Female imams lead prayers, a first in France

Of note:

Several French Muslim women are trying to lead prayer sessions in France. They face major opposition, but on Saturday two French women who converted to Islam led the country’s first non-segregated prayers where wearing of the veil was not compulsory.

Eva Janadin and Anne-Sophie Monsinay led prayers before a congregation of 60. Men and women kneeled, side by side, in a room in Paris hired for the occasion.

For security reasons the location remained secret: an indication that fundamentalist Muslims are still struggling with the move towards a more “inclusive” expression of Islam in France.

Un temps de prière mixte et progressiste, où le port du voile n’est pas obligatoire. «Nous apportons notre pierre à la construction d’un islam de France adapté aux acquis de la modernité», explique l’imame Eva Janadin

In a report by Le Parisien, Ann-Sophie Monsinay said they had faced opposition but that thankfully “there had been more encouragement than threats”.

Source: Female imams lead prayers, a first in France

Revealed: new evidence of China’s mission to raze the mosques of Xinjiang

Dramatic and reprehensible:

Around this time of the year, the edge of the Taklamakan desert in far western China should be overflowing with people. For decades, every spring thousands of Uighur Muslims would converge on the Imam Asim shrine, a group of buildings and fences surrounding a small mud tomb believed to contain the remains of a holy warrior from the eighth century.

Pilgrims from across the Hotan oasis would come seeking healing, fertility, and absolution, trekking through the sand in the footsteps of those ahead of them. It was one of the largest shrine festivals in the region. People left offerings and tied pieces of cloth to branches, markers of their prayers.

Visiting a sacred shrine three times, it was believed, was as good as completing the hajj, a journey many in underdeveloped southern Xinjiang could not afford.

Before and after images of the Imam Asim Shrine. Credit: Digital Globe/ Planet Labs

But this year, the Imam Asim shrine is empty. Its mosque, khaniqah, a place for Sufi rituals, and other buildings have been torn down, leaving only the tomb. The offerings and flags have disappeared. Pilgrims no longer visit.

It is one of more than two dozen Islamic religious sites that have been partly or completely demolished in Xinjiang since 2016, according to an investigation by the Guardian and open-source journalism site Bellingcat that offers new evidence of large-scale mosque razing in the Chinese territory where rights groups say Muslim minorities suffer severe religious repression.

Using satellite imagery, the Guardian and Bellingcat open-source analyst Nick Waters checked the locations of 100 mosques and shrines identified by former residents, researchers, and crowdsourced mapping tools.

Out of 91 sites analysed, 31 mosques and two major shrines, including the Imam Asim complex and another site, suffered significant structural damage between 2016 and 2018.

Of those, 15 mosques and both shrines appear to have been completely or almost completely razed. The rest of the damaged mosques had gatehouses, domes, and minarets removed.

A further nine locations identified by former Xinjiang residents as mosques, but where buildings did not have obvious indicators of being a mosque such as minarets or domes, also appeared to have been destroyed.

Uprooted, broken, desecrated

In the name of containing religious extremism, China has overseen an intensifying state campaign of mass surveillance and policing of Muslim minorities — many of them Uighurs, a Turkic-speaking group that often have more in common with their Central Asian neighbours than their Han Chinese compatriots. Researchers say as many as 1.5 million Uighurs and other Muslims have been involuntarily sent to internment or re-education camps, claims that Beijing rejects.

Campaigners and researchers believe authorities have bulldozed hundreds, possibly thousands of mosques as part of the campaign. But a lack of records of these sites — many are small village mosques and shrines — difficulties police give journalists and researchers traveling independently in Xinjiang, and widespread surveillance of residents have made it difficult to confirm reports of their destruction.

The locations found by the Guardian and Bellingcat corroborate previous reports as well as signal a new escalation in the current security clampdown: the razing of shrines. While closed years ago, major shrines have not been previously reported as demolished. Researchers say the destruction of shrines that were once sites of mass pilgrimages, a key practice for Uighur Muslims, represent a new form of assault on their culture.

Three-way composite of Jafari Sadiq shrine.
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Three-way composite of Jafari Sadiq shrine. Photograph: Planet Labs

“The images of Imam Asim in ruins are quite shocking. For the more devoted pilgrims, they would be heartbreaking,” said Rian Thum, a historian of Islamat the University of Nottingham.

Before the crackdown, pilgrims also trekked 70km into the desert to reach the Jafari Sadiq shrine, honouring Jafari Sadiq, a holy warrior whose spirit was believed to have travelled to Xinjiang to help bring Islam to the region. The tomb, on a precipice in the desert, appears to have been torn down in March 2018. Buildings for housing the pilgrims in a nearby complex are also gone, according to satellite imagery captured this month.

Before and after imagery of the Jafari Sadiq shrine. L-R Dec 10 2013, April 20, 2019.
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Before and after imagery of the Jafari Sadiq shrine. L-R Dec 10 2013, April 20, 2019. Photograph: Google Earth/ Planet Labs

“Nothing could say more clearly to the Uighurs that the Chinese state wants to uproot their culture and break their connection to the land than the desecration of their ancestors’ graves, the sacred shrines that are the landmarks of Uighur history,” said Thum.

‘When they grow up, this will be foreign to them’

The Kargilik mosque, at the centre of the old town of Kargilik in southern Xinjiang, was the largest mosque in the area. People from various villages gathered there every week. Visitors remember its tall towers, impressive entryway, and flowers and trees that formed an indoor garden.

The mosque, previously identified by online activist Shawn Zhang, appears to have been almost completely razed at some point in 2018, with its gatehouse and other buildings removed, according to satellite images analysed by the Guardian and Bellingcat.

Three locals, staff at nearby restaurants and a hotel, told the Guardian that the mosque had been torn down within the last half year. “It is gone. It was the biggest in Kargilik,” one restaurant worker said.

Another major community mosque, the Yutian Aitika mosque near Hotan, appears to have been removed in March of last year. As the largest in its district, locals would gather here on Islamic festivals. The mosque’s history dates back to 1200.

Despite being included on a list of national historical and cultural sites, its gatehouse and other buildings were removed in late 2018, according to satellite images analysed by Zhang and confirmed by Waters. The demolished buildings were likely structures that had been renovated in the 1990s.

Two local residents who worked near the mosque, the owner of a hotel and a restaurant employee, told the Guardian the mosque had been torn down. One resident said she had heard the mosque would be rebuilt but smaller, to make room for new shops.

“Many mosques are gone. In the past, in every village like in Yutian county would have had one,” said a Han Chinese restaurant owner in Yutian, who estimated that as much as 80% had been torn down.

“Before, mosques were places for Muslims to pray, have social gatherings. In recent years, they were all cancelled. It’s not only in Yutian, but the whole Hotan area, It’s all the same … it’s all been corrected,” he said.

Activists say the destruction of these historical sites is a way to assimilate the next generation of Uighurs. According to former residents, most Uighurs in Xinjiang had already stopped going to mosques, which are often equipped with surveillance systems. Most require visitors to register their IDs. Mass shrine festivals like the one at Imam Asim had been stopped for years.

Removing the structures, critics said, would make it harder for young Uighurs growing up in China to remember their distinctive background.

“If the current generation, you take away their parents and on the other hand you destroy the cultural heritage that reminds them of their origin … when they grow up, this will be foreign to them,” said a former resident of Hotan, referring to the number of Uighurs believed detained in camps, many of them separated from their families for months, sometimes years.

“Mosques being torn down is one of the few things we can see physically. What other things are happening that are hidden, that we don’t know about? That is what is scary,” he said.

The ‘sinicisation’ of Islam

China denies allegations it targets Muslim minorities, constrains their religious and cultural practices, or sends them to re-education camps. In response to questions about razed mosques, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said he was “not aware of the situation mentioned”.

“China practices freedom of religion and firmly opposes and combats religious extremist thought… There are more than 20 million Muslims and more than 35,000 mosques in China. The vast majority of believers can freely engage in religious activities according to the law,” he said in a faxed statement to the Guardian.

Demolished mosque in the old town of Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region, China.
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A demolished mosque in the old town of Kashgar, Xinjiang Uyghur autonomous region, China. Photograph: Eric Lafforgue/Art in All of Us/Corbis via Getty Images

But Beijing is open about its goal of “sinicising” religions like Islam and Christianity to better fit China’s “national conditions”. In January, China passed a five-year plan to “guide Islam to be compatible with socialism”. In a speech in late March, party secretary Chen Quanguo who has overseen the crackdown since 2016 said the government in Xinjiang must “improve the conditions of religious places to guide “religion and socialism to adapt to each other”.

Removing Islamic buildings or features is one way of doing that, according to researchers.

“The Islamic architecture of Xinjiang, closely related to Indian and Central Asian styles, puts on public display the region’s links to the wider Islamic world,” said David Brophy, a historian of Xinjiang at the University of Sydney. “Destroying this architecture serves to smooth the path for efforts to shape a new ‘sinicised’ Uighur Islam.”

Experts say the razing of religious sites marks a return to extreme practices not seen since the Cultural Revolution when mosques and shrines were burned, or in the 1950s when major shrines were turned into museums as a way to desacralise them.

Today, officials describe any changes to mosques as an effort to “improve” them. In Xinjiang, various policies to update the mosques include adding electricity, roads, news broadcasts, radios and televisions, “cultural bookstores,” and toilets. Another includes equipping mosques with computers, air conditioning units, and lockers.

“That is code to allow them to demolish places that they deem to be in the way of progress or unsafe, to progressively yet steadily try to eradicate many of the places of worship for Uighurs and Muslim minorities,” said James Leibold, an associate professor at La Trobe University focusing on ethnic relations.

Critics say authorities are trying to remove even the history of the shrines. Rahile Dawut, a prominent Uighur academic who documented shrines across Xinjiang, disappeared in 2017. Her former colleagues and relatives believe she has been detained because of her work preserving Uighur traditions.

Dawut said in an interview in 2012: “If one were to remove these … shrines, the Uighur people would lose contact with earth. They would no longer have a personal, cultural, and spiritual history. After a few years we would not have a memory of why we live here or where we belong.”

Source: Revealed: new evidence of China’s mission to raze the mosques of Xinjiang

New Jersey Town Used Zoning to Discriminate Against Islam – The New York Times

Courts worked:

At issue was an official demand that the mosque provide 107 parking spots for its 150 worshipers, instead of the ratio of one spot for every three users required of the township’s churches, synagogues, restaurants and auditoriums.

The Planning Board’s parking requirement for the mosque set off an avalanche: If the Islamic Society were to devote as much of its land to parking as the board demanded, it would not be able to comply with mandates for drainage and lighting.

“Are both synagogues and mosques considered churches under the definitions that the township operates under?” Judge Shipp asked.

Photo

Mohammad Ali Chaudry, president of the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, at the site of the proposed mosque last year. CreditKarsten Moran for The New York Times

Mr. Mankoff: “No.”

Judge Shipp: “Is a mosque considered a church?”

Mr. Mankoff: “No.”

Judge Shipp: “So it is different?”

Mr. Mankoff: “Yes, your Honor.”

How so, the judge wanted to know. Mr. Mankoff said that mosques were busy on Friday evenings, rather than on Sundays.

Judge Shipp probed the implications of that answer.

“Is the board, in essence, adopting a policy that expressly applies different standards based on religion?” he asked.

“It’s not based on religion,” Mr. Mankoff said. “It’s based simply on the parking needs of the applicants.”

The judge did not accept that. “Counsel, you just stood there and told me that when you look at a mosque, you’re looking at a Friday worship,” Judge Shipp said. “When you look at Christian churches, you’re looking at a weekend worship.”

A lawyer for the Islamic Society, Adeel A. Mangi of Patterson Belknap Webb & Tyler, pointed out that the township’s synagogues did not have the same severe parking requirements. “They pray on a Friday, too,” Mr. Mangi said.

Over nearly four years, the proposed mosque was the subject of 39 hearings. Beneath the technical land-use discussions in public, a sulfurous tone was captured in emails that the Justice Department uncovered.

“As a religion, Islam owes its size and influence to a tradition from Day 1 of forced conversions through violent means,” wrote John Malay, who served on both the Planning Board and the Township Committee. Members of the two bodies discussed ways to exclude the president of the Islamic Society, Mohammad Ali Chaudry, a former mayor of the township, from a Sept. 11 commemoration. John Carpenter, a member of the Township Committee, wrote of President Obama: “Man child. The product of fools, raised by idiots and coddled by affirmative action. Behold the beast.”

None of these materials were part of Judge Shipp’s decision, which was based entirely on the filings made by the township itself.

Michael Turner, a spokesman for the township, said that many people served their township without compensation. They have the power and responsibility to shape the place where they live. In the case of Bernards Township, Judge Shipp found, it was too much.

“The Parking Ordinance unambiguously provides the Planning Board with unbridled and unconstitutional discretion,” he wrote.

German government rejects conservatives’ call for Islam law – The Washington Post

Of note:

The German government says there’s no need for new legislation to regulate Islamic organizations in the country.

Members of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s center-right Christian Democratic Union party have called for a ban on foreign funding of Islamic organizations, and for Muslims to get statutory rights to pastoral care from an imam in prisons and hospitals.

Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said Monday that such a law was “a non-issue” at the moment and noted that religious freedom is guaranteed by the German constitution.

The arrival of hundreds of thousands of Muslim migrants in Germany in recent years has rekindled public debates about the country’s relationship with Islam.

A recent report by public broadcaster ARD found that the Islam preached in some mosques is more conservative than in many Muslim countries.

Why MPs should visit mosques – and other places of worship too – Anita Vandenbeld

MP Anita Vendenbeld, one of the Liberal MPs accompanying the PM, responds to critics (see earlier ‘Feminist’ Trudeau under attack for attending gender-segregated event at Ottawa mosque):

On Monday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau observed Eid al-Adha at a mosque in Ottawa, accompanied by a number of Ottawa area MPs. I was one of them. I did not enter through a side door – none of us did – despite claims made in coverage by the Citizen and some others. In the past, I have visited this mosque for community events, addressed the worshippers at Friday prayers, and attended funerals and celebrations. On many of these occasions, genders were not separated. In fact, I have only seen that to be the case during prayers.

I chose to wear the headscarf out of politeness. It was my choice. In the past, I have personally witnessed female guests attend that mosque without a headscarf, and without being criticized for it. When I enter anyone’s place of worship, and they ask me to wear or not to wear something, I will choose to respect the traditions and standards their community holds, as I believe most Canadians would. I have also attended religious ceremonies at a Sikh gurdwara and a Jewish synagogue where they have segregated by gender, and I will continue to do so. I will never stop going to places where people gather, and I will never stop listening to the women and men in those places.

I have spent much of my professional career overseas working in countries whose societal norms were rapidly changing. In those countries, I would wear what was socially acceptable while also fighting to give a voice to the agents of change. Many of the women who attend the Ottawa Mosque are proud feminists, friends of mine and strong voices in our community. As an MP, my job is to be there to listen to and support them. Any representative who would choose not to be present and to not listen to members of their community would be failing in their duties as an elected representative.

I am proud to have been the first non-Muslim woman to address that same mosque in 2011, speaking from the front – which is essentially the pulpit. I spoke about inclusion, diversity and equality, and I have returned to speak many times since. I have received nothing but respect from mosque leaders, many of whom I consider allies in and champions of progressive change.

After my first speech at this mosque as an elected representative, I was approached by a woman who had recently immigrated to Canada. She told me that seeing an elected leader come to the mosque made her feel, for the first time, that Canada was truly her home. I have heard much of the same and more following the prime minister’s visit.

 I encourage everyone, when visiting a mosque, to speak with some of the women present. You will learn what passionate advocates these women are for their community and appreciate their range of thoughtful and progressive perspectives.

Under the previous government and Minister Kenney,  there was comparative under-attention to  Canadian Muslim groups, and of these, Ismailis were relatively more significant (chart below summarizes visits, speeches and statements, 2007-11).Chart 3- Ministerial Outreach by CommunitySource: Why MPs should visit mosques – and other places of worship too | Ottawa Citizen

‘Feminist’ Trudeau under attack for attending gender-segregated event at Ottawa mosque

Awkward. Valid to raise questions about appropriateness.

While in general, always better to engage and be present, PMO needs to think more about the guidelines when accepting such invitations or choosing locations. Respect should be mutual, while I can understand women MPs covering their hair as a sign of respect, the mosque should have allowed the women MPs to enter by the front door, not the side door, equally as a sign of respect.

And that would allow the PM to support those within Muslim communities who wish for more egalitarian mosques:

Canada’s self-styled feminist prime minister was praised Tuesday by one of the world’s most powerful women for his commitment to gender equality even as he was taking it on the chin from other women for appearing at a gender-segregated event the previous day.

International Monetary Fund managing director Christine Lagarde told reporters at a Parliament Hill news conference she was “appreciative” of Trudeau’s commitment to a government that was “gender-equal.” Trudeau had just told Lagarde the next Canadian representative to the IMF would be a woman, a first for the country.

Yet, Trudeau’s appearance Monday morning at a gender-segregated mosque in Ottawa brought criticism from some of the same women who had admired his work toward gender equality.

 “Right now we have these political leaders — ironically, politically liberal leaders — who are just putting blinders on their eyes about their values,” Asra Nomani said in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. Nomani, a former Wall Street Journal reporter who describes herself as a liberal, is the author of Standing Alone: An American Woman’s Struggle for the Soul of Islam.

“That’s the big differential for liberals, they fancy themselves as honouring the women’s body and yet the segregation by its very definition hyper-sexualizes women’s bodies. That’s the great irony.”

 Trudeau was at the mosque Monday to mark Eid al-Adha, considered the holiest of feast days for the world’s Muslims. Three female MPs accompanied Trudeau during his brief remarks, though they had to arrive by a side door and stand with their heads covered. They did not address the mosque.

Worshippers at the mosque are separated by gender. Men were on the main floor where Trudeau spoke. Women and girls were in a balcony or in other parts of the mosque. Nomani said that recent surveys indicate about two of every three mosques separate men from women, but that is up from a decade ago when only about half did.

“I will meet with Canadians regardless of where they are in Canada,” Trudeau told reporters Monday afternoon. “I will speak to inclusive growth, help for the middle class. I will talk about gender equality. I will talk about the rights of the LGBT community. We will continue to promote the values which bring us together.”

Source: ‘Feminist’ Trudeau under attack for attending gender-segregated event at Ottawa mosque | National Post

France Has Shut Down 20 Mosques Since December Over Alleged Radical Islam Sermons – The Atlantic

While I understand the rationale to shut-down such places of hate, one can question whether shutting them down will simply drive them underground, where their activities may be harder to detect and contest:

“Fight against the #radicalization: since December 2015, twenty Muslim places of worship have been closed,” the Interior Ministry tweeted.

Of the country’s 2,500 mosques and prayer halls, approximately 120 of them have been suspected by French authorities of preaching radical Salafism, a fundamentalist interpretation of Sunni Islam, according to France 24.

“There is no place … in France for those who call for and incite hatred in prayer halls or in mosques … About 20 mosques have been closed, and there will be others,” Cazeneuve said.

The announcement came days after French Prime Minister Manuel Valls called for a temporary ban on foreign funding of French mosques. A Senate committee report on Islam in France published in July found that though the country’s mosques are primarily financed through individual donations, a significant portion of their funding also comes from overseas—specifically from Morocco, Algeria, and Saudi Arabia. The same report called banning foreign financing of mosques “absurd and impossible,” calling instead for more transparency.

Because of France’s 1905 law establishing the separation of church and state, or laïcité, the French government cannot finance religious institutions directly. Some experts say this rule has made many mosques reliant on foreign funding.

Cazeneuve also announced Monday that French authorities would be working with the French Muslim Council to launch a foundation to help finance mosques within France.

Source: France Has Shut Down 20 Mosques Since December Over Alleged Radical Islam Sermons – The Atlantic

Austria Passes Law On Islam Banning Foreign Funding

Austria’s new law – not aimed at Turkish but likely Saudi and other funding:

The legislation also offers Austrian Muslims a mix of increased rights and obligations in practicing their faith.

But the law has generated opposition from Austrian Muslim groups who say the ban on foreign funding is unfair as support from abroad is still allowed for the Christian and Jewish faiths.

The new measures include the protection of religious holidays and training for imams.

Austria’s previous “law on Islam” dating from 1912, after the annexation of Bosnia-Herzegovina by the Austro-Hungarian empire, had been widely held up as a model for Europe in dealing with Islam.

Turkey’s leading Muslim cleric, Mehmet Gormez, has decried the bill as “a 100-year regression,” arguing that no complaints have ever been lodged about the fact that Ankara funds many imams in Austria.

Austria Passes Law On Islam Banning Foreign Funding.

All mosques should face ‘Quebec values’ investigation before being allowed to open: CAQ leader

Sigh …

But why stop there? What about churches? Synagogues? Gurdwaras? Is Legault really sure that they also agree or disagree with “Quebec values” as he would define them?

The leader of Coalition Avenir Québec said Tuesday all mosques should be investigated prior to being allowed to open in the province.

François Legault, head of the third-most popular party in Quebec’s legislature, said a public body should be created to investigate people who potentially disagree with so-called Quebec values.

Legault said the body would be able to find out if “applicants [for mosques] have consistently denigrated Quebec values.”

He said municipal authorities could use information collected by investigators in order to deny permits to people wanting to open mosques in the province.

Legault’s comments were in reaction to news that a Quebec town north of Montreal bowed to citizen pressure and denied a zoning change that would have allowed people to build a mosque.

All mosques should face ‘Quebec values’ investigation before being allowed to open: CAQ leader

Graeme Hamilton’s well-put commentary:

Mr. Couillard has criticized Mr. Legault’s proposal to clamp down on speech that runs counter to Quebec values. In the National Assembly Wednesday, Mr. Couillard said Mr. Legault’s plan would affect not just mosques but churches and synagogues. “There exists in Quebec a church that does not allow women to be celebrants,” he said. “There exists in Quebec another church that says women and men must be separated in religious buildings.” He said the CAQ “really likes to talk about Muslims, but religion is a much more complex phenomenon than that.”

But Mr. Couillard has stopped short of condemning Shawinigan’s actions. He simply expressed the hope that a dialogue between municipal officials and Muslim leaders will lead to a solution. Philippe Bégin Garti, a Shawinigan lawyer involved in the mosque project, declined comment Wednesday, saying his group is in talks with the city and seeking “an amicable solution.”

Mr. Legault accused the Premier of giving priority to free speech over other values and said the government’s inaction was sowing fear in the population.

If there is a segment of the population with reason to fear, it is the Muslims who are being told the mere act of worshipping is cause for suspicion. Instead of denouncing the insults thrown at Shawinigan Muslims last week, Mr. Legault sought to score political points by feeding the prejudice.

Shawinigan is a short drive from little Hérouxville. That is where the 2007 adoption of a “code of life” purporting to tell newcomers what’s what helped trigger a full-blown crisis in Quebec, as people objected to the “accommodation” of religious minorities. Then as now, strong political leadership was sorely lacking.

Graeme Hamilton: Quebec politicians playing to ‘irrational fears’ about Islamic extremism

The Women’s Mosque evolves North American Islam – Sheema Khan

North American innovation:

Sana Muttalib and M. Hasna Maznavi, co-founders of the Women’s Mosque of America, should be lauded for taking the bold and pragmatic step of providing a vehicle for Muslim women’s empowerment. The goal is to complement existing institutions and provide women with the necessary tools to make a difference in their communities. They have decided to stay within orthodoxy, by having a female imam lead only women in prayer – a practice that goes back to the time of the Prophet Mohammed. Women will be welcomed as they are – with or without a hijab. The mosque will provide public lectures for men and women by female scholars.

More importantly, it will be a centre where women can study the scriptures and traditions for themselves, within a cultural context where gender equality is non-negotiable. Or, as author Asma Barlas puts it, “unreading patriarchal interpretations of the Koran.” They will have the opportunity to discover how women helped to build Muslim societies from the seventh century onward – female warriors, Islamic scholars, judges, philanthropists, poets and rulers.

Most importantly, they will contribute to the evolution of an indigenous form of Islam that’s reflective of North American culture.

The Women’s Mosque evolves North American Islam – The Globe and Mail.