American Muslims Defend Free Speech

I am a signatory to, "A Defense of Free Speech by American and Canadian Muslims." This statement was released in response to the threats received by 'Everybody Draw Mohammed Day' cartoonist Molly Norris. The statement was crafted by Sheila Musaji, Editor, The American Muslim and Shahed Amanullah, Editor-in-Chief, Altmuslim.

If you are a Canadian or American Muslim ( Imam, scholar, community leader, journalist, author, writer, or cartoonist) and would like to add your signature, please send an email with your name, title, and organizational affiliation (if any) to tameditor@aol.com.

A DEFENSE OF FREE SPEECH BY AMERICAN AND CANADIAN MUSLIMS

We, the undersigned, unconditionally condemn any intimidation or threats of violence directed against any individual or group exercising the rights of freedom of religion and speech; even when that speech may be perceived as hurtful or reprehensible.

We are concerned and saddened by the recent wave of vitriolic anti-Muslim and anti-Islamic sentiment that is being expressed across our nation.

We are even more concerned and saddened by threats that have been made against individual writers, cartoonists, and others by a minority of Muslims. We see these as a greater offense against Islam than any cartoon, Qur’an burning, or other speech could ever be deemed.

We affirm the right of free speech for Molly Norris, Matt Stone, Trey Parker, and all others including ourselves.

As Muslims, we must set an example of justice, patience, tolerance, respect, and forgiveness.

The Qur’an enjoins Muslims to:
* bear witness to Islam through our good example (2:143);
* restrain anger and pardon people (3:133-134 and 24:22);
* remain patient in adversity (3186);
* stand firmly for justice (4:135);
* not let the hatred of others swerve us from justice (5:8);
* respect the sanctity of life (5:32);
* turn away from those who mock Islam (6:68 and 28:55);
* hold to forgiveness, command what is right, and turn away from the ignorant (7:199);
* restrain ourselves from rash responses (16:125-128);
* pass by worthless talk with dignity (25:72); and
* repel evil with what is better (41:34).

Islam calls for vigorous condemnation of both hateful speech and hateful acts, but always within the boundaries of the law. It is of the utmost importance that we react, not out of reflexive emotion, but with dignity and intelligence, in accordance with both our religious precepts and the laws of our country.

We uphold the First Amendment of the US Constitution and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Both protect freedom of religion and speech, because both protections are fundamental to defending minorities from the whims of the majority.

We therefore call on all Muslims in the United States, Canada and abroad to refrain from violence. We should see the challenges we face today as an opportunity to sideline the voices of hate—not reward them with further attention—by engaging our communities in constructive dialogue about the true principles of Islam, and the true principles of democracy, both of which stress the importance of freedom of religion and tolerance.

SIGNATORIES:
Prof. Hassan Abbas, Quaid-i-Azam Chair, South Asia Institute, Columbia University
Imam Johari Abdul Malik, Director of Outreach, Dar-Al-Hijrah Islamic Center
Mehnaz M. Afridi, PhD, Adjunct Professor (Judaism, Islam & Genocide Studies) Antioch University
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, PhD, Director, Minaret of Freedom Foundation
Ahrar Ahmad, PhD, Professor of Political Science, Black Hills State University
Prof. Akbar S. Ahmed, PhD, Ibn Khaldun Chair of Islamic Studies, American University
Prof. Parvez Ahmed, PhD, Fulbright Scholar & Assoc. Prof. University of North Florida
Barbara Al-Bayati, Co-Founder, Orphan Whispers
Wajahat Ali, playwright, journalist, and producer of “Domestic Crusaders”
Sumbul Ali-Karamali, JD, LLM (Islamic Law), author of “The Muslim Next Door”
Salam al-Marayati, Pres., Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC)
Shahed Amanullah, Editor-in-Chief, Altmuslim
Aref Assaf, PhD, President, American Arab Forum
Hazami Barmada, Pres, American Muslim Interactive Network (AMIN)
Victor Ghalib Begg, Senior Advisor, Chairman Emeritus, Council of Islamic Organizations of Michigan
Farah Brelvi, Board of Directors, ACLU-NC
M. Ali Chaudry, PhD, President, Center for Understanding Islam (CUII)
Kamran Cheikh, Activist, Committee member, Muslims for Peace, Justice & Progress (MPJP), researcher for Deen Research Center (DRC)
Robert D. Crane, JD, author of numerous books
Almoonir Dewji, blogger - “That We May Know Each Other”
Lamia El-Sadek, political and human rights activitist
Mohamed Elsanousi, Director of Communications and Community Outreach for the Islamic Society of North America (ISNA)
Mona Eltahawy, journalist
Aziz Enhaili, Political analyst, columnist for Tolerance.ca
Prof. Mohammad Fadel, PhD
Fatemeh Fakhraie, Editor-in-Chief, Muslimah Media Watch
Mike Ghouse, President, World Muslim Congress
Iftekhar Hai, President, UMA Interfaith Alliance
Hesham Hassaballa, M.D., author, journalist, blogger - “God, faith, and a pen”
Amir Hussain, PhD, Professor of Theological Studies, Loyola Marymound University
Arsalan Iftikhar, author, human rights lawyer, blogger - “The Muslim Guy”
Jeffrey Imm, Director, Responsible for Equality And Liberty (R.E.A.L.)
Ghazala Irshad, journalist, blogger - “The Floating Lotus”
Nakia Jackson, writer
Prof. Muqtedar Khan, PhD, author of several books, Blogger - “Globalog”
Farah Kinani, Journalist, blogger - “Global Voices”
Faisal Kutty, Visiting Asst. Prof. of law, Valparaiso University School of Law and Adjunct Professor of Law, Osgoode Hall Law School (Toronto)
M. Junaid Levesque-Alam, writer, blogger - “Crossing the Crescent”
David Liepert, M.D., blogger and author of “Muslim, Christian AND Jew”
Radwan A. Masmoudi, PhD, President, Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy (CSID)
Shelina Merani, community activist, artist, founder of Muslim Presence
Melody Moezzi, JD, MPH, writer and attorney
Daniel Abdal-Hayy Moore, author of many books of poetry
Ebrahim Moosa, Assoc. Professor of Islamic Studies, Dept. of Religion, Duke University
Imam Abdul Malik Mujahid, President Sound Vision
Sheila Musaji, Editor, The American Muslim (TAM)
Muneeb Nasir, President, Olive Tree Foundation, Editor IQRA Canada
Aziz H. Poonawalla, PhD, scientist and blogger - “City of Brass” on Beliefnet
M.Waheed-uz-Zaman Rana, Imam, Prof. Emeritus, Dept. of Surgery, Saint Louis University
Hasan Zillur Rahim, PhD, journalist
Prof. Hussein Rashid, PhD, blogger - “Religion Dispatches”
Shafi Refai, President, United Muslims of America
Louay Safi, PhD, Common Word Fellow, Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Christian Muslim Understanding, Georgetown University
Robert Salaam, blogger - “The American Muslim”
Raquel Evita Saraswati, activist, writer, blogger
Sarah Sayeed, President of One Blue
S. Abdallah Schleifer, Distinguished Professor, Dept. of Journalism & Mass Com, American University in Cairo
Jafar Siddiqui, blogger - “Penjihad”
Prof. Laury Silvers, PhD
Prof. Ibrahim B. Syed, PhD, President of Islamic Research Foundation International, Inc., author,
Pamela Taylor, Co-founder Muslims for Progressive Values, Panelist for On Faith
Tayyibah Taylor, Editor, Azizah Magazine
Dr. Hashim El-Tinay, President, International Peace Quest Institute (IPQI)
Tarik Trad, writer, humorist, photographer, artist and activist
Asma T. Uddin, Attorney, The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and Editor, Altmuslimah
Wahida Valiante, President, Canadian Islamic Congress and Chair of Islamic History Month Canada
Amina Wadud, PhD, consultant on Islam and gender, visiting scholar Starr King School for the Ministry
Svend White, blogger - “Akram’s Razor”, activist, writer
G. Willow Wilson, author of “Butterfly Mosque” and “Air” graphic novel series

Urgency and Creativity Needed in Response to Pakistan Flood

In Huffington Post.

The numbers are sobering. Nearly 1 in 8 Pakistanis are homeless as a result of an epic flood. Besides the staggering human cost of the tragedy the geo-political importance of Pakistan to US security interests cannot be overemphasized. With over 100,000 U.S. troops stationed in nearby Afghanistan and American drones routinely dropping bombs on suspected terrorist hideouts in Pakistan, both American security and American moral authority is at stake.

And yet according to the Chronicle of Philanthropy, "Twenty-two U.S. aid groups have raised a total of $10.6-million to assist the estimated 20 million people affected by the floods; two-and-a-half weeks after the Haiti earthquake, 40 aid groups had brought in a total of $560-million."

While 3 million people were affected in Haiti the number affected in Pakistan is 7 times as much and climbing. As the flood waters recede, human misery is escalating.

Official U.S. contribution to the relief efforts stands at nearly $170 million accounting for nearly 1 in every 5 dollars pledged. The European Commission is next with nearly $95 million in assistance while Saudi Arabia comes third at $75 million. Impressive, but not nearly enough, given the scale of the disaster. Donations from China, which calls Pakistan its closest ally, is a paltry $18 million and neighboring India, which stands a lot to benefit from winning the hearts and minds of Pakistanis, have only $25 million in "uncommitted" pledges.

In contrast, total official relief to Haiti is over $3 billion in funded aid and another $1.15 billion in "uncommitted" pledges. Pakistan facing a much larger catastrophe has received just over $1 billion in total aid. The biggest difference makers -- while official U.S. aid to Haiti is over $1.16 billion that to Pakistan is only about a tenth at $170 million. Also, private individuals and non-governmental organizations pledged over $1.23 billion for Haiti but for Pakistan the number is only $95 million. According to the Pakistan's High Commissioner to Britain, the cost of rebuilding Pakistan is estimated at $10 to $15 billion and will take nearly 5 years.

Several reasons have been offered as possible explanation for the lethargic response to the Pakistan floods. Donor fatigue, concerns about corruption in Pakistan and weariness about Pakistan's lackadaisical effort countering radicals and terrorists are most cited. The reasons may be legitimate but this is no time to let the people of Pakistan down. Doing so will not only further destabilize an already wobbly nuclear power but it will also give radicals another pretext to continue their mindless violence. A proper tone must be set at the highest levels.

President Obama needs to articulate a sense of urgency if not for humanitarian reasons then at least as a national security imperative. His ability to cook dal may tickle Pakistanis but what will endear him is aid that will allow the 20 million displaced Pakistanis to cook dal, a staple diet in South Asia. Former Presidents Clinton and Bush (both W. and H.W.) have in the past teamed-up to raise funds for Indonesia and Haiti. They can do the same for Pakistan. This could be President Bush's moment of redemption for getting Pakistan so wrong.

The list of people who can help Pakistanis at their moment of crisis is not limited to U.S. Presidents. Hollywood can do its part. Angelina Jolie in her role as the UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador donated $100,000 and is urging that more be done. A quick way for ordinary citizens to follow her lead will be to text the word SWAT to 50555 for a $10 donation. But to raise the kind of money needed will take more creative efforts from Jolie's Hollywood compatriots. Sean Penn has set a great example in Haiti. Who will do the same for Pakistan?

Bollywood with its propensity to copy Hollywood can certainly take the lead in helping its neighbors in Pakistan much like Hollywood stars have thrown their support behind rebuilding neighboring Haiti. Hosting benefit concerts or telethons should not be too much to ask. Bollywood stars have as much following among Pakistanis as they have among Indians. Is it not time that they transcend the caustic India-Pakistan border politics and make a humanitarian gesture that may very well be the first salvo for lasting peace in the region?

The Pakistani Diaspora in the US, Europe and Middle East can also do more. In the US they should lobby members of Congress to increase US humanitarian aid to Pakistan perhaps by reallocating military spending towards humanitarian aid. They should also hold benefit events appealing to a broad cross-section of the society to participate. The Pakistani and Indian Diaspora in the US can also set a good example by working together to raise funds. Such gestures will not only accomplish the immediate funding need but also could very well become the seed for long run peace in the region. Failing to revive Pakistan will only make it more vulnerable to radicalization. If not for the humanitarian reasons then at least for national security reasons we must do more and inspire others to do more.

To see a list of how governments and private donors are helping relief efforts in Haiti and Pakistan and other ongoing humanitarian tragedies visit: ReliefWeb.

How can you help Pakistan? Click here to find out.

Burning the Quran is likely to provoke, not inspire us

In Huffington Post and the Florida Times Union

Nearly two centuries ago, the Jewish poet Heinrich Heine wrote, "Those who begin by burning books will end by burning people." Quran burning is a tool of provocation and intimidation. Despite admonitions from General David Petraeus, Pastor Terry Jones of the Dove World Outreach Center in Gainesville vowed that he will go ahead with his plans to burn copies of the Quran on the ninth anniversary of September 11. While Pastor Jones is within his constitutional rights to undertake this despicable act, he is as misguided in his actions as the terrorists who abuse the Quran to justify their murderous acts. Both the terrorists and Pastor Jones erroneously make the same argument that the Quran sanctions violence.

In media interviews, Pastor Jones has admitted that he has never read the Quran. He harbors negative feelings about Islam while having little or no understanding of the faith. He fails to distinguish between the terrorists who misuse Islam and the overwhelming majority of Muslims who live Islam by being at peace and harmony with others. When this point is made, many well intentioned people raise the counterargument, "But what about all the violence being committed in the name of Islam?"

Graham Fuller, former CIA official and historian, says in his book A World Without Islam that the world would not be any different from the world today if Islam had never come into being. The West's often bloody relationship with the Middle East is not about religion and predates the rise of Islam. "I'm not arguing that Islam has not had great impact on the Middle East region and its cultures and civilization," Fuller says in an interview on NPR. "But I'm arguing that the nature of conflict between the West and the East does not depend on that, and precedes Islam."

In other words, burning the Quran or equating Islam with Nazism or caricaturing Prophet Muhammad or stopping Muslims from building houses of worship will not solve any of America's problems in Iraq or Afghanistan. Islamophobia is not only un-American; it is against America's vital national interests. Rev. Richard Cizik, of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good, summed it up best: "And to those who would exercise derision ... bigotry [and] open rejection of our fellow Americans for their religious faith -- I say shame on you."

Bigotry and derision arises in part due to the fact that most Americans know nothing about the Quran, allowing themselves to be manipulated by demagogues. The Quran is to Muslims what the Gospels are to Christians: the Word of God. The Quran's 6236 verses divided into 114 chapters interweave many facets of our existential experience. Using one or two isolated sentences (such as verse 9:5) to assert Islam's lax attitude towards violence ignores a reality that all religions eschew cherry-picking sacred texts. No Christian will take this verse attributed to Jesus, "Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth, but a sword," as sanctioning violence. Nor are Crusaders or abortion-clinic-bombers representatives of their faith.

The Quran acknowledges and reveres previous messages and messengers, such as the Torah of Moses or the Gospel of Jesus. Ironically, Pastor Jones does not realize that in burning the Quran, he will be incinerating the name of Jesus, who is venerated in Islam and mentioned in the Quran 28 times. Mary, the mother of Jesus, is also revered, with an entire chapter named after her. The Quran acknowledges the miraculous birth of Jesus and his many miracles. Two verses of the Quran articulate the resurrection of Jesus, "So peace is on me the day I was born, the day that I die, and the day that I shall be raised up to life (again)" (19:33).

Given the deep regard with which Muslims hold the Quran, Pastor Jones' act of desecration has provoked outrage among Muslims both here and across the world. However, if Muslims in their protestations overstep the bounds of decency, they will play into the negative stereotypes of Islam. At the same time if people of other faiths remain silent at this extreme act of provocation, they will solidify the misperception that America is at war with Islam.