Sunday, March 22, 2009

Islam and Democracy are compatible.

Indeed, the first four Caliphs in Islam were the consensus of the people, instead of the induction of Ali (RA) who was certainly most qualified and was Prophets Son in Law as well as his cousin and was the first male to accept the message of the prophety. If democracy did not have its root, Ali would have been the head of the state and perhaps it would have given way to dynastic rule. But Islam is about justice and consensus and very much a democratic system.

About 75% of Muslims live in democracies and the rest in Monarchies or dictatorships.

Mike Ghouse
# # #

Are Islam And Democracy Compatible?

By Rahil Yasin

21 March, 2009

LAHORE: It is in the interest of the world, capitalists and the poor to invest time and money in nurturing democracies. It is an investment in lasting peace and security, which brings prosperity to one and all.

A considerable amount of research and analysis has been undertaken on the issue of political Islam. This has helped to correct some simplistic and alarmist assumptions previously held in the West about the nature of Islamic values and intentions. It has been established that political Islam is like a changing landscape, deeply affected by a range of circumstances. But a debate on this topic often gets stuck on the simplistic question of, “Are Muslims democratic?”

Western scholars have tried to present Islam as anti-democratic and inherently authoritarian. By misrepresenting Islam in this way they seek to prove that Islam has a set of values inferior to Western liberalism and is a barrier in the way of progress of civilizations. While Turkey and Malaysia set a fantastic example for nations around the world to see that democracy coexists with a great religion like Islam. The experience of both the above-mentioned countries reflects the fact that many Muslims, whether living in secular or formally Islamic states, see democracy as their main hope.

Vali Nasr, a professor at America’s Tufts University, terms “Muslim democracy” as a potentially decisive force in the non-Arab parts of the Muslim world. In his view, the recent experience of Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia point to a single truth: Wherever they are given the chance, Muslim democratic parties can prevail over the violent varieties of political Islam. Millions of the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims live under democratic rule. This is an ample proof that there is no discord between the two ideas.

Islam, like other faiths, is spiritual and is a code of conduct for over 1.4 billion people. The political aspects of Islam are derived from the Holy Quran and Sunnah, Muslim history and, sometimes, from elements of political movements outside Islam. The political concepts in Islam also emanate from the leadership by successors of the Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) known as Caliphs, Islamic law, the duty of rulers to seek shura or consultation from their subjects and the importance of rebuking unjust rulers.

Islam, like other religions, can be interpreted in different ways. Some interpretations, rather misinterpretations, are favoured by al Qaeda and radical Islamists. Such interpretations clash with democratic ideals. There is one exception is the shape of Iran since the revolution in 1979 and the other is the Taliban in Afghanistan. For the preceding 1500 years since the advent of Islam, secular political elites have controlled political power. The Christian tradition, for example, provided a conceptual foundation for the divine right of the monarchy. In contemporary times, it fosters the concept that Christianity and democracy are truly compatible. Similarly, some Muslim scholars agree that Islamic values are compatible with democracy. According to them, the principle of shura (consultative decision-making) is the source of democratic ethics in Islam.

It is based on three basic teachings. First, that all persons in any given society are equal. Second, public issues are best decided by the majority view. And third, the three other principles of justice, equality and human dignity, which constitute Islam’s moral core, are best realized in personal as well as public life under governance by a shura. Ijma (consensus) that is acceptance of a matter by a specified group of people is another source that relates to democracy. All the Muslims of all the times, according to some Muslim scholars, may be involved in the process of building consensus.

Finally, the model set by Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) reveals how democratic practices and theories are attuned to an Islamic state. The first Islamic state based on a social contract was constitutional in character and had a ruler who ruled with the written consent of all citizens of the state. Demonstrating democratic spirit, Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) chose to prepare a historically specific constitution based on the eternal and transcendent principles revealed to him but he also sought the consent of all who would be affected by its implementation. This means that in a democracy, Muslims and non-Muslims are equal citizens of an Islamic state.

According to many religious scholars, the Constitution of Madinah established a pluralistic state, a community of communities. The principles of equality, consensual governance and pluralism were central to that concept and practice.

There are many reasons that democracy prevails in only few Muslim nations. In the Arab world, for example, oil has been a factor, entrenching the elites and slowing the development of market economies and political freedoms that accompany them. Political manipulation of the Arab-Israeli conflict in which Muslim leaders covered the domestic unrest under the criticism of Israel and the West is also a factor. In Pakistan, political involvement of army demoralizes the development of strong democratic institutions due to tenuous social cohesion, a fragmented class structure, a weak middle class, the lack of common symbols to facilitate political and social mobilization, the weakness and inefficiency of the political parties, and mediocre political personnel.

One of main reasons of the West fearing political Islam is that most of the leaders in Arab nations are Islamists — groups that embrace a political view of Islam and reject secular forms of government. The West also feels that these groups are anti-Western. But religious ideals within Islam always favour democracy. The holy Quran contains a number of ideas that support democratic ideals. In fact, sharia applies to all aspects of religious, political, social, and private life. So this leads us to agree that political Islam has all the democratic norms.

The West believes that in Islam God is the giver of laws while men have only limited autonomy to implement and enforce those laws. Many activists, using broad and sometimes crude notions of secularism and sovereignty, consider democracy to be the rule of humans as opposed to Islam, which is rule of God. The West argues that rule by the people cannot reconcile with the sovereignty of God. While sovereignty belongs to God, it has been delegated in the form of human agency.

The political task is to reflect on how this God-given agency can be best employed in creating a society that will bring welfare to the people. God cannot become an excuse for installing and legitimizing governments that are not accountable to their citizens and responsive to their needs.

The reasons of human rights abuses in the Muslim world come not from Islam but from economic, political, and educational forces. The struggle for human rights in the Muslim world will be lost or won on the national level, not on the international level. It is up to Muslims to decide how much respect to accord to human rights.

Those countries that have weak civil society structures and authoritarian regimes are fertile grounds for terrorism. The biggest question is how to adopt new ideas and policies while maintaining religious and cultural integrity. To maintain such a balance, the Muslim world’s elites, scholars, and activists must explain Islamic values and social norms in a manner consistent with modern and internationally recognized principles of human rights.

The Western world must treat Muslims as partners in their struggle against human rights abuses and help to empower reformist voices and civil society. If the Western countries want to suppress terror they have to support those movements that express dissenting voices within repressive political systems. Western countries should apply economic and political pressure on authoritarian regimes to encourage change.

The West generally, and the US particularly, should change their policies with regard to the repressive regimes in Muslim nations to prevent political Islam from growing as a threat to the West. To promote democracy in the Muslim world, the US and the West should increase the amount of foreign assistance; provide governments and key interest groups in Muslim societies with incentives to engage in democratic reforms. Still, basic responsibility lies with Muslim scholars who should reinterpret Islamic laws in the light of the changing needs of a modern society.

The writer is a freelance columnist based in Lahore, Pakistan. He can be reached at

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Neocon Questions to Muslims

Neocon Questions to Muslims

1) "What is your opinion of Sharia Law?"

2) "What is your opinion of people who want to institute Sharia Law by any means necessary?"

The Neocons have scared the devil out of their followers including you to the point that they have lost all capacity to push their refresh buttons, and keep feeding on the recycled non-sense about Sharia. Sharia is not needed where there is a fair system of Justice is in place, we don't need it in the United States and Canada, neither a majority of Muslims want it. Go take the survey to find out the truth instead of listening to the Neocon Propaganda. Gosh, I wish they spend the time in finding the truth than making a business out of hating and milking the poor suckers. However there are same percentages of Muslims who want extreme models in place as the Extreme Christians rights or the extremist among Jews. All extremists are evil men; the majority of the population is moderate.

Sharia is sadly abused to the point of disfigurement. Abused by the men in charge. Our President screwed up our economy and the world community relations... are we Americans bad guys because of Bush? Heck no. The extremist who have killed doctors and nurses for running the abortion clinics, are nearly Taliban’s, aren't they? i.e., no tolerance for those who differ.

3) "Should a Muslim woman be allowed to marry a Christian man?"

Who is any one to give permission to a woman? A woman is free to marry whomever she wants. Qur'aan is a binary book, whatever applies to men applies to women, and every phrase in Qur'aan is studded with binary statements. Not allowing a woman to preach in Christianity or Judaism for centuries does not mean the Bible was wrong or the Torah was wrong, it was the doggone men; you find the same in Islam or any faith. It is the insecure men and not the religion.

4) "Should a Muslim be allowed to convert to Christianity, or Hinduism, or Buddhism, or nothing?"

Absolutely... Islam is about freewill, no one can be compelled to believe something that is not his or her faith. The Apostasy laws non-sense is not Qur'aanic, it was written for the rulers to punish for treason... just as we did that in America, we did not have tolerance for the flag burners or the traitors. It is not Qur’aanic or religious. In the last 100 years, you cannot find more deaths due to apostasy all over the world among 1.5 Billion Muslims than the number of people the state kills in Texas. Both are archaic and inhuman.

5) "What should the punishment be for drawing of cartoon of Mohammed?"

There should be no punishment for drawing the cartoon. People should do whatever they want.
However, we have public laws of decency, to prevent rapes, murders and mayhem... against Pornography and prostitution... if some one in public Square in New York or LA shouts "bomb" and scares the xhit out of public and creates a panic and deaths, he must be punished. The state monitors the laws of decency, of pornography, of nudity and of other behavior. If the Cartoons are drawn to piss off a people and create friction, it amounts to disturbing civil peace and must be punished. If not, there is no end to public indecency. In the case of Cartoons of Mohammed, it was intentional evilness to piss of the fundamental Muslims, what is the need for it? Why should civil societies permit that? Art is an expression of an artist, so are the cartoons, but this one was not an expression, it was evil intent.

6) "Is Mohammed considered the perfect human role model?"

No, he was as human as you and I are... He never claimed to be divine, he was a human like you and I and he mentioned that he will die like every one else and wanted to be buried like every one. His life was a model for living the life with human fallibilities and how to get up and be the best human you can be, despite the adversities. He faced a whole range of difficulties and accusations, as most of the humans would, and the way he handled the situations became a model for any human to follow. When he was pelted with rocks and was bleeding, his associates wanted to go and get the miscreants; instead the prophet prayed for the wellbeing of them boys and asked his associates to join him in wishing them well.

If 6 is true, then,

7) "Did Mohammed consummate his marriage with a 9 year old Aisha?"

He consummated when she was 13 – it was customary all over the world at that time. Get familiar with the World History and quit listening to the hate mongers. The kids were married off at an early age, some times at birth… but it does not mean consummated.

8) "Did Mohammed ambush, and then kill unsuspecting non-combatants, and then take their property, and their wives as sex slaves?"

Where did you get this non-sense? The recycled BS from the Neocons... read the following on Origins of Islamophobia.

Sharia in its simplest form is a "HOW-TO MANUAL" based on Qur’aan and the Hadith (Prophet Muhammad's sayings). It is a human effort to understand the concept of Justice enshrined in Qur'aan for living a day to day life.

The private domain of the manual is about the relationship between an individual and the creator, whereas the public domain of the Sharia law is about the relationship between the individual and the society.

The contentious issues stem from treatment of; divorce, women's rights, inheritance, theft, adultery and apostasy. Our focus is in understanding and bringing forth various opinions and thoughts to get a grasp of the system.

The core value of Islam is Justice. The violations of justice and the rule of law are found in every faith, culture and political traditions at varying degrees. No community can cast the first stone.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Shari'ah and the political Sytems

The following article by Dr. Chandra Muzaffar has touched upon the evolution of Sharia and its implications in different political systems.

‘Religion in our Time’ in the Context of Asia
By Chandra Muzaffar.

I shall reflect on the topic, ‘Religion in our Time’ in the context of Asia --- the womb that gave birth to all the religions of the world. My observations will be confined to contemporary Asia. They will revolve around two questions.

1) How do most Asians understand their respective religions?

2) Has any religious community in Asia succeeded in establishing a harmonious relationship between religion and society?

It is important to emphasize at the outset that for the majority of Asians religion is important. Even in a country like China where state policy had at one time --- especially during the period of the Cultural Revolution --- targeted religion, there is a religious revivalism of sorts. While religious revivalism is taking place in certain countries and within certain strata of society, it is equally true that in many parts of the continent the masses have always remained attached to religion even if their elites are secular.

What does this attachment to religion mean for most Asians? There are perhaps four dimensions to it which we may want to note.

Four Dimensions

One, religion means identity to a lot of people.. It is a way of defining oneself, of naming oneself. Of course, religion is not the only identity marker for any religious community in Asia. Even in Iran, the only nation in the world that had undergone a popular revolution in the name of religion in the modern era, one’s religious identity competes with one’s national identity and perhaps even with one’s Persian identity which goes beyond Iran as a nation state. At a certain point in time, one’s religious identity may be one’s primary identity; at another moment it may evolve into one’s secondary identity. While there may be certain givens in one’s religious identity, such as a belief or a ritual, the larger environment also often shapes one’s understanding of one’s identity. For instance, if a religious community feels that it is under siege or that its values are being challenged by another culture, it may become more conscious of the need to defend its identity and its integrity.

Two, related to identity --- though not synonymous with it --- are the rituals, practices, forms and symbols of a religion to which most believers are attached, in one way or another. Practices such as fasting or symbols such as the cross are vital to a religion. When one adheres to prescribed religious practices one perceives oneself, and is perceived by others, as a faithful member of the religious community in question. It is because of the centrality of religious practices and symbols that communities seek to defend and protect them whatever the costs and consequences.

Three, for many Asians religion is also the source of morality. It is the ultimate measure of right and wrong. Religious standards and precepts determine good and evil. One judges a person’s private behaviour as well as his public conduct on the basis of values and principles embodied in religion. Thus, a Muslim who consumes alcohol is, in the eyes of fellow Muslims, someone who has done something wrong just as a serial rapist is an evil person from the perspective of all religions.

Four --- and perhaps most fundamental --- at a personal, intimate level, religion means faith in God, in a Divine Being, in a Transcendent Reality. It is faith in God, whatever the name one assigns to God, which is the bedrock of religion. In those most difficult moments of life, it is this faith that provides solace and sustenance. It is through faith in God and in God’s Love and Mercy that the believing person overcomes the sorrow of the loss of a loved one or comes to terms with the ordeal and anguish of a terminal illness.

While these four dimensions are important for most religious practitioners in Asia, for a lot of Muslims there is perhaps a fifth dimension that is also critical. What is that dimension? Islam for Muslims should also be the basis of law and public policy, of government and state. Why do many Muslims feel this way about their religion? I shall suggest five reasons though there may be many other explanations as well.

Five Reasons

The foundational principle in Islam --- there is no god but God --- is not just a statement of belief, the acknowledgement of which requires the Muslim to submit or to surrender totally to God. It is a principle that embodies an entire worldview, a worldview anchored in the oneness of God or Tawhid. No sphere of human existence is separable from Tawhid. What this means is that state and society, government and politics, the economy and culture, law and policy have to be based upon, and guided by, Tawhidic values or values such as justice and compassion, dignity and love, equality and unity which are all enshrined in the Noble Qur’an. Indeed, Tawhid, the Oneness of God, is the basic premise for the unity of the universes, the unity between the human being and his natural environment, the unity of humankind, the unity of the sexes, and the unity of the family. At another level, it is Tawhid that unites the material and the spiritual, life and death, this world and the next. Within such a worldview, divorcing life from God, or society from the Divine, would be anathema.

There is another reason why Muslims are so concerned about making their faith in God the basis of state and society. The Prophet Muhammad (may peace be upon him) himself had established a community in Medina which possessed some of the rudimentary characteristics of a state. A charter was formulated which sought to regulate relations between different communities, laws were enacted, public roles were assigned to individuals to manage the affairs of the community and even emissaries were dispatched to neighbouring kingdoms and states. Because Muhammad was more than a Prophet or Messenger of God --- he was a political leader, a military commander and a law giver --- Muslims have invariably associated state power and governance with the essential message of Islam.

This view of what Islam stands for was reinforced by the evolution of the shariah as a code of conduct a few decades after the death of the Prophet. Through laws and precepts, the shariah gave concrete expression to some of the values and principles contained in the Qur’an and in the example of the Prophet (the Sunnah). In the course of time, it emerged as a body of jurisprudence commanding its own autonomous authority on a whole gamut of issues affecting the life of a Muslim. In fact, the shariah today has become almost sacrosanct as Muslims in a number of countries clamour for its introduction --- especially its penal code ---in their quest for the establishment of so-called genuine Islamic states.

If there is any psychological force that propels this quest, it is the collective Muslim memory of what their civilization had accomplished in past centuries. Many Muslims know that there was a time when Islamic civilization was at the forefront of almost every sphere of human activity. Their past convinces them that their religion will once again reach the pinnacle. It is partly because of their civilizational memory that Muslims are persuaded that Islam is capable of addressing contemporary challenges.

At the same time however they are aware that their civilization has been vanquished. Ironically, defeat at the hands of the West was in a sense one of the factors that prompted Muslim scholars to visualize an ‘Islamic State’ as the antidote to Western colonial empires. It is significant that it was in the wake of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in 1924, as a result of both colonial military power and colonial intrigue, that the Muslim intellectual Mustafa Raziq introduced the term ‘Islamic State’ --- a term that has no precedent in Muslim history. It is worth noting in this regard that the community-cum-state that the Prophet established in Medina was not described as an ‘Islamic polity’. The contemporary yearning for an ‘Islamic state’ is therefore --- to a certain extent at least --- a response to Western hegemony.

I have attempted to explain why many Muslims understand the role of religion in society in terms that are somewhat different from the majority of non-Muslims. The reasons, it is apparent, are complex. But both Muslims and non-Muslims, it should be reiterated, are attached to religion, and have been witness to its expanding role in present-day Asia.

With that as the backdrop let me now turn to my second question. I shall begin with non-Muslim majority states. Three states have been chosen at random. Each state will be discussed briefly, and in alphabetical order.


China’s rapid economic development has begun to generate serious problems. The environment has deteriorated. The gap between the rich and poor and between regions is widening. Corruption is rampant at certain levels of society. Greed is pervasive especially at the upper echelons.

The state itself and the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) have pledged to address these challenges. Even if they are ameliorated to an extent, one cannot expect the powers-that-be to create a new moral ethos which will help to curb materialistic greed or stark selfishness. Neither the ideological thrust of the state which is obsessed with high growth development nor its bureaucratic structure would allow it to play such a role.

Religious groups are in a better position to undertake a moral mission of this kind. While there is a little bit of discussion in small intellectual circles about how Buddhism or Confucianism view greed or corruption, the vast majority of those who have turned to religion in recent years tend to focus upon religious rituals and practices. It is unlikely that a socially engaged Confucianism or Buddhism will emerge in China in the foreseeable future. Will we see the birth of a socially engaged Christianity or Islam? It is equally doubtful.

This is why it is still unclear how religion will impact upon development and society in China in the coming years.


Compared to China, religion has been more prominent in Indian public life since Independence in 1947.

However, the Indian Constitution was --- and remains --- avowedly secular. For the first 15 to 20 years of Independence, Indian politics was also largely secular. Indian secularism, it should be emphasized, did not imply antagonism towards, or disrespect for, religion. On the contrary, India’s secular leaders strove to protect the interests of both the majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities. While leadership was secular, the Hindu and Muslim masses and followers of other religions remained devoted to faith and practice.

It was mainly because the people were religious that Indian politicians began to manipulate religious sentiments for electoral support from the seventies onwards. The ruling Indian National Congress was perhaps the first to play the religious card. It exploited Sikh, Muslim and Hindu grievances as and when it suited its interests. The Congress’s inability to resolve fundamental socio-economic challenges --- the most significant of which was abject grassroots poverty --- was perhaps one of the main reasons why it began to resort to the exploitation of religion in electoral politics.

Soon other political parties got into the act. The Bharatiya Janata Party( BJP), a Hindu nationalist party, was bold and brazen in its belligerent attacks upon the Muslim minority, on the one hand, and its stark appeal to Hindu chauvinism, on the other. Within a decade and a half, in 1998, the BJP with its ideology of Hindutva was able to muster enough electoral support to come to power in New Delhi at the helm of an inter-party coalition. It promised to restore lost Hindu glory by revising school texts with the aim of giving Hindu kingdoms and empires pride of place. Rebuilding Hindu temples which were allegedly demolished to make way for Muslim mosques during the time when much of India was under Muslim rule, was yet another of the BJP’s pledges. In general, the BJP’s Hindutva meant projecting the Hindu face of India through history, culture and education.

The rise of Hindutva was not simply because of the inherent appeal of Hinduism to the majority community. The failure of the Congress to govern effectively was perhaps a more crucial factor. Apart from the persistence of abject poverty, elite corruption and abuse of power at district level had become widespread under Congress rule. The vote for the BJP was in that sense a protest vote. At the same time, certain communal stances adopted by elements within the Muslim community worked to the BJP’s advantage. New regional coalitions and inter-caste alliances had also emerged, benefiting the BJP and its allies.

But the BJP was defeated in the 2004 General Election and the Congress is now back in power with the support of the communists. A number of reasons explain the BJP’s defeat. The party had pursued an even more aggressive neo-liberal capitalist agenda than the Congress which made the poor even more destitute and widened further the chasm between the rich and poor. The disenfranchised revolted through the ballot box. The BJP’s chauvinistic policies which had contributed indirectly to inter-religious riots --- such as the Gujarat riot in 2002 --- alienated a huge chunk of the population, including a significant segment of the Hindu electorate. Besides, the Congress had presented the voters with a broad based platform and had succeeded in forging alliances with regional and national parties that boosted its standing.

The BJP’s defeat shows that religious chauvinism and extremism can be checked through the electoral process. There are strengths within the democratic system which can be mobilised to counter negative religious trends.. Nonetheless, the fact remains that religion is now a potent force in Indian politics. How India’s secular state structure deals with this force is one of the critical questions that will shape the future of the Indian polity.

As an aside, the BJP brings to mind another earlier attempt by no less a personality than Mahatma Gandhi to emphasize the universal, inclusive dimension of Hinduism and thereby forge ties with Muslims, Christians and other religious groups through an all-embracing inter-faith movement dedicated to the liberation of India from British rule. Why is it that such an approach to inter-religious cooperation has not struck root in independent India and instead it is Hindutva that now claims to speak on behalf of the religion?

Sri Lanka

Like India, Sri Lanka also began its post-colonial journey in 1948 as a secular state. Its early leaders, both Sinhala and Tamil, were secular in outlook. However, by the mid-fifties ethnic sentiments which were already quite pronounced in the body politic long before Independence, re-emerged with a vengeance.

In this regard, it is worth observing that though the assassin of Prime Minister Solomon Bandaranaike in 1959 was a Buddhist monk, Buddhism as such was not yet a force in Sri Lankan politics. Be that as it may, the assassination was an early indication of the symbiotic relationship between Sinhala nationalism and the Buddhist monkhood.

As the Sri Lankan economy declined in the seventies and political instability increased, ethnic tensions between the majority Sinhala community and the Tamil minority escalated. The Tamils, especially the Tamils of the Jaffna Peninsula in the north of the island, felt that they had been marginalized and discriminated in politics, public administration and in matters pertaining to language and culture by the Sinhala government. Sinhala identity, they contended, was becoming synonymous with Sri Lankan national identity. The Sinhala community, on the other hand, viewed the Tamils as an economically stronger and better educated community that wielded considerable influence upon national affairs. From the Sinhala standpoint, the Tamil minority was well entrenched and secure and their grievances were often exaggerated.

The Sinhala-Tamil conflict reached its crescendo in July 1983. A full-scale civil war erupted between a largely Sinhala government and a Jaffna Tamil rebel group, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam( LTTE). The LTTE demanded---and continues to demand--- the establishment of a separate Tamil homeland. The civil war has continued on and off for the last 24 years.

Caught in the cauldron of the civil war, Sinhala Buddhist monks decided to set up their own political party in 2004. Called the Jathika Hela Urumaya or Pure Sinhala National Heritage, the party believes in the supremacy of the Buddhist religion and the Sinhala majority, and is against any peace negotiations with the LTTE. Though it vows to protect the religious minorities, in reality it adopts an aggressive posture against Hindus, Christians and Muslims. It is particularly antagonistic towards the Tamils and has urged the military to finish off the LTTE.

In the April 2004 Parliamentary Election, the party won 9 seats. War weariness, disillusionment with existing political parties and the parlous state of the economy have been cited as some of the reasons for the credible performance of the Heritage party. Most of the support for the ‘monks’ party appears to have come from the Sri Lankan middle class.

Sri Lanka illustrates the nexus that obtains between religion and nationalism or rather it reveals how at times nationalism drives religion. There is a hint of this in Indian politics too. The Sri Lankan situation also shows that ethnic conflicts whose root causes may have nothing to do with religion may sometimes find expression through religion.

Having looked at three non-Muslim majority societies, let me now examine three Muslim majority states with the same query in mind: what sort of role does religion play in Afghanistan, Indonesia and Iran? The three countries have also been selected randomly and are discussed in alphabetical order.


If there was a single event in contemporary Afghanistan that was decisive in shaping the relationship between religion and society, it was the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Union in 1979. The invasion ignited the formation of a mass resistance movement that centred around Islam. The resisters, or freedom fighters (Mujahideen) saw themselves as defenders of the faith fighting an infidel army that was occupying their land. The label ‘infidel’ had an import of its own since the occupying army belonged to an atheistic state that espoused an atheistic ideology, namely, communism.

Though the majority of the freedom fighters were Afghans, there were also Muslims from dozens of other countries who regarded the liberation of Afghanistan as a ‘jihad’ (a struggle in the path of God). Their participation in the resistance was facilitated, it was alleged, by the CIA which provided both financial and logistical support. In fact, for the CIA and the US Administration the freedom fighters had to vanquish the Soviet army since Afghanistan was a critical battleground in the cold war between the US and the Soviet Union. After a 10 year struggle, the Afghan resistance won. The Soviet army was defeated and shortly afterwards the cold war came to an end, climaxing in the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.

It is not just in its implications for global politics and international relations that the Afghan resistance is historically significant. It also gave birth to a transnational Muslim movement with certain ideological characteristics. A commitment to liberation from occupation aside, sections of the movement were strongly influenced by Wahabism, a conservative, puritanical strain within Islam that originated in Arabia in the 18th century. Wahabism, in its present form, advocates a dogmatic adherence to the literal meaning of the Qur’anic text; relegates women to second class status; excludes non-Muslims from the protection of the state; and targets Shiites and Sufis as heretics. Wahabi dogmatism, needless to say, is antithetical to Islamic teachings.

Wahabism was disseminated through the Afghan resistance since as we have noted numerous Muslim nationalities were involved in the struggle. Before Afghanistan, Wahabism was confined largely to Saudi Arabia. Once it was transformed into a transnational ideology, it developed an international constituency. But because its approach to Islam is exclusive and bigoted, Wahabism has tarnished the religion.

Though the present Afghan leadership is not Wahabist, Wahabi thinking is still pervasive within Afghan society. The Taliban for instance which was part of the resistance to Soviet occupation and ruled Afghanistan from 1996 to 2001 when it was ousted by US and NATO forces, subscribes to Wahabism. Today, it constitutes the core of the resistance to US-NATO occupation of Afghanistan. By casting itself as a resister, the Taliban has acquired a degree of credibility. Similarly, Osama bin Laden, the head of Al-Qaeda, and the alleged mastermind behind the 9-11 episode, is also, from all accounts, a Wahabist. He was closely associated with the Taliban leadership when it was in power. Since he is viewed as an ardent opponent of US global hegemony he too commands a constituency and is perceived as a credible leader in certain circles. It is obvious that it is resistance to hegemony and occupation that provides a veneer of legitimacy to Wahabism.

Afghanistan’s significance to the contemporary Muslim world and global politics is tied to these two phenomena. One it has emerged as the arena of resistance to first Soviet occupation with its communist ideology and now to US-NATO occupation with its unstated goal of safeguarding global capitalism. Two, it is from the Afghan resistance that a distorted and perverted notion of Islam in the form of Wahabism has spread to other parts of the Muslim world.


Indonesia shares with Afghanistan a long and intimate historical relationship with Islam. Islamic movements played a pivotal role in the struggle against Dutch colonial rule. After Independence in 1945, one of the most hotly debated issues was the role that Islam would play in building a nation ninety percent of whose population was Muslim. Though a section of the elite wanted the shariah as the basis of the new Indonesian state, the founding fathers eventually settled for a vision of the nation that was not linked to any particular religion. The Panca Sila --- Five Principles --- was accepted as the nation’s ideology, with belief in the one God as the first principle. Islam, together with Buddhism, Hinduism, Catholicism and Protestantism were adopted as official religions. (Confucianism has now been added to the list).

Whatever the constitutional structure, at the level of the masses, political parties with an Islamic orientation proved to be immensely popular. In the 1955 parliamentary election for instance, the Masjumi and the Nahdatul Ulama (NU), together with a smaller Islamic party commanded more votes than the nationalist or communist parties. The Masjumi in particular presented a contemporary interpretation of Islam which emphasised social justice and freedom and appealed to a broad cross-section of the populace.

However the Indonesian President, Sukarno, and the vested interests that backed him were afraid that the Masjumi would undermine their position and sought to curb its influence. The party was banned in 1960. Then in 1965, right-wing generals in the powerful Indonesian armed forces staged a bloody coup which marginalised not only progressive Islamic elements but also the Indonesian communists and nationalists. Sukarno himself was overthrown. The coup had the strong support --- perhaps even the active collaboration --- of the CIA and the US government.

The post coup President, General Suharto, was determined to ensure that Islamic parties had no role in ‘the new order’. Islamic organizations were only allowed to undertake social and cultural activities --- under state surveillance. Consequently, Islamic grassroots programs flourished giving rise to powerful mass social movements like the restructured NU and the Muhammadiyyah. Since they were prohibited from seeking political power, both these movements --- NU with 40 million members and the Muhammadiyyah with 35 million --- focused upon strengthening universal Islamic values and principles at the grassroots, and in the process, helped to transform popular understanding of, and approaches towards, the religion.

After the fall of Suharto in 1998, and the restoration of democratic processes, a plethora of political parties have re-emerged. The vast majority of the 48 parties that participated in the 1999 legislative election and the 24 parties that took part in the 2004 election did not commit themselves to shariah rule or the imposition of the Islamic penal code, or hudud , as most political parties elsewhere that claim to be ideologically orientated towards Islam tend to do. The few that espoused an explicit Islamic program fared badly in the two polls. In fact, the top five performers in 1999 and 2004 sought to present Islam --- with varying degrees of emphasis --- as a universal, inclusive and accommodative faith that is in line with economic development and social change.

If there is any support for shariah and hudud it is in certain districts and provinces, such as Acheh. The Islamic laws that have been implemented in these places seem to revolve around personal and sexual morality. There is also of course a fringe within the Indonesian Muslim community that has resorted to violence in pursuit of its Islamic agenda. Needless to say, the overwhelming majority of Indonesian Muslims reject the politics of violence and terror, as demonstrated in a number of elections and opinion polls since 1998.

This does not mean that the situation will not change in the future. If economic disparities are not resolved, or if corruption becomes more serious, or if there is political chaos, it is not inconceivable that a less flexible, more rigid approach to Islam will gain more adherents. After all, it was because of economic turmoil and political instability in the late nineties that some Muslim groups turned to political terror.

The global environment is also bound to impact upon the attitudes of Indonesian Muslims. It is significant that almost all the terrorists convicted in the Bali bombing of October 2002 cited the injustices perpetrated by the US and Israel against Muslims in the Middle East --- especially the plight of the Palestinians --- as one of the principal reasons why they had sought radical solutions. Often, it is through the interplay of domestic and global factors ---one reinforcing the other --- that despair, frustration and anger reach a crescendo and lead to violence.


There are similarities and dissimilarities between Indonesia and Iran in their relationship to Islam. Iran owes a monumental debt to Islamic civilization which more than any other civilization has shaped Iranian society in the last thousand years or so. In defending Iranian sovereignty and independence against Western encroachments (Iran never became a formal colony of any Western power) in the early part of the twentieth century, Islam and Muslim religious elites played a significant role. At the same time however the suppression of Islamic movements by the Iranian monarch, Shah Pahlavi, in the sixties and seventies was much more severe and brutal than what transpired in Indonesia.

It was partly because the suppression was so severe that the Islamic Revolution of 1979 was so popular. While Islamic groups were at the core, the Revolution brought together a whole spectrum of dissident movements including communists, socialists, liberals and secular nationalists. Even among the Islamic groups there was considerable diversity. The most important were the traditional religious elites led by Ayatollah Khomeini --- the leader of the Revolution itself. There was also an Islamic group with a liberal-democratic orientation associated with Mehdi Bazargan, the first Prime Minister after the Revolution. A third group with a Left outlook was inspired by the speeches and writings of Ali Shariati.

Within 5 or 6 years, the traditional elites had succeeded in establishing total control over power and politics. How did this happen? Part of the explanation is linked to Khomeini’s role as the dominant, charismatic leader of the Revolution who was revered by the entire nation. But there were other reasons too. The traditional religious elites evoked a lot of sympathy from the people when some of their leading lights were assassinated allegedly by secular Left elements. As a group they were better organized, more focused on their ultimate goals, and most of all, commanded tremendous grassroots respect, compared to other actors in the Revolution. There was also an important external factor that helped the traditional religious elites to consolidate their power. Because Iraq under Saddam Hussein went to war against Iran without any provocation whatsoever in 1980, the Iranian people began to feel that they were under siege and that the values and identity of an unique Islamic revolution were in jeopardy. What aggravated this feeling was the wholehearted support that a number of Arab kingdoms and republics extended to Iraq. The US and other Western powers were also determined to ensure that Saddam defeated and destroyed the nascent Islamic republic. Financial and military assistance were made available to the Iraqi side by the US and some of its allies. Even the Soviet Union was more inclined towards the Iraqi leadership partly because of the latter’s secular, Baathist socialist orientation. Attacked from all sides, the Iranian people --- as it happens very often in other similar situations --- became even more supportive of the traditional religious elites at the core of the national leadership. They were perceived as the only ones who could be relied upon to defend Iranian identity and integrity.

It is true that the traditional religious elites were resolute in their defence of the integrity and sovereignty of the Islamic revolution and nation. Given the magnitude of the external threats against Iran and the immensity of the domestic challenges to the leadership in the eighties, it is remarkable that the elites --- and the people at large --- succeeded in protecting the Revolution. The religious elites also introduced significant changes to the economy from nationalising oil to redistributing incomes to strengthening rural cooperatives and welfare foundations which were all aimed at achieving a more just and equitable social order. At the same time however, power became more centralized in the hands of the religious elites especially since the Constitution itself allowed for a Supreme Leader to supervise all executive, legislative and even judicial functions aided by a council of eminent jurists, the Wilayat-al-Faqih. What this centralization of power meant was that in the ultimate analysis the elected President and the elected Legislature (the Majlis) were subservient to a religious supremo and to an elite religious stratum.

The adverse consequences of this centralization of power, in effect religious authoritarianism, were felt in almost every sphere of society. Dissent was circumscribed and survived only on the sufferance of the religious elite.. Accountability was observed more in its breach than its adherence. Corruption became more entrenched. Women were subjected to a variety of restrictions and regulations pertaining to their attire and to their public and political roles. Controls were also imposed upon inter-gender interaction and socialization. There were also curbs upon those cultural and artistic expressions that were deemed antithetical to Islam and the Revolution.

It was because of increasing religious authoritarianism that a reform movement of sorts was born which sought to demonstrate that Islam is opposed to dictatorship and cherishes freedom and individual liberties. The end of the Iraq-Iran war in 1988 and the death of Khomeini the following year provided some scope for Islamic reformist thinking. Iranian youth who constitute a huge slice of the population and women propelled this movement forward culminating in the election of a reform minded cleric, Mohamad Khatami, as president of the republic in 1997. He was re-elected in 2001. Khatami relaxed some of the controls upon the print media, provided more latitude for film-makers and television producers and encouraged the growth of independent civil society groups. But he could not make much headway. The authoritarian religious elites who felt threatened by his reforms stymied his moves. A high level of unemployment --- almost 14 percent of the workforce had no jobs --- and a woefully inadequate delivery system also dented Khatami’s credibility.

From 2002, the US Administration abetted by the Israeli government also increased pressure upon the Khatami leadership. In his State of the Union message in January of that year, President George Bush described Iran as part of ‘an axis of evil’ for allegedly colluding with terrorists and for its nuclear ambitions. Indeed, the US-led targeting of Iran’s nuclear program which the Washington and Tel Aviv are convinced is designed to manufacture nuclear weapons --- a charge which Tehran has strenuously denied --- has strengthened the hand of religious authoritarians who had always been contemptuous of Khatami’s openness and his willingness to dialogue with the West.

This was reflected in the 2005 presidential election which brought to the fore the hardliner, Mahmoud Ahmednejad. He was perceived by the Iranian masses as someone who had the guts to stand up to the US and Israel in a situation where dialogue and engagement with the US and the West --- they felt --- would jeopardize Iranian sovereignty. It is a matter of some significance that as the US and Israeli governments become more bellicose towards Iran, the support for religious elites and others who are seen as capable of protecting the Iranian nation has increased right across the board while the popularity of reformers like Khatami has diminished considerably.

Iran underscores two important characteristics of the Muslim world today. One, in Iran as in so many other contemporary Muslim societies, a struggle is going on between authoritarian often conservative religious groups with an exclusive outlook on the one hand and democratically inclined, reform oriented Islamic groups with an inclusive, universal approach on the other. Two, when the US, Israel or some of their other allies pursue their self-serving agendas vis-a-vis certain Muslim countries, it is often the authoritarian groups that benefit from their interference and manipulation to the detriment of the reform oriented elements.


Based upon our reflections on six Asian countries --- three with non-Muslim majorities and three with Muslim majorities --- we are now in a position to draw some tentative conclusions.

1) In a number of countries, at the time of Independence, the ruling elites were secular and religion was not central to politics. Because of socio-economic challenges, electoral politics and flawed governance, segments of society have over time turned more and more to religion which serves as an identity marker, a source of morality and an embodiment of the ideal.

2) The reconciliation between, or harmonisation of, religion and state is a major issue in a number of Muslim and non-Muslim societies. In some instances, it is a question of how religion will transform existing secular structures while in other cases it is a question of how the understanding of religion itself will be transformed by the secular environment.

3) In a few situations, the nexus between ethnic or cultural identity, on the one hand, and religion, on the other, has been manipulated or exploited to fuel communal conflicts. In these and other cases, religion often is not the primary cause of conflict but is absorbed into conflicts and sometimes exacerbates them.

4) The perpetuation of global domination by the US and its allies and the injustices it generates within the Muslim world (ummah) has induced a fringe within the ummah to resort to acts of terror which in turn has distorted perceptions of Islam among both Muslims and non-Muslims. Equally important, the US-Israeli agenda has been detrimental to reform movements within the ummah seeking to develop a more inclusive, universal vision of Islam.

5) In those instances when religious groups have succeeded to acquire power, the emphasis appears to be on protecting identity expressed through regulations pertaining to women or gender interaction or manifested in changes to prevailing conceptions of history and culture. Often, religion on the throne of power has led to authoritarianism arising from a desire to impose a certain doctrinal interpretation upon the rest of society. At the same time however, there are in all religions democratic approaches to the understanding and practice of faith which are sometimes part of the internal struggle within the tradition.

Our presentation has revealed that the role of religion in Asia at this juncture of history is far more complex than what the mainstream media suggests. This complexity is related to a large extent to the re-emergence of religion as an important player in the public arena.

(Chandra Muzaffar is a leading Malaysian intellectual. He is associated with the Universiti Sains Malaysia, Penang, and also runs the Just World Trust in Kuala Lumpur. He can be contacted on For details about the Just World Trust, see

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

ME Policy letter to Obama

March 10, 2009
CONTACT: Radwan Masmoudi, 202-251-3036,
Shadi Hamid, 202-470-2509,

Open Letter to President Obama to be released today to the media at:

Press Conference
Tuesday, March 10, 2:30-3:30 p.m.
National Press Club, Lisagor Room
529 14th Street NW, Washington, DC 20045

Several of the co-signers will be available to answer questions from the media about the open letter, including Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Radwan Masmoudi, Michele Dunne, Larry Diamond, Geneive Abdo, and others.
Open Letter

March 10, 2009

President Barack Hussein Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Mr. President:

First of all, congratulations on your victory in November. Like so many others throughout the world, we find ourselves both hopeful and inspired. Your election is proof of America's continued promise as a land of opportunity, equality, and freedom. Your presidency presents a historic opportunity to chart a new course in foreign affairs, and particularly in the troubled relationship between the United States and the Muslim world.

We are heartened by your promise to listen to and understand the hopes and aspirations of Arabs and Muslims. By shutting down Guantanamo Bay and forbidding torture, your administration will inspire greater confidence between the United States and the Muslim world. Last month, in your first major interview, millions of Arabs heard your call for mutual respect on one of the Middle East's most watched television channels. They were encouraged to find that you hold a resolution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict as an urgent priority, as evidenced by the appointment of Senator George Mitchell as your envoy. Reaching out to the people of the region so early on in your presidency is a step of no small significance. But it is a step that must be followed by concrete policy changes.

Improving relations between the United States and Middle Eastern nations is not simply a matter of changing some policies here and there. For too long, U.S. policy toward the Middle East has been fundamentally misguided. The United States, for half a century, has frequently supported repressive regimes that routinely violate human rights, and that torture and imprison those who dare criticize them and prevent their citizens from participation in peaceful civic and political activities. U.S. support for Arab autocrats was supposed to serve U.S. national interests and regional stability. In reality, it produced a region increasingly tormented by rampant corruption, extremism, and instability.

In his second inaugural address, President Bush pledged that the United States would no longer support tyrants and would stand with those activists and reformers fighting for democratic change. The Bush administration, however, quickly turned its back on Middle East democracy after Islamist parties performed well in elections throughout the region. This not only hurt the credibility of the United States, dismayed democrats and emboldened extremists in the region, but also sent a powerful message to autocrats that they could reassert their power and crush the opposition with impunity.

In order to rebuild relations of mutual respect, it is critical that the United States be on the right side of history regarding the human, civil, and political rights of the peoples of the Middle East. There is no doubt that the people of the Middle East long for greater freedom and democracy; they have proven themselves willing to fight for it. What they need from your administration is a commitment to encourage political reform not through wars, threats, or imposition, but through peaceful policies that reward governments that take active and measurable steps towards genuine democratic reforms. Moreover, the US should not hesitate to speak out in condemnation when opposition activists are unjustly imprisoned in Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, or elsewhere. When necessary, the United States should use its considerable economic and diplomatic leverage to put pressure on its allies in the region when they fail to meet basic standards of human rights.

We recognize that taking these steps will present both difficulties and dilemmas.

Accordingly, bold action is needed today more than ever. For too long, American policy in the Middle East has been paralyzed by fear of Islamist parties coming to power. Some of these fears are both legitimate and understandable; many Islamists advocate illiberal policies. They need to do more to demonstrate their commitment to the rights of women and religious minorities, and their willingness to tolerate dissent. However, most mainstream Islamist groups in the region are nonviolent and respect the democratic process.

In many countries, including Turkey, Indonesia, and Morocco, the right to participate in reasonably credible and open elections has moderated Islamist parties and enhanced their commitment to democratic norms. We may not agree with what they have to say, but if we wish to both preach and practice democracy, it is simply impossible to exclude the largest opposition groups in the region from the democratic process. At the same time, to reduce the future of the region to a contest between Islamists and authoritarian regimes would be a mistake. Promoting democratic openings in the region will give liberal and secular parties a chance to establish themselves and communicate their ideas to the populace after decades of repression which left them weak and marginalized. More competition between parties of diverse ideological backgrounds would be healthy for political development in the region.

In short, we have an unprecedented opportunity to send a clear message to the Arab and Muslim world: the United States will support all those who strive for freedom, democracy, and human rights. You, Mr. President, have recently relayed such a message in your inaugural address when you said: "To those who cling to power through corruption and deceit and the silencing of dissent, know that you are on the wrong side of history, but that we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist."

We are fully aware that, with a worsening global economic crisis, and continuing challenges in Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, political reform and progress toward democratic reform in the Middle East will need to compete with a whole host of other priorities on your agenda. Policy is often about making difficult choices. However, as you work on other Middle East priorities, we urge you to elevate democratic reform and respect for human rights as key considerations in your engagement with both Arab regimes and Arab publics.

In conclusion, we are writing this letter to raise our profound belief that supporting democrats and democracy in the Middle East is not only in the region's interests, but in the United States' as well. Perhaps more importantly, what we choose to do with this critical issue will reveal a great deal about the strength of American democratic ideals in this new era - and whether or not we will decide to respect and apply them in the Middle East.

Signatures: 144 (97 from the US, 47 from overseas)

Coordination Committee:

Radwan A. Masmoudi,Center for the Study of Islam & Democracy
Shadi Hamid, Project on Middle East Democracy
Geneive Abdo, The Century Foundation
Larry Diamond, Ctr. on Democracy, Dev. & Rule of Law, Stanford University
Michele Dunne, Carnegie Endowment for Int. Peace
Jennifer Windsor,Freedom House American Scholars, Experts & Organizations:
Tamara Cofman Wittes, Saban Center, Brookings Institution
Francis Fukuyama, The Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies
Matt Yglesias,Center for American Progress
Mona Yacoubian,U.S. Institute of Peace
John L. Esposito, Georgetown University
Reza Aslan, UC Riverside
Morton H. Halperin, Formerly Office of Policy Planning, Department of State
Will Marshall, Progressive Policy Institute
Randa Slim, Rockefeller Brothers Fund
Neil Hicks, Human Rights First
Joe Stork, Human Rights Watch
Robert R. LaGamma, Council for a Community of Democracies
Jack DuVall , Int. Center on Nonviolent Conflict
Robert A. Pastor, Center for Democracy and Election Management, American University
Jean Bethke Elshtain, University of Chicago
Peter Beinart, Council on Foreign Relations
Bob Edgar, Common Cause
Rachel Kleinfeld ,Truman National Security Project
Robert Kagan, Carnegie Endowment for Int. Peace
Dokhi Fassihian, Democracy Coalition Project
Dina Guirguis, Voices for a Democratic Egypt
Andrew Albertson, Project on Middle East Democracy
Nathan J. Brown,George Washington University
Marc Gopin,Ctr for World Religions, Diplomacy, & Conflict Resolution, GMU
Graham E. Fuller, Simon Fraser University, Vancouver BC.
Rabbi Michael Lerner, Network of Spiritual Progressives
Farid Senzai, Institute for Social Policy and Understanding
Frank Kaufmann, Inter Religious Federation for World Peace
Ammar Abdulhamid, Tharwa Foundation
Arsalan Iftikhar, Islamica Magazine
Richard Bulliet, Columbia University
Seth Green, Americans for Informed Democracy
Joseph Montville, Toward the Abrahamic Family Reunion
Joseph K. Grieboski, Institute on Religion and Public Policy
Jim Arkedis, Progressive Policy Institute
Asma Afsaruddin, University of Notre Dame
Anisa Mehdi, Arab-American Journalist
Mohammed Ayoob, Michigan State University
Peter Mandaville ,Center for Global Studies, GMU
Omid Safi, University of North Carolina
Sulayman S. Nyang, Howard University
Naiem A. Sherbiny, Ibn Khaldun Ctr. for Development
Louay Safi, ISNA Leadership Development Ctr.
Najib Ghadbian, University of Arkansas
Aly R. Abuzaakouk, Libya Human and Political Dev. Forum
Robert D. Crane,The Abraham Federation
Sally Painter,Global Fairness Initiative
Steven Brooke, Independent Academic
Sheila Musaji, The American Muslim
Hashim El-Tinay, International Peace Quest Inst.
Antony T. Sullivan, Near East Support Services
Clement Moore Henry, Dept. of Government, U of Texas at Austin
Ahmed Subhy Mansour, The International Quranic Center
Yvonne Haddad, Georgetown University
Shahed Amanullah,
Hakan Yavuz,The University of Utah
Ibrahim Kalin, Georgetown University
Mumtaz Ahmad, Hampton University
Charles Butterworth, University of Maryland
John P. Enteli, Fordham University
Nahyan Fancy, DePauw University
Jeffrey T. Kenney, DePauw University
Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad, Minaret of Freedom Institute
Jamal Barzinji , International Institute of Islamic Thought
H. Ali Yurtsever, Rumi Forum
Abubaker al Shingieti, American Muslims for Constructive Engagement
Nayereh Tohidi, California State University, Northridge
Nancy Gallagher, University of California, Santa Barbara
Safei Hamed, Alliance of Egyptian Americans
Ali Akbar Mahdi, Ohio Wesleyan University
Nader Hashemi, University of Denver
Timothy Samuel Shah, Council on Foreign Relations
Sondra Hale, Islamic Studies, UCLA
Lester Kurtz, George Mason University
Mehrdad Mashayekhi, Georgetown University
Fatemeh Haghighatjoo, University of Massachusetts, Boston
Salah Aziz, American Society for Kurds
Ali Banuazizi,Boston College
Mehrangiz Kar, Harvard University Human Rights Program
Tamara Sonn, College of William & Mary
Salam Al-Marayati, Muslim Public Affairs Council
Stephen Zunes, University of San Francisco
Mike Ghouse, World Muslim Congress
David A. Smith, University of California, Irvine
Ziad K. Abdelnour, US Committee for a Free Lebanon
Samer Libdeh, Center for Liberty in the Middle East
Javed Ali, Illume Magazine
Selahattin Oz, Georgetown University
Amin Mahmoud, The Alliance of Egyptian Americans
Maher Kharma, Islamic Society of Annapolis

International Scholars & Organizations:'

Saad Eddin Ibrahim, Ibn Khaldoun Center
Anwar Ibrahim, People's Justice Party, Malaysia
Emad El-Din Shahin, Dept. of Government, Harvard University
Radwan Ziadeh, Carr Center for Human Rights Policy, Harvard Univ.
Atef Saadawy, Al-Ahram Democracy Review
Obaida Fares, Arab Foundation for Development and Citizenship
Mona Eltahawy, Commentator and public speaker, Egypt
Usman Bugaje, Action Congress, Abuja, Nigeria
Dogu Ergil, Ankara University, Turkey
Mohamed Elshinnawi, Journalist/Consultant
Mohammad Fadel, University of Toronto Faculty of Law
Jamal Eddine Ryane, Global Migration and Gender Network, Amsterdam
Najah Kadhim, International Forum for Islamic Dialogue-London-UK
Maajid Nawaz, The Quilliam Foundation, London, UK
Sameer Jarrah, Arab World Center for Democratic Development, Jordan
Ihsan Dagi, Insight Turkey
Santanina T. Rasul,Former Senator, The Philippines
Can Kurd, Kurdish PEN Club / Germany
Muna AbuSulayman, UNDP Goodwill Ambassador in KSA
Saoud El Mawla, The Islamic Council for Dialogue, Justice and Democracy, Lebanon
Amina Rasul-Bernardo, The Philippines Council on Islam & Democracy
Sayyed Nadeem Kazmi, The britslampartnership Ltd, UK
Muhammad Habash, Islamic Studies Center, Damascus, Syria
Boudjema Ghechir, Algerian League for Human Rights
Kais Jawad al-Azzawi, Al-Jareeda Newspaper, Baghdad, Iraq
Rola Dashti, Kuwait Economic Society
Zainah Anwar, Sisters in Islam, Malaysia
Jafar M. Alshayeb, Writer and Advocate, Saudi Arabia
Daoud Casewit, American Islamic Scholar, Morocco
Anwar N. Haddam, Mvt. for Liberty & Social Justice, Algeria
Ashur Shamis, Libya Human and Political Dev. Forum
Hamdi Abdelaziz, Journalist & Human Rights Activist, Egypt
Dalia Ziada, The American Islamic Congress, Cairo, Egypt
Abdulkhaleq Abdulla, Dept. of Political Science, United Arab Emirates
Wajeeha S. Al- Baharna, Bahrain Women Association for Human Development
Abdullahi Mohamoud Nur, Community Empowerment for Peace Somalia
Brendan Simms,The Henry Jackson Society: Project for Democratic Geopolitics, London,
Alan Mendoza,The Henry Jackson Society: Project for Democratic Geopolitics,
Ashraf Tulty, Justice & democracy for Libya
Hadi Shalluf, International Criminal Court, Paris
Aref Abu-Rabia, Fulbright Scholar
Omar Affifi, Hukuk Elnas
Jacqueline Armijo, Zayed University, United Arab Emirates
Sliman Bouchuiguir, Libyan League for Human Rights
Mohammed Mahfud, Al-Kalima Magazine, Saudi Arabia
Walid Salem, Panorama, East Jerusalem

India's 'Slumdog' Role Model

Eboo Patel, the author of the article is just 33 and an adviser to President Obama on inter-faith issues.

Zafar Iqbal
India's 'Slumdog' Role Model

The first thing Allah Rakha (A R) Rahman did when he arrived back on Indian soil after picking up two Oscars in Hollywood was to offer prayers at a Sufi shrine. Rahman, who won two Oscars for the music he created for "Slumdog Millionaire", accepted Islam in the late 1980s, after experiencing a dream sequence calling him into the faith. He has been on Haj multiple times and is regular in his five daily prayers. That he makes dance music for Indian beauties and seeks guidance at the mausoleums of Muslim saints only affirms his place in the mainstream of Indian Islam.

India has long been at the center of Muslim pluralism, a movement with three core elements:

1) A spiritual ethic defined by the Islamic concept of Tawheed, the idea that God is all-pervasive;
2) A social ethic that views those of other creeds as partners in the journey to serve God and humanity;

3) A cultural ethic that seeks to absorb the multiple identities of faith, nation, ethnicity and language, understanding this multiplicity as mutually enriching rather than mutually exclusive.

Artists like AR Rahman are not the only exemplars of Muslim pluralism in India. Many of India's most important historical figures embodied this ethic as well. The 16th Century Mughal Emperor Akbar once wrote, "Divine mercy attaches itself to every form of creed ... The eternal God is bounteous to all souls and conditions of men."

The famous freedom fighter and compatriot of Gandhi, Maulana Azad, said: "I am a Mussalman and proud of the fact. The spirit of Islam guides and helps me forward. I am proud of being an Indian. I am part of that indivisible unity that is the Indian nationality. I am indispensable to this noble edifice and without me this splendid structure of India is incomplete. I am an essential element that has gone to build India."

On my recent trip to India, I found Muslim pluralism alive and well in both the civic and intellectual life in India. In Delhi, Dr. Syed Zafar Mahmood opened a meeting of the Interfaith Coalition for Peace by pointing out that the Qur'an says that God has sent messengers to every nation, and certainly would not have ignored a great nation like India. "Therefore I conclude that Lord Krishna and Lord Buddha are part of the many messengers that God sent to humanity, and I worship and respect them along with the Prophet Muhammad." His organization has been organizing interfaith peace camps with religiously diverse young people and interfaith women's journeys across India.

In Mumbai, the tireless Dr. Zeenat Shaukat Ali's WISDOM Foundation, has been bringing together the religious leadership of that city to sponsor everything from interfaith sports programs to interfaith arts projects. These diverse religious leaders played an important role in keeping Mumbai peaceful after the attacks of 11/26.

Such projects exemplify Indian Islam, the scholar Dr. Asghar Ali Engineer told me. There are two reasons for this. First, though Islam might have entered India through the sword of the warrior, it spread through the love songs of the Sufi. Islamic orthodoxy has never had a wide following in India. As proof, he pointed out that Indians of all faiths make pilgrimages to the shrines of Sufi saints, but there is not one popular monument to an orthodox Muslim scholar in the country.

Second, because Islam has always been a minority faith in India, it has long learned to accommodate itself, to get along with the majority, to strike alliances with those from different communities. Far from this flexibility compromising the faith, Indian Muslims consider it characteristic of their tradition.

The Indian Muslim writer MJ Akbar agrees. Over early evening snacks at a hotel in Delhi, he told me that the great idea of India is that different communities are meant to live together, and that such coexistence is actually the key to success and creativity. The Hindu puritans and the Muslim puritans share a common belief not only in a narrow orthodoxy but also in a desire to dominate others -- from women to people of other faiths. But these movements have consistently met with failure, both in economics and at the ballot box. There are Muslim countries, Akbar told me, that are attempting to build themselves up on Islamic Puritanism and oil. Indian Muslims are building themselves on creativity and coexistence. "They may have a temporary checkbook, but we will have a sustainable economy."

And, as the success of A R Rahman illustrates, a culture that can be embraced by the world.

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Proving Islam is peace

Islam Should Prove It's a Religion of Peace
Muslims can start with better Quranic scholarship.

The following commentary by Tawfik Hamid is questionable. I do expect WSJ to verify a few basics, they have a responsibility to put out responsible statements.

Tawfik or WSJ need to provide the substantiation for these claims;

1. Many Muslims seem to believe that it is acceptable to teach hatred and violence in the name of their religion - seems to beleive?

2. Scholars in the most prestigious Islamic institutes and universities continue to teach things like Jews are "pigs and monkeys," - which ones?

Tawfik is BSing... a year ago, WSJ published an article by the Phoenix Doctor, he wrote about hate sermons in mosques, I asked them to prove... they did not. However, the writer finally
said, it used to be... I asked to him correct it. It used to be is different than giving a false impression that they are doing now...

He rightfully asks about the stoning of women for adultery... we need to come together on this and do our consulting and deliever an opinion to put an end to this.

I add apostasy to it. Some of the Muslims scholars that I have talked with are chickens, they agree that there should be no punishement for apostasy and that any one can choose to be a Muslim and go out of being a Muslim, and come back again, it is all about free will, but they did not have the guts to sign up at their Job was important to them
than being righteousness.

Tawfiq has not seen the documentary Fitna.... his comments are not made about fitna, but something else. I have responded word for word to it. It is at

Every religion is for peace, the problem is not religion, it is the individuals, and you find them in every faith.

Mike Ghouse

Islam Should Prove It's a Religion of Peace
Muslims can start with better Quranic scholarship.

The film "Fitna" by Dutch parliament member Geert Wilders has created an uproar around the world because it links violence committed by Islamists to Islam.

Many commentators and politicians -- including the British government, which denied him entry to the country last month -- reflexively accused Mr.. Wilders of inciting hatred. The question, however, is whether the blame is with Mr. Wilders, who simply exposed Islamic radicalism, or with those who promote and engage in this religious extremism. In other words, shall we fault Mr. Wilders for raising issues like the stoning of women, or shall we fault those who actually promote and practice this crime?

Many Muslims seem to believe that it is acceptable to teach hatred and violence in the name of their religion -- while at the same time expecting the world to respect Islam as a religion of peace, love and harmony.

Scholars in the most prestigious Islamic institutes and universities continue to teach things like Jews are "pigs and monkeys," that women and men must be stoned to death for adultery, or that Muslims must fight the world to spread their religion. Isn't, then, Mr. Wilders's criticism appropriate? Instead of blaming him, we must blame the leading Islamic scholars for having failed to produce an authoritative book on Islamic jurisprudence that is accepted in the Islamic world and unambiguously rejects these violent teachings.

While many religious texts preach violence, the interpretation, modern usage and implementation of these teachings make all the difference. For example, the stoning of women exists in both the Old Testament and in the Islamic tradition, or "Sunna" -- the recorded deeds and manners of the prophet Muhammad. The difference, though, is that leading Jewish scholars agreed to discontinue these practices centuries ago, while Muslim scholars have yet to do so. Hence we do not see the stoning of women practiced or promoted in Israel, the "Jewish" state, but we see it practiced and promoted in Iran and Saudi Arabia, the "Islamic" states.

When the British government banned Geert Wilders from entering the country to present his film in the House of Lords, it made two egregious errors. The first was to suppress free speech, a canon of the civilized Western world. The second mistake was to blame the messenger -- punishing, so to speak, the witness who exposed the crime instead of punishing the criminal. Mr. Wilders did not produce the content of the violent Islamic message he showed in his film -- the Islamic world did that. Until the Islamic clerical establishment takes concrete steps to reject violence in the name of their religion, Mr. Wilders's criticism is not only permissible as "controversial" free speech but justified.

So, Islamic scholars and clerics, it is up to you to produce a Shariah book that will be accepted in the Islamic world and that teaches that Jews are not pigs and monkeys, that declaring war to spread Islam is unacceptable, and that killing apostates is a crime. Such a book would prove that Islam is a religion of peace.

Mr. Hamid, a former member of an Egyptian Islamist terrorist group, is an Islamic reformer and senior fellow at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies.

Please add your comments to the Opinion Journal forum.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Muslim Response to Lies about Qur'aan

Muslim response to Dutch Legislator's lies about Qur'aan.

The link following this note is a Muslim response to Geert Wilders’ documentary called "Fitna", presenting Islam as a danger to his society. The article in the link is authored by Mike Ghouse* and Imam Zia Shaikh, Imam and an Islamic Scholar of the largest Mosque in Texas.

Mr. Wilders, a Dutch parliamentarian is in Washington DC to dupe a few of our Congressman and Senators. I hope they will have their staff members verify the statements he has quoted in the documentary (the link is in the link) and then check it in the Qur'aan and tell the man to come up with truth and not dupe the Americans any more.

Evil persists, because we the good people do not stop the hate mongering and some of us even fund such documentaries. I have seen a series of such documentaries this year where Islam is deliberately misrepresented with the sole purpose of frightening their insecure and cashing it. It is all about money, they are fooling you and several of us.

There was the “obsession” documentary fraught with misquotes and lies, some 2 million copies were shipped to frighten the Americans to vote the other way prior to November 4th elections. A few more documentaries were shown loaded with blatant lies, one of them was downright stupid but to the producer it had its effect, drill fear and gain favors, in that documentary, the propped up Non-Muslim French Expert on Islam was saying the dumbest things I have ever heard. I challenged the producer to pick up the phone and call any Muslim any where in the world to find it if Muslims don’t believe in the coming of Messiah.

We have a choice to know the truth, and I urge those who truly want peace and co-existence to set up a panel of conservatives, liberals and a whole bunch of moderates to review and answer the audience. Private showings to exclusive groups has an intent of evilness, if it is the truth, let it be in the open, let it be subject to questions and another point of view.

Ultimately it is not the Imam, Rabbi, Pastor, Pundit, Politician, Savior, Policy maker or the Clergy who is responsible for our pain, anguish, pangs of conscience, our actions and our bad intent; it is us who have to deal with it in our lonely moments. Men of God do not sell hate, they are about inclusion and love. We need to have true freedom to find the truth on our own.

Should we fund fear mongering or peace making? The choice is ours. I hope to wake you up and have you fund those who are working on mitigating conflicts and nurturing goodwill.

Mr. Wilders has read my piece linked below and is un-willing to retract the false statements he has made; he quoted them as if they are in Qur'aan, and they are not. His intent is not education but chaos. Wikipedia has made similar mistakes and even the prestigious University of Southern California's website has a quote ascribed to Qur'aan, even with a verse number to give the idea that it is legitimate, but that verse is not in Qur'aan either. Of course, only 1/10th of 1% of the extremists blindly believes in such statements without verifying.

Full article at:

Mike Ghouse is a Dallas based writer, blogger, speaker and a thinker. A frequent guest on talk radio and local television networks offering pluralistic perspectives on issues of the day. His comments, news analysis and columns can be found on the Websites and Blogs listed at his personal website


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Spy in the Mosque

Muslims have a distaste for non-sensical talk at the Mosques; they have grown super sensitive about Jihadi or any anti-American conversation, and continue to self monitor and their discouragement has been clear and they vehemently oppose any anti-American talk. Muslims are very loyal citizens, like all other immigrants, they are here for the freedom America offers and they are committed to guard that.

Yes, we have some extremists, you may find them in the same quantity in other religious organizations. However, it is not the religion, those individuals are evil to begin with. The scheming and plotting goes on with evil people whether they are in a church, temple, synagogue, mosque or any place, you can find them everywhere.

Our nation is about freedom and we should not let that freedom be squeezed with extremists and the fear mongers. I do not like the idea of monitoring any place of worship, however, as a Muslim who is in touch with thousands of Muslims, I welcome the FBI to spy but be honest about it, and not let one or two emotional kind to cook up criminals to show that they are working. It is in the interest of the security of our nation that we seek the truth and FBI stands for that and I salute them.

Mike Ghouse
# # #

Man Claiming to be FBI Informant Spins Quite a Tale

Thursday, Feb. 26 2009 @ 5:13PMBy Matt Coker in A Clockwork Orange, Breaking News, Naranja News, OC Media, The Media-O-Meter

A location scout for a spy movie could not have picked a better location for my late December meeting with Craig Monteilh: a table outside a restaurant in a bustling Irvine shopping center. A lensman would appreciate the shadow-erasing clouds hovering overhead on the warm winter morning. And central casting could not have found a better leading man: Monteilh is tall, intense, talkative, with a shaved head and the kind of cut body one would expect from someone who is now a fitness instructor. All that was missing was the story, which Monteilh was just itching to tell.
"I'm looking forward to getting my name back where it should be," he said.

The gist of 46-year-old's tale: that he had taped Afghans, Iraqis and Pakistanis espousing radical ideas and in some cases plotting terrorism in Orange County. Not quite trusting the source--for a variety of reasons, which will soon become clear--we sat on his story.

Then, at dawn on Feb. 20, federal agents arrested 34-year-old Afghan native Ahmad Niazi at his Tustin home. Something about the Los Angeles Times' coverage of the arrest sounded familiar.

Looking at my Monteilh interview notes with fresh eyes, I saw that I only scribbled down one name as he had been talking about alleged terror plotters:

Ahmad Niazi.

As I shifted into scramble mode, trying to get back in touch with Monteilh, Niazi was indicted last week on five fraud and perjury counts. At Niazi's bail hearing, the government also alleged an unnamed informant got e-mails and recordings of the eight-year Tustin resident talking about initiating jihad, getting weapons, blowing up buildings, sending money overseas to the Afghan mujahedin and even calling Osama bin Laden "an angel."

Thomas J. Ropel III, an FBI special agent and Marine-trained counter-terrorism specialist assigned to the Orange County Joint Terrorism Task Force, testified that Niazi taught the informant Arabic and was preparing to send him to terrorist training camps in Yemen or Pakistan. Ropel said he could not identify the undercover man.

Then Monteilh outed himself. His story appeared in today's Times. Monteilh repeated something he had told me: He wanted to clear his name. It's obvious Southern California's daily newspaper of record also has their doubts about much of Monteilh's largely unconfirmed story. Here is how he told it to me, nearly two months ago:

He was a chaplain for six years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, where he also dabbled in the intelligence division. Because of his bi-racial looks and grasp of spy work and religion, unnamed authorities believed Monteilh "could get into certain areas." He was recruited by the FBI in 2004 and flown to Virginia for counter-terrorism training. There he was taught to read, write and speak Arabic.

"The FBI knew there were suspicious activities happening in mosques," particularly in Southern California, Monteilh said. One famous case was that of 30-year-old Adam Gadahn, the former resident of Santa Ana's Floral Park neighborhood and member of the Islamic Society of Orange County in Garden Grove. After settling in Pakistan, Gadahn joined Al-Qaeda and became "Azzam the American." Monteilh said his assignment was to infiltrate mosques in Irvine, Tustin, Anaheim, Culver City, West Covina and San Pedro. His contact on the outside was an "FBI Agent Armstrong." Monteilh was certain others were sent to infiltrate Southern California mosques as well.

He arrived at the Islamic Center of Irvine in 2006 and befriended members, using the name Farouk Aziz, always wearing robes and, though he has no facial hair now, growing a long beard. "The imams and sheiks wanted me to go to Cairo University and learn for the Americans," he said.

But about a year in, an incident he would not describe--other than saying it was unrelated to what he was doing at the mosque --caused people he'd been spying on to wonder about him. To test their suspicions, these mosque members went to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), whose California office is in Anaheim. The Muslim education and human rights group in turn contacted Irvine Police and the FBI to say Farouk Aziz was spreading "jihad" talk around the mosque, which eventually got a restraining order against him.

In press reports at the time, the FBI would neither confirm nor deny an investigation was under way at the Islamic Center.

The August 2007 issue of InFocus, the Southern California Muslim news source, included the story, "Is Big Brother At Your Mosque?" Reporter Abdussalam Mohamed named Niazi as one of the young Muslims who turned in Monteilh. It is actually comical, according to the story, how Niazi figured out the supposed convert might not be who he had claimed to be: Monteilh wrote his real name instead of his fake one on the roll of an Arab language class Niazi taught.

Monteilh told me the InFocus story led to death threats from the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood and someone in Irvine with ties to the Taliban.

"They ruined my reputation," he said. "I need to be known for what I did. They have me as a terrorist or a potential terrorist. The Islamic community has a restraining order against me because of my 'jihadist views.' I was carrying out a direct order."

He claimed the people he was investigating blew his cover to protect themselves. That's the same argument Ropel used in court Tuesday. The agent acknowledged that Niazi and others at his mosque came forward to turn in a convert who "was scary to them," but that the bureau believed Niazi figured out the convert was an informant and filed the report to protect himself.

If Monteilh's tale did not cause the hairs on the back of your neck to stiffen, just Google his name. Like a Christmas tree, the Internet light up with stories of him being a conman, a gold digger, something of a nut and possibly a government informant--with a criminal record extending back to 1987, with charges ranging from forgery to burglary and grand theft. His Orange County rap sheet alone includes 18 charges between January 2006 and November 2007. But here is the strange part: all but two were dismissed, on the same day.

Confronted with his online infamy, Monteilh claimed that, after he'd been exposed, unnamed officials in the government spread stories about him on the Internet to protect the undercover surveillance program. "When you Google me, that's the government," he said.

So how could he prove he was a government spy? He produced stapled photocopies of what he claimed was a court document that a judge in West Covina would later go on to seal. He said it was the disposition of a grant theft auto case in which he was found guilty. He pointed to a section on the last page that stated, beneath the sentencing part, that the Los Angeles County prosecutor asked the judge to cut short Monteilh's probation because he is an FBI informant who an Agent Armstrong says is doing good undercover work. Keep in mind this was the prosecution, not his own defense. Monteilh considered this government proof that he was indeed an FBI informant.

He went on to tell me he tried to get a similar assist after he later got caught up in a crime related to an Irvine drug bust. He claimed that in the months leading up to his outing at the mosque, there had been internal debate within the FBI over the entire informant program. A female FBI official Monteilh would not name "hated him" and the program, which many agents wanted to end. Others felt he had been supplying valuable information which, unfortunately for him, remained classified. The faction against the program won, and no one from the bureau intervened on Monteilh's behalf. When we spoke, he said he'd just returned from 16 months behind bars.

Those two charges in Orange County that were not dismissed? Grant theft, for which records show he served 16 months in state prison.

This morning, I sent the FBI everything Monteilh claimed about his role with the bureau.
"The FBI is not commenting," replied Laura Eimiller of FBI Press Relations in Los Angeles.

The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department had no record of Craig Monteilh being an employee, although they did once have an "A. Konteilh." I was transferred to the city jail, which keeps separate records on volunteer chaplains, but a Sgt. Wong told me once a chaplain leaves the Religious Services Department, his or her volunteer badge is retrieved and records are purged--unless the department has reason to believe the volunteer "is one of our problem children." I told Wong Monteilh has an arrest record, so he very well could be. Wong said he would double-check for me. I'm still waiting.

When we met, Monteilh suggested I contact Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Anaheim CAIR office, which I did.

"I have never trusted Monteilh," Ayloush told me. "He is very suspicious."

I explained the source of his suspicion had told me it was in the FBI's best interest and CAIR's best interest if Monteilh was portrayed as a crook.

"I can see why it is in the FBI's best interest to have him be seen as a con man rather than an informant," Ayloush said, "but I am not sure what he meant with it being in CAIR's best interest."

It is, Monteilh claimed, so CAIR can protect Muslims like Niazi.

"That's interesting," Ayloush responded. "From what was reported to us, a few young Muslims hung around him and held discussions about hot political topics. At the moment he talked about actually committing violence, they called the police on him and asked me to call the FBI on their behalf, which I did. The FBI did not show any interest in taking action, which told me he was an informant--more like a provocateur."

"Hussam Aloush [sic] of CAIR doesn't know for certain," Monteilh wrote me in an e-mail after I'd gone over what Ayloush told me. "He doesn't know the suspected targets and why they are targeted. He doesn't know and may not want to know the level of radicalism in the mosques. I have emails from suspected targets to prove it. I have jihadist websites given to me by radicals."

Before we parted that morning in Irvine, Monteilh had one more thing he wanted to tell me. Motioning toward the parking lot as cars zoomed by, he said, "They're listening to all this, you know?"

There go those hairs on the back of the neck again.

California Muslim Candidate targeted

This is goes on with all the candidates, and I sincerly hope that those candidates who run for an office, run for their constituencies and not for special interests, I know Muslims who have run, ran with an inclusive approach and that must be lauded. It is not naive to be univeralistic, it the right thing to do while others stench in dirty politics.

Time for change has come, and Obama has paved the way. Our interests ought to be interests of every American. What is good for us has got to be good for others and vice versa to sustain it.

Mike Ghouse,0,847563.story
Campaigns in Bell and Cudahy get ugly

Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times

Bell City Council candidate Hussein Chahine was targeted over his Muslim faith in recent contentious elections. Ali Saleh, also a candidate, is below.
Candidates in Southeast L.A. County cities are smeared as terrorists and have had their homes and cars vandalized.

By Hector Becerra
9:38 PM PST, March 4, 2009
Southeast Los Angeles County, which has struggled for years with public corruption investigations and bruising politics, is emerging from Tuesday's municipal elections with a pair of black eyes.

In the mostly Latino cities of Bell and Cudahy, candidates have been smeared as terrorists, had their cars vandalized and had bricks thrown through windows, and a former mayor was accused of raping a young girl in Tijuana.

TallyReturns across L.A. County show voters were in a revenue-raising mood
Two union candidates win L.A. school board races

L.A. County election results
"Southeast turned hit pieces into an art form," said David Demerjian, head prosecutor of the district attorney office's public integrity division, which has 103 open investigations into alleged municipal crime. "It's nasty stuff."

Over the weekend, Bell City Council candidate Ali Saleh was alerted about fliers someone found at a local grocery store. Someone superimposed Saleh's face on a picture of a man holding a sign that read, "Islam will dominate the world." The flier also showed pictures of radical Iraqi cleric Muqtada Sadr, the burning towers of the World Trade Center and terrorists wearing black hoods and standing over a kneeling hostage, presumably about to be executed. At the bottom of the flier was a message to voters:

"Vote NO Muslims for the City Bell Council 2009."

The 33-year-old Saleh, who grew up in Bell, said he never expected his candidacy to lead to an attack on the city's Lebanese American and Muslim community, which numbers about 2,000. Saleh was one of two Lebanese Americans running for council, along with Hussein Chahine. They lost.

"Politics can get dirty. But usually they just say something about you," Saleh said. "But when you come and tell people not to vote for any Muslims, you're talking about an entire group. I was born in this country. I want to be part of this American democratic system. This is very upsetting."

Saleh suspected the culprit was Councilman Luis Artiga, who was running for reelection. Artiga, who won, strongly denied the charge.

George Cole, an influential former mayor of Bell, was still angry about a flier attacking him in November.

Apparently circulated at Maywood City Hall, where Cole, 59, was set to be honored after retiring, the flier falsely said he had been arrested in Tijuana for "raping a young girl," but that police there and in Bell "covered up" the incident.

"They wanted to damage me so my ability to support someone would have no impact," said Cole, who retired last year from the City Council after 24 years.

Cole said he was sure the culprit was City Councilman Nestor Valencia, but Valencia, who lost the election, denied any involvement. "I told George that I had nothing to do with that," Valencia said.

He added that he had been attacked himself by several fliers. One had his picture and big red letters that read: "Stop a corrupt politician."

The ad accused Valencia of failing to file campaign reports and to disclose campaign contributions, and used a picture of a bulldozer claiming Valencia was "supported by big money developers who want to take away our homes."

Cole said he paid for that ad, adding, "I have nothing to hide. I'm proud of it." Valencia denied the allegations made in the ads.

For Southeast L.A. County, the attack ads had a "Groundhog Day," quality. In the late 1990s and early part of the decade, campaign fliers in South Gate took to new lows. When former City Treasurer Albert Robles ran South Gate, political candidates were falsely accused of being child molesters, drunk drivers, deadbeat dads and child killers. Robles and his political allies were eventually recalled, and Robles was convicted of fraud and sent to federal prison.

The region's small cities have repeatedly been the focus of political corruption prosecutions. Before being cleaned up in the early 2000s, South Gate was perhaps the most notorious, but politicians have been convicted of misdeeds in Huntington Park, Lynwood and Bell Gardens. Vernon officials await public corruption trials.

Assemblyman Hector De La Torre (D-South Gate) said he was surprised by the level of vitriol seen in Bell. The town of about 40,000 has been cited by politicians in neighboring cities for being a politically and fiscally stable city and where council chamber screaming matches and overt invectives are relatively unusual. He said he was disturbed by the anti-Muslim ad.

"It's ironic in this case that Latinos are doing it to somebody else because we have had it done to ourselves so often," said De La Torre, who as a South Gate councilman was falsely accused in an ad of leaving a Mexican teenage girl named Guadalupe for a Norwegian bombshell named Tina.

Maywood Police Sgt. Sean Richardson said detectives, including county fire arson investigators, continue to probe a number of attacks in Cudahy against a city councilwoman and two would-be council members, Luis Garcia and Daniel Cota. In July, Garcia's truck was damaged by a Molotov cocktail, Richardson said. In October, a brick was thrown by a hooded assailant through the front window of his home. A car belonging to Garcia's running mate, Cota, was vandalized with red paint, Richardson said. Earlier this month, Cudahy Councilwoman Rosa Diaz had a window of her home shot with a pellet gun. Richardson said there are no suspects.

Garcia's and Cota's second bid for council failed.

Raja Abdulrahim contributed to this report.


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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.