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Posts tagged ‘Muslims’

Muslims Protect Christians

Human chain formed to protect Christians during Lahore mass
By Web Desk / Aroosa Shaukat
Published: October 6, 2013
The Express Tribune

LAHORE: The Muslim and Christian communities came together during Sunday mass in a show of solidarity in Lahore.

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Hand in hand as many as 200-300 people formed a human chain outside the St Anthony’s Church adjacent to the District Police Lines at the Empress Road, in a show of solidarity with the victims of the Peshawar church attack two weeks back, which resulted in over a 100 deaths. The twin suicide attack on All Saints church occurred after Sunday mass ended and is believed to be the country’s deadliest attack on Christians.

Standing in the small courtyard of St Anthony’s Church, as Mufti Mohammad Farooq delivered a sermon quoting a few verses of the Holy Quran that preached tolerance and respect for other beliefs, Father Nasir Gulfam stepped right next to him after having conducted a two hour long Sunday service inside the church. The two men stood should to shoulder, hand in hand as part of the human chain that was formed outside the church not just as a show of solidarity but also to send out a message, ‘One Nation, One Blood’.

As part of an attempt to sensitize the public at large, the human chain was the second such event after a similar had been organized in Karachi last week outside the St Patrick’s Cathedral by an organization called Pakistan For All – a collective of citizens concerned about the growing attacks on minorities.

“Well the terrorists showed us what they do on Sundays. Here we are showing them what we do on Sundays. We unite,” said Mohammad Jibran Nasir, the organizer who made the calls for the event on social media.

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Flying in from Karachi for the human chain, Nasir and his group are out to advocate the need for interfaith harmony. “I see no reason why our politicians and our leaders should not come out of their houses, leave the luxury of their secure homes and stand in solidarity with the common man”, he said.

As the service concluded inside the church, the courtyard echoed with slogans of ‘Dehshut gardee murdabaad’ and ‘Muslim Maseehi ittehad zindabaad’ as members of the Sunday service emerged.

Led by Taimur Rahman, activist and member of the music band Laal, the congregation in the courtyard proceeded with sermons and chanting as the crowd increased in number.

Later, the congregation moved onto the street where they chanted slogans and formed the human chain, as police cordoned off the roads leading to the church to allow for the congregation to move.

Mariam Tariq who was attending the service along with her daughter also joined the chain. “We have lost so many of our loved ones over the past few years” said Tariq as she broke into tears.

See more photos at The Express Tribune with the International Herald Tribune.

Muslims Protect Christians

Bishop thanks Muslims for protecting Christians in Egypt’s Al-Khosous

A senior Coptic bishop has praised Muslims in Al-Khosous who attempted to protect Christians during a recent bout of sectarian violence that left five people dead.

“The loving Muslims who protected Christians and the church during the deadly clashes in Al-Khosous highlighted the mistakes of the fanatics and showed the true meaning of religion and love,” Bishop Moussa, who is in charge of youth affairs at the Coptic Orthodox Church, said in a statement on Wednesday.

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“Our only consolation is that the victims gave their lives as a testimony to God and their pure souls ascended to heaven…,” he added.

Egypt’s Coptic Orthodox Pope Tawadros II, along with other bishops, will on Thursday accept condolences from public figures at the papal headquarters in Abbasiya.

Deadly clashes erupted in Al-Khosous in Qalioubiya on Saturday after a group of Christian teenagers allegedly daubed what some Muslims deemed offensive symbols on the walls of an Al-Azhar institute in the town, state news agency MENA reported.

Four Christians and one Muslim died in the violence that followed.

On Sunday, a funeral for the Christian victims of the violence was held at St Mark’s Coptic Orthodox Cathedral in Cairo. As mourners were leaving the cathedral they were attacked by unknown assailants. Two people died and at least 90 were injured in the ensuing violence.

Police fired teargas and birdshot directly into the cathedral compound, sparking uproar among the Christian community.

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Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed,
National Director
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America
Phone 202-544-5656 Fax 202-544-6636
110 Maryland Ave NE, Suite 304
Washington DC 20002
www.ISNA.net

Muslims, Words and Dr. King

A Muslim Reflection on Dr. King’s Legacy of Peace Through Words
by Najeeba Syeed-Miller. Posted 1/21/2013.
Follow Najeeba Syeed-Miller on Twitter: www.twitter.com/NajeebaSyeed

The shaykh with whom I studied ethics would speak nearly perfect Arabic throughout the day and address everyone in his path with great respect, even in the grammar of his speech. I asked him why he put such care into his choice of words, he would say, “Najeeba, most importantly, in the form of our words, we should pursue beauty and elevate discourse.”

His words and monumental effort in expressing himself in a way that was sublime has always stayed with me. In essence, he was establishing a confluence between the choice of words he used, their elegant arrangement, his affect and the cognitive functions of communicating. He rounded these together in every utterance so that each sound he made was calibrated to increase beauty in the world and create a relational quality in the way he spoke with others.

As I reflect on why Dr. King so profoundly affected my journey as a peacemaker, it is because he also exemplified that capacity to elevate discourse by harnessing the resources of language to move the level of discussion deeper and higher. In this process, his prose and speeches resonated particularly with those who knew his context. At the same time, they echo in ways that are illuminating with a universal radiance because they appeal to the heart, mind and soul at the very same time.

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As a Muslim, I have been taught the Qur’anic principles of engagement: To speak with the best words and with words of goodness when I am in a state of difference with another. Often in the past, I thought of this injunction as emphasizing the idea of persuasiveness. I have since found that there are other important aspects to these teachings that emphasize generosity and respect for the other in exchanges.

In thinking about the language of my teachers and Dr. King, I have come to recognize that one major element of constructing conversations that are beautiful in both form and process is this encompassing eloquence that can integrate emotional and cognitive approaches to social change.

It is easy to separate thought and emotion, to parse out the heart from the head. What makes Dr. King’s words drum in our hearts and minds far after we’ve first read them or heard them is the genius of his understanding that social justice is not merely an externally focused pursuit of rights;it is a rearrangement of the interior human landscape in how we see and feel about ourselves, the world and one another.

There is an element of slowing down, appreciating his text and speeches because of their sheer beauty. It causes me to listen both to the content and the orchestration of his language. I am engaged with the ideas and the emotional quality. He speaks of the greatest ugliness manifested by humanity in ways that push me to see that internally, I too, may be capable of such monstrosity if not for the vigilance necessary to keep my heart, mind and actions intertwined to actualize dignity and peace. He behooves us to respond with an ethical approach not just in action, but also in insuring that even (or especially) an enemy is never demonized nor dehumanized in our depiction of them.

So perhaps one lesson to glean from our celebration of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is how we can move beyond competitive modes of talking, into a state of communal conversation that solemnizes an oath to speak with such careful thoughtfulness, so that the very act of forming a word is a sacred exertion of our highest sense of self.

Sikhs, Muslims and Hindus

Guest blog for Washington Post
by Vineet Chander, Valarie Kaur and Najeeba Syed-Miller
12 August 1012

In Conversation: Sikhism, Islam, and Hinduism

One week after the Sikh shootings in Oak Creek, Americans have learned more about the Sikh community, many for the first time. A brief introduction to Sikhism has caused people to wonder about the relationship between Sikhism, Hinduism and Islam.

Each religion is a distinct tradition with unique sets of beliefs, practices and values, and at the same time, all three have coexisted for many hundreds of years in the South Asian region of the world. India is home to one of the world’s largest Muslim populations and the birthplace of Hinduism and Sikhism. Of course, it has often been a complex, difficult and troubling history. But we have also seen moments of solidarity between these communities. We recall the slogan some of our grandparents used to sing in India: Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Isaee! Hum Saray Hai Bhai Bhai! “Hindu, Muslim, Sikh, Christian. We are all brothers (and sisters).”

In the U.S., Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs share similar challenges in our pursuit to live, work, and worship in caring and safe communities. Hindu and Muslim Americans across the nation have reached out to Sikh neighbors to express their grief and support. In that spirit, we three authors – a Hindu American chaplain, a Muslim American peacemaker, and a Sikh American advocate – engaged in a conversation about the similarities and differences between our faith traditions.

How We See God

Vineet: Hinduism is the oldest of the three faith traditions, made up of diverse practices and beliefs that all approach the divine differently. In fact, Hinduism itself is so diverse that it is difficult and even misleading to categorize it using Western frameworks like “monotheistic” or “polytheistic.” Still, most Hindus say that, ultimately, they believe in one Supreme Being who is both transcendent and imminent. Some Hindus emphasize God’s oneness with the universe, seeing the divine in everything and everything in the Divine. Others emphasize God’s distinct personality and form, seeing Him as our divine parent and us as His eternal servants. Hinduism also recognizes the presence of devatas (often translated as “demigods”), celestial beings who manage the affairs of the cosmos. Hindus see devatas similar to angels or partial manifestations or energies of the One Supreme. Hindu teachers often speak of God as a great flame from which small sparks (all beings) emanate. In this sense, Hinduism holds that the divine is inconceivably one with His creation and yet always infinitely more vast and powerful. Hinduism suggests that Divinity can thus be manifest in the natural world, and that an important part of spiritual wisdom is learning to recognize it.

Najeeba: As a Muslim, I believe in the divine presence of God. Often you might here this referred to as Allah, which simply translated into English means “The God.” Islam is founded on the belief in tawhid, or the oneness of God, a monotheistic divine entity with no particular form and not in the image of a person. The Koran describes God as the light of the heavens and of the earth. God is also described with 99 attributes including the one we as Muslims call upon before any act, “the Most Merciful.” Muslims follow a tradition of prophet Muhammad that states, “God is beautiful and loves beauty.” God is viewed as deeply connected to the spiritual consciousness of humans and accessible through prayer. Even the plants and trees of this Earth are considered as part of the forms that adore God according to the Koran. Oneness of humankind emanates from the belief in one God, and the diversity of humankind under the umbrella of a common humanity. The basis for relations with other humans is mercy. Prophet Muhammad said “God does now show mercy to those who do not show mercy to others.” The holy book of the Muslims is the Koran and the sayings of the prophet Muhammad are the hadith, which are important sources for religious understanding. Muslims share with Christians and Jews many common prophets, from Adam to Jesus who is viewed as an important prophet but not the son of God. Muslims also highly value education; prophet Muhammad instructed Muslim women and men to pursue knowledge from “the cradle to the grave.” Thus, individual Muslims are also encouraged to learn for themselves and insure that they are always intellectually and spiritually improving themselves throughout the course of their lives.

Valarie: Sikhism is the youngest of the three religions. The Sikh religion was born in 15th century Punjab (now northern India and Pakistan), a rich meeting place for Hinduism and Islam that oversaw the rise of devotional (bhakti) traditions on either side of the Hindu-Muslim divide: Sufi Islam called for inward love for Allah, and Hindu Bhakti traditions advocated personal devotion. The founder of the Sikh faith, Guru Nanak, established a new devotional tradition based on direct loving devotion to one divine, Ik Onkar, and a commitment to social justice. As a Sikh, I see God as infinite, formless, creative, without fear and enmity, timeless, and self-existent. The unity of all that we know – human and divine – forms the basis of all of our relationships. “God’s in the self and the self is in God,” says Guru Nanak. “The fire is put out through knowing the One is within and without.” God is called by hundreds of names in the devotional poems of our scripture: Vaheguru, Hari, Allah. Through constant remembrance of the Divine, we silence the ego, realize mystical union beyond language and thought, and experience the interconnectedness between self and all. The experience is mukti, liberation: the feeling of freedom and ecstatic bliss when “the breath sparks and the sky thunders.” It produces an unending flow of compassion for all beings, fulfilled through seva or divinely-inspired service.

How We Pray

Vineet: Hindus engage in spiritual practice (called sadhana) in a variety of ways. They engage in ritual worship, formally in temples or informally in their homes. Such worship may involve reciting prayers or chanting sacred mantras, observing periodic fasting, or offering gifts in charity to the less fortunate. In addition, Hindus may practice their faith through study of sacred texts, through regular meditation and introspection, and even (or, we might say, especially) through performing their day-to-day duties in a selfless and generous spirit, in a way that uplifts themselves and others. While Hindus may occasionally emphasize some of these practices over others, most Hindus see them all as interconnected pieces of a singular, cohesive engagement with their faith. One of the most often misunderstood Hindu practices, at least in the West, is the use of visual representations or icons of the divine. Many Hindus (though not all) believe in connecting with God through forms, called murtis, considering them to be manifestations of the supreme in tangible forms that we can relate to and render service to. This allows Hindus to focus their meditation, have a more personal exchange with God, and to express their devotion to Him through rituals.

Najeeba: Ritual prayer is prescribed five times a day and in addition, zakat, or alms giving to the poor are key practices at the core of a Muslim community. Muslims may worship communally at the masjid, and congregational prayer accompanied by a sermon are regular features in the life of a Muslim community held on the designated Jum’ah of Friday of every week Muslims perform rituals of fasting during the month of Ramadan which is our current 30 day spiritual exercise in self-regulation and avoiding of food, anger and arguments during the day light hours Muslims also avoid consumption of alcohol or other intoxicating substances with the understanding that clarity of the mind is important to utilize the gift of aql or reason to make good decisions in life. Muslims are always concerned about their internal state as it relates to honesty, good works and kindness to others. “Every act is but its intention,” is a teaching of Prophet Muhammad and so reflecting on why one is doing even good acts becomes important so that one’s ego is not inflated. Contemplative practices such as dhikr (ritual chanting), dua (supplication) and other spiritual practices are utilized to bring one’s higher self into consciousness and work to reduce the ego. Family is the organizing unit of a Muslim community and honoring mothers, fathers and the elderly is considered a righteous act.

Valarie: Sikhs pray together in houses of worship and learning called gurdwaras [doorways to the divine] where we recite and sing devotional songs or shabads from our scripture, the Guru Granth Sahib. Through music and poetry, we meditate on the name of God in order to taste the bliss of divine union. In our devotion to the divine, Sikhs wear five articles of faith, including kesh (uncut hair), meant for women and men equally. Men traditionally wrapped their long hair in turbans. Some women wear turbans too, but most simply cover their heads with headscarves when praying. Our faith teaches equality between women and men and people of all classes and backgrounds. Our tenth leader requested us to drop our surnames (a marker of social status), and instead, embrace a shared surname: all women adopted the last name “Kaur” and men took the last name “Singh.” “Sikh” literally means ‘to learn,’ calling us to learn our whole lives.

How We Serve

Najeeba: Muslims are constantly admonished to perform sadaqa or charity for people within our community and for those who are not Muslim as well, especially for neighbors. The teaching regarding neighbors is not only for Muslims, it extends to the greater community whoever they may be and the circumference of neighbors is considered nearly one’s whole city by some scholars. According to the Koran, Muslims must give charity to many categories of individuals including: the poor, the needy, orphans, widows, those traveling and without homes. Charity is in many forms, it can be in actual money or comfort. Prophet Muhammad instructed Muslims that “The doors of goodness are many… removing harm from the road, listening to the deaf, leading the blind, guiding one to the object of his need, hurrying with the strength of one’s legs to one in sorrow who is asking for help, and supporting the feeble with the strength of one’s arms–all of these are charity prescribed for you.” He also said: “Your smile for your brother is charity.” Inherent in this structure of offering charity is to also ensure that those who are in the situation of potentially being abused must also be given justice in terms of their rights. Many second generation Muslims in the United States have become engaged in civil rights work, environmental justice and social work projects because of the emphasis on caring for those who have little access to resources or power to change their circumstances for the better.

Vineet: Hinduism has traditionally championed extending charity and justice to others as an inseparable part of living a life of dharma. Classical texts, such as the Upanishads and the Gita, describe that one the fundamental virtues to aspire towards is the awareness of the interconnectedness of all beings. Thus, these texts teach, the wise share in the joys of others and work to alleviate their suffering. More recently, the saints of the Bhakti movement—a movement of spiritual and social reformers renewing Hinduism’s devotional tradition, spanning from the 12th century to the modern day—have echoed these sentiments, and have even taken them further. “The truly devout Hindu,” one teacher declared, “is known best by this quality: he cannot tolerate the suffering of another.”

Valarie: Sikhs often recite the line from scripture: “Truth is higher than everything else; but higher still is truthful living.” We express our devotion through living an honest life of service to all. Sikhism has three pillars in our practice: Naam Japna, remembrance of the divine; Kirat Karna, earning an honest living, and Vand Chakna, sharing all resources with society. Every gurdwara serves langar, a free communal meal open to all people, and this practice encourages a commitment to divinely-inspired service or seva. A new generation of Sikh Americans is engaging in seva through various forms of service: making films, running social action campaigns, becoming lawyers, public servants, scholars, and more. In the wake of the tragic shooting in Oak Creek, Sikh Americans organized vigils, worked with law enforcement, and in a time of grief, found the courage to call for an end to hate and violence – not just against our community but all people.

What Inspires Us

Vineet: I draw my inspiration from the Bhagavad Gita (a sacred Hindu text which means “the Song of God”). The Gita is a dialogue between Arjuna, a great prince, and Lord Krishna, who is revealed to be the Supreme in human-like form. Throughout the text, Krishna teaches about dharma, one’s right way of living. He suggests that one should perform activities in a spirit of service and detachment, and especially emphasizes love and devotion as the essence of all religious practice. In the Gita, Lord Krishna displays his awe-inspiring majesty as the creator of all that is. And yet, he asks us to choose to be his instruments in this world. I am struck by this beautiful and seemingly paradoxical reality– that we can be so humbled and small before the Divine, and yet so radically empowered to reflect his love. In my own life and work, I aspire to be an instrument of this love, compassion, and justice in all that I do.

Najeeba: I am a peacemaker, a Muslim and an American. Deeply embedded in my beliefs is the saying of prophet Muhammad that Muslims were commanded to “make peace,” with others and that we are to be a mercy for others. In every facet of my life I seek to make peace between people and to save human lives, my faith guides me in the Koranic injunction that to save one human is as if one saved all of humanity.

Thus, whenever violence occurs, I find ways to make peace between people and to contribute to my country, my neighborhood and my family. Fidelity to my nation is also a key belief for Muslims, when one takes an oath, adhering to it is a central tenet of Islamic teaching and for me the basis of my commitment to my country.

With Vineet and Valarie I share a love of South Asian cultural heritage and the many common values we share as Americans to work together to build stronger ties between all communities with peace at its heart.
Valarie: The Sikh ideal is the warrior-saint: one who walks the earth devoted to God and committed to fight injustice in all forms. In the 17th century, a Sikh woman Mai Bhago became the first female warrior-saint and led Sikhs who had abandoned battle back into battle herself: she became the warrior-saint she was waiting for. Inspired by Mai Bhago, my modern-day sword and shield is film and law: using storytelling and advocacy, I am grateful to be able to fight and serve my community alongside my fellow Sikhs and Americans.

Valarie Kaur, a filmmaker, legal advocate, and interfaith organizer, is founding director of Groundswell, a multifaith initiative. Her documentary “Divided We Fall” is the first feature film on hate crimes against Sikh Americans after 9/11. Follow her on Twitter at @valariekaur.

Vineet Chander is coordinator for Hindu Life at Princeton University, a Religious Life Leader at the Lawrenceville School, and adjunct professor at Farleigh Dickinson University. Follow him on Twitter at@vineetchander.

Najeeba Syeed-Miller is a professor at Claremont School of Theologyand director/founder of the Center for Global Peacebuilding. She is two-time recipient of the Jon Anson Ford Award from the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission and a leading figure in the establishment of Claremont Lincoln University, a jointly owned university with Muslim, Hindu, Jain, Jewish and Christian partners. You can fol. Follow her on Twitter at @najeebasyeed

For additional photos and links, go to Washington Post.

Islamic School In Synagogue

Islamic school plans to move onto St. Louis synagogue campus
July 20, 2012

(JTA) – An Islamic school in the St. Louis area, the Al Manara Academy, is planning to move onto the campus of a local synagogue, B’nai El Congregation in Frontenac, Mo.

By August, the Islamic day school plans to move to the space previously occupied by the Saul Mirowitz Day School-Reform Jewish Academy, according to the St. Louis Jewish Light. A conditional permit of use was approved Tuesday by the Frontenac City Council, limiting the number of students to 100, the newspaper said.

Amye Carrigan, B’nai El president, told the Jewish Light that a “firm, signed lease agreement” is not yet signed with the Reform congregation. “If and when it happens, I hope it’s going to be a very positive thing for the community,” she said. “This arrangement can be a wonderful opportunity for understanding and promoting positive outcomes.”

Earlier this year, the Reform Jewish Academy merged with the Solomon Schechter Day School of St. Louis to form the Saul Mirowitz Jewish Community School. It will operate on the campus of Congregation B’nai Amoona, which previously housed the Schechter school.

Phillip Paeltz, a board member of Al Manara Academy, told the Jewish Light that the operation is “an Islamic school which seeks to train students in the Islamic faith, but also prepares them for a multicultural world.” He said, “As Muslims, we refer to all Jews as people of the book. In so many places in the world there are conflicts between Muslims and Jews. Hopefully, this is a time when we seize the opportunity to work together.”

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Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed,
National Director
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America
Phone 202-544-5656 Fax 202-544-6636
110 Maryland Ave NE, Suite 304
Washington DC 20002
www.ISNA.net

Faith’s Work Together

There are Muslim’s helping Christians and Jews and vice-a-versa all the time, all over the world, but people seldom hear about it in the news. Here’s one example. It’s a video from a news report about a philanthropist, who is Muslim, supporting a an organization that helps the poor, which is Christian.

Muslim Lakhani and The Salvation Army Grate Patrol featured on Beyond the Dream

Religious Co-operation

From Tablet

A Bronx Tale
by Ted Regencia and Lindsay Minerva
23 January, 2012

A Bronx Tale

After the congregants of an Orthodox synagogue could no longer afford their rent, they found help in the local mosque.

Near the corner of Westchester Avenue and Pugsley Street in Parkchester, just off the elevated tracks of the No. 6 train, Yaakov Wayne Baumann stood outside a graffiti-covered storefront on a chilly Saturday morning. Suited up in a black overcoat with a matching wide-brimmed black fedora, the thickly bearded 42-year-old chatted with elderly congregants as they entered the building for Shabbat service.

The only unusual detail: This synagogue is a mosque.

Or rather, it’s housed inside a mosque. That’s right: Members of the Chabad of East Bronx, an ultra-Orthodox synagogue, worship in the Islamic Cultural Center of North America, which is home to the Al-Iman mosque.

“People have a misconception that Muslims hate Jews,” said Baumann. “But here is an example of them working with us.”

Indeed, though conventionally viewed as adversaries both here and abroad, the Jews and Muslims of the Bronx have been propelled into an unlikely bond by a demographic shift. The borough was once home to an estimated 630,000 Jews, but by 2002 that number had dropped to 45,100, according to a study by the Jewish Community Relations Council. At the same time, the Muslim population has been increasing. In Parkchester alone, there are currently five mosques, including Masjid Al-Iman.

“Nowhere in the world would Jews and Muslims be meeting under the same roof,” said Patricia Tomasulo, the Catholic Democratic precinct captain and Parkchester community organizer, who first introduced the leaders of the synagogue and mosque to each other. “It’s so unique.”

The relationship started years ago, when the Young Israel Congregation, then located on Virginia Avenue in Parkchester, was running clothing drives for needy families, according to Leon Bleckman, now 78, who was at the time the treasurer of the congregation. One of the recipients was Sheikh Moussa Drammeh, the founder of the Al-Iman Mosque, who was collecting donations for his congregants—many of whom are immigrants from Africa. The 49-year-old imam is an immigrant from Gambia in West Africa who came to the United States in 1986. After a year in Harlem, he moved to Parkchester, where he eventually founded the Muslim center and later established an Islamic grade school. Through that initial meeting, a rapport developed between the two houses of worship, and the synagogue continued to donate to the Islamic center, among other organizations.

But in 2003, after years of declining membership, Young Israel was forced to sell its building at 1375 Virginia Ave., according to a database maintained by Yeshiva University, which keeps historical records of synagogues. Before the closing, non-religious items were given away; in fact, among the beneficiaries was none other than Drammeh, who took some chairs and tables for his center.

Meanwhile, Bleckman and the remaining members moved to a nearby storefront location, renting it for $2,000 a month including utilities. With mostly elderly congregants, Young Israel struggled to survive financially and, at the end of 2007, was forced to close for good. The remaining congregants were left without a place to pray. During the synagogue’s farewell service, four young men from the Chabad Lubavitch world headquarters in Crown Heights showed up. Three months earlier, Bleckman, then chairman of the synagogue’s emergency fund, had appealed for help from the Chabad.

“The boys from the Chabad said they came to save us,” said Bleckman. “We were crying.”

At this point, Chabad took over the congregational reins from Young Israel, with members officially adopting the new name Chabad of East Bronx. Still, for the next six to seven weeks, Bleckman said they could not even hold a service because they had nowhere to hold it.

When Drammeh learned of their plight, he immediately volunteered to accommodate them at the Muslim center at 2006 Westchester Ave.—for free.

“They don’t pay anything, because these are old folks whose income are very limited now,” said Drammeh, adding that he felt it was his turn to help the people who had once helped him and his community. “Not every Muslim likes us, because not every Muslim believes that Muslims and Jews should be like this,” Drammeh said, referring to the shared space. But “there’s no reason why we should hate each other, why we cannot be families.” Drammeh in particular admires the dedication of the Chabad rabbis, who walked 15 miles from Brooklyn every Saturday to run prayer services for the small Parkchester community.

For the first six months, congregants held Friday night Sabbath services inside Drammeh’s cramped office. As more people began joining the congregation, Drammeh offered them a bigger room where they could set up a makeshift shul. (When it’s not in use, students from the Islamic school use it as their classroom.) Inside the synagogue, a worn, beige cotton curtain separates the men and women who attend the service. A solitary chandelier hangs just above the black wooden arc that holds the borrowed Torah, which is brought weekly from the Chabad headquarters. A large table covered with prayer books stands in the center, and a picture of the Lubavitcher Rebbe is displayed prominently on a nearby wall. During Shabbat, when Jewish congregants are strictly prohibited from working, they have to rely on the Muslim workers at the center or on Drammeh to do simple chores such as turning on the light and switching on the heater.

At first, it did not make sense, said Hana Kabakow, wife of Rabbi Meir Kabakow. “I was surprised,” said the 26-year-old congregant who was born and raised in Israel. “But when I came here I understood.” The Kabakows have been coming to the service from Brooklyn for the last two years.

Harriet Miller, another congregant, said she appreciated the center’s accommodating the synagogue. “They are very sweet people,” said the 79-year-old Bronx native and long-time resident of Parkchester, who added that she welcomes the new Muslim immigrants in her neighborhood: “We were not brought up to hate.”

Drammeh also understands the importance of teaching tolerance more broadly, and for turning the school—which was itself founded at the nearby St. Helena Catholic Church on, of all days, Sept. 11, 2001—into a model of sorts for religious tolerance in New York.

“We’re not as divided as the media portrays us to be,” Drammeh said. “Almost 90 percent of Jewish, Muslim, and Christian teachings are the same.”

His latest project involves introducing fifth-grade Jewish and Islamic school students to each other’s religious traditions. Other participants of the program, now in its sixth year, include the Solomon Schechter School of Manhattan, the Al Ihsan Academy of Queens, and the Kinneret Day School of Riverdale. At the end of the program, students organize an exhibit that shows family artifacts of their respective cultures and religion. The principal of the Islamic school, who is also Sheik Drammeh’s wife, said that even after the program ended, the participants became “fast friends” and would visit each other’s homes.

“They would have birthday parties together,” Shireena Drammeh said. “When someone invites you to their house, I mean, that says it all right there and then.”

Read entire story at Tablet.

Muslims Protecting Christians

Protest: Muslim Youths Guard Churches
From Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed
Office for Interfaith & Community Alliances
Islamic Society of North America
Niger, 10 January 2012

Some youths, mainly Muslim faithful, organised themselves into groups yesterday to guard worshippers in some churches in parts of Minna, Niger State capital, as part of a solidarity gesture against the removal of oil subsidy.

LEADERSHIP observed in Kpakungu area of Minna that some of the youths earlier dispersed by the Police on Friday from protesting at the Polo Field, Minna, had regrouped to protect some of the churches.

It was observed that the youths mounted the gates of the churches as their Christian counterparts were worshipping, and conducted themselves peacefully in order not to cause any apprehensions.

The youths, under the umbrella of Concerned Minna Residents, were last Friday dispersed by the police for lack of identity, with the Commissioner of Police, Ibrahim Mohammed Maishanu, saying they could not be granted a permit to hold protest.

The leader of the group, Awaal Gata, told LEADERSHIP in an interview at St Mary’s Catholic Church, Kpakungu, said, “we are protecting our fellow Christian brothers and sisters to show the people that our leaders cannot use religion to divide us.

“In this struggle, we are determined to make sure that the removal of fuel subsidy will not stay; we want to send a signal – by coming here to protect our Christians friends and to show that we are one and our Christian brothers will do same on Friday,” he added.

Asked whether they got police permit to do what they were doing, he said: “We are peaceful; we are here to protect ourselves and to emphasize that security is not only in the hands of the police – security is the responsibility of every citizen.”

Muslims Help Stop Riots

Excerpt from story by Robert Lambert on 12 Aug 2011 in AlJazeera.

Muslims tackle looters and bigots

British Muslims’ reaction to the riots should dispel any continued demonisation in the media.

There is a lively debate taking place in the UK media between left and right wing commentators as to the causes of the English riots, in which hundreds of shops and businesses have been looted. However, both sides agree that the looting has been inexcusable. I hope both sides will also agree with me that Muslims have played an important role in helping to tackle the looting and preserve public safety. This would be an especially important acknowledgment if it came from those Islamophobic commentators who consistently denigrate Muslims.

“When accused of terrorism we are Muslims, when killed by looters, we become Asian”, a Muslim student explained to me. He was commenting on the media reportingof the death of three young Muslims in Birmingham on Tuesday night. Like many other Muslims, they were bravely defending shops and communities as rioters went on a violent rampage of looting.

In recent days Muslim Londoners, Muslims from Birmingham, and Muslims in towns and cities around England have been at the forefront of protecting small businesses and vulnerable communities from looting. Having worked closely with Muslim Londoners, first as a police officer and more recently as a researcher, for the last ten years this commendable bravery comes as no surprise to me. But their example of outstanding civic duty in support of neighbors is worth highlighting – especially when sections of the UK media are so quick to print negative headlines about Muslims on the flimsiest of pretexts.
Pro-active response

On Monday evening when London suffered its worst looting in living memory I watched as a well marshaled team of volunteers wearing green fluorescent security vests marked ‘East London Mosque’ took to the streets of Tower Hamlets to help protect shops and communities from gangs of looters. This was the most visible manifestation of their pro-active response to fast moving and well co-ordinated teams of looters. Less visible was the superb work of Muslim youth workers from Islamic Forum Europe who used the same communication tools as the looters to outwit and pre-empt them on the streets.

While senior Westminster politicians started to pack and rush back to London from foreign holidays I watched Lutfur Rahman, the Muslim mayor of Tower Hamlets, offering calm leadership and support in the street as gangs of looters were intercepted and prevented from stealing goods in his presence.

Most important to emphasize is the extent to which everyone in Tower Hamlets was a beneficiary of streetwise, smart Muslims acting swiftly to protect shops, businesses and communities against looters. It is often wrongly alleged that Muslims lack any sense of civic duty towards non-Muslims and especially towards the LGBT Community. I wish peddlers of that negative anti-Muslim message had been present to see how all citizens in Tower Hamlets were beneficiaries of Muslim civic spirit and bravery on Monday night.

I am not sure if the Telegraph’s Andrew Gilligan was robbed of his bike by looters in Tower Hamlets or in another part of London as he cycled home from Hackney to Greenwich on Monday night, but even his incessant negative reporting of Muslims associated with the East London Mosque would not have excluded him from their neighbourly support had they been in the immediate vicinity to help him.

Gilligan reports that police were unable to offer him any advice other than to go home when he finally received an answer to his 999 call as a victim of a violent street robbery. London policing on Monday night was stretched as never before and Gilligan was one amongst hundreds of victims who had to fend for themselves as looters ran amok around the capital city. In these unique circumstances the street skills of Muslim youth workers, who are routinely helping police to tackle violent gang crime and anti-social behaviour in Tower Hamlets, Walthamstow, Brixton and in other deprived neighbourhoods, were a key ingredient in filling the vacuum created by insufficient police numbers.

I first saw East London Mosque and Islamic Forum Europe street skills in action in 2005 when they robustly dispatched extremists from Al Muhajiroun who were in Whitechapel attempting to recruit youngsters into their hate filled group. I saw the same skills in action in the same year when volunteers from the Muslim Association of Britain and Muslim Welfare House ousted violent supporters of Abu Hamza from the Finsbury Park Mosque. More recently, Muslim bravery has been seen in Brixton when extremists spouting the latest manifestation of Al Muhajroun hatred were sent packing out of town. In all these instances, and so many more, the brave Muslims involved have received no praise for their outstanding bravery and good citizenship, and instead faced a never ending barrage of denigration from journalists such as Gilligan, Melanie Phillips, Martin Bright…. sorry I won’t go on, it’s a long list!

Sadly, many of the brave Muslims helping to keep their cities safe have not only grown used to denigration from media pundits but also faced cuts in government funding for their youth outreach work with violent gangs. This is not as a result of widespread economic cuts caused by the recession, but because the government adopts the media view that they are ‘extremist’. Street in Brixton is a case in point. Yesterday Dr Abdul Haqq Baker director of Street was forced to close a Street youth centre in Brixton as his reduced team of youth of workers struggled to keep pace with the task of tackling gang violence and its role in rioting and looting.

READ ENTIRE ARTICLE AT: ALJAZEERA

Islam, Peace and Prison.

Iman Michael Salaam (photo)

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell, while talking on Meet the Press about President Obama’s faith being Christian said, “He’s always been a Christian. But the really right answer is what if he is (Muslim)? s there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some seven-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?” Mr. Powell went on to speak about a photo essay he’d seen which showed a mother at the grave of her son, who had served in Iraq and been awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. His tombstone had the crescent and star of the Islamic faith. The young man, Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, was an American who had given his life for his country. In spite of such examples of patriotism and calls for tolerance, stereotypes about the Muslim faith and those that practice it, especially those in prison, are buried deep in the American psyche.

The Gallup Poll of the Muslim World estimates there are approximately 1.3 billion Muslims in the world, which is about 22% of all people on earth. If it continues at its present rate of growth, those who identify as Muslims will bypass Christianity (holding steady at 33%) by the middle of this century. A survey by the Hartford Institute for Religious Research said that close to 2 million Muslims attend prayer in U.S. mosques. They also found that in one recent 5 year period, the number of mosques grew by 25 percent and the people worshiping in them rose by 300 percent. With one of the largest prison populations in the world, per capita, it is not surprising that people practicing or converting to Islam in America’s prisons has also risen over the last 50 years. Most people imprisoned in the U.S. are eventually released back into the community. If a large portion of them are Muslim, how they believe, act and practice their faith and our re actions to their faith, affects us all.

“I’m not a terrorist or violent. I’m Muslim,” says inmate Kalain Hadley at Pleasant Valley State Prison (PVSP) in Coalinga, California. “My God and the Islam I practice has nothing to do with killing innocent people or suicide. The Koran says to only fight to protect oneself. Jihad means ‘struggle’, an internal struggle with self, not something political or violent.”

The program manager for Hartford Seminary’s Islamic Chaplaincy Program, which is the only accredited program of its kind in the U.S., says she has had to deal with such prejudicial views about Islam throughout her career. Ms. Mumina Kowalski was the first contracted Islamic female chaplain in Pennsylvania. She worked at a women’s facility for 8 years and says, “We still experience a lot of prejudice. It’s tough. We use to get criticism about inmates because they were Muslim, as opposed to other inmates being criticized strictly for their behavior and not their religious beliefs.”

John E. Colbert, another inmate at PVSP, claims, “Mainstream Islam doesn’t believe in terrorism. It’s against the teachings of the prophet Muhammad. The radicals have moved away from the Koran and Muhammad’s example and drifted towards tribalism, culture and nationalism. One of the verses in the Koran says, ‘I made you as nations and tribes to learn from each other, not to fight one another.’ Islam recognizes all religious faiths, including the prophets Abraham, Jesus and Moses.”

Harry Dammer, Professor of the Sociology and Criminal Justice Department at the University of Scranton points out that, “We forget that Islamic inmates have been recruiting each other in prison for almost 50 years since Malcolm X and his colleagues brought it to the forefront as a prison religion. Only now, with the fear of terrorism, are people concerned about the abuse of the faith (Islam) after release. We also forget that looking back at prison riots over the last 40 or so years, you can see that in fact the Muslim inmates helped in numerous instances to quell the prison riots and keep the lid on escalating violence. I can say from my research that prison is just like general society. There are people in prison who are sincere in their religious faith and those that are not.”

The word “Islam” is defined as “surrender into God’s will”. “Allah” is simply another word for “God” and is close to the same words Jesus used for God in his native tongue. An “Imam” is “someone who leads others in prayer”. The 5 Pillars or “tenets” of Islam are: faith or belief in the oneness of God; daily prayer (5 times); concern for and giving assistance to the needy; purification through fasting (Ramadan); and at least 1 pilgrimage to Makkah (the hajj), for those that are able.

The former Muslim chaplain at PVSP, Imam Michael Salaam, has been in the faith since 1971. He grew up in Memphis Tennessee and had always attended New Salem Baptist Church. When he converted to Islam, he says his mother “almost went into shock”. He remembers her saying, “Are you insane?! Are you crazy?!” Her initial reactions didn’t last. “After about 5 years, she saw my life change,” he fondly recalls. “I got a steady job and was helping raise my kids. One day she came up to me and said, ‘Come here son. What is this stuff you say you’re in?’ I said, ‘It’s Islam Mom.’ She said, ‘Well . . . do you think you could get your brothers into that stuff?’ She had seen the positive effect Islam had on me through those years. I think it also helped her practice her own faith more deeply when she realized that Islam wasn’t ritualistic to me, it had become my substance; my essence. Muslim means that natu re or that soul in each of us. Once that soul or entity submits to Allah or God, he or she is Muslim.”

Five years ago the Federal Bureau of Prisons, which records prisoners’ religious preferences, said that 5.5 percent of the federal inmate population were some type of Muslim. It is believed that a much higher percentage of state and county inmates are Muslim (where religious preferences are not always recorded), due to the larger number of African-Americans in such facilities. Although those who are or have become Muslims come from all ethnic, social and economic backgrounds, the Associated Press says that 30 percent of the nation’s Muslims are black.

“Allah is everywhere,” claims inmate Kevin Wilson. “I don’t know exactly why, but it (Islam) resonates. Maybe it’s because it’s a form of rehabilitation. It’s something we are choosing to do, as opposed to being imposed. If you follow the principles and tenets of Islam you can do nothing but be rehabilitated. You have to be brutally honest with yourself and ask yourself hard questions and have that personal talk. It may hurt, but you’re going to find out who you are, what you were and where you’ll end up.”

Speaking about the incident he says changed his life, Kalain Hadley says, “I had just been in a fight and was sitting alone with a torn shirt. A guy came and sat next to me. He started talking about Allah and invited me to Friday service. I wasn’t interested in religion at all. I said I’d go just to get rid of him. I went and listened and have been showing up to listen for 4 years now. Imam Michael Salaam said what I need to hear and he is an honorable man.”

Whether these men’s change in belief and conversion to Islam will have a permanent positive effect upon their behavior and how they live their lives, is still out with the jury. Kris Rosenberg in Can People Change says, “Faith in human transformation is a phenomenon basic to our culture. We join Alcoholics Anonymous with the hope that we can become sober citizens. And sometimes it works. We can keep faith in the possibility of transformation and still be skeptical of quick-change artists with big pay-offs.”

The U.S. Department of Justice reports that 600,000 prisoners are released each year and that almost 70 percent of them have alcohol and drug problems. Within three years, about two-thirds are rearrested and 50 percent return to prison. In a report by Florida State University researcher Dan Mears, which was funded in part by the National Institute of Justice, it was found that there is no hard evidence that “faith-based” or religious programs really work or cut down on recidivism rates.

Such reports do not dampen the spirits of Imam Michael Salaam. He believes there is not enough support for those released or solid communities to which they can return and there are few programs that exist within the prison gates. As a sponsor of a non-denominational and multi-faceted program for inmates at PVSP called the Impact Program (which is co-facilitated by Rev. Deborah Johnson from Inner Light Ministries, along with an inmate council of long-time residents), the Imam has seen the positive effects and transformations that can and do take place when such comprehensive modalities are employed. “They have to come to it with some sincerity though and with an open heart to learn and reform their life,” he insists. “There are many successes.”

There are some studies that confirm that change is possible. An Arizona Inmate Recidivism Study found that, “Rehabilitation program involvement was found to reduce recidivism by 25% after two years of release. A higher level of inmate program involvement correlates with a greater reduction in recidivism. High program involvement will reduce recidivism by 35 percent or more. The greatest reductions in recidivism occur for those who are involved in a program and serve ten years or more. Inmates released to supervision record significantly lower recidivism rates than do comparable inmates released without supervision.”

A number of programs for Muslim’s released from prison are scattered across the country, but very few of them combine all of the factors that have been shown to cut down recidivism and help people stay the course. “When the Nation of Islam was the dominant factor in the prisons,” says Imam Michael Salaam, “I think the success rate was better because you had one influence, one voice and when the guys came out there was a community there. It was a coordinated effort. Now, with different schools of thought there is some fragmentation. There’s no real group representing all the divisions.”

This concern with fragmentation and groups that cause conflict in prison are echoed by Ms. Kowalski. “Some people use a fronting of religion as Muslim, but it is really negative and simply a tool to rebel against the system. This type of ‘Islam’ requires no personal transformation. They use it to form an identity, which can be detrimental, because they don’t practice or look at their own issues. That is another reason why it is so important to have trained chaplains that understand these divisions.”

Once people get out of the penitentiary, they face the same lack of coordinated services that often exist inside. A report in 2004 to the Annie E. Casey Foundation by Dr. Lawrence H. Mamiya and Dr. Ihsan Bagby identified a number of programs and mosques that are trying to help formerly incarcerated Muslims. They found that, “The city of Cleveland had the best Interfaith cooperative network, called Community Reentry, for reintegrating formerly incarcerated persons”. Other programs include: ICNA Relief and United Muslim Movement Against Homelessness (NY); Crescent Social Assistance Agency (NJ); Masjid Ikhwa (NY); Muslim Women’s Help Network (NY); ILM Foundation (LA); Small Steps (LA); Husbah (CA); Muslim Community Center (SF); Free at Last (CA); Community Re-Entry (OH); Masjid al-Muminin (GA); Islamic Crisis Emergency Response System (GA); Masjid al-Haqq (MI); Muslim Family Services (MI); Mosque of Umar (IL); Masjid al-Fajr (IN); Inner City Muslim Center (IL) ; Prison Committee at Islamic Center (TX); Prison Prevention Program (TX); and Masjid Taleem Muhammad (TX).

“I saw a study once,” Imam Michael Salaam recalls, “done by a Christian. He wanted to know why Islam was growing in America. He looked at the media and other factors and discovered that most who converted did so based on them knowing another person who they respected; based on that person’s good behavior; how that person treated them; their compassion and love. The best invitation for Islam is your behavior. The Koran says, ‘God is good. All good comes from God.’ If there’s something that is going wrong in your life, check your own hands and see what you did to bring that about. That is the key, for them to see that Islam calls upon you to improve your life so it can be of service to other human beings. I believe every human being can change. Not everyone will change, but they can. Until we can put that sense of self pride, responsibility and being of value in the men in prison, there won’t be any rehabilitation. You have to hit that chord with them. If Islam can make that man conscious and aware of his family, take care of his kids, become responsible and gainfully employed making honest money, that benefits everyone in our society. That’s what Islam is about . . . awakening that human being to his God given potential.”

“Michael Salaam has a unique way of putting things,” says PVSP inmate John E. Colbert. “It reaches the core of your soul. He is someone I respect. I could hear the same thing from someone else, but until I heard it from Imam Michael, it didn’t sink in.”

When former U.S. Secretary of State Collin Powell spoke about a 7-year-old Muslim-American child having the same right to dream of growing up to be president of the United States as any other kid in this country, he was presenting a vision of the potential that exists within our society, but has not yet been achieved. The reality of how American’s perceive and relate to their fellow Muslim citizens and their Islamic faith (those in prison and those without), is still embedded with stereotypes, prejudice and ignorance. Whether these negative images are changed by people such as Imam Michael Salaam, General Collin Powell or the over 2 million Muslim’s in the U.S., remains to be seen.

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