FATAH: Islamist groups eligible for share of $23M in federal funding? | Toronto Sun Corrrection

An example of fake news, where the original headline was “Islamic Relief and Other Groups to Receive $23M”, and the Sun was obliged to issue the following correction, not been picked up by the media and bloggers recirculating the story.

“Clarification

Tarek Fatah in a July 3, 2018 column incorrectly stated the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) is receiving funding from a federal multicultural program. Liberal MP Iqra Khalid suggested organizations such as NCCM would receive funding in a video referenced by Fatah however NCCM has not applied for funding.  The Toronto Sun regrets the error”

Slightly reworded article to reflect the correction:

On the afternoon of June 27 while most of Canada was at work or watching the World Cup matches, a major funding announcement was made with little fanfare and in front of no more than a couple of dozen, mostly Muslim audience of Pakistani Canadians.

Mississauga-Erindale MP Iqra Khalid who has been the mouthpiece of the divisive Motion M103 on ‘Islamophobia’ stood in her constituency office to announce that the Trudeau government was investing an additional $23 Million into its multiculturalism program.

With no mainstream media in attendance to ask any questions, Khalid boasted that her “hard work has resulted into tangible action.” She listed the following two groups as being potential recipients of the new funding:

The National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM), a former branch of the U.S. based Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) that was named in 2008 as an unindicted co-conspirator connected to the “largest terror-funding trial in U.S. history. NCCM has denied links to CAIR.

Islamic Relief, a worldwide charity accused of links to Islamist extremism by Middle East Forum, Israel and the United Arab Emirates among others.

There is no solid record that the Canadian arms of these two organizations have contributed to current problematic behaviour.  Nonetheless, for over a year many Muslim Canadians, including yours truly, my Sun colleague Farzana Hassan as well as other Muslim critics of Islamism had warned that the M103 initiative was much more than the victimhood culture of guilt being forced onto ordinary Canadians.

Khalid, in explaining during a press conference to announce the funding, suggested the $23 million is intended to “build bridges” between Canadians and to give new Canadians a “foundation” in this country by supporting community groups.

“NCCM that does a lot of data collecting on hate crimes and really pushing that advocacy needle forward within our country,” Khalid said. “Or like Islamic Relief, that does work not only within Canada, across Canada, across the world in really removing those stereotypes.”

So on Wednesday, we saw our fears come true. While Islamists are eligible to receive funds to conduct their Sharia agenda in Canada, Muslim critics of jihad, polygamy, FGM and Sharia have been left on their own to fight global Islamofascism.

In a message to MP Khalid, I asked her to clarify if any part of the $23M will be used to counter the daily denigration of Christians and Jews that takes place in mosques across Canada, from dawn to dusk.

I reminded her that “most Friday sermons at mosque congregations end with a call to Allah to grant Muslims victory over non-Muslims, referred to as ‘Qawm al Kafiroon’.”

“Will the $23M be used to de-radicalize mosque clerics and educate them to end hateful sermons from the pulpits,” I asked.

Despite reaching out to her office twice, I did not get a response, nor any press release or statement issued by any ministry of the Trudeau cabinet.

In making the announcement, the Pakistan-born Liberal MP told her scant audience, her M103 initiative was about “systemic racism and religious discrimination” and that “my goal was to study it and understand why does it happen and to find solutions.”

Most Canadians would have told her, ‘physician, heal thyself,’ but of course, ordinary Canadians are too scared to be labelled as ‘racist’ by privileged Islamists riding the waves of victimhood.

In recommending Islamic Relief as one of the recipients of the $23 million fund, Khalid covered up the fact that even Bangladesh, a Muslim-majority country has banned Islamic Relief from providing either relief or aid to some 500,000 Rohingya refugees who have taken refuge in the country.

Khalid also shrugged off allegations that Islamic Relief has long been accused of funding terror. The United Arab Emirates has designated Islamic Relief as a terror-financing organization while in Russian authorities have accused Islamic Relief of supporting terrorism in Chechnya.

My question to ordinary Canadians is this: Who will stand up to the Islamist agenda in our country if it’s the government itself that funds their agenda?

Clarification

Tarek Fatah in a July 3, 2018 column incorrectly stated the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM) is receiving funding from a federal multicultural program. Liberal MP Iqra Khalid suggested organizations such as NCCM would receive funding in a video referenced by Fatah however NCCM has not applied for funding.  The Toronto Sun regrets the error

via FATAH: Islamist groups eligible for share of $23M in federal funding? | Toronto Sun

Is China’s atheist Communist Party trying to eradicate Islam?

As they have tried for other religions:

Green-domed mosques still dominate the skyline of China’s “Little Mecca”, but they have undergone a profound change – no longer do boys flit through their stone courtyards en route to classes and prayers.

In what locals said they fear is a deliberate move to eradicate Islam, the atheist ruling Communist Party has banned children under 16 from religious activity or study in Linxia, a deeply Islamic region in western China’s Gansu province that had offered a haven of comparative religious freedom for the ethnic Hui Muslims there.

China governs Xinjiang, another majority Muslim region in its far west, with an iron fist to weed out what it calls “religious extremism” and “separatism” in the wake of deadly unrest, throwing ethnic Uygurs into shadowy re-education camps without due process for minor infractions such as owning a Koran or even growing a beard.

Now, Hui Muslims fear similar surveillance and repression.

“The winds have shifted” in the past year, said a senior imam who requested anonymity. “Frankly, I’m very afraid they’re going to implement the Xinjiang model here.”

Local authorities have severely curtailed the number of people over 16 officially allowed to study in each mosque and limited certification processes for new imams.

They have also instructed mosques to display national flags and stop sounding the call to prayer to reduce “noise pollution” – with loudspeakers removed entirely from all 355 mosques in a neighbouring county.

“They want to secularise Muslims, to cut off Islam at the roots,” the imam said, shaking with barely restrained emotion. “These days, children are not allowed to believe in religion: only in communism and the party.”

More than 1,000 boys used to attend his mid-sized mosque to study Koranic basics during summer and winter school holidays but now they are banned from even entering the premises.

His classrooms are still full of huge Arabic books from Saudi Arabia, browned with age and bound in heavy leather. But only 20 officially registered pupils over the age of 16 are now allowed to use them.

Parents were told the ban on extracurricular Koranic study was for their children’s own good, so they could rest and focus on secular coursework. But most are utterly panicked.

“We’re scared, very scared. If it goes on like this, after a generation or two, our traditions will be gone,” said Ma Lan, a 45-year-old caretaker, tears dripping quietly into her uneaten bowl of beef noodle soup.

Inspectors checked her local mosque every few days during the last school holiday to ensure none of the 70 or so village boys were present.

Their imam initially tried holding lessons in secret before sunrise but soon gave up, fearing repercussions.

Instead of studying five hours a day at the mosque, her 10-year-old son stayed home watching television. She said he dreamed of being an imam, but his schoolteachers had encouraged him to make money and become a communist cadre.

The Hui number nearly 10 million, half the country’s Muslim population, according to 2012 government statistics.

In Linxia, they have historically been well integrated with the ethnic Han majority, able to openly express their devotion and centre their lives around their faith.

Women in headscarves dish out boiled lamb in mirror-panelled halal eateries while streams of white-hatted men meander into mosques for afternoon prayers, passing shops hawking rugs, incense and “eight treasure tea”, a local speciality including dates and dried chrysanthemum buds.

But in January, local officials signed a decree pledging to ensure that no individual or organisation would “support, permit, organise or guide minors towards entering mosques for Koranic study or religious activities”, or push them towards religious beliefs.

“I cannot act contrary to my beliefs. Islam requires education from cradle to grave. As soon as children are able to speak we should begin to teach them our truths,” he said.

“It feels like we are slowly moving back towards the repression of the Cultural Revolution,” he said, referring to a nationwide purge from 1966 until 1976 when local mosques were dismantled or turned into donkey sheds.

Other imams complained authorities were issuing fewer certificates required to practise or teach and now only to graduates of state-sanctioned institutions.

“For now, there are enough of us, but I fear for the future. Even if there are still students, there won’t be anyone of quality to teach them,” one imam said.

Local authorities failed to answer repeated calls seeking comment but Linxia’s youth ban comes as China rolls out its newly revised Religious Affairs Regulations.

The rules have intensified punishments for unsanctioned religious activities across all faiths and regions.

Beijing was targeting minors “as a way to ensure that faith traditions die out while also maintaining the government’s control over ideological affairs”, said William Nee, a China researcher at Amnesty International.

Another imam said the tense situation in Xinjiang was at the root of changes in Linxia.

The government believed that “religious piety fosters fanaticism, which spawns extremism, which leads to terrorist acts – so they want to secularise us”, he said.

But many Hui are quick to distinguish themselves from Uygurs.

“They believe in Islam too, but they’re violent and bloodthirsty. We’re nothing like that,” said Muslim hairdresser Ma Jiancai, 40, drawing on common stereotypes.

Sitting under the elegant eaves of a Sufi shrine complex, a young scholar from Xinjiang said his family had sent him alone aged five to Linxia to study the Koran with a freedom not possible in his hometown.

“Things are very different here,” he said with knitted brows. “I hope to stay.”

Source: Is China’s atheist Communist Party trying to eradicate Islam?

No, CSIS does not ‘target’ Muslims with no accountability (Gurski) and the piece that prompted it (Gardee)

Phil Gurski on Ihsaan Gardee’s earlier column (reprinted below):

There are times when you read something that makes your blood boil and demands a response. One such time occurred to me last week within the pages of The Hill Times in an op-ed by Ihsaan Gardee, executive director of the National Council of Canadian Muslims (NCCM). Entitled “Government must rebuild trust with Canadian Muslims on national security“, this op-ed piece is full of language like “over-reaching and draconian,” “smearing Muslims,” “Islamophobia,” “systemic bias and discrimination,” and “little or no accountability,” all directed at CSIS and other agencies involved in national security.

Gardee paints a picture of CSIS that seems to have it in for Canada’s Muslims and which has undermined attempts by those communities to “establish robust partnerships.” He appears convinced that CSIS is an organization run rogue that has “protracted problems” which leads to the “stigmatization” of those among us who are Muslim.

As a former analyst at CSIS who not only worked on Islamist extremism for 15 years, but who has written four books on the topic—and met with Muslims all across the country to discuss the issues of radicalization and terrorism—I think I am in a better position than him to draw a better picture. And no, for the record, I am not a ‘shill’ for CSIS and more than happy to point to the bad as well as the good within the agency.

So to the first accusation levelled by Gardee: does Islamophobia exist within CSIS? Absolutely—I saw it first-hand and challenged it when I saw it, although it is not as pervasive as he thinks it is. And, yes, the lawsuit containing allegations about Islamophobia among other shortcomings that was settled by five former employees was based on facts, as I outlined quite clearly in a previous Hill Times column. Aside from that, however, everything else Gardee alleges as endemic within CSIS—I cannot speak for another agency such as CBSA as I never worked there and would never purport to know what goes on within its walls—is false. As CSIS won’t publicly address these fabrications, I will, if for no other reason than I toiled tirelessly for a decade and a half to do my small part in keeping Canadians safe from terrorism and don’t want my time construed as wasted in a racist environment.

But if you look at the terrorist/violent extremist environment in Canada since 9/11, which seems to be the timeframe Gardee sees when everything went to hell for Muslim Canadians, the vast majority of attacks have been perpetrated by Islamist extremists. And that does not even take into account the Islamic State ‘foreign fighter’ phenomenon that led to the deaths of countless thousands in Iraq and Syria. Does this perhaps explain why CSIS and its partners have focused on the Muslim community in that time, given that these perpetrators come from that community?

What Gardee appears to fail to understand is that CSIS is an intelligence agency that is driven by intelligence. Intelligence tells it where to put its resources; that and government requirements. If the threat is emanating primarily from a small number of Canadians who happen to be Muslim then that is exactly where you would want our protectors to look, not elsewhere.

I am not saying that CSIS or its employees are perfect. No, they are not as they are human. In addition, there is always room for improvement, and that includes its relations with communities across Canada, Muslims among them. Since 9/11, however, CSIS has done its part with its partners to prevent deaths. I would think that Gardee would at least acknowledge that much.

I thus reject Gardee’s accusations. He owes CSIS an apology for his ill-considered words. Phil Gurski is a former strategic analyst with CSIS, an author and the Director of Intelligence and Security at the SecDev Group.

via No, CSIS does not ‘target’ Muslims with no accountability – The Hill Times

Gardee’s op-ed made in the context of C-59:

Once bitten, twice shy. That’s the sense within Canadian Muslim communities when it comes to the Liberal government’s proposed overhaul of national security law under Bill C-59.

The legislation was back before the House last week after examination by the Public Safety and National Security Committee.

Let’s not forget where this first started. Under the previous government, Canadian anti-terrorism laws quickly morphed into overreaching and draconian policies. This was coupled with Muslim communities facing jarring public scrutiny and increasing Islamophobia.

Back then, despite efforts from Canadian Muslims to establish robust partnerships on national security, the government’s response was to smear them as a threat to Canada. The result: trust between Canadian Muslims and the government agencies tasked with protecting us all evaporated after years of work.

The days when the loyalty of Canadian Muslims was being questioned by government officials seem behind us—for now. But that is no standard by which to measure meaningful change.

That very public show of Islamophobic discourse by government overshadowed something even more alarming—the permeating of systemic bias and discrimination against Muslims by and in our security agencies.

In the past several months alone, we have seen sweeping allegations by CSIS employees about racism and Islamophobia within the service and new data that suggests the CBSA disproportionately targets non-whites, particularly those from the Middle East.

These accounts, along with the direct reports regularly received by our organization, only amplify concerns about what Canadian Muslims have been experiencing for years.

To be fair, Bill C-59 does make important, long-overdue improvements to previous laws, including better and more focused review powers and mechanisms as well as some stricter directives to prevent complicity with torture by foreign powers.

Last December, our organization told the House Public Safety Committeethat redress and review were only a partial solution to the problems plaguing Canada’s national security system. Real reform of security work is necessary to address systemic bias and discrimination.

As outlined by experts and civil society, there are several concerning elements in Bill C-59; however, two key issues have recently come to the fore.

First, the government has not substantially reined back the contentious disruption powers given to CSIS—an agency that we know through public inquiries has targeted Muslims with little to no accountability for their actions. There must be a concerted effort by government to confront the systemic bias in the way CSIS approaches and resources its intelligence work. Until real change occurs, these powers which remain unproven in their effectiveness are only an invitation to more abuse and scandal.

Second, the lack of due process in the Passenger Protect Program—Canada’s No Fly List—continues. This has been one of the most troubling instruments of state power for over a decade. There are no reported cases of Canadians successfully getting off the list through the Passenger Protect Inquiries Office which was created in 2016. Families impacted by the list say the inquiries office has been of little to no use. Although recently funding has been earmarked for a new redress system to remove false flagging, how and why Canadians find themselves on this draconian list in the first place remains unanswered.

As we look ahead, the aegis of this legislation does not engender the kind of trust from communities that is needed.

Incidentally, Public Safety Canada’s recently launched Canada Centre for Community Engagement and the Prevention of Violence is pledging a strategy that “reflects the realities faced by Canada’s diverse communities.” Canadian Muslims are closely watching whether this initiative is yet another exercise in falsely framing national security as the “Muslim problem” or whether policymaking will finally take into account the growing threat of far-right extremism in Canada.

In other words, rebuilding trust with our communities cannot be achieved through roundtables and focus groups.

It has been more than a decade since the Arar Inquiry report first outlined some of the protracted problems within our country’s security apparatus. Through the haze of political haste, 12 years later Canadian Muslims are still seeking the partnership with government that ends their national security stigmatization.

Government must rebuild trust with Canadian Muslims on national security

Immigrants in Canada are turning to faith for settlement, support and sociability

Interesting research and findings on the generational shifts, with appropriate nuance on trends:

Upon arrival in Canada, newcomers often look to spiritual communities for support, whether for help learning a new language, locking down a job or simply to find a social circle as they make their way in a new country.

And, while some new immigrants find spiritual fulfilment in addition to material help from these communities, firmly held religious views — such as the role religion ought to play in public life — tend to sag over subsequent generations, says new research by the Angus Reid Institute, a non-profit opinion research organization, and Cardus, a non-partisan, faith-based think tank.

“I’m not sure Canadians appreciate the story of what faith communities do,” says Ray Pennings, Cardus’s executive vice-president. “They actually play a pretty significant role in our day-to-day life.”

The report says nearly one-half of those born outside of Canada received material support from a faith-based group, while 63 per cent relied on them to form a social network.

“They don’t know anyone, so they go to their church, synagogue, temple or whatever, and that’s where they find people,” says Angus Reid, chairman of the Angus Reid Institute. The survey, Reid says, didn’t differentiate between services from religiously based organizations and those provided directly from congregations.

“You’re going back to the history of settlement in Canada. Churches always, always played a big role,” says Fariborz Birjandian, who heads the Calgary Catholic Immigration Society, which provides services ranging from child care and transitional shelter to employment services. He says many agencies, including his, started as specifically faith-based organizations and are now more religiously diverse, serving a wide array of religious and cultural backgrounds.

Ray Pennings is vice president of research for the Work Research Foundation, a think tank dedicated to the study of Canada’s social architecture.

“If you look at it deeply, the faith groups, part of the mandate is to help those (who are) vulnerable,” he says.

Birjandian, a Baha’i refugee from Iran, says he was helped by the Baha’i community when he arrived in Canada. “That’s was actually an amazing place for us to go, because we were accepted when we went to our faith group with no questions,” he says. “You want to be accepted … and definitely a faith group plays a big, big role.”

And, yes, 65 per cent of respondents — the sample included 1,509 adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum, a community of opinion-givers, and 494 members of Ethnic Corner, a research group focusing on ethnic groups and new Canadians — said they found a spiritual home among Canada’s religious communities. The polling includes both refugees and those who immigrated for different reasons.

But the data suggest there is a change in religiosity between generations of immigrants: 20 per cent of those newly arrived, for example, say religion should have a major influence on public life. But among second-generation immigrants, it drops to 14 per cent and, among those the survey calls “third generation+” (those who trace their roots to their grandparents at least – so, most of the rest of us) that percentage drops to just 10 per cent.

Reid says that while “the political implications of all this remain something you can only speculate on,” the belief in the importance of religion in the public sphere could pose a challenge on issues such as abortion or public funding of religious schools.

On other metrics, too, some views fade, such as the importance of a formal welcoming into religious life, such as baptism. 60 per cent of those born outside of Canada say this is very or somewhat important, dropping to 50 per cent for second-generation Canadians and 47 per cent for everyone else.

As for believing in God or a higher power, 65 per cent of immigrants believe this is very or somewhat important for their children, while 57 per cent of the second generation and 51 per cent of the third generation say that’s the case.

Among those surveyed born outside of Canada, 57 per cent said religion has more positive than negative effects on Canada; by the second generation, 54 per cent say it’s a mix of good and bad and just 33 per cent agree with their parents on its positive effects.

Peter Beyer, a University of Ottawa professor who’s researched religion and migration, says these trends aren’t surprising, although he says some research suggests, among certain demographics, trends of declining religiosity among each generation doesn’t always hold true.

Still, he says, “in the history of migration studies … this has been noted again and again: Immigrants do not stay the same.”

Source: Immigrants in Canada are turning to faith for settlement, support and sociability

ICYMI – The Saudi-Moroccan spat: Competing for the mantle of moderate Islam

Interesting:

Lurking in the background of a Saudi-Moroccan spat over World Cup hosting rights and the Gulf crisis is a more fundamental competition for the mantle of spearheading promotion of a moderate interpretation of Islam.

It’s a competition in which history and long-standing religious diplomacy gives Morocco a leg up compared to Saudi Arabia, long a citadel of Sunni Muslim intolerance and ultra-conservatism.

Saudi Arabia is the new, baggage-laden kid on the block with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman asserting that he is returning the kingdom to a top-down, undefined form of moderate Islam.

To be sure, Prince Mohammed has dominated headlines in the last year with long-overdue social reforms such as lifting the ban on women’s driving and loosening restrictions on cultural expression and entertainment.

The crown prince has further bolstered his projection of a kingdom that is putting ultra-conservative social and religious strictures behind it by relinquishing control of Brussels’ Saudi-managed Great Mosque and reports that he is severely cutting back on decades-long, global Saudi financial support for Sunni Muslim ultra-conservative educational, cultural and religious institutions.

Yet, Prince Mohammed has also signalled the limits of his definition of moderate Islam. His recurrent rollbacks have often been in response to ultra-conservative protests not just from the ranks of the kingdom’s religious establishment but also segments of the youth that constitute the mainstay of his popularity.

Just this week, Prince Mohammed sacked Ahmad al-Khatib, the head of entertainment authority he had established. The government gave no reason for Mr. Al-Khatib’s dismissal, but it followed online protests against a controversial Russian circus performance in Riyadh, which included women wearing “indecent clothes.”

The protests were prompted by a video on social media that featured a female performer in a tight pink costume.

In a similar vein, the Saudi sports authority closed a female fitness centre in Riyadh in April over a contentious promotional video that appeared to show a woman working out in leggings and a tank-top. A spokesman for the royal court, Saud al-Qahtani, said the closure was in line with the kingdom’s pursuit of “moderation without moral breakdown.”

Saudi sports czar Turki bin Abdel Muhsin Al-Asheikh said “the gym had its licence suspended over a deceitful video that circulated on social media promoting the gym disgracefully and breaching the kingdom’s code of conduct.”

Mr. Al-Sheikh’s sports authority moreover apologized recently for airing a promotional video of a World Wrestling Entertainment, Inc., event that showed scantily clad female wrestlers drawing euphoric cheers from men and women alike.

To be sure, the United States, which repeatedly saw ultra-conservative Islam as a useful tool during the Cold War, was long supportive of Saudi propagation of Islamic puritanism that also sought to counter the post-1979 revolutionary Iranian zeal.

Nonetheless, Saudi Arabia’s more recent wrestle with what it defines as moderate and effort to rebrand itself contrasts starkly with long-standing perceptions of Morocco as an icon of more liberal interpretations of the faith.

While Saudi Islamic scholars have yet to convince the international community that they have had a genuine change of heart, Morocco has emerged as a focal point for the training of European and African imams in cooperation with national governments.

Established three years ago, Morocco’s Mohammed VI Institute for Imam Training has so far graduated 447 imams; 212 Malians, 37 Tunisians, 100 Guineans, 75 Ivorians, and 23 Frenchmen.

The institute has signed training agreements with Belgium, Russia and Libya and is negotiating understandings with Senegal.

Critics worry that Morocco’s promotion of its specific version of Islam, which fundamentally differs from the one that was long prevalent in Saudi Arabia, still risks Morocco curbing rather than promoting religious diversity.

Albeit on a smaller scale than the Saudi campaign, Morocco has in recent years launched a mosque building program in West Africa as part of its soft power policy and effort to broaden its focus that was long centred on Europe rather than its own continent.

On visits to Africa, King Mohammed VI makes a point of attending Friday prayers and distributing thousands of copies of the Qur’an.

In doing so Morocco benefits from the fact that its religious ties to West Africa date back to the 11th century when the Berber Almoravid dynast converted the region to Islam. King Mohammed, who prides himself on being a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed, retains legitimacy as the region’s ‘Commander of the Faithful.’

West African Sufis continue to make annual pilgrimages to a religious complex in Fez that houses the grave of Sidi Ahmed Tijani, the 18thcentury founder of a Sufi order.

All of this is not to say that Morocco does not have an extremism problem of its own. Militants attacked multiple targets in Casablanca in 2003, killing 45 people. Another 17 died eight years later in an attack in Marrakech. Militants of Moroccan descent were prominent in a spate of incidents in Europe in recent years.

Nonetheless, protests in 2011 at the time of the popular Arab revolts and more recently have been persistent but largely non-violent.

Critics caution however that Morocco is experiencing accelerated conservatism as a result of social and economic grievances as well as an education system that has yet to wholeheartedly embrace more liberal values.

Extremism is gaining ground,” warned Mohamed Elboukili, an academic and human rights activist, pointing to an increasing number of young women who opt to cover their heads.

“You can say to me this scarf doesn’t mean anything. Yes, it doesn’t mean anything, but it’s isolating the girl from the boy. Now she’s wearing the scarf, but later on she’s not going to shake hands with the boy . . . Later on she’s not going to study in the same class with boys. Those are the mechanisms of an Islamist state, that’s how it works,” Mr. Elboukili said.

Mr. Elboukili’s observations notwithstanding, it is Morocco rather than Saudi Arabia that many look to for the promotion of forms of Islam that embrace tolerance and pluralism. Viewed from Riyadh, Morocco to boot has insisted on pursuing an independent course instead of bowing to Saudi dictates.

Morocco refused to support Saudi Arabia in its debilitating, one-year-old economic and diplomatic boycott of Qatar but recently broke off relations with Iran, accusing the Islamic republic of supporting Frente Polisario insurgents in the Western Sahara.

Moroccan rejection of Saudi tutelage poses a potential problem for a man like Prince Mohammed, whose country is the custodian of Islam’s two holiest cities and who has been ruthless in attempting to impose his will on the Middle East and North Africa and position the kingdom as the region’s undisputed leader.

Yet, Saudi Arabia’s ability to compete for the mantle of moderate Islam is likely to be determined in the kingdom itself rather than on a regional stage. And that will take far more change than Prince Mohammed has been willing to entertain until now.

Source: The Saudi-Moroccan spat: Competing for the mantle of moderate Islam

Conservatives prefer an authoritarian God, liberals like younger, more feminine face, study says

Interesting and not surprising how preferences reflect values and ideologies:

Gone are the days when God was an old man up in the clouds, peering down with stern, aged eyes.

According to a new study, modern American Christians now picture God as a younger, cuter and more approachable guy who could just as easily be drinking a beer at the bar.

However, the tendency to group the apparent divine makeover with celebrities such Elon Musk and Ryan Gosling has left researcher Joshua Jackson shaking his head. Jackson stressed that the goal of the study was not to compile an absolute result but rather compare individual features that 511 American Christian participants chose out of more than 300 face samples, all constructed off an demographic average of the American face.

“The strength of the study is that the features people constantly collected aligned with their view of God and those are the features that you should compare,” he said.

On comparing the faces chosen by study participants, Jackson and his colleagues at University of North Carolina, were surprised to see a face ‘much more kinder and loving’ than the authoritarian old man painted on the Sistine Chapel, giving life to Adam.

Michaelangelo’s iconic painting of God giving life to Adam, on the 16th century Sistine Chapel.

Furthermore, comparing the study results with earlier studies that compared verbal descriptions of God, has Jackson and his colleagues revisiting the stereotypical notion of the old, bearded man altogether. “People were generating these benevolent, warm adjectives much earlier than the kind of authoritarian figure we see,” he said.

That’s not to say that the authoritarian description was thrown out of the mix altogether. Conservative participants still visualize a face that was relatively ‘masculine, older, more powerful and wealthier’, reflecting what the study called, their ‘motivation for a God who enforces order.’

Liberals, on the other hand, sought a God is socially tolerant and were therefore more lenient in their choices, picking faces that were younger, more feminine and more African-American than that of their political counterparts.

It all comes down to individual motivation, according to Jackson. “Some theory in research has argued that people’s views of the divine figures are related to their motivations,” he said. “And so people are more inclined to conceptualize a God that’s more suited to their needs.”

So, African-Americans chose someone who was marginally more black while Caucasians chose someone who was more white. People who perceived themselves as more attractive chose a better-looking God, fitting in with the researcher’s hypothesis that people would choose faces that matched their own.

Gender did not play a significant role in the choice of the divine. “It could be that people don’t naturally use their gender a reference point when they think of divine figures, compared to other physical features,” said Jackson.

Jackson said researchers were ‘surprised’ to not see a face that was more authoritarian.

“It could suggest, but not prove, that our view of God has been changing throughout history as this is naturally something people have definitely chosen,” he added.

Would researchers be able to expect similar results on surveying American Muslims, or a Chinese community? It’s hard to say. While it is possible to predict a face based on overall cultural motivations, Jackson does note that there will be ‘cultural differences that they won’t be able to account for, which can amplify across a geographical region’ and impact the results of their study.

Using the study composite comes with its own set of constraints as Jackson acknowledges that there are some features that have not been included in the base face. “We were never going to faces (in the study result) with a dramatic change, like the face of a brunette, or someone who has a beard.”

It is the first time that a study of this kind has used this method of ‘reverse correlation’, i.e., asking participants to choose randomly generated facial samples with subtle changes. While the method has been used for other purposes, i.e., to determine how participants visualize trustworthiness, previous studies on visualizing the divine have relied on using verbal adjectives.

Source: Conservatives prefer an authoritarian God, liberals like younger, more feminine face, study says

Maryam’s daughters: Is Berkeley mosque changing the face of contemporary Islam or eroding the faith?

Interesting:

This story originally appeared in the June 2018 issue of San Francisco magazine. Read the rest of the issue’s content as it becomes available.

Inside Berkeley’s Qal’bu Maryam, Tuli Bennett-Bose was preparing for jummah, the Friday prayer service. At 18, Bennett-Bose was a recent convert to Islam, and still working out the intricacies of dress and ritual that come with being an observant Muslim. “I’m a half-jabi,” she joked as she rewrapped her rust-colored hijab to frame her face. Sometimes she prefers to let her head covering reveal some of her silver pixie cut. On this afternoon, she was covering all of her hair because of the service, and also because it was raining.

Qal’bu Maryam — Arabic for “Maryam’s heart” — opened in Berkeley in April 2017. The mosque represents a stark departure from orthodox Muslim tradition, welcoming LGBTQ congregants, allowing women to lead prayers and deliver sermons (called khutbahs), and encouraging all genders to pray shoulder to shoulder. Bennett-Bose stumbled upon the congregation online and was drawn to its inclusivity. “I know that I was meant to be Muslim,” she says. “But I also knew that I was gay before I converted.” Although many mainstream strains of Islam shun homosexuality, Bennett-Bose took the shahada, the Muslim declaration of faith. Soon after, she visited Qal’bu Maryam.

Neither Qal’bu Maryam nor its founder, Rabia Keeble, who converted to Islam 15 years ago, have been universally welcomed within the East Bay’s Muslim community. Some faith leaders criticize the congregation for its deviation from traditions that have been in place for millennia. Abdullah Ali, an assistant professor at nearby Zaytuna College, the first accredited Muslim undergraduate university in the country, has little love for Keeble’s “particular project.” Men and women praying side by side “is definitely not the instruction given by our prophet,” he says, referring to the hadith, or the sayings of Prophet Muhammad. “The instruction was very clear, and we know what prayer looked like at this time: Women pray behind men.”

More important, Ali says, Qal’bu Maryam was founded with the explicit intention of being “provocative” and, in particular, of antagonizing people who are committed to traditional Islamic teachings. “They want to challenge what they consider to be orthodoxy,” he says.

On that point, he won’t get much argument from Keeble. An Ohio-raised woman (she declines to share her age), Keeble came to the faith in 2003 and lives by a “no tolerance for bullshit” policy, doling out grand, confrontational statements that often rankle whomever she’s debating. “What I did started a conversation,” she tells me of Qal’bu Maryam’s founding. “Men and women need to learn together. This will end misogyny within the religious sphere.”

Keeble is a self-proclaimed “third-wave black feminist and womanist” whose daily getup includes hijab, eyeliner, and bright lipstick. Central to her mission is to reconcile Islam with contemporary feminism; it’s on this point that she encounters the most resistance. Both she and Ali believe the two worldviews can and do coexist. How they achieve it, however, is very much a point of contention.

Feminist Islam is not a new concept. While Europe suffered through the Dark Ages, women in Arabia benefited from inheritance, consent as a requirement for marriage, and education. Muslims frequently cite the Prophet’s wife, Khadija, an independent businesswoman, as evidence of the faith’s feminist principles in action.

“Feminists are not anti-Islam. We want the fulfillment of what the Prophet, peace be upon him, started before his death,” Keeble says. Ali agrees that Islam can be consistent with feminist ideology, but he points to liberation feminism, which “accepts that men and women are fundamentally different and that men have often belittled the importance of women.” “Equality feminism” of the type practiced by “people like Rabia Keeble” is not compatible with Islam, he says. “Equality feminism is focused on attempting to equalize the degree of influence and level of authority between men and women to the extent that we completely ignore biological differences.”

For Ali, the hadith was never to be taken as a sign of women’s inferiority, “just as leading the prayer was never taken as a sign of political power.” Instead, he says, the practice is rooted in principle: “The Prophet told the people, ‘Pray as you see me pray.’ And we know that the norm is that he was always leading prayer during his lifetime.” For that reason and others — for instance, the fact that Keeble thinks women can pray while on their periods, a practice considered taboo by Ali and others—he looks upon Qal’bu Maryam as a prayer space, not a mosque. It lacks the sanctity, he says, that a mosque deserves.

It’s exactly that inequality, in Keeble’s eyes, that has hurt Muslim women and caused them to have shallower relationships with their faith. Because of male dominance in mosques, “it is very difficult for women to approach the imam after sermons to ask questions,” she explains.

Fighting for her congregation has been draining for Keeble. Earlier this year, she took a month-long leave from the mosque to regroup; aside from dealing with “so-called volunteers who were all talk and no show,” she was “physically worn out” from handling outreach and logistics alone. She was also attending speaking engagements, creating and distributing weekly advertisements, and scheduling Friday speakers. During her period of reflection, she refocused on Qal’bu Maryam’s mission, paying particular attention to the sermons being delivered there. “I wanted to focus on the use of gendered language specifically. I have to ask myself, Is this language that honors women?”

….

Source: Maryam’s daughters: Is Berkeley mosque changing the face of contemporary Islam or eroding the faith?

USA: Richardson (Texas) minister stands by church flier that warns Judaism, Islamism ‘dangerous’ | Dallas News

One is sorely tempted to add “Christianism” to the list given the minister’s lack of awareness:

A minister of a Richardson church that included Judaism and Islamism among “dangerous isms” on a flier distributed in area neighborhoods is standing behind the message and the events it advertised.

Pulpit minister Shelton Gibbs III said Greenville Avenue Church of Christ could have better handled the wording of the advertisement, which included the faiths with pessimism, materialism and alcoholism.

He said the church’s leadership was meeting Sunday night to discuss the social media backlash that followed the church’s distribution of the fliers on the doors of homes in the area.

Gibbs said the church will go ahead with the series, despite objections to categorizing the other religions, along with atheism and liberalism, as dangerous.

“We’re not here to criticize or be antagonistic toward people and to beat them down,” he said. “There’s no threat. The people in the community should not feel a threat.”

The church plans to conduct the summer series on 10 Wednesdays, starting June 13. Islamism will be covered June 27.

Judaism is scheduled for discussion Aug. 22, according to the flier, which included a Star of David alongside icons that appear to symbolize pessimism, materialism and alcoholism.

Gibbs said that though “dangerous” probably wasn’t the best word to use, the other faiths run counter to his church’s belief that God wants all people to follow Jesus Christ.

He said the series will aim to explain God’s message for each of the “isms.”

“What is his message to those who espouse Islam? What is his message to those who are caught up in materialism? Those who are pessimistic?” Gibbs said.

When asked why the list didn’t include other “isms,” such as racism or sexism, Gibbs said there are only so many Wednesdays in a summer.

In the future, he said, the church will work on its phrasing.

“We’re living in an age where every word means something, and you have to be very careful about the words that you use,” Gibbs said.

“And I think going forward, I’m sure we’ll be able to phrase it where people are drawn in, and not that we have somehow marginalized them and caused them to fear. That’s not Jesus.”

The predominantly African-American church was formed as Hamilton Park Church of Christ in 1959 and occupied several different sites before it moved in 1990 to its home on Greenville Avenue, near Centennial Boulevard, and changed its name to reflect the new location.

The church, formed with 20 members, has grown under Gibbs’ decades of leadership and provides three Sunday services. The church has made community outreach one of its main focuses.

via Richardson minister stands by church flier that warns Judaism, Islamism ‘dangerous’ | Richardson | Dallas News

Jehovah’s Witnesses can shun members as they see fit, just like any old bridge club: Supreme Court

Reasonable decision, although I expect some interesting commentary arguing against it:

A new Supreme Court ruling that Jehovah’s Witnesses are free to banish and shun any member they wish, regardless of how they decide to do it, offers a powerful precedent for religious independence in Canada.

It follows years of uncertainty of just how deeply into the waters of faith and doctrine Canada’s judges are willing or able to wade.

Now the limits are clear, thanks to the case of Randy Wall, a Calgary real estate agent and longtime Jehovah’s Witness whose “disfellowship” destroyed his client base and led him to seek redress in the courts. He did not dispute the right of the Highwood Congregation to banish him, but claimed they did so unfairly, without telling him detailed allegations, or whether he could have counsel or a record of proceedings.

The top court’s decision rejects that view, bluntly refers to his “sinful” behaviour, and says it has no business making legal decisions about it.

At issue were two episodes of drunkenness, one in which Wall “verbally abused” his wife, for which he was not “sufficiently repentant,” according to court records. The family was under great stress, stemming from the emotional troubles of their teenage daughter, who had similarly been disfellowshipped, leaving the parents in the strange position of being required by their religion to shun their own daughter. Wall said he was even pressured to evict her from their home.

He convinced a lower court it had the jurisdiction to hear his complaint, because it engaged his civil and property rights. The Alberta Court of Appeal agreed. But the Supreme Court has now said once and for all that the courts ought not to interfere in religious discipline.

To borrow an analogy used by a lower court judge in his case, a church is less like a public company that has to act fairly and more like a “bridge club” that can pick and choose its members — or boot them out — at its own discretion.

Supreme Court Justice Malcolm Rowe borrowed this analogy in his reasons on behalf of the unanimous nine-judge court, one of the last cases under former Chief Justice Beverley McLachlin: “By way of example, the courts may not have the legitimacy to assist in resolving a dispute about the greatest hockey player of all time, about a bridge player who is left out of his regular weekly game night, or about a cousin who thinks she should have been invited to a wedding.”

The discipline panels of voluntary religious groups do not exercise state authority like, for example, a professional regulatory tribunal for doctors or dentists. They are not “public decision makers” whose actions must be subject to judicial review, the court decided.

In this case, Wall has no fundamental right to be a member of the Highwood Congregation, so he does not have a right to procedural fairness in the decision whether to shun him. The group has no constitution or bylaws it must obey. The “disfellowship” may have spoiled his real estate business when other Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to do business with him, but that is likewise not a matter for the courts.

Lastly, and most crucially, this was a dispute over ecclesiastical issues, the court ruled. These cannot be decided by judges. How, for example, could a court of law evaluate the Highwood Congregation’s finding that Wall was not repentant enough for his sins? There is no common law on this, and rightly so, the court found.

“Even the procedural rules of a particular religious group may involve the interpretation of religious doctrine, such as in this case. The courts have neither legitimacy nor institutional capacity to deal with contentious matters of religious doctrine,” Rowe’s decision reads.

The limits of court intervention in religious affairs have not always been so clear.

In 1992, the Supreme Court said churches must show procedural fairness, like any tribunal, and not just issue edicts from on high. That precedent, in which the top court sided with a man expelled from a Hutterite colony, is part of the reason, for example, why the United Church of Canada last year gave up its push to defrock the popular atheist minister Greta Vosper.

Courts are always reluctant to tread on religious freedoms, and have typically intervened in church disputes only after the complainant has exhausted all internal processes.

But once they have, the courts have often heard the appeals, sometimes finding that the internal processes are unfair. Courts have intervened, for example, over the unfair discipline of United Church ministers.

But now the bar is very much higher.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling provides clarity to Canadians that neither courts nor governments can legally compel citizens to associate together unwillingly,” said John Carpay, president of the Justice Centre for Constitutional Freedoms.

Wall could not be reached for comment. The case attracted many intervenors, representing Muslims, Sikhs, various Christian groups, and civil liberties advocates.

Source: Jehovah’s Witnesses can shun members as they see fit, just like any old bridge club: Supreme Court

What Islamophobic Politicians Can Learn From Mormons @NYTOpinion

Valid points regarding how previous experiences of discrimination can shape current attitudes for some groups:

Last month, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments on President Trump’s travel ban, popularly known as the “Muslim ban” because of his statements, like one in 2015 calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

But Mr. Trump is far from the only Republican willing to discriminate against Muslims. BuzzFeed News reported in April that since 2015, Republican officials in 49 states have publicly attacked Islam, some even questioning its legitimacy as a religion.

The only exception? Utah. In that state, where a majority of residents is Mormon, members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, elected officials seem to have a deep understanding that an attack on the religious freedom of one group is an attack on the religious freedom of everyone. The rest of the nation should follow their example.

Utah’s politicians stand out against many of those whose statements BuzzFeed News chronicled, like an Oklahoma state representative named John Bennett, who in 2014 called Islam “a cancer,” and last year met with Muslim constituents only after they filled out questionnaires asking whether they beat their wives. A Nebraska state senator, Bill Kintner, proposed that Muslims be required to eat pork if they wished to enter the United States. A state senator in Rhode Island, Elaine Morgan, wrote that “Muslim religion and philosophy is to murder, rape and decapitate anyone who is a non-Muslim” and recommended that Syrian refugees be housed in camps. She later said she was referring only to “fanatical/extremist” Muslims.

In January, Neal Tapio, a South Dakota state senator who is running for the United States House, questioned whether the First Amendment applies to Muslims, asking, “Does our Constitution offer protections and rights to a person who believes in the full implementation of Islamic law, as practiced by 14 Islamic countries” and millions of Muslims “who believe in the deadly political ideology that believes you should be killed for leaving Islam?”

Representative Bennett, the lawmaker who required Muslim constituents to answer questionnaires on whether they beat their wives, said in 2014, “Islam is not even a religion; it is a social, political system that uses a deity to advance its agenda of global conquest.”

Jody Hice, a 2014 Republican congressional candidate from Georgia, questioned the compatibility of Islam with the American Constitution and wrote in 2012 that “Islam would not qualify for First Amendment protection since it’s a geopolitical system.”

And yet, in Utah — one of the most crimson-red states in the Union — such rhetoric is conspicuously absent.

“I’d be the first to stand up for their rights,” said Utah’s senior senator, Orrin Hatch, in 2010 amid the controversy surrounding the construction of an Islamic community center close to ground zero in New York City. He called Islam “a great religion.”

Utah’s other Republican senator, Mike Lee, said he did not vote for Donald Trump in part because he saw the travel ban as a “religious test.” In explaining why many in Utah opposed the ban, Utah’s Republican governor, Gary Herbert, observed, “We had Rutherford B. Hayes in 1879 issue an envoy to Europe saying in essence, ‘Don’t send those Mormon immigrants to America anymore.’”

Pointing to this history of Mormon persecution, in 2017, a group of scholars with expertise in Mormon history filed an amicus brief in the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit opposing the ban. They drew a comparison between the government’s current posture toward Muslims and the government’s 19th-century treatment of Mormons. “This court should ensure that history does not repeat itself,” they wrote.

Mormon politicians seem to understand better than many of their fellow Republicans that if another’s freedom of faith is under attack, so, too, is their own. Perhaps this has to do with the church’s 11th Article of Faith, which states, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where or what they may.”

Their interest in the rights of people of other faiths has also been traced to the views of the Mormon founder Joseph Smith, who put it this way: “If it has been demonstrated that I have been willing to die for a Mormon, I am bold to declare before Heaven that I am just as ready to die in defending the rights of a Presbyterian, a Baptist or a good man of any denomination.”

Mormons know too well what it means to be singled out for persecution, and to have one’s faith maligned as a threat to America. But it shouldn’t require that experience to understand that religious freedom for some is really religious freedom for none.

via Opinion | What Islamophobic Politicians Can Learn From Mormons – The New York Times