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Tuesday, March 6, 2007

Secular Islam Summit update

The Secular Islam Summit
By Mike Ghouse, March 6, 2007


It is time for Muslims to speak up and I sincerely hope the Media will give voice to the un-heard. For over 5 years, Muslim have been accused of so many things, one among them is that they do not speak up. The truth is they do, but seldom have they got the print and the air space.

The Secular Islam Summit concluded on Monday, March 5th in St. Petersburg, Florida. With the exception of two panelists, every one was a paid Islam basher. This was just another attempt by extremists; in this case, the neo-cons on the other end of the spectrum attempting to turn Islam upside down. It is the Fox telling the hen to change her behavior to survive.

The intent of the conference was bad to start with. Due to this fact, not one of the mainstream Muslims, including the progressive ones, chose to participate in the conference. Radwan Masmoudi of Islam For Democracy, Kamal Nawash of Free Muslims and I had serious discussions about the outcome of the summit and decided not to participate in it, as did other Muslim key players. No one wanted to become tools in hands of the neo-con extremists. The need to be represented in the summit became less important than standing by the right thing.

"The need for a new, progressive, and modern interpretation of Islam for the 21st century is real and undeniable, as is the need for real reforms and democratization in Muslim societies. However, for that reinterpretation and reform to occur, the effort must be led by Muslims who are proud of their heritage, religion, and culture and who are credible within their community. The people who attended the "Secular Islam Conference" are neither, and that is why this conference was a complete waste of time and money, except perhaps to provide some anti-Islamic voices a podium from which to speak" – Radwan Masmoudi, Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy.

The speakers present were all Islam haters with the exception of two token Muslims like Irshad Manji and Hasan Mahmud. By God, the summit was to be about Islam, yet there was not a Muslim Presenter? If the intent was honest, at least half of the speakers should have been Muslims. The integrity of the organizers and the intent of the Summit are questionable, indeed, it is downright dishonest.

Here is my take on the hour-long report Glen Beck presented on CNN Monday night.

At the beginning, as well as towards the end of show, he highlighted the tangible danger for the delegates that came to the summit; he alluded that they have risked their lives to come to this conference. Glen passed on this claim to the viewers as a matter of fact without even asking the organizers if there was any basis to such claim. It is misleading the American Public with mis-information and erroneously building support for these extremists. He ought to feel guilty for not grilling them to prove it.

Raquel Saraswati claimed she was a practicing Muslim, and expressed her fears towards being listed as the 4th ranked person to be ashamed of being a Muslim because she did modeling once. Each one of us bears the responsibility for not advising and guiding those Muslims who have condemned her. Every practicing Muslim recites the following verse at least 50 times a day and I wish they imbibe it. Qur’aan: al-Fatihah 001:004-5 .You alone are the Master of the Day of Judgment, you alone we worship and you alone we ask for help.
Wafa Sultan comes out and says: 'You cannot be American and Muslim at the Same Time' . She is filled with rage and tremendous hate for Muslims and Islam. Glen did ask her if it was a cultural issue or an Islamic one which she claimed Islamic. She could certainly hate the individuals who have messed up her life and not blame the religion for it. She is froth with hate and nothing good has come out of her mouth yet. There was another guy interviewed, who did say that the problem is not with the Qur’aan, it was the interpretation.Ahmed Bedier of CAIR Florida stood out as a lone voice of reason and spoke out. He used the words bashing and cashing while questioning Tawfique Ahmed. Even though he was put on defensive twice, Bedier was in tune with most Muslims. I am thankful to Glen for putting him on and pleased that he attended the summit.

Manda Zand Ervin - When she said that the Sharia laws treat women and men differently in inheritance rights, she was disingenuous and dishonest with the American Public, as she did not complete the other part about the wisdom of that ruling. She unilaterally declared that in case of a divorce, the boy child goes back to father when he is two years old and said without blinking an eye “that the boy will grow up as an abusive man”. She talked about how Caliphate is what Muslims want and then when they have it, they will throw Christians and Jews out in the sea. It was her extremism and the desire to throw Muslims out in the sea that was talking. She failed to tell the public that such view is held by a few extremists like her on the other side. Glen let it ride without asking a few more questions to find the truth.

I must praise Glen Beck for his concluding remarks. He talked about understanding the word Jihad, how it is the inner struggle one goes through in figuring the wrong and the right, he is on virtual Jihad. He talked about the need for all of us to fall the defenses we have built against each other. We need to have an open dialogue. Hypocrisy has no place in the civilized world. Amen.

Glen, your words were uplifting and hope giving.
Mike Ghouse
Mike Ghouse is a speaker, thinker and a writer. He is president of the Foundation for Pluralism and is a frequent guest on talk radio, discussing interfaith, political and civic issues. He founded the World Muslim Congress with a simple theme “good for Muslims and good for the world." Mike believes that if people can learn to accept and respect the God given uniqueness of each one of the 7 billion of us, then conflicts fade and solutions emerge. His articles can be found at http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/ , www.MikeGhouse.net and http://mikeghouse.blogspot.com/ and he can be reached at MikeGhouse@gmail.com

References at: http://worldmuslimcongress.blogspot.com
http://worldmuslimcongress.blogspot.com/2007/03/secular-islam-summit-update.html

Islam's Other Radicals

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- At this landmark Summit on Secular Islam, there are no "moderate" Muslims.

There are ex-Muslims: People like Ibn Warraq, author of "Why I Am Not a Muslim," who doesn't want an Islamic Reformation so much as he does a Muslim Enlightenment. There are ex-jihadists: people like Tawfik Hamid, who, as a young medical student in Cairo, briefly enlisted in the Gamaa Islamiya terrorist group and who remembers being preached to by a mesmerizing doctor named Ayman al-Zawahiri.

There are Muslim runaways: People like Afshin Ellian, who in 1983 fled Iran -- and the threat of execution -- on camelback and is now a professor of law at the University of Leiden in Holland. (Now threatened by European jihadists, he lives with round-the-clock police protection.) There are experts on Islamic law: People like Hasan Mahmoud, a native Bangladeshi who, as director of Shariah at the Muslim Canadian Congress, was instrumental in overturning Ontario's once-legal Shariah court last year.

There are even a few practicing Muslims here, such as Canadian author Irshad Manji. Ms. Manji, whose documentary "Faith Without Fear" airs on PBS next month, describes herself as a "radical traditionalist" and draws a sharp distinction between Muslim moderates and reformers: "Moderate Muslims denounce terror that's committed in the name of Islam but they deny that religion has anything to do with it," she says. "Reform-minded Muslims denounce terror that's committed in the name of Islam and acknowledge that our religion is used to inspire it."

The difference is not trivial. For more than five years, the Bush administration has been attempting to enlist the support of the so-called moderates in the war on terror -- its definition of "moderate" being remarkably elastic, to put it charitably. To take one example, administration emissary Karen Hughes has "reached out" to such figures as Sheikh Mohammed Sayed Tantawi, head of al-Azhar theological university in Cairo, with whom she had a "wonderful meeting" in September 2005.

Sheikh Tantawi, adept at talking out of both sides of his mouth, had earlier approved a fatwa calling on the Iraqi people to "defend itself, its land, and its homeland [against the U.S. invasion] with all means of defense at its disposal, because it is a jihad that is permitted by Islamic law. . . . The gates of jihad are open until the Day of Judgment, and he who denies this is an infidel or one who abandons his religion."

Undersecretary Hughes is not at this summit, of course, nor is anyone else from the State Department, nor is the U.S.-funded al-Hurra Arabic TV station -- facts archly noted by the conferees. In the quasi-official U.S. view, the speakers at this conference amount to an exotic, publicity-seeking fringe group, with whom close association is politically unwise.
Al-Jazeera, however, is here, suggesting that the real Arab mainstream better appreciates the broad interest the conference's speakers attract in the Muslim world, as well as their latent power. Perhaps this is the flip side of the appeal of extremist Islam, an indication that what Muslims are mainly looking for are radical alternatives to the unpalatable mush of unpopular autocratic governments, state-approved clerics like Sheikh Tantawi, and Saudi-funded "mainstream" organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations.
Radicalism, at least of a kind, is certainly what this summit provides via Wafa Sultan. Dr. Sultan, a Syrian-born psychiatrist now living in the U.S., came to widespread public attention last year after she debated a Sunni cleric on al-Jazeera. "Only Muslims defend their beliefs by burning down churches," she observed. The televised clip, translated by Memri, has been downloaded on YouTube more than a million times.

Dr. Sultan, whose outspokenness has forced her and her family into hiding, is here to receive an award from the Center for Inquiry, the summit's organizer and lead funder. She accepts it by saying: "I don't believe there is any difference between radical Islam and regular Islam."

The view is shared by some, though by no means all, of the conferees. "Salafists cannot imagine Islam without the killing of apostates," says Dr. Hamid, who also now lives in hiding. "To them, the religion is a house of cards: Remove one element, and the whole structure collapses." Another conferee subscribes to the Salafist logic, though he dissents from the religion as a whole. "Truth is," he admits, "to be a Muslim democrat you have to be a bad Muslim."
In this view, the baggage of Shariah and hadith -- the traditions in which some of the most violent Islamic injunctions are to be found -- are as central to Islam as the Quran itself. Hasan Mahmoud disagrees. "Most Muslims don't even know what the Shariah laws are," he says. "The moment you actually show them what the laws are, they can understand they're unjust." Mr. Mahmoud illustrates the point by observing that, under Shariah, a husband does not require a witness to divorce his wife. "But the Quran says that if you want to divorce your wife, you need two witnesses. With Muslims, this kind of thing works magic."

Mr. Mahmoud spreads his gospel partly by way of cheaply produced DVDs, which seems pretty crude until one recalls that Ayatollah Khomeini, during his exile in Paris, spread the gospel of Islamic revolution by way of audiocassettes. Other conferees also have their Web sites: Alamgir Hussain, from Singapore, has islam-watch.org; Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi, the conference's moving spirit, puts out IranPressNews.com; other conferees write for MiddleEastTransparent.com and so on. These are the "frugal chariots," to borrow a phrase from Emily Dickinson, that bear the Muslim reformer's soul.

A fair bit of U.S. government money is being spent on conference security, including from the FBI. Still, it's remarkable that the government, given the huge resources available from places like the National Endowment for Democracy, provides no funding or support for this conference or its various participants.

Here are two questions for the government: If Mr. Warraq, Dr. Sultan et al. are really irrelevant to the larger Muslim debate, why are the jihadists so eager to kill them? And if the jihadists want to kill them, don't they deserve support as well as security?

URL for this article:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB117314819125027850.html

REAKING NEWS - 3/6/07
Wafa Sultan: 'You Cannot be American and Muslim at the Same Time
'CAIR Rep Slams 'Secular Islam Summit' (CNN's 'Glenn Beck Show')
FL Paper Says 'Secular Islam Summit' Sponsor May Have Violated IRS Regs
(SP Times)Intelligence Expert: 'This is Not a Mainstream Conference'
Intelligence Organization 'Does Not Exist in IRS Records'
Islam Expert: 'It's Everyone Known for Damning Islam'
Contributor Denied Visa 'Because of Alleged Ties to the Russian Mafia'
Konica Minolta: 'We Never Agreed to be a Part of It'

INCITEMENT WATCH: WAFA SULTAN SAYS 'YOU CANNOT BE AMERICAN AND MUSLIM AT THE SAME TIME' - TOP CNN's 'Glenn Beck' Show, 3/5/07http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vZXj2shOzkYOne of the main speakers at the so-called "Secular Islam Summit" last night told CNN's Glenn Beck that Islam cannot be reformed. Wafa Sultan told Beck: "Believe me, personally, I don`t believe Islam really can be reformed unless we recreate a totally new belief system...I don`t see any difference between radical Islam and regular Islam...You cannot be American and Muslim at the same time."-----CAIR REP SLAMS 'SECULAR ISLAM SUMMIT' -

CNN's 'Glenn Beck' Show, 3/5/07http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OUJErMA4d9Q-----INTELLIGENCE CONFERENCE DRAWS CRITICISM - Members of the former Holocaust Education Center worry its name is being misused.

MEG LAUGHLIN, 3/6/07http://www.sptimes.com/2007/03/06/Southpinellas/Intelligence_conferen.shtml John Loftus, a former federal prosecutor who is a hosting a three-day conference in downtown St. Petersburg on international intelligence and terrorism, says he "may know more intelligence secrets than anyone alive."But Loftus' claims, which include allegations that the Bush administration concealed the discovery of large stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, have been widely questioned by intelligence experts.

"This is not a mainstream conference with recognized names in the field," (TOP ) said Victoria Toensing, a Washington lawyer and former MSNBC legal analyst who established the terrorism unit for the Department of Justice during the Reagan administration."I've been in the intelligence and terrorism world a long time, and I would not suggest going to this conference for intelligence or terrorism information," she said.Loftus, 57, has attracted about 400 people to the conference at the Hilton. But he has drawn criticism from former representatives of the International Holocaust Education Center, who are concerned that Loftus is using the name of the now-defunct educational arm of the museum to gather tax deductible contributions for his intelligence activities.

According to federal tax filings, Loftus is the registered agent of the International Holocaust Education Center, a tax-exempt charitable organization founded over 11 years ago in St. Petersburg. Its purpose was to educate the public about the Florida Holocaust Museum, of which Loftus is the vice chairman.But by 2005 members of the board of directors of both organizations decided the job was being done sufficiently by the museum and the education center was no longer necessary.

Loftus, with the blessing of three board members of the Holocaust education center, was allowed to continue to use the center's name. This allowed him to preserve the center's tax-exempt status.Walter Loebenberg, who founded the Holocaust education center and approved of turning the name over to Loftus in 2005 because of his high regard for him, says that he knew Loftus was doing intelligence work at the time. . .Jay Snyder, who was the registered agent for the Holocaust Education Center until Loftus took over the name, says he holds Loftus in high esteem but is "surprised that John did not change the name of the organization in IRS filings to reflect the new intelligence direction.""I didn't know he hadn't already done that," said Snyder.Loftus abbreviated the full name of the International Holocaust Education Center to IHEC in the 2004-2005 tax filings. On the Web site for the Intelligence Summit, he said that IHEC stood for Intelligence and Homeland Security Education Center. But the intelligence organization does not exist in IRS records. "What's the difference?" asked Loftus. "Both organizations are charities fighting terrorism. Both are for the good of America.

"IRS spokesperson Gloria Sutton says there's a big difference: "If a tax-exempt charitable organization changes the name, the purpose or the structure, it must let IRS know by corresponding with us. And, it must remain neutral and nonpartisan."Florida IRS investigator Norm Meadows: "We are scrutinizing exempt charitable organizations because abuse is occurring that often has to do with charities misrepresenting their purpose."The Intelligence Summit and the affiliated Secular Islam Summit are billed as "non-partisan, non-profit," forums that "use private charitable funds.

"The Intelligence Summit, which costs $425 to attend for private citizens, continues through Wednesday. The Secular Islam Summit, which was covered by CNN commentator Glenn Beck, ended Monday. In promotional literature it claimed to "feature the courageous voices of those who stand against radical Islam and speak against the violence of Islamist jihad.

"Experts on Islam question the summit's nonpartisan status."Legitimate scholars are horrified by the lineup. The speakers are extreme in their views. Basically, it's everyone known for damning Islam," said Yvonne Hadad, a Georgetown University professor who teaches "the history of Christians and Muslims.". . According to IRS documents, the main donor to the International Holocaust Education Center from 2004 to 2005 was Michael Cherney, a Russian aluminum tycoon who gave the organization $100,000 that year. Loftus has not yet made the 2005-06 IRS records available to the St. Petersburg Times. He says they show that Cherney donated another $50,000 last year.

Cherney, who Loftus agrees was the summits' main contributor, was invited by Loftus to be the "distinguished guest of honor" at this year's event. But the United States has denied Cherney a visa since 1999 because of alleged ties to the Russian mafia. . . Konica Minolta was listed as a sponsor on the summit's Web site. That information was removed last week after Nihad Awad, executive director of the Council on American Islamic Relations in Washington, D,C., asked the corporation why it was sponsoring "an event that is apparently linked to and hosting individuals who promote anti-Muslim bigotry and hatred."

A spokesperson for Konica Minolta told the St. Petersburg Times that it had never consented to being a sponsor. "We have never heard of this conference and never agreed to be a part of it," James Norberto said. "We're not sure how we got pulled in." (MORE)

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Posted to World Muslim Congress - 1:00 AM

Monday, 2nd Day of the summit.

Glen Beck did a full hour on the summit tonite.

1. Glen bought the Unsubstantiated hyped propoganda without evenquestioning it. That there were death threats to the people attendingthe event, but still they have managed to come. Glen ought to beguilty for not grilling them to prove it.

2. Raquel Saraswati, was a practing Muslims, and expressed her fears -apparently there is a list, and muslims have rated her # 4 on shamelist. She was a model, but is a practicing muslims with 5 salat'setc. Each one of us bears the responsibility for not tellilng theradicals to go on condemning people, that is against Islam. 50 timesa day we recite Allah is the master of the day of judgement, webetter mean it.

3. Wafa Sultan - May Allah give peace in her life. She is #1 Islamhater, she should direct her hate towards the one's who messed herlife and not the whole religion of Islam. She is filled with rage andhate. May Allah give her peace and let her realize that good comesout of good hearts and not burned one's, she is a psychologists andshe needs to consult some one and reform herself first. Thank youGlen for cutting her off, you did the right thing.

4. A guy from Jordan - He did make a point that the problem is withour interpretation.

5. Ms. Benazzi, an organizer. Could not figure her out.

6. Tawfiq Ahmed, may Allah forgive me for accusing him - it appearshe was paid to say what he said, which is not much any way. The Cairguy had him cornered well.

7. Ahmed Bedier of Cair, Florida, stood out as a lonesome voice andspoke out the right things. He used the words Bashing and Cashingthat I had written in my original commentary. He was good, and amglad, and hope Glen is glad too, for some one to speak sense. Hecould have done even better, but Ahmed was put on defensive twice andhe wiggled out of it though.

8. Manda Zarch??? She was the president of Iranian woman'sorganization. She made several mistakes and Glen did not stop her.She said it is the Sharia that keeps children from going to school,she claimed that Sharia laws treat women and men differently ininheritance and other rights, she was not genuine, as she did notcomplete the other part about why that ruling is in the place.

She declared unilaterly that, in case of divorce, boy goes back tofather's house after the boy is 2, and will grow up as an abusiveman...I was shocked that Glen did not quesiton her flat conclusionlike that. She talked about Caliphate is what Muslims want and throwthe infidels and Jews into the sea... a few Muslims do believe that,but not the majority. How wrong was she, and Glen let it ride.

9. Hasan Mahmud and Irshad Manji's comments, were more in line withIslam. They were highlighting the need for critical thinking and thatwas fine. I am glad they were there in a jungle of howls.In Closing Glen highlighted the tangible danger for the delegatesthat came to the seminar - that is fear mongering! I did not expectGlen to be gullible.

However, Glen did conclude his remarks well, talking about what Jihadmeans, and talking about the need for all of us to fall the defensesand have a true dialogue and his last words were, hypocracy has noplace in the civilized world. His conclusionary marks were uplifting.

Mike Ghouse

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Posted on February 19


SECULAR ISLAM SUMMIT
March 4-7, 2007Hilton,
St. PetersburgSt. Petersburg,
Florida

OPEN TO PUBLIC

I have posted the pictures of the speakers below.

A debate roars in my mind about this conference, a few of you may have already made up your mind and few may be debating as well.

The possible responses are laid out in no particular sequence.

1. The conference is about Islam, they may have some ideas and questions that I may learn.

2. I cannot let the liberals take over Islam from the rightists. It belongs to the moderates, the 99% of us.

3. The conference may bring up questions that are tough to deal with and I don't see the need to talk about those issues, whatever they may be.

4. I do not trust these speakers, they are simply there to bash Islam. They have no sincere intent in reformation, but they are here to bash Islam and Cash dollars. If you want to make money, attack Islam, there are suckers out there to use them and be used. I have no desire to attend.

There may be other responses as well.

I invite other points about these people and those who attend the conference, please share it with us. I would have gone, had I not had commitments in Dallas.

Hasan Mahmud: I know him and I trust his intent, he is working on verifying the Sharia Laws if they meet the essence of Qur'aan - Justice and equity and questioning the ones that are not just.

Irshad Manji: She is determined to have the Muslims see another point of view, there is nothing wrong with that. She sees the mistakes the we interpret the holy book. Though many of us have a problem with her life style, she is not there to put Islam down, but some of our practices down.

Wafa Sultan - is not a reformer, she is a Islam basher. She will bash Islam and Cash all she can, that is her business. I have read about her and have written about her as well. She does not fit the bill of a reformer. A reformer stays with the people he or she desires to reform, a basher does not give a hoot about the sensitivities of his or her people. There are suckers who pay her and that is her business. But she is not there to bring any reason into Islam.

Ibn Warraq: All I have read of and about him is negative. May be there are positives things he writes about Islam, as that is the subject. I need to take time to learn. His write ups are mainly used by the Islam bashers, neo-cons and the extremists in other faiths.

You are welcome to shoot your comments;
http://mikeghouse.sulekha.com/blog/post/2007/02/secular-islam-summit.htm

Mike Ghouse
http://www.worldmuslimcongress.com/
http://www.foundationforpluralism.com/


An international forum for secularists of Islamic societies

http://secularislam.org/blog/summit.php/?id=2
http://secularislam.org/blog/post/SI_Blog/15/Wafa-Sultan-to-attend-Summit
In the last decade we have increasingly heard calls for a "reformation," a new Enlightenment, or a secularization and liberalization of Islamic thought and practice. And yet there is to this day no organized international response. At the same time, a growing number of secular Muslims and secularists from majority Muslim countries have been undertaking these intellectual and strategic challenges independently (here “secularists” includes both those who embrace a thoroughly non-religious worldview, as well as those committed to separation of religion from government and robust freedom of conscience).

Speakers

December 28, 2006, 12:23 am
Mona Abousenna - Mona Abousenna is co-director of the Center for Inquiry-Egypt, Secretary General of the Afro-Asian Philosophy Association, and also Secretary General of the International Ibn Rushd and Enlightenment Association. She is head of the English Department, Faculty of Education, and Director of the Centre of Developing English Language Teaching, Faculty of Education at Aim Shams University, Egypt. She is co-editor of Averroes and the Enlightenment.


Shaker Al-Nabulsi - Dr. Shaker Al-Nabulsi is a Jordanian intellectual residing in the United States who has authored widely-cited articles on Islam and Arab governments. In an article for the Kuwaiti daily Al-Siyasa, he asked why Islamic religious scholars haven't issued a fatwa against bin Laden. In 2006 he authored an open letter to letter to Saudi King 'Abdallah Ibn 'Abd Al-'Aziz, demanding an investigation into a doctorial dissertation submitted to the Imam Muhammad Ibn Saud Islamic University that named 200 modern Arab intellectuals and authors whom the author accuses of heresy.


Nonie Darwish - Nonie Darwish is a founder ArabsForIsrael.com and author of They Call Me Infidel: Why I Renounced Jihad for America, Israel, and the War on Terror. She was born and raised as a Muslim in Cairo Egypt and the Gaza strip. She is a writer, translator and public speaker. She has a Bachelors Degree in Sociology/Anthropology from the American University in Cairo and was a journalist and editor at the Middle East News Agency. Her father headed the Egyptian military intelligence in Gaza and the Sinai in the 50's when Gaza was under Egyptian control. He headed the Fedayeen operations against Israel under President Gamal Abdel Nasser's leadership. He was killed in Gaza in a targeted assassinated in 1956 when Nonie was 8 years old.


Manda Zand Ervin - founder and president of "Alliance of Iranian Women," an organization working to bring the attention of the world governments and human rights organizations to the plight of the women and children in Iran. I have been actively working with some of the members of the United States Congress, some members of the Administration and European Parliament. I have spoken at the United Nations, Helsinki Commission and the congress of the United States and many other institutes and organizations. She is a frequent guest on BBC, Radio America, NPR, VOA, ABC Radio, and others.


Tawfik Hamid - Born in Egypt to a secular Muslim family, as a teenager Tawfik Hamid joined Jammaa Islameia, a terrorist organization led then by Ayman al Zawahiri. Hamid was chosen by this organization to debate and criticize Christians. To fulfill this role he started to read the Bible and began to realize his fundamental disagreements with terrorism. Hamid then began speaking regularly in mosques where he developed a peaceful understanding of Islam that is compatible with human rights. Hamid is now a medical doctor who also holds degrees in psychology and education. In media interviews and at lectures at UCLA, Stanford and Georgetown University, Hamid speaks out against jihadism. His most recent book is The Roots of Jihad.


Shahriar Kabir - Shahriar Kabir is a journalist, filmmaker, human rights activist, and author of more than 70 books focusing on human rights, communalism, fundamentalism, history, and the Bangladesh war of independence. As a result of protesting against government-sponsored minority persecution, he was imprisoned twice and declared a Prisoner of Conscience by Amnesty International while several international journalist forums and human rights defenders campaigned for his release. The recipent of numerous awards for his contribution to Bengali literature, he has addressed at least sixty international conferences, seminars, and workshops on issues of peace, communal harmony, and human rights.


Nibras Kazimi - Nibras Kazimi is a visiting scholar at the Hudson Institute and a weekly columnist on the Middle East for the New York Sun. Previously, he directed the Research Bureau of the Iraqi National Congress in Washington DC and Baghdad, and was a pro-bono advisor for the Higher National Commission for De-Ba'athification, which he helped establish and staff. Mr. Kazimi's research focuses on the growing threat of jihadism in the Middle East, as well as prospects for democracy in the region. His primary interest is the national security of Iraq, and how threats to the nascent democracy there are enabled and coordinated by regional Middle Eastern actors and factors. He has traveled widely, most recently to Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan, and speaks Arabic and English fluently.


Hassan Mahmud- Hassan Fatemolla is a Bangladeshi-Canadian journalist, playwright and human rights activist who helped lead a campaign against the introduction of Islamic Sharia law into Canada's system of civil justice. He is the author of Al-Bhodorer Deshe.


Irshad Manji - Irshad Manji is the internationally best-selling author of The Trouble with Islam Today: A Muslim's Call for Reform in Her Faith. She is circumventing censors by posting free translations on her website: http://secularislam.org/www.muslim-refusenik.com. A senior fellow with the European Foundation for Democracy, Irshad writes columns that are distributed worldwide by the New York Times Syndicate. She is also producing a PBS documentary about Islamic reform, to be aired in 2007. Above all, Irshad is president of Project Ijtihad, which aims to reconcile Islam with freedom of thought.


Salameh Nematt - the Washington Bureau Chief of Al-Hayat International Arab Daily (London) and the LBC, the Lebanon-based Arab satellite channel. Among his previous posts, he has been diplomatic correspondent in London for Al-Hayat, as well as the Amman Bureau Chief for Al-Hayat and freelance correspondent for the BBC Arabic Service. For a brief period in 1999, he served as Head of the Strategy Unit at Jordan's Royal Court, an advisory post for the king. He resigned two months after taking the job due to policy differences with the government over democratic reforms. He returned shortly afterwards to Al-Hayat. He was Chief Political correspondent of the English language Jordan Times daily and Al-Rai, the leading Arabic-language Jordanian daily.


Dr. Walid Phares is a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington (2001-2006) and a Visiting Fellow with the European Foundation for Democracies in Brussels (2006). He has been a Professor of Middle East Studies, Ethnic and Religious Conflict at Florida Atlantic University from 1993 to 2006. He has published several books and articles including in the Middle East Quarterly, Global Affairs, Journal of Middle East and South Asian Studies and other specialized journals. He has been interviewed by national networks including MSNBC, CNN, Fox News, CNBC, NBC, PBS, Discovery Channel, C-Span, BBC, Sky News, CTV, CBC, Globat TV, al Jazeera, al Hurra, Abu Dhabi TV, al Arabiya as well as local ABC, CBS, PBS, NBC and others. He appears on European, Arab, South Asian and Latin American outlets and is a frequent contributor to US and international radio programs.


Wafa Sultan - a Syrian-American psychiatrist whose essays on Middle East issues are widely circulated in Arabic. On February 21, 2006, she appeared on Al Jazeera's weekly discussion program "The Opposite Direction" to debate Dr. Ibrahim Al-Khouli. The New York Times estimated that the video of her appearance has been viewed at least one million times. In 2006 she was included in Time Magazine's list of 100 influential people in the world "whose power, talent, or moral example is transforming the world."


Amir Taheri - Amir Taheri was born in Iran and educated in Tehran, London and Paris. He has been a columnist for the pan-Arab daily Asharq Alawsat and its sister daily Arab News since 1987 and a contributor to the International Herald Tribune since 1980. Between 1972 and 1979 he was executive editor-in-chief of Kayhan, Iran's main daily newspaper. He later served as editor-in-chief of Jeune Afrique, the French weekly specialising in Africa, as well as Middle East editor for the London Sunday Times. Taheri has written for The Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, Newsday, and The Washington Post, Die Welt, Der Spiegel, Die Zeit, Frankfurter Algemeine Zeitung, La Repubblica, L'Express, Politique Internationale, Le Nouvel Observateur, El Mundo, The Daily Telegraph, The Guardian, and the Daily Mail, among others. Taheri is a commentator for CNN and is frequently interviewed by other media including the BBC and the RFI. He has written several TV documentaries dealing with various issues of the Muslim world. Taheri has published nine books some of which have been translated into 20 languages.


Ibn Warraq - Ibn Warraq is a senior research fellow at the Center for Inquiry specializing in Koranic criticism. In 1996 he published the groundbreaking work, Why I am not a Muslim. He went on to edit a serious of anthologies: What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text, and Commentary; The Quest for the Historical Muhammed; The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on Islam's Holy Book; Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out; and Which Koran? Variants, Manuscripts, and the Influence of Pre-Islamic Poetry. His latest book is Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism.
The purpose of the Secular Islam Summit is to bring together these thinkers and activists in an ongoing cross-cultural forum and clearinghouse to generate and share new practical strategies and disseminate these to the public and opinion-makers worldwide.
Speakers include Mona Abousenna, Shaker al-Nabulsi, Nonie Darwish, Afshin Ellian, Hasan Mahmud, Tawfik Hamid, Shahriar Kabir, Nibras Kazimi, Irshad Manji, Salameh Nematt, Walid Phares, Wafa Sultan, Amir Taheri, Mourad Wahba, Ibn Warraq, Manda Zand Ervin, and a distinguished member of the Iraqi government, among others. Click here to see their bios.
Download Secular Islam Summit brochure (275KB)
About the organizersValentina Colombo is Senior Research Fellow in Transitional processes towards democracy in the Middle East at IMT School of Advanced Studies, Lucca (Italy). She is Senior Fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy (Brussels)and at the Center for the Liberty in the Middle East (Brussels/Washington). Her studies focus on contemporary Arab liberal intellectuals and the role of women in democratization processes. She writes a column, New Averroes, in the Italian weekly Tempi. She has just published an anthology of Arab intellectuals against Islamic extremism (Mondadori, 2007).Austin Dacey is a philosopher and writer with the Center for Inquiry specializing in the intersection of science, religion, ethics, and culture. He serves on the editorial staff of Skeptical Inquirer, Free Inquiry, and Philo: A journal of philosophy; and serves as the Center's main representative to the United Nations. He is author of The Secular Conscience (forthcoming).Michael Ledeen is an expert on U.S. foreign policy. His research areas include state sponsors of terrorism, Iran, the Middle East, Europe (Italy), U.S.-China relations, intelligence, and Africa (Mozambique, South Africa, and Zimbabwe). A former consultant to the NSC and to the U.S. State and Defense Departments, he has also written on leadership and the use of power. His latest book is entitled The War against the Terror Masters. Ibn Warraq is a senior research fellow at the Center for Inquiry specializing in Koranic criticism. In 1996 he published the groundbreaking work, Why I am not a Muslim. He went on to edit a serious of anthologies: What the Koran Really Says: Language, Text, and Commentary; The Quest for the Historical Muhammed; The Origins of the Koran: Classic Essays on Islam's Holy Book; Leaving Islam: Apostates Speak Out; and Which Koran? Variants, Manuscripts, and the Influence of Pre-Islamic Poetry. His latest book is Defending the West: A Critique of Edward Said's Orientalism.
Banafsheh Zand-Bonazzi is a political and human rights activist with a concentration on issues surrounding Iran, Khomeinism and political Islam. She is the editor of the English section of the website Iran Press News, which provides news and information about Iran that is generally not reported by the western media. Compiled and translated by Banafsheh, the information comes directly from the Islamic Republic's own news media, as well as activist organizations, human rights and labor groups, Iranian bloggers, and other sources. Born in Iran, she attended the American University in Paris as well as the French institute of higher cinematic studies where she studied film, linguistics and semiotics. She and her husband, Elio Bonazzi, an Italian political scientist are regular contributors to many U.S. and European political journals and publications. Banafsheh has also been a regular contributor on the John Batchelor Radio show. Banafsheh and Elio are writing their first book entitled The Unopened Persian Letters.

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