Friday, May 21, 2010

American Mosques: NOT Places Where “Terrorists’ Monkey-gods” Are Worshiped

As I’m sure you’ve heard by now, Tea Party leader Mark Williams recently responded to plans of building a mosque in New York City near Ground Zero by spewing bigoted hate-speech which Muslims have grown accustomed to. Williams mixed up his brown people when he said that the proposed mosque would be a “monument ... for the worship of the terrorists' monkey-god and a 'cultural center' to propagandize for the extermination of all things not approved by their cult." Williams did make a half-hearted, snarky apology to Hindus who he says “worship Lord Hanuman, an actual monkey god.” In contrast to the monotheistic God of Adam, Jesus, Noah, and Muhammad who is worshiped by people of Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths whom he disparagingly likened to a monkey in a puny attempt to belittle Muslims.

Contrary to what Williams thinks, mosques are places where people come together and re-center themselves around God. Mosques are places where worldly problems are checked by humility in front of the divine. They are the very places which teach the true tenants of faith, and openly condemn the violent acts of a few. American Mosques provide a sense of belonging for those who feel alienated and ostracized by people like Williams, and spaces to engage with Muslims as well as people of other faiths. Mosques collect funds that are donated to charity, provide classes, and host soup kitchens. Some mosques are more liberal, while some are quite conservative. Some mosques are rather dogmatic, while some focus on spirituality. Some get political, some don’t. Mosques, like churches, in America are very diverse; however I have never witnessed the propagating “for the extermination of all things not approved by their cult” in any American mosque that I've visited, including the more conservative and dogmatic ones.

The fact of the matter is that people with extremist ideologies or tendencies stay away from mosques because they know they aren’t welcome. But if someone with a slightly more radical outlook does decide to join in on mosque services, that’s a couple of hours a week spent learning from a credible, learned imam and away from his computer where he’s probably on pretty goofy websites and engaging with other like-minded radicals. And if you’re still concerned, rest assured that there are informants-a-plenty in every mosque in this country.

Some say that it’s simply insensitive to build a mosque so near to Ground Zero because it’s a “slap in the face” for victims’ families. I read in an ABC News article that Rabbi Schmulley Boteach said "On the one hand, stopping a mosque from being built undermines the very notion of freedom of worship in the United States. On the other hand, the idea of building a mosque and celebrating Islam at the site where 3,000 innocent Americans were killed by Islamic terrorists is an affront to so many people that I see it dividing New York and the nation."

We have to remember that not all Muslims should be held accountable for the horrific, inhumane, and entirely unjustifiable terrorist acts of September 11, 2001. In fact, dozens of American-Muslims lost their lives that day while working in the Twin Towers.

The American-Muslim victims of 9-11 and the American-Muslim survivors of 9-11 living in New York absolutely have the right to worship God and erect a symbol of their true faith to stand in total opposition to the place where terrorists not only destroyed countless lives and families, but also perverted the message and meaning of Islam. People already pray at the proposed site which is an old Burlington Coat Factory. They simply want to improve upon what they already have and build something they can be proud of; a sanctuary from the residual pain which 9-11 brought to all New Yorkers, regardless of their relgion.

What would be more beautiful and more American than to have a glistening gold dome added to the skyline of New York City amongst the myriad of churches and synagogues? And honestly, what would be more defiant than to boldly state that no matter what, through thick or thin, freedom of religion is a core American value that should not be touched?

I was talking with a friend's father the other day about how difficult it is to secure permits for building mosques in this country. This man happens to work in Saudi Arabia and was quick to remind me that although it's unfortunate that we have to jump through so many hoops to get mosques built, in places like Saudi Arabia building churches is altogether illegal. This simple anecdote should put things into perspective for Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

Building places of worship should not cause people like Mark Williams to go off on racist tirades, but should inspire people to promote and defend American ideals.

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Thursday, May 13, 2010

Muslims Go Green

Muslims across the world and in the United States have recently been getting into the green spirit. With the impending release of the book “Green Deen” this October, and deadly oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico serving as an environmental wake-up call, I thought it would be a fitting time to shine some light on what the Muslim community has been doing to ensure a sustainable future.

As mentioned briefly above, Ibrahim Abdul-Matin is a Muslim environmentalist set to release his first book this Fall, “Green Deen- What Islam Teaches About Protecting the Planet.” The main inspiration and driving force behind Abdul-Matin’s book is the notion of the whole Earth being a place of prostration, therefore making the Earth a sacred place worth preserving. He relates in an excerpt from “Green Deen” that his love for the environment began as a child when he was on a hiking trip with his father. When it was time for the afternoon prayers, his father explained to him that the whole Earth is a Mosque; praying didn’t just have to confine to the mosque or the home. Throughout his adult life, Abdul-Matin has worked as an environmental policy consultant, has worked with Green for All, Green City Force, Interfaith Leaders for Environmental Justice, the Prospect Park Alliance, and the New York City Mayor's Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability. With his book he hopes to ignite his passion for environmental justice in the hearts of other Muslims.

Other American Muslims have also found their connection with nature and have become proactive in environmental sustainability. A movement called “Green Muslims” based in Washington DC is “a network of Muslims in the District of Columbia (and surrounding areas) working proactively to help our communities understand and implement sustainable and eco-conscious ways of living while relating it to our faith and a holistic world-view,” according to their website. One of Green Muslims’ first green initiatives was organizing sustainable iftars, meals which break fast, during the Muslim fasting month of Ramadan. Green iftars meant three things: the food served had to be organic, local, and the people commuting to the iftar had to do so in an environmentally sustainable away.

One, however, doesn’t have to look as far as DC for examples of environmental stewardship in the Muslim community; even Chicago Muslims are starting to do their part. The Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview recently decided to go green when it came time to remodel their building. They’ve installed solar panels to heat water, use carpeting made from recycled materials, and maximize natural light to cut down on energy use. Additionally, the mosque has always discouraged waste and encouraged recycling, according to Connie Martin in an ABC7 interview.

The green Islam movement has become a worldwide one. This past April, the first ever Muslim Action on Climate Change conference was held in Jakarta, Indonesia. Over 200 delegates were in attendance echoing the same sentiments that there is no contradiction between being a faithful Muslim and a steward of the Earth. In fact, the two are intrinsically tied together. This conference was aimed at taking the sole focus off of the West and instead looking to reform the practices of oil-producing Muslim countries. In addition to discussing ways to decrease pollution, there was also an exciting discussion on how to make for a greener Hajj, the once in a lifetime Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca. An estimated 100 million water bottles are left behind by pilgrims each year, so a potential ban on plastic bottles may be put in place for the Hajj seasons to come. There are also plans to provide workshops educating Muslims on the connection between faith and environmental protection.

And making the connection isn't very hard at all. “We did indeed offer the trust to the heavens and the earth and the mountains; but they refused to undertake it, being afraid thereof. But man undertook it (the trust);...” ( Qur’an 33:72)

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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Reevaluating Oppression

There is an incorrect stereotype held by many in the United States that all Muslim women throughout the world are oppressed. This belief is often further perpetrated by the fact that it is challenging to find any female Muslim characters in American main-stream media that are not portrayed as victims. Without an accurate portrayal of what it means to be a Muslim woman, these stereotypes will continue to occupy the American psyche and be cited as a legitimate validation for going to war against Muslim nations.

Evangelist Franklin Graham was recently un-invited from the Pentagon’s National Day of Prayer service after complaints from Muslim members of the military that his comments on Islam were divisive and inappropriate. Graham is on the record as saying, "I love the people of Islam but their religion, I do not agree with their religion at all. And if you look at what the religion does just to women, women alone, it is just horrid. And so yes, I speak out for women. I speak out for people that live under Islam, that are enslaved by Islam and I want them to know that they can be free." Statements such as these by religious authority figures send the wrong message not only about Islam, but that all Muslim women, regardless of culture or nation, are homogeneous. The Muslim community across the globe is so incredibly diverse, that it is absolutely impossible to make vast generalizations that will hold true for all Muslim women everywhere.

There is a huge difference between what it means to be a Muslim woman in Somalia, for example, under the rule of the Islamic militant organization, al-Shabaab, and a female Muslim living in America or some other stable country. Islam, itself, has deeply rooted beliefs in equality between the genders, but some groups, like al-Shabaab, misrepresent or misinterpret their religion. As noted in a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report, “Many local al-Shabaab authorities devote extraordinary energy to policing the personal lives of women and preventing any mingling of the sexes.” Such actions have led to numerous cases of beating, flogging, and/or jailing of women. HRW interviewed women who were beaten for interacting with male non-relatives while simply trying to support their families by selling tea in public. HRW also documented the case of a woman who was beaten for running out of her home after her toddler without properly covering herself. While al-Shabaab may believe that they are acting in the name of religion, they do not represent the majority view of how Muslim women should be treated. There is an important difference between what members of a particular group or culture sanction for women and what the Quran actually says about the fair treatment of women.

Although Sharia law is widely portrayed in Western media to be a negative and archaic system, a 2005 Gallup World Poll conducted on Muslim societies found that the majority of Muslim women associate equal rights for women with Sharia compliance. In fact, throughout the 20th Century, Muslim women had fewer social restrictions under Sharia law than under Western legal systems. In many former British colonies, women, who had previously had the right to land ownership under Sharia law, lost those rights under British rule.

In a recent interview on Chicago Public Radio, Dalia Mogahed, the Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and author of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think, presented an alternative view on Sharia law and how it can benefit the lives of women. She noted that many negative “practices or laws that were done in the name of Islam are being repealed and questioned, not through secularization, but through a more analytical look at their basis in Sharia by using Sharia to…oppose anti-woman practices.” To prove her point, Mogahed cited a case in Pakistan, where Sharia analysis led to the repealing of a law that punished women for being raped.

In presenting the results of the 2005 Gallup World Poll that inspired her book, Mogahed noted that both Muslim men and women believe that women deserve equal rights in society including equal voting rights, the right to any career that the women qualifies for, and the right for women to be leaders in government. Although this may confuse and challenge those who believe that Muslim women are oppressed, it is important to see the advances that Muslim women are making throughout the world. In Saudi Arabia, for example, women now account for 60% of university students and growing part of the work force. Additionally, debate is beginning to stir regarding the ban on women drivers. In Iran, women took to the streets last summer to protest disputed elections in ways and numbers that Iran has not seen in years. Throughout the world women are making themselves heard and accounted for in new and different ways that both challenge the status quo and help women to reassert the rights provided to them in the Quran.

To this day, women in the United States are still struggling for equality. Women only make 80 cents for every dollar that a man earns. Even in the female majority profession of nursing, a male nurse makes more money that a female nurse. American women have come a long way in the past 100 years, especially since the 1970’s, and, as a result, Americans should understand that achieving equality in the social sphere is sometimes a difficult and challenging process that takes time, but is worth the struggle.

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