Tuesday, February 20, 2007

NewGround - A Program for Muslim-Jewish Dialogue

Permission to reprint by InFocus ... the largest Muslim newspaper in California

NEWGROUND: A Groundbreaking Muslim-Jewish Partnership

By Abdussalam Mohamed

The Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC) and the Progressive Jewish Alliance (PJA) have recently launched NewGround, a bold new program that aims to jumpstart dialogue and community building between American Muslims and Jews. The program intends to put forth a new initiative for creating a dynamic and constructive way to promote Muslim-Jewish relations.

"The program has been on our minds for a long time," said Aziza Hasan, MPAC’s Interfaith Program Coordinator. "Each time tensions rise in the Middle East we feel that Muslims and Jews need to be talking to each other," she added.

Malka Fenyzesi, PJA’s Interfaith Program Coordinator echoed that sentiment by saying, "We want to be engaged in an honest and constructive dialogue that brings Muslims and Jews together."

According to Hasan, NewGround is the result of extensive research of previous Muslim-Jewish dialogue conducted in the Los Angeles area and around the country. Fenyzesi said that many in the Jewish community are looking to engage with the Muslim community in a substantial way.

In order to implement its challenging vision, NewGround has a four-pronged initiative. An intra-faith phase that will invite members of the same faith to address issues that pose both challenges and opportunities for understanding the "other;" an inter-faith phase, which would encourage Muslims and Jews to learn about each other and discuss common ethnic and religious issues such as anti-Semitism and Islamophobia; a civic engagement phase that would prompt members of the two faiths to address a joint social issue within the city of Los Angeles; and a fourth phase that would deal with each community’s Achilles Heel: The Palestinian/Israel issue.

Asked whether the Middle East conflict could be divisive enough to potentially derail NewGround’s efforts, Hasan was confident it would not. "We’ve conducted a research project on interfaith initiatives across the country and were able to learn from models already in place," she said. According to Hasan these existing models are based on academic research conducted by university professors and organization leaders.

"The goal of this dialogue is not to agree as much as it is to listen and try to understand each other," said Fenyzesi.

Other community organizations expressed support the idea. "Any dialogue that aims to widen the area of cooperation between the two communities is always welcome," said Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) Southern California office.

Ayloush said that in order for such dialogue to work, "There has to be an agreement between all groups that views on Israel are not going to be the litmus test for acceptance."

Hasan said that the reason previous dialogues between the Muslim and Jewish communities have failed was because there was no process for people to discuss emotionally explosive issues (such as the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians) as they happen in a controlled environment. "With a system of accountability, members of each faith would have to follow key ways to express their feelings," Hasan added.

Rather than being exclusive among organization leadership, NewGround will target attitudes within members of the Muslim and Jewish communities. It aims to train groups of dedicated persons who will take their newly learned skills to their respective communities with the expectation that they would impart what they have learned to other community members.

In spite of his optimism, Ayloush noted that such a dialogue was going to attract people who already believed in dialogue. "We need to find a way to engage those who are opposed to it," he said.

Hasan acknowledged that fact but added that, "At this stage, we’ve had significant interest from individuals who belong to groups who are part of the mainstream Jewish community." Fenyzesi agreed. "The focus of our project at this stage is our community members even though we are in contact with the leadership of both our communities," he said.

NewGround was launched last month of this year and has full time staff working in the Muslim and Jewish communities. It remains to see how well it will perform in the coming months and years especially if another Middle East conflict ignites.

Tensions in the region notwithstanding, both Hasan and Fenyzesi are confident that the new project would help their respective communities engage in a positive and constructive dialogue. "NewGround is a step in the right direction," said Fenyzesi. "We’re optimistic it will work," seconded Hasan.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Jewish Women Embracing Islam to Double

Reprinted with permission of Islamic Times

Written by Dr Piyara Begum
Wednesday, 23 August 2006

THE NUMBER OF Jewish women reverting to Islam and marrying Muslim men is expected to double this year. According to Israel's population registry, an average of 35 women have reverted each year, but so far, in the first half of 2006, 42 women have reverted.

The reversions are carried out at Islamic Shariah Courts. Unlike the lengthy study requirements and proceedings necessary to convert to Judaism in Israel, reverting to Islam is a very short ordeal, entailing only declaring one's wishes to become a Muslim before the court.
According to Jewish law, the women remain Jews and their children will be Jewish as well however, as Muslims we believe they are Muslims.

But what are the causes of the Jewish Womens reversion? Some have said, mixed Arab and Jewish communities which exist in certain parts of Palestine and Israel has drawn sympathy amongst the Jewish women. Others say, the rights of Muslim women far exceed the rights of women in any other religion or community in the area or even the world and it is due to this that the Jewish women are increasing being drawn to Islam.

One former Jewish woman who reverted to Islam is Amalia Rahman. Friends and family say that she converted to Islam on the suggestion of her husband, Habib.

Amalia, however, begins her story much earlier, just after college when she moved to California to be with her family. She befriended a group of Arabs who used to visit her father's dried fruit and nut stand at the San Jose Farmer's Market. "I had a very low opinion of Arabs, you grow up Jewish so you have this low opinion. It's like a filmy residue from childhood."

Despite these ingrained feelings, she found herself drawn to them and their faith. "One thing I noticed about the people I had met, even though I had all these prejudices in my mind, that they were very good to each other. I wanted to be a part of that, a part of this feeling of belonging to something so wonderful."

Whatever the reason, all we can say is Allahu Akbar as Allah guides whom he wills and may he guide more into the folds of Islam.

Monday, February 05, 2007

Israel Approves Muslim Minister

The Israeli parliament has approved the appointment of the country's first Arab Muslim cabinet minister, Galeb Magadla, who joins the government as minister without portfolio.

His nomination was approved on Monday by 59 votes in favour to 23 against, and was then sworn in, a parliament spokesman said.
Read Full Article At:

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Who Do We Blame?

Thunderstorms and tornadoes hit central Florida early Friday morning creating extensive devasation and 20 deaths (as of this writing).

Immediately, the "drive-by media" (Rush Limbaugh's term!) were all over the area and airways looking for somewhere or somene to blame.

"Who do we blame?" asked CNN's T. J. Holmes? The weather anchor replied that the "blame" belongs solely to an El Nino weather event.

But the media still asks, "Why aren't there warning sirens in these areas?" "Why isn't the 'reverse 911' protocol in effect yet?"

The plain truth is that these weather events are a regular occurrence in Florida. Newly-elected Governor Charlie Crist acknowledges this truth. He said that these extreme weather events are part of living in areas like beautiful Florida.

While we sympathize and pray for the people in Florida affected by this tragedy, we must also shift from the attitude of blame to one of personality responsibility. Simple measures can help.

This storm hit in the early hours of the morning. Many families were alseep and could not hear the warnings on the radio and television. But a home weather radio would have sounded an alarm to wake up the family. Every household needs to own a weather radio. One can be purchased from as little as $20 to on up for more sophisticated models. (Also check out National Weather Radio online).

People who live in mobile homes need to utilize the ties for securing the unit. Even though strong winds can knock down these trailers, it may help to minimize damage or save lives. Inspectors showed reporters many totally destroyed mobile homes that had not been tied down.

The purpose of this post is not to "blame the victim". The purpose is not to "blame" anyone. We must prepare ourselves in life the best we can for what we know will happen sooner or later. It is not a matter of "if" but "when".

Even if we prepare ourselves well, Allah (swt) will still tests us. He tells us in our beautiful Book:

"Be sure We shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives, or the fruits of your toil, but give glad tidings to those who patiently persevere, who say, when afflicted with calamity: 'To Allah we belong, and to Him is our return." They are those on whom descend blessings from Allah, and Mercy, and they are the ones that receive guidance." (2:155-157)

To the Muslims in Florida affected by this most recent test: Hang in there. We will all be saying dua for you. Be patient and know that Allah (swt) will help you and reward you.