Elections in the world's largest democracy, India, have come to an end after eight arduous phases of voting. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and its allies, riding on the anti-incumbency wave and aided by several factors such as a series of high profile corruption scandals of the ruling Congress party, have won the elections with an absolute majority in India's 543 member parliament. The BJP rode to victory on 31% of the total votes cast in the elections. Narendara Modi, the controversial and deeply polarizing prime ministerial candidate of the BJP, also played a key role in his party's victory.
Modi was considered a persona non grata by the United States and was denied entry into the country in 2005 on the grounds of a religious freedom violation under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the first and only time such a denial has been issued. This brings up a very interesting scenario for US-India relations. Given the deeply troubling background of Modi and his dismal record on human rights, the violence against minorities that was carried out under his watch in the Gujarat pogroms of 2002, and his association with the Hindu supremacist group called the RSS, the US needs to move cautiously in establishing a relationship with the new government led by Modi.
The United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) recently released a comprehensive report on the state of religious freedom and its impact on minorities in India. The Obama administration must, as a priority, adopt the USCIRF recommendations on including religious freedom and human rights in any strategic partnership that the US establishes with India. This assumes an added urgency considering the track record of the BJP and its leader. The USCIRF recommendations are as follows:
The US and India have a great role to play in furthering democratic ideals in the world. The cornerstone of democracy is invariably rooted in how well a democratic country ensures the safety and security of minorities and an equal opportunity for all at the economic table - not just on paper but in practice as well.
"Your Lord hath decreed that ye worship none but Him, and that ye be kind to parents. Whether one or both of them attain old age in thy life, say not to them a word of contempt, nor repel them, but address them in terms of honor. And out of kindness, lower to them the wing of humility, and say: ‘My Lord! bestow on them Thy Mercy even as they cherished me in childhood' " Qur’an (17:23-24)
"Heaven lies under the feet of your mother." (Prophet Muhammad)
This is taught to Muslim children around the world. When I was a child, I remember revering the ground where my mother walked and looking intently at it to see how heaven looked. As I grew up, the purport of this most beautiful teaching about mothers became clearer to me. Indeed, in the obedience, reverence, love, respect, adoration and service of one's mother lies the key to attaining paradise.
To all the mothers out there - I would like to express my deepest regard and offer my sincere thanks for taking on this most noble role! You are the real heroes who nurture the young minds and make our human civilization thrive. The travails of pregnancy that you endure, the unmatched dedication in caring for the newborn, and the selfless compassion that you show; there is no equal to that. Dictionaries will beat a retreat if one were to try to find the right word to say "thank you" to you !
As a tribute to mothers, I would like to introduce some amazing Minnesota Muslim mothers.
Happy Mother's Day!
Arlene El-Amin with her oldest son
I am Arlene El-Amin. I have five children, 20 grandchildren and 4 great-grandchildren (last count).
I am grateful to have this opportunity to try to shape their lives to be in service to Allah and their fellow man and woman. My oldest will be 45, Insha'Allah, in June and my youngest just turned 35. A mother's work is NEVER done. Just because they reach the age of majority, you still give advice, asked for and not asked for. My goal has been, and continues to be, a role model for them. Not perfect but sincerely striving to keep my Islamic values as the measuring stick for myself and them, and their babies and their babies to live by. Allah has been merciful and my family blessed. My family has been intact for almost half a century. Praise be to G'd.
My name is Krista Siddiqui and I am a mother of four beautiful, confident, and compassionate children. I spent the majority of their lives to this point staying home with them - ensuring they would become the wonderful human beings that I know they will be. Every moment was treasured, every challenge was rewarding, every hug and kiss was priceless. Those young years wtih my children flew by, and now they are all in school, busy with sports and friends. I have also been busy with school and finally finished my Master's degree. I am now working in the field of my choice. I am thrilled to be at this point in my life where I am able to give back to others every day in the job that I perform. However, my heart still melts every time my littlest wraps her arms around me though. No matter where I am in life or what I'm doing ... I am always Mama first - and forever will giving hugs, kisses and love, be the job I perform best.
Paradise lies beneath her feet,” golden words to any mother’s ears. It’s this elevated status that God has blessed mothers with that helps us play such an important role in the lives of our children. Teaching the important things in life, to love, laugh, respect, forgive, work hard, show compassion, empathy and so much more.
My children and family have always been my top priority in life. Now, did I sacrifice school and put my career on hold for that? Some would argue yes, but I would say no. I always tried to find a balance when pursing graduate school with a newborn, focusing in on my marketing career with two kids, or following my passion into the non-profit with pre-teen drama and an overactive boy!
To me, Mother’s Day has always been the day my daughter was born. That’s the day I became a mother. Three and a half years later, my son was born. So, do I think that’s Mother’s Day too? Absolutely! Surviving the first round out of motherhood is a feat in itself!
I’m just like any other mom- making it through the morning rush, chaperoning field trips, calligraphy class, karate class, Qur’an class, tennis lessons, bike rides, and bedtime stories. My kids told me I was doing a pretty good job. Tough judges, but I'll take that word of confidence any day.
I believe motherhood means love and protection. I cherish every moment I have with my children. I love to rediscover the world through their eyes. We raise caterpillars in the spring, fish in a nearby pond, and love to learn more about the world around us. I want to teach my children to care for the earth and to have love and concern for their fellow human beings. We belong to one amazing human family and we can learn so much from one another.
My name is Sarah Irshad. I was born in Karachi, Pakistan. I did my bachelors in civil engineering from NED University of Karachi. I am married to Adeel Ahmed and we have three beautiful daughters, The first thing that comes to my mind when talking about motherhood is the 'learning process' associated with this experience. For example, learning how to manage stress, how to organize time, how to bring discipline in your life so that you can serve as a role model for your children, and lastly learning how to be patient. I would also like to acknowledge the tremendous role my husband Adeel has played in the parenting of our children. I stayed home with my kids when they were young. Currently I work part time at Hennepin Technical College as a math tutor. InshaAllah (God willing) I am planning to pursue my masters in mathematics education from the University of Minnesota.
I have been a mother for 25 years now and time has passed by so fast. My oldest son is already married and now I am also a mother-in-law. I have been fortunate to always be home with my children and I have witnessed their first words, their first steps, their first day in preschool - their first everything. I am thankful for all these memories and I will treasure them as long as I live. Being a mother is probably the most challenging job there is, but I hope I have been able to teach my children to appreciate what they have, to stay true to their faith, and to follow their dreams. I can't wait to see them raise their own children.
Dr. Terry Nichols (R-L): Dr. Nichols, Dr. Ozdemir, Dr. Badawi, Siddiqui
Minnesota lost a great pioneer in interfaith relations. Dr. Terry Nichols, a professor of theology, the founder and co-director of the Muslim Christian Dialogue Center (MCDC) at the University of St. Thomas, passed away on Saturday, April 12, 2014. It is hard to express the sense of loss in words. Terry has been a great colleague, friend, and advisor.
I first met Terry at an interfaith gathering almost a decade ago. His sincere, affable, and humble personality immediately had a strong impact on me. Having studied in a Catholic school since I was in preschool, I have great memories of interacting with some wonderful representatives of the Catholic community, and Terry reminded me of them.
Terry's efforts at the MCDC at the University of St. Thomas were phenomenal. As a member of the advisory board of the MCDC, I had the good fortune of seeing this center develop into a hub of Catholic-Muslim relations over the years. I am impressed by the great progress the center has made under Terry's leadership, and MCDC's co-director, Dr. Adil Ozdemir. The center held several events, seminars, conferences, and dialogues involving Muslims and Christians.
Attending the quarterly meetings of the advisory board was something I greatly looked forward to. Terry reached out to the local Muslim community with great sincerity and genuine friendship. I am already reading the messages of condolences pouring in from Minnesota Muslims on the death of this great friend of the community.
When the Islamic Resources Group (IRG) initiated the "Building Bridges Awards" project several years ago, it was an easy decision to choose the person who would receive the first award in the interfaith category- Terry.
Terry's reassuring presence at meetings was greatly valued. The fresh ideas, the sincere efforts toward finding a common ground between Muslims and Catholics, lending an ear to others, were all the hallmarks of Terry's contributions at interfaith gatherings. Terry had no hesitation in endorsing Pope John Paul II's views on Catholic-Muslim relations.
Last month, I had the privilege of attending the World Interfaith Harmony Dinner at the United Theological Seminary with Terry. I did not know that it would be the last time I would see him. I am glad I got a chance to have dinner with him, pray for his health, and we even discussed plans to further strengthen Muslim-Catholic relations.
I will never forget Terry's friendship. Friends like him are rare to find. Terry leaves behind shoes too big to fill. May God give patience to Terry's family and friends during this difficult time. We are in distress over this huge loss and reflecting on the amazing legacy Terry leaves behind.
His obituary and funeral notice can be found at this link.
Minnesota based, Islamic Resource Group (IRG) released the following statement on the shooting at the Jewish Community Center & Assisted Living Centers in Kansas City, Missouri.
“Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victims, families, and the larger Jewish community after today's shooting at the Jewish Community Center & Assisted Living Centers in Kansas City, Missouri.
Acts of violence against faith groups is an especially odious offense, as it violates the principles of peace that all major religions are founded upon. Whether the target is a Sikh gurudwara in Wisconsin, a Jewish center in Missouri, a Hindu temple in Minnesota, or a mosque in Tennessee, we must all unite against the kind of misled anger and hatred that leads to violence.
We offer our condolences to the families who lost their loved ones and stand with the Jewish community against hatred, bigotry, and violence.”
India’s 814 million registered voters are set to vote in history’s largest democratic exercise. The general elections are being watched with keen interest by the rest of the world. Adding to the mix of India’s commitment to democracy is the concern about the possibility of the extremist Hindu nationalists coming to power under the leadership of Narendra Modi, Modi is considered persona non grata in the United States, and was denied entry into the country in 2005 on the grounds of a religious freedom violation under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998, the first and only time such a denial has been issued.
While the US has human rights as part of its US-China strategic dialogue, human rights and religious freedom issues are missing from the US-India strategic dialogue framework. When India is on the brink of electing a prime minister with the blood of 2,000 people on his hands and belonging to a party with an overt record of oppressing minorities, the incorporation of human rights as part of the bilateral framework assumes a great deal of urgency.
In view of the upcoming Indian elections, the commission sought to examine the impact of the increasing cases of intimidation, discrimination, harassment, and violence against minorities on US-India relationship. The witness list included key human rights leaders as follows:
• Dr. Katrina Lantos Swett, Vice Chair, United States Commission on International Religious Freedom
• John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director, Human Rights Watch
• Robin Phillips, Executive Director, The Advocates for Human Rights
• John Dayal, Member, National Integration Council, Government of India
Robin Phillips, executive director of Minnesota based The Advocates for Human Rights testified at a hearing before the United States Congress Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission about religious minorities in India. The text of Robin’s comprehensive testimony on “The Plight of Religious Minorities in India” is reproduced below:
For more than 30 years, The Advocates for Human Rights has worked with diaspora communities—people living outside their country of origin or ancestry who retain ties to and interest in that country. Some come to the United States seeking asylum after facing religious persecution. Others come as professionals or students, or to join family members. And some are second- or third-generation immigrants. They are part of our communities, they are your constituents, and their voices should help inform our policies toward their countries of origin and ancestry.
Indian diaspora sounds alarm about religious freedom in India
The Indian diaspora groups with whom we work have consistently expressed concern about religious freedom in India. We share their concerns, including: communal violence; impunity for the instigators of such violence and those in government who may be complicit; anti-conversion laws; vague anti-terrorism laws that facilitate profiling and persecution of Muslims; police and armed forces practices such as encounter killings and torture targeting Muslims; and a culture of impunity for such practices. These practices violate international human rights standards.
Consistent with the concerns we hear, the Pew Research Center recently ranked India as a country with “very high social hostilities involving religion” and “high” government restrictions on religion.
Indian diasporans around the world have been sounding the alarm as elections approach. In the first eight months of 2013, there were 451 incidents of communal violence, up from 410 in all of 2012. The UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief cautions that “political exploitation of communal distinctions” presents “a real risk that [large scale] communal violence might happen again.”
Multifaceted impunity fuels communal violence
Impunity fuels communal violence. This impunity is multifaceted: officials do not hold private parties accountable for communal violence; courts do not hold government officials accountable for sanctioning or encouraging that violence; political parties rally behind political leaders who are implicated in communal violence; obstruction of justice and witness intimidation are commonplace in court procedures; immunity laws shield security forces from accountability; and officials accept torture and extrajudicial killings as the norm.
Some examples raised by Indian diasporans highlight these points. Cases brought against officials alleged to be complicit in the 2002 Gujarat violence have been dismissed for lack of evidence after witnesses were intimidated and prosecutors and judges effectively stood in as defense counsel. UN human rights bodies have described the proceedings as “flawed from the outset,” reflecting concerns of religious bias and high levels of corruption. Whistleblowers in Gujarat law enforcement have faced threats and arrests.
Wounds of past communal violence still fresh, especially for women
The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence against Women visited India last May. She observed that communal violence in India “is frequently explained away by implying that equal aggression was noted on both sides.” By characterizing this violence as “riots,” the government “den[ies] the lack of security for religious . . . minorities, . . . disregarding their right to equal citizenship.” “This issue is of particular concern to many,” the Special Rapporteur noted at the end of her visit last May, “as the wounds of the past are still fresh for women who were beaten, stripped naked, burnt, raped [or] killed because of their religious identity, in the Gujarat massacre of 2002.”
In some communal attacks, police reportedly arrest victims and protect the attackers. And the government has been negligent in its duties to victims displaced by communal violence who are afraid to return home. These internally displaced persons continue to languish in subhuman conditions in isolated settlements.
Human rights defenders and Muslims face harassment, threats, arbitrary arrest
Human rights defenders report serious problems with increased police harassment and arbitrary arrest and detention of Muslims based on false charges of terrorism. Religious minorities have been targeted under an anti-terrorism law that expands the definition of “terrorism”; authorizes warrantless search, seizure, and arrest; and allows detention without charge for up to 180 days.
Indian police confident of impunity for torturing people
While in custody, many suspects are also subject to torture and ill-treatment. The independent Ravi Chander Commission reported that Muslim men were held without charge for several weeks at illegal detention centers and tortured to extract forced confessions of terrorism offenses. In my own personal discussions with Indian police officers, they have been alarmingly candid about their use of torture as a legitimate interrogation technique, signifying a complete disregard for international standards and confidence of impunity for these human rights violations. Not surprisingly, the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture’s request for permission to visit India has been pending for more than 20 years.
Attorneys for religious minorities face threats, violence
The due process rights of accused religious minorities have been further diminished by interference with obtaining legal counsel. Attorneys representing Gujarat victims have faced threats, intimidation, and hostility from colleagues. Multiple bar associations have issued official or unofficial resolutions instructing members not to represent terrorism suspects; there have also been reported incidents of harassment and physical violence against lawyers who represent Muslim defendants.
“Encounter killings” have become state policy in India
In addition, “encounter killings,” or killings that occur during staged clashes between security forces and alleged armed suspects are becoming increasingly common. The UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions reported last year that encounter killings “have become virtually a part of unofficial State policy.”
U.S. must ensure India adequately protects rights of religious minorities
As the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion or Belief observed after a 2008 visit to India, “impunity emboldens forces of intolerance.” There is a serious possibility of increased violence against religious minorities in India in connection with the upcoming elections. India cannot abrogate its obligation to protect the human rights of its citizens in the name of national security. The United States and India stand as democratic and pluralistic nations. As such, we must hold each other accountable to the highest standards of human rights protection. We encourage the United States to take strong bilateral and multilateral action to ensure that the rights of religious minorities in India are adequately protected and that India complies with all of its international human rights obligations.
The Islamic Resource Group (IRG) kicked-off the Tracks in the Snow exhibit by holding a preview event on March 15 at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and then formally inaugurating it at the State Capitol on March 19, 2014.
Tracks in the Snow is the third phase of the Minnesota Muslim Experience project produced by Islamic Resource Group (IRG) through generous support from the Minnesota Historical Society Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund (ACHF). The traveling exhibit is designed to expose Minnesotans to the untold narratives of Minnesota Muslims, a deep-rooted and growing part of the state's community."
Exhibit preview at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts was well attended and received rave reviews
Tracks in the Snow Exhibit" Inaugurated
This exhibit provides a glimpse into the lives of one of the least known and rapidly expanding populations in America and in Minnesota - the Muslim community.
Launch at the State Capitol
On March 19, IRG formally inaugurated the exhibit at the Minnesota Capitol and James Fogerty of Minnesota Historical Society introduced the exhibit to the 200+ audience that were gathered at the Muslim Day at the Capitol (MDAC).
Interested in hosting the exhibit?
IRG plans to take this traveling exhibit around Minnesota. Toward this end, IRG is soliciting interest from organizations to host this exhibit. All inquiries regarding hosting this exhibit should be directed to email@example.com.