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Muslim from Attorney General's office trains NJ police about Islam: 'We are descendants from tribes' 'don't expect cooperation'

May 15, 2006

Women police officers
learn about Islamic culture

By Jim Westhoff

Cape Gazette staff

It's going to be a different type of convention when one of the door prizes is a handgun.

The 20th annual conference of Mid-Atlantic Association of Women in Law Enforcement met in Rehoboth Beach, Sunday, April 30, to Thursday, May 4, at the Atlantic Sands Hotel & Conference Center.

The officers learned about everything from media relations to surviving captivity.

At a lunch program on Tuesday, Sarah Elshazly, a division chief in the New Jersey Attorney General's Office, gave some insight into her culture and religion to about 200 law enforcement officers in an effort to promote better communication with Muslims.

Elshazly said if officers come to a Muslim's home, the Muslim will try to feed them. "You have to say yes," she said. "If you say no, it is a great insult - you are telling them that you don't think they are clean enough or that they are not a good cook."

Consequently, officers should be suspicious if they enter a Muslim's home and they are not offered food. "All Muslims cook, even the men, so if there is not the smell of cooking and spices, that house is probably not being used a residence," she said.

Muslims work very hard at politeness, so they may say yes to a police officer if they feel that the officer wants a yes answer, she said.

"You may be lied to if you ask a yes or no question. So, always ask open-ended questions. Then be patient because Muslims love to talk, but they will eventually get around to the answer you were looking for," she said.

She also said that unlike in Western culture, when police expect that honest people will look them straight in the eye, most Muslims believe it is impolite to look at an authority figure in the eyes.

Prayer time
Elshazly said during prayer time, Muslims do not allow interruptions, which can lead to misunderstandings.

For example, if a police officer knocks on the door of a Muslim who is praying, he will shout "Allahu Akbar," which means God is Great. "If the police don't understand, and go on knocking on the door, it's a problem for both sides," she said.

If a woman is praying and someone knocks on the door, the woman will clap her hands.

She said prayers usually only take about five to 15 minutes.

Muslims pray on a mat they spread out on the ground, facing northeast, which is toward Mecca. Many Muslim men will shove anyone away if they step in front of the mat during prayer, which can be mistaken for aggression, she said.

Shaking hands
She said if they are strict religious adherents, Muslim women will not shake hands with a man. "Just wait for their cue," she said.

Also, those same women will not allow a man into their home if there is no other man present. "If you must enter her home, it will help to have a woman with you," she said.

Elshazly said that because many Muslims come from countries where there is widespread oppression and the culture has little trust in law enforcement. "But if you treat them with honor and respect, they will be extremely helpful to you as a person, but not necessarily to your organization," she said.

Muslims have tight communities, so if you treat one person well, the whole community will know about it, she said. "Remember that we are descendants from tribes," she said.

Selling suicide
During one of the most impassioned parts of her presentation, Elshazly explained how young men are recruited to fight for Islamic extremists.

In their world, the class system is so rigid, no matter what a person achieves on his own, he will still be considered below others, she said. If a person is from a low class, he is told his whole life he will never amount to anything. Then one day, a wealthy person tells him he will achieve a high level in heaven if he fights for God. "How hard is it to sell that?" she asked.

She said there are acts of terrorism in many parts of the world, but Muslim terrorists insist on saying they are killing for God.

"But the vast majority believe that killing is killing and it's wrong," she said.


This item is available on the Militant Islam Monitor website, at