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.

Minnesota Loses a Great Champion of Interfaith Dialogue

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: April 14, 2014 - 10:33 PM

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

MN Muslim Group Condemns Shooting at Jewish Centers

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: April 14, 2014 - 12:23 AM

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.”

MN Rights Group Testifies at Congressional Hearing on the Plight of Minorities in India

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: April 6, 2014 - 2:58 AM

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.

MN Muslim Experience Since 1880

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: March 24, 2014 - 11:35 PM

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.

The exhibit preview featured a thought-provoking speech by Dr. Caner Dagli: "American Muslim Identity: An Idea Whose Time Has Passed"

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).
 

James Fogerty of MN Historical Society inaugurating the exhibit at Muslim Day at the Capitol

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 irg@irgmn.org.

An Increasingly Diverse Religious Landscape

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: January 8, 2014 - 12:05 AM

The religious landscape in the U.S. is changing. Our country is getting more religiously diverse.  This change calls for a fundamental change in the way we approach interreligious understanding and outreach. In my very first blog entry, I had outlined the tremendous efforts that are happening in Minnesota.  Since then, these efforts have definitely increased by many orders of magnitude. 

On January 3, 2014,  I got an opportunity to attend a meeting that was called by the leadership of the Dar Al Hijrah mosque that was impacted by the fire in Minneapolis that has so far claimed three lives. It was heartening to see about two dozen representatives from various religious congregations in attendance, and that included representation from the Minnesota Council of Churches, the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), the United Theological Seminary, the Islamic Resource Group (IRG), the Islamic Center of Minnesota among many others.

The outpouring of genuine and heartfelt support toward the members of the mosque and toward those who were impacted by the fire was simply heartwarming. The Dar Al Hijrah mosque is a major partner in interfaith relations in the Twin Cities. It was obvious from the tremendous show of support from various faith-based groups that these efforts do produce strong and long-lasting relationships.

So, how is the religious landscape changing in the United States?

In its December 12, 2013 edition, the Washington Post published maps that were based on the report “2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study” produced by the Association of Statisticians of American Religious Bodies.

One of the maps reproduced below illustrates some interesting stats:   
 

(2010 U.S. Religion Census: Religious Congregations & Membership Study)

  • Islam is the largest non-Christian religion in 20 states.
  • Judaism is the largest non-Christian religion in 15 states.
  • Buddhism is the largest non-Christian religion in 13 states.
  • Hinduism is the largest non-Christian religion in 2 states.
  • Baha’i Faith is the largest non-Christian religion in 1 state.

Minnesotans can be proud of their track record of being at the forefront of interreligious initiatives. These positive interactions strengthen our country’s social fabric and help to enrich one another in profound ways. 

Wisdom of Jesus

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: December 24, 2013 - 5:06 PM

Recently I read an article in the Star Tribune titled, “Christmas is more a cultural than religious event for one-third of Americans, new survey finds.” This article brought to the fore, the wide ranging attitudes toward Christmas. Come the Christmas season, irrespective of the religious tradition that one follows, one’s attention is invariably drawn toward the central figure in this debate – Jesus (peace be upon him). Often missing from this discourse is what do other religious traditions say about Jesus (peace be upon him). I can say with certainty that Islam has the largest body of texts relating to Jesus (peace be upon him) in any non-Christian literature. Also, Islam is the only non-Christian religion that considers Jesus as the Christ or the Messiah.

My previous blog, “Walking in the Footsteps of Jesus,” essentially provided a Qur’anic view of Jesus (peace be upon him). In this blog post, I would like to present to the readers a glimpse into the writings on Jesus from traditional Arabic sources.

The wisdom in these sayings is universal and very much the need of the hour to heed the wise words of Jesus (peace be upon him). 

Jesus was known to have said, "Virtuous action does not consist in doing good to someone who has done good to you - that is merely returning a favor. Virtuous action consists in doing good to those who have wronged you." (Narrated by Ahmad)

Jesus, the son of Mary, said, "Do not speak much without remembering God, for by doing so, you harden your hearts. Surely a hard heart is distant from God though you are unaware. Do not, like lords, look at the faults of others. Rather, like servants, look at your own faults. In truth, humanity is comprised of only two types, the afflicted and the sound. So show mercy to the afflicted, and praise God for well-being." (Narrated by Malik in his Muwatta)

Jesus said to his disciples, “Many a lamp has been extinguished by the wind, and many a devout man has been destroyed by vanity.”  (Narrated by Abu Hamid al-Ghazali)

Jesus used to say,” Too much food kills the soul, just as too much water kills a plant.” (Narrated by Abu Sa’d al-Abi)

Jesus said, “ He who lies much loses his beauty; he who constantly quarrels with men loses his sense of honor; he who worries much grows sick in body; and he whose character is nasty tortures himself.” (Narrated by Abu Bakr ibn Abi al-Dunya)

“At the end of time, there will be religious scholars who preach abstinence but do not themselves abstain, who encourage yearning for the afterlife but do not themselves yearn, who forbid visits to rulers but do not themselves desist, who draw near to the rich and distance themselves from the poor, who recoil from the lowly and fawn upon the mighty. They are the tyrants and the enemies of the Merciful God.” (Narrated by Abdallah Ibn Qutayba)

Christ said, “If you desire to devote yourselves entirely to God and to be the light of the children of Adam, forgive those who have done you evil, visit the sick who do not visit you, be kind to those who are unkind to you, and lend to those who do not repay you.” (Narrated by Ahmad ibn Hanbal)

It is related that Jesus, the son of Mary, peace be upon them, said, “It is of no use to know something if one does not act upon it. In truth, an abundance of knowledge only increases one in pride if one does not act accordingly.” (Narrated by Ahmad)

I would like to wish Christian readers a joyous Christmas holiday season.

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