Specifics scarce for Muslim Jumah at the DNC

Specifics scarce for Muslim Jumah at the DNC September 4, 2012

The Democratic National Convention has started in Charlotte and we’re seeing some early religion reports come in. I found this brief CNN piece helpful.

It looks at who will be offering prayers at the convention and what their significance is. I came across a Charlotte Observer story about a Muslim Jumah held to coincide with the Democratic National Convention festivities:

Attendance at this weekend’s Muslim Jumah at the 2012 DNC gathering was originally expected to reach into the thousands but ended up with a few hundred.

Jibril Hough – local spokesperson for the Bureau of Indigenous Muslim Affairs, sponsor of Jumah – said they were expecting about 1,000 at Saturday’s Town Hall Issues and Cultural Fun Fest. As of 2 p.m., less than 50 people were at the Park Expo and Conference Center, with more at Saturday night’s entertainment event.

Several thousand were expected at Friday’s Jumah prayer in Marshall Park, and an estimated 300 people attended.

Well, the previous Charlotte Observer story quoted the organizers expecting up to 20,000 people, which is more accurately called tens of thousands. So why are we talking about numbers any way? Isn’t that a somewhat weird way to begin a story? Well, we get to the “so what” part when we learn that Hough blames a visit from the FBI to the gathering’s leader and the fact that they were dropped from the DNC host committee’s online calendar earlier this week. And why was that? Well:

“I feel like they caved into pressure. They caved into bigotry,” Hough said of the DNC host committee. He said the removal from the DNC calendar caused many people to believe the events were canceled.  DNC host committee officials said the listings were removed “because speakers for the event and statements and positions from event organizers were not appropriate and relevant to the host committee.”

This is where the story began to let me down. It lists some topics — the Patriot Act, illegal surveillance and spying operations and the National Defense Authorization Act — that seem broadly within the issues that many Democrats care about and, therefore, relevant and appropriate. Couldn’t a reporter get something more specific as to why a Muslim prayer event was dropped from the calendar? There must be more to the story:

Hough also said people were intimidated about attending because the FBI visited local Imam Sheik Bassam Obeid of the Islamic Center of Charlotte on Thursday evening. Hough said as of Saturday afternoon he’d not spoken directly with Obeid.  Hough said he heard the FBI spoke with Obeid about claims that a controversial activist, Zhudi Jasser, allegedly made about Hough – that he is radical and dangerous.
The FBI did not release details of the meeting with Obeid, but spokeswoman Shelley Lynch said, “The FBI’s outreach was in response to a request by a member of Charlotte’s Muslim community.”

OK, again, I’d like much more in terms of specifics. Calling Zhudi Jasser a “controversial activist” doesn’t tell us much. If you want to know who he is, you have to research on your own. You can read or listen to his specific complaints about the event organizers (basically related to Jasser’s concerns about their ties to political Islam in general and terrorism in particular). This all provokes the question of why we’re calling Jasser controversial and not the organizers (although I prefer much better and less loaded descriptors in both cases).

Then we hear from a local Muslim who says the news of the FBI visit was just that — news that she hadn’t heard. She said an “Operation Save America” gathering and traffic hurt the attendance.

Also, I don’t know enough about the Charlotte community to know if this is necessary, but I wonder if Jumah shouldn’t have been quickly defined for the local reader.

This NBC report did explain Jumah, portrayed Jasser but not the event organizers (including one who testified on behalf of Sheikh Omar Abdel Rahman) as controversial and also wrote about its removal from a calendar.

By the way, one of those “fact checkers” has asserted that the DNC did not in any way remove the event from its calendar:

A group calling itself the Bureau of Indigenous Muslim Affairs advertised its prayer service on the website of the city’s host committee, Charlotte in 2012, not on the website of the DNC.

To substantiate this claim, it explained that the fact checkers accessed the DNC calendar on August 31. Which, according to critics of the Jumah, is one day after the DNC removed the event from its calendar. To be precise, the item was said to be removed sometime between 5:30 and 6:30 PM on August 30. Just another good example of the limits of fact checking. There were actually other problems with the fact check in question, but we’ll leave that for another day.

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