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Islam and Muslims in USA: Defend Muslims, Defend America

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  • Zafar Khan
    Defend Muslims, Defend America By AZIZ HUQ Published: June 19, 2011 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/20/opinion/20huq.html?_r=1 WITH an eye toward the 2012
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 2, 2011
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      Defend Muslims, Defend America
      By AZIZ HUQ
      Published: June 19, 2011


      WITH an eye toward the 2012 elections, legislators in six states have been debating laws explicitly prohibiting courts from considering or using Sharia law, with 14 more looking at wider bans on “foreign law.” They’re taking a clear cue from Oklahoma’s wildly popular Sharia ban, which voters approved as a state constitutional amendment last year by more than 70 percent.

      Such laws are discriminatory and pointless. Civil liberties groups are fighting them in court and calling on state legislators to abandon such bills. But there is an additional reason everyone, including would-be proponents of the laws and the federal government, should oppose them: they pose a significant threat to national security.

      To begin with, the bans’ justifications are thin. Despite the worries voiced by candidates in the recent Republican candidates’ debate in New Hampshire, no state, county or municipality is about to realign its laws with religious doctrine, Islamic or otherwise. Nor does any state or federal court today in Oklahoma, or anywhere else, need to enforce a foreign rule repugnant to public policy. Under the legal system’s well-established “choice of law” doctrines, the courts are already unlikely to help out someone who claims their religion allows, say, the subordination or mistreatment of women.

      Instead, the bans would deprive Muslims of equal access to the law. A butcher would no longer be able to enforce his contract for halal meat — contracts that, like deals for kosher or other faith-sanctioned foods, are regularly enforced around the country. Nor could a Muslim banker seek damages for violations of a financial instrument certified as “Sharia compliant” since it pays no interest.

      Moreover, these bans increase bias among the public by endorsing the idea that Muslims are second-class citizens. They encourage and accelerate both the acceptability of negative views of Muslims and the expression of those negative views by the public and government agencies like the police.

      Such indignities arise amid a pattern of growing animus toward American Muslims. Reports of employment discrimination against Muslims to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, which declined after a post-9/11 peak, have recently surged. Gallup, Pew and ABC polls confirm a new spike in anti-Muslim views. Most troubling, tallies of hate crimes collected by nongovernmental organizations show the same trend.

      In this context, bans like the one in Oklahoma will serve to chill cooperation by the Muslim-American community with counterterrorism efforts. This makes sense: in such an environment, it would be fair for Muslims to pause before, say, passing on a lead to the police, worrying about whether the police would then look at them with suspicion as well.

      But the likelihood of such a chill is also supported by four large, random-sample surveys that I conducted with two colleagues, Tom Tyler and Stephen Schulhofer. Our data, collected from Muslims and non-Muslims in New York and London, suggest that the experience and perception of private discrimination have a significant negative effect on cooperation.

      This not only affects everyday public safety, but also the interaction necessary to gather information about self-radicalization and domestic efforts to recruit terrorists. After all, it’s simply impossible for the government to gather all that information. For that it must rely on the public, both as a filter and as an aid in interpreting it. If the government lacks strong ties to the Muslim-American community, that kind of filter falls apart.

      To prevent the erosion of such support, the Justice Department should better publicize its support for a pending challenge to the Oklahoma amendment. It should also announce that it will challenge similar measures as violations of the First Amendment’s guarantee of freedom of religion. Doing so would not only protect the rights of Muslim-Americans, but also send a signal that they can rely on the federal government’s support.

      To be sure, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. has taken steps against anti-Muslim bias, for example by supporting a California schoolteacher’s suit challenging her dismissal for taking time off to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. But these steps are inadequate compared to the scope of public and private discrimination facing Muslim-Americans.

      America has been here before. In 1952, Attorney General James P. McGranery filed a legal brief for the plaintiffs in Brown v. Board of Education, in part, he said, out of national security concerns. “Racial discrimination furnishes grist for Communist propaganda mills,” he said, and “raises doubts even among friendly nations as to the intensity of our devotion to the democratic faith.”

      McGranery’s insight remains true today. The federal government needs to do more to defend equal access to the law regardless of faith. To do so is not simply to uphold our core values — it is also to work to improve our nation’s security.

      Aziz Huq is an assistant professor of law at the University of Chicago.

      Immigrants gather at a Starbucks in Northern Virginia for a taste of home


      Before Abed Ellafdi emigrated from Rabat, Morocco, to Northern Virginia six years ago, a friend gave him a tip: When you get to America, go to the Starbucks at Skyline.

      From afar, there is nothing remarkable about this Starbucks in a Falls Church strip mall a couple of miles west of Interstate 395. Situated between an Einstein Bros. Bagels and an Office Depot in an area known as Skyline, it faces a vast parking lot, beyond which is another strip mall, that soulless landmark of American commercial culture.

      But come closer and enter a world where Moroccans talk soccer scores, Egyptians discuss revolution and Somalis argue over politics, all in a coffee chain store that has become an unlikely hangout for immigrants seeking the flavor of home.

      After long days working as cab drivers, construction workers, scientists and business owners, they fill the outdoor seats each evening, mimicking old world cafes where men unwind and catch up over backgammon, hookahs and endless cups of coffee.

      “It’s really part of our culture, to come to the café and talk about the events that happen,” said Ellafdi, an energetic 31-year-old who works in construction and lives in Alexandria. “As Muslims we don’t drink, we don’t go to the bar and hang out; we do this.”

      A burly man with close-cropped salt-and-pepper hair walked up Thursday evening and waved. “Salaam Alaikum,” he said.

      “Alaikum Salaam,” answered seven or eight guys sitting out front in metal chairs pulled around one table.

      A younger man rose and offered his seat. He remained standing as he and his friends talked with gesticulating hands in a Moroccan blend of Arabic, French and Spanish and other languages. They passed around a Blackberry playing a trailer of a new reality TV show taking place in the deserts, beaches and mountains of their homeland.

      “It’s going to be Americans competing over there,” said Moe Mouad, 29, a Fairfax salesman. He laughed as the trailer showed a tribal leader declaring that he wouldn’t want any of the American female participants as his wives.

      “We’re all going to watch it.”

      It’s a largely male scene, and the men have been gathering here since 1997, a year after the Starbucks opened. A handful of Moroccans, Somalis, and other African and Middle Eastern immigrants who lived or worked in the neighborhood began to trickle in. They told friends to meet them there, and their friends told more friends, who began coming each day to linger over coffee and cigarettes.

      “It’s strategic. It’s close to our houses, close to our jobs, so a lot of people just show up,” said Mouad, whose drink of choice is a doppio macchiato. “It’s not about the coffee,” he added. “It’s about the people.”

      That is what first drew Ahmed Abdullahi, 55, a cab driver from Somalia, in the late 1990s. “I had one friend from back home. He said, ‘Come, I’m taking you to introduce you to the community.’ ”

      Now, Abdullahi lives across the street and comes sometimes two or three times a day. He sips coffee with other Somalis, and they chew on the problems of their homeland — the pirate problem, the fundamentalism problem. “Sometimes we talk loud. When we talk about politics, we get heated,” he said, grinning sheepishly. “When native Americans see people talking loudly in a language they don’t understand, they get scared.”

      Sharia law is not a threat


      You can’t turn on the news these days or pick up a newspaper without seeing or reading about Islam, Muslims or Sharia law. Unfortunately, most of what you hear is from politicians with a religious viewpoint or media outlets creating an illusion of an enemy.
      They sensationalize Arabic words to feed on society’s fear. The hottest topic these days is the Sharia. They claim that “Moozlims” are trying to replace the U.S. Constitution with the Sharia. Before we all run out with pitchforks and protest signs, let’s understand what Islam is, and then we can understand the Sharia.
      Islam is an Arabic term deriving from two words: Salam, which means peace, and Tasleem meaning submit to the will of God. So the textbook definition for Islam is peace acquired through the submission to the will of God. Therefore, Islam conveys a practical application of God’s word to all aspects of one’s life.
      Islam teaches humanity how to believe, worship and maintain their relationship with God. Islam teaches humanity the significance of family values and how to honor: mothers, fathers, children, grandparents, husbands, wives, aunts, uncles and cousins. Islam also teaches humanity how to deal with society, commerce, education, friends, neighbors, the poor, orphans, government, justice, property and, most important, the sanctity of human life.
      The Sharia is Islamic rulings from Muslim scholars and jurists that keep Muslims on the path toward abiding faith. The source of the Sharia is the Quran and teachings of the Prophet Mohammed. The Sharia covers all aspects of a Muslim’s life and explains what is prohibited and permissible.
      Think of Islam as an instruction manual (the Quran and prophetic traditions) on how to live your life according to the will of God. The Sharia is the path of faith regarding those instructions.
      Is Sharia a threat? According to Adam Hasner, a Republican candidate for the Senate from Florida and former state legislator, “Today there is an enemy, and that enemy is Sharia-compliant Islam.”
      This statement is ridiculous. When I wash before praying, this is Sharia-compliant Islam. When I offer a greeting to someone, this is Sharia- compliant Islam. What in the world is Hasner talking about?
      Some politicians, groups and individuals commonly reduce the totality of the Sharia to its penal code. The penal code within the Sharia is not unique to the teachings of the Quran and the Prophet Mohammed. It is also in the Torah and Talmud and part of the teachings of Prophet Moses. Having said that, it is important to recognize that regardless of the contrast, the penal codes within these texts are not the totality of the teachings of any religion and never explained as such. Why the double standard?
      It’s quite simple really — an election strategy.
      Politicians who emphasize religion in over 20 states have introduced some sort of legislation regarding Islam, Sharia or “Foreign Law.” They claim that the “Moozlims” are trying to infiltrate our court systems and replace our Constitution. The fact of the matter is, not one Muslim has introduced anything to any legislative body calling for Sharia to replace the Constitution or for the Sharia to replace the law of the land. This claim is absolutely baseless and really shows how disconnected these politicians are from the real problems on the ground.
      In some cases, unfortunately, this strategy is effective.
      We can look at U.S. Rep. Allen West’s campaign as proof of its effectiveness. West routinely bashed Islam during his campaign, with statements such as,. “We are at war with Islam” and “Islam is not a religion.” He said that the terrorists who attacked us on 9/11 were doing exactly what the Quran told them. He won in 2010.
      All we can do — must do — is try to stop this kind of rhetoric. Listening to it is a waste of your time. Those who espouse such views could not care less about the innocent Americans they hurt. The most effective way to deal with this situation is through education and action.
      Educate yourself on Islam. If you don’t know any Muslims, try to meet one. Say “Salam” (peace), and ask questions. Get to know them. Go to a ballgame, or go fishing. Be American together.
      And when election time rolls around, send a clear message: I don’t discriminate.
      Nezar Hamze is executive director of the South Florida Council on American-Islamic Relations.

      Time to ban male circumcision?
      If passed, article 50 will ban genital cutting for boys in San Francisco, with profound religious implications for Jews and Muslims. But isn't it time to oppose all circumcision?


      San Francisco voters will decide later this year whether, like its female counterpart, male infant circumcision should be outlawed. If passed, article 50 — the "Genital Cutting of Male Minors" — would make it unlawful to circumcise, cut, or mutilate the foreskin, testicles, or penis of another person aged under 18. The bill includes an exemption for cases of medical necessity, but not for custom or ritual, which has profound implications for the many Jews and Muslims who consider it an essential part of their religious or cultural practice.

      Unsurprisingly, the bill has attracted considerable controversy. Some regard it as a modern manifestation of western antisemitism, while certain feminist groups consider the idea of comparing male and female genital cutting to be both offensive and unsubstantiated.

      Neither the World Health Organisation nor the UN oppose male circumcision, and given that the procedure is so unquestioned that 33% of American boys still undergo it, one might think that they have a point. But is it really so simple? And are the differences between male and female circumcision really so straightforward?

      According to research, the sexual damage caused by female and male genital cutting can be extensive. Female genital cutting, which can involve removal of the clitoris, may reduce the likelihood of orgasm and cause complications during childbirth. Similarly, male circumcision can result in excruciating pain, nerve destruction, infection, disfigurement and sometimes death. Like the clitoris, the foreskin serves a sexual purpose, and it protects the "head" of the penis from outside elements.

      Both male and female genital cutting can have profound psychological consequences. Circumcised women often experience trauma, stress and anxiety, and can have relationship problems. Some circumcised men describe feelings of loss, anger, distrust, and grief, while others have reported problems with subsequent intimacy, long-term post-traumatic stress disorder, and a sense of powerlessness.

      Man who survived 9/11 hate crime, battles to stop his attacker's execution
      "Arab Slayer", who killed two men set to die in July


      American Muslims search for identity 10 years after Sept. 11


      First in a series on American Muslims. Today: Ten years after the Sept. 11 attacks, U.S. Muslims search for a way to reconcile their American and Islamic identities.

      Hungry to be just one of the guys after immigrating to Texas, Palestinian Fawaz Ismail asked everybody to call him “Tony.” The nickname put people at ease at his Dallas high school, where Tony switched from soccer to football and picked up a bit of a Texas twang.

      He remained Tony when he moved to Northern Virginia to expand his family’s flag-selling business. The name made him feel as American as his Falls Church store, Alamo Flag, a patriot’s paradise brimming with Stars and Stripes banners, pins and stickers.

      Then came the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the day Tony became a foreigner again. That afternoon, people started pouring into Alamo Flag, many wearing sunglasses to hide their crying eyes. Ismail sold thousands of American flags in those days of fear and unity, and he gave away thousands more.

      But soon after the twin towers fell and the Pentagon burned, Ismail felt his adopted homeland pushing him away. He decided to push back. He sent Tony into permanent exile, taking back his given name. Now, a decade later, his name is a daily message to his fellow Americans: They must deal with him for who he is — a Muslim who loves his country and proudly sells its banner.

      “A lot of people use a nickname to make it easier for Americans to pronounce,” he says, “but now, I don’t care. They’re going to have to pronounce my name. It’s not that hard — Fah-wahz.”

      There was pride in that decision but also a real and still-growing anger — at Americans who assume that anything Islamic is shorthand for terrorism; at the older generation of American Muslims, whose immigrant, old-world version of Islam paints them as rigid and intolerant; and at people who accept him if he’s Tony but recoil at a name such as Fawaz.

      “It’s hard hearing your faith put down all the time as this scary, evil thing,” he says. And hard to endure the cloud of suspicion that American Muslims feel has grown rather than dissipated over the past decade.

      Like most American Muslims, Ismail, who is a buff and hale 50, is not particularly religious. He likes to listen to tapes of Koranic chants at night to relax. But in the past few years, he has struggled with the reality that some Americans take one look at him and think, “Hmm, is he really one of us?”

      “I pay my taxes. I love this country. You want to talk about patriotic? I am the definition,” says Ismail, who became an American citizen as a teenager. “I sell the best flags, made in the United States, not in China like a lot of stores sell. I’m all about moderation — man, I like Fleetwood Mac.”

      Late at night, Ismail has a cup of chamomile tea with anise seed to try to get to sleep. It can be a struggle, just as it is for many of his Muslim friends.

      “I see them with their sleeping pills and antidepressants, and I know how hard it is,” he says. “I smoke because I’m stressed. Sometimes I wish I was born a Swede.”

      Muslim-American youth carry on tradition of Islamic study
      By SAFIYA RAVAT Copyright 2011 Houston Chronicle
      June 2, 2011, 3:34PM


      Standing in the pulpit at the Hamza mosque in Mission Bend, 19-year-old Hamzah Ghia made a plea to the more than 500 men and women who had gathered for the weekly khutbah, or sermon.
      "Shoot some hoops with your kids. Play tennis, football or even catch if they're into that," said Ghia, encouraging parents to help fight childhood obesity. "This body is a trust from God; we're not supposed to neglect it or abuse it as we please."
      Ghia is the youngest imam to deliver the Friday sermon at this mosque. Born in Houston, the Cy-Fair resident was 10 when he became a hafidh, or protector, a title given to Muslims who memorize the Quran. He believes it's important for young Muslim Americans to have a voice in the mosque, especially when it comes to their identity as contemporary Muslim Americans.
      Becoming a hafidh is one of the most highly honored faith traditions among Muslims. For centuries, Muslim parents — from the Middle East to the U.S. - have sent their children to special schools called madrasas, dedicated to memorizing the Quran.
      When Ghia was 7, his Pakistani immigrant parents, like a handful of Muslim parents in America, took him out of public school to enroll him in Madrasah Islamia. There are other, smaller madrasas, but Madrasah Islamia is Houston's first and largest.
      There he memorized Islam's holy book for almost six hours a day, repeating Arabic verses from the Quran until committing them to memory. Two and a half years later, he had memorized the book's 114 chapters and more than 6,000 verses. Muslims believe memorizing the book is one way of protecting the scripture from being corrupted.
      "This is something nobody can take away from you," said Syed Shahzad of Richmond, whose 13-year-old son Shayan attends Madrasah Islamia. "Even if the Quran gets lost, you still have it in your heart."
      The madrasa also offered Islamic studies classes in which students learned of prophets such as Moses, Jesus and Muhammad, Ghia said, and were taught to respect their classmates and help others. "But never were we taught about war or anything like that," he said .
      Ghia's words come in response to the recent equating of "madrasa" to a training ground for young terrorists. Rather, he said, students who study the Quran would know better than to commit suicide or kill innocent people, two crimes directly forbidden in the Quran.
      "Madrasa" is an Arabic term that means "school." Madrasas have existed for centuries throughout the Middle East and Asia, their curricula varying depending on location. In some countries, madrasas are the equivalent of Christian Sunday schools; in others, they are full-time public schools or universities with Islamic studies courses. Some, like many in India, are simply secular schools. In the U.S., madrasas are faith-based private schools focused on the Quran.
      Memorization of holy scriptures is not an uncommon faith tradition, said the Rev. Guinn Blackwell-Eagleson, a University of Houston religious studies professor.
      "Studying torah is one of the highest values in Judaism," she said, "and in some Bible colleges, it's very common for students to memorize as much as possible of the Christian scripture."
      Nevertheless, madrasas have come to embody a different definition since Sept. 11, 2001. Public figures such as Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld have used "madrasa" as a label for anti-American terrorist training camps. The New York Times printed a correction of the misuse of the word in 2007, saying, "While some teach a radical version of Islam, most historically have not."
      Teachers such as Madrasah Islamia's Imtiaz urRehman Thanvi are appalled by the terroristic depiction. Thanvi lived most of his life in Pakistan, where he was the director of Islamic Studies at Aitchison College in Pakistan.
      "I think this is propaganda against the madrasas," Thanvi said. "I have lived in Pakistan, and I haven't found these types of radical schools there. In madrasas, we simply teach the memorization of the Quran and the basic teachings of Islam. "
      Swaying back and forth as he recites verses from the Quran, 13-year-old Shayan Syed sits cross-legged on the carpeted floor with 30 other boys, age 6 to 18. Most were inspired to experience the madrasa tradition by older brothers or cousins who did the same.
      The classes at Madrasah Islamia are segregated by gender, boys on the first floor, girls on the second. Girls at this mosque are afforded a rare opportunity; many of their counterparts in the Middle East and Asia are barred from studying in madrasas.
      Some children recite the verses loudly to blot out the noise of their classmates, and some read softly with eyes closed, intensely concentrating. Others sneak in gossip, laughing and shifting their eyes quickly to make sure the teacher doesn't notice.
      Gradually, the room quiets down. "Keep reading!" the teacher instructs, and the voices jolt back up.
      In some ways, it's like a regular classroom with dry-erase board, cartoon-character backpacks in cubby holes, projects and artwork covering the walls outside. But the long traditional Muslim dress, skullcaps and headscarves all seem far from usual.
      But for Shayan, this is just school.
      Shayan, a straight-A student, enrolled at the madrasa two years ago . Since then, he has memorized more than half of the book .
      Attendance at the madrasa isn't free, and students also have to keep up with home schooling for subjects such as English, math and science.
      "I'm blessed with this kid," said Syed, Shayan's father, who moved to the U.S. from Pakistan when he was 12. "At his age, I didn't know anything. Our children should have some sort of knowledge of Islam, of who they are, where their roots come from. It's important for every kid, whatever religion, whatever culture."
      Syed says that even though his son's life might be different right now, it's still an American life.
      "Every American has a different life. You have poor, you have rich . Then you have people who go to church, to synagogues, to mosques - they're more religious. Lifestyle is who you are. A Muslim life is an American life, too."

      Jewish And Muslim Students Unite To Debunk Horowitz’s Claims
      By Santa Barbara Hillel
      Published on May 26, 2011


      The relationship between the Jewish and Muslim communities is often portrayed as one of enmity and opposition. In reality, this is just not true. Both Jews and Muslims are adherents of monotheist, Abrahamic religions that have a great deal in common. Perhaps more importantly, American Jews and Muslims share the experience of living as minority communities within the larger fabric of American society. For many of our ancestors, the freedom of religion and expression afforded by the U.S. Constitution played a pivotal role in informing their decision to emigrate to our great country.
      David Horowitz has claimed that opposition to A.S. funding for his upcoming speech is rooted in a desire to silence him and curtail his right to free speech. The truth is that we merely oppose the use of student funds to subsidize bigotry and prejudice. Students must be exposed to a wide variety of intellectual perspectives on all issues, but Horowitz goes far beyond providing an alternative perspective. We and many other students on this campus are deeply offended by his claim that “there is a movement for a second Holocaust of the Jews that is being supported [at UCSB] by the Muslim Student Association.” The UCSB MSA is an incredibly valuable member of our campus, has been involved in numerous interfaith dialogues and provides a cultural and religious home to a large segment of the UCSB Muslim community. The accusation that the UCSB MSA has ties to terrorism is not only baseless and inaccurate, but it also propagates stereotypes and misconceptions
      that far too often have led to deadly consequences. We stand unified with our Muslim friends in repudiating these grossly inaccurate stereotypes and call upon the UCSB community at large to stand by their fellow students.
      Though we are deeply offended by Horowitz’s accusations against the UCSB MSA, we are not protesting the “Infantile Disorders” event. We are not interfering with the event and we are not associated with anyone who attempts to interfere. Rather, we are encouraging the UCSB community to join the UCSB Respect Coalition at “The Alternative: Empowering Our Voices” (Today at 8 p.m., Embarcadero Hall). The event will provide a safe space for students to speak openly about discrimination, hate speech and how to foster a more inclusive campus community. Our hope is that the event gives UCSB students a real chance to express how they are a part of the beautiful, multiethnic, interfaith American mosaic. We strongly encourage any student who is interested in constructive dialogue to attend.

      Imam teaches Islam with a distinct U.S. style
      Oklahoma-born convert Suhaib Webb, who sprinkles public addresses with pop culture references, has a growing following, especially among young Muslims. Traditionalists are leery.
      May 27, 2011|By Raja Abdulrahim, Los Angeles Times


      At the pulpit of an inner-city Chicago mosque, the tall blond imam begins preaching in his customary fashion, touching on the Los Angeles Lakers victory the night before, his own gang involvement as a teenager, a TV soap opera and then the Day of Judgment.

      "Yesterday we watched the best of seven.... Unfortunately we forget the big final; it's like that show 'One Life to Live,' " Imam Suhaib Webb says as sleepy boys and young men come to attention in the back rows. "There's no overtime, bro."

      The sermon is typical of Webb, a charismatic Oklahoma-born convert to Islam with a growing following among American Muslims, especially the young. He sprinkles his public addresses with as many pop culture references as Koranic verses and sayings from the prophet. He says it helps him connect with his mainly U.S.-born flock.

      "Are we going to reach them with an Arab message or with a Pakistani message? Or are we going to reach them with an American message?" asks Webb, 38, of Santa Clara. He is a resident scholar and educator with the Bay Area chapter of the nonprofit Muslim American Society, but reaches others in lectures and through his popular website, which he calls a "virtual mosque."

      Webb is at the forefront of a movement to create an American-style Islam, one that is true to the Koran and Islamic law but that reflects this country's customs and culture. Known for his laid-back style, he has helped promote the idea that Islam is open to a modern American interpretation. At times, his approach seems almost sacrilegious.

      Although the call to prayer at a mosque is always issued by a man, Webb once joked about it being made by one of his favorite female R&B artists: "If Mary J. Blige made the call to prayer, I'd go to the mosque; I'd be in the front row."

      At a Muslim conference in Long Beach last year, he suggested that mosques adopt a "don't ask, don't tell" policy toward gays. Afterward, he was accosted by a local imam who accused him of poisoning Muslim youth. "I told him, 'Quite frankly, you're going to be irrelevant in 10 years,' " Webb says.

      He is fluent in Arabic, the language of the Koran, and studied for six years at one of the world's leading Islamic institutes, Egypt's Al-Azhar University. His time in the Middle East convinced him that not all religious practices there make sense for Muslims here.

      As recently as a decade ago, U.S. congregations readily accepted immigrant imams who had arrived straight from Islamic universities, often with a traditional approach to preaching. Many spoke little English and were unable to communicate with non-Arab congregants or connect easily with youth.

      But increasingly, U.S. Muslims expect their religious leaders to play a broader, more pastoral role, says Hossam Aljabri, executive director of the Muslim American Society, a national religious and education group. "Communities want imams who can come in and go beyond leading the prayer and reading Koran. They want them to fill the social role of counseling and dealing with neighbors."

      Religious scholars say the faith's basic tenets would not change but much of the law that governs Islam may be interpreted differently in various communities.

      Imam fights street crime with mosque fight club
      Editor's Note: This piece comes from a new CNN special “Stories: Reporter.” Tune in Saturday at 7:30PM EDT to see the full story.
      May 27th, 2011
      10:12 AM ET


      Philadelphia (CNN) – Listen to the FBI and you will know that violent crime dropped over almost the whole country last year; murder, aggravated assault, forcible rape. Listen to people in some parts of Philadelphia and you will know that the Northeast is not part of that trend. Here the numbers keep climbing.

      Violence comes to their streets as surely as sunset. Abandoned houses share corners with makeshift memorials to victims; often young men who get caught up in events they don't anticipate and can't escape.

      "Around here it's not every safe to walk up the streets," one kid said. "Someone could come up to you and start shooting at you for no reason; just 'cause you're from that 'hood."

      That is why Imam Suetwidien Muhammad chose this place to start hitting back.

      "I came up in this neighborhood," he said sitting in the morning sun on the steps of a former plumbing supply warehouse. "This neighborhood was averaging six murders a month. There was a lot of violence, a lot of trash. We needed to bring about change."

      So 10 years ago he started Masjid Muhammad of Philadelphia, a mosque in the old rundown warehouse. As he sat and explained how the mosque had grown to 500 members, workers above him pushed and slapped stucco into the three story stone facade above him. They started by fixing up the inside so people could have a safe place to come and pray.

      Congregants said the place perennially smells like fresh paint because the imam is always busy fixing or improving something.

      Inside the doors from what was once the plumbing supply loading dock are a small deli, a barber shop, a hair salon, a restaurant and a sprawling prayer space. But Imam Muhammad's pride and joy is upstairs, above the worship space; a boxing gym where the children of the neighborhood come every day.

      "It's so unusual that we come under a lot of fire from even a lot of Muslims," he said. "Muslims will say, 'Muslims aren't supposed to engage in boxing.' They'll say, 'You are not supposed to hit a person in the face.'"

      He smiles and points out that the gym is named after one of the most famous Muslims in the world: Muhammad Ali. "I don't look at it as such a violent thing, and I know the real violence is in guns and weapons and different things that happen in our community."

      SLC church distributes free copies of Quran
      The Salt Lake Tribune
      First published Apr 21 2011 06:24PM
      Updated May 6, 2011 01:35AM


      Leaders of a Presbyterian congregation in Salt Lake City have an answer to the Florida pastor with a penchant for burning the Quran.

      Wasatch Presbyterian Church is giving Islam’s holy book away for free.

      “Sometimes, it’s hard to know how to push back against the lunatic fringe,” said Russell Fericks, a member of the session, or governing board, of the 350-member church on the city’s east side.

      So when the new pastor, the Rev. Scott Dalgarno, asked the board last week to join him in opening their wallets, the reaction was swift.

      The leaders put up $600 before the meeting was over and ordered dozens of copies of an Oxford Press edition of the Quran several days ago. The books will be available as early as Monday at King’s English Bookshop, each with a bookmark bearing these words: “This book was donated by the leaders of Wasatch Presbyterian Church, who are not afraid of truth wherever it can be found.”

      The idea, Fericks said, “was simple. It was creative. It was courageous in the sense of saying, ‘We’re not afraid of the truth.’

      “You don’t have to let the nincompoops of the world control all the message,” he said.

      Terry Jones, the Gainesville, Fla., pastor who backed down from his threat to torch the Quran last fall, nonetheless supervised burning of the book at his church on March 20.

      Community backs center against threats
      Saturday event will show support from variety of groups.
      5:00 AM, Apr. 22, 2011


      Vandalism and threats aimed at a local Muslim community have inspired others in Springfield to stand with the Muslims and in opposition to bigotry.

      Representatives of faith groups, human rights advocates and city government will join members of the Islamic Center of Springfield on Saturday afternoon to speak against recent incidents at the center and for religious freedom.

      Carl Haworth with the Interfaith Alliance, which organized the event, said "everyone who supports religious freedom" is invited to join.
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