Pamella Geller and her fellow Islamophobes made headlines a few weeks ago with their vitriolic anti-Muslim advertisements in NYC subway stations and else where. Their message equated  Muslims to “savages” and “jihad” to terrorism. To respond to this bigotry , a remarkable group of Christians and Jews have started a counter campaign which encourages tolerance and love for Muslims.

Exemplifying the motto of ‘Love Thy Neighbor’, campaign organizers have leased out advertising space in subway stations to put up posters which counter the message of the anti-Muslim ads. One of them reads: “In the choice between love and hate, CHOOSE LOVE. Help stop bigotry against our Muslim neighbors.”  Another one says: “Hate Speech is not civilized. Support peace in word and deed”. The last one states quite simply,  “Love your Muslim neighbors”.

This outstanding initiative was headed by Rabbi’s For Human RightsSojourners – a Christian social justice group and United Methodist Women. Each of the three groups ran separate advertisements urging tolerance and denouncing the bigoted message of Gellar’s ads. The groups said their campaigns were coincidental. At some locations, their ads were placed immediately adjacent to the anti-Muslim posters. This juxtaposition is reflective the unique experiment that is America; the very good of its people and the very ugly, existing side by side.

Rabbi Jill Jacobs explained the purpose of his campaign, “I want to spread the message that 1800 rabbis– along with the majority of the American Jewish community–believes in partnership with our Muslim neighbors. We, of course, oppose all acts of terrorism. We will not, however, allow the actions of a small minority to be an excuse for dehumanizing an entire people.” Following the spirit of the of the Golden Rule, he further explained, “We know what it’s like to be a minority and we know what it’s like to be the target of discrimination, and that’s why, as Jews, because of that history, we have more of a responsibility to speak out when anyone is being discriminated against.”

The past several weeks have been challenging for American Muslims. The anti-American riots across the Muslim world and the killing of the American Ambassador to Libya  has lead to a great degree of apprehension in the community. From suspicious glances to clandestine conversations; Muslims were the talk of the town. Being inundated with stories like that of the Joplin Mosque which was burned down, one naturally begins to feel alienated and questions their standing in the public’s eye.

This campaign is enough reason to throw away those apprehensive feelings. Its a testament to the good of the American people, the vast majority of whom stand by their Muslim neighbors and will speak up to defend them. Stories like these need to be broadcast across to the Muslim world; this is what America is made of- not the pervert who produced the shameful movie debasing the Prophet.

Lastly, this campaign demonstrates the importance of exercising the power that rests in the moderate silent majority. These people could have very well decided to shrug their shoulders apathetically or perhaps just nod with disappointment like most of us. Why bother explaining that extremists like Geller don’t represent Jews? They could have complained about finances associated with leasing ad space and a million other things.

But No! They decided to speak up, to make their voices heard. They realized that the cost of remaining silent was not worth it. For them, making fellow citizens feel welcome in their own land was something important enough to invest time and money in  – and it should be for the remainder of us. This campaign is an important lesson for the Muslim community on the impact raising our voices can have. Faced too frequently with the negative externalities of religion, this episode reaffirms the generosity, goodness and goodwill that rests at the root of religious teaching and is urgently in need of revival.

 Actions Items: Call/Write to the campaign organizers thanking them for their efforts 

Rabbis for Human Rights-North America
212-845-5201
Email: office@rhr-na.org

United Methodist Women
Harriett Jane Olson – Deputy General Secretary
212-870-3752
Email” HOlson@unitedmethodistwomen.org

Sojourners
Phone: 202-328-8842 or 1-800-714-7474
E-mail: sojourners@sojo.net

 


The killing of Osama bin Laden dominated the headlines as I browsed through the daily news. I was a bit surprised I guess as I didn’t know people were still looking for him and there had been much conjecture that he was already dead. As I read through the details of the raid on Bin Laden I was bewildered by some of the information; especially that which pertained to his ‘Islamic’ burial.

First off, watching images of people dancing in the streets and partying to celebrate the killing of a human, regardless how evil, did not sit well with me. What do you even chant when you celebrate, “Wohoo! We killed Osama!”? How does this make you any better than these very terrorists who, I presume, rejoice similarly when they kill? I understand being relieved and feeling jubilant about the death of an evil person, but partying to it seems inhuman. But then again, human nature is a funny thing and had I too lost someone during 9/11, I might have felt the need to do the victory dance.

The second thing that surprised me was that no video or pictorial evidence of Osama bin Laden’s death was presented. To top that, his body had already been disposed off into the sea! How is that you capture the world’s most wanted man and then don’t even bother taking a picture? Perhaps the circumstances didn’t allow it, but then you get rid of the body only hours after killing him too! If we know anything about the Americans, it’s that they like putting on a show. Videos and pictures emerged almost immediately when Saddam Hussein was captured; I would have thought they’d like to show off what they hunted.

What is even more shocking is the lame and inaccurate excuse given to dispose off the body. A US official said, ‘We are ensuring that it is handled in accordance with Islamic practice and tradition’ and other news outlets reported that the early disposal was done to keep inline with the Islamic tradition of burial within 24hrs. Another reason given was that it was done in order to prevent the grave site from becoming a shrine for extremists.

The reasoning is quite laughable. Burying at sea is generally disallowed in Islam and the norm is to bury on land, so I don’t see how they are trying to follow Islamic practices. Also, while generally the dead are to be buried as soon as possible, there isn’t a set time limit of 24 hrs that one has to adhere to. And finally, since when did the US military become so cognisant about the religious rites of dead terrorists!? They go on abusing rights of the living in prisons like Guntanomobay but when it comes to the dead body of Osama bin Laden they dispose it quickly to honour his religious rights? Something is fishy. Also, Abbottabad is a city over a thousand kilometers away from the sea, why would they go all the way out to throw him there?

This event comes right in time for the 2012 elections; Obama’s ratings no doubt will sky rocket and he will most likely return for a second term. In his address last night, Obama made sure to emphasize the personal pronoun ‘I’ as he described his heroic leadership in the capture of Bin Laden; his heroism was further reiterated by White House officials explaining how he followed and lead the raid in real time. Well played Sir.

I am no conspiracy theorist but I am just asking some very obvious questions about the mysteries of this incident. It’s still too early and perhaps more information will be revealed regarding these big questions; until then I am sure theorists will be busy working on what could possibly become the greatest conspiracy theory of all time.

I hope that Osama’s death gives some closure to the hundreds of families that lost loved ones during the dreadful attacks on 9/11. I also hope that it doesn’t result in series of revenge attacks and that it gives Western powers the impetus to withdraw from Iraq and Afghanistan in order to end the War of Terror. We aught not to worry that bin Laden wasn’t tried in a court, for right about now, he’s answering to God.


Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There’s a battle outside and it is ragin’
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin’ – Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan’s The Times They are a-Changin’ serves as an appropriate anthem to capture the spirit of revolution and the wave of change that is spreading across North Africa and the rest of the Arab world. This sentiment is unusual in nations which had seemingly gotten used to being ruled by dictators for decades. One can only guess what sparked it all; perhaps it’s simply an outburst of deep rooted resentment which was bottled up in the hearts of men for years. The protesters have sent a clear message across the world; they’ve had enough and they can’t take it any more.

On the surface, these uprising can be traced to the massive protests in Tunisia which led to the successful ousting of President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali who had been in power for over 20 years. News of the success of the Tunisian people spread like wildfire across the Arab world. This resulted in similar protests sparking up in Egypt, Yemen and Jordan, amongst other places. All the demonstrations made the same demands; they were sparked over issues of unemployment, food inflation, corruption, freedom of speech and poor living conditions.

The protests in Egypt have now intensified greatly. The army was called for crowd control and curfews were declared in Cairo and other cities. Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s ruler for thirty years, responded by reshuffling the government. While this is not what the protestors wanted, it is indicative of how seriously they are being taken. The uprisings continue despite this announcement and have gained fuel as Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Laureate, who is seen by many as the next president, openly joined the protesters.

On another positive note, the referendum in Sudan was successfully executed and there is now hope that the decades long civil war between North and South Sudan will finally be over. Some 99% of South Sudanese voted to secede from the North which indicates that they have secured the mandate to soon become the world’s newest nation.

What will happen next is anyone’s guess, but I hope that it will be something positive and the civil unrest will eventually lead to good. The success of the Tunisians serves as a model as to how unwanted and unjust rulers can be removed in the Arab world. It’s a stark contrast to the methodology employed during the unjust invasion of Iraq which led to astronomical bloodshed. True social reforms happen in a society when its own people lead the change, not when foreign powers force values down people’s throats.

Originally written for The Mirror


Chilean miners,
you’ve inspired us all.
In homes, shops and diners
we turned to your tragic fall.

In the 70 days you were trapped below,
you inspired care and sympathy,
in troubled times with the economy slow,
all we saw was apathy.

You brought us together,
and you gave us hope.
Imam, Rabbi and Father,
for you turned to God and spoke

Without TV and without internet,
maybe you chatted, maybe read,
the letters to you that were sent,
perhaps you turned, to God instead.

The sunlight I took for granted,
I now appreciate.
A blessing to which I squinted,
I never realized was so great


Toronto

The spirit of Islam emanated throughout the GTA during the Eid weekend. The largest Eid gathering, the GTA Eid Festival, celebrated its 25th Anniversary. Thousands of cheerful faces filled up Exhibition Place to mark the joyous occasion. After the Eid prayers, people busied themselves with shopping in the diverse marketplace, children enjoyed themselves at the carnival and everyone topped it off with a delicious meal at the ethnic food court.

Muslim taking days off for Eid seemed to have a significant economic effect, at least for the transportation industry. Gail Beck Souter, General Manager of Beck Taxi, said about 75 percent of her workers practice Islam, and about half of them took the day off. This resulted in wait times of up to 45 minutes during rush hours.

When asked about thoughts on the controversies happening south of the border, most Muslims simply didn’t want to dwell over it. It was their favourite time of the year, a time of celebration, and a small group of trouble makers in Florida wasn’t going to get in their way.

Pakistan

Eid celebrations were quite modest and relatively low-key in flood stricken Pakistan. With millions of people homeless and hungry across the nation, it wasn’t as easy to celebrate the holiday with the usual splendor. Thousands of people spent their Eid in the open air, with no home to return to, no new clothes to wear and no traditional delicacies to enjoy the festive occasion.

President Asif Ali Zardar demonstrated the sober sentiment in his speech; “We cannot celebrate the day with traditional fanfare and festivities when millions of our countrymen have been rendered shelter-less as villages, towns and cities have been destroyed by the floods”.

Special prayers were said at mosques around the country for the flood victims. People were encouraged to share the joyous occasion with those affected. Politicians made special visits to the temporary shelters and handed out presents. The government declared a four day holiday in order to allow people time to travel back to their villages.

Most of Ramadan was spent in considerable difficulty for the victims, many of whom chose to fast regardless of their circumstance. The calamity wasn’t only a test for those affected but also for those who were called on to help; it was a test of how charitable they could be during the month of Ramadan. Muslim did respond with considerable generosity; The Organization of The Islamic Conference announced the Muslims from around the world had pledged nearly $1 billion to the relief effort.

New York City

Eid fell around a tense period for American Muslims. Not only did it coincide with the 9/11 anniversary, a tragedy whose blame is often delegated to the average Muslim, but Islamophobic rhetoric was at an all time high since the attacks as well. With nation wide opposition to the proposed mosque near ground-zero and threats of Quran burnings taking place, Eid celebrations in New York were met with ambivalence.

Nonetheless, New Yorkers went on with their Eid celebrations and made the most out of their day. About 2000 men and women crammed themselves into the two carpeted rooms of the Harlem mosque. The mosque overflowed and over a hundred people were praying outside on the grass as busy New Yorkers rushed past them. Imams at mosques urged Muslims to be patient and called for forgiveness in a time of hatred and animosity between people. “So they want to burn the Qur’an? Well, let them. We don’t have to respond with bombs and mischief making. Allah will take care of them. He always does,” remarked an Imam in Queens.

Despite the anti-Islamic sentiment at this time, New York demonstrated its historic spirit of tolerance and tradition of inclusivity. Keeping with tradition, the Empire State Building was lit up in bright green to commemorate Eid-ul-Fitr.

Originally written for The Mirror


The controversy surrounding Park 51 or the so called ‘ground-zero mosque’ has been making headlines all over the United States. The intensity and interest surrounding this debate has been unprecedented. Everyone has an opinion on it. Sadly, it seems, most Americans are against the idea of building such an institution close to ground-zero. The very fact that this debate exists is indicative of several facts about the present day America. Following are some of the things it represents:

1) Most Americans still hold the collective Muslim community responsible for the World Trade Center attacks. After all the bridge building and dialogue that has happened over the past decade, it seems that public opinion is still against the Muslims. Unfortunately, the general American population can’t differentiate between the terrorists that attacked the World Trade Center and the average Muslim. I was outraged when I heard politician Newt Gingrich saying that the Nazi were to the holocaust victims what the Muslims are to the 9/11 victims.

2) The ignorance of the American people. Ignorance on innumerable levels. Ignorance about the project itself for example. A lot people don’t know that the mosque is actually a community center which will be open to everyone. Also, as Keith Olbermann pointed out, an existing mosque (Masjid Manhattan) close to ground-zero has already been in operation for the past 40 years; why then has this project become so controversial? Ignorance about Islam in general is another major problem and is the main thing fueling this debate. The project was initially named Cordoba House in honour of the historic city of Muslim Spain which was known for the peaceful co-existence of the Muslims, Jews and Christians. Opponents of the group forced the name to be changed, as to them it falsely represented Muslim subjugation of the medieval Christian world.

3) The good of the American people. Despite all the the opposition, there have been numerous people that have stood up and defended the Muslim community despite being themselves non-Muslim. These include journalists such as Keith Olbermann, politicians such as Mayor Bloomberg and even comedians like Jon Stewart. I greatly admire such individuals for their courage and strong indignation. Their open mindedness and their faith in American democratic values is not only inspirational but helps balance out the image of prejudice and ignorance painted by numerous Americans.

4) The work that still needs to be done by the Muslim community in order to change how the beautiful religion of Islam is perceived in America. The pious and upright character of early Muslims is something even their enemies attested to. Even up until the 60’s being Muslim in America was associated with something good thanks to the Black Muslim movement led by Malcolm X. Present day Muslims need to walk in those footsteps and take it upon themselves to educate the general populace about Islam. It is only through knowledge that ignorance,injustice and prejudice will be defeated.


This incident is really reminds be about the uncertainty of life and the reality of death which we are all heedless of. You’re standing at the platform waiting for the train and next thing you know, you almost loose your child. I mean seriously, just imagine what the mother went through for those few minutes where she thought her child was crushed underneath the train. Imagine being in those shoes for a few seconds. I would have just collapsed right there. I am having a hard time looking at the video.

This also reminds me how little control we have over our lives. Its a miracle that the baby survived. No one would have expected that, not the mother nor any of the people standing. We like to think we’re in control, but really nothing lies in our hands. It really reminds me that God alone is the one capable of protecting and He’s in control. We can’t even control our heart beats, let alone other things. We really ought to humble ourselves.