Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|Nice reading ...|
|11/28/00 at 14:49:08|
Nice article published in the Washington Post.
Muslims See New Clouds Of Suspicion
By Caryle Murphy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday , November 27, 2000 ; Page B01
Muslims in the Washington area and across the country
begin observing the holy month of Ramadan today amid
signs of Islam's growing acceptance in the United
States--but also persistent examples of how Muslims
here sometimes face mistrust and unusual legal
problems because of suspicions about their Mideast
Muslim chaplains now serve in the U.S. armed forces
and on many college campuses, and women in head
scarves are not an unusual sight in the workplace. The
Clinton White House has hosted Muslims on several
Islamic holidays, and for the first time, a Muslim
gave the benediction at the opening session of this
year's Republican Party convention.
In public schools, rooms have been set aside during
Ramadan for fasting Muslim students to study while
their non-Muslim peers eat lunch. The U.S. Postal
Service is releasing a stamp next year that
commemorates the two most important Islamic holidays.
And banks are creating new kinds of transactions
for Muslims, whose religion forbids them from
accepting interest on deposits.
But when violence flares in the Middle East or when
Islamic extremists target Americans, as in the recent
USS Cole attack, Muslims in the area say they face
increased scrutiny by U.S. law enforcement agencies,
suspicions about their faith and accusations that they
"There is a growing recognition of the role of Muslims
as a positive factor in the building of American
society's fabric," said Aly R. Abuzaakouk, director of
the D.C.-based American Muslim Council. But events in
the Middle East, he said, can "put a damper on our
image as family-oriented, value-oriented, hardworking
members of society."
For the next month, Washington area Muslims, who
number between 100,000 and 200,000, will observe
Ramadan, abstaining from food, drink and other sensual
pleasures during the day to learn discipline,
self-restraint and generosity. They make up a racially
diverse community that includes people of Arab
descent, American-born converts, Pakistanis, Afghans,
Indians and Africans, and they worship in nearly 40
sites and support five Islamic schools. In 1996, the
country's first school for training imams, or prayer
leaders, opened in Leesburg.
Local politicians are noticing. Virginia Reps. James
P. Moran Jr. (D) and
Thomas M. Davis III (R) regularly visit Dar Al Hijra,
a mosque in Falls
Church, members said. And Fairfax County Supervisor
Penelope A. Gross
(D-Mason) helped Afghan Muslims overcome neighborhood
building their Annandale mosque, Mustafa Center.
"The Muslim community, both men and women, are anxious
to participate in our American way of life," Gross
said. But "there is still a great deal of
misperception among longtime residents about just what
Muslims believe, and that is going to mean continuing
outreach to educate non-Muslims."
Muslims also have tossed aside an earlier generation's
reluctance to be politically active, forming several
organizations to promote their interests and starting
voter registration drives. For the first time, Muslim
advocacy groups endorsed a U.S. presidential
candidate, backing Texas Gov. George W. Bush.
These efforts to form what they call "a Muslim voting
bloc" have begun to bear fruit, activists said. The
D.C.-based Council on American-Islamic Relations sent
a post-election questionnaire to mosques across the
country. Of the 1,774 respondents--10 percent of whom
live in Virginia--72 percent reported voting for Bush.
Of those, 85 percent said their decision was
influenced by the endorsement of the Muslim groups.
Yet despite efforts to move into mainstream America,
Muslims say violence overseas often leads to a
backlash. "There are still some impediments and
hardships caused by elements in American society that
do not welcome us," said Abuzaakouk, who cited the
case of Alexandria resident Abdelhaleem Ashqar.
Ashqar arrived in the United States from Gaza in 1989
on a U.S.-financed Thomas Jefferson Fellowship to get
his doctorate in business. But in February 1998 he was
jailed for civil contempt after refusing to testify
before a New York grand jury investigating the Islamic
Resistance Movement, also known as Hamas.
Calling the probe a "witch hunt" against Palestinian
political activists, Ashqar told a judge that
testifying would violate his religious, political
and personal beliefs and betray friends, relatives and
colleagues in the Palestinian liberation movement.
"I would rather die," he said.
In jail, Ashqar began a hunger strike, and a federal
judge ordered that he be force-fed. After Ashqar went
from 180 pounds to 120 pounds during his six-month
confinement, the judge concluded that Ashqar would
never testify and ordered him released.
"It was actually the worst experience of my life,"
said Ashqar, 42, who is a college teacher and a board
member at Dar Al Hijra Mosque. A former spokesman for
Islamic University of Gaza, Ashqar said he has been an
activist since college and is "sympathetic to the
Islamic movement in general." But, he said, he was
never a member of Hamas and deplores terrorism.
"I'm against killing civilians period, both sides . .
. Palestinians and Israelis," he said.
Hamas, an Islamic movement seeking Palestinian
independence, has a charitable wing, which operates a
network of schools and hospitals in Gaza, and a
military wing, which has carried out suicide bombings
and other attacks on Israeli civilians. In 1997, the
U.S. government declared Hamas a terrorist
In other examples of what they say is guilt by
sasociation, Muslims here have complained about being
unfairly singled out by airport security officers
using racial profiling. And they object to a 1996
anti-terrorist law that permits immigrants to be
deported on classified evidence that is withheld from
the immigrants and their attorneys.
Critics say that such "secret evidence" has been used
disproportionately against Muslims and Arabs, some of
whom have been jailed for years while they seek access
to the evidence in order to refute it. In at least
three cases, Muslim immigrants held for more than a
year were released after courts let them see and
challenge such evidence.
"I think it's fair to say that in the last four to
five years, virtually all the immigrants who've had
secret evidence used against them have been Arab or
Muslim," said David Cole, a professor of
constitutional law at Georgetown University Law Center
who was involved in several cases.
"The United States will say that's because that's
where the terrorist threat comes from. But I'm not
satisfied with that response," he said. "There seems
to be a presumption among [federal law enforcement
authorities] that anyone associated with these groups
must be a terrorist."
Muslims also say that outspoken critics of Israel and
its policies toward Palestinians are sometimes accused
of supporting terrorism. Last year, the nomination of
a prominent Muslim activist to the advisory National
Commission on Terrorism was rescinded after Jewish
leaders complained that the nominee had said Israeli
policies helped cause Palestinian terrorism.
Last month, Sen.-elect Hillary Rodham Clinton returned
$50,000 to the American Muslim Alliance after New York
newspapers reported that the group supports the use of
force by Palestinians in their battle with Israel.
The alliance countered that it is a "mainstream"
organization that "unequivocally denounces terrorism
by both sides: Israeli as well as Palestinian."
Ashqar said his troubles with U.S. law enforcement
agencies began when he was studying business
management at the University of Mississippi.
In 1991, he said, the FBI office in Oxford, Miss.,
started asking questions about him at the university.
In June 1996, people he believed were law enforcement
agents began following him, he said. In September
1996, he said, he was asked to meet with John R.
Hailman, chief of the criminal division in the U.S.
attorney's office for northern Mississippi, and
several FBI agents, whose names and business cards
Ashqar provided to The Washington Post.
During that meeting, Ashqar said he was asked to help
"incriminate some people" who were Hamas activists. He
said he declined offers of money, U.S.
citizenship and jobs for himself and his wife in
exchange for his cooperation.
Reached by phone, Hailman said, "The only thing I can
say is that I can't comment."
Ashqar said he spoke to Muslim student groups across
the country and raised money for schools in Gaza. But
he said he never raised money for Hamas. And the
Israelis, he argued, would not have let him come to
this country if he had been involved in terrorist
According to news reports, the New York grand jury
that subpoenaed Ashqar was probing the activities of
Mohammed Abu Marzook, a Hamas leader and former
Fairfax County resident. Marzook was jailed for 22
months by U.S. authorities and deported to Jordan in
1997 after Israel dropped its request for his
extradition. He was at the Islamic University of Gaza
when Ashqar was its spokesman.
Ashqar, who moved to Northern Virginia after obtaining
his doctorate in 1997, said he went on a hunger strike
because "I'd been through too much harassment, and
this was one way to express my anger and frustration
and end this campaign against Muslims. We cannot give
up our beliefs for money and stand in court as
collaborators and traitors against each other."
He was pained, he said, by "the feeling that justice
was not being served. If you have anything against me,
please go ahead and press charges and give me a fair
Ashqar--who has never been charged with a crime--still
faces an uncertain future. He was arrested once by the
Israelis before coming to the United States and fears
persecution if he returns to his homeland. He has
applied for political asylum.
If it is granted, he said, he wants to become a U.S.
citizen. "Why not?" he said. "It's a country of
immigrants. I'll work as a civil rights advocate."
© 2000 The Washington Post
|Re: Nice reading ...|
|11/29/00 at 14:56:46|
thanks for the article Arsalan
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