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Meet the Muslims who sacrificed themselves to save Jews and fight Nazis in World War II

Noor Inayat Khan led a very unusual life. She was born in 1914 to an Indian Sufi mystic of noble lineage and an American half-sister of Perry Baker, often credited with introducing yoga into America. As a child, she and her parents escaped the chaos of revolutionary Moscow in a carriage belonging to Tolstoy’s son. Raised in Paris in a mansion filled with her father’s students and devotees, Khan became a virtuoso of the harp and the veena, dressed in Western clothes, graduated from the Sorbonne and published a book of children’s tales — all before she was 25.

One year later, in May 1940, the Germans occupied Paris. Khan, her mother, and a younger brother and sister fled like millions of others, catching the last boat from Bordeaux to England, where she immediately joined the British war effort. In 1942, she was recruited by Churchill’s elite Special Operations Executive (SOE) to work in Paris as a wireless operator. Her clandestine efforts supported the French Underground as England prepared for the D-Day invasions. Among SOE agents, the wireless operator had the most dangerous job of all, because the occupation authorities were skilled at tracking their signals. The average survival time for a Resistance telegrapher in Paris was about six weeks.

Khan’s service continued from June 1943 until her capture and arrest by the Gestapo in October. In September 1944, she was murdered in Germany’s Dachau prison camp. In researching her story, I came across quite a number of other Muslims who bravely served the Allied cause — and sometimes made the ultimate sacrifice. History is rich with examples of their daring heroism and split-second decisions that helped defeat the Nazis.

Behic Erkin, the Turkish ambassador in Paris, provided citizenship papers and passports to thousands of Jews (many with only distant claims to Turkish connections) and arranged their evacuation by rail across Europe. One fateful day, Necdet Kent, the Turkish consul-general in Marseille, stymied the shipment of 80 Turkish Jews to Germany by forcing his way onto a train bearing them to their likely death and arranging for their return, unharmed, to France.

Abdol-Hossein Sardari used his position at the Iranian consulate in Paris to help thousands of Jews evade Nazi capture. Later dubbed the Iranian Schindler, he convinced the occupying Germans that Iranians were Aryans and that the Jews of Iran had been Iranian since the days of Cyrus the Great — and, therefore, should not be persecuted. Then he issued hundreds of Iranian passports to non-Iranian Jews and saved their lives.

Ahmed Somia, the Tunisian co-director of the French Muslim Hospital outside Paris, organized weapon caches, facilitated Resistance radio transmissions, treated wounded Resistance fighters, and helped save many downed U.S. and British pilots by hiding them in fake T.B. wards where Gestapo and French gendarmes feared to go.

In the Balkans, for instance, only 200 Jews lived in Albania before WWII. Yet by war’s end, almost 2,000 Jews lived in the country, because so many had fled Greece, Austria and other locations in Europe to take shelter there among the predominantly Muslim population, which hid and protected them.

As Cole wrote elsewhere, commemorating the 70th anniversary of D-Day: “While a few Muslims did support the Axis, out of resentment of Western colonialism…, they were tiny in their numbers compared to the Muslims who not only supported the Allies but actively fought on their behalf.”   »»» The Washington Post

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Cambodia’s largest mosque opens in Phnom Penh

Cambodia’s largest and only Ottoman-style mosque was officially opened by Prime Minister Hun Sen in a ceremony attended by more than 1,000 people in the capital Friday.

Al-Serkal Grand Mosque in Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighbourhood was funded by Eisa Bin Nasser Bin Abdullatif Alserkal, an Emirati businessman, and replaces a mosque that once sat on the same site before it was torn down in 2012.
Ahmad Yahya, president of the Cambodian Muslim Community Development Organization, described the mosque as “the biggest and most beautiful” of its kind, telling The Anadolu Agency that its construction has been an important bookmark in the story of the Muslim community in Cambodia.

“For the whole country, when they travel to Phnom Penh and from overseas, they come to this mosque to pray, and for tourists who come to Cambodia, they would like to come and pray,” he said.
The gleaming $2 million structure was a big draw Friday as hundreds of people milled around outside. The separate men’s and women’s prayer halls were packed.

Yahya said Hun Sen told the crowd he is proud of Cambodia’s Muslims, who are referred to as Cham and who were targeted by the ultra-Maoist Khmer Rouge regime in the 1970s.    »»» Sailan Muslim (Sri Lanka)

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Serbia arrests suspects in Srebrenica massacre of thousands of Muslims

Prosecutors on Wednesday made Serbia’s first arrests of people suspected of the Srebrenica massacre killings, The Associated Press has learned. It is a milestone in healing the wounds of Europe’s worst civilian slaughter since World War II.

Serbian police arrested seven men accused of taking part in the slaughter of over 1,000 Muslims at a warehouse on the outskirts of Srebrenica, a joint team of Serbian and Bosnian prosecutors told the AP. Altogether, over 8,000 Bosnian Muslims were killed in the eastern Bosnian enclave by the Serbs in 1995 — the only atrocity in Europe to be labeled genocide by the United Nations since World War II.

The prosecutors said they were searching for more suspects in Serbia and in neighboring countries.

Serbia in the past has put on trial men who took a group of prisoners away from Srebrenica to be killed. And in 2011 it arrested Ratko Mladic — the warlord who masterminded the slaughter — and sent him to an international criminal court in The Hague, Netherlands. But Wednesday’s arrests were Serbia’s first attempt to bring to justice men who got their hands bloody in the killing machine known as the Srebrenica massacre 20 years ago this July.    »»» The China Post

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‘All mosques’ destroyed in CAR conflict

Almost all of the 436 mosques in the Central African Republic have been destroyed by months of vicious fighting between Christians and Muslims, the US ambassador to the United Nations said Tuesday, calling the devastation “kind of crazy, chilling.”

Samantha Power spoke to reporters after a Security Council visit last week to the country. She expressed concern about an upcoming possible security vacuum as European Union and French forces pull out and a UN peacekeeping force is still not at full strength.

At least 5,000 people have been killed since Central African Republic exploded into unprecedented sectarian violence in December 2013. Nearly 1 million of the Texas-sized country’s 4.5 million residents have been displaced. Many of those who have fled are Muslim.   »»» ‘All mosques’ destroyed in CAR conflict | Arab News

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Religion and money: is Islamic banking the way forward for Ethiopians?

Islam is the world’s second largest religion with more than 1.5 billion followers, making up more than 23% of the world’s population. Of these, 650 million Muslims hover at or below the poverty line. But although Islamic-compliant finance is a huge industry globally, when the international community talks about improving access to financial services in developing countries, making services Islamic-compliant is rarely top of the agenda.

Islamic-compliant financial products can take several forms and business models. However, the principles of Islamic finance are universal: you cannot make money off money. No one can charge or pay interest, or invest in items that Islam forbids such as alcohol and gambling.

Although a growing industry globally, within Ethiopia Islamic banking, which is also referred to as interest-free banking, is in its infancy. Around a third of Ethiopians identify as Muslim, making the country’s Muslim population larger than that in Saudi Arabia, Syria or Yemen. Access to finance in Ethiopia is generally very low. Nationally, only 14 % of the adult population has access to formal credit and savings products but this rate drops to 1% in rural areas. And, until recently, there were no financial institutions catering to the large population requiring Islamic-compliant products.
   »»» The Guardian (U.K.)

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Fight against ISIS job of Muslims first, Jordan’s king says

Jordan’s King Abdullah addressed the European parliament on Tuesday.

He spoke about the threat of ISIS being a global issue, and that the terrorists do not represent Islam.

“Those outlaws of Islam who deny these truths [faith and tolerance] are vastly outnumbered by the ocean of believers – 1.6 billion Muslims worldwide. The terrorists have made Muslims their greatest target. We will not allow them to hijack our faith,” he said.

“The savage murder by Daesh (ISIS) of Jordan’s hero pilot outraged all Jordanians and horrified the world. And Jordan’s response has been swift, serious, and determined and our fight will continue,” he said. “We and other Arab and Muslim states defend not only our people but our faith. This has to be carried out by Muslim nations first and foremost. This is a fight within Islam and at the same time, the danger of extremism must be seen for what it is, global.”   »»»WDAM-TV 7-News (U.S.)

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Anti-Islamic demonstration planned for Montréal neighbourhood

Followers of a German-based right wing group known for its inflammatory anti-Islamic rhetoric are planning to stage a demonstration later this month in a St-Leonard burough neighbourhood of Montréal (Canada) that has a significant Muslim population.

Pegida Quebec is an offshoot of a European group of the same name, which stands for “Patriotic Europeans Against the Islamization of the West”.

The group is on the radar of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service (CSIS).

This week The Canadian Press agency said that CSIS had informed Public Saftey Minister Steve Blaney in September 2014 that there is a growing anti-Islam movement in Canada that poses an ongoing risk because many of its “proponents advocate violence”.

The German founder of the Pegida group, Lutz Bachmann, resigned two weeks ago after posting an image of himself made up as Adolph Hitler.   »»» CJAD 800 News (Québec, Canada)

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The Liberation of Women in Islam

Many misconceptions surround women’s rights in Islam. The prevailing view by people in the West, and especially what is portrayed in the media, is that women in Islam are oppressed, subordinate to men, and have no say. Is that really true? How have people reached these assumptions?

One reason why the status of women in Islam is misconstrued is that people tend to mix cultural practices with what they think are Islamic practices.

The religion of Islam and people’s cultural traditions are two very different factors. For example, the ban on driving in Saudi Arabia is a socio-political edict, and not necessarily an Islamic law. Women used to ride horses and camels during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

We hear news reports of young girls in a remote Pakistani village who were banned from going to school, and people falsely claim that Islam bars women from education. Again, this is a cultural problem and has no basis in Islam whatsoever.

Preventing women from education is an un-Islamic practice. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) gave lectures to women which he held at the mosque, and women were encouraged to learn. Aisha, the wife of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) was one of the most knowledgeable authorities on Islam. She has transmitted over 2,000 Hadiths, or sayings of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), which she has memorized by heart. She was educated in Hadith, jurisprudence (Islamic law), poetry, and the Arabic language. On many occasions, great men such as Umar ibn Al-Khattab asked Aisha for her opinion on certain rulings.

Women of knowledge were highly revered and valued in the days of early Islam. A woman, Hafsa, the daughter of Umar ibn Al-Khattab, was chosen to be the safe-keeper of the first complete written copy of the Holy Qur’an (the only one at the time). What an immense responsibility but also privilege to have in her possession the only copy of the Holy Qur’an in the world at the time. That shows the high status of women in Islam.

British researcher and author of women’s history books, Helen Wojtczak, said that in Europe, during the so-called Renaissance, education was revered by society. Famous literary salons became centers of intellectual debate and educational lectures but women were excluded from them. At the time, merely teaching girls to read and write would suffice. Some aristocratic women did receive better education, but even then, a woman who was highly accomplished feared being labeled as “mannish” or even accused of witchcraft.

The problem is that many people have forgotten history. British laws were far more oppressive to women than Islamic laws. Islam granted women rights that European women at the time only dreamed of; including financial, social, familial, and political rights.

Islam rescued the women in Arabia from the appalling situation they were in; they were treated as property, as inferior to men, as prostitutes, with no legal rights, until Islam liberated her and granted women their God-given rights.

Annie Besant, a prominent British women’s right activist, speaker, and writer shed light on women in Islam.

“I often think that the woman is more free in Islam than in Christianity. It is only twenty years [in 1912] that Christian England has recognized the right of women to property, while Islam has allowed this right from all times. Look back to the history of Islam, and you will find that women have often taken leading places – on the throne, in the battle-field, in politics, in literature, in poetry,” she wrote in 1932 in her paper, The Life and Teachings of Muhammad.

That is the problem; people do not look back to the history of Islam, they look only at the scarf or hijab on a Muslim woman’s head and cry, “Oppression!”

Women in Islam, as far back as the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), more than 1,000 years ago, were politically active and they held important roles in public discourse and decision making. When Umar ibn Al-Khattab was the Caliph, the ruler of
Makkah, he informed the public of his plan to set a ceiling (or limit) to the amount of money a woman could ask for as dowry from her husband-to-be.

A woman in the crowd openly opposed him and stood up in public to voice her opinion. She stated that the right of women was given to them by God and that the Caliph should not limit or restrict what Allah had kept liberal.

Omar ibn Al-Khattab agreed with the woman, admitted that he had made a mistake, and withdrew the ruling that he had proposed.

In his famous statement, he said, “The woman is correct and Umar is wrong.”
He was the ruler at the time, yet he found no fault in accepting the political opinion of a woman over his own.

he political landscape was much different for the women living in the same era in Europe. Women continued to be excluded from
politics during which Muslim women were active in politics.

Up until the late 1800s, women spectators were allowed to attend hearings of the House of Commons in British rule, on the condition that the women remained silent; they were not allowed to speak up.

According to Wojtczak, in 1884, when women began fighting for their rights to participate in debates and to be represented in government, the men in power argued, “Women are by nature and also according to God and the Bible meant to be subordinated by men. Politics is none of women’s business; they know nothing and indeed should know nothing about it.”

Islam gave women the right to a divorce, whereas in Western societies, divorce was unfathomable; it would only be considered in rare cases and usually if the man initiated it.

Although divorce is permitted in Islam, it is the last resort, because divorce leads to breaking up of families, which will have a negative impact not only on the children involved, but also on society as a whole. Nonetheless, divorce was an option that women or men could use as repose from a failing marriage.

In Islam, hundreds of years before the feminist movements of the West, a woman could get a divorce if she was being mistreated, or abused. Most women in the West prior and up to the 19th century did not enjoy that privilege. In the year 1670, only 4 British women were able to obtain a divorce in the courts, compared with 318 British men who successfully initiated divorce.

Wojtczak wrote, “Until 1923, the sole ground for divorce [for a woman to petition for a divorce] was adultery. This meant that even if her husband beat her daily for 50 years, starved her, locked her in the house, or jumped on her belly until she miscarried, no working class wife could get a divorce.”

That was not the case in the early days of Islam. Not only could women obtain divorce on grounds of mistreatment, the husband was also responsible for paying child-support.

Imani Jaafar-Mohammad, a practicing lawyer in the US, wrote in the Journal of Law & Practice, “Divorce existed before Islam, but the advent of Islam made the divorce process much more favorable to women. Women’s property is not divided during a divorce. Whatever a woman earns or is given before and during the course of the marriage remains her property if the marriage ends. This prevents men from taking advantage of women’s property or wealth through marriage.”

In Islam, a woman’s earnings and properties remain hers and hers alone, and the husband has no right to usurp any of it.

Financial rights were granted to women centuries before it was granted to their counterparts in the Western world.

In an era as early as the 600s, Islam allowed women the right to inherit estates and own property under their names. Women in the West were struggling to obtain rights that Muslim women enjoyed.

The article, Women’s rights and their money, in The Guardian, reports that in the 1100s in England and in the Americas a common law called ‘coverture’ was the norm, which is the belief that married men and women are one financial entity. This meant that married women could not own property, run businesses, or sue in court.

Not until the year 1839 did American woman gain the right to own property in their own names; the state of Mississippi was the first. Not until the year 1900 did a woman in England become able to enter contracts on her own, collect rents or receive an inheritance in her own right. Finally, for economic purposes, she became an individual.

Taking off the headscarf, letting her hair down, and exposing a woman’s body are not signs of liberation of women.    »»» Sailan Muslim (Sri Lanka)

Umar ibn Khattab (God be pleased with him), the first Muslim ruler after the death of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) said:

Women are not a garment that you can put on or take off however you like. They are honoured; they have their rights.”

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Prominent Islamic Scholar Refutes Claims of ISIS’s Links to Islam

“ISIS is very similar to the Kharijites, who were a toxic off-shoot of Islam,” Yusuf told us. “It’s not Islam; it’s a perversion of Islam, and to label these militant externalities as Islam is to legitimize their actions.” The Kharijites were the 7th century self-proclaimed Muslims who sowed discord in early Islamic history. They were known for their extremist doctrines and their penchant for declaring other Muslims as disbelievers—an act known as takfir—and engaging in murderous violence against them. Amongst their acts was the assassination of the Prophet Muhammad’s cousin, Ali ibn Abi Talib, who was the first Imam of Shia Muslims and regarded as the fourth and final “rightly guided” Caliph by Sunni Muslims.

Yusuf adds that the continued presence of many religious minorities in the Middle East up to the modern age, whether they be Yazidis, Assyrian and other Christian denominations, Jews, Mandaeans, or Zoroastrians, is testimony to the tolerance that existed for centuries in Muslim-ruled lands and belies the claim that ISIS’s actions are consistent with Islam. While acts of persecution have occurred, at times at heightened levels, Yusuf states that unlike Europe, where non-Christian communities were actively wiped out over the centuries, the Muslim world was, for the most part, a place of religious acceptance and tolerance. Under the Ottomans, for instance, the rights of Jews, Christians and others were guaranteed by the state itself. “Historically Muslim societies have been multicultural environments, and Muslims have had far less abuse toward minority communities than other civilizations,” Yusuf explains.

Yusuf questions the media’s decision to spotlight the views of extremists, adding that it only serves to elevate their status. “They relish the media attention, but why are we even giving these people voices?” he asks. “We don’t see the media, for instance, give platforms to KKK leaders as authorities on Christianity, or Jewish extremists to speak for Judaism, and certainly not the neo-Nazis to address race relations.”

Yusuf also notes that the specific set of beliefs that binds together most so-called Islamic extremists is the most extreme version of Salafism—the starkly fundamentalist and exclusivist sect of Islam that originated in 18th century Arabia, and which groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda adhere to.

The Salafists “promote a self-righteous Islam that teaches contempt for others—the Prophet himself was not like that,” Yusuf says. “If you don’t have religious fallibilism, you have immense problems. This is what happens when you have these exclusivist, self-righteous monsters out there who are absolutely certain and who think God-given certainty enables them to act with impunity.”    »»» ThinkProgress (U.S.)

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A search for identity draws jihadis to the horrors of Isis

First it was Shamima Begum, Amira Abase and Kadiza Sultana, three schoolgirls from Tower Hamlets who smuggled themselves to Syria during their half-term holiday. Then it was “Jihadi John”, the Islamic State executioner who was unmasked by the Washington Post last week as the Kuwaiti-born Londoner Mohammed Emwazi.

The stories of the three schoolgirls and of Emwazi are very different. But the same questions are being asked of them. How did they get radicalised? And how can we stop it from happening again? These are questions being increasingly asked across Europe. A recent report by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation suggests that there are now 4,000 European fighters with Isis, a figure that has doubled over the past year.

What is it that draws thousands of young Europeans to a brutal, sadistic organisation such as Isis? “Radicalisation” is usually seen as a process through which extremist groups or “hate preachers” groom vulnerable Muslims for jihadism by indoctrinating them with extremist ideas. Some commentators blame western authorities for pushing young Muslims into the arms of the groomers. The advocacy group Cage UK claimed last week that Mohammed Emwazi had been driven to Syria by MI5 “harassment”. Others stress the “pull” factor in radicalisation. The problem, they claim, lies with Islam itself, a faith that, in their eyes, legitimises violence, terror and inhumanity.

Neither claim is credible. Whatever the facts of his relationship with MI5, Emwazi himself was responsible for joining Isis. No amount of “harassment” provides an explanation for chopping off people’s heads.

Nor is Islam an adequate explanation. Muslims have been in Europe in large numbers since the 1950s. It is only in the last 20 years that radical Islam has gained a foothold. Blaming it all on Islam does nothing to explain the changing character of Muslim communities and their beliefs.

The problem with both approaches is in the idea of “radicalisation”. Marc Sageman, a former CIA operations officer who worked with the Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s, is now a distinguished academic and a counter-terrorism consultant to the US and other governments.

He said: “The notion that there is any serious process called ‘radicalisation’ is a mistake. What you have is some young people acquiring some extreme ideas – but it’s a similar process to acquiring any type of ideas. It often begins with discussions with a friend.”

European recruits to Isis are certainly hostile to western foreign policy and devoted to their vision of Islam. Religion and politics form indispensable threads to their stories. And yet the “radicalisation” argument looks at the jihadis’ journey back to front.

It begins with the jihadis as they are at the end of their journey – enraged about the west, and with a black-and-white view of Islam – and assumes that these are the reasons they have come to be as they are. But for most jihadis, the first steps on their journeys to Syria were rarely taken for political or religious reasons.

What draws most wannabe jihadis to Syria is, to begin with, neither politics nor religion. It is a search for something a lot less definable: for identity, for meaning, for “belongingness”, for respect. Insofar as they are alienated, it is not because wannabe jihadis are poorly integrated, in the conventional way we think of integration. Theirs is a much more existential form of alienation.

Most homegrown wannabe jihadis possess a peculiar relationship with Islam. They are as estranged from Muslim communities as they are from western societies. Most detest the mores and traditions of their parents, have little time for mainstream forms of Islam and cut themselves off from traditional community institutions. It is not through mosques or religious institutions but through the internet that most jihadis discover their faith and their virtual community.   »»» The Guardian (U.K.)

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