Muslims

Muslims Criticize Bloomberg Veto of NYPD Watchdog

Photo courtesy RNS/Flickr.
Michael Bloomberg speaks in April 2009. Photo courtesy RNS/Flickr.

Muslim-American civil rights groups are criticizing New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for vetoing a bill on Tuesday that would have created an independent inspector general to oversee the New York City Police Department.

The New York City Council passed the bill June 27 as a check against controversial NYPD policies that critics say violate the civil rights of Muslim and other minority New Yorkers. Reports that the NYPD spied on mosques, Muslim businesses, organizations, and students began surfacing in 2011.

“The NYPD is out of control and discriminates against innocent Americans, and Mayor Bloomberg has let Americans down by allowing the NYPD to use discriminatory policies without any accountability,” said Glenn Katon, legal director for Muslim Advocates, a civil rights group based in San Francisco.

Lessons in Creating Ubuntu

Conversations in Transition is a veritable graduate course in what South Africans call ubuntu, or good neighborliness.

Charles Villa-Vicencio and Mills Soko present 23 narratives of both well-known and unsung heroes of the anti-apartheid struggle. These narratives are filled with instructive words of wisdom for seekers of peace with justice in countries emerging from post-tyranny chaos and in long-established democracies alike. Historians and activists will find hope in the stories of South Africa’s courageous, diverse citizens, as well as prophetic insights and warnings as the subjects address post-apartheid violence and oppression in a country still on the edge.

My own experiences lead me to an unqualified endorsement of this invaluable compendium. Over several decades I have pondered repeatedly two particular conversations, one with a Jew in Israel and the other with a Muslim from Cape Town.

An effort was made to introduce the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) process into the Israel-Palestine conflict. At the end of an evening with South African officials and members of the Israeli and Palestinian communities, the director of a Jewish study center in West Jerusalem, Benjamin Pogrund, shared a revealing comment. He said, “TRC will never work here because Israelis do not have the theological and philosophical understanding of forgiveness and reconciliation that Muslims, Christians, and Jews shared in South Africa in order to bring unity and liberation without major conflict.”

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Hot Dogs for Peace

WHEN I WAS growing up in the western suburbs of Chicago, I felt so far outside of the inner circle of cool kids that I didn’t even know where the circle was. So you can imagine my delight when I got an invitation to David’s birthday party. David was in the outer part of the inner circle, which meant I was heading in the right direction.

A couple days before the party, my mom took a closer look at the invitation and noticed that it said David’s parents would be making hot dogs for lunch. As she wasn’t sure whether the hot dogs were pork or beef, and as we were Muslims who don’t eat pork, she informed me that she’d be giving me all-beef franks to take from home with a note to David’s mom asking her to fry them up in a separate pan.

Of course, this horrified me, the kind of horror that only a kid caught up in the jungle of grade school coolness competition can feel. I remember standing in the living room, staring at my mom, and thinking to myself: “First, you named me Eboo.”

The day of the party rolled around and, dutiful Indian-Muslim child that I was, I accepted the little plastic baggie with two beef hot dogs that my mom handed me, allowed her to put me in nice slacks and a collared shirt, and went off to the party. When lunchtime came, I snuck into the kitchen to make my request of David’s parents. Imagine my surprise when I noticed another kid in the kitchen. He wore a collared shirt and nice slacks and also held a plastic baggie with two hot dogs.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“My name is Chaim,” he said. “My mom sent me with my own hot dogs.”

I was like, “You and me, we are going to be friends.”

Chaim was the first Jew I ever met.

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AUDIO: The Cosas, an Iraqi Christian family

Iraqi Christians are commonly believed to be the oldest continuous Christian community in the world – the direct result of the apostle Thomas’ evangelism efforts. But as Gregg Brekke writes in the July issue of Sojourners, Christians in Iraq and throughout the Middle East are leaving in a mass exodus.

Sojourners editorial assistant Dawn Araujo spoke with a Christian family that left Iraq in 2012. Before leaving the country, Laith Cosa and his wife Awab Khoshnaw had fled—along with their daughters, Linda, 17; Lilyan, 12; and Lobna, 6—to the relative safety of Kurdistan in northern Iraq.

They stayed there for six years before coming to the U.S., in part to seek better medical care for Lobna who had blood cancer.

The Cosas say Christians in Iraq have lived perilously for decades. Both Awab’s father and brother faced persecution long before the U.S. Iraqi invasion, her father fleeing briefly to Poland.

But they harbor no ill-will toward Muslims. They emphasize that Islam is not the problem, but rather a tradition of fear and dislike of “the other” that is passed down from generation to generation. A tradition, they say, can be fought with love and better understanding.

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Syrian Civil War Forces Sunni and Shiite Muslims to Pick Sides

Photo courtesy FreedomHouse via Flickr
Syria independence flag flies over a large pathering of protesters in Idlib. Photo courtesy FreedomHouse via Flickr

The Syrian civil war is increasingly drawing in nations across the Middle East, a regionwide conflict that threatens to pit world powers against each other and Muslim against Muslim.

On Wednesday, the United Nations Human Rights Council pushed through a resolution to investigate the abuses of the Syrian regime, over the objections of the regime’s ally Russia, who insisted the West was making matters worse.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry continued his travels in the region, trying to get all parties to agree to a peace conference in Geneva in the next few weeks. But councils representing the Syrian rebels again refused to join, demanding that representatives of Bashar Assad’s regime be banned.

In a war that is now clearly pitting the two main branches of the Islam — Sunni and Shiite Muslims — against one another, the dithering and differences between world powers is bringing about a desperate situation, according to experts.

Poll: U.S. Muslims More Moderate Than Muslims Worldwide

RNS photo by Sally Morrow
Muhhamad Shafiq and Hazem Hassan pray at the Islamic Society of Greater Kansas City. RNS photo by Sally Morrow

Muslims in America are much less inclined to support suicide bombing than other Muslims abroad, and are more likely to believe that people of other faiths can attain eternal life in heaven, according to a new report released Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

“The World’s Muslims” report looks at Muslim views across seven categories: Islamic law; religion and politics; morality; women; relations among Muslims; interfaith relations; and religion, science, and pop culture. There is also a special section on U.S. Muslims.

Of the countries surveyed, only a majority of Muslims in America — 56 percent — believe people of other faiths can go to heaven; by contrast, that figure among U.S. Christians is about 64 percent. U.S. Muslims are also less likely than Muslims abroad to believe in evolution, sharing views that are closer to those of U.S. Christians.

On suicide bombing, 81 percent of U.S. Muslims said it was never justified, 7 percent said it was justified to “defend Islam,” and 1 percent said it was “sometimes justified.”

Pope Francis Calls for Intensified Dialogue with Muslims

RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini
Pope Francis waves during his inauguration Mass at St. Peter’s Square on Tuesday. RNS photo by Andrea Sabbadini

VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis on Friday called for more intense dialogue between religious leaders, particularly Muslims, as he tries to recalibrate relations between the world’s two largest religious groups.

Speaking in the Vatican’s majestic Sala Regia, the Argentine pontiff said that part of his mission is to connect “all people, in such a way that everyone can see in the other not an enemy, not a rival, but a brother or sister.”

In a meeting with Vatican diplomats and foreign leaders, Francis also reaffirmed the church’s commitment to protect the poor and the environment, an early theme in his young pontificate.

“Fighting poverty, both material and spiritual, building peace and constructing bridges: these, as it were, are the reference points for a journey that I want to invite each of the countries here represented to take up,” the pope said.

The Inaugural Prayer We Didn't Hear

WHO SHOULD BE able to pray at a presidential inauguration and what should that prayer be?

On Jan. 20, 1937, Monsignor John A. Ryan delivered the first inaugural benediction at the inauguration of Franklin D. Roosevelt with these words: "Almighty God, ruler of nations, we beseech thee to bless the people of the United States. Keep them at peace among themselves and in concord with all other peoples. Cause justice and charity to flourish among them, that they may all be enabled to live as persons created in thine own image and likeness."

Since this first benediction, ministers, priests, bishops, cardinals, and rabbis have offered prayers at the past 18 presidential inaugurations. Almost 76 years to the day since Father Ryan's benediction, Myrlie Evers-Williams became the first layperson to deliver the inaugural invocation, and Rev. Luis León, an Episcopal priest, offered his prayer for President Obama and our nation: "... with the blessing of your blessing, we will see that we are created in your image, whether brown, black, or white, male or female, first-generation immigrant American or daughter of the American Revolution, gay or straight, rich or poor ... with your blessing we will recognize the abundance of the gifts of this good land with which you have endowed this nation."

You may remember that the selection of Rev. León, like most decisions made in Washington today, did not come without controversy and an onslaught of protests. León, who ministers at St. John's Church near the White House and is known for welcoming openly gay Christians, replaced the administration's first choice, Rev. Louie Giglio. Giglio withdrew from the ceremony after the surfacing of his controversial sermon from 20 years ago condemning gay relationships. Giglio's stance on the issue of gay marriage is in sharp contrast to the beliefs of Rev. León, whose parish will begin to bless same-sex partnerships and ordain transgender priests this summer.

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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.

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.”

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