Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Cynthia McKinney, 20 others detained while trying to bring relief aid to Gaza Strip
(WASHINGTON, D.C., 7/1/09) - The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today urged President Obama to demand the release of a former member of the U.S. Congress who was detained yesterday by Israel while trying to bring humanitarian relief to Palestinians under blockade in the Gaza Strip.
Former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and 20 others were held after their relief ship was stopped in international waters by the Israeli navy. The Greek-flagged ship, the Spirit of Humanity, was carrying medical supplies, olive trees and children's toys.
SEE: Cynthia McKinney, 20 Others, Held by Israel
SEE ALSO: The Free Gaza Movement
“Our government must take action to protect the right of American citizens to provide humanitarian relief to those suffering under an inhumane blockade,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. “We must not be complicit in the immoral and unjust siege placed on the people of Gaza.”
Awad also urged the Obama administration to assist American citizens trapped in Gaza by the Israeli blockade. He said CAIR has been seeking assistance since January for one Gaza family with American children.
SEE: Family with American Children Stranded in Gaza
SEE ALSO: CAIR Seeks Sponsors for Gaza Evacuees
CAIR, America's largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization, has 35 offices and chapters nationwide and in Canada. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.
CONTACT: CAIR National Communications Director Ibrahim Hooper, 202-488-8787, 202-744-7726, E-Mail:; CAIR Communications Coordinator Amina Rubin, 202-488-8787, 202-341-4171, E-Mail:

Andrea Fuller, New York Times, 6/30/09
President Obama will soon receive a thank-you gift for his speech to the Muslim world in Cairo. Inspired by the address, in which Mr. Obama quoted the Koran, the Council on American-Islamic Relations plans to distribute 100,000 copies of the Koran to national, state and local leaders.
The council’s national executive director, Nihad Awad, said at a news conference in Washington today that the speech, in which Mr. Obama called for the end to mutual suspicion between Americans and Muslims, was “inspiring” and “historic.”
The council is soliciting donations to pay for the books; at the national convention of the Islamic Society of North America on July 5, the name of one donor will be chosen as sponsor of the Koran that will be sent to Mr. Obama.
In a public opinion survey done by the council, almost 60 percent of Americans said they were “not very knowledgeable” or “not at all knowledgeable” about Islam. Mr. Awad said that the organization hopes to educate Americans about Islam to combat prejudice.
Over the next 10 years, the council plans to distribute one million copies of the text to the American public through its “Share the Quran” campaign.
“This project is pure education,” said Mr. Awad, who said the council was not attempting to proselytize. (More)

Elizabeth Gorman, ABC News, 6/30/09
Prompted by President Obama's speech directed to the Muslim world in Cairo in early June, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) today launched its "Share the Quran" campaign distributing free Qurans to local, state, and national leaders across the United States.
The organization's spokesperson said it will also send a copy to Obama and Vice President Biden.
"This is pure educational. I want to make it clear that this is not proselytizing or a campaign or project to convert people to Islam," said CAIR's director Nihad Awad today at a press conference. "We want people to be aware and informed about Islam."
Awad said the idea to gift high-end Qurans ($78 each) to American legislators, law enforcement officers, media leaders, governors, local elected and public officials, was directly inspired by Obama's Cairo speech. (Read more)

Erika Niedowski, The National, 6/30/09
WASHINGTON // When the US President Barack Obama quoted from the Quran in his speech to the Muslim world from Cairo last month, Muslim-American leaders saw it as an opportunity to raise the holy book’s profile in a country where its teachings are largely misunderstood.
So yesterday, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, a civil rights and advocacy group here, kicked off a campaign to distribute 100,000 copies to politicians and other public officials, the first phase of what the group hopes will eventually be a total distribution of one million. (More)

Muslims offer 100,000 Qurans to US leaders
Al Arabiya, 6/30/09
America's top Muslim civil liberties advocacy group launched its "Share the Quran" campaign on Tuesday in which it will hand out 100,000 free copies of Islam's holy book in an effort to reach out to the country's elected officials and influential opinion shapers.
The initiative, which has been labeled an educational campaign, was announced by the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) at a press conference in Washington and was said to be prompted by President Barack Obama's recent speech in the Egyptian capital of Cairo in which he repeatedly quoted from the Quran to reach out to Muslims. (More)

Talk Radio News, 6/30/09
Nihad Awad, National Executive Director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), describes how President Obama’s desire for more Americans to understand the Quran will break down stereotypical barriers. (0:36)
Click here to listen to the clip.
The Strib's Kersten takes issue with church vs. state—but only when it involves Islam
Erin Carlyle, City Pages, 6/29/09
On the afternoon of March 3, 2008, Katherine Kersten waited in the parking lot outside an Inver Grove Heights school, stalking Muslims.
The school building housed both Tarek ibn Ziyad Academy—a K-8 school that catered primarily to immigrants—and the Muslim American Society of Minnesota, a religious nonprofit group that she'd criticized in her Star Tribune column.
When the school day officially ended at 3:30 p.m., she noticed, few students actually left the building. Instead, the pupils began to pour from the doors around 4:15 p.m. Then they boarded school buses—Kersten counted six—that would carry them home.
"The students have Islamic studies till 4:15," a bus driver explained.
Six days later, Kersten publicly accused the school of improperly mixing church and state. As a charter school, TiZA received public money and was supposed to be non-sectarian.
"Are taxpayers footing bill for Islamic school in Minnesota?" the headline to Kersten's column screamed.
The founders of the school were imams, Kersten wrote, and the school's sponsor, Islamic Relief USA, belonged to a parent group that Israel had accused of ties to Hamas.
Kersten's criticism quickly inspired a backlash. "The school is not a religious school in any way," said Wayne Jennings, superintendent of High School for Performing Arts, a charter school in St. Paul. A lifelong member of Americans for Separation of Church and State, Jennings agreed to serve as the liaison between the school and its sponsor after researching both thoroughly and concluding that the school was playing by the rules.
But the ACLU wasn't so sure. Five days after Kersten's column was published (she did not respond to requests for comment), Charles Samuelson, director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, fired off a letter to the school's principal, Asad Zaman. "We ask that you please review the situation and take the necessary steps to ensure that TiZA Academy does not impermissibly promote or endorse religion or religious activities," the letter read.
On April 8, a month after her original column, Kersten ran a follow-up piece—20 questions with Zaman. In language that was polite, if a bit terse, Zaman answered Kersten's accusations about the school's bus schedule and prayer gatherings.
Four days later, the Star Tribune reported that TiZA had received threatening phone calls. Police monitoring of the school stepped up, and the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked the FBI to look into the threats.
Politicians flung their own accusations. "I call into question the integrity with which Katherine Kersten levels her complaints," said Carla A. Bates, a candidate for Minneapolis School Board. "I think it's Islam that she doesn't like, and she is going to put a successful school through the ringer because she doesn't like how it looks, sounds, or behaves."
Rep. Mindy Greiling, chair of the state's K-12 finance committee, called for Kersten to be fired, and 582 people signed an online petition demanding her removal. (More)
Over 80 Labor and Community Organizations Applaud Resolution 1281, Urging Fairness for All NYC Students
June 30, 2009, New York, NY: A diverse coalition of more than 80 community, labor, civil rights and religious organizations commends the New York City Council for passing Resolution 1281 which calls on the Department of Education to include two major Muslim Holidays in the New York City public school calendar. This resolution demonstrates the broad-based support for inclusion of the holidays in the school calendar by New Yorkers throughout the city.
“The New York City Council’s overwhelming vote in support of the Resolution is a strong indication of our city’s commitment to educational equity and religious inclusion,” said CAIR-NY Community Affairs Director Faiza N. Ali, who sits on the steering committee of the Coalition for Muslim School Holidays. “Indeed, this is an opportunity to foster a better understanding of Islam and reaffirm that Muslims are a valued part of this city.”
"Equality is a concept enshrined in our national Constitution and upheld at state and local levels of government,” said Councilmember Robert Jackson, the legislation’s chief sponsor. “This legislation delivers on that promise to New York City public school students by allowing them to exercise their Constitutional right to practice their faith without compromising their attendance record at school. I'm proud to have sponsored this bill."
"Muslim students make up over 10 percent of our student population, their religious holidays need to be respected and incorporated into the school calendar," said Council Member Peter F. Vallone Jr., a co-sponsor of Resolution 1281
Coalition members are now looking forward to working with the city’s Department of Education to incorporate the holidays into the school calendar.
“Because we respect the religious diversity represented in our schools, we recognize that students have the right to observe the special days on their religious calendars. We join in support of the students, parents and educators who are seeking a way to incorporate Muslim holidays into the existing school calendar,” said Amina Rachman, Special Assistant to the President, United Federation of Teachers.
Recognition of the two holidays will remove the unfair choice that 1 out of every 8 New York City Public School children currently have to make between missing out on lessons and educational opportunities and celebrating their most major holidays. The vast majority 95% of Muslim school-age children attend public schools in New York City.
“Right now, our neighbors in New Jersey in the cities of Paterson, Atlantic City, Irvington, Cliffside Park, Prospect Park, Trenton and Plainfield have already incorporated the two Eids into their school calendars. Given the number of Muslim students in our school system, it makes sense for us to follow this example and recognize the diversity of our city,” said Imam Talib of the Mosque of the Islamic Brotherhood in Harlem.
“I think New York’s diversity is what makes it so strong. As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic and a proud member of 32BJ SEIU, a union that represents members coming from over 30 different countries, I am very happy to join together with parents and community members from different backgrounds, cultures and religions to fight for our children’s education. I was proud to hear our president, Barack Obama’s speech in which he recognized the contributions of Muslims to the U.S. It is wonderful to see our city follow his admirable example,” said Elpidio Molina, member of the New York Civic Participation Project, the Coalition for Educational Justice and Executive Board Member of 32BJ SEIU.
While recognition of the holidays will have a minimal impact on the actual school calendar, it will be an enormous step toward inclusion. With today’s passage of Resolution 1281, the City Council has gone on the record in support of the measure. The Department of Education has the power to adopt the two holidays without further legislation.
“As a parent I would like my child to have the same rights as all children in New York City. As a community member, I think the goal of the city should be to educate all of New York City’s children. We want equal rights and equal participation,” said Bakary Camara, a representative of the Gambian Society of New York, a board member with the Northwest Bronx Community and Clergy Coalition and a member of the New Settlement Parent Action Committee.
The Coalition for Muslim School Holidays is a broad inter-faith, inter-ethnic coalition of labor, community, civil rights and religious organizations as well as students, parents and educators. The Coalition recognizes the importance of the City Council’s passage of Resolution 1281 and calls on the Department of Education to incorporate the holidays into the school calendar.
Faiza N. Ali: 212-870-2002, 718-724-3041;
Marjon Kashani: 415-317-7646;
Isabel Bucaram: 718-683-2532;

Mayor Bloomberg says no to recommendation
Celeste Katz and Frank Lombardi, Daily News, 7/1/09

After a three-year lobbying effort, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution Tuesday calling for school to be closed on the two holiest Muslim holidays.
But Mayor Bloomberg said he would not make the change called for in the resolution, which is nonbinding. (More)
Kirk Semple, New York Times, 7/1/09
Spurred by a broad coalition of religious, labor and immigrant groups, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a resolution on Tuesday to add two of the most important Muslim holy days to the public schools’ holiday calendar.
But the vote, which was nonbinding, put the Council in conflict with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who has the final say to designate the days off and has said he is resolutely opposed to the idea. (More)
Student alleges she was harassed by a senior faculty member
Laura Diamond, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, 7/1/09
The director of Georgia State University’s Middle East Institute resigned Tuesday and accused the college of failing to respond to anti-Muslim bias.
Dona Stewart said Wednesday the college failed to address complaints from a Muslim-American doctoral student and visiting faculty member who said she was harassed by a senior faculty member at Georgia State last August.
The student, Slma Shelbayah, was repeatedly asked by a GSU professor whether she was carrying any bombs under her hijab, an Islamic headscarf, Stewart said. After that, Shelbayah complained she was stripped of her privileges, such as no longer being allowed to lead a previously approved student-abroad program, Stewart said.
Stewart said she also was subjected to retaliatory actions after refusing to fire Shelbayah. (More)
Bruce Finley, Denver Post, 7/1/09
GREELEY — State and federal civil-rights officials are investigating claims that Somali workers at the JBS Swift Beef Co. meatpacking plant were mistreated.
Complaints have been filed with state officials and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, said Steve Chavez, director of the Colorado Civil Rights Division.
Chavez met with Somalis in Greeley last week. He said federal officials are taking the lead on the investigation.
EEOC officials declined to comment.
Concerns surfaced last year after JBS managers refused to let late-shift Somalis pray at sunset during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan. Workers walked off the job, and more than 100 were fired. Somali workers have since claimed ongoing issues with their Latino supervisors, Chavez said.
"They believe they were treated differently because they were Somalis," he said.
JBS spokesman Chandler Keys said the company has attempted to accommodate religious practices by installing foot washes in locker rooms for foot-cleansing prior to prayer and bidet-type spray devices on toilets to assist with cleansing after using the rest room.
Keys would not discuss the complaints or the investigation. He said company officials "are in discussions" with Somalis regarding Ramadan this year.
"It's an ongoing, flowing information dialogue that's going to keep us on our toes in working with these people," he said. (More)


Nir Hasson, Haaretz, 7/1/09
A new Jewish-Muslim initiative is seeking to derail the planned Museum of Tolerance, which is currently being built in Jerusalem on the site of a former Muslim cemetery.
The initiative's hopes to get the site declared ritually impure under Jewish law, due to the fact that the construction has involved unearthing the remains of hundreds of Muslims. Such a declaration would keep religious Jews from visiting the museum.
The proposal has already received the blessing of Rabbi David Schmidl, head of the ultra-Orthodox Atra Kadisha organization, which fights against the desecration of Jewish graves. Its Jewish sponsors - who include two left-wing activists plus one activist from the ultra-Orthodox Shas party - are also seeking support from Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar, but he has not yet replied to their letter.
The museum, which is being built in Jerusalem's Mamilla neighborhood by the Wiesenthal Center, occupies a site that served for hundreds of years as a Muslim cemetery, but was then turned into a parking lot. Because the work involves unearthing hundreds of skeletons and reinterring them at the margins of the site, it has aroused fierce opposition from Muslim groups, who petitioned the High Court of Justice against it. (More)

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