Thursday 29 September 2011

Mecca for the rich: Islam's holiest site 'turning into Vegas'

Behind closed doors – in places where the religious police cannot listen in – residents of Mecca are beginning to refer to their city as Las Vegas, and the moniker is not a compliment.

Over the past 10 years the holiest site in Islam has undergone a huge transformation, one that has divided opinion among Muslims all over the world.

Once a dusty desert town struggling to cope with the ever-increasing number of pilgrims arriving for the annual Hajj, the city now soars above its surroundings with a glittering array of skyscrapers, shopping malls and luxury hotels.

To the al-Saud monarchy, Mecca is their vision of the future – a steel and concrete metropolis built on the proceeds of enormous oil wealth that showcases their national pride.

Yet growing numbers of citizens, particularly those living in the two holy cities of Mecca and Medina, have looked on aghast as the nation's archaeological heritage is trampled under a construction mania backed by hardline clerics who preach against the preservation of their own heritage. Mecca, once a place where the Prophet Mohamed insisted all Muslims would be equal, has become a playground for the rich, critics say, where naked capitalism has usurped spirituality as the city's raison d'être.

Few are willing to discuss their fears openly because of the risks associated with criticising official policy in the authoritarian kingdom. And, with the exceptions of Turkey and Iran, fellow Muslim nations have largely held their tongues for fear of of a diplomatic fallout and restrictions on their citizens' pilgrimage visas. Western archaeologists are silent out of fear that the few sites they are allowed access to will be closed to them.

But a number of prominent Saudi archaeologists and historians are speaking up in the belief that the opportunity to save Saudi Arabia's remaining historical sites is closing fast.

"No one has the balls to stand up and condemn this cultural vandalism," says Dr Irfan al-Alawi who, as executive director of the Islamic Heritage Research Foundation, has fought in vain to protect his country's historical sites. "We have already lost 400-500 sites. I just hope it's not too late to turn things around."

Sami Angawi, a renowned Saudi expert on the region's Islamic architecture, is equally concerned. "This is an absolute contradiction to the nature of Mecca and the sacredness of the house of God," he told the Reuters news agency earlier this year. "Both [Mecca and Medina] are historically almost finished. You do not find anything except skyscrapers."

Dr Alawi's most pressing concern is the planned £690m expansion of the Grand Mosque, the most sacred site in Islam which contains the Kaaba – the black stone cube built by Ibrahim (Abraham) that Muslims face when they pray.

Construction officially began earlier this month with the country's Justice Minister, Mohammed al-Eissa, exclaiming that the project would respect "the sacredness and glory of the location, which calls for the highest care and attention of the servants or Islam and Muslims".

The 400,000 square metre development is being built to accommodate an extra 1.2 million pilgrims each year and will turn the Grand Mosque into the largest religious structure in the world. But the Islamic Heritage Foundation has compiled a list of key historical sites that they believe are now at risk from the ongoing development of Mecca, including the old Ottoman and Abbasi sections of the Grand Mosque, the house where the Prophet Mohamed was born and the house where his paternal uncle Hamza grew up.

There is little argument that Mecca and Medina desperately need infrastructure development. Twelve million pilgrims visit the cities every year with the numbers expected to increase to 17 million by 2025.

But critics fear that the desire to expand the pilgrimage sites has allowed the authorities to ride roughshod over the area's cultural heritage. The Washington-based Gulf Institute estimates that 95 per cent of Mecca's millennium-old buildings have been demolished in the past two decades alone.

The destruction has been aided by Wahabism, the austere interpretation of Islam that has served as the kingdom's official religion ever since the al-Sauds rose to power across the Arabian Peninsula in the 19th century.

In the eyes of Wahabis, historical sites and shrines encourage "shirq" – the sin of idolatry or polytheism – and should be destroyed. When the al-Saud tribes swept through Mecca in the 1920s, the first thing they did was lay waste to cemeteries holding many of Islam's important figures. They have been destroying the country's heritage ever since. Of the three sites the Saudis have allowed the UN to designate World Heritage Sites, none are related to Islam.

Those circling the Kaaba only need to look skywards to see the latest example of the Saudi monarchy's insatiable appetite for architectural bling. At 1,972ft, the Royal Mecca Clock Tower, opened earlier this year, soars over the surrounding Grand Mosque, part of an enormous development of skyscrapers that will house five-star hotels for the minority of pilgrims rich enough to afford them.

To build the skyscraper city, the authorities dynamited an entire mountain and the Ottoman era Ajyad Fortress that lay on top of it. At the other end of the Grand Mosque complex, the house of the Prophet's first wife Khadijah has been turned into a toilet block. The fate of the house he was born in is uncertain. Also planned for demolition are the Grand Mosque's Ottoman columns which dare to contain the names of the Prophet's companions, something hardline Wahabis detest.

For ordinary Meccans living in the mainly Ottoman-era town houses that make up much of what remains of the old city, development often means the loss of their family home.

Non-Muslims cannot visit Mecca and Medina, but The Independent was able to interview a number of citizens who expressed discontent over the way their town was changing. One young woman whose father recently had his house bulldozed described how her family was still waiting for compensation. "There was very little warning; they just came and told him that the house had to be bulldozed," she said.

Another Meccan added: "If a prince of a member of the royal family wants to extend his palace he just does it. No one talks about it in public though. There's such a climate of fear."

Dr Alawi hopes the international community will finally begin to wake up to what is happening in the cradle of Islam. "We would never allow someone to destroy the Pyramids, so why are we letting Islam's history disappear?"

Under Threat

Bayt al-Mawlid

When the Wahabis took Mecca in the 1920s they destroyed the dome on top of the house where the Prophet Mohammed was born. It was thenused as a cattle market before being turned into a library after a campaign by Meccans. There are concerns that the expansion of the Grand Mosque will destroy it once more. The site has never been excavated by archaeologists.

Ottoman and Abasi columns of the Grand Mosque

Slated for demolition as part of the Grand Mosque expansion, these intricately carved columns date back to the 17th century and are the oldest surviving sections of Islam's holiest site. Much to the chagrin of Wahabis, they are inscribed with the names of the Prophet's companions. Ottomon Mecca is now rapidly disappearing

Al-Masjid al-Nawabi

For many years, hardline Wahabi clerics have had their sites set on the 15th century green dome that rests above the tomb holding the Prophet, Abu Bakr and Umar in Medina. The mosque is regarded as the second holiest site in Islam. Wahabis, however, believe marked graves are idolatrous. A pamphlet published in 2007 by the Saudi Ministry of Islamic Affairs, endorsed by Abdulaziz Al Sheikh, the Grand Mufti of Saudi Arabia, stated that "the green dome shall be demolished and the three graves flattened in the Prophet's Masjid".

Jabal al-Nour

A mountain outside Mecca where Mohammed received his first Koranic revelations. The Prophet used to spend long spells in a cave called Hira. The cave is particularly popular among South Asian pilgrims who have carved steps up to its entrance and adorned the walls with graffiti. Religious hardliners are keen to dissuade pilgrims from congregating there and have mooted the idea of removing the steps and even destroying the mountain altogether.


Wednesday 28 September 2011

Schoolboy was beaten 'for being a Muslim'

A schoolboy from Sydney's north was brutally bashed and verbally abused by more than 20 students for being Muslim, the boy has claimed. Hamid Mamozai, 15, was allegedly hit up to a dozen times by two fellow students at Asquith Boys' High School on Wednesday as several more cheered and hurled racial abuse from the sidelines.

"[They were saying] hit him more, hit him more, he deserves it, you terrorists, go back to where you came from, go blow something up," Hamid told Channel 10. He said he was kneed in the face four of five times and hit up to 15 times in the face. Hamid was taken to hospital unconscious and with internal bleeding but suffered no serious injuries.

Najia, Hamid's sister, said he had been subjected to racial abuse at the school for up to two years and was "emotionally and mentally sick" because of it. "The boy is scared ... he doesn't get out of the house," she said.

His mother, Hosna, who fled war-torn Afghanistan 20 years ago, said she had repeatedly complained to the school to no effect. "I just want to know why this is happening, why the principal doesn't care that students are being bullied, why don't they stop it? I want other parents to know why this is happening," she said.

Asquith Boys' High declined to comment last night. In response to inquiries from the Herald, a spokesman for the Department of Education said one student had been suspended for 20 days and the police had been informed. Teachers provided immediate assistance to Hamid and called his family and an ambulance when the incident occurred, the spokesman said. Hamid and his family have been offered counselling and the school has arranged to meet with Mrs Mamozai this morning.

"Racism is not tolerated by Asquith Boys' High School, which disciplines students engaged in such behaviour and supports students subjected to it," the spokesman said. "Disciplinary action has been taken against students who have previously used racist language to the injured student. Due to the police investigation, it is inappropriate to comment further on the incident at this stage."


Tuesday 27 September 2011


The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "It is better for a leader to make a mistake in forgiving than to make a mistake in punishing."

Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 1011

Monday 26 September 2011

New Evidence of Anti-Islam Bias Underscores Deep Challenges for FBI’s Reform Pledge

Following months of denials, the FBI is now promising a "comprehensive review of all training and reference materials" after Danger Room revealed a series of Bureau presentations that tarred average Muslims as "radical" and "violent".

But untangling the Islamophobic thread woven into the FBI's counterterrorism training culture won't be easy. In addition to inflammatory seminars which likened Islam to the Death Star and Mohammed to a "cult leader", Danger Room has obtained more material showing just how wide the anti-Islam meme has spread throughout the Bureau.

The FBI library at Quantico currently stacks books from authors who claim that "Islam and democracy are totally incompatible". The Bureau's private intranet recently featured presentations that claimed to demonstrate the "inherently violent nature of Islam", according to multiple sources. Earlier this year, the Bureau's Washington Field Office welcomed a speaker who claimed Islamic law prevents Muslims from being truly loyal Americans. And as recently as last week, the online orientation material for the FBI's Joint Terrorism Task Forces included claims that Sunni Islam seeks "domination of the world", according to a law enforcement source.


Saturday 24 September 2011

US steps up pressure on Palestinians to drop UN statehood bid

The US is attempting to fire up a fresh round of Middle East peace talks in an attempt to head off a major diplomatic embarrassment over a looming Palestinian request for recognition of statehood at the United Nations.

Washington has again dispatched negotiators to meet Palestinian and Israeli leaders as it scrambles to find ways to avoid carrying out a threat to veto a Palestinian request for full membership of the UN, which is expected to be made to the security council or the general assembly next week.

If the request is made to the security council, a US veto of Palestinian demands for statehood – on the grounds that two decades of negotiations has failed to end the occupation – is likely to further damage America's already battered reputation in the Middle East, particularly when Washington has strongly backed the uprisings in Libya and Syria and broadly welcomed the Arab spring.

The US is working with Tony Blair, special envoy of the quartet of the UN, EU, US and Russia, to come up with a framework for talks that could lure the Palestinians back to the negotiating table. US envoys David Hale and Dennis Ross, the European foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton and Blair are due to meet Palestinian and Israeli leaders.

But Washington is also seeking support from Britain in particular in its stand against the Palestinian resolution, if it does come to a vote at the UN. Two other security council members, Russia and China, have openly backed the Palestinian move. France is sympathetic to the Palestinian demand but is seeking a compromise resolution that could be supported by Germany, which is opposed to UN recognition of a Palestinian state, in the hope of forging a common EU position.

Britain has so far not declared how it would vote, but diplomatic sources say that it is torn between American pressure to support the US position in the security council and concerns about what such a move would do to the UK's standing in a changing Middle East, particularly while it is still heavily involved in Libya.

The Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, has said he will take the request for full recognition as a state to the UN security council next week. But some Arab and European nations are pressuring him to downgrade the request to the general assembly, which can only offer observer status to the Palestinians, to save Washington the embarrassment of having to wield its veto.

Israel was also making last-minute efforts to persuade undeclared countries not to vote for a Palestinian resolution, amid threats to tear up previous agreements, impose financial penalties and annexe West Bank settlements if the Palestinians go ahead.

Obama confirmed the US would veto any request brought before the security council, describing the Palestinian push as "counterproductive". But the White House wants to avoid such a step, knowing it will play badly among Arabs whose own moves for self-determination this year Obama has endorsed.

In Washington, the US House of Representatives foreign affairs committee opened a hearing on Wednesday into whether American aid to the Palestinian Authority should be discontinued. Some members of the overwhelmingly pro-Israel US Congress have been pressing for a cut off in aid if the Palestinians submit their request to the UN. However, there is concern among others that such a move would leave Israel to pick up a greater share of the cost of occupation.

The European Union is at the centre of the efforts to avoid diplomatic meltdown. Its belief that only a negotiated settlement can resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is given added force by its desire to avoid a damaging split among its 27 members.

But efforts to secure a breakthrough are constrained by Palestinian demands of guarantees that any talks would be based on the pre-1967 borders, plus a total settlement freeze. Israel is unlikely to sign up to that.

The Palestinians insist their approach to the UN does not preclude a return to negotiations later. "We see no contradictions between doing both," said Dr Mohammad Shtayyeh, a senior member of the team heading to New York.

The UN bid was "the beginning of the game, not the end," he said. "It is a process."

In public, Palestinian officials are standing firm in the face of "very serious pressure" to backtrack. Privately, there are suggestions of wavering.

However, the International Crisis Group warned this week that any climbdown now "could decisively discredit [Mahmoud Abbas's] leadership, embolden his foes and trigger unrest among his people". It went on: "Most Palestinians do not strongly support the UN bid; but they would strongly oppose a decision to retract it without suitable compensation."

Israel has engaged in its own diplomatic offensive to try to derail the Palestinian bid, instructing its diplomats around the globe to campaign vigorously for votes and lavishly hosting delegations from undeclared countries.

But Ron Prosor, Israel's ambassador to the UN, acknowledged that the "battle to stem the tide" was lost, and warned that "this unilateral course of action won't lead to peace and won't lead to the establishment of a Palestinian state".

The Palestinians reject the claim that they are acting unilaterally, saying the UN path "is the ultimate expression of multilateralism". They add that Israel's apparent opposition to unilateralism has not stopped it acting without agreement, such as building and expanding settlements.

Sallai Meridor, a former Israeli ambassador to the US, said the move "weakens the chances for negotiation and agreement and increases the chances of frustration and violence. For Israelis it will strengthen the voices saying there is no one to talk to. Once you act unilaterally, the chances for negotiations are much lower."

Israel is also alarmed at the prospect that the Palestinians could bring a case against it at the international criminal court, a possibility that would open up with enhanced UN status for the Palestinians. "No Israeli government could negotiate if it has criminal proceedings hanging over its head," said a former official.

Retaliatory options raised by Israeli ministers should the Palestinian bid succeed include tearing up the Oslo accords, under which the Palestinian Authority was given control of parts of the West Bank and Gaza, annexing the West Bank settlements and withholding tax revenues that Israel collects on behalf of the PA. The US Congress is also threatening to cut off financial aid to the Palestinians.

Violence in the aftermath of the UN move has been predicted by the Israelis for months, despite Abbas's insistence that any demonstrations would be peaceful. "Non-violent demonstrations have a high risk of developing into something violent regardless of planning," said Meridor. "When you take gasoline and play with matches, you run the risk of a big fire."

The Israeli security forces have restocked with crowd-dispersal equipment, including teargas, rubber bullets and water canon. They are also training and arming settlers, fuelling fears on both sides that hardline elements could provoke violence.


Friday 23 September 2011


The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Acquiring knowledge in (the) company (of others) for an hour in the night is better than spending the whole night in prayer."

Al-Tirmidhi, Hadith 91

Thursday 22 September 2011

Blue-Eyed Muslim Convert Challenges Stereotypes

Peter Casey, or AbdulMalik as he is known online, often rides a skateboard to the mosque and rarely thinks twice about performing his prostrations at a Starbucks. Mr. Casey, a 23-year-old recent Queens College graduate, does not do it out of a rebellious impulse to defy Muslim orthodoxy. Rather, he says he seeks to “challenge stereotypes and misconceptions” others have about his faith.

As a convert to Islam with a suburban upbringing and a Judeo-Christian background, Mr. Casey is in a rare position to do so. His boyish looks, clear blue eyes and pale white skin allow him to evade easy categorization from non-Muslims.

“I hope I can use it to my advantage,” said Mr. Casey, later adding that his own appearance forces people to reconsider their “notion about what a Muslim looks like, what a Muslim talks like, what a Muslim acts like.”

Mr. Casey was raised in a Long Island suburb with a Jewish mother and Catholic father. Growing up, he grappled with a divisive figure in the family: Jesus. On the one hand, Christianity spoke of a divine being, Son of God and God Himself. On the other, Judaism spoke of Jesus as a false messiah — if it spoke of him at all.

“I felt there were two extremes, and I was happy with neither,” Mr. Casey said.

And then, on Sept. 11, 2001, his understanding began to change.Paradoxically, it was an act of unprecedented terror that put this 13-year-old suburbanite on another path to religious consciousness. With Islam at the forefront of public discourse, Mr. Casey began to look beyond the headlines and into the faith, “out of caution” at first, he remembers. Online, he discovered a faith that recognized Jesus as a prophet, a man who relayed the word of God. Nothing more, nothing less.

“I was looking for the religion of Jesus and his disciples,” said Casey said. “And when I started learning about Islam I was like: ‘This is it. This is that religion.’ ”

Two years later, at 15 years old, he converted to Islam. (His parents declined to comment for this story or the accompanying video.)

Since then, Mr. Casey, who recently began teaching history at an Islamic school in Brooklyn, has sought to reconcile his religious beliefs within an American context suspicious of Islam. His blog, ‘Dawah Addict,’ hosts self-made videos on topics ranging from “Muhammad in the Bible” to “How to Become a Muslim.”

“When I first became Muslim, and this is something you still hear today, people said, ‘Why aren’t there more Muslims saying terrorism is bad? Why aren’t there Muslims out there saying what Islam is really about?’ ” said Mr. Casey. “And I thought, well, I’m going to do it if no one else is going to do it.”

Mr. Casey’s YouTube channel has more than 5,000 subscribers and close to half a million views. Although his audience keeps growing, he has also encountered some resistance, in the form of angry comments and rebuttals.

“I feel like I have responsibility to people in America,” he said, “because this is where I grew up and this is my home, and I want to share what makes me so happy and has brought me so much peace.”


Tuesday 20 September 2011

Military whistleblower tells of 'indiscriminate' Israeli attacks

The soldier, a reservist NCO with extensive combat experience, was among more than 20 soldiers sent into the village more than two hours before a planned Friday demonstration in July, to try to quash protests before they began. The protests started in December 2009 after Jewish settlers appropriated a spring on privately-owned Nabi Saleh land.

The reservist, who originally testified to the veterans' organisation Breaking the Silence, told The Independent that they went into a house in the village and took a position on the roof. "The sun was very hot, but we had to keep our helmets on," he said. "Then some soldiers start getting bored and start shooting tear gas on people. Every guy who is not in his house or in the mosque is a target."

He said that 150 rounds of tear gas or stun grenades were fired during the day and one soldier boasted that he had fired a tear gas canister which passed within one centimetre of a resident's head.

Army rules prohibit firing canisters directly at people because they have caused serious injuries in the past. Another soldier travelling with the whistleblower in a military vehicle out of the village was left with an unfired tear gas canister.

"He should have fired it into an open field but we passed a grocery story with some people outside it with children. After we passed it he just turned round and fired it at them."

The reservist was given a week's preparation on the use of stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas. He had been impressed by a four to five -hour visit to the trainees by the Binyamin Brigade Commander Sa'ar Tzur who addressed "issues of ethics and human life, not just on our side but on the other side".

Some soldiers complained about the strictness of prohibitions – not always honoured, according to the leaders of the weekly Nabi Saleh protests – on the use of live ammunition. But Colonel Tzur "was very strict on the fact that these are the rules and that anyone who breaks them will pay for it".

But the battalion officer, a religious West Bank settler, was "exactly the opposite," he added. "At the base there was a mission statement signed by the Brigade Commander which said 'we need to maintain the fabric of life for the civilian population, Israelis and Palestinians.' The battalion officer crossed out the word 'Palestinians' and all the soldiers around started laughing."

The reservist's testimony supports B'Tselem's s main conclusions, including that the military makes "excessive use of crowd control weapons, primarily the firing of tear-gas canisters."

He said: "It was very difficult for me. I want to be in the army to defend my country. On the other hand I saw that the job I was doing did not have any connection with defending Israel."

He said that his unit was called to the village square when the battalion officer showed around 40 Palestinians and foreign activists a written order declaring the village a "closed military zone." The soldiers had earlier heard shouting elsewhere by demonstrators before they were almost immediately dispersed by border police firing tear gas. The reservist said the people in the square "were just standing there. The officer said to the soldiers: 'Everybody should get out of here. The Palestinians into their homes and the foreigners should get out. Anyone left should be arrested.' One Palestinian was arrested when a soldier decided that he had 'looked at him in a way he didn't like'."

As well as 35 Palestinian injuries in Nabi Saleh this year, there have been 80 detentions since the protests began, including of 18 minors, and protest leader Bassem Tamimi, currently awaiting military trial based largely on the interrogation of a 14-year-old boy arrested at home at gunpoint at 2am.

The military said it has "clear, detailed, and professional guidelines" for the use of tear gas to disperse "riots", and that after two years of "dangerous and violent riots" it declared the village a "closed military area" on Fridays to "prevent these riots before they turn into violent ones".

The military's tactics have varied. A 13-year-old Palestinian boy was seriously injured by a rubber-coated bullet fired at close range during protracted clashes between armed troops and stone-throwing youths observed last year by The Independent. Those clashes started when troops fired tear gas and rubber bullets on the hitherto peaceful march towards the spring.

The reservist said he had seen no stones thrown on the day he was there. adding: "If they want to stop people throwing stones at the spring, why don't [the troops] wait at the spring? Why are they coming into the village?" He added: "The headline of the whole Friday, as I see it, if the army won't be in the village nothing would happen because the demonstration was not violent."


Friday 16 September 2011

Poll: Many Americans uncomfortable with Muslims

Ten years after 9/11, Americans are wrestling with their opinions of Muslims, a new survey found, and where Americans get their TV news is playing a role in those opinions.

Nearly half of Americans would be uncomfortable with a woman wearing a burqa, a mosque being built in their neighborhood or Muslim men praying at an airport. Forty-one percent would be uncomfortable if a teacher at the elementary school in their community were Muslim.

Forty-seven percent of survey respondents said the values of Islam are at odds with American values.

The Public Religion Research Institute conducted the survey and issued a report in conjunction with the Brookings Institution, "What it Means to be American: Attitudes in an Increasingly Diverse America 10 Years after 9/11."

“Americans are wrestling with fear, but on the other hand they're also wrestling with acceptance,” said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the Public Religion Research Institute.

The results of the survey were announced Tuesday at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

One issue that seemed to divide respondents was sharia law.

Overall, 61% of respondents disagreed that Muslims want to establish sharia law in the U.S.

"2011 has been an enormously active year for this question," Jones said. "Forty-nine bills have been introduced in 29 states to ban sharia law. We asked the same question back in February, and only 23% of Americans agreed Muslims want to establish sharia as the law of the land. That number has gone up to 30%, so still a minority, but the minority has grown."

The numbers were also showed a correlation with where people went for their news.

Of Americans who say they trust Fox News the most for their television news, 52% believe that Muslims are trying to establish sharia law in the United States. Sixty-eight percent of Fox viewers believed the values of Islam were at odds with American values.

The report says fewer than one-third of Americans who most trust broadcast news, CNN (20%) and public television (23%) believe that Muslims are trying to establish sharia.

"It's an emotional roller coaster," said Dr. Muqtedar Khan, a professor of political science at the University of Delaware. "I looked at this survey, and I'm really depressed."

Khan, a practicing Muslim, was particularly disturbed by the attitudes toward Muslims and what he called a misunderstanding of sharia law. "Sharia is just a prop, an attempt to say, 'we just don't know and like Muslims.' "

The survey also found strong support of religious liberty and tolerance.

Eighty-eight percent of those contacted by pollsters agreed that "America was founded on the idea of religious freedom for everyone, including religious groups that are unpopular."

One year after a Florida pastor burned a copy of the Quran, 95% of people polled said religious books should be treated with respect.

And two-thirds of those polled said there should be strict separation between church and state.

According to Jones, 2,450 Americans were reached by phone for the survey, and it had a margin of error of plus or minus 2 percentage points.


Thursday 15 September 2011


The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "Do not ask for (death) before it comes, for when one of you dies, he ceases (to do good) deeds, and the life of a believer is only prolonged for goodness."

Sahih Muslim, Hadith 1234

But I Didn't Do Anything!

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Why I Became Muslim On September 11, 2001

Prior to 9/11, I had been searching for the “truth”, meaning the proper way to worship God. I grew up in a Catholic home, served as an alter-boy, attended Catholic school, and studied a good portion of the Bible in my youth. I always believed in God no matter what stage of my life I was in; be it my Catholic school boy years, my brief dabble at Christianity, my quest for knowledge of Buddhism, Hinduism, and other “isms”, or my research of Darwinism and the Theory of Evolution.

Throughout my days prior to 9/11, I felt like I experienced enough of all faiths and ideologies and came to a conclusion that there was a God or a Supreme-Being, but the question that I always asked myself was how do I come closer to Him, how do I worship Him, and how to do I make sense of all the faiths that exist in the world. This was my state-of-mind prior to 9/11. Up to this point I never heard about Islam. It amazes me, when I reflect on my youth, that I did have Muslim friends growing up like Hasan, Mahmood, or Tamir, but I never knew they were Muslim or what Islam was.

It wasn’t until 1999 when I first started to learn about Islam and Muslims during my college years at Stevens Institute of Technology in New Jersey. I met a Muslim by the name of Ahmer Siddique who is one of my greatest friends to this day. In the hallway right before we were supposed to take a Chemistry exam I panicked because I felt unprepared and wondered, “how I will get out of this one?” I suddenly overheard Ahmer talking about how he knew what was on the test, so I asked him to help me even though he never met me. Not only did he have the answers to the test that day, but he also had the answers to life, as well.

I befriended Ahmer and we became very close that semester. We’d hang out with other common friends and discuss current events, political issues, social issues, and of course religious issues. Being that I had a Catholic background, I challenged him with questions on the trinity, the belief of Jesus as God and the son of God, the belief in Mary, signs of the Day of Judgment, along with other controversial topics. They were questions common to me from asking priests and ministers years before only to realize they didn’t have a clear answer, rather their answers increased my confusion and decreased my desire to affiliate myself to any religion.

However, the answers I received from this 18 year old young man were answers I never heard before. The explanations to the topics at hand were ones I never considered nor were they ever presented to me in that fashion. For the first time things made sense and were not only easy to mentally accept, but also spiritually. I recalled a night at the age of 15 or 16 years old, looking up at the sky, my face and shirt wet from tears that ran from my eyes, pleading to God to guide me. After meeting Ahmer and learning about Islam, I felt that cry was answered.

During the spring of 2000 my relationship with Ahmer was put on hold as I focused on pledging to a Latino fraternity. Later that summer, I became a tutor-counselor for a high school program on campus. It was during this program where I met two bright, young ladies who were different from the rest. Instead of being loud, obnoxious, and fashionable according to society’s standards, they were quiet, mature, and extremely modest in their dress and character. This was the first time I ever came across girls wearing hijab. I felt drawn to them, curious to learn why they did what they did. The funny thing was I don’t recall ever learning about Muslim women in my discussions with Ahmer so I never knew what they looked like or how they dressed. When I think about it now, as I write this, it astonishes me how Allah put people in my life to expose me to Islam bit by bit. I learned a great deal from them, such as the concept of hijab, the concept of modesty and Islam, the history of the Qu’ran and how it has never been changed since it was revealed, as well as how to become a Muslim by saying the declaration of faith or Shahadah.

I appreciated everything they taught me even though I was technically the teacher’s assistant and they were my students. However, when it came to learning about Islam, I was their humble student. My admiration for Islam grew more and more, but I didn’t think about accepting Islam yet.

Fall of 2000 and spring of 2001 came and went. I continued to learn about Islam from conversations with Ahmer, however, I was caught up in the college lifestyle, and didn’t desire to leave my old ways behind in exchange for a devoted life to Allah. I was busy partying, dancing, listening to hip-hop and rap, and hanging out with my fraternity brothers.

One big milestone that I do remember, however, was asking Ahmer for a copy of the Qur’an before the summer break. That summer as I worked in New York City, I would take it everywhere I went -- on the subway and on the bus. I’d read as much as I could whenever and wherever I could. I remember sitting next to one of the engineers on the bus and pulling out the copy of the Qur’an. He asked me, “Are you Muslim?” I kindly responded, “No, but I am learning.” He told me he was Muslim and he could answer any questions I might have. Sometimes I wish I could run into that brother now and tell him, “I am Muslim now”. I’m sure he would be so happy. I stuck to this routine for the entire summer, reading the Qur’an on the way to and from work in New York City.

After a while I felt overwhelmed with the information. I became more and more scared with every verse that I read. I understood what Islam desired from me, but I was not ready mentally or spiritually to jump into it wholeheartedly. I decided, shortly after that, to stop reading the Qur’an and just focus on other aspects of my life.

Soon after, I found myself on campus again starting my 3rd year of college in the fall of 2001. To me it was the same old thing; freshman mixers, social events, parties, orientations, hanging out, and road trips for the first week or two of school.

On September 11th, 2001, I woke up and got ready to go to my lab at 8am or so. I walked over to the chemistry lab only to find out that class was canceled. I remember being elated because I now had the opportunity to go hang out or get some extra sleep. I walked back to my dorm room through campus and I remember glancing at the New York City skyline. My campus was just across the river and the skyline view was a popular feature Stevens offered their students. It was always a beautiful sight and this day wasn’t any different. The sun was out, the sky was clear, and the temperature was awesome, and of course the view to the city was impressive even to someone who’s seen it all his life.

I walked into my room and immediately got a call from a friend who told me to turn on the news. She sounded freaked out as I turned on the television only to see that the buildings I just finished glancing at were on fire. I immediately ran upstairs to Ahmer’s room to inform him of the news. He had been sleeping so I rudely awakened him with this devastating information.

We turned on the television and watched the news while he got ready so we could go outside and see what was happening. As the news broke stating that a plane crashed into the towers, Ahmer kept saying, “I hope it’s not Muslims.” I didn’t understand why Muslims would have anything to do with this.

We went outside to a chaotic, frightened, nervous, and concerned student body. Everyone was outside looking out from Castle Point towards downtown Manhattan. We stayed there for hours, getting updates on the radio or from people. I kept thinking to myself, I hope people are getting out, I hope that help is on the way. I was also scared about the possibility of another plane striking the huge skyscraper we were standing next to that served as the administrative building.

After a few hours of tears, cries, concern, and fear, the towers collapsed. It wasn’t until then that reality really hit me. It became clear, at that point, that whoever was in that building was not making it out. There was no way people could survive that. I remember looking at my watch, watching the seconds pass by as if in slow motion. I also remember my conscience talking to me, reminding me how much I have learned about Islam, what my purpose in life should be, how I should be leading my life, and the reality of life and death. I thought to myself all those times that I read in the Qur’an the promise for those who do deeds of righteousness, the rewards with their Lord for worshiping Him alone and living a life according to His guidelines and standards, as well as the promise for those who disobey Him and His commands. I thought during those seconds about Heaven and Hell, the punishments of the grave, and how I arrogantly kept pushing off the idea of accepting my role as a creation of Allah in order to party, chill, have fun, dance, drink, and “live life.”

I remember reflecting about those times where I told myself how Islam is such a beautiful religion, but if I am to accept it, it will be later on in life when I’m old. However, this time, as death stood across the river, I told myself, “Well what if that day never comes?”

The people in the towers thought September 11, 2001 was just another ordinary day. They probably thought they were going to have lunch, make it home for dinner, and reunite with their families, children, or significant other. However, Allah had a different plan for them. This day was their last day and they did not have a chance to argue or plea their case. If this was their situation, then what should I think mine will be? Why should I think that I will live a long life, how can I be so sure that I will grow old, how can I be so sure that I will accept Islam once I am “done” having fun. The answer was, I wasn’t sure.

These thoughts rushed through my mind in such a brief lapse of time. I was snapped out of this state of deep reflection by Ahmer who tapped me on my shoulder to tell me, “Man, I can’t take this, I need to go pray.” Without hesitation, without even thinking it twice I said, “I’m coming with you.”

I followed him to his room and I told him I want to be a Muslim. His eyes filled with joy as he heard this. He taught me how to say Shahadah, how to make wudhu (ablution) and I followed him in my first prayer. I became a Muslim on that day, September 11th, 2001. It was the day my entire life changed. I have not looked back since.

The challenges that awaited me from my decision, I confronted with confidence and courage. The backlashes due to the events of 9/11 were difficult, but I had faith that no matter what or who was responsible, Islam had nothing to do with it and Allah would not allow His religion to be degraded regardless how hard people tried.

From that day forth, I have lived my life as a Muslim, learning how to worship and be thankful for the countless blessings that I have been granted in my years of life. Since that time, I’ve been blessed with my younger brother and mother embracing Islam, a wonderful wife who devotes her life to worshiping and pleasing Allah, and with two beautiful sons who are born Muslims. This decade that has passed has been the pinnacle of my life and Allah knows best what awaits me.

While some people become saddened by the events that occurred on 9/11, I see it as the day that I realized my purpose in life and had the courage to accept it. I am saddened about the tragedies of that day, without a doubt, however, I believe that Allah is the best of Planners and the wisdom for this event occurring goes beyond the scope of our understanding. One thing is certain to me though; it opened the door for millions of people to learn about Islam and even opened the door for millions to embrace Islam as their way of life, including me. For that, I will always be grateful to Allah.

I don’t know what 20 or 30 years down the road has in store for us, but I am confident that I will continue to ask Allah to guide me and keep me on this blessed path. I am certain that I will strive to teach my children about Islam and the events that occurred so that they grow up knowing the history of how Islam went from 20,000 Americans accepting Islam a year to over 100,000 Americans accepting Islam. Allah knows best what awaits us all; all I ask is for Allah to keep my family and I firm upon His path.

Hernan Guadalupe lives in Maryland where he works in real estate development. Source.


The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: "When God wants to be good to someone, He tries him with hardship."

The Prophet also said: "For every misfortune, illness, anxiety, grief, or hurt that afflicts a believer - even the pain caused by the pricking of a thorn - God removes some of his sins."

Fiqh-us-Sunnah, Volume 4, Number 1

Monday 12 September 2011

Fasting in the month of Shawwal

Aboo Ayyoob al-Ansaaree narrated:

"Allah's Messenger, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam, said: 'He who fasts Ramadhaan, and six of Shawwaal, it will be (in terms of rewards) as if the fasted a whole year'." [Reported by Muslim, at-Tirmidhee, Aboo Daawood, Ahmad, Ibn Maajah]

It is mustahabb (preferrable) to keep these fasts wherein great rewards can be earned. Adding the six days of fasting during Shawwal to the 30 days of the fasting of Ramadan, will earn a reward of a full years fasting Insha'Allah.

It is not required to fast six days continuously without any interruption. One can fast according to convenience any time during the month. These fasts may be kept consecutively or at intervals during the month of Shawwal, i.e. spread out over the month.

The reward is like the reward of a person who is fasting every day of his/her life. So this is an established sunnah, which carries a great reward insha'Allah.

Another of the important benefits of fasting six days of Shawwaal is that is makes up for any shortfall in a person's obligatory Ramadan fasts, because no one is free of shortcomings or sins that have a negative effect on his fasting. On the Day of Resurrection, some of his nawafil deeds will be taken to make up the shortcomings in his obligatory deeds, as the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

“The first thing for which people will be brought to account on the Day of Resurrection will be their salaah (prayer). Our Lord, may He be glorified and exalted, will say to His angels – although He knows best – 'Look at the salaah of My slave, whether it is complete or incomplete.' If it is perfect, it will be recorded as perfect, and if something is lacking, He will say, 'Look and see whether My slave did any voluntary (nawafil) prayers.' If he did some voluntary prayers, Allah will say, 'Complete the obligatory actions of My slave from his voluntary actions.' Then all his actions will be dealt with in a similar manner." [Abu Dawood]

Sunday 11 September 2011

How the fear of being criminalised has forced Muslims into silence

On 17 September 2001, George Bush paid a visit to the Islamic Centre of Washington. "The face of terror is not the true faith of Islam," declared the US president. "Islam is peace." Muslims might have been its biggest victims, but the war on terror wasn't conceived as a war on Islam. In recent years, however, a growing number of rightwing ideologues have exploited the terror threat to push the argument that Islam is as at war with the west. Backed by well-funded thinktanks, these individuals are no longer "fringe" voices. Take Patrick Sookhdeo, a Christian pastor who reinvented himself as a terrorism expert after 9/11. He is quoted approvingly four times in the 1,500-page "manifesto" of the Norwegian killer Anders Breivik. Why? Sookhdeo has dismissed the "myth of moderate Islam", says Islam is a "religion and political ideology that puts our British way of life in grave danger" and believes "everything about the west is inimical to Islam".

The ravings of a crank? In fact, Sookhdeo's book, Global Jihad, is on a recommended reading list for the UK Defence Academy's higher command and staff course 2011. The pastor himself has been used by the MoD to give "higher level training" to British military commanders preparing to deploy to Afghanistan.

Then there is Robert Spencer, the co-founder of the EDL-linked organisation Stop the Islamicisation of America which, according to the Anti-Defamation League, "promotes a conspiratorial anti-Muslim agenda". Breivik's manifesto cited Spencer 64 times. Yet the latter has been invited to advise the FBI on counter-terrorism and his book, The Truth About Mohammed: Founder of the World's Most Intolerant Religion, has featured on the FBI's reading list for new recruits.

It is easy to blame crude, anti-Islam propagandists like Sookhdeo and Spencer for the increasing levels of alienation, disillusionment and distrust inside Muslim communities across the west. But the real question is why have the US and UK governments given such influence to preachers of hate and division? Whatever happened to winning hearts and minds?

Western Muslims have been seen exclusively through the prism of counter-terrorism. Sensitive issues of integration and community cohesion have become entangled in the securitised discourse of the war on terror. Here in the UK, the effect has been a chilling of speech inside Muslim communities. I have lost count of the number of British Muslim students, activists and imams who have told me of their fear of being labelled as extremists or terrorists if they dare take an unconventional, unorthodox or radical position on a political or religious issue. It is ironic, if depressing, that a doubling of the number of Muslim MPs in parliament and the appointment of a Muslim woman to the cabinet has been matched by a narrowing of the range of opinions and views expressed by ordinary British Muslims in public.

For example, many Muslims have melted away from the antiwar movement, which they collaborated in creating. There is a growing belief that dissent by politically active Muslims has not just been stigmatised, but criminalised. From new laws cracking down on the so-called "glorification of terrorism", to the excessive sentences handed out to British Muslim teenagers protesting against Israel's Gaza war, to the use by counter-terrorism police of 150 surveillance cameras in just two Muslim areas of Birmingham, the past decade has seen ordinary Muslims disproportionately targeted by the authorities. A damning report by the Institute of Race Relations in 2009 described the last government's prevent counter-extremism strategy as "an elaborate structure of surveillance, mapping, engagement and propaganda. Prevent has become, in effect, the government's 'Islam policy'."

Meanwhile, the media's coverage of British Muslims has been particularly pernicious. In 2008, a Cardiff University study of 1,000 newspaper articles revealed that references to radical Muslims outnumbered references to moderates by 17 to one. The most common nouns used in relation to British Muslims were terrorist, extremist, militant and Islamist.

The term "Islamist" – one I have, admittedly, used myself – is especially problematic. It obscures more than it illuminates. The tyrannical Taliban government of Afghanistan was Islamist – yet so too is the elected government of Turkey; Hizb ut-Tahrir is an Islamist organisation – but so is the Muslim Council of Britain. I too have been lazily denounced as an "Islamist" by my critics – despite having long ago declared my opposition to an "Islamic state" – and subjected to a barrage of Islamophobic abuse online. I am often told by anxious and fearful Muslim friends to "be careful" or to "stop being so outspoken"; they worry for my safety and job security.

I love this country. There is no better place in Europe to live as a Muslim. But, as we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11, I too tire of the negative stereotypes and constant suspicion and hostility that members of British Muslim communities have had to endure.

Perhaps all is not lost. Last month, Tariq Jahan, whose son was murdered during the riots, won plaudits for his calm and dignified response. What made Jahan such an unlikely British hero – especially on the pages of the Daily Mail and the Daily Express – is that he is a British Muslim (and a former supporter of Hizb ut-Tahrir). After I visited his home in Birmingham, a friend of the family told me: "Thanks to Tariq, we're all seen in a different light now – not in a negative light, not just as terrorists." But there is still a long way to go. Ten years on, British Muslims must stand up and be counted. Our struggle against demonisation is far from over.


A Call to Courage: Reclaiming Our Liberties Ten Years After 9/11

In the early days after the attacks, we were reminded that America is not only the land of the free, but also the home of the brave. On the evening of attacks, President Bush addressed the nation, and stated, “Our country is strong. Terrorist acts can shake the foundation of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.”

We could not have imagined that in the decade to follow, our country would engage in policies that directly defied American values and undermined our Constitution. We lost our way when, instead of addressing the challenge of terrorism consistent with our values, our government chose the path of torture and targeted killing, of Guant√°namo and military commissions, of warrantless government spying and the entrenchment of a national surveillance state, all of which now define the post-9/11-era. That is not who we are, or who we want to be.

Ten years later, our nation still faces the challenge of remaining both safe and free.

The way forward lies in decisively turning our backs on the policies and practices that violate our greatest strength: our Constitution and the commitment it embodies to the rule of law. It is that strength which is the best rejoinder our nation has to violence and to those who advocate it. Liberty and security do not compete in a zero-sum game; our freedoms are the very foundation of our strength and security. Consistent application of the law is what ensures that practices don't change simply because of a change in the White House.

Our choice is not between safety and freedom; in fact it is our fundamental values that are the very foundation of our strength and security.


Saturday 10 September 2011

Tel Aviv joins other Israeli districts in opening segregated schools

The Tel Aviv municipality in western Israel has become the latest of a dozen school districts in Israel to force children to attend schools segregated by race and nationality.

Four new kindergartens opening this year in the Bitzaron neighborhood in Tel Aviv will be segregated based on whether the students have Israeli or foreign identity cards.

A number of school districts in the last several years have forced students into separate schools based on the students' nationality, religion or ethnicity. Some schools have specifically excluded Africans, even though many of the Africans in Israel are Jewish. The issue of segregated schools is one that has been raised by activists worldwide who have challenged what they call Israel's 'apartheid' practices -- a reference to the race-based system in South Africa prior to 1994.

An attorney for the Hotline for Immigrant Workers told the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz that the segregated schools violate Israeli law, adding, "if the children are being separated for being foreign, or for being asylum seekers, then it's illegal. The compulsory education law applies to everyone, and registration for kindergartens and schools shouldn't be on the basis of nationality, religion, race or legal status."

Some parents registering their children for kindergarten were upset about the segregation policy in the district. Anat Ben-Moshe told a Ha'aretz reporter, "When I asked why they don't mix the children, they said when the majority are foreign, there's a problem with the parents. As a parent, I now have to explain this separation to my daughter, which seems much more problematic."

Israel has over thirty laws that separate people based on race and religion, and all Israelis receive identity cards which state their nationality as either 'Jewish', 'Arab' or 'Other'. Israeli authorities say they will continue the practice of dividing its population in order to 'ensure the character of the Jewish state remains intact'.

The newly-segregated kindergartens in Tel Aviv do not include Palestinians with Israeli citizenship, who have always had to attend separate schools from Jewish Israelis.


Thursday 8 September 2011

The faithful...

Truly the faithful are to one another like components of a building - each part supports the other (Muslim, Bukhari)