10 Terms Not to Use with Muslims

March 30, 2009 Forward to a Friend Support CAIR Contact Us Update Your Profile



The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Be kind, for whenever kindness becomes part of something, it beautifies it. Whenever it is taken from something, it leaves it tarnished.”

He also said: “Make things simple and do not complicate them. Calm people and do not drive them away.”

Imam Bukhari’s Book of Muslim Manners


There’s a big difference between what we say and what they hear.
Chris Seiple, Christian Science Monitor, 3/28/09

Arlington, Va. – In the course of my travels from the Middle East to Central Asia to Southeast Asia it has been my great privilege to meet and become friends with many devout Muslims. These friendships are defined by frank respect as we listen to each other; understand and agree on the what, why, and how of our disagreements, political and theological; and, most of all, deepen our points of commonality as a result.

I have learned much from my Muslim friends, foremost this: Political disagreements come and go, but genuine respect for each other, rooted in our respective faith traditions, does not. If there is no respect, there is no relationship, merely a transactional encounter that serves no one in the long term.

As President Obama considers his first speech in a Muslim majority country (he visits Turkey April 6-7), and as the US national security establishment reviews its foreign policy and public diplomacy, I want to share the advice given to me from dear Muslim friends worldwide regarding words and concepts that are not useful in building relationships with them. Obviously, we are not going to throw out all of these terms, nor should we. But we do need to be very careful about how we use them, and in what context.

1. “The Clash of Civilizations.” Invariably, this kind of discussion ends up with us as the good guy and them as the bad guy. There is no clash of civilizations, only a clash between those who are for civilization, and those who are against it. Civilization has many characteristics but two are foundational: 1) It has no place for those who encourage, invite, and/or commit the murder of innocent civilians; and 2) It is defined by institutions that protect and promote both the minority and the transparent rule of law.

2. “Secular.” The Muslim ear tends to hear “godless” with the pronunciation of this word. And a godless society is simply inconceivable to the vast majority of Muslims worldwide. Pluralism which encourages those with (and those without) a God-based worldview to have a welcomed and equal place in the public square is a much better word.

3. “Assimilation.” This word suggests that the minority Muslim groups in North America and Europe need to look like the majority, Christian culture. Integration, on the other hand, suggests that all views, majority and minority, deserve equal respect as long as each is willing to be civil with one another amid the public square of a shared society.

4. “Reformation.” Muslims know quite well, and have an opinion about, the battle taking place within Islam and what it means to be an orthodox and devout Muslim. They don’t need to be insulted by suggesting they follow the Christian example of Martin Luther. Instead, ask how Muslims understand ijtihad, or reinterpretation, within their faith traditions and cultural communities.

5. “Jihadi.” The jihad is an internal struggle first, a process of improving one’s spiritual self-discipline and getting closer to God. The lesser jihad is external, validating “just war” when necessary. By calling the groups we are fighting “jihadis,” we confirm their own and the worldwide Muslim public’s perception that they are religious. They are not. They are terrorists, hirabists, who consistently violate the most fundamental teachings of the Holy Koran and mainstream Islamic scholars and imams. (More)


Richard Wolf, USA Today, 3/30/09

After 10 weeks in office trying to save the U.S. economy, President Obama is ready to take on the world economy. Whether the world is ready for his remedy remains in doubt.

Obama flies to London on Tuesday, then on to four other nations, for his first overseas trip since assuming office and with the global economy in shambles. It’s one of the most anticipated presidential trips since John Kennedy went to Berlin in 1963…

The trip is set to end in Turkey, a nation that is 99% Muslim but has direct ties to the West. “Turkey has always been viewed as a bridge between East and West, a kind of stabilizing influence in the region,” says Ibrahim Hooper of the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

In his inaugural address, Obama pledged to seek a new relationship with the Muslim world “based on mutual interest and mutual respect.” As a result, his every move and phrase in Ankara and Istanbul will be closely followed. (More)


Effort puts resumes of top candidates in White House hands
Noreen S. Ahmed-Ullah, Chicago Tribune, 3/29/09

In a bid to get more Muslim Americans working in the Obama administration, a book with resumes of 45 of the nation’s most qualified—Ivy League grads, Fortune 500 executives and public servants, all carefully vetted—has been submitted to the White House.

The effort, driven by community leaders and others, including Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), was bumped up two weeks ahead of schedule because White House officials heard about the venture, said J. Saleh Williams, program coordinator for the Congressional Muslim Staffers Association who sifted through more than 300 names.

“It was mostly under the radar,” Williams said. “We thought it would put [the president] in a precarious position. We didn’t know how closely he wanted to appear to be working with the Muslim American community.”

The effort aims to get the administration focused on Muslim Americans, a group that has at times felt like a pariah. During the campaign, Obama’s staff prevented Muslim women wearing head scarves from being photographed behind him, in one of many incidents that left Muslim Americans feeling slighted by the candidate.

Now, Muslim Americans—who according to a recent study overwhelmingly backed Obama in the November election—have been carefully watching the administration’s every step.

Most expressed disappointment with Obama’s initial silence during Israel’s offensive in Gaza. They’ve been encouraged by the video message the president issued recently to the Iranian people on the eve of the Persian holiday of Nowruz, and they want more diplomacy with Syria and Iran. They’ve been troubled by FBI admissions of sending what activists call “agents provocateurs” into mosques, and the bureau’s break in ties with Muslim American organizations such as the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

Community leaders hope the White House will consider Muslim Americans for posts in the administration. They say this is not just a chance for Muslim Americans to show their patriotism but also a chance for the country to engage the community and recognize its importance. There are an estimated 7 million to 8 million Muslims in America, but there have not been any Muslims appointed to key positions, as yet.

A White House aide confirmed the Obama administration had received the resumes, noting that it is “not unusual” for the administration to consider lists of job candidates suggested by constituent groups.

“We’re still very much in the middle of the [hiring] process, even when it comes to very senior government employees. These things take time, and they’re all based on finding the right fit,” said the aide, who declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak publicly for the administration.

“Muslims are not looking for handouts,” said Abdul Malik Mujahid, the Downers Grove founder of the Muslim Democrats, who points to Zalmay Khalilzad, tapped by former President George W. Bush for many key roles. “We’re just looking for equal opportunity and inclusiveness. That will give a far better message to the Muslim world than speeches.” . . .

Some hope Atty. Gen. Eric Holder will reverse Bush administration actions such as the FBI’s decision to break formal ties with CAIR because it was named as an unindicted co-conspirator in the case involving the Texas-based Holy Land Foundation.

“We’re hoping that once Eric Holder puts the department in order and places people in different positions, we can re-establish what were very positive relations [with the FBI] in our 15-year history,” said CAIR spokesman Ibrahim Hooper. (More)


Sarwat Husain, San Antonio Express News, 3/28/09

Throughout history, women all over the world had to struggle for equality in a male-dominated world. During International Women’s Month, it’s worth considering how Islam’s teachings were an early harbinger of gender equity – contrary to a common misperception.

Prior to Islam, a female child was often regarded as a threat to the economic welfare of the family and some were even buried alive as soon as they were born. As an adult, she was a sex object that could be bought and sold. From this inferior position, Islam raised women to a position of influence and prestige in the family and in society.

Many of the rights conferred on women by the Prophet Muhammad more than 1,400 years ago have only partially and grudgingly been given to women in other cultures in recent centuries.

With respect to gender equity, the essential human dignity and fundamental equality of women in Islam is at one with the feminist movement of the West, despite images of Muslim women in the media and some agenda-driven circles as ignorant, oppressed and submissive. The perception that Islam subjugates women is far from the facts. (More)


Sam Stanton, Sacramento Bee, 3/28/09

More than 700 people took to the streets of downtown Sacramento today for a march honoring the late farm labor leader Cesar Chavez and to support issues ranging from workers’ rights to an end to the war in Iraq. . .

The event was the ninth annual march sponsored by the Labor Council for Latin American Advancement and included groups ranging from the Sacramento City Teachers Association to the Council on American-Islamic Relations. (More)



(SAN ANTONIO, TX, 3/30/09) The San Antonio, Texas, chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR-SA) recently participated in a Cesar Chavez Ecumenical Service attended by representatives of many different faiths.

Speaking at the services as a representative of Islamic faith, Sarwat Husain, president of CAIR-SA said “We call on all people of good conscience to once again bring back the legacy of the union Leader Cesar Chavez by standing hand in hand in the long fight for peace and justice because we understand that service in the way of God is perfect freedom. It is neither restrictive nor limiting. Restrictions diminish a man’s capacities and happiness. Oh God! Once again we are standing at the cross roads of oppression and injustice. You taught us that true excellence lies, not in the intellectual or manual attainments of people of differing gifts; but in the moral attainments of a pure heart.”

The services that were held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Church were focused on issues of peace and justice, and in particular, how those issues relate to immigration.

CAIR, America’s largest Muslim civil liberties group, has 35 offices and chapters nationwide. Its mission is to enhance the understanding of Islam, encourage dialogue, protect civil liberties, empower American Muslims, and build coalitions that promote justice and mutual understanding.


Yusuf Khan, Examiner.com, 3/28/09

Say, did you hear the big news about the FBI last week?

No? Come on!

Alright, because didn’t read it in the Christian Science Monitor or the OC Register I’ll fill you in. Here’s the scoop.

In their noble effort to rid our country from the plague of terrorism, the Federal Bureau of Investigation hired an informant whose job it was to infiltrate California mosques with the hope of identifying suspicious individuals.

To quote, the exact assignment according to the informant was, “We want to perfect and train you to infiltrate the Islamic community.”

Nice. Makes me feel great about popping into a local mosque for prayer.

Now you’d think that they would hire the ideal man for this noble, patriotic endeavor, right? Wrong.

In a profound display of extraordinary judgment. the man picked as the ideal candidate for the job was ex-con artist Craig Monteilh, convicted in 2008 for grand-theft.

Whoops. But wait, the fun doesn’t end here. Read on!

Monteilh’s assignment was to pose as a new Muslim convert named Farouk al-Aziz and spout fiery rhetoric to basically anyone who would listen. Whoever lended a sympathetic ear would be promptly reported to the FBI as a suspect terrorist.

As the “agent provocateur” visited mosque after mosque in SoCal, things weren’t going so well for the Feds or Monteilh. They weren’t finding any militants! In fact, the opposite happened. (More)


Janet Jensen, News Tribune, 3/30/09

Muslims, Christians and Jews shared unleavened bread at a Passover Seder Sunday night in a Tacoma synagogue as a step toward building interfaith bonds and eventually a house.

Volunteers from the three faiths will join together to build a house on Tacoma’s East Side, from April 24 to mid-July, for Tacoma/Pierce County Habitat for Humanity.

Habiba Karim, a Muslim from University Place, said the interfaith Seder at Temple Beth El was important because “it gives us a chance to understand each other.”

Her mother-in-law, Zarina Karim, agreed. “There’s so much to learn,” she said.

Led by Rabbi Bruce Kadden, the group of 50 recounted the Passover story of the ancient Hebrews’ deliverance from slavery.

They sat at tables with plates containing traditional Passover elements including matzo, or unleavened bread.

The word Passover comes from the book of Exodus, which tells how God killed the firstborn of Egyptian households but passed over the homes of the Israelites. The Israelites had to leave in such haste they had no time to let their bread rise, thus the tradition of unleavened bread.

Allison Wisco, a Christian who lives in Tacoma, said she found it “interesting to be involved with the ritual of the Seder.”. . .

American Indians also attended the Seder and are taking part in the building project. A salmon bake and an interfaith comedy show are planned before the house in Tacoma is completed, said Cassandra Jarles, with Habitat in Pierce County. (More)


Hundreds rally in Binghamton
George Basler, Gannett News Service, 3/30/09

Muslims from the Southern Tier and other communities as far away as Michigan and South Carolina gathered in Binghamton on Sunday to celebrate the Prophet Muhammad’s birthday and publicly urge reconciliation between Christianity and Islam.

“In many places Muslims and Christians are in conflict. This is senseless because it leads to a tremendous loss of life and suffering,” said M. Hasib Haqq, public relations spokesman for the new United Muslim-Christian Forum, which organized Sunday’s program.

The best way to overcome the conflict is to emphasize the commonalities between the two religions – namely belief in God, practice of The Ten Commandments and emphasis on “the golden rule” of “doing unto others as they would do unto you,” he said.

More than 500 people, including a small number of non-Muslims, filled West Presbyterian Church on Main Street for a series of speeches, followed by a march on Main and Court streets to the Broome County Courthouse lawn.

West Presbyterian’s board approved use of the church to “foster inter- religious dialogue, understanding and tolerance,” said the Rev. Andrew Stehlik, pastor, who spoke during the program. Other speakers included Binghamton Mayor Matthew T. Ryan; the Rev. Tim Taugher of St. Catherine’s Church in Hillcrest; and Khalifah Muhammad Hussein Adams, chairman of the Muslims of the Americas. (More)


Charles Honey, Grand Rapids Press, 3/28/09

Muhammad Rasoul, chief operating officer of Global Forex Trading, has been in back-to-back meetings since 5:30 a.m., starting with a conference call to Japan and London. He hopes to be home in time to put his two younger kids to bed.

But in this typical wire-to-wire day, Rasoul also will make time for something sacred: the five prayers Muslims are expected to make each day.

Anytime, I can close that door and do whatever I have to do,” Rasoul says of his airy office at 4760 E. Fulton St. in Ada Township. “I really benefit from having that five minutes of peace and quiet to myself. It’s almost like a meditation.”

Prayer is an obligation Rasoul takes seriously, as he does all other aspects of his adopted Islamic faith. Whether it’s flying to Singapore on business or teaching his children about God, Islam is his guidebook for doing the right thing.

If you think you know who Muslims are, meet Rasoul and think again. (More)

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