"We never experienced this with Judaism ... or Christianity." So spoke Robert Paladino, superintendent of schools in Cliffside Park, N.J., reports the Bergen Record.
He was responding to a request by a seventh-grade girl named Yasmeen Elsamra, 12, for "a place to pray during lunch period. Paladino did some research and concluded that the school must accede to her request. As a result, Yasmeen goes during lunch period to an empty social studies classroom, puts down her prayer rug, faces Mecca, and performs the Islamic prayers.
Looking beyond the church-state issues raised by this decision, what is noteworthy is the extent to which Islam, not the traditional religions present in the United States, much less other religions new to the country, is driving the social and legal agenda. (November 10, 2003)
Jan. 30, 2004 update: Another case comes from France in the light of the impending ban on the headscarf worn by Muslim women, as reported today by Agence France-Presse. When two Benedictine sisters from the Martigné-Briand monastery went to the government offices to renew their papers, one an identity card and the other a passport, they were refused on the grounds of their head-coverings. "This is the first time such a problem came up," explained one of the nuns. "We are not against the law, of course. We have redone our pictures without head-coverings, but this leaves us perplexed."
Mar. 25, 2004 update: In a handsome "Proclamation by the Governor," Nevada's Kenny C. Guinn does hereby proclaim April 30, 2004 to be "Muslim Family Value Day in Nevada." One can just imagine how the roof would fall in on him were he ever to dare attempt proclaim a "Christian Family Value Day in Nevada."
June 9, 2004 update: "The American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska today filed a federal civil rights lawsuit," reads a press release issued today,
against the city of Omaha on behalf of Lubna Hussein, a Muslim woman who was told she must remove her religious garb in order to accompany her children at a municipal swimming pool. ... The ACLU is seeking a court order declaring the pool policy unconstitutional, as well as compensatory and punitive damages for the humiliation, embarrassment and suffering experienced by Mrs. Hussein and her children, plus attorneys' fees. The litigation is being underwritten by the ACLU of Nebraska Foundation without cost to the Hussein family."
(Feb. 22, 2005 update: Lubna Hussein won her case.)
June 23, 2004 update: A labor and employment attorney said he had never heard of a similar case, reports The Tennessean today. The matter concerns Ibrahim Barzinji, a Nashville resident, who (with Equal Employment Opportunity Commission agreement) filed suit in federal court against his former employer, the J.B. Hunt Transport Inc., the largest publicly held truck and train company in the United States. Barzinji, 42, said he had just trucked a load of auto parts from Clarksville to St. Louis on June 26 last year when he was asked to pick up a return load at an Anheuser-Busch plant. "When I saw it was a beer company, I called my dispatcher and said, 'I can't do this. It's against my religion,'" A supervisor responded by telling him to "choose between my job and this load." Barzinji was given a non-alcoholic load and then was fired.
July 12, 2004 update: A Muslim issue in Canada is prompting the government to rely on royal prerogative in an unsual case. For details, see "[The Khadrs:] Canada's First Family of Terrorism," under today's date.
Oct. 19, 2004 update: Rafil Dhafir, the oncologist accused of defrauding contributors to Help the Needy, the charity he founded, and of illegally sending money to Iraq, told the judge in his case that he could not attend his trial if it meant being strip-searched. The Syracuse Post-Standard reports his statement to the court:
Dhafir, dressed in green prison clothes, testified that he's been a Muslim with strong religious beliefs all his life. Among them is the Quran's teaching that Muslims must never appear naked in front of anyone except their spouses, unless they do so involuntarily, as in the case of someone in a car accident needing medical help. "It's an order, not an option" in the Quran, Dhafir testified. "I'm not permitted to expose myself." ... Dhafir, testifying in hushed tones, said he's had the Quran memorized for 17 years, and keeps it memorized by spending two hours a day reciting it. He said he fasts twice a week and prays five times a day.
Apparently impressed, U.S. District Judge Norman Mordue decided to permit Dhafir to avoid the search and instead remain under the constant scrutiny of the deputy U.S. marshals guarding him. All concerned said this is an unprecedented privilege. Onondaga County's corrections commissioner, Timothy Cowin, worried that other inmates would use this precedent as a way to avoid strip searches but then consoled himself with the thought that "we'll probably never see another case like this in our lifetime."
This same issue prompted a lesser precedent too. Unable to move the mountain to him, Judge Mordue went to it. More precisely, given the strip-search issue, he traveled to Onondaga County's penitentiary and heard testimony in the jail's visitors' room – also apparently a first. Nov. 14, 2005 update: Dhafir has by now been convicted and begun serving his 22-year term, and still he refuses to undergo a strip search, but that refusal now has consequences for him:
He meets visitors in a no-contact booth, separated by a window and communicating via telephone, an arrangement he said prevented him from preparing his defense. He has not been able to touch his wife, Priscilla Dhafir, in more than two years. Officials say he cannot meet people face-to-face because he refuses to undergo a strip search. Dhafir says that would violate his religious beliefs. "A Muslim man or woman is not to show certain parts of the body to any stranger unless it's a matter of life and death," Dhafir said. "There's no dignity to it."
Jan. 15, 2005 update: In what Paul Stokes of London's Daily Telegraph calls "a landmark case for religious discrimination," Mohammed Sajwal Khan won a case today in Leeds against his employer, NIC Hygiene. Khan asked to use his 25 days of holiday time and unpaid leave to go on the hajj to Mecca. When he received no response, his union and his manager advised him that he could go. He traveled to Mecca in January-February 2004 and when he returned he was suspended without pay, then sacked for gross misconduct in March. A tribunal awarded him £10,000 in compensation. "Lawyers believe," writes Stokes, that Khan's "unfair dismissal and discrimination victory could have implications for similar actions such as those where companies insist on Christians working Christmas Day."
Nov. 17, 2005 update: Secular universities don't normally provide prayer space for their students – that's something that religious denominations are invited to do at their own expense. But Muslims are changing this assumption in Canada, starting with three universities in Montreal.
- Concordia University is in the process of expanding, at university expense, a dedicated prayer room donated to Muslim students and used by them for over two decades.
- A technical school affiliated with the Université du Québec denied Muslims a dedicated prayer room in 2003. The students took the case to court, where it now awaits a decision by the Quebec Human Rights commission.
- At McGill University, however, the issue is longest-lasting and most bitter.
an ongoing dispute between a group of Muslim students and the management of the secular Montreal university shows the traditional firewalls Canadians have built between public and private life are under attack, by new Canadians formulating new demands.
A group of devout Muslims claim they have been forced to pray outdoors or in crowded hallways since they were "rudely shut out" of their dedicated prayer room last spring when that space, on the cramped downtown campus, was used to build an archaeology lab. Not so, the college says. Students were warned a full year ahead of time that the space—loaned to them for free—would be taken back, and they could use whatever free space available to congregate or pray. ...
The dispute boils down to a conßict between what the university views as its secular mandate, and what some students call a vital religious right. ... McGill's management says the university doesn't have to concern itself with the religious needs of students. "Basically we don't believe we have a legal obligation to provide this particular group with a religious space on campus," Jennifer Robinson, associate vice-principal of communications, told Maclean's. "We are an academic institution and our main mission is teaching, learning and research. We're not in the business of religious activity." But the students have a ready reply. "The secular status of McGill is no reason for the university to rid itself of its responsibilities toward its religious students."
Other Canadian universities are watching McGill; how the matter is resolved there is likely to have national importance. Nov. 28, 2005 update: As the MSA, with CAIR's support, prepares to bring this issue before Quebec's Commission des droits de la personne et des droits de la jeunesse, McGill's Vice-Principal (Communications) Jennifer Robinson noted that Ismaili Muslim students have an off-campus prayer space and complained about the MSA that it "wants special treatment ... [and] special privileges."
Nov. 21, 2005 update: Rigid secularism, what the French call laïcité, is a key feature of France since 1789. But in Marseilles, a city with a population estimated to be one-quarter Muslim, Mayor Jean-Claude Gaudin says that "The separation of the church and state does not exist much in Marseille." Andrew Higgins explores this subject in detail in a major Wall Street Journal analysis.
In recent years, city officials have organized the slaughter of thousands of sheep for Eid-el-Kebir, a big Muslim holiday, and have set aside cemetery plots for Islamic burials. Mr. Gaudin heads a city-funded body that unites different religious leaders in an unusual alliance between church and state. City and regional bodies fund civic associations that are technically secular but often have a religious or ethnic bent. ...
Radio Gazelle, which broadcast the mayor's recent plea for calm, and starts each day with 90 minutes of religious programming, is one state-funded organization with Islamic leanings. The Union of Muslim Families, which helps immigrants with housing and other problems, is another. Though it is open to all faiths and ethnic groups and is run by moderate Muslim women who shun the veil, the Union decorates its office with Islamic inscriptions and a poster denouncing Israel's "massacre" of Palestinians. ...
On a recent visit to a Marseille mosque, Salah Bariki, a Marseille-born city official of Algerian descent who handles relations between city hall and the Muslim community, met with Mohsen Ngazou, the regional head of the Union of French Islamic Organizations. The union has a reputation for radicalism, but recently issued a statement condemning the rioting as un-Islamic. Mr. Bariki told Mr. Ngazou that the mosque might be eligible for government funds if it sets up a separate association to handle matters such as Arabic classes and sports. Mr. Ngazou said he would look into ways to register the mosque as two separate entities, one for "culture" and the other for "religion." ...
After years of complaints by Muslims that Marseille had no grand mosque, the mayor in 2001 offered a large building on the grounds of a disused slaughterhouse. The city said it wouldn't give away the property, but, to skirt a ban on direct state support for religion, it would lease it for 99 years at a token rent. ...
Marseille's experiment in religious outreach risks embroiling the state in factional discord. Radio Gazelle took on an increasingly religious tone in the 1990s and has been convulsed by internal feuding. Abderrazak Zeroual, its director, says he's trying to reverse what he says was a drift toward fundamentalist Islam. But one regional government body, citing the internal bickering, has canceled funding. Marseille authorities, meanwhile, have gone to court to try to force a cleric who failed to win re-election as chief of Marseille's Muslim council to vacate offices provided by the government.
Nov. 22, 2005 update: Ever heard of a prayer area in a football stadium or basketball arena? Maybe in Iran, you answer, but not in the United States. Wrong: thanks to the detention of five Muslim men after they prayed at a New York Giants game on Sep. 19, 2005, the New Jersey Sports and Exposition Authority has decided to create prayer areas at Giants Stadium and Continental Airlines Arena. As far as anyone knows, this is the first such sports stadium worship zone. It's a non-denominational space, of course, but again the agenda is driven by Islam.
The sports and exposition authority's president and chief executive, George Zoffinger, exuded the usual self-satisfaction of a functionary who accedes to Islamist demands:
I think that we handled this situation with sensitivity, and it's the right thing. We reached out to the people in the community who felt offended and we put in an expert on both Muslim culture and religion to address all our staff in terms of the sensitivities involved. And we agreed to set aside a place where people can, in fact go, and pray.
Sami Shaban, one of the detained Muslims, praised the step. 'I think it's a very good start. I really appreciate it. I love the fact that we have a place to pray. That is an amazing step, I really like it." And Ibrahim Hooper, spokesman for the Council of American-Islamic Relations, loves it too, of course, noting that "We've had prayer spaces allocated in hospitals, in airports and universities, places like that." Sohail Mohammed, an attorney for the Totowa-based American Muslim Union and lawyer for one of the men detained in September, said "It shows tolerance on both sides," adding that "It's a win-win for law enforcement, the Exposition Authority and the Muslim community." Mohammed also noted that the agreement included a prayer area at the Meadowlands Racetrack, but this probably would not be needed: "you won't get many Muslims using that area because gambling is forbidden in Islam."
Apr. 26, 2006 update: The U.S. Coast Guard has abandoned a rule requiring anyone seeking a merchant marine license to submit photographs showing no religious head coverings, thanks to a suit by the New York Civil Liberties Union on behalf of Khalid Hakim, a Muslim. Hakim has served in the merchant marine while working for private shipping companies since 1973.
Dec. 5, 2006 update: Fitness USA, a chain of gymnasia operating in Michigan, has agreed to investigate an alleged civil rights violation concerning Wardeh Sultan of Dearborn, a Muslim woman who says her afternoon prayer was interrupted by another patron, and that management rejected her complaint. Recounts an outraged Sultan: "The manager told me, 'You have to respect her, but she does not have to respect your God." Sultan quotes herself telling the manager, "I can't believe you said that," adding that she felt humiliated and does not intend to return to Fitness USA.
Comment: It's not clear what the interruption consisted of, but the notion that prayer trumps exercise in a fitness center certainly is compatible with the Islamist agenda.
Dec. 8, 2006 update: After a woman in niqab was denied entry to a bus in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in accord with a security regulation dating from early 2006, the public transit system announced that the regulation has been rescinded. Instead, drivers will assess security as best they can, explains spokeswoman Jennifer Kalczuk. "If the operator senses some sort of security concern with other behavior, there are ways to communicate with dispatch. It's really up to the driver to assess the situation, and determine if, based on behavior or other cues he or she is getting, may need some assistance."
Nov. 22, 2007 update: The VVD party in Denmark has proposed banning cousin marriages because of the diseases that result from inbreeding. May 11, 2008 update: Anne Cryer, a Labour member of the British parliament, has called for a ban on cousin-marriage, claiming that this common Muslim practice is leading to a rise in the incidence of rare recessive disorders, many of them fatal. "We give warnings about the dangers of smoking, drinking and taking drugs. It is now time that primary care trusts started doing the same for cousin marriages." Mar. 20, 2010 update: Another British politiciain, this one a family professor as well, is warning against the rise in marriages between first cousins, saying this "is putting children's health at risk." Baroness Deech is calling for a "vigorous" public campaign to deter the practice. Some statistics: 55 percent of British Pakistanis are married to first cousins; whereas British Pakistanis represent 3 per cent of all births in Britain, they produce one third of children with recessive disorders.
Paul de Krom, a member of the Dutch parliament for the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
Paul de Krom, a member of the Dutch parliament for the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD).
Mar. 24, 2009 update: Paul de Krom, a member of the Dutch parliament for the People's Party for Freedom and Democracy (VVD), says that the municipality of Utrecht spent thousand of euros on subsidies in 2008 for segregated Afghan, Iraqi, Iranian and Somali meetings in what he calls "the new apartheid between men and women."
Mar. 9, 2010 update: The emergence of Islamists who engage in crime as part of the jihad, rather than for personal benefit, could change one of the most basic precepts of American law enforcement, the "right to remain silent," known as Miranda rights. Attorney General Eric Holder revealed today that the Obama administration plans to work with Congress to propose possible changes to Miranda rights.
This is in fact big news. It is a new priority. ... We're now dealing with international terrorism, and I think we have to think about perhaps modifying the rules that interrogators have, and somehow coming up with something that is flexible and is more consistent with the threat that we now face. We certainly need more flexibility.
Specifically, Holder called for changes in the public safety exception that permits allows interrogators to hold off on reading a suspect his rights if they have reason to fear an imminent threat to public safety and need information fast.
June 4, 2012 update: The 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled that Amina Farah Ali, 35, of Rochester, Minn., has the right not to stand when the judge enters the courtroom during her trial on charges of raising money for the terrorist group al-Shabaab. The appeals court, holding that Ali's refusal "was rooted in her sincerely held religious beliefs," threw out 19 of 20 contempt citations issued by Chief U.S. District Judge Michael Davis.
Mar. 11, 2013 update: See today's blog, " Excluding Jews and Others from Juries" for a particularly worrisome example of this phenomenon.
Nov. 11, 2014 update: The Montgomery County, Maryland, Board of Education responded to Muslim request for days off on Eid al-Adha by voting today 7-to-1 to eliminate all references to religious holidays on the 2015-16 school calendar. Thus, Christmas, Easter, Yom Kippur, and Rosh Hashanah are gone.
May 29, 2015 update: When two Toronto-area soccer teams, one Catholic (Caledon's Robert F. Hall Catholic School) and the other Muslim (Mississauga's ISNA Islamic Society of North America Islamic High School), played a game in the Region of Peel Secondary School Athletic Association's regional tournament, the Muslim team forced the Catholic team not to deploy its female players on the field.