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The Muslim Link

National News
Imam of Torched Houston Masjid Meets Islamophobia with Love PDF Print E-mail
National News - National News
Written by Ehab Zahriyeh, Al-Jazeera, February 20, 2015   
Thursday, 26 February 2015 20:41

The Quba Islamic Institute is turning ‘something negative into a positive’ after receiving Islamophobic messages

Islamophobic messages directed toward the Quba Islamic Institute in Houston tarnished the overwhelming support and solidarity the mosque received after an arson attack on Feb. 12.

But instead of shying away from the social media comments, or responding with more hate, Ahsan Zahid, the assistant imam of Quba, decided to “turn around something negative into a positive.”

Zahid told Al Jazeera that before the arson at the two-year old mosque, Quba had received only one hateful comment, which came recently as anti-Muslim sentiments across the U.S. have been rising.

A study published last week by Lifeway Research found that only 43 percent of Americans believe Islam can create a peaceful society.

Fears in the Muslim community became a horrifying reality on Feb. 10 when three students — Deah Barakat, his wife Yusor Abu-Salha and his sister Razan Abu-Salha— were shot dead in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Since that shooting, numerous Islamophobic acts have been reported throughout the country, and many count the Quba fire among them.

But Darryl Ferguson, the homeless man who was charged on Feb. 16 for setting the mosque ablaze, said "it was an accident."

In a video post published on Wednesday, Zahid said Quba accepts Ferguson's statement and had "hoped from the beginning that it was not a hate crime."

“We feel that this world has enough hate, and we have to have love and harmony and solidarity,” Zahid said.

And with that attitude, he responded to Islamophobia on social media.

After the Houston fire, Joshua Gray, a truck driver from Catersville, Georgia, took to Facebook and accused Muslims in the United States of not taking a stand against Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).

He called Muslims "scum," in one comment, and in another post he wrote that he hoped a mosque "burns for every American killed by these terrorists."

Zahid responded to Gray by inviting him to Quba. Gray, already driving through Houston area, accepted. Then he spent five hours at the mosque speaking with its members and seeing them in prayer.

"It just changed my opinion on a lot of the things I’ve seen and heard by just going in and actually talking to him face to face," Gray, who said he never met Muslims prior to visiting Quba, told Al Jazeera.

He added that Zahid and other members of the mosque treated him with "friendliness" and were "welcoming" and "well mannered."

"Everything that a lot of us are told as Christians, they do as far as treating everybody the same. Even after my comments that I made, they still treated me good," Gray said. "It’s just not what I was expecting."

Gray later issued a public apology on Quba’s Facebook page, and added: “Anger gets the better of us sometimes by things happening around the world, and in our own country, so we tend to lash out the only way we are able, which are the ones like you, who dont like it anymore than we do. Thanks for inviting me.”

Gray said he hopes to visit Quba again to continue the conversation if he returns to Houston.

Zahid blamed news organizations for pressuring the entire Muslim community to be held accountable for any crime committed by a single Muslim.

"In the media, whenever a Muslim in the community commits a crime, it is burdened upon the entire ummah, the entire community, to condemn that person," Zahid said, adding that this pressure is not applied to other races or religions after an event like a mass shooting.

Zahid partly blames the anti-Muslim climate for the number of people misinformed about Islam. "We have the power to educate ourselves. ... I do blame them on not trying to take the initiative to getting to know people that they so easily hate."

Nonetheless, Zahid kept reaching out.

When Facebook user Barour Bob Hammer said, “I don't know why, but I suddenly feel like throwing severed pig-heads at every Muslim on my path," Zahid replied: “We are sorry you feel that way. Perhaps we can one day settle our differences and move forward towards a more perfect Union and World. Thank you, sir.”

Oso Osorio, another Facebook user, also focused on the Muslim prohibition on eating pork, writing, “I can donate some bacon sandwiches and a bible if you all want!”

Zahid accepted the offer: “We would gladly take you donation. Knowledge is something we can never have enough of. And we may feed the homeless in our area with the sandwiches. You are such a thoughtful human being!”

Merri Burnthorn, who supports the Facebook pages of American Sniper, National Rifle Association and Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, read, “About time the tables are turned! don't feel bad for you one bit! Where were you on 9/11?”

Zahid responded: “You don't have to feel bad. You have that right for sure.”

Quba's approach has so far worked at changing the heart of at least one person. Gray said that now, if he hears an Islamophobic remark, "I would definitely say, 'No, that’s not right. That’s not how the majority of Muslims are.'"

Islamic Leader Says US Officials Unfairly Target Muslims PDF Print E-mail
National News - National News
Written by Bryan Bender, GLOBE STAFF, FEBRUARY 18, 2015   
Saturday, 21 February 2015 21:52
Numerous studies have shown that the majority of politically motivated attacks inside the United States are not connected to Islam but right-wing antigovernment or white supremacist groups.
The Muslims of Early America PDF Print E-mail
National News - National News
Saturday, 14 February 2015 20:53

It was not the imam’s first time at the rodeo.

Court Asked To Consider Jerusalem’s Sovereignty On U.S. Passports PDF Print E-mail
User Rating: / 1
National News - National News
Written by Robert Barnes   
Thursday, 20 November 2014 18:04

The Supreme Court seemed deeply split Monday about whether Congress may allow Americans born in Jerusalem to claim “Israel” as their birthplace on passports, since every president since Harry Truman has resisted taking sides on whether Israel or Palestine controls the holy city.

For Disillusioned Muslim Community, A Struggle to ‘Get Out the Vote' PDF Print E-mail
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National News - National News
Written by Fatimah Waseem, Muslim Link Staff Reporter   
Monday, 03 November 2014 14:56

muslim-vote-in-america In the last decade, the Council on American Islamic Relations received calls from many Muslims who asked whether it was Islamically permissible to vote. In the last two election cycles, CAIR, the nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization, has not received a single such phone call, signalling that many have reconciled Islam and voting.

But as Muslim immigrants deepen their roots in the region and develop a culture of voting, the question has transformed from whether Muslims can vote to whether Muslims’ vote will count. Community activists and organizations say many Muslims are disillusioned by the government’s perceived disregard for civil liberties and rising Islamophobia. This limited political efficacy is heightened by limited information on how to vote and language barriers, prompting calls for masajid to step up civic engagement.

“While we do associate ourselves with this country, we do not associate ourselves with the politics of this country,” said Rizwan Siddiqi, the director of the Howard County Muslim Council and president of the United Maryland Muslim Council. “Our vote has a voice and it should make a difference.”

As roots deepen, a culture shifts

In the immigration wave of the 1980s, apathy and disengagement were often drilled into the psyche of Muslim immigrants from countries where democracy does not exist. Assuming America was the same, many did not develop a culture of voting.

CAIR’s government affairs manager, Robert McCaw, attributes the shift to an increasing number of Muslims educated in America who understand the democratic process and a growing number of religious scholars who appreciate the importance of civic engagement from a religious perspective.

“As the Muslim community has grown, so have the number of scholars that have been educated in this country who understand our democratic process,” McCaw said.

Since moving from Egypt in 1991 and becoming citizens, Abeer Gaber and her parents voted in school board, local and presidential elections. Gaber says seeing that their votes didn’t matter in Egypt pushed her parents to vote in America.

“We have a sense of responsibility to vote because we didn’t have that chance in Egypt,” said Gaber, an “I Am Change” fellow for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, a national Muslim advocacy organization.

Still, some immigrants may live in the United States, but their hearts are still tied to the politics of their home countries, Siddiqi said.

For Qadri Sameena, an immigrant from India, that tie strengthened her desire to be part of the democratic system. She sees voting as an extension of her Islamic duty.

“When Caliph Umar (ra) passed away, he appointed members to the community who would choose the new Caliph,” she says. “Multiple people should be part of the process.”

This sense of civic duty is being inculcated across generations, signalling hope for increased civic engagement in generations to come. Sameena’s daughter, Salwa Shan, a junior at the University of Maryland, agrees.

“[Voting] aligns with Islam’s goals of making sure you are a contributing member to society and are involved in what is going on in your community,” she said. “You have to be aware of issues as well as involved if you want to help benefit.”

“Post 9/11, Does My Vote Count?”

But gains in the increased acceptance of voting have been offset by limited information about how to vote and disillusionment about the voting process. “There’s something to be said about political efficacy when people need to be reminded they can and should vote,” Gaber said.

S. Qazi, a resident of Columbia, Md., says she is confident in her decision not to vote. “I don’t want to answer to on the Day of Judgement to Allah about not only idly standing by but also supporting politicians who have agendas against Muslims,” she says.

These concerns are common, says Zainab Chaudry, CAIR’s outreach coordinator for Maryland. “I tell people that we have to realize that if we don’t vote, we allow someone else to speak for us,” she says. “Failing to participate removes us from the table.”

In swing states like Virginia with sizable Muslim populations and more than 12,000 registered Muslim voters, voting is especially key.  Candidates are increasingly recognizing the Muslim bloc. U.S. Senate candidate Ed Gillespie, for example, tweeted out a photo wishing the Muslim community a happy Eid and attended a community event at ADAMS Center, a masjid in Sterling, Virginia.

Even when Muslim candidates run for electoral positions like Jay Jalisi, the Democratic nominee for Maryland’s General Assembly elections in District 10, Muslim participation in local meetings is very low. Of the 200 volunteers part of the Jalisi campaign, only one is Muslim, Jalisi says.

There are few quantified studies of Muslim voters and Muslim engagement in the voting process. Roughly 69 percent of Muslim registered voters plan to vote in Tuesday’s midterm elections and nearly half support the Democratic Party while 23 percent declined to answer, according to a CAIR poll released last Wednesday. The poll was based on six states with major Muslim populations, including Virginia.

Will masajid fill the information gap?

As centers of the community, masajid must do more to engage disillusioned and immigrant Muslims and provide critical information about the voting process at a time when disillusionment with the voting process is high, community activists say.

Siddiqi says he’s very disappointed with masajid’s role in voting. “Imams have hundreds of people in front of them during Friday prayers,” he says. “They should talk to them. They have more followers.The message is more powerful there.”

His council called more than 300 Muslims to organizing a voting rally last month. Around 120 people attended.

“There is no history of mosques and Islamic organizations participating in electoral politics,” says Jalisi, comparing Muslim involvement to other minority and immigrant groups.

Few immigrants are aware early voting is an option, SiddiqI says. He immigrated from Pakistan in 1994. Other than listserv reminders and brief announcements, Siddiqi says masajid rarely push for early registration or absentee ballots.

Masajid should organize regular voter registration drives, phone banks and help the community understand the electoral process, especially for immigrants whose language barriers prevent them from understanding how to vote, Chaudry says.

McCaw applauds masajid in Virginia like Dar al-Noor in Manassas, ADAMS Center and Dar al-Hijrah in Falls Church that set up phone banks to remind voters about Election Day. In partnership with Virginia American Muslim Civic Coalition (VAMCC), CAIR contacted around 14,000 Muslim households with registered Muslim voters in Virginia and plans to conduct post-election polling.

Another common concern is limited transportation to polling stations. By organizing community carpools, masajid can make voting a community-based movement, Chaudry says.

“We as a community really need to wake up,” Siddiqi says. “If we do not, we will always be left behind and Muslims will always be the underdogs.”

This story is written as part of the voting rights fellowship with New America Media.

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