An-Nimr, Saudi Regime & the Right to Dissent

Several Muslim scholars to international rights groups such as Amnesty International have decried the recent death sentence leveled by the Saudi regime against Shaykh Nimr an-Nimr, who is a 12ver shi’i.  The Saudi regime sentenced him for supposedly “disobeying the ruler,” inciting sectarian strife” and “encouraging, participating and leading demonstrations.”  In other words, he was sentenced to death for voicing dissent and articulating his beliefs.

Speaking truth to power based upon one’s sincere beliefs is as much as a part of Islam as the five daily prayers and is an integral part of the character of all civilized societies.  Some of the most inspiring portions of religious scriptures from the Qur’an to the present day Torah and Gospel speak of Musa (AS) and Harun (AS) showing dissent to Fir’awn’s government to ‘Isa (AS) challenging the status quo among the Jews and the occupying Roman authorities.  Only tyrants and oppressors seek to quash dissent.

Criticizing or even cursing rulers is not worthy of the death penalty not only under international law but even according to the Islamic tradition.  In a sound tradition narrated by Ahmad bin Hanbal, bin Abi ‘Asim and others, a man cursed Abu Bakr while he was the khalifah.  A companion by the name of Abu Barzah then asked Abu Bakr if he could cut off the man’s head for his cursing him.  Abu Bakr replied by saying no, for none had the authority to do such after the Messenger of Allah.  Hence, the punishing of one for simply cursing Abu Bakr, who was both the political authority and a companion, was viewed as being unacceptable.

More importantly, the Prophet (SAWS) while having the political authority in Al-Madinah did not punish people simply for reviling him even though he had the enforcement capacity to have done so.  For instance in a well-known and sound tradition narrated by Muslim, bin Hanbal, and others, some of the Jews used to provocatively say, “Death be upon you, oh Father of Al-Qasim” when they addressed the Prophet (SAWS).  One day, ‘Aishah replied back to them, “And upon you be death,” in which the Prophet (SAWS) corrected her by biding her not to respond that way.  The Prophet (SAWS) did not accept rhetorical violence or physical violence on his behalf simply for people lying on him or reviling him.

The strength of a government or a people is their ability to respond to dissent and even insult with dignified ethics and intelligent discourse.  Such strength is tested when facing what is found to be repugnant, be it leaders who face sharp criticism to their hearing the reviling of revered personalities.

Thus, it would be a sign of not being weak if the Saudi authorities freed An-Nimr based upon his right to dissent and express his views, even if some of those views are deemed as religiously repugnant.  The basis of the death penalty against An-Nimr for simply raising his voice reeks of oppression, violates precedence set by the Prophet (SAWS) and Abu Bakr plus clearly violates internationally recognized standards of decency.

Beards, the Supreme Court, and religious expression for inmates

OCT 10, 2014, 10:00 AM

Beards, the Supreme Court, and religious expression for inmates


Justices of the United States Supreme Court three days ago strongly questioned oral arguments from Arkansas Department of Corrections defending their “no beard” policy for inmates, even when beards are worn for bona fide religious reasons.

The policy is being challenged by a Muslim convert named Gregory Holt, who holds that Arkansas is in violation of the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA), which is a federal law that says government cannot impose a substantial burden on the religious exercise of prisoners unless it demonstrates that it has a compelling interest.

Some Jews, Muslims, Sikhs and others view shaving the beard as tantamount to committing sin. RLUIPA gives legal protection that despite even when people are incarcerated for felonies, the state does not have the absolute right to strip them of their religious practices and expressions. Even prisoners of war are guaranteed freedom of religious practice under the Geneva Convention.

Arkansas claims that beards should not be allowed in correctional facilities because they can be used to hide contraband such as weapons. Chief Justice John Roberts stated that Arkansas provided no proof of such ever happening, and Justice Sam Alito went farther by sarcastically suggesting to Arkansas that a “tiny revolver” could fall out of an inmate’s beard. Keep in mind that Roberts and Alito are both conservative jurists on the high court.

Just as in the Hobby Lobby case, in which the court ruled that two non-profit organizations did not have to provide full range contraceptive coverage for religious reasons to employees per the Affordable Care Act, I’m sure that the justices will rule in favor of beards for inmates.

At the end of the day, government has no right in meddling in the affairs of people’s bona fide religious beliefs as long as those beliefs do not pose a reasonable threat to security and justice in our land.

On-field displays: Lions prefer to pray in private

On-field displays: Lions prefer to pray in private

Detroit Lions cornerback Mohammed Seisay is a Muslim and considers himself religious. But he initially did not see the religious celebration Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah was penalized for this week and he doesn’t think he would emulate it.

“Everybody’s different,” said Seisay, an undrafted rookie from Nebraska who was promoted from the practice squad two week ago. “He chose to do that celebration at that moment and that time. There’s a couple of guys in the league who are Muslims and they don’t really do what he just did. So everybody, they show their religious side differently.”

Inside the Lions’ locker room, where roughly a dozen of about 70 players gather for a weekly chapel service, there has been little talk this week about the penalty Abdullah received for celebrating his interception return for a touchdown on “Monday Night Football.”

When Abdullah reached the end zone, he slid onto his knees, bent over and put his hands and head on the ground. It’s a gesture Muslims call the “prostration of thankfulness.”

But referees mistakenly gave Abdullah an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for breaking the rule of “engaging in any celebrations or demonstrations while on the ground.”

Like a lot of Muslims who watched the game or heard about the penalty, Dawud Walid had the same reaction.

“Most of the people I heard from said, ‘What about Tim Tebow?’ ” said Walid, the executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations-Michigan. “So whether the flag was thrown out of ignorance or some sort of animus, the people that I’ve spoken with thought there was a double standard at play.”

Tebow is the former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL star quarterback famous for espousing his Christian beliefs and kneeling in silent prayer often on the field.

But Abdullah, an undrafted sixth-year player, appeared to be punished out of the referees’ ignorance. The NFL rectified the situation quickly.

A few hours after the game, Michael Signora, NFL vice president of football communications, posted this message on Twitter: “Abdullah should not have been penalized. Officiating mechanic is not to flag player who goes to ground for religious reasons.”

Signora declined an interview request from the Free Press. But in an e-mail, he wrote that game officials would be reminded not to penalize players who go to the ground as part of religious expression.

“The NFL was the body that said the penalty flag should not have been thrown, not the referee,” Walid said. “But we’re pleased with the NFL’s swift and clear statement regarding that incident that took place during the Monday night game.”

Seisay, like many young players trying to carve out a career in the highly competitive NFL, said he prefers not to draw attention to himself through any of his actions. When it comes to his religion, he goes about demonstrating it quietly on game days.

“I just keep my own prayers to myself,” he said. “And when I’m getting ready for a game, I just go to my locker and just pray to myself and go on the field, say a couple of words and go play.”

Lions coach Jim Caldwell, a Christian who regularly quotes from the Bible, said he doesn’t interfere with how players celebrate their faith and religion.

“I kind of leave that up to them,” he said Thursday. “I don’t encourage it or discourage it, and I’m certainly not shy about sharing mine when time is permitted and allowed and when I feel like it.

“But to go into deep discussions about what you should do and shouldn’t do in the end zone and how you should go about it, they know the rules and we try to comply by them.”

Cornerback Rashean Mathis and Seisay sit only a few lockers away from each other. Mathis is a 12-year veteran and a Christian. Seisay is rookie and a Muslim. But both are men of faith, and both believe in a quiet celebration of that faith on the field.

“The God that I believe in doesn’t want you to create a scene for yourself,” Mathis said. “But if it’s acknowledging him in a humble way, it should be given.”

Contact Carlos Monarrez: Follow him on Twitter@cmonarrez.

Activists call for political solidarity between Arab and African Americans

Activists call for political solidarity between Arab and African Americans
By Ali Harb | Friday, 09.12.2014, 03:43 AM


Organizers William Copeland and Dawud Walid at a Gaza solidarity protest in Detroit, July 13.

DETROIT — “Our struggle is theirs and their struggle is ours,” said Hatem Abudayyeh, the executive director of the Chicago-based Arab American Action Network (AAAN), to emphasize the need for solidarity between Arab and African Americans.

He spoke at a Detroit rally for Rasmea Odeh last week. African American activist Frank Chapman, who also came from Chicago to show support for Odeh, stood next to him.
This week, AAAN joined a delegation to Ferguson, MO to demand justice for Michael Brown, the unarmed Black teenager who was shot by the police there last month.
Organizers from both communities have been promoting this kind of solidarity, but debates, prompted by the war in Gaza and the events in Ferguson, have recently flared on social, media questioning whether the oppression of Black Americans is comparable to the injustices that Palestinians face.
Dawud Walid, the executive director of the Michigan chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR-MI), has been vocal in his advocacy for increased cooperation in activism between the Arab and African American communities. Walid said the situation in Black American neighborhoods is not completely analogous with the occupation in Palestine in terms of specifics.
“But a comparison can be made in terms of two groups of people that suffer marginalization at the hands of unjust government structures and policies put into effect to keep the people oppressed and unable to fulfill their aspirations,” he said.
Walid criticized the lack of local Arab American participation in political events for Black causes. He said Arab Americans should be active in demanding justice for everybody, not only their own community.
“You can’t complain about the Latino or Black community not showing solidarity with the Arab American community if they’re not seeing the same solidarity from Arabs; it’s unrealistic,” he added.
Walid also said political education and socialization could increase the empathy toward African American issues in the Arab American community.
“Metro Detroit suffers hyper segregation,” he said. “Communities are divided by invisible walls. A neighborhood that’s a mile away could look very different. There is a clear demarcation between Dearborn Heights and Inkster, between south Dearborn and Southwest Detroit. Arabs do not live among African Americans. There is limited social interaction.”
Walid said African American leaders have historically stood with Arabs, politically.
“In the late 1960’s and 70’s, there was a strong Black movement that identified with liberation movements in North Africa as well as the struggle in Palestine,” he said. “It lessened over time, but people like Dr. Angela Davis and Cornel West have always stood in solidarity with Palestinians.”
Abayomi Azikiwe, a Detroit community organizer and the editor of the Pan-African News Wire, said Arab and African Americans should work together for their mutual interests.
“Arabs and Africans share a similar history,” Azikiwe told The Arab American News. “They are both oppressed. They both suffered from colonialism and imperialism.”
The recent war in Gaza coincided with the Detroit water crisis, when some residents’ water was being shut off because of unpaid bills. Azikiwe said many local protests often addressed both issues simultaneously in a growing sign of solidarity between different ethnic communities.
“The right to housing, water resources and security are under threat for the people in Palestine as well as oppressed communities in the United States,” Azikiwe said.
He added that while solidarity exists between the two communities, “it is not nearly enough.”
Some people think their problems are paramount and do not see the need for solidarity,” Azikiwe said.
He added that political solidarity could open the door for dialogue to resolve racial tensions between Arab merchants and African American customers in Detroit.
“Anybody who is serious about doing business in the city of Detroit should treat customers with respect and care about the wellbeing of the community,” he said.
Will Copeland, a Detroit activist, said the African American and Arab American should cooperate for their own benefits.
“It’s not altruistic when we work together,” he said. “We are facing the same kind of oppression, the same tactics from the same entities. When we talk about police brutality, we see how Israel is using surveillance technology against Palestinians and marketing it to police forces around the world.”
Copeland spoke at a protest for Palestine in Detroit during the war in Gaza. Asked if he has witnessed Arab American solidarity for Black causes, he said he cannot say no.
“At the end of 2013, my answer would have been different,” he said. “But there has been a new energy emerging this summer. I have seen Arab American activists at protests for Detroit, people holding signs and speaking out about the issues. There aren’t as many people as I would like to see, but I cannot say there isn’t any solidarity.”
Copeland praised the solidarity effort of the Z Collective, an Arab and Muslim feminist network that advocates for social and gender equality.
As for the racial tensions in Detroit, Copeland asked Arab Americans to criticize members of their own community when they mistreat, disrespect or abuse Black customers.
“When we see people confront their own for being wrong, greater trust and solidarity can be built,” he said.
Local activist Zena Ozeir said there is a connection between the state of Black Americans and Palestinians’ suffering, but she added that the comparison is irrelevant to the needed solidarity between the two communities.
“It is not a competition of who is more oppressed,” she said. “Each struggle is unique. We are different groups facing oppression. It is more beneficial for us to work together.”
She added that the same forces are inflicting injustice on both communities, which should bring them together.
“The tear gas canisters used on protesters in Ferguson are the same as the ones used against protesters in Egypt and the West Bank,” she said. “Look at where the money to bomb Gaza is coming from.”
Ozeir slammed some Arab Americans’ lack of support for Black causes.
“We have a very problematic view on race in the area,” she said. “As Arab Americans, we were able to become comfortable in our position as business owners and local politicians. That left other folks who might not be in the same fortunate position behind.”
However, she added that political awareness and solidarity with other groups are on the rise in the Arab American community, especially among college students.
Ozeir said political solidarity between the Arab and African American communities could ease some of the social strains between the two groups in Detroit.
“There is a lot of animosity toward Arab business owners in Detroit,” she said. “I don’t completely blame the people who hold those feelings. We need to work together and bridge the gap, not only the merchant-customer relationship, but everywhere. Knowing that we care for each other’s causes could defuse the tension.”
Ozeir, who helped organize one of the biggest protests for Gaza in Detroit in July, said addressing multiple causes at rallies because it introduces the people in the crowd to issues they might not be familiar with.
“We cannot enclose ourselves in a single-issue world,” she said. “It is important to address the intersectionality of the struggle, not only with race but also class, gender and sexuality and all groups demanding justice.”

A Muslim inmate’s beard isn’t a security risk. It’s his constitutional right

A Muslim inmate’s beard isn’t a security risk. It’s his constitutional right

The idea that any contraband could be hidden in a short beard is laughable. But trampling a man’s religious freedom isn’t funny


In my communications with Muslim prisoners, many of whom have converted to Islam while in detention, I came to understand their struggles: incarceration is a dehumanizing experience. Prisoners who sit behind steel doors in cinder-block cells for months or even years can lose hope of a future – especially convicted felons, who know that their prospects of economic dignity upon release are almost non-existent. What keeps many of these men peaceful while incarcerated (and helps shield them from sinking into depression) is their faith.

But soon, the US supreme court will hear arguments as to whether a Muslim inmate has the right to wear a 13mm (0.5in) beard in an Arkansas prison. The inmate, Gregory H Holt, argues that he has a bona fide religious belief that is being impeded by the state by not allowing his long beard, while the government’s rebuttal is that such a beard poses a security threat to his person and other prisoners.

For Muslim prisoners unable to perform congregational prayers every day and who lack access to halal meat, something as seemingly mundane as a beard can be one of the few ways they are allowed to practice their faith.

As a Muslim who served in the US Navy, I understand how it feels to be separated from persons of my faith, as I was at sea during six-month deployments. Wearing a kufi cap during off-duty hours on the ship was my way of affirming my faith in an environment which I felt alone as a Muslim.

Over 40 states allow for beards shorter than the length of a dime to be worn by the incarcerated, though some allow for longer ones. Arkansas’s regulations, however, only allow “neatly trimmed” moustaches and beards up to a quarter of an inch for inmates who have dermatology issues like razor bumps.

Arkansas avers that it must ban the beards of prisoners such as Holt to maintain the integrity of its correctional facilitates, not to infringe on inmates’ freedom of religion. They bizarrely claim that contraband – such as marijuana or powdered drugs like cocaine and heroin – could be hidden in longer beards, as if buds of cannabis or baggies of dope would be undetectable in someone’s facial hair. (Of course, prisoners have other, less visible places to hide contraband – including in their own body cavities and inside their shoes.)

The idea that any contraband could be shielded from view nestled in a 13mm-long beard is laughable at best – and, as Holt argues, an intentional violation of his religious freedom at worst.

Prisoners of all faiths should be allowed to wear beards: it is not the job of American correctional facilities to mandate how people can wear their facial hair when everyday grooming is in keeping with their religious traditions. Making inmates conform to a clean-cut, less supposedly aggressive-looking appearance under the guise of maintaining security and order is hardly a compelling reason to violate their constitutional rights.

Given that the supreme court ruled in the Hobby Lobby case that some corporations can refuse to provide contraceptive coverage to their workers on religious grounds, it will be interesting to see if justices grant the same deference to actual individuals’ religious rights as they did corporations. Arkansas’s discombobulated argument against Muslim inmates’ beards should make that easy.