Be forgiving, encourage what is good, and avoid the ignorant. --Qur'an 7:199

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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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Muslim King Makes Land Grant for A New Catholic Cathedral

Bishop Camillo Ballin, an Italian-born Comboni missionary, heads the Roman Catholic Vicariate of Northern Arabia. He is overseeing the first-ever building of a new cathedral in Bahrain, on land given to the Church by Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah.

The cathedral, named Our Lady of Arabia, will serve an estimated 2.5 million Catholics-the great majority of them foreign guest workers-in Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The new structure will be a focal point for the territory’s 10 parishes and more than 100 underground communities. Particularly in Saudi Arabia, the public practice of Christianity on the Arab Peninsula is severely restricted, mostly limited to the grounds of foreign embassies and private homes. Priests are generally not allowed to appear in public dressed in clerical garb; conversions of Muslims to Christianity are strictly forbidden, while Christians are banned from marrying Muslim women.

The building of the new cathedral signals a breakthrough in Church-state relations and is also testimony to what the prelate describes as “the constantly increasing number of Catholics in the region.” Currently only five formally designated churches serve the 880,000 square miles that make up the Vicariate. Bishop Ballin spoke with international Catholic charity Aid to the Church in Need on March 17, 2014, the final day of his two-week trip to the US to raise awareness of the cathedral project.

Bishop Ballin sad, “A large number of Catholics in Bahrain obliged me to ask the king for land. The church that we have in Manama is too small. I asked the king for a piece of land in the south of the country and he granted the request immediately. Since the bishop is in Bahrain, this new church will be the cathedral of the Vicariate of Northern Arabia and it will be dedicated to Our Lady of Arabia, patroness of the Gulf. I think he wanted to prove that Bahrain is a country open to all. In fact, there are Catholics and even Jews who are members of the Council of the king! In this region, where fanaticism is strong in some countries, the example of the king of Bahrain should be considered a model of openness.

“The problems in Bahrain are not between Christians and Muslims but among Muslims themselves, between Shiites and Sunnis. I trust in the good will of the people of Bahrain.”   »»» EWTN.com

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Muslim victim of Boston Marathon bombing sues Glenn Beck for defamation and slander

A Muslim victim of the Boston Marathon bombing has sued Glenn Beck for
defamation and slander after the talk show host accused him of funding the
attacks.

Race spectator Abdulrahman Alharbi filed a federal lawsuit against Beck
and his companies, The Blaze Inc. and Mercury Radio Arts, and his radio
syndicator, Premier Radio Networks.

The 20-year-old Alharbi was injured in the April 15 bombings, questioned as
a witness, and consented to a search of his apartment.

Authorities quickly determined that Alharbi, a Saudi national of Middle
Eastern descent, had no involvement in the attacks.

But Beck “repeatedly and falsely” identified Alharbi as an active participant
in the bombings, the suit claims.
   »»» Informed Comment

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Does the Koran allow wife-beating? Not if Muslims don’t want it to

Muslims have a problem with domestic violence. Let me be clear – most think it’s a terrible thing. But the troubling fact remains that it’s difficult for Muslims to argue that all forms of domestic violence are religiously prohibited. That is because a verse in our sacred scripture can be interpreted as allowing husbands to hit their wives.

This verse, found in Chapter 4, Verse 34, has been historically understood as saying that husbands can admonish disobedient wives, abandon them in bed and even strike them physically. This verse creates a conundrum for modern Muslims who believe in gender equality and do not believe that husbands have the right to discipline their wives at all, never mind hit them. How can devout Muslims both speak out against domestic violence and be faithful to a religious text that permits wife-beating?

As it turns out, the way out of this problem lies not only in the Koran itself – but in the very verse.

Many Islamic scholars have quietly been offering compelling non-violent and non-hierarchical interpretations of 4:34 for years. One alternate reading posits that if a couple experiences marital troubles, they should first discuss the matter reasonably. If that does not resolve the problem, the couple should experiment with a trial separation. If that fails, the couple ought to separate, but if it works, then they should have makeup sex. This alternate interpretation works with the Koran’s original Arabic, which lends itself to multiple, equally valid readings.

But if it is so easy to come up with new interpretations, why have the non-violent ones not gained more widespread acceptance?

The answer lies in a key truth: Religious texts mean what their communities say they mean. Texts do not have a voice of their own. They speak only through their community of readers. So, with a community so large (1.3 billion) and so old (1,400 years), Islamic religious texts necessarily speak with many voices to reflect the varied histories and experiences of the many communities that call themselves Muslim.

The fact is that 4:34 can legitimately be read both ways – violently and non-violently, either as sanctioning violence against wives or as offering a non-violent, non-hierarchical means for resolving marital conflict. Muslims may follow whichever interpretation they choose, and the inescapable truth is that the interpretation chosen says more about the Muslim in question than it does about the verse. This marvellous agency comes with a heavy responsibility: Rather than holding 4:34 responsible for what it means, Muslims can and must hold themselves responsible for their interpretations.   »»» tabsir.net

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Hijab design takes center stage in Tokyo Fashion Show

Among the aspiring Asian designers competing for the limelight at Tokyo Fashion Week, one of the most striking was an Indonesian label’s bid to blend a traditional Muslim headscarf with haute couture.

The twice-yearly show, which wraps up on Saturday, saw NurZahra roll out its autumn/winter collection Layers of Fidelity, turning the modest hijab into sophisticated fashion.

The label — whose name means “the luminous light” in Arabic and takes from Fatimah Zahra, the name of the daughter of Islam’s Prophet Mohammed — wanted to prove that the female hair-and-neck-covering wrap, common in the Islamic world, could still take on playful elements.

“The modest hijab is not actually a restriction” in fashion, designer Windri Widiesta Dhari told reporters after her stylish designs hit the catwalk.

“It’s how you cover yourself and look more elegant in a way that has a loose fit.”

Dhari sees the traditional scarf as not just a modesty covering, but also a stylish, comfortable accessory.   »»» The Times of Israel

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