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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Muslim Watershed: Germany's Biggest Mosque Opens

Muslim watershed Germany's biggest mosque opens

* Kate Connolly in Berlin
* The Guardian,
* Saturday October 25 2008

It has a 34-metre minaret and a dome-shaped ceiling handpainted with
floral patterns and verses from the Qur'an. Its crowning glory is a
golden chandelier engraved with 99 epithets for Allah, and there is
seating for 2,000 worshippers.

Germany's biggest mosque opens tomorrow in the Ruhr valley city of
Duisburg in what leaders of Germany's 3 million Muslims have described
as a watershed moment, bringing mosques out of the backyards and
alleys and into the middle of urban life.

The multimillion-euro Merkez mosque in the working-class district of
Marxloh, which was financed by private and public money, will
transform the lives of the city's Muslims. Their previous meeting
place was the rundown canteen of a former mining company.

For some, its consecration is a sign that the country has finally
integrated its Muslims, too long considered guest workers who would
one day go home, while for others it shows that Islam is taking over
the religious landscape.

"How many mosques can a country cope with?" the conservative newspaper
Die Welt asked in a recent commentary.

For their part, Germany's Muslims, of whom 70% are ethnic Turks, say
they want their rightful place in a society they have been a part of
for 50 years or more.

"The fact that we've been allowed to build a mosque is a sign for us
that the community is telling us 'you're accepted'," said Mustafa
Kücük, a spokesman for the Merkez mosque.

However, there have been protests in Berlin, a citizens' initiative
was formed in Munich to prevent a mosque being built, and in Cologne
rightwing populists used opposition to the building of a mosque to
stoke Islamophobia.

Germany has 206 mosques, and more than 120 are under construction or
in the planning stage.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Presidential Candidates Should Reach out to American Muslims

Harvard University student Nafees Syed says both candidates should reach out to Muslims in the U.S.

Harvard University student Nafees Syed says both candidates should reach out to Muslims in the U.S.

By Nafees A. Syed
Special to CNN

Editor's note: Nafees A. Syed, a junior at Harvard University majoring in government, is an editorial editor at The Harvard Crimson as well as a senior editor and columnist for the Harvard-MIT journal on Islam and society, Ascent. She is chairwoman of the Harvard Institute of Politics Policy Group on Racial Profiling. She grew up in Atlanta, Georgia.
Harvard University student Nafees Syed says both candidates should reach out to Muslims in the U.S.

Harvard University student Nafees Syed says both candidates should reach out to Muslims in the U.S.

CAMBRIDGE, Massachusetts (CNN) -- During this election, we have seen the spectacle of two presidential candidates fighting over one voter while snubbing an entire segment of the American population worthy of their attention.

We in the Muslim-American community look wistfully at people like Joe the Plumber, wishing that we too could be courted for our vote by the presidential candidates.

At the same time, we look gratefully at figures like former Secretary of State Colin Powell, who reassure us that there is hope for greater acceptance of Muslim-Americans.

Over time, we grew to expect standoffish treatment from the Republican Party. Almost a decade ago, many Muslims, my parents included, supported President Bush for his humble foreign policy stances, strong family values and reaching out to the Muslim-American community.

Things have obviously changed since September 11, 2001, and we have grown used to anti-Muslim rhetoric from Republican candidates. We have run like refugees to the Democratic Party, only to find reluctant tolerance and hope that we will go somewhere else.

American civil rights activist and intellectual W.E.B. Du Bois wrote, "[The American Negro] simply wishes it possible to be both a Negro and an American, without being cursed and spit upon by his fellows, without having the doors of Opportunity closed roughly on his face."

Over a century later, I and many other Muslim-Americans feel the same, hoping that we can be accepted in America as both Muslims and Americans.

As a college student voting in my first presidential election, I have been inspired by Barack Obama's call for change. My campus is full of Obama posters, and several of my classmates have taken time off to work for his campaign.

There is no doubt Obama has the Harvard vote, but my vote will not be cast as enthusiastically as others.

This campaign means to me what it means for my classmates. In the next few years, the economy and American foreign policy will affect my generation unlike any other, and those concerns are the primary influences on my vote.

However, as a Muslim-American, I see some issues as more personal. I don't blame Obama for clarifying that he isn't a Muslim; if someone misidentified my religion, I would likewise point out the facts, especially if it was part of a larger smear campaign. However, as the first Muslim Congressman Keith Ellison stated, "A lot of us are waiting for him to say that there's nothing wrong with being a Muslim, by the way."

Indeed, Obama's responses to accusations that he is Muslim should be more than just denial; they should be a condemnation of the prejudices that lace such accusations.

When I discuss this issue with fellow Muslim-Americans, especially ones who have dedicated significant time to his campaign, I immediately hear that he's just doing what he needs to do to win.

I respond skeptically to these arguments. Is it really politically necessary for Obama to avoid visiting mosques -- something that President Bush has dared to do -- while rallying support from churches and synagogues? Doesn't his careful distance from the Muslim-American community contradict his message of unity?

Still, others, my parents included, advise that it is best that we as Muslim-Americans avoid marring his campaign with our visible support at a time when any connection with Muslims would jeopardize his chances of winning. They reason that we have to politically isolate ourselves for the better candidate to win, a sacrifice we should make for our country.

I am unwilling to feign political apathy. All I want is for one of the candidates to assure me and the American public that "Muslim" and "American" are not mutually exclusive terms.

Colin Powell's recent interview with Tom Brokaw has left me with some hope. He highlights the flaw in the question of Obama's religion with the answer, "he is not a Muslim; he's a Christian. ... But the really right answer is, what if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer's no, that's not America."

To prove his point, Gen. Powell recounted the story of Purple Heart- and Bronze Star-winning Kareem Rashad Sultan Khan, an American soldier in Iraq who sacrificed his life for his country. He represents a Muslim-American community that is dedicated to its country and worthy of the presidential candidates' attention and respect.

It is a tribute to Gen. Powell's own dedication to his country that he would take note of the treatment of Muslim-Americans during the elections.

Thanks, Gen. Powell. You said the words that Muslim-Americans around the country were waiting to hear.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Nafees Syed.

Muslim-American Voices Heard in Presidential Race

From CNN - October 21, 2008

 Fatema Biviji, in white by sign, poses with members of the grassroots organization she founded in Texas.

Fatema Biviji, in white by sign, poses with members of the grassroots organization she founded in Texas.

State senate candidate Mohammad Ali Hasan with GOP strategist Karl Rove at a barbeque in Crawford, Texas.

State senate candidate Mohammad Ali Hasan with GOP strategist Karl Rove at a barbeque in Crawford, Texas.

A man cheers during day one of the Democratic National Convention in August in Denver, Colorado.

A man cheers during day one of the Democratic National Convention in August in Denver, Colorado.

By Ashley Fantz

(CNN) -- Muslim-Americans say they are more interested than ever before in the political process, in part because their religion has been reduced to a talking point in the presidential campaign.

Like many other Americans, the estimated 2.3 million Muslims living in the U.S. have been hurt by a limping economy, a problematic healthcare system and an unclear immigration policy. And the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have also hit close to home.

Fatema Biviji, 32, had never given much thought to politics until she received an e-mail earlier this year that said -- falsely -- that Sen. Barack Obama is a Muslim. The Internet hoax, its origin unknown, was apparently intended to tie Obama to terrorism and swing support to his opponent, Republican Sen. John McCain.

"I was so mad," Biviji said. "The premise of that e-mail is that a person's religion should decide a person's character.

"We're America, the melting pot, the land of diversity, and that Americans would be buying into that psychology [of the e-mails] was upsetting," said the New Jersey-born Muslim, whose parents are from India. "The e-mail offended my American ideals."

Obama has stated repeatedly that he is a Christian and emphatically pledged his patriotism.

Biviji began to research Obama and could relate to his international background, his years in Indonesia as a young man, and his father's Kenyan roots. And his views on the issues aligned with hers.

So she began chatting with members of her community in Irving, Texas, encouraging people to register to vote and become more active. She began blogging about the presidential election and formed a grass-roots organization with about 100 members who have helped register dozens of people to vote, she said. Her blog is featured on Obama's campaign Web site.

But Biviji said it hasn't always been easy for Muslim-Americans to support candidates who don't usually seem to support them.

"Neither candidate has visited a mosque," said Ahmed Rehab, the executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties and advocacy group. "It might not be a gesture that's the politically right thing to do, but it's the morally right thing," Rehab said. CAIR has registered thousands of Muslim voters across the country.

He said he was approached by one of the major parties to run for office this year. But he decided against it.

"If you have one guy [Obama] who has a Muslim father that he really never knew and who isn't a Muslim being hounded, then imagine a guy like me who works so publicly in support of rights for Muslims," said Rehab. "I'm not sure I want to go through that."

But Asma Hasan, a 34-year-old from Colorado who writes the blog "Glamocracy" for Glamour magazine, said she thinks Muslims are more likely to jump into the political fray. "I think people tend to be more open to different points of view now than they were before," she said. "It's not a perfect environment, but it's getting better."

Her brother Mohammad Ali Hasan, 28, is Muslim and Republican.

He is running for a Colorado state Senate seat.

"If I don't win, it's not because I'm a Muslim," he said, laughing. "It will likely be because I'm a Republican."

Asma Hasan said it can be a challenge sometimes to reconcile being a Republican and being a Muslim.

"A lot of this election is about the Iraq war, the GOP's support for the war and ultimately how we handle that war now," she said. Several younger voters have e-mailed her about her blog items filed from the campaign trail with thoughtful, substantive political comments and questions. They are excited about the election and they plan to vote, she said.

"But that's the beauty of politics because it doesn't matter what your religion is or your cultural background or who your family is," she said. "You make decisions on who to vote for based on a lot of different factors -- not just one. And I think people are interested this year. There are definitely a lot of younger people, and a lot of younger Muslims, who are going to vote."

Asma Hasan echoed Rehab's frustration about the occasional fumbles of the candidates toward the Muslim community. She pointed to a June incident at an Obama rally.

Two women were told not to sit behind Obama because they were wearing head scarves. Campaign volunteers thought it would would look bad if the women were seen behind the candidate in a photo or on television.

The Obama campaign quickly apologized, and a campaign spokeswoman said that the incident was not reflective of Obama's message, according to the New York Times.

More recently, a woman at a McCain rally in Minnesota stood up and faced the candidate. She said she doesn't support Obama because "He is an Arab." McCain shook his head and replied, "No ma'am, no ma'am."

Former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, a Republican, endorsed Obama for president on Sunday, praising Obama as a candidate who is "inclusive." Powell said he had heard members of his own party suggest that Obama is a Muslim.

"What if he is? Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country?" Powell said. "No, that's not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim kid believing that he or she can be president?"

Powell made the endorsement on NBC's "Meet the Press" and went on to say that he was disturbed by recent attacks the McCain camp had lobbed at Obama.

"It troubled me. We have two wars. We have economic problems. We have health problems. We have education problems. We have infrastructure problems. We have problems around the world with our allies. So those are the problems the American people wanted to hear about, not about [1960s radical William] Ayers, not about who is a Muslim or who's not a Muslim," Powell told reporters after the endorsement.

"Those kinds of images going out on Al-Jazeera are killing us around the world," Powell continued. "And we have got to say to the world, it doesn't make any difference who you are or what you are. If you're an American, you're an American."

"That was over the top. It was beyond just good political fighting back and forth," he said. "And to sort of throw in this little Muslim connection, you know, 'He's a Muslim and, my goodness, he's a terrorist' -- it was taking root. And we can't judge our people and we can't hold our elections on that kind of basis."

After Powell's announcement, McCain told Fox News he considered Powell and himself "longtime friends" and that he respected him.

Powell also referred to a photo essay from a magazine featuring a photo of a mother resting her head on the tombstone of her son at Arlington National Cemetery. The tombstone lists the soldier's awards, including a Purple Heart, that were earned in Iraq. The solider was Kareem Khan, a 20-year-old Muslim from New Jersey.

The soldier's father, Feroze Khan, said he wants to personally thank Powell for his statement.

"All my son wanted to do was serve his country," he told CNN. "Since he was a boy, he wanted to be in the Army. That was his dream. That's the only thing he ever wanted."

"It was not about how he was Muslim, it was about who he was and what he stood for," Feroze Khan said. "He told me, 'I am going to fight for my faith, not against it.'"

Feroze Khan doesn't want to talk about politics. What the candidates say about his religion is of little importance to him. His son defined what he believes in.

Valentine's Day Across the Muslim World (2012)