Islam

Muslims Detail Fear from NYPD Spy Probe

Muslim and civil rights organizations say a New York Police Department program to secretly monitor Islamic communities has created so much fear and suspicion among Muslims that many find it impossible to lead normal lives.

A new 56-page report, “Mapping Muslims: NYPD Spying and its Impact on American Muslims,” details how the NYPD’s covert surveillance caused Muslims to refrain from activism and change their appearance so as not to appear too Muslim, and sowed suspicion among community members.

As a result, the Monday report asserts, trust between Muslims and police has broken down. The program, in which NYPD policemen secretly visited mosques, Muslim-owned businesses, and student and civic associations beyond New York’s five boroughs, was established in 2001 but uncovered by The Associated Press in 2011.

A spokesperson for the NYPD did not respond to a request for comment.

Diverse Religion Because of Diverse Creation By a Diverse Creator?

Stained glass window depicting the Holy Trinity, jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

Stained glass window depicting the Holy Trinity, jorisvo / Shutterstock.com

I read a lot of Trinitarian theology last semester at Duke Divinity school, most of it trying to discern how believing in a Triune God might affect the way people of different religious faiths relate to one another. The other great Monotheisms, Islam and Judaism, of course reject the Trinity as they reject Jesus as divine. But what if the Christian belief in the Triune God is the very basis on which Christians can accept Jews as Jews, Muslims as Muslims, and atheists as atheists? Different theologians have explored how the Trinity might be a good place to ground a Christian theory of religious pluralism. S. Mark Heim has gone so far as to say that God’s own inner diversity shows God’s intention for a diverse humanity, even including religious diversity. In other words: People might believe in a non-Trinitarian God because they were made by a Trinitarian God. Mind-blowing.

I wasn’t expecting to find resonance in Charles Darwin, whose name has been used in so much anti-religious fervor. But in his 1857 letter to Asa Gray, Darwin wrote about the “principle of divergence” and how “the same spot will support more life if occupied by very diverse forms.” We might not want to make a precise analogy to human society when Darwin concludes that “each new variety or species, when formed will generally take the place of and so exterminate its less well-fitted parent.” 

That line of thinking could easily lead us to euthanasia. But, taken with his observation that diversity fosters life, we might say that co-existence with others forces a species to adapt, and everyone is better for it. Consider the converse of Darwin’s statement: The same spot will support less life if occupied by a unitary form. There is something life-giving – Heim might say “divine” – about difference.

One Woman’s Journey Out of Faith, Family, and Fear

RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Samya enjoys peaceful places, she likes music and attends meetings with other atheists once a week. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

On a summer night in a Western town of flat fields and hazy sunsets, a young woman stood outside a Greyhound bus with a ticket in her hand and a backpack over her shoulder. Boarding the bus, she said later, would be the hardest thing she had done in her 18 years.

Harder than saying a last goodbye to her mother, father, and five siblings that morning. Harder than the two years since as she tried to make a new life, alone, in a strange city.

Now 20, she asked to go by the name Samya. If her true identity were known, Samya believes, her family would seek her out and possibly kill her. They would certainly try to persuade her — if not force her — to come home.

Her parents, she said, think she is guilty of two serious crimes: She rejected a marriage arranged by her father, who came to the U.S. from the Middle East when Samya was an infant. And perhaps more serious to her parents: She has become an atheist.

Chicago is Ground Zero in U.S. Muslim Renaissance

RNS photo by Monique Parsons.

Rami Nashashibi founded IMAN in 1997. RNS photo by Monique Parsons.

CHICAGO — Religious affiliation may be on the wane in America, a recent Pew study asserts, but you wouldn’t know it walking into the storefront near the corner of West 63rd Street and South Fairfield Avenue.

Inside a former bank in a neighborhood afflicted with gang violence, failed businesses and empty lots, a team of volunteers drawn by their religious faith is working to make life better for Chicago’s poorest residents.

The free medical clinic has expanded its hours; 20-something college graduates are clamoring to get into its internship program; rap stars swing by its alcohol-free poetry slams; and the budget has increased tenfold in the past decade.

The storefront belongs to Chicago’s Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) and it is part of a wave of new Muslim institutions emerging at an unprecedented pace. More than a quarter of the nation’s 2,106 mosques were founded in the last decade, according to a recent University of Kentucky study, and new social service organizations, many of them run by 20- and 30-something American-born Muslims, are thriving as never before.

U.S. Mosques Hit By Shortage of Imams

betto rodrigues / Shutterstock.com

Shiite muslims in the parade of the Ashura festival on Nov. 18. betto rodrigues / Shutterstock.com

SPOKANE, Wash. — The Spokane Islamic Center wants something mosques all across the country are seeking and can’t seem to find: an educated, bilingual, experienced imam who understands American culture.

According to the report “The American Mosque 2011” by University of Kentucky professor Ihsan Bagby, half of all mosques in the U.S. have no full-time staff, and only 44 percent of imams work as paid, full-time leaders.

In Spokane, the Muslim community has been seeking a leader for 18 months and counting.

Bus Ads Aim to Reclaim the Meaning of ‘Jihad’

RNS photo courtesy www.myjihad.org.

An ad campaign to change public perception of the word "jihad." RNS photo courtesy www.myjihad.org.

An ad campaign on San Francisco buses is aimed at trying to change public perception of the word “jihad,” which the program’s founder says has been distorted by extremists — Muslim and anti-Muslim alike.

Ahmed Rehab, a 36-year-old political activist, started the campaign in Chicago in December and expanded it to 25 San Francisco buses at the start of the year.

Rehab, who heads the Chicago office of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, says his MyJihad campaign, which defines jihad as a personal struggle in many areas of life, is aimed at reframing a debate over a word that has become synonymous in many quarters with armed struggle and terrorism.

He said the debate has been taken over “more or less by two extremes — Muslim extremists and anti-Muslim extremists.”

Pastor Terry Jones is No Match for the Beatles’ LOVE

photo   © 2011   Mark Taylor , Flickr

Pastor Terry Jones leads a Islamaphobic march. photo © 2011 Mark Taylor , Flickr

Many will remember pastor Terry Jones as the champion of the “Burn a Quran Day” event, intended to fan anti-Islamic rhetoric on the anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks. Though many shouted him down and criticized his motives, he continues to have somewhat of a national platform for his agenda.

In this video produced by the New York Times, we get to witness what I consider a momentary intervention of God’s spirit in a beautifully, creatively nonviolent way. As Pastor Jones condemns Muslims and their religion, a man in the crowd pulls up the lyrics to the Beatles song, “All You Need is Love” on his phone. He stands next to jones and begins to sing, inviting the crowd to join in. It is beautiful because his hate is repaid with song, and the sting of his venomous words is neutralized without a hand or another voice being raised in anger (though I could do without the “idiot” sign, thanks).

Christianity in Britain Losing Ground to Islam, Secularism

Photo: Mark William Penny / Shutterstock.com

Photo: Rowan Williams, Mark William Penny / Shutterstock.com

CANTERBURY, England — New figures from the 2011 Census show that the number of people who identify as Christians in England and Wales has fallen by 4 million over the last 10 years.

The data shows that numbers fell from 37.3 million in 2001 to 33 million last year.

The statistics came as the outgoing archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, claimed that English cathedral congregations are growing dramatically, challenging the claim made by secularists that the Church of England is fading in Britain.

American Muslims Celebrate Defeat of Congressional Critics

Nihad Awad, national executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations

American Muslims are celebrating the ouster of two congressmen known for their anti-Islamic rhetoric, and heralding the outcomes as a sign that Muslim voters, at least in some districts, are a political force to be reckoned with.

"These encouraging results clearly show that mainstream Americans reject anti-Muslim bigotry by candidates for public office and will demonstrate that rejection at the polls," said Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations. "This election witnessed an increased political awareness and mobilization effort among American Muslims that dealt a major blow to the Islamophobia machine."

Republican Rep. Allen West lost to Democrat Patrick Murphy by about 2,500 votes in Florida’s 18th Congressional District, which includes Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. West has not conceded, however, and has filed a motion to have paper ballots recounted. 

There are roughly 160,000 Muslims in Florida, comprising about 0.9 percent of the population.

Over in Illinois, 21,000 votes separated Republican Rep. Joe Walsh from his successful Democratic challenger Tammy Duckworth, an Iraqi War veteran and double amputee. Illinois is home to the country's largest concentration of Muslims, about 360,000 comprising 2.8 percent of the population.

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