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.

Pope Francis Opens a New Chapter in Catholic-Muslim Relations

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: May 23, 2013 - 6:45 PM

 

 

My relationship with the Catholic community goes back to the time when I was 3 years old. My parents sent me to a Catholic school, a 150 year old institution in Hyderabad, India. I studied there from preschool to high school. This was an experience that would shape my view of Catholics and Christians at-large. I cherish the time I spent at the Catholic school and remember vividly the positive interactions I had with the Catholic Brothers, teachers, and fellow students. During the moral science class at the school, even though I was a Muslim, I was very much on a common ground due to the many similarities that Islam and Christianity share. This provided me with an enriching experience that would spur me on to pursue interfaith relations as a priority.
 
Growing up, someone I admired for his bridge building efforts was Pope John Paul II. He set the tone for bringing Muslims and Catholics closer. In Casablanca, Morocco in 1985, while addressing the Muslim youth, he said, "Christians and Muslims, we have many things in common, as believers and as human beings. We live in the same world, marked by many signs of hope, but also by multiple signs of anguish. For us, Abraham is a very model of faith in God, of submission to his will and of confidence in his goodness. We believe in the same God, the one God, the living God, the God who created the world and brings his creatures to their perfection."
 
This absolutely resonates with the Muslim belief that the God of humanity is one and that we worship the same one God. We find in the Qur'an the following verses:
 
"... and say, “We believe in what has been sent down to us and sent down to you and our God and your God is one, and to Him do we submit." (Qur’an 29:46)
 
“Say, ‘O people of the book’! ‘come to common terms as between us and you; that we worship none but God; that we associate no partners with Him; that we erect not from among ourselves lords and patrons other than God.'"   (Qur’an 3:64)
 
Muslim-Catholic relations and interfaith initiatives made great progress during Pope John Paul II's time. However, this relationship hit a rough patch when Pope Benedict XVI became the pope. His ill-considered comment questioning Islam's contribution to world civilization threatened to undo the great ground work laid out by Pope John Paul II.
 
It is a testimony to the strength of these two communities that out of this apparently challenging moment, a project - "A Common Word Between Us and You" - was born. Thanks to the cool-headed initiative of world's major Muslim scholars who reached out to Pope Benedict XVI and sought dialogue with him, to which he responded to positively.
 
During this time of strained relationship, Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, then Archbishop of Buenos Aires, Argentina and now Pope Francis disagreed with Pope Benedict XVI's comments saying, "Pope Benedict's statement[s] don't reflect my own opinions. These statements will serve to destroy in 20 seconds the careful construction of a relationship with Islam that Pope John Paul II built over the last twenty years."
 
It's no wonder that on the election of Pope Francis there was tremendous energy and positivity felt in the Catholic-Muslim circles. Major Muslim scholars and religious institutions welcomed Pope Francis’ election. The new pope has lived up to his reputation of humility, compassion, and a believer in dialogue. In a meeting with ambassadors from 180 countries, he called for more inter-religious dialogue - "particularly with Islam."
 
This should serve as an encouragement to the Minnesota Catholic and Muslim communities to take Catholic-Muslim dialogue to a new level. The Catholic and Muslim communities in Minnesota already enjoy a great relationship. The Archbishop of St. Paul and Minneapolis, The Most Reverend John C. Nienstedt, attended the 40th anniversary of the founding of the Islamic Center of Minnesota. The Muslim Christian Dialogue Center (MCDC) at the University of St. Thomas has one of the most vibrant programs in the Twin Cities to promote inter-religious dialogue between Muslims and Catholics. Several Muslims sit on the advisory board of MCDC. The Islamic Center of Minnesota and Al-Amal School enjoy a great relationship with Totino Grace High School and share each other's playing fields and parking lots. The Islamic Resource Group (IRG) has built a strong relationship with dozens of area Catholic churches and key leaders of the Catholic Church are regular invitees at events organized by the Muslim community. The positive interactions between Muslims and Catholics are far too many to list here.
 
Muslims and Catholics together comprise over half of the world's population. Increased cooperation and joint efforts by these two communities can bring about a positive change in the world. There are many values shared by both communities. In these challenging times, when humanity is beset with poverty, hunger, illiteracy, broken families, materialism, etc., Catholics and Muslims must draw upon their shared commitment to their mutual love of God and love for the neighbor to help make the world a better place for future generations.
I also exhort the Catholic community to stand against Islamophobia and stand united against hate and bigotry which can destroy the moral fabric of our society. The Islamic Resource Group and other Muslim organizations look forward to greater co-operation and joint projects with the Catholic Church.
 
Lastly, I would like to end with these great words of wisdom from Pope John Paul II:  
 
"Christians and Muslims, in general, we have badly understood each other, and sometimes, in the past, we have opposed and even exhausted each other in polemics and in wars. I believe that, today, God invites us to change our old practices. We must respect each other, and also we must stimulate each other in good works on the path of God."

 

 

African American Muslims - An Integral Part of U.S. History

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: February 12, 2013 - 12:42 AM

 

African American Muslims make up a large part of the American Muslim community, constituting at least 30% of the population. You may be familiar with African-American Muslims of the twentieth century, but Muslims were here long before that--nearly as long as Europeans. Black History month gives us a great opportunity to look back at the rich history of the Muslim African American presence in our country.

 
There is no doubt that Muslims made up a considerable proportion of the West Africans who were enslaved and brought to North, South, and Central America during the four grueling centuries of the Atlantic slave trade. Conservative estimates put the number to be one in ten, but in states like South Carolina and Louisiana, their numbers made up as much as one out of every three.
 
After Christianity, Islam was the second old world religion implanted in the American colonies. It came as part of the West African background of many slaves, and they tried to preserve their Muslim identity as long and as best they could under the circumstances.
 
Here are a few Muslim African American heroes of that period who, despite facing inhuman and degrading conditions, did not let it rob them of their dignity. Their bodies were enslaved but their spirit remained free and submitted only to God.
 
 1. Ayyub Ibn Sulayman (Maryland, early 1700s)  : Thomas Bluett wrote a biography of Ayyub (Job), which he called “Some Memoirs of the Life of Job, the Son of Solomon”, which constitutes the beginnings of African-American literature in the United States. Ayyub was highly regarded for his good character, cheerful nature, love for learning, and devotion to Islam. He was able to gain his freedom and return to West Africa. On his return through England, he met the king of England and his family and won their respect as well as many precious gifts. He may have advised George Sale in his 1734 translation of the Qur'an.

He wrote out three Qur’ans from memory and translated Arabic for Sir Hans Sloane of the British Museum.  He was elected to the Spalding Gentleman’s society, where Isaac Newton was also a member at the same time.
 
 2. Yarrow Mamout (Maryland, the Revolutionary Period, late 1700s and early 1800s): Also known as Yaro Mahmud, he belonged to the era of the “Founding Fathers.” He won his freedom and became a well-to-to businessman in Maryland real estate. A literary portrait of him was painted by Charles Wilson Peale. Peale wrote in 1819 that Yarrow Mamout, toward the end of his life, claimed to be well over a hundred years old; he was known to be “honest, courageous, serious, and well liked by everyone.” Peale added: “He professes to be a Mahometan, and is often seen and heard in the streets singing Praises to God—and conversing with him.”  
 
3. Prince (Mississippi, early 1800s) Ibrahim ibn Abdar-Rahman: Ibrahim, who was originally an African Muslim prince, lived before the Civil War at a time when abolition had become a hot issue in American politics. He carried himself nobly and had high self-esteem. Ibrahim’s Natchez, Mississippi master noted his aristocratic bearing and named him “Prince.” After great difficulty and long struggle, Ibrahim won his freedom and that of his American-born wife, Isabella, toward the end of his life. In failing health, the two made their way to Liberia in 1828, but Ibrahim died the following year before being able to see his kingdom again. The PBS documentary "Prince of Slaves" offers an excellent insight into his life and struggles, as does a book of the same title by history professor Terry Alford.
 
4. Tom (Georgia 1800s)  Salih Bilali : Salih worked on the Thomas Spalding plantation on Sapelo Island, Georgia. He served his fellow Muslim slaves on the plantation as an imam (religious leader) and wrote an Arabic religious manual for them. His community of Muslim slaves remains “the only known antebellum African Muslim community in the United States.” It is said that they built structures on the plantation.  When you compare these structures to mosques in West Africa, you see a very close resemblance.  Some would say these were the earliest mosques built in America.
 
Muslim slaves were “a distinctive minority”—very special people—as the four preceding examples have shown. They often could write Arabic and had in some cases, a great deal of education. They also came from “cosmopolitan” backgrounds—because of their political importance in Africa and their backgrounds in trade. They also had self-confidence and self-esteem. They became an important leadership element in the American slave population.

Mary, the mother of Jesus in Islam

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: December 23, 2012 - 1:43 PM
 
Come Christmas time, invariably Christians and Muslims are both faced with probing questions about Jesus (peace be upon him) and Mary (peace be upon her). 
 
Popular magazines put up Jesus' photo on their cover with questions such as "Who was Jesus?" and "The Truth about Jesus". Much has already been written about Jesus's exalted position in Islam. At this time, I would like to focus on how Mary (peace be upon her) is viewed in Islam.
 
Mary is mentioned in the Qur’an in several chapters, including chapter 19 that is named after her. Mary is revered by Muslims on account of her chastity and devotion to God. The Qur’an makes clear the exalted status of Mary as follows:
 
And [mention] when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds. O Mary, be devoutly obedient to your Lord and prostrate and bow with those who bow [in prayer]." (3:42, 43) 
 
According to the exegesis of the Qur'an by Ibn Katheer, Mary was born in a noble family from the lineage of David (peace be upon him). The Qur’an mentions the story of her mother’s pregnancy with Mary in the third chapter called Al ‘Imran and how she dedicated Mary to the service of the Bait Al Maqdis (the mosque of the sacred house) in Jerusalem. 
 
[Mention, O Muhammad], when the wife of 'Imran said, "My Lord, indeed I have pledged to You what is in my womb, consecrated [for Your service], so accept this from me. Indeed, You are the Hearing, the Knowing.”
 
But when she delivered her, she said, "My Lord, I have delivered a female." And God was most knowing of what she delivered, "And the male is not like the female. And I have named her Mary, and I seek refuge for her in You and [for] her descendants from Satan, the expelled [from the mercy of God ]." 
 
So her Lord accepted her with good acceptance and caused her to grow in a good manner and put her in the care of Zechariah. Every time Zechariah entered upon her in the prayer chamber, he found with her provision. He said, "O Mary, from where is this [coming] to you?" She said, "It is from God. Indeed, God provides for whom He wills without account." (3:35-37)
 
According to various commentaries of the Qur’an, Mary distinguished herself with unmatched worship and devotion to God. Mary’s exalted status was to reach newer heights when God chose her to be the mother of Jesus. The interaction between Mary and Angel Gabriel is given in a most moving manner in the Qur’an as follows:
 
[And mention] when the angels said, "O Mary, indeed God gives you good tidings of a word from Him, whose name will be the Messiah, Jesus, the son of Mary - distinguished in this world and the Hereafter and among those brought near [to God ]. 
 
He will speak to the people in the cradle and in maturity and will be of the righteous." 
 
She said, "My Lord, how will I have a child when no man has touched me?" [The angel] said, "Such is God ; He creates what He wills. When He decrees a matter, He only says to it, 'Be,' and it is. 
 
And He will teach him writing and wisdom and the Torah and the Gospel.
 
And [make him] a messenger to the Children of Israel, [who will say], 'Indeed I have come to you with a sign from your Lord in that I design for you from clay [that which is] like the form of a bird, then I breathe into it and it becomes a bird by permission of God . And I cure the blind and the leper, and I give life to the dead - by permission of God . And I inform you of what you eat and what you store in your houses. Indeed in that is a sign for you, if you are believers. 
 
And [I have come] confirming what was before me of the Torah and to make lawful for you some of what was forbidden to you. And I have come to you with a sign from your Lord, so fear God and obey me. (3:45-50)
 
In chapter 19 titled Mary, the same story is narrated in greater detail as follows:
 
And mention, [O Muhammad], in the Book [the story of] Mary, when she withdrew from her family to a place toward the east.
 
And she took, in seclusion from them, a screen. Then We sent to her Our Angel, and he represented himself to her as a well-proportioned man.
 
She said, "Indeed, I seek refuge in the Most Merciful from you, [so leave me], if you should be fearing of God."
 
He said, "I am only the messenger of your Lord to give you [news of] a pure boy."
 
She said, "How can I have a boy while no man has touched me and I have not been unchaste?"
 
He said, "Thus [it will be]; your Lord says, 'It is easy for Me, and We will make him a sign to the people and a mercy from Us. And it is a matter [already] decreed.' "
 
So she conceived him, and she withdrew with him to a remote place.
 
And the pains of childbirth drove her to the trunk of a palm tree. She said, "Oh, I wish I had died before this and was in oblivion, forgotten."
 
But he [the angel] called her from below her, "Do not grieve; your Lord has provided beneath you a stream.
 
And shake toward you the trunk of the palm tree; it will drop upon you ripe, fresh dates.
 
So eat and drink and be contented. And if you see from among humanity anyone, say, 'Indeed, I have vowed to the Most Merciful abstention, so I will not speak today to [any] man.' "
 
Then she brought him to her people, carrying him. They said, "O Mary, you have certainly done a thing unprecedented.
 
O sister of Aaron, your father was not a man of evil, nor was your mother unchaste."
 
[note: "Sister of Aaron" may either mean that Mary had a brother of the name of Aaron, or it may mean that she belonged to the family of Prophet Aaron.]
 
So she pointed to him. They said, "How can we speak to one who is in the cradle a child?"
 
[Jesus] said, "Indeed, I am the servant of God . He has given me the Scripture and made me a prophet.
 
And He has made me blessed wherever I am and has enjoined upon me prayer and zakah (charity) as long as I remain alive.
 
And [made me] dutiful to my mother, and He has not made me a wretched tyrant.
 
And peace is on me the day I was born and the day I will die and the day I am raised alive." (19:17-33)
 
During one of the interfaith discussions, a Christian friend remarked that the Qur’an is very kind and compassionate to Mary. She explained that the Bible mentions the first miracle of Jesus when he was 33 years old whereas the Qur’an narrates the first miracle of Jesus when he was a newborn and thus saving Mary from the humiliation of having to wait 33 years to be absolved from the calumny that was heaped upon her by the people at that time.
 
The world’s 1.6 billion Muslims honor Mary (peace be upon her) and her son the Messiah Jesus Christ (peace be upon him). They send blessings on them when they mention their names, they recite these verses from the Qur’an in their prayers, and they name their children after them as a mark of respect.
  

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

Text of the Minnesota Muslim Leadership Statement Condemning Violence

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: September 15, 2012 - 10:57 PM

 

Today, the Star Tribune published a thoughtful article on the local Muslim leadership reaction to the violence in response to the YouTube movie. Here is the full text of the statement that 17 Twin Cities Muslim leaders issued to the media.

 

MN Muslim Leaders Condemn Killings of American Diplomats
Saturday, 15 September 2012
 
(MINNEAPOLIS, MN, 9/14/12) – Minnesota Muslim leaders today condemned both the killing of the U.S. ambassador to Libya and the attacks on diplomatic facilities and personnel in the Middle East.
 
“We strongly condemn the killings of the American diplomats in Libya” said CAIR-MN Executive Director Lori Saroya. “We offer our condolences to their families and stand with them in solidarity during this difficult time.”
 
 
 
Minnesota Muslim leaders said that the violence is not in accordance with Islam and does not represent Muslims.
 
“The Quran teaches us that if you kill one innocent person, it is as sinful as killing all of humanity,” said Northwest Islamic Community Center Vice-President Tamim Saidi. He also referred to a hadith, or tradition: 'You [Muhammad] do not do evil to those who do evil to you, but you deal with them with forgiveness and kindness.’
 
“Islam is a religion that calls for spiritual, emotional, and religious maturity,” said Masjid An Nur Imam Makram El-Amin. “It is unacceptable to lash out with violence against those whom we disagree with no matter the subject.”
 
 
Minnesota Muslim leaders said that promoting mutual understanding and engaging in dialogue is the best way to respond to anti-Muslim rhetoric.
 
“Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) entire life is meticulously documented to the minute detail,” said EngageMN Editor Fedwa Wazwaz. “No film or person can change that. His actions speak for himself.”
 
"I urge my fellow citizens to engage with their families, communities, and houses of worship to address words of bigotry or calls of violence, no matter the reason or religion,” said Islamic Resource Group Outreach and Interfaith Director Zafar Siddiqui. “Fear and anger betray our values as Americans."
 
The Minnesota Muslim community is estimated to be at least 150,000.
 
Signers include:
Majed Abusara, President, Al-Aqsa Institute
Abdisalam Adam, Board Chair, Islamic Civic Society of America
Makram Elamin, Imam, Masjid an Nur
Hyder Khan, Trustee, Indian American Muslim Council
Shah Khan, President, Islamic Center of Minnesota
Kazim Mehdi, President, Imam Hussein Islamic Center
Sameer Parmar, Outreach Coordinator, Ja'afari Islamic Center
Najam Qureshi, Chairman of the Board, Northwest Islamic Community Center
Mohamed Remtula, President, Anjuman e Asghari Jamaat
Abdi Sabrie, Executive Director, African Family & Education Center
Tamim Saidi, Vice-President, Northwest Islamic Community Center
Lori Saroya, Executive Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minnesota
Hashi Shafi, Executive Director, Somali Action Alliance
Mallerie Shirley, Co-Founder, Global Deaf Muslims-MN Chapter
Zafar Siddiqui, Chairman of the Board, Al-Amal School
Onder Uluyol, President, Islamic Resource Group
Fedwa Wazwaz, Editor, EngageMN.com
And Others.
 
CONTACT: Lori Saroya, Executive Director, Council on American-Islamic Relations, Minnesota, 612-327-6700, E-Mail: lsaroya@cair.com

Minnesota Muslims Condemn Violence in Libya

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: September 12, 2012 - 12:06 PM
 
The horrendous attack against the US consulate in Libya and the killing of our ambassador needs to be condemned in strongest possible terms. There can be no excuse for such cowardly acts of violence. Muslims around the world must take heed from the American Muslim community that rightly ignored the movie and the vile attempts to promote it. Minnesota based Islamic Resource Group issued the following statement in response to this tragedy.
 
Islamic Resource Group Statement on Violence in Libya & Egypt
 
Islamic Resource Group (IRG) and its sister affiliates across the nation condemn in the strongest possible terms the extremist attacks on U.S. diplomatic compounds in Libya and Egypt on Tuesday, September 11th, one of which killed U.S. ambassador to Libya Christopher Stephens along with three of his staff members. The parties responsible for these events in both nations claimed to be reacting to an online film considered offensive to Islam. 
 
As with previous instances of the Danish cartoons or Qur’an burning, it is important to emphasize that it is a greater defamation of the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad and the Qur’an to react with violence and murder of innocent people– one of the greatest sins in Islam–than any claimed insult from an Islamophobic film. Those who responded in such a manner should instead study the Prophet Muhammad's example in the face of harm. On a daily basis, Prophet Muhammad was exposed to demeaning abuse for 13 years during the early years of his mission. His response was not to return insult for insult or hurt for hurt, but to pray for his persecutors and overlook their insults. In a famous Islamic tradition, he stated: "It is not allowed to cause harm to others or to return harm for harm."
 
It is also an Islamic principle that one does not blame or punish another for the crimes of another. The employees at the embassies were in no way responsible for the actions of either Terry Jones or the producers of the film. Such extreme responses, in fact, can only help Islamophobic interests. Such actions and reactions are but a useless cycle of hate that benefit no one and as occurred yesterday, can be potentially dangerous and even deadly.
 
IRG is committed to upholding the right to freedom of expression and unconditionally condemn any use of violence as a means to protest offensive or hateful speech.  In the United States, this fundamental, inalienable right is protected by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The answer to speech we find deeply offensive is more speech -- speech that tells the true story of Islam -- not censorship or violence. Acts of violence carried out in the name of Islam are a greater offense against Islam than the content of any film or speech.
 
IRG President Onder Uluyol urges fellow American Muslims and  fellow Americans of other faiths to “Work together for a more peaceful world and take this opportunity to redouble efforts towards peace and harmony through increased outreach, dialogue, and understanding.”

 

President Obama's Message on the Occasion of Eid-al-Fitr

Posted by: Zafar Siddiqui Updated: August 19, 2012 - 2:53 PM

 

The Minnesota Muslim community wishes everyone a blessed Eid!
 
The White House released the following statement by the President on the occasion of Eid-al-Fitr. The Minnesota Muslim community appreciates President Obama’s end of Ramadan greetings and his strong message of support.
 
 
 
The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
 
For Immediate Release
 
August 18, 2012
 
Statement by the President on the Occasion of Eid-al-Fitr
 
Michelle and I extend our warmest wishes to Muslim communities in the United States and around the world as they celebrate Eid-al-Fitr. For Muslims, Ramadan has been a time of fasting, prayer and spiritual renewal. These past four weeks have also been a time to serve the less fortunate -- a reminder of the obligations that people of all faiths have to each other.
 
In the United States, Eid-al-Fitr speaks to the truth that communities of faith -- including Muslim Americans -- enrich our national life, strengthen our democracy and uphold our freedoms, including the freedom of religion. That is why  we stand with people of all faiths, in the United States and around the world, in protecting and advancing this universal human right.
 
On behalf of the American people, we congratulate Muslim Americans and Muslims around the world on this joyous day. Eid Mubarak.

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