Islamic State women defiant in face of lost caliphate

More relevant reporting:

As the battle against the Islamic State (IS) group in eastern Syria enters its final stages, the BBC’s Jewan Abdi says the mood amongst many of the jihadists’ supporters who have left the area, including many women, remains defiant.

The encampment in the village of Baghuz is barely more than a few holes in the dirt covered with blankets. It is squalid and filthy.

But above it flies the black Islamic State flag, fresh and clean. IS fighters had raised it only the day before, an act of defiance in the face of overwhelming odds.

“That’s a sign they will fight,” says a soldier belonging to the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) on the front lines battling the jihadists.

Just 24 hours later the battle resumed. It was the end of a ceasefire that had seen more than 12,000 leave in the preceding few days.

One day last week in the early morning, more than 20 trucks led by Humvees armed with machine guns went inside the tiny IS enclave to evacuate jihadist fighters and their families.

I followed these vehicles on their return journey to the desert where they were checked, separated, and sent on to camps run by the SDF forces. One military commander told me the total number of people evacuated was about 7,000.

The hunger and anger was evident on their faces. As I walked among them with my camera, trying to talk to them and film, several IS women suddenly attacked me and threw stones, dust and cans.

“Go film the brothers, don’t come here. Go. Leave. Go film them, we’re the woman of the Islamic State, Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar (God is greatest),” they said.

A few weeks ago, the SDF estimated the number of IS families and fighters left remaining in Baghuz to be between 1,500 and 2,000 people. But in just two days last week, 9,000 people emerged.

The final territory under IS’s control may be on its last legs in Syria, but the ideology remains strong among those who have left.

Many of the IS women I encountered threatened of violent jihad and raising their children to become jihadist fighters.

Two captors for one woman

Among the thousands of people turning up out of Baghuz, I also found victims of IS’s notorious brutality, including one Yazidi woman called Adiba.

A mother of two, Adiba was enslaved for five years after IS attacked her small village in Sinjar, northern Iraq, in 2014.

Her husband was one of the hundreds of Yazidi men killed by the jihadist group, and she – like thousands of Yazidi women – was forced to convert to Islam and was used as a sex slave.

She says she was enslaved by a Moroccan man who beat her constantly and raped her. He was the father of her two-year-old child.

“I had to marry him. When we were alone he wasn’t good to me, he was always angry with me, but in front of people he treated me well,” Adiba tells me.

After Adiba’s first captor died, she was taken by another Moroccan man named Ahmed – orders she says came from her first captor in the event of his death.

Ahmed, who surrendered to the SDF last week, has denied enslaving Adiba.

Most of the people evacuated from Baghuz recently, including many foreigners who travelled to Syria and Iraq to live under IS rule, have been transported to the SDF-controlled camp al-Hol, in the north-east of the country.

The camp was designed to accommodate 20,000 people but the UN says conditions there are dire as the numbers have risen to more than 66,000.

The global dream of an Islamic State caliphate – a state governed in accordance with Islamic law – is on the brink of collapse, with most of its leadership gone and many captured by the SDF and coalition forces.

Hundreds of IS fighters have surrendered. Separated from their families, they sit in long queues in an area inaccessible to journalists, where US Special Forces and SDF soldiers interrogate them and send them on to detention centres and prisons under Kurdish control.

After losing their self-proclaimed caliphate, a sense of sadness, anger and indignation was clear among these fighters who are stuck in the middle of the desert, waiting to be moved into detention camps, away from their wives and children.

Source: Islamic State women defiant in face of lost caliphate

Finding a Place in Women’s Mosques

Of interest:

These are heady times for Kahina Bahloul, organizer of a women’s mosque in France, a country that is home to the largest Muslim population in Europe. Practical considerations dominate the spiritual — a search for an affordable location, a flurry of radio and television interviews marking the rise of a vanguard of women imams leading pop-up mosques from Berlin to Berkeley, Calif.

Ms. Bahloul, 39, who was trained as a lawyer in Algeria, said she stopped attending formal prayer services in Paris about three years ago because “I didn’t feel respected.”

She said she was taken aback by mosques that isolated women, steering them to back doors and relegating the worshipers to basements or seats hidden behind screens. She gave up after one mosque directed the women to pray in a nearby garage.

“I felt excluded by the mosques,” said Ms. Bahloul, who is earning a doctorate in Islamic studies from France’s École Pratique des Hautes Études and intends to be one of two imams leading prayers at the mosque. “I felt excluded by my community — and a lot of other women felt the same way.”

Together with Faker Korchane, 40, a high school philosophy teacher and a freelance journalist, she is developing the Fatima Mosque while searching for rental space in the Paris region. Their concept is a liberal mosque that will host weekly prayers led alternately by a female and male imam with worshipers of both sexes separated on either side of the same prayer hall.

Ms. Bahloul is building on an evolving tradition of women imams with history dating from the 19th century in China among the Hui Muslims. There, women lead mosques exclusively for women. But in the last three years, women imams elsewhere have begun to organize women’s mosques with varying styles in Denmark, Germany, Canada and the United States.

In 2016, the Mariam mosque opened in central Copenhagen, with the call to prayer sung by women. A year later, Seyran Ates, a Turkish-born German lawyer and activist, founded the Ibn Rushd-Goethe mosque in Berlin. To great fanfare and speeches, a women’s mosque started in Berkeley, Calif., in 2017 at Starr King School for the Ministry, a graduate school and Unitarian Universalist seminary.

Rabi’a Keeble, a Muslim convert and graduate of that seminary, founded the Berkeley mosque, Qal’bu Maryam. But she quickly faced challenges. It was not easy to attract Muslim women, who were wary of the organizers, she said.

“You assume there must be other like-minded people all over the place,” Ms. Keeble said. “What woman wants to continue to sit behind, walk behind, listen to men interpret scripture to their benefit? There must be a bunch of women waiting for someone to step up and kick those doors down. Well, that’s just not true.”

The Berkeley mosque’s location was always tenuous. After a year occupying free space, the group moved to a temporary home, she said, and recently found new quarters at First Congregational Church of Oakland.

Real estate is the critical issue that determines the strength of reform mosques. In 2012, Ludovic-Mohamed Zahed opened a mosque in Paris designed to be inclusive to women and welcoming to homosexual Muslims. Faced with insults and some hostility, Mr. Zahed said members preferred to be discreet, moving locations every three months to avoid being targeted. The mosque closed after three years, and Mr. Zahed has since resettled in Marseille in the south of France to run an institute to train reform imams.

“We had threats and people identified the places,” Mr. Zahed said of the Paris mosque. “Then owners didn’t want us to stay any longer. They were very happy to have us in the beginning, but they had so much political pressure that they wanted us to leave. It was always like this.”

Ms. Bahloul has not faced that kind of pressure for the Fatima Mosque, a concept she has openly promoted since January with a series of television interviews in France that have provoked hundreds of comments. She has also drawn coverage in Brazil, Italy and Canada, and in Northern Africa in Morocco, which characterized her concept as revolutionary.

“Among Muslims there are two reactions,” she said. “Most are very favorable — ‘finally a breath of fresh air. We have been waiting for this for a long time.’ There are others who are insulting and accuse us of trying to change the real Islam. But what is real Islam? Those critics have a very simple approach and have a superficial understanding of Islam.”

Ms. Bahloul’s views are shaped by her eclectic background, divided between France and Algeria, where she grew up in northern Kabylia, the child of an Algerian father and French mother. Her maternal grandmother was a Polish Jew and her grandfather French Catholic.

“Since I was young, I have always posed questions,” Ms. Bahloul said. “What really struck me was the evolution of the practice of Islam of my paternal grandparents, who were very traditional, cultural and spiritual. And after that I watched the spread of the conservative Salafist movement and the first veils worn by women in the 1990s.”

For now the organizers are preoccupied with practical concerns — renting a location, eventually organizing a crowdfunding campaign, reaching out to city officials who could aid in the search for space for Friday prayers and community meetings.

In the meantime, Ms. Bahloul teaches about Islam online through her association, Parle-moi d’Islam, with lectures on how to read the Quran or prosaic themes such as: “Does the Quran say to hit wives?”

Mr. Korchane, the co-founder, also says they must work to reach another pivotal group. He wants to create special videos to attract young Muslims, who he says sometimes lack deep knowledge of Islam. “They think, for example,” he said, “that eating halal or wearing a veil are part of the pillars of Islam.”

Source: Finding a Place in Women’s MosquesOrganizers of reform mosques are building on an evolving tradition of women imams that dates back centuries. But some Muslim women remain wary.

Islamic State extremism on show at “miserable” Syria camp

Reminder of need for caution regarding wannabe returnees:

AL-HOL CAMP, Syria, March 8 (Reuters) – Foreign women with Islamic State have tried to assault others they deem “infidels” at a camp where they are being held in northeast Syria, attempting to impose their views even as the jihadists are facing territorial defeat, Reuters journalists visiting the site have found.

“They yell at us that we are infidels for showing our faces,” said a Syrian woman at al-Hol camp, where women and children were transferred from Islamic State’s final bastion in eastern Syria. “They tried to hit us.”

The Baghouz enclave is Islamic State’s last shred of populated territory after years of attacks have rolled back its ultra-radical “caliphate” in Syria and Iraq.

But its impending defeat is confronting the U.S.-allies Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) with the problem of what to do with growing numbers of people, many of them Islamic State followers, emerging from the enclave.

Most have been sent to al-Hol camp, already overcrowded with uprooted Syrians and Iraqis. Camp officials say they do not have enough tents, food, or medicine. Aid workers warn of spreading diseases, and dozens of children have died on the way there.

At least 62,000 people have now flooded the camp, the United Nations said on Friday, way above its capacity. More than 90 percent of the new arrivals are women and children.

The Syrian Kurdish authorities who control the camp have cordoned off the foreign women. On Friday, dressed head-to-toe in black and wearing full face veils, they gathered behind a fence with a locked gate.

“The foreigners throw stones. They swear at the Syrians or Iraqis and at the camp officials. Even the kids make threats,” said a security official at the camp.

‘WE NEED HELP’

Guards have fired in the air to break up a few fights and on one occasion used a taser to pacify a foreign female jihadist detainee, another Syrian woman at the camp said.

Some of the women coming out of Baghouz in recent weeks have displayed strongly pro-Islamic State sympathies.

Hundreds of jihadists have also surrendered. But the Kurdish-led SDF believes the most hardened are still inside, ready for a fight to the death.

Before the final assault on Baghouz, the SDF said it was holding some 800 foreign Islamic State militants and 2,000 of their wives and children. While it has not given updated figures, the numbers have ballooned, prompting fresh calls for support.

“The situation in the camp is very miserable. The displaced are growing very much and we are trying to cover people’s needs as much as we can. But we need help,” said Mazin Shekhi, an official at the camp.

When young children arrive alone, officials deliver them to aid agencies or try to find adults to care for them at the camp for now, he added.

“Even the big tents are full. People are sleeping out in the open.”

The International Rescue Committee said at least 100 people have died, mostly children, en route or soon after reaching the camp, and more than 100 children have arrived on their own. The aid agency warned the camp had reached breaking point.

Women from different countries begged for food or asked about their detained husbands, while young boys kicked a ball around in the dirt amid scores of tents swaying in the wind.

CAMP SKIRMISHES

Some of the tensions at al-Hol reflect friction that has simmered for years between jihadists who travelled to Syria to join Islamic State, “al-Muhajirin”, and locals who were members or lived under its rule.

“There were problems with some people,” said a 30-year-old woman from Turkestan who gave her name as Dilnor.

She said her entire family had moved to Syria to escape oppression at home and “just wanted to live under the caliphate”. Her mother, father and siblings all followed her to Syria.

“The natives … they were kind of rude. They always said the muhajirin are a problem and dirty and so on. It was always like that,” she said outside the wire fence of the pen where she was staying with scores of other women.

“Now (they) are alone, and the muhajirin alone. Now there are no problems.”

Shekhi, the camp official, said foreign women with ties to Islamic State had been kept apart so “they don’t mix” with others. “We put them in a section alone to avoid them making problems with the displaced,” he said.

The foreign women often fought among themselves, he added.

“There are some who are more extremist who don’t accept others. This is happening just among themselves, because they are separated from the Syrians and Iraqis,” he said. “The situation is under control.”

The staunch loyalties of Islamic State followers point to the risk the group will continue to pose after the capture of Baghouz. It is also widely accepted that the militants will still represent a threat, holding remote patches of territory and mounting guerrilla attacks.

Source: Islamic State extremism on show at “miserable” Syria camp

Beijing plans to continue tightening grip on Christianity and Islam

Of note:

Beijing has vowed to push ahead with its controversial campaign to “Sinicise religion”, defying growing international condemnation over its sweeping crackdown on Muslims and Christians.

Delivering his annual government work report on Tuesday, Premier Li Keqiang told the national legislature that “we must fully implement the [Communist] Party’s fundamental policy on religious affairs and uphold the Sinicisation of religion in China”.

The push to “Sinicise religion” – introduced by President Xi Jinping in 2015 – is an attempt by the officially atheist party to bring religions under its absolute control and into line with Chinese culture.

The campaign has coincided with an intensified clampdown on religious freedom across the country, especially on Protestants, Catholics and Muslims who the party fears could become tools of foreign influence or ethnic separatism.

In the far western region of Xinjiang, over 1 million Uygurs, Kazakhs and other Muslim minorities have reportedly been held in internment camps and forced to denounce Islam and pledge loyalty to the party.

Expressions and observance of Islam, ethnic customs and culture have also been curbed or discouraged in what some critics called a “cultural cleansing” of the Uygur minority.

Meanwhile, in the neighbouring regions of Ningxia Hui and Gansu – home to many Hui Muslims – domes, Islamic decor and Arabic signs have been taken off the streets and some mosques. No new “Arab style” mosques can be built and some Arabic-language schools have been shut down.

Outside the western regions, a wave of underground congregations – including the Zion Church in Beijing and Early Rain Covenant Church in Chengdu, both prominent “house churches” – have been forced to shut down, with their members and pastors interrogated and detained.
Early Rain pastor Wang Yi has remained in detention facing subversion charges since a raid on his church in December.

The crackdowns – especially the mass detentions and security lockdown in Xinjiang – have been met with a rising chorus of criticism not only from human rights groups, but also academics, foreign governments and the United Nations.

Vatican will improve bishop agreement with Beijing to help reunite mainland China’s underground Catholic churches, envoy of Pope Francis says

But according to the government’s work report, Beijing plans to continue tightening its grip on religion. The “Sinicisation of religion” was included in Xi’s report – laying out broad policy directions for the next five years – to the party congress in late 2017 that kicked off his second term in power.

It has been included in the two government work reports that followed, for 2018 and 2019.

Last year, the party-controlled governing bodies for Protestants, Catholics and Muslims in China all released detailed five-year plans on how to Sinicise their own religions.

For Christianity, the plan calls for “Sinicised theology”, including retranslating the Bible and rewriting annotations.

It also demands Chinese traditional culture be integrated into expressions of faith, with “Chinese elements” to be added to liturgies, sacred music, clerical clothing and church buildings. Examples given include using traditional Chinese tunes to compose hymns and encouraging Christians to practise calligraphy and Chinese painting.

Source: Beijing plans to continue tightening grip on Christianity and Islam

Were the brides of Islamic State cloistered housewives or participants in atrocities?

More background on the women who joined or supported ISIS:

Thousands of foreign-born women left their homes and lives to join Islamic State and marry its fighters. But now that the militant group’s so-called caliphate is reduced to crumbled masonry and scorched rebar, many of them want to return home.

Shamima Begum was a teenage schoolgirl in east London when she left home to join Islamic State; Hoda Muthana, an Alabama-born college student; Kimberly Gwen Polman, a 46-year-old single mom in Canada studying to be a children’s advocate. Now they’re held in a Kurdish-controlled prison in the hinterlands of eastern Syria, asking to be let back into their home countries.

The women branded “ISIS brides,” using initials for the militant group, have become a focal point of fierce debate for governments worldwide: What are states’ responsibilities toward these women?

A central question in that debate is what exactly did the women do in the caliphate? Were they cloistered housewives largely ignorant of the group’s realities, or active participants in its genocidal acts?

Women initially did not join combat

When Islamic State declared the establishment of its caliphate in 2014, it called upon all able-bodied Muslims to emigrate and engage in jihad, or struggle, to further its cause.

Initially, for women, that didn’t include combat, said Charlie Winter, a senior research fellow at the International Center for the Study of Radicalization at King’s College London.

“The role of the Muslim woman ideally was to be a wife and bear children,” he said in a phone interview, “and as a wife and a mother they were participating directly in jihad because they’re creating the next generation of fighters.”

While its militants were waging what Islamic State called “offensive jihad” — blitz campaigns that saw the group put a third of Iraq and Syria each under its dominion — women were to be “bases of support” for husbands, fathers and sons, one wife explained.

Hayat Boumeddiene, the widow of Amedy Coulibaly, the Paris gunman who killed five people in two January 2015 attacks, offered advice for fighters’ wives during a interview in an Islamic State magazine.

“Be advisors to them. They should find comfort and peace with you,” she said in an article in the February 2015 issue of Dabiq. “Do not make things difficult for them. Facilitate all matters for them.”

As a wife and a mother they were participating directly in jihad because they’re creating the next generation of fighters.

Boumeddiene, who like her husband was born in France, is still at large and being sought by French authorities.

Women did claim more operational roles in suicide attacks outside Islamic State territories, said Devorah Margolin, a senior research analyst at the War Studies Department of Kings College London.

But most women who traveled to the caliphate intent on reaching the battlefield were unable to do so.

That changed to a degree as the group began to lose territory and many of its fighters were killed. It began to wage “defensive jihad.”

“By 2017 and 2018 they were proactively calling for women to engage in combat as well,” said Winter.

But there is little evidence women did so in large numbers.

Winter said there had been rumors of women given explosives and weapons training, but Islamic State never confirmed these reports.

There had been predictions women would increasingly take part in suicide bombings, since they generally have an easier time passing through checkpoints and whose faces could remain hidden under their garments.

There was also precedence for their deployment: Abu Musab Zarqawi, the spiritual godfather of Islamic State, dispatched Sajida Rishawi with a suicide vest to the Hotel Radisson in the Jordanian capital of Amman in 2005. She failed to detonate her bomb but was caught by authorities after her husband’s device killed 38 people.

Some carried guns in the religious police force

Islamic State’s religious police, known as the Hisbah, roamed its territory to ensure residents were complying with the caliphate’s harsh edicts. People found in violation faced imprisonment, whipping and amputation. An all-female police force known as the Khansaa Brigade was an integral part of the Hisbah.

“We saw women in the Hisbah. They were all armed,” said Saad Ubaidi, who owns a beauty salon with his wife in Mosul, Iraq.

“Iraqi women had guns, but the foreigners carried ghadaraat,” said Ubaidi, using the slang term for Uzi machine guns.

Women played a vital part in the propaganda war

Women may not have fought on the battlefield, but they helped Islamic State spread its message.

“They were very much part of the propaganda machine of this state-building process,” said Margolin, who is writing a report on women’s role in violent Islamist groups for George Washington University’s Program on Extremism.

Women were some of Islamic State’s most active recruiters online, she said.

Blogs and social media accounts ostensibly held by foreign-born female adherents advertised their lives as if they were in an Islamist utopia. They encouraged others to do hijrah, emigrate to the caliphate.

Some would provide a guide on how to avoid being identified as someone traveling to Syria to join Islamic State. Others would suggest what to pack for life in the caliphate (makeup and Islamic clothing, according to one blogger), or offer quotidian details on how the group assigned housing to fighters and women.

Others would cheer for the group’s barbarism and gruesome tactics.

Muthana, the Alabama-born student and daughter of a Yemeni diplomat who joined Islamic State in 2014, exhorted Americans to follow her lead.

“Soooo many Aussies and Brits here,” she tweeted from her now-suspended account. “But where are the Americans, wake up u cowards.”

She encouraged those who couldn’t travel to Islamic State territory to conduct terrorist attacks in the U.S.

“Veterans, Patriot, Memorial etc Day parades..go on drive by’s + spill all of their blood or rent a big truck n drive all over them. Kill them,” she tweeted.

Women took part in the enslavement of Yazidis

In August 2014, the extremists surrounded Mt. Sinjar in northwestern Iraq. They began to hunt the Yazidis, an ancient religious minority long persecuted for their beliefs, which include elements of Christianity and Judaism. Islamic State viewed them as devil-worshipers.

Thousands of Yazidi men were slaughtered; women and girls were kidnapped and driven away to be sold in markets or given as gifts. In their enslavement, the women and girls would be servants to the household’s wife and raped by the husband.

One wife of an Islamic State member with a Yazidi enslaved in her household defended the practice in an issue of Dabiq. Her article was entitled “Slave-girls or Prostitutes?”

The woman, who called herself Umm Sumayyah al Muhajirah, cited religious texts and the works of scholars to construct an argument for taking Yazidi women as concubines. And she dismissed reports of abuse, attributing them to “devious and wicked slave girls” who “made up lies and wrote false stories.”

And whereas sex with a Yazidi slave is permissible, she adds, prostitutes in the West “openly commit sin.”

“Leave us alone with your burping,” she wrote of people judging the slave practice.

Pinning down what each person did will be difficult

Investigators looking for clues to the individual actions of each woman, away from social media, will have a difficult time gathering evidence admissible in a court of law.

“In the U.S., we’ve had 16 people who returned that we know of, 13 have been prosecuted in federal courts, so there’s a system to do it,” said Seamus Hughes, deputy director of the Program on Extremism at George Washington University.

But most of those were people who admitted their actions, he added. For those who don’t, investigators using Islamic State documents, for example, have to have a rock-solid chain of evidence, which is difficult to establish in the chaotic environment of a war zone.

Witnesses, often intelligence or security personnel, are often reluctant to testify in open court, and identifying women dressed in three-layer niqabs, the de rigueur face covering, will be unreliable.

Even the social media presence these women maintained is being lost. Blogging sites like Tumblr or WordPress, and messaging platforms such as Telegram, have aggressively shut down the accounts of Islamic State-affiliated users.

In any case, said Margolin, the women probably weren’t lying when they said they had been mostly concerned with family matters, but that didn’t absolve them of responsibility.

“Yes, they were wives and mothers, but what that means isn’t like what we mean when we think of a housewife,” said Margolin.

As the bearers of the group’s ideology for the next generation of fighters, she said, they were pursuing a higher objective.

“They represented,” said Margolin, “the future and permanence of Islamic State.”

Source: Were the brides of Islamic State cloistered housewives or participants in atrocities?

Indonesia’s largest Islamic group says non-Muslims shouldn’t be called ‘kafir’

Positive step:

Indonesia’s largest Islamic organisation, Nahdlatul Ulama, has issued a call to end the usage of the term “kafir”, or infidel, to refer to non-Muslims in state or citizenship matters, a move that may be aimed at calming religious tensions ahead of the presidential election.

Nahdlatul Ulama, with around 140 million members, said at its recent National Conference that non-Muslims shouldn’t be referred to as “kafir” as they have equal standing in state affairs.

The conference concluded non-Muslims should be referred to as “muwathin,” or citizens with the same rights and obligations as Muslim Indonesians, according to Ahmad Muntaha, secretary of Nahdlatul Ulama’s East Java Ulama Assembly.

Muntaha said in a statement published on the group’s website on Friday that a Muslim shouldn’t address non-Muslims as “kafir” in any social context.

The conference also emphasised that as a state, Indonesia wasn’t established by Muslims only, the statement said.

Nahdlatul Ulama’s recommendation comes as citizens of the world’s largest Muslim-majority country prepare for a presidential poll on Apr 17.

Religious issues have fueled divisions between supporters of incumbent President Joko Widodo and rival Prabowo Subianto.

Widodo, known as Jokowi, has faced protests from some Muslim groups that allege he has treated some Islamic clerics unfairly.

The president’s running partner for the poll, Ma’ruf Amin, is an Islamic scholar and head of a nationwide council of Muslim religious leaders, as well as chairman of Nahdlatul Ulama’s advisory council.

Jokowi has dismissed the claims against him as baseless.

Source: Indonesia’s largest Islamic group says non-Muslims shouldn’t be called ‘kafir’

Switzerland: Mistrust of Islam nearly three times higher than negative views of muslims

Interesting trend and distinction between Islam the faith and Muslims the people:

Every two years, Switzerland’s Federal Statistical Office compiles a survey of attitudes towards people of different race, religion and nationality. The survey entitled: living together in Switzerland, asks a wide range of questions covering attitudes held towards different people and experiences associated with those differences.

More than 3,000 permanent residents of Switzerland between the ages of 15 and 88, selected at random across Switzerland’s main regions, were asked a series of questions. Those questioned included Swiss citizens and foreign nationals.

One group of questions, which looks at attitudes towards muslims, shows a large difference between how the population views the faith compared to it’s followers. In 2018, 29% said they mistrusted Islam, while 11% said they held a negative view of its followers.

The survey also looked at attitudes towards the jewish community. 9% said they held a negative view of this group. There was no separate question on attitudes towards the jewish faith.

Negativity towards muslims in Switzerland has declined since 2016. In 2016, 14% said they held a negative view of them. In 2018, the figure was 11%.

On the other hand the percentage declaring negativity towards the jewish community increased from 8% in 2016 to 9% in 2018.

In line with these trends, support for negative stereotypes of jewish people rose between 2016 and 2018 while it fell for muslims. The percentage saying the negative stereotype of muslim people, defined as fanaticism, aggressivity, oppression of women and non-respect of human rights, applied strongly and systematically fell from 16.8% to 13.7%, while the percentage saying the stereotype of jewish people, defined as greed, being too exclusive, thirst for power and political radicality, applied strongly and systematically rose from 11.9% to 12.5% – the report cautions against reading too much into the stereotype figures because of the limited number of characteristics included and the high percentage of respondents not answering the question.

Religious discrimination was ranked the fifth most frequent form of discrimination in Switzerland. First was discrimination based on nationality. 58% said they’d experienced this. Next were language or accent (27%), gender (19%), professional status (18%) and religion (15%). Skin colour (15%), socio-economic group (14%), age (13%), political opinion (12%) and ethnicity (11%) completed the top ten.

Source: Mistrust of Islam nearly three times higher than negative views of muslims

Third of Britons believe Islam threatens British way of life, says report

Not surprising:

More than a third of people in the UK believe that Islam is a threat to the British way of life, according to a report by the anti-fascist group Hope not Hate.

The organisation’s annual “State of Hate” report, which will be launched on Monday, argues that anti-Muslim prejudice has replaced immigration as the key driver of the growth of the far right.

In polling conducted by the group in July last year, 35% of people thought Islam was generally a threat to the British way of life, compared with 30% who thought it was compatible. Forty-nine per cent of those who voted Conservative in the 2017 general election thought it was generally incompatible, and 22% of Labour voters agreed.

Nearly a third (32%) said they thought there were “no-go areas” in Britain where sharia law dominated and non-Muslims could not enter. Almost half of Conservative voters (47%) and those who voted to leave the EU (49%) believed this was true.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/feb/2019-02-17T14:35:21/embed.html

The report said that while polling showed that attitudes towards Muslims in Britain had improved between 2011 and 2016, the terror attacks in the UK in 2017 had had a negative impact on perceptions.

In a separate poll of more than 5,000 people in August 2018, 30% said they would support a campaign set up by local residents to stop proposals to build a mosque near where they live. Twenty-one per cent say they would still support the campaign if either side became violent, because the matter was so serious.

Among the issues in the report is that of leftwing antisemitism. Hope not Hate said that while extreme antisemitism and Holocaust denial were less common, there were many examples of “conspiratorial” antisemitism and the use of antisemitic tropes, “especially in relation to supposed Jewish power”.

The report points to research that found an increase in antisemitic Google searches in the UK. It found that 5% of UK adults did not believe the Holocaust happened and 8% said the scale of the Holocaust had been exaggerated.

https://interactive.guim.co.uk/charts/embed/feb/2019-02-17T14:36:44/embed.html

The report’s authors said a large group was involved in “denying a problem exists and dismissing the issue as a rightwing and Zionist smear”. It concluded that the Labour party was still not doing enough to tackle antisemitism.

“The family history of so many members of the British Jewish community includes first-hand experience of persecution. Many people in the Jewish community therefore identify with a sense of the precariousness of their safety, where material security and educational attainment are not seen as guarantors of security and safety,” it said.

“The inability of the Labour party leadership to understand and acknowledge this experience is particularly chilling when the Labour party and the left in general hold values of equality and antiracism as core to their identity.”

The report also found that while the numbers arrested for terror-related offences in 2018 was down on the previous year, there was a growing threat of far-right terrorism, which came both from organised groups such as National Action and from lone actors who are radicalised over the internet.

The group warned that there could also be a rise in support for Islamist extremist group Al-Muhajiroun following the release of one of its founders, Anjem Choudary, from prison.

“Our latest polling also reveals a disturbing level of anti-Muslim prejudice and discourse running through society, with a third of people saying they believe there are Muslim-run no-go zones, and rising antisemitism on the left, which we have exposed in a new investigation,” said Nick Lowles, the chief executive of Hope not Hate.

“Meanwhile, while the banned terror group National Action has finally been destroyed by the authorities, there is a growing threat of violence from the younger neo-Nazis emerging in their wake. There are justified concerns that the police response to these rising threats, especially against MPs, has fallen short. We believe a very real threat remains from terrorism carried out by lone actors, too, radicalised over the internet.

“Added to this febrile mix is the release of Anjem Choudary and many of his network’s leading figures, likely to regalvanise their supporters and provide yet another seedbed for the far right to grow their support, too. We cannot wait for a traditional, united, far-right umbrella organisation to emerge before we act. We need to start connecting the dots now.”

Source: Third of Britons believe Islam threatens British way of life, says report

The Economist: Third-generation Muslims in the West are devising a new Islam for themselves

Worth reading and thoughtful exploration of the different tendencies and developments:

People are of two types in relation to you,” Imam Ali, the prophet Muhammad’s son-in-law and one of his first caliphs, or successors, is reputed to have said. “Either your brother in Islam, or your brother in humanity.” The Shia community of Mahfil Ali in north London tries to turn word into deed. Women often open services with a prayer. Sermons are in English. For the past decade the community has gone to the local church on Christmas Eve to attend midnight mass. Most ambitiously, it is turning its two-hut mosque into a £20m ($26m) Salaam (Peace) centre, complete with sports facilities, a restaurant, a theatre and a public library. There is talk of making a prayer space for Christians and Jews. “We want to nurture the community that nurtured us,” says a local leader.

Mosques in the West have come a long way since migrant workers rolled out plastic mats in their back rooms. A new generation of cathedral mosques has brought Islam out of Muslim districts into the public arena. Instead of traditional structures with inward-looking courtyards, their architects now design wide staircases that connect to the street. Sports facilities draw in younger Muslims who may have lost interest in the faith, as well as non-Muslims. The Islamic Centre of Greater Cincinnati, spread over 18 acres (seven hectares), is one of many in America that feels more like a country club than a mosque. Christian and Jewish teams compete in its basketball league.

Foreign organisations, Western governments and jihadists have all sought to speak for and mould Islam in the West, but the more established the faith becomes there, the less truck it wants with any of them. Of the three generations that have grown up since Muslims arrived in the West in the 20th century, the third is the most stridently opposed to government interference, be it foreign or Western, and to jihadist propaganda. As time passes, the old ties loosen. In most of the West, unlike in Muslim countries, no licence is currently needed to become an imam. Instead of a faith shaped from outside, millennial Muslims are creating something unprecedented: a do-it-yourself Islam.

That makes the religion frustratingly messy, but also diverse, dynamic and fluid. It is fragmenting into myriad interpretations, permutations and sects. Each by itself might be small, but collectively they are acquiring a critical mass that is pushing the faith’s boundaries. Western Islam covers the full spectrum of Islamic traditions, from the most conservative to the sort that considers Islam a culture but no longer a faith, and everything in between.

The four schools of Western Islam

To outsiders, the Salafist strand of the faith looks deeply traditional and unwelcoming. Its members wear Islamic dress and send their children to segregated Muslim schools. Boys in white tunics shiver in the cold. Teachers focus on scripture. But the Salafists insist that much of what they believe chimes with a Western approach to the faith. “Its appeal is like that of Protestant reformation in Christianity,” says Yasir Qadhi, America’s best-known preacher, who studied with Salafist masters. “It gives the individual direct connection to the text without going through a cleric or priest. It’s intellectually empowering.”

Though German officials, among others, have cut off dialogue, a new generation of Salafists is experimenting with greater openness. Searching for allies to stem secularism’s advance, Salafist imams engage in interfaith dialogue with like-minded conservatives of other faiths. The rapid influx of converts, too, has forced them to find ways to deal with their non-Muslim relatives. For role models, preachers look to the first Muslims in Mecca 1,400 years ago. They were also converts but kept their ties with their pagan families. And when they were persecuted, they embarked on the first hijra, or migration, and found refuge with the Christian rulers of Abyssinia. From his home in Memphis, Tennessee, Mr Qadhi plans to launch a new Islamic seminary later this year, staffed exclusively by Western lecturers. The teaching there, he says, will be “post-Salafist”, concentrating on the essentials. “While old-school Salafists are arguing over the minutiae of Islamic law, their children are debating whether or not God even exists,” he adds.

Western Islam is fragmenting into myriad interpretations

The second strand of the faith, political Islam, has long advocated engagement with non-Muslim society, not least to defend the interests of the umma, or Muslim community. Its main organisation, the Muslim Brotherhood, began as an armed anti-colonial movement in the Middle East. But chased into exile, its leaders have established a host of offshoots which profess loyalty to the West and praise its democratic systems (to the horror of the Muslim rulers they fled). It can be highly pragmatic. At a class at the Institut Européen des Sciences Humaines in Paris, Europe’s largest Muslim college and a bastion of Brotherhood orthodoxy, a female lecturer emphasises the flexibility of the sharia, or Islamic law, and its guiding principle of maslaha, or communal interest.

Another of the Brotherhood’s institutions, the Dublin-based European Council for Fatwa and Research, is rewriting orthodox precepts. Its jurists have approved mortgages, despite the Islamic prohibition on interest. They have ruled that female converts to Islam can keep their non-Muslim husbands. And some increasingly turn a blind eye to ways of life hitherto deemed deviant. “I’m not God. It’s his business. I don’t interfere,” says Taha Sabri, the imam of an Islamist mosque in Berlin.

If the Brotherhood gives Islam a Western hue, liberals, the third strand, give their Western lifestyles an Islamic one. For more than a generation, Bassam Tibi, a devout academic of Syrian origin at Göttingen university in Germany, has campaigned for “euro-Islam”, which by his definition is rooted in the principles of the Renaissance, Enlightenment and French Revolution. The faith, he says, has to adapt to its new environment, just as it did when it spread elsewhere in the world. “Africans made an African Islam and Indonesians made an Indonesian one,” he notes. “Islam is flexible and can be European.”

A few congregations of women-led mosques have surfaced in the West beyond the ivory towers of academia. Some are women-only, others mixed. Weekly prayers are often conducted on Sundays for members unable to leave work on Fridays. In 2008 Rabya Mueller, a former Catholic nun who converted to Islam, formed the Islamic Liberal Bund, modelled closely on liberal Judaism, and has begun leading prayers. Together with Lamya Kaddor, a German woman with a Syrian background, she is replacing Islam’s patriarchal baggage with gender equality and a commitment to gay rights. Much of their work, she says, involves marrying Muslims and non-Muslims of either gender. On Twitter, @queermuslims advertises prayer meetings for homosexual adherents of the faith. A training centre for gay imams has opened in France.

At the far end of the spectrum, a fourth strand wants to dispense with the religion altogether. In November six German academics, including one non-Muslim, formed the Secular Islam Initiative to promote “a folkloric relationship to Islam”, according to one of its founders, Hamed Abdel-Samad, the son of an Egyptian imam and author of a critical biography of the Prophet Muhammad. The organisation is still at the fledgling stage, but it may express the views of a surprising number of Muslims born in the West. According to a German government survey, only 20% of the country’s Muslims belong to a religious organisation. Many of the rest lead secular lives.

The number of lapsed Muslims in France is probably even higher than in Germany, particularly among descendants of north Africa’s Berbers, many of whom have long viewed Islam as a figleaf for Arabisation. Half the men of Algerian origin in France marry outside the faith, and 60% of those of Algerian parentage say they have no religious affiliation. In America the Pew Research Centre estimates that 23% of Muslims no longer identify with the faith. “We’re facing the same problem of assimilation as the Jews,” says an imam in Dearborn, Michigan.

Thinking the unthinkable

Mosques seeking to rejuvenate their flock are having to adapt to changing sexual practices, too. Half of America’s Muslim students, male and female, admit to having had premarital sex, according to a study in 2014. “When I began teaching in 2003, no girl would admit to having a boyfriend,” says Ms Kaddor, who until recently taught religious studies for Muslims in a Rhineland school. “Now, some openly say they’re bisexual.” Muslim dating apps abound. “Find a beautiful Arab or Muslim girl on muzmatch,” promises one that claims a million users, complete with an optional chaperone feature.

Women are also increasingly demanding a say, not least because they are now typically better educated than men. The number of women on mosque boards is still small but growing, even in orthodox communities. Inside the prayer hall, women, originally confined to the gallery, are moving to the back of the ground floor and sometimes down the sides. In many Black American mosques men and women share the same hall. Prejudice against homosexuality remains strong but is retreating. Among British Muslims over 65, 76% want to ban the practice; for those aged 18-24, the proportion is 40%.

Adherents of all four strands often change allegiance. Mr Abdel-Samad was briefly a Muslim Brother before converting to secularism. Many Salafist preachers were nominal Christians who trod the path in reverse. Such cross-fertilisation does not always breed understanding. Imams deviating from orthodoxy risk expulsion from their mosques. Abdel Adhim Kamouss, a Salafist preacher in Berlin, has been ousted from two mosques for asserting that the Prophet did not condemn homosexuality or shaking hands with women. Mr Kamouss is one of several people interviewed for this report to receive a fatwa sentencing him to death for apostasy. In the suburbs of some British cities Muslim shopkeepers are forced to close before Friday prayers. And women can still become victims of honour crimes in conservative enclaves such as Dewsbury in northern England.

Optimists say such violence is a sign of desperation. In France the last known honour crime was committed two decades ago. Across the West Muslims turn out to vote in greater numbers than the rest of the population and increasingly interact with non-Muslims. For many of the younger ones, divisions of sect, ethnicity and religious observance are less and less relevant. In short, given a range of choices, Muslims in the West increasingly see Islam more as a matter of personal choice than a creed guided by government, whether at home or abroad. “The younger generation has won the battle,” says Olivier Roy, a French author on Islam in the West.

Arab governments sometimes berate their Western counterparts for not doing enough to curb extremism, by which they often mean curbing their exiled dissidents. In fact, Western governments do monitor hate speech and support for terrorism. But viewing Islam primarily through a security prism distorts relations between Muslims and non-Muslims in the West.

Religious leaders are seeking to bridge divides

Muslim inclusion in local decision-making can break down prejudice but often faces resistance from communities. Jennifer Eggert, a Muslim expert on terrorism, tours London mosques arguing for Muslims to play a bigger part in countering terrorism. The New York Police Department overcame communal mistrust by creating a Muslim Officers Society, the first in America. This has helped increase police recruitment among Muslims from fewer than a dozen in 2001 to over 1,000, says its founder, Adeel Rana. The inauguration last month of America’s first two Muslim congresswomen may also help normalise Muslim participation at all levels of society.

Integrating Islam more into national histories could play a part, too. In some British mosques imams pinned poppies on each other to mark the centennial of the first world war and remember the hundreds of thousands of Muslims killed in battle. But their sacrifice is rarely commemorated at national level, contributing to the feeling that Muslims remain outsiders. Now “we are creating a generation not of foreign fighters but of foreign citizens,” says Khalid Chaouki, a former mp in Italy’s parliament who runs the country’s largest mosque in Rome.

Cultural programmes, too, can cross communal boundaries. When the Benaki Museum in Athens began offering school tours of its Islamic art collection, an mp accused it of spreading the culture of terror. A decade on, the museum has expanded the programme to include interactive tours of life in Ottoman Athens. “We’re filling a big gap in our history that most schools skip over,” says Maria-Christina Yannoulatou, the head of the museum’s education department, referring to 450 years of Muslim rule that Greece omits from its curriculum. “We want to challenge taboos and show the ordinary lives that heroic histories obscure.”

Religious leaders are also seeking to bridge divides. Many priests work hard to counter far-right narratives, accusing anti-immigrant politicians of betraying Christian ethics. Many churches double as sanctuaries for refugees. Some synagogues as well as churches in America host Muslim Friday prayers for congregations lacking a space to worship. In the same vein, after a right-wing gunmen fired on a Pittsburgh synagogue in October, Muslims packed the vigils, sent tweets of condolence and spoke at events on anti-Semitism. In Germany’s election in 2017 church-going voters were three times less likely to vote for the far-right afd party than secular ones.

Having settled in the West for the third time in history, this time in a different role, Islam seems destined to stay. The journey so far has not been easy. But a third generation of Muslims now seems set to become a permanent part of a more diverse, more tolerant Western society—as long as that society continues to nurture those virtues.

Source: Third-generation Muslims in the West are devising a new Islam for themselves

France Has Millions of Muslims. Why Does It Import Imams?

Valid question and reveals some of the straitjackets of French history and policies:

What to do about Islam in France? Considering Islamist terrorist attacks, communalism and the international manipulation of Muslim communities, the matter is pressing. But it’s contentious, because managing Islam seems to go against laïcité, France’s staunch version of state secularism, and a 1905 law that mandates the separation of church and state.

Wouldn’t revising that law be an admission that secularism is bowing to Islamism? On the other hand, if the law isn’t revised, or if the French state cannot find other ways of monitoring and steering Islam, then Islam in France risks falling under the control of foreign states or the influence of radicals. That is already the case, actually: Since laïcité prohibits the French authorities from using public funds to build mosques or train imams, Algeria, Morocco, Turkey and Saudi Arabia have stepped in. According to the newsmagazine L’Express, 70 percent of imams practicing in France are not French.

In an attempt to overcome these paradoxes, President Emmanuel Macron recently convened at the Élysée Palace the country’s various Muslim leaders and then representatives from all religions. The order of the day for the broader meeting, held on Jan. 10, was old emergencies: how to punish radicalism, control the financing of mosques and make Muslim authorities accountable. The news daily Le Monde, which obtained the note that the president handed to attendees, reported that the government was proposing to revise the 1905 law while “confirming” “its principles.”

It was an attempt to square a circle, a malaise, so very French. And the narrower question of what to do about imams — their origins, their trainings, their salaries — summarizes it well.

Here is a first hurdle: It’s virtually impossible to tally imams in France. No one really knows how many there are, partly because the collection of data based on ethnic or religious grounds is prohibited. The last available estimates from the interior ministry — which date back to 2012 — put the number of mosques in France at around 2,500. (A 2016 report by the Senate said it was closer to 3,000.) But those figures are as outdated today as they were imprecise in the first place: What even counts as a “mosque” when so many Muslim believers gather in the basements of low-income building complexes or other improvised prayer halls? And there being 2,500 mosques doesn’t mean there are 2,500 imams: In Sunni Islam, the version of Islam most prevalent in France, anyone can declare oneself an imam and volunteer to lead prayers or the Friday Sermon.

There is no central authority overseeing Islam in France. Anyway, how do you supervise the mosques you don’t fund or imams you can’t pay?

For the time being, France, for lack of its own theological schools, has favored filtered immigration: It brings in imams from abroad, mostly from the home countries of its main immigrant communities, either for long stretches or just for Ramadan. Paradoxically, one of the justifications for this policy — though rarely admittedly publicly — is security: It seems less risky to rely on an official imam from Algeria than to let a self-proclaimed imam emerge in a Paris banlieue, or suburb.

For example, Algerian imams wishing to go to France must first undergo investigations. And as the Algerian government puts it, modestly, the “Algerian expertise” in internal security matters ensures quality vetting. The government has also offered its services to the United States, Belgium and Italy.

In 2018, Algeria sent approximately 100 imams to officiate in France. Morocco and Tunisia contributed about as many each. In 2017, L’Express ran the headline “Morocco, the factory of French imams,” with an article on imam-apprentices, some sent from France, whom the kingdom was training in how to dispense “middle-ground” Islambefore dispatching them abroad. According to the news weekly Le Point, Turkish “consular structures” oversee more than 250 mosques and about 200 official imams seconded by Turkey to France.

The filtered import of foreign imams may look like a good practical solution; in fact, it’s an ideological trap. These imams, even if acting in good faith, can only reinforce communalism in France and work against integration, because they are not French. In the name of laïcité, France is dangerously delegating its Islam to other states.

Those states benefit. For the Algerian government, the export of imams seems to confirm the country’s return to stability. Saudi Arabia sees proselytizing as a form of soft power. So does Turkey, which appears invested in maintaining a religious lobby abroad.

The stakes are high, apparently. When last year the Austrian government expelled about 60 Turkish preachers to counter, it said, the creation of “parallel societies” and “political Islam,” Turkey called the move “racist” and “Islamophobic.” When the French government said it wanted to create a distinct “Islam of France,” Algeria — speaking indirectly, via an expert’s op-ed in state media — accused it of “arrogance tinted with ignorance.”

The import of imams, the foreign financing of mosques — these delegations of power by the French authorities are a dead end: They won’t do enough to stem radicalism in France, and they will do even less to nurture the emergence of, precisely, an Islam of France.

The president’s office seems to want to overcome all this. But some of the participants in that first meeting convened by Mr. Macron at the beginning of the year reacted with calculated anger before accepting the invitation. Members of the French Council of the Muslim Faith decried the “colonial administration of Islam.” It’s a clever conflation: By invoking colonialism, they can leverage guilt as a bargaining chip while maintaining Islam’s communal valence. Why do that? For fear of losing power if France develops a sui generis form of Islam. Harping on Muslims’ status as a once-colonized group is a way of highlighting their ties to their countries of origin, over those to their host country.

Past attempts to create Muslim councils — the Great Mosque of Paris, the Federation of French Muslims, the Union of Islamic Organizations in France (also known as Muslims of France) — that could effectively represent France’s various Muslim communities have failed. One reason is the rivalry among the groups’ leaders, different confessional strands and foreign governments with ties to immigrant communities.Algeria competes with Morocco, and both of them compete with Turkey and Saudi Arabia: As the journalist Henri Tincq has pointed out on Slate.fr, the Paris Mosque is “loyal to Algeria,” the Federation of French Muslims has “ties to the Muslim World League and Morocco” and the Union of Islamic Organizations in France is “close to the Muslim Brotherhood.”

It’s difficult to separate Islam from its community and the community from its country of origin without being accused of interference. Whenever the French government tries to manage Islam in France, Algeria says it’s meddling, when in saying so, it is Algeria that is meddling in France’s affairs.

So what can be done? One solution has been put forward by Hakim El Karoui, an international consultant close to Mr. Macron and the author of the recent report “The Islamist Factory” and, in 2016, of “A French Islam Is Possible.”

First, he recommends strictly supervising external financing or informal funds collected in mosques, neighborhoods or local associations. He also suggests creating an independent fund for training imams by taxing halal businesses, money collected through the Muslim alms known as zakat and commerce around the pilgrimage to Mecca. Those are good ideas for trying to keep state and church, or cult, separate while integrating French Muslims into France.

But just what should be uniting is proving divisive: Mr. El Karoui’s proposals are controversial, notably for the French Council of the Muslim Faith. One of the organization’s vice-presidents called them an “insult” to Islam and accused Mr. El Karoui of conflating Islam and Islamism. That reaction sums up well the endless-seeming debate between those who want to maintain a monopoly over Islam in France and those who wish to develop an Islam of France.