Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, January-February 2001, Pages 84-90
Mazen Al-Najjar Free At Last
After six days of wrenching turnabouts, Mazen Al-Najjar walked out of a Bradenton, FL jail Dec. 15, free after being held for three and a half years by the federal government. No charges ever were filed against the University of South Florida academic, who was detained merely on vague assertions by federal agents that they had “secret evidence” that Al-Najjar somehow was associated with the Palestinian Islamic Jihad.
But in a stunning reversal of its Dec. 5 ruling that Al-Najjar remain in jail indefinitely, the quasi-judicial Bureau of Immigration Appeals decided on Dec. 8 that he should be freed. Two days before that, on Dec. 6, Immigration and Naturalization Service Judge R. Kevin McHugh had ordered Al-Najjar released after lawyers for the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) failed to produce a summary of the secret evidence that adequately protected the Muslim scholar’s constitutional rights to defend himself.
The best understatement about what happened last week to Al-Najjar came from the prisoner himself: “The whole game is really not fair,” Al-Najjar said in an interview with the Tampa, Florida Weekly Planet.
The roller coaster ride began Dec. 6, when Judge McHugh ordered Al-Najjar released after he found that the government had no public proof of wrongdoing. The judge then ruled that an unclassified “summary” of secret evidence was inadequate to enable the imprisoned scholar to prepare a defense.
“The judge found the summary frivolous and uninformative,” Al-Najjar said.
The INS lawyers, however, immediately sought an indefinite stay of the judge’s ruling, and the BIA granted the motion.
In other secret evidence cases, the government has provided the unclassified summary before showing judges the evidence. In Al-Najjar’s case, the INS vigorously fought to introduce unsupported, misleading and clearly inaccurate evidence, as well as hearsay, in its failed effort to link Al-Najjar to terrorists. The government lawyers then succeeded in getting the secret evidence in front of McHugh before showing Al-Najjar the unclassified summary.
As Al-Najjar’s lead lawyer, Georgetown University Law Prof. David Cole, had predicted, the summary turned out to be inadequate for Al-Najjar to prepare a rebuttal. McHugh’s ruling affirmed that prediction. The contents of the summary have yet to be made public.
U.S. House Minority Whip David Bonoir of Michigan, who has sponsored legislation to end the use of secret evidence, said of the INS action: “I’ve been in this business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen an injustice like this.”
The state’s two largest newspapers, The Miami Herald and the St. Petersburg Times, have both editorialized on Al-Najjar’s behalf. (Al-Najjar’s imprisonment stems from sensational and highly political stories that The Tampa Tribune began running in 1995—stories clearly wrong in both their assumptions and conclusions, in the aftermath of Judge McHugh’s decision.) The Herald on Dec. 8 called the INS actions “wrongful, un-American.” The Times decried Al-Najjar’s jailing as an “outrage” and commented that “every hour he remains locked up increases our national shame.”
Al-Najjar’s lawyers immediately took their case to Federal District Judge Joan A. Lenard in Miami, who earlier this year had ordered a new bond hearing after finding that Al-Najjar’s constitutional rights have been violated.
Meanwhile, on Dec. 7—the day Al-Najjar originally would have been freed—another secret evidence prisoner was released. Anwar Haddam, an Algerian jailed for four years, had won political asylum in the United States but was jailed on secret evidence. U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, an ardent supporter of secret evidence, tried to keep Haddam in jail for another 45 days but was thwarted in her efforts. Following his release Haddam said, “I don’t ask people to support my views but to support my rights.”
Al-Najjar, 43, a quiet man who repeatedly eschewed violence at his hearing, was characteristically philosophical at the years of his life the government wasted by keeping him jail. “I am used to disappointment,” he said. The father of three young daughters, he added: “I’m sad, of course. But not so sad for myself, but for my children who are growing up without a father.”
—John S. Sugg
Reno Blocks Al-Najjar’s Release Again
Sara, 10, stood outside the Bradenton, FL jail on Dec. 12, clutching an American flag on a pole about three feet taller than she is. The flag was to show support for the nation’s justice system, which, although grindingly slow, was supposed finally to have worked for her father. A short distance away her sister Yara, 12, spoke with reporters. Yara aspires to be a lawyer. It’s easy to understand—she wants to give back to the government some of the grief officials have handed her family. “I haven’t thought too much about what I want to do with my father,” she said. “I just want to see him so much.” The girls’ youngest sister, Safa, 5, played on the Manatee Courthouse steps. She just wants her daddy to take her places and buy her candy—like any father would.
But their dad isn’t like any dad. He’s Mazen Al-Najjar, a University of South Florida professor who, based on vague and unproven insinuations that he has terrorist associations, has been held by the federal government for more than 1,300 days. He’s one of some two dozen men—almost all Arabs or Muslims—who have been held on secret evidence.
The family and their supporters—mostly other members of the Islamic community, but also many from Tampa’s African-American churches, as well as a mixed collection of civil libertarians—gathered before 8 a.m. in front of the Bradenton jail. Al-Najjar’s brother-in-law, Professor Sami Al-Arian, held the $8,000 certified check to pay the bail.
A little before 9, a guard asked the family for Al-Najjar’s fresh street clothes to replace the worn rags the government has forced him to wear. Fedaa Al-Najjar rushed forward with the hangers. Faces brightened. Everyone assumed that Al-Najjar soon would walk out of his cell, through the jail’s glass revolving door, to his freedom.
Only one more obstacle could have spoiled things: Intervention by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno thwarting both a judge’s order and the decision of an appellate board. At about 9:15, cell phones started ringing. Al-Arian answered his, and his face quickly fell from a smile to a frown.
“Reno did it,” Al-Arian said with a shake of his head. “Unbelievable.”
The attorney general ordered that Al-Najjar remain in jail at least until Dec. 8 at 5 p.m. while she studied his case - a file she has had for three-and-a-half years. “How mean can you get?” remarked a TV cameraman who in recent months has been a regular at Al-Najjar’s hearings.
Reno has intervened in other secret evidence cases—all of which the government has lost. In several other cases, the government has waited until the media have dispersed to comply with judges’ orders, releasing prisoners late at night.
“They don’t want anyone to see the government’s shame,” said Al-Najjar’s sister, Nahla Al-Arian.
U.S. House Minority Whip David Bonoir (D-MI), who joined the small crowd awaiting Al-Najjar’s release Dec. 12, has sponsored legislation to end the use of secret evidence. Of the previous week’s decision to keep Al-Najjar jailed, he said, “I’ve been in this business for 30 years, and I’ve never seen an injustice like this.”
—John S. Sugg
Muslims Say Legislation Would Target Palestinians
The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) on Dec. 4 urged Muslims to contact the House Judiciary Committee about legislation that would require the Justice Department to set up a special office exclusively targeting Palestinians. The Justice for American Victims of Terrorism Act of 2000 (H.R. 5500), introduced by Rep. Robert Andrews (D-NJ), would “require the attorney general to establish an office in the Department of Justice to monitor acts of international terrorism alleged to have been committed by Palestinian individuals or individuals acting on behalf of Palestinian organizations and to carry out certain other related activities.”
An inevitable result of the bill’s passage would be government monitoring of nonviolent critics of Israel in this country, CAIR president Nihad Awad said. “It is unconscionable to propose legislation that targets a specific religious and ethnic group,” he said, adding, “Any Justice Department office created by the bill should also monitor the documented torture of American citizens in Israeli prisons and the use of American weapons to kill Palestinian civilians.”
One of the bill’s three co-sponsors is Rep. Rick Lazio (R-NY). During his unsuccessful Senate campaign against Hillary Rodham Clinton, Lazio attempted to link American Muslim leaders and groups to acts of violence in the Middle East. Muslims charged that Lazio’s tactic amounted to Islamophobic “McCarthyism.”
Another co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY), has been a key supporter of the use of secret evidence in INS deportation hearings. (Secret evidence is used almost exclusively against Muslims and Arabs.) Weiner also has called on President Clinton to free Jonathan Pollard, a naval analyst who was convicted in 1986 of transferring classified information to Israel. “The potential for positive developments in the Middle East peace process that would result from releasing Pollard cannot be understated,” Weiner has been quoted as saying. He recently sponsored legislation to cut U.S. aid to the Palestinians and, in a 1999 commentary, Weiner wrote: “It is time that the House of Representatives takes steps to demonstrate our loyalties to Israel.”
This legislation has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee and will probably have to be reintroduced when the new Congress convenes in January. Voters are urged to express their concerns to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, Room 2138 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC, 20515, telephone: (202) 225-3951; fax: (202) 225-7682; e-mail: [email protected]
Department of State Holds Iftar Dinner
Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright hosted the third annual Iftar dinner Dec. 19 at the Department of State in Washington, DC. Assistant Secretary of State Harold Hongju Koh welcomed leaders of the American-Muslim community, and Imam Fathy Al-Mady from the Islamic Center in Washington, DC and Georgetown University’s Imam Yahya Hindi led prayers. Hindi remarked that in the year 2000 the holidays of the three Abrahamic faiths, Ramadan, Christmas and Hannukah, all fell in the same week. While each faith believes in the same God, between these three faiths arise the greatest conflicts. Imam Hindi prayed for peace for all God’s people.
“The Iftar dinner is already one of my favorite traditions,” Secretary Albright began, “and one I’ll miss most in my new life.” She talked about every faith being united in this holiday season by hopes for the future. “I strongly encourage Muslim young people to join the State Department,” Albright said. “Muslim Americans belong at the table along with everyone else who has a stake in how our policies are shaped. It is vital for Muslim Americans to have access to policymakers and for more Muslims to become policymakers.
“Dinners, forums, conferences and dialogues are important,” Albright said, “You are right to raise objections to secret evidence and to raise questions about our foreign policies. We need to hear your views.
“It is a time of painful disappointment in the Middle East,” the secretary continued, “This holiday is a season of sorrow. We’ve seen violence beget more violence, including the death of 12-year-old fifth grader Mohammed al-Durra. Tragedies validate the central point of our policy. We welcome the return to Washington of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak and Palestinian President Yasser Arafat today. The new crescent may symbolize a new spirit of peace in the Middle East.”
—Delinda C. Hanley
Muslim voter exit poll
More than 70 percent of Muslim voters surveyed by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) followed the endorsement of national Islamic political organizations in the Nov. 7 elections, according to an exit poll released in Washington, DC on Nov. 17. In October, the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council Political Action Committee (AMPCC-PAC), of which CAIR is a member organization, endorsed Texas Gov. George W. Bush. CAIR survey coordinators declared the bloc vote historic: “This poll, following as it does the first-ever endorsement of a presidential candidate, is a key indicator of future American-Muslim political participation,” stated CAIR executive director Nihad Awad. Ninety-four percent of the voters surveyed said they had heard about the endorsement, and 85 percent of respondents said the endorsement was either the major factor or one of the factors that influenced their choice of candidates.
A September poll showed 40 percent of American Muslim voters favoring Bush, which rose to 72 percent after AMPCC-PAC’s endorsement. Advocates cited Bush’s support of HR 2121, the Secret Evidence Repeal Act, and his acknowledgment of the community during his campaign. A CAIR board chairman admitted that neither party “has really addressed” issues of concern to Arab and Muslim Americans—for example, neither Republicans nor Democrats have strongly opposed moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. Although CAIR cautioned the community not to expect a major shift in Middle East foreign policy during the next presidency, the Islamic group maintained that it was not who Muslims voted for this November, but the fact that they voted as a bloc, and in large numbers, which broke new political ground. Indeed, over a third of those surveyed were first-time voters, and hundreds of mosques became new centers of voter registration.
Now I Feel American
At a Nov. 16 National Press Club ceremony hosted by the American Muslim Council and attended by representatives of the United States Postal Service, the Islamic Institute, representatives of Sen. Spencer Abraham (R-MI), and congressmen from both sides of the aisle, a new commemorative stamp celebrating the two major Muslim holidays of Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha was unveiled. The designer of the stamp, calligrapher Mohamed Zakariya, also assisted at the unveiling. The design bears the inscription “Eid Mu-barak” in gold calligraphic script against a blue background, and an issue of 75 million stamps will be minted in time for circulation in October 2001.
Absent from the ceremony were the children who initiated the campaign for the stamp by wondering why there were no stamps to commemorate Muslim holidays as there are for other religions and ethnic groups. These children, however, were more than ably represented by the prominent Muslim speaker and activist Hajjeh Aminah Assilmi, who bore with her a scrapbook of hundreds of letters, postcards and designs culled from the thousands Muslim children had produced for submission to the USPS.
And it was one child’s response to the success of the campaign, reported by Ms. Assilmi, that outshone all the other fine speeches of thanks and acknowledgments heard at the ceremony. “Now I feel I really am an American,” the child had said. Assilmi also reported that the children were so excited at the campaign’s success that they were eager to start another—and, indeed, a campaign is in the works for U.S. recognition of Muslim holidays.
Role of Religion in Education
On Nov. 20, the Council on Islamic Education (CIE) and the First Amendment Center (FAC) sponsored a press conference on their most recent collaboration, a study of teaching about religion in national and state social studies programs.
Among the discussants was Dr. Charles Haynes, senior scholar at FAC, who explained that the study represents another “building block in the cause of religious liberty.” He argued that contrary to cultural misconceptions about the role of religion in education, especially because of the well-established separation of church and state, the U.S. constitution mandates that public schools remain neutral on religion. This neutrality was not intended to engender hostility or silence about religion, he explained, but rather to be fair in teaching about, as opposed to of, religion.
Dr. Haynes also argued that a good education must include a diverse curriculum, both religious and nonreligious, and that teaching about various ways of understanding the world and different faiths enhances students’ educational experience. He explained, however, that although national and state educational standards mandate some teaching about religion, discrepancies exist in its implementation. Among the various challenges facing educators, Dr. Haynes asserted, is teacher preparation and the availability of resources and textbooks. He concluded by saying that the study is not intended to promote the interests of one religion, but is rather an endeavor to work on behalf of all Americans.
Shabbir Mansuri, the founding director of CIE, explained that since its inception in 1990, CIE has worked to strengthen the U.S. educational system through providing information and resources on Islam. Culturally sensitive resources are made available to provide awareness of Islam to educators and students alike.
Don Ernst, representing the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, explained that schools must serve as true centers of education, and provide balanced and fair representation of world religions.
CIE’s Susan Douglas, author of the study, explained that in the United States most teachings about religion is done in social studies classes. The study found considerable polarization between substance and structure, Douglas said, adding that in teaching about religion the structure of the material proved as important as the content. Although some state models offer thumbnail references to various religions, she said, others provide a more thorough approach. As expected, the study found that Western history and religion are both taught in more detail. Douglas also noted that various additive instructive models have provided an overwhelming amount of information for students. “We need an integrative model,” she said.
While the CIE study reports findings, Douglas said, it is up to the students and their parents to monitor and assess an individual school’s performance in diversifying its religious instruction.
American Sociological Association Discusses Muslim Women
In a special session at its annual meeting on Aug. 12, the American Sociological Association held a panel discussion on various aspects of being Muslim women in American society. Organized and presided over by Jen’nan Ghazal Read, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin, the panel included presentations by Kristine J. Ajrouch from the University of Michigan, Louise Cainkar of the Great Cities Institute at the University of Illinois-Chicago, Kathleen M. Moore of the University of Connecticut, and Fadwa El Guindi of the University of Southern California. Georgetown University’s Yvonne Y. Haddad was the discussant.
Read introduced the session saying that though there had been limited scholarly attention given to American Muslims, and even less to American Muslim women, researchers were finding great diversity, a point reflected in the presentations.
Kristine Ajrouch’s paper, entitled “Ethnic Identity as a Challenge: Exploring the Boundaries of Gender, Race, and Religion,” focused on how the issues of gender, race and religion formed the identity of Arab-American adolescents from Dearborn, MI. She stressed that in her findings Arab-American teens made distinctions between themselves, “boaters”—recent immigrants, not yet acculturated—and whites. Those interviewed, moreover, wished to distance themselves from both “boaters” and “whites,” with white and American being interchangeable terms. As Muslims they saw themselves as morally superior to “white” girls, yet discussed a double standard of treatment between Muslim boys and girls. Ajrouch noted that the teenagers’ categories hinted at a racially defined identity, despite the legal definition of Arab as “white.” She concluded by asking whether increased opportunities for women in the U.S. would make ethnic identification more symbolic and less pragmatic, and if Arab-Americans would eventually accept the legal definition of white or work instead toward a distinct definition of Arab-American.
Louise Cainkar’s presentation, “The Challenges of Being Poor, Muslim, and Female in an American City,” inquired whether American social support systems were sufficient for Muslim women. Citing racial, cultural, religious, economic, and legal (non-citizen) status as barriers to leaving, Cainkar raised the question of what options a poor Muslim woman might have if she found herself in an abusive situation. Though many of the problems would be the same for any woman attempting to escape an abusive situation, there are serious problems particular to Arab women. Among those Cainkar cited were immigrant status, being tied to marriage (to the abusive spouse), language problems, the lack of Muslim foster homes, frequent job discrimination over the issue of veiling, and the threat of deportation. If an Arab woman experiencing domestic violence calls the police, she risks deportation of her husband (and possibly her only livelihood) or even herself. If she and her husband are refugees, they cannot be deported, so risk a life sentence in an INS prison. The stakes are high, Cainkar concluded, and there is much work to be done to protect Muslim women in American society.
Kathleen Moore spoke on “The Religious Tie: Gender, Identity and the Ambivalence of Assimilation,” concentrating on how law and social expectations frequently adversely affect Muslim women. Moore discussed specific cases, such as a judge who asked a Muslim woman in hijab to leave the courtroom until she could dress normally, and two veiled women who were arrested for wearing hijab under the Ku Klux Klan law. Moore also cited, however, two court cases of alleged incest and child abuse wherein the Muslim fathers (one Albanian and one Afghani) had actually been acquitted on the basis of cultural differences.
Nonetheless, Moore also raised more general issues of the adverse effects of law and society, such as the U.S. ban on clitoridectomy, various communities’ resistance to the raising of mosques, particularly those built from the ground up, and the pervasive idea of the veil as an instrument of oppression. She concluded that the “legal Orientalism” of Islam as morally inferior provides both resources and constraints, and operates as both prosecution and defense.
The final presentation took an anthropological approach to the question of veiling in the Arab/Muslim world. Fadwa El Guindi, in a paper entitled “Behind the Veil, Beyond Veiling: Recent Anthropological Observations,” discussed the misunderstandings and interpretations as well as misinterpretations of veiling.
El Guindi introduced her topic by stating that there is too sharp a focus on female veiling. Just as use of the veil has grown in recent years, El Guindi said, so have men started dressing more conservatively, and both stem from an underlying code of fundamental social change. Rather than being a gender-based item, El Guindi sees the veil as functioning on many levels. There is no single Arabic term that encompasses the idea of veiling, she said. Instead there are specific terms, items, and styles which have to do with country of origin, religious sect, tribe, kinship, and status as well as gender.
Moreover, El Guindi stressed that the veil was not indigenous to Arabs or to Islam, but was evident in early Byzantine, Greek, and Persian societies. The influences of those societies as well as subsequent ones were evident in a variety of slides the UCLA professor showed depicting numerous veils, from the body-covering veil to a simple headscarf. Some particularly interesting slides showed women in the latest designer fashions with head-to-toe veils, a hijab-like wrap on a Tuareg man, and the similarities between a typical mashribiyya-grated window and a grated Afghani face covering. El Guindi pointed out that this type of veil in particular had to do with notions of privacy: wearers can see out but those outside cannot see in.
Finally, discussant Yvonne Haddad raised the question of whether Western democracy and pluralism could find room for Islam. She pointed out that of all the Muslims in the world only about 15 percent are Arab, and that vast numbers of them live in Europe and the U.S. Yet only now can a Muslim born in Germany be a citizen, and in Italy the pope has stopped interfaith marriage between Muslims and Christians. And of course the session discussed difficulties faced in the U.S. However, Haddad cited much debate and change within the Arab and Muslim worlds that eventually will help shape their interaction with the West. For instance, the Internet provides instant access to a world formerly out of reach to both sides of the issue. Also, American misperceptions of Islam, frequently equated with the Black Muslim movement of the 1960s, gradually are being overridden by greater exposure to Islam’s many faces. And finally, the oppositionist activism of Islamic student unions with leftist Arab student unions is forcing a dialogue which ultimately will shape modern Islam. Clearly, the panel’s conclusion is that the debates on race, religion, and gender have only just begun.
Dept. of State Holds Open Forum on Images of America and the Muslim World
On Nov. 20, three professors addressed an open audience at the Department of State in Washington, DC to discuss how the Islamic and Western worlds see each other.
Professor Seyyed Hossein Nasr from George Washington University described how the Muslim world’s positive image of America through World War II eroded as the U.S. increasingly attempted to impose its way of life on the world. There is a clash, Nasr acknowledged, between America’s interests (which may, for example, preserve dictatorships to preserve stability) and its ideals championing democracy. The U.S. needs to be clear, Nasr argued, and support democratic trends, or stop talking about democracy.
Although he believed that even the most “anti-American” countries, like Iran, have ambivalent attitudes toward the U.S.—the “good feeling isn’t gone yet”—Nasr warned that alienation of the Muslim world is a real, and costly, possibility. Dr. Maher Hathout, senior adviser for the Muslim Public Affairs Council, agreed.
In a meeting with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Hathout described a crisis of America’s image in the Arab world. History tells us that no matter how great a power, if it becomes the object of massive resentment it is undermined, he said. Hathout pointed out that this negative image also effects American Muslims and Arabs—who cherish America, but who don’t appreciate the “defector” label when they visit home (i.e., the Middle East).
Who is responsible for the images of America in the Islamic world? Hathout named three important institutions: the State Department, which evaluates policy; the executive branch, especially the president, who can have a great impact on policy and perception; and Congress, whose involvement Hathout described as “problematic.” Although he respected diplomatic attempts to alleviate negative images, Hathout asserted that America should initiate a “people’s diplomacy” as a “second tier” to official diplomacy. Kings and presidents, he noted, do not always represent the people’s sentiments. Indeed, the panel acknowledged regimes have helped perpetuate negative images of America, with dictators attempting to justify themselves to their people with anti-U.S. bravado.
When an audience member asked what the Islamic world wants from the U.S., the panel agreed that America needed to commit to an even-handed policy to maintain its role as broker in Middle East peace negotiations. Religious sensitivity also needs emphasis. Professor Amira Beverly McCloud of DePaul University said that people in the Middle East want access to technology, an end to economic sanctions, and an opportunity to live their lives. Right now, she said, it’s not a balanced playing field.
AMA Southwest Celebrates 5th Anniversary
American Muslim Alliance (AMA) Southwest celebrated its 5th anniversary Oct. 29 at Dallas Central Mosque in Texas on the theme, “Muslim-and Arab-American Choices for Nov. 7.” The event also highlighted the major international issues of concern: Palestine, Kashmir, and economic sanctions on Iraq. Islamic Association of North Texas chairman Osama Abdullah and AMA Southwest chairman Syed Ahsani welcomed attendees.
Hadi Jawad, president of Solidarity for the People of Iraq, introduced the keynote speaker, Texas state Rep. Lon Burnam, who spoke about the devastation caused by the economic sanctions still in place on Iraq and the unacceptable continuing death toll of 5,000 Iraqi children per month. He urged participants to call on their congressmen and senators to exercise their influnce on President Clinton to lift economic sanctions on Iraq. “Are we prepared to let these sanctions continue for another 10 years?” Burnam asked. He exhorted the audience to get involved in the political process by registering to vote and exercising their voting rights on Nov. 7.
During lunch, American Muslim Caucus president Yasmin Khan updated the audience on the latest situation in Kashmir, and Mufeed Abdul Qadir discussed the continuing massacre of Palestinians in the Holy Land.
After the luncheon Imam Moujahed Bakkache of the Fort Worth mosque, discussing Islam and politics, stated that participation in the U.S. political system not only is desirable, but the duty of every Muslim, male or female, teenager or adult. At the imams’ conference convened in September by the American Muslim Council, Taha Alvani, rector of the Islamic Institute of Social Studies in Virginia, gave a similar message to imams.
Hanif Akuly, shura member of the central Arlington, TX mosque, described the work done by AMA Southwest in the past five years, including the establishment of chapters in Houston, Austin and Rustin (Louisiana). AMA has organized candidates forums, he elaborated, a regional conference, leadership-training conferences and awareness workshops in area mosques, as well as training sessions on how to get elected to political office. Other AMA Southwest activities included holding a fund-raiser for Congressman David Bonior (D-MI), establishing a coalition with Peace Action, issuing election advisories, helping six delegates to get elected to the Democratic National Convention, and assisting in Susan Sarhadi’s campaign for a contested seat on Plano’s Independent School Board. AMA also helped arrange an internship for Zeeshan Tabani with Bonior.
In the course of his remarks on “Where do we go from here?” Farooq Selod told conference attendees about the collective decision of the American Muslim Political Coordinating Council Political Action Committee to organize a bloc vote for Gov. George W. Bush in the November elections.
—Ambassador Syed A. Ahsani
Maryland Muslim Community Center Hosts Iftar Dinner
On Dec. 16, during the holy month of Ramadan, the Muslim Community Center (MCC) in the Washington, DC suburb of Silver Spring, MD invited Montgomery County officials to an iftar, or fast-breaking, dinner. Several week earlier the MCC had hosted a similar program for schoolteachers and administrators. Faizul Khan, the mosque’s imam, and Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) parent services assistant Samira Hussein welcomed the guests, who included Montgomery County executive Douglas M. Duncan, School Superintendent Dr. Jerry Weast, Board of Education president Patricia O’Neill, and Blair Ewing, president of the Montgomery County Council.
Samira Hussein, who helped coordinate the iftar dinner, discussed the great strides the MCPS has made in recent years. Hussein now is paid to conduct sensitivity training classes for teachers, a service she began as a volunteer, and is a frequent speaker in school social studies classrooms.
MCC general secretary Sabir Rahman reviewed the history of the community’s efforts to buy land and build the mosque. Montgomery Country teachers Amani El Kassabani and Wafa Hozain and community activist Imad-ad-Dean Ahmad talked about building awareness of Islam in the community and fighting inaccurate stereotypes.
—Delinda C. Hanley
IAP Holds 4th Annual Convention in Chicago
The Islamic Association for Palestine (IAP) convened its 4th annual convention in Chicago over the Thanksgiving weekend with the theme “All Palestine is Sacred!”
Nearly 2,000 people from all across North America, with some even coming from Europe, attended the three-day gathering. Participants heard speakers from all over the world talk about Palestine, as well as other topics such as civil rights, Islam in America, the Iraqi and Lebanese experiences, youth activism, and women’s issues.
In an effort to offer something for everyone, the convention offered four different programs: an Arabic program, an English program, girl and boy scouts, and day-care. “We really wanted to have something for the whole family,” said IAP president Rafeeq Jaber. “We put special emphasis this year on our English program because that is now the first language of our children, and it is the best common language for non-Arabs who attend.”
Among those addressing the convention were: Abdul Jawad Salah, Palestinian Legislative Council member; Dr. Azzam Tamimi, a British Muslim scholar; Dr. Ahmad Yousef, director of the United Association for Studies and Research (UASR); Sheikh Abdullah Adhami, a Muslim scholar from New York and an expert on gender relations in Islam; United Muslim Americans Association (UMAA) president Dr. Sabri Sumairah; Jawad Al Hamad, director of the Middle East Studies Center in Jordan; and Dr. Sami Al-Arian, the brother-in-law of Dr. Mazen Al-Najjar, who was released on bond Dec. 15 after being imprisoned for 3 1/2years on the basis of secret evidence. Dr. Arian is spearheading the national campaign to pass HR 2121 repealing the Secret Evidence Act.
Sheikh Tariq Sweidan, an esteemed Muslim scholar from Kuwait, gave the sermon at the convention’s Friday Jum’a prayers. For the first time since the Gulf war, the sheikh pointed out, Kuwaiti citizens were offering their full support to the Palestinian people. “Shortly after the intifada started, 50,000 Kuwaitis from across the political spectrum gathered together to reiterate their support for their brothers and sisters in Palestine,” said Sweidan. Over 30 Muslim scholars have signed onto a call to boycott American products in the Middle East for as long as the United States supports Israel, he told a press conference afterward.
A seminar on “Internet Activism” was offered by Ismail Royer, a communications specialist for the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR). Royer provided ideas and techniques for activists who use the Internet and e-mail as part of their campaigns.
When conventioneers weren’t listening to lectures, they either were eating delicious Arabic food prepared by a local caterer or shopping for Eid gifts in the bazaar. “It’s a lot of fun because you are surrounded by people from all over who are just like you, and who feel just like you,” said Magdi Odeh, an activist from Chicago. She was just one of many American-born Palestinians and Muslims who are joining the IAP and advocating the cause of Palestine from an Islamic perspective.
Describing his motives for attending the IAP convention, Ribhi Huzien, a schoolteacher from New Jersey, said, “I wanted to come to participate and meet with people who look at the issue of Palestine as I do. To me it is much more than a nationalistic issue. We are talking about the most holy land on earth—the place where our Aqsa mosque lays under siege.”
Founded in 1981, the IAP is headquartered in the Chicago area. With several chapters across North America, it is in the process of opening more. Its Web site, , is one of the most popular Palestinian sites: since the beginning of the al-Aqsa Intifada, it has received, on average, over 38,000 hits, or visits, per day.—Raeed N. Tayeh