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Muslim Bloggers Debate Apple 'Mecca' Posting

One site, which some have identified as belonging to an extremist organization, claims Muslims are offended by Apple's Fifth Avenue store because it resembles an Islamic holy site. Others say that's not a widely held opinion among Muslims.
A report that an Islamist Web site called Apple's Fifth Avenue store in New York City "blasphemous" and an "insult to Islam" touched a nerve among Mac fans and Muslims and set off widespread discussions about perceptions of Muslims.

The Middle East Media Research Institute, which states that its mission is to "bridge the language gap which exists between the Middle East and the West," posted a statement last week that it referred to as a translation from an Islamist Web site. Founder Yigal Carmon identified the Web site Friday as alhesbah.org.

The translation said Apple's new store is offensive because it resembles to Ka'ba, the holy structure Muslims face when they pray. It also said the author took offense to the use of the term "Apple Mecca" used in some bloggers' headlines and stories about the new store.

The Apple Fifth Avenue Store is shaped like a glass cube. Ka'ba is also a cube, covered in black cloth. The store was covered in black before it opened in May.

MEMRI's statement, titled "Apple Mecca Project Provokes Muslim Reaction," said the store sells alcoholic beverages and is "clearly meant to provoke Muslims." The store does not sell alcohol. Although its cube-shape may resemble the Ka'ba, the dimensions are different.

The statement urges people to spread an alert to "stop the project."

Apple, one of the largest computer companies in the world, responded by saying the company respects all religions, did not set out to build a replica of the Ka'ba and never referred to the store as "Mecca."

Since the alhesbah.org is blocking new registrations, TechWeb could not confirm the Apple Store posting firsthand. Alhesbah is known as a Web site for extremists. Carmon said the person posting about Apple has been a frequent contributor, but he said he did not know whether discussion ensued.

Discussion has been widespread on English-language sites devoted to Apple products and Muslim news.

Shahed Amanullah, editor for a Web site that provides a critical analysis of issues regarding the Muslim community, was one of the first to speak out. Like many others, he objected to MEMRI's report, saying the organization often chooses articles that reflect Muslims in a poor light.

"What if a Muslim in a forest complained about a New York retail outlet he'd never visited," Amanullah asked in his posting. "Would he make a sound? If MEMRI weren't around, he wouldn't."

MEMRI has been highly praised and criticized for its work translating extremist statements by U.S. government leaders, intelligence directors and large media outlets. The organization drew criticism after the posting.

Carmon defended MEMRI, saying it is important for the world to know about hateful messages being spread by Muslim extremists. He said MEMRI also praises reformist Muslims and there are many Muslims giving honor to the world. He said that MEMRI's critics are aiming at the wrong target.

"It's a typical shoot-the-messenger reaction," he said during an interview Friday. "Apologists don't want to face it. Instead of rebelling against the Islamists, they blame us and have nothing to say about the Web site that posted it. It's a shameful approach." If MEMRI revealed its sources, moderate Muslims could discredit those sources, Amanullah said during an interview Friday.

"I think it's great that somebody translates their stuff, but it made a lot of people think that Muslims, as a mass of people, were upset," he said. "Not only do Muslims, not care, I must know 50 Muslim Mac users."

Amanullah said that only articles about Danish cartoons mocking the Muslim prophet drew more reader reaction on altmuslim.com.

Many Muslim Apple fans users posted humorous and serious discussions and declarations of their fondness for Apple and Macs. Some disagreed with the resemblance. Many who saw similarities said they were flattered.

The overwhelming response on altmuslim.com consisted of Muslim declarations of fondness for the store and outrage that the issue even came up. Although they were fewer in number, there were also harsh criticisms of Muslims in general for taking offense.

"It hit a nerve on multiple levels," Amanullah said. "What surprised me is that people associate us here with the crackpots. That's what surprised me. I guess it just shows how sensitive that people are on both sides, with non-Muslims thinking we're all offended by everything and a sense among Muslims that they're under attack."

Abid Hussain, a British Muslim, was among those who felt attacked. He said in an e-mail, interview last week that he has lived in the U.K. his whole life and never felt a conflict between being a good British citizen and a good Muslim until the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks against the United States.

"Ever since then, people from both sides have taken every opportunity they can get to stir up tensions," he said.

He said the posting about Apple was not representative of Muslims, but many people took it that way.

"Muslims aren't offended," he said. "One idiot was, and it all has blown up into a mess."

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