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.

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.

Rep. Ellison and Rep. McCollum Take a Stand Against Human Rights Abusers

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: December 2, 2013 - 9:24 PM

The United States of America, as the world's most powerful democracy, shares a fraternal bond with other democracies. This is especially true when it comes to the world's largest democracy - India. India can be proud that, since gaining independence from the British in 1947, the nation has had an uninterrupted democratic tradition. It may be mind-boggling, but it's true that with such an incredible diversity of religions, cultures, languages, traditions, and attitudes, Indian democracy asserts itself over these seemingly insurmountable factors. The key to this success has been India's commitment to secularism and its powerful constitution that guarantees equality to all its citizens in every aspect of life.

India is facing a stern test for its much vaunted democratic values as it prepares for general elections to be held in April 2014. Should we as Americans be concerned about the impact of these developments in the world's largest democracy? The answer is an emphatic YES.

India's main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is the political wing of the RSS. The RSS is the very same organization that was banned by the Government of India after Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated in 1948 by a member of this group. 

The BJP has chosen Narendra Modi as its Prime Ministerial candidate for the 2014 general elections. Modi is best known for his government's failure to prevent the killing of over 2000 members of a minority community in the Indian state of Gujarat in 2002.  In the International Religious Freedom Report of 2003, the United States Department of State found that, ‘‘In Gujarat, the worst religious violence directed against Muslims by Hindus took place in February and March 2002, leaving an estimated 2,000 dead and 100,000 displaced into refugee camps. It was alleged widely that the police and state government did little to stop the violence promptly, and at times even encouraged or assisted Hindus involved in the riots. Despite substantial evidentiary material, the judicial commission responsible for investigating the riots reported inconclusive findings.’’ 

Modi is 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. The supreme court of India likened him to a "modern day Nero." Various human rights groups have compiled numerous reports of unimaginable human rights abuses under his watch. For instance, Human Rights Watch (HRW) published a comprehensive report titled “We Have No Orders to Save You': State Participation and Complicity in Communal Violence in Gujarat.”

In a bi-partisan initiative, Congressmen Keith Ellison (D-MN) and Joe Pitts (R-Pa) introduced a resolution in Congress on November 18, 2013, calling on India to protect the rights and freedoms of religious minorities. It also called on the State Department to keep enforcing the denial of an entry visa to the tainted and controversial Indian politician, Narendra Modi. The resolution now has 22 co-sponsors, including Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN).

According to Congressman Ellison's press release:

“This resolution’s strong bipartisan support shows that the rights of religious minorities in India are a priority for the U.S. Congress,” said Ellison. “All Indians should have the right to practice their faith freely, or to change their faith if they so choose. India is big enough for all its citizens. Its best leaders have worked to promote unity among its diverse populations, not division.”

“The victims of events like the riots in Gujarat demand justice,” said Pitts. “The Indian government cannot expect to make greater strides on religious freedom and human rights in the future while countless thousands have not seen justice for their lost loved ones. Right now, millions of Indians face threats like harassment, displacement and outright persecution due to communal and religious violence.  India is a land of unrivaled religious diversity, but with such diversity comes great responsibility in ensuring the rights of religious minorities.”

The complete text of the resolution can be read here .

Rep. Ellison and Rep. McCollum do Minnesotans proud by their unwavering and unequivocal support of human rights. By denying human rights abusers like Modi entry into the United States, the message that the U.S. is sending out is clear that Indian democracy is better served by leaders who honor human rights and the rights of all citizens in India.

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