- Category: Nation/World ( Nation/World )
- Published on Tuesday, 13 December 2011 18:08
Turkey. Mashed Potatoes. Pumpkin Pie. All part of the Thanksgiving tradition, to be shared around the dinner table with family and friends. Well, the Muslim American Society has taken that tradition and added its own touch. For the past fifteen years, MAS has hosted its annual convention on Thanksgiving weekend. This year, the traditional Thanksgiving dinner of turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie was served to attendees at the Westin LAX hotel, allowing families to celebrate with the greater Muslim community.
Thanksgiving has always symbolized two very different ideas: a time for family to come together and celebrate, giving thanks for the blessings they have; as well as a time for many to commemorate the injustices done to the Native Americans by the early European settlers, something that is often forgotten. The MAS convention allows for both sentiments to be honored. It brings together family and community, while also touching upon the injustices still faced by different American communities today.
This year’s theme was “One Ummah, One Brotherhood, One Pulse” and builded upon the idea of unity in the face of difficulty. Adeeb Arafeh, the head of the convention, explains the theme.
“It is about bolstering the unity of our Ummah, you and I and every Muslim universally, at a time when the Muslim Ummah is facing many challenges,” head of the convention Adeeb Arafeh said. “This is the time more than ever to be united as one community to face our challenges together. It is vital we deepen the respective brotherhood and sisterhood bonds and to strike a deeper understanding and appreciation of each other in order to build that strength. From our unity, we will be more empowered to work together as one unit on our common cause of seeking Allah’s pleasure through promoting justice for all, contributing goodness to society and upholding our Islamic values.”
This theme allowed for a rich, comprehensive program, which tackled everything from social media to smart parenting. Some of the featured sessions tackled community building, maintaining individual and collective spirituality, smart parenting tools, addiction, combating Islamophobia, lessons from the "Arab Spring" revolutions in the Muslim world and enhancing the relationships between parents and their adult children. Carrying over from last year, there were specific resources geared to young professionals, such as a Professionals Networking Luncheon, career planning workshops, tips on how to start your own business, as well as a fiqh-oriented question and answer session where attendees could ask scholars advice about integrating Islam into professional life. There were also “Coffee and Conversation” sessions where attendees could simply get to know one another.
The MAS Convention strives to be for the entire family, with separate tracks for young adults, youth and children. Camp Izza, a local summer camp run by Dr. Omar and Munira Ezzeldine, organized the children’s program, which included a field trip to the 1001 Inventions Exhibit, which celebrates Islamic civilization and history, at the Discovery Science Center. There was also a puppet show and arts and crafts.
For the youth, there was a talk on choosing the right major in college, as well as a “Real Talk” session where both genders were able to speak with trusted mental health professionals about the pressures they faced. Discussions touched on topics such as positive self esteem and the importance of a good support network. Speakers like Imam Suhail Mulla, who has a background in Social Work, and Maryam Amirebrahimi, who is finishing a Masters in Education and works with youth in South Central Los Angeles, were able to tap their professional expertise while speaking with the youth.
There were Qur’anic recitation classes for those who wished to work with local imams, as well as a recitation competition. For older attendees, there was a talk on preparing for retirement, and another on smart financial planning and debt management. Skill-based workshops that taught writing, communication, civic engagement and community organizing taught practical tools for attendees to take back to their communities.
Speakers were chosen for their expertise in a specific area, with prominent scholars like Shaykh Suhaib Webb and Imam Zaid Shakir, to Mazen Mokhtar, who specializes in leadership development, and Rehan Jalali, who is a certified nutrition specialist. Imam Siraj Wahaj, who had been greatly anticipated, was unable to attend due to the upcoming twentieth anniversary of Masjid at-Taqwa, the mosque he founded.
Thousands of people from across California, and some from neighboring states, attended, making this convention the largest in several years. Anna Torres, a convention volunteer, spoke about her personal experience: “For me, the convention is a place to reconnect spiritually and build relationships with Muslims from everywhere. It’s a great opportunity to learn Islamic knowledge and grow as a Muslim.”
Her committee included volunteers from Los Angeles, San Diego, the Inland Empire and Orange County. “It’s such a great opportunity to get to know people from other areas. By the end of the convention, you feel like family,” Torres added.
The convention ended Saturday evening with an entertainment session that featured world-renowned nasheed artist Maher Zain. Singing crowd favorites like Alhamdulillah, Zain’s modesty and easy manners won the crowd over. Zain was so easy-going that several young children sat in front of him and shouted song requests between acts.
The Muslim American Society has built a new Thanksgiving tradition, hosting a family-friendly convention that is engaging, thought-provoking and entertaining. Perhaps it can be a part of your family’s Thanksgiving tradition next year!
- Category: Nation/World ( Nation/World )
- Published on Tuesday, 13 December 2011 18:06
With over a dozen states considering passing bills that outlaw Shariah law, one can’t help but hear about the term in some way, shape or form in the news these days. A bill passed a few months back by the Tennessee General Assembly draws parallels between Shariah and “the destruction of the national existence of the United States.” The reality is, banning Shariah would prevent Muslims from the ability to solve issues that have nothing to do with destroying anything, let alone the United States. Issues Shariah would address include, disputes over dietary laws and marriage through religious arbitration.
Those who support this skewed view, defend their position by saying we must go to these lengths in order to protect the United States against homegrown terrorism and to keep the Judeo-Christian values this country was founded upon untainted. Newt Gingrich event went as far as saying, “Shariah is a mortal threat to the survival of freedom in the United States and in the world as we know it.” Perhaps the problem is in how shariah is defined (or in this case, mis-defined.)
Shariah is Islamic jurisprudence based on the Quran, Prophetic tradition and at times ijtihad (a decision making process for matters not found in formerly mentioned texts). Scholars who adjudicate religious matters are intensely trained and responsible to create roundtable rulings specific to people, place, and time. Sound familiar? Like our American tradition of deliberation and law making, shariah is also ever-changing.
At its core, shariah is a response to modern times and there is nothing stationary or backwards about it. Forward thinking governing is reflected in both American Law and Shariah Law. If there is not something in the books about it, we make avenues for people to create it. There are fatwa’s (verdicts) on requesting divorce via text message to in-vitro fertilization. Muslim Americans are trying to find the balance between Islamic and American jurisprudence and what we are finding is that it is not difficult, because as Muslims everything that we do is informed by shariah. It is not just rulings about what you can and cannot do, but it is about how to remember God in every action. It is essentially about bringing to life the better part of ourselves as human beings, and as accountable citizens. It is what keeps us awake and aware about the world, people, animals, and issues that affect our lives.
Why does this matter to America and our fellow Americans? Let’s be honest. If Muslims follow shariah there would not be any terrorist amongst them. It’s true. The rules of Jihad are explicit in the Quran and Sunnah and our shariah explains that Muslims cannot harm even trees in the time of war.
If we follow shariah in its true form, all of us as American citizens and residents of this country are subjected to follow the laws and regulations set out by our city, state, and federal government. Our civic involvement is informed by our understanding of shariah, and the first amendment in the bill of rights allows us to practice shariah in a more Muslim-specific way such as building mosques, praying, and wearing the hijab. Allowing Muslims to understand, follow, and implement shariah means good neighbors, active community members, and altruistic volunteers. It means safety, kindness, spiritually heightened consciousness, and tolerance. If you want to be safe, you want shariah to play an active role in the life of every Muslim.
Ironically, the recent attacks against Shariah and subsequent claims that doing so is protecting our country, completely contradicts the United States’ successful history of religious and cultural tolerance. Furthermore it can only create a rift between America and its fastest-growing religious minority.
- Category: Nation/World ( Nation/World )
- Published on Tuesday, 13 December 2011 17:43
On October 31, 2011, after decades of weakened Palestinian international standing that began when the state of Israel was created by U.N. decree on Palestinian land and over Palestinian homes, the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization accepted Palestine as a member state.
UNESCO’s decision was symbolic because Palestine is neither recognized by Israel nor by the U.S. as a state, though its statehood is internationally recognized by 124 other countries. As a result, all Palestinian attempts at gaining full U.N. membership can be vetoed by the U.S. UNESCO’s recognition of Palestine threatens Israel and the United States’ monopoly because its acceptance into a U.N. agency serves as an entryway, however minuscule, to full U.N membership.
On that October day in Paris, after a 107 to 14 vote in Palestine’s favor, the UNESCO meeting room erupted in cheers of joy. The happiness was short-lived, however. Hours later, the United States, in clear solidarity with Israel, stated that it would withdraw its UNESCO funding, which comprises nearly a quarter of the total UNESCO budget.
In defense of its decision, the United States cites obscure 1990s laws that were drafted for the specific purpose of preventing Palestine from achieving renewed legitimacy on an international level, specifically Public Law 101-246. This law, primarily referenced by politicians opposed to UNESCO’s recognition of Palestine, prohibits the United States from appropriating funds “for the United Nations or any specialized agency thereof which accords the Palestine Liberation Organization [PLO] the same standing as member states.” Although the law is inherently anti-Palestinian in nature, it only prohibits the U.S. from appropriating funds to U.N. agencies associated with the PLO as a political organization, not with Palestine as a state, as is the case with UNESCO.
Secretary of State Hilary Clinton cited a different law, Public Law 103-236, in her statement defending the United States’ decision to withdraw funding. The law in question prohibits the United States from making any “contribution” to “any affiliated organization of the United Nations which grants full membership as a state to any organization or group that does not have the internationally recognized attributes of statehood.” Despite the fact that Palestine is internationally recognized by 124 nations, this law has been used on an explanatory basis in defense of the United States’ decision to withdraw funding from an organization, whose purpose according to its mission statement, is to create “sustainable development encompassing observance of human rights, mutual respect and the alleviation of poverty.”
The United States’ decision to align itself with Israel in disagreement with the vast majority of the world’s nations does not only negatively affect an organization dedicated to creating international conditions of peace, it also alienates a broad community of Palestinian Americans.
UCLA student Bayan Abusneineh expressed disappointment and disbelief in the United States’ decision to clearly reject Palestine and its right to statehood. “The United States is my home, and I’m proud of the democratic principles it stands for, but it seems hypocritical that we would choose solidarity with Israel over acceptance of UNESCO’s legal decision,” she said. “It doesn’t make sense to punish UNESCO for choosing to democratically acknowledge Palestine’s legitimacy when 124 other nations have already done so,” she continued.
When asked for her reaction to U.S. laws which exist specifically to prevent Palestine from achieving full international recognition and legitimacy, even with due process as was the case with UNESCO, Abusneineh expressed sadness at the fact that her country is so vehemently opposed to her homeland.
“These laws are inherently racist,” she said. “Just knowing they exist makes me lose faith in my country’s supposed dedication to democracy.”
A Palestinian grandmother who moved to the United States twenty years ago sadly commented that when she visited her family in what is now Israel, she was blocked by Israeli authorities from even coming near her ancestral home, seized in 1948. “I came back to America because I know no one can take my new home away from me here, but it makes me sad to know my adopted country supports the ones who took my family’s home away,” she lamented. Her reaction is a reflection of the decades-long Palestinian struggle to regain even a semblance of their homeland.
On a political level, Palestine’s UNESCO membership and the support of the 107 nations who voted it in has drawn a clear line in the sand. The United States clearly demonstrated its position on the Palestine statehood issue by not only refusing to accept it as a member to a U.N. organization. It has cemented its anti-Palestine stance by going so far as to conjure up vague anti-Palestine laws to augment its decision to support Israel, even at the cost of weakening a humanitarian organization.
Yaser Abed-Rabbo, a senior Palestinian diplomat, expressed concern over the United States’ negative reaction towards Palestine’s membership bid.
“The world is changing, he said. “And the Arab region is changing as well, so it is better to move toward recognition of the rights of the Palestinian people, rather than adopting the same old policies which have proven to be fruitless.”
If the 107 votes are any indication, the world’s nations are finally ready to employ diplomacy and recognition of rights in their dealings with Palestine, and it is time for the U.S. to do so as well.
- Category: Nation/World ( Nation/World )
- Published on Tuesday, 13 December 2011 17:38
It was at the sidelines, not the great speech halls, at the 20th World Petroleum Congress in Doha, Qatar, where reporters captured candid remarks by some leaders in the global oil industry about their opposition to E.U.-pushed sanctions against Iranian oil sales as tensions escalate between Tehran and the West.
When asked if Russia would back an embargo on Iranian petroleum exports to exert pressure on Tehran to abandon its alleged nuclear weapons program, Sergei Shmatko, the country's energy minister, rhetorically asked reporters, "Do you realize the impact of this decision once it is made?" "It is quite obvious that this decision is based on some political motivation," he added.
Shmatko said, rather than banning Iranian oil sales, countries suspect of Tehran's nuclear program should seek diplomatic resolutions, such as discussing the issues in an "open forum", such as the U.N. Security Council.
Those in favor of an oil embargo against Tehran feel that it will cause a financial strain that will hinder the country's nuclear weapons aspirations. Others say the move could do more harm to Europe's struggling economies than it would Iran's.
At the same conference, the secretary-general of the Organization of Petroleum Producing Countries, Abdullah al-Badri, expressed his growing concern that economies already weakened by their own debt crises will suffer another major economic setback if forced to find and buy potentially pricier alternatives to Iran’s oil.
Countries like Greece, Italy and Spain are perfect examples. They are the biggest importers of Iranian crude oil in the European Union and their fragile economies will suffer most if they are forced to purchase those pricier alternatives.
"It is really very difficult to replace these 865,000 barrels that come to Europe from (Iran). Europe now is facing some difficulties as far as sovereign debts and unemployment so to cut these barrels I think that will be a problem," Al-Badri told reporters.
"I really hope there will not be an E.U. embargo on Iranian oil." However, the OPEC leader added that he would not advise against a ban.
As rumors spread about possible military strikes on Iran's nuclear facilities by Israel, the U.S. and its allies, European Union foreign ministers began discussing the possibility of embargoing the import of Iran’s crude oil exports last Thursday in response to an earlier condemnatory report published by the International Atomic Energy Agency that alleged Iran was secretly working on nuclear weaponry.
The E.U. foreign ministers failed to gain enough support to approve the oil embargo because countries like Greece cited it would cause supply problems. They will continue their discussion at the next E.U. summit, which will be held on Dec. 8-9 in Brussels.
The IAEA report, which was released on Nov. 8, said the agency "has serious concerns regarding possible military dimensions to Iran's nuclear program."
"Iran", the report continues, "has carried out activities relevant to the development of a nuclear explosive device."
Tehran has repeatedly denied the report's accusations, saying its program to enrich uranium is for peaceful energy and research purposes only.
Last month, following the release of the IAEA report, its board of governors passed a resolution, by a 32-2 vote, that urges Tehran to cooperate with the agency and allow international mediators into the country to monitor their nuclear facilities.
Ali Asghar Soltanieh, Iran's envoy to the IAEA, called the resolution "unprofessional, illegal and politicized" on Press TV.
Soltanieh accused IAEA chief Yukiya Amano of double standards and a pro-Western bias.
"For the first time after a half a century, Mr. Amano has violated the [agency's] statue by treating the members’ states with discrimination," the Iranian ambassador said.
He said the Nov. 8 report had "not even talked about Israeli nuclear capabilities."
In protest of what Soltanieh called "double standards", Iran boycotted a two-day event hosted by the IAEA on Nov. 21-22 that aimed to encourage a nuclear-weapon free zone in the Middle East.