‘Good Muslims’ or ‘Good citizens’: how Muslim women feel about integration

UK muslimsA great many things have been said about Muslims as UK citizens, mainly by non-Muslims. The prime minister, David Cameron, believes that if more Muslim women became proficient in English, for example, it would help beat extremism and terrorism. Meanwhile, Trevor Phillips, the former chair of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, says that UK Muslims “See the world differently from the rest of us”.

Phillips also presented a controversial Channel 4 programme called What British Muslims Really Think, which put across the message that Muslims are more conservative than the majority population and don’t want to integrate into wider society.

The debate is often highly intemperate – and both Muslim and non-Muslim voices alike have suggested it contributes to further stigmatisation of an already marginalised and disadvantaged Muslim population. In this highly politicised climate, the relationship between Islam and citizenship has also come under scrutiny by Citizens UK, a charitable voluntary organisation with churches, mosques and unions among its members.

In July 2015, Citizens UK launched its Commission on Islam, Participation and Public Life headed by conservative MP Dominic Greave. Greave somewhat unfortunately framed the Commission’s work as aiming to “help tackle extremism”.

The commission is holding a series of public hearings throughout the UK, asking Muslims to speak about barriers to their participation in society but also asking how “the Muslim community” can improve its participation. Although commendable for speaking with and soliciting views from Muslims around the country, there is also a problem with the approach chosen by Citizens UK, in that it only focuses on the Muslim population. In a febrile political atmosphere, it risks legitimising the isolation of Islamic faith and the prejudiced idea that Muslim citizens in Britain are uniquely problematic and a “one-voice” community.


Dana Milbank: ‘It could get a lot worse for Muslims in America’

Trump-Islam-hates-us-640-320My neighborhood of Chevy Chase is a leafy and peaceful slice of Northwest Washington. But this week, the news here is of a woman assaulted outside the local Starbucks by a Donald Trump supporter, she says, for the sin of being Muslim.

Police on Monday released surveillance video showing a heavyset white woman shouting at, and then pouring a bottle of liquid onto, a woman in a Muslim headscarf as she sat outside the coffee shop. Police are investigating a possible hate crime.

The victim said the attacker called her a “worthless piece of Muslim trash” and a “terrorist.” And the attacker said she was supporting Trump because he would send the Muslims “back to where you came from.”

“She mentioned this man’s name to me as a way of saying he’s going to put all of you out of this country,” the woman, who asked not to be identified, told me Tuesday.

But this is her country. She’s African-American, born in Minneapolis, reared in Chicago and now living in D.C.

Trump won the Indiana primary easily Tuesday night, giving him an almost certain grip on the Republican presidential nomination. Now Republicans across the country will be forced to make a moral choice: Do they associate themselves with the grotesque things that Trump and his supporters have said and done? Or do they refuse to allow such things to be said and done in their names?


Sadiq Khan Is Elected Mayor of London

SUB-JP-BRITAIN-master768LONDON — Sadiq Khan, a son of a bus driver from Pakistan, was declared the winner of London’s mayoral election on Saturday, becoming the first Muslim to lead Britain’s capital at a time of rising Islamophobia in the West.

The victory of Mr. Khan, a former human rights lawyer and a Labour member of Parliament, makes him one of the most prominent Muslim politicians in the West. It was also his party’s biggest boost in a series of elections on Thursday in which Labour further lost its grip on Scotland, once a stronghold, and clung, in some cases just barely, to seats in England and Wales.

Mr. Khan won with 56.8 percent of the vote, versus 43.2 percent for Mr. Goldsmith. The results were not final until Saturday morning because in London’s system voters are allowed a first and second preference, and Mr. Khan had not won an outright majority in the first round.

London, a global center of finance, is hardly representative of Britain: About a quarter of its residents are foreign-born, and an eighth are Muslim. And Mr. Khan is not the first Muslim to win a prominent office in Europe: Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, has had a Muslim mayor since 2009, and a Muslim Conservative lawmaker, Sajid Javid, is the British secretary of state for business.

Nonetheless, Mr. Khan, 45, won a striking victory after a campaign dominated by anxieties over religion and ethnicity. Britain has not sustained a large-scale terrorist attack since 2005, and its Muslim population, in contrast to France, is considered well assimilated. But an estimated 800 people have left Britain to fight for or support the Islamic State. Dozens of assaults on British Muslims were reported after the Paris terrorist attacks in November.


Christians and Muslims unite to serve refugees in Sweden

turkeySince September 2015, two of Sweden’s largest Muslim and Christian congregations – Katarina Church and the Stockholm Mosque – have been working together to serve those fleeing war and persecution, according to the UN’s refugee agency.

The church and mosque have provided beds for a third of all refugees who come through Stockholm on their way to other countries. They are fed and washed at the mosque, and then sleep in the church.

“In Stockholm at the station I was met by volunteers with food and water. They asked where I would prefer to go, the mosque or the church? I said the church,” said 27-year-old Mohammed, a Muslim who fled sectarian violence in Baghdad.

“It was a beautiful feeling. Back home Muslims are not allowed to go to churches. Some refugees came to the church just because they wanted to find out what it was like. They found people respected them, even though they were Christians and we were Muslims,” he said.

“Everyone was treated like a king at the church, I felt like a real human being for the first time in my life, I wasn’t used to it. They were really good people.”

The church and mosque are now entering into a new stage of collaboration by starting a joint venture. They hope to compete with private companies that have been criticised for allegedly making profits through providing refugee shelters with state money.

“We are small, but we have a unique cooperation with an organisation that has a lot of information, and the big asylum companies don’t have that,” said Olle Carlsson, the vicar of Katarina Church.

The two congregations hope to “export this idea to other countries,” said Abdallah Salah, secretary general of Islamic Relief in Sweden.

“We have to work together, live together… we have a future together.”


Muslim-Christian peacemaking has a history we need to revive

ofgodsandmenTwenty years have passed since seven monks from the Trappist Priory of Our Lady of the Atlas at Tibhirine, Algeria, were kidnapped by members of the Armed Islamic Group, victims in the Algerian civil war. American moviegoers know the story of their vocation from the award-winning 2010 film “Of Gods and Men” (“Des hommes et des dieux”).

There is confusion over the conditions of their death. Two months after the kidnapping the monks were found, apparently executed and beheaded, but knowledgeable sources contend that they were killed not by their captors but in a failed rescue attempt by the Algerian Army.

The monks of Tibhirine and Christian De Chergé, their prior, belong to a tradition of French Catholic engagement with North African Islam. The earliest of these was Blessed Charles Eugène de la Foucauld, the early 20th-century hermit of Tamanrasset in the Algerian Sahara and the inspiration of the Little Brothers and Sisters of Jesus.

The others are the distinguished Islamist Louis Massignon and his disciple Mary Kahil, who initiated the badaliya, a movement of Christian-Muslim prayer-support groups.

Foucauld, a one-time soldier, fell under the spell of the Sahara after doing a cartographic exploration of Morocco for the French government. In1901, after ordination to the priesthood, he returned to the desert, first to Bene Abbès and then at Tamanrasset, where he lived as a hermit dedicated to prayer and adoration but also tirelessly served his Tuareg neighbors.

Originally hoping he might find converts among the Tuareg, Foucauld lived out his time with a life of presence and service to his Muslim neighbors. “God continues to come to us and live with us in a close and a familiar way, each day and at every hour, in the Holy Eucharist,” he wrote. “So, too, we must go and live among our brothers and sisters in a close and familiar way.”

To a Protestant visitor he said, “I am not here to convert the Tuareg at one go, but to try to understand them … . I am sure God will accept into heaven those who are good and virtuous … . You are a Prostestant, Tessière is a nonbeliever, the Tuareg are Muslims. I am convinced God will accept us all.”


An American Muslim Mom on Faith, Parenting, and the 2016 Election

c0b4d5548083fecee0b967b38fd439f7Swept into this years electoral politics—and now devastated by Trump’s landslide this past Tuesday—it is easy to lose sight of actual faith. These are times that easily shore up religious identity: the far right attacks one because of it. The secular left, bless them, defends one’s right to it. But the truth is, beyond the staunch belief that no one should ever be persecuted because of it, I am not overly interested in religious identity. Faith is what actually drives me, defines me, returns me.

Faith is what I could not ever disavow, and what I have no choice but to assert. I looked up the definition of faith, hoping to find a template for describing what it is, exactly. But that was a mistake. Faith is so much more than a “strong belief in the doctrines of religion” to any person of faith.

So, I want to tell you about my faith. Partly so that you can decide if this is the stuff over which you’d like to see your Muslim neighbors and school children persecuted and harassed. Partly to suggest to you that 1.6 billion Muslims are engaged in something far less nefarious than either the American far right or ISIS would have you believe. And partly by way of introduction. It is a useful sort of introduction for this moment in America, because while each of us, in the deep intimacy of faith, is entirely unique, I also believe that faith, broadly defined, is the choir in which we all sing.

Faith was that thing that was waiting when I had nothing and no one else. It was the last hope for the most humble version of myself. Faith was for me that ultimate act of surrender, the moment in which I acknowledged that my assessments and desires were not only not the best guide for my life, but among the worst possible guides. I came to faith the way that many do, by creating unmitigated disaster in my life. And at that point of absolute ruin, felt the potential lightness of what remained.


Muslims in Bulgaria pull together to rebuild Christian church

church-of-st-michael-the-archangelMuslims in a small village in Bulgaria have raised the funds and contributed the labour to restore a century-old Eastern Orthodox church.

The Muslims managed to put together £800 for the restoration, to save the Church of the Archangel Michael for the village’s Christian community who make up about one tenth of the 600 residents.

Kozlets is in the southern Bulgarian province of Haskovo, near the borders of Greece and Turkey.

The restoration of the bell tower cost about £800.

“It was possible that it would fall and bring down the roof with it. This very much worried the Christians in the village. So we decided to raise money,” village mayor Kadir Beynur told Haskovo.


The Muslims along with local Christians found the money to repair the belfry, repair the fence around the church and refurbish the interior.

The bell will now peal out again as the church re-opens for Orthodox Easter, which this year is on 1 May.

The church sexton, Petar, said: “The tables, the floor mats, everything was collected from the people, everything was donated.”

Previously, the bell was in a precarious state and it was feared it could have fallen at any time on to the heads of worshippers below.

Beynur explained that in these troubled times, this was a chance to strengthen the bonds between the two faiths.

“From what I can remember my parents, our Muslim community and Christians who once were a majority in the village, we lived together,” he said. The communities were united by faith and jointly celebrated each others’ holidays. “This is an absolute sign that not only people becoming more strong in faith, but in a village where there are Muslims and Christians, all have played their part, rolled up their sleeves and taken care of their houses of prayer. Kozlets is a true example of tolerance, especially in these times when it is so important and necessary.”