Archive for Interfaith

Dearborn: Muslims and Members of Other Faiths Successfully Counter Anti-Muslim Conference

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon Blogs, Loon People with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on April 30, 2012 by loonwatch

MSNBC describes it as “dueling in Dearborn.” I think the real story is the rejection of Islamophobia, and the anti-Islam outsiders who arrived only to agitate:

Dueling in Dearborn over murder of a 20-year-old woman

By Kari Huus, msnbc.com

In Dearborn Mich., a Detroit suburb known for its concentration of Muslim Americans, anti-Islam leaders from around the country are gathering to discuss how to rescue women from that faith. The “Jessica Mokdad Human Rights Conference on Honor Killings” on Sunday is named for a local Muslim woman murdered one year ago.

But Muslims, civil rights groups and other religious leaders say the conference is merely another event put on by well-known bigots to attack the minority religion. Their response was to schedule a town hall meeting just a few miles away on Sunday called “Rejecting Islamophobia: A Community Stand Against Hate.”

The honor killing conference, organized by Pamela Geller, who became nationally famous for her vocal opposition to the Ground Zero Mosque, aka Park 51 in Manhattan, is based on the premise that Mokdad, 20 years old when she died in April 2011, was the victim of an honor killing justified by Islam.

Mokdad’s family maintains that the killing was a tragedy that has nothing to do with their Islamic beliefs, according to a report in the Detroit Free Press.

“It’s not a case based on honor,” Macomb County Assistant Prosecutor Bill Cataldo, chief of homicide, told the Free Press on Friday.

In court, prosecutors have said the motive for Mokdad’s killing was that her stepfather, Rahim Alfetlawi had “been sexually abusing her,” Cataldo said, according to the report. They argue that when she threatened to go public about the abuse he killed her.

Cataldo said the family strongly objects to the conference using Mokdad’s killing, which they say was a tragedy that had nothing to do with their faith.

Geller insists this was an honor killing carried out by a devout Muslim because his stepdaughter was not following Islam, and that the family is covering it up. She alleges that law enforcers systematically cover up honor killings here and elsewhere under “stealth enforcement” of Islamic shariah law.

On her web site, Geller says: “Despite pressure from the media and members of Jessica’s family who want to cover up the honor killing aspect of her murder, we are not going to change the name of the conference. Unlike those closest to her, we are going to honor Jessica’s memory and stand up against the brutal practice that took her life.”

The Dearborn conference will feature speeches by Geller and Robert Spencer — author of the blog “Jihad Watch” — as well as several like-minded legal and religious figures. They have also invited a young man who says he was Mokdad’s friend to offer “firsthand testimony” that she was a victim of honor killing.

Stop the Islamization of America, which Geller and Spencer founded, has been listed as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a non-profit civil rights watchdog.

“Pamela Geller is the anti-Muslim movement’s most visible and flamboyant figurehead,” according to a profile published by SPLC on its web site. ”She’s relentlessly shrill and coarse in her broad-brush denunciations of Islam and makes preposterous claims.”

The Arab American Institute, a decades-old community organization in the Detroit area, discouraged Muslims and their supporters from protesting at the site of Geller’s conference.  But they organized a competing event, said AAI president Jim Zogby, because Geller and Spencer have become too prominent to ignore.

“Geller and Spencer have thousands of followers, and are given airtime to spew their hate on major American news networks, as if they are respected analysts with just another viewpoint,” Zogby said on the AAI announcement for the “Rejecting Islamophobia” town hall in Detroit.

Although many Americans have never encountered a Muslim in person, about 43 percent questioned in a recent Gallup Poll said they felt at least “a little” prejudice against Muslims.

“This group, we cannot ignore. This is the time for our community to take a stand, along with all those who value America’s commitment to diversity and freedom of religion, against the politics of division and bigotry promoted by the Islamophobes.”

A variety of community, interfaith and religious leaders and Michigan public on their agenda, for a “community conversation about how to respond to these continued attacks,” said Zogby.

One participant who was just on his way to the town hall was Dawud Walid, who heads the Michigan office of the Council on American Islamic Relations, a civil rights advocacy group for Muslims.

“I think firstly we have to better expose who these anti-Muslim bigots are as well as their funders,” said Walid. “We believe that the Islamophobia that permeates our country is being pushed by a well-organized, highly-funded network.”

He says that while Dearborn and Detroit have become a focus for the activities of Geller and others of like mind, the problem is bigger.

“Islamophobia is a national illness,” he said.

Angry, Paranoid and Sporting a Fu Manchu: A Triumphant Terry Jones Does Dearborn

Posted in Loon Pastors with tags , , , , , , , , on April 7, 2012 by loonwatch

Terry Jones

Terry Jones is a crackpot “Reverand” who gained infamy by publicly burning the Qur’an.

Last year Jones was denied a permit to protest on Good Friday in front of the Islamic Center of America in Dearborn, Michigan, prompting howls of protest all across the looniverse. Anti-Muslim bigots accused the court of subverting the US Constitution and caving in to Sharia.

Dearborn is home to America’s largest Muslim community, and a model of interfaith tolerance. Jews, Christians, and Muslims responded to Jones’ hateful message by holding their own rally and carrying a banner that read:

“We, as caring neighbors in southeastern Michigan, stand together in condemning the actions of those who spew hate and fear, and who misuse and desecrate holy books of faith.”

Before and during the rally, hundreds of people signed a 50-foot-long banner that exhorted them to oppose Jones and remember the best parts of their faith. Jones was briefly jailed and banned from returning to the mosque for three years.

This year, a Michigan judge overturned the decision to ban Jones, and the “Reverend,” dressed in a dapper black leather ensemble and sporting a carefully trimmed fu manchu, delivered an impassioned speech about the grave danger Islam poses to America–to all 20 of his supporters.

Florida pastor at Dearborn protest: ‘Islam has one goal — that is world domination’

By Niraj Warikoo, Detroit Free Press

Speaking today in front of the biggest mosque in Michigan, the Florida pastor known for burning the Quran blasted Islam and called upon Americans to take back their country.

Islam has one goal — that is world domination,” said Terry Jones, wearing sunglasses, jeans and a faded black-leather jacket. “It’s time to stand up.”

Holding signs in English and Arabic that read “I Will Not Submit,” about 20 supporters cheered as Jones and his assistant spoke outside the Islamic Center of America, a Dearborn mosque that sits off Ford Road. Framed by the mosque’s minarets, Jones said he’s concerned that the growth of the Muslim population in metro Detroit and the U.S. will lead to the oppression of non-Muslims.

“Muslims, no matter they go around the world … they push their agenda on the society,” said Jones. “We must take back America.”

The mosque was placed on lockdown Saturday afternoon, with about 30 police cars from Detroit, Dearborn, Wayne County and Michigan surrounding the complex, which also includes several churches. Traffic in and out was prevented, disappointing some worshippers who were not aware of Jones’ rally and couldn’t access the mosque. During the anti-Muslim rally, an electronic billboard with the Islamic Center read: “Happy Easter.”

About 500 feet from Jones was a group of counter-protesters, some of whom were with an activist organization, By Any Means Necessary (BAMN). Police prevented them from approaching the grassy area in front of the mosque where Jones spoke. Muslim leaders had urged people not to attend the counter-protest. Unlike Jones’ last two visits to Dearborn, this one was uneventful with no arrests and no street clashes.

Jones said during his talk that he’s also concerned about the free speech rights of Americans. Over the past year, Jones has battled the City of Dearborn for the right to speak in front of the mosque. Last year, a Dearborn judge threw him briefly in jail and ordered him to stay away from the mosque for three years. That decision was later overturned by a Detroit judge.

Last month, the city asked Jones to sign a legal agreement before protesting. Jones then filed a lawsuit, prompting a Detroit federal judge to rule Thursday in his favor. Jones was represented for free in his battles with the city by the Ann Arbor-based Thomas More Law Center, a conservative Christian group established by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan.

During the talk, some supporters of Jones made derogatory remarks and jokes about Muslims. When Jones criticized Rev. Al Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson during his speech, one supporter blurted out: “Throw ‘em in the pit with the Muslims.”

After the rally, supporters of Jones posed for photos in front of the mosque.

A crew from Real Catholic TV, a media outlet based in Ferndale that’s owned by a member of Opus Dei, was at the rally. Its host, Michael Voris, said he supports Jones’ right to free speech and some of his views. Jones, who was a pastor in Germany, said Europe is increasingly under the sway of Islamic law.

“There are whole sections of London ruled by sharia law,” Voris said. “I think there’s the potential to happen in the U.S. what has happened — and is happening — in Europe.”

Tim Voss, 64, of Wayne, said he came Saturday to support Jones because “sharia law is the most dangerous thing. We can’t have it in this country.”

Down the road, counter-protester Laura Dennis, 38, of Detroit, held up a sign that read: “God Loves Us All.”

Speaking about Jones, Dennis said: “This guy’s just a hate monger, no different from the Klan or a Nazi.”

Happy Passover and Easter Weekend

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , on April 7, 2012 by loonwatch

To all those celebrating and reflecting on Passover and Easter, may this be a blessed time for you all.

May it be a time free of hate and filled with peace, security and spiritual renewal.

Happy Passover:

Happy Easter:

Robert Spencer Fail: Tries to Use Death of Pope Shenouda III to Promote Sectarianism and Islamophobia

Posted in Feature, Loon Blogs with tags , , , , , , , , , on March 22, 2012 by loonwatch

JihadWatch’s anti-Muslim fear-mongering director Robert Spencer likes to selectively highlight the most egregious and sectarian statements by Muslims to further his hate agenda against Islam/Muslims.

In the wake of the death of the Coptic Pope Shenouda III he posted a piece about how a cleric named Wagdi Ghoneim said that the death of Pope Shenouda was a “relief” because the Pope caused “sectarian strife” and sought to make Egypt into a “Coptic state.”

To address that specifically, I wonder if the irony is lost on Wagdi Ghoneim, he accused Pope Shenouda of having furthered “sectarian strife” but by writing what he did he himself engaged in “sectarian strife.”

While there are small fringe groups of Copts who wish to turn Egypt into a Coptic state, trying to push this concept as emerging from the Pope, or the mainstream of Copts is similar to the “Islamization” myth that ironically Spencer and his acolytes regularly engage in. The Pope himself was a nationalist and opposed “foreign intervention” and stated that while Copts are “marginalized” in Egypt they are not “oppressed.”

That said, the main point I want to highlight is the fact that Robert Spencer is attempting to shift focus from the overwhelming support and expressions of condolences and grief from Muslims for the passing of the Pope. He chooses one cleric and tries to attribute it as the general feeling of Muslim Egyptians.

This couldn’t be further from the truth.

High ranking Muslim politicians, scholars, clerics, intellectuals and lay people expressed their sympathy and sadness at his passing.

“His holiness lived and died as a loyal patriot to his country,” Parliament Speaker Saad el-Katatni, an Islamist, told a joint meeting of the two chambers of parliament Saturday.

Sheikh Ahmed El-Tayeb, Grand Imam of al-Azhar, the highest seat of religious learning in the Sunni world, offered his condolences to the Egyptian people for such a great loss, saying,

“Egypt has lost one of its rare men at a sensitive moment when it most needs the wisest of its wise – their expertise and their purity of minds.”

Egypt Mufti Sheikh Ali Gomaa also mourned the deceased pontiff as a great Egyptian and patriot, saying,

“His death is a tragedy and a great loss for Egypt and its people of Muslims and Christians.”

Freedom and Justice Party, the Muslim Brotherhood’s political arm and the party with the largest majority in parliament stated,

“The Freedom and Justice Party sends its deepest condolences to the Egyptian people and our Christian brothers over the death of Pope Shenouda III,” FJP leader Mohamed Mursi said.

Presidential contenders such as Amr Moussa and Ahmed Shafiq also expressed their sadness,

Presidential aspirant Amr Moussa said he was saddened by Pope Shenouda’s death.

“We have lost a great value and a pre-eminent pope,” said Ahmed Shafiq, another presidential contender, and a Mubarak-era prime minister.

For more see: Egypt Muslims Mourn Pope Shenouda’s Passing

Here is a picture of Egyptian Christians expressing their thanks and reciprocating the “love” they received at the death of their leader:

Pope_Shenouda_Muslim_Christian_Unity

Egyptian Christians stand in front of a picture of the late Pope Shenouda III after receiving condolences from both Muslims and Christians. Signs read in Arabic (H/T: ZH):
“We feel your love. Thank you, Muslim brothers and sisters”

Sonny Singh: We Are All Muslims: A Sikh Response to Islamophobia in the NYPD and Beyond

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on March 13, 2012 by loonwatch

Sonny Singh: We Are All Muslims: A Sikh Response to Islamophobia in the NYPD and Beyond

As a brown-skinned Sikh with a turban on my head and a long beard on my chin, I deal with my fair share of racist and xenophobic harassment regularly, including in my home of New York City, the most diverse city on the planet. It usually takes the form of someone yelling or perhaps mumbling at me: Osama bin Laden/terrorist/al Qaeda/he’s going to blow up the /go back to your country/etc. Less often, someone might threaten me, get in my face, or in one case, pull off my turban on the subway.

My experience is not terribly unique for a turban-wearing Sikh in the United States. Especially since 9/11, we Sikhs have become all too familiar with racial epithets, bullying and violence. Just last month, a gurdwara in Michigan was vandalized with hostile anti-Muslim graffiti. Last year, in what we can assume was a hate attack, two elderly Sikh men were shot and killed while taking an evening walk in a quiet neighborhood in Elk Grove, Calif.

Many talk about the prevalence of anti-Sikh attacks as a case of “mistaken identity.” Sikhs mistaken for Muslims. Indeed, we are by and large attacked because of anti-Muslim bigotry. The Michigan gurdwara was targeted for that reason, and most of us who experience racist harassment as Sikhs in the U.S. experience it through the vilification of Muslims and/or Arabs.

Ironically, many Sikhs themselves vilify Muslims or at least distance themselves from the Muslim community at every possible opportunity. I remember in the days, weeks and months after 9/11, the first thing out of the mouths of many Sikhs when talking to the press, to politicians or even to their neighbors was, “We are not Muslims.” While this is of course a fact, the implication of the statement if it stops there is: You’re attacking the wrong community. Don’t come after us, go after the Muslims! Sikhs believe in equality and freedom and love our country and our government. But Muslims? We don’t like them either.

The roots of anti-Muslim sentiment in the Sikh community run deep in South Asia, from the days of the tyranny of Mughal emperors such as Aurangzeb in the 17th century to the bloodshed in 1947 when our homeland of Punjab was sliced into two separate nation-states. Despite these historical realities, Sikhism has always been clear that neither Muslims as a people nor Islam as a religion were ever the enemy. Tyranny was the enemy. Oppression was the enemy. Sectarianism was the enemy. In fact, the Guru Granth Sahib, our scriptures that are the center of Sikh philosophy and devotion, contains the writings of Muslim (Sufi) saints alongside those of our own Sikh Gurus. Nevertheless, historical memory breeds misguided hostility and mistrust of Muslims, especially in the contemporary global context of ever-increasing, mainstream Islamophobia.

What is it going to take for Sikhs and Muslims to join together in solidarity against the common enemies of racist harassment and violence, racial and religious profiling, and Islamophobic bigotry? Perhaps the recently exposed NYPD spying program (along with the “education” officers have received about Islam) will serve as a wake up call to my community (and other communities for that matter) about how bad things have really gotten. While we Sikhs confront bigotry on a daily basis from our neighbors, classmates, co-workers, employers and strangers on the street, our Muslim American counterparts are systematically targeted by our own government. (I should note that, of course, Sikhs too are profiled by law enforcement in less repressive, though still troubling, ways, especially at airport security).

Sikhism was born hundreds of years ago in part to stand up for the most oppressed and fight for the freedom and liberation of all people. If this isn’t reason enough for us to make the cause of rooting out Islamophobia from the NYPD and other law enforcement and government agencies our own, we only have to return to the bleak reality we Sikhs in the U.S. still face right now in 2012. A time when gurdwaras are still vandalized with anti-Muslim statements, Sikh kids are still being bullied and tormented at school every day, and I am called Osama bin Laden while walking down a Manhattan street for the 258th time (no I’m not counting).

“We are not Muslims” hasn’t been so effective for our community, has it? Even if we do so in a positive way that does not condone attacks on Muslims, simply educating the public about the fact that we are a distinct community and that we in fact “are not Muslim” will not get to the root of the problem. As long as we live in a country (and world) where an entire community (in this case, Muslims) is targeted, spied on and vilified, we will not be safe, we will not be free.

As Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote in his letter from a Birmingham jail in 1963, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny.”

I hope the NYPD’s blatant assault on the civil rights of our Muslim sisters and brothers propels us Sikhs as well as all people of conscience to action. Perhaps “We are not Muslims” will become “We are all Muslims,” as we come together to eradicate Islamophobic bigotry in all its forms.

Nigeria: The Imam and the Pastor by Journeyman Pictures

Posted in Anti-Loons, Feature with tags , , , , , , , , , , on February 13, 2012 by loonwatch

Imam_AlShafa_Pastor_James_Wuye

Pastor James Wuye and Imam Al-Shafa

In the past year Nigeria has been the scene of much religious and sectarian violence. We have commented on this violence in the past, as well as the efforts to transcend the violence through inter-faith dialogue and action, Nigerians Want to Transcend Sectarian and Ethnic Violence.

Below is a heart-warming story of a Muslim scholar and a Christian priest who both headed militias that were involved in sectarian violence but transformed themselves into peacemakers. (H/T: AMTR)

In the 1990s, Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye led opposing militias in Northern Nigeria. Now the men work together bridging religious conflicts between Christians and Muslims that have killed thousands.
‘My hate for the Muslims then had no limits’ states Pastor Wuye, whose militia killed Imam Ashafa’s spiritual leader and two cousins. Ashafa spent 3 years planning revenge, until one day, a sermon on forgiveness changed his life. The men met and are now working on a peace accord. Imam Ashafa explains, ‘even though we differ in some theological issues, we will make the world a safer place’.

The Imam and the Pastor:

Both Imam Ashafa and Pastor Wuye are still working hard to try and combat violence and hate. Recently they sent out an appeal for help:

NIGERIA under siege – an appeal to the global community

Today, our beloved country Nigeria is passing through a turbulent period of insecurity and desecration of places of worship and human life is no more sacred.  People are living in a state of fear and uncertainty of what would happen next.

We need the support of people of good will to salvage our nation from bloodletting, wanton destruction of lives and properties and the consequent threat to our nascent and fragile democracy and the nation’s survival.

We appeal to global citizens on behalf of widows, orphans, internally displaced persons (IDPs) and other vulnerable people who are victims of this inhumanity to support us and other peace ambassadors with relevant resources, materials that would facilitate a process of sincere dialogue to restore sanity, reconciliation and peaceful coexistence in our country, Nigeria.

Pastor Dr. James M. Wuye/Imam Dr. Muhammad N. Ashafa

Imam, Priest, Rabbi Work Together to Educate in Q-C

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on January 17, 2012 by loonwatch

Imam, priest, rabbi work together to educate in Q-C

Being in a place such as the Quad-Cities, where most residents tend to be tolerant and some are interested in the world’s major religions, makes it possible to host joint classes on Islam, Judaism and Christianity in a special three-week series, a local religious leader said.

“I feel we have a unique situation here, among the United States,” the Rev. Mike Schaab from St. Pius X Catholic Church in Rock Island said. “People of different faiths in other parts of the country and the world would be loath to walk down the street with one another.”

The Inter-religious Dialogue sessions begin Thursday and will be led by Schaab, Imam Saad Baig from the Islamic Center of the Quad-Cities in Moline and Rabbi Tamar Grimm of the Tri-City Jewish Center in Rock Island.

“Seeing what is beautiful about another faith tradition is a life skill,” said Grimm, who also appreciates the fact that the Quad-City community is a place where such lessons can be held openly and celebrated.

This area is a very good location for interfaith dialogue, Baig agreed.

“We are blessed to have people from every walk of life here in the Quad-Cities,” he said. “We try to inform those individuals who come and who see value and potential in this kind of program.”

A rarity at first

Such cooperation between faiths was a novelty when it began many years ago. But it has evolved over time, Schaab said, including special commemorations of 9/11, and the recent 10th anniversary of the 2001 terrorist attacks, an event that attracted an overflow crowd to Augustana College in Rock Island.

The interfaith sessions are designed with a tone free from politics.

“Our goal is to educate, to give people information,” Grimm said. For example, the first session will be on the separate calendars, holy days and celebrations of the three faiths. It will take place at the Islamic Center.

Grimm intends to talk about the cycle of the year in Judaism and how it begins in the autumn. She also will speak about symbolism in the Jewish holidays. Catholics are on the Gregorian calendar, Schaab said, while many Muslims follow a lunar calendar.

A tour that will wrap up the first event at the Islamic Center will include time to witness Muslims in prayer, Baig said. Visitors will see inside the building, its special setting, and then be invited to watch as evening prayers are conducted.

The classes should be appealing, Schaab said. During the Feb. 16 session, visitors will see an actual Torah scroll at the Tri-City Jewish Center, and they will be able to view a copy of the Koran, the Muslim holy book.

“Looking at sacred scriptures will be very interesting to many Christians,” Schaab predicted.

“Each one offers something unique,” Grimm said. “But at the same time, it amazes me how much we share, in every one of our traditions.”

Schaab, the Catholic priest, believes that knowledge gained from the Inter-religious Dialogues deepens faith. “We want to be supportive, appreciative and sensitive to one another,” he added.

Baig, a Muslim imam, said such education teaches respect for all faiths. There also is value in seeing leaders of these faiths together on one stage, he pointed out. Baig cited a phrase that he believes is central to the outreach effort: “The more you sweat in making peace, the less you will bleed in war.”

Grimm, who took over her part in the forum from her predecessor, Rabbi Michael Samuel, hopes to find continuing acceptance for the lessons.

“People are curious, people want to know and people want to understand,” she said.

Egypt’s Coptic Pope Celebrates Christmas with Call for Unity

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 9, 2012 by loonwatch
Coptic ChristmasEgypt’s Coptic Orthodox Church holds Christmas mass at the Abassiya Cathedral in Cairo. Photograph: Khaled Elfiqi/EPA

The Islamophobes would like nothing more than strife and disunity between Muslims and Copts in Egypt. Much to their dismay however Pope Shenouda calls for unity in the country.

Egypt’s Coptic pope celebrates Christmas with call for unity

David Shariatmadari and Damien Pearse (The Guardian)

As Coptic Christians celebrated their first Christmas after the Egyptian revolution, their pope called for national unity amid fears that their community will suffer under Islamic majority rule.

Copts, who use of a 13-month calendar dating back to pharaonic times, celebrated Christmas Day on Saturday.

At the start of the festive celebrations in Egypt, prominent figures from across the political spectrum, including leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood and members of the ruling military council, attended Friday night mass at Cairo’s main Coptic cathedral.

The Coptic pope, Shenouda III, commended their presence and appealed for national unity for “the sake of Egypt”. He said:

For the first time in the history of the cathedral, it is packed with all types of Islamist leaders in Egypt. They all agree … on the stability of this country, and in loving it and working for it, and to work with the Copts as one hand for the sake of Egypt.

The call for unity follows an escalation in violence against the Christian minority, an estimated 10% of Egypt’s 85 million people, over the past year.

Many Christians blamed a series of street clashes, assaults on churches and other attacks on radical Islamists who have become increasingly bold after Mubarak’s downfall.

The Coptic church traces its origins to 50 years after the death of Christ, when Mark the Evangelist took the gospel to the pagan city of Alexandria.

British Copts, expatriate members of the Egyptian denomination, have also expressed their concerns over the events of the Arab spring.

“Because of the problems in the last 12 months, overall attendance every Sunday has increased significantly,” said Nabil Raphael, a GP who has lived in London for the past 35 years. He is a regular at St Mark’s church in Kensington. “Whenever there are problems in the mother church, people naturally get more interested and attend more regularly.”

Christmas services took place across Britain, with centres of worship in London, Hertfordshire, Birmingham, Newcastle and Kirkcaldy, Scotland.

As families gathered for the late-night church services marking Christmas Eve, there was a sense of nervousness, as well as joy. “Last year started horrifically for us,” said Egyptian-born Bishop Angaelos, who is based at the Coptic Centre, a manor house on the outskirts of Stevenage, Hertfordshire. “Just as we were going into new year celebrations we heard about the bombing.”

The 1 January 2011 attack outside al-Qiddissine church in Alexandria, the worst sectarian violence in Egypt for more than a decade, left 23 dead.

Attacks on the community continued after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak, prompting thousands of Copts to take to the streets in protest that no culprits had been brought to justice. The military violently quashed the most recent demonstration in October, leaving 27 dead and provoking further outrage.

“At the beginning [of the revolution] there was a great euphoria, a sense of hope for the future,” said Angaelos. “The problem is that because of the lack of law and order, you then had a lot of extremism. We saw in the past 10 months more attacks on Christians and churches than over the past two years before that.”

Amir Michaeel, 26, saw the revolution as a moment of hope for the country, which he left aged 12 when his father came to the UK to work. But he is concerned by the emergence of more organised Islamic parties.

Raphael is more categorical. “There is real concern about the likelihood of harsher treatment for the Copts if radical Islam is to rule Egypt.”

Bishop Angaelos said the community had no issue with a Muslim majority government as long as the rights of Copts were protected: “What we want is a government which represents everyone in the country, not just one sector over another.”

UK Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and others join Christians to wish Happy Christmas 4 All

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , on December 19, 2011 by loonwatch

Merry Christmas

UK Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and others join Christians to wish Happy Christmas 4 All

By Alexander Goldberg
(Reuters)

There are no Christmas trees in my home, not even a Chanukah bush, no sign of tinsel and no sound of children singing carols. If I was asked on Facebook to describe my relationship with Christmas, like most Jews I would opt for the  ‘it’s complicated’ or even the ‘separated’ status. The personage of Jesus, whose birthday it marks, is the main theological divide between Christianity and Judaism. So whilst a minority in my community do mark it in some way, it would be difficult for me as an observant Jew to do so. Perhaps therefore, it is surprising to some that I have joined the HappyChristmas4All campaign. So why?

For me, it comes down to good neighborliness. It gives me no satisfaction to see others denigrate another person’s religious festival or stop my neighbours from practising their beliefs. That’s why I joined the HappyChristmas4All campaign that has attracted over a thousand supporters on Facebook and captured the attention of the broadcast media in Britain. People have signed up for their own reasons, but in essence Muslims, Jews, Christians, Sikhs and secularists have joined together to say Christmas in Britain must be respected. Some from other communities have gone further and I have learnt this week from both Muslim and Buddhist friends the meaning that the birth of Jesus has in their traditions.

The ‘War on Christmas’ myth needs to be debunked. I share similar concerns to my closest Christian neighbours that the festival risks becoming on one hand a secular consumerist feast or on the other a time when the majority of the population wrongly believes it has to play down celebrations so as not to offend others.

Consumerism is dangerous. The current global economic crisis has shown what happens when we borrow beyond our means. Christmas is a time of great debt for many families who face huge pressures to get those close to them expensive and highly marketed gifts. I share the concerns of those that see this consumerist festival is slowly usurping the religious one that promotes ‘Peace on Earth’ and encourages family gatherings. A religious Christmas is a tonic to this excess and a national consumerist festival is of no interest to any of us.

Playing down Christmas celebrations is not the answer either. We should not make it into some inert ‘Winterval’ or generic ‘Holidays’ which is increasingly popular in the United States. There is a tendency to roll the Jewish holiday of Chanukah into Christmas and celebrate the Holiday period along with Kwanzaa, Chinese New Year and Thanksgiving. Don’t get me wrong, I really appreciate it if someone offers me Happy Chanukah greetings or wants to play ‘spin the dreidel.’ But let’s face it — Chanukah is a minor Jewish festival whilst Christmas is one of the most important days of the Christian calendar. So why ‘big up’ Chanukah or have our neighbours downplay Christmas? Indeed, critics of the term ‘Happy Holidays’ deem it to be either consumerist in its origins or an attack on the centrality of Christmas for the majority of the population in the United Kingdom and the United States.

The ‘War on Christmas’ seems to take away enjoyment for the majority of people and only a few bitter secularists and some ideological extremists, who want to be on the fringe of society, want to see that happen. Surely a Christmas tree or lights on the Main Street or at City Hall can’t possibly offend anyone. The notion is simply ridiculous. I used to get phoned up by public sector workers two weeks before Christmas when I was the Senior Race Equality Officer at the UK Government’s Commission for Racial Equality. They were concerned that placing a Christmas tree in the town hall would offend non-Christians. In the main, the same authorities were marking Eid, Diwali and Chanukah where there were sizeable relevant populations. So I asked them, why not Christmas? I told them that I would be offended if 85% of the population could not celebrate their festival. Point taken, my advice was often met with relief and I am probably responsible for saving a dozen or so Christmas trees in town halls across Britain.

Journalists have been fascinated by the numbers of religious leaders from Jewish, Muslim and Sikh backgrounds joining in with this call to respect Christmas. Even the orthodox Chief Rabbi of Britain, Lord Sacks, joined in. On a recent visit to the Scottish Parliament, he stated that “Jewish and other faith communities love the fact that Christians celebrate ChristmasWhen I go to Trafalgar Square and hear carols being sung, I feel uplifted.”

When they ask me what I am doing this Christmas, I tell them that I have a role. The country still needs people to work or volunteer. At Christmas time, members of my family offer to take colleagues shifts at work or volunteer in understaffed charities in order to help others take the time off to celebrate their festival, or else look in on those that may be lonely over this period. And when asked, I urge members of my community to do likewise. In other words, to show respect for Christmas and their neighbours. Happy Christmas for all…

Muslims and Jews Unite to Oppose EDL

Posted in Anti-Loons, Loon People, Loon Sites, Loon-at-large with tags , , , on December 16, 2011 by loonwatch

EDL
Last summer, Pamela Geller was outraged when she discovered some of her fellow far-right haters in the English Defense League are—gasp!—anti-Semitic:  Blog Wars: Pamela Geller vs. Gates of Vienna and the EDL?

The EDL has tried to court Jewish groups with little success. Now they face concerted opposition from Jewish and Muslim communities.

(cross post from Islamophobia  Watch)

Muslims and Jews unite to oppose EDL

The Home Office has written to an umbrella group representing a range of Jewish communal and religious groups in response to statements distancing themselves from the methods and aims of the English Defence League.

Earlier this year the leaders of the United Synagogue, Reform, Liberal and Masorti communities, as well as the Board of Deputies and the Spanish and Portuguese Jews’ congregation, highlighted their opposition to the EDL’s tactics and called on the far right organisation to refrain from using Jewish and Israeli symbols in its campaigns.

Under the umbrella of the Council of Imams and Rabbis of the Joseph Interfaith Foundation, they rejected in particular the EDL’s “efforts to incite hatred and antagonism in our society”, its attempts to “foment violence” and “drive a wedge between the Jewish community and our Muslim neighbours”.

They attempted to draw a line under the EDL’s efforts to attract Jewish membership, which reached a peak with a rally “to oppose Islamic fascism” outside the Israeli embassy last year where EDL members waved Israeli flags. The EDL has a “Jewish Division”, but it has been beset by infighting and is understood to have only a handful of Jewish members.

James Brokenshire, the Home Office Minister responsible for policy regarding the EDL, has now sent a letter of response to Mehri Niknam, director of the Council of Imams and Rabbis.

“We welcome your positive action to counter the divisive influence and minimise the impact of EDL activity,” he said. “As a government our position is clear, we will not tolerate groups like the EDL who spread hate, seek to divide us and deliberately raise community fears and tensions.”

He said the government would continue to condemn the EDL’s views and actions when necessary and work with police and local agencies. Mr Brokenshire added that the government trusted local agencies to “put in place suitable local measures to counter the influence and minimise the impact of EDL activity. We stand ready to provide advice and support where it is requested.”

Offers of Aid Pour in After Fire at Mosque

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , , on November 4, 2011 by loonwatch
Fire Tears Down MosqueFire Tears Down Mosque

When bigotry leads to the eventual outcome of violence, the response of the community is important. In this case the community has stepped up to the plate and offered to right a wrong by offering aid to a mosque that was burned down in Kansas.

This is the type of story that doesn’t get much coverage, and it is similar to Muslims rebuilding Churches that have been burnt down in Egypt but that is something the Islamophobes won’t ever tell you.

Offers of aid pour in after fire at mosque

When the Rev. Jackie Carter learned of the fire that heavily damaged a mosque in west Wichita early Monday morning, she knew what she needed to do.

“They are welcome to use the worship space at our building,” said Carter, pastor of First Metropolitan Community Church at 156 S. Kansas. “We believe it’s important for everyone to have sacred space, and now they don’t.”

It’s just one of numerous offers of assistance for the mosque and those who pray there, said Hussam Madi, a spokesman for the Islamic Society of Wichita.

The society posted a letter of appreciation on its website today.

“On behalf of the Islamic Society of Wichita, we would like to thank the Wichita community for the outpouring of support we continue to receive in response to the fire at the Westside Islamic Center,” Jenaya McHenry, office manager for the Islamic Society of Wichita, stated in the letter.

“We have received numerous phone calls and e-mails from individuals and churches offering kind words, support, services and space to aid the Muslim community in Wichita. We are truly grateful to be part of such a giving community and for each and every person who has reached out to us.”

The cause of the fire at the mosque at 3406 W. Taft, southeast of Maple and West streets, remains under investigation.

“There are plans to rebuild,” Madi said. “It’s going to require some fundraisers.”

Preliminary cost estimates are in the $120,000 range, he said.

People wishing to send financial donations for the mosque can send them to the Islamic Society of Wichita, 6655 E. 34th St. North, 67226.

“We deeply appreciate the help and the offers from other peoples of faith in our city,” Madi said.

“That makes us feel that we are a part of this community, which we work hard to be a part of.”

Read more: http://www.kansas.com/2011/11/02/2087434/offers-of-aid-pour-in-after-fire.html#ixzz1ckj8RFAV

Frontpage Muslim-bashing Authority Can’t Do a Two Second Google Search

Posted in Feature, Loon Politics, Loon-at-large with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 30, 2011 by loonwatch

Behold the erroneous misinformation factory at Front Page Mag, the online place where Islamophobes go to find spurious arguments that make them feel better about being intolerant of Muslims. Today’s gem comes from Raymond Ibrahim, a skilled harvester of Islamophobic cash cows, a particularly spite-filled individual with an obsession for essentializing Islam as a religion of war, slavery, and sexual misconduct.

Where before have I heard similar claims about a similar religion? Oh yeah. Every anti-Semitic website on the internet. The strong parallel between the claims, rhetoric, and methodologies of Anti-Semites and Islamophobes have been discussed many times before, so there is no need to repeat those arguments here.

Today, I will comment on Mr. Ibrahim’s unprincipled “research” which has as an a priori(beforehand) conclusion that Muslims are never victims, only perpetrators. What perturbed me is that Front Page praises Mr. Ibrahim as a “widely recognized authority on Islam” who can translate “important Arabic news that never reaches the West.”

You see, according to David Horowitz, anti-Muslim ideological commitment makes someone a “widely recognized authority” on Islam; not rigorous academic training, as those foolish liberals believe, with their pesky “facts,” their elitist “research methodologies,” and their vexatious love of “balance.”

To the matter at hand. You may have heard the recent story about two Egyptian Christian girls who were allegedly abducted by Muslims. Raymond pens an anti-Muslim hit piece entitled “Egypt: Christian Girls Kidnapped and ‘Sold’.” Ready for some bombshell evidence of Islam’s collective depravity? Won’t find it here. Raymond is upset that the Egyptian Newspaper, Al-Masry Al-Youm, didn’t report on this story with an acceptable level of anti-Muslim bias:

At the end of the Al-Masry Al-Youm report, we get a trailing sentence alluding to “claims” that two Christian girls “were abducted by Muslims and forced to convert to Islam” as the reason why Copts were demonstrating and clashing with the police in the first place.

This is the “claim” that Mr. Ibrahim wants to advance, the claim of the Christian protestors, i.e. the girls were kidnapped, forced to convert to Islam, and this sort of thing happens all the time because of the tenets of Islam. (Sigh). It should go without saying that mainstream Islam explicitly teaches against forced conversions. Several Quranic verses can be produced to support this:

Had your Lord willed, all the people on earth would have believed. So can you [Prophet] compel people to believe? (10:99)

If your Lord had pleased, He would have made all people a single community, but they continue to have their differences… (11:118)

If you find rejection by the disbelievers so hard to bear, then seek a tunnel into the ground or a ladder into the sky, if you can, and bring them a sign: God could bring them all to guidance if it were His will, so do not join the ignorant. (6:35)

The messenger’s only duty is to give clear warning. (29:18)

We know best what the disbelievers say. You [Prophet] are not there to force them, so remind, with this Quran, those who fear My warning. (50:45)

There is no compulsion in religion: true guidance has become distinct from error, so whoever rejects false gods and believes in God has grasped the firmest hand-hold, one that will never break. God is all hearing and all knowing. (2:256)

Say, ‘Obey God; obey the Messenger. If you turn away, [know that] he is responsible for the duty placed upon him, and you are responsible for the duty placed upon you. If you obey him, you will be rightly guided, but the Messenger’s duty is only to deliver the message clearly.’ (24:54)

Note that the last two verses were revealed in Medina, just in case anyone wants to bring up the tired, old canard that everything wise and peaceful in the Quran was abrogated. In fact, Al-Azhar University’s Commission for Embracing Islam may “spend several days making sure that the person wants to convert to Islam voluntarily and as a result of their own desire.”

Therefore, if it is true that the girls were kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam, this would be an obvious breach of normative, mainstream Islamic teachings, not to mention Egyptian civil law. This would make it a case of criminal behavior, not normal religion. Whoever forces someone to be a Muslim is not behaving like a Muslim. Period.

However, as we shall see, we have strong reason to doubt these girls were kidnapped in the first place.

What are Mr. Ibrahim’s sources for claiming the two girls were in fact kidnapped and forced into Islam? A dubious Arabic website entitled “Free Christian Nation.” No possibility of bias there (sarcasm intended). Mr. Ibrahim boasts about his expert Arabic translation skills:

One must again turn to Arabic sources for the telling details. I have put together the following narrative and quotes based on these two Arabic reports:

The two girls, Christine Azat (aged 16) and Nancy Magdi (aged 14) were on their way to church Sunday, June 12, when they were seized. Their abductors demanded $200,000 Egyptian pounds for their release. The people of the region quickly put their savings together and came up with the ransom money; but when they tried to give it to the kidnappers, they rejected it, saying they had already “sold” the girls off to another group which requires $12 million Egyptian pounds to return them.

Two unsourced reports in Arabic? From which news agency? There are no authors or publishers listed on the reports. If you can read Arabic, seriously, check it out. So your ability to translate from some random anonymous Arabic websites is why you are a “widely recognized authority on Islam”?

But what our “widely recognized authority on Islam” failed to mention is that other mainstream newspapers (even in English, accessible to non-scholars, no translation necessary) have published reports contrary to his central claim. Mr. Ibrahim tells us about his scholarly research methods:

I tried to find this story in English-language media and, as expected, found nothing…

Oh really? I did a two-second Google search and found some. For example, Al-Ahram reported that:

During recent weeks, the two girls, who are cousins, have uploaded videos on YouTube announcing their conversion to Islam and that they were not kidnapped by ‎anyone. This came in response to the father of one of the girls reporting their‎disappearance. ‎

According to this report, the girls willfully converted to Islam, so Mr. Ibrahim tries to explain this away:

Some have tried to pass the usual rumor that the girls “willingly” ran off and converted to Islam, but even Egyptian officials reject this, saying that Al Azhar, which is the institution that formally recognizes conversions to Islam, has not acknowledged the conversion of underage minors.

This “rumor” happens to be based upon the Youtube testimony of the girls themselves, which would make it more than a rumor. The fact that Al-Azhar University did not announce their conversions is not proof that the girls didn’t willfully convert because, as Al-Ahram reports, Al-Azhar “does not accredit ‎conversion to Islam from anyone younger than 18.”‎ Minor details!

The point here is not whether the girls converted or not. I won’t get into “he said, she said” arguments about a pending legal case. The point is that Raymond, as usual, obviously didn’t research and balance his reporting, which means the only reason he brought it up at all is because it is useful ideological propaganda. His readers don’t read Arabic. They won’t double check his work. These blatant mistakes will get swept under rug, again as usual, to be replaced by the next propaganda item, the next blog post, the next hit piece. The erroneous misinformation factory marches on.

Does Raymond really want to help the Christian community in Egypt? Coptic Christians, whom Raymond pretends to defend, have rejected these kind of tactics and propaganda that divide Egypt along religious lines. Bishop Markos of Shubra al-Kheima told Al-Masry Al-Youm that:

Copts fall under the protection of the Egyptian state, and Muslims and Christians in Egypt fall under the protection of God, who mentioned Egypt and its people in the Quran and the Bible.

So don’t be fooled into thinking Raymond cares about these girls or even Egyptian Christians. He’s just using them and their story to whip up anti-Muslim populism, to use as a religio-political wedge issue in the campaign against Obama and liberals.

Undoubtedly, the guys at Front Page would not campaign for the human rights of these two girls if they had really converted to Islam. If their conversion to Islam was genuine, would Mr. Ibrahim and Horowitz support their religious freedom?

I ask these questions because, contrary to the 24-hour hate-on-Islam-a-thon at Front Page, Egyptian Christians who convert to Islam have also faced persecution. This certainly wouldn’t be the first case. As Al-Ahram reported:

This is not the first story of Muslim converts that has been a source of public debate and ‎concern. Camilia Shehata, who disappeared from her house in July 2010, was‎alleged to have converted to Islam only to be held in church after conversion to prevent ‎her from practicing her new religion.

Of course, stories about Muslims being denied religious freedom by Christians don’t quite fit into the Islam-is-all-evil-all-the-time-RSS-feed at Front Page Mag.

I’m not expecting an honest answer from Raymond.

Promoting Religious Tolerance: Interfaith Service at Washington National Cathedral

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , on June 27, 2011 by loonwatch

A great initiative which critics may regard as cliched but is vital for increasing understanding and harmony between religions.

Interfaith service at Washington National Cathedral promotes religious tolerance

By Isaac Arnsdorf (WashingtonPost)

As worshipers entered Washington National Cathedral for Sunday morning’s service, some crossed themselves and some took photographs, some wore ties while others wore shorts and a few even wore yarmulkes.

In the center aisle, in place of the baptismal fountain, candle-lit stands bore three books: a Bible, a Torah and a Koran. When a visitor asked a nearby usher what to do, the usher replied: “This is a totally different service than what we usually do. There’s no wrong answer.”

Instead of Communion, the service featured readings from each of the three Abrahamic faiths, part of a project to promote religious tolerance through similar interfaith services at about 70 churches nationwide. The effort aimed to counteract negative stereotypes and hostile rhetoric targeting American Muslims in the past year, notably the controversy about plans for an Islamic center near Ground Zero in New York and the burning of a Koran by the Rev. Terry Jones in March in Florida.

“What we have done together in this great cathedral this morning, along with others in similar services in houses of worship across our nation, can alter the image and substance of our nation, as well as our religion,” said the Rev. Dr. C. Welton Gaddy, president of the Interfaith Alliance, one of the organizations that sponsored the project. “Today’s beautifully written liturgy, informed by Islam, Judaism and Christianity, declares unambiguously . . . we are not scripture burners, rather, scripture readers.”

A local rabbi and imam joined Gaddy and the cathedral’s Episcopal clergy on the dais to share their messages of mutual understanding and respect.

“For nearly a decade now, since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we Americans have known without a doubt that any hope for a peaceful world will require profound engagement among the world’s religions,” cathedral Dean Samuel T. Lloyd III said.

The service began with a traditional call to prayer in the three religions’ terminology — a Hebrew “Bar’chu,” an Arabic “Azan” and a Latin “Spiritus Domini” — all sung in ethereal tones that swirled through the cathedral’s soaring nave.

Then Rabbi Amy M. Schwartzman of Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church read a passage from Deuteronomy about showing kindness to strangers. Imam Mohamed Magid, the president of the Islamic Society of North America, chanted a passage from the Koran about the value of diversity.

“God could have made all of us look the same and go to the same temple or same church,” Magid explained. “But God willed that humans are diverse.”

Gaddy said he hoped the readings would underscore the commonalities among the three traditions, especially their shared message of tolerance and compassion.

“No one verse or one passage in any book of scripture should be allowed to hijack or hold hostage the central truth, the overarching as well as pervasive moral mandate, which emerges from the full sweep of truth in those books of scripture,” he said. “Cherry picking isolated texts . . . allows mean-spirited people to turn the scripture of our religions into weapons.”

Almost 1,000 people attended the service, an average turnout for a summer Sunday. Among them were people actively involved in interfaith dialogue groups, as well as those who were surprised to find the Jewish and Muslim elements of the service.

Ken Bagley, who with his family was visiting the District from Connecticut, just happened upon Sunday’s service.

“It was a neat opportunity to hear all three perspectives in one service and to see how alike they are. You too often hear about how different,” Bagley said.

Alex Huddell, a 21-year-old student at American University, said she had never heard the Koran chanted, except “maybe in movies.”

“It was interesting and beautiful to listen, even if you didn’t understand, to the different rhythms and styles,” Huddell said. “I’m Christian, but I feel a lot of embarrassment about the way Christians sometimes marginalize other religions. So it’s nice to hear there are some leaders in the faith community who are trying to promote the same message of acceptance.”

Pete Carlson, a member of the cathedral’s congregation, said he was inspired by the service and hopes to attend more interfaith events.

“It was even more moving than the normal service here on Sunday,” Carlson said. “It felt like we were a part of something much bigger and much older.”

Lloyd, the cathedral’s dean, said a Muslim reading also will be part of the cathedral’s memorial service for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Rabbi Baruch Efrati: Pray in Mosque

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2011 by loonwatch

Pamela Geller’s head would literally explode if she read this ruling from the Rabbi.

Pray in mosque, rabbi rules

(YNetNews)

“It would be better to pray in a mosque and do so with meaning and after the sun rises, rather than at home, at dawn or at the airport and without meaning,” Rabbi Baruch Efrati determined recently in a response posted on the Kipa website recently.

The surprising ruling came in response to a question posed by a web surfer living abroad who travels frequently for work purposes: “Most of the time the flights leave very early in the morning. I manage to put on tefilin at home after daybreak, but I don’t have time to wait until I can complete morning prayers,” he stated.

“On the other hand, if I pray at the airport – I feel extremely uncomfortable, because people stare and I find it hard to focus on my prayers.”

He wished to know how to act – and Rabbi Efrati had a surprising response: “Some airports in Europe and Asia have mosques, and they are usually empty of people who are not praying and so it is quiet,” he noted and suggested that the traveler inquire at the airport.

“Of course, this solution isn’t perfect,” the rabbi added, “but it is the best option. There is no prohibition on praying in mosques (apart for the Ran’s – Rabbi Nissim ben Reuven ruling, which was not accepted).”

Rabbi Efrati noted that an example was the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, which has a mosque.

Either way, the rabbi ruled that if the traveler has trouble praying with meaning in the airport – he shouldn’t pray there. In addition, he stressed that praying in churches was completely and strictly forbidden. In fact, it is forbidden to step into a church, he said.

 

The Jewish School where Half the Pupils are Muslim

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , on July 28, 2010 by loonwatch

An old, but still interesting and relevant story out of the UK.

The Jewish school where half the pupils are Muslim

It’s infant prize day at King David School, a state primary in Moseley, Birmingham. The children sit cross-legged on the floor, their parents fiddling with their video cameras. The head, Steve Langford, is wearing a Sesame Street tie.

A typical end-of-term school event, then. But at King David there’s a twist that gives it a claim to be one of the most extraordinary schools in the country: King David is a strictly Jewish school. Judaism is the only religion taught. There’s a synagogue on site. The children learn modern Hebrew – Ivrit – the language of Israel. And they celebrate Israeli independence day.

But half the 247 pupils at the 40-year-old local authority-supported school are Muslim, and apparently the Muslim parents go through all sorts of hoops, including moving into the school’s catchment area, to get their children into King David to learn Hebrew, wave Israeli flags on independence day and hang out with the people some would have us believe that they hate more than anyone in the world.

The Muslim parents, mostly devout and many of the women wearing the hijab, say they love the ethos of the school, and even the kosher school lunches, which are suitable because halal and kosher dietary rules are virtually identical. The school is also respectful to Islam, setting aside a prayer room for the children and supplying Muslim teachers during Ramadan. At Eid, the Muslim children are wished Eid Mubarak in assembly, and all year round, if they wish, can wear a kufi (hat). Amazingly, dozens of the Muslim children choose instead to wear the Jewish kipah.

At the prize morning Carol Cooper, the RE teacher, says: “Boker tov,” (Ivrit for “Good morning”).

“Good morning Mrs Cooper,” the children chant in reply. The entire school, Muslims, Jews, plus the handful of Christians and Sikhs then say the Shema, the holiest Jewish prayer, all together.

The Year Four violin club (five Muslims, two Jews) play “Little Bird, I Have Heard”. Just as many prizes are being distributed to Hussains and Hassans and Shabinas as there are to Sauls and Rebeccas and Ruths. In fact, if anything, the Muslim children have beaten the Jewish ones. Thus does the Elsie Davis Prize for Progress go to a beaming little lad called Walid, the religious studies prize to a boy called Imran wearing a kipah and the progress prizes for Hebrew, to a boy called Habib and a girl called Alia.

Times being as they are, King David doesn’t advertise its presence in a city where its pioneering multiculturalism could raise all kinds of unwelcome attention. There’s a discreet signboard outside that reveals little about the school’s unique nature. There are watchful video cameras high up on the walls, plus two electronic gates to pass through. Sadly, it is, to a significant extent, says Laurence Sharman, the (Christian) chairman of the PTA, “an undercover school”.

The Muslim parents, however, are only too keen to talk in the playground about what might be seen by some in their communities as a controversial schooling decision.

“We actually bought a flat in the catchment area for the children to come here,” says Nahid Shafiq, the mother of Zainah, four, and Hamza, nine, and wife of Mohammed, a taxi driver. “We were attracted by the high moral values of the school, and that’s what we wanted our kids to have. None of us has any problem with it being a Jewish school. Why on earth should we? Our similarities as religions and cultures are far greater and more important than our differences. It’s not even an issue.

“At the mosque, occasionally, people ask why we send the children here, but there is no antagonism whatsoever, and neither is there from anyone in our family. In fact, it was a big family decision to try and get them into King David. This is the real world. This is the way real people do things in the real world. All the violence and prejudice and problems – that’s not real, that’s just what you see on the news.”

Fawzia Ismail (the mother of Aly-Raza, nine, and Aliah, six) is equally positive. “My nephew came here and my brother showed me the school, so it’s a bit of a family tradition now. We’re very, very pleased with the school. It’s so friendly. All the kids mix and go to one another’s parties and are in and out of each other’s houses. They teach a bit about Israel, but we don’t have any problem with that. There are such similarities between our people and our societies.”

Irum Rashid (mother of Hanan, nine, and Maryam, four) says that a lot of people in Small Heath are considering moving to Moseley because of King David. “It’s a very happy school, the behaviour is fantastic, the food is great – because it’s kosher – and so are the SATs results.”

But what about learning Hebrew and the Jewish prayers? “I think it’s great. The more knowledge, the more understanding,” says one of the mothers. “They learn all they need about Islam at mosque school. Actually, the kids often sing Hebrew songs in the bath, which is a bit confusing because we speak Gujarati at home, but I think it’s great.”

The Jewish parents and teachers I speak to are just as enthusiastic. “You know, in these difficult times in the world, I think we show how things should be done. It’s really a bit of a beacon,” says one teacher, whose three children all went to King David and ended up at Oxford University.

Parent Trevor Aremband is from South Africa. “In Johannesburg, we have Jewish schools, but they’re 100 per cent Jewish, so we were a bit shocked when we first came here. But the integration works so well. It’s clearly the way to go in today’s world. My son is eight and has loads of Muslim friends.”

The most important thing, I am told repeatedly, is that the cross-cultural friendships forged at King David last a lifetime. I hear a conversation about how a Rebecca is going to fly over from the States for a Fatima’s wedding. I am told about a pair of lads, one Jewish, one Muslim, who became friends the day they started in the nursery, went to senior school together as well as to university and are now living close to one another with their wives and families and are currently on holiday together.

King David was not designed to be such a beacon of inter-faith cooperation and friendship. Founded in 1865 as The Hebrew School, it was 100 per cent Jewish until the late 1950s.

Then two things began to happen: there was a growth in the Muslim population in middle-income areas such as Moseley, and a shrinking of Britain’s Jewish community, especially outside the main centres of London and Manchester. Muslim children started coming to the school in the early 1960s, but the current position, in which they are in the majority (Jewish children comprise 35 per cent, Muslims 50 per cent, Christians, Sikhs and other, 15 per cent) is very new.

“One of the things that surprises people about this school,” says Langford, “is that it’s not an especially privileged intake. Half of our kids have English as an additional language. But the amazing thing is how well it all works. We have a new little boy here from China, whose only English a few weeks ago was to ask for the toilet. He now speaks English – and can say the Shema perfectly.

“If you gauge success, for instance, by racial incidents, which schools always have to report to the LEA, we have at the most one a term. And that can just mean some harsh words with a racial slant used in the playground. At multicultural inner city schools where I’ve taught, there will be far, far more than that, possibly one or more a week.”

In terms of SATs and Ofsted inspections, King David has also shone. It is rated as good – the second highest possible ranking – in all areas, and Ofsted made a special mention at the last inspection of the integration between children of different faiths and races. In the recent SATs results, the school also came in well above the national average in all subjects.

Steve Langford, a Warwick University economics graduate, is himself a bit of a paradox. He is Church of England on both parental sides and only became interested in Judaism when he worked in a Jewish summer camp in Massachusetts in his gap year. His interest paid off when he got a teaching job a King David. Now he is learning Ivrit at evening classes and goes to Israel for holidays.

The Rabbi of Birmingham’s Singers Hill Synagogue, one of the financial backers of King David, is proud of Steve Langford and of the school’s extraordinary interfaith record.

“King David School is amazing,” says Rabbi Tann. “The reason I think it works well is that racism is engendered entirely by adults. Children don’t have it within themselves. Their natural mode is to play happily with everyone. It’s only when adults say, ‘Don’t play with him, he’s black, or don’t have anything to do with him, he’s Muslim, that troubles begin.’

“We never have any racial or inter-faith problems at all. Not ever. In 20 years here, it’s simply never happened in any significant way. We teach that if you don’t like someone, you avoid them. Don’t play with them. Go to the other side of the playground. I believe that if more people followed the lead of King David School, we’d have a much more peaceful world.”

 

Robert Harush: Israeli Millionaire Helps Build Mosque in France

Posted in Anti-Loons with tags , , , , , , , , on July 8, 2010 by loonwatch

An interesting story about one Israeli who is working to bridge the divide of hate.

Israeli millionaire builds mosque in France

Ofer Petersburg

Published: 07.01.10, 07:59 / Israel Activism

An unlikely benefactor. An Ashkelon resident who made a fortune in the European real estate business has decided to pay for the construction of a mosque in France for the benefit of the local Muslim community.

Father of four Robert Harush, 58, grew up in Ashkelon and having completed his military service tried his luck in the real estate business in Europe. His success has won him many hotels and buildings and he is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of shekels.

Despite his success Harush did not forget his hometown and has returned to Ashkelon and invested in local building ventures. For the past 10 years he has been dividing his time between Israel and France. His four children all speak Hebrew.

The businessman even chose to stay in the southern city during Operation Cast Lead. He remained in Israel also after a Grad rocket landed near his house.

Surprisingly, he has not harbored any ill-feelings against the Arab side and is a strong supporter of co-existence. He was recently approached by the mayor of Montereau, a French city adjacent to Paris, who informed him of his difficulties in financing the renovation of a large mosque in the city.

“I told myself ‘here is an opportunity to bring the people together’ and decided to donate the money,” Harush said. “People were dumbfounded. What does a Jewish-Israeli man have do to with refurbishing a mosque? The answer is simple: I’m sick and tired of the hatred. A sane voice must emerge.”

Harush explained that he built the mosque in order to promote co-existence. “It wasn’t a cheap venture but I did with all my heart.”

Ashkelon projects

Leaders of the Montereau Muslim community have thanked Harush for the gesture and maintain a warm relationship with him.

The businessman, however, is not interested in supporting the Muslim community alone and has paid for the construction of one of the largest and most grandiose synagogues in Asheklon last year, which was named after his late father.

He is currently working on setting up a mikveh in the southern city to be dedicated to his late mother. “I myself am not a religious person but I feel that in the absence of upstanding politicians it falls on businessmen to bring together Jews and Arabs and seculars and the religious.