Sunday, November 26, 2006

What makes a white middle-class man, with a relatively privileged upbringing, turn to Islam?

Question time'Islam is one of the world's great religions, not a cult': Yahya Birt, son of Sir John, on faith, family and the people who think he's a 'crank'

read the complete article at: The Guardian

Yahya Birt, 38, converted to Islam in 1997. A research fellow at the Islamic Foundation in Leicester, he is about to become director of City Circle, an organisation for Muslim professionals.

How would you describe yourself, faith-wise?
A mainstream Muslim who has liberal values.

How does your faith sit with your background ?
I like to say that I'm British and Muslim; I don't think that they have to be in opposition.

Which comes first?
That's a question I don't think we should ask. They are different things. I'm a citizen of this country, I'm a voter, I work in civil society, I take part in things, but my values are informed by my experience of growing up here and by my religion


Are people baffled by the fact you are a convert?
I expect that some people will be baffled and I'm happy for them to be baffled.

Are other Muslims welcoming of converts?
Yes, absolutely.

The image of a convert is typically young, non-white and working-class, but is this correct?
Probably not. Most converts still come from a Caucasian background - probably about 60%. They come from all classes and backgrounds and all kinds of different backgrounds of faith, or no faith. It's hard to find an absolute profile of a typical convert.

What makes a white middle-class man, with a relatively privileged upbringing, turn to Islam?
It seemed like a good idea at the time.
Does it still seem a good idea?
Yes, absolutely.

Is the faith of a convert stronger than the faith of somebody who grew up with the religion?
I think only God knows the answer to that.

What would you say to parents who might be worried if their child announced their conversion?
I would say, don't panic. They are joining one of the world's great religions, not a cult. But just make sure that they are part of the mainstream of the Muslim community.

Did your family panic?
No. [Laughs.]

Do people consider you a crank?
Possibly, quite possibly. I think there is a mood of, let's say sceptical atheism, which is saying that religion is on the march in British life, and in no shape or form is it a good thing. That strand of opinion is probably unhelpful. I'm sure all the faith communities have something positive to give, as long as they are doing it in the spirit of contributing to the common good.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Why are Muslims distributing Thanksgiving baskets to the needy?

Muslim Thanksgiving Baskets For US Needy
By Sahar Kassaimah, IOL Correspondent

WASHINGTON — On Thanksgiving, an annual one-day holiday to give thanks to God celebrated in the US on the fourth Thursday of November, many Muslim communities distribute food baskets among low-income families and veterans.
"The program which started in November 2001 is meant to feed the needy during the Thanksgiving holiday," Ahmed Bedier, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Tampa Director, told
The five-year program is sponsored by CAIR and fundraised by CAIR members in the region in tandem with the Muslim community.
The distribution of the food baskets will be handled by the United Way, a coalition of charitable organizations that have traditionally pooled efforts in fundraising.
Each of the 1350 United Ways has its own local governing volunteer board.
"When the program started, Ramadan and Thanksgiving coincided. So we called it the Ramadan-Thanksgiving food basket program," Bedier recalled.
"Since then local Muslims raise money every year, around $5000, and work with CAIR and the United Way to distribute food baskets for the needy around the Thanksgiving holiday."
According to the Muslim activist, a total of 200 baskets are usually distributed.
"Our goal is to seek the pleasure of God. Islam teaches us to help the needy in our society," Bedier said."The message we are sending is that Islam is a humanitarian religion and that Muslims care about their communities and will give back."Bedier said that distributing food baskets on Thanksgiving was the idea of a local member of CAIR.
"It was the idea of an American Muslim physician who was a local member of CAIR," he recalled.
"The needy people’s reactions and the public are very positive and we receive great praise."
The Muslim activist said the program started locally but has inspired other Muslim communities around the country to hold similar events, such as public dinners to feed the needy.
There are no official figures for the number of Muslims in the United States but CAIR estimates the number at around seven to eight million.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Is the Netherlands going to be the first country to ban the veil?

Netherlands moves toward total ban on Muslim veils
Dan Bell
Saturday November 11, 2006
The Netherlands may become the first European country to ban Muslim face veils after its government pledged yesterday to outlaw the wearing in public spaces of the niqab, or veil, and the burka, or full-length cloak covering the head.
The right-leaning coalition said last night that it would look for a way to outlaw the wearing of all Muslim face veils. The grounds for a ban were laid last December when parliament voted in favour of a proposal to criminalise face coverings, as part of a security measure proposed by a far-right politician, Geert Wilders.

Rita Verdonk, the immigration minister, signalled that the government would now push for a total ban, even though the legislation would be likely to contravene Dutch religious freedom laws.
"The cabinet finds the wearing of a burka undesirable ... but cannot at present enforce a total ban," the Dutch news agency ANP quoted her as saying after a cabinet meeting.
Ms Verdonk suggested that existing legislation which limits the wearing of burkas and other full-body coverings on public transport and in schools did not go far enough, and that the cabinet would discuss as wide a ban as possible in the coming week.
"The government will search for the possibility to provide a ban," her spokeswoman told the Reuters news agency.
The announcement is in stark contrast to the laissez-faire image of the Netherlands. The country is known for its tolerance for drugs, prostitution and euthanasia, but in recent years has passed some of Europe's most unforgiving entry and immigration laws.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

What's Wear A Hijab Day?

'Wear a Hijab Day' to support Muslims
By Chris De Benedetti, STAFF WRITER
FREMONT — As many as 10,000 people are expected to participate in memorial services and other activities in coming days to honor Alia Ansari, an Afghan mother of six who was fatally shot last week in the Glenmoor neighborhood.
But amid the outpouring of grief, outrage and compassion for the Ansari family, there is disagreement among some over how best to reach out to the grieving Afghan and Muslim communities.
Some leaders are organizing "Wear a Hijab Day" — scheduled for Nov. 13 — as a symbolic gesture of solidarity with Muslim women. Ansari was wearing a hijab — a traditional Muslim head scarf — when she was shot, her relatives said.
"So many people have contacted us, and people wanted to do something beyond sending money," said Melanie Gadener, founder of Foundation for Self-Reliance, a Fremont nonprofit offering programs for Afghan immigrants.
Ansari, 38, was killed last Thursday as she walked on Glenmoor Drive with her 3-year-old daughter. Some of Ansari's relatives said the killing was a hate crime, but authorities have yet to establish a motive.
Racially motivated or not, the slaying has galvanized people to show support for Muslim women, said City Councilmember Anu Natarajan, a co-organizer of "Wear a Hijab Day."
"This has shaken the entire community," Natarajan said. "All of us want to say, 'We will not tolerate something like this in Fremont.' We want to do something visually symbolic."
The day's planners said they
also have contacted local Muslim and Afghan leaders to avoid unwittingly offending the family or trivializing Ansari's death, Natarajan said.
But Bruce Green, a Fremont minister who has an office at Centerville Presbyterian Church, questions if there might be a better, more inclusive way to show solidarity. "I've talked with different Afghan women who don't want to embrace the hijab," Green said. "Not every Muslim wears one or thinks of it as a positive symbol."
Instead, he advocates an idea he calls "Ladies Only Hug a Hijab." It encourages women of all backgrounds to approach women wearing the Muslim head garment to offer an embrace and express sadness over the Ansari killing.
Green also wants to be sensitive to the tradition among most Muslims that prohibits casual physical interaction between men and women. So he urges men in the same situation to put their hands on their hearts and say, "As-Salaam-Alaikum (peace be unto you)."
Green has assisted Afghan immigrants in recent years, building bridges between Muslim and Christian communities. He bristles against what he calls the "premature framing" of the shooting as a hate crime.
"We want this community to be characterized by love, not hate; by an embrace, not a shove," said Green, also a board member of the Afghan Coalition. "We're not a perfect community, but (racism) is not endemic here."
But opinions expressed by Muslim women at a Fremont mosque's recent open house dispute Green's viewpoint, said Moina Shaiq, vice chair of Fremont's Human Relations Commission.
"They said they feel unsafe," said Shaiq, a Muslim woman. "I wear a hijab and now I'm scared, especially after this incident. I hope this is not race-related, but you don't know."
The custom of wearing a hijab or not — much like some Catholic nuns who do not wear a habit — illustrates the diversity within the Muslim faith, Shaiq said. Since 9/11, ignorance and the "fear of the unknown" are what hurts the Muslim community, she said. And "Wear a Hijab Day" can be an educational opportunity toward that end.
"Seeing another woman wear a hijab will make me feel good," said Shaiq, originally from Pakistan. "It will show that I'm accepted in this society."
A prayer service will be held in honor of Ansari at 2:30 p.m. Friday at the Swim Lagoon in Central Park, Fremont Mayor Bob Wasserman said.
Authorities estimate that between 2,000 and 10,000 people may attend the Central Park gathering, police Officer Dennis Madsen said. Open to the public, it is expected to last 15 minutes. People may park in the Swim Lagoon lot in the park's southeast end.
Wasserman visited Saturday with the Ansari family, who are Muslim. "They said they would be proud to see non-Muslims at the service on Friday to share in their grief," Wasserman said.
The mayor also announced that Fremont Bank has agreed to participate in a fundraiser to financially aid Ansari's six children, whose ages range from 3 to 13.
In addition, Green will host a second memorial service at 11 a.m. Saturday in honor of Ansari. It will be held at the Centerville Presbyterian Church gymnasium, just a quarter-mile from the site of the slaying. Churchgoers on Sunday morning found Ansari's name and the letters "R.I.P." spray-painted on the church walls.
If the church lot is full Saturday, people are encouraged to park a few blocks away at Flamingo Palace restaurant, 4100 Peralta Blvd.
Meanwhile, authorities have not arrested anyone in connection with the slaying. On the day of the killing, police arrested Manuel David Urango Jr. — a 27-year-old parolee who fit witnesses' descriptions of the assailant — on unrelated charges. A black or Latino man in a black Toyota Tercel or BMW with a rear spoiler was seen fleeing the scene, witnesses said.
Police are calling Urango a "person of interest," and he is being held at Santa Rita county jail in Dublin.
Donations made by check to the Ansari children's fund may be made payable to "Alia Ansari Memorial" at Fremont Bank, Account No. 55041477; and to "Ansari Family" at Washington Mutual, Account No. 3091558830.