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The Common Ground News Service (CGNews) aims to promote constructive perspectives and dialogue on a broad range of issues affecting Arab-Israeli & Muslim-Western relations. CGNews is available in Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Indonesian and Urdu. To subscribe, click here. For an archive of past CGNews articles, please visit our website at www.commongroundnews.org.
 
Inside this edition 
 
Shari'a in favour of minority rights in Egypt
by Sara Khorshid
In this third article in a series on Islamic law and non-Muslim minorities, Egyptian journalist Sara Khorshid considers the controversy surrounding the rights of non-Muslims in Egypt in the context of a larger debate about the place of Islamic law and democracy in the country.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 2 February 2010)
What Americans think about Muslims
by Dalia Mogahed
Sharing the results of a recent poll examining Americans' surprising attitudes toward Muslims, Dalia Mogahed, author and Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies, demonstrates the importance of perceptions, and what can be done to change them.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 2 February 2010)
God by any other name
by Sundus Rasheed
"What's in a name?" asks Sundus Rasheed, a manager of the Karachi-based radio network CityFM89. Rasheed discusses how language can be used as a uniting force, rather than a source of division among religious communities in Malaysia and elsewhere.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 02 February 2010)
Muslim Americans inspire at the Apollo
by Sarah Jawaid
Sarah Jawaid, writer, artist and faith-based activist, describes why a recent cultural event hosted by the Inner City Muslim Action Network at the historic Apollo Theater couldn't have come at a more perfect juncture in the Muslim American experience.
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 2 February 2010)
Muslim Americans shining a light in NYC
by Abed Bhuyan
Providing a different perspective on the same event, New York City high school teacher, Abed Bhuyan, emphasises how culture and arts, brought to light by the recent Inner City Muslim Action Network event, can help forge a sense of interconnectedness amongst Muslims and between people everywhere: "what happens in Haiti affects what happens in New York City".
(Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 2 February 2010)
 
 
Shari'a in favour of minority rights in Egypt
Sara Khorshid
 
Cairo - Over the past decades, numerous polls have demonstrated that the majority of Egyptians want shari'a-or Islamic principles-applied to parts of their country's legal system. Egypt's constitution reflects this: Article 2 of the constitution states that shari'a is the principle source of legislation.

Even with the popular support that Article 2 has in Egypt, it has also been the source of heated controversy. Voices from the Coptic Orthodox Christian community in Egypt, which makes up 12 per cent of the population, contest what they perceive as implied discrimination against the non-Muslim minority in this article. Secularist human rights and pro-democracy activists express similar views, saying that the application of Islamic law is incompatible with democracy, which they argue can exist only in a secular state.

They point, for example, to contentious court cases involving Egypt's family law-which is partly governed by Islamic law, as well as to restrictions on building churches and the question of whether a Copt may become president. They see these examples as reasons to limit the role of Islamic law in domestic policy, especially as it applies to non-Muslim religious minorities.

But in the midst of the public debates involving secularists and Coptic activists, on the one hand, and Islamic political groups-especially the Muslim Brotherhood, which is often in the media spotlight when it comes to discussions on Islamic law-on the other, there is an alternative middle way. In this middle way the concepts of shari'a, democracy and secularism would exist alongside one another as part of a united political system, without compromising the fundamental tenets of any of the three concepts.

Advocates of this approach believe in the rule of the people and the supremacy of law, and feel that lawmakers should be chosen by the people. They still see Islamic law as a frame of reference as long as it is accepted by the majority through a civil process in which elected officials have the final say. This approach would be different from other approaches, such as the Muslim Brotherhood's, which requires the approval of religious scholars before laws are ultimately passed.

Along those lines, Egypt must frame its own model in accordance with its history, culture and, above all, the will of its people. Democracy and secularism are adopted in various ways in different nations: the French and Turkish models, which strictly regulate religion in public life in order to preserve democracy, are different from the US system, in which religion is relatively influential in politics. In each of these examples the unique relationship between religion and the political system suits the characteristics of the particular nation.

Within this framework, Egypt's Christian minority must be entitled to all the civil rights that minorities enjoy in democracies, such as the right to run for presidential and parliamentary elections, the right to present bills to the parliament and the right to equality before the law. But this doesn't mean that they will be granted all their demands, such as removing Article 2 from the Egyptian constitution, a demand would ignite resentment from the majority and fuel sectarian differences.

It is important to note that in no democracy have all minority requests been fulfilled. For instance, the hijab (headscarf) ban in schools in France is against the wishes of the country's Muslim minority, but it was supported by elected French lawmakers.

One of the symbolic issues when it comes to the relationship between minority rights and Islamic law in Egypt is whether a Copt may run for president. If a Copt wants to run for president of Egypt, he or she should have the right, pledging to conform to Egyptian laws and the will of the majority. It will be left up to the people to elect him or her, or not.

Contrary to what many might think, it is not shari'a that stands in the way. There are interpretations of shari'a that find the presidency, in modern times, to be a civil position that does not entitle the president to make major decisions unless they are in line with the people's will and the country's values.

It is Egypt's current political state of affairs-not shari'a-that has prevented anyone, other than President Hosni Mubarak-whether Muslim or Christian-from assuming the role of the presidency over the past 28 years. Democracy has not taken root in Egypt yet.

Copts should continue to fight for their rights, but without infringing upon the majority's values by calling for the removal of Islamic principles from politics entirely. Democratic progress in Egypt does not necessitate the removal of shari'a, an essential element of the country's identity, but requires reforms of the existing system and enhanced rights for the country's minorities.

Copts and Muslims should unite in their call for democracy. Together, they can lead Egypt to a model that works for the country's unique culture and society, and guarantees freedom for all.

###

* Sara Khorshid is an internationally published Egyptian journalist who covers the politics, culture and society of Egypt and the Muslim world, as well as Muslim-Western relations. This article is part of a series on Islamic law and non-Muslim minorities written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 2 February 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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What Americans think about Muslims
Dalia Mogahed
 
Washington, DC - The American people and their openness to Muslim communities will in many ways determine the success of US President Barack Obama's global engagement initiative, which he launched on his inauguration day a year ago by calling for a "new way forward" with Muslims. Change will depend in large part on how Americans think, and it is therefore crucial to understand American perceptions of Muslims and Islam.

How much do Americans know about Islam and Muslims? What characteristics define Muslims in most Americans' minds? And, perhaps most importantly, what factors make prejudice or tolerance more likely?

A new study released last week by the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies sheds light on these questions and many more. The following is what we discovered when we interviewed a thousand representative Americans on their perceptions of several faith communities, with in-depth analysis of their perceptions of Muslims and Islam.

Americans are more likely to admit harbouring prejudice toward Muslims than any other faith community that Gallup studied. Forty-three percent of Americans admit to having at least some prejudice toward Muslims. This is more than twice the number that expresses some prejudice toward Jews, Buddhists or Christians.

We also discovered that being prejudiced toward Jews makes a person more likely to express prejudice toward Muslims than any other factor studied. Of all the variables we looked at, from age to education to perceptions, the factor that was most strongly associated with anti-Muslim prejudice is not level of education, whether or not one knows a Muslim, or even one's opinion of Islam-it is anti-Jewish prejudice. These results suggest that anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim sentiment are related phenomena, and that organisations fighting these social ills must work more closely together since they appear to be fighting for a common goal.

Frequent religious service attendance makes Americans half as likely to express extreme prejudice toward Muslims. For example, frequent church attendance makes someone less, not more likely to express prejudice toward Muslims.

The survey also revealed that prejudice, or the lack thereof, is more strongly associated with one's opinion of Islam than with whether or not someone personally knows a Muslim. If someone does not know a Muslim personally, it does make him or her more likely to express extreme prejudice toward the group. But, perhaps surprisingly, knowing a Muslim does not increase the likelihood of a person expressing no prejudice.

What these results suggest is that knowing a Muslim may help soften extreme prejudice, but it is not enough to eliminate it.

Our survey results also tell us that American perceptions of what Muslims think are sometimes significantly different from what Muslims really do think. Roughly eight in ten Americans (81 per cent) believe that most Muslims do not value gender equality. However, according to Gallup research in Muslim-majority societies around the world, the majority of Muslims, including 85 per cent of Saudi Arabians and 89 per cent of Iranians, do believe that men and women should have equal legal rights.

Despite what may seem like negative results, the polls indicate that Americans' views of Muslims and Islam have generally improved over the past two years. Moreover, roughly seven out of ten Americans also say that greater interaction between the West and Muslim communities is more of a benefit than a threat. The majority of Egyptians, Saudis and Indonesians share this view. In fact, overall, Muslim approval of the United States and its leadership is on the rise.

Ultimately, this study demonstrates that perceptions are not permanent, which is promising. But the public needs to be educated about Muslim beliefs. For example, Americans who believe that most Muslims support equal rights between men and women are twice as likely to express no prejudice toward them, indicating that we require a greater awareness of the fact that most Muslims worldwide support gender equality. We also know from the results of the study that prejudice is not isolated to one group, creating an opportunity for greater interfaith partnership to help address this issue.

The majority of both Americans and the world's Muslims want engagement over isolation, a process that starts at home-through greater understanding of our own perceptions.

###

* Dalia Mogahed is Executive Director of the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies and co-author with John Esposito of Who Speaks for Islam? What a Billion Muslims Really Think (Gallup 2008). She also serves on the President's Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships. This article first appeared in The Jerusalem Post and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 2 February 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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God by any other name
Sundus Rasheed
 
Karachi, Pakistan - There is much that we can learn from the recent attacks on several churches in Malaysia spurred by the use of the word Allah-the Arabic word for God-by Malaysian Christians, dividing an otherwise diverse society.

The row started when government authorities moved to ban the import of religious books by the Sabah Evangelical Church of Borneo last year, arguing against the use of Allah by Christians. A Roman Catholic publication, The Herald, also received multiple warnings from the government that it would have its licence revoked if it continued referring to God as Allah.

Although the Malaysian government later backtracked and reversed the ban, allowing The Herald to use Allah in reference to God, the reversal of the ban resulted in a spate of attacks by extremist groups targeting churches and Catholic schools across the country.

The ban was a product of a 1986 law prohibiting non-Muslims from using Arabic words such as Allah, Baitullah (House of God), salat (prayer) and Kaaba, a site in Mecca considered most sacred for Muslims.

The strict implementation of these laws has pushed some religious communities apart, as witnessed by the recent violence. But Malaysia's minorities have faced challenges even prior to the church burning incidents.

The majority of Malays-which make up the largest ethnic group in Malaysia-are Muslim, which leaves religious minorities with a lesser chance of gaining access to higher education and public office. Article 153 of Malaysia's constitution safeguards the special position of the majority Malays and other indigenous groups of Malaysia. As a result, guidelines have been set on quotas for Malays in the fields of public service, scholarships and public education, often resulting in them in securing preferential positions.

In his "1Malaysia" blog-which is aimed at peacebuilding and engaging people in government processes-Prime Minister Najib Razak condemned the attacks on churches, insisting that the violence is not representative of the broader Malaysian or Islamic ideology. It may be a genuine effort on part of the leadership to promote the right values but the question remains unanswered in Malaysia: Does any group have the sole right to use certain words?

In the Middle East, both Christian and Jewish Arabs have been using Allah and its variants for centuries as a reference to God. Similarly, Pakistani Christians use Khuda to refer to God, as do their Muslim neighbours. The point, then, is not a religious one, but a linguistic one.

But the debate continues in Malaysia over the translation of the word God in Bahasa Malaysia. Does Tuhan, the term some argue should be used instead of Allah , more accurately mean "Lord" rather than "God"? Is there no specific word for God in Bahasa Malaysia? And, if not, can the word "Allah be used in religious texts to refer to God since there is evidence that it has been used in Malaysia since the 1600s?
It is interesting to note that both the Bible and the Qur'an confirm their belief in a common God-the God of Abraham. If we share a common God, then why not a common name for that God?

Languages are not set in stone but are constantly evolving and reflective of social changes. The mutual use of the word Allah could have been an example of common ground amongst Muslim and Christian Malaysians. Instead, however, it has become a divisive force.

Regardless of what you may think of Shakespeare, there is much insight in his question: "What's in a name?" If we called God by any other name, would He be just as forgiving?

###

* Sundus Rasheed, from Karachi, Pakistan, manages and creates content for the English-language radio network CityFM89. She also comments on various social issues and pop culture phenomena. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 02February 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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Muslim Americans inspire at the Apollo
Sarah Jawaid
 
Washington, DC - As I peered down from the lower mezzanine level of Harlem's famous Apollo Theater, I knew I was witnessing history. The village of Harlem has been a beacon of inspiration for artists throughout the 20th century; novelists, poets, musicians and actors found it a safe-haven for expression through various art forms such as music and theatre. On 23 January, a burgeoning Muslim American culture also found voice on the Apollo's historic stage.

The Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) organised a special edition of Community Café, usually held in IMAN's hometown of Chicago. This Muslim-led event was meant to provide a space for the socially conscious to celebrate and engage in various artistic forms of expression. Muslims from across the spectrum showcased their incredible talents while shattering self-propagated boundaries of race, gender, sect and vision. A sold-out audience cheered on the dynamic range of creativity from artists, like singer/actor Mos Def, comedian Aasif Mandvi, Progress Theater, musician Amir Sulaiman and The ReMINDers.

The most striking and memorable aspect of the event was not any one performance, but the performances' effect on those attending. The social cohesion resulting from the event extended beyond the Apollo, sending reverberations throughout the American landscape as attendees returned home. With the recent catastrophic events in Haiti heavy on the hearts of the performers, it was a night of social responsibility, artistic sharing and advocacy.

This event couldn't have come at a more perfect juncture in the Muslim American experience. Our identity continues to be shaped by our diversity, reaction to world events and sometimes the stereotyping within and outside of our communities. Nevertheless, Muslim Americans are proactively constructing their own unique identities by contributing meaningfully to society through engagement in causes they truly care about.

For example, there's the woman getting her Ph.D. in psychology to bring attention to mental disorders often seen as illegitimate in many of our communities. There's the man shattering misconceptions about masculinity by taking on issues of domestic violence. There's the painter donating proceeds from what she creates to the victims of Haiti.

These are everyday people. They aren't in the limelight. They don't have book or movie deals. They are living their lives, doing genuine good work because they believe in it. Yes, they are Muslim, and so much more.

Oftentimes, the media highlights folks on the fringes as the only ones confronting singular expressions of Islam. Those in the middle go unnoticed because they aren't as sexy, loud or attention seeking. While the former expressions are one patch in the quilt that makes up the dynamic nature of the Muslim American community, they shouldn't receive a disproportionate amount of attention. Our collective hope for society should be a higher level of consciousness, and that won't happen by focusing only on those at the edges of society, who are most visible.

Focusing on the everyday folks instead can lead us to a stronger sense of social cohesion. These individuals provide us with something intangible but extremely valuable. They are the steady calm, the heart that keeps beating even when gone unnoticed. These individuals are helping create a Muslim American narrative that is based on God-consciousness by confirming faith with good works, community engagement and a purpose that goes beyond their existence.

As I sat there at the Apollo, listening in awe to the beautiful operatic voice of Sumayya, an African American woman with a pink hijab (headscarf), and Zeeshan, a Bangladeshi American Andrea Bocelli, I knew I was home. They were sharing a part of their soul with me while shattering barrier upon barrier.

Art comes from deep within us, a place that often thrives with mental quietude and presence. And when art is shared with one another, it has the power to inspire, build bridges to uncharted places and heal wounds. As we continue to shape our stories, let's remember our essence and how we are all connected to friends of other faiths, the earth and our communities-from a place of wholeness.

###

* Sarah Jawaid is a writer, artist and faith-based activist working on urban planning issues in Washington, DC. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 2 February 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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Muslim Americans shining a light in NYC
Abed Bhuyan
 
New York, New York - "Talent, like love, is only useful in its expenditure." This quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. was brought to light on 23 January, when the Inner City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) brought its signature arts and culture event, Community Café, to New York City. Ibrahim Abdul Matin quoted King to provide context for the evening, in which IMAN blessed an audience of 1,500 at the legendary Apollo Theater with an unforgettable night of performances.

A living symbol of the Harlem Renaissance, a period when African American culture especially blossomed, the Apollo Theater was the perfect place for a historic evening that will prove pivotal in the Muslim American experience. "Bringing IMAN to the Apollo is a reminder to the Muslim American community of its roots in the African American community," said Amir Al-Islam, IMAN Chairman of the Board and Distinguished Lecturer of African American History at Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, New York. IMAN is currently based in Chicago and plans to expand to New York City in 2010. It has a community-based, action-oriented mission and organises the Community Café, which promotes social change through the arts.

All those in attendance were aware of their connection to the city and to one another-through a shared history. Performers and hosts reminded us of the giants whose shoulders we stand on, often citing the legacies of the African American Muslim human rights activist Malcolm X and the Prophet Muhammad.

According to Asad Jafri, IMAN Director of Arts and Culture, "IMAN is committed to promoting arts and culture in the Muslim community, alongside service and advocacy."

Deeply rooted in the prophetic tradition of service and social justice, the organisation pushes all those involved to take action to better their communities. A prominent theme of this New York City special edition of the Community Café was connectedness-that what happens in Brooklyn affects what happens in Harlem.

And, more broadly, what happens in Haiti affects what happens in New York City-and vice versa.

In light of the recent earthquake, Imam Shamsi Ali of the Islamic Cultural Center of New York opened the night with Qur'anic verses that reminded us of the importance of patience in the face of calamity. IMAN teamed up with Islamic Relief and raised over $13,000 to support victims of the earthquake. In addition to the funds raised, IMAN Executive Director Rami Nashashibi encouraged the audience to strengthen the effort to grant Haitian asylum seekers Temporary Protective Status, a temporary immigration status granted to foreign nationals who cannot return home because of a crisis in the home country.

A man of many talents, the comedian Aasif Mandvi performed a dramatic reading that took the audience along on his journey back to his childhood in Bradford, England, home to a large South Asian immigrant community. Many who had followed Mandvi's successes over the years, most notably in his current role as a correspondent on Comedy Central's The Daily Show were able to place his life in context. He spoke poignantly of the history of his hometown and the bigotry he and his working class family often faced as minorities while living there.

The ReMINDers, a husband and wife hip-hop duo, sang "Black Roses", an ode to their children, reminding the audience of its responsibility to posterity, effectively linking their present to their future. Liza Garza performed her spoken word poetry with her child clinging to her back, demonstrating that very link. The rapper Amir Suleiman and Danish pop group Outlandish were among the other artists that graced the famous Apollo stage.

Fittingly, the night ended with Grammy nominated hip-hop artist Mos Def performing his hit song "Umi Says". Echoing his classic lyrics, he encouraged the audience to "shine your light on the world," adding, "I want Haiti to be free." Mos Def had performed this song many times before, but his words rang through the Apollo with a higher sense of purpose and urgency on this particular night.

That high sense of purpose defines the Muslim American community today, and the Apollo was home to its powerful expression. Those who attended Community Café walked away with a heightened sense of pride and empowerment that is sure to permeate the greater Muslim community and New York City at large. The audience was treated to a celebration of American Islam, in all its diversity.

And it was beautiful.

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* Abed Z. Bhuyan, a graduate of Georgetown University, is currently a high school teacher in New York City with Teach for America. This article first appeared in Washington Post/Newsweek's On Faith and was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 2 February 2010, www.commongroundnews.org
Copyright permission is granted for publication.


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