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One ayatollah’s stand for the Baha’i gives me great hope for Iran

News from Iran has given me tremendous hope and optimism for peace between Iranians, regardless of faith and ethnicity. Ayatollah Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani, a prominent imam and scholar, has taken a stand for coexistence with the country’s Baha’i minority. He has reminded us that Islam is a religion of peace that recognises diversity of every kind as part of God’s design for his creation. And it all came in the form of a gift – one which I am proud to endorse.

For many, Iran is synonymous with persecution and oppression. Iran’s authorities routinely target ethnic and religious minorities, human rights activists, journalists and intellectuals. And the case of the Baha’is is emblematic of these broader violations.

The Baha’is are Iran’s largest religious minority with 300,000 followers. For decades they have been arbitrarily detained, denied education and livelihood, harassed, vilified in the media, and executed. Hundreds were killed after the 1979 revolution. More than 130 Baha’is are currently in prison on false charges. Seven former leaders are serving 20-year jail terms, just for tending to the basic needs of their community. Baha’is have no legal protection as a minority because their faith is not recognised under the constitution.   »»»

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Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s simplistic view of Muslims

More than 12 years on from the events of 9/11, and the subsequent failed global “war on terror”, the false dichotomy of being “with us” or “with the terrorists” is still proclaimed without embarrassment.

This week, it was the turn of Dutch activist Ayaan Hirsi Ali. Ms Hirsi Ali was scheduled to deliver a speech on the anniversary of the attacks at the Boston Marathon while receiving an honorary degree from Brandeis University, which is located just outside Boston.

Somali-born Ms Hirsi Ali is a controversial figure. She fled to the Netherlands and claimed asylum on the grounds of persecution and escaping a forced marriage.

There she became actively involved in politics and was elected as a representative on the back of a far right rise in popularity against Muslims but she left the Netherlands for the US after it became clear that she had lied on her asylum application.

Over 80 members of Brandeis university faculty sent a letter to the school’s president demanding the withdrawal of Ms Hirsi Ali’s honorary degree invitation “owing to her virulently anti-Muslim public statements”.

In response, Ms Hirsi Ali published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. Reflecting on the anniversary of the Boston Marathan bombing she managed to tie together the Boston Marathon, jihadists in Syria, the Taliban in Afghanistan, a driving ban in Saudi Arabia and sexual assault in Egypt.

There was no mention at all of Chechnya, from where the bombers hailed, and the political problems there. There was no analysis of how the violence in Syria and the global political vested interests that spur on the killing is different to the social and political pressures on women in the Kingdom.

For Ms Hirsi Ali, Muslims are all the same. And for her, Muslims are the problem.

Of course, there was no mention of a global epidemic of violence against women, gun crime in the US, annexation in the Crimea or Buddhist extremism in Myanmar. If she had mentioned them, we could be talking about working across borders and boundaries to tackle global scourges. But no, in Ms Hirsi Ali’s world, all violence is due to Muslims and all Muslims are violent.

Ms Hirsi Ali’s analysis is both simplistic and dangerous, painting Muslims as all the same. She sees no variation. When she said Islam “must be defeated” she was asked if she meant “radical Islam” and her simplistic approach is clear: “No. Islam period.”

This makes her popular for those who cannot fathom the possibility of nuance among Muslims, 1.8 billion people who take Islam as their compass.

She legitimises hatred through a back story of “escape” from Muslims and “liberation” by the west. Yet the contradictions are already there in her own life story. Her own father was opposed to FGM. It was she herself who dropped out of further education despite her father’s insistence she continue. When she wanted a divorce, she got one without issue.

I’m loathe to give Ms Hirsi Ali publicity, but this idea that “all Muslims are the same” is dangerous and must be tackled head-on. Homogenising and dehumanising people is the foundation for hatred. Among 1.8 billion Muslims around the world, variation and differences of opinion exist. How ludicrous to paint them all the same.    »»» The National (Abu Dhabi)

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US Calls on Burma (Myanmar) to Stop Violence on Muslims

U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power has urged Burma to intervene in Rakhine State to stop violence between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims.

Power’s comments followed a briefing to the U.N. Security Council Thursday on the crisis in the country also known as Myanmar.

Burma emerged from a half-century of military rule in 2011, but its transition to democracy has been marred by sectarian violence in Rakhine where Rohingya Muslims have fled attacks by the majority Buddhist population.   »»» Big News Network

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Iranian woman pardons son’s killer — after slapping him at the gallows

The execution of an Iranian convicted of murder was halted at the very last minute in a dramatic scene this week when the mother of his victim forgave him as he stood on the gallows with the noose around his neck, according to Iranian media.

The convict, identified by his first name Bilal, had been sentenced to death for killing a teenager, Abdollah Hosseinzadeh, during a street fight in the market of the northern Iranian town of Nour seven years ago, the ISNA news agency reported. At the time, both Bilal and Hosseinzadeh were around 17 years old, ISNA said.

Bilal was brought blindfolded to the site of his planned execution Tuesday in a town square. He was stood on a chair on the gallows and the noose was put on his neck, according to pictures of the scene published by ISNA.

But at the last minute, Hosseinzadeh’s mother, Samereh Alinejad, forgave him, after giving a speech to the crowd and then slapping Bilal in the face. Hosseinzadeh’s father helped take the noose off of Bilal, whose weeping mother hugged Alinejad in thanks, as seen in the photos.   »»» National Post

And We prescribed for the Jews in their Torah: Life for life, and eye for eye…. But whoso gives up (the right to retaliation) out of pious charity, it shall be an atonement for him. (Qur’an 5:45)

O ye who believe! the law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder…. But if any remission is made by the brother (family) of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a mercy from your Lord. (Qur’an 2:178)

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The Mosque in Washington

On June 28th, 1957, President Dwight Eisenhower addressed a crowd of American and Muslim diplomats gathered at the Islamic Center of Washington’s inauguration. Speaking from under marble columns and turquoise floral tiles he declared that the United States held a “strong bond of friendship with the Islamic nations” and called for the “peaceful progress of all men under one God.” Capitalizing on Eisenhower’s visit to the Islamic Center, the State Department began broadcasting and distributing printed copies of the president’s remarks throughout countries with significant Muslim populations. Egyptian newspapers published photographs of President Eisenhower and Mrs. Eisenhower removing their shoes as they entered the mosque. In Iran, state news media gave extensive coverage to the speech and leading clerics contacted the U.S. Embassy to express their gratitude. The State Department ordered photographs and posters of the Islamic Center of Washington to be printed in mass quantities in French, Arabic, and English at embassies in Dakar, Karachi, Dhaka, Algiers,islamic center shoes Tunis, and Damascus.

In the wake of World War II, with the crumbling of Europe’s old colonial order and the beginning of the Cold War, the United States sought to utilize the Islamic character of countries like Egypt, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and others in order to thwart the spread of communism in the region. As the United States built a postwar empire, the Islamic Center of Washington became a local link between Washington and the Muslim world–a local mosque with the headquarters of American empire in its own backyard.

From Eisenhower’s speech at the Center’s inauguration in 1957 to the D.C. hostage crisis in 1977, and from the Iranian Revolution in 1979 to George W. Bush’s landmark speech on Islam after 9/11, the Islamic Center of Washington has always been more than merely a place of worship for D.C. area Muslims. The Islamic Center’s unique location on Embassy Row, home to dozens of embassies and diplomatic families, allowed the mosque to connect Washington with Muslims not only in the D.C. area, but also across the globe. As a local newspaper proclaimed in the fall of 1953, the mosque’s “graceful minaret” marked “Washington as more than ever a world city.”    »»» Sailan Muslim (Sri Lanka)

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Armed men kidnap schoolgirls in Nigeria

Heavily armed men have kidnapped more than 100 girls from a secondary school in northeast Nigeria’s Borno state and torched the surrounding town, a day after a deadly bombing in the African state’s capital.

No one claimed responsibility for Tuesday’s kidnapping, but fingers were pointed at fighters of the armed group Boko Haram, which means “Western education is forbidden”.

Some of the girls managed to escape from the back of an open lorry, other officials said.

Boko Haram has repeatedly attacked schools in the northeast during an insurgency that has killed thousands since 2009.

The fighters are known to be abducting girls to use as cooks and sex slaves.   »»» Armed men kidnap schoolgirls in Nigeria – Africa – Al Jazeera English

Boko Haram claims to be a Muslim group that wants to establish a Muslim state in the north of Nigeria. They act in ways that are condemned in the Qur’an and the Traditions of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Those who plot evils (to overthrow the established authority) will be in severe torment. And those plotting such evils will perish.” Qur’an 35:10.

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New York police disband Muslim ‘eavesdropping’ unit

The New York Police Department has disbanded a secret programme designed to eavesdrop on Muslims to identify potential terrorism threats. The Demographics Unit had dispatched plainclothes detectives to listen to conversations and build files on places frequented by Muslims, US media say.

The squad had been the subject of two federal lawsuits in the past, and drew ire from civil rights groups. It is also said to have sowed Muslim mistrust for law enforcement.

“This reform is a critical step forward in easing tensions between the police and the communities they serve, so that our cops and our citizens can help one another go after the real bad guys,” the office of New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio wrote in a statement.

The decision to stop the programme was reportedly made by new Police Commissioner William Bratton, and is viewed as a moving away from past intelligence gathering practices instituted after the 9/11 attacks.

The unit — in operation since 2003 and later renamed the Zone Assessment Unit — logged where Muslims worked, shopped, ate and prayed.    »»» BBC News

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U.S. university drops plan to honor activist critical of Islam

A private university outside Boston has decided not to award an honorary degree to a Somali-born women’s rights activist who has branded Islam as violent and “a nihilistic cult of death.”

Brandeis University said it had decided not to award an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a former Dutch parliamentarian who has been a prominent critic of the treatment of women in Islamic society.

Hirsi Ali said in a 2003 interview with a Dutch newspaper that by modern standards, the Muslim prophet Mohammed could be considered a pedophile, and in a 2007 interview with the London Evening Standard called Islam “a destructive, nihilistic cult of death.”

“We cannot overlook certain of her past statements that are inconsistent with Brandeis University’s core values,” the university said in a statement late Tuesday. “We regret that we were not aware of these statements earlier.”   »»» FaithWorld

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Saudi Arabia considers lifting ban on girls sports

Saudi Arabia is considering ending its controversial ban on sports in girls’ state schools, after the country’s consultative council recommended the ban be lifted over vociferous opposition from traditionalists.

Following a heated debate on Tuesday, the Shura Council recommended that the longstanding ban, already softened in private schools in May last year, be fully ended, the AFP news agency reported, citing state media.

The appointed body, whose 150 members are overwhelmingly male, can only pass on its recommendation to the education ministry and has no powers to impose it.

All education in Saudi Arabia is strictly single-sex, but sports in girls schools remains a sensitive issue in the conservative Muslim kingdom.

Opponents argued that girls’ state schools lacked sports facilities and rejected supporters’ claims that sports provision would help combat rising childhood obesity, an aide to the Shura Council chairman said.

But the council finally approved the recommendation after agreeing that it did not run counter to the strict version of Islamic sharia law imposed in the kingdom, Fahad al-Ahmad told the official SPA news agency, according to AFP.

The council cited a ruling by the kingdom’s late top cleric, or grand mufti, Sheikh Abdel Aziz bin Baz, that women were entitled to play sports “within the limits set by Islamic law”.   »»» Al Jazeera English

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Malaysia bans ‘un-Islamic’ Noah movie

Malaysia has joined other Islamic countries in banning the Hollywood biblical epic “Noah” starring Russell Crowe, decrying it as irreligious and saying it violates Islamic law against depicting prophets.

A home ministry official Saturday confirmed that Paramount’s latest big budget film, which has sparked an outcry among Muslim groups worldwide, will not be screened in predominantly Muslim Malaysia.

The film has already angered some Christian institutions in the United States over Crowe’s reportedly unconventional portrayal of Noah, who is regarded as an important figure in both Christianity and Islam.

Neighboring Indonesia, Egypt and United Arab Emirates have banned the film because of scenes they say contradict Islam.   »»» The China Post

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