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Islamic World News ( 4 March 2009, NewAgeIslam.Com)

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Lahore 'Cricket' attack may mark a shift in Pakistan

Sharia Law Alert: Non Muslims are Second Class Citizens in Scotland

Norway: 'Fighting radical Islam is like fighting Nazism, Communism'

Britain and its Muslims: How the government lost the plot

Muslims want help to adapt to life in Canada Stuart Laidlaw

U.S. Muslims Thriving But Not Content, Raise Questions About Meaning of Happiness

WASHINGTON: Report on Muslim Americans chips away at myths about Islam

KARACHI: Pakistan's World Cup women out to test boundaries

Bill: Ban headwear in license photos

Lifting the veil on the niqab by Tarek Fatah

For Saudi Liberals, a Ripple of Hope in a Sea of Tradition by ROBERT F. WORTH

RIYADH: Two Saudis beheaded for murder of parent

Islamabad: CITY-(Preparations of Eid Milad-un-Nabi in full swing)

Compiled by New Age Islam News Bureau





Lahore 'Cricket' attack may mark a shift in Pakistan


By Syed Saleem Shahzad, March 04, 2009.


KARACHI - Pakistan might recently have signed peace deals with militants in its tribal areas, including with vehement anti-establishment Pakistan Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, but militants on Tuesday staged a brazen attack in Lahore, the capital of Punjab province and the second-largest city in the country.

The attack by 12 heavily armed gunmen on a convoy escorted by police transporting Sri Lankan cricketers to a match against Pakistan has set off alarm bells in the capital Islamabad that militants are now taking their battle into major urban centres.

At least five people died and six of the cricketers were injured in a 25-minute battle in which militants wearing backpacks and carrying AK-47s, rockets and grenades fought police. The assailants then all fled. The Sri Lankan cricketers have called off their tour and are heading home immediately.

The attack bore some similarity to that of 10 well-armed gunmen, also with backpacks, who rampaged through Mumbai in India last November, killing 140 people. They were later found to have connections to the banned Pakistani group Lashkar-e-Taiba.

"This was a planned terrorist attack. They had heavy weapons," Salman Taseer, who heads the provincial government as governor of Punjab, was reported as saying. "These were the same methods and the same sort of people as hit Mumbai."

Numerous Pakistani analysts have been quick to point a finger at India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW) for staging what they say is a tit-for-tat attack on Tuesday, although there is been no official announcement in this connection.

A press attache at the Sri Lankan Embassy in Islamabad thought it highly unlikely that the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam, who a waging a bloody separatist war in Sri Lanka, had anything to do with Tuesday's events.

Rather, judging by what was shown on Pakistani television, the attack is the hallmark of those that were waged by militants (many of them Punjabi) against Indian security forces in Indian-administered Kashmir up until a few years ago. They were trained by the Indian cell of Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).

In 2005-06, these militants joined forces with the Pakistani Taliban and the Afghan resistance after Pakistan closed down their training camps in Pakistan-administered Kashmir, a move that changed the dynamics of the war theater in the region. Beside the Mumbai attack, Tuesday's assault was similar to the storming of the Serena Hotel in the Afghan capital of Kabul in January 2008 and the unsuccessful July 2008 attack on Afghan President Hamid Karzai in Kabul. In all of these incidents, the attackers abandoned their weapons and quickly melted into a thickly populated area of the city where, apparently, they were whisked away by waiting colleagues.

Retired Lieutenant General Hamid Nawaz, a former interim minister the Interior and a close aide of former president General Pervez Musharraf, commented to Asia Times Online, "This proves that striking peace deals [with militants] will not serve any purpose and there is a need to handle them with iron hands. I blame the government for negligence.

"Providing a single elite police commando bus was not enough. They should have been provided VIP [very important people] security like the state provides for governors and chief ministers. Traffic should have been blocked on their route," Nawaz said.

Former Pakistani cricketer Zaheer Abbas said, "I am not a politician to comment on who was behind it, but it has damaged Pakistani cricket very badly. I don't understand why anybody would target Sri Lankans because they don't have any role in the region. There might be some forces who want to damage the cause of Pakistan and Pakistani cricket."


Possible attackers

Pakistani analysts, including retired General Hamid Gul, who is a former head of the ISI, blame India's RAW.

However, there is no precedence for RAW having the capability to carry out such attacks in Pakistan. Its operations in Pakistan have been of two kinds, according to the records of Pakistani security agencies, documented in files and books narrated by their retired officials:

Small bomb blasts in urban centres.

 The use of Indophile political parties such as the Awami League in 1970, the Pashtun sub-nationalist Awami National Party, the Baloch separatist group the Baloch Libration Army and the Muttehida Quami Movement.

However, these parties were always used in a limited political context. For creating a law-and-order situation in the country, RAW has always used bomb blasts and other small-level sabotage activities. It has never had the capacity, like the ISI had in India, to use armed groups to carry out guerrilla activities in Pakistan.

More pertinent is to view Tuesday's attack in the context of the peace deals in the Swat Valley and the tribal areas which have stopped the fighting between ethnic Pashtun-dominated militants and the Pakistani army.

Prior to the signing of the deals, the matter of the release of militants who did not belong to the Swat area was raised, that is, non-Pashtun militants. These included Maulana Abdul Aziz, who was apprehended while trying to flee the radical Lal Masjid (Red Mosque) in Islamabad in July 2007.

However, after deciding on the level of compensation packages for the families of militants killed or injured by the security forces and other matters related to Swat and the tribal areas, the matter of non-Pashtun militants was deferred and the peace agreements were signed.

In effect, non-Pashtun militants have been ignored and the attack in Lahore could be a bloody message to the government that the "Punjabi militants" have the capacity to cripple urban centres at any time and place of their choosing.

Syed Saleem Shahzad is Asia Times Online's Pakistan Bureau Chief. He can be reached at



Sharia Law Alert: Non Muslims are Second Class Citizens in Scotland

March 02, 2009

Giving priority and preference to Muslims is an aspect of Sharia law. Under sharia law non Muslims regarded as inferior and have fewer rights. This move by Lothian and Borders Police further undermines the principle of equality before the law and is yet another step towards the creation of an Islamic state in Britain.

Sharia law is hateful as well as barbaric yet Islamic radicals like Anjem Choudary are allowed to take their hatred onto the streets and go unpunished (see THIS article from We remember the scenes of an Islamist mob threatening death and destruction outside the Danish embassy and of the Police been chased by and Islamist mob through the streets of London. These are all examples how Muslims are now above the law in Great Britain. If non Muslims did the same thing they would be immediately arrested and charged with hate crimes. Just like under sharia law hatred towards non Muslims is tolerated and in many ways encouraged. It appears that a hate crime in Great Britain is not actually about hate but about heresy against Islam; to demand sharia law which institutionalizes discrimination would be a hate crime if this was not so.

It appears that the British have already lost their country and Islamic law now takes precedence. This act of betrayal by the Government is unprecedented.



Norway: 'Fighting radical Islam is like fighting Nazism, Communism'

March 02, 2009

Head of the Progress Party (Frp) Siv Jensen thinks that the fight against radical Islam is just as important as the fight against Nazism.

"Throughout history we managed to fight totalitarian ideas like Nazism and later Communism. As a liberal I will always fight against such ideas and movements. Radical Islam is a dark and scary ideology and fighting it is our era's most important struggle," Jensen told Klassekampen (Norway's Communist newspaper).

She accuses opponents in other parties of running into the trenches when the Frp takes up these issues.

"It's most probably an expression that they don't know what's happening in the society around them. They shut their eyes and try to appear tolerant and liberal, while in reality they are deeply intolerant," says Jensen. She explains the argument by saying that her opponents, regardless of how well-meaning they are, ignore attacks against individuals in Norway. The women's movement is the worst, Jensen thinks.

She claims she was contacted by 'very many of immigrant background' recently.

"These are people who are in Norway because they fled totalitarian and oppressive regimes. They tell me that they are terrified that the totalitarian powers will come after them. I see the debate is better and more extensive in the immigrant community than in the political community," says Jensen.



Britain and its Muslims: How the government lost the plot

A desperate search for a new policy towards Islam has yet to produce results

A WAR, a riot, a terrorist attack or a row over blasphemy: not long ago, Britain’s government knew exactly what to do when a crisis loomed in relations with the country’s Muslims. As recently as July 2005, after bombs in London killed 56 people, Tony Blair was confident that he could avoid a total breakdown of trust between Muslim Britons and their compatriots.

Using an old formula, the prime minister called in some Islamic worthies and suggested they form a task force on extremism. Then, hours before the worthies were due to reconvene and mull their response, Mr Blair breezily announced that a task-force of top Muslims had just been created. They moaned, but dutifully went to work.

That system of trade-offs, the equivalent of the “beer and sandwiches” once used to woo trade unionists, had some big drawbacks. It gave hardliner Muslims—generally male, old and new to Britain—disproportionate sway. It also led to some dubious bargains; for example, Muslim resentment of British foreign policy was parried by, in part, huge generosity towards the cultural demands of some Muslims—such as the right to establish schools where the curriculum bears scant relation to the lessons other young Britons get.

But in its own odd terms, the old system “worked”. Messages could be relayed between the corridors of power and the angriest and poorest parts of the Muslim street; and Muslim leaders could be induced to expend personal and political capital urging their flock to co-operate with the police and provide useful information.

Now that system, and its unspoken compromises, lies in ruins. It was jettisoned in the autumn of 2006, when the government downgraded existing ties with the Muslim Council of Britain (in which movements close to the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists of Pakistan were strongly represented) and tried to find different interlocutors.

But attempts to define a new policy towards Islam in Britain have been floundering since then. The Muslim population is in many ways diverging still more from the mainstream. With its large, young families, it is also growing much faster (see chart): there are 2.4m Muslims today, according to the Labour Force Survey; the census of 2001, a rather different measure, put it at 1.6m. The government is under fire from the political centre-right for being too soft on radical or reactionary Muslim groups who stop just short of endorsing violence. It is also attacked from the left (Muslim or otherwise) for using the fight against terrorism as an excuse for a general assault on Muslims and their cultural rights.

Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, sought to clarify official thinking in a speech on February 25th, after a stream of reports that the government was about to launch an ideological war against illiberal or extremist ways of thinking, even if they were not directly associated with violence. The government, she said, would reserve the right to deal with people whose ideas were unpleasant through a “spectrum of engagement, carefully calibrated to deal with individual circumstances”. With groups that have “an equivocal attitude to core values such as democracy, freedom of speech or respect towards women” there might be “some scope for limited engagement”, the minister carefully added. But on certain forms of “absolutely unacceptable behaviour”—such as homophobia, forced marriage or female genital mutilation—the government would firmly enforce the law with no regard for a cultural “oversensitivity” that had gone too far.

Her speech suggests that a debate within the cabinet on which war to prioritise—the one over ideas and values or the one against terrorism—is unresolved. The government wants to keep its options open.

But the failure of current policies aimed at fostering moderate Islam can hardly be overstated. After spending lavishly on a strategy called Prevent that was supposed to empower moderates—at least £80m ($116m) will have been dished out on such efforts by 2011—the very word “prevent” has become discredited in the strongholds of British Islam, which include east London, Birmingham and a string of northern industrial towns. At the Muslim grass roots, there is a sense that any group or person who enjoys official favour is a stooge.

Many in the government, meanwhile, think their partners are not delivering value for money. The whole relationship has deteriorated since August 2006. After a foiled plot to blow up transatlantic flights, and amid huge ire over the war in Lebanon, a group of prominent Muslims, including two now in government, signed an open letter arguing that British foreign policy in general, and its softness towards Israel in particular, was an important factor behind a surge in extremist sentiment.


Tripping up

Nearly three years on, the government’s biggest problem is that it is struggling with two big questions at once. One is the set of problems described under the catch-all term of “cohesion”—narrowing the social, economic and cultural gap between Muslims (especially in some poor urban areas of northern Britain) and the rest of society. The second is countering the threat from groups preparing to commit violence in Britain or elsewhere in the name of Islam.

The government says the two problems are related: poor, frustrated and mainly self-segregated groups are more likely to produce terrorists. Muslims as a group lag behind other Britons in qualifications, employment, housing and income (see chart). But in fact the overlap between exclusion and extremism is messy. And attempts to fight terrorism through tougher policing, which can alienate whole communities, make boosting cohesion harder.

Among those who claim to speak for disadvantaged Muslims and articulate their grievances, there has been an outpouring of indignation over the government’s stated aim of “preventing violent extremism” by making Muslim communities more “resilient” and better at dealing with hotheads. The idea seems to stigmatise all Muslims, many complain, while the violent extremism of, for example, the white far right is ignored.

Another gripe is that the Prevent programme has poisoned relations between central government and the city councils through which the money is channelled. Some say councils are being strong-armed into carrying out “community” programmes that are really thinly disguised police and intelligence work.

In Birmingham the council’s loudest activist, Salma Yaqoob, complains that Prevent money goes only to those who avoid suggesting that British foreign policy helps to foment extremism, even though the link obviously exists. (Indeed, a government security minister, Lord West, admitted in January that to deny it was “clearly bollocks”.) Resentment of the gag was exacerbated by the recent Israeli assault on Gaza. Many Muslims followed it on Middle East-based media that presented an even gorier picture of Palestinian suffering than other British viewers saw.

The Gaza crisis also triggered a round of name-calling within the world of British Islam that has laid bare a rapid diminution of the middle ground on which emollient types hope to stand. Senior Muslims at the Quilliam Foundation, a “counter-terrorism think-tank” which has received nearly £1m in funding from the home and foreign offices, issued in January a denunciation of Israeli actions that was mocked as faint-hearted by more radical Muslims, while voices on the political right questioned whether the government’s “investment” in this body was paying off.

Torn between remaking the Muslim community—a task that turns out to be much harder than the designers of the Prevent strategy ever imagined—and simply fighting terrorism, the government, understandably, feels it can hardly be expected to abandon the latter. Probing and pre-empting attacks by Muslim extremists is now understood to occupy about 75% of the energy of the British security services, who claim to have had some success in reducing the number of terrorist plots that are stopped only at the last minute. Another less obvious factor in British thinking is strong American concern over the risk that a British-born Muslim could enter the United States and commit a terrorist spectacular there. A healthy slug of America’s anti-terrorism spending goes to forestall just such a possibility.

Meanwhile a string of high-profile court cases involving terrorist conspiracies has served to increase the emotional chasm between Muslim Britons and their compatriots. As an example of two worlds diverging, take reactions to the plight of Binyam Mohamed, an Ethiopian who sought asylum in Britain and was later incarcerated in Guantánamo Bay. He says he was tortured by his American captors, with help from the British secret services.

Mr Mohamed returned to Britain on February 23rd, to mixed reviews. For Muslims (and human-rights campaigners on the secular left) his saga is a tale of American brutality and British collusion. In the rambunctious popular press, however, he is portrayed as a nuisance whose presence in Britain will burden the taxpayer and waste the security services’ valuable time in surveillance.

A way forward

For all the problems besetting British Islam, however, there are plenty of individuals who exemplify at least part of the solution. Among them—at least until the recession makes it harder for strivers to climb out of poverty—are successful young professionals and entrepreneurs, often women, who have managed to fly high in business, medicine, accountancy or the media. “We have prevailed in a two-fronted struggle” against social conservatism and discrimination, says Saeeda Ahmed, the founder of a social-affairs consultancy in the north (to hear an interview with Miss Ahmed, see article).

But successful British Muslims as well as poor ones resent the fact that the rest of society often sees them mainly as potential extremists. Sarah Joseph, a convert to Islam who edits the glossy monthly Emel, says Muslims are fed up with being asked if they are against violence; they want people to know what they are for, such as social justice. The sad fact, in a country that has come to live in fear of terrorism, is that many Britons are indeed more interested in assessing Muslims’ potential for violence than in anything else about them.



Muslims want help to adapt to life in Canada

Study shows immigrants would prefer an imam who helps them bridge gap between their cultures

Mar 03, 2009, Stuart Laidlaw

Faith and Ethics reporter

A Muslim man listens to his imam talk about battles won 1,200 years ago, but the fight consuming him now involves his 13-year-old, who just tried marijuana.

In a story typical of many scattered throughout a new Canadian study of the Muslim Diaspora in Canada, the United States and Britain, the man identified only as "MK" could find little in the sermons he heard to help him through life in Canada.

"My ultimate fantasy would be to find an imam who gives a Khutbah (sermon) in a Friday mosque who happens to be someone who goes out to work from nine to five, takes the bus, is dealing with his kid who is picking up a marijuana joint at the age of 13," the Montreal resident laments.

And yet, they yearn for guidance from their religious leaders, says Karim Karim, who wrote the study Changing Perceptions of Islamic Authority among Muslims in Canada, the United States and the United Kingdom for Montreal-based Institute for Research on Public Policy.

"When you have children who are growing up here, and are comfortable here, you want to make a home for them and become part of society," says Karim, director the journalism program at Carleton University. "This is home."

Farhad Khadim of the Islamic Institute of Toronto says efforts are being made at many area mosques to address this issue, with many featuring khateebs, or Friday preachers, who are the sort of person MK longs for in the study.

"People are looking for something more sophisticated," says Khadim, a project manager with the city of Toronto who has given the sermon at Friday prayers several times.

Khadim helped set up the Islamic Institute of Toronto as a place to help children find a way to interpret their faith in a Canadian context. The prayer room is often used for floor hockey games and the mosque set up an all-Muslim Scouts Canada troop for boys and girls.

The Islamic Institute does not rely simply on imams to interpret the faith, he says, and often brings in speakers to encourage discussions about how to interpret the faith in a Western context.

"The level of discourse is continually increasing," says Khadim, who has two teenage daughters.

Karim says Muslim immigrants to Canada are different from those in Europe, where the Muslim world was seen as a source of cheap labour. Canada's Muslim population, on the other hand, is highly educated and expects to be engaged in discussions of faith, not just been lectured to.

His 32-page study was conducted over several years, using surveys and focus groups to gauge how Muslim populations in the three countries, predominantly immigrants, are adapting to Western life. The Canadian focus groups were held in Montreal and Ottawa.

Karim, a past senior research fellow at the Institute of Ismaili Studies in the U.K., says the reality is much more complicated than is often assumed.

"There is a tendency to reduce Muslims to just `moderates' and `fundamentalists'," says Karim. "It's not all black and white. There's a lot of greyness."

He says non-Muslims in the three countries should take heart that their Islamic neighbours want so desperately to adapt their lives to the realities of the West but want to find a way to do that without giving up their faith. "They want to be good Muslims and they want to be good Canadians."

Muslim clerics and leaders were deliberately excluded from the study, he said, to ensure the results reflected the attitudes of rank and file Muslims in the three countries.

He found that most Muslims want leaders who help them bridge the gap between their old cultures and their new homes, and who can interpret their faith's texts in a Western context, which is all their children know.

"They expect their imam to have not only an intellectually sophisticated understanding of Islamic sources but also a keen appreciation of the Western contexts in which they are living," the report says.

"It really is a cultural disconnect."

Karim says the situation will improve as more imams are born and trained in the West, but cautions in the study that finding such people at this point is quite difficult.

Focus group participants in all three countries identified imams' lack of cultural literacy as a key issue in the search for appropriate religious guidance. This is of significant concern for Muslim communities in the West the study says.

"While efforts are being made to address this issue, it appears that it will continue to persist in the foreseeable future."

The report calls for more to be done to fight discrimination against Muslims, including public education, more interfaith activities, government consultation with Islamic groups when seeking public input and a better understanding of Islam among government leaders, the public service and the media.



Two Saudis beheaded for murder of parent

RIYADH (AFP) — Two Saudi men have been beheaded after each being sentenced to death for killing a parent, the interior ministry said.

Ahmad al-Khaybari was put to death on Monday in the Muslim holy city of Medina for shooting dead his father in a dispute, the ministry said in a statement carried by the official SPA news agency.

The announcement did not say when the murder was committed.

In a separate statement, the ministry said that a Saudi man was beheaded in the south-western city of Najran on Tuesday after being convicted of shooting dead his mother and an Indonesian maid while under the influence of hashish.

The statement said that Mohammad al-Yami believed the two women had put a spell on him and that he stripped both of their bodies after killing them in search of the magic he suspected they were concealing.

The beheadings brought to 14 the number of executions announced by the Saudi authorities since the beginning of the year, according to an AFP tally.

A total of 102 people were executed last year and a record 153 in 2007.

Under Saudi Arabia's strict sharia system of Islamic justice, the death penalty can be applied to crimes of rape, murder, apostasy, armed robbery and drug trafficking.



U.S. Muslims Thriving But Not Content, Raise Questions About Meaning of Happiness

March 2, 2009

A Gallup poll, released today provides important information about the experience of American Muslims. The most striking data include the fact that American Muslims report that they are thriving, more than do any other group of Muslims in the world, with the exception of those living in Saudi Arabia and Germany. At the same time however, they score out as the least contented religious group in America, when compared with Jews, Mormons, Catholics, and all Protestant denominations.

Is this a crazy contradiction? I think not.

Any group that reports thriving, but remains discontented, could be charged with an unfair, if not altogether insatiable need for everything from material success to social acceptance, to outright dominance of the ambient culture, in order to be contented. That will be the "take away" for those for whom any new information about Muslims is meant to confirm a set of ugly presumptions about both Islam and those who practice it. And while there is reason for some concern about why it is American Muslim youth amongst whom the discontent is greatest, it's hardly the obvious conclusion here.

Perhaps what is happening is that as the community achieves the kind of material success which can be defined as "thriving", there come a widening of horizons and the growing expectation of what can yet be achieved, but hasn't yet. That would explain the "discontent".

If that is the case, then this is really about managing expectations and the ethics of success. How does any community feel the fullness of what is has succeeded, keep reaching for more, and not allow the reach for more to undermine the joy at all that has been accomplished? How do any of us do that?

How do we learn to be happy even if we are not satisfied? How do we nurture ambition and expectation, which are the drivers of all great achievement, without becoming cynical or bitter? How American Muslims or any other Americans answer these questions is especially important in these tough times. How any faith or practice helps us to do so, may be one of the most useful measures of their value.



Report on Muslim Americans chips away at myths about Islam

WASHINGTON (AFP) — Muslim American women are educated, active in the workforce and on an equal footing with men in terms of income, according to a report released on Monday, which analysts said chips away at myths associated with Islam.

"What we learned in the study is that US Muslim women are roughly equal to men and to women who are non-Muslims in America in their level of education, level of income, level of religiosity and mosque attendance," Ahmed Younis, a senior analyst at the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies, told reporters.

"The Achilles Heel that has always existed -- that Muslims are 'not like us' because their women are oppressed -- well, the data speak to the proposition that that is absolutely not true," said Younis.

The report, based on data culled from 946 people who identified themselves as Muslims out of a sample of more than 319,000 interviewed across the United States last year, showed that Muslim American women and the religious group as a whole are second only to Jewish Americans in terms of educational attainment.

Forty percent of Muslims have a bachelor's or graduate degree, compared with 61 percent of Jews and 29 percent of the US population as a whole.

US Muslim women stand out, both compared to their global counterparts and women from other religious groups in the United States, in that they are statistically as likely as their male counterparts to have earned a university degree or higher.

Forty-two percent of Muslim women had degrees compared with 39 percent of Muslim men in the United States.

Jewish women trailed Jewish men by six percentage points in the higher-education achievement realm, and for the US population as a whole, 29 percent of women and 30 percent of men had bachelor's degrees or better.

The study also showed that Muslim American women tend to earn the same as men, both at the low and high ends of the income scale, giving the religious group the highest degree of economic gender parity.

Muslim women in the United States also frequent mosques as often as their male counterparts, "in sharp contrast to women in many majority Muslim countries who are generally less likely than men to report attending a religious service in the last week," the report said.

And more Muslim women than men in the United States -- 46 percent versus 38 percent -- said they are "thriving", or categorized themselves as being at the upper end of a scale measuring life satisfaction.

"The Muslim-American experience for a woman yields to her the opportunities and freedoms that America generally yields to women," said Younis.

"There is a uniqueness of experience among Muslim-American women vis a vis Muslims globally," he added.

Indeed, Muslims in the United States as a whole fare well compared with the Muslim populations in other Western societies.

While 41 percent of American Muslims said they are "thriving", only 23 percent in France and a mere seven percent in Britain said the same, the report showed.

The authors of the report called for a "rethink" of Americans' understanding of the US Muslim community.

"Muslims are the most negatively viewed religious community among Americans," Dalia Mogahed, executive director of the Gallup Centre for Muslim Studies told AFP.

"Only 45 percent of Americans consider Muslims in the country as loyal and 25 percent of Americans said they wouldn't want to have Muslims as a neighbour," she said.

A huge survey of the world's Muslims released by Gallup last year showed that Muslims admire the West for its democracy, freedoms and technological prowess.

But when Americans were asked in the same study what they admired most about the Islamic world, "most replied 'Nothing'," said Mogahed.

The study was the first-ever conducted across the United States of a randomly selected sample of Muslim Americans.



Pakistan's World Cup women out to test boundaries

KARACHI (AFP) -- From village taunts to comments over their Islamic dress, it's been a tough road for Pakistan's women's cricket team who are hoping to test a few boundaries at this month's World Cup in Australia.

"People from small villages talk against girls playing in open fields. But I broke all that and now I am heading to Australia," said player Almas Khan.

Captain Urooj Mumtaz said the World Cup was a dream for her squad and a chance to show Pakistan, which only formed a national team in the late 1990s, could be successful in female sports.

"Playing the World Cup with the likes of Australia, England and India is a once-in-a-lifetime chance for us," she said.

"It is a huge step toward recognition and ample proof that there are opportunities for women in Pakistan."

Mumtaz was hoping Australian fans and competitors would look beyond the team's rigid Islamic dress code of long sleeves and full-length trousers, whatever the weather.

"We follow a strict dress code of long trousers and shirts but it is not an impediment," she said. "Once we enter the field we are cricketers and want to match the women of other countries."

Pakistan open their World Cup against traditional rivals India on March 7, then face Sri Lanka on March 9 before a match-up with two-time champions England three days later.

For many of the players, it's a far cry from deeply conservative rural Pakistan, where girls are often not allowed out in public let alone to play sports.

"'Boys will watch you', was what my relatives used to say," said team member Sukhan Faiz. "Even if the family allowed us to play, other relatives would hurl abuse and parents would get worried."

Right-arm medium-pace bowler Qanita Jalil, 27, honed her talent in the rugged North West Frontier Province (NWFP) bordering Afghanistan.

"Initially it was tough," she said. "But I never faced resistance at home because I used to play along with my father and brothers. But I never thought I'd come this far."

Women are traditionally discouraged from playing sports in Pakistan for fear they will be exposed to men, who are still barred from watching female cricket matches.

But under former president Pervez Musharraf, a moderate Muslim, Pakistan held its first women's football match in 2004. A national cricket championship and international squash tournament followed the next year.

Factional infighting also took its toll with divided Pakistan sending two teams, both of which flopped, to the 1997 World Cup in India. The new crop of players hope such problems are in the past.

"We faced a lot of problems in the start but now with Pakistan Cricket Board's support we have covered a good distance," said Nayla Aziz, who is encouraged that the team draws members from areas including far-flung NWFP and Baluchistan.

"When players come from small areas, others are also motivated," she said.

Mumtaz's team shocked Ireland in South Africa last year to reach the World Cup, and she believes they can cause some more upsets in Australia.

"We have nothing to lose," said the captain. "When we play our opening match, we will try to forget it’s a World Cup match.

"When we have crossed so many hurdles, why not a few more?"



Bill: Ban headwear in license photos

March 2, 2009

A St. Cloud legislator says a bill that would ban any kind of headwear in a driver's license photo is a matter of public safety. But some Muslims say they have a religious right to cover their heads.

Republican Rep. Steve Gottwalt says banning headwear would make it easier for law enforcement to identify people and it would make it fair for everyone.

But Suban Khalif says Muslim women wear a head scarf nearly 24 hours a day as part of their religion, and taking it off -- even for a few minutes -- is a big deal. Khalif and other Muslim women say their facial features should be enough for law enforcement to identify them.

Gottwalt's bill has exceptions. If a person has a deformity or a medial condition that requires headwear, then it can be word for the driver's license picture. Gottwalt says he's hoping to get a committee hearing for the bill soon.


Sex trafficking is target of legislation

A bill introduced Monday would include sex trafficking on a list of crimes of violence and would increase penalties for certain situations, such as when a victim is injured.

The bill authored by Sen. Sandy Pappas, a St. Paul DFLer, would also provide training and public awareness and would help victims get access to services such as health care and legal representation.

Pappas says those parts of the bill would cost money, so she's focusing on changes to the criminal statutes this session and hopes the rest will be implemented later.

Human rights advocates say prostitution and sex trafficking can increase during bad economic times.



Lifting the veil on the niqab

There is no requirement in Islam to cover one's face -- the niqab is the epitome of male control over Muslim women

 By Tarek Fatah, February 5, 2009

Barely a week goes by when my religion, Islam, does not face a fresh round of scrutiny. If it is not a suicide bomber blowing himself up in an Iraqi mosque screaming "Allah O Akbar," it is news that an imam in Malaysia has declared the practice of Yoga sinful. If it is not a Toronto imam defending suicide bombing on TVO, a Muslim woman writes a column in a Canadian daily, advocating the introduction of Shariah law in Canada.

But the one topic that rears its head in almost predictable cycles is the subject of a Muslim woman's supposed Islamic attire. Whether it is swimming pools or polling booths there is no escape from the repeated controversies surrounding the face mask, better known as the niqab, or the burqa.

The latest incarnation of the niqab controversy surfaced this week when a Toronto judge ordered a Muslim woman to take off her niqab when she testified in a case of sexual assault.

The woman invoked Islam as the reason why she wanted to give testimony while wearing a face mask. She told the judge, "It's a respect issue, one of modesty," adding Islam considers her niqab as her "honour."

Her explanations were rejected by the judge who determined that the woman's "religious belief" was not that strong and that in his opinion the woman was asking to wear the niqab as "a matter of comfort."

But all of these arguments are premised on the acceptance of the myth that a face mask for women is Islamic religious attire.


There is no requirement in Islam for Muslim women to cover their faces. The niqab is the epitome of male control over women. It is a product of Saudi Arabia and its distortion of Islam to suit its Wahabbi agenda, which is creeping into Canada.

If there is any doubt that the niqab is not required by Islam, take at look at the holiest place for Muslims -- the grand mosque in Mecca, the Ka'aba. For over 1,400 years Muslim men and women have prayed in what we believe is the House of God and for all these centuries women have been explicitly forbidden from covering their faces.

For the better part of the 20th century, Muslim reformists, from Egypt to India, campaigned against this terrible tribal custom imposed by Wahabbi Islam. My mother's generation threw off their burqas when Muslim countries gained their independence after the Second World War. Millions of women encouraged by their husbands, fathers and sons, shed this oppressive attire as the first step in embracing gender equality.

But while the rest of the world moves toward the goal of gender equality, right here, under our very noses, Islamists are pushing back the clock, convincing educated Muslim women they are sexual objects and a source of sin.

It will be difficult to pinpoint what went wrong, but most of Canada's growth in niqabi women can be traced to one development in 2004, when a radical Pakistani female scholar by the name of Farhat Hashmi came to Canada on a visitor's visa, to establish the Al-Huda Islamic Institute for women.

Maclean's magazine reported in July 2006 that she had "established a school where she lectures to mostly young, middle-class women from mainstream Muslim families, not only from across the country but also from the U.S. and as far away as Australia."

In October 2005, the Globe and Mail ran a story on Dr. Hashmi quoting a 20-year-old Muslim woman as saying, "I agree with Dr. Hashmi that women should stay at home and look after their families." This student was so impressed with Dr. Hashmi's sermons that she convinced 10 of her friends to enrol in the course that involved wearing the niqab, leaving the work force and embracing polygamy.

In the Globe piece, 18-year-old Sadaf Mahmood defended polygamy and the burqa saying: "There are more women than men in this world. Who will take care of these women? It is better for a man to do things legally by taking a second wife, rather than having an affair."

While the rest of Canada sleeps, the Islamist agenda, funded by the Saudis and inspired by the Iranians, continues to make its presence felt. The vast majority of Muslims look on in shock, unable to understand why this country would tolerate the oppression of women in the name of religion and multiculturalism.

The woman who was denied her burqa in court is a victim. She is merely a puppet in the hands of those who wish to keep women in their place. First she suffered the trauma of the alleged sexual assault, which was then compounded by the controversy about her niqab. She could have asked the judge to not let her face her alleged attackers, and that would have been a fair request.

But when she invoked Islam and said hiding her face would be an act of religiosity, she became a voice not for justice, but for those who wish to sneak Shariah law into our judicial system. This should be stopped.

Tarek Fatah is the author of Chasing a Mirage: The Tragic Illusion of an Islamic State.



For Saudi Liberals, a Ripple of Hope in a Sea of Tradition

By ROBERT F. WORTH, March 2, 2009

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Ever since King Abdullah announced a sweeping cabinet reshuffle two weeks ago, Saudi liberals have been in a rare holiday mood. Many have hailed the changes — including the replacement of some major conservative figures and the appointment of the first female deputy minister — as a “mini-revolution” and proof that the king is at last willing to tame this country’s hard-line religious establishment. But there is a larger, more conservative constituency here, and its members tend to dismiss those liberal hopes as fantasies.

“These are merely dreams and wishes for things that will not happen,” said Sheik Sulayman al-Daweesh, a prominent conservative cleric who is a staunch defender of this country’s feared religious police. The reformers, he added, “would like to weaken Saudi Arabia’s Islamic identity, and they will not succeed.”

Who is right? It may be too early to say.

But even with all the political will in the world, King Abdullah’s cabinet shake-up — his first prominent attempt to rein in the power of the conservatives since he assumed the throne in 2005 — will not succeed quickly or easily.

Saudi Arabia’s judiciary and vast educational establishment are mostly populated by men much closer in outlook to Mr. Daweesh than to the small liberal elite. And while the king appears to be sincere in his desire to bring more moderation and openness, he is 84 years old and has opponents within the royal family.

Some of King Abdullah’s new ministers have already disappointed the liberals, who hope the changes will be the first steps toward modernizing the legal system and moderating the religious influence in the schools. After a newspaper published a photograph of Noura al-Fayez, the new deputy education minister, wearing a head scarf but with her face uncovered, she complained bitterly that she had not approved its release and would never allow herself to be seen in public that way.

Advocates of change concede that the scale and difficulty of the task are daunting, and that the steps may come too late for the current generation of people under 25, who make up 60 percent of the population. Unemployment is high — especially among the young — and the schools continue to nourish the same culture of extremism and xenophobia that helped spawn the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Saudi analysts say. “The Ministry of Education has been kidnapped by extremists for decades,” said Mshari al-Zaydi, a journalist and political analyst. “I don’t think we’ll see any real change there for 15 or 20 years.”

Still, the reformers have some reasons for optimism. King Abdullah fired some major conservative figures who had been obstacles to change, including the chief of the religious police and the country’s senior judge. He installed people in influential positions who are known for their loyalty to him, including the new education minister, Prince Faisal bin Abdullah, the king’s nephew and son-in-law.

In another landmark change, the king installed more moderate and diverse members in an important committee, the Council of Senior Ulema, which is influential in determining how judges can interpret Islamic law. A broad effort is under way to discipline and modernize the legal system, in which judges are now unrestrained by anything but their own, usually severe, interpretation of Islamic law.

“The king’s message is that he is bringing new blood — legal, not religious,” said Abdul Rahman al-Lahem, a reformist lawyer who has been jailed for his advocacy. “I am very optimistic.”

More generally, the reform agenda has drawn momentum from King Abdullah’s personal popularity and a growing public dissatisfaction with radical religious figures. The radicals had seemed to pose a real challenge to the royal family after a group of them mounted a deadly attack on the Grand Mosque in Mecca in 1979. Caught off balance, the kingdom’s rulers tried to outflank their Islamist opponents by imposing an even more draconian code of public morals.

The radicals’ popularity began to wane in 2003, when a series of brutal terrorist attacks here killed Saudis as well as foreigners. At the same time, public anger at the intolerance of the cane-wielding religious police has grown, fuelled by a younger generation that is more exposed to the outside world.

 “The sacred image of these people was destroyed,” said Awadh Badi, a scholar at the King Faisal Centre in Riyadh, the capital. “Before, even the state couldn’t touch them.”

King Abdullah began popularizing the language of reform as regent during the reign of his predecessor, King Fahd, who was incapacitated by a stroke in 1996. Pressure was rising both from internal critics and from the United States, where the Saudi role in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks — in which 15 of 19 hijackers were Saudi — brought new attention to some of the hatred routinely preached in schools.

Textbooks portrayed Jews and Christians as enemies declared that the crusades never ended and treated the famed anti-Semitic forgery “Protocols of the Elders of Zion” as historical fact.

Some changes have been made. But the problem goes well beyond textbooks. Saudi Arabia has 25,000 public schools that educate more than 90 percent of all students, run by deeply conservative Islamists who have successfully thwarted changes in the past. Some refuse to teach materials they view as insufficiently Islamic, or even to allow the singing of the Saudi national anthem — a requirement in public schools — for the same reason.

To many Saudis, the issue of extremism is less important than the fact that the schools are not providing enough maths and science or the broader view of the world that their children need as the country struggles to diversify its economy and oil prices fall.

“Seventy-five percent of what my 13-year-old daughter studies is religion,” said Fawziah al-Bakr, a professor of education at King Saud University. “We are all in favour of religion, but we don’t have to make all our children into clerics.”

Even if King Abdullah succeeds, it would not necessarily advance democracy. In a sense, domesticating a threatening religious establishment would merely continue the al Saud family’s march to absolute power.

In fact, one change seems to have been shunted aside. The landmark municipal council elections of 2005 were to be followed by a second round this year, in which women were to be allowed to vote. Those appear to have been forgotten, at least for now, with no public mention of any further preparations.

But many reformers scarcely seem to care.

“Without changing the cultural infrastructure here, there is no point in elections or anything of the kind,” said one ardently reformist member of Saudi Arabia’s appointed Shura Council, which advises the king, who spoke on the condition of anonymity. “The extremists here are well organized, but the liberals are not organized at all. They don’t have channels of communication with the people.”



CITY-(Preparations of Eid Milad-un-Nabi in full swing)

March 03, 2009; Posted: 03:46 AM


Islamabad, Mar 02, 2009 (Asia Pulse Data Source via COMTEX) -- ZZIAC | Quote | Chart | News | Power Rating -- The preparations are in full swing in twin cities of Islamabad and Rawalpindi to celebrate Eid Milad-un-Nabi (SAW) with religious enthusiasm and solemnity on March 10.

Milad committees and different organizations are engaged in organizing conferences and Mehfil-e-Milad. Religious, social and cultural organisations are finalising their programmes to organise Milad Mahafil and Seerat gatherings where speakers will highlight various aspects of the life and teachings of Holy Prophet (PBUH).

Ministry of Religious Affairs has announced to organize Seerat Conference on March 10 on this auspicious event. Prominent Ulema and scholars would be addressing this conference.

Seerat Conferences at the provincial headquarters would also be organized at the divisional and district levels by Ulema and Mashaikh. Seerat competitions will also be organized by the provincial governments and educational institutions aiming at highlighting the life of Holy Prophet (SAW).

The newspapers and magazines will bring out special issues while the electronic media will air special programmes highlighting the sanctity and significance of the day. The Pakistan Television and Radio Pakistan will organize special Naatia Mushaira and quiz programme on the life of Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him). Special Seerat banners are seen at almost all roads of the twin cities.

On this occasion, special measures are being taken by the authorities concerned to ensure cleanliness on the routes of Milad processions in Islamabad and Rawalpindi. The administration of twin cities are making elaborate security arrangements to avoid any untoward incident on the occasion, and police and other security agencies will also be present on key points to maintain law and order.