Blog Archive

Religious Observances Should Be Respected

Tampa Tribune, 11/6/06

The Hillsborough County School Board's recent vote to drop Christian and Jewish holidays from the school calendar creates a very negative precedent for reasonable religious accommodation in the state's education system. The Council on American- Islamic Relations, which has been at the forefront of the Muslim community's efforts to have Islamic religious holidays accommodated, is disappointed at the school board's decision to ban all religious holidays, save Christmas.

Because the removal of religious holidays came on the heels of the Muslim community's request for inclusion of their religious holiday, we call on the board to reinstate the Christian and Jewish holidays, even if it means not granting Muslims their reasonable request.

Our faith teaches us to love for others what we love for ourselves. We would love to have our holiday recognized in the school calendar along-side the holidays of people of other faiths. Yet it makes no sense to us that Christians and Jews should be penalized just because Muslims are seeking their rightful place within the fabric of our nation's multifaith society.

For many years the school board calendar matched vacation days with religious holidays. Such holidays were called ``nonstudent/non- teacher days'' to avoid the perception of violating the establishment clause of the Constitution. This meant that schools were closed on Christian and Jewish holidays like Good Friday and Yom Kippur.

The school board, in deciding to ban Christian and Jewish holidays, invoked the separation of church and state as the basis of its decision. Concerns over church-state separation were not an issue until late last year, when Muslim parents requested that the school board accommodate the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Fitr, or festival of the fast-breaking, which celebrates the end of Ramadan. During the Islamic calendar month of Ramadan, Muslims fast each day from dawn to dusk by refraining from food, drinks and sensual pleasures.American Muslims are recognized both by the U.S. government and the state of Florida as a major religious community. In 2001 the U.S. Postal Service recognized Eid Al-Fitr as part of America's religious tradition by having a postage stamp issued in its honor. Since 2000, President Bush has marked the month of Ramadan by hosting an official Iftar (fast- breaking) ceremony at the White House. This year Iftar ceremonies were held at the U.S Treasury and the State Department. In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush regularly issues official statements recognizing the start of Ramadan as well as Eid Al-Fitr.

The First Amendment clause stating that government shall make no laws ``respecting an establishment of religion'' ensures that expressions of faith are not coerced by the state. It was never designed to bar religious expression or place hardships on people who want to celebrate their religious traditions.

Allowing students to mark Eid Al- Fitr, Good Friday or Yom Kippur with their families does not imply establishment of any one religion and does not infringe upon the citizenship rights of others. These reasonable accommodations are merely a concrete demonstration of our nation's rich religious diversity.

Many Muslims are asking themselves whether newly discovered constitutional concerns are merely a smoke screen to hide anti-Muslim prejudice.While a debate over the establishment clause is certainly welcome, what is unacceptable is the associated call for religious exclusivism. During a brief segment on the topic, talk show host Bill O'Reilly called it ``absurd'' for members of non-Judeo- Christian religions to expect school districts or other government entities to cater to their holiday schedules.America, he said, was founded as a Judeo-Christian nation.

Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair said that Muslim holidays should not be recognized and that anyone who does not like ``American'' holidays should find another place to live.

The school board's arbitrary and extreme ruling only serves to increase hostility toward Muslims, who will be unfairly blamed for the loss of all religious holidays.American Muslims are seeking to be included, not to marginalize all faiths. Give Christian and Jewish students their holidays, even if Muslim students are denied theirs.

Parvez Ahmed is the chairman of the board for the
Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties and advocacy group (E-mail: pahmed@cair-net.org)

Ahmed Bedier is director for CAIR's Central Florida office in Tampa (E-mail: bedier@cairfl.org)

Moderate Muslim Way to Counter Terrorism

WORK WITH MAINSTREAM MUSLIMS TO DEFEAT EXTREMISM
by Dr. Parvez Ahmed

Star Tribune, 8/19/05
http://www.startribune.com/stories/1519/5567821.html

Why are some Muslims willing to kill in the name of their faith, despite clear Islamic injunctions against committing such heinous acts? The debate usually boils down to "they hate us" versus "they hate our policies."

Robert Pape in his new book, "Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism," suggests that that terrorism has little to do with the teachings of any religion but is rather a response, albeit a criminal one, to policies that condone occupations.

Pape posits that suicide bombings, whether by Hezbollah in Lebanon or by the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka, are designed to compel the retreat of an occupation force. He notes that when Israeli forces left Lebanon, Hezbollah did not follow them to Tel Aviv.

This explanation, while credible, does not absolve the perpetrators of their crimes. Islam, like other faiths, allows for defensive war against combatants but unequivocally forbids the killing of civilians.

Muslims today have many legitimate grievances. Some of these grievances are the result of foreign occupation, some are the fruits of brutal authoritarian rule and others are a consequence of Muslims themselves failing to adapt to a rapidly-changing world. But again, none of these grievances should ever be used to justify the unjustifiable.

Normative Islam does not allow Muslims to retaliate in kind against inhuman behavior. The Quran, Islam's revealed text, issues a call to moderation when it states: "And thus have We (God) willed you to be a community of the middle way, so that (with your lives) you might bear witness to the truth before all mankind." (2:143) Moderation is to be exercised in both spiritual and temporal matters. Terrorism is certainly not the path of moderation.

What then is the motivation of those who commit acts of terror in the name of Islam?

Terrorists seem to be driven by a messianic desire for justice. In order to achieve that goal, they are willing to precipitate an apocalyptic civilizational conflict.

Members of Al-Qaeda and their ilk have deluded themselves into thinking that such a conflict will somehow produce a victory for the "believers,"
who are defined as only those Muslims who agree with their misguided interpretation of Islam.

This view of the world places most Muslims squarely in the cross-hairs of the terrorists. Only Muslims can counter this extremist ideology, which unfortunately, resonates in some of the isolated and darker recesses of Muslim societies.

Presenting an alternative ideological discourse to counterbalance the hijacking of young and impressionable Muslim minds is as urgent as establishing effective law enforcement or military doctrine. The dissemination of core Islamic values to counteract this murderous ideology requires a multifaceted national strategy and will only be successful with the support of those Muslims who are well-versed in mainstream Islamic theology and enjoy broad-based support in the Muslim community worldwide.

It is disappointing that following a brief meeting with American Muslim leaders after the 9/11 attacks, President Bush and other top administration officials have made no meaningful effort to reach out to those who are best equipped to wage such ideological battles. This self-imposed disengagement harms our national security and does a disservice to all those American Muslims who want to help defend their nation.

American Muslim groups recently issued and endorsed a "fatwa," or Islamic religious edict, that reaffirmed and bolstered their previous condemnations of terrorism and extremism. The fatwa undercuts the apocalyptic ideology of the terrorists by unequivocally forbidding both the targeting of civilians and cooperation with terror groups. Muslims were also urged to cooperate with law enforcement authorities as part of their civic and religious duty.

The endorsement of this fatwa by all major American Muslim organizations, including hundreds of Imams, offers a new opportunity for engagement. It is major step that our political and religious leaders should recognize and support.

To read the entire fatwa and the list of endorsers, go to:
http://cair.com/includes/Anti-TerrorList.pdf
[Parvez Ahmed, Ph.D., is board chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. He may be contacted at: pahmed@cair-net.org. For a photo of Parvez Ahmed, go to: http://cair.com/default.asp?Page=Board&person=Parvez ]

Muslim Perspective on Church and State

The U.S. Supreme Court's yes-and-no decision on the public display of the Ten Commandments and the loss of Sandra Day O'Connor swing vote has refocused the debate over the line separating of church and state. In that debate, we may wish to consider redrawing that line. The First Amendment clearly states that that government shall not make any laws "respecting an establishment of religion," but it fails to offer a precise definition of what role religion may play in the public arena.
The establishment clause is a key pillar of American society and an idea the Bush administration tried to introduce into the Iraqi and Afghan constitutions. But before this or any subsequent administration tries to promote separation of church and state abroad, particularly in the Muslim world, it is first necessary to get it right at home. American Muslims, like other religious minorities in this country, are among the beneficiaries of the establishment clause and thus are among its biggest supporters.
Like other minority groups, American Muslims remain concerned that the next Supreme Court nominee may very well redefine the church-state relationship. The new court will determine not just the future of religious discourse in America, but will send a strong signal to the rest of the world. Are we going to continue to provide leadership on this question of separating church and state? Are we willing to recalibrate this principle that has helped religious life flourish in America?
Noah Feldman writing in the New York Times Magazine posits the redrawing of the church-state line to allow the display of religious symbols on public property while banning government funding of faith-based programs. Ten Commandments are in and voucher programs for private religious schools are out, essentially reversing the Supreme Court's direction over the past decade. Feldman argues that public displays of religious symbols are by and large non-threatening to minorities.
Any religious occasion for the majority will bring with it overt displays of their religious symbols all around. During Christmas, overt Christian decorations may make some uncomfortable, even feel left out, but such displays do not reduce the citizenship rights of any minority. Invoking God in a prayer before the opening of a congressional session or mentioning God in the pledge of allegiance or on a coin may make atheists uncomfortable, but does not reduce their rights. Moreover, this change in policy will provide minorities opportunities to educate others about their religious views.
Displays of religious symbols of minority communities can be placed side by side with symbols from majority faiths. Thus the Ten Commandments can be displayed next to verses from the Quran. Religion will find a space in public life and yet the state will not endorse any particular religion. In contrast, government funding of religious institutions may infringe upon the citizenship rights of minorities. Majority religious institutions, often because they are the best organized, have an unfair advantage in receiving public funds.
Majority faith-based institutions receiving public funds will invariably have close proximity to public offices, thus creating an environment for a particular religion to gain influence over government. This proposed reinterpretation of church and state makes common sense. It has a chance of not only winning wide support in this country but also seems very "exportable," providing America a chance to claim the high ground on an issue that is likely to influence politics for generations to come, both here and abroad.

Terrorism not in Faith of Muslims, Christians

TERRORISM NOT IN FAITH OF MUSLIMS, CHRISTIANS
Parvez Ahmed,
Daily News, 7/14/05
http://www.dailynews.com/Stories/0,1413,200~24781~2963573,00.html


[Parvez Ahmed, Ph.D., is board chairman of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the nation's largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy group. He may be contacted at: pahmed@cairfl.org. For a photo of Parvez Ahmed, go to: http://cair.com/default.asp?Page=Board&person=Parvez ]

When asked whether the recent bus and subway bomb blasts were acts of Islamic terror, London Police Commissioner Sir Ian Blair responded that the culprits were certainly not "Islamic terrorists" because Islam and terrorism do not go together.

He was echoing the sentiments of Prime Minister Tony Blair who earlier said, "The vast and overwhelming majority of Muslims both here and abroad are decent and law abiding people who abhor this kind of terrorism every bit as much as we do."

During a private meeting with American Muslims, British Ambassador to the U.S., Sir David Manning was emphatic in distancing the London terror bombings from Islam, which he described as a faith of "peace, reconciliation and tolerance."

Despite this sentiment, it is quite common to see terrorism committed by Muslims be referred to as "Islamic terrorism." Yet efforts to find an alternative to this false assertion have often proven inconclusive.

As author Karen Armstrong recently noted in the Guardian newspaper, "Incorrect statements about Islam have convinced too many in the Muslim world that the West is an implacable enemy." She also pointed out that acts of terrorism by the Irish Republican Army are not referred to as "Catholic terrorism."

This week marks the 10th anniversary of the massacre of 8,000 Bosnian Muslims in Srebrenica. That act of barbarism was never attributed to any religion, despite the religious roots of the conflict.

Columnist Thomas Friedman recently promoted another damaging stereotype by writing in the New York Times, "the Muslim village has been derelict in condemning the madness of jihadist attacks....To this day - to this day - no major Muslim cleric or religious body has ever issued a fatwa condemning Osama bin Laden."

Juan Cole, a professor of history at University of Michigan, debunks this myth by cataloging numerous condemnations from prominent Muslim religious figures who have not only called the "jihad" of Osama bin Laden un-Islamic but also pointed out Islam's emphatic rejection of terrorism.

Following the bombings in London, every major Muslim group in America and abroad issued clear condemnations, dissociating the barbarism of a few from the peaceful practices of the mainstream majority.

"We join Americans of all faiths, and all people of conscience worldwide, in condemning these barbaric crimes that can never be justified or excused," declared the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR).

"Attacking civilians who are going about their daily business is a criminal act that violates Islamic principles, and must be condemned by all Muslims," was the response from the Islamic Society of North America, one of America's largest Muslim groups.

Misperception about Islam's position against terrorism is making an already jittery American public even more suspicious. More importantly, it is also preventing meaningful dialogue between American Muslims and policy makers.
Lack of dialogue also leads to very little discussion about the "underlying issues" of terrorism, which Tony Blair asserted must be dealt with if terrorism is to be eradicated.

However, this important step cannot be achieved so long as the American public remains misinformed about Islam in general and Muslim positions related to terrorism in particular. Only when the blame game stops can meaningful dialogue begin.

American Muslims should rightfully undertake the mission of building bridges of understanding between America and the Muslim world. This can happen when mainstream American Muslim groups are constructively engaged by policy and opinion makers.

Religious Observances Should Be Respected

Religious Observances Should Be Respected

Tampa Tribune, 11/6/06
http://tampatrib.com/opinion/MGBT0HZJOFE.html

The Hillsborough County School Board's recent vote to drop Christian and Jewish holidays from the school calendar creates a very negative precedent for reasonable religious accommodation in the state's education system.

The Council on American- Islamic Relations, which has been at the forefront of the Muslim community's efforts to have Islamic religious holidays accommodated, is disappointed at the school board's decision to ban all religious holidays, save Christmas.

Because the removal of religious holidays came on the heels of the Muslim community's request for inclusion of their religious holiday, we call on the board to reinstate the Christian and Jewish holidays, even if it means not granting Muslims their reasonable request.

Our faith teaches us to love for others what we love for ourselves. We would love to have our holiday recognized in the school calendar along-side the holidays of people of other faiths. Yet it makes no sense to us that Christians and Jews should be penalized just because Muslims are seeking their rightful place within the fabric of our nation's multifaith society.

For many years the school board calendar matched vacation days with religious holidays. Such holidays were called ``nonstudent/non- teacher days'' to avoid the perception of violating the establishment clause of the Constitution. This meant that schools were closed on Christian and Jewish holidays like Good Friday and Yom Kippur.

The school board, in deciding to ban Christian and Jewish holidays, invoked the separation of church and state as the basis of its decision. Concerns over church-state separation were not an issue until late last year, when Muslim parents requested that the school board accommodate the Islamic holiday of Eid Al-Fitr, or festival of the fast-breaking, which celebrates the end of Ramadan. During the Islamic calendar month of Ramadan, Muslims fast each day from dawn to dusk by refraining from food, drinks and sensual pleasures.

American Muslims are recognized both by the U.S. government and the state of Florida as a major religious community. In 2001 the U.S. Postal Service recognized Eid Al-Fitr as part of America's religious tradition by having a postage stamp issued in its honor. Since 2000, President Bush has marked the month of Ramadan by hosting an official Iftar (fast- breaking) ceremony at the White House. This year Iftar ceremonies were held at the U.S Treasury and the State Department. In Florida, Gov. Jeb Bush regularly issues official statements recognizing the start of Ramadan as well as Eid Al-Fitr.

The First Amendment clause stating that government shall make no laws ``respecting an establishment of religion'' ensures that expressions of faith are not coerced by the state. It was never designed to bar religious expression or place hardships on people who want to celebrate their religious traditions.

Allowing students to mark Eid Al- Fitr, Good Friday or Yom Kippur with their families does not imply establishment of any one religion and does not infringe upon the citizenship rights of others. These reasonable accommodations are merely a concrete demonstration of our nation's rich religious diversity.

Many Muslims are asking themselves whether newly discovered constitutional concerns are merely a smoke screen to hide anti-Muslim prejudice.

While a debate over the establishment clause is certainly welcome, what is unacceptable is the associated call for religious exclusivism. During a brief segment on the topic, talk show host Bill O'Reilly called it ``absurd'' for members of non-Judeo- Christian religions to expect school districts or other government entities to cater to their holiday schedules.

America, he said, was founded as a Judeo-Christian nation. Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair said that Muslim holidays should not be recognized and that anyone who does not like ``American'' holidays should find another place to live.

The school board's arbitrary and extreme ruling only serves to increase hostility toward Muslims, who will be unfairly blamed for the loss of all religious holidays.

American Muslims are seeking to be included, not to marginalize all faiths. Give Christian and Jewish students their holidays, even if Muslim students are denied theirs.

Parvez Ahmed is the chairman of the board for the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil liberties and advocacy group (E-mail:
pahmed@cair-net.org). Ahmed Bedier is director for CAIR's Central Florida office in Tampa (E-mail: abedier@cairfl.org ).