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American Muslim

CONTRA COSTA TIMES – February 9, 2006

Bay Area Muslims denounce cartoons, violence

By Nathaniel Hoffman

Two Bay Area Muslim groups on Wednesday condemned published caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad and the violent reactions to the cartoons that have spread through the Muslim world this week.2-9-06 SaminaFSunda

A dozen cartoon depictions of Muhammad, printed in a Danish newspaper in September and republished across Europe and in several U.S. newspapers, have sparked boycotts, protests and violent demonstrations in Syria, Lebanon, Gaza, Afghanistan and Iran.

The drawings include depictions of the prophet leading a donkey, the prophet's face merged with the star and crescent of Islam, and an obscure drawing with crescents and Stars of David. Another drawing depicts a Danish schoolboy named "Mohammed" apparently chastising the newspaper for provoking Muslims.

The most controversial cartoon depicted Muhammad wearing a bomb on his head.

"The Muslim world is really feeling that the West has not been fair," said Samina Sundas, founder and executive director of American Muslim Voice in Newark. "This is the one thing that broke the camel's hump."

Sundas joined representatives of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and several interfaith groups Wednesday in Fremont to denounce the cartoons, to urge fellow Muslims to protest nonviolently and to encourage the media not to show the offending cartoons.

"We know that there's no limit to free speech, but there is a civic limit," said Safaa Ibrahim, council executive director for the Bay Area.2-9-06 safaaibrahim

"We're in a very volatile climate right now and this is adding fuel to the fire."

Islamic tradition forbids depictions of Muhammad and other Muslim prophets, including Moses and Jesus. But it was not just the pictures that offended many Muslims around the world, it was the context in which they were published, Ibrahim said.

"It's not really about the cartoon," she said. "It's about the Iraqi war, the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, the desecration of the Quran."

Mohammad Chaudhry, president of the Islamic Center of the East Bay in Antioch, said the publication of the cartoons saddened him.

"There was no need to injure the feelings of people who constitute one in six of the total human population," Chaudhry said. "I call it highly irresponsible."

Hindus, Sikhs, Christians and Jews protest when their faiths are lampooned in the mass media, he said.

"The very word 'caricature' means that the effort is to mock and to ridicule in the way of conveying a message."

Chaudhry and Sundas had not viewed the cartoons and said they did not want to.

Amer Araim, an imam and adjunct professor at Diablo Valley College, said that in linking Islam and its prophet to terrorism, the cartoon furthered misunderstanding about one of the world's major religions.

"We are really bothered by this depiction," Araim said. "But we believe in peaceful expression of opinions."

Sundas urged Muslims to consider a story about the prophet when he was criticized.

A woman threw garbage at Muhammad every day as he walked by her house, Sundas said.

"One day she didn't throw it," Sundas said. "He knocked on the door to ask if she was OK."


Oakland Tribune – Febryary 9, 2006

Local Muslims blast satirical cartoons,
 violence they spawned
Bay Area Islamic leaders defend their faith as a religion of peace

By Jonathan Jones

FREMONT — A group of 10 religious and civil rights leaders held a news conference Wednesday at Fremont Congregational Church to encourage interfaith dialogue and to condemn the violent protests following the publication of controversial 2-9-2006 presser03cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad.

But the Bay Area Muslim leaders, who included members of the Council on American-Islamic Relations and the American Muslim Voice, spent much of the news conference defending their faith as a religion of peace and explaining their objections to the cartoons to members of the media.

"I think there is an 'us versus them' mentality," said Safaa Ibrahim, executive director of the Bay Area's Council on American-Islamic Relations. "There is a frustration that we have to constantly defend ourselves. I'd rather not be on the defensive. I'd rather just educate people about our faith."

The news conference highlights how the cartoons have ignited passions on all sides and triggered widespread debate over issues of multiculturalism and freedom of expression.

Hani Shukrallah, editor of Cairo-based Al Ahram Weekly and a visiting lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, said this issue has developed into a "so-called" clash of civilizations by those who believe Islam is at war with Western values.

"The fundamental thing about racism is contempt, and this is what you see in the way the whole issue is being framed," Shukrallah said during a discussion about the cartoons at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. "It is being framed as a clash of civilizations by both sides."

The controversy began when a Danish newspaper published a series of cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. One cartoon depicted Muhammad wearing a turban in the shape of a bomb. Another depicted Muhammad meeting a line of suicide bombers as they entered heaven and informing them that heaven was out of virgins. Depicting the prophet is prohibited in Islam.

The satirical cartoons inflamed Muslims, causing protests across Europe and the Middle East, which in turn has created a backlash against Muslim groups in the United States, speakers at the news conference said. CAIR's office has received 27 cases of hate mail since the beginning of the year, including 11 in the past week, Ibrahim said.

At the news conference, Samina F. Sundas, founder and executive director of American Muslim Voice, read a letter she received Wednesday morning asking Muslims to leave the country.

"Why should I leave?" Sundas said. "This is my country too. There are (an estimated) 8 million Muslims here, and we're not going anywhere."

Although she insisted that Islam is a religion of peace, Ibrahim said she was not surprised by the violent demonstrations in the Middle East.

"There is a culmination of issues and a worldwide climate right now, especially in the Muslim world," Ibrahim said. "You've got the Iraq war. You've got the Abu Ghraib prison scandal. ... Muslims in the Muslim world are thinking this is not a war on terrorism, this is a war on Islam."

For local Muslim leaders, the challenge is twofold: They are defending themselves against negative stereotypes in the media at the same they are faced with Muslim extremists who act in a way that backs up some of those stereotypes, Ibrahim said.

"People are using (Islam) to carry out some of the frustrations that they have," she said. "But this is not just about the defamation of Muhammad. Each Muslim is feeling like it's saying 'You're a terrorist. ...' So you're defaming my character as well."

Leaders from the Interfaith Freedom Foundation, the World Alliance for Humanity, Multifaith Voices for Peace & Justice and the Indo American Community Federation spoke at the event.

Chris Schriner, a pastor of Mission Peak Unitarian Universalist Congregation who participated in the news conference, said he was disturbed that many of the Muslim leaders had to state repeatedly that they condemned violent acts.

"I've got much more understanding of how stressful it is and how frustrating it is to be a Muslim in public dialogue because of the question-and-answer portion," Schriner said. "The questions seemed to indicate that some of listeners simply did not believe that these people were being honest and forthright because they kept asking whether they condemn the violence even though they had explicitly said so."

Ibrahim added: "For us to assume that all Muslims responded that way (with violence), we have a problem here."


February 8, 2006

Message from The Fellowship of Reconciliation
Offensive Cartoons: Respecting what is Sacred

The response in parts of the Muslim world to publication of crude and deeply offensive cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad is shocking and distressing. Yet the pain felt by Muslims is real and understandable. By insulting the core of their religion, the cartoons constitute a vile attack on Muslims everywhere. But despite the egregious nature of the insult, it cannot not justify mass violence, arson and death threats.

The cartoons, which depict Muhammad as a violent, degenerate criminal, were first published in a Danish newspaper last September, in an act of extraordinary insensitivity and poor judgment. (Interestingly, the editor who commissioned them now admits to his own ignorance of Islam and of the way Muslims feel about the Prophet Muhammad.) 

But ignorance is only part of it. There is clearly a certain malice involved, if not in the first Danish publication of the cartoons, then in their repeated publication in newspapers around the world. No longer can editors claim ignorance. The whole world now knows that the Prophet Muhammad is not supposed to be depicted at all, let alone in a disparaging manner.

Nor can offending newspapers claim that this is valid political or social satire, protected by free speech. These cartoons of the Prophet do nothing but ridicule the core idea of an entire religion. They attack what is sacred. And there is no deeper wound, no deeper fury, than that.

Many Muslims feel an intimate, personal connection to the Prophet Muhammad.  When they think of divine mercy, kindness and integrity, they think of the Prophet. He is the embodiment of every virtuous ideal. In fact, the ideal of every Muslim is to become as much like the Prophet as possible. He is regarded as the best of human beings, the exemplar of humanity.

In short, the Prophet Muhammad is sacred to Muslims.

Westerners understand the concept of the sacred. Christians have been hurt and outraged by disrespectful and blasphemous depictions of Jesus. Jews feel pain when the holy Torah, the word of God, is ridiculed, vilified, or desecrated.  In this country, burning of the flag -- near-sacred to many -- gives similar offense.

The emotional wound caused by the cartoons cannot be undone, but there is plenty that can be done. After 9/11, a great effort was made in the West to learn about Islam and to understand Muslims. That effort should be stepped up.

The incident also provides an opportunity for people of all faiths to recognize and acknowledge that which is sacred in other religions, even if it is not sacred to them personally. 

For Muslims, this is an opportunity to examine the issue of how to respond to what offends them. Retaliating with a call for a Holocaust cartoon contest, as an Iranian newspaper has done, is to fall to the same level of ignorance, bigotry and malice that the original cartoons represent. Instead, Muslims should transform the incident into an opportunity for dialogue, education, and understanding.  

There is a story in the Hadith (sayings and doings of the Prophet Muhammad) that Muhammad was with his companions in the simple mosque of Medina. The mosque had an earthen floor and was open on all sides. A Bedouin man walked in and began to urinate in the corner. Muhammad's companions were incensed, yelling at him to stop and threatening to assault him.

"No," the Prophet told his followers. Let him be.  He does not know any better." When the man had finished, Muhammad addressed him gently: "This place is not meant for urine, but only for prayer and the remembrance of Allah." Then he told his followers to get water to wash the floor.

Burning embassies and demanding that editors be executed is not an Islamic response to insult. That response lies in the nonviolent actions of the Prophet Muhammad, as illustrated above. Educate those who have offended by violating what is sacred to you. Reach out to them. Teach them so they may know better. 

This statement was written by a team of FOR staff representing the Muslim, Christian and Jewish faiths.

Jennifer Hyman, Communications Coordinator
Rabia Harris, FOR Chaplain
Ibrahim M. Abdil-Mu'id Ramey, Disarmament Coordinator
Ethan Vesely-Flad, Editor, Fellowship magazine 

February 10, 2006

Strategy for survival: A question of priorities

By Dr. Muhammad Khan MD

In the west, which keeps its' color/faith above others, it is becoming clearer today that American Muslims are being cornered. The US Foreign policy aims at fighting Muslim fundamentalism for 20 years, so said the Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld in a speech in Pentagon. Resources are being allocated and strategies developed at the level of both military and intelligentsia for a physical and psychological war. Mr. Rumsfield said either fundamentalist Islam will overcome us or we will overcome it.

Psychological war is being waged to exhaust and humiliate Muslims to isolation. Today it is Danish cartoons, in the past it was flushing of the Quran in toilet in Guantanamo Bay. The pattern here is worth noting. When there was a world wide protest against the flushing of Quran and Muslims were demanding apology from the US and punishment to the perpetrators, then London bombings happened and so all the demonstrators forgot about it and their governments started cracking them down. Then attack on Bajaur (Pakistan) came which was un-necessary. Demonstrations started in Pakistan and people were demanding apology from the US then the Danish cartoons came up. Again Muslims forgot the demand and began protests against the cartoons. To know more about the Psychological war read "Killing hope" by William Blum (www.killinghope.com). Muslims are kept to be reactive rather than proactive. Why this happened and what can be done now? This question seems relevant.

In one sentence the answer of the first half of this question is that the brown people are valueless, their lives and property are worth worthless for the US and Europe, so this pattern of humiliation can be expected to continue for another 20 years at least.

An article appeared in Moscow news and reported on www.informationclearinghouse.info said that the purpose of such cartoons for now is to create a wedge between the Muslims and Europe so tomorrow in the event of a US attack on Iran, Europe offers its money and soldiers to US (just as it happened in Iraq).

Having said that, now what the American Muslims should do?

American Muslims thinking need to be based on the ground reality and priorities should be set accordingly now at least as they were not so far.

Bulk of Muslims in the USA came about 30 to 35 years ago. Initially when Muslims talked about political involvement and they were less than 5 % (rest either didn't care or were outright against getting involved in politics) the focus was we should write letters to congressmen, but no response. Then someone said we should donate money because in this country of capitalism where money is above justice, human rights and fairness. But this proved a waste because all the handshakes and smiles disappeared afterwards.

Then some pundit said they will respect us if we can get them defeated and sure enough a politician respects one who can get him defeated rather than who can get him elected because it means the former is stronger. There are three incidences in which Pakistanis helped defeat politicians. First is Sen. Larry Pressler famous for his Pressler amendment against Pakistan, second was Congressman Stephen Solarz from Brooklyn, NY and third was the Republican candidate for New York Senate, congressman Lazio who scolded Hillary Clinton also running for the seat for taking $50,000 from Pakistani Americans. He even said Ms. Clinton took blood money. Clinton returned the money and Pakistanis worked against Lazio who lost. Muslims voted for Bush and he has not said much in favor of those law abiding Muslims who are against any kind of terrorism. Recently Mr. Bush didn't say a word of sympathy in favor of Muslims, not a word of respect. He only said that the foreign governments should reign their Muslim population against violence. Very true but not a word of sympathy for Muslims, and their just protest. All this tells us that we didn't understand the system and that we were on wrong track. Politicians do welcome money and votes but only when that doesn't put them in bad light with majority of the electorate, or if it is not against the popular trend.

On a scale with respect and disrespect being on each side Jews are with respect and Muslims on disrespect, other way to see is that ordinary Americans can't disrespect Jews even on their back while they can do so to Muslims on their face.

We should also note that this country and Europe have a tradition of annihilating minorities of their country, in US, Indians, and blacks are obvious examples. Future of Muslims can’t be any better if we don't realize the graveness of the situation and urgency to correct it or reverse it.

Now big question is what should be done?

Immediate answer is that we should focus on improving our image as Muslims with ordinary Americans and present Islam as religion in accordance with the teachings of Abraham, Moses, Jesus etc. This should be done on individual level and collective level.

Individually we should have a monthly budget for interacting with our Jewish and Christian neighbors, coworkers, classmates etc. etc. Many things can be done e.g. at Xmas time give to Christians a box of candy with a book "More in common than you think.....a bridge between Islam and Christianity: by Bill Baker(available from www.wrmea.com for $10.50 a copy). At work place if Muslims are more they should set up a table on Christmas or new year and even at Eid with coffee, donuts and similar books.

Books should be non preaching type, just presenting the commonness in two religions. I recommend you order free a bumper sticker that reads: "Discover Jesus in the Quran.  www.freequran.org. "

This can be ordered free in any quantity from the website and has a pleasant effect on Christians. A cheap, sure and non offensive way of attracting Christians to read Quran and negating their belief that Islam is Anti-Christ.

Collectively it is a shame to say that there is not even one organization whose work is focused in reaching out to Americans and improving public image .There are organizations whose only achievement is to have an annual gathering of 30 to 40,000 attendees in their convention. Nothing else. With the budget they have, a lot more can be done.

Need of the time is that some organization should come up with the sole goal of improving relations the experts in the area of advertising, public relations, psychologists should be on its board and work for it with chapters statewide. The local chapters should work to encourage Muslim students to write letters or articles in local newspapers to fight disinformation and such letter writers should be acknowledged by giving prizes every 3 months. Good students should be encouraged to offer preparation classes for SAT and other exams and non Muslim neighbors be invited on low fees (discount for neighbors).They should also reach out to American writers who are balanced in their work by acknowledging them.

Organizations with multi directional work should be discouraged. Success lies in area of specialty and mutually referring and not pulling legs or competition.

There is a big need for such an organization and its creation and successes will encourage members of other organizations to generate pressure on them and even on mosques to open rather than living in cocoon.

Individually and collectively Muslims should spend money and effort on public relations as a first step, over and above socializing with politicians and offering them money. The victory is when the politicians come to us and ask for our votes and money in the open and publicly and offer us in writing how many Muslims they will hire in their staff if elected.

Toronto Sun - February 11, 2006

Protesters right to be outraged


Three cheers for the Muslim world. Three cheers for people who will not simply fall down and allow their most deeply held religious beliefs to be spat upon and treated as garbage.

Three cheers for people who will decry a cartoon whose sole purpose is to abuse and vilify one's faith.

It is absolutely acceptable and even desirable to make fun of the Taliban, Osama bin Laden and many other fanatical Muslims and Muslim organizations. But when we are told that Mohammed should not be depicted and should certainly not be depicted in an insulting manner, perhaps we should listen.

Yes, of course, the violence, the arson, the hateful rhetoric, the anti-Semitism and the threats have been unacceptable.

But the Western media have, predictably, shown images of salivating mobs every night, yet not recorded many interviews with moderate, devout Muslims who deplore extremism but are viscerally angry at the insulting cartoons.

Why? Because such interviews would shake the comfortable stereotype the secular West has of all religions, not just Islam. Easier to film a screaming zealot than a highly educated Muslim cleric who desires peace and respect and understanding. Just as it's easier to film a wild-eyed Christian kid with an agenda than a calm and brilliant priest with a doctorate.

Do remember, by the way, that the cartoons in question were originally published some months ago and the protests were controlled and reasonable.

It was only when the Danish and then Norwegian and French press ran wild with the thing that the Muslim world, yes, ran wild in response.

One of the most troubling aspects of all this is the reaction of so many Christians. They seem to think that the battle between western values and Islamic sensitivities places observant Catholics and evangelicals on the side of the West.

Not so. The West is no longer Christendom but the heartland of secular humanism and fundamentalist atheism. This is the West that regularly insults Christ, mocks Christianity and increasingly takes away the rights of genuine Christians to practice their faith.

A publicly funded museum featuring a picture of Jesus soaked in urine. Another with the Virgin Mary covered in excrement. A Canadian cartoon last year depicting Pope Benedict, whose father almost lost his life to Hitler and his gang, making a Nazi salute to Mary, the Mother of Christ.

Jesus portrayed in a play as a homosexual who has a sexual relationship with one of his disciples. Cartoons showing the Pope smiling as women and babies are killed. Endless television shows spewing forth horrible caricatures of priests, ministers and devout Christians. On and on and on, and then the execrable Da Vinci Code.

We hear Muslims saying, "They wouldn't treat Jesus in this way." They're wrong, of course. Not because they are stupid but because they assume that a part of the world founded on the beauty of Christianity would not then be so disgustingly rude about Christ.

In other words, Muslims are as ignorant of the West and its intentions as are Christians who live here. Modern Western liberalism despises religion, and Islam and Christianity are equally in its sights.

In some ways it is shocking to see men, women and children outraged and taking to the streets to defend their religion against crude blasphemy. But in others ways it's refreshing and delightful. I say again that violence is wrong, but that muscular protest against hatred is not.

Sorry, I cannot and will not join the ranks of the smug God-haters who refuse to understand a person's love for their faith.

If you draw a cartoon that intends to offend, don't be surprised when it has the desired effect.