Islamic Voice A Monthly English Magazine

May 2010
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ISLAM IN THE WEST

Cambridge study lauded
London:
12-week course planned to make Muslims think critically



A Cambridge University-led project which investigated what it means to be a Muslim living in modern Britain has won high praise from the Government as a model for future research in the same field.

"Contextualising Islam in Britain", which published its findings in October 2009, is singled out by the House of Commons Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) Select Committee in a report evaluating the Government's policies to tackle extremism in the UK.

The nine-month research project was hosted by Cambridge's Centre of Islamic Studies, in association with the Universities of exeter and Westminster. It was funded by the Department, but remained completely independent of any Government involvement.

Scholars, academics and activists representing a diverse spectrum of views from Muslim communities in the UK took part in discussions about Islam in modern Britain, contributing to a final report which covers issues including secularism, democracy, Shariah law, human rights and citizenship.

The intent is that this report, which remains available for free at http://www.cis.com. ac.uk/CIBP.html, will act as the basis for a wider discussion with other Muslim leaders and communities in the UK. In time, it is hoped that this will lead to the development of a virtual "House of Wisdom", providing space for discussion among both Muslims and non-Muslims on how Islam should function in the UK and contribute to wider society.

Commenting on the initiative, the authors of the Select Committee report, published on March 30, describe Contextualising Islam in Britain as a model for the way forward", adding: "This is precisely the kind of exercise - self-managed and independent of Government - which will retain credibility in the Muslim community."

Professor Yasir Suleiman, Director of the Centre of Islamic Studies, which was established in May 2008, said: "This is a significant expression of confidence. It's extremely gratifying to know that the Centre has been established so quickly as a source of independent and reliable research and public outreach.

The comments coincide with the start of a new partnership between the Centre and Azhar University in Cairo, which is aimed at the graduates of Muslim Colleges in both the UK and Egypt.
The two institutions will run a 12-week course designed to encourage participants to think critically about Islamic ideas and values, understand the major achievements of Muslim thought and develop an awareness of how Muslims respond to the challenges of modernity.

Through lectures, tutorials, seminars and workshops, as well as personal studies and assignments, the students will cover topics such as Muslim approaches to ethics and the law, state and citizenship, inter-religious relations and the true meaning of "Jihad". Three weeks of the course will be spent in Cambridge, with the first cohort arriving in June 2010.

This weekend also saw a major conference hosted by the Centre of Islamic Studies on Language, Conflict and Security. The event brought together academics, policy-makers and field officers.

It aimed to cover a wide range of issues, explaining, for example, how political conflicts can affect the idioms in which we speak, the terminology we use, the languages we choose to learn or are encouraged to study, and those which we prefer to ignore. The role of language as a bridge between societies in conflict and as an instrument of war was also to be considered, with reference to conflicts in the Middle East in particular.

In addition, participants were expected to examine the extent to which heightened awareness of national security can impact on the way in which we write, speak, translate foreign languages or attempt to access knowledge and information.

Professor Suleiman added: "This is the first conference to try to link language to security through conflict. It brings together academics and field officers to discuss and debate the increasing securitisation of language in many parts of the world. In a post 9/11 world, Arabic will be a major focus of interest."

General information about the HRH Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Centre of Islamic Studies at the University of Cambridge can be found at: http://www.cis.cam.ac.uk/index.html.


Muslim Heritage Film wins International Movie Award
London:
A short film about the scientific heritage of Muslim civilisation has won a series of international awards. 1001 Inventions and The Library of Secrets, starring Oscar-winning screen legend Sir Ben Kingsley, won four awards at the International Visual Communications Association (IVCA) ceremony held in London on 26th March.

Judges commended the short film saying it was “in a league of its own” awarding it four prestigious awards:Gold Award for Best Education Film, Gold Award for Best Photography, Silver Award for Best Drama, Silver Award for Best Original Music.

The movie was produced by the Foundation for Science Technology and Civilisation (FSTC) and The Edge Picture Company as an introductory film for the 1001 Inventions exhibition that was launched at London's Science Museum in January 2010.

In the movie a group of young school children take a field trip to a dusty old library after their teacher challenges them to research the era known as the “Dark Ages” civilisation, a chore they resent until they meet a mysterious librarian (Kinglsey) who takes them on a journey to the past to uncover the thousand years of scientific and cultural excellence that took place outside Western Europe between the 7th and 17th century.

The film 1001 Inventions and The Library of Secrets can be seen as part of the 1001 Inventions exhibition at London's Science Museum, and can be viewed online at www.1001inventions.com. The exhibition is free to the public, seven days a week, and runs from the 21st January to 30th June 2010.

For further press information please contact: Junaid Bhatti on junaid@1001inventions.com


US jettisons linking terrorism with Islam
Washington:
The US President Barack Obama has ordered a revision of America's National Security Strategy with the aim to remove terms that link Islam to terrorism, administration officials said.

The officials said the change would remove terms like “Islamic radicalism” from the National Security Strategy, a document that was created by the previous administration to outline the Bush doctrine of pre-emptive war.

The US National Security Strategy outlines major national security concerns and the methods to deal with them. Such documents are prepared periodically by the executive branch of the government for Congress. US media outlets often refer to this document for borrowing terms to use in a report.

The Bush-era document describes the war against terrorists as “the struggle against militant Islamic radicalism … the great ideological conflict of the early years of the 21st century.” The Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) welcomed the announcement on April 8, saying it was a step in the right direction.

“We welcome this change in language as another step towards respectful and effective outreach to Muslims at home and abroad,” said CAIR National Executive Director Nihad Awad. He recommended that media professionals and commentators adopt similarly neutral and objective language and avoid “loaded” terminology.

In 2008, the US National Counter-Terrorism Centre produced a document, called “Words that Work and Words that Don't: A Guide for Counter-Terrorism Communication,” which encouraged government agencies and officials to avoid characterizing Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups as “Islamic” or “Muslim,” as that could “unintentionally legitimise” their tactics.

US Counterterrorism officials said the move to rewrite the security strategy is part of an effort to assure the Muslims that the United States does not link them with terrorism. Since taking office, President Obama has attempted o seek reconciliation with the Muslim world. During his landmark speech at Cairo University in Egypt in June 2009, Mr. Obama said that the US did not have any enmity with the Muslim world.

The document that the Obama administration is consulting for drafting the new strategy — “A Guide for Counter-Terrorism Communication” — urges US officials to “avoid labelling everything 'Muslim.' It reinforces the 'US vs. Islam' framework that Al Qaeda promotes.” It reminds US officials that “a large percentage of the world's population subscribes to this religion” and “unintentionally alienating them is not a judicious move.”

Urging officials not to use the word Islam in conjunction with terrorism, the guide notes that, “Although the Al Qaeda network exploits religious sentiments and tries to use religion to justify its actions, we should treat it as an illegitimate political organisation, both terrorist and criminal.”

Instead of calling terror groups Muslim or Islamic, the guide suggests using words like totalitarian, terrorist or violent extremist — “widely understood terms that define our enemies appropriately and simultaneously deny them any level of legitimacy.”

By employing the language the extremists use about themselves, the guide warns, officials can inadvertently help legitimise them in the eyes of Muslims. “Never use the terms 'jihadist' or 'mujahideen' … to describe the terrorists,” instructs the guide. “A mujahid, a holy warrior, is a positive characterisation in the context of a just war. In Arabic, jihad means 'striving in the path of God' and is used in many contexts beyond warfare. Calling our enemies Jihadis and their movement a global Jihad unintentionally legitimises their actions.” The guide also bans the use of the word caliphate to describe Al Qaeda's goal. The term “has positive connotations for Muslims,” says the guide, adding, “The best description of what (Al Qaeda) really want to create is a 'global totalitarian state.'”

A longer document — “Terminology to Define the Terrorists: Recommendations from American Muslims” — says officials should use “terms such as 'death cult,' 'cult-like,' 'sectarian cult,' and 'violent cultists' to describe the ideology and methodology of Al Qaeda and other terrorist groups.” It recommends eschewing the terms Islamist or Islamism — the advocacy of a political system based on Islam – while referring to terrorist groups.

The document urges officials to consider describing Al Qaeda's ideology as “Takfirism” — the practice of declaring Muslims who disagree with extremism apostates who can be killed.