Thursday 31 March 2011


The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "For every day on which the sun rises, there is a (reward) for the one who establishes justice among people."

Sahih Al-Bukhari, Volume 3, Hadith 870

News World news US military US soldier admits killing unarmed Afghans for sport

Jeremy Morlock, 23, tells US military court he was part of a 'kill team' that faked combat situations to murder Afghan civilians

An American soldier has pleaded guilty to being part of a "kill team" who deliberately murdered Afghan civilians for sport last year.

Army Specialist Jeremy Morlock, 23, told a military court he had helped to kill three unarmed Afghans. "The plan was to kill people, sir," he told an army judge in Fort Lea, near Seattle, after his plea.

The case has caused outraged headlines around the world. In a series of videotaped confessions to investigators, some of which have been broadcast on American television, Morlock detailed how he and other members of his Stryker brigade set up and faked combat situations so that they could kill civilians who posed no threat to them. Four other soldiers are still to come to trial over the incidents.

The case is a PR disaster for America's military and has been compared to the notorious incidents of torture that emerged from the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. This week the German magazine Der Spiegel published three pictures that showed American soldiers, including Morlock, posing with the corpse of a young Afghan boy as if it were a hunting trophy.

Some soldiers apparently kept body parts of their victims, including a skull, as souvenirs. In a statement issued in response to the publication of the photos the US army apologised to the families of the dead. "[The photos are] repugnant to us as human beings and contrary to the standards and values of the United States army," the statement said.

Morlock has told investigators that the murders took place between January and May last year and were instigated by an officer in his unit, Staff Sergeant Calvin Gibbs. He described how elaborate plans were made to pick out civilian targets, kill them and then make their deaths look like they were insurgents. In his confession Morlock described shooting a victim as Gibbs tossed a grenade at him. "We identify a guy. Gibbs makes a comment, like, you know, you guys wanna wax this guy or not," Morlock said in the confession.

Morlock now stands to be sentenced to at least 24 years in jail but with eligibility for parole after seven years. That has come about because Morlock struck a plea bargain that will see a lighter sentence in return for testifying against his fellow soldiers.


Wednesday 30 March 2011

India's sex trade exposed

On the streets of Kamathipura young women stand ready and available, looking to lure their next customer. They pose, they smile, some wave. They look terribly young, their faces heavy with make-up. Many are dressed in Western clothes, others in traditional saris. In this red light district of Mumbai, they stand on the kerbside in front of grimy shacks containing the beds on which they do their work. There is the hustle and chaos of the traffic, the clogged roads, the constant noise. And there is terrible sadness too.

"I was tricked here. I was in love with a man and I came here with him. But when I got here, he sold me," says Simla, a 42-year-old prostitute, originally from Nepal. She has two children and she saves what little she earns to send them to school, desperate that they do not follow her into the sex industry. "I was fooled into this. I will not allow my children to do it."

Sex costs little on the frenetic streets of India's business capital, where people come and go all the time. New arrivals wash up from India's poor rural hinterland, desperate for work, any sort of work. Men – who are used to a repressed, conservative culture – come and stand and stare. There is a near-constant flow. A young woman might be able to charge a customer 100 rupees (£1.30) a time, but an older woman might only get 30 rupees (40 pence). When a woman demands that a customer use a condom, the price is usually lowered as a result.

These women and their customers are at the forefront of India's Aids crisis. The country has up to three million people living with HIV, the third-highest total in the world. Experts say that the most important danger in the spread of HIV comes from the relatively high numbers of men who go to sex workers, who do not use condoms and whose jobs involve them travelling. As a result, both sex workers and India's legions of horn-blaring truck drivers are among the groups most persistently targeted by health workers and educators trying to push the message of safe sex.

"You can educate children in schools about safe sex but the people who need to be targeted the most are the sex workers themselves," says Penny Richards, the communications director for the Avahan India AIDS Initiative, funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. "The other group in need of education are men who have sex with men."

The sex workers of Mumbai have long attracted the interest of photographers. In the early 1980s, the distinguished American photographer Mary Ellen Mark spent weeks on the city's Falkland Road, one of the poorest red-light districts. Initially suspicious of her, the sex workers gradually came to trust the American and invited her into their homes. Her now-famous and unsettling collection of photographs is titled after the street on which the women work.

By contrast, when he set about working on the collection of images published on these pages, the photographer (and longstanding contributor to The Independent Magazine) Kalpesh Lathigra wanted to portray the women (who included some hijras, or eunuchs who dress and identify themselves as female) outside of their usual environment. Working with a friend, he arranged to hire a studio in Mumbai in which to photograph them. As it transpired, the studio was only a short distance from the area in which the women worked. But despite the geographical proximity, it was a world apart. The results were dignified and powerful.

"They were really surprised that I wanted to take their photographs in the studio and not in a brothel," Lathigra recalls, "but I did it because I wanted to isolate the women visually in a direct way. The photographs are for me a way of breaking away from visual clich̩s Рand more importantly, a way of breaking away from the taboos and stigma of HIV, which in India are still very prevalent."

"Whenever photographers go to the red-light areas, they are always taking their pictures in the street. It is not easy. And you'll get tourists coming and taking pictures as well. So when I told them I wanted to go the studio they were surprised, but they were also really positive. I think they understood what I was trying to do."

As well known as it is for its sex workers, Mumbai is also famed for its terrible traffic, its almost constant gridlock and the persistent building of new roads and flyovers. Amid this twisting jungle of fast-setting concrete and blinding headlights, it was not difficult for Lathigra to discover an impromptu truck stop where drivers gathered for rest and relaxation.

There is an aura of slight menace to some of the images he took there of the truck drivers but there is also a sense of weariness about these men of the road. Standing in front of their brightly painted rigs – which are themselves the constant menace of India's roads – the men also look a long way from home. A long way from their families, from their wives.

There are new challenges for the changing India as campaigners seek to make the world's largest democracy (with a population of more than 1.1bn) wake up to the threat of Aids. Some experts, for example, believe that the rise and rise of the booming information-technology industry – and, in particular, of the call centres that service clients on the other side of the world – that represents the emerging threat to watch.

Warning of the menace of so-called "call-centre romeos", men who make use of the cramped working conditions and night-shift hours to snare young women, Dr Suniti Solomon says the profile of those who carry the HIV virus is changing. Dr Solomon, who is from Chennai and who detected India's first-ever case of Aids in 1986, explains: "Men and women are entering the workplace for the first time. Often they are coming from outside the urban areas. They are getting a good salary; it's a nice atmosphere. They are away from their parents and they have more freedom."

It soon becomes clear that a key issue in encouraging safe sex in India is that it remains a remarkably conservative society. For a culture that once created the Kama Sutra and the erotic carvings at Khajuraho, it's ironic that many subjects remain taboo – among them, men having sex with men, drug abuse and the issue of easy access to condoms. "It's as if it is not possible to talk about it," says Penny Richards of the Gates Foundation.

Yet on the streets of Kamathipura, campaigners have had success in educating the women of the red-light area about their circumstances and what they can do to protect themselves. In addition to education about safer sex, a number of schemes have been set up to help the economic circumstances of the women.

A cooperative bank, established by the charity Population Services International, which allows women to deposit small amounts of money is one such example. Saving even a few rupees here and there means the women can remove an element of desperation from their daily lives. "It means," says Indra, a sex worker from the southern state of Karnataka, "that I can say, 'No', if a customer does not want to use a condom."


For more information, see

Tuesday 29 March 2011

The anti-Muslim scapegoaters

Gary Lapon documents the outrages of the right-wing forces behind the rising tide of Islamophobia--and points to the alternative that challenges the bigots.

SOCIAL CRISES have the potential to lead to radicalization and political action to change society. This potential has been on display since the beginning of the year in the actions of ordinary people in North Africa and the Middle East--and in the American Midwest--who shed their fear and stood together for democracy and for social and economic justice.

But there are also those who seek to exploit economic and social uncertainty to spread a message of hate and fear, aimed at sowing division. This scapegoating was on full, hideous display last month at an anti-Muslim rally in Yorba Linda, Calif., outside a charity event sponsored by the Islamic Circle of North America to raise money for women's and homeless shelters. The right-wing rally was captured on film by the California chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR).

The demonstration was organized by various Tea Party groups, a right-wing rabbi from the area and Pamela Geller, whose organization "Stop Islamization of America" (SIOA) is listed by the Southern Poverty Law Center as a hate group. The event was an exhibition of bigotry reminiscent of the white Southern reaction to the civil rights movement. As liberal journalist Max Blumenthal wrote:

I could not help but think of Elizabeth Eckford, the African-American student who was forced to walk through a phalanx of violent white racists chanting "Lynch her! Lynch her!" during the federal government's first attempt to integrate Little Rock Central High School. This iconic image was immediately recalled by the video of Muslim-American children walking through a crowd of protesters calling them terrorists, threatening them and chanting "Go home!" as they proceeded toward a local community center for a charity event.

Eckford was badly scarred by her experience; the trauma affected her life for decades. I wonder how the children who had to be marched through the gauntlet of racists in Yorba Linda will remember their experience.

The anti-Muslim protesters were not simply from the far-right fringes of society--they included politicians such as Republican U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Deborah Pauly, a Villa Park, Calif., councilwoman.

Pauly fired up the crowd with these words: "[W]hat's going on over there right now? Make no bones about it. That is pure, unadulterated evil. I don't even care, I don't even care if you think I'm crazy anymore. Because I have...a beautiful daughter. I have a wonderful 19-year-old son who is a United States Marine. As a matter of fact, I know quite a few Marines who will be willing to help these terrorists to an early meeting in paradise."

After these speeches worked the crowd into frenzy, protesters gathered near the entrance to the event, screaming, "Go home," "Terrorists" and "We don't want you here"--while families, including small children, walked past. Protesters hurled the vilest slurs, including one woman who yelled, "You beat your women and you rape your children."

As's Glenn Greenwald wrote:

I think what was most striking about that video is that the presence of small children didn't give these anti-Muslim protesters even momentary pause; they just continued screeching their ugly invective while staring at 4-year-olds walking with their parents. People like that are so overflowing with hatred and resentments that the place where their humanity--their soul--is supposed to be has been drowned.

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LESS THAN a month after the Orange County hate rally, two Sikh men, 67-year-old Surinder Singh and 78-year-old Gurmej Atwal, were shot as they walked in their Sacramento, Calif., neighborhood. Singh died on the spot, and Atwal remains in critical condition. With no other known motive, the shooting has all of the markings of a hate crime, as both men wore traditional turbans and beards when they were fired on by a man driving a pickup truck.

"In the wake of September 11," Julianne Hing wrote in an article for Colorlines, "Sikhs, who are often mistaken for Muslims, have dealt with a rise in hate crimes and assaults, racial profiling and bullying...According to a Sikh Coalition report released last December, one out of every 10 Sikh-Americans in the Bay Area report being the victim of a hate crime."

Whether or not the shooter was directly inspired by the Orange County rally, hate crimes targeting Muslims and those perceived to be Muslim are the result of acceptance of Islamophobia in the mainstream of American discourse. The rhetoric and policies of political leaders--from both main parties--have prepared the ground for the hate.

Since 9/11, Muslims have endured racial profiling, harassment, indefinite detention and even torture at the hands of government agencies. Many of these policies, such as those outlined in the PATRIOT Act, received a bipartisan stamp of approval.

Since Barack Obama's inauguration in 2009, he has continued most of the Bush-era policies in the realm of civil liberties, including indefinite detention and keeping the Guantánamo Bay prison camp open, in spite of his specific promise to close it. The Obama administration has refused point-blank to pursue prosecutions of Bush-era officials for sanctioning torture and other war crimes.

Sadly, this bipartisan complicity has silenced many former Democratic champions of civil liberties who criticized such policies when Bush was in charge, but who have remained quiet after Obama took ownership of Bush's wars and illegal prisons.

Last summer, when right-wingers like Geller whipped up a hysteria over the proposed Park51 Islamic community center in lower Manhattan--misnamed the "ground zero mosque"--Democrats like Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid not only didn't challenge the hate, but added fuel to the fire. Reid called for the center to "be built someplace else." Obama initially offered verbal support, but the next day backtracked to say that while he supported the right to build the center, he wouldn't comment on "the wisdom" of doing so.

These government policies and the accompanying rhetoric from politicians sends the message that Muslims are a threat to U.S. society. The mainstreaming of Islamophobia is the domestic front of the U.S. "war on terror," intended to justify and bolster support for the U.S. wars and occupations in Afghanistan and Iraq, military attacks in Pakistan and Yemen, and support for unsavory regimes in the Middle East such as Israel, Saudi Arabia and the late Mubarak dictatorship.

Meanwhile, the mainstream media, especially the 24-hour cable news networks such as Fox and CNN, have provided sensational coverage stoking fears of "homegrown terrorism," presenting Muslims as potential "enemies within our midst," a lie reminiscent of Nazi propaganda about Jews or Sen. Joseph McCarthy's witch-hunt against Communists and gays during the 1950s.

There are some exceptions in the mainstream media, such as Chris Matthews Keith Olbermann, and the Daily Show's Jon Stewart has made outspoken criticisms of Islamophobia. Nevertheless, far-right Islamophobes like Pamela Geller have gotten access to the national media to spread their message.

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THE SCAPEGOATING of Muslims reached a new low with Republican Rep. Peter King's Congressional hearing earlier this month.

Starting with its disgusting title "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response," King and his fellow Republicans used the hearing not only to stoke Islamophobia, but to attack those who oppose it. The Muslim civil liberties and advocacy group CAIR was targeted specifically. Virginia Rep. Frank Wolf declared, "I'm...concerned about its role attacking the reputation of any who dare to raise concerns about domestic radicalization."

Not only is Islamophobia increasingly acceptable in the mainstream, but simultaneously, it has become unacceptable to criticize groups like the Tea Partiers for their bigotry. The case of National Public Radio (NPR) executive Ron Schiller is a perfect illustration--both he and NPR CEO Vivian Schiller (no relation) left the radio network after he called the Tea Party movement "Islamophobic" and "racist" in a private meeting caught on hidden camera by right-wingers posing as potential donors.

The incident was also a perfect illustration of the cowardice of liberals in the face of the right's attack--NPR immediately went into full-scale retreat mode, and prominent on-air personalities released a letter apologizing for what is a perfectly accurate description of the Tea Party--remember, the NPR "scandal" happened after the release of the video of the anti-Muslim rally in Yorba Linda.

Watchdog groups that monitor hate crimes say that violent attacks on Muslims have been on the rise over the past year, including several cases of attempted arson and bombings at mosques across the country. In this climate, the possibility for a more organized and violent Islamophobic right wing to emerge is very real.

Pamela Geller is a case in point. Her organization Stop Islamization of America has fostered ties between Tea Party groups and the English Defense League (EDL), a violent far-right group in Britain that specializes in anti-Muslim slander and violence.

The EDL, whose leadership includes members of the fascist British National Party, regularly mobilizes hundreds and sometimes thousands of angry, often drunken young men to rampage through Muslim neighborhoods. In an undercover report, the Guardian summarized, "The EDL claims it is a peaceful and non-racist organization only concerned with protesting against 'militant Islam.' However, over the last four months, the Guardian has attended its demonstrations and witnessed racism, violence and virulent Islamophobia."

This was the organization that Geller invited to participate in the rally last fall against the Park51 community center in lower Manhattan. She has since established further collaboration with the EDL, whom she defends against accusations of racism and Islamophobia.

As Devin Burghart of the Kansas-based Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights told the Guardian: "Geller is acting as the bridge between the EDL and the Tea Party. She plays an important role in bringing Islamophobia into the Tea Party. Her stature has increased substantially inside the Tea Party ranks after the Ground Zero mosque controversy."

Any attempt to bring the racist street-fighting tactics of the EDL to the U.S. and channel the bigotry behind the recent string of anti-Muslim hate crimes and rallies into a more organized force must be met with firm and organized resistance from the left in the U.S.

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FORTUNATELY, THE rising tide of Islamophobia in the U.S. has not gone unchallenged. Last summer, activists in Murfreesboro, Tenn., organized hundreds to defend a mosque from a right-wing campaign against it. And last fall, New York activists organized counter-mobilizations against the anti-Park51 rallies of the right--to the point that those in solidarity with Muslims outnumbered Geller and the Tea Party bigots. More recently, demonstrators in New York confronted Peter King over this anti-Muslim hearings.

Not only did these counter-protests challenge the prevailing Islamophobia in the media and U.S. politics, but the revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East have provided further evidence that most people don't accept the lies of the anti-Muslim bigots.

During the revolution in Egypt, a Gallup poll concluded that 82 percent of Americans were sympathetic with the mass protests, and more than two-thirds of people were following events in Egypt "very" or "somewhat closely." That sense of solidarity was evident on the streets of Madison, Wis., in the demonstrations against Gov. Scott Walker's assault on public-sector unions--demonstrators carried signs that read "Protest like an Egyptian" and celebrated the messages of solidarity sent from Cairo.

Not only do the pro-democracy uprisings in the majority-Muslim Arab world shatter the myth that Islam "isn't compatible with democracy," but the solidarity between Egyptians and protesters in Wisconsin highlights how struggle can break down divisions fostered by those in power--and reveal the common interests of working people across the world.

The U.S. government spends hundreds of billions of dollars per year to wage war in the Muslim world--a sum that could easily cover all the state government deficits being used as a pretext to attack union rights and wages and benefits for public-sector workers, not to mention be used to promote economic and political equality in the countries the U.S. bombs and occupies.

Islamophobia is a central component of justifying U.S. wars abroad and the vast sums spent to wage them. Challenging the lies and bigotry against Muslims is essential to any campaign to end America's wars and to meet the needs of working people at home.


Monday 28 March 2011

Racist attack on mosque: East London

RACIST abuse was shouted at worshippers at a busy mosque.

Police were called to Eastern Avenue in Gants Hill after reports of a group of men causing damage to parked vehicles in the road.

Six men were seen heading in the direction Redbridge roundabout towards Redbridge Islamic Centre, also in Eastern Avenue.

As they reached the mosque they shouted racial abuse and threw bricks at the building, which broke glass in the front doors.

The incident occurred at around 7.45pm on Thursday (March 24), near the start of evening prayers.

A number of worshippers had already entered the mosque but there were still some people outside the building when the attack occurred.

One man suffered a minor head injury but did not need any medical treatment.

Six men were arrested by police and remain in custody at Ilford Police Station.

Chief Inspector Stan Greatrick, of Redbridge police, said: “We would appeal for anyone who was in the Eastern Avenue area and saw the group of males to contact us.

“We have spoken to a number of people in the area and continue to liaise closely with members of the Redbridge Mosque.

“We have already secured additional patrols for Eastern Avenue and we would like to reassure the local community, and those who worship at the Redbridge Mosque, that we are treating this case extremely seriously.”

Anyone with information should contact Redbridge CID on 020 8345 2632.


Saturday 26 March 2011

Seeing Clearly

Aside from the flag, no piece of cloth in history has been imbued with as much power to liberate and oppress, rally and divide as the veil. Throughout the Muslim world, women have donned the veil as a form of modesty, piousness and defiance, and thrown it off to express freedom, strength and protest. Muslim governments have legislated head covering as a sign of religiosity and banned it as an obstacle to secularism. For liberal Western societies, the debate over the higab --a scarf that covers the head but not the face--crystallizes a key modern dilemma: how to reconcile the commitment to protecting freedom of expression with the ideal of integration and social cohesion?

As traditional as it seems, the veil has gone through perhaps more radical changes in use than any other item of apparel. It has been embraced, banned, enforced and made optional, often in the same country within a matter of years. Indeed, throughout history its meaning has been shaped by the political and social forces at work. The only unchanging characteristic of the veil is that it serves as a universal sign of Islamic heritage--and that women resent being told what to do with it, either way. "When women are pressured to veil, they protest, and when they are forced to unveil, they protest," says Fadwa el-Guindi, an anthropology professor at the University of Qatar. "The veil becomes the symbol of liberation par excellence."

The veil did not always have religious connotations. Pre-Islam, it was worn by upper-class Arab women in the Byzantine and Persian empires, who covered their hair as a symbol of status. More and more elite women began adopting the veil in the seventh century as a way to distinguish themselves from the lower classes. As the Islamic empire spread, the value of modesty--stipulated in the Qur'an for men as well as women--merged with the social customs of the upper class, creating a correlation between the veil and Islamic faith. While the Qur'an does not mandate veiling for women, it does encourage the Prophet Muhammad's wives to cover their heads to separate themselves from the rest of the religious community. "When Islam became imperial, a lot of cultural baggage infiltrated Islamic society," says Haifaa Jawad, a senior lecturer in Middle Eastern studies at the University of Birmingham in England.

It wasn't until the 18th century that the veil became entrenched in what is today Saudi Arabia. The al-Saud family began its rule in the region then, under the spiritual guidance of Sheik Muhammad bin Abdul Wahhab. Together they instituted the austere form of Islam known as Wahhabism, based on a literal interpretation of the Qur'an. They believed that the head covering stipulated for Muhammad's wives applied to all Muslim women and should extend to the entire body. Today, Saudi Arabia's religious police harass women who are not dressed modestly.

Islam's colonial encounter with the West turned the veil into a charged political symbol. Algerian women routinely wore the veil until the French arrived in 1830, banning the study of Arabic and encouraging women to uncover their heads. Still, women couldn't win; the French looked down on those who did adopt Western dress as "loose." During the Algerian war of independence from 1954 to 1962, women adopted the veil again to assert their national pride--and occasionally hide explosives. In Egypt, British colonial administrator Lord Cromer argued that veiling was "the fatal obstacle" to the country's ability to form the foundations for Western civilization.

Some Middle Eastern nationalists agreed. By the end of the 19th century, progressive Muslim intellectuals, too, began to speak out against the veil. In 1899, French-educated Egyptian jurist Qasim Amin published "The Emancipation of Women," which argued that Islam did not require head covering. In 1923, Egyptian women's rights activist Huda Shaarawy--just back from a feminist conference in Rome--famously removed her face veil at the Cairo train station to widespread applause from supporters.

During the 20th century, some Middle Eastern leaders began to reject the veil to signify their embrace of Western culture. Turkey's founder, Kemal Ataturk, banned the head covering in government offices and enforced European dress to promote secular values. For a brief period in the mid-1990s, the Islamist Welfare Party came to power and eased the veil ban, allowing devout students to parade through Istanbul's streets in black chadors. But after the Turkish Army staged a coup in 1997 and removed the Islamists, the government reinstated the anti-scarf laws. Even today, the debate rages on: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, whose Islamic party dominates the government, has pushed several times to repeal the ban.

In Iran, the Westernizing leader Reza Shah Pahlavi banned the veil in 1936, ordering women to give up their traditional chadors for bare heads or Western-style hats. Police routinely tore chadors from women who continued to wear them, prompting many to stay home. During one demonstration against the new dress laws, the shah's Army shot and killed dozens of protesters. In the run-up to the 1979 revolution, women began donning the veil again to express their disapproval of the "Westoxification" of the Pahlavi regime. Those very same women were shocked in 1983 when Ayatollah Khomeini's new Islamic government amended the Iranian Constitution to require them to wear the higab in public--or risk receiving up to 74 lashes. Groups of religious police patrolled the streets in search of transgressors.

More recently the veil has come to define a muscular new brand of Islamic nationalism. "It represents reclaiming one's own cultural identity, and the rejection of imposed, imported consumerist commodities and unwanted foreign values and ideas," says el-Guindi. When the academic Margo Badran interviewed Kuwaiti activists fighting the Iraqi Army's occupation during the first gulf war, she found that some of the women who had burned their abayas during the 1960s had donned the caftanlike garments again as a form of wartime resistance. "We didn't want the Iraqis to see us," activist Raida al-Fodari told her. "So we dressed in black abayas and sunglasses." In addition to affording disguises, the abayas allowed them to hide ammunition.

The veil can evoke drastically disparate responses even among women in the same country. Under Soviet rule, Afghan women in Kabul embraced the reforms that encouraged them to unveil and go to school, while those in rural areas rejected them. When the Taliban took power in 1996, they forced women to wear burqas. Forbidden to attend work or school, many were housebound. After the Taliban fell following the U.S.-led invasion in 2001, Westerners expected Afghan women to throw off their burqas; some did, but plenty more have continued to wear them, whether out of tradition or fear of attack.

For the increasing numbers of women seeking new opportunities in Muslim countries, the veil is often not a barrier--quite the opposite. In Cairo, female office workers have found the veil can safeguard their growing presence in public spaces. "Many of these veiled women work and study outside the home and interact with both men and women," says Asma Afsaruddin, who teaches Islamic studies at the University of Notre Dame. "For them, veiling is not meant to restrict their access to the public sphere but to enhance it." It may not sound like progress. But if the history of the veil has taught us anything, it's that liberation comes in many different forms.


Friday 25 March 2011

Deaths of ‘Unwanted’ Babies On The Rise

KARACHI, Mar 14, 2011 (IPS) - The graves at a cemetery in Moach Goth have no epitaphs, no verses from the Koran, not even the names of the deceased. The only inscription on the small wooden signs that serve as headstones is a number and the date of burial. The latest one is Number 72,315.

This is a burial ground of unclaimed dead, overseen by the Karachi-based Edhi Foundation. It is also the gravesite of newborns abandoned by unwed mothers who face death for bearing the fruit of ‘illicit’ relationships.

Established by Maulana Abdul Sattar Edhi, the foundation is South Asia’s largest private social service network. For the past six decades, it has been providing burials for dead and abandoned newborns.

"Last year the number of abandoned newborns we buried across Pakistan was 1,210," foundation spokesperson Anwar Kazmi told IPS.

The number is up from 999 in 2009, and 890 in 2008 - most of them baby girls. In Karachi alone in 2011, the foundation buried 30 infants retrieved from garbage dumps and drains, or brought to them by the police.

These figures come only from a few urban centres. "The number could be much higher, but we will never find out," said Kazmi, who has been with the foundation for 40 years.

In this conservative Muslim nation, having a baby out of wedlock is considered a sin, and adultery is punishable by death under strict interpretations of Islamic law.

"Young people are having babies out of wedlock and even when they want to get married of their own free will, they are denied this right bestowed by Islam by parents," Kazmi says.

He narrates a tragic episode illustrating the mindset prevailing in society. The story occurred 25 years ago in Khamosh Colony, one of Karachi’s squatter settlements.

"A woman left a newborn on the steps of a mosque just before sunrise. When the men came out after offering their morning prayers and found the baby, they informed the cleric, who proclaimed it to be an illicit baby which should be stoned to death. And it was," Kazmi said.

The mindset prevails, and extends even to government hospitals where some doctors turn away desperate women, who then seek the help of "unskilled persons".

Shershah Syed, an eminent obstetrician and gynaecologist, told IPS that while abortion is legal, it is still not carried out in government hospitals. If it were, there would be a "marked decrease" in infanticide.

"There needs to be a sea change in the attitude of the doctors who refuse to address the needs of a pregnant woman, or a woman who comes for termination and desires privacy and confidentiality," Syed told IPS.

At the Moach Goth cemetery near Naval Colony some 14 kilometres from the city centre, the smaller graves are just mounds of earth and don’t even get a number. The only sign is an inconspicuous yellow stone marking the head of each grave.

Khair Mohammad, the graveyard’s 65-year old caretaker, has been the gravedigger for almost 29 years, an occupation his four sons took up as well. Pointing to the 10-acre piece of land, Mohammad says it is the third one the foundation acquired just three years back, and is fast filling up. The other two just across the road are in decrepit condition.

But for some time now, Mohammad said, he has been getting requests for more and more graves for babies.

"Last year, we must have dug between 200 to 250 graves for the young ones," he recounted. Mohammad’s middle son also performs the last prayer before the dead are finally laid to rest.

Twenty-five year old Haq Nawaz has been giving these babies the rite of the last bath, putting them in a plastic bag, and then shrouding them in white cloth, in keeping with the Muslim ritual.

"I was very scared in the beginning and a decomposed body smells awful," he told IPS.

Nawaz, who has been at his job for four years, said he has seen babies infested with insects, "creatures coming out of their nose and eyes" or having skin so "frayed" that it comes off at the slightest touch.

It takes a lot of courage, he said, to bathe the dead. "I feel privileged to be doing this deed as in Islam, we believe, performing this last ritual earns you points for the hereafter," Nawaz said.

To him, only the act of conceiving, and not the baby, is illegitimate, and he said he fails to understand how anyone could snuff the life out of such tiny beings.

Since the early 1970s, Kazmi said, the foundation has installed cradles outside some of its centres where parents could leave unwanted children. Today all of the foundation’s 335 centres have one and scores of babies are left in the foundation’s care.

Every day, at their centre in Mithadar, 70-year old Bilquis Edhi, the wife of founder Maulana, interviews at least four or five childless couples desperate to adopt - making certain the babies go to the right people. "The ones left over with us are always the girls and the sick," she says.

But the possibility of giving up babies for adoption has not stopped infanticide. "We advertise our cradles every third day, but have not succeeded in stopping the murder of these innocent lives," Kazmi said.

Babies are born out of wedlock in all societies, Syed pointed out. But he said the trend of unwanted pregnancies is likely to increase "in urban centres, where poor families are living in one-room homes and where there is no privacy even for married couples, where there is little or no education, where the sole entertainment and exposure to the outside world is through films and the idiot box."

One solution, he proposed, is age-appropriate all- encompassing reproductive health education to be incorporated in school curricula for the young.


What a Rabbi Learns from Muhammad

I first studied Islam when I was a student at UCLA almost 50 years ago, Then again while I was in Rabbinical school. Over the years I continued to read the Qur'an and other Islamic books. I read these books as the Prophet taught his followers in a Hadith "not as a believer, and not as a disbeliever". What does that mean? The Qur'an, of course, is sacred scripture for Muslims. A disciple of Muhammad named Abu Huraira relates, "The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah's Apostle said (to the Muslims). "Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, 'We believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.' " Following Muhammad's teaching I too neither believe nor disbelieve in the Qur'an. If I believed in the Qur'an I would be a member of the Muslim Ummah (community). But I cannot disbelieve in the Qur'an because I believe that Muhammad is a prophet and I respect the Qur'an as a kindred revelation, to a kindred people, in a kindred language. In fact, the people, the language and the theology are closer to my own people, language and theology than that of any other on earth.

I would like to begin by sharing my understanding of several Ahadith that have taught me about my own religion. My understanding is reflected in my application (gloss) of each insight from my perspective as a Liberal/Reform Rabbi. They are all from Bukhari: Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "Religion is very easy and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded. (Volume 1, Book 2, Number 38)

Gloss: The statement against becoming extremists needs to be taught in every house of prayer in the world. This applies of course, to political extremists as well as religious extremists who always prefer the stricter path to the more lenient way. For example, both Islam and Judaism teach the importance of sacred slaughter of meat, and the avoidance of certain animals for food. In Islam the rules are simpler and fewer than in Orthodox Judaism. Most Liberal/Reform Rabbis regard the increasingly restrictive developments in kashrut (Jewish dietary laws), especially for Passover, as a counterproductive, overburdening of the people. The expansion of restrictions on Shabbat activities over many centuries is also seen by most Liberal/Reform Rabbis as a counterproductive, overburdening of the joy of Shabbat. Muhammad wisely differentiates between extremism and striving to be near perfect (no one is perfect) which involves a rejection of extremism. Just trying hard to do well will be rewarded.

Narrated 'Aisha and Ibn' Abbas: On his deathbed Allah's Apostle put a sheet over his-face and when he felt hot, he would remove it from his face. When in that state (of putting and removing the sheet) he said, "May Allah's Curse be on Jews and Christians for they build places of worship at the graves of their prophets." He intended to warn (Muslims) from what they (i.e. Jews and Christians) had done. (Volume 4, Book 56, Number 660)

Gloss: Allah's apostle strongly opposed any diversion of reverence or worship to anyone other than God. Christians, and even Jews, had started worshiping at the graves of holy men, saints and prophets. Although they claimed to be only worshiping God, their feeling that prayer was better or more effective at such sites was cursed by Muhammad. In later centuries, Muslims also began worshiping at the tombs of holy men and building places of worship near their graves. Liberal/Reform Rabbis would agree that such activity at grave sites should be condemned and could be seen as a curse. Allah's apostle must also have realized that even the Muslim community would also produce people whose piety would lead to such errors for a Hadith on the same page says,

Narrated Abu Said: The Prophet said: "You will follow the wrong ways of your predecessors so completely and literally that if they should go into the hole of an animal, you too will go there." We said, "O Allah's Apostle! Do you mean the Jews and the Christians?" He replied, "Who else?" (Volume 4, Book 56, # 662)

Gloss: Muhammad criticized the failings of many in the Jewish and Christian communities (as did the prophets of Israel) but he realized that people are human, and most do not seem to learn from the failings of others. He hoped that Muslims would retain their original purity, but he foresaw that with time and power; corruption, decay and falsification were inevitable. Allah's apostle would certainly attack the false tradition of female genital mutilation in Africa today as sharply as he attacked female infanticide in Arabia in his day. It is a shame that many Muslim leaders in Africa today do not aggressively condemn it. But then, most Jewish leaders in the west do not aggressively condemn the Orthodox for not allowing Jewish woman to divorce their husbands. We all have to do a better job.

Abu Huraira related: Two men, a Muslim and a Jew, abused each other. The Muslim said , "By Him Who gave superiority to Muhammad over all the people." At that, the Jew said, "By Him Who gave superiority to Moses over all the people." The Muslim became furious at that and slapped the Jew in the face. The Jew went to Allah's Apostle and informed him of what had happened between him and the Muslim. Allah's Apostle said, "Don't give me superiority over Moses, for people will fall unconscious on the Day of Resurrection and I will be the first to gain consciousness, and behold! Moses will be there holding the side of Allah's Throne. I will not know whether Moses was among those people who became unconscious and then has regained consciousness before me, or was among those exempted by Allah from falling unconscious." (Volume 8, Book 76, #524)

Gloss: Allah's messenger is so well known for his sense of justice that a Jew can appeal to him even in a conflict with a Muslim who has attacked a Jew. It is only natural for Jews to think that Moses is the best, and for Muslims to think that Muhammad is the best. Muhammad rebukes the Muslim, telling him not to claim that Muhammad is superior to Moses because even on the day of Resurrection, Muhammad himself will not know their relative merit, for although Muhammad will be the first to be revived, Moses will already be standing there holding the side of God's throne. Muhammad teaches us that comparisons of religious superiority are wrong, for no one in this world, and perhaps even in the world to come, will know who is the best.

Most Americans that I have spoken are amazed to hear such liberal and flexible statements coming from a religion that they think is ridged and fanatical. But the politicized Islam that has captured so much attention in the Muslim world today is the outgrowth of two recent factors. One is an anti-western reaction and scapegoating due to the great upheavals occurring in all modernizing societies in the 20th and 21th centuries. This reaction is inflamed as the result of several previous centuries of socio-economic decline that took place in the Middle East. Also Judaism and Christianity have already had reforming movements that took generations to bare fruit.. Islam is just starting the process of revival and reform. The Prophet had predicted that over the centuries Muslims would also become more rigid and orthodox, just as the Jews and Christian had. Abu Sa'id al-Khudri reported Allah's Messenger as saying: You will tread the same path as was trodden by those before you, inch by inch and step by step, so much so that if they had entered into the hole of a lizard, you would follow them in this also. We said: Do you mean Jews and Christians? He said: Who else?" Muhammad was wise enough to realize that even his own ummah was subject to the circumstances of history.

Nevertheless as a Reform Rabbi, I realize that in many ways Muhammad showed seventh century Jews in Arabia how to reform Orthodox Judaism to bring it back to the simpler rules of the Torah..

Unlike Orthodox Rabbis, Liberal/Reform Rabbis accept the doctrine of nullification - which teaches that one verse in scripture can nullify another, and that rulings can be changed due to changed circumstances. Muhammad provides an excellent example of this principle in the following account. The Prophet originally told women not to visit graveyards, but toward the end of his life, he said to them: "I had told you not to visit graves; now I am telling you to visit them." The reason was that Arabian women used to wail at graves. The Prophet wanted this practice to be stopped. Therefore, he banned women from visiting graves to start with. After sometime, when Muslim women were better aware of how Islam wants them to behave in different situations, he allowed them such visits. In fact, the Prophet encourages visiting graveyards because such a visit reminds the visitor of his or her own death and the fact that they would have to stand in front of God when their actions are reckoned to determine their reward or punishment. Scholars like Ibn Qudamah, of the Hanbali school of law, make it clear that since this is the purpose of visiting graveyards, both men and women need such visits.

Another important teaching of the Qur'an is that God chose not to create human beings as one nation or with only one religion so that each religion could compete with the others in order to see which religion produces the highest percentage of moral and loving people. As it is written in the Koran [5.48] "For every one of you did We appoint a law and a way. If Allah had pleased He would have made you one people, but (He didn't) that He might test you in what He gave you. Therefore compete with one another to hasten to virtuous deeds; for all return to Allah, so He will let you know (after Judgement Day) that in which you differed." This is a wonderful further development of the teaching of the Biblical prophet Micah (4:5) that in the end of days-the Messianic Age "All people will walk, each in the name of their own God, and we shall walk in the name of the Lord our God forever."

There is no conflict, nor can there be any conflict, between Judaism and Islam. The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is a territorial dispute. There are people who would like to make this territorial dispute into a religious one in order to rally support for their side. We must resist this. I believe that the Koran itself predicts the return of the Jewish people to the Land God gave to the descendants of Abraham and his two sons. I believe the reference in the Koran to the land of Israel in Sura V, where God says to Moses and to the Jewish people: "O my people, enter the Holy Land which God has decreed for you", Koran [5:21]. More important for us today is the statement "WE SAID TO THE ISRAELITES AFTER HIM "DWELL SECURELY IN THE LAND OF PROMISE (THE PROMISED LAND) BUT WHEN THE SECOND OF THE WARNINGS COME TO PASS WE GATHER YOU TOGETHER IN A MINGLED CROWD BANI ISRAIL, Koran [17:104]. This refers to the return of Jews to the Land of Israel that is part of the great upheavals that proceed the age of the final judgment. The age we live in. The mingled crowd refers to both the Palestinians and the Israelis who will share the Promised Land together.

Neither side can claim it has the only right to the land or that its view is the only true one for as we have learned from the Hadith narrated Abu Huraira:The Prophet himself taught that even in the world to come it will not be clear if Moses or Muhammad is the supreme Prophet. Each is supreme for his own faithful community. A Muslim is one who submits to the will of Allah and believes that Allah has sent many different prophets to the many peoples of the world. As a Liberal/ Reform Rabbi I believe that Muhammad was the Prophet sent to the Arab people. I believe that the Qur'an is as true for Muslims as the Torah is true for Jews. Indeed, I love the Hadith Narrated by Abu Huraira that says, "The people of the Book used to read the Torah in Hebrew and then explain it in Arabic to the Muslims. Allah's Apostle said (to the Muslims). "Do not believe the people of the Book, nor disbelieve them, but say, 'We believe in Allah, and whatever is revealed to us, and whatever is revealed to you.' " Following Muhammad's teaching I repeat that I too neither believe nor disbelieve in the Koran. I do respect the Koran very much as a kindred revelation to a kindred people in a kindred language. In fact, the people, language and theology are closer to my own people, language and theology than that of any other on earth. The strong support that the Qur'an gives to religious pluralism is a lesson that is sorely needed by the religious fundamentalists of all religions in the world today. As a well known Hadith says, "Prophets are brothers, sons of one father by co-wives. Their mothers are different but their religion is one." (Bukhari and Muslim).


Rabbi Allen S. Maller retired after serving for 39 years as Rabbi of Temple Akiba in Culver City, Ca. His web site is

Thursday 24 March 2011


"(On the Day of Judgment) all humankind will issue forth in scattered groups to be shown their (past) deeds. Then whoever has done an atom's weight of good shall see it, and whoever has done an atom's weight of evil shall (also) see it."

The Holy Quran, 99:6-8

Tuesday 22 March 2011

Magnificent Century divides Turkish TV viewers over the life of Suleiman

Comment: Much as I respect PM Erdogan and my Turkish brothers and sisters, I feel they are a bit deluded about their 'glorious' history and empire, like all empires and imperialists the Ottomans had many faults including engaging in slavery and debauchery among many other affronts to Islam and humanity. Not to mention the disgraceful fraticide they practiced...and yes Indian Muslims (Mughals) were no better.

For the show's producers, it is nothing less than a magnificent controversy. Muhtesem Yuzyil, or Magnificent Century, a lavish primetime soap opera about Suleiman the Magnificent and Hurrem, the slave who became his powerful wife, is as admired in Istanbul as it is reviled.

Suleiman ruled the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566 at the height of its glory and is still revered as Kanuni, or Lawgiver. This has led to the series attracting a wave of protests from irate viewers and even government officials. Critics said it was disrespectful to the sultan because it showed him drinking alcohol – banned in Islam – and womanising with concubines in the harem. They have also complained that its scriptwriters take liberties with historical events and depictions of royal lives.

However, despite warnings from the government media regulator – or perhaps because of them – ratings for the weekly show remain sky high. After receiving what it said were more than 70,000 complaints when the drama first aired in January, Turkey's Supreme Board of Radio and Television, known as RTUK, said that Show TV, the channel broadcasting the series, had wrongly exposed "the privacy of a historical person" and owed the public an apology.

Even the prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who leads Turkey's Islamist-rooted government, weighed in, calling the programme disrespectful and "an effort to show our history in a negative light to the younger generations". Dozens of egg-throwing protesters chanted "God is great" outside the Show TV studios and descendants of Suleiman vowed to produce a series of their own to set the record straight.

However, knowing exactly what went on in Ottoman times is a challenge, especially with regard to women, according to Leslie Peirce, professor of Ottoman studies at New York University and author of The Imperial Harem: Women and Sovereignty in the Ottoman Empire. "In the Ottoman era, polite society did not talk about women and they wrote very little about them. So we don't have any Ottoman saying, 'This is how the harem worked'," she said. "We get these stories from the Europeans.

"There's a whole lot we don't know about Hurrem and other successful products of the concubine track, so the producers would have to invent plausible scenarios there."

According to reports by Venetian diplomats of the time, Hurrem, known in Europe as Roxelana, was "one clever lady", said Peirce. "She did play the politics, but mothers of princes were expected to do that. She acquired a public political role that no woman had had before, and she is the model for the queen mothers, or valide sultans, who come after her."

RTUK has been known to ban or suspend programming it deems offensive, but thus far Magnificent Century has survived, though not without an initial frenzy of edits to shorten kissing scenes and rewrites of later episodes. Meral Okay, the screenwriter, said viewers were angered by the portrayals of the inner workings of the royal court.

"We have been saying the same thing from the start: this is a fiction inspired by history," Okay told Reuters last month. "By entering the harem, we made all those untouchable and respected characters of history closer to us. We gave them a material existence as humans, with fears, anger and passions."

The production company, TIMS Productions, said the show handled "criticised topics" in a sensitive manner, and accusations that it had misrepresented the Ottoman royalty were unjust. "With the decor, costumes and visual effects, Magnificent Century is one of the most ambitious series in Turkish TV history," it said. Producers also added that the actor's goblet contained fruit juices rather than wine.

© New York Times

Saturday 19 March 2011

Andrew White ' the vicar of Baghdad': 'The vast majority of muslims are our friends'

Canon Andrew White leans over his desk and – with a mischievous glint in his eye – prepares to deliver what I now suspect is a signature move when greeting new guests. Handing over a copy of one of his books, his face breaks into a wide grin as he asks: "Would you like me to sign that for you? I tell you what, I'll use this pen. It was the same one used to sign Saddam Hussein's death sentence."

Such a macabre piece of historical memorabilia might appear an unusual keepsake for an Anglican priest but then Canon White – the so-called Vicar of Baghdad – is no ordinary clergyman. As pastor to St George's, the only Anglican church in Iraq, Canon White has been on the front line of the most violent and barbaric persecution of a Christian minority in living memory.

Cut off from the streets of Baghdad by blast-proof barriers, razor wire and round-the-clock security, St George's is one of the few churches still able to operate weekly services for the Iraqi capital's rapidly diminishing Christian congregation. Scores of his worshippers have been kidnapped or murdered, and militants have routinely tried to storm the complex which lies outside the comparative safety of the Green Zone.

Canon White, 47, who suffers from multiple sclerosis, has been shot at and kidnapped but still he returns, making sure to spend at least three weeks of every month with an embattled congregation that refer to him as their abouna (father).

The 6ft 2in, bowtie-loving priest spoke on a brief visit back to his picturesque home in a quiet Hampshire village which he shares with his wife and two boys (for security reasons he asks us not to give their names or location). The stopover was part publicity tour for his new book Faith Under Fire, part a chance to catch up with the family.

The Hampshire house is a pretty, single-storey family home in a quiet curving cul-de-sac, containing a theologian's study filled with books and crucifixes from across the world. Work is a war zone 3,000 miles away, where Canon White is protected by 30 security guards. A place of sandbags and terror, particularly for Iraqi Christians, whose population has plummeted in the past 20 years from 1.4 million to just 300,000.

The fountain pen, which Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki borrowed for a couple of days and used to sign Saddam's death warrant, is a way of breaking the ice before talking about a subject that will inevitably be gruesome. We meet just days after Shahbaz Bhatti, Pakistan's only Christian cabinet member, was gunned down in Islamabad and it is inevitable that the conversation quickly turns to violent persecution of Christians. "All over the world there are increasing threats against Christians," Canon White says. "Bhatti's death is deeply disturbing. But when you're living in the midst of the fire like in Baghdad, it's really what happens there that concerns you. We have had 123 people killed in Baghdad since November."

Last year in fact was a particularly brutal year for Iraq's Christians and 2011 looked like it was going to be no different. But in the past few weeks the killings have stopped.

As head of the Foundation for Relief and Reconciliation in the Middle East, Canon White has built unparalleled relationships with Iraq's senior Sunni and Shia clerics. In late January he gathered them in Copenhagen to issue a joint fatwa (religious edict) condemning any attacks on minority communities. "Until then Christians were being killed every day," he says. "After the fatwa the killings stopped. It's crucial to remember that the vast majority of Muslims we work with, they are our friends. We can only do what we do with their help."

When he is not administering to his flock, it is these kinds of delicate negotiations between Iraq's religious power players that occupy much of Canon White's time in Baghdad. He has been a key negotiator in kidnappings including that of the IT worker Peter Moore, who was released, and Ken Bigley, who was killed. He has himself been taken hostage, held in a room where freshly severed fingers and toes littered the floor, and has negotiated for the release of countless Iraqis. The violence he has seen is harrowing. Does he ever lose his faith? "Never," he says. "If anything, my faith has got stronger." It's a reply you often hear from religious people in conflict zones – but how can religion be a force for good when it does so much harm in these situations?

"I remind myself that if religion is a force for bad it is also a force for good," he says. "If religion is the cause of this horrific violence then it is also the cure. The only way you will be able to stop this violence is engage with Iraq's religions in a religious way. The best thing we can do is work with the Islamic leaders as most of them are not terrorists."

Canon White places the blame for the violence against his congregants squarely at the feet of al-Qa'ida in Iraq, the primarily foreign militant network inspired by Osama bin Laden. "Those who instigate violence are mainly from outside," he says. "There are certain people you simply can't work with and the al-Qa'ida people fall into that category."

But he is equally infuriated by Christian bigots and publicity seekers – such as the American pastor Terry Jones, who threatened to burn the Koran. "Pastor Terry Jones is directly responsible for the murder of some of our people," Canon White says. "They have no idea how terrible it was. Throughout the time he threatened to burn the holy Koran, they were warning us that our people would be attacked. Four of my guards were killed throughout that time. He can try and say from the safety of Florida he was trying to make an important point. But it was an important point that killed our people."

Canon White was himself a supporter of the American-led invasion of Iraq, but after all the killing, the mutilations, the kidnappings and the mass exodus of Iraq's Christians – does he still think it was worth it?

It's the first time he seems unsure of himself. "I had one day in the whole of my life when I thought to myself, why did we do this," he says. "But I remember what it was like in Iraq before the war, the fear people lived under." Yet he adds: "But at least you could walk down the street."

I press again, was it really worth it, so much violence, so many deaths?

"I had seen the terror of the Saddam regime and I knew there was absolutely nothing the Iraqis could do to remove that terror," he replies. "It's been hell. So many people killed. I still say the regime had to be removed but we should have done things differently afterwards."

Regrets are a luxury Canon White cannot afford. He has a flock in Iraq to attend to. While a semblance of peace has returned for Baghdad's Christians thanks to the joint fatwa, Canon White knows it is temporary. "From my years and years in Palestine, Israel and Baghdad I know that the majority of people can live together," he says. "But you only need a few fanatics and it all falls to pieces."

Christianity under fire

IRAQ In the past 20 years, the flight of Christians has reduced the community's population from 1.4 million to 300,000.

EGYPT On New Year's Day, 21 Copts were killed in a bomb in Alexandria.

PAKISTAN Shahbaz Bhatti, the country's only Christian cabinet member, was assassinated last week.

NORTH KOREA Christianity is vehemently prosecuted in North Korea, where any expression of religion in the totalitarian state is viewed as open insurrection against the Communist regime.

NIGERIA Sectarian conflict between Muslims and Christians in central Nigeria has broken out with horrendous violence over the past two years in and around the city of Jos.


Friday 18 March 2011

Inside a sharia divorce court - video

Sheikh Haithem Al-Haddad and Dr Suhaib Hasan of Britain's Sharia Council allow us rare and exclusive access to their deliberations on Islamic divorces

Very good insight into a sharia court and the good work they do however I wasn't impressed with the scholar who said 'he only hit you once, then its not a very serious matter!' Violence once or many times is always a serious matter!

Thursday 17 March 2011

Palestinian family in East Jerusalem told to make way for Jewish settlers

A Palestinian family in East Jerusalem have been ordered to evacuate a room in their home so Jewish settlers can move in, following an 11-year court battle waged by a pro-settler US millionaire.

Ahmed Hamdallah, 33, has been told to remove his furniture and possessions by Monday or he will be billed for the cost of bailiffs clearing a room occupied by himself, his wife and one-year-old son. New occupants will take over the property under the protection of armed guards, he has been told.

The Hamdallah family have lived in the home in Ras al-Amud since 1952. The extension, in which Ahmed, Amani and Yazan Hamdallah now live, was built in the mid-1980s.

However, the land on which the home is built was bought in 1990 by Irving Moskowitz, a Florida businessman, from its pre-1948 Jewish owners. Moskowitz has spent millions of dollars purchasing property in East Jerusalem to create pockets of hardline Jewish settlements in Palestinian neighbourhoods.

Hamdallah said he intended to destroy the extension, which has views of the Dome of the Rock and the Mount of Olives, rather than hand it over to settlers. "Do you think I will just give them the key? I'm not going to allow them to live in my house," he told the Guardian. "I have no power to do anything. I don't even have the strength to speak or eat or go to work."

Amani, his wife, said: "We have no plan, nowhere else to go." She said the main part of the house was already crowded with members of the extended family.

The Hamdallah family came to Ras al-Amud after fleeing their village near Ramle in the 1948 war. The house is now bordered on two sides by Ma'ale Zeitim, a housing development built on land also owned by Moskowitz in which about 100 Jewish families live and from which Israeli flags fly. Expansion of Ma'ale Zeitim is blocked by the presence of the Hamdallah home.

A Jerusalem court ruled in 2005 that the family could retain buildings constructed up to 1989. However, according to the Hamdallahs' Israeli lawyer, Shlomo Lecker, Moskowitz's legal representatives have continued to press for evacuation of the extension and yard, and bailiffs this week served notice of eviction for Monday.

"This group of settlers are very determined to get the family out and they are trying every possible trick," he said. "They got an order allowing the settlers to come to the house and take over the room and the yard."

Lecker said he was challenging the decision.

Daniel Luria, spokesman for Ateret Cohenim, which promotes Jewish settlement in East Jerusalem, said: "We're talking about one of the most significant areas historically and religiously for Jews. Jews have the right to live in any neighbourhood. The fact that the world does not recognise that is a problem that the world has got."

About 200,000 Israeli Jews live in settlements in East Jerusalem, which was captured by Israel in 1967 and later annexed. Settlements in occupied or annexed territory are deemed illegal under international law.

A confidential EU report on East Jerusalem, circulated in December, warned that ideologically-driven settlers were threatening the prospects of a peace deal. "If current trends are not stopped as a matter of urgency, the prospect of East Jerusalem as the future capital of a Palestinian state becomes increasingly unlikely and unworkable," it said.


Tuesday 15 March 2011

SubhanAllah - Flawless:

SubhanAllah, He is Absolutely Flawless. The utter beauty, completeness, total negation, absolute perfection and exaltation that is contained in saying those two words completely boggles my mind and I know I cannot do any justice to it. My intention is to give a tiny drop from the ocean of what tasbeeh really contains, so we do not continue to repeat this phrase (especially in salah) without knowing its true meaning.

The word tasbeeh means the act of saying subhanAllah just as tahmeed means the act of saying alhamdulillah.

Tasbeeh is comprised of two words: Subhan and Allah:

Subhan is from seen-ba-ha and it means to glorify, praise, magnify, extol Allah, by tongue or by heart. It includes:

1. To say He has no flaw in His Perfection, that He is Far above any imperfection.

2. He is far above and beyond any similarity to His Creation.

3. He is free from and above all kinds of association (shirk) and any un-divine attributes.

When one does tasbeeh, they negate any flaw and affirm all perfection in Allah azza wa jal.

Translations such as "glory be to Allah" do not contain the full meaning of tasbeeh, rather it is an impartial translation. A more appropriate translation is, SubhanAllah: How Perfect is Allah and Far Above any flaw and association.

Another meaning of the root seen-ba-ha is the act of swimming, floating, and being quick and swift as well as being remote. How does this connect with glorifying Allah? It denotes the quickness in betaking oneself to Allah, in agility in serving and obeying Him. When doing tasbeeh, you affirm (i.e., keep afloat) the Perfection of Allah ta'ala and His disassociation to His creation. It is used for prompt obedience that comes out immediately, like an immediate reaction. (Imagine when you see something amazing, right away, you say: "subhanAllah!")

A name of Allah that coincides with this root is As-Subooh, which means The Exalted One who is praised and glorified extensively. We learn from a hadeeth in Saheeh Muslim from A'ishah radi Allahu anha, that the Prophet sal Allahu alayhi wa sallam used to say in ruku and sajdah: Suboohun, Qudoosun, Rabb al Malaa'ikati war Rooh. Suboohun: the One who is Exalted a lot, Quddoos : the One who is very Pure, Rabb ul Malaaikati war Rooh : Rabb of the angels and of Jibreel. Why do we say this in ruku and sajdah? It is out of humility, reminding ourselves how small we are, and we acknowledge Allah's Purity and that He is the Rabb.

As stated in the previous post on hamd, the dwellers of Jannah's last call will be: "Alhamdulillah!", but what do they say when they enter Jannah?

"Their call therein will be "Subhanaka Allahumma!", How Exalted are You, O Allah, a Far from imperfection!" (Surah Yunus, verse 10) (It is very interesting to see the speech of the dwellers of Jannah, here's an assignment for the readers: look throughout the Qur'an and see how the dwellers of Jannah speak when they reach Jannah, what is it that you find? To make this easier to find the verses, search in the Qur'an using this site:

So when we say "SubhanAllah" the complete meaning is (but not limited too): I declare (or celebrate, extol) the remoteness, or freedom, of Allah from any imperfection or impurity or from anything derogatory from His glory. From the attribution of there being an equal to Him, or any companion, or anything like unto Him, or anything contrary to Him, from everything that should not be attributed to Him.


Sister Amatullah is a contributing writer to


Sunday 13 March 2011

Is the Tsunami a Punishment?


I am not sure how does it feels like in Pakistan, but here in Australia quite a few Muslims, khateebs, tell us that Tsunami is a punishment for those living in Indonesia, Sri Lanka etc!. They mostly quote the Ahadith regarding the "day of judgment" talking about the frequency of earthquakes, and the punishment given to the nations of prophet Lot (AS), Noh (AS) and others mentioned in the Qur'an. I was just wondering what are your views on the "general trend"? The fact that there are places around the world that, by the same standards, are worse then those areas suffered and that nearly 50 thousand of the dead were children( UNICEF estimate) makes it unconvincing to believe that it was a punishment, let alone the " Qanoon-e-etmame Hujjah". My understanding of the qanoon is that Allah punishes the nation of a rasool (only rasool not nabi) only after the message is delivered and the non-believers are declared as rejecter (not accepting the message despite convinced that is the truth). Am I right? So, how can somebody be so sure that people in the areas suffered as a nation were "rejecters" hence punished? As far as I know Muslims in Aceh in general are "conservative" and by the standards of the "khateebs" does not deserve any punishment! I guess a sum up question would be "Are all disasters, especially with such a toll, punishments?"


Question from Australia

In this world we witness many things but only from our tiny lenses. What we deem tragedies or disasters may ultimately be something good but far beyond our comprehension. Indeed the human suffering and death toll from the tsunami is a calamity for the human experience but as we know these are natural occurrences caused by the very make up of the planet. These events have always happened and it may seem that they are occurring more frequently because more people populate the earth and information is easier to come by. Add to that the technology to record such events and it may seem that these things happen all the time. However, these natural events have always existed. Ever since humanity was placed on earth these forces of nature have caused what seems to be catastrophic incidents. Moreover, ever since people have witnessed these some have used them or interpreted them as a result of people's actions. The Prophet in many ahadith tried to educate people that natural events were just that and not because of things that were going on with humanity. When his son Ibrahim died people thought the Sun was eclipsed because of this. He corrected this misconception.

Those who preach that the tsunami in Indonesia and other places are signs of the wrath of God have to substantiate their claims upon something solid other than just opinion. No one knows the heart of an individual much less a community or nation. Those who claim that this is a punishment of sorts are only placing themselves upon a pedestal above others and taking upon themselves the judgment of God. They may not be doing this with those intentions but it could be their ignorance that drives them to such baseless condemnation. You have pointed out correctly that there are many places whose population take part in great sin and have no afflictions. No one is given prior knowledge of who is being punished and who is not and to attribute such a tragedy to punishment merely adds insult to injury. The concept of Itmam al-Hujjah is as you have correctly stated that a prophet of God needs to be present for such a punishment to be meted out. Hence, this and any other natural disaster after the Prophet's time does not fall under the scope of said concept.

One should keep in mind that such incidents are nevertheless a great reminder of the vulnerability of human life and the lack of control we have over it. If we hold that closely as we live our lives we may find that it may help us remain humble in our ways. Another thing to remember is that we should be extremely careful in passing a judgment about why a nation or an individual is faced with a traumatic situation; a wrong attitude on our part will greatly hinder not only our taking the right lessons from such incidents but also in giving the suitable responses to such incidents;

It is clear that those claiming anyone is being punished for any reason really have no basis for their assumptions. It is a wonder how they determine what tragedy is a punishment from God and why.

I hope I have clarified the issue.

God knows best.

Ronnie Hassan
January 25, 2005


Friday 11 March 2011

Daily Star reporter quits in protest at tabloid's 'anti-Muslim' coverage

The Daily Star has been accused of printing f ictionalstories by a disgruntled reporter who has resigned over its "hatemongering" anti-Muslim propaganda.

In a resignation letter, Richard Peppiatt said he was leaving after the Star gave sympathetic coverage to the far-right English Defence League last month.

Peppiatt admits producing a number of fictional stories about celebrities during his two years at the tabloid, a practice he implies was sanctioned by his seniors.

The reporter, who was once made to dress up in a burqa, now accuses the paper of inciting racial tensions and Islamaphobia. "You may have heard the phrase 'the flap of a butterfly's wings in Brazil sets off a tornado in Texas'," Peppiatt wrote to the proprietor, Richard Desmond, in a letter seen by the Guardian.

"Well, try this: 'The lies of a newspaper in London can get a bloke's head caved-in down an alley in Bradford.' If you can't see that words matter, you should go back to running porn magazines."

Desmond's media empire has included pornographic magazines and adult TV channels as well as Express newspapers, Channel 5 and celebrity magazines. Desmond has said he was not consulted before the decision to publish the front-page story and editorial about the EDL.

Peppiatt tells him in his letter: "The weight of your ownership rests heavy on the shoulders of everyone, from the editor to the bloke who empties the bins."

Peppiatt, who handed in his resignation this week, said the "incendiary" suggestion the EDL was planning to field election candidates was known to be an exaggeration. "But further up the newsprint chain it appears a story, too good to allow the mere spectre of reality to restrain, was spotted," he wrote.

The EDL story is one of a number of prominent articles published by the Star that Peppiatt claims were made up, including some of his own. The reporter was recently involved in stories claiming Rochdale council had spent taxypayers' money on "Muslim-only squat-hole loos". In fact, the toilets were neither paid for by the local authority or "Muslim-only".

"I was tasked with writing a gloating follow-up declaring our post-modern victory in 'blocking' the non-existent Islamic cisterns of evil," Peppiatt wrote. The Press Complaints Commission later ruled the story was inaccurate and misleading.

The reporter also quotes Kelly Brook, who recently complained about the number of fabricated stories she reads about herself on the internet. She said: "There was a story that I'd seen a hypnotherapist to help me cut down on the time I take to get ready to go out. Where do they [journalists] get it from?"

Peppiatt wrote: "Maybe I should answer that one. I made it up. Not that it was my choice: I was told to." He said he had "plucked" the story about Brook's experimentation with hypnotherapy from his imagination, adding: "Not that it was all bad. I pocketed a £150 bonus."

In a list of "my other earth-shattering exclusives" for the Star, Peppiatt recalls producing articles about Michael Jackson, the pop star Robbie Williams and Katie Price which he said had no factual basis.

He also admits making up a story suggesting that Matt Lucas was on suicide watch following the death of the comedian's former civil partner. Lucas won substantial damages in court. Peppiatt criticises the Star's editorial judgment in his letter, accusing it of hypocrisy, and "arranging the day's news based on the size of the subjects' breasts".

He adds: "On the awe-inspiring day millions took to the streets of Egypt to demand freedom, your paper splashed on: JORDAN … THE MOVIE. A snub to history? Certainly," he writes. "An affront to Journalism? Most definitely."

As a young reporter desperate to make his name in Fleet Street, Peppiatt concedes he took to his commissions "with gusto", but now questions the ethics of what he was required to do, suggesting he was at times promoting an anti-Muslim agenda.

"On order I dressed up as John Lennon, a vampire, a Mexican, Noel Gallagher, St George (twice), Santa Claus, Aleksandr the Meerkat, the Stig, a transvestite, Alex Reid. When I was ordered to wear a burqa in public for the day, I asked: 'Just a head scarf or full veil?' Even after being ambushed by anti-terror cops when panicked Londoners reported 'a bloke pretending to be a Muslim woman', I didn't complain.

"Mercifully, I'd discovered some backbone by the time I was told to find some burqa-clad shoppers (spot the trend?) to pose with for a picture [with me] dressed in just a pair of skin-tight M&S underpants."

Peppiatt's letter concludes by criticising Desmond for not providing greater resources. "When you assign budgets thinner than your employee-issue loo roll there's little option but for Daily Star editors to build a newspaper from cut-and-paste jobs off the Daily Mail website, all tied together with gormless press releases.

"But when that cheap-and-cheerful journalism gives the oxygen of publicity to corrosive groups like the EDL ... it's time to lay down my pen."

The Daily Star rejected Peppiatt's claims, implying he may hold a grudge against his employer after being "passed over" for several staff positions. It said: "Regarding the paper's coverage of Islam, he never voiced any disquiet over the tone. For the record, the Daily Star editorial policy does not hold any negativity towards Islam and the paper has never, and does not endorse, the EDL."[Peppiatt] refers to a Kelly Brook story – in fact he approached and offered the newspaper that story, vouched for its accuracy, and then asked for and received an extra freelance fee for doing so," the statement said.

The Star also claimed that Peppiatt had been warned by senior reporters after suggesting he would make up quotes.