Shahada and Jazakallah Khair

If this post was written by Brad Delong, it would be titled “Why Oh Why Can’t We Have a Better Press Corps?” or “Zack Bangs His Head against the Wall.”

The basic story goes like this: Some Muslims students planned to wear green stoles at graduation at University of California, Irvine. The Arabic writing on the stoles said “God, Increase my knowledge” on one side and “There is no god except God and Muhammad is God’s messenger” on the other. Some groups, student and other, protested against that because they heard that the “Shahada” would be on the stole. They interpreted “Shahada” as martyrdom instead of the profession of faith. That by itself could be an honest mistake since these people don’t know Arabic and are not conversant with Islam. However, they persisted in calls for protesting or banning the stoles even when told about what would be on the stoles.

If you want more details, please visit alt.muslim, Muslim Wakeup, or Live from the Nuke-free Zone. I’ll focus on the media reporting here.

Forget FrontPage Magazine, Worldnet Daily, and O’Reilly Factor. Let’s take a look at so-called better news sources. All of them played this story as a he said, she said one.

Students and administrators at the University of California, Irvine are debating the meaning of green stoles some Muslim students plan to wear this weekend at graduation.

Critics say the stoles are meant to show support for the terrorist group Hamas. But the Muslim Student Union says the stoles are a show of religious solidarity.

Dean of Students Sally Peterson […] says the two sides were waiting for an unbiased third party to translate the Arabic writing on the garment before releasing a statement calling for a “safe and celebrative commencement.”

According to Muslim students the Arabic translates to “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger” and “God, increase my knowledge.” They say the words are known as the “Shahada.”

Some say that the word shahada was Hamas’ call for Muslims to martyr themselves.

The Orange County Register reported it the same way.

At last count, 11 members of UCI’s Muslim Student Union were planning to wear stoles bearing religious slogans over their gowns – the same slogans that students say were worn last year at three UC campuses without incident.

This year, however – after incidents that included the mysterious burning down of a cardboard wall erected by pro-Palestinian students and Jewish complaints over anti-Zionist speakers invited by Muslim groups – the words seem to have new meaning.

The controversy began after rumors began circulating on campus that Muslim students planned to wear Hamas armbands to graduation – an allegation that they vigorously deny. Hamas is a pro-Palestinian group that promotes suicide attacks.

Jewish students and outside groups began to vigorously protest to campus officials about the Hamas armbands – reports of which even surfaced Wednesday night on “The O’Reilly Factor,” a Fox television show.

A very different truth soon surfaced, though. Although no one was wearing armbands, a handful of Muslim students did plan to wear stoles over their gowns, – as do many other graduates who want to commemorate groups they have ties to.

On one side, the stoles say “God, increase my knowledge.”

On the other side, they have the word “shahada” written in Arabic.

This mistake was present in almost all articles. The stoles did not have the word “Shahada,” they had the Shahada i.e. “There is no god ….”

Jewish students and outside groups that have gotten involved in the controversy, such as the American Jewish Congress, say the wearing of a garment with that word implies approval of terrorism and suicide bombings.

“I am offended by that,” said Larry Mahler, president of the UCI chapter of the Jewish fraternity Alpha Epsilon Pi. “What they are doing is ratifying the suicide bombing that killed innocent people.”

Again confusing Shahada as martyrdom.

Muslim students said the word is intended only as a religious statement. According to the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency Web site, shahada may be translated as, “There is no God but God; Muhammad is the Messenger of God.”

Shouldn’t the CIA website statement have killed this controversy? However, in the article, the reporter never authoritatively states any facts. Wasn’t it easy to ask the Muslim students to show the reporter a stole with the Arabic writing? Now, the reporter could not obviously be expected to know any language other than English because that would require surrendering his US citizenship. But he could have asked someone else, may be some scholar of Arabic, to translate that writing. May be his story might have more legs then?

And it is not a matter of one or two reporters. The LA Times was guilty of it as well.

The stoles, critics say, are meant to show support for the terrorist group Hamas; the Muslim Student Union says the stoles represent religious solidarity.

[…]Peterson said that according to the Muslim students, the Arabic lettering on the stole translated as “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger” and “God, increase my knowledge.”

Leila Shaikley, a UC Irvine freshman and a spokeswoman for the Muslim students, said the words on the stoles were known as the “Shahada.”

Some of the dispute, Peterson said, appears to be over the meaning of the Arabic word shahada.

Ceren said that the word was Hamas’ call for Muslims to martyr themselves.

It didn’t get better in their story a day later.

The stoles bear white Arabic lettering that reads, “There is no God but Allah, and Muhammad is his messenger,” and “God, increase my knowledge,” the Muslim students say.

Hamas militants are often seen in green headbands and similar stoles, critics of the Muslim student group say.

Even after the graduation ceremony, the LA Times was saying that the words on the stole said “Shahada.” I wonder what happened to that translator that UC Irvine asked to check the writing on the stole.

Some Jewish students said that the stoles showed support for terrorism because the Arabic word on them, “shahada”, could be interpreted to show support for suicide attacks and the militant group Hamas.

The final story in LA Times on June 22 did not have any clue what was written on the stoles.

The idea that if a reporter just quotes both sides, she is being objective is completely nuts. There are lots of facts that can be easily checked. A reporter should check his facts and write based on them. The “he said, she said” method signifies a gossip column, not an objective news report.

And finally, our laugh of the day comes from Jewsweek;.

According to a letter sent by MSU board member Jazakhallah Kair [bolding mine — ZA] to all graduating Muslims, the word shehada (martyrdom) will be printed on one side of the arm band and a verse in Arabic on the other. Shehada is the term regularly used by Hamas terrorists in Gaza to describe suicide bombings in Israel.

These guys obviously have no clue. But hey, if they don’t know what shahada is, how can we expect them to know about Jazakallah Khair. Jazakallah Khair means “May God grant you good” or “May God reward you for the good.” It is quite obviously the salutation at the end of the Muslim Students Union email before the name of the person, which the Jewsweek columnist confused with the person’s name.

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22 Comments.

  1. Auto-trackback from memigo.com

    Los Angeles Times article was added to memigo. Thanks! (2 other link(s) from this post also found.)
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  2. on the Muslim graduation stoles

    There’s been a fuss recently over some stoles that Muslim students at UC Irvine planned to wear at their graduation,…

  3. Good catch with the “Jazakullah kheir” reference in Jewsweek! That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard in a long time!

  4. It is just sad that the whole stole thing has even become an issue. What harm is in it?

  5. I blogged about this a week back. It seems sad to me too because I’m certain terrorism has nothing to due with the objections people are making. It’s just an excuse for bigotry against Muslims. If I wanted to wear a stole with a cross or some such thing on it, no one would raise a single objection. It’s just prejudice, and I wish the media hadn’t dignified it by making such a ruckus about it.

  6. JadedEye-
    I would think a large cross on a stole at a non-Christian school might draw some complaints, though likely nothing to match this. Mortarboards are another story; I had a couple of Jesus alpha-fish symbols on mine.

  7. Sister Soljah: I think it arose from previous conflict between some Jewish, plus other pro-Zionist, groups and Muslim groups at UC Irvine. The bad blood carried over to create this controversy.

    JadedEye: I am not sure if it was bigotry or not. I think it started out as a misunderstanding amidst a tense atmosphere. But instead of backing down when their mistake was pointed out, they came up with strange excuses.

    Herman: According to the LA Times,

    Students were wearing leis, U.S. Marine Corps sashes and medallions, Lewis said.

    “One young woman was even wearing an image of the Lady of Guadalupe,” he said. “[The stoles] were probably lost in the crowd.”

    That’s the Lady of Guadalupe, the patron saint of the Americas.

  8. Very sad indeed.

    Personally, I’d have no problem with a school that banned any sort of tampering with the basic cap and gown — a graduation, after all, is an event to celebrate academic achievement, and I can see a certain logic in stressing the shared experience of graduates as the central event of the day.

    But that said, if the university’s policy is to allow students to make personal statements a part of their graduation day attire, I don’t see how you could find the profession of faith to be an inappropriate statement, and that’s regardless of the intent.

    As to the reporting, I may be reading too much into it, but it appeared to me that the search for an independent translation indicated that the school might think that the Arabic doesn’t say what the students claimed it said. I’m generally against speech codes, but most universities have them, and if the Arabic passage was not in fact the shahada but rather an incitement to hatred (and clearly, it doesn’t appear that was the case), then the university might well have been operating within its guidelines when seeking the independent translation.

    That said, it’s worth noting that the ADL has issued an apology:

    http://www.adl.org/PresRele/Mise_00/4520_00.htm

  9. Very sad indeed.

    Personally, I’d have no problem with a school that banned any sort of tampering with the basic cap and gown — a graduation, after all, is an event to celebrate academic achievement, and I can see a certain logic in stressing the shared experience of graduates as the central event of the day.

    But that said, if the university’s policy is to allow students to make personal statements a part of their graduation day attire, I don’t see how you could find the profession of faith to be an inappropriate statement, and that’s regardless of the intent.

    As to the reporting, I may be reading too much into it, but it appeared to me that the search for an independent translation indicated that the school might think that the Arabic doesn’t say what the students claimed it said. I’m generally against speech codes, but most universities have them, and if the Arabic passage was not in fact the shahada but rather an incitement to hatred (and clearly, it doesn’t appear that was the case), then the university might well have been operating within its guidelines when seeking the independent translation.

    That said, it’s worth noting that the ADL has issued an apology:

    http://www.adl.org/PresRele/Mise_00/4520_00.htm

  10. Sorry about the double post. My connection has been cranky all night.

  11. Just posted something similar on my blog. If I’d read your post earlier I would have just put a link to this page on my site. Anyways, the link to my post is here.

  12. Bill: I’d have no problem with a school that banned any sort of tampering with the basic cap and gown.

    I don’t either.

    the school might think that the Arabic doesn’t say what the students claimed it said.

    The school probably asked a translator because tthe other groups disputed the Muslim Student Union explanation.

    if the Arabic passage was not in fact the shahada

    Here’s a picture of the stole. Compare the writing on the right side to that on the Saudi flag.

    The university should definitely have sought independent translation. It would have been nice if the media had also done that.

    ADL has issued an apology.

    The tradition of non-apology apologies irks me quite a bit.

    Chan’ad: Thanks.

  13. Belated linkage here. Good write-up.

  14. Excellent post; thank you.

    I blogged about this at VR, at here and here

  15. Gary, Rachel: Thanks.

  16. Real Anti-Semitism, Unreal Anti-Semitism, and Really Bad Reporting On Islam

    Gary Farber discusses an example of bad reporting on Islam, and the dangers of sliding into anti-Islamic bigotry.

  17. Zack you say that Jews object to anti-Zionist speakers. You mean that Zionists object to anti-Zionist speakers. There are many Jewish anti-Zionists. The Zionists pretend to represent us all but they don’t. Don’t play into their hands.

  18. Mark: Actually I just quoted that from a news article.

  19. Thanks for the response Zack but when you quote the mainstream media’s presupposition that Jews are Zionists perhaps you could draw attention to the many Jews who, like myself, are not Zionists.

    Thanks again

  20. السلام عليكم انا خديجة من الجزائر جميلة جدا اريد انا اشارك في هده الحصة ابلغ من العمر 16 سنة وعرسي قريبا وشكرا

  21. zaabta: I don’t understand Arabic.

  22. Invincible Truths

    How come UNIVERSITY students objects something that they do not even bother to check the valid information about the things of their objection? LOL.