Los Angeles Times Affiliated Local Newspapers

(La Canada Valley Sun, Glendale News-Press, Burbank Leader)

In Theory Articles

At the invitation of The Glendale News-Press, Levent Akbarut, a member of the ICLCF Steering Committee, is contributing to a column called "In Theory" which appears every Saturday in the "Faith" Section of the Glendale Newspress, the Burbank Leader, Pasadena Sun and the Foothill Leader newspapers. Below are links to his contributions:

  • What are your hopes and dreams for the next four years?

  • Are Honor Killings Cultural or Religious?

  • Looking Ahead in the New Year

  • Should Lowes Have Pulled its Ads?

  • Can Muslims Shake off a Negative Image?

  • Closure and the Death of Bin Laden

  • Rooting out Muslim- American Radicals

  • Can Islam and Democracy Coexist?

  • Is America Islamophobic?

  • Protesting without Flames

  • An Interview with Desmond Tutu

  • Absorbing Attacks on One’s Faith

  • Dealing with Stereotypes

  • Preparing for a Religiously Free China

  • Can't Forget to Forgive

  • Providing resolute answers

  • ’Tis the season to discuss semantics

  • The media’s place in prayers

  • Extending one’s handout

  • The Gravitational Poll

  • Keeping the faith up to date

  • Some animal pragmatism

  • Churches say Halo to kids

  • Youths’ negative image of Christianity

  • Musings about a resolution on Ramadan

 

With President Obama reelected to a second term, what are your hopes — or fears — for the next four years?

November 16, 2012

 

First, let’s get the facts straight about this election. There is no clear mandate for or against President Obama. One’s perception of a mandate is a matter of your political philosophy. Our country is steeped in political gridlock, which is our current status quo. Our voting population across the country is all over the map between blue and red elected officials and liberal and conservative issues. The U.S. eventually averages out to be a centrist nation as the pendulum swings left and right.So my hope for religious leaders is to bridge the gap and encourage bipartisan respect and cooperation when crafting legislation. Religious leaders lose their moral authority when they become die-hard Democratic or Republican enthusiasts. Religious leaders need the kind of principled independence and commitment to governing in the national interest rather than for a political party.“A country that loses its values, its principles, has lost its heart. A country that loses its sensible center, its common ground, has lost its mind.” — Chad Selweski.My hope for religious leaders is nuance. I want religious leaders to encourage their congregation to seek out opposing political perspectives. Unfortunately, our media, in a quest to get high ratings, have become echo chambers for entrenched viewpoints. Also, I see religious organizations both on the left and the right all too often increase the vitriol of polarized politics. My hope is the promotion of the national interest with bipartisan policies. The focus to enjoin what’s right and forbid what’s wrong is the essence of critical thinking for compromised solutions.I do not expect our political differences to cause everyone to sing “Kumbayah” or acquire a foolish optimism of Pollyanna. We need to find our inner Jefferson-Hamilton debates. The diversity and passion of these fierce debates forged the greatest centrist piece of legislation of our time: the U.S. constitution, a very purple document. The only thing to truly fear is the status quo.

 

Levent Akbarut

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Are Honor Killings Cultural or Religious?

February 11, 2012

 

Unfortunately, in some countries in the Muslim world, and particularly in parts of South Asia, women who are accused of sexual indiscretions bring a disproportional amount of dishonor to their families and are forced to pay a terrible price at the hands of male family members. However, these honor killings are cases of extreme violence that no religion, including Islam, would ever promote or condone.

The problem of honor killings stems from a lack of respect for the equality and human rights of women, rather than from religious morality. Islam recognizes and celebrates the inherent dignity bestowed by God upon all human beings, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or religion. The Koran is explicit in its emphasis on the equality of women and men before God: “And their Lord has accepted of them and answered them, ‘Never will I suffer to be lost the work of any of you, whether male or female, you are members, one of another....’” (3:195; see also 33:35).

Furthermore, while Islamic teachings unequivocally prohibit sexual relationships outside of marriage, this prohibition does not distinguish between men and women, as both genders are to remain chaste until marriage. To single out and punish women for sexual indiscretions is contrary to Islamic dictates.

 

The horrific actions of the convicted Afghani murderers in Canada were motivated by a misogynist view that devalues and belittles women, derived from socio-cultural factors that they imported from their home country and justified by a distorted and erroneous understanding of Islam.

Muslims leaders today must unequivocally reject this distortion of Islam that is used to violate the most basic Islamic rights of human decency and justice. There is no excuse for the Muslim community to turn a blind eye to the horrible injustices committed in honor killings.

Although special-interest groups in our society make it their preoccupation to perpetuate the bigotry of Islamophobia, confronting the problem of honor killings and the underlying attitude that pervades all forms of discrimination toward women in Muslim communities must be met head-on. Muslim leaders can provide an important example to their followers by taking an explicit stand against behavior that is in direct violation of Islam. At the same time, attention must be paid to meeting basic human needs, and to solving problems stemming from poverty and illiteracy that are often the contributing factors that make women the scapegoats of severe socio-economic problems.

 

Levent Akbarut

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Looking Ahead in the New Year

January 1, 2012

 

In 2012, American Muslims will have a unique role in our society. America's attitude toward the Muslim community domestically is at the cusp of two trends. One is the continuation of interfaith activities, outreach programs, community service and educational forums involving Muslims, grown significantly since 9/11, which help eliminate the ignorance and fear that fuels Islamophobia. Further, the positive inclusion of American Muslims in counter-terrorism measures as America's leading group for providing tips that stem impending acts of terrorism will help keep our nation safe.The other is a new wave of fervent bigotry in America toward Islam and Muslims that may be intensified by the 2012 general elections. This negative trend can also be driven by unfounded concerns about Sharia law and the growth of the already-established, $43-million-strong (as reported by the Center for American Progress) cottage industry of hate toward Islam in America. Several Republican political strategists tried very hard to make the fear of Islam in America a wedge issue in the 2008 general elections by denying President Obama his Christian faith and accusing him of being a “closet Muslim.” Fortunately, presidential candidate John McCain and retired General Colin Powell rebuked members of the Republican Party for these acts of religious discrimination in 2008. My fear is that new forms of demagoguery toward Islam will be contrived during the 2012 general election.

On the local level, individual community members have much greater influence. My greatest hope is the continued growth of activities that involve the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge. Since this organization was launched in December 2006, there have been countless community service activities and educational forums that have given local Muslims the opportunity to show the real nature of what it means to be a Muslim in this great country. So with the hope that mutual respect continues, there will be no fears for our local community in 2012, God willing (as the Koran teaches Muslims to say when expressing hope for the future).

 

Levent Akbarut

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Should Lowes Have Pulled its Ads?

December 23, 2011

 

By pulling its advertising from a show that has no agenda other than simply following the daily lives of a group of American Muslims, Lowe’s has demonstrated a clear lack of business and ethical principles.Lowe’s unfortunate action makes it obvious that its organizational environment is not grounded in basic ethical values of diversity that is commonplace in corporate America — the authentic diversity that makes both business sense and advances our nation to be truly exceptional among nations as engraved on the Statue of Liberty in New York: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”No other country on earth values and thrives on diversity like the U.S. But instead of celebrating that diversity, Lowe’s has chosen to pander to an extremist organization such as the Florida Family Association, a narrow-minded special-interest group that seeks to trash our shared values of religious freedom and equal treatment of all faiths. By making the absurd claim that the show hides “the Islamic agenda’s clear and present danger to American liberties and traditional values,” FFA — and, in turn, Lowe’s, by succumbing to FFA’s demands — demonstrates its complete ignorance of Islam and American Muslims, promoting Islamophobia and spreading hate and bigotry instead of the shared religious values of neighborly love and mutual understanding.Lowe’s corporate culture needs a fundamental shift, either through replacing its management team or retraining that team’s members, so that it would begin to value the time-honored American tradition of diversity and embody the corporate standards of most American companies.

 

Levent Akbarut

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Can Muslims Shake off a Negative Image?

August 12, 2011

 

Wow to this great question, and wow to the great city of La Cañada Flintridge and the surrounding areas of Glendale, Pasadena, Burbank and the Crescenta Valley.

 

For the first wow, “Can the community (of Muslim Americans) ever shake off its negative image?” The answer is a resounding yes, because the negative image is a creation of Islamic extremism, media sensationalism and the cottage industry of Islamic bigotry.

 

The small problem of Islamic extremism is caused by al-Qaida and the deranged individuals who act as lone wolves (think about the Christian parallel, a Norwegian extremist trying to hijack Christianity). The large problem of Islamic extremism is perpetuated by the mostly illegitimate and oppressive governments of Muslim-populated countries. Saudi Arabia and Iran are the largest purveyors of Islamic extremism. The most advanced exception to this general condition is Turkey, which has successfully integrated moderate Islam and secularism since 2002, when it was freed from the web of corruption caused by its military establishment.

 

Media profiteering and the quest for TV ratings just cannot cope with the plain reality that most Muslim Americans, and Muslims worldwide, are simply moderate, peace-loving and freedom-seeking people. The poorly named Arab spring is the manifestation of the moderate and peaceful nature of the vast majority of the Muslim world.

 

The self-proclaimed Islamic pundits are always looking to stoke the winds of hatred. Islamophobia is here, but is always marginalized by anybody who has real knowledge of Islam or personal contact with Muslims. Unfortunately, in the run-up to the 2012 presidential elections, we will see fear of Islam used as a wedge issue again. Browse over to loonwatch.com for a list of practitioners of hate toward Islam and Muslims.

 

For the second wow, Muslims in our local community — through the activities of the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge — have received overwhelming positive reception with all our activities since December 2005. Since we were greeted with open arms by our elected officials, our interfaith community service activities have quelled the negative images created by the Islamic pundits and media sensationalism.

Our homeless feeding and partnership with Habitat for Humanity have served countless underprivileged people in the Southland. The byproduct of our social gatherings has become a rallying point to not only serve the underprivileged, but to also naturally serve the mission of the ICLCF: Muslim neighbors working together for peace and mutual understanding. There is no image problem to shake off because the force of human relations has seen through the garbage of bigotry.

 

By sheer coincidence, our guest speaker for our sixth annual Ramadan potluck dinner is Ahmed Younis, senior analyst at the Gallup Center for Muslim Studies. We invite all to attend on Friday, Aug. 19, at 7 p.m. at the Community Center of La Cañada Flintridge. If you are interested in attending, please send an email to info@iclcf.org.

 

Levent Akbarut

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Closure and the Death of Bin Laden

May 16, 2011

 

The horrific crime against humanity that occurred on 9/11 jolted our nation to its core and will never be forgotten. The death of Osama Bin Laden, however, will bring partial closure to America in that it has finally brought justice to the families of the victims, as well as to our nation as a whole. This limited closure is hugely important for all. Now that this immediate evil has been eliminated, how we progress as a nation and human family remains in the balance.Our national reaction to the trauma of the 9/11 tragedy can progress in a negative/unhealthy way or a positive/affirming way. OBL’s death emphasizes forks on the road ahead. One leads to an unhealthy post-9/11 traumatic stress condition. The other leads toward a positive post-9/11 traumatic growth opportunity for world peace and for the advancement of relations between the West and the Muslim world. Our global village is way too small and technologically interconnected to view this tragedy only as an American issue, when terrorism is an international issue without borders.To prevent the negative, we must not confuse the friend and the foe. “We must also reaffirm that the United States is not, and never will be, at war with Islam,” President Obama said during his historic address on May 1. “I have made clear, just as President Bush did shortly after 9/11, that our war is not against Islam. Bin Laden was not a Muslim leader. He was a mass murderer of Muslims. Indeed, al Qaeda slaughtered scores of Muslims in many countries, including our own. So his demise should be welcomed by all who believe in peace and human dignity.”On the heels of the 10th anniversary of 9/11 and with the rising wave of Islamophobia used by some media pundits and certain Tea Party-aligned politicians, these words take on a greater significance. Islam and Muslims are not the enemy because terrorism knows no religion.The healing will come about when the ugly cancer of Islamophobia starts to wane. This effort first relies on understanding the true nature of Islam from mainstream Muslim scholars on Islam in the USA and from your average Muslim neighbor, who is a productive and contributing American citizen.The opportunity for growth is tremendous in the U.S. and the world at large. Peace and mutual understanding through interfaith relations is a productive way to accelerate human relations.In his June 2009 speech at Cairo University, President Obama emphasized the common themes of peaceful human relations found within the three major Abrahamic religions. He said, “The holy Koran tells us, 'O mankind! We have made you into nations and tribes so that you may know one another.' ....The Talmud tells us: 'The whole of the Torah is for the purpose of promoting peace.'“ Finally, he said, “The holy Bible tells us, 'Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.' …. The people of the world can live together in peace. We know that is God's vision. Now, that must be our work here on Earth.”Closure regarding OBL’s death is not through rejoicing in his death, for vengeance is not part of the religious traditions of Muslims, Christians or Jews. Real closure is brought about through our shared religious and American civic values of justice, pluralism, interfaith understanding and peace.

 

Levent Akbarut

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Rooting out Muslim- American Radicals

April 13, 2011

 

First of all, investigating domestic terrorism is exactly what I expect from our Congressional representatives. However, Rep. Peter King's hearings on March 10 were highly flawed and counterproductive for keeping our country safe. Much like the Japanese internment camps during WWII, which were a shameful setback in the efforts to fight Japanese imperialism, these hearings were rooted in fear and bigotry toward Muslim-Americans.Let's deconstruct the errors and offer alternatives that will advance the cause of keeping our country safe from domestic terrorism. First of all, what was needed was real expert testimony on terrorism rather than the sad accounts of personal tragedy. Dr. Zuhdi Jasser was one of the so-called experts who gave testimony. While as a physician and a former lieutenant commander in the United States Navy and a staff physician to the U.S. Congress, he deserves our thanks for his service to our country; he is simply a political operative and not an expert on Islamic radicalization. Alternatively, there are plenty of nationally recognized experts on terrorism from organizations such as the West Point Center on Terrorism or the Triangle Center on Terrorism and Homeland Security, which would have offered the right analysis and expertise on domestic terrorism. Instead, Rep. King used this issue as a political stunt; it took his Democratic counterparts to invite our own L.A. County Sheriff, Leroy Baca, to give expert testimony on how important the Muslim-Americans of our county and the nation are in the fight against domestic terrorism. Baca cited that seven of the last 10plots propagated by Al-Qaeda within the United States were foiled by Muslims.Another fundamental flaw of these hearings was the sole focus on Muslim-rooted extremism, which is no doubt a problem. The data as related by Baca indicates that there have been 77 total terror plots by domestic, non-Muslim perpetrators since 9/11. In comparison, there have been 41 total plots by both domestic and international Muslim perpetrators during the same period. A comprehensive approach to domestic terrorism would unite Americans more for a common cause. Richard Alan Clarke, a longtime counter-terrorism analyst for three Republican presidential administrations, testified that “to the extent that these hearings make American Muslims feel that they are the object of fear-mongering, it will only serve Al Qaeda's ends.”This segues into my last point. Terrorism knows no religion, and the Muslim-American community is not the enemy, but rather the single most effective weapon in the fight against domestic terrorism. We must reject the “burn the haystack to find the needle” approach toward Muslim-Americans in the fight to protect our great country.

 

Levent Akbarut

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Can Islam and Democracy Coexist?

February 23, 2011

 

Democracy is a political system based on consensus or the will of the people. As Islam’s teachings emerged in seventh-century Arabia, it laid the foundations of civil society. The Koran teaches that the affairs of public life are based on “shura,” the Arabic word for mutual consultation (Koran 42:38, and 3:159). Shura contains three essential elements: equal rights for all citizens, majority rule for public policy, and the promotion of justice and human dignity.

Similar to Prophets David and Solomon, the prophet Muhammad was the head of a state. Among Muhammad’s first acts as a state leader in Medina was to draft a constitution. The constitution of Medina provided a pluralistic framework involving the due rights and protection for all people who were governed. The signatories and contributors to the constitution included the religious minorities in Medina. Jews, Christians and pagans retained their own identity, religious customs and internal governance, thus guaranteeing freedom of religion for all.The prophet Muhammad did not prescribe a theocratic political system. In fact, on his deathbed, he refused to appoint a political successor, sending a clear message that it is up to the people to decide how they wish to be governed. After the prophet's death, shura was used to elect the next head of state, Abu Bakr.These principles served Islam and humanity in 11th-century Spain in an exemplary fashion. Muslim egalitarianism and pluralism formed the basis of an impressive civilization based on knowledge, rational inquiry and tolerance, eventually becoming the precursor to Europe's Renaissance and the democratic revolutions of the 18th and 19th centuries in our country and Europe. Fast forward to 2002, Turkey has successfully implemented a modern secular democracy that honors its Islamic heritage.There is nothing special about democracy per se in Islam, but it’s a means to implement higher principles of social justice and human rights. Winston Churchill said democracy may not be the best form of government, but all other forms have been tried and they have failed. Islam is pragmatic in worldly application, with higher principles that are divinely inspired. The prophet Muhammad characterized believers as people who accept wisdom no matter what the source is.With this background in mind, not only can democracy take root in Islamic societies today, but it should, as an authentic and practical outcome of Islamic teachings. What we see in the recent pro-democracy revolts is the natural desire for freedom and the people’s right to choose their political leaders in the Muslim World. What started in Tunisia and Egypt is now spreading to Libya, Bahrain, Iran, Yemen and other parts of the Muslim World.The 2011 wave of democracy is a unique opportunity for Muslims to remove authoritarian dictators and monarchs committing grave injustices and to restore the Islamic concepts of shura and societal justice. This will show the authentic Islamic character of their societies by rejecting extremism and authoritarianism of countries like Saudi Arabia and Iran. In Egypt’s case, Hosni Mubarak used the Muslim Brotherhood’s peaceful participation as a boogey man to justify his oppressive 30-year rule.This wave of democracy is also a unique opportunity for our government to be on the right side of history and to be a respectful catalyst for democratic reform internationally. Our foreign policy needs to be aligned with the global quest for freedom and the political rights of people in all countries, and not solely based on special-interest groups like the oil industry and foreign government lobbies like Israel and Saudi Arabia. We must not sell out our American principles of democracy and human rights by the narrow and short-sighted policy of supporting dictatorships and monarchs. This long-term vision will produce a credible partnership to fight Islamic extremism and promote a stable and peaceful future.

 

Levent Akbarut

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Can Americans Reconcile with Islam?

February 3, 2011

 

The roles of Imam Feisal Abdul Rauf and the Park 51 Islamic Center in New York are simply being overplayed. The trumped up controversy plays nicely into the hands of special-interest groups, and the media loves the sensationalism that the theater of confrontation creates. What gets lost is the authentic and more pervasive American-Muslim narrative.

 

Mr. Abdul Rauf is one individual doing excellent Islamic work through writings, interfaith dialogue and carrying out his civic duty as both Republican and Democratic administrations have called upon him to build bridges between the U.S. and the Muslim world. As a Muslim author and thinker, he has some great ideas, but he is one voice among many of the diverse American-Muslim leaders. I was an organizer of an art-and-music interfaith festival in 2004 called “God Loves Beauty” where the interfaith community in Los Angeles invited him to be a speaker. So while he does have some national recognition as an interfaith leader from New York, he was primarily put into the national spotlight by a strife fueled by the political agendas that come and then go. 

The main issue is not the significance of Abdul Rauf’s good ideas and his speaking tour, which I think would be beneficial. The central issue is that American Muslims are naturally integrating into our pluralistic society and are doing good work in their own communities. The alleged chasm that’s developed between Islam and the West since 9/11 is not really happening here locally or in the Los Angeles area on a wide scale. The Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge, through its multitude of activities, has brought together the Muslim residents of the city with their fellow citizens around social issues that are important to all of us. Together, our community has defied the political partisanship and the vitriol of bigotry by building affordable housing through Habitat for Humanity, feeding the homeless in Skid Row, providing the annual Interfaith Baccalaureate Service for all graduating seniors and breaking bread during Ramadan.

There are also many other organizations based in Los Angeles that are doing their part in reaching out to the larger community and have been quite successful in disseminating correct information about the authentic teachings of Islam and what American Muslims are all about. Yes, Islamophia does exist in some parts of the country, and at times gets perpetuated by some pundits and special-interest groups, but for the most part, it is being eradicated on a daily basis by a civic-minded and engaged American Muslim community working together with the larger interfaith community.

No acts of overt reconciliation needed because we are united as one community of Americans, e pluribus unum.

 

Levent Akbarut

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Is America Islamophobic?

September 1, 2010

 

A definite "yes" is my answer to the cover-story question, "Is America Islamphobic?" but only when it comes to individuals who are predisposed with an agenda and those who are simply not informed with authentic knowledge about Islam and Muslims. The answer is most likely "no," if you include Americans who have a personal relationship with Muslims or seek to understand mainstream American Muslim perspectives.

The uproar over the Islamic community center in lower Manhattan is simply political. In 2009 and before, this was a non-issue. In 2010, it is the favorite wedge issue of the mid-term elections used by the right wing to polarize and dredge up false fear of mainstream, moderate and peaceful American Muslims. Fox News anchor Laura Ingraham was totally supportive of the work of Imam Faisal Rauf and his wife Daisy Khan in December 2009. Recently, Ingraham has become a consistent source of vitriol; an example was her interview with Muslims for Bush leader Muhammad Ali Hasan on Aug. 26.

 

Special-interest pundits across the country will make shallow accusations toward the Muslim community for supporting the Park51 project. They have many valid arguments and bring up important issues of concern, but miss several superseding points based on American principles.

 

First, American Muslims are not the enemy. All Americans were attacked on Sept. 11. American Muslims are not guilty by association. Those with an agenda will simply not listen to the American Muslims' unequivocal condemnation of terrorism committed in the name of Islam. For the record, American Muslims died as victims and firefighters on Sept. 11. Nonetheless, we do not distinguish our sensitivities between religions; we were all Americans first on Sept. 11, and our common enemy is Islamic extremism that has attacked our country and subsequently the religion of Islam by utterly false claims. There are Sept. 11 victims as well as Muslims on both sides of this issue, and to brand those in favor of Park51 project as insensitive is not intellectually honest. American Muslims have proven to be on the frontlines, working with law enforcement to weed out the radical Islamic elements.

 

Our highest act of nobility is to protect American principles in the face of demagoguery and fear. Among our noblest are those who serve in the military. Col.Douglas Burpee, a Glendale resident and a retired Marine Corps helicopter pilot with 27 years of service, is a Muslim. His call sign was "Hajji," given affectionately to him by his fellow officers recognizing his religion of Islam while serving our country. Burpee has seen Islamic extremism first-hand with tours in Afghanistan and in other parts of the Muslim world. According to Burpee, those who oppose the construction of the Ground Zero mosque are allowing extremists to hijack cherished American principles.

 

It is those cherished American principles, including religious tolerance and respect for diversity, that we as a society must safeguard in order to preserve the greatness of our nation and to ensure that all our citizens regardless of their faith are fully assimilated into American life.

 

Levent Akbarut

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Protesting without Flames

September 15, 2010

 

Simply put, I would call on the Rev. Terry Jones to put his own faith into practice in order to get answers to his questions about Islam, the Koran and Muslims. I will defer to my fellow Christian Americans to counsel him accordingly. The common ethical teachings of "love thy neighbor" embodied in all major religions can provide numerous ways to more constructively address his concerns about the Islamic faith.

 

The pastor should be advised that the message of the Koran has been imprinted in the hearts and minds of over a billion faithful Muslims worldwide who follow it as guidance to bettering themselves as human beings and to positively contribute to the society around them. Burning the physical book does nothing to lessen its impact amongst its adherents. Besides, burning a book — which by his own admission, the pastor hasn't even read — is just silly.

 

Every year since that tragic day in our history, faith groups remember 9/11 by bringing out the best of what makes them American in the context of their religions. In Islam, as with other faiths, Muslims are encouraged to repel evil and injustice with love and peace. Across the country this year, a countless number of interfaith events brought our great nation together to remember the innocent victims of 9/11 through a beautiful blend of religious and American civic values.

 

In Los Angeles, the Islamic Center of Southern California, University Muslim Medical Association Clinic, Saddleback Church and interfaith groups, held a "Day of Healing" on Sept. 11 during which free medical services were provided to the community at large. Locally, Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church held a 9/11 event called "A Time of Healing and Understanding" during which members of the church and the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge read passages of the Bible and Koran relating to peace.

 

"We heard about the church in Florida promoting 'Burn the Koran' Day on Sept. 11 , and decided that we wanted to create an event that advocates bridge-building over bridge-burning, "said Crescenta Valley United Methodist Church Rev. Pastor Paige Eaves.

 

For the record, the violent protests against the Koran burning in Afghanistan and other parts of the Muslim world are repugnant displays of anti-Islamic behavior. In Islam, injustice is not an answer for injustice. Muslims are instructed to walk away from ignorance with a greeting of peace.

 

There are divided opinions near Ground Zero over the building of an Islamic Center. This one issue is dwarfed by the multitude of religious and American values that bring us together as Americans and serve as a role model for pluralism worldwide.

 

Levent Akbarut

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

In Theory: An interview with Desmond Tutu

July 28, 2010

 

Anglican Archbishop emeritus Desmond Tutu has announced that, after his 79th birthday in October, he is to resign from nearly all of his official commitments and withdraw from public life, the United Kingdom's Guardian newspaper reported last week. He wishes to spend more time in reflection and prayer. Tutu is best remembered for his fight against apartheid and leadership of the Anglican Church in South Africa. If you had a chance to sit down with the archbishop, what would you say to him? What issues would you discuss?

First, I would acknowledge Archbishop Desmond Tutu's honorable and courageous service as a social justice advocate. His achievement of being the spiritual leader and opponent of apartheid and subsequent transformation of South Africa will go down in history with the likes of great religious leaders such as Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. I would praise the archbishop for what I consider his greatest award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2009.

Next, I would ask him about the other epic struggle against apartheid in Israel and the Palestinian-occupied territories. How should the world community stop the suffering of the Palestinian people while ensuring peace in the region? How do we encourage the Palestinian people to first fight the government corruption from within their ranks without losing their sovereignty as a nation?

The archbishop has been involved in so many other great humanitarian issues, but his greatest achievement in his illustrious life is his anti-apartheid work. I would focus on apartheid so we can eradicate the practice wherever it exists. Divestment of U.S. funds from South Africa was a big part of the anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s. Should Americans support Israeli divestment as advocated by Aaron Levitt of the Jewish Voice of Peace, and the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church?

Levent AkbarutIslamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Absorbing Attacks on One’s Faith

November 20, 2009

 

I have no blame for my fellow Americans for impulsively reacting to this horrific act of violence with “here we go again . . . another act of terrorism targeting Americans and committed in the name of Islam.”It is an understandable emotional reaction based on the false perception that somehow Islam is the driving force behind such a tragedy. In times like these, American Muslims feel deep anguish, first for the victims, their families and our country, and on another level, for their faith, having to explain again that true and authentic Islam has nothing to do with hatred and violence. They also feel the imperative to put an end to the terrorist attacks and to the abuse of their religion.What makes our country stand tall among nations is our ability, in the face of aggression, to evolve and adapt within the context of American pluralism. In other countries, the response to violence has been outright genocide, as in Rwanda; or ethnic cleansing as in the Balkans.In the U.S., we have learned from the World War II internment of Japanese Americans. As our Army’s top officer, Gen. George Casey, has eloquently said, “Our diversity, not only in our Army, but in our country, is a strength. And as horrific as this tragedy was, if our diversity becomes a casualty, I think that’s worse.” America is a nation that can defend itself without sacrificing our distinguishing strength of character.Regarding whether this was an act of terrorism or caused by mental illness, we should simply allow the investigation to settle this question conclusively. On the other hand, it requires no investigative study to know that our country cannot afford to discriminate against the overwhelming majority of American Muslims who are patriotic and peace-loving citizens.This is not an act of political correctness, because America, since its founding, has always recognized that it’s foolhardy to sacrifice civil liberties to achieve security. Founding Father Benjamin Franklin said, “They who would give up an essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security.”In the fight against terrorism, the essential focus should not be the denigration of Islam or American Muslim citizens with notions of discrimination as “Should Muslims be allowed to serve in the military?” The answer lies with all Americans, Muslims and non-Muslims, working together to fight against the perverted notions of Islamic extremism and to advance our shared democratic values.American Muslims, at home and abroad, want to be at the forefront of the battle of ideas, along with the necessary security measures. This unity in purpose, and in action, is our strength.LEVENT AKBARUTIslamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Dealing with Stereotypes

Published 2/15/08

 

Many Muslim Americans and political observers are reportedly concerned that this year’s presidential candidates have ignored them and that issues surrounding Muslims, such as stereotypes that conflate their faith with terrorism, are being kept at arm’s length. What do you think? As much as religion has become a topic in the campaign, should candidates be talking more about Muslim issues and defending more against negative stereotypes?

 

Muslim Americans, as a fairly new community, are seeking their fair and equitable role in American politics. Most U.S. population demographers agree that Islam is America’s largest non-Christian population group, or will be in a few years. So it would be natural that Muslim Americans would be an important voting demographic in the 2008 elections.The main impediment to political inclusion in 2008 is Islamophobia, the irrational fear of Islam and Muslims. In the 2008 primaries, there are several undercurrents and overt examples of candidates in both parties who use negative stereotypes against Islam and Muslims to gain votes. Since the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge is strictly a non-political and non-sectarian organization, I’ll give no specific examples. Discriminatory statements or actions by political candidates and organizations are monitored and addressed by national groups such as the Los Angeles-based Muslim Public Affairs Council.So to be part of the American political process, what specifically are Muslim Americans looking for? I’ll offer a sampling of non-sectarian political guidelines:(1) A level playing field where Muslim Americans do not seek or receive any special treatment (positive or negative) as yet another special interest advocacy group.(2) Muslim Americans want to be welcomed as vigorous partners in countering domestic terrorism. A great example of this is Los Angeles County’s American Muslim Homeland Security Commission led by Sheriff Lee Baca. Another is the Muslim Public Affairs Council’s National Grassroots Campaign to Fight Terrorism, which provides policy guidelines and actions for mosques, Muslim community leaders and law enforcement to work together in a proactive and preventive manner.(3) Muslim Americans do not wish to see civil rights jeopardized and basic constitutional protections for all Americans suspended in the fight against terrorism. We agree with Benjamin Franklin, who said, “They that would give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Muslim Americans believe that our country can and must fight terror while still upholding civil and human rights.(4) Muslim Americans want to lend their expertise to the shaping of American foreign policy in the Middle East, and(5) Muslim Americans do not want their loyalty and patriotism questioned as American citizens.

 

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Preparing for a Religiously Free China

http://www.burbankleader.com/articles/2008/02/16/religion/blr-intheory09.txt

February 15, 2008

 

Amid China’s rapid economic growth, the government’s control of religion has reportedly softened slightly. What does the prospect of a religiously free China mean to you and your faith?

 

China is emerging as the world’s newest superpower. The prospect of a more religiously free China is massively significant for all faiths and the advancement of human rights worldwide.Islam in China is a little-known phenomenon that speaks to the global and pluralistic nature of Islam and Chinese Muslims in particular. There is a saying in traditional Muslim folklore to “seek knowledge even if it is in China.” This saying not only reflects the importance of education, but also the fascination with the Chinese civilization, the most distant-known place at the time. The third ruler after the Prophet Mohammed, Uthman ibn Affan, commissioned an official envoy to China to start trade and diplomatic relations, less than 20 years after the death of the Prophet Muhammad in 651. Yung Wei, the Tang emperor, received the envoy and then ordered the construction of the Memorial Mosque in Guangzhou (Canton), the first mosque in the country, which still stands today. Islam’s introduction to China was facilitated by the golden era of Chinese cosmopolitan culture, Emperor Wei’s view of compatibility of Islam with the teachings of Confucius, and dominance of the import/export industry by Muslims.A Chinese Muslim population emerged as a result of centuries of trade and from intermarriage and contact with Muslims from Arab and Persian lands. The history of Muslims in China has been marred by periods of anti-Muslim sentiment, but this community has proved to be ever resilient over time.Religious freedom and pluralism are entrenched concepts in Islam on the basis of fundamental teachings of the faith, by historical practice of various Muslim civilizations, and by the everyday experience of mainstream Muslims today. Unfortunately, the vast majority of Muslim governments today have atrociously dismal religious freedom track records for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. These governments do not reflect the will of their Muslim populations due to the lack of basic freedoms and liberties as a whole.The potential for our global society through international trade and cultural exchange, like the 2010 Olympic Games, cannot be underrated for China. A more religiously free China can lead the way for our global society to promote religious freedom in all developing countries due to China’s ever-increasing world leadership.

 

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Can’t Forget to Forgive

January 4, 2008

 

Michael McCullough, a psychologist at the University of Miami and author of an upcoming book on forgiveness, suggests that human beings may be hard-wired to forgive — that there could be certain brain activity that biologically connects to the ability to forgive, and that ability could be in our DNA. Ultimately, his work suggests that the act of forgiveness may not be totally unselfish, and that it predates organized religion. What do you think? Is forgiveness something we learn, or could we be built to forgive?In Islam, forgiveness is a highly valued social virtue. Muslims believe people are born pure and uncorrupted and that forgiveness is one aspect of the natural essence of the human spirit.The Koran states, “And, set thy face steadfastly towards the one true faith, God has created humanity in a natural state of purity; there is no altering of God’s creation — this is the purpose of the one true faith; but most people know it not ” (chapter 30, verse 30).Environmental influences, on the other hand, can and will lead us astray from our natural goodness.So forgiveness, as with other human virtues, must be developed and constantly nurtured to restore the natural purity that God created people with. The hard work of ethical education, ethical living and spiritual development of an individual enables the forgiving behavior to evolve in adult life.Numerous passages in the Koran extol the virtue of forgiveness. In chapter 7, verse 199, God commands the Prophet Mohammad to “show forgiveness, speak for justice and avoid the ignorant.”Described as a mercy to mankind in the Koran, the Prophet Mohammad serves as a role model for extraordinary forgiveness toward friend and foe alike.There is, for example, the story of a woman who would regularly throw trash on the Prophet as he walked down a particular path.The Prophet never responded in kind to the woman’s abuse. One day, when the woman failed to attack him, he went to her home to inquire about her condition as a gesture of kindness despite her daily abuse.Forgiveness is a gift of human nature, but for most people, it requires a great deal of spiritual and ethical development to be realized as an everyday behavior.

 

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Providing Resolute Answers

12/28/08

 

What are your resolutions for the new year?

Each new year brings a new exhilaration of hope. As another new year approaches, the marker in time triggers us to reflect on last year’s unaccomplished goals. It is a chance to start over again with a new allotment of hope that this year will actually be different. Oddly enough, our resolutions become quite repetitive. After a while, the roller coaster ride of hope and failure can turn into cynicism, and we just stop playing the yearly resolution game. In my view, whether it’s New Year’s or any other occasion, we should not turn our backs on the hope for forward progress in our lives.The most common New Year’s resolutions are rooted in our desire for virtue.They include our goals for health, elimination of vice (smoking or substance abuse), more focus on family, doing more charity, etc. But lofty resolutions cannot sustain themselves unless there is a means to maintain hope. A large source of disappointment in the resolution cycle comes from a lack of continuous resolve.

 

One can consult a whole host of great psychology and self-help literature on winning strategies to make and attain goals, but the source of persistent hope comes from faith in addition to the practical knowledge of applied psychology. Seeking knowledge needs to be supplemented by daily prayer, scripture reading and fellowship in faith from religious services, to name a few means of support that organized religion offers.Our faith can bring a practical means to help us achieve our everyday goals, and organized religion provides an ongoing structure to nurture our personal goals on the path of self-improvement.The Koran in chapter 103 teaches us about time and hope, “Consider the flight of time, verily mankind is in a state of loss, except for those who attain to faith, and do good works, and join together in the mutual teachings of truth, and patience in adversity.” One lesson I derive from this short chapter is that time is our most precious commodity. Hope is our energy source, and we will be lost without faith. Our hope for a better tomorrow is sustained by our faith put into action through good deeds, seeking the truth, and patience. These are the means to maintain our emotional resiliency through our failures and overcoming difficulties along the way.So what I learn from Islam is that the mother of all resolutions is to resolve to be consistently resolute. My religion serves as a practical means of fulfilling my personal resolutions.

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

’Tis the Season to Discuss Semantics

12/14/07

 

This year and in years past, some local residents, along with radio talk show hosts such as Bill O’Reilly of Fox News, have expressed concern that “secular progressives” are trying to eliminate the name Christmas from holiday events. The city of Glendale’s annual “Holiday Tree Lighting” has come under fire because it doesn’t note, some say, that it is a “Christmas” tree that is being lighted, not a holiday tree. What do you think? Is Christmas under siege? Or, is calling it a holiday tree more inclusive?

 

Islamic teachings for me inspire a love of seeking and understanding the truth.This issue highlights the beauty of American pluralism. Conservatives want to retain a traditional Christian approach while liberals want to be more sensitive to inclusiveness of other faiths. It is useful to examine all sides to gain a more nuanced understanding. The battle of words, “Christmas” versus “Holiday,” is more generically a battle of our approach toward American pluralism. Are we a “melting pot” creating new traditions as reflected by Glendale’s civic ceremony of its annual “Holiday Tree Lighting”? Or are we a “salad bowl,” accepting and celebrating all religious traditions in their original form? I’ll opt for calling this ceremony a “Christmas Tree Lighting.” I am not fond of euphemisms that hide obvious realities.I was thrilled to see a religious symbol in the public sphere at the local Ralphs grocery store in La Cañada Flintridge — an artifact of a Hanukkah Menorah displayed in full view near the checkout aisle. I would not want this artifact called a “Holiday Menorah” for the sake of inclusiveness. As American religious pluralism evolves, we adapt by adding new religious practices for recognition to the “American salad bowl.”A perfect realization of the “American salad bowl” happened at the home of La Cañada Flintridge residents Loren and Philippe Hartley, for their “Annual Christmas Cookie Dough Ornament Party” this past Saturday night. In the invitation sent to my wife and me, they wrote, “we need a really fun Muslim piece in our tree.” At the party, for our ornament, my wife, Nahid Ansari, crafted a green crescent and star representing the Muslim contribution to the Hartley family Christmas tree (and, of course, I undeservedly shared in her artistry.) The friendly neighborhood Christmas party with a great interfaith spirit does not get any better for religious pluralism.In our marketplace of ideas, we need to find a better understanding of the truth as the pendulum swings on both sides of the center of an issue. The Koran teaches Muslims to seek the middle ground in community affairs and to avoid polarization of entrenched partisan viewpoints, “And thus God has willed you to be a community of the middle way . . . . ” (chapter 2, verse 143).In this issue, the solution, in my view, is a balanced approach that recognizes the importance of the Christian tradition in its authentic form while being inclusive and sensitive to the minority religious traditions. This is America at its best.

 

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

The Media’s Place in Prayers

12/7/07

 

The annual National Media Prayer Breakfast was held recently, bringing together people of differing faiths to pray for media leaders. If you were there, who or what in the media — be it news, entertainment, etc. — would you pray for, and why?

As a Muslim at the National Media Prayer Breakfast, I would pray for the truth.I would pray that our media leaders have the highest value and goal to find the truth, professional practice of conveying the truth, courage to strive for the truth, strength to defend the truth, leadership in excellence for the truth, honor of benefiting society with the truth, lasting legacy of integrity for the truth.Why? Today, all too often media professionals compromise the truth for sweeps weeks, entertainment, sensationalism, demagoguery, ratings, titillation, advocacy, self-promotion, political correctness and greed for starters.Again, sensationalism kills media credibility again and again.Why? Today, all too often media consumers desire pleasure over the truth; we do not seek the truth, demand the truth, purchase the truth.Are there enough news agencies you consistently trust to deliver the truth?Are there enough media leaders you consistently trust to deliver the truth?Thus, pray to God for the truth. Amen.

 

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Extending One’s Handouts

12/1/07

 

Steve Burger, a former director of the Assn. of Gospel Rescue Missions, says Americans should not hand out money to homeless people on the street, but to rather donate to local food or shelter agencies. Burger reportedly believes that giving handouts promotes destructive behavior among the homeless.  What do you think?

 

Helping the less fortunate is one of humanity’s greatest virtues.Steve Burger’s recommendations are sound, with some cautionary notes. First, if the only time you give to the poor is when approached by a panhandler, then I’d encourage you to give your pocket change away in spite of the possible downsides. The substance-abuse problem will not be remedied for the individual or in society with the mere elimination of handouts.Second, it is not right to paint every beggar with a broad brush label of a drug addict. Addressing poverty should require all of us to step up and get more personally involved by getting to know those who are less fortunate by understanding their circumstances.Lastly, and along the same lines, institutional financial support alone is not enough. The personal touch of giving face to face is a humanitarian approach that our nation’s poor deserve.In Islam, giving to the poor is one of the five pillars of worship along with belief in God, five daily prayers, fasting during the month of Ramadan and making the pilgrimage, Hajj, once in a lifetime to Mecca. This central tenet of Islam is referred to as “Zakat,” which translates into “Almsgiving.” Zakat is a minimum of 2.5% of one’s extra wealth after paying for one’s own basic living expenses. Beyond this absolute minimum, Muslims are encouraged to be charitable within their means at every opportunity.Muslims are not only urged to give to the poor, but to practice a whole host of mannerisms and attitudes that must be aligned with respect for the less fortunate and with one’s inner spiritual relationship with God. There are numerous passages of Koran and stories of the Prophet Muhammad that provide inspiration to Muslims, urging them to be generous in the right manner.Charity as a means of social justice for the poor is a requirement of righteousness in Islam.“O believers, never shall you attain to true piety unless you spend on others out of what you love; and God has full knowledge of what you spend.” (Koran, chapter 3 verse 93)Burger’s wise, practical advice needs to be enhanced with a holistic, humanitarian and God-centered approach to comprehensively attain social justice for the poverty-stricken in our neighborhoods.

 

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

The Gravitational Poll

11/24/07

 

U.S. Catholic bishops this week reportedly approved new moral guidelines for Catholic voters warning that their political choices could impact a person’s salvation. Bishops reportedly stress that the guidelines are not a voter guide, but rather they represent a moral framework for believers. Still, some bishops disagree that voting choices can affect someone’s salvation. The church reportedly believes it is a “formal cooperation in evil” to vote for a candidate for the sole reason that he or she supports “intrinsic evils” such as abortion or racism. Bishops also believe Catholics should avoid becoming one-issue voters. What do you think? Should your political choices affect your salvation?

 

In Islam, political choices could affect one’s salvation where extremism is involved.Some examples include embracing any ideology of hate and discrimination toward any group of people. Another example would be supporting groups or nation states that sponsor terrorism, such as suicide bombings against civilian targets, in order to achieve a political end, even if the end advances a legitimate social justice cause.Islam unequivocally condemns these horrendous acts of misguided political activism. American Muslim leaders and organizations are on record repeatedly condemning terrorism. The website of theamericanmuslim.org lists an exhaustive anthology of “Muslims denounce terrorism” statements.Regarding the concept of salvation in Islam, it is always a matter of God’s boundless mercy alone to render judgment.Believers are obligated to understand and convey God’s message to humanity but cannot ascertain with certainty who deserves God’s salvation and who does not.Extremism aside, Islam is not subordinated to any ideology of the day, liberal or conservative. Islam’s sacred principles and spiritual teachings are above the political choices that people of faith can make with the best of intentions and due diligence.American Muslims as well as members of other faith groups should represent a spectrum of political philosophies and be a voice of conscience for the various political parties and causes.Political choices by nature are temporal and circumstantial, and the process of active political engagement, guided by one’s faith, is more important than the resultant political choice.

 

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Keeping the Faith up to Date

11/16/07

 

In a recent sermon, Reform Rabbi Donald Weber, of Temple Rodeph Torah in New Jersey, reportedly offered to personally pay for six-month memberships to the Jewish singles matchmaking website JDate to any singles in the congregation who asked. The idea was to help bolster the dwindling American Jewish population in the face of national surveys that say about half of American Jews are marrying outside of the Jewish faith. What do you think of online dating services that match people within the same faith?

 

The American Muslim community offers several similar services marketed and offered as matrimonial services.Our society’s typical dating scene is generally frowned upon by American Muslims, since Islamic teachings unambiguously prohibit extramarital sex. In addition, Islamic guidelines disallow sexually suggestive behavior and immodest attire between non-married men and women. Other guiding principles insist that gender interactions do not take place in private or provocative settings in order to avoid temptations. These preventive measures are to preserve chastity before marriage and fidelity during marriage for men and women equally.Since sound family and extended-family relationships are important among American Muslims, some parental involvement is considered healthy when marriage partners are sought.The notion of arranged marriages, however, is not an Islamic mandate, but rather a cultural practice within some communities.Islamic teachings are clear that males and females are free to choose their own spouses. Part of this freedom is the manner and extent of parental involvement allowed by couples before marriage.For American Muslims, these online matrimonial services are good to meet specific needs for special circumstances.There have been reported cases of happy marriages that have resulted from using such services. I would hope, however, that healthy social networks created by American Muslims would continue to be the primary means of finding a suitable spouse, rather than online services.A byproduct of active participation in mosques and Islamic organizations provides additional social opportunities for prospective couples to meet as well.

 

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Some Animal Pragmatism

11/2/07

 

The Humane Society of the United States has reportedly unveiled a new initiative to better educate believers of various faiths on the mistreatment of farm animals such as hens, chickens and pigs. Underpinning the message to believers is a belief that the faithful are not receiving the message that animals are being subjected to harsh treatment, and that under the tenets of world faiths, God would not approve. Religion can play a role here, advocates say, to promote compassion for these animals as an obligation of faith. Do you think believers need to know more about what is happening to these animals, and that there is a moral imperative — a biblical mandate, as some theologians say — to protect these animals from the suffering they face in factories and cages? What role, if any, can the religious community play here?

 

Islam is by nature a holistic religion to be practiced as a way of life.There are numerous passages in the Koran affirming the sanctity of animal rights and the responsibility of humankind as custodians of the Earth to treat animals with due respect and kindness.One example is in Chapter 6 (Livestock), verse 38: “There is no animal that walks on earth and no bird that flies on its two wings, which is not God’s creature like yourselves: no single thing has God neglected in this Book.”Moreover, the coupling of behavioral ethics and God-consciousness are related in the copious historical record of the Prophet Mohammed actions and sayings on the subject of animal rights.For example, he was reported to have said to his followers, “Fear God with regard to animals, ride them when they are fit to be ridden and get off their backs when they are tired; surely, there are rewards for being kind and gentle to animals and for giving them water to drink.”In another incident, the Prophet told his companions about a prostitute who earned God’s forgiveness for showing mercy to a dog that she had found panting and swallowing up dirt out of severe thirst. Because of her act of kindness toward an animal — going down to a well and filling her sock with water to give to the thirsty dog — the Prophet advised, God showed mercy to this woman and rewarded her with paradise.Therefore, in agribusiness today, animal-rights groups would be remiss to exclude the American Muslim community from their education campaigns to raise awareness of mistreatment of farm animals.Based on Islamic principles and teachings, the moral imperative is very clear for Muslims to actively promote the humane treatment of animals and to work with animal-rights groups to advocate for reforms that would restore compassion toward all God’s creatures on Earth.

 

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Churches Say Halo to Kids

10/27/07

 

Pastors and ministers at churches across the country are reportedly using a violent video game, Halo 3, to reach young congregants.  Ministers have held Halo nights, in which they use the game to attract youths. If young people stay to play the game, pastors hope youngsters will also stay for the biblical message. The first-person shooter game, which is rated M for mature audiences, depicts a cybernetically enhanced super soldier shooting at alien invaders in a lethal attempt to save Earth. Critics, including religious ethicists, say the approach to using the game for ministry could have a negative effect on children, because it connects the thrill and arousal with killing. What do you think? Do you agree with this approach to furthering a ministry?

 

The issues of fantasy violence related to Halo 3 is not addressed by any specific Islamic concept or Islamic religious ruling for Muslims in the U.S. So the general rule of Islam applies that all things are permissible unless there is a specific religious-based teaching calling for a prohibition. So the Halo 3 as a form of video game entertainment is left to sound scientific research data and basic common sense of parents and community leaders as it pertains to Muslim youth.In isolated cases, Muslim communities are using video gaming as one means of attracting Muslim youths. It was reported that an Oakland mosque purchased a video gaming system 10 years ago as part of its Islamic youth group activities, and several other Muslim youth groups currently have incorporated some form of video game activity as a means to provide a social and entertainment outlet.I did not get any reports from the few youth groups I surveyed in Southern California that Halo 3 was specifically used as part of a Muslim youth program. One likely pragmatic factor was that Halo 3 was released during the month of Ramadan this year. Ramadan in the Muslim community is a time of increased spiritual activity like extra Koran reading and additional prayers for adults and youth alike.Although the release of Halo 3 during Ramadan this year did affect several Muslim families with gaming enthusiasts, mine included, on a personal level. The release of Halo 3 and its use to attract Muslim youths to mosques is simply a non-factor so far, but this may change as the effects of the 2007 Ramadan season wear off.

 

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Youths’ Negative Image of Christianity

10/19/07

 

Many young people think Christianity is too judgmental, hypocritical and anti-gay, according to new findings by Christian-based research firm The Barna Group. The group reportedly found that church attitudes about people are creating a negative image of the faith among people 16- to 29-year-olds, and thus driving them away. Are you seeing this within your own faith community? And even if it’s not Christian, how do you convey traditional religious messages to youth to keep them interested in the faith? Among Muslims in America, there is the struggle to keep the youth interested in traditional Islamic values and practices.It’s a matter of giving the youth a sense of purpose and meaning from their perspective as American Muslims.In chapter 18 of the Koran, titled “The Cave,” there is an inspirational story about a youth group escaping religious persecution from their society and seeking refuge in a cave. One of the many lessons conveyed by this story is how God took care of these youth based on their needs and their societal issues with great empathy and compassion.In the same way, the Muslim community is challenged to appropriately support and inspire the youth to embrace God’s teachings.The inherent nature of God’s faith requiring social justice and societal change can actually be an exciting part of the faith that would appeal to the idealistic tendencies of 16- to 29-year-olds.In order to make religion relevant to youth, faith communities must create the necessary infrastructure to support them and provide healthy outlets for their youthful energy and desire for social networking.In the local Muslim community, this infrastructure consists of quality, full-time Islamic day schools, Muslim youth groups, camps, conferences and social networks. Such efforts bring like-minded youth together and engage them in meaningful activities.Many American Muslim organizations originate from immigrant families and, slowly, leadership is being passed along to the second generation of American-born faith leaders.It is true that not all Muslim youth will embrace God’s message, but if Islamic communities (and all faith communities for that matter) are up to the challenge, religion should not be viewed by the youth as judgmental, hypocritical and boring.If it is, that is not the fault of the youth, but rather the elders falling short of the mark to teach, support and inspire the youth per God’s design.

 

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

 

Musings About a Resolution on Ramadan

10/12/07

 

A congressional resolution recognizing the Islamic holy month of Ramadan as important is reportedly being touted by U.S. Muslims as an important sign that they are gaining acceptance in America and becoming part of the fabric of the country. But Rep. Tom Tancredo, R-Colo., argued that the resolution is nothing more than an example of political correctness, which he reportedly said has captured the political and media elite in the U.S. What do you think?

The unanimous congressional resolution of Oct. 2 recognizing the month of Ramadan, the Islamic holy month of fasting and spiritual renewal, is another watershed event for the tradition of religious pluralism in our country. As strife and conflict dominate the sensational headlines of press coverage about Muslims, there is a more authentic story of American Muslims becoming a natural part of our society’s mainstream. The real issue is our shared human and democratic values in an informed American society.The congressional resolution should not come as a surprise, as it is an expected outcome of the American Muslims’ efforts for societal integration and inclusion.Recent examples include former President Clinton hosting the first official “iftaar,” or breaking of the daily fast, during Ramadan with Muslim leaders at the White House — a tradition that has continued with the Bush administration; the election of the first Muslim to the U.S. Congress, Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who used a Koran owned by Thomas Jefferson from the National Archives for his swearing-in ceremony; and a new interfaith tradition emerging during Ramadan called “fast-a-thons” that started on college campuses in 2002 where non-Muslims participate for a one-day fast to raise money for local homeless charities. This year an estimated 75,000 non-Muslims participated.Locally, the Rev. Ed Bacon and several parishioners of All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena fast in solidarity with Southern California Muslims for the entire month of Ramadan — each year since Sept. 11, 2001.This past Oct. 5, Amira Al-Sarraf, the school head of New Horizon School, an independent Islamic school in Pasadena, participated in the State Department’s official iftaar honoring American Muslim educators. Al-Sarraf sat with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice as the leader of the first Islamic school in the nation to receive the National Blue Ribbon Award.Muslims formed the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge in December to become a beacon of peace and mutual understanding among neighborhood residents and the greater community. The harmony of diverse faith groups joining together in ethics, community service and citizenship is part of advancing the tradition of religious pluralism in our country. I invite Rep. Tom Tancredo and all to reach out and get to know your American Muslim neighbors and associates on a personal level to play a part in the greatness of our American experiment.

 

LEVENT AKBARUT

Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge

info@iclcf.org

@2006-2020 ICLCF. All Rights Reserved.