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Panel explores Muslim images in media


by Samaria Bailey
The Philadelphia Tribune

The Philadelphia Association of Black Journalists hosted a panel discussion this week focused on how Muslims are covered in the media.

A group of journalism and communications professionals and educators discussed stereotypes, how media coverage fuels Islamophobia and what Muslims and journalists need to do to improve coverage. The panel included Aliya Khabir, CEO of AZK Communications; Jacob Bender, executive director of the Council on Islamic Relations (Philadelphia); Khalid Blankinship, professor, Temple University Department of Religion; and Zakia Matthews, executive producer, Fios 1 News NY/NJ.

Read full article at PhillyTrib.com

 

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CAIR-Philadelphia Wins Major Case for Prisoners’ Religious Rights

(PHILADELPHIA, PA, 5/18/16) – The Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-Philadelphia) is excited to announce a major victory in the free exercise of religion. Today, Judge Jones III ruled in favor of a Muslim inmate whose religious rights were violated by the State Correctional Institution Mahanoy. Last fall, Ryan Houldin, CAIR-Philadelphia Staff Attorney, joined the case as co-counsel to Post & Schell, representing an inmate who was fired for offering prayer during work hours.

State Correctional Institution Mahanoy had a policy prohibiting inmates from engaging in prayer that involved any ritual or display while working in the kitchen. At trial, we argued that the prison’s policy violated federal law by not accommodating the inmate’s right to perform prayer at work. Today, the court issued an order declaring that said policy substantially burdened the inmate’s religious rights, and ordered the prison to provide a space for all Muslim kitchen workers to pray during work. We commend the judge’s important decision in upholding the right to free exercise of religion.

“This is a major victory for religious liberty in the United States,” said CAIR-Philadelphia Executive Director Jacob Bender. “Not only for American Muslims, but for all Americans. CAIR-Philadelphia is very proud of the role we played in this case.”

CAIR is America’s largest Muslim civil liberties and advocacy organization. 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. 

– END – 

CONTACT: CAIR-Philadelphia Staff Attorney Ryan Houldin, 267-515-6712, rhouldin@cair.com

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Report on Muslim Women in Sacred Spaces Symposium

by Rabiya Khan, CAIR-Philadelphia Advisory Board Member

When statistics show[1] that only 18% of women attend mosques and that over 2/3 of mosques use dividers, while only 13% of mosques allow female participation on boards, it’s no wonder Muslim women feel like second-class citizens in their communities.

These statistics were shared during CAIR-Philadelphia’s groundbreaking Muslim Women in Sacred Spaces Symposium on February 6th at Villanova University.

The guest speakers examined several factors that stem from the absence of women in mosques. One finding explored how children are less likely to attend mosques when their mothers don’t feel comfortable or welcome. This includes divorced and widowed women – another largely ignored demographic in the Muslim community. Their absence poses a great threat, because if the youth don’t feel a sense of community and belonging at their mosque, they will find other places to “hang out” – places that are usually unsupervised.

Mosques in America are multi-purpose spaces that serve as community centers, wedding venues, school houses, banquet halls, recreational outlets and much more. But what’s at times forgotten is that the main purpose of a mosque is to serve the spiritual needs of each member of the community.

Unfortunately, this doesn’t seem to be the case in many places of worship.

The issues our guest speakers were asked to address included: Why women were made to feel like an afterthought in the design and planning process of the mosque; How the concept of fitnais often cited as a primary reason for women’s marginalization or exclusion from mosques; and how certain ahadith are understood and applied and even ignored in relation to women attending mosques.

Throughout the morning, panelists cited Qur’anic text and hadith to clear up misinterpretations of the sayings and practice of the Prophet.

After listening to the speakers, attendees broke into small groups to discuss their plans and goals for an ideal mosque. My group created an open space for both men and women to pray, with a removable three foot barrier which offered a clear sight line for women to see the Imam or Khateeb. We had a supervised room for small children, large recreational space for youth and open space for families to sit together and enjoy other community events.

We all agreed on one thing, it’s time to change the status quo of women in mosques. We have more to offer than just catering services and childcare for special events. Creating sacred spaces for women is imperative, especially if we want our mosques to serve as places of spiritual growth for the Ummah, and as the organizational foundation upon which the survival of American Islam is secured.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said “Do not prevent the female servants of Allah from the masjids of Allah.” (Muslim)

[1] Report from the Mosque Study Project (MSP) conducted by CAIR, ISNA, Ministry of WD Muhammad & ICNA, 2001

Material from the Symposium

Introduction (PDF): Presents the purpose of the symposium, gives bios for the speakers, and outlines the discussion topics for participants.

Video Playlist: 6-part video series with speakers’ presentations plus question and answer session.

PowerPoint Presentation (expanded PPT / handout) of the feedback and recommendations that were given by participants at the symposium.

ISNA Statement on the Inclusion of Women in Masjids (PDF) – Statement calling for a recommitment to the Prophetic ideal of mosques being open and friendly to women.

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Trump and “America First”

By Jacob Bender, Executive Director

This past Tuesday, April 26, Donald Trump won all five Republican primaries held on that day, and emerged as the presumptive candidate of his party for President of the United States.

The following day, basking in his victories, Trump delivered a speech at the Center for the American Interest in Washington DC that was billed as a “major foreign policy address” of the billionaire businessman turned White House candidate. To my ears, the speech seemed more posturing than policy, with few if any specific proposals as to how to approach and solve the myriad of complex and intertwined calamities confronting out country and the people of our planet. However, what I found of particular interest in Trump’s speech was his repeated use of the phrase “America First.” Only someone totally ignorant of the history of the United States—or totally committed to a racist, xenophobic vision of what our country should be—would have included the following sentence in his speech: “America First will be the major and overriding theme of my administration.” Trump, of course, manifests both ignorance and racism in abundance.

Indeed, Trump’s use of the phrase “America First,” whether consciously or un-knowingly, draws us back to a previous decade of American bigotry when another American religious minority, just like today’s American Muslims, were being targeted as a danger to our country, with their faith being declared essentially “un-American.” Read more…

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Montoursville Area school directors on hot seat

By Mike Reuther
Williamsport Sun-Gazette

The Facebook rants of a Montoursville Area school director recently prompted district residents to call for her resignation as well as those who appointed her to the school board.

Now, a Muslim group has joined the chorus of calls asking Karen Wright and five other board members to step down.

Jacob Bender, executive director of the Philadelphia chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, said Wright’s Facebook remarks that appeared before her appointment to the vacant school board seat earlier this month are not surprising to his group. Read more (paid subscription)…

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