Peter Beinart writes: On March 6, the zoning board in Bayonne, New Jersey, turned down a request to convert an old warehouse into a mosque. Such denials are happening with increasing frequency in the United States. In the 10 years between 2000 and 2010, the Justice Department intervened seven times against local communities that prevented Muslims from building mosques or other religious institutions. In the six years between 2010 and 2016, that number jumped to 17.
At the zoning board meeting, one woman called Islam a “so-called religion.” Residents claimed the Muslim Brotherhood would control the mosque. The Facebook page of the group “Stop the Mosque in Bayonne” features a man holding a sign that says “Democracy or Sharia Law.”
This is the language of Frank Gaffney. For a decade and a half, Gaffney, a former Reagan administration Pentagon official who heads a small Washington think tank called the Center for Security Policy, has been making two interrelated arguments. First, that the Muslim Brotherhood—which he claims seeks to replace the United States Constitution with a Caliphate based upon Sharia law—secretly controls most American mosques and Muslim organizations. Second, that Islam is not actually a religion. It is a totalitarian political ideology. Thus, its adherents should be treated not like Christians or Jews, but like American Nazis during World War II.
For years, Washington conservatives ridiculed these arguments and stigmatized Gaffney for making them. In 2003, after Gaffney attacked two Muslim staffers in the Bush White House, anti-tax crusader Grover Norquist banned him from his influential “Wednesday meeting” of conservative activists. In 2011, according to sources close to the organization, the American Conservative Union informally barred Gaffney from speaking at CPAC, the ACU’s signature event. In 2013, the Bradley Foundation, which had backed the Center for Security Policy since 1988, cut off funds. That same year, Gaffney lost the Washington Times column he had been writing since the late 1990s. As late as December 2015, The Daily Beast declared that, “Frank Gaffney has been shunned by pretty much everyone in conservative intellectual circles.”
Yet less than 18 months later, America is led by a president, Donald Trump, who has frequently cited the Center for Security Policy when justifying his policies towards Muslims. Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, has called Gaffney “one of the senior thought leaders and men of action in this whole war against Islamic radical jihad.” Trump’s Attorney General, Jeff Sessions—who has said “Sharia law fundamentally conflicts with our magnificent constitutional order”—in 2015 won the Center for Security Policy’s “Keeper of the Flame” Award. Trump’s CIA Director, Mike Pompeo, has appeared on Gaffney’s radio program more than 24 times since 2013. Sebastian Gorka, who runs a kind of parallel National Security Council inside the White House called the Strategic Initiatives Group, has appeared on Gaffney’s radio program 18 times during that period. He’s called Sharia “antithetical to the values of this great nation” and recently refused to say whether he considered Islam a religion.
In truth, conservatives never actually marginalized Gaffney’s ideas. Even when shunned in Washington, they grew steadily on the grassroots right in response to conservative disillusionment with America’s post-9/11 wars. Gaffney’s theories represent an effort to “denationalize” American Muslims—to strip them of their national identity and legal protections—with chilling precedents in American and European history. And although these theories have opponents, as well as supporters, in the Trump administration, they are already changing the relationship between American Muslims and their government in frightening ways. [Continue reading…]
On Feb. 16, 2017, a bomb ripped through a crowd assembled at the tomb of a Sufi saint, Lal Shahbaz Qalandar, in southeastern Pakistan. Soon thereafter, the so-called Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack.
In recent times, such attacks have targeted a variety of cherished sites and individuals in Pakistan. These have ranged from the 2010 bombing of the tomb of another Sufi saint, Data Ganj Bakhsh, to the murder of a popular Sufi singer, Amjad Sabri, in 2016.
As a scholar of Muslim and Hindu traditions, I’ve long appreciated the various and influential roles that Sufis and their tombs play in South Asian communities. From my perspective, the repercussions of such violence go far beyond the scores of bodies strewn around the damaged shrine and the devastated families in one geographical region.
Many Muslims and non-Muslims around the globe celebrate Sufi saints and gather together for worship in their shrines. Such practices, however, do not conform to the Islamic ideologies of intolerant revivalist groups such as the Islamic State.
Here’s why they find them threatening.
Rashid, a veteran, who calls himself as the “Muslim Marine,” sent out a tweet on Monday offering to stand guard for any Jewish synagogue, cemetery or organization.
I'm a #MuslimMarine in Chicagoland area. If your synagogue or Jewish cemetery needs someone to stand guard, count me in. Islam requires it.
— The Muslim Marine (@MuslimMarine) February 27, 2017
Rashid knew he had to do more to help out his Jewish neighbors and that’s why he fired off his now-viral tweet.
“As I watch this horrible thing unfold here, I felt terrible about what happened in St. Louis and this heinous event in Philadelphia,” Rashid, 40, said in a phone interview. “I was moved to tears. This is absolutely not right.” [Continue reading…]
Shibley Telhami writes: Four polls during the election year revealed extraordinary, progressive and unexpected shifts that cannot be explained by events during that year. Attitudes toward “Muslim people” became progressively more favorable from 53 percent in November 2015 to 70 percent in October 2016.
Even attitudes toward Islam itself (generally more unfavorable than attitudes toward Muslims) showed significant improvement: favorable attitudes went from 37 percent in November 2015 to 49 percent in October 2016, reaching the highest favorable level since 9/11.
This kind of large shift does not normally take place in one year unless there are extraordinary events taking place. In fact, there were some consequential events that would have led one to expect the opposite shift: terrorism in the name of Islam in San Bernardino and Orlando, as well as a heated campaign year during which the Republican candidates, and many of their supporters, voiced much anti-Muslim rhetoric.
So, how are these kind of shifts possible in a single year?
One hint comes from the partisan divide on these issues. Almost all the shifts came from Democrats and independents, not Republicans. Among Democrats, the shift was significant enough to impact overall results. Favorable attitudes toward Muslims improved from 67 percent to 81 percent. Favorable attitudes toward Islam went from 51 percent to 66 percent. [Continue reading…]
Brent E. Sasley writes: President-elect Donald Trump has set the foreign policymaking world on edge with his and his team’s repeated insistence that as president he will move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. The goal: support Israel’s claim to the city as its “undivided, eternal capital.” By nominating David Friedman — who agrees with that position — to be ambassador to Israel, Trump apparently emphasizes this commitment.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has resisted resolution for decades. But Trump has insisted that “a deal is a deal” and that because he is “a negotiator,” he will be successful where others were not. In this case, presumably Trump plans to offer the Palestinians compensation to accept Israel’s claims to Jerusalem.
But it is not that simple.
The “let’s make a deal” approach assumes that each negotiating party has a series of material things that can be traded off. In this approach, both sides understand they will be better off with more than they currently have.
But that doesn’t apply to a place like Jerusalem, or to conflicts like it. Over time, territorial conflicts between ethno-national communities have become more about ideological and emotional attachments than about material interests. Recent research shows that groups can’t trade off material gain against territory that they consider to be part of its national homeland — territory that’s important to everyone who identifies with that ancestral homeland, wherever they actually live. Jerusalem is a prime example: Its existence is loaded with cultural, spiritual, religious and national meaning.
Jerusalem’s layered history is so important to both Jewish and Muslim religious practice as immovable “sacred spaces” that even when Israeli and Palestinian leaders hold similar attachments, they can’t decide its disposition alone. They must account for the emotional commitments of publics outside the Middle East. [Continue reading…]
The Washington Post reports: The Islamic State is being crushed, its fighters are in retreat and the caliphate it sought to build in the image of a bygone glory is crumbling.
The biggest losers, however, are not the militants, who will fulfill their dreams of death or slink into the desert to regroup, but the millions of ordinary Sunnis whose lives have been ravaged by their murderous rampage.
No religious or ethnic group was left unscathed by the Islamic State’s sweep through Iraq and Syria. Shiites, Kurds, Christians and the tiny Yazidi minority have all been victims of a campaign of atrocities, and they now are fighting and dying in the battles to defeat the militants.
But the vast majority of the territory overrun by the Islamic State was historically populated by Sunni Arabs, adherents of the branch of Islam that the group claims to champion and whose interests the militants profess to represent. The vast majority of the 4.2 million Iraqis who have been displaced from their homes by the Islamic State’s war are Sunnis. And as the offensives get underway to capture Mosul, Iraq’s biggest Sunni city, and Raqqa, the group’s self-proclaimed capital in Syria, more Sunni towns and villages are being demolished, and more Sunni livelihoods are being destroyed.
Most Sunnis played no part in the militants’ rise. All are paying a heavy price for the sake of those who did, accelerating and deepening a reversal in the fortunes of the majority sect of Islam that had ruled the region for most of the past 1,400 years.
“ISIS was a tsunami that swept away the Sunnis,” said Sheik Ghazi Mohammed Hamoud, a Sunni tribal leader in the northwestern Iraqi town of Rabia, which was briefly overrun by the Islamic State in 2014 and is now under Kurdish control. “We lost everything. Our homes, our businesses, our lives.” [Continue reading…]
Shadi Hamid writes: parents, brother and I were on vacation in Florida, and we were talking about Donald Trump. The idea of leaving America if a scary Republican wins has always been a joke among high-minded liberals who can just fly off and find a job in Toronto or Geneva. But for my family, the joke had taken on a more sinister tone.
It was the Muslim version of “the talk,” and it went something like this: If, God forbid, it gets worse and a President Trump encourages a climate of hatred and persecution against American Muslims, then what are our options? Trump, after all, has expressed support for registering Muslims in a database and refused to disavow Franklin D. Roosevelt’s internment of Japanese Americans, so it wasn’t too much of a stretch.
My dad was born and raised in authoritarian Egypt, later immigrating to Canada and then the United States.
To my surprise, he is still technically a Canadian citizen. We had a backup plan! As we played out the various frightening scenarios, my parents, after flirting with the idea of self-imposed exile, reached the same conclusion: This is their country too, and they would fight for it. They wouldn’t give up. [Continue reading…]
Engy Abdelkader writes: As anti-Muslim violence persists during a volatile presidential election cycle, at least one Muslim woman recently won our nation’s hearts and minds: Duke grad and Olympian fencer Ibtihaj Muhammad.
By now, everyone knows Ibtihaj as the first American to compete in a headscarf at the Olympics. But, not everyone may realize how incredibly representative this newest spokesperson is for the Muslim American community.
“Muslim” and “Arab” are often used interchangeably, with many mistaking Saudi Arabia as the largest Muslim country; it’s actually Indonesia (the Kingdom doesn’t even make the top ten list). At home, at least one in three Muslims in America are actually African American. And, Muslim American women are the second most educated religious group in the country, exemplified by Ibtihaj’s Ivy League credentials. [Continue reading…]
Jerry Brotton writes: Britain is divided as never before. The country has turned its back on Europe, and its female ruler has her sights set on trade with the East. As much as this sounds like Britain today, it also describes the country in the 16th century, during the golden age of its most famous monarch, Queen Elizabeth I.
One of the more surprising aspects of Elizabethan England is that its foreign and economic policy was driven by a close alliance with the Islamic world, a fact conveniently ignored today by those pushing the populist rhetoric of national sovereignty.
From the moment of her accession to the throne in 1558, Elizabeth began seeking diplomatic, commercial and military ties with Muslim rulers in Iran, Turkey and Morocco — and with good reasons. In 1570, when it became clear that Protestant England would not return to the Catholic faith, the pope excommunicated Elizabeth and called for her to be stripped of her crown. Soon, the might of Catholic Spain was against her, an invasion imminent. English merchants were prohibited from trading with the rich markets of the Spanish Netherlands. Economic and political isolation threatened to destroy the newly Protestant country.
Elizabeth responded by reaching out to the Islamic world. Spain’s only rival was the Ottoman Empire, ruled by Sultan Murad III, which stretched from North Africa through Eastern Europe to the Indian Ocean. The Ottomans had been fighting the Hapsburgs for decades, conquering parts of Hungary. Elizabeth hoped that an alliance with the sultan would provide much needed relief from Spanish military aggression, and enable her merchants to tap into the lucrative markets of the East. For good measure she also reached out to the Ottomans’ rivals, the shah of Persia and the ruler of Morocco. [Continue reading…]
Hamida Ghafour writes: Sheikha Naeema lifts her glass to take a sip of water, but the large grey telephone on her desk blinks again, red and insistent. It is only 9am and she has already spoken to 11 callers. The woman on the other end of the line is in distress.
“Peace be upon you, blessings be upon you,” Sheikha Naeema says in a soothing tone. The woman tells her she has given birth twice and that both babies were stillborn. Now she is pregnant again. Her doctor has said the foetus is showing signs of severe complications and will probably die. The woman wants to know if Islam will permit her to have an abortion. After clarifying a few other details, Sheikha Naeema issues a fatwa. “If the foetus is severely ill and will not survive, you may have an abortion,” she tells the woman. “You must take advice from your physician, he will guide you. Religion does not conflict with medicine.”
She explains that abortion is allowed under certain circumstances: within 120 days, or 17 weeks after conception if doctors believe the baby has life-threatening defects. The fatwa – a non-binding religious ruling – is justified on the basis of a hadith, a saying attributed to the Prophet Muhammad, which states that at 120 days a baby is given a soul, or spirit. When Sheikha Naeema finishes the call, she swivels in the office chair and makes a note. “Normally it’s quiet on Thursday mornings,” she says.
We are in the small, cramped office of the fatwa hotline on the eighth floor of the General Authority of Islamic Affairs and Endowments in Abu Dhabi, better known by its Arabic acronym, the Awqaf. [Continue reading…]
The Associated Press reports: An AP analysis of thousands of leaked Islamic State documents reveals most of its recruits from its earliest days came with only the most basic knowledge of Islam. A little more than 3,000 of these documents included the recruits’ knowledge of Shariah, the system that interprets into law verses from the Quran and “hadith” — the sayings and actions of the Prophet Muhammad.
According to the documents, which were acquired by the Syrian opposition site Zaman al-Wasl and shared with the AP, 70 percent of recruits were listed as having just “basic” knowledge of Shariah — the lowest possible choice. Around 24 percent were categorized as having an “intermediate” knowledge, with just 5 percent considered advanced students of Islam. Five recruits were listed as having memorized the Quran.
The findings address one of the most troubling questions about IS recruitment in the United States and Europe: Are disaffected people who understand Shariah more prone to radicalization? Or are those with little knowledge of Islam more susceptible to the group’s radical ideas that promote violence?
The documents suggest the latter. The group preys on this religious ignorance, allowing extremists to impose a brand of Islam constructed to suit its goal of maximum territorial expansion and carnage as soon as recruits come under its sway. [Continue reading…]
Reuters reports: Pope Francis has said it was wrong to identify Islam with violence and that social injustice and idolatry of money were among the prime causes of terrorism.
“I think it is not right to identity Islam with violence,” he told reporters aboard the plane taking him back to Rome after a five-day trip to Poland. “This is not right and this is not true.”
The pope was responding to a question about the killing on 26 July of an 85-year-old Roman Catholic priest during a church service in western France. The attackers forced the priest to his knees and slit his throat. The killing was claimed by Islamic State.
“I think that in nearly all religions there is a always a small fundamentalist group,” he said, adding “We have them,” referring to Catholicism.
“I don’t like to talk about Islamic violence because every day when I look at the papers I see violence here in Italy – someone killing his girlfriend, someone killing his mother-in-law. These are baptised Catholics,” he said.
“If I speak of Islamic violence, I have to speak of Catholic violence. Not all Muslims are violent,” he said.
He said there were various causes of terrorism.
“I know it dangerous to say this but terrorism grows when there is no other option and when money is made a god and it, instead of the person, is put at the centre of the world economy,” he said.
“That is the first form of terrorism. That is a basic terrorism against all humanity. Let’s talk about that,” he said. [Continue reading…]
Noah Feldman writes: Fortunately, no one is going to follow Newt Gingrich’s unconstitutional and un-American plan for an inquisition to “test every person here who is of a Muslim background” and deport the ones who “believe in Shariah.” Even Mr. Gingrich himself, a day after suggesting this policy in the wake of the terrorist attack in Nice, France, conceded that such a plan was impossible. But his proposal is a reminder of a persistent and inexcusable misunderstanding of what Shariah is, both in theory and in practice.
Put simply, for believing Muslims, Shariah is the ideal realization of divine justice — a higher law reflecting God’s will.
Muslims have a wide range of different beliefs about what Shariah requires in practice. And all agree that humans are imperfect interpreters of God’s will. But to ask a faithful Muslim if he or she “believes in” Shariah is essentially to ask if he or she accepts God’s word. In effect, Mr. Gingrich was proposing to deport all Muslims who consider themselves religious believers.
Start with a crucial distinction. Shariah doesn’t simply or exactly mean Islamic law. Properly speaking, Shariah refers to God’s blueprint for human life. It is divine and unchanging, reflecting God’s unity and perfection. It can be found in God’s revealed word in the Quran and in the divinely guided actions of the Prophet Muhammad.
In contrast, another Arabic word, “fiqh,” refers to the interpretation and application of Shariah in the real world. Fiqh is Islamic law as practiced by people. Because it’s a product of human reasoning used to understand God’s word, Islamic law is subject to debate and imperfection. [Continue reading…]
The New York Times reports: For most of his adult life, Ahmed Qassim al-Ghamdi worked among the bearded enforcers of Saudi Arabia. He was a dedicated employee of the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice — known abroad as the religious police — serving with the front-line troops protecting the Islamic kingdom from Westernization, secularism and anything but the most conservative Islamic practices.
Some of that resembled ordinary police work: busting drug dealers and bootleggers in a country that bans alcohol. But the men of “the Commission,” as Saudis call it, spent most of their time maintaining the puritanical public norms that set Saudi Arabia apart not only from the West, but from most of the Muslim world.
A key offense was ikhtilat, or unauthorized mixing between men and women. The kingdom’s clerics warn that it could lead to fornication, adultery, broken homes, children born of unmarried couples and full-blown societal collapse.
For years, Mr. Ghamdi stuck with the program and was eventually put in charge of the Commission for the region of Mecca, Islam’s holiest city. Then he had a reckoning and began to question the rules. So he turned to the Quran and the stories of the Prophet Muhammad and his companions, considered the exemplars of Islamic conduct. What he found was striking and life altering: There had been plenty of mixing among the first generation of Muslims, and no one had seemed to mind.
So he spoke out. In articles and television appearances, he argued that much of what Saudis practiced as religion was in fact Arabian cultural practices that had been mixed up with their faith.
There was no need to close shops for prayer, he said, nor to bar women from driving, as Saudi Arabia does. At the time of the Prophet, women rode around on camels, which he said was far more provocative than veiled women piloting S.U.V.s.
He even said that while women should conceal their bodies, they needed to cover their faces only if they chose to do so. And to demonstrate the depth of his own conviction, Mr. Ghamdi went on television with his wife, Jawahir, who smiled to the camera, her face bare and adorned with a dusting of makeup.
It was like a bomb inside the kingdom’s religious establishment, threatening the social order that granted prominence to the sheikhs and made them the arbiters of right and wrong in all aspects of life. He threatened their control.
Mr. Ghamdi’s colleagues at work refused to speak to him. Angry calls poured into his cellphone and anonymous death threats hit him on Twitter. Prominent sheikhs took to the airwaves to denounce him as an ignorant upstart who should be punished, tried — and even tortured. [Continue reading…]
Tania Rashid writes: I recently completed a short documentary about Islamophobia in America’s heartland, Texas. I got to know members of a gun-toting anti-Muslim group called the Bureau on American-Islamic Relations, or B.A.I.R.
I recall standing in the middle of them preparing for an “Arab rising.” Each practice shot they let out had me thinking that I could be an apparent target. One of them yelled “don’t mess with white people,” and proceeded to show me how he would complete a mass killing if he saw a group of Muslims.
I thought of my father, the most secular Muslim I know, who was wrongly accused of being a terrorist and interrogated for hours before a flight to Arizona. Could these men shoot me or other innocent people in my family?
But as much as I was repulsed by the group and their violent response to Muslims, it made me wonder: Were they all that wrong to feel so scared? [Continue reading…]