Muslim leaders begin European bus tour against terrorism in the name of Islam

FRANCE-RELIGION-ISLAM-MARCHThe tour, involving around 60 imams, will visit the sites of terror attacks by Islamist extremists.


Muslim leaders launched a European bus tour in Paris on Saturday to express opposition to terrorism in the name of Islam.

Under the banner “Muslims’ march against terrorism,” imams from around Europe and North Africa planned to visit sites of recent terrorist attacks, starting at the Champs Elysees and passing through Germany, Belgium and other parts of France over the next week.

“Our message is clear: Islam cannot be associated with these barbarians and these murders,” who kill in the name of Allah, said Hassen Chalghoumi, the imam of Drancy, France, according to Le Figaro. The initiative is the brainchild of Chalghoumi and Marek Halter, a French-Jewish writer and intellectual.

The tour will land at the site of an attack on a Christmas market last year in Berlin on Monday, before holding a ceremony in Brussels on Tuesday. It is set to stop in Saint-Etienne-du-Rouvray, France (visiting the grave of a priest who was stabbed), and a Jewish school that was targeted in Toulouse. It will also pass back through Paris and the Bataclan nightclub, according to the Belgian paper La Libre, wrapping up on July 14 in Nice, where French President Emmanuel Macron is expected to participate in an homage to victims on the anniversary of the truck attack on the Promenade des Anglais.



‘The Way People Look at Us Has Changed’: Muslim Women on Life in Europe

02Muslimvoices1-superJumboThe storm over bans on burkinis in more than 30 French beach towns has all but drowned out the voices of Muslim women, for whom the full-body swimsuits were designed. The New York Times solicited their perspective, and the responses — more than 1,000 comments from France, Belgium and beyond — went much deeper than the question of swimwear.

What emerged was a portrait of life as a Muslim woman, veiled or not, in parts of Europe where terrorism has put people on edge. One French term was used dozens of times: “un combat,” or “a struggle,” to live day to day. Many who were born and raised in France described confusion at being told to go home.

Courts have struck down some of the bans on burkinis — the one in Nice, the site of a horrific terror attack on Bastille Day, was overturned on Thursday — but the debate is far from over.

“For years, we have had to put up with dirty looks and threatening remarks,” wrote Taslima Amar, 30, a teacher in Pantin, a suburb of Paris. “I’ve been asked to go back home (even though I am home).” Now, Ms. Amar said, she and her husband were looking to leave France.

Laurie Abouzeir, 32, said she was considering starting a business caring for children in her home in Toulouse, southern France, because that would allow her to wear a head scarf, frowned upon and even banned in someworkplaces.

Many women wrote that anti-Muslim bias had intensified after the attacks on Charlie Hebdo in Paris in January 2015, and in Brussels, Paris and Nicemore recently. Halima Djalab Bouguerra, a 21-year-old student in Bourg-en-Bresse, France, dated the change further back, to the killings by Mohammed Merah in the southwest of the country in 2012.

“The way people look at us has changed,” Ms. Bouguerra wrote. “Tongues have loosened. No one is afraid of telling a Muslim to ‘go back home’ anymore.”


Hungarian Leader Rebuked for Saying Muslim Migrants Must Be Blocked ‘to Keep Europe Christian’

Viktor OrbanHungary’s prime minister, Viktor Orban, was criticized online and in person on Thursday for writing in a German newspaper that it was important to secure his nation’s borders from mainly Muslim migrants “to keep Europe Christian.”

“Those arriving have been raised in another religion, and represent a radically different culture. Most of them are not Christians, but Muslims,”Mr. Orban wrote in a commentary for Frankfurt Allgemeine Zeitung, a German newspaper. “This is an important question, because Europe and European identity is rooted in Christianity.”

“Is it not worrying in itself that European Christianity is now barely able to keep Europe Christian?” Mr. Orban asked. “There is no alternative, and we have no option but to defend our borders.”

On the cusp of progress: Radical Changes Taking Place in Islam

muslim womenAn ‘inclusive mosque’, a woman leading prayers, a gay Imam. Even as traditionalists look on frowningly, radical changes are taking place in Islam

In 2005, surrounded by reporters, television cameras and photographers, a woman led Friday prayers in New York. In 2012, an Imam established the first “inclusive mosque” on the outskirts of Paris for gay, lesbian and transgender Muslims. And in 2013, the spotlight was on the first gay Imam in the U.S., Daayiee Abdullah, who, despite condemnation, performed funeral rites for a gay Muslim who had died of AIDS. All these examples show that winds of change are sweeping over Islam. Of course, not everybody agrees with these actions. For some these show signs of a revolution, for some it is ‘biddat’, an unapologetic innovation, and for others it is just sheer blasphemy.

The “inclusive” mosque was established by Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed, an Algerian-French Imam. The mosque, Zahed says, was a project that stemmed from “a long personal journey” — he grew up tolerating many snide remarks before coming out to his parents at the age of 21. Zahed said in an article in The Guardian that he set it up so that there could be “a place of worship where people will always be welcomed as brothers and sisters, whatever their sexual orientation or ethnicity.” It all started when a Muslim transgender died and nobody was ready to lead prayers for burial. Zahed stepped in and created history, and this immediately led to the integration of the marginalised. Says Zahed: “Thanks to both the media’s interest and to academic work, we sought to organise inclusive Jumu’a prayers despite the risks. Nobody generally wants to pray for a transgender’s death or for gay weddings. Today this is no longer the case.”

Keeping Zahed company in the U.S. is Imam Daaiyee Abdullah, believed to be the only openly gay Imam in the U.S., who came out to his supportive family many years ago. Born to Christian parents, Abdullah acknowledged his sexuality before embracing Islam. His story is similar to Zahed’s: he also led the funeral prayers for a gay Muslim when other Imams refused to step in. Such has been the impact of Abdullah’s work that when I speak to Zahed, he recalls Abdullah’s words to substantiate his point. Says Abdullah: “Islam is a living religion, it must breathe.” Zahed adds, “Diversity as sacred, unified yet differentiated human nature — that is the ‘social contract’ that the Quran has offered for 14 centuries. And the Arab-Islamic civilisation, known until recently for its tolerance, was to some extent its vivid illustration.”


Differences among Muslims as great as among Christians

 We all remember the traumatic attacks of 9/11. I remember feeling vulnerable, expecting the worst. For Muslim-Americans, there probably was a different fear. It was the fear that, no matter how moderate they might be, their fellow Americans might blame them for what a few radicals had done.

We know religious extremism can produce terrorists. There have been Jews and Hindus who have committed acts of terror. The Ku Klux Klan, Jim Jones, Eric Rudolph, Anders Breivik and the murderers of abortion providers all claimed Christianity among their motives. And extremist Muslims have engaged in terrorism in the name of Islam.

We don’t judge Christianity by its extremists because we personally know a lot of good sensible Christians. But if you don’t know any Muslims — and polls say most Americans admit they don’t — then you might tend to judge all Muslims by the negative reports you see on the news or the fictional Muslims who are portrayed as the bad guys on TV and in the movies.

A 2010 Gallup report found 43 percent of Americans admitted to being prejudiced against Muslims, while 85 percent of those polled said they knew little or nothing at all about Islam.

There was a news story after 9/11 when the airplanes began to fly again about a Sikh man who was taken off an airplane because he wore a turban. Most Americans don’t know the difference between Muslims and Sikhs.

How many Americans know that Islam, Judaism and Christianity share roots in the story of the patriarch Abraham? That Islam has a very high regard for Jesus, teaching he was a great prophet? That, similar to Judaism and Christianity, Islam teaches the Golden Rule: Treat others as you wish to be treated? “No one of you is a believer until he desires for his brother what he desires for himself,”the Hadith says.

Muslims and conservative Christians often express the very same values when it comes to issues such as alcohol, modesty, family and community.


Christians Join Muslims in Fasting for Ramadan

Like 1.6 billion Muslims around the world fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, Jeff Cook has been rising before dawn each morning to have breakfast. He doesn’t eat again until breaking his fast with dinner.

But Mr. Cook isn’t Muslim, doesn’t have close Muslims friends, and has never been inside a mosque. The Christian pastor from Greeley, Colo., is fasting for the 30 days of Ramadan, which ends Friday, as part of a nascent effort among American Christians to better understand and support Muslims.

Jeff Cook Published Credit: Kelly Cook

Muslims make up less than 2% of the U.S. population, and are expected to remain a small minority in the U.S. for decades, even as Islam grows rapidly in other parts of the world. Still, aggressive recruiting efforts by Islamic extremists in the West and calls for attacks from within has affected the larger Muslim community here, and colored many Americans’ views of them.

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, Americans have more negative feelings toward Muslims than any other religious group.

“I’m fasting to remind myself there’s people all over the world that matter to God who embrace Islam,” Mr. Cook said recently. “I want to remind myself and my culture that we can have a different posture in our hearts toward those who embrace Islam.”

His fasting has been tested daily, most severely by a bag of Corn Nuts his family munched on during a five-hour road trip to South Dakota. His wife and two small sons support him, but aren’t fasting themselves.

He remembers thinking, “Those Corn Nuts look like filet mignon right now.”


What do Ramadan, Vimto and ‘Game of Thrones’ have in common?

Ramadan is coming,” reads a popular meme which this year has been circulating on Arab social media. Punning on a catchphrase from hit HBO program Game of Thrones – “winter is coming” – this fan-created meme has been amusing Muslims and non-Muslims alike.

It might surprise you to hear that Game of Thrones is not only popular but also publicly advertised in Middle Eastern countries – even in conservative Saudi Arabia. But if you’re British, you might be even more surprised to see a bottle of Vimto in another widely circulated meme. Vimto?!

(Photo courtesy: Twitter)

Vimto was created in 1908 by the Nichols family in Cheshire, England. Made from grapes, blackcurrants and raspberries, the drink was first served in non-alcoholic “temperance bars” in the north of England. The prefix “vim” comes from the Latin “via”, meaning “strength”, and the drink was originally marketed as such.

In the UK today, Vimto is chiefly aimed at kids and teens, and marketed with tongue-in-cheek ad campaigns. About 79 percent of sales are generated in the UK, the Middle East is now the biggest market for Vimto outside the UK.

Vimto was first exported to the Arab region in 1928. “Due to the hot climate, the beverage market has always been significantly large in this region,” writes Al Arabiya News’ Editor-in-Chief Faisal Abbas for the Huffpost. “Also, at the time Vimto first arrived, very few people had refrigerators; hence a sweet, cordial and hassle-free drink would have been a natural choice.”