalism and the US national security apparatus

Craig Baxam was lost. He thought he was in a town in northern Kenya called Marareme, though really he didn’t have a clue. He then got on a bus headed to Garissa, towards the Somali border, but was puzzled by the way the other passengers referred to it as “Arara”.

Baxam was far from home, spoke no local language and knew little about the region he was traveling through. If he were successful in reaching southern Somalia, his destination, things would almost certainly get worse for him: the war-torn country, where he planned to live according to his faith, remains one of the most inhospitable and perilous on Earth.

Related: Somalia: one man’s terrorist is another man’s carpenter

As a mother, it bothers me that I lent my son to the army and they didn’t give him back to me

Baxam saw himself dying in Somalia. It might be from malaria or from being hit by a rocket. Only Allah could know. Baxam never intended to return from Somalia, he was ‘looking for dying with a gun in my hand’. He would be happy to die defending Islam; being mowed down or hit with a cruise missile. If someone dies defending Islam, they are guaranteed a place in Jannah [paradise].

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Sir Sigmund Sternberg obituary

The Guardian World news: Islam - 23 October, 2016 - 17:39
Businessman and philanthropist who founded the Three Faiths Forum, a dialogue group of Christians, Muslims and Jews

Sir Sigmund Sternberg, who has died aged 95, was one of Anglo-Jewry’s most active members, present at seemingly any important communal occasion – a banquet addressed by the chief rabbi, a meeting called in honour of an Israeli prime minister, or, most likely of all, representing Britain’s Jews at an interfaith occasion.

At almost every appearance, the decorations he wore seemed to multiply: because of his work for inter-faith relations, he was constantly being presented with medals, from countries ranging from Argentina to Ukraine.

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A waste of a life

Indigo Jo Blogs - 22 October, 2016 - 23:29

Nicky Reilly with a bloodied face, being led away by two police officers, one male (off picture) and one female, after the 2008 Exeter bomb blastLast Wednesday, Nicky Reilly, who attempted to blow up a restaurant in Exeter with a home-made bomb which exploded in the toilet, injuring only himself, died in Manchester prison (otherwise known as Strangeways) where he was serving a life sentence for the attack, having been recently been moved from the Broadmoor secure hospital in Berkshire. The circumstances of his death have not been revealed, but we can assume it was not murder as this would have been made public. According to local press reports, Reilly converted to Islam at age 16 and was, according to his mother, a “peaceful follower of Islam” for several years before he was radicalised over a period of weeks in his early 20s by two so-called friends believed to have been in Pakistan and changed his name to Mohammad Abdul-Aziz Rashid Said-Alim, supposedly in reference to the 9/11 attackers (although all but the last are very common Muslim names); the two men apparently went through every last detail to make sure he got it ‘right’, which he of course didn’t.

I never had any contact with Reilly, so I don’t know how he presented to those he chatted to online and those he met in the kebab shop who encouraged him to carry out the bombing, but he had Asperger’s syndrome (note: that is not a condition people ‘suffer’ from) and was reported to have an IQ of 83, and I think it unlikely that they were entirely unaware of his impairments; he had been in contact with mental health services since the age of nine because of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and multiple suicide attempts and had been sectioned after one such attempt, and had had a difficult school and family life as a child. People in his condition are easy prey for various types of exploitation; besides the well-documented “mate crimes” in which people pretend to be friends to an individual with learning disabilities and then abuse or even kill them, there are cases of criminals using their eagerness to please others, their need for friendship and approval, to induce or coerce them into helping with criminal activities (e.g. letting their flat be used to store drugs). Whoever encouraged him to carry out the bombing played on his vulnerabilities.

I thought at the time that his sentence was unduly harsh, given his fragile mental state and the fact that he was not part of any major terrorist organisation, the device was crude and the bombing did not injure, let alone kill, anyone. The starting point for a tariff (that is, the minimum amount of time that must be served in prison) for an actual murder, a deliberate act in which someone was killed, is 12 years; his was 18 years. This was three years longer than that received by Roshonara Choudary, a young woman not thought to have learning difficulties, for stabbing the MP Stephen Timms in May 2010, two years later. Such inconsistencies are not uncommon in English sentencing for serious crimes; consider the fact that Adam Johnson, a footballer, received six years for sexual acts (not intercourse) with a 15-year-old girl, while Jeremy Forrest, a teacher, received a five-year sentence for running off to France with a 15-year-old girl who was his pupil and, as he later admitted, having sex with her. Much as with the sentences passed during the 2011 riots, often savagely harsh in response to trivial thefts that did not involve violence, the judge appears to have ignored usual mitigating factors (using his clean record against him, for example) and his disability.

Since we do not know the cause of his death other than that it was not murder, there is a distinct possibility that it was suicide. Reilly had recently been transferred from Broadmoor hospital, where his mother had said he had been treated very well (and where she had been allowed to see his room, very rare now even in low-security units for people with learning disabilities), to HMP Manchester, formerly Strangeways, which a recent inspection (PDF) had noted was overcrowded, where black, minority-ethnic and Muslim prisoners were much more negative about their relations with staff than other prisoners, and facilities for prisoners with disabilities were inadequate. The transfer may have been in response to his and another Muslim patient’s attack on a member of staff in a dispute over changes to Muslim prayer arrangements; however, it seems odd to transfer a vulnerable patient to a far-away prison over an offence much less than the one that got him sent there. His learning disabilities had, after all, not changed. It would also not be the first time a learning disabled offender was housed among a general prison population, male or female, and such prisoners are common targets for bullies.

This was a tragic waste of a life, of course partly by Reilly himself but also by those who bullied him as a child, those who exploited him after he became Muslim and by those who punished him out of proportion to the effects and the background behind the crime, treating him as a competent and sophisticated terrorist when he was neither. His imprisonment or treatment should have been aimed at rehabilitating him to a purposeful life in the community well within 10 years, rather than keeping him locked up indefinitely and thereby destroying him. This should be the same for all offenders with learning disabilities who, alongside those with challenging behaviour that leads them into the mental health system, are being failed with lethal consequences.

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On The Četnik Atrocities Against Muslims

Loon Watch - 21 October, 2016 - 21:08


The Balkan Muslims and the Muslims of Eastern Europe have faced many trials and tribulations over the years. Their communities have been targeted for systematic destruction several times.

Recently, I came across the interesting work and writings of Ćamil Jusuf Avdić, a pioneering Muslim scholar in America, in a nice volume called: “A Heritage of East & West: The Writings of Imam Ćamil Jusuf Avdić.”

In the process of reading some of the his writings I encountered a shocking fact that hitherto I have not read before. It relates to the destruction and murder of 200,000 Bosnian Muslims during World War II. I reproduce below selected passages dealing with the crimes perpetrated by the Četniks and their leader, General Draža Mihailović.

“The Četniks were paramilitary, pan-Serbian units, whose duty, in the beginning, was for the struggle against the Turks, and afterwards against all Muslims in the Balkans, as well as against Croats and Bulgars, Hungarians and Germans. They were both national and religious fanatics. Colonel Mihailović was promoted by King Peter to the rank of general and minister of war to the Yugoslav government in exile. This title and post was a reward for his ‘heroic’ exploits against Muslim children, women and old men, as we shall see. The Western Allies also raised him to the rank of a ‘hero’ due to the propaganda of the Yugoslav government-in-exile. We shall prove here through objective argument what the real plans and actions of this man were, and against whom the Četniks were directed. Firstly the order du jour of Draža Mihailović issued on the 20th December 1941, No. 370, wherein he stated the need to, ‘Create a common frontier between Serbia and Montenegro by cleaning the district of the Sandžak of Novi Pazar of its Muslims, and ridding Bosnia-Hercegovina of all Muslims and Catholics.’


Following this declaration Mihailović let loose his force of Četniks to put into execution his orders. Bosnia-Hercegovina and the Sandžak became a hell for the unarmed and abandoned Muslim masses. More than 200,000 were killed in a most inhuman and horrible manner; villages and hamlets became graveyards; thousands and thousands of refugees fled to Sarajevo and other great cities.” (p.52-55)


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