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Islam and Pluralism ( 25 Nov 2008, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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No room for Anti-Semitism in Islam and Islamophobia in Judaism


Most Islamic studies teachers in Java oppose pluralism, says survey

America, Islam and Prejudice by Timothy V. Gatto

Muslim convert introduces 'Islamic Yoga' to UK:

Rakha replaces Hindu mantras with Islamic chants




No room for Anti-Semitism in Islam and Islamophobia in Judaism

November 25, 2008

Sumbul Ali-Karamal, author of the book The Muslim Next Door, writes of an encounter with someone who subscribes to the fallacy that Islam and Muslims are inherently anti-Semitic:

    I recently spoke on Islam and my new book at a local senior centre. As members trickled in, a white-haired man approached me and announced, "I have never known an Arab or a Muslim who wasn't anti-Semitic."

    I replied, "I'm not anti-Semitic and I have many Jewish friends."

    "Congratulations," he said sardonically.

    I sighed and smiled wryly.

    "You know, “I said, "When Arab Muslims conquered Jerusalem in 638, they invited the Jews - who'd been banished by the former Christian rulers - back to live and worship in the city. They left the Christians free to live and visit the holy places, too."

    Seeing no response on his still face, I continued. "In the seventh century, Muhammad urged his followers to fast on Yom Kippur, in solidarity with the Jews. The Qur'an states that fasting is prescribed for Muslims, just as it was prescribed for those (the Jews) before them."

    After a pause, he said, "Thank you. I didn't know that." Turning, he shuffled to his seat.

    I couldn't spare the time then, but later I grieved that Islam is perceived as anti-Semitic. Anti-Semitism has no place is Islam, just as Islamophobia has no place in Judaism. For their time, these two religions sought to decrease violence and bigotry in the world. The weight of history, if we can but remember it, is on the side of pluralism.

Ali-Karamali then goes on to point to specific examples throughout history of Muslim tolerance, especially towards Jews, often in stark contrast to the Christian realms. The point here is not to point to the forgotten glories of pluralism in the past, but to recognize that the admitted fact of modern anti-Semitism by Muslims is a function of the modern age and not, as her interlocutor implied, something embedded within the fabric of Islam itself.

Self-styled experts on Islam will point to various pieces of evidence from the Qur'an or historical record, of course. The most often-invoked example is the famed verse from the Qur'an which allegedly refers to Jews as "apes and pigs" (5:60). However, a simple look at the surrounding verses, even in common translation, reveals that the Qur'an makes no such insult whatsoever. Much is also made of a single Jewish tribe, the Banu Qurayza, who the Prophet SAW is said to have slaughtered; in reality, the Qurayza betrayed Muhammad SAW in a wartime alliance and conspired with his enemies to have him killed. The Prophet SAW left their fate in the hands of an arbitrator, whom the Qurayza approved. That arbitrator decided the Qurayza men would be beheaded and the women and children spared. It was brutal by our modern standards - but considering the fate of Dresden or Hiroshima, perhaps not as brutal as it could have been.

The evidence of historical Muslim tolerance and pluralism, especially in contrast to Christendom, is not a matter of debate. The historical record of Islamic tolerance towards the Jews is important to reiterate and emphasize, because it shows that a modern articulation of religious pluralism can be made within an Islamic context, and provides ammunition against those Muslims who seek to use hatred and fear of Jews to their own evil ends. This is a battle you would expect Jews to support, as we mainstream Muslims seek to reclaim the language of faith from an extremist minority.

Unfortunately, in that battle against Muslim anti-Semitism, Jewish Islamophobia plays an obstructing role. A great example is the response to Ali-Karamali's piece by my Beliefnet colleague, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, who accuses her of whitewashing Islamic history:

    Even if one makes a solid case for the relative merits of Islam over Christianity vis-à-vis the past treatment of Jews, which is entirely appropriate, we can not ignore the second-class status imposed upon Jews even under the crescent. Of course, as Ali-Karamali proudly points out, Jews were honoured as people of the book, but they were hardly equal citizens. Jews were also relegated to the status of protected minorities forced to pay a Jewish head tax.

    A good comparison may be to the status of Black Americans living under Jim Crow laws in more tolerant communities. Her failure to point that out turns her reflections on Muslim anti-Semitism into little more than patting her own tradition on the back, and misses an important opportunity for the kind of balanced exploration which is needed if she wants to be heard by those she hopes to convince.

This deeply saddens me. For a learned man such as Rabbi Hirschfield to equate the flowering of Jewish civilization in the classical Islamic period with the barbaric Jim Crow laws of the 20th century is to betray a shocking ignorance of Jewish and American histories alike. It seems that the rabbi has been reading too many polemics by Bat Ye'or instead of gripping historical memoirs like Memories of Eden, the story of the Jews of Baghdad (recently and expertly reviewed in the London Review of Books by Adam Shatz - highly recommended). Far from Rabbi Hirschfield's grim invocation of the dreaded Dhimmitude, Shatz points out that that the Jewish community played an outsized and prosperous role in Iraqi society:

    Recent polemics - and pro-Israeli websites - have made much of the indignities of Jewish life under Ottoman rule, seeking to expose the 'myth' of Muslim tolerance. This tolerance, it's argued, is a euphemism for dependence on the goodwill of capricious, if not cruel Muslim overlords. The memoirs of Iraqi Jews, however, tell a very different story: Shamash, who was born in 1912 and spent the last twenty years of her life recording her memories of 'my Baghdad, my native land', is not alone in describing her family's life before the arrival of British troops in World War One as 'paradise'. Memories of Eden provide as sumptuous an account of the world of the Baghdadi Jewish elite as we're likely to get.

    Jewish life under the Ottomans wasn't without its hardships: few Jews lived in palaces like the Shamash family, and as members of a non-Muslim 'millet' community they were obliged to pay a discriminatory tax, but they were mostly left to look after their own affairs, and further advance seemed inevitable. The vast majority lived in cities, apart from a handful of Kurdish Jews. As bankers, traders and money-lenders the wealthier members of the community had made themselves indispensable: so much so that Baghdad's markets shut down on the Jewish Sabbath, rather than the Muslim day of rest. By the 19th century, Baghdad was famous for its Jewish dynasties - the Sassoons, the Abrahams, the Ezras, and the Kadouries - with their empires in finance and imports (cotton, tobacco, silk, tea, opium) that stretched all the way to Manchester, Bombay, Calcutta, Singapore, Rangoon, Shanghai and Hong Kong.

    When Balfour announced Britain's support for the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, leaving Mesopotamia for the kibbutz was the furthest thing from the minds of Baghdad's Jews. 'The announcement aroused no interest in Mesopotamia, nor did it leave a ripple on the surface of local political thought in Baghdad,' Arnold Wilson, the civil commissioner in Baghdad, reported to the Foreign Office after a meeting with a group of Iraqi Jewish notables. Palestine, they had said, 'is a poor country and Jerusalem a bad town to live in'

What of Dhimmitude, then? Was it really second-class status as the good rabbi claims? Any numbers of excellent historical and academic resources are available for the casual reader to inform themselves and draw their own judgments. But even the worst excesses of the dhimmi system can not, in conscience or honest sincerity, be equated even remotely to the true barbaric evil that was Jim Crow.

The truth of why the Muslim world today is host to the infection of anti-Semitism is a complex one. Anti-Semitism is a European import, and the complex interplay of post-colonialism, the fall of the Ottomans, and the founding of Israel all play a role in its transmission to the Muslim polity. However, while no one can or should deny that anti-Semitism is a modern problem that must be faced head-on without apology, those who insist on tying it to the Islamic faith are themselves, in a way, perpetuating this status quo. Islamophobia is no answer to anti-Semitism, but rather its ally. In this, Jews and Muslims must stand together in opposition. Source:


Most Islamic studies teachers in Java oppose pluralism, survey

Abdul Khalik, Nov 26/2008

Most Islamic studies teachers in public and private schools in Java oppose pluralism, tending toward radicalism and conservatism, according to a survey released in Jakarta on Tuesday.

The study shows 62.4 percent of the surveyed Islamic teachers, including those from Nahdlatul Ulama and Muhammadiyah — the country’s two largest Muslim organizations — reject the notion of having non-Muslim leaders.

The survey was conducted last month by the Centre for Islamic and Society Studies (PPIM) at Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University in Jakarta, involving some 500 Islamic studies teachers throughout Java.

It reveals 68.6 percent of the respondents are opposed to non-Muslims becoming their school principle and 33.8 percent are opposed to having non-Muslim teachers at their schools.

Some 73.1 percent of the teachers don’t want followers of other religions to build their houses of worship in their neighbourhoods, it found.

Some 85.6 percent of the teachers prohibit their students from celebrating big events perceived as Western traditions, while 87 percent tell their students not to learn about other religions.

Some 48 percent of the teachers would prefer for female and male students to be separated into different classrooms.

PPIM director Jajat Burhanudin said the teachers’ anti-pluralist views would be reflected in their lessons and contributes to growing conservatism and radicalism among Muslims in the country.

“I think they play a key role in promoting conservatism and radicalism among Muslims nowadays. You can’t say now that conservatism and radicalism only develop on the streets like what has been campaigned by the FPI (the Islam Defenders Front), but rather deep within the education (system),” he said, referring to a radical Islamic group.

Jajat said such intolerance threatened the civil and political rights of citizens of other religions.

The survey also shows 75.4 percent of the respondents ask their students to call on non-Muslim teachers to convert to Islam, while 61.1 percent reject a new Islamic sect.

In line with their strict beliefs, 67.4 percent said they felt more Muslim than Indonesian.

The majority of the respondents also support the adoption of sharia law in the country to help fight crime.

According to the survey, 58.9 percent of the respondents back rajam (stoning) as a punishment for all kinds of criminal and 47.5 percent said the punishment for theft should be having one hand cut off, while 21.3 percent want the death sentence for those who convert from Islam.

Only 3 percent of the teachers said they felt it was their duty to produce tolerant students.

With 44.9 percent of the respondents claiming themselves members of Nahdlatul Ulama and 23.8 percent supporters of Muhammadiyah, Jajat said the two moderate organizations had failed to establish their values at the grassroots.

“Moderation and pluralism are only embraced by their elites. I am afraid that this kind of phenomenon has contributed to increasing radicalism and even terrorism in our country,” he said.




America, Islam and Prejudice

By Timothy V. Gatto, 25 November, 2008

25 November, 2008

I recently was contacted by someone that asked me to check out I was thoroughly impressed with the site because of the simplicity of the premise that it incorporated in its design. It was a simple, straightforward way to make your priorities known to the incoming administration. The beauty of the concept was that if you had a concern that was not listed, it is possible to add it to the list of hundreds of actions the Obama Administration could take to make sure it is following the wishes of the people. Of course, it is very doubtful that the administration will follow the intentions and precepts of the website, but if enough people were to participate in this unique way to further the concept of direct democracy. This is something that is within our reach with the advent of instant communication along with broad access to almost everyone, courtesy of the internet which has become a virtual necessity in this new century.

While the National Initiative 4 Democracy is my desired outcome in the quest for a direct democracy that operates on laws proposed and enacted by the people, and for the people, as our forefathers intended, the is a good step forward. I discovered that there was a particular issue that was not included in the hundreds of other goals that people had submitted. I was going to write an article on the subject anyway, but on the site, I found a perfect opportunity to make my opinion known.

I want to preface this with the fact that I am not a religious man, I subscribe to no particular view in regard as to whether or not there is a God, and if there is indeed a power responsible for everything, which most major religions profess to believe. I reject all of the precepts of most of them except maybe the Buddhist philosophy which is actually more of a self awareness than a religion in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In my view, I compare the belief in Moses, Abraham, Jesus and Mohammed to be no more or less credible than the ancient beliefs in Ra, Zeus, Jupiter and Odin among many other supreme beings. I believe that there is no human on Earth that can state with certainty who or what God is, or what God wishes. I realize that any belief in a God or a religion is in my opinion usually predicated on what society someone is born into. Unless one is a convert later in life, faith in any particular philosophy is usually a product of nurture, not nature. A belief system in some kind of supernatural being is the result of indoctrination based on blind faith rather than logic.

I imagine that I am probably ruffling a few feathers when I admit that I don’t subscribe to any particular belief, and that there are those that actually believe that I am destined to go straight to hell. Well so be it, if that’s what some believe, they are entitled to their opinion, which brings me to the actual point I am trying to get to in this particular essay, and that is the bias and hostility some self proclaimed “true believers” feel about someone or some group with beliefs that are different than their own. There are of course, many who maintain a “live and let live” approach to those that do not think the same as they do. There are however, many diverse religions that look at religions outside of their own as blasphemous or heretical, and actually consider a different point of view as worthy of death. This, in the history of our planet, is more the rule than the exception. So many wars and deaths can be attributed to differences in believing what or who the Supreme Being is, and what that being does or does not condone. If one considers what I expressed about my own particular view on religion, I have a basic outlook of neutrality no matter what any particular sect or religion espouses. To me, they are all based on wishful thinking more than anything else.

So therefore, I am amazed at the current paradigm that exists between the Muslim and Christian and Jewish religions. This is more amazing when you consider how far up the hierarchy these hateful prejudices actually are. I see governments that subscribe to them in such deep-seeded beliefs that they influence an entire nation or an entire regions behavior as can be seen with such clarity in the Middle East and the Indian sub-continent. The most disturbing thing about this is how this nation, the United States, is also so involved in, part and parcel, in this atmosphere of hate and prejudice, to where actual national policy is set. The period since 9/11 has seen ever-growing hate and distrust, not only directed toward fundamentalist militant Islamic groups and governments, but has spread to include all Islamic sects that have no interest in violence or Jihad or violence directed towards infidels. What many people are failing to realize is that with most Muslims, like with most Christians, that their religious beliefs may be part of their lives, it doesn’t control their lives. Religion may add to their belief in how the world should be, but religion doesn’t dictate how the world should operate.

I see the differences between Jews, Muslims and Christian fundamentalists, but I also see many similarities that I believe are lost on those who have a strong religious value system. Unlike people who have a specific belief system ingrained in their emotional and mental preconceptions, I have no such beliefs. I see human beings that have the same physical traits, the same intellect, and the same needs and desires to procreate and to care for their families and loved ones with the basic necessities of life, and to enable them to live happy and healthy lives. They begin hating another group of people, not just because they believe differently about God, but because of things that neighbors, friends, relatives and even their governments have been indoctrinating them with. Sometimes, the manipulation of prejudice and distrust toward a different society or religion is presented as fact by those in positions of authority. They don’t actually come out and tell you to hate another culture; they instead focus on differences that are foreign, or things that seem repugnant to those that are being cultivated. A good example of this is the way women are treated in some Islamic cultures. It would seem that most women are treated as slaves by Muslim men and they are regularly stoned to death for adultery or not being chaperoned with another male that is not their husband. The perception then becomes that all Islamic countries abuse women. Cutting off the hand of a thief is another example of this same hate cultivating rhetoric. It happens but it’s not commonplace as the government would have you believe.

The truth is that most religious wars and clashes don’t happen because of different beliefs in a supreme being, but because of border disputes, economics or war for resources as in the Iraq War. It is totally shameful to impugn an entire religion and culture because of the actions of radical fundamentalists that represent such a slight percentage of Muslims. To think that the United States of America in the 21st century could hold the same basic perceptions that led to the crusades in medieval times is almost unbelievable. It’s relatively easy to understand that since the Communists in Russia were taken from power and the Chinese were so obliging towards buying up U.S. debt, we had to find a common enemy to justify our defense expenditures to keep the military industrial complex in business. The Islamic world just happened to fit the bill and Bush threw them all into his definition of “evildoers”. The Muslims were also the natural target for the Christian fundamentalists like Reverend Hagee, who needs to support the Jews return to Israel (along with their own vendetta against the Palestinians and along with confrontation with Islam) to keep on script as in the Bible’s Revelations. The pay-off for those that truly believe is “Rapture”, when the true believers are called back to Supreme Being. Meanwhile, while we wait, Gaza is again cut off from the basic needs of life, like food and electricity, and the world doesn’t seem to notice, after all… they’re Muslims.

American must not believe the fear and hate mongers. Americans must realize that there should be a separation of church and state, not only in domestic matters but in our foreign policy. We cannot exterminate the entire Islamic culture in order to serve the right wing reactionary government in Israel and their minions that run AIPAC. Our politicians should put America first, not Christianity, not the bible, not Israel. Muslims are not all bad and Christians all good. It is really unbelievable that in this day and age, that I should feel the need to remind people that there are no absolutes in human nature. No religion is all bad; no religion is all knowing and good either, no matter how you were raised or what you believe. Intellectually most of us know that, however emotionally we’re not evaluating what we feel and why. I believe that it is time the Americans embraced some of our better selves. It’s not only the moral thing to do; it’s also the practical thing. We’re in a quagmire and its time we pulled ourselves out using some moral principles and a little common sense. Its not about left and right, its about what is right and wrong.,



Muslim convert introduces 'Islamic Yoga' to UK

Rakha replaces Hindu mantras with Islamic chants

CAIRO, 25 November 2008

After searching for a year for a fitness routine compatible with her Islamic faith, Fatima Ismael, a 32-year-old British mother of three discovered Rakha, a new yoga-like workout that incorporates Islamic chants rather than Hindu mantras.

The new Islam-inspired total body fitness routine, designed by a British convert, may be the yoga alternative Muslims are searching for following a fatwa, or religious ruling, by a Malaysian sheikh denouncing yoga as un-Islamic.

Rakha, the Arabic term for prosperity, is gaining popularity among British Muslims eager for healthy lifestyles. A basic routine begins stretches and light cardiovascular exercise, which raises energy and increases awareness.

This is followed by a series of steps emulating prayer movements mixed in with tai chi techniques. Yoga breathing and stretching techniques are used throughout the routine to help center the body and relax.

Instead of Hindu mantras, anasheeds or Islam-inspired religious hymns are used to trigger the spiritual state of mind.

Fitness and Islam

“I feel much better on the whole, spiritually and physically. My body’s stamina improved and I am certainly more patient with my children,” Ismael said laughing.

Rakha was created by Anthea Kissoon, a British convert to Islam and fitness expert, who spent the past 12 years educating Muslims about the importance of health and fitness and will launch a Rakha training center early next year.

"Rakha fuses the benefits of breathing and stretching techniques of yoga and the slow movement of tai chi, while incorporating elements of Islamic prayer to achieve a holistic Islamic experience," Kissoon told

Rakha movements are based on the positions of the five daily Islamic prayers, which require movement of all parts of the body in an easy to follow, relaxing way.

“People don’t realize how meditative the Muslim daily prayer can be, and how the bodily movements the Prophet taught make for a natural exercise that revitalizes the body,” she explained.

Maintaining a healthy and fit body is a requirement in Islam, which teaches a Muslim that his or her body is a gift from Allah, according to Sheikh Fawzi Zifzaf of al-Azhar University.

“Following that is being accountable for one’s body in terms of remaining healthy. This is why there is bodily benefit in Islamic prayer, which incorporates body movement,” he told

Yoga risks

Kissoon’s new fitness regime may be a saving grace to yoga lovers as it comes at a critical juncture following issued Saturday a fatwa by the National Fatwa Council of Malaysia forbidding yoga.

Abdul Shukor Husin, chair of the council forbid Muslims from doing yoga because the recitation of mantras, “erode the Muslim faith in the religion” since they encourage a union with God considered blasphemous in Islam, he said.

While yoga enthusiasts and some Muslim leaders have contested the fatwa, for Kissoon it “highlighted the fissure between the spiritual state and the physical state of the Muslim yoga lover.”

Hamid Sakawi, another Rakha trainer who teaches alongside Kissoon, agreed.

"Advanced levels of yoga necessitate higher states of being and awareness. Those higher states are taught through mantras that condition the human mind and infuse it with a particular philosophy which does not always line up with Islam," he said.

However, one Yoga trainer in Cairo, Walid Sabry, noted that aligning the spiritual and physical should not present dilemma for Muslim yoga devotees.

“Yoga is an exercise that aims to achieve total wellbeing. Its religious aspects can easily be avoided if the person wishes to refrain from them,” he told

But others welcome the new exercise for both its physical and spiritual components.

“Establishing a new technique that suits Muslims is the best decision because it resolves the spiritual challenges yoga puts on Muslims who follow it seriously,” said Salma Cook, a Muslim woman who trained with Kissoon and now resides in Cairo.

"People follow yoga without having enough knowledge and so they get caught up in chants and meditations," she told


Defiance and certification

Developing an Islam-compliant fitness routine was not all fun and games, Kissoon said as she recalled the frustrations of promoting Rakha.

Campaigning for the yoga alternative took six years of hard work and persistence to make it a reality, said Kissoon, adding that she met with resistance from some members of the British Muslim community.

"Some in the Muslim the community said I was leading Muslims astray, others warned that they would shut down my school if I went ahead and opened one," she recalled.

Yet the demand for an Islamic alternative to yoga was greater than the resistance and Kissoon said she found tremendous interest from young and old Muslim men and women eager to improve their lives through exercise and meditation.

Rakha is a professionally certified fitness therapy under the Complementary Medicine Association (CMA), the largest organization in the world offering alternative health and therapy.

“Such a step was important in order to begin training professionally,” said Kissoon who will begin offering Rakha courses at her new London-based center Natural Health, Nature’s Finest in addition to private training sessions and workshops.

Rakha courses at the center begin in January 2009 in the U.K. and are open to Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

"Making this happen is a miracle," she said.25 November 2008