In the waning days of Ramadan, Islam’s third holiest site has become one of injury and violence, with hundreds of Palestinians sent to Jerusalem hospitals after Israeli police fired tear gas and rubber bullets on Palestinians hurling rocks in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound on Monday.
Al-Aqsa is behind only the mosques in Mecca and Medina – the Kaaba and the Al-Masjid an-Nabawi (the Prophet’s Mosque) – in terms of its importance in Islam, and is believed to be where the Prophet Muhammad ascended to heaven.
United Nations envoys called on Israeli authorities to avoid escalating the situation during Muslim holy days: “We call on all sides to uphold and respect the status quo at the holy sites.”
Since then, Hamas, an Islamic militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, has fired hundreds of rockets at Israeli targets, and Israel unleashed airstrikes Tuesday. At least 26 Palestinians and two Israelis have been killed. The call for Palestinians to be evicted from the east Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah has been a particular spark in the escalating tensions.
A GoFundMe started by a Denton church has raised close to $50,000 for the Denton Islamic Society damaged in the winter storm.
DENTON, Texas — Muslims and Christians are coming together in a big way, to help fund repairs at the Denton Islamic Society. The mosque suffered tens of thousands of dollars in damages by the winter storm.
“It makes you feel good about the community you live in,” said Faraz Qureshi, president of the board of the Denton Islamic Society.
The First United Methodist Church of Denton started a GoFundMe, which raised close to $50,000 in six days.
“People really from all over the world are sending in donations,” Qureshi said. “Honestly it restores faith.”
The donations will pay for repairs to the building, but also so much more, as the outpouring of support comes from Christians and Muslims, but friends and neighbors.
The Friday congregation prayer and sermon is the worship service every practicing Muslim looks forward to at The Islamic Center of East Lansing.
Many often took time off work and school just to attend the service. Then the coronavirus pandemic halted the Friday service and many other in-person activities at the mosque in March.
“People look forward to it each week. It’s equal to Sunday Mass,” explained Thasin Sardar, an Islamic Center board member. “We decided to suspend services before the governor enacted the statewide lockdown. Knowing how rampant infection was going to be, we erred on the side of caution.”
The gatherings were scheduled an hour apart from each other.
Face-mask-wearing attendees, who were spaced 6 feet apart, gathered in the mosque’s parking lot while listening to the sermon of Imam Sohail Chaudhry.
“To see the people there — you could see a desire and hunger to get back to normal as much as we can, which we are still far away from,” Chaudhry said. “It was a great feeling, but there was sadness and grief we can’t do it inside the mosque due to restrictions. I had a mixed feelings, personally.”
A new mosque in Warren on 10 Mile Road was vandalized, Muslim leaders said.
The Al Ihsaan Islamic Center, also known as Ideal Islamic Center, was opened a few months ago by immigrants from Bangladesh in what was previously a Lutheran church. On Friday afternoon, someone smashed several windows of the mosque with a hammer, according to the imam, Muhammad Islam.
A piece of the hammer broke off and fell inside the mosque, Islam told the Free Press on Monday. He speculated that if the hammer had not broken, more of the mosque might have been vandalized.
He said that a neighbor has video footage showing the person who attacked the structure driving in a car outside the mosque.
Warren police did not comment on the incident. A police lieutenant referred phone calls to Warren Police Commissioner William Dwyer; a message left with Dwyer’s office was not returned Monday.
Islam and the Michigan chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) expressed concern that the vandalism may have been a hate crime.
“Because of increasing hate incidents targeting houses of worship and minority communities nationwide, we urge local, state and federal law enforcement authorities to investigate this act of vandalism as a possible hate crime,” Dawud Walid, executive director of Michigan CAIR, said in a statement.
The recent decision by the Turkish government to reconvert the majestic Hagia Sophia, which was once the world’s greatest cathedral, from a museum back to a mosque has been bad news for Christians around the world. They include Pope Francis, who said he was “pained” by the move, and the spiritual leader of Eastern Christianity, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, who said he was “saddened and shaken.” When contrasted with the joy of Turkey’s conservative Muslims, all this may seem like a new episode in an old story: Islam vs. Christianity.
But some Muslims, including myself, are not fully comfortable with this historic step, and for a good reason: forced conversion of shrines, which has occurred too many times in human history in all directions, can be questioned even from a purely Islamic point of view.
To see why, look closely into early Islam, which was born in seventh century Arabia as a monotheist campaign against polytheism. The Prophet Muhammad and his small group of believers saw the earlier monotheists — Jews and Christians — as allies. So when those first Muslims were persecuted in pagan Mecca, some found asylum in the Christian kingdom in Ethiopia. Years later, when the Prophet ruled Medina, he welcomed a group of Christians from the city of Najran to worship in his own mosque. He also signed a treaty with them, which read:
“There shall be no interference with the practice of their faith. … No bishop will be removed from his bishopric, no monk from his monastery, no priest from his parish.”
This religious pluralism was also reflected in the Quran, when it said God protects “monasteries, churches, synagogues, and mosques in which the name of God is much mentioned.” (22:40) It is the only verse in the Quran that mentions churches — and only in a reverential tone.
The Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) has released a statement condemning Turkey’s conversion of Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
ISNA says that the Quran states that it against their religious beliefs to desecrate a Christian place of worship and to “demolish places of worship and convert them into something else.”
Dr. Sayyid M. Syeed, President of the Board of Directors of ISNA, a national umbrella organization which has more than 300 affiliates across the United States and Canada, wrote a full statement as following:
“We need to work together to convince President Erdogan not to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque in Istanbul. Hagia Sophia was built as a Church and a pride of the Greek Orthodox Church which commands the loyalty of Greek Orthodox Christians counting some 300 million in Greece, Turkey and around the world. Russian Orthodox Church which is a splinter of Greek Orthodox continues to jointly have a sacred sentiment for Hagia Sophia.
Sultan Mohammad AlFateh, the Ottoman King who conquered Istanbul (Constantinople), converted the Church Hagia Sophia to a Mosque. He is hailed as a Muslim hero and conqueror but the desecration of a place of worship of Christians, Jews and other faiths is strongly prohibited in Islam. The Quran 40:22 clearly states that it is against Allah’s plan to demolish places of worship and convert them into something else.
Our beloved Prophet Muhammad PBUH emphasized that we have to protect the unarmed enemies, their crops and places of worship in a war. We have a long list of similar items that our first Khalifa, Abu Bakr gave to his army generals commissioned to fight the enemies in Syria and Iraq, protecting their sacred places was an important item among them.
You must be fully aware of the historical event when Umar al Khattab, the second rightly guided Khalifa of our Prophet visited Jerusalem after it was conquered by his army and the vanquished governor Sophronius took him around to show the sacred Christian monuments in the city of Jerusalem. Holy Sepulcher, the Tomb of Jesus was one of them. Umar was overwhelmed and Sophronius could very well notice that. Sophronius was aware of the Islamic belief about Christ and he asked Umar to pray according to Islamic tradition in the Holy Shrine. Umar told him that he would not pray because if he did, later generations of Muslim rulers would convert the Holy Sepulcher into a Mosque. He made it clear that as conquerors, Muslims are charged with the duty to protect the religious monuments of the defeated people with dignity.
The vibrant collection of people celebrating the day after Eid al-Fitr at the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts had to change because of the coronavirus.
This year, the mosque decided to provide food to hundreds of community members in need as the country remains in the midst of the unprecedented pandemic.
Eid al-Fitr begins on the evening of Saturday May 23 is an Islamic holiday that marks the end of Ramadan, a month-long period of fasting and deep reflection. Translated from Arabic as “the feast of the breaking of the fast”, Muslims observe the religious holiday by taking part in traditions such as holding prayer services and donating money to charity.
“We would have had a large congregational prayer at a park with probably two to three thousand people,” said Mohammed Dastigir, president of the Islamic Society of Western Massachusetts.
Dastigir told MassLive that usually the mosque would rent space in Stanley Park in Westfield or use one of the football fields at the high school.
“We usually work with the mayor (West Springfield Mayor William Reichelt) and we rent out the high school, which we obviously couldn’t do that this year. In our parking lot there’s tents and a bunch of food, like a buffet,” Dastigir said.
Posts on social media make the claim that the government of Minnesota is allowing mosques to remain open amidst the novel coronavirus outbreak, while Christian churches are closed. Examples of this post can be seen here , here and here .
This claim follows President Donald Trump’s recent suggestion that mosques might receive special treatment ( youtu.be/M3Ll18Cz4Yc?t=3000 ).
A sample post on Facebook reads: “Just want to inform you all that all Christian churches in Minnesota are closed!!! BUT the governor has allowed the mosque to remain open!! We should all be outraged at this! I spoke with a deputy with St. Cloud Police Department he said they are ALLOWED TO BE OPEN GOVERNORS ORDERS.”
This claim is false. The Minnesota state government confirmed to Reuters via email that there is “absolutely no distinction between churches and mosques in any order issued by the Governor.” It is true that in-person gatherings of congregants, without distinction of religion, are not allowed by the Governor’s Executive Order to contain the spread of COVID-19.
Minnesota’s Stay at Home Order visible here , states that all workers who can work from home must do so. However, it makes an exemption for faith leaders and workers in houses of worship, who are currently among those permitted to perform their duties “wherever their services may be needed.”
In many religious traditions, there are two relational axes along which our lives are understood. The first is the vertical, between the created and the Creator; the second is the horizontal, among the created and with the rest of creation. Islam has those two aspects as well, with the latter relationship always being viewed through the lens of the former. The COVID-19 pandemic has had a marked effect on the latter relationship, changing the nature of ritual worship in many ways. And at the same time, Muslim sages and scholars have reminded their flocks that the former relationship, between the Divine and those who beseech Him, remains constant and consistent — even if takes different forms in this difficult time.
Over the past week, Muslims around the world have pleaded with Islamic scholars to weigh in on the pandemic to give advice and guidance. The coronavirus directly affects congregational worship in several significant ways due to the “social distancing” advice — not least the ability to attend lessons and classes (because Islam is fundamentally a religion of learning), and funeral arrangements (because of the concern of spreading infection from people who pass away from complications arising from the virus).
It might seem simple to some that congregational worship should be done away with in situations of emergency. But it isn’t quite that easy. There are prayers to be held in mosques that are considered religiously compulsory for many in the community; there are other prayers that are strongly recommended to be performed in a congregation; and many of the pious will go to great efforts to ensure they meet those obligations and recommendations.
As an academic and scholar in Islamic studies, I’ve participated in many of the debates concerning the obligations attendant on Muslims in times of crisis — within my native Britain, in Europe and the United States, in South Africa and South East Asia. The discussions of which I’ve been a part were not, and could not simply be, a matter of identifying the legal prescriptions in the Islamic tradition. Instead, the vast majority of scholars with whom I’ve interacted or whom I’ve observed — from the Higher Council of Azhar Scholars in Egypt, to the British Board of Scholars and Imams in the UK, to the Azzawia Trust in South Africa — were unequivocal that the obligations or recommendations of congregational prayers, including the Friday prayer, ought to be suspended in the face of public health concerns.
Religious authorities across the Middle East have moved to cancel or limit weekly prayer gatherings to help prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.
In Kuwait on Friday, religious authorities asked Muslims to pray at home as the Gulf states stepped up measures to fight the spread the novel virus.
In Jerusalem, Christian, Muslim and Jewish leaders said services would continue to be held in the Holy Land but moved to limit indoor gatherings after the Israeli Health Ministry said they should not exceed 100 people.
The Islamic endowment that oversees the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in occupied East Jerusalem, the third holiest site in Islam, said Friday prayers would be held as normal but encouraged people to pray in the outer courtyards and refrain from crowding inside the mosques.