Monthly Archives: September 2011

[The Record] Muslim group saving 30,000 lives to mark 9/11

Read the original post here.

As communities throughout the country undertake special events to commemorate the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, a Muslim group with strong North Jersey ties is launching a nationwide blood-drive campaign.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA has begun Muslims for Life, a nationwide campaign with a goal of collecting 10,000 units of blood in September. Locally, the organization’s first drive is planned on Monday in Rutherford; subsequent drives next week are planned in Englewood and Clifton.

“We wanted to find a way to save lives,” said Kashif Chaudhry, a doctor at Englewood Hospital and Medical Center who is youth president for the Ahmadiyya mosque based in Clifton. “The best thing we could think was to donate blood.”

He added, “You can potentially save three lives per unit of blood. We are trying to save 30,000 lives, 10 times more than the unfortunate number of people to die 10 years ago on 9/11.”

Early this summer the organization decided to conduct 200 blood drives nationwide leading up to the 10th anniversary.

“We hope to rectify the image that Islam does not respect life,” said Chaudhry. He said that in addition to the death and destruction inflicted on America on Sept. 11, law-abiding Muslims lost something, too. “Our faith was hijacked” he said. “The terrorists extorted it. … We will honor our country, America, and we will prove from our actions that we stand for life and not death.”

The four blood drives to be conducted in North Jersey in the coming week are among 20 similar events planned by the Ahmadiyya group statewide.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community USA was established in the United States in 1920. It is the only Islamic organization to believe in a messiah, Mirza Ghulam Ahmads, who claimed to be the second coming of Jesus of Nazareth. The group believes that Ahmad, who died in 1908, had been sent by God to divest Islam of fanatical beliefs and practices, to end wars, and to institute peace and justice, according to Ahmadiyya literature.

“We reached out to churches and synagogues and hospitals and universities,” said Chaudhry. “We’ve spoken to mayors. They have all helped us phenomenally. Some churches contacted us before we could get in touch with them.”

Chaudhry expects locally to average about 50 units of blood per drive to contribute toward the goal of 10,000 units. He doesn’t want people to lose sight of why the drives are being held.

“This is America. We are honoring 9/11,” he said. “We want everyone to know that.”

E-mail: sobko@northjersey.com

[The Record] Op-Ed: At the center of Ramadan is the daily fast

Read the original Post here.

IF YOU know a Muslim, you are sure to have heard about Ramadan and the tradition of fasting in Islam.

Ramadan is the ninth and holiest month of the Islamic calendar, and it began Aug. 1 in the United States. Millions of Muslims across the country and many more across the world will spend the month fasting.

Even though it is singular in its details, the practice of fasting as a form of spiritual exercise is not unique to Islam. Almost all religions advocate fasting in one form or the other. Our Founding Fathers and the Pilgrims attributed their successes to prayer and fasting.

An entry in President George Washington’s diary reads, “June 1st, went to church and fasted all day.” When the country was on the verge of war with France in 1798, President John Adams proclaimed a day of fasting and prayer to avoid war. During the war with Britain, both houses of Congress under President James Madison desired to spend a day in “fasting and prayer.” President Abraham Lincoln is also well-known to have called the nation to prayer and fasting for national peace and unity on three different occasions during the Civil War.

A typical day in Ramadan starts very early, before the dawn. Muslims spend these early hours in meditation and prayer and in reciting from the Quran. The fast kicks off with the suhoor or the morning meal, which is the counterpart of the regular breakfast. This is followed by the fajar or morning prayer, which is said before the sun rises. The whole day is spent without eating or drinking anything.

With a prayer of gratitude to God, a Muslim breaks his fast at sunset with the iftar or the evening meal. Following the practice of Prophet Muhammad, dates have traditionally been a part of iftar meals.

From sunrise till sunset, the duration of the fast will roughly be 15 hours this year. During this period, a Muslim who fasts is required to abstain from all evil deeds as seemingly small as they may be. Prophet Muhammad is reported to have said, “If a person does not avoid false talk and false conduct during fasting, then Allah does not care if he abstains from food and drink.” It is prohibited to use bad language, to engage in any fights or to indulge in worldly pleasures during the fast. Since it is more of a spiritual exercise, a Muslim is expected to spend as much of his time as possible in the remembrance of God.

Fasting in the month of Ramadan is mandatory for all Muslims except those who are ill or on a journey. For such, the number of days missed may be repaid at a later time. For every fast missed deliberately, however, alms enough to feed 60 hungry people are to be paid as expiation.

The essence of fasting is manifold. Physically, it is a great endurance exercise. It makes us experience hunger and empathize with the millions around the world who go without food every day. It is alarming to note that approximately every 5 seconds, a child dies of hunger in the world. With stress on eating less and giving out more to the less fortunate, these conditions may be improved.

Ramadan also lays heavy emphasis on charity. It is obligatory for all Muslims to give out zakat — a fixed portion of their wealth — to charitable endeavors. In Ramadan, Muslims are urged to spend far more than just this obligatory part. The reward of charity work is multiplied manifold in this blessed month.

The end of Ramadan is marked by the festival of Eid-ul-Fitr. This celebration is held to express gratitude to God for having enabled the faithful to partake of the blessings of Ramadan. The Eid-ul-Fitr in the United States this year will be celebrated Aug. 30.

As millions of fellow Americans spend the next few days in striving to improve their physical, moral and spiritual faculties, they will also be expressing their gratefulness to America’s pluralistic ideals and multiculturalism. In respect of these values, please join me in wishing America “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Ramadan Karim” — a very happy Ramadan.

Kashif N. Chaudhry, a New Milford resident, is a physician and member of the Muslim Writers Guild of America.

[The Record] Ten years after 9/11, U.S. Muslims still battling stereotypes

I was interviewed by “The Record” for a piece on 9/11. Read Online Here.

Ten years have passed since al-Qaida terrorists hijacked four planes in an attack that killed nearly 3,000 people and wiped the World Trade Center from the New York City skyline.

But time has done little to dispel the deep mistrust some Americans feel toward Muslims, believing they are sympathetic to terrorists and have not done enough to root out radicalism in their communities.

Muslim leaders have ramped up outreach to show they’re as American as anyone else, but have been unable to shake the specter of terrorism. That mistrust has played out across national and local levels in racial profiling, congressional hearings on radicalism in Islam and virulent opposition to the building of mosques.

North Jersey has a large Muslim community with deep local roots and some members serving in public office. But Muslims here have hardly been immune from tensions over Islam in America.

“Sept. 11 was a major rude awakening. All of a sudden our religion was hijacked by someone who flies into buildings,” said Mohamed El Filali, the outreach coordinator for the Islamic Center of Passaic County in Paterson.

New Jersey was inextricably linked to the disaster, having lost so many of its residents to the attacks and later learning that a few hijackers made a temporary home in Paterson. Suspicion and fear were rampant in the aftermath.

Tensions surfaced sharply with a North Bergen Muslim cleric’s proposal to develop the Park51 mosque near Ground Zero. Richard Zuendt, a member of the Bergen County Republican Organization and co-founder of ConservativeNewJersey.com, said the mosque plan showed that Muslim-Americans were not understanding or tolerant of their neighbors, a sentiment shared by other Americans who protested the project.

“They don’t feel the way we do,” said Zuendt, of Garfield. “They don’t feel our hurt. If they felt our hurt, they would not want to open a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero.”

Muslim-Americans across North Jersey said the “us versus them” scenario was unfair and that their civil liberties as Americans suffered when their homes and non-profits were raided, when their houses of worship got extra land-use scrutiny, or when they were subject to tougher questioning when they came up for public-service jobs.

In a recent high-profile case, critics assailed Governor Christie’s appointment of Clifton lawyer Sohail Mohammed, an Indian-American Muslim, as a state Superior Court judge. During his confirmation hearing in June, Mohammed was grilled by lawmakers on topics like his Muslim affiliations and beliefs on Shariah law, or Islamic religious law, and the Palestinian political party Hamas.

State Sen. Gerald Cardinale, R-Demarest, who vigorously questioned Mohammed, said he had the right to assess how people’s beliefs might affect their work.

“The majority of Muslims pose no threat,” Cardinale said in a recent interview. “What I believe is that most of them are as fearful of the extremist minority as we are and our goal should be to overcome the extremist minority tendencies.”

Cardinale said those Muslim extremists want to “destroy American culture” and impose Shariah law, which he said makes women into cattle or slaves. But Muslims say critics are using terms like Shariah to inspire fear, while spreading misinformation about what those terms actually mean.

Muslims interviewed about Sept. 11 said they were resentful of what they called guilt by association. Kashif Chaudhry of New Milford, a Muslim youth leader, said Muslims were being subject to the same kind of prejudices that other religions and ethnic groups had faced in the past in the U.S.

“The perception that the whole community was terrorists or terrorist sympathizers — we hoped that would go away with time,” said Chaudhry.

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[Huffington Post] How Pakistan Drifted Away from Itself

With the partition of the Indian subcontinent, the Dominion of Pakistan came into existence on Aug. 14, 1947. The valiant and astute Muhammad Ali Jinnah led the minority Muslim community of United India to the fulfillment of its dream for a separate homeland. The basis for the very demand of independence was the upholding of the freedom of religion, profession and speech.

Jinnah was an outstanding lawyer who had studied law in London. He had a modern outlook on the world and was strongly secular. “No subject … in Pakistan shall, on grounds only of religion, place of birth, descent, color or any of them be ineligible for office,” read part of the oath under which he took office. He was absolutely clear that the new state he was founding would accommodate people of all faiths and descents without any prejudice. To assert this point, he appointed a non-Muslim as his first law minister. The Muslims in his cabinet consisted of Sunni, Shia and Ahmadis alike. He believed that Islam endorsed a secular democracy and the two were perfectly compatible.

“The great majority of us are Muslims. Consequently, we have a special and a very deep sense of unity. But make no mistake: Pakistan is not a theocracy or anything like it,” he said in an address in 1948.

He believed in a Pakistan wherein the Mosque would be separate from the State. “You are free; you are free to go to your temples, you are free to go to your mosques or to any other place of worship in this State of Pakistan. You may belong to any religion or caste or creed that has nothing to do with the business of the State,” he said.

In the struggle for Pakistan, Jinnah was not faced with the Indian Congress and the British alone. He also had to endure intense animosity from hard-line Muslim clerics and counter their vile propaganda. He was accused by the ultra right wing of blasphemy, and they considered him a “great heretic” for his secular ideology. Prominent clerics like Maulana Maududi urged common Muslims not to side with Jinnah. Maududi wrote, “It is forbidden to vote for [Jinnah’s] Muslim League.” Despite this, the resolute Jinnah was successful in garnering support from the masses in most Muslim-majority areas.

Today, as the nation celebrates its 64th birthday, it finds it hard to uphold the very ideals it was founded on. As it passes through dangerously volatile times, it has forsaken its founding principles of freedom and secularism. But how and why did Pakistan turn against itself?

Even though he tried his best to steer it toward a secular democracy, Jinnah did not live long enough to see it become one. Over the coming years, Pakistan took a very troubling turn. In a matter of nine years, it became an “Islamic Republic,” and in a little over two decades, it had essentially became a theocracy.

The same extremist clerics who had opposed Jinnah and his struggle for Pakistan gradually claimed ownership of the State. They formed into political groups that used religion to amass public support. Their demonstrations of street power, frequently violent, meant that sectarian hatred and intolerance was the order of the day. Even governments avoided a clash with the radical right and became increasingly weary of arousing any negative religious sentiment and consequently losing popular vote. This only furthered the extremist cause, and in time, the original path Pakistan started on was completely forsaken. Pakistan, it was now said, was formed for the Muslims and was meant to become an Islamic theocracy where the Shariah, as interpreted by the hard-liners, would be the ultimate law.

One tragedy after another, Jinnah’s Pakistan was dealt with massive blows. His Pakistan was no more his. It had been hijacked by forces of extremism and intolerance.

No non-Muslim could hold the highest offices in any of the core institutions anymore. In 1953, there were widespread riots against the Ahmadi Muslims, a sect that extremists considered heretics. The harassment of Shia Muslims and other minority groups also increased and went largely unchecked. In 1974, the government yielded to intense pressure and declared the Ahmadiyya sect non-Muslim. Tout de suite, the State had taken authority to decide its people’s religion, and the two were no longer separate.

General Zia ul Haq took over the country and became its third military president in 1977. To legitimize his dictatorship, he sought to please the right wing and set to “Islamize” Pakistan. Amongst other things, he introduced the controversial blasphemy laws that stated death as the punishment for any derogatory remark against the Quran, Prophet Muhammad and other Islamic holy personages. For Ahmadis, he also promulgated an ordinance in 1984 that criminalized the practice of their faith. Zia’s rule was the toughest for citizens who did not adhere to what had now become the State-backed perversion of Islam. Jinnah’s secular Pakistan had drifted into the hands of his enemies.

Jinnah had warned of this in his Aug. 11, 1947 address to the Constituent Assembly of Pakistan. He said, “As you know, history shows that in England, conditions, some time ago, were much worse than those prevailing in India today. The Roman Catholics and the Protestants persecuted each other. Even now there are some States in existence where there are discriminations made and bars imposed against a particular class. Thank God, we are not starting in those days.” He continued, “Today, you might say with justice that Roman Catholics and Protestants do not exist; what exists now is that every man is a citizen, an equal citizen of Great Britain and they are all members of the Nation.”

In the same address, he said, “My guiding principle will be justice and complete impartiality, and I am sure that with your support and cooperation, I can look forward to Pakistan becoming one of the greatest nations of the world.”

Jinnah knew that a secular form of government could bridge differences and bring together people of all faiths and backgrounds to build a strong Pakistan. Just as the Catholics had learned to live with the Protestants, he was optimistic that the Pakistan he was founding would be a successful nation, a beacon of tolerance and an example of “unity in diversity.” However, the men who opposed Jinnah’s ideals before partition stood in his way yet again.

Founded on freedom of religion and practice, Pakistan is one of the biggest violator of religious freedom today. For Pakistan to succeed, it will have to reverse the dangerous turn it took and get back on the path that Jinnah laid before it. The blasphemy laws must be amended, everyone must be equal citizen of the state, the anti-Ahmadi laws must be revisited and State must remain separate from the Mosque at every cost. Pakistan must educate itself and look for the unity that Jinnah so cherished in the diversity across the land. In February 1948, Jinnah said in an address, “You have to stand guard over the development and maintenance of democracy, social justice and the equality of manhood in your own native soil. With faith, discipline and selfless devotion to duty, there is nothing worthwhile that you cannot achieve.”

Unfortunately, recent events have shown that Pakistan is still far away from taking that vital turn. The government has shown little resolve to go after the perpetrators of religious hate and violence and definitely no will to even trigger a dialogue on the controversial laws of the land. With Pakistan headed toward a steep decline, the solution lies in bold courage and reform — and quick. Jinnah’s Pakistanis will have to wake up sooner than later and reclaim the land from his opponents. Pakistanis must cause a rebirth of Pakistan — Jinnah’s Pakistan.

 

Original Post on Huffington Post Here       Follow Kashif N. Chaudhry on Twitter: www.twitter.com/KashifMD

[Newsline] Aamir Liaquat, Saint or Hypocrite?

“Everyone knows it is a world of technology. They have manipulated and tempered [sic] few clips and dubbed the abusive worlds [sic] in my voice,” tweeted Dr Aamir Liaquat in the aftermath of the recent video scandal (see the video below) that quickly went viral this past weekend. The video consists of several unflattering clips of the TV personality filming his show and reveals what many believe is Liaquat’s “true face.”

Dr Aamir Liaquat’s official bio states that he is a renowned Islamic scholar, the executive director of television channel ARY Digital and the managing director of its Islamic channel, QTV. He was the host of “Aalim Online” on GEO TV and currently hosts a religious show on ARY. Drama is not new to Liaquat. He has been at the centre of multiple controversies, from getting a PhD in 20 days to arousing sectarian strife – including, but not limited to, a statement that led to the killing of three prominent Ahmadis in 2008 and involved abusive language targeted at Islamic holy personages.

In the newly surfaced video, the publicly modest-looking Islamic scholar can be seen using abusive and derisive language in recorded outtakes of his programme. He is shown swearing, casually and routinely letting off the vernacular for “mother fu**er”, “pimp” and “sister fu**er,” etc., during conversations. The “Aalim” also appears to be big on Bollywood, for which he has quite a varied taste (“Ghalib movie dekhi hai?”). In one clip, he tries to remember a certain actor from a movie song who he says is notorious for rape scenes.

The video gets particularly opprobrious and the histrionic Liaquat appears to take a deeper plunge into his sea of disgust when he shows cold insensitivity to a female caller’s question on “rape and suicide.” Anyone having the slightest bit of dignity and shame wouldn’t burst into a guffaw like that. The video also confirms that at least some calls in his former GEO programme were planted.

Liaquat has claimed that the tape is doctored, and he is frantically pointing fingers in every direction. He initially blamed his previous employer (GEO TV), then said it was a conspiracy by those who did not want him to “spread the true essence of Islam in Ramazan,” and has lately also implicated groups that he said were against the finality of prophethood. But what most people are thinking about is not blame: it is whether, other than Liaquat’s confused berserk behaviour, there is any evidence the tape is genuine.

As soon as the video surfaced on YouTube, it was removed by GEO TV, who stating copyright claims. Quick they were, but late by modern standards. The video had been downloaded and was re-uploaded a gazillion times to multiple video-hosting sites. Interestingly, GEO kept pulling down the videos one after another in a hurried frenzy.

They failed, but, in the process, furnished strong proof of the video’s authenticity. The tape’s credibility was further improved when the Aalim later verified that the clips were indeed taken from GEO’s archives. If it was truly GEO that had planned Liaquat’s defamation, the hot pursuit of the videos was indeed smartly scripted.

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[Newsline] Caged Ahmedi Refugees Fear Returning to Pakistan

It is no secret that Ahmedis in Pakistan are treated worse than animals, the latter at least having the freedom to bark, meow, chirp the way they choose to. Even when caged, pets are generally loved and cared for. Ahmedis on the other hand receive hatred and indifference from a large segment of Pakistani society. On the one hand, the Mullah brigade has disseminated venom against Ahmedis nationwide (and abroad), while on the other, the state supports this bigotry by criminalising the very existence of Ahmedis through laws that can best be described as discriminatory and cruel.

Since Ahmedis have been declared ‘Wajib-ul-Qatl’ (deserving of death) by numerous influential extremist groups, they are threatened on a regular basis by extremists living in our neighbourhoods. Ahmedi businesses are forcibly closed down, children harassed and homes attacked. False cases are registered, and with many interested in the prospect of hoors, false witnesses are readily available. Section 298-C of the Pakistan Penal Code prohibits Ahmedis from calling themselves Muslim or act “in any manner whatsoever that outrages the religious feelings of Muslims.” This includes saying the Azaan, calling the Ahmedi place of worship a “mosque,” saying the greeting of peace, aka Salaam, reciting the Quran in public, or saying the Kalima. How these acts cause pain to the feelings of “constitutional” Muslims is beyond me, and how not saying any of this brings solace remains an even bigger enigma. Faced with such bitter two-sided damnation, what would a sane Ahmedi do, if not leave the country?

Was the very pretext for Pakistan’s existence not the preservation of religious freedom? Would it therefore not be befitting of Ahmedis to campaign for a separate state on the same grounds? But since this would cause chaos and unrest in the land they call home, Pakistani Ahmedis patiently pray and continue to hope for better days. However, when persecution becomes overbearing for some, they are forced to resort to emigration, which is the Quran’s prescribed way to escape religious persecution(4:98).

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[Newsline] A Tale of Two Murders: Searching for Equal Justice

It is the responsibility of a country’s judiciary to provide “equal justice under law” to every single citizen of the state without difference. Without an independent and honest judiciary, all the rights guaranteed to citizens under the Constitution of Pakistan become worthless – mere words on paper. Pakistan’s constitution does guarantee equal rights to (almost) all its citizens but are these nugatory words or worthwhile promises? Here, we look at two recent scenarios to examine the country’s judicial system for the answer. This is a tale of two murders.

In January 2011, Salmaan Taseer, the governor of Pakistan’s most influential province, was gunned down in Islamabad by a member of his own security team. The killer, Mumtaz Qadri, carried out the despicable attack in broad daylight. He confessed to the act and expressed pride in it. Hours into the killing, Qadri was elevated to sainthood and hundreds of rallies comprising thousands of people paid homage to what they called his ‘grand service to Islam.’ Those who came out to honour the criminal significantly outnumbered those who lit a candlelight vigil for the victim. The very upholders of law garlanded Qadri and received him as a hero.

Seven months into the proceedings, no verdict has yet been reached on the case. One may ask what more evidence the courts are looking for to implicate Qadri in this heinous crime.

Five months after Mr Taseer’s tragic murder, another killing gripped news headlines across Pakistan. An unarmed young man, Sarfaraz Shah, was killed at close range by a team of Rangers in Karachi. Video evidence of the brutality soon surfaced and six Rangers were arrested. Two months into case hearings, a verdict was reached. Shahid Zafar, the man behind the trigger, was recently sentenced to death by an anti-terrorism court in Karachi. The other men arrested (five paramilitary soldiers and one civilian) were sentenced to life imprisonment and heavy fines.

Considering Shah’s case as standard, a verdict on Mr Taseer’s case should have been recorded five months back. This did not happen and nothing is expected to happen anytime soon. Unfortunately, Shah and Taseer were not equal citizens of the state. Talking of equality of its citizens, even murders are not equally treated in Pakistan. One was met with condemnation, the other with veneration.

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