Washington Report on Middle East Affairs
September 30, 1999 | Hanley, Delinda; Razaq, Sadia
The theme of the 24th Conference of the Islamic Circle of North America (ICNA), held in Baltimore, Maryland July 2-4, was “Youth, the Future of Islam: Myths and Realities.” ICNA has 3,000 members and 60 local units across the U.S. and Canada. Its primary purpose is to provide intellectual, moral and physical training from an Islamic perspective to families living in North America.

ICNA’s annual convention, held in different cities each year, is now a major event that attracts thousands of Muslim families, giving friends and relatives a chance to get together to celebrate their history and Islamic heritage. The convention center in Baltimore was well-equipped to handle the greater than usual numbers this year at its convenient downtown location near the aquarium and scenic harbor.
Some of this year’s keynote speakers from the U.S. and overseas were: Prof. Ghulam Azam (Ameer Jama’ati Islami Bangladesh); Sheikh Muhammad Siyam (former imam of Masjid Al-Aqsa); Mawlana Yusuf Islahi (renowned scholar and writer); Abdullah Adami; Dr. Abdullah Idrees Ali (former ISNA president); Dr. Sulayman Nyang (Howard University scholar and historian); Imam Siraj Wahhaj (Famous Da’ee of Islam); Dr. Mohammad Yunus (Ameer ICNA); and Dr. Ayub Thakur (from the U.K.). Other speakers included Dr. Muzammil Siddiqui, Imam Jamil Al-Amin, Dr. Mukhtar Maghraoui, Sheikh Abu Bakr Syed, Imam Muhammad Naseem, and Qazi Hussain Ahmad.
There were extra programs for youths, young children and women, interfaith discussions, and many workshops, as well as family counseling and a marriage service. There were sessions in English, Arabic, Urdu, and Bangla. Young Muslims for Faith and Action programs included sessions to help youths growing up in North American society to apply the teachings of Islam to work through social and moral issues.
Some of the workshops focused on Dawah (presenting the Islamic message to one’s family, friends, neighbors and society at large), organization, and training. Between sessions and meetings, visitors shopped in the ICNA bazaar area where they could find everything from incense, perfume, dresses and computer programs to books, toys and Washington Report on Middle East Affairs magazines. ICNA has formed several important institutions, which each had booths, such as The Message Publications, Sound Vision, MSI Financial Services, ICNA Relief (which provides humanitarian aid to Kosovo refugees in Albania and Macedonia), Muslim Alert Network, and ICNA Book Service.
Participants left laden with purchases and fresh ideas and with every intention of returning next year for more.
Delinda Hanley and Sadia Razaq
As the world witnessed the humanitarian disaster in Kosovo, the children of Al-Huda School, a full-time Islamic academy in College Park, Maryland, chose not just to watch, but to act.
Under the guidance of Principal Muhammad Sani, the students from kindergarten through sixth grade launched a fund-raising project.
The students’ efforts, which extended to families, friends, and the community, raised $1,823 in fewer than three weeks, with nearly $900 of the total raised by the fifth-grade girls.
After teachers explained to the children the perilous situation of the Kosovar Muslims, Principal Sani said, “We hoped that they would understand that regardless of race, color, nationality, social and economic status, Muslims are united by a common factor, Islam.”
By taking part in the campaign, students also learned that every Muslim, regardless of age, has the capability to help others and has a role to play in the larger Muslim community, he said.
Particularly touching to the teachers was the students’ reactions to the suffering of their Muslim brothers and sisters, Sani said. A second grader told him, “I wish I could go there and live with them or that they could come here and live with me.”
“As Muslims in Kosovo, Palestine, Iraq, Kashmir, and many other parts of the world continue to experience injustice and weakness, I hope that children and adults will follow the example of the students of al-Huda, and support their fellow Muslims,” Principal Sani said.
Sadia Razaq
At the annual dinner of the Minaret of Freedom Institute in Gaithersburg, Maryland on June 26, keynote speaker Avis Asiye Allman, a Muslim artist of combined Christian and Jewish heritage and a former visiting scholar at New York University, provided a useful review of history in examining the issue of hijab and religious freedom in Turkey.
Following World War I, the victorious allied nations decreed that the Arab countries formerly under Ottoman Turkish rule could be provisionally recognized as independent, subject to assistance and advice of a state charged with the mandate for them. Britain would be responsible for Iraq and Palestine, and France for Syria and Lebanon.
Of the Arab countries, only parts of the Arabian Peninsula remained free of European rule. Once the Ottoman occupation ended, Yemen became an independent state under Yahya, imam of the Zaydis. In the Hijaz, the western part of the Arabian Peninsula, the Ottoman-appointed custodian of Mecca, Sharif Hussain, who had joined the war against the Turks, ruled until the 1920s, when his domain was absorbed into the expanding nation being created by King Abd al-Aziz Ibn Saud from central Arabia. However, without known resources, few links with the outside world, and surrounded on all sides by British power, Yemen and Saudi Arabia were independent only within limits.
Of the former Ottoman territories, the only truly independent state which emerged from the war was Turkey. Established in Anatolia upon the framework of the Ottoman administration and army and dominated until his death by Turkish military hero Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkey embarked on a path which led it away from its Oriental past and from the Arab countries with which it had been so closely connected. It sought to re-create society on the basis of national solidarity, a rigid separation of state and religion, and a deliberate attempt to separate from the Middle Eastern world and become part of Europe.
In the 1930s in the new Turkish republic the Islamic shari’a was formally abolished and replaced by secular laws derived from European models. Part and parcel of Ataturk’s disestablishment of Islam was using the term hijab to make a connection between the veiling of women and the lack of democratic values and progress.
As Allman explained, for Ataturk, the embrace of hijab by the Islamists was indicative of both their desire to control women and their lack of democratic values. “In a 1925 speech Ataturk claimed: `In some places I have seen women who put a piece of cloth over their heads to hide their faces. Can the mothers and daughters of a civilized nation adopt this strange manner, this barbarous posture? It is a spectacle that makes the nation an object of ridicule. It must be remedied at once.'”
Allman continued by saying, “From its creation, the Republic of Turkey has represented a secular democratic experiment in a Muslim country. However, Turkish-style secularism is not the same as its Western counterpart. Secularism in Turkey does not mean a complete separation between religion and state. In contrast to America, the state openly controls religion and the limits are numerous: open displays of religion are forbidden, male public servants cannot grow beards and female civil service workers are not allowed to wear hijab.”
The recent incident involving Merve Kavakci, a 31-year-old veiled Turkish Muslim woman elected to serve in the Turkish parliament, revealed not only the profound impact of Kemalism and its efforts to erect a monolithic secular society, Allman said, but the extreme polarization within the general population.
When Kavakci attempted to take her oath while wearing a headscarf this past May, deputies from the Democratic Left Party rose to their feet, clapped rhythmically and chanted, “Out! Out!” Allman recounted. Only a few days later, Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit announced that President Suleyman Demirel had signed an official decree stripping Kavakci, who held both Turkish and U.S. nationality, of her Turkish citizenship.
Allman, who has worked for many years on issues of religious freedom abuses in Turkey, explained that although Kavakci’s case received public attention, it is only one of a thousand like it. Many women in Turkey have been prevented from obtaining an education and employment because of their religious convictions, Allman charged.
“Beginning in the 1998-99 school year, the National Board of Higher Education issued a ban against wearing the head scarf which applies to all universities in Turkey,” Allman stated. “An estimated 40,000 students wearing headscarves in about 60 universities in Turkey have been deprived of their right to education.” Female professors who chose to wear the head scarf also were affected.
In an effort to protest against the government’s policies, three million people from all over Turkey joined in a nonviolent demonstration, Allman said, adding that one day after this act 25 medical students were arrested and now 22 medical students are being prosecuted.
In Turkey today, a fierce battle continues to rage over the status of veiled Muslim women. As Allman said, “For many modern, non-veiled Turkish Muslim women, Ataturk freed the women of Turkey and for many Turkish intellectuals, the head scarf represents backwardness.” As Turkish elites continue to regard any gain in Islamist political influence as a disastrous regression in Turkish democracy, they must be cautioned, Allman said. The practice of veiling is not antithetical to democratic values.
The problem, Allman said, is that women do face oppressive conditions in Muslim countries, as do their counterparts in the West, but the problems of women in the Islamic world do not derive from the veil or Islam, as imagined from a Western frame of reference. In Turkey, women are not being oppressed by the veil or Islam, but rather by the Turkish state in which they live.
Congressman David Bonior, second-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives, spoke to Muslim activists from the Virginia suburbs of the U.S. national capital at a July 13 buffet reception at the Dar Al Hijra mosque in Falls Church, Virginia. Calling the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act of 1996 “the worst law ever passed by Congress,” the Michigan congressman said its provision “allowing secret evidence is being used to discriminate against Arab Americans and Muslim Americans who have come from the Middle East.”
Citing discrimination by successive past generations against native Americans, African-Americans, German Americans in World War I and Japanese Americans in World War II, Bonior said, “The story is not new but every time it has reared its head, people have banded together to fight it, and that is a very good thing.”
Bonior described the Secret Evidence Repeal Act of 1999 he and “about 20 co-sponsors “are introducing into the House of Representatives and also expressed concern about reports of airport profiling, saying he had brought the FAA administrator and eight FAA assistants to Detroit to meet with constituents who felt they had been discriminated against.
He also deplored the withdrawal by House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt of an invitation to join the congressional commission on counter-terrorism to Los Angeles Muslim activist Salam al-Marayati, whom Bonior called “a good man and a member of the Human Relations Commission in Los Angeles.”
In answer to questions from the floor, Bonior said, “I want us to recognize the significance of the diversity of Jerusalem.” He also said he believes that the Palestinians should have a state. Asked to comment on reports that in pursuit of a Senate seat from New York, First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton had called for moving the U.S. Embassy to Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Bonior said, “If the reports are correct, I am saddened as well. I think you should ask for a meeting with her.” Concluding, Bonior pledged, “I will do all that I can to speak out for what is in the best interest of peace.”
Richard H. Curtiss
Article Courtesy: wrmea.com

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