PROMISES FOR STRONGER MUSLIM POLITICAL PARTICIPATION AT THE AMC'S 8TH ANNUAL CONVENTION
On May 6, 1999 the American Muslim Council launched its 8th annual convention at the Cannon House Office Building in Washington, DC, where lobbying sessions were held with several AMC activists and congressional experts and assistants. In a briefing for the lobbying session, Randa Fahmy, counselor for Senator Spencer Abraham (R-MI); Suhail Khan, press secretary of Congressman Tom Campbell (R-CA); Leah Khaghani, staff assistant to Congressman David Bonior (D-MI); Kamal Nawash, legal adviser to the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC); and Kosovo representative Bekim Hasani all advised would-be lobbyists of the American Muslim community on how to make their voices heard in American politics. On the specifics of the principal issue to be discussed with members of Congress, the speakers focused on the dangers of the unconstitutional use of secret evidence in 25 current cases of individuals being held in prison with no charges. Although they represent different members of Congress from both parties, Fahmy, Khan and Khaghani noted that all three congressmen stand very strongly against the use of secret evidence.
In a lobbying debriefing session, AMC director Aly R. Abuzaakouk asked members to call their representatives in Congress and ask them to support the return of Kosovar refugees to their homes and to request humanitarian aid be sent to Iraq. At the session, activists complained about the absence of an umbrella organization to work for both domestic and foreign issues that are of major concern to the American Muslim community in the U.S. In his response, Abuzaakouk confirmed the birth of such an organization (the American Muslim Political Coordination Council) and advised AMC members to subscribe to the Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, where they can find the most recent coverage of Congress and of American Muslim activism in the U.S.
At a Capitol Hill dinner, several members of Congress expressed their support for American Muslim concerns. "We have things in our history we are not proud of in this country," said House Democratic floor leader Bonior, referring to the use of secret evidence against members of i the American Muslim community. Senator Abraham, a Christian Arab American, also criticized the use of secret evidence and airport profiling and expressed his support for NATO military action to protect the Kosovars and for sending humanitarian aid to Iraq. "We will continue to be there for your community," he said. Representative Campbell noted that "we [in Congress] have to recognize that there are people in Palestine who have the right to their own land." Rep. Janice Schakowsky (D-IL) said, "As a Jew, I am very much against ethnic cleansing." She promised to support sending aid to the refugees in Kosovo. Representatives Robert Aderholt (R-AL); John Conyers, Jr. (D-MI); John Dingell (D-MI); Rush Holt (D-N J); Wayne Gilchrest (R-MD); Dale Kildee (D-MI); Jim McDermott (D-WA); Jim Moran (D-VA); Nick Rahall (R-WV); and Ciro Rodriguez (D-TX) all voiced support for the American Muslim community and its issues.
After a White House briefing with National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, the convention convened at the Sheraton Hotel in Crystal City, VA with a session on "International Policy on Iraq." Founder of Voices in the Wilderness, Kathy Kelly, told heartbreaking stories of Iraqi children dying because of the sanctions. "Sanctions themselves function as a weapon of mass destruction," she said. She invited members of Congress and the executive branch to join Voices in the Wilderness in a visit to Iraq. "Is there one congressman who will go over to Iraq and look at what eight and a half years of sanctions have done to the Iraqi people?" she asked. She criticized the cynicism of the U.S. government concerning the suffering of the Iraqi people. "Does killing people become easier for us day after day? Who taught Tim McVeigh to kill people?"
Former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Edward Peck expressed his frustration with U.S. government policies in Iraq. "We in this country should be ashamed of what we stand for," he said. He argued that the "shameless embargo" on Iraq damages the reputation of the U.S. and the values it stands for in the world. He also criticized U.S. media for deceiving the American people by reporting one side of the story. "No one in this country is finding it bizarre that the press is only reporting that the Iraqis are violating the no-fly-zone," he said. "We behave as completely arrogant men."
Laith Kubba, from the National Endowment for Democracy, also criticized U.S. policies in Iraq. "Everything about Iraq has been reduced to Saddam Hussain and nothing is being told about the suffering of the people," he said. He said the U.S. should distinguish between the oppressor and the victim and that serious attention and concern should be shown toward the needs of the Iraqi people, who "harmed no one." Kubba argued that human rights are not the prime concern behind U.S. policy in Iraq. "Washington wants to see Iraq de-weaponized totally," Kubba charged.
The session concluded with a dramatic scene of a 10-year-old girl crying over the imprisonment of her father. Yara al-Najjar is the oldest daughter of Mazen al-Najjar, a Palestinian resident of Tampa, FL who is currently imprisoned and facing deportation proceedings based solely on secret evidence. Yara read the following letter to the AMC attendees:
"Assalamu Alaikum My name is Yara al-Najjar. I'm only 10 years old in 5th grade at the Islamic Academy of Florida in Tampa. My father, Mazen, has been in jail for two years, I was born here in America and was taught in my social studies to believe in the U.S. Constitution and all the freedoms it stands for. But this is quite difficult to do knowing that my dad has done nothing wrong. He remains a good citizen of the world. His only crime was to be a good father and a good Muslim. Every night before I go to sleep, I take out his picture, put it next to my bed, say a prayer, and wish him a good night. For those two years that he has been in jail he has missed seeing my daily maturity. He was the direct influence in my life to get straight A's in school. He was the one that would always read to us. He would read newspapers, classics, magazines, and bedtime stories to my two younger sisters and me every day.
I miss my dad, my sisters miss my dad not just because he is in jail but because he is in jail for having done nothing wrong. I miss my dad especially when I come home from school and when he is not there to help me. I miss my dad on the weekends when he has guided us on how to use our free time better. I miss my dad's scent every time he gave me a kiss on the cheek. You can't get all these things through the glass window I see him through the few times they allow me to visit. Why am I here today? To ask you to write to your president, congressman, senator and representative and tell them that Mazen al-Najjar is in jail because of secret evidence. And it is time he is freed from the Manatee County Sheriff's Office in Bradenton, Florida. He has done nothing wrong. Thank you for your time. May God Almighty bless one and all."
"A Muslim Agenda on the Road to Election 2000" was the theme of a session held on Saturday morning. Atif Harden, former director of the American Muslim Council, discussed issues the American Muslim community should be working on for the year 2000 elections. He advised the community to work on issues that are of primary importance to both Muslims and non-Muslim Americans such as day care, education, health care, women, independent voters and children. "We as Muslims are the targeted numbers of all the coming presidential candidates and that is why we should volunteer, give money and most importantly, vote," he said.
President James Zogby of the Arab American Institute noted that it is critical for American Muslims to enter American politics. "The first issue that should be on the Muslim agenda for the 2000 elections is to gain full respect and presence in American politics," he said. Dr. Zogby noted that 1996 marked the arrival of Muslim activism in American politics when President Clinton and other Republican and Democratic leaders talked about "churches, mosques and synagogues" in their speeches. "You need to be at every door and recognized at every level as a full partner in the process," said Dr. Zogby. He was not in favor of focusing on issues like Palestine, Kashmir, or Kosovo for the 2000 elections. "Muslims are best served in the Muslim foreign policy by not focusing on specifics but by overriding issues," he added. "The best agenda for a Muslim policy would be combining American and Muslim values and make them exportable," Zogby said.
President Agha Saeed of the American Muslim Alliance briefed the audience on the development of Muslim activism in California and the major role Muslims should be playing in the 2000 elections. "There was not a single large mosque in California that did not participate in voter registration in 1998," Dr. Saeed said. "I am pleased to tell you that we American Muslim organizations decided to come under one umbrella organization called the American Muslim Political Coordination Council." He explained that the purpose of this new umbrella organization is to develop a coherent strategy for the 2000 elections whereby every U.S. Muslim organization would work for better American Muslim participation in American political life. "To have a full impact, we have to unite Arabs, Muslims and Christians," he argued.
In a session entitled "Muslims and Domestic Issues," Suhail Khan, press secretary and legislative assistant to U.S. Congressman Tom Campbell, spoke about the significant impact Muslims can have on domestic political processes. One such success centered on the issue of the use of secret evidence by the Department of Justice and the Immigration and Naturalization Services. As Khan explained, both agencies use secret evidence to arrest, detain and deport individuals due to their alleged affiliation with groups designated as terrorist organizations.
Khan told the audience about several Muslims within Congressman Campbell's district who approached him and explained that family members were being held without being able to review or challenge the evidence used to detain them, in direct violation of Constitutional Amendment VI.
After learning of the situation, Congressman Campbell introduced legislation into Congress to repeal the use of secret evidence. Campbell also circulated congressional letters to gain the support of other members of Congress and held briefings to educate Congress about the issue. After being signed by 17 congressmen the letter was sent to President Bill Clinton and U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
"This was just one issue that was generated by Muslims at the local level that will now be one of the legislative items considered in this year's congressional sessions," Khan explained. "Furthermore, Muslims can not only influence domestic policy, but can educate their local representatives about international issues, such as Palestinian statehood."
According to Khan, most members of Congress are reticent to discuss or support Palestinian self-determination. But Muslims in Campbell's district urged him to travel to the West Bank and Gaza Strip to assess the situation for himself. When Campbell traveled to the West Bank and Jordan he visited several refugee camps and witnessed for himself the suffering and impoverishment of the Palestinian people.
"Having come back from that trip and having met Muslims in our district who encouraged him to travel to Palestine, Congressman Campbell decided that the resolution introduced by Matt Salmon (R-AZ) denying Palestinians statehood was immoral and unjust," Khan said. And even though the resolution passed, several members of Congress who had voted to deny Palestinians statehood came to Congressman Campbell and said, "This time I couldn't vote with you. Next time I will be with you. I didn't know that we could do this and survive politically."
On the same panel Eric Vickers, a private attorney and board member of the American Muslim Alliance, offered his personal experience and feelings regarding the interaction of Islam and the American political landscape. "When I decided to run for Congress in 1994 I wrestled with what the real significance was of me holding an elected office. What difference would it make that I was a Muslim running for political office? And I came to the conclusion that if I were like every other politician running for office it would make no difference. That if my strategy was simply to be more mainstream, then I need not bother because the difference I could make as a Muslim in this country would only emerge if I put my faith before my politics, if I let my politics be driven by my faith."
The United States has a great deal to learn both about and from Muslims, Vickers said. "They don't know what we have to offer. When this country talks about family values being important, who is better to speak about that than the Muslims? When this country is trying to prevent the kind of thing that occurred in Colorado, where school children were murdered, who better to look to for answers as to how to raise your children, as to what to teach them, than us? When confronted with the problems of racism and hate-crimes, who better to teach America about this than us?"
Vickers said Muslim morality, family values, and tolerance are firmly grounded in the Qur'an, the Holy Book of Islam. For example, Vickers explained, the appreciation of difference is an injunction stemming directly from the Qur'an. "O you who have believed, let not a people ridicule another people...and do not insult one another and do not call each other by offensive names...O Mankind, indeed We have created you from male and female and made you peoples and tribes that you may know one another."
Vickers said that for too long Muslims have existed in the shadows of America, hoping that in many instances they would not be asked who they are or what they stand for. "The day has come when we must stand up as Muslims for this nation," Vickers continued, "because this nation needs guidance and leadership and God has given us through Islam the tools and faith to lead. It is incumbent upon us to use it for the betterment of this country and the world."
Vickers concluded by calling upon Muslims to use their education, their wealth, and their numbers to participate in the political process, to affect policy, and sow the seeds for new legislation. Vickers urged: "That is our obligation and that is how we must be involved in politics, not as Republicans, or as Democrats, or as Independents, but as Muslims, with our faith before our politics."
U.S. FOREIGN POLICY
In the panel entitled "U.S. Foreign Policy and the Muslim World," Khalid Abdallah, chief representative to the United States of the League of Arab States, noted that the preponderance of power the United States holds enables it to influence through its actions the security, stability, and prosperity of nations around the world. The Arab world, therefore, has been trying to engage the United States in a constructive dialogue to further relations between the two regions, he said. "But as you know, it is not enough that one side is trying by action and behavior to make that relationship better. Rather," he continued, "it depends on both parties."
Mr. Abdallah suggested that to change the imbalance in this equation the United States could model itself after the Arab world in holding up the primacy of international law, respecting the norms of the international community, and in implementing U.N. resolutions. Mr. Abdallah cited two reasons for the diligence with which the Arab world has implemented international law.
"The first reason is that Arabs for many years were and are demanding that Israel respect international law and implement U.N. resolutions," he said. "So Arabs cannot decide when they do not like international law or U.N. resolutions to simply ignore them. Arab countries have accepted U.N. dictates to the point of implementing resolutions against fellow Arabs, as in Iraq and Libya.
"The second reason is that in order to survive in an international system Arab countries have adopted the philosophy that a bad law implemented equally is better than no law at all."
Citing the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty signed in 1970 by 62 countries, Mr. Abdallah explained that in 1995, when the treaty came up for review, all Arab countries were prepared to sign it but Israel refused, as it had in 1970. Nevertheless, the Arab countries were promised by the United States and other U.N. Security Council members that if they would become signatories to the treaty, the U.S. would work to create a nuclear-free Middle East as outlined by previous U.N. resolutions. "However," Mr. Abdallah said, "the United States, contrary to its promise and in consideration of its relationship with Israel, refused to mention in a report regarding the Non-Proliferation Treaty a nuclear-free Middle East."
Also on the foreign policy panel Ambassador Petrit Bushati of Albania described the mass expulsion of ethnic Albanians from Kosovo, the mass killing of Kosovars, and the brutal rape of Kosovar women. What is happening ill Kosovo, the ambassador charged, is a natural extension of the Serbian government's use of repressive tactics to fulfill the idea of a Greater Serbia.
The ambassador urged the audience to support the self-determination of ethnic Albanians and to understand that the Kosovars are not seeking to occupy other lands or to harass other nations. Rather, they are simply resisting against a repressive dictatorship in an effort to preserve their identity, dignity, and basic human rights.
JESSE JACKSON MISSION
Also on Saturday, former presidential candidate Jesse L. Jackson, president of' Rainbow/Push Coalition, Inc., discussed his recent trip to Belgrade to secure the release of three American soldiers. Reverend Jackson complimented Dr. Nazir Khaja, president of AMC's Board of Directors, for the role he played in releasing the American soldiers, saying it was "very strong and effective." Jackson said that his group's meeting with Yugoslav President Milosevic was an attempt to build "a bridge of diplomacy" so that the pains of human suffering would end.
Jackson encouraged American Muslims to join the struggle as American citizens "to make this a perfect American union." He emphasized the significance of issues such as education, women's fights, labor, health care, equal opportunity and protection under the law. Citing the imprisonment in Florida on secret evidence of Dr. Mazen al-Najjar, he said, "We must fight together to release al-Najjar and make America a better place for all of us and leave no one behind...what makes America great is the right to fight for the right."
Lord Ahmed of Rotherham concluded the session with remarks about his appointment to the House of Lords in the U.K. In Britain, he explained, members of the House of Lords have only taken the oath of office using the Old Testament. When Lord Ahmed was appointed as the first Muslim member, he asked that he be allowed to take his oath using the Qur'an, and was given the right to do so. "As Muslims in the U.S. you do play a major role for the Muslims in the rest of the world," he said. "We have followed your footsteps in Britain as you have been the most important voice for Muslims in the world."
Muneer Fareed, director of the Islamic Association of Greater Detroit and Associate professor of Islamic studies at Wayne State University in Detroit, discussed the role of the masjid (mosque) in political awareness by examining the various facets attached to the masjid. According to Professor Fareed, it is imperative to analyze the congregation and for the imam to put in focus the role of the masjid in educating and bringing people to the American political process.
For the most part the masjids and cultural centers in the United States were established by people who had nationalistic sentiments, Dr. Fareed explained. "But, the willingness to participate in the political process is not determined by their ethnicities or nationalities. Rather, their education and affluence determine it. In short, those who are more educated and affluent are more likely to vote and participate."
Dr. Fareed also examined the distinction between African American and immigrant Muslims, suggesting that each has its own historical baggage from which to determine whether they will or will not participate in American politics. African Americans, in addition to consideration of education and affluence, also have to factor in their historical struggle for emancipation from slavery and apartheid, and their basic mistrust of conventional politics.
As for the attitude of immigrant Muslims toward political participation, Professor Fareed said, one can look to the hadith of the Prophet, which says, "Be in this world as if you are a stranger or traveler." In examining the immigrant population one largely finds a traveler mentality, Fareed said. "That is, their focus is primarily international, external. And if they become politically active, they tend to gravitate toward issues that are external: the PaLestinian cause, the Kashmiri cause." And even those who are involved in the American political process tend to use the system to address international or external factors.
However, Dr. Fareed said, within these groups are Muslims who have been Americanized in their focus and now see the need to participate as American Muslims who have local interests and agendas.
Another factor that influences political participation is the imam, or religious leader of the masjid. "Imams in America can be viewed as either professionals or technocrats," he said. "By professional, I mean an imam who went to an Islamic seminary and who has some kind of formal degree in Islamic studies. On the other hand we have people who have a strong Islamic sentiment, an acumen to imbibe a great deal of Islamic knowledge in a short period of time, or have an extensive background in Islamic studies, who then assume the position of imam in their communities."
According to Dr. Fareed, it is these distinctions that determine to a large extent an imam's outlook on political participation. For the professional imam, the perspective will be fairly predictable and largely determined by the institution in which he studied, whether it is Medinah University or Al-Azhar, in Cairo. The technocrat imam is less predictable, Dr. Fareed said, because one does not know from where his political orientation stems.
As Dr. Fareed explained, the imam is a pivotal figure in whether a Muslim community will be a part of the American political landscape. "It is the imam who determines the legality of participation in a nation-state complex, the legality of endorsing a secular-state complex, the legality of implicitly endorsing the U.S. government and its foreign policy."
On the same panel, Anisa Abd al Fattah of the United Association for Studies and Research delivered a powerful speech on Muslims and their involvement in the political community. Asking whether political involvement demands the secularization of Islam and conformity on behalf of the Muslim community, she answered by saying that if Islam is brought into the political spectrum through leadership, it will contribute to the development of a more perfect nation. On the other hand, if Islamic political idealism is reduced to conformity it will only reinforce the imperfection in an already flawed system.
"Islam is not in pursuit of power. Islam has power and this is our advantage. We are not in pursuit of wealth. We are not in pursuit of influence. We are in pursuit of change, and Allah made it a duty of the Muslim wherever he is to propagate the message of change," she concluded.
Omar Ahmed, founder and chairman of the board of directors of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), delineated for the audience a strategy to foster political consciousness in the body of the Muslim community. At the center of Mr. Ahmed's approach was the masjid, the center of community life for Muslims. It is at this site of weekly interface, Mr. Ahmed said, that political awareness can be fostered.
First, the masjid can be used as a place to educate the community about the necessity and benefits of political activism. The masjid can also be used to hold candidate forums to make local representatives aware of the issues that concern the Muslim community. Third, Mr. Ahmed said, the masjid can be used to encourage people to participate in local elections and to mobilize the community. Fourth, the masjid could take advantage of Muslim holidays, on which large numbers are present, to hold voter registration drives. Last, and most important, the masjid is a place where women can get involved in educating the younger generation about political activism and encouraging them to broaden into fields such as law and journalism.
Dr. Abdul Hakeem Jackson, president of the Shari'ah Scholars Association of North America (SSANA), cautioned the audience that although different Muslim communities share the same values they may not always share the same interests. Secondly, Dr. Jackson suggested that part of the process of bringing Muslims to political awareness must include a mechanism for accommodating different interests.
He echoed concerns voiced by Dr. Fareed in asking the audience, "What does it mean to vote for a congressman who is for the Palestinians but against the Kashmiri cause and how will these issues play out in the broader Muslim community?" Again, Dr. Jackson suggested that the Muslim community, if unequipped to accommodate political differences, would experience a level of division and resentment that would defeat the legitimate purpose of political participation; that is, promoting the integrity and welfare of Islam and the Muslims.
Dr. Jackson also voiced concerns about using the masjid as a place from which to bring Muslims into political consciousness. "I say that precisely because of the potential of these issues to divide the Muslims so thoroughly. We have to be very honest and serious about this. If you are talking about these complex issues, we have to recognize the nature, educational level, political background, socioeconomic level, etc., of the people who are coming to the mosque. This is not to say that Muslims should not be fostering political awareness, but that I am not sure the mosque is the place in which all this activity should be taking place."
In place of the mosque, Dr. Jackson proposed that the Islamic schools be used to educate the youth about political involvement through the outlook and principles of Islam. "By the time these young people reach adulthood they will have been imbued with the political apparatus that will allow them to accommodate this very discussion," Dr. Jackson said.
Dr. Jackson ended by commenting on the ongoing debate regarding the legitimacy of political participation from the perspective of the Shari'ah (Islamic law). "Some people are not, from the perspective of the Shari'ah, convinced of the legitimacy of this and we have to establish a discourse and dialog that holds out the promise of bringing them along. We are still in the mold of looking at discussions as a zero-sum proposition." Rather than using that approach, Dr. Jackson said, "I urge that we see the virtues of both sides and agree to continue the discussion."
The last panelist, Imam Sayed Hassan Qazwini, leader of the Islamic Center of America in Detroit, MI, began by looking back to the role of the masjid during the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). "The Prophet converted the masjid to be the place for his government and not only to be the place for worshiping Allah. The Prophet used to govern his people from the masjid, send delegations from the masjid and educate people in the masjid." Unfortunately, the masjid in the Middle East has lost the function it had during the time of the Prophet, Imam Qazwini said, and has become a place from which governments propagate their own agendas.
Imam Qazwini continued by calling for religious leaders in the United States to revive the original function of the masjid. Not only can we disseminate religious knowledge from the masjid, Imam Qazwini said, but we also can use it as a place from which we can encourage our communities to be involved in the political process. "We have to participate in the political system," Imam Qazwini said, "because this is the only way we have to protect ourselves, our Muslim communities, and to defend Muslims all over the world."
Khalid Turaani, outgoing director of government relations for the American Muslim Council, began the discussion of the final session of the convention, "Jerusalem: the First Qiblah," by announcing the creation of American Muslims for Jerusalem (AMJ), an advocacy group dedicated to reflecting the Islamic perspective on the issue of Jerusalem and to discussing the plight of its people. Creation of the organization was sponsored by, among others, the American Muslim Council, American Muslim Alliance, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Islamic Association of North America, Islamic Circle of North America, and Impact magazine.
Turaani, the executive director of AMJ, explained that under the precepts of Islam, Jerusalem would be a city that offered peace, tolerance and inclusivity to all its inhabitants, whether Muslim, Christian, or Jewish.
This, Turaani said, is in stark contrast to the injustice that prevails under Israeli control. "As I speak to you," Turrani continued, "Jerusalem is a place where people's dignity is being taken, where people's land is being seized, where people's homes are being destroyed and where people's right to reside in Jerusalem is being forcibly taken from them. The rate of Jerusalem ID card confiscation has skyrocketed 600 percent in the last two years. In my mind," Turaani said, "this is the purest form of ethnic cleansing and the clearest form of apartheid rule."
HISTORY OF JERUSALEM
Keynote speaker Dr. Walid Khalidi, general secretary of the Institute for Palestine Studies, adviser to the Jordanian-Palestinian delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference, and world authority on the Arab-Israeli conflict, captivated his audience in his moving account of Jerusalem.
Dr. Khalidi began his discussion of Jerusalem in 638 A.D., the year in which Muslim Arabs, with the help of local Arabs, captured Jerusalem from the Byzantine Christians. "Except for the 100-year crusader interlude in the 12th century and until its capture by Britain from the Ottoman Turks in 1917," Dr. Khalidi said, "Jerusalem remained under Muslim sovereign rule for about 1,200 years."
Continuing, Dr. Khalidi said that there has never been an historic conflict between Islam and Judaism over Jerusalem. On the contrary, it was under the protection of Islam that Jews returned to Jerusalem after having been expelled.
However, Dr. Khalidi explained, with the advent of political Zionism a conflict over Jerusalem between Islam and Judaism emerged. This conflict intensified as both Britain and the United States extended massive amounts of support to Israel. As Dr. Khalidi said, "Because of this Western help, Israel's current quest of exclusive control and superprivileged status in both West and East Jerusalem and its determination to turn the two halves of the city into what it calls its united and eternal capital are seen by Islam and Christian Arabs as but the latest phase in a historical conflict over Jerusalem and as a latter day Western crusade by proxy."
Dr. Khalidi explained that, for 16 to 17 months, Jerusalem was the direction to which the early Muslims turned in their prayers and is to this day known as the first of the two qiblahs. The holiness of Jerusalem was further consecrated in the Qur'an, Sura 17, which describes a miraculous nocturnal journey, the Isra, by the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) from Mecca to Jerusalem," Dr. Khalidi said. "According to Muslim tradition it was also from Jerusalem that Muhammad (pbuh) ascended to heaven to within less than 2 bow-lengths of the presence of God."
In talking about the Muslim connection with Jerusalem, Dr. Khalidi narrated the account of the entrance of Umar, the second caliph after the Prophet, into Jerusalem. "What is known in the West as the Temple Mount and in Islam as al-Haram al-Sharif lay vacant at the time Caliph Umar entered the city in 638 A.D. The Byzantines had used it as a garbage dump. But for the Muslims it contained the rock from which the Prophet's ascension is believed to have taken place. According to Muslim chronicles, Umar started cleaning it in person, carrying the dirt in his robe. His army followed suit until the whole area was cleansed and sprinkled with scent, whereupon Umar built Jerusalem's first mosque."
After moving through the history of Jerusalem, Dr. Khalidi discussed the creation of the state of Israel in 1948 and the conquest of West Jerusalem, which resulted in the expulsion of 30,000 Palestinians. "It was also at this time," Dr. Khalidi said, "that Israel destroyed 400 Palestinian villages, causing an exodus of 750,000 Palestinians, both Christian and Muslim."
Twenty years later, in 1967, Israel seized East Jerusalem in violation of international law. Within weeks of the conquest of East Jerusalem 135 houses adjacent to the Wailing Wall were demolished. Dr. Khalidi said that before the end of June 1967 East Jerusalem's borders were extended from 6 square kilometers to 73 square kilometers at the expense of the occupied territories of the West Bank. This annexation to Jerusalem (and to Israel, according to the Israelis) of an additional 67 square kilometers was in direct violation of the Geneva Convention, Dr. Khalidi said.
"Within two years of the conquest of East Jerusalem a further 626 buildings inside the Old City were confiscated and bulldozed and some 6,000 Palestinians were expelled from their homes," he continued. Nowhere in the occupied territories has Israeli colonization been as pervasive as in and around East Jerusalem," Dr. Khalidi charged.
"This has taken place in three concentric circles. The innermost of these circles is the annexed 73 square kilometers of the extended municipal boundaries of East Jerusalem. Within this inner circle of East Jerusalem, the number of Israeli settlers was zero in 1967 and is now 170,000. Ninety-five percent of these settlers are settled on confiscated Palestinian land. Thus the percentage of Israelis within this inner circle has risen from zero to 52 percent. The second and third circles are what is called Greater Jerusalem (GJ) and Metropolitan Jerusalem (MJ), respectively, and have not yet been formally annexed by Israel. GJ encloses 260 sq. km. of Palestinian territory and MJ encloses 340 sq. km. of Palestinian land with a total of 350,000 Palestinians." Although only 17,000 Israeli settlers have been settled in these two outer circles to date, the intention is to increase that number to 500,000 by the year 2015, Dr. Khalidi explained.
He suggested that despite the U.N. resolutions condemning Israel's policy in East Jerusalem, the $85 billion provided to Israel by the United States since 1967 has allowed for and funded the further colonization of East Jerusalem.
In closing, Dr. Khalidi put forth four conditions he envisages as necessary for peace to emerge: "no monopoly of sovereignty over both halves of the city by any one party, no aristocracy of religious standing bestowing pre-eminence on any single faith at the expense of the others, no conqueror-conquered, confiscator-confiscated, displacer-displaced equation in the relationship between Jerusalem's residents, and equal cognizance of the political and religious-political dimensions of Jerusalem for all sides."
The conference ended with the presentation of two awards. Publisher Andrew Killgore and executive editor Richard Curtiss accepted the Abu Saud Excellence Award to The Washington Report on Middle East Affairs for its "outstanding contribution on behalf of the Muslim community by committing itself since its inception to providing an honest and unbiased account of the realities of the Middle East."
In presenting the award Mr. Turaani urged AMC members to subscribe to the magazine and said, "It is publications such as the Washington Report that our communities can rely on for well-compiled and accurate information regarding the Middle East."
In accepting the award the publisher and executive editor paid special tribute to Donna Bourne Curtiss for her 18 years of service as a part-time volunteer on the magazine.
The second award recipient, the Holy Land Foundation, was honored for its work in alleviating the humanitarian needs of Palestinians living in refugee camps in Lebanon, Palestine, and Jordan. The Holy Land Foundation was also commended for its support of the Kosovar refugees and for its support of the victims in the Oklahoma City tornadoes. Accepting the award, Holy Land Foundation director Shukri Abu Bakr noted that "although Holy Land Foundation is a non-profit organization, we profit the lives of many Palestinians."
When asked to evaluate the AMC's 8th annual convention, Omar Ahmed, president of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR), thanked the AMC for its effort to bring together American Muslims once a year and encourage them to become politically involved. "AMC is a strong Islamic lobbyist organization that has been serving the Muslim community and representing the American perspective to the political establishment," he said.
The AMC 8th annual convention attracted more than 500 people from throughout the U.S. to participate in its efforts to raise political awareness and participation among members of the rapidly growing American Islamic community. -- Sadia Razaq & Raja' Abu-Jabr
Articles may be reprinted with proper attribution, except for photos and cartoons. Article copyright American Educational Trust.
Photo (Muthnana al-Hanouti)…