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Articles: 2003
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Western Scholars Play Key Role In Touting
'Science' of the Quran

Poll finds most view Muslims favorably

Muslims Are Marginalised Al Qaeda - Call It a Cult
Indonesian Catholic Church compound under jihad militant attack  Muslim militiaman says prepare for war
12 Women Killed in Pakistan Mosque Saudi Press Wages Attack
In Afghanistan, laws of Islam are a constant

Where Rage Resides: For the Ordinary People Of Gaza City, Death Is a Way of Life

Uzbek Muslims find consolation in `Lamb of God,' secular government annoyed W. Jakarta mayoralty does U-turn on Muslim attire
Muslim-Christian Clash Looms Over Islamic Teachings Worshippers Alarmed By Spate of Shoe Thefts
Radical Islam Malaysian state plans to enact Islamic laws
Islam attracting more Hispanics drawn by ancient Muslim heritage Baptists: Not at War With Islam
Mexico May Expel Islamic Missionaries Malaysian leader vows to obstruct bid to impose Islamic law
Muslims reject image of separate society Pakistan Bars Foreign Aid for Islamic Seminaries
Muslim-Christian Clash Looms Over Islamic Teachings W. Jakarta mayoralty does U-turn on Muslim attire
French Group Bashes Italian Writer Women's group decries planned Islamic laws in Malaysian state as discriminatory
Young Muslims favour Britain and America Saudis oppress Muslim splinter sects, activists say
Seeking a better balance between state, religion Afghans split over brutal laws
Prominent U.S. Muslim scholar urges more religious freedom in Uzbekistan Effort to ban anti-Islam book fails in France
OIC Discusses Anti-Islam Backlash Who's in charge on Turkish team: coach or Islam?
Charges dropped in Afghan blasphemy row Lawyers plan to appeal death sentence of Pakistani Christian convicted of blasphemy
Papuan Christians Fear Onslaught in Indonesia Iranian reformist scholar to stand trial for denouncing clerics
Muslims Test Russia's Tolerance More women of Islamic faith opting to wear traditional veils
Moluccas Buffeted by Religious Violence Muslims, Christians wrangle over 9/11 comments
Italian author slams Islam's 'hate' for West Malaysian leader vows to obstruct bid to impose Islamic law
Fundamentalists stop women, pop groups from performing in Malaysian state
Religion Today

Muslim-as-Apple-Pie Videos Are Greeted With Skepticism

America's elusive minority: Muslims

State of 'dhimmitude'   

US Muslims suffer backlash Saudi Arabia's religious zealots ignore
calls for moderation
Converts say Islam has given their lives
structure
Iran Hard-liners Clash with Student Protesters
U.S. Missionary Killed in S. Lebanon   More anti-Muslim censoring in textbooks after 9/11 
Muslim activist won't apologize to evangelists   Islamic Militants Balancing Prayers  
Australian cleric steps up war against Islamic dress   Some Tehran Schools Drop Veil Rule  
FBI: Hate Crimes Vs. Muslims Rise   Robertson pleads for scrutiny of Koran
Pakistanis look to Sunni-Shiite alliance Political Islam rears its head in S.E. Asia
Iran Hard-liners Face Decision on Academic's Fate Death sentence for 'blasphemy' causes outrage in Iran
Iran Scholar Warned Death Verdict Final East African Muslims Protest New Anti-Terror Law

 

 

 

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East African Muslims Protest New Anti-Terror Law
by Stephen Mbogo ("CNSNews.com," November 28, 2002)
Muslims in Tanzania are unhappy about the passage of new anti-terrorism legislation, which they say will be used to "oppress" them.

Muslim protestors in the East African country recently held a service, praying that all those involved in preparing and passing the law would experience "bad things."

Religious leaders accused the U.S. of having a hand in the legislative move, a claim denied by the U.S. embassy in Dar-es-Salaam.

Opposition parties walked out of parliament during the debate over the Prevention of Terrorism Bill. Opposition members said state agencies, including the police and the immigration department, might use it to curtail civil liberties.

The Mosque Council of Tanzania warned President Benjamin Mkapa, who must
sign the bill for it to become law, that it would lead to unrest.

Participants in the prayer service were quoted as saying the sole purpose of the law was "to intimidate and to oppress Muslims in Tanzania. [It] does not aim to deal seriously with the terrorist issue."

Rajab Muhammad, a constitutional lawyer in Dar-es-Salaam, said there were concerns that provisions of the bill could be used to suppress government critics and give the authorities an avenue to interfere with the citizens' rights.

"The main concern for the Muslims here is that their civil liberties are threatened."

Muhammad said because relations between the Tanzanian state and radical Muslims were uneasy, there were fears the bill could be used to quell any genuine grievances Muslims may have.

However, he added, "It is a matter of perception by Muslims because the provisions will also be applicable to people of other religions here."

The legislation empowers the state to use all necessary means to investigate terror activities, and to confiscate property belonging to those found to be supporting terrorism.

Anyone convicted under the law will face a prison sentence, without the option of a fine.

It also gives police and immigration officials sweeping powers to arrest suspected illegal immigrants or anyone thought to have links with terrorists.

It includes a requirement that aircraft and ships entering or leaving the country provide detailed information on their passengers and cargo.

Home Affairs Minister Mohammed Seif Khatib said the law aimed to reassure Tanzanians and the international community alike that his government was serious in dealing with terrorism.

In 1998, al Qaeda terrorists bombed the U.S. embassies in Dar-es-Salaam, and in Nairobi in neighboring Kenya, killing more than 200 people in total.

Since then, there have been isolated attacks and protests against Christian and state facilities, especially in the predominantly Muslim island of Zanzibar.

Two years after embassy bombings, the U.S. agreed to help Tanzania strengthen its capacity to act against financial crimes and terrorism, and FBI agents have been training Tanzanian police in criminal investigation techniques.

Rising religious tensions have also made it necessary for the anti-terror legislation, according to the government.

The latest State Department report on religious freedom worldwide said Islamic fundamentalist groups were engaged in "increasingly confrontational proselytizing" in parts of Tanzania.

There had also been an increase in reports of Muslim and Christian groups vilifying adherents of the other faith.

About 30 percent of Tanzania's mainland population are Christians, 35 percent are Muslims and the rest adhere to indigenous beliefs. Zanzibar, an island off the Indian Ocean coast, has a 99 percent Muslim population.

Many Tanzanian Muslims complain that they are underrepresented in the civil service and quasi-state institutions.

Radicals are also critical of secular Muslims who have married Christian women or taken positions in the government, an institution the Islamists view as "Christian."

The Tanzania high commission (embassy) in Nairobi refused to comment.
 

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Iran Scholar Warned Death Verdict Final
by Ali Akbar (AP, November 26, 2002)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - Iran's chief prosecutor warned Tuesday that a history professor's death sentence for questioning hard-line rule will be final if he continues refusing to appeal, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported.

Hashem Aghajari, a professor at a university in Tehran, has refused to appeal — challenging the judiciary to carry out a sentence that has provoked the largest student demonstrations in three years.

"Aghajari is obliged to appeal. If he does not appeal within the 20-day period, the verdict will be final," IRNA quoted hard-line cleric Abdol-Nabi Namazi as saying.

The professor has until Dec. 2 to file an appeal, but his lawyer, Saleh Nikbakht, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that Aghajari refuses to do so.

Nikbakht argued, however, that the verdict could be reconsidered even if his client does not file an appeal.

"The supreme leader, judiciary chief, chief prosecutor, head of supreme court and the judge investigating the case have the legal right to reconsider the verdict if they consider the sentence is wrong," Nikbakht said. "Comments by the chief prosecutor contradict the law."

Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the final say on all state matters, ordered the judiciary on Nov. 16 to reconsider the verdict.

Aghajari's case underscores the power struggle between reformists supporting President Mohammad Khatami's program of social and political freedoms and hard-liners who control the police and judiciary.

A Tehran court, meanwhile, ordered the arrest of four prominent reformist students who led protests over the sentence, IRNA reported Tuesday.

Abdollah Momeni and Akbar Atri were beaten by plainclothes security agents, said student leader Arash Pahlavan-Nasir.

Two others, Saeed Razavi and Amir Hussein Balali, were detained later. It wasn't known where the four were being held.

"Hard-liners, including the judiciary, think they can intimidate and silence students by their illegal violent practices. They are wrong. It only deepens public hatred of them," Pahlavan-Nasir said.

Tehran Deputy Governor Ebrahim Rezaei Babadi criticized the arrests as "contrary to the country's interests" but called on students to remain calm, IRNA reported Tuesday.

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Death sentence for 'blasphemy' causes outrage in Iran

("ABC News," November 16, 2002)

Twenty Tehran university department chiefs have resigned in outrage over the sentencing to death of their pro-reform colleague for blasphemy, the student news agency ISNA said.

In an open letter to the chairman of Tarbiat-Modarres University, where Hashem Aghajari worked as a history lecturer before his arrest, the academics said they no longer felt safe enough to carry out their duties.

"In the light of ... the unbelievable verdict for our brother Aghajari, we do not feel secure," ISNA quoted the letter as saying.

Aghajari, a lecturer and political activist who lost a leg in the 1980-1988 Iran-Iraq war, was condemned to death for blasphemy on November 6.

He had called in a speech for reform of Iran's state Shiite Muslim religion, and said Muslims were not "monkeys" who should blindly follow the teachings of senior clerics - a comment that challenged the Shiite doctrine of emulation and the very foundation of Iran's Islamic regime.

The academics said the death sentence, passed by a hardline judge in the western city of Hamedan, was "an insult to the university community" and they called for "appropriate measures to create a favourable atmosphere for us to carry on our duties".

Meanwhile, ISNA reported that officials at Tarbiat-Modarres University, a centre for teacher training, have delayed exams by a week due to continued student protests.

Students at a number of Tehran university faculties are planning more protests over the death sentence for Sunday and Monday, and activists have vowed to keep up their classroom strike action until the verdict is revoked.

The academic has defiantly refused to appeal, saying he is "ready to die".

 

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Pakistanis look to Sunni-Shiite alliance
by Paul Haven (AP, November 11, 2002)

RAWALPINDI, Pakistan - The burial mounds lie in two neat rows outside the tiny Shah Najaf mosque, a reminder that those who lie beneath the soil were pious Muslims martyred by violence.

Inside, Shafiq Hussain prays at the bullet-pocked Shiite mosque, marking the first Ramadan since two armed Sunni Muslim extremists walked in and opened fire with assault rifles, riddling worshipers with bullets and killing 11 people.

Sectarian violence is all too common in Pakistan, and tension is usually high during the Muslim holy month, when large numbers of faithful gather. The victims are usually Shiites, who are outnumbered by Sunnis by about 4 to 1. But Hussain, whose close friend was among those killed in the February mosque attack, said he was not afraid and does not harbor any resentment toward his Sunni neighbors.

''I do not feel unsafe,'' Hussain said, sitting on a prayer mat in the dank one-room mosque, with dozens of bullet holes along its doors and walls. ''Whether Shiite or Sunni, we all sit together and eat together. The people who did this were terrorists.''

''Besides,'' Hussain whispers. ''Everybody has to die sometime.''

The sectarian violence belies the meaning of Ramadan, a month of meditation and thanksgiving that marks God's revelation of the Koran to the Prophet Mohammed 1,400 years ago.

This Ramadan, political and religious leaders are hopeful a new alliance of Sunni and Shiite political parties can help stop the bloodshed. The ultraconservative religious bloc, the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal did well in Oct. 10 elections, troubling many because of its anti-American stance.

But the alliance has also given the religious right its clearest chance to exercise national power, and has raised hopes Sunni and Shiite leaders can put aside their differences to stamp out violence between their two groups.

''Since we have this alliance with the MMA, it changes a lot of things,'' said Allama Sajid Naqvi, chairman of the Shiite Tehrik-e-Islami Party. ''I think there will be less violence this year, or maybe none at all.''

Naqvi used to lead a militant Shiite group, Tehrik-e-Jaferia, blamed for attacks on Sunnis, but the group dissolved last year after President Pervez Musharraf banned it and its Sunni counterparts. This year, Naqvi's new political party is backing a hard-line Sunni cleric, Fazl-ur Rahman, as the Mutahida Majlis-e-Amal's candidate for prime minister, a sign of the newfound cooperation.

His Sunni counterparts in the alliance also see signs of hope.

''With the grace of God, with the formation of the MMA, the message of peace and harmony between Sunni and Shiite will travel down to the mosques and the people that they should put aside their petty differences,'' said Mansoor Jafar, a spokesman for the Sunni Muslim Jamaat-e-Islami Party.

Still, many doubt an alliance of the elite will have a dramatic effect on the armed extremists on both sides. Small-scale religious violence has continued since the elections, and age-old enmities don't go away overnight. Sunni extremist leader Maulana Azam Tariq ran for office from his prison cell and won a seat in the national assembly last month. He has since been released from jail.

Religiously motivated attacks on minority Christians and Westerners have sharply increased since last year, when Musharraf threw his support behind the US war on terrorism, angering many militant groups.

''The religious minorities of Pakistan are very worried and feel extremely insecure and unsafe during this Ramadan period,'' said Shehbaz Bhatti, a Christian who heads the All Pakistan Minorities Alliance, which represents the country's religious minorities. ''I don't think the MMA will help at all.''

Shehbaz called on the government to increase security at churches and Shiite mosques throughout the country.

Back at the Shah Najaf mosque, worshipers, some of whom had been wounded in the attack, said they were still optimistic.

''I think the alliance of Sunni and Shiites will help bring peace, especially for us Shiites,'' said Raza Zehdi, 40, a mosque caretaker. ''There are extremists on both sides, but they are not Muslims; they are terrorists. They will never stop us from praying for peace.''

 

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Political Islam rears its head in S.E. Asia
 

by Lee Hsien Loong ("The Straits Times," November 14, 2002)

Several Southeast Asian countries have large Muslim populations.The Philippines has a large Muslim minority in the south, and so has Thailand in its southern provinces.

In a region of diverse races and religions, most Southeast Asian Muslims have traditionally practiced a tolerant, moderate form of Islam, different from the austere teachings of the Wahhabis in Saudi Arabia or the Shi'ite ayatollahs in Iran.

In Indonesia, Hindu and Buddhist influences predate the arrival of Islam by centuries, and many Indonesians combine their Muslim faith with Hindu, Buddhist and traditional animist beliefs.

Islamization, however, is an ongoing process in the region. In the last three decades, globalization and developments in the Middle East have generated a rising tide of religious consciousness among Muslims in Southeast Asia.

This reflects an intense worldwide Islamic revival, aided by Saudi-funded missionary activities: building mosques and madrasahs, and sending ulemas (preachers). A national, ethnic identity is being replaced by a broader religious identity. There is greater engagement with issues that affect Muslims elsewhere, notably the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

On top of this, political Islam is gathering strength in both Malaysia and Indonesia, boosted significantly by the fall-out from the Asian crisis.

In Malaysia, the dismissal and disgrace of deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in 1998 helped the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS) to win over a significant part of the Malay ground.

There is now a political stand-off between Umno, the dominant Malay party in the ruling alliance, which stands for a modern, more secular Malaysia, and PAS, whose goal is to create an Islamic state, including hudud (ancient Islamic penal laws).

Strictly interpreted, thieves could have their hands chopped off, and adulterers could be stoned to death. Umno is fighting a tough battle to retain the support of the Muslim ground, especially among rural voters.

Indonesia's present President Megawati Sukarnoputri is the standard-bearer for the red-and-white faction, that is, the secular nationalists. In August this year, several Muslim parties tried to amend the Constitution to introduce Islamic law in Indonesia. They failed. But had they succeeded, it would have unraveled all the achievements of the secular policies since presidents Sukarno and Suharto, and exacerbated religious and ethnic tensions.

Within the wider Islamic religious and political revival, there are radical factions which use terrorism and violence in the name of Islam.

With resources and global communications, these small but fanatical groups can now mobilize worldwide networks and inflict destruction on a scale no one foresaw.

The struggle is not really between Muslims and non-Muslims, but within the Muslim world itself, between moderate and extremist Muslims.

The vast majority of Southeast Asian Muslims are peaceful and moderate in their beliefs, and militant Islam is not the natural state in Southeast Asia.

But the large Muslim populations are a natural host for extremist groups seeking concealment and political cover.

The challenge for governments is therefore to deal decisively with the extremists without alienating the majority of peaceful Muslims, or opening themselves to attack by Islamic political groups.

In Singapore, our arrests have disrupted severely the operations of the JI group.

We have gone beyond security actions and taken pains to explain the problem to our multiracial population, to prevent any division or distrust between Muslim and non-Muslim Singaporeans, and to unite all citizens in the struggle against extremism and terrorism.

In Indonesia, the government has been extremely circumspect in acknowledging and tackling the threat. The extremists have skillfully exploited religious and nationalist sentiments to garner political support and protect themselves against arrest.

In the run-up to presidential elections in 2004, opportunistic politicians are also exploiting this issue to profile themselves and score points off the government. However, the Bali bombing has changed the situation, and made it much easier for the government to act.

President Megawati cannot afford to have her actions seen as anti-Muslim or, worse, as moves at the behest of the United States or Australia. She has therefore been careful to protect her political flanks. But I believe that, in her own way, she will act resolutely because she knows that the militants' success will destroy international confidence in Indonesia, derail economic progress, and tear the country apart.

If Southeast Asian governments sustain this vigorous and effective response, they can contain the terrorist threat and restore confidence to the region gradually.

This is an excerpt from Singaporean Deputy Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's speech on power shifts in Asia at the Fortune Global Forum in Washington on Tuesday. - Ed.

 

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Iran Hard-liners Face Decision on Academic's Fate
by Paul Hughes (Reuters, November 14, 2002)

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Iran's hardline establishment on Thursday faced a choice between executing a popular dissident academic or giving in to public outrage following the largest pro-reform protests for more than three years.

Students called a brief halt to their five-day-old demonstrations on Thursday, but more rallies and class boycotts were planned in coming days in support of Hashem Aghajari, a reformist lecturer sentenced last week to hang for blasphemy.

Aghajari, who angered conservatives by questioning their dearly-held belief in a marriage between religion and state, upped the pressure on hard-liners on Wednesday by refusing to appeal the verdict.

"They (conservatives) are in a no-win situation. If they execute him, he will become a martyr and it could prove a catalyst for public unrest," said Ali Ansari, lecturer in Middle East history at Durham University, England.

"If they don't execute him, which is the most likely option, they open themselves up for question on a whole range of issues. Either way, this could be a pivotal moment."

Aghajari's case has revitalized Iran's struggling reformist movement at a time when pro-reform President Mohammad Khatami is engaged in a high stakes legal struggle to curb the power of hard-liners entrenched in the judiciary and key unelected bodies.

Close allies are urging the normally conciliatory president to make good on his threats to resign if, as expected, conservatives block two proposed bills to limit the power of the judiciary and curb a conservative-controlled watchdog's right to vet election candidates.

DRY RUN FOR BATTLE OVER BILLS

"The Aghajari case is, in a sense, a dry run for the real battle over the bills," said one Western diplomat. "Everyone knows the significance of this legislation and both sides are stating their intentions very clearly."

Students who have gathered in their thousands in universities across the country this week, have used Aghajari's case as a platform to press for greater political freedoms and genuine reform of the Islamic Republic's political system.

"Long live political prisoners, death to their jailers," they chanted at a rally in Tehran on Wednesday.

But while still broadly supportive of Khatami, who was elected in 1997 and 2001 with landslide wins, the students' loudest chants have often been for his resignation, as they vent their frustration at his inability to deliver.

"We never considered Khatami as the leader of reforms. He was like a catalyst and he prevented the collapse of the system," said Hadi Kahalzadeh, one of the student leaders.

"We believe he has done his duty, but he doesn't have the popularity he had before."

Analyst Ansari agreed: "The protests have given Khatami some political muscle on the ground, but those who are protesting are already looking beyond Khatami, they're not protesting for him."

The demonstrations are the largest sustained political protests in Iran since a similar wave of rallies were brutally suppressed in 1999, a precedent many fear could be repeated.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Monday warned he could unleash "popular forces" -- generally assumed to mean the ideologically-driven Basij militia -- if reformers and conservatives fail to reach agreement.

"The tension is rising now in each camp. A lot of conservatives are unhappy because they know that if the protests continue it would cause them problems and if they step back it will encourage the students even more," said local political analyst Mohsen Malekzadeh.

The domestic drama is taking place alongside the possibility of war in neighboring Iraq with which Iran shares the status of "axis of evil" member in Washington's eyes.

 

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Robertson pleads for scrutiny of Koran

by Larry Witham ("Washinton Times," November 26, 2002)

     Religious broadcaster Pat Robertson said yesterday the news media and political leaders have failed to educate Americans about violence in the Koran and in Islamic history and wishes President Bush had never said that "Islam is a religion of peace." 
     "He is not elected as chief theologian," Mr. Robertson said.
     It would have been better for the president to speak only politically about the Islamic world, and not religiously.
     "It is leading to needless confusion," Mr. Robertson said in an interview with The Washington Times.
     Mr. Robertson's comments in the past year have been a major part of the public debate on how a predominantly Christian nation responds to a foreign enemy with Islamic roots.
     The public would be better served, Mr. Robertson said, if the media would investigate the content of the Koran and what he says are many passages that incite Muslims to kill nonbelievers. But reporting on that, he said, "is not politically correct."
     He said that the violence visited on Christians in many nations, such as Sudan and Nigeria, arises from Shariah, or Muslim law, showing that the violent behavior is tied to Islamic beliefs.
     Though Mr. Robertson relinquished his Baptist ordination to run for the Republican presidential nomination in 1988, he has taken it up again and describes his primary work as promoting Christianity.
     For 18 years, his Christian Broadcasting Network had an Arab-language broadcast station in Lebanon, but he said that "it was overrun by Hezbollah," a terrorist group.
     "In terms of Islam, I don't think the issues have been ventilated at all in the press because no one has read the Koran," he said.
     Still, he said civil liberties in the United States are too important to allow the U.S. government the extra powers of domestic surveillance that it is asking for and that law-abiding Muslim citizens also must have protection.
     "I have never advocated ferreting out Muslims in America," he said. "They are citizens like I am. But if they are funneling money to Hamas, organizing terrorist cells or holding anti-American rallies, they ought to be deported."
     U.S. Muslim groups have organized a yearlong project to put a package of books and a PBS video on Islam, all by American authors, in the nation's 16,000 public libraries to promote understanding of the religion.
     The Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) reports that supporters have sent in 4,219 "sponsorships" of $150 each to pay for the library package, but the number of libraries accepting them is not yet clear.
     "It's a yearlong campaign, and it will take a year or so to sort that [number] out," said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper.
     Last week, Mr. Hooper said on a New York radio show that conservative religious leaders such as Mr. Robertson were "equivalent" to Osama bin Laden because they want to divide the world into a religious war.
     When asked whether Christian leaders would urge killing members of a different faith as bin Laden has done, Mr. Hooper said: "Given the right circumstance, these guys would do the same in the opposite direction."
     Though CAIR often demands apologies from groups that criticize Islam, Mr. Hooper would not apologize for his radio comment.
     He also confirmed reports that a Saudi billionaire, Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdul Aziz al Saud, donated $500,000 to CAIR for the educational push. "I think most of it is going for the library project," Mr. Hooper said.
     The report about the Saudi money prompted conservative activist Paul Weyrich, chairman of the Free Congress Foundation, yesterday to say that while libraries have intellectual freedom, the library packages "present a highly misleading view of Islam, spray-painting over the religion's long history of animosity to Western values."
     He called for the American Library Association to issue a statement on the problems with stocking a one-sided view of Islam and urged the use of materials written by his foundation's staff.
     Mr. Hooper said a positive image of Islam is important to protect the civil rights of Muslims in the United States. He cited the FBI report yesterday that "hate crimes" against people of Middle Eastern ethnicity had increased from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001 across the country.
     Mr. Robertson said he opposed as "bad law" the government's plans, even in a time of war, to electronically track the lives of all Americans.
     "As the war on terrorism is going forward, the thing I'm concerned about is how much government control they'll have" on Americans' domestic life, he said.
     Meanwhile, he said his main business is not Islam but Christian evangelism.
     "I don't want to change my ministry and become some kind of Muslim fighter," he said. "I don't want to alienate Muslim people around the world," whom he believes want more information about the West and even Christianity.
     But Islam is "a deeply held religious belief pushed by mullahs all over the world" as a basis for attacking Jews and Christians, he said. "Maybe we can counter it by American propaganda. Maybe we can counter it by love."

 

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FBI: Hate Crimes Vs. Muslims Rise

by Curt Anderson (AP, November 24, 2002)

WASHINGTON (AP)--Muslims and people who are or appear to be of Middle Eastern descent were reported as victims of hate crimes more often last year than ever before, a consequence of the fear and suspicion that followed the Sept. 11 terror attacks, the FBI said Monday.

Although the number of incidents has tapered off, many Muslims remain worried about a new backlash if the United States goes to war with Iraq or is hit with another major terror attack mounted by Islamic extremists.

``There's a great deal of apprehension in the Muslim community as to the demonization of Islam,'' said Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. ``A lot of us feel that our patriotism is always suspect.''

The FBI's annual hate crimes report found that incidents targeting people, institutions and businesses identified with the Islamic faith increased from 28 in 2000 to 481 in 2001--a jump of 1,600 percent. Muslims previously had been among the least-targeted religious groups.

The statistics did not specify how many of the 481 occurred after Sept. 11, 2001.

Hate crimes against people because of their ethnicity or national origin--those not Hispanic, not black and not Asian or American Indian--more than quadrupled from 354 in 2000 to 1,501 in 2001. This category includes people of Middle Eastern origin or descent.

The increases, the FBI said, happened ``presumably as a result of the heinous incidents that occurred on Sept. 11.''

Hooper said the FBI figures probably represent only a small portion of the true number of hate crimes, because many of the estimated 7 million Muslims in the United States do not report such incidents to authorities.

Hate crimes, defined as a crime motivated by prejudice, are somewhat subjective, because many times they result from witness and victim accounts rather than a police investigation. Overall allegations of crime motivated by hate rose just over 17 percent from 2000 to 2001, from 8,063 to 9,730 incidents--still only a fraction of the 11.8 million serious crimes reported to the FBI last year.

Part of the increase stems from a higher number of law enforcement agencies that supplied the data to the FBI in 2001.

Despite the increase, Muslims remain behind blacks, Jews and homosexuals in the numbers of reported hate crimes.

There were 2,899 incidents against blacks in 2001, about the same as the year before, and just over 1,000 against Jews, down slightly from the year before. Almost 1,400 incidents involved crimes against homosexuals, and whites were targeted in 891 cases, the FBI said.

Just over 12,000 victims of all hate crimes were reported in 2001, with 46 percent of them targeted because of their race. Last year's overall total was about 9,900 hate crime victims.

There were 10 murders, four rapes, 2,736 assaults and 3,563 cases of intimidation motivated by hate in 2001. There were more than 3,600 property crimes, all but a few involving vandalism or property destruction.

Whites comprised the vast majority of known offenders for all cases, at 6,054, followed by blacks at 1,882. The FBI does not compile information on how many offenders were arrested and prosecuted; a ``known offender'' means only that the alleged offender's race is known, officials said.

Most incidents against Muslims and people who are or were believed to have been of Middle Eastern ethnicity involved assaults and intimidation, but three cases of murder or manslaughter and 35 cases of arson were reported.

President Bush and others in the administration repeatedly have said Islam is a peaceful religion and that the huge majorities of Arabs or other Middle Eastern ethnic groups in the United States are upstanding citizens. Some conservative Christian leaders, including Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, have characterized Muslims and Islam as violently anti-Semitic.

That led Bush to declare this month that such comments ``do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans.''

Many Muslims have criticized the Justice Department for immigration policies they say unfairly single out Muslims and people of Middle Eastern ethnicity for special searches, interrogation, fingerprinting and photographs. But Hooper also praised the department for taking seriously hate crimes against Muslims.

In the Washington area, some mosques and institutions affiliated with Islam received threats after the arrest of John Muhammad, a Muslim convert, in the October sniper shootings.

Imad-ad-Dean Ahmed, president of the Minaret of Freedom Institute in Bethesda, Md., said many Muslims seek to dispel an ``atmosphere of suspicion'' by openly demonstrating their patriotism or doing more public charity work.

``There are many people who behave more cautiously, and others who are reaching out more,'' said Ahmed, whose institute promotes free-market policies.

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Some Tehran Schools Drop Veil Rule
by Ali Akbar Dareini (AP, November 23, 2002)

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) - About a dozen girls' schools in the Iranian capital have allowed students and teachers to remove their veils and long cloaks in class for the first time since the 1979 revolution, a school principal said Saturday.

Tahereh Ebadi told The Associated Press the Education Ministry approved the change as long as schools put up decorative walls to guard against "lascivious looks" from men.

Students and teachers in all-female schools have attended classes since the academic year began in September without headscarves and chadors, the shapeless long coats women wear in public to conform with Islamic dress code.

Ebadi said the idea was tested in the government-owned Maktab-ol-Ahrar high school for girls in southern Tehran, where she is the principal, for several years before being applied to other schools in the capital. Religious hard-liners criticize the move as "encouraging nudity," but Ebadi said it has been successful.

"Students look fresh without headscarves and long coats. Lifting the veil has also encouraged them to take care of their appearance," said Ebadi, who also is a ministry official because of her position at the school.

Headscarves and cloaks in hot summer make it hard to concentrate on studies or enjoy playing sports, said Zahra Hosseini, 15, who started classes this year at Maktab-ol-Ahrar and said she enjoys "the sense of freedom."

"You can't play basketball while being dressed in a long coat," she said. "I remember that a student's coat was torn apart as she jumped to get the ball last year. Now, we enjoy playing in sport suits here."

Maryam Husseinpour, 16, attends Fatemieh High School in Tehran, where headscarves and cloaks still are required. She said she will switch schools if barriers are not erected soon to allow students to take headscarves off.

Her mother, however, does not like the idea.

"Even if they are all female, they should not remove their headscarves," Gowhar Husseinpour said. "If they remove the headscarf, then they will not stop at that stage. They would go beyond that, which will ultimately be encouraging nudity."

About 80 percent of her students have chosen to go unveiled, Ebadi said. The rest, she said, either keep their scarves on or remove them occasionally.

"I mostly prefer to keep it (the headscarf), even at an all-female school. My family's religious background encourages me to keep the veil," said Leila Salmani, 17, who attends Maktab-ol-Ahrar.

Men who want to enter the school must wait at the outside gate so students and teachers can cover themselves.

Modifying the school meant extending the 6-foot-high permanent courtyard walls by nine more feet. Curtains also are kept closed.

"We didn't want to make the school like a prison for students, so we set up plastic, prefabricated walls painted in bright colors to nicely decorate our school and, at the same time, prevent lascivious looks from buildings nearby," Ebadi said.

The ministry, is studying expanding the initiative in coming years, she said.

Hard-liners opposed to President Mohammad Khatami's program of easing political and social restrictions oppose the idea.

"It encourages the culture of nudity and weakens Islamic religious values," the hard-line Jomhuri-e-Eslami daily said recently.

Women in Iran have been forced to follow strict Islamic dress codes since the 1979 revolution toppled the pro-Western shah and brought Islamic clerics to power. Schools were segregated and male teachers were replaced by female ones at girls' schools.

Universities, however, remained open to both men and women.

After Khatami's 1997 election and 2001 re-election, many women began defying strict clothing requirements. Some let their hair cascade from beneath loose scarves or started wearing elegant knee-length dresses and tight business-style jackets. Some girls wear baggy sweaters, which would have risked them arrest or a beating by so-called "morality enforcers" only a few years ago.

 

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Australian cleric steps up war against Islamic dress
(AFP, November 22, 2002)

Australian cleric and MP Fred Nile stepped up his campaign against Muslim women wearing religious dress, accusing them of being Islamic extremists and committed "fanatics".

Nile, who represents his own Christian Democrat Party in the New South Wales state parliament caused a furore Wednesday when he called on the state government to ban the wearing of the chador, the head-to-foot dress favoured by some devout Muslim women, in public places.

The Uniting Church minister said the chador can be used to conceal weapons and given the terrorist alert in Australia, they should be banned.

His comments, while condemned by some politicians and religious leaders appeared to strike a rich vein of sympathy in the wider community as talkback radio was deluged with calls of support.

The controversy followed reports of Muslim women wearing the hijab head scarf or the chador being abused and sometimes spat upon on the streets, particularly since the Bali bombing in which almost 90 Australians died on October 12.

As the storm raged around him, Nile defied his critics by refusing to recant and saying the chador was worn only by a small percentage of Muslim women and "normal" Muslims chose not to wear it.

Nile told commercial television here Friday only extremists wear the chador, saying they were being manipulated and used by Osama bin Laden in his terrorist movement.

He said he was not accusing them of being terrorists, but "they're an extremist in the Muslim religion, they're following it in their opinion to the ultimate level.

Muslim women who now feel vilified for wearing a chador in public need not wear it, he said. "That's the whole point, they don't have to wear it.

"I'm not trying to start a war with Muslims. I'm just saying that bin Laden is using a small percentage of fanatical Muslims and they're the ones that are wearing the chador," Nile said.

New South Wales premier Bob Carr said while he knew and respected Nile as a legislator, he should stay away from racial stereotyping.

Conservative Prime Minister John Howard refused to condemn Nile saying he understood what he was getting at, but would stop short of agreeing with him.

However, Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the government was not about to ban any style of clothing, particularly when it was indicative of religious beliefs and customs.

United Muslim Women's Association President Maha Krayem Abdo said while the chador is compulsory in Islamic teachings, Australian Muslim women could choose whether they wanted to wear it.

But she said Nile's comment that only "normal" Muslim women didn't wear the chador was an affront to all women who valued the principles of freedom and feminism.

"I don't think he is in a position to dictate to Muslim women what, how and why they should wear," said Krayem Abdo. "I think he should do a lot more research about Islam and Muslim women."

 

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Islamic Militants Balancing Prayers
by Brian Murphy (AP, November 21, 2002)
 
QOM, Iran -- First they prayed, holding their palms to the heavens as an act of devotion to God. Then they chanted, clenching their fists in anger against perceived enemies of Islam.

The setting was a mosque in the spiritual center of Iran's ruling theocracy. But it could be anywhere across the Muslim world, where politics and piety serve as twin pillars at public prayers each Friday.

Now other voices -- from activists to moderate Muslim clerics -- are asking whether this traditional interplay on the Muslim holy day is becoming corrupted by today's shrill vocabulary of extremism and anger.

"Politics is part of the essence of Islam. Society and faith, for us, exist side by side," said Ayatollah Assadollah Bayat, a former Iranian parliament member who now heads a seminary in the desert city of Qom, the center of theological study in Iran.

"But this balance can be upset if politics overwhelm the spiritual side," he said. "It is a danger to true Islam."

Muslim theologians say their faith is both a religious doctrine and a secular code -- shaping everything from personal finance to dietary restrictions. Some worry the all-encompassing nature of their faith is under threat from so-called "politicized Islam" -- allegiance to narrow objectives or viewpoints that drown out the spiritual elements of a Muslim's actions in daily life.

Al-Qaida is the most virulent strain. But some scholars and theologians see increasingly sharp-edged messages coming from mosques around the world.

"There are ideas building that Islam is under attack from the West. We must be very careful because people can easily manipulate such feelings for political motives," said Ali El Samman, the adviser on interfaith affairs at Al-Azhar in Cairo, Egypt, the most respected theological institute for Sunni Muslims.

In Iran -- where the 1979 Islamic Revolution solidified the bond between politics and religion -- the role of Friday prayers has become a flashpoint in the struggle between reformers and conservatives.

The prayers, especially the nationally broadcast Tehran University sermons, are often highly political events directly guided by the ruling clerics. Chants of "death to America" are common.

In July, a popular cleric, Ayatollah Jalaleddin Taheri, resigned as a prayer leader claiming that Iran's rulers were abusing the "people's religious beliefs" to remain "on the vicious camel of power."

Taheri later softened his criticism under pressure from Iran's highest authority, Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

Recently, the Friday pronouncements have also turned against reformist President Mohammad Khatami, who is asking parliament to limit the ability of conservatives to impede initiatives such as greater press and social freedoms.

In October, a top Khatami aide asked the body that runs Friday prayers at Tehran University to tone down the attacks. The request was reportedly rejected.

"Friday prayers have been seized by conservatives who try to use the public podium for their political ends," said Mohammad Soltanifar, a communications professor at Tehran's Faculty of Radio and Television.

Experts also note that many moderate Muslims are staying away from Friday prayers because of the strong political oratory. The two views of Islam -- one mostly spiritual, the other highly political -- could become further estranged in the future.

"The struggle over the identity of Islam has been made even more intense by globalization ... There is a tendency to draw sharp boundaries and say, `You are either on one side or the other,'" said John Voll, associate director at Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding.

But Islamic scholars say removing politics from Friday prayers is impossible. Western concepts of separating the secular and spiritual do not apply.

"If there is an imam not talking about social issues, we would say his prayers are not complete," said Mahdi Hadavi Tehrani, a professor of Islamic law and philosophy at one of the seminaries in Qom.

And the growing power of the Friday sermons is clear. Many governments dictate the Friday messages, or quickly step in when they chafe against their policies.

In Jordan, the ministry of religious affairs has asked imams to ignore politics after some preachers began advocating holy war against Israel and the United States. Jordan has faced criticism in the Arab world for maintaining contacts with Israel.

Indonesian authorities are investigating possible links between radical cleric Abu Bakar Bashir and the Oct. 12 Bali bombing that killed nearly 200 people. Bashir had mentioned Osama bin Laden in some of this sermons.

In Malaysia, officials said they plan to install recording equipment in some mosques where imams are accused of deviating from religious texts to make anti-government proclamations.

Preachers in pro-Western Kuwait had been increasingly denouncing the West. But after an Oct. 8 shooting that killed a U.S. Marine, state-run television broadcast a Friday sermon that condemned the act as "a major crime and high treason."

"It is a basic rule in the religion that Islam has a direct relationship with the society and politics," said Diaa Rashwan, a researcher at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo. "The conviction that Islam is a religion about prayers and rituals only is wrong."

 

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Muslim activist won't apologize to evangelists

by Larry Witham ("Washington Times," November 22, 2002)

     The spokesman for a prominent U.S. Muslim group, who regularly demands contrition from critics of Islam, will not apologize for comparing some conservative evangelical leaders to Osama bin Laden and saying they would kill Muslims given the chance. 
     Ibrahim Hooper of the activist Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) stood by his argument that the Rev. Jerry Falwell, the Rev. Pat Robertson, evangelist Jimmy Swaggart and the Rev. Franklin Graham are "equivalent" to bin Laden in wanting to divide the world into a religious war.
     They "have the same mentality as bin Laden" in trying to incite an "unending civilizational conflict," Mr. Hooper said Wednesday.
     "It's the incitement we're talking about," said Mr. Hooper, whose organization has been linked to radical Islamist groups in the Middle East. "It's not Jerry Falwell throwing a hand grenade into a mosque."
     Mr. Hooper said his original comment about the evangelical leaders was provoked in an interview with a conservative New York radio show last week. Under questioning by WABC radio's Steve Malzberg, Mr. Hooper said evangelical critics wanted to spark a religious war.
     When Mr. Malzberg asked whether the Christian leaders would kill Muslims as bin Laden urges Muslims to kill Jews and Christians, Mr. Hooper said: "Given the right circumstance, these guys would do the same in the opposite direction."
     The transcript was released on the conservative Web site , with which Mr. Malzberg's show is affiliated. The radio host asked that he be given credit for the interview.
     None of the religious leaders cited by Mr. Hooper demanded an apology from CAIR when contacted this week, but they stuck by their criticism of the violence of Islam or what they call its erroneous theological claims.
     "We never demand apologies," said Ron Godwin, senior spokesman for Jerry Falwell Ministries. He said Mr. Hooper's comment was "irrational at best and very, very divisive and destructive at worst."
     But Mr. Godwin also said that some news outlets are distorting the debate between Christians and Muslims, and blamed CBS' "60 Minutes" for tricking Mr. Falwell into saying that Muhammad was a terrorist at the very end of an hourlong interview on Christians and Israel.
     "After what CBS did, we immediately sent a 'statement of reconciliation' all over the Middle East and were able to avert a lot of harm to Christians," Mr. Godwin said. The CBS broadcast triggered some riots in the Middle East that caused at least five deaths.
     In the past year, CAIR on dozens of occasions has demanded apologies with varying degrees of success from critics of Islam and companies it said treated Muslims unfairly.
      Rep. Tom Lantos, California Democrat, apologized for questioning whether Muhammad kept his treaties, as did Northwest Airlines and Delta for asking women to remove head scarves at security checks, which CAIR called "religious harassment" and a "strip search."
     A spokesman for Mr. Graham, son of the famed evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham, said he "has not backed down on his statements," which have included that Islam is "wicked."
     "But he has stopped giving interviews, because it's perceived that he's on a campaign against Islam," which he is not, said spokesman Jeremy Blume.
     For the past several months, criticism of Islam by conservative evangelical ministers has picked up as a news topic, including a call by the Rev. Jimmy Swaggart to expel all Muslim students on visas.
     Last week, President Bush broke his silence on the subject and distanced himself from the evangelical rhetoric.
     "Some of the comments that have been uttered about Islam do not reflect the sentiments of my government or the sentiments of most Americans," Mr. Bush said. "Ours is a country based upon tolerance [and] we're not going to let the war on terror or terrorists cause us to change our values."
     The Bush statement came two days after Mr. Robertson broadcast a discussion of Islamic anti-Semitism in which he said, "This is worse than the Nazis."
     A day after Mr. Bush's comments, Franklin Graham said his criticism of Islam comes from bad experiences doing relief work in Muslim countries.
     "I agree with the president that 'our war against terror is a war against individuals whose hearts are full of hate,'" Franklin Graham said in a statement. "This is not a war against Islam."
     A Robertson spokesman said the broadcaster wished he had been clearer in his allusions to anti-Semitism and violence by saying "some Muslims."
     "We must distinguish between the origin of the religion and those who adhere to it in the United States, who are indeed a peaceful people," Mr. Robertson said in a statement issued after Mr. Bush's comments.
     But calling historic Islam peaceful, "I do not think is accurate," he said in a program that looked at violent passages from Islamic texts.
     Mr. Swaggart said in an interview that his comment about expelling the students "was not appropriate and will not happen again."
     While backing religious freedom, said the Pentecostal evangelist, "I oppose the religion of Islam." After the attack on the United States, "a line has to be drawn" on tolerance, he said. "This is not really a war between nations. It is a war with a religion."
     He rejected the argument that the U.S. bombing of Afghanistan, with civilian deaths, amounted to Christians killing Muslims, saying it was a "play on words" because the actions involved a nation at war.
     "You can look at the world today: How many Christians are going around killing Muslims?" he asked.

 

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U.S. Missionary Killed in S. Lebanon

by Hussein Dakroub (AP, November 21, 2002)

SIDON, Lebanon (AP) - A gunman pumped three bullets into the head of an American missionary Thursday at the clinic where she worked as a nurse. It was believed to be the first targeted killing of a U.S. citizen in Lebanon in more than a decade.

Bonnie Penner, 31, was slain at the Unity Center, which houses a Christian chapel and a clinic.

Investigators said they believe the gunman knocked at the door of the clinic and shot Penner in the head with a 7mm pistol. A colleague found the woman's body lying in a pool of blood, police said.

The center's director, the Rev. Sami Dagher, said there were no threats before the killing and the motive was not known. The clinic provides medical care and help to local people and Palestinian refugees in a nearby camp in southern Lebanon.

"Bonnie died because she loved the people of Sidon," Dagher told reporters.

"May God forgive them," he said of the attackers.

The killing occurred around 8 a.m., just after Penner opened the center.

Penner, a nurse married to a British citizen, Garry Whitherall, had worked for about two years for the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Lebanon, according to officials from the U.S. and British embassies. She was originally from California, but her hometown was not available.

U.S. Embassy officials emerged from the clinic later Thursday with Penner's husband, who hid his face and declined to talk to reporters. He left in an embassy vehicle.

U.S. Ambassador Vincent Battle met in Beirut with Interior Minister Elias Murr to discuss the killing. No details about the meeting were disclosed.

Within hours of the crime, a sign was posted at the center's gate reading: "With regret, we announce that all the Unity Center's activities have been suspended for now."

The owner of a grocery shop next door described Penner as a humanitarian who would buy a chocolate bar from him every day, always greeting him in Arabic.

"She was nice, modest and decent," said the shopkeeper, who refused to give his name.

Officials and legislators in Sidon condemned the slaying and urged authorities to find the killer.

"What happened is considered a threat to our security and the country's safety," said Bahiya Hariri, a lawmaker and a sister of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri.

Lebanon, which shares borders with Syria and Israel, saw many attacks against Americans during its civil war in the 1980s.

More than 270 Americans were killed in shootings and suicide bombings, including two that targeted U.S. Embassy buildings and one that destroyed the U.S. Marine base in Beirut. Other Americans were kidnapped and held hostage for years, prompting the State Department to declare Lebanon off-limits to Americans. The travel ban was lifted in 1997, after security improved.

Resentment of Americans has been growing across the Middle East in the face of a possible war in Iraq. Many Arabs also believe the United States has sided with Israel in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Washington's designation of Hezbollah guerrillas as terrorists is another point of division. The Lebanese see Hezbollah as both an influential political faction and a resistance movement that helped end the 18-year Israeli occupation in southern Lebanon.

On Nov. 12, small bombs exploded outside three American fast-food restaurants in Lebanon, causing damage but no casualties. There have been numerous such attacks this year.

Earlier this year, during a visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell, thousands of Lebanese and Palestinians protested, burning U.S. and Israeli flags and shouting, "Death to America! Death to Israel!"

 

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More anti-Muslim censoring in textbooks after 9/11

by Lance Gay ("KnoxNews," November 20, 2002)

The war on terrorism is giving fresh ammunition to groups protesting what they perceive as anti-Christian and anti-American propaganda in school textbooks.

Watchdog groups contend publishers are so concerned about lucrative schoolbook contracts that during the recently completed book selection process in the Texas school system, publishers have opted just to delete some of the challenged portions of texts involving Islam, rather than fight to keep them in, or offer alternative wording.

Steve Driesler, spokesman for the American Association of Publishers, said disputes over references to Islam in texts used in U.S. schools have become more controversial since the 9/11 attacks.

He noted history and social science schoolbooks were re-written over the last two decades, under instructions that often came from school boards to come up with texts that weren't so concentrated on western European cultures, and views that gave a fuller coverage to other cultures represented in American schools today.

"They have intentionally gone back and given a better understanding of other cultures and religion," Driesler said, contending the 9/11 attacks made the changes in the text more conspicuous and brought attacks on publishers' motives.

Ashley McIlvain of the Texas Freedom Network, an organization battling what it sees as an effort by conservative Christian religious groups to push a religious agenda on schools, said positive characterizations of Islam and Islamic history are coming under increasing attack.

"I think this is a direct result of 9/11," she said.

Rather than fighting the groups, McIlvain said publishers are often deleting paragraphs and sentences involving Islam that conservative critics find objectionable. She said the outcome of the Texas fights over textbook language isn't just an issue involving the $600 million a year Texas spends on schoolbooks, but affects schools in other states as well because publishers want to produce books accepted by all states.

Among changes made this year, textbook publisher Prentice Hall agreed to delete the sentence: "Many other teachings in the Quran, such as the importance of honesty, honor, giving to others and having love and respect for their families, govern their daily lives."

Critics objected to the sentence as being "more propaganda" for Islam. Prentice Hall spokeswoman Wendy Spiegel said the book's editors found issues raised by the objectionable sentence were addressed partially in other parts of the text, and so agreed with critics to excise the sentence.

In an other instance, publisher Glencoe, a division of McGraw-Hill, deleted the words: "Al Qeada's leader, Osama bin Laden told his followers that it was a Muslim's duty to kill Americans. No idea could be farther from Muslim teachings. The Quran, Islam's holiest book, tells soldiers to 'show (civilians) kindness and to deal with them justly.' "

Critics objected to the passage, saying "this is going to great length to put a positive light on Muslim teachings considering other passages in the Quran." A Glencoe spokeswoman did not return a reporter's phone call.

Peggy Venable of Texas Citizens for a Sound Economy, an organization whose volunteers filed many of the textbook complaints, said texts that don't emphasize American values and champion multi-cultural ideas should not be endorsed for use in the schools.

"We want to see tolerance taught and to encourage students to see our government in a positive light," she said. "We saw in these texts a tone that de-exceptionalized the United States. To say all cultures are equal is absurd."

Venable rejected charges that her group was censoring school texts. "We are parents and taxpayers," she said. Publishers agreed to more than 40 percent of the text changes members of her group made, she said, and "if you look at the texts, most of the changes strengthened the text books."

Jen Schroeder, a self-described "soccer Mom" in San Luis Obispo, Calif., said it's not just the texts she finds objectionable, but role-playing activities the books promote in classrooms that her children are asked to play.

Schroeder has launched her own Web site attacking the sixth grade social studies text, "Across the Centuries" published by Houghton-Mifflin because it asks students to imagine they are Muslim soldiers, or participate in building a mosque.

"Asking children to participate in other religions is a huge violation of our religious rights," Schroeder said. "The propaganda is unreal."

Houghton Mifflin spokesman Collin Earnst said Schroeder's complaints aren't founded, and the text has been used in schools for 11 years. He said that only 10 percent of the book concerns Islam, and that all other religions are included to expose students to a variety of other beliefs and cultures.

Houghton-Mifflin, which is keeping the provisions in the text, said the classroom activities the books encourage are intended only to give students a deeper understanding of other cultures and religions.

Andrew Riggsby, an assistant professor of classics at the University of Texas, said he sees the end results of school text battles in his classroom.

He said he notices this in discussing how the Roman Empire expanded when students aren't aware of how European expansion into North America slaughtered the Indians because interest groups persuaded school text publishers to scrub those negative views of colonialists.

 

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Iran Hard-liners Clash with Student Protesters

by Parisa Hafezi (Reuters, November 18, 2002)

TEHRAN (Reuters) - Hundreds of Iranian hard-liners clashed with pro-reform students at a demonstration on Monday, the first serious outbreak of violence in 10 days of university protests against a dissident's death sentence.

The student rallies and strikes in support of history lecturer Hashem Aghajari, condemned to hang for blasphemy, have raised political tension at a crucial stage in the power struggle between Iran's reformists and hard-liners.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Sunday ordered a review of Aghajari's case in an apparent effort to defuse the row. Analysts said Khamenei's intervention revealed how concerned the leadership had been about the student protests.

Some student leaders responded to Khamenei's move by ordering an end to the protests. But others upped their demands to include an apology from Judiciary chief Ayatollah Mahmoud Hashemi-Shahroudi.

"We will continue to protest till Shahroudi officially apologizes and there is a guarantee no one will be jailed because of what they say," student leader Saeed Razavi Faqih told Reuters.

It was not clear which call the student rank-and-file would heed, but at least one more rally was scheduled for Tuesday.

Witnesses said fighting broke out when a group of around 300 Islamic vigilantes entered a hall at a Tehran university, the center of a demonstration by some 3,000 reformist students.

Earlier, riot police sealed the area and parked buses around the campus to obscure the view from outside.

Students later emerged, some with blood on their faces, triumphantly punching the air and chanting "referendum, referendum" in a call for a national vote on the political future of the Islamic Republic.

Police stood back letting the students disperse, but riot police clad in body armor mounted on motorbikes waited on stand-by in side streets.

APPARENT SETBACK

The almost daily meetings at universities in the capital and across the country have been the biggest pro-reform protests in Iran since police and hardline vigilantes put down violent Tehran student unrest in the summer of 1999.

Khamenei's intervention was an apparent setback for the hardline judiciary's four-year legal onslaught against leading reformers, liberal intellectuals and the pro-reform press.

The reformists, allied to President Mohammad Khatami, enjoy popular support and dominate parliament, but have run into stiff resistance from conservatives, who control the judiciary and other key state bodies and oppose change to the Islamic system.

Reformers accuse hard-liners of trying to spark clashes with the students as a pretext for a big crackdown in which dozens of top reformers could face arrest.

Khamenei, though he appointed many conservatives to powerful positions, has stepped into the political fray on a number of occasions to hold back the feuding factions.

A conservative newspaper, seen as close to Khamenei, said the review would probably lead to Aghajari's sentence of 74 lashes, eight years jail and then execution being overturned.

But his guilty verdict for questioning clerical rule in Iran may still stand and some form of punishment can be expected.

Frustrated by five years of almost constant battle with hard-liners, Khatami has presented two bills to parliament in a last-ditch attempt to curb the power of the judiciary and the veto-wielding Guardian Council.

Khatami's allies have called on the mild-mannered cleric to make good on his threat to resign if, as expected, the Guardian Council blocks the bills.

 

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Converts say Islam has given their lives structure

by Daikha Dridi (The Seattle Post-Intelligencer," November 19, 2002)

Sent to Saudi Arabia as part of Operation Desert Storm in the summer of 1990, Andre Anderson was leaning on his rifle when he heard "adan," the call to dawn prayer from nearby Riyadh.

The 19-year-old Marine from Chicago was frightened.

"In movies, whenever you hear Arabs singing and shouting 'Allah Akbar,' it means they're attacking," he recalls with a burst of laughter. "I thought the camp was being attacked."

But as Anderson listened to the voices from the many mosques in the city echoing through the darkness, fear gave way to something else.

"It was unspeakably beautiful; it just touched my soul," said the 31-year-old Seattle man, now known as Abdul Raheem Arshad Ali.

Drawn to a religion he knew little about, Anderson converted to Islam on the eve of the Gulf War, and became one of hundreds of U.S. servicemen and women to do so.

In converting to Islam, Ali joined a growing movement that has long been present in the United States, but has attracted far more attention since the events of Sept. 11, 2001, and the more recent arrests of U.S. converts in the Northwest who have been accused of aiding terrorists.

Ali himself was recently arrested on federal firearms charges. He is accused of buying a pistol for a man who is suspected of having ties to the al-Qaida terrorist network.

Muslim converts often say they feel they're unfairly portrayed as violent and brainwashed fodder for radical organizations eager to use them against their country.

Robert Dannin, who teaches urban anthropology at New York University and is the author of "Black Pilgrimage to Islam," said U.S. Muslims have been the victims of "Islamophobic hysteria" in recent months.

"We have seen this before in American history with the Red scare and with McCarthyism," Dannin said.

A long history

After Sept. 11, 2001, media reports on Muslims in the United States often called Islam the fastest-growing religion in the nation. By some accounts, there are as many as 20,000 converts per year.

But theologians and demographers say those reports are overblown, and often come from proselytizing Islamic organizations that have a financial interest in inflating the figures.

"You read every day media accounts stating that there are 8 to 12 million Muslims in the United States -- that Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the country," Dannin said.

"These numbers and statements are totally unbelievable."

Most credible surveys indicate there are 3 million to 4 million Muslims in the United States, more than two thirds of them African American.

Islam arrived in the United States with the first slaves. Historians say as many as 15 percent of all slaves were Muslim. Although few in number, their presence, preserved through records of memoirs of slaves written in Arabic, remained as a cultural influence even as all traces of ritual practices were diluted, Dannin says.

Yet African American Muslims were largely unknown until the 1960s, when many civil rights activists adopted Islam. For many, black nationalism was the driving force.

Black nationalism in the '60s was influenced by Islam because of the fascination the civil rights generation had for the jihad Muslims in West and North Africa fought against European colonizers, Dannin says.

Hazim Rashed, a Seattle financial analyst, became a member of the Nation of Islam 20 years ago, after hearing a speech by minister Louis Farrakhan.

"My conversion was a reaction to racism," Rashed said. "Farrakhan's speech made me feel I am a very special human being."

But he now feels that "Islam in the 'Nation' was more a reaction to racism."

"The way it was defined was a very hateful one. It's simple: You couldn't belong to the 'Nation' if you were not black," Rashed said.

Though better known to most Americans, the Nation of Islam is considered a fringe group rather than a branch of Islam.

After the death of Nation of Islam leader Elijah Muhammad in 1975, his son Wallace moved the organization toward orthodox Sunni Islam. Farrakhan split from the group, forming his own Nation.

Rashed became an orthodox Muslim whose life is guided by faith rather than anger. He sees no conflict between being a Muslim and an American.

"I am quite an ordinary American," he said. Around his office, the only clue to his faith is that his desk PC sounds the call to prayer in Arabic, five times each day.

Life changes

Although black nationalism has faded as a political force, Islam has continued to grow -- nearly doubling in adherents since 1989. Young black men have dominated the ranks of converts.

What makes young Americans, reared in typical Western households, choose to belong to such a different mental universe?

"The discipline of the Islamic way humbled me," said Abdul Shahid Muhammad, a self-described former gang member in Tacoma's Hilltop neighborhood who today works for a furniture company.

For Abdul Raheem Ali, the former Marine who works as a bricklayer, Islam just felt comfortable -- but there were challenges.

"It was hard, it was very hard," Ali recalls.

He used to drink a lot, he says, and he loved being in bars and in bar fights. He loved being surrounded by sexy women, and to eat food forbidden to Muslims, such as pork products.

"I had to give up my whole way of life, and giving up pepperoni pizza was quite a trauma," Ali said.

He believes his religion taught him how to be a man.

"Islam structures everything in your life, with very precise rules, from the way you have to wash while in the bathroom to the way you treat your wife and children, to the way a state has to be run (to) protect the vulnerable, the poor and guarantee justice," Ali said. "Nobody taught us all these things before."

Muhammad said the dramatic changes he went through after converting impressed his friends, neighbors, family and were reflected in a sense of self-esteem he never felt before.

Prison ministry

Like many American Muslims, Muhammad was introduced to Islam while in prison.

Dannin, who has studied the practice of Islam in the prison system for almost 20 years, said conversion behind bars helps prisoners resist the debilitating effects of the penitentiary system.

In states with large African American populations, such as New York, California, Michigan, Wisconsin, Florida and Pennsylvania, an average of 20 percent of prisoners are Muslims. Washington state has far fewer black Muslims in its prisons, although there are no credible estimates of their numbers.

"Muslim brothers showed me they love me and care for me," said Shakir Zakee, a 25-year-old inmate at McNeil Island, who converted a year ago in prison.

Serving a 10-year sentence for assault, Zakee said his parents were Muslim but he never felt religious until "Allah snatched (him) back in prison."

"Islam makes you strong in jail, teaches you self-discipline," Zakee said, adding that to him being Muslim is about finding peace.

"You first make peace with yourself" when staying away from "destruction, gangs, gambling, lust, debts, fights."

In fact, Dannin said, prison officials in some states view Islamic conversion as something positive.

"One of the technologies of control that prison administrators have discovered is Islamification," he said. "California, for example, uses Islam to manage prisoners."

For many inmates, Islam offers the challenge of learning a new way of life, a new language and self-control that counters the imposed discipline of prison.

"I just can't wait until it's time for prayer," said Ibraheem Killian, a 33-year-old McNeil inmate serving a 13-year sentence for assault.

Killian converted four years ago while at the Clallam Bay high-security prison. He said he had been "on the streets" since he was 15 and was ready for something else.

"I've been shot at, I've seen people die in front of me, I was tired with this life. I wanted to change," Killian said.

If something happens to a Muslim, the "brothers" are there to help and protect, he said. Solidarity among the Umma -- the Muslim brotherhood -- goes beyond prison walls.

Zakee is sure that once released, the masjed (mosque) will keep him away from gangs, give him a place to stay and help him quickly find a job.

 

'Back home'

Like Killian, most Muslim converts are young and, Dannin said, the vast majority seek spiritual uplift.

And for many, conversion also brings a new political awareness.

Abdulhakim Idris, a 31-year-old Seattle entrepreneur, was indeed drawn to Islam by questions about "our origins."

Idris, a quiet man, has a very solitary rapport with his religion. He has never wanted to be involved in the activities of his mosque, but would rather spend his free time in libraries.

In his small, clean apartment that smelled of incense and books, he told how his 1996 conversion gave him a new sense of the world around him.

"Definitely, Islam politicizes the way you look to the world and events," he said.

Ali takes it a step further. He talks about "a right to be different" that he thinks is not allowed in the United States.

He's seen media reports that differentiate between "radical Muslims" and "mainstream Muslims."

Ali does not consider himself a radical, but he feels this is the way a Muslim like him, who embraces everything about Islam, is labeled.

A "mainstream Muslim," he said, is one whose identification is more cultural than a matter of faith.

By embracing Islam, he gained a political framework to express his frustration with his society and, he said, he began to feel that he belongs to something larger than himself.

"My people are Muslims no matter where they are."

As a black born in a ghetto, he was confronted by violence. And when he tried the military to escape the gangs, he said he was confronted by racism.

"When America didn't feel like home, Islam gave me a brotherhood and made me a better person. Before, I was feeling out of place, I was a bad man. Now . . .I am a responsible father, husband and a caring son for my parents. I feel like back home."

 

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Saudi Arabia's religious zealots ignore calls for moderation
(AP, November 19, 2002)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia - A child comes home from school in tears because of a teacher's prophecy of her horrifying death if she does not recite Islam's five daily prayers.

At a cafe, a man is berated because his wife's abaya, the black cloak that women must wear in public, too daringly outlines the shape of her upper body.

A researcher at the Education Ministry who raised questions about religious extremism expressed in some texbooks finds himself suddenly out of a job.

These scenes persist in Saudi Arabia even though the kingdom's leaders — worried at complaints their country is nourishing Islamic radicalism — have urged officials, the clergy and educators to preach moderation and promote tolerance of Western values.

Saudi leaders understand the dangers facing their nation following the Sept. 11 attacks, which were blamed on Saudi dissident Osama bin Laden and carried out mostly by Saudis — 15 of the 19 hijackers were from the kingdom.

Crown Prince Abdullah, the most powerful figure after the king, has urged his people to cling to Islam as "a religion of moderation and wisdom."

"Beware of extremism," he said, "because the annihilation of nations that came before you was caused by religious extremism."

This month, Minister of Religious Affairs Sheik Saleh bin Abdulaziz Al Shiek, told mosque preachers they should not "use Friday sermons to villify people, villify countries ... Villification is not lawful."

The minister warned that preachers should not allow just any worshipper to speak out in the mosque after prayers because they may "say words that incite people. ... Some have called for jihad (holy war)."

Still, a small yet powerful minority of fanatics persists in spreading a radical interpretation of the Quran, Islam's holy book, in their quest to make the kingdom more Islamic.

They are in government, schools, mosques and among the muttawa, the religious police who enforce Islamic social codes.

These radicals create an atmosphere that breeds hatred of the West. They reject any behavior they feel is Western or could lead to what they view as Western-style decadence — mixing of the sexes, drinking, women's emancipation. They try to rule every aspect of people's lives.

Take the Saudi woman who was out shopping. A muttawa agent stopped her because her feet were not fully covered and asked a policeman to make sure she didn't escape while he got her a pair of dark socks from a nearby shop.

Or the mother who angrily recounts what her 6-year-old daughter learned in school — when she dies, her face will turn black and worms and blood will come out of her mouth as punishment for not praying five times a day.

Or a recent, full-page article in a Saudi daily on the sins of men and women mixing, signed by a member of the Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice, which runs the muttawa. Its headline: "It has been medically proven that repeatedly staring at the opposite sex with lust causes sexual weakness."

Then there's the story told by Khaled Nasser, who was having a quiet coffee with his wife at a mall when a muttawa agent barged in, ordering women to cover their faces and hands. "Protect your religion, Muslim women. The Christians and Jews are trying to tempt you away from it," he screeched.

The agent berated Nasser for 10 minutes and threatened to drag him to jail because his wife's face was uncovered and her black cloak was of a type rejected by radicals as un-Islamic because it gives a hint of a woman's bust.

"Extremists like him know nothing about Islam," Nasser said later. "They're racists who are biased against anyone who's not as radical as they are."

While these incidents may seem mainly to infringe on the daily life of Saudis, they also help create a religious environment in which militants can find justification for urging murderous actions against the West and, in particular, the United States.

Before the Sept. 11 attacks, little attention was paid to fanatic elements in Saudi schools, mosques and the government's religious establishment. Now, the hijackings have focused the spotlight on what influence fundamentalist Islam may have had on the hijackers.

Some in the West have blamed the hijackers' militancy on the austere form of Islam the kingdom has adopted, based on the strict teachings of an 18th century cleric named Muhammad bin Abdel-Wahhab.

"Before 9/11 we lived in a world where we accepted the peculiarities of the political system in Saudi Arabia," a Western diplomat said on customary condition of anonymity.

"But that has changed, and the Saudis have to wake up to the fact that the rest of the world is concerned about the religious environment in this country," the diplomat added.

As the birthplace of Islam and as the custodian of the faith's two holiest shrines, Saudi Arabia has always been careful that its Islamic credentials not be questioned.

The ruling Saud family is bound by an 18th century pact between its ancestor, Muhammad bin Saud, and Abdel-Wahhab that allowed the Saud clan to consolidate its control over Arabia in the early 1900s.

Key religious positions are still held by Abdel-Wahhab's descendants, giving them sway over legal and social policy in return for helping maintain the royal family's legitimacy.

But the pact has meant the ruling family finds itself constantly in a balancing act between the quest for modernity and the need not to upset the religious leadership.

That has not always been easy.

When the late King Faisal introduced girls' education in the early 1960s, delegation after delegation of radicals protested at the monarch's court. Today, almost as many girls as boys go to school.

The same extremists fought the introduction of radio, television and even cars, which they thought were driven by the devil.

When satellite dishes began sprouting on balconies in the early 1990s, religious zealots enraged at the amount of flesh on TV often shot at the dishes. Today, many homes have dishes — though they still are not legal — and Saudi Arabia is one of the most high-tech Arab countries.

A woman who is a Western-educated member of the royal family, and who spoke on condition of anonymity, said introducing change slowly has always been important because most Saudis are conservatives who worry about the West encroaching on their society.

"If you react quickly, the alternative may be worse," the princess said.

"There's been a huge change in Saudi Arabia in the past three decades," she said. "People were unequipped to deal with it. The one constant they hold onto is Islam."

After the Sept. 11 attacks, however, even gentle critics of the kingdom say the Saudis must speed up the pace of change.

"They can no longer afford to take their time," said the Western diplomat. "But the problem is how to effect change in a society that's extremely sensitive to outside pressure."

That pressure, many Saudis say, is not helping. At a time when most Arabs view Washington as indirectly helping Israelis kill Palestinians and directly threatening Iraq, extremists see even minor changes in the kingdom as bows to American wishes.

"Even people who want change are now saying, 'I don't want anybody to tell me I have to do this,' especially when it comes from people whose agenda is not only to change the Saudi curriculum but also to separate state from religion," said the princess.

That is the main reason, several Saudis said, why there has been almost no change in the Saudi school syllabus, which has been attacked in the West for promoting anti-Christian and anti-Jewish views.

Hasan al-Malki, the Education Ministry employee who was fired, had prepared a study on extremism in texbooks that contained an unprecedented questioning of the ideas of Wahabism's founder.

"The religious curriculum is based on (the teachings of) scholars such as Sheik Muhammad bin Abdel-Wahhab and the scholars who followed him, who, at the end of the day, are human beings who are sometimes right and sometimes wrong," the report said.

Fired five months ago, Al-Malki said absenteeism was given as the officials reason. But privately he was told the radicals pressured the ministry into doing it. Education Ministry officials would not comment.

In private gatherings and in the occasional editorial, many Saudis complain about the strictures imposed by the radicals. They insist they can be pious, observant Muslims without adopting the extremist, anti-Western version of Islam espoused by bin Laden.

In a recent column in the respected pan-Arab daily Al Hayat, Saudi journalist Dawood al-Shirian said there should be a public dialogue about school curriculums, religious programs and the role of mosques.

"Since the terrorist attacks ... quite a number of writers, journalists and preachers have defended the kingdom by categorically denying (there's a problem)," al-Shirian wrote.

However, he addded, "defending our image does not come by ignoring (the problem) or by surrender but by acknowledging the problem and commencing a national dialogue about it."

 

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US Muslims suffer backlash
 
by Kevin Anderson ("BBC News Online," November 19, 2002)

Hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims in the United States increased by 1,700% in 2001, according to crime statistics compiled by the FBI.

Human Rights Watch has criticised US authorities for not doing enough to stem the backlash following the 11 September attacks.

Muslims and Arabs have faced a backlash after other events linked to the Middle East in the last two decades, the group said, calling on the authorities to take steps to head off such violence in the future.

Rise in hate crimes

In 2000, the FBI received reports of 28 hate crimes against Muslims and Arabs in the US. In 2001, that number increased to 481.

Local statistics demonstrate even further the dramatic rise in hate crimes against Arabs and Muslims.

In Chicago, the police department reported only four anti-Muslim or anti-Arab hate crimes during the year 2000, but in just three months - September-November 2001 - there were 51 such crimes reported.

A US Justice Department study found that an estimated 75% of hate crimes go unreported, said Amardeep Singh of Human Rights Watch.

The hate crimes included the murder of at least three people.

Balbir Singh Sodhi, a 49-year-old Sikh and father of three, was killed as he planted flowers at his gas station four days after the 11 September attacks.

Police said that the alleged killer bragged at a local bar that he was going to "kill the ragheads responsible for 11 September".

Abusive chants

Assaults and attacks on places of worship were widespread.

On 12 September 2001, 100 police officers stopped an angry mob as they marched on a mosque in Bridgeview Illinois.

The mob shouted slogans such as "Arabs go home" and hurled abuse at passers-by who looked Muslim or Arab.

Human Rights Watch says that authorities should have seen the backlash coming and done more to prevent crimes against Muslims and Arabs.

Constant targets

This is not the first time that hate crimes against Muslims has increased.

Middle Easterners experienced a backlash after the Iran Hostage Crisis, the Gulf War and after the 1995 bombing in Oklahoma City.

Although Timothy McVeigh was eventually arrested for the 1995 attack, early reports linked the attack to Middle Eastern men.

Conspiracy theorists are still trying to link the bombing with Arab terrorists.

"Government officials didn't sit on their hands while Muslims and Arabs were attacked after September 11, but law enforcement and other government agencies should have been better prepared for this kind of onslaught," Mr Singh said.

He also accused the US Government of sending mixed messages in trying to head off a violent backlash.

"The concern is that while the government is pounding the pulpit of tolerance with the right hand, that with the left hand it is pushing aside very American traditions of equality," Mr Singh said.

While members of the government including President Bush made very public statements of support for Muslim-Americans, the government focussed its anti-terrorism efforts on Arabs and Muslims.

Those anti-terrorism measures included secret detentions and deportations.

Quick to act

But the report also had what appeared to be welcome exceptions.

Some 30% of the population of Dearborn Michigan are immigrants from the Middle East.

Police and city officials have worked to reach out to the Middle Eastern population there after a racially charged incident at the high school in 1995 that led to a Justice Department investigation, said Police Chief Greg Guibord.

Relations improved as a result, and the city hosts an annual festival celebrating Arabic culture.

Immediately in the wake of the 11 September attacks, city officials met with representatives from the Arab community. They were concerned about their safety.

Extra patrols were added near mosques and Arab neighbourhoods.

Chief Guibord went on record saying that members of the Arab-American community were not the people responsible for the attacks. "Just because people are from a certain race doesn't make them guilty," he said.

And he added: "There was a statement made by this community that we are not going to tolerate any type of violence in any form."

The community did not experience a rise in hate crimes.

But he says that this was the result of years of dialogue between city leaders and the Arab community.

And he added it might be difficult in areas where Muslims formed a much smaller part of the community.

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State of 'dhimmitude' seen as threat to Christians, Jews
by Jula Duin ("Washington Times," October 30, 2002)
 
     Egyptian-born historian Bat Ye'or and her husband, David Littman, have been making the rounds of several campuses this month to lecture on "dhimmitude," a word she coined to describe the status of Christians and Jews under Islamic governments. 
     Muslims have visited exile, persecution, deportations, massacres and other humiliations on non-Muslims for almost 1,400 years, she has told students at Georgetown, Brown, Yale and Brandeis universities.
     Muslim armies steamrolled over North Africa, the Middle East and Spain for five centuries after the death of Muhammad in 632, says Bat Ye'or, a pen name meaning "daughter of the Nile." In her two most recent books, "Islam and Dhimmitude" and "The Decline of Eastern Christianity Under Islam," she describes how magnificent basilicas and monasteries of Egypt, Syria and Mesopotamia were left in smoking ruins by Muslims from the eighth to 10th centuries.
     Spain, she says, was pillaged and devastated many times: Zamora in 981, Barcelona in 987, Santiago de Compostela in 997. In 1000, Castile was ravaged, its Christian population either killed or enslaved and deported. In 1096, Pope Urban II set the Crusades in motion by calling on Christians to take back the conquered lands.
     The golden age of Muslim rule in Spain from the eighth to the 15th century was largely myth, Bat Ye'or says, and dhimmitude is in effect today in Islamic-ruled Iran, Pakistan, Sudan, parts of Indonesia and northern Nigeria.
     Bat Ye'or has had hearings in some quarters, including her 1997 and 2001 appearances before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the Congressional Human Rights Caucus. But many of the 70 students attending her Oct. 15 lecture at Georgetown University on "The Ideology of Jihad, Dhimmitude and Human Rights" walked out.
     Julia Segall, president of the Georgetown Israel Alliance, and Daniel Spector, president of the Jewish Student Alliance, called the lecture a "disaster" in Friday's edition of Hoya, a student newspaper.
     Bat Ye'or and Mr. Littman "made no effort to make a clear distinction between pure, harmonious Islam and the acts of a few who falsely claim to act in the name of Islam," they wrote.
     In the same issue, dissenting student Scott Borer-Miller criticized the university for its treatment of Bat Ye'or and its "anti-Zionist environment where supporting Israel is uncool."
     Mr. Littman shrugged off the fracas.
     "The Muslim students who were attending were unhappy with what we were saying and so they pressured the Jews," he said. "And the Jews collapsed. They've become dhimmis."
     Bat Ye'or also was criticized by John Esposito, director of Georgetown University's Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding, for lacking academic credentials. She studied at the University of London's School of Archaeology and at the University of Geneva, but never graduated.
     Paul Marshall, a senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, said Bat Ye'or's research into Turkish, Persian and Arabic documents dating back to the eighth century has not been contested.
     "What's notable is [various academics] don't attempt to refute her work, which is scholarly and documented," he said. "Those who oppose it owe it to her to engage her work at the scholarly level, which it deserves."
     Imam Rashied Omar, a Capetown (South Africa) University academic pursuing his doctorate in religion and violence at the University of Notre Dame, said that Bat Ye'or's findings are a minority view that contrasts with a large portion of extant literature on medieval Jewish-Muslim-Christian relations.
     "That's not to say there was no oppression," he said, "but it's well-known that Jews sought refuge under Muslim empires. Jews and Christians obtained greater freedom and abilities to express their religious identities under Muslim rule than was the case under Christian rule."
     Abdelaziz Sachedina, a religious studies professor at the University of Virginia, points out that Bat Ye'or used highly polemic sources written by the victims of dhimmitude.
     "Monotheistic religions are always exclusivist," he said, "so how are they going to deal with other monotheistic peoples? Muslims have showed their civilization has a better mechanism in which to do so because they give sanctity to other monotheists. It was a just system that took the dignity of all human beings into consideration. Muslims are not saying we treated them well or that it was an ideal situation."

 

     Following are excerpts from a recent interview by reporter Julia Duin with historian Bat Ye'or, who grew up as a Jew in Egypt, then emigrated with her family to England. She and her husband live in Switzerland. 
     

     Q: Why have you taken on the task of explaining to people what it has been like for Christians and Jews to live under Muslim rule to the point of coining a word "dhimmitude" for it?
     A:
When I was growing up in Egypt, I knew nothing of freedom. I knew there was persecution of minorities, but we adapted to it. This was the 1950s. Then we were expelled from Egypt in 1957 under Nasser and we moved to England. It was in England I learned the word "liberty." I had to learn to be a free person. Dhimmitude is that state of fear and insecurity.
     Q: But didn't Islamic law actually provide for the protection of minorities?
     A:
After the Islamic conquest in the seventh century, they came under the dhimma, a treaty of submission for each people conquered by jihad. The infidels who submit to Islamic rulers are given a pledge of security to protect them from the rules of jihad, so long as they accept a condition of humiliation and of total inferiority to Muslims.
     Q: But didn't the Muslims get this idea from the Christians?
     A:
Islamic law governing Christian dhimmis developed from Byzantine Christian legislation enacted from the fifth to the sixth century. It aimed at imposing legal inferiority on native Jews of Christianized countries — lands that were subsequently Islamicized.
     Q: How have Islamic governments treated their religious minorities compared to how Christians treated theirs?
     A:
Islam links politics and religion together, whereas Christianity separates the two. In Christianity, there is a trend that criticizes religious intolerance. Christianity has developed a dialectic that leads to self-criticism and improvement. One can then fight against racism, anti-Semitism and prejudices.
     But Islam does not emancipate the dhimmis [religious minorities] nor recognize that jihad and dhimmitude are evil institutions. In fact, they say those are good institutions. They do not recognize the evil in their own history. The Islamic concept of non-Muslims engenders hostility. In Christianity, there is not a concept of permanent holy war.
     Q: Where, then, did jihad originate?
     A:
The ideology of jihad was formulated by Muslim theologians from the eighth century onward. It separates humanity into two hostile blocks — the community of Muslims, and the infidels. According to this ideology, Allah commands the Muslims to conquer the whole world in order to apply Koranic laws. Hence, they have to wage a perpetual war against the infidels who refuse to submit. Its principle is based on the inequality between the community of Allah and the infidels. The first is a superior group, whose mission it is to rule the world. The second must submit.
     Q: Does the typical Muslim understand jihad as a foundation principle governing how to relate to non-Muslims?
     A:
Not all Muslims know it, and many reject its ideology. It would be a great mistake to believe each and every Muslim identifies with jihad war ideology.
     Q: However, dhimmitude was brought to a halt in the Near East by European colonialism. Are academics now saying you are exaggerating its negative effects?
     A:
Since the end of the 1960s, some professors in Europe and North America teach that jihad wars produced a minimum of civilian victims, and that the Muslim armies of conquest were welcomed by their future dhimmis with open arms. This, of course, is the Muslim version of history, and it is interesting to see that it is being adopted in Europe.
     Q: What else are Muslims saying about Western history?
     A:
They are saying that the Renaissance developed thanks to them. That is pure nonsense. It is linked to a desire to dominate European culture. The Muslims in Spain developed their civilization from their Christian predecessors and from Byzantine influence from the 13th century.
     When the Turks invaded Byzantium, Greek scholars fled with their archives to Italy. They translated the Greek classics into Latin. The Italian paintings of the 13th and 14th century are reminiscent of Byzantine icons.
     Q: What do Westerners not realize about Islamic history?
     A:
Islam presents an idealistic version of itself that is not reality. Islam started in 622 and in 640, the Jews and Christians were expelled from Arabia. What the Islamists call Islamic territory today was all Christian territory from Portugal to Armenia before 632 A.D., when the conquest began. And they say Jesus was a Muslim and that the true Bible teaches Islam. It's a replacement theology they have toward Jews and Christians.
     In Europe these days, they are no longer referring to their "Judeo-Christian culture" because that wording irritates the Muslims, who want us to refer to the West as an Abrahamic civilization because they regard Abraham as a Muslim.
     Q: Are Europeans going along with this?
     A:
In some places, yes. Definitely in France, where there's a general pro-Arab policy because of its interests in the Arab world. Thus, there are those who are promoting a Palestinian state in place of Israel. The anti-Israel policy in France is linked to an anti-U.S. bias because America is seen as a defender of Judeo-Christian values. And as anti-Semitism grows in France, it also becomes anti-Christian because of its hatred of the Jewish origins of Christianity.
     Q: Is the reason you've come up with the term "Eurabia" to describe what Europe is becoming?
     A:
Europe is fast becoming an Arab-Islamic land of emigration. Its leaders pretend to their people they are restricting immigration but they really are not. Because if they did, there might be economic and other reprisals.
     Polygamy is being tolerated in France and Germany, although not officially. Muslims are agitating for separate public schools according to gender and for girls to cover their heads. This has really created a problem with the teachers.
     Q: How do you suggest Americans react to this?
     A:
If Europe changes its tune toward Arab countries, there might be reprisals. That [Oct.6] attack on the French oil tanker off of Yemen was a warning. That is why the French are afraid to go to war against Iraq. The tactic is to isolate America.
     President Bush said we won't be intimidated by what happened in Bali, but he's the only world leader saying that. America is being attacked because it fights back. Americans should also resist the idea that they are responsible for September 11.
     Q: So Islam is increasingly not tolerating dissent, even in the West?
     A:
For Westerners, it is normal to change one's religion. For Islam, it is not. There is more and more Shariah [Islamic law] coming to the West. For instance, an Iranian mullah who preached an Oct. 11 sermon called for the deaths of Jerry Falwell, Franklin Graham and Pat Robertson.
     Well, one shouldn't be condemned to be killed just because one criticizes their religion.

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America's elusive minority: Muslims
A new study finds them wealthy, educated, growing fast. But old suspicion from 9/11 complicates their plight.
by Laurent Belsie ("Christian Science Monitor," October 07, 2002)
 
Muslims are taking root in America. Though small in number, they're growing fast and setting up enclaves in some of the largest cities. A study released today shows they're better educated and almost as well paid as the non-Hispanic white population. But if American Muslims are poised to join the mainstream economically, politics and religion are roiling the confluence.

The aftermath of Sept. 11 and tension with Iraq has exposed a dual response to Muslims living here. There's both suspicion and outreach – discrimination and efforts to bridge the religious divide.

"Islam has become a part of public discourse and people are making up their minds," says Mohamed Nimer, author of a new book, "The North American Muslim Resource Guide." "America is confronting ... what we might call a precursor to being a truly pluralistic society."

While no one knows how many Muslims live in the US – estimates span 1.2 million to 10 million – their numbers are growing fast. Between 1990 and 2000, the Muslim-origin population grew 40 percent, according to the new study by the Lewis Mumford Center for Comparative Urban and Regional Research at New York's University at Albany. And they're more integrated than larger minorities.

"They're rather highly concentrated in certain metropolitan areas," says John Logan, Mumford Center director. "But in those areas they tend to live in neighborhoods where they're a distinct minority."

Four metropolitan regions – Los Angeles, New York, Detroit, and Washington – boast more than 100,000 American Muslims. A decade earlier, only Los Angeles could make that claim. Detroit's population includes more Muslims than virtually any city. But much smaller Jersey City, N.J., which saw a doubling of its Muslim population in the 1990s, now boasts the identical concentration: 2.8 percent.

Tricky to count – and difficult to see

Even with recent high-profile incidents – such as the arrests of suspected Islamic terrorists in Lackawanna, N.Y., and the detention of three hapless Arab medical students in Florida – the Muslim population remains relatively invisible. One reason is that it's hard to count. Although the nation contains some 500,000 indigenous Muslims – mostly black Muslims – most of the population's growth comes from immigration. And since the US census doesn't characterize religion, researchers have to make rough estimates based on place of birth and ancestry. That's tricky work.

Officially, for example, today's Mumford Center report doesn't count Muslims at all, but "Americans with roots in historically Islamic countries." So it includes immigrants from overwhelmingly Muslim Pakistan but leaves out India, with its huge Muslim minority. It includes Lebanon even though the first wave of Lebanese who came here a century ago were mostly Christian. Because of limitations in ancestry data, the study can count only US residents born in Indonesia (the world's largest Islamic country), and not their children.

To get around such limitations, another researcher has surveyed the roughly 1,200 American mosques and emerged with an estimate of 6 million Muslims. Dr. Nimer, a Palestinian by birth, argues there are no fewer than 2.4 million. The American Jewish Committee says there can be no more than 2.8 million.

Socioeconomic factors also make Muslims largely invisible here. They typically live in neighborhoods that are only 4.5 percent Muslim, according to the Mumford study, although that's changing as their numbers grow and they begin to create enclaves. Still, American Muslims are far less geographically segregated than Hispanics or African Americans. One possible factor: higher socioeconomic status. On average, they live in households earning $50,000 annually – more than any significant minority except Asian, and only $2,000 less than non-Hispanic white households, according to Mumford data. American Muslims have lower poverty rates than either blacks or Hispanics, and more years of education than any of these groups, including whites and Asians.

That may change, warns Nimer, because recent Muslim refugees from places like Somalia have acquired fewer skills.

More important, last year's terrorist attacks complicated acceptance of Muslims.

Sept. 11 "gave permission to the public and some police to exercise their prejudiced behavior against us," says Sofian Zakkout, director of the American Muslim Association of North America in Hialeah, Fla. Despite his standing in the community (he's also on the state Advisory Committee to the US Commission on Civil Rights), Mr. Zakkout has experienced the challenge firsthand. Last year, he was stopped by police after visiting a friend in the hospital. More recently, three landlords refused to rent office space to his organization.

"There is general fear in the community," adds Muzammil Siddiqi, director of the Islamic Society of Orange County in California. "The average American, I think, would like to see better relations. But there is a small group that wants to create suspicions."

One area of worry: evangelical Christians. The former president of the Southern Baptist Convention called Muhammad a "demon-possessed pedophile." Franklin Graham, who heads the ministry of his father, Billy Graham, has called Islam evil.

But the number of local interfaith meetings has risen, Dr. Siddiqi says – part of growing interchange nationwide. "We don't talk about 'Americans' " now, adds Nimer. "We talk about Catholics, African-Americans, and mainline Protestants.... Muslims are growing very sensitive to those differences. And they see themselves as being one part of this mosaic."


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Fundamentalists stop women, pop groups from performing in Malaysian state
by Jasbant Singh (AP, September 19, 2002)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Islamic fundamentalist officials in a Malaysian state are clamping down on pop groups and women performers, calling them immoral and against Muslim rules.

The government in the northeastern state of Kelantan recently ordered officials to more strictly enforce laws passed several years ago that ban pop groups and women performers at hotels and clubs, he said.

Rock music and female performers are "un-Islamic and contribute to moral decadence," Razak Ghani, a senior official with the Kelantan state government, told The Associated Press on Thursday.

The clampdown is the latest move to impose strict Islamic rules in Malaysia by the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party, the largest opposition party which governs two of Malaysia's 13 states.

The fundamentalists have passed Islamic criminal codes in the states they control that include whipping, amputation and stoning as punishments. The criminal codes have not been implemented because the federal government, which controls the police, has rejected them as unconstitutional.

The fundamentalist-ruled states have enforced other Islamic regulations that do not apply nationally, such as alcohol and gambling bans and separate shop counters for men and women.

Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad's government and a non-Muslim opposition party criticized the latest restrictions Thursday, saying they contravene freedom of religion clauses in the constitution.

Tourism Minister Kadir Sheikh Fadzir said the restrictions violate the constitution but did not say whether the government would try to have them lifted.

Betty Chew, vice-chairman of the women's wing of the Democratic Action Party, an ethnic Chinese-based opposition party, said the Islamic party was adopting a "ban here, ban there, ban everywhere policy."

More than two thirds of Malaysia's 23 million population are ethnic Muslim Malays. Most of the rest are ethnic Chinese and Indians who are mostly Christian, Buddhist and Hindu.

Malaysia is governed by secular laws and also has moderate Islamic laws that apply to Muslims.


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Religion Today
by Rachel Zoll (AP, October 31, 2002)

Omer bin Abdullah won't be leaving a paper trail this year when he makes his traditional donation to the poor during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

He will fulfill his religious duty by handing cash directly to a needy family, as will many other American Muslims at a time when federal investigators are targeting U.S.-based Islamic charities in the hunt for terrorists.

"People are so scared that they don't know what to do," said Abdullah, of Herndon, Va.

Islam requires its followers to give 2.5 percent of their income and savings to the poor annually and many do so during Ramadan. But since the Sept. 11 attacks, the federal government has frozen the assets of three major Muslim nonprofits on suspicion of links with terrorism: the Holy Land Foundation of Richardson, Texas, and Benevolence International Foundation and Global Relief Foundation, both in the Chicago area.

Other Muslim charities, which feel they've been unfairly tarred by association, have seen a significant drop in donations. That has only heightened the importance of their Ramadan collections this year.

"Two-thirds of our funds come from this month," said Muhammad Rahman, head of the New York-based international relief arm of the Islamic Circle of North America. "If we don't make it, that means next year will be a very tough time."

In Islam, the start of the holy month is based on a lunar calendar and requires visual sightings of the new crescent moon. This year, it is expected to fall around next Wednesday. It is the most important time of the year for Muslims, and also the period when Islamic charities launch their biggest fund-raising campaigns.

A group of Muslim leaders met with President Bush in September, urging him to take some action so American Muslims feel safer making donations — a practice referred to in Islam as zakat, which is one of the five pillars of the faith. U.S. Muslim leaders are lobbying for a federal auditing system for Islamic charities, so investigators and donors can feel confident that no money goes to groups thought to have terrorist ties.

Without such safeguards, many Muslims fear that sending checks to their favorite humanitarian organizations will inadvertently make them suspects in the eyes of law enforcement.

Ismat Hamid, an industrial pharmacist from Ann Arbor, Mich., said many Muslims in his community plan to change the way they donate this year, although he will not. He will send money to U.S.-based Muslim humanitarian groups that help children in his native Iraq.

"American Muslims, they don't want to put themselves in a situation that is very hard to prove they are innocent," Hamid said. "After 9-11 in general, the American Muslims are guilty until proven innocent."

Mercy USA for Aid and Development, an international humanitarian organization founded by American Muslims, is attempting to address such concerns. The Michigan nonprofit posted a statement on its Web site noting it works with the U.S. Agriculture Department, and has enclosed similar statements in its direct mail fund-raising campaigns.

The group collects as much as 30 percent of its private donations for the year during Ramadan. Umar al-Quadi, Mercy's chief executive, said giving is down due to the slow economy and donor fear.

"People generally are scared," al-Quadi said.

Rahman, whose organization is known as ICNA Relief-Helping Hand, said donations to his group have dropped by about one-third due to concern about government investigations. He already has been forced to cut back his program to help poor people in the United States cover expenses for rent and food.

"We are trying the campaign the same way we did last time," Rahman said of his organization's holiday appeal. "But, the point is, people totally shy away."

Altaf Bukhari, a Muslim and civil engineer in Tampa, Fla., used to donate to Global Relief and said he has received solicitations from them to help defray their defense costs in their legal battle with the government. He hasn't sent any money so far, even though he has been upset by news reports about surveillance of Muslims in the United States.

For his Ramadan donation, he plans to collect money for an ambulance that will be used to help refugees in his native India, possibly by sending the money directly to a group in that country.

"Our intention is to only make sure that the right people get the money," Bukhari said.

Hamid said he understands the fears of American Muslims in the current climate, but he wishes they would not be cowed into burying their ties to their faith community.

"I feel we have nothing to hide," he said. "We are faithful to this country. We are loyal to this country."

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Muslim-as-Apple-Pie Videos Are Greeted With Skepticism

by Jane Perlez ("NY Times," October 29, 2002)

JAKARTA, Indonesia, Oct. 29 — Rawia Ismail, a vivacious young teacher in Toledo, Ohio, her head covered with an Islamic head scarf, appears in a United States government video that will have its first public showing this week on national television here in the world's most populous Muslim country.

The Lebanese-born Ms. Ismail is shown with her three smiling children in her all-American kitchen, at a school softball game, and in front of her class, extolling American values.

"I didn't see any prejudice anywhere in my neighborhood after Sept. 11," says Ms. Ismail.

The portrayal of Ms. Ismail as a woman who practices her Muslim faith in America with ease is one of the images that the Bush administration is offering to the Muslim world as an example of how America is not at war with Islam.

The message, in four videos about American Muslims that are to be shown here and in other Islamic countries, is one of tolerance at home and a desire to reach out abroad.

But viewers who have seen the videos were skeptical about whether life for Muslims in the United States is really so rosy.

The videos are part of a major campaign, conceived by a former Madison Avenue advertising executive, Charlotte Beers, who is under secretary of state for public diplomacy, to sell the United States to a skeptical — and in places, hostile — Muslim world.

They tell the stories of a prominent doctor, Elias Zerhouni, the Algerian-born director of the National Institutes of Health; a Libyan-born baker, Abdul Hammuda, in Toledo; a Brooklyn-born medic with the New York Fire Department, Farooq Muhammad; and Ms. Ismail.

The theory underpinning the videos, and newspaper ads and radio spots that will accompany them, is that the United States is a misunderstood place. In reality, the message implies, America recognizes Islam as an important religion and one of the fastest-growing in America.

Another feature of the broader campaign is a new radio station, Radio Sawa, that broadcasts in the Arab world, playing pop music in Arabic and English and providing top-of-the-hour news from an American point of view. Muslim academics from Asia and the Middle East are also being sent to the United States for study tours. More than 20 principals of Islamic schools in Indonesia visited the United States this summer.

At a preview of the videos here today, presided over by the American ambassador, Ralph L. Boyce, and attended by Indonesian journalists and academics, the reception was mixed.

Indeed, inside the State Department, some diplomats who have lived in Islamic countries criticized the scripts before their release for being patronizing and too simplistic, department officials said.

Some adjustments were made, they said. But according to today's viewers, not enough.

No East or Southeast Asia Muslims appeared in the videos, even though the videos were being introduced in this region, they said. It was as if the State Department believed Muslims only lived in Arab countries and only those Muslims migrated to the United States, several in the audience said.

The most telling critique came from Rizal Mallarangeng, a television host and political analyst who has just finished eight years of study at Ohio State University.

Mr. Mallarangeng praised the State Department for trying to overcome the hostility in the Islamic world toward the United States.

But, he said, the videos' story lines missed the complexities of being a Muslim in America.

"I have friends like this," he said referring to the characters in the videos. "They want to be good Muslims and good Americans. This is a bipolar way of life and the question always is how to solve the perpetual conflict."

There were straightforward matters, said Mr. Mallarangeng, like how a Muslim student could pray the requisite number of times while attending an American public school.

"How does a student find a place to pray?" he said. "At an American public school there is no religion and I understand. But what does the religious father of a Muslim student say at home about this?"

Others in the audience said that by presenting a picture of universal tolerance in the United States, the videos bordered on being propaganda.

Mr. Muhammad, the Fire Department medic in Brooklyn, for example, speaks of working with colleagues of the Hindu, Christian and Jewish faiths. "We're all brothers and sisters," he says. Dr. Zerhouni, of the National Institutes of Health, says, "The tolerance and support I have received myself is remarkable," and, "I don't think there is any other country in the world where different people from different countries are as accepted and welcomed as members of a society."

Rosita S. Noer, who just completed studies at Harvard, said she found the scenes "too hard-sell."

"When I was in Harvard Square after Sept. 11," she said, "I heard young people saying very hard things about Muslims."

For the videos to make a more convincing case to skeptical Indonesians, said Muhammad Rusmadi, a journalist at the Islamic newspaper, Rakyat Merdeka, he would have liked to see American Muslims actually living alongside people of other religions. "It would be good to see American Muslims interacting with American Jews," he said.

It would be even better, said Mr. Rusmadi, for American officials to go to Islamic schools and to make their case directly to students.

The videos shown today are intended for a number of Islamic countries. So far, the Egyptian government has declined to allow them to be shown on its television stations, saying it does not accept paid programming from a foreign country, an American diplomat in Cairo said. But the embassy was still pursuing the case, he said. In Pakistan, the programs have not yet been offered to the government-run television station because of the uncertainties in the aftermath of the recent election, in which militant Islamic parties showed surprising strength, an American official there said.

Indonesia was chosen as the first country to see the series of videos because it is the most populous Muslim country, a State Department official said. Neighboring Malaysia is scheduled to begin airing the series next week.

Discussions about showing the videos are under way with a number of countries in the Middle East, including those in the Persian Gulf. There are no plans at this time to show the series in Saudi Arabia, the State Department official said. Officials hope to show the videos in Jordan but have no definite schedule yet.

In many countries, the videos will be shown on government-run television and will need to win the approval of government censors. In some places where American foreign policy is a major source of irritation, this may be tough. The target audience is the "nonelite," 15- to 59-year-olds, he said. In all, $10 million to $15 million will be spent on production, research and buying television time. The advertising company McCann-Erickson produced the videos based on the State Department's research. The department hopes the videos will run in many of the target countries through Ramadan, which begins in early November and ends in early December.

Ramadan was deemed a suitable period for the videos because it is a time when Muslims concentrate on family and spiritual life, themes that the videos try to reflect.

Special efforts will be made to give audiences here in Indonesia, elsewhere in Asia and in the Middle East the chance to respond to the videos and the print campaign accompanying them, the official said. A special booklet in local languages with articles about Muslim life in the United States will be distributed with a tear sheet in the back asking readers to send their reactions to either a local post box number in the country or directly to the State Department.

The characters in the videos, like Ms. Ismail, will also be made available for two-way satellite interviews.

To the protests that the characters presented a pretty veneer to the complicated picture of Muslim life in America, Mr. Boyce said, "We will take that on board."

 

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Pakistanis Mixed on Religious Parties

(AP, October 17, 2002)

A stack of Qurans sit in uneasy proximity to a rack of Cosmopolitan magazines at a crammed Islamabad book shop; its owner worries recent gains by religious parties will be bad for business.

As a Muslim, bookstore owner Khalid Mahmood says he has no problem with religion. It's when it gets mixed in with the business of politics that things get sticky.

``We want freedom and business,'' said Mahmood, 40, from behind his shop counter on Wednesday.

The religious parties, he says, ``are against the economy of Pakistan, against the freedom of the Pakistani people.''

In the same shopping complex, the manager of a recently opened Pizza Hut explains that once a month he invites local Muslim clerics and their students for free pizzas to clarify that it is a locally run franchise whose money is going into local, not Western hands.

Tensions with the West came to a head in last week's general elections when an alliance of hard-line Islamic parties won a surprising 45 seats in the 342-member National Assembly, making them a player in talks to form a coalition government. Running on a virulently anti-American platform, they promised to withdraw Pakistan's support for the United States in its war on terror and vowed to push its troops off Pakistani soil.

They are also committed to enforcing strict Islamic law.

Many Pakistanis downplay the impact of the bloc of religious parties, known as the United Action Forum, pointing out that their major power bases are rooted in the country's two most rural provinces, areas steeped in religion and poverty. Both border Afghanistan, and many who live there have relatives who went to fight for the Taliban.

The parties ``may pursue their manifesto, but they are not in a position to bring any overall change in the society,'' said Malik Suhail Ahmed, a 40-year-old real estate agent in the southern port city of Karachi.

At the Islamabad Pizza Hut, manager Salman Ahmed said religious party voters were manipulated.

``I think these political parties used religion to get a mandate,'' said Ahmed, 27. ``Their anti-Western propaganda won't get us anywhere in the world. We have people dying from poverty, we have other issues.''

Just a few steps away from the neon signs and air conditioning of the restaurant, Momina Ali Khan, 19, licks her melting chocolate-vanilla swirl ice cream cone and denounces America.

A first-time voter, she cast her ballot for the religious parties.

``I'm looking for a better future. They are promising Islam, of being an independent country not living on world aid, (but) standing up on our own two feet,'' said Khan, a computer student. ``All of us are really against America here.''

The religious bloc, whose posters still festoon the shopping center walls with slogans of ``The Victory is Near,'' have not said how they might tackle some of the most daunting of the impoverished country's problems: education, health care and poverty eradication.

In the city of Lahore, 160 miles south of Islamabad, the anti-American sentiment was echoed by Mohammed Tufail as he dished out plates of bread and lentils from a small stand.

``We are happy about the victory of the religious parties. We voted for them to express our hatred of America,'' said Tufail, 40. ``Only this can teach America a lesson.''

Resenting America did not begin with the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan, pursuing al-Qaida and Taliban fugitives in the war against terror. It's part of a broader cultural backlash in the region against Western influence, both political and cultural.

In the last few years, Pakistan has been home to an infusion of Western influence. Fast food restaurants are packed and music videos and Hollywood movies crowd television broadcasts.

The blend of traditional and modern can be heard in the hum of Quranic verses from the loudspeakers of an Islamabad music shop as it opens each morning. The same speakers soon pound with the thump of rap music.

Shella Gul, a 37-year-old English teacher, covers her hair with a sheer beige scarf in accordance with Muslim rules of modesty. It spills over her matching traditional tunic.

But for her, the rise of the religious parties is bad news.

``I don't like it at all because they give the wrong version of Islam,'' she said, browsing at the music shop. ``They make (Islam) seem like a fanatical religion.''

Waiting for a bus in Lahore, Sadia Jalil is also disturbed by the religious bloc victory.

``It will hamper our foreign policy. Who in the world will care to talk to these Osama look-alikes?'' asked the 32-year-old homemaker.

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Italian author slams Islam's 'hate' for West

by Tom Carter ("Washington Times," October 23, 2002)

     The Islamic world is engaged in a cultural war with the West and the worst is still to come, Italian author Oriana Fallaci told a receptive Washington audience last night. 
     Spinning off a long list of Islamic countries, she told a group of about 80 people: "The hate for the West swells like a fire fed by the wind.
     "The clash between us and them is not a military one. It is a cultural one, a religious one, and the worst is still to come," she continued in what she said was her first public address in more than a decade.
     Tight security was in place for the speech at the American Enterprise Institute after death threats were issued against her and her attorney as a result of her latest book, "The Rage and the Pride," which contains harsh criticism of Muslims.
     The book, which she called a "sermon" to Europe, was written in New York in the two weeks after September 11 as the smoke and dust from the destruction of the World Trade Center blanketed the city.
     Miss Fallaci contends in the angry polemic that the only difference between "moderate Islam" and "radical Islam" is the length of their beards.
     She said last night that critics have attempted to ban the book or have her arrested in France, Belgium, Switzerland and Italy. The 72-year-old author described these efforts as "intellectual terrorism."
     Miss Fallaci, who lives in New York and is afflicted with cancer, also criticizes Western culture for its loose morals and licentiousness.
     "Freedom cannot exist without discipline, self-discipline, and rights cannot exist without duties. Those who do not observe their duties do not deserve their rights," she said.
     In her prime, Miss Fallaci was famed as a belligerent journalist and argumentative interviewer, who had unprecedented access to the world's most reclusive and wary leaders.
     A partisan in the Italian resistance in World War II and a lifelong leftist, she once became so disgusted while interviewing Iran's Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that she ripped off her head scarf and threw it in his face.
     The act of defiance was considered an unpardonable sin in the ayatollah's Iran.
     "The Rage and the Pride," originally published in an Italian newspaper and then as a book, has sold more than 1 million copies in Italy and has been popular in Germany and France as well. All three nations have large Muslim immigrant populations.
     Variously praised as the painful truth or decried as a "bigoted, anti-Muslim screed," Miss Fallaci's book is under threat of judicial action in France for inciting racial hatred.
     A lawsuit brought by the Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between People, a Muslim human rights group, is demanding that the book be banned in France.
     In a ruling yesterday that may affect her case, a French court acquitted best-selling French author Michel Houellebecq of charges of racial insult and inciting racial hatred for calling Islam the "dumbest religion."
     The Paris court threw out the case brought by officials from the main mosques in Paris and the central-eastern city of Lyon and other Muslim groups after an interview Mr. Houellebecq gave to the French literary magazine Lire.
     "The dumbest religion, after all, is Islam," he told the magazine. "When you read the Koran, you're shattered. The Bible at least is beautifully written because the Jews have a heck of a literary talent."
     While the court ruled that the 44-year-old author's comments were "without a doubt characterized by neither a particularly noble outlook nor by the subtlety of their phrasing," they did not constitute a punishable offense.
     While Mr. Houellebecq indeed had expressed hatred for Islam as a religion, the court said, he had not expressed hatred for Muslims, nor did he encourage others to share his views or discriminate against Muslims.
     Miss Fallaci, in her first book in more than 10 years, said she was prompted to write by demonstrations throughout the Muslim world and in pockets of Europe celebrating the September 11 attacks on the United States.
     Her anger, based on years of reporting in Muslim countries, is evident. Her detractors call the work an incitement to kill Muslims.
     Unrepentant, Miss Fallaci calls the downing of the Twin Towers an act of cultural war and says the superior Western civilization must stand up and defeat Islam.
     "War you wanted, war you want? Good. As far as I am concerned, war it is and war it will be. Until the last breath," she writes.

 

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More women of Islamic faith opting to wear traditional veils

by Mae Ghalwash ("Houston Chronicle," September 08, 2002)

FOR MORE THAN a year after converting to the Muslim religion, the 20-year-old Houston woman had worn her short, blond hair under a scarf in accordance with Islamic rule. Then on Sept. 11, fearing reprisal, her family of devout Christians barred her from leaving the house.

When she ventured out a week later, the woman had taken a further step in her religious journey. She had drawn a veil across her face, allowing only her eyes to peep through.

"My family ... wanted me to stay home," the woman, who now is married and baby-sits at her local mosque, recalled. "They wouldn't let me go out and get fresh air or groceries and live my life. I wanted to show that I wasn't scared."

The woman is one of a number of young Muslim women in Houston -- students, professionals, homemakers, old or new adherents to the faith -- who choose to wear the modest Muslim attire. Like most of the 10 women interviewed, Leslie spoke on condition that she be identified only by her first name.

For some, the events of Sept. 11 prompted them to don the hijab, which reveals only the face and hands, or the niqab, which shrouds all but the eyes like the burqa, a term that may be more familiar to Americans recently attuned to Islamic customs. Most of the women interviewed said they had increased how much they cover after Sept. 11 and report more of their friends are doing the same.

Muslim scholars are still debating the extent of how much a Muslim woman should cover up for the sake of modesty. They agree that Islam mandates women should at least wear the hijab.

The Sept. 11 attacks jolted Muslims as it did the rest of America. As the churches and synagogues filled, so too did the mosques. Muslims tried to find comfort in God and answer painful questions, such as whether their faith could sanction such an atrocity, and how they could respond to general misconceptions.

"I think Sept. 11 gave me a nudge. Misconceptions surfaced (about Islam), and I felt I needed to represent Islam," said Delanna Garcia, 18, a University of Houston psychology student who has long covered her hair, but since Sept. 11 has been wearing the niqab from time to time.

By occasionally wearing her niqab on campus or out shopping, Garcia, who converted to Islam at age 12 with her mother, hopes that she balances the television images of Afghan women who were ordered by law to reveal only their eyes, and who were barred from working and getting an education.

"By wearing niqab, people would see I didn't wear it by force," she said. "Hopefully I eliminated some misconceptions."

Surprisingly, perhaps, these women, who have lived all or most of their young lives in the United States, are often choosing to wear the veil or niqab against the will of their families, who immigrated from Muslim countries.

Ramza Abdul-Wahid, 20, a UH nutrition student from India, concedes that her parents "were not fond of ... me wearing niqab," and asked her to "think long and hard" about it before deciding to do so.

The women said their actions were more than simply a response to Sept. 11. They cover, they said, not for their husbands, fathers, brothers or any male relative, but to submit completely to God's will.

"In Islam, we veil for Allah, not for our husbands," said Susan, 21, a Hispanic convert and homemaker who wears a black niqab. "If you veil for your husband, there is no point to it."

Another merit they cited seems akin to modern-day feminism: Being shrouded forces people to judge them for their personalities and abilities rather than for their appearance or sexuality.

"I'm not judged as a woman ... whether I'm fat, blond, rich, poor," Leslie said. "(People) have to know me and how I think. I've never experienced as much freedom as I am now."

Still, covering up does draw attention.

"When I wear the hijab, people try to be extra nice to show that they are not against Islam," Garcia said. "But the niqab is strange to them still. I don't immediately realize why people are staring at me when I wear it. I forget that I look strange to them."

Susan recalled feeling uneasy one day as suspicious -- or merely curious -- shoppers stared as she carried a fast-food box through a department store.

"Everyone's eyes were on that box," she said. "I thought, `It's only hot dogs!' "

And Sarah Ahmed, 20, an Egyptian-American who wears a black niqab, said she has heard children in stores innocently asking their mothers whether she is hiding, or if she's a monster.

"Sometimes, if no one is looking, I'll flash (the child) my face to show them I'm human," she said.

The women do not believe they are alienating themselves from society. They concede their lives are different -- they don't date or go to bars, have given up makeup and perfume, and confine their salsa and meringue dancing to all-women parties. But they say they participate in school functions, take part in activities such as cancer walks or international fairs, or volunteer at various hospitals. One woman said she works out in a gym in sweats -- and a scarf over her hair.

"I hope (mainstream America) would think of me as part of the society, as a normal person who has the right to express their religion, because that's what is guaranteed to everyone who lives in America," said Abdul-Wahid.

"If you go to the beach you'll find people wearing all kinds of clothing, and no one stops them. This is my way of expressing myself with how I feel about my religion."


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Muslims Test Russia's Tolerance
Court Dispute Over Head Scarves Reflects Religious and Nationalist Tensions

by Susan B. Glasser ("Washington Post," September 09, 2002)

KAZAN, Russia

Almira Adyatullina pulled out her tattered Soviet internal passport, which she must still carry with her at all times. In somber black and white, it shows her as she was 15 years ago, with dark curly hair, round glasses and a frown on her face.

Today, she is a different woman, a woman of Islam. Her hair, long since turned white, is covered by a white scarf, her short sleeves abandoned for a demure baggy dress.

Here in the semi-autonomous republic of Tatarstan, Adyatullina's passport has become a matter of high politics, the unlikely subject of legal wrangling and presidential pronouncements. Required to trade in her Soviet-era ID for a new Russian passport, Adyatullina refused when she learned of a government decree that she could not wear her head scarf in the picture.

Instead, she and more than a dozen other Muslim women launched unprecedented court cases, declaring the new policy a violation of the religion they have embraced since the Soviet Union's collapse.

Their cases have tested the limits of Russia's tolerance for the rebirth of Islam inside its borders. Last week, President Vladimir Putin weighed in during a visit to this city, a mixture of mosques and Orthodox churches topped with onion domes. Putin scornfully dismissed the centuries-old Islamic tradition of head scarves as nothing more than a "fashion" that might disappear in a few years. There must be national standards for passports, he said, and women with such scarves don't meet them.

"They say this is a fashion, and it will go away. This is absurd," said Adyatullina, 64, as she showed off souvenirs from her pilgrimage to Mecca. "For a Muslim woman, this is like telling us to go outside without pants on. They are violating our rights to religious freedom. I am an old woman and I am going to die soon -- I just want to live according to Allah."

For Russia's estimated 20 million Muslims, the matter of the head scarves has become a symbol of their uneasy status. The leadership in Moscow is waging a long-running war against Chechen rebels it calls Islamic terrorists. Since the attacks last September against the United States, Muslims here have complained bitterly of a backlash, an "Islamaphobia," as Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev put it to a Russian interviewer.

Such complaints are particularly resonant here in Tatarstan, an independent-minded republic of 4 million located in the center of Russia, 500 miles from Moscow. For a decade, the region has sought as much freedom as it could get from Moscow -- short of going to war to get it -- and leaders here believe that Russian politicians in the central government have seized on the Tatars' Islamic heritage as a pretext to crack down on what is mostly a nationalist movement.

"Praying five times a day is not dangerous. Wearing a head scarf is not dangerous. The struggle against terrorism has nothing to do with women in head scarves," said Rimzil Valiyev, a Tatar nationalist leader. "But whenever there is a political storm in Russia, they take it out on the Tatars. They crack down on us as a prophylactic measure against Islam whenever there is a problem in Russia."

All across Russia, Muslims have reported instances of harassment since Sept. 11. A Muslim cemetery was desecrated in Krasnodar in southern Russia. A mysterious shooting took place inside a mosque in Irkutsk, Siberia. In Volgograd, Valiyev recalled, a gang broke into a mosque construction site an hour before the groundbreaking ceremony, and local officials told the distressed delegation, "We don't need a mosque here."

In Tatarstan, where the population is almost evenly divided between Muslim Tatars and ethnic Russians, some Muslim women reported being harassed on the street, their scarves ripped off their heads. Mullahs were no longer invited to open Tatar political meetings with prayers after Sept. 11 for fear of controversy, and religious activists began arguing that a tolerant, nonviolent version of Islam has always prevailed here.

This spring, a delegation of leaders from Moscow arrived on an official mission to investigate claims of extremism among Tatarstan's Muslims. "After September 11, we had to show that Muslims here had nothing to do with terrorism," said a top local official.

"In the last year there has been a lot of fear in Kazan," said Zulfat Gavdullin, a teacher here at the Mohammediya madrassa, or Islamic school, that has about 1,000 students. "Our republic is a key part of the Russian Federation, and many people don't like that there is a renaissance of Islam here."

The history of Islam in Tatarstan has been a troubled one ever since Ivan the Terrible conquered the region for Russia in 1552 and burned down the great mosque in Kazan's kremlin. In the centuries that followed, Islam was officially repressed by the Russians, with many of Tatarstan's mosques closed and its citizens forcibly converted to Christianity.

In the 19th century, during a brief period of liberalization, Kazan became the center of Islamic thought in the far-flung Russian empire, propounding a progressive Sunni theology known as Jadidism.

The Soviet Union was officially atheist, and sought to stamp out religion. Tatarstan's famed mosques and madrassas were shut down, its mullahs exiled or killed, and Islam was dormant here, as elsewhere in Russia, remembered only in secret prayers behind locked village doors and in the whispered reminiscences of grandparents. By the time of the Soviet collapse in 1991, there was only a single functioning mosque in Kazan.

But with the Soviet Union's demise, Islam flourished again. Today, there are an estimated 1,000 mosques in Tatarstan, including the grand new incarnation of the Kul Sharif mosque that Shaimiev is rebuilding inside the Kazan kremlin with money from the Saudi-based Islamic Development Bank. Religious education has boomed, with the opening of a Russian Islamic University in 1998 and permission to reopen madrassas like the Mohammediya, closed since the time of the czars.

As with any religious revival, there are many gradations to this reborn faith -- from the young woman who wears a dress that fits like a revealing glove along with her head scarf, to the one who sports a tight T-shirt and admits to drinking alcohol but says she has discovered Allah. Head scarves, while growing more popular, are still a rarity on the streets of Kazan, and it is the sound of Christian church bells, not the Muslim call to prayer, that rings out over the kremlin in the morning. Many here say, as Valiyev did, that "we are Tatars first, Muslims second."

But religious extremism is also part of this new mix, although many here are reluctant to discuss it. "There was a spiritual vacuum here after 70 years of communism and many extremist movements decided to use this vacuum," said Gulfiya Gainytdinova, 23, who said one of her acquaintances joined up with the Chechen rebels. "It exists -- we can't deny this fact."

In the industrial city of Naberezhnye Chelny, 125 miles from here, a madrassa was closed last year when authorities claimed religious extremism was being taught there. Russian media reported that some of the school's students had turned up fighting alongside rebels in Chechnya. And at least two of the seven Russian citizens captured by the United States in Afghanistan and held at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, also allegedly passed through the madrassa.

Shaimiev's regional government, fearful of a backlash from Moscow, has tried to control the new religious fervor. The government has a Muslim "spiritual administration" to run Islamic activities and closely regulates the curricula at all registered religious schools. Teachers from Saudi Arabia and other Muslim countries have been kicked out in recent months, replaced with a small number of government-approved teachers from two of the "most reformed, most progressive" universities in Egypt and Jordan, according to Shaimiev's adviser, Rafael Khakimov.

At the same time, however, it is Shaimiev's own fight with Moscow that has helped make Tatarstan's Muslim renaissance into a political issue, according to government officials and religious activists here. A Soviet-era bureaucrat turned Tatar nationalist, Shaimiev has adopted symbols of the Tatars' Muslim heritage, like the reborn Kul Sharif mosque, to advance his own cause of maximum autonomy for the republic.

After Putin took office two years ago, he moved to rein in many semi-autonomous regions in Russia. He appointed super-governors to oversee the elected regional chiefs, and changed the way the regions were represented in the Russian legislature. This put Shaimiev on the defensive with the central government.

A decade ago, Shaimiev declared Tatarstan a sovereign republic and signed a treaty with Moscow outlining Tatarstan's rights as a member of the Russian Federation. Many regions negotiated similar treaties with Moscow. Putin, however, has demanded that the treaties be scrapped; Tatarstan is the only one of Russia's 89 regions still to have such an agreement. Now, Shaimiev is in the midst of heated negotiations with the president on what will replace it.

In such a delicate political situation, a decree that started turning up around Tatarstan this spring had an unexpectedly explosive effect. Headlined "Information for Muslim women," the notice from the federal Ministry of Internal Affairs warned that their wish to be photographed for internal passports with their heads covered would henceforth be considered "in contradiction" with the rules. The decree apparently applied only in Tatarstan and seemed to target the region with a security restriction for a problem that had never mattered before Sept. 11.

Some women had already gotten their new passports with their head scarves on. But Adyatullina and many other newly avid Muslims had not. In the city of Nizhnekamsk, not far from Kazan, three women decided to sue, while Adyatullina collected another group of plaintiffs in Kazan.

Their cases immediately caused a sensation when a court ruled in early August against the Nizhnekamsk women. Last week, the Supreme Court of Tatarstan upheld the ruling.

"If all this was happening at a different moment in time, no one would notice. But this case of the women has provoked such political noise because of the increased tensions with Moscow," said Lyubov Aigeyeva, a top aide in the Tatarstan State Council.

But to women such as Adyatullina, it's a matter far beyond the politics of the moment. "The Russian constitution guarantees us freedom of religion," she said. "They are violating a very simple human right here."

 

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Moluccas Buffeted by Religious Violence

("Zenit.org," September 08, 2002)

JAKARTA, Indonesia, SEPT. 8, 2002 - Rioting has erupted in the religiously divided Molucca Islands following the reported killing of three women, BBC reported.

Mobs rioted in a predominantly Muslim quarter of the regional capital, Ambon, and set fire to a van carrying Christians, police said. One person was burned to death, BBC said.

The rioting was apparently triggered by news that three Muslim women had been shot dead on a beach on the island of Sapura.

The Moluccas, about 2,300 kilometers (1,400 miles) east of Jakarta, have been plagued by Muslim-Christian clashes since January 1999. More than 5,000 people have been killed in the violence. Fighting has continued despite a peace accord signed by both communities in February.

On Thursday, three teen-age girls were killed when a homemade bomb went off at a sports center in Ambon. A 20-year-old woman later died of her injuries.

Indonesian Vice President Hamzah Haz blamed the bombing on agitators who, he said, wanted to destabilize the country, BBC reported. He denied the attack was motivated by religious rivalry.

 

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Muslims, Christians wrangle over 9/11 comments

by Julia Duin ("Washington Times," August 23, 2002)

     Should Muslim clerics apologize in the name of their faith for the massacre of September 11, and rebuke their radicals who preach Islamist jihad? 
     The Rev. Franklin Graham, a prominent Baptist evangelist, says yes, and his remarks have angered Muslims and offended some Christians.
     Some Protestant and many Muslim leaders have scolded the evangelist for his remarks during a press tour for his latest book, "The Name."
     Others, including Christian churchmen and secular pundits, have applauded his remarks, made in newspaper and television interviews.
     Muslim spokesmen say there will never be an apology because their religion was not to blame for the September 11 attacks, in which more than 3,000 persons died.
     Faiz Rehman of the American Muslim Council says 400 to 500 Muslims died at the World Trade Center and notes that many Muslims attended prayer services and vigils near ground zero.
      "But most of the media didn't show us going there," he said. "Apologizing means owning it. Why would we apologize? Why do our American fellow citizens expect us to apologize for the acts of a few criminals? Most of the Muslims in this country felt terrible about it. Mr. Graham comes up with this stuff whenever he wants to promote a book. Since he claims to be on a higher moral ground, let him apologize for slavery and Ku Klux Klan crimes and the Crusades and for the crimes against Jews in the Holocaust and other things done in the name of Christianity. Then we'll think about it."
     Christians have, in fact, often apologized for acts done in the name of their faith. Pope John Paul II apologized two years ago for all wrongs done by Catholics, including participation in the Crusades, a bloody attempt to seize the Holy Land between the 11th and 14th centuries. From 1997 to 1999, more than a thousand evangelical Protestants hiked through the Middle East wearing T-shirts emblazoned with the message "I apologize" in Arabic.
     Patrice Brodeur, a scholar of Islam from Connecticut College, says "corporate repentance" is not part of Islamic theology. "Theologically, from a Muslim perspective, people are only responsible individually for their actions," he said. "They do disagree with the killing of innocent victims in the name of jihad, but they can't take it upon themselves to apologize for other members of the community who did something wrong."
     David Cook, a scholar of Islam at Rice University in Houston, says the lack of apologies is due to conspiracy theories abundant in the Middle East.
     "Traveling about the Islamic world this summer, I found no one who believed al Qaeda did it, even though al Qaeda has long since admitted they did it," he said. "They say it was the Jews who did it or that President Bush knew about it. The conspiracy theories are deflecting a sense of responsibility. One of the characteristics of Islam is there's no hierarchy or leadership that would say they are the responsible ones, comparable to the pope or the National Council of Churches.
     "Franklin's criticism is to some extent justified, but he does frame it in a very polemical way, leading people to think he is out to get Islam."
     William F. Buckley Jr., a Catholic, defended Mr. Graham in a widely remarked commentary in the National Review. "The charges by the Rev. Franklin Graham are not only justified, they are unanswerable," he wrote . "It is Dr. Graham's point that if we assume, for the sake of ecumenical bonhomie, that the terrorists were not really representing Islam, that they were extremists torturing the word of the Prophet, okay. Then that is exactly what we should be told by men of Islam in authority. And that should be easy to do, inasmuch as the high priests of the Islamic world are also its secular leaders: The Muslim religion does not condone the separation of church and state.
     "What Dr. Graham is being so widely criticized for saying is that the people in charge in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Indonesia and other Muslim countries should handle the al Qaeda problem less detachedly than they have done. There were expressions of regret, on Sept. 12, from the leaders of the Islamic world, but none of them repentant."
     Alan Godlas, religion professor at the University of Georgia, says Muslims feel no compulsion to make amends. "To make an apology for these actions would be to take responsibility for them," he says. "But these terrorist acts were so extreme that any Muslim would say such actions have no place in Islam."
     Mr. Graham, the son of the famous evangelist the Rev. Billy Graham, argues that Christians would have apologized in similar circumstances. "If a Roman Catholic put on dynamite and walked into a mosque in Saudi Arabia, in Medina or Mecca, and said, 'In the name of Jesus Christ and the church of Rome, I now blow you all up,' and then took his life and killed everybody around him, the pope would be on television within hours denouncing this man and saying he does not represent the Church," Franklin Graham told Fox TV interviewers Sean Hannity and Alan Colmes.
     "And they would be raising money, not for the family of this man, but they would be raising money for those Muslim victims that died. There has not been the condemnation from the [Muslim] clerics."
     Though there has been little clerical criticism of the virulent Islamist denunciation of the West, particularly in Saudi Arabia and in many of the Islamic schools in the West financed by Saudis, a coalition of Muslim leaders and students stood outside the Red Cross building in Washington the day after the attacks, condemning them, and saying they would donate blood as a show of solidarity with the victims. Several Middle Eastern embassies took out full-page newspaper ads expressing condolences. The Council on American-Islamic Relations, which has been linked to radical Islamist groups in the Middle East, condemned "these vicious and cowardly acts of terrorism." Several American mosques held blood drives, joined candlelight vigils and collected money for victims of the attacks.
      Mr. Graham argued that this misses his point. "I'm not attacking Muslims, OK?" he said in an interview earlier with The Washington Times. "How come Muslim clerics haven't gone to ground zero and had a prayer vigil and apologized to the nation in the name of Islam?"
     Steven Judd, a scholar of Islam at Southern Connecticut State University, likens the sentiments of many Muslims to the views of Christians about the Ku Klux Klan. "Most people don't consider [the Klan] to be a Christian group or to have anything to do with core Christian beliefs," he says, "even though the Klan uses Christian themes and various Bible verses."

 

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Iranian reformist scholar to stand trial for denouncing clerics

(AP, July 02, 2002)

TEHRAN, Iran - A leading reformist will face trial for denouncing Iranian hard-line clerics in a speech last month, the official Islamic Republic News Agency reported on Tuesday.

Hashem Aghajari, a university teacher and reformist scholar, has been charged with "insulting Islamic sanctities," the agency quoted judiciary official Zekrollah Ahmadi as saying.

Aghajari will stand trial in Hamedan, a provincial capital in western Iran, where he made a speech last month, the agency said. It was unclear when the trial will begin. The agency gave no further details.

Aghajari, a member of the reformist Organization of Islamic Revolution Mujahedeen, was unavailable for comment.

According to media reports, Aghajari denounced reactionary conservative clerics during a public speech and urged Iranians not to "blindly follow" religious leaders. He also sought "religious renewal."

After losing control of parliament in February 2000 legislative elections, hard-line followers of Iran's supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, have tried to protect their eroding power by thwarting President Mohammad Khatami's growing reform movement.

Hard-liners, through their control over unelected institutions such as the judiciary and police, have closed down pro-democracy publications and jailed or harassed scores of prominent reformist journalists and activists.

Iranian political freedoms and the rule of law have been controlled by conservative Muslim clerics since the 1979 Islamic revolution.


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Papuan Christians Fear Onslaught in Indonesia

("Worthynews.com," July 02, 2002)

Christians in the Indonesian province of Papua (Irian Jaya) are fearful that a violent campaign could be unleashed against them later this year as Laskar Jihad Islamic militants continue to flood into the province with the apparent collusion of the authorities.

A recent report from Australia's Uniting Church, details the concerns of local Christians, who make up over 70% of the province's population.  A number of Laskar Jihad military training camps are now situated in the province and military instruction is now taking place quite openly in the compounds of some mosques every afternoon.  In the area of Fak Fak over 175 boats carrying Laskar Jihad personnel and equipment are said to have arrived along the coast since April.  Meanwhile several Christians have reported discovering stockpiles of weapons which they fear could be used against them later this year.  A number of Pakistani and Afghan mujahideen are thought to have come to join in the jihad against local Christians have been sighted.  Laskar Jihad's magazine, which contains articles attacking Christians, Jews and the US, is now being sold openly in markets in Papua, and T-shirts, DVDs and books on Osama bin Laden are also on sale.

Laskar Jihad is reportedly forming links with local authorities, police and army units, and with the pro-Jakarta militia Satgas Merah Putih which opposes Papuan calls for independence from Indonesia.  Laskar Jihad is also believed to be insinuating itself with the local Muslim population, although the majority of Papuan Muslims still reject the Jihad's presence as a dangerous destabilising factor in an already extremely tense region.  Local Christians believe the failure of police and army units to stop Laskar Jihad from expanding its military campaign into Papua implies complicity in the Jihad's activities.  Four Laskar Jihad members carrying homemade guns were recently seized by Christians and handed over to the authorities.  No action was taken against them.  Others who have reported Laskar Jihad activities to the authorities say that they have been harassed, threatened with arrest themselves, and even received intimidating phone calls late at night.

Melanesian West Papua was annexed by Indonesia in 1963, since which time the majority-Christian Papuan people have struggled for their independence from repressive Indonesian rule.  The arrival of the Laskar Jihad, which since May 2000 has been responsible for murdering, or forcibly converting and circumcising thousands of Christians in a genocidal holy war in Indonesia's Moluccas and Sulawesi regions, has prompted fears that the group could be used as a militia by the military to repress the local Melanesian Christian population.  During its occupation of East Timor Indonesia gained international notoriety for allowing pro-Indonesian militias to brutally terrorise the local Timorese population with impunity.  Now Papua's Christians fear that Laskar Jihad will be given a free hand to do the same there.

 

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Lawyers plan to appeal death sentence of Pakistani Christian convicted of blasphemy

by Massoud Ansari (AP, July 01, 2002)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan - Lawyers of a 25-year-old Christian sentenced to death because he converted to Christianity said Monday they would challenge his conviction in the Pakistani High Court.

"We are confident that the higher court would set it aside," says Mahboob Ali Khan, a lawyer for the Human Rights Commission of Pakistan.

Aslam Masih was arrested in May 2000 and charged under Pakistan's blasphemy laws which carries the death penalty for those convicted of defiling the Quran or blaspheming Islam and its' founder, the prophet Mohammed.

Masih was born a Christian, but converted to Islam and then reconverted to Christianity.

The blasphemy case started in early 2000 when Masih's employer, Rana Nisah Ahmad, a member of the Sunni Tehrik religious militant group, told police that Masih said he only converted to Islam in order to marry a Muslim woman.

He then reconverted to Christianity and, according to Ahmad's statement, made derogatory remarks about the prophet Mohammed. Masih has been in jail since the accusations were made in May, 2000.

Masih, from a poor family, was provided a state, or "pauper's" lawyer to defend him.

Under Pakistani law, only the word of a Muslim accuser is needed to prosecute a non-Muslim defendant on blasphemy charges. Punishment, if found guilty is death.

The law has been sharply criticized by human rights organizations both in Pakistan and internationally.

The appeals chances of success weren't immediately clear.

"The court's conscious is fully satisfied with the verdict," said Mohammed Rafiq, the trial judge, after announcing the verdict.

Human rights campaigners say the blasphemy law has been frequently used for religious persecution and for settling personal scores against the minority communities.

Muslims make up 97.6 percent of Pakistan's people while Hindus account for 1.5 percent and Christians, among the poorest of the religious group, make up 1.7 percent.

Scores of Christians and members of other minority religions in Pakistan have been convicted and jailed under the blasphemy law. In several cases the death penalty has been handed down but no one has yet been executed.

Pakistan's military ruler, President Pervez Musharraf, tried to change the blasphemy law in 2000, but changed his mind under pressure of the Muslim clergy.

A U.S. State Department report published in 2000 says that when blasphemy and other cases involving religion are brought to court in Pakistan, extremists often pack the courtroom and make public threats about the dire consequences if acquittals are granted.

A judge was murdered in 1997 after acquitting two Christian defendants. On June 8, this year two Christian advocates were threatened for helping defend Christian accused of blasphemy.


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Charges dropped in Afghan blasphemy row
Dr Samar denies any slur against Islam
("BBC News," June 26, 2002)
 
Afghanistan's Supreme Court has thrown out a blasphemy charge against outgoing Minister for Woman's Affairs Sima Samar, who is accused of insulting Islam.

Deputy Chief Justice Fazel Ahmad Manawi said "many people" had complained about her, but the case had been dropped for lack of evidence.
Dr Samar categorically rejects hardliners' claims that she does not believe in Islamic Sharia law.

She has been one of two women serving in Hamid Karzai's interim cabinet since December, but did not keep her post in the new administration.

It is not clear whether her apparent demise as a minister is linked to the blasphemy charges.
'Afghanistan's Salman Rushdie'
On 13 June, Dr Samar was attacked in a letter printed by the newspaper Mujahed.

It called her "Afghanistan's Salman Rushdie" and implied that she was guilty of blasphemy for giving an interview in which she allegedly said she did not believe in Sharia law.

Mujahed, meaning "holy warrior", is printed by the Jamiat-e-Islami, the party of conservative former President Burhanuddin Rabbani.
Ms Samar has since visited the chief justice, his deputy said, and denied insulting Islam.
"She insisted that she is a believer in Islam," Mr Manawi told Reuters. "So the court has changed its mind about prosecuting her.
"We have freedom of expression, but no one has the right to slander Islam, especially one who has been in the government."
Safety fears

Dr Samar has been Afghanistan's most high-profile woman since US-backed troops forced the Taleban from power last year.

But her outspoken attacks on the way woman are treated in Afghanistan have angered many religious hardliners.
In an interview on Sunday, she said she now fears for her safety and wants protection, but none has been provided.
"I really don't know what my mistake was," she told the Associated Press.
"I am a woman, I am outspoken, I am a Hazara - that's enough, I guess."

 

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Malaysian leader vows to obstruct bid to impose Islamic law

(AP, June 18, 2002)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad vowed Tuesday to obstruct an attempt by a state ruled by a fundamentalist party to impose harsh Islamic laws.

Mahathir accused the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party of playing politics rather than upholding religious principles. The party runs two of the 13 states in this moderate, predominantly Muslim country.

Mahathir said that his government would obstruct the Terengganu state government from imposing Islamic criminal law, or hudud. Among other things, women could be whipped 80 times if they falsely allege rape.

Passing the state law would be largely symbolic, since the federal government controls law enforcement and the constitution guarantees secular laws.

"There are no Islamic laws which are unfair and unjust," Mahathir said, quoted by the national news agency, Bernama. "If there are any laws which are unfair and unjust, they are un-Islamic, and it is obvious that their laws are unfair and unjust."

Mahathir spoke to reporters on the opening day of the annual conference of his United Malays National Organization, which competes with the fundamentalists for the votes of the majority Malay Muslims.

The fundamentalist party, which won control of northeastern Terengganu state in 1999, is expected to introduce the hudud bill in the legislature next month.

UMNO is the largest party in a coalition government that also includes representatives of the large Chinese and Indian minorities, who are mostly non-Muslim.

The fundamentalists say they hudud laws would not affect non-Muslims.

Islam is Malaysia's official religion. The opposition Democratic Action Party, supported mostly by ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians, has criticized Mahathir for saying that Malaysia is a de facto Islamic state.

Mahathir has argued that the Islamic nature of Malaysia makes the fundamentalist campaign to turn the country into an Islamic state a moot point. The fundamentalists say Malaysia is not Islamic enough.

 

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Who's in charge on Turkish team: coach or Islam?
As Turkey prepares to face Brazil Tuesday, a national debate swirls in the country over role of Islam on team.
The Christian Science Monitor,")
Has Turkey, with its embattled economy and its bedridden prime minister, finally found a panacea in football? Judging by the scenes on Saturday following the Turkish team's first-ever qualification for the World Cup semifinals – yes. In Ankara and Istanbul, sleep was nearly impossible as thousands of jubilant fans danced all night in the streets.

In packed bars, discussion mainly centered on Turkish striker Hakan Sukur's dreadful form. But the papers have been full of a controversy characteristic of the tensions between Turkey's secular elite and overwhelmingly Muslim population. Even football, it seems, is not enough to neutralize one of Turkey's most perennial bugbears: the fear of political Islam.

In two articles in the popular daily Milliyet, sports columnist Tuncay Ozkan accused the Turkish team of "suffering from the return of a disease that has plagued Turkish sport in general – the equation of professionalism with piety, prayer given precedence over skill." Turkey's soccer players, he claims, have fallen into the hands of a tarikat, or Islamic sect, led by Hakan Sukur. In the absence of a team manager who can control them, it is Mr. Sukur's group who decides who is sent home and who stays, who plays and who doesn't. Ozkan even suggested that the team doesn't pass the ball to players who don't pray.

Reaction to the articles was immediate and harsh. Ozkan wrote to say that angry readers had denounced him as a heretic. Writing in the liberal newspaper Radikal last Tuesday, Ahmet Cakir was more temperate. "The absurdity of this whole affair is that the only evidence produced for these claims is a group of players going to Friday prayers," he writes. "Yet the whole issue is portrayed as if they were caught fornicating and engaged in all sorts of debauchery."

For Rusen Cakir, journalist and author of several books on political Islam, this tendency to see all religious activity as fundamentalist is another kind of fundamentalism. "The Brazilian players are religious too," he says. "Does their press have discussions like this?" Because of such debates, he says that "the relationship between religion and society in Turkey is lived as a perpetual crisis."

Following the rapid rise of the Islamic Refah Party in the 1980s and '90s, rumors of political Islam's increasing influence on sport were taken seriously by Turkey's secularist establishment and press.

"Islam's first target was Turkey's traditionally rural and religious wrestling team," says Hincal Uluc, soccer commentator for daily Sabah. The next was Galatasaray, Turkey's most successful soccer club, of which Sukur was a member. "Florya, the team's headquarters, became an Islamic center," says Mr. Uluc. "While players insisted they should be allowed to fast during Ramadan, the management argued they couldn't, because it would affect their form."

Then, as now, Sukur was the most controversial figure. His role in the ongoing controversy puts a spotlight on one of Turkey's essential dilemmas: Although it's often described as being the only Muslim country to have a secular constitution, there are many here who believe that its particular brand of secularism needs an overhaul. "Turkish secularism is not, as is usually the case in Western Europe, a case of 'a free church in a free state,' " says Mustafa Erdogan, of the Association for Liberal Thinking. Religion here is emphatically in state hands.

Ultimately, the soccer tarikat dispute has its roots in the foundation of the republic in 1923. While the last sultans tried to hold their crumbling domains together by calling on Muslim unity, says Mr. Cakir, "Republicans preferred other national values to gather Turks together." Islam came to be seen as an obstacle to modernization. The tarikats, with their influential networks of social solidarity, were seen as rivals of central authority and repressed, but never totally eradicated.

"Both sides of the divide have to stop looking at each other down the wrong end of their telescopes," says Cuneyt Ulsever, a columnist for Hurriyet.

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OIC Discusses Anti-Islam Backlash

by Hamza Hendawi (AP, June 25, 2002)

KHARTOUM, Sudan (AP) - The Muslim world risks being "even more marginalized than we are at present" if it fails to close social and economic gaps with developed nations, Sudanese President Omar el-Bashir said Tuesday.

El-Bashir also called for reform of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in remarks to foreign ministers from the 57 Muslim nations meeting in the Sudanese capital.

He said the OIC, the world's only pan-Islamic body, needed to be overhauled so it could "lead joint Islamic endeavors toward the horizons we all aspire for."

He did not say what the organization had to do to become more effective. The OIC, headquartered in the Red Sea port city of Jiddah, Saudi Arabia, has been largely ineffective in finding solutions to problems facing the world's estimated 1.2 billion Muslims and has over the years earned a reputation for being a little more than a debating forum.

El-Bashir, who came to power in a 1989 coup, said the Muslim world had no choice but to develop its capabilities "to bridge the historic gap between backwardness and development, weakness and strength ... so we can take our place on the world map as an effective force in every field."

"Unless we do that," he warned, "we shall be reduced to neglected numbers and a quantity that is even more marginalized than we are at present."

Sudan, where an Islamic government has been in power since 1989, says it wants OIC foreign ministers to produce resolutions that reflect the "middle ground" prescribed by Islam.

"We look forward to the adoption of resolutions that may not satisfy everyone but reflect the average of the sentiments and views of Muslims," said Mutref Siddiq, Sudan's Foreign Ministry undersecretary. "Differences exist between Muslim nations and among Muslims too."

The OIC was founded more than 30 years ago in response to a wave of Muslim indignation after a 1969 fire at Jerusalem's al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam's holiest shrines. A Christian man from Australia was blamed for starting the fire, but Muslims held Israel responsible since it controlled the holy city.

Because it was born out of an event in Jerusalem, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been central the organization, and Khartoum gathering was likely to voice solid support for the Palestinians and withering criticism of Israel.

The meeting comes a day after President Bush urged the Palestinians in a long-anticipated speech to replace the Palestinian leadership with those "not compromised by terror" and to adopt democratic reforms that could produce an independent state within three years. He also called on Israel to stop building settlements in the West Bank and said the Jewish state will ultimately have to withdraw from lands it occupied in the 1967 Middle East war.

 

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Effort to ban anti-Islam book fails in France

("Washington Times," June 22, 2002)     

     PARIS — A French judge yesterday refused an "anti-racism" group's request for an immediate ban on Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci's new book, which argues that the September 11 attacks shows the true face of Islam.
     The Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between Peoples, also known as MRAP, had asked Judge Herve Stephan to ban the book, "Rage and Pride," saying its contents are an incitement to racial hatred.
     Judge Stephan said he saw no point in an urgent ban, because the book had already sold 45,000 copies in France since its publication last month and nearly a million copies in Italy. He referred the case to another court, which is scheduled to hear it July 10.
     MRAP, which was founded in 1949 and calls itself a democratic organization, also named French publisher Editions Plon in its complaint. Its leader, Mouloud Aounit, insists that the group believes in freedom of expression. He argues that the book is "racist delirium" that "incites racial violence."
     Miss Fallaci, 72, a former war correspondent who is known for candid interviews with world leaders, ended a decade-long, self-imposed silence after September 11 with the book, written in reaction to the terrorist attacks in New York, where she lives.
     The book, due out in the United States in the fall, contains such provocative statements as assertions that Western civilization is superior to Islam and that Muslim immigrants in the West, who "multiply like rats," are to blame for the rise in crime and prostitution.
     "The children of Allah," she writes, "spend their time with their bottoms in the air, praying five times a day."
     Earlier this month, Miss Fallaci rejected the accusations against her and denounced recent anti-Jewish violence in France, linked to a spillover of Middle East tensions into the country's Muslim and Jewish populations. "I find it shameful that in France — the France of liberty, equality and fraternity — synagogues are burned, Jews are terrorized and their cemeteries are profaned," she wrote in a column in the prominent daily newspaper Le Figaro.
     Muslim immigrants in France and elsewhere in Western Europe have been blamed for rising crime and anti-Semitic attacks, a development that has fueled recent gains by anti-immigration political parties throughout the continent. Miss Fallaci said she reserves the right to sue MRAP for branding her book "racist." She said she has been receiving death threats.
     In addition to MRAP, two other anti-racism groups have complained about the book and asked that a disclaimer be included in every French copy instead of a ban.
     The judge refused this plea as well.
     Miss Fallaci has interviewed such political figures as former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former German Chancellor Willy Brandt, and Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the late Iranian supreme leader, as well as Playboy mogul Hugh Hefner, Italian film director Federico Fellini and actor Sean Connery.
     Mr. Kissinger, who called his Fallaci interview "the most disastrous conversation I ever had with any member of the press," offered the first glimpse into the Austrian-born diplomat's private life.

 

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Prominent U.S. Muslim scholar urges more religious freedom in Uzbekistan

(AP, June 21, 2002)

TASHKENT, Uzbekistan - A prominent U.S. Islamic scholar urged more religious freedom and tolerance during a visit Friday to Uzbekistan where the staunchly secular government had been cracking down on the Islamic opposition.

"I hope that Islam will be given freedom to flourish because with freedom comes moderation and with oppression come extremism and radicalism," Imam Yahya Hendi, the Muslim chaplain at Georgetown University, told reporters.

Overwhelmingly Muslim but staunchly secular Uzbekistan has been for the past several years battling the radical Islamic opposition which seeks to set up an Islamic state in Central Asia.

The Uzbek government has been strongly criticized by human rights groups and Western governments for persecuting peaceful Muslims while fighting Islamic radicals. Thousands of innocent Muslims have been imprisoned for alleged extremist activities, human rights groups say.

But the former Soviet republic's relations with the United States have considerably improved since last fall when it provided an air base for U.S. troops involved in the anti-terrorism campaign in neighboring Afghanistan.

Imam Hendi said free exchange of ideas and thoughts and free education rather than force could prevent the rise of religious radicalism in any society.

"No religious community is free from extremism. We can overcome it with freedom and education," he said.

He also called on moderate voices of Islam to speak up and be more active.

"Extreme interpretations of Islam flourish when moderate voices are low," he said.

Imam Hendi's three-day U.S. embassy-sponsored visit to Uzbekistan includes lectures at the Islamic State University and the Islamic Institute in the Uzbek capital Tashkent and meetings with Islamic clergy and representatives of non-governmental organizations in the eastern Fergana Valley.

 

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Muslims reject image of separate society

by Paul Kelso and Jeevan Vasagar ("The Guardian," June 17, 2002)
Britain's Muslim community has a strong desire for closer integration with mainstream society, according to an exclusive Guardian/ICM poll of attitudes published today.
In a finding that appears to confound fears that Britain's 1.8 million Muslims are a marginalised "parallel society", 41% of those polled said they believed their community should do more to integrate.
Home Office ministers have warned of the dangers of Muslim isolation leading to increased vulnerability and racial harassment, but only 17% of people thought there had been too much integration.
Further evidence of the appetite for integration lies in the level of support for David Blunkett's plans for compulsory English language and citizenship tests for new immigrants - 65% of Muslims backed the proposal.
Today's poll marks the start of a week-long investigation into the state of Muslim Britain by the Guardian. In the past three months, Guardian reporters have visited Islamic communities to examine the realities of life for British Muslims after last summer's race riots and the attacks of September 11.
They found a diverse community coming to terms with an unprecedented level of scrutiny and seeking to define itself under pressure, often against a background of violence, poverty and social exclusion.
Muslims are subject to appalling levels of racial and religious harassment, and rates of unemployment and poor health are high.
One in three respondents said they or a member of their family had experienced personal abuse because of their faith, and 61% said relations with non-Muslims had deteriorated since September 11. As a result the vast majority, 85%, support new legislation banning religious discrimination.
Unsurprisingly British Muslims feel a strong sense of exclusion, with 69% saying they felt the rest of society does not regard them as an integral part of life in Britain.
Iqbal Sacranie, secretary general of the Muslim Council of Britain, welcomed the poll: "There is an overwhelming interest in the community in integrating but we need to be very clear what we really mean by integration. It does not mean assimilation - forgetting the culture and traditions you've been brought up with and adopting a culture that's alien to you.
"Integration involves understanding the English language, going to mainstream schools and having an interaction with mainstream society, developing better relations with people of different faiths and no faith."
Despite an overall willingness to engage with the mainstream, the poll identified a potentially divisive generation gap. On a range of issues from integration to identity, young Muslims had a closer affinity with their faith than their parents' generation. Forty-one per cent of Muslims under 34 said they defined themselves first and foremost as Muslim, compared with 30% of over-35s. The young were also more likely to say that their community was too integrated.
Our investigation reveals that Islam has a strong appeal among the young. Many of those interviewed feel as alienated from their parents' culture as they do from the secular mainstream.
"The young feel there are areas of inequality," Mr Sacranie said. "A Muslim can be legitimately discriminated against on the grounds of religion, which is a setback to integration."
British Muslims also feel a powerful sense of solidarity with Muslims around the world, with both young and old saying foreign conflicts in the Middle East, Kashmir and Afghanistan were of greater concern than domestic issues.
Two-thirds disapprove of Britain's role in the war in Afghanistan, and more than 70% said they were "very concerned" about the threat of war in Kashmir and the continuing Middle East crisis.

 

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Afghans split over brutal laws
Debate over Islamic law roiled the national assembly as it drew to a close Wednesday.
By Philip Smucker ("The Christian Science Monitor,")
 
MIDAN, AFGHANISTAN - During the Taliban's six-year reign in Afghanistan, the hard-line Islamic regime was internationally famed – or reviled – for its radical style of justice. The Taliban laid down the most extreme form of sharia (Islamic law) seen in Afghanistan in more than 1,000 years.
Crime plummeted as convicted thieves faced the amputation of a hand. Adulterers, both male and female, were stoned to death. And to convert from Islam was an offense punishable by death.
With the Taliban's fall has come real progress on some issues of human rights, particularly in the nation's larger cities.
But observers, Western and otherwise, who hoped for Afghanistan's new president to lead the way to a more moderate interpretation of Islamic law have been disappointed so far. In fact, during this week's loya jirga (grand assembly), President Hamid Karzai has given Islamic traditionalists fresh hope – and human rights activists new concerns – with his declaration that the nation will continue to follow sharia, and his inaugural wish that "... God cut [off] the hands of people who try to steal our national heritage."
That kind of language sends a chill through Mohammed Afzal.
In 1997, Mr. Afzal was one of three accused thieves who were sent to a chopping block in Kabul's central stadium. Tens of thousands of spectators watched that day as a man in a black mask cut off Afzal's left hand. "In the early days, after the amputation, I was ashamed, I didn't even leave my house," he says. "Even now, if someone asks me, I don't usually tell them that the Taliban chopped my hand off. It has been very hard to explain to every stranger that I am not a thief."
But only 35 miles west of the capital, Taliban-era qazis, or Islamic judges, many of them the same men who issued verdicts from 1996 to 2001, have taken heart in President Karzai's declarations.
It wasn't clear from Mr. Karzai's statements, or the more ethnically balanced cabinet he appointed Wednesday, how strictly or loosely the new Afghan government plans to follow the Taliban's interpretation of the legal code.
Several delegates at the nation's loya jirga, or grand assembly, who stood up early last week to suggest that the new Afghan government should not use the word "Islamic" in its title and should be more secular in nature, were quickly jeered inside the massive white tent.
Here in Midan, the judges say they are pleased with Karzai's announcement and insist that they have no plans to stop ordering the lopping off the hands of thieves or the stoning of male and female adulterers.
But other religious leaders in larger cities disagree, saying that the harshest practices of sharia must be reviewed and altered to fit the new era.
"The sharia that Karzai speaks of should be the same as it was during [King Zahir Shah]'s era; officially sharia should be the law, but in practice it should not be implemented 100 percent," says Maulvi Sami Ullah, an Islamic scholar, the headmaster of a Sufi Islamic school, and a delegate to the grand assembly.
In Afghanistan today, most courts operate under sharia, but the majority are not as strict as those of the Taliban era. Many courts have liberalized, particularly those in large cities.
Both sides in the debate over sharia are trying to seize the moral high ground. Those who prefer the Taliban's legal methods see their struggle as a battle against foreign immorality.
"We need a modern Islam that is capable of dealing with the Western threat from imperialist nations who try to occupy Muslim countries," says Mohammed Gul, a judge in Midan's sharia court. "There are imperialist powers that want to interfere in the Middle Eastern holy lands and who oppose our use of the sharia laws. But our religion requires it and so we will fight for it."
Judge Gul says there must be witnesses to convict thieves and adulterers before their punishments are handed down. "If a married woman commits adultery, she must be stoned," he says, sitting cross-legged with a fellow qazi on the floor of a crumbling, bombed-out judiciary building. "If the woman is single, she should receive 100 lashes," he adds.
The handless beggars in big Afghan cities like Kabul are the only indication of the Taliban's effort to follow sharia down to the last letter. The Taliban kept no statistics on how many Afghans suffered amputations or death.
Religious scholars here say that the Taliban era from 1996 to 2001 was one of the sternest periods of sharia enforcement in the nearly 1,000 years since most Afghans converted to Islam. The scholars say that the severity of the law was, at least in part, a direct reaction to perceived immorality during the 12-year Soviet occupation between 1979 and 1991.
Taliban rule, which ended late last year, saw an initial and dramatic drop in crime across the country – a success that is still admired by many Afghans. Under the Taliban, the chief justice of Kandahar's Islamic Supreme Court became a key adviser to the country's supreme leader Mullah Omar, who is still at large.
In much of rural Afghanistan, the Taliban's struggle to implement strict Islam remains popular. Wali Ahmad, a Taliban-era qazi in Midan who has kept his job, says "the only thing that the Taliban lacked as a good government was relations with foreign countries."
All else they did, he insists, was good, "especially their interpretation of the sharia." "People here accept the harshness of the law," he says. "We will still implement it in full. The judges interpret and implement the law, not the government. If the government tries to interfere, the people will revolt."
Local judges in Midan warn their citizens against the corrupt influences of the foreign troops in Kabul and recommend to their women that they continue to wear the all-enveloping blue burqa to guard against the probing eyes of Western men.
Earlier this year, a small civil war broke out in Midan-Wardak Province.
Over a dozen locals died and 20 were injured in the fighting that pitted fundamentalist-minded former Taliban and elements of the country's Northern Alliance against fellow Afghans who follow a far more liberal Sufi code of conduct. Afghanistan's Sufi leaders, who also enjoy much popular support, oversee four sects of mystical Islam, all of which emphasize a personal relationship with God and give far less importance than the Taliban did to an ongoing "holy war" with Western influences.
In Midan-Wardak Province the military garrison remains in the hands of Sufi followers, though Karzai's government has thrown its weight behind a fundamentalist-minded security chief.
Said Aqa, the province's deputy military commander, says his fighters do not venture into remote villages higher in the mountains. "Our problem is that the Taliban are still popular in these areas and they continue to wield influence," he says. "They are aggressive and still think they are fighting a holy war – which ended for us when the Russians left."
"We want Islamic law, but we don't want a harsh version of it," he says. "We believe, for example, that hand of a thief should not be cut off. Instead of crippling a man for life, the state should try to find him a job."

 

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Seeking a better balance between state, religion

(Thomas Friedman, "Florida Sun Sentinal," June 20, 2002)
 
TEHRAN, Iran · What if a theocracy and a democracy had a baby? What would it look like? It would look like Iran.

What makes Iran so interesting is that it's not a real democracy, but it's not a real Islamic theocracy either. It is, though, just enough of a democracy for many Iranians to know that they want more of it, and just enough of an Islamic theocracy for many Iranians to know they want less of it.

And if you listen to what's going on behind all the noise here, what you find are a lot of thinkers, both democrats and religious conservatives, looking for a way to synthesize these two aspirations.

You find democratic reformers who have learned from the shah's failed attempt at imposed secularism, and from the past 23 years of Islamic rule, that no democracy will take root in Iran that doesn't find a respected place for Islam.

And you find religious thinkers who have also learned from the last 23 years that Iranians have lived through enough incompetent clerics trying to run a government -- and trying to tell people what they should wear, think and speak -- to know that Islam can't regulate every aspect of a nation's life in the modern age without producing a backlash. Many young Iranians are now running away from the mosques and dislike clerics so much that some mullahs take off their turbans and robes when they walk around certain neighborhoods, to avoid being insulted or harassed.

But precisely because Iran is this crazy semi-democracy (unlike Iraq or Saudi Arabia) -- precisely because people here get arrested every day for speaking out, then go to prison and write books, then get released, then run for Parliament, speak out, start a reformist newspaper and get arrested again -- there is a lively debate about how to find a better balance between state and religion.

One day I went to see Amir Mohebian, the political editor of Ressalat, a religious conservative newspaper, who told me: "At the time of the revolution we offered certain [religious] values to the society in a maximalist way. … Now we are witnessing a backlash. So I am proposing a new definition for an Islamic society. In this definition we won't try converting people into religious people. We just don't want to have a deviant society. If we go on pressing for maximalist religious values, we will increase the gap between the generations. If we articulate a minimalist definition, we can have a lot in common with the new generation."

The same day I visited Mohsen Sazgara, a former aide to Ayatollah Khomeini, now a reformer, who is opening a paper staffed by and directed at Iranian students. He said: "We believed that we would overthrow the shah and establish a new government, an Islamic government, that would show the world a new way. But what we did after the victory of the revolution was not a new way. We did not succeed in marrying democracy and Islam. That led to the reform movement … But it has failed, because it had no constitutional power. In the Constitution there was a religious authority above everything that could always block changes. So now we have to push for real constitutional democracy -- not religious democracy but real democracy, with a respected place for religion under it."

Such a synthesis will take a long time to play out here. For now, the Islamic regime is still deeply entrenched, thanks to oil money that can buy friends, and an iron fist that can crush all domestic foes. The hard-line clerics will not give way easily, and they are not afraid to make enemies abroad, because tensions help them militarize Iranian society and shut down criticism. Yet even the hard-line clerics seem to realize that they cannot survive indefinitely on coercion alone, which is why they let the debate go on.

It's ironic that the war of ideas that the West hoped would be fought in the Arab Muslim world after Sept. 11 -- a war against the Islamic fascism of Osama bin Laden that would be waged by Arabs offering a democratic, Islamic, progressive alternative -- has not happened, because there is not enough democracy in most places there for that war to even begin. But it is being fought in Iran -- not in response to Sept. 11, but in response to Iran's own bad experiences with secular despotism and religious despotism.

Wish them well. If Iranian thinkers and politicians were ever to blend constitutional democracy with a redefined Islam that limits itself to inspiring social norms, not running a state, it could have a positive impact on the whole Muslim world, from Morocco to Indonesia, that Iran's Islamic revolution never had.

 

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Pakistan Bars Foreign Aid for Islamic Seminaries

  by Raja Asghar (Reuters, June 19, 2002)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (Reuters) - Pakistan's military government Wednesday barred foreign aid to Islamic seminaries, many of which produced Islamic militants like the Taliban in neighboring Afghanistan, and ordered them to register with authorities.

The decision was part of moves by Pakistan, a key partner in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, to check Islamic extremism in the country of 140 million people.

Information Minister Nisar Memon told a news conference after a cabinet meeting chaired by military ruler General Pervez Musharraf that a decree had been approved allowing the seminaries, or madrassahs, to get government aid only if they agreed to impart modern education with religious teaching.

Madrassahs refusing to register themselves with special education boards to be set up by the government "will not be allowed to operate," the minister said.

Pakistan has thousands of madrassahs run by private Islamic groups or religio-political parties and many of their pupils from neighboring Afghanistan formed the radical Taliban movement in the 1990s that ruled that country for six years.

Many Pakistani pupils of these schools joined the Taliban to fight against an opposition alliance based in northern Afghanistan and later to oppose a U.S.-led punitive military campaign that toppled the Taliban government last December.

"A registered madrassah shall not receive any grant donation or aid from any foreign source or allow admission to foreign students or make appointment of (foreign) teachers without valid work visa and NOC (no-objection certificate) from the Ministry of Interior," Memon said.

"...any one who willfully contravenes any of the provisions of the ordinance shall attract closure of the madrassah or a fine, or both," he said.

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Memon said the number of madrassahs in Pakistan "runs in thousands" although he could not give an exact figure.

Islamic sects such as the majority Sunnis and the minority Shi'ites and sub-sects have their own madrassahs with their syllabi at times giving different interpretations of Islamic beliefs, which often leads to sectarian violence.

But Memon said the government would not interfere with the religious syllabi of the madrassahs but would insist that they introduce the additional subjects of science and mathematics, and English and Urdu languages.

Those not agreeing to introduce these four subjects would not be entitled to government aid, he said.

The respected Human Rights Commission of Pakistan, in its annual report last March, accused the military government of failing to demolish the structures that promote militancy and terrorism despite backing the U.S-led war on terror.

That appeared to be a reference to the Islamic madrassahs and the government Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI) agency, widely accused of links to Islamic militant groups, especially those fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.

Musharraf has banned seven extremist militant and sectarian organizations since a government crackdown on extremist groups began in August last year and arrested hundreds of activists.

He has also been urging clerics to modernize the madrassahs, which have in the past refused any government control.

The clerics are often accused of receiving donations from foreign Islamic governments or private groups of their sects without subjecting themselves to audit.

Under the new decree, "every registered madrassah shall maintain accounts and submit annual report to the respective board," Memon said.

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Islam attracting more Hispanics drawn by ancient Muslim heritage

by Deborah Kong (AP, June 16, 2002)

SAN FRANCISCO - Ibrahim Gonzalez, raised as a Catholic, says he didn't convert to Islam. Rather, he says, he reverted.

Like a small but growing number of Hispanics, the New York-born Puerto Rican has found a spiritual home in a faith with a long history in Spain, stretching to the rule of Muslim Moors from the 8th century to the 1400s.

Today, Hispanics with roots in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Spain and Central and South America are turning to Islam. A mix of immigrants and longtime residents, they are expanding the image of American Muslims as Arabs, blacks and South Asians.

In 1997, the American Muslim Council counted 40,000 Hispanic Muslims; current estimates range up to 60,000. Estimates of the total number of U.S. Muslims vary wildly, from about 1.8 million to 7 million.

Hispanics' reasons for converting to Islam are numerous. Many are former Catholics disenchanted with Catholic tenets. Others were attracted to what they call the faith's simplicity and directness. Some convert because they marry Muslims.

"Islam was my choice because of the multiethnic components of Islam, its lack of bureaucratic hierarchy and the fact that it was very direct and gave a young man such as myself a wide purpose in life," said Gonzalez, who founded the Islamic center Alianza Islamica with a half-dozen friends who became Muslims as teen-agers.

"We're returning to a religion that we once belonged to and was very much a part of our historical heritage," he said.

On July 5-7, the Islamic Society of North America is gathering Hispanic Muslims in suburban Chicago to study efforts to attract more Hispanics to Islam.

Generally, though, Hispanic Muslims are a loosely knit group, bound by Web sites and volunteer and nonprofit groups that promote Islam among Latinos and provide social services and Spanish-language literature.

One such group — the Miami-based PIEDAD, which means "piety" in Spanish — began in 1988 to help Spanish-speaking women who married Muslim men. Now, said Puerto Rican founder Khadijah Rivera, "people are just coming and saying, 'I heard about Islam. I'm just curious.'"

Curiosity brought Benjamin Perez Mahomah of Oakland, California to his first Nation of Islam meeting in 1957. He was the only Latino at the meetings of dozens, then hundreds, of blacks, he said. Now, he travels around the country lecturing Spanish-speaking audiences.

"I saw there was a lot of knowledge in their teachings to black people. Their food was delicious. They were friendly. I liked it there and I stayed," he said.

Claudia Hein began studying Islam while living with a Muslim roommate after moving to the United States from Bolivia. A Catholic, she had always struggled with the concept of the trinity.

"I was always in search," said Hein, now 33 and living in Somerville, New Jersey, Islam was "what I'd been looking for all my life.

"It embraces all parts of life, everything that you do during the day," Hein said. "Islam teaches you everything, how to behave with your neighbors, how to be with your parents, how to educate your children. It embraces everything, every part of life."

Few Hispanic Muslims said they experienced the discrimination faced by Arab counterparts after Sept. 11, but some said their faith was portrayed unfairly by the media.

"All the lies they said, how they portray Islam ... that has given me a different understanding about what I take from TV," said Melissa Morales, an elementary school teacher in Tempe, Arizona, who converted from Christianity four years ago.

This month offered another challenge as a Hispanic Muslim, Jose Padilla, was accused of conspiring to detonate a radioactive "dirty" bomb in the United States. The New York-born Padilla was raised Catholic but converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdullah al Muhajir, authorities say.

News of his arrest shocked many in the Hispanic Muslim community, including Juan Galvan, a Mexican-American who is president of the Texas chapter of the Latino American Dawah Organization. "Islam does not condone terrorism," Galvan said.

Galvan, a former altar boy and Sunday school teacher, has wrestled with accusations that in leaving Catholicism, he rejected his Latino identity.

When he converted, his sister asked him, '"How could you do that to the Virgin? How could you just leave her behind like that?" He still hasn't told his grandparents.

But Galvan has discovered some comforting similarities between Islam and his Latino culture. The pita bread at a mosque dinner reminded him of the tortillas his mother patted out by hand.

"I was thinking, 'This really isn't that much different,'" Galvan said.

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Young Muslims favour Britain and America

by David Graves ("The Telegraph," June 11, 2002)

America and Britain have remained the favourite nations of young Arabs and Muslims, despite the war on terrorism after September 11, according to a survey published yesterday.

The study, conducted by the British Council five months after the al-Qa'eda attacks in New York and Washington, found that America was the favourite country in the Muslim world, followed closely by Britain.

About 68 per cent of those interviewed were "very favourable or mainly favourable" to the US, with 67 per cent approving of Britain. The two nations are the main allies in the war against Islamic terrorism.

The survey, of people aged 15 to 25 in nine countries with substantial Muslim populations, will hearten politicians in Washington and London.

When asked which countries, apart from their own, they most admired, the respondents also placed America and Britain among the top four nations.

At 25 per cent, America was more than twice as popular as the second choice, Japan. Egypt was the third most popular country, with Britain fourth on 11 per cent, twice as popular as France. Iraq and Syria both received one per cent of the combined responses.

Lady Kennedy, QC, chairman of the council, said the perceived strength of a nation's economy appeared to be the most important issue for the majority of respondents, despite any criticism of political or diplomatic policy.

Four of the five most popular countries were among the world's five most powerful economies. Egypt's inclusion reflected great enthusiasm for the country in the Palestinian territories and Saudi Arabia.

The inclusion of Australia, Germany, Canada and Italy in the top 12 completed a list dominated by the wealthiest and most advanced Western nations.

Lady Kennedy said a high regard for British education and admiration for the consistently strong UK economy were the two positive messages cited most often by the respondents.

Lady Kennedy said the survey found that 19 per cent of those questioned viewed Britain more negatively than before September 11, while 18 per cent regarded the nation more positively because of its support for the war against terrorism. The report said Britain "shared in the fallout" suffered by the US because of its perceived lack of sympathy with the "Palestinian cause".

There was "real antagonism" towards the UK, Lady Kennedy said at the launch of the survey in London. However, almost an equal number thought more of Britain because of its robust response to the terror attacks.

The survey questioned 4,700 young people in nine countries: Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Malaysia, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Palestinian Territories, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The council said they were most likely to shape the future of their countries.

 

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Women's group decries planned Islamic laws in Malaysian state as discriminatory

by Pauline Jasudson, (AP, June 11, 2002)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - A women's group demanded Tuesday that a Malaysian state government abandon its plans to pass Islamic laws that could include whipping women who are deemed to have made false allegations of rape.

Sisters in Islam, which is leading a coalition of 11 women's groups in opposing a bill for hudud, or Islamic criminal law, said it was discriminatory and a gross violation of the principles of justice.

While the state bill is never likely to be implemented because it clashes with the federal constitution, which has precedence, many women fear it will lead to a further erosion of their position in society. The rights group said many women complain they are already discriminated against by Islamic laws which apply nationally and are less stringent than those proposed in eastern Terengganu state.

The bill is the latest in a series of moves to introduce increasingly conservative measures in Terengganu, which has been ruled by the fundamentalist Pan-Malaysia Islamic Party since 1999.

Under the bill, women who allege rape can be charged with making slanderous accusations and flogged 80 times.

It also states that women cannot be trial witnesses, and that an unmarried woman who becomes pregnant has committed a crime akin to adultery. Some details, such as the punishment for the adultery crime, were not immediately available.

The federal government says the bill is a ploy to make Islam a political issue between the fundamentalist party and the government, which is dominated by the Malay Muslim-based party of Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad.

The two parties compete for votes among Malay Muslims, who are more than 60 percent of Malaysia's 23 million population. The fundamentalist party claims the government is not Islamic enough, while the government says its opponents encourage extremism.

Malaysia has large ethnic Chinese and Indian minorities — mostly Christian, Buddhist or Hindu — which fear their rights may be eroded amid political infighting among Muslim Malays, although Malaysia's constitution also enshrines a system of secular laws and freedom of religion.

Terengganu government officials have offered to meet opponents of the bill and say it is likely to be amended before it is introduced to the state parliament next month.

On Sunday, a Malay-language newspaper quoted Terengganu's Chief Minister Abdul Hadi Awang as saying clauses could be added to clarify that victims of crime would be protected. He did not give details. He also did not offer to remove the clauses related to alleged rape victims.

The fundamentalist party in 1993 introduced hudud laws in Kelantan, another state it controls, but they have never been enforced because policing is under the jurisdiction of the federal government.


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French Group Bashes Italian Writer

(AP, June 11, 2002)

PARIS (AP) - A French anti-racism group has started legal proceedings against Italian writer Oriana Fallaci to try to stop French distribution of her latest book, which it says incites hatred against Muslims.

The Movement Against Racism and for Friendship Between People referred to Fallaci's book, "Rage and Pride," as "a scathing Islamophobe attack." The proceedings started Monday also target Plon, the book's publisher in France.

Fallaci, best known for her uncompromising interviews with world leaders, ended a decade-long, self-imposed silence after Sept. 11 by writing a book in angry reaction to the terrorist attacks in New York, where she lives.

Critics have accused the former Resistance fighter and war correspondent of writing an anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant tirade.

In one passage that the Movement Against Racism objects to, Fallaci writes that Muslims "multiply like rats." In another, she says that "the children of Allah spend their time with their bottoms in the air, praying five times a day."

A spokeswoman for the book's French publisher said it had just been informed of the complaint and did not immediately have a comment. Her agent in New York did not immediately return a call for comment.

Rizzoli, which publishes Fallaci's book in Italy, said the book was due in September in the United States. The title was unknown and Rizzoli refused to disclose the name of American publisher.

Mouloud Aounit, the Movement Against Racism's secretary general, said his group believes in freedom of expression — "but this incites racial violence."

"It's racist delirium," Aounit said.

Since "Rage and Pride" was released in France in May, most major newspapers have devoted opinion pieces to it. In Friday's edition of Le Figaro, Fallaci said she has been receiving death threats.

 

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Malaysian leader vows to obstruct bid to impose Islamic law

(AP, June 18, 2002)

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad vowed Tuesday to obstruct an attempt by a state ruled by a fundamentalist party to impose harsh Islamic laws.

Mahathir accused the opposition Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party of playing politics rather than upholding religious principles. The party runs two of the 13 states in this moderate, predominantly Muslim country.

Mahathir said that his government would obstruct the Terengganu state government from imposing Islamic criminal law, or hudud. Among other things, women could be whipped 80 times if they falsely allege rape.

Passing the state law would be largely symbolic, since the federal government controls law enforcement and the constitution guarantees secular laws.

"There are no Islamic laws which are unfair and unjust," Mahathir said, quoted by the national news agency, Bernama. "If there are any laws which are unfair and unjust, they are un-Islamic, and it is obvious that their laws are unfair and unjust."

Mahathir spoke to reporters on the opening day of the annual conference of his United Malays National Organization, which competes with the fundamentalists for the votes of the majority Malay Muslims.

The fundamentalist party, which won control of northeastern Terengganu state in 1999, is expected to introduce the hudud bill in the legislature next month.

UMNO is the largest party in a coalition government that also includes representatives of the large Chinese and Indian minorities, who are mostly non-Muslim.

The fundamentalists say they hudud laws would not affect non-Muslims.

Islam is Malaysia's official religion. The opposition Democratic Action Party, supported mostly by ethnic Chinese and ethnic Indians, has criticized Mahathir for saying that Malaysia is a de facto Islamic state.

Mahathir has argued that the Islamic nature of Malaysia makes the fundamentalist campaign to turn the country into an Islamic state a moot point. The fundamentalists say Malaysia is not Islamic enough.

 

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Mexico May Expel Islamic Missionaries

(AP, June 16, 2002)

MEXICO CITY (AP) - Some foreign missionaries working for an Islamic group in the southern state of Chiapas have been asked to leave Mexico because they lack proper residency documents, a Mexican immigration official said Sunday.

The missionaries — who include Basque converts to Islam from Spain — have converted a number of Chamula and Tzotzil Indians, but have never applied for status as a religious organization, said Javier Moctezuma Barragan, assistant secretary of the National Immigration Institute.

Because their missionary group, Mision para el Dawa en Mexico, doesn't have legal status here, it has never asked for minister's visas for the men. The missionaries apparently entered Mexico on tourist visas that prohibit them from working here, even on a volunteer basis.

Authorities began investigating the group, which is linked to the Morocco-based Murabitun World Movement, following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Moctezuma Barragan told the government news agency Notimex.

He did not say how many missionaries had been asked to leave.

However, the request that they leave the country — in the form of letters recently sent to them by the government — was apparently based only on the alleged violation of immigration laws, not terrorism concerns.

The Murabitun World Movement has a generally leftist slant and a strict interpretation of Islam. Some reports suggest its Mexican missionaries may have had links to both the Zapatista rebels in Chiapas and Basque separatists in Spain.

The missionaries were not immediately available to comment.

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Baptists: Not at War With Islam

by Matt Curry (AP, June 16, 2002)

PLANO, Texas (AP)-- The new president of the Southern Baptist Convention, who defended a pastor's characterization of Islam founder Muhammad as a "demon-possessed pedophile," told his church congregation Sunday that the denomination isn't battling Islam.

"Our enemy is Satan, not any other religion," the Rev. Jack Graham said. "Our issue in life is not Muhammad or any other religious leader, it's Jesus Christ."

Graham was named last week to a one-year term as the leader of the nation's largest Protestant denomination during Southern Baptists' annual meeting in St. Louis.

Graham, pastor of the massive Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, found himself in the middle of a firestorm when former convention president Jerry Vines told conventioneers that Islam's founder was a "demon-possessed pedophile who had 12 wives -- and his last one was a 9-year-old girl."

Islamic leaders called the comment outrageous and bigoted, but Graham declined to condemn his colleague and called Vines' statement "accurate."

Graham, speaking with reporters after Sunday services, defended Vines as a pastor who has a record of reaching across racial and denominational lines.

"God loves Muslim people. Because God loves Muslim people, we do, too," Graham said. "Our desire is to serve them and share in any way we can our faith with them."

Though he said he regretted the controversial climate in which it was raised, Graham said he was glad to be involved in a dialogue on Islam.

Southern Baptists claim more than 16 million members in the United States, including more than 3 million in Texas.

 

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Islam attracting more Hispanics drawn by ancient Muslim heritage

by Deborah Kong (AP, June 16, 2002)

SAN FRANCISCO - Ibrahim Gonzalez, raised as a Catholic, says he didn't convert to Islam. Rather, he says, he reverted.

Like a small but growing number of Hispanics, the New York-born Puerto Rican has found a spiritual home in a faith with a long history in Spain, stretching to the rule of Muslim Moors from the 8th century to the 1400s.

Today, Hispanics with roots in Puerto Rico, Mexico, Spain and Central and South America are turning to Islam. A mix of immigrants and longtime residents, they are expanding the image of American Muslims as Arabs, blacks and South Asians.

In 1997, the American Muslim Council counted 40,000 Hispanic Muslims; current estimates range up to 60,000. Estimates of the total number of U.S. Muslims vary wildly, from about 1.8 million to 7 million.

Hispanics' reasons for converting to Islam are numerous. Many are former Catholics disenchanted with Catholic tenets. Others were attracted to what they call the faith's simplicity and directness. Some convert because they marry Muslims.

"Islam was my choice because of the multiethnic components of Islam, its lack of bureaucratic hierarchy and the fact that it was very direct and gave a young man such as myself a wide purpose in life," said Gonzalez, who founded the Islamic center Alianza Islamica with a half-dozen friends who became Muslims as teen-agers.

"We're returning to a religion that we once belonged to and was very much a part of our historical heritage," he said.

On July 5-7, the Islamic Society of North America is gathering Hispanic Muslims in suburban Chicago to study efforts to attract more Hispanics to Islam.

Generally, though, Hispanic Muslims are a loosely knit group, bound by Web sites and volunteer and nonprofit groups that promote Islam among Latinos and provide social services and Spanish-language literature.

One such group — the Miami-based PIEDAD, which means "piety" in Spanish — began in 1988 to help Spanish-speaking women who married Muslim men. Now, said Puerto Rican founder Khadijah Rivera, "people are just coming and saying, 'I heard about Islam. I'm just curious.'"

Curiosity brought Benjamin Perez Mahomah of Oakland, California to his first Nation of Islam meeting in 1957. He was the only Latino at the meetings of dozens, then hundreds, of blacks, he said. Now, he travels around the country lecturing Spanish-speaking audiences.

"I saw there was a lot of knowledge in their teachings to black people. Their food was delicious. They were friendly. I liked it there and I stayed," he said.

Claudia Hein began studying Islam while living with a Muslim roommate after moving to the United States from Bolivia. A Catholic, she had always struggled with the concept of the trinity.

"I was always in search," said Hein, now 33 and living in Somerville, New Jersey, Islam was "what I'd been looking for all my life.

"It embraces all parts of life, everything that you do during the day," Hein said. "Islam teaches you everything, how to behave with your neighbors, how to be with your parents, how to educate your children. It embraces everything, every part of life."

Few Hispanic Muslims said they experienced the discrimination faced by Arab counterparts after Sept. 11, but some said their faith was portrayed unfairly by the media.

"All the lies they said, how they portray Islam ... that has given me a different understanding about what I take from TV," said Melissa Morales, an elementary school teacher in Tempe, Arizona, who converted from Christianity four years ago.

This month offered another challenge as a Hispanic Muslim, Jose Padilla, was accused of conspiring to detonate a radioactive "dirty" bomb in the United States. The New York-born Padilla was raised Catholic but converted to Islam and changed his name to Abdullah al Muhajir, authorities say.

News of his arrest shocked many in the Hispanic Muslim community, including Juan Galvan, a Mexican-American who is president of the Texas chapter of the Latino American Dawah Organization. "Islam does not condone terrorism," Galvan said.

Galvan, a former altar boy and Sunday school teacher, has wrestled with accusations that in leaving Catholicism, he rejected his Latino identity.

When he converted, his sister asked him, '"How could you do that to the Virgin? How could you just leave her behind like that?" He still hasn't told his grandparents.

But Galvan has discovered some comforting similarities between Islam and his Latino culture. The pita bread at a mosque dinner reminded him of the tortillas his mother patted out by hand.

"I was thinking, 'This really isn't that much different,'" Galvan said.

_______________________________


Saudis oppress Muslim splinter sects, activists say

by Barbara Slavin ("USA Today," June 13, 2002)

JEDDAH, Saudi Arabia -- Rabea Dahlan, a descendent of the prophet Mohammed, was deputy governor of the Muslim holy city of Mecca until three years ago, when he was jailed. Dahlan's crime, according to supporters: He belongs to a Muslim sect that doesn't conform to Saudi Arabia's state religion.

Christians and Jews routinely complain that they are not allowed to practice their faiths in Saudi Arabia. But human rights activists say the worst repression is reserved for the half-dozen Muslim sects that depart from the Wahhabi form of Islam of the ruling family.

Last week, Gwenn Okruhlik, a Saudi expert at the University of Arkansas, told a U.S. congressional hearing that Saudi Crown Prince Abdullah ''should incorporate diversity of Islam into social practice to send a message of tolerance.''

Saudis say discrimination falls upon Muslims in the western Saudi region known as the Hijaz for the waves of Hajis -- Muslim pilgrims -- who come here from other nations. Several Hijazi Muslims interviewed recently say they practice their faith secretly.

The most oppressed, rights activists say, are 1 million Saudi Shi'ites, a sect that is a majority in several other Muslim nations.

''There is institutionalized discrimination against adherents of the Shi'a branch of Islam,'' says the State Department's human rights report. But the department has not sanctioned the country, despite a recommendation two years running from the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom that Saudi Arabia be branded a ''country of particular concern.''

Ali Ahmed, a Saudi Shi'ite who lives in Virginia and researches Saudi human rights abuses, says there are about 200 political prisoners in his homeland, including 105 members of a Shi'ite Muslim sect called Ismailis.

Ahmed Turki al-Saab, 42, an Ismaili in the southern province of Najran, was arrested in January after he was quoted in a U.S. newspaper criticizing discrimination and remains jailed, Ahmed says.

Last year, Ahmed says, authorities imprisoned a 94-year-old Shi'ite cleric from the western city of Medina for two weeks for the ''crime'' of praying with Lebanese visitors at his farm.

''The Shi'ites have saint cults and visit tombs,'' says Brian Evans of Amnesty International. ''The Wahhabis see this as idol worship and consider it to be almost apostasy.''

Non-Wahhabis lost out when the al-Saud tribe from the central Nejd region unified the country a century ago in alliance with the descendants of Mohammed Abdul Ibn Wahhab, an 18th-century Islamic puritan. The al-Saud gained political power; the Wahhabis got control of the mosques.

Critics say religious intolerance helped create the fanaticism of 15 Saudi hijackers in the attacks on Sept. 11. Saudi defenders say their religion is peaceful and the terrorists were ''deviants.''

But Ahmed says teachers of religion instruct impressionable young Saudis that ''all Muslims will go to hell except the Wahhabis.''

What is missing in Saudi society, says Sami Angawi, an architect in Jeddah, is ''balance. In architecture, you cannot build on two supports, you need at least three, and four is better. But our society relies on a single school of thought.''

The Saudi foreign minister, Saud al-Faisal, said in an interview that the government would soon set up an ''independent'' human rights body. Ahmed says the Saudis have talked about creating such an organization for two years. The government has declined repeated requests by foreign rights groups to send their own monitors.

Supporters say harassment of Dahlan, 52, began when he was named deputy governor of Mecca. He was educated in Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the USA, where he was awarded graduate degrees in management at the University of Colorado and Pepperdine University. Dahlan built schools that taught vocational skills urgently needed by the growing young Saudi population. But in 1999, a Saudi who had been sent to a mental hospital after making threats against Dahlan and his family sued for damages. Religious courts jailed Dahlan for four months in what supporters say was a case of religious discrimination.

Dahlan now lives in Lebanon. The governor who appointed him, Prince Majed, resigned and left for Vienna.

A protest letter circulating in Jeddah recently accused Saudi authorities of discrimination for prosecuting Dahlan while giving amnesty to an official of the Saudi water and sewage authority who had embezzled $80 million. That official, from the Wahhabi heartland of the Nejd, was a brother of the private secretary of King Fahd.

Wahhabi favoritism is also distorting Islam abroad, critics say. A non-Wahhabi Saudi academic who lives in Jeddah visited the USA recently and met a Pakistani Muslim who told him in tears that the local Saudi-paid cleric had issued a ruling against American Muslims celebrating Thanksgiving.

Wahhabis recognize only two holidays: The end of the fasting month of Ramadan, and the end of the month of pilgrimage to Mecca. They fall on different days each year depending on the Muslim lunar calendar

Ali Alyami, a Saudi-born Shi'ite, told Congress last week that the Bush administration should take a tougher stance with the Saudis if it hopes to defeat terrorism: ''Our myopic policies are producing anti-American hatred because of our support for a brutal regime.''

 

________________________________

 

Malaysian state plans to enact Islamic laws
by Barani Krishnan (Reuters, June 07, 2002) 
KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Malaysia's Muslim opposition party plans to defy the government again next month by introducing strict Islamic laws in a second state it rules, even though the consitution bars their use, party officials said on Thursday.

Constitutionally, the federal government controls the criminal code and Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, who represents a modern brand of Islam, takes the stance that strict sharia (Islamic) laws are difficult to apply in a country that values pluralism and tolerance.

Parti Islam se-Malaysia (PAS) has already enacted the penal code or "hudud", which carries punishments like death by stoning for adultery and amputation of limbs for theft, in the northeast state of Kelantan.

But the federal government refuses to sanction its use.

PAS is now planning to do the same in neighbouring Terengganu -- the second state it took control of in elections in 1999.

"It is the duty of the state government of Terengganu as an Islamic government to enact these laws," Dr. Mohd Hatta Ramli, a PAS central committee member told Reuters. "If there was a sympathetic federal government they would be used."

Terengganu's Chief Minister Abdul Hadi Awang, the deputy spiritual leader of PAS, is known for his blunt dogma and his party wants to turn multi-cultural Malaysia, where just over half the 23 million population is Muslim, into an Islamic theocracy.

The federal constitution guarantees freedom of religion for non-Muslims and does not define the state as Islamic.

Rais Yatim, the minister for legal affairs in the prime minister's office, said last week all state legislation needed consent from the Attorney-General's chambers to ensure they were in line with federal laws.

But, Abdul Hadi says the draft bill will not be submitted for vetting before it is tabled in the state assembly.

"We feel our obligation to God is greater than fulfilling the demands of the AG's chambers," the chief minister was quoted as saying in the New Straits Times daily.

Attorney-General Abdul Gani Patail said he wanted to avoid being dragged into a public, political debate.

"I don't want to get into a media war," he told Reuters on Thursday.

OPPRESSION AND INJUSTICE

Women's groups have decried the state government's moves to introduce laws they say could result in oppression and injustice, especially against women.

"We urge the Terengganu state government to end its mysogynistic attitude," eleven women's groups wrote in a letter, published by PAS newspaper Harakah.

The "hudud" code stipulates that rape victims unable to prove sex was forced upon them can be sentenced to 80 and 100 lashes. The code also says at least four Muslim men must have witnessed such a rape and women cannot become legal witnesses.

Hadi's political secretary Husin Ismail said Terengganu would table the proposed sharia bill in its state legislative assembly on July 7, but added that there would be amendments.

He did not say what the changes would be.

"We are also sensitive to women's rights," Husin said over the telephone from Terengganu's capital, Kuala Terengganu. "The Attorney-General can study the law after we pass it."

 

________________________________

 

Radical Islam called worst foe

by Bill Gertz ("Washington Times," June 06, 2002)     

The ideological battle against radical Islam over time is as important to winning the war on terrorism as arresting and killing terrorists is right now, Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz said yesterday. 
     Mr. Wolfowitz told an academic conference that a "dangerous gap" exists between the West and the Muslim world.
     "I think it is a dangerous gap, but I think it's bridgeable," Mr. Wolfowitz told a conference sponsored by the Hoover Institution on the political and cultural impact of September 11.
     The overwhelming majority of the world's 1 billion Muslims "would like to enjoy the same benefits we do of a free, democratic and prosperous society," said Mr. Wolfowitz, who returned Monday from a visit to Singapore and the Philippines.
     Mr. Wolfowitz said, however, that the Muslim world today lacks models of free and open societies.
     "Part of our job has got to be to help those countries that are striving to become models of that kind," he said.
     Among the nations that could be examples of free and democratic Muslim nations are Turkey, Indonesia and Morocco, he said.
     "Promoting that kind of success is as critical in the long run as arresting, capturing and killing terrorists is important in the short run," Mr. Wolfowitz said.
     Islamic terrorist factions such as Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda organization are attacking Western values in addition to physical targets, he said.
     The values they are attack, however, are not just American values but universal values, he said.
     "I think we need to keep emphasizing that this is not a war a between the West and Islam," Mr. Wolfowitz said. "It is a war of Islamic extremists who are trying to hijack one of the world's great religions."
     The deputy defense secretary, a former ambassador to Indonesia, pointed out that U.S. troops have defended predominantly Muslim populations from aggressive and war-induced famine six times in the last 11 years — in Kuwait, northern Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo, Somalia and Afghanistan.
     "We didn't do it because they were Muslims," he said. "We did it because it was in our national interest. We did it because they were human beings."
     The goal of Islamic terrorists is "to take the world's billion Muslims back to a twisted, medieval notion of what the proper order of things is," Mr. Wolfowitz said. "A world in which women are oppressed, in which religious bigotry and extremism are promoted; a world in which children are indoctrinated to hate. It is not, I believe, a world that most of the world's Muslims want to live in, and we need to help them to help ourselves in fighting that."
     Mr. Wolfowitz compared Islamic terrorism today to the totalitarian ideologies of the last century.
     "I do not believe that it is an exaggeration to say that this evil of terrorism that has grown up in the world on a particularly massive scale in the last 10 years threatens some of the same kinds of evil and destruction that fascism and Nazism threatened nearly a century ago," he said.
     The attacks of September 11 have "galvanized" the United States and other nations to deal with the threat, he said.
     "We have gotten the storm warnings in time to act, and if we act decisively, we can defeat the terrorists and as the president said, build a better world beyond the war on terrorism."

________________________________


W. Jakarta mayoralty does U-turn on Muslim attire
by Ahmad Junaidi, ("The Jakarta Post," June 05, 2002)
 
Strong criticism from the public, particularly legal experts, has changed the West Jakarta Mayoralty's stance on its own instruction obliging students in public and private schools to wear Muslim attire on Fridays.
"It was just advice from the mayoralty but definitely not an instruction -- there was no obligation," West Jakarta Deputy Mayor Amiruddin S. Lubis told reporters on Monday before attending a plenary session at the City Council.
His explanation was completely at odds with the mayoralty's letter of instruction that sets out a list of "obligations" and "calls" on elementary schools, as well as junior high and senior high schools, to heed it.
Instruction No. 101/2001 is titled "Activity program to improve faith and belief in God and good behavior in public schools in West Jakarta".
The wearing of Muslim attire and performing of Friday prayers are listed as obligations, while among the calls is visiting the Istiqlal Grand Mosque.
Amiruddin admitted that the requirements had not yet been discussed with the city education agency.
He claimed it was a "bottom-up" idea, only to be applied in West Jakarta.
"But if other mayoralties want to follow us, it's up to them," he said.
Amiruddin denied that the new policy was based on the Jakarta Charter, which obliges Muslims to follow syariah (Islamic law).
"That's politics. We weren't thinking about that," he said.
He said the call to wear Muslim clothes was aimed at making students, especially female ones, wear "polite clothes" instead of the miniskirts that they often wore currently.
Several legal experts objected to the instruction to oblige students to wear Muslim attire as it was unconstitutional and a violation of human rights.
"It is a violation of human rights and also the Constitution, which stipulates that every citizen is free to practice rituals in accordance with his or her religion," lawyer and women's activist Nursjahbani Katjasungkana said earlier.
Human rights lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis also voiced criticism of the mayoralty for intervening in the personal affairs of the nation, which was known for its pluralism.
They doubted that the instruction would achieve its goal of strengthening the moral fiber of students.
Besides lawyers, the students themselves did not believe that the instruction would improve them.
"There's no guarantee, if we wore such attire, that our faith would increase," Ardian, a Muslim student of a public senior high school in West Jakarta, said earlier, adding that it was a discrimination against the non-Muslim students.
Many students, who are Muslim, said that they would feel awkward wearing Muslim attire while their non-Muslim friends wore the conventional school uniform.

________________________________

Worshippers Alarmed By Spate of Shoe Thefts

by Buya Jammeh ("The Independent," June 03, 2002)

Worshippers in mosques said to be hard hit by a rash of shoe thefts have described the practice as an act of unspeakable blasphemy against Islam and makes mocking irony of the piety of prayer.

Worshippers of the Masjid Al-Bilal Mosque along Kairaba Avenue and the Pipeline mosque said they are profoundly ashamed by the thieving actions of so-called worshippers, who enter mosques not to worship but to steal.

They said in an average of eight worshippers' shoes are stolen in every prayer time from the early afternoon to dusk. They said even Friday a day Islam set aside for some special prayers are not spared.

Worshippers said Jumua'h prayers are the most favourable time for the thieves to stand alongside worshippers, as they scan the row of shoes and pick out those they consider of value.

According to some of them thieves have been repeatedly caught red handed and subsequently beaten by worshippers who have even grown to become highly suspicious of each other. They said it is a common thing to mistaken other peoples' shoes for one's own, causing quarrels and fights, .

According to one Edrissa Saine mosque leaders have tried with little success to draw attention to the shoe theft scenario. 'But now things will have to change. Instead of beating them and leaving them to go scot-free, they will have to be jailed for at least two weeks' he said.

'Theft in all its forms is an insult to Islam more so if they are committed around a mosque' he said. He warned that anybody caught tarnishing the name of Islam would be mercilessly dealt with. Another concerned personality who preferred anonymity said that similar problems occur regularly at the Pipeline Mosque along Kairaba Avenue. He said with the situation getting from bad to worse everybody should be their own policeman.

 

________________________________

 

 

W. Jakarta mayoralty does U-turn on Muslim attire
by Ahmad Junaidi, ("The Jakarta Post," June 05, 2002)

 Strong criticism from the public, particularly legal experts, has changed the West Jakarta Mayoralty's stance on its own instruction obliging students in public and private schools to wear Muslim attire on Fridays. 

"It was just advice from the mayoralty but definitely not an instruction -- there was no obligation," West Jakarta Deputy Mayor Amiruddin S. Lubis told reporters on Monday before attending a plenary session at the City Council.  His explanation was completely at odds with the mayoralty's letter of instruction that sets out a list of "obligations" and "calls" on elementary schools, as well as junior high and senior high schools, to heed it.  Instruction No. 101/2001 is titled "Activity program to improve faith and belief in God and good behavior in public schools in West Jakarta".  The wearing of Muslim attire and performing of Friday prayers are listed as obligations, while among the calls is visiting the Istiqlal Grand Mosque.  Amiruddin admitted that the requirements had not yet been discussed with the city education agency.  He claimed it was a "bottom-up" idea, only to be applied in West Jakarta."  But if other mayoralties want to follow us, it's up to them," he said.  Amiruddin denied that the new policy was based on the Jakarta Charter, which obliges Muslims to follow syariah (Islamic law).  "That's politics. We weren't thinking about that," he said.He said the call to wear Muslim clothes was aimed at making students, especially female ones, wear "polite clothes" instead of the miniskirts that they often wore currently.  Several legal experts objected to the instruction to oblige students to wear Muslim attire as it was unconstitutional and a violation of human rights."  It is a violation of human rights and also the Constitution, which stipulates that every citizen is free to practice rituals in accordance with his or her religion," lawyer and women's activist Nursjahbani Katjasungkana said earlier.Human rights lawyer Todung Mulya Lubis also voiced criticism of the mayoralty for intervening in the personal affairs of the nation, which was known for its pluralism.  They doubted that the instruction would achieve its goal of strengthening the moral fiber of students.  Besides lawyers, the students themselves did not believe that the instruction would improve them."  There's no guarantee, if we wore such attire, that our faith would increase,"   Ardian, a Muslim student of a public senior high school in West Jakarta, said earlier, adding that it was a discrimination against the non-Muslim students.  Many students, who are Muslim, said that they would feel awkward wearing Muslim attire while their non-Muslim friends wore the conventional school uniform.

 

________________________________

 

 

Uzbek Muslims find consolation in `Lamb of God,' secular government annoyed

by Bagila Bukharbayeva (AP, June 02, 2002)

DURMEN VILLAGE, Uzbekistan - Just three days before a major Islamic holiday, a lamb was born with white patterns on its black fleece resembling the Arabic words for Allah on one side and Mohammed on the other.

The phenomenon has caused a sensation among ordinary people in this former Soviet state where most people are Muslims — and been an annoyance to authorities in the staunchly secular government.

Mainstream religious organizations are pursuing a campaign to characterize the lamb as nothing special. But thousands have flocked to this village in the eastern Fergana Valley to see what they believe is a lamb of God sent to strengthen Muslims' faith.

Religion is an extremely sensitive matter in this Central Asian country, where the government has been cracking down on Islamic militants for several years. Officials worry the lamb may boost the ranks of opposition sympathizers.

Adding a political angle, the lamb belongs to a family that had a young male relative beaten to death by security officers last November after he was detained for alleged links to a banned religious group.

The lamb is owned by Khudoyberdy Odylov, 36, whose first name means "given by God" and family name means "just." He says the lamb is maybe God's answer to his prayers for justice for his dead nephew, Alimohammad Mamadaliyev, and consolation for his family and other suffering people.

"This is how God shows his mercy," Odylov says.

In early May, three security officers went on trial charged with murdering his nephew. The trial in the capital, Tashkent, is a rarity in a country where police abuse is common.

The lamb was born Feb. 19, just before Eid al-Adha, the Feast of Sacrifice holiday that marks the end of Islam's annual pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia.

Word spread quickly. At first, people came from the area, then from farther afield. Some visitors have even come from other Central Asian countries, Turkey, China and Arabic nations.

So many people came for a while that they could not fit into Odylov's courtyard. He stacked two tables on the street and put the lamb on a makeshift support to allow everyone to see it.

"I had to take the lamb inside from time to time to give it a half-hour break," Odylov says.

There are fewer visitors now, but a steady flow still enters the gate in twos and threes, about a dozen in an hour, passing a few boys selling calendars and cards with the lamb's image. The visitors come and go quietly, as one would behave in a holy place.

Salomat Saburova, 29, believes the lamb's birth was a wake-up call to people who have turned away from God. She and her family came from the western Khorezm region, some 1,450 kilometers (900 miles) from Durmen. "I'm very happy. It is a real miracle," she says.

But the female lamb does not get any special treatment — no special diet, no special shed. The animal, which has grown to almost the size of its mother, is kept in the courtyard in the shade of vine leaves. It doesn't have a name, because Uzbeks have no tradition of naming animals.

Odylov has been able to buy a car and repair the roof of his house thanks to donations from visitors. He says he tried to refuse the money at first, but that offended people. It is an Uzbek tradition to make donations at sacred places.

Official Islamic institutions are trying to convince people there is nothing holy about the lamb.

Clergy and other religious officials push that message at public meetings and through newspapers, radio and television, all of which are controlled by the state.

"It is a sin to worship this lamb. People have been misled," says Khamidjon Ishmatbekov, a spokesman for the Muslim Spiritual Board.

"It's an ordinary lamb. There is no miracle whatsoever," he says.

For Odylov, though, the lamb is a message from heaven sent to support him, his 77-year-old mother, wife and four children at a difficult time.

Still, while Odylov intends to keep the lamb for a few years — maybe let it have its own lambs — he eventually will slaughter it for the Eid al-Adha feast and share the meat with his neighbors as one does on that holiday.

"Knowledgeable people say that the best of men become prophets and that the best of animals are created to be sacrificed," he says.

 

________________________________


Muslim-Christian Clash Looms Over Islamic Teachings

By Patrick Goodenough ("CNSNews.com," May 30, 2002)

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNSNews.com) - An Australian Muslim organization, seizing on controversial new hate legislation, has brought a complaint against a Christian group it accuses of vilifying Islam. The Christians say all they did was quote from Islamic scriptures.

The Muslim Council of Victoria is acting on behalf of three Muslims who attended a Christian seminar on Islam last March. They claim the seminar incited "fear and hatred" against Muslims.

The complaint to a state legal commission cites an evangelical group called Catch the Fire Ministries, the group's pastor, and the speaker at the seminar - a professor in Islamic studies who moved to Australia from Pakistan to escape persecution for his Christian faith.

Danny Nalliah, the Sri Lankan-born pastor of Catch the Fire, said in an interview the complaint could be a test case of legislation introduced in the state of Victoria at the beginning of this year, which Christian critics at the time vigorously opposed.

Nalliah denied that the seminar speaker, Daniel Scott, had incited hatred against Muslims, and said he was confident the Islamic Council's complaint would fail.

What Scott had done, Nalliah said, was to inform Christians concerned in the aftermath of last September's terrorist attacks in the U.S. about Islam and its teachings, especially the Koran.

"Most Christians don't have a clue about what's happening in the Middle East and what the Muslims want to do in other nations," Nalliah said.

"We can't brand all Muslims as fundamentalists ...maybe only five percent of Muslims are fanatics, but the ultimate authority of all Muslims is the Koran."

Scott, whom he said was "a walking encyclopedia on Islam," had quoted from the Koran - a book he said many Muslims had never read extensively themselves - and from other texts revered by Muslims.

Nalliah said the three complainants, who had come to the seminar uninvited, had apparently taken offense.

He noted that two of the three were recent converts to Islam, and it was possible they did not know the Koran well themselves, and so had obviously been surprised at what they heard.

'Nazis'

In its complaint, the Islamic Council alleges that the seminar audience was told, among other things, that Muslims were lying when they said they wanted peace, that Mohammed "taught that Jews were bad," and that Muslims are killed by other Muslims if they leave the Islamic faith. The fact that one of Mohammed's many wives was nine years old at the time their marriage was consummated was also mentioned.

Speaking by phone from Melbourne Thursday, Bilal Cleland, human rights coordinator for the Islamic Council, conceded the seminar speaker had quoted frequently from the Koran and other Islamic texts.

But he likened this to what he said was a Nazi tactic used in Germany in the run-up to World War II.

"The Nazi Party used quotations from the Talmud, but they were taken out of context and used in a hostile way [against Jews]. That's exactly what's happening here."

Cleland said the three Muslims who attended the seminar -- organized by what he called "an extremist group" -- had been "very concerned at the hate and ridicule being incited."

He called the information being delivered "an extremely strange interpretation of Islam."

"We're concerned that a lot of extremist groups are getting onto the bandwagon, turning the war on terrorism into a war on Islam. We're not going to permit that."

Nalliah said he thought the Islamic Council had made a "foolish mistake" by lodging the complaint, as far more ordinary Australians would now become aware of the true nature of Islamic teaching.

Although he did not want the publicity, he said, he would use the opportunity to warn Australians, "We need to be aware about the dangers which Australia could face if we simply accept Islam."

"The whole seminar came into place mainly because of Sept. 11. We aren't saying all Muslims are bad - but the ultimate authority of Islam is the Koran. And if you are looking at whether Osama bin Laden did the right thing, yes, according to the Koran he did the right thing."

Nalliah said he has received backing from churches, and a number of Australian Jews had also contacted him to express their support.

Contentious law

Nalliah said he and many other Christians had objected strongly to plans to introduce the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, which can impose fines of $3,380 on individuals and $16,900 on groups found to have vilified others on the grounds of religion or ethnicity.

"We said it would not unite the people but divide them," he said. "It think this will be a very big test case. Possibly the [state] government is regretting passing this law, because it has already caused quite a hassle in the community."

A Christian ethical action group called Saltshakers spearheaded opposition to the bill. The group's research director, Jenny Stokes, said Thursday it had argued that offenses such as slander and defamation were already covered by common law provisions.

But the anti-discrimination legislation was trying to "enter the realm of thought, especially in the field of religion."

"This is where we thought the bill would go," Stokes said, referring to the Islamic Council's complaint.

Stokes herself attended the seminar at the center of the protest.

She said the complainants, who had not been present for the entire meeting, had taken a number of points out of context from Scott's detailed study on Islam, based on the religion's texts and the life of Mohammed.

"The idea of the seminar was that the Muslim faith is based on the Koran, and we need to know what the Koran says."

Both Nalliah and Scott have first-hand experience of Islam's approach to Christians. Scott and his wife left Pakistan in 1987, amid persecution after the introduction of Islamic (shari'a) law there.

According to Nalliah, Scott was condemned to death under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws but had managed to flee the country.

Nalliah, who in the 1990s held meetings with U.S. congressmen during the process leading up to passage of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, worked in Saudi Arabia for two years from 1995-97.

He said he had had close shaves with security agencies in a country where "you cannot mention the name of Jesus, you cannot have a Bible in your house."

________________________________

 

 
Muslim-Christian Clash Looms Over Islamic Teachings

By Patrick Goodenough ("CNSNews.com," May 30, 2002)

Pacific Rim Bureau (CNS News.com) - An Australian Muslim organization, seizing on controversial new hate legislation, has brought a complaint against a Christian group it accuses of vilifying Islam. The Christians say all they did was quote from Islamic scriptures.

The Muslim Council of Victoria is acting on behalf of three Muslims who attended a Christian seminar on Islam last March. They claim the seminar incited "fear and hatred" against Muslims.

The complaint to a state legal commission cites an evangelical group called Catch the Fire Ministries, the group's pastor, and the speaker at the seminar - a professor in Islamic studies who moved to Australia from Pakistan to escape persecution for his Christian faith.

Danny Nalliah, the Sri Lankan-born pastor of Catch the Fire, said in an interview the complaint could be a test case of legislation introduced in the state of Victoria at the beginning of this year, which Christian critics at the time vigorously opposed.

Nalliah denied that the seminar speaker, Daniel Scott, had incited hatred against Muslims, and said he was confident the Islamic Council's complaint would fail.

What Scott had done, Nalliah said, was to inform Christians concerned in the aftermath of last September's terrorist attacks in the U.S. about Islam and its teachings, especially the Koran.

"Most Christians don't have a clue about what's happening in the Middle East and what the Muslims want to do in other nations," Nalliah said.

"We can't brand all Muslims as fundamentalists ...maybe only five percent of Muslims are fanatics, but the ultimate authority of all Muslims is the Koran."

Scott, whom he said was "a walking encyclopedia on Islam," had quoted from the Koran - a book he said many Muslims had never read extensively themselves - and from other texts revered by Muslims.

Nalliah said the three complainants, who had come to the seminar uninvited, had apparently taken offense.

He noted that two of the three were recent converts to Islam, and it was possible they did not know the Koran well themselves, and so had obviously been surprised at what they heard.

'Nazis'

In its complaint, the Islamic Council alleges that the seminar audience was told, among other things, that Muslims were lying when they said they wanted peace, that Mohammed "taught that Jews were bad," and that Muslims are killed by other Muslims if they leave the Islamic faith. The fact that one of Mohammed's many wives was nine years old at the time their marriage was consummated was also mentioned.

Speaking by phone from Melbourne Thursday, Bilal Cleland, human rights coordinator for the Islamic Council, conceded the seminar speaker had quoted frequently from the Koran and other Islamic texts.

But he likened this to what he said was a Nazi tactic used in Germany in the run-up to World War II.

"The Nazi Party used quotations from the Talmud, but they were taken out of context and used in a hostile way [against Jews]. That's exactly what's happening here."

Cleland said the three Muslims who attended the seminar -- organized by what he called "an extremist group" -- had been "very concerned at the hate and ridicule being incited."

He called the information being delivered "an extremely strange interpretation of Islam."

"We're concerned that a lot of extremist groups are getting onto the bandwagon, turning the war on terrorism into a war on Islam. We're not going to permit that."

Nalliah said he thought the Islamic Council had made a "foolish mistake" by lodging the complaint, as far more ordinary Australians would now become aware of the true nature of Islamic teaching.

Although he did not want the publicity, he said, he would use the opportunity to warn Australians, "We need to be aware about the dangers which Australia could face if we simply accept Islam."

"The whole seminar came into place mainly because of Sept. 11. We aren't saying all Muslims are bad - but the ultimate authority of Islam is the Koran. And if you are looking at whether Osama bin Laden did the right thing, yes, according to the Koran he did the right thing."

Nalliah said he has received backing from churches, and a number of Australian Jews had also contacted him to express their support.

Contentious law

Nalliah said he and many other Christians had objected strongly to plans to introduce the Racial and Religious Tolerance Act, which can impose fines of $3,380 on individuals and $16,900 on groups found to have vilified others on the grounds of religion or ethnicity.

"We said it would not unite the people but divide them," he said. "It think this will be a very big test case. Possibly the [state] government is regretting passing this law, because it has already caused quite a hassle in the community."

A Christian ethical action group called Saltshakers spearheaded opposition to the bill. The group's research director, Jenny Stokes, said Thursday it had argued that offenses such as slander and defamation were already covered by common law provisions.

But the anti-discrimination legislation was trying to "enter the realm of thought, especially in the field of religion."

"This is where we thought the bill would go," Stokes said, referring to the Islamic Council's complaint.

Stokes herself attended the seminar at the center of the protest.

She said the complainants, who had not been present for the entire meeting, had taken a number of points out of context from Scott's detailed study on Islam, based on the religion's texts and the life of Mohammed.

"The idea of the seminar was that the Muslim faith is based on the Koran, and we need to know what the Koran says."

Both Nalliah and Scott have first-hand experience of Islam's approach to Christians. Scott and his wife left Pakistan in 1987, amid persecution after the introduction of Islamic (shari'a) law there.

According to Nalliah, Scott was condemned to death under Pakistan's controversial blasphemy laws but had managed to flee the country.

Nalliah, who in the 1990s held meetings with U.S. congressmen during the process leading up to passage of the 1998 International Religious Freedom Act, worked in Saudi Arabia for two years from 1995-97.

He said he had had close shaves with security agencies in a country where "you cannot mention the name of Jesus, you cannot have a Bible in your house."

________________________________

 

Where Rage Resides
For the Ordinary People Of Gaza City, Death Is a Way of Life

by Richard Leiby ("Washington Post," April 24, 2002)

Denim-skirted 10th-graders rustle to attention when the general enters the classroom, trailed by an entourage of hard-eyed guards in black uniforms. All rise for the Palestinian national anthem. A boombox plays a fizzy organ number that sounds as if it could have been composed for a mid-1970s soft drink commercial.

No one sings; it's an instrumental. Brig. Gen. Mahmoud M. Abu Marzoug, director of civil defense for the Palestinian National Authority, stands in rigid salute, then begins his lecture about the responsibilities of young women in case of an incursion here by the Israeli army.

"A woman's role in society is important," says Abu Marzoug, 60, a sturdy, mustachioed figure who has come to the all-girls high school to announce an eight-day emergency-preparedness course. His men will train the 15- and 16-year-olds as rescuers, firefighters and first-aid providers. And perhaps some may wish to take on other tasks.

"Surely you have heard of your sisters who blow themselves up to defend the dignity of Palestine," he says. The fresh-faced teenagers nod beneath their head scarves.

"Anyone who kills and struggles for the sake of their land, and dies doing so, they are not dead," he assures them. "They are alive, with a new life. Because as a martyr you will be alive in Heaven."

He launches into a history lesson on centuries of Islamic struggle, a narrative that ends with bloody details of the recent purported massacres by Israeli soldiers who besieged the Jenin refugee camp on the West Bank: "bodies in pieces, a body in a bucket, 15 or 16 people buried in the same area." He calls the aftermath more horrifying than anything the world witnessed during the Vietnam War or, for that matter, the Holocaust.

After 30 minutes, some of the girls at the back of the class are shifting in their seats. They've heard it all before. The 26-mile-long Gaza Strip, home to 1.1 million Palestinians, is where militants rally around the green flag of Hamas (the Islamic Resistance Movement), the black banner of the Islamic Jihad and the yellow standard of Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat's Fatah movement. They parade almost daily in the streets, firing Kalashnikovs skyward, itching for an invasion and urging an apocalyptic showdown with Israel and America, Israel's main weapons supplier.

The civil defense assembly ends. Students file quickly into the sunny courtyard of the Ahmad Shawquin Secondary School, named to honor a poet and playwright from Egypt. A half-dozen girls line up to affirm to an American reporter that they would gladly conduct "martyrdom operations," including suicide bombings, to defend their homeland if it's attacked. They often bookend their fiery statements, delivered in English, with two words: "Of course."

"Not only boys and young men can make the operations," says Heba Abu Schammala, a statuesque 16-year-old. "We can, too!"

"Of course," says her classmate Lana Hejazy, 15. "There is no future for us. It's beautiful to want to sacrifice yourself for God."

Maha Yahia, supervisor of the school's English department, smiles with pride at her students' solid command of the language. She also volunteers that she would not stop her own daughters, 13 and 15, if they wanted to martyr themselves in battle. The Koran, after all, reserves the highest honors for the shahid who strives to kill the enemy while killing himself.

But we have a question on another subject entirely. About the girls' light blue denim shirts and blouses: Is that the school uniform? Yes, the teacher says. Her students love the cowboy chic.

"From America!" one says. The others giggle.

Then, as they cluster in schoolyard cliques, conversation turns to Ricky Martin and the latest local pop singers. They discuss options in the field of chemistry unrelated to bombmaking. Lana Hejazy confides her hope to visit America someday.

"I am like other girls," says the would-be shahid. "I want to have children and see a future."

Of course.

City of Anger

Even before entering Gaza from the north you inhale the stench of its sewage, festering in a deep culvert near an Israeli-controlled border checkpoint. This is the Erez Industrial Zone crossing, a no man's land of barbed wire, concrete barriers and bunkers, where army snipers peer anxiously from small slits.

"Halt! Halt!" one screams when a clearly marked white U.N. vehicle approaches. The Israeli soldiers can't take chances. Palestinians periodically attack this crossing and others. A few days ago, a gunman killed a police border guard at Erez before soldiers shot him to death. At a southern checkpoint, a militant detonated a bomb in his car, killing only himself.

Gaza City, a haphazard collection of office buildings, refugee camps and concrete-block hovels, has long teemed with violence, but some residents dreamily recall it as a placid Mediterranean getaway. It boasts a few resort hotels with stunning seaside views and even a small amusement park (now closed).

After the 1993 Oslo peace accords, Gaza City became a hub of cultural and commercial exchange with Israel. As the nascent Palestinian state took shape, this urban center accrued the trappings of an economic center, with an airport and busy harbor.

That ended with the onset of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000. More than 100,000 blue-collar residents can no longer cross the border to find jobs working in Israel. White-collar businessmen have seen their renewable visas revoked. The airport is shut down, its runway smashed to rubble by Israeli forces. European firms have halted offshore oil exploration.

Generations of Gaza citizens are accustomed to entrenched, long-term despair. But as in Israel, this latest war has delivered more misery than many can recall in their lifetimes. In recent months unemployment has hit 70 percent, according to economic officials. (In Israel the current 10.3 percent jobless rate is the highest since 1967.)

Rage is Gaza's main export now. Crossing into Gaza City is like entering a howling wind tunnel of hatred toward the Israeli occupation forces. Penned in by fences and combat troops, many Palestinians describe Gaza as nothing more than a giant internment camp.

"They've stolen our land since 1948," fumes Tariq Olian, scraping the floor of his open-air falafel kitchen with a stiff broom. The young man takes intense pride in his two middle names: Jihad Arafat. "They may have soldiers, but we have fighters."

Still, as the citizen-soldiers of Gaza pile sandbags in the street and prepare booby traps, they cling to certain pleasantries. Hospitality reigns in even the most squalid tenements, as residents ply foreign guests with trayloads of aromatic tea and strong Turkish coffee.

"Hello, how are you? I'm fine, thank you," sing boys clad in Pokemon T-shirts and Reebok soccer sweats, hanging out at a shrine that honors locals killed during this uprising and the first six-year intifada, launched in 1987. A veiny arm and hand clutching a stone rise from the top of the monument. The boys clamor to be photographed before falling into a long funeral procession for one of several Gaza-born fighters killed earlier this month in Nablus.

One 14-year-old, Muhammed Dabaga, sucks on a brass bullet casing as if it were a lollipop. "Chu-chu-chu," chatters another boy, grinning as he pretends to strafe a journalist's car. Other kids wield replicas of machine guns fashioned from plywood and electrical tape. Matchboxes affixed to the stocks serve as magazines full of "bullets."

Young or old, nearly everyone here swears to fight to the finish. But the Israeli army seems in no hurry to take on Gaza, which only increases the militants' impotent fury. They go on blasting assault weapons toward Heaven, raining bullets on their own land and people.

Wage Earner

In a small room of whitewashed concrete, Mohammed Shanti passes much of the day watching the news on his 20-inch Sharp television. Around 3 p.m. he will venture a half-mile to the beach for a swim, treading through seashell-flecked, sandy alleys. The paths between buildings are so narrow that even a small fellow like Shanti, 29, can barely pass without scraping his shoulders on the walls.

He lives in Shati, also known as Beach Camp, in the stark four-room dwelling his father, Ibrahim, received under a U.N. program a half-century ago. "I was homeless," says Ibrahim, 77, recounting the family's history as refugees after Israel gained independence. His ailing wife, Mageha, totters by on a walker; she's 67.

In all, eight people share this home: Mohammed Shanti, his wife, Najlaa, and their three small children; his sister, Sawsan; and his elderly parents. Until this month, they were getting by decently on Mohammed's income of about $271 a month. He's a copy and fax machine repairman, specializing in extended-warranty work on Sharp products.

Adopting the trade three years ago, he figured that the high breakdown rate of office equipment would always keep him employed. But on April 1, his boss delivered bad news: He had to lay off five workers and slash the other 15 technicians' schedules from six days a week to three, cutting their salaries in half.

The intifada is to blame. Spare parts can no longer be brought in from Sharp distributors in the Palestinian cities of Nablus and Ramallah on the West Bank. Repair technicians trying to make calls within Gaza are halted and turned away at checkpoints, suspected of being bombers, says the office manager, Jalal Alkhaldi.

The Palestinian Authority, the shop's main client, can't afford repairs anymore. Business is also down at university libraries, Alkhaldi says. Hard-pressed students have taken to copying materials by hand rather than paying a shekel (21 cents) to run off five pages. Underused, the copiers don't break down as frequently.

Shanti says he supports this intifada "in general," but he's a practical man, soft-spoken, not easily driven to anger. He is no soldier, he says.

"I'm a citizen. I hope for everything to be calm. No one likes war, no one."

In his youth, Shanti happily joined his friends in the streets of Beach Camp, throwing stones at Israeli soldiers. In 1989, not far from his home, he took a rubber-coated steel bullet in the belly, he says. "It's still in there," Shanti explains, pointing to the paunch beneath his gray sweat suit.

Doctors couldn't remove it without injuring vital organs. The wound pained him terribly for two years, he says. Now he no longer feels it.

Amid the gloom in the Shanti household, there remains one bright spot. It's the garden out back, planted by Ibrahim, the white-bearded, bespectacled patriarch. He inventories with pride the plantings on a meager strip of soil that looks like a rectangular sandbox, perhaps 8 feet long and 3 feet wide. There are two squash vines, an orange tree just starting to bear clusters of green fruit, a scrawny hibiscus bush that boasts one red bloom.

It isn't much, but the garden will help feed the family in the hard times ahead, Ibrahim says. And it's theirs, this little piece of the land.

The Student

When he was 17, Naser Rezi picked up stones to throw at the Israeli soldiers guarding a Jewish settlement in Gaza near the Netzarim checkpoint. Other youths tossed Molotov cocktails. Shots rang out and a bullet tore into Rezi's chest.

It severed one of his vertebrae, paralyzing him from the waist down. He lost a kidney. He can no longer control his bowels.

That was on Sept. 28, 2000, the first day of the new intifada. Today the teenager sits in his bedroom in a wheelchair donated from Saudi Arabia, wearing an Adidas jacket, a ratty blanket on his lap. There is barely enough room for a single bed; he cannot turn the chair around.

Rezi lives in this forlorn second-floor tenement with 15 other family members, 10 of whom sleep on thin mattresses in one room. His 7-year-old brother is also confined to a wheelchair, palsied and unable to speak, a condition his family blames on tear gas he inhaled as a baby.

The family subsists on a disability payment of about $84 a month from the Palestinian Authority. Rezi's father, who has two wives, is unemployed, no longer able to cross into Israel to seek work.

Does Rezi wish he hadn't joined the intifada?

"No, I am not regretful. I will never be regretful."

The walls in his room are festooned with Jihad propaganda and other influences in his life. A newspaper photo of a Hamas suicide bomber, who attacked a bus in Jerusalem, is pasted near his pillow. There are hospital room pictures documenting his wounds. A soccer medal dangles nearby.

But two idyllic posters are dominant. He can look at them and escape, for a moment, to other places. One, which nearly covers an entire wall, depicts a European landscape: a castle set amid mountains and a shimmering lake. The other poster shows a set of French doors, covered with vines, leading to a garden.

Rezi says he used to study art. His mother, Layla, fetches one of his works, a crude ink sketch on a small notepad. In the center he's drawn a masked Hamas fighter, a gun and a strand of barbed wire. In the top corners are hand grenades.

In each lower corner is an eye, shedding a tear.

The General

Grandfatherly-looking bureaucrats in neat blazers gather around a conference table, smoking and arguing. They are Palestinian National Authority officials, hashing out a disaster plan in the office of Brig. Gen. Abu Marzoug, one of the founding members of the Palestine Liberation Organization.

These days he serves mainly as the fire chief. A good friend of Chairman Arafat, he is a peripheral character in the Palestinian leadership. But Abu Marzoug is the go-to guy in the Gaza Strip when it comes to public safety needs.

Supply and planning ministry officials report on the status of sugar and flour stockpiles. Gasoline? Not enough for a long siege. We're looking into the vaccine supply, says a health ministry representative. Make sure there's a wireless communications backup, another official points out. Meanwhile, the man from the housing ministry is worried: "Where would we put 5,000 families if something happens here like in Jenin?"

There, routed families faced the grisly task of digging for bodies with hand tools and planks. Abu Marzoug inquires about the availability of cranes and small bulldozers -- he wants "earthquake equipment" on standby to clear rubble immediately.

The officials fall silent and rise in unison. Time for lunch. Please join us, the general says, leading a visitor to another room in the firehouse, where aides deliver platters full of chicken, lamb sausage and beef shish kebab.

"You are our enemy, you know," Abu Marzoug says, his tone suddenly dark. But not to worry. He dips his pita in fiery red sauce. "In Gaza, you are under my protection. If anybody tries to grab you, show them this."

He extracts a business card from his wallet and checks off three private phone numbers. He also jots down an emergency hotline to the fire station, just in case -- 103.

"That's your 911."

Middle-Class Mores

In a tidy apartment decorated with Arab crafts -- tables with lacquered mosaic tops, intricately etched display pieces and beautiful patterns of tile -- English teacher Maha Yahia, 42, introduces her family.

This is husband Mahammad, also 42, an architect and consultant. These two polite, well-dressed boys are named Akram, 10, and Ahmed, 13. And these attractive, shy girls are Aya, 13, and Enas, 15. Then Maha laughingly fetches two other family members, a pair of crested parakeets that fly unfettered around the house.

"We are well educated," the mother says, not boastfully, but needing to make the point. All of her children possess great artistic and musical talents, she adds. They're fine students, too, eager to try out their English.

Yes, these are the children she and her husband would sacrifice in a holy war -- not happily, they say, but out of necessity, to preserve their dignity.

"I cannot let my children be slaves," says Mahammad. "I will not accept it. I love my children but I will kill them before I let them become slaves."

Soon the living room is swirling with explosions of political and religious rhetoric. Maha's brother, Mohammad Barzak, drops by to join in.

A physician, he is known by his patients for his calm and reserve. But tonight he sounds like a man with a bullhorn.

"Desperate times lead to desperate wars," Barzak declares, then suddenly begins shrieking: "Aiieee! Aiieee! I am injured, so I have the right to scream. I find myself between these choices: Live as a human being or die."

There are ringing denunciations of the Israelis. "They forced us to jihad!" Mahammad Yahia says. There are charges of American blindness to Palestinian suffering. Barzak rants about the "devil of democracy" and says of the media, "You must wake up. You are dominated by Jews!"

Maha supplies a constant stream of soft drinks, tea and coffee, along with plenty of cookies. Later Enas and Aya confirm their desire to become martyrs. "Of course."

But Mom says all anyone really wants is peace. She offers a Yahoo e-mail address in hopes that her girls can find pen pals in America.

Mahammad takes a stroll outside to show a place where his boys have been playing lately. Throughout the darkened streets are high mounds of sand, barricades piled in anticipation of war.

On their own little mound, Akram and Ahmed have erected a pretend checkpoint using broken cinder blocks and scrap metal. Here they play Jews vs. Arabs, tossing stones at each other.

They like to take turns scrambling up and down, brothers in constant battle over who gets to control a pile of sand.

 

_____________________________

 

 

In Afghanistan, laws of Islam are a constant
Justice: Officials say they'll adhere to centuries-old tenets 'until the end of the world.' 

By Douglas Birch
(Baltimore Sun," April 24, 2002)

KABUL, Afghanistan - Wali Mohamed has spent weeks in a dank 5-by-8-foot prison cell at Kabul Provincial Jail, let out only for his five-times-a-day prayers and visits to the toilet. He gets a loaf of bread at breakfast, a handful of rice at lunch and a bowl of soup at dinner. Whenever authorities get around to giving him a trial, he's likely to receive a long prison term.

The 25-year-old potato farmer's crime? He's accused of having an illicit love affair.

The barefoot Mohamed, a father of three, claims he didn't even know the married woman in the case.

"I haven't committed any crime," he says.

Here in Afghanistan, a legal system dating to the seventh century and the Prophet Muhammad will be the judge of that. Though the Taliban and their public executions have come and gone, the country still relies on the traditional Shariah law of Islam.

"From the beginning of Islam until now, Shariah has been the law," says Judge Mohamed Azim Jalili, 75, a deputy to the chief judge in Afghanistan's Supreme Court, who resembles an Old Testament prophet in his silver beard, white turban and black cloak.

"It is part of Islam," he says. "Until the end of the world, it will exist."

Afghan officials say they will apply Shariah law more fairly and humanely than the Taliban did. They say there have been no stonings or whippings since the Taliban collapsed. But those punishments will be used again someday, several Afghan officials predicted, for flagrant and repeat offenders.

As part of the Bonn agreement reached last fall, Afghanistan's interim government was supposed to create a commission to plan the rebuilding of the criminal justice system and the protection of human rights. The commission has still not been named.

The resulting confusion has trapped prisoners such as Wali Mohamed. Tall and soft-spoken, he stands with his arms behind his back in his tiny cell, with its dusty carpet and pencil drawings of tanks and fighter jets on the wall. He shares the space with two other inmates.

If found guilty, Mohamed could be stoned to death. But the evidence in his case doesn't meet the strict standard set for Shariah adultery cases. To convict someone, there must be four Muslim male eyewitnesses to the act. On the other hand, prisoners here are presumed guilty until proved innocent. Afghan authorities predict Mohamed will receive a stiff five- to seven-year sentence.

"It is harsh," concedes Ghulam Mohamed Dareeze, a law professor, author and former law school dean at Kabul University. "But here, according to tradition, it is a serious crime. It is a very big shame for that family. He must be put in prison."

In their zeal to enforce Islamic law, the Taliban publicly chopped off the hands of thieves and whipped drug dealers. Relatives of victims shot convicted murderers in crowded stadiums. These gruesome spectacles outraged the world.

But Shariah law - a system used in a handful of Muslim states - ruled Afghanistan long before the Taliban came, and law enforcement officials here say it will continue to do so long after their collapse.

Afghan traditions also affect the law. Courts and tribal leaders have sanctioned so-called honor killings: any close relative who finds a man and woman having sex outside of marriage has the right to kill them both.

The woman Wali is accused of having an affair with was shot to death by her brother-in-law. He is being held at the Kabul Provincial Jail on murder charges, but only because he didn't catch his sister-in-law in the act, Afghan authorities say.

Actually, says Martin Lau, an expert on Islamic law at the University of London who is studying the Afghan legal system, the Koran does not permit honor killings - contrary to assumptions here.

"Many - I would think most - Afghans believe it is Islamic law," he says.

Afghanistan's legal system is particularly hard on Afghan women. For them, running away from home is a crime. So is seeking a divorce. Women almost never accuse men of raping them, since the four-eyewitness standard applies. If the man is acquitted, legal experts say, the accuser can be charged with having engaged in illicit sex - and her accusations used as evidence against her.

Outside of Kabul and other cities, there is barely any law at all. There are no police in most rural areas - just gunmen and pliant mullahs enforcing the decrees of warlords. In several provinces, including Ghazni southwest of Kabul, governors have refused to recognize judges appointed by the interim government, court officials say.

Part of the problem is sheer confusion. Since 1964, the nation has suffered a succession of coups, assassinations and civil wars, and seen five new constitutions. Each new government has issued its own edicts. Many are outdated.

After the 1990 drug law was adopted, United Nations officials say, Afghanistan underwent severe inflation. Today, the fine for cultivating poppies is just $1.

All the decrees by Taliban leader Mullah Omar - including those banning kite-flying and requiring long beards - were repealed in late December. Outside of that, no one seems certain which laws are in effect. So judges appear to be picking and choosing among those they are most familiar with.

"There are quite a lot to choose from," says Lau.

Meanwhile, prisoners like Wali Mohamed are piling up in the Kabul Provincial Jail.

Prisoners sleep in doorways and halls, crowding up to 17 in a single room. Authorities provide only enough food for 250 prisoners, the theoretical capacity of the jail. Instead, there are almost 400 - and some have been forced onto half rations.

There are also 16 women in the jail. Many have escaped from fathers and husbands. One married woman in her 20s who ran off with another man, jail officials say, faces a stiff prison sentence. Authorities would not permit a male reporter to speak to her.

"They will punish her," predicted Gen. Mohamed Khalil Aminzhada, chief of the jail and deputy chief in Kabul's police force. "They will not release her."

When the Taliban fled, every jail and prison in Kabul emptied. Perhaps 10,000 inmates escaped from the infamous Pol-e-Charki prison east of Kabul. Many were political prisoners, or jailed by religious police for listening to music or gambling. But thousands of others were being held for serious crimes.

Aghi Ghuljan, a 28-year-old taxi driver, sits in jail, very much afraid. He fears, he says, that authorities will cut off his hands. He was hired by three Jalalabad merchants to bring them to Kabul to change Pakistani rupees into the local currency - the afghani - at the city's riotous Currency Exchange.

When he drove the merchants back toward Jalalabad on April 3, the Toyota Corolla trunk stuffed with sacks containing 12 billion afghanis, worth about $400,000 at current rates, armed men in another car robbed them.

The merchants accused Ghuljan of tipping off the bandits in one of the largest robberies in Kabul since the Taliban left. The courts, he fears, may want to make an example of him.

"This is the worst thing that has happened to me," he says.

Afghans warn the West not to expect too many changes, too swiftly, in their legal traditions, which are intertwined with their tribal culture and fundamentalist religious views.

"This is not a democracy," says Aminzhada, the former general and deputy chief of police. "Democracy belongs to progressive cultures and literate people. We are not against democracy, but we will have a very hard time to reach this level. It is an Islamic society. People are Muslims. The Sharia law will be implemented."

When the accused finally reach court, they find few safeguards for their civil rights.

Police charged Rohilla, a 30-year-old Kabul man, with trying to sell a minuscule amount of heroin - 100 milligrams - on a Kabul street corner for about 60 cents back in December. They charged the hunch-shouldered, sad-faced man with being a heroin dealer.

Trials here are normally secret, but court authorities allowed a reporter to sit in on Rohilla's.

The courtroom consisted of a narrow office on the second floor of a building near the jail. Chief Judge Mohamed Kazem Rashid sat behind the only desk.

In what may reflect the influence of the days of Soviet occupation, two assistant judges also presided. (Russia still uses a three-judge system.)

In theory, Rohilla could have hired one of the few defense attorneys, who are beginning to reappear after being banned by the Taliban. He couldn't afford one, and there are no public defenders.

The trial was brief.

An assistant attorney general read a statement of the charges and evidence against the accused. He noted that Rohilla, who is illiterate, confessed to police. Because he couldn't sign his name, the confession bore his thumbprint. No witnesses were called.

Did Rohilla have anything to say? "Actually, I'm not a heroin dealer," he protested. He just wanted to sell a bit of heroin that he hadn't smoked himself. The judges sent Rohilla out of the room so they could deliberate.

"His crime is clear," said Parwin, a 30-year-old assistant judge. Rohilla, she said, deserved a year in prison.

Gulhraim, a 45-year-old assistant judge suggested eight months. Chief Judge Rashid suggested a nine-month term. That was the final word.

Rashid pressed a battery-powered bell on his desk. Face drawn and eyes darting, Rohilla reappeared, escorted by a skeleton-thin guard dressed in a green wool military uniform.

"Your crime was heavy," Rashid said gravely. "But we are giving you a light punishment."

Rohilla looked stunned. "I don't accept that," he said, demanding another trial. He had barely finished speaking when the guard locked manacles on his wrists and led him away.

 

________________________________

 

Saudi Press Wages Attack

(AP, April 24, 2002)

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia (AP) -- Following a fire in a girls' school that killed 15 students in the holy city of Mecca in March, the Saudi press displayed an audaciousness that was out of character.

Several Saudi papers waged an unprecedented attack against the religious establishment following witness accounts -- later denied by the government -- that the religious police prevented the girls from fleeing the school because they were not covered with their abayas, or black cloaks.

Readers praised the efforts of local reporters to go beyond the spoon-fed fare of the government-controlled Saudi Press Agency to get to the truth. One, Tariq al-Maeena, wrote in a letter to Arab News titled, ``The walls shall crumble down,'' that the ``press has become bolder and truer and more responsible to their profession.''

However, a couple of weeks after the burst of openness, the government yanked the leash and the kingdom's newspapers reverted to their old, docile form.

``The press here is one way, from the top to the bottom. There's no feedback from the public,'' said Suleiman al-Shammari, a journalism professor.

``The government acts like the media's doorman, especially when it comes to foreign policy, opening and closing the door when it wishes,'' he added.

Saudi Arabia's information minister did not respond to repeated requests for an interview.

The main sources of news for most Saudis are satellite channels, such as the Qatar-based Al-Jazeera. Satellite dishes, though illegal, are widespread. The Internet is another source of news for Saudis, but their government heavily censors it -- about half a million sites, many of them pornographic or maintained by the opposition, are blocked on any given day.

The press restrictions are part of wider controls on all forms of literature, public artistic expression and academic subjects.

The authorities prohibit the study of evolution, Freud, Marx, Western music and Western philosophy, and prohibit the criticism of Islam or the ruling family.

``In the Arab world, Saudi Arabia exercises the strictest control over the written word,'' said Dawood al-Shirian, a Saudi writer who is regional director of the respected Saudi-owned, London-based Al Hayat daily.

Although newspapers are owned by private institutions, their editors are appointed by the government. The editors meet regularly with the information minister, who gives them guidelines on sensitive topics.

In the case of the school fire, the campaign against the religious establishment abated after Information Minister Fuad al-Farsi met with the editors. Interior Minister Prince Nayef, who's also the head of the Higher Media Council, also met with editors and scolded them for crossing lines concerning religion, according to a source who attended the meeting.

In another example of how the government tries to inhibit the press, the Information Ministry has asked Al Watan daily, the boldest Saudi daily, to pay a fine of $10,800 for distributing a survey to Palestinians in several Arab countries asking them whether they would want to return to their homes in the event of a peace settlement with Israel.

The ministry imposed the fine even though Al Watan canceled the survey when the Palestinian Embassy in Algeria protested to the Saudi Foreign Ministry that the poll was politically sensitive.

A letter from the Information Ministry to Al Watan -- a copy of which was obtained by The Associated Press -- said in addition to the fine, the newspaper ``should make a written pledge that you would not repeat the infraction.''

In another incident, the government fired Mohammed Mokhtar al-Fal, editor-in-chief of Al-Madina daily, last month after his newspaper printed a poem that accused Islamic judges of being corrupt and following the orders of ``tyrants.''

Despite its control on the press, the government has tolerated in recent years criticism on previously taboo subjects, such as the abuse of women, servants and children.

The U.S. State Department's Human Rights report for 2001 said the government has continued to relax its blackout policy regarding news in the international media.

``The government's policy in this regard appears to be motivated in part by pragmatic considerations: access by citizens to outside sources of information, such as Arabic and Western satellite television channels and the Internet,'' said the report.

 

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12 Women Killed in Pakistan Mosque

by Kathy Gannon (AP, April 26, 2002)

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan (AP) - A bomb exploded in the women's section of a Shiite Mosque in a Pakistani province wracked by religious violence, killing 12 female worshippers and wounding at least 13 other people, hospital officials said Friday.

It's not known who planted the powerful bomb that went off around midnight Thursday in Bukker in eastern Punjab province, about 300 miles southwest of the federal capital of Islamabad.

"The bomb was planted on the women's side and all the dead were women," said Mohammed Nisar, a doctor at the only hospital in Bukker where the dead and wounded were taken.

Mosques are segregated.

A senior leader of the outlawed Shiite group Tehrik-e-Jafria, Ali Raza Gardezi, said the attack on women and children was an act of terrorism aimed at creating unrest and sectarian disharmony.

Gardezi said only the enemy of Islam could be behind the bomb attack on the Muslims as "no Muslim can do it," Gardezi said.

Faiz Mohammed Awan, medical superintendent of the hospital at Bukker, confirmed that they have received 12 bodies at the hospital while 13 wounded are being treated.

Police have not made any arrests, but Pakistan, and eastern Punjab province in particular, has been wracked by religiously motivated violence in recent years. Attacks by rival radical elements of the Sunni and Shiite sects of Islam have killed hundreds.

The usual culprits involved in the killing of Shiite Muslims have been members of the violent Sipah-e-Sahaba Pakistan or Guardians of the Friends of the Prophet group, banned by Pakistan's military president Gen. Pervez Musharraf. The organization reviles Shiite Muslims as outside the pale of Islam.

Since January dozens of Shiite Muslims have been killed in Pakistan. Many of the deaths have been target killings and have occurred both in the Punjab province and in the country's southern Sindh province, of which Karachi is the capital.

During the last week in Karachi a Shiite Muslim doctor was shot and killed as well as the Shiite Muslim owner of a pharmacy. No arrests have been made in the two drive-by shootings. It's not known if the killings were carried out by the same people or organization.

No one has claimed responsibility for any of the killings.

Previously Hasan Turabi, the head of a banned Shiite Muslim group, Tehrik-e-Jafria, blamed the upsurge in killings of Shiite Muslims on the return to Pakistan of militant Sunni Muslims from neighboring Afghanistan following the collapse of the Taliban.

Turabi said the Taliban, a movement dominated by Sunni Muslims, espoused the same philosophy as Pakistan's radical Sunni Muslims, and harbored those who had killed Shiite Muslims in Pakistan. With the fall of the Taliban these radical elements returned home, he said.

Police said they were investigating the explosion in Bukker.

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Muslim militiaman says prepare for war

(AP, April 26, 2002)

AMBON, Indonesia (AP) -- The leader of a militant Muslim militia in Indonesia's Maluku islands has told thousands of supporters to prepare for war against a mostly Christian separatist group.

Jafar Umar Thalib, the commander of the Laskar Jihad, urged his followers on Friday to reject a recent peace deal between Muslims and Christians that had mostly stemmed three years of religious fighting in the region.

"From today, we will no longer talk about reconciliation," he told around 5,000 people at mosque in the Maluku provincial capital, Ambon.

Earlier Friday, security forces fired warning shots to prevent the crowd from moving into a Christian section of the city. One person was injured, witnesses said.

Up to 9,000 people have been killed in the Malukus -- located 2,600 kilometers (1,600 miles) east of Jakarta and known as the Spice Islands during Dutch colonial rule -- since fighting broke out in 1999.

Tensions have risen sharply this week in the run-up to anniversary celebrations by the Maluku Sovereignty Front, a small separatist group campaigning to make the southern part of the Maluku archipelago an independent nation.

Accusations

Local Islamic groups accuse the front, which is mostly supported by Christians, of encouraging attacks on Muslims. They use the front's presence to justify their own militancy and have long demanded security forces crack down on it.

On Thursday, a Muslim mob torched a church after the front raised independence flags in the city. At least 6 people were injured in clashes with troops.

"Our ... focus now must be preparing for war -- ready your guns, spears and daggers," Thalib said.

Laskar Jihad joined the conflict in 2000 after arriving from Indonesia's main island of Java. It has been accused of having links to Osama bin Laden's al Qaeda network, something which it and Indonesian officials deny.

Indonesia is the world's most populous Islamic nation. However, in Maluku -- which has a population of about two million people -- the balance between Christians and Muslims is almost even.

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"In Afghanistan, laws of Islam are a constant"
Justice: Officials say they'll adhere to centuries-old tenets 'until the end of the world.' 

By Douglas Birch
(Baltimore Sun," April 24, 2002)

KABUL, Afghanistan - Wali Mohamed has spent weeks in a dank 5-by-8-foot prison cell at Kabul Provincial Jail, let out only for his five-times-a-day prayers and visits to the toilet. He gets a loaf of bread at breakfast, a handful of rice at lunch and a bowl of soup at dinner. Whenever authorities get around to giving him a trial, he's likely to receive a long prison term.

The 25-year-old potato farmer's crime? He's accused of having an illicit love affair.

The barefoot Mohamed, a father of three, claims he didn't even know the married woman in the case.

"I haven't committed any crime," he says.

Here in Afghanistan, a legal system dating to the seventh century and the Prophet Muhammad will be the judge of that. Though the Taliban and their public executions have come and gone, the country still relies on the traditional Shariah law of Islam.

"From the beginning of Islam until now, Shariah has been the law," says Judge Mohamed Azim Jalili, 75, a deputy to the chief judge in Afghanistan's Supreme Court, who resembles an Old Testament prophet in his silver beard, white turban and black cloak.

"It is part of Islam," he says. "Until the end of the world, it will exist."

Afghan officials say they will apply Shariah law more fairly and humanely than the Taliban did. They say there have been no stonings or whippings since the Taliban collapsed. But those punishments will be used again someday, several Afghan officials predicted, for flagrant and repeat offenders.

As part of the Bonn agreement reached last fall, Afghanistan's interim government was supposed to create a commission to plan the rebuilding of the criminal justice system and the protection of human rights. The commission has still not been named.

The resulting confusion has trapped prisoners such as Wali Mohamed. Tall and soft-spoken, he stands with his arms behind his back in his tiny cell, with its dusty carpet and pencil drawings of tanks and fighter jets on the wall. He shares the space with two other inmates.

If found guilty, Mohamed could be stoned to death. But the evidence in his case doesn't meet the strict standard set for Shariah adultery cases. To convict someone, there must be four Muslim male eyewitnesses to the act. On the other hand, prisoners here are presumed guilty until proved innocent. Afghan authorities predict Mohamed will receive a stiff five- to seven-year sentence.

"It is harsh," concedes Ghulam Mohamed Dareeze, a law professor, author and former law school dean at Kabul University. "But here, according to tradition, it is a serious crime. It is a very big shame for that family. He must be put in prison."

In their zeal to enforce Islamic law, the Taliban publicly chopped off the hands of thieves and whipped drug dealers. Relatives of victims shot convicted murderers in crowded stadiums. These gruesome spectacles outraged the world.

But Shariah law - a system used in a handful of Muslim states - ruled Afghanistan long before the Taliban came, and law enforcement officials here say it will continue to do so long after their collapse.

Afghan traditions also affect the law. Courts and tribal leaders have sanctioned so-called honor killings: any close relative who finds a man and woman having sex outside of marriage has the right to kill them both.

The woman Wali is accused of having an affair with was shot to death by her brother-in-law. He is being held at the Kabul Provincial Jail on murder charges, but only because he didn't catch his sister-in-law in the act, Afghan authorities say.

Actually, says Martin Lau, an expert on Islamic law at the University of London who is studying the Afghan legal system, the Koran does not permit honor killings - contrary to assumptions here.

"Many - I would think most - Afghans believe it is Islamic law," he says.

Afghanistan's legal system is particularly hard on Afghan women. For them, running away from home is a crime. So is seeking a divorce. Women almost never accuse men of raping them, since the four-eyewitness standard applies. If the man is acquitted, legal experts say, the accuser can be charged with having engaged in illicit sex - and her accusations used as evidence against her.

Outside of Kabul and other cities, there is barely any law at all. There are no police in most rural areas - just gunmen and pliant mullahs enforcing the decrees of warlords. In several provinces, including Ghazni southwest of Kabul, governors have refused to recognize judges appointed by the interim government, court officials say.

Part of the problem is sheer confusion. Since 1964, the nation has suffered a succession of coups, assassinations and civil wars, and seen five new constitutions. Each new government has issued its own edicts. Many are outdated.

After the 1990 drug law was adopted, United Nations officials say, Afghanistan underwent severe inflation. Today, the fine for cultivating poppies is just $1.

All the decrees by Taliban leader Mullah Omar - including those banning kite-flying and requiring long beards - were repealed in late December. Outside of that, no one seems certain which laws are in effect. So judges appear to be picking and choosing among those they are most familiar with.

"There are quite a lot to choose from," says Lau.

Meanwhile, prisoners like Wali Mohamed are piling up in the Kabul Provincial Jail.

Prisoners sleep in doorways and halls, crowding up to 17 in a single room. Authorities provide only enough food for 250 prisoners, the theoretical capacity of the jail. Instead, there are almost 400 - and some have been forced onto half rations.

There are also 16 women in the jail. Many have escaped from fathers and husbands. One married woman in her 20s who ran off with another man, jail officials say, faces a stiff prison sentence. Authorities would not permit a male reporter to speak to her.

"They will punish her," predicted Gen. Mohamed Khalil Aminzhada, chief of the jail and deputy chief in Kabul's police force. "They will not release her."

When the Taliban fled, every jail and prison in Kabul emptied. Perhaps 10,000 inmates escaped from the infamous Pol-e-Charki prison east of Kabul. Many were political prisoners, or jailed by religious police for listening to music or gambling. But thousands of others were being held for serious crimes.

Aghi Ghuljan, a 28-year-old taxi driver, sits in jail, very much afraid. He fears, he says, that authorities will cut off his hands. He was hired by three Jalalabad merchants to bring them to Kabul to change Pakistani rupees into the local currency - the afghani - at the city's riotous Currency Exchange.

When he drove the merchants back toward Jalalabad on April 3, the Toyota Corolla trunk stuffed with sacks containing 12 billion afghanis, worth about $400,000 at current rates, armed men in another car robbed them.

The merchants accused Ghuljan of tipping off the bandits in one of the largest robberies in Kabul since the Taliban left. The courts, he fears, may want to make an example of him.

"This is the worst thing that has happened to me," he says.

Afghans warn the West not to expect too many changes, too swiftly, in their legal traditions, which are intertwined with their tribal culture and fundamentalist religious views.

"This is not a democracy," says Aminzhada, the former general and deputy chief of police. "Democracy belongs to progressive cultures and literate people. We are not against democracy, but we will have a very hard time to reach this level. It is an Islamic society. People are Muslims. The Sharia law will be implemented."

When the accused finally reach court, they find few safeguards for their civil rights.

Police charged Rohilla, a 30-year-old Kabul man, with trying to sell a minuscule amount of heroin - 100 milligrams - on a Kabul street corner for about 60 cents back in December. They charged the hunch-shouldered, sad-faced man with being a heroin dealer.

Trials here are normally secret, but court authorities allowed a reporter to sit in on Rohilla's.

The courtroom consisted of a narrow office on the second floor of a building near the jail. Chief Judge Mohamed Kazem Rashid sat behind the only desk.

In what may reflect the influence of the days of Soviet occupation, two assistant judges also presided. (Russia still uses a three-judge system.)

In theory, Rohilla could have hired one of the few defense attorneys, who are beginning to reappear after being banned by the Taliban. He couldn't afford one, and there are no public defenders.

The trial was brief.

An assistant attorney general read a statement of the charges and evidence against the accused. He noted that Rohilla, who is illiterate, confessed to police. Because he couldn't sign his name, the confession bore his thumbprint. No witnesses were called.

Did Rohilla have anything to say? "Actually, I'm not a heroin dealer," he protested. He just wanted to sell a bit of heroin that he hadn't smoked himself. The judges sent Rohilla out of the room so they could deliberate.

"His crime is clear," said Parwin, a 30-year-old assistant judge. Rohilla, she said, deserved a year in prison.

Gulhraim, a 45-year-old assistant judge suggested eight months. Chief Judge Rashid suggested a nine-month term. That was the final word.

Rashid pressed a battery-powered bell on his desk. Face drawn and eyes darting, Rohilla reappeared, escorted by a skeleton-thin guard dressed in a green wool military uniform.

"Your crime was heavy," Rashid said gravely. "But we are giving you a light punishment."

Rohilla looked stunned. "I don't accept that," he said, demanding another trial. He had barely finished speaking when the guard locked manacles on his wrists and led him away.

 

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Western Scholars Play Key Role
In Touting 'Science' of the Quran

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL: January 23, 2002

By DANIEL GOLDEN
Staff Reporter of THE WALL STREET JOURNAL

Joe Leigh Simpson, chairman of obstetrics and gynecology at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, is a church-going Presbyterian.

But thanks to a few conferences he attended back in the 1980s, he is known in parts of the Muslim world as a champion of the doctrine that the Quran, Islam's holy book, is historically and scientifically correct in every detail. Dr. Simpson now says he made some comments that sound "silly and embarrassing" taken out of context, but no matter: Mideast television shows, Muslim books and Web sites still quote him as saying the Quran must have been "derived from God," because it foresaw modern discoveries in embryology and genetics.

Publicity Machine

Dr. Simpson is just one of several non-Muslim scientists who have found themselves caught up in the publicity machine of a fast-growing branch of Islamic fundamentalism.

Dubbed "Bucailleism," after the French surgeon Maurice Bucaille, who articulated it in an influential 1976 book, the doctrine is in some ways the Muslim counterpart to Christian creationism. But while creationism rejects much of modern science, Bucailleism embraces it. It holds that the Quran prophesied the Big Bang theory, space travel and other contemporary scientific breakthroughs. By the same token, it argues, the Bible makes lots of scientific errors, and so is less reliable as the word of God. Muslims believe the Quran to be God's revelations to the prophet Muhammad, as told to him by an angel.

Before the planets and stars, modern science has largely concluded, the universe was probably a cloud of dust and gas. The Quran presaged that conclusion in the seventh century, Bucailleists argue, in a text saying Allah "comprehended in his design the sky, and it had been as smoke." The discovery of black holes in space? Foreseen in the passage, "Heaven is opened and becomes as gates."

While disdained by most mainstream scholars, Bucailleism has had an important role in attracting converts to Islam and in keeping young, Western-leaning adherents faithful. Widely taught in Islamic secondary schools, the doctrine fosters pride in Muslim heritage, and reconciles conflicts that students may feel between their religious beliefs and secular careers in engineering or computers.

Conferences and Videotapes

"All over the Arab world, in the universities, you will find people who hold onto this line of thought more and more," says Muzaffar Iqbal, president of Center for Islam and Science in Alberta, Canada. "It has more credence there than creationism has here. In the Muslim world, there is no organized opposition to it."

Says Zaghloul El-Naggar, an Egyptian geologist who touts the doctrine on a popular weekly television program shown in the Arab world: "One of the main convincing evidences to people to accept Islam is the large number of scientific facts in the Quran."

Bucailleism has been propelled by a well-funded campaign led by Prof. El-Naggar's onetime protege, Sheikh Abdul Majeed Zindani, a charismatic Yemeni academic and politician. Founder and former secretary-general of the Commission on Scientific Signs in the Quran and Sunnah, based in Saudi Arabia, Mr. Zindani organized conferences where Dr. Simpson and other scientists appeared and were videotaped.

A Friend of Osama

Mr. Zindani also is a friend and mentor to another Bucailleism devotee of Yemeni descent: Osama bin Laden. The world's most wanted man has regularly sought Mr. Zindani's guidance on whether planned terrorist actions are in accord with Islam, says Yossef Bodansky, biographer of Mr. bin Laden and staff director of a U.S. congressional task force on terrorism. "Zindani is one of the people closest to bin Laden," says Mr. Bodansky, who attributes the book's findings to interviews with various intelligence agencies, current and former terrorists and others.

Mr. Zindani, who stepped down as secretary general of the Commission on Scientific Signs in 1995, is now a leading figure in a Yemeni opposition party that advocates an Islamic state. He isn't listed as a terrorist by the U.S. government. He declined comment for this article, saying through an intermediary that he is preoccupied with political and academic affairs.

In an interview last May in a magazine published by the Commission on Scientific Signs, he said that when Muslims learn of the scientific accuracy of the Quran, "they feel a kind of honor, confidence and satisfaction that they are following a true religion." The persuasiveness of the evidence, he added, "is clear and obvious, as it is testified by a group of eminent non-Muslim scholars in several fields."

Bucailleism began gaining momentum around 1980, when Mr. Zindani became director of a team at King Abdulaziz University that sought out Western scientists visiting Saudi Arabia. His breakthrough came when one of his assistants, Mustafa Abdul Basit Ahmed, presented a leech to Keith Moore, a University of Toronto professor and author of a widely used embryology textbook.

Mr. Ahmed wanted to show that a verse from the Quran, which states that God made man as a leech, was an apt simile to describe early human gestation as seen under a microscope. Mr. Ahmed says Prof. Moore was bowled over by the resemblance between the leech and the early embryo. Since the Quran predated microscopes, Prof. Moore, son of a Protestant clergyman, concluded that God had revealed the Quran to Muhammad. Prof. Moore has disseminated this view not only on Mr. Zindani's videos but in many lectures, panel discussions and articles.

Prof. Moore sanctioned a special 1983 edition of his textbook, "The Developing Human," for the Islamic world, that was co-written by Mr. Zindani. It alternates chapters of standard science with Mr. Zindani's "Islamic additions" on the Quran. In its acknowledgments, among "distinguished scholars" who gave "full support in their personal and official capacities," Mr. Zindani lists Sheikh Osama bin Laden, alongside Dr. Simpson and other Western scientists. Prof. El-Naggar, the Egyptian geology professor who taught Mr. Zindani, says Mr. bin Laden became intrigued by Bucailleism in his college days after hearing Mr. Zindani lecture, and helped pay for the book's publication.

Now a professor emeritus, Prof. Moore declined to be interviewed. Reached in Toronto, he said he was busy revising his textbook and that "it's been 10 or 11 years since I was involved in the Quran."

Cultivating Scientists

In 1984, after being denied a permanent position at King Abdulaziz, Mr. Zindani turned to the Muslim World League, a nonprofit organization primarily funded by the Saudi government. The World League provided financial support to establish the Commission on Scientific Signs. Mr. Ahmed, who moved to Chicago in 1983, was put on its payroll at $3,000 a month, and traveled from coast to coast cultivating U.S. and Canadian scientists.

The commission drew the scientists to its conferences with first-class plane tickets for them and their wives, rooms at the best hotels, $1,000 honoraria, and banquets with Muslim leaders -- such as a palace dinner in Islamabad with Pakistani President Mohammed Zia ul-Haq shortly before he was killed in a plane crash. Mr. Ahmed also gave at least one scientist a crystal clock.

Mr. Ahmed, who left the commission in 1996 and now operates an Islamic elementary school in Pennsylvania, says he reassured the scientists that the commission was "completely neutral" and welcomed information contradicting the Quran. The scientists soon learned differently. Each one was given a verse from the Quran to examine in light of his expertise. Then Mr. Zindani would interview him on videotape, pushing him to concede divine inspiration.

Marine scientist William Hay, then at the University of Colorado, was assigned a passage likening the minds of unbelievers to "the darkness in a deep sea ... covered by waves, above which are waves." As the videotape rolled, Mr. Zindani pressed Prof. Hay to admit that Muhammad couldn't have known about internal waves caused by varying densities in ocean depths. When Prof. Hay suggested Muhammad could have learned about the phenomenon from sailors, Mr. Zindani insisted that the prophet never visited a seaport.

Prof. Hay, a Methodist, says he then raised other hypotheses that Mr. Zindani also dismissed. Finally, Prof. Hay conceded that the inspiration for the reference to internal waves "must be the divine being," a statement now trumpeted on Islamic Web sites.

"I fell into that trap and then warned other people to watch out for it," says Prof. Hay, now at a German marine institute.

Similar prodding failed to sway geologist Allison "Pete" Palmer, who was working for the Geological Society of America. He stuck to his position that Muhammad could have gleaned his science from Middle Eastern oral history, not revelation. On one video, Mr. Zindani acknowledges that Mr. Palmer still needs "someone to point the truth out to him," but contends that the geologist was "astonished" by the accuracy of the Quran. Mr. Palmer says that's an overstatement. Still, he has fond memories of Mr. Zindani, whom he calls "just a lovely guy." He and the other American scientists say they had no idea of Mr. Zindani's ties to Mr. bin Laden. And in any case the U.S. didn't regard Mr. bin Laden as an outlaw at that time.

Looking for Verification

Prof. Gerald Goeringer, an embryologist retired from Georgetown University, says he urged the commission to try some verification: hire an independent scholar to see whether the Quran's statements could have been taken from Aristotle, the Greek philosopher-scientist who preceded the book by nearly 1,000 years. After his request was denied, Prof. Goeringer says, he stopped going to the conferences for fear of being associated with fanaticism.

"It was mutual manipulation," he says. "We got to go places we wouldn't otherwise go to. They wanted to add some respectability to what they were publishing."

Prof. Simpson -- who attended conferences in Saudi Arabia, Cairo and Islamabad -- recalls being asked to analyze an anecdote from the Sunnah, an Islamic holy book recording the acts and words of the prophet, in view of modern genetics.

In this passage -- apparently intended to discourage unjustified accusations of adultery -- a Bedouin complained to Muhammad that his wife had given birth to a black child. Muhammed inquired about the nomad's camels, and was told that some were tinged with red, but one was dusky in color. The prophet then likened the child to the dusky camel, saying both could have inherited their hues from ancestors.

At the urging of conference organizers, Prof. Simpson attested that this passage was consistent with the way recessive genes pass on traits not obvious in parents. But he says that the parallels -- while striking -- aren't necessarily evidence of divine inspiration.

University of Pennsylvania historian S. Nomanul Haq, a leading critic of Bucailleism, says the notion of inheriting traits from ancestors was commonplace in Muhammad's time. He attributes the rise of Bucailleism to a "deep, deep inferiority complex" among Muslims humiliated by colonialism and bidding to recapture faded glories of Islamic science.

Headquartered in the holy city of Mecca, the Commission on Scientific Signs has a branch office in an ornate, three-story building on the outskirts of another Saudi city, Jidda. According to its current secretary general, Hassan A.A. Bahafzallah, Mr. Zindani no longer has any official ties to the commission, although he is still invited to its events. Of Mr. Zindani's association with Mr. bin Laden, he says, "All I know is that during the jihad in Afghanistan, Zindani used to go and visit him."

Mr. Bahafzallah says the commission raises about $250,000 a year from individuals and businesses, besides its subsidy from the Muslim World League. It has operated five conferences since 1986, most recently in Beirut in 2000, each costing about $100,000.

The legacy of those conferences lives on. Among other products, the commission distributes a videotape, "This is the Truth," which intersperses Mr. Zindani's interviews with non-Muslim scientists and his commentary -- including the prophecy that unbelievers "will be exposed to a fire in which every time their skin is burnt, we will replace them with new skins."

Islamic publishers and organizations have distributed 800,000 copies of "A Brief Illustrated Guide to Understanding Islam," which reprints large portions of the videotape's script, including the testimonials of the scientists.

The script is also available on Internet sites such as Islamicity.com, which had more than one million visitors in November. Based in Culver City, Calif., Islamicity has been digitizing Mr. Zindani's lectures on Quranic infallibility, according to Chief Executive Mohammed Abdul Aleem. He visits local schools to talk about "correspondences" between the Quran and modern science. Bucailleism, Mr. Aleem says, "resonates very strongly in the young and educated and especially I think among Muslims who are going through universities in the U.S."

-- James Dorsey in Jidda and Elena Cherney in Toronto contributed to this article.

 

 

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Poll finds most view Muslims favorably

(AP, December 7, 2001)

The image of U.S. Muslims improved significantly in the eyes of their fellow Americans after the terrorist attacks, despite fears that the opposite would occur, according to a survey released Thursday. Fifty-nine percent of Americans had a favorable view of U.S. Muslims in November, compared to 45 percent in March, according a survey conducted by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press. Conservative Republicans showed the most dramatic change, with 64 percent feeling favorable toward the group, compared to 35 percent in March. "The survey finds clear evidence that Americans are heeding President Bush's call for tolerance," the report's authors said. Muslims -- and members of other religions who were mistaken for Muslims were targets of hate crimes after the hijackers struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon.
 
Regarding motivation for the attacks, 49 percent of Americans blamed political beliefs, while 30 percent felt religion motivated the hijackers.

Most respondents -- 89 percent -- completely or mostly rejected the idea that the attacks were a sign God was not protecting the United States. Evangelists Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson made that argument, then later apologized.

Meanwhile, 85 percent of respondents said they supported the war in Afghanistan. More than half felt the United States should push harder for victory, while just 25 percent felt the military was doing too little to avoid civilian casualties.

The poll of 1,500 adults was conducted Nov. 13-19, and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points. The poll was released jointly with the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life, which conducts research and organizes conferences on religion and other issues.

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Muslims Are Marginalised

 

Isyaku Dikko & Abdul-Fatah Olajide("Weekly Trust," December 7, 2001)

 

Dr Lateef Adegbite is the Secretary General, Supreme Council for Is-lamic Affairs. He spoke to Weekly Trust in his Abeokuta office.

 

WT: Recently, there was a demonstration in support of bin Laden in Ibadan and last week or so, the state governor called a reconciliatory meeting between Christians and Muslims in the state to avert a religious crisis. There is this feeling that religious tension is building up in Yorubaland.

 

What really is the situation?

 

Adegbite: I was out of the country when the incident that occasioned the reconciliatory meeting in Ondo State took place. So the information I had was gained from newspapers when I returned. I understand that there were some demonstrations following the display of a banner which read "make no mistake," or things like "Jesus was a Muslim." I understand that there was a protest from the Christians that really led to an open riot and that there was a quick intervention and a peace meeting was arranged. And what would have been a big religious disturbance was averted. I am very unhappy about something like that happening. That was not sufficient evidence to trigger an uproar, but it is true that Jesus was a Muslim. Every human being was born a Muslim. It's just because of our poor education or rather the wrong way we have been educating ourselves on this fundamental truth. Islam has made it very clear that all prophets of God were Muslims and that Islam is the religion of God. So there is nothing sinister or insulting about it. That was a statement of truth. The Qur'an makes it clear that we should not discriminate against any prophet. I think that is a basic teaching that should go across particularly in a place like Nigeria. So I see myself as a Muslim as well as a Christian but not a Trinitarian Christian. As a follower of the original Christianity which regarded Jesus Christ purely as an apostle of God, as a messenger of God, who duly recognised only one true God, and never identified himself as a partner to Allah. Those are distinctions we need to make. I was very happy that a breakdown of law

and order did not occur in Ondo State.

 

Talking generally about religion in Yorubaland, there is no doubt that Islam has always been very strong here. It predated Christianity. For instance, when we the Egbas moved from the ancient Egba forest which was very close to the heartland of Oyo to Abeokuta in 1829/1830 and settled around Olumo rock here, there were already Muslims among us. So within the first three or four years that the settlement took place in Abeokuta, they approached the leader of the Egba settlement by name Sodeke, who was the Sarki of this town to give them land to build a mosque. And the Muslims were given a lot of land to build a mosque at a place called Kobiti in Iporo Ake area very close to this place. That's the first mosque was built before before the first Christians came to Abeokuta. I think you know that the first church too in Nigeria was built here in Abeokuta around 1842, 12 or more years after the Muslims built their mosque. By that, the Egbas were Muslims in the homestead from where they migrated during the Yoruba civil wars to settle here in Abeokuta. So Islam has always been very strong. But unfortunately, Islam in Egbaland did not embrace Western education. The Muslims were scared that if their children went to the Christian mission schools, they would be converted into Christianity. So many Muslims did not receive Western education here in Abeokuta and some other parts of Yorubaland. We have very bad examples from some other places like Ibadan and Lagos where some of the prominent names you now hear come from Muslim families. They were Muslims.

 

People like Richard Akinjide, Pa Alayande and so on became Christians because of Western education. So the Muslims' fears were very well founded. But now Alhamdulillah, many of the Muslim young people are in school or had been in school and have been well educated. And they are now in the frontline carrying the flag of Islam, particularly the younger ones. They are receiving first-class Western education but they have also maintained a serious practice of their religion and their ranks are increasing. They have become very, very active. So the revival of Islam, the upgrading of the practice of Islam is much more evident in Yorubaland, and it is spread by very dynamic young educated Muslims. Many of them are very active in the Muslim Students Society of Nigeria (MSSN), in the National Council of Muslim Youth Organisation (NACOMYO). So what we experienced when we were much younger when the few Muslims who went to school were not bold enough to identify openly with Islam, many of them shunned their Islamic names, no longer obtains. When we founded the MMS in 1954, many more came out to identify openly with Islam. So we have now passed the identity crisis. Many Muslims are now very active and they profess their religion openly, seriously and fearlessly. So the demonstration was not an isolated act at all, it was just a clear expression of their adherence to Islam. They don't see themselves as just local Muslims, Yoruba Muslims or Nigerian Muslims.

 

They see themselves as universal Muslims, and react to anything that happens to fellow Muslims anywhere in the world or in the Islamic world. So that's how I will explain what happened in Ibadan and other places.

 

WT: Sir, there is a complaint of discrimination against Muslims in Yorubaland. Two cases stand out in this regard. For example, when we went to Akure, some people complained to us that in the whole cabinet, there is only one Muslim commissioner despite the substantial number of Muslims in Ondo State. And then in the socio-political associations in Yorubaland, the Afenifere and the Yoruba Council of Elders (YCE), you hardly find Muslims in the top echelon. How do you respond to this? 

 

Adegbite: Well, that's a valid observation. The Muslims have always been given a kind of token treatment. It has always happened. Even when Chief Awolowo was the premier, only one or two Muslims were in his cabinet. At the time General Adeyinka Adebayo was the military governor, the same thing was repeated. And when Brigadier Rotimi was governor of the West, I was the only Muslim member of the cabinet. That was even before the West was broken into six states now. So that has always been the practice. I couldn't understand that kind of uncaring attitude on the part of the chief executives. It is very disappointing. But you see, it might not be a deliberate discrimination. In cabinet formation, two things always happen. In a political party system, it is those who are active that will be made ministers or commissioners. Under military rule, it was those who were closer to the governor or head of state that got noticed. And it has always happened in most cases in the West that most of the governors that had been appointed or elected had always been non-Muslims. I don't know why. So it is very interesting. And I did complain confidentially to successive heads of state that that wasn't right. So people like Brigadier Raji Rasaki and Mohammed Lawal were later appointed. When Lawal was appointed here, he

was very outstanding in his response to that big question. He appointed a significant number of Muslims as commissioners and permanent secretaries.

 

Surprisingly, the Christians protested at that time that why should he have promoted a number of Muslims as permanent secretaries. So they vilified him and thought that his administration was going to be worse by that act. Of course, it was a bold step by Lawal and the Muslims who were appointed gave a good account of themselves.

Major General Oladapo Popoola was very good too. As soon as he was appointed, I paid him a visit. As soon as he appeared, he said "Egbon, I know why you are here." I said "why am I here?" He knew why I was there and he made sure that three or four Muslims were appointed as commissioners in Ogun State. So there has always been that kind of thing. I think Muslims have not been very active in politics. Secondly, even when there was no politics, not many people were probably close enough to the appointed governors to receive attention and be appointed commissioners. As for the Afenifere and YCE, again it's because Muslims have not been very active. And our Imam and Alfas have not helped the situation here. They tend to look down on politics and public life. In fact, some of them would almost classify it as haram. That politics is a dirty game that is not right for Muslims to be active in. So we must also share the fault. We've not been very active. Again, if we go to the antecedent of Afenifere and YCE, the names of the dominant ones have come from the Action Group and Egbe Omo Oduduwa. If you go back again to that time, very many of the Muslim leaders did not warm up so much to Chief Awolowo. At one time, they threatened to create a Yoruba political party which they called the Muslim League or so because they felt that they could not trust the Action Group under the leadership of Chief Awolowo to protect the interest of Muslims even though it was Chief Awolowo who first established the Muslim Pilgrims Welfare. But many of the Muslim leaders were not sufficiently trusting to embrace Awolowo's party. So much so that at one time, Muslim organisations sprang up supporting the various political parties. The United Muslim Council was more or less the Islamic wing of Action Group and the Muslim Progressive supported more the NCNC or the Akintola faction of the Action Group when the party broke into two. So quite honestly, the Muslims have not always been active and forthcoming in politics as they should. And I sincerely hope that the lethargy will be abandoned and Muslims will try to come to the fore in politics.

 

WT: But there are people like Alhaji Ganiyu Dawodu who have been active in politics since Action Group but seen not to be close to the leadership of Afenifere despite his age and participation? Secondly, there are even some Muslims who are holding some positions like Governor Bola Tinubu for example, who some Muslims feel is not protecting the interest of Muslims, especially by returning state schools to the missionaries which is likely to compound the educational backwardness of Muslims in Lagos. How do you react to this?

 

Adegbite: Well, my reaction is simple and sharp. When you are discussing this issue, you cannot avoid discussing what I will call the level of Islam of the personalities concerned. I think they are more political than Islamic. If they were more Islamic, their impact in politics would have been much stronger. They are not as sufficiently involved in Islam for that religion to also sufficiently influence them in their political activities or in their governance. 

 

WT: Last week or so, some Pakistani missionaries were arrested at Ife and Sagamu and subsequently deported on the allegation that they were likely to foment trouble in the country. What do you have to say on this?

 

Adegbite: I am very happy that you raised this issue. I am very happy too that it is your newspaper that will have an opportunity to take across my reaction on this issue. I blame the media on this matter. I also blame the local authorities who raised the alarm. These Pakistanis were being called fundamentalists and potential trouble-makers. That was a very wicked lie.

 

It's an unjust depiction of Islam as a religion interested in fomenting trouble and unrest. I have investigated this, and I am sorry to say that the allegations were totally false. The Pakistanis belong to the Tabligh Movement, a brand of Muslims who go to all parts of the world to pray, preach and sleep in the mosques. They have always been coming to Nigeria regularly. In fact, they normally come during this period. They are invited

by local people. They carry simple papers and go from mosque to mosque. They don't work in any place. At the end of their preaching, they go back to their country or go to another country. I blame them for not carrying the

correct immigration papers. These people were found sleeping in mosques and some people raised an alarm that they were bin Laden's people and so they constituted a threat. It was very, very unkind. Very unfair. I have spokenwith the commissioner of police. I have spoken with the director of immigrations in Ogun State. Unfortunately, the director of immigrations had sent the people to Lagos because when they examined them, they found that they were not bin Laden's men but they didn't have their correct papers. I have been trying to see the director of immigrations in Lagos to know where they are. But I read in the papers today (last Friday) that they have been deported. Well, I don't want to interfere in the work of the immigrations department but these people were not trouble-makers. They come about this time and around the Christmas day, all of them throughout the country will assemble in Ilorin and have a prayer session with a mammoth gathering. Very prominent people go there. They have invited me several times but I have not been able to go. So these are people who are exercising their religious rights. They were not a danger to the country. They were not political activists. Unfortunately, as soon as the traditional leadership in Sagamu area raised the issue that they found some of these people wandering and all that, the police came in. And when the police briefed the press, instead of getting sufficient information, they just came out with screaming headlines saying that religious unrest was averted, that there were some infiltrators.

 

They were not infiltrators. You can call them Muslim gypsies. Some of them have always come to us here and we have allowed them to use our local mosques in the past. I don't think it's fair for people to cry wolf where

there is none.

 

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Al Qaeda - Call It a Cult

By Paolo Pontoniere ("Asian Week", November 23, 2001)

As investigators learn more about al Qaeda's operations on U.S. soil, a perplexing question remains: How could terrorists on a suicide mission live among us for so long and not abandon their resolve?

The answer, some experts say, is that al Qaeda is not a militant religious group, but a cult.

The events of Sept. 11 upset the conventional wisdom on suicide bombing and martyrdom. "Having analyzed the phenomenon in the Middle East, the intelligence community had decided that suicide attacks were a form of terrorism that could not easily be exported from Palestine," says Brian Jenkins, former member of the Presidential Commission on Airline Safety and senior analyst at the Rand Institute. "The events of Sept. 11 thoroughly disproved this presupposition."

Experts originally held that suicide bombers could be recruited and trained for local struggles only, within a relatively short time before an attack.

The al Qaeda Handbook may provide clues to the migration of suicide terrorism to America. A how-to-manual for members of the terrorist organization, the book sheds light on the psyche of al Qaeda terrorists, and paints a picture of a religious cult headed by charismatic leader Osama bin Laden.

Chapter after chapter, the handbook outlines a pyramidal organization in which the lowest members never get a complete picture of the group's actions. Furthermore, the book makes clear that the lives of these members can be extinguished at any time by those in the upper echelons of the organization.

English authorities found the 180-page manual in May 2000, while searching the home of a suspected bin Laden operative in Manchester, England. A translation of the Arabic manual was introduced as evidence in New York City this year in the trial of four al Qaeda members accused of bombing American embassies in Kenya and Sudan in 1998.

"The manual outlines how to perform a variety of terrorist acts, including assassination, poisoning, and torture," explains Jerrold Post, a professor of political psychology at George Washington University. "But above all, I would say that the manual is a good example of how a cult mentality can hijack and manipulate legitimate religious beliefs and turn them into fanatical tenets. The text reveals an organization that follows a very peculiar and extreme kind of Islam and that does not hesitate one bit to depart from Islamic teachings to pursue its own interests."

Post testified as an expert witness in the New York City trial and has compiled detailed psychological profiles of dozens of jailed terrorists in the Middle East.

"The most disturbing aspect about the al Qaeda members is how normal they appear, when in fact they all fit the profile of the 'true believer,' an individual whose low self-esteem and confusion push him to seek refuge within a charismatic mass movement," Post says.

In this sense, the manual is not just a nuts-and-bolts how-to for terrorists. It also plays a role in the brainwashing of al Qaeda members, encouraging them to subordinate their individual will to the charismatic power of the group's leader, Osama bin Laden.

"It's the fitting of the fragmented persona of a true believer into a group identity that benefits the organization. Once that's in place, the terrorist can be aimed like a missile," Post says.

The handbook repeatedly provides religious and ideological justification for actions many Muslims would find profane. For example, lesson 8 in the manual directs the al Qaeda member, when operating undercover, to go to great lengths to avoid Islamic appearance. Lesson 11 exempts him from having to fulfill his Muslim duties, such as praying, fasting, and doing good deeds.

"The text implies that if these violations are carried out for the greatness of Allah, they are then permitted," Post says.

Acts such as torture, mass murder, and killing one's fellow members - which are all specifically and explicitly forbidden by the Koran - are explained in practical terms in the al Qaeda manual. At the same time, the book identifies sacred readings to refer to during each heinous activity.

"Of course, very few Muslims would agree with this zealous interpretation of Islam," Post says. Jihad is a word which literally means to struggle for the cause of religion. For a Muslim, the struggle means striving to be a better person, donating money to the poor, fulfilling obligations toward the faith and, in extreme cases, fighting in defense of Islam."

According to the standards of an al Qaeda militant, Post's ideas are simply the interpretation of an infidel. But his opinions are shared by Muslim experts at the Islamic Research Center (IRRC) at Cairo's al-Azhar University, the world's leading authority on the teachings of Islam. According to the IRCC, a legitimate jihad must meet several requirements: a Muslim must never be the aggressor; a Muslim must fight only those who fight him; and women, children, and the elderly should be spared the duress of war.

Ultimately, the handbook shows that al Qaeda could pose a threat to Islam itself if it prevails.

Paolo Pontoniere is a correspondent for Italy's leading news weekly, L'Espresso.

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Indonesian Catholic Church compound under jihad militant attack 

Prayer vigil in response to upsurge in violence brings Ambon city to a standstill

("Christian Solidarity Worldwide", 23.11.2001)  Jihad militants and security forces have been fighting gun battles as the militants seek to control a Catholic diocesan training compound in Ambon city.

The complex, which is in the Karang Panjang area of the city in the Moluccas Islands, has been fought over in the past due to its position on a hill overlooking several Christian neighbourhoods.

The conflict has raged for the last week over the Catholic complex, as well as a disabled children's compound, according to Father Böhm of the Catholic Crisis Centre, a human rights information centre.

The strategically located Gonzalo Veloso compound overlooks several Christian neighbourhoods such as Belakang Soya and Batumeja and also allows easy access to surrounding Christian villages such as Soya.

The aims of the attack are reported to be to use the complex as a Jihad training centre and to use the strategic location of the compound to attack the surrounding Christian neighbourhoods.

Father Böhm added that if the complex fell into the hands of the militants, they would not only be able to attack the Christian areas but also to cut off the road to Soya village, the only escape route available for the Christians living in surrounding areas.

The Laskar Jihad's current training centre is situated close to the scene of the conflict.

Baroness Cox, CSW's President and a deputy speaker of the House of Lords, visited the scene of the attack in July 2001. She said: "We understand that the President Megawati and the Indonesian government are supportive of religious freedom and tolerance in Indonesia and are facing a sensitive internal situation.

"However, reconciliation efforts in the Moluccas have little chance of success if Laskar Jihad is allowed to continue its campaign of provoking violence between the Christian and Muslim communities. Delegations of both Muslims and Christians have approached the authorities to ask for their removal as a precondition to reconciliation."

In response to the renewed upsurge of violence, which flared up again at the beginning of November, Christians in Ambon have brought the city to a near standstill with a three-day prayer vigil, which began on November 20.

The prayer vigil, called Hari Perkabungan, meaning Days of Mourning, was organized in response to the escalating violence.

Thousands of people took part in the events, which included prayer gatherings at public offices, homes and churches.

Although people working in the hospital and security sectors were on duty, most other public and private offices were temporarily shut.

Leo Lohy, Deputy Chairman of the Maluku Protestant Church Synod told The Jakarta Post: "These prayers are a display of concern about all the violence that has taken place during a relatively calm period in Maluku. In this way we call on all people to assess themselves and completely put their fate in God's hands."

The Christian village of Waimulang in Buru was attacked on November 1 by Jihad militants who killed four villagers. More than a thousand residents and several hundred refugees managed to flee to the jungle, but their village was razed to the ground.

Since then, there have been a number of bombings and armed attacks on Ambon, including the bombing of an electrical appliance store on November 12, which left two people dead and about 20 wounded.

The recent violence is widely believed to the work of the militant Jihad organization, Laskar Jihad, which has about 3,000 militants in the Moluccas, including a number of foreign militia.

Jafar Umar Thalib, the leader of the organization, which is linked with international Jihad movements, visited the Moluccas region at the end of October.

He made a number of inflammatory speeches and called for the continuation of the violence against Christian communities, reportedly stating that the "war would not be over until Muslims could celebrate Idul Fitr [the feast at the end of Ramadan] in Kudamati, Passo, Saparua and other Christian locations". Since then, the violence has steadily escalated.

 

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