Wednesday, June 28, 2006

Muslims in America

They face rising public suspicion but new opportunities


Being an American Muslim means facing mountains of bad publicity. It also means discovering growing numbers of companions for the journey.

The American Muslim population continues to grow, even as polls show that Muslims in the United States today are facing a rising tide of negative public opinion. A Washingon Post-ABC News poll, taken during the controversy over the Dubai ports deal, found that 46 percent of respondents reported negative views of Islam, seven points higher than polls taken in the aftermath of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. A recent survey by the Council on American-Islamic Relations found that about a quarter of all Americans think “the Muslim religion teaches violence and hatred.” A CBS poll taken in April reports that fewer than one in five Americans have a favorable impression of Islam.

But if American Muslims live under a cloud of suspicion today, many say the new attention to Islam has also triggered a surge of American converts to Islam and greater knowledge of Islam among the population at large.

“There’s a lot of anti-propaganda. Before Sept. 11, it was difficult to find any book on Islam in any mainstream bookstore. But now if you go to Borders or Barnes & Noble, you will find several books,” said Dr. Zahid H. Bukhari, a fellow at Georgetown University’s Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

R. Kevin Jaques, an assistant professor of religious studies at the University of Indiana, notes that more Latinos and Native Americans are now embracing Islam.

What’s leading Americans to Islam?

Jaques said that as the United States is changing, churches are failing in their traditional role. Converts are looking for something the church isn’t giving them, he remarked.

“Especially for second- and third-generation Latinos, they’re looking for a religious tradition that gives them a bigger sense of community. One of the things you hear in mosques is community, community, community. That’s a major attraction for a lot of people.”

Dr. Jane I. Smith, codirector of Hartford Seminary’s Duncan Black Macdonald Center for the Study of Islam and Christian-Muslim Relations, says there is much in Islam that is similar to Latino culture, including a strong affirmation of the family, a sense of piety and a denial of the Western emphasis on individuality. Moreover, Smith said, Latinos who come to the United States encounter a church with European roots that is not always easy to integrate into or hospitable.

“For a number of Latinos who are Roman Catholic in background, the Catholic church has become problematic in a number of ways. They are looking to Islam for direct theology, no encumbering Trinitarianism, and for providing a welcoming community,” said Smith.

A growing population

Statistical data is scant. Because of that, few actually know whether the talk among ethnographers and religion scholars of an upsurge in American conversions since 9/11 is just that or something more. But no one doubts that the Muslim population in the United States is growing,

Bukhari, a director of Georgetown University’s MAPS (Muslims in the Public Square) project, said continuing immigration, often due to family reunification, and a higher birth rate among Muslims account for most of the increase in the Muslim population in the United States.

Dr. Ihsan Bagby, associate professor of Islamic studies at the University of Kentucky, notes that in the late 1990s, 100,000 Muslims were immigrating to the United States annually. The population of Muslims in America has almost doubled roughly every decade since the 1950s, Bagby said, with the liberalized immigration act of 1965 opening the door to massive Muslim immigration.

Bagby is one of the few researchers who has hard data on the Muslim population in the United States. In 2000 Bagby conducted the first national survey of mosques in the United States, polling a third of the roughly 1,200 mosques. In 2004, Bagby looked at membership in Detroit’s 33 mosques. Comparing survey results with earlier surveys he’d done, Bagby said his findings indicate that increasing numbers of whites and Hispanics are joining U.S. mosques.

“The Detroit study showed a remarkable percentage of white Americans who had converted. In 1994, it was 75 percent African-American. By 2000, it was two-thirds African Americans and one-third white,” Bagby said.

Islam has long exercised an appeal for the United States’ African-American population. In the 1960s and ’70s particularly, many African-Americans, dissatisfied with a Christianity they saw as complicit in oppressing blacks, turned to Islam because of the religion’s moral discipline and its strong orientation to social justice.

“The fact that Islam became associated with the struggle of black people in particular for their rights became part of what it meant to be a Muslim,” Bagby said.

Now the appeal of Islam is widening, said Bagby. Even among African-Americans, said Bagby, the attraction to it today tends to be its spirituality.

“Islam is no longer a protest religion,” Bagby said.

With believers obliged to fast one month out of the year and pray five times daily beginning before sunrise, Islam places more demands on adherents than do many contemporary Christian denominations. For those Americans who turn to it, the commitment Islam requires and the highly structured spirituality may in fact be part of its appeal.

There is spirituality in every religion, Bagby observed. But he noted that he thought Muslims may be doing better at making it a spiritual commitment rather than a routine.

“Islam is a serious moral and spiritual way of life,” said Bagby. “I think Americans today, as opposed to the large wave that came to Islam in the 1960s and 1970s, are largely drawn to that. When they get past all the stereotypes, they see a very organized, very beautiful religion.”

Emerging Islamophobia

That message is getting through to converts to Islam, but it is not reaching the general public, opinion polls indicate. Scholars say that the negative public impression of Islam is forcing Muslims to interact in the public square much more than they had before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

If immediately after the attacks, Muslims were tempted to conceal their faith and withdraw into anonymity, that reaction has passed. Scholars say that if anything, Islamophobia in the general culture has reinforced Muslims’ commitment to their faith. “There’s a kind of ‘let’s gather together and affirm ourselves’ mentality,” said Smith.

At the same time Smith notes significant frustration among the Muslim community. “There’s a very concentrated effort to speak out against terrorism and then feeling enormously frustrated because people are always saying to them, ‘Why don’t you speak out against terrorism?’ and they feel they are but the media isn’t picking it up.”

Under pressure from Congress, the Justice Department and the Department of Homeland Security, Muslims today are living in an atmosphere of “structural confinement,” said Bukhari. After 9/11, thousands of Muslims were rounded up and deported. Millions of dollars in Muslim bank accounts were frozen. Prominent leaders were arrested, often on terrorism charges that were then reduced to minor infractions unrelated to terrorism. “There’s an issue of harassment,” Bukhari noted. Meanwhile, he said, Muslims face “emerging Islamophobia” coming from a particular group of fundamentalist Christian leaders, conservative talk show hosts on TV and radio and a raft of so-called “experts” who describe Islamic centers as centers of terrorism, he said.

Simultaneously, Muslims in the United States are also experiencing new windows of opportunity to present their experience, he added.

“What Muslims are learning when they read American history is that this happened to other ethnicities in the past,” said Bukhari. “It happened to Catholic Americans, it happened to German Americans, it happened to Japanese Americans.”

Margot Patterson is NCR opinion/arts editor. Her e-mail address is

Chirac unveils memorial to France's Muslim soldiers in WWI

DOUAUMONT, France (AFP) - President Jacques Chirac paid homage Sunday to the 600,000 Muslim soldiers from former colonies who fought for France in World War I, unveiling a memorial on the site of the bloody Verdun battlefield.

"The Verdun army was the army of the people, and all the people took part. It was France in all its diversity," he said, inaugurating a white-walled Moorish-style monument in their memory.

The memorial, topped by a cupola built at a cost of 500,000 euros (627,000 dollars), is seen as a belated recognition for Arab and other Muslim soldiers from Africa who fought German troops under France's flag.

It stands in the shadow of the Douaumont Ossuary, a building opened in 1932 that features a long stone cross along the 45-metre height of its imposing cloister.

The ossuary contains the bones of some 130,000 unidentified remains found during and after the battle for Verdun.

That 10-month clash in 1916 resulted in a total 300,000 deaths on the French and German sides. An estimated 35,000 of them were Muslim soldiers fighting for France.

A monument to Jewish soldiers built in 1938 also stands nearby.

Previously, there existed only a small memorial pillar to African soldiers, as well as a Muslim section of the Douaumont war cemetery with 592 graves aligned to face Mecca.

The site of the new memorial had to be cleared by bomb crews because of the large amount of ordnance that still lies underground. Remains of several bodies were also found there.

Historically, the contribution of soldiers from France's colonial empire in both world wars has been overlooked.

But this year -- in the wake of riots on the outskirts of French cities last November largely fuelled by a sense of alienation among youths of immigrant North African families -- the tide has turned.

At the Cannes film festival in May, "Days of Glory", a French-Algerian film about the sacrifices of North African soldiers, and they prejudices they endured, in World War II earned its cast a collective best actor's prize.

Chirac, in his speech, glossed over the poor treatment France has often doled out to the colonial soldiers and their descendants, instead concentrating on the solidarity World War I forced on the country.

"This ceremony reminds us of the moment in its history, at Verdun and for Verdun, that the French nation came together and went forth to the end," he said.

"People of all walks of life, of all beliefs, of all religions, are at Verdun," he said.

"In that war, under our flag, there were Moroccan infantrymen, Senegalese, Algerian and Tunisian riflemen, soldiers from Madagascar and also from Indochina, from Asia, from Oceania.... The republic survived the unprecedented shock of the First World War thanks to the admirable will of its soldier-citizens."

Chirac said the bonds of friendship that today link France and Germany were born from the ashes of the wars, as was Europe's common quest for peace and prosperity.

The ceremony was the high point of commemorations marking the 90th anniversary of the battle of Verdun.

Muslim leaders in France have stated that the integration of Muslim troops into the French army in the wars laid the foundations of Islam in France.

Today, some five million people in France -- out of the country's total population of 62 million -- are Muslim, making it the largest Muslim community in western Europe.

Slowly, their heft as a political force in the country has grown, but so have tensions.

With the radicalization of Islam in parts of the world following the 2001 attacks in the United States and the 2003 invasion of Iraq, France has found itself caught out several times, notably by resistance to its 2004 ban on Muslim headscarves in state schools and by the November riots last year.

Pervasive racism against French people of African or Arab background has fuelled disgruntlement among youths in impoverished, high-immigrant areas and led them to question their French identity.

An attempt by the government to exert influence over Islamic groups on its soil, by founding a national umbrella body called the French Council of the Muslim Faith in 2003, has stymied because of infighting in the organization.

A rival body not sponsored by the state, the Rally of Muslims in France, emerged a week ago.

Islam in Office
If fundamentalist parties take power, how will they do business?
By Stephen Glain
Newsweek International

July 3-10, 2006 issue - Judeo-Christian scripture offers little economic instruction. The Book of Deuteronomy, for example, is loaded with edicts on how the faithful should pray, eat, bequeath, keep the holy festivals and treat slaves and spouses, but it is silent on trade and commerce. In Matthew, when Christ admonishes his followers to "give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's," he is effectively conceding fiscal and monetary authority to pagan Rome.

Islam is different. The prophet Muhammad—himself a trader—preached merchant honor, the only regulation that the borderless Levantine market knew. In Muslim liturgy, the deals cut in the souk become a metaphor for the contract between God and the faithful. And the business model Muhammad prescribed, according to Muslim scholars and economists, is very much in the laissez-faire tradition later embraced by the West. Prices were to be set by God alone—anticipating by more than a millennium Adam Smith's reference to the "invisible hand" of market-based pricing. Merchants were not to cut deals outside the souk, an early attempt to thwart insider trading.

Today, with a spiritual revival sweeping much of the Muslim world and with the Bush administration still keen on democratizing the region, it is worth asking how an Islamist movement would manage the economy. Since 2001, Islamist parties have made strong showings or won elections in 10 Arab countries (Morocco, Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Bahrain, Egypt, Kuwait and Pakistan) and the Palestinian Authority. And none are clashing with the West on free-market economics. In Iraq, the supply-side economic-reform plan submitted in 2003 by former U.S. administrator Paul Bremer has survived with only minor revisions under Baghdad's new Shia-dominated government.

An interesting test came in the January election in Egypt, when the Muslim Brotherhood—the fountainhead of modern Islamism—took a fifth of the seats in Parliament. Now the largest opposition party, much of the brotherhood's appeal rests on its network of hospitals, schools and charities, which are often superior to state services (and help explain why the secular regime cracks down harder on the secular opposition than on the religious one). Fortunately for the reform-minded prime minister, Ahmed Nazif, the brotherhood's economic agenda is largely consistent with his own, albeit with a more populist twist.

The brotherhood embraces free-trade deals in general, but criticizes the government for failing to negotiate better terms for Egyptians. Though Islam tends to frown on tax collection, the brotherhood supports tax reform (not abolition) and opposes a proposed flat tax as regressive. It even endorsed the recent decision to lift budget-busting food and fuel subsidies, but wants to use Egypt's ample natural-gas reserves to finance a less painful transition to market prices. "It must be done gently," says Mohammad Habib, the brotherhood's first deputy chairman, "with the objective of reducing the gap between rich and poor."

In the 1950s, as the brotherhood gained political momentum, it opposed President Gamal Abdel Nasser as much for his decision to nationalize the Egyptian economy as for his fierce secularism. Muhammad, says Yasser Abdo, a Muslim Brotherhood member and a former economist at the International Islamic Bank for Investment and Development in Cairo, "believed in the private sector as the basis of productive activity," with a "limited" state role.

Today, brotherhood parliamentarians remain anti-statist and staunchly antitrust, citing a verse in the Qur'an: "He who brings commodities to the market is good, but he who practices monopolies is evil." Not that any member goes as far as questioning the OPEC cartel. As Cairo University economist Abdel Hamid Abuzaid puts it, Islam promotes "competition of a cooperative" nature, not the "cutthroat" Western kind.

Politically, at least, the objective of fundamentalist Islam is to restore the Islamic caliphate, the unified Muslim kingdom of the 7th to the early 20th centuries that stretched from the Hindu Kush to the Strait of Gibraltar. This rhetoric turns more practical on the subject of trade. "If the ancient caliphate can revive itself," says Habib, who has a U.S. doctorate in geology, "it will happen through regional commerce." A brotherhood in power, says Habib, would respect Cairo's free-trade agreements—though the group appears to be divided over whether it would honor one with Israel.

In the days of the caliphate, Islam developed the most sophisticated monetary system the world had yet known. Today, some economists cite Islamic banking as further evidence of an intrinsic Islamic pragmatism. Though still guided by a Qur'anic ban on riba, or interest, Islamic banking has adapted to the needs of a booming oil region for liquidity.

In recent years, some 500 Islamic banks and investment firms holding $2 trillion in assets have emerged in the Gulf States, with more in Islamic communities of the West. British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown wants to make London a global center for Islamic finance—and elicits no howl of protest from fundamentalists. How Islamists might run a central bank is more problematic: scholars say they would manipulate currency reserves, not interest rates.

The Muslim Brotherhood hails 14th century philosopher Ibn Khaldun as its economic guide. Anticipating supply-side economics, Khaldun argued that cutting taxes raises production and tax revenues, and that state control should be limited to providing water, fire and free grazing land, the utilities of the ancient world. The World Bank has called Ibn Khaldun the first advocate of privatization. His founding influence is a sign of moderation. If Islamists in power ever do clash with the West, it won't be over commerce.

© 2006 Newsweek, Inc.


Area Muslims say divide in poll not about faith

Jun 24, 2006

A global divide between Muslims and the Western World isn't about religious faith, say prominent Islamic leaders in the Richmond area.

"While it is true there is a divide . . . it's about politics more than anything else," said Malik Khan, a trustee at the Islamic Center of Virginia and chairman of its outreach efforts.

Khan and other Muslim leaders are not impressed by the results of a new poll that attempts to measure mistrust between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West. The poll was conducted in 15 countries by the Pew Research Center for People & the Press.

"It creates a bad taste in the mouths of the Muslims, especially those living in the West," said Khan, who was president of the Islamic Center for four years. "It doesn't help."

Dr. Ali Hossaini, who came here from Iraq more than 50 years ago, agreed. "It's not helpful," he said. 'I think it is in many areas misleading."

Khan, who arrived in Virginia from Pakistan in 1973, and Hossaini said the attitudes of Muslims toward the West depends on where they live, how well they are educated, and what issue they're considering. For example, Muslims in the Middle East and some European countries tend to harbor more ill will toward the West than those living in the United States, Khan said. "We have a different view. We're much more patient, much more tolerant, much more understanding."

Many Muslims dislike the policies of Western governments, such as the treatment of Palestine after World War II and the current U.S.-led war in Iraq

"The poll said they are against the West," Khan said. "What they should have said is they are against the policies of the governments and administrations. They're not against the people."

Many Muslims, here and abroad, supported the invasion of Afghanistan after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks and spoke out against atrocities committed by Islamic radicals, he added.

"There was a point where we did converge," Khan said. "Let's not forget about that."

Contact staff writer Michael Martz at or (804) 649-6964.

Muslim World Cup Players Promote Image

By Ahmad Atta, IOL Correspondent

CAIRO — Superstar Muslim footballers leading several high-profile European teams in Germany 2006 FIFA World Cup are contributing to a paradigm shift, showing a face of Islam some have not seen and many others have claimed never existed.

"Muslim players in European soccer teams are a proof that their faith and cultures are not stumbling blocks hindering contribution to the development of their societies in all domains," Anas al-Tikriti, former chairman of the Muslim Association of Britain, told

"They can help clear misconceptions about Islam and prove that the Muslim faith is a way of life," he added.

Many Muslim players have captured the limelight during their participation in the world football gala.

Among them is French playmaker legend and three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane.

His expected successor, midfielder Franck Ribery, has also made headlines during his country's opener against Switzerland.

Ribery, a native French revert, raised his hands and supplicated to God like a typical Muslim before the kickoff.

Among the other prominent Muslim names in the mondial are Dutch Boulahrouz Khalid and Van Persie Robin as well as Swede Ibrahimovic Zlatan.


Renowned French intellectual Francois Burgat said successes in sports and other fields help refute allegations about Muslims and ease hardships facing the Muslim minorities in the West.

"Those players are giving the best example of the true nature of Islam," he told IOL.

"The consecutive selection of Zidane as France's most popular man is a step in this direction," Burgat believes.

Tirkriti agreed, saying such stars can help in better integrating Muslims in their European societies and being accepted by fellow citizens.

"A footballer can have a greater influence than a scholar or a preacher if he offers a good example to others," noted the activist.

He recalled one incident while delivering a sermon at a mosque in Aberdeen, Scotland, during the last holy month of Ramadan.

"The place of worship was unusually teeming with people and when I asked the imam about it he said that two Muslims who play in the Scottish league attend prayers during Ramadan."

Tirkriti said European Muslims who make it to the top in any field serve as models for fellow Muslims.

He believes that such superstars can also contribute to solving many of the problems young European Muslims suffer.

The British Muslim leader regretted the lack of self-confidence and engagement by many young Muslims because of the increasing anti-Muslim rhetoric.

Judge Orders U.S. to Decide if Muslim Scholar Can Enter

A federal judge in New York yesterday ordered the Bush administration to decide by September whether to grant an entry visa to a prominent Muslim scholar. The scholar has been barred from entering the United States for nearly two years, first because of supposed ties to terrorism, then for unspecified national security reasons.

The American Civil Liberties Union filed the suit on behalf of three academic groups, including the PEN American Center, which had invited the scholar, Tariq Ramadan, a Swiss citizen, to speak at its meetings.

In a 34-page ruling, Judge Paul A. Crotty of United States District Court in Manhattan said that while the United States must come to a decision on admitting Mr. Ramadan, the academic groups had not met the legal burden for other demands.

The groups had sought an order to stop the government from barring Mr. Ramadan under provisions of the Patriot Act and a finding that the government had abridged the free-speech rights of the groups, which also include the American Academy of Religion and the American Association of University Professors.

Judge Crotty, noting the government's shifting reasons for Mr. Ramadan's exclusion, said, "While the Government may exclude Ramadan if he poses a legitimate threat to national security, it may not invoke 'national security' as a protective shroud to justify the exclusion of aliens on the basis of their political beliefs."

Jameel Jaffer, deputy director of the A.C.L.U.'s national security program, said that "we're very happy with the decision that we got."

Mr. Jaffer added that the decision was significant, "one, because it clearly rejects the government's contention that Professor Ramadan endorsed terrorism and two, it makes clear that the government cannot use the immigration laws as a means of manipulating political debate inside the United States."

The suit was filed against the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security. Bridget Kelly, a spokeswoman for the United States attorney for the Southern District, said the government's lawyers were reviewing the ruling and would have no immediate comment.

Mr. Ramadan is a scholar of Arab descent who is now a visiting fellow at Oxford University. He has published more than 20 books, 700 articles, and 170 audiotapes focusing on Islam and the Western world.

He is also the grandson of Hasan al-Banna, a founder in 1928 of the Muslim Brotherhood, an Egyptian group that opposes Hosni Mubarak, the president of Egypt and an ally of the United States. A group that has been known for violence, the brotherhood recently elected members to Egypt's parliament.

Mr. Ramadan's troubles began in July 2004 when his work visa, known as H-1B, was revoked and he was later unable to accept a tenured professorship at the University of Notre Dame.

Muslims in N.J. increasingly seeking help from the courts

Associated Press Writer

NEWARK (AP) -- When Amira Attia, a 33-year-old pharmaceuticals worker, and Ashraf Amin, a 35-year-old hospital research assistant, got married in 2002, they pledged their love for each other.

They also pledged that if the marriage went sour, Attia would get a $50,000 delayed dowry under an Islamic law concept called a mahr.

Two and a half years later, the couple split up, and Attia went to court seeking payment of the mahr.

But in a ruling made public late today, a court in Essex County declined to enforce the Islamic dowry. It was the latest case in a growing trend in which American Muslims are turning to the courts to intervene in religious disputes which previously would have been resolved by community elders or spiritual leaders.

"More and more Muslims are living here and are going to use secular courts to address their issues, including religious ones," said Sohail Mohammed, a Clifton lawyer who was not involved in the case. "When I first started my practice 11 years ago, we saw maybe two matrimonial cases a week involving Muslim families; now we see two dozen a week.

"This is probably just the beginning," he said. "There will be a lot more to come."

The latest case differs from a 2002 ruling in Passaic County which upheld the $10,000 mahr as a legally enforceable contract between the husband and wife.

Lawyer Hamdi Rifai, who represented the husband in the Essex County case, said the courts were asked to rule on Islamic law, but correctly applied basic contract law instead.

"The court is saying 'We can't enforce Sharia law because we are a secular nation and we believe in giving people their rights,' " he said.

Attia falsely accused her husband of beating her, and even reported him to the FBI as a terrorist, Rifai said. Her lawyer, Nirmalan Nagulendran, declined to comment on the case.

Amin was not available to comment today but is scheduled to speak at a press conference Thursday involving the ruling, Rifai said.

The judge granted the couple a divorce and laid out a conventional settlement including division of Attia's 401k account, a requirement that Amin pay $81 a week in child support, and setting custody and visitation schedules regarding their 2-year-old son.

Yaser El-Menshawy, chairman of the Majlis Ash-Shura of New Jersey, the state's council of mosques, said the significance lies not so much in the details of each case, but in the growing willingness of Muslims to involve secular courts in religious matters.

"This might become a two-edged sword," he said, adding that by granting power to secular courts over marriage agreements, the courts could then rule on other religious matters as well in which Muslims do not want guidance.

Published: June 21. 2006 6:05PM

Friday, June 23, 2006


Muslim Sorority Opens New Doors to American University Women

New group promotes sisterhood, scholarship, leadership, service

By Steve Holgate
Washington File Special Correspondent

Washington -- Fraternities and sororities are an important part of student life on most American university campuses. These privately run clubs organized around common interests and activities provide students with leadership experience, social outlets, support groups, community service opportunities and housing options.
They offer a home-away-from-home for the roughly half million students who seek admittance and are selected by current members. Fraternity and sorority members are often active in campus affairs and maintain a lifelong social and professional network with other former members after graduation.
In some people’s minds, the “Greek system” – so called because the houses are typically named with some combination of Greek letters – is synonymous with partying, but the system includes a huge variety of organizations, many of which encourage academic excellence and promote community service. A new national sorority founded on the principles of Islam seeks to build itself on that model.
Founded little more than a year ago, the Gamma Gamma Chi sorority has dedicated itself to giving young women the positive aspects of a sorority experience while maintaining Islamic traditions. While the group’s core principles are Islamic, it opens its membership to all women, Muslim and non-Muslim, who support its mission.
Gamma Gamma Chi is the inspiration of Imani Abdul-Haqq, a young Muslim woman who was dissatisfied with the sorority scene at her university in North Carolina. Instead of dismissing the entire system, though, Abdul-Haqq decided to form her own sorority based on Islamic values. Abdul-Haqq’s mother, Althia Collins, a former college president and sorority member, threw herself into the dual role of president and executive director. Since then she has spent more than $50,000 of her own money and in-kind assistance to launch the sorority.
One of the most challenging tasks for Gamma Gamma Chi has been raising awareness of its mission on American campuses. Collins and other supporters have visited many universities, hosting informal information sessions. Students dressed in everything from chadors to blue jeans and t-shirts have attended and taken an interest.
A student at the University of Kentucky, where a chapter of the sorority is being founded, told NPR (National Public Radio), “This is exactly what Islam is about.” Christine Ortiz, a graduate from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Gamma Gamma Chi board member, noting the important status of sororities at American universities, told USA Today, “It will give Muslim woman a face and a voice on campus.”
Collins told NPR, “This sorority, I thought, is an opportunity to help Muslim women to be able to develop leadership skills and … to help each other through networking.”
Gamma Gamma Chi makes its commitment to Islam clear in its motto: “Striving for the pleasure of Allah through Sisterhood, Scholarship, Leadership and Community Service.” Its six goals, or Golden Pillars, include Islamic awareness, education, support for the indigent, as well as health, social and environmental awareness. Chapters will follow Muslim practices and observe Islam’s holy days. Collins says no alcohol will be served at sorority events and that while members may work together with men on specific projects, there will be no men at their social gatherings.
Other students apparently agree with the leaders of Gamma Gamma Chi that this sorority fills a void among diverse student organizations on campus. Young Muslim women in 20 states have expressed interest in forming chapters of an organization where they can enjoy the company of women like themselves and show the best face of Islam.
Members of other sororities have also welcomed the new organization. Some have noted that a number of Christian-based sororities have succeeded using similar models. Susan West, an administrator with the University of Kentucky, has championed the establishment of a Gamma Gamma Chi chapter at her campus, saying that the university welcomes women of all faiths. She told the Voice of America, “I think that GGC will give women a new opportunity… I have talked with women who are in sororities now, and they are excited to have a new group on campus that will bring something different to their sorority community.”
The sorority has already passed an important milestone, establishing its first chapter in Atlanta, where it serves women from a number of local universities and colleges. Two more chapters will open in July and chapters are forming in a number of other American cities. Given the initial interest, the sorority’s goal of establishing chapters in every region of the United States seems achievable.
Collins speaks with confidence about the prospects for the work she and her daughter have started. “I can say how pleased I am with the interest and enthusiasm we’ve received,” she told the Washington File, adding, “Imani, my daughter … and I are honored that we could be the ones to give shape and life to an idea whose time has clearly come.”
For information on student life in the United States, see
Study in the U.S. and Muslim Life in America.
Created: 20 Jun 2006 Updated: 21 Jun 2006

Islam defined by primary sources
Jun. 19, 2006. 01:00 AM
How much sacrifice for the price of oil?
Religion, June 17.

The Star's continued preference for the views of so-called secular Muslims over those who actually believe in and practise their religion is distorting the public's understanding of Islam and frustrating committed Muslims.
Raheel Raza's article about Saudi Arabia as the source of terrorism is as ridiculous as it is telling. What appears to be Raza's deep dislike for Saudi Arabia and the phantom of Wahhabism is actually a deep dislike for the Islamic belief system and way of life. How else is one to understand Raza's mockery of Muslim women who "dress like penguins" and her bemoaning the razing of monuments built on graves and worshipped besides God, while Prophet Mohammad himself ordered this during his lifetime? If written by a non-Muslim, much of Raza's article would be seen as prejudiced and narrow-minded. When espoused by a so-called Muslim, however, such views are seen as groundbreaking and progressive and are widely promoted.
Islam is defined by its primary sources — the Qur'an and the life example of Prophet Mohammad — not the whims and desires of people. Islam is not a cultural background that one is born with, but a set of beliefs that one either holds or doesn't and a way of life that one chooses to adhere to or not.
If "secular Muslims" — who pick and choose what they like about Islam and label as extremist all who don't follow suit — do not believe the sources of Islam are accurate and complete, why do they remain intent on identifying themselves as Muslims? After all, the meaning of the word "Muslim" is "one who submits" to God.
Asmaa Hussein, Toronto

Home-grown Imams Reconcile Islam, American Culture & Newspapers

"Where you don't have people who have strong intellectual capacity, you get demagoguery," Yusuf believes.
CAIRO — With accent-free Arabic and rarefied Qur'anic grammar and being equally at home in Islamic subjects and modern American culture, Sheikh Hamza Yusuf and Imam Zaid Shakir are on a mission to reconcile Islam with American culture.
"Sheik Hamza and Imam Zaid have grown up here after having studied abroad, and you can really connect with them," Ebadur Rahman, 19, told the New York Times.
"The scholars who come from abroad, they can't connect with the people. They're ignorant of life here," insisted the New Yorker.
Rahman, the son of Bangladeshi immigrants, is one of six full-time students in the first Islamic seminary in the United States.
Yusuf and Shakir are hoping to train a new generation of imams and scholars who can reconcile Islam and American culture.
Most American mosques import their imams from overseas — some who preach extremism, some who cannot speak English, and most who cannot begin to speak to young American Muslims growing up on hip-hop and in mixed-sex chat rooms.
While there is no scientific count of Muslims in the US, six to seven million is the most commonly cited figure.
Knowledge Beacon
Yusuf, who reverted to Islam after a near-fatal car accident in high school, believes that many Muslims lack "religious knowledge."
He regrets that many of the seminaries that once flourished in the Muslim world are now either gone or intellectually dead.
Yusuf noted that now smart Muslims go into technical fields like engineering, not religion.
He hopes for more Muslims to be schooled in their faith's diverse intellectual streams and had a holistic understanding of their religion.
"Where you don't have people who have strong intellectual capacity, you get demagoguery."
Yusuf named his school the Zaytuna Institute — Arabic for olive tree, and also the name of a renowned Islamic university in Tunisia.
Although many universities have Islamic studies departments, including a program at Hartford Seminary to accredit, there is no program in the US like Zaytuna, according to the New York Times.
Hundreds of Muslims come for evening and weekend classes on Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him), the Noble Qur'an and the Arabic language.
Still in its pilot phase, the institute's full-time seminary program has only six students, including two women - one a former software engineer, the other a former prenatal genetic counselor.
It is expected to double its enrollment next fall.
Increasing Clout

"Where are the Muslim Doctors Without Borders? Spend six months here, six months in the Congo. Form it," Shakir told his attentive audience.
Yusuf and Shakir, who have spent years in the Middle East and North Africa studying Islam, enjoy a much higher profile than most imams and draw overflow crowds in theaters, mosques and university auditoriums that seat thousands.
Their books and CD's are pored over by young Muslims in study groups.
During a recent presentation at the University of Houston, every seat in the auditorium was taken, and the crowd was standing in the back and spilling out into the lobby, straining to hear.
Yusuf told the audience to beware of "fanatics" who pluck Islamic scripture out of context.
"That's not Islam," he said. "That's psychopathy."
He urged his attentive audience to pray for the victims of kidnappers in Iraq, saying that kidnapping is just as bad as American bombings in which the army describes the civilian victims as "collateral damage."
"They're both sinister, as far as I'm concerned," he said. "One is efficient, the other is pathetic."
Shakir, who teaches as a scholar in residence in Zaytuna, urged Muslims to serve humanity at large.
"Where are the Muslim Doctors Without Borders? Spend six months here, six months in the Congo. Form it!"
When one student asked if assistance should be aimed at Muslims only he said: "The obligation is to everyone. All of the people are the dependents of Allah."
The crowd included students in college sweatshirts, doctors, limousine drivers in suits, immigrants from Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and the grown children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the immigrant generation.
There were plenty of African-Americans and a sprinkling of white and Hispanic reverts.
After waiting for more than an hour to greet them, Sohail Ansari, an information technology specialist originally from India, marveled: "I was born a Muslim, and these guys are so far ahead of us."

Ribery's Islam "Noticed" in French WC Opener
By Hadi Yahmid, IOL Correspondent

The 23-year-old Ribery sees his new faith a matter of privacy and dislikes to talk about it in public.
PARIS — French national soccer team player Franck Ribery did not notice that his reversion to Islam would steal the limelight at his country's opener in Germany World Cup 2006 as the attacking midfielder raised his hands and supplicated to God like a typical Muslim before the kickoff.
The 23-year-old Ribery sees his new faith a matter of privacy and dislikes to talk about it in public with many French knowing nothing about his reversion to Islam.
The Olympique Marseille right-sided winger and midfielder has even been reluctant to tell reporters his reversion story, though it is believed that his Muslim wife, of Moroccan origin, played a pivotal role in his new lease of life.
Some reports hinted at his one-year stay in Turkish Galatasaray in 2005 when he helped the team win the 2005 Turkish Cup.
He rarely speaks about how he found the Muslim faith, urging the paparazzi to let him live in peace.
But he recently told the Paris Match magazine that he felt "safe" with Islam.
"Islam is my source of strength either in or outside the playground," he said.
"I lead a difficult career and I was determined to find peace of mind, and I finally found Islam."
Ribery's reversion to Islam was first leaked by L'Express magazine earlier this year, though the weekly did not mention him by name and said that a national team player was used to frequenting a mosque in southern Marseille.
Thousands of French revert to Islam every year in France, but not all of them declare their new faith outright, fearing discrimination at home or work and a stereotypical view that reverts tilt towards extremism, according to recent studies and surveys.
Last March, sources confirmed that former French soccer coach Philippe Troussier and his wife Dominique had reverted to Islam in the Moroccan capital where they live.
Super striker Anelka, who played for Paris Saint-Germain, Arsenal, Real Madrid, Liverpool and Manchester City, eventually had to leave for the Turkish league after increasing harassment.
France is home to some six to seven million Muslims, the largest Muslim minority in Europe.
Steve Bradore of Shehada organization, which caters for Muslim reverts, said that French Muslims must be proud of Ribery.
"He is really a source of pride for us due his unique performance and modesty," he told Saturday, June 17.
Ribery is tipped to succeed playmaker legend and three-time FIFA World Player of the Year Zinedine Zidane, who said he will quit football at the end of the World Cup.
He started his playing career at his home town club US Boulogne and then moved to Al├Ęs, Brest and FC Metz in consecutive seasons.
His move to Olympique Marseille has earned him top French player honors for the months of August, October and November 2005. He was selected for the France squad for the FIFA World Cup 2006 in Germany.
France's opener with Switzerland at the World Cup ended goalless to the disappointment of the French people.
The French team will play on Sunday, June 18, with South Korea, which is a virtual must-win fixture for the 1998 World Cup winners if they are to cruise square two.
The Koreans top Group G ahead after the 2-1 win over Togo.

U.S. Muslim Clerics Seek a Modern Middle Ground

To see more photos click here . More Photos »

Every seat in the auditorium at the University of Houston was taken, and the crowd was standing in the back and spilling out into the lobby, straining to hear. The two men onstage began to speak to the crowd in Arabic, with such flawless accents and rarefied Koranic grammar that some audience members gaped when they heard the Arabic equivalent of the king's English coming from the mouths of two Americans.
Sheik Hamza Yusuf, in a groomed goatee and sports jacket, looked more like a hip white college professor than a Middle Eastern sheik. Imam Zaid Shakir, a lanky African-American in a long brown tunic, looked as if he would fit in just fine on the streets of Damascus.
Both men are converts to Islam who spent years in the Middle East and North Africa being mentored by formidable Muslim scholars. They have since become leading intellectual lights for a new generation of American Muslims looking for homegrown leaders who can help them learn how to live their faith without succumbing to American materialism or Islamic extremism.
"This is the wealthiest Muslim community on earth," Mr. Shakir told the crowd, quickly adding that "the wealth here has been earned" — unlike, he said, in the oil-rich Middle East. As the audience laughed at Mr. Shakir's flattery, he chided them for buying Lexuses — with heated leather seats they would never need in Houston — and Jaguars, and made them laugh again by pronouncing it "Jaguoooaah," like a stuffy Anglophile.
And then he issued a challenge: "Where are the Muslim
Doctors Without Borders? Spend six months here, six months in the Congo. Form it!"
Most American mosques import their clerics from overseas — some who preach extremism, some who cannot speak English, and most who cannot begin to speak to young American Muslims growing up on hip-hop and in mixed-sex chat rooms. Mr. Yusuf, 48, and Mr. Shakir, 50, are using their clout to create the first Islamic seminary in the United States, where they hope to train a new generation of imams and scholars who can reconcile Islam and American culture.
The seminary is still in its fledgling stages, but Mr. Yusuf and Mr. Shakir have gained a large following by being equally at home in Islamic tradition and modern American culture. Mr. Yusuf dazzles his audiences by weaving into one of his typical half-hour talks quotations from St. Augustine, Patton, Eric Erikson, Jung, Solzhenitsyn, Auden, Robert Bly, Gen. William C. Westmoreland and the Bible. He is the host of a TV reality show that is popular in the Middle East, in which he takes a vanload of Arabs on a road trip across the United States to visit people who might challenge Arab stereotypes about Americans, like the antiwar protesters demonstrating outside the
Republican National Convention.
Mr. Shakir mixes passages from the Koran with a few lines of rap, and channels accents from ghetto to Valley Girl. Some of his students call him the next
Malcolm X — out of his earshot, because he so often preaches the importance of humility.
Both men draw overflow crowds in theaters, mosques and university auditoriums that seat thousands. Their books and CD's are pored over by young Muslims in study groups. As scholars and proselytizers of the faith, they have a much higher profile than most imams, as Muslim clerics who are usually in charge of mosques are known. Their message is that both Islam and America have gone seriously astray, and that American Muslims have a responsibility to harness their growing numbers and economic power to help set them straight.
They say that Islam must be rescued from extremists who selectively cite Islamic scripture to justify terrorism. Though Mr. Yusuf and Mr. Shakir do not denounce particular scholars or schools of thought, their students say the two are challenging the influence of Islam's more reactionary sects, like Wahhabism and Salafism, which has been spread to American mosques and schools by clerics trained in Saudi Arabia. Where Wahhabism and Salafism are often intolerant of other religions — even of other streams within Islam — Mr. Yusuf and Mr. Shakir teach that Islam is open to a diversity of interpretations honed by centuries of scholars.
Mr. Yusuf told the audience in Houston to beware of "fanatics" who pluck Islamic scripture out of context and say, "We're going to tell you what God says on every single issue."
"That's not Islam," Mr. Yusuf said. "That's psychopathy."
He asked the audience to pray for the victims of kidnappers in Iraq, saying that kidnapping is just as bad as American bombings in which the military dismisses the civilians killed as "collateral damage."
"They're both sinister, as far as I'm concerned," he said. "One is efficient, the other is pathetic."
Both Mr. Shakir and Mr. Yusuf have a history of anti-American rhetoric, but with age, they have tempered their views. Mr. Shakir told the Houston audience that they are blessed to live in a country that is stable and safe, and in which they have thrived.
When it came time for questions, one young man stepped to the microphone and asked: "You said we have an obligation to humanity. Did you mean to Muslims, or to everyone?"
Mr. Shakir responded: "The obligation is to everyone. All of the people are the dependents of Allah."
When Mr. Shakir and Mr. Yusuf stepped off the stage, they were mobbed by a crowd that personified the breadth of their following. There were students in college sweatshirts, doctors and limousine drivers in suits. There were immigrants from Asia, the Middle East and Africa, and the grown children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the immigrant generation. There were plenty of African-Americans (as many as a third of American Muslims are black), and a sprinkling of white and Hispanic converts. There were women in all kinds of head scarves, and women without.
Mr. Yusuf and Mr. Shakir posed for pictures and signed their CD's, books and DVD's — the two men combined have more than 80 items on the market. A young couple thanked Mr. Yusuf for his CD set on Muslim marriage, saying it had saved theirs. A family from Indonesia asked him to interpret a dream. An older woman from Iraq begged him to contact Muslim scholars in her homeland and correct their misguided teaching.
After waiting for more than an hour to greet the scholars, Sohail Ansari, an information technology specialist originally from India, marveled, "I was born a Muslim, and these guys are so far ahead of us."
Encouraging Tolerance
Mr. Yusuf lives on a cul-de-sac in Danville, a Northern California suburb, in a house with a three-car garage. The living room is spread with Persian rugs; it is mostly bare of furniture. He held a dinner with guests in traditional Arab style — on the floor, while the smallest of his five sons curled up in the rugs and fell asleep. His wife, Liliana, tired from a day of home-schooling and driving the boys to karate lessons, passed around take-out curry. She converted to Islam after meeting Mr. Yusuf in college, to the chagrin of her Catholic Hispanic parents. The couple married outdoors, in a redwood grove.
Mr. Yusuf received the Arabic title of sheik from his teachers in Mauritania, in West Africa. There the honorific is usually given to old men with a deep knowledge of Islam who serve their communities as wise oracles, but Mr. Yusuf was only 28. His given name was Mark Hanson, and he was raised Greek Orthodox in a bohemian but affluent part of Marin County, just north of San Francisco.
He converted to Islam after a near-fatal car accident in high school sent him on an existential journey. He said that the simplicity of "no God but Allah" made far more sense to him than the Trinity, and he found the five daily prayers a constant call to awe about everything from the sun to his capillaries.
The American seminary was Mr. Yusuf's idea. His diagnosis of the problem with Islam today is that its followers lack "religious knowledge." Islam, like Judaism, is based in scripture and law that has been interpreted, reinterpreted and debated for centuries by scholars who inspired four schools of Islamic jurisprudence. Mr. Yusuf laments that many of the seminaries that once flourished in the Muslim world are now either gone or intellectually dead. Now, he said, the sharpest Muslim students go into technical fields like engineering, not religion.
He said he believed that if more Muslims were schooled in their faith's diverse intellectual streams and had a holistic understanding of their religion, they would not be so susceptible to the Osama bin Ladens who tell them that suicide bombers are martyrs.
"Where you don't have people who have strong intellectual capacity, you get demagoguery," he said.
Mr. Yusuf once was a source of the kind of zealous rhetoric he now denounces. He said in 1995 that Judaism was based on the belief that "God has this bias to this small little tribe in the middle of the desert," which makes it "a most racist religion." On Sept. 9, 2001, he said the United States "stands condemned" for invading Muslim lands.
He has since changed his tune — not for spin, he says, but on principle. "Our community has failed, and I include myself in that," he told an audience in a downtown theater in Elizabeth, N.J., this year. "When I started speaking in the early 90's, our discourse was not balanced.
"We were focused so often on what was negative about this country," he said. "We ended up alienating some people. I've said some things about other religions that I regret now. I think they were incorrect."
He added: "A tree grows. If you're staying the same, something is wrong. You're not alive."
An Enthusiastic Following
Mr. Yusuf named his school the Zaytuna Institute — Arabic for olive tree, and also the name of a renowned Islamic university in Tunisia. The site, adjacent to a busy boulevard in Hayward, Calif., is an unlikely oasis, the air scented by jasmine bushes and flowering vines.
Five times a day, starting around 5 a.m., a teacher or a student stands outside the prayer hall and warbles the call to prayer. In the mornings, few respond, but by evening, the hall is filled with the rustling of men and women dropping to their knees, divided by a wooden screen.
The prayer hall was once a church. There is also a yurt and a high backboard used as a target for archery, because the Prophet Muhammad recommended it as an athletic activity. (The backboard will soon come down to avoid alarming neighbors who might balk at seeing Muslims with bows and arrows).
On a sunny day, one student, Ousmane Bah, sat outside the yurt, washing the ink off a polished wooden slate on which he had written his lesson for the past week, which he had committed to memory. The lesson, written in Arabic poetry, was about what makes a fair trade. Near the yurt, BART trains sped by.
"The United States is the capital of modernity," Mr. Bah said, "and you have this very traditional Islam, which is 1,400 years old, being taught in this modern world."
Many American universities have Islamic studies departments, and a program at Hartford Seminary accredits Muslim chaplains. But there is no program in the United States like Zaytuna.
Hundreds of Muslims come to Zaytuna for evening and weekend classes on the Prophet Muhammad, the Koran and the Arabic language. The institute's full-time seminary program is in the pilot phase, with only six students. It is expected to double its enrollment next fall.
Besides Mr. Bah, there are two women — one a former software engineer, the other a former prenatal genetic counselor — and three men — a former jazz musician from Maryland, a motorcycle mechanic from Atlanta and a son of Bangladeshi immigrants in New York City who chose Zaytuna over the
Ivy League.
"Sheik Hamza and Imam Zaid have grown up here after having studied abroad, and you can really connect with them," said the New Yorker, Ebadur Rahman, who is 19. "The scholars who come from abroad, they can't connect with the people. They're ignorant of life here."
Islamic studies experts say that what Mr. Yusuf and Mr. Shakir are teaching is traditional orthodox Islam, and that it is impossible to characterize their theology as either conservative or liberal. They encourage but do not require women in class to cover their heads. They have hired a female scholar, who teaches only women. Last year, Mr. Shakir published a rebuttal to a group of progressive American Muslims who argue that Islamic law allows women to lead men in prayer.
Mr. Yusuf says he has become too busy to teach regularly at his own school. He writes books, translates Arabic poetry, records CD's, tapes his television show. He meets with rabbis, ministers and the
Dalai Lama, and travels annually to the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Mr. Yusuf's fame grew after he was invited to the White House nine days after the Sept. 11 attacks, making him the only Muslim leader along with five other religious leaders who were called to meet with President Bush. He suggested that Mr. Bush change the name of the military's impending operation in Afghanistan, "Infinite Justice," because it would offend Muslims, who believe the only source of infinite justice is God. Mr. Bush responded by changing the operation's name to "Operation Enduring Freedom," and in the news media Mr. Yusuf gained a title other than sheik: "adviser to the president."
Mr. Yusuf, however, said that Mr. Bush since then "hasn't taken any of my advice."
Persuasion Over Violence
Three years ago, Mr. Yusuf invited Mr. Shakir to teach at Zaytuna as a scholar in residence. Mr. Shakir had recently returned from his second stint of studying Islam abroad — a total of seven years in Syria and Morocco.
One recent Sunday afternoon, Mr. Shakir had 50 students in his Zaytuna class on marriage and family. The women brought their babies and their knitting, and everyone munched on homemade cookies brought for a cookie-baking contest.
"It's going to be hard to beat this oatmeal raisin," Mr. Shakir said between swigs of organic milk.
The real topic at hand was whether polygamy, which is permitted in Islam, is appropriate in the modern context. Mr. Shakir mediated a heated debate between the men and women who sparred across the wooden divider that separated them.
One man said that having more than one wife was good because some women are so "career orientated" that "they don't want to be cleaning up all the time behind the man." At that, one woman shouted out, "Get a maid!" and everyone dissolved in laughter.
Mr. Shakir told the students that Islam allows polygamy because it was a "practical" and "compassionate" solution in some cases, as when women are widowed in war. But in the modern context, he said, "a lot of harm ensues."
Mr. Shakir said afterward that he still had trouble believing how a boy from the projects could have become an Islamic scholar with students who are willing to move across the country to study with him.
He and his wife, Saliha, became Muslims in the Air Force. He had joined the military as a teenager in the lull after Vietnam because his mother had died and he had no means. His name was Ricky Mitchell, and his mother had raised him and his siblings in housing projects in Georgia — where he remembers going to his grandparents' farm and picking cotton — and in New Britain, Conn.
A Goal for America
While leading a mosque in New Haven in 1992, Mr. Shakir wrote a pamphlet that cautioned Muslims not to be co-opted by American politics. He wrote, "Islam presents an absolutist political agenda, or one which doesn't lend itself to compromise, nor to coalition building."
While he did not denounce Muslims who take part in politics, he pointed out the effectiveness of "extrasystemic political action" — like the "armed struggle" that brought about the rule of the
Taliban in Afghanistan. A copy of the pamphlet was found in the apartment of a suspect in the first World Trade Center bombing, in 1993. Mr. Shakir says he was questioned by the F.B.I., but had no link to the man, and that was the end of it.
While studying in Syria a few years later, he visited Hama, a city that had tried to revolt against the Syrian ruler,
Hafez al-Assad. Mr. Shakir said he saw mass graves and bulldozed neighborhoods, and talked with widows of those killed. He gave up on the idea of armed struggle, he said, "just seeing the reality of where revolution can end."
Asked now about his past, he said, "To be perfectly honest, I don't regret anything I've done or said."
He added, "I had to go through that stage to become the person that I am, and I'm not willing to negate my past."
He said he still hoped that one day the United States would be a Muslim country ruled by Islamic law, "not by violent means, but by persuasion."
"Every Muslim who is honest would say, I would like to see America become a Muslim country," he said. "I think it would help people, and if I didn't believe that, I wouldn't be a Muslim. Because Islam helped me as a person, and it's helped a lot of people in my community."

Muslims leery of FBI activity
Assurances that the community isn't under watch meet with skepticism.

The Orange County Register

Marya Bangee doesn't know what to believe. The UC Irvine sophomore thinks the fact that she's Muslim is the reason she's been singled out for searches at airports and been scrutinized by police at anti-war demonstrations.
She's also distrustful of the FBI, uncertain whether the agency is telling the complete story of whether its employees are monitoring Orange County's Muslim community.
Her doubts loom a week after Muslim leaders and an FBI senior agent shook hands and patted each other on the back, concluding a meeting that addressed conflicting reports as to whether the community is being watched.
Los Angeles FBI Assistant Director Stephen Tidwell adamantly denied that his agents were monitoring Orange County's Muslim community.
"The Muslim community is not of concern to us," he told more than 200 people at the Islamic Center of Irvine.
Bangee called the meeting a "good start to a relationship."
"But I do not think we accomplished anything as yet," she said.
The issue arose May 24, when Pat Rose, head of FBI's Orange County al-Qaida squad, said during a meeting of the Pacific Club that "there are a lot of individuals of interest." Asked whether citizens should be worried about activist Muslim students at UCI, she said it was "another tough question to answer."
The FBI hasn't said who is being monitored, but Rose admitted that electronic surveillance is being used in Orange County.
Robert J. Cristiano of Newport Beach, who attended the Pacific Club meeting, said some are misinterpreting Rose's comments.
"I think it's much ado about nothing," said Cristiano, a club member who was speaking only for himself. "What I heard her say was that no community is immune. I took it as she stated it. No group is singled out. No group is immune (from surveillance)."
Bangee's skepticism of exactly what is going on may be warranted, said an Arab-American civil-rights activist and a former FBI agent. They cite several instances of agents asking people which mosque they attend and whom they visited during family vacations to the Middle East.
The Muslim community and the FBI are like two ships passing in the night, said James Wedick, a 35-year FBI agent who owns an investigations agency in a Sacramento suburb.
"The bureau has yet to honestly deal with how to communicate with the Arab and Muslim community and the Arab community distrusts them because of good reason because of paid informants getting sent into the community for less than legitimate reasons," he said.
The FBI community is upset by Rose's statements, he said.
"She was probably being more candid than Tidwell would want you to believe," said Wedick, whose wife works for the agency. "Now they're trying to repair the damage that they've done."
Ban Al-Wardi, an activist in the Arab-American community and an immigration lawyer, said the FBI typically denies monitoring a group.
She said she's worked cases in Orange County and elsewhere in Southern California in which agents monitored board meetings and the financial transactions of Arab-American organizations. In addition, she said, agents have asked college students questions about their mosque and what the iman preaches.
She said the FBI tries to gain the community's trust on the pretext of protecting Muslims from hate crimes and backlash.
Another question is whether monitoring is legal and protected by the Patriot Act, which was enacted after 9/11 and dramatically expands the terrorism-fighting authority of U.S. law enforcement.
Wedick said agents must have reasonable suspicion of some type of criminal activity before they monitor or investigate a community or a person. Agents invited by community members can legally ask questions and visit mosques without needing reasonable suspicion, Wedick said.
"Unfortunately there are occasions when reasonable cause has been less than reasonable," he said, pointing to the case of a Lodi man and his son. They pleaded guilty to lesser charges after being accused of having connections to al-Qaida.
The four-year investigation of the Central California city's large Muslim community began after a former Lodi resident gave erroneous information to FBI agents. No evidence surfaced of any al-Qaida connections.
The FBI on Friday released a statement announcing that its agents plan to undergo training at a Los Angeles mosque to learn more about Muslim religion and culture. "The FBI is committed to ensuring that our personnel become more culturally fluent so that our investigations are more effective and respectful," the statement said.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

15,000-grave Muslim cemetery opens in Westland
6/15/2006, 5:36 a.m. ET
The Associated Press

WESTLAND, Mich. (AP) — A Muslim cemetery with space for 15,000 graves is opening in suburban Detroit, making it easier for families to adhere to Islam's burial traditions, an organizer says.
The Islamic Memorial Gardens has been in planning for at least six years and now has begun selling graves.
"What makes this nice, I believe, in addition to the proximity to Dearborn, is that we are complying with all of the Islamic mandates and guidelines," cemetery board chairman Robert Berry told The Detroit News for a story Thursday.
Dearborn is the center of southeastern Michigan's about 300,000-member Arab-American community, many of whose members are Muslim.
Muslims avoid lending with interest, so the cemetery will not charge interest to finance grave purchases, Berry said. The cemetery will provide service on weekends, when most cemeteries are closed for burials, so that Muslims can observe the tradition of burial shortly after death.
Plots also will be laid out so that the dead face east toward Islam's holy city of Mecca.
"We're doing things that all of the Islamic interests kind of require," Berry said. "And it's going to be an attractive place."
The 26-acre parcel now is mostly undeveloped woodland. The existing nondenominational Maple Grove cemetery, established before the Civil War, is to be fenced off and preserved, and a small plot in it will remain open for Romanian Americans.

Information from: The Detroit News,

Muslim students get help juggling school and faith
By David MontgomerySeattle Times staff reporter

Abdisiyad Adan leads fellow Muslim students in prayer in a library conference room at Seattle's Nathan Hale High School. Behind Adan, from left are Hunde Hussein, Daraaraa Waqo, Amer Ali and Ismail Hamza.

On Friday afternoons, Nathan Hale High School senior Abdisiyad Adan asks his fifth-period teacher what he'll miss in class, writes down the homework for the weekend and leaves school.
Other Muslim students at Nathan Hale pile into Adan's car, and they set off for the Idriss Mosque a little more than a mile away. By the time they return from their mandatory Friday prayers, the school day is nearly over.
Adan's situation reflects the difficulties that the Seattle School District, and other public schools across the nation, face when dealing with Muslim prayer. Federal and state law prohibit teacher-led prayers in public schools, as well as student-led prayers at school events or religious programs. But laws protect the right of students to pray, and educators often struggle with how to accommodate students without disrupting class.
In Islam, prayer five times per day is obligatory. Adherents must face in the direction of Mecca and engage in a series of ritual movements. One of the five daily prayers must occur around midday, and on Fridays, the Muslim holy day, the midday prayer is supposed to occur in a mosque.
Seattle School District guidelines give school administrators the responsibility of deciding how to handle Muslim prayer.
At Garfield High School, an empty classroom is provided for Muslims to pray during lunch periods, Principal Ted Howard said. Students who don't want to miss lunch can have an extra 10 minutes to pray after the lunch period provided their teachers sign off on it. On Fridays, Muslims are allowed to go to a nearby mosque.
"As long as we have the space, and people are willing to step up and help us out, we're willing to accommodate most students' needs," Howard said.
The district's Office of Equity and Race Relations has established a committee to examine the needs of Muslim students, and the ways the district can address them.
The Seattle area is home to an estimated 40,000 Muslims, and while Seattle Public Schools doesn't track religious affiliation among its students, officials believe the number of Muslims is growing.
Caprice Hollins, the district's director of equity and race relations, said that over the past several years, administrators and teachers have contacted her with questions about Muslim students' needs. She said the committee isn't trying to come up with policy but rather to provide information to staff members about Muslim culture.
"People [have to] have some tools [to] help teachers and principals answer questions about Muslim students," said Hollins. "Certainly [some] schools are already doing a great job addressing the issue of prayer ... but there are also schools that struggle in this area."
In Shoreline, Muslim students are provided with an empty classroom for prayers and are usually allowed to miss class for their prayers. Shorewood High School senior Omar Sarhan said teachers sometimes suggest that students remain in class for particularly important assignments.
In the Edmonds School District, the issue of Muslim prayer has been raised at only one school, Edmonds-Woodway High, where two Muslim students are provided with prayer space to be used at the beginning or end of class periods.
Early missteps
But the issue can be a sensitive one, as is the case in the Seattle district.
An early advertisement soliciting members for the committee referred to it as the "Prayer in Schools Committee" — a name Hollins now describes as "naive." The name has been changed to the Religious Accommodations Committee, and while the focus remains on Islam, Hollins said, the committee is open to concerns about whether the needs of other students, such as Jews or Buddhists, are being accommodated.
Hollins was appointed in 2004 to encourage awareness of cultural differences, promote equity and access to the school system and eradicate what the department refers to as "institutional racism."
The definition of that term, as posted on the department's Web site, recently sparked controversy. The site contained a number of definitions of different types of racism, and gave "individualism" and "defining one form of English as standard" as examples of "cultural racism."
The definitions were later removed, replaced by a message from Hollins that said the definitions lacked context. The message also explained that the department rejected "unsuccessful concepts such as a melting pot or colorblind mentality" — positions that remain controversial.
Focus on Muslims
Some critics believe focusing just on Muslim prayer reflects a bias against Christianity. Others say the effort gives too much attention to one group.
Andy MacDonald, a Ballard resident who contributes to the blog, said the committee appears to be dealing only with Muslims because they've made their concerns heard.
"If they're going to have a broad district policy, they should have a policy for prayer in general [without exceptions]," he said.
Hollins said that Muslim students are unique because they have a particular time of day when they need to pray.
"For myself as a Christian, while I pray every day, there's not a particular time that my supervisor needs to know [about]," Hollins said.
American Civil Liberties Union of Washington spokesman Doug Honig said a series of U.S. Supreme Court cases justifies the Seattle district's efforts.
Adan said that Nathan Hale teachers and administrators had been very helpful in providing a room for prayer and allowing students to miss class, but, he said, it can be a problem elsewhere.
"For all Muslims, prayer is ... significant," Adan said. "When you have to choose between prayer and school, it's tough."

David Montgomery: 206-464-3214 or

School board votes again to exclude Muslim holidays
06/14/06By Louis Llovio

For the third year in a row, the Baltimore County Board of Education approved a calendar for the 2006-07 school year that did not include two Muslim holidays.
Muslims attending the meeting were upset over the setback and vowed to continue fighting after the unanimous school board vote June 13.
At previous board meetings Dr. Bash Pharoan, president of the Baltimore County Muslim Council, has said that if schools close for Jewish holidays then, in the name of equality, schools also should close on Id al- Fitre and Id al-Adha, two Islamic holy days.
As it happens, for the 2006 -07 calendar, schools will close on only one Jewish holiday, Rosh Hashana, Sept. 13. Yom Kippur falls on a weekend this year.
School board member John Hayden defended the board's 8-0 decision, citing economic factors as justification for closing schools on Jewish holidays. With the large number of Jewish teachers in the county, the school system closes rather than incur the expense of hiring substitute teachers.
In the coming years, the school system will track attendance on the two Islamic holy days to determine if there is a spike in both student and teacher absences, Hayden said.
At the school board meeting, Stephen Crum, of the Southeast Area Educational Advisory Council, surprised some in attendance by supporting the argument that schools remain open on the Jewish holidays.
Crum said the issue is not about religion but about management.
Principals, he told the school board, should know in advance an approximate number of teachers and students who will be absent on holidays so they can make the necessary arrangements.
Pharoan and several speakers vowed to continue the fight to put the Muslim holidays on the school calendar.
"I will see you here next year," said one Muslim girl, a seventh-grader at Pine Grove Middle School in Carney.
The 2006-07 school year begins Aug. 27 and runs through June 13.
The adopted calendar meets the state requirements of 180 days and 1,170 school hours.

Effort to accommodate Muslim women's modesty spurs debate
Updated 6/13/2006 11:40 PM ET
By Oren Dorell, USA TODAY

Muslim women in the USA have been asking the public to accommodate their religious beliefs about modesty, a trend that some Muslims worry will provoke a backlash.

In some recent examples:

•In Lincoln Park, Mich., Fitness USA relented when Muslim women demanded that the gym wall off a co-ed aerobic center from their women-only section because men could see them working out.

•In Bridgeview, Ill., a Muslim school says it wants its girls' basketball team to play road games against non-Muslim schools provided the public schools ban men and teenage boys from the game.

•In North Seattle, Wash., a public pool set up a swim time for Muslim women in which men, even male lifeguards, are banned.

In all of the examples, businesses and public facilities were asked to accommodate followers of one interpretation of Islamic law that says the sexes must be separate if women are not covered with headscarves and modest clothing.

Meeting such demands could create a backlash against Muslims, says Zuhdi Jasser, chairman of American Islamic Forum for Democracy, which advocates separation of religion and government.

"In the long term it does not serve to build friends and bridges with the Western community," says Jasser, a Muslim.

"You're not going to make your American, Christian and Jewish friends to feel comfortable ... which in the end could create a dislike for Muslims that is unnatural."

But other Muslims see the trend as an issue of civil rights.

Salam Al-Marayati, executive director of Muslim Public Affairs Council, says the right to petition for special accommodation based on religious beliefs is protected by the First Amendment.

"Whether a woman wants to cover her hair or not is her personal choice," he says. "As long as it's not imposed on the rest of society then I don't see any problem."

Walid Phares, a professor of Middle East studies at Florida Atlantic University, sees it as an early sign in the USA of a global Islamic movement to pressure Western society into abiding by Islamic laws.

"These demands exist because there is an ideology of a militant movement to slowly but surely demand more," Phares says. "They will be building on it."

Phares says the conservative Saudi branch of Islam, known as Wahhabism, is trying to assert itself as representation all Muslims in the USA and makes demands most Muslims disagree with.

But Ebrahim Moosa, professor of Islamic studies at Duke University, says the requests are attempts to integrate with U.S. culture. They show "that America can become their home," he says.