Sunday, February 24, 2008

Belgium-Uneasy coexistence

Between integration and discrimination
un-easy co-existence

The following article by Dr. Muqtedar Khan is worth pondering.

Dr. Abusaleh Shariff, author of the Sachhar report on role of minorities in the Indian context, spoke the other day about the idea of outward looking and inward looking. When Muslims ventured out from the Arabian Peninsula to far off lands, they held their beliefs to themselves but mingled with the locals and created a synergy to do business together successfully. They did not have self created barriers to deal with others. He questions, what makes the Muslims in India to go inward now?

Most things Muslims tend to do are directed within the community. We have to break off from serving and living in clusters and be a part of the main stream. Religion should not send one into the cocoon. I would like to see Muslims start out participating and contributing in every sphere of the society - Journalism, Politics, Volunteerism, Research and where there is involvement and contact with other members of the society. When we have our birthday parties, funerals, anniversaries, social events and festivals - the attendance should reflect the presence of our society, if not it is darn shame on our capabilities that we cannot make friends with others.

If we can transition from "talkers" to "doers", Insha Allah, we can start the process of becoming contributors in building and serving our nation; America and enjoy the blessings of being included and not left out.

When I asked Najma to run for the City council in Carrollton, the idea was to find and train Muslim women to run for the council in their respective cities. I am writing the details, however you can imagine the effect of such effort.

If each Masjid can make a requirement that to qualify to be on its board, one has to volunteer for the city for at least one year, imagine the difference it would make. No one should be on the board, if they do not have the experience in dealing with multitude of people from different races, faiths and ethnicities. I will leave it to your imagination to expand on this idea.

Mike Ghouse


While discrimination against Muslims in America has certainly risen after 9/11, it looked insignificant compared to what Muslims in Belgium face routinely.

By Muqtedar Khan,

An uneasy coexistance

I recently participated in a dialogue between American and Belgium Muslims in Belgium (Nov. 16-18), co-hosted by US Ambassador to Belgium Tom Korologos and Ambassador Claude Mission, the Director General of the Royal Institute for International Relations. An interesting group of 32 American Muslim scholars and intellectuals, community leaders, journalists and activists joined 70 of their counterparts from the Belgium Muslim community to discuss their mutual condition and explore possibilities for further dialogue and civic cooperation.

Belgium has a population of ten million and 5% of them � over 500,000 � are Muslims. Muslims also constitute about 20% of the population of Brussels, the capital of the European Union. Over 300,000 Belgium Muslims are of Moroccan ancestry and over 160,000 are Turkish. The rest include Balkan Muslims, South Asians and some non-Moroccan Arabs.

Like in France, Muslims in Belgium have enough presence to now become the �other� against whom Belgian indigenous identity is constructed. Repeatedly one heard Muslim and Non-Muslim Belgians refer to even second generation Turkish and Moroccan Muslims as "foreigners" or immigrants even though they were Belgium born, Dutch and French speaking legal citizens.

Unlike American Muslims, Belgium Muslims enjoy a strong representation in the government. They boast of two National Senators and five members in the lower house of Parliament. But unlike American Muslims they have very few civil society institutions. There are no Muslim organizations that fight for Civil rights and oppose discrimination. Even though there are over 350 mosques in tiny Belgium, Belgium Muslims remain underrepresented in most institutions of the civil society as well as the Belgium state.

A peculiar aspect of the Belgium Muslim community is the presence of government paid Imams and teachers. The Belgium government employs over 800 Imams and teachers who teach Islam and Arabic in schools and lead prayers in mosques recognized by the government. It is clear that the Belgium government has tried to co-opt Islam by hiring the Islamic teachers, financing and supporting mosques and by now creating an Executive that will govern Islamic affairs in Belgium.

The common themes discussed were issues of rising Islamophobia and the meaning of acceptance, multiculturalism and pluralism. Both communities found the challenge of constructing identities, which incorporated both the Islamic dimension and citizenship in the West fascinating. Americans found that the presence of a large indigenous Muslim population in the US, nearly 35% of American Muslims are Black, White and Hispanic, made the collective identity formation of American Muslims more complicated than that of Belgium Muslims whose fault lines were primarily ethnic.

While American Muslims lamented their inability to have a role in policy making in the US, Belgium Muslims' primary concern was systematic discrimination in the market place. Muslims with law degrees could not find jobs for years. People's application for jobs and for renting apartments was simply rejected based on their Muslim names. American Muslims were shocked to hear some of the stories of discrimination and humiliation that Belgium Muslims faced on a daily basis.

As I sat listening to the stories of Muslim life in Belgium, I caught myself repeatedly touching the tiny US flag on my lapel. Uncle Sam sure looked mighty friendly and hospitable from cross the pond. While discrimination against Muslims in America has certainly risen after 9/11, it looked insignificant compared to what Muslims in Belgium faced routinely.

Belgium's Muslims have a dearth of scholars and intellectuals as a result they are far behind American Muslims on the subject of adapting their faith to the local context.

American Muslims are streets ahead of other Western communities. Not only are there a large number of scholars pushing for this in the US, but also national organizations and many prominent Islamic centers recognize the need to adapt Islam to American conditions. An excellent example of this is the adoption of the guidelines for women friendly mosques, developed last year by Muslim organizations, by many Islamic centers. We can see American Islam in the progressive role that women play in American Muslim community, and in Islamic scholarship. Another important indicator is the absence of embedded radicalism in American Islam.

Muslims in Europe are connected to the state but marginalized from the mainstream society. American Muslims are alienated from the state but are quite integrated in the society. European Muslims benefit from state largesse, while American Muslims have enjoyed the fruits of American multiculturalism, religious tolerance, and economic and educational opportunities. Muslims in Europe cause a sense of uneasiness among the host population that is racist, xenophobic and fearful. American Muslims on the other hand are more accepted. As it becomes more and more evident that American Muslims had nothing to do with 9/11, the barriers to their reentry into the mainstream are slowly melting away.

I came home from Belgium wishing that like Belgium Muslims we too had a senator or two and a few congressman to represent us in the highest corridors of power. But I also came home with greater appreciation for the enormous opportunities we enjoy in the US and also grateful for the incredibly low levels of discrimination and exclusion that we experience in the US. Most importantly, I am proud of the vibrant, intellectually alive and traditionally rich Islam that we practice in the US with no financial favors from the government.

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quraan burning

Planned Muslim Response to Qur'an Burning by Pastor Jones on September 11 in Mulberry, Florida

August 19, 2013| Dallas, Texas

Mike Ghouse
Text/Talk: (214) 325-1916

Mirza A Beg
(205) 454-8797


We as Muslims plan to respond to pastor Terry Jones' planned burning of 3000 copies of Quran on September 11, 2013 in positive terms.

Our response - we will reclaim the standard of behavior practiced by the Prophet concerning “scurrilous and hostile criticism of the Qur’an” (Muhammad Asad Translation Note 31, verse 41:34). It was "To overcome evil with good is good, and to resist evil by evil is evil." It is also strongly enjoined in the Qur’an in the same verse 41:34, “Good and evil deeds are not equal. Repel evil with what is better; then you will see that one who was once your enemy has become your dearest friend.”

God willing Muslims will follow the divine guidance and pray for the restoration of Goodwill, and on that day many Muslim organizations will go on a “blood drive” to save lives and serve humanity with kindness.

We invite fellow Americans of all faiths, races, and ethnicities to join us to rededicate the pledge, “One nation under God”, and to build a cohesive America where no American has to live in apprehension, discomfort or fear of fellow Americans. This event is a substitute for our 10th Annual Unity Day Celebration ( held in Dallas, but now it will be at Mulberry, Florida.

Unwittingly Pastor Jones has done us a favor by invigorating us by his decision to burn nearly 3000 copies Quran on September 11, 2013. Obviously he is not satisfied by the notoriety he garnered by burning one Qur'an last year.

As Muslims and citizens we honor the free speech guaranteed in our constitution. We have no intentions to criticize, condemn or oppose Pastor Terry Jones' freedom of expression. Instead, we will be donating blood and praying for goodness to permeate in our society.

We plan to follow Jesus Christ (pbuh), a revered prophet in Islam as well as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) – that of mitigating the conflicts and nurturing good will for the common good of the society.

We hope, this event and the message will remind Muslims elsewhere in the world as well, that violence is not the way. Muslims, who react violently to senseless provocation, should realize that, violence causes more violence, and besmirches the name of the religion that we hold so dear. We believe that Prophet Muhammad was a mercy to the mankind, and we ought to practice what we believe and preach. We must not insult Islam by the negative reactions of a few.

We can only hope it will bring about a change in the attitude of the followers of Pastor Jones, and in the behavior of those Muslims who reacted violently the last time Pastor sought notoriety – We hope this small step towards a bridge to peaceful coexistence would propel us towards building a cohesive society.

Like most Americans a majority of Muslims quietly go about their own business, but it is time to speak up and take positive action instead of negative reaction. May this message of peace and goodwill reverberate and reach many shores.

Lastly, we appreciate the Citizens of Mulberry, Florida, Honorable Mayor George Hatch, City Commissioners, police and Fire Chiefs for handing this situation very well. This will add a ‘feather of peace’ in the City’s reputation. We hope Mulberry will be a catalyst in showing the way in handling conflict with dignity and peace.

We thank the Media for giving value to the work towards peace rather than conflict.


Thank you.


The people in Dallas are making an effort to understand and clean their own hearts first, when we are free from bias, it would be easy to share that with others. Islam teaches us in so many ways to "respect the otherness of others" and it is time we find simple practical ways of doing it.