Zafar Siddiqui

Zafar Siddiqui is a co-founder of the Islamic Resource Group (IRG), an educational outreach organization dedicated to building bridges between Muslims and people of other faiths. He currently serves as the director of interfaith and civic relations at IRG. Read more about Zafar Siddiqui.

On Condemning Terrorism

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: December 17, 2014 - 9:59 AM

I read the sad news in the Star Tribune about the Pakistani Taliban killing 141 children at a school in Peshawar. The very mention of a school shooting brings back terrible memories of Columbine, Sandy Hook, and other such tragedies. I decided to read through the readers’ comments. What I expected was a show of empathy and solidarity with the hapless parents of these dozens of kids who died at the hands of terrorists. However, to my utter shock, I saw some blaming Islam, while others were regurgitating the oft answered question “Why are Muslims not condemning terrorism.”

Coming on the heels of the terror in Sydney, wreaked by a deranged lunatic who happened to be Muslim, this tragedy in Pakistan shocked the world to its core. The savagery of this terrorist act can be gauged by the fact that even the Afghan Taliban issued a condemnation of this action by the Pakistani Taliban.

As I was going through my Facebook page, I came across an incredibly eloquent and truly heartfelt post by Munazza Humayun, a Twin Cities Muslim and an attorney by profession. This expression of outrage and frustration is something I believe is felt by a vast majority of American Muslims. I am reproducing her post with her permission below.

Another day, another tragedy. More grumbling from certain quarters that "moderate" Muslims are silent, that they don't condemn terrorism and tacitly support it. And once again, I try to decide whether I should write something. You know, to condemn terrorism, being a "moderate" Muslim and all (whatever that means).

I guess I'll give it a shot.

"I don't support killing children." 

But that seems really weak. Doesn't go far enough.

"I strongly condemn the killing of innocent people."

No. Not profound enough. Sounds like a prepared statement. Doesn't seem heartfelt.

So what would be heartfelt? Unfortunately, what's heartfelt is not eloquent. It provides no answers. No satisfying explanation that neatly distances "moderate Muslims" from the ideologies of terrorists. Because the truth is, I can't wrap my mind around, let alone be able to explain to someone else, what the ideologies of terrorists are.

Here's the truth: I don't understand. I just don't. I don't know how anyone could justify this. It makes me sad. The kind of sad where you find tears suddenly rolling down your cheeks, tears for strangers, while you're sitting in a deli eating breakfast and CNN comes on the TV, with a story about the lawyer who was killed in the Sydney cafe siege while trying to protect her pregnant friend from gunfire. Followed by picture after picture from Peshawar of parents and relatives with grief-stricken faces, clutching their dead children.

I'm sad that I have to write this and prove my humanity. And I doubt that this will satisfy those who demand that the "silent" Muslim majority speak out against terrorism. But I suspect that this captures what many Muslims feel every time something like this happens. We feel numb, lost, distraught, sick, sometimes unable to keep the tears from spilling in public places, and often unable to find the magic words that would put that special "Moderate Muslim" gloss on the standard, average-person reaction to inexplicable, sickening violence.

My heartfelt condolences to the parents and relatives of the students who lost their lives in this senseless tragedy in Pakistan. I pray that all the children in the world are safe from any harm. 

Meet a Minnesota Muslim Veteran

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: November 11, 2014 - 11:20 PM

Yasir Ishtaiwi, member of Red Bulls Minnesota Army National Guard

Thank you to all veterans for serving our country and protecting our freedoms!

The Muslim Experience in Minnesota project aims to capture and convey the Muslim experience in Minnesota through oral interviews and photographic portraits. This Minnesota Historical Society funded project documented 40 Minnesota Muslims chosen carefully to represent a diverse collection of experiences.

Continuing in the series of interviews from the Muslim Experience in Minnesota project, in this entry, I feature Yaser Ishtaiwi, a member of the Red Bulls Minnesota Army National Guard and a veteran of Iraq war. Here is an excerpt from his hour-long interview which can be found at this link.

“I joined the Army National Guard in 1992 and since that time I have been committed to the Guard. Right now, I have a family and I’m still committed to the Guard and everything I did before. I served two years in Iraq, between 2005 to 2007, with the Red Bulls Minnesota Army National Guard. And right now I work with my engineering degree as a product development engineer in one of the leading companies in Minnesota.

My family has long ties with the United States. My grandfather from my mom’s side came to the States in 1935 and he worked here for a while. My mom’s cousin actually was a captain in the US army serving in Vietnam in 1966. When I came, I came in ’89 to continue education, and that’s the reason I came. Originally I am from a city 10 miles north of Jerusalem in what’s called the West Bank, Palestine right now.

I am a strong supporter of Muslim integration in this society: bring down all the walls, talk to your neighbors, make business with your neighbors or people that you know if you have common ground of a business ideas and things like that.

Working with the Muslim community is something that I love to do from early time I came here to the States, because to find a place where you feel that you are not a stranger, you have to connect with your community. I always tell my friends and everybody I interact with, ‘we want to be good citizens, ask for our rights as good citizens. But at the same time we have to fulfill our duties as good citizens, too.’ That’s when you can ask for everything you want as a citizen.”

Minnesota Achieves a Unique Distinction in Christian Muslim Relations

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: November 3, 2014 - 1:22 AM

Minnesota Achieves a Unique Distinction in Christian Muslim Relations
Muslim Christian Dialogue Turns 25

Say, 'O people of the book' [a term which particularly refers to Jews and Christians] 'come to common terms as between us and you: that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him (in His powers and divine attributes); that we erect not from among ourselves lords and patrons other than God.'" (Qur'an,3:64)

The history of dialogue between Muslims and Christians goes back 1400 years when a delegation of Christians visited the Prophet Muhammad in Medina for a dialogue. They stayed in the Prophet’s mosque for three days and even prayed in their own custom when it was time for their prayers. 

In 1989, Minnesota saw the birth of the Muslim Christian Dialogue program jointly organized by the Islamic Center of Minnesota (ICM) and the Minnesota Council of Churches (MCC).  The largest Islamic center in Minnesota and a major Christian umbrella organization coming together for such an edifying project set the tone of Muslim Christian relations in our state.  The increasing Muslim population and an overriding need for Muslims and Christians to understand each other in a deeper way was a major motivator behind the initiation of this program.

There have been similar efforts in other parts of the country and even in Minnesota in the past, but what sets this program apart from others is the consistency and commitment that both the organizers and the audience have shown for the past 25 years. To meet month after month, all the while sustaining the intensity of the spirit for dialogue to understand each other’s religious traditions better, requires a genuine passion for coexistence, acknowledgement of pluralism around us, and a belief in taking ownership to bring about a positive change in Muslim-Christian relationship. The ICM and MCC deserve to be applauded for this tremendous effort.

With close to 300 meetings in the past 25 years, this dialogue has encompassed a wide array of topics pertaining to Islam and Christianity. Many participants in the dialogue have been attending these meetings for years and many others continue to join these gatherings. This dialogue has invariably resulted in the audience gaining a deeper understanding of each other’s faith and, as a result, it has provided a platform where long term relationships between the followers of the world’s two largest faiths have been forged. Even topics that are perceived as “difficult” were discussed in a safe, peaceful, and nurturing environment that encouraged questions and provided honest answers.

According to Owais Bayunus, one of the founding members of this dialogue,  “the value of this dialogue has transcended Christian-Muslim topics and increasingly people from other faith traditions are taking part in the dialogue. This augurs well for an expanded scope for the dialogue as we go past the 25-year milestone.”

This dialogue has served as a model for other such efforts in the Twin Cities. Most notably, the Muslim Christian Dialog Center (MCDC) at the University of St. Thomas drew its inspiration from the Muslim Christian Dialogue of ICM and MCC. The late Prof. Terence Nichols of MCDC was a regular participant in the dialogue.

The Twin Cities is now home to several interfaith efforts. Dialogue involving Muslims, Christians, Jews, Hindus, and Buddhists are now a commonplace occurrence. This is a testimony to the openness of Minnesotans in striving to understand each other.

In a world beset with strife, hate, and violence, the Muslim Christian Dialogue stands out like a beacon, beckoning all toward the way of coexistence, awareness, and peace.

In order to mark this momentous milestone, the ICM and MCC will be hosting a 25 years anniversary celebration on Nov 9 at 5:30 PM at the Islamic Center at 1401 Gardena Avenue, Fridley, MN 55432.

Dr. Jamal Badawi and Dr. Jay Rock will be the keynote speakers at this event. Prior registration is highly recommended as seats are limited. Please register at this link or call the Islamic Center of Minnesota at 763 561 5604.

Hajj - The Abrahamic Connection

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: October 4, 2014 - 1:27 AM

Hundreds of Minnesota Muslims are currently in Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj as part of the several thousand strong contingent from the United States. Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and is a religious obligation that must be performed at least once in a person’s lifetime if one is financially and physically capable.

My wife and I went to the Hajj in 2012. I clearly remember the excitement I felt about undertaking the journey of a lifetime, about which so many Muslims dream.  One of the realizations I had after deciding to do the Hajj was that I was in fact preparing to walk into the footsteps of not only Prophet Muhammad but also into the footsteps of Prophet Abraham. I simply cannot describe my feelings when this realization dawned upon me.

Abraham is considered a monotheist par excellence and the Qur’an accords him the title of Khaleelullah – a friend of God. The Qur’an, time and again, mentions Abraham as a way to highlight the monotheism that he practiced and to encourage Jews, Christians, and Muslims to follow his way.

“And who is better in religion than one who submits himself to God while being a doer of good and follows the religion of Abraham, inclining toward truth? And God took Abraham as an intimate friend.” (Qur’an 4:125)

As we reached the city of Mecca, I could only think of how this once-barren stretch of land with its harsh climate is now teeming with millions of people coming to commemorate Abraham and his family’s struggles and their perfect dedication and devotion to God.

Abraham is said to have left his wife Hagar and his first-born son Ishmael in Mecca at God’s command. In order to find water for Ishmael, Hagar ran between the two hills called Safa and Marwa seven times. As she sat exhausted after a futile search, Angel Gabriel caused a spring to burst forth near her and this is called the Zam Zam spring. Abraham returned to the valley to visit his wife and son and, according to historical accounts, Abraham and Ishmael built the sacred Kaba, a cubical structure, as a house of worship of One God.

Before starting the rituals of Hajj, I was dressed in simple two-piece, white garment called Ihram. And so were millions of others around me. My wife and I entered the Haram Al Shareef (the sacred sanctuary) and with great anticipation and trepidation, we set our eyes for the first time in our lives on the Kaba. It was a sight to behold! We simply could not take our eyes off the Kaba, the symbol of pure monotheism. We said our prayers following the tradition of Abraham and Muhammad and set out to do the Tawaf (walking around the Kaba) along with millions of others, all the while reciting praises of God. After the Tawaf, we drank water from the spring of Zam Zam and set out to walk into the footsteps of Hagar by walking between the two hills of Safa and Marwa.

As part of the rituals of Hajj, we encamped in the tent city of Mina for five days. It was like an extreme camping trip. Unmindful of food or comfort, millions of people were focused on their spiritual growth. The trip to the plains of Arafat, which Muslims believe will be the place where the Day of Judgment will be established, was just surreal. The whole area was covered with pilgrims praying to God in the most amazing expression of submission and sincerity.

Abraham was tested by God in profound ways. Ishmael and Issac were born when he was very old. He was tested further when he was asked by God to sacrifice his son Ishmael. The absolute Muslim (one who submitted to God) that he was, he set out to fulfill God’s command. According to Islamic historical sources, Satan tried to dissuade him from obeying God three times before he reached his destination. At each of these three places, Abraham is said to have thrown pebbles at Satan to reject his temptations. As Abraham was ready to sacrifice his son, God replaced him with a ram and elevated Abraham’s stature forever.

From the tents of Mina, millions of pilgrims walk a few miles to reach the place where there are three pillars a few meters apart from each other. These signify the locations that Satan tried to sway Abraham’s resolve. Muslims copy the actions of Abraham and throw small pebbles at these three pillars to symbolically reject Satan and his insinuations. It is a tradition to sacrifice a lamb or goat (or a cow or camel) to follow and honor Abraham’s example, which since has become an Islamic ritual for all Muslims for all times to come.

After finishing Hajj, I felt closer than ever to Abraham and other prophets of God including Issac, Ishmael, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Jesus, and Muhammad (peace be upon them all).

This unique gathering of human family truly signifies the brotherhood and sisterhood of people from every race and nationality. Malcolm X’s words kept ringing in my ears:

“"Never have I witnessed such sincere hospitality and overwhelming spirit of true brotherhood as is practiced by people of all colors and races here in this ancient Holy Land, the home of Abraham, Muhammad and all the other Prophets of the Holy Scriptures. For the past week, I have been utterly speechless and spellbound by the graciousness I see displayed all around me by people of all colors.

"During the past eleven days here in the Muslim world, I have eaten from the same plate, drunk from the same glass, and slept on the same rug - while praying to the same God - with fellow Muslims, whose eyes were the bluest of blue, whose hair was the blondest of blond, and whose skin was the whitest of white. And in the words and in the deeds of the white Muslims, I felt the same sincerity that I felt among the black African Muslims of Nigeria, Sudan and Ghana."

In a world plagued with the cancer of racism, I found the Hajj’s clarion call to efface the artificial distinctions of race, color, nationality, economic background, or any other man-made factor to be a powerful motivator. The takeaways from Hajj were far too many and striving to walk into the footsteps of these great messengers of God is by no means an easy task. However, God raises the rank of human beings above the angels precisely because humans have free will and angels don’t. And to utilize their freewill to obey God by choice is the pinnacle of human pursuit.  

Indian Prime Minister's Visit to the U.S. Cannot Be Divorced from His Past

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: September 26, 2014 - 1:10 AM

The United States finds itself in a peculiar situation with the impending arrival of India's newly elected Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, on September 27, 2014. Indian prime ministers have always received red carpet welcomes in the United States due to our shared democratic ideals and an increasing cooperation in the economic and military arenas. The camaraderie between the world's oldest and the world's largest democracies is no surprise. However, the current prime minister of India was a persona non grata in the United States until just a few months ago. He 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 had been issued. Modi was the Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat when violence against minorities was carried out under his watch in the Gujarat pogroms of 2002.

Honoring the diplomatic protocol, President Obama has extended an invitation to Modi to visit the United States. President Obama most certainly is aware of Modi's dubious past and Modi is also acutely cognizant of being kept away from the shores of the United States until recently. The United States and India have an unshakable bond and most certainly need to move ahead with cooperation on economic, security, technology, and military fronts. However, the United States should not overlook the poor record of religious freedom and the dismal human rights violations of Modi's party, which finds its ideology in a Hindu supremacist group called the  Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). As the US discusses bilateral cooperation on various fronts, it must also address guarantees of religious freedom and safety of minorities.

It is a cause for concern that India's increasingly strident Hindu right and its ever lengthening shadow on India's polity has engendered a sense of insecurity and vulnerability for its minorities, such as Muslims and Christians. The BJP, Modi's political party, has so far failed to assuage the feeling of apprehension among India's minorities because of its provocative positions and hateful propaganda. In an apparent subversion of India’s constitutional guarantees, the BJP and its allies are banning people from converting to Christianity or Islam. These elements are also indulging in forceful reconverstion of Christians back to Hinduism.They are creating an atmosphere of hate and fear between Hindus and Muslims by spreading the myth of “Love Jihad” that accuses Muslim men of marrying Hindu women merely to convert them. Freedom of speech has taken a severe beating as many people have been arrested for Facebook posts that were critical of Modi and his party members.

In an interview with Fareed Zakaria of CNN on September 21, 2014, Modi made an uncharacteristic, albeit welcome, remark regarding Indian Muslims, “If anyone thinks that Indian Muslims will dance to their (Al Qaeda) tunes, they are delusional. Indian Muslims will live for India, they will die for India. They will not want anything bad for India.” Since becoming prime minister, Modi's deafening silence regarding the deadly rhetoric from some extreme elements in his party is a reason to be cautious about his above statement.

Modi ought to be focusing on the life of Gandhi for guidance as opposed to his current fascination with the RSS and its leadership. It might be relevant to remember that Gandhi's life was cut short by a member of the RSS and this organization was banned for a period of time in the aftermath of Gandhi's assassination.

India's minorities have real fears and concerns. Modi must make a clean break from his past and embrace all Indians and ensure the safety of their life, property, and dignity as enshrined in India’s constitution.

Minnesota Muslims to Host Seminar for Law Enforcement

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: September 23, 2014 - 11:42 PM

The Minnesota Muslim community will be hosting a day-long seminar for law enforcement personnel titled “Muslims, Somalis, and Law Enforcement in Minnesota: Building Effective Relationships.” This seminar will emphasize community engagement and the enhancement of mutual understanding between law enforcement and the Muslim community in Minnesota.

This seminar is POST-accredited and is organized by 15 Muslim community organizations, in collaboration with law enforcement officers statewide. This seminar is approved for 6 Continuing Education Credits (POST Course Number: 10382-001).

The seminar is open to all law enforcement officers, crime prevention specialists, administrative and support staff in government and law enforcement departments, investigators, community outreach personnel, and any related positions. Individuals interested in registering can visit: www.mnpolicetraining.net or call 612-206-3360.

WHAT: Muslims, Somalis and Law Enforcement in Minnesota: Building Effective Relationships
WHEN: Wednesday, September 24, 2014, 9:00 am to 3:30 pm

According to CAIR-MN Countering Islamophobia Coordinator Amber Michel, “This seminar has been prepared to meet the unique needs of the law enforcement community in our state and will feature officers and community experts as presenters throughout the day.” The program will also feature a panel of Muslim police officers and a networking lunch with the Minnesota Muslim community leaders.

The training will present factual and thorough information about Islam, Muslims and the Somali community; present specific strategies for building effective relationships with the Muslim and Somali communities; provide participants with techniques for practical application of these strategies in the law enforcement setting; and facilitate positive classroom discussion that enhances understanding.

This event is a joint initiative of Abubakar As-Saddique Islamic Center, the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-MN), EngageMN, Islamic Center of Minnesota, Islamic Civic Society of America, Islamic Resource Group, Jaafari Islamic Center, Masjid An-Nur, Minnesota Dawah Institute, Northwest Islamic Community Center, Sisters Need a Place, Somali Action Alliance, and Somali Resources & Associates.

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