Muslim leaders and activists tackle opposition to COVID-19 vaccines

Outreach programs to dispel COVID-19 vaccine disinformation are having an impact on vaccination rates within some Muslim communities.

Shaikh Rahman, a business systems analyst in Chicago, was not a proponent of COVID-19 vaccines because he did not feel that credible information about them was being disseminated effectively and the distribution seemed rushed.

“Our faith says to investigate a matter before passing it off as truth,” he says.

But Rahman’s sentiment changed after his local imam, Shaykh Jamal Said of the Mosque Foundation in Bridgeview, Illinois, began to suggest that those who were not vaccinated may be prohibited entry to the mosque.

Rahman was concerned about this potential restriction for prayer services and he considered getting vaccinated. He had tested positive for the virus prior to this potential restriction. So he decided to get the shot to build up his immunity after the Mosque Foundation held a Pfizer vaccination drive.

“With the country reopening, I don’t want my family or my loved ones to be at risk of exposure through me,” Rahman says.

While vaccine hesitancy trends continue to evolve across the United States, a shift also is underway within some Muslim communities. Vaccine rates among Muslims had been among the lowest in the nation in the early months of the pandemic.  But outreach programs from mosques, community organizations, and cultural centers that work with immigrant communities are helping to dispel disinformation and promote vaccination.

As they hear from trusted figures, such as imams, some Muslims are now opting to get the shot.


Church criticizes Austrian government’s ‘Islam Map’

VIENNA: The Austrian Catholic church on Friday became the latest religious group to criticize a government-backed, online map of hundreds of Muslim organization which sparked violence against the Muslim minority.
The highly controversial map shows details of more than 600 Muslim associations — from youth groups to mosques — including details on their location and photos of members.

The map was first presented by a government-funded group monitoring Muslim extremism and by Austria’s Integration Minister Susanne Raab, a member of conservative, anti-migration Austrian People’s Party (OeVP), who called it a tool to “fight political Islam as a breeding ground for extremism.”

Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn, the head of the Austrian Catholic church, wrote in an op-ed Friday that it was “dangerous to give the impression that one of the religious community is under general suspicion,” and asked why one of the country’s many religious communities was singled out.

Umit Vural, head of the Islamic Religious Community of Austria, described the map as a “massive security threat” to Muslims, while the Muslim Youth Austria organization said several Muslims had already been attacked and a mosque has been defaced since that map went online in late May.


Muslims and Christians should learn from their shared history

For the last couple of years, billions of Muslims and Christians have been enjoying religious holidays that fall at roughly the same time of year. The end of Easter has coincided with the beginning of Ramadan, and this should not surprise us at all since both great religions emerged from the same historic region and share a common Abrahamic history and culture. However, a cursory glance at social media reveals that few Muslims and Christians realize they are celebrating their holy days concurrently. It is a shame that, instead of seeking commonalities, the relationship between Christians and Muslims has often been characterized by mistrust and misunderstanding.

As the month-long Ramadan festivities near their midpoint, we ask whether it is time for a new era of peaceful coexistence and understanding between all the Abrahamic faith communities. If the answer is “yes,” the path forward should begin by gaining a better appreciation of our shared Abrahamic history and culture. Our stories are intertwined and at crucial moments we are indebted to one another for existing as faith groups to this day.


Keeping COVID in mind, area Muslims plan for a safe but more communal Ramadan

Many area Muslims are preparing for their second Ramadan of the pandemic, with hope that the month of dawn-to-dusk fasting will be filled with the communal prayers and family gatherings they went without last year, as COVID-19 began to sweep the state.

Last year, there was no prayer [in the mosque],” said Ali Suleiman Ali, the imam of the Muslim Community of the Western Suburbs of Detroit in Canton. “Everybody [came to] understand the importance of community, the importance [of] coming together.”Imam Ali Suleiman Ali of the Muslim Community of the Western Suburbs of Detroit said the mosque will discontinue its socially-distanced prayers if necessary during Ramadan.

This year, he said, the mosque will allow congregants to partake in the optional nighttime worship that is part of Ramadan tradition, but, instead of standing shoulder-to-shoulder, there will be a divide of six feet between each person. Ali said the mosque will not host the evening meal that marks the end of the fast or offer additional lectures and activities as it did before the pandemic.

“All we are going to do is to pray,” he said. “After the prayer, everybody goes home.”

Even with the limited offerings, Ali said that the community would remain vigilant about the current surge in COVID-19 infections in the region, and cancel in-person gatherings if necessary.


Sri Lanka to ban burqas and shut Islamic schools for ‘national security’

(a good subtitle for this article would be: “When Paranoia Becomes Public Policy.”)

Sri Lanka will ban the wearing of the burqa and shut more than 1,000 Islamic schools in the latest actions affecting the country’s minority Muslim population.A burqa is a garment worn by some Muslim women that covers the entire body, including the face, with mesh over the eyes.Sarath Weerasekera, the country’s minister for public security, signed a paper on Friday for cabinet approval to ban burqas on “national security” grounds.”In our early days Muslim women and girls never wore the burqa,” he said in a news conference on Saturday. “It is a sign of religious extremism that came about recently. We are definitely going to ban it.”The wearing of the burqa in the majority-Buddhist nation was temporarily banned in 2019, after a series of bombings on Easter Sunday that killed more than 270 people and injured 500 in churches and hotels.


Arabs, Muslims report hundreds of discrimination claims each year. Here’s one NJ story

Essma Bengabsia was proud to be one of the first hijab-wearing women on the New York trading floor for BlackRock Inc., the world’s biggest asset manager.

Hired in 2018 as an analyst, the North Bergen resident was ready to make her mark on the financial world, after graduating from the prestigious NYU Stern School of Business.

“When I came into the company, I was the only person who looked the way I looked on the trading floor,” Bengabsia, 23, said in a recent interview. “I recognized I was very much charting new territory and trailblazing for women who look like me.”

But Bengabsia said her workplace turned hostile, as she faced repeated instances of discrimination for being Muslim, Arab and female. She detailed allegations in a first-person essay, “#MeToo at BlackRock,” published on last month. 

BlackRock, a Wall Street behemoth that manages $8.7 trillion in assets, said in a statement that it investigated Bengabsia’s claims but did not find she had been the subject of discrimination or harassment.


The many ways Muslim prisoners are denied religious rights in prison

Rick, an African American and Muslim prisoner, was in a correctional facility in a Midwestern state when he tried to obtain a Quran for worship. His request to the officer in charge was denied. But when he was told the price for it, he was shocked — it was far more than he could afford, and, significantly, was two to three times more expensive than a Bible.

“I just couldn’t afford to buy the Quran, or anything else, for that matter,” he says, as he was denied a Quran multiple times.

Rick, whose last name is being withheld to protect his privacy, resorted to secretly borrowing a copy of the Quran from another inmate. When guards were passing by, he had to quickly make sure they did not see it.

“The discrimination is so real. All that matters is your background and the color of your skin,” he says.

The United States currently incarcerates more than 2 million people, who are predominantly Black and Latinx, with almost half a million of these people being held on pretrial bond known as bail. Unfortunately, Muslim prisoners, in particular, are largely left out of the conversation. Muslims are overrepresented in state prisons, making up 9 percent. The significant presence of Muslims in prison stands in stark contrast to Muslims’ share of the US population as a whole, which is just 1 percent.

Muslim prisoners face many of the same issues as other incarcerated people, including hindrances to basic necessities and hygiene such as toothpaste, deodorant, or female sanitary products. But they also face unique discriminatory practices, such as lack of fair access to religious material in prisons. This is despite federal laws that require equal access to religious materials. Unfortunately, discrimination in prisons has been a longstanding issue, with multiple lawsuits attempting to resolve this; nevertheless, Muslims continue to face difficulty.


Sudan’s interfaith event lauded amid opposition

A Sudanese businessman Sunday defended hosting an inter-faith event to promote religious tolerance in the Muslim-majority country that also included Jews, Christians and Hindus.

Critics from an Islamist group had argued such events would heighten tensaions a month after Sudan’s landmark decision to normalise ties with Israel in a US-brokered deal.

Businessman Abu al-Qassem Bortoum defended the event, held Saturday under tight security in a Khartoum hotel, as “a bid to break the psychological barrier” between Islam and other religions, in a country now undergoing a political transition.

Sudan, he said, was moving on a path to “freedom, peace and justice by renouncing hate speech, violent discourse and religious discrimination to achieve unity, tolerance and social coexistence”.

Bortoum had organised the event where ushers wore T-shirts with the logo “Humanity Bridge Builders” and the Islamic crescent, Christian cross and Jewish Star of David symbols.

Rabbi David Rosen of the American Jewish Committee had told the meeting by video link from Jerusalem that “the pursuit of our understanding of one another is precisely what enhances peace in the world”.

Invited guests included diplomats, a member of Sudan’s ruling council, Raja Nicola, as well as members of the country’s Christian and Hindu communities and Sudanese descendants of Jewish families.

Ahead of the gathering, an Islamist group affiliated with the opposition National Umma Party, Al Ansar, had warned the meeting was being staged amid “tensions between advocates of normalisation with Israel and those who reject it”.


Forced marriages, conversions contrary to Islamic teachings: Ashrafi

ISLAMABAD: The forced marriages and conversions to Islam were against the teachings of Islam, Special aide to Prime Minister on Religious Harmony and Middle East, Hafiz Tahir Ashrafi said Thursday.

Addressing, ‘National Interfaith Women Conference’ held under the aegis of Church of Pakistan and Interfaith Harmony Councils, Ashrafi, who is also Pakistan Ulema Council chairman urged minorities living in Pakistan not be intimidated as the state will stop those who try to harm them.

The honor and status bestowed on women by the Holy Prophet Mohammad (S.A.W) is unmatched anywhere else.

Islam is the protector of the rights of minorities and state was responsible to ensure the protection of the rights of every Pakistani living in the country.

Responding to a question, he said killing of any non-Muslim or damaging their property has nothing to do with Islam. The killer of a non-Muslim doctor who was killed in Peshawar has been arrested.

Elements accomplice in terrorism and extremism activities in the name of Islam are not making any service to Islam and are not friends of Islam.