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Benazir Bhutto: Imams refuse to utter her name in prayer services

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  • Tarek Fatah
    December 31, 2007 Imams leave her name unsaid Tarek Fatah and Salma Siddiqui, The National Post http://www.nationalpost.com/news/world/story.html?id=207341
    Message 1 of 1 , Dec 31, 2007
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      December 31, 2007

      Imams leave her name unsaid

      Tarek Fatah and
      Salma Siddiqui,
      The National Post 
       
      When John Lennon was assassinated, a stunned world came to a standstill. But there were also those who used the tragedy to smear Lennon and suggest he had brought it upon himself.
       
      Something similar has happened 27 years later to a John Lennon fan--Benazir Bhutto.
       
      Ms. Bhutto had not yet received a proper burial before the attacks on her character started appearing. The vice-president of the Canadian Arab Federation circulated an article lambasting Ms. Bhutto, mocking her as stooge of the West. It did not end at that level. Haroon Siddiqui of the Toronto Star dedicated an entire column to attacking Ms. Bhutto's legacy and labelling her as corrupt and, God forbid the thought, pro-West. As if her being pro-Western was somehow anti-Canadian.
       
      If attempts by Islamic writers to disparage Benazir Bhutto were distasteful, the conspicuous silence of Canada's Islamic organizations was equally disturbing. Seventy-two hours after the news of her assassination, neither the Canadian Islamic Congress nor its cousin CAIR-Can had uttered a word on the subject. Not even the "This-has-nothing-to-do-with-Islam" mantra to which we have become so accustomed.
       
      Were they looking for clues from Arab capitals or Iran? There, too, was an eerie silence. Men in turbans who rule Saudi Arabia and Iran seemed to be relieved that a jihadi terrorist had stopped a woman from becoming a leader of Muslim nation. Phew! We asked a number of our Arab friends to explain the wall of silence that has greeted Benazir's murder in the Arab world. Most admired her and were themselves perplexed at the silence, but one woman writing from the Arab world said:
       
      "You have to understand the state of the Arab world at the moment. Extremism and 'Political Islamism' is spreading among the masses like fire among wood. Bhutto's position against the extremists was always clear, and this [is] reflected in the Arab world now, as most approved of her death and considered it a religious obligation to rid her from the Islamic world."
       
      But there were notable exceptions too. The Palestinian columnist Ibrahim D'abes wrote a glowing tribute for Ms. Bhutto in the daily Al Quds newspaper, saying she "was and remains the best example of a courageous and fighting woman."
       
      On Friday, congregations at some of Canada's mosques made their contribution to remembering Ms. Bhutto. At one Mississauga mosque where supporters of Ms. Bhutto had requested a prayer for their departed leader, the imam refused to utter her name from the pulpit.
       
      After the prayer, he was asked why he had not mentioned Ms. Bhutto by name. He responded in a nonchalant manner, "It was not necessary." When pressed to clarify, he said, "I did not wish to name a specific person." He was reminded that in his sermon he had mentioned the name of a man, why not Benazir. This time, Imam Mohammed Moutaz Chara, a Syrian-American, touched the questioner's chin in a condescending manner and gave him a huge smile as he walked away.
       
      A few kilometres away in one of Canada's largest mosques run by the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA), Skeikh Ala ElSayed refused to utter the words "Benazir Bhutto" from the pulpit, as if it was a profanity.
       
      He talked in convoluted language expressing "condolences to families of beloved brothers and sisters who died in the incident." When asked by a Toronto Star reporter why he had deliberately avoided mentioning Ms. Bhutto's name, the imam snapped back: "Why? This is not a political arena. This is about religion. That's politics." How convenient.
       
      At other mosques, the story was the same. Not a word about Benazir Bhutto. Reporters at one mosque seemed bewildered and asked why her name was not being mentioned. What no one was willing to tell them is that perhaps the imams consider the words "Benazir Bhutto" unclean and unIslamic. After all, she had vowed to take on the Islamic extremists and hence she was an adversary; the mere mention of her name may pollute the sanctity of the mosque.
       
      And if there was any doubt about the agenda of the Islamist enterprise, it was on full display at the so called "Revival of the Islamic Spirit" conference held in Toronto this weekend. Among the dozens of Islamic speakers, there were only two women and they too were assigned the role of addressing issues such as pornography. There was barely any mention of the assassination of Benazir Bhutto, other than the rhetorical praying for victims of violence. While men commanded the podiums, young women manned the clerical work as receptionists. There were no Benazir Bhuttos at the conference; only those who had not noticed her death.
       
      In another twist, the mosque hosting the prayer event to commemorate Benazir Bhutto missed the point altogether. Instead of honouring the women who came to attend the prayer event as a mark of respect for Benazir Bhutto, they were told they would not be permitted to enter the prayer area from the main entrance.
       
      All women were asked to take the rear staircase. As bewildered non-Muslim women who had come to attend the event looked aghast, one young City TV reporter asked for advice. "What should we do?" one of them asked. The advice they got from one Bhutto supporter was profound. "Today, act like Benazir Bhutto and enter the prayer room from the main entrance alongside the men," he recommended. In a befitting tribute to her slain Pakistani sister, the Canadian news reporter entered the praying area from the men's entrance. No one stopped her.
      ---------------------------------------------
      -Tarek Fatah is the author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State, to be published in March by John Wiley & Sons. Salma Siddiqui is an Ottawa-based political activist and vice-president of the Muslim Canadian Congress.


      The author analyzes the diverging aspirations that separate the Islamist from the Muslim, and the Islamic State from the State of Islam.
      Published by John Wiley & Sons.
      Pre-order today at Amazon.com or Chapters.ca
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